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Entries in Oscars (40s) (27)

Tuesday
Apr152014

Seasons of Bette: The Letter (1940)

Multi-tasking again. Herewith a new episode of three recurring series: Seasons of Bette, "Introducing..." and Hit Me With Your Best Shot in which I, Nathaniel, refuse to show you Bette Davis's face. For here's a perverse truth: none of my three favorite shots of The Letter (1940) include it.

honorable mention: Leslie recounts her crime

Pt. 1 "Introducing..."
Meet Leslie Crosbee, murderess. We're only one minute into the movie when she unloads six shots purposefully nto the back of one Geoff Hammond who is attempting to escape her house. He doesn't make it beyond the foot of her steps. Her face is a frozen severe mask as she drops the gun. It's Bette Davis's most potent entrance into a movie yet.

Where the hell do you go after your protagonist makes an entrance like that? To her confession, as it turns out. William Wyler, here adapting a play by W. Somerset Maugham, is appreciated today mostly as a great actor's director, but he's so much more than that. He's not content to rest on the power of his actors alone, despite the three Oscars and multiple nominations they'd already received at this point. In one of his boldest moves, he even lets the entire cast turn their backs on us -- this movie is cold -- while Mrs Crosbee calmly recounts an attempted rape and the resultant murder in great detail. The camera (cinematography by Oscar favorite Tony Gaudio) becomes a kind of detached slave, following Bette's vocal cue and showing us now vacant rooms, steps and floorboards, as if it exists only as an empty stage for her drama. Given how rapturously and literally shady our leading lady is (oh the sinister cast shadows of film noir!) it's not much of a spoiler to tell you that she's a liar.

best shot: the equally shady widow

Pt. 2 Best Shot
The title character in this noir, is an incriminating letter written by Leslie which is in the possession of Mr Hammond's mysterious Asian wife (Gale Sondegaard in "yellow face"). The movie is casually racist, a product of its time, or at least suggestive of the casual racism of its time. Leslie's lawyer remark that Hammond's marriage to this woman, immediately makes the colonist of questionable character and thus presumed guilty of the rape Leslie has accused him of. And Leslie herself is the most verbally racist of the film's characters, grotesquely repulsed by Mrs. Hammond

Then i heard about that -- that native woman Oh, I  couldn't believe it. i wouldn't believe it. I saw her walking in the village with those hideous spangles, that chalky painted face, those eyes like a cobra's eyes. 

But fortunately for the film, this fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" in any scene in which she appears actually serves to level the playing field. That's especially true of this scene which is tricked up in every way possible with "Asian" signifiers in the scoring, decor, and "dragon lady" costuming (it's worth noting that Mrs Hammond is the only Asian in the film costumed and presented this way as if she's barely real at all but a projection of Leslie's own jealous and racist obsession with her). And in this case, doesn't one have to excuse or even applaud all the exoticism? If you're going to engage in an epic staredown with Bette Davis in which she must suddenly be cowered by you, you'd better bring it by any means necessary. Sondegaard and the cinematography do.

In a curious way, though, The Letter's most fascinating character is the man with six bullets in his back. What kind of a man could own the vengeful hearts of two such lethal women? In his own stiff way he's the perfect embodiment of film noir's powerfully confusing phobic relationship to the female gender. It loves them like no other genre while also living in perpetual fear of their power and agency.

runner up shot: Guadio & Wyler find several great uses for Bette's hands in this film. I love her fingerprints grazing her victim here.

To be Continued...
Tonight at 10 PM we'll post the visual index of all Best Shot entries for this famous noir. 
Thursday Seasons of Bette continues, back-tracking one year for Dark Victory since we fell behind.

Tuesday
Apr152014

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: Visual Index ~ The Letter (1940)

William Wyler's The Letter (1940) was nominated for seven Oscars in 1940 and remains a compelling example of two essential noir staples: dramatic lighting and the art of the femme fatale. I was watching it for Seasons of Bette, but the dramatic cinematography and Bette's heyday called out for a closer investigation from multiple sets of eyes...

The Letter's 11 Best Shots
in rough chronological order (click on the image for the 12 corresponding articles)

Her body language that it bleeds such layers into her character...
-A Fistful of Films

When William Wyler controls the moonlight, it shines with the all power of a Hollywood spotlight...
-We Recycle Movies

'Oh, it was all instinctive. I didn't even know I'd fired.'
- Sorta That Guy 


The right blend of scared innocent and hardened survivalist, enough to be believable to her in-movie audience while sending out signals to the theater audience... 
- Alison Tooey


We are witnessing a flashback occur in the present without leaving the scene...
 
- The Film's The Thing 


The shadows of blinds in the protagonist’s face might be something that we now immediately associate with film noir...
-Coco Hits NY

Wyler is founding noir right here...
- Cal Roth 


This fetishistic attention to Mrs Hammond's "exoticism" actually serves to level the playing field...
 - The Film Experience 

But what I really love about this particular shot is the costuming...
-Entertainment Junkie

 It's almost like a standoff in a Western, except the women aren't on equal footing... 
- Film Actually


One of the most visual performers of the sound era offers up an entire film's worth of great expressions...
-Antagony & Ecstasy


I try to think this is the moment where the film ends...
-Manuel Betancourt 

 

Next Tuesday night (April 22nd)
Disney's POCAHONTAS (1995). Can you sing with all the colors of the wind? If so, please join us by selecting your best shot. The more pairs of eyes, the better the cinematic visions. [More Upcoming "Best Shot" Episodes]

Monday
Mar172014

Women's History Month: Greer Garson as Marie Curie

Our celebration of Women's History Month continues with abstew's look at English Rose Greer Garson in a nearly-forgotten classic about one of the most important women in science. 

Marie Curie

Born: She was born Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She was the youngest of five children and her father was a professor in the fields Marie would later study, mathematics and physics. 

Death: After years of being exposed to the radioactivity from her experiments (no Silkwood showers for Curie) and the X-ray carts she created and worked in during WWI, her life's work would ultimately bring about her own end. Curie died on July 4, 1934 of aplastic anemia, a disease that damages the bone marrow and blood stem cells caused by exposure to chemicals and radiation. In 1995, her remains were moved to the Panthéon in Paris. She is the only woman to be buried in the prestigious monument because of her own achievements.

Greer Garson's Madame Curie (1943) is after the jump

Click to read more ...

Monday
Mar102014

Women's History Month: Ingrid Bergman's Joan of Arc

For Women's History Month ocassional portraits of actresses portraying iconic real women. Here is abstew with Ingrid Bergman as film's favorite saintly female warrior. 

Born: January 6, 1412 (the exact date of her birth is not exactly known, but she stated she was 19 at the time of her trial)

Death: May 30, 1431. After being captured by the English, she was imprisoned and a trial before an ecclesiastic court condemned her with heresy for which she was burned at the stake. Legend has it that her executioner begged for mercy on his soul because he had just killed a saint. 

Click to read more ...

Sunday
Mar022014

Happy Oscar Morning Trivia!

Did you know that only one other Oscar ceremony has ever been held on a March 2nd? That'd be March 2nd, 1944 which crowned CASABLANCA 1943's best picture. Let's hope Oscar chooses as well tonight.

May your favorites lose tonight ... if they're different than mine! Kisses. 

Though Casablanca is one of those rare pictures that virtually everyone loves, it actually only won three of its eight Oscar nominations that night: Picture, Director (Michael Curtiz), and Screenplay. Only Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) won fewer Oscars among the Best Pictures of the 1940s with just two statues. So I don't wanna see any online snarking if 12 Years a Slave goes home with only a 2 or 3 statues including the big one. Spreading the wealth is not a new thing and i'd argue it's a healthier thing for the movies, too. 

Jennifer Jones with Ingrid Bergman who she beat to Best Actress 1943Happy Birthday March 2nd Oscar Babies!
• Jennifer Jones (Best Actress winner, The Song of Bernadette 1943)  ...so, yes, she won the Oscar on her twenty-fifth birthday. One assumes that was the happiest of birthdays. 
• Martin Ritt (Best Director nominee for  Hud, 1963)
Today is actually Martin Ritt's centennial so if you've never seen Hudone of all time greats, get to it. Ritt also directed Best Picture nominee Norma Rae but he was left out of the directing shortlist that year
• Jon Bon Jovi (Best Original Song nominee "Blaze of Glory" from Young Guns II, 1990) 
• John Irving (Best Adapted Screenplay winner, The Cider House Rules, 1999) 

... and future Oscar nominee Daniel Craig just because we love him and saw him first, long before Bond --  Love is the Devil (1998), bitches. Eat it.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Final Oscar Predictions | Zhang Ziyi's Oscar Ballot | Nathaniel's Top Ten | Oscar Charts | FiLM BiTCH AWARDS

PREVIOUSLY IN OUR 21 DAY RANDOM TOPIC OSCAR COUNTDOWN
1 day Kathy Bates * 2 days Final Predix * 3 days Oscar Genie wishes * 4 days Leo & Julia * 5 days John Williams * 6 days Alfonso Cuarón7 days AIDS dramas * 8 days  Peter O'Toole * 9 days Twelve Years a Slave * 10 days  Paul Newman * 11 days Bette Midler *  12 days 1934 Best Picture * 13 days Matthew McConaughey and Best Actress 2000 * 14 days All About Eve vs. Titanic *  15 Days Supporting  * 16 days Irene Sharaff, Costume Designer * 17 days Randomness * 18 days Meryl Streep * 19 Days Julianne Moore * 20 days 1993 Oscars * 21 days Billy Wilder