OLIVER TWIST. (1948) A MOVIE REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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OLIVER TWIST. (1948) BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY DAVID LEAN.

STARRING ALEC GUINNESS, ROBERT NEWTON, KAY WALSH, HENRY STEPHENSON, FRANCIS LOFTUS SULLIVAN, MARY CLARE ABSALOM, DIANA DORS AND JOHN HOWARD DAVIES.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘It’s the old story… no wedding ring…’

Okay, so we’re probably all agreed that Lionel Bart’s 1968 musical version of this story is the best one. Wonderful songs like FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD, CONSIDER YOURSELF, YOU’VE GOT TO PICK A POCKET OR TWO, I AM REVIEWING THE SITUATION and OOMPA-PAH have been belting out of peoples’ tellies every Christmas for the last fifty-odd years. It’s a flawless film, the kind of film that gives musicals a good name.

But this 1948 re-telling of the Dickens classic is a proper corker too, even if the cast doesn’t burst into full-throated song every five minutes, lol. Its opening scenes are magnificently atmospheric in a dark brooding kind of way and deal with a subject that’s only implied in the musical version, that is to say, the arrival of Oliver’s beautiful young mother at the workhouse across the moors in the middle of a thunderstorm.

She’s already in labour and in terrible distress, both physically and emotionally. She gives birth to the child in the company of an ancient crone and a doctor, then ‘takes one look at ‘im (Oliver) and promptly dies,’ as the marvellous Harry Secombe as Mr. Bumble informs us in the musical version.

She is wearing an expensive locket that would lead to her highborn identity- and her child’s- being uncovered and to Oliver’s being restored to his wealthy and caring blood relatives, if it were brought to the attention of the proper authorities.

But the locket is unfortunately stolen by the old crone who attends the miserable workhouse birth, and so Oliver is brought up ‘on the parish’ like any other wretched orphaned waif. Poor kid.

Francis Loftus Sullivan was born to play a beadle. He’s brilliant here as Mr. Bumble, the workhouse official who places Oliver Twist with the undertaker Sowerberry after Oliver draws the short straw, asks for more chow at dinner-time and gets ejected from the workhouse after due consideration by the gluttons- sorry, by the gentlemen- of the Board.

The apprenticeship at the undertakers’ goes tits-up when Oliver runs afoul of Noah Claypole, Mr. Sowerberry’s nasty little assistant. A very young blonde-bombshell-in-waiting Diana Dors plays Charlotte, the Sowerberry’s slatternly maid, by the way. She’s already a beautiful woman, though this role’s not quite as glamorous as some of her later ones…!

Oliver, as we all know by now, runs away to London and falls in with Fagin the Fence, the vile receiver of stolen goods and corruptor of London’s youth, and his little band of pickpockets, cut-throats and thieves. Alex Guinness does a top job as Fagin, the Jewish miser whose huge hooked nose, straggly beard and voluminous rags all proclaim him to be a scoundrel of the first water.

He sends his boys, the Artful Dodger and Charlie and all the lads, out into the metropolis each day- ‘Cheerio but be back soon!- to rob and pilfer wallets, jewellery, silk handkerchieves and whatever other gew-gaws and fol-de-rols the toffs of London might be carrying about their exalted persons. He sells on the stuff and keeps most of the proceeds for himself, the scallywag.

When the green-as-grass and scrupulously honest Oliver is taken out for the first time with the Artful Dodger and Charlie and he sees them robbing an old gentleman, Oliver gets the blame and finds himself up before the Beak or Magistrate. And no, a Beak ain’t a bird’s mouf…!

The old gentleman who was robbed, however, a courtly old toff called Mr. Brownlow, is kindly disposed towards the sick and ill-treated Oliver and takes him home to live with him. It’s a strange but fortuitous ‘twist’ of Fate- lol- that will eventually lead to the discovery of the truth about Oliver’s true parentage.

Fagin and his band of villains and thieves, including the housebreaker and all-round bad guy Bill Sykes and his girlfriend Nancy, are all up in arms about Oliver’s new circumstances. What, Oliver taken? This is a disaster!

What if he peaches, blows, squeals, snitches on the gang and reveals their names and whereabouts to the law? They’d all be for the drop. (This is how they described the jolly process of being hanged.) ‘If the game were up with me, Bill, I fear it would be up with a great many more besides, and it would go rather worse with you than it would with me…’

Fagin puts the fear of God into Bill Sykes. Bill resolves to get the troublesome Oliver back at any cost, even though the kindlier and more compassionate Nancy, with a heart as big as all-outdoors, would prefer to leave the poor child where he is. One day, the couple see Oliver out walking by himself, running an errand for Mr. Brownlow. It’s only a matter of minutes before he’s back in the clutches of the gang and the die is cast…

The marriage of the pompous but not entirely heartless Mr. Bumble to the horrible Mrs. Corney, the self-serving, cold-hearted auld Bitch-With-A-Capital-B who runs the older folks’ workhouse, is both a source of mirth and terror.

Imagine ending up in a marriage as awful, as abusive and utterly joyless as this one. ‘If that’s what the law believes, then the law is an ass! The law is a bachelor, and the most I would wish for it is that its eyes would be opened by experience, Sir. By experience!’

Poor Nancy shares the same fate as the Nancy in the musical version, but it somehow seems grimmer and more dreadful here in stark black-and-white. There’s a very poignant moment when, after the terrible deed is done, Bill Sykes is looking round their bedroom at all the little things that were Nancy’s, her hairbrush and perfume bottles and powder puffs and her side of the bed.

There is something very poignant about someone’s belongings after they’ve passed on. Remember Vera Duckworth fondling dear old Jack Duck-Egg’s spectacles after his death in CORONATION STREET? The whole of Britain and Ireland were reaching for their hankies…!

The book goes one better and portrays Bill Sykes as being most dreadfully haunted by the ghost of the murdered woman after he does what he does. He flees to the countryside after the murder but is so tormented, both by what he’s done and also by the spectral sightings that chill his blood, that he ends up returning to the city, hue-and-cry or no hue-and-cry. Better the devil you know, eh, Billy Boy…?

I love the scene in the film where Nancy’s talking in secret with Mr. Brownlow on the very steps that lead down to the mighty Thames, while the Artful Dodger is concealed, listening for all he’s worth, just around the corner. This super-atmospheric scene is also in the book, though not in the musical version.

Want to hear some random facts about the 1948 film? Kay Walsh who plays Nancy was married to David Lean, the director. David Lean also directed the superb 1946 film version of Charles Dickens’s ‘GREAT EXPECTATIONS,’ starring John Mills as Pip, Valerie Hobson (THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, WEREWOLF OF LONDON) as Estella and Martita Hunt as Miss Havisham.

Mary Clare Absalom who plays the awful Mrs. Corney was an absolutely stunning beauty in her youth, and was also a stage actress and silent movie star. Kathleen Harrison, Mrs. Sowerberry, also plays the charwoman Mrs. Dilber opposite Alastair Sim in the superb 1951 film version of SCROOGE. 

The film’s producer, Robert Neame, was the father of Hammer actor Christopher Neame, who plays Johnny Alucard, Dracula’s little bitch, in DRACULA AD 1972, opposite Christopher Lee. Hattie Jacques from the CARRY ON movies has a cameo role here as a singer in the Three Cripples tavern.

Finally, Alec Guinness’s performance and make-up as Fagin caused great offence in certain circles, especially the outrageously oversized hooked ‘Jewish’ nose, because it was all thought to be desperately anti-Semitic. Not a cool thing to be accused of in the very recent aftermath of the Holocaust, as I’m sure you’ll agree.

John Howard Davies makes a great Oliver, just as good as if not better than Mark Lester from the musical version. This black-and-white version is overall of terrific quality and the equal of the musical, but you just can’t beat those familiar old songs. All together now: ‘As long as ‘e needs me…’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

 

VAMPYR. (1932) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Vampyr leone

CARL THEODOR DREYER’S ‘VAMPYR.’ (1932) BASED ON JOSEPH SHERIDAN LE FANU’S WRITINGS, ‘IN A GLASS DARKLY.’ DIRECTED BY CARL THEODOR DREYER.

STARRING JULIAN WEST (BARON NICOLAS DE GUNZBURG), MAURICE SCHUTZ, RENA MANDEL, SYBILLE SCHMITZ, JAN HIERONIMKO, HENRIETTE GERARD AND ALBERT BRAS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘This is the phantasy-experience of young Allan Gray, who engulfed himself in studies of demonology and vampire-lore. Preoccupation with the crazed ideas of past centuries turned him into a dreamer and a fantasist, lost at the border between fantasy and the supernatural.’

This surreal, fog-wreathed German-French early talkie, with so few words of dialogue that it could nearly pass for a silent movie, is the most gorgeous, ethereal and dream-like old vampire film I think I’ve ever seen.

It doesn’t have a linear storyline, in which, say, a Jonathan Harker is ordered by his employer to travel to Transylvania, there to meet with a Count Dracula to discuss a property the Count is desirous of purchasing in England, and then everything that happens after that follows a straight enough course to the climax.

Rather, it’s non-linear and dreamlike, and the lines between fantasy and reality are very much blurred. Also, some of it makes little or no sense but it looks so good ‘n’ spooky that it doesn’t matter in the slightest.

It has a sub-title of THE STRANGE ADVENTURES OF ALLAN GRAY, Allan Gray being played by the handsome young aristocrat, Baron Nicolas De Gunzburg, who put up the money for the production in return for being allowed to play the lead role. Well, if it’s your money, then I guess you can ask for that privilege…!

Allan Gray is first seen travelling to an inn close to the village of Courtempierre with his fishing tackle slung over his shoulder. He locks his bedroom door at night because of very uneasy feelings he has about the place, but the sanctity and safety of his chamber is nonetheless breached later that night by a terrified old man.

‘She mustn’t die, do you hear?’ he says cryptically before depositing a wrapped parcel on Allan’s nightstand. ‘TO BE OPENED UPON MY DEATH,’ the old man has written rather ominously on it. It is an ancient book on vampire lore, and the man is the owner of the local chateau, who is at his wits’ end because he and his two adult daughters are under siege by vampires.

Next day, Allan finds this fabulous, rather run-down old chateau, but the master, his nocturnal visitor from last night, has just died in mysterious circumstances. Was he already dead when he came to Allan in the night, begging Allan’s aid for his two daughters? According to the book of ancient vampire lore, much, much stranger things have happened. Allan is involved now, and the fate of the chateau-dwellers is now to be his fate too.

The master’s daughter Leone is confined to bed, her life-blood being drained away from her bit by bit by the local vampire. Two marks like the bite of a rat can be seen on her neck. The scariest sequence in the whole film is when she rises from her sickbed and her eyes follow the progress of an unseen entity around her sickroom, even on the ceiling, while a manic, evil grin adorns her face. Her horrified sister Gisele, played by a beautiful young woman who worked as a Paris photographer’s nude model in real life, looks on helplessly.

Gisele is glad to have Allan’s help with her dreadful problem. The local doctor, played by a Polish poet who’s a dead ringer for Nobel prize-winning scientist Albert Einstein, is in league with the vampire so he’s deliberately not being much help at this terrible time.

The old servant at the chateau is really the hero of the hour. He reads the old book of vampire facts and thus learns what must be done if the chateau, and even the village, is to be saved from this demonic plague of creatures of the night.

He spearheads the operation of tracking the vampire down to an old grave in the churchyard and staking it through the heart with the help of Allan in a scene that bothered the censors greatly back in 1932. He even has a nasty surprise in store for the evil doctor in another scene that drew the censors’ wrath down on the film back in the day.

While Allan is sitting on a bench in the cemetery waiting for the trusty family retainer to bring the staking instruments, he drifts off into two Allans and has an horrific nightmare. He is in his coffin now, not dead but merely paralysed by nefarious means, and he is fully conscious while watching a man above him apply the turnscrew to the coffin nails and lock him away inside his forever-box.

The vampire also looks triumphantly down on him as his coffin screws are nailed down. Then the paralysed Allan sees the sky and the trees above him for the last time as his coffin is carried in a solemn procession to the cemetery. It’s a terrifying scene and one that could easily have inspired film legend Roger Corman when he made THE PREMATURE BURIAL for American International Pictures a few short decades later.

A few random facts about the film now, if you will. No sets were used, the whole thing was shot on location in a real inn, a real but marvellously derelict chateau, a real disused ice-factory (there’s nothing spookier than an abandoned factory, unless it’s an abandoned hospital or mental asylum) and a fully-operational plaster works for the grand finale.

The chateau looks truly magnificent in the film. I especially love the room randomly discovered by Allan in his wanderings (it’s not in the chateau, I think) which contains the old dusty books, the skull and what looks like a child’s skeleton standing intact upon a window-sill. If that’s not a room where you can practise your black magic or study the occult and the dark arts, then I don’t know what is. The whole film is stunning to look at. Catch it if you can at all, that’s my advice to you.

‘Imagine that we are sitting in an ordinary room. Suddenly we are told that there is a corpse behind the door. In an instant, the room we are sitting in is completely altered; everything in it has taken on another look; the light, the atmosphere have changed, though they are physically the same. This is because WE have changed and the objects ARE as we conceive them. That is the effect I want to get in my film.’

Carl Theodor Dreyer on describing to his crew the kind of film he wanted to make.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

THE BLUE ANGEL or DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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THE BLUE ANGEL/DER BLAUE ENGEL. (1930) BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘PROFESSOR UNRAT’ BY HEINRICH MANN (BROTHER OF THOMAS MANN).

DIRECTED BY JOSEF VON STERNBERG. PRODUCTION COMPANY: UFA.

STARRING MARLENE DIETRICH, EMIL JANNINGS, KURT GERRON, ROSA VALETTI, HANS ALBERS AND REINHOLD BERNT.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

There’s something eerily magical about this classic Weimar Germany film, even today, nearly a full ninety years after it was made by Josef Von Sternberg, who returned from America to Germany especially to direct it.

After seeing Marlene Dietrich perform in the Berliner Theater in Georg Kaiser’s cabaret ZWEI KRAWATTEN (TWO NECKTIES), Von Sternberg knew that he had found his leading lady.

Though still recognisable, she hadn’t yet grown into her famous face, if you get me, the same way you can look at a young Brigitte Bardot in MANINA or a young Joan Crawford in GRAND HOTEL and think, is that really them, they look so different when they’re young…? 

Although Von Sternberg would modestly shrug off suggestions that he ‘discovered’ Dietrich, I think it really must be said that he did. She went on to have a long and varied career after THE BLUE ANGEL, which led to a contract with Paramount Studios, served as a more than efficient springboard or launching-pad to international stardom.

Josef Von Sternberg, a dark-haired, rather sad-faced man who looked small next to some of his taller contemporaries, made a few minor changes to the story on which the film was based, PROFESSOR UNRAT (PROFESSOR GARBAGE) by Heinrich Mann, but the basic plot remains the same.

A college professor who teaches English Literature, among other things I’m sure, to the boys and young men who attend the Gymnasium, a German word for college or place of learning, meets and falls head-over-heels with a beautiful cabaret singer in a nightclub. This reckless act of impulsivity leads directly to his downfall only a short few years later.

Professor Immanuel Rath makes his way to the nightclub, THE BLUE ANGEL, after a spate of saucy-postcard-hoarding by his students. He sees Lola Lola for the first time as a scantily-dressed image on a kinky postcard (these passed for porn back then…!) and is straightaway taken and intrigued by her. How much more taken will he be, then, with the flesh-and-blood, three-dimensional Lola Lola when he encounters her for real…?

He goes to the nightclub ostensibly to complain about its performers corrupting his young pupils. All thoughts of his moral responsibilities vanish from his mind when he meets the enchanting Lola Lola backstage in her dressing-room.

To the unmarried Professor in his forties, whom we can imagine as having led a very sheltered, bookish life up to now, Lola Lola is sexiness- and sex- incarnate. The magnificent Dietrich is very young here, but she has already learned how to use her eyes and lips to devastating effect. The poor Professor doesn’t stand a chance against such an onslaught of raw sexuality. He’s smitten from the off.

Of course, Marlene Dietrich was always about the legs. The legs, the legs, the legs. This film could also have been called ‘FRILLY KNICKERS AND STOCKING-TOPS’ because that’s what she’s dressed in for most of the movie. She elevates the taking off and putting on of stockings into an art form as she teases and tantalises Rath with a private little striptease in her cramped backstage dressing-room.

She (or maybe I should say they, both Dietrich AND Lola Lola) holds the- mostly male- audiences to the cabaret spellbound as she belts out songs like ‘FALLING IN LOVE AGAIN’ and ‘YOU’RE THE CREAM IN MY COFFEE, YOU’RE THE SALT IN MY STEW.’ They are utterly in thrall to her sexuality and mystique, as is Rath.

When Rath proposes to Lola Lola, I’m always gobsmacked that she says yes. Rath is a portly, not very attractive school-teacher who’s probably not rolling in money. He’s a figure of fun to his students. They don’t respect him. They have nothing but contempt for him.

What on earth does Lola Lola see in him? A kind of father figure, someone who represents security and stability to her, maybe? Or maybe she just says ‘yes’ in the spirit of yeah sure baby, why not, I don’t care either way, it’s all bullshit anyway and, who knows, it might be a blast to try it for a bit…?

Either way, they get hitched, much to Rath’s delight and, four short years later, we come full circle right back to Rath’s origins and it’s not a pretty picture. The marriage has destroyed him, although I can’t give you the details.

His self-respect is non-existent, he’s a figure of fun for all now and not just for his pupils, and his reputation, such as it ever was, is in shreds. Was it worth it, Rath, Von Sternberg seems to be asking his male protagonist, was she worth it…? Would he do it again?

The dark, cramped, narrow little slanted streets surrounding the Blue Angel nightclub look like they’ve come straight out of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI or any other masterpiece of German Expressionist cinema. There’s a fabulous town clock in the film that’s worth looking out for too, the creation of set designer Otto Hunte, and a sad and rather chillingly portentous scene involving a late parrot.

Who is Lola Lola? We know nothing of her background or origins. Is she hard and cold because she’s had to be or because she enjoys it? Is she immoral? Is she promiscuous? Does she have a heart at all?

Does she take pleasure in Rath’s downfall or, as is probably more likely, does she simply regard him as being big enough and old enough to look after himself? She’s his wife, after all, not his mother or his nursemaid, and he’s a grown man.

I don’t think she’s particularly malicious, although she’s certainly mischievous. I think she just doesn’t care, but not because she’s uncaring or heartless. She has enough to be doing looking out for herself. Whatever her motivations anyway, in Lola Lola we’ve been given a timeless creation of sheer sexiness and sensuality whose appeal doesn’t dim with the years.

Marlene Dietrich was a truly beautiful woman and an acting legend on two of the finest legs to ever grace a stage. In THE BLUE ANGEL, Josef Von Sternberg has bottled this legend and encapsulated it for us for all time. Kudos to you, Joe dear. Kudos to you.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor