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28 and 29. Two classic films

I'm rolling two reviews into one here, because they are both for classic films which I saw with my fellow aficionado, ms_siobhan, as well as planet_andy and (in the latter case) big_daz

28. House on Haunted Hill (1959), dir. William Castle

I saw the abysmal 1999 remake of this in the cinema with mr_flay when it came out, and we both agreed that it had stolen precious hours from our lives. But it took me until this October to get round to seeing the original properly, during a film afternoon at ms_siobhan's. Needless to say, it was ten thousand zillion times better! Vincent Price is fantastic, the plot kept us guessing, and we also rather liked the somewhat Art Deco-ish appearance of the exterior of the house (strangely at odds with the Victorian gothic interior, but there you go). Like all the best ghost stories (and unlike the remake), it remains ambiguous for most of the film whether there is actually anything supernatural in the house at all, or just a bunch of scared and / or villainous human beings. If you've not seen it, I'll leave the pleasure of finding out how it all resolves to you!

29. The Ladykillers (1955), dir. Alexander Mackendrick

This one we saw at the Cottage Road cinema, complete with the usual vintage adverts, national anthem, ice-cream tray in the intermission and so forth. It's another Ealing comedy: the second which the Cottage Road has shown this year, after The Lavender Hill Mob. And it's one I've seen a couple of times, as my parents have a copy on video and it's quite a favourite of theirs. Obviously not for some years, though, as I'd forgotten it was in colour, and while I knew how it ended, I couldn't really remember how it got there.

It's just lovely in every way. I can never quite decide which member of Alec Guinness's criminal gang I secretly want to be the one to get away with all the money - although I think it's probably Guinness himself in the end. And of course it's so much the better when it actually turns out to be Mrs Wilberforce who gets it, without ever having done anything other than being a slightly baffled and perfectly honourable elderly lady.

Mrs Wilberforce's story has an edge of sadness and genuine social commentary to it, too, which lends a lovely bittersweet tone to the comedy. Widowed and living a dignified but obviously rather impoverished and lonely life in a bomb-damaged house, she must have been all too common a figure at the time when the film was made. But although she is shown as fussy, foolish and forgetful, she is also portrayed with an incredible strength of personality that seemed to me to convey a profound respect for women of this kind - the ones who had weathered two world wars, and ended up in a strange and alien new world with precious little to show for their sacrifices. Her independence of spirit and ability to cow a bunch of hardened (if incompetent) criminals into behaving like gentlemen when she tells them to actually has quite a feminist edge to it, and the way her story ends up is a kind of wish-fulfilment - a statement of what ladies like her truly deserve. Anyway, she is very definitely the real star of the film, and it's no wonder everyone loves her.

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( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 12th, 2010 10:26 am (UTC)
I want to be like Mrs Wilberforce when I get older - but with cats rather than parrots.
Dec. 12th, 2010 10:27 am (UTC)
And ideally without a water system that needs banging with a big hammer and of course with Mr Pops :-)
Dec. 12th, 2010 11:02 am (UTC)
I think you would pull the role off with great aplomb. I would hope to be one of the friends who came round for tea and a bit of a sing-song. (And I love how matter-of-fact she is about the hammer! Such a lovely touch.)
Dec. 12th, 2010 11:47 am (UTC)
Oooh thank you sweetie and you could be guest of honour in your lovely purple frock, it might be a teeny bit threadbare by then but it would still be very glamorous. What would we sing though? I'm not very good at singing and only really know Smiths songs.

We're still hoping to head to the Vintage Fair but as we are still undressed and still unbreakfasted and have somewhere to be at 3.30 it's not looking as likely but will text you if we do.
Dec. 12th, 2010 12:16 pm (UTC)
OK, well let me know if you do - I'll be happy either way. I am proud of myself today, as I have already been out and driven my car to the tip to get rid of about a million glass bottles and to the garage for fuel and a car-wash. But could always use another excuse for an afternoon drive. :-)
Dec. 13th, 2010 02:30 pm (UTC)
The Ladykillers is one of my all-time favourites too. Though I have no problem with "adult content", it's nice (and pretty much unheard-of nowadays) to see a film that treats its audience like adults but doesn't feel the need to include swearing, sex or graphic violence. Basically, it's a movie I can enjoy with my parents! And I totally agree with your assessment of Mrs. Wilberforce (well, I'm not sure she's quite a feminist icon, but I suppose she's as close as you were likely to get in 1955).

I haven't seen the modern remake, but I can't imagine it would be a patch on the original. Alec Guiness, Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, even an appearance by Frankie Howerd -- these men are legends, and with good reason. And I reckon Katie Johnson deserves to be a legend too. What does the remake have to match this?

Dec. 13th, 2010 02:39 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I read a couple of reviews of the remake after we'd seen the original recently, and it does not sound promising. I wondered if it might be interesting to see how it had been updated, but after reading up on it I changed my mind, and am now planning on staying the hell away! Some things do not need updating.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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