Thoughts on The Big Sleep (1946)


I like to say I have a love-hate relationship with The Big Sleep. I don’t. I love The Big Sleep. And it grows on me every time I watch it. Maybe because I understand it a little bit better each time. But regardless of its excruciatingly convoluted plot, it is such a fun and exciting film to watch. It has so much going for it. The sexual tension, the big and bold noir shots, the performances, the Bogie-Bacall chemistry (*fans self*)… Not to mention that, as far as noirs go, the humor is second to none. I love that about it. On the surface, it looks and feels like the darkest, most action-packed noir, and yet the humor provides excellent comic relief throughout. It’s an all-around perfect piece of entertainment and it works on every level. And Howard Hawks was quite simply a magnificent director. But I think I’ve fangirled over him too much as it is.

COMEDY GOLD #4: Doris’ version of events from Adam’s Rib (1949)

d689e58487837ab1c57b8c5f1a54f857--katharine-hepburn-ribsThe real-life case of attorneys William Dwight Whitney and Dorothy Whitney and their clients Raymond Massey (yes, that Raymond Massey) and Adrienne Allen inspired powerhouse screenwriting team of Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon to write Adam’s Rib (1949), a comedy about the battle of the sexes, in which Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy play two lawyers on opposite sides in a case involving a woman who shot her unfaithful husband.
Adam’s Rib is the most famous and well-regarded of the nine films starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and while they shine as the rivaling married lawyers defending their married clients, Judy Holliday is a revelation as the scorned wife. Hepburn famously asked director George Cukor to focus on Holliday during the scene where her character explains what happened in order to showcase her talents and to guarantee that she’d be cast in the film version of Born Yesterday (1950) and boy, did it work. Not only did she indeed get the role she’d originated on Broadway – winning the Best Actress Oscar in the process – but the scene is one of the funniest in the film. You can’t take your eyes off her! Her account of the events is hilarious, her timing is perfect and her deadpan expression is downright adorable. She’s an endearing, sympathetic character that you root for throughout the film and this is probably her best moment. Judy Holliday had a gift for comedy and I’ve often wondered what her career would have been like in her later years. No doubt she’d have continued to make people laugh well into old age. It’s a shame she died so young, but we’ll always have her movies.

DOUBLE BILL #13: Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and 12 Angry Men (1957)


Courtroom dramas never disappoint. They’re tense, gripping, dramatic and emotional and, more often than not, they grab you by the throat and they don’t let go until the very end. Witness for the Prosecution (1957) and 12 Angry Men (1957) are two of the most iconic and greatest examples of this.

In Witness for the Prosecution (dir. Billy Wilder), Charles Laughton plays Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a barrister recovering from a heart attack, who, despite the objections of his nurse, Miss Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester), takes on the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), a man accused of murdering a widow. Robarts believes he’s innocent and will do anything to prove it.

Adapted from the play by Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution is obviously full of twists and surprises and is probably one of the best adaptations of a Christie story that’s ever been made. And as a massive fan myself, this Christie-Wilder combo (two of my favorite people ever!) is to die for. Despite this, however, and while I also love Marlene Dietrich’s incredible turn as Vole’s wife, it’s Charles Laughton who’s the stand-out, in my opinion. He delivers a stunning (and Oscar-nominated) performance as the brilliant, witty and ruthless barrister who will stop at nothing to prove Vole’s innocence and it’s mesmerizing to just watch him and see what he’s going to come up with next. The monocle test, particularly, is a masterpiece of a detail and a wondeful piece of characterization. One of the things I love about this film is the relationship between Robarts and Miss Plimsoll. Their scenes together often serve as the comic relief, but because it’s such a well balanced film, that doesn’t take away any of the tension from it.

12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet), I feel, is the more tense film of the two. In it, twelve jurors must decide on the fate of an 18-year-old boy accused of murdering his father. Juror 8 (Henry Fonda) is the only one who’s not convinced he’s guilty. Emotions are high as the twelve jurors debate, deliberate, argue and vote in that stuffy room in that courthouse on that hot New York City day.

I find 12 Angry Men (or rather 11 Angry Men and 1 Who’s Actually All Right) to be one of the most enthralling and fascinating films ever made. You can’t look away at any point. There’s something incredibly appealing about films shot in one location because you can do so much with it, and this is undoubtedly one of the best. It’s just wonderful to witness 12 Angry Men get more and more intense as it goes on. Those twelve people who’ve never met before are all stuck in the same room for hours on end with someone’s life in their hands. Those twelve people who are never mentioned by name, and are only referred to by their juror numbers, and whose background is provided only through professions and bits and pieces here and there – that marvellous dialogue! Lumet’s now legendary technique of lowering the camera as the film goes on only adds to the claustrophobia and the tension and, Sidney, it’s magnificent.

Both Wilfrid Robarts and Juror 8 are extraordinary central characters and they guide us through their respective films beautifully. I’ve always loved the ‘standing up for what you believe in’ motif in these types of films and both of them do just that, in their own way. Maybe we should all take notes.

All about Eve, again


1200x600AllAboutEve.jpgApril 5th is a massive day for Classic Hollywood birthdays, one of which being that of Bette Davis (1908). So yesterday I decided to watch All about Eve (1950) for the billionth time, hoping to write a little something about my favorite lines or something, and when I sat down to write it, I realized I couldn’t. I couldn’t come up with anything, because I couldn’t single anything out. Every single thing in this darned film is perfect. Every line (and I mean, EVERY line), every character, every monologue (Bill’s love-hate relationship with the theatre, Eve’s obsession with it, and Margo’s mid-life crisis are stand-out moments for me), not to mention the outrageously fantastic performances. Everything about it is incredible. I’ve talked about All about Eve a few times here in the Garden, including on a comparison article between it and Sunset Blvd (1950), and I’ve run out of things to say about it. It is almost offensively brilliant and I’ve loved it for far too long to objectively or even subjectively assess it. Although, if I were to do a list of my favorite lines, the heartburn exchange at the party would be very near the top. Probably even higher than ‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.’ I said probably. Maybe. Who knows. Thankfully, I wouldn’t know where to begin with that.