“BLANCHE FURY” (1948) Review

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“BLANCHE FURY” (1948) Review

I suspect that many fans of costume dramas would be fascinated to know about the series of period dramas released by the British film industry during the post-World War II era. A good number of those films were released by a British film studio known as Gainsborough Pictures. But not all of them were released through this particular studio. Some were released through other studios or production companies . . . like the 1948 period drama, “BLANCHE FURY”.

Based upon the 1939 novel written by Marjorie Bowen (under the pseudonym of Joseph Stearling), “BLANCHE FURY”told the story of two lovers during the 1850s, who become embroiled in adultery, greed and murder. More importantly, Bowen’s novel and the movie was inspired by a real-life case involving the 1848 murder of an estate owner and his adult by a tenant farmer trying to stave off a bad mortgage. The story surrounding “BLANCHE FURY” proved to be a bit more complicated and melodramatic.

The story begins with a beautiful impoverished gentlewoman named Blanche Fuller, who is forced to serve as a domestic companion for a wealthy woman (think of Joan Fontaine in 1940’s “REBECCA”). To Blanche’s great relief, she receives an invitation to become governess for the granddaughter of her rich uncle Simon Fuller. Upon her arrival, Blanche becomes romantically involved with Simon’s only son, the weak-willed Laurence. She learns that her uncle and cousin have assumed the surname of Fury, which belonged to the previous owner of the estate, the late Adam Fury. She also meets Philip Thorn, Adam’s illegitimate son, who serves as the estate’s head groom and resents Simon and Laurence’s possession of his father’s estate. Blanche decides to marry Laurence for the sake of security and wealth, but becomes dissatisfied with her marriage. She and Philip also fall in love and quickly drifts into a sexual affair. Longing for possession of both Blanche and the estate, Philip drags Blanche into a plot that leads to double murder.

The first thing that caught my attention about “BLANCHE FURY” that it is a beautiful looking film. Producer Anthony Havelock-Allan, director Marc Allégret and cinematographers Guy Green and Geoffrey Unsworth really made use of the Technicolor process. And if I must be brutally honest, I could say the same for the costumes designed by Sophie Devine, who created some colorful outfits for leading lady, Valerie Hobson, as shown below:

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Despite my admiration for the photography and costumes, I was not that impressed by the set designs and especially the production designs. Well . . . let me take some of that back. I had no problems with John Bryan’s production designs for scenes featured in smaller rooms – Philip’s quarters and a private bedroom or two. But I was not impressed by scenes in large rooms – you know, the drawing room, foyer or library of the Fury manor. Quite frankly, these “sets” resembled badly made matte paintings instead of lived-in rooms. Lifeless. An individual museum room with a collection of paintings looked warmer.

But I certainly had no problems with the story. The latter begins with Blanche in the process of giving birth before it flashes back to her days as a paid companion. Thanks to the screenplay written by Audrey Erskine-Lindop and Cecil McGivern, audiences received several glimpses into Blanche’s mindset – her frustrations as a paid companion and later, as wife to the weak-willed Laurence Fury; her sexual fascination with Philip Thorn and the later realization that she had bitten off more than she could chew, thanks to Philip’s murder plot. For me, the most memorable scene in the entire movie featured an argument between the unfaithful Blance and the arrogant Laurence, who had insisted that she interrupt her rest to entertain a guest who had arrived with him and his father in the late evening. Blanche’s blatant refusal to blindly obey her husband nearly caused me to stand up and cheer, despite the fact she had spent the last 24 hours cheating on him with Philip. I had an easier time understanding Blanche than I did Philip. He seemed to have this attitude that the Fury estate should have been given to him, despite being born on the wrong side of the blanket. And the fact that he was willing to destroy the Fuller-Fury clan (with the exception of Blanche), including Laurence’s young daughter, left me feeling cold toward him in the end.

“BLANCHE FURY” featured some very solid performances, despite a penchant for some of the cast to nearly drift into slightly hammy acting. I could never accuse Valerie Hobson of overacting. Mind you, her performance did not exactly knock my socks off, but I thought she did a pretty job. Her best moments proved to be the Blanche/Laurence quarrel and Blanche’s horror over Philip’s arrogant behavior following the deaths of her husband and father-in-law. I had recently come across an article suggesting that Stewart Granger was not exactly the most skillful actor. Recalling his performances in movies like “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”, “SCARAMOUCHE” and “BHOWANI JUNCTION”, I found this opinion hard to accept. But a part of me could not help but noticed that his performance in “BLANCHE FURY” – especially in the movie’s last half hour – threatened to wander in the realm of the melodramatic. Otherwise, I found his performance satisfactory. Michael Gough fared just as well as Miss Hobson as Laurence Fury – especially in the memorable Blanche/Laurence quarrel scene. Though, there were moments when I thought he would go a little overboard. Sybille Binder, who portrayed the Furys’ stoic housekeeper Louisa was just that . . . stoic. I thought she would play a major role in the movie. But in the end, I felt that her time was more or less wasted. Susanne Gibbs made a very charming Lavinia Fury, Laurence’s young daughter. But I thought the best performance came from Walter Fitzgerald, who portrayed Blanche’s no-nonsense uncle (later, father-in-law) Simon Fury. I found it rather interesting that Fitzgerald could portray such a blunt character with great subtlety. He seemed to be the only cast member who did not threatened to become melodramatic.

I may have had a few problems with “BLANCHE FURY”. But if I must be honest, I found it entertaining and rather satisfying. Thanks to Marc Allégret’s direction, Audrey Erskine-Lindop and Cecil McGivern’s entertaining screenplay, Guy Green and Geoffrey Unsworth’s photography and a solid cast led by Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger, I found the movie more than satisfying.

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“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

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“KING SOLOMON’S MINES” (1950) Review

To my knowledge, there have been at least four film adaptations of H. Rider Haggard’s 1885 adventure novel, “King Solomon’s Mines”. One film had been released in 1937, featuring Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Paul Robeson. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer released one in 1950, starring Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger. Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone co-starred in one in 1985. And in 2004, Patrick Swayze and Alison Doody starred in a two-part miniseries, based on the novel. But the film I want to focus upon is the 1950 version. Quite frankly, it is my favorite one.

It took Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer nearly four years to get “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” into production. They had originally planned to have Errol Flynn star as the Victorian hunter and guide living in Africa, Allan Quartermain. But Flynn dreaded the idea of spending time away from any form of luxury, while on location in Africa. He ended up taking the leading role in MGM’s other adventure, “KIM”, in which he spent his off-camera hours at a resort in India. British actor, Stewart Granger, took the role of Quartermain . . . and became a major Hollywood star. The other cast members included Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth Curtis, the woman who hires Quartermain to lead a safari in search of her missing husband; Richard Carlson as John Goode, Elizabeth’s likable older brother; Siriaque as the mysterious Umbopa, who is revealed to be King of the Watusi; and Hugo Haas as Van Brun, a former hunter who is wanted by British authorities for murder. Directed by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton, ”KING SOLOMON’S MINES” was filmed on location in the Republic of Congo and Kenya, along with California.

Loosely based upon Haggard’s novel, “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” tells the story of Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger), an experienced hunter and guide in 1897 Kenya, who is reluctantly talked into helping Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John Goode (Richard Carlson) search for her husband, who had disappeared in the unexplored interior of Africa on a quest to find the legendary mines. They have a copy of the map that Henry Curtis had used in his journey. A tall, mysterious native, Umbopa (Siriaque), eventually joins the safari. And during the grueling journey, Elizabeth and Quatermain begin falling in love.

As I had stated, this version of “KING SOLOMON’S MINES” is my favorite version. It is not a very close adaptation of the novel. For one, there was no literary version of the Elizabeth Curtis character. And her husband, Henry, was definitely one of the characters. It was he who hired Quartermain to lead a search party – for his missing brother. John Goode was a close friend, instead of a brother-in-law. The novel was basically set in Southern Africa, instead of Kenya and other parts of East Africa. I am quite certain there are other differences between Haggard’s novel and this movie adaptation. But if I must be frank, I really do not care. I love “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Its screenplay written by Helen Deutsch, the movie possessed a heady combination of an adventure film, a travelogue and intelligent drama. Cinematographer Robert Surtees deservedly won an Academy Award for his color photography in the movie. East Africa never looked more beautiful and wild. Ralph E. Winters and Conrad A. Nervig won the Academy Award for Best Editing. Thanks to them, there were able to allow the audience to enjoy the African photography, while ensuring that it would not get in the way of the acting and the story.

Speaking of the movie’s acting, MGM was fortunate to get their hands on Stewart Granger in the role of Allan Quartermain. Granted, I am a major fan of Errol Flynn, but Granger was right for the role. He did an excellent job of projecting the heroic qualities of Quartermain, yet at the same time, delving into the character’s cynical, yet slightly melancholy personality. Deborah Kerr was a perfect match as the equally caustic Elizabeth Curtis, who sets the journey in motion to find her husband and alleviate her guilt for driving the latter from England. The on-screen match between Granger and Kerr was so strong that it was simply a joy to watch their verbal sparring and sexual chemistry. Richard Carlson as Elizabeth Curtis’ brother, John Goode, provided cool and intelligent stability amidst the sexual heat and hostility generated by Granger and Kerr. And the East African actor Siriaque’s (I have no idea from which country he came from) character added mystery as the native who joins the Curtis safari.

I am trying to think of something negative to say about “KING SOLOMON’S MINES”. Okay, there were moments when it was in danger of becoming nothing more than a travelogue. And Deborah Kerr’s new hairdo after she had “cut” her hair, resembled a style that a mid 20th century woman would wear and not one in the late 19th century would. No wonder many moviegoers had laughed. Other than the those two quibbles, I have nothing to complain about the movie.

The movie has one more blessing . . . its human portrayal of the African characters allowed it to avoid the tackiness of the 1985 Chamberlain-Stone version or the silly tactic that Paul Robeson was forced to use in order to reveal his character’s true identity in the 1937 version. The movie also provided excellent acting by its cast, great cinematography, and excellent action sequences. Is it any wonder that it ended up receiving a Best Picture Academy Award nomination?

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.