Halloween Havoc!: TOWER OF LONDON (Universal 1939)


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Rowland V. Lee followed up his successful SON OF FRANKENSTEIN with TOWER OF LONDON, reuniting with stars Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in a take on the story of Richard III that mixes historical drama with horror. This “Game of Thrones” is filled with political machinations, royal court intrigue, and murder most foul as the crook backed Richard kills his way to the top of England’s heap, aided by his chief executioner Mord.

You won’t find any Shakespeare here or historical accuracy, but Lee and his screenwriter brother Richard N. Lee craft a tale of bad intentions to capitalize on the renewed interest in the horror genre. Rathbone exudes evil from every pore as Richard, the Duke of Gloucester, who along with his brother King Edward VI, has seized power by imprisoning the feeble-minded Henry IV. But there are six heirs standing in Richard’s way to succession, and he keeps…

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Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #37: All This And Heaven Too (dir by Anatole Litvak)


(Lisa is currently in the process of trying to clean out her DVR by watching and reviewing all 40 of the movies that she recorded from the start of March to the end of June.  She’s trying to get it all done by the end of July 11th!  Will she make it!?  Keep visiting the site to find out!)

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The 37th film on my DVR was the 1940 film, All This, And Heaven Too.  It originally aired on June 21st on TCM.

All This, and Heaven Too is one of the many melodramatic historical romances in which Bette Davis appeared in the late 30s and early 40s.  These films usually featured Bette as a strong-willed woman who was often condemned for not conforming to the rules of society.  Typically, she would end up falling in love with a man who society said she could not have.  Bette almost always seemed to end up alone, which I guess was the way women who thought for themselves were punished back then.

In this one, Bette plays Henriette Deluzy, a French woman who ends up in America in the 1850s.  When she shows up to start teaching at a private, all-girls school, her students immediately start gossiping about her.  It seems that Henriette was at the center of some sort of European scandal and everyone is speculating about what happened.  Finally, at the start of class, Henriette tells her students that she’s going to tell them the true story of what happened back in France.

It turns out that Henriette was a governess.  She took care of the four children of the Duc de Praslin (Charles Boyer) and his wife, the Duchesse (Barbara O’Neil).  The Duchesse was mentally unstable and soon came to suspect that her husband had fallen in love with Henriette.  Though she may have been insane, it turned out that the Duchesse was correct.  When the Duchesse fired Henriette and then lied to her husband about it, the Duc flew into a rage and murdered his wife.

Under the laws of the time, the Duc could only be judged by his fellow noblemen.  He was told that if he simply confessed and said that Henriette was the one who drove him to commit the murder, he would be set free.  (As opposed to the characters that Bette Davis played in The Letter and The Little Foxes, Henriette was totally innocent.)  Would the Duc confess and allow Henriette to be blamed or would he deny his love for her and sacrifice his life as a result?

All This, And Heaven Too is a rather slow movie and it’s hard not to be disappointed that Henriette is such a boring character.  She’s so innocent and victimized that the role almost seems like a waste of Bette Davis’s talents.  A big production that featured lavish (though black-and-white) recreations of 19th Century France, All This, And Heaven Too was probably a big deal for contemporary audiences and, if you’re a Bette Davis or Charles Boyer completist, you might enjoy it.  But otherwise, it’s really nothing special.

All This, And Heaven Too was among the 10 films nominated for Best Picture of 1940.  However, it lost to Rebecca.

Devil in Disguise: ANGEL FACE (RKO 1952)


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I saved ANGEL FACE for last in this week’s look at RKO/Robert Mitchum films because it’s been  hailed as a near-classic by many film noir fans. It’s certainly different from HIS KIND OF WOMAN and MACAO; much darker in tone, and features an unsympathetic performance by Mitchum. It’s more in the noir tradition of bleak films like DETOUR and BORN TO KILL. But better than the other two? That depends on your point of view. Let’s take a look:

An ambulance screams its way to the Tremayne home in ritzy Beverly Hills. The wealthy Mrs. Catherine Tremayne has been subjected to a gas leak of unknown origin. One of the ambulance drivers, Frank Jessup, comes across beautiful Diane playing the piano. She bursts into hysterics, and Frank smacks her, receiving one in return.  After she calms down, Frank and his partner Bill head home. Frank has a date with his girl Mary…

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Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: The Nun’s Story (dir by Fred Zinnemann)


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Happy Ash Wednesday!

So, earlier today, I got off work early so I could go to Noon Mass with my sister and we both got our ashes.  And I’m sure that will take some people by surprise because I’m not exactly the most faithful or devout of Catholics.  But what can I say?  I love the ornate ritual of it all.

And, as a part of my own personal ritual, I washed my forehead before I left the church.  Erin and I had a great vegetarian lunch at Cafe Brazil and then we came home and I turned on the TV and what should be finishing up on TCM but the 1959 best picture nominee, The Nun’s Story.  Fortunately, I had already set the DVR to record The Nun’s Story and so, on this most Catholic of days, I was able to watch this most Catholic of best picture nominees.

The Nun’s Story tells the story of Gaby (Audrey Hepburn), the daughter of a famous Belgian doctor (Dean Jagger).  At the start of the film, Gaby has entered a convent because she wants to become a missionary nursing sister in the Belgian Congo.  However, before Gaby can go to the Congo, she has to learn to give up her own rebellious streak and individual independence.  Taking the name Sister Luke, she excels at her medical training but, because it is felt that she is still too independently minded, she is not sent to the Congo but instead assigned to work in a mental hospital.  It’s there that her independent streak nearly gets her killed when she is fooled by a dangerous patient who claims to be the Archangel Gabriel.  It is only after she takes her final vows that Sister Luke is finally sent to the Congo and it is there that she’s forced to work with the abrasive agnostic Dr. Fortunati (Peter Finch).  Of course, as Sister Luke goes through her own spiritual struggles, the world inches closer and closer to the start of a second world war.  When war does break out, Sister Luke finds herself torn between her vow of obedience (which includes remaining political neutral) and the realities of living in a country that’s been occupied by the Nazis.

1959 was apparently a good year for religious films.  Not only did Ben-Hur win best picture, but The Nun’s Story also received 8 nominations.  Reportedly, The Nun’s Story was the most financially successful film to be released by Warner Bros, up to that point.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, it was also Audrey Hepburn’s personal favorite of the many movies that she made.

When seen today, probably the first thing that people notice about The Nun’s Story is that it’s extremely long and occasionally rather slow.  The film follows Gaby from the minute she enters the convent to the moment that she makes her final choice about whether to be obedient to herself or to her vows and, during that time, it examines every single detail of her life in glorious Technicolor.  A lot of emphasis is put on the rituals that Sister Luke goes through on her way to taking her final vows.  Now, if you’re like me, all of the rituals are fascinating to watch and produce a whole host of conflicting emotions.  Even as I found myself admiring Sister Luke’s dedication and her sacrifice, I still kept wondering — much as she did —  if it was all really worth giving up her independence.  But, I also have to admit that I found myself wondering if someone from a Protestant background would feel the same way.

To a certain extent, I really hate to say that you probably have to come from a Catholic background to truly enjoy any film.  But I certainly think that’s the case with The Nun’s Story.  But, even Protestants and skeptics will appreciate Audrey Hepburn’s wonderful lead performance.  She keeps this film grounded and makes her mostly internal conflict of faith compelling.  In a career that was full of great performance, this is one of Audrey’s best.