Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grace Kelly in Rear Window (1954)

(This blog post is part of The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema)

When the phrase "Hitchcock Blonde" is mentioned, the actress that is likely to come to mind is Grace Kelly. What is more, the image of Grace Kelly that comes to mind is likely the way the actress looked in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window (1954). In fact, an argument can be made that Lisa Carol Fremont in Rear Window could be her most iconic role.

Of course, Grace Kelly had previously worked with Alfred Hitchcock on the movie Dial M for Murder (1954). Grace Kelly came to Alfred Hitchcock's attention through a screen test she had made in 1952 for the movie Taxi (1953). In the screen test she played opposite actor Robert Alda. Ultimately neither would be cast in the film, with Dan Dailey and Constance Smith ultimately playing the lead roles. Regardless, Alfred Hitchcock liked Miss Kelly's screen test and, as a result, cast her in Dial M for Murder. While making Dial M for Murder Alfred Hitchcock talked to Grace Kelly about Rear Window, even though he did not mention casting her in the film at the time. Miss Kelly was so eager to play Lisa in Rear Window that she even turned down the chance to star opposite Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront (1954). That role eventually went to Eva Marie Saint.

Rear Window was based on the short story "It Had to Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich. The screenplay was written by John Michael Hayes. The original short story had no primary female character, so Alfred Hitchcock asked Mr. Hayes to spend a week or two with Grace Kelly to get to know her. In the end the character of Lisa was based on a combination of Grace Kelly and his wife, the former Mildred Louise Hicks, who had modelled under the name Mel Lawrence. 

Jimmy Stewart was cast in the lead role of L. B. "Jeff" Jefferies, a photographer confined to his wheelchair after breaking his leg. With nothing better to do all day, Jeff develops a habit of watching his neighbours in the apartment building across a courtyard from his own. Ultimately he becomes convinced that he has witnessed a murder. Jimmy Stewart was very happy about the casting of Grace Kelly. He said of her, "She was kind to everybody, so considerate, just great, and so beautiful." He also praised her talent, saying that she had "...complete understanding of the way motion picture acting is carried out."  

The costumes for Rear Window were designed by the legendary Edith Head, whom Hitchcock employed on all of the films he made for Paramount. As was typical of the director, Alfred Hitchcock worked closely with Miss Head in creating the look of Grace Kelly's character. Despite this there was one instance where Edith Head and Grace Kelly got around what Alfred Hitchcock wanted. For a scene in which Grace Kelly was required to wear a negligee he suggested that falsies be used to give Miss Kelly a more busty look. Edith Head and Grace Kelly did not go along with the idea, and instead Miss Head made subtle changes to the costume while Miss Kelly changed her posture. Alfred Hitchcock never knew the difference.

Amazingly enough given the fact that film is set in two apartment buildings separated by a courtyard, Rear Window was shot entirely on one set. The basement of the Paramount soundstage was actually excavated so that the buildings could be multiple storeys. The courtyard was actually the basement floor of the soundstage and Jeff's upper storey apartment was actually at street level. What is more, all of the apartments in the building that Jeff watches all day had running water and electricity. Georgine Darcy, who played "Miss Torso", very nearly lived in her apartment during the shooting of Rear Window, spending the entire day there.

A world premiere for Rear Window was held on August 4 1954 to benefit the American-Korean Foundation, a charity founded shortly after the end of the Korean War. Rear Window went into wide release on September 1 1954. The film received overwhelmingly good reviews. After The 39 Steps Time magazine considered it "just possibly the second most entertaining picture ever made by Alfred Hitchcock." It did very well at the box office, grossing $27,559,601 at the American box office. In the end it was the third highest grossing film of 1954.  Rear Window was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director; Best Story and Screenplay;  Best Cinematography, Colour; and Best Sound Recording,

For many years Rear Window would be unavailable, along with Alfred Hitchcock's films Rope (1948), The Trouble with Harry (1955), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), and Vertigo (1958). The rights to all five were owned by Alfred Hitchcock. Except for Rope, the films had bee made at Paramount, with whom Hitchcock's contract stipulated that ownership of the films would revert to him after eight years. For whatever reason Alfred Hitchcock removed the films from circulation in the Sixties, although he did will the rights to the films to his daughter Patricia. Fortunately in the Eighties the films re-emerged in circulation. Rear Window was shown legally for the first time in nearly two decades. Upon its re-release Rear Window was still counted as one of Hitchcock's masterpieces. 

As to Grace Kelly, the role of Lisa in Rear Window was a pivotal one. Miss Kelly received good notices for her performance in the film, with both New York Times critic Bosley Crowther and the critic at Variety taking note of her. In many respects Rear Window marked a change from the sort of roles Grace Kelly usually played. She was not simply window dressing. She was not merely the passive wife or girlfriend of the lead character. Lisa was a woman who made her own living at her own career. What is more, as Jeff is wheelchair bound throughout the movie, it is Lisa who must engage in much of the film's action.

Today Rear Window is considered one of Hitchcock's greatest films. It is one of the very, very few films that holds a 100% Fresh rating at the website Rotten Tomatoes. There can be little doubt that much of the reason for the film's lasting success is Grace Kelly. In Rear Window she did not simply play a beautiful woman, but she also played a woman who was independent and self-sufficient as well. In the end it made her one of the most iconic of the Hitchcock Blondes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Three Movie Star Veterans

Today in 1918, at the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany at Compiègne, France, thus ending World War I. Since then the day has been observed in honour of those who have served in the armed forces, as Veteran's Day in the United States and Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries. In honour of veterans today, then, I am taking a brief at three movie stars who served in the British and United States Armed Services during the World Wars.

Basil Rathbone

Before Basil Rathbone played Sherlock Holmes or the villain in many a swashbuckler movie, he served in the British Army during World War I.  It was in late 1915 that Basil Rathbone joined the British Army. Initially a private with the London Scottish Regiment, in 1916 he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 2/10th Battalion of the King's Liverpool Regiment. In the Liverpool Scottish he served as an intelligence officer, often going behind enemy lines to scout the enemy's position. Such reconnaissance was generally conduced at night when it was thought to be safer, but Basil Rathbone convinced his superiors to allow him to scout enemy positions by day. Basil Rathbone proved very effective as an intelligence office and not only rose to the rank of Captain, but in September 1918 was also awarded the Military Cross for "conspicuous daring and resource on patrol.

Lee Marvin

It was in 1942, during World War II, that Lee Marvin enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He served in the 4th Marine Division, seeing action in the Pacific Theatre. He was injured in the Battle of Saipan when his unit assaulted Mount Tapochau in the  Northern Mariana Islands.  While most of his unit was killed, Priavate Marvin's sciatic nerve was severed from machine gun fire. He was given a medical discharge in 1945 at the rank of Private First Class. He received the the Purple Heart, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.

Sir Christopher Lee

With the outbreak of World War II Christopher Lee joined the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately his eyesight proved to be too poor for him to become a pilot. Shortly thereafter he applied to join RAF Intelligence. During World War II Sir Christopher Lee was attached to the Special Operations Executive (informally known as "the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare"), but always declined to discuss his involvement.  Following the war he worked with the Central Registry of War Crimes. Sir Christopher Lee was demobilised when he was 24

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Support Honouring Hedy Lamarr With a Memorial

Hedy Lamarr is a true legend in more ways than one. During her lifetime she was proclaimed "the Most Beautiful Woman in the World" and she is still considered one of the all time great beauties. She was a talented actress who starred in a number of successful films. More importantly, she was a brilliant inventor. With composer George Antheil, she developed frequency hopping technology without which such things as mobile phones, Wi-Fi, GPS, and many other modern technologies would not be possible. Hedy Lamarr made a difference. In fact, without her the world of the 21st Century would not be the same.

Hedy Lamarr died in 2000. A portion of her ashes were scattered in the Vienna Woods. The rest were placed in an honorary grave in the Vienna Central Cemetery in 2014. Sadly, the grave of this most remarkable woman is unmarked. There is not so much as a gravestone. Fortunately Viennese designer Christian Thomas has designed a stainless steel grave marker for her final resting place. Unfortunately her son, Anthony Loder, as many of you may already know, has been battling cancer for years and cannot afford to pay for the memorial. He has then turned to crowdfunding in order to finance the grave marker for his mother, a woman to whom we all owe an enormous debt.

If you would be interested in helping finance a memorial for Hedy Lamarr, you can do so here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The 60th Anniversary of The Everly Brothers' First Recordings

It was today in 1955 at the Tulane Hotel studios that The Everly Brothers made their first recordings. In a space of 22 minutes they cut four tracks. By early 1956 family friend Chet Atkins was able to get the Everly Brothers signed to Columbia Records. Unfortunately their time with Columbia would be brief. Their only single on the label, "Keep A-Lovin' Me", failed to chart and Columbia soon dropped The Everly Brothers. Fortunately the duo would be signed to Cadence Records later in the year. Their first single with Cadence, "Bye Bye Love", proved to be a smash hit. It went to no. 2 on the Billboard singles chart, no. 2 on the Canadian singles chart, and no. 2 on the UK singles chart.

"Bye Bye Love" was the beginning of a successful career for The Everly Brothers that lasted into the Sixties. The two would also prove very influential. Their particular blend of close harmony would prove a huge influence on British bands such as The Beatles, who combined the Everlys' close harmony with the style of Buddy Holly and the pure electric guitar sound of Chuck Berry. Of course, the sound created by The Beatles and such British bands as The Who and The Kinks would evolve into the rock music subgenre known as power pop.

This is not one of the songs they recorded on that historic day in 1955, but it is quite possibly their biggest hit. "All I Have to Do is Dream" went to no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the Canadian and British charts. Indeed, it was the only single that ever topped all of Billboard's charts at the same time (it happened on June 2 1958).  It was certified Gold in the United States.