Tag Archive | entertainment

VIENNA – A TRYST WITH VERDI

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On July 21st, Philippe Léopold Louis Marie became the seventh king of Belgium when his father King Albert II of Belgium abdicated citing age and failing health. Minutes later, the father and son appeared on the balcony of Palais Royal in Brussels in the presence of Queen Paola, Philippe’s wife Queen Mathilde (d’Udekem d’Acoz), their four children and former Queen Fabiola, while a huge crowd cheered and shouted “Long live the king” from below. The new sovereign vowed to strive for the unity of the nation. Promise is a big word. Promises bind us to each other, and to a common commitment for the future.

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The sight of Palais Royal resurfaced memories of our visit to Belgium few years ago in fulfilment of a promise I made to Carina.  Of the many attractions we saw there – the Grand Place (Grote Markt) and the baroque and gothic guildhalls and Town Hall surrounding it; the Sablon Square (De Zavel or Le Sablon); the Cathedral of St Michael and Saint Gudula; the Basilica of the Sacred Heart (Basilica of Koekelberg); the 1619 bronze fountain statue of a little boy by Jerome Duquesnoy called Mannekin Pis; to name a few, we had also taken time to see the Palais Royal from outside even though it was a wet day.

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6Then again, few years prior to that visit to Belgium, we went to Vienna (Austria) to fulfil yet another promise I made for her birthday – to take her to the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) to enjoy Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata(1).

Now, “La Traviata” initially came to my attention when I purchased the album “Favourite Arias” of Spanish soprano Victoria de Los Ángeles (Victoria Gómez Cima, 1923-2005) back in the late eighties. This re-issue of excerpts from complete operas included Bizet’s “Carmen”, Gounod’s “Faust”, Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and “Madama Butterfly”, among others.

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Classical music was always close to my heart. In a way, all music tends to become classical as time goes on. Although living in Cochin didn’t offer the chance to go to a ballet or opera or jazz concert, European classical music was not inaccessible to me during my teens owing to radio broadcasts of Voice of America, or audio cassettes or gramophone records.

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9Then there were opportunities to listen to it during visits to the friendly houses of a Fernandez or a Rozario or a Ferrero located in the vicinity of the Infant Jesus Church in Cochin or at Fort Cochin where, almost certainly, on my way to the Santa Cruz Cathedral or back on a Sunday morning I could also be elated over the ebullient and melodious classical repertoire wafting from the houses of the Anglo-Indians – pieces of music which I could not identify then, but gave me the impulse and motivation to learn by ear.  All I had to do was open my mind to it.

Although I have not seen as many operas as Carina, we have over the years enjoyed few performances at Teatro La Fenice de Venezia and Teatro alla Scala in Milano where I would have also loved to enjoy some performances by the great Maria Callas (1923 – 1977) during those remarkable years when she sang there.

As for La Traviata, in spite of our many visits to Europe and England, it’s dates had always eluded us until we decided to fly over to Vienna to see director Otto Schenk’s version at the Wiener Staatsoper, reputed to be the house with the largest repertoire performed under the direction of talents of Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss, Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm, Lorin Maazel and many others.

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Having booked our tickets online through the Vienna Ticket Office, we had opted to collect them from their office at Brucknerstraße, instead of having them send to India or to Room no: 414 of Hilton Vienna Danube where we would be staying or to pick them up at the Box Office at the venue.

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It was my first visit to Austria though I had long association with that country from 1993 onwards owing to my involvement in purchase of ship loads of Austrian Sawn Softwood for delivery at Hodeidah in Yemen where I was working for many years.

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For us, the opportunity to watch an opera at the Wiener Staatsoper (VSO) was a wonderful experience. It is an imposing building in the corner of Kärntnerstraße and Vienna Ringstraße (Opernring 2) in the very heart of cultural Vienna. It was constructed in Renaissance style during the years 1861-1869 to the plans of Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg (1813-68) with interiors designed by Edward van der Nüll (1812-1868) using the Viennese “city expansion fund”.

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How wonderful it must have been to witness the arrival of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) in their phaeton (Mylord) to inaugurate the Imperial Opera House on May 25, 1869 which was followed by the staging of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. This event had happened 250 years since Aleotti’s Teatro Farnese, claimed as the first proscenium-arch theatre of the Continent, was set up at Parma in 1618 although the first public opera-house was opened only in 1637 at Venice by composer Cavalli.

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Originally called the Vienna Court Opera (Wiener Hofoper), it was renamed Vienna State Opera when the Habsburg Monarchy collapsed and Austria emerged as a republic. The VSO guided tour offers the opportunity of an extensive tour of the building including the entrance foyer, central staircase, Marble Hall, Schwind Foyer, Gustav Mahler Hall (formerly “Tapestry Hall”), the auditorium and Tea Salon (formerly the Emperor’s Salon) on the first floor. We can also see the medallions of the original designers, many paintings symbolizing the ballet, the opera and the ceiling painting (“Fortuna, ihre Gaben streuend“) adorning the staircase in addition to the allegorical statues featuring the seven liberal arts: architecture, sculpture, poetry, dance, musical art, drama; etc.

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Apart from the impressive structural aspects of the building and its popularity for being a venue of the Wiener Opernball for many decades and certainly, the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; the opera house owes its progress to the artistic influence of its original directors: Franz von Dingelstedt (1867–1870), Johann von Herbeck (1870–1875), Franz von Jauner (1875–1880), Wilhelm Jahn (1881–1897) and Gustav Mahler (1897–1907).

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During World War II, the city suffered fifty-two air raids in which about twelve thousand buildings including St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), the Burg Theatre, etc, were destroyed and nearly eleven thousand inhabitants of Vienna were killed. The ugly reality was the auditorium, stage and almost the entire décor and props for more than 120 operas with around 150,000 costumes were destroyed in the bombings of March, 1945. Given that the theatre occupied a privileged position in Vienna and united public interest on it, the building was rebuilt based on a plan of Erich Boltenstern, the winner of the Opera House’s architectural competition who kept his design similar to the original. Hence, the façade, the entrance hall and the foyer that we see remain in their original style.

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20On November 5, 1955, the Opera House once again opened its doors to the public with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fidelio, conducted by Karl Böhm (1943–1945 and 1954–1956). Over the days in Vienna, we could enjoy glimpses of the grandeur of the building; the two statues of riders on horseback (representing Erato’s two winged horses that are led by “Harmony and the Muse of Poetry”) on the main façade of the loggia; the artistic marble staircase; the numerous statues and figurative embellishments inside and outside including “Die Zauberflöte” series of frescoes on the veranda and in the foyer credited to Schwind; the completely re-built horseshoe-shaped auditorium and the well-protected stage that stretched its entire width; the orchestra pit that could hold about 110 musicians; the ring of built-in ceiling lights made of crystal glass; the seating in traditional colours of red, gold, and ivory; the reinforced concrete side boxes covered with wood for acoustic reasons; and the largest pipe organ with 2,500 pipes – the core centre where Wiener Staatsoper had created a world-wide reputation for its first-class opera performances by nearly all great singers of international rank in the course of the past hundred years.

The Turkish taxi-driver, with a head full of dark wavy hair, who took us to the opera house, appeared to be an eternal sunny optimist – always smiling and cheerful. Right this moment when we went past the Wiener Prater (2 Bezirk), the theme from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” filled the taxi. The one that followed was from Mozart’s “Die Zauberflöte”. Obviously, opera means so much to the people of Vienna and also to those who came and made it their home.

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Indeed, music gives Vienna its core, and that is the beauty of this City of Music. It’s a city truly in love with artists. In its heyday, it had a string of greats such as Hayden, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Mahler, Strauss – enriching it with their contributions. Beethoven owed his first success to his piano-playing in Vienna. Vivaldi died in Vienna (2). A staff of FNAC, Milano once told me that the Viennese operetta is the chief root from which American musical grew. And then, Vienna is the birthplace of waltz. Wherever you go, you hear ‘the sound of music’.

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Although music is the main factor in opera, its effect and success depended on a combination of other arts and factors, namely, literature, poetry, design, costume, stage, painting, sound, lighting; and essentially the singer or the impresario, conductor, orchestra, chorus, etc. Human drama underlined the operas of Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner (1813-1883) and Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924), Verdi’s successor.

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33With a repertoire of about 26 to 28 operas, Giuseppe 25(Fortunino Francesco) Verdi (1813-1901) is undoubtedly the most successful and popular composer admired by audiences, critics and music scholars alike. Following the successful adaptation of French novelist/playwright Alexandre Dumas’ (Dumas fils, 1824-1895) novel “The Lady of the Camelias” (1848 – “La Dame aux Camélias”) as a stage play in 1852, Verdi immediately put music to the libretto (text) by Murano born Francesco Maria Piave (1810 –1876), transforming it into an opera titled “La Traviata” (The Fallen Woman). The female protagonist, Marguerite Gautier (3) (based on Marie Duplessis, (aka Alphonsine Plessis, 1824-1847), the real-life lover of Dumas) was also renamed as Violetta Valéry.

Verdi’s “La Traviata” in three acts features a wonderful poignant story laced with scintillating, tragic music. Since its first appearance on March 6, 1853 at Teatro La Fenice, “La Traviata” has held the stage continuously, just as “Rigoletto” (1851) and “Il Trovatore” (1853). “La Traviata” was not unfamiliar to us owing to a DVD in our collection – the Glyndebourne Festival Opera version (1988) directed by Peter Hall featuring Marie McLaughlin and Walter MacNeil (4). (Images from this version are reproduced under the “Synopsis” mentioned below).

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At the Wiener Staatsoper, the Maestro has by now stepped into the orchestra pit and the theatre reverberated with joyous shrieks and applause of the marvellous Vienna audience. Suddenly he turned to face the orchestra. Hush fell in the theatre as he raised his arms, readying for his electrifying volatile and expressive gesturing. A beat – and the performance began.

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Synopsis: Paris and environs, around 1850. During a glittering party at the reformed courtesan Violetta’s house to celebrate her recovery from an illness, Gastone, the Vicomte de Letorieres, introduced Violetta to a clean-living young bourgeois Alfredo Germont whom she has long admired. Following a fiery drinking song (Brindisi “Libiamo ne’lieti calici”) by Alfredo, having felt dizzy and occasionally caught coughing, Violetta nudged the others, including her ‘protector’, the wealthy Baron Douphol, to proceed to the ballroom next door for dancing.

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Soon Alfredo joined her and confessed his love for her (duet. ‘Un di felice, eterea’’). He had been living with this secret love for some time. Although Violetta wanted them just to remain friends saying that she cannot bear the burden of such heroic love, she nevertheless gave him a camellia which he should bring back to her when it has died. Alfredo realised that it would mean tomorrow. Evidently, his love has taken quick steps towards her heart.

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Once Alfredo had left and the dawn started to appear in the sky, all the others bid her thanks and took their leave. Alone, in the quite of the room, she felt that she can’t outrun the darkness of her life and the tumult of lust and festivities surrounding it, even though she longed to fill it with light from the happiness of pure love which had eluded her till then (E strano! E strano! Ah, fors’è lui che l’anims ……. Sempre libera). Act I ends here.

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Act II opens at Violetta’s country house outside Paris where Alfredo and Violetta were living together for some time. When Alfredo learns from Annina, their servant (De’ miei bollenti spiriti) that Violetta is to sell the property in order to support herself, thereupon, he proceeded to Paris to resolve this issue. Before long, she was visited by Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont who asked her to give up his son since his humiliating relationship with Violetta will adversely affect the reputation of his family and marriage of his daughter (Pura siccone un angelo) who is as pure as an angel.

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Once Germont has left, having persuaded her to renounce her lover (duet ‘Un di, quando le veneri’) due to social disapproval, the heartbroken Violetta wrote two letters – one addressed to Alfredo. She hides the letter for Alfredo when he took her by surprise on his sudden return from Paris. Veiling her feelings behind a passionate embrace for a moment, she broke away from him and she ran out of the room. Her letter was subsequently delivered to Alfredo through a messenger. Heartbroken from learning that she’s leaving him, the depressed Alfredo was consoled by his father who has just arrived. (‘Di Provenza il mar, il suol’) ……..

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What a day that has been! Right up until the end, excitement had thrummed through us even though the performance was not long. The success of Verdi’s operas is resultant to his unique talent to establish character and feeling through melody, which the listener was able to quickly understand and feel. Immensely popular, “La Traviata” is today a staple of the standard operatic repertoire.

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35The Italian version of “La Traviata” we saw was the 248th 36performance in this production and conducted by Hungarian classical conductor Michael Halász who had taken over the post of resident conductor at VSO in 1991. The Chorus was led by Ernst Dunshirn.

Our seats nos: 3 and 4 in the seventh row, right in the front, provided us with a clear view of the performance, the costumes, interior decorations, hand props, modes and manners though this vantage point didn’t allow us to catch some interplay between the conductor and musicians.

The opera music demands more vocal range and techniques. A considerable degree of musicianship is also required of the singers. Albanian soprano Inva Mula, with her beautiful, robust voice that cut through the orchestrations, led the cast as Violetta Valéry, the “Dame aux Camélias” with her self-sacrificing devotion in the face of tragedy.

Although Verdi has given some spectacular music to Alfredo (portrayed here by tenor Roberto Aronica), it is Violetta who dominates the show. The sort of spiritual quality Verdi injects into most of his heroines is also evident in Violetta.

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38I can understand why the character of Violetta, who lived in her tender and morbid world, is a difficult one for any soprano, as some critics have pointed out. As British soprano Josephine Barstow expressed, “You have to sing Verdi with heart.” The brilliant opening act “Sempre Libera” requires great agility just as the other acts which also demand considerable dramatic vigour. Besides, there is the problem of attempting to portray a dying person, without compromising the musical aspect of the role. These are aspects of this opera that allows you to delve into its deeper 39depths. However entertaining an opera was, it would be meaningless if it serves only to entertain but failed to educate and stimulate the brain.

While the costumes were based on designs by Hill Reihs-Gromes, the credit for stage design went to Günther Schneider-Siemssen. The other members of the cast were: Zsuzsanna Szabó (Flora Bervoix), Waltraud Winsauer (Annina), Franco Vassallo (Giorgio Germont), John Wiedecke (Baron Douphol), etc. The main cast jointly appeared during all the three performances of this opera during that season, while Winsauer was almost a constant figure in the role of Annina from 1984 till 2008.

40Like Joseph Losey’s “Don Giovanni” (1979) and Francesco Rosi’s “Carmen” (1984), “La Traviata” has also spawned its film versions. Besides “The Lost One” (1947, original title: “La signora dalle camelie“) in English by director Carmine Gallone starring Nelly Corradi; and the 1968 film musical of Mario Lanfranchi, starring Anna Moffo and Franco Bonisolli; Franco Zefferilli’s production of “La Traviata” came out in 1982 starring Teresa Stratas and Plácido Domingo backed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

Like millions of feature films, there are good, bad and undistinguished operas. The excellent amongst these provide us with the true satisfaction of what opera is all about. There are millions of connoisseurs of opera, ever-increasing, who care for the arias, duets, ensembles, choruses, marches, ballets, and finales of the operatic spectacles. Its grand and exuberant style, its traditions and culture, its conventions and law have survived and still thrive on with encouragement from millions. Maria Callas reportedly did so much to build interest in this lyric drama.

In spite of the public interest in all things operatic, opera remains unawakened in many countries. It is also viewed with prejudice by some young and adults who would not go to symphony concerts or ballet performances or operas as they get easily stimulated by glossy mass entertainments, for instance, pounding music and the kind of dances that is rather physical exercise, in colourful clothes, for which most kids of today can easily display their forte.

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Expansion of opera into developing countries where opera remains ignored offers great potential. Hindrances due to language have already been bridged in France, Germany, Russia, England, America, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, etc. It also exists in varied forms in Japan, Korea, Thailand, China, ….

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43Like many States of India, Kerala, not unfamiliar to the magic of theatre, has a wealth of traditional ethnic performing art forms featuring ancient, religious and contemporary themes. In addition to Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Kalaripayattu, Oottan Thullal, Oppana, etc, there are also other versions of dramas including, the vanishing art, the colourful “Chavuttu Nadakam” (The Stomping Drama) which mainly features European history or Biblical stories, mostly centring on Emperor Charlemagne.

This coastal traditional art of Kerala with elaborate costumes, abrupt body movements to music, which owes its origins to the Christian missionaries who came to Kerala in the 16th century, virtually resembles the opera.

But progress in the field of performing arts like opera face hindrances since, nowadays, concern for culture takes a back seat while certain commercially viable disciplines are favoured in some countries.

As for India, the growth of traditional performing arts like Chavuttu Nadakam, and also opera, ballet, etc, should have had better chance of progress with the entry of corporate bodies into the global show biz. Besides, encouraged by thriving business, entertainment sectors like film industry, music promoters, etc, presently envisage tremendous improvement from global expansion. Yet another contributing factor is the spending power of the growing middle-class of India.

Keeping in tune with this, more avenues of opportunities are emerging as an increased number of TV channels, radio stations and print media are sprouting all over the place, triggering aggressive clamour for news, sensational and exclusive – especially from entertainment shows, celebrity gossip and catchy advertisements to fill the thousands of slots in television/radio and in pages of print media.

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Some of the people I have spoken to here have not seen an opera and are ambiguous of its characteristics. Opportunities to enjoy such arts are not part of the itinerary of travel packages on offer for the vast amount of Indian tourists visiting Europe. Nevertheless, the encouraging part is that they are interested in knowing of it. Maybe those with vibrant operatic culture should more vigorously shoulder the task of making firm footing for global promotion of such traditional performing arts also and create opportunities for people to get acquainted with it – to generate interest in them to understand and enjoy those arts. But forget the disappointments – it is heartening to see that institutions like JT Pac, National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi, etc, are trying to bridge this setback.

45Late into that night, in the comfort of Hotel Hilton Vienna Danube, I sat by the window of our room writing down every detail and idea that came my way about our joyful tryst with Verdi, before the performance recedes into memory. As the conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein said, “Opera is not exclusively for the elite”. Like Luciano Pavarotti, and Mirella Freni, I cannot read music nor do I know how sentences work in Italian. Nevertheless, having seen the DVD and closely studied written materials of this opera and other classics in our possession innumerable times, the hindrances were easily surmounted, though I still find Wagner a bit heavy to stomach. Then again, for an occasional clarification, there was the expert sitting next to me, though her handkerchief was frequently making its short journeys up to her face to wipe away the emotions generated from the show on stage.

Now with our extensive collection of books, DVDs and other audio/video recordings of operas and its excerpts, our operatic adventure is still continuing.

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Hilton Vienna Danube is the only waterfront hotel in Vienna. It has large rooms with all amenities, superb service, and offers stunning views from the right bank of River Danube (Donau), the trade highway stretching from the German Black Forest and snakes through Central and Eastern Europe to touch the Black Sea on the coast of Romania.

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From the window I could see the silhouette of the six-lane Reichsbrücke (Empire Bridge) cutting across the charming Danube to my left. The sight of Danube conjured up excerpts from Johann Strauss II’s “Le beau Danube bleu” in my mind.

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Even in the night, I could see light and heavy boats plying through the river time to time, even though swimmers, rowers and surfers and boats of Hundertwasser Tour or Grand Danube River Cruise were missing now. Beyond the river, I could see a string of lights of an incessant number of aircrafts in the dark sky, possibly somewhere above Pillichsdorf or Aderklaa, following an invisible path to make their U-turn, to position for landing at the Vienna International Airport (Flughafen Wien) to my right, which often induced queries from Carina about how “I am directing the air-traffic from my seat by this window”.

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Tomorrow, despite the threat of rain, our daytrips would cover some ladies shopping at Mariahilfer Straße, and explore the book shops on Wollzeile near Stephansdom, followed by Sacher-Torte and Glühwein at Café Sacher Wien, a delightful place to be in and enjoy the original torte or an apple strudel or their good variety of cakes, coffees, food items, et al, in great ambiance and with friendly service.

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It’s time to call it a day. Perhaps I would stay awake for a while before sleep hits me – as I sometimes do after reading a book or enjoying a movie past the zero hours. But then, I wouldn’t find it a reason to complain. As legend says, when you can’t sleep at night, it’s because you are awake in someone else’s dream. There goes my heart…. Until next time, Servus, Jo

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31)     Wiener Staatsoper is closed from July 1st until August 31st and reopens with a performance of “La Traviata” on September 3rd, 2013.

2)    Other major Composers who died in Vienna and their year of death: Antonio Vivaldi (1741); Christoph Willibald Gluck (1787); Franz Joseph Hayden (1809); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1791); Ludwig van Beethoven (1827); Franz Schubert (1828); Johann Strauss II (1899); Johannes Brahms (1897); Anton Bruckner (1896); Gustav Mahler (1911), etc.

3)    Actresses who had performed on stage in the most coveted role of Marguerite Gautier include Lillian Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Isabelle Adjani, dancer/Impresario Ida Rubinstein and of course, the great Sarah Bernhardt, who also schooled Ida in this role.

4)    DVDs and other audio/visual media of “La Traviata” including the Glyndebourne Festival Opera version (1988) directed by Peter Hall (from which images are shown under the “Synopsis” above) are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc.

5)    Reproduction of photos credited to “WienTourismus” appearing in this post was made possible through the permission of Vienna Tourist Board, Vienna, Austria.

6)    Photo of “Café Sacher Wien” was reproduced here with the kind permission of Hotel Sacher Wien.

7)    The three uncredited photos of Hilton Vienna Danube: courtesy of Hotel Hilton Vienna Danube.

8)    This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of the opera. Please refer to “About” of this website for more details.

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A glance backward: This article is dedicated to the memory of Maria Callas,

one of the towering figures of opera.

(© Manningtree Archive)

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StarChoice 18: The Brides of Dracula (Part 1 of 2)

(aka. “Le spose di Dracula”, “Les maîtresses de Dracula”, “Dracula und seine Bräute”, “Dracula – blodtörstig vampyr”, “As Noivas de Drácula”, “De bruiden van Dracula”, “Las novias de Drácula”, “Las novias de Drácula”   – 1960 – Colour)

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Few of my friends have expressed their interest in film reviews of a particular genre which British actor Peter Cushing always referred to as “fantasy” instead of its much common adjective “horror”. When I thought about selecting such a movie from my collection for review, my criteria was to stick to the old masters of horrors: Hammer Films – which led me to the rarest of the Hammer horror Draculas, “The Brides of Dracula”, even though that film is devoid of the chief Transylvanian Count and Christopher Lee.

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During the final years of my school days in the Seventies, one of my classmates had a steadfast knack of narrating stories of occult and superstitions which are folklore in his native place. Those were the days when television was on its slow trek to Cochin and the only visual entertainment for us was the movies though accessing them had its limitations due to lack of time from studies and that ever missing essential called pocket money.

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Although, my friend’s knowledge on the subject of the undead was limited to a certain religious perspective, whenever time permitted, he carried on entertaining us over and over with the same ancient folklore, each time improvising and adding more spice to it. Despite the scant narration about the dualistic principle of the offsetting of good by evil, his stories often emphasised the use of ritual magic for personal gain or lust.

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But then, what is the truth behind the legends of all this? The existence of Satan as the centre of evil is part of the teaching of both Old and New Testament and accentuated in catechism classes to elucidate the righteousness. Whilst the various phenomena related to this subject are difficult to explain, to us teenagers, the twilight world of the unseen seemed fascinating and mysterious.

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Horror stories and films have always been popular even though lot of people won’t admit they like such genre. But the fact is that, if you ask about “Cimarron” which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1931, it is doubtful that it is remembered. On the other hand, it’s unlikely that you have not heard of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” which came out in the same year. How can one forget the image of Christopher Lee when he first appeared as the starkly, statuesque and satanic Count Dracula at the head of the stairs in Hammer’s “Dracula” (USA: “Horror of Dracula”)? How can one forget those welcoming words of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel: Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring!”?

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Count Dracula has followed us through the years – remaining either a reincarnation or undead – regularly making his various onscreen appearances in many manifestations, speaking different languages. His recent outings were in movie creations titled “Dracula 3D” by Italian director Dario Argento and in two movies by Indian directors: in Vinayan’s “Dracula 2012” (in which he came to our State to taste its “bountiful local winepress” and spoke Malayalam!) and in Rupesh Paul’s “Saint Dracula 3D”. Evidently, the interest in him has remained undiminished to this day. And I suspect it always will be. How could such an undead beast be so romantic as to catch the popular imagination, although, most likely, blended with fear?

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When I think about the ghoulish tradition of “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” started by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, how could I resist from thinking about that wonderful British production company, “Hammer Film Productions” who revived Frankenstein and Dracula myths, and gained fame and fortune from their cycle of horror films?

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Shot in Bray Film Studios, Berkshire, England and in real old houses, the classic horror movies of Hammer, with rampant blood and gore, not only gave the audience graphic violence and sex but also created a feeling of gothic horror amidst purely British atmosphere. Triggered by the tremendous impact of Hammer horrors, those wonderful people earned a massive audience base around the world.

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In the wake of the success of Hammer’s “Dracula”, produced by Anthony Hinds in 1958 based on characters in Bram Stoker’s (1847-1912) novel “Dracula”, a surge of confidence spread across Hammer prompting them to press ahead with a sequel which would also be produced by Hinds.

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After all, Hammer had already released “The Revenge of Frankenstein” (1958), a sequel to “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) which had resurrected the horror genre and had started its race to become the most profitable film ever to be produced in England by a British studio, a position it would retain for some time.

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14According to a publication, by early 1959, British horror screenwriter Jimmy Sangster, an associate of Hammer, was commissioned by Anthony Hinds (who would write screenplays under the name of “John Elder” from 1961 onwards) to prepare a treatment titled “Disciple of Dracula” which revolved around Baron Menister, a disciple of Dracula, who terrorized a couple of visiting English girls and feasted on the blood of few ladies of a nearby girl’s school. Having been fed up with Baron’s notorious activities, Latour, the hero of the script, calls for the spirit of Count Dracula to put an end to his disloyal disciple.

Christopher Lee knew that the character of Dracula has become the object of popular entertainment and he is unlikely to lie down for long. After his appearance in “Dracula”, the audience has started to consider him the personification of Dracula. Lee wanted to disengage himself from being typecast as the Count. In a desperate attempt to rope in Christopher Lee to the project, Hammer prepared another treatment to suit him which they named as “Dracula the Damned”.

Once the studio realized that Lee didn’t wish to be associated entirely with one part and intend to expand his area of creative endeavour, the options left for Hammer was either to recast the role which could possibly adversely affect the character in their future sequels or else, base the story solely around the character of Dr. Van Helsing, the vampire hunter.

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Opting for the second option, a revision was made on “Disciple of Dracula” by writer Peter Bryan wherein the character of Dracula was replaced to bring in Dr. Van Helsing. By now, the script has acquired the misleading title of “The Brides of Dracula”, as a marketing strategy.

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Then again, when they tried to hire Peter Cushing to reprise the role of Dr. Van Helsing, Cushing sought further modification on the draft and suggested it be done by Edward Percy (Member of Parliament from 1943 to 1950), known to Cushing from his days with theatre. In spite of the minor facelift to the draft by Percy, the script underwent yet another modification as a precaution to avoid any scissor-work from the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC).

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Slated for production under the alternative working title “Dracula 2”, the principal shooting began on January 26, 1960 (7 days after my birth) and came to an end by mid-March*. It was shot on locations in England: at Black Park (Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire); Oakley Court, (Windsor Road, Oakley Green, Windsor); and Bray Studios, (Down Place, Oakley Green, nestled beside the silver Thames). The post-production work was precipitated to meet the delivery date of Universal and the movie was premièred on July 6, 1960 at the Odeon, Marble Arch, London. I read somewhere that actress Yvonne Monlaur, the leading lady of the film, made a regal appearance for the Premièr in one of the horse-drawn carriages used in the movie.

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Not far into its general release, the film’s earnings showed progressive improvement which encouraged Hammer to initiate talks about an outing of the Count in Dracula 3. This headway is hardly surprising since, on all fairness, Dracula was not missed in the movie as all the usual ingredients of a Hammer horror was in place – and then, there is the ever distinguished presence of Peter Cushing to keep the audience’s mind alive with the existence of Dracula.

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Synopsis for those who have not seen it yet:

After the credits are shown, the movie opens when a horse-driven carriage is rattling and shaking its way through a muddy track cutting across the wet and misty Transylvanian forest. The carriage’s route-board showed: “INGOLSTADT-ABENSBERG-REGENSBURG-BADSTEIN”*. A voice-over narration is heard:

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Transylvania, land of dark forests, dread mountains and dark unfathomed lakes. Still the home of magic and devilry as the nineteenth century draws to its close. Count Dracula, monarch of all vampires, is dead, but his disciples live on, to spread the cult and corrupt the world

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Inside the carriage was Marianne Danielle a naïve young Frenchwoman from Paris on her way to her first appointment as a students’ teacher at Langs School, a girls’ teaching centre at Badstein.

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After the driver stopped his carriage to clear the log that was blocking the road and resumed the journey, a mysterious stranger who had appeared from the woods, jumped onto the back of the carriage and hung on, unseen by the others. It was dark when the carriage finally pulled into the courtyard before the Running Boar Inn*. While Marianne went into the comfort of the Inn, the mysterious man in black, approached the scared coach-driver and gave him some money.

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The Inn was crowded at that time of the night by village people and Transylvanian folk music can be heard, accentuated by the tones of cimbalom. Johann, the landlord, offered her hot Goulash, a dish of sauerkraut and red wine from the valley. Marianne told him that she would be eating alone and would leave quickly since she must reach Badstein latest tomorrow. At that moment, the mysterious man suddenly appeared before the doorway and stood glaring at her. The gay mood inside the Inn suddenly changed. The music and conversation came to a quick stop. As abruptly as he appeared, he was gone a moment later, closing the door behind him.

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There was a scurry amongst the customers as most of them started to leave. Johann expressed his advice to her to leave immediately on grounds that she was alone, and he didn’t want the coach to leave without her. It so happened that the minute he finished talking, they heard her coach leaving. Running out into the courtyard, they were in time to catch sight of the coach disappearing beyond the gate. Her luggage had been left behind, neatly stacked by the entrance to the Inn.

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Stranded at the Inn, Marianne’s attempt to spend the night there was not successful since Johann and his wife stressed that none off the rooms were vacant. Nevertheless, the compassionate wife soon sent her husband away to the nearby farm to ask for their cart while she would get something for Marianne to eat.

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By the time Johann returned, Marianne had a wooden tray full of hot soup, bread and a bottle of wine set in front of her.

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Johann had the cart ready in the back and there was no time to loose. She must leave now. Just then, they heard a carriage pull up before the inn.

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Shortly, the local Baroness Narbonne Meinster came in and ordered wine. When Marianne was invited to join the noblewoman, she happily complied leaving her food untouched. The Baroness claims that the Tokaji (Slovakia: Tokaj) wine she ordered is twin brother to the best in the emperor’s cellar – rather different from the wine of the valley Marianne was drinking.

Hearing of Marianne’s futile endeavour to get round her untoward situation and report for duty at the school tomorrow without giving bad impression by arriving late, the Baroness expressed her inability to take her to Langs School that night, but she could see to it that the young teacher gets there early in the morning. Marianne doesn’t need to stay in a poor place like this.

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She would be welcome to stay at the Baroness’ castle in the hills just above the village. She’s a lonely woman who often longed for the company of a woman with a little breeding – a rare thing in these parts. Marianne graciously accepted the offer, ignoring the landlord’s wife’s discreet intervention with an offer of a room for her stay which was denied earlier due to mistake of her husband. Soon their carriage departed for the castle, and we could catch a glimpse of the mysterious man stepping out from behind it.

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At the Castle Meinster, she was left under the care of housekeeper Greta with instructions to Marianne to be ready for dinner in ten minutes.

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Before long, she was out on the balcony of her room, enjoying the breeze when she caught sight of the dark figure of a man on the lower stone balcony.

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Moments later, when Greta came to fetch her, she didn’t provide Marianne with a proper explanation about the man who didn’t look like a servant. But at the dining table, the Baroness brought up the subject and let her know that she is not living alone. She has a son who is ill. She never sees him, but Greta, his old nurse, looks after him.

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Soon after, with the evening meal out of the way, having retired to her room, Marianne was lying on the bed when she heard sounds, similar to knocking, from outside. From the vantage point of her balcony, she saw the young man again, this time, bracing up to jump off the balcony. Horrified, she abruptly shouted at him to stop, drawing his attention to her. Bidding him to wait, she ran down the rough-hewn steps of the grand stairs to the lower room and over to the dashing young man.

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Obviously surprised to see her in the castle, he assured her that he can’t throw himself out of the balcony because his mother had shackled him, keeping him a prisoner. His is Baron Meinster and this castle, the mountains, the dark acres of forest, even the valley below belongs to him – his inheritance. His mother is a vicious evil, a jealous woman. She has made the villagers think that he is dead. Wouldn’t Marianne be kind enough to find the key that fits his iron shackle and free him? According to Greta, it is inside the locked drawer of the bureau in his mother’s bedroom, next to Marianne’s.

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It didn’t take her much longer to locate the key and before the Baroness could find her, she tied the key to her handkerchief and threw it down to the Baron on the lower balcony. As he hastily unlocked his shackle, he told her to hurry up and meet him outside.

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When the Baroness had gone to look for Marianne in her bedroom earlier and found her missing, she was inclined to expect for the worst. Returning to Marianne’s bedroom, she found the Frenchwoman getting ready to dress.

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Instantly, she demanded to return the key which she knew Marianne had taken from her room. Denying any knowledge of the key, Marianne ran out of her room, down the stairs and straight into the arms of the Baron. By now, the Baroness had come to the top of the stairs. Having assured Marianne that his mother can’t harm her now, the Baron sent her back to her room to wait. As she left him, he commanded his mother to come down to him. As if hypnotised, she meekly obeyed him. Clearly under his sway, she moved down the stairs, resigned to face the dread that is to befall on her soon. Marianne ran up and disappeared into her room.

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Cut to Marianne’s bedroom. She had changed into travelling clothes when she heard the hysterical cries of Greta from the lower floor. No other noise followed from below. Rushing down, she found Greta on her knees, holding the iron shackle and lamenting that the devil is free to roam the night.

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She showed her the lifeless body of the Baroness, lying on a cushioned chair, the wound on her throat clearly visible – the bite of the vampire.

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At the sight of the horrible scene, Marianne ran out of the room, down the stairs and out of the castle into the cold night and dark woods.

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Inside the castle, Greta was mumbling to her mistress about how truly she had kept faith with the Baroness for twenty years. She accused that the Baroness had spoiled the boy, who was always self-willed and cruel. It is the Baroness who encouraged him and the bad company he kept too, laughing at their wicked games until, in the end, one of them took him and made him what he is. The Baroness had kept him supplied with hot blood of young girls* to appease his unquenchable thirst for it – to prolong her son’s existence of life in death. But the powers of darkness are too strong and they have beaten her.  …………….. Continued in Part II

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PS:

1)             The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc. Reportedly, the Blu-ray version is scheduled for release on July 22, 2013

2)            Some reports have indicated the dates of principle photography as January 16 to March 18, 1960.

3)            Ingolstadt, Abensberg, and Regensburg are all Bavarian cities, but Badstein could be contrived.

4)            A comic series of the movie name the Inn as “Running Bear Inn” instead of “Running Boar Inn

5)            Look for a red board with caption “THALHEIMER SCHLOSSBRUNN” inside the “Running Boar Inn”.  This relates to the water from the springs of the “THALHEIMER SCHLOSSBRUNNS” (Thalheim castle well), still in use since 1578, which comes from one of the oldest Styrian springs.

6)            Also look for the symbol of “Gösser Bier” which is the main brand of the Göss brewery in the Styrian city of Leoben, in central Austria, located by the Mur River.

7)            Prescribed by both doctors and witches, the blood, especially of virgins, was an important cure for ailments in the eleventh century.

8)           Photo of Bram Stoker from Wikipedia.

9)           This illustrated article is meant for the promotion of this movie. Please refer to “About” for more details.

10)        The reduced posts in my blog is resultant of a troubling eye which is being sorted out.

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(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 17: Anne of the Indies

(Aka: La Mujer Pirata – La Regina dei Pirati – A Raínha dos Piratas – Die Piraten Königin – Technicolor – 1951)

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Ahoy, landlubbers! Come abroad the good ship “Sheba Queen” and lend an ear to Anne of the Indies

So much has been written about the buccaneers of the high seas. Even though the deplorable activities of pirates are rightly condemned by the humanity, world literature has nonetheless romanticised them with stories depicting the daredevil deeds of pirates such as Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, etc and correspondingly lionised them in many movies produced in the Americas and Continental Europe.

The West Indian buccaneers were initially hunters of pigs and cattle on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga until they became pirates after being driven off by the Spaniards. Long before Johnny Depp flashed on screen as Captain John Sparrow doing his rounds with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, swashbucklers in the kinds of Elliott Dexter, Douglas Fairbank, Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Louis Hayward, etc. ruled the high seas. This doesn’t mean that the period was devoid of dashing females wielding deadly swords and thrived in the sunshine. Historians tell us that a significant minority of historical pirates have been female, who were acclimatized to the wild ways and conquered the seas.

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The 1945 film, “The Spanish Main” by director Frank Borzage (The Big Fisherman) featured the fictionalized account of the real-life cross-dressing buccaneer Anne Bonny (1698-1782), a daring Caribbean femme fatale who joined the crew of pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackman after having an affair with him. Reputed to be the first film of RKO Radio in the Technicolor, starring Paul Henried, Maureen O’Hara and Binnie Barnes in the role of Anne Bonny, it told the story of Dutch sea Captain Laurent “The Barracuda” Van Horn. Shipwrecked on the coast of Spanish-governed Cartagena, he escapes from the hangman’s noose and takes up piracy for revenge against Spain. The film registered impressive profit in the box-office and won George Barnes an Academy Award nomination for Best Colour Cinematography.

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In 1946, a short story by Herbert Ravenel Sass titled “Queen Anne of The Indies”, appeared in the Saturday Evening Post which generated enough excitement amongst the New York publishers and Hollywood studios prompting Sass to draw up a movie treatment of the story in 1948. Originally slated to be a Walter Wanger (Walter Feuchtwanger – 1894-1968) project starring the indestructible redhead Susan Hayward, this fictionalised treatment failed to generate necessary enthusiasm in independent producer Wanger due to its larger budget that he sold the story rights to 20th Century-Fox. (Some confusion prevails here regarding the different treatments of the story prepared for Wanger). At that time, Wanger was also busy with a grand project for the comeback of Greta Garbo who was on long retirement. But when “Anne of the Indies” was finally released in 1951, Wanger was in the “cooler” for having shot and wounded his wife Joan Bennett’s agent Jennings Lang when he found them together in the MCA (Music Corporation of America) parking lot.

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In early 1950, at Fox’s instance, a new script was prepared by Romanian born screenwriter/playwright Arthur Caesar incorporating unused footage shot for “The Black Swan” (1942) starring Tyrone Power. The studio assigned George Jessel to produce while tests were done with Patricia Neal and Valentina Cortese for the title role.

However, Darryl F. Zanuck, Vice-president in charge of production for 20th Century Fox was still unsatisfied with the script that a revision was done on it by Philip Dunne, a contract writer at Fox since 1936, sprucing up the character of Anne. When the film would finally appear on screen, Philip Dunne and Arthur Caesar are given credit for the screenplay.

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Naïve, darkly sensual actress Linda Darnell was also considered for the role of Anne before it finally went to American actress Jean Peters (Oct 15, 1926 – Oct 13, 2000). Hailing from East Canton in Ohio, Elizabeth Jean Peters grew up on a small farm, majored in literature and won a screen test with 20th Century-Fox as prize for winning the Miss Ohio State Pageant title in the fall of 1945. Owing to a contract with Fox, Jean moved to Los Angeles and later acquired a small part in “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” (1947). However, it would be her role as Catana Perez (replacing Linda Darnell) in director Henry King’s “Captain from Castile” (1947) that will bring her star treatment and public attention though the film grossed net loss because the studio spent more for it than the market could afford.

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After a brief slump in her popularity, the 5’ 5” (166cm) Jean had pursued the studio and convinced them to cast her as “Anne of the Indies”. It was a down to earth, unglamorous role– exactly what she preferred since sometime earlier the studio had put her on her first suspension owing to her refusal to don sexy roles. However, being the current romantic interest of the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, beautiful Peters with brown hair and green eyes must have found it easy to step over that suspension. Even though she had a celebrated romance with Hughes in 1947, their marriage will take place only in 1957 after living with him off and on for a decade.

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Jacques Tourneur was given the director’s hat for the project in January 1951. Essentially a small-budget director with a penchant for the macabre, Tourneur had a reputation to direct movies on various genres since he always accepted all the scripts offered to him.

37mHaving finished directing “The Flame and the Arrow” (1950) starring Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo, Tourneur was in the right mood for yet another swashbuckler. With a secured contract with Fox and devoid of interference from producer George Jessel, the film went into production at the 20th Century-Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

Synopsis: Once the credits flashed over the screen, an establishing note on the state of affairs of the 17th century Indies is shown: “Less than two hundred and fifty years ago, the last of the great pirates wrote their names in blood and fire across the pages of maritime history. This is the story of a buccaneer Captain whose name for one short year struck terror in the hearts of seafarers and merchants, from the ports of the Caribbean to the great trading houses of London….”

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As the movie begins, we are shown the names of two English ships, Royal Charles and Sea Lady are being stricken off a register of ships for having been destroyed or sunk by the notorious Captain Providence. We then cut to: the deep ocean off Antigua where the English vessel Gemini is preparing to repel the attack of Anne’s flagship Sheba Queen. As the two ships draw nearer and the canons started firing, Anne suddenly appears on the deck of her ship while her men valiantly fought the English, their swords flashing in fierce combat. Even Anne joined her men in the fight. Before long, the English Captain had surrendered.

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Inside her cabin, Anne threw the enemy’s flag on top of the wooden desk and was pleased to learn from Dr. Jameson that he had attended to all the wounded. At this time he wanted to tend to Anne’s wound which he was sure would leave a scar on her beauty. Anne was not unfamiliar to scars most of which she had received from the English. But she is not a wench to brood over her scars, has chosen not to show her pain, even now, at her moment of glory though the fact remained that she had lost her sailing master in this assault.

She invited the doctor, her confident, to the deck where her crew were making the prisoners walk the plank – a sight, she was certain, would put some iron in the alcoholic doctor’s soul. The Captain of Gemini was grumbling that he had struck his flag hoping to receive some water. He protested to Anne about the merciless treatment meted out to the prisoners by her men. Anne retorted that she had learned such mercy from the English. Did they show mercy to her brother? They had hanged him in chains in the wharf of Port Royal with all the English just spitting on his face – she snapped at him.

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The hatred towards the English that had grown in her heart for the death of her brother, was one of the many scars Anne accumulated in her life that made her reject her femininity. The Captain was given the opportunity to express his last words. All he had to say was that, her brother was a pirate and he deserves the end that he got as Anne will deserve hers. But Anne knew that she had chosen to live with that. “By the veins of your nose you have drunk your king often in wine, now drink him in salt water” With that reply, she ordered the Captain to walk the plank.

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It was then she noticed the handsome man in irons being led to the plank, the upper part of his body exposed. They have found him imprisoned in the English vessel which meant he is not a friend of the English. Questioning him, she learned that he is a Frenchman named Pierre François. When she introduced herself to him, it was a revelation to him. Caught in the propaganda that surrounded Captain Providence, Pierre had never expected the buccaneer Captain to be a woman. Furthermore, he had least expected it when her palm cracked on his face for having disrespectfully addressed her as “mademoiselle” rather than in her proper title of “Captain” which displayed the forcefulness of the identity she had chosen.

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It was revealed that Pierre was the owner/master of the Bordeaux registered Irish privateer, Molly O’Brien, captured by the English. He is being sent to England to stand trial for having captured too many English ships. Anne had allowed her men the pleasure to make their prisoners walk the plank except for Pierre. Being sea-smart, Anne knew that Pierre, a sea artist, would make a suitable replacement for the navigator she had lost and that was what she did to the displeasure of her Scottish first mate Red Dougal, who had been delegated by Blackbeard to protect her. As for Pierre, who is fond of life, it was not a hard choice to make when his choice was between joining the buccaneers or walk the plank.

When the booty from the Gemini was shared with her crew, Pierre was permitted to choose something for himself. While Pierre decided a woman’s dress, Anne laid her claim on a sword with a long blade, the virility of which reflected on her authority. However, Pierre’s choice had kindled her curiosity to make her enquire if he has a wench somewhere. Pierre would only reply that he is a Frenchman. Anyhow, she let him know that the sword was selected for Captain Teach, Blackbeard, a great sea-rover of a soul whom she is certain she would find in Nassau where they plan to get the supplies. The Sheba Queen headed for Nassau.

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Anne is a protégée of the notorious English pirate Captain Edward Teach (aka. Blackbeard ca. 1680–1718). Since childhood, he was father, mother and schoolteacher to her and her half-brother. Although she knew that her father was English, his name never passed the lips of her mother who succumbed to death when Anne was young. She was called Anne Providence owing to her birth on New Providence Isle, a night to Nassau town.

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The Black Anchor Tavern in Nassau looked a beehive of boisterous merriment. Apparently, the tavern was taken over by Blackbeard and his men and their women for partying and their idea of fun appeared to be to laugh, shout, fight, bear-wrestle, break things, get drunk, etc in the dreadful manner possible. The enormous figure of Blackbeard sat at the head of a wooden table with a woman on his lap, drinking heavily and having a great time.

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It was during the bear-wrestling that Anne and her entourage walked in. At the sight of Blackbeard, Pierre had tried to excuse himself to go off for some business in Nassau, but reluctantly stayed when Anne assured him of her protection. So excited was Blackbeard to see her there, that he said she’s like a Northeaster after a calm.

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Although Blackbeard had doubts about Pierre which was also intensified later by Dougal, his main interest was focused on Anne and the sword she presented him. When all of his men shied away from being a willing partner to the impulsive Blackbeard to help try the new sword, Anne was ready to let him try to carve her. A fierce but friendly duel of swords broke out between Anne and Blackbeard in which Anne displayed some playful but competent skills of swordsmanship but it was pretty obvious that he could have won over Anne easily. However, when Blackbeard was momentarily distracted, Anne grabbed the chance to win; a trickery which Blackbeard merely laughed off in a fatherly manner. Then again, Anne’s glory was short-lived when she learned from Dougal that Pierre had slipped out of the Tavern while the duel was on. The confidence she had placed in him has been displaced.

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Later, confronted by Anne in her cabin, Pierre didn’t provide her with a proper explanation about his absence, to satisfy her doubt about his loyalty. He had neither gone to see a wench, nor is he a spy because he knows nothing of her plans. All Nassau knows that she’s in the port. Suspicious that he is hiding a secret, she ordered Dougal to put him in irons. Subsequently, he was tied up on the deck and mercilessly flogged until Dr. Jameson convinced her to stop.

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Dr. Jameson was evidently dismayed for having been ordered by Anne to search Pierre’s cabin where he had found half of a map tucked inside his mattress. Though Anne cannot read, she can read from patterns. Assisted by Dr. Jameson, she finally figures out that the map is a link to Captain Henry Morgan’s treasure. When Morgan (ca. 1635-1688) captured Panama City, he had taken a king’s ransom which has not been accounted for.

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Having matched the piece of map with her main map, she questioned Pierre, now lying on the wooden floor of her cabin, drained from “the taste of the cat”. Pierre had no qualms in telling her that he had bought it five years ago from an inn-keeper on the Bordeaux waterfront who found it in the body of a lodger of his. Once Anne assured him to make him equal partner with her, Pierre opened up further and related to her that his men in Porto Bello had told him of a Portuguese in Nassau trusted by Henry Morgan, In fact Pierre had been taken prisoner by the English while he was heading to Nassau to meet the Portuguese. At Nassau, Pierre had learned from the Portuguese man that a man called Pedro Mendoza living in Port Royal in Jamaica possessed the other half of the map.

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It was then Dr. Jameson remarked to her that since she now knows what Pierre knows, she could very well kill him and go after the treasure on her own. But Anne would have none of that, for she had given Pierre her word. And that counts.

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Port Royal was the lion’s den – the Headquarters of England’s Caribbean Squadron. That’s where they will go once they careen the hulk of Sheba Queen encrusted with hardened barnacles, to restore the ship to its proper speed. Dr. Jameson confirmed that the parchment and the ink of the map looked authentic to him.

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As Blackbeard had taught her, Anne had carefully docked her ship in a secret cove, known only to Blackbeard and Anne, ideally positioned to cannon and command the passage through the reef while her ship lay inoperable.

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Later, while she was walking along the beach with Pierre, she was surprised to learn that he was born in Paris. Anne advocated that he can take her there as a partner after they have lifted the treasure. But overriding this subject was her curiosity to know for whom he had chosen that yellow dress.

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He had obviously noted the anxiety in her question and told her that it is for no one in particular – perhaps for a woman he hoped someday to meet. Having caught with her guard down, she quickly pulled herself up to her rank, but her sudden change in manner essentially gave away the tell-tale sign of affection for him that was growing in her heart.

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The following day, Pierre walked into his make-shift cabin and found Anne trying on the yellow corseted dress he had chosen from the booty. This is the moment for which that dress was made for. She looked like a breath of spring. Even though her face looked unaffected from his sudden intrusion, the thoughtful Frenchman knew that he had awakened the feminine side of this ruthless pirate queen.

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Well, she can’t underestimate his ability to get through to her heart and to melt away her defences. But he would use his power responsibly. Pierre helped her tie the back ribbons of the dress, an act which acted as the precursor to a conversation that stirred the woman inside her, exposed her inner feelings she was silently weaving around Pierre. She dared him to tell her “how a Frenchman, a gentleman, made love?” knowing that it would draw him to her. Soon, they merged into a passionate kiss.

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It seems all good things in life are not meant to last. The expression of their “burning” desire turned out to be short-lived and frustrating as Dougal suddenly walked in and caught them in the act.

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On hearing the news about an approaching ship, Anne’s spyglass confirmed the arrival of Blackbeard’s flagship “(Queen Anne’s) Revenge”. How happy she appeared in welcoming Blackbeard with Jamaican rum. She listened to him saying that he had looked for her in Tortuga and had realised that she’s docked here to careen.

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Without losing much time, Blackbeard accused that Pierre is a traitor. He is Lieutenant Pierre François La Rochelle of the French Navy. He had seen Pierre at Martinique when the French hanged his colleague Sam Austine from a yardarm. Confronted once again by Anne, Pierre explained that everything which Blackbeard told was true. He merely neglected to mention about the commission because the memory of that chapter was painful to him. He was cashiered from the navy in disgrace. He had witnessed the hanging only because the entire officers were ordered to be present. Anne is in command here, and he is not on Blackbeard’s deck. She can be assured that he will serve her loyally.

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Disregarding her support for Pierre, Blackbeard’s sword struck out at Pierre. Abruptly, Anne’s sword lashed out at Blackbeard with dynamic forcefulness. During the angered spat of words that followed, Anne slapped his face- in front of his men. She ordered him and his men off the island. The line has been crossed. Blackbeard never forgets an insult. Now there will be war between them.

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As Blackbeard and his men left the island, Anne ordered Dr. Jameson to care for Pierre lying unconscious on the ground. Before she moved off from Pierre, she couldn’t resist planting a kiss on his forehead.

The Sheba Queen was safely anchored off the coast of Jamaica. Given that Anne was denied from going to the island in his place to obtain the other half of map from Petro Mendoza, she arranged with Dougal to take Pierre on a row boat to leave him ashore at the Portland Point and wait for him on the beach. She gave Pierre some English Guineas to pay the man and advised him to offer Mendoza a share of the treasure if he insists for more.

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At Port Royal, Pierre went straight to “The Governor’s Tavern” where the English Aristocrats were engaged in smoking, drinking, playing table games or other things such men usually do in such places. Pierre was recognised as “Captain La Rochelle” by the Maitre d’ and promised to arrange the people whom Pierre wanted to meet urgently.

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In a dark room upstairs, he met a pretty woman we soon discover to be his wife Molly La Rochelle. He confirmed to her that their plan has succeeded and that the legendary Captain Providence is a woman. They seal their reunion with a kiss before he was called downstairs to meet up with the English Naval officers who have engaged him to entrap the pirates.

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The English were rejoiced at the news that the Sheba Queen was anchored off Portland Point and will remain there till daybreak. And, of course, they appreciate that Captain Providence suspects nothing though they were rather surprised to learn that the notorious pirate is a female. With this information in hand, the English attack Anne of the Indies …..

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As Darryl Zanuck once said, “Success in movies boil down to three things: story, story, story.” The final climax of the film was subject of deliberations since Zanuck was not satisfied by the motive provided for Anne. The result was that Dunne suggested shooting the climax in different ways. However, after the shooting was completed, having found that the present ending was unsatisfactory to the audience, the ending was again modified with further retakes. According to Tourneur’s contract which stipulated that the production was to be completed within fifteen weeks, the production of “Anne of the Indies” must have been wound up before May, 1951 since by then Tourneur was supposed to be in Argentina for the production of “Way of a Gaucho”.

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Adventure movies call for a directorial and an acting style which is well known to adventure directors such as Raoul Welsh, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Richard Fleischer, Henry Hathaway, Michael Curtiz, and Jacques Tourneur. Shot in Technicolor by Cinematographer Harry Jackson and ably edited by Robert Fritch, director Jacques Tourneur’s film features restraint and admirable performances of his stars in well made up sets, lighting and studio locations.

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The film truthfully portrays Anne as a ruthless pirate who has denied her femininity and doesn’t know what it means to be a woman, or to be loved. In order to illustrate Anne’s crisis of identity, Tourneur used a scene in the beginning of the film to establish Anne’s strong heart and the softness of her bosom when Dr. Jameson tends to her wound. Despite Jean Peters’ cute and pretty looks which occasionally subdue her efforts to make Anne look dangerous and ruthless, her performance with an athletic agility is flawless though, couple of times, her cheerful countenance has appeared rather teasing.

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Louis Jourdan’s performance in the role of Frenchie merited critical acclaim. Ever since Zanuck had that terrible polo ball accident in late December 1941, he had switched his interest in sport to croquet which he used to arrange on the lawn of his house in Palm Springs. Frequented by a cross-section of Hollywood society, international celebrities, etc, his lawns became the croquet capital of California. Jourdan who was a contract star of Fox and best of the regulars to Zanuck’s house, was found to be perfect fit for the role of Pierre.

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Louis Jourdan’s movies conjure up an image of him as a suave, dashing, romantic charmer. In spite of this, the Marseilles born Jourdan (aka Louis Gendre) had also managed to appear in villainous roles. Beginning his acting career in the French film “Le Corsaire” (1932), Jourdan became a star after producer David O. Selznick cast him in Alfred Hitchcock’s court room drama “The Paradine Case” (1947) for which Franz Waxman was the music director. But his finest performance before he acted in “Anne of the Indies” was in Max Ophuls’ “Letter from an Unknown Woman”.

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British actor Herbert Marshall (1890-1966) with considerable stage experience acts as the alcoholic Dr. Jameson who helplessly hovers around watching Anne trapped in her crisis of identity. The mannerism of the wise and philosophical Dr. Jameson in the scenes where Anne displays her determination to acquire the respect she deserves; when she is in conflict with her human emotions; is well portrayed by Marshall.

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In the role of the boisterous Blackbeard, the heavyset, stage character actor Thomas Gomez (Sabino Tomas Gomez – 1905-1971) made use of the opportunity to drink, laugh, turn tables, and swash his sword to realistically portray the larger-than-life of the renowned pirate.

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Gomez was a member of the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne theatre group before he ventured into movies. An aficionado of gourmet dining and a close friend of Jean Peters, he had co-starred with her in “Captain from Castile

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Tall and hefty, England born actor James Robertson Justice (James Norval Harald Robertson Justice – 1907-1975) with whiskers and booming voice had completed a series of films, viz. “The Black Rose” and “The Magnet” (1950), “Blackmailed”, “Pool of London”, “Captain Horatio Hornblower” and “David and Bathsheba” (1951) prior to his role as Red Dougal.

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The mannerism of Dougal when Anne chose Pierre as her sea artist when she knew nothing of him; his confidential talks with Blackbeard and Dr. Jameson; his ever watchful eyes on Anne; the suppressed outrage on his face when he caught Anne and Pierre kissing – have all been perfectly portrayed by Justice.

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Hailing from a show biz family, the 5’ 2” (157cm) Debra Paget (Debralee Griffin) obtained an acting contract from 20th Century-Fox at the age of 14, debuting in “Cry of the City” (1948). Having earned proficiency in speaking from Helena Sorrell, the dramatic coach of 20th Century-Fox, and fairly active in movies at that time, she co-starred with Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler in director Delmer Daves’ “Birds of Paradise” which also hit the screens in 1951.

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Although Paget’s role in “Anne of the Indies” is confined to few dark scenes, her effervescent beauty lights up the darker scenes which are rampant in many of Tourneur’s films. Appearing pale and innocent, Paget has nothing much to do except look distressed and wear a few moments of brave face when she antagonizes Anne over Molly’s rights over her husband.

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Other members of cast are Francis Pierlot (Herkimer), Sean McClory (Hackett), Holmes Herbert (British sea captain), Byron Nelson (Bear handler), Douglas Bennett (Bear wrestler), Mario Siletti (Auctioneer), etc.

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Notwithstanding the lesser budget, the film features sets and props with truthful authenticity, there are Naval cannons, antique swords, males’ earrings and some of the guns used by the pirates and the English are even Flintlock pistols.

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The artistic and talented art directors Lyle Wheeler (1905-1990) and Albert Hogsett have faithfully created the set pieces, though standard and familiar, with the expertise of set decorators Thomas Little and Claude Carpenter.

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Lynn had started his career at M.G.M when David Selznick hired him to work under production designer William Cameron Menzies on “Gone with the Wind” following which he ran the art department of Twentieth Century-Fox from 1944 to 1960. Lynn won five Academy Awards for Best Art Direction after having been nominated twenty-nine times, four of which in 1951.

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While the makeup is by Ben (Benjamin Emmet) Nye, the film’s wardrobe is directed by American Costume designer Charles Le Maire (1897-1985) who ran the Wardrobe department of 20th Century-Fox from the early 1940s. For this film he had collaborated with Costumes designer Edward Stevenson (1906-1968) who himself started in Hollywood from 1922 and became the chief designer at RKO from 1936-49.

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Although most of the costumes are standard pirate and navy gear which kept up the atmosphere, the feminine costumes for Jean Peters and Debra Paget and for some extras are very minimal. Apart from the yellow dress Anne wears inside the make-shift cabin, the other one is a white nightgown shown in very dim lighting as she gazed at the glittering sea.

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German composer Franz Waxman (Franz Wachsmann – 1906-1967) with orchestration by Edward Powell have provided a rousing score that blend well with the romantic nature of the story. Other than montage, music is one of the two most “invisible” contributing arts to cinema and Waxman is renowned for his very close understanding of when music should appear in the narrative.

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Arriving in America in 1934, Waxman provided his first original score for “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) after which he worked for two years with Universal Studios, before moving to M.G.M and later onto Warner Bros until he won the Academy Award for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “A Place in the Sun” (1951).

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Years and years later, this routine swashbuckler evoked some deliberations in seminars and conferences because of the identity crisis of the lead character. There were also some writings including an essay titled “Femininity and the masquerade: Anne of the Indies”.

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Considering the lack of depth in the psychological density of the main characters and also in the thinly plotted story, I would think this movie was just another job for Tourneur.

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I would also like to think that Tourneur made this film without any alternative agenda other than to make a simple pirate tale – some 81 minutes of entertainment which has all the virtues of the genre: sea-battles, swashbuckling, adventure and drama with a twist showcasing the protagonist as a female dressed in male attire to suit the environment of the buccaneers of the story; and also, to differentiate this film from a series of swashbuckler films featuring male leads various studios were chucking out during 1940s and 50s.

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Anne of the Indies cannot be compared to a lively, colourful period film featuring a protagonist with the lighter-than-air agility of Douglas Fairbanks or an extrovert, acrobatic hero portrayed by Burt Lancaster. Nevertheless, this old-fashioned harmless family movie has an underlining story of Anne going through her identity crises, searching for love which is quite unfamiliar to her.

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Anne’s love is her weakness and to us it has made her human, even though she is riddled with faults. By making Anne endearing to us, lovely Jean Peters leaves a memory of a breed of heroines long gone from our screens. Until next time, Ciao, Jo.

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(This review is dedicated to the memory of lovely Jean Peters)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

LivingMusic: Nana Mouskouri – A Place in My Heart

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It seems like only yesterday since I returned from Madrid in July, and today I am packing for yet another journey – this time back to Bangkok. The good side of packing is that it not only makes you take stock of the essentials you will need for the itinerary you have in mind, but also makes you realize that the next few weeks are not meant for a mundane or mediocre life. It will be days of life in hotel rooms, of room service, taxis, laptop, different timmings ……

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Bangkok is not a Mr. Stranger to me – once a Bang (village) of thatched houses amidst the kok (wild plum) trees that eventually took the form of “Bangkok”. It is home to many of my friends and to my business connections whom we make it a point to visit almost every year since the last eleven years.

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The people of Bangkok have a certain energy and personality, a certain charm and graciousness. Thai tranquility is the result of their supreme tolerance of others.

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True to its dictum as the Land of Smiles, we have had quite a good measure of momentous and happy moments there.

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This would be our first Christmas in Bangkok even though we had a lovely time there for New Year back in 2006 having spent the Christmas of 2005 in Singapore. Being in Bangkok would mean that 2012 would be the second time since we moved into our present apartments that the Christmas decorations and the crib will not be set up.

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7I will miss the beauty that would have surrounded me in the festive decorations throughout our house, illuminated with the glow of candles and fairy lights. We will also miss making mince pies in our house, and tucking presents in secret places. However, the Christmas tree, stars and angels have all appeared in their relevant places.

Talking of angels, the other day I was playing Greek singer Panos (Panagiotis) Psaltis’ Aggele Mou (My Angel) while sorting out my suitcases. Now, that is a song with so much sadness within it that it tugs at your heart strings. In this poignant song that wafted out of my music system, Panos calls for an angel to come down to earth to give advice on how to heal his troubled heart.

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Then again, many a Greek songs have a peculiar melancholic aura that hangs around your head for a while when you first hear them – at least for me. Of the few singers from Greece of the 1960s I like, how can I forget Nana Mouskouri or Demis Roussos (Forever and Ever) whose songs capture the flavour and spirit of Greece perfectly?

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Carina has seen Nana Mouskouri (born Ionna Mouschouri) at a live performance at the Royal Albert Hall in London sometime back and, like the rest of the audience felt transported to Greece with Nana’s beautiful melancholic songs. The one song she liked in particular was the 1961 version of “White Roses from Athens” (Weiße Rosen aus Athen), which I too agree is a beautiful song.

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Born to theatre usherette Aliki (Alice) and film projectionist Constantine Mouskouri in Chania, Crete in Greece on October 13, 1934, Nana Mouskouri’s education in music started at a very early age. Aiming for a career in the classical field, her lessons were rooted in piano, harmony and vocal. Conforming to her parents wish for her to become a classical artist, in 1950, she continued to pursue the same lessons at the classical Athens Conservatoire. In spite of this, when she heard the compositions of American Jazz music and blues, her interests took a turn to pop music and Jazz which would cast a strong influence in her musical career. She wanted to sing like Billie Holliday, Edith Piaf, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald.

15aMaking her radio debut in 1956, she became the leading female vocalist on Radio Athens. In 1958, she met the renowned classical musician Mános Hadjidákis who had provided music for the movie “Never On Sunday” (Pote tin Kyriaki). In Greece, Mános Hadjidákis and Mitzi Theodorakis are the great poets of song. Although her shift from serious music prevented her from sitting for her final exams as she was not keeping with her classical studies, she formed a small jazz group consisting of friends and started performing as a songstress at the Tzaki, a “tavern” in Athens and later in various nightclubs in the Greek capital.

16aMoved by Nana’s artistry, Hadjidákis went ahead to compose pop songs for her. Having done her initial recording in Greece, Nana went on to win honours at the 1960 Festival of Mediterranean Song in Barcelona (Spain). Her impressive performance against highly professional competitors brought her a recording contract with Paris-based Phillips-Fontana and many offers. It was the beginning of a shooting star called Nana Mouskouri.

Nana was soon to become popular all over the world as one of the greatest Greek singers. But before all this, when she was thirty-three, she embarked on a tour with Harry Belafonte throughout America which turned out to be highly successful. Belafonte had been looking for a partner having decided to part from Myriam Makeba (yes, the one who sang “Pata Pata” in 1957). In her “Memoirs”, Nana writes about how she embarked on this tour.

17aIn order to audition Nana, whom Belafonte had seen on Eurovision, had sought the help of Quincy Jones and Irving Green to have her brought over to New York. Although Nana met up with Belafonte and his wife Julie for dinner at Trader Vic’s at the Plaza Hotel, the next day he was absent “due to a last-minute problem” when she appeared for audition at his headquarters on Sixty-Seventh Street. Taking stock of the situation, Nana had put all her heart into that audition, her voice resplendent with melancholy, nostalgia and dreams. The audience gave her a standing ovation after she sang half-dozen Greek songs followed by a couple of her favourite French songs. Even Belafonte, who in fact had posted himself in the adjoining room listening to her in order to avoid having to get rid of her if she disappointed him, turned up in the audition hall to cheer her at the beginning of her last song. The next day, she won the part – stepping into the shoes of Myriam Makeba.

18aIn 1962, Quincy Jones produced her first U.S album titled “Nana Mouskouri in New York” which also became a great success. That album featured a dozen songs including “That’s My Desire”, “No Moon at All”, “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (written by Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach for the operetta “Roberta” (1933)), “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “But Not For Me” (Written by George and Ira Gershwin for musical “Girl Crazy” (1930)), “Almost Like Being in Love”, etc.

The voice is the most natural instrument that exists. It is with vocal music that the history of music had begun. Nana has a voice that is flawless and perfect, surprisingly mellow, far reaching and dynamic. Without a trace of an accent, she had sung in Greek, German, Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, Hebrew, Maori, Welsh and English, perfectly at ease as a native of the country whose language she sings. This is one quality that would act as an important factor in her success and propel her into a life surrounded by musicians, assistants, sound engineers, technicians, press officers and a private secretary.

19Winner of numerous gold and platinum records, Nana’s beautiful voice and songs sours beyond the national boundaries, winning her endless admiring listeners from all over the world. She had earned this acclaim by simply being herself, her style devoid of any allegiance to that of any other renowned singer. Europe’s answer to the American songbird Barbra Streisand, Nana’s records met up with good sales in Continental Europe and the UK while in Germany, they were once constantly appearing in the top of the hit-charts.

20aDuring a career that spans half a century, Nana has recorded over 1,500 songs, selling more than 300m records. When she sings, she appears to dig deep into the depths of the lyrics, her voice blending them into magical melodies. Sometimes described as “the voice of dreams” and “the voice of nostalgia”, her songs sparkle with that inimitable Mouskouri touch like the unmistakable tones of a bouzouki. In “A Little Paper Moon” (Hartino to Feggaraki), Nana whispers in confidence of the emptiness of life when her beloved is not with her; “Never On Sunday” (Ta Pedia Ton Pirea) provides a glimpse of the life of people in the suburbs of Athens. Then there is: “Where Has My Little Boy Run Away” (Pou Petaxe T’Agori Mou), “My Love is Somewhere” (Kapou Iparhi Agapi Mou); “You Were Sweet and Kind” (Issoun Kalos); “My Dear Little Mother” (Manoula Mou); “Behind the Rose Bushes” (Pisso  Apo Tis Triandafilies); “Hello Love”; “Dance Till Your Shoes Fall Off”; “Only Love”; “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”; “Even Now”, “The Last Rose of Summer”; “Feelin’ Groovy”; “Land of Dreams”; “Christos Genate”; etc…. the list of songs are endless. With an essentially pure yet complicated voice, her songs are delivered with a proud modesty, always striving for that perfection regardless whether the lyrics she sings are tragic poetry or pedestrian commercial phrases.

21As a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, she had helped raise funds to help children. In March 2010, having served as a member of the European parliament for five years from 1994 until 1999, she offered her annual pension of 25,000 euros to tackle the crippling economic crisis of Greece, pledging it until debt-laden Greece climb out of its economic black hole.

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There is always music in our house. I have always found it wonderful for relaxation – even just a little background music when I work would provide me with the emotional charge. I have a couple of Nana’s albums (LPs) and for the rest of her songs, for the time being I will have to depend on the Internet.

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At Christmas, play and make good cheer, for Christmas comes but once a year,” wrote Thomas Tusser four hundred and fifty years ago. Now that Christmas is around the corner, its message of peace and goodwill is loud and clear. The joys of giving and sharing; of cards and Christmas trees; of family reunions and good friends meeting once again – that’s all part of the essence of Christmas. At this time of hope – of joy – of love, I will be remembering many of the happy days; of days of laughing conversations; and other treasured times of good and bad now past. And I would welcome that peace which comes down to earth during this time of the year to find a resting place in my heart.

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But what is Christmas time without Christmas songs? For every Christmas we add new decorations to our existing collection. Likewise, we fondly carry over a tradition of choosing one main Christmas music album for each Christmas season. Last year, it was the Sinatra family.

25aThe year before, we were entertained by the album of cherished carols by The Hamburg Students’ Choir who had made those recordings on the Christmas Eve of 1955 during a service attended by British Armed Forces in Hamburg.

This year it will be Nana Mouskouri who will provide an overall mood which is encompassingly mellow. I do not have “The Christmas Album” of Nana but that would be available at MBK or elsewhere in Bangkok. I am sure, Nana’s “The Christmas Album” would provide the perfect musical accompaniment for this Christmas season, especially since it contains the German versions of “Silent night” (Stille Nacht heilige  Nacht), and “O Christmas tree” (O Tannenbaum) and “O come all ye faithful” and “Hark the herald angels sing” in English.

26Lobby of The Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Bangkok

27Now that we are leaving the well-padded perimeter of predictability of our home to be amidst the many activities in the fascinating Krung Thep, the “City of Angels” (Bangkok), I wonder when I will be able to make my next post. But I would think of this break as the rose bush that is cut back in the winter so that it may grow strong in the spring. However, the one thing I know for sure is that I will find time to visit the blogs of my great circle of friends and enjoy the company of each one of you during this wonderful season of the year.

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Moon in the sky softly creeping
Over the town from above
And I lie awake hardly sleeping
So lonely for only your love

Even now, each night, I remember
Days of summer when blossoms filled each bough
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now

When will I see you again?

Come to my arms where you belong
My world will be empty till then
For you are the words to my song

Even now, each night, I remember
Days of summer when blossoms filled each bough
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now
In the cold, gray days of December,
My darling, I miss you even now

Ciao, Jo

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 (Lyrics of song: “Even Now” by Nana Mouskouri can be heard in YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qA2MYrElKco )

(Music albums of Nana Mouskouri are available with main dealers such as amazon.com, HMV, etc)

(Text and all photos (except of Nana Mouskouri and album sleeves): © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 15: Adventures of Don Juan

 

(Aka: “The New Adventures of Don Juan”, “El Burlador de Castilla”, “La Avventure di Don Giovanni”, “Die Liebesabenteuer des Don Juan”, “Les Aventures de Don Juan” – Technicolor – December 24, 1948)

Back in 1944, Samuel Goldwyn productions released a romantic comedy titled “The Princess and the Pirate”, starring Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo which told the story of a distressed princess who travelled incognito on the high seas and was rescued by the most unlikely of the knights. The production of this swashbuckler was made with utmost secrecy to protect its ending which naturally caught the curiosity of certain studio heads in Hollywood.

 

At that time, the situation was ripe for a diversion from war movies which the audiences were getting tired of since the middle of 1943. Taking into account the major interest of the audience in the glitz and glamour of the movies of historical-romantic fiction set during 17th & 18th century, Jack (Jacob) Warner, the president of Warner Brothers Studios, decided to bring in some power of his own to such movies by casting Errol Flynn in a big-budget swashbuckler film he had kept in the wings for some time.

 

Back in 1926, Warner Brothers had made a silent version of Don Juan with legendry actor John Barrymore in the lead. Jack Warner had noted the parallels that connected the character of Don Juan de Maraña with John Barrymore and his fellow-drunk Errol Flynn whom Warner Brothers had initially employed at their Teddington studio. Warner draw up an action-filled script centered on the romantic exploits of Don Juan with Flynn as the title character. However, this version does not in anyway correlate to the drama, literature, poetry, or music of the Don Juan legend portrayed in earlier presentations. As an alternative to the youthful, morally righteous hero, the new Don Juan will be a distinct ladies’ man who would cut a dash on a horse and wield a sword even though he would be a tad more jaded and fickle.

The studio immediately swung into action and roped in director Raoul Walsh to start shooting in May, 1945, nearly four months prior to the end of World War II on September 2. The shooting dates were set up since few sets were already prepared. Then everything went topsy-turvy. An industry-wide strike of studio set designers that broke out in March, 1945 paved way to a bloody riot in front of the main gates of Warner Brothers studios in California on October 5, 1945 (known as Hollywood Black Friday). Although the strike came to an end one month later, it soon brewed up into another strike which lasted some 13 months before matters were somewhat sorted out. Several attempts by the studio to reorganize the cancelled dates of the project (initially with non-strikers/replacement workers) in the next two and a half years were met with failure.

Being the period following the end of the war when the box office receipts were slumped, in order to make the production economical, producer Jerry Wald (1911-1962) started taking steps to revise and embellish the script (based on the original story by Herbert (Addison) Dalmas (1902-1989)), with the help of a series of writers, including “Max Brand” (aka: Frederick Faust) and William Faulkner. Aside from the use of props and scenes from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”, a sequence relating to a great ball was definitely removed from the final screenplay that would be at last credited to screenwriters George Oppenheimer (1900-1977) and Harry Kurnitz (1907-1968). Some people in the field of film-making have an innate ability to turn screenplays into star-studded blockbusters.

Director Vincent Sherman and George Oppenheimer were two of them. Oppenheimer who was the co-founder of the Viking Press, was often used to improve the scripts of others.

In 1948, “Adventures of Casanova” produced by Bryan Foy who had long association with Warner Brothers came out to good reviews. Starring Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova, this swashbuckler devoid of historical accuracy, was packed with first-rate swordplay about an 18th-century Casanova returning to Palermo, Sicily to help overthrow the tyrannical rule of the king of Naples. This is the first movie that was shown on WCBS-TV’s Channel 2 which would become the legendry late-night movie channel “The Late Show” in 1951. The film would act as a suitable precursor for Warner Brothers-First National Picture’s new Errol Flynn vehicle.

Adventures of Don Juan”, does not follow the basic storyline of a great lover’s entanglements with the Italian Borgia family, as featured in John Barrymore’s version. On the contrary, Flynn’s Don Juan de Maraña, living in 17th century Spain, is concerned with spoiling the dastardly schemes of the lovely Queen Margaret’s first minister, Duke of Lorca and wooing her.

Synopsis: Outskirts of London. The night had fallen now. We see a dark figure stealthily climbing a tree which was leaning towards the balcony of a villa. We can see a beautiful young lady anxiously looking down at the figure lifting himself up through the branches to keep up the secret rendezvous with her. The narrator had already started to explain the state of affairs of the period:

In Europe, as the 17th century dawned, mankind was lifting itself from ignorance and superstition. The old frontiers of the mind were rolling back. New books, new methods were aiding man in his time taught knowledge and wisdom. In the laboratory, in the arts, in every field of endeavour, man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing onward, ever upward. And on the outskirts of London, on a summer night, another man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing upward, ever onward toward his objective” – Count d’Orsini’s wife, Catherine.

Having climbed onto the balcony and into the arms of robust, rosy-cheeked Catherine, she demands to know what took him so long. Don Juan explained that no power on earth would have kept him away from her. In this entire world there has been only one image in his heart, one vision for his eyes. He had loved her since the beginning of time. Now Catherine was confused: She had only met him yesterday! Don Juan was ready for that: Yes, yesterday was when time began. After they surfaced from a kiss rooted in flowering passion, he tenderly assured her that he is hers alone – 101%. Yet Catherine could not believe him – he has made love to countless women. Once again his smile flashed. “Catherine, an artist may paint a thousand canvases before achieving one work of art. Would you deny your love the same practice?” He had apparently developed some wonderful poetic skills. When Catherine implored him to let her know how long he will love her, he decided to release her from her emotional chains. “Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, but only in ecstasy.”

Don Juan found some ground for solace when she told him that even though she is married, she is unattached to her husband, Cecil, who is now on a hunting trip to satisfy his extreme fondness for grouse. Inside the privacy of her bedroom, their amorous exploits were abruptly cut short by the arrival of Catherine’s elderly husband. Vanity is fair in love and hate. Her wrathful husband promptly challenged Don Juan to a valiant duel of swords which Cecil was inevitably set to loose. Disappointments have taught Don Juan to be realistic. Don Juan de Maraña took the trouble to advise Cecil that he should be ashamed of himself to leave a beautiful young woman alone neglected while he indulged in his selfish pleasures – grouse hunting! When did he last tell her that she is beautiful? The man appeared to have a mental block when it comes to admitting he is wrong. Cecil should remind her of her beauty every day of her life. Write poetry, send her flowers (to which Catherine added: “and jewelry”) When he put her back into her lovely mood, she is such an exquisite delight. No argument there.

Though Don Juan departed from the balcony with a carefree smile, he and his faithful servant Leporello, were given chase by the guards of Count d’Orsini. On the road, they came across a cavalry of Queen Elizabeth of England who were waiting for the Duke of Cordoba to arrive by dawn to escort him along the road to London. Having been taken for the Duke of Cordoba, Don Juan and Leporello were accorded royal escort to London and to his bride.

 

They were led in a pageant parade through the streets of London town teeming with its populous. Though Lady Diana was reluctant to her betrothal to the Duke of Cordoba which ensured a new cycle of prosperity for England, having found the imposter to be Don Juan, she was over the moon that he had found her again.

 

She edgily poked his mind to remember of their secret tryst four months ago at the garden of a Countess in Paris. How could he forget those pleasantries and pleasures? As she bolted the door, a thin smile flickered on her lips, and there was a malicious glitter in her eyes. This time she will not let him forget her. It didn’t take much longer for the paramours to drift into a kiss which was broken by the arrival of the real Duke of Cordoba. Though Don Juan and Leporello were immediately imprisoned, they were soon paroled to the custody of His Excellency Count de Polan, the Ambassador of Spain.

 

With his release from the English jail, Don Juan seemed headed for the Spanish prison since having returned to Madrid, the Duke of Cordoba had complained to the weak and feckless King Felipe III and Queen Margaret of Spain about the series of amatory escapades of Don Juan de Maraña who had damaged the prestige of Spain and messed up the marriage of convenience shaped expressly for the purpose of peace between Spain and England. There is a fair chance of hanging. Count de Polan, who is a friend of Don Juan’s father, told him to leave London and return to Madrid to present himself before the Spanish Court for Her Majesty’s judgment.

 

The Count had written to the Queen urging that she deal gently with Don Juan. Though Don Juan claimed he knew nothing of matters such as court intrigue, the ambassador had maintained that he devote his time to help the heartbroken Queen to attain peace in her country ruled by the subservient sovereign King Felipe III under the influence of his first minister, who has been plaguing her of late. His loyalty to the Queen would help her to face the cunning Duke of Lorca who is hatching a ruthless plot to elevate himself as a power behind the throne. Don Juan and Leporello rode across the midlands into the city of Madrid….and so the future began….

 

The shooting of ”Adventures of Don Juan” started in October, 1947 under Vincent (Vince) Sherman (born Abram Orovitz – 1906-2006), a former American stage actor who joined with Warner Brothers in 1938 where he was assigned to their B-picture unit. Sherman who had associated with chubby dynamo Jerry Wald since “All Through the Night” (1941), had launched his directorial career with the horror movie “The Return of Doctor X” (1939). Owing to his experience in numerous Theatre Guild productions on Broadway, reworking of scripts and finally directing movies, Vince Sherman became an expert in film making: in its continuity and cutting and progression. He made films relishing in the love and devotion of his wife Hedda Comorau who turned a blind eye to, according to IMDB, his occasional romantic flings with actresses Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and later with Rita Hayworth. Being a good friend of Errol Flynn who was the big white hope of Warner Brothers, Sherman had no qualms when Flynn asked to direct him in ”Adventures of Don Juan” which he did with his customary efficiency.

1944 was a period when the Tasmania born Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was spawning lot of publicity from his off-screen feats, especially the foul smell derived from his rape trial of 1943. Flynn had been an English repertory theatre actor before obtaining a contract with Warner Brothers and would become rated as the best swashbuckler of the sound cinema – an image created with the help of director Michael Curtiz with whom he finally quarreled and split.

Keeping up with the image of the daringly gallant and dashing swashbuckler, Errol Flynn maintained an appetite for a delightful and hard life. He had his own dedicated group of drinkers and keeping him within the production schedule was one heck of a job for director Sherman and unit manager Frank Mattison. The “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry once said, “(Flynn) spent more time on a bar stool, or in court, or in the headlines, or in bed, than anyone I knew.” He was once described by David Niven as “a magnificent specimen of the rampant male.” The frivolous, sardonic, and rather witty initial scenes of Don Juan wooing an enamoured Catherine and the inevitable encounter with her enraged husband is a spoof of the personality of Don Juan and of star Flynn himself.

While the burden to carry the film focused on the title character is loaded on the star performer; few weeks into the production, Flynn disappeared out of town for a few weeks, possibly for one of his major binges, leaving the artistic collaborators in the enterprise to shut the unit down and wait it out until he returned. When he finally positioned himself before the camera, he appeared sodden with alcohol which was consumed from mid-afternoon onwards, forbidding him from going on with a scene for long. This is despite Flynn’s famous trick of spending half hour in the steam room to get the booze off him. However, all this resulted in a good deal of additional set ups, retakes, editing rhythms and extra time though Sherman once said that this happened only once.

 

Despite the studio’s endeavor to wink at Flynn’s age, there was some concern about the roughened state of his face from his hard living.  In spite that Flynn sometimes failed to generate the excitement of the performance of Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster, I think he had great personal style and that the flamboyant Flynn’s physic was tailor-made for the swashbuckling roles. Being a great natural athlete, it was Flynn’s lighter-than-air agility, light-hearted seriousness, a degree of grace and style, and pure English-speaking voice which turned out “Adventures of Don Juan” to be a good film.

The role of Spanish Queen Margaret was portrayed by the Uppsala born 28-year old Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors – 1920-95). Before she was imported to Hollywood by Warner Brothers in 1946, she was appearing on stage and in films having been trained at The Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm like her fellow Swedish actresses Greta Garbo, Signe Hasso, Mai Zetterling and Ingrid Bergman.

Queen Margaret would be Lindfors’ first appearance in a Warner/Hollywood movie. I have a strong feeling that the appearance and mannerism of Lindfors in the role of Queen Margaret had influenced in formulating Sophia Loren’s character of Doña Jimena in “El Cid

The role of the subservient King Felipe III is played by Romney Brent (1902-76), the dapper Mexican actor/director also known as Romulo Larralde.

Buckinghamshire born stage actor Robert Douglas (Robert Douglas Finlayson – 1909-99) was a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared on British stages before he moved to Hollywood after the war and specialized in roles of suave and arrogant villains. Douglas stars as the king’s illusory minister, the Duke de Lorca who had his heels on the king’s neck. This role was originally meant for Claude Rains and later for George Coulouris. Well versed in swordplay, Douglas had studio experience in having dueled with the likes of Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster, etc. Douglas’ stylish daredevil duel with Flynn on the grand staircase in the king’s palace, though at times not totally fair, has by now attained cult status.

Burly Alan Hale Sr. (Rufus Edward MacKahan – 1892-1950) was a cheerful actor who played heroes in silent action films and similar to his role of Leporello, was often cast as a jovial sidekick of Errol Flynn. Having acted in period films such as “The Last Days of Pompeii”, “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “The Sea Hawk”, his career would see him acting as Little John in three movies, viz., “Robin Hood”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and in “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”. Interestingly, innovations such as the folding theatre-seats and hand fire extinguisher are credited to him.

The lady in the coach at the end of the movie is played by none other than  Nora Eddington (1924-2001), the second wife of Errol Flynn whom the nineteen year old Nora had met in 1943 while working at the courthouse where Flynn was undergoing trial for statutory rape from which he was acquitted. Unfortunately the couple who married in 1944 at Mexico will be divorced in 1949.

The former child stage star/leading lady Ann Rutherford (Donna Elena), character actor Robert Warwick (aka: Robert Taylor Bien – Count de Polan), British actor Aubrey Mather  

    

(Lord Chalmers), former child actress Helen Westcott (aka: Myrthas Helen Hickman – Lady Diana), dwarf actor Jerry Austin (Don Sebastian), Douglas Kennedy (aka: Keith Douglas – Don Rodrigo), Jeanne Shepard (Donna Carlotta), Mary Stuart (Catherine), G.P. Huntley, Jr. (Count d’Orsini), Spanish Opera singer Fortunio Bonanova (Don Serafino), Irish character actress Una O’Connor (Duenna), heavily-built Canadian actor Raymond Burr (Captain Alvarez), etc rounded off the supporting cast.

 

The film features impressive photography by English Cinematographer/actor Elwood (Bailey) Bredell Sr. (1902-1969), a former lab technician who would, while working with Universal Studios during the period 1937-46, reveal his cinematographic skills in films of genre: thrillers and film noir. Bredell’s chance to picture big-budget movies came after his shift to Warner Brothers in 1947, when his sumptuous visual style attained a new dimension in filming that resulted in richly textured images which embellished movies such as “Adventures of Don Juan”, “Female Jungle”, and “Journey into Light”, the latter of which also offered him occasion to work with Viveca Lindfors once again. For “Adventures of Don Juan”, Bredell and his team not only took care of the artistically and dramatically expressive angles, but generated a mixture of shadows and diffused lighting that would provide a memorable atmosphere of sinister visions to the frames.

The film is edited by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), the son of Alan Crosland who directed “Don Juan”, the 1926 silent film of Warner Brothers starring John Barrymore. Crosland. Jr’s expert editing patterns can be noted in the brisk pace as the duel heightens, as well as in the smooth flow of scenes he had put together from the asymmetrical frames occasioned by disruptive filming.

Though the location filming was done in West Hills, Providencia Ranch (Hollywood Hills) and Warner Ranch (Calabasas), the interiors were mostly shot in semi-Expressionist sets at Stages in Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, under the direction of Art Director Edward Carrere and Set Decorator Lyle B. Reifsnider.

 

The specially constructed magnificent sets of the king’s palace and the grand staircase adds colour and dynamism to the expertly choreographed duel between the heroic Flynn and scoundrel Douglas which takes place to the splendour of Max Steiner’s rousing score. The initial scene at the balcony gives a richly coloured texture, the streets of 17th century London and Madrid, the entire palace including the dungeon were all arranged to provide a picture-book-look by providing due consideration to the minute details. Edward Carrere justly received an Academy Award for the Art Direction for this movie.

 

The characters were dressed up beautifully by Costume designers Leah Rhodes, Marjorie Best (uncredited) and William (Billy) Travilla. The costumes that express authenticity, especially of delectable Viveca Lindfors, are befittingly designed, the influence of which is evident in the costumes worn by Sophia Loren in “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. The black band around Flynn’s head during the final scenes conjures up the flair and grace of Douglas Fairbanks. The film would win the Academy Award for Costume Design. Dress designer Billy Travilla (1920-90) was an employ of Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 43 before he was brought to Warner Brothers by actress Ann Sheridan, where his first work is for this movie. He would later become famous for his dresses designed for Marilyn Monroe one of which is the snow white ivory halterneck cocktail dress blowing in the breeze in Monroe’s “The Seven Year Itch”.

 

Perc Westmore who handled the make-up for this movie is the son of George Westmore, the head of the famous family of Hollywood make-up artists who had earned their reputation during a period when none of today’s popular creams like Diors’ “Capture Totale”, or Lancôme’s “Génifique” to name a few, were available.

The enthralling dueling sequences were staged with a tongue-in-cheek approach by the team of Assistant Director Richard Mayberry, Fencing Master Fred Cavens and special-effects men William McGann and John Crouse blended together by maestro Sherman by casting doubles. The duel scenes in the dungeon, in the halls of the palace and on the grand staircase were aptly staged, even though Don Juan’s spectacular leap from the stairs during the duel was performed by Jock Mahoney (1919-89), the only stuntman who was willing to do that dangerous stunt and was paid S1,000 for it.

 

The film is laced with the romantic and richly melodious score of Austrian composer Max Steiner (Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner – 1888-1971) with orchestrations by Murray Cutter. One of Hollywood’s most prolific film score writers, Steiner had provided music for “Gone With the Wind”, “Casablanca”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Jazz Singer”, to name a few. It was Max Steiner who first came up with the potentiality of scoring films with original compositions, convincing the producers about the important role music can play in conveying the mood, character and pace of a film. Originally, fellow Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was assigned to score for “Adventures of Don Juan” but was reassigned to Steiner since Korngold had left Warner Brothers by the time the filming was wrapped up.

To provide score for an action film like this is a complicated art requiring tremendous skill in precision timing which Steiner has fulfilled by providing the most enjoyable accompaniment to the pageantry and stylish scenes of the movie.

 

To promote the movie, Warner Brothers even reissued “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk” in America which performed very well in spite that they lacked Technicolor photography. Though “Adventures of Don Juan” did thriving business in Europe, it put up only a reasonable success in the U.S box office – a clear indication that Flynn’s golden days were not going to have resurgence and this expensive, but generally entertaining swashbuckler would be Flynn’s last big-budget extravaganza.

Every movie leaves something to the imagination. “Adventures of Don Juan” has a safe corner in the memory as a film created with the involvement of great talents who had impeccably crafted wonderful sets, high-end action scenes, colorful period costumes, a harmony of melodious, rousing score dominated by violins, trumpets, and drums – all that and more…

Take your pleasures where you can. The curious are urged not to miss it. Ciao, Jo.

(PS: The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 14: The Million Pound Note

(Aka: “Man with A Million”, “Big Money”, “L’homme aux million”, “El millonario”, “Il forestiero”, “Sein größter Bluff – Colour – 1954) 

A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager”, wrote Jules Verne in “Around the World in Eighty Days”. This brings to my mind the high-profile bet the Virgin boss, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson made with Tony Fernandes, the group chief executive of Air Asia. By way of passing, I also remember a wager struck up between a couple of my friends during their recent shopping spree at an upper-class boutique in Madrid, when they came across a middle-aged Indian lady admiring the bridal gowns par excellence by prestigious wedding dresses designers displayed there. As for the subject of their bet, one maintained that the lady is looking for a wedding gown for her daughter while the other one heldthat it is for herself. Mind you, as it turned out, none of them were right. The salesman known to them from previous visits later told them that while seeing her off at the door, he had courteously complemented her that he is sure the bridal gown she just purchased would be lovely for her daughter.  Right away, she had given him a baffled look and retorted: “For my daughter?! This is for me to wear at a high society party back in Bombay!” That said, she walked out in a huff.

It is not hard to make a decision when you are firm in your belief as to its objective. Apparently, it is Victoria Beckham’s belief in her sense of style that earned her the Womenswear Designer of the Year award at the 2012 WGSN Global Fashion Awards. Quite similarly, the success in a wager is related to the belief in the standpoint of the bettor. However, to play safe from gamble, a better way to triple the money is to fold it thrice and stash it inside the wallet.

Today I am writing about a wager set by two Englishmen which is the theme of British director Ronald Neame’s “The Million Pound Note”, a film which is rated in a guide as “Witty, intelligent and charming”. Assessing the four main elements of movie making – script, acting, cinematography and editing, I have no reason at all to disagree to this rating.

The Million Pound Note” was released in the United Kingdom in January 1954. This Ronald Neame and John Bryan production was produced at Pinewood Studios in England in 1953 when the film industry and exhibitors were striving to curb the menace and progress of television against box office. It was during this year that 20th Century Fox released their initial CinemaScope film, “The Robe” and also when drive-in theatres sprang up across America. The year saw the release of “Bwana Devil”, the first film on Polaroid’s dual projector 3D system, the precursor to 3-D or three dimensional films. A string of high quality movies hit the screen during 1953: “Julius Caesar”, “Stalag 17”, “From Here to Eternity”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday”, catapulting its leading star Gregory Peck to greater heights.

The tall, principled and handsome Gregory Peck was 37 years old when he was cast in the role of Henry Adam which was perfected for him. It is a jolly good treat to watch Peck’s unpretentious seaman going through the experiences goaded by a million pound note as he gained wisdom from the fascination it created in the London society. Born Eldred Gregory Peck, he had attended Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York where performers like Grace Kelly, Geraldine Page, Steve McQueen, et al had attended, following which Peck performed on stage till the early 1940s. Actor Eli Wallach remembers him as “tall, slim, almost regal and very shy”, while his contemporary Karl Malden in his memoirs sums up Peck’s days as a stage actor as: “I knew right away that he was going to be a big star. He had a resonant voice and a winning, relaxed manner on stage.”

Peck’s opportunity came when Hollywood was experiencing the absence of romantic leading men due to the war, debuting with 1944’s “Days of Glory”. Having become an instant star with “The Keys of the Kingdom”, Peck was rated as a downright decent leading man. He had worked with Hollywood legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, William Wyler, Elia Kazan, etc, though some of his best films were under the direction of Henry King. His considerable charm had been put to effective use in comedies such as Stanley Donan’s “Arabesque” or Vincente Minelli’s “Designing Woman”, but Peck is least interesting when he is portraying straightforward integrity. Ever the gentleman, Peck was a “straight arrow, who took the job of acting seriously and analytically.” While acting, he maintained that anyone standing around in his eye line had to be moved off out of the way.

Esteemed as one of the great screen actors with a string of outstanding performances in movies, Peck went on to win five Academy Award nominations and won the Best actor Oscar in 1963 for his performance as the courageous small-town lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. He was also awarded with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

He would become the first actor-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for three years from 1967 to 1970, a period known for his efforts to rejuvenate the organization and its image by trying to bring in younger stars into its membership.

In 1953 when the pre-production work on “The Million Pound Note” was about to begin, Gregory Peck was in Italy acting in “Roman Holiday”. He was also going through a patch of despair due to separation from his Finnish wife Greta Kukkonen (née Eine Matilda Kukkonen), which was soon reversed when he fell in love with Paris-born journalist Veronique Passani, whom he met when she interviewed him for the French daily newspaper France Soir. Peck would marry her soon after his divorce from Kukkonen in 1955.

The Million Pound Note” starts with a display of the company logo of J Arthur Rank Organisation of a golden gong being struck by the gong man’s familiar slow-motion swing of arms. The man you see there is the English heavyweight boxer, Bombardier William “Billy” Thomas Wells, the first of Rank’s gong men. The credits are shown with melodious classical music with stirring effectiveness and snippets from instrumental version of the patriotic British song “Rule Britannia”.

According to the narration at the beginning of the movie, the story starts at a time when Britain was very rich, and deep in the vaults of England there was more gold than anywhere else in the world. Safe, people used to say, safe as the Bank of England. In this time, there lived two elderly and superbly wealthy brothers named Oliver and Roderick Montpelier at their grand mansion at Belgrave Square. Being a bit oddball in nature, they entertained different opinions regarding people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth. Having decided to play a wager to prove this, the brothers acquired a single currency note for a million pounds issued on June 20, 1903 by the Bank ofEngland.

Oliver Montpelier thought that the note felt good and maintained that such is people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth that by merely possessing this scrap of paper, without ever cashing it, you could have everything you wanted. On the contrary, Roderick found the note quite unique, an exquisite thing of beauty and believed that it would be quite useless if you were denied the right to cash it.

For now, we are introduced to the leading character of the movie, a penniless and friendless young seaman named Henry Adams from New England who was stranded in London. He was at his wit’s end for having failed in his efforts to find a job. As a last resort, he had even approached the Consulate of the United States of America where he encountered a display board which discouraged American citizens from approaching the Consulate for monetary help:

“This Consulate is not provided with funds by the U.S Government

for the assistance of needy Americans in London”

 

It was when he was trying to pick up a discarded pear from the pavement that he was invited by the two brothers to their mansion. Though Adam was expecting to find work from them, he was given a letter in a sealed envelope informing him that everything will be explained once he opened the envelope at two o’clock, exactly one hour and ten minutes from then.

 

On the strength of the assumed fortune in the envelope, Adam went into a decent restaurant and ordered a wonderful, long over due meal which explains the bill:

“Ham, eggs, steak, potatoes, beans, carrots, twice.

Trifle, cheese, coffee, two quarts of ale. Three and ten pence.”

On the threshold of being thrown out of the restaurant for non-payment of the bill, the envelope was opened to discover the note of the enormous value of One Million Pounds! The instant transformation in the attitude of all those around him owing to the gargantuan value of the note was evidently amusing.

 

Taken for an eccentric millionaire, the red carpet was rolled out for him. He is most welcome to come in anytime he wanted, and to have whatever he wanted. As for his present bill, he doesn’t need to pay it – just forget it, it’s of no consequence at all.

Upon rushing back to the mansion of the brothers to return the note, Adam learned from James, the butler that the brothers were unavailable, having gone abroad for a month. At this point, sitting on the stairs to collect his thoughts, he learned from the letter in the envelope that:

As his mind brooded over the contents of the letter, the note accidently flew off his fingers, the retrieval of which creates a series of funny sequences. In a while, the note again does the grand-work for him at the tailoring shop of Jonathan Reid who, upon seeing the note, takes it as their pride and glory to see His Eminence properly attired for the season.

 

From here, Adam is referred to as an admiral of the seas to the prestigious Hotel Bumbles, the very place to stay – quiet, modest and discretion itself. Having gone through further complications on arrival at the hotel, and after a good deal of Yes-my-lord-ing and Very-good-my-lord-ing, Adam was elegantly accommodated in the Bridal Suite after the current occupant, the Duke of Frognal, was instantly chucked out.

 

With his social status realigned, Adam started to move in exclusive social circles of the British aristocracy aided by the American Ambassador. This provided him with the opportunity to meet lovely Portia Lansdowne, niece of the toothy Duchess of Cromarty to whose reception at her Hampshire House he was invited to attend.

 

Some people will tell the world anything they know about everything. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Given that the sugar-coated rumour mills started to roll about his mere acquaintance with Lord Lloyd Hastings, the shares of Hasting’s company shoot up – a rather happy moment at the Stock Exchange.

Whilst Adam was all set to soar and score, things unfortunately started to look pretty foul when the Duke of Frognal pulls a prank and hides the note with the help of Renie, the hotel chambermaid. It was a wake up call for Adam. As Adam started to scale down the heights he had climbed, it began to dawn on him that he would have to actually spend the money if he wishes to live like a Lord….

 

Produced by Ronald Neame and British production designer turned producer John Bryan, the film features an array of British crew and technicians though a good number of the casts are not credited. The screenplay founded on an updated version of a short story by Mark Twain called “The Million Pound Bank Note” is by expert British documentary director and writer (Noreen) Jill Craigie.

The characters of the two brothers being integral to the structure of the film are joyously portrayed by two brilliant British actors. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, jovial Ronald Squire from the Liverpool Repertory Theatre had acted in many light comedy roles before he appeared in the role of Oliver Montpelier. Wilfrid Hyde-White’s role as Roderick Montpelier, marks one of the various comedies he made before shifting to America in the 1960s. An impeccable character actor of stage and screen who had often acted opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and is best remembered for his role as Col. Hugh Pickering in George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964) in which he sets up a wager with Prof. Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) challenging him to transform flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) into a lady.

Joyce Grenfell (born Joyce Irene Phipps) who portrays the Duchess of Cromarty was initially a radio critic columnist who went on to debut on the London stage before she made entertaining the troops her principal work during World War II, a period which she described as “The Time of My Life*. After the war Joyce, along with Viola Tunnard, her accompanist who was a gifted musician and able pianist, went for one more tour to “Re-Joyce” the troops, starting at Benghazi in December 1952 and finishing off in Malta by January 1953. Following this, she acted in a movie called “Genevieve” before her appearance in “The Million Pound Note”, which her mother approved since she was appalled of the number of unattractive characters her daughter played in films.

A.E. (Matty) Matthews in the role of the hard hit Duke of Frognal who repeats his title as a form of bragging about his “wealth” but is a lot poorer is perfectly cast. Matthews is popular for a crack he once made, “I always wait for “The Times” each morning. I look at the obituary column, and if I’m not in it, I go to work”. The film also stars Wilbur Evans (American Ambassador), Jane (Mary) Griffiths (Portia Lansdowne), bald-headed American actor Hartley Power (Lord Lloyd Hastings), Maurice Denham (Jonathan Reid), Reginald Beckwith (Rock), Brian Oulton (Lloyd), John Slater (Parsons), Hugh Wakefield (in his last role, Duke of Cromarty), Bryan Forbes (Todd), George Devine (Chop house/Restaurant proprietor), Hugh Griffith (Potter), etc.

 

The music is provided by prolific post-Romantic English composer William Alwyn and conducted by the Scottish conductor/composer (James) Muir Mathieson. Once a professor (from 1926 to 1955) at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Alwyn had progressed from scores for World War II documentary films  for the British Ministry of Information to scores for feature movies such as “Svengali”, “Zarak”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, etc. He has decorated the movie with classic symphonies; music that is both melodic and eminently accessible. At times, his tunes are both subtle and profound, dominated by violin notes, atmospheric waltzes, snippets from popular British music and he even used bits from the Yankee Doodle.

 

One of the greatest of British cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth is a recipient of an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire), and winner of two Oscars, among others. Unsworth has done a wonderful workmanlike job here, assisted by camera operator Jim Bawden. With a long string of superb films behind him, among them “A Night to Remember” (1958), “Cabaret” (1972), “Superman” (1978), etc, he died of a heart attack at the age of 64 on the set of Roman Polanski’s “Tess” (1979).

Production designer Jack Maxsted (“The Adventurers”, “Diamonds are Forever”, etc) together with John (Allan Hyatt) Box did the Art Direction for the film. Though Box’s career got an upshot with David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), he was known for recreating exotic locations in unlikely places. He had effectively constructed Chinese city walls in Wales for “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (1958) when the unit was denied permission to shoot in China. When a Russian country house in snowy landscape had to be replicated in Spain for “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), he would accomplish that by using white plastic sheets and marble dust. (For references on John Box and William Alwyn, you may read my review of August 23: “StarChoice 9: Zarak”)

The Costume design is by Margaret Furse, the Academy Award Winner for Best Costume for “Anne of the Thousand Days” who also did costumes for “Oliver Twist”, “The Crimson Pirate”, “Mary, Queen of Scots”, etc. If one looks closely at Furse’s costumes in the movie, we can find out how the small details which would normally go unnoticed make an impact on the overall effect in the frames.

Make up and Hair styles are done by George Blackler and Biddy Chrystal respectively. Blackler had headed the make-up department for “Black Narcissus”, “Operation Crossbow”, “Dracula A.D. 1972”, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”, etc; while the renowned hairstylist Chrystal (aka. Eileen Chrystal) has enough feathers to line her nest for having worked on movies such as “The Sword and the Rose”, “Sword of Lancelot”, “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, “11 Harrowhouse”, etc. While the set dressing is by Dario Simoni, editor Clive (Stanley) Donner cuts it all together.

As for director Ronald Neame, he was born in 1911 in London to beautiful silent film actress Ivy Close, Neame was the producer of British filmmaker David Lean’s (1908-1991) early British films “Great Expectations” (1946), and “Oliver Twist” (1948). Like director George Stevens, Victor Fleming, Phil Rosen, he was an outstanding cinematographer, before becoming an expert director at light, frothy comedies. Although Neame was uncredited, he was an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” (1929), the first sound-on-film British talkie.

As in every movie, there is a price dictated by the subject matter, the content and the showmanship values. “The Million Pound Note” is a fairly pleasing comedy which aptly displays the Edwardian atmosphere, flavour and local colour of England. You could see the muffin seller walking down the street, the family picnic on the green grass, uniformed school children lined up for outing, etc.

 

With a witty, well-written screenplay by expert writer Jill Craigie, Neame didn’t have to run to the hull every other minute to check for leaks. The meal at the restaurant leading to the discovery of the note is beautifully staged and ably photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth while Alwyn’s pleasant music flutters all around it. Another amusing scene is the incident at Jonathan Reid’s tailor shop.

 

The scenes of Portia Lansdowne which ends with a pop at matrimony, provides the emotional quotient. In all fairness, the movie is nicely ornamented and acted under the graceful direction of Ronald Neame. Being a comedy, everything works out happily though the movie will set us thinking about the extraordinary way some people’s attitudes change by the symbol of wealth and also why some regard the rich as superior to the poor. “The Million Pound Note” is a classic comedy which can be watched by the whole family.

 

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

Lovely Blogger Award!

I have been nominated for the One Lovely Blog award by thehesoproject.wordpress.com – a beautiful blog where you can discover the world as seen by a keen eye and written them out with the inner beauty, wisdom and knowledge of a creative writer. Check it out!

The rules for this award are:

1. Thank and link back to the person that nominated you… thanks again to

thehesoproject.wordpress.com

2   Post the award picture in your post.

3.  Tell 7 things about yourself (I have taken the liberty to mention 10):

  • My passion is knowledge – reading, writing, music, movies and every day life assist me in the pursuit of knowledge.
  • I am self-conscious and hopelessly romantic.
  • I dislike when they call this State “God’s Country”, a phrase which I consider is disrespect to God.
  • I would love to have a dog – but couldn’t due to reasons stated in my blog of Oct 5: “Travel All-Inclusive: Tails of Affection”.
  • I adore the genius of Michelangelo.
  • I would like to travel more. It’s important to me.
  • Is it possible for me to own a home in London or Madrid? I would love that.
  • I think about my mistakes.
  • I still believe anything is possible if you believe in yourself.
  • The goodness of a person spreads in all direction. I would like to be kind whenever possible because it is always possible if you try.

4.  Nominate 10 other bloggers and notify them of the nomination. (You are supposed to nominate 15 bloggers. But I have limited this to 9 since I have not read that many blogs yet)

Here is my diverse list of nominations.  All are great sites and are worth a visit so check them out.

http://weinstein365.wordpress.com

http://elizabethre.wordpress.com/

http://thewhyaboutthis.com/

http://anyone4curryandotherthings.com/

http://faestwistandtango.wordpress.com/

http://lizziejoysphotosuite.com/

http://briefhiatus.wordpress.com/

http://furrylittlegnome.wordpress.com/

http://abcofspiritalk.wordpress.com/