The War of the Worlds, 1953

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I feel that I should preface this post with the fact that this was my first ever foray into The War of the Worlds – I’ve not read the book (though I’ve recently read the plot outline on Wikipedia to compare it to this adaptation) nor have I seen/heard any of the many other adaptations…but now I’m intrigued! And I’d like more. First, though, my thoughts on the 1953 version…it might be nice to note that this was the first onscreen adaptation of The War of the Worlds and was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

{NOTE: this review will probably contain spoilers. I figure both the film and story itself are old enough that they may not come as a shock but thought I’d mention it anyway.}

Released in 1953 the film transplants the action of the story from England to southern California. The opening sequence (I didn’t upload any screencaps) shows art by space artist Chesley Bonestell whilst Sir Cedric Hardwicke tells us why martians find that earth is the only planet in our solar system worth their invasion. We are then taken to earth where a meteor crash causes a stir in a small town…

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I was struck right away by the gorgeous colours of my beloved Technicolor and by the stylish cinematography and I wasn’t disappointed by either as the film progressed.
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Gene Barry (swoon!) plays Dr Clayton Forrester a bespectacled (though only for long distance, he assures as he takes his glasses off to get a good look at Ann Robinson) and deliciously stubbled scientist on a fishing trip with some colleagues when the meteor crash occurs. He meets Sylvia Van Buren, played by Ann Robinson, at the site of impact and the two hit it off rather well (Sylvia seems to be quite the fan of Dr Forrester’s work.)

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The scene where three men are keeping watch over the meteor and slowly realise that there is something inside is very well done – I found there was the right amount of tension and loved how their uncertainty and fear morphed into faux-confidence as they approached the Martian meteor waving a white flag before being incinerated by the heat-ray of the Martian war machine.
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The Martians somehow blow out the power of the town (clearly I wasn’t paying attention to every detail…oops) which leads to the discovery of the death of the aforementioned three men and the realisation that the creatures in the meteor are not at all friendly.
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I absolutely loved the use of coloured lighting in this film. From the more subtle use in the top two stills to the saturation of the still of Ann Robinson screaming. As well as being visually beautiful it highlights the unease and er other-worldliness of the events.

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Look, ma, no strings! Well…almost.

The strings on the war machines were quite obvious, as were the scale model sets toward the end of the film but I always feel that that lends to the charm of a film like this, rather than subtracting from it. You’ll have to click through to see the strings properly but they are visible. Other than that, I felt the effects were rather good (they won an Oscar) and liked that there was a conscious effort to avoid the ‘stereotypical’ UFO look. The war machines used by the Martians (which were designed by Al Nozaki) float slowly sending their heat-rays in every direction leaving mayhem, destruction and death in their wake – the wikipedia article on the film describes them as looking like Manta Rays and I think this is an apt description.

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More gorgeous coloured lighting. It reminds me an awful lot of the work of a photographer whose name I currently can’t recall.

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The bar of light across their eyes reminded me of the famous lighting of Bela Lugosi as Dracula. It also seems to highlight the way Ann Robinson’s character constantly deferred to Gene Barry’s as is so typical of most films of this era and other eras, too (the woman deferring to the man’s lead, that is). It’s still a lovely visual effect.

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There is an awful lot of overacting in this film (one IMDB review accused Gene Barry of this alone but I feel Ann Robinson and others were ‘guilty’ of it, too) but just as the visible strings lend to the enjoyment of the film for me, so does the overacting and melodrama. It is also clear that these actors are entirely committed to the film and I feel that when an actor resents being in this type of movie is when overacting, etc., goes from endearing and fitting with the film to being a detraction from its greatness. And that just isn’t the case here. I was a little bothered by the stereotypical hysterical woman vs logical slightly more calm man as it’s almost always the woman who loses her cool whilst the man will just push through it. Of course, I would probably be a complete nervous wreck myself but I don’t feel like that’s the point here. Despite this, she does get through it and I think the events are shown to play on everyone’s nerves. I feel like this area of discussion requires a re-watch on my part.

I do love that Ann Robinson has been in a couple of other things as (Dr) Sylvia Van Duren and that both she and Gene Barry were in the 2005 adaptation (which I’ve not seen) credited as ‘grandmother’ and ‘grandfather’.

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The scientists used a camera part of the Martian’s war machine to see how the Martians could see. I read that George Pal wanted the final third of the film to be shot in 3D to enhance the effects of the Martian’s attack but the plan was scrapped (the visuals in these two shots reminded me of that fact).

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One of the many things I loved about this film (& other similar films) is the descent into panic as the realisation that the Martian war-machines can’t be destroyed by anything humans have to fight them (not even an atomic bomb) – this is shown particularly well in a scene where people are clawing and fighting each other for positions in any vehicle leaving the city that they can find and leave Gene Barry for all but dead as they eject him from his truck. There is little (well, no) camaraderie in this scene and even his shouts telling them that the truck has supplies the scientists need to try to find a way to defeat the invaders go unheard. Funnily enough, when I was screencapping that particular scene this song popped up on my iTunes…rather ironic, I suppose?

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My favourite scene, though, was possibly when Gene Barry, realising that all hope of defeat was lost, frantically searches the city for Ann Robinson knowing she would be in a church somewhere – their reunion, after they’ve pushed their way through the crowds of people, actually brought a tear to my eye. There was something very real and poignant about the way they clung to each other that I feel is not often seen in a film like this.

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However, all hope was not lost as the Martians eventually perished due to their immune systems not being able to handle the bacteria in earth’s atmosphere that humans have built up immunity to over the millennia. I did like that both the initial invasion and eventual demise of the aliens was out of human control (which seems to be true to the original story) as it’s quite different from other sci-fi films I’ve seen from this era and I think it sets it apart (with others such as The Day The Earth Stood Still) from other films that are truly trashy (in the most wonderful way) B-movies and probably why this film and others on a similar level are remembered more than others. I do have a lot of other thoughts about alien invasion films, especially from the cold war era, but I will leave them for another day.

The religious subtext (described as not-too-subtle) added into the film did irk me a little (the Martians begin to die after attacking a church and the bacteria is implied to be an act of god by the narrator) as I personally felt it was unnecessary but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film and the architecture of the churches did make for some fairly nice scenery so I suppose it was just a minor issue for me.

Has anyone else seen it? What did you think? If you haven’t, have I made you want to see this film?

Oh, and I found this review on the NY Times website that was written when the film was first released – I always love to read movie reviews contemporary to the film in question as a different perspective.

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Top 5 Thursday | All-time favourites.

One of the regular features I want to do here is a series of top 5 posts. I decided to start with my all-time favourite top 5 movies. This is a tricky feat, indeed, for someone who is easily pleased when it comes to cinema (I once posted a top 50 to my Tumblr and even that will be out of date, now).

For me, I define a favourite as a film I can watch over & over & over and not get sick of (however, there are some exceptions to this rule but none appear in my top 5) so my favourite films may not necessarily be indicative of all the sorts of films I will watch and enjoy/appreciate but that I can watch them so many times may be telling…of what, I’m not entirely sure. I suppose I can let you make your own minds up about that.

Note: I did mention in my introductory post that I want to start thinking more critically about the films I watch…but I found it was almost impossible to be objective about these films (not to say I discount valid criticisms but that I find it difficult to form them myself) because most of them have been in my life for such a long time, now. Maybe this is something I can address as this blog progresses but I guess what I’m trying to say is this is really just a gushing sort of a post.

1. The Rocky Horror Picture Show directed by Jim Sharman, 1975

This is legitimately my all time  favourite movie. I doubt anything will ever change that as I’ve been watching and loving this film since I was about four or five years old. I have my older (by 14 years) sister to blame/thank for my love of this film – my mother was uncertain if it was ‘appropriate’ for a small child to watch; my sister told her that I just liked the songs and colours. I’m sure this was somewhat true as there were certain scenes that I definitely didn’t understand until I was much older! I do remember putting on my mother’s high heels and acting out the floorshow scene with my friends at least once. I still have the taped-from-TV VHS copy that I grew up with (it has episodes of Family Ties on the end as well as some great ’80s music videos.) Watching this film is like coming home, again, I think. I know every line by heart, I sing and dance along and I never tire of any of it. A girl in high school once told me she didn’t ‘get’ this film and I still don’t entirely know what she meant…I wonder if my years of watching it have clouded my judgement when it comes to whether or not other people will enjoy it. But what’s not to enjoy? It’s campy, kitschy, glittery, there are sexy singing aliens, death-rays, nods to B-movies of the 30s-50s and some of the best songs that have ever been written. Could one really ask for more?

[Tumblr posts tagged Rocky Horror Picture Show or RHPS.]

2. Grease directed by Randal Kleiser, 1978

Grease is another film that I’ve loved since I was a small child – and another one I acted out in the living room (this time with my BFF – our song is ‘We Go Together’ by the by). I wonder if I have Grease to thank for my interest in mid-century America & teen culture (despite its costumes, etc., not being entirely authentic but as a 5 year old I wasn’t quite so discerning about these things)…I once read a website about how American teenagers really dressed in the 1950s and the author of the site said how unrealistic Grease is in that respect – but it is a musical. I don’t usually look to musicals for historical accuracy but, even so, the costumes in Grease capture the essence of what is stereotypically 1950s. Even musicals made in the era in which they are set are exaggerated representations of the fashion, etc., and that’s what I love about them. Grease doesn’t quite fit into the hyperreality of other musicals that I love from the 40s and 50s but I think it’s a similar kind of idea. The world of musicals is another world entirely and why people can be so divided by them.

I wonder if the enduring popularity of Grease has anything to do with the tend toward nostalgia not just at present but maybe in general? That it highlights everything we may love about 1950s Americana/teen culture: the milkshakes, drive-ins, froofy dresses, school dances etc., whilst making invisible the nastier side of things, like racism and homophobia (neither of which, of course, are gone now) just as the tip of the iceberg. It does touch on how some girls were (and still are) ostracised and talked about because they may have gone ‘with a boy…or two’ and/or got pregnant (like Rizzo) and maybe it also touches a little on gang rivalry (Scorpions vs T-Birds) but with less violence…it may not quite be Happy Days but I think it still sugar coats a lot. Despite all of that I love this movie unabashedly (maybe I’m better at thinking critically about my favourites than I thought).

[Tumblr posts tagged Grease.]

3. Charade directed by Stanley Donen, 1963

Oh my…yet another film I’ve been watching since I was a little girl! My mother’s favourite actor is Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn is one of mine. Needless to say this is a favourite we both share (though my mother is, perhaps, less obsessed with the film than I am!) Even though films like this rely heavily on suspense (and therefore first viewing) I am enthralled by this film no matter how many times I watch it. I know exactly what is going to happen and be said, I know each twist (and boy, there are a lot of them!), I even know which piece of music is used when but I’m never bored. Both Hepburn and Grant exude charm and play off each other beautifully. Grant’s comic timing is, as always, spot on…one of the things I love about this is that Grant was meant to be the one chasing Hepburn’s character but they switched it around when he said he felt he was too old to be chasing after a woman so much younger than him. My mum told me this as she’d read it somewhere or other but this review says the same thing. I think it works so well with Grant’s character trying to resist Reggie’s (Hepburn) advances that I couldn’t imagine it any other way. This film has often been described as ‘the best Hitchcock film Hitchcock never made’ and I think that’s one of the most apt descriptions I’ve ever read of a film. Oh, it also has a fantastic theme tune (yay, Mancini!) with incredibly cool ’60s graphics.

[Tumblr posts tagged Charade.]

4. Laura directed by Otto Preminger, 1944

I bought this film on a whim as it was only $1…then I watched it about 7 times in one week! (I wish I’d bought lots more copies so I could give them to everyone as gifts and bestow the glory of this film upon each and every person I know.) This film borders on necrophilia, could be interpreted as becoming the dream of Dana Andrews’ character halfway through, and has the ‘evil homosexual’ character that is so prevalent in film noir (well, sometimes morally corrupt) in the form of Waldo Lydecker. The first two points may be unsettling/confusing but not necessarily bad points about the film…I’m more uncomfortable about the coded ways in which gay characters were represented as morally corrupt (of course it could never explicitly be said that a character was gay because of the Hayes Code) in this and other similar films. There are a lot of things to unpack there and I am a little wary of breezing over the topic like that but I’m trying to keep this brief! But Waldo Lydecker gets all the great lines in the film and I’m going to have to do a feature post on it just as an excuse to bombard you with his one-liners. And what else do I love about it? It’s dark and strange without being explicitly so, Laura is an intelligent career woman (who, admittedly, may have dubious taste in men), it flips over on itself somewhere in the middle and it has one of my favourite ever onscreen kisses. Laura and Mark are on equal footing and there’s none of that manhandling so prevalent in movies of this era (manhandling is all well and good but I get a little uncomfortable at the violence of them, I suppose.) I don’t want to give too much away because if you’re not spoiled for this film then I find it’s a lovely surprise. Oh, and it’s gorgeous to look at too and not just because of the babely actors but because of the photography, lighting, etc., and the costumes…Gene Tierney has some beautiful clothes.

[Tumblr posts tagged Laura.]

5. Velvet Goldmine directed by Todd Haynes, 1998

This film baffled me when I first saw it – I think I was thrown by the beginning…does it imply that Oscar Wilde is an alien? Now I don’t even care and I love it completely and wholeheartedly; I have a big space in my heart for glitter and glam rock and the pop culture of the 1970s and I adore the colours and costumes in this film. I was even more impressed by it when I finally watched Citizen Kane and everything I’d read about the parallels between the films fell into place. Scott Tobias, in 2009, wrote that “…the Citizen Kane structure is perhaps Velvet Goldmine‘s biggest masterstroke…by presenting Slade, like Kane, as a mystery to be solved (or not), Haynes can evoke the glam-rock movement without destroying the all-important mystique that sustains it.” To be honest, once I fell in love with film I stopped thinking about it…but reading some other reviews and articles on it whilst writing this, I think I would like to take the time to read and think a bit more about it. (Maybe another future feature post?!)

David Bowie apparently wasn’t keen on this film (nor was Roger Ebert but some other critics had kinder things to say about it). I love Bowie but I love this film just as much…so I guess Bowie and I will just have to agree to disagree when it comes to Velvet Goldmine.

[Tumblr posts tagged Velvet Goldmine.]

Of course, as these are my own personal favourites, there is no point debating the placement of any of these on my list (that’s how personal favourites work) but I’d love it if anyone would like to share their own top 5 favourite films with me! And if anyone has any ideas for top 5 lists for me, feel free to throw them my way.

A bit of an introduction, I suppose…

The idea of starting a movie blog has been floating around my brain for quite some time, often met with ‘but there are so many movie blogs…why start one of my own?’ Eventually, after a little encouragement, the answer was ‘why not?’ I have done a few movie posts on my main blog but I tend to like to keep the films related to the decades pre-60s and usually post 1900 so I started to feel a little restricted. You can see those posts here, though.

A screenshot from the film Grease 2 of a large group of people gathered at a bowling alley, some giving a thumbs up.

One of my biggest loves in life is cinema; I just really love movies. I love movies that comfort me, that make me cry, make me laugh, make me cringe, challenge my views of the world, that make sense and are nonsensical, that entertain or confuse…like I said, I just really love movies.

A screenshot from the film Rocky Horror Picture Show showing five figures on a stage, one standing in a spotlight in front of the RKO Pictures logo.

I suppose I could be described as a genre hopper: I feel like I’ve watched bits and pieces from various genres & eras but tend not to immerse myself entirely in one particular genre or body of work. There are exceptions, though, and some of these are: film noir (canon & neo), musicals, ’50s sci-fi and films by/starring Audrey Hepburn, Doris Day, Humphrey Bogart, John Waters, Alfred Hitchcock…thinking about all the movies I want to watch but haven’t yet can get overwhelming and I have to accept it’s impossible to ever watch all the films I want to. Even though I hate to admit that, sometimes.

A screenshot from the film Mad Monster Party showing the red-haired claymation figure, Francesca, with a disgruntled look on her face.

Despite that, my film diet, thus far, has been heavily western and probably quite dominated by American cinema (Hollywood and otherwise) and I’m slowly trying to branch out from that and step outside of my comfort zones. As a ‘part time’ cinephile I’ve read bits and pieces of film theory and other articles but I haven’t read thoroughly… this is something I am also hoping to remedy.

I’ve called this blog ‘The Sofa Cinephile’ as I do a lot of my movie watching from my couch. I love going to the cinema but it’s not always practical or affordable for me. I intend to do regular posts such as top 5 lists, features on films I love (or hate!) as I watch them and feature posts on films I’ve watched previously and round up posts for each month. I want to think more critically about the films I watch (in various ways) but, whilst this is my aim, I can’t promise it will come through in every post I make. A lot of my ideas about this blog are a little vague at present but I’m hoping they will solidify as I start posting.

A screenshot from the film The Girl Can't Help It showing Betty Grable on a private cinema screen in a dark room the backs of two mens heads just visible.

Oh, and my name is Andrea. Hello! I’ll be doing a top 5 for my favourite movies later on, which is why I haven’t mentioned any of them, yet. Also, I hope to be posting somewhat regularly soon but for now I’m going to go watch one of the DVDs I picked up today…