When a signature means you’re a dead pigeon and murder smells of honeysuckle you know you’re watching classic film noir!
Released in 1944, Double Indemnity is based on the book of the same name by James M Cain, it’s directed by Billy Wilder and the screenplay is by Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder.
Set in 1938, the story is told in a series of flashbacks by Walter Neff, (Fred MacMurray)as he speaks into a dictaphone. An insurance salesman, Neff pays a routine call on Mr. Dietrichson to let him know his policy is due for renewal. But instead of meeting Mr. Dietrichson he meets his wife Phyllis. Barbara Stanwyck plays the quintessential femme fatale, desirable but dangerous she uses her feminine wiles to manipulate everybody, but mostly Walter Neff. Continue reading “Double Indemnity”
“I heard a voice through a great cloud of agony and sickness” so begins this unputdownable memoir of Denton Welch. Born in 1915, he’s at art school in London when in 1935 he decides to cycle to his uncle’s vicarage in Surrey. On the way he is hit by a car severely damaging his spine and kidneys. Written in 1948 this memoir recalls the accident and his convalescence.
When his world is reduced to his bed, visiting hours and hospital staff his observations of the daily routine are funny, tragic and acutely observed. The brusque and efficient nurses are always ready with a “don’t be silly now” or “we don’t want to make a fuss” comment. His bitterness towards them is told with searing honesty: “I longed to be able to get up, hit Scott, smash the chair to pieces and walk out forever; but I was helpless and in his hands – he could play with me as he liked. The thought was so bitter that it seemed to degrade me in my own eyes. My face stiffened into a dead mask.” Continue reading “A Voice Through A Cloud”
Marie Melmotte wants to marry the beautiful Sir Felix Carbury but Mr. Melmotte wants his daughter to marry Lord Nidderdale. Ruby Ruggles wants to marry Sir Felix Carbury too but she is betrothed to John Crumb. Roger Carbury wants to marry his cousin Hetta but she wants to marry his friend Paul Montague but Paul Montague is already engaged to Mrs Winifred Hurtle. But where is Mr. Hurtle? Is he dead or is he alive and living in San Francisco?
But amongst all the romantic shenanigans, this big, fun satirical novel has a dark heart. Written in 1873, Anthony Trollope had arrived back in London after 18 months in Australia and was appalled at the greed and dishonesty that financial scandals had exposed. He says in his autobiography:
“If dishonesty can live in gorgeous palaces with pictures on all its walls. and gems all in its cupboards, with marble and ivory in all its corners, and can give Apician dinners, and get into parliament, and deal in millions, then dishonesty is not disgraceful, and the man dishonest after such a fashion is not a low scoundrel.” Continue reading “The Way We Live Now”
I read this hot on the heels of War and Peace – could two books be any more different? After Tolstoy’s poetic prose and wise, rambling essays, the simple, seemingly unsophisticated style of Hemingway felt brutal.
Written in 1929 this largely autobiographical novel is written in the first person as Lieutenant Frederick Henry remembers serving as a paramedic in the Italian army during the first world war. There is a world weariness about it, as he recalls the actions of a group of men, his desertion from the army and his growing romance with Catherine Barkley, an English nurse. Continue reading “A Farewell to Arms”
The third film in my To be Watched challenge brings me to probably the most famous and critically acclaimed film I had never seen. Produced, directed, written and starring Orson Welles, Citizen Kane always seems to be voted number 1 in best film lists.
In 1871 at his parents’ boarding house, 8 year old Charles Foster Kane is playing with his sledge in the snow. His parents are arranging for him to go and live with financier Walter Thatcher, so that he can have a proper education. From a boy with a humble start he builds a newspaper empire. The film opens with the elderly Kane on his deathbed at his palatial estate Xanadu. ‘Rosebud’ is his final word. A mystery drama unfolds as a reporter pieces together the events of his life through a series of flashbacks and interviews and tries to discover the meaning of ‘Rosebud’.
Continue reading “Citizen Kane”
Phew! This has taken me so long to read and I’m so relieved to have finished! It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it but it just went on and on. I was almost weeping by the end, I just wanted someone to take his pen away! The biggest problem for me was that it felt like two books – the saga of War and Peace and then Tolstoy’s philosophy. Which was incredibly wise and true but pages and pages of it!
Written between 1863 and 1868 and set during the Napoleonic Wars (1805-12), the story of the Rostov’s and Bolkonsky’s and Pierre Bezukhov, was terrific. I loved all the Russian names, the soirees in Petersburg, the palaces, and the huge family gatherings. The cossacks, troikas,snow, dancing, nuts cooked in honey, herb cordials, ‘flat cakes made from dark flour and buttermilk’, roasted chicken, liquors and mushrooms, Mitka playing the balalaika, racing sleighs and droshky and muzhiks.
Continue reading “War and Peace”
This is utterly brilliant. Directed by Fritz Lang and written in collaboration with his wife Thea von Harbou, M is a German film, made and set in Berlin in 1931 – a city living with the constant presence of danger from a serial child killer. Based on factual records we’re asked not just who will bring him to justice but also what makes a person commit such terrible crimes?
The tension is chilling from the start; ordinary people go about their everyday lives but fear is everywhere, an unknown lurking threat. Is it him? Or him? We’re a step ahead as we know who the killer is, Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) – but, the characters on screen don’t. So as we watch we can see the growing hysteria that turns rightful anger into a witch hunt as innocent people are held in suspicion. But who is going to stop him? Will it be the public or the police, growing increasingly frustrated or the criminal underworld, who decide they had better catch him as there are now too many police on the streets. Continue reading “M”
I was horrified by the ending of The Odyssey. The brutality of Odysseus taking his revenge on the suitors and the injustice meted out on the young maids asked to scrub away the blood and guts before they’re hanged had my eyes on stalks. Margaret Atwood, rather more eloquently, says that the image of the maids has always haunted her. The Penelopiad tells the story through the eyes of Penelope, Odysseus’s mythically patient wife and the twelve hanged maids.
“Now that I’m dead I know everything” says Penelope in the opening line, and straight away we’re drawn in with her chatty, conspiratorial tone. Which is both best friend and wise elder. Continue reading “The Penelopiad”
Published in 1961 this short novel by Muriel Spark tells the story of a maverick teacher and her favoured group of pupils at Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland.
On the surface Jean Brodie is fun and charismatic. It’s 1930 and under an elm tree in the garden, the ten-year olds are taught that goodness, truth and beauty rather than safety come first! They learn of her travels to Italy and Egypt and of her first love, Hugh, who fell on Flanders’ Field. She thinks of herself as a romantic heroine, in love with love, she is “in her prime” and promises her girls that if they will only listen to her she will “make of them the creme de la creme.”
Continue reading “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”
This 1926 Buster Keaton film is the first on my To Be Watched list; to see if I can educate myself in film this year.
Based on The Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, during the American Civil War, this is an action fuelled romantic comedy; that sees Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), the engineer on ‘The General’, go behind enemy lines to save the women he loves, Annabelle Lee (Marion Mack).
Continue reading “The General”