film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

An Affair To Remember (1957)

Throwback Thursday': 'An Affair to Remember' perfected New Year's |

Hello again! I’m hoping everyone had a safe and happy holiday, be that Christmas if that’s what you celebrate, or Hanukkah (belated). Or even Kwanzaa (which is still ongoing). I was just holed up here with Roommate Russ, and we coped with my broken knee and our broken oven by just ordering a bunch of munchy stuff to graze on, and we each had zoom calls with our families and opened a couple of small gifts. We also spent an exciting few days trying to track my parents’ package for me, which went awry in the postal system but seems to be once again on its way here…we’re expecting it to come sometime on Monday…

So are you all good as well? Any New Year’s plans?… haha…

(pause, shuffles feet)

Oh God, please don’t make me write about this film…

Cary Grant stars in "An Affair to Remember" (1957)

Mind you, it wasn’t bad. If it was truly terrible I’d have a much easier time with this, pouring out all kinds of rants and going full-on Dorothy Parker on it. It’s easy to talk about the really good films or the really bad ones. But for the vast, huge sort of meh spot in the middle, you don’t really end up with much to say, and I’m afraid that this fell into the meh spot for me.

Cary Grant's Gray Pinstripe Suit in An Affair to Remember » BAMF Style

It started far more promisingly. Cary Grant is “Nicky Ferante”, a sort of socialite himbo playboy who’s on a steamship from Europe back to New York, where he has finally agreed to marry another wealthy socialite. But while on board, he runs into the similarly-engaged Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr), a spunky and witty singer. Terry at first tries to insist on keeping Nicky at arms’ length – she’s heard of his reputation, and is trying to preserve her own – but the chemistry is too strong, and they get chummy enough that Nicky invites her along when the ship docks near the little French town where his beloved grandmother lives (Cathleen Nesbit) and he wants to pay a visit. Grandma also fawns over Terry, spotting their mutual attraction and recognizing the strength of their match. By the time the ship arrives in New York, Terry and Nicky are In Love – but agree they should give things a think first before chucking their respective existing relationships. They impulsively make a pact – if they each still feel the same in six months’ time, they’ll meet on the top floor of the Empire State Building.

And lo and behold, they do each feel the same six months later. And Nicky arrives for their meeting. Terry also sets out – but when she’s only one block away, she is hit by a car, suffering serious enough injuries that she is hospitalized with two severely broken legs. Nicky, meanwhile, knows none of this – and after waiting for Terry to show, finally leaves, broken-hearted.

Classic Film Series brings 'An Affair to Remember' to big screen at State  Theatre | Local |

….Now, if the movie had ended there, that’d be one thing. But it doesn’t – we instead have to sit through another several scenes of Nicky trying to get over his heartbreak, and Terry trying to recover from her injuries. Her old fiance Kenneth (Richard Denning) – now content to just be a friend – keeps urging her to contact Nicky and let him know what happened, but Terry keeps refusing – because she doesn’t want Nicky to feel obligated. She will seek Nicky out when she’s better, and that’s that.

And it’s one of the stupidest and most manipulative things I’ve ever heard.

Cary-in-An-Affair-To-Remember-cary-grant-4318874-1024-580 | fab1961

Terry’s hiding from Nicky isn’t even the worst part – it’s not illogical, though, and I guess if I squint I can understand why someone would take that stance. But what’s even worse, for me, is that it totally changes her character, and totally changes the tone of the movie. Pre-accident, shipboard Terry is lively, feisty, and more than able to hold her own against Nicky’s antics. She not only recognizes his early smooth talk as flattery, she calls him out on it, thinking rings around him and poking holes in his act. It’s why Nicky is so enchanted – she’s not just another pretty face who falls for his usual act. Even better, the more he cuts the crap and lets his guard down, the more drawn to him she is – and the more he is drawn to her. They really are well-suited, and their shipboard chemistry is fun to watch. But then that all completely vanishes, and Terry is turned into a maudlin, sentimental martyr, primly taking a job as the childrens’ choir teacher at a church and sadly resisting the impulse to contact Nicky. She will worship him from afar, anonymously cheer him on as his career takes off – and otherwise stay back in the shadows, and if she loses him forever, so be it.

It is such a character shift that it’s obvious the whole post-accident hour is meant to draw out the audience anticipation and manipulate them into fretting about whether Terry and Nicky will ever be reunited. But it’s a romantic comedy from 1957, so I already knew they would – and so it instead came across as an hour of Terry wimping out. Shipboard Terry knew what she wanted and was determined to hang on to it – Post-Accident Terry is ready to give it up for the sake of pride or self-sacrifice. I like to think Shipboard Terry would have shaken Post-Accident Terry and told her to stop being such a wimp.

Review: An Affair to Remember - Slant Magazine

It was honestly the chemistry between Grant and Kerr in the movie’s first half which kept this from being a total loss for me; it’s lively, it has a good deal of chuckles, and it played on Grant’s familiar comic instincts. If only they had sustained it.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

Throne Of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's 1957 film version of Macbeth, a review and  commentary

I know I’ve slowed down the pace of my reviews these days – the knee rehab is taking a good deal of my focus, and we’re having a spot of technical trouble with the TV, so I have to try to watch all the DVDs on my laptop. But this time, the delay also came from a bit of a research rabbit hole with a detour through a college reunion, of sorts.

Throne of Blood was something of a passion project for director Akira Kurosawa, who read Shakespeare’s play Macbeth as a student and had long sought to film an adaptation. The chaotic world of medieval Scotland, where an ambitious nobleman could seize power in a flash by killing the king, reminded Kurosawa of Japan’s Muromachi period – a time when the Emperors’ own shogun often struggled with the Emperor himself for government control. At times the Emperor was in control, at times the shogunate – and at times both were in control, splitting the island between them and locking horns in a battle for yet more power. And that’s all before we get into the infighting amidst the shogun’s own subordinates for control of one town over another – or who might take over as shogun themselves.

Throne of Blood | The Current | The Criterion Collection

Ironically, this war-torn period also saw the birth of some Japan’s most serene classical arts. Zen Buddhism flourished during this period, influencing art and culture in ways that encouraged minimalism and specificity, and a sort of “mindfulness” (as much as I hate to use that modern buzzword, it really is accurate). The classic Japanese tea ceremony was born during this time, as was ikebana, a specialized form of flower arrangement; kodo, a ritualized exploration of incense; and the tradition of creating Zen rock gardens. It also saw the rise of Noh theater, a heavily stylized form of theater involving elements of dance, mime, and the use of masks; and fittingly, Kurosawa drew heavily on Noh when adapting this work.

I’d learned a bit about Noh back in college, during a single theater history course, and had forgotten a good deal; but even so I was spotting Kurosawa using elements of Noh drama in his adaptation. This particularly stood out with the character of “Lady Asaji” (Isuzu Yamada), our tale’s version of “Lady MacBeth”; Lady Asaji is still a good deal of the time, and when she moves, it is usually with a slow deliberateness, forcing you to pay attention to what she’s doing. During the scene where she discusses a power grab with her husband Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), Washizu is charging about the room, professing his loyalty to their King, but Asaji sits completely still, her face absolutely motionless.

On Throne of Blood – The End of Cinema

I’d expected to be intrigued by Kurosawa’s adaptation. I’ve read Macbeth plenty, and seen it done a handful of times, and in a handful of ways – from straightfoward productions to a Cyberpunk/Mad-Max style to an immersive theater piece; I even saw an adaptation that fused Shakespeare with the book Fast Food Nation (and insane as it sounds, it worked). But in all those cases the “bones” of the original play showed through, along with the words themselves in many cases. Here, it was the Noh that caught my eye – I wanted to know more about that specifically, or at least improve on what I dimly remembered from college.

As luck would have it, a former studio classmate, John Oglevee, went on to specialize in Noh to the point that he moved to Tokyo and co-founded Theatre Nohgaku, an international Noh troupe that performs both classic Noh works and original Noh style pieces in English (their Blue Moon Over Memphis is about an Elvis fan meeting his ghost; here’s a brief bit of it, with John as Elvis). When I wrote John explaining that I was curious about Noh after watching “a Kurosawa film” and asked for a web site he could recommend, he almost instantly wrote back: “oh, I bet you mean Throne of Blood, here’s a whole article on that.”

Familiar Story, Macbethâ•flNew Context, Noh and Kurosawaâ•Žs Throne of Blood

What astonished me is how it seemed many Noh elements were already there in the original play. The structure and pace of a Noh play seemed nearly synchronous with Shakespeare’s work (Kurosawa just had to cut a couple of scenes which Shakespeare likely only threw in for comic relief anyway). The Three Weird Sisters and the ghost of Banquo match up with Noh plays often featuring ghosts or demons. The masks of Noh were the most “novel” element here, and how Kurosawa was able to use their influence without using actual masks – particularly with Asaji’s expressions. During Throne of Blood’s take on Lady MacBeth’s sleepwalking scene, Asaji has her face fixed in a grimace that comes directly from a fukai style mask, which typically is used for a woman mourning some kind of loss. And as for Washizu, his face isn’t just Toshiro Mifune being Toshiro Mifune – several of his own expressions are also inspired by Noh masks, like this arresting reaction to his final mortal wound.

Throne of Blood (1957) - The Sanity Clause

In a way, I wish I’d known even less about Noh when I first saw this, to see if I would have picked up on those elements before watching. But I’m more so intrigued by how well Kurosawa was able to fuse two very different theatrical traditions into a single piece.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

High Society (1956)

Movie Review – “High Society” (1956)

There are some remakes where you wonder why they were made or if the world needed them. I’m not sure whether this is one, but…it’s close to being one.

High Society is a musical remake of The Philadelphia Story, with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly standing in for Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra taking on Jimmy Stewart’s role. Also, the goings-on are moved from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island, to capitalize on the then-new Newport Jazz Festival; which in turn lets the film bring in Louis Armstrong and his band, playing themselves, to serve as an occasional Greek Chorus.

TCM Diary: High Society

And yet, despite those cast changes and the addition of several songs by Cole Porter, I felt like this remake really didn’t add anything to the story. Even worse, it felt like it took away some of the things that made The Philadelphia Story such a delight. In the original, Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn had a delightfully feisty chemistry – Grant was an impish rogue, and Hepburn was…well, Hepburn. Grace Kelly wisely doesn’t play Tracy Lord as a Hepburn homage; her Tracy Lord is still spirited, but it feels more brittle, somehow. Hepburn’s Tracy Lord threw someone out of the house by breaking his golf clubs over her knee; Kelly’s Tracy Lord would stamp her foot and shout a lot, but then storm off into another room and order the butler to take over. And as for Crosby…well, he sings just fine, but he seems perpetually sleepy throughout, and it’s hard to see what any incarnation of Tracy Lord would see in him.

High Society (1956) – Mike's Take On the Movies ………. Rediscovering Cinema's  Past

Crosby is also twice the age of Kelly, as is Sinatra; all of Tracy Lord’s love interests are visibly twice her age, which is a little disconcerting. But even more uncomfortable is a scene between Crosby and Tracy Lord’s kid sister (here renamed “Caroline”, and played by Lydia Reed). In both films, Tracy’s sister makes no bones about the fact that she prefers Tracy’s ex-husband “C. Dexter Haven” to any of her current beaux; but in the original, it’s definitely more of a spunky, big-brother/kid-sister admiration. Dinah Lord likes Dexter Haven because he’s just a cool dude she liked to joke around with. But here, “Caroline Lord” actually has a crush on him, which in one early scene he indulges when she asks him to make up a song for her and he spontaneously composes a love song. She spends most of the song nuzzling him, and then afterward she gushes that “if Tracy doesn’t want to marry you, then can I?” Lydia Reed was barely in her tweens when she said this and Crosby was in his 40s, so it looks really, really icky.

High Society (1956) | The Blonde at the Film

There is one scene, though, which I appreciated from this remake. Sinatra’s Mike Connor makes no bones about his disdain for the lifestyles of the rich and famous, much as Stewart’s did (he even gets a whole duet about it with Celeste Holm, who herself was playing “Liz Imbrie”). But where the original film just saw a few pointed exchanges between Connor and Tracy about classism, this film introduces a whole sequence where Tracy drags Connor around to the various Newport mansions, pointing out how most of them are boarded up and for sale. The tax burden has become too onerous for many of the owners, despite their great wealth, she explains. In several cases the owners can’t even find a buyer and are donating them as schools or landmarks. It doesn’t completely change Connor’s attitude about the upper class, but it does give him a bit more sympathy towards them, which makes his flirtation with Tracy later on make a lot more sense.

Ultimately, though, while the music was pretty and the settings noticeably more lavish, I didn’t feel like it added anything, and kept comparing it to the original and coming up a little short.

film, Movie Crash Course Review, movies

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)

11 Frantic Facts About 'The Man Who Knew Too Much' | Mental Floss

Hitchcock takes on the family vacation gone wrong! This is the only time Hitchcock remade one of his own films – as he famously told Francois Truffaut, the 1934 original was “the work of a talented amateur,” but he was never quite satisfied and re-made the film to get things right.

Week 10: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), John Ford, and Crying at the  Movies – Hitchcock 52

Jimmy Stewart is “Dr. Ben McKenna,” who’s off on a whirlwind vacation with his wife Jo (Doris Day) and their young son Hank (Christopher Olsen); they’d been in Paris for a medical conference, but decided to hit up Morocco while they were there before heading home. While en route to their hotel, they strike up a conversation with Frenchman Louis Bernard (Daniel Gelin), who seems nice but overly-inquisitive; they also befriend English couple Ed and Lucy Dreyton (Brenda de Banzie and Bernard Miles), who claim to be fans of former singer Jo. The Dreytons are more familiar with Marrakech than the McKennas, and offer to show the family around the market the following morning. But while they’re there, a scuffle in the crowd ends with a man getting stabbed – and the victim is a disguised Louis Bernard.

Bernard recognizes McKenna, and staggers over, urgently whispering to him that he’s been trying to stop an assassination and begging McKenna to head to London and finish his mission. The police obviously want to talk to McKenna, so the Dreytons offer to babysit Hank back at the hotel. But just as the McKennas arrive at the police station, Ben gets a mysterious call warning him not to say a word – or else Hank would pay for it. Ben calls the hotel to check in on things and is shocked to hear that the Dreytons just checked out. And as for Hank? No sight of him. All they can do, he tells Jo, is head to London and try to save Hank, and maybe stop the assassination themselves.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) | FilmFed - Movies, Ratings, Reviews, and  Trailers

On paper, now that I look at it, that sounds a little ridiculous -but the McKennas don’t do half bad coming up with a plan of attack. Things don’t go perfectly smoothly, but their plan is at least somewhat plausible, and the plot hums along with plenty of moments of suspense. Most excruciating is a twelve-minute sequence at a concert; Jo has learned the victim is attending a concert, and heads to warn him – but meets the assassin, who warns her to back off. Jo then spends the entire length of a twelve-minute cantata standing helplessly in the back of the house looking at both the assassin’s box and the victim’s box, cowering and wondering what on earth she should do.

The Man Who Knew Too Much — JT's Digs

Another thing I liked about this, though, was that along with the suspense there was humor – and not over-the-top comedy either. Early on there’s a scene where the McKennas visit a traditional Moroccan restaurant, and the sight of the tall lanky Jimmy Stewart trying to fold himself up to fit at a tiny low table made me laugh out loud. There’s also a sight gag involving sheet music at the concert, a bizarre sequence at a taxidermist’s, and a delightfully playful conversation between the McKennas as they wander the Marrakech market, speculating on which of Ben’s recent surgeries might have earned enough to pay for the various market wares.

Hill Place: A Mother's Day Tribute to Doris Day in Alfred Hitchcock's "The  Man Who Knew Too Much"

I was even more surprised to learn that this was the film where the song “Que Sera, Sera” made its debut. I’d always assumed it came from a more traditional rom-com musical, but it’s instead something of a touchstone for Jo and Hank. It also sets up a brilliant sequence where the McKennas are at a party where they suspect Hank may be hidden, and someone presses Jo to perform for them. She agrees, and “just so happens” to select that song, singing it just a tiny bit louder than necessary in the hopes that maybe Hank, if he’s there, might hear. It’s a brilliant bit of acting – Jo is visibly terrified, but is just as determined to Perform. So she’s got a smile, but it’s just the tiniest bit brittle.

In his talk with Truffaut, Hitchcock said that this remake looked more like it was made by a professional. I certainly felt that I was in good hands.