Thursday, 30 January 2014

Romantic scenes that get me every time...


Seeing as Valentine's Day is approaching... whilst pondering the other day about my favourite romantic scenes in films, it came to my attention that most of them weren't actually in my favourite romances themselves. I love Roman Holiday, Camille, and Sliding Doors, but there's no pivotal moments in those which beat the ones I am about to list. I love those as a whole, but there are other films, not necessarily romances, where gentlemanly gestures, happy endings, or cute encounters bring a tear to my eye. There are countless moments and films to choose from, so please don't tell me I've forgotten any. So here they are, in no particular order.

Rebecca (1940)

I love Hitchcock, I love Rebecca, and I love the spookiness of Manderley and the creepiness of Mrs. Danvers, but my favourite scenes of the entire film are in the first half hour as Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier strike up a relationship. There are some great moments and lots of humour. One scene I love is where the pair go dancing one evening. Typical of Hollywood, there is a dance floor dotted with couples, a pond reflecting the twinkling stars of night, and Olivier is dancing with lovely Fontaine. Fontaine is facing the camera - her eyes look around at this beautiful setting, she looks like she can't believe her luck, and closing her eyes, allows herself to be swept off her feet. Cutting to Olivier, he notices she has her eyes closed and smiles because he can see she is having a dream of a time. Cutting back to Fontaine - she slowly opens her eyes to find handsome Olivier smiling back at her. Caught off guard and looking slightly shy, she composes herself and smiles back. No need to be embarrassed - she is just too happy. Here is the scene at 4 minutes in if you want to check it out. 

Laura (1944)

Laura has so many great things about it. Perfect script, perfect cast, perfect music, perfect mystery... the perfect noir! There are a lot of subtle talents in the film that make it work. One of those is Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. I love the interrogation scene. Detective McPherson (Andrews) knows that Laura (Tierney) isn't being completely honest with him. He knows she is innocent but he also knows she is hiding something. He questions her constantly, trying to make her come clean, and the harder he tries, the closer he gets to her. The interrogation reaches such intensity that he is sitting on the table right in front of Laura, bowing over her he is almost pleading that she be honest with him (he wants her to be innocent). Laura hears what he is saying and I believe she hears the unusual concern in his voice for her, she looks up into his eyes. Now in a dangerously close position, Andrews pulls himself away with much force and walks around to the other side of the desk - making sure there is a solid barrier between them. I love how he has to pull himself away to stop doing anything unprofessional.

Sabrina (1954)

One of the first "old" films I ever watched, Sabrina always says 'classic Hollywood glamour' to me. Even though I think the film falls a little flat when Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn) begins to date Linus (Humphrey Bogart - whom I love as an actor but he is definitely miscast here), I love the first half hour of the film. After attending cookery school in France, Sabrina returns home as a blossoming beauty and fashionable match for bachelor David (William Holden) whom she has been in love with all her life. My favourite scenes are at the very beginning when Sabrina (still a child) is watching David dance with another girl and when Sabrina finally dances with him herself a year or so later. The sumptuous gowns, starry night, extravagant party, and magical music make the party a dream for any girl. To top it all off the orchestra plays romantic favourites like 'My Silent Love' and 'Isn't It Romantic?' which fill the hot summer air. How many of us want to be wearing that gorgeous Givenchy gown, look as radiant as Hepburn, and be dancing with Holden in that fantastic setting? See this clip at 3:44 as a reminder.

Hannah and her Sisters (1986)

I bought a Woody Allen collection recently and am loving every minute of his films. So far, Hannah and her Sisters is my favourite. So many great lines, characters, and moments in this film, but one beautiful scene is the finale. Throughout the film we have been aware that Mickey (Allen) was unable to conceive a child with Hannah (Mia Farrow). Many years later after his divorce, he re-dates Hannah's sister, Holly. The pair get on like a house on fire and live happily ever after. Best of all we realise the full extent of that happiness when the two of them are cuddling at the family Thanksgiving gathering, and Holly tells Mickey that she is pregnant. As if they couldn't be in love with each other anymore, somehow Mickey isn't infertile and they will both be able to start a family together. Beautiful, meaningful scene.

When Harry Met Sally... (1989)

Two very close friends are both completely unaware of the fact that they have fallen in love with each other. At a museum, the pair are discussing moving on from past relationships. Sally has a date lined-up for the night, Harry enquires if she will be wearing what she has on right now. After responding 'yes', Harry tells Sally, "You look great in skirts," then turns his head back to the artwork they are admiring. Even though he has not seen her reaction to his compliment, we can see the wonderful smile spread on her face. It means so much to her that he thinks this, that he thinks she looks "great". I think we can all safely say that we felt similar when the person we liked told us we look great. This scene really captures the simplest of moments that mean the world when you have feelings for somebody. p...

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Jane Austen... Alan Rickman... Kate Winslet? Talk about lethal combination. Austen has written some of our favourite romances and there have been many an adaptation. But it is this one, Sense and Sensibility, directed by Ang Lee and with a screenplay written by Emma Thompson, that moves me the most. Of course I love the story between Elinor and Edward Ferrars, however, the most touching scenes, in my opinion, are those between Colonel Brandon and Marianne. For example, the 'Weep No More Sad Fountains' scene. Whilst Marianne treats her neighbours and family to a song, Colonel Brando walks in (unnoticed by all except Elinor). As if transfixed by some magic spell, his brisk steps gradually become slower and finally come to a complete stop. The expression on his face is shock, amazement, lovestruck? Marianne continues to play because she has not seen this new guest. As the song comes to a close, we are shown Brandon again. He hasn't moved a muscle throughout the entire song. Standing motionless, his eyes have gained a look of great emotion and intense longing... we, like Elinor, can see that he has already fallen for Marianne who sits like a porcelain doll at her piano and sings like an angel. 

Cruel Intentions (1999)

I have already discussed this scene in detail in a previous blogpost. Just that perfectly constructed, 'teen love' moment. Annette has gone home after feeling like she has humiliated herself in front of Sebastian (he rejected her). Realising his true feelings for Annette and terrified of losing her, Sebastian goes after her. As Annette gets off the train and takes the escalator, Sebastian appears at the top. The ascending steps head towards him, like some tragic romantic hero, waiting for her - motionless. Eventually she clocks him, let's be fair - how could she miss him with the shot? Sebastian declares his love and they share a passionate kiss in the middle of the train station. The camera circles the pair, making them feel like the centre of the universe. This is their moment.

Tarzan (1999)

There are so many clips from Disney films like make me go 'awwwww' but it is this clip from the Tarzan number, 'Strangers Like Me' which I've always had a weakness for. The song shows the relationship blossom between Jane and Tarzan as they learn from each other. But the song ends with some night-time, vine twirling. Jane, apprehensive at the thought of doing something so adventurous, is given a push by Tarzan. Floating through the air, her nervousness disappears and she joyously swings through the branches. Before she gets too carried away, however, Tarzan grabs her vine so that his and hers begin to entwine, to the point where they are close-up, nose to nose, with Tarzan looking intensely into Jane's eyes. But, this is a Disney film, so the intensity subsides when Jane gives a bashful smile. This twilight, jungle twist on a star-lit night is gorgeous, ever-so romantic, and Tarzan seems like the perfect gent!

Lost in Translation (2003)

Such a powerful finale. Bill Murray stopping his taxi and chasing after the woman he loves. Giving her a goodbye embrace and kiss, he then whispers in her ear. We never really hear what he is saying, but we can guess two things by Scarlett Johansson's face: 1.) her tears tell us that he is telling her how much he loves her, and 2.) her smile tells us that he is coming back for her. No over the top speeches, no cheesy music. Just two people in the middle of the crowd, both were heartbroken at the thought that they would never see each other again, but guess what, they love each other and will be reunited soon. All sealed with a hug and smooch of course. The happiness on Johansson's face is beautiful and the reassuring calmness of Murray (not to mention the determination and deep feeling in his eyes when he holds her) are some top notch acting performances.

The Notebook (2004)

Whenever this film comes up in conversation, boys and girls say one of two things. Either, 'If you're a bird I'm a bird,' or 'It wasn't over, it still isn't over.' Two quotes from many lovey dovey, tear-jerking moments in the film. Trust me - there are plenty to choose from. But that doesn't make it a soppy film. One thing I love about The Notebook is it's realism. And no I'm not saying every guy writes a letter for 365 days of a year or love can perform miracles, etc. The realism I like is the love between Allie and Noah. How they meet, how their love blossoms, their break-up. The most powerful scene for me is this one where Allie has recently been reunited with Noah (years after they split-up). She has also just been told of the letters he sent her. An emotional wreck, Allie is forced to pull-over whilst driving home because she isn't in a fit state to drive. Whilst she tries to calm down, she reads Noah's letters. The letter she reads is so touching:
“My Dearest Allie. I couldn't sleep last night because I know that it's over between us. I'm not bitter anymore, because I know that what we had was real. And if in some distant place in the future we see each other in our new lives, I'll smile at you with joy and remember how we spent the summer beneath the trees, learning from each other and growing in love. The best love is the kind that awakens the soul and makes us reach for more, that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds, and that's what you've given me. That's what I hope to give to you forever. I love you. I'll be seeing you. Noah”
Firstly, the letter is beautifully written. Secondly, Ryan Gosling reads it in his lovely, low voice. And thirdly, there is so much truth in it. These are the words of a young boy who has had his heart broken. He couldn't sleep because he knows their relationship is over. To this line Allie let's out a whimper - Noah's words mirror how she felt at the time, the thought of the relationship being over is still very painful for her. Noah is a good guy though, and the love he felt for her was genuine. He will not look for revenge, he doesn't feel any anger, he loves her very much and wishes her only the best. He will no longer dwell on the pain of the split but remember the memories of a warm summer and falling for her. The music for this is very fitting, in fact it's the most subtle, understated element of the entire film. It's played in a lot of scenes but can go unnoticed (kudos Aaron Zigman). A very low melody that sounds like the sun setting on a summer's day - warm, hazy. I love this scene. It gets me every time. Maybe it's power lies in how the feelings of the two leads are so relatable.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Such a simple scene, very much like the one in When Harry Met Sally... After revealing a safe haven for Sophie whilst he is away (and may not return), Howl is happy that she will be safe during the war. But Sophie knows that this arrangement is in case of Howl not returning and believes he is going away because he doesn't love her. Why shouldn't he love her? Because she isn't beautiful... whether young or old.
Sophie: Obviously, I'm not a beautiful girl. Only thing I can do is clean the house, though.
Howl: Sophie, you are beautiful! You really are!
Shocked at her low self-esteem and at her assumption that he sees her as ugly, Howl declares loudly that she is beautiful. Hasn't Sophie noticed that he has always liked her? Always been intrigued by her? That he is taking care of her with the land to ensure that she is safe and provided for? It's only a couple of lines, but hearing Howl tell Sophie adamantly that she is beautiful is such a touching moment. Christian Bale voices Howl and gives the animation real character, he brings him to life, and you can hear the truth/love in his words.

Up (2009)

Pixar always touch the right nerve with their films and this opening for Up may just be the greatest thing they have achieved. It tells the love/life story of Carl & Ellie, from when they met as children, to when they are old and grey - all in under 4 minutes! The shock at the end of the 4 minutes makes your stomach drop. It is such a shock, especially for a children's film, but it is pulled off tremendously. The warmth of the sequence, the music, the simple scenarios and the terrible tragedies, all engage with human emotion and the audience responds. Michael Giacchino composed a stunning, very memorable melody that suits the mood and tone of the film perfectly. It's like the film and music have always existed. What is so powerful about this scene is that feels like we are looking through the past of a real person, seeing their highs and lows, their loves and losses...  heartbreaking stuff. Few romances have packed the emotional punch that those opening minutes of Up managed to do.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Gene Tierney: My Favourite Actress

I have been a fan of Gene Tierney for years but it was only during the past few months when I decided to re-watch her films that I realised just how good an actress she was, and consequently, I now consider her my favourite. The Queen of noir excelled in her femme fatale roles but she was equally magnificent in period dramas, modern romances, and even the odd western. If it wasn't for the large following film noir has garnered over the decades, one wonders if Tierney's legacy would have faded into the background in comparison to the divas and icons of the studio era. Luckily, she hasn't faded, and although she may not be splattered all over popular culture like some of her peers, she is one of the most highly regarded, respected, and adored actresses amongst the global film community. And let's face it - she's Laura, the woman in the portrait... beat that!

Underrated during her time in films, it is a great shame that Tierney didn't live to see the wide acclaim so many filmgoers give her performances seventy years after her prime, not to mention her excellent taste in scripts/projects. When you look at her filmography, Tierney's is bursting with brilliance and variety. She never shied away from different roles but equally she didn't abandon her forte of film noir. This post will look at some of her films, with notes about her performance, the film, and of course photos showing her stunning beauty. I currently have fourteen of her films in my collection and want it to be more - I hope that the films of hers that haven't been remastered/released, or which are only available in the USA, will be available in UK soon. I recently ordered her autobiography, 'Self-portrait', so I'll be reviewing that on here in the future. For anyone who is interested, here is a short but very interesting documentary on Tierney's life which I was surprised to hear, was full of tragedy - Gene Tierney: A Shattered Portrait. She was a very strong, caring person, and I admire her as a woman as well as an actress now.

Thank you for the great performances Gene - you were an exceptional actress and an astonishing beauty. Your legacy in cinema, and particularly film noir, will be forever remembered and loved.

The Return of Frank James (1940)

This was Tierney's first film role, in which she notoriously critiqued herself as sounding like 'an angry Minnie Mouse.' I wouldn't go that far but her voice is different here, a lot higher - it suits the character though. She plays Eleanor Stone, a young and enthusiastic girl defying society by being a female journalist. Tierney is very different to how we usually see her. The character is very naiive, but strong-minded and eager to prove to her father that she has what it takes. Considering Tierney would later be so at home in the dark world of noir, she is perfect in this western role (which is considerably different to femme fatale types). Watching her here, you can see she is good, and her co-star Henry Fonda apparently remarked on it to studio head, Darryl Zanuck. I loved the banter between her and Fonda, they make a good team. The film isn't very remarkable unfortunately, enjoyable enough but not a great western. Still it was a hit at the time and was a solid stepping stone for Tierney's career to take-off from. 

Tobacco Road (1941)

I found myself quite bored with this one and I think that was down to how watered-down the plot was (the original novel is very risque apparently so the writers had to change much of the story). But there was a lot of hype surrounding it at the time, because of its daring nature and the fact that the great John Ford was directing it. Tierney has a very small part and hardly any lines, but she plays the part of Ellie May well. She plays a voluptuous, hillbilly stereotype, and the make-up/costume department did all they could to make her look as seductive as possible behind the grubby face and rags. Tierney still looks beautiful, and Ford tries to capture that with the few moments he has. For a Tierney fan, she has hardly any screen-time but she is the focal point for the all the promotion posters, etc, (funnily enough). 

Belle Starr (1941)

I haven't seen this but I really want to. Unfortunately the DVD available on Amazon UK has been reviewed as being very poor quality. This is a shame. The film is in colour so Tierney looks fantastic, but what I was really gutted about is that it's the first time Tierney and Dana Andrews work together on screen (Andrews is in Tobacco Road with Tierney but their characters never meet). I love the duo of Tierney and Andrews, so this is a real must-see for me. Belle Starr doesn't have the best reviews but it will be interesting to see Tierney in a Scarlett O'Hara type role and of course to see her and Andrews together.

Sundown (1941)

I have only seen parts of this film and I've read that I shouldn't expect much from it, but as far as beauty goes, this is one of Tierney's most stunning looks. Her hair is very long and she is given an exotic appearance, very different from the modern, all-American look Tierney has in films noir. Regardless, she looks incredible and the film shows what a ravishing beauty she really was. 

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)

If you love how Josef von Sternberg photographed Marlene Dietrich, wait til you see how he filmed Tierney. Von Sternberg captures her exotic quality and films her beautifully. She plays Poppy - a young girl excited by the 'evil' feel of a casino in Shanghai. Unfortunately, she gets herself into a lot of trouble, firstly with a gambling addiction and then by drinking heavily. Even Victor Mature, whose character was entranced by Poppy's beauty at the beginning, becomes disenchanted with her jealous, drunk state. A reckless brat, Tierney is unrecognisable character-wise.

Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942)

Setting out on an adventure to find pearls, Tyrone Power finds a different treasure in the native beauty, Eve (Tierney). Exotic, again, but this time not in a dangerous way. Eve is the most beautiful woman on the tropical island, but she's also a loving, sweet woman whom Power falls head over heels for. The scenes with him teaching Eve English and setting up house are very cute and feel like a real romance is blossoming. Considering in her later films Tierney is a very intelligent, conniving femme fatale, here she is very convincing as a young girl trying to learn, who is ignorant of the outside world and troubles Power has to face. We don't need convincing as to why Powers is drawn to her, Tierney looks immaculately beautiful and is all natural - a breath of fresh air from his troubles in England.

Rings on Her Fingers (1942)

This film is pretty difficult to get hold of. There are region 2 and region free copies available on Amazon but they're expensive. I really want to see this because it's a screwball comedy, and I've never seen Tierney do one of those before (I'm sure she is brilliant). Best of all it teams her with Henry Fonda again and they were so brilliant together in The Return of Frank James. From the stills and clips I have seen they have a lot of scenes with each other and the film looks hilarious. Can't wait to see this. Shame it's not better known, would probably be easier to get hold of then.

Thunder Birds (1942)

Enjoyable film in fabulous colour - Tierney looks terrific! She doesn't have as much screen time as some of the male characters but her presence is felt and she definitely gives the film a much-needed lift. This is just a run-of-the-mill picture that I expect Tierney had to do as part of her contract. So don't expect anything exceptional. But because of Tierney's ridiculous beauty and talent, the role and film are made more memorable.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

Charming film from Ernst Lubitsch. Lothario Don Ameche is changed for the better by the arrival of lovely Martha (Tierney) whom he falls in love with at a book store. Although he is flawed, Martha understands and forgives him, making Ameche realise just how dearly he loves her. The role of Martha is understated, and where some actresses may have been OTT trying to steal the show from the main character played by Ameche, Tierney simply goes with the flow. Lubitsch photographs Tierney beautifully, and really emphasises her striking eyes.

Laura (1944)

Tierney's iconic turn as Laura Hunt, the mysterious beauty and "murder victim". Talk about perfect casting. Laura is supposed to cast a spell on every man who crosses her path. For the role to work, you needed an actress with a cool, mysterious allure... spellbinding beauty but also a contemporary look (nothing too regal or glamorous). Tierney had all those qualities in spades, and to top it all off, she could act the part too. Sweet and caring, but don't you dare double-cross her, Laura is a wonderful character in the world of noir. Tierney played the part so well, you can see why she was such a popular choice when it came to future leading ladies in the genre. Not to mention her pairing with Dana Andrews - those two sizzle together on screen!

Leave Her To Heaven (1945)

The only Oscar-nomination in her career, Tierney's performance as Ellen won her critical acclaim. Obsessive, cold-hearted, and conniving, Ellen is a deadly femme fatale whose actions are shocking even today. We cannot predict what she is going to do next, we do not know how her mind works... all we know is that Ellen is unstable and a dangerous woman whom Cornel Wilde may well regret bumping into on the train. Tierney's performance is outstanding. Full of depth, we truly witness the slow deterioration of Ellen's mind, as it moves from devotion to obsession.

Dragonwyck (1946)

Typical storyline with a very Jane Eyre feel to it. Totally at home in a period drama, Tierney is endearing as Miranda. What I really enjoyed about this film is the chemistry between Tierney and her leading man, Vincent Price. They had worked together before in Laura but Tierney's screen time is mainly with Andrews. Here she is all Price's, and they bounce off of each other wonderfully.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

For me, this is Tierney's greatest performance. Unbelievably it was her co-star Anne Baxter who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress - Tierney didn't even receive a nomination which is appalling! Even next to her leading man Tyrone Power, she totally dominates the picture. It is her character Isabel whom we remember vividly. Bitchy, drama queen, possessive, spoilt, snobbish... qualities we detest in people but adore when it's being played on screen, and Tierney pulls it off with such elegance. She is so sly in this! In Leave Her To Heaven her character is dangerous because she is mentally unstable, but here what is different and so much more powerful, is that Isabel is completely aware of what she is doing. She won't stop at anything. She has some tremendous scenes with Herbert Marshall (intense chemistry here - shame they didn't work together more). But the way Tierney walks, watching other characters closely, always analysing the situation and planning her next move... it's really masterful. I wish she had received more acclaim at the time because this is a truly great performance. Her scene walking down the stairs in a black dress is one of those superstar Hollywood moments. She looks incredible and gives the performance of her life (in my opinion).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

One of my favourites films, a true period romance. Tierney is 100% convincing as an English widow falling in love with the ghost of a sailor (Rex Harrison). A fantastical romance, hard to pull-off in a film if you have bad actors.Thankfully Harrison and Tierney have a real spark, bringing feisty attraction to the relationship, and making the performance every inch believable. You really feel for Lucy Muir (Tierney) because she longs for something she cannot have in this life. Tierney is so real here. Her character seems of another era, mature, and a far cry from her femmes fatale. It is wonderful to see her softness, kindness, but also feisty spirit slowly tame the rude sailor, who eventually falls for her too. A must-see for anyone who loves a good romance. Definitely one of the best from the studio era.

Whirlpool (1949)

The first in a string of noirs which Tierney threw herself into at the end of the 1940s/beginning of the 1950s. Not a masterpiece for sure but enjoyable. Tierney is Ann Sutton, a woman who is being hypnotised and forced to perform tasks that eventually lead to her being framed for murder. Glamorous, confused, mysterious yet pleading her innocence, Tierney is back on familiar soil as a beautiful woman who has the police unsure of whether to believe her or not. This role is no problem for Tierney, she knows what to do, and gives the film class.

Night and the City (1950)

Acclaimed noir co-starring Richard Widmark. Tierney is his girlfriend, Mary, who is tired of his wild ambitions constantly failing and leaving her to pay for it all. The film is really Widmark's film, full of action, deceit, and a leading character who you can see is setting himself up for a big fall. Tierney's role is to simply be the woman behind the man, looking disappointed and frustrated at his insistance of still getting caught up with the wrong crowd. Her presence is felt throughout the film. We are Mary, helplessly watching Widmark dig himself a deep hole which he can't get out of.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Teamed up with Dana Andrews again, Tierney is Morgan Taylor, the daughter of a man who is taking the rap for a deed Andrew's detective, Dixon, has done. The image of goodness, stability, and everything Dixon aspires to be, she is the catalyst for Dixon changing his ways and finally doing the right thing. Dixon has been playing dirty for years, will a woman really change him? If she's Morgan then yes. Tierney makes this change of Dixon's character believable because she is so honest, good, and caring. A solid film noir and solid performances from Tierney and Andrews. They've always had remarkable chemistry and here it's no different.