Bambi

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1942, 70 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Pictures. Distributed by: RKO Radio Pictures, Based on the story “Bambi, A Life in the Woods” by Felix Salten

Plot summary: When Bambi is born, the little fawn is surrounded by novelty and affection. As he grows up, he finds friendship and love, faces danger and loss – experiences that prepare him to eventually follow into his father’s footsteps, The Great Prince of the Forest.

bambiReview: There are stories you fall in love with as a child that stay with you for a lifetime. Bambi is such a gem. Originally published in 1923, the book was written for an adult audience and made into an animated feature in 1942. Although not an instant hit with critics or American audiences alike, Walt Disney’s fifth feature production turned into a classic generations of children have grown up with. Equipped with a then unprecedented love for detail and a new realism in animation and narrative style, Bambi ultimately learned to stand the test of time. Re-released to theaters six times until it conquered nurseries and family rooms around the world on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray, Bambi’s story is now an essential part of many vintage  movie collections.

Introducing us to the lives of fawn Bambi, hare Thumper and skunk Flower, Disney’s adaptation stayed true to the essentials of Felix Salten’s popular book. Criticized for depicting the grim realities of forest animals in our modern times, the film addressed human negligence and hunting as two issues Bambi and his friends have to cope with in their young lives. Although a lot less colorful in its description of the loss Bambi has to face, the film hit a nerve at the time of its release and still does today. Memorable and haunting, Bambi does what fairytales used to do: it wraps a tough lesson in a charming tale that remains relevant beyond your childhood days. Like many of its live action peers from Hollywood’s Golden Age, the film had a message without being preachy. Paired with masterful character animations and an Academy-Awards-nominated score, Bambi still resonates today and looks as beautiful as ever, 71-years after its original release.

Watch the original trailer here.

Sleeping Beauty

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1959, 76 minutes, Technicolor / Technirama, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution. Based on La Belle au Bois Dormant by Charles Perrault, with music arrangements from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty

Plot summary: On her sixteenth birthday, Princess Aurora is doomed to prick her finger on a spindle and fall asleep until her true love comes to kiss her awake.

Sleeping-Beauty-PosterReview: As a child, I dreamed of being a great sketch artist. I wanted to be able to draw characters as cute as Minnie Mouse and as easy on the eyes as one of Disney’s early princesses. Sleeping Beauty was my favorite. I had a picture of her in a book, a book I read so often, its binding is now broken. Luckily, the picture is still as immaculate as Aurora’s beauty and I thus still cherish the artwork as one of Disney’s best. Truth be told, I cannot recall watching the film when I was little but that book has left a lasting impression on me. Watching the film now, as a grown-up, is like adding voices to a film I have already seen on paper many times. And it is every bit as wonderful as I had always imagined. Especially the three fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather won my heart. Their warmth, woolgathering and practical sense of humor puts the cherry on top of a film that turned out to be Disney’s last fairytale until The Little Mermaid revived the genre in 1989.

To summarize the story: on her day of christening, Princess Aurora is blessed with beauty and song by two good fairies. Maleficent, their evil peer, drops in uninvited and casts a spell on the baby princess: on her sixteenth birthday, she shall prick her finger on a spindle and die. A third good fairy tries her best to attenuate the curse and rephrases it so the princess will only fall into a deep slumber that can only be broken by true love. Alarmed by their daughter’s destiny, the King and Queen ban all spinning wheels from their kingdom and entrust their only child in the care of the three good fairies to keep her safe from harm. Raised as Briar Rose, the princess spends an enchanted childhood in a remote little house in the woods. Unaware of her title and status, she reaches her sixteen’s birthday but is ultimately unable to escape her fate. Saved by Prince Phillip who fell in love with her voice and charm, she breaks the malicious spell and lives happily ever after.

Considered corny and trite by some in our cynical times, Princess Aurora and her dashing prince are still beautiful to look at while their story remains engaging and timeless. Although released in January 1959, production started as early as 1951 and kept designers, musicians and actors busy over the course of nearly a complete decade. Inspired by medieval times, Sleeping Beauty’s visual style set itself apart from Disney’s previous productions. Princess Aurora and her prince, however, were once again based on live action models, following a tradition Cinderella and Snow White had started before them. Despite the praise for its elegant villain, the film (like other productions of the era) fell surprisingly flat with audiences and critics alike. Now considered a Disney classic, it may be hard to understand why. Based on a fairytale classic, Sleeping Beauty introduced new aesthetics as well as wonderful musical arrangements. Sadly, though, it did not manage to create the kind of sparkle Pinocchio and Bambi had a decade or two earlier. Still breathtaking in its detail and color today, the feature film can be marveled at in full length on DVD and Blu-ray. A true gem for anyone who still has a heart for some good old-fashioned romance and three genuine fairies who are a treat of their own.

Cinderella

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1950, 74 minutes, technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Cendrillon by Charles Perrault.

Plot summary: When Cinderella is denied attending the royal ball by her evil stepmother, her fairy godmother comes to her rescue with some Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo and turns the evening into an enchanting adventure that changes the young maid’s life.

Cinderella posterReview: In early 1950, Cinderella graced the silver screen as Disney’s first full-bodied, animated feature since Bambi in 1942. She was also Disney’s second princess. Beautiful, hands-on and wholesome, she didn’t only enchant Prince Charming but also a worldwide audience. Based on live action models Helene Stanley and Ilene Woods (who also gave Cinderella her voice), she was an ideal woman of the late 1940s: perky, feminine and full of grace.

Degraded to a maid in her late father’s home, Cinderella grew up to be resilient, hard-working and prettier than her evil step-sisters Anastasia and Drizella. Supported by her animal friends, she endures every chore and remark Lady Tremaine, her stepmother, has up her sleeve. Good-natured as she is, the young girl doesn’t believe her stepmother to be truly evil. At least not until she ruins her chances of going to the royal dance with her clumsy sisters. Heart-broken, Cinderella cries bitter tears about her shattered dream, tears only her Fairy Godmother knows how to dry. Pleasantly plumb and adorably scatterbrained, the elderly lady revives her goddaughter’s heartfelt wish with a sense of humor and some good old-fashioned magic. With a little help from her furry friends and an abandoned pumpkin, Cinderella turns into a lovely princess who wins the heart of the prince as soon as she arrives at his ball. Falling in love with him at first sight as well, Cinderella almost forgets her dress and coach are only an illusion for one night. And so, at midnight, she rushes away before the spell breaks and leaves her barefoot and plain before the man who has bewitched her with his smile. In her haste, she loses one of her shoes and barely makes it home before her stepmother and sisters arrive. The conclusion of the story is too well-known to be retold in just a few words. It’s the kind of end that made my heart grow bigger as a child, a perfect close for a Hollywood tale so beautifully animated and designed, it has captured the love and dreams of many girls for generations.

Although I am generally fond of Disney classics and almost exclusively prefer them to the studio’s contemporary animated features, Cinderella is my favorite. I love the music, the humor and the overall style. Cinderella, like Snow White, is my kind of princess and I’d adopt her Fairy Godmother in a heartbeat. Moreover, Cinderella has the most precious pets and although Prince Charming may not have enough screen time to make a lasting impression, for anyone who’s ever been in love, the duet he sings with Cinderella says it all. So this is Love is one of my favorite songs, a melody I can’t get out of my head for days once I’ve seen the movie again. As I’m typing this, I’m humming it again and it mends my heart. Mmmmmm. Mmmmmm. So this is love. For all of you who want to sing along, the film is available on DVD and Blu-ray. The perfect romantic film to herald spring, at least in my starry-eyed opinion.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1937, 83 minutes, technicolor, A Walt Disney FEATURE Production, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the same name.

Plot summary: When Snow White’s beauty outshines her stepmother’s, she is supposed to perish at the hands of the queen’s hunter. But instead of doing away with her, he allows her to escape to the woods where she soon finds shelter with the Seven Dwarfs.

Snow WhiteReview: There are few animated characters who have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Snow White does. She was Disney’s first princess and seventy-six years after her debut, she’s still every bit as sweet, innocent and charming as she always has been. Created by Hamilton Luske and vocally brought to life by Adriana Caselotti, she remains a Disney favorite. A princess whose beauty is more than captivating; it comes from the heart.

Based on a fairytale by the German Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney’s Snow White may have disgruntled her stepmother, the queen. Her charm, however, bewitches everyone else she meets. Designed as a perfect 1930s belle, her skin is fair, her hair is dark and her eyes are sparkling with kindness. When she is sent to the woods in the company of the queen’s hunter, she is jolly and trusting. In her wildest dreams the young girl does not suspect her stepmother’s evil plan to dispose of her. But when the hunter fails to execute his orders, her heart breaks. Scared for her life she runs deeper into the woods, losing her sense of direction but never her heart. She finds a new home with the Seven Dwarfs and spoils them with motherly love and affection. Despite her simple life and seclusion in the forest, the queen still envies Snow White for her beauty and takes it into her own hands to put her stepdaughter to everlasting sleep.

For everyone who still remembers growing up with bedtime stories and family film Saturday nights, the end of this classic is still as fresh and vivid in memory as it ever was. And that’s the true beauty of Walt Disney’s first animated feature film. Like the hearts of his audience, Snow White never grows old. She may have changed voices over the years and seems a whole lot quieter than her quirky sister princesses from the 1990s through 2000s. But in general, she’s every bit as appealing as she was when she first bewitched moviegoers, critics and filmmakers alike. Her grace has outlasted even the loudest Hollywood image and she’s still a popular star in Disneyland, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD. How many other beauties can say that of themselves?

Watch the original trailer here.

7th Cavalry

Talkie of the Week: 7th Cavalry

USA 1956, 75 minutes, technicolor, Columbia Pictures. Director: Joseph H. Lewis, Written by Peter Packer, Based on the story “A Horse for Mrs. Custer” by Glendon Swarthout. Cast: Randolph Scott, Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, Jeanette Nolan, Leo Gordon, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr., Michael Pate, Donald Curtis, Frank Wilcox, Pat Hogan, Russell Hicks, Peter Ortiz.

Plot summary: After Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, Captain Benson returns to Indian territory to bring back the bodies and atone for his absence from the doomed battle.

7th Cavalry posterReview: When Tom Benson returns to Fort Lincoln, he learns about General Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. The Captain himself was absent from the crucial battle in Indian territory. With Custer’s permission, he accompanied his young bride Martha Kellogg on her journey to their new home. Accused of cowardice and misguided loyalty to his mentor Custer now fallen from grace, Captain Benson volunteers to retrieve the bodies of his fellow men. With a group of unlikely heroes, he returns to what the victorious Sioux consider sacred ground to execute the President’s orders to give the fallen soldiers a decent burial.

7th Cavalry, like many Westerns, is a story based on historical facts but not faithfully so. Adapted from a story by Glendon Swarthout, the film depicts the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn without focusing on General Custer. Although an absentee main character, Custer only serves as a background figure to introduce the film’s actual hero, Captain Tom Benson. Played by Randolph Scott, Benson is the outcast survivor of a battle he didn’t attend but cannot escape. As a soldier, he doesn’t only have to cope with the the loss of his company but also with the downfall of his fallen superior, a man whom he has admired for his decency and expertise. Confronted with mistrust and criticism by a military Board of Inquiry led by the father of his wife-to-be, Benson masters the art of walking the fine line of duty and allegiance, convincingly stressed in Scott’s performance. Supported by a gracefully devoted Barbara Hale as Martha Kellogg, the actor led a decent ensemble in a film that captivates with words rather than action. Calm and slow paced, 7th Cavalry is not a John Wayne Western, nor a movie for an impatient crowd. It is a movie with a charm of its own, made for an audience who doesn’t mind following a wide array of dialog until the hero finally takes off to follow his destiny.

Beautifully cast and shot in Mexico, the film offers a look back at a time when films were not yet dominated by special effects and CGI. Although lengthy and verbose for some, 7th Cavalry has its definite perks for anyone who’s fond of a quieter performance style and demure storyline. Blessed with the talents of Western veteran Randolph Scott, as well as Barbara Hale’s often underestimated naturalness and warmth, the film deserves to be preserved for an audience who appreciates uncelebrated classics and their place in film history.

Get a glimpse of 7th Cavalry here.

Desk Set

Talkie of the Week: Desk Set

USA 1957, 103 minutes, color, 20th Century Fox. Director: Walter Lang, Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, Based on the play by William Marchant. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Harry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Diane Jergens, Merry Anders, Ida Moore and Rachel Stephens.

Plot summary: When the Federal Broadcasting Network hires Richard Sumner to install an “electronic brain”, the head of the reference library fears for the relevance of her department and her very own job.

Desk_Set_1957Review: There are different reasons to pick a movie. The plot may delight you, the director or cast. You may have read the book a film is based on or you simply stumble upon a film on TCM or in the film department of a store. In my case, two reasons apply. First of all, I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as individual performers but as soon as they’re on screen together, my heart skips a beat. And then, so I gladly admit, I scan every store for classic film offers. The second my eyes fell on the sales sticker on Desk Set, a decision had been made to buy this film and enjoy it with a dear old friend. Now although said friend shares my enthusiasm for Miss Hepburn, she isn’t as enamored with Hollywood’s Golden Age as yours truly. So you can imagine her reaction when the film started to address computers and the pros and cons of upgrading the workplace a good 55 years ago. In her defense, she gave the movie a chance and ended up enjoying it despite her initial reservations. I was in love with it the moment I realized this was an adaptation of William Marchant’s play, written by Phoebe and Henry Ehpron who also penned one of my favorite comedies, The Jackpot (starring James Stewart and Barbara Hale). So yes, call me biased when I recommend this film to you but for anyone who’s fond of witty dialog, delicious acting and some depth in comedy, Desk Set is a true gem. To give away the storyline would be a crime, so I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot but this: not everything is what it seems, but you can always count on the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry now shrouded in legend. The film is available on DVD and as instant video. Here’s the trailer for you to judge for yourselves.

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.