Monday, May 18, 2015

My cousin Rachel - 1952

My Cousin Rachel was written by Daphne Du Maurier, a lovely noir romance about a femme fatale who could be murderous as well.  It was made into a Hollywood film starring Olivia de Havilland as Rachel and Richard Burton as Philip Ashley.

Philip Ashley
I had an inkling that Hollywood would mess up with this story and spent a major part of my day reading the book.  It was a page turner and I had no problem in reading it at a stretch.  Here is my review of the book.

Philip Ashley (Richard Burton) is a young orphan brought up by his older cousin, Ambrose. They live together happily on their estate in Cornwall.  As he gets older Ambrose Ashley finds he cannot bear the Cornwall winters anymore and goes to Florence.  On one such visit, he meets his cousin Rachel there and after a short courtship, gets married to her.  Soon after his wedding he falls ill.  He sends some letters home accusing Rachel of trying to kill him. 
Is that poison in my tea?

Another murder?
A distraught Philip goes to Florence but finds Ambrose dead and buried.  His wife has gone away from Florence for some unknown destination. Philip is convinced that Rachel had a hand in Ambrose's death.  When Rachel visits Cornwall, Philip invites her to stay with him and wants to have a showdown with her.   Rachel disarms him with her charm and wins him over. He is soon eating out of her hands.  But should he beware of her?

Olivia de Havilland is good as Rachel though she does look a little placid and matronly in places. Rachel needed someone sexy and mysterious. Richard Burton  is perfect as the impetuous Philip who is drawn to Rachel yet cannot help suspecting her of murder.
Rachel and Ashley

What is a big let down is the script which fails to follow the book to the letter and loses out. I am mystified about the reasons the makers of the film had to alter the end. The end of the book was so much better and the film would have been so much better if they had stuck to the same end.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pride and Prejudice - 1940

This is the 1940 movie version of Pride and Prejudice made by MGM and directed by Robert Z. Leonard.  It stars Laurence Olivier as Fitzwilliam Darcy, who is the man I have a serious crush on at the moment.  I became a recent entrant to his fan club after I watched him play the delicious Maxim De Winter in Rebecca.

I saw him years ago in The Prince and the Showgirl, and I am afraid I did not like him much in that movie.  I revised my opinion after I saw Rebecca and am currently hunting for any Laurence Olivier movie I can lay my hands upon.

Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet
We know the story of Pride and Prejudice well enough,  If you have not read the book, I expect you have seen the famous 1995 BBC series starring the Mr. Colin Firth.  This 1940 version differs from the novel quite a bit.  It is much higher on comedy and wit.  Not much of a surprise, as it was based on a stage adaptation of the novel by Helen Jerome.

Mr.Collins proposes to Lizzy
This version sparkles and has the viewer smiling constantly at the witty repartee and the uppity manners of Mr. Darcy and Miss Bingley and the silly antics of Mrs. Bennet and her younger daughters.  Lady Catherine De Bourgh and her daughter, Anne, Mr. Collins also get a comic makeover.

Lady Catherine de Bourgh
Laurence Olivier has to look very haughty but manages to smile and exchange light-hearted repartees with  Greer Garson who plays Elizbeth Bennett.

Mr. Darcy being attentive to Elizabeth at Rosings
The first ill-worded proposal by Mr. Darcy

The happy ending in a lovely garden.

A purist may frown at the liberties taken with the script.  The overall effect of the movie is not spoiled, in my opinion.  Some events were completely chopped, like Elizabeth visiting Pemberley which was such a major part of the novel. Lady Catherine is not so villain-ish here.  I learn that the novel was set a little later in time so the characters could wear more ornate dresses.  The clothes that the Bennet girls wear belie their reduced circumstances. 

The movie is well made and completely entertaining. Greer Garson is wonderful as Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier looks very dashing as Mr. Darcy.

The actors are perfect in their role,   I always felt Mrs. Bennet should be a very attractive woman as she is the mother of such lovely girls.  I was glad to see a very attractive Mary Borland excel at playing Mrs. Bennet. Edmund Gwenn delivers the witty lines of Mr. Bennet with aplomb. In fact, it is hard for me to pick one favorite actor here, they are all so good.

Here is a list of the cast of the movie for the reader's reference, picked from the Wikipedia page of the movie.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Wuthering Heights - 1939

This 1939 film version of Wuthering Heights, directed by William Wyler, is more like an abridged version of the book. The story is limited to Cathy and Heathcliff, some parts tweaked to make the tale simpler and more palatable. Emily Bronte's novel is complex, with much coming and going between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as the story progresses. 
The movie opens with Mr. Lockheed (Miles Mander) arriving at Wuthering Heights on a stormy night and finding that he has to stay there perforce as his landlord, Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier) will not allow anyone to escort him back to Thrushcross Grange, which he has taken on rent.  At night, he is shown to Cathy's (Merle Oberon) old room and as the readers of the novel expect, there is a knock at the window in the middle of the night. Mr. Lockhead cries for help as he spots someone at the window.  Heathcliff throws the window open looking for Cathy and later, rushes out into the night crying her name.

The housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, Ellen (Flora Robson), then sits down to relate the strange tale of Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. The movie goes into a flashback, and we see Mr. Earnshaw returning from one of his travels with a dark, ragged boy by his side.  Cathy takes to him readily and dreams up stories about his exotic past.  Hindley, her brother, is not happy with the new entrant into the family and beats him up at any opportunity he gets.  When his father dies, he banishes Heathcliff to the stables.

Cathy and Heathcliff run off to the moors at every opportunity they get and spend time together. They profess love for each other and are happy together. One day, Cathy hears music being played at Thrushcross Grange and goes over to the house to explore.  She is delighted by the sight of beautifully dressed ladies dancing.  She is thereafter torn between the genteel charms of Edgar (David Niven), the heir of Thrushcross, and the wild passion of Heathcliff.

Who does Cathy choose?  How does Heathcliff turn into a moneyed gentleman from a ragged stable boy?

I was eager to see the film as it starred Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff.  It was a treat I did not want to miss. I was not disappointed, Olivier Laurence's dark good looks make him very suitable as Heathcliff.  He does full justice to as much of Heathcliff as he is allowed to portray. Of course, the script does not allow him the full scope of the diabolical Heathcliff of the novel, which is sad.

 I have never seen Merle Oberon but have heard a lot about her.  She is a pretty girl, no doubt about that. She makes a lovely Cathy.   David Niven cut a dashing figure as the gentle Edgar. Geraldine Fitzgerald put in a spirited performance as Isabel, Edger's sister.

The movie is beautifully made and beautifully acted by all. It does not do full justice to the book, which is one my favorites. I can see how hard it is to depict three generations of Earnshaws and Lintons in a movie.  On the other hand, a trilogy (a la Lord of the Rings) or a TV series would have been a better vehicle. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miss Austen Regrets - 2007

BBC Production - 2007

Gwyneth Huges imagines the last few years of Jane Austen's life in this BBC movie of the year 2007.

The movie starts with the big occasion that Jane supposedly looks back upon, the time when she accepted and then refused, the very next day, the proposal of marriage from Mr. Harris Bigg-Wither. We know when we learn what Mr. Bigg was really like, that Jane was right to refuse him. Her principled stand caused her to live in poverty for the rest of her days. It befits the writer of the best romance novels ever, to decide in favor of love and forgo thoughts of material comforts.

This is also the advice she gave Fanny Austen Knight, her niece when asked for her advice on whether or not to accept a proposal of marriage. She writes, "having written so much on one side of the question, I shall now turn around & entreat you not to commit yourself farther, & not to think of accepting him unless you really do like him. Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection".

Jane Austen remained single all her life. The movie imagines her last year and tries to work out whether she felt any regret at refusing Mr. Bigg. The movie also imagines a more suitable suitor for her, the one who could not wait and wonders if she felt any regret for having refused him.

It is a lovely script. It does not stray too far from the facts. There is a lot of witty dialog in here worthy of Jane. She admits that a man as perfect as Mr. Darcy can only be invented.

Olivia Williams does a wonderful job as Jane Austen, as does Greta Scacchi as Cassandra. Fanny Knight, whose quest for a partner is also a theme of the movie, is very effective. It is through her eyes that we get to take a look inside Miss Jane. We get to see dishy men like Tom Hiddleston and Hugh Bonneville too, for can we be far away from dishy men when we are reading Jane Austen?