Many of the obituaries of Jerry Lewis have mentioned his popularity in France, but none of those that I have read have talked about Italy. Regular readers of this site know I spend a lot of time in Italy and I can assure you he was/is held in as high regard there as in France. In Italy, they call him Il Picchiatello (the ‘crazy one’ or ‘nutty one’). I’m a huge Lewis fan, for the record — I love Cinderfella, in particular, and I think his philanthropy shouldn’t be dismissed or mocked, as it sometimes is. But I do find some of the European over-intellectualizing of his career — and of cinema, in general — a bit rich. Here is an example from Italian TV. If you speak Italian, enjoy. If you don’t, well, enjoy the sound of the gorgeous language, and stand in awe at the low production values of Italian TV.
John Sturges’ brilliant 1955 Western/suspense film, dealing with themes of bigotry, mob mentality and redemption, is one of my favourites. The story of a one-armed stranger (Spencer Tracy) ready to give up on life, taking on a town of thugs and scoundrels (a mostly male cast that includes Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan and Lee Marvin) when that life is threatened, never fails to inspire. And how much more inspirational will it be with Dame Judi Dench as the one-armed stranger who unwittingly uncovers a hate crime, and Emma Stone, Angelina Jolie and Rachel McAdams among the criminals eager to keep their involvement in that hate crime hidden?
I just have a feeling that David Lean’s work of pure genius, a film many would say should never be touched, would benefit immensely from some feminine mystique. All the more so as there are no female speaking roles in it, unless you count ululating. Imagine the unforgettable “we want two large glasses of lemonade” scene with Meryl Streep as the charismatic Lawrence, Keira Knightley as the boy and Catherine Deneuve as Colonel Brighton; picture Marion Cotillard uttering Anthony Quinn’s darkly humorous line, “Ah, it was written then.” Anyone who believed Lean’s classic could not be made even more classic would have to eat their arrogant words.
Another great movie with no female speaking roles, but oh, the possibilities with an all-female remake: Viola Davis as Bartlett; Helen Mirren as The Forger; Megan Fox as The Scrounger; Anne Hathaway in Charles Bronson’s role as the claustrophobic Tunnel King; and the bittersweet final scene with Drew Barrymore as the cocky Hilts and Diane Kruger – a German actress who has said she doesn’t like to play Nazis – as von Luger, a Nazi about to be sent to the Eastern front, admitting that Hilts will see Berlin before she does.
Who says women can’t do action flicks? The World War II story of a bunch of anti-social psychopaths – described during the film as “one religious maniac, one malignant dwarf, two near idiots and the rest I don’t even want to think about” – saved from the gallows in order that they might help the Allies kill Nazis would look so much prettier with Sandra Bullock as Jefferson, Lucy Liu as Franko, Nia Vardalos as Maggott, and Julianne Moore and Kristen Stewart reprising the roles made famous by Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson. And how about the entire female Dirty Dozen reciting the rhyming chant that helps each member of the group remember their part in the mission? Worth the price of a ticket and a large container of popcorn in and of itself.
If there is any worry that an all-female cast wouldn’t bring in the gentlemen, wait till audiences see Monica Bellucci and her large breasts wearing a skimpy dress and trudging sweatily and desperately through the hot streets of Rome with her adorable daughter trying to find her stolen bicycle so she can work because she’s really, really poor and it’s after the war and everyone in Italy is miserable even though they get to live in Italy. Vittorio De Sica’s masterpiece of neo-realism and human suffering never looked this voluptuous.
A number of people on social media — as well as in some newspaper columns — have called the U.S. election this year a “Hobson’s Choice.” It is not. A Hobson’s Choice is a take-it-or-leave-it scenario, not a situation where there are two unsavoury options. That would be “a dilemma.” I guess it could also be called a “Sophie’s Choice,” but I don’t like that expression for two reasons: 1) it brings up images of Nazis killing children, and 2) it makes me think of the book (and the movie) of the same name, both of which were tinged with anti-Semitism.
On a brighter note, here is a clip from the brilliant David Lean film, Hobson’s Choice, with Charles Laughton in the lead role. And yes, the title character is given a Hobson’s Choice at the end of the story.
The last surviving cast member of Casablanca has left us. Here she is in that wonderful scene:
On the occasion of VE Day, I recommend this series (it is available on Netflix). It is fascinating and frankly, we often forget how important stopping the heavy water production in Norway was; if the Germans had got the bomb before us, it would have been beyond disastrous. The series certainly has its standard 21st century biases — for example, the Americans are made to look like bullying allies, whereas if you read World War II history, rather the opposite is true.
But the basic facts of the sabotage are there, and I love the portrayals of the Norwegian heroes — men for whom we should be forever grateful and who, in true Norwegian fashion, were ever humble about what they did (a profile of one of them here).
My uncle — his war letters website is here — was being trained to parachute into Norway, interestingly enough. It is possible they were considering him to be part of this project, as he had the language skills required. Either way, the likelihood of survival was slim.
Or Thomas Cromwell versus Thomas More.
After having read — and enjoyed — the Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall books, I became insanely addicted to the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the same. It was almost a retro historical drama, like something one would have seen in the 1970s, which I think was very much its strength. A stranger-than-fiction plot, brilliantly staged, written and acted.
It’s a measure of the genius of Mark Rylance, the extraordinary actor (how have I never heard of or seen him before?) who brings self-serving machinator and yet strangely-likable lawyer/fixer/son-of-a-blacksmith Thomas Cromwell to full life, that by the end of the six hours I had a teeny crush on him. What a (not handsome) face! He can convey more with a slight smile/smirk, than one ever cares to know – as good as acting gets. His Cromwell is self-serving, yes, but also sympathetic, intelligent and possessed of some moral boundaries (though he pushes at those a bit).
And it’s a measure of Claire Foy’s talent that, after watching her turn as the mean-spirited Anne Boleyn for six weeks, your heart aches for her as she quiveringly prepares to be parted from her head.
And Damian Lewis as Henry VIII? He comes very close to usurping my previous favorite screen Henry VIII, Robert Shaw. I say “close” because his Henry is far more cruel than Shaw’s interpretation, so it’s hard to feel affection for him (as I did for Shaw’s Henry). Of course, the script played a part in that.
Which brings us to A Man for all Seasons. I have always loved this movie. But it’s interesting because in Wolf Hall, Thomas More is a preening, morally superior hypocrite, a man who tortures “heretics” (apparently enjoying it) and acts all snooty toward the Cromwells of the world, the sons of blacksmiths. It is hard to believe that the More of Wolf Hall believes that the devil deserves benefit of law, though at the end, when he is beheaded, one admires (as in A Man for all Seasons) his powerful faith and his unwillingness to deny it in order to save his earthly life.
And where Wolf Hall makes you care about Cromwell, the Leo McKern Cromwell of A Man for all Seasons is not someone for whom you develop any feeling. The character is not given the depth he is in Wolf Hall, which focusses on Cromwell’s private life (including much loss) and makes his ability to survive (up to a point) at a merciless royal court the centre of the tale.
So what can we learn from this?
That we should learn history from books, many books, and just enjoy movies and TV for what they are — movies and TV (nothing wrong with that, either). Speaking of, off to read this now.
Kitty Foyle is one of my favourite schlocky movies from days of yore: it’s sort of an early rom-com, though short on comedy, more of a romance novel (and it actually was a novel) turned vehicle for Ginger Rogers (who was terrific in the role). One has to take it, though, as being “of its time,” so to speak. There is, for example, one particularly cringe-worthy moment where Kitty says that she is “free, white and 21.” Oy.
I watched it recently on Turner Classic, and I realized that for me, it represents a connection to both of my parents. My dad told me once that in his youth, he had a big crush on Ginger Rogers, though he got over it when he discovered that she was, in his words, “a fascist.” Now, I did some reading on Rogers, and she was not a fascist. She was a Republican and not a fan of the New Deal or FDR. That said, when the war started, she abandoned the Republican isolationism of the era and became a full-on supporter of the war effort – she owned a ranch that donated milk to soldiers and she performed in numerous USO tours.
It connects to my mom, at least in my mind, because of her love of the word “pill” to describe a certain type of man. What type of man? Well, just watch Kitty Foyle and you’ll see that she is torn between two pills. In the end — spoiler alert — she chooses the pill who wants to marry her, rather than the pill who just wants her as a mistress. It’s a smart choice, I suppose, though one senses Kitty preferred the latter pill.
Here is the original trailer of the movie, in which you can see both pills, and Ginger rocking the role of a white-collar gal. (By the way, I like to think of myself as a “sassy mick,” just like Kitty!)