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

Continue reading Challenge Week 29: Hobson’s Choice

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.

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.