Saturday, December 18, 2010

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

“Do you believe in witchcraft Ms. Connell?”

            I Walked with a Zombie is not what we today would think of a zombie movie. There are no creepy Exorcist-looking dead people roaming around a small town getting their heads blown off with a shotgun. I Walked with a Zombie explores the tradition of voodoo and the sect’s belief in the dead and their rising. This  film explores voodoo respectfully. The lead character does not believe in voodoo but she begins to question whether it could help.
            Frances Dee plays Betsy Connell a Canadian nurse who is sent down to an island called Saint Sebastian. She is to care for Jessica Holland, the wife of a sugar plantation owner named Paul Holland (Tom Conway) . On the boat heading towards the island, we hear Betty’s thoughts on how beautiful the island is going to be when it is as if Paul can hear her thoughts and he says that nothing stays beautiful for long.
            At dinner when she arrives on the island, Betsy can hear drums. Paul and his brother Wes explain that the drums are coming from the houmfort where the natives practice and hold their voodoo rituals. Paul tells Betsy that she can meet Jessica the next day. That night she hears crying and follows it to an old tower on the property. As she climbs the stairs she can see Jessica and calls out to her. Jessica has this emotionless look on her face and just walks towards Betsy like she is going to harm the nurse. Betsy screams and Paul, Wes, and the house keeper Alma come running into the tower. Paul commands Jessica to stop. She can follow simple commands and that is all. Paul sees Betsy coming to an island as a mistake; he feels she cannot handle the island that she is easily frightened. But Betsy assures Paul that she is not easily frightened; she never would have come to the island in the first place if she had been.
            The next day Betsy talks with Jessica’s doctor. The doctor says that Jessica had such a high fever from a tropical disease that it gave her brain damage. So far there is no cure to be found and Jessica just lives like a zombie.
            One afternoon on her day off, Betsy walks into town where she happens to meet Wes. As they sit a café a man, unaware that Wes is near, sings a song about the family. The song says that Wes had an affair with Jessica and that the boys are lonely and a young nurse has come along. The man stops singing the song but it affects Wes and he starts drinking heavily. When it gets dark Betsy wants to leave but Wes is completely out of it. Mrs. Rand, Wes’ mother, comes to get him. What has happened to Jessica has obviously affected the family and Wes and Paul blame themselves for her condition.
            That night at dinner, Paul and Wesley get into an argument over Jessica and over Wesley’s drinking. Wesley blames Paul for the way Jessica is and that he is only trying to impress Betsy. By this time it does seem as if Paul is trying to impress Betsy he seems to have very little interest in his wife at all, as if he is ready to move on since he knows nothing can be done for her. That night Betsy wakes up to the piano being played outside her room. Paul is playing it, he apologizes for waking her. He tells Betsy that he thinks she should go back to Canada that he should not have brought her to island and that now he feels he is the main cause of Jessica’s condition. Betsy does not want to go she has fallen in love with Paul.
            Betsy is determined to make Paul happy and to do so she feels she must find a cure for Jessica. She and Jessica’s doctor try to give her insulin shock treatment but that fails. Now desperate, Betsy asks Mrs. Rand’s advice about voodoo and if it could possibly help. Mrs. Rand works in a clinic so she sees things in a purely medical way. She says that voodoo is only psychological.
            That night Alma tells Betsy how to get to the houmfort. The night is windy as they walk through a cane field and past animal sacrifices. Betsy is obviously a little nervous and frightened but she keeps moving ahead. At a crossroad they come up to a zombie man who stands on guard.

He is very scary looking; he does not say or do anything. At the houmfort Betsy sees a priest doing a ritual with a saber. Followers play drums and chant.  Some followers, including Betsy, line up to ask the voodoo priest for advice through a hole in the door. When Betsy ask for a cure for Jessica the door opens and she is pulled inside. The priest turns out to be Mrs. Rand. She tells Betsy through voodoo she is able to tell the natives to use modern means of curing the sick. Mrs. Rand says that Jessica will never be cured she is too far gone.
            As Mrs. Rand and Betsy talk; the natives are amazed by the state Jessica is in. The priest with the sword stabs Jessica in the arm and she does not bleed. Betsy comes out of the hut and quickly takes Jessica back. The natives have upped their drumming and want Jessica to come back so they can do more ritual tests on her. Residents of the area are starting to get worried since they have never heard this before and always passed voodoo off as a joke. Later that night, the priest sends the zombie man to get Jessica. Betsy hears him shuffling passed her room and runs out. Before the zombie man can take Jessica Mrs. Rand comes out to the garden and sends him away.
            An official inquiry into Jessica’s illness has been started. Wesley uses this inquiry to put the blame on Paul but his accusation does not go very far. Mrs. Rand says she knows why Jessica is like this; she has turned the girl into a zombie. The doctor and Betsy dismiss this because her heart is still beating and she was never in a coma. When the doctor leaves, Wesley backs his mother up by telling that Jessica was in a coma for a day. Mrs. Rand has never believed in voodoo but felt desperate to save her family from breaking up when Jessica wanted to run away with Wesley. She felt possessed by the voodoo god to turn the woman into a zombie.

            Paul is now the desperate one as he asks Betsy to put Jessica out of her misery but she will not do it. The voodoo priest takes control of Jessica by putting her into a walking trance. Wesley follows her taking an arrow off the fountain statue of St. Sebastian.  Wesley carries Jessica in his arms to the shore of the beach. As the voodoo priest sticks a pin in a plastic doll of Jessica, Wesley plunges the arrow into her. He takes her body and walks into the ocean. The next day Wesley and Jessica’s bodies are found by natives while fishing.
            I Walked With a Zombie was very well received when it was first released. There is nothing spectacular and jaw dropping about the film. There was nothing like this being made at the time. What makes this film so good is that it is ambiguous: we never know the real reason for Jessica’s illness, we never know if she truly is a zombie or not, we do not know if the voodoo priest made Wesley kill Jessica and himself, and so much more. It did not stereotype Caribbean culture or the voodoo ritual it was a semi-serious look into is it-is it not real aspect of the voodoo religion. First watching the film it can be a little nerve wracking because you do not know what is going to come along or happen; maybe the nervousness or suspense is due to what we have come to believe that voodoo is scary with zombies and bringing people back to life.
            Everything about this film was very well done. The acting was very good. I watched this film to see Frances Dee, I had seen her in a pre-code film she made with Ginger Rogers called Finishing School  and I really liked her. She was gorgeous and a very good actress. The lighting in the film was great. Most of it took place at night time with the moon shining, the lighting added to the mystery and intensity to the story.
            Very little music is played throughout the film. The scene where Betsy comes across the zombie man walking in the garden there is no music playing; you can feel your heart race as you wait for something to happen. A scene without music is often more powerful than a scene with music since you are left to really think about what is to come there is not cue.
            One of my favorite aspects of the film is how Paul referred to island as being dead and unhappy, everything came to die there there was no beauty. On a wall in Jessica’s room there is a painting called Island of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin. Very nice touch by the design department adding this painting to the wall.
island of the dead|arnold bocklin|1880|26.90

            I Walked with a Zombie is not a conventional Golden Age of Hollywood story. There is a bit of a love story going on between Betsy and Paul but it is not the main focus. The focus is on ambiguity and voodoo and desperation. I liked this film for those aspects, for it being different from what was being made at the time.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Wrong Man

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“This is Alfred Hitchcock speaking. In the past, I have given you many kinds of suspense                pictures. But this time, I would like you to see a different one. The difference lies in the fact that           this is a true story, every word of it. And yet it contains elements that are stranger than all the fiction that has gone into many of the thrillers that I've made before.”- prologue to The Wrong Man

            “ An innocent man has nothing to fear, remember that.”
            Does an innocent man really have nothing to fear? We have heard this kind of line over and over again in crime movies and shows, for the cops they say this to see if the accused squirms or reacts either genuinely or guiltily. Alfred Hitchcock in his film The Wrong Man shows that an innocent man really has many things to fear when accused of a crime he did not commit.
             The Wrong Man is based off the real- life story of Manny Balestrero who is charged with holding up a store. The story was first printed in Life magazine in 1952 by Hubert Brean called “A Case of Identity.”  The story of an innocent man accused of something he did not do is a recurring theme in many of Hitchcock’s movies (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Spellbound). Christopher Emmanuel “Manny” Balestrero (Henry Fonda) plays the double bass in a small orchestra at the Stork Club. He plays late into the night, takes the subway and bus back to his home in Queens. He and his wife Rose (Vera Miles) are like most people, they struggle to make ends meet but they are happy with what they have. Poor Rose is having trouble with her wisdom teeth which will cost $300 to get taken care of (!!!). The next day Manny goes to the insurance company to take out money against Rose’s policy so she can get her teeth taken care of… from here on in Manny’s life is turned upside down.
            That night after Manny comes home from his mother’s house the police are waiting for him outside. The ladies in the insurance office believe that Manny is the one who held up the office the previous month. The police do not even let Manny tell Rose where he is going which makes her worry to no end later on. Witnesses say that Manny is the man who robbed their places of business. He is processed, put in a holding cell, taken to court where his bale is set way too high, and then taken to prison. Fortunately his brother-in-law posts his bale and he is allowed out of prison until the trial.
            After bringing Manny back home, Rose phones a lawyer named O’Connor. They see the lawyer the following. Rose is very optimistic and does all the talking while Manny is silent. O’Connor will take the case but he warns the Balestreros that he has never done a criminal case. During the meeting we find out that on the night of one of the crimes the Balestreros were on vacation. They go up to the place where they stayed and talk to the couple who run the motel. Manny remembers playing cards with some men. When they get back to the City, Manny and Rose try to track down these men for witnesses but they have no luck, two of the men are dead and one cannot be found.
            Rose is no longer optimistic about things. She’s worrying that Manny will be sent to jail and about money. She and Manny sit in O’Connor’s office and she just stares off into space. O’Connor notices something is wrong and suggests she gets up. When Manny gets home from work one night, Rose is still awake; she hasn’t been able to sleep for the past few nights. Manny now sees that something is definitely wrong with his wife. At one point she takes a brush and hits Manny over the head with it and cracks a mirror. Manny takes Rose to a specialist. He tells Manny that Rose is feeling guilty that all this has happened because of her and they are drowning in debt because she feels she was not good with money. The specialist suggests Rose goes into a home for a while to straighten out her mind.
            Manny’s trial is not going well. Two women identify Manny as the robber and a juror stands up asking why they have to listen to all the testimony anymore which causes a mistrial. At home while getting ready for work one night, Manny is basically at wits end with this whole trial. His life has been turned upside down and he wishes he had just been found guilty since it would be easier for him to move on. His mother tells him to pray but he just says it doesn’t work it’s luck he needs. When he walks into his bedroom he looks at a picture of Jesus on the wall and begins to pray. As he prays his face fades and we see a man walking towards the camera. The man’s face fits into Manny’s; it is the man who has been causing the Balestreros all their troubles and whom Manny has been mistaken for.
            The man walks into a deli and asks for some ham. As the woman goes to get the ham he walks behind the counter. He messes with the wrong woman!! The woman takes a knife and holds it out ready for him if comes and attacks. She stomps the floor as an alert and her husband comes up and attacks the robber. The police come and take him in.
            As Manny is working an employee tells him that the police need him to come down to the station and he leaves his double-bass on stage. At the station O’Connor tells Manny they got the guy and the innocent man and guilty man come face to face. Manny, not thinking of himself says to the robber “do you know what you have done to my wife?” The women who accused Manny in court have now positively identified the real the man; they cannot look Manny in the eye as they walk out because of embarrassment.
            The first thing Manny does the next day is go to Rose at the home she is staying at. He tells her everything will be alright but she’s not in her right frame of mind she is still out of it. This crushes Manny to no end.
            The film ends with a title card saying that two years later Rose was completely cured and the family is now living in Florida.
            The Wrong Man is not considered to be one of Hitchcock’s best films. When you watch a Hitchcock film you expect there to be this fantastic fictional suspense/mystery/thriller with a love story thrown in. The Wrong Man is a true story that cannot be fictionalized which makes this film underrated. It is a shame that this film considered underrated, I personally think, while it is not the best story, it is one of Hitchcock’s best directed films. As I watched this film I was amazed by the camera angles and how much they made us feel for Henry Fonda’s character. When Manny is in the holding cell Hitchcock pans the room as if we were looking through Manny’s eyes and he does the same thing in the courtroom and when Manny is being transferred to the prison. In the courtroom scene we see that Manny’s confidence is shaking as he looks as the jury not paying attention and talking, one of the lawyers that is defending him is drawing on a notebook and not listening at all, and his sister is putting on lipstick. Hitchcock explained to Francoise Truffaut about the prison transfer:
            “During the journey between the station house and the prison, there are different men guarding him, but since he’s ashamed, he keeps his head down, staring at his shoes, so we never show the guards… In the same way, during the whole trip, we only show theguards’ feet, their lower legs, the floor, and the bottom parts of the door.”
We see what Manny is nervously looking at as he walks past other prisoners. We can genuinely feel that Manny is sad and nervous and scared and feels that he does not belong with these real criminals. Hitchcock filmed the emotions of Montgomery Cliff’s character the same way three years previously in I Confess.
            Going for broke on realism, Hitchcock actually filmed The Wrong Man in New York City in the same neighborhoods the events really took place. He even used the actual home where Rose goes and had the actual doctors playing themselves. Vera Miles and Henry Fonda spent some time with the real Balestreros before shooting began. The real guilty man was caught by the woman who owned the deli but instead of holding the knife away from the man she had the knife against his stomach which made the man so scared that he did not move and the husband was easily able to keep the man down until the police came. Like in the film the man said “Let me go. My wife and kids are waiting for me.” Hitchcock told Truffaut that this line would never be written into a movie for how ridiculous it sounds but it just worked.
            One problem Hitchcock finds as a weakness in the film is the interruptions of Manny’s story to show how Rose is gradually losing her mind. I do not find these interruptions as a weakness. Yes they are interruptions they come at not the greatest moments for the flow of the story sometimes but I feel they are important. Showing Rose losing her mind over this is important; this is just one of the things that Manny has to fear. Vera Miles was excellent as Rose. The scene in the lawyer’s office when she is starting to slip was done so well; you can actually relate and understand her feelings of despair and hopelessness and of feeling stuck. She sits in the chair feeling numb. Hitchcock wanted to make Vera Miles his next Grace Kelly and you can tell by this film she could have been his next great  muse; her acting was fantastic (she was only 27 when she made this).
            The Wrong Man, while it may be underrated, is still a very good Hitchcock film. It is an unconventional Hitchcock movie which is probably why many do not like it; but from it being different from all his other films that is what makes The Wrong Man so good. The film is chilling because it is so real. We can relate to the working man and the problems of having debts, we can relate to the hopelessness, the nervousness, the sadness, and the frustrations of the characters. Truffaut points out the Hitchcock that in the hands of a lesser director this movie would not have worked out at all. But of course Hitchcock being the Master of Suspense and the greatest director of all time he made The Wrong Man work, he made this true story suspenseful and frightening.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

One Touch of Venus

“Oh aren’t you ashamed a big boy like you scared to death of a girl”
“But you’re not a girl you’re a statue"

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if love was chasing after you instead of you chasing after it? What if love were to just tap you on the shoulder and be totally smitten with you without knowing you? In the 1948 film One Touch of Venus, Eddie Hatch finds himself lucky to be chased by the goddess of love herself.
            Eddie Hatch is a window dresser who works in Savory’s department store. He is engaged to marry Gloria who never stops reminding him that they are to be married. Gloria loves Eddie more than he has feelings for her. He has a friend who also works in the department store named Joe. Eddie’s life is routine and ordinary with no complications. One night his boss, Mr. Savory, asks him to fix a curtain which keeps getting stuck. The curtain is supposed to open smoothly to reveal Savory’s latest art purchase the of the Anatolian Venus. As Eddie fixes the curtain he cannot help himself and kisses the statue. Lightning strikes after the kiss and all the sudden Eddie feels a hand ruffling his hair. He turns around and cannot believe his eyes: the statue of Venus is alive!!
            Venus is totally taken by this clumsy mortal. She says “Oh he’s wonderful” then looks to the sky and thanks Jupiter. When Eddie wakes up his head is literally in the lap of love with love herself stroking his hair. Eddie is just a ball of nerves and cannot come to his senses. This beautiful lady is just falling head over heels for him and he does not know what to do.  
            Savory sees that his statue has gone missing and immediately blames Eddie saying that he stole the statue. His assistant Molly thinks it is crazy that someone like Eddie could pull off stealing a heavy statue. Savory has detectives investigate Eddie and bring him.
            Throughout the movie Venus drives Eddie nuts. He is in trouble for something he did not do and Gloria is mad at him because she thinks he seeing another woman behind her back. All he wants is for Venus to go back to being a statue. On the elevator ride to bring Venus back Eddie realizes he is in love with the goddess and takes her out to a park for a romantic night. Unfortunately the detectives Savory hired find Eddie and arrest him.
            That morning Venus was found sleeping in the model home and Savory completely fell for her. She told him she was in love with Eddie that there was no way she and Savory could be together. The department owner was furious that he was being rejected for a small man with no power or money. When Eddie gets arrested Venus uses her sexuality and beauty to get Savory to have Eddie taken out of jail. Instead of calling the jail Savory calls Molly and pretends he is calling the jail. During the conversation Molly says she is quitting but Savory cannot function without Molly and realizes he loves her. Before he runs to Molly, Venus has the boss really call the jail and Eddie is let go.
            By the time Eddie gets back to Venus she has been turned back into a statue.
            Well not to completely spoil the ending Venus and Eddie do get together in some way.  
            All I can say about this film is how damn adorable it was!!!! I was gushing like an idiot I could not take how ridiculously cute and funny One Touch of Venus was.
            I had such a good time watching this film especially after seeing Ava Gardner playing the two-timing Femme Fatale Kitty Collins in The Killers. Ava Gardner is considered to be the ultimate screen siren with millions of fans in love with her… who better to play Venus the goddess of love than the goddess of the screen? I love Ava Gardner to no end in this movie she was so cute and bubbly as Venus. She had that sexy, gorgeous side to her as well as the sweet side that just mixed so well on screen for this film.
            Robert Walker was so perfect as the bumbling window dresser Eddie Hatch that now to me it is so difficult to see him as Bruno Anthony in Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (I have no clue how I will be able to watch Strangers now after watching Venus I’ll be thinking about him as Eddie the whole time!).
            Eve Arden as Molly made the whole film. Her character was the perfect kind of snarky and her delivery of her lines were so spot on. She definitely has some of the best lines I have heard in classic film. Arden in pretty much every role she had was always dry and sarcastic and in this film her humor was spot on. Some of her lines were really quick and subtle so you really have to listen when she talks.
            One Touch of Venus was originally a Broadway play. There are a few musical numbers in here like “Speak Low” which gives the musical feel of a play but the witty, fast, dialogue of a play is there as well. The music in the movie is excellent it adds wonderfully to the silliness.
            One Touch of Venus is so much fun to watch. It’s a light hearted comedy that is so well acted and so well done in all aspects. If you are ever in a bad mood or just need a pick me up stick this film on and I guarantee you will feel better in no time. 
            YouTube has this film posted online in parts. So hop on over to YouTube now and get watching!!



Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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“These are dark times, There is no denying.”

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1” is definitely darker than the other six Harry Potter movies. The magic world has been thrown into chaos with the Dark Lord and his followers fully taking over. No one is safe, even muggles are being attacked. The Ministry of Magic now has a sculpture of a wizard crushing muggles under stone in their “rightful” place.
            For Harry, Hermione, and Ron the world as they knew it is gone. They can’t even go back to Hogwarts or any place they use to know as safety. The three friends are away from all they know for almost the entire movie. The only happy spot in the film is Bill Weasley’s wedding to Fleur Delacour. Even that is broken up when a message from the Ministry of Magic comes to tell everyone the Ministry has been taken over and the minister has been killed. Hermione disaparates away with Ron and Harry to a spot in London where she used to go with her parents. Since they cannot find a safe place in London, Harry, Ron and Hermione are forced to travel through woods and mountains to keep away from Voldemort’s followers who are on the lookout for them.
            I cannot give too much away without spoiling the whole movie.
            I really liked this installment of Harry Potter. I liked how they were out of their element away from Hogwarts, after seeing Hogwarts for so many years it was starting to get a bit old. I felt the same way about the book as well I liked how they were out in the real wizard world.
            Deathly Hallows and its content provides every actor in the movie with great material and a great way to show their acting abilities. Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliff, and Rupert Grint were so brilliant. All three have always been fantastic as Hermione, Harry, and Ron but now that they are older and the material is darker you can now see what fine actors they have become. Some of the best performances come from Emma Watson and Daniel Radcliff when Harry and Hermione are on their own after Ron leaves for a bit. Harry and Hermione have such a nice friendship, I enjoyed seeing them without Ron we got to see more of their friendship then we’ve ever seen before.
            Of all the roles and of all the characters I have to say that one the best is Bellatrix Lestrange played by Helena Bonham Carter. In the book Bellatrix is a loony but with Helena Bonham Carter playing the character she just makes Bellatrix amazing. When I read the Deathly Hallows there was one part in the book that I was freaking out with because I was picturing Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix in the movie and how incredible the scene was going to be. And let me say the scene made it into the movie and it was everything I could have imagined and more. I find Helena Bonham Carter to be one of the best casted actors in the series. I don’t think there is an actress out there who could pull off being creepy looking and acting as creepy as she does. She allows herself not only in this movie but most of her movies to become this dark, weird character that a lot of actresses today would never dare to do.
            I was surprised how far the movie went into the book. I was expecting them to end at a certain part with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I am guessing that the writer and director went as far as they did because the next part to come is going to be out of control and amazing. They did take out a lot of things, some of them I feel are important to the story but looking at it for the movie the things are just fillers.
            I left the theater loving Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt.1. Once the movie was over I said “ok I want to see the second part right now!”(if you ever want a fun experience go to a Potter movie at the midnight showing. They’re so much fun) I cannot wait for the summer to see the second part. Knowing what is going to happen and what the ending will be like I just can’t wait to see all the action come to life.
            This Harry Potter is nonstop. Visually like all the other Potter movies this is stunning. Everything from the acting, lighting, direction, costumes, sets, and special effects are so well done. See this in theaters for sure before the next part comes out in the summer