It’s a Wonderful Life – Station Xmas Screening 2011

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) owes a debt to another festive tale of the supernatural, Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol.’ In Dickens story Scrooge is shown the error of his ways so he can change his behaviour and find salvation. Capra uses a similar narrative device in It’s a Wonderful Life except his character George Bailey (James Stewart) has always been a decent fellow. George runs a building society and tries to do his best by the townsfolk. Everybody likes and respects him. Yet he feels useless, driven to despair by his rivalry with the richest man in town, and considering ending his life. 

It’s a Wonderful Life was James Stewart’s first film after returning from active service piloting bombers in the United States Air Force during WWII. Capra’s comedies with their irrepressible optimism and all-American values made him the most successful director in Hollywood during the 30’s and 40’s. However like many working in the industry at the time Capra had a European background. Sicilian born, his parents emigrated when he was a boy and his success is the embodiment of the American Dream. Like Stewart he took part in WWII, filming a series of acclaimed documentaries from the front line. Though he fell out of fashion in the 50’s, films like It’s a Wonderful Life, It Happened One Night (34), and Arsenic and Old Lace (44) mark him out as one of the most influential filmmakers in American cinema.

Clarence (Henry Travers), a lowly Angel yet to earn his wings, appears to George and shows him how his small town would have turned out if he had never been born. It’s a Wonderful Life is an American classic offering hope to the post-war generation and a country still recovering from the effects of the Great Depression. Though often accused of being overly sentimental the film is realistic about the hardships people often face. Capra’s final message is simple and heart-warming though. Everybody matters regardless of how trivial their lives may seem.

 Merry Christmas everybody!

Some Like it Hot – Station Screening Notes

It was great to see Some Like it Hot (1959, Billy Wilder) on a big screen and get such a positive reaction from the audience. From Jack Lemmon’s waltz with Joe E. Brown, to the slightly breathless response from men and women every time Marilyn got a close-up. Wed 30th November 2011

                                  image

 Back in February I went to see Sue Glover’s play ‘Marilyn’ at the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh. It contained a zinger of a line about Some Like it Hot. Now I am not sure if Marilyn Monroe ever said this or it is Glover’s invention, but it went something like this.

 “Nobody would believe Jack Lemmon as a woman, but Tony Curtis? That’s a different matter.”

 It wouldn’t surprise me to find this line came from Marilyn. She was always smarter than people realise. Jack Lemmon’s performance is funny but he looks like one of The Golden Girls. Often men dressing up as women are treated as a visual joke but you get the feeling Tony Curtis really wanted to look nice.

 Set during Prohibition Some Like it Hot sees two broke jazz musicians (Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon) dress up as women to hide from the Mob after witnessing the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. They join an all-girls band but their new found femininity is sorely tested by the charms of Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), a lush with a taste for bourbon and sax players.

 Cast and Crew

Tony Curtis

 Hailing from the Bronx with a name like Bernie Schwartz, Curtis never had it easy. Underrated as an actor because of his good looks and strong New York accent, Curtis was at his best in films which required him to be a fast talker with hurt feelings, like his PR huckster in The Sweet Smell of Success (1957). Some Like it Hot shows his comic timing and his subtlety, as well as being one of the most convincing drag acts in film – Curtis wears his ladies clothes like he means it.

 Marilyn Monroe

 Billy Wilder had worked with Marilyn Monroe on The Seven Year Itch (1957) so he knew she could be maddening – taking forever to get a line right, not turning up on time. But Wilder also knew how good she was when she got it right. Marilyn wanted to be taken seriously as an actress, never living long enough to understand her great talent was for comedy.

 Jack Lemmon

 Comic actor who excelled at playing neurotics and made several films with Wilder including The Apartment (1960) and Avanti (1972). Some Like it Hot was his first major role.

 Billy Wilder

 Vienna-born writer/director with a cynical worldview and a talent for witty dialogue, Wilder’s recurring interest was in emotionally weak and flawed male characters.  Some Like it Hot is one of his least embittered films – and his funniest.   

Casablanca – Screening Notes

This was the first screening at The Station. With the restaurant’s classic cafe style decor it was a choice between Casablancaor Brief Encounter for the opening film. Hollywood won out. Originally published on The Film Hermit on 12th November 2011. 

Casablanca– (Michael Curtiz 1942)

It is easy to see why Casablancaremains so popular some seventy years after it was made. It’s got everything; a gunfight, romance, memorable dialogue, Dooley Wilson singing ‘As Time Goes By,’ and Claude Rains. Every film is a little better for having Claude Rains in it.  Casablancawas released shortly after the US entered the war effort and represents that uncertain period as well as offering reassurance to audiences that fighting the Nazi’s was a just cause and worth the sacrifice.

 Yet nobody thought they were making a classic. The Hollywood studio system was designed to mass produce films, often fifty a year. It was a factory production line and movies were assembled.  Casablancawas one of the fifty, but the talent involved was phenomenal. Producer Hal Wallace was the driving force bringing everything together and being instrumental at every stage. Wallace hired writers Julius and Philip Epstein to work on adapting an unpublished play by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison, ‘Everybody Comes to Rick’s.’ Michael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood), a safe pair of hands and a true craftsman, was hired to direct.  Ingrid Bergman loaned from Selznick International Pictures.   

Burnett had spent time in Vienna in 1938 and did not like the strong pro-Nazi presence he felt in the city. Continuing his travels, Burnett ended up in a Mediterranean bar populated uneasily by the French and Nazi’s. This place became the inspiration for Rick’s Café Americain in Casablanca, a halfway house for refugees, hucksters, the lost, and those like Rick (Humphrey Bogart) who don’t want to be found. However the play is unremittingly bleak and embittered. Rewrites proved problematic and the Epstein’s were still working on the screenplay during filming.

 Rick is an ambiguous figure with a shady past. “I’d like to think you killed a man, it’s the romantic in me,” Renault (Rains) tells him when asking about how he ended up in Casablanca. Rick is cynical, opportunistic, and never shows his hand.  On one level he represents American isolationism in his refusal to pick sides, on another he is a classic movie tough guy. Bogart spent most of the 30’s playing supporting roles in gangster films, but had risen to leading man status with High Sierra (Raoul Walsh 1941) and The Maltese Falcon (John Huston 1941). It gives Rick an edge and we like him more than the noble resistance figure Victor Lazlo (Paul Heinreich). Cynics are usually wounded romantics, and we know sooner or later Rick will get around to doing the right thing.   

 Warner Bros. tried to repeat the success the following year with Passage to Marseille(Curtiz 43) again starring Bogart and Claude Rains but the magic wasn’t there this time around. Film critic Roger Ebert described Casablancaas being put together by ‘happy chance,’ which could well be a shorter way of saying “of all the gin joints in all the towns.” 

Station Dinner & Movie Screenings

Since 2011 I’ve been writing introductory notes for screenings of classic & contemporary films at The Station Restaurant in Aberdeenshire. The idea is dinner & a movie.  A three course meal is served before the feature with the food chosen to match the film being shown when possible. Film Mobile Scotland, a company dedicated to bringing the cinema experience to rural areas, provide the films while the restaurant area has been fitted with a cinema screen and surround sound. So far they’ve shown over fifty movies ranging from silent era films, classics from the Golden Age of Hollywood, to more recent fare. Here’s a list of every screening so far. I may also add my accompanying notes for certain films.

Season 1

 Casablanca (1942, Michael Curtiz)

Some Like it Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)

The General (1926, Clyde Bruckman)

Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961, Blake Edwards)

The Black Pirate (1926, Albert Parker)

Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

Touch of Evil (1958, Orson Welles)

The Artist (2011, Michel Hazanavicius)

The Italian Job (1969, Peter Collinson)

The Graduate (1967, Mike Nichols)

The Red Shoes (1948, Michael Powell)

 Season 2

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (2011, Lasse Hallstrom)

The Angel’s Share (2012, Ken Loach)

North by Northwest (1959, Alfred Hitchcock)

Anna Karenina (2012, Joe Wright)

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2012, John Madden)

Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

Pillow Talk (1959, Michael Gordon)

Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

The Hobbit (2012, Peter Jackson)

Life of Pi (2012, Ang Lee)

Les Miserables (2012, Tom Hooper)

The Impossible (2012, J.A. Boyona)

Lincoln (2012, Steven Spielberg)

Quartet (2012, Dustin Hoffman)

Song for Marion (2012, Paul Andrew Williams)

Talaash (2012, Reema Kagti)

Hitchcock (2013, Sacha Gervasi)

The Great Gatsby (2013, Baz Luhrmann)

 Season 3

About Time (2013, Richard Curtis)

Rush (2013, Ron Howard)

Philomena (2013, Stephen Frears)

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug (2013, Peter Jackson)

The Railway Man (2013, Jonathan Teplitzky)

12 Years a Slave (2013, Steve McQueen)

The Butler (2013, Lee Daniels)

Hyde Park on the Hudson (2013, Roger Michel)

Sunshine on Leith (2013, Dexter Fletcher)

The Book Thief (2013, Brian Percival)

Noah (2013, Darren Aranofsky)

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013, Justin Chadwick)

The Monuments Men (2014, George Clooney)

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014, Wes Anderson)

 Season 4

Pride (2014, Matthew Warchus)

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014, Lasse Hallstrom)

Gone Girl (2014, David Fincher)

Magic in the Moonlight (2014, Woody Allen)

What we did on our Holiday (2014, Andy Hamilton, Guy Jenkin)

Withnail & I (1987, Bruce Robinson)

Mr Turner (2014, Mike Leigh)