The Red Shoes: A Ballet Symbolic of the Public/Private Spheres.

The Sadler Wells Theatre was showing Matthew Bourne’s ballet adaptation of The Red Shoes at the start of the year in London. Whilst watching the production, especially at ‘Ballet of the Red Shoes’ scene, I noticed something quite interesting. The ballet dancer who played ‘The Shoemaker’ looked extremely similar to the man portraying Boris Lermontov (it wasn’t until after the show that I realised they weren’t the same person.) This similarity got me thinking, about how the ballet within the performance and film reflect Vicky’s internal struggle of having to choose between her love of ballet (public sphere) and her husband (private sphere) to which these shoes become symbolic of.

The Red Shoes was originally a fairy tale by Hans Christian Anderson. The story follows a young girl named Karen whose excessive wearing of the shoes eventually leads to her having to amputate her own feet. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 film adaptation isn’t quite as gruesome.  It follows a young, aspiring principal ballet dancer Vicky Page (Moira Shearer) who must decide between her love of ballet and continue in Boris Lermontov’s (Anton Walbrook) ballet company or her love for the composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). The exploration of the shoes being a symbol of the public and private spheres starts from when the ballet of ‘The Red Shoes’ begins.

The ballet scene centres on a young girl who is enticed to wearing a pair of red shoes. ‘The Shoemaker’ enticing Vicky’s character represents Lermontov’s role in the film as well as the public sphere. The public sphere involves careers, politics, business and so forth and Lermontov prides his work amongst all else. He briefly appears in the ballet as ‘The Shoemaker’ when Vicky is distressed, reflecting his overbearing nature and control of his company. When he first meets Vicky he asks her why she wanted to dance, to which she replied “why do you want to live?” Before she met Julian, she wanted nothing more than to become a part of a world-leading ballet company as a principal dancer. Lermontov’s ambitions for his dancers was so consuming that when his previous lead Irina Boronskaya (Ludmilla Tcherina) announced she was getting married, he threw out of the company and refused to speak to her. This also happens in the second half of the film when Vicky decides to leave the company with her husband Julian. It is only when she leaves that the audience see Lermontov’s developed an infatuation with her. She returns and when he finds her on a train in Monte Carlo and just like ‘the shoemaker’ in the ballet, he entices her back to put on the red shoes once more.

Julian beomes the boy

Julian (Marius Goring) transitioning into ‘The Boy’ (Robert Helpmann) in the ballet in Vicky’s (Moira Shearer) mind.

Another central character to the ballet is ‘The Boy’ who is in love with ‘The Girl’. ‘The Boy’ character symbolises Julian, who in turn, is a symbol of the private sphere.  The private sphere consists of the home, familial structures and all things personal to the individual. In the scene Julian appears briefly, revealing the psyche of Vicky to the audience. The first time, he appears as ‘The Shoemaker’ highlighting the fact that Julian was also pushing her too, in this case it was regarding the tempo (something they quarrelled about before the scene.)  The second time he appears as ‘The Boy’, reflecting the narrative for the second half of the film. Julian and Vicky eventually realise their feelings for each other and marry, much to the chagrin of Lermontov. He fires the composer and Vicky decides to go too, choosing love over her career. In London Julian engrosses himself in his passion by writing an opera. Vicky misses hers and when she finally returns to perform ‘The Red Shoes’ again, he believes he’s chosen Lermontov over her. As he leaves for the train, Vicky who seemed bound by the shoes, runs off onto the balcony and falls in front of a moving train. The ending parallels the ending of the ballet, where ‘The Girl’ pleads with her lover to take off the shoes, just as Vicky does with Julian.

Pulling off the shoe parallel

The ending of the ballet (left) and the film (right) where the lover pulls off ‘The Girl’/Vicky’s shoes.

The separation of the two spheres is practised in Liberalism and Liberal Feminism, who unlike the other feminist ideologies, see the spheres as being separate of each other. With this in mind, a question to consider is does this film condemn or endorse this? We must keep in mind that Vicky is still a young girl and the only familial relationship we’re aware of is her aunt. Lermontov therefore acts as a patriarchal figure who is forcing her to choose. He believes that a principal  ballet dancers love should be for their work only. This extreme measure makes Vicky believe that she cannot be a wife as well as a dancer and feels that she must chose. Julian, on the other hand, still wants her to dance but just not for Lermontov. At that time it wasn’t uncommon for women to leave their careers for the privacy of the home, just look at Clara Bow who gave up her acting career in 1931 and spent the rest of her days on a ranch. The only difference between her and Vicky is that Vicky’s career has only just begun. She doesn’t want to have to choose between the two. She wants both. The shoes symbolise her struggle and this struggle consumed her, just like the shoes consumed the young girl in the ballet. The fact that she died too serves as a dire warning to the consequences of ‘separating’ the spheres. The question of whether it condemns or endorses is open to interpretation. Either way ‘The Red Shoes’ symbolise a struggle most women may face, or have faced, of having to choose between your loves and passions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Kate: The Woman Who was Katharine Hepburn’ Biography review.

After having a hectic schedule because of my dissertation, I have returned to my love of reading. I have finished reading another biography and I thought, considering that my Hedy Lamarr review was popular, that I would make this a more regular thing. The biography under review is one on Katharine Hepburn, specifically ‘Kate: the Woman Who was Katharine Hepburn’ by William J. Mann.

This biography was published in 2006, three years after Katharine Hepburn died at age 96 on June 29th 2003. Coming in at over 600 pages, the biography promises to look into the ‘real’ woman behind ‘Kate’. It sets out to dissect the legendary stories surrounding Hepburn, how they were created, why, and what actually was happening at the time. It sets out to understand how Hepburn moulded herself into an iconic American figure, just like the Statue of Liberty.

The book itself is made up of a preface, the biographical section of the book and then the acknowledgments, notes and the index. The preface is helpful to setting up the biography, however, by the time you finish the book you practically forget what was written. The use of the preface to establish his argument is pointless as it is present throughout the entire book anyway.

The biography itself takes up around 532 pages and it is quite thorough for someone who lived for 96 years. Well, I found the first half which chronicled her early life as ‘Jimmy’, her time at Bryn Mawr and her early career to be chronological and extremely detailed. The book has a variety of sources such as several archives and testimonials of those who knew Hepburn. The attention to detail regarding Katharine Hepburn shows in the extensive notes for each chapter. Yet with these notes I prefer it if they place a reference note on the page, so that I can check it whilst reading it. This is probably just a ‘me thing’ however at least I can be grateful that he had notes in the first place.

K.H with Gibbon monkey.

This picture was featured in the biography itself and is now one of my favourite photos of her. Here Katharine Hepburn is holding a Gibbon Monkey in the 1930s.

I felt that when I got to chapter 21/22, when Spencer Tracey entered her life, the structure wasn’t the same. Instead of being chronological, it started with a particular event which defined the chapter and worked around that. From the 1950s onwards, a chapter covered an entire decade yet her time at Bryn Mawr had around three.

I would say that the biggest problem of this biography, however, is Mann’s assumptions, in order to suit a particular perspective. For a biography that’s filled with extensive research, including stuff that was only was available after her death, his ‘agenda’ takes over the narrative. This is why checking over the author’s previous work is always important.

At the start of the book, it states that William J. Mann’s work at the time included ‘Edge of Midnight: The Life of John Schlesinger’; ‘Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Shaped Hollywood’ and ‘Wisecracker: The Life of Times of William Haines’. The link between all three of these writings is that they all consider gay men working within Hollywood. Now before people get angry, I do not have a problem with Mann, a gay author, writing about the LGBTQ+ in Hollywood. What I do have a problem with will become clearer shortly.

Throughout this biography he practically claims that everyone Hepburn came into contact with was either gay or a lesbian. With people like her friends George Cukor, Robert Helpmann, Noel Coward and so forth it makes sense. Even the possibility that Katharine Hepburn may have had a relationship with a woman, most probably during her early adult-life, is plausible. Yet he then claimed, for example, that Alice Palache had a crush on her and that people like H. Phelps Putnam or Irene Selznick were in same-sex relationships. His evidence is just by reading ‘between the lines’ of letters they sent. This is basically just the academic equivalent of a ‘gaydar.’

The African Queen

This photograph was taken on the set of ‘The African Queen’ (1951.) From left, Angela Allen, Eileen Bates, Katharine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and director John Huston. (Photo owned by Angela Allen, the head of continuity.)

This is probably the only biography I’ve read where the sexuality of all people, as well as if they were sexually active, is questioned. For example, the ‘sexuality of’ Constance Collier is sub-headed in the index on page 604. At one point, a paragraph states something along the lines of ‘I bet the first thought that came to your mind was were they lovers?’ (No. Not really.) He even then claims that her brother Tom died due to a sexual asphyxiation. Yes, the way he hung himself was weird however Mann mentions that he was known to suffer from ‘nerves’. Maybe anxiety could have had something to do with it? (He also claims that Tom may have been gay too.)

But what probably is the worst part revolves around the claim of Spencer Tracey’s supposed repressed homosexuality being the reason why he drinks. His source for this? A man named Scotty Bowers. If you are unaware, like I was before I read this book, he is a man who claims that he ran a ‘celebrity brothel’ from the 1940s-80s. He claims this with no evidence, except his ‘memory’ and he wouldn’t tell his story until everyone had died. So basically Mann claims Tracey is a repressed homosexual because this guy with no concrete evidence told him so. I mean, why didn’t Mann consider that his father was also a drinker, or that he felt guilty because he wasn’t a good enough husband, father or catholic? Literally, there are probably a million of other reasons why he drank. Spencer Tracy biographer James Curtis even dismissed Mann’s claims.

Scotty Bowers as a ‘reliable source’ shows a hypocrisy in Mann’s writing. Mr. Bowers claims that he ‘procured’ 150 women for Hepburn within the space of 50 years. This is contradicted in the text. With every relationship that Mann writes about Katharine Hepburn having they usually always last many years, and even if they are no longer together they would still keep in contact. In fact, her good friend Alice Palache is quoted stating ‘once you become friends with Katharine Hepburn, you’re a friend for life.’ This is shown through her relationships between John Ford, Spencer Tracy and Laura Harding amongst others which are sustained and mentioned throughout the book.

So when he does mention Hepburn using Bowers ‘services’ in that she wanted someone to go ‘hiking with’, Mann apparently tracked down the woman. In his note on p. 580, he states that he found her through independent sources as Bowers didn’t provide her name. She said she knew her and only stated one quote on p. 398 before hanging up. It doesn’t really prove anything as he didn’t give the name and she may have known Hepburn by other means. In fact, Scotty Bowers’s claims are just ridiculous in general and I’m not saying that, like Mann would say, because I am ‘homophobic’. I acknowledge and love that there are gay, lesbian and/or bisexual Old Hollywood stars and I honestly don’t have a problem with that. My problem is that these claims don’t really help the LGBTQ+ community, as they just ‘sensationalise’ various stars sex lives and re-inforce unhealthy stereotypes. Apparently stars like Bowers ‘swizzle stick trick‘ and sleeping with multiple partners, including Bowers or eating disgustingly filled sandwiches. Somehow they found time to do this even though they were working on around three films at once and giving pills in order to stay awake. It leaves me with more questions than answers. I have seven biographies on Vivien Leigh and yet I have never heard of Bowers apparently sleeping with her? Also, was he ever worried about STI’s? AIDS? Pregnancy worries? Especially in regards the all-controlling Hollywood studio system. Did they even know about this?

Before I go off even more, I’m going to round off with my overall conclusion. This biography is extremely thorough and detailed with a variety of sources. It takes the legends and ‘myths’ of Hepburn’s life and traces them to their original source. It offers a unique take upon Hepburn as a sensitive woman who cared about her public image, and insights into how her career was able to survive all those years. This biography is still worth the read however if you do decide to read it, just keep in mind the authors agenda and previous work in mind.

Judy Garland Blogathon: Judy and Gay Culture.

I’m back again to do another blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. There are several other entries to go check out which all celebrate the life of Judy Garland, who would have been 96 today.

Judy Garland-picmonkey_image-20

When I first saw the blog post about featuring in a Judy Garland blogathon, I thought that I would use the experience to write about something which I have been extremely curious about. Somewhere I read, it was probably Wikipedia which isn’t the greatest source, that Judy Garland had a massive gay following because her life resonated with gay people. I’m going to mention this now in order to establish my standing in this piece. I do not consider myself gay nor do I have all the answers around this relationship between Judy Garland and the gay community. Even the text I refer to, which was written by a gay scholar, cannot give us a definitive answer. He just merely gives a perspective. I personally felt that I related to Garland’s life and her personal struggles, as I too am a woman who feels inadequate within the world she lives in. Instead of dismissing outright Garland’s relationship with gay men, like some would, it made my curiosity as to why grow.

The first, logical place that I could go and find this out was speak to a gay man I know. I asked him this question and he responded back by referring me to a Youtuber who speaks on the relationship between gays and musicals. This didn’t prove very helpful at all. It wasn’t until I started work on my dissertation where I found a section of a book titled ‘Judy Garland and Gay Men’.

The chapter was from Richard Dyer’s Heavenly Bodies. He starts the section by recalling an incident which happened during the June 1973 issue of the Birmingham Gay Liberation Front Newsletter. The editorial collective, which Dyer was a member of, had a policy which meant that the G.L.F would print anything submitted to them, so long as it wasn’t sexist, racist or fascist. One article they received on pink paper was entitled ‘Born in a Trunk.’ It was an article on Judy Garland’s life. The fan’s retelling of her life made it into the militant gay political group’s letter which lead to numerous people, gay and straight, questioning why this was in the newsletter in the first place. He sets up the section by stating “Why was Garland in a gay magazine? And when they knew the answer – because so many gay men (especially) are into her – the next question was a bemused ‘why’?”

Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland (right) in her most famous role, and most famous gingham dress for ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939).

Before he goes into certain aspects of her image, he sets up the context of her image in relation to gay men’s ‘subculture’, and the period in which he is looking back on. The period he is referring to is post-1950. Here, there was change up from her usual happy-go-lucky small town image as she was sacked from MGM, and a suicide attempt made its way into headline news. This event, he argues, lead to a re-reading of Garland having a special relationship to suffering, ordinariness and normality. These aspects helped re-align her image in relation to her gay audience, through her career pre-1950, post-1950, and an article written in McCall’s in 1952 as well as her UK concerts before her death in 1969.

The start sets up her audience at her UK concerts, drawing on gay publications and eyewitness accounts from letters he received from the public. He critiques the writings of the likes of Brian Conley for Gay News and Woodcock as they internalise a straight reading of Judy Garland. Instead, the focus is on letters which transcribe two common themes. 1) How she was able to produce raw, intense emotions through her singing and 2) Her ability to always come-back and keep on fighting, despite the tendency some had to cling onto her ‘tragic’ figure. These points, however, could relate to any number of stars. Some like Vera Lynn could claim the first point and the second could be seen exclusively for someone like Marilyn Monroe. Both could be seen in artists such as Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross and Barbra Streisand. These singers are in some way important to gay male culture however what made Judy special was her symbol of survival as well as three key aspects of her Hollywood image.

The first point which Dyer argues as integral to her gay image is that of Ordinariness. The image given to her by MGM was an All-American, girl-next-door. This image establishes her non-gay and pre-1950 appeal. What he finds important in Garland’s ordinariness is her relationship with the image and how that is established through her movie-going ‘self’.

Her ordinariness is established by the fact that her films usually feature a small town; a small town girl falls in love with the boy next door. This epitome of this ‘ordinary American life’ is most present in the Andy Hardy series, along with the continual costuming of Judy in a blue gingham frock. This dress style features in various films such as ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939), ‘Pigskin Parade’ (1936), ‘Strike up the Band’ (1940) and ‘Till the Clouds Roll By’ (1946.) This point I would question because although the blue gingham may be a symbol for small-town America, it could also symbolise the fact that she is playing a young, teenage girl or be the capitalist tool used by studios which use costumes as a way to draw on previous notable roles so that people re-watch or remember her other films.

ZIEGFELD GIRL

A promotional still for ‘Ziegfeld Girl’ (1941). (From Left) Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr, director Robert Z. Leonard, Judy Garland and Tony Martin.

Dyer argues that her ordinariness relates to gay men as like Judy Garland, gay men are brought up to be ordinary. He argues that one is not brought up gay and that culture seems to work against it. If Judy retained her ‘normal’ image like that of June Allyson or Deanna Durbin who leave Hollywood and settle down into marriage, she probably wouldn’t have been the gay icon that she is now. The fact that after 1950 she wasn’t the ‘ordinary girl’ highlighted a relationship that was parallel with gay identity and two specific elements which resonate this in the MGM era are emotional intensity and her lack of glamour. Her emotional intensity is established through her singing-style range, from either loud, belting, peppy style or torch style song. This intensity was emphasised through the comparisons made between her and Deanna Durbin. Her ‘lack of glamour’ relates to the fact that her characters were always a demure girl next door, and even if she did live in New York or another city, the audience would find out that they come from a small town anyway. Her hair is in a simple perm and she wears plain dresses or party clothes that were usually found on nice young girls. Although she wasn’t marketed as beautiful, there are certain films such as ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ which attempted this.

Judy’s characters were often compared to other glamourous women in her films and one notable example he gives is that from ‘Ziegfeld Girl’. He notes that her character Susan becomes a Ziegfeld girl because of her talent, and not her looks which it clearly evident in the film. What I do have a problem with, however, is the way he describes the costuming choices used in the picture. The camp costumes by Adrian (pictured) show the differences between Garland’s Susan, Lana Turner’s Sheila and Hedy Lamarr’s Sandra. The part about Garland being covered completely whilst breaking up her body shape when compared to Lana’s which featured a high thigh split to show her legs is correct. The part I have a problem with is the description of Lamarr’s. Exotic flowers and orchids are placed around her breasts and vulva which he suggests highlight her ‘perfect’ body, and that the flowers resemble the haute couture wealth which Ziegfeld girls possessed. The ‘exotic flowers’ probably re-emphasise her MGM image of being a beautiful, ‘exotic’ foreigner whilst the idea of her breasts being perfect was actually considered a flaw by MGM executives who worked with Lamarr.

The fact is, this idea of Garland of not being glamorous shows her failing at her femininity and her sex role which leads to her being characterised as ‘one of the boys’. This ‘failure’ may register with gay men who feel inadequate in relation to their sexuality and sexual attractiveness as gender misfits. Yet this is undermined by the fact that she always gets her man, or her heart’s desire in these movies highlighting the wish fulfilment and happy ending outcome we desire when watching movies.

This brings us onto the last point regarding ordinariness which is Garland’s relationship to us as a movie fan. Early promotion material situated her as a move fan, showing that her character became a stand-in for the audience in the films she would star in. She becomes a point of entry into the film, and therefore acts as a symbol of escapism upon the gay men who watch her films. Cinema is an important aspect of gay culture and Garland symbolises the ‘ordinary’ person who can escape into the magic of a film.

1_Sv1cBhvx4Ge831K-iinIUA

Judy Garland recording ‘Get Happy’ in 1950. Here she exhibits ‘stylish androgyny’ with sex appeal.

The next aspect is that of androgyny. Even though she could be seen as ‘same’ and ‘ordinary’, she is also placed as being ‘different’ as a gender ’In-Between’. Named like her popular song on puberty, homosexuality (Dyer argues) is seen as an in-between from heterosexuality. The absence of true or full masculinity or femininity is lost as they don’t fit into the gender traits exhibited in heterosexual sexuality. Garland herself did not express ‘sexual androgyny’ like Marlene Dietrich however she exhibited enough androgyny for it to be regarded as ‘gender androgyny’ instead. The key way this would be expressed is through dress however it is also interesting to note that the assumption of a little masculinity is a standard feature in the idea of a woman-as-a-spectacle.

One notable example from her pre-1950 career is in the film ‘Everybody Sing’. In Fanny Brice’s ‘Baby Snooks’ routine, she comes on dressed in a short-trousered velvet suit. Brice, in a baby’s nightie, asks “are you a girl or a boy?” to which Garland replies “they call me Little Lord Fauntleroy.” Throughout the entire sketch she avoids answering the question outright.

Later on in her career, her androgyny is defined by two distinct ways: stylish and tragi-comic or vampish and trampish. The former is exhibited in Get Happy and You Gotta …. Symbolising a glamorous, Garboesque androgyny which oozes in sex appeal. Vamp gay men could identify with someone sexually accepted by the boys whilst in the tramp, gay men could see someone who has questions surrounding their sexuality which was without gender. The loose, male clothing complete the image as they conceal the shape of the body which highlights the escapism from her ‘sex role’.

The last factor is that of Camp. Dyer defines camp as a “characteristically gay way of handling the values, images and products of the dominant culture through irony, exaggeration, trivialisation, theatricalisation… making fun of and out of the serious and respectable.” A letter he receives talks about her being ‘unintentional camp’ however he argues that her campness was more inward; someone who expresses camp attitudes.

dirk-and-judy

Dirk Bogarde with co-star Judy Garland for ‘I Could Go On Singing’. (1962.)

Most readings of her being camp came posthumously after her passing. This includes Liza Minelli quoting her mother – “When I die I have visions of f*** singing Over the Rainbow…” It is also present in her films, especially those she did with Vincente Minelli like ‘Ziegfeld Follies’ (1946) and ‘The Pirate’ (1948). These films contain elements of theatricality, parody and obvious artifice. Garland’s own camp humour usually had an effect on setting up the tone and conventions of her films. Just like in ‘Oz’, the magic world and the standing outside of it is symbolic of the ambivalence in gay culture constructing a scene which is both keenly desired and yet put-on. It is in this recognition that camp finds reality.

He ends the section by briefly talking about a film which is apparently her most ‘gayest’, ‘I Could Go On Singing’ (1962.) He says that all aspects mentioned above exhibit themselves in the film. Ordinariness doesn’t feature that much due to her co-star Dirk Bogarde. For those unaware, Bogarde was an English star who featured two years before in the British film ‘Victim’. The film was a thriller campaigning for reform in the homosexuality laws, making it a ground-breaking film during its release. Bogarde stated that he did this film for ‘social consciousness’ however his career after this coloured his image in relation to homosexuality afterwards. (I also think he came out as bisexual, or he was concealing it… Don’t quote me on that.) The most interesting point however is that Garland’s image outruns a gay reading of her because, unlike Bogarde and gay men, she cannot retreat to a patriarchal position.

Overall, Judy Garland appealed to gay men through a re-reading of her career post-1950 through ordinariness, androgyny and camp. Dyer wrote this chapter in 1975, and the ideas he writes down are symbolic of the time he was writing in and the gay movement as a whole. He also concludes the section by acknowledging that some gay men didn’t buy into Judy as a gay icon. In fact, he writes that “as with any star, the fan’s enthusiasm is based on feeling that the star is just wonderful”, highlighting terms which might be used for any star being prescribed by gay men onto Judy Garland. The fact that times have changed have allowed for other stars like Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, Celine Dion and so forth being declared ‘gay icons’. Sexuality has also been recognised as being more on a spectrum, rather than through the archaic ideals of ‘straight’ or ‘homosexual’ which are written here. This leaves me with one question, is Judy Garland still relevant for the 21st Century gay community? I think so but I feel she has a place more within those who admire Old Hollywood and the practices of drag performances such as that by drag lip-synch artist Dickie Beau. In 1969, the Gay Sweatshop did a production called ‘As Time Goes By’. Drag Queen Drew Griffiths recalls that “I loved her because no matter how they put her down, she survived.” To me, that was Judy Garland’s biggest legacy to the gay community.

Bette Davis, Costume and the ‘Character Actress’. (As part of the Bette Davis Blogathon.)

I am finally participating in a blogathon (ahh!) From the April 5th-7th ‘In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood’ is hosting their third annual blogathon. On April 5th Bette Davis was born and this year would have been her 110th birthday.

picmonkey_image-13-Bette Davis Bolgathon

Character actress. If there was ever a word used to describe Bette Davis as an actor it would be that. She was never considered a ‘classical beauty’ like most of her contemporaries of the day but rather she was revered for her work, along with her infamous rivalry with Joan Crawford. She would always ‘transform’ herself into her roles, once stating that “through the work of a fine costume designer, an actor or actress can become the character … If we are not comfortable in those clothes, if they do not project the character, the costume designer has failed us.

Costume is a visual aspect that is usually overlooked as something to be aesthetically pleasing for the audience, and also something which must reveal information about the character itself. This is so true especially in relation to the Old Hollywood system and this ideal creation of the ‘star’. Costumes were usually photographed to be seen and not worn in an effort to make the said ‘beautiful star’. Designers were also used as a way to ‘make the star’, with notables examples like Audrey Hepburn and Hubert Givenchy, Joan Crawford and Adrian amongst others. Even though Davis worked extensively in her early career with Orry-Kelly and then Edith Head, she was never sold as ‘beautiful’.

Davis and her roles are usually categorised as the ‘independent’ woman, independence that’s defined within heteronormative structures. By this, I mean that the women characters are constrained from full independence as they eventually ‘fall for the man’ and restructure themselves as the ‘homebody woman’. Davis was also known as one of the ‘drama’ pioneers, earning most of her critical praise and Oscars for these roles. Drama was something she lived for as when she was 10 years old in the school Christmas pageant, Santa Claus’s robe caught on fire. She closed her eyes for maximum effect leaving the teacher to believe that she was blind. From then on, in that adrenaline fuelled moment, she knew she wanted to be an actor.

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On the left Bette Davis in ‘Fashions of 1934’ (1934) and on the right, in ‘Now, Voyager’ (1942.)

She arrived in Hollywood in 1930 and already Hollywood wanted to have their way with her. There were constant remarks about her appearance and even in ‘Fashions of 1934’ (1934) they supplied her with a Garbo wig, mouth and huge lashes to which she described as “I looked like somebody dressed up in mother’s clothes.” She used this experience as a learning curve so that she could never be ‘exploited’ in this way again.

During the early 30s she was always demanding for better roles, along with more and more creative control as her career developed. After her Academy Award winning role in Dangerous (1935) she then became more aware of the power she could execute over her image. In Western society there is usually this notion of prescribing to a ‘developmental view’ on history (that we, as a society, are developing all of the time). This notion is frequent to those of Hollywood, which is true and shouldn’t be side-lined, however they had some creative control over their image. This was expressed through the fact that everyone had to agree on a costume design which included: the actor, designer, seamstress and director amongst others. This meant that Davis could exert a power over the studio system, and in turn Jack Warner, which she desperately tried to do regarding her court case from 1936.

From the late thirties, like with ‘Dark Victory’ (1939), and all the way into many of her dramas for the 40s she worked with Orry-Kelly in designing her costumes. In some cases, like ‘Dark Victory’, there could have been a tendency to portray characters within an overdramatic and melancholic way. Davis however created and portrayed many of her characters as ‘bitches’. Within these many dramas, she was always defined through an iconic hat and fur-trimmings around her face. In the period drama ‘Little Foxes’ (1941) for example, Orry-Kelly chose to feature long sleeves upon her designs that extended beyond the hand in order to symbolise claws. Her hat too, with feathers which extended beyond the hat created her into a ‘bird of prey’. She once famously quipped during her ongoing feud with Crawford, “Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why Miss Crawford always played ladies.” Despite the context of this quote, Davis was known to play the cold-hearted characters, as she was never afraid to appear as hideously unattractive or spiteful as she didn’t care what people thought of her. What is also interesting about Davis is that as she wasn’t depended upon to be voyeuristically looked at, the box-office audience and critics could then judge her acting, rather than her beauty.

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(Left) Bette Davis in ‘Little Foxes‘ (1941) and on the right, her transformation into Queen Elizabeth I in ‘The Virgin Queen’ (1955.)

During the 50s Davis was taking more control over creative choices in the studios as her choices proved right which showed through the critical praising of her work. When she went onto make ‘All About Eve’ (1950) Davis insisted that the costume designer Charles LeMaire should be, essentially, replaced by Edith Head. In this film one of her iconic and more well-known glamorous dresses were produced. Apparently the measurements weren’t taken properly for the dress which is why the dress appears off the shoulder. This mishap is believed to be the reason why the film delayed production for a few days. This dress became iconic and I noticed whilst watching Feud’ (2017) that the dresses design would appear frequently, outside of Susan Sarandon re-creating a scene from the film, re-affirming the cultural iconography of Davis.

In 1962, the anticipated release of Bette Davis’s picture was released into cinemas. It was seen to give her a comeback from her somewhat failing career and how else can you get people talking than through working with your ‘arch nemesis’. Joan Crawford and Bette Davis worked together in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’, earning Davis another Oscar nomination. In this film, she is noted for ‘creating and transforming’ into Baby Jane through a wig Crawford supposedly worn in a 30s picture and make-up for the part. Transforming to the extreme for a part was something which was never new to Davis, in fact she revelled in it. When playing Queen Elizabeth I twice, in ‘The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex’ (1939) and ‘The Virgin Queen’ (1955), she shaved her hairline, eyebrows and plastered her face with powder. In most of her films her face was rouged, her costumes padded, prosthetics were sometimes deployed and she did all this whilst wearing sensible shoes. Transforming to large extents was something unheard of, unless you were Lon Chaney. That didn’t matter to Davis though as she relished in the transformation. This transforming however was not like that of the method actor trying to get into a role but rather that of a personification of herself. For her, the characters were ‘mixed’ into herself which had to adjust to the larger than life personality that was Bette Davis.

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On the left is Bette Davis as Margo Channing in ‘All About Eve’ (1950) and on the right, Susan Sarandon in ‘Feud’ (2017). Not exact replicas however they do seem similar which is enough to acknowledge the reference subconsciously.

In contrast to her everyday attire, rather than her costumes, Bette Davis never went to such a large extremes. Not to say that she never dressed glamorously or elegantly but in fact she relished in the simplicity of clothing. She favoured the block colours, simplistic patterns and/or the plain silhouettes of a dress, or t-shirt and trousers. Even within her ‘hipster phase’ of the 80’s she predominantly dressed in just black which was framed through her blue cat-eye glasses.

Bette may not have realised this but she was lucky. Why? Well compare her to Hedy Lamarr or Vivien Leigh for example. Leigh was always defined through Scarlett and a beauty she believed she didn’t possess and Lamarr was only framed through her beauty as she hardly ever changed her appearance throughout her career. Davis, on the other hand, could transform like a chameleon externally into roles and be praised for the work she’s doing. Instead of being photographed or filmed to be looked at voyeuristically as a ‘beautiful star’, she was afforded a luxury to ‘transform’ aesthetically into a role and be praised for it. Now I am not saying that Davis is ugly, because I for one believe she is beautiful, but the fact that she was never acknowledged as one during her time allowed her to be taken seriously by the public as an amazing actress. It certainly payed off, as she was rated by the AFI (American Film Institute) in the top five actresses of Old Hollywood and it earned her two Oscars. (It could have been three but that is another story.) Not only did she break down barriers by being the first woman on the Academy board in 1941 or as a producer, she also broke down the barrier and relationship that the body has to costume. Instead of being ‘looked at’, to be seen or photographed, Davis used costume to assist in creating her role and in turn transform herself into a serious character actress.

 

 

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story Q&A on International Women’s Day.

As part of Women’s International Day yesterday, the BFI (British Film Institute) kicked off the UN ‘He for She’ Arts Week in a very special way. They hosted the UK premiere screening of ‘Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story’ which had a Q&A with director Alexandra Dean and executive producer Susan Sarandon. For those who have visited my blog before, you will know that I am such a massive fan of Hedy so I had to go to this event. Unfortunately when the tickets were released a month prior, the members of the BFI had an extra week to book, meaning they were sold out. I didn’t give up hope. I rang up again on the morning of and mentioned about the likelihood of getting in with regards to the stand-by tickets and cancellations and the person on the phone informed me they usually queue up to two hours before.

So like the obsessive Hedy Lamarr fan I am, I made my way to the BFI Southbank with determination in my heart. My train was slightly delayed but I still soldiered on. I was the third person in the queue which was a lot smaller than I thought and as they opened the tickets up to thirty-minutes prior, I finally got my hand on a ticket, in a fourth row seat which I have always found to be on the most ideal rows ever. (AHHHHH!)

Sorting out my bag I realise someone else I know was going too who is a BFI member (so all this time I could’ve asked her? Although we might be going to see the other films they’re showing together which is great.) As they went off, another person who was standing right in front of me was none other than Sir Ian McKellen! I instantly messaged this person to let them know and when I meet them later on, they informed me that he must have been on the guest list as he was also watching the documentary with us. (AHHHHH!)

As we all went to our seats the legendary Blue Peter presenter (although you may know her as Charlie Brooker’s (Black Mirror) wife) Konnie Huq went to inform us of the ‘house rules’ and so forth, as it was a live recorded event. There was also a couple of more brief speeches from someone a part of the UN ‘He for She’ initiative informing us that this was part of their Arts Week and another woman who was a part of the distribution company for the film Dogwoof. Once these formalities were over, the documentary began rolling.

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Hedy in her iconic costume. A promotional still for ‘Ziegfeld Girl’.

At first, I was a little worried about the documentary. It’s not that I didn’t think that Alexandra Dean couldn’t do an amazing job (which she did) but rather because there is so much misinformation regarding Hedy and her life that sometimes it’s so difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t. If there is one minor inaccuracy, I would say that it was her being the basis of Snow White and that’s only because Hedy didn’t arrive in America until a few months before the film’s release and I don’t think they would have spent forever recolouring or changing Snow White’s design. (And yes, she was internationally known in 1933 for ‘Ecstasy’ however I don’t think Walt Disney would want to base his princess on a Jewish Austrian who simulated an orgasm on screen.) Anyway…..

The documentary overall is incredible! If you have any chance to see this in cinemas go see it, Hedy fan or not. You get to see the late Robert Osborne, biographers Stephen Michael Shearer and Richard Rhodes, Diane Kruger, Mel Brooks and Hedy’s children including a brief appearance of James (Jaimsie) Loder which tugged at my heartstrings. There are also appearances from Jeanine Basinger, a George Antheil biographer and Antheil’s nephew, academic experts in engineering science and spread-spectrum technology and more. The feature mixes in unseen images from Anthony Loder’s archive in his office, stock footage of locations, Diane Kruger reading out her letters, film clips, animation by Google doodle designer Jennifer Hom and something extremely special. The film also cleared up a big mystery as to why she had a ‘diva-like’ behaviour in the 50s. Biographers mentioned about the fact that she may have been medicated however a new book regarding ‘Dr. Feelgood’, which featured archival material, revealed that Hedy was one of his clients. Cecile B. DeMille would hire him to give ‘vitamin shots’ to his performers during the filming of ‘Samson and Delilah’. For the next thirty years she became hooked to methamphetamines which caused her erratic behaviour.

The anchor of the documentary is Hedy herself. In 1990 she gave a phone interview to Fleming Meeks regarding her invention and her life which he had kept on four tapes in his office. As they mention in the Q&A, the film had a completely different structure which was based on the infamous ‘autobiography’ ‘Ecstasy and Me’ however this final format worked out so much better. The fact that Hedy’s voice is anchoring it, for me, finally lets the world see the Hedy that I see under all that glamorous movie star trope and after all this time it gives the viewer a sense of who she truly was.

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A scene from the film in which Hedy explains her air plane design idea to Howard Hughes, with added animation by Jennifer Hom.

After the screening the Q&A went ahead. This part was also recorded live out to around seventy cinemas in the UK, where viewers had to tweet questions in via #BombshellDoc. Konnie Huq was the interviewer and she honestly did an amazing job. I’ve seen a couple of Q&A’s from other screenings online however I felt that in this one I learned so many new and different things regarding the process, the making of and the reception of this documentary, especially in regards to it being shown on International Women’s Day and also the #MeToo Time’s Up Movement being so prominent regarding women in film. I must also give a shout out to Susan Sarandon’s blue suit and white brogues because that outfit was amazing and I want it. It was also interesting to learn that whilst she was working on this, they were also filming Feud’ which is interesting as Bette Davis, who she portrays, knew Hedy and was her daughter Denise’s godparent.

As this ended and we all exited the space, Susan Sarandon and Sir Ian McKellen were getting their photos taken and some people asked for Susan’s autograph. Outside and around the corner there were people waiting and as much as I would like to tell her I enjoyed her work in ‘Feud’ and to thank her for this film, it was too cold for that.

All in all I am so glad that I could make it to this event which I have been waiting forever for. If you are a Hedy Lamarr nerd like me, then go. If you love work by women and want to support that, then watch this documentary. If you can’t make the BFI Southbank or somewhere else where they are showing the film, then do whatever you can to watch it or wait until April for its DVD release. Either way it is incredible, so just see it.

Friday Film Review: F is for Fire Over England. (Alphabet Edition.)

To see the other films in the Friday Film Review: alphabet edition click here:

A B C D E

This week’s film is the 1937 historical drama ‘Fire Over England.’ This was a London Films Production picture, produced by Erich Pommer and presented by Alexander Korda. Alexander Korda, known as Britain’s only movie mogul, created a series of Historical British pictures such as ‘The Private Life of Henry VIII’ (1933), as they were extremely popular. The main four stars that received top billing in the picture all became quite successful and well-known. Dame Flora Robson starred as Queen Elizabeth I and she was a well-known British stage and screen star before her death in 1984. Another star, who despite hardly appearing in the film at all, was Raymond Massey who is most well-known for his role as Mr. Trask in ‘East of Eden’. The other two main stars who credit this role as the catalyst for their blossoming romance was Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh. The film was based on a novel by A.E.W Mason with the screenplay by Clemence Dane and Sergei Nolbandov. It was directed by William K. Howard and the costumes were designed by René Hubert.

The review for this week and next will be formatted different as I intend to focus on costume, as these films are case studies for my dissertation. Anyway, the film begins with opening text which sets up the premise for the film. “In 1587 Spain, powerful in the old world master in the new, it’s King Phillip, rules by force and fear. But Spanish tyranny is challenged by the free people of a little island, England.” From looking at the text alone the film already sets itself up as a patriotic one as well as a film which is set during the Spanish Armada of 1588. During the time the film was being made there was also the events of the Spanish Civil War (which was left-leaning parties and anarchists against the right-wing) and considering the UK had a conservative government at the time this may have affected their relationship to the country. There was also the rumblings of the inevitable Second World War which would occur in 1939, so the film may have been to boost British pride and morale. (Or I’m reading way too much into Korda trying to score big bucks in the cinema.)

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Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) addressing her subjects.

Whatever the context surrounding the films making may be, the film’s plot itself revolves around the Spanish Armada, along with other sub-plots. First we have the Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) who is running the country and trying to balance out the relationship between Spain, with the help of doting Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (Leslie Banks) and wise-old ‘Spirit’ Lord Burleigh (Morton Selton.) Lord Burleigh has a granddaughter Cynthia (Vivien Leigh) who is in love with the young and noble Michael Ingleby (Laurence Olivier.) Michael at the start of the film is with his father among a boat which is captured by the Spanish forces. His father tells him to swim to shore as his old friend Don Miguel (Robert Rendel) will help him out. Don Miguel works with the Spanish government and has a daughter Elena (Tamara Desni), and they reside in Lisbon. He seeks shelter from them until he finds out they executed his father, so he returns to England. In England, the Earl of Leicester learns that a young man of the court Hillary Vane (James Mason of all people!) is a traitor to the Queen. As he tries to flee the country he is seized by the Queen’s guards, so he decides to take his life as a result. Without knowing the name of the perpetrators the Queen hatches a plan for Michael to disguise himself as Vane in order to get the names. Whilst there, the audience learn that Elena married Don Pedro (Robert Newton), someone who serves King Phillip (Raymond Massey). She doesn’t give his cover away because she has a thing for him. It isn’t until her husband starts piecing it together that he finds out. Michael escapes being put in prison and returns to the frontlines in Tilbury. She awards him a knighthood (foreboding his life!) so that he can lead the Armada against the Spanish. The film ends with the Queen leading everyone in prayer, including the newly-wed Cynthia and Michael Ingleby.

Originally Flora Robson believed the film was a vehicle for her as the star however she became furious when she found out it was a vehicle for ‘the lovers’ Olivier and Leigh. Everyone on set knew of their affair, as at the time they were married to other people with a young child, however they kept it secret. Olivier was also said to have been constantly exhausted and it wasn’t because of his stunts, but rather because of Vivien (wink wink.) Even if Korda depended on this to be a vehicle for Leigh she doesn’t really do much except for kiss Olivier’s Michael whilst the Queen watches on (one time she was sneaking in the back, like a ninja.) If it was to help aide her in securing the role of Scarlett, which it did, then it kind of makes sense when you look at Cynthia’s characterisation. Everyone was ok in their roles however I felt like that this film was more of a vehicle for Laurence Olivier, to show that he could act well on screen as he then went to America in 1939 to film ‘Wuthering Heights’. If you are a fan of Laurence Olivier than this film features him doing some damn good acting. It also establishes him as a ladies man as every woman was practically in love with the dude, even the Queen! (I mean, I can’t blame her.) There were some things though which were really annoying about the film. One was the incessant and random use of a low, chanting music used throughout, especially during scenes set in Spain as it implied they were all druids. Another minor moment was the excessive use of shot-reverse-shot when Michael was singing and conversing with Elena as it happened after every sentence. Another thing, if you’ve ever wanted to hear Laurence Olivier or Vivien Leigh play an instrument and sing then you’ve come to the right film. Besides all this it doesn’t seem like an extremely historically accurate film and honestly I don’t expect something that should entertain will.

F.O.E 2

The various costumes. (From top row, left) The Queen (Flora Robson) showing her wealth with her pearls and Cynthia (Vivien Leigh) in the green dress. (Bottom row, left) Michael in some good Elizabethan trousers and then wearing his clothes a la Colin Firth (Laurence Olivier.) (Middle right) Elena (Tamara Desni) wearing her weird collar.

One example of inaccuracy was in the costumes (and yes, you heard me correctly.) Designs of period pieces are never factually accurate, as the more historically accurate a characters clothing is, they are more likely to be the villain because the audience will not be able to identify with them. The designs by René Hubert was something which stood out for me the entire picture. One thing I did extremely appreciate was that Hubert didn’t dress all the women to look like that one infamous picture of Queen Elizabeth I (looking at you ‘Shakespeare in Love’.) Instead she had an array of dresses which were adorned with various materials such as pearls which is a signifier of her wearing her wealth, something which was common practice during the Elizabethan era. The silhouette of the bottom half of the dresses on both Elizabeth and Cynthia were the most interesting as they represented that of a crinoline skirt frame. The crinoline was popular during the mid-19th century which was when ‘Gone With the Wind’ was set and even better, one of her dresses form the film were colourised by Tom Tierney in his paper dolls series and guess what colour the dress is? Green. This is significant as Walter Plunkett designed the dresses to contain green in them so that when she would be under the lights, they would reflect the green in her eyes (although this film was in black and white but still…) As the film was supposed to be a vehicle towards Leigh’s career, Korda may have kept this in mind for Hubert to consider, and as he worked with her on a few films, he may have been helping her become Scarlett through her costuming (or maybe I’m clutching at straws.) The collars of the women’s dressing were also an interesting choice as the Queen sported the open look, or some ruffs placed neatly round the collar and Leigh would have something similar for Cynthia too. Elena, unlike the others, was given something which resembled one of those sick dog cones.  On the other hand the men’s costumes were terrible, especially the bottom half. Laurence Olivier was the only one given decent looking Elizabethan trousers and that wasn’t until the end of the film. The rest of the time the men looked like they had deflated shorts-shorts underneath their torso. Lastly, regrading men’s torso, in this film Olivier ‘Colin Firth’d’ before Colin Firth (as he sports the open chest look.)

Overall if you are a fan of any of the actors I’ve mentioned above, or of Alexander Korda’s work in the British film industry, then check out this film. It isn’t probably the best thing you’ll ever see them in, or the worst either, but I would say it lives more in the ‘it’s a pretty good film’ side of the spectrum. Sure the music can be annoying at points, along with odd directorial choices, but once you get past that then its fine. René Hubert’s costumes are pretty to look at and are unique in comparison to other Elizabeth costumes seen in other adaptations. The film is great in the fact that you can see the chemistry between Olivier and Leigh light up the screen when they have a scene together and also if you have a crush on Olivier then watch this film. He looks damn fine, even with eyeliner on.

Endeavour: Colours Review.

Endeavour returned again to our screens on Sunday night for another new instalment. If you would like, you can check out the previous reviews I’ve done for the series thus far here: 1, 2 and 3. Finally, just a heads-up that this review may contain language from the time which is unsuitable now (but it’s important to use for contextual purposes. It’s very minor and brief however I thought that I should flag it up anyway.)

Plot:

The opening title sequence is always used to set up the plot of each of the episodes. This title sequence is unusual, however, as it opens with music that isn’t opera (and/or classical.) Instead, we see DCI Fred and Win Thursday (Roger Allam and Caroline O’ Neill) being called onto the dancefloor! It then cuts to an Oxford University debate Society meeting which concerns itself with ‘immigration, race and rights’. Here, the meeting shows the black British student Marcus X (Marcus Griffith) debating against students, with the white neo-Nazi Lady Bayswater (Caroline Goodall) in attendance. Morse attends this debate with his new girlfriend (Yep, you read that right, girlfriend). It then cuts to a close-up of soldier berets, and those wearing them, in the regiment base. The sequence then ends by going back to the debate as Greg Austin’s character (that guy of BBC Class fame) throws an egg at Lady Bayswater, leading to violence. Morse’s date starts taking photos where she almost gets arrested.

In regards to the murder mystery aspect of this episode, it revolves around the model Jean Ward (Leo Hatton) who was doing a photoshoot in the army base. The other key plotlines of this episode revolve around race relations within Oxford as well as personal relationships with the main cast. Another interesting plot point revolves around Lt. Colonel Jack MacDuff (Ian Pirie), and the ways the army ‘looks after their own’. And as usual, the stories shown in the opening credits serve as interesting links to the murder case.

Endeavour COLOURS 1

A familiar face returns. Sam Thursday (Jack Bannon) is back in this week’s episode. (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

What We Learned:

Firstly, let’s talk about the Thursdays. In fact, this episode is very Thursday-centric, so if you love the Thursdays then you will love this episode. We learn that Fred and Win Thursday like ballroom dancing as a hobby. Not just as a general hobby, but one where they compete and win competitions!

Another big point of this episode is that Sam (Jack Bannon) is back! YAY! It turns out that he is stationed at that same Army barracks where Jean was murdered. In case you have forgotten, Sam Thursday left sometime in series 2/3 to join the army (it was some time ago) and it basically felt like he didn’t exist. I wondered what happened to him and it wasn’t until episode 2 of this series that he was mentioned again. Sam being stationed here, however, makes him a likely suspect. Is Sam Thursday capable of murder?

Joan (Sara Vickers) also gets a storyline of her own when she joins a protest against a hairdressers. Fun fact here before I delve in to why they were protesting, the woman who plays the hairdresser’s owner, Hazel Radowicz, is played by Roger Allam’s real-life wife Rebecca Saire! The store has a ‘no coloureds sign’ placed upon the door, leading to a protest lead by the University students, Greg Austin (the character he plays is called Kit) and Marcus X. It, too, leads to violence with Joan being arrested and WPC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) being punched in the face.

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Joan (Sara Vickers) joining in on the protest. (Screenshots by me vie ITV Hub.)

In regards to everyone else, well firstly Morse has a new love interest (seriously, how does he do it?) Her name is Claudine (played by Claire Ganaye), she is French and is a photographer for a living. She’s also a big fan of Dorothea Frazil’s (Abigail Thaw) book on her time in Korea, and in turn Miss Frazil is a big fan of their relationship. Compared to his previous relationships, such as Monica being a nurse, I feel like Claudine embodies the free-loving, activist spirit of some of the younger generation at that time. Also, I miss Monica and her mini-cameos.

The other characters don’t get as much embellishment or new information as this is a very Thursday-centric episode. Except, I think my Fancy and Trewlove (Fancylove) ship is going to happen (!!!!) Also, I don’t know who comes up with the surnames, I guess its Russell Lewis, but they are just brilliant.

Memorable Moments and Quotes:

There are a few memorable moments in this week’s episode. Firstly, we have the ballroom dancing skills of the Thursdays. There is also the fact that Sam is back! (As you can tell I am pretty happy about this.)

Regarding everyone else, firstly there’s Morse being a cutie with his picnic date with Claudine. This then all leads up to a scene where he is round Claudine’s, and discussing with her the terms of their relationship. Ok why is he naked on the floor, wrapped in a blanket and smoking? Who is corrupting my son? Also, at some point, Morse is strangled and almost dies (Honestly, when doesn’t he ‘almost die’?)

In other life-endangering news, we have DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek) almost dying by accidentally walking on a minefield!

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Fancy!!!! (portrayed by Lewis Peek) (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

Onto memorable quotes now and first up, Fred quotes the iconic line to Win from ‘Casablanca’ before they go onto the stage.

Here’s looking at you.” (Well, not a direct quote anyway.)

  • DS Strange (Sean Rigby) tells it bluntly to the Army Private that he is interrogating.

You haven’t got eyes up your arse.”

  • Max DeBryn (James Bradshaw) also has the opportunity to be blunt with Chief Inspector Bright (Anton Lesser). When describing that the side effects to Jean Ward’s medication left her numb, this exchange occurs.

Bright: “Numb for what?

Dr. DeBryn: “Life.”

  • A conversation between Strange and Morse highlights the doubts they have about Sam’s innocence:

Strange: You can’t win them all, matey.”

Morse: “[Sam] seems a bit cagey.”

  • The chant made by the protestors.

“Integration for the nation.”

  • My ship is sailing as Fancy drives Trewlove home, this exchange occurs:

Trewlove: “You’re very persistent” [as he asks her out on a date.]

She accepts and he goes in for a kiss! ….but then they don’t kiss.

  • But, Bright may also ship the ship too as when they discuss Trewlove he remarks

“Don’t you think Fancy?”

  • Strange’s hilarious response to Morse’s new girlfriend.

Morse: “She’s a photojournalist.”

Strange: “Well with you it was never gonna be Dorine from the conrnershop is it.” 

  • Finally, we end with some words of wisdom, and encouragement, from Fred

“Its people what makes it not the name they go by.”

[To Morse] You did alright. Knew you would.”

Overall:

This episode is a great addition and I like that Russell Lewis now feels confident enough to explore the ‘Morseverse’ more. What I mean by this is that he isn’t shy to step away from his previous structures and instead he’s using this series to highlight some important issues, which are important now as much as they were then. The ideas of ‘the right to stay’ in regards racism are now being fully explored, as supposed to being minor considerations in series 2 and 3. This ‘theme’ of the episode, as it were, also ties into the murder mystery itself….

This also felt like a ‘personal’ episode, with there being such an emphasis upon family. It was really nice to see all of the Thursdays in one episode again. Win doesn’t feature that much, however, the fact that we see Fred re-building bridges with Joan and Sam has been the highlight of this episode. I didn’t expect this review to go all soppy and sentimental although I hope that in future episodes, we will see the Thursdays like this again. It’s so rare to see family dynamics take the forefront on television (unless it’s a family-based sitcom, for example.) Overall, if you have a soft-spot for the Thursdays (which is practically everyone), then you will love this episode.

Endeavour: Passenger Review.

Last night the ‘Inspector Morse’ prequel continued onto the third episode within the fifth series. You can watch this episode, and the rest, on ITV’s demand service. If you need convincing you could always just read my previous reviews of the series thus far here (Episode 1) and here (Episode 2.)

Plot:

As always the set-up for the plot of each episode is explained through the opening title sequence. This episode is aptly named ‘Passenger’ as most of the focus of the episode is around an old-train line. At the start the train station at Norborough is shown, which is then juxtaposed with some saucy shenanigans in satin sheets. In other news, DS Strange’s (Sean Rigby) trombone makes an appearance (YES!) We also hear a voice-over narration from a train enthusiast who talks about a girl waiting at the train station (although he says this whilst at home with his model, he is also the train spotter who we see at the very start.) Accompanying his narration, the audience see a young girl with no shoes on waiting to get on a train. Finally, we see a man unloading a truck of ‘goods’ however it is hijacked and gets beaten up.

This episode feels slightly different to the last two as the two sub-plots seem to be more prominent. The first regards the murder. The girl who we see at the start turns out to be Frances Porter (Lydea Perkins) who is reported missing by her sister and her husband. She is also the woman who was in the bedsheets as she was having an affair with another married man, Don Mercer (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd). The train spotter comes into it as he provides a vital clue regarding the trains, and train times, for that night she went missing in a random village in the middle of nowhere.

The second plot relates to the beating up of, and eventual death, of the man with the ‘goods’. These so-called goods were actually whiskey and tobacco which was all stolen. In this episode Eddie Nero is mentioned but doesn’t make an appearance, as it seems someone is moving in on his ‘turf’ which could lead to all-out warfare. Thinking about it, this gang-plot reminds me of that from the first series finale ‘Home’.

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The opening, establishing shot of the Norborough train station where Frances Porter (Lydea Perkins) goes missing. (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

What We Learned:

In this episode we learned quite a few new and dramatic things. Firstly, as the DI and DS are called over from Cowley regarding the robbery, there is a brief scene between Chief Superintendent Bright (Anton Lesser) and DI Fred Thursday (Roger Allam). Thursday may be getting a promotion to Chief Superintendent under the ‘merger’ of the Thames Valley police station. This leads to Thursday being placed ‘in charge’ of assigning roles on the robbery case.

Someone who makes an appearance again is the delightful Oxford Mail reporter Ms Dorothea Frazil (Abigail Thaw). She provides an important slice of information regarding the case, as it seems similar to one from 1964, that of Linda Gresham. Morse seems more willing to look over Ms Frazil’s transcripts from the interview however Thursday seems more sceptical and reluctant (huh? I know right?)

Other things we learn in this episode include the fact that we have now seen where Joan (Sara Vickers) is living as she invites Morse to her ‘home welcoming’. We also find out what happens if you cross Bright and anyone within his department for that matter. Basically everyone in this episode reveals their inner badass, including PC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards), Bright and DS George Fancy (Lewis Peek). As much as we love you Morse, this episode is not for you to run into burning buildings. Let the others be heroes for once!

Finally, we learn at the end of the episode (just like in the first one) about the assassination of a leader which this time was Bobby Kennedy.

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When PC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) showed the guys from Cowley how to do their job. (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

Memorable Moments and Quotes:

Unlike last episode I’d say this one had quite a few iconic moments and quotes. Most of memorable moments from the week will mostly be quotes however there were a few stand-out moments from the episode. Firstly when Morse returns home from a long day at work, we can see and hear Strange watching the horse racing whilst eating some Chinese takeaway. Guess who joined him? DC George Fancy. AHHHHH! (I mean, are they living together? Please say they are.)

Another stand-out moment would be when all the boys protected PC Trewlove from some disgusting low-life from Cowley. When DI Box (Simon Harrison) finds out that Trewlove gave George the information she collected he decides to call her out stating “get your tits out of my investigation.” She retorts back in a dignified manner however he decides to ‘teach her a lesson’ by going to hit her. (This next bit might sound like a sports commentary but here goes…) Fancy comes in and grabs the hand in which he’s about to strike, the DS guy from Cowley goes to get George. Strange goes in to protect her, along with Morse, whilst Thursday grabs the guy and pins him up against the wall. At this point Bright comes in and demands to know what’s going on. In an even more iconic moment, Bright showed how fed up and how in charge he is when he went into DI Box over what he tried to do to Trewlove.

A final memorable moment is another Morse and Joan one. She invites him to her little housewarming and takes him up to the roof. Here they have a little exchange which then results Joan in attempting to set Morse up with one of her friends. Why Russel Lewis why? Why can’t you let them be happy together? Why must you torment us like this?

Before I start blubbering like a baby let’s get into the quotes.

  • The moment in which the Cowley police officers got told by PC Trewlove.

Trewlove: “You might want to tell the occupants of LML 499C that their nondies (Vauxhall) parked on a double yellow. If I’m seen not to move them on by any likely lads it’ll make the vehicle concerned, and its occupants, stand out like spare pricks.”

  • When Morse understood everything needed for a good marriage.

Thursday: “You don’t really know what goes on in a marriage.”

Morse: “I know what goes in yours. Luncheon Meat.”

  • When it was Thursday’s turn to deliver the sass.

Don: “Two hours. Two hours I’ve been here. I’ve a right to make a complaint.”

Thursday: “What did you tell your wife? Work was it?”

  • When Fancy didn’t understand the perils of being a woman.

Fancy: “Why would you take off your shoes?”

Trewlove: “Clearly you’ve never worn heels.”

  • And when Morse decided to give us another heart-breaking line.

Thursday: “Look for the silver lining.”

Morse: “I hate to miss that. Tell me when you find it.”

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Just the three of us… DS Strange (Sean Rigby), DC Fancy (Lewis Peek) and Morse (Shaun Evans.) (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

Overall:

In my opinion this episode out of the ones that have aired thus far has been the strongest and quite possibly the best. As usual the cinematography, costuming and acting was superb but I think the plot was actually the best one thus far. That reveal and plot twist was unexpected and came out of nowhere. Throughout I couldn’t help but see parallels and Easter eggs to previous episodes, whether intentional or not. The body in the wood by the electrical line reminded me of ‘Rocket’ and the artistic reflecting mirror shot used reminded me of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, which in turn reminded me of ‘Nocturne’. Despite this, I liked the fact Russell Lewis felt like he could push the boat about with the reveal as for once the murderers weren’t also the same ones involved in the previous one although this could be pushed even more (give us another ‘Fugue.’)

In another note my ship is sailing (YES!). The interactions between Fancy and Trewlove were brilliant as they gave both Dakota and Lewis a chance to shine with their acting. Basically this episode was about Trewlove showing us what an amazing badass character she is and I love it. Until the next episode.

Endeavour: Cartouche Review

On Sunday the second episode of the ‘Inspector Morse’ prequel ‘Endeavour’ aired on our screens. If you have missed the first episode there is still time to catch-up on the ITV player, or you could read my review from last week. Anyway, let’s get stuck into the review…..

Plot:

Usually the show opens straight away with its big style operatic number whilst the credits are interspersed with vignettes of action. Not this time though, oh no. Instead it starts off with a black and white logo which is essentially a mammoth placed on an elevated block, spinning extremely slowly. This is because it’s supposed to be reminiscent of an old-film and even better the company is named Mammoth Studios, after the company which help to make ‘Endeavour’. After this we then have the usual credit opening scene.

In this one we have a scene at the Pit Body Museum where Mr. Moharram Shoukry (Christopher Sciueref) Works. We also see Morse (Shaun Evans) by himself, in his new house which he shares with DS Strange (Sean Rigby), pouring himself a drink. The reason the episode starts with the Mammoth opening credits is because an Art Deco cinema features heavily throughout the episode. Here the 60s audience are viewing ‘The Pharaoh’s Curse’, an old-film in which the reel breaks down during a dramatic scene of the picture resulting in the piano player playing the national anthem as an interlude. Finally we have a moment where the victim has gone from the cinema to a café, in which the owner pays a little money to a mysterious man.

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The Opening of the episode which contains a little Easter Egg. (Clue: the company’s name and theme.) (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

The opening sequence doesn’t feel like it contains a lot compared to last week’s however the plot still comes together in all its meticulous glory. The body of a man who works at the museum was also an ex-police officer Ronald Beavis (Iain Stuart Robinson). The fact that he was seen at the cinema and café before his death is why they are all brought into the picture. The café relates to the other sub-plot of this episode, that of the various arson and attack upon a family of Kenyan nationalists as both are tied up in various criminal activity. This criminal activity also brings back Eddie Nero (Mark Arden), the boxing club owner from the previous episode. The cinema plays a much more significant role in the murder of Beavis as it turns out he was a patron of said cinema. Finally, the picture they are watching ‘The Pharaoh’s Curse’ is significant as they are filming a sequel in Oxford.

What We Learned:

Regarding our recurring cast, we learned some new and interesting things. First up Chief Superintendent Reginald Bright (Anton Lesser) hates racist scum. At the start of the episode (and also on the ITV Hub page for the episode) we are warned about the use of derogatory language regrading race which was prevalent during the time. For me this was the most surprising just because of the fact that Bright felt like such a different character all the way from his first appearance in ‘Girl’. Over time he has developed into becoming one of the most beloved, mysterious and interesting characters in the show. First the tiger, then not almost being poisoned by a killer in hospital and now this! Amazing!

Regarding the Thursdays, we learn that Joan (Sara Vickers) has a new job. Well, she did some part-time admin at the Public Advice Centre before it was torched down as they were helping out the Kenyan family. On the other hand, we learn that Fred (Roger Allam) has a brother named Charlie who is played by someone who had an iconic role in the 60s set film ‘Quadrophenia’ that’s right, Phil Daniels himself. We also learn that Fred is a big Laurel and Hardy fan, to the point that he won’t shut up about them. (I don’t blame him as you can read my reviews on Block-heads’,‘Way Out West’ and Blotto’ here.)

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Well if this isn’t awkward…. (From left to right) Charlie Thursday (Phil Daniels), Carol Thursday (Emma Rigby), DS Endeavour Morse (Shaun Evans) and Inspector Fred Thursday (Roger Allam.) (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

Other trivial bits of new information includes the fact that Emil Valdemar (Donald Sumpter) is not played by the same guy who played Principal Snyder in ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and that Morse is still the same when it comes to blood, guts and women. (Regarding women there is an ‘Easter egg’ at Beavis’s place with a Rosalind Calloway vinyl for those who’ve seen the pilot and he’s listening to it at the start too.)

Memorable Moments and Quotes:

Last episode there were quite a few new iconic moments however in this episode there is one moment which particularly comes to mind. Morse makes a phone call at an old telephone box and spots a young lady who has been stood up. This moment ends with them walking off away from the camera, and then it cuts to the next day. Strange is up making breakfast when he sees the girl sneakily try to collect her stuff. At this point you’re probably thinking ‘maybe Evie from last week was right about Morse being sexually frustrated or whatever, good on him’. Things only become worse from here.

The action then cuts to Morse arriving at the Thursday household as he waits to pick up Fred from work. Here Morse meets Fred’s brother Charlie, his wife Paulette (Linette Beaumont) as well as his daughter Carol (Emma Rigby), the woman Morse just slept with. (AWKWARD!)

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DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek) and PC Shirley Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards). (I may be the only person who ships this but…) (Screenshots by me via ITV Hub.)

  • Memorable quotes from this episode include the moment PC Trewlove (Dakota Blue Richards) comments that DC George Fancy (Lewis Peek) has …

Trewlove: “a puppyish charm”. (My ship! It’s sailing!)

  • When Bright called out those who burnt down the house stating…

Bright: “These people are British subjects.”

  • When Morse was literally me in keeping up with 21st Century culture.

(In reference to the actor in the film who appeared in a film with Diana Day.)

Morse: “Who?”

  • And finally the moment when Morse just broke our hearts.

Morse: ‘Alone with booze to keep company.’

Overall:

As always the costuming, the cinematography and the acting was superb. Another department which is always underrated but deserves a special shout out is the location department, especially on finding that Art Deco cinema. The revealing of the murder plot felt somewhat similar to last weeks (again with the theme) but felt better executed. One point that I thought was off was how would said murderer know that said person they wanted to kill would be there? (Wow, subtle.) One thing though which has annoyed me since the start of series 5 is the absence of Sam Thursday (Jack Bannon). I can’t believe I only realised this now but since he left to join the army, he’s never heard from and it feels like he never existed but in this episode he was finally mentioned. I also read that later on in the series he will make a reappearance which will be exciting.

Another point I wondered about was the criminal gang making a recurring appearance. Will this be the overall theme? Possibly not as I recently heard an interview with Shaun Evans in which he gives away a semi-spoiler for the outcome of series 5. I won’t give it away but all I’ll say is that it has to do with ‘Thames Valley’.

Friday Film Review: C is for Cover Girl. (Alphabet Edition.)

To see the other films in the Friday Film Review: Alphabet Edition click here:

A B

This weeks’ film is ‘Cover Girl’. The 1944 Columbia picture starred Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly, with a score by two musical legends Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin. The film is directed by Charles Vidor and is based on a story by Erwin Gelsey.

The Film doesn’t shy away from the fact that it’s a musical by opening up with a musical number. What I found interesting about this number was that the group of women, including Rita Hayworth’s character, were in complete unison sharing all the singing, actions and so forth. Usually when watching musicals there always seem to focus on lead characters even when they are in an ensemble, so this made a nice change. The costume choices for the number were interesting too, as an elaborate white cape and bottom section were placed strategically so that they could be ripped off to showcase a gold embellished flesh-coloured underwear. During the ‘The Show Must Go On’ number, the action cuts to Gene Kelly shaking his head in disappointment off to the side of the stage.

After the number we find out that Gene Kelly’s character is Danny, choreographer and proprietor of the club. We also find out about Vanity Magazines ‘Golden Wedding Girl Competition’ for their 50th anniversary edition. Maurine (Leslie Brooks), the somewhat rival, bemoans the fact that they have to start rehearsing at 9am instead of 10 as it would scupper her chances to ‘audition’. A semi-graphic-match-cut shows Hayworth outside the magazines headquarters. Wearing her magnificent matching hat and coat, she explains to the lady that her name is Rusty Parker and that she is there to try out to be a cover girl. She meets Maurine who auditions first, and is instructed by Miss Jackson (Eve Arden) in what she’s looking for. Maurine tells Rusty to be the exact opposite resulting in a little, funny comedic scene which showcases Rita’s ability as an actor.

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Rusty (Rita Hayworth) acting upon the advice given to her by Maurine on a poor, unsuspecting Miss Jackson (Eve Arden).

Returning in the evening to Danny McGuire’s place we find out (something which happens a lot in this picture) that Danny was stationed in Libya. We also find Miss Jackson and her boss, John Coudair (Otto Kruger) in the audience scouting for Maureen. During a number Rusty comes out on the stage, with close-up shots being established between her and Coudair in order to symbolise the fact that he wants her and not Maurine. Yet the reason why isn’t all that clear cut…

Coudair still has a programme from a Tony Pastor performance which has a pop-up feature with a face that appears exactly like Rusty’s (weird I know.) He explains that he was in love with her which cues a flashback to over 40 years ago. Despite the fact that Rita looks exactly like both women, she really takes in her stride by making these characters seem like to completely different women. Her singing voice as Maribelle Hicks is deeper, clearer and has an English feel to it and she acts as an exceptional solo artist, than as an ensemble. Another interesting thing is the fact that she has a relationship with the piano player.

It then cuts to Danny, Rusty and Genius (Phil Silvers) at the bar on a Friday night as part of a six-month tradition. They order oysters, even though they hate them, just to see if they can find a pearl. Although they don’t find any they instead decide to break into a song and dance number, ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’. Something I found interesting during this sequence was the fact that when Rita sings and dances, she actually pulls facial expressions and just doesn’t smile like practically everyone else does. I really like and admire that.

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“Come on Pearl”  Danny (Gene Kelly), Rusty (Rita Hayworth) and Genius (Phil Silvers) performing their Friday pre-oyster ritual.

Anyway, Rusty returns the telegrams favour by going to visit Coudair in his office. It is here we learn (yep) that Maribelle was Rusty’s grandmother. It is also here that we get a nice montage of her being made up into the cover girl for Vanity magazine. In hindsight the thing that annoyed me about this film was that she didn’t get the cover girl role because she had something of value (and I’m not saying Rusty doesn’t) but she literally got picked because Coudair is obsessed with her grandmother, and now her granddaughter too. If she didn’t die six months before the films action took place I BET SHE would’ve knocked Coudair down a peg or two.

A bunch of shots establish that Danny McGuire’s club is the place to be, as foretold in various newspaper articles. It has become such a popular spot, with thanks to Rusty, as people have to reserve tables. One reservation includes that of Coudair, Miss Jackson (again!) and a Mr. Noel Wheaton (Lee Bowman) who is trying to persuade Rusty to work in Broadway. Some comedy ensues between them and the busy workers, along with the festering of Danny’s feelings of jealousy towards her and Mr. Wheaton’s relationship.

As you can see a lot of stuff happens in this film and the fact that they also have musical numbers impresses me to see how many plot points they can adhere to. One musical number ‘Long Ago and Far Away’ was one of the most popular and profound, as it won the Oscar for best song in 1945. The way this scene is also staged serves as one of the highlights of the film. Genius plays the piano as Rusty enters wearing a mint green dress that falls to the floor. She remembered that they have now been together for 7 months, 4 days, 12 hours and 4 minutes. He forgot their seventh month anniversary. She sings as he clears up the place, stacking the chairs upside down against the tables. Then as they join in together at the end, their faces are framed through one of those chairs and quite frankly, that shot was the most beautiful.

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Danny (Gene Kelly) and Rusty (Rita Hayworth) performing ‘Long Ago and Far Away’.

However all is not peachy as we find out Coudair’s and Wheaton’s plan. Coudair wants to ‘provide’ for her like he wanted for Maribelle whilst Wheaton wants her to star on Broadway so that he can marry her (does this story sound similar yet? Like Maribelle’s?) Miss Jackson is practically the audience in this thinking, ‘what about Rusty? Shouldn’t she have a say in all of this?’ I must applaud the film for bringing in questions around female autonomy, albeit trivial in the fact it isn’t questioned further.

As Danny is dragged to Coudair’s place, he notices the picture on the wall looking exactly like Rusty. Here we have another flashback in which she sings ‘Poor John’. These flashback sequences are also a highlight of the film and showcase Rita’s talent. Her facial expressions at the start to the camera in those close-ups, her voice in sequence with her face, cockney-esque attempt in her singing and the pearly queen inspired-outfit really make this number. You’ll probably also find it funny when Coudair exclaims “forty years from now” (cause of the plot.)

We then have another amazing scene as Danny leaves Genius at the bar, we hear a voice-over of Danny’s thoughts. Then a projection of himself through a shop window is talking to him. But even better, his subconscious reflection then dances with him! Causing him to smash a window but still.

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Danny (Gene Kelly) taking ‘dancing with myself’ to a whole new extreme.

After a falling out between Rusty and Danny, she finally goes off to Broadway. I realise that this film is all about milking those 15 minutes of fame. The way I realised this was through the next number. Some interesting directorial choices were made as a woman walks from the left and her face is projected onto the right as a close-up. This image then transforms into being on a cover of a magazine like ‘Vogue’, ‘Bazaar’ and so forth.

The just as the film couldn’t throw more drama at us, it did. Noel Wheaton asks Rusty to marry him. She finds out that Danny closed his place so that he and Genius could go entertain the troops. He then finds out she’s getting married anyway and you see them back at the bar with the oysters. And guess what? They finally find a pearl. Genius gives it to Coudair and whilst he walks Rusty down the aisle he tells her she still can go to him. He finally realises how much of a slime-ball he’s been. She runs from her own wedding, where she’s wearing a light pink dress and runs back to the bar to make-up with Danny. It concludes with them skipping out to ‘Make Way for Tomorrow’.

Overall if you are a Rita Hayworth fan than you need to watch this film. Even if you’re not and you’re not that keen on her, this film will prove you wrong. Even though this film had Gene Kelly in it, it could have become another ‘Gene Kelly show’ yet it actually isn’t. Although Genius doesn’t get much screen time, when he does, Silvers makes it count. The minor parts like Wheaton and Coudair are ok in their parts, they play patriarchal men well however the relationship of Miss Jackson and Genius is quite sweet and comedic. The musical numbers were good and I liked that it was mainly based in realistic locations, compared to other musicals of the era when the spaces were way to grand and fake that it sometime seems off-putting. Despite my semi-complaints about the pacing of the plot, it doesn’t seem that rushed at all. The best part about this film however is Rita Hayworth.

8th February 1931: James Dean was born.

On this day, 8th February 1931, James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana. The only child of Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson gave their son the middle name Byron after the infamous poet, Lord Byron and poetry was something in which he admired later on in life also. Once Winton became a dental technician for about six years, the family briefly lived in Santa Monica, California. They spent several years there however in 1938 tragedy struck, as James’s beloved mother was suffered with acute stomach pain which the led to an increase of shedding excessive weight. At only nine years old James had lost his mother to uterine cancer.

As Winton became incapable to care for his son, he sent him back to Indiana to live with his Aunt Ortense and Uncle Marcus Winslow on their farm in Fairmount (the place in which has become synonymous with James Dean.) As his father went on to serve time during the Second World War and remarry, James was raised up in the Quaker household. Around this time he also developed a bond with the local Methodist cleric Rev. James DeWeerd who is believed to have a profound effect of distilling interests of bullfighting, car racing and acting into Dean. There has also been speculation around the nature of their relationship as he either was sexually abused by him, or that they were involved romantically however it is all based around conjecture and must therefore be treated with a pinch of salt.

Despite the hardships Dean may have faced in his early life, he was doing remarkably well at school. In Fairmount High School he played basketball and baseball, studied drama and competed in public speaking. When he graduated in May 1949, he returned back to California to live with his father and step-mother as he enrolled in Santa Monica College’s pre-law degree programme. For one semester he transferred to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and took Drama instead. Although this resulted in estrangement from his father, it did lead James to portraying Malcolm in a production of ‘Macbeth’. He loved it so much that he decided in 1951 to drop out of UCLA in order to pursue acting as a full-time career.

It probably helped that during his UCLA days that he was dating Beverly Willis, as she was already an actor for CBS. William Bast, who was his roommate and one of his closest friends, denoted in his biography of 1956 about how he, Willis, Dean and Jeanette Lewis would double-date together. However things all went sour when apparently he ‘saw red’ after seeing another man ask Willis to dance with him at a function. Despite this he went on to achieve his first role, a Pepsi-Cola commercial. His first speaking part was in ‘Hill Number One’, a televised dramatization of the Easter story in which he portrayed John the Beloved Disciple. As parts were becoming few and far between, he started working as a car park attendant for CBS Studios which is where he met Roger Brackett. Brackett was a radio director for an advertising agency who offered him help, acting guidance and a place to stay. On the encouragement of Brackett and actor James Whitmore he moved to New York.

Young James Dean.

A young James Dean. (Who was around eighteen when this was taken.)

Once moving, success prevailed. Firstly in 1952, he was referred to the Actors Studio in which he trained under Lee Strasberg in order to study the new, innovative naturalist techniques of ‘Method Acting’. From there various television roles started to appear. Then his big break finally came.

In 1953 director Elia Kazan was on the lookout for up and coming stars for his new film project ‘East of Eden’. Having already successfully worked with Marlon Brando on the adaptation of Tennessee William’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire’, Kazan wanted ‘a Brando’ for the role. Paul Osborn, who adapted the script from John Steinbeck’s novel, suggested James Dean for the part. Both Kazan and Dean met before Dean’s casting. On April 8th 1954 he left New York and began working in Los Angeles.

When he signed to Warner Bros., they wanted to maintain a ‘persona’ of James as a ‘Ladies man’ as the public relations department ran stories of his links to various women. Yet most of these women were from Dean’s agent Dick Clayton’s clientele. Kazan wrote in his autobiography ‘A LIfe’ (1988) that Dean didn’t really have much success when it came to women. Yet he did mention about one particular incident that he remembered regarding Dean and Pier Angeli.

He first met the Italian-born Pier whilst she was shooting at Warner Bros. ‘The Silver Chalice’. He would give her jewellery as ‘love tokens’. She mentioned in an interview fourteen years after his death that they were “like Romeo and Juliet, together and inseparable.”  They were believed to be deeply in love however there were many factors which ultimately drew them apart. The main one being that her mother didn’t approve of him, especially considering that he wasn’t a catholic. So when Dean took a break in October 1954 after finishing filming for ‘East of Eden’, Angeli announced her engagement to the Italian-American singer Vic Damone. However her marriage wasn’t to last and she would remarry again. Yet despite her interview there is also doubt as to whether they really had a ‘real’ relationship in the first place, as those closest to Dean dismissed it as a ‘publicity stunt’ and ‘wishful, fantastical thinking’.

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In a promotional still for ‘East of Eden’ with co-star Julie Harris.

East of Eden’ was the only film which he saw released in his own lifetime. This role landed him a posthumous award for Best Actor in 1956, something which was never heard of at the time. After the release of ‘East of Eden’, he then went to work on his most popular and well-known film ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. The film elevated him into a cultural icon. It became a film which was popular amongst teenagers and defined an era of post-war babies who undoubtedly had feelings of being misunderstood and full of angst. His last film ‘Giant’ was released in 1956. The film saw Dean as a supporting role, than a lead, amongst the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Throughout his entire movie career Dean developed his passion in car racing further, by devoting his spare time to an auto racing career. After filming finished on ‘East of Eden’, he brought himself a Triumph Tiger T110 as well as a Porsche 356. Before filming on ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ he entered the ‘Palm Springs Road Races’ event and achieved first place in the novice class and second during the main event. However Warner Bros. forced him to stop racing during the filming of ‘Giant’ so Dean waited until the film was in post-production to race again.

Dean was scheduled to compete in an event in California on September 30th 1955. Whilst driving his Porsche 550 Spyder (known as ‘Little Bastard’) with himself and German Mechanic Rolf Wütherich inside, stunt coordinator Bill Hickman and photographer Stanford Roth followed. Travelling along the US Route 466 a Ford Tudor (from 1950) was passing through the intersection, turning, and in front of his Porsche. Dean couldn’t slowdown in time and crashed into the Ford. The driver of that car managed to escape with minor injuries however Dean wasn’t so lucky. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving in hospital. His funeral was held on October 8th 1955 in Fairmount Indiana.

Despite dying 63 years ago, James Dean’s legacy is still alive. In the 1950s, he became a cultural icon for all the teenagers of America. They were able to identify and connect with his film roles, those of outcasts, loners and someone filled with ‘angst’. His image is supplied on posters, artworks, advertisements and various pieces of merchandise in which the estate earn around $5 million annually (according to Forbes Magazine.) This persona of his roles was also influential on music specifically that of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He is also considered not just one of the greatest actors but he is also revered as a gay icon. Due to the ambiguity regarding Dean’s sexuality and his experimental approach to life, he has been held up again as an aspirational figure. One thing that’s interesting about Dean as a figure is that in society, he’s whatever we make him to be, as he was a mysterious man who also didn’t live that long. The fact that he isn’t alive gives room for all these contradictions in his life. He doesn’t get to tell his story. And yet, the fact that he died so young has allowed for him to still be very much alive today. He is revered as an icon because individuals in society can reflect their own fears, feeling and desires onto him and his roles. They see themselves in him and that is his biggest legacy.

Happy Birthday James Dean!