Tag Archives: Audrey Hepburn

Alan Arkin terrorizing a blind but resourceful Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was very, very good in two 1967 movies. She received an Oscar nomination for the more popular one, “Wait Until Dark.” As a frightened by resourceful blind woman, she was menaced by the seemingly trustworthy, soothing Richard Crenna (in a sort of Cary Grant turn, see “Charade,” a corrupt former cop (Jack Weston) and a psychopath in dark glasses (in one of his three disguises) played by Alan Arkin. Arkin also had a very good year, being nominated for the best actor Oscar as a Russian submarine commander run aground on Long Island in “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.”

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“Dark” is obviously based on a stage play (in marked contrast to the traveling around the south of France in “Two for the Road.” Initially, it seems to share having a mean, spoiled young girl, though Gloria (June Herrod) turns out to be useful rather than horrid.

There have been so many sadistic criminals on screens since 1967, that Arkin is less shocking that he was to 1967 audiences, with the exception of one scene.

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There is little opening out from the apartment—really, only to a VW van across the street parked in front of a phone booth that gets a lot of use from the plotters. (As in “Charade,” Hepburn does not know what she has and what she has does not belong to her husband or the three conspirators to get the prize.) The play that was filmed was written by Frederick Knott, who also wrote the frightened woman “Dial M for Murder” that Alfred Hitchcock adapted to the screen.

Hepburn was often paired on screen with much older men (Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Fred Astaire). Her husband here was played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr., who was a mere eleven years her senior. And her ostensible romantic interest through much of the film, Crenna, was only two years her senior.

Nasty as her psychological (and, eventually, physical) assailants are, it is difficult to understand why Hepburn does not lock/bar the door while they are out. For that matter, I don’t understand why she is so determined to hold onto the doll, knowing that the woman for whom her husband held it is dead. Or why she does not remove their advantage of lighting sooner. But, if one can suppress such questions and go with the flow, the movie is frightening and perhaps inspiring.

If the Oscar went to a Hepburn that year (it did), it went to the wrong one (Katharine for “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?”). Much as I adore Audrey Hepburn (a lot!) and knowing that she was going to stop making movies, if I had an Oscar ballot, I’d have to mark it for Edith Evans’s harrowing performance in “The Whisperer,” however. And I’d have nominated Arkin for a supporting actor award.

I wish that Arkin, Crenna, and Hepburn had more good roles in subsequent years (I was a fan of Crenna in the TV series“Slattery’s People” in the mid-1960s and in Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1972 “Un flic”, also the 1984 “Flamingo Kid”).

Alan Arkin is fairly interesting recalling feeling bad at having to torture the radiant Hepburn. Her then husband and producer of the movie, Mel Ferrer, had little of interest to say. It did not take this movie to establish that she could act (try “The Nun’s Story,” if not “Two for the Road”!).

©2019, Stephen O. Murray

 

Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, and Paris

Can there be anyone who is not charmed by Audrey Hepburn? Or who doesn’t like “Charade,” the rom-com/thriller Stanley Donen made with her and Cary Grant with Paris backdrops in 1963? Something of a gender-reversed “North by Northwest,” I’d hope that Alfred Hitchcock regarded it as an homage. There is no cornfield buzzing and the hanging over a precipice is more prosaic than Mount Rushmore. And Martin Landau’s villain is multiplied to include three then-rising stars with Oscars in their futures: James Coburn, George Kennedy, and Walter Matthau. It’s not hard to recognize any of them, but there are the pleasures of looking back to when they were less well-known than they became.

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There is a plot involving a quarter of a million dollars of gold bullion that the four (plus Ned Glass) GIs liberated from the Nazis and did not deliver to their own government at the end of World War II. Hepburn’s husband, who is thrown off a moving train in the first scene seems to have returned first to claim it, and his partners believe Hepburn must have it.

She is befriended under suspicious circumstances by Cary Grant, who was the male star and suspect in Hitchcock’s “Suspicion.” before being pursued for reasons unknown to him in “North by Northwet.”  He goes through a series of names and exchanges snappy dialogue with Hepburn and the competitors for the loot. There is a pretty obnoxious child, if not as horrible as the one in Donen’s 1967 “Two for the Road,” —the American girl there may count as someone who did not like Audrey Hepburn.

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Donen, who died 21 Feb at the age of 94, was on a roll, having made the move from musicals (of which “Singing in the Rain” is his most famed) to nonmusical movies with major stars (Surprise Package, The Grass Is Greener, Arqbesque). My favorites both starred Audrey Hepburn: “Charade” and “Two for the Road.” (Donen also directed Hepburn in a musical with another of her many aged costars, Fred Astaire, “Funny Face” in 1957). For uncomplicated enjoyment, “Charade” has to be the choice. Among other things, it has better music from Henry Mancini. Both have attractive French backdrops (18-times-nominated for Oscar cinematographer Charles Lang shot “Charade”; Christopher Challis “2 4” and “Arabesque.”)

 

The Criterion Edition has an entertaining and informative commentary track laid down by Donen and screenwriter Peter Stone.

 

©2019, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

A mature 1967 look at love being ground down by marriage

Producer-director Stanley Donen’s 1967 “Two for the Road” made me glad not to have children, The movie is less shocking a revelation of marriage killing romance than it was at the time, but in a rare instance of the elfin but often emotionally tough Hepburn being paired with younger man, Audrey Hepburn was beautiful and funny as Joanna. As Mark, Albert Finney was already something of a bully (officially 5’9”, perhaps compensating for his lack of height?) but there is chemistry between him and Hepburn. When she says, “I’ll never let you down,” he realistically responds, “I will” —and does, though they are still together (if bickering) at the end of the movie.

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The American couple (Eleanor Bron and William Daniels) with a very spoiled daughter (Ruthie) is horrifying, yet Hepburn accepts Finney’s marriage proposal when it comes, and soon they are estranged with a difficult (if not as monstrous) a daughter. He has casual infidelities, she one (with Georges Descrières) that is open and definitely pains her husband.

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Screenwriter Frederic Raphael (1931-) was no romantic, having already won an Oscar for the screenplay of “Darling” and later to adapt Schnitzler for Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (he also adapted Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd with a sometimes pragmatic, sometimes passionate Julie Christie and Henry James’s Daisy Miller for Bogdanovich, a film I think much underrated). His screenplay for “Two for the Road” was Oscar-nominated.

I don’t remember films jumping back and forth in time without any date titles back in that day. Hepburn had many, many changes of clothes. I noticed a long list of coutures in the opening credits. There are also multiple cars driving through the south of France on annual summer trips over the course of 10 or 12 years of the relationship.

I don’t like Henry Mancinni’s soundtrack. The movie did not earn back its production costs, btw, even with that pop Midas touch.

Both Finney and Donen died earlier this year. I think that “Two for the Road” has aged better than Donen’s other 1967 movie, which I once liked, “Bedazzled.” (Then he made the really terrible “Staircase”, the mediocre “The Little Prince,” and “Lucky Lady,” which I may be the only person to like, having been at the Mexican location where some of it was filmed).

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray

 

 

 

“The Nun’s Story” (1959)

Fred Zinnemann (1907-1997) directed some of the iconic 1950s movies (From Here to Eternity, High Noon, A Hatful of Rain, Oklahoma!), as well as such lauded and honored later movies as “A Man for All Seasons,” “Julia,” “The Sundowners,” and “The Day of the Jackal.” Having started with documentary movies, Zinnemann’s movie often showed different settings and occupations in meticulous detail (the procedures in “The Day of the Jackal,” in particular) and showed very determined (some would call them stubborn) protagonists (Prewitt in “Eternity,” Thomas More in “Seasons,” Julia, mountain climbing in “Five Days One Summer,” the assassin and his hunter in “Jackal”).

Zinnemann won two Oscars and was nominated for six others. He also won four “best director” New York Film Critics Awards, and directed 19 different actors in Oscar-nominated performance (8 of whom won the award). Although one could not say he was obscure or unhonored, he tends to be forgotten by those canonizing “auteurs.” Perhaps he was too tasteful and too unobtrusive at his craft to get his due. Or his movies were too successful at the box office.

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When he obtained the rights to Kathryn Hulme’s best-selling The Nun’s Story, there was no enthusiasm among Hollywood studios to finance a movie about the difficulties a Belgian nun had with her vocation(s). At least there was no enthusiasm until Audrey Hepburn signed on to play Sister Luc. Then there was something of a bidding war, which was won by Warner Brothers. The studio was rewarded with its highest-grossing picture of 1959, one that was nominated for eight Oscars (in the year in which the bad but big “Ben Hur” swept eleven).

Most Hollywood movies featuring nuns sentimentalize them. Zinnemann’s movie is a very serious portrayal of one who is a great nurse and a nun who has no difficulties with her vows of chastity and poverty, but great difficulties with humility (the sin of pride). She is smart and accomplished and beloved by her patients. Her vocation as a nurse is unquestionable, but she has a very strong will that the order (claiming it to be “God’s will”) attempts to stamp out. As a nurse, she is recurrently unwilling to stop what she is doing just because bells ring.

Also, once she finally gets to the Belgian colony of the Congo (filmed in what was still the French colony of the Congo), she becomes the indispensable assistant of a physician (Peter Finch) with a vocation of medicine similar to his. She clearly falls in love with him and he with her, though she seems to block awareness of this (let alone any acknowledgmen

She has to accompany a VIP back to Belgium and with World War II about to begin, is unable to return to Africa. After she learns that her beloved father (an eminent surgeon who first trained her) has been killed as he was trying to help wounded and was strafed by a Nazi plane, she is unable to maintain the neutrality that her order insists upon (for its own convenience and ability to persist). She realizes that she will not ever be able to annihilate her own judgment of priorities and happily submit to orders.

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For more than two hours, covering about a decade, she struggles mightily to be a good nun. The movie is in no rush as it shows the ceremonies and the daily grind of her career. Because of the intensity of Audrey Hepburn’s performance (widely regarded as her greatest one), this unfolding is not boring. Peter Finch’s surgeon who sees much that Sister Luc has suppressed from consciousness injects the equivalent of a shot of adrenaline 3/5ths of the way through. There are also subtle (unstereotypical) performances by Sister Luc’s superiors (elders in the order), including Edith Evans, Peggy Ashcroft, Mildred Dunnock, and Beatrice Straight). There are only two whom I regard as “twisted sisters.” (Ruth White’s Mother Marcella and Margaret Phillips’s Sister Pauline). To liven things up, there is Colleen Dewhurst as a schizophrenic who believes she is the Archangel Gabriel and provides an occasion for Sister Luc to exercise her own judgment that shows it is sometimes flawed. Plus Dean Jagger as her father (a very sympathetic character who supports his prized daughter doing what she thinks she wants to do rather than what he thinks she should do). And there is a long-bearded Stephen Murray as Father André (the pictures of God have long beards, so the Congolese expect them of their priests).

In addition to an outstanding cast, the movie had location shooting in Belgium and Africa by Franz Planer (whose filming of Audrey Hepburn was nominated for Oscars in “Roman Holiday, “The Nun’s Story,” and “The Children’s Hours” and won Golden Globes for shooting “Champion,” Cyrano de Bergerac,” and “Death of a Salesman”; he also shot Hepburn in “Unforgiven” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s, plus such other memorable-looking films as “Letter from an Unknown Woman” and “The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T”). Franz Waxman (who received one of eleven Oscar nominations for it) supplied an unsubtle but not ineffective musical score.

The book was adapted by Robert Anderson, who also was responsible for the screenplay of Robert Wise’s “The Sand Pebbles” (1966), and whose own play “I Never Sang for My Father” provided unforgettable roles for Gene Hackman and Melvyn Douglas in 1970.

The movie follows Gabrielle van der Mal from the day she goes into the convent until the door springs open to let her return to the world. There is nothing examining how she came to think that she should be a nun (or choosing so infantilizing an order as the Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary, the order the real-life model entered in Ghent) and no indication of what happened after she turned the corner at the end of the alley when she walked out in street clothes.

Hepburn showed she could be mesmerizing without Givenchy couture (and with no visible coiffure). As I frequently note, great screen acting is done mostly with the eyes, and “The Nun’s Story” leaves no doubt that Hepburn was a great screen actress, not just a charming, elfin star. Even her dazzling smile is held down or held back.

 

The movie accepts the colonial order in Africa (that was about to end) the way the order accepts Nazi rule of Belgium. That and the stately pace keep me from rating the movie 5-star, though Audrey Hepburn’s performance certainly is that.

 

©2018, Stephen O. Murray