July 22, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/22/catch-thief-1951-grace-kelly-cary-grant/To Catch a Thief (1951) with Grace Kelly and Cary GrantFor a moment, he forgets he’s a thief—and she forgets she’s a lady!
Warner Brothers has just released a new tribute to Grace Kelly, a box set of some of her best films.  It’s understandable that two contributions should come from Alfred Hitchcock, of the three features she made for him, all in a row in 1954 and 1955.  The first film was Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland, the second Rear Window with James Stewart and the last To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant.
The inclusion of both Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief in the Warners set seems not only wise but logical, since some of Grace’s best acting occurs in her Hitchcock films.  She demonstrates a wider range here than usual for an actress who really didn’t infuse many of her performances with that much depth.  She responded to Hitch’s direction, however, as she responded to no other director’s.  “I learned a tremendous amount about motion-picture making,” she said.  “He gave me a great deal of confidence in myself.”  He was obviously more helpful toward Grace than toward Ingrid Bergman, who wrote in her autobiography, My Story, that when she complained about what she thought an awkward line, Hitch simply advised, “If you can’t do it my way, fake it.”
Rear Window may be Grace’s best performance, period, even beyond her Oscar win for The Country Girl (also included in this WB set), where she plays, against her image, a plain Jane and wife of an alcoholic husband (Bing Crosby).  But she was never lovelier than as a man-hunting seductress in To Catch a Thief.  Her high moment of glamour occurs in the climax of the film, a masquerade ball where she appears in a golden gown, designed by Edit Head.
Blake Edwards must have retained the ball sequence in his memory when he directed a similar scene in The Pink Panther, the first of the Peter Sellers movies in that series, and added further the fireworks from another scene in Thief.
To Catch a Thief is an atypical Hitchcock film—not the usual psychological thriller, though, as in all his films, dark motifs and symbolism do lurk beneath the surface, if here more subtly.  It’s really a sophisticated whodunit in all but name, maybe, even, a high-class travelogue.  It was something of a “vacation” movie, as much for Hitch as for cast and crew, who seemed to have gotten along famously.  Since his screenwriter had never been to the French Riviera, Hitchcock sent John Michael Hayes (and his wife) there at studio expense to research the locales.
In many respects the Riviera, mainly at Côte d’Azur, is the star of this movie.  Much of the splendid seacoast photography, including—in a Hitch film?—a car chase (!), is the work of second unit director Herbert Coleman.  Main cinematographer Robert Burks won his only Oscar, for Best Color Cinematography; two of his three other nominations were also for Hitchcock films, Strangers on a Train and Rear Window.  His association with the director ended with Marnie and his death in 1968.
To Catch a Thief was Hitchcock’s first motion picture in Paramount’s new VistaVision, a screen process some critics, including Peter Bogdanovich, proclaim superior to all others, though in the projection process VistaVision proved cumbersome and expensive, and was discontinued around 1961.  While its trademark sharpness and clarity are evident in many scenes, Hitch failed to take full advantage of its merits, shortcomings later largely rectified in North by Northwest.
Hitch’s continued love of rear screen projection, often obvious in Thief, would become, some say, an intentional self-parody in Marnie, or else the result of laziness or indifference; or, as Hitch biographer Donald Spoto has written, that “these aberrations were deliberate on Hitchcock’s part, a conscious reversion to an expressionistic style that used artifice to represent a disordered psyche.”
In Thief, the process is obvious, for starters, in Grant and Kelly’s roadster picnic, which almost jarringly switches between on-location medium shots of car and the actual seascape beyond and tight studio close-ups.  The flat, over-bright, almost shadowless light in the studio work is even more obvious in the scenes between Grant and Brigitte Auber at the floating dock, where, further, the multiple and unnatural reflections on the water obviously come from studio lights rather than the sun.
In keeping with the lightness of the film, the plot of Thief is one of Hitch’s most uncomplicated.  John Robie (Grant) is an ex-jewel thief, once known as “The Cat,” but now quietly tending his vineyards.  “I haven’t stolen jewelry in fifteen years,” he tells the police when he’s a suspect in a series of robberies in the area.  Robie eludes the police and finds refuge with his World War II French Resistance buddies and with old girlfriend, Danielle (Auber).
He clearly sees that someone is using his modus operandi and seeks the help of insurance agent H. H. Hughson (John Williams), hoping to catch the real cat burglar in the act.  Hughson suggests that around the tourist resorts there are possible suspects among the rich who flaunt their jewels.  They include Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis, who, in North by Northwest,would, only eight years older, play Grant’s mother) and her husband-hunting daughter Frances (Kelly).
Although Frances at first assumes Robie is the burglar in question and is game to play along, she is fascinated by his charms.  They have a picnic of chicken in her parked roadster along a coast road, the first of two famous scenes involving sexual puns and double entendres.  “Do you want a leg or a breast?” she asks him.  “You make the choice,” Robie replies.  “Tell me,” she resumes, “how long has it been?”  “Since what?”  “Since you were in America last.”  (In The Horse Soldiers [1959], when Constance Towers, in her low-neck dress, offers John Wayne a similar choice from a platter of chicken, he replies that he’s had plenty of both.  Had director John Ford seen To Catch a Thief?)
Hitch certainly felt the second such scene was the pièce de résistance of Thief, one he had planned with understandable relish.  He sat within three feet of Grant and Kelly during the close-up shots, almost as if to become part of a threesome.  To create the greatest possible emphasis, nighttime shots of a fireworks display are tightly intercut between lines as the two actors sit close together on a sofa.
“I have a feeling,” Frances says, moving closer to him in her strapless, low-cut gown and wearing a brilliant necklace, “that tonight you’re going to see one of the Riviera’s most fascinating sights.  I’m talking about the fireworks, of course… .  Even in this light I can tell where your eyes are looking.  Look.  Hold them … diamonds!  The only thing in the world you can’t resist.  Then tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Ever had a better offer in your whole life?  One with everything! … ”
“I’ve never had a crazier one,” Robie replies.
“Just as long as you’re satisfied.”
“You know just as well as I do this necklace is imitation.”
“Well, I’m not!”
Robie thinks the cat burglar will strike again and sets a trap at a gala masquerade ball.  With the police and Hughson disguised among the guests, Frances is dressed in her golden gown and Robie is hidden behind the mask of a Moor.  Sometime during the evening Hughson assumes Robie’s costume, while Robie slips off to the roof, lying in wait for the expected burglar.  He soon appears, jewels in hand—or, rather, she appears, because it’s Danielle.  When she almost falls off the roof, Robie grabs her arm, forcing her to confess to being the thief.
Mystery solved, Robie returns to his vineyard, but Frances follows him and persuades him that she’s the woman for him, though he, in agreeing, seems somewhat edgy that she plans to include her mother.
To Catch a Thief is Alfred Hitchcock’s first light film since 1941’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, made then only because Carole Lombard suggested it.  Thief would be immediately succeeded by more humor, now macabre and maudlin, in the farce The Trouble with Harry, about a reappearing body that won’t go away.  Except for North by Northwest, Hitch’s subsequent films would become darker and darker and would, more and more, reflect his fears and psychoses, reaching a true sadistic rage in Frenzy.  His following movie five years later—the longest gap between any two Hitch films—would be a redemption of sorts, the jovial, unfussy Family Plot in 1976.  Then finis to his career, and, four years later, to his life.
Hitch had planned Grace’s next film to be Marnie, eventually released in 1964, but Tippi Hedren would be a poor substitute when Grace went off to become Princess of Monaco.  Before her marriage to Prince Rainier, though, she would make two more films.  In the first, The Swan, a portent of her royal life to come, she plays a princess pursued by an unappealing prospective husband, Alec Guinness.  The second movie, High Society, also included in this new WB DVD set, would offer the actress a screen choice, this time from among three men—Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra or John Lund.
Note: Although referenced here, no review copy or other consideration was provided by Warner Brothers.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/22/catch-thief-1951-grace-kelly-cary-grant/

To Catch a Thief (1951) with Grace Kelly and Cary Grant

1951 to catch a thiefFor a moment, he forgets he’s a thief—and she forgets she’s a lady!

Warner Brothers has just released a new tribute to Grace Kelly, a box set of some of her best films.  It’s understandable that two contributions should come from Alfred Hitchcock, of the three features she made for him, all in a row in 1954 and 1955.  The first film was Dial M for Murder with Ray Milland, the second Rear Window with James Stewart and the last To Catch a Thief with Cary Grant.

The inclusion of both Dial M for Murder and To Catch a Thief in the Warners set seems not only wise but logical, since some of Grace’s best acting occurs in her Hitchcock films.  She demonstrates a wider range here than usual for an actress who really didn’t infuse many of her performances with that much depth.  She responded to Hitch’s direction, however, as she responded to no other director’s.  “I learned a tremendous amount about motion-picture making,” she said.  “He gave me a great deal of confidence in myself.”  He was obviously more helpful toward Grace than toward Ingrid Bergman, who wrote in her autobiography, My Story, that when she complained about what she thought an awkward line, Hitch simply advised, “If you can’t do it my way, fake it.”

Rear Window may be Grace’s best performance, period, even beyond her Oscar win for The Country Girl (also included in this WB set), where she plays, against her image, a plain Jane and wife of an alcoholic husband (Bing Crosby).  But she was never lovelier than as a man-hunting seductress in To Catch a Thief.  Her high moment of glamour occurs in the climax of the film, a masquerade ball where she appears in a golden gown, designed by Edit Head.

Blake Edwards must have retained the ball sequence in his memory when he directed a similar scene in The Pink Panther, the first of the Peter Sellers movies in that series, and added further the fireworks from another scene in Thief.

To Catch a Thief 1951 8To Catch a Thief is an atypical Hitchcock film—not the usual psychological thriller, though, as in all his films, dark motifs and symbolism do lurk beneath the surface, if here more subtly.  It’s really a sophisticated whodunit in all but name, maybe, even, a high-class travelogue.  It was something of a “vacation” movie, as much for Hitch as for cast and crew, who seemed to have gotten along famously.  Since his screenwriter had never been to the French Riviera, Hitchcock sent John Michael Hayes (and his wife) there at studio expense to research the locales.

In many respects the Riviera, mainly at Côte d’Azur, is the star of this movie.  Much of the splendid seacoast photography, including—in a Hitch film?—a car chase (!), is the work of second unit director Herbert Coleman.  Main cinematographer Robert Burks won his only Oscar, for Best Color Cinematography; two of his three other nominations were also for Hitchcock films, Strangers on a Train and Rear Window.  His association with the director ended with Marnie and his death in 1968.

To Catch a Thief 1951 2To Catch a Thief was Hitchcock’s first motion picture in Paramount’s new VistaVision, a screen process some critics, including Peter Bogdanovich, proclaim superior to all others, though in the projection process VistaVision proved cumbersome and expensive, and was discontinued around 1961.  While its trademark sharpness and clarity are evident in many scenes, Hitch failed to take full advantage of its merits, shortcomings later largely rectified in North by Northwest.

Hitch’s continued love of rear screen projection, often obvious in Thief, would become, some say, an intentional self-parody in Marnie, or else the result of laziness or indifference; or, as Hitch biographer Donald Spoto has written, that “these aberrations were deliberate on Hitchcock’s part, a conscious reversion to an expressionistic style that used artifice to represent a disordered psyche.”

To Catch a Thief 1951 9In Thief, the process is obvious, for starters, in Grant and Kelly’s roadster picnic, which almost jarringly switches between on-location medium shots of car and the actual seascape beyond and tight studio close-ups.  The flat, over-bright, almost shadowless light in the studio work is even more obvious in the scenes between Grant and Brigitte Auber at the floating dock, where, further, the multiple and unnatural reflections on the water obviously come from studio lights rather than the sun.

In keeping with the lightness of the film, the plot of Thief is one of Hitch’s most uncomplicated.  John Robie (Grant) is an ex-jewel thief, once known as “The Cat,” but now quietly tending his vineyards.  “I haven’t stolen jewelry in fifteen years,” he tells the police when he’s a suspect in a series of robberies in the area.  Robie eludes the police and finds refuge with his World War II French Resistance buddies and with old girlfriend, Danielle (Auber).

He clearly sees that someone is using his modus operandi and seeks the help of insurance agent H. H. Hughson (John Williams), hoping to catch the real cat burglar in the act.  Hughson suggests that around the tourist resorts there are possible suspects among the rich who flaunt their jewels.  They include Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis, who, in North by Northwest,would, only eight years older, play Grant’s mother) and her husband-hunting daughter Frances (Kelly).

To Catch a Thief 1951 5Although Frances at first assumes Robie is the burglar in question and is game to play along, she is fascinated by his charms.  They have a picnic of chicken in her parked roadster along a coast road, the first of two famous scenes involving sexual puns and double entendres.  “Do you want a leg or a breast?” she asks him.  “You make the choice,” Robie replies.  “Tell me,” she resumes, “how long has it been?”  “Since what?”  “Since you were in America last.”  (In The Horse Soldiers [1959], when Constance Towers, in her low-neck dress, offers John Wayne a similar choice from a platter of chicken, he replies that he’s had plenty of both.  Had director John Ford seen To Catch a Thief?)

Hitch certainly felt the second such scene was the pièce de résistance of Thief, one he had planned with understandable relish.  He sat within three feet of Grant and Kelly during the close-up shots, almost as if to become part of a threesome.  To create the greatest possible emphasis, nighttime shots of a fireworks display are tightly intercut between lines as the two actors sit close together on a sofa.

To Catch a Thief 1951 4“I have a feeling,” Frances says, moving closer to him in her strapless, low-cut gown and wearing a brilliant necklace, “that tonight you’re going to see one of the Riviera’s most fascinating sights.  I’m talking about the fireworks, of course… .  Even in this light I can tell where your eyes are looking.  Look.  Hold them … diamonds!  The only thing in the world you can’t resist.  Then tell me you don’t know what I’m talking about.  Ever had a better offer in your whole life?  One with everything! … ”

“I’ve never had a crazier one,” Robie replies.
“Just as long as you’re satisfied.”
“You know just as well as I do this necklace is imitation.”
“Well, I’m not!”

To Catch a Thief 1951 1Robie thinks the cat burglar will strike again and sets a trap at a gala masquerade ball.  With the police and Hughson disguised among the guests, Frances is dressed in her golden gown and Robie is hidden behind the mask of a Moor.  Sometime during the evening Hughson assumes Robie’s costume, while Robie slips off to the roof, lying in wait for the expected burglar.  He soon appears, jewels in hand—or, rather, she appears, because it’s Danielle.  When she almost falls off the roof, Robie grabs her arm, forcing her to confess to being the thief.

Mystery solved, Robie returns to his vineyard, but Frances follows him and persuades him that she’s the woman for him, though he, in agreeing, seems somewhat edgy that she plans to include her mother.

To Catch a Thief is Alfred Hitchcock’s first light film since 1941’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, made then only because Carole Lombard suggested it.  Thief would be immediately succeeded by more humor, now macabre and maudlin, in the farce The Trouble with Harry, about a reappearing body that won’t go away.  Except for North by Northwest, Hitch’s subsequent films would become darker and darker and would, more and more, reflect his fears and psychoses, reaching a true sadistic rage in Frenzy.  His following movie five years later—the longest gap between any two Hitch films—would be a redemption of sorts, the jovial, unfussy Family Plot in 1976.  Then finis to his career, and, four years later, to his life.

To Catch a Thief 1951 3Hitch had planned Grace’s next film to be Marnie, eventually released in 1964, but Tippi Hedren would be a poor substitute when Grace went off to become Princess of Monaco.  Before her marriage to Prince Rainier, though, she would make two more films.  In the first, The Swan, a portent of her royal life to come, she plays a princess pursued by an unappealing prospective husband, Alec Guinness.  The second movie, High Society, also included in this new WB DVD set, would offer the actress a screen choice, this time from among three men—Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra or John Lund.

Note: Although referenced here, no review copy or other consideration was provided by Warner Brothers.

July 15, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/15/moonstruck-1987-cher/Moonstruck (1987) with Cher and Nicolas Cage“I don’t know [why a man chases women]. Maybe because he fears death.”— Johnny to Rose
Nothing deep, Moonstruck is, rather, a warm diversion, a movie to watch on a cold night, or, for that matter, on a warm day—but not if someone is depressed, ’cause it’ll certainly lift any dark clouds and bring a smile, probably more than a several dozen laughs.
While cleverly avoiding slapstick, it centers on the love of life, Italian style, here in probably a bigger effusion than even the way real Italians celebrate life. Here are all the slants on their Latin traits—a bit about religion, more about the effects of the moon on the libido and still more about the theme of Death as raised by a family matriarch, who wanders through the plot like a Demosthenes, lantern held high, only here looking, not for an honest man, perhaps because she knows they don’t exist, but for the answer to a vital, personal question.
And, of course, there’s the almost constant presence of food, food and more food—at the breakfast or dining room table of the central family here, the Castorini’s; food in restaurants, food as a prelude to lovemaking. Food, sometimes, as an excuse for family dialogues and one-liners, even about good food wasted, such as that remark by that matriarch directed at her father-in-law: “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food and I’m gonna kick you ’til you’re dead!”
Love, like an antidote to death, is the cornerstone in Moonstruck—for one character seeking a quick escape from a long marriage, for another discovering romance unexpectedly, for still another finding someone who “could have been” under other circumstances. Everybody’s busy with love. Appropriately, then, behind the main title Dean Martin sings “That’s Amore,” and music of a quite different type practically saturates the film. For some viewers it may be absorbed only subliminally, and that is the sentimentality of opera, specifically Puccini, more specifically his La Bohème, which continues two of the film’s major themes, love and death.
The late Premiere Magazine’s ranking Moonstruck ninth among the most overrated movies of all time glaringly conflicts with the American Film Institute’s placing it eighth among the greatest of romantic comedies—the same conflict this writer has with that magazine, which ceased publication in 2007. “The movie makes you laugh,” Roger Ebert wrote, “ … , but it also makes you feel more open to your better impulses, and that is harder still.”
One can wonder how such an Italian-feeling movie could succeed so well—and it does—when so few participants are Italian. Certainly not Canadian director Norman Jewison, responsible for the original Thomas Crown Affair, Agnes of God and, above all, In the Heat of the Night. Nor screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, who, quite different from the exuberant, adventurous Castorinis and their friends, came from an Irish family of sexual repression and unimaginative meals. He also wrote screenplays for Congo and, more recently, Doubt.
Nor remotely Italian is Cher, whose credits include Silkwoodand The Witches of Eastwick, she of mixed heritage, from way to the north and east of Italy. Nor Olympia Dukakis, of Greek immigrants, who wasn’t on the movie map, in fact, until Moonstruck. Nor John Mahoney—Kelsey Grammer’s father in TV’s Frasier—originally English, having lost his accent during service in the U.S. Army. Nor the minor but important actor Feodor Chaliapin, listed without his proper “Jr.,” as he was born in Moscow, the son of the famous Russian operatic bass.
The Italian influences do occur with Nicolas Cage, who, half-Italian, was the wild man on the Moonstruck set, the opaque method actor, almost dropped by the studio except for Cher’s intervention. And then the remaining major cast members, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello and Julie Bovasso, have definite Italian connections. Gardenia even auditioned part of his role for the movie in Italian.
Shanley had originally scripted the film to open with La Bohème, with a conductor rapping on his music stand before launching into the opera,but the preview audience was totally turned off—opera and all that Italian!—thinking this was “some kind of artsy, fartsy film” (his words). Puccini’s music still plays a large part in the movie, but the main title shows onlythe sets for La Bohème being trucked to the Met, with Martin’s “That’s Amore” on the soundtrack. In keeping with the general buoyancy of the movie, this choice is much more appropriate.
Moonstruckis about several New York Italian-American families, connected by marriage, friendship or employment, mainly the Castorinis, three generations of which live in the same big Brooklyn house where much of the action takes place, usually while someone, sometimes everyone, is eating or drinking. The kitchen is where all important announcements and decisions are made.
The sub-theme of death is established immediately. Jewison’s main title credit is given against a corpse in a coffin in a funeral home where Loretta Castorini (Cher) is the bookkeeper. Her father, rich plumber Cosmo (Gardenia), is introduced telling his daughter that he can’t sleep—“too much like death.” He is cheating on wife Rose (Dukakis, in a great performance), who suspects that men chase women because they fear death.
Loretta, whose first husband of a few years was run over by a bus, has agreed, surrounded by food and dessert in a restaurant, to marry a “big baby,” Johnny Cammareri (Aiello). Clearly the boss, she tells him what he should eat and that he needs to get on his knees if he’s going to propose. When Loretta and her father wake Rose to tell her the news, she says, “Who’s dead?” Rose asks her if she loves Johnny. When she replies no, though adding he’s a nice, sweet man, Rose replies, “Good. When you love ’em, they drive you crazy because they know they can.” She looks at Cosmo when she says it, and will ask Loretta the same question again in the film’s climax.
Johnny, however, can’t marry Loretta until his mother, dying in Sicily, has passed. They decide on a month from now for the wedding, and he flies off for the deathwatch. Johnny has asked Loretta to contact his estranged brother Ronny (Cage) and invite him to the wedding. She tracks him down in a bakery. He emerges from the shadows of the dark basement like some kind of Vulcan brute, with spiked hair, a wild look and in a tank top revealing shiny, sweaty muscles. “They say bread is life,” he shouts to her. “And I bake bread, bread, bread. And I sweat and shovel this stinkin’ dough in and out of this hot hole in the wall, and I should be so happy! Huh, sweetie?”
The bad blood between the two brothers is Ronny’s animosity: while distracted in Johnny’s presence, Ronny accidentally cut off his left hand in the bread slicer, and, thus maimed, his girl dropped him. He threatens cutting his throat in front of Loretta. “Bring me the big knife!” he screams to an assistant (Nada Despotovich).
This scene, and Cage’s performance in general, can make or break Moonstruck, depending upon one’s viewpoint. His acting is either some kind of weird tour de force, a fascinating novelty, that, against all logic, is effective, or, as I see it, an absurd eccentricity that doesn’t quite come off; it disturbs the tone of the film.
Intercut with this scene, Cosmo is at a restaurant with his mistress Mona (Anita Gillette), giving her a cheap bracelet and strutting his salesmanship. In the previous scene, he had delivered what could be called his “Copper Pipe Speech.” As a plumber, he is selling a young couple on the superiority of copper pipe: “There are three kinds of pipe. There’s what you have, which is garbage—and you can see where that’s gotten you. There’s bronze, which is pretty good, unless something goes wrong—and something always goes wrong. Then there’s copper, which is the only pipe I use. It costs money. It costs money because it saves money.” Easily impressed, Mona gushes, “You have such a head for knowing. You know everything.”
Within an hour after meeting, following a steak dinner Loretta prepares for him, she and Ronny make love in a room over the bakery. “Hollow me out,” she cries, “so there’s nothing left but the skin over my bones. Suck me dry!” He concurs: “All right. All right. There will be nothing left!” They are accompanied by “O soave fanciulla,” the climax of Act I of La Bohème.
Earlier, just after his first kiss and her,“Wait a minute! Wait a minute!”—said in vain, obviously—there are a few notes from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the famous “Tristanchord,” perhaps an in-joke by composer Dick Hyman. (Wagner’s great rival was not Puccini, who came almost two generations later, but Giuseppe Verdi.) Later, after cutting to other scenes, Loretta and Ronnie arise the next morning. He confesses he loves her. She slaps him, not once but twice, and declares, “Snap out of it!,” one of the most famous lines from the film, though not the best.
Loretta tells Ronny she wants him out of her life, that the affair never happened. Okay, he says, he will give her up if she’ll go to the opera with him, because only two things matter in his life—her and “the opera.” She agrees, but showing her cultural deficiency, turns back to ask, “Where’s the Met?” At a hair salon and a boutique she is transformed from sloppy Loretta—Cher is never that “sloppy”—to Cinderella on her way to the ball. Ronny is her Prince, out of his baker/blacksmith clothes and into tie and tails, hair slicked down.
The two lovers hold hands and she tears up, romantically moved by the opera—Mimì’s Act II farewell to Rudolfo, “Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d’amore,” in a snowfall, with a suspended moon. Descending the staircase at Lincoln Center afterward, Loretta wonders, “You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick——” In the foyer, Loretta confronts her father with his mistress. On the walls are the great paintings of Marc Chagall, which Loretta calls “kinda gaudy,” and a portrait of Richard Strauss.
Walking back after the opera, Loretta and Ronny reach his place. He says he loves her. “You gonna marry my brother? … You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?” “He didn’t come!” she says. “I’m here!’ he replies. “You’re late!” she says. He takes her to his bed again—more Puccini—and afterward they are entranced by the moon.
Another couple, Rita and Raymond Cappomaggi, coming under the category of “sweet and endearing,” are also romantically stimulated by the moon. Rita is Rose’s sister. They are played by Julie Bovasso and Louis Guss. Together, they run a delicatessen, where Loretta is the bookkeeper, who takes the week’s profits to the bank.
Quite often in Moonstruck, scenes aren’t cut, adjacent to one another, but are bridged by someone walking, a kind of promenade, usually to Italian accordion music, Will Hudson and Irving Mills’ “Moonglow,” bits from La Bohème, including the purely orchestral “Musetta’s Entry” and her famous waltz, or something of Hyman’s own devising.
Cosmo’s father (Chaliapin) is forever out walking his five dogs. On the first occasion, he takes the animals across the street, passes through a gate marked“No Dogs Allowed” and lets them go in a little park. One of his outing is an Italian tribute to the moon, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance; after imitating a howl, he inspires his dogs to howl, prompting his endless laughter. One night, while escorting his dogs, he meets Rose, out walking with a man (Mahoney, this six years before In the Line of Fire and Frasier).
As Perry, a college professor, Mahoney has two scenes in a restaurant where young girls throw drinks at him and walk out, the first during Johnny’s proposal to Loretta. On the second soaking, which is intercut with Loretta and Ronny at the Met, Rose is at the next table, eating alone. She invites Perry over and asks him, “Why do men chase women?” He gives a feeble answer, beginning, “It’s nerves,” whereupon she presents her theory. Although she is too old for him, they have much in common and hit it off—up to a point. As he’s walking her home, he suggests he go up with her to her three-story “mansion,” he calls it. She says no, that she’s married and, besides,“I know who I am.”
Johnny returns from Sicily: his mother has recovered. When he arrives at the Castorini’s, Loretta is not at home. Rose asks him her question. He first suggests men chase women because God took a rib from Adam to make Eve and men have always wanted that rib back, and, too, a man needs a woman to be complete, but also, he wonders, maybe it’s because … men fear death. Rose thanks him, saying he’s answered her question, as if she hadn’t answered it herself long ago! Johnny says he’ll be back, that he must talk to Loretta. Then Cosmo comes home. Rose tells him, “I just want you to know, no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.” He replies,“Thank you, Rose,” and goes upstairs.
The climax of the film is the long, final scene at the kitchen table, where, one by one, most of the cast arrives. It’s like an octet in an opera finale, which seems only apropos. When Loretta enters with love bites on her neck, Rose tells her to put on some makeup. Then Ronny arrives, also with love bites, and when Loretta shouts that he can’t stay, he replies to an earlier offer,“Yes, Mrs. Castorini, I would LOVE some oatmeal.” Cosmo comes down from upstairs and the grandfather arrives, sans dogs. Rose tells her husband, “I want you to stop seeing her… . And go to confession.”
Then Rita and Raymond arrive to check on why Loretta didn’t bank the money from the delicatessen and are relieved that she has it, had simply forgotten. Now they all wait for Johnny to return. After a long pause—seven around the table now—the grandfather says, “Someone tell a joke.” When Johnny does arrive, he says he can’t marry Loretta, that, if he does, his mother will die. She throws him the “pinky” ring. Ronny proposes to Loretta, asking his brother to loan him the ring. Loretta accepts. Everybody seems happy. Cosmo asks, “What’s the matter, pop?” “I’m confused,” the old man replies, crying.
And the question that Rose had asked Loretta about Johnny is repeated at the kitchen table, now regarding Ronny:“Do you love him?” Loretta replies, “Ah, ma, I love him awful.” She replies, “Oh, God, that’s too bad.”
Beautiful voices from La Bohème return as the camera pans the living room with its crowded photographs of generations of Castorinis—life is, after all, about family—and “That’s Amore” floats in again as the end credits roll.
If Cage’s performance is certainly the strangest and, to some viewers, the most problematic in Moonstruck, then Dukakis’ is the one that holds everything together, as Rose holds together the Castorini family, without—and no small feat—coming apart herself from the strain. Good enough a performance to win a Supporting Actress Academy Award. It’s amazing how expressive, how convincing are her observations on the human condition, especially regarding that question of hers, when conveyed in that often droll, deadpan delivery.
Cher, in surely one of her best performances, earning a Best Actress Oscar, has pretty much mastered the Brooklyn accent, her largest hurdle. Like Liza Minnelli’s persona, that is, one difficult to act above or overcome, Cher seems less like Cher, and more like Loretta Castorini. She is convincing as an Italian-American who fears her first marriage was cursed—remember the bus?!—for its civil ceremony and wants to save the second, when it would have been to Johnny Cammareri, by a proper wedding in a Catholic church.
Vincent Gardenia, another excellent player in an over-all excellent ensemble, was awarded a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but that’s as far as it went, losing, along with his three other nominees, to Sean Connery for The Untouchables. The other performers, Italian or not, are equal “members of the family”—Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso and Feodor Chaliapin. Not to be forgotten—the only one unconnected with the others, in nationality or temperament—is John Mahoney, who is memorable himself.
Norman Jewison’s nomination for Best Director, like Moonstruck’s for Best Picture, lost to The Last Emperor, a win which now seems, after the test of time, a misguided award, rendered to so many big pictures with exotic settings and that aura of for-the-moment novelty. Shanley easily won Best Original Screenplay, with stiffest competition from Woody Allen for Radio Days and James Brooks for Broadcast News.
If nothing else, the general public’s exposure to Moonstruck has introduced many an unsuspecting movie-goer and opera-hater to the gorgeous music of Giacomo Puccini and his most beautiful and melodic opera. On the filmsoundtrack, Mimì and Rudolfo are sung by Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi from a 1959 recording. The opera scene Loretta and Ronny watch is not from a Met performance, but from the Canadian Opera.
For those viewers who would like to investigate La Bohème further, a good CD choice is the Decca 1972 recording with Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo—“perhaps the best thing he ever did,” Gramophone magazine has proclaimed. For a more recent, fully digital version, there is the 2007 Deutsche Grammophon recording with Anna Netrebko as Mimì and Rolando Villazón as Rodolfo.
Like Moonstruck,La Bohème is about love and … what was that other? … Death.

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/15/moonstruck-1987-cher/

Moonstruck (1987) with Cher and Nicolas Cage

1987 moonstruck“I don’t know [why a man chases women]. Maybe because he fears death.”— Johnny to Rose

Nothing deep, Moonstruck is, rather, a warm diversion, a movie to watch on a cold night, or, for that matter, on a warm day—but not if someone is depressed, ’cause it’ll certainly lift any dark clouds and bring a smile, probably more than a several dozen laughs.

While cleverly avoiding slapstick, it centers on the love of life, Italian style, here in probably a bigger effusion than even the way real Italians celebrate life. Here are all the slants on their Latin traits—a bit about religion, more about the effects of the moon on the libido and still more about the theme of Death as raised by a family matriarch, who wanders through the plot like a Demosthenes, lantern held high, only here looking, not for an honest man, perhaps because she knows they don’t exist, but for the answer to a vital, personal question.

And, of course, there’s the almost constant presence of food, food and more food—at the breakfast or dining room table of the central family here, the Castorini’s; food in restaurants, food as a prelude to lovemaking. Food, sometimes, as an excuse for family dialogues and one-liners, even about good food wasted, such as that remark by that matriarch directed at her father-in-law: “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food and I’m gonna kick you ’til you’re dead!”

Love, like an antidote to death, is the cornerstone in Moonstruck—for one character seeking a quick escape from a long marriage, for another discovering romance unexpectedly, for still another finding someone who “could have been” under other circumstances. Everybody’s busy with love. Appropriately, then, behind the main title Dean Martin sings “That’s Amore,” and music of a quite different type practically saturates the film. For some viewers it may be absorbed only subliminally, and that is the sentimentality of opera, specifically Puccini, more specifically his La Bohème, which continues two of the film’s major themes, love and death.

The late Premiere Magazine’s ranking Moonstruck ninth among the most overrated movies of all time glaringly conflicts with the American Film Institute’s placing it eighth among the greatest of romantic comedies—the same conflict this writer has with that magazine, which ceased publication in 2007. “The movie makes you laugh,” Roger Ebert wrote, “ … , but it also makes you feel more open to your better impulses, and that is harder still.”

moonstruck 1987 11One can wonder how such an Italian-feeling movie could succeed so well—and it does—when so few participants are Italian. Certainly not Canadian director Norman Jewison, responsible for the original Thomas Crown Affair, Agnes of God and, above all, In the Heat of the Night. Nor screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, who, quite different from the exuberant, adventurous Castorinis and their friends, came from an Irish family of sexual repression and unimaginative meals. He also wrote screenplays for Congo and, more recently, Doubt.

Nor remotely Italian is Cher, whose credits include Silkwoodand The Witches of Eastwick, she of mixed heritage, from way to the north and east of Italy. Nor Olympia Dukakis, of Greek immigrants, who wasn’t on the movie map, in fact, until Moonstruck. Nor John Mahoney—Kelsey Grammer’s father in TV’s Frasier—originally English, having lost his accent during service in the U.S. Army. Nor the minor but important actor Feodor Chaliapin, listed without his proper “Jr.,” as he was born in Moscow, the son of the famous Russian operatic bass.

The Italian influences do occur with Nicolas Cage, who, half-Italian, was the wild man on the Moonstruck set, the opaque method actor, almost dropped by the studio except for Cher’s intervention. And then the remaining major cast members, Vincent Gardenia, Danny Aiello and Julie Bovasso, have definite Italian connections. Gardenia even auditioned part of his role for the movie in Italian.

chagall triumph of musicShanley had originally scripted the film to open with La Bohème, with a conductor rapping on his music stand before launching into the opera,but the preview audience was totally turned off—opera and all that Italian!—thinking this was “some kind of artsy, fartsy film” (his words). Puccini’s music still plays a large part in the movie, but the main title shows onlythe sets for La Bohème being trucked to the Met, with Martin’s “That’s Amore” on the soundtrack. In keeping with the general buoyancy of the movie, this choice is much more appropriate.

Moonstruckis about several New York Italian-American families, connected by marriage, friendship or employment, mainly the Castorinis, three generations of which live in the same big Brooklyn house where much of the action takes place, usually while someone, sometimes everyone, is eating or drinking. The kitchen is where all important announcements and decisions are made.

The sub-theme of death is established immediately. Jewison’s main title credit is given against a corpse in a coffin in a funeral home where Loretta Castorini (Cher) is the bookkeeper. Her father, rich plumber Cosmo (Gardenia), is introduced telling his daughter that he can’t sleep—“too much like death.” He is cheating on wife Rose (Dukakis, in a great performance), who suspects that men chase women because they fear death.

moonstruck 1987 7Loretta, whose first husband of a few years was run over by a bus, has agreed, surrounded by food and dessert in a restaurant, to marry a “big baby,” Johnny Cammareri (Aiello). Clearly the boss, she tells him what he should eat and that he needs to get on his knees if he’s going to propose. When Loretta and her father wake Rose to tell her the news, she says, “Who’s dead?” Rose asks her if she loves Johnny. When she replies no, though adding he’s a nice, sweet man, Rose replies, “Good. When you love ’em, they drive you crazy because they know they can.” She looks at Cosmo when she says it, and will ask Loretta the same question again in the film’s climax.

Johnny, however, can’t marry Loretta until his mother, dying in Sicily, has passed. They decide on a month from now for the wedding, and he flies off for the deathwatch. Johnny has asked Loretta to contact his estranged brother Ronny (Cage) and invite him to the wedding. She tracks him down in a bakery. He emerges from the shadows of the dark basement like some kind of Vulcan brute, with spiked hair, a wild look and in a tank top revealing shiny, sweaty muscles. “They say bread is life,” he shouts to her. “And I bake bread, bread, bread. And I sweat and shovel this stinkin’ dough in and out of this hot hole in the wall, and I should be so happy! Huh, sweetie?”

moonstruck 1987 6The bad blood between the two brothers is Ronny’s animosity: while distracted in Johnny’s presence, Ronny accidentally cut off his left hand in the bread slicer, and, thus maimed, his girl dropped him. He threatens cutting his throat in front of Loretta. “Bring me the big knife!” he screams to an assistant (Nada Despotovich).

This scene, and Cage’s performance in general, can make or break Moonstruck, depending upon one’s viewpoint. His acting is either some kind of weird tour de force, a fascinating novelty, that, against all logic, is effective, or, as I see it, an absurd eccentricity that doesn’t quite come off; it disturbs the tone of the film.

Intercut with this scene, Cosmo is at a restaurant with his mistress Mona (Anita Gillette), giving her a cheap bracelet and strutting his salesmanship. In the previous scene, he had delivered what could be called his “Copper Pipe Speech.” As a plumber, he is selling a young couple on the superiority of copper pipe: “There are three kinds of pipe. There’s what you have, which is garbage—and you can see where that’s gotten you. There’s bronze, which is pretty good, unless something goes wrong—and something always goes wrong. Then there’s copper, which is the only pipe I use. It costs money. It costs money because it saves money.” Easily impressed, Mona gushes, “You have such a head for knowing. You know everything.”

moonstruck 1987 5Within an hour after meeting, following a steak dinner Loretta prepares for him, she and Ronny make love in a room over the bakery. “Hollow me out,” she cries, “so there’s nothing left but the skin over my bones. Suck me dry!” He concurs: “All right. All right. There will be nothing left!” They are accompanied by “O soave fanciulla,” the climax of Act I of La Bohème.

Earlier, just after his first kiss and her,“Wait a minute! Wait a minute!”—said in vain, obviously—there are a few notes from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, the famous “Tristanchord,” perhaps an in-joke by composer Dick Hyman. (Wagner’s great rival was not Puccini, who came almost two generations later, but Giuseppe Verdi.) Later, after cutting to other scenes, Loretta and Ronnie arise the next morning. He confesses he loves her. She slaps him, not once but twice, and declares, “Snap out of it!,” one of the most famous lines from the film, though not the best.

moonstruck 1987 4Loretta tells Ronny she wants him out of her life, that the affair never happened. Okay, he says, he will give her up if she’ll go to the opera with him, because only two things matter in his life—her and “the opera.” She agrees, but showing her cultural deficiency, turns back to ask, “Where’s the Met?” At a hair salon and a boutique she is transformed from sloppy Loretta—Cher is never that “sloppy”—to Cinderella on her way to the ball. Ronny is her Prince, out of his baker/blacksmith clothes and into tie and tails, hair slicked down.

The two lovers hold hands and she tears up, romantically moved by the opera—Mimì’s Act II farewell to Rudolfo, “Donde lieta usci al tuo grido d’amore,” in a snowfall, with a suspended moon. Descending the staircase at Lincoln Center afterward, Loretta wonders, “You know, I didn’t really think she was gonna die. I knew she was sick——” In the foyer, Loretta confronts her father with his mistress. On the walls are the great paintings of Marc Chagall, which Loretta calls “kinda gaudy,” and a portrait of Richard Strauss.

moonstruck 1987 9Walking back after the opera, Loretta and Ronny reach his place. He says he loves her. “You gonna marry my brother? … You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?” “He didn’t come!” she says. “I’m here!’ he replies. “You’re late!” she says. He takes her to his bed again—more Puccini—and afterward they are entranced by the moon.

Another couple, Rita and Raymond Cappomaggi, coming under the category of “sweet and endearing,” are also romantically stimulated by the moon. Rita is Rose’s sister. They are played by Julie Bovasso and Louis Guss. Together, they run a delicatessen, where Loretta is the bookkeeper, who takes the week’s profits to the bank.

Quite often in Moonstruck, scenes aren’t cut, adjacent to one another, but are bridged by someone walking, a kind of promenade, usually to Italian accordion music, Will Hudson and Irving Mills’ “Moonglow,” bits from La Bohème, including the purely orchestral “Musetta’s Entry” and her famous waltz, or something of Hyman’s own devising.

moonstruck 1987 2Cosmo’s father (Chaliapin) is forever out walking his five dogs. On the first occasion, he takes the animals across the street, passes through a gate marked“No Dogs Allowed” and lets them go in a little park. One of his outing is an Italian tribute to the moon, with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance; after imitating a howl, he inspires his dogs to howl, prompting his endless laughter. One night, while escorting his dogs, he meets Rose, out walking with a man (Mahoney, this six years before In the Line of Fire and Frasier).

moonstruck 1987 3As Perry, a college professor, Mahoney has two scenes in a restaurant where young girls throw drinks at him and walk out, the first during Johnny’s proposal to Loretta. On the second soaking, which is intercut with Loretta and Ronny at the Met, Rose is at the next table, eating alone. She invites Perry over and asks him, “Why do men chase women?” He gives a feeble answer, beginning, “It’s nerves,” whereupon she presents her theory. Although she is too old for him, they have much in common and hit it off—up to a point. As he’s walking her home, he suggests he go up with her to her three-story “mansion,” he calls it. She says no, that she’s married and, besides,“I know who I am.”

Johnny returns from Sicily: his mother has recovered. When he arrives at the Castorini’s, Loretta is not at home. Rose asks him her question. He first suggests men chase women because God took a rib from Adam to make Eve and men have always wanted that rib back, and, too, a man needs a woman to be complete, but also, he wonders, maybe it’s because … men fear death. Rose thanks him, saying he’s answered her question, as if she hadn’t answered it herself long ago! Johnny says he’ll be back, that he must talk to Loretta. Then Cosmo comes home. Rose tells him, “I just want you to know, no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.” He replies,“Thank you, Rose,” and goes upstairs.

moonstruck 1987 1The climax of the film is the long, final scene at the kitchen table, where, one by one, most of the cast arrives. It’s like an octet in an opera finale, which seems only apropos. When Loretta enters with love bites on her neck, Rose tells her to put on some makeup. Then Ronny arrives, also with love bites, and when Loretta shouts that he can’t stay, he replies to an earlier offer,“Yes, Mrs. Castorini, I would LOVE some oatmeal.” Cosmo comes down from upstairs and the grandfather arrives, sans dogs. Rose tells her husband, “I want you to stop seeing her… . And go to confession.”

Then Rita and Raymond arrive to check on why Loretta didn’t bank the money from the delicatessen and are relieved that she has it, had simply forgotten. Now they all wait for Johnny to return. After a long pause—seven around the table now—the grandfather says, “Someone tell a joke.” When Johnny does arrive, he says he can’t marry Loretta, that, if he does, his mother will die. She throws him the “pinky” ring. Ronny proposes to Loretta, asking his brother to loan him the ring. Loretta accepts. Everybody seems happy. Cosmo asks, “What’s the matter, pop?” “I’m confused,” the old man replies, crying.

moonstruck 1987 8And the question that Rose had asked Loretta about Johnny is repeated at the kitchen table, now regarding Ronny:“Do you love him?” Loretta replies, “Ah, ma, I love him awful.” She replies, “Oh, God, that’s too bad.”

Beautiful voices from La Bohème return as the camera pans the living room with its crowded photographs of generations of Castorinis—life is, after all, about family—and “That’s Amore” floats in again as the end credits roll.

If Cage’s performance is certainly the strangest and, to some viewers, the most problematic in Moonstruck, then Dukakis’ is the one that holds everything together, as Rose holds together the Castorini family, without—and no small feat—coming apart herself from the strain. Good enough a performance to win a Supporting Actress Academy Award. It’s amazing how expressive, how convincing are her observations on the human condition, especially regarding that question of hers, when conveyed in that often droll, deadpan delivery.

hohenstein la bohemeCher, in surely one of her best performances, earning a Best Actress Oscar, has pretty much mastered the Brooklyn accent, her largest hurdle. Like Liza Minnelli’s persona, that is, one difficult to act above or overcome, Cher seems less like Cher, and more like Loretta Castorini. She is convincing as an Italian-American who fears her first marriage was cursed—remember the bus?!—for its civil ceremony and wants to save the second, when it would have been to Johnny Cammareri, by a proper wedding in a Catholic church.

Vincent Gardenia, another excellent player in an over-all excellent ensemble, was awarded a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but that’s as far as it went, losing, along with his three other nominees, to Sean Connery for The Untouchables. The other performers, Italian or not, are equal “members of the family”—Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso and Feodor Chaliapin. Not to be forgotten—the only one unconnected with the others, in nationality or temperament—is John Mahoney, who is memorable himself.

Norman Jewison’s nomination for Best Director, like Moonstruck’s for Best Picture, lost to The Last Emperor, a win which now seems, after the test of time, a misguided award, rendered to so many big pictures with exotic settings and that aura of for-the-moment novelty. Shanley easily won Best Original Screenplay, with stiffest competition from Woody Allen for Radio Days and James Brooks for Broadcast News.

If nothing else, the general public’s exposure to Moonstruck has introduced many an unsuspecting movie-goer and opera-hater to the gorgeous music of Giacomo Puccini and his most beautiful and melodic opera. On the filmsoundtrack, Mimì and Rudolfo are sung by Renata Tebaldi and Carlo Bergonzi from a 1959 recording. The opera scene Loretta and Ronny watch is not from a Met performance, but from the Canadian Opera.

cd-bohemeFor those viewers who would like to investigate La Bohème further, a good CD choice is the Decca 1972 recording with Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo—“perhaps the best thing he ever did,” Gramophone magazine has proclaimed. For a more recent, fully digital version, there is the 2007 Deutsche Grammophon recording with Anna Netrebko as Mimì and Rolando Villazón as Rodolfo.

Like Moonstruck,La Bohème is about love and … what was that other? … Death.

July 9, 2014
New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/09/house-strangers-1949-edward-g-robinson/House of Strangers (1949) with Edward G. Robinson
What a wonderful surprise House of Strangers was to view recently.  Sadly, and without researching the movie first in the slightest, I made the entirely incorrect assumption that if would be yet another of Edward G. Robinson’s enjoyable, if sometimes predictable, gangster films of the era.  Now astute afficionados will realize that House of Strangers is a 20th Century Fox film, so perhaps associating Robinson’s by default with his long-time studio Warner Brothers was yet another lurid lapse of reasoning.
Robinson here isn’t the stereotypical gangster he is best know as portraying, but his portrayal of family matriarch Gino Monetti does have some thuggery of sorts.  Although never explicitely stated, it is presumed that Gino is a first generation American who has an extremely entrepreneurial spirit.  He has worked hard and risen from the owner of a barber shop to the head of his very own bank.  Of his four sons, three of them are in the family business with their father Gino with the fourth, Max (played by Richard Conte) being an attorney who happens to have office space in the bank.
As much as he is motivated by money, Gino keeps his feet firmly rooted in his Italian heritage, listening to Italian opera at top volume and hosting an extravagant family spaghetti dinner every Wednesday night.
But there is a darker and slightly more menacing side to Gino as well:  he taunts and demeans the three boys who work for him in the bank.  One is perpetually called “dumbhead” and another has his salary capped at $65 a week.  Still another (or it could be one of the above as they all blur together) is tasked with driving him around and scrubbing his back in the tub.  This tub scene is oddly reminiscent of a similar scene in 1948′s Key Largo.  Needless to say, those kids must have surely loved the idea of inheriting that bank to put up with such nonsense.
Max Monetti (Richard Conte) is the fourth son- the lawyer.  Max alone among the four Monetti sons seems to have his father’s favor.  When Max insists on kissing his fiance at dinner- over his own mother’s objections due to the presumed inappropriateness of such an act- Gino comes to his son’s defense.  When Max wanders still further in having a rather open affair with Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward), Gino again comes to the support of his son.  Even those spectacular Wednesday night dinners are put on hold until a tardy Max arrives.  It is clear that Max is the heir presumptive, and everyone knows it.
But then things start to change, as Gino begins to be questioned over matters over “his books” at the bank.  It seems many of the transactions are not documented and those that are involve criminal usury.  The initial questions grow into a full trial and patriarch Gino seems sure to fall.  But now Max comes to the rescue and concocts a plan to win the day.
But the “Three Amigos,” as I will term the three disfavored brothers, now raise their heads in defiance.  When Max attempts to roll bribe a juror, the remaining brothers sell him out, with the end result being that Gino has to sign away his bank to said “Amigos” and Max heads off to a jail sentence.
Most of House of Strangers is told in flashback, with only the beginning and end of the film being set in period after Max’s jail sentence is complete.  It opens with him coming back to the bank on his release to see his brothers, who treat him with disdain and contempt.  Max also revisits the family home, which is now mostly vacant as Gino passed away during Max’s incarceration.
Then we break away for a flashback which lasts for most of the film, where we get the backstory and history of the Monetti family.  Only at the end do we flash back to the present to a final resolution with the four brothers all together once again- though only briefly.  We will avoid spoilers here, as it is a very nice twist and a great ending to the film.
What we’ve neglected for the most part is to mention Susan Hayward’s role here as Max’s mistress.  (We note that mistress is a bit of a misnomer here, but it seems perhaps a technicality.)  She play a very important and symbolic role in Max’s rehabilitation.
House of Strangers would be termed film noir by some, but I am not sure that moniker truly fits.  That said, it does have all of the key elements of the genre.  Director Joseph Mankiewicz does an admirable job here in one of his lesser lauded films.  Whether intentional or not, the first half of the film serves to lull you to sleep a bit and then BANG things get ramped up exponentially for the balance of the picture.
It is hard to say who is the star here, as all of the key players give a spot on performance.  Robinson is Robinson pure and simple, but this is perhaps one of his most overlooked roles, and undeservedly so.  Richard Conte, whom sad to say I know mostly from The Godfather more than twenty years after this film, has the most screen time and does a wonderful job as the true focal point of the picture.
Susan Hayward is the curveball from hell here.  On a purely superficial level, her role really matters little to the proceedings.  But if you look a bit deeper- mentally squint a bit, if you will- you will find her role is critical to the success of the film- and the rehabilitation of Max himself.  There is a tremendous amount of symbolism in her character, and like the other named stars, she provides an outstanding performance.
Director Joseph Mankiewicz does a stellar job in keeping the pace going with a well designed story and the overall ambiance of the film definitely has shades of noir, but calling it such may be a slight misnomer. Like most of his films, House of Strangers is extremely rewatchable.
This was remade in 1954 in the Western genre as Broken Lance starring Spencer Tracy.  That too is a worthy film, but frankly is no match for the original 1949 film.  A great script, crisp direction and wonderful performances by Conte, Robinson, and Hayward make this one a hard to beat option!

New Post has been published on http://classicfilmfreak.com/2014/07/09/house-strangers-1949-edward-g-robinson/

House of Strangers (1949) with Edward G. Robinson

House of Strangers Movie Poster

What a wonderful surprise House of Strangers was to view recently.  Sadly, and without researching the movie first in the slightest, I made the entirely incorrect assumption that if would be yet another of Edward G. Robinson’s enjoyable, if sometimes predictable, gangster films of the era.  Now astute afficionados will realize that House of Strangers is a 20th Century Fox film, so perhaps associating Robinson’s by default with his long-time studio Warner Brothers was yet another lurid lapse of reasoning.

Robinson here isn’t the stereotypical gangster he is best know as portraying, but his portrayal of family matriarch Gino Monetti does have some thuggery of sorts.  Although never explicitely stated, it is presumed that Gino is a first generation American who has an extremely entrepreneurial spirit.  He has worked hard and risen from the owner of a barber shop to the head of his very own bank.  Of his four sons, three of them are in the family business with their father Gino with the fourth, Max (played by Richard Conte) being an attorney who happens to have office space in the bank.

As much as he is motivated by money, Gino keeps his feet firmly rooted in his Italian heritage, listening to Italian opera at top volume and hosting an extravagant family spaghetti dinner every Wednesday night.

But there is a darker and slightly more menacing side to Gino as well:  he taunts and demeans the three boys who work for him in the bank.  One is perpetually called “dumbhead” and another has his salary capped at $65 a week.  Still another (or it could be one of the above as they all blur together) is tasked with driving him around and scrubbing his back in the tub.  This tub scene is oddly reminiscent of a similar scene in 1948′s Key Largo.  Needless to say, those kids must have surely loved the idea of inheriting that bank to put up with such nonsense.

Max Monetti (Richard Conte) is the fourth son- the lawyer.  Max alone among the four Monetti sons seems to have his father’s favor.  When Max insists on kissing his fiance at dinner- over his own mother’s objections due to the presumed inappropriateness of such an act- Gino comes to his son’s defense.  When Max wanders still further in having a rather open affair with Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward), Gino again comes to the support of his son.  Even those spectacular Wednesday night dinners are put on hold until a tardy Max arrives.  It is clear that Max is the heir presumptive, and everyone knows it.

House of Strangers 1949 4But then things start to change, as Gino begins to be questioned over matters over “his books” at the bank.  It seems many of the transactions are not documented and those that are involve criminal usury.  The initial questions grow into a full trial and patriarch Gino seems sure to fall.  But now Max comes to the rescue and concocts a plan to win the day.

But the “Three Amigos,” as I will term the three disfavored brothers, now raise their heads in defiance.  When Max attempts to roll bribe a juror, the remaining brothers sell him out, with the end result being that Gino has to sign away his bank to said “Amigos” and Max heads off to a jail sentence.

Most of House of Strangers is told in flashback, with only the beginning and end of the film being set in period after Max’s jail sentence is complete.  It opens with him coming back to the bank on his release to see his brothers, who treat him with disdain and contempt.  Max also revisits the family home, which is now mostly vacant as Gino passed away during Max’s incarceration.

House of Strangers 1949 1Then we break away for a flashback which lasts for most of the film, where we get the backstory and history of the Monetti family.  Only at the end do we flash back to the present to a final resolution with the four brothers all together once again- though only briefly.  We will avoid spoilers here, as it is a very nice twist and a great ending to the film.

What we’ve neglected for the most part is to mention Susan Hayward’s role here as Max’s mistress.  (We note that mistress is a bit of a misnomer here, but it seems perhaps a technicality.)  She play a very important and symbolic role in Max’s rehabilitation.

House of Strangers would be termed film noir by some, but I am not sure that moniker truly fits.  That said, it does have all of the key elements of the genre.  Director Joseph Mankiewicz does an admirable job here in one of his lesser lauded films.  Whether intentional or not, the first half of the film serves to lull you to sleep a bit and then BANG things get ramped up exponentially for the balance of the picture.

House of Strangers 1949 3It is hard to say who is the star here, as all of the key players give a spot on performance.  Robinson is Robinson pure and simple, but this is perhaps one of his most overlooked roles, and undeservedly so.  Richard Conte, whom sad to say I know mostly from The Godfather more than twenty years after this film, has the most screen time and does a wonderful job as the true focal point of the picture.

Susan Hayward is the curveball from hell here.  On a purely superficial level, her role really matters little to the proceedings.  But if you look a bit deeper- mentally squint a bit, if you will- you will find her role is critical to the success of the film- and the rehabilitation of Max himself.  There is a tremendous amount of symbolism in her character, and like the other named stars, she provides an outstanding performance.

House of Strangers 1949 5Director Joseph Mankiewicz does a stellar job in keeping the pace going with a well designed story and the overall ambiance of the film definitely has shades of noir, but calling it such may be a slight misnomer. Like most of his films, House of Strangers is extremely rewatchable.

This was remade in 1954 in the Western genre as Broken Lance starring Spencer Tracy.  That too is a worthy film, but frankly is no match for the original 1949 film.  A great script, crisp direction and wonderful performances by Conte, Robinson, and Hayward make this one a hard to beat option!

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