tisdag 31 december 2013

Joan Fontaine RIP

I wasn't exactly sad when I heard that Joan Fontaine had died on December 15th. Life must end for us all some day and she was very old when she died, 96 years old. And she will always be remembered for the parts she played in four films during the forties: for Rebecca and Suspicion by Hitchcock, Jane Eyre with Orson Welles as Rochester, and for Max Ophuls' Letter from an unknown woman. T, hrough these films she gained immortal life and you could say that whatever her life was, whether or not she was mean to her sister Olivia de Havilland and to her two daughters and four husbands, it doesn't matter. She could have died straight after the last good film she and it wouldn't change anything. Those four wonderful films that she happened to make, that she was lucky to be a part of, will still be there, long after she's gone. And that is something to be happy about, and to wish for, for us all. We all want to be remembered for something good, beautiful and unique.

I am writing this on new year's eve, and the strange thing is that when I heard about Joan Fontaine's death, I was getting ready to write about two other great ladies, both born in 1913 and who would have been 100 years this year, if they had lived. I wanted to celebrate the memories of English actress Vivien Leigh and Norwegian actress Sonja Wigert. 

Sonja Wigert made a stunning debut in Norwegian films in the thirties and when Norway was occupied by the Nazis, she was approached by both sides to become a spy. She came to Sweden where the director Hasse Ekman offered her a few remarkable parts, especially in a little melodrama called "Ombyte av tåg" in 1943, which in many respects seems to foreshadow the more famous film by David Lean, "Brief Encounter" (1945). She was however never cleared of the reputation as a Nazi spy, and her career in both films and theatre deteriorated after the war. During a period she even owned a gas station in central Stockholm.

Vivien Leigh is the English actress who landed the part of Scarlett O'Hara. She was a very important figure for me as a child when I was obsessed with both the novel and the movie as well as Vivien's tragic life story. But I did manage to imitate Vivien's way of raising one eyebrow. I'll remember these three ladies fondly tonight, on the verge of a new year and tell their stories some other time.

Happy new year!

söndag 27 oktober 2013

Where do the noses go?

Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman in love.
There is a beautiful scene in "For whom the Bell Tolls", the Hollywood adaptation of the novel by Ernest Hemingway, made in 1943 with Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman. I'm thinking about the nose scene, the scene where Maria, the young Spanish paesant girl kisses the tall, handsome American who has joined the rebels fight against the Fascists. She is so lovely in perfect Technicolor: her skin a rich, chesnutty hue, her eyes sparkling as the starry sky behind her, her hair is short and curly and she's dressed in a simple shirt and a pair of pants that are being held up by a piece of string. He's softspoken and handsome in the way Disney's princes are. Did I say tall? It doesn't really matter what he does, says or what the actor Gary Cooper could possibly convey - the big shining star here is certainly Ingrid Bergman.

They were in love for real, or so the story goes, about the making of the film "For whom the Bell Tolls". They were on location for weeks out in the wild, far away from Hollywood but just as far away from the real world, world war two going on in Europe and the Pacific at the Spanish civil war that they were telling us about. The story is about an American who helps a group of Spaniards to sabotage a bridge at a crucial moment in the people's resistance against Franco's troops. Ingrid really wanted the part and it was a blessing for her that Hemingway immediately saw her as the perfect Maria. And she was perfect: she could use her "otherness" in a role where she didn't need to pretend to be American. She could also use her greatest asset: her natural beauty, one that worked best in the open, real life surroundings, without the glamour and Hollywood grooming.

Isn't she lovely?
In this part one could almost say that it's in the stars that Ingrid won't stay a Hollywood star for long. Soon, she will be whisked away by the need to appear in real films, made by real people in real life: in other words, Roberto Rossellini. He was the closest a star like Ingrid could come to reality before the emerge of the full length documentary film. Some times it amuses me to think who she would have picked of the great documentary film makers and new wave directors of the sixties and seventies. Could she have worked with Bo Widerberg, Jan Troell, Arne Sucksdorff, for instance? She never did, though, as she went back to Hollywood after her Italian adventure. 

Ingrid Bergman left Swedish cinema to become a major international star in the late 1930:s. She had made ten films in Sweden, two of them were sold to Hollywood and remade there. Ingrid got a contract with David O. Selznick and remade "Intermezzo" in Hollywood with Leslie Howard in the part that the great Swedish actor Gösta Ekman had played in the Swedish version. (The other Swedish film in which Ingrid had starred, "A Woman's Face" was remade with Joan Crawford.) Then Ingrid made one film in Nazi Germany, "Der vier Gesellen" and she would have stayed if her husband Petter Lindström had not advised her to go on to the US. Her mother was German and like all Swedes at the time before the second world war, the German language was much closer to home than English. 

When she decided on going Hollywood, Ingrid made a decision that saved her career. Imagine what she would have become if she had made the choice that other Swedish actresses keen on international fame had made, before her? I'm thinking of Zarah Leander but even more of Kristina Söderbaum, the girl who become the very symbol of Arian beauty in Nazi Germany. 

Ingrid remained the lovely natural girl, the girl we all wanted to love, the girl who stayed true. But true to what? She left Sweden just before the war, and came back to Swedish films only once in the 60:s, to play in the short film "Smycket" ("The Necklace"), which was part of a collaborative effort where all leading Swedish film directors translated the notion of "Stimulantia" into a short film. The film was called "Stimulantia" and Ingrid*s part was directed by Gustaf Molander, the director who made her famous all those years ago. It's an interesting part since it deals with a woman who indulges in a bit of luxury that costs her and her husband ten years of misery and hardship. The story was by French author Guy de Maupassant and required quite a lot of humility from an actress used to getting exactly what she wanted.

She also left her family, twice. First when she left husband and daughter to join the new Italian cinema in the fifties. Then again, when she divorced Rossellini and their three kids had to commute between father in Italy and mother in England, Hollywood and Sweden. Ingrid was no role model as a mother.

Still, it's the promise of perfect motherhood that glows from her face, in the love scenes that she did best, in her Swedish and American films. Alfred Hitchcock must have sensed that, and he also understood that she lied. Maybe that's why she is so good in the three films she made with him.

Ingrid reflecting, in Hitchcock's "Notorious".

fredag 19 juli 2013

Min sommar med Hitchcock

Dottern Patricia, Alma och Alfred Hitchcock.
Ingen sommar utan Hitchcock lovade jag för två somrar sedan, när jag började skriva denna blogg. Denna sommar är inget undantag, men jag har funderat ett bra tag på vilken film jag skulle skriva om. Det låg ju nära till hands att säga något om "Hitchcock", biofilmen som gick upp i vintras om Hitchcocks inspelning av "Psycho". Med Anthony Hopkins som Hitchcock och Helen Mirren som Alma Reville Hitchcock och Toni Collette i en rolig biroll som Hitchcocks sekreterare. 

Det finns en en annan ny film också, "The Girl" som handlar om Hitchcock besatthet med Tippi Hedren och inspelningen av "Fåglarna". Jag har inte sett den men Sienna Miller spelar Tippi Hedren. Anthony Hopkins spelar Hitchcock i den förstnämnda filmen, men i den filmen är det nog ändå kvinnorna som gör  "Hitchcock" och får något av en feministisk revansch. Helen Mirren förvandlar Alma Reville till en både vacker och glamorös yrkeskvinna som serverar Hitch hans bästa idéer till frukost eller lunch - som t.ex. idén att låta döda stjärnan Janet Leigh redan efter 30 minuter in i filmen "Psycho" - medan hon gömmer hans gåslever under grönsakerna i kylskåpet och låter honom hållas med sin morbida besatthet för vackra skådespelerskor. 

Filmen "Hitchcock" är märkligt nog en riktig mysrulle, en charmig komedi om en tjurig regissör som vill hitta tillbaka till sin ungdoms lekfulla experimentlusta. Filmen är inte ett dugg ruskig, vilket gör scenerna med den berömda duschscenen lite märkliga. Men kanske lyckas man faktiskt förmedla något av det kreativa lättsinne som var Hitchcocks och som skapade de otäcka scenerna när Marion Crane blir mördad. Scarlett Johansson gör en sympatisk och oväntat humoristisk Janet Leigh och Toni Collette, som sagt, har den bästa repliken.

Toni Collette, Anthony Hopkins och Helen Mirren
Men jag tittade inte på "Psycho". Trogen mitt nya projekt att lära mig mer om engelsk film, valde jag några av Hitchcocks äldre engelska filmer - och upptäckte något som får mig att rysa till lite: Jag har varit i Michael Balcons arbetsrum, producenten på Ealing Studio som i början av sin karriär också var den som producerade Hitchcocks första filmer. 

Som till exempel "Easy Virtue", "Olovlig kärlek" på svenska, från 1927. Det är en film som drivs av en kvinnlig protagonist, den berömda aktrisen Isabel Jeans, som är ungefär lika bortglömd i England idag som Pauline Brunius är i Sverige idag. Hon är mycket vackert klädd och vackert fotograferad i rollen som en societetsdam som gör skandal, skiljer sig och försöker hitta lyckan på nytt genom att gifta sig med en naiv ung man från landet. Jag fascinerades av hennes långa, vita armar, som påminde om ett par svanar - filmen handlar ju på sätt och vis om en vacker kvinnas svanesång.

Det var Hitchcocks femte film som regissör och det var den sista filmen som han gjorde för producenten Michael Balcons filmbolag Gainsborough. (De skulle återknyta sitt samarbete senare.) Jag vet inte hur ofta den här filmen visas - själv hade jag turen att hitta den på en dvd med den mer kända filmen "Blackmail". Men redan 1927 redan här kan man se att mycket av Hitchcocks teman och ledmotiv och man kan roa sig med att hitta ledtrådar till flera av hans senare filmer.  

I "Easy Virtue" finns idén med "the notorious woman" (ursprungligen från Noel Cowards pjäs), eller oskulden som hängs ut offentligt. Här finns det romantiska mötet på Rivieran, den tryckande stämningen i ett lantligt gods med en misstänksam och hämndlysten svärmor - allt detta påminner mig om "Rebecca". Och här finns skildringen av ett subtilt spel där vardagen med sina krav på både följsamhet och konvenans långsamt förvandlas till en mardröm - såsom i många senare Hitchcock-filmer. 
Isabel Jeans liljevita armar
Isabel Jeans var förresten gift med Claude Rains, som senare i "Notorious" försöker göra en hederlig kvinna av Ingrid Bergman, under ögonen på hans missunnsamma nazi-mor. 
I slutet av "Easy Virtue", när ryktena definitivt har krossat den vackra societetsdamen, yttrar Isabel Jeans en fantastisk replik, som Hitchcock påstod att han skämdes för, i intervjuboken med Francois Truffaut. Hon stiger fram ur mörkret och säger: "Shoot. There is nothing left to kill."

Det finns en senare filmversion av "Easy Virtue", gjord 2008. Jessica Biel spelar huvudrollen - hon som i filmen "Hitchcock" spelar Vera Miles. Hela ""Easy Virtue" från 1927 finns på Youtube.

söndag 30 juni 2013

Let's talk about Googie

Googie Withers and John McCallum in "It always rains on Sunday"
Who was she? Googie Withers: English movie star of the 1940:s, born 1917 in Karachi and died in Australia just a couple of years ago, in 2011. I had never heard of her before I started to do some research before our trip to London this summer. I was stunned to find out that I had completely missed this wonderful actress who disappeared to Australia with hr husband John McCallum, had a wonderful career over there as well as three kids, and when she wanted to come back to films, actually lost two leading film roles to Vivien Leigh in the 1960:s.

So who was she and how can I discover her today? It was easy enough to find information about her on the internet: I learned that Googie had a father who was a captain in the British army and a mother who was part Dutch, part French. Her real name was Georgette, Googie was actually a diminutive given to her by her amah during childhood in British India. Googie became a dancer in musicals during her teens and started appearing in films as a blonde during the 1930:s. She had a small part in Hitchcock's "The lady vanishes"(1938) - as one of Margaret Lockwood's two girlfriends at the beginning of the picture. But it was at Ealing Studios that she became a star in her own right and made her most memorable film: "It always rains on Sunday" from 1947.

In this wonderfully bleak melodrama, Googie plays a housewife in London's East End who suddenly, one ordinary, rainy Sunday, gets a visit from an old lover, who ended up in prison and now is an escaped convict. She helps him, hides him in her matrimonial bedroom, and gives him food, before he kisses her, knocks her out and leaves, with the police on his tail. There is a strikingly beautiful chase along the rail tracks of London's lost Canary Wharf before the man gets caught, while the poor housewife tries to commit suicide by gas, while her ten year old son sleeps in his bedroom a couple of doors away. The film ends with a touching scene when the husband, a nice man called George, sits by his wife's bedside and urges her to come home soon.

"It always rains on Sunday" is in many respects akin to other British more well known classics such as David Lean's "Brief Encounter", made the year before, and to Carol Reeds' two films about hunted men: "Odd Man Out" (1945) and "The Third Man". These films all share the same feeling for everyday life, love for ordinary people and detail, and have that certain quality that make them memorable through what at first seems banal and even simple. They all depict a feeling of sadness after the horrors of war, of great things lost, great expectations, true love or just the plain and simple love of thy neighbor - the very things that Harry Lime has learned to exploit.

"It always rains on Sunday" was directed by Robert Hamer, who after this film made one of the best comedies of the era: "Kind hearts and coronets". The script was signed Angus MacPhail who delivered many scripts for Ealing and together with a stellar cast they produced this beautiful film, a slice of life and a solid piece of melodrama filled with atmosphere from post-war London. Even if the story of the housewife and her lost love is at the centre of the film, carrying its emotional weight, there is a sense of balance, and also of faint hope for the future, in the portraits and relations between the other characters around the housewife Rose and her unlucky love Tommy Swan. What really made the Ealing films so special is the way they portray communities and people who share a life together, for better and for worse.

But let's talk about Googie: She wasn't tall, according to imd.com, but she looks tall. Maybe the fashionable shoulder pads and tall hair of the 1940:s helped, but she also has that graceful and queenlike stature that make her stand out. She isn't beautiful in the Hollywood sense with that tall forehead, those high, broad cheekbones, the big eyes and the big mouth. Everything looks big on Googie. Even her bare, snow white arms arms and legs look big - which she showed off a lot more in other movies, like "Dead of Night". She seems to have more in common, anyway, with the grand French actress Arletty than with the other beautiful brunettes of her day: Ava Gardner, Dorothy Lamour, Ingrid Bergman or even Vivien Leigh, with whom she shared and Indian past. She also has a mesmerizing voice, warm and articulate, velvety. What a pity Hitchcock never gave her a leading role.

In "It always rains on Sunday" Googie has several memorable moments, like the ones where she snaps at her family while she tries to decide what to do with the man hiding in the bomb shelter out in the back yard. She is mostly seen in the kitchen, where her husband has his bath in the middle of the room and her son and two step daughters (his daughters, from a previous marriage) go in and out. When Tommy the escaped convict is hiding in the bed room, she is running up and down the staircase and in one scene starts a violent fight with one of her step daughters, who insists on going into the bed room to get a hair brush. She even tears the daughters dress, like some evil step mother of Cinderella. There are also a flash back, done without any fuss, where we see Googie as the younger Rose, blonde and smiling as the bar maid of the local pub, where she meets Tommy. He asks her if she's doing anything on her free day, a Thursday, and she says "nothing" and he proposes that they do nothing together. Then we see the two of them lying on the grass with a beautiful view of the sea in the distance, and he gives her a ring - a ring that he later on won't even recognize.

Googie could have played queen Victoria, Elizabeth I, Florence Nightingale or Emmeline Pankhurst - why not? Now she didn't, at least not in films, and her most memorable movie roles are wives, tormented wives, and she does a very good job with that. In real life, she married John McCallum and left England for Australia in 1948. They continued working together, mainly in theatre, and remained married until he died in 2010. A year later, Googie died.

Robert Hamer had worked with Googie in her previous film, "The lives of Joanna Godden", where she actually met and fell in love with  John McCallum. I haven't found that film on dvd yet, unfortunately.  Hamer also directed Googie in the episode called "The Haunted Mirror" in "Dead of Night", the ghost story that Ealing Studios made in 1945. I saw that film the other day and although it didn't scare me as much as it had once when I saw it on TV a long time ago, the episode about the husband who goes temporarily mad from looking into a mirror that his wife has given him, was truly scary.

lördag 16 februari 2013

Catching a rat

Harry Lime caught in his own "limelight".
When Harry Lime walks into the picture, after a good long bit into Carol Reed's classic The Third Man, it is hard not to like him. After all, he is the writer Holly Martin's best childhood friend, and he is the man Anna Schwarz loves, the melancholy actress who is hiding under a false alias in the divided post war city of Vienna. Harry, dressed all in black, moves swiftly towards the camera, where Holly is standing, by the great Ferris wheel, and he smiles, greeting Holly as if he came to meet his at the airport. He is happy to see his friend again, and during their interview, inside the Ferris wheel, his face is at times clouded by suspicion, anger and perhaps even pure evil, but then he composes himself and lets through that boyish charm that has made Holly and Anna love him so. We know that Harry LImes is wanted for drug trafficking in the damaged old city, respnsible for thousands of people dying under horrible circumstances for having taken his penicillin dilluted with water. And he is most porbably also guilty of murdering the man that has been found in his coffin.

"Don't you know what's happened to your girl?" Holly asks Harry in an attempt to wake his conscience. Harry breezily brushes the question off, but later, like a regular Werther, he writes her name in the shape of a heart, on the misty windowpane. 
"I buried you" Holly says angrily, resenting both the deceit of his friend and the show he is putting on, trying once more to pull wool over his eyes.
But Harry only pats his chest, complaining of the assumed ulcer he's having trouble with, and points to the people down there, on the ground far below them:
"Victims? Don't be melodramatic.... Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"

And then comes that crude reference to money, all the money you can make if you only can decide how many of those dots you could "spare", and finally, the brilliant coup de grâce: Harry compares the bloody times of the Borgias and how that produced the Renaissance, while five hundred years of democracy in Switzerland produced only the cucko clock.

I wonder how we would have perceived the stunning chase through the sewer's systems underneath Mozart's ailing city, and accepted Harry's death, if we hadn't heard that speech. Because it's hard not to like Harry, the way he casually drifts into the picture halfway through it, as if he didn't belive in how much we care. We're just like Holly, ready for an adventure and the help from a friend who we think is nice enough to be offering a job to someone who is broke. And we've seen Anna cry, the close up of her beautiful face, and we've seen her move around the rooms where they used to be together, opening drawers and absentmindedly combing her hair.

In a way, it lets us off the hook. In the end we want Holly to kill Harry. After all, he is nothing more than the lowest form of criminal, a man who makes money from letting children die, who has betrayed the woman who loves him and every bit of fibre in him that makes him human.

I leave the cinema where I have seen "The Third Man" stunned as always, Anton Kara's music haunting me while I stumble thorugh the darkness and snowy landscape, to find the bus that will take me home. There is a fourth character that really is just as important to the story as Harry, Holly or Anna. It is the city of Viennea, of course, and it shocks me how the city around me is so different from the monstrous wreck of a city that is a constant presence in Reed's movie. Vienna after the war is the ravaged mother who can't take care of her kids anymore. Her children have all become perverse, or insane, like in the Doors song.

Everything in Reed's film is in fact after the catastrophy. Holly is too late, not only for Harry's funeral, but for saving him. Anna is mourning the life she had with the nice and gentle Harry. Callaway, the British officer, who is trying to capture Harry, ias aldo too late. For the children in the hospital there is no remedy. It is probably there that Holly makes upp his mind. After that, there is not much left of the film, but time enough for Holly to chase Harry through the chillligly expressionistic tunnels under the city, like a buried past, and kill the man who lost his humanity.

"The Third Man" is about becoming inhuman in a time when resurrection is needed, and I ask myself the question: How come I still find Harry Lime such a lovable character, when he should have been the man who saved Anna, took care of all those kids and gave his old friend a job?