Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Hold Back the Dawn (dir by Mitchell Leisen)


(With the Oscars scheduled to be awarded on March 4th, I have decided to review at least one Oscar-nominated film a day.  These films could be nominees or they could be winners.  They could be from this year’s Oscars or they could be a previous year’s nominee!  We’ll see how things play out.  Today, I take a look at the 1941 best picture nominee, Hold Back the Dawn!)

Hold Back The Dawn is a historically important film for many reasons.

First off, this was the last film to be written by Billy Wilder before he launched his own legendary directorial career and, with its mix of sharp comedy and tearful melodrama, Hold Back The Dawn definitely feels like a Wilder film.  Wilder, himself, claimed that he was never happy with the way his script was adapted.  For instance, Wilder wrote a scene in which Charles Boyer, playing a Romanian who is stranded in a Mexican border town, was meant to deliver a monologue to a cockroach.  Boyer felt that the scene was ridiculous and the film’s director, Mitchell Leisen, never filmed it.  Wilder was so incensed that he declared that he would never again allow any of his scripts to be filmed by anyone other than himself.

Hold Back The Dawn also played a part in one of the most legendary feuds in Hollywood history, though there are some who claim that it was more the product of an overzealous pr agent’s imagination than anything else.  For her role as the shy school teacher with whom Boyer falls in love, Olivia de Havilland was nominated for Best Actress and was considered to be one of the front-runners for the reward.  (If nothing else, it was felt that giving her the Oscar would make up for not giving it to her when she was nominated for Gone With The Wind.)  However, that same year, Joan Fontaine was nominated for her role in Hitchock’s Suspicion and many felt that, after losing the previous year for her performance in Rebecca, Fontaine was owed an Oscar as well.  An Oscar night, Joan Fontaine beat Olivia de Havilland.  What complicated matters it that, beyond issues of professional jealousy, de Havilland and Fontaine were sisters.  For years, there were stories that de Havilland had never gotten over losing her Oscar to Fontaine and that, as a result, the two sisters had little to do with each other.  (The truth, as is always the case with siblings, appears to have been a lot more complicated.  de Havilland herself said it was less about the Oscars and more about just not having much in common with her sister.)

Beyond all that, however, Hold Back The Dawn is a charming dramedy that holds up remarkably well.  Boyer is Georges Iscoveu, a Romanian gigolo who has spent eight years living in a Mexican hotel, waiting to be allowed to enter the U.S.  Olivia de Havilland is Emmy Brown, an unmarried teacher who has nearly given up on ever finding love.  At first, Georges just wants to trick Emmy into marrying him so that he can legally enter the United States.  However, he soon finds himself truly falling in love with her.  Unfortunately, his partner-in-crime — Anita (Paulette Goddard) — is also in love with Georges and is not at all prepared to lose him to Emmy.  I know it all sounds very melodramatic but Wilder frames his story with a meeting between Georges and a Hollywood producer, a move the assures us that Hold Back The Dawn is content to be pure entertainment and we really should just sit back, not get too caught up on the specifics of the plot, and enjoy ourselves.  Charles Boyer is all befuddled charm as Georges while de Havilland is both poignantly likable as Emmy.  For me, as good as they are, the best performance came from Paulette Goddard, who is sharp-tongued and wonderfully cynical as Anita.  All three performers are helped by a wonderful script.  Even if Boyer never does talk to a cockroach, Wilder’s dialogue is still sharp and witty.  This is a film that is as much fun to listen to as it is to look at.

Hold Back The Dawn was nominated for best picture but lost to How Green Was My Valley.

This tribute Olivia de Havilland in Hold Back The Dawn was put together by Monique Classique for Olivia’s 100th birthday.

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.

Cleaning Out The DVR #5: Around The World In 80 Days (dir by Michael Anderson)


Last night, as a part of my effort to clean out my DVR by watching and reviewing 38 movies in 10 days, I watched the 1956 Best Picture winner, Around The World In 80 Days.

Based on a novel by Jules Verne, Around The World In 80 Days announces, from the start, that it’s going to be a spectacle.  Before it even begins telling its story, it gives us a lengthy prologue in which Edward R. Murrow discusses the importance of the movies and Jules Verne.  He also shows and narrates footage from Georges Méliès’s A Trip To The Moon.  Seen today, the most interesting thing about the prologue (outside of A Trip To The Moon) is the fact that Edward R. Murrow comes across as being such a pompous windbag.  Take that, Goodnight and Good Luck.

Once we finally get done with Murrow assuring us that we’re about to see something incredibly important, we get down to the actual film.  In 1872, an English gentleman named Phileas Fogg (played by David Niven) goes to London’s Reform Club and announces that he can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days.  Four other members of the club bet him 20,000 pounds that he cannot.  Fogg takes them up on their wager and soon, he and his valet, Passepartout (Cantinflas) are racing across the world.

Around The World in 80 Days is basically a travelogue, following Fogg and Passepartout as they stop in various countries and have various Technicolor adventures.  If you’re looking for a serious examination of different cultures, this is not the film to watch.  Despite the pompousness of Murrow’s introduction, this is a pure adventure film and not meant to be taken as much more than pure entertainment.  When Fogg and Passepartout land in Spain, it means flamenco dancing and bullfighting.  When they travel to the U.S., it means cowboys and Indians.  When they stop off in India, it means that they have to rescue Princess Aouda (Shirley MacClaine!!!) from being sacrificed.  Aouda ends up joining them for the rest of their journey.

Also following them is Insepctor Fix (Robert Newton), who is convinced that Fogg is a bank robber.  Fix follows them across the world, just waiting for his chance to arrest Fogg and disrupt his race across the globe.

But it’s not just Inspector Fix who is on the look out for the world travelers.  Around The World In 80 Days is full of cameos, with every valet, sailor, policeman, and innocent bystander played by a celebrity.  (If the movie were made today, Kim Kardashian and Chelsea Handler would show up at the bullfight.)  I watch a lot of old movies so I recognized some of the star cameos.  For instance, it was impossible not to notice Marlene Dietrich hanging out in the old west saloon, Frank Sinatra playing piano or Peter Lorre wandering around the cruise ship.  But I have to admit that I missed quite a few of the cameos, much as how a viewer 60 years in the future probably wouldn’t recognize Kim K or Chelsea Handler in our hypothetical 2016 remake.  However, I could tell whenever someone famous showed up on screen because the camera would often linger on them and the celeb would often look straight at the audience with a “It’s me!” look on their face.

Around The World in 80 Days is usually dismissed as one of the lesser best picture winners and it’s true that it is an extremely long movie, one which doesn’t necessarily add up to much beyond David Niven, Cantinflas, and the celeb cameos.  But, while it may not be Oscar worthy, it is a likable movie.  David Niven is always fun to watch and he and Cantinflas have a nice rapport.  Shirley MacClaine is not exactly believable as an Indian princess but it’s still interesting to see her when she was young and just starting her film career.

Add to that, Around The World In 80 Days features Jose Greco in this scene:

Around The World In 80 Days may not rank with the greatest films ever made but it’s still an entertaining artifact of its time.  Whenever you sit through one of today’s multi-billion dollar cinematic spectacles, remember that you’re watching one of the descendants of Around The World In 80 Days.

Lisa Watches An Oscar Nominee: Love Affair (dir by Leo McCarey)


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“If you can paint, I can walk!” — Terry McKay (Irene Dunne) in Love Affair (1939)

So, TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar has ended but I’m still on my mission to watch and review every single film that has ever been nominated for best picture.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  This isn’t going to be one of my series like Shattered Politics or Embracing the Melodrama.  I’m not going to post six best picture reviews a day for the next three weeks until I’ve reviewed every single one of them.  Instead, I’m just going to keep my eyes open.  When I see that a best picture nominee is going to be on TCM, I’ll be sure to record, watch, and review it.  On days that I have some extra time, I’ll watch and review something from my DVD and Blu-ray collection.  And, of course, I’ll keep make sure to keep up with what’s available on Netflix, Hulu, and all the other streaming services.

And, on a night like tonight when its sleeting outside and I’m aware that I probably won’t be going outside for the next two or three days, I’ll be sure to look through my DVR and see what I still need to watch.

Tonight, for example, I did just that and I ended up watching the 1939 best picture nominee, Love Affair.

Love Affair tells the story of two rich people in love.  Michel (Charles Boyer) is a painter and a notorious playboy. Terry (Irene Dunne) is an aspiring singer.  They’re both engaged to other people but, when they meet on a cruise, it’s love at first sight.  They try to avoid each other.  They try to remain faithful to their significant others.  But, when the boat docks off of the island of Madeira, Terry agrees to visit Michel’s grandmother with him.

Michel’s grandmother is played by Maria Ouspenkaya and, while Ouspenkaya does a good job playing the eccentric grandma and even received an Oscar nomination for her 10 minutes or so of screen time, it’s hard to look at her without imagining that she’s about to say something about what happens when the moon is full.  Or, at least, that’s the case if you’re a fan of the old Universal horror films and you’ve seen Ouspenkaya play the gypsy in original Wolf Man.  Instead of talking about the curse of lycanthropy, Michel’s grandma instead tells the two that they are meant to be together.

Anyway, once they return to New York, Michel and Terry agree to separate and, if after six months they still can’t stop thinking about each other, they’ll meet at the top of the Empire State Building.  Michel spends his six months becoming a more responsible human being.  Terry spends her six months singing.

Six months pass.  Michel stands at the top of the Empire State Building.  Little does he know that, on her way to meet him, Terry got struck by a car.  Michel is convinced that Terry stood him up.  Meanwhile, Terry is confined to a wheelchair.

Wow, depressing movie, huh?  Well, don’t worry.  That’s only the first half of the movie.  There’s still a lot more misunderstandings to get through before Terry can deliver her classic final line.

Occasionally, I’ve seen an old film referred to as being creaky but I don’t think I ever understood what that meant until I saw Love Affair.  Love Affair is such an old-fashioned melodrama and such a product of a bygone era that it can’t help but be a little bit fascinating.  Love Affair is definitely a film that was made at a different time and for a very different, far less cynical audiences and, watching the film today, definitely requires a bit of an attitude adjustment.  However, what Love Affair may now lack in entertainment value, it makes up for in historical value.  By today’s standards, Love Affair may seem slow and a bit too melodramatic but it remains a time capsule.  If you want to go back to 1939, you can either build a time machine or you can watch Love Affair.

(And, fortunately, Love Affair is in the public domain, which means it’ll be a lot easier to find than a working time machine.)

James Bond Film Review: Casino Royale (dir by Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Val Guest, and Richard Talmadge)


As you probably already know, we here at the Shattered Lens have been counting down the days until the American release of Skyfall by reviewing every single film in the James Bond franchise.  Today, we take a look at the first non-EON Bond film, the epic, psychedelic 1967 spoof Casino Royale.

Where to begin?

When Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1953, veteran Hollywood producer Charles K. Feldman bought the film rights.  However, Feldman didn’t buy the rights to Fleming’s subsequent novels and was forced to sit by and watch as Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman had unexpected success with Dr. No and the subsequent EON-produced Bond films.  Much as Kevin McClory did with Thunderball, Feldman first attempted to co-produce a serious adaptation of Casino Royale with Broccoli and Saltzman.  However, when Feldman, Broccoli, and Saltzman couldn’t come to an agreement on how each side would be compensated in the proposed production deal, Feldman decided to make Casino Royale on his own.  He also decided that, instead of trying to compete with EON by making a “straight” James Bond film, his version of Casino Royale would be a satirical extravaganza.

Feldman’s vision of James Bond is apparent from Casino Royale’s opening credits.  While the credits are definitely based on the iconic openings of the EON Bond films, they’re also designed to play up the fact that Casino Royale — in the grand tradition of the Hollywood studios at their most excessive — is meant to be a big budget, all-star extravaganza.

Casino Royale actually starts out with a pretty clever premise.  It seems that the name “James Bond,” is simply a code name that has been assigned to several British spies over the years.  As M (played by John Huston, who also directed the first third of the film), explains it, the name “James Bond” strikes such fear in the hearts of Britain’s enemies that the name must be kept alive.

(Speaking for myself, this is an idea that I kinda wish that the official James Bond series would adopt.  If nothing else, it would certainly explain how Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig could possibly be the same person.)

The original James Bond (played by David Niven) has long since retired to his stately country estate, where he spends his time playing the piano and complaining about how the agents who have inherited his name are sullying his reputation with excessive womanizing and violence.  It turns out the Sir James Bond is a man renowned for his “celibate image.”  At the start of the film, Bond is asked to come out of retirement by not only M but the heads of the CIA, KGB, and French secret service as well.  SMERSH, an organization of female assassins that’s led by the mysterious Dr. Noah, has been eliminating agents worldwide and only the original (and very chaste) Bond can defeat them.  Bond, however, refuses and M responds by ordering a mortar attack on Bond’s estate.  The estate is blown up but so is M and Bond soon finds himself returning to London as the new head of MI6.

Interestingly enough, David Niven was one of the actors who was considered for the role of James Bond in Dr. No.  Reportedly, Ian Fleming was quite enthusiastic for Niven to take the role but, by the time that Dr. No went into production, Niven was considered to be too old.  There’s a nice bit of irony here in seeing David Niven playing a retired James Bond who spends a good deal of the film complaining about the men who have subsequently assumed his name.

Once Niven takes over MI6, he orders that, in order to confuse SMERSH, all British agents (including female agents) will be known as James Bond.  The rest of the film is divided into episodes that feature these new James Bonds battling SMERSH and the mysterious Dr. Noah.

Among these agents, there’s the handsome Coop (played by Terrence Cooper) who has been trained to resist all sexual temptations.

There’s Mata Bond (Joanna Pettet), the daughter of Sir James Bond and Mata Hari.

There’s Vesper Lynd (Ursula Andress) who is sent to seduce and recruit the expert gambler Evelyn Tremble (Peter Sellers) so that Tremble can beat SMERSH agent Le Chiffre (Orson Welles) at the Casino Royale.

Best of all, there’s Sir James Bond’s nephew, Jimmy Bond.  Jimmy Bond is played by Woody Allen and … well, let’s just take a look at Jimmy’s first scene in the film:

Casino Royale had a notoriously troubled production history and most of those troubles seemed to center on Peter Sellers.  While the film was designed to be a broad, slapstick comedy, Sellers reportedly insisted on trying to play his role straight and even rewrote his lines to make his scenes more dramatic.  Welles eventually grew so disgusted with Sellers that he refused to be in the same room with him.  This caused quite a bit of difficulty since Sellers was in almost every scene that featured Welles.  Eventually, Sellers walked off the film and the film had to be hastily (and awkwardly) rewritten to account for his sudden absence.

When one watches Casino Royale today, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Sellers was essentially correct.  While most of Casino Royale often feels disjointed and incoherent, the scenes featuring Sellers, Andress, and Welles are some of the strongest in the film.  Sellers’ dramatic approach doesn’t negate the film’s comedy.  If anything, it makes the comedy even stronger because Sellers actually seems to be invested in the reality his character, regardless of how ludicrous a situation that character may find himself in.

When I watched Casino Royale, I was struck by the stark contrast between the parts of the film that worked and the parts that didn’t.  This is a movie that truly swings from one extreme to another.  Either the film’s satire is working  brilliantly (mostly in the scenes featuring Woody Allen and Peter Sellers) or it’s falling completely flat (like in an extended sequence that features Deborah Kerr as a SMERSH assassin).

I found myself laughing more at the little scenes than the big set pieces.  For instance, I loved it when David Niven embraces Miss Moneypenny (Barbara Bouchet) just to be then told that she’s actually the daughter of the original Miss Moneypenny.  I don’t know much about the actor Terrence Cooper (though, according to Wikipedia, he was also a contender to take the role of James Bond in the official series) but I enjoyed the brief sequence where Moneypenny “tests” him to see if he can take on the Bond identity.  Unfortunately, the film doesn’t really have enough of these small, clever moments.

Ultimately, I found that Casino Royale works best when viewed as a time capsule.  Casino Royale was made at a time when the established major Hollywood studios (and veteran producers like Charles K. Feldman) were struggling to remain relevant.  Foreign films (including, it must be said, the James Bond films) were challenging the common assumptions of what could and what couldn’t be shown on-screen and the studio system reacted by trying to make films that would appeal to younger audiences while also reassuring older audiences that the movies hadn’t really changed that much.  The end result were films like Casino Royale that featured the occasional psychedelic sequence along with cameos from old (and safe) Hollywood stars like George Raft, William Holden, and Charles Boyer.  Casino Royale is the type of self-indulgent film that could only have been made in 1967 and, as such, it’s a valuable time capsule for all of us cinematic historians.

I also have to admit that, as excessive as Casino Royale may be, I happen to love excess.  Casino Royale might be overlong and occasionally incoherent but the costumes are simply to die for.  The film is a visual feast, if nothing else.

Casino Royale was released to scathing reviews and terrible box office but, in the years since, it has become something of a cult favorite.  Our own Trash Film Guru has identified Casino Royale as his favorite Bond film.  Myself, I found the film to be extremely flawed and yet oddly fascinating to watch.  Casino Royale is a total mess and that is both its greatest flaw and greatest strength.

Tomorrow, we’ll return to the official James Bond series by taking a look at You Only Live Twice.