|Posted on August 2, 2020 at 9:39 PM||comments (217)|
EAST SIDE, WEST SIDE (1949)
It’s always such a pleasure to come across a black and white movie I haven’t seen. “East Side, West Side” is one of them.
The cast itself is enough reason for watching. Barbara Stanwyck, James Mason, Van Heflin, Ava Gardner (looking absolutely stunning), Cyd Charisse, Nancy Reagan, Gale Sondergaard, William Conrad, and William Frawley among other faces familiar from later television programs.
The music is by Miklos Rozsa, cinematorgraphy by Charles Rosher.
The costumes are by Helen Rose.
When I was a teenager, Pamela Mason, James Mason’s wife, was making the rounds of the shows like Merv Griffin, talking openly about what a skunk and womanizer James Mason was. While talk like this is now commonplace, it was mildly shocking in the 1960s and highly entertaining. From what Pamela Mason said the role James Mason played in this film was tailor made for him.
Not only is he a womanizer, he whines to Stanwyck that he’s an “addict” who can’t control himself. Evidently, the appeal of addiction as an explanation of cruelty didn’t start with the rehabilitation industry in the 1970s.
Married to Barbara Syanwyck, Mason has an affair with Ava Gardner. Mason goes back to Stanwyck (and she forgives him) but he just can’t stay away from Ava (who could?). Stanwyck finally realizes that a man like Van Heflin is much better for her than a jerk like Mason, but not without a struggle.
In the final scene, Stanwyck has walked out (we presume to go to Heflin) and Mason stands staring at himself in the mirror. I couldn’t help wondering how much Mason (the actor) realized he was staring at himself rather than the character he was playing. In the final shot, we see Mason from behind. He is alone, leaning against the patio door jamb, staring off over the East River.
If Pamela had been there, she would have probably encouraged him to jump.
Stanwyck and Heflin are great together. This was the last of three movies they made together. The others are: “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” (1946) and B.F.’s Daughter (1948).
Stanwyck and Heflin have a chemistry that’s nice to watch. It’s more about friendship than sex. That’s perfect for the roles they play in this film. Ella Smith in “Starring Miss Barbara Stanwyck,” describes them as “an excellent screen team” and “extremely natural together.”
Also discussing Stanwyck's work in East Side, Smith says that it is “particularly subtle, playing a quiet character who keeps her emotions in check. There is nothing showy or flamboyant about what she does, but she manages to convey her inner turmoil.” As Smith writes, "She has a way of holding tears or strong emotion back - and then letting her voice break on the last word of a line.....The technique is a standard one, but difficult to do; unless it is supported by real emotion it will not convince."
Stanwyck looks great in the dresses designed by Helen Rose, but nobody can wear clothes like Ava Gardner. I can’t imagine facing a more threatening “other woman.”
Gardner had already made her breakout film “The Killers” with Burt Lancaster by the time this film was made, but she was still not a leading lady. She held her own, however, against Stanwyck.
The one scene they have together is electric and it is a pleasure to watch the two of them circling around each other.
Stanwyck in their scene, plays so well the woman with inner strength. Her confidence in her jerk of a husband says more about her than about him. Even though she is completely deluded by his charm and his promises, you never lose respect for her.
Gardner plays a wonderful, ruthless other woman, ready to fight to the death for a man she knows is just as unprincipled as she is. She even tells him how weak he is and delights in manipulating him. But, when Stanwyck delivers her final speech to Gardner, you also can see just the right touch of vulnerability, doubt in the icy Gardner. As I said, it’s just beautiful to watch the two of them.
This is another scene in which you wonder how much of the drama was based on real feelings. Gardner and Stanwyck’s husband Robert Taylor, had engaged in a torrid affair when they worked together on Gardner’s previous movie “The Bribe (1949). It’s not known whether Stanwyck new about the affair or not, but Stanwyck doesn’t strike me as a woman who misses much. She and Taylor divorced the following year.
Mason, at this time, was a big star in England. He came to Hollywood, but refused to sign a contract with a studio fearing he would be typecast. He was uncomfortable attempting an American accent in this film and was criticized for his voice in this picture. There is a scene between him and Stanwyck in which he says something like: You convinced me to read poetry and I convinced you to watch sports. It’s jarring because you can’t imagine James Mason drinking beer at a sports arena. But, by and large, he pulls it off. I would have cut this particular dialogue, though.
And evidently, Mason wasn’t the only one uncomfortable on the set. Cyd Charisse was playing her first straight dramatic role. She plays the woman in love with (and eventually dumped by) Van Heflin.
Gale Sondergaard was only 50 when she played the part of Stanwick’s mother in this film. Stanwyck was 42. This was the last role Sondergaard played in a film for 20 years. She refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted along with her husband, producer-director Herbert Biberman.
Bill Frawley (of I Love Lucy fame) plays the bartender. Frawley became impossible to cast in films because of alcohol problems. Lucy, however, believed in him and stood up for him to cast him in her long-running series. She was a good egg, Lucy. Too bad about her own jerk of a husband.
This is a clever script written by Isobel Lennart and like so many good films of the era, it was based on a novel (by Marcia Davenport).
Of course, the bad girl, Ava Gardner, has to be killed, but both Stanwyck and her husband are suspects. It is here that the detective expertise (recently used in the war) of Van Heflin comes into play to save them both and prove Heflin a good guy.
There’s a wonderful scene where Heflin suddenly starts acting like a drunk to trap the real killer, an enormous blond model played by Berverly Michaels. Heflin and Michaels get into a slugging match (that’s right I said a slugging match, a slugging in the face match) in the front seat of a car. In the film, Heflin wins and knocks Michaels out, but if it was real life, I would bet on the blond.
According to IMDB, Greer Garson, Fred MacMuray and Claudette Colbert were considered for the leads.
|Posted on July 19, 2020 at 5:52 PM||comments (299)|
Three on a Match (1932)
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Starring - Joan Blondell, Bette Davis, Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins, Edward Arnold, Warren William
Glenda Farrell plays a small part which is uncredited as Vivian’s friend in prison. Jack La Rue, Ann Shirley and Jack Webb are also in the film in small parts.
Gowns by Orry-Kelly
The little girl with the best grades winds up in the worst circumstance in later life. Her two friends try to help her.
This is a pre-code drama with Ann Dyvorak as a married woman, not only running away with Lyle Talbot, but taking her child with her. She becomes a coke addict and eventually commits suicide to save her child.
Dvorak was the last of the women to be cast. At the time of the realease of the film, the Lindbergh kidnapping was in the news and the kidnappers had not been caught. The film did not do very well however, and cinema owners were told to focus on the cast in their marketing and not to even mention the kidnapping. The reviewer for the NYT called the film “tedious and distasteful” as well as “unintelligent.”
This was Bogart’s first released film as a bad guy. You can understand why they kept casting him as such. He has a murderous stare and tries to get the other bad guys to kill the kid as just a part of doing business.
The film uses young actors to portray the three girls in grammar school (this is where Ann Shirley comes in). And then there is repeated use of news footage montages to mark the passage of time. Some people found these montages clever, but I thought they got a bit tedious.
According to an article in TCM
· This film was made at a time when Warner Brothers was basically running a factory assembly line of movies in the early thirties.
· Blondell, Davis and Bogart were relative newcomers who only became famous later.
· Davis and Blondell had only supporting roles.
· Davis later complained that the director, LeRoy, spent the entire shooting talking about what a great dramatic star Blondell was going to be and virtually ignored Davis. She also experienced unwanted sexual advances from Williams who was known for such behavior.
· Davis resented this “bland sister” part and felt that she was never going to get away from these roles. It’s almost tempting to wonder why her character was even included in the story.
· LeRoy later wrote an autobiography and admitted having told the press that he didn’t think Davis was going to make it as an actress. “She’s been cold to me every since.” He said.
· It was three years after this film before Davis gave her breakout performance in “Of Human Bondage.”
· It would take Bogart until 1936 and “Petrified Forest” before he got any critical acclaim.
Sources: TCM, Wikipedia, IMDB
|Posted on July 13, 2020 at 6:58 PM||comments (110)|
The Bribe (1949)
Robert Taylor, Ava Gardner, Charles Laughton, Vincent Price, John Hodiak, Samuel S. Hinds (doctor)
Directed y Robert Z. Leonard and uncredited Vincente Minnelli
Based on a short story by Frederick Nebel. Screenplay by Marguerite Roberts.
Despite the stellar cast, this film was not a hit with the public or the critics when it came out. Bosley Crowther called the film “…as lurid as it is absurd.” Crowther argued that if the film didn’t have big name stars in it, it would be low man on a “grind house triple bill.” He also argued that blowing up everything in the end is the “one appropriate move in the whole show.”
Time Out called the film a “feeble thriller.” “Taylor” the reviewer said “isn’t up to the moral dilemma.”
The Bribe is a convoluted tempted cop story, and the plot is difficult to follow. Robert Taylor was said to have told Ava Gardner that it was one of the worst films he ever made. The two of them, according to Gardner, got a four-month affair out of it though. Gardner talks about the affair in her biography.
Vincent Price and Charles Laughton play the bad guys. The book, Cult Movies, called them “splendidly hammy villains.”
There’s not much surprising about Price’s portrayal of one of the bad guys. What is surprising and ultimately very distracting is Laughton’s performance as a doddering villain/dupe with bad feet. It reminded me of something I read about the ill-fated filming of I, Claudius, in 1937. Laughton worked and worked, but just couldn’t find a Claudius that suited him. He complained that he is couldn’t find the part. His performance in The Bribe looks like he couldn’t find a character he was happy with or was even interested in. It was difficult for me to follow the plot because I spent so much time watching what Laughton was doing, or not doing. His performance in “Jamaica Inn” is similar. Laughton just seems to be acting in another movie from the rest of the people on stage.
Robert Taylor (1911-1969) who plays the cop tempted by Ava Gardner was one of the most popular leading men of his time. He began his career in films in 1934. His performances in Waterloo Bridge (1938) with Vivian Leigh, and in Camille with Greta Garbo are my two favorites. Taylor was married to Barbara Stanwyck from 1939-1951. A chain smoker, he died of lung cancer at 57.
Sources: Wikipedia, TCM, IMDB
|Posted on July 3, 2020 at 4:42 PM||comments (332)|
Storm Warning (1951)
Ginger Rogers, a model, stops in a town to visit her sister (Doris Day) and witnesses a murder by the Klan.
Starring Ginger Rogers, Ronald Reagan, Doris Day, Steve Cochran
There is a lot in this script to remind you of “Streetcar Named Desire.” Sister arrives in town to discover secrets involving her sister and the sister’s husband. It’s described as a “noir thriller.”
Written by Daniel Fuchs and Richard Brooks (Looking for Mr. Goodbar, In Cold Blood, Lord Jim, Sweet Bird of Youth, Elmer Gantry (screenplay), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (screenplay), Any Number Can Play (screenplay), Key Largo (screenplay).
This is a film exposing the corrupt nature of the Ku Klux Klan. But, it’s a sanitized portrayal. The reporter the Klan kills at the beginning of the film is white. There are very few blacks in the film, just a few in a crowd scene of people waiting for a court proceeding. The Klan is depicted as a money making scheme for the men who run it not so much a hate group.
Then, there is what I consider to be a pretty cheesy scene where one of the klansmen repeatedly strikes Ginger Rogers with a whip. Two men are holding her and her hair is all over the place and it has the feel of one of those jungle movies where the natives steal some scantily clad woman.
But, there is no way of escaping the evil inherent in the scenes where hooded men gather before a burning cross. The scenes are stark and disturbing. And, I would guess that it took courage for Ginger Rogers and Doris Day to take on these roles. It’s one of the few (although always good) serious roles for Doris Day (it’s her first non-singing role) and I can’t remember ever seeing Rogers with her hair down being whipped.
Lauren Bacall was originally case in the part played by Rogers. As appealing as Bacall and Bogie were, they had a habit of talking big and not following up when it came to social issues. Maybe struggling between two men and being whipped by one of the leaders of the Klan was too much for her. She was put on suspension by the studio for refusing to play the role.
Ronald Reagan plays the same role he plays in most movies, the affable, honest young man, doing the right thing.
Probably the most interesting acting in the film is from bad boy Steven Cochran who played gangsters and tough guys. In this film, he does a good job of playing a rather stupid young man, duped and used by the older men. Doris Day (his wife) keeps maintaining that he is good until she comes on him trying to rape her sister. Cochran’s dark side comes out effectively.
Some of the critics, like Bosley Crowther, found the movie predictable and lacking “substance or depth.” He also described Reagan’s performance as “pat and pedestrian as any well-drilled stock company D.A.” Rogers, he wrote, plays the part “in one grim mood.”
One critic, Dennis Schwartz, thought the film trivialized the topic. He felt the film focused on spectacle and not race hatred or the activities of the Klan.
Steve Cochran (1917 – 1965) was born in Eureka, California, but grew up in Laramie, Wyoming, the son of a logger. Cochran performed in plays in the Federal Theatre Project in Detroit. During World War II he was rejected for military service due to a heart murmur but directed and performed in plays at a variety of Army camps.
In December 1943 he was appearing with Constance Bennett in a touring production of Without Love when he was signed by Sam Goldwyn.
Samuel Goldwyn brought Cochran to Hollywood in 1945 Cochran appeared in his prestigious drama, The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), playing a man who has an affair with Virginia Mayo while her husband Dana Andrews was away at war. The movie was a huge critical and commercial success.
In 1949 Cochran went over to Warner Bros., where he played Big Ed Somers, a power hungry henchman to James Cagney’s psychotic mobster in White Heat (1949).
Cochran supported Joan Crawford in The Damned Don't Cry (1950), then was given his first lead role in Highway 301 (1950), playing a gangster
Warners gave him another lead in Tomorrow Is Another Day (1951), a film noir with Ruth Roman. He was back to support parts in Jim Thorpe – All-American (1951) with Burt Lancaster.
In 1953 Cochran formed his own production company, Robert Alexander Productions. His production company attempted to make some television series and other films such as The Tom Mix Story (with Cochran as Mix), Hope is the Last Thing to Die about the Mexican War, and Klondike Lou. However they were never produced with the exception of a television pilot where he played John C. Frémont in Fremont the Trailblazer.
Cochran was a notorious womanizer and attracted tabloid attention for his tumultuous private life, which included well-documented affairs with numerous starlets and actresses. Mamie Van Doren later wrote about their sex life in graphic detail in her tell-all autobiography Playing the Field: My Story (New York: G.P. Putnam, 1987). He was also married and divorced three times, to actress Fay McKenzie, Florence Lockwood and Jonna Jensen.
Cochran was in trouble with the police a number of times in his life, including a reported assault and a charge of reckless driving in 1953.
On June 15, 1965, at the age of 48, Cochran died on his yacht off the coast of Guatemala, reportedly due to an acute lung infection. His body, along with three Mexican girls and women aged 14, 19 and 25, remained aboard for 10 days since the girls did not know how to operate the boat. It drifted to shore in Port Champerico, Guatemala, and was found by authorities.
There were various rumors of foul play and poisoning, but reportedly no new evidence was found.
|Posted on June 29, 2020 at 12:54 PM||comments (80)|
Lady of Shanghai (1948)
Starring Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders
Directed by Orson Welles
Screenplay by Orson Welles based on a Sherwood King novel, “If I Die Before I Wake.”
Orson Welles had trouble getting along with Hollywood studios from the beginning of his career. Lady of Shanghai (1948), was no different.
Studio head Harry Cohn was so obsessed with Rita Hayworth he had her wiretapped. When the studio gave Welles Hayworth to develop “Lady of Shanghai” around, they evidently wanted something like “Gilda.” Welles did not give them a “Gilda.”
Hayworth was famous for her long red hair. The first thing Welles did was to get her hair cut short and dye it blond. This set him up in opposition Harry Cohn from the very beginning.
But, Welles had been guaranteed artistic license on this film. Cohn said afterward he would never again allow anybody to be actor, director and writer in one film because he couldn’t then fire them. He must have wanted to fire Welles many times during this production.
Welles had been married to Hayworth, but they were estranged at the time of the making of “Lady of Shanghai.” Hayworth nevertheless agreed to be in the film. Some thought Welles’ interpretation of her character in the film was a devastating portrayal of Hayworth herself. Some found it uncomfortably personal and vicious. Cohn thought the film would ruin her career and shelved it for a year.
Cohn instructed Welles to insert “glamour” shots of Hayworth. And because of the success of Hayworth singing in Gilda, he made Welles insert a sequence in which Hayworth sings “Please don’t Kiss Me.”
And Hayworth’s treatment wasn’t the only thing studio bosses objected to. When the first version of the completed film was shown to bosses, Cohn is said to have stood up and offered anyone in the room $1,000 to explain the plot to him. TCM film noir commentator, Eddie Muller, called “Lady from Shanghai” a “train wreck.”
Welles wasn’t much more liked by his actors than he was by studio bosses. Everett Sloan who puts in a wonderful performance as the sleazy and creepy husband had to go so far as refusing to wear the braces Welles had constructed for his character. Sloan complained that the braces were extremely painful. In the film, he uses two canes and a riveting walk.
Similarly, Glenn Anders found Welles to be difficult. He said that Welles bullied him relentlessly. Welles maintained, of course, that this treatment just pushed Anders to give a more nervous and edgy performance. Whether Anders or Welles is responsible, Anders is impossible to take your eyes off in the film. He appears and appears again like a bad dream.
Like he did with many of his films, Welles had walked off the post-production process before it was completed. As with “The Magnificent Ambersons” the ending was substantially changed by the studio. Welles had been so involved in the famous final sequence where Hayworth and her husband kill each other in a shootout in a house of mirrors, he helped construct and paint the set. But in his final version, this scene lasted 10 minutes. The studio cut it down to 4.
I have always wondered why I didn’t particularly like “Lady from Shanghai.” It was interesting to read that others didn’t like it either. But, this “train wreck” has some stunning scenes (like the fun house scenes at the end) and is worth another view.
Oh, just a note, the dog seen with Hayworth on the yacht belonged to Errol Flynn. Welles rented Flynn’s yacht for the film and Flynn stipulated in the contract that the yacht couldn’t be used unless he was present. When Flynn went off on a toot, filming had to shut down until they found him.
|Posted on June 28, 2020 at 7:19 PM||comments (93)|
ACCIDENTS WILL HAPPEN (1938)
Director: William Clemens
Writers: George Bricker and Anthony Coldeway (screen play) from a story by George Bricker
Starring: Ronald Reagan, Sheila Bromley, Gloria Blondell, Dick Purcell
Ronald Reagan as an insurance fraud investigator with a greedy wife who gets involved with a big fraud gang.
I had no idea Joan Blondell even had a sister until I happened on this film. The lesser-known sister, Gloria, made something like two dozen Hollywood features. In the 1940s she played the voice of Disney’s Daisy Duck. She did television in the 1950s (I love Lucy and The Life of Riley)
The sisters started off as part of a vaudeville troupe “The Bouncing Blondells.”
Ronald Reagan was 27 when he made this movie, but he looks much younger. He plays pretty much his standard part – smart, cocky guy.
Shiela Bromley as the greedy wife is probably the most impressive of the actors. She had small parts in a great many Hollywood movies and then went on to do a lot of television.
This is an unambitious, but well put together B film. The honest young insurance man gets done badly by his wife and has to take on the insurance fraud gangs to get his reputation back (and a better girl).
Sociologically, the notable part of the film is a sequence involving just one of the numerous insurance fraud schemes. The fraud schemes organized by the gang involve hiring people to jump out of a car before it goes over a cliff, falling down a set of outside stairs in a bus and other faked car accidents.
But, one of these schemes illustrates just how casual and heartless the racism of the time was in films. This is the only one of the schemes to involve a person of color, the only one where the person hired is a dupe or portrayed as an object of fun (except a guy who pretends to be drunk).
The first scene to set this up is in a doctor’s office where the doctor is fooling with a wooden brace. A black man is sitting in a chair. The doctor puts the black man’s arm in the brace and starts to use a hammer to break the arm. The black man objects. The gang member says: You signed up for this job. The black may says, Yeah, but I changed my mind. The gang member offers him more money and the black man agrees asking for the doctor to break his arm gently.
Then, we see the black man standing on a street corner, waiting for a car driven by one of the gang members to come down the street. He walks right in front of the car and is sideswiped. He then gets up and complains loudly about his broken arm.
This incident involves the only real physical harm that comes to any of the stooges hired by the gang. The other people are playing parts, or in one case, an acrobat who knows how to fall.
It’s painful to watch the doctor swing the hammer as he tries to come down on the black man’s arm, and it’s disturbing to watch the man be sideswiped by the oncoming car. It’s also notable that the black man is portrayed as somewhat stupid and overly impressed by the money. The other stooges are cynical, playing a part, people obviously used to acting as stooges.
Article about racism and the early Hoillywood films.
Note: I have to correct part of the post from yesterday. Peter Lorre did have dialogue in the film just at the end right before he is hit by a truck and killed.
|Posted on June 26, 2020 at 4:14 PM||comments (93)|
Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
Director, Boris Ingster, Writer Frank Partos (story and screenplay)
Starring: Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet, Elisha Cook, Jr.
A reporter is a witness in a murder trial and then starts to wonder if he did the right thing. Haunting photography and dream sequences that show the influence of German expressionism.
This is a surprisingly engaging film for a 1940 B picture. B pictures were lower-budget features between 50 and 77 minutes, using second level actors, or ex-stars on their way down.
The B pictures were made at a time when the studios still owned the theatres in the country and distributed low-budget films to second on a double bill with the main feature. These films were churned out with less concern for quality than quantity. But, because they were less important, they also received less studio supervision. A number of innovative directors and photographers got their start in these B movies.
The surrealism in the film is innovative and according to writer Robert Porfirio, was radically different from the mystery and crime movies that preceded it. There are stylized sets, bizarre angles and lighting and powerful blurring of dream and reality. The surrealism also fit in nicely with the budget demands. It was consistent with the low-budget goal of shooting on a bare sound-stage, turning a budget necessity into an effective style.
Peter Lorre, who has no lines and appears only briefly in the film, had caused a sensation when he played a serial killer with a fondness for little girls in “M” in 1931. By the time this movie was made, he had already done Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and Secret Agent (1936).
He came to the United States after Hitler came to power, but the studios had trouble casting him. John Huston reestablished his career after casting him in The Maltese Falcon (1941).
|Posted on May 18, 2020 at 6:31 PM||comments (89)|
• Chapter 14 contains the iconic confrontation between Mrs. Danvers and the narrator in Rebecca’s bedroom.
• Rather than being covered with drop cloths, she finds the room “fully furnished, as though in use.” There are flowers, Rebecca’s personal items like brushes and combs.
• There is the scent of white azalea and a dressing gown that “had not been touched or laundered since it was last worn.”
• Mrs. Danvers appears “Triumphant, gloating, excited in a strange unhealthy way.” The narrator feels “frightened.”
• Mrs. Danvers says she was “ready to show it to” her every day. She seems (in the narrator’s words) “excited” to show her the room and the personal items.
• In an odd and intimate action, Mrs. Danvers “forced the slippers over my hands.”
• Mrs. Danvers tells the narrator that Maxim was “always laughing and gay then.”
• After the confrontation, the narrator felt “bruised and numb from the pressure of her fingers.”
• Mrs. Danvers starts to spin a spell over the narrator saying: “Listen to the sea.” Maxim was pacing “up and down, up and down.” “I feel her everywhere. You do too, don’t you?” “sometimes I wonder…Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.”
• The narrator describes Danny’s “white skull’s face of hers, how malevolent, how full of hatred.”
• After the confrontation, the narrator goes back to her bedroom. “I felt deadly sick.”
Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers
Judith Anderson was an Australian actress who was a success on stage, and in film and television. After trying and failing in California and New York, she finally made a Broadway debut in 1922. She the toured in Australia and New Zealand. And worked in California and London.
She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1941 for Rebecca.
Kings Row (1942)
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946)
The Ten Commandments (1956)
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958)
|Posted on May 17, 2020 at 5:39 PM||comments (182)|
|Posted on May 17, 2020 at 5:01 PM||comments (96)|
We are doing our quarterly Novel/Movie Series for the public library online. This month we are discussing "Rebecca" Daphne du Maurier's novel and the movie by Alfred Hithccock.
· It’s not difficult to understand the relief the narrator feels when Maxim finally leaves the house for once. If you think about all the tension that is involved with worrying about what he thinks, what he is thinking about (Rebecca), and what somebody might say that would set him off, it’s exhausting.
· It’s an interesting exposition of the way in which women live in the imagined minds of men. How does he see me? How does he think of me? Am I presenting the right image?
· It reminds me of what I have read about adolescent females these days, posting dozens of versions of a selfie and asking their friends which one is just right, living in fear of presenting the “wrong” image. It must be crazy making.
· The narrator thinks: “If Maxim had been there I should not be lying as I was now, chewing a piece of grass, my eyes shut. I should have been watching him, watching his eyes, his expression. Wondering if he liked it, if he was bored.”
· Rebecca is such an interesting detailing of female insecurity.
· The narrator enters the cottage at the beach and after Jasper barks hysterically, she perceived a figure “sitting in the corner against the wall.” “It was Ben.”
· Ben reveals that he is terrified of being sent to an asylum (something Rebecca threatened him with), and the keen observation that the narrator is “not like the other one.”
· “She gave you the feeling of a snake.” He says of Rebecca.
· I’m not sure, but I’m wondering if this is the first time we knew that Rebecca was a terrible person. Before, wasn’t she just described as beautiful, accomplished, whatever? She was threatening for sure, but were we certain that she wasn’t just threatening to the narrator?
· But then, as always in this novel, du Maurier refuses to allow us to stand on solid ground. The has the narrator remembering that Ben is “an idiot.”
· As she walks up to the house, she notices a car parked down the drive, not at the usual place in front of the house. Then, she notices that there is a window opened in the west (Rebecca’s) wing. And, then, there is a man (another menacing man) standing by the window.
· She notices that her things have been moved in the morning room, things like her knitting. There is even an imprint of a person on the sofa.
· “I did not want to catch Mrs. Danvers in the wrong.” I love this sentence. She is the mistress of the house. Mrs. Danvers is the one doing wrong, but she is so intimidated by Mrs. Danvers that she is dodging and weaving to keep from finding Mrs. Danvers in the wrong.
· She is standing behind a door when Favel comes into the room. When Jasper barks at her, Favell turns around and is surprised. She says: “I have never seen anyone look more astonished.”
· But in the film, Favel is outside the library window and catches her hiding behind the door. She is the one to turn and is surprised.
· I love Favell as a character, in part because I love George Sanders. In the novel she says that Favell was “smiling at me in a familiar way.” That’s George Sanders’ specialty.
· He makes fun of the narrator by telling Danny that she was “hiding behind the door.”
· Favell then enlists the narrator in sharing a secret, or keeping a secret from Maxim, a sort of compromised position, a betrayal.
· It is an interesting comment on the weakness of her character that she agrees to this even though she knows that Maxim (in his own words) doesn’t approve of him and doesn’t know he is there.
· Whether she agrees to this because she is afraid of Danny or she wants so desperately to please Favell, or everybody, the reader doesn’t know.
George Sanders (1906-1972)
Sanders’ career as an actor spanned over forty years. He was often cast as a sophisticated but villainous character. His voice is unmistakable. You can walk into a room and hear that voice and know immediately that it is either him or his brother (Tim Conway).
Born in Russia, his family left on the eve of the Russian Revolution and went to England. While working in an advertising agency, the agency secretary (Greer Garson) suggested he take up acting as a career.
Strange Cargo (1936)
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
All About Eve (1950, for which he won the Oscar)
The Picture of Dorian Grey (1945)
The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)
The Saint (five films made between 1930 and the 1940s). Conway, Sanders older brother took over the role when Sanders tired of it.
Sanders was once suspended by United Artists for refusing to play the lead in “The Undying Monster” (1942). Sanders commented: “I’d like to be seen in pictures that at least seem to be slightly worthwhile.”
Fox initially announced him for the male lead (the detective) in Laura (1944), but he ended up not being in the film. Later, he appeared in a remake of Laura playing the role of Waldo Lydecker on “The 20 Century-Fox Hour.”
Sanders appeared with Peter Sellers in “A Shot in the Dark” (1964).
In 1967, he was in a film “Good Times” with Sonny and Cher. This may well have been what did him in.
In 1966 he declared bankruptcy. In 1969, after appearing in drag and playing the piano in John Huston’s “The Kremlin Letter,” he announced he was leaving show business.
Sanders was married to Zsa Zsa Gabor and Benita Hume, the widow of Ronald Colman. In 1967, Sanders’ brother, his mother, and his wife died. He has an autobiography “Memoirs of a Professional Cad” (1960). Brian Aherne wrote a biography of Sanders (1979). In 1970, he married Zsa Zsa’s older sister, Magda Gabor. The marriage lasted only 32 days after which he started drinking heavily.
In his last films, Sanders suffered from lack of balance and dementia. He grew reclusive and depressed (who wouldn’t). He found out he could no longer play the piano and so dragged it outside and smashed it with an axe. He died after swallowing five bottles of barbiturates. He left three suicide notes. One said: “I am leaving because I am bored….I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.
David Niven said that Sanders had told him in 1937 that he (Sanders) would commit suicide from barbiturates.