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Archive for January 23rd, 2010

by Allan Fish

I write literally seconds after hearing of the death yesterday of Jean Simmons.  I think my first memory of her was in the God-awful The Thorn Birds in the early eighties, when I was about 12, but then again, that was also the first I saw of Barbara Stanwyck.  Yet when I think of her now it’s with a burning sense of regret.  Of all the actresses Hollywood has wasted criminally – Deborah Kerr and Claire Bloom were other examples – Jean Simmons must surely rank at the top of the list.

It was in 1945 when she first attracted attention, singing “I’m Going to Marry” at a dance in Puffin Asquith’s classic wartime film The Way to the Stars.  The same year she can be glimpsed among Cleopatra’s maid-servants (along with Renée Asherson) in Caesar and Cleopatra, but it was a year later when she made her first startling contribution as the haughty Estella in Lean’s Great Expectations.  So startling was she she totally overshadowed Valerie Hobson playing the character a decade older enough to make one wish she’d played the role older, too.  (In actual fact, Margaret Lockwood should have been the older Estella).  She was 17, and before turning 18 had also dazzled as the Indian slave girl in Powell and Pressburger’s Black Narcissus before taking on the biggest challenge of all, playing Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet.  Vivien Leigh had wanted the role but she was too old at 33 when it went into production.  Olivier got a masterful performance from her that ranks as still probably the definitive interpretation of the role, magnificent in the madness sequences and captured for ever in still photographs as Ophelia drowning like the Lady of Chalot.  (more…)

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by Allan Fish

(USA 1921 51m) DVD1/2

A picture with a smile – and, perhaps, a tear

p  Charles Chaplin  d/w/ed  Charles Chaplin  ph  Rollie Totheroh  m  Charles Chaplin  art  Charles D.Hall

Charles Chaplin (the tramp) Jackie Coogan (the kid), Edna Purviance (the woman), Carl Miller (the man), Tom Wilson (policeman), May White (policeman’s wife), Henry Bergman, Albert Austin,

If ever a caption summed up Chaplin’s combination of humour and pathos, that would be it.  Indeed when people accuse Chaplin of drowning in pathos, there are few more potent pieces of evidence for the prosecution than this, his debut feature from 1921.  It’s absolutely dripping with pathos, and that in itself may be the reason it isn’t as well looked upon now in critical circles as it may have been half a century ago, when it was ranked with his best films.  To this reviewer’s eyes, however, it seems somewhat irrelevant, for as a piece of popular film-making it really is a pretty faultless film which doesn’t outstay its welcome for a minute and has enough memorable scenes, both emotional and comic – and both at the same time – to make up for any inherent mawkishness or cloying sentimentality some might perceive it to have. (more…)

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