“TITANIC” (1953) Review

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“TITANIC” (1953) Review

As many moviegoers know, there have been numerous film and television productions about the maiden voyage and sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 1912. The most famous production happens to be James Cameron’s 1997 Oscar winning opus. However, I do wonder if there are any fans who are aware that another Titanic movie managed to strike Oscar gold.

Directed by Jean Negulesco, the 1953 movie “TITANIC” focused on the personal lives of a wealthy American family torn asunder by marital strife, a deep secret and the historic sinking of the Titanic. Family matriarch Mrs. Julia Sturges and her two children, 17 year-old Annette and 10 year-old Norman board the R.M.S. Titanic in Cherbourg, France. Julia hopes to remove her children from the influence of a privileged European lifestyle embraced by her husband Richard and raise them in her hometown of Mackinac, Michigan. Unfortunately, Richard gets wind of their departure and manages to board the Titanic at the last moment by purchasing a steerage ticket from a Basque immigrant and intercept his family. The Sturges family also meet other passengers aboard ship:

*20 year-old Purdue University tennis player Gifford Rogers, who falls for Annette
*the wealthy middle-aged Maude Young (based upon Molly Brown)
*a social-climbing snob named Earl Meeker
*a priest named George S. Healey, who has been defrocked for alcoholism
*American businessman John Jacob Astor IV and his second wife Madeleine

Julia and Richard clash over the future of their children during the voyage. Their conflict is reinforced by Annette’s budding romance with college student Gifford Rogers and a dark secret revealed by Julia. But the couple’s conflict eventually takes a back seat after the Titanic strikes an iceberg during the last hour of April 14, 1912.

There seemed to be a habit among moviegoers lately to judge historical dramas more on their historical accuracy than on the story. As a history buff, I can understand this penchant. But I am also a fan of fiction – especially historical fiction. And I learned a long time ago that when writing a historical drama, one has to consider the story and the character over historical accuracy. If the latter gets in the way of the story . . . toss it aside. It is apparent that screenwriters Charles Brackett (who also served as producer), Richard L. Breen and Walter Reisch did just that when they created the screenplay for “TITANIC”. Any history buff about the famous White Star liner’s sinking would be appalled at the amount of historical accuracy in this movie. However, I feel that many lovers of period drama would be more than satisfied with “TITANIC”, thanks to a well-written personal story and top-notch direction by Jean Negulesco.

Superficially, “TITANIC” is a melodrama about the disintegration of a late 19th century/early 20th century marriage. The marital discord between Julia and Richard Sturges is filled with personality clashes, class warfare, disappointment and betrayal. And actors Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb did their very best to make the clash of wills between husband and wife fascinating and in the end . . . poignant. One of the movie’s best scenes featured a confession from one spouse about a past discretion. I am not claiming that the scene was particularly original. But I cannot deny that thanks to the stellar performances from Stanwyck and Webb, I believe it was one of the best moments of melodrama I have ever seen on screen . . . period. But their final scene together, during the Titanic’s sinking, turned out to be one of the most poignant for me. And by the way, fans of the 1997 movie would not be hard pressed to recognize one of Webb’s lines in the film . . . a line that also ended up in Cameron’s movie.

“TITANIC” featured other subplots that allowed the supporting cast to shine. Audrey Dalton portrayed Julia and Richard’s oldest offspring, the beautiful 17 year-old Annette, who had become enamored of her father’s penchant for European high society. Dalton did an excellent job of slowly transforming Annette from the shallow socialite wannabe to the shy and naturally charming young woman who has become more interested in enjoying her youth. And the character’s transformation came about from her budding friendship and romance with the gregarious Gifford Rogers. Robert Wagner seemed a far cry from the sophisticated man that both moviegoers and television viewers have come to know. His Gifford is young, friendly and open-hearted. Wagner made it easier for moviegoers to see why Annette fell for him and Julia found him likeable. However, I was not that enthusiastic about his singing. Harper Carter did an excellent job of holding his own against the likes of Stanwyck, Webb and Dalton as the Sturges’ son Norman. In fact, I found him very believable as the 10 year-old boy eager to maintain his father’s interest without accepting the snobbery that marked Annette’s personality. Perhaps he was simply too young.

The movie’s screenplay also featured a subplot involving a young priest named George Healey, who dreaded his return to the U.S. and facing his family with the shameful news of his defrocking. Thanks to Richard Basehart’s subtle, yet sardonic performance, I found myself feeling sympathetic toward his plight, instead of disgusted by his alcoholism. Thelma Ritter gave her usual top-notch performance as the sarcastic noveau riche Maude Young. Allyn Joslyn was amusing as the social-climbing card shark, Earl Meeker. And Brian Aherne’s portrayal of the Titanic’s doomed captain, was not only subtle, but he also kept the character from wallowing into some kind of second-rate nobility that usually makes my teeth hurt.

For a movie that did not have James Cameron’s advantages of creating the technical effects of the 1997 movie, “TITANIC” proved to be an attractive looking movie. Production manager Joseph C. Behm and his team did a solid job of re-creating life aboard an ocean liner, circa 1912. Behm was also assisted by costume designer Dorothy Jeakins, Don B. Greenwood’s art department, Maurice Ransford and Oscar winner Lyle R. Wheeler’s art directions, and Stuart A. Reiss’ set decorations. Although the movie did not feature an accurate re-creation of the Titanic’s sinking, I have to admit that visually, the special effects created by a team team led by Ray Kellogg were very impressive, especially for 1953. They were ably assisted Joseph MacDonald’s black-and-white photography and Louis R. Loeffler’s editing.

Earlier in this review, I pointed out that James Cameron’s 1997 film was not the only one about the Titanic that struck Oscar gold. Although “TITANIC” did not win eleven Academy Awards, it was nominated for two Oscars and won a single one – namely a Best Original Screenplay award for Brackett, Breen and Reisch. But despite an award winning script, a superb cast led by Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb and a first-rate production team, “TITANIC” still could have ended in disaster. But it had the good luck to have an excellent director like Jean Negulesco at the helm.

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Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1910s

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Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1910s:

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1910s

1-Mary Poppins

1. “Mary Poppins” (1964) – Walt Disney personally produced this Oscar winning musical adaptation of P.L. Travers’ book series about a magical nanny who helps change the lives of a Edwardian family. Directed by Robert Stevenson, the movie starred Oscar winner Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke.

2-Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

2. “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines” (1965) – Ken Annakin directed this all-star comedy about a 1910 air race from London to Paris, sponsored by a newspaper magnate. Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox and Terry-Thomas starred.

3-Titanic

3. “Titanic” (1953) – Barbara Stanwyck and Clifton Webb starred in this melodrama about an estranged couple and their children sailing on the maiden voyage of the R.M.S. Titanic. Jean Negulesco directed.

4-Eight Men Out

4. “Eight Men Out” (1988) – John Sayles wrote and directed this account of Black Sox scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to intentionally lose the 1919 World Series. John Cusack, David Strathairn and D.B. Sweeney starred.

5-A Night to Remember

5. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this adaptation of Walter Lord’s book about the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Kenneth More starred.

6-The Shooting Party

6. “The Shooting Party” (1985) – Alan Bridges directed this adaptation of Isabel Colegate’s 1981 novel about a group of British aristocrats who have gathered for a shooting party on the eve of World War I. James Mason, Edward Fox, Dorothy Tutin and John Gielgud starred.

7-The Music Man

7. “The Music Man” (1962) – Robert Preston and Shirley Jones starred in this film adaptation of Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway musical about a con man scamming a small Midwestern town into providing money for a marching band. Morton DaCosta directed.

8-My Fair Lady

8. “My Fair Lady” (1964) – Oscar winner George Cukor directed this Best Picture winner and adaptation of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Lowe’s 1956 Broadway musical about an Edwardian phonetics professor who sets out to transform a Cockney flower girl into a respected young lady to win a bet. Audrey Hepburn and Oscar winner Rex Harrison starred.

9-Paths of Glory

9. “Paths of Glory” (1957) – Stanley Kubrick directed this adaptation of Humphrey Cobb’s anti-war novel about a French Army officer who defends three soldiers who refused to participate in a suicidal attack during World War I. Kirk Douglas, Ralph Meeker, Adolphe Menjou and George Macready starred.

10-Somewhere in Time

10. “Somewhere in Time” (1980) – Jeannot Szwarc directed this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1975 time travel novel called “Bid Time Return”. Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer starred.

Top Ten (10) Favorite Disaster Films

Recently, director James Cameron re-released his 1997 blockbuster “TITANIC” in remembrance of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of R.M.S. Titanic. Because it is a disaster movie, I decided to post my favorite disaster films in the list below: 

 

TOP TEN (10) FAVORITE DISASTER FILMS

1. “2012” (2009) – After a second viewing of Roland Emmerich’s movie about a possible apocalyptic disaster, which is based loosely on the 2012 phenomenon, I realized that it has become a favorite of mine. John Cusak, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Thomas McCarthy, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson starred.

 

2. “The Day After Tomorrow” (2004) – Roland Emmerich also directed this film about catastrophic effects of both global warming and global cooling in a series of extreme weather events that usher in a new ice age. Another personal favorite of mine, it starred Dennis Quaid, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum, Sela Ward and Ian Holm.

 

3. “Battle: Los Angeles” (2011) – Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez starred in this exciting movie about the experiences of a U.S. Marine platoon battling invading aliens in Los Angeles. Jonathan Liebsman directed.

4. “A Night to Remember” (1958) – Roy Ward Baker directed this Golden Globe award winning adaptation of Walter Lord’s book of the same name about the sinking of the Titanic. As far as I am concerned, this is probably the best cinematic version of that particular event. Kenneth More, David McCullum, Ronald Allen and Honor Blackman co-starred.

5. “Titanic” (1953) – This is my second favorite movie about the Titanic and it centered around an estranged couple sailing on the ship’s maiden voyage in April 1912. Great drama! Directed by Jean Negulesco, the movie starred Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, Robert Wagner, Audrey Dalton, Thelma Ritter, Richard Basehart and Brian Aherne.

 

 

6. “Independence Day” (1996) – Produced by Dean Devlin and directed by Roland Emmerich, this movie is about a disaster of a science-fiction nature, as it depicts a hostile alien invasion of Earth, and its effects upon a disparate group of individuals and families. The movie starred Will Smith, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Vivica A. Fox, Randy Quaid, Margaret Colin, Judd Hirsch and Robert Loggia.

 

7. “Titanic” (1997) – James Cameron directed this latest version of the Titanic sinking that won eleven (11) AcademyAwards, including Best Picture. Centered around an ill-fated love story, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Oscar nominee Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Frances Fisher, Bill Paxton, Kathy Bates and Oscar nominee Gloria Stuart.

 

8. “In Old Chicago” (1937) – Based on the Niven Busch story, “We the O’Learys”, the movie is a fictionalized account about political corruption and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Directed by Henry King, the movie starred Tyrone Power, Alice Faye, Don Ameche and Oscar winner Alice Brady.

 

9. “Outbreak” (1995) – Wolfgang Petersen directed this tale about the outbreak of a fictional Ebola-like virus called Motaba at a town in Northern California, and how far the military and civilian agencies might go to contain the spread. Dustin Hoffman, Rene Russo, Morgan Freeman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Kevin Spacey and Donald Sutherland.

 

10. “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972) – Based on a novel by Paul Gallico, the movie centered around the capsizing of a luxurious ocean liner by a tsunami caused by an under sea earthquake; and the desperate struggles of a handful of survivors to journey up to the bottom of the hull of the liner before it sinks. Ronald Neame directed a cast that included Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Oscar nominee Shelley Winters, Carol Lynley and Frank Albertson.

As a treat, here is a video clip featuring scenes from recent, well-known disaster movies.

“LAURA” (1944) Review

 

“LAURA” (1944) Review

When I had first saw the 1944 murder mystery, “LAURA”, I felt inclined to read the 1943 Vera Caspary novel it was based upon. Needless to say, Caspary’s novel seemed adequate. But I found myself preferring Otto Preminger’s film adaptation a lot more. 

Surprisingly, Preminger had not been the first choice as the movie’s director. Producer William Goetz, acting as 20th Century Fox’s studio head in Darryl Zanuck’s absence, allowed Preminger to act as the film’s unit producer. When Zanuck returned to the studio, he expressed a lukewarm attitude toward the project. And he DID NOT want Preminger to act as the film’s director. Instead, Rouben Mamoulian was hired as the director. The latter proved to be a bust. Mamoulian wanted Laird Cregar, instead of Clifton Webb in the role of columnist Waldo Lyedecker. Nor did he seem to be utilizing the cast very well. In the end, Preminger convinced Zanuck and Goetz to allow him to direct the film. And the rest, as one would say, is history.

“LAURA” centered on the brutal murder of a Manhattan advertising executive named Laura Hunt. Assigned to the case, police detective Mark McPherson interviewed those close to her. They included Laura’s mentor and newspaper columnist Waldo Lyedecker; her Kentucky-born fiancé, Shelby Carpenter; Laura’s socialite aunt Ann Tredwell; and her maid, Bessie Clary. Via flashbacks and McPherson’s interviews, moviegoers learned that Laura was a warm and kind-hearted woman that also happened to be a talented advertising executive. Moviegoers also learned through her relationships with men like Waldo, Shelby and an artist named Jacoby, Laura had lousy tastes in men and friends. Everything changed when Laura appeared at her Manhattan apartment following a prolonged weekend in the country . . . very much alive. The murdered woman proved to be a model that bored a strong resemblance to Laura named Diane Redfern. And since the latter was having an affair with Shelby Carpenter, Laura became a murder suspect.

Most people would be inclined to believe that the literary source is superior to any film adaptation. I have read Caspary’s novel only once. And quite frankly, it failed to blow my mind, let alone impress me. Yet, the movie has managed to blow my mind or move every time I see it. Thanks to Preminger’s direction and the screenplay written by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt; “LAURA” turned out to be a well-written mystery filled with sharp wit and a memorable plot twist. The movie could also boast some fascinating characters that were shadowed by their personal demons. Even the nearly perfect Laura seemed hampered by a particular flaw – namely bad taste in male companionship. I also have to give kudos to Preminger for injecting a rich atmosphere in a movie dominated by interior shots. “LAURA”could have easily spiraled into a filmed play without Preminger’s direction and cinematographer Joseph LaShelle’s photography. No one cannot even think about the movie without considering David Raskin’s score. Which is deservedly considered to be one of the best in Hollywood’s history. I have nothing against Duke Ellington and his famous piece,“Sophisticated Lady”. But I must admit that I am glad that Raskin convinced Preminger to allow him to write his own score, instead of using Ellington’s music for the movie. “LAURA” must also be one of those rare crime movies – even for those from the 1930s and 40s – that lacked any real action, save for the movie’s last explosive scene that I find haunting, even to this day.

One would be inclined to assume that I view this movie as perfect. Well, that person would be wrong. Although I consider“LAURA” to be well paced, it did threaten to drag in the minutes leading toward Laura’s so-called resurrection. Only a conversation between Lyedecker and McPherson over the latter’s “obsession with a corpse” prevented me from falling asleep. As I had stated earlier, the Laura Hunt character did seem a bit too perfect at times. Which brings me to the character of Bessie Clary, Laura’s maid. I have no problems with a movie servant being competent or profession . . . or even somewhat loyal to his or her servant. It is another matter when a servant lavishly worship the ground his or her employer walked upon. And Bessie seemed to belong to the latter category. Her worship over Laura came off as so strong that I found myself wondering if there had been a deleted scene that featured her on all fours, shining Laura’s shoes with her tongue. I mean . . . honestly! Her slavish loyalty toward Laura made me cringe so much that I almost considered becoming a Communist at one point. Many film critics and historians have commented upon Hollywood’s racism and sexism over the years. Yet, I wonder if anyone had ever considered that class bigotry reared its ugly head in many of these old movies.

Speaking of Bessie Clary, I must admit that actress Dorothy Adams did a solid job in her portrayal of Laura’s faithful maid. I especially enjoyed how she conveyed Bessie’s defiant attitude toward McPherson and other cops. It seemed a pity that screenwriters Dratler, Hoffenstein and Reinhardt seemed bent upon portraying her as an excessively loyal servant. Following her role as the sinister Mrs. Danvers in 1940’s “REBECCA”, Judith Anderson gave a more subtle performance as Laura’s socialite aunt, AnnTredwell. What I enjoyed about Anderson’s performance was that she portrayed Ann as a cool and calculating woman who was brutally honest about her love for Shelby Carpenter without being over-the-top about it. Vincent Prince became a rising star, thanks to his portrayal of Shelby Carpenter, Laura’s impoverished Kentucky-born fiancé. Waldo Lyedecker had contemptuously described Shelby as a “male beauty”. Shelby was also a “male beauty” with a nasty talent for sponging money and favors from women more fortunate than himself. And Price beautifully portrayed that unpleasant aspect of Shelby’s character with warmth, subtlety and gutless charm. He also had the fortunate luck to be given the best line in the entire movie.

Clifton Webb earned a well deserved Academy Award nomination (which he should have won) for his portrayal of the waspish and acid-tongued columnist Waldo Lyedecker. Despite his contempt for nearly everyone around him, Waldo harbored an obsessive love for Laura and Webb conveyed this beautifully. Many believe that Webb had managed to steal the picture from his fellow cast members. I would now go that far. But I do believe that he gave the movie’s best performance. But Webb was surrounded by a strong cast in which three others also became stars. And this is why I cannot give him credit for stealing the movie.

Although he had been around for a few years, Dana Andrews received his big break as Mark McPherson, the cynical police detective assigned to investigate the murdered body found in Laura’s apartment. Superficially, Andrews’ portrayed McPherson as a typical movie detective – tough, sarcastic and intelligent. But he also managed to convey McPherson’s growing obsession toward “dead” Laura without engaging in any theatrics. I doubt that very few would agree, but I have always considered Andrews to be one of the better screen actors I have ever seen – past or present. He had a gift for expressing an array of emotions with his eyes, with great ease. Even with body language, Andrews managed to convey his interest in Laura by the way his character diligently listened to the suspects’ recollections of the “victim” and the manner in which examined Laura’s apartment. Frankly, I feel that Andrews has been somewhat underappreciated as an actor.

Gene Tierney gave a warm portrayal of the title character, Laura Hunt. As I had stated earlier, her character came off as superficially perfect. I am more inclined to blame Vera Caspary and the movie’s screenwriters than the actress. Fortunately, Tierney had the talent to prevent Laura from becoming such an unbearable character. More importantly, she injected a good deal of spirit in her character . . . especially in the scenes she shared with Dana Andrews. I especially enjoyed the scenes in which she made it clear to McPherson that she was not in the habit of blindly obeying others, and when she finally expressed her annoyance at Lyedecker’s obsessive meddling.

For a murder mystery that featured very little action and a great deal of dialogue, “LAURA” still managed to be an engrossing and atmospheric story. And producer-director Otto Preminger made this possible by bringing together a superb cast with an unforgettable score written by David Raskin, Joseph LaShelle’s photography and one of the wittiest screenplays in Hollywood history. In fact, I would go as far to say that “LAURA” is probably one of the finest mystery films ever made.