Thursday, 17 March 2016

Blue (1968)

Blue/Azul (Terence Stamp) has been raised by Mexican bandits after the murder of his parents when he was five years old. The bandit leader raises him as one of his own and Blue takes part in their murdering and pillaging. When the bandits decide to raid a town on the American side of the river Blue is confronted by his past. After rescuing the daughter of the local doctor from one of the bandits, Blue is taken in by them, and tries to renounce his past.

Upon it's release Blue was panned by the critics, and most hold the same view today, and I really do not understand why! I loved it!

Like most films made in the mid 60s Blue is something of a revisionist Western. It has a darker thread running through it than the majority of Westerns, and has more complex characters, Blue is definitely an anti-hero, who goes through a complex redemption during the course of the film. It is also grittier and more realistic than some Westerns (for example, the injured tend to be really injured and are unable to go on fighting spectacularly!).

Directed by Silvio Narizzano and with a cast that includes Karl Malden and Joanna Pettet Blue is a thought provoking film. Visually it is quite beautiful, although alas my dodgy screen caps don't really do it justice!

Pettet's character, Joanne, is a major catalyst not just for the general plot line, but also for Blue himself. As a character she breaks down some of the traditional boundaries put on women in Western films. She is strong, caring, forgiving, and with a great sense of justice. She is able to look past what other people see and find good. 
Blue is generally silent, his actions speak louder than his words. Stamp doesn't speak until about 40 minutes into the film but his face portrays his thoughts. As he is further confronted by the settlers way of life Blue begins to remember things. The scene in which he bashes away at the piano is the first moment he lets his guard down and it becomes evident that there is something more to him than just a lawless bandit. Upon his initial arrival at the farm he is almost mute, and it is hard to know if this is through spite, or because he simply finds it hard to speak his thoughts. After all he speaks little with the bandits. When he wishes to stay with Joanne and her father, he is unable to tell them, he simply begins ploughing their field, and Joanne comes to the realisation that this is his way of talking. As he and Joanne fall for each other, he opens up more, he reveals his past and it becomes evident that the death's of his parents still impact him. And there seems to be a lost element to Blue, one that belongs neither to the settlers or the Mexicans, after all he admits that Blue is not even his real name, and it remains unknown if he remembers his real name or not. In his final confrontations with his bandit father, and even through his love for Joanne, Blue is constantly torn between the two warring parts of himself, the past and the present, and throughout the film he is in a constant struggle between wanting to change and believing he is not able to change. I thought Stamp did a wonderful job of portraying Blue, roguish and tender at the same time. 
Blue is an underrated gem of a film and I wish more people could appreciate it! 


Monday, 14 March 2016

Hello, Dolly! (1969)

Dolly Levi (Barbra Streisand) is a widow who spends her time 'arranging things', mainly marriages. Whilst helping bachelor Horace Vandergelder (Walter Matthau) find a wife Dolly finds herself falling for him herself. Along the way she meddles in the lives of Horace's niece, Ermengarde, her boyfriend, Horace's two shop keepers, Cornelius and Barnaby, and two hat makers Irene and Minne.

Hello, Dolly! was directed by Gene Kelly and so it should come as no surprise that the dancing in the film is superb. I enjoyed it even more than the singing, although Streisand is wonderful. The film was based on the Broadway production of the same name. The film was nominated for seven academy awards and won three.

With a colourful cast including Michael Crawford, Danny Lockin, Marianne McAndrew, Joyce Ames and E.J. Peaker, Hello, Dolly! is a fun, joyful romp through New York. Whilst it is not the greatest musical in the world it is enjoyable and Streisand brings a fast paced life to the character of Dolly.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

The Birds (1963)

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) arrives in Bodega Bay in an attempt to woe Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a handsome bachelor she met by chance the day before. When she arrives in town she is inexplicably attacked by a seagull. As the days follow more and more bird attacks begin to happen. All sorts of birds, gulls, sparrows and crows begin attacking en mass, even killing two citizens.

I guess it's pretty shameful that I have never seen The Birds until now! But it certainly lived up to its reputation; it is terrifying! I'm not sure I'll ever look at a bird the same way again! Ha! Watching this film you can certainly see how Hitchcock got his nickname, 'the master of suspense'. Despite the frightening subject matter, it is still a very enjoyable film (its a bit like Jaws in that regard). The film also stars Jessica Tandy and Veronica Cartwright, as Mitch's mother and sister respectively.

The films strength lies in its ability to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary, and then by not explaining the extraordinary. Why are the birds attacking? There is no answer. And why do the attacks only begin when Daniel's arrives in town? Is she connected, as some suggest? Again, there is no answer, the audience is left to form their own views.

The film was loosely based on a novelette by Daphne du Maurier. The original tale was seen as a metaphor for the Blitz during World War Two. Hitchcock however had his screenplay changed so it involved a more elaborate plot and different characters.
Shooting of the film was not without problems. The Birds was Hedren's film debut, and Hitchcock was hoping to groom her into his next Grace Kelly. Unfortunately his behaviour became more and more obsessive and during the filming of the final sequence he had the bird handlers throw real birds at her instead of the mechanical ones she had been expecting. Hedren was terrified and was ordered by her doctor to have several days of bed rest to recover.

So watch out for those birds! You never know what they may be planning!