Tag Archives: Women in Film

Women in Film Feature #8 – The Piano (1993)

The-piano-posterThe Piano (1993)
Directed by: Jane Campion
Written by: Jane Campion
Starring: Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Niell, Anna Paquin

New Zealand born film director Jane Campion is one of only four women to ever be nominated for Best Director by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.  With her incredibly successful film The Piano, she became the second woman ever nominated for the prize, nearly two decades after Lina Wertmuller’s nomination for her film Seven Beauties.  Campion also became the first female winner of the Cannes Film Festival’s prestigious Palme d’Or – a record that stood for two decades.  Her films have been praised for their quiet beauty, their adherence to realism, and for their use of gender-central themes and ideas.  While her career has not again reached the highs of The Piano, Campion’s latest work on the television show Top of the Lake has highly acclaimed, with a second season currently in the works.  Jane Campion’s achievements in the early 1990’s cannot be understated, as her success helped propel female directors like Sophia Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow to elite status in Hollywood, tremendous critical acclaim, and to their eventual Academy Award nominations.

Before her incredible success with 1993’s The Piano, Jane Campion saw critical acclaim with two independent features, 1989’s Sweetie, and 1990’s An Angel at My Table.  The Piano saw Campion working with a higher budget than ever before, with the film costing $7 million.  The film was an enormous financial success upon its release and critical acclaim, bringing in an incredible $140 million at the box office and later with rentals.  The Piano stars Holly Hunter as its lead character Ada McGrath, Anna Paquin as her daughter Flora, and Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel as the men competing for Ada’s love and affection.  For the role of Ada, director Jane Campion wanted Sigourney Weaver, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Isabelle Huppert.  Due to various scheduling conflicts with Weaver and Leigh, eventual star Holly Hunter was looked at and ended up fighting harder for the role than Huppert did.  The fighting paid off for Holly Hunter, as her incredible silent performance was rewarded with an Academy Award for Best Actress at the 1994 Oscars ceremony, earning her a great deal of acclaim and solidifying her as one of Hollywood’s greatest actresses of the period.  On top of Hunter’s Best Actress win, The Piano earned another acting award, this time a Best Supporting Actress award for Anna Paquin.  At just 11 years old, the win made Paquin the second youngest Oscar winner ever.  The film was nominated for 8 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Costume Design.  Campion herself picked up an award for Best Original Screenplay, but the film was beaten out in other major categories by Steven Spielberg’s seminal film Schindler’s List.  Jane Campion’s The Piano remains one of the most critically hailed films of the 1990’s, and stands as a modern triumph of what women can do with the medium when given equal opportunity to do so.


Ada McGrath, her daughter Flora, and the titular piano in Jane Campion’s 1993 film.

The Piano opens by explaining that a young, mute Scottish woman named Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) has been sold by her father for marriage to a man in New Zealand by the name of Alisdair Stewart (Sam Niell).  Ada has not spoken a word since the age of six, and nobody knows exactly why.  Ada brings her daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) with her to New Zealand, along with her prized hand-crafted piano.  The young woman is seemingly only to express herself through the playing of this piano, and she spends much of her time learning and playing.  Once in New Zealand, the mother and daughter duo are taken in by Alisdair, who instructs his crew of Maori men to leave the piano on the beach, as it is far too heavy to carry all the way back to their new home.  Alisdair turns out to be not quite the gentle and charming husband Ada would have preferred, instead quickly becoming quite jealous and controlling over his new wife and daughter.  Ada gradually grows closer to Alisdair’s friend Baines (Harvey Keitel), who in turn purchases the piano and brings it up from the beach so that Ada can play when they are together.  Baines soon falls in love with the mute woman, setting off a chain of events between himself, Ada, and Alisdair and ensuring that none of them will ever be the same again.  Will true love prevail, or will the bitter jealousy of one man ruin things for all parties?  Find out in Jane Campion’s acclaimed The Piano.

Jane Campion’s The Piano was my first experience with her works, and I came out of the experience pleasantly surprised.  I have always wanted to see both Sweetie and An Angel at My Table because of their status as independent hits, and now I have more motivation than ever before to do so.  The Piano is such an incredibly memorable experience in many ways, including some truly incredible performances, terrific direction from Campion, and breathtaking photography by cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh.  The film manages to tell a truly powerful story without ever having its lead character speak, and without sinking into melodramatic territory, which happens too often in stories of love triangles and forbidden romance.  Jane Campion deserves a great deal of credit for her subtle but effective screenplay, which treats every character as a flawed human being, never romanticizing or villainizing any one character no matter how easy it may be to do so.  Campion’s writing never goes for the “easy” win, and instead she opts to take a much more treacherous path in making the audience feel for the character in The Piano.  Campion’s writing and direction can also be credited in aiding the entire cast in delivering highly memorable performances, even earning two Oscars in the process.  Holly Hunter’s silent and moody performance as Ada is one I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget, as she conveys so much without ever saying a word.  Hunter’s dark eyes do all of the speaking for her, telling the audience more in one glance than many actresses could in an entire monologue. Holly Hunter’s Ada is both passionate and reserved, and the audience can always feel the emotional tug-of-war that is trying to drag her into the mud.  The supporting cast of Anna Paquin, Sam Neill, and Harvey Keitel all give tremendous performances in their own right, but are all eclipsed by Hunter’s hauntingly beautiful portrayal of Ada McGrath.  While The Piano can seem slow and dreary at times, there don’t seem to be many wasted moments in the film’s run-time.  Every scene feels like it has a place in either setting the atmosphere of our New Zealand location, establishing the motivations and drives of our cast of characters, or moving the central story forward.  What starts as a relatively mundane costume drama eventually turns into a fiery, brooding story of one woman’s awakening.  Had Campion kept the script’s tragic original ending, the film would have received an even more positive reaction from me.  It’s a shame that it was released the same year as Schindler’s List, because Jane Campion’s The Piano would otherwise fall very neatly into the canon of terrific and important Best Picture winners.


Flora (Anna Paquin) and Ada (Holly Hunter), the mother-daughter duo in Jane Campion’s The Piano.

While its slow-moving nature may turn off some potential viewers, there’s absolutely no denying the power and importance of Jane Campion’s 1993 romantic drama.  The Piano features too many incredible elements to be forgotten by critics or audiences, including a career-best performance by Holly Hunter, a solid cast of young and veteran supporting performers, tremendous writing and direction from Jane Campion, and rich, dark cinematography by Stuart Dryburgh.  While the idea of a forbidden love triangle may not immediately set your world on fire, the film’s tragic and triumphant story of an independent young woman finding strength and motivation to escape from a toxic situation should be more than enough to arouse your interest.  Jane Campion’s The Piano is easily one of the best films of the 1990’s, and a landmark moment for women in film.  It’s highly recommended.

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Women in Film Feature #7 – Sophie’s Choice (1982)

Sophie's_Choice1Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Directed by: Alan J. Pakula
Written by: Alan J. Pakula (Based on Sophie’s Choice by William Styron)
Starring: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter MacNicol, Rita Karin

Since her early acting days in the 1970’s, American actress Meryl Streep has been widely regarded as being one of the best and most influential actresses of our time.  The incredibly prolific Streep has made a career of taking challenging and diverse roles, developing a wide variety of accents, eccentricities, and many personality traits.  These varied roles have led Meryl Streep to being one of the most decorated actresses in Hollywood history.  She currently holds three Academy Award wins (once for Best Supporting Actress, and twice for Best Actress), and was nominated for a further sixteen.  Her nineteen career Academy Award nominations makes Streep far and away the most nominated screen actor in history.  Streep’s most famous films include The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Silkwood, Out of Africa, A Cry in the Dark, The Devil Wears Prada, and Doubt.  The acclaimed actress has also been heavily involved with the National Women’s History Museum, serving as their spokesperson and even donating millions of dollars towards the cause.  She has served as a hero and role model to millions for nearly forty years, and continues to be a tremendous influence on and off the silver screen.

Sophie’s Choice marked the second career Academy Award win for lead actress Meryl Streep, and her first win for Best Actress in a Leading Role.  It’s one of the projects that propelled the actress into mainstream popularity, and furthered the acclaim she had already received for being a “chameleon”.  Based on the highly acclaimed novel of the same name by writer William Styron, Sophie’s Choice blends a coming-of-age story and romantic drama with tragic elements revolving around World War II and the survival of the Holocaust.  The film was directed by the famed Alan J. Pakula, who had produced the big screen adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, and directed the critically acclaimed “paranoia trilogy” of Klute, The Parallax View, and Best Picture nominated All the President’s Men. Sophie’s Choice stars Meryl Streep as the titular Sophie, as well as Kevin Kline in his big screen debut, and Peter MacNicol.  The film was a tremendous box office success, more than tripling its budget of $9 million.  Pakula’s drama was also a critical hit, topping Roger Ebert’s 1982 year end list, and earning five Academy Award nominations including Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Meryl Streep took home the movie’s only Oscar statuette, and officially cemented herself as one of the most successful performers in Hollywood.


Peter MacNicol, Meryl Streep, and Kevin Kline in 1982’s Oscar-winning Sophie’s Choice.

The film is narrated by the character of Stingo (Peter MacNicol on screen, Josef Sommer in narrated scenes), a young writer who settles in Brooklyn after finishing his schooling.  Stingo befriends the explosive couple of Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep), a Polish immigrant, and Nathan Landau (Kevin Kline), a highly unstable pharmaceutical researcher.  It is revealed that Sophie is a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, and that Nathan had helped to ease her post-war transition and nursed her back to good health upon meeting. Nathan grows increasingly jealous and paranoid towards Stingo and Sophie, despite having no evidence to prove that the two are carrying on an affair.  His paranoia causes him to lash out at her in abusive and harassing ways, and has him constantly coming into and leaving Sophie’s life.  Sophie’s past is shown through a series of flashbacks; her father sympathized with the Nazis, while her lover led the Resistance movement against the German’s.  Sophie fears that this knowledge will fall into the wrong hands, and fears for the lives of her young children. Eventually Sophie’s lover is murdered, and her and her children are taken away by the Gestapo.  She is soon made to make an impossible decision that will change her life forever.  Meanwhile in real time, Stingo makes startling revelations about Nathan that furthers his distrust of the wildly eccentric man. To find out whether Sophie’s Choice ends on a positive or a tragic note, you’ll have to watch the film for yourself.

Sophie’s Choice is a film that I’ve been struggling with for more than a week now as I write this.  I have known of its legacy for years, but only brought myself to see it for the sake of the Women in Film marathon.  Its reputation for being incredibly sad and tragic is well-earned, but the amount of critical and audience acclaim for the movie that I’ve read seems pretty unbelievable.  My main gripe lays in the actually storytelling of the film, especially in its heavy reliance on flashbacks.  We learn a great deal about the character of Sophie through these flashbacks, and while they are often very moving and effective, they do little to actually move the plot or connect themselves with the actual narrative of the film. Sophie’s “choice” seems almost inconsequential by the end of the film, because it’s almost completely overshadowed between her struggle to choose between the two men who love her dearly (or worship her, in Stingo’s case).  The use of the Holocaust almost seems exploitative in many moments, especially towards the end of the flashback scenes.  We never spend any significant amount of time with Sophie’s wartime family, so none of it ever has any weight or gravity to it. Instead of caring about these heartbreaking events unfolding before my eyes, I was left scratching my head about why the scenes were even here in the first place.  Especially confusing is the emphasis on Stingo’s coming-of-age in the story, which clashes with the film’s tragic elements on every level and serves to further trivialize the film’s Holocaust subplot.  The writing and structure of Sophie’s Choice is unfortunately the worst element, and in a 2 ½ hour film, that most definitely matters a great deal.  All gripes aside, I have to admit that the acting in the film is incredible, and Meryl Streep’s performance as Sophie is absolutely phenomenal – quite possibly the best performance of the marathon up to this point.  Streep is almost unrecognizable at times, especially in flashbacks where Sophie is suffering from anemia after her liberation from the concentration camp.  She constantly seems meek and uncertain, especially when dealing with Nathan’s outbursts.  Meryl Streep’s Polish accent remains believable and consistent throughout, never mysteriously fading away as some “accents” tend to.  Complimenting Streep’s performance is the scene stealing Kevin Kline in his movie debut.  Though it’s only a supporting role, Kline does what he does best and chews the scenery in every scene he appears in.  His manic and unstable nature is completely believable, and you’re constantly wondering when his next outburst may come.  Sophie’s Choice is competently directed by a veteran of the game, who treats the film’s tragic subplot with a great deal of respect and level headedness.  While it’s not a flashy film, Pakula’s slow and steady direction mixed with rich and gorgeous cinematography by Nestor Almendros, helps to create a realistic atmosphere that is perfect for the time period the film takes place during.


Sophie (Meryl Streep) and Nathan (Kevin Kline) in Alan J. Pakula’s Sophie’s Choice.

Unfortunately for all those involved in the making of Sophie’s Choice, great acting and solid direction can’t make up for a highly confused and aimless screenplay.  While the dialogue is never bad or wasted, the film’s melodramatic treatment of the Holocaust as a story element and its subsequent focus on a coming-of-age love story just feels insulting.  Any elements of the film that would affect viewers in any way seem superficial because of the lack of actual substance to the film’s seemingly important subplot.  Sophie’s Choice feels like two great films that were sloppily edited into one mediocre one.  Fortunately, when the film gets something right, it gets it very right. Sophie’s Choice features an absolutely incredible and award-winning performance by a young chameleon Meryl Streep, and a fun supporting turn from breakout actor Kevin Kline.  We can thank it for its furthering of Meryl Streep’s acting career, but I fail to see any other reason why we’re still talking about it more than thirty years later.  Much to my disappointment, I must urge readers to view at your own discretion.

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Women in Film Feature #6 – Jeanne Dielman (1975)

JeanneDielmanJeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
Written by: Chantal Akerman
Starring: Delphine Seyrig, Jan Decorte, Jacques Doniol-Valcroze, Henri Storck, Yves Biscal

On October 5, 2015, the world lost one of its all-time greatest arthouse directors; one who changed the landscape of filmmaking for women worldwide.  Her name was Chantal Akerman, and her suicide marked the end of an era for international and arthouse cinema.  Her prolific body of work is full of brilliantly inventive films that most people have never seen or heard of, or just haven’t been released to the public in any form.  Chantal Akerman is famous for her documentation of the mundane, for her painfully long takes, and the detached yet incredibly personal nature of most of her films.  Often blurring the lines between documentary and fiction, Akerman had an incredible eye for realism and for the beauty in the little things; something that many established directors seem to forget about as their films becoming bigger and louder.  As modern female directors take on ambitious and award-winning films, they can all thank Chantal Akerman and her incredible body of work for paving the way in the industry.  Her contributions and influence on the medium are innumerable, and much of her work is ripe for rediscovery by a whole new generation.

Chantal Akerman’s most famous film came incredibly early on in her career, after just a handful of shorts, and a feature length film that went unfinished by the director.  1975’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles was Akerman’s first shot at working with a “big” budget, working with just $120,000 in grants at her disposal.  Director Chantal Akerman opted to shoot the film with a cast and crew composed of mostly women, a feat that hadn’t been attempted at the time. While she struggled with finding working women for certain technical positions, she ultimately prevailed and proved leagues of naysayers wrong.  The incredibly ambitious project ran for 201 minutes (or a little over 3 ½ hours) when finished, making its mundane and repetitive premise even more effective. The film opened at the Directors Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 1975, and was met with mixed reactions by the unsuspecting crowd.  Luckily for Akerman, the film quickly became a tremendous financial and critical success, and at just 25 years old she was instantly recognized as one of the most progressive and unique filmmakers of the time. Jeanne Dielman was praised by critics for its ability to hold the attention of audiences, despite the film’s incredibly long run-time and the film’s slow and repetitive nature, as well as for the minimalistic, calm and reserved lead performance by Delphine Seyrig.  Jeanne Dielman was incredibly successful among feminist critics of the time, who recognized the picture for its use of an all-female crew, and for being so open and honest about the subservience of the housewife. Though the film wasn’t released in the United States until the early 1980’s, its influence has been felt by some of the country’s most ambitious filmmakers, most notably Palme d’Or winning director Gus Van Sant.


Delphine Seyrig as the titular Jeanne Dielman in Chantal Akerman’s groundbreaking 1975 film.

The story told in Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles seems simple at first glance, but there’s much more to it than meets the eye.  We follow the titular Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) in real time through three seemingly normal days.  On the first day, Jeanne cooks, cleans, and interacts as much as she possibly can with her disconnected teenage son Sylvain (Jan Decorte).  Jeanne’s schedule is incredibly well-rehearsed, and seems almost ritualistic.  Not a single minute is wasted, and never once does she seem unfocused or unproductive. During the afternoons, she is visited by men who pay her for sex.  These visits help to pay Jeanne and Sylvain’s comfortable life, and seem nearly as ritualistic and rehearsed as her chores are.  The men stay for a short while, and when they’re finally gone Jeanne quickly returns to her routine of cleaning and preparing dinner for her son.  Jeanne’s meditative and ritualistic life begins to slowly unravel on the second day, after she wakes up unexpectedly early and is expected to fill an extra hour of her day.  Not knowing what to do with the time, Jeanne sits and broods, giving into the anxiety and darkness that she so desperately tries to escape with her methodical regimented schedule.  This extra hour unnerves Jeanne, and causes her to make small mistakes like drop a clean spoon and overcook the potatoes she has been preparing for dinner.  These imbalances in Jeanne’s perfectly planned life slowly begin to eat away at her, and eventually cause her to lash out in the film’s quietly explosive final moments.

Jeanne Dielman is a film that I’ve been dreading having to dive into for years now. I’ve always been curious and interested in the experimental aspects of it, but so turned on by its slow nature and ridiculously long running time.  Those reasons, and the fact that it paved the way for so many females in the film industry, are exactly why I chose to finally cover Jeanne Dielman.  Though it wasn’t quite love at first sight, I can say with every bit of certainty that the film is a masterwork in pacing, and in never quite letting the audience get ahead of the story being told. Chantal Akerman’s camera pauses for long stretches as Jeanne Dielman goes about her daily rituals and perfectly rehearsed habits, and it’s very haunting to watch unfold.  The subtle and deliberate pacing of the film never once lost my attention, and always had me trying to understand Jeanne Dielman as a character. She has completely given into the complacency of being a mother, and seemingly has no hobbies or interests outside of cooking, cleaning, and having loveless and passionless sex.  She doesn’t say a great deal, and yet somehow still manages to be completely enthralling because of Delphine Seyrig’s incredible performance. Seyrig’s titular Jeanne Dielman is perfect and believable in every single way.  The way Seyrig does small things like perfectly flattening the sheets on her son’s bed or clean out the bathtub, makes it seem as if the actions have been performed thousands of times before.  When something goes wrong in Jeanne’s routine, you can tell just by the look on Delphine Seyrig’s always emotionless face.  It’s not showy or large in any way, but I can safely say it’s one of the best and most dedicated performances I’ve ever seen from anybody on film.  If the lead performance wasn’t compelling, Chantal Akerman’s film simply wouldn’t work nearly as well as it does.  She absolutely made the right choice in casting a veteran actress like Seyrig, and perfectly compliments the incredible performance with the most meditative direction, writing, and pacing I’ve ever seen.  Though Jeanne Dielman is a long film, it never feels played out or tedious – aside from the banality that Akerman wants the audience to feel through the use of repetition.  When things start to get more interesting in the second day, the film starts to feel claustrophobic and ultimately feels soaked in dread.  This all comes to a perfect crescendo in the final moments of the film, and Akerman’s direction makes the moment we’ve been waiting more than three hours for feel like just another insipid moment in Jeanne’s life.  It’s beautiful.


Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) and her son Sylvain (Jan Decorte) in Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.

While I can safely say that few people reading this are going to enjoy any aspect of Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the influence it has had on modern filmmaking is undeniable.  Chantal Akerman’s exercise in patience and deliberate pacing paved the way for countless generations of award-winning female filmmakers and other behind-the-line roles.  The lead performance by Delphine Seyrig is undeniably great in its focused and meditative nature, and make this a can’t miss experience.  It may be a while before I revisit Jeanne Dielman, but I can promise you that I’ll never forget my first experience with the film, and with the work of Chantal Akerman.  Though it isn’t for everybody out there, Jeanne Dielman comes highly recommended.  

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Women in Film Feature #4 – To Each His Own (1946)

apv6i8xcTo Each His Own (1946)
Directed by: Mitchell Leisen
Written by: Charles Brackett, Jacques Thery, Dodie Smith
Starring: Olivia de Havilland, Mary Anderson, John Lund

The great Olivia de Havilland is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated actresses of her time, as her name is very rarely thrown around with contemporaries like Hepburn, Bergman, Davis, Stanwyck, and Bacall.  She was not somebody I was overly familiar with before selecting one of her most acclaimed roles as a feature, but I sure am glad I chose her over many of my other options.  Olivia de Havilland is a two-time Oscar winner, and currently stands as the oldest living actor to have won a prestigious Academy Award.  The younger sister of fellow actress Joan Fontaine, Olivia got her start in industry working side-by-side with Errol Flynn, one of the biggest male stars in the early days of sound films.  From there, she featured prominently in a supporting role in Gone with the Wind, being nominated for her very first Academy Award.  Though she is known best for her roles in romantic melodramas of the era, her range as an actress led her to be nominated for a total of five Oscars, as well as a host of other awards and honors. This is most evident in Anatole Litvak’s 1948 drama The Snake Pit, where de Havilland plays a woman in an insane asylum who can’t remember why and how she got there.  Her tumultuous relationship with sister Joan Fontaine would have fans debating for decades over which was the best of the siblings.  Whatever the answer may be, the talented sisters remain the only siblings in history to have both won Academy Awards for leading roles.

By the time Olivia de Havilland would star in the acclaimed To Each His Own in 1946, she was already a bonafide star in the industry and would be at the top of her game for the next decade.  Director Mitchell Leisen had worked with the stunning actress just five years before, in Hold Back the Dawn; which saw multiple Oscar nominations and would give the young de Havilland her first nod for the Leading Actress award. The prolific director had nearly fifty directing credits to his name by the end of his career, and had worked with great actresses like sister Joan Fontaine, Carole Lombard, Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, and Claudette Colbert.  Despite working with some of the industry’s very best, his biggest successes seem to have come in early collaborations with Olivia de Havilland in the starring role.  Legendary screenwriter Charles Brackett (of Ninotchka, Ball of Fire, The Lost Weekend, and Sunset Boulevard fame) both wrote and produced To Each His Own, adding his impressive reputation to melodrama.  As such, the picture was nominated for Best Writing at the Oscars, and Brackett’s screenplay helped Olivia de Havilland take home her first major acting award.  Today, To Each His Own is woefully ignored and overlooked among film enthusiasts, and is mostly relevant for being one of de Havilland’s greatest roles and performances.  The film’s highly melodramatic nature mixed with a very strong female lead character and a positive message at its core shows that the film is still highly relevant (if slightly dated and on the nose) today, and is ripe for potential of being rediscovered by a whole new generations of moviegoers.


Olivia de Havilland as Judy Norris tending her father’s hometown shop in 1946’s To Each His Own.

To Each His Own begins with Judy Norris (Olivia de Havilland), an aging fire warden in World War II era London, recounting her life story to her colleague Lord Desham (Roland Culver) during a down period for the two.  Through a series of flashbacks, we see young Judy as she lives her life in her small hometown of Piersen Falls.  She is very popular among the locals because of her idealistic and kind-mannered nature, and has the eye of multiple bachelors in town.  Uninterested in any of the townspeople, Judy falls in love with a pilot named Captain Bart Cosgrove (John Lund) who flies into Piersen Falls to promote the purchase of war bonds.  The two share a single night together, and Captain Cosgrove flies off to another town.  Soon, Judy finds out that she is pregnant with Cosgrove’s child, and that she may require a life-saving operation that would result in her losing the child.  After hearing of the untimely death of Captain Cosgrove, Judy changes her mind about the operation and decides to have the baby on her own, without the knowledge of the townspeople.  In order to keep her reputation as a stand up citizen in her hometown, Judy decides to leave her baby on the doorstep of a friend with multiple, who would “find” the baby and offer it to Judy because another child would just be too much. Unfortunately for Judy, the baby is given up for adoption after a series of unfortunate events to a couple who have just lost their own young child.  Judy pledges her entire life to reuniting with her young child, now known as Gregory or “Griggsy”.  She does this by aiding Griggsy’s adoptive mother with the young child, and constantly checking in on the family.  After some tension between the women, Judy is forbidden from seeing the young boy and moves out of Piersen Falls to start anew.  Will Judy Norris ever reunite with her son, or will the boy grow up and never recognize that he in fact has two loving mothers in his life? Find out in Mitchell Leisen’s Academy Award winning To Each His Own!

Being able to discover great new films is my absolute favourite part of doing these spotlights, especially since I always make a point of only seeking out unseen films. To Each His Own might be one of my favourite discoveries yet, especially since it’s something I went into with literally no expectations at all.  Olivia de Havilland was an absolute revelation, and I can’t believe I hadn’t seen her in a starring role until this film.  She brings so much power and grace to the character of Judy Norris, who is quite possibly one of the all-time great mothers in film. Her performance never feels cheap or too melodramatic, and instead oozes hope and idealism.  She never bows down to a male character who isn’t her own son, which is another thing I absolutely loved to see in a film from this time.  The direction by Mitchell Leisen isn’t anything to phone home about, but he obviously knew how to command one hell of a performance out of Olivia de Havilland and the rest of the supporting cast, most of whom give good or at least passable performances.  The other shining light of To Each His Own is its Charles Brackett-penned screenplay, which packs tremendous emotional punches over and over again, but also isn’t afraid to insert some clever humor here and there. These comedic moments come mostly from small supporting players (often children) throughout, and helps to ease the tension the audience feels by watching a loving mother come so close to her own child, yet never manage to get the necessary words out to him.  The film moves at a great pace, not getting to Judy’s brief romance with Captain Cosgrove until more than twenty minutes in. We get a feeling for the town of Piersen Falls and the people who live within, and best of all get to spend some quality time really getting to know Judy Norris and her motivations as a character.  Things really speed up when Judy leaves her hometown for greener pastures, seeing her run her own small business empire with the help of a friend wonderfully played by Bill Goodwin.  To Each His Own never lingers for too long, yet always manages to remind you as a viewer what is really at stake with all of Judy’s successes.


Olivia de Havilland accepting her Oscar for Best Actress from presenter Ray Milland at the 1947 Academy Awards.

It’s really too bad that To Each His Own has been so overlooked for such a long time now.  While it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in any way, there’s a lot about it to really admire and fall in love with.  Its melodrama feels realistic and mostly deserved, feeling more like the more subtle work of the great Douglas Sirk than your typical Oscar fare of the time.  It features a truly incredible performance by Olivia de Havilland, who plays a strong and loving mother who never lets anybody get in the way of her relationship with her son.  It’s incredibly progressive and despite aging quite a lot in some ways, still feels pretty relevant today.  It allowed de Havilland to really show off her skills as a leading lady, and led to her taking far more interesting and successful roles in the coming years. The film features a sharp screenplay with little to no wasted time, and the two hour run-time goes by almost too quickly.  To Each His Own had me in tears when the credits rolled, something I can’t say for many of the movies I’ve reviewed here on my blog.  While it’s certainly not perfect, it managed to easily worm its way into my heart.  To Each His Own is highly recommended.  

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Women in Film Feature #3 – Gaslight (1944)

gasl2Gaslight (1944)
Directed by: George Cukor
Written by: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch, John L. Balderston (Based on Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton)
Starring: Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotten, Dame May Whitty, Angela Lansbury

The Swedish born Ingrid Bergman has starred in some of the most iconic films of the 1940’s and 50’s, and yet remains undiscovered by an entire generation of people unenthused with the pictures, and uninterested in their storied past.  With an impressive resume of films including Casablanca, Notorious, Spellbound, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Anastasia, Murder on the Orient Express, Autumn Sonata, and a thematic trilogy of films with director Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Bergman has an entire body of work ripe for discovery.  Renowned in Hollywood for her naturalistic performances, Bergman helped change the way actresses were viewed during the golden age of American films.  On screen, she was graceful, subtle, and effortlessly realistic – which stood out in an era filled with over-the-top damsel in distress performances by some of her contemporaries.  Ingrid’s realism focused performances managed to win her two Academy Awards for Best Actress, one for Best Supporting Actress, and saw her nominated a further four times throughout her career.  Her work with directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Ingmar Bergman, George Cukor, Leo McCarey, and Michael Curtiz remain some of the most acclaimed films of their time, and have ensured that Ingrid Bergman’s place in Hollywood history is rightfully recognized.

The man of the hour in 1944’s Hollywood was undoubtedly the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock.  With a Best Picture win just a few years previously for Rebecca, and a slew of hit American films under his belt, the man had quickly managed to leave an impression on other filmmakers of the time.  There’s no doubt in my mind that director George Cukor took a page (or an entire chapter) out of Hitchcock’s book when approaching the story of Gaslight.  Soaked in an atmosphere of dread, featuring incredibly suspenseful moments, packed with twists and turns, and filled with good performances, it has all the makings of a Hitchcock film.  Cukor had made a career as a director for hire for major studios throughout the 1930’s, and had succeeded in eventually making quite a name for himself.  With a pair of incredible performances from leads Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, a tight and thrilling screenplay, and dark and moody cinematography, it’s no wonder why Cukor’s Gaslight instantly became one of the director’s biggest hits.   The film earned seven Oscar nominations including major categories like Best Picture, Best Actress (Ingrid Bergman), Best Actor (Charles Boyer), and Best Supporting Actress (Angela Lansbury).  The highly acclaimed Swedish-born actress Ingrid Bergman took home her first of three statues for her performance in Gaslight, praised for her portrayal of a paranoid and desperate woman trying to a solve a deadly mystery with suspects right under her own nose.  Gaslight is also notable for being the on-screen debut of prolific actress Angela Lansbury, multiple time Academy Award nominee, and star of the long running hit show Murder, She Wrote.  The film is seen as being somewhat dated to today’s standards, but remains an incredibly effective and suspenseful look at the forced descent into madness of a woman by a man who has managed to make his way deep into her heart.


Paula (Ingrid Bergman) and Elizabeth (Barbara Everest) in 1944’s Gaslight.

Gaslight begins on a murderous note, with opera singer Alice Alquist turning up dead and her jewel-seeking killer fleeing the scene after being interrupted by a young woman.  The young woman is Paula (Ingrid Bergman), Alice’s niece.  The young Paula is sent to Italy soon after, in order to study under a famed opera singer, and so that she can hopefully forget about the events she saw unfold on that fateful night.  Soon, Paula meets a charming and wealthy man by the name of Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer), and the two quickly fall in love and marry.  Gregory convinces Paula that returning to London and living in her aunt’s vacant house would be best for her mental recovery, and the two set off for their new home.  Alice’s belongings are tucked away in the attic in order to help Paula adjust, and a young maid named Nancy (Angela Lansbury) is hired.  After accidentally finding a letter addressed to her late aunt and being forbidden by her husband to read it, Paula begins to notice odd occurrences around her new home.  The home’s gaslights begin to dim and brighten at random, pictures disappear off the walls, and she loses prized possessions from the safety of her own person.  To top it all off, the new maid seems to have taken a disliking to Paula, but her husband ignores all signs of this.  Convinced by Gregory that she’s imagining all of these events and that she’s still reeling from the trauma of seeing her aunt’s murder, Paula begins to doubt many aspects of her own reality.  She is soon isolated from outsiders by those inside the house, and her sanity is called into question by her husband.  Is there more at play than just a woman losing her mind, or is Paula being influenced by an insidious power?  Find out in George Cukor’s Gaslight!

While George Cukor and company may have taken many a page out of Alfred Hitchcock’s style book, there’s something very different and special about the way Gaslight plays out.  Its twists and turns aren’t quite as “big” as some of Hitchcock’s most effective moments, but Cukor instead opts for subtlety and making the audience think really hard.  The well-paced direction focuses on getting to know our principal characters initially, and then takes a sudden and hard turn into one woman’s battle for her own sanity.  The attention to detail and art direction is something to be admired, as the sets and costumes create a realistic and fully-immersive portrait of the film’s time and setting.  The real shining feature of Gaslight though, is its acting.  Cukor’s film is more than anything a moody and dark showcase for four incredible talents to give their absolute best performances possible.  The audience knows the twist from the very beginning, making Ingrid Bergman’s supposed descent into madness a truly frustrating and infuriating experience for viewers.  Bergman’s performance as the tortured Paula is incredible, as it’s never played in an over-the-top fashion.  Paula is a believably traumatized young woman who may have put what little trust she had left into somebody that is completely toxic for her.  Supporting Ingrid Bergman’s Oscar-winning performance is a delightfully evil Charles Boyer as Gregory, Paula’s charming husband.  Boyer’s Gregory is sly, cunning, and has a silver-tongue when it comes to dealing with his wife, and every scene featuring the two becomes a subtle and suspenseful power play.  Even Hitchcock would have trouble making a character so hateable and yet so fully-realized at the same time, but Cukor pulls it off masterfully.  Worth mentioning is the debut of Angela Lansbury, whose turn as the maid Nancy earned her an Oscar nomination as well.  Nancy aids in creating the tense and toxic atmosphere that is slowly driving Paula insane, and the very young Lansbury is perfect for the role.


Oscar-winner Ingrid Bergman and Best Actor nominee Charles Boyer in George Cukor’s terrific Gaslight.

While it may not be a completely unique or unpredictable tale in the modern age, George Cukor’s Gaslight is an incredible tale of a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, and madness.  It gives Alfred Hitchcock’s very best a run for its money, and has been undoubtedly influential on modern day suspense pictures.  Guillermo del Toro should have taken a page out of George Cukor’s book when making 2015’s Crimson Peak, as the two films share a great deal of similarities.  Gaslight features an Oscar-winning performance from one of Hollywood’s most talented actresses, a terrific and believable antagonist, subtle and deliberate pacing, and hopelessly bleak atmosphere aided by the dark and foggy cinematography.  It’s slow, maddening, and chock full of incredibly admirable qualities.  George Cukor’s Gaslight is highly recommended.

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Women in Film Feature #2 – Now, Voyager (1942)

now-voyager-05-poster-e1446403178223Now, Voyager (1942)
Directed by: Irving Rapper
Written by: Casey Robinson (Based on Now, Voyager by Olive Higgins Prouty)
Starring: Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Gladys Cooper, Janis Wilson

Bette Davis made a legendary career out of subverting the expectations of actresses in a time where beauty and bust meant a great deal more than raw talent ever did.  Her piercing dark eyes, dark blonde hair, and often serious demeanor won the hearts and minds of millions during the golden age of Hollywood.  While Davis had a unique beauty of her own, it certainly wasn’t comparable to contemporaries like the Ingrid Bergman’s, Joan Fontaine’s, and Olivia de Havilland’s of the film industry – but that’s exactly what set her apart and made her such an anomaly in an industry of beautiful people.  The winner of two Academy Awards for Best Actress, Bette Davis is now looked back upon as one of the most influential presences in early Hollywood history.  Her incredible range made her a believable star in a wide range of genres, including period piece dramas, romantic films, and over-the-top thrillers and mysteries.  Known for consistently playing strong female leads and intelligent modern women, Davis was a trailblazer for women young and old during her six decades of critically acclaimed performances.  Bette Davis is perhaps best remembered for her late career appearances in films like All About Eve, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and Dead Ringer, as well as highly acclaimed early performances in the Oscar-winning Jezebel, Dark Victory, The Letter, and The Little Foxes.   Her ten career Academy Award nominations (including two wins) has only been rivalled by two other actresses – Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep.  Her incredible legacy lives on to this day, and her acclaimed performances are still being studied and talked about long after the late actress has passed on.

Now, Voyager comes more than ten years into the career of Bette Davis, one which had already seen five Oscar nominations and two wins.  Davis was very much cemented as one of the best actresses in the world, and seemed as if she could do no wrong.  The film’s director, Irving Rapper, was a relatively close friend to Davis when he broke out as a filmmaker in 1941.  She would star in four of his early films, with Now, Voyager without a doubt being the best received film of the bunch.  Rapper would earn an early Best Picture nomination for his film One Foot in Heaven, and is perhaps best known today for 1956’s The Brave One, written by the blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.  History has not been very kind to Irving Rapper, as he is very rarely mentioned in conversations when talking of great American directors of the golden age.  The film was adapted from a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, most notable for penning the highly acclaimed Stella Dallas, which was also adapted to the big screen to a great critical reception.  Prouty’s Now, Voyager is noted for its progressive attitudes towards the use of psychotherapy and towards mental illness in general.  Bette Davis was originally uninterested in the part, and had to be talked into starring in the film under the notion that it would give the women in American something to look forward to, and distract them from the ongoing war the country had just stepped into.  Mostly uninterested in participating in so-called “women’s pictures”, Davis’ performance would soon be regarded as one of the strongest of her early career.  Davis picked up a nomination for Best Actress at the Academy Awards, serving as her sixth in total.  Now, Voyager also saw Gladys Cooper nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and even took home a statue for Best Score.  Today, the film is remembered for its terrific performances, and the highly melodramatic nature of its complicated love story.  In 2007, the film was honored with preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry.


Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis) and her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper) in Now, Voyager.

Irving Rapper’s Now, Voyager begins by introducing us to a young Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis), an unattractive spinster who is constantly under the supervision of her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper).  Charlotte is the fourth child in the family, and is seen as something of an accident to her aging mother.  Fearing for the mental state of young Charlotte, her sister-in-law hires a psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains), who recommends the young woman have a brief stay in a sanitorium.  Away from the control of her mother, Charlotte transforms into a beautiful, confident, and powerful woman.  Instead of go straight home back to the clutches of her mother, the newly blossomed Vale woman opts for a long voyage at sea.  On her trip she meets Jeremiah (Jerry) Durrance (Paul Henreid), a handsome married man travelling with his friends.  Charlotte and Jeremiah quickly fall into a forbidden and doomed romance.  Jeremiah feels he cannot leave his strict and uncaring wife because of their young daughter.  The two decide it best to never meet again, and say farewell after a few days in Rio de Janeiro.  When she finally arrives back home, Charlotte’s family is shocked to see what has become of the once fragile and neurotic girl.  Her mother disapproves of these improvements, and sees to destroying the newly won confidence of her youngest child.  Eventually, Charlotte becomes engaged to a wealthy man named Elliot Livingston (John Loder).  Despite the engagement, she cannot seem to shake the feelings she holds for Jerry.  His sudden reemergence into her life complicates her relationship with Elliot, so the engagement is called off and Charlotte’s entire life is flipped upside down.  Can the blossoming Charlotte overcome her spiteful mother and score the man she loves, or will the pressure and outside influences be too much for her?  Find out in 1942’s Academy Award nominated Now, Voyager.

The great Bette Davis is a performer who I’ve always admired, and whose most famous performances I’ve never been able to shake.  Her turn in All About Eve is perhaps one of the best performances in film history, and I’m still having nightmares about the terrifying Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?  Davis’ performance in Now, Voyager will undoubtedly sit among the actresses most memorable performances in my book, as it’s easily the most memorable thing about Irving Rapper’s film.  What starts as Davis playing a meek, scared, and uninteresting young woman turns into the strong, independent, highly-intelligent Charlotte Vale we come to love by the film’s climax.  Davis’ performance is fragile at times, and incredibly strong in other moments.  Charlotte’s overcoming of her mother’s influence over her is incredible to watch unfold, proving to the old hag that she’s no mistake.  Davis is restrained and deathly serious in these interactions, and perfectly melodramatic in every scene shared with Paul Henreid’s smooth as butter Jerry Durrance.  While over dramatic romance may not have been Bette Davis’ cup of tea, the delightfully hammy actress was just so damn good in them when the material was as strong as her acting chops were.  Starring alongside Davis is Gladys Cooper in an Oscar-nominated performance as Charlotte’s harsh mother.  Cooper is equally as impressive in the role, and by the end of her arc makes the audience hope for the worst for Charlotte’s bitter mother.  Now, Voyager may be a touch too much for some, but I found it to be completely watchable for its entire two-hour runtime.  I found myself rooting for Charlotte to overcome her mother, to blossom fully into this beautiful, smart woman, and to marry the man of her dreams and rescue him from the misery he himself is faced with.  The setup of Charlotte overcoming her mother and Jerry overcoming his wife’s harsh grip is interesting and feels completely natural in the way it unfolds.  While I wasn’t sure about the involvement of Jerry’s young daughter, the last act of the movie ended up being one of the absolute best things about the film.  It’s infectiously hopeful and optimistic, and allows Davis’ Charlotte to finally bloom.


Bette Davis and Janis Wilson in Irving Rapper’s Now, Voyager.

While it may feel dated and hackneyed to today’s standards, Now, Voyager is a delightfully watchable romantic drama feature a stellar performance from one of America’s all-time greatest screen performers.  The picture features a great supporting cast held up by veteran Gladys Cooper in a tremendously hateable role.  The film’s tremendous award-winning score makes the many romantic and triumphant moments feel truly special, and the iconic ending of Now, Voyager will make even the most hardened moviegoers swoon.  While it may not be high art by any degree, this is a film I could watch over and over again and never get bored with.  Now, Voyager is highly recommended.

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Women in Film Feature #1 – Alice Adams (1935)

p5209_p_v8_aaAlice Adams (1935)
Directed by: George Stevens
Written by: Dorothy Yost, Mortimer Offner, Jane Murfin (Based on Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington)
Starring: Katharine Hepburn, Fred MacMurray, Fred Stone, Ann Shoemaker, Frank Albertson, Evelyn Venable, Hattie McDaniel

Katharine Hepburn is an actress who left quite possibly the single greatest impression on Hollywood films in the entire history of women in film, only being matched quite recently by the terrific Meryl Streep.  She was an actress praised for her range, starring in dramas, romances, comedies, and everything in between, but never did she allow her male counterparts to outshine her on the screen.  Instead of portraying female characters who were weak and subservient to their husbands, boyfriends, fathers, bosses, etc., Kat typically chose strong-willed parts that better fit her more progressive views.  Any woman currently wearing jeans, khakis, or anything or the sort also has Katharine Hepburn to thank, as her fashion sense on and off the screen led to generations of her fans being influenced by her stylistic choices.  Hepburn’s career would span more than six decades, see a record four Academy Award wins, as well as another eight nominations for the award.  Hepburn’s most famous works include Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, Adam’s Rib, The African Queen, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and On Golden Pond.

George Stevens’ 1935 film Alice Adams is the early project that helped to push Kat into the spotlight after suffering from a brief slump period following her first Oscar win for 1933’s Morning Glory.  The project would not only rejuvenate the career of its star, but would also serve as a launching pad for director George Stevens – who would go on to direct Hepburn again to an Academy Award nomination in Woman of the Year in 1942.  Stevens would go on to direct such acclaimed films as Gunga Din, The More the Merrier, The Talk of the Town, A Place in the Sun (for which he won his first Academy Award for Best Director), Shane, Giant (which netted him his second Oscar for Best Director), and The Diary of Anne Frank.  Alice Adams would see Katharine earn her second nomination for Best Actress at the Oscars, with her performance being praised for the hope, optimism, determination, and stubbornness found in her titular character who is fighting an uphill battle against the social class system so that she can impress the man she truly loves.  Alice Adams was adapted from the novel of the same name by Booth Tarkington, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1922.  The film adaptation was praised for taking Tarkington’s biting social commentary and turning it into a loyal yet humanistic and accessible picture for all to enjoy.  Starring alongside Hepburn is a young Fred MacMurray, star of such future films as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and The Apartment, and the television hit sitcom My Three Sons.  Though it would take more than thirty years for star Katharine Hepburn to win her second Academy Award, Alice Adams is an important moment in her early career that could have done just as much to hinder it as it did help propel her into the mainstream.  She would star in acclaimed dramas and comedies for decades after playing the titular Alice Adams, finding a place in the hearts of moviegoers worldwide.


Katharine Hepburn and Grady Sutton during the early dance scene in 1935’s Alice Adams.

Alice Adams tells the story of young Alice (Katharine Hepburn), the youngest member of the Adams family.  The family consists of Mr. Adams (Fred Stone), Mrs. Adams (Ann Shoemaker), and Alice’s older brother Walter (Frank Albertson).  The family lives in poverty, and there is a great deal of tension between all members: Mrs. Adams is frustrated with her husband’s lack of ambition and with the limited potential of Alice due to their social standing, Mr. Adams is ill and being kept on salary by the factory he works at, and their son has a gambling addiction that is slowly tearing him apart.  At the beginning of the film, Alice attends a high class dance without a date, so is escorted to the event by her brother.  Once there, she is quickly taken by the handsome and wealthy Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray).  Russell notices young Alice as well, and is immediately charmed with her personality, despite the very clear class difference between the two.  Following the dance, Arthur begins to court Alice, who tries desperately to cover up her own social class and the poverty her family lives in.  Arthur looks the other way on each occasion, even ignoring petty town gossip about Mr. Adams.  Eventually, Alice is talked into inviting the charming Arthur Russell to dinner at the Adams residence, where the family desperately tries to act as a cohesive and wealthy unit.  Will the Adams family be able to charm the wealthy young man into making things serious with their ambitious daughter, or will the class divide between the two families prove to be too much?  Find out in George Stevens’ Oscar-nominated Alice Adams!

The idea of somebody pretending they’re of a social class above or below their own is an age-old story in the land of Hollywood, and one that seemed to work a great deal in the golden age of films.  Alice Adams tells a very familiar story and hits all of the major notes along the way, but does it with such passion and charm that it’s impossible to not recognize this as at least a noteworthy early effort from its cast and crew.  George Stevens directs the film with such a soft hand that it’s almost impossible to tell that it’s coming from the same man who shot the epic tale Giant just two decades later.  It’s intimate and personal, but never delves too deep into any of the characters or their motivations.  The restraint shown by Stevens and his cinematographer Robert De Grasse keeps things flowing smoothly, and never pauses for too long for fear of losing its audience.  The photography is soft and soaked in beautiful shadows, making it feel at times like a picture with a much higher budget.  The single best thing about Alice Adams (and probably the only reason people are still talking about it today) is the performance of a young Katharine Hepburn.  Her portrayal of Alice is strong-willed and overly-ambitious, and Hepburn’s real-life persona fits the bill perfectly.  You can feel the heartbreak and frustration felt by each member of the family when faced with the difficulties of living in poverty, most notably with Alice.  She tries her absolute best to impress a man who is technically far out of her league, arguably going much further than she ever should have dared.  She’s blinded by her love for a man she hardly knows, and can’t see that he doesn’t even care about the social difference with which she’s so obsessed with.  The harder she tries to push the issue with Arthur, the more she risks pushing this man away and out of her life forever.  Hepburn is absolutely terrific in the film, and her Academy Award nomination was well-deserved.  Fred Stone is also very good as Alice’s ill father, showing off a great deal of comedic abilities in his sympathetic (but stubborn and cowardly) supporting character.  Another standout is the very young Fred MacMurray, who was never known for his great performances.  MacMurray does just enough heavy lifting to believable as the wealthy Arthur Russell, and is incredibly charming (and dreamy) in the role.  On a minor note, it’s incredibly difficult to see the way African Americans are portrayed throughout the film, especially after my marathon on Black Directors where everybody on screen was treated equally, regardless of race or class.  It’s not something I can hold against the film because of the era it was made in, but that doesn’t mean I can’t cringe during certain (admittedly very minor) moments.


Alice Adams (Katharine Hepburn) and Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray) in George Stevens’ Alice Adams.

Alice Adams is an above average film made memorable by a single performance, which serves as the film’s greatest advantage.  Katharine Hepburn is terrific as the titular Alice, and there’s no wonder why the role saw her once again grow in esteem of American audiences.  Director George Stevens shows some early promise for what would be an incredible career, but never quite pulls the trigger on what could have truly been a remarkable film.  The finished product serves as a showcase for one of history’s greatest actresses, and little more.  It’s charming, funny, sweet, and sappy, but probably isn’t the kind of thing you’ll be thinking about long after the credits have rolled.  Alice Adams is recommended.

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March Theme – Women in Film (An Introduction)

0010731846After learning a great deal about black culture and the history of diversity in Hollywood, I’ve decided to keep the ball rolling with the issue of diversity in the world of film.  March will focus on women in film, whether they’re behind the camera or acting in front of it.  The Women in Film marathon will span the entire history of talking films, starting in 1935 and ending in 1993, and will feature pictures from Hollywood, Belgium, and New Zealand.  I’ve left the rules relatively uncomplicated, with my only stipulation being that a renowned actress or director is behind the project.

The marathon will feature six films starring some of the greatest actresses in the history of Hollywood, most of them doubling as Oscar-nominated and other award winning performances.  On top of those, two more films will take a look at the world of women behind the camera, with their films coming from around the world. The goal of this series is to further my own appreciation for how far women in film have come over the last century, and to expose myself and others to some of the projects that helped women get a foothold in the famously male-dominated industry.

The films being covered will be as follows:

  • Alice Adams (1935) (dir. George Stevens) – This Academy Award nominated drama saw Katharine Hepburn jump back into the limelight after her career suffered from a short tailspin following her first Oscar win. Hepburn still holds the impressive record for most career Academy Award wins with four.
  • Now, Voyager (1942) (dir. Irving Rapper) – One of the all-time greatest dramatic performers in Hollywood, Bette Davis, was nominated for her sixth Oscar and is often considered to be one of the stronger performances in her illustrious career.
  • Gaslight (1944) (dir. George Cukor) – The famous mystery film earned Ingrid Bergman her first of three Academy Awards, and would help put her on a course that would eventually see her collaborate with filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Sidney Lumet, and Ingmar Bergman.
  • To Each His Own (1946) (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – The acclaimed romantic drama saw the great Olivia de Havilland win her first of two Academy Awards for her portrayal of a strong, but lonely, woman in the world of business.
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) (dir. Blake Edwards) – One of the most famous American movies that has somehow managed to elude me for so long sees the lovely Audrey Hepburn in one of the most iconic screen roles of all-time. Hepburn was nominated for her fourth Oscar for her performance.
  • Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) (dir. Chantal Akerman) – Often celebrated as the world’s greatest female film director, Chantal Akerman’s nearly four hour epic is an arthouse masterpiece. Akerman tragically committed suicide in October of 2015 after a long battle with depression.
  • Sophie’s Choice (1982) (dir. Alan J. Pakula) – Seen as one of the greatest performances in a career that is full of great performances, Meryl Streep took home her second of three Academy Awards, and would serve as her fourth of nineteen nominations at the world’s oldest award ceremony.
  • The Piano (1993) (dir. Jane Campion) – A massive financial and critical success that put director Jane Campion on the map, winning the Palme d’Or at that year’s Cannes film festival.  The film’s success would see her nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards, making Campion only the second woman ever nominated for the honor.

The schedule for the Women in Film series is as follows:

#1 – Alice Adams – Katharine Hepburn (1935) (Mar. 2)
#2 – Now, Voyager – Bette Davis (1942) (Mar. 4)
#3 – Gaslight – Ingrid Bergman (1944) (Mar. 7)
#4 – To Each His Own – Olivia de Havilland (1946) (Mar. 11)
#5 – Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Audrey Hepburn (1961) (Mar. 14)
#6 – Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles – Chantal Akerman (1975) (Mar. 18)
#7 – Sophie’s Choice – Meryl Streep (1982) (Mar. 21)
#8 – The Piano – Jane Campion (1993) (Mar. 25)

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