In this 1942 melodrama, founded on the novel by Olivia Higgins Prouty (who also wrote the novel on which Stella Dallas was based), Bette Davis stars as Charlotte Vale, a dowdy, repressed woman who, overwhelmed by her domineering mother, is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. She finds help at a sanitarium from a kind psychiatrist (Claude Rains), who turns her into a beautiful, confident woman. As a new person, she takes a pleasure cruise, where she meets Jerry (Paul Henreid), an architect trapped in an unhappy marriage, saddled with a troubled daughter. The two fall in love, but, of course, the romance is doomed. Yet their paths cross on occasion, and, despite their feelings, Charlotte finds satisfaction in helping Jerry's depressed child. The film will seem familiar to new viewers--the campy style was the pattern for many tearjerkers to come, and its most famous line has been oft repeated ("Don't ask for the moon--we have the stars"). But the heartstrings are tugged, and as Paul Henreid chivalrously lights two cigarettes and hands one over to the doleful-eyed Davis, pull out the box of tissues--you're gonna need 'em.
(Synopsis by Jenny Brown for Amazon.com)
"Dead Is Dead Quiet"
Written for the stage by Marsha Norman, 'NIGHT, MOTHER opened on Broadway in 1983 with Anne Pitoniak and Kathy Bates in the roles of Thelma and Jessie Cates. It proved a stunning success with critics and audiences alike, running 380 performances, receiving the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, a Tony award for Best Play, and Tony nominations for Pitoniak, Bates, and director Tom Moore.
In 1986 Marsha Norman herself adapted the play to film. The roles of Thelma and Jessie went to Anne Bancroft and Sissy Spacek, and in the process of writing--and possibly under pressure from producers--Norman expanded the original play to include characters mentioned but never seen. The result was something slightly less than ideal. Spacek is perfectly cast as the suicidal Jessie, but although she gives an excellent performance Bancroft is intrinsically miscast in the role of Jessie's "plain country woman" mother. The expansion of the original story also has the effect of diluting the claustrophobic intensity of the original. As for director Tom Moore, although his work for the play was memorable, his work with the film was unremarkable.
But unexpectedly, such is the power of the story's basic premise that these flaws hardly matter. Watered down, fiddled with, and somewhat miscast, 'NIGHT, MOTHER is still a knock-you-flat story that raises the sort of questions that keep you awake on a sleepless night. Thelma is an ordinary, uneducated woman who takes life as it comes; Jessie, however, is an uneasy mixture of introspection and uncertainty, a woman whose marriage failed when she developed epilepsy, whose son has become a bit of gutter trash, who has over the years become a recluse in her mother's home. She's tired of the whole thing, and on this particular evening she informs her mother that in a few hours she's going to shoot herself and put an end to it.
Like the play, the film is essentially an emotional explosion between the two women, Jessie spelling out her reasons for her suicide, Thelma working to turn Jessie from it. Although the suspense of the film arises from a "Will she do it or not?" situation, the real interest here is in Jessie's motivations, the how and why of her decision, and the tactics that Thelma uses in an effort to bring Jessie's plans to a grinding halt, and the way they battle each other over the course of the film. The interest is in the characters, plain and simple.
As noted, Bancroft is not ideally cast here. It is extremely difficult to accept her in the role of Thelma Cates. Even so, Bancroft gives it all she has--and the end result is quite powerful as acting pure and simple, a remarkable feat. But the real powerhouse here is Spacek: we believe her, never question her in the role, and buy into it from start to finish. Even with Bancroft's miscasting, the dilution of the play, and the uninspired direction, Spacek's performance is more than enough to render the film powerful, memorable.
This is not a film that I casually recommend. It rather depends on the viewer's life experiences, and I would hardly send it off to a person in a depressed state of mind or one who had a suicide in the family. But it is worth the trouble it takes to seek out, particularly if it leads you on to reading the play itself--or better yet, seeing a stage production of the same.
(Synopsis by Gary F. Taylor for Amazon.com)
Ranked 34 on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest American Films, To Kill a Mockingbird is quite simply one of the finest family-oriented dramas ever made. A beautiful and deeply affecting adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, the film retains a timeless quality that transcends its historically dated subject matter (racism in the Depression-era South) and remains powerfully resonant in present-day America with its advocacy of tolerance, justice, integrity, and loving, responsible parenthood. It's tempting to call this an important "message" movie that should be required viewing for children and adults alike, but this riveting courtroom drama is anything but stodgy or pedantic. As Atticus Finch, the small-town Alabama lawyer and widower father of two, Gregory Peck gives one of his finest performances with his impassioned defense of a black man (Brock Peters) wrongfully accused of the rape and assault of a young white woman. While his children, Scout (Mary Badham) and Jem (Philip Alford), learn the realities of racial prejudice and irrational hatred, they also learn to overcome their fear of the unknown as personified by their mysterious, mostly unseen neighbor Boo Radley (Robert Duvall, in his brilliant, almost completely nonverbal screen debut). What emerges from this evocative, exquisitely filmed drama is a pure distillation of the themes of Harper Lee's enduring novel, a showcase for some of the finest American acting ever assembled in one film, and a rare quality of humanitarian artistry (including Horton Foote's splendid screenplay and Elmer Bernstein's outstanding score) that seems all but lost in the chaotic morass of modern cinema.
(Synopsis by Jeff Shannon for Amazon.com)
An indictment of the British class system dressed up like a Ralph Lauren ad Another Country is the movie that made very young and very gorgeous Rupert Everett a star. Whatever other ideas it has knocking around its head (and there are quite a lot of them), director Marek Kanievska's adaptation of Julian Mitchell's play is first and foremost a star vehicle for Everett, who played the openly gay main character with a vigor, flair, and smoldering appeal that was rarely seen onscreen in the early '80s. Everett is Guy Bennett, a charming, confident schoolboy in 1930s England who yearns to climb to the top of the social strata at his Eton-like school. His ambitions, however, are waylaid by the young and equally gorgeous James Harcourt (Cary Elwes), with whom he begins a passionate yet secret affair. Soon, however, Guy finds that balancing his love and his ambition is a no-win situation, and that no matter how hard he bucks against it, the ages-old traditional structures of British class and etiquette won't yield in his wake. Added to all this E.M. Forster-style drama and romance is the fact that Guy later on becomes a spy for the Russians against England; it's a weighty theme to drop on the movie, and the fact that it's a true story just shows how less than artfully the film unfolds. Still, holding it all together is the sublime Everett, who took this persona of the classy, beautiful, passionate, British gay man and ran with it throughout the '80s and '90s. With Colin Firth as Everett's Marxist (and heterosexual) compatriot.
(Synopsis by Mark Englehart for Amazon.com)
"Which side will you be on?"
Lindsay Anderson’s If.… is a daringly anarchic vision of British society, set in a boarding school in late-sixties England. Before Kubrick made his mischief iconic in A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell made a hell of an impression as the insouciant Mick Travis, who, along with his school chums, trumps authority at every turn, finally emerging as violent savior against the draconian games of one-upmanship played by both students and the powers that be. Mixing color and black and white as audaciously as it mixes fantasy and reality, If…. remains one of cinema’s most unforgettable rebel yells.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com)
"Ride with the Living Dead!"
Somewhere in the English countryside a nihilistic biker (Nicky Henson) decides to make the name of his violent motorcycle gang ("The Living Dead") more than just a slogan. With the help of his dear old mum (Beryl Reid), who just happens to be a frog-worshipping occultist, he dives to his death only to leap out of his grave (still astride his motorcycle) like a black leather bat out of hell. This is one young rebel who makes the dictum "Live hard, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse" a reality. Soon he's recruiting for his undead biker army. ("Oh man, what are we waiting for?!" exclaims a restless gang member before driving headlong into a truck.) This zombie version of The Wild Angels is less horror film than biker nightmare, and Don Sharp, a former Hammer horror director, doesn't quite know how to straddle the line. The obscure supernatural elements feel creaky next to the restless violence of the rebels without a pulse and their sadistic reign of terror. Though he revels in gallows humor (the gang's "extreme sports" suicide montage is ghoulishly hilarious), Sharp never lets it descend into camp--though at times perhaps he should have. It's an inventive if not altogether successful genre mix highlighted with a sardonic turn by George Sanders as a shady servant who seems completely bemused by the entire spectacle.
(Synopsis by Sean Axmaker for Amazon.com)
"No one can harm you in your imagination"
Closet Land is unique because it takes torture as it's entire setting. Unremittingly bleak and oppressive, Radha Bharadwaj's film assaults the senses and the mind. Shot on a single, sparse set in a style that recalls German Expressionism, there is nothing to divert one's attention from the horrific interrogation. The most atrocious acts of physical violence occur off-screen, although the screams and sobs that result from them are quite audible. Torture is the milieu, but not the theme of the film. The lighting, art direction, and the fact that the only two characters are nameless all underscore the fact that Closet Land is an allegory for oppression anywhere. This is a remarkably unpleasant film to endure, which is the point -- the filmmakers harrowingly communicate that all oppression and torture are horrific. The biggest complaint that can be levied toward the film is that the audience knew this before they entered the theater. The ambiguous ending is similar to Brazil, allowing viewers to decide for themselves if retreating into the mind is escape or defeat.
Features Alan Rickman as the Interrogator and Madeleine Stowe as the Victim.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.com)