Saturday, August 5, 2017

The Man in Grey (1943)

 (This post is part of the "British Invaders Blogathon" hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

In Hollywood it was often the case that major studios became identified with a particular genre of film. To this day Universal is known for their horror movies of the Thirties and Forties. Warner Bros. is still known for the gangster films they made in the Thirties. MGM remains remembered for their many musicals. The same holds true for the various British studios. Ealing Studios made a variety of films, but are best known for their comedies. Hammer Films remains firmly identified with the horror genre. In the case of Gainsborough Pictures, the studio remains best known for their melodramas made in the mid to late Forties.

Gainsborough Pictures was founded in 1924. In the Twenties and Thirties they released a wide variety of films, including movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock (including The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, Sabotage, and The Lady Vanishes) and Carol Reed (including Bank Holiday, Climbing High, and A Girl Must Live). It was in 1943 that a film would be released that would set the course of the studio for a few years. Quite simply, The Man in Grey (1943) was the first Gainsborough melodrama.

The Man in Grey was based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Lady Eleanor Smith. The Man in Grey proved to be a best seller not only in the United Kingdom, but in the United States and elsewhere as well. Given the success of the novel, it perhaps came as no surprise when Gainsborough Pictures elected to make a motion picture adaptation. The script was written by Margaret Kennedy (perhaps best known for her novel The Constant Nymph), Doreen Montgomery (who would later be pivotal in the development of the character of Cathy Gale on the classic TV show The Avengers), and  Leslie Arliss (an experienced screenwriter for whom The Man in Grey would mark his directorial debut--he would go onto direct The Wicked Lady).

Like the novel The Man in Grey was set in the Regency Period. It centred on the relationship between two women:  sweet aristocrat Clarissa Richmond (played by Phyllis Calvert) and the jaded, impoverished Hester Shaw (played by Margaret Lockwood). Clarissa eventually marries the cold hearted Lord Rohan (played by James Mason), who would come to play a significant role in Hesther's life as well. Into this mix eventually enters Rokeby (played by Stewart Granger), a young man with his own rather interesting past.

At the time that The Man in Grey was made, Margaret Lockwood was already a major British star, having appeared in such films as Bank Holiday (1938), The Lady Vanishes (1938), The Stars Look Down (1940), and Night Train to Munich (1940). It should then come as no surprise that when Gainsborough's head of production, Maurice Ostrer, gave Miss Lockwood the script he expected her to read for the part of Clarissa, who appears more in the film than any other character. Despite this, Margaret Lockwood found herself more interested in the part of "bad girl" Hester Shaw. Maurice Ostrer consented and Miss Lockwood was cast in the role of Hester. While she would receive top billing, Margaret Lockwood would then have less screen time in The Man in Grey than Phyllis Calvert (who was cast as Clarissa). 

In the role of Lord Rohan, James Mason was cast. James Mason and Margaret Lockwood had already worked together on the film Alibi (1942). The role of Rokeby, essentially the second male lead in the film, would not be cast until the day before shooting was to start. The role went to Stewart Granger, a young actor for whom it would be his first major role. The search for someone to play Rokeby caused production on The Man in Grey to fall behind schedule by several weeks. This was complicated by the fact that Phyllis Calvert was pregnant with her first child at the time. Director Leslie Arliss was then forced to shoot The Man in Grey faster than he might have otherwise. 

The Man in Grey was released on August 23 1943. It did not receive a particularly warm reception from critics on either side of the Pond. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times referred to it as"...a stiff, ostentatious costume-picture—mechanical, tedious and dull." Fortunately for Gainsborough Pictures, audiences in Britain apparently disagreed with the critics, as they flocked to The Man in Grey in droves. It was ultimately the seventh most successful film in the United Kingdom for 1943.  It was also very popular in Australia, where it was the tenth highest grossing film of 1943.

Americans watching The Man in Grey today might be shocked by some of the film's content. After all, it not only contains instances of adultery, but also some language that would be considered objectionable even by today's standards. The British Board of Film Censors passed The Man in Grey with no cuts, but gave it an "A" certificate, meaning that children could only see the film if they were accompanied by an adult. In the more conservative United States The Man in Grey faced much more opposition from the the Production Code Administration (PCA). The PCA demanded that the N-word be cut, as well as the word "slut". They also demanded that the lines "Never know until you try," "A reputation that would not do discredit to a woman of the streets," and "..may have as many lovers as she likes" be cut. Eventually the PCA would relent on two of the lines in the film, but insisted that the N-word and the word "slut" would absolutely have to be cut as they were on the PCA's list of forbidden words. Ultimately, The Man in Grey was cut to 93 minutes for release in the United States and distributed by Universal. Given its subject matter, it might come as a surprise that the National Legion of Decency only gave it a "B" rating, meaning it was "morally objectionable in part". They would not be so lenient with some of Gainsborough's other melodramas. 

Because of its success The Man in Grey would have a lasting impact on British film. It certainly had an impact on its stars. Margaret Lockwood was already a major star when she appeared in The Man in Grey, but the film marked the beginning of the peak of her career as a box office star. It also marked a change in the sort of roles she played.  While Miss Lockwood had played villainous characters before (The Stars Look Down being an example), it was with The Man in Grey that she began playing them with some regularity. At the time The Man in Grey was released, James Mason was not nearly as big a star as Margaret Lockwood. That having been said, he had already played the lead in many movies (a good number of them quota quickies). The Man in Grey would make James Mason one of the top stars of the day. As to Phyllis Calvert and Stewart Granger, the two of them had appeared primarily in bit parts prior to The Man in Grey. With its success they became major stars nearly overnight.

While The Man in Grey would have an impact on its stars, it would also have an impact on Gainsborough Pictures. The success of The Man in Grey led Gainsborough to produce more melodramas, many of which were costume dramas like The Man in Grey. These melodramas would prove exceedingly popular at the British box office, often outgrossing films produced in Hollywood. In fact, one of them--The Wicked Lady--remains one of the most profitable films in Britain to this day. In the end, Gainsborough Pictures would become identified with melodramas in the same way that Ealing Studios became identified with comedies and Hammer Films would become identified with horror.

Seen today it is perhaps easy to understand the success of The Man in Grey. While Leslie Arliss's direction is adequate at best, the film has an impressive cast, with both Margaret Lockwood and Stewart Granger giving particularly impressive performances. It also benefited from a fine script, with clearly delineated characters and several great lines. Arthur Crabtree's cinematography and Elizabeth Haffenden's costumes give The Man in Grey a lush look that makes the film appear more expensive to make than it actually was. Seen today it is easy to understand why wartime audiences flocked to see the film when it was first released. It is also easy to understand why it would lead Gainsborough Picturs to make yet more melodramas.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon

The Fourth Annual British Invaders Blogathon has arrived! For those who did not see the initial announcement regarding the blogathon, the British Invaders Blogathon is meant to celebrate the best in British classic films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (August 4 2017) to Sunday (August 6 2017).

I am glad to say we have a wide range of posts lined up that span the history of British film from the Thirties to the Eighties. For those participating in the blogathon, simply let me know in a comment here, a message on Twitter, or an email and I will add it to the list. And please remember to link to this page using one of the images from the introductory post! I want to thank everyone who is participating!

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the posts:

Movie Movie Blog Blog: "The Beatles in Let It Be (1970)--And in the end..."

The Stop Button: "Kes (1969, Ken Loach)"

Cinema Essentials: "The Liquidator (1965)"

Cinema Essentials: "Early Hitchcock Classic: The 39 Steps (1935)

Cinema Scribblings: "A Day in the Lives: Billy Liar (1963)"

Crítica Retrô: "Papai é do Contra / Hobson's Choice (1954)"

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: "The British Invaders Blogathon: The Dr. (not Doctor) Who Films"  

Caftan Woman: "Innocent Sinners (1958)"

 The Midnite Drive-In: "Hammer Films Does Noir"

The Filmatelist: "Swinging Flix from '66"  

Realweegiemidget Reviews Films TV Books and More: "An American Werewolf in London (1981)" 

A Shroud of Thoughts: "The Man in Grey (1943)"

Mooon in Gemini: A Touch of Class (1973)  

A Viewer's Guide to Classic Films: "The Captive HeartEmotional Rescue"

The Wonderful World of Cinema: "A British Chorus Line: A Girl Must Live (1939)" 

Wide Screen World: "Jolly Good Fun: England's 'Carry On' Films"

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Late Great Robert Hardy

Robert Hardy, who played Siegfried Farnon on the highly popular TV show All Creatures Great and Small and appeared in numerous shows and films, died today at the age of 91.

Robert Hardy was born on October 29 1925 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. His father was the headmaster at Cheltenham College. He attended Rugby School and Magdalen College at the University of Oxford. Among his tutors when he was at the University of Oxford were legendary authors C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Following the war he began his acting career. He made his television debut in 1951 in an episode of Michèle and René. He played the title role in a BBC mini-series production of David Copperfield and played Henry, Prince of Wales in the series An Age of Kings. He guest starred on the TV shows The Adventures of Sir Lancelot, The Buccaneers, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Studio One, Buckskin, and General Electric Theatre. He appeared in a television production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. His film debut was in 1958 in Torpedo Run. After World War II he frequently appeared in Shakespearean roles on stage. In 1959 he played opposite Lord Laurence Olivier in Coriolanus at Stratford-upon-Avon and later in Henry V.

In the Sixties he starred in the television series The Dark Island, The Spread of the Eagle, Daniel Deroda, Manhunt, and Mogul. He guest starred on such shows as Somerset Maugham Hour, The Baron, ITV Playhouse, The Saint, The Wednesday Play, Strange Report, The Doctors, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in the films The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), How I Won the War (1967), and Berserk (1967).

It was in 1978 that Robert Hardy was cast in the role of cantankerous veterinarian Siegfried Farnon on All Creatures Great and Small. The show ran for three series. It would be revived in 1988 and ran for another four series, with Mr. Hardy once more in the role Siegfried. In the Seventies he also played Robert Dudley (Earl of Leicester) in the mini-series Elizabeth R. He guest starred on such shows as Thirty-Minute Theatre; ITV Saturday Night Theatre; Love Story; Hallmark Hall of Fame; Edward the King; Upstairs, Downstairs; Raffles; Buck Rogers in the 25th Century; and Mrs. Columbo. He appeared in such films as Young Winston (1972), Demons of the Mind (1972), Dark Places (1973), Psychomania (1973), Le silencieux (1973), Gawain and the Green Knight (1973), and Yellow Dog (1973).

In the Eighties Mr. Hardy once more played Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small. He starred as Winston Churchill in Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years and played him again in the mini-series War and Remembrance. He also appeared in the mini-series The Cleopatras, The Far Pavilions, and Jenny's War. He starred on the show Hot Metal. Robert Hardy guest starred on such shows as Shades of Darkness and Bulman, He appeared in the films The Shooting Party (1985) and Paris by Night (1988).

In the Nineties he continued to appear as Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small. He starred on the show Look at the State We're In!. He appeared in the mini-series Middlemarch, Gulliver's Travels, and The 10th Kingdom. He guest starred on the shows The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, Bramwell, and Midsomer Murders. He appeared in the films Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994), A Feast at Midnight (1994), Sense and Sensibility (1995), Mrs Dalloway (1997), The Tichborne Claimant (1998), and An Ideal Husband (1999).

In the Naughts Robert Hardy appeared in the films The Gathering (2002), Thunderpants (2002), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Making Waves (2004), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005), Lassie (2005), Goodbye Mr Snuggles (2006), Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Framed (2008), and Old Harry (2009). He guest starred on the shows Foyle's War, Spooks, Agatha Christie's Marple, and Inspector Lewis. He appeared in the mini-series Shackleton and Little Dorrit.

In the Teens Mr. Hardy appeared in the TV movie Churchill: 100 Days That Saved Britain (2015), once more playing Winston Churchill, and in the movie Joseph's Reel (2015).

Robert Hardy was a remarkable actor with a good deal of versatility. Indeed, the two roles for which he was best known were entirely different. The irascible, eccentric Siegfried on All Creatures Great and Small was a far cry from Winston Churchill. What is more, Mr. Hardy played yet other characters that were very different from both Siegfried and Churchill. Cornelius Fudge in the "Harry Potter" movies was more Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill. In "The Desperate Diplomat", an episode of The Saint, he played an outright villain--Walter Faber, who is holding a diplomat's daughter hostage. He played a number of historical figures besides Winston Churchill, including King Henry V, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Prince Albert, and King Richard the Lionhearted. Robert Hardy was an immensely talented actor who play a wide array of roles and play all of them well.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Sam Shepard R.I.P.

Playwright, screenwriter, and actor Sam Shepard died on July 27  2017 at the age of 73. The cause was complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sam Shepard was born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on November 5 1943 in Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He grew up on the family avocado farm near Duarte, California. As a young man he worked a variety of jobs, including work as a stablehand, an orange picker, and a sheep shearer. He briefly studied agriculture at  Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, California, but dropped in 1962 to move to New York City.  There he became involved in Off-Broadway theatre.

It was not long before Mr. Shepard began writing plays. His first was Cowboys in 1964. During the Sixties he wrote several more plays, including Chicago (1965), La Turista (1967), The Unseen Hand (1969), and The Holy Ghostly (1969), among others. The Seventies would see Sam Shepard come into his own as a playwright. He wrote and performed Cowboy Mouth (1971) with Patti Smith. His 1978 play Curse of the Starving Class would later be adapted as the 1994 film of the same name. His 1979 play Buried Child  won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His 1980 play True West was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama In the Seventies he also wrote such plays as The Tooth of the Crime (1972), Action (1975), Angel City (1976), and Suicide in B Flat (1976), among others.

The Eighties saw Mr. Shepard's 1983 play Fool for Love be a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. His 1985 play A Lie of the Mind won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best Play, and the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Play. In the Nineties Mr. Shepard wrote the plays States of Shock (1991),  Simpatico (1993), :Eyes for Consuela (1998), and The Late Henry Moss (2000). In 1996 he revised his play The Tooth of the Crime as Tooth of Crime: Second Dance. From the Naughts into the Teens he wrote the plays The God of Hell (2004), Kicking a Dead Horse (2007), Agnes of the Moon (2009), Heatless (2012), and A Particle of Dread (Oedipus Variations) (2014).

Sam Shepard was also a screenwriter. His first writing credit was on Me and My Brother (1969). It was followed by Zabriskie Point (1970). Over the years he wrote screenplays for such films as Renaldo and Clara (1978), Savage/Love (1981), Paris, Texas (1984), Fool for Love (1985--based on his play of the same name), Far North (1988), Silent Tongue (1993), and Don't Come Knocking (2005).

In addition to his careers as a playwright and screenwriter, Mr. Shepard also had a very successful acting career. According to IMDB, his film debut was in the rather obscure film Brand X in 1970. In the late Seventies he appeared in the films Renaldo and Clara (1978), Days of Heaven (1978), and Resurrection (1980).  In the Eighties he played Chuck Yeager in the movie The Right Stuff (1983), for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. He also appeared in the films Raggedy Man (1981), Frances (1982), Country (1984), Fool for Love (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Baby Boom (1987), Steel Magnolias (1989), and Bright Angel (1990).

In the Nineties Sam Shepard appeared in the films Homo Faber (1991), Defenceless (1991), Thunderheart (1992), The Pelican Brief (1993), Safe Passage (1994), The Only Thrill (1997), Curtain Call (1998), Snow Falling on Cedars (1999), Hamlet (2000), and All the Pretty Horses (2000). He also appeared on television. He appeared in the TV movies The Good Old Boys (1995), Purgatory (1999), and Dash and Lilly (1999). He appeared in the mini-series Streets of Laredo and in the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation Lily Dale.

In the Naughts Sam Shepard appeared in such films as Swordfish (2001), Black Hawk Down (2001), Blind Horizon (2003), The Notebook (2004), Walker Payne (2006), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), The Accidental Husband (2008), Brothers (2009), and Fair Game (2010).  In the Teens Mr. Shepard had roles in the TV shows Klondike and Bloodline. He appeared in such films as Blackthorn (2011), Savannah (2013), August: Osage County (2013), Ithaca (2015), and Midnight Special (2016). His last appearance was in Never Here, set to be released later this year.

Arguably, Sam Shepard was one of the greatest playwrights of the late 20th Century. His plays were simultaneously a deconstruction of the mythology of the Old West and a tribute to it. Mr. Shepard's West was one where there was no such thing as certainty and family relations could be complicated at best. His characters were three-dimensional while at the same time drawing upon archetypes common to American Western iconography. Of course, he was also a great screenwriter and his films had a lot in common with his plays.

While he was a great playwright and screenwriter, I rather suspect Sam Shepard is most familiar to audiences for his acting career. And he was a great actor. He was well suited to playing legendary, American icons, and he played several of them throughout his career, including Chuck Yeager, Wild Bill Hickcock, Dashiell Hammett, and Frank James. Sam Shepard was very versatile, and played a number of different sorts of characters in his career. He played farmer and devoted husband Pea Eye Parker in the mini-series Streets of Laredo. In Baby Boom he was the love interest, veterinarian Dr. Jeff Cooper. In Steel Magnolias he was the work-shy Spud Jones. He played a wide variety of characters throughout his career, and played all of them well. In the end Mr. Shepard was one of those rare multi-talents: a great playwright, a great screenwriter, and a great actor.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Jeanne Moreau Passes On

Legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau died today at the age of 89.

Jeanne Moreau was born on January 23 1928 in Paris, France. Her father was the owner of a hotel and restaurant in Paris. Her mother was a dancer who had performed at the Folies Bergère. She decided to become an actress when as a teenager she saw her first play, Antigone. She studied acting at the Conservatoire National d’Art Dramatique. Miss Moreau became a member of the Comédie-Française when she was 20, making her the youngest ever full member of the theatre. She made her debut as a professional actress in  Ivan Turgenev's A Month in the Country. She made her film debut in Dernier amour in 1949. She also appeared in the films Meurtres (1950) and Pigalle-Saint-Germain-des-Prés (1950). She joined the Théâtre National Populaire.

In the Fifties she appeared in such films as L'homme de ma vie (1952), Julietta (1953), Touchez pas au grisbi (1954), Secrets d'alcôve (1954), Queen Margot (1954), Les hommes en blanc (1955), Le salaire du péché (1956), Les louves (1957), and Trois jours à vivre (1957). It would be the late Fifties that would see Jeanne Moreau's career take off. In 1958 she starred in Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows in English). The same year she appeared in Mr. Malle's Les amants (The Lovers in English). Towards the end of the decade Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Les liaisons dangereuses (1959), Le dialogue des Carmélites (1960), and Moderato cantabile (1960). She had a cameo in François Truffaut's Les quatre cents coups (1959--known in English as The 400 Blows).

The Sixties would see Jeanne Moreau appear in what might be her most famous role, that of Catherine in Jules et Jim (1962). She also appeared in such notable films as La Notte (1961), Le procès (1962--in English The Trial), Eva (1962), Le journal d'une femme de chambre (1964--in English Diary of a Chambermaid), The Train (1964), Chimes at Midnight (1965), Viva Maria! (1965), Le plus vieux métier du monde (1967--English title The Oldest Profession), La mariée était en noir (1968--English title The Bride Wore Black), The Deep (1970). and Monte Walsh (1970).

In the Seventies Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Chère Louise (1972), Nathalie Granger (1972), Les Valseuses (1974), Joanna Francesa (1975), Hu-Man (1975), Mr. Klein (1976), The Last Tycoon (1976),  and Chansons souvenirs (1980). She also appeared on television, in the teleplay La chevauchée sur le lac de Constance (1974) and an episode of the TV show Arena.

In the Eighties she appeared in the films Plein sud (1981), Your Ticket Is No Longer Valid (1981), Mille milliards de dollars (1982), Querelle (1982), La Truite (The Trout) (1982), Le paltoquet (1986), Le miraculé (1987), Jour après jour (1989), and Nikita (1990). She appeared in the TV show Shades of Darkness and the mini-series Le tiroir secret.

In the Nineties she appeared in the films La vieille qui marchait dans la mer (1991--in English The Old Lady Who Walked in the Sea), Bis ans Ende der Welt (1991), Map of the Human Heart (1992),  L'absence (1992), Al di là delle nuvole (1995), I Love You, I Love You Not (1996), Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998), and Il manoscritto del principe (2000). She appeared in the TV films Catherine the Great (1996) and Balzac (1999), as well as the mini-series Les Misérables.

In the Naughts Miss Moreau appeared in such films as Cet amour-là (2001), Les parents terribles (2003), Autogram (2005), Le temps qui reste (2005), Go West (2005), Roméo et Juliette (2006), Disengagement (2007), Plus Tard (2008), and Visage (2009). She appeared on television in the mini-series Les rois maudits, TV movie La contessa di Castiglione (2006), and an episode of Collection Fred Vargas.

In the Teens Jeanne Moreau starred in the TV series Le tourbillon de Jeanne. She appeared in the films Une Estonienne à Paris (2012) and Gebo et l'ombre (2012). Her last appearance on screen was in Le talent de mes amis in 2015.

Jeanne Moreau also had a very successful career on stage. In 1954 she appeared in a production of Jean Cocteau's La Machine Infernale. In the Seventies she appeared in such plays as La chevauchée sur le lac de Constance and Lulu. In 1988 she won the Molière award for her performance in Le Récit de la Servante Zerline. In the Sixties she released several record albums.

Jeanne Moreau directed films as well as starred in them. She directed the drama Lumiere (1976), the drama L'adolescente (1979), and the documentary Lillian Gish (1983).

Perhaps no other actress is as identified with the French New Wave as Jeanne Moreau was. This should not be surprising, as she appeared in some of the best known films to emerge from the movement, including Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, Les amants, and Jules et Jim. If she was very much in demand by the directors of the French New Wave, it was perhaps because of her extraordinary talent. Miss Moreau was less of a movie star than she was a character actress. Quite simply, she could play any role given to her and she could play it well. She was the mercurial Catherine in Jules et Jim. She was the bored housewife in Les amants. In The Bride Wore Black she was the vengeful bride of the title. Miss Moreau could play nearly anything, from the manipulative chambermaid in Le journal d'une femme de chambre to a grandmother in her final film, Le talent de mes amis. It is little wonder that her career spanned  70 years. Jeanne Moreau was truly one of the great actress of European cinema.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

British Invaders Blogathon Reminder

This is just a reminder that the British Invaders Blogathon will take place this coming weekend, August 4, 5, and 6. If you want to take part there is still time! Visit the original post here.