Sunday, November 19, 2017

Enter Kazan: Director, 1947

Today, we take a look at Best Director. By now, you should be somewhat familiar with the films involved: the actor-goes-nuts drama A Double Life, the anti-anti-Semitism polemic Gentleman's Agreement, its B-picture equivalent Crossfire. The only ones we have not gone into detail about so far are The Bishop's Wife, in which an angel comes to Earth to help a disillusioned bishop and his wife, and Great Expectations, which I assume most of us know from our Dickens. If you don't, it's about a poor boy who becomes a well-off young man thanks to a mysterious benefactor; the most famous element is a wealthy woman forever encased in the wedding dress she wore when she was jilted many many many years ago.

The nominees should be familiar to us all. George Cukor was a favorite of Katharine Hepburn's and was one of the initial directors of Gone with the WindA Double Life was his third of five nominations, and he eventually won for My Fair Lady. Edward Dmytryk helmed many a noir, but this would be his first and only nod; better known is his status as one of the original Hollywood Ten held in contempt of Congress during the red scare, who saved himself from the Blacklist by later naming names. Elia Kazan received his first nomination for his fourth film - and won!


He went on to four more Best Director nods, one of which resulted in a second win, but more importantly, he became known as one of the great directors of the 1950s - and, yes, all time. He was unapologetic about naming names to the House Un-American Activities Committee, something that caused a bit of a rift in the audience of the 71st Academy Awards, where he received an Honorary Oscar.

Henry Koster did great and acclaimed films like Harvey, My Cousin RachelThe Robe, Flower Drum Song...those all came after his nomination for The Bishop's Wife, his first and only. And David Lean would become known for his epics, winning Oscars for The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. In all, he received eleven Academy Award nominations.

But let's talk about their work in these movies. Let's do that after the jump.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Maestro, If You Please: Score, 1947

Today was going to be focused on Best Original Song and Best Musical Score, but I had some trouble with two of the nominated films in those categories. Thus, I will focus on those next week. But I still wanted a musical interlude, so, why not present the nominees for Best Dramatic or Comedy Score, a category won by Miklos Rozsa for A Double Life?

Rozsa previously won for Spellbound and would win again for Ben-Hur. He was nominated another 14 times between 1940 and 1961. Indeed, the whole crop of 1947 was made up of heavyweights. This was David Raskin's first nod, but he would be back for Separate Tables. Hugo Friedhofer had just won the year before for The Best Years of Our Lives, and would be nominated another six times after this. Max Steiner, also up in Best Musical Score for My Wild Irish Rose, won his third and final Oscar three years previously with Since You Went Away, though he would continue getting nominations until 1955. And Alfred Newman - deep breath - won a whopping nine times, including this year (just not this category), with nods stretching from 1937 through 1970.

Anyway, after the jump, selections from the nominated films, in ascending order of my rankings (that means bottom's up).

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Blonde with the Sympathetic Ear: Supporting Actress, 1947

We continue our trip through 1947 today with Best Supporting Actress!

This year, the category consists of two past winners and three first-time nominees, playing mothers, wives, and sympathetic listeners - literal "supporting" parts. Three are nominated for their work in Best Picture nominees (two in the same movie!). And of course, there is only one winner:


That's Celeste Holm, Broadway's original Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, and here's a fun fact: her next nomination would come two years later for Come to the Stable, a film starring 1947's Best Actress winner Loretta Young.

But did Holm deserve the win? Let's talk, after the jump...

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Bobby-Soxers and Bigamists: Original Screenplay, 1947

Goodness! I had quite the weekend, so apologies for the lateness of this getting written and posted - but hey! I promised it would start this week, and I darn well keep most of my promises!

And by it, I mean, of course, our look back at the Oscars of 1947!

In my first post about this cinematic year, I set the scene a little bit regarding post-war Hollywood, what movies were focused on, and how a newly-emerging Blacklist would affect the industry for the next decade and change. The class most impacted were the writers, who were seen by the government as the brains behind "subversive" messaging in films...despite long being considered by their peers the low rung on the ladder.

That said, the category of today's focus, Best Original Screenplay, does showcase works whose themes warn against the dangers of capitalism, greed, and institutional decay, two of which were penned by alleged Communists: Charlie Chaplin, a British citizen, had his passport revoked, while Abraham Polonsky was blacklisted. Their films, Monsieur Verdoux and Body and Soul respectively, didn't win; nor did the Italian juvenile prison drama Shoeshine. Instead, the Academy bestowed their prestigious Oscar upon...The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer:


I know usually, I include a clip of the actual ceremony, but in 1947 we were still five years away from the first Oscars broadcast on TV. Actually, a lot was still different in this era. For instance, there were three categories for writing: Original Screenplay, which honored original works conceived of and written by the same source; Motion Picture Story, which honored original concepts/treatments by someone who not credited as screenwriter; and Screenplay, which honored works based on original motion picture stories or pre-existing properties.

Today, we focus on Original Screenplay. After the jump...

Friday, November 10, 2017

It Came True: Murder on the Orient Express, 2017

The day has finally come! I have seen a brand new Agatha Christie movie in the theater! Did it do the Queen of Crime justice? How did it compare to the many other versions we've watched and discussed? Was it any good? My dears, it's the exciting conclusion of Murder on the Orient Express week!

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
dir: Kenneth Branagh

1947, Part Five: Directors Roundup (and A Double Life)

This next batch of ten were all helmed by Best Director nominees - I've helpfully identified the film they were up for beside each name. Fittingly, the final film was nominated for Best Director! It's like there's a theme...

Brute Force
dir: Jules Dassin (Never on Sunday)
scr: Robert Wise, story by Robert Patterson

Prisoners plan a breakout amid the tyranny of a sadistic captain. A bleak tale led by furious Burt Lancaster and brutal Hume Cronyn. Glimpses of life on the outside through flashback are ok, but interrupt the story's flow...and intrude on the claustrophobia. Great sound design.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Tell Me More, Tell Me More: Murder on the Orient Express, 2015


With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters tomorrow, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic versionthe updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie, and the serious themes of the 2010 TV movie. Today, a Japanese miniseries gives us...a lot. More spoilers than usual, so if you don't know the material, proceed at your on peril...

オリエント急行殺人事件 (2015)
[Oriento kyuuko satsujin jiken]
dir: Keita Kono

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Law or Order: Murder on the Orient Express, 2010

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. We've talked about the all-star cast of the original cinematic version and the updated setting of the 2001 TV Movie. Today, the definitive Poirot takes it on, with a much more dour tone...

Agatha Christie's Poirot: Murder on the Orient Express (2010)
dir: Philip Martin

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

1947, Part Four: Grab Bag (and Crossfire)

I didn't have a theme for this group of ten, I just watched a bunch of movies. Join us!

Captain from Castile
dir: Henry King
scr: Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Samuel Shellabarger
Oscar Nominee: Best Dramatic Or Comedy Score

Spanish nobleman escapes the Inquisition and joins Cortez's Mexican expedition. Rousing music, beautiful costumes, and Jean Peters in her acting debut - my God but she's a presence! Flirts with complication by having our hero support Cortez, while not shying away from the conquistador's greed and megalomania, yet seems weirdly divided in its feelings re: Spanish colonization of Mexico.

Timeless?: Murder on the Orient Express, 2001

With the new Murder on the Orient Express in theaters this Friday, we're taking a look at every adaptation of Agatha Christie's infamous novel. Each version has its own unique spin on the story. Yesterday, we talked about the old school homage approach Sidney Lumet took with the original cinematic version; today, Poirot gets a 21st-century update...with mixed results.

Murder on the Orient Express (2001)
dir: Carl Schenkel

Monday, November 6, 2017

1947, Part Three: Love! Romance! (and Gentleman's Agreement)

This group is all about love stories. There's a pair of married detectives, a woman in love with a ghost, a teenager obsessed with an adult, and multiple (multiple!) incest-y relationships! Wow! Even the socially-conscious Best Picture winner Gentleman's Agreement illustrates its war against anti-Semitism with an increasingly wary romance between two liberal Gentiles, one of whom is pretending to be Jewish.

So strap in, baby! There's some passion to be felt here.

Mourning Becomes Electra
dir/scr: Dudley Nichols, based on the play by Eugene O'Neill
Oscar Nominee: Best Actor (Michael Redgrave), Best Actress (Rosalind Russell)

An American riff on Greek Tragedy about a New England family at the end of the Civil War. You'd think incest and murder would be more interesting. That Russell was even nominated, much less the frontrunner for much of the season, says more about her campaign than her performance. A real bore.

Spirits, farmers, murder, and more - after the jump!

There Is Murder In Your Eyes: Murder on the Orient Express, 1974

Murder on the Orient Express is in theaters this Friday, undoubtedly my most anticipated film event of the year. Based on the novel by Agatha Christie, the world-famous whodunnit has Hercule Poirot traveling on the Orient Express when the train becomes snowbound...and murder strikes. The solution is simultaneously shocking and one of the most famous in literature. The mystery is glamorous, with Poirot interviewing thirteen suspects from around the world, from butlers and car salesmen to diplomats and royalty. It's the quintessential Christery.

Small wonder, then, that it has inspired filmmakers time and again over the years. Including the new film, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh, there are five adaptations of Murder on the Orient Express. We're taking a look at each one every day this week, and what better place to start than at the beginning? Let's go back 43 years, so we can check out...

Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
dir: Sidney Lumet

Friday, November 3, 2017

1947, Part Two: Among the Ranks (and Great Expectations)

Today, all ten movies are brought to us by the Rank Organisation, who classic film fans will know by their gong...


J. Arthur Rank was the son of Joseph Rank, founder of one of the largest flour milling and bakery companies in Britain, Joseph Rank Limited - he had money. Yet J. Arthur's start in films was not the result of financing from an industrialist with stars in his eyes (as happens), but of his Methodist faith. A devout Sunday school teacher, Rank often showed religious short films in his class, a practice which became so popular that he eventually started his own distribution company for the purpose, called Religious Film Society. When the Methodist Times complained of the moral quality of films in the mainstream, Rank co-founded the British National Films Company with John Corfield and Lady Yule. The trio bought the newly-formed Pinewood Studios in 1935, and issues with distribution and exhibition for their first film, Turn of the Tide, were solved when Rank bought up distributors and exhibitors.

By 1939, Lady Yule and Corfield were gone, and Rank consolidated his production, distribution, and exhibition shingles under one company: The Rank Organisation. Over the next decade, the Rank Organisation, and the studios within it, would make some of the finest films in British film history. While the initial intention to produce family-friendly flicks with good Christian values seems to be occasionally forgotten, Rank dedicated himself to an equally important task: production of quality cinema. And here are ten such examples, spanning four years in the UK, but all released in the United States in 1947.

Green for Danger
dir: Sidney Gilliat
scr: Sidney Gilliat and Claude Guerney, based on the novel by Christianna Brand

An inspector investigates double-murder at a hospital in wartime England. A thrilling mystery, a talented ensemble, chilling cinematography, witty dialogue, and fascinating observations about life during The War. Great character work, specific in speech, manner, and agenda.

The power of Powell and Pressburger.....after the jump.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

1947, Part One: The Beginning (and The Bishop's Wife)

Even though Agatha Christie Month is wrapped, we'll still be looking at Murder on the Orient Express in all its on-screen incarnations starting Monday. In the meantime, as stated before, this month is dedicated to the movies of 1947 and the 20th Academy Awards.

It's a historic year for Hollywood, but not because of the movies. This is the year that saw the beginning of the Hollywood Blacklist. Earlier efforts to rout out Communist filmmakers were unsuccessful and openly mocked. Hell, Russia was our ally during the War just two years earlier, with friendly relations and pro-Soviet feelings encouraged. But that was then, and as Best Picture nominee Crossfire put it, "We're too used to fighting, but we just don't know what to fight. ...A whole lot of hate and fight that doesn't know where to go." By October, the House Un-American Activities Committee was holding hearings; by November, the Hollywood Ten were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the line of questioning; the next day, 48 Hollywood executives released the Waldorf Statement, assuring the public that no Communist would find work within their hallowed gates. (You can get a fuller account of these events, as well as their effect on individuals, from the 2015 season of Karina Longworth's invaluable podcast, You Must Remember This.)

On this blog, we focus more on the individual films, though to pretend that events outside did not influence their reception is goofy. Pre-blacklist, we find a large output of socially-conscience films dealing with American society post-World War II. Some films are almost propagandistic in their praise of government bodies and officials, sure, but many deal with veteran malaise, housing shortages or prejudice. These themes enter films noir, dramas, comedies, even holiday treats. We'll be looking at these and more over the coming weeks.

Here are the first ten movies. My reactions are honest, and while I've tried to keep in mind the times, in the end, I like what I like.

T-Men
dir: Anthony Mann
scr: John C. Higgins, suggested by a story by Virginia Kellogg
Oscar Nominee: Best Sound Recording

Patriotic noir trumpeting valiant efforts of treasury department's secret service. Semi-documentary approach breezes by minutiae via narrator, getting to the action. Fine performances, moody cinematography, gasp-worthy twists, surprisingly brutal.

Vincent Price, Uncle Remus, an angel, and so much more - after the jump!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesdays: The Mousetrap

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the work of Agatha Christie in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient ExpressWe've imagined adaptations of a Poirota Miss Marple, a Tommy and Tuppence, Witness for the Prosecution - and now, a real dream, that will probably never, ever happen....



Strangers find themselves snowbound with a murderer at a remote guesthouse run by inexperienced newlyweds. That's the gist of it, though of course, Christie employs a nursery rhyme motif, chilling on-stage kills, and enough twists to make another autobahn.

The Mousetrap is the longest continuously running play in the history of the theatre. Premiering in London's West End on November 25, 1952, its initial run is still going, and as of this year, has exceeded 26,000 performances. The cast changes annually, the set has had some alterations, they even moved venues, but the show goes on...and on...and on...


Christie herself thought the play wouldn't last a year, and gave all royalties to her grandson Mathew Prichard as a birthday present when he was nine years old (in regards to that arrangement, Christie later quipped that Mathew was "always lucky that way"). That longevity has led to some fascinating arrangements. For instance, while the play began first as a radio drama for Queen Mary's 80th birthday, then later adapted into a short story called "Three Blind Mice", neither of these incarnations have seen the light of day since the stage version's premiere. Indeed, Christie even asked that "Three Blind Mice" not be published in the United Kingdom during The Mousetrap's first run; luckily, the United States has no such condition. To maintain its West End production's profitability, only one other production a year may run in the United Kingdom. It's never played on Broadway.

And as for film? Don't hold your breath, honey. John Woolf - who would later win the Best Picture Oscar for Oliver! and brought classics like The Day of the Jackal and Room at the Top to the screen - bought the film rights back in 1956, under the condition that production would not begin until six months after the final performance. You don't need me to tell you the rest...

BUT!

If the play did close, and they were to make a film within the next six months, who would be best to play a part in the ensemble? I'm glad you asked - or rather, I'm glad I asked myself. Do feel free to comment with your own picks...after the jump.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Agatha Christie Month presents: The Uninvited

All month long, we've been celebrating the work of Agatha Christie, as interpreted on screens both big and small. As the world's best-selling fiction author, she has a built-in audience in every part of the globe - thus adaptations of her work are frequent not just in the UK, but Japan, Russia, and India. With 72 novels, 16 plays, and 14 short story collections, there's never a shortage of material, yet a handful of Christie works remain unadapted for any medium.

In Christie fandom circles, the most famous of these was Crooked House, one of her more haunting works, and a favorite of the author's. Oh, the excitement when a cinematic adaptation was announced for 2012, with Neil LaBute directing, Julian Fellowes scripting, and Julie Andrews, Gabriel Byrne, Matthew Goode, and Gemma Arterton starring! Then...crickets. Five years later, there were whispers that production had geared up again with a different, still all-star cast. And last month, we finally got a trailer:


So! One down, a few more to go! As we close out Agatha Christie month, let's take a look at the work that's still up for grabs....

Friday, October 27, 2017

Zero Hour: Innocent Lies, 1995

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. All this week, we've focused on her standalone works, and today is no exception....

Over the course of this series, we've talked about Agatha Christie's reaction to adaptations of her work - mostly negative, sometimes mixed, and even rarely pleased. We've also talked about how Rosalind Hicks managed her mother's legacy after she passed away - open to wide-ranging television projects, but still vocally disapproving when necessary. But no matter what happened, whether Miss Marple got a little groovy, Hercule Poirot did slapstick, or (heaven forbid!) breasts flashed on-screen, there was never any doubt about where it all started: it would always be Agatha Christie's Murder She Said, Agatha Christie's The Alphabet Murders, Agatha Christie's Endless Night.

Except for one adaptation, that so horrified Hicks that she not only demanded her mother's name be removed from the project, she banned any reference to the original work or its characters, period. But the connection between the film and the source has been an open secret for years, and is even acknowledged on the official Agatha Christie website. Of course, I'm talking about....

Innocent Lies (1995)
dir: Patrick Dewolf

Thursday, October 26, 2017

You're Doomed: Desyat Negrityat, 1987

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works.

My favorite Agatha Christie is And Then There Were None, and I am not alone. The best-selling novel she ever wrote, it's inspired countless spoofs (Family Guy did one), two stage plays (including one written by Christie herself), and a number of film adaptations. The plot concerns ten complete strangers summoned to a remote location, where a recording accuses each of them of having committed and gotten away with murder. One by one they start to die, and each death mirrors a verse in a poem tacked up in each of their rooms - "Ten little soldier boys went down to dine, one choked himself and then there were nine," etc. Not only that, with each death, a figurine from a set of ten is either broken or spirited away.

Yes, it's the classic slasher film premise, and it was Christie who started it all. Boy, did I have my pick of which one to do for this entry! Do I go with the classic black-and-white 1945 version directed by René Clair - not only did it use the "happy ending" Christie wrote in for the stage version, it also changed character names, crimes, identities, and levels of guilt? Maybe the groovy 1965 version with Bond Girl Shirley Eaton running about in a towel in a Swiss castle? The 1974 one with Charles Aznavour performing his real-life hit "The Old-Fashioned Way" in a hotel in Iraq? Bollywood's Gumnaam?

In the end, I went with the only film to preserve Christie's text word for word. Yes, this almost meant And Then There Were None, but that version included a lot of coke and alcohol and people being haunted by the Great War and secret lesbianism and whatnot. I'm talking about the only movie to film Agatha Christie as though they had no screenplay, just the book in everyone's hands. I'm talking about...

Desyat Negrityat (1987)
dir: Stanislav Govorukhin

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Love and Death: Endless Night, 1972

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works.
Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
So go some lines from Dylan Blake's "Auguries of Innocence", from which Agatha Christie drew the title for Endless Night. The narrator/protagonist knows misery well - he's currently a chauffeur, but bounces around from job to job, dreaming of something more - dreaming of owning a house on a large plot of land in the countryside called Gipsy's Acre. Then he meets Ellie, and after a whirlwind romance they marry - she happens to be the sixth richest woman in the world, and she buys Gipsy's Acre. All seems right with the world...except for the rumors that the property is cursed. And the threats they receive from a local gypsy...

Published in 1967, Endless Night is one of a slew of Christie novels that sees the author depicting the liberal youth and changing mores of the era - Miss Marple dealt with it in At Bertram's Hotel, as did Poirot in Third Girl. The difference here is Christie focuses more on the characters than in trying to wrap a whodunnit around them. While death eventually occurs, the book plays more like a modern take on the gothic romance novel. It's an atmospheric novel, with a sense of melancholy and doom throughout, and a surprise ending that feels pretty devastating if you're not expecting it.

It was not only a reliable best-seller but well-received by critics, who were surprised both by Christie's pulling off a new style, as well as her focus on a young man of the working-class. Christie herself was quite pleased with the results: in a 1972 letter to a Japanese translator, she included it in a Top Ten ranking of her works. Between its success as a novel and its moody tone being in vogue at the time, it seems a natural fit for a film adaptation. And so....

Endless Night (1972)
dir: Sidney Gilliat

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: Witness for the Prosecution

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the work of Agatha Christie in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, of a Miss Marple, even of Tommy and Tuppence - and now, for your approval...


We've discussed at length the history of Witness for the Prosecution, from its beginnings as a short story to its Tony-winning stage production to the Oscar-nominated film of 1957. It is one of the great courtroom dramas of stage and screen, centering on a charming young man accused of murder, his determined defense attorney, and his older wife who seems equally determined...to get him convicted. A remake is currently in the works with Ben Affleck attached, but I'm not 100 percent on board with that. And so I have a cast of my own in mind...

Note that I'm taking my cues from the original stage play, not the film - you'll find no Nurse Plimsoll here. Italicized descriptions are taken directly from Christie's stage directions, as published in the 1954 Samuel French, Inc., edition.

My Witness, after the jump.

Trial and Terror: Witness for the Prosecution, 1957

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're focusing on her standalone works. Yesterday, we talked the page to stage to screen transfer that made "Philomel Cottage" into Love from a Stranger; today, a similar trick is performed..

Witness for the Prosecution began as "The Witness for the Prosecution", a short story published in 1928 in . The story is familiar: Leonard Vole is accused of murdering an older woman, and the star witness for the prosecution...is his own wife! There's a twist, then a turn, then it closes with a shocker of a final line.

The story was popular enough to inspire adaptations on its own, including an episode of Lux Video Theater with Edward G. Robinson. But Christie herself wasn't satisfied with the story as is. A slight spoiler here, but part of the shock in the story involves, of course, the revelation of the true murderer, who gets away with the crime; Christie felt the culprit should not go completely unpunished. She also thought it was quite a good plot (if she do say so herself), and didn't want it completely confined to short fiction. So she set about expanding it, for a medium she had gotten quite good at...

The end result was the stage play, which Christie would later name her personal favorite of her 19 theatre works, and which became a smash hit on the West End and Broadway. Oh, yes, I know I said that about Love from a Stranger, but that show's comparatively limited runs cannot rival Witness for the Prosecution. In the West End, it ran concurrently with Christie's The Mousetrap and Spider's web, making her the only female dramatist to have three shows running simultaneously. The New York production alone ran 645 performances, winning Tony Awards for its leading players, Francis L. Sullivan (a friend of Christie's) and Patricia Jessel.

When you're a hit on the page and a smash on the stage, the next step is obvious: HOLLYWOOD! And boy howdy, did Hollywood deliver....

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
dir: Billy Wilder

Monday, October 23, 2017

Couple's Therapy: Love from a Stranger, 1937

It's Agatha Christie Month! All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. So far, we've focused on her series characters: we covered the cases of Hercule Poirot, explored small-town murder with Miss Jane Marple, and experienced international intrigue with Tommy & Tuppence. 

But man cannot live on bread alone, and Christie admitted that writing for the same detectives over and over could get boring. Luckily, Christie was prolific as hell, so besides the fifty novels featuring the previous characters mentioned, there are another seventeen that do not mention them at all....though some do feature supporting characters from their adventures. That's under her own name; under the name Mary Westmacott, she published six novels deemed "romantic", though this was a catch-all for "women's lit", books about non-murderous women and their relationships. She wrote a great many plays, too, even adapting her own novels for the stage - and when she did, she did not include her famous detectives. 

And then there are the short stories. A great many mysteries, yes, but it was in this medium that she really experimented with genres: ghost stories, adventure yarns, investigations into psychic phenomena. What stands out most, though, is not just the variety, but the bleakness of these stories: suicides, dead children, petty revenge.

Not that she completely abandoned her thrillers, but here she made them more, well, thrilling - less detective stories with clues than regular people confronting murder and madness around them. And for some reason, the most popular among these - for a while, at least -  was the short story "Philomel Cottage." It's of that oft-familiar Is My Husband Trying To Kill Me subgenre of thrillers. Here, a woman inherits a butt-load of money, has a whirlwind romance and marriage to a charming man she meets at a party, and only when she is whisked off to a secluded cottage does she begin to realize he may be a Black Widower.

First published in The Grand Magazine in 1924, it was later collected in The Listerdale Mystery (1934, UK only) and The Witness for the Prosecution (1948, US only). But it's real claim to immortality is in a popular stage production, written by and starring Frank Vosper. Popular and well-reviewed on both the West End and Broadway in 1936, the independent Trafalgar Films in turn adapted the production for the screen. In doing so, the filmmakers included some elements of Christie's source material - names, for example - and so were able to credit both the play and short story separately. The title, however, was all Vosper's:

Love from a Stranger
dir: Rowland V. Lee

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sweet Streams Are Made Of These

The following titles are available right now on Netflix.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
dir/scr: Noah Baumbach

Three siblings (but mostly the brothers) and their prickly relationship with their self-centered artist father. Baumbach's perfected familial patois - the repetitive conversations, the interruptions, the assumptions. Great performances all around, but especially from affable asshole Dustin Hoffman and Elizabeth Marvel, who's a...well, marvel...as the oft-overlooked sister. Two wonderful ditties, too! Two!

Cannibal horror, Redford-Fonda romance...and some non-streaming titles like Only the Brave after the jump....

Friday, October 20, 2017

Things to Come

No Agatha Christie post today - had trouble obtaining a copy of Mon petit doigt m'a dit..., the French adaptation of By the Pricking of My Thumbs that started a franchise of Tommy & Tuppence films starring André Dusollier and Catherine Frot. But I did want to announce that next month is dedicated to 1947! Details after the jump....

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves: By the Pricking of My Thumbs, 2006

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far, we've talked about their youthful escapades and their adventures as they approached middle age. We move into their golden years today, but with a twist...

Before Julia McKenzie took over the role of Miss Marple, Geraldine McEwan spent three seasons putting her own mischievous mark on the role. Following the success of the first season, it became clear that ITV was going to keep the train going as long as they could. Thus began the inserting of Miss Marple into non-series cases like The Sittaford Mystery. That announcement was controversial enough for fans, but it was pure scandal when it was announced that Miss Marple would be teaming up with another established Christie detective, in....

Agatha Christie's Marple: By the Pricking of My Thumbs (2006)
dir: Peter Medak

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Spies Like Us: N Or M?, 2015



All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. So far we've covered their early TV days - and now, their most recent appearance on the small screen...

In 2013, ITV aired the last episodes of signature series Poirot and popular reboot Marple, effectively ending an era of televised Agatha Christeries. Just two months after the final episode of Marple was broadcast, rival network BBC announced it was ready to re-stake its claim on the Queen of Crime, announcing the production of two miniseries in time for Agatha's 125th birthday in 2015. One of those was the three-episode And Then There Were None, which is a masterpiece, highly recommended. The other was Partners in Crime.

At the time of the announcement, Tommy was already cast (Jessica Raines would come aboard Tlater), because it was his idea in the first place. Comedian David Walliams, known for his collaborations with Matt Lucas on shows like Little Britain and Come Fly with Me, brought the idea of a Tommy & Tuppence reboot to the BBC, with Agatha Christie Ltd's Hilary Morgan support and company. Walliams, who earlier appeared in Marple: The Body in the Library, was apparently attracted by the idea of a couple bickering over a corpse. More than that, after re-reading the novels and short stories, Walliams felt that they were more worthy of celebration, to stand alongside Poirot and Marple as equals.

Naturally, a number of re-workings came. When picking an age for the Beresfords, the producers split the difference - late-30s/early-40s, with a son away at school. Mr. Carter of the Secret Service was still Mr. Carter of the Secret Service, but was also Tommy's uncle. The bellhop-turned-assistant Albert was greatly changed: he became a middle-aged, one-armed chemistry teacher frequently consulting for the Service. And of course, just as they picked an age for the Beresfords, they had to pick an era. The Roaring Twenties, as in the original stories and series? The War Years? The late-60s/early-70s?

No, no. These are spy thrillers, and what era screams that more than the Cold War? The action was updated to the 1950s, which meant Nazi spies would now become Soviet spies, in the adaptation of...

N Or M?
dir: Edward Hall

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: N Or M?

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. We've imagined adaptations of a Poirot, and of a Miss Marple - and now, for your approval, a Tommy and Tuppence adventure...


Published in 1941, N Or M? is one of the more fascinating Agatha Christie reads. While all her novels keep up with the changing times, here Christie writes about life in England during The War, with all the fears and concerns of the era. The setting is a guest house in a small seaside town, where a variety of people escape the threat of Hitler's march on Europe: mothers whose husbands stay in London for work, middle-aged couples, the sick, veterans of The Great War now deemed too old to fight, German refugees, etc. All the while, there's talk of a Fifth Column, while radio and newspaper reports tell of the fall of France. And while history did echo the prevention of German invasion (the whole point of the mission), the book was obviously written before the horror of the Blitz. Surely that would have changed the tone a smidge.

Oh, but I mentioned a mission. So. Tommy and Tuppence are now in their forties - Tommy specifically puts his age at 46 - and while the twins Derek and Deborah are doing their part for the war effort, the Beresfords feel put out to pasture. Then comes Mr. Grant, a young member of the secret service who comes to Tommy on the recommendation of their old boss. To quickly sum up: there is a network of double agents within the government, there are two top spies that answer directly to Hitler, and one or both of them is staying at a guest house called Sans Soucie by the seaside. It is up to Tommy and Tuppence to find the spy.

Thus begins one of Christie's more exciting, surprisingly poignant, and all around best novels. The fact that it's only been adapted once, for television, only two years ago, is frankly shocking. You wouldn't have to change a detail to make it palatable for cinema-goers: there's romance, there's action, there's a torture chamber run by a dentist (33 years before Marathon Man), there's a kidnapping that ends with someone getting shot in the head midway through.

It is ready for filming. And I've got just the cast, after the jump...

Young Adventurers: Partners in Crime, 1983-84

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Tommy & Tuppence. Yesterday, we talked about their television debut in The Secret Adversary. Well that was just the lead-up to a full series, entitled...

Partners in Crime (1983-84)
dir: Paul Annett / Christopher Hodson / Tony Wharmby

Monday, October 16, 2017

Bright Young Things: The Secret Adversary, 1983

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. We talked all about Hercule Poirot at first, while last week was dedicated to Miss Marple. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Christie's super spy couple, Tommy and Tuppence, aka Partners in Crime.



While neither as popular or prolific as Poirot and Marple, Tommy and Tuppence were with Christie from the beginning to the end. The only characters to age alongside their creator, the pair made their debut in The Secret Adversary in 1922, twenty-somethings in search of excitement. By their final adventure, 1973's Postern of Fate, they are in their seventies, are grandparents, and have left the hustle and bustle of the city for a quiet life in the country. Secret Adversary was Christie's second book; Postern of Fate the last she ever wrote (though not, as we've mentioned, the last published).

For a series that spent one novel and ten short stories centered around a bright couple spying and going on adventures, it's surprising how little attention they've received on screen. Maybe it's because their adventures are few and far between - fifty years, one short story collection and four novels, the last of which is considered by many, including daughter Rosalind Hicks, to be Christie's worst. Still, there have been some interesting adaptations: the 1929 silent film Die Abenteuer GmbH, the 1950s radio series starring real-life couple Richard Attenborough and Sheila Sim, a French film franchise from the past decade. But their most famous iteration was as a BBC series in 1983, beginning, as Christie did, with:

The Secret Adversary (1983)
dir: Tony Wharmby

Saturday, October 14, 2017

All Kinds Of Wonder Women

Poorly organized thoughts on current multiplex offerings

Victoria and Abdul
dir: Stephen Frears
scr: Lee Hall, based on the book by Shrabani Basu

Do biopics no longer require a point of view? While Ali Fazal is not lacking in charm, his Abdul is a bit of a cipher. Flirtations with giving his character more shades of grey are quickly abandoned, quickly making him a plot point rather than a character. Despite some lip service, Anglo-Indian tensions are not framed within a proper context - the movie would rather tsk-tsk the Royal Household for racism and classism at home than question the legitimacy of Empire or acknowledge the Queen's complicity in it. Thank goodness for Judi Dench's performance as Queen Victoria, a terrific, terribly sad portrayal embracing the Queen's contradictions and letting us see the cracks.


mother!
dir/scr: Darren Aronofsky

My love for Darren Aronofsky continues unabated. I shan't say much, only to point out that the dizzying cinematography, labyrinthine production design, and suggestive performances all contribute to a cinematic fever dream that's just...transportive. It's best to go into this not knowing anything, but if you must have a hint...I'll provide them after the jump (along with reviews of Blade Runner 2049, It, and more).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Psycho Beach Party: A Caribbean Mystery, 2013

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Next week is Tommy & Tuppence Week, but today, we conclude our look at Miss Jane Marple.  

Beginning in 2004, BBC rival ITV began their broadcast of a new series: Agatha Christie's Marple. After Maggie Smith passed on the role, Geraldine McEwan was cast, playing the St. Mary Mead spinster with a gleeful trickster quality, an older forest spirit having a ball! After the filming of the third series, though, McEwan fell and broke her hip; she retired from the role, and other from some voice-overs, seemed to retire from acting altogether. The question, of course, was: who would fill McEwan's shoes?

Enter Julia McKenzie.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Earned It: A Pocketful of Rye


All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. Yesterday, Oscar winner Helen Hayes brought Jane to the small screen; today, the most prolific TV Marple.

Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: A Pocketful of Rye (1985)
dir: Guy Slater

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reflections in an Olden Eye: Murder with Mirrors, 1985

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. We've seen her on the big screen; now, a look back at one of two TV Marples of the 80s...

Murder with Mirrors
dir: Dick Lowry

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Casting Coup Tuesday: The Mirror Crack'd

It's Casting Coup Tuesday, where we dream-cast an imaginary adaptation of a beloved work. All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, in anticipation of the November 10th release of Murder on the Orient Express. Last week, we imagined a second Poirot. This week, may we suggest a Miss Marple?


Published in 1962, the majority of The Mirror Crack'd is an observation of the changing landscape of England, especially its countryside, 15 years after The War. Since then, St. Mary Mead has been incorporated, a new suburban row of homes - dubbed the Development - has been built behind the vicarage, Miss Marple has found need for a daily companion, Dr. Haydock is retired, and Mrs. Bantry is now a widow who has sold her home to a Hollywood star.

It's the Hollywood angle that made this an obvious choice for le cinema, as we discussed earlier today. Besides the 1980 flick, the Joan Hickson television series made this the series finale...and while the Geraldine McEwan-Julia McKenzie series kind of buried it, it did cast Lindsay Duncan.

I think the main issue - not with the Hickson version, that was perfect - but the main issue has been the pressure to do the Hollywood thing, but not taking advantage of the book's most interesting aspects. They do Hollywood catfights, but not Hollywood's prescription drug problem; they explore the pressure of older actresses to seem younger (which the book does not), but ignore the multiple adopted children of Hollywood starlets. What in the world!

Which makes it ripe for a remake.

The cast after the jump. All italicized descriptions come from the Cast of Characters on page xi of the large print edition published by G.K. Hall & Co. in 1992.

I'll Drink to That: The Mirror Crack'd, 1980

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at Miss Jane Marple. Yesterday, we took a look at the first film to bring her to the screen, Murder, She Said. Today, a Miss Marple movie about the movies...

The Mirror Crack'd (1980)
dir: Guy Hamilton

Monday, October 9, 2017

Life Begins at Seventy: Murder, She Said, 1961

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Last week, we talked all about Hercule Poirot. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the last person anyone would expect to have a mind for murder - the little old lady of St. Mary Mead, Miss Jane Marple.

The star of twelve novels and 20 short stories, Miss Marple was introduced in The Murder at the Vicarage as a nosy, gossiping busybody, cynical about people, always expecting the worse. Many's a reader or viewer who will point to the inconsistency between this Marple and the softer, kindlier little old lady we grew to love, but the difference is not so keenly felt by me. One must notice that her eyes are described as "sparkling" when she hears of murder or is in the middle of sleuthing. And there's no doubt that she manipulates people, usually maids, into doing the dirty work for her, telling them to be careful before sending them into the lion's den with her marching orders. Oh yes, Miss Marple may seem like a nice old lady - and she is! - but she has a taste for scandal and shenanigans.

Agatha is on the record as preferring Miss Marple mysteries to Poirot ones. They were easier to write because she was easier to write. Many of them do not feature Miss Marple prominently at all - instead, she drops in every now and then to hear a bit of tattle, before bringing all the threads together in a thrilling yet humbly-delivered denouement. Her books also provide more observations about a changing England, especially the post-War novels - but one is bound to notice such things in a sleepy village.

Popular on television, Miss Marple has only come to the big screen a handful of times. Today is about that very first time. Join us after the jump, won't you, for....

Murder, She Said (1961)
dir: George Pollock

Saturday, October 7, 2017

True Stories and Other Tales

In which every other film reviewed here is inspired by a true story.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie
dir: Charlie Bean/Paul Fisher/Bob Logan
scr: Fisher & Logan & Tom Wheeler & William Wheeler and Jared Stern & John Whittington, story by Hilary Winston & Fisher & Logan & Wheeler & Wheeler and Dane Hageman & Kevin Hageman


Band of ninjas take on, then team up with, their ultimate nemesis, who happens to be their leader's dad. Mines the traditional father-son dynamic for comedy, but it's also bothersome, implying that a woman could never do "dad" things like play catch or drive a car. Despite legitimately funny gags, it's the first of the LEGO movies to feel forced, phoned-in.


Stronger
dir: David Gordon Green
scr: John Pollono, based on the book by Jeff Bauman and Bret Witter

True story of Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. Damn fine acting from Jake Gyllenhaal, not shying away from the protagonist's childishness, and Tatiana Maslany as his on-again, off-again caregiver/girlfriend. Both are mowed down by Miranda Richardson as his tough-talking, hard-drinking mother, who seems to find a purpose in being the mother of an almost-martyr; imagine if Mary brought a Bible around everywhere she went so she could tipsily tap it and go, "You know who this is about?" I was transfixed by her performance.

I'm not sure what the movie wants me to feel by the end, though. For two hours, it confronts the American obsession with making heroes out of victims, our insatiable need to throw survivors on the media hype pyre. Yet by the end, his acceptance of himself as a symbol allows him to find a sense of responsibility lacking in his life? I guess. Doesn't quite reach the Flags of Our Fathers level of discourse regarding Americana.

Thoughts on Battle of the Sexes, Good Time, Home Again, and more...after the jump

Friday, October 6, 2017

Ev'rytime We Say Goodbye: Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, 2013

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Next week is Miss Marple Week, but today, we conclude our look at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot.  

The history of Hercule Poirot on screen has been, as we've seen throughout this week, quite a rollercoaster. Whether they were comical, Oscar-nominated, prolific, animated, or meta, each Poirot received equal amounts praise and criticism. Maybe Christie was right in her initial assessment of bringing Poirot to the stage: maybe he was too much on the page for an actor to do proper justice.

And then came David Suchet.


Thursday, October 5, 2017

I Ain't Down Yet: Murder by the Book, 1987

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. We've discussed some of his big screen adventures, like The Alphabet Murders and Death on the Nile. Yesterday, we talked about the only series - anime, at that - to present a successful crossover of Poirot and Marple. Today, another crossover - that of fiction and reality! 

Murder by the Book (1987)
dir: Lawrence Gordon Clark

The Detective
Ian Holm as Hercule Poirot

The Victim
Ian Holm as Hercule Poirot

The Suspect
Peggy Ashcroft as Agatha Christie

With
Michael Aldredge as Edmond Cork
Dawn Archibald as Sally the Maid
John Atkinson as The Gardener
Richard Wilson as Sir Max Mallowan


With the outbreak of World War II, Christie was genuinely uncertain about her chance of survival. Besides that, after twenty years, she was equally uncertain about Poirot's longevity within popular culture. And so, in addition to a final Miss Marple mystery, she set about writing Poirot's final case, one which includes an assurance that this would undoubtedly, definitively, be the last word on Poirot: his death. Both final novels were tucked away in a vault, not to be published until after Dame Agatha's death. Christie wound up changing her mind, and Curtain: Poirot's Last Case was released in September 1975; four months later, Christie herself passed away, age 85.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Toon In: Death in the Clouds, 2005

All month long, we're celebrating the Queen of Crime as she and her works appeared on screen, with a grand finale of five Murder on the Orient Expresses the first full week of November. Today, and all this week, we're looking at the main source of her bread and butter, the little Belgian himself, Hercule Poirot. We've discussed some of his big screen adventures, like The Alphabet Murders and Death on the Nile, but today, we're "drawn" to a more "animated" mystery...

Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple: Death in the Clouds, Parts 1-4 (2005)
dir: Jôji Shimura
series dir: Naohito Takahashi

The Detective
Kôtarô Satomi as Hercule Poirot

The Victim
Madame Giselle

The Suspects
? as Dr. Bryant
Takeshi Aono as Daniel Clancy
? as Armand Dupont
Toshikazu Fukawa as Jean Dupont
Kouichi Yamadera as Norman Gale
Youko Honna as Jane Grey
Kotono Mitsuishi as Cecily Horbury
? as Venetia Kerr
? as Anne Richards

With
Masako Jô as Oliver the duck
Hirofumi Nojim as Captain Arthur Hastings
Fumiko Orikasa as Maybelle West
Atsuko Tanaka as Miss Felicity Lemon
Kaoru Yachigusa as Miss Jane Marple
Yûsaku Yara as Inspector Sharpe