Mary Poppins

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1964, 139 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers. Screenplay by Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, Directed by: Robert Stevenson. Cast: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns, Karen Dotrice, Matthew Garber, Hermione Baddeley, Reta Shaw, Reginald Owen, Don Barclay, Arthur Treacher, Elsa Lanchester, Marjorie Bennett, Arthur Malet, Ed Wynn, Jane Darwell.

Plot summary: Mary Poppins is the kind of nanny every child dreams of. She‘s lovely, adventurous and full of magic, or simply supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

Mary Poppins_bwReview: Who does not know her, Mary Poppins, the bewitching nanny played by Julie Andrews? Arriving with the changing wind, she knows how to make a big entrance in the lives of the Banks family at a time when they need her most. The children of the household, Jane and Michael, have made a habit out of swapping personnel. They do not wish to be handled by stiff-lipped elders, they want to explore the world instead. Mary Poppins, upon arrival, seems to be just another dragon in disguise, another grown-up determined to take the fun out of their lives. However, when she slides up the stairs and opens her bag full of wondrous magic, Jane and Michael change their mind. They open their heart to the new nanny, a lady who believes in following the rules as much as bending them. Before she appeared, from heaven or out of thin air, chores and duty killed every ounce of joy in them, but with Mary, even the dullest of tasks turns into an adventure for the Banks offspring and ultimately also for their parents.

Rewarded with an Academy Award for her performance, Julie Andrews breathed life into a character who turned childhood longings into reality. Based on P.L. Travers’ first book, the silver screen version of Mary Poppins was dulcified, her story abridged to fit into 139 minutes of live action entertainment interwoven with musical numbers and animated sequences. Versatile, stage-tested and equipped with a genuinely clear voice, the Ms. Andrews gave her silver screen debut in Disney‘s masterpiece adaptation and proved she was the perfect choice for her first Hollywood alter ego. Although previously trumped by Audrey Hepburn for the screen version of My Fair Lady, Andrews was rewarded with the biggest laurels of industry success and thus extended her career from stage to film. Timeless in quality and style, Mary Poppins has since remained one of Julie Andrews’ most memorable films, a Disney classic children love to revisit as much as adults.

An instant success upon release in 1964, the film was re-released in 1973 and rerun on television on a regular basis. Also made available on home video and DVD, Mary Poppins has managed to stay entertaining and fresh over the duration of five decades. On December 10, 2013, the motion picture has now also been announced to be released on Blu-ray as a 50th Anniversary Edition, another milestone in the history of a film that still enchants my heart and always revives my belief in the power of imagination.

Academy Awards 2013

Although I’ve long given up on watching awards, it’s always interesting to see who won an Oscar after all. No real surprises on the winners list for me this year and no gem like last year’s The Artist. Had Emmanuelle Riva won, I’d be a little more enthusiastic but that’s not how it works in Hollywood. I’m considerably happy about Argo though and think it’s great that Adele got a nod from the Academy.

Here’s the list for y’all, my fellow film enthusiasts, to find your personal favorites. As usual, you can find more on Oscar.com.

  • Best Picture: Argo
  • Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
  • Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook
  • Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
  • Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
  • Best Director: Ang Lee, Life of Pi
  • Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: Chris Terrio, Argo
  • Best Original Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained
  • Best Animated Feature Film: Brave
  • Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
  • Best Original Score: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi
  • Best Original Song: Adele Adkins and Paul Epworth, “Skyfall” from Skyfall
  • Best Costume: Anna Karenina

Spellbound

Talkie of the Week: Spellbound

USA 1945, 111 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, Based on the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and Francis Beeding. Cast: Ingrid Berman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey.

Plot summary: When Dr. Edwardes arrives at Green Manors, levelheaded Dr. Petersen is spellbound by the new hospital director who has a secret she is determined to uncover.

spellbound_b&wReview: Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is the sole female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Among her colleagues, she is known as efficient and detached, an image she sheds upon arrival of new hospital director Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck). Edwardes is charming but also struggles with a phobia his esteemed colleague finds conspicuous: he gets upset whenever he spots dark, parallel lines on a white background. Despite her ulterior instincts, Dr. Petersen is attracted to the handsome doctor who has a secret she is determined to uncover and thus solve the mystery of his phobia.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound was produced by David Selznick, a collaboration that didn’t turn out as fruitful as initially intended. For their third common production, Selznick brought in his own psychoanalyst to turn the plot into a puff piece on therapy and celebrate his own positive experiences. Hitchcock, however, known for his independent streak, frequently butted heads with the interfering analyst and hired Salvador Dali to add an intriguing touch of surrealism to his now famous dream sequence. Originally almost twenty minutes long, the scene was eventually cut down by Selznick and has only been available in its edited form since the release of the film in 1945.

Shot as a mystical thriller with a captivating storyline about mental illness, Spellbound was successful upon release. Rewarded with an Academy Ward for Best Score and five additional nominations, the film was popular with movie goers and critics alike, and is still entertaining on DVD and Blu-ray today. Blessed with a suspenseful plot and two haunting leads, the film has what it takes to keep its audience on the edge of their seats and continues to be one of Hitchcock’s mid-career treats.

Lifeboat

Talkie of the Week: Lifeboat

USA 1944, 96 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Jo Swerling, Based on a novella by John Steinbeck. Cast: Tullalah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee and William Yetter Jr.

Plot summary: After a nearly fatal attack in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, a disparate group of survivors has to decide whether or not to trust the enemy whose offer to help may or may not reflect disputable intent.

Lifeboat_posterReview: There are film enthusiasts who worship directors for their ability to bring stories to live on screen and make them memorable beyond their own lifetime and momentum. Welles, Wilder, Capra, Sirk, Lang, Houston, Wyler, Cukor, Ford, Mankiewicz, Minnelli to just name a few, each name standing for his own precept of quality, his own formula to narrative veracity. Alfred Hitchcock, no doubt, belongs to that eclectic league of masterminds whose style outlived its time and entered the halls of classic fame. With success stories such as The 39 Steps, Rear Window and Vertigo under his belt, Hitchcock is still remembered by film fans around the globe and frequently paid homage to by contemporary filmmakers. Although not peaking until the 1950s, his career was multifaceted and long-lived, spanning from the mid 1920s to the mid 70s.

In 1943, he took on a project called Lifeboat, a story originally based on an unpublished novella by John Steinbeck. Set in the midst of WWII, the tale brought up the blurry lines between decency and necessity for survival in times of war. Shot with only ten actors in a limited setting, Hitchcock turned the already dramatic plot into a claustrophobic parable about the complexities of human behavior under extreme circumstances. Unafraid of addressing cruelties and moral ambiguities, Lifeboat was released on January 28, 1944 and won instant disapproval by a number of critics who frowned on the supposedly favorable depiction of German characters. Despite this controversy, however, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards and brought Tallulah Bankhead a well-deserved New York Film Critics Circle Award for her memorable performance as pert journalist Connie Porter. In 1950, Screen Director’s Playhouse turned Lifeboat into a successful radio play with and introduction by Alfred Hitchcock and Tallulah Bankhead as his acclaimed leading lady. You can listen to the adaptation here.

For Hitchcock fans and classic movie buffs, the film does not only offer a brilliant ensemble cast but also a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat through the whole ninety-six minutes. Designed as an intimate play, Lifeboat is a real gem for anyone who likes to savor topnotch acting and tangent dialog. Praised by critics today, Lifeboat is now available on DVD with a delicious two-parter interview with the master of suspense himself.

12 Angry Men

Talkie of the Week: 12 Angry Men

USA 1957, 96 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: Sidney Lumet, Written by Reginald Rose, Based on his teleplay. Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Martin Balsam, Jack Warden, John Fiedler, Jack Klugman, Edward Binns, Joseph Sweeney, Ed Begley, George Voskovec and Robert Webber.

Plot summary: Twelve jurors discuss the case of a young man they were chosen to adjudicate on. Together, they examine evidence and testimonies to reach an unanimous verdict.

Review: Originally produced live and broadcast on CBS in 1954, 12 Angry Men was a success with critics and TV audiences before the teleplay was brought to the big screen to win three Academy Award nominations. Starring Henry Fonda as famed juror #8 whose intellectual curiosity saves a young defendant from being convicted upon neglect, the motion picture adaptation offered an atmosphere of density and literal anger, mixed with an almost tangible heat that added fuel to a starting fire. Relying on a stellar cast of character actors, 12 Angry Men was shot in a claustophobic setting, a juror’s room with only a restroom serving as a possible escape. Suspense erupted from the men and their tingling aggression brought on by prejudices, disinterest and their own personal struggles.

Fifty-five years ago, the film captivated audiences on the big screen but wasn’t completely successful until it found its way back to American TV. Today, the film is every bit as entertaining and tension-packed as it was upon release. Benefitting from vivid dialog and a darkish quality in black and white, 12 Angry Men is the kind of classic that will never grow old. Available on DVD and Bluray, the film has the potential to attract a whole new generation of movie buffs who – like their parents and grandparents – will find themselves engrossed in the plot as soon the jurors are in session.

Have a look at impressions from the movie here.

A Radio Treat

Two days ago, I listened to a radio broadcast from 1950, a live recording from March 23 to be exact, the day of the 22nd Academy Awards. Presented by Paul Douglas at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood with radio comments by Ken Carpenter, Eve Arden and Ronald Reagan, the show was a good two hours in length and filled with lots of joyful moments.

The show – although already exciting for any classic movie buff without great names such as James Cagney, Jane Wyman, Jimmy Stewart, Dick Powell and June Allyson, Anne Baxter and John Hodiac, Cole Porter, Ruth Roman and Barbara Hale – was entertaining from the start and blessed with a beautiful score presented by Gene Autry, Dean Martin and other wonderful performers. Despite the many differences in presentation compared to the lengthy ceremony I’ve long stopped watching each year, it amused me to find one announcement already existed back in 1950: the request for the winners to cut their thank you’s short. And trust me, the few people who said more than a heartfelt thank you, didn’t take center stage to present a short story about their lives. How refreshing to hear there once was a way to go about this differently, when recipients were in tears about their accomplishment without dwelling on it. How surprising to hear a young boy thank his parents and God – at least by today’s standards.

I know not everyone will share my sentiment, but I loved the mix of glamor and simplicity, such a charming combination. Stars and winners aside, the radio hosts also won my heart for their lively presentation and supportive attitude. Without making a fuss, they added to the style of a show that still showed signs of gratefulness and modesty towards their peers and audience. A different world, Hollywood in 1950, both good and bad, and so much fun revisiting with your eyes closed.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Talkie of the Week: Sorry, Wrong Number

USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak, Written by Lucille Fletcher, Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Today, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio play that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes
that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an Honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Last Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD, CD and as radio podcast.

Adam’s Rib

Talkie of the Week: Adam’s Rib

USA 1949, 101 minutes, black & white, MGM. Director: George Cukor, Written by Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell, Davis Wayne, Jean Hagen, Hope Emerson, Eve March, Clarence Kolb, Emerson Treacy, Polly Moran, Will Wright, Elizabeth Flournoy

Plot summary: Adam and Amanda are happily married until a case divides the two lawyers in court when he has to prosecute his wife’s female client.

Review: As one of the most successful romantic comedies, Adam’s Rib is a classic gem for its topic of equality between man and women, and for its splendid cast led by Spencer Tracey and Katherine Hepburn. Famous for their on screen chemistry and witty acting, the two stars brought a sparkle of energy to an already hilarious script. Written especially for the two actors as their sixth silver screen collaboration, the film was loosely based on the real life story of William and Dorothy Whitney and presented Judy Holliday in her first big part. Praised for the quality of their script, screenwriters Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin got nominated for an Academy Award and was added to the National Film Registry in 1992.

As one of those classics that never gets old, Adam’s Rib is a film I simply cannot get enough of. I may be biased towards two of my favorite Hollywood veterans, but Spencer Tracy’s and Katherine Hepburn’s performances are a pure joy to watch. With their endless banter and their natural quality, they added life to a film that was already blessed with a talented director and an excellent score. The case they quarreled about as Amanda and Adam Bonner is a real hoot, especially due to the eventful courtroom scenes. In addition to that, Judy Holliday, Tom Ewell and Jean Hagen did a wonderful job supporting the main stars, never outshining them but strong enough to leave a mark.

Available on DVD today, Adam’s Rib is the perfect treat for an evening at home with friends. It will entertain you and maybe stir a discussion about a topic that never really seems to get old. More than sixty years later, the sense of humor and style may be different, but that’s exactly what makes this film pure gold.

Adam’s Rib original trailer