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Posts Tagged ‘Sir Cedric Hardwicke’

H.G. Wells’ Things To Come (1936)

Saturday, February 4th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see some clips from Things to Come.

I’ve blogged on director William Cameron Menzies before, especially on his 1953 film Invaders from Mars, and his long and often tortured career as a pioneer set designer — most notably for the 1939 production of Gone With the Wind. But I’ve never really singled out his most ambitious film as a director, from H.G. Wells’ screenplay based on his 1933 novel, Things to Come. The large — and I do mean large — cast includes Raymond Massey, Sir Ralph Richardson, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. To give you some idea of the size and scope of the project, just take a look at the image above.

After Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), it’s arguably the most ambitious science fiction film ever made, and also one of the most prophetic, envisioning everything from giant flat screen televisions to the eventuality of another World War just a few years later. Bogged down by Wells’ insistence that both the actors and directors follow his verbose screenplay to the letter, Things to Come is nevertheless a visual tour de force, and a remarkable achievement both as a film, and as a vision of the future.

Easily available on DVD, including a 2007 version colorized by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen — I can’t believe I’m recommending this, but it’s that good — Things to Come is essential viewing for anyone interested in science fiction, set design, world history, or the history of film. Also in 2007, Network DVD in the UK released a digitally-restored version, which to date is the longest version available anywhere in the world. The two-disc set also contains a “Virtual Extended Version” with most of the missing and unfilmed parts represented by production photographs and script extracts.

In short, if you haven’t seen it, you should check it out immediately; this is where modern sci-fi begins.

Frank Borzage’s “Green Light” (1937)

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Click here, or on the image above, to see the trailer from Green Light.

I’m not usually much of an enthusiast for “inspirational” films, which often seem forced and insincere, but for as long as I can remember, Frank Borzage’s 1937 medical drama Green Light has had a claim on my heart and mind. Perhaps it’s because Borzage — one of the greatest, but yet one of the most historically neglected directors — is at the helm of the picture; perhaps it’s the strength of Errol Flynn’s portrayal of idealistic doctor Newell Paige, who takes the rap for another doctor’s malpractice, convinced that in the end, the truth will come out, and exonerate him at last. There’s also Margaret Lindsay and Anita Louise, both fresh and appealing in the film, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s quite believable role as Dean Harcourt, a radio evangelist who dispenses remarkably sound advice, exhorting his listeners to pay heed to the “traffic signals” of human existence.

Some days, the film argues, you get a green light, and you can just get up and accomplish whatever you wish; other days, a yellow light, for caution; and sometimes, a red light, which forces you to stop and consider your situation – and you must wait, and wait patiently, until the green light signals that you can continue your journey.

As Elizabeth A. Kingsley notes on her website, And You Call Yourself A Scientist!,Lloyd C. Douglas was Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church of Akron, Ohio, during the 1920s. He became a published author of non-fiction works during that time and then, having moved to Los Angeles in 1926, he began writing fiction, telling stories that illustrated his own passionate belief in the need for faith, and of the benefit to the many that comes through the self-sacrifice of the individual. Douglas’s first novel, Magnificent Obsession, was an enormous best-seller; it would eventually be filmed twice, in 1935 and 1954. A number of Douglas’s other novels would also become films. His most frequent interpreter was Frank Borzage, and anyone who has any knowledge of the director’s career will have no difficulty understanding why.

As is the case with Douglas’s novels themselves, there is no cynicism in Frank Borzage’s films, and nary a breath of irony. When his characters talk about “God”, they mean it; when they talk about “love”, they mean that, too. His films deal primarily with men and women who can recognise each other’s souls; who struggle not just with love and passion – although there is plenty of that in Borzage’s work; refreshingly, he never shied away from the sexual aspects of love – but with issues of dedication, of loyalty, of self-sacrifice and self-denial. They are intense, romantic, and utterly sincere – and they have, consequently, an almost unparalleled ability to make modern audiences squirm with discomfort.

His most frequent interpreter was Frank Borzage, and anyone who has any knowledge of the director’s career will have no difficulty understanding why. As is the case with Douglas’s novels themselves, there is no cynicism in Frank Borzage’s films, and nary a breath of irony. When [Borzage's] characters talk about “God”, they mean it; when they talk about “love”, they mean that, too. His films deal primarily with men and women who can recognize each other’s souls; who struggle not just with love and passion – although there is plenty of that in Borzage’s work; refreshingly, he never shied away from the sexual aspects of love – but with issues of dedication, of loyalty, of self-sacrifice and self-denial.

Green Light, perhaps the least known of all the Lloyd Douglas adaptations, is nevertheless a classic example of the author’s work. It tells the story of Newell Paige (Errol Flynn), a rising young surgeon whose career is destroyed when he takes the blame for his mentor, Dr. Endicott (Henry O’Neill), who botches an operation and causes the death of a patient. Paige’s heroic gesture leads to further heartbreak when he falls in love with Phyllis Dexter (Anita Louise), the daughter of the unfortunate patient, only to have her recoil in horror from, as she believes, the man who killed her mother. The film follows Paige as he struggles up from the depths of despair to the salvaging of his sense of self-worth; and finally, to his gaining of both love and faith through, in typical Douglas fashion, an act of near-fatal self-sacrifice.

Much of Green Light, particularly the first half of the film, is taken up with debates over the nature of faith, and the eternal versus the here-and-now. In this, the medical profession, in the shape of Newell Paige and the nurse who loves him, Frances Ogilvie (Margaret Lindsay), faces off against the positively saintly Dean Harcourt (Cedric Hardwicke), who was the human inspiration of the doomed Mrs Dexter (Spring Byington), and who later helps Phyllis Dexter to work through her feelings of anger and hatred against those who caused her mother’s death. Unusually, Green Light is the story of a man who finds God through science.”

In times of trouble, I always find Green Light serves as a useful corrective to whatever the current problem might be in my own life; for years, I had to rely on a copy I taped from TCM, but now, at last, the film is available from Warner Archive on DVD, and when I found that out, I immediately ordered two copies. It’s a beautiful, deeply felt, utterly sincere film, and one which Errol Flynn was pleased to be in, as it marked his first “modern” role, after the swashbuckling antics of Captain Blood (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936). But Green Light, for all its merits, wasn’t a resounding commercial success, and so Flynn was soon pressed back into service in period pieces, forever the dashing action hero. Yet in this film, we can see a side of him that’s simply not on display elsewhere; Flynn’s Newell Paige is a real, fully drawn character, and under Borzage’s inspired direction, Green Light still packs a punch even in these jaded times, and is well worth viewing.

Frank Borzage directing Spring Byington and Errol Flynn in Green Light

The Alfred Hitchcock Hour

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

They’re in black and white, which was once an economical production medium. They’re shot on 35mm film. Most were made on a strict six-day schedule. They were shot almost entirely at Universal City. The series started out as a half hour show in 1955, and then switched to an hour format in 1962, ending its run in 1965. Each episode was shot like a feature film, in “single camera” format, rather than in sitcom format, and production values — especially story lines and guest stars — to say nothing of the physical execution of each segment were exceptionally high.

As an anthology series, there were no continuing characters; it was an entirely new show every week. Hitchcock’s own input into the series was minimal, but he directed a few episodes of the series, and watching the Universal TV crew work, he was inspired by their speed and efficiency to shoot his groundbreaking film Psycho there, breaking away from the slower crews at Paramount, where he had spent the 1950s. All in all, 363 episodes were shot over a ten year period.

An enormous number of exceptionally talented actors, writers and directors contributed to the series, including actors Ed Asner, Mary Astor, Roscoe Ates, Gene Barry, Ed Begley, Charles Bronson, Edgar Buchanan, John Cassavetes, Jack Cassidy, Dabney Coleman, Joseph Cotten, Bob Crane, Hume Cronyn, Robert Culp, Bette Davis, Francis De Sales, Bruce Dern, Brandon De Wilde, Angie Dickinson, Diana Dors, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, John Forsythe, Anne Francis, Edmund Gwenn, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Charles Herbert, Lou Jacobi, Joyce Jameson, Carolyn Jones, Don Keefer, Brian Keith, Jack Klugman, Peter Lawford, Christopher Lee, Cloris Leachman, Peter Lorre, Dayton Lummis, E. G. Marshall, Walter Matthau, Darren McGavin, John McGiver, Lee Majors, Steve McQueen, Tyler McVey, Joyce Meadows, Vera Miles, Vic Morrow, Robert Newton, George Peppard, James Philbrook, Sydney Pollack, Judson Pratt, Vincent Price, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, William Shatner, Henry Silva, Barbara Steele, Jan Sterling, Dean Stockwell, Jessica Tandy, Dick Van Dyke, Richard Waring, Dennis Weaver, Joanne Woodward, Fay Wray, and Keenan Wynn.

It’s an elegant, intelligent, well designed series, the like of which we will never see on television again. Black and white has vanished as a production medium, along with the artistic values that went with it. Film has also vanished, leaving everything to be shot with a slick, artificial digital sheen. The violence quotient has been upped so that gruesome rapes and murders are now commonplace on shows such as Law and Order SVU and the CSI series; it seems that plot, acting, and nuance have been left behind. Let’s raise a glass, then, to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, one of the most innovative and artistically ambitious television series ever produced — on a budget, on a schedule, on an assembly line, even — but with style, elegance, and wit, down to Hitchcock’s droll introductions and commercial break announcements, which the director performed himself.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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