4 Shots From 4 Elizabeth Taylor Films: A Place In The Sun, Suddenly Last Summer, Boom!, Night Watch


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the birthday of one of the greatest films stars ever, Elizabeth Taylor!  And you know what that means.  It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Elizabeth Taylor Films

A Place in the Sun (1951, dir by George Stevens)

Suddenly, Last Summer (1959, dir by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Boom! (1968, dir by Joseph Losey)

Night Watch (1973, dir by Brian G. Hutton)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Diary of Anne Frank (dir by George Stevens)


From 1942 to 1944, a teenage girl named Anne Frank lived in hiding.

She and her family lived in what was sometimes called The Secret Annex, three stories of concealed rooms that were hidden behind a bookcase in an Amsterdam factory.  At first, it was just Anne, her older sister Margot, and their parents.  Eventually, they were joined by another family and eventually a dentist, with whom Anne did not get along.  Life was not easy in the concealed space and tempers often flared.  As the months passed, Anne had a romance-of-sorts with Peter, the teenage son of the other family, but she wondered if she truly felt anything for him or if it was just because they were stuck together.  Anne looked forward to someday returning to school and seeing all of her old friends, again.  However, she knew that she could not leave the Annex until the Nazis had finally been forced out of the Netherlands.  She and the other occupants had to remain in hiding and they had to remain perfectly quiet eight hours a day because they were Jewish.  If they were discovered, they would be sent to the camps.  So, they waited and Anne kept a diary.

Tragically, the Nazis did eventually discover the Secret Annex.  Of the 8 occupants, only Anne Frank’s father, Otto, would survive the war.  The rest died in various concentration camps.  Anne Frank’s mother starved to death in Auschwitz.  Her older sister, Margot, was 19 when she fell from her bunk and, because she was in such a weakened state, was killed by the shock.  Anne Frank, it is believed, died a few days after Margot.  She died at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, one of the 17,000 prisoners to succumb to Typhus.  Before she died, Anne Frank spoke with two former schoolmates who were also being held at Bergen-Belsen.  She told them that she had believed her entire family was dead and that she no longer had any desire to go on living.

However, Otto Frank did survive and, at the end of the war, he returned to the Secret Annex.  That’s where he discovered Anne’s diary.  After editing it (a process that Anne, who aspired to be a journalist, had already started doing shortly before she was arrested), Otto arranged for the publication of the diary.  The Diary of A Young Girl (or, as it was titled in some countries, The Diary of Anne Frank) was a bestseller and has remained one ever since it was first published.  Along with being recognized as being one of the most important books ever written, it’s also been adapted for both stage and screen.

The first such screen adaptation was in 1959.  It was directed by George Stevens and it starred 20 year-old Millie Perkins as Anne.  (Perkins bore a great resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, who was reportedly Otto Frank’s preferred choice for the role.  Hepburn turned him down, saying she would have been honored to have played the role but believed that she was too old to believable as a 14 year-old.)  Joseph Schildkraut played Otto while Diane Baker played Margot and Gusti Huber played Edith Frank.  The Van Daans were played by Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi while Richard Beymer played their son (and Anne’s tentative boyfriend), Peter.  Ed Wynn, who was best known as a comedian, played the role of Albert Dussell, the dentist to whom Anne took a dislike.  (The surviving family of Fritz Pfeffer — who was renamed Dussell in Anne’s diary — objected to the way he was portrayed in both the book and the film.)

As a film, it has its flaws.  George Stevens specialized in big productions but that was perhaps not the proper approach to take to an intimate film about a teenage girl coming-of-age under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.  Because this was a 20th Century Fox production from the 50s, The Diary of Anne Frank was filmed in Cinemascope, which made the annex itself look bigger than it should.  Scenes that should feel claustrophobic often merely come across as being cluttered.

But, in the end, the story is so powerful and so important that it doesn’t matter.  Though the Annex was recreated on a Hollywood sound stage, the exteriors were actually filmed in Amsterdam.  When we see the outside of the factory where the Frank family lived, we are seeing the actual factory.  When we see repeated shots of the uniformed Nazi police patrolling the streets at night, we know that we’re seeing the actual view that Anne Frank undoubtedly saw many a night from the Annex.  And because we know the story, we begin the film knowing how it’s going to end and that adds an even greater weight to each and every scene.  It’s impossible not to relate to Anne’s hopes for the future and it’s just as impossible to not mourn that Anne never lived to see that future.

Stevens originally planned for the film to end with a scene of Anne at Bergen-Belsen.  To their discredit, 20th Century Fox removed the scene after preview audiences complained that it was too upsetting.  People should be upset while watching (or, for that matter, reading) The Diary of Anne Frank.  Even today, there are people who still seem to struggle with acknowledging the enormous evil that was perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies.  As a result, it’s not uncommon to find people who, when they don’t outright deny that it happened, try to minimize the Holocaust.  It’s a disgusting thing.  There was recently a viral video, which was released by NowThis that featured a student at George Washington University saying, “What’s going to happen if there’s another Holocaust? Well, we’re seeing what’s happening. We’re seeing people die at the border for lack of medical care. That’s how Anne Frank died. She didn’t die in a concentration camp, she died from typhus.”  NowThis later said that the student meant to say that Anne Frank “didn’t die from a concentration camp, she died from typhus,” and you really have to wonder just how fucking stupid someone has to be to think that 1) that’s somehow an improvement on what was originally said and 2) that typhus and the concentration camp were not essentially the same thing.  Even if one accepts that the student misspoke, it would seem that her main complaint was the the concentration camp didn’t have proper medical care, as opposed to the fact that it was specifically created to imprison and kill Jewish people.  It’s an astounding combination of ignorance and antisemitism.  NowThis later edited her comments out of the video, which again seems to miss the point of why people were upset in the first place.  Instead of just saying, “Hey, this idiot is a Holocaust denier and, regardless of whether she hates Trump as much as we do, we want nothing to do with her,” NowThis instead said, “Well, if that comment offends you, we’ll take it out and you won’t have to hear it.”  To me, that’s why The Diary of Anne Frank is still important and why it should still be read and watched and studied.  There are too many ignorant people and craven, weak-willed organizations out there for us to turn our backs on teaching history.

The Diary Anne Frank was nominated for best picture of the year.  While Shelley Winters won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, the Best Picture Oscar went to Ben-Hur.  Interestingly enough, Ben-Hur’s director, William Wyler, was originally interested in directing The Diary Anne Frank before George Stevens was brought on board.

4 Shots From 4 Films: Hill Number One, East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, Giant


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

On this date, 64 years ago, James Dean was killed in a tragic car accident.  At the time of his death, he had already filmed East of Eden, Rebel Without A Cause, and GiantEast of Eden would be the only one of his starring roles that Dean would live to see.  Dean went on to be nominated for two posthumous academy awards and, in death, he became an icon that will live forever.

If James Dean were still alive today, he would be 88 years old.  Would he still be acting?  It’s hard to say, of course.  Some actors retire and some don’t.  (Robert Duvall, for instance, is 88 and still doing films.  For that matter, Norman Lloyd is 104 and apparently still reading scripts.)  If Dean were alive today, he wouldn’t be that much older than the stars of The Irishman.

In honor of James Dean’s career and his legacy, here are….

4 Shots From 4 James Dean Films

Hill Number One (1951, dir by Arthur Pierson)

East of Eden (1955, dir by Elia Kazan)

Rebel Without A Cause (1955, dir by Nicholas Ray)

Giant (1956, dir by George Stevens)

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Shane (dir by George Stevens)


“Hey, Shane!  Come back, Shane!”

There’s a few ways in which you can view the 1953 film, Shane.

The more popular view is that it’s a Western about a man named Shane (Alan Ladd) who rides into town and gets a job working for the Starretts, Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur).  Joe is a farmer who is determined to hold onto his land, despite the efforts of cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) to force him off of it.  While we don’t learn much about Shane’s background, it becomes apparent that he’s a man who can fight.  That comes in handy when Ryker brings in a sinister gunfighter named Wilson (Jack Palance).

Another view is that Shane is the story of a man who just wants to settle down but, instead, finds himself continually hounded by an annoying little kid, to the extent that he finally gets involved in a gun battle just so he’ll have an excuse to leave town and get away from the little brat.  Little Joey Starrett (Brandon deWilde) idolizes Shane from the minute that he comes riding up.  When he hears that Shane refused to get into a fight at the local saloon, Joey demands to know whether it was true.  He tells his mom that he loves Shane almost as much as he loves his father.  When Shane does get into a brawl with all of Ryker’s men, Joey stands in the corner and eats candy.  And then, when Shane tries to leave town, Joey runs behind him shouting, “Come back, Shane!  Come back!”

Myself, I think of it as being the story of Frank Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.).  Frank is the farmer that’s been nicknamed “Stonewall,” due to his status as a former Confederate and his quick temper.  Stonewall may be smaller than the other farmers but he’s usually the quickest to take offense.  Still, it’s impossible not to like him, largely because he’s played by Elisha Cook, Jr.  When Wilson feels the need to put the farmers in their place, he does so by picking a fight with Torrey.  Standing on a porch in the rain, looking down on the smaller man, Wilson starts to insult both him and the South.  When Torrey finally starts to reach for his gun, Wilson shoots him dead.  While Torrey lies in the mud, Wilson smirks.  It’s a shocking scene, all the more so for being shown in a long shot.  (By forcing those of us in the audience to keep our distance from the shooting, the film makes us feel as powerless as the farmers.)  If you didn’t already hate Wilson and Ryker, you certainly will after this scene.

Shane is a deceptively simple film, one in which many of the details are left open for interpretation.  We never learn anything about Shane’s background.  He’s a man who shows up, tries to make a life for himself, and then leaves.  He’s a marksman and an obviously experienced brawler but, unlike Ryker’s men, he never specifically looks for violence.  In fact, he often seems to avoid it.  Why?  The film doesn’t tell us but there are hints that Shane is haunted by his past.  Shane seems to want a chance to have a life like the Starretts but, once he’s forced to again draw his gun, he knows that possibility no longer exists.

Is Shane in love with Marian Starrett?  It certainly seems so but, again, the film never specifically tells us.  Instead, it all depends on how one interprets the often terse dialogue and the occasional glances that Marian and Shane exchance.  When Shane and Joe get into a fist fight to determine who will face Ryker and Wilson, is Shane really trying to protect Joe or is it that he knows Marian will be heart-broken if her husband is killed?

One thing’s for sure.  Little Joey sure does love Shane.  “Come back, Shane!”  Little Joey follows Shane everywhere, with a wide-eyed look on his face.  To be honest, it didn’t take too long for me to get sick of Little Joey.  Whenever director George Stevens needed a reaction shot, he would cut to Joey looking dumb-founded.  Brandon deWilde was 11 years when he appeared in Shane and he was nominated for an Oscar but he’s actually pretty annoying in the role.  Elisha Cook, Jr. was far more impressive and deserving of a nomination.

I know that many people consider Shane to be a classic.  I thought it was good, as long as the action was focused on the adults.  Alan Ladd plays Shane like a man who is afraid to get too comfortable in any situation and the film works best when it compares his reticence to Wilson’s cocky confidence.  Whenever Joey took center stage, I found myself wanting to cover my ears.

Shane was nominated for Best Picture but lost to From Here To Eternity.

Classic Film Lovers Rejoice! Here’s The Trailer for Five Came Back!


If you love classic movies, you’re going to love this trailer for the new Netflix documentary, Five Came Back!

Based on Mark Harris’s brilliant non-fiction book, Five Came Back takes a look at the work that five great directors — Frank Capra, William Wyler, John Huston, George Stevens, and John Ford — did during World War II.  It’s a fascinating story and it was a fascinating book.  I just hope this documentary does it justice.

We’ll find out on March 31st!

(Incidentally, Five Came Back is narrated by Meryl Streep so expect to see her nominated for Best Actress next year…)

Cleaning Out The DVR, Again #4: The Talk of the Town (dir by George Stevens)


The_Talk_of_the_Town_dvd_cover

The fourth film on my DVR was the 1942 film, The Talk of the Town.  The Talk of The Town originally aired on TCM on March 20th and I recorded it because it was a best picture nominee.  As some of our regular readers undoubtedly know, it’s long been a goal of mine to watch and review every single film nominated for Oscar’s top prize.

The Talk of The Town is an odd little hybrid of comedy, melodrama, and a civics lecture.  Michael Lightcap (Ronald Colman) is a brilliant attorney and legal professor.  He’s been shortlisted for the Supreme Court and he’s also a widely read author.  In fact, he’s even rented a house for the summer, so that he may work on a book.  The owner of the house — teacher Nora Shelley (Jean Arthur) — will also be acting as his secretary.

As well-read as Prof. Lightcap may be, he’s also rather stuffy and out-of-touch with what’s going on outside of the world of academia.  He knows how the law should work but he has little understanding of how the law actually does work.  Fortunately, he gets a lesson in reality when he arrives at the house and eventually meets the gardener, Joseph (Cary Grant).  Joseph turns out to be surprisingly intelligent and very passionate about politics.  Lightcap and Joseph have many debates about whether or not the American legal system actually protects the working man.

What Lightcap doesn’t know is that Joseph is actually Leopold Dilg.  Leopold is a labor activist, the type who you always see in old documentaries, standing on a street corner and preaching about unions.  Leopold is also a fugitive.  He was accused of setting fire to a mill, a fire that apparently led to the death of the foreman.  Despite the fact that he loudly proclaimed his innocence, Leopold was arrested and prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty.  Convinced that he would never get a fair trial, Leopold escaped from jail and fled to Nora’s house.

Nora and Leopold went to school together.  They love each other, even though circumstances — mostly his political activism — conspired to keep them apart.  When Lightcap moves into the house, Nora and Leopold’s attorney, Sam (Edgar Buchanan), hope that they can convince him to take on Leopold’s case.  However, they also have to not only convince Leopold to reveal his true identity but also convince Lightcap to put his supreme court appointment at risk by defending a politically unpopular defendant.  Their solution is to trick Lightcap into falling in love with Nora and then convince him to take on the case for her.

However, Nora soons finds herself falling in love with Lightcap for real.  Who will she choose in the end?  Cary Grant or Ronald Colman?  Today, it seems like a pretty easy decision but apparently, in 1942, Columbia Pictures actually shot two different endings for the movie.

The Talk of The Town is an odd little movie.  For the most part, it’s a drama.  But it also has plenty of comedic elements, mostly dealing with the attempts to keep Leopold’s identity a secret.  In the end, it’s a little bit too preachy to really work as either a drama or a comedy.  That said, I still liked The Talk Of The Town because it made a strong case for the importance of due process, which is a concept that a lot of people take for granted.

(At the same time, The Talk of the Town was made in 1942 so you never have any doubt that Lightcap’s belief in the American legal system will eventually be vindicated.  With America having just entered World War II, 1942 was not a time for cynicism.  If Talk of the Town has been made in the 30s, it probably would have been a very different movie.)

Probably the best thing about Talk of the Town is the cast.  It may not be a great film but, when you’ve got Cary Grant and Jean Arthur in a scene together, it almost doesn’t matter.

The Talk of the Town was nominated for best picture but it lost to Mrs. Miniver.

The Fabulous Forties #37: Penny Serenade (dir by George Stevens)


Penny_Serenade_1941_Poster

How many tears can be jerked by one tear jerker?

How melodramatic can one melodrama get?

These are the type of questions that I found myself considering as I watched the 36th film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set, 1941’s Penny Serenade.

Penny Serenade opens with Julie (Irene Dunne) announcing that she’s planning on leaving her husband, Roger (Cary Grant).  Fortunately, before Julie goes through with her plan, she listens to a song called You Were Meant For Me.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the song is included on an album called The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  As she stares at the spinning vinyl, Julie starts to have flashbacks!

No, not flashbacks of the LSD kind.  (Though, interestingly enough, Cary Grant was reportedly a big fan of LSD…)  Instead, she has flashbacks of her marriage to Roger.  We see how she first met Roger while she was working in a music store.  Roger stopped by the store to tell her that a record was skipping and it was love at first sight.  However, Roger had no interest in getting married.  Or, at the least, he didn’t until Julie opened up a fortune cookie and read the fortune: “You get your wish — a baby!”

Julie continues to stare at the spinning record and we discover that eventually, she and Roger did get married.  Julie did get pregnant but, as the result of an earthquake, she lost the baby.  (Curse you, fortune cookie!  CURSE YOU!)  Meanwhile, Roger took over a small town newspaper and revealed himself to have absolutely no idea how to handle money.

Because of the earthquake, Julie will never be able to have a child.  (DAMN YOU, FORTUNE COOKIE!  DAMN YOU FOR YOUR LIES!)  However, they can still adopt!  She writes to Miss Oliver (Beulah Bondi), the head of the local orphanage.  Julie demands to be given a baby with “blue eyes and curly hair.”  Fortunately, Miss Oliver apparently has a surplus of curly-haired, blue-eyed babies but she’s still reluctant to approve the adoption.  After all, Julie is such a terrible housekeeper!  However, she is impressed by how much both Julie and Roger want a baby so Miss Oliver puts aside her concerns and allows them to have a baby for two years.

At the end of the two years, Roger and Julie have to go to an adoption hearing.  Unfortunately, the paper has gone out of business, the family has absolutely no money, and the fortune cookie has stopped giving advice.  Fortunately, Roger is Cary Grant and who can say no to Cary Grant?  Roger promises the judge that he’ll always love and take care of the baby…

But that’s not all!  The movie is not over yet.  And even as Roger makes his plea, we can’t help but think about the fact that this movie is being told in flashback and that present day Julie is still planning on leaving Roger.  Now, I’m not going to spoil the movie by going into why or revealing what happens in the end.  I’ll just say that it involves more tragedy and more melodrama.  In fact, it includes so much tragedy and so much melodrama, that it starts to get a little exhausting.  How much bad stuff can happen to Cary Grant!?

And the record just keeps spinning…because what goes up must come down, spinning wheel got to go round…

Over the course of his long career, Cary Grant only received two Oscar nominations.  Penny Serenade was his first nomination and, as a fan of Cary Grant’s comedies, it saddens me to say that Cary’s nominated performance really wasn’t that good.  Watching this film, you can tell that Cary felt that this was his chance to prove himself as a dramatic actor and, as a result, he acts the Hell out of every scene.  Of course, Cary’s undying popularity comes from the fact that he rarely seemed to be acting.  His charm was in how natural he was.  In Penny Serenade, he never seems natural.  He’s trying too hard and it’s just odd to see Cary Grant trying too hard.

If you want to see Cary Grant at his best, check out The Awful Truth.  Or maybe The Philadelphia Story.  Those are two great films that prove that Cary Grant was a great actor.  Even a rare misfire of a performance can’t change that fact.

Until next time…

Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel spin. … Ride a painted pony, let the spinnin’ wheel turn.