My Week of Films – September 8 to 15, 2019

I have no idea if I’ll want to do this on a weekly basis, but today I felt like it.  I watched five films since last Sunday and all of them had something that distinguished them from just the ordinary.

Last Sunday I got together with my cousin and we chose a film on Kanopy, our wonderful library streaming system.  I had never heard of the Fritz Lang film House by the River (1950) and it caught our interest.  Andrea isn’t a vintage film fan, but she was happy to watch something that she knew was more up my alley.  It stars Louis Hayward, Lee Bowman and Jane Wyatt.

The film takes place in the Victorian age and we learn in about five minutes flat that unsuccessful writer Stephen Byrne (Hayward) is not the nicest or sanest person.  Interesting that his wife Marjorie (Wyatt) seems to have no idea although his brother John seems to have some inkling since he’s known his brother for a fairly long time.  If the tale ends with a typical Hollywood ending, then poor Marjorie continues to have poor judgement of men.  John, who is more weak in character than he is heroic, also has a rather mean streak that he wreaks on housekeeper Flora, who is played with a tweak of obnoxiousness by Jody Gilbert.

Lee Bowman and Louis Hayward

What this film brought to mind was the scandal that Lang’s first wife, Lisa Rosenthal, may have been killed by her husband when she caught him and his soon-to-be second wife, Thea von Harbou, holding a “script conference” in their living room sans clothing.  It’s never been proven whether the bullet wound in his wife’s chest, fired from Lang’s gun, was a murder or a suicide.

Dorothy Patrick and Louis Hayward

Lucious cinematography by Edward Cronjager.

After a very hectic work week and a family dinner of fourteen on Friday night, I quietly settled down to watch the 1930 version of Moby Dick, directed by Lloyd Bacon, starring John Barrymore and Joan Bennett.  I’ve never read any Melville, nor have I had any desire in seeing the 1956 version since the story of a man and a whale holds little interest for me.  But a pre-Code with John Barrymore does.  So now I can say I have seen at least one adaptation of this famous story.

John Barrymore, as Ahab, appeared a bit over-the-top, sort of reminding me of how he played Prince Paul Chegodieff in Rasputin and the Empress (1932) and, most enjoyably his character Georges Flammarion in Midnight (1939).  Already 48 and twenty-eight years older than his love interest, I wondered how much older Ahab was than Faith (Bennett) in the novel.  His brother Derek, a much younger looking man, played by Lloyd Hughes, is in love with Faith, and supposedly she had been with him until she sets her sights on the returning athletic Ahab.

Joan Bennett, Lloyd Hughes and John Barrymore

The dialogue that sent my pre-Code radar tingling was a line in the scene when Ahab comes a-calling only to notice the hearts and names of Faith and Derek carved into the tree they’re sitting under.  Realizing his brother has feelings for Faith, he attempts to lessen Faith’s interest in him by showing her the names of the women he has tattooed on his arm, explaining who they are. He describes his Japanese love interest by saying, “She’s white though; (pause for reflective thought) nearly white when she’s cleaned up.”

If you are a John Barrymore fan, then you will definitely enjoy his performance as Captain Ahab.  The copy I watched was from Warner Archives.

I didn’t have a chance to watch a film until late Saturday night, but when I did I chose He Ran All the Way (1951), one of the 60 free copies of films I collected while at one of the film festivals I attended this summer.  That thrill of gathering up these films was like being in a candy store where you could eat as much sugar as you wanted–but knew you needed to be polite and leave some for other people to sample.

Shelley Winters, John Garfield, Wallace Ford and Robert Hyatt

With just the credits rolling, I was already excited.  Directed by John Berry (we had just screened his Tension during Toronto Film Society’s Summer Series), it starred John Garfield, Shelley Winters, Wallace Ford, Gladys George and Norman Lloyd.  Cinematography was by the great James Wong Howe and the music was by Franz Waxman.  Beautiful to look with an edgy feel, I was wrapped up in the whole story from beginning to end.

Selena Royle and John Garfield–“Please don’t touch me!”

John Garfield who plays Nick Robey is a mess of a human being.  From the very small opening scene, we can only imagine what kind of a life he had growing up.  A prequel could be very psychologically interesting.  Did he ever have a father?  Was his mother a prostitute and if so, from what age?  When did the physical abuse start?  Or was this a mother at her wits end with a son who misbehaved since he could walk and talk?

Gladys George and John Garfield

Both Gladys George and Norman Lloyd have bit parts, but they are immediately people you want to see more of.  I’m a Wallace Ford fan and was more than happy to see him in one of his later roles.  As for Shelley Winters, I mostly enjoy her in films when she’s young and not too whiny.  This was one of the good ones.

Okay, now it’s Sunday and I watched two films.  The first one was the documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (2019) which I had been told by two people that I just had to see.  So I picked up my mother and off we went to the first screening of the day.  Truthfully, I’m not much of a lover of musicals and Fiddler on the Roof is not a film I hold dear.  But this documentary directed, produced and written by Max Lewkowicz explains how universal Sholom Aleichem’s story of tradition is, talks to and about all the people involved with creating the Broadway production, and that this play, translated into multitudes of languages, is staged every day somewhere in the world. It has almost made me want to revisit the 1971 Norman Jewison film, but I’ll leave that for another day. If you have never seen Fiddler on the Roof, my advice is to see this documentary first which will add insight and definitely more interest to the viewing of the film.

The documentary looks at all the aspects of the story, from keeping and breaking with cultural traditions, arranged marriages, discrimination, forced immigration, family, etc.  When the topic of matchmaking and the song Matchmaker, Matchmaker was brought up, there were scenes shown from the silent 1925 film Jewish Luck, also a story by Sholom Aleichem.  I got a bit excited knowing that I have a copy of this film at home.  Something to add to my ceiling high list of upcoming screenings.

It’s rare that either of my kids will watch films with me, especially anything in black and white and old, like a film made before 2000.  When they were younger and I was better able to manipulate their watching choices, I showed them Blade Runner (1982).

Oddly and fortunately, I have had some very good experiences watching films on planes.  Unfortunately, I have a hard time seeing and hearing these films because of the minuscule size of the screen and lousy headphones.  Recently, one of those films was Blade Runner 2049 (2017) which I mistakenly had no interest seeing when it first came out in the theatres.  I also missed an opportunity to see it on an IMAX screen, which would have been nice since I had seen the original on one back in the early 1980s.  Anyway, I managed to pick up a copy on Bluray for under $10 in Buffalo and wanted to watch it on a night my kids would join me.  Well, one out of two isn’t bad, with my son and his dad experiencing the loud soundtrack, soft voices on my relatively large home screen.  I liked the story, the special effects and think it’s a thoughtful sequel to a classic film.



It’s also noteworthy to me at least that the film has a Canadian connection, with the director, Denis Villeneuve, being a Quebecois.  And of course Ryan Gosling is from London, Ontario, just a stone’s throw away from Toronto (okay, at least a two-hour drive if the traffic is moving).

I hope you get a chance to watch some of these films too if you haven’t already!

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