Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Dangerous Ground

On Dangerous Ground (based on Gerald Butler's Mad eith Much Heart) is one of my favorite film noirs from the 1950s -- it's a gritty tale of a policeman at the end of his rope and the tragic case that gives him a chance at salvation. It can be argued that Ground is an odd ("off-kilter") film. On one hand you have this almost wholly unlikable antihero and a tense manhunt, while on the other hand there's this unlikely love story between the cop and the sister of a murder suspect. Melodramatic? HECK YEAH. Strangely mesmerizing and compelling? ABSOLUTELY. :) Thanks to snappy direction and charismatic leads, the seemingly disparate storylines manage to work.

Robert Ryan plays Jim Wilson, a horrible, horrible policeman whose lack of a life outside of work has warped him into depressed, angry man, prone to excessive use of force in his "investigations" -- a real live wire! I really love how the film sets up the difference between Jim and his less crazy partners, "Pop" (Charles Kemper) and Pete (Anthony Ross). Pop and Pete each have concerned and loving families seeing them off to work. By contrast, Jim spends his dinner obsessing over mug shots (and has this pathetic sink in his apartment that I kid you not, looks like it comes to Ryan's knees -- as a tall person I sympathize). Jim has an appalling lack of perspective in his life -- a fact whose negative implication is quickly born out over the course of the next half hour where he beats two suspects nearly senseless. His boss sends Jim out of town to assist with an investigation -- an exile that the embittered cop, full of self-loathing for who he's become (and, this is key, having lost hope that he can be saved), little realizes will save his life.

Before I start dissecting Jim's journey towards redemption, I have to discuss some of the more technical aspects of the film's city scenes. On Dangerous Ground is direct by Nicholas Ray, perhaps best-known for the teenage-angst-ridden classic Rebel Without a Cause (the IMDB lists Lupino as an uncredited director as well). However the directorial duties played out, Ground features some truly fascinating, ground-breaking camera work and the use of light and shadow to heighten emotion and tension is particularly striking. When Jim and his partners are on patrol, the film puts a camera in the car with them, giving you their perspective and thrusting the viewer straight into the action. A hand-held camera was also employed for the foot-chase scenes. Instead of relying on the more conventional "static" camera angles, this film is intent on putting the viewer right in the middle of the story's tensest moments, and it works, brilliantly aided by a stellar Bernard Hermann score. Between Jim's shocking (for 1952) propensity for violence, the camera work and the way the city is shrouded in dark, oppressive shadow all play to the idea that Jim is a character literally drowning in the dregs of society, because he hasn't anchored his life to anything pure and meaningful.

Things start to look up for Jim when he's sent to the FRIGID NORTH to assist in a manhunt for the perp who killed some poor girl on her way home from school. Now, if you've never seen this film you might be tempted to think that Jim's northern exile means all sorts of depressing things like bleakness and aloneness, etc. And sure -- there is some of that, but the film saturates Jim's drive (again, much of it seen from the driver's perspective) north with light. There's an emptiness to the snow-covered land, but it's coupled with a purity that you can see start to work on Jim even before he liaises with the posse.

And what a posse it is -- the manhunt is just bizarre, because everyone seems to swarm around the countryside like ants or something, with no apparent regard for order or not stomping out their suspect's trail. It's a little nuts, especially because Jim comes off as being the reasonable one, like "let's interview witnesses," etc., and everyone else is all forget about THAT, city boy! Given what we've seen Jim do when he's coming off as level-headed you KNOW something's up, just sayin'. So Jim partners up with the victim's grief-stricken, revenge-mad father Walter Brent (Ward Bond), and they start running every which way, through the snow. And if you're at all like me you will find the fact that Jim is wearing dress pants and (presumably) city shoes while wading through knee-high snow drifts VERY distracting. The fact that Jim's legs don't freeze off at the knees is as much a miracle as his eventual transformation.

After A LOT of running, and a pretty spectacular single-car wreck on an icy road, Jim and Walter stumble on a desolate farmhouse inhabited by the beautiful Mary Malden (Lupino). Jim quickly deduces that Mary is blind (Walter is a little slow on the uptake), and is immediately smitten with her beauty and grace. I love watching Ryan watch Lupino in their scenes together. He takes the too-tightly wound character of Jim and throws himself into showing the powerful impact meeting Mary has on Jim's psyche -- though she may live in darkness, she is the light to his black despair, and her faith in him gives him something to live up to. Mary's blind faith (no pun intended) gives Jim a lifeline, a reason to want to be a better man, a goal to strive for -- and so he promises to do everything in his power to ensure that her crazy brother gets a fair trial.

Lupino and Ryan complement each other extremely well in this film, giving what in other hands could've been an extremely sappy, silly love story a nice measure of depth and gravitas. Lupino, with her exotic good looks and slightly gravelled, low-pitched voice was something of a fixture in film noir, making appearances in Moontide, Road House, and They Drive By Night to name a few. Likewise, Ryan was a fixture in noir and western pictures, often playing harsh, aggressive characters thanks to the presence and laser-like intensity he brought to the screen. Notable films include Crossfire, The Naked Spur, and The Longest Day. I love their on-screen chemistry, and I never tire of watching Ryan fall for Lupino. For all their characters' differences, Mary struggles with loneliness and trust just as much as Jim. I'm a complete sucker for redemption stories like this, where broken people find hope and healing and second chances, and Mary and Jim hit all the right notes, despite the at first blush improbability of their romantic pairing. 

When Jim fails in his mission to "save" Mary's brother, he's so crushed it just KILLS ME, and there's this moment when you fear that he's given up on his newly-awakened hope for a better life. As cliched as the ending of On Dangerous Ground might be, in my view it is the perfect ending to a film that at its core is about people fighting their way free of the chokehold of despair. Sure, Jim and Mary will have their challenges -- but we're left with hope. A hope that's anchored by Ryan's believably nuanced performance from a character brimming with rage and self-loathing to a man whose heart has been melted by a chance encounter with a woman who dared to have faith in him. Literally and figuratively Mary becomes Jim's "safe harbor" as he's navigated the "dangerous ground" of the criminal world, once at risk of being completely consumed. Their relationship and Jim's transformation are the unexpected emotional core of the film, and are what makes On Dangerous Ground one of my all-time favorite film noir classics.

Winner of The Colonel's Lady!

There were nine entries in the drawing for a copy of The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz:

1. Joanne
2. Michelle
3. Jackie S.
4. Kristin
5. Esther
6. Bluerose
7. Natasha Areena
8. Liz B
9. *Charity*

And the winner, chosen with the help of, is:

#8 - Liz B!

Congratulations! An e-mail is on the way to you requesting shipping info!

Thanks again to everyone who entered -- I dearly hope that you'll check out Laura's latest at your earliest opportunity. And stay tuned for more giveaways (I promise I'll try not to let three-plus months go by before the next one)!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Have Rochester over for tea...

Rochester over for tea? Why yes please, I think so...

I think the man would say yes. :)

Some of you may recall that as part of my All Things Jane series, a couple of months ago I introduced you to the work of Heather from Audrey Eclectic. At that time she had just added a Jane Eyre mug to her Etsy shop. I eagerly purchased one, and it has been proudly displayed on my bookshelves ever since -- I love staring at it too much to use it yet. *wink* You can revisit the Jane Eyre mug post here.

I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Heather has created a companion piece to her Jane Eyre mug, and equally thrilled to share the debut of her Mr. Rochester mug here!

Isn't he AMAZING? I'm in love. And I plan on purchasing a mug of my own soon, so Jane is no longer lonely from her perch on my bookshelves. :)

The reverse side of the mug features the quote, "Do you think me handsome?" -- obviously, my answer to that question is a resounding yes. :) As I told Heather in an e-mail conversation earlier today, I may be projecting here but I feel there's a little bit of Michael Fassbender's Rochester in her portrayal. :) Thoughts?

I hope if you like what you see that you'll be inspired to visit Heather's blog or shop to check out the rest of her work!

Book Giveaway Reminder: The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

Just a quick reminder, today's the last day to enter my giveaway for one brand-new copy of The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz -- all you have to do is leave a comment on THIS POST.

You can read my review of the novel HERE.

Winner announced tomorrow, Wednesday 8/31/11! Good luck!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Desired by Ginger Garrett

One of my favorite authors, Ginger Garrett, has a new novel releasing October 1st entitled Desired: The Untold Story of Samson and Delilah. I ran across the book trailer a few days ago, and since the release date is getting pretty close I thought I'd share it with you. I think the trailer is just lovely, one of the better ones I've seen produced!

And if that didn't whet your appetite here's the back cover summary:

Meet the legendary Samson as you've never known him before, through the eyes of the three women who loved him.

Before Samson was an Old Testament legend, he was a prodigal son, an inexperienced suitor, a vengeful husband, and a lost soul driven by his own weakness. This is his story as told by three strong women who loved him-the nagging, manipulative mother who pushed him toward greatness, the hapless Philistine bride whose betrayal propelled him into notoriety, and the emotionally damaged seductress-the famous Delilah-who engineered his downfall and propelled him to his destiny. Desired celebrates the God of Israel's to work powerfully in the midst of hopes, fears, desires, and sorrows.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

review coming soon!

I'm thrilled to participate in the blog tour for Sarah Sundin's latest, Blue Skies Tomorrow, the third novel in her Wings of Glory series. I'm less thrilled to be late with my review -- this is no reflection on the book, just a reflection of my crazy lack of time management skills this week. :P I'm thoroughly enjoying Blue Skies so far, and my review *should* be up in the next couple of days. Until then, here's a bit about the novel:
In a time of peril, can they find the courage to confront their fears and embrace a love that lasts?

When her husband becomes a casualty of the war in the Pacific, Helen Carlisle throws herself into volunteering for the war effort to conceal her feelings. But keeping up appearances as the grieving widow of a hometown hero is taking its toll. Soon something is going to give.

Lt. Raymond Novak prefers the pulpit to the cockpit. His stateside job training B-17 pilots allows him the luxury of a personal life--and a convenient excuse to ignore his deepest fear. When the beautiful Helen catches his eye and captures his heart, he is determined to win her hand.

But when Ray and Helen are called upon to step out in faith and put their reputations and their lives on the line, can they meet the challenges that face them? And can their young love survive until blue skies return?

Filled with drama, daring, and all the romance of the WWII era, Blue Skies Tomorrow is the captivating final book in the popular Wings of Glory series.
More later! :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Masterpiece encores another Lewis episode

Starting tomorrow, Masterpiece Mystery makes another Inspector Lewis episode available for possible rebroadcasts (check your local listings) and then streaming online. Tomorrow's encore episode is entitled Dark Matter - you can read my original review HERE.

Here's a bit about the episode:
Inspector Lewis continues with an encore presentation of Dark Matter on Sunday, August 28, 2011. When an amateur stargazer is dead, Lewis and Hathaway delve into a black hole of deception at the center of this case. (One episode; 90 minutes; TV-PG).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Disney reimagined...

Thanks to a friend posting a link on Facebook, I was introduced to the work of a fabulous artist - Claire Hummel, at She has a series of prints where she's reimagined classic Disney princesses in accurate period costume (and oh happiness, she sells PRINTS!).

Snow White, early 16th century Germany

Pocahontas, 17th century Powhatan costume

Cinderella, mid-1860s

Jasmine, pre-Islamic Middle Eastern

Sleeping Beauty, the year 1485 (and my favorite!)

Ariel, 1890's evening gown

Belle, 1770's French court

I hope to purchase a print or two soon, I think they are amazing! I'd love to hear your favorite - mine is Sleeping Beauty, since that is probably my all-time favorite Disney film (and fairy tale - and the retellings - I could go on and on...). :)

Doctor Who returns TOMORROW!

Just a reminder in case you've missed the updated countdown clock on the right sidebar -- Doctor Who returns to BBC America TOMORROW for the first of six brand-new episodes! I don't know about you but it is about time - the "mid-season" finale earlier this year was a KILLER. I still get chills just thinking about the episode "A Good Man Goes to War." SERIOUSLY.

Here's a four-minute recap video covering the first part of Series 6:

And here's the trailer for the remaining Series 6 episodes:

Come Live With Me

Come Live With Me is one of a string of romantic comedies that James Stewart made in the 1930s that saw Stewart play the romantic lead before his "aww shucks everyman" persona saw him transition to suspense, western, and more "fatherly" roles in the actor's post-World War II career. Apparently Stewart's co-star, the lovely Hedy Lamarr, received some of her best acting notices for her performance in this film. Starring opposite a star of Stewart's persuasion, that should come as no surprise. *wink* Come Live With Me is a sweet-natured, charming confection from start to finish, necessary viewing for fans of Lamarr and especially Stewart.

In a case of life (vaguely, at least) imitating art, Lamarr's character in Come Live With Me is an Austrian political refugee, illegally staying in New York after her visa expires rather than face deportation back to Nazi-occupied Austria. (In real life, Lamarr was the only daughter of Jewish parents who married Viennese arms manufacturer Friedrich Mandl, a Jewish Nazi sympathizer. In 1937 Lamarr fled the marriage, obtained a divorce in London, and arrived in Hollywood in 1938.) Johnny has been carrying on an affair with Barton Kendrick (Ian Hunter, King Richard in The Adventures of Robin Hood), a publisher who is apparently in some sort of "open marriage" that allows him to carry on his romantic shenanigans with the "blessing" of his wife Diane (Verree Teasdale) - or so he THINKS, because in reality good ol' Barton is a classic example of male STUPIDITY. :P (Really, the thought that Lamarr would choose Barton over Stewart is in my mind proof the woman could act!)

Johnny's happy times in the US are in peril when I.C.E. raids her apartment (I exaggerate, but the result is the same - also, were immigration officials referred to as I.C.E. agents in 1941? Who cares --) to kick her out of the country because of her flagrant disregard for visa expiration dates. But the I.C.E. agent takes pity on Johnny, urging her to get married ASAP so she can stay in the good ol' US of A (I'm sure immigration officials LOVED that). Johnny's in a quandary - she doesn't want to get deported, but the man she's in love with is married and she doesn't want to be the cause of a divorce that would hurt his wife (gotta love that reasoning - *sigh*). But the perfect solution drops in Johnny's lap when she meets Bill (Stewart), a penniless writer with a bit of a chip on his shoulder (because no one wants to publish his great American novel). She proposes a marriage of convenience - his name allows her to legally stay in the country, while she provides him with $17.80 a week in living expenses (SERIOUSLY! I cannot wrap my head around how CHEAP that seems!) so he can continue to write. And we all know how marriages of convenience end in romantic comedies, right? They remain STRICTLY PLATONIC of course! (Riiiigggghhhtttt...) :)

I really just love watching Stewart in this movie, as he's at his adorable best falling in love with Johnny through their once a week meetings and writing his best work inspired by his fascination with her and their extremely unorthodox arrangement. Seriously, how can you not love a guy who insists to his divorce-minded, recalcitrant bride that they must get to know each other before they can get divorced - so he "kidnaps" her and takes her to his grandmother's house.

And Bill's grandma is a pistol. Come Live With Me was Adeline De Walt Reynolds film debut - at the age of 79! Reynolds must've been QUITE the lady. She raised four children after her husband's death in 1905, survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, and entered college in her 60s, graduating at 70. And then, THEN she embarked on a film career that would last nineteen years! Talk about INSPIRATIONAL, just sayin'! Even though she doesn't appear until the film's final third, Grandma's folksy wisdom and humor are central to the love story, playing a large part in softening Johnny's heart towards Bill.

If you think about the ending too hard, you won't be able to watch this film with a straight face. I am convinced that only Jimmy Stewart could deliver the whole spiel about firefly mating habits with a straight face and manage to come off as earnestly romantic in the bargain. Between delivering a toothbrush, the firefly speech, and reciting Christopher Marlowe if you allow yourself to surrender to the romanticism of the moment, you cannot help but be charmed by this film and Stewart's off-the-charts adorableness. A wonderful showcase for Stewart's understated brand of charisma and featuring one of Lamarr's best performances, Come Live With Me is a sweet treat for classic film fans.

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" by Christopher Marlowe

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
Andd a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

With a taste in poetry like that, one wonders why Bill felt the need to go off on his fireflies tangent. *wink*

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Four's a Crowd

Four's a Crowd was quite a departure for Errol Flynn. By 1938 Flynn had established himself as cinema's preeminent swashbuckling star, with films like Captain Blood, The Charge of the Light Brigade, and the just-completed technicolor epic The Adventures of Robin Hood to his credit. In an attempt to avoid typecasting, Flynn desired to appear in other types of films - and Warner Bros., eager to keep one of their top stars happy, obliged with the fluffy comedy Four's a Crowd. A perfect, glittering example of the 1930s screwball comedy Four's a Crowd is not, but thanks to the chemistry of its stars and sharp direction by Michael Curtiz, Crowd provides several laugh-out-loud sequences and is an effective showcase for Flynn's surprising affinity for comedy.

Now let's see if I can get this story straight. *wink* In a dry-run for her later appearance in His Girl Friday, Rosalind Russell plays fast-talking reporter Jean Christy, who discovers that the owner of the newspaper where she works, Pat Buckley (Patric Knowles - Flynn's co-star in Robin Hood, where he played Will Scarlett), is about to shut down the paper. When he torpedoes her suggestion to re-hire the paper's former managing editor Bob Lansford (Flynn), Jean takes matters into her own hands and approaches Lansford herself. Lansford is a fast-talking public relations wizard who now makes a living out of transforming the public image of rich tycoons into something more palatable (essentially buys them good reputations through big donations). Bob isn't interested in the paper, until he learns that Pat is dating the Lorri Dillingwell (Olivia de Havilland), the granddaughter of a notorious business tycoon that he's desperate to gain as a PR client.

Basically, everyone's in love with everyone else, and the romantic entanglements are way to confusing to make sense of in a blog post. It's better to just watch the craziness unfold on-screen. The Flynn-de Havilland-Knowles-Russell love quadrangle is a bit of a mess if you stop and think about it for too long. The best reason to watch this movie is the chance to see Flynn do straight comedy, and do it well. Admittedly I have a big Errol Flynn bias (I've adored him since I was a kid). But honestly, if you're only familiar with Flynn the swashbuckler, you might be surprised by how well he acquits himself in Four's a Crowd. He more than holds his own as the sauve, fast-talking Langford, his performance comparable to the likes of "screwball" acting staples Cary Grant or William Powell.

Flynn is hilarious, effortlessly flowing between stuck-on-himself PR rep, ardent lover, and slapstick physical comedy. The lengths his character, Langford, will go to in order to secure Dillingwell as a client know no bounds, including - waitforit - rigging a toy train race by greasing the tracks with stolen butter. The shenanigans in this movie are hard core people, positively cutthroat! *wink* The object of Langford's professional aspirations is played by character actor Walter Connolly, a character actor from the 1930s best known for playing borderline hysterical, apoplectic, highly exasperated characters (see It Happened One Night, Libeled Lady, and Too Hot to Handle). Watching Flynn flee from the hounds Dillingwell set after his character on multiple occasions will leave you in stitches, moreso because the usually debonair Flynn seems to really relish the absurdity of the moment.

Flynn and Olivia de Havilland made a total of eight films together, and there's a certain "spark" that lights the screen when they appear together in Four's a Crowd, testimony to the real-life (but unrealized) chemistry between the two of them that made theirs such a potent on-screen partnership. One of the film's funniest scenes takes place when Langford takes refuge in Lorri's bedroom, and she frantically tries to hide him from the housekeeper, security guards, and finally her grandfather, all while he's being "attacked" by her lap dog. The scene is pure slapstick gold, and Flynn and de Havilland seem to throw themselves into the action with unabashed glee. It's worth noting that the character of Lorri was a departure from the norm for Olivia de Havilland - known for playing "sweet," ladylike heroines, Lorri is a total self-absorbed twit. Personally the change works for me - it's interesting to see de Havilland explore this side of her acting range.

Watching Flynn's hilarious three-way telephone conversation with his leading ladies - frantically striving to keep the women unaware that he's been wooing them at the same time - makes me wonder what gems he could've produced if he'd been given the opportunity to play more comedic roles. The frenetic, funny pace of the telephone conversation just screams Cary Grant, but to his credit Flynn owns the moment. Good ol' Errol could've given Grant a run for his money if given the opportunity. *wink*

While lacking the sparkle and polish of screwball comedy classics like My Man Godfrey or Bringing Up Baby, Four's a Crowd is a fairly enjoyable little film, enlivened by performances from some of classic Hollywood's brightest stars. And if you're a fan of Errol Flynn, it's worth watching on the basis of his performance alone as the renowned prankster really seems relish the rare opportunity to indulge in pure, unadulterated slapstick on-screen.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Giveaway: The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

I haven't hosted a book giveaway since April. April. This is tragic! In hopes of remedying this shocking lack of bookish swag, I'd like to give away one copy of The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz. Here are the details:

About the book:

Roxanna Rowan may be a genteel Virginia woman, but she is determined to brave the wilds of the untamed frontier to reach a remote Kentucky fort. Eater to reunite with her father, who serves under Colonel Cassius McLinn, Roxanna is devastated to find that her father has been killed on a campaign.

Penniless and out of options, Roxanna is forced to remain at the fort. As she spends more and more time with the fiery Colonel McLinn, the fort is abuzz with intrigue and innuendo. Can Roxanna truly know who the colonel is - and what he's done?

Immerse yourself in this powerful story of love, faith, and forgiveness set in the tumultuous world of the frontier in 1779.

You can read my review of The Colonel's Lady HERE.

Giveaway Details:
  • Leave a comment on this post with your e-mail address: your name (at) domain name (dot) com
  • For an extra entry, post about this contest on your blog, Twitter, or Facebook and leave a separate comment telling me you've done so with the link.
  • Entries will be accepted through midnight Tuesday 8/30/11 and the winner will be announced Wednesday morning 8/31/11.
  • Open WORLD-WIDE!
Good luck! (I just have to add, if you're not reading LifeWay's Fiction Blog, A Novel Bookshelf, you're missing out! I am thrilled that today Rachel is sharing my review of The Colonel's Lady with her blog readers!)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ransome's Quest by Kaye Dacus

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Ransome’s Quest
Harvest House Publishers (August 1, 2011)
Kaye Dacus


Humor, Hope, and Happily Ever Afters! Kaye Dacus is the author of humorous, hope-filled contemporary and historical romances with Barbour Publishing and Harvest House Publishers.

Kaye Dacus (KAY DAY-cuss) is an author and editor who has been writing fiction for more than twenty years. A former Vice President of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kaye enjoys being an active ACFW member and the fellowship and community of hundreds of other writers from across the country and around the world that she finds there. She currently serves as President of Middle Tennessee Christian Writers, which she co-founded in 2003 with three other writers. Each month, she teaches a two-hour workshop on an aspect of the craft of writing at the MTCW monthly meeting. But her greatest joy comes from mentoring new writers through her blog and seeing them experience those “aha” moments when a tricky concept becomes clear.


The pirate El Salvador has haunted the waters of the Caribbean for almost ten years. When he snatched Charlotte Ransome, it was a case of mistaken identity. Now Charlotte's brother, whose reputation in battle is the stuff of legend, is searching for him with a dogged determination. But another rumor has reached El Salvador's ears: Julia Ransome has been kidnapped by the man feared by all other pirates--the pirate known only as Shaw. The violent and blood-thirsty savage from whom El Salvador was trying to protect her.

When word reaches William of Julia's disappearance, his heart is torn--he cannot abandon the search for his sister, yet he must also rescue Julia. Ned Cochrane offers a solution: Ned will continue the search for Charlotte while William goes after Julia. William's quest will lead him to a greater understanding of faith and love as he must accept help from sworn enemy and have faith that Julia's life is in God's hands.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Ransome’s Quest, go HERE.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Review: The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

By: Laura Frantz
Publisher: Revell
ISBN: 978-0-5007-3341-4

About the book:

Roxanna Rowan may be a genteel Virginia woman, but she is determined to brave the wilds of the untamed frontier to reach a remote Kentucky fort. Eater to reunite with her father, who serves under Colonel Cassius McLinn, Roxanna is devastated to find that her father has been killed on a campaign.

Penniless and out of options, Roxanna is forced to remain at the fort. As she spends more and more time with the fiery Colonel McLinn, the fort is abuzz with intrigue and innuendo. Can Roxanna truly know who the colonel is - and what he's done?

Immerse yourself in this powerful story of love, faith, and forgiveness set in the tumultuous world of the frontier in 1779.


Fleeing the heartbreak of her mother's death and the shattered promises of a broken engagement, Roxanna Rowan is resigned to a life of spinsterhood. In a time of war she undertakes the dangerous journey west to join her father at Fort Endeavor in the Kentucke territory, where he serves as scrivener to the legendary commander Cassius McLinn. When she arrives at the fort, Roxanna's hopes for her future are dashed when she discovers that her father has been killed. Alone and penniless, surrounded by hostile forces, Roxanna finds herself completely at the mercy of the fort's commander, Colonel McLinn - a man as much renowned for his quick temper as his prowess in battle. Drawn to McLinn like a moth to flame, Roxanna's bruised heart melts under the colonel's unexpectedly kind attentions, and in spite of warnings about his reputation the Bluecoat commander, force of nature that he is, threatens to steal her heart. But the enigmatic colonel hides secrets of his own, secrets that if confessed threaten to destroy any hope of happiness that could bloom between the hardened soldier and the scrivener's beautiful daughter. With their lives threatened by enemies without and within, Roxanna and Cassius must decide if the hope of love can overcome the fear of taking that first step into the unknown wild, brimming with promise - if faith is worth the risk.

When Laura Frantz's sophomore effort Courting Morrow Little released, I thought she'd outdone herself, but I was wrong. The Colonel's Lady is one of those rare novels that's so good, it took my breath away. As was the case with her first two novels, Frantz's third is replete with her love for 18th-century history and her appreciation of the astonishing men and women who sought to carve lives for themselves from the Kentucky wilderness. But this novel has a little extra something that captivated me - a heart and a passion for the characters and their experiences that wove its way into my heart and kept me eagerly turning the pages, even as I dreaded reaching "the end" of Cassius and Roxie's journey. Frantz's trademark lyrical prose brings the Kentucky frontier to vibrant life, an intoxicating mix of beauty and danger that serves as a refining fire for the carefully-crafted characters that leap with vibrant life from the page, wrapping you up in their heartaches and triumphs.

And oh, what characters. The colonel of the title is loosely based on real-life legend George Rogers Clark and his heart-breaking life. With her own creation in McLinn, Frantz doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of an 18th-century soldier's life - from the tension, filth, and disciplinary issues to an over-reliance on alcohol due to polluted water, easily transitioning to crutch to dull the pain and loneliness of such a life. With his devastatingly handsome features and a mercurial charm reminiscent of Rochester in Jane Eyre, McLinn is a character whose struggles and passion will captivate your heart, as they do Roxie's. And Roxanna, every inch the lady, is a heroine with unbelievable reservoirs of inner strength and faith that do credit to the countless real-life women who braved the uncertainty of frontier and soldiering lives, risking life and limb to follow their menfolk into the wild of the untamed territory of the west. Whether or not this was the author's intent, on this one level The Colonel's Lady serves as a heartfelt tribute to the strength of those who've served, past and present, and the resilience of those who love them.

Part frontier story, part war story, and all romance, Frantz weaves a heady spell with passages of gorgeous prose, breath-taking suspense, and a heart-stopping romance that will capture your imagination and wend its way into your heart. Seriously, you can cut the romantic tension with a knife, people. These are characters who promise to stay with you long after finishing the novel's final pages. The Colonel's Lady is an exquisite triumph from start to finish, one I anticipate revisiting even while I eagerly look forward to where Laura Frantz will take her readers next.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Masterpiece presents another Lewis encore...

Beginning tomorrow, Masterpiece Mystery will be making encore presentations of the Inspector Lewis episode The Dead of Winter available via possible rebroadcasts (check your local schedules) and then online viewing. Here's a brief teaser about the Series III episode:
See an encore presentation of Inspector Lewis, Sunday, August 21, 2011 on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! In The Dead of Winter, a body on a bus leads Lewis and Hathaway to a sprawling estate Hathaway knows well. Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) guest stars. (One episode; 90 minutes; TV-PG).
You can read my original review of the episode here.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Young Bess

Released to coincide with the coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953, Young Bess is a glossy historical epic, a Technicolor spectacle as only a studio like MGM could deliver. Based on the 1944 novel of the same name by Margaret Irwin (which I was happy to discover that Sourcebooks recently re-released), the film plays a little fast and loose with history in its attempt to provide a highly romanticized view of why Elizabeth I remained unmarried. But any historical fudging aside, the resulting product is a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging film that provides some fascinating insight into what Elizabeth the teenager might have been like.

The film is framed by Mrs. Ashley (Kay Walsh), Elizabeth's long-time governess and companion, and Mr. Parry (Cecil Kellaway), the princess's steward, celebrating the news that their charge will soon achieve the ultimate triumph - being crowned Queen of England. Their reminiscences take the viewer back to Elizabeth's tumultuous childhood, where her status at court was in near-constant upheaval thanks to her father's whims and remarriages. This film gave Charles Laughton the reprise his take on Henry VIII, a role he'd previously won an Oscar for in 1934's The Private Lives of Henry VIII. Physically Laughton is an excellent match for Henry's portraits, and he brings all of the life and bombast to the character that I always imagined the real-life Henry possessing.

One of the interesting things about this film is how it positions the upheaval losing her mother to the axe and her father's subsequent remarriages must have had on the young Elizabeth's pysche (Noreen Corcoran). Corcoran is an excellent young Elizabeth, bringing just the right balance of childhood insecurity and the determination and survival skills that would later define her as a ruler to the role. The "young adult" Elizabeth was played by Jean Simmons, in one of her best performances. Simmons was twenty four at the time of Young Bess's release, just one year shy of the quarter-decade mark when Elizabeth I ascended the throne. So though she's a bit older than the teen Elizabeth was during the history depicted on-screen, the Simmons' slight frame and pixie-like features work in her favor, lending her an air of youthful fire and vulnerability.

The object of Elizabeth's romantic yearnings in this film is Thomas Seymour, played by Simmons' real-life husband Stewart Granger (the two were married from 1950-1960 and appeared in four films together). The chemistry between Simmons and Granger is practically palpable, and lends credence to the script's assertion that Elizabeth and Seymour had a really passionate little thing going on. Now I love Stewart Granger. LOVE HIM. But this, my friends, is not his best work. He's a little too earnest here, hamming for the camera with his best "look at me, I'm an awesome romantic lead" emoting. I prefer the roles that allowed him to be a bit more playful, to balance the on-screen heroics with a sly glint of humor (i.e. Scaramouche).

The always-classy Deborah Kerr plays Catherine Parr, Henry's sixth and final wife, and the woman who stands between Thomas and Elizabeth. Kerr is all cool, kind regality to Simmons' more fiery emotionalism. This was an on-screen reunion for Kerr and Granger (there is some speculation they had an affair); the pair had made King Solomon's Mines three years prior. Whether or not the affair speculation is true, Kerr and Granger had a degree of on-screen chemistry that made Thomas Seymour's conflicting feelings for two very different women fairly believable.

My absolute favorite part of this film is Rex Thompson's scene-stealing performance as Edward VI. Young Bess marked Thompson's film debut at the age of eleven, and he'd continue to work, mostly in television, for the next thirteen years - a notable exception being his turn as Louis Leonowens in The King and I. Thompson is amazingly adept at stealing the scene every time he appears on-screen with his enthusiasm, prepossing demeanor, and confidence. This kid has the royalty thing DOWN - and to top it off his accent is quite good, especially considering that he's from New York (I was shocked when I discovered that fact). While this film paints, I think, an overly-positive portrait of the brother/sister relationship between Elizabeth and Edward, in the context of this film Simmons and Thompson's regard and camraderie work extraordinarily well. The film basically elminates their half-sister Mary, and focusing instead on the court intrigue the pair endured vis-a-vis Ann (Kathleen Byron) and Ned Seymour (Guy Rolfe), the latter appointed Lord Protector since Edward was a minor when crowned king. Elizabeth and Edward's struggles to survive court intrigues and the machinations of nobles who would seek to usurp their right to rule bonds them in a way that makes their childhood struggles poignant and sympathetic.

Young Bess was nominated for two Academy Awards - Art Direction and Costume Design - and is a veritable feast for the eyes. The sets and costumes are simply sumptuous, supplemented by a gorgeous score by Miklos Rozsa. Despite liberties taken with the historical record, Young Bess brings to life a youthful Elizabeth and her struggles in a compelling, highly watchable fashion. A slick, polished example of the classic Hollywood historical epic!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mail Order Bride

I should not like this movie as much as I do. No, no I should not like it much at all, considering I am almost, without fail, violently *ahem* allergic to prairie-type romances. But 1964's Mail Order Bride is an exception, thanks to its zippy pace, laugh-out-loud funny moments, and Buddy Ebsen's turn as a long-suffering and reluctant matchmaker. Based on a short story by some person named Van Cort that appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Mail Order Bride is a nice little reminder that Ebsen's career consisted of a lot more than his stint as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

Ebsen plays Will Lane, an aging ex-lawman who travels to the town of Congress, Montana, to fulfill a friend's dying wish - that Lane "mentor" his friend's wild son and hold his property in trust for him until such a time, if ever, that Lane deems the son responsible enough to take charge of his inheritance. The son in question is Lee Carey, played with a rather kinetic mix of energy and petulance by actor Keir Dullea. (Side note: Isn't he GORGEOUS?)

Dullea was apparently something of a name in the 1960s thanks to starring in films like The Thin Red Line, Madame X, and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Anyways, back to Lee...basically, he is SPOILED ROTTEN and has no apparent desire to make anything of his life, instead choosing to while away the hours drinking, gambling, and carousing with his merry band of wild west frat boys and the town's sole loose woman, if you catch my drift. Lane decides this will not do, no this will not do AT ALL. However, as Lee proves remarkably stubborn, Lane determines that his only hope of salvation is to marry the kid off. With the help of the latest catalog from the outhouse (really - HA!!), Lane compiles a list of potential mail order bride applicants and travels to Kansas City to interview the lucky women (HA! again).

I think what I love most about this film is Ebsen's performance - he's so upright and unflappable and determined that come hell or high water he's going to save his friend's son from self-destructing - basically, the living, breathing embodiment of the "honorable cowboy." Lane's stubborn insistence on dragging Lee to salvation provides the film with most of its humorous moments, as Lee and his Gang of Stupid get wildly frustrated with the fact that Lane ALWAYS WINS. The only time he gets remotely rattled is on the "bride" interviews. After meeting a couple of wildly unsuitable candidates, Lane wanders into Hanna's Saloon, where he meets Hanna, a.k.a. Carrie (Marie Windsor). Turns out Carrie, sick of saloon life, wrote the ad, but since she's a bit too old for Lee she sends her UNNATURALLY VIRTUOUS FOR WORKING IN A SALOON maid, Annie (Lois Nettleton) and her young son off with Lane. As an added bonus she throws out the teaser that she doesn't think Lane is half bad, so he can chew on THAT surprise all the way back to Montana, thank you very much.

When Lee and Annie meet, sparks fly, but of course Lee doesn't want a ready-made family so he explains Lane's hold on his ranch and the two agree to a marriage in name only. (Riiigggghhhttt....that's gonna work, sure...) Look for a quick cameo appearance by Denver Pyle (a.k.a. Uncle Jesse from The Dukes of Hazzard) as the preacher who marries Lee and Annie. So while Lee and Annie fake affection and kiss in public (only for Lane's benefit of course!), the decrepit ranch starts to take shape and lo and behold, Lee can actually build a HOUSE when he puts his mind to it! He also finds himself rather rising to the occasion and filling the father role in the life of Matt, Annie's young son (Jimmy Mathers, the brother of Jerry, THE BEAVER HIMSELF), because it is an unwritten rule in this type of story that small children will make wannabe frat boys grow up.

Lee is really, really slow on the uptake, but after his "friends" nearly kill the junior BEAVER while torching his ranch, he realizes he really does love Annie and he's tired of getting ripped off. Because seriously, even in the most cliche-ridden of stories, a character has to stop with the doormat thing at some point, especially when that status is thanks to rank stupidity. Speaking of cliches, Lee gets his wedding rings from the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Marietta (Barbara Luna) - in this film's world, that kind of plot twist makes perfect sense. As terribly cliched as that is, I LOVE IT. This cast is just nutty enough to make it work. *wink*

Mail Order Bride is really a good-hearted little movie, that manages to strike just the right balance between humor and action and emotion. I love the fact that it's a different twist on the familiar marriage of convenience story (you don't get much more unexpected than Buddy Ebsen as a matchmaker, just sayin'!). And the ending, where Lane leaves the new little happy family he helped create and returns to Kansas City and Hanna is PRICELESS. After all, why should the young people have all the fun, hmmm? *wink*

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Bring Michael Fassbender Home! (Yes, really!)

Re: the blog title - I WISH. *wink* I have to give full credit for the blog post title to Heroes & Heartbreakers. :)

Yes, people, in case you forgot, today is the day you can bring Jane Eyre home with you for your very own on DVD - the film that inspired glowing accolades from yours truly and a record-setting comment thread the likes of which this blog had never seen! :)

You can read my review of Jane Eyre HERE. If you missed this film when it was in theaters earlier this year, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts on it! :)

Click the above icon to read all of the fun Jane Eyre-related posts that have appeared on Booktalk & More.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Boys' Night Out

While the 1962 "bedroom farce" comedy Boys' Night Out was not a critical or financial success, if you're a fan of films like the classic romantic comedy Pillow Talk, this is a film not to be missed. Both of these films were helmed by director Michael Gordon, who made sure that Boys' Night Out displayed the same glossy, sophisticated style as its more famous predecessor, a classic of the genre. This was also the first and only picture Kim Novak made under the auspices of her own production label - and though it didn't do well enough to warrant subsequent projects, it's one of my favorite Novak films. She positively sparkles in this comedy, and personality-wise reveals a vivacity and spunk largely absent from many of her earlier roles that required her to be little more than a pretty face (i.e. Vertigo). Arguably Novak's romantic lead, James Garner, benefited the most from this film - prior to this film, his most notable credit was the TV show Maverick, after Boys' Night Out, his big-screen leading man status exploded with appearances in The Great Escape, The Thrill of It All, and Move Over, Darling.

Bachelor Fred (Garner) is one of four friends - George (Tony Randall), Doug (Howard Duff), and Howard (Howard Morris) - who have a weekly "boys' night out" scheduled, where they usually go out for drinks and talk about doing something, like going bowling. In short, they're in a rut. During one of their less than satisfying "nights of freedom," the guys witness Fred's boss out on the town with his latest girlfriend. Seeing the very married boss by all appearances successfully keeping a "love nest" apartment in the city away from the prying eyes of his wife gets the three frustrated married men to thinking. If they split expenses, perhaps they could swing their own "love nest" getaway in the city - 1 apartment, 1 girl, 4 guys = enterprising thinking, right? *rolls eyes*

The three married guys and the issues they have with their respective home lives are FLIPPIN' HILARIOUS. Doug loves home repair, but his wife Toni (Anne Jeffreys) is too status-conscious to let him work on any project around the house ("what would the neighbors think?" "that we're living within our means!"), squashing every opportunity he gets to "be a man" and shop at hardware stores. Howard is green with envy over the food his three boys get to eat - since his wife Joanne (Patti Page - she also provided the film's theme song) is on a strict diet, he has to starve in order to support her. George - *sob* - only wants to finish a flipping sentence, a luxury his wife Marge (Janet Blair) never allows.

Tony Randall as George is by far my favorite supporting character in this film. The territory of bumbling sidekick or wannabe lothario is familiar and comfortable territory for Randall, as he's played similar roles with equally memorable and hilarious results in films like Pillow Talk, The Mating Game, and Send Me No Flowers. I just ADORE Tony Randall, and in this film (as is the case in many of his other comedies from this period) he's apt to steal the screen every time he appears with his facial expressions and line delivery. During the commuting scenes, Randall gets the best moments as he always starts an off-color story, the bulk of his narrative getting drowned out by passing trains - but Randall sells the moment with his gestures. *wink*  

Ironically, Fred the single guy is the only one with any reservations about this "love nest" scheme. Sure he'll never be able to find an apartment in the necessary (and CHEAP) price range, he agrees to look and stumbles upon an unexpected jackpot. Real estate agent Peter Bowers (Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island fame!) agrees to rent him a posh apartment for a ridiculously low amount, because the previous tenant had the dubious distinction of being the murder victim in a recently sensationalized case. Before you can say "boys' night out," Cathy (Novak) appears, interested in a rental advertisement, but conveniently the living, breathing, embodiment of the boys' "perfect girl" advertisement for their love nest shenanigans. Cathy however, has an ulterior motive - she's a sociology graduate student, seeking real-world examples for her thesis on "adolescent fantasies of adult suburban males" (PLENTY of fodder for her thesis in this group, HA).

With Cathy firmly ensconced in the apartment, the "games," if you will, begin - and this little comedy sparkles as talk and innuendo fly, while nothing ever actually happens. Boys' Night Out only hints at anything immoral, and in the end comes out squarely in favor of marriage and commitment. The married "boys" in question don't really want a mistress, as Cathy posits to her thesis advisor, they've just been sold on the idea that they "should" want one, as her strictly platonic evenings with them confirm. Cathy is a listening ear, and ironically once they've talked to her the guys become better husbands (which in turn is what raises the suspicions of their ever-lovin' wives).

As the only male properly eligible to fall for Cathy, Garner is just adorably sincere as the smitten suitor who longs to "rescue" Cathy from her road-to-nowhere life of SIN and DISSIPATION. His jealousy over the time Cathy spends with his three friends is all the funnier because we know nothing untoward is happening - and it all culminates in a nightmare that takes the form of a silent movie spoof, where Randall is cast as the evil lothario and Garner is Novak's white knight. It's easy to see from this film the early big-screen evidence of Garner's viability as a romantic leading man - he projects just the right blend of charisma, emotional vulnerability, and comedic chops that a thoroughly appealing leading man must have (at least in my world). :) All this and in Boys' Night Out, Garner lives with his mother - a delightfully snarky Jessie Royce Landis (a favorite of mine thanks to her turn as Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest).

Sure, on the premise of Boys' Night Out is ridiculous. But if you're in the market for smartly scripted, fast-paced, glossy escapist entertainment, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by this little 1962 gem. Chock-full of FABULOUS 1960s sets and clothes, with a swingin' fun score provided by Frank De Vol, for my money Boys' Night Out is a fun, sassy little romantic comedy that deserves to stand as a classic of its time.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Masterpiece encores another Lewis episode

Masterpiece Mystery is making another Inspector Lewis episode available through possible encore broadcasts and online viewing. This time, it's the series three episode Counter Culture Blues (read my review here). Here's some info about the episode:
Watch an encore presentation of Inspector Lewis on MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! In Counter Culture Blues, rock star Esme Ford isn't dead after all. But a teenage boy is, and there seems to be a connection to Ford's old band. Joanna Lumley (Absolutely Fabulous) guest stars. (One episode; 90 minutes; TV-PG).

Check your local listings carefully as your local station is likely in its membership drive (your support helps keep shows like MASTERPIECE MYSTERY! on the air). This encore episode may not be airing in your area or may be scheduled at alternate times.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Review: The Confessions of Catherine de Medici by C. W. Gortner

The Confessions of Catherine de Medici
By: C. W. Gortner
Publisher: Ballantine
ISBN: 978-0-345-50187-5

About the book:

The truth is, not one of us is innocent. We all have sins to confess. So reveals Catherine de Medici, the last legitimate descendant of her family's illustrious line. Expelled from her native Florence, Catherine is betrothed to Henri, son of Francois I of France. In an unfamiliar realm, Catherine strives to create a role for herself through her patronage of the famous clairvoyant Nostradamus and her own innate gift as a seer. But in her fortieth year, Catherine is widowed, left alone with six young children in a kingdom torn apart by the ambitions of a treacherous nobility. Relying on her tenacity, wit, and uncanny gift for compromise, Catherine seizes power, intent on securing the throne for her sons, unaware that if she is to save France, she may have to sacrifice her ideals, her reputation, and the secret of her embattled heart.


Thanks to the ravages of time, the primary image of Catherine de Medici that remains is that of a black-clad, power hungry widow who dabbled in the dark arts, authorized massacres, and murdered her enemies in order to ensure her family's power. But perhaps the truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere between the black and white lines of the historical record, in the gray areas of heartbreak and triumph, wisdom and error that make up a life. From Gortner's extensive research and his solid grasp of the manners and mores of the time in which she lived, Catherine springs from the dust of history to vibrant life - not to apologize or defend herself, but to tell her story. This first-person account of Catherine's tumultuous life is a veritable feast for historical fiction lovers. With deft assurance and an insightful eye, everything from the opulence of the French court to the devastation of the 16th-century religious wars that nearly destroyed the Valois monarchy is resurrected on the page with a startling immediacy and noteworthy attention to detail, immersing readers in Catherine's world. But more than atmosphere, Gortner's recreation of Catherine reveals her to be a woman both wholly of and ahead of her time, possessed of a keen intellect and an unswerving loyalty and will to survive, her greatest strengths also her greatest weaknesses, catapulting her into legend.

Catherine was the last legitimate heir of the Medicis and as such she was raised to be a political pawn, but never a queen. As an child she endured over two years as a hostage when Florence overthrew Medici rule; when she was freed her uncle Pope Clement IV sought to cement an Italian alliance with France via marriage. At the age of fourteen, Catherine wed Henry, the second son of France's Valois king, Francis I. Possessing commoner antecedents, prestige-wise the marriage was a coup for Catherine, who as an outsider had to fight for acceptance in the elitist French court. When the unthinkable happens and Henry becomes France's presumptive heir, Catherine's first fight for survival pits her against her husband's long-time mistress, as she must produce heirs if she hopes to protect her position at court. Gortner spins an engrossing yarn as he reveals how, in her formative years, the disappointment and trials Catherine overcame in her marriage set the stage for the iron-willed regent she would famously become. Gortner strips away the veneer of quiet, unquestioning subservience with which it is easy to carelessly characterize historical women and reveals how Catherine's trying youth served as a proving ground for her quick whits and her apparently fathomless capacity for survival agains all odds.

As fascinating and heartbreaking as I found the first third of the novel detailing Catherine's fight to establish herself as a worthy French queen, the last two-thirds of her Confessions took my breath away. Following her husband's death, Catherine was thrust into a fight to secure her sons' inheritance that would consume the remaining thirty years of her life. The "Protestant problem" that was an irritant to the Catholic French court when Catherine first arrived in France balloons into all-out religious wars. Gortner paints Catherine with a forward-thinking eye to religious tolerance (most controversial in the age of the Inquisition), but when negotiation would fail, the one point Catherine refused to compromise on was anything that would compromise her sons' legacies as France's legitmate rulers. Catherine possesses an admirable and fierce love for her offspring that blinds her to their faults and the resentments that foster thanks to her eagle-eyed focus on protecting the throne, their inheritance. Gornter delivers an unvarnished, honest and heart-rending portrayal of the personal toll Catherine's family and dynasty-centered focus took on the lives of her subjects as well as herself. This culminated in the tragedy of the 1572 St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, a wave of violence against French Protestants the blame for which history has laid largely at Catherine's door.

Gortner has an extraordinary gift for bringing history to life and delivering page-turning, thoroughly engrossing reads. He brings Catherine to vibrant life, the intoxicating mix of her strengths and weaknesses, giving - perhaps restoring - credit due her for triumphs and advancements that has been lost to the passage of time. But more importantly, he doesn't shy away from his leading lady's errors and poor judgements that resulted in both personal and national tragedy and turmoil. In Confessions, Catherine emerges as a fully realized woman, both gloriously strong and tremendously flawed. Gortner's recreation of one of history's most infamous and controversial women is a page-turning triumph from start to finish, a powerful reminder of the fallible humanity behind the legend. Catherine's was a life fully lived, epic in every sense of the word.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Too Hot to Handle

Too Hot to Handle is the sixth and final film collaboration between Hollywood A-listers Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. Part screwball comedy, part high adventure,  Too Hot to Handle is a clear predecessor to later romantic adventures like Romancing the Stone, setting the template for this type of film - a heady mix of equal parts snappy dialogue, thrilling adventure, and romantic tension. I was somewhat surprised by how well this film (made in 1938) has aged, proving the staying power of its charismatic co-stars and its fast-paced, globe-trotting storyline.

Gable is Chris Hunter and Walter Pidgeon is Bill Dennis, each the star cameraman for rival news organizations. Now I'd always been aware of newsreels in the 1930s and 40s - prior to the advent of television and the internet, people got their news primarily through the papers or radio. But I'd never really given much thought to the people behind the newsreel cameras. In the 1930s, newsreels would've been a relatively new phenomenon, an exciting new format through which the biggest stories of the day could be consumed by the populace with an immediacy not afforded by print or audio formats. This film brings the culture of newsreel reporting to vibrant life. It's fascinating to watch Gable and Pidgeon strive to "scoop" each other as trend-setting players in the precursor to the modern news broadcasts we take for granted today.

When the film opens, Hunter and Dennis are languishing on the front lines of the Sino-Japanese War, unable to capture the footage of Japanese bombing raids that their respective bosses expect. Hunter is renowned and despised by his newsreel competitors for his willingness to do anything to land exclusive footage of a big story. Gable is perfectly suited to play the role of a fast-talking, ethically questionable (but oh-so-appealing), fearless reporter. There's a scene towards the beginning of the film where Hunter attempts to elaborately stage a fake Japanese air raid that is COMIC GOLD (many of the gags were created by an uncredited Buster Keaton). Between dealing with the neuroses of his soundman Joselito and the uncooperative locals he hires to stage his fake attack, the results are absolutely hilarious - I cannot remember the last time I saw Gable in a film where he was so effortlessly funny.

Hunter's cutthroat tactics start to backfire when his competitors stage a fake medical supplies delivery, and Hunter, not realizing he's being setup, causes the plane to wreck. He's shocked to discover that the pilot is actually a she - a fast-talking, streetsmart aviatrix named Alma Harding (Loy), desperately trying to raise her public profile so she can gain backers for a search-and-rescue mission seeking her long-lost adventurer brother Harry (George Lynn) in South America. The role of Alma lacks the polish Loy's characters were so well-known for in the 1930s (i.e. Nora in The Thin Man film series), but she exudes a fiestiness and an innate strength of character that lends her credibility here - just the right balance of vulnerability and tenacity. And even more importantly, Loy is one of the few leading women of the time that I can think of who could give as well as she  took opposite a star of Gable's prowess. Loy has the spunk, the fire, and the vitality to stand on equal terms with Gable's larger-than-life, raw force-of-nature personality, and ultimately, that is what makes her perfect for role of Alma.

The supporting cast is stellar, lending just the right mix of comedy to counterbalance the film's action sequences. Walter Connolly is perfectly cast as Gabby MacArthur, Hunter's boss at Union Newsreel. Prone to stress (thanks to a wife who wants to bleed him dry in a divorce settlement) and possessing a rather excitable nature, it's hilarious fun watching Gable give his on-screen boss fits. The biggest surprise was perhaps Marjorie Main as Kitty Wayne, Gabby's long-suffering secretary. Thanks to her turn as "Ma Kettle," I seem to always associate Main with more unsophisticated, stereotypical "hick country" roles, but here she's just as no-nonsense as ever, only more polished to suit the office setting. *wink* And I loved Gable's buddy chemistry with Leo Carrillo as Joselito, his soundman. The two exchange some hilarious quips, and Carrillo relishes the opportunity to masquerade as a wealthy South American landowner with hilarious results.

I was incredibly impressed with the special effects shots, especially the angles and editing for the sequence where Gable and Loy fly through the fog to film aerial footage of a sinking ship on the verge of exploding. I could never claim to be an expert on the technical aspects of filmmaking, but the sequence holds up incredibly well considering the relative limitations filmmakers had at their disposal in the 1930s compared to today. While the film isn't strictly accurate (particularly in its portrayal of the equipment available to newsreel reporters), what strikes me as rather timeless about the film is its portrayal of "faked" news events and the idea of filmmaking as "truth," if you will. Liken it to reality TV - all it takes is some clever editing and the way an event played out in real life can be recorded and presented on-screen as the new, "definitive" version of the truth. The film also plays with the idea of the role explicit news footage should play in the lives of everyday people, particularly when Alma has a strong emotional reaction to the captured images of the sinking ship, and questions the appropriateness of "exploiting" the sailors' deaths on-screen. I just found it fascinating to watch these news-related issues play out in a time that by comparison to our own is significantly less media-saturated.

The final third of the film, when Hunter, Alma, and Dennis make the trip to South America suffers from some unfortunate stereotyping of the natives they encounter enroute to rescue Harry. But the zippy pace and script provide Gable with a slew of opportunities to chew the scenery with his trademark wisecracks or sequences showcasing his affinity for broadly comic physicality. I loved how Gable's character goes above and beyond to make things right with Alma, yet he still can't resist going to ridiculous lengths to scoop a story out from under his biggest competitor's nose - Gable's verve and perspicacity embody the iconic, never-say-die image I carry in my mind's eye of reporters from the time period.

Part King Solomon's Mines and part Romancing the Stone, Too Hot to Handle is a relatively entertaining slice of cinema anchored by appealing performances from two of the brightest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. While perhaps not my favorite Gable/Loy collaboration (I'm partial to the comedy Wife vs. Secretary), the almost-palpable star power and chemistry between Gable and Loy in Too Hot to Handle are potent reminders that once upon a golden time, they were "King and Queen" of Hollywood for a reason.