Summertime (1955)

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I was surprised that Katerine Hepburn could bore me. In Davide Lean’s Summertime (1955) she did. Hepburn plays Jane, an American secretary on her dream vacation in Venice. She’s dreamed of this trip for years and has a lot of energy and high expectations. Soon Jane’s pouting because her trip isn’t as idyllic as she hoped. She doesn’t have any horrible mishaps like getting robbed or sick so to me she just needed to look for some alternatives. Maybe she should go out for a day with the American couple who seemed a bit corny, maybe she should go to a different city or get a tour guide over the age of 10 instead of the urchin who looked about 6, had no shoes, spoke English better than a lot of Italian university students and who spoked cigarettes, which Jane gave him. (That was something you wouldn’t see today. Jane didn’t spoke on screen ever, but had a pack and bargained with this ragamuffin for.)

Jane does bump into an handsome Italian, Renato in the Saint Marco’s Square and the next day happens to go into Renato’s shop. There’s clearly some attraction, but Jane’s awfully standoffish despite her severe loneliness which makes it impossible to enjoy Italy.

About half of the film consists of Jane moping, which made it drag. Eventually, Renato pursues Jane, who soon discovers he’s married. At that revelation, Jane wants to end things, but she’s so lonely.

Ugh!

Jane had built this trip up in her mind so much that it was destined to disappoint. When she talks of home, it’s not as though she hates it. We’re not sure why she never married. She does mention going to a real ball as teen so she’s had opportunities for romance apparently.

Renato continues to pursue her and responds with pat answers to questions about his wife and children. Jane could do better. I hoped she’d end things with Renato.

All in all, I found the film dull despite Hepburn’s ability to be clever and energetic.

Death of a Cyclist

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Death of a Cyclist (1955) is a powerful film from Spain. I found this via serendipity as the image on the DVD box intrigued me. The Criterion Collection site offers a plot summary I can’t trump, so here that is:

Upper-class geometry professor Juan and his wealthy, married mistress, Maria José, driving back from a late-night rendezvous, accidentally hit a cyclist, and run. The resulting, exquisitely shot tale of guilt, infidelity, and blackmail reveals the wide gap between the rich and the poor in Spain, and surveys the corrupt ethics of a society seduced by decadence. Juan Antonio Bardem’s charged melodrama Death of a Cyclist (Muerte de un ciclista) was a direct attack on 1950s Spanish society under Franco’s rule. Though it was affected by the dictates of censorship, its sting could never be dulled.

Compelling and intense, Lucia Bosé stars as Maria José, the stunning mistress who’s anxious about the black mail and incrimination she faces, while not worrying much about her responsibility for the death of the bicyclist. As the film progresses, the professor faces a career crisis caused by distraction due to his ruminating over the accident. As the university students lay siege to the administration building, the professor gains moral clarity which leads to a most surprising ending.

I liked that the story offered unpredictable plot turns. Lucia Bosé’s beauty and style were simple and captivating. The cinematography was bold and showed how black and white films can achieve more stunning results than color more often than not. I do wonder was Spain of the 1950s that immoral? How much of this is exaggeration?

I highly recommend Death of a Cyclist and I’ll look for more films with Bosé and directed by Juan Antonio Bardem.

Victoria, Season 3, Coburg Quartet

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Ready for the ball

This week’s Victoria was fascinating. Storylines were:
 

  • To celebrate the christening of her youngest child, Victoria holds a Georgian era themed costume ball and Feodora is charged with doling out the invitations.
  • Uncle Leopold returns. I didn’t like him in the first two seasons as he’s got a reptilian personality. With Feodora in the palace, he comes off as more humane.
  • Albert is worried about Bertie’s behavior and his education. Even though Bertie went through a horrendous experience at the hands of his abusive tutor. Nevertheless Albert hires a quack phrenologist who measures Albert’s skull and concludes based on pseudo-science that Albert has a tendency towards madness like King George III. Albert buys into this “science” and goes on to say that it all makes sense since Victoria’s more emotional than logical. What a way to make matters worse with Victoria, Albert!
  • Sophie, the Duchess of Monmouth, whose husband is a complete churl, is in love and acting on it with the strapping new footman, Joseph. Their clandestine affair is getting hotter. Yet her indifferent, abusive husband is now suspicious. He believes Sophie is fooling around with Lord Palmerston. He can’t conceive of his noble wife loving a servant, but there you go. Throughout the episode, the Duchess obliviously fools around with Joseph unaware of how thin the ice she was skating on was. I feared she’d be found out, but she wasn’t. Perhaps in the next episode.
  • Victoria and Feodora’s conflicts boil up as Albert is enthralled with Feodora’s logic and Victoria wonders how her half-sister is affording new horses and other goodies. It turns out that Feo’s sold invitations to the ball, which turns out to have a slew of déclassé guests that Victoria doesn’t know.

 
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My Thoughts

My heart goes out to Bertie who picks up on his father’s displeasure with him. He and Alice, his older sister, try to fix his skull by wearing some sort of basin on his head. By the end of the show, he tells his mother that he knows his father doesn’t love him and they share their feelings brought on because it seems Albert’s disappointed with them as they aren’t logical enough.

I worry about what will happen to Sophie when her husband finds out she’s fooling around with the footman. He might have a heart attack, but more likely he’ll go ballistic. She’s been lucky so far, but that never lasts forever. Joseph will lose his job, but she can face worse consequences in this era.

The fact ball was over the top and interesting. I prefer the Victorian gowns. Sure they’re hard to move in, but the Georgians had even more hoops and fabric to manage. They all had the big powdered wigs, which must have taken hours to style and would have weighed a ton. Did you know that the term “big wig” came from the Georgian era?

Albert continues to find it hard to be Mr. Victoria. That’s understandable, but for someone so logical, he doesn’t apply that logic to himself, to his weakness dealing with his unusual role of having a wife with a higher level position. He’s not aware of how much hurt he’s causing Victoria and Bertie. I’m perplexed that he’s so blind to how conniving Feodora is.

Victoria, Season 3, A Show of Unity

When her carriage is unsuccessfully attacked by Irish rebels, Victoria learns that the Irish want their freedom. Thus the queen takes her entourage to visit the Emerald Isle.

Albert gets Bertie a new tutor from his visit to Cambridge. Victoria’s not amused because she wasn’t consulted. That’s understandable. Albert continues to have trouble with his role, which he sees as second-fiddle, and Victoria’s mourning Skerrett and impatient that no one realizes this. All these emotions add to the marital conflict between the Queen and the Prince.

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The real Feodora

Like Cinderella or Jane Eyre, Feodora’s left at home to look after the children. She stews and pouts and is clueless about the new tutor, whom the servants suspect is up to something.

In Ireland, the royal retinue stay at Lord Palmerston’s estate. We meet Lady Palmerston. I expected a long suffering woman trapped in a loveless, arranged marriage. I was off base. Lady Palmerston is a busy beekeeper and happy with her open marriage.

Victoria’s blown away with the open marriage concept. She shares this arrangement with Albert, not that it’s something either of them want to try, but she’s amazed she’s met a woman who’s okay with this.

Love is also in the air between Sophie, the duchess with the churlish husband, and the new footman, Joseph. It’s a perilous relationship, that’s consummated and joyous. The duchess and the footman frolic in at the beach and aren’t as secretive as they should be. Rather jealous, Lord Palmerston notices and warns Sophie that she’s playing with fire. She doesn’t heed his advice and I suspect will be found out next week (or soon).

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Sophie, the duchess who’s playing with fire

Victoria is a big diplomatic success at the ceremony in Dublin where she says just the right things and shows the Irish she cares. This doesn’t solve everything, but she was the first British monarch to visit Ireland since the Middle Ages, so I think she’s due some credit.

Back home, Albert quarrels with Victoria. He also is proud as can be that Bertie’s making great progress with his studies. His math and French have taken off.

However, Victoria’s new maid eventually mentions that the servants suspect the tutor of child abuse. The queen immediately races to the children’s room and catches the tutor in the act. He’s thrown out. I would have like to have seen him thrown in jail and put on trial. Poor Bertie! I found this storyline the most heart-breaking of the week. (Sophie should know her affair will be found out and that to cuckold a duke with a hot temper will not go unpunished. I fell sorry for her but she’s an adult.)

As usual, the hour sped by. The program is packed with drama, gorgeous costumes, and splendid scenery. This week we were also treated to some fine Irish-inspired music.

Gilda

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What a great introduction to a character! Rita Hayworth who plays the title character in Gilda wows with her hair when she first appears. Her hair is just terrific and is probably one of the best things about the noir film. Her hair is used to great effect at least twice in the film so I’m in no way putting down the film.

Gilda is a classic film that’s mainly plot and it leaves a lot of questions unanswered, but it has so much style, that it’s easy to forgive. Set in Argentina, the story begins with Johnny Farrell (Glen Ford) wins big in a dice game, but is cornered by some sore losers. Fortunately, a mysterious stranger, Ballin Mundson arrives with his trusty cane with a hidden blade. He intimidates the thugs and saves Farrell. Later he again crosses paths and hires Johnny Farrell.

Johnny’s life becomes far better as he goes from gambling in dives to managing Mundson’s high end casino. His life is humming along till Mundson returns with his new wife: Gilda. Wouldn’t you know it, Gilda and Johnny were once a couple. Add to that Mundson is a controlling husband. He charges Johnny with keeping tabs on Gilda, who’ll take up with any handsome, young man from the hundreds who’re smitten with her. (So I suppose Mundson has some reason to appoint someone as her keeper.)

On top of the love triangle, Mundson’s trailed by mysterious Germans who’re chasing him and want to seize control of Mundson’s cartel so his work keeps him too busy to spend much quality time with his wife.

We never learn why Gilda and Johnny broke up but it’s clear their love-hate relationship will live on. Mundson fakes his death and so Johnny marries Gilda. At first we think they’ll finally work through their past and find love, but Johnny actually just married Gilda to get punish her for cheating on Mundson.

Another part of the story that nagged me was the unlikelihood that Mundson would meet and also marry Gilda, Johnny’s ex-girlfriend. Really? She was stunning, but not the only fish in the sea. The odds of being in the same room, let alone her agreeing to marry him were astronomical. But the film had style and moved along so I forgive the filmmakers.

Another coincidence that nagged me was the unlikelihood of Mundson meeting and marrying Johnny’s ex-girlfriend. The film needed a line like Bogart’s “Of all the gin joints . . . ” from Casablanca.

Some view Gilda as her husbands’ pawn, but while Johnny does trick her and hurt her, she was able to quite a degree to defy both of them. It’s a complicated film and none of the characters are meant to resemble real people so it’s easy to enjoy the film despite its plot failings.

Hayworth is a compelling actress, not just for her hair, but for her stage presence and voice.

If you’re interested in film noir, you should see Gilda.

Jules and Jim

Truffaut’s Jules and Jim is rightly considered a classic. Based on an autobiographical  novel by Henri-Pierre Roché, the story focuses on two young men, with a deep friendship. Jules is Austrian and lives in Paris, while Jim is French. They share a way of looking at the world. Both are looking for love in 1912. When they meet Catherine, who resembles a sculpture which they view as the paragon of female beauty, they’re both struck by her spirit and openness. Jim agrees to let Jules court and marry her.

The three make a carefree group, but you just know that this arrangement won’t last forever. Catherine is capricious but didn’t fascinate me the way she did all the men who fall for her. She has no job and no interests. She’s pretty and open to life. Her spirit can be summed up when after viewing a play, they’re discussing the heroine, as Jules and Jim debate, Catherine illustrates her view of the role of women by jumping in the Seine. Fully clothed, Jim jumps in and fishes her out.

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Soon WWI breaks out and Jules and Jim fight on opposing sides, both fearing that they may shoot the other. Catherine is back at home in Germany caring for her daughter and receiving beautiful love letters from Jules. In addition to being enigmatic, Catherine struck me as a taker. There’s no mention of her writing great letters to Jules to support him while he’s fighting for his country.

After the war, the men return and soon Jim is on his way to see Jules and Catherine and their daughter Sabine. Jules confides to Jim that Catherine’s taken lovers including a man named Albert, who appears from time to time. In true European form, Jules excuses Catherine since this is her nature. He is right, but it’s exasperating watching this woman escape all responsibility and never be held to account, which would help her grow up. Perhaps if Jules, or Jim, were stronger and more of leader, though that’s not his nature, Catherine might not test him so much or get bored. It’s doubtful, but possible.

Whenever you’ve got a trio, you can bet a friend is going to start something with his pal’s wife and with Jules’ permission, Jim begins an intimate relationship with Catherine. She still has sex with Jules and Albert and probably other men we don’t see.

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It was interesting to see how Truffaut portrayed a sexy couple, or a few such relationships without a lot of nudity. I think his films are sexier with their fully dressed characters than those where the actors are buck naked.

Though I didn’t like Catherine, I did like the movie, which was masterfully paced and full of emotional surprises. Jeanne Moreau gives an outstanding performance. As I write historical drama, I found it interesting how Truffaut didn’t spend money on exquisite period costumes or settings. There are hints of the eras, but the costumes weren’t as accurate or elaborate as you see in period pieces made now.

The Criterion Collection’s DVD come with terrific bonus features including interviews with the sons of the men the story is based on and with the original “Catherine” who lived to be 96 and saw the movie before she died.

State of the Union

While watching my MasterClass in Dramatic Writing by David Mamet, I got curious about Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, whom he mentions. So I found the DVD for State of the Union, (1948) a film adaptation of their play. I found it delightful, even though there’s plenty of jokes that you just couldn’t say today.

State of the Union stars Spenser Tracy as Grant Matthews, a successful business man whose young mistress, played by Angela Lansbury, is a newspaper owner with political savvy in spades. She sees that he’s got the background and charisma to become President. She convinces Jim Conover, her partner in political maneuvering to take on Matthews’ campaign. The one problem is Matthew’s wife Mary, played by Katharine Hepburn. Viewers know when they see Hepburn in the credits that the newspaper owner’s met her match.

Grant and Mary haven’t been together for four months. Mary’s aware of her husband’s affair and has kicked out the mistress the one time the hussy visited her home. Mary still loves Grant and does believe that he’d be a good President — if he stays true to his beliefs. Mary leaves her home to travel the country so that Grant is seen with the loving wife the public expects. His first speech is a doozie and reaps accolades from the common voter. However, Conover & Co. only care about political movers and shakers who can deliver delegates. They know how to game the system by making the right promises to key people. Mary is leery of Conover’s tricks and the mistresses manipulations. Still she sticks with the campaign hoping for the best, hoping Grant doesn’t slide all the way down the slippery slope.

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I will say I was surprised by some of Grant’s political ideas. For example, he foresaw and believed in a world government. He thought that since the 13 colonies banded together and made the USA, that a bunch of countries should band together and create a world government. Well, the EU is somewhat like what he proposed, but Grant envisioned a more far reaching confederation. I wasn’t surprised that Conover practically blew a gasket.

The film has wonderful banter and some rousing speeches. State of the Union examines our political system which is corrupted by campaign financing. (Sadly, such films don’t have much effect because money still taints the government.) Tracy, Hepburn, Lansbury and the rest of the cast offer delightful performances and a bold look at infidelity. Yes, there are jokes about gender stereotypes but I was able to forgive those venial sins of another era.

It was odd to enjoy a film that promotes fidelity knowing that the stars had an affair for 27 years. It’s a troubling issue. On the one hand, it’s acting and what’s presented is the better scenario. On the other, many in Hollywood have made bad choices and tried to glamorize them. It’s a question well worth discussing.