Leave Her to Heaven
This is one of those films that end and you turn to your partner (or to yourself) and say “is that it?” and “what a waste of two hours”. Luscious cinematography and fabulous locations couldn’t make up for a plot that was so low-key that for the first hour almost literally nothing happened. The cinematography was so wonderful that when there was an obvious backdrop it felt almost like an insult.
Obviously the argument is that the film subtly builds up to the various evils that the possessive Ellen does but it needed to be totally over-wrought like Duel in the Sun and not so restrained. There were glimpses of the required madness in the awesome I-must-rewind-that-bit when Ellen (Gene Tierney) is scattering her father’s ashes with a peculiar jerky sideways action followed by a long shot of her galloping and flinging the urn away. I admit the scene when she watches Danny drown was creepy and maybe if I never seen Bette Davis do the same in The Little Foxes it would have been more effective.
Gene Tierney and Cornel Wilde don’t click for me as performers. I have probably seen him in something else but I don’t recall while she was insufficiently interesting for me in Laura.
Additionally, Dick, Ruth and Mrs Berent behave so passively for most of the film that if any of them had done something instead of hiding or running away then it might have been more plausible. I concede that plausibility is not likely in a drama like this.
Gene Tierney’s life was more interesting than her acting: the documentary A Shattered Life is a tasteful enough biography.
PS: I was chatting to Andy at lunchtime about our disappointment with this film and we were so animated about it that we realised we had appreciated it rather than enjoyed it.
PPS: Looking for images on the Internet has sucked me into reading several analyses of the film and I think I have been harsh and a re-view is in order. Just look at Gene Tierney's hands in the following screencap - she is a touch tense.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Charles Laughton was an amazing actor and his Quasimodo is a splendid creation completely on the right side of grotesque caricature. Cedric Hardwicke was chilling as Frollo (even if I did spend the film erroneously thinking he was Henry Daniell). Edmond O’Brien was a sweetheart as Gringoire. Maureen O’Hara was a mix of the spirited and the inadequate.
The story is a mess and I think it makes more sense if you have read the book (in which it resembles Wuthering Heights in its lack of comprehensiveness). As it is at the climax Quasimodo is enterprisingly killing people who are trying to rescue Esmeralda who is in danger but not from him.
The silent seconds when Quasimodo swings in to sweep Esmeralda away is rightly one of cinema’s classic moments. The sets were enormous (and apparently and unsurprisingly very expensive) and the crowd scenes were so busy and exciting and real in a way that a bit of CGI just can’t match.
CGI reminds me of the The Matrix Reloaded of which I could only stomach an hour or so because it was simply terrible. The Wachowski Brothers should be congratulated for their multi-racial casting but not for their under use of Carrie-Anne Moss and for the worse fight scene ever when Neo fights multiple Smiths and it looks just like a computer game and what is the point of that?
The Cat's Meow
The casting of this was tremendous with Eddie Izzard a surprising good Chaplin and with Kirsten Dunst and Edward Herrmann excellent choices as Marion Davies and WR Hearst. The black and white costuming worked very well in colour and I’m glad they didn’t make it in black and white because the bit at the beginning that was in B&W looked bland rather than ravishingly silver. Poor Thomas H. Ince, his reputation ruined by the conspiracy theory disease, and played by the dull Cary Elwes in this.
Sweet Smell of Success
The problem with films like this that they are totally unpleasant to watch. I sat through the first hour utterly tense and so while I can appreciate that Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster were quite frankly brilliant (and neither Oscar nominated) and that the direction and photography were intense and atmospheric but I can't love it or want to ever see it again. The men were all creeps (except Steve) while the women were literally "things" to use and abuse and possess.