Touch of Evil (1956) – Station Screening March 2012

“You’re future is all used up. Why don’t you go home?”

Touch of Evil takes place in a small town on the Mexico/United States border. Mexican cop Mike Vargas (Charlton Heston) is newly married and about to begin his honeymoon with his American wife (Janet Leigh). A hero in his homeland for his battles with drug dealers, Vargas just wants to go on holiday, but the murder of a local businessman brings him into confrontation with Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles). Quinlan’s intuitive methods of investigating crimes often lead him to act in ways that aren’t always lawful. One of these men is heading for a fall.

Touch of Evil was Orson Welles last shot at Hollywood. Hired to play the bad guy, leading man Charlton Heston demanded Welles also direct. Studio execs at Universal weren’t keen. Welles had an undeserved reputation for being difficult, his films considered highbrow, even though he always tried to make them with an audience in mind. Touch of Evil is his most entertaining work, a stylish thriller which transcends its pulp origins as a dime store novel. Everybody brings their A-game. Heston’s casting seems bizarre but few actors have ever been as dignified or as solid. Screen legend Marlene Dietrich steals the show as an enigmatic fortune teller. Director of photography Russell Metty and Welles experiment with unusual camera angles and long elaborate takes including a celebrated opening shot which lasts for three and a half minutes without any cuts. Composer Henry Mancini (Breakfast at Tiffany’s) jazz score suggests bourbon fuelled late nights, sweat, and sin.

Filming went well, but afterwards Welles was removed from the editing process. Touch of Evilplayed the B-movie circuit, usually as the second feature on a double-bill. Over the years the film’s reputation has grown and Touch of Evil is now recognised as being one of the last in the great cycle of Film Noir movies of the Forties and Fifties. These films were bleak, but exhilarating in the way the defied Hollywood conventions. They dealt with betrayal, and loss, and broken dreams and their cynical worldview struck a chord with post-War audiences.

It is easy to make comparisons between Quinlan and Welles – both are brilliant men but the architects of their own downfall. Welles directed his first movie Citizen Kane (1941) at the tender age of 25. Media mogul William Randolph Hearst took offence believing correctly the film was a thinly veiled biopic of him and set his media pack loose on Welles. The Magnificent Ambersons(1942) was released in a truncated form after the studio RKO got fed up with waiting for Welles to return from filming a documentary in Rio and cut the film without him. Welles made other films on time and under budget, The Lady from Shanghai (1947) for instance, but the bad reputation stuck. After Touch of Evil Welles spent most of his time in Europe, occasionally appearing in big-budget Hollywood films like Casino Royale (1967) to raise funds for his own features.

Breakfast At Tiffany’s – Station Screening Programme Notes (Feb 2012)

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Based on a 1958 novella by Truman Capote Breakfast at Tiffany’s turned its gamine star Audrey Hepburn into a fashion icon. In her Givenchy gowns and Oliver Goldsmith sunglasses Holly Golightly brings to mind the modern trend for socialites to be described as ‘It Girls’ in society magazines. Yet Holly’s a faker, a hustler, a runaway, and in Capote’s novella a prostitute. Director Blake Edwards softens Capote’s story but keeps the essential narrative intact. The biggest change is the contemporising of events. In the novella Holly is long gone and the narrator reflects on their time together many years afterwards. There’s sadness in the novella which the film maintains but never at the expense of entertainment. Much of the dialogue is taken straight from Capote’s novel though Edwards and screenwriter George Axelrod favour a more comic tone. Indeed Edwards would later become best known as a director of comedies after the success of The Pink Panther (1963), the first of many films to feature the hapless Inspector Clouseau. 

While Capote suggests most people don’t get what they want Hollywood movies tend towards the opposite. So instead of a little guy observing a beautiful woman he can never have Breakfast at Tiffany’s becomes a romance. Enter George Peppard as Paul Varjak, a handsome but down on his luck writer. Like Holly he relies on the favours of others to survive, in his case a rich married woman who pays his rent in return for services rendered. Paul is a realist who can see Holly for the damaged soul she is and wants her to stop dreaming. Admirers of Capote dismiss the film as fluff but this is unfair. Hollywood is a dream factory, the ultimate destination for drifters and wannabes. The novella’s Holly would have been more suited to Marilyn Monroe whose own life was a tale of reinvention, alcohol abuse, and romantic failures. However the quirky and spirited Hepburn suits the film Edwards has made. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is pure escapism and it works on its own terms. There is one breathtakingly awful miscalculation though. Mickey Rooney’s casting as Holly’s Japanese neighbour has to be seen to be believed. 

The General – Station Screening Notes

This screening took place at the Station Restaurant in Deeside on Saturday the 7th January 2012. The film was accompanied by pianist Jane Gardner who performed her own composition for The General. 

THE GENERAL (1926, Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton)

Set during the American Civil War The General tells the story of Johnnie Gray (Buster Keaton), a young engineer who loves two things, his sweetheart Annabelle (Marion Mack) and his locomotive The General. Johnnie tries to join the army but his engineering skills are too valuable so he is rejected. Annabelle accuses him of cowardice and warns him never to come near her unless he is wearing a Southern uniform. When Annabelle is abducted and The General commandeered by Union soldiers Johnnie sets out in pursuit. 
Keaton also co-directed The General. While other silent comedians were happy enough to place the camera in front of the action and simply film their routines Keaton took great care in arranging things onscreen. The General may be a comedy but Keaton’s stunts, his use of the landscape, and his staging of the battle sequences mean the film is also an impressive Western in its own right. 
Keaton’s trademark forlorn expression rarely changes except to occasionally register his bewilderment at the world around him. Physically agile and fearless Keaton performed his own stunts and had no hesitation in putting himself in danger if it meant creating a visually stunning set-piece. The son of Vaudeville performers Keaton got his break working with Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle before graduating to directing his own material.
During his time working with producer Joseph Schenck for MGM and later United Artists Keaton was given free reign creatively. This allowed him to experiment with special effects, editing, and storytelling. In his most inventive film Sherlock Jr. (1924) a projectionist dreams himself into the movie he is watching. The General is sadly the last full length feature Keaton was allowed to make. Shortly after making the film he was loaned back to MGM, now under a new regime and no longer comfortable with Keaton’s working methods they restricted his creative input.
As cinema entered the sound era Keaton’s brand of physical comedy was seen as old fashioned. A heavy drinker he eventually came undone badly injuring himself in a fall. Fired by MGM he became a bit part player in mostly forgettable movies. Keaton is one of the relics of the silent era who appears in Billy Wilder’s embittered poison pen letter to Hollywood Sunset Boulevard (1950) as mournful as ever and losing at cards. In the 1960’s his silent movies developed a strong cult following and Keaton began to receive the respect he deserved before his death in 1966 at the age of 71. 

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

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 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)