Saturday, October 27, 2012

I Want to Live (5 stars)

It was March 9, 1953 that the brutal, cold-blooded killing of Mabel Monahan took place in Burbank, California.  A 64-year old widow, Mrs. Monahan was bludgeoned and strangled, then left in the hallway of her house, her body to be discovered by her gardener two days later.  The three people arrested and convicted of the murder were executed in California’s gas chamber a little more than two years later (June 3, 1955), and a story based on the life of the female member of that trio was brought to life not long afterwards (1958) in the film I Want to Live. (Of course, “Hollywood license” was taken, resulting in several situations being fictionalized and/or depicted in a way which was not how they actually happened.)

Directed by Robert Wise, and starring my #2 gal, Susan Hayward, in an Academy Award-winning performance, I Want to Live is a gritty, hard-hitting “discussion piece” kind of movie.  The film, which will more than likely leave you questioning Mrs. Graham’s guilt, was based on the newspaper articles of Pulitzer Prize-winning San Francisco Examiner reporter, Edward S. Montgomery, and the letters of Barbara Graham.

Good-time party girl, Barbara Ward (Susan Hayward), is living a fast and loose lifestyle when she is arrested on prostitution charges.  Now with a criminal record, Barbara gets in further trouble with the law when, despite knowing perjury is a felony, she agrees to provide a phony alibi for two men who want to beat a rap.  Convicted of perjury charges, Barbara serves a year’s time and is then put on probation for five years.  During her probation period, she marries a man named Henry Graham then gives birth to a little boy.  Henry Graham is a drug addict who cannot hold a job, which results in Barbara passing bad checks and, ultimately, breaking her parole.

Though married, Barbara keeps company with two men who are suspected of the recent murder of a Burbank widow; a sting operation is put into action, and the men and Barbara are arrested.  Completely hostile to authorities, Barbara refuses to confess or to cooperate with prosecutors, and when she is questioned by the press, her belligerent attitude begins the initial action of trying her in the court of public opinion.  With the headline “Bloody Babs, the Tiger Woman,” reporter Ed Montgomery writes that Barbara is “young, attractive, belligerent, immoral, and guilty as hell.” 

As the case goes to trial, Barbara is fingered by the others as the one who did the killing.  Though she claims she is innocent and that she wasn’t anywhere near Mabel Monahan’s home that evening, Barbara has no alibi, and in an effort to concoct one, she lies that she had been with a man at a hotel.  As it turns out, though, the man who offers to be her phony alibi is an undercover police officer intent on getting a confession from her.  When he threatens to walk out on her unless she admits to having been with the other men, she agrees that she was, and that confession is brought forward as evidence against her.  Even though Barbara claims that her “confession” was a lie due to fear of her alibi falling through, having done time for perjury in the past, she is, more than ever, thought to be a compulsive liar and, without question, guilty of the crime for which she is standing trial.

All three suspects are convicted and sentenced to death in the gas chamber at San Quentin.  Barbara moves to Death Row, and as the film plays out, Ed Montgomery begins to believe that she is innocent.  Feeling that the press created the climate which condemned her, he seeks to change the climate.  With hopes to have a lie detector test administered, a psychologist is called in, but it is all to no avail.  Barbara’s appeal is denied…execution is inevitable...the gas chamber is prepared.  In the end, the question remains…is Barbara Graham a murderer?  Yes, she is hard, belligerent, immoral, and unlikeable…but is she a murderer?  This film’s view is that she is not.

In all, I Want to Live received 6 Academy Award nominations, taking home the win in the Lead Actress category.  Without question, Miss Hayward deserved the Academy Award she won for her work in this film, for she played the hardened Mrs. Graham to absolute perfection.  Truly, there are not enough adjectives to describe the performance she gave . . . she was brilliant . . . awesome . . . sensational . . . terrific . . . completely stellar.  While I think Miss Hayward was an amazing actress who gave many superb performances, I believe I Want to Live is definitely her finest hour.  Adding to the fantastic acting in this film is the incredible score.  It is perfect and totally adds to the realism.  The death row and gas chamber scenes are powerful and haunting, especially as Barbara mentally prepares herself for the walk to her execution, only to receive a last-minute stay by the governor.  Those torturous moments are brought vividly to life by Miss Hayward.

For those who like meaty, hard-hitting, gritty dramas with completely magnificent acting, I Want to Live is an absolute must-see.  No matter whether you are a proponent of the death penalty or an opponent, or whether you believe Barbara Graham was, in fact, guilty, or whether you think she was wrongly convicted, you absolutely will not be disappointed with the caliber of this film.  It is truly outstanding!  I don't believe the film is out on DVD; however, it is available in its entirety on YouTube (in parts), so you could catch it there.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Happy Birthday, Montgomery Clift!!

Happy 92nd birthday to one of my dearly loved all-time favorite actors...the incredibly talented, positively beautiful Montgomery Clift.  (October 17, 1920 - July 23, 1966)

Back in March, I took part in a blogging event which paid homage to stars who left us too soon (before the age of 50), and Mr. Clift was the star I chose to honor.  It is my most-read blog post and the one of which I am the most proud.  I feel that if Monty was able to read that post, he would feel honored and loved.  I am not going to restate here all that I wrote on that post, but I'd love to have you read my from-the-heart tribute.  (HERE)

Mr. Clift has the honor of having 2 of his films and one of his film characters on my #1 lists.  First, as recently disclosed, A Place in the Sun is my all-time favorite movie.  I truly believe that film to be Monty's finest a career which offered many finest hours.

Also, I Confess happens to be my all-time favorite Alfred Hitchcock film; plus, Clift's character in I Confess---Father Michael Logan---is right up there with Will Kane (High Noon) and Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird) as my favorite film character.

Sadly, Mr. Clift's tragic life ended much too soon, and his film career is only 17 films.  I have seen 14 of them, and while I definitely hope to catch the other 3, there is a bittersweetness to doing so.  Yes, I will have watched the entire filmography of this extremely talented and very beloved actor, but once I've seen those 3, I'm done.  There will never be another Monty Clift film to discover, and that is a very sad thought indeed.

So, here's to you, Mr. Montgomery Clift, on your 92nd birthday.  You were a completely fantastic actor who always gave a brilliant performance.  I completely adore you and will always count you among my beloveds and all-time favorite actors.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Another Great Upcoming Event

I just heard about another upcoming event that I wish I was able to attend.  As with the Broadway production of The Heiress, I don't live close to where this event is taking place, nor do I have the money to make a trip there.  If I did, I would definitely be attending this screening.

Sunday, October, 28th, at Los Angeles's Downtown Independent Theatre there will be a screening of classic and contemporary "Desert Noir 3-D" films...those films being Inferno 3-D ( 2nd favorite Robert Ryan film) and Dark Country 3-D (2009).  The event is sponsored by the LA 3-D Club.  On hand to introduce the films will be the "Czar of Noir," Eddie Muller, founder of the Film Noir Foundation, and Thomas Jane, director and star of Dark Country 3-D.

For more information, visit the LA 3-D Club's website (HERE).

For my review of the film Inferno, go HERE.

I hope some of y'all get a chance to attend this event.  If you do, please be sure to tell me about it, especially how wonderful it was to see the fabulous Mr. Ryan "up close and personal."  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Man Deserves Recognition

As regular blog readers already know, John Garfield is one of my absolute favorite actors and, also, one of my beloveds.  I adore this man and think he was a completely sensational actor.  Sadly, because he was targeted by the HUAC and because he refused to name names in the hearings, he was blacklisted in Hollywood, and, thus, he never received the kind of recognition he so richly deserves.

A fellow Garfield appreciator is on a quest to change that.  She has begun a petition campaign, aimed at Warner Home Video, to convince them to release a boxed set of Garfield films.  Although I've mentioned that petition here before, I wanted to do so again.  With Mr. Garfield's 100th birthday only a few months away, now is the perfect time for Warners to release a set of his films.

The goal of the petition is 2,500 signatures; currently, there are just over 400, so there is still a long way to go.  Please be a part of making John Garfield a more recognizable star, by popping over to the petition site (HERE) and adding your name to the petition.

Oh, by the way, Lori, who created the petition drive, has also created an incredibly beautiful video tribute to Mr. Garfield.  It features dozens of photographs of the handsome Mr. Garfield set to a lovely instrumental version of the songs "I'll Be Seeing You" and "Smile,"...the latter of which seems completely appropriate for such a tribute, given the tragic circumstances of the actor's final years, when his heart truly was breaking.

Thanks for joining us in making a boxed set of Garfield films a reality.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Heiress on Broadway

The Heiress---that wonderful 1949 Olivia deHavilland/Montgomery Clift period drama which I just reviewed HERE last week and which began its life on the stage---has been resurrected on Broadway once more.  Starring Jessica Chastain (The Help) and Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey), both in their Broadway debut, and also starring David Strathairn and Judith Ivey, The Heiress began its 18-week run last evening, October 6th.

If I lived anywhere near New York---or if a trip to New York was in my budget---I would, without question, be attending this event.  I think it is a fascinating story, and I would thoroughly enjoy seeing it played out on the stage.  And since I'm a huge fan of Downton Abbey---and Matthew Crawley---having Dan Stevens in the role I associate with Montgomery Clift is something I would very much like to see.

So, my friends, if you happen to live near enough to New York to make a viewing of this play a possibility, you might want to put it on your calendar.  For more information, visit the play's website (HERE).

As for me?  Well, I am playing the lottery a bit, with the hopes of winning the money to make this longed-for trip a reality.  Wish me luck!!

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Heiress (4 stars)

The Heiress, from 1949, is a William Wyler period drama starring Olivia deHavilland, Montgomery Clift, and Ralph Richardson, with Miriam Hopkins taking on a supporting role.  Based on the Henry James novel Washington Square, The Heiress was first brought to life on the stage in 1947.  It is about to begin a new Broadway run...something I will tell you about tomorrow.

In 1840's New York, Catherine Sloper (deHavilland) is the shy, awkward daughter of socially-prominent physician, Austin Sloper.  A widower who has totally pedestalized his late wife, Dr. Sloper can barely stand the sight of his daughter and is ashamed by her gauche behavior. Although she is of marriageable age, he cannot imagine anyone being interested in her---she is not clever, pretty, conversational, or anything else which would draw a suitor to her. The only thing she has is a sum of money left to her by her mother and, upon her father's death, an even larger sum. In short, the fact that she is an heiress is the only reason any man would be interested in her.

One evening, Catherine and her father, along with one of her father's widowed sisters, attend the engagement party of another sister's daughter. At that party, Catherine's awkward ways become apparent to all, and she is even abandoned by a young man who had been requested to dance with her. Alas, though, while she is sitting alone, she is approached by the gallant and handsome Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift), who has just returned to New York after a time abroad. He is most interested in getting to know her and soon comes calling at the Sloper home.

Dr. Sloper is absolutely convinced that Mr. Townsend can be after only one thing...his daughter's fortune. Though Morris tells the doctor he finds Catherine beautiful and charming, since he knows those words do not describe his daughter, Dr. Sloper refuses to support their courtship; he even digs into Morris's background a bit and discovers that Morris has no job nor any prospects for one and that he wasted away a small inheritance by galivanting about Europe. Convinced that Morris Townsend is nothing but a fortune hunter, the doctor forbids Catherine to see him.

Catherine, however, in love with Morris and believing he loves her as well, is willing to defy her father and risk being disowned by him in order to marry Morris.  Thus, the two make plans to elope.

Does Morris really love Catherine? Does he really find her charming?  Or is he just after her money?  Will they follow through on their plans to elope?  What will Catherine's father do when he discovers the marriage?  The answers to these questions will play out in the balance of the film.  I will say that I found the final scene of the film to be one of the most memorable ending scenes in film history.

Receiving a total of eight Academy Award nominations and coming away with a win in four categories, The Heiress is an interesting, exciting, well-acted film. Olivia deHavilland, who garnered her second Best Actress statue for her portrayal of Catherine, is simply fabulous in this role. (It's my favorite of her performances.) Her portrayal of the awkward daughter trying to converse in society pained me right along with her, and when she realized the true extent of her father's feelings for her, again, I grieved along with her.  I completely and totally felt her pain, and yet as Catherine evolved, and the icy hardness of her character was revealed, Miss deHavilland was perfect there as well.  Truly, this role afforded Olivia an opportunity to display the broad range of her talents.

Ralph Richardson, who reprised the role he played on the London stage, received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work in The Heiress.  His portrayal of Dr. Sloper was terrific. Montgomery Clift was fantastic in his role as well...his character really kept you guessing.  Did he truly love Catherine?  Or was he just after her money?  As always, Monty is gorgeous to look at, though I must admit, I hated the silly little mustache he sported for a time.  I prefer his beautiful face clean-shaven.

While I'm calling The Heiress a 4-star film, it's more like 4.5, and very close to 5---a definite must see!  Out on DVD, it should be fairly easy to track down.  Additionally, the film is available in its entirety on YouTube (in parts.)  I do hope you get a chance to see it.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Revealing My All-Time Favorite Movie

After revealing my favorite ten films for each decade of the classic film era (30's through 60's), it is now time to unveil which of those films receives the coveted status of "favorite film of all-time."  Of course, you know it has to be one of the #1 films from one of those decades, right?  So, that would be...

Gone with the Wind

Now, Voyager

A Place in the Sun

or Madame X

For the past couple of years, my #1 film has been Now, Voyager, with the 1940's #2 film, Casablanca, being my second favorite movie of all-time.  Well, dear blog readers, this year has found those two films toppling a bit and my former #3 movie moving in to take over the position of all-time favorite film.  That 1950's A Place in the Sun.

While the nature of favorites lists makes them always subject to change, at the present time, this fabulous romantic drama starring my beloved Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters, is my favorite movie ever.  It's one of those films I never tire of is also one of those films which I always wish had a different ending than the one it has.  Read my review of this sensational film HERE.

Now, Voyager and Casablanca are still incredibly beloved movies to me, and who knows what next year will bring.  One of them may move ahead of A Place in the Sun once more, but for now, the 1950's winner takes first place.  I'd love to hear y'all's thoughts about this most fantastic film.