Tag Archives: Charles Laughton

Challenge Week 29: Hobson’s Choice

I was a little more apprehensive going into this one than I should’ve been, by a lot – for some reason I thought it would be a “vegetable movie”. You know, one you’re supposed to watch because it’s good for you, not because it’s actually enjoyable. I run hot and cold on David Lean as a director (sacrilege, I know), and the logline of an alcoholic father who demands the right to choose husbands for his two younger daughters (his oldest is too good a helper at his shoemaker’s business to let go) sounds more depressing than entertaining.

With Charles Laughton in the lead, I should’ve known better than all that.

tf-lunch

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Stream It!: Witness for the Prosecution

[Showcasing the best and highlighting the newest additions to the various streaming services, including but not limited to Netflix Instant, HuluPlus, Amazon Prime, and Warner Archive Instant.]

Stream on Netflix: Witness for the Prosecution

si-witness_for_the_prosecutionI really want to start doing these more often, since a ton of great stuff is dropping onto on demand subscription services all the time. This is one that’s actually been on Netflix Instant for quite a while, but it’s a great movie, I’ve got Billy Wilder on the mind right now, and it has a great double feature combination that’s also on Netflix Instant. Win all around.

Witness for the Prosecution is a late film in three acting careers – Charles Laughton, as experienced but physically ailing barrister Sir Wilfred; Tyrone Power (this is his final credited film), as the murder suspect Leonard Vole whom Laughton defends; and Marlene Dietrich, as Power’s beautiful and devoted wife. It may be late in their careers, but they are all at the top of their game, and so is Wilder, delivering a consistently witty and surprising courtroom drama with a dose of mystery. Laughton’s delightful wife Elsa Lanchester also plays his nurse, who emphatically thinks he is not ready to take on a case after recently suffering a heart attack.

Laughton is always great to watch, from his early villain-type roles like Dr. Moreau in Island of Lost Souls and Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty to his imposing girth as King Henry VIII a few times to his witty charm in movies like this one. He’s got a reputation as a scenery-chewer, and that’s not entirely wrong, but he’s one of the absolute best scenery-chewers ever in the movies, and comes across more as a scene-stealer here. Dietrich has her share of meaty roles, but this may be one of her absolute best, as her duplicity (or is it?) comes to light. The script will keep you guessing, all the way up to the delicious ending.

Double Feature: Anatomy of a Murder

si-anatomy_of_a_murder_ver2In some ways, Anatomy of a Murder is a more traditional courtroom drama than Witness for the Prosecution, with more courtroom scenes (and American ones, which feel a bit more familiar to us on this side of the pond) and a battle of lawyers front and center as James Stewart defends and George C. Scott prosecutes a man (Ben Gazzara) claiming a temporary insanity defense for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife (Lee Remick). There’s a mystery at the heart of this one, too, as Stewart digs into the evidence to find out what really happened, but it’s not as whimsical or twisty as Witness for the Prosecution.

In 1959, a film touching on the subject of rape was fairly rare and pretty controversial. Director Otto Preminger was no stranger to controversy, having pushed the limits of the Production Code already, notably in 1953 when his film The Moon is Blue included the word “virgin.” Here Remick’s character is known to be something of a flirt or worse, and Gazzara’s is known to be violent and possessive, which brings his plea of temporary insanity into question. The film is also well-remembered for its brilliant Duke Ellington jazz score (also unusual at the time) and the focus on Stewart as a character rather than simply focusing on the plot. That said, his courtroom scenes opposite Scott are electric.

Besides both being courtroom films about a dubious murder case, the films have another connection in terms of the surprising outcomes of each case – which I obviously can’t talk about in any detail without spoiling stuff. I’ve probably said too much already. Both films are streaming on Netflix for the low low price of “included in your $8 a month subscription,” so just watch them. You’ll have a delightful time.

Film on TV: March 26-April 1

There seems to be a crime/thriller theme going on in my picks to highlight this week – I didn’t initially do that on purpose, but I guess I do kind of like that sort of thing. Also, TCM is still doing their film noir thing, I think, which means a lot of good crime-related stuff to choose from. A lot more good stuff is playing this week, though, including a higher-than-usual number of things I’m featuring for the first time, so head on over to Row Three to see the rest.

The Night of the Hunter

Tuesday, March 27 at 12:00M on TCM
If there’s ever a film that defined “Southern gothic,” it’s this one. Underhanded “preacher” Robert Mitchum weasels his way into a young widowed family to try to gain the money the late father hid before he died. But what starts off as a well-done but fairly standard crime thriller turns into a surreal fable somewhere in the middle, and at that moment, jumps from “good film” to “film you will be able to get out of your head NEVER.” In a good way.
1955 USA. Director: Charles Laughton. Starring: Robert Mitchum, Lillian Gish.
Must See

Love Crime

Friday, March 30 (late Thursday) at 12:05am on Sundance
Alain Corneau’s final film is a Hitchcockian thriller of business intrigue heightened by personal emotions, with icy blondes facing off against each other trying to gain the upper hand both at their company and in their personal lives. It’s got a lot of twisty turns, and ends up being quite satisfying by the end. My only complaint is that the stylistics don’t match up to the plotting or the acting, but I guess in the grand scheme of things, that’s a quibble.
2010 France. Director: Alain Corneau. Starring: Ludivine Sagnier, Kristin Scott Thomas, Patrick Mille.

The Others

Friday, March 30 at 8:00pm on IFC
More than ten years later, this film remains one of my favorite horror films, because it perfectly captures that ghostly, creepy atmosphere I love so much. Nicole Kidman does her best Grace Kelly homage as a mother sequestered on a remote British island (awaiting her husband’s return from WWII) along with her children, who have a unique skin condition that means they cannot be exposed to sunlight. Swapping the safety factor of lightness and darkness is a brilliant move, and the ultimate twist is pretty good, too. But this film lives and dies by its atmosphere – menacing housekeepers, dust-covered furniture, creepy photographs, it’s all here.
2001 USA. Director: Alejandro Amenabar. Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Saturday, March 31 at 8:00pm on TCM
I credit this film with my real interest in silent film. Silent comedy was a big entry point, but Sunrise, with its simple but lovely story of marital infidelity, potential murder, and reconciliation, convinced me that silent films wasn’t just about being funny, but that they could really and truly be art in and of themselves. Murnau does so much with so little here, filling every frame with such visual beauty and storytelling that he barely needs any title cards, that I was immediately sold and I’ve never turned back.
1927 USA. Director: F.W. Murnau. Starring: George O’Brien, Janet Gaynor, Margaret Livingston.
Must See

Born to Kill

Saturday, March 31 at 12:00M on TCM
A film noir that had slipped past me until last year, but I certainly am glad I caught up with it. The always reliable Claire Trevor leads the film as a woman who leaves town instead of dealing with the aftermath of finding her friend murdered; unfortunately, the murderer has unwittingly left on the same train and the two end up inextricably entwined in a love-hate relationship. It’s got some obvious film noir tropes, but also plays along the edges of others (Laurence Tierney is basically an homme fatale, instead of Trevor being a femme fatale). Definitely a film worth your time if you’re into noir or classic crime dramas.
1947 USA. Director: Robert Wise. Starring: Claire Trevor, Lawrence Tierney, Walter Slezak, Phillip Terry, Audrey Long, Elisha Cook Jr., Isabel Jewell.

50DMC #24: Most Beautiful Movie

The 50 Day Movie Challenge asks one question every day, to be answered by a few paragraphs and a clip, if possible. Click here for the full list of questions.

Today’s prompt: What’s the most beautiful movie you’re ever seen?

I guess you could answer this beautiful-looking or beautiful-sounding or beautiful-spirited or any number of other interpretations of “beautiful,” but I’m a bit of a cinematography whore so I went with visual beauty. Even with that, there are so many choices, and I had a number of others in here first, like The Tree of Life and other Malick films, or Sunrise and its moody Expressionism, or The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or The Double Life of Veronique or any number of others. But I decided to go for the black and white stunner The Night of the Hunter. I love this film for many reasons, but one of the main ones is its gorgeous painterly photography, which makes nearly every shot screencappable. It’s basically Expressionist like Sunrise, but with sharp contrasts and angles compared with Sunrise‘s softer, dreamier approach. I’ve seen the film several times, but I still gasp at many visual moments scattered throughout it.

Here’s a clip of my favorite part.

And what the heck, some favorite stills.

Night of the Hunter River Sequence

I just posted a little article on Row Three with a triple feature of mesmerizingly weird films featuring children, with one of the films being the wonderful, uncategorizable The Night of the Hunter. I won’t crosspost it here because it’s closely tied to a rep cinema programming series of posts we have there, but I figured I’d go ahead and share what I think is the most memorable sequence from the film (out of a BUNCH of memorable sequences) – the meditative and nearly surreal river trip the kids take toward the end of the film. It’s not really a spoiler to watch this section if you haven’t seen it, and I think it’s beautiful even out of context. But I have a thing for moody cinematography and kids singing haunting songs.

This was the moment I fell in love with the film the first time I saw it; it’s sort of a turn, too, as the film moves from being a heightened melodrama/horror/film noir film into something more along the lines of a fable or morality play, though like I said, it’s really hard to categorize. Watching it a second time brings out more of this fable-like quality in the first half as well, once you know to look for it. The Night of the Hunter comes out in a Criterion edition (both DVD and blu-ray) in November. You can bet I’ll be picking it up.