Monday, October 29, 2007

20:07 (1940 Smackdown Edition)

screenshots from the 20th minute and 7th second of a movie
I can't guarantee the same results at home (different players/timing) I use WinDVD

I'd like to leave a forwarding address if they happen to find that book.

Unfortunately, along with her book and her own name, the soon-to-be second Mrs. de Winter has also mislaid her syntax. Presumably, she would like to leave a forwarding address in case they find that book, and she would still like to leave it (and in fact will have done so) whether or not they do find it.

I am Nick Davis, and I am an Assistant Professor of English.

But I also have good qualities, including a knack for knowing the right movie-obsessed people: not just Nathaniel, but also StinkyLulu, who hosted one of his notorious Supporting Actress Smackdowns yesterday, in honor of the ladies of 1940, quite possibly my favorite roster in the history of the category (give or take 1996, which we've already covered). Unfortunately, the other smackdowners felt less bewitched, as you will read.

I was particularly surprised by the weak showing registered by Judith Anderson as the skulking, mongoosey housemistress Mrs. Danvers in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca, one of the few mystery films ever to win Best Picture and a terrific rental choice for the week of Halloween, even if you've seen it before. Portentous elegance and Gothic neurosis have rarely been evoked so hypnotically on screen. As for Anderson: iconic and deliciously malign, her Mrs. Danvers originated a pop-cinema archetype that dozens of equal and lesser actresses, and not a few drag queens, have mimicked in the decades since. She's not in the 20:07 screenshot reproduced above, which concerns a bit of nervous business while Joan Fontaine (who turned 90 exactly one week ago) agitates herself over an impending and frequently interrupted phone call from the broodingly romantic Laurence Olivier. We haven't even come close to meeting Mrs. Danvers by this point in the film, but you can assume that wherever she is, she already knows what's happening, and she loathes it. (After all, isn't Rebecca all about women who are Around even when they're not?)

If you know and love Rebecca and are hungry for a comparably creepy experience, with similar psychosexual omens and crypto-lesbian flava and wronged women in the invisible background, hunt around for Lewis Allen's 1944 hit The Uninvited, where last-place Smackdown finisher Ruth Hussey co-stars with Lost Weekend Oscar winner Ray Milland as a brother and sister who move into an English seaside estate (huge mistake!!) only to discover its salacious past and supernatural habits (well, duh!!). Along with its skill at mood and narrative, The Uninvited boasts Oscar-nominated cinematography by Charles Lang, who managed 18 cinematography nominations spread over more than 40 years, and only three times for Best Picture nominees: a good sign of a real talent, and also of a well-liked fella. Plus, it was his camera that caught Marilyn blowing a kiss at us.

Back to 1940, though: the Academy as well as the Smackdowners crowned Jane Darwell of The Grapes of Wrath as the category's Best in Show, and it's a hard performance to argue with. (It only testifies to the strength of the field that I like Anderson and Barbara O'Neil even better.) The Grapes of Wrath isn't a spookfest or a horror movie in any conventional way, so I wouldn't normally include it within this week's special Halloweenapalooza in the 20:07 listings. But what of economic horror, haunted spirits, and the undead life of the dispossessed Depression-era migrant? And what of that sooty, scary darkness that engulfs so much of The Grapes of Wrath that even the sight of a gaunt and candlelit face like Henry Fonda's comes heroically across as an ember of life amidst the snuffing out of a whole way of life?

And if none of that gives The Grapes of Wrath any horror cred, don't forget that we learn at this very 20:07 moment that nothing more than a few feathers got in the way of Ma Joad's second career as an axe murderer:

What I don't understand is my folks takin' off. Like Ma. I seen her almost beat a peddler to death with a live chicken. She aimed to go for him with the axe she had in her other hand. She got mixed up, forgot which was which, and - when she got through with that peddler, all she had left was two chicken legs!

That Ma Joad. She's sump'm fierce. So is the Supporting Actress Smackdown. So is Nathaniel. So is The Film Experience. So is 20:07. Catch y'all tomorrow.


Hedwig said...

If you like Rebecca, you should definitely read the source material: it's wonderfully gothic and evocative, and the ending's much darker, as is the character of Maximilian de Winter.

By the way, interesting, isn't, that Joan Fontaine got to play both the second Mrs. de Winter AND the corresponding character in the book Rebecca was most influenced by: Jane Eyre in the version with Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester.

Neel Mehta said...

Rebecca is the greatest film ever made.

That is all.

Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I never understood why Jane Eyre has been so neglected - in my book it's up there with the best Hollywood films of the 40s


love it.

it's been a long time since someone called me fierce *sniffle*

totally agreed about horror being more expansive than it's treated. I'm reading Cormac McCarthy's THE ROAD right now and if that isn't "horror" i don't know what is.

Mapeel said...

I am a huge Rebecca fan, both film and novel. But its sister piece, in more ways than one, gets very little attention.

My Cousin Rachel is a haunting, superb mystery story, of dear Philip, Ambrose, and Rachel. Is Rachel sinister? Is Philip deluded? Does he willfully send her to her death? The opening narration of Philip seeing a murderer hanged at the crossroads when he was seven is chilling, memorable.

The film is Richard Burton's American film debut, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and a glorious role for Olivia de Havilland.

Anonymous said...

The Grapes of Wrath.

The best John Ford movie. Then, one of the 10 greatest movies ever - since Ford belongs to this pantheon...

- cal roth

NicksFlickPicks said...

@Hedwig: I read the novel a long time ago and really loved it, especially that ending, though I don't remember it very clearly now.

@Goran: I saw Jane Eyre a long time ago and didn't like it nearly as much as I wanted to, though I don't remember it very clearly now.

@Miz Peel: I saw My Cousin Rachel barely over a year ago and thought Richard Burton and the cinematography were the best things in it, though I wasn't too impressed with the rest; though I don't remember it very clearly now.

Do I have Alzheimer's? And do you, Nathaniel? I call you "fierce" all the time, surely!