Frank L. Baum‘s book The Wizard of Oz was a downer when it reveals that Oz is a fake. Either he’s posing as a wizard to stop the anarchy that the bad witches represent or the picture show is his way of fitting into the magical world. The adaptation’s loyal to the source material, as Dorothy’s (Judy Garland) shitty life in the middle of nowhere changes when a hurricane transports her into the magical world where, among many things, she meets Glinda the Good Witch of the North. ‘I beg your pardon, but, I’ve never heard of a beautiful witch before.’
She’s not that pretty. And for a good witch she’s not hesitant to make a girl walk alone in heels with three strange men. Or the ‘munchkin’ explosion – this is the kind of high quality film criticism you can expect from me – at ‘The Witch is Dead’ number, one of the munchkins being a very tall child. There was like a hundred of them MGM, you can’t give up now! Yes, seeing this as a young adult, I couldn’t help but snark at some of the film’s dream logic or gay innuendo.
But as the colour sets in, the performances become livelier. Matt Mazur wrote about Margaret Hamilton’s, but my MVP is Ray Bolger. Playing Hunk, his klutziness during the BW parts dialed down to 1930s bit-part standards, but when Dorothy meets Bolger as Scarecrow his physicality astounds. Along with this technicolour cast he is more believable, ushering a new era in cinema. Colour doesn’t hide anything. This should have won Best Picture despite the competition, because it presents a challenge for movies to reach new heights.
That doesn’t mean it abandons all ‘older’ methods and cues. The ‘oh-we-oh’ tune sounds like something you’d hear in a film half a decade earlier than this one but it doesn’t make the film feel dated. The way the film can borrow little hints from older and newer styles is simply magical.
Speaking of Judy Garland, Judgment of Nuremberg is playing at the Lightbox today at 6:30. Vincent Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz is part of TIFF in the Park showing selected musical films. Tomorrow’s is The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
- This isn’t Kansas Dorothy (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)
Doing this post on a whim. Much more actresses have one or two great movies a year, but due to realizing that the great Claudia Cardinale has been in three great movies in 1963, I decided to do some time-wasting and find out which other women have had the same luck.
Yes, I’ll admit that I’ve only seen Cardinale and Williams’ full list while the rest are below because I’ve seen one or two of each actress’ movies. Many of the women on the list are also here because of their supporting roles. It’s hard to carry a great film. Can you imagine trying to do the same for three?
Also, I know nothing about the silent era but I’m sure that I’ll eventually learn that the likes of Lillian Gish and Janet Gaynor have hat tricks under their CV’s, the latter winning the first Best Actress Oscar for three performances. It’s also harder to get names of actresses and movies belonging to world cinema. If I could only double myself and extend the hours of a day.
And yes, Williams is here because as much as I hate parts of Shutter Island, I know a lot of you love it. Although I’m sure her 2011 is looking better than her 2010. Here goes the list.
Olivia de Haviland – 1939 – (Gone with the Wind, Dodge City, The Private Lives of Elizabeth of Essex)
Barbara Stanwyck – 1941 – (The Lady Eve, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire)
Grace Kelly – 1954 – (Dial M for Murder, Rear Window, The Country Girl)
Claudia Cardinale – 1963 – (8 1/2, The Leopard, The Pink Panther)
Faye Dunaway – 1974 – (Chinatown, The Towering Inferno, Four Musketeers)
Patricia Clarkson – 2003 (Dogville, The Station Agent, All the Real Girls)
Michelle Williams – 2010 – (Shutter Island, Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff)
A factor in making this list involved representing each decade, one actress per decade to be more frank. I chose de Haviland over Bette Davis’s movies in the same year, Kelly over Marilyn Monroe‘s 1953 (it hurt me to do that), Driver over Kirsten Dunst (Driver might be disqualified since her involvement in Mononoke only came through 1998/1999, when Miramax released the film stateside, but Dunst 1999 films are guilty pleasures that I can’t admit to the public yet) or Clarkson over Maggie Gyllenhaal’s 2002. Besides, this post is a picture overload already, as is most of my posts in this blog.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there’s no actress in the list that has an 80′s hat trick. Great roles and movie seemed spread out generously among the Meryl Streep generation and the Brat Pack girls.
Lastly, I’ll make a list for the boys and the directors, or make hat trick lists for consecutive years or movies, but only if you ask nicely. Or better yet, if you could do the rest
- Princess Mononoke – Japanese Anime (8thumbsup.wordpress.com)
A blogger once said that you need life experience to be a critic. That’s not true. You need life experience to be a great artist.
Zangiku Monogatari - or translated in English, The Story of the Late Chrysanthemums – is about a young actor named Kikunosuke Onoue (Shôtarô Hanayagi), an adopted child of a fifth generation actor, Kikoguro (Gonjurô Kawarazaki). The rules of the game are nepotism instead of meritocracy, and Kikonosuke gets critiqued behind his back while praised in his presence. His brother’s wet-nurse Otoku decides to break that chain by telling him that her aunt doesn’t like his acting. From this revelation, the audience knows that these kids are gonna end up being together through thick and thin, but this isn’t your typical love story. It’s just as much about Kiku’s career, the battle and benefits of both nepotism and meritocracy as they unfold in 19th century Japanese metropolises.
Mizoguchi makes the decision here to use wide shots and long takes. Yes, those long takes lost my attention span a few times, but they depict a city street or a room as a way of reminding us of the old form of the theatre. The characters are in the environment and we’re watching them for minutes without blinking, like we would on a stage. Their emotions radiating through the volumes of their voice, making close-ups unnecessary. Some of the low angles remind us of a view that a lucky audience member would have in a real theatre. Or medium angle shots between walls or tree trunks or plants, from the view of someone peeping into Kiku’s relationships and interactions with others. The most obvious instances of close-ups are of Otoku, either getting fired or reading a flyer promoting Kiku’s performance, and seriously thinking about going even if she’s forbidden.
Kiku chooses Otoku, making his surrogate father disown him. He has to go to Osaka where the competition for actors isn’t as bad. He leaves the theatre with no fans to greet him unlike the other actors. When Kiku’s family make a stop in Osaka for a performance, Otoku pleads for them to give him a chance. Kiku plays a geisha and kills it. The further the camera is from the characters, the more public the place is. That doesn’t stop Kiku from showing his joy to his father, as everyone else watches.
The actors recall the Kabuki acting of the era they’re portraying, complete with gestures and physical restrictions due to their costumes. Hanayagi’s acting choices are an acquired taste, being lifeless and wooden in the first act of the film, keeping in mind that he was playing naiveté and convinces the audience that he’s more than half his real age. He eventually evokes either mean-spiritedness or insightful pathos depending on his fortunes. The actress plays Otoku is the most consistent, caring and emotional, which counts for good acting I guess. Her heart breaks when he’s away from her, which physically manifests through illnesses. I do find her character too passive, altruistic, and distressed. Her sacrifice to petition for a better job for him doesn’t feel earned. What good does it do her that she’s a martyr?
Long story long, while looking for reviews of Andrei Rublev on Google, I read the one from a blog called Precious Bodily Fluids. If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, yes, my blog name’s still weirder. His blog post on the film is the second or third entry on Google by the way, whoo hoo.
Anyway, while he writes about he movie he also mentions six other epic films. Lists suck, but that doesn’t stop me from making them. Gone with the Wind, Seven Samurai, Ben-Hur 1959, The Leopard, The Deer Hunter, Full Metal Jacket, The Thin Red Line. And yes, it’s mostly a boy’s club. Just for when you were wondering.
A Star is Born (George Cukor, 1954)
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Ronald Neame, 1969)
Salo (Pier Paolo Pasolini, 1975)
Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)
Let the Right One In (Tomas Alfredson, 2008)
Ruth from FlixChatter responded to being tagged to do a 15 Directors Meme post she did two-ish weeks ago, and I did some proud begging for her to tag me because I like talking about my favourite directors. Or I think I did – it was hard going past 12. I changed the list compared to my pre-list on her comments section. And it took me a while to respond.
What I look for in a director’s work is beautiful cinematography, theatre-like scripts or energy, decent representation of strong female characters. Lastly, a sense of humour, preferably dark, like coffee I would only drink if I was lazy. List.
- Stanley Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket)
- Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter)
- Christopher Nolan (Inception)
- Quentin Tarantino (Kill Bill Vol. II)
- Woody Allen (Sleeper, Another Woman)
- Terrence Malick (The Thin Red Line ’98)
- Elia Kazan (East of Eden)
- Mike Nichols (The Graduate)
- Michael Haneke (Code Inconnu)
- Jane Campion (Bright Star)
- George Cukor (A Star is Born ’54)
- Alfonso Cuaron (Y Tu Mama Tambien)
- Sidney Lumet (Serpico)
- Lars von Trier (Dogville)
- Fritz Laing (Fury)
And now I have to tag ETA: six bloggers who have lives.
Jose, who talks about classics with wicked witches and fugly whores.
Simon, who reminds us that David Bowie played Andy Warhol in a movie.
Andy, who’s going to see Ellen Ripley cut a bitch.
Nick and Nathaniel. One’s very chipper and the other’s a quipper. Both are getting me really excited for the Oscars.
Farran, who reminded me that my birthday was also Constance Bennett Day.
Via FlixChatter via Encore’s World of TV and Film via SortaThatGuy (can I use your first names if we’ve talked to each other on Twitter or commented on each other’s blog) is a 31 Day Movie Meme. I downloaded movies up to the eighth day, I spreadsheeted it, I mapped out all the movies I saw so that every period got representation in proportionate to how many I’ve seen in said era, or tried to anyway. But I had no time. Thankfully, FourofThem did it in short form and I decided to do the same.
Day 01 – Sequel that should not have been made
–American Psycho II: All American Girl (2002). I saw the ending and it was enough. Poor Mila Kunis.
Day 02 – Movie that you think more people should see
–Ballast (2008). I was alone in the theatre watching this. With a whopping 1000 votes from iMDb. See it, nerds, what are you waiting for?
Day 03 – Favorite Oscar-nominated movie from most recent ballot
– Bright Star (2009). Never changed my opinion on it once. Bu then I’m an English/Art History double major so this was up my alley.
Day 04 – Movie that makes you laugh every time
– In Bruges (2008). Someone should bar me from watching Harry Potter, because if I go and every time Voldemort comes on screen, I’ll scream “Don’t facking talk to me about my cunt facking keeds!”
Day 05 – Movie you loathe
–Diary of a Mad Black Woman (2005). Fucking hate Tyler Perry and his sensationalism.
Day 06 – Movie that makes you cry every time
–A Star is Born ’54. Judy’s monologues make me remember that I have a soul.
Day 07 – Least favorite movie by a favorite actor or actress
–Revolutionary Road (2008) for Kate Winslet. Made her pretty only on the outside.
Day 08 – Movie that should be required high school viewing
–Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Weird choice, but lets the freaks know that they can fight back. Also Mysterious Skin (2004).
Day 09 – Best scene ever
–The argument between the titular Malcolm X (1992) and his wife. Fences can’t be as good as that.
Day 10 – A movie you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving
–Breaking and Entering (2006). Apparently Minghella’s worst film, but so emotionally resonant.
Day 11 – A movie that disappointed you
–Nine (2009), but as a good gay boy I had to haul my ass and my sister’s to see it anyway.
Day 12 – Best soundtrack/background music in a scene
–Vertigo (1958), especially the Prelude and Rooftop scene, judging by my iPod play count.
Day 13 – Favorite animated movie
–Up (2009), or if parts of Kill Bill Vol. 1 (2003) count. I’m not good at my animation after I turned 13.
Day 14 – Favorite film in black and white
–Waterloo Bridge. It has that one scene that does wonders for black and white cinematography, but what I care about is the content.
Day 15 – Best musical
–Chicago (2002), again, judging by my iPod count. And because it’s really slutty.
Day 16 – Your guilty pleasure movie
–Clueless (1995). When you look at it, it’s really a movie about Rodney King and OJ.
Day 17 – Favorite series of related movies
–The Godfather (1972, 1974, 1990), because I’m boring, and because the last one’s cute.
Day 18 – Favorite title sequence
–Twelve Monkeys (1995), then the tapestry-like The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943).
Day 19 – Best movie cast
–Gosford Park (2001). Rarely do you see Kristin Scott Thomas and other great British actors and actresses together.
Day 20 – Favorite kiss
–Before Night Falls (2000), when a random man takes his glasses off and kisses the audience. Reminds me of many I’ve had.
Day 21 – Favorite romantic couple
–Woody and Diane in Annie Hall (1977). Woody’s disgusting, but their chemistry is ideal.
Day 22 – Favorite final scene/line
–”Adios,” by the Marlene Dietrich character in Touch of Evil. (1958) Fierceness.
Day 23 – Best explosion or action scene
–The Big Heat (1953). No fire, all camera movement. I could feel my walls shake.
Day 24 – Quote you use most often
–”My art has been considered vaginal by critics, which bothers some men. Vagina.” The Big Lebowski (1998). Imagine medium-sized gAsian say that, and then laugh before the next line.
Day 25 – A movie you plan on watching (old or new)
–Get Low (2010), a movie about a swan song, because I’ve seen a lot lately. If I stay in the country, that is.
Day 26 – Freakishly weird movie ending
–Fat Girl (2001). Doesn’t even prepare anyone.
Day 27 – Best villain
–Mieko Harada in Ran (1985), then Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate ’62.
Day 28 – Most over-hyped movie
–No Country for Old Men (2007). This started the iMDb thing of giving ten stars to any male centred movie that just came out.
Day 29 – Movie you have watched more than ten times
–The closest is Gone with the Wind (1939), with at least four.
Day 30 – Saddest death scene
–The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005)
Day 31 – Scene that made you stand up and cheer
–The explosion in The Thing (1982), aided by the crowd.
TIFF via Craig from LivinginCinema released their 100 essential films. I’m only doing this post so that I can push back the other stuff I’m already working on/done. Lists like this are supposed to make me feel inferior, but as I’ve watched 48 of these already I kinda feel good about myself. But then, you know, I’m the only douchebag that wrote down a number, and tomorrow someone’s gonna say 72, or 81, or 90.
These are the ones I haven’t seen and will hope to see. This list and post also exists for the purpose of telling the four or five people who read this blog who actually know me in real life and telling them what I’ll be doing for the rest of the year, unless hindered by unexpected circumstances like bankruptcy, or worse, Rob Ford shutting down government institutions that supports the arts.
1 THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC (Carl Theodor Dreyer) Seen parts in TCM.
3 L’AVVENTURA (Michaelangelo Antonioni)
5 PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson)
7 PATHER PANCHALI (Satyajit Ray)
11 ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
13 BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (Sergei Eisenstein) Clips in film class.
15 TOKYO STORY (Yasujiro Ozu)
19 L’ATALANTE (Jean Vigo)
20 CINEMA PARADISO (Giuseppe Tornatore)
21 LA GRANDE ILLUSION (Jean Renoir) Parts at TCM.
23 PERSONA (Ingmar Bergman) Saw THAT part.
27 VOYAGE IN ITALY (Roberto Rossellini)
29 CITY LIGHTS (Charlie Chaplin) Parts
31 SHERLOCK JR. (Buster Keaton)
32 RULES OF THE GAME (Jean Renoir – 2)
35 L’ARRIVÉE D’UN TRAIN À LA CIOTAT (Frères Lumiere Louis Lumière and Auguste Lumière)
37 LA JETÉE (Chris Marker) (parts on TCM)
39 NIGHT AND FOG (Alain Resnais)
47 SALÓ, OR THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM (Pier Paolo Pasolini) August 3!
48 THE SEVENTH SEAL (Ingmar Bergman – 2) Parts.
49 LE VOYAGE DANS LA LUNE (Georges Méliès)
53 VIRIDIANA (Luis Buñuel)
54 LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (Roberto Benigni) Saw the ending.
55 THE SORROW AND THE PITY (Marcel Ophüls)
57 THE EARRINGS OF MADAME DE… (Max Ophüls) Parts on TCM.
59 THROUGH THE OLIVE TREES (Abbas Kiarostami)
60 LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS (Marcel Carné)
63 JOHNNY GUITAR (Nicholas Ray)
65 MEMORIES OF UNDERDEVELOPMENT (Tomás Gutiérrez Alea)
67 SCORPIO RISING (Kenneth Anger)
69 DUST IN THE WIND (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
70 SCHINDLER’S LIST (Steven Spielberg) Saw ‘Look at the snow!’
71 NASHVILLE (Robert Altman)
72 CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (Ang Lee) Seen enough of it.
73 WAVELENGTH (Michael Snow)
75 CHRONIQUE D’UN ÉTÉ (Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch)
77 GREED (Erich von Stroheim)
79 JAWS (Steven Spielberg – 2)
81 THE BIRTH OF A NATION (D.W. Griffith) Can’t wait for the picketing!
82 CHUNGKING EXPRESS (Wong Kar Wai – 2)
87 ANDREI RUBLEV (Andrei Tarkovsky)
90 WRITTEN ON THE WIND (Douglas Sirk) Saw the beginning. Betty?
91 THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed) TCM has been dicking me on this movie.
94 BREAKING THE WAVES (Lars von Trier) Parts.
95 A NOS AMOURS (Maurice Pialat)
96 CLEO DE 5 A 7 (Agnès Varda)
97 ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (Pedro Almodóvar)
99 OLDBOY (Park Chan-wook) My cousin Antoinette’s favourite.
100 PLAYTIME (Jacques Tati)
Inspired by Nick and Antagony via Nathaniel . Se nervous. It took me like a month of listing and can and can’t to do this. How do I even judge a great performance? Physicality? Double or triple threats? Filling the shoes of a memorable literary character? And I combine leading and supporting performances because I’m cool like that. Anyway, here goes -
Vivien Leigh. “Gone with the Wind,” as Scarlett O’Hara. Directed by David O. Selznick & George Cukor, 1939. Oscar winner.
I’m pretty sure I”m gonna be clobbered if I didn’t include her in the list. I tried not to, but I can’t help it. Watching the film means finding another great line that Leigh delivers, considering that she doesn’t have the best lines in the film (the honour would go to Melanie Wilkes). Of course, there’s watching Leigh in four hours going through different stages of Scarlett’s life, in different eras, and both actress and character fit well. She grows into an adult yet her eyes hint of childlike mischief. She’s a character, on paper, that we should love to hate, and yet we still love her.
Hattie McDaniel. “Gone with the Wind,” as Mamie. Directed by David O. Selznick, 1939. Oscar winner.
Writing this, I realized that Mamie’s often brings bad news. Most of the time, she’s the one to tell other characters whether a member in the family has died or is suffering. She’s also there to tell Scarlett if she’s making a mistake. She’s family whether Scarlett thinks otherwise., arguably Scarlett’s surrogate mother, feeding her and clothing her. In “Gone with the Wind, McDaniel puts some subtlety into crucial scenes not permitted to any actress of her race in any other movie at the time. McDaniel took on Mamie character with tragedy and comedy and ambiguity.
Bette Davis. “The Little Foxes,” as Regina Giddens. Directed by William Wyler, 1941. Oscar nominee.
Despite of the performance’s reputation, Davis doesn’t make her character that much of a monster. There’s honesty in Regina’s wish to give her only child Alexandra a better life she couldn’t have in her youth. Yet she’s an anti-Scarlett, or a more ruthless version of the Southern woman. She has the ability to attack after being vulnerable and cheated, has to do certain unspeakable things for her ambition and survival, crushes her family like enemies and in minutes she treat them like friends. All of that done with great finesse.
Moira Shearer. ‘The Red Shoes,” as Victoria Page. Directed by Michael Powell, 1948.
I apologize for the forthcoming use of adjectives and nouns, but who else can show youth and exuberance and pathos. She has this childlike quality, and her ambition for a dance career has thrust her into this adult world where people, sepcifically her boss (Anton Walbrook) and husband, would be pulling and tugging for her. I make it sound like a coming of age story, but Shearer’s performance shows the difference sides youth and the decay of that youth. She goes from rosy to fragile. That and being the quintessential pre-mod British girl holding our attention for at least fifteen minutes in that dance sequence.
Isuzu Yamada. “Throne of Blood,” as Lady Asaji Washizu. Directed by Akira Kurosawa, 1957.
This is Noh and Kabuki at its best. It’s also one of the most interesting interpretations of Lady Macbeth, as well as any royal consort who has to act through her man instead of being free to do so in her own right. The audience sees her sitting down, like in meditation, symbolic of someone so ingrained her own rhetoric and dragging down her devoted husband with her. She is calm as a person who helped her husband kill a man. Yet in public she is a gracious host and tries to behave as if she’s advising her husband and not suffocating him. She shows her as guiltless because those with guilt actually live through the end – she won’t. She spends the final act being tortured on earth. More conventional interpretations of the character shows her as hollowed out, yet Asaji is fully fleshed yet possessed. She’s a monster and not a queen.
Helen Mirren. “Age of Consent,” as Cora Ryan. Directed by Michael Powell, 1969.
Helen Mirren’s trademark is to show off her body, but she uses it in this movie to its fullest potential. When she’s skipping and posing on the beach or in the dirtiest places, trying to hide money from her tyrannic grandmother, she’s that kind of actress that you can tell her what to do or say and she’s game. Her Shakespearean training helps convey this class and strength, surprising for this feral child in the middle of nowhere, yet still make us believe that she’s innocent. No wonder James Mason’s character Bradley was attracted to her and wanted her as a muse. Like and unlike a Galatea-like character she professes her love for her man and she’s so certain of it that Bradley nor the audience can doubt it. Her accent work’s good too. Mirren’s later performances will be that on an ice queen, and we’ll probably never get something as invigorating as this performance from her again.
Faye Dunaway. “Network,” as Diana Christensen. Directed by Sidney Lumet, 1976. Oscar winner.
She knows how to walk into a room. To talk Max Schumacher’s (Billy Holden) ear off and let him just stand there and take it. Being a seductress yet frigid is a hard thing to pull off, and Dunaway does it. Her performance, especially the ending, makes its audience wonder whether she’s a victim or survivor. Max condemns her, that she’s probably gonna jump off from her corner office in a year or two. Yet she placidly and without hesitation plans for an assassination without Max’s words clouding her brain. Also, here and in any other movie, Dunaway is a master of modern American elocution. She doesn’t veer off in a fake British accent like most of her predecessors not does she talk like an accordion like most American actresses. She commands the other person so quickly yet doesn’t get them and the audience lost.
Helena Bonham Carter. “A Room with a View, ” as Lucy Honeychurch. Directed by James Ivory, 1985.
Bonham Carter’s work in this movie can arguably be that on an ingenue’s, but you know the Chinese proverb of an apprentice’s limitless possibilities. As Lucy, she goes on vacation in Italy to learn about art and culture and watch Italians fight, but her stature while absorbing this information that makes her less passive than any other character in that film. She speaks a certain way depending on her situation. She could be ghostly and trapped, childlike in her complaints, or assert to others that her conventional life makes her happy. There’s also that moment when she answers a crucial question and breaks down and becomes free, and is so matter of fact about that answer. Bonham Carter’s recent reputation as Tim Burton’s wife and muse also makes this early performance a discovery of how soft and subtle she could be.
Cate Blanchett. “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” as Meredith Logue. Directed by Anthony Minghella, 1999.
She’s a star even in her many supporting roles like this one. Watch Blanchett’s performance create a back story in a few seconds by a look, by simply flipping her hair and being swept by her surroundings. Meredith is one of the Americans in Venice, yet refreshingly not as jaded as her peers. She doesn’t just use her appearance to shape her role. That insufferable inflection as she calls Tom Ripley ‘Dickie’ is one of the most memorable parts of the film. Fact: Gwyneth Paltrow arguable stole Blanchett’s Oscar, and in return this movie gets Blanchett to steal Paltrow’s boyfriend.
Viola Davis. “Doubt,” as Mrs. Miller. Directed by John Patrick Shanley, 2008.
This wonderfully paced supporting work reveals so much about the shocking words coming from Mrs. Miller. Another way of talking about this scene stealing performance is that of a pressure cooker, a women dogged by Sister Aloysius (Meryl Streep) until she explodes and tells the truth. She uses the words ‘caught’ and ‘nature’ not like innuendos but a natural part of an oppressive vocabulary. She makes herself understood. Remember that in the film version, their conversation happens in public and Davis doesn’t hush up nor careless go into histrionics. She doesn’t apologize for her presence and makes herself an equal by sharply telling Aloysius that she has to go back to her life, and to defending and loving her son without making the latter nor the audience think that she didn’t ask for him, as many fictional mothers like her do.
Sure, Scarlet O ‘Hara (Vivien Leigh), the (anti)heroine of “Gone With The Wind,” is the one getting the ‘bitch’ label and Mamie (Hattie McDaniel) has her share of berating Scarlett and trying to tell her what to do, but Melanie Hamilton Wilkes (Olivia de Haviland) had the best zingers. I would love to have known this character and the kind of bitchy stuff she would have said in confidence.
Olivia De Haviland is a star on her own right. It’s somehow baffling that she’d play second fiddle to Vivien Leigh and sometimes, Bette Davis. She portrays Melanie with such placidity that some in the audience might not notice the frankness in rebellion in her words. Like “Phil Meade, you hush your mouth. Do you think it will help your mother to have you off getting shot too? I never heard of anything so silly.”
One of her character traits is her persistence in protecting and defending Scarlet. Scarlet did save her life after all, something that the other characters around her has forgotten. When Scarlet shoots a Yankee, she drags her husband’s sword, if she’d be called to help. She tells Scarlet that she’s glad the latter killed him. Glad? Anyway, to hide this murder, she assures the others at Tara – “Don’t be scared, chickens. Your big sister was trying to clean a revolver and it went of and nearly scared her to death!”
I think Melanie’s held more deadly weapons than any other character in the movie, male or female. Again, she tries to defend Scarlet, who might be blamed for causing the males’ drunken behaviour and for her second husband’s death. Mellie finds her husband, Ashley (Leslie Howard) under arrest for drunkenness. I can’t believe that I missed her telling off the Yankee captain that ‘If you arrest all the men who get intoxicated in Atlanta, you must have a good many Yankees in jail, Captain.’ With rapid fire impatience from her this time. Her character’s a great observer, being a woman and a Southern wife of a former plantation owner in occupied Georgia. She knows how to behave in any circumstance.
People know Mellie for her kindness especially in her last days. Her last command to Scarlet, to ‘take care of Ashley,’ if we can indulge on some overreading, inadvertently sets off a series of events that somehow made sure that we’d never see Scarlet and Ashley together, nor Scarlet with her third husband Rhett Butler (Clark Gable). Mellie and Scarlet might be best friends, but she keeps her husband, perhaps after her death.
Remember when John Wayne was hot?
With him is a prostitute, an alcoholic doctor, a whiskey peddler, a soldier’s wife, a Confederate gambler, and a banker. That’s pretty much a capsule representing The West, all of whom are stuck with each other in the titular “Stagecoach.”
I wanna focus on the female characters in this movie. There’s Mrs. Mallory, a woman who I decided to like because of her complexity, but boy was it hard to like her. Her determination is admirable as she goes on a suicide mission to see her husband deep in the West where the Americans and the Apache are in war. Also, the film shows her worry about her husband while upping the bitchy treatment towards Dallas the prostitute (Claire Trevor). Some of us may excuse her condescending attitude to Southern breeding, but she already decided to ride the coach with Dallas. Would it hurt if she was two places away from her on the dining table? Besides, I’ve always preferred the whore over the virgin because the former juggles love, compulsion and loyalty while the latter is disgruntled like Mallory is sometimes. What made me turn around to liking her is seeing these two separate emotions and states of mind switch within seconds and still the same person, a woman having to deal with a volatile environment while learning more about herself.
Dallas is a more straightforward character, deeply affected by societal rejection. Besides, if the Ringo kid (John Wayne) likes her we must follow suit. The film also drops the bomb that she’s an orphan, something that she and Ringo have in common. Like Mallory, she gets a little bitchy towards Ringo because she doesn’t deserve him, she’ll just end up breaking her own heart.
I don’t even know why I’m questioning if they’re great characters or not, since they both have one problem atop another and both use meanness as a crutch. Maybe having those problems are a surefire way for us to like them despite their flaws. Or perhaps we get to know their past as a way of compression and to balance out the growing up that they have to do in a short time. Does having one problem after another equal nuance? Sure. Happens to male characters all the time. They’re the best written women in the John Ford movies or even better than half of the female characters written then and now.
I also wanna talk about how the movie looks. It’s visually uneventful and even badly acted in the beginning, and the burned stagecoach stop could have had more gravitas, but we get a zoom towards Ringo and it’s one good shot and moment after another. Documentary-like shots of the horses dipping across a river, Hatfield the Southerner (John Carradine) pointing the gun at Mallory’s head in slow motion, the light on Ringo and Dallas capturing the romance and the fear. Orson Welles apparently said that all he needed to follow the shot schemes at “Stagecoach” for “Citizen Kane,” but I saw the John Ford film as a precedent for “Touch of Evil,” the chiaroscuro and speed in both films capturing the chaos and violence of the time.