Tag Archives: based on play

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon (1957)

The Admirable Crichton aka Paradise Lagoon from director Lewis Gilbert is a wonderful film which skewers the British class system, and if you’re a fan of classic British film, The Admirable Crichton most definitely deserves a look.

The film is set at the beginning of the 20th century. Suffragettes are on the march in England, and Lord Loam (Cecil Parker), the aristocrat who owns a lavish country estate has definite ideas about equality. He does, however, draw the line at the idea of equal rights for women. Lord Loam is a bit of an eccentric, and when the film begins, we see a typical day in the Loam household. The house is basically run by the butler, Crichton (Kenneth More), but he runs the place so smoothly and tactfully that Lord Loam is left with the illusion that he’s the one really in charge.

Lord Loam decides to put his notions of  class equality to the test by inviting (in reality ordering) all the domestic servants to participate in tea with the family members. This is an occasion of embarrassment and awkwardness for the servants, and disgruntlement for Lord Loam’s two daughters, Lady Mary (Sally Ann Howes) and her younger sister Lady Catherine (Mercy Haystead). Lady Mary is particularly annoyed by the forced social engagement with the servants as she is about to become engaged to the horribly snobbish and strait-laced Lord Brocklehurst (Peter Graves)–a man whose horribly domineering mother, Lady Brocklehurst (Martita Hunt) does not approve of equality on any level whatsoever. She believes that the ‘lower’ classes should be kept in their place and that to contemplate otherwise is a very dangerous thing. 

 The youngest daughter, Lady Agatha (Miranda Connell) goes to London to watch a suffragette march with her fiancé Ernest Wolley (Gerald Harper). She’s supposed to be there observing only, but she gets mixed up in the protest and causes a family scandal. As a result of this event, Lord Loam, at Crichton’s suggestion, takes his daughters and a few indispensable servants on a cruise aboard his yacht. Things go horribly wrong, however, when the yacht is caught in a storm….

The Admirable Crichton explores exactly what happens when rigid class rules are transposed to a desert island. One of the most important characters in the film is Tweeny (Diane Cilento)–Tweeny (which basically means that she is a maid who works [between] several floors) discovers that her currency soars when beauty and culinary skills are valued more than bloodlines.

This film is essentially a comedy about hypocrisy, and we see that Lord Loam may have ‘enlightened’ views about equality with his fellow man, but these are just intellectual ideas that he really has no intention of actually altering his his lifestyle for. The first notion of hypocrisy comes in the film when Lord Loam mouths his beliefs about equality with the servants but then refuses to countenance the notion that women are equal to men. While Lord Loam may experiment with a tentative tea which he controls in his own household, he is ill prepared for a full-scale upheaval. On the desert island, there are no innate privileges, and instead survival skills become the most valuable skills of all. Just what happens when members of the upper class are forced to cohabit with their servants makes for great entertainment.

One of the notions here is that the class system may be enforced legally and socially, but it is also absorbed by all those involved. Thus we see Crichton as the ultimate snob with the other servants and a pragmatist when it comes to realising his humble position.

The Admirable Crichton is based on a play by J.M. Barrie , and here Barrie creates a very different alternate world from the fantasy world he created with Peter Pan, but it’s a viable alternate world, nonetheless.

There are two other film versions of this play: We’re Not Dressing (1934) and Male and Female (1919).

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Ladies of Leisure (1930)

The 1930 Frank Capra film Ladies of Leisure stars a very young Barbara Stanwyck as tough, independent party girl Kay Arnold. It’s New Year’s Eve in New York, and it may be Prohibition, but that certainly doesn’t stop the booze from flowing at the penthouse apartment of dilettante rich boy/artist Jerry Strong (Ralph Graves), son of a railroad tycoon. The party spills over into drunken absurdities and Jerry, suddenly losing his taste for the wild high life, ditches the party and his love interest Claire Collins (Juliette Compton) and goes off for a solitary drive.

While driving through deserted streets Jerry spots a  young woman as she rows towards shore away from a party taking place on a yacht. The woman, who accepts a lift back to New York, is Kay Arnold, and to Jerry she seems like a breath of fresh air. She’s unpretentious and unaffected, and on the drive back, Jerry and Kay impress each other for various reasons. As a party girl (which is a euphemism for prostitute), Kay fully expects Jerry to step out of line–after all, her line of work involves men just like Jerry–men rich enough to afford her company while they simultaneously don’t expect to be restricted to polite behaviour.

Jerry asks Kay to model for him, and although she’s suspicious at first, she soon ends up at his penthouse apartment putting in long hours. Jerry just can’t seem to get his painting right. In his head he has a vision of Kay gazing toward the heavens with a beatific gaze, but he just can’t seem to get the pose. He buys Kay clothes, wipes off her makeup, but there’s still something missing.

In the meantime, everyone sees Jerry’s real motive for employing Kay as his model. Jerry’s amusing, permanently boozed-up friend, Bill (Sherman Lowell) fancies Kay for himself, and he makes it clear he’s interested, even dangling a cruise to Havana in front of her nose. Claire senses a shift in Jerry’s interest, and Jerry’s parents step in with separate attempts to prise Jerry away from Kay.

The role of Kay Arnold was a breakthrough in Stanwyck’s career, and she’s really wonderful as the gum-chewing, rough-around-the edges party girl who reforms thanks to love. I’ll admit, though, that I prefer Kay in the beginning of the film. She becomes far less interesting when she falls in love and giddily dons an apron. The role of Jerry is problematic–mainly because he’s such a wanker. He’s completely out of touch with his feelings–which isn’t a problem in itself, but then he orders Kay around in a most annoying fashion. He doesn’t make much of a romantic figure especially when Kay appears to transform, dropping some of her most appealing characteristics as she tries to please Jerry. There’s a vast gap between these two and as far as the love story goes, I don’t hold out much hope for this couple.

On the other hand there are two other performances well worth noting: Lowell Sherman as Bill and Kay’s hilarious chubby best friend: Dot Lamar (Marie Prevost): a woman who believes “you can’t weigh sex appeal.”

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The Happiest Days of Your Life (1950)

“A woman’s bookshelf is an infallible guide to her character.”

The title of the film The Happiest days of Your Life refers, of course, to the nonsense that is told to children who are unhappy about attending school for a range of reasons. What the teachers don’t say is the happy part is not the school–but perhaps the innocence of childhood, and even that’s arguable depending on the sort of childhood you had. This classic British comedy is directed by Frank Launder of the marvellously funny St Trinian’s films, and you can see the same hand at work in The Happiest Days of Your Life. Launder started his career as a scriptwriter, but it was with Sidney Gilliat that the highly successful St Trinians films were created. For The Happiest Days of Your Life, Launder teamed with playwright John Dighton to adapt his play for the big screen.

The Happiest Days of Your Life is set during WWII. During the Blitz, children from the city were evacuated to the countryside, and in the film, an all-girls school, St Swithin’s, is evacuated by the Ministry of Education to the village of Nutbourne with the expectation that St Swithin’s will ‘share’ with the all-boys boarding school, Nutbourne College. Wetherby Pond (played by the wonderful actor Alastair Sim) is headmaster of Nutborough College. The film begins with the arrival of a weary professor, Arnold Billings (played by Richard Wattis, who later appeared in the St Trinian’s films) and the brand new English professor, Richard Tassell (John Bentley). Billings notices that the college looks a bit tidier than usual, and as it turns out, this is due to the fact that Wetherby Pond is hoping to win a new, better position as headmaster at a much more prestigious, Harlingham School.

Just as the term seems on the verge of beginning as usual, all hell breaks loose with the arrival of an entire girl’s school, their headmistress, Muriel Whitchurch (Margaret Rutherford) and her complete entourage of mistresses. A battle begins over resources, and the females, led by the cunning, strategic planning of Muriel Whitchurch soon dominate. Under the insufferable conditions, Wetherby Pond tries his best to get the Ministry of Education to correct this error, and Whitchurch resorts to blackmail in order to gain an uneasy truce.

The fun really begins when a passel of St Swithin’s parents descend upon the Nutbourne College to witness the new environment for themselves. As bad luck would have it on the very same day, a team of inspectors from Harlingham School arrive to witness Wetherby Pond’s school management. It’s in the vested interest of both Pond and Whitchurch to cooperate with each other to create an atmosphere of normalcy at the school, and that means that the girls and the boy’s school both pretend that there are no members of the opposite sex on the premises.

Alastair Sim is, as always, pure joy to watch–from his long-suffering submission, to his moral outrage, his performance is perfect. Margaret Rutherford, as his administrative opposite is equally excellent. She plays an indomitable force–she sees men as superfluous and contaminants. The battle (and attraction) of the sexes plays throughout the film. Of course, the boys cannot concentrate on lessons when the older girls wiggle by in their PE outfits, and the male English master falls in love with his female counterpart. And then there’s the outrageously wonderful Joyce Grenfell (who also later appeared in St Trinian’s). Here she plays the gauche Miss Gossage (“call me Sausage“) and she rather incongruously sets her cap at the suave wolfish games master, Victor Hyde-Brown (Guy Middleton), who’s also known as “Whizzo.” Hyde-Brown does his best to avoid Miss Gossage–he’s much more interested in the 17 year-olds and their botany lesson. George Cole also appears in a miniscule but memorable role as a caretaker in the Ministry of Education.

Quotes:

Wetherby Pond (when asked how he will vote): “You can tell your lady that if there is a male candidate whether he is conservative, socialist, communist or anarchist, or for that matter, liberal, he may have my vote.”

“There appear to be no depths to which you will not sink.”

“I don’t want your sympathy, man, I want action. I want these women removed, bag and baggage.”

“There are only two types of schoolmistress, chum, the battle-ax and the amazon.”

“Cards, the race horse,gaming, nicotine, fisticuffs…we’re moving in a descending spiral of inequity.”

“I once won thirty bob. It’s led me astray ever since

 

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A Cruel Romance (1984)

a cruel romanceA Cruel Romance (Ruthless Romance, Zhestokiy Romans) is a gem of Soviet cinema. Based on the play The Dowerless Girl by Aleksandr Ostrovsky and directed by Eldar Ryazanov, this is the story of Larissa Dmitrievna (Larisa Guzeyeva), a young girl from an impoverished family of the gentry in late 19th century Russia.

The film begins with the wedding of Larissa’s sister, Olga, who’s being married off to a Caucasian prince. The wedding is over, and Olga, obviously a desperately unhappy bride, is about to sail off to the Caucasus with her new, wildly jealous husband whose tribal culture is vastly different from her own.  Olga’s future happiness may be doubtful, and while wedding guests murmur their amusement with the situation, the marriage is seen as a stroke of luck for Olga’s mother, Kharita Ogoudalova (Alisa Frejndlikh).

The Ogoudalova family was once considered the finest family in the region, but when the film begins those days are long gone. Matriarch Kharita lives on the family estate which is mortgaged up to the hilt. There’s no mention of Kharita’s husband, but she has three daughters. Anna is married to a gambler and living in Monte Carlo in somewhat desperate straits, and now with Olga married off, that leaves Larissa in the nest. Marrying off the last daughter is an imperative.

Kharita lives beyond her means in order to continue the facade that she’s wealthy, but her problems go far deeper than this. Kharita’s poor judgment is reflected in her dress–she dresses like a much younger woman, but even worse, she places herself and her daughter Larissa in a most morally precarious position by allowing married banker, the portly Moky Knurov (Alexei Petrenko) to give her money–sometimes with questionable objectives.

Larissa seems to have no shortage of suitors. Or at least it would appear so from the large number of men who flock to the social events at the family home.  One of Larissa’s most patient suitors is the dull post office worker Yuli Karandyshev (Andrei Myagkov) who’s very easily made to look like a complete idiot by the suave playboy Sergey Sergeyevich Paratov (Nikita Mikhalkov).

Just as Larissa seems to on the path to engagement, fate intervenes. Will she be saved or destroyed as several males in Larissa’s circle take her fate into their own hands….

While A Cruel Romance is the tale of exactly what happens to Larissa at the hands of the men in her social circle, the film also makes a larger statement about Russian society and the erosion of the gentry by the merchant class. The Ogoudalovas are the ‘finest’ family around, but the mother resorts to fobbing off her daughters on the highest bidder, and since the girls have no dowry, they are sold off quite cheaply. Kharita must be held at least partly responsible for what happens to Larissa. Kharita’s carelessness cannot be blamed on either naivete or a desire to see her daughter happy. And then what of Kharita’s relationship with the married banker Moky Knurov? Does Kharita find it convenient to turn a blind eye to his intentions?

Ivan Petrovich is also a member of the gentry, and while he appears as a glamorous, dashing lover–a perfect foil to the stodgy Yuli Karandyshev, in reality, Ivan has plunged his family estate into debt. He owns The Swallow, a huge steamship and plans to become a successful businessman. Wherever Ivan goes, he moves in a self-created cocoon of splendour, action and adoration, but Ivan’s world is as false and empty as he is. Meanwhile while Larissa is courted and romanced, both Ivan’s and the Ogoudalova’s  family fortunes are carefully monitored in a predatory fashion by the banker Moky Knurov and Ivan’s rival Vassily Vozhevatov (Victor Proskurin).

A Cruel Romance is a marvelous costume drama, beautifully acted, with a marvellous musical score, and full of gorgeous shots of the Volga. While there’s plenty of romance, it’s delivered with a bitter touch that’s certain to please Russophiles.

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The Taming of The Shrew (1967)

“Why, there’s a wench. Come on and kiss me, Kate.”

We were having a chat here the other day about Shakespeare, and as usual it ended with me arguing for the comedies over the tragedies. One thing led to another, and I pulled out my copy of The Taming of the Shrew. It had been years since I last watched it, and I wondered if it was as good as I remembered.

It was…

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton were the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt of their day–the celebrity couple who intrigued audiences everywhere. That said, Taylor and Burton flaunt their considerable talents in this colourful Zeffirelli production, and flexing those often-atrophied acting muscles, they show audiences just how capable and talented they were. The Taming of the Shrew showcases both Taylor and Burton at the peak of their talents, and it’s a film that allows both of these seasoned performers some of the best roles ever. If you have any doubt that either Taylor or Burton couldn’t hack Shakespeare, well just get your hands on this DVD and watch.

And while you are at it, think of Jolie and Pitt in Shakespeare….The image doesn’t work for me. More evidence that Hollywood is firmly in the toilet these days. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy Jolie and Pitt–I do. I’m still chuckling over Pitt’s role in Burn Before Reading, but something tells me this pair couldn’t stretch to Shakespeare.

Taylor and Burton were married at the time The Taming of The Shrew was made, and somehow the two of them do seem comfortable on the stage with each other. It’s even amusing to see them fighting and watch the sparks fly as Petruchio (Burton) courts the firebrand Katerina (Taylor). I think most people should know what the story is about, but just in case:

A wealthy merchant has two daughters, Katerina, the elder, and Bianca, the younger (Natasha Pyne). While Bianca has several suitors, Katerina’s fearsome reputation (well-earned) has frightened all the men away. Since the father will not marry off Bianca before her elder sister, the suitors concoct a plan in which they persuade Petruchio to woo the wilful heiress. The rowdy courtship sequences between Burton and Taylor have to be the high point of the film.

taming of the shrewThe Taming of the Shrew is one of Taylor’s best roles–although it’s hard to beat Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? (Burton and Taylor) or Butterfield 8 (Taylor and Laurence Harvey).  Taylor looks gorgeous here and the sumptuous costumes accentuate her dark beauty. The supporting cast is impressive and includes Michael York, Alfred Lynch, and Cyril Cusack.

The film’s tagline is: “A romantic film amorously devoted to every man who ever gave the back of his hand to his beloved…and to every woman who deserved it.” That sort of statement strikes a nerve these days and the film’s message probably went over well in Shakespeare’s time–after all Queen Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII dispensed with wives as easily as tossing aside a pair of underwear. The film’s underlying message: obedience to one’s husband no matter what (even if he’s insane, for example) is a bit nauseating and certainly hasn’t stood the test of time. But that aside, if you want to get a ‘feel’ for the play, then don’t read it (Shakespeare is meant to be performed). The Taming of the Shrew is a glorious, lively, amusing homage to Shakespeare, and if you haven’t seen it because you think it might be cheesy, then cast your doubts aside and grab the DVD.

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Make Mine Mink (1960)

“Oh I’m so thrilled to be in the shock troops again.”

An affectionate tale of bungling amateur thieves, Make Mine Mink is one of the great must-see British comedy classics. Set in Kensington, the action centers around a boarding house owned, with fading gentility, by Dame Beatrice (Athene Seyler). Her tenants are a motley lot: there’s the mannish Nanette Parry (Hattie Jacques), who makes her living coaching would-be debutantes on issues of etiquette, the frazzled, nervous Pinkie (Elspeth Duxbury), a spinster who mends chipped china, and Major Rayne (Terry-Thomas), a man whose glory days remain in WWII.

When the film begins, the tenants’ lives are fraught with petty arguments with one another. Forced to share amenities, their relationships are mired in dislike and irritation, but there’s an exception to this–all of the tenants worship their kindly landlady, the eccentric Dame Beatrice. Even the maid, Lily (Billie Whitelaw), a reformed thief adores her employer, and the household agrees that Dame Beatrice is a wonderful woman who devotes her life to charitable pursuits.

But Dame Beatrice’s charitable pursuits aren’t yielding much in the way of results, and she notes that whatever profit they make goes “down the throat of the organizing committee.” A chain of events leads the tenants, and Dame Beatrice to pursue a life of crime in order to fund Dame Beatrice’s favourite charities. And as in usual in the case of thieves who operate out of boredom and the need for excitement, this ad-hoc gang develops an alarming taste for a life of crime.

Operating with the campaign strategy of the Major, the newly formed gang conducts a rash of daring fur robberies. For the first time in years, the Major is in his element, feeling useful and productive, as he marshals the women into various robberies. With experience, they become more practiced, and they also become more creative, but a couple of close calls cause them to reconsider. Unfortunately, they are now addicted to the excitement and the thrill of their criminal lives. The Major used to bemoan the fact that he ended “holed up here with a lot of dotty women,” but now the women rely on him to direct operations with a military flare.

Directed by Robert Asher and based on a play by Peter Coke, this gentle comedy pokes fun at the foibles of human nature and the dangers of boredom. Keep your eyes open for Kenneth Williams as sneaky fence Freddie Warrington.

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The Respectful Prostitute (1952)

“Don’t paw me, you’re not part of my contract.”

Based on a Jean Paul Sartre play, The Respectful Prostitute explores the moral choices experienced by a white prostitute after she witnesses a crime committed against a black man.

Set during the segregation period, the film begins on a train traveling to a small town in the Deep South. A white woman, prostitute/singer/hostess Lizzie McKay (Barbara Laage), is manhandled by two white men who are drunk. During the scuffle, a white man kills a black man who is an innocent bystander. The white man, the nephew of a local senator, is hauled off for the crime. In jail, he’s perfectly happy to brag about the killing, but his uncle and cousin want him set free and decide a little witness tampering is the perfect solution.

The plan is to get Lizzie to sign a statement that the murdered black man was trying to rape her, and that the white man came to her rescue. There are only two impediments to this plan–Lizzie and the only other witness–the murdered man’s black friend. Both the senator and his son decide that Lizzie can be bought or persuaded to sign the false statement, and they try a number of different tactics to win her compliance. As far as they are concerned, she shouldn’t testify against a member of her “own race”–and whether or not the white man is guilty is beside the point. Lizzie, however, is already on the fringes of society. She doesn’t exactly relate to the privileged white set, so the dilemma for the senator becomes a matter of making Lizzie identify with her race.

In the meantime, the black witness is terrified. He doesn’t expect Lizzie to tell the truth about what happened, and now in hiding, he knows he’ll be lynched if found.

Lizzie is a hard character who’s tough enough not to buckle to fear, but she’s not immune to other rhetoric. As an outcast from mainstream white society, she becomes humanised by her experience with the slimy southern politician and his ‘old boy network’ who would quite happily sweep the crime under the rug.

The film is dubbed. It would probably be too absurd for a French film set in the Deep South to have subtitles, but the dubbing is an unfortunate feature of the film. Luckily, there are not many close-ups, so the dubbing isn’t too distracting. The Respectful Prostitute is an interesting story that explores the ugliness of racism, and in Sartre’s hands, Lizzie’s moral choices become the focal point of this tale.

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