Just now being reported is the death of Japanese actress Setsuko Hara which occurred on September 5, 2015 at age 95. She was one of Japan's most beloved actresses most notably for her carefully subdued, emotive performances in six of Yasujiro Ozu's films: Late Spring, Early Summer, Tokyo Story (considered by many to be one of the greatest films ever made, her captivating performance a substantial part of that), Tokyo Twilight, Late Autumn, and The End of Summer. She also starred in films for Akira Kurosawa: No Regrets for Our Youth and Mikio Naruse: Repast and appeared in Hiroshi Inagaki's epic Chūshingura as well as many other highly regarded cinematic works. Her thirty year film career ended by her decision to retire soon after Ozu's death in 1963. Setsuko Hara (June 17, 1920 - September 5, 2015) R.I.P.
In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Scene: "The Indianapolis"
This scene with almost no action is perhaps the film's scariest. The immensely talented Robert Shaw plays Quint, who recounts his experience aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis with his customarily unique and intense delivery. The harrowing ordeal he describes is enhanced by an awareness of the real-life incident itself and the actor's reportedly own authorship of his vivid account. Shaw, an accomplished playwright himself, submitted his own re-write of the scene after an uncredited John Milius' first draft sparked a disagreement between credited writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Its added realism is in part due to the clever way the writers structure the moment by suggesting Quint's subtle reluctance to remind himself of the event. Director Spielberg deserves credit for securing such natural performances from all 3 actors, (including Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss).
Jaws is available on Blu-ray here:
It is also available on DVD here:
The Night of the Hunter
U.S. / MGM / 1955 / B+W / 93 minutes / Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
A predominantly aggressive four note danger motif is heard during the opening credits. The terrifying music quickly segues into an hypnotic dream-like melody, promising a tale with shockingly vivid contrasts of fright and serenity, right and wrong, good and evil. Seen first is the image of an elderly woman speaking to children, their faces in the night’s sky amidst the stars. These little innocents are getting a bible lesson regarding “false prophets.” Then there’s a distant skyward view downwards to some kids playing and their discovery of a woman’s lifeless body. Those 4 blasts of dread reappear: She's another victim of one of those “ravening wolves" in "sheep’s clothing” the teacher referred to. This disguised “prophet” is the main character whom we will get to know all too well, throughout a story that will consistently reinforce the promised opening theme of duality, until that same matronly overseer concludes this imaginative fable with some pointed words about children, only this time directed to us.
Actor Charles Laughton's sole directorial feature film The Night of the Hunter is a mesmerising cinematic story about a murderous sociopath, Harry Powell, posing as a preacher. Arrested after stealing an automobile, he finds out about stolen money his cellmate Ben Harper (Peter Graves) killed for, and decides to pursue his wife Willa (Shelley Winters) after Harper's execution. Powell feigns romantic interest in the widow, even marries her, only to physically humiliate and reject her on their wedding night. After she discovers his true intentions, Willa is savagely murdered by Powell who then attempts to extract the information about the stolen cash from her two children, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce). Both know where the money is and maintain their secrecy until Powell threatens to kill John in front of his little sister. They manage to escape before Powell can retrieve the money, but he tirelessly pursues them throughout the countryside over many days and nights.
One of this film's most unique qualities is its audacious, often conflicting perspectives. It appears like a Grimm fairy tale only a whole lot grimmer. The two little ones who take to the river in a skiff to get away from the deadly preacher have no one: The state has executed their father, a religious zealot their mother. Even John's adult, proud and boastful friend ‘Uncle Birdie’ becomes a useless drunken coward at a time when they are most in need of help. Many of the scenes with the Reverend and the two orphaned children are frightening. Robert Mitchum as Preacher Harry Powell, in perhaps his most committed performance, doesn't hold back his intense rage when alone with the little ones. When he emphatically states to Pearl: "Tell me [about the money] you little wretch or I'll tear your arm off” or when he threatens John with his switchblade drawn saying "Speak, or I'll cut your throat and leave you to drip like a hog hung up at butchering time" we believe him. The filmmakers creatively develop the children's identities by portraying numerous endearing interactions between them and those they encounter. This adds to the suspense, and helps engage our concern and deep sympathy for both.
Laughton spins this Southern gothic tale set during America’s Great Depression from a script by esteemed writer and noted film critic James Agee, taken from Davis Grubb's novel. The filmmakers combine a diverse range of photographic techniques including helicopter shots, "wipes", deep focus, even an "iris" to creatively enhance its storybook feel. However frightening and tragic the circumstances become, the story is full of stylistically overt, sharply defined characters, imagery and music. If any film represents "expressionism" it's The Night of the Hunter with a child's simplistic point of view often informing its conflicts: Innocence clashes with cruelty. Truth against lies. Determinism confronts complacency. Realism with fakery. This pronounced dichotomy is exemplified by Powell's "left hand, right hand" enactment of struggle, with the letters “l*o*v*e*” and “h*a*t*e*” tattooed on each hand's fingers. Ironically his demonstration makes "love" the triumphant force even though the preacher himself would never allow for that in his reality. We witness the preamble of Willa's demise, lying in bed, her arms folded like a saint accepting her tragic fate as ordained. Powell towers over her, his knife ready, amidst dark angular shadows that makes her bedroom, symbolically unconsummated with the devil, look like a church. Immediately thereafter, we see the aftermath of the murdered widow tied to a car sunk in the river, her long golden hair gracefully flowing in the undercurrents, care of the photographic artistry of Stanley Cortez, accompanied by Walter Schumann's pretty little minuet. Later, after John and Pearl narrowly escape a wrathful Powell in a small boat, the serenity of the two floating down the river becomes a respite from the previous terror. It’s poetry in motion: Pearl sings a beautiful song while little animals along the river bank watch them float by.
Lilian Gish plays Rachel Cooper, the woman first seen reading from the bible. She’s a strong matronly protector of more than a few young innocents who adds the lost, hungry, and sleep deprived John and Pearl to her fold when their skiff washes ashore. The same southern-fundamentalist religious beliefs are proclaimed by both sides of love and hate, Cooper and Powell, good and evil. She is as biblically demonstrative as the preacher, which at first understandably scares John away, but Cooper's true sense of compassion brings John back. Both adults will at times question their personal hardships by talking to themselves. Their real shared affinity, however fleeting and specific, is most clearly demonstrated when Cooper, guarding Pearl and John with a shotgun during the night, joins with Powell singing Leaning on the Everlasting Arms while he waits outside her home for the right opportunity to strike and abduct the two kids he’s been after.
The widest possible contrast of oppositional forces and how they can unexpectedly change is what this film is all about. Nowhere is this more evident than in one of the most devastatingly emotional scenes when John sees Powell finally brought down by the authorities the same way his father was. John desperately tries to give Powell the money he tried so hard to get and that John previously risked his life to keep him from. This final resolution of the story’s primary conflict is just one of many displays of inalienable emotions and their subsequent malleability. All of the numerous characters in this story, no matter how incidental, will exhibit a pronounced personal reaction to the occurring events they witness. Additionally, some, like John’s final attitude toward Powell, (he even refuses to identify Powell on trial for his mother’s murder in court) will switch to a completely opposite attitude. Little Pearl alternately shows terror, and a deep loving acceptance toward Powell as her new father. Willa is taken in by Powell’s handsomeness, beautiful baritone singing voice and later, fire and brimstone sermonising, so much so that she resigns herself to a terrible deadly fate, despite finally realising his true motives. Powell’s efforts to get the money are so determined that when denied often elicit his child-like reactions and at times even look comical. While on the hunt for John and Pearl he joins some fruit pickers by a campfire. After denouncing children everywhere, one of the men spits on the fire in response, (a singular silent gesture reminiscent of a stage hand’s reaction to an operatic singer in Citizen Kane). There’s Ruby, Miss Cooper’s teenage charge. Desperately longing for some male attention, she becomes enamoured with Powell when he buys her an ice cream simply to coax some information from her about Pearl and John. After his arrest for the murder of Willa, Ruby maintains her high regard for the killer, becoming his greatest defender. This last occurrence contrasts greatly with Icey Spoon, a friend and employer of Willa's who fell completely for Powell’s charm when he was falsely preaching about acceptance, the good book and simultaneously wooing Willa. After Powell’s arrest, Spoon screams vengeance leading a riotous lynch mob against the preacher, which forces the authorities to evacuate Powell out the jail's back way. Even the hangman has a few words to say about looking forward to performing his duty on the Preacher, contrasting with his regretful, guilt-ridden attitude toward his former charge, Ben Harper. Miss Cooper displays her own conflicting feelings as well. After shooting at Powell as he enters her house at night, she looks genuinely concerned, almost sorry for any harm she may have inflicted.
The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” may apply to personal relationships but not to the general public’s response to the movies. At least in this case, it seems audiences wanted something they could familiarise themselves with. The few who attended failed to appreciate The Night of the Hunter’s odd and sudden shifts in temperament and dynamics, its strange combination of children in peril, and adult themes of religious hypocrisy and sexual frustrations, judging by the film’s negative critical and public reception. They couldn’t appreciate that this story was interpreted, not told “straight-up.” A misleading trailer and advertisements may have been partly to blame. The Night of the Hunter is a fable about the harsh reality of adults’ baser instincts, false concepts, and how repression, guilt and a failure to resolve these conflicting impulses only worsen the situation, often leaving the innocents to bear the consequences. It’s a continuation of Miss Cooper’s opening lesson, experienced through the eyes of a child, with some stark, stage-like settings and feverishly embellished dramatic portrayals of oppositional forces. Kudos to Paul Gregory for buying the rights to Davis Grubb's novel and courageously producing this landmark opus. As significant as Agee’s intelligent script and Grubb’s literary source are, it’s Laughton’s assured, passionate and innovative artistry that makes this as ground-breaking a cinematic achievement as Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Welles’ Citizen Kane or Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch. We can appreciate those bold, daring, masterful brush strokes now. Audiences in the ’50’s couldn’t and Laughton, discouraged by the response, never “painted” on another cinematic canvas again. Such a pity. There is, however, this, his one visionary opus for us to cherish. It helps us “abide”, and thus makes this unique motion picture “endure.” Praise the Lord!
Just some thoughts on current happenings:
There are 5 recommended films to watch on Turner Classic Movies in the U.S. this month. Most of these are previous recommendations, the reviews for which will be linked.
The first is actor Charles Laughton's sole directorial feature film The Night of the Hunter. I am currently preparing a complete review of this mesmerising cinematic fable. It will be next in the series: "Opening Up a Treasure" and will be linked here within the next few days. The 'hunter' will arrive on TCM the night of Wednesday November 11 at 8pm PST.
Next up is the wonderful Guys and Dolls, a previous TCM recommendation here. 'Both' will show at TCM Friday November 13 at 3:30pm PST.
Then it's the pre-code charmer Blonde Crazy Hidden Gem #63, with James Cagney and Joan Blondell. The 'con' is on TCM Thursday November 19 at 7:30am PST.
It may seem a bit odd as this film was a TCM recommendation just last month, but I simply cannot let the scheduled Point Blank go by without mention. It's another chance to witness this explosive and stylish thriller. I find it fascinating that Lee Marvin's badass Walker, with the high body count he seems responsible for, doesn't directly kill anyone in the entire picture. "Was it a dream?"
Point Blank was first lauded here. It will 'hit' TCM Saturday November 21 at 10pm PST.
My last suggested TCM showing is the Marx Brothers' Monkey Business. This is also a former TCM recommendation and was reviewed here. I have also posted 2 famous scenes from this film, the most recent being Capturing a Golden Moment #12.
TCM's current schedule can be confirmed by clicking on any of the above images. For those who live in parts of the U.S. other than the western region, the time zone can be adjusted in the upper right hand corner of TCM's programme.
The November soundtrack recommendation is Carmen Dragon's exceptional score to the 1956 Sci-Fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers. This is a very limited release produced by La La Land Records of this complex and emotionally stirring score. More information including ordering is currently available from Intrada Records by clicking on the image.
A belated Happy Birthday shout-out to film composer John Scott who turned 85 on November 1st (my birthday as well). He's the amazing composer behind many films such as Wake in Fright, Antony and Cleopatra, The Final Countdown, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan Lord of the Apes, The Shooting Party, Man on Fire (1987), and Shoot to Kill. I've never met a more humbly talented individual.
My Blu-ray recommendation this month is a bit of a cheat because it is also about to air on TCM and is recommended above. This Criterion issue of The Night of the Hunter is so excellent in every respect, (including extras) it deserves a special mention. The immaculate transfer contained within is one of the finest ever recorded to this medium.
One of the supplements includes an in-depth commentary by Preston Neal Jones, amongst other notables, one of the guest contributors here at the Cinema Cafe and the distinguished author of Heaven and Hell to Play With: The Filming of The Night of the Hunter. More information including ordering from Amazon U.S. on both the Blu-ray above and book can be obtained by clicking on their respective images.
The following montage is compiled from a selection of motion pictures that have included some noteworthy moments of horror throughout the years. None of the entries are repeats of last year's montage here. This year, the net has been cast a little wider. Not all of the films referenced are as highly recommended as those in Part 1, although there are some truly remarkable entries like The Innocents and Wake in Fright. The music from Dracula (1992) is by Wojciech Kilar. The list of stills selected is printed below in the order they are presented. The sum of both parts are still far from definitive. I've already noted over 50 films to be used in next year's montage of noteworthy Horror films. *Note: Some of the images may be disturbing.Read More
In this series I'd like to present some exceptional scenes inspired by cinema's most gifted artists of yesteryear.
Monkey Business (1931)
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Scene: "Punch and Judy Show"
Harpo is one of the Marx Brothers, all of whom are cruise ship stowaways running from the authorities. His exuberant infiltration of a puppet show fits right in with its slapstick nature, and increases the children's enjoyment, judging by their rambunctious response. Notice their adorable "waves goodbye" as Harpo makes his exit.
Monkey Business is available on DVD along with four other Marx Brothers' movies here:
John Guillermin (November 11, 1925 – September 25, 2015) an incredibly talented U.K. director has died at age 89.
Guest contributor Bob DiMucci has provided this tribute to his motion picture accomplishments:
The Films of John GuillermanRead More
Sterling Silver Dialogue From The Movies:
Do you know where they're from? Answers coming soon.
(to her grocer) "What do you have in the way of steaks?"
(reply) "Nothing in the way of steaks, I can get right to them."
(checking his watch) "This sun dial is ten minutes slow."
(his wife) "Yes, the sun is wrong, but your watch is right. Of course."
(waiter) "Would you like to have anything before lunch?"
(reply) "Yes, breakfast."
"I don't like this innuendo."
(reply) "That's what I always say: Love flies out the door when money comes innuendo."
"Nice old piece of melodrama, kidnapping a girl. You've been reading too many dime novels."
"Why don't you go home to your wife? I'll tell you what, I'll go home to your wife, and outside of the improvement she'll never know the difference."
"I married your mother because I wanted children. Imagine my disappointment when you arrived."
"Dad, let me congratulate you. I'm proud to be your son."
(reply) "My boy, you took the words right out of my mouth. I'm ashamed to be your father. You're a disgrace to our family name of Wagstaff, if such a thing is possible."
(predicting what kind of person a mob wife is before meeting her) ”Sixty-cent special. Cheap, flashy. Strictly poison under the gravy.”
"You know that because you’re perfectly sane."
(reply) "I’d rather be insane and alive than sane and dead."
"Well, could I get in touch with you?"
(reply) "You've touched enough already!”
"Why don't you take a couple of drop dead pills?"
"Well, what did you think of the picture?"
(reply) "Oh, it was fine. It was just a little long - about an hour and a half."
"They tell me you killed Ferraro. How did it feel?"
(reply) "He didn't say."
"Well, you see how it is: Fools get away with the impossible."
(reply) "That's because they're the only ones who try it."
"She is beautiful as well as interesting, isn't she?"
(reply) "She's beautiful - that's always interesting."
“When I get to likin' someone, they ain't around long.”
(reply) “I notice when you get to DISlikin' someone, they ain't around for long neither.”
"A little earlier I gave some thought to stealin' a kiss from you, although you are very young... and you're unattractive to boot. But now I'm of a mind to give you five or six good licks with my belt."
(reply) "Well, one would be as unpleasant as the other."
"Whenever you want sanctuary, babe, here's where you'll find it...(taps thumb to chest) right here, in the ol' temple."
(reply) "Don't tap your heart, you'll break your finger. And if you're sanctuary, I'll take whatever else is lying around."
"When you've drifted as much as I have then you're glad to drop anchor - even if it is in the mud."
Sterling Silver Dialogue #17: (Answers)Read More
I'll continue with some of Cinema's most treasured images. For those familiar with the films represented they're bound to invoke a strong emotional response. Like the previous selections, these will be listed in ascending order with #61 as the most iconic. The narratives' indelible moments are the primary reason these captures were selected.Read More
Guest blogger Bob DiMucci has provided another of his informative and entertaining tributes. This time he's honoring Coleen Gray and her cinematic accomplishments. My sincerest thanks. (A.G.)
Coleen Gray's is a name of which I have a vague familiarity, but not one that I associate with any particular films. Let's take a look at her career.
The Films of Coleen GrayRead More
From the dawn of cinema, it took about 40+ years for what came to be known as film noir (or "black film") to appear on the scene. In the U.S. these types of crime films were not purposely made and it took some French film critics in the mid 1940s to first identify and define their collective traits.Read More
Ever since silent pictures were shown with live organ accompaniment, music has been an important asset in enhancing the dramatic development of a cinematic story.Read More