Musings on Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind documentary

I’ve subscribed to HBO for a month so I could watch season 3 of Westworld. Well, I finished on Friday night and this documentary’s key art on the HBO’s interface and decided to watch it.

The film began with the narration of Natalie Wood‘s own daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, who was only 11 years old when her mother died, saying that so much has been written about her mother’s mysterious death that it practically overshadowed who she was as a person. I think that’s a real tragedy because as I was watching the film, I learned just how accomplished she was as an actress.

Now, I personally wasn’t at all familiar with the legendary performer. I’ve only seen one of her films, Rebel Without A Cause, but news about her death surely hasn’t let up for decades. Even though I haven’t read up much about it, I did remember reading about her case being reopened as late as 2018!

Wood’s husband at the time of her death, Robert Wagner (known as RJ to those close to him), was never charged but was still a ‘person of interest’ in the case. But before we got to that case, the first two acts pretty much focused on Natalie’s story since childhood, born to Russian immigrants, and how she got discovered. She was one of the most accomplished child actors who’ve made a successful transition as a formidable Hollywood star. She began acting at the age of 4, got her first starring role at the age of 9 in Miracle on 34th Street (1947) and received three Oscar nominations before she was 25.

It was really fascinating and moving to see all the archival footage and photos of Wood in various productions, from the not-so-well-known films to the iconic ones such as ‘Rebel’ and West Side Story. Interesting that one of the people interviewed said if she were alive today, she would’ve never gotten the role that made her famous as she played a Puerto Rican character in the famous musical. One thing for sure, Natalie Wood is much more than just a pretty face. Though she was definitely one of the most beautiful Hollywood stars, in her home life she’s shown as down to earth and a dotting mom. She was also intelligent and ambitious, and wanted to take charge of her career. One photo that strikes me the most is this one of her in a film board meeting sitting confidently at a table surrounded by all-male studio honchos. It’s definitely not the kind of photo I often associated with Natalie Wood, who’s often painted as a victim. So it’s good for her daughter to show the world a different side of her late mother.

Now, the third act did address her mysterious death. It’s the huge elephant in the room that everyone expects to be covered in the film. The one-on-one interview between Natasha and her stepfather RJ is no doubt the most emotional moments of the film, both of them looked quite emotional talking about her death. Robert himself was quite candid when talking about their careers. Though he was more famous when they first met, soon her career far outpaced Robert’s, which became a strain to her marriage. Even Robert himself admitted to being so jealous when, after their first marriage ended, she started dating her Splendor in the Grass‘ co-star Warren Beatty. But never did the film ever paint Robert as the guilty party in her death. If anything, it showed how much Natalie loved him and vice versa. I learned that she ended up marrying him twice after both had remarried after their divorce.

It’s clear that from Natasha’s and the doc’s director Laurent Bouzereau‘s perspective, Wood’s death was a tragic accident. Natasha and her younger sister Courtney even said that it’s hurtful to them that the media, and Natalie’s sister Lana Wood, constantly pointed their finger at their stepdad RJ. That fateful night started with RJ having an argument with Natalie’s co-star in her last film Brainstorm, Christopher Walken, but then RJ couldn’t find her, which led to him instigating a search involving the coast guards, etc. But even with the film covering some of the details about that fateful night, we’re still left in the dark about what happened to Natalie. We probably will never know the real truth, only Natalie would know… as Walken himself said at the end.

It’s definitely an intriguing documentary for film fans, especially if you’re a fan of her work. Given it’s produced by her own daughter, it feels personal and full of heart. I’m never bored in the entire 99-minute running time as the film seamlessly combines archival footage and talking heads featuring the who’s who of classic cinema: Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, George Hamilton, Elliot Gould, etc. There are also a myriad of photos and clips from her family, as well as those of her famous parties featuring famous Hollywood guests. I mean, according to IMDb, the pallbearers at her funeral were Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Laurence Olivier, Elia Kazan, Gregory Peck, David Niven and Fred Astaire.

I’m glad I watched this beautiful tribute to a legend that’s equally fascinating and heart-wrenching. I can’t help feeling sad as I’m watching it… Natalie Wood was such a stunning bright star who left us far too soon. I’m glad I got to see just how much she meant to her family as well as her legacy in the film world.

4/5 stars


Have you seen this documentary? What are some of your favorite film(s) of Natalie Wood?

April 2016 Blindspot: A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

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It’s been ages since I wanted to see A Streetcar Named Desire, not sure why I’ve put it off. I feel like I have watched it as one day I actually watched a bunch of clips from this film on youtube. There’s of course the famous scene where Brando yelled ‘Stellaaaaaaa…!’ that’s been parodied many times over, but I definitely need to see it to understand the significance of this steamy Southern classic.

Based on a hit play by Tennessee Williams, it’s one of those rare films that happen to be directed by the same person who did the original Broadway production, Elia Kazan. It’s interesting to see Vivien Leigh as yet another Southern belle, as I’ve only seen her in Gone With The Wind (1939), but really, the appeal of this film for me is Marlon Brando, whose brutish performance is the quintessential sexy bad boy.

As with any of my blindspot reviews, there are definitely spoilers so if you haven’t seen the film yet, proceed with caution.

First Impressions

Well, what can I say… my first impression had more to do with Marlon Brando. Can you blame me? I mean look. at. him.

tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o1_500tumblr_o2qnvyjTWj1qd6639o3_500 From the first moment he came on to the screen when he saw his sister in-law Blanche at his house, Brando’s definitely got a magnetic presence like nobody’s business.


The trivia section of this movie on IMDb is filled with interesting tidbits. So apparently fitted t-shirts could not be bought at the time, so Brando’s apparel had to be washed several times and then the back stitched up, to appear tightly over the actor’s chest.

Err, what was I talking about again?

Ok so obviously there’s SO much more to the movie than Brando’s immense sex appeal, though obviously this role cemented his sex-symbol status.

A classic story adapted beautifully on the big screen

I could see why there are still countless stage adaptations of Williams’ classic story all over the world. Even though time has changed and to a certain degree, gender roles and social norms have evolved, the very core of the human condition still remains. Stories that deals with obsession, distorted reality, fears of aging, etc. are still relevant today and will always remain so. The film version underwent a major change in terms of the homosexuality of Blanche’s late husband, due to the Production Code demands that the film toned it down. The same with the depiction of rape, though it’s implied that Stanley did rape Blanche with the scene of smashed mirror and a firehose spurting onto the street.

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It was a clever way Kazan dealt with the strict Code, and also when Stella was in bed the morning after Stanley hit her. She had a big, gleeful grin on her face that indicated they had um, a very satisfying make-up sex.

Kazan’s big screen adaptation not only look beautiful in black and white, but it has an atmospheric and moody feel to it. I read that he worked closely with the production designer to create the authentically sordid look and literally had the walls around Brando and Leigh closed in on them during filming to create a claustrophobic tension within the space. Well that worked because that constricted feeling practically ricochets off the screen and into my living room!

Blanche and Stanley are such an interesting pair to watch on screen because there’s all this nervous energy around them. They’re attracted as well as repulsed by each other at the same time, at times they couldn’t even reconcile the two, which creates such interesting dynamic.


Kazan doesn’t immediately expose that Blanche’s dark past and the fact that she’s got mental issues, but it’s more of a steady buildup that escalates to the boiling point. The more her brutish brother in-law relentlessly torments her, the more she goes off the rails.

I’m constantly torn in how I feel for the characters as well, which is what a good movie should. A good character is not simple, one-dimensional and how we feel about a character could (and perhaps should) change as the movie progresses. Well, I initially feels sorry for Blanche but also exasperated by her, even if she couldn’t control it. As with Stanley, what starts out as a carnal attraction to this brooding, hunky man (as any full-blooded woman would) quickly changes to disgust and repulsion. I literally want to strangle him many times as I watch the movie, especially his treatment of his pregnant wife!

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Performance wise, the film definitely belonged to Leigh and Brando. The British actress played yet another American Southern belle but in a completely different role. Leigh definitely got to display her vulnerability even more, especially towards the end when Blanche’s gone completely mental. It’s interesting that she had played the character in the London production under her husband Laurence Olivier’s direction. Per IMDb, she later said that Olivier’s direction of that production influenced her performance in the film more than Elia Kazan’s in this film.

Brando has had many memorable roles in his illustrious career, but no doubt this is one of the earlier ones he’s most remembered for. His intensity is second to none, there’s few actors who are as explosive on screen in terms of presence and charisma as Brando.

Kim Hunter was pretty memorable as Stella, but I think every cast member was practically outshone by the two leads. So was Karl Malden as Blanche’s potential suitor. I think both were believable in the roles, it just didn’t leave a lasting impression to me. I guess it has less to do with their performances, but more about the strength of the two leads. I wish Brando had won Best Actor as well, but then again I hadn’t seen the other male performers of that year.

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Does it live up to the hype?

The film won four Oscars out of twelve nominations and also rank #47 in AFI Top 100 Films. Elia Kazan was certainly one of those stellar directors who have won acclaimed in film AND on broadway, winning multiple Oscars as well as Tony awards. I’m always astonished when a story could work as well on stage as on screen.

I have never seen the stage adaptation, but my impression of the film was that it was sexy, gritty, but deeply unsettling to the point that by the end I was just quite revolted by the whole thing. None of the characters are likable except for Stella, Blanche DuBois’ devoted younger sister. I think that was the point though. This wasn’t going to be a cheerful movie with a happy ending and there’s also very little humor to give you relief from all that tension.

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I’m glad I’ve finally watched this film from start to finish. It’s one that won’t easily escape from one’s memory. I have to say though, compared to other classics like say, Casablanca or Gone With the Wind or Roman Holiday, I’m not sure this is something I’m keen on watching again. It’s just not a pleasant film overall, and I don’t find it to be an emotionally-gratifying film either as it’s hard to care for any of the characters. That said, it’s definitely essential viewing for cinephiles. The story is such an intriguing character study that is chock full of riveting-but-inherently-imperfect relationships.

Final Thoughts:

The film ending is apparently different from the stage version. In the film, Stella no longer trusts her husband and she took her baby and leaves. We hear Stanley yelling ‘Stellaaaa….’ again as he did in the most famous scene in the film. I read that in the stage version, Stella chooses to be with Stanley as her sister is escorted to a mental institution. I’m not sure which version I prefer, I think it’s riskier to have an ending that isn’t tied neatly with a big red bow, though not necessarily better.

Regardless of the different ending, there are certainly plenty of thought provoking themes to grapple with. Delusion, denial, forbidden passion, and tragic irony… Williams’ timeless play has all the ingredients for an engrossing story, and Elia Kazan certainly had what it takes to do it justice… both on stage AND on screen.

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Check out my full 2016 lineup by clicking the graphic below

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Have you seen A Streetcar Named Desire? I’d love to hear what you think!

My entry to the Against the Crowd Blogathon: A battle of two Sword-and-Sandals Movies

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Wendell over at Dell on Movies is reprising his blogathon from a year ago. Since I didn’t participate at the time, I knew I had to do it this time around. Dell’s idea is that this is our chance to tell the world about our love for a movie everyone else hates and the other way around.

1. Pick one movie that “everyone” loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on rottentomatoes.com. Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that “everyone” hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on rottentomatoes.com. Should a movie you select not have a grade on rottentomatoes.com, use a score of at least 7.5 on imdb.com for ones you hate and less than 4.0 for ones you love. Tell us why you love it.

3. Include the tomato meter scores of both movies.

I always like this ‘against the crowd’ idea because it happens all the time that my taste doesn’t align with critics or other moviegoers. Heck I actually enjoyed the latest video game flick Agent47 but I kinda knew the critics’ gonna trash it.

Well, I’ve sort of already made a list for both categories, Ted & I collaborated on 12 *rotten* movies we secretly adore and I picked five movies everyone loves that leave me cold. But for the purpose of this blogathon, I thought it’d be fun to pick a film of the same sword-and-sandal genre.

Now, let me preface this list with the fact that I think *hate* is a strong word. But it baffles me why this movie is regarded so highly as I could barely finished watching it. I have already included it the ‘movies everyone loves’ list above, but I’m going to pick it again because out of that list, this is the reigning *king*  as I even shudder thinking how much I don’t care for it…

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I’m a fan of swords & sandals genre and I LOVE LOVE Ben-Hur which came out the year before. Now, whilst I saw Ben-Hur years ago as a young girl and it has since became one of my favorite films of all time (not just from this genre), I could barely made it through this one. My jaw dropped when I found out just how high the score is after seeing the film. I saw this a few years ago and I could barely made it to the end.

Firstly, I simply don’t buy Kirk Douglas as a gladiator slave for a second. He just isn’t tough nor ruthless enough I’d imagine the character to be and he (as well as Tony Curtis) looked way too healthy to play a supposedly desolate and malnourished slave. Despite what some may called wooden acting from Charlton Heston, it was easy to root for him to get back at all the injustices that befell him and I was fully invested in Ben-Hur journey throughout the film. I really didn’t care for Spartacus as I was too distracted by how I think Douglas was miscast. Even the great Laurence Olivier and couldn’t save this movie and it didn’t help matters that Douglas had zero chemistry with the lovely Jean Simmons. I couldn’t stop laughing at the awful, fake looking backdrop wallpaper they used for the romantic scene.

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As of 2008, this movie was ranked #5 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 10 greatest films in the genre “Epic.” Seriously?? The only epic thing about it is the epic squabbles behind the scenes that you can read on IMDb trivia about the falling out with not one but TWO directors and all the studio meddling due to everyone having a huge ass ego.

In regards to his casting, later on Douglas himself admitted that he made this film partly because he didn’t get the role as Ben-Hur (he was offered the role of Messala but refused to play second banana to Heston). “That was what spurred me to do it in a childish way, the ‘I’ll show them’ sort of thing.” Heh, clearly Ben-Hur‘s director William Wyler made the right decision as I doubt Douglas could do a better job than Stephen Boyd as Messala, let alone the title role! It’s common knowledge that director Stanley Kubrick disowned this project as he didn’t have complete creative control over it, well that pretty much explains it.


Now, I’m going to contrast that with a much lesser-known film that’s released last year. I know that most of you haven’t even heard of it as it barely got a theatrical release and went straight to VOD/Blu-ray.

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Yes ok so naturally the fact that Stanley Weber is in this automatically makes me want to defend this movie to the death, ehm. But hear me out. I initially doubted this too, thinking that even my undying love for this French Adonis still wouldn’t make me enjoy it. But then it came to Netflix earlier this month and I decided to check it out. Voilà! I actually like it a lot and have seen it four times since.

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It’s a visually-driven genre film that doesn’t pretend to be deep or philosophical. The mysterious protagonist, only billed as Shadow Walker, quipped ‘Vengeance is my only belief.’ And you know what, he lived by that rule in the movie. He didn’t seek out to be a hero or has aspiration to lead a nation or anything like that, he just wants vengeance. It’s as minimalistic as it gets, so if you go in expecting a whole lot more, then you set yourself up for disappointment.

Stanley Weber is freakin’ bad ass in the lead role, sporting a historically out-of-place corn rows but who cares, it looks so damn cool! Apart from that hairstyle, he looks suitably grim and gritty, and his rugged costumes look believably soiled and grubby. His character is the strong silent type who’s as efficient with words as he is with his sword fighting. He’s like an 11th century John Wick!

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The movie has the look and smell of the dark ages, the set pieces look appropriately harsh and gritty, the fact that it was shot on location in Serbia in the middle of Winter. Even from the opening sequence when we first met Shadow Walker slaying off people in the rain, I love Jim Weedon‘s style and his use of music. It’s decidedly modern, even sounds a bit like John Wick‘s score, but somehow fits perfectly with the action. Weedon started out as an award-winning commercials director who also worked on some SFX work for films like Gladiator (the Elysian Field sequences).


Obviously I dug Stanley in the lead role but I also like his fellow French actor Edward Akrout who co-starred with him in BBC’s The Hollow Crown Henry V. There’s a great mano a mano sword fight between the two that’s fun to watch, but my favorite scene is the one in the woods where the Shadow Walker get to show his action hero prowess. Annabelle Wallis might not be as convincing as a leader of exiled rebels, but she has a nice enough chemistry with Stanley.

Sword of Vengeance is stylishly-shot and the decidedly stark, bleak color scheme actually looks quite artistic in contrast to all the red of the spurting blood from those who get in our hero’s way. But I think the simple, no-frills plot suits the piece. I mean the title says it all, obviously the protagonist is seeking vengeance and once it’s revealed what’s taken from him, you get why he does what he does. Yes, a bit more character development is always nice, but at a brisk 87 minutes, it was entertaining enough without overstaying its welcome.

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Glad that I’m not the only one liking this flick, this THR reviewer also said nice things about Stanley: “…the chiseled, handsome Weber, whose beautifully coiffed cornrows suggest his character had time for long hairstyling sessions between battles, is a suitably taciturn, macho hero in the Eastwood tradition, even managing to make such declarations as “Vengeance is my only belief” sound convincing.” Indeed!

So yeah, I have no qualms about liking this flick. It’s not for everyone but if you like this type of genre flick, I’d say give it a shot. I love seeing Stanley as an action hero, it just shows just how versatile he is as an actor. He did this movie whilst juggling a yet-to-be-released French WWII drama and a French stage adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie, so obviously he can handle a variety of roles.


Ok so I’m sure you have an opinion about my picks. Let’s hear it!

June 2014 Blind Spot Film: REBECCA (1940)

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As with a lot of the BlindSpot viewings this year, there are a lot of firsts in regards to REBECCA. No, it’s not the first Hitchcock film I saw, but it’s the first Laurence Olivier AND Joan Fontaine film I ever saw. I didn’t know David O. Selznick produced this, which was interesting given that I first saw Fontaine’s sister Olivia deHavilland in Selznick’s epic drama Gone With The Wind just the year before.

This was billed as a dramatic thriller, as well as a gothic romance, which immediately made me think of Jane Eyre. Interestingly enough, I noticed a few similarities with Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale (and not only because Fontaine did play Jane Eyre in 1943 with Orson Welles). Both of the protagonists in Jane Eyre and Rebecca are still haunted by his first wife. A wealthy man named Maxim de Winter (Olivier) meets a young, naive girl who accompanies her employer on a trip to Monte Carlo. Their first meeting wasn’t exactly a ‘meet cute,’ in fact he was rather rude towards her [yet another similarity to Jane Eyre‘s Rochester] but after a whirlwind romance, the two got married and he took her to his estate, Manderley.

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Now by the time the film starts, Rebecca is no longer in the picture, but no doubt her presence is felt throughout the film. Rebecca is definitely an overwhelming force despite the character never being shown on screen, not even in flashback. And that’s definitely what the filmmaker wanted Fontaine’s character to feel throughout the movie, that she’s overwhelmed by this unseen force who clearly still has a strange hold on everyone in Manderley.

The real suspense starts to build as soon as the couple get to Manderley. The big, expansive mansion looks and feel eerie, not unlike the ominous Thornfield Hall with a strange woman locked in the attic. The house is almost a character in itself, and it definitely plays a big role in the story. Manderley’s domineering, creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers (Judith Anderson) definitely gives me the hibijibis. I really feel for Fontaine’s character and what she had to go through, not only did she have to endure her husband’s coldness, she also has to deal with a deranged, obsessive housekeeper who wanted to be rid of her. I kept wondering though why they couldn’t just fire Mrs. Danvers, I mean she is after all an employee at the estate. Right from the very moment she’s introduced in the movie, Mrs. Danvers is one of the most spine-chilling characters that really gets under my skin. I think the most terrifying scenes in the movie is when she gives Fontaine’s character a tour to Rebecca’s room, reminiscing on her former master and her obsession with her.

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Mrs. Danvers: [just as the second Mrs. de Winter reaches for the door] You wouldn’t think she’d been gone so long, would you? Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light step, I couldn’t mistake it anywhere. It’s not only in this room, it’s in all the rooms in the house. I can almost hear it now.

Mrs. Danvers: Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?

The Second Mrs. de Winter: [sobbing] N-no, I don’t believe it.

Mrs. Danvers: Sometimes, I wonder if she doesn’t come back here to Manderley, to watch you and Mr. de Winter together. You look tired. Why don’t you stay here a while and rest, and listen to the sea? It’s so soothing. Listen to it.

[turning away towards the window as the second Mrs. de Winter slips out the door]
Mrs. Danvers: Listen. Listen to the sea.

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You could say Judith was quite the scene-stealer in this film as you simply can’t shake her for some time after you’ve seen this film. She’s THAT creepy. The rest of the cast is equally excellent in their Oscar-nominated performances. I’m quite impressed by the luminous Joan Fontaine who’s the heart of the film whomI sympathize with right away. She went from being this frail, nervous and self-conscious young bride in the beginning, to a woman who’s able to hold her own by the end. Her character definitely *grew up* as the film progressed and her transformation is very believable. Sir Olivier is perfectly suited as the wealthy tortured soul type, hardened and enigmatic. The British thespian has played another Bronte’s dark hero, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights just the year before, sounds like the type of roles he could play in his sleep. There’s not much chemistry between him and Fontaine but given the plot of the story it sort of make sense. Based on the documentary included in the disc, apparently Olivier was keen on having his then-girlfriend Vivien Leigh to play Fontaine’s role, but I personally don’t think Leigh would suit the role as well.  George Sanders plays this weasel character who’s trying to frame Maxim, I’ve seen him play a similar character in All About Eve not too long ago. His character seems too lively to be really sinister or threatening however, I think out of all the characters, I feel that his performance is the least convincing to me.

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As to be expected from the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock truly delivered the goods with this one. This is his second feature adaptation from Daphne Du Maurier novel and clearly the material suits his style. The gothic story lends itself to the eerie, bone-chilling atmosphere, and Hitchcock is the master at building up the suspense and that dreaded sense of impending doom. Every frame, sound, ambiance is carefully crafted, coupled with Franz Waxman‘s ominous score for a total immersive experience. I didn’t see the twist coming which is always nice when that happens. Yet Rebecca isn’t reliant on that twist for you to truly appreciate the film because it’s more than just a gimmick. The story is rich, with a deep, layered symbolism that stays with you long after the credits. It’s also a beautifully-shot film with the lush setting, gorgeous costumes, and evocative lighting that brings out its supernatural quality.

This is definitely one of those films that lives up to the hype. The heightened suspense and tension is what I expect from Hitchcock — he brought Du Marier’s story alive and kept me engrossed from start to finish. Just like the literary work it’s based on, this film has that timeless quality that would stand the test of time. I am surprised that this is the only Hitchcock film that ever won Best Picture Oscar. I definitely think it’s Oscar-worthy but I haven’t seen his later works such as Vertigo and Rear Window that’s far more popular than this one. I definitely have a lot of Hitchcock to catch up on and I’m looking forward to it!

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This is the fifth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .


What do you think of  REBECCA? I’d love to hear what you think!

Musings on actors-turned-directors… who are your favorites?

Seems like every other week there’s news that another actor is trying their hand at directing. Just this past month alone, I read that James Franco is supposedly directing a Lindsay Lohan biopic (??) and Philip Seymour Hoffman seems ready to be back in the director’s chair (after Jack Goes Boating) with a Depression-era ghost story Ezekiel Moss. Dustin Hoffman—unrelated to Philip by the way, in case you’re wondering—just completed his first film Quartet, as I talked about in the TCFF lineup post.

This trend is hardly new though, after all as far back as Charlie Chaplin and Laurence Olivier, many thespians have done work behind the camera, and some have become quite successful at it. I haven’t done my top ten list yet, I might do another collaborative effort with my pal Ted at some point, but I think Clint Eastwood, Ron Howard, Mel Gibson, Woody Allen and Ben Affleck would probably make my list. Affleck seems to flourish under his own direction, as he seems better in front of the camera when he’s also behind the camera, case in point: The Town and the upcoming ARGO which is getting rave reviews. In the case of Allen though, I much prefer that he stays behind the camera as I don’t like his neurotic style as an actor.

Why Do So Many Actors Want to Become Directors?

Do they just like the idea of being a multi-hyphenated artist?? I’m sure there’s a certain degree of pride that comes with being a double or triple threat (if they also write their own script) in the industry. But I’d think that for most, it’s about extending one’s creativity in the film-making business. Generally speaking, directors usually have the most creative control in making a film, though of course the studio often has a lot of input that often change the direction of the final piece. Some top actors might have a close connection with the director they’re working with, offering a lot of creative input to the film, but perhaps for some, that’s not enough.

Not every actor-turned-director is created equal obviously, but I’d think that seasoned actors have the filming experience behind them to help get a compelling performance out of fellow actors. They know what it’s like being in front of the lens, what the actors might be feeling, the challenges of getting a certain emotion across, etc. better than those who have never acted before. Perhaps it’s the ’empathy’ factor is what makes them become successful directors, and some actor have become more well-known as directors than actors (Allen, Howard, Reiner), though people like Eastwood have the talents to juggle both worlds equally.

Well, now I’d like to turn things over to you and ask you to vote your favorite actors-turned-directors. Cast your vote below!


Remember, you can pick up to three. Feel free to share your top five or top 10 in the comments, and tell me which movie(s) of theirs are your favorites.

Classic Flix Category Debut with Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” Review

Welcome to FlixChatter’s Classic Flix category debut, featuring this blog’s first ever guest blogger, Vince ‘Rockerdad’ Caro, whose passion and extensive knowledge of the genre never cease to amaze me!

I’m honored to include his in-depth reviews of Hollywood classics and reading ’em definitely inspire me to start watching those flicks and see what I’ve been missing!

Rebecca review by Vince C.

I’ve had many intriguing and enlightening conversations with the venerable RTM concerning our love of motion pictures, Hollywood and it’s history over the decades. While she has kept track of the film world’s current events, I have (in my adult years) remained anachronistic about movies – often stuck with the escapism and simplicity of black & white noir films of the 30s, 40s and 50s.

So, when RTM asked me to write a classic film review, I jumped at the opportunity – in part because she maintains one of the coolest and smartest film blogs in existence but also to reflect on a film that started it all for me. Late one Saturday during my teens, while tuning in to AMC (the original classic movie channel), I came across an old Hitchcock film. Something in its presentation caught my eye and I was hooked. It was the narrator’s voice – and it said:

Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

rebeccaposterThis is how the narrator, played by the excellent Joan Fontaine, opens this classic, haunting noir thriller, Rebecca (1940), based on the Daphne du Maurier book of the same name and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in his first American film. (This is his second treatment of a du Maurier novel – the first being Jamaica Inn in 1936 and later, The Birds in 1963.) The line encompasses the overall feel of the film, a gothic dream, rolling fog and all, with Franz Waxman’s overwhelming crescendos of flutes and strings and George Barnes’ Oscar winning cinematography – setting us up for the drama and suspense to follow.

Fontaine plays the unnamed protagonist in flashback, a timid, shy, orphaned heroine and paid companion to the rich, incorrigible Mrs. Edythe Van Hopper (Florence Bates). While vacationing in France, she comes across a brooding, and mysterious Max de Winter (Laurence Olivier) who seemingly is about to jump off a seaside cliff to his death. After this chance meeting, Maxim courts her to be the next Mrs. de Winter amid Van Hopper’s snide reservations. It is here that Mrs. Van Hopper uses the name Rebecca, Maxim’s beautiful and deceased first wife, to compare and humiliate Maxim’s new bride – adding to her already fragile self-esteem.

Maxim takes her back to Manderley, his large estate in Cornwall. It is here where she meets the intimidating Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson in her most memorable role), the head housekeeper of the estate. Danvers and her staff are puzzled by the new lady-of-the-house’ lack of self-confidence. Overwhelmed by the scope of her new role, she discovers that Rebecca’s personal artifacts are eerily preserved and untouched by Mrs. Danvers. In a classic scene where Danvers shows Mrs. de Winter Rebecca’s private room, the housekeeper’s dark Machiavellian, motherly (and lesbian) obsession with Rebecca is revealed.

Consumed by forever being in Rebecca’s shadow, everything falls apart during an ill-fated costume ball. Mrs. de Winter, in trying to impress Maxim, is manipulated by Mrs. Danvers into wearing Rebecca’s costume, angering him. Distraught and defeated, Mrs. Danvers convinces Mrs. de Winter she could never take Rebecca’s place and quietly opens a window for her to jump out and end her life. This is however, interrupted by a seaside flair and the announcement that a shipwreck has been discovered – Rebecca’s boat in which she drowned in. A body is found which brings the authorities to question whether it really is Rebecca buried in the family crypt. More clues are revealed about Rebecca, her trysts and infidelities. Did Maxim murder her or did she commit suicide?

Fontaine and Olivier
Fontaine and Olivier

The film won Best Picture in 1940 for David Selznick but Hitchcock lost the Best Director award to John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath), the first of many disappointments Hollywood would bestow on the British auteur. Although he would later disown this movie, it is undeniable proof of Hitchcock’s mastery of the suspense genre. While mostly humorless and understated, Rebecca’s atmospheric and dreamy quality is a rewarding and compelling escape into the gothic psychological thriller – 1940 style. Lacking the toughness of characters of Double Indemnity and the sappiness of Capra and Sturges for example, it is overall a contemporary romance or rather an updated Jane Eyre of the late 30s albeit an artfully detached one. Not surprisingly, Fontaine would later play Eyre in the 1944 film version. Maxim’s character is arguably a contemporary Rochester with perhaps a touch of Heathcliff.

Hitchcock did his best to own this movie by using In-Camera Editing, a process where only necessary shots are filmed for a scene – limiting the amount of alternate or excess footage Selznick could get his hands on to interfere with Hitchcock’s final cut. This experience with the Selznick studio prompted Hitchcock to fully control the final edit of his later films and we have Selznick to thank. Kubrick would have a similar epiphany after filming Spartacus with Kirk Douglas. As with Kubrick, Hitchcock proved he could be a big-time Hollywood director and handle big-time budgets with A-list Hollywood actors. It is a shame he never garnered a Best Director Oscar. The Academy tried to make it up by giving him a Lifetime Achievement Award but by then his career was over.

While not his first or best film, Rebecca is a landmark of a prestige that only Selznick’s Hollywood could offer – an elegant, gothic, romantic thriller – a far cry from Selznick’s 4-hour soap opera Gone With The Wind the previous year. It still mystifies some that Hitchcock bears his name on it – it shouldn’t. Any other director would make it too weepy and too melodramatic. Its detached and haunting nature is all Hitch. One of his best (and there are many) – and yes, he even appears in it.