Tag: Laurence Olivier

MOVIE REVIEW | ***B&D SUNDAY FLASHBACK*** Rebecca (1940)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “It’s a tale of murder, mystery and intrigue, never needing to actually show any of the gruesome details.”

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“Please promise me never to wear black satin or pearls… or to be 36 years old.”

Alfred Hitchcock had directed more than twenty films in his native England before making the move to Hollywood to make Rebecca.  The change of continent had no effect on the oh so Britishness of his first Tinsel Town endeavour.  Rebecca is more English than the Queen flashing a bad toothed grin on a double decker bus in the rain while enjoying tea, crumpets and perpetuating an out of date, irrelevant system of monarchy.

Hitchcock was notoriously overlooked by the Academy and never won a Best Director Oscar.  But with Rebecca, he did score his biggest Oscar success when it won for Best Picture.  Sure, it’s no Vertigo, North By North West, Psycho or a dozen other better Hitchcock movies people would rank above it, but at least his only major Academy win didn’t come with some genre crap like The Birds. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***SHAKSEPEARE WEEK*** Richard III (1955)

Richard iii

“Conscience is a word that cowards use.”

Even with my limited (ie. close to non existent) exposure to the works of William Shakespeare, I still know that Laurence Olivier is one of the modern masters for performing and directing.  On stage and screen, he seems to have been the face, the voice and the mastermind behind almost every revered production in the mid 20th century.  Which is why when it came to watching a movie adaptation of what seems to be one of the more dense, challenging Shakespeare plays, I made sure the version I watched was a Larry Olivier joint.  So, did the modern master of Shakespeare make Richard III any more accessible for a novice like me?


After the English War of the Roses in the 15th century, it’s the coronation of the newly crowned King Edward IV (Cedrick Hardwicke).  Everyone in the throne room seems pretty stoked with their new monarch, except for his brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Olivier).  Born prematurely, with a hunched back and deformed arm, it’s obvious that Richard has resented his brother all of his life.  Edward’s new crown only adds to Richard’s jealousy, who plans an elaborate plot to frame their other brother, George, Duke of Clarence (John Gielgud) for a plot against Edward’s life. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #81. Spartacus (1960)

 “The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 Spartacus
“Don’t give them the pleasure of a contest. Lower your guard, I’ll kill you on the first rush.”

I’m not a big Stanley Kubrick fan (get used to reading that as I make my way through this this AFI list).  I know movie nerds aren’t supposed to think that, but I just can’t see what all the fuss is about.  I love Dr Strangelove and really like Full Metal Jacket.  But I think A Clockwork Orange is way too impressed with itself, I think The Shining is low rent horror dressed up to look like something more important, and I think 2001: A Space Odyssey is a boring mess.  But for some reason, I had always assumed I’d like Spartacus.  I just needed this AFI countdown  to finally make me watch it.


According to the opening narration, “In the last century before the birth of the new faith called Christianity, which was destined to overthrow the pagan tyranny of Rome and bring about a new society, the Roman Republic stood at the very center of the civilized world.” Working on a salt mine (goin’ down, down), Spartacus (Kirk Douglas) attacks a guard and is put in chains. But it’s that kind of spirit that captures the attention of Batiatus (Peter Ustinov), a slave trader who trains and sells gladiators. Soon, Spartacus is at Batiatus’ academy where he quickly proves himself to be a promising warrior.

As a reward one night, Spartacus is treated to a night with one of Batiatus’ female slaves, Jean Simmons as Varinia. And, of course, they fall in love. When Roman senator Marcus Licinus Crassus (Laurence Olivier) arrives, he demands some gladiatorial entertainment and decides to also buy Varinia. After being forced to fight men who have become his friends, Spartacus vows to escape. Soon, he has the support of his fellow enslaved gladiators (including Tony Curtis as Antonius) and is destined to lead an army much bigger.

I thought I’d like Spartacus, and I was right.  I think, from a Kubrick angle, I like it because it’s pretty straight forward and simple film making.  Obviously it’s big and elaborate in its epic scope, but it’s told in a very normal way.  No tricks, cheap gimmicks, or pseudo intellectual wankery, which are the things that turn me off movies like A Clockwork Orange and 2001.

It also doesn’t hurt that Kirk Douglas is one of Hollywood’s greatest badasses.  Like Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum, Douglas comes from a time when manliness and masculinity meant something different than they do today.  Sure, those bygone definitions included a little too much sexism and misogyny, but it’s a kind of masculinity that you need to pull off in a movie like Spartacus.  There’s no forced emotional motivation like killing Rusty Crowe’s family in the monumentally shit Gladiator.  The only motivation Spartacus needs is his pride.  He’s a man, and he’s not gonna eat Roman shit anymore.  Simple.

The story goes that Kubrick clashed a lot with Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter of Spartacus.  Because of that unpleasantness, Kubrick demanded complete control on every movie he made after this.  All that says to me is, Kubrick worked best when he was under at least some restraint.  If Stanley Kubrick left completely to his own devices means Barry Lyndon, or Eyes Wide Shut, I’ll take the hamstrung Kubrick of Spartacus any day.  Which means I also have to assume that Dr Strangelove and Full Metal Jacket were just lucky flukes.

Spartacus
Directed By – Stanley Kubrick
Written By – Dalton Trumbo

Academy Awards
Best Supporting Actor – Ustinov
Best Art Direction
Best Cinematography
Best Costume Design

MOVIE REVIEW | Marathon Man (1976)

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Whenever I watch a Dustin Hoffman movie, I realise he’s a dude I don’t give enough credit.  I realise his name isn’t something that makes me want to watch a movie.  Then when I do watch a Dustin Hoffman movie, it reminds that he’s a dude I should give more credit and that his name is something that should make me want watch a movie.  When I actually stop and think about it, Dustin Hoffman as the star and hero of an action thriller sounds awesome, and he delivers on that hope of awesome in Marathon Man.


Everything kicks off with Roy Scheider involved in some shenanigans as Doc, some variety of spy or government spook.  He goes from one clandestine meeting to another, every time arriving just a little bit too late, with his contacts dead or the meeting compromised in some way.  He later arrives unannounced at the home of his brother, Dustin Hoffman’s Babe.  Why he’s a called Babe, I don’t know.  If it was explained, I missed it.

Babe is a male who runs, a Marathon Man, if you will.  He’s also an academic working on a dissertation about his father who was also involved in some shenanigans before he died a couple of decades ago.  Soon Doc is dead and his visit to Babe makes the baddies think Babe is mixed up in this thing too.  For the next hour and a half, he’s double, triple and quadrupled crossed by almost everyone he meets.  Including Laurence Olivier as Szell, a Nazi war criminal obviously modelled on Josef Mengele.

As a thriller, Marathon Man really does a great job of ratchetting up the tension and throwing in twists and turns at all the right times.  The story is a bit overblown and over the top, but somehow never corny.  Hoffman goes from total innocent, to mourning brother, to petrified victim, to gun wielding badass and it never feels lazy or rushed.  I believed every evolution his character went through and every decision he made.

I’m still not sure what the title means though.  Hoffman’s character runs a lot, but not enough to make it his biggest character trait.  Maybe it was addressed in Marathon Man and I missed it.  Which is highly possible as I was a few beers in before I started watching it.  And if nothing else, this could be the movie that finally makes me remember that Dustin Hoffman is a dude I should give more credit and that his name is something that should make me want watch a movie.

Marathon Man
Directed By – John Schlesinger
Written By – William Goldman

MOVIE REVIEW | Rebecca (1940)

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Alfred Hitchcock had directed more than twenty films in his native England before making the move to Hollywood to make Rebecca.  The change of continent had no effect on the oh so Britishness of his first Tinsel Town endeavour.  Rebecca is more English than the Queen flashing a bad toothed grin on a double decker bus in the rain while enjoying tea, crumpets and perpetuating an out of date, irrelevant system of monarchy.


Hitchcock was notoriously overlooked by the Academy and never won a Best Director Oscar.  But with Rebecca, he did score his biggest Oscar success when it won for Best Picture.  Sure, it’s no Vertigo, North By North West, Psycho or a dozen other better Hitchcock movies people would rank above it, but at least his only major Academy win didn’t come with some genre crap like The Birds.
It turns out this is somehow the first Laurence Olivier performance I’ve ever seen and I can see what all the fuss is about.  He’s really great as Maxim de Winter, some variety of English toff with a mansion and all.  On holiday in Monte Carlo, he meets a girl played by the smoking hot Joan Fontaine, who doesn’t have a character name until she becomes known as “the second Mrs de Winter”, the first being the titular (and dead) Rebecca.

Once married, the character of Rebecca is revealed through stories told by Olivier, his house staff and friends.  Initially, Fontaine struggles to live up to the nostalgic legend of her predecessor, but because this is a Hitchcock movie, things aren’t quite as they seem.  It’s when these twists and turns begin that Rebecca really starts to get interesting.  Because honestly, the first half is kind of boring and by the numbers.   But it turns out, all that familiar blandness makes the impact of the second half hit that much harder.

According to the IMDB entry for Rebecca…

“Because Laurence Olivier wanted his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play the lead role, he treated Joan Fontaine horribly. This shook Fontaine up quite a bit, so Alfred Hitchcock decided to capitalize on this by telling her everyone the set hated her, thus making her shy and uneasy – just what he wanted from her performance.”

The screenplay isn’t much kinder to her either.  I’m not sure if it was a deliberate decision by the writers to make her character more submissive, or just a sign of the times, but this move is pretty sexist in its attitude towards Fontaine and a woman’s place in a relationship.  Instead of a romantic proposal, Olivier makes sure she knows who’s boss by belittling her with, “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”  On paper, that looks like it could be delivered playfully and maybe even sweetly…  That’s not how it plays in the movie.  And I’m not sure if there is a right way to deliver a line like, “I should be making violent love to you under a palm tree”.  If there is, Olivier didn’t find it.

Misogyny aside, Rebecca is definitely worth a look.  It’s a tale of murder, mystery and intrigue, never needing to actually show any of the gruesome details.  It’s a great example of being effective through what you don’t see, instead of what you do.

Rebecca
Directed By – Alfred Hitchcock
Written By – Robert E, Sherwood, Joan Harrison