991 (123). Lost Horizon (1937, Frank Capra)

Screened December 11 2009 on Columbia Tri-Star DVD in Brooklyn, NY TSPDT Rank # 962 IMDb Wiki

Frank Capra abandoned the vibrant American melee upon which he built his reputation to issue this queasy utopian treatise dressed as an exotic adventure fantasy. Shangri-la makes for both a visually and dramatically banal paradise. Proto-Bob Ross matte landscapes and manufactured nature sets alternate with knockoff Frank Lloyd Wright architecture cluttered with curios. It could be fun in a camp/surreal way if Capra wasn't so insistent that this Neverland was what Depression-era American needed, where fun times involve listening to Sam Jaffee's wrinkled Lama make longwinded pseudo-Buddhist platitudes bemoaning man's fate (I'll take spitfire banter with Claudette Colbert or Jean Arthur anyday). Jane Wyatt is easy on the eyes and Ronald Colman, that paradigm of 30s benevolent colonialism, somehow bestows dignity on his environs through his benevolent colonialist gaze. Thomas Mitchell and Edward Everett Horton bring some down-to-earth Capra back to the proceedings by virtue of their charming petty-mindedness, casting the warm glow of genuine human behavior amidst the lofty artifice.

The restored version of Lost Horizon can be viewed online on Google Reader (see after the break)

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of Lost Horizon among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Leslie Halliwell, Halliwell's Film Guide (1985) Nelson Pereira Dos Santos, Balaio (1996) Alain Resnais, Most Misappreciated American Films (1977) Daniel & Susan Cohen, Book - 500 Great Films (1987) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films (1987) Halliwell's Top 1000 Films (2005) Jose Luis Guarner, Genre Favourites: Adventure (1993) Leslie Halliwell, A Nostalgic Choice of 100 Films from the Golden Age (1982) New York Times, The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004) New York Times, 100 Recommended Children's Movies (2002) Taschen Books, Movies of the 20s-90s (2003-2007) Various Critics, Book - 501 Must-See Movies (2004)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE2VUhGDu5Y

Tim Dirks offers one of his patented enhanced summaries on Lost Horizon, in the Greatest Films section of his website FilmSite.org

Lost Horizon.org: "NonProfit Fan Club of James Hilton's Book and Inspired Arts"

PRODUCTION BACKGROUND

Convinced that Hilton's novel had all the makings of a great film - fantasy, adventure, spectacle - director Frank Capra convinced Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, to advance him $2,000,000 for the production. Together with scenarist Robert Riskin, Capra researched everything from Tibetan culture, to language, to architecture, to clothing. Ten property men created over 700 props used in Tibetan daily life while droves of crewmen built 65 sets, raising Shangri-La over Columbia's Burbank ranch. When attention turned to casting, however, things would not move along so well. Putting Ronald Colman in the role of the elder Conway was easy enough. But casting the High Lama role would prove much more difficult. They first considered stage actor A. E. Anson, who was declared perfect after a screen test. Sadly, he died just after receiving news he got the part. Then Henry B. Walthall was chosen, but the Grim Reaper stepped in once again, before he could even be tested. After an exhaustive search, and numerous additional screen tests, Capra remembered 38 year old Shakespearean actor Sam Jaffe, who eventually got the role.

Shooting Lost Horizon took rather longer than expected. So long in fact, that the crew shot an entire film, Theodora Goes Wild (1936), during one of the breaks in the Lost Horizon schedule, and yet another picture, When You're In Love (1937), while Lost Horizon was being edited. Most of the production time was eaten up with the special requirements for re-creating the Himalayas in Los Angeles. For example, Capra shot snow scenes and airplane interiors inside a Cold Storage Warehouse, creating real snow and ice. A great move for credibility, but not so great for the equipment, which routinely froze up, cracked, split, stiffened, or shattered due to the cold temperatures of the set. Capra's shooting style also added to the delays. His habit for shooting multiple takes and angles led him to use over a million feet of film, causing constant confrontations with Harry Cohn. Though Cohn was willing to leave Capra alone to make his film, he frequently groused about the escalating costs, and at one point pleaded with the crew not to cash their checks for a week because Capra had used up all the money. The ending of Capra's Lost Horizon is one of the only glaring deviations from the novel. In Hilton's book, we are left to imagine for ourselves Conway's success or failure. In the film, Capra "relents to hope" and we are shown Conway struggling through the snow, finding the pass that will lead him back to paradise.

After a bad first screening, Capra cut the first two reels of the film completely, which made the audience more receptive. Still, at more than three hours, Cohn knew it wouldn't work, and he took control of the editing away from Capra completely. Though Capra never admitted that Cohn re-cut the film, Variety reported that it was one of the main reasons Capra later brought suit against Columbia as part of a grievance over his pay. When all was said and done, however, Lost Horizon was named one of the 10 best films of 1937 by The New York Times and later won two Academy Awards, for Best Film Editing, and Best Art Direction. But much like Conway's struggle to return to Shangri-La, Capra found out that sometimes you have to make great sacrifices in your search for paradise.

Turner Classic Movies

From Harrison Forman's photographs it was simple to design Tibetan costumes. But where would we find the people to wear them? Tibetans are Orientals, but taller, rangier than Chinese or Japanese. Again we had recourse to our non-Chinese but Oriental stand-bys - Pala Indians from the San Diego mountains.

Then, too, we would have to show some yaks. What the burro was to American sourdoughs of the West, the yak is to Tibetans. To badly simulate yaks, we covered yearling steers with long-haired, hoof-length blankets. To better simulate small Tibetan horses, we "haired up" the legs and chests of Shetland ponies.

- Frank Capra, The Name Above the Title: An Autobiography. Da Capo Press, 1997. Page 192-193

Screenwriter Richard Raskin discusses the three endings of Lost Horizon

Frank Capra talks to Dick Cavett (January 21 1972) about the Santa Barbara preview of Lost Horizon which led to the first two reels being cut from the film (on YouTube):

If you saw Lost Horizon alone or in a small group - this is philosophically very important for you to hear - a small group loved the picture the way it was. We had an example of that in the projection room. One individual would be entranced by the picture. We showed it to five hundred or a thousand people; no good. The third dimension of a film is a thousand people, a thousand pairs of ears and eyes looking at it, not one pair. There is something about a thousand people that is more acute, more sensitive, more reactive that one person or two persons or three persons.

You must never judge a picture in the projection room with one or two people. The line between the ridiculous and the sublime is very wide to an individual. The more people you get the finer the line becomes between the ridiculous and the sublime.

- Capra to James R. Silke and Bruce Henstell, 1971. Published in Frank Capra: Interviews. Edited by Leland A. Pogue, University of Mississippi Press, 2004. Page 78.

I was a little disappointed in Lost Horizon myself. It was my idea entirely to do it, but I was disappointed in the way it came out, because I'd hoped for more. Although it's been said that it's one of my best pictures (and perhaps I'd have to agree with them), I thought that the main part of the film - I should have done better, somehow. I got lost in architecture, in utopia, in the never-never-land, and it was only toward the end of the picture that I got back on track with human beings and individuals, where I began to feel that the story dealt with human beings again. This is common, for one who wants to exploit a theme, and gives the theme too much of the story.

- Capra to Arthur B. Friedman, 1957. Published in Frank Capra: Interviews. Page 55.

HISTORICAL REVIEW

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer has no corner on the large-scale production market as Columbia Pictures proved last night when it presented its film of James Hilton's Lost Horizon at the Globe. There, and for the balance of its two-a-day run, is a grand adventure film, magnificently staged, beautifully photographed, and capitally played. It is the second outstanding picture of the season—the first, of course, being The Good Earth—and, unless the Ides of March are particularly portentous this year, it need have no fear of being omitted from the golden brackets of anyone's "best ten" list.

Columbia is supposed to have spent $2,000,000 on the picture. That may or may not be true, $2,000,000 being a round and round-eyed sum even in Hollywood. But there is no denying the opulence of the production, the impressiveness of the sets, the richness of the costuming, the satisfying attention to large and small detail which makes Hollywood at its best such a generous entertainer. We can deride the screen in its lesser moods, but when the West Coast impresarios decide to shoot the works the resulting pyrotechnics bathe us in a warm and cheerful glow.

Speaking belatedly of the cast, there is nothing but unqualified endorsement here of Mr. Colman's Conway, of Mr. Horton's Lovett, ofThomas Mitchell's grand performance as the fugitive from the police, of Isabel Jewell's Gloria, H. B. Warner's moderately philosophic Chang, Jane Wyatt's attractive Sondra, and Margo's Maria. That leaves Sam Jaffe's portrayal of the High Lama, and that leaves me of a mixed opinion. Mr. Jaffe's makeup is grotesque and horrible and solid; the High Lama of Mr. Hilton's novel was mystic, ethereal, almost Christlike. Yet the High Lama must be weird to make credible Conway's suspicion that he might be mad. Mr. Jaffe certainly is weird enough. I really don't know. Maybe he should have used less makeup.

- Frank S. Nugent, The New York Times, March 4 1937

To those honestly concerned with the development of the motion picture as an art, Frank Capra has endeared himself above most producers of films. One after another, his pictures have appealed both to the exacting few who have demanded that the screen be bright with truth as well as vivid motion, and to the many whose demands at the box office have made the whole art of the screen possible. But in Hollywood's mushroom growth there has always been the unfortunate obstacle of a tendency to run (as in the copying of ideas, forms, effects) before one could walk, and many of the most arty attempts have tripped over this obstacle. Frank Capra never tripped because he never came anywhere near such an obstacle.

But after getting himself a name for being a sort of magician in the movies, he apparently began to take seriously a lot of things the movies (as he knew them) had never heard of. In Lost Horizon he seemed to see both a smashing adventure story and an excursion into philosophy that would stun everybody. So he and his right-hand script writer (Robert Riskin) went to work on what is all too obviously an epic.

It is mounted with elaborate heaviness, but on tissue paper. It abandons action for thought, and then spreads the thought so cosmic and wide that it cannot be any deeper than half-way tide over mud flats. The sets constructed (to life size) for the strange region of Shangri-La are alone worthy of Ahs and Ohs: the evident care in casting and acting stands our above the average run of most productions; but then there comes all this serious statement of the improbable that could be set forth effectively only in burlesque, and these random light-comedy effects that become burlesque against such a background-and in the end a person doesn't know where he is, except that he is nowhere as far as pictures are concerned. This film was made with obvious care and expense; but it will be notable in the future only as the first wrong step in a career that till now has been a denial of the very tendencies in pictures which this film represents.

- Otis Ferguson, National Board of Review Magazine, 1937. Posted on eeweems.com

EXCERPTS FROM THE BEST REVIEW OF LOST HORIZON

Lost Horizon opened in March of 1937, the year after Mussolini annexed Ethiopia, Hitler occupied the Rhineland, and the Spanish Civil War started. It was a bad time for those who believed in the egalitarianism of a pluralist society of equal rights regardless of religion or ethnic origin. Capra was among the first of the big Hollywood directors to publicly denounce fascism and its persecution of minorities. For this reason, Lost Horizon is an important film, regardless of its clunky narrative and stagey situations (some of which can be blamed on the usual studio politics which led to editing compromises), as it clearly defines the gospel of social moderation that most Americans believed in.

There are a number of curious aspects to this film that Time has brought into focus. For example, the utopia is elitist despite its best intentions. It exists as an example of passive colonialism, complete with a class structure. While the term "native" is just the de facto terminology of the era, it nonetheless reinforces the Eurocentric aspect of the fantasy. Is the story racist? No, although the weary sentimentality of "the white man's burden" is clearly evident. The Lamasery has servants, and they're all Asian. Yet while the High Lama's No. 2 man is called Chang, he neither looks nor sounds Asian (in Hilton's novel, he is Chinese). In fact, he looks and sounds like a head butler imported from the Embassy Club to complete the colonial circle.

Modernism is really built on the principle of the straight line... and when applied to thinking, can easily become fascism. Direct action appeals to an intellectual elite just as much as an escapist community such as Shangri La. Just how far is the High Lama's art community of white Europeans and their docile Asian servants removed from the penthouse of the Berlin Chancellory where Hitler and Albert Speer discussed Art and developed The Theory of Ruin Value? The Art Deco isometrics are almost identical when drained of sentiment. As the main players enact their fantasy, the rank and file become ephemeral, mere markers of geometric space.

As a drama, Lost Horizon relies on many of the conventions and cliches of the period: a man of action (Conway), a fugitive swindler (Barnard), a terminal cynic (Gloria), a buffoon (Lovett), an impulsive young man (George), a femme fatale (Sondra)... all the essential personalities for creating or continuing a castaway society. The main difference between the screenplay and the novel is that the characters are Americanized to suit the target audience. Hilton has four castaways, Capra has five... and the absconding aircraft becomes a DC-2 rather than a small "high-altitude" plane belonging to an Indian Raj. Rooted in the romantic action novel of the late nineteenth century, Hilton's story raids the supernatural elements of Rider-Haggard's She, or even H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

- Lawrence RussellCulture Court

OTHER REVIEWS

With two sentimentalists as crafty as director Frank Capra and novelist James Hilton collaborating on a project, the results could hardly be anything less than effective, yet this 1937 film has a swollen self-seriousness that drains most of my sympathy for it. Shangri-La, seductive but stifling, plays much too close for comfort to American anti-intellectualism; more than any other of his 30s classics, Lost Horizon gives credence to reports that Capra kept a bust of Mussolini in his office through the decade. Still, Ronald Colman's grace and charm excuse a lot of directorial heaviness.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

Capra was at the height of his game as a director with Lost Horizon. The film took more than two years to complete, and used what was (at the time) the largest set ever constructed in Hollywood. Lost Horizon moves at a swift pace thanks to clever editing, and features inventive cinematography and a terrific score by composer Dimitri Tiomkin. Coleman is perfect as the world-worn English diplomat on a fast-track political career. Jane Wyatt is charming as his love interest and one of the caretakers of the valley. And there are a couple of other familiar faces as well - or should I say, a familiar face and a familiar voice. That's Thomas Mitchell as the swindling Henry Barnard. Mitchell was a Capra favorite, appearing also in his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It's a Wonderful Life. And you might recognize the voice of Edward Everett Horton. He plays Lovett here, but he's better known for narrating the Fractured Fairy Tales segments of TV's The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Bill HuntThe Digital Bits

When director Frank Capra read James Hilton's best-selling fantasy adventure novel Lost Horizon, about a Utopian valley high in the Himalayas, he took it to Columbia boss Harry Cohn, as a potential vehicle for the studio. On Cohn's approval production began and the roles started to be cast. Capra wanted sophisticated and urbane actor Ronald Colman to play the lead role. From the beginning, the director felt Colman was born to play the intelligent and deep thinking Robert Conway. Indeed, just as many felt Clark Gable was the perfect fit for Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind, Colman wore the role of Conway like a glove.

As Robert Conway, Colman gives an elegant and poetic portrayal, one of the many highlights of his career. Young actress Jane Wyatt, best known for her role as Margaret Anderson in the popular TV series Father Knows Best (sadly, fewer and fewer know her from this show as more years go by) is cast as the enlightened young woman who is the impetus for Conway's presence in Shangri-La and his love interest once he arrives there. As one of the film's (and book's) more compelling though lesser characters is Mexican actress Margo (Mrs. Eddie Albert). She plays Maria, who by all outward appearances is a young Russian woman, no more than 20 years old, who falls for the younger Conway, George. Hers is a pivotal role in the history of the Utopian community and she does well with her part.

Lost Horizon was one of the most expensive films "poverty row" Columbia Studios had produced up to that time. But along with other Frank Capra/Columbia collaborations, it would help that organization rise above its lowly status. Alot was riding on its success, including Capra's reputation. Its anti-war sentiment got some flack by certain political view points and some of its footage hit the editing room floor upon its re-release but after all was said and done and a semi-complete restoration in more recent years, Lost Horizon has stood the test of time to become a bonafide classic in Hollywood annals.

- Classic Movie Digest

The movies have always been an escapist recreation. In 1937 when Frank Capra's Lost Horizon hit theatres, the same year the United States' economy took a nosedive in the heart of the Great Depression, the need for this escape had never been greater. Taking a cue from James Hilton's novel, Capra translates the notion of Hilton's Tibetan Shangri-la into one accessible and palatable to the Western spectator's contemporary dream, that of a return to the pre-Depression prosperity of the Twenties. Symbolic and discreet mise-en-scène allow for an easy transition from screen to mind as Capra delivers, not the Shangri-La of Tibet, but that of an idyllic Western society.

With its modern, streamlined buildings filled to the brim with material possessions of diverse Western cultural importance, Capra's Shangri-La takes the best of Western civilization and attempts to shield it from corruption by its own creators. An impressive cache of worldly goods stands in opposition to the fact that the inhabitants of the city's access to the outside world lies with unscrupulous traders who visit only rarely.

Frank Capra's delight of a film Lost Horizon, in conclusion, is clearly not a viable representation of Tibet. However, as the film is not a documentary but a fictionalized adaptation, the intent was to inspire and uplift the downtrodden American masses, not to provide accurate details of life in a faraway land. Only by using Tibet, a land shrouded in mystery and virtually unknown to the average man, as a backdrop for the film, is Capra able to give rise to the notion that a Shangri-La may indeed still be waiting somewhere to be found.

- Zelda Zador, Associated Content

The movie changes many things about the book, and some of the most significant changes take place in the role and relationship of the various characters. The book had a decent female character, the even-keeled Miss Brinklow; her substitute character here is a hysterical woman, who shrieks and acts "irrationally." Her only function in the movie is to be healed by the stay at Shangri-La. The native woman Lo-Tsen gets split into two characters -- one becomes a white woman, who flirts with Conway (the ostensible main character) but stays at Shangri-La and waits for his return. The other woman tricks the two men into leaving with her, and she ages into a horrible old hag as her reward. The annoying Mallinson becomes Conway's brother, but remains as annoying. And in a significant change for the ending, Conway makes it back to Shangri-La, where his pet woman is patiently waiting for him. The movie adds some humour between the two characters created for comic relief; one of these is still named Barnard and the other is now a paleontologist. I got a few laughs from an unintentionally hilarious scene with some Sherpas who seemed not to understand the relationship between avalanches and loud noises, which would seem to be a survival trait for mountain inhabitants. Capra's Lost Horizon also changes the structure of the frame story. The movie begins with a bang, a revolution in which our man Conway acts heroically. Later, the British authorities get updates on Conway occasionally, and then a group of men discussing his life show up to give us a new bit of his story: Conway apparently steals, lies, and acts immorally in order to get back to his utopia and his girl. The Himalayan natives call Conway "the man who is not human" but this part is totally skipped over.

Some parts of the movie work well, such as Capra's emphasis on the apocalyptic vision of the High Lama, the leader of Shangri-La. The High Lama's lesson about the dangers of militarism is not one that the world took, but it's there on celluloid, pre-Atomic Era. I also liked the idea that our Western societies are too hasty, too busy -- the High Lama calls it indirect suicide. Another lesson that could be well taken by any of us, myself included. Unfortunately, most of this sharp insight is drowned in sexism and stereotyping, as well as the contrast between the lords of lamasery, who know they are "civilized" and living in utopia, and the people living in the valley. This difference between the lamasery and the valley is much more marked in the movie than in the book, and this further undercuts whatever positive message the viewer may have gained. On the whole, Capra's Lost Horizon is more of an artifact of a certain era of film than a work of art that has worth of its own; recommended for fans of Hilton's book or Capra's career but not a wider audience.

James SchellenbergChallenging Destiny

I am currently reading Joseph McBride's biography of Frank Capra, "The Catastrophe of Success". I'm not sure how I will be reacting when I see, or more precisely re-see, Capra's films. It is sad to read the portrait of the aging artist as a racist and anti-Semite. The split between an artist's works and the personal life of an artist has always been problematic. For myself, my favorite Capra films will probably remain from the early Thirties when the there was less of a schism between art and life for Capra. Specifically, my favorite titles are It Happened One Night and Bitter Tea of General Yen.

What prompted my writing about Capra now was reading about Lost Horizon. I don't know how the conservative Republican Capra would have reacted to the government fingerpointing, or if he would have, privately more likely than publicly, joined the ranks of several Republicans in their criticism of FEMA chief Michael Brown, if not George W. Bush. Screenwriter Robert Riskin, who identified as a New Deal Democrat would clearly have been critical of what occurred in New Orleans, most likely laying the blame on an administration that failed to protect its citizens. The idealist in me is longing for a real life Jefferson Smith to put things right.

What I want to share is this amazing quote from Lost Horizon. Although it refers to a fictional riot in a non-existent country, and is a criticism of British imperialism, I found this passage from the screenplay to be very appropriate at this time:

"Did you make that report out yet? Did you say we saved the lives of ninety white people? Good. Hooray for us! Did you say that we left ten thousand natives down there to be annihilated? No. No, you wouldn't say that. They don't count."

Coffee, Coffee and More Coffee

ABOUT THE COLUMBIA TRI-STAR DVD

As a DVD, Lost Horizon is outstanding. The commentary track with film critic Charles Champlin and film preservationist Robert Gitt is easily as entertaining as the film itself, as the two discuss the fine details and anecdotes of the restoration. Gitt also narrates a short documentary on the restoration process, which includes several deleted scenes that were recovered by the American Film Institute but not incorporated in the 138-minute cut, along with an alternate ending. An insightful behind-the-scenes photo-essay is narrated by film historian Kendall Miller, and even the original teaser trailer for Lost Horizon is included. If you're an admirer of this neglected classic, this DVD will probably be one of your favorites. And if (like me) you're not as fond of it and are more interested in film preservation, you will still find the supplements on Lost Horizon to be an illuminating experience.

J. Jordan Burke, DVD Journal

One of the most difficult tasks in screening Lost Horizon is to come up with the technical rating for the picture. I have a very deep conflict in grading the picture quality as a "D", and a very lenient grade at that. This conflict arises from the fact that the film was almost lost due to deterioration and it took many years of exhuastive efforts to restore this classic that we can now experience. Robert Gitt, the UCLA film restoration expert, spent 25 years in researching, recovering, and restoring the film to its original running time. It would seem to be rather trivial, if not disrespectful, for me to slap a "D" rating on the restored picture. What is the next best alternative when the glory of the original print is forever lost? The next best thing is the newly restored and digitally remastered picture on DVD. In short, this is one circumstance where my low technical rating should not dissuade you one bit from watching the film.

The film is presented in its original full-screen ratio and running time. Before the film begins, there is a brief insert explaining the restoration process. Apparently, the film premiered with a running time of 132 minute. However, as the film went through subsequent re-releases and showings, it was trimmed and cut to various lengths. For instance, during the re-release in World War II, 24 minutes were cut with different opening sequences and scenes to tone down from the pacifist message. By 1967, the original nitrate camera negative had deteriorated and the trimmed footages were destroyed. For the restoration, the best available 35mm and 16mm prints were combined to the original running time, all but seven minutes of the picture. To replace the missing scenes, photograph stills are used with the original soundtrack.

Despite the best available prints, the quality ranges from very acceptable to poor. For the most part, the picture is a patchwork of fuzzy images, poor shadow details, terrible exposures, and noticeable grains. However, the restoration is a huge improvement over the theatrical prints. This example is clearly illustrated in the bonus material "Restoration: Before and After Comparison," where a split screen shows how the tears and instability of the original prints have been digitally restored. It really was an eye opener.

- Van T. Tran, DVD Magazine

ABOUT RONALD COLMAN

IMDb Wiki

There are several Ronald Colman tribute sites - by far the most impressive is the Ronald Colman Pages, which has extensive synopses of each Ronald Colman film (including multimedia clips), a lengthy biography, photo galleries and more.

Another fascinating site is the Ronald Colman Saga, in which the proprietor impersonates Colman in first person anecdotes from the actor's glory days.

Other tribute sites:

Ronald Colman.com

The Man With a Golden Voice

Suave, debonair, a gentleman hero with dashing good looks, Ronald Colman is the quintessential Hollywood-Englishman. One of the few stars of the silent era to maintain and even increase their popularity after the transition to sound, Colman was a leading man for more than 20 years, for in addition to his handsome grace, Colman possessed a beautifully cultured and modulated voice. Colman is known for roles where he is above all polite and well-mannered, but the source of his success may lie beyond his ability to portray characters who are refined but sentimental, mysterious but thoughtful. As Sheridan Morley points out, Colman's sense of humor made him stand out from other good-looking Englishmen. Moreover, Colman was a consummate craftsman; director George Cukor explains that Colman knew more about acting for the camera than any actor he had worked with.

- Charles Affron, Film Reference.com

ABOUT ROBERT RISKIN

A writer of sophisticated stage plays in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Robert Riskin had over 20 screen credits in a career which lasted two-and-a-half decades. More than half of his work was with Frank Capra—a creative union which culminated in some of Riskin's best screenplays. Among these works are American MadnesLady for a Day ,It Happened One Night Mr. Deeds Goes to Town Lost Horizon , and Meet John Doe . Of these only Lost Horizon is an adaptation—and it is a solid translation of the novel that became a successful film that won popular and critical acclaim.

The collaboration of Capra and Riskin evidently became a vital force in creating a body of some of the best Capra films. While it is difficult to judge how much Riskin added to a Capra film, a close reading of the director's work indicates that his favorite writer probably influenced some of the satirical and sophisticated tone of the films—not necessarily changing Capra's overall vision, but polishing many of the aspects of his creation.

Some of the Riskin touch is evident in even his most atypical work, the adaptation of Lost Horizon. Two characters, played by Edward Everett Horton and Thomas Mitchell, were given comic characteristics that did not exist in the novel. In the 1940s Riskin became a producer-writer on his own and created the fifth in the series of "thin man" pictures, The Thin Man Goes Home , plus a film called Magic Town, a work that had many of the characteristics of a Capra picture. But the magic in Riskin's dialogue began to fade and he would never equal his best work of the past, when he had a marvelous symbiotic relationship with Frank Capra.

- Donald W. McCaffrey, Film Reference.com

ABOUT FRANK CAPRA

IMDb Wiki

FRANK CAPRA WEBSITES

Eeweems.com

ClassicMovies.org

The following quotations are found on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They? profile page for Frank Capra:

"Like Chaplin, Frank Capra began his film career as a simple, effective comic talent and progressed to 'message movies'. And, as with Chaplin, the populism of his later films demonstrated both a decline in humour and disturbing political ambiguities." - Geoff Andrew(The Film Handbook, 1989)

"Many of Capra's most famous films can be read as excessively sentimental and politically naive. These readings, however, tend to neglect the bases for Capra's success - his skill as a director of actors, the complexity of his staging configurations, his narrative economy and energy, and most of all, his understanding of the importance of the spoken word in sound film." - (Charles Affron(International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"Nowadays, the mere mention of Capra's name is enough to make literate and learned film-writers dip their pens in bile. But when, between director and actor, you actually pump the breath of life into impossibly idealized Everymen, as Gary Cooper, James Stewart, or Barbara Stanwyck did, a powerful emotional current is given out from the screen. The fact that they have nothing to do with the real world has absolutely no bearing on that." - David Quinlan (Quinlan's Illustrated Guide to Film Directors, 1999)

"Capra is a master of the socially significant film. His work is full of optimism, humor, love, patriotism, and respect for traditional values." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"I think of the medium as a people-to-people medium, not cameraman-to-people, not direction-to-people, not writers-to-people, but people-to-people...You can only involve an audience with people. You can't involve them with gimmicks, with sunsets, with hand-held cameras, zoom shots, or anything else. They couldn't care less about those things. But you give them something to worry about, some person they can worry about, and care about, and you've got them, you've got them involved." - Frank Capra (Directing the Film, 1976)

Selected quotes from Frank Capra:

A hunch is creativity trying to tell you something.

I made mistakes in drama. I thought drama was when actors cried. But drama is when the audience cries.

If you want to send a message, try Western Union.

During the dark decade of the 1930s, Frank Capra became America's preeminent filmmaker, leavening Depression-era despair with the laughter of his irrepressible optimism. Packaging hope for the hopeless, his "fantasies of goodwill" were as important to national morale as FDR's "fireside chats" and well-deserving of the three Best Director Oscars they brought him. Twenty years later when the CAHIERS DU CINEMA critics launched an auteurist reassessment of American films, his reputation suffered, despite the unarguable fact that his "name above the title" signified his absolute artistic control of the project, a rarity in the studio-dominated Hollywood culture of his heyday. Subsequent voices followed suit, taking great delight in decrying his work as dangerously simplistic in its populism, its patriotism and its celebration of all-American values, but the content of his films should not be judged too harshly out of the context of their time, the pulse of which Capra accurately measured. Fortunately, most contemporary critics look past the ideology to his undeniable strengths as a filmmaker.

Turner Classic Movies

The critical stock of Frank Capra has fluctuated perhaps more wildly than that of any other major director. During his peak years, the 1930s, he was adored by the press, by the industry and, of course, by audiences. In 1934 It Happened One Night won nearly all the Oscars, and through the rest of the decade a film of Frank Capra was either the winner or the strong contender for that honor. Long before the formulation of the auteur theory, the Capra signature on a film was recognized. But after World War II his career went into serious decline. His first post-war film,It's a Wonderful Life , was not received with the enthusiasm he thought it deserved (although it has gone on to become one of his most-revered films). Of his last five films, two are remakes of material he treated in the thirties. Many contemporary critics are repelled by what they deem indigestible "Capracorn" and have even less tolerance for an ideology characterized as dangerously simplistic in its populism, its patriotism, its celebration of all-American values.

Indeed, many of Capra's most famous films can be read as excessively sentimental and politically naive. These readings, however, tend to neglect the bases for Capra's success—his skill as a director of actors, the complexity of his staging configurations, his narrative economy and energy, and most of all, his understanding of the importance of the spoken word in sound film. Capra captured the American voice in cinematic space. The words often serve the cause of apple pie, mom, the little man and other greeting card clichés (indeed, the hero of Mr. Deeds Goes to Townwrites verse for greeting cards). But often in the sound of the voice we hear uncertainties about those very clichés.

The sounds and sights of Capra's films bear the authority of a director whose autobiography is called The Name above the Title. With that authority comes an unsettling belief in authorial power, the power dramatized in his major films, the persuasiveness exercised in political and social contexts. That persuasion reflects back on the director's own power to engage the viewer in his fiction, to call upon a degree of belief in the fiction—even when we reject the meaning of the fable.

Charles AffronFilm Reference.com

Frank Capra's career best illustrated the rising power of the producer-director that pushed the limitations of the studio system in the 1930s. Capra rose to prominence as a contract director at Columbia Pictures with his successful mixture of populist drama and sentimental comedy that defined depression-era attitudes and elevated Harry Cohn's studio from Poverty Row status to one of the Big Eight majors. Capra was suitably rewarded with his own production unit and an unusually high level of creative freedom. Producing about one picture a year, the Capra unit made quality, event pictures, not unlike the prestige films of Capra's independent producing counterparts. After the success of It Happened One Night (1934), his new five-picture contract with Columbia gave him 25 percent of the net profits, and even contained an anti-block booking provision that required all Capra films to be sold individually, beginning with Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1935).

Capra had adopted a "one man, one film" mantra which later generations would dub the auteur theory, which claimed that a film, like any other important work of art, should be largely the product of a single creative vision and not the offspring of a studio committee. He believed producer-director setups to be the answer to the generic, manufactured Hollywood film. He blamed the complacency of the well-paid contract directors for selling out their artistic responsibility to the studios. Ultimately, Capra concluded, the ideal position for ambitious, creative filmmakers was in independent production.

J.A. AberdeenHollywood Renegades

The rise of Frank Capra from sickly, abused, impoverished Sicilian immigrant to what one of his sons calls "a shaper of how we view America" is the subject of Kenneth Bowser’s Frank Capra’s American Dream. This biography, produced by Tom and Frank Capra, Jr., attempts to replace the simplistic image of Capra as a sort of undiscriminating, sentimental populist with a more complex reality.

What emerges from these interviews and film clips is an illuminating, if mostly uncritical, portrait of a tragically conflicted personality whose work, more than that of many directors, is barely veiled autobiography. The Capra seen here joins his fictional counterparts — Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith, and John Doe — as an Everyman whose sudden wealth and fame, those driving myths of the "American Dream" that was Capra’s eternal subject, nearly destroy him.

Gary Morrisreviewing Frank Capra's American Dream by Kenneth Bowser, Bright Lights Film Journal, December 1998

On January 9, 1999, during the annual American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in Washington DC, The Popular Culture Association, Film & History, and the AHA co-sponsored a conference session on the films and legacy of Frank Capra. The session was titled "Frank Capra's Populism: Timebound or Timeless?" Capra's films have made an indelible impact on 20th-century America, serving as both commentaries on and artifacts of American culture. Few historians are more able and competent to analyze them than Robert Brent Toplin, Lawrence Levine, and Dan T. Carter.:

Robert Brent Toplin: We remember Frank Capra for his fundamental optimism reflected in his movies. He expressed a faith in democracy, a confidence that good people could reform their society and their government, and make things work. He expressed a faith in the common man, the common woman—expressed in the movies often with the term "the little guy." These little guys and gals often came from small-town America, and they went up against the metropolis, usually represented by New York City. He seemed to suggest that these little people could succeed, to a degree, that they could make a difference; that they were not helpless as pessimists tend to conclude.

I asked the young men and women in my university classroom, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, to discuss the relevance of Capra's perspectives for the nineties and I actually taught a class there with Frank Capra Jr. who runs the movie studio in the town. So we are asking about the relevance of Capra's perspective to the late nineties.. One student wrote the following – "Is this thought still relevant today? I argue, no. As a member of my generation, we know that the American Dream is dead. Another wrote, "I think that this populist vision is irrelevant today because people have lost faith in themselves, lost faith in the idea that they can make a change. People see themselves as helpless against the major issues that plague our country." So it should be evident that there's plenty of room for discussion about the relevance of Capra's vision, for the thirties and forties and for today.

Lawrence Levine: Capra, whose populism was always more cultural than political, was always one of those forces—and I use this term advisedly—forces that help to fix this image of the idyllic small town indelibly in our collective fields of vision. And he did it, interestingly, he did it while hardly ever actually depicting this cultural epicenter in his films. This immigrant from Italy attempted to explain America by portraying another series of immigrants, not from abroad, but from America’s small towns and villages, trooping into the great cities and immediately undergoing a cultural trial by fire. Thus, in Capra’s films we learn about the virtues of small-town life—and I think this is significant—we learn about the virtues of small-town America secondhand, not by actually seeing them and experiencing them, but much as Capra himself did in his own life, we learn about them by hearing about them. A salient paradox of Capra’s career was that he became one of the nation's most effective champions for small-town American way of life he himself never directly experienced.

Capra has frequently been accused of anti-intellectualism—a term that we often employ loosely and extend to cover struggles over intellectual legitimacy which is not quite the same thing as anti-intellectualism. There have been struggles throughout our history over intellectual legitimacy. Capra clearly felt that he was engaged in just such a struggle, "I’ve never had a very good standing

Crowd scene in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town. 28.8K56K

among American intellectuals with my films. Certainly sentiment is an almost verboten emotion with the intellectuals. . . . It’s perhaps too common, too ordinary . . . . Perhaps it’s too simple." The cultural significance of Frank Capra is that throughout the crisis of the 1930s he reiterated the virtues of traditional American values, not in the defensive tones of many of the old stock Americans but with an aggressiveness borne of his own newness and his own marginality, and initially born of his deep optimism. "I fell in love with Americans, just fell in love with them. These goddamned Americans I thought, they were so free on their own, individuals, not taking their hats off to anyone. If somebody got sick they’d do something about it, I thought Americans were the gods of the world." [Walter Karp, "The Patriotism of Frank Capra," Esquire 95 (February, 1981), 34.]

Capra had grave doubts about, and criticisms of, large-scale corporate enterprise. In most of his Depression films, he found ways to reproach powerful capitalists for their values and their actions. Nevertheless, Capra’s films seem to imply that the problems Americans faced were due less to imperfections in the system than to human fallibility: to madness, irrationality, selfishness, greed. The crisis of the Great Depression challenged the soundness of the system and Capra responded, not as the Populists of the late 19th century had, by demanding changes in the political and economic system, but rather by reasserting his faith in the traditional verities and demanding changes in the individual. In his defense of traditional values and lifestyles, in his fear of the dangers of large institutions, in his preoccupation with old-fashioned individualism, in his search for community, in his concentration on the themes of regeneration and redemption, and indeed in many of his contradictions and confusions, Frank Capra was representative of many aspects of his time and his culture and, for better or worse, of ours as well.

Dan T. Carter: In a way, Capra film critics from the opposite side, far opposite side of the ideological picket fence, beginning with the leftists of the thirties through hardball skeptics like Richard Griffith and Andrew Sarris—they see Capra

Anti-materialism in It's A Wonderful Life 28.8K56K

through much the same lens as modern cultural conservatives. For that very reason, they criticize Capra’s films for what they saw as their sentimentality, their optimism, and their worship of middle-class bourgeois values. Above all, they recoil from, again this is what they saw in Capra’s film, his naive faith that the brave and courageous individual would lead ordinary people to respond to crises with affection, kindliness and trust. As James Agee put it in a review in 1947, "Capra’s chief mistake or sin," and he called it that, "was his refusal to face the fact that evil is intrinsic in each individual and that no man may deliver his brother or make an agreement unto God for him."

Still, we live in a world separated by a great divide from that of Frank Capra and his contemporaries. In part, it is that great divide between the optimism and hopefulness of the 1930s and 1940s and even into the fifties and sixties and the cynicism of today's students, as Bob Toplin hasdescribed. But even the questions asked by a newer generation of scholars of film, and I'm certainly no expert on them, seem to be changing. One has only to read the critics, pro and con, of the 1930s, '40s, '50s and '60s, and compare them with more recent works like Raymond Carney's, American Visions: The Films of Frank Capra[Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1996], to see the contours of these different worlds. Critics who were unhappy with Capra’s films, critics like James Agee, took them seriously as sociological documents, as representations of a world of power or as evasions of a world of power, politics, and economics. It’s not just that we live in a different time in which the issues of feminism and questions of race make these films somewhat outdated. It seems to me that under the corrosive gaze of post-modernism, these very realities have dissolved into discourses. Films which were once considered representations of reality have become representations of representations—gestures, visions which reflect the imagination of the observer, the one who is seeing the film. And so for Carney, and I suspect for the rising generation of film historians, Freud, Derrida, and Foucault are far more interesting guides to this filmic terrain than Thorstein Veblen. The personal has not become the political, it has often replaced it.

- The Journal of Multimedia History, 1999.

988 (120). The Bells of St. Mary's (1945, Leo McCarey)

Screened November 28, 2009 on Artisan Entertainment/ Republic Pictures VHS borrowed from the New York Public Library TSPDT rank #978 IMDb Wiki

Leo McCarey's sequel to Going My Way ruled the 1945 holiday season, outgrossing every film up to that time save Gone With the Wind.  Mixing gentle convent comedy, spiritual melodrama, and hints of romance between its megastar leads Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman, it was primed to be The All-Time Christmas classic movie. It's a Wonderful Life has since taken that title, while Bells has receded into pop culture obscurity, considered too square for contemporary tastes. Time Magazine's Richard Corliss even denounced it as the worst Christmas movie ever, for what he saw as the film's sanctimonious tone and shamelessly manipulative plot twists.

And yet there are those who consider it one of McCarey's finest among a body of work that boasts an unparalleled handling of both interpersonal ethics and the blossoming of romantic feelings. The two themes are more deeply interwoven here than perhaps any of his other films: Crosby's priest and Bergman's nun develop complex feelings as they shepherd their students, regarding each other with jealousy that shifts imperceptibly into admiration, and possibly more.  McCarey's achievements are  especially exquisite given that a) he's dealing with taboo feelings between a priest and a nun with the utmost below-the-surface delicacy; b) he had to mold emotional subtext into Crosby's monotonously smug countenance.

The film ambles at an incredibly relaxed pace, resting comfortably in its spaces almost to the point of stasis. I haven't come across any comparisons between postwar McCarey (An Affair to Remember) and Carl Dreyer (Ordet; Gertrud), but the two seem to have much in common in terms of how they allow complex feelings to unfold over gentle, drawn out dialogues in flat interiors, where space collapses and it's just people in communion, breathing the same air. Likewise, this is a film that invites you to breathe with it. It benefits greatly from having one of the most open actors in film history embodying its philosophy onscreen. Bergman's like a child in this film, her presence so organic and unmannered, eyes watching, reacting to lines of dialogue as if hearing them for the first time. The sequence where she teaches a student to defend himself while simultaneously figuring it out herself with a boxing manual is one of the most joyously playful pieces of acting on celluloid. It's her attentiveness and conviction, not just to who her character is, but to the moment she inhabits - a moment handled like a divine gift in which she can learn, love and grow - that combines the best of what Bergman and McCarey stood for.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Bells of St. Mary's on the TSPDT 1000 Greatest Films:

Antonio Gimenez-Rico, Nickel Odeon (1997) Luis Maria Delgado, Nickel Odeon (1997) Manuel Summers, Nickel Odeon (1994) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films (1987) Jose Luis Guarner, Genre Favourites: Comedy (1993)

HISTORICAL REVIEW

The Bells of St. Mary's (RKO-Radio) is Author-Director-Producer Leo McCarey's Ave-singing sequel to his highly successful and heavily Oscared Going My Way. Bells doesn't ring with quite as true a pitch. Even with Bing Crosby's lackadaisical agility, Bells somehow lacks its predecessor's style and grace. Most important missing ingredient: Barry Fitzgerald. Most important compensations: Ingrid Bergman and a five-year-old friend of McCarey's named Bobby Dolan.

None of the good things in the picture has much to do with the story. The best of them is the children's Nativity play, in which Bobby Dolan, son of the picture's musical director, doubles in the roles of St. Joseph and narrator. Bobby, catching his breath with a long wheezing intake, says, "Oh—this is Mary and I'm Joseph. And we came to Bethlehem to see if we can have some place—find some place to stay. And that's all you have to know really." In the stable, an angel sits on a ladder and wise men and shepherds stand by and wonder as the Christ Child—an 18-month-old— stands up and waves to the audience from a clothesbasket. The play's "dialogue" was made up by a group of kindergartners after Director McCarey gave them the rough idea. McCarey claims "it was one of the most difficult sequences" he ever directed. But it was worth the trouble.

Good shots: Bergman teaching a small boy to box; Crosby adding to his singing repertory of Latin with O Sanctissima, and embellishing the nuns' dingdong chorus of The Bells of St. Mary's with a low-down "Ring dem bells!"

- Time Magazine, December 10, 1945

RECENT REVIEWS

Since I'm playing Scrooge with this list, I'd better begin with a declaration: I love Christmas, the idea of it, and Christmas movies too — the good ones. But some holiday-themed films take advantage of our better nature, and one is director Leo McCarey's officially-loved sequel to his Oscar-winning Going My Way. This time easy-going Father O'Malley is assigned to a school run by severe, skeptical Sister Mary Benedict, and they clash over the priest's liberal handling of the students. It's basically the current movie Doubt, but with Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman in the Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep roles, and without the accusations of pedophilia. Bells escalates from religious sanctimoniousness to emotional blackmail — a climax at least one notable reviewer finds a litmus test for critics' humanity. "If you don't cry when Bing Crosby tells Ingrid Bergman she has tuberculosis," Joseph McBride wrote in 1973, "I never want to meet you, and that's that." I've met Joe McBride, and I respect the heck out of him; but nothing in this treacle pudding of a film makes me cry, except in despair, and that's that.

- Richard Corliss, "Top 10 Worst Christmas Movies", Time Magazine, December 23 2008

Going My Way is probably the worst of McCarey's major films—obvious, coy, fearsomely sentimental—but Bells is one of his finest, a film so subtle in its romantic exposition that it's halfway over before you realize what it's about: a priest in love with a nun. Seldom has a sequel so completely transcended its predecessor: McCarey's invisible hand, nudging the narrative more than directing it, turns looming cliches into the most refined, elusive feeling.

- Dave Kehr, The Chicago Reader

The Bells of St. Mary's works much better for its battle of wills between a parish priest and a head nun than the dopey musical interludes that pepper it, but Bells is still a winning, emotionally satisfying film. This sequel to Going My Way has Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) taking over the St. Mary's parochial school and finding himself at loggerheads with Sister Benedict (Ingrid Bergman, looking gorgeous even in a habit). There's a wonderful balance to all of this: O'Malley takes a more worldly approach to administration and is wrong just as many times as the nun is when she insists on a more biblical approach. About four subplots suffuse the film, including the story of a young charge from the wrong side of the tracks, and the deteriorating state of St. Mary's in the shadow of a brand-new building (the owner is played by the avuncular Henry Travers). A dear film.

--Keith Simanton, Amazon.com

Does The Bells of St. Mary’s still work?: Not really. Watching the film again, the two words that kept springing to mind were “quaint” and “cornball.” The Bells of St. Mary’s is so committed to making the audience feel good- whether it’s through gentle laughter or easy tears- that the film never has any edge to it. At the beginning of the film, O’Malley is warned about the strong-willed nuns, but aside from a few heated discussions over how the school is run, little becomes of this. Likewise, the episodic nature of the story isn’t a problem, except that all of the subplots are resolved in the easiest and most predictable way possible.

Consider the story of Horace P. Bogardus (Henry Travers), the rich man and city bigwig who is erecting an office building next to St. Mary’s. Bogardus, like so many other rich men in movies, only seems to think about money, while the nuns pray in the hope that he’ll turn over the building to them to use as their new school. So O’Malley does a little scheming, and after Bogardus falls ill, the nuns’ prayers are answered, with Bogardus requiring surprisingly little convincing to make a gift of his not-inexpensive new property. This wouldn’t be so bad except that every subplot in the film is resolved in much the same way.

In addition, the film’s characterizations are almost distractingly thin. O’Malley doesn’t play any notes that he hadn’t already played in Going My Way, and none of the supporting characters show any real depth. Most disappointing is Sister Benedict- the film sets her up as a formidable rival to O’Malley, but none of this pans out. Instead, she becomes practically saintly, as she sticks to her principles, has Job-like patience with her students, and prays for Mr. Bogardus. Even when she does something questionable, such as teaching a picked-on boy how to box, she does so for all of the right reasons. It’s a shame, since as Bergman plays the character it’s easy to imagine how, with only a few script changes, Sister Benedict might have been interesting and multi-dimensional, rather than the sanctimonious cipher we see in The Bells of St. Mary’s.

- Paul Clark, Nerve

It should come as no surprise that McCarey, the man who first teamed Laurel with Hardy, is able to find delicate humor in the most unlikely of places. O'Malley's arrival at St. Mary's is shown as a calamitous series of sight gags capped off by the original, and funniest, cat-in-the-hat. Other laughs come from a yawning dog in church and a performance of the nativity story by an all-toddler cast.

In "Going My Way", Bing is up to his big ears in a vat of sentimental goop almost on par with either visit to "Boys Town". "The Bell's of St. Mary's" is anything but cloying. It's insightful, heartfelt and in many ways more uplifting than "It's a Wonderful Life". It even features Henry Travers one film before gaining winged immortality as Capra's Clarence.

Finally, this from imdb.com to further underscore the director's intention of making his film a romantic love story. "The production was overseen by a Catholic priest who served as an advisor during the shooting. While the final farewell sequence was being filmed, Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman decided to play a prank on him. They asked director Leo McCarey to allow one more take, and, as 'Father O'Malley' and 'Sister Benedict' said their last goodbyes, they embraced in a passionate kiss, while the offscreen priest-advisor jumped up roaring in protest."

- Scott Marks, A Christmas Yuleblog

It's sentimental hokum shrewdly put together where songs are sung, heartstrings are tugged and everyone walks away feeling good about these caring church people. Crosby croons "Adeste Fidelis," "In the Land of Beginning Again," and the uplifting "Aren't You Glad You're You." The performances by the two stars are seamless.

Leo McCarey's aunt was the nun who was the inspiration for Sister Benedict, and the one that inspired Bergman when she met with her to research her role.

- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

ABOUT LEO MCCAREY

IMDb Wiki

The following quotes are found on the They Shoot Pictures Don't They director page for Leo McCarey:

"Blending an explosive sense of humor with unabashed sentimentality, McCarey came up with such comedy gems as Ruggles of Red Gap and The Awful Truth and such maudlin pearls as Make Way for Tomorrow and Going My Way." - (The MacMillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1994)

"Leo McCarey represents a principle of improvisation in the history of the American film. Noted less for his rigorous direction than for his relaxed digressions, McCarey has distilled a unique blend of farce and sentimentality in his best efforts...McCarey's moments may outlive his movies...After enough great moments are assembled, however, a personal style must be assumed even though it is difficult to describe." - Andrew Sarris (The American Cinema, 1968)

"Jean Renoir once said that McCarey understood people better than anyone else in Hollywood. That facility enabled him to create warm, witty, sometimes zany comedies and gentle dramas." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"I only know I like my characters to walk in clouds, I like a little bit of the fairy tale. As long as I'm there behind the camera lens, I'll let somebody else photograph the ugliness of the world." - Leo McCarey

Leo McCarey has always presented auteur criticism with one of its greatest challenges and one that has never been convincingly met. The failure to do so should be seen as casting doubt on the validity of auteurism (in its cruder and simpler forms) rather than on the value of the McCarey oeuvre. He worked consistently (and apparently quite uncomplainingly) within the dominant codes of shooting and editing that comprise the anonymous "classical Hollywood" style; the films that bear his name as director, ranging from Duck Soup to The Bells of St. Mary's , from Laurel and Hardy shorts to My Son John , from The Awful Truth to Make Way for Tomorrow (made the same year!), resist reduction to a coherent thematic interpretation. Yet his name is on some of the best—and best-loved—Hollywood films (as well as on some that embarrass many of even his most fervent defenders).

In fact, it might be argued that McCarey's work validates a more sophisticated and circumspect auteur approach: not the author as divinely inspired individual creative genius, but the author as the animating presence in a project within which multiple determinants—collaborative, generic, ideological—complexly interact. The only adequate approach to a McCarey film would involve the systematic analysis of that interaction. A few notes can be offered, however, towards defining the "animating presence."

McCarey's formative years as an artist were spent working with the great clowns of the late silent/early sound period: Harold Lloyd, Mae West, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and (especially) Laurel and Hardy, for whom he was "supervising manager" for many years, personally directing two of their greatest shorts ( Liberty and Wrong Again ). His subsequent career spans (with equal success) the entire range of American comedy from screwball ( The Awful Truth ) to romantic ( An Affair to Remember ). The director's congenial characteristic seems to have been a commitment to a spontaneous, individualist anarchy which he never entirely abandoned, accompanied by a consistent skepticism about institutions and restrictive forms of social organization, a skepticism which produces friction and contradiction even within the most seemingly innocuous, conservative projects. Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's are usually rejected outright by the intelligentsia as merely pious and sentimental, but their presentation of Catholicism is neither simple, straightforward, nor uncritical, and it is easy to mistake for sentimentality, in contexts where you expect to find it anyway (such as Hollywood movies about singing priests), qualities such as tenderness and generosity. The celebration of individualism is of course a mainspring of American ideology, yet, pushed far enough in certain directions, it can expose contradictions within that ideology: its oppressive response to many forms of individuality, for example.

Robin WoodFilm Reference.com

"I was a problem child, and problem children do the seemingly insane because they are trying to find out how to fit into the scheme of things," Leo McCarey once said.

The legacy of Leo McCarey has divided critics, many of whom seem to concur that he was better at creating isolated moments than crafting great movies. Still, he made important contributions to comedy and a handful of his films have retained their capacity to touch the viewer's emotions.

- Turner Classic Movies

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His films were financial and critical successes; many—like An Affair to Remember and The Bells of St. Mary's—have remained household names. McCarey worked on nearly 200 movies across 40 years, primarily comedies. He was the first director (and is one of only seven) to have won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Screenplay in the same year. Jean Renoir said McCarey "understands people better perhaps than anyone else in Hollywood."

As to his approach, McCarey told an interviewer, "I love when people laugh, I love when they cry, I like a story to say something, and I hope the audience feels happier leaving the theatre than when it came in."

On his success: "I don't know what my formula is. I only know I like my characters to walk in clouds. I like a little bit of the fairy tale. Let others photograph the ugliness of the world. I don't want to distress people." Many of his films center on teaching scenes—one person teaches another to sing, to box, to drum, to speak on the radio—but they always feature a teacher with compassion, who forgives his student for their gaffes, forgives them their sins, as McCarey's had been for his own many failures before learning where his place in this world was to be.

He also valued quiet moments in his films, especially at the end—such as The Awful Truth or Going My Way, comedies that end peacefully, with a still, small silence. Instead of ending with a bang, McCarey's comedies end with a whisper … and we remember them. The use of silence in his endings has been compared to that of Robert Bresson. McCarey is not in the same league, but has a similar effect on his viewers in the contrast, the chiaroscuro, between the active, sometimes raucous, musical numbers and the quiet, contemplative endings.

- Eric David, Christianity Today

For a director who made a film (The Bells of St. Mary's [1945]) seen, at one time, by more moviegoers in the USA than any other to that point in history, McCarey has, oddly enough, become something of a cult figure. Among his most perceptive and vocal supporters are David Kehr, Jonathan Rosenbaum and, especially, Robin Wood. Though Wood's essays and Kehr and Rosenbaum's reviews have championed him on multiple occasions, virtually every extended biographical or critical essay about Leo McCarey written since the advent of auteurism either questions whether he was more than a serviceable metteur-en-scène or, alternatively, discusses his neglect and defends his career as an auteur. This essay very much follows the latter approach.

One factor that has made it difficult to champion McCarey as an auteur is that he lacks a “visual style” that is as identifiable as, say, a Hitchcock, Welles, or Sirk. Some critics, like George Morris, have argued that McCarey does have one, but to my mind the case can only be made in a limited fashion. For the most part McCarey's visual style is one that is barely distinguishable from numerous other Hollywood filmmakers of the same era, especially those directors that started at the bottom of the Hollywood ladder (in McCarey's case, as a script supervisor) and apprenticed in silent shorts and early sound features. To his credit, his mise-en-scène shows sensitivity to the meaning of objects (the graduation dresses in The Bells of St. Mary's, for instance). His cinematography is restrained, and he clearly has a fondness for using off-screen space. (Sometimes McCarey places the most important moments of his films just beyond the frame – the killing of the Nazi husband in Once Upon a Honeymoon, for example, or perhaps best of all, the lovers' first kiss in An Affair to Remember.) Beyond that, I believe the questions of McCarey's visual style – whether he has one, and if so, what it is – are not easily answerable, and this is one reason why McCarey's status as an auteur is insecure. But, more to the point, why must a director have a visual style to be an auteur? Cinema is more than a visual medium, it's a medium that exists in time, and few Hollywood filmmakers had more command over rhythm and structure than Leo McCarey.

Even McCarey's most ardent supporters would have a hard time making the case that his films can be encapsulated in the way that makes defining Ford's or Hitchcock's status as an auteur a comparatively more straightforward enterprise. McCarey's career has eras defined by substantially different concerns. His career, which began in silent slapstick and ended with works that bend genres and blend spiritual and political commentary, cannot be reduced to any one genre or theme. Furthermore, his style is one that is more sonic and rhythmic than picturesque, which makes the work more difficult to identify immediately and discuss in print. (Try selecting a still image that communicates rhythm!) And, like many great directors, he made some films that are, at first (or second) glance, bad or even embarrassing. These are mere complications, however, and a sensitive approach to McCarey's career reveals a career of tremendous growth. The recurring themes and formal motifs of his mature period are largely unique in the American cinema, and the fact that he developed them over the course of his career in interesting ways makes him undeniably an auteur. The fact that many of these works are truly great ranks him, ultimately, as a great film artist.

- Paul Harrill, Senses of Cinema Great Director biography

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ABOUT INGRID BERGMAN

IMDb Wiki

Official Ingrid Bergman Website

Ingrid Bergman.org

(Both of these websites are run by Ingrid Bergman's family. The former seems to be a news and shopping site with more updates, while the latter features some multimedia.)

In temperament, Miss Bergman was different from most Hollywood superstars. She did not indulge in tantrums or engage in harangues with directors. If she had a question about a script, she asked it without fuss. She could be counted on to be letter perfect in her lines before she faced the camera. And during the intervals between scenes, her relaxing smile and hearty laugh were as unaffected as her low-heeled shoes, long walking stride and minimal makeup.

Yet this even-tempered and successful actress, who was apparently happily married, became involved in a scandal that rocked the movie industry, forced her to stay out of the United States for seven years and made her life as tempestuous as many of her roles. In a sense, she became a barometer of changing moral values in the United States.

In 1949 she fell in love with Roberto Rossellini, the Italian film director, and had a child by him before she could obtain a divorce from her husband, Dr. Peter Lindstrom, and marry the director.

Before the scandal, millions of Americans had been moved by her performances in such box-office successes as ''Intermezzo,'' ''For Whom the Bell Tolls,'' ''Gaslight,'' ''Spellbound,'' ''The Bells of St. Mary's,'' ''Notorious'' and ''Casablanca,'' roles that had made her, somewhat to her annoyance, a symbol of moral perfection.

''I cannot understand,'' she said, long before the scandal, ''why people think I'm pure and full of nobleness. Every human being has shades of bad and good.''

- Murray Schumach, The New York Times obituary, August 31, 1982

The complexity of Ingrid Bergman's career (with its notorious vicissitudes), and of the image that is its product, raises a number of important issues about stars: the perennial one (but here in a peculiarly acute form) of the tensions between acting and presence; the efforts of Hollywood to construct a star according to a specific prescription and the actress's rebellion against that construction; the diverse and sometimes contradictory ways in which a "star image," once constructed, can be inflected in the work of different directors.

Bergman's partial rebellion against this image-construction was motivated by a desire to prove that she could act , and was not merely a star. When in the 1941 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde MGM cast her as Jekyll's high society fiancée and Lana Turner as Hyde's low-life mistress and victim, it was Bergman who took the initiative (enlisting Turner's cooperation) in demanding that they exchange roles. A somewhat curious accent aside, her promiscuous cockney barmaid was extremely successful (though the critics, predictably, said she was miscast).

Two of Bergman's finest performances in two of her finest films draw directly upon the natural/lady opposition: the persecuted wife of Cukor's Gaslight and the energetic and forthright nun of McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's . The latter, too easily dismissed by embarrassed sophisticates for its alleged sentimentality, is among other things, a complex and delicate study of gender roles, allowing Bergman a wide range of expression within the apparent confines of her nun's habit. Bergman's notions of being an actress (centered on a striving after obviously big acting roles such as Maria in For Whom the Bell Tolls and, above all, Joan of Arc in the disastrous Fleming film of that name) were always somewhat naive; her richest and most complex performances arose not out of "big" roles but out of collaborations with directors such as Cukor and McCarey who were particularly sensitive and sympathetic to performers , collapsing the usual distinction between presence and acting ability. One may also note that, for all her efforts to establish a wider range, Bergman was quite incapable of playing a bad woman convincingly; the irreducible beauty of her character partly undermines the dismally reactionary project of Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata , the chastisement of a great pianist for failing to be a great mother.

- Robin Wood, Film Reference.com

Ingrid remembered a really good thing about playing a nun. She could eat all the ice cream she wanted. Nobody worried about her gaining weight because nobody knew if she gained any. All that showed of her, wearing the nun's habit, was her face.

"I was like a child with money, and in the country of the greatest ice cream. Later I was to live in the land of gelati, which could be very good, but somehow Italian ice cream never caught my fancy the way the American did.

"I even dreamed about ice cream. Those were good dreams, those ice cream dreams, but they were not as enjoyable as the real thing."

Ingrid not only discovered American ice cream, but she came "to know intimately sundaes and banana splits. A hot fudge sundae was an unbelieveable delight, and you could add banana and more ice cream and hot chocolate by ordering a banana split. In New York City, where I liked ice cream the best, I could eat four ice creams in a day." She frequently ordered a second dish. Then she said she had to leave and go to another place because she was too embarrassed to order a third and even a fourth portion.

- Charlotte Chandler, Ingrid: Ingrid Bergman, a personal biography. Simon and Schuster, 2007. Pages 113-114

The Making of Ingrid Bergman: Some CGI Creepiness

987 (119). Strangers When We Meet (1960, Richard Quine)

Screened August 2009 on Columbia DVD in Brooklyn, NY TSPDT rank #974  IMDb Wiki

As a card-carrying fan of Mad Men, at times I have to check my enthusiasm against the complaints of its detractors. One consistent criticism is that the series operates too much from the vantage of winking, condescending hindsight. I'll have to save the full length of my counterargument for another time, but for now,  the skinny: this critique is based on a presumption that such a thing as an authentic historical viewpoint is fully possible, much less preferable to one whose subjective filters are made plain. For me, Mad Men is less about achieving verisimilitude than it is about the making and misleading of desire, and not just the desire among the show's characters, but the desire of its audience for an idealized past. There's a fascinating dynamic between the show and its audience as they collectively explore the nature of nostalgia. Our longing for a romanticized history runs parallel to the characters' Pyrrhic pursuits of happiness.

Strangers When We Meet illuminates some of these issues concerning Mad Men.  Unlike Mad Men, it's absent of any mention of historical events or other markers, other than what's simply on screen: outfits, the make of cars, the products in supermarket aisles. The film boasts a wonderful realism that gives authenticity to its essentially sudsy suburban adultery plot. But that's not a knock on Mad Men per se - again, the historical references in the show have everything to do with modulating its contemporary audience's desire for the past as a function with our dissatisfaction with the present.  That fundamental discontent with what one has is also at the core of  Strangers When We Meet. What I find shocking about the film - and what has me wanting to board a time capsule to check my own take on period sensibilities - is that there's no moral virtue to the affair between Kirk Douglas' architect and Kim Novak's housewife.  They're basically horny and bored.  The electricity between them is not based not on mutual understanding but lust and desperation. The feeling of tragedy and loss that cascades over the ending isn't over the failure of a true romance, but of a life built upon shifting values and ethereal desires, doomed never to be fulfilled.

Who knows how audiences at the time reacted to this (maybe after Picnic and Peyton Place the door to illicit suburbia had already been flung open?). But what elevates this film beyond potboiler status into the realm of cinema is Richard Quine's attentiveness to these hollow, well-groomed spaces of affluence (it may be too easy to namecheck Antonioni's L'Avventura, made the same year, and yet there it is... there's a party sequence in this film that anticipates the one in Antonioni's La Notte, made one year later).  They're breeding grounds for bad behavior among a class that's grown accustomed and entitled to getting what they want. They're also the sites for some remarkable acting, each character treated with sensitivity to a shared plight, even as they become adversaries. Kirk Douglas gets to smash Walter Matthau's jaw after catching him trying to cheat on his wife (Barbara Rush), but the horny neighbor is really the philosophical standard-bearer of the whole block. The only thing really separating the two are degrees of tact and consent with their targets.

They both come away relatively unscathed compared to the women; both Novak and Rush have devastating onscreen breakdowns inside their domestic prisons. Novak's performance here is revelatory: whether it's great acting, or the wear of her off-screen breakup with Quine seeping on screen, there's a genuine tiredness in her eyes and shoulders that accentuates the tight-mouthed neuroses already familiar to Vertigo fans. One can almost be certain that Quine saw Novak through a Vertigo-shaped frame - he's constantly boxing her profile in doorways and other suburban outlines like a magazine ad. She's an image of perfection, searching for substance beneath a world of surfaces, including her own (notice how she scowls in true Betty Draper fashion when her lover's young son calls her "pretty").

In the end, the film maintains the same kind of ambivalence towards the objects of desire it holds up for audience consumption as Mad Men. Whether this amounts to perverse have-your-cake-and-eat-it indulgence-cum-social critique is up for argument. But I'll take self-reflexive consumerism over the blind variety any day.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

The following ballots were counted towards the placement of Strangers When We Meet among the 1,000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Eduardo Torres-Dulce, Nickel Odeon (1997) Jean-Loup Bourget, Positif (1991) Jose Luis Guarner, Genre Favourites: Drama (1993)

PRODUCTION DETAILS

There had always been speculation about the love life of the notoriously press-shy Novak with rumors of past affairs with Columbia studio boss Harry Cohn, Sammy Davis, Jr. and Ram Trujillo. The romance with Quine, however, was now public knowledge but on the set it had different ramifications. In her earlier years in Hollywood Novak had been a reclusive, passive presence on movie sets such as Pal Joey (1957) but now she had gained more self-confidence and was flexing her power as one of Columbia's biggest stars. According to biographer Peter Harry Brown in Kim Novak: Reluctant Goddess, "Her experience on Middle of the Night [1959] convinced her that she was an actress to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, she picked the wrong director (Quine) and the wrong star (Kirk Douglas) upon whom to vent her spleen. Technicians laughed behind their hands one afternoon when Kim seriously tried to give acting instructions to Douglas, who listened with a deadpan face. Off camera, he referred to her as the 'broad Harry Cohn built.' Within days, relations between the two stars became frosty and threatened to divide the company into armed camps. Kirk, usually a model of patience, began complaining about the time it took to photograph Novak from just the right angle, in just the proper light, and during just the right mood. The inference was that Quine was tilting the production heavily in favor of Kim."

In his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Douglas recalled some of the difficulties in making Strangers When We Meet: "One morning, we were shooting a scene down at the beach. Obviously, Kim and Dick had been discussing the scene, and she was excited about a wonderful idea she had come up with. Apparently, Dick had agreed with her wholeheartedly. I listened to her argument, told her exactly why it was impossible to do the scene that way. She looked at Dick. He looked at me and said, 'You know, Kim, he's right.' Kim went berserk. She ripped up the pages, started to make incoherent sounds, screamed, went nuts. It was impossible to shoot with her for the rest of the day. The next day we shot the scene the way it was written. We got through the picture, and I enjoyed working with her, although I do think that she convinced Richard to give the picture the wrong ending. The original ending in the book, very powerful, was that after our love affair had ended, Walter Matthau, who was playing a heavy, comes to pick her up in a car, and she decides what the hell, and goes off with him. Life goes on. Instead, she preferred to spurn him, pull her trench coat up around her neck, and walk off like Charlie Chaplin. I didn't think that was the right ending, but those are the hazards of working with someone who's romantically involved with the director."

Douglas's recollection of the original ending isn't entirely accurate because HIS character is the one that calls off the affair and tries to make a go of it with his wife and family in Hawaii where an ambitious five-year project awaits him. The ending from Evan Hunter's novel (he also wrote the screenplay) wouldn't make much sense either since the Walter Matthau character was a boring lecher and completely inconceivable as the sort of man Maggie would gravitate toward to fulfill her emotional and sexual needs. The present ending of Strangers When We Meet actually rings true since none of the characters are able to escape their own private hells. So, Novak was right to sway Quine's opinion on the film's conclusion. Novak "would always refer to Strangers When We Meet as 'that great lost weekend.' (Several years later Kim reaped revenge on the actor in Boys' Night Out [1962] by having James Garner chastise a smiling friend with the lines: 'Stop showing off your teeth. Who do you think you are? Kirk Douglas?')."

- Jeff Stafford, Turner Classic Movies

Quine had many dalliances with his actresses (including Judy Hollidayand Natalie Wood) before and after, but the affectionate way he still spoke about [Kim] Novak three decades later suggests she meant a bit more. In 1959, when they were shooting Strangers When We Meet around Bel Air and Malibu, their romance was so public that the brass at Columbia took the unusual decision to build a real house instead of a set. They bought — not leased — the plot in Bel Air where Kirk Douglas’ architect is building client Ernie Kovacs’ house in the movie. The studio planned to give the house to Quine and Novak as a wedding present, as Quine was to marry his star right after the shoot — the wrap party to end all wrap parties. But Novak panicked, bolted and left him at the altar, with only the key to happiness (he got the house).

Strangers, on the surface a mediocre potboiler by Evan Hunter about suburban life (with leering Walter Matthau as a neighbor and panicky wife Barbara Rush, we’re just a few blocks away from Peyton Place), is really about professional ambitions: The subplot involves Douglas pushing Kovacs — a best-selling author — to go for an unconventional house that would best suit who he is, just as he talks him into writing a “real novel” instead of his usual crowd-pleasing mush. Quine, a serious man mostly known as a maker of commercial pap, clearly identifies with both characters, and their scenes together are by far the best in the picture. Douglas kept seething throughout the production, feeling that Quine was keeping him at arm’s length, not only due to his infatuation with Novak, but also because of the clear complicity between Quine and Kovacs, who had worked together before. But Douglas’ frustration works for the picture and its sense of a man torn between love and responsibility, not only with regard to his family, but also his work.

There is a great scene in a Malibu restaurant, when Novak has to come up with lame excuses as to why she let herself be screwed by the supermarket bag boy (or the milkman — it’s that kind of film). You barely hear the bad lines; you just see the panic in her eyes, looking not at a furious and unforgiving Douglas sitting across from her, but beyond the camera at Quine — searching, maybe, for excuses to leave him. When she did leave, not quite at the end of the film, Quine was publicly humiliated. Some wag, in spite of the news, ordered champagne delivered to the set, which had to be returned. But the two former lovers remained friends, and even made one more film together, The Notorious Landlady, two years later.

“Kim knew she’d just lucked into stardom and was not well equipped for it,” Quine told me that day in 1987. “She knew she’d have to work at it, and she did. She was a bright and intelligent woman. She knew that for most people, she was still the gal who posed for those Thor-refrigerator ads.”

- Philippe Garnier, LA Weekly

Dear Old Hollywood has a wonderful tour of the Los Angeles locations for the film, revsited today, with photo comparisons:

To figure out this location the only thing I could match was the white pillars next to the stairs in the center of the photo. If you look in the below photo you can see the same white pillars and the stairs going up the building. If it wasn't for that detail I don't think I would have ever found this location!

HISTORICAL REVIEWS

Strangers When We Meet (Bryna-Quine; Columbia) discusses adultery, but instead of probing to the heart of the matter, it settles for pure tripe. Its outlook is expressed in the observation: "Anyplace you've got a housewife, you've got a potential mistress. We're slobs in our pajamas—shaving at home—but next door we're heroes."

Inevitably, Douglas' wife finds out about his infidelity, and he has to end his affair with Kim. That is all. No one is very much upset, Hollywood's point being, it seems, that if you can't take it with you, you can at least get away with it.

- Time, July 4 1960

CONTEMPORARY REVIEWS

Richard Quine's Strangers When We Meet is another distinguished moment for the melodrama as it reaches a major key. An undervalued film, Strangers differs from the major accomplishments in the genre of Minnelli, Max Ophuls, and Douglas Sirk, all of whom brought to their work some degree of distanciation, either through elaborate camera technique or exaggerated mise-en-scene. Their point was usually to give the viewer some place from which to critically analyze a film without becoming removed entirely from emotional involvement. Quine's film allows no such position, but instead uses a realist dramatic mode that, heightened in the manner of the then-popular expose - Confidential magazine is a representative if degraded example - is astonishing in its candid portrayal of the emptiness of marriage and postwar suburban life. The empathy allowed the spectator is disconcerting as the breadth of the film's condemnation becomes clear.

- Barry Keith Grant, American Cinema of the 1960s. Rutgers University Press, 2008. Page 32

Made at a time when Eisenhowerian America was on the cusp of a major shift in social mores Richard Quine’s wonderful Cinemascope melodrama tells story of an adulterous relationship in the heartland of middle class suburbia as architect Larry Coe (Kirk Douglas) and housewife Maggie Gault (Kim Novak, who made 4 films with Quine), give way to their desire for each other. The carnality is alluded to with finesse, the main issue being, of course, the threat to their safe, apparently ideal lives and their resulting re-evaluation of their commitment/sense of obligation to it. With a strong script by Evan Hunter from his own novel, fine performances from Douglas and Novak and excellent direction from Quine who gives the characters' moral quandaries great visual resonance this remains a compelling and affecting film. Although dramatically the film is weighted a little too much on Douglas’ struggle with himself with Novak’s character being largely assumed to have surrendered body and soul to the call of love, this is, nevertheless, a treat for lovers of 50s melodrama.

- Cinephilia

The sympathetic treatment of the lead characters is enhanced by director Richard Quine's judicious use of the widescreen frame, setting most shots at a comfortable distance from the characters and cutting to close-ups only at key moments in the plot. Such remove creates the impression that Larry and Maggie are only barely comfortable in their environment, forever tempted by dissatisfaction. It also reinforces a mood of melancholy, a rueful conviction that fine belongings and lavish residences cannot compensate for emotional malnourishment.

- David Sanjek, PopMatters

I had heard from several smart critics that not only was this Quine's best work, but also a great L.A. film. Both claims are true, and anyone fascinated by the way the real city has been used in movies will be endlessly absorbed in trying to identify the many locations captured by the great Charles B. Lang's perceptive color and widescreen camerawork.

The neighborhood where the central characters live -- where Douglas and Novak first see each other, dropping off their kids at a school bus stop -- is unidentified, but would seem to be in the northeast section of Santa Monica or Brentwood. One sequence takes place in and outside the legendary Romanoff's restaurant, and for those whose memories predate the Beverly Center, the lovers and their children have an encounter at the pony ride lot that long occupied the property.

Douglas' character is an architect designing a modernist dwelling for Ernie Kovacs' neurotic, womanizing author, and one watches the house go up in the mountains above Malibu as the film progresses. And then there is Malibu itself, where Douglas and Novak commence their tryst at the now-gone Albatross Hotel Restaurant with the assurance they'll run into none of their friends way out there.

But the real issue here is the perception of a disconnect between the film's familiar melodramatic format, which is what made sophisticates condescend to it half a century ago, and the absolute emotional and dramatic truth of every scene in the movie, which render it virtually undated after all the years (it's also a pleasure to note that the film's leads are still with us).

The operative cliche is that two attractive neighbors, both a bit itchy after some years of marriage, won't be able to resist lighting a fire in their lives; the truth lies in the details of how the characters deal with their desires in a realistic context, and it's here that a one-time alleged potboiler like "Strangers When We Meet" seems more credible and mature than a committed truth-teller such as "Revolutionary Road" or, for that matter, Mendes' earlier "American Beauty."

- Todd McCarthy, Variety

Like some of the heavier suburban melodramas of the 1950s (Peyton PlaceSome Came Running, anything directed by Douglas Sirk), director Richard Quine's entry in the genre stands in stark contrast to the bedroom farces of the same period. Hollywood seemed to be walking a tightrope in the pre-sexual revolution America. Suburbia was either a repressed zone where the lid was about to be blown off middle-class hypocrisy, or it was an upwardly mobile, modern-day arcadia in which martini-fueled executive satyrs pursued nymphet housewives (not their own) for trysts at the supermarket, on the patio, or at the school bus stop. Actually, thanks to the novel and screenplay by Evan Hunter (The Birds), Quine finds some middle ground. This picture, shot in Panavision at a leisurely pace to fully capture the sunny bliss of the Los Angeles suburbs, makes the case that an extramarital affair might not be such a lark—yet it's also not the end of the world. When episodes of "Mad Men" turn from Madison Avenue to the faraway suburbs, the series taps into a rich vein of human drama that this nearly forgotten film mined long ago.

- David Pelfrey, Black and White

FORMAL ANALYSIS

In the late 1950s unfaithful spouses were still classified as adulterers – of the “Thou Shall Not” kind. It wouldn’t be until the 1960s and 70s that the wanderers  could see themselves as “swingers” or “wife-swappers/husband hoppers.” The dominant look of Mid-Century modernist architecture -- with all its open spaces and transparent glass walls – lent itself to this much more open kind of marriage and relationships. Thus, it’s quite fitting that the house designed by Larry Coe (Kirk Douglas) in STRANGERS WHEN WE MEET has an open-space interior but lots of Japanese-style wooden walls indoors and outdoors, which clearly keep the indoor sexual trysts with Maggie Gault (Kim Novak) hidden from view. The adulterous couple may be on a hillside out of reach of their neighbors, but they need to keep the relationship also out of sight. A decade later the window/walls of glass in MCM homes would serve as picture frames or even proscenium arches containing often very visible trysts or orgies. By the 1970s exhibitionism and voyeurism hooked up quite easily in the hills surrounding the Hollywood film industry. The dominance of Mid-Century modern architectural styles made it all the easier. Larry Coe's home design in the film combined elements of East and West (Japan and California) in a way that ensured privacy while providing great views of the hillsides and valleys of Bel-Air. Throughout the film the house, actually being built during the film's production, would become an important co-star to Douglas and Novak.

- Chale Nafus, The Austin Film Society

Richard Quine’s masterpiece Strangers When We Meet is the story of an adulterous relationship. Kirk Douglas is architect Larry Coe. Kim Novak is housewife Maggie Gault. The two are neighbors with children who attend school together. Early on, Quine films several scenes from Larry’s point-of-view, indicating the attraction he feels for Maggie. (This is particularly evident in the film’s very first scene, but it’s obvious also in a later scene where the two interact in a grocery store and, in a great tracking shot, the beautiful Maggie is revealed to the audience just as she is revealed to Larry.)

Later, Larry invites Maggie to come with him to survey a lot where he is about to build a house for a new client. Larry is standing next to his parked car as he speaks to Maggie opposite him. When Quine cuts to reverse shots of Maggie towards the end of the scene, it’s again obvious that we are seeing her as Larry perceives her; Novak is beautifully backlit in these shots. Maggie initially declines to join Larry, but eventually he is able to persuade her. “Change your mind,” he insists. In the shot in which he is seen saying that key line, Quine frames Larry with an intersection clearly visible behind him; despite the entire exchange taking place in the same location, this is the first time Quine has shot Larry in this way. Therefore, it is undeniably tempting to see the image of the road in metaphorical terms; depending upon Maggie’s answer, the two could be going down a path which will alter the courses of their lives greatly. Maggie agrees to go with Larry.

Another wonderful moment of visual metaphor comes when they meet at a seaside restaurant. It is storming outside and violent waves can be seen outside. Fittingly, Larry and Maggie acknowledge that they feel guilty about their adultery. And while neither one of them decides to end the relationship, the audience remains ill at ease with the morality of what they are doing. I believe this to be Quine’s intention. Think, for instance, of the moment when Maggie is thinking of Larry as she is doing the dishes. But her son yells, “Mom,” off-screen, asking for more milk. As Quine pulls back from a close-up of Maggie to a wide shot as she walks to the refrigerator, the audience is reminded palpably of her dual life.

Maggie’s deception of her husband is portrayed in hard-edged terms by Quine’s mise-en-scene. At one point, Maggie receives a call from Larry. She goes to answer it in the kitchen. The wide shot Quine selects for this moment includes both the kitchen to the right, the living room to the left in which Maggie’s husband can be seen sitting in an easy chair, and the wall which separates the two rooms—and, hence, Maggie from her husband. When the call is over, she says she was speaking to one of her girlfriends. (This shot, incidentally, brought to mind a similar one in Robert Mulligan’sClara’s Heart, a film which also features an unhappy married couple; the shot in Mulligan’s film has long been championed by critic and Mulligan scholar Fred Camper. The two shots are so similar that it’s hard for me to imagine that Mulligan was unaware of Quine’s film.) The conclusion of Strangers When We Meet, set partly in the fully constructed house which Larry has been building over the course of the film, ends not on a note of romance, but with two long shots: one of Larry standing atop the hill on which his grand house has been built; the other of Maggie driving away from the house.

- Peter Tonguette, The Film Journal

ABOUT THE COLUMBIA DVD

A shade hazy, but colors seem only slightly paled. I wish it was sharper, but I think it is acceptable. Novak seems to look great in every scene she is in, so it makes it all the harder to be critical. Black levels are very good, and as customary by Columbia now, minimal menus which I don't mind. No extras excepting the "previews" (yet again). Overall no effort seems to have gone in but the stock from the vault is reasonably healthy.

- Gary W. Tooze, DVD Beaver

ABOUT RICHARD QUINE

IMDb Wiki

A prolific director of over thirty Hollywood features made between 1948 and 1979, Richard Quine’s (1920-1989) career achieved a sustained peak during the 1950s and 1960s while working at Columbia Pictures. A specialist in comedy who was instrumental in launching the careers of Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon and Blake Edwards, Quine has long been overshadowed by the other great directors of late studio era comedy: Billy Wilder, Frank Tashlin and Edwards himself. Only recently has Quine been rediscovered as a filmmaker of equal rank, an artist able to infuse studio comedy and melodrama with unexpected warmth and melancholy.

Born in Detroit in 1920, Quine was already acting in Hollywood and on Broadway by the mid-1930s. After serving in the Coast Guard during World War Two, he turned to directing and quickly secured a contract at Columbia, where he began by filming a string of comedy shorts before turning to a series of musicals. During the 1950s, Quine hit his stride with such hit comedies as The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956) and Bell, Book and Candle (1959), commercial success that continued well into the 1960s, after Quine had left Columbia.

Quine is perhaps best understood placed between two other celebrated directors of 1950s comedy: Billy Wilder and Frank Tashlin. More understated than Tashlin, Quine replaces Tashlin’s manic energy with understated charm. Although Quine shares a number of Wilder’s favorite actors, most notably Jack Lemmon, and often echoes Wilder’s striking visual realism, Quine’s films are less sour than Wilder’s. Where Wilder’s films deliver a jaundiced, biting critique of postwar America, Quine’s work thoughtfully examines the melancholy underside of American life, the drifting world of the so-called “lonely crowd.”

This unique combination of charm and melancholy, with an emphasis on the lonely heart of American society, reaches a poignant apex with Strangers When We Meet (1960), a melodrama of suburban adultery that is remarkably restrained for late Hollywood. While Quine’s later comedies grow more manic and cynical, his greatest work from the 1950s and 1960s—the focus of this series—reveal the talent of a consummate storyteller and restrained stylist.

- The Harvard Film Archive

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ABOUT KIRK DOUGLAS

IMDb Wiki

Kirk Douglas tribute and links page on ClassicMovies.org

The archetypal Hollywood movie star of the postwar era, Kirk Douglas built a career with he-man roles as soldiers, cowboys and assorted tough guys in over 80 films. His restless, raging creations earned him three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor and one Golden Globe win for his portrayal of Vincent van Gogh in "Lust for Life" (1956). But besides his lasting mark as a seething strong man with a superhero-like head of hair and the most famous dimpled chin this side of Shirley Temple, Douglas was a Tinseltown innovator and rebel. As one of the first A-listers to wrest further control of their career by founding an independent production company, Douglas also effectively ended the 1950s practice of blacklisting Hollywood talent suspected of communist ties when he insisted on crediting famed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo for his script adaptation of "Spartacus" (1960). Douglas maintained his position as a perennial favorite - often opposite fellow tough guy Burt Lancaster - in Westerns and World War II films until the early 1970s, when changing tastes edged the timeworn genres into the wings. He began a second career as a writer and focused on the philanthropic efforts of The Douglas Foundation, occasionally surfacing throughout the 1980s and 1990s to portray irrepressible old firecrackers in made-for-TV movies and the occasional feature.

- Turner Classic Movies

His screen persona has been characterized by resoluteness and ferocity, the typical ingredients of his steadfast, driven heroes, and occasionally the psychological foundation for his formidable and relentless villains. These variations on a theme of perseverance have pleased audiences who have come to know the Douglas face as a movie icon—eyes blazing with anger or resistance, teeth clenched in determination, a distinctive cleft in his firmly planted chin.

Bill Wine, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg, Film Reference.com

kirk-douglas-37481093

All my life, I have taken inventory at intervals. For example, when I became a movie actor and suddenly I had to deal with fame, money and playing so many roles, I lost myself. I said, "Who am I?" And I wrote my first book to deal with that, "The Ragman's Son."

Then the next thing that happened: I was in a helicopter crash. We crashed into a small plane with two young people who were killed instantly. I fell to the ground, and I said, "Why?" I tried to find God, so I wrote a book, "Climbing the Mountain." Then the worst accident in my life happened with a tingling across my cheek, and then it developed into a stroke, and I couldn't talk, and an actor who can't talk is a big problem. But then I wrote the book "My Stroke of Luck" that helped me and helped a lot of other people. That was gratifying.

After that, here I was, 92 years old, impediment in my speech, and was reflecting on my life, and people thought I would write another book, and I said no, I'm going to do a one-man show. My friends laughed; they thought it was a joke, but I did it.

- Kirk Douglas, interviewed by Matthew Carey, CNN, April 9 2009

ABOUT KIM NOVAK

IMDb Wiki

KimNovak.org - Tribute site

Biographical Timeline by Glamour Girls of the Silver Screen

Kim Novak has often been disparaged as the last star manufactured by the studio system. In 1953, when Harry Cohn realized that Columbia's reigning sex goddess, Rita Hayworth, was becoming too rebellious, he supposedly decided to "create" a replacement. He selected Novak and, having her groomed and promoted through a huge publicity campaign, cast her in several films meant to display her sex appeal. Cohn's investment actually offered Novak an opportunity: she achieved stardom by developing an individualistic screen persona, and through her own accomplishments as an actress.

- Richard Lippe, Film Reference.com

It’s possible that the star we know as Kim Novak was partially the invention of Columbia Pictures—- conceived, as the Canadian critic Richard Lippe puts it, both as a rival/spinoff of Marilyn Monroe and as a replacement for the reigning but at that point aging Rita Hayworth. At least this was the favored cover story of Columbia studio head Harry Cohn, whom Timemagazine famously quoted in 1957 as saying, “If you wanna bring me your wife and your aunt, we’ll do the same for them.” It was also the treasured conceit of the American press at the time, which was all too eager to heap scorn on Novak for presuming to act–just as they were already gleefully deriding Monroe for presuming to think.

But Monroe, as we know today, was considerably smarter than most or all of the columnists who wrote about her. And Kim Novak–a major star if not a major actress–had something to offer that was a far cry from updated Hayworth or imitation Monroe (even if the latter was precisely what Columbia attempted to do with her in one of her first screen appearances, in the 1954 Judy Holliday vehicle Phffft!). In point of fact, Novak was more beautiful than either actress, yet paradoxically she was also less of a fantasy. Marilyn Monroe was plainly a comic-strip figure and a fantasy wish-fulfillment that simultaneously converted all the men in her orbit into both fathers and infants, whereas Hayworth apparently lived up to her own self-characterization: “Men go to bed with Gilda but they wake up with me.” But Novak was real from the get-go, and it’s tempting to think that her humble Midwestern origins had something to do with her reality.

- Jonathan Rosenbaum