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How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

The script survives, the score is trimmed to 8 numbers
HOW TO SUCCEED (film review)

HOW TO SUCCEED as a film is an odd critter. The Pulitzer Prize and muti-Tony Award winning Frank Loesser musical arrives on screen with the libretto pretty much intact, but with five of its thirteen songs excised. All three of Rosemary's songs (Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm, Paris Original, Cinderella Darling) are gone. All the character gets to sing is Rosemary (with Morse) and a short reprise of I Believe In You. Bigley's second number (Love From A Heart Of Gold) is gone. Even Coffee Break is missing, though it was recorded and filmed, but edited out during previews. It's still on the soundtrack cd.

This means that with the exception of one number (A Secretary Is Not A Toy), all of the songs involve Morse. The ego of J. Pierpont Finch leaks over onto the film version of his rise to the top. Oddly enough a year later Barbra Streisand would pull the same trick with FUNNY GIRL. Eight of the show's fifteen songs are missing. Of what remains, only one number (If A Girl Isn't Pretty) does not include Streisand. True, there are two new songs and two Brice standards that are added on to round out the score. I am just struck by the similarity in approaches to the two films (excise all but one of the original songs that does not feature the star).

What we have left is the original Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert's razor-sharp satire of big business and tactics of one determined to claw his way to the top, through guile, subterfuge, knowledge of personalities and downright innocence and charm (or a good imitation of the last two). Morse shines as Finch, and who is more adorable or innocent, even sucking his thumb at one point? He is perfect in his Tony Award winning role. Rudy Vallee reprises his role as J. B. Bigley. Ruth Kobart also reprises her role as Miss Jones.

A big help is the casting of Michelle Lee as Rosemary. She is lovely, charming and totally believable. The original Rosemary, Bonnie Scott, had a horrendous speaking and singing voice, very loud and very grating. It's a wonder she was cast in the first place. Charles Nelson Reilly's Bud Frump, nervous, desperate, insidious, is wonderfully replaced by Scooter (Anthony) Teague, who appeared as one of the Jets in the film of WEST SIDE STORY.

Despite the sparsity of musical numbers, the eight that remain are superbly performed and the show as a whole is wonderfully, bright, funny, still original after all these years, and thoroughly enjoyable. Highly recommended.


Marvelous musical film - Lawrence Tibbett's best

I find it to be a shame that Lawrence Tibbett appeared in only six films (1930-1936). His first, the Technicolor operetta, THE ROGUE SONG, is essentially a lost film. Only 23:29 minutes of footage survives, plus the complete soundtrack on Vitaphone discs. Youtube has a splendid reconstruction using stills from missing scenes. For this performance he deservedly was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award.

As to the other five, they vary in quality. METROPOLITAN I consider his best film, both in terms of his performance, the script, and for the film itself. It is a fun musical comedy with wonderful singing. It zips along, always engaging and enjoyable. Tibbett appears opposite Virginia Bruce, who more than holds her own as a singer want-to-be. What really keeps this film going is the plethora of wonderful character performers from full roles to bit parts. Alice Brady is superb as the egotistical diva-producer, who wants Tibbett for more than just a leading man. She was but three years away from earning her Oscar. In a bit role scene Walter Brennan and Jane Darwell delight as owners of a questionable roadside tea shop. Brennan was a year away from beginning his three Oscar winning streak and Darwell but five years from her Oscar. In addition we have George Marion as the overly emotional Papa and Jessie Ralph in a lovely two scene cameo as a cleaning woman, who takes to an opera performance. The dashing young Cesar Romero provides additional eye candy.

Tibbett sings the Toreodor Song from Carmen, Largo al Factotum from The Barber of Seville, and the Prologue to I Pagliacci. In addition he sings two popular songs, On The Road to Mandalay (one of his career signature tunes) and De Glory Road. (My only problem with the film is that the last two are sung back to back in one small living room set and seem to go on forever. One ought to have been cut and re-staged elsewhere in the film. This very long segment stops the film in its tracks, but it quickly recovers its pace.) Bruce provides a lovely rendition of Micaela's aria from Carmen and she and Tibbett sing a brief duet from Faust.

Richard Boleslawski, a director otherwise unknown to me, keeps the action and the comedy moving at a good clip. The cinematography and editing are top notch. Altogether a marvelous film. Sadly, as with all the other extant films of Tibbett, it has never been released on video. One has to catch a TCM broadcast or buy a dvd copy from a private seller. METROPOLITAN is not to be missed.

The Green Goddess

Update to earlier review of 4 June 2016
In my earlier review of this film I only knew of three of Artliss' six silent films that had survived. In the three years since, it has come to light that all six survive, complete, in various archives the world over. These are documented on the Wikipedia pages for the five that are not as yet on dvd. As of this writing only THE DEVIL has been released to public on dvd.

The Devil

It's all Ariss, he's a delight as Evil Incarnate - the film is dreary when he's not on screen
THE DEVIL (1921) [56:26]

George Arliss appeared in 6 silent films from 1921 through 1928. Of these only his first, THE DEVIL (1921- Pathe) is available on dvd and it is the only one he did not remake as a sound film. The others all survive in whole in archives the world over (Twenty Dollars a week (LOC); The Ruling Passion (Gosfilm, Moscow); The Man Who Played God (Gosfilm, Moscow); The Green Goddess (UCLA); Disraeli (Gosfim, Moscow)), but have never been released to the public on VHS or DVD. Arliss remade 5 of these as sound films, (DISRAELI, THE GREEN GODDESS, THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD under their original titles, and TWENTY DOLLARS A WEEK as THE WORKING MAN and THE RULING PASSION as THE MILLIONAIRE), so we at least have surviving interpretations of the roles involved.

Mr. Arliss makes his first appearance in THE DEVIL 7 minutes into the production, with his back turned to the public. His slow turning around at over-hearing a bold statement by the leading lady is an effective introduction to his character. The film is all his. There is nothing interesting about the two couples, as characters or as actors, whose happiness he manipulates to destroy through innuendo and suggestion. Would that there were so we could care about the harm he is doing, but we don't. It's all his show and even without his eloquent voice, his facial expressions and polite mannerisms tell all we need to know. The others may over act or act badly, but Arliss is always spot on.

Mrs. Arliss (Florence) appears as the aunt of the leading lady and is quite prevalent - she appears in 14 scenes comprising 8 sequences. However, she has no "lines," so remains a background character.

At 56 minutes and 26 seconds, the film plays swiftly, albeit stage-bound as it needs be (Arliss played the role on stage in the nineteen oughts) and as a fantasy it is one-note and morally simplistic. This is one I would only recommend for fans of Mr. Arliss, who is a delight. (An interesting visual effect at the end has him turning more and more grotesque in a series of quick cuts until he is consumed by flames - supposedly this caused a few faint hearts to flutter with terror in audiences of the times.)

The dvd print is fuzzy and out of focus with occasinal frame jumps.


Boring and ineffectually acted 15th century drama

Romola is adapted from an 1863 novel by George Eliot, one of seven she published and the only one not set in her contemporary Victorian England. It is an historical novel set in late 15th century Florence, and revolves around a young woman as she deals with an unhappy marriage and her resultant loss in faith.

The film remains close to the plot of the novel, but with serious differences, the most influential being the relative passivity of the main character, Romola, where in the novel she is at its center and is much more of a feisty and strong character. In the novel, she twice leaves her husband and Florence and near the end, attempts suicide, finally finding renewed faith in caring for victims of a plague. None of this is in the film. In addition the secondary character of Tessa survives in the novel, whereas she perishes in the film.

The film becomes the story of the blackguard, Tito, (William Powell), as he lies and cheats his way into Romola's home and heart, while at the same time having a mock marriage with Tessa, a peasant girl. Romola and Tessa both become supporting characters in the film. It's all about Tito. The Gish sisters as Romola and Tessa are quite passive and walk around as if in trances. Ronald Colman has a very small role as Carlo, the old suitor who will eventually win Romola at the film's conclusion. Henry King's direction is somnambulant.

The only available dvd version is a badly sourced VHS of a fuzzy, out of focus, old 16 mm print, very difficult to watch. This clocks in at 1 hour, 57 minutes, 30 seconds.

The film is a very poor one indeed, by any standards, and given its director and cast, is especially considered by me to be a failure. It was never remade as a sound film and the only other silent version is lost.

If you are a fan of any of the quartet of players, it is a must-see, but on its own it is slim pickings indeed.

Note: The IMDB timing of 1 hour, 46 minutes is incorrect (see above correction).

If You Knew Susie

Second pairing of Cantor and Davis - an inspired coupling
If You Knew Susie (1948)

In 1944 Cantor and Davis starred in a fun vaudeville musical, SHOW BUSINESS. In that film their characters were named Eddie Martin and Joan Mason. Co-stars were George Murphy as George Doane and Constance Moore as Constance Ford. Note first names of characters equaled first names of players. In this Cantor and Davis meet, squabble and eventually marry.

Four years later their story takes up again with names changed to Sam and Susie Parker as they prepare to retire from show business and run an inn in the country. In one flashback scene, they remember playing with "George Murphy and Connie Moore" - real names used - and we see a clip from the earlier film, the spoof Lucia Sextette number, with all four.

Now wouldn't you think that logically they'd just carry over their character names from the earlier film? But then you couldn't use "Susie" as Davis' character name or the title song? This could have been taken care of with some dialogue as to the fact that "Susie" was Davis' character's middle name and thus a nickname, but the writers were unable to come up with that simple fix.

The film itself is short on musical numbers (there are only four, including the title song) and shorter on comedy. Cantor and Davis continue to be an inspired coupling. Too bad they only made these two films, they play with and off each other admirably. The silly plot with the Parkers trying to prove Revolutionary pedigree with a newly discovered letter from George Washington wears thin very quickly. Slapstick moments keep the bulk of the film going. The end resolution comes quickly and almost seems like a snap decision due to running out of gags.

Allyn Joslyn gets his share of laughs as a news reporter hot shot, who keeps the Parkers holed up in a company suite while he follows their attempts to win government recognition. The juveniles, Margaret Kerry and Dick Humphries, have one number, Brooklyn Love Song, and share a lively tape dance. Then their story line is dropped. Davis and Cantor share a black face dance number on a treadmill, How The Time Goes By, which is an opening show stopper. Cantor has the title song and a throw away number, Why Do I Want Money? With the lifted Sextette number, that comprises the entire musical bill.

So, although not a great film, it does manage to be fun and the combo of Davis and Cantor is not to be missed. This was Eddie's last starring role and Davis was to leave the screen after only three more films. TV claimed them both. Catch them in their parting glory in "Susie."

Show Business

Grand vaudeville musical with Cantor, Davis and Murphy at their peaks

SHOW BUSINESS is a grand little vaudeville musical, akin to so many original film musicals of the 1940s, but this one seems special in some way. It was the first of two pairings of Eddie Cantor and Joan Davis - a match made in heaven - and the songs are so earnestly and robustly performed, as to give the appearance of having their first airings here, in spite of them all being standards.

The quartet of players are all at their peak. Cantor and Davis perform their personal shticks with aplomb, while Murphy always delights as the perfect combo of actor and song and dance man (ala Cagney.) The only one to come off weaker than the rest is Constance Moore, who is pretty and who can act, sing and dance, but who lacks star quality. Nancy Kelly makes a beautiful temptress and home breaker and acts the role well.

All the lead players' characters sport the same first names as those who play them. Saves having to retake a scene when someone flubs a line addressing the other characters. Oddly, Constance Moore's character is named Constance Ford, a film actress in her own right, who at the time of release was only 20 and a stranger to Hollywood.

The plot is a simple tale of two duos who become a quartet to storm vaudeville and Broadway. Cantor's character (Eddie Martin) ends the show with Makin Whoopee, from his Ziegfeld stage and film success, Whoopee!, although the studio here (RKO) and that of the original film version of Whoopee! (Goldwyn) had to make a deal to allow the use of the song.

The show is nearly stopped early on when the two boys meet the two girls in a bar and Murphy leads Moore into a song and tap dance number to It Had To Be You, which becomes the couple's love theme. It is an inspired piece of choreography, style, grace and charm. The other numbers are all energetic and top-notch. The film's pacing is quite brisk and the 90 minute playing time just whizzes along. There is a dramatic hitch to the film, involving unfounded jealousy and divorce, but I won't go into details here. All comes right in the end.

Musical Numbers: 1. They're Wearing Them Higher in Hawaii (Murphy); 2. The Curse of An Aching Heart (Cantor); 3. It Had To Be You (Murphy, Moore); 4. Strolling In The Park One Day (instrumental); 5. I Want A Girl (Quartet); 6. Lucia Sextette (Quartet); 7. Alabamy Bound (Cantor); 8. Dinah (Quartet); 9. You May Not Remember (Kelly); 10. I'm In Love With A Beautiful Nurse aka I Don't Want To Get Well (Cantor, Murphy); 11. You May Not Remember (Kelly); 12. Why Am I Blue? (Moore); 13. Waiting In Vain (Murphy); 14. It Had To Be You (reprise) (Murphy, Moore); 15. Makin Whoopee! (Cantor); 16: It Had To Be You (reprise) (Murphy).

A highly recommended film for lovers of musicals. It is to be noted that Cantor and Davis would appear again in Cantor's last film, If You Knew Susie, which is an unofficial continuation of Show Business. Whereas in the latter the couple spar, romance and marry, in Susie, they are already a couple retiring from the stage and deciding to run an inn (shades of Holiday Inn/White Christmas). Susie would be Cantor's last film and Davis would have only four more before both turned to the television medium for their further performances.

Thank Your Lucky Stars

Lively wartime review with fun star turns and a madcap Cantor at the center
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Of all the studio "canteen" films, I consider this Warner Bros. effort the best. For two reasons: not a GI or a sappy love story of a gob on leave in sight; and having stars perform against type. Where else could you see: tough guy Bogart cowering from the wrath of Cuddles Sakall; dramatic actresses Olivia de Havilland and Ida Lupino as gum-chewing, finger-snapping jive singers and dancers; Bette Davis gracing us with an Oscar-nominated song; and a most debonair Errol Flynn totally at home as a song and dance man with an Irish pub song?

The central plot with Eddie Cantor in a dual role - as himself and as a look-alike actor-want-to-be bus driver- in loggerheads with show producers Edward Everett Horton and Sakall is a comedy gem. Cantor's humility here in playing himself as an ego-driven, self-absorbed, control freak may have been partly true, but he pulls it off with great aplomb. Dennis Morgan and a lively Joan Leslie provide the romantic leads. In addition to the stars named above, there are other specialty numbers featuring: Alan Hale, Jack Carson, Hattie McDaniel, Ann Sheridan, Spike Jones, John Garfield, and Alexis Smith. Getting the most of star screen time is Dinah Shore with three numbers.

It's all jolly fun, and moves along quickly, despite its 2 hour, 7 minute length. Worth catching. The dvd print is impeccably pure, crisp and bright.

Musical Numbers in order of Presentation:

1. Thank Your Lucky Stars (Dinah Shore); 2. Blues In The Night (John Garfield); 3. Now's The Time To Fall In Love (Eddie Cantor); 4. Hotcha Cornia (Spike Jones). 5. I'm Riding For A Fall (Dennis Morgan); 6. We're Staying Home Tonight (Eddie Cantor); 7. Way Up North (Jack Carson, Alan Hale); 8. Love Isn't Born, It's Made (Ann Sheridan); 9. No You, No Me (Dennis Morgan and Joan Leslie); 10. The Dreamer (Dinah Shore); 11. Ice Cold Katy (Hattie McDaniel and Willie Best); 12. How Sweet You Are (Dinah Shore); 13. That's What You Jolly Well Get (Errol Flynn); 14. They're Either Too Young Or Too Old (Bette Davis); 15. The Dreamer (Olivia de Havilland, Ida Lupino, George Tobias); 16. Good Night, Good Neighbor (Dennis Morgan, danced by Alexis Smith); We're Staying Home Tonight (Eddie Cantor); Finale Medley: How Sweet You Are, Way Up North, The Dreamer, I'm Riding For A Fall, Love Isn't Born, It's Made, Good Night, Good Neighbor, They're Either Too Young Or Too Old; Thank Your Lucky Stars.


Brando's Napoleon is the only reason for watching
Recently I viewed for the umpteenth time CONQUEST with Charles Boyer's brilliant Oscar-nominated performance as Napoleon. I have just seen DESIREE for the first time and am intrigued by Brando's take on the man. The make-up department has given him a Napoleonic nose bridge and he has supplied the rest. He plays N. as a moody, passionate, obsessed man, but plays him in a quiet, controlled manner. Only twice in the film does he lose his temper. This is a performance I will go back to and study. Brando's insight is as always stellar. His Napoleon believed so much in his "destiny," that he assumed the rest of the world would fall into place around that obsession. Fascinatnig to watch.

The film itself is a pretty, early CinemaScope epic with Oscar-nominated Art Direction and Costume Design. Jean Simmons does her very best to bring this woman to life, but as others here have observed, Desiree was a rather dull child, noted for her beauty, and little else. That her life was a Cinderella story (from milliner to Queen of Sweden) is of no doubt, but she never seemed to have deserved her good fortune. It is really Brando's film. He has 19 scenes and makes the most of every one.

If you are a Brando or Napoleon fan, do see it, but don't expect much from the story. It's pretty straight-forward with little drama (though the circumstances make for much drama if written properly).


Superb Napoleonic epic with Boyer brilliant in the lead

The film belongs to Boyer, who gives quite possibly his best performance. As Napoleon Buonaparte, he brings the complex man to life with a many-faceted performance that deservedly was nominated for an Oscar - the first of four for Boyer. Ably assisting him is Garbo as his mistress, Marie Walewska, one of four women who spiraled around this enigmatic man (Desiree Clary, who went on to become Queen of Sweden and Norway; his first empress, Josephine Beaumarchais; Walewska; and Maria Theresa of the Hapsburgs; his second empress).

Marie, the third wife of an elderly count, became Napoleon's mistress after his disillusionment with Josephine, and according to this script, remained loyal to him even after he divorced Josephine and married into the Hapsburgs to secure a royal line of succession. Garbo gives a luminous performance, full of love and devotion, and would have been Oscar nomination worthy for this performance alone, had not her even more divine CAMILLE given her that recognition that same year.

The MGM production is top notch with Oscar-nominated Art Direction, superb direction by Clarence Brown, and sumptuous costumes. The score is derived from Tchaikovsky (Symphony #6 and 1812 Overture). There are 28 scenes beginning in 1807 and ending in 1815. This is a domestic Napoleon with news of his conquests and defeats coming in from the outside, as is fitting. Amazing to think that a mere 8 years separated him from being on top of the world to exile.

Reginald Owen is unrecognizable as Talleyrand, under a wig and a Broadbent nose. Dame May Whitty brings rustic charm to her portrayal of Napoleon's mother, but it is Maria Ouspenskaya, who steals the film. In only four scenes she establishes her character as mother to the Walewska Count Marie has married and in an hilarious scene, in which she plays cards with Napoleon, she is able to discount his identity (she only remembers the Louis reign) and angrily accuse him of cheating. Would she had been in the film longer. We yearn to have her return.

CONQUEST is a superb piece of historical drama with great production values and a brilliant Boyer performance at its heart. Highly recommended.

Morte a Venezia

Visconti and Bogarde masterpiece of passion and sensuality

Thomas Mann's novel, Death In Venice, is brought to the screen as an acclaimed masterpiece, the only change in plotting being turning Aschenbach from a writer into a composer, made to look like Mahler, whose music floods the film.

It is practically a silent film, with very little dialogue, and is directed as such, with long lingering shots of faces with reflections of inner thoughts and passions. True, it could have done with a good deal of editing, as a number of scenes run on and on with no apparent purpose - the most egregious being the reprise of the strolling players at about 90 minutes into the film. The director's cut is 131 minutes, but it certainly could have done without about 11 of those minutes.

It is Dirk Bogarde's best performance, a brilliant character study of a man, fastidious in his moral appropriateness, his perfection, slowly worn down by the sensuality of his passion for an angelic boy. The boy, not altogether innocent, is constantly giving him sensual, smiling glances and lingering looks. A brave film for its time, exploring the emerging homoerotic feelings of a dying man and the equally emerging homoerotic curiosity of an adolescent boy, using only facial expressions, as there is no shared dialogue between Aschenbach and Tadzio.

The performance of Bogarde, the sensual direction of Visconti, the cinematography, art direction, costumes and scoring certainly deserved Oscar noms, but the Academy only recognized the costumes. The BAFTAS were more appreciative, giving awards to the Art Direction, Costumes, Cinematography and Scoring with noms to Visconti, Bogarde and the film itself.

The terrible performance of Mark Burns as Aschenbach's vitriolic "friend" is excruciatingly bad, but luckily lasts for only a few scenes. The fourth movement (Adagietto) from Mahler's fifth symphony is used extensively throughout the film to create a perfect romantic, yet tragic, musical theme to support the yearning and the mystery of the attraction.

Although set in 1911, its greatest impact for me is in its depiction of a last summer for the Belle Epoque. It could have easily been set in 1914 with the cholera plague symbolic of the death of Ferdinand in June and the outbreak of WWI I in August of that year. We watch a class system working in perfect order, the rich enjoying a summer at the beach, perfectly content and solid in the belief that their lives will go on forever in this manner, not knowing that it will all come crashing down around them in the not too distant future.

A gorgeous film and one to be relished as a time capsule of a beautiful culture and way of life, which is no more.


Aged Ham On Stage at the Wintergarden

This filmization of the Broadway show for an HBO broadcast in the 1980s leaves a great deal to be desired. I have truly seen better staged, sung and acted productions in rural playhouses. The sets are slim and have little stage depth. Costumes are unimaginative and skimpy. The performances are very spotty. Richard Harris, reprising his film role, overacts terribly, embarrassingly, as Arthur and was at that point in time far too old to attempt the role again. Yul Brynner did the same with his king, playing it almost to old age, but at least Brynner's understanding of King Mongkut was superior to Harris' take on Arthur.

Meg Bussert is a merely competent Guenevere, with no sparkle, no personality to speak of. Richard Muenz is a marvelous Lancelot, very funny in his buffoonish early scenes and properly romantic, serious and ardent as the lovelorn Lance in his later ones. Stealing the production is Barrie Ingham's Pellinore, who comes on at high speed and suddenly fills the production with life and magic. We never want him to leave the stage. James Valentine's Merlyn is even hammier than Harris - we see now where Arthur got it. Richard Backus as Mordred is all milquetoast and no "dread." He is merely mischief, where evil is intended.

This production is hardly complete. Many scenes and songs have been cut so that it fit into a two and a half hour broadcast time. The original Overture is gone, so is the Parade (March), Then You May Take Me To The Fair, and Fie On Goodness. The jacket of the dvd version lists all the numbers in the show, unfairly leading to an expectation that you are actually going to see the complete work. It is not clear whether the performance was complete and the songs simply excised from the final print, or indeed never included in this particular performance.

What it does have that the film did not are: Follow Me in its proper place, sung by Nimue to Merlyn, Before I Gaze At You Again, and The Seven Deadly Virtues.

The dvd print is fuzzy, out of focus, and with bad color bleed. It seems to have been transferred from an old VHS version with no attempt to "clean it up." Filmed before a live audience who seems to be enjoying itself, despite poor direction and a great deal of running about the stage from one end to the other with no apparent purpose other than to dodge lobbed cabbages from more discerning theater goers.

All in all a cheat and a cheap one at that. If you are a fan of Muenz, it is worth a purchase. Likewise of Ingham - it's almost criminal how easy it is for him to steal the production. No one puts up the least resistance. Perhaps the rest of the cast was looking forward to his entrance to relieve the tedium and boredom as much as the viewer. Bravo Barrie!

The Old Maid

Davis is stellar in this tribute to mother love and sacrifice
The Old Maid began life as a novella, part of four making up Edith Wharton's collection, Old New York, published in 1924. Each novella was set in a different decade of 19th century New York, from 1840 through 1870, and each dealt with a social problem or situation indicative of its time.

The novella was fashioned into a successful Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Zoe Akins and a popular Warner Bros. film version with an unforgettable and stellar performance by Bette Davis at its center. The play takes place in three acts, and the film follows this pattern quite clearly. There is the marriage of Delia Ralston and the back story for Charlotte and Clem taking place in 1861. Secondly, there is Charlotte's fight for her foundling home and her closeness to her illegitimate daughter, Tina, resulting in her jilted marriage, taking place in 1866. Finally, there is the conflict between the two mothers, actual and adoptive, in Tina's adolescence, taking place in 1881. Thus, twenty years pass between the beginning and end of the production.

Akins takes the greatest liberty in setting the time frame. The novella is set in 1850 and ends forty years later in the 1890s. The play begins as the Civil War begins in 1861. Clem is not a noble character who joins the War and is killed. He is a cad, who jilts Charlotte and moves to Europe to selfishly pursue his artistic career, never acknowledging his mistress or his daughter. Otherwise the two plots, novella and play, conjoin.

The oddest thing about the film is that though only twenty years pass from start to finish, Bette Davis' make up ages her at least forty years, while the other older characters hardly age at all. Louise Fazenda as the maid is the one exception.

What can be said about Davis and her performance? Her range is incredible, ageing from a wide-eyed ingenue to a bitter, dried-up spinster. The performance is a great one, and worthy of an Oscar nomination. However, she earned one for her work in Dark Victory that same year, so all is forgiven. James Stephenson has a very small role, but would a year later star with Davis in The Letter, both of them earning deserved Oscar nominations for their performances.

Miriam Hopkins is a bit over the top as Delia. When was she not? However, she does manage to create a character, who is at times likeable, and then detestable, giving good balance to her work. Donald Crisp, just two years away from his own Oscar, gives an excellent supporting performance as the family doctor and confidante, and Louise Fazenda is fine as the maid. Briefly seen in support are Rand Brooks (appearing that same year in Gone With The Wind) and Hedda Hopper's son, De Wolf Hopper, as two of the young men in the family. William Lundigan is strikingly handsome as Tina's suitor and makes an impressive appearance. Jerome Cowan, usually in brief roles as a character actor, actually gets a lengthy part as Charlotte's suitor and does a very nice job indeed.

Now to the big problem, Jane Bryan as Tina. The actress was only in films from 1936 to 1940, making 18, before marrying into money and leaving the film world. Rather a good thing, methinks. She makes Tina quite unlikeable, a problem that works against the film's success. She is quite tomboyish, almost impossibly manic, and venomous in her hate for her "Aunt Charlotte," her own illegitimate mother. She is a brat, very grating on the nerves, so much so we hoped she'd be told the truth about her parentage and get her comeuppance.

Despite Bryan, the film is most watchable - a real tear jerker and a tribute to mother love and sacrifice, in the Imitation of Life and Stella Dallas molds. Very worthwhile viewing with Warner Bros. usual superb production values and a solid score by Max Steiner.

The Age of Innocence

Charming early film version of Wharton classic
THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (RKO 1934) (81 minutes)

There have been three film versions of Edith Wharton's most renowned novel, The Age of Innocence. The 1924 silent version is lost. We are left with Martin Scorcese's definitive 1993 version in wide screen and color, derived from the novel itself with its multitude of characters and subplots, and this charming early talkie, based on a play version of the book.

Although the plot and narrative have been pared down considerably, the meat of the matter is still here and it is given first class treatment. Irene Dunne is radiant (when was she not?) in the role of the expatriate family member, Ellen, married into European royalty, and returned to 1870s New York Society, and John Boles gives a solid reading of the tortured Newland, a young lawyer betrothed to marry May Mingott, an innocent ingenue, while falling in love with her cousin, the experienced Ellen. It is true melodrama, a touching and tragic love story, played out in lush Hollywood style.

The sets are excellent as is the detailed and creative costume design. Helen Westley, in but 9 scenes, steals the show as the wise and down to earth Granny Mingott, while Julie Haydon over emotes as the clueless May. Max Steiner's score relies heavily on Tchaikovsky, whose song, None But The Lonely Heart, serves as the main motif running throughout the film. Mason and Heerman, who had just won a Screenplay Oscar for Little Women, deliver a marvelous adaptation, as they would for many more novels, including Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life, Golden Boy, and Stella Dallas. There is a long and frantic montage at the film's beginning, establishing the mood of Jazz Age madness and scandalous headlines, against which the calm staidness of New York 19th century society will be played out.

Westley and Dunne would appear opposite each other two years later in SHOW BOAT, while Laura Hope Crewes (as Mrs. Welland) and costume designer, Walter Plunkett, would be paired for 1939's Gone With The Wind.

The available dvd print is impeccably crisp and clean. Although the categories had not yet been created in 1934, a supporting actress nod would be due Helen Westley and a costume design nomination is due Walter Plunkett, in my humble opinion.

If you love Wharton, you will enjoy both the Scorcese version and this lovely gem from Hollywood's golden decade.

The Reef

Enjoyable adaptation of Wharton novel - for a tv movie, that is

Passion's Way is a television movie version of Edith Wharton's 1912 novel, THE REEF. "We're ships broken on a reef." The novel was panned by critics and Wharton herself regretted having both written it and published it.

The novel makes use of two human interactions of the period: taking appearances at face value; an unwillingness to communicate true thoughts and feelings. The author uses the fictional device of "coincidence" on which to structure her plot. Master authors such as Henry James can use this device expertly and judiciously, as he did in THE GOLDEN BOWL. Miss Wharton however uses it to the point of disbelief.

A bit about the plot - and with spoiler button pressed - as one cannot discuss this plot without laying it out fully. Anna Leath and Charles Darrow were drawn to each other in the past. She, afraid of passion, chose to marry a "safe" man rather than Darrow. Now she, a widow, and he meet again. He is to join her in France, but a lack of full communication on her part leads him to doubt her and, in his depression, he has an affair with a young American woman, Sophy Viner, in Paris. Sophy not only has wound up in the Leath household as governess to Anna's daughter, but she is betrothed to Anna's stepson, Owen. Coincidence upon unbelievable coincidence.

Thence forward it is a matter of lies upon lies and subterfuge so that no one guesses the truth. Of course, it all comes out in the end, and Anna must choose between a flawed Charles or no Charles at all.

The tv movie version, titled PASSION'S WAY, was filmed in the Czech Republic, a joint effort between that country, Germany, and the USA, in 1996, but not released to television until 1999. It is a well-done drama with good performances and good direction by Robert Ackerman. Timothy Dalton as Darrow and Sela Ward as Anna perform well and Alicia Witt is properly emotional and torn as Sophy. In but thirteen brief scenes Leslie Caron brings the proper piece of class and sophistication to a somewhat tawdry story. However, it is young Jamie Glover as stepson Owen, who steals the film. His character is the most emotionally hurt and torn, his engagement with Sophy destroyed by the lies and subterfuge of those around him. He gives a stunning supporting performance, worthy of an Emmy nomination.

The character of Darrow is difficult to like. He is a cheat, a liar and a coward, making much use of subterfuge. These traits cause his failure in being able to win over the audience's regard. This is in the Wharton writing, not in Dalton's fine performance.

The point of the film is to bring puritanical people off their pedestals and accept that life is an uneven, oftentimes dirty, mess, to learn to forgive and forget. "Life is a perpetual piecing together of broken pieces."

The film, which clocks in at 1:29:45 (not the 88 minutes posted on IMDB), is very murky and out of focus - this derived from the only dvd version available in the past (a PAL all region transfer). It is now only available on computer download, not as a saleable dvd.

One always wonders at sound edited bird song in these productions, where I heard two strictly New World birds (loon and mourning dove) on the tracks supporting the French countryside. But no matter.

Recommended to view once or twice, but of no great importance in either the Wharton film representations or in adaptations of literary classics.

Double Harness

Adult sophisticated look at marriage from two viewpoints - stars shine!
This is a clever and interesting early talkie, derived from a play, presenting a woman who tricks a man into marriage in order to make a better man of him, then regrets the subterfuge. Marriage as business contract vs. marriage for love.

Both Ann Harding and William Powell deliver superb performances. This is one of Ann's very very best. Such a superb and subtle actress, who deserved far more fame than she received. Powell is unusually sensitive and nuanced as the playboy she sets her cap for. Reginald Denny provides subtle humor as Powell's valet.

The print I viewed on dvd is pristine. Unfortunately now out of production and rather dear on the marketplace, but well worth pursuing as it is one of RKO's very best dramas.

The Portrait of a Lady

Colorful travesty of the Henry James Novel
The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

Jane Campion's film of Henry James' most admired novel is a hodgepodge of bits and pieces, wrong approaches, anachronisms and undeveloped narrative plot lines, which converge to make a most unsatisfactory adaptation and a completely twisted view of the heroine, Isabel Archer.

Comparing the film to the impeccable BBC mini-series of 1968, the flaws and misconceptions in the film are all the more glaring. Isabel is portrayed as a timid, sexually frustrated, scared rabbit. The James Isabel is strong, vibrant, self-assured and an incredibly optimistic ray of sunshine. With this main character completely mis-represented, there is no hope for the film.

Campion begins with a black and white prologue of modern women, presented in a home movie fashion, that has nothing to do with the film. She presents Isabel (Nicole Kidman) with no back story at all. We don't know that her aunt brought her to England at the death of Isabel's father as a pledge to her dead sister. We have no idea Isabel is not their daughter, rather than their niece. The strong character of the aunt, Mrs. Touchett, is not even hinted at. Shelley Winters portrays her in a handful of short scenes, and ultimately as a cipher. We see little of John Gielgud as Mr. Touchett and completely missing is the dialogue between he and Ralph as to the inheritance, an extremely important plot twist.

There is a ridiculous fantasy of Isabel's, being made love to by the three suitors she is being wooed by, indicating sexual frustration. Sex doesn't even enter the heroine's mind in the novel. Her first suitor with a brief proposal scene is Lord Warburton (Richard E. Grant), who disappears until later in the film. Her American suitor, Caspar Goodwood (Viggo Mortensen) is also seen briefly in the first part of the film.

Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey) suddenly appears at the Touchett house as Mr. Touchett is dying with no explanation as to who she is or why she is there (she is a friend of Mrs. Touchett). Ralph comments on her to Isabel and is critical of her, a premonition which ruins the suspense of finding this out for ourselves.

Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich) is introduced as a cad from the outset. Also his previous involvement with Madame Merle is obvious at his introduction - again ruining the suspense of the audience being taken in as Isabel is by the attentions of both.

Osmond's sister, the Countess Gemini, is portrayed not as a caring woman, aware of her brother's past and protective of Isabel, but as a silly hysteric by Shelley Duvall. Merle's plotting is also evident from the get-go, not as a shocker revealed in the last chapters. Merle's interpretation that Isabel engineered her inheritance - "Clever girl!"- is not even hinted at in either the book or the BBC production.

Osmond's evil stalking of Isabel is completely out of character and repugnant. No woman of the era would permit his unwelcome attentions.

We are entertained by a black and white home movie montage of Isabel's travels, anachronistic as moving film had not as yet been invented.

Ralph's confrontation with Isabel as to why she intends to throw away her chances in marrying Osmond does not occur in the book, not does his admitting he loves her in a non-cousinly manner. Ralph as played by Martin Donovan and looking like a dissipated Jeff Bridges is insipid and dull. Isabel as played by Kidman would have deserved him.

Kidman continues to play Isabel as a bit scatter-brained and inhibited. There is no spark of why Isabel as written is an extraordinary "modern" woman. She is a deer in the head lights, weak and reactionary - this is not the character as written. Indeed none of the characters in the film have any real passion for anything.

Of note is the fact that the half way mark in the film is the two thirds mark in the BBC adaptation, indicating how much important back story and detail has been omitted in the film version.

One positive light is the very emotional and beautifully played scene between Isabel (when she finally comes to her senses) and Ralph on his death bed. Kidman is exceptional in this one scene only.

Mortensen practically assaults Kidman in the last scene, forcing her into a corner. What choices now does she have. Her real love dead, two aggressive men (Goodwood and Osmond) nipping at her heels. Rather than decide to return to Florence and her unhappy marriage and to hopefully protect her stepdaughter from a loveless marriage, Isabel stands in a doorway undecided as to what to do. This is a metaphor for Campion's inability to adapt and direct a complex novel, choosing simplistic thinking and action over the complexities of James' character writing.

The film received two Oscar noms, one for Costume Design and the other for Barbara Hershey's tortured performance as Madame Merle. Watching Rachel Gurney as Merle in the BBC production play her scenes with great cool and sophistication, one can understand how Merle has proceeded with her world of schemes under the radar of most everyone in her society. Not so with Merle as written and directed by Campion. Her Merle could not have fooled a baby about who she really is and what her intentions are.

It has been said that Campion tried to make a "feminist" film. What could be more feminist in outlook than the novel itself, championing a modern woman who wants to go through life not tied to a man, but making independent choices. It's why Ralph ensures she has the funds to do so and not have to marry that make him so touching and so supportive of Isabel's intentions.

Campion reduces Isabel to a rabbit caught in the trap of preying men. She entirely misses the point of the novel and its intentions.

It is interesting to note that here Osmond had married a dying woman (his first wife) to obtain her fortune, something the main character of James' later THE WINGS OF THE DOVE, intends, but fails to do, having fallen in love with her. James was constantly using the plot device of men marrying women for their money and to support their clandestine affairs. They all come to naught, but in diverse and interesting ways (see also THE GOLDEN BOWL).

To sum up, rather a travesty than an adaptation of a great novel.

The Portrait of a Lady

Superb dramatization of James' ultimate novel

Henry James' THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY (published in 1881) is considered to be his best work. It preceded two other popular novels similar in plot design (The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove) by respectively 23 and 25 years. It reflects a complex fabric of relations and intentions, wishes and failures to fulfill those wishes, in which the characters are all too human and all too understandable.

The novel has been filmed only twice, first as a BBC mini-series in 1968 (winning a BAFTA Award for Set Design) and as a theatrically released film starring Nicole Kidman in 1996. The BBC production stretches over six installments, all running between 40 and 45 minutes (42, 45, 42, 44, 44, 43) totaling 4 hours and 20 minutes. The casting is impeccable.

Suzanne Neve, facially resembling actress Betsy Palmer and singer Doris Day, is bold, proud and independent in her interpretation of heroine, Isabel Archer. She is a new kind of 19th century woman, one with pluck, who intends to live on her own and not succumb to marriage. However naïve (her only alternative to marriage would be to work as a governess, seamstress or some such profession), she boldly pursues it and bring a blast of fresh air into the stolid lives around her. Even when her failure and burst illusions are evident to even herself, she proudly holds herself from others' pity. Not a well-known actress, but quite confident and fitting in the role.

Character roles are well filled: Beatrix Lehmann, acid and tart as a New England school marm, is perfect as aunt Lydia Touchett, who hopes to make a lady of her niece; Alan Gifford is warm and kindly as her much wiser uncle Daniel Touchett; Sarah Brackett is the brash and bold journalist Henrietta Stackpole; and Edward Fox is the kindly Lord Warburton, suitor to Isabel and who may have been the best match of the four men after her hand. These four supporting characters bring out facets of Isabel's character as she interacts with her destiny.

The only fly in the ointment is Ed Bishop's performance as Caspar Goodwood, the first of Isabel's suitors, who follows her to England from America and thence where she travels. He is played as a real sour puss, not only unattractive, but positively belligerent and nasty. He never makes of the character anyone in the audience could root for as a rival for Isabel's hand and hereby the performance fails utterly.

Moving into the shadowy world of the family wherein Isabel meets her sorry fate, James Maxwell is evil incarnate as the smarmy, Gilbert Osmond, lying, fawning and ingratiating himself into Isabel's life, simply to grasp her money, thereafter to show his true colors as a self-righteous, paranoid prig. Sharon Gurney, (daughter to fellow actress Rachel Gurney in real life) is properly confused and torn between her desires and her need to obey her tyrannical parent. Rachel Gurney herself (Upstairs Downstairs' Lady Marjorie) is in her own way as evil as her partner in crime, Osmond, in her portrayal of Madame Merle, but infiltrates and insinuates, rather than acting or accusing. She hopes to "manipulate" Isabel as she has everyone around her. This bit of casting is quite excellent as audiences can't help but associate Gurney with the much-loved character of Lady Marjorie and thereby the actress can pull off Madame Merle's subterfuge without giving the secret away until the end.

The two best performances in the work are those of Kathleen Byron as Countess Gemini, Osmond's sister, and Richard Chamberlain as Isabel's cousin, Ralph Touchett. Byron, who would later appear as Fanny in the BBC production of The Golden Bowl, is the only character with the key to the secret relationships working behind the scenes. It is she who finally bursts Isabel's naïve bubble by revealing the truths the latter has been too trusting to realize. It is a pivotal supporting performance and expertly delivered.

Chamberlain, who had to go to England to learn how to act after his success in American television roles, is perfect as the romantic and doomed Ralph. Facial expression, voice and extreme sensitivity are his tools and he makes of Ralph the one character we all really root for, the only one we really care about. One can get bored of Isabel's innocence, never of Ralph's belief in her.

The three plots of Portrait, Bowl and Wings all have to do with a pair of connivers who want money. In all three, their prey is a trusting American heiress. James works out diverse resolutions, but basically sticks in these three works to this same theme. A very interesting thesis paper could be made of this approach.

The great irony in Portrait is that two bold acts of good intention fail due to the impossibility of being able to fully know the heart and mind of the intended benefactor. Ralph bestows his half inheritance anonymously on Isabel, intending her to live a fabulous life with it. She in turn bestows her wealth on a husband she believes will live fabulously because of her gift. The error here is in her personality. She is too good, too kind, too trusting. She is taken in by a man who wants her money not to fulfill himself, but to sustain himself. She is superfluous to his design, merely a means to an end. Both Ralph and Isabel are foiled by the mistake of ultimately bestowing their wealth on an undeserving and conniving villain.

All in all, this BBC production is glorious to behold. The writing is superb, the acting and direction spot on, and the production values (sets and costumes) impeccable. Highly recommended for all fans of James and for those who love complex human drama superbly played.

The Golden Bowl

Author's own words disregarded at almost every turn.

The Merchant-Ivory film of The Golden Bowl is only the second dramatization of the 1904 novel. The first was the far superior 1972 BBC mini-series. This film version is visually lush and sumptuous, but a great deal is lost in its concentration on narrative action at the expense of James' dialogue.

In this version the dialogue scenes are drastically cut and blatantly expressive of characters' inner thoughts, which is not the case in either the novel or the BBC version. These characters go out of their way "not" to say what they mean, which is the whole point of the society James is trying to convey.

As with The Wings of the Dove two years later, James keeps the players to the minimum of six. Here there are four major players and two supporting players. Although the role of Fanny is as prominent in this production as in the mini-series, her extensive scenes with husband Bob, discussing the other characters, is reduced to only one interchange. Likewise, Bob's character is cut to pieces. He appears here as a mere appendage, while in the mini-series he was the narrator and central commentator on the plot.

Angelica Huston is appropriately concerned and protective of her match-made marriage of Maggie and Amerigo, though a bit too severe, I thought. Why she has an American Southern accent is quite beyond me.

Nick Nolte is quite restrained and likeable as the millionaire art collector, Adam, and anchors the film as nicely as did Barry Morse in the same role in the mini-series. Kate Beckinsale does as well here as her counterpart, Jill Townsend, in the mini-series, at first playing the trusting innocent and then turning tiger to protect her marriage.

Jeremy Northam as Amerigo gives a much better and more finely nuanced performance in the film than did Daniel Massey in the earlier production. He is much more accessible emotionally and much warmer as a result. We really feel his inner turmoil as he is torn in two directions.

Now we come to Uma Thurman's Charlotte. First, let me note that the plots of Bowl and Dove parallel each other. Both involve a couple who cannot marry due to financial problems. Both feature the woman plotting to keep the couple together while obtaining money through devious manipulation of the life and emotions of a young and trusting innocent. In both the manipulation goes awry. The difference in Bowl is that the young innocent, when roused, proves she can out-manipulate her rival and survive, whereas in Dove, she gives up on life and succumbs to her life-threatening illness.

Gayle Hunnicutt in the BBC production plays Charlotte with grace, sophistication and subtlety, never as it were, "losing her cool." Uma Thurman is a different matter. Her Charlotte seems to live life on the edge, highly emotional and demonstrative, almost fanatical in her selfishness and fury, a true hysteric.

She was obviously directed in this manner by Ivory, which was a big mistake. It throws off the entire feel of the film and makes her an obvious stand-out in her societal role, one which could never be over-looked by those around her, as the plot obviously requires. This is the one sour note in the film and it skews the work badly.

There are a number of additions to this version that were not in the book, nor in the mini-series:

1. Added is a prologue involving ancestors of Amerigo caught in adultery and executed, a rather obvious premonition. If this is not enough, a Turkish ballet half way through repeats the same pantomime - Ivory wanted to be sure we "got it." Both are rather heavy-handed and unnecessary.

2. In the opening scenes, Charlotte and Amerigo tour his ancestral ruins. Obviously there is an affair and it is ending. The book's action begins in the present and only hints at the past.

3. The time period in the film extends from 1903-1908, yet the novel was published in 1904.

4. At the marriage announcement of Adam and Charlotte, they join Maggie and Amerigo in Rome, rather than the news causing Maggie and Amerigo to return from Rome.

5. Maggie's dream of a cracked pagoda, again heavy symbolism.

6. Adam's past jealousy and tendency towards violence.

7. Charlotte accusing Fanny of spreading lies about her as her plans unravel.

8. Charlotte's adamant refusal to return to America.

Missing from the mini-series is the discussion of Adam's plans to bring his European art collection to an American City Museum, which does, as presented in the film, nicely explain Adam's character better.

The pacing is interesting as well. By the time the film is half over, it has covered two thirds of the mini-series. This points out the leisure of the 1972 script over the narrative-driven film.

Production values are of course much higher in the film. The sets and costumes are gorgeous, much grander than was possible in the television production. The golden bowl itself- really a goblet - is much bigger and more beautiful than the tiny, skimpy one used in the BBC production.

Sadly, while more beautiful to look at than the mini-series, the film sadly lacks a heart, a mind, a center that the BBC production delivers in spades. Discerning viewers will want to own both on dvd to compare and contrast.

The Golden Bowl

Superb adaptation of James' study of co-dependency amongst the idle rich

Henry James' complex novel of 1904, The Golden Bowl, has been filmed only twice, as a six-part BBC mini-series in 1972, and as a Merchant Ivory film in 2000. Each has its merits, but for me the BBC production is far superior to the film. Primarily, this is because in this production we get massive amounts of James' actual words, in extended dialogue between characters, and as pure prose from the narrator, who here is the supporting character of Bob.

The six parts all time in differently between 40 and 45 minutes each (42, 42, 44, 45, 40, 43) totaling 256 minutes, or 4 hours and 16 minutes. The film version runs 131 minutes, approximately half the running time devoted to the BBC production. As such, the film is devoted primarily to narrative flow, not Jamesian thought and perception.

By the time we are at the one hour mark in the film, we are at the same point where part four of the BBC production ends - one half the film compared to two thirds of the tv series. Much of the leisure of reading the novel lends itself to the BBC production, while the film is concerned with getting the story told.

The BBC cast is impressive. Gayle Hunnicutt is an absolutely gorgeous woman and plays Charlotte with great dignity and sophistication. Daniel Massey as Amerigo is quite likeable and believable and his accent is appropriately Italian. Jill Townsend is also quite beautiful as Maggie and impresses when her formerly vapid characterization turns into a lioness, when the truth of the threat to her marriage becomes known. Barry Morse as Adam is gentleness and kindness personified. Kathleen Byron as the match-making Fanny is appropriately concerned and tactful in trying to ensure that her achievement is not tarnished. Probably best of all is Cyril Cusack, who as Fanny's husband, Bob, shares conversations with her about what may or not be happening in the story, as well as acting as James himself in his role as narrator and confidante to the audience.

The story parallels James next novel, The Wings of the Dove, in many ways. Both novels contain six main characters. In Bowl there are four main characters and two supporting. In Dove there are three main characters and three supporting. In both a couple cannot marry due to financial difficulties. In both the woman schemes to find a way to obtain funds and keep her intended. In both the man is a willing, then later unwilling, dupe, and in both the object of the scheme is a young, innocent woman.

In both works, the scheming woman fails, partly due to the change of heart of her lover as the schemes progress, and partly due to the fact that human behavior is not predictable.

In Bowl the four main characters all possess the same fatal flaw - they behave in ways that are to ensure the happiness of another, not their own. As such, no one really does or says what he/she thinks, only what may be perceived as beneficial to another. In modern psychological terms, this is co-dependency.

This is especially noticeable in the BBC adaptation, where (using James' own dialogue) the characters waltz around what they want to say in ways so elaborate as to say nothing concrete, only "imply" to the trained ear what they really mean. Stellar writing.

Although Dove ends in tragedy, Bowl is saved due to the sudden "education" of Maggie, whose mindless flouncing through life is brought up short when she realizes her marriage is in danger. She must sacrifice her relationship with her father to ensure that her marriage is saved. She does so in a way that keeps all four main characters wrapped in dignity, while manipulating the scenario to her needs. In this way she mirrors Charlotte's attempts at manipulation, but while Charlotte's plans are doomed to failure, Maggie's win out in the end.

For once Maggie acts for herself, not for others, thus breaking the chain of inefficiency that has been binding them all. In this way, she wins independence not only for herself, but for the others as well.

Production values for the BBC production are excellent. As always, the sets and costumes are gorgeous. The videotape source is impeccably bright and crisp. All performances are spot on. This version is the one I recommend. It is available on dvd as part of a Henry James collection, five discs of BBC productions. They are all wonderful and the purchase is well worth the price.

Wonder of Women

Only the complete soundtrack survives
Wonder of Women, nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay in the second year of the Academy's existence, was for many years believed to be a lost film. About a decade ago the complete soundtrack on Vitaphone discs was reported to be housed at UCLA Archives. It is not known if these have been recorded on tape and are available for public film research.

The Private Life of Helen of Troy

Approximately 30-40 minutes survive in the BFI Archives
This popular silent film, nominated for an Oscar at the first Academy gathering for Engineering Effects (what we know as Special Effects or Special Visual Effects), survives only partially at BFI. A handful of unrelated reels approximating 30-40 minutes survive there, but I have no idea if these are viewable.

Sal of Singapore

One print survives of this part-talkie
Only one print survives of this film, nominated for an Oscar for Screenplay in the second year of the Academy's existence. It is housed at UCLA and being preserved with no plans for striking a view print.

The Wings of the Dove

Heat-felt film version of James' classic novel

Henry James' 1906 novel, The Wings of the Dove, has been adapted as four tv films, ranging from 1952 to 1979, two stage plays, one opera, and two film versions. Only the last telefilm, the BBC 1979 production, and the two films (1981 and 1997) are available on dvd.

The 1979 BBC production last 81 minutes and the 1997 film 102, the extra time involved in the latter used for location footage and an opening out of the interior lives of its six characters. Indeed there are only six. Bonham Carter earned a Best Actress Oscar nom and a Best Actress BAFTA nom for her performance as Kate Croy. Linus Roache enacts Merton Densher. Alison Elliott is the third character in the central triangle, Milly Theale, based on James' cousin, Minny.

Three character roles support the central triangle. Charlotte Rampling plays Kate's aunt, Maud Lowder, Elizabeth McGovern portrays Milly's companion, Susie Stringham, and Alex Jennings gives us Lord Mark.

There are decided differences in approach between the 1979 and 1997 versions, both in screenplay and direction. These make for two entirely different takes on the narrative. In the BBC version Kate is the sole plotter for the web of deceit. In the 1997 film version, it is Lord Mark who first suggests the plan, as he intends to use it himself. This softens Kate's character in the film. She is "persuaded" to adopt the plan. This is a change from the novel.

Also, in the novel and BBC production, Merton and Milly have met in America before and Milly's attraction to him is already in the air. In the film version it is Kate who introduces him to her as the initial plot point in her plans.

In the BBC version, Milly is the center of the story, with Lisa Eichhorn's beautiful, heart-rending innocence radiating goodness over the emotional plotting. She is often weak or wan in this version, letting the audience know she is very ill. In the film Alison Elliott is directed to be extremely forward, almost desperately so, in playing Milly. We have less sympathy for her here and her illness, whatever it is, seems to be less debilitating. Indeed, it appears that she and Denscher walk through much of Venice in the pouring rain without much difficulty. Likewise, in the film, Merton is not a co-planner with Kate, but a reluctant companion. In the film it is he who is at the center, not Milly. Roache's sensitive, soul-searching performance is much more likeable, more malleable, than John Castle's in the BBC production. Roache's Merton seems to be bombarded by both women, Kate and Milly, and to be confused as to which he really prefers.

So we have two different approaches, each of which puts a different character at the center of the work. Bonham Carter's Kate is not as hard as that of Suzanne Bertish in the BBC version. She has a heart, as is evident in her caring for her indigent father, who does not appear in the BBC version. She is also less certain, less convinced that what she is plotting is the right direction for her to take. She is thus more human in the role than Bertish.

The cinematography and costume design in the film are sumptuous, deserving of their Oscar nominations. Likewise, the BBC did not stint in art direction and costume design in their opulent version. The film's fourth Oscar nom was for Adapted Screenplay, certainly also deserving. Much care was taken to flesh these characters out and the sensitive direction of Iain Softley serves that introspective approach admirably. There is no higher praise I can give the film than to say it seemed as fine as a Merchant Ivory collaboration.

In summary, both the 1979 and 1997 versions are enjoyable, but for different reasons. Since they are both available on dvd, I would recommend a purchase of both. The BBC version is part of a five dvd set of BBC productions of Henry James works, a treasure trove for all it contains and is well worth the price.

BBC Play of the Month: The Wings of the Dove
Episode 5, Season 14

Superb rendering ot the James Classic

Henry James' novel, The Wings of The Dove, was published in 1902. It has inspired four television adaptations, two stage plays, an opera, and two commercial film releases.

The only productions available to us on dvd are the 1979 BBC Play of the Month and the two film versions, one French, the other British.

The plot is available in other reviews and on Wikipedia, so I won't go into it here, except to note differences between the novel and the 1979 teleplay as well as the 1997 film adaptation.

In this 1979 BBC adaptation, of the six actors who undertake the major roles, two (Elizabeth Spriggs as Aunt Maud Lowder and Betsy Blair as Susie Stringham), are no longer with us. John Castle (as Merton Densher) is well known for his appearances in The Lion In Winter and numerous Agatha Christie adaptations. Bertish (Kate Croy), Eichhorn (Milly Thiel) and Frazer (Lord Mark) are less well known. I have seen Frazer only in another BBC Play of the Month, The Importance of Being Earnest, and in The Far Pavilions mini-series.

This adaptation boasts a tight script, staying very close to the narrative of the novel, and lasting 81 minutes, fitting into a half hour broadcast with commercials quite well. The videotape is bright and crisp, clear and clean and the sound is impeccable. It could have been made yesterday.

All performers do well, but the stand-outs are Eichhorn as Milly. Her breathless innocence and beauty stand nobly at the core of the work. Blair as Susie is a close second as her companion, breathing concern and devotion at every turn. It is these two performances that stand in contrast to the self-interest and machinations of the rest of the cast.

Suzanne Bertish and John Castle play the connivers well, with flair and command. Elizabeth Spriggs is snobbery itself as the controlling aunt, while Rupert Frazer is debonair as Lord Mark. The sets and costumes are gorgeous and perfectly attuned to the pre-WWI era. Direction is solid and sensitive.

The only real problem with this version is the casting of Castle, who is fine in the first half, but unable to convey the twists and turns of the heart that corrupt and change Merton in the second half. It is more that his mind has been changed, but not his heart. I am unable to believe the affair with Kate is truly love on either side, more an exercise in power and lust.

The 1997 film version changes a number of plot points and both Helena Bonham Carter as Kate and Linus Roache as Merton express kaleidoscopes of emotion, which make them more human than Bertish and Castle here.

Still the 1979 BBC production is excellent for conveying the plot of the novel and for visual beauty. Available on dvd only as part of a five dvd Henry James collection, but the set is well worth purchasing for its whole.

Recommended for viewing, especially alongside the 1997 film version.

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