Tag Archives: Cary Grant

Katharine the Great

Katharine HepburnKatharine Hepburn (1907-2003) is the subject of a major retrospective through February and March at the BFI in London. Much as I admire her, I find a little of her goes a long way – but she did appear in some wonderful films during her six-decade career, including several of my all-time favourites. Here’s a list of my top five Katharine Hepburn films from the vast collection screening at the BFI.

1. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
The Philadelphia Story poster 2Who could forget Hepburn as the haughty, ice maiden who has a meltdown on the eve of her society wedding when Spy magazine sends an attractive young reporter (and his photographer girlfriend) to cover her big day, her still-smitten first husband turns up, and she discovers that the high moral standards she imposes on others are occasionally hard to adhere to herself. An Oscar-winning James Stewart (for my money he could have won the award for his drunk scene alone) and an especially charismatic Cary Grant also star in this glorious, sophisticated and very funny classic from director George Cukor.

2. Woman of the Year (1942)Woman of the Year poster

Hepburn plays a famous political newspaper columnist who first spars with then falls in love with her newspaper’s sports editor in this utterly delightful George Stevens romantic comedy which features one of the all-time great comedy sequences, when Hepburn’s gal-about-town character tries to prove that the domestic stuff is as easy as pie, and comes a memorable cropper in the kitchen. Like The Philadelphia Story, this is a particular delight for wardrobe-watchers as Hepburn’s clothes were designed by the great Adrian. And it’s also the first of the nine films that she made with her real-life long-term love, Spencer Tracy.

3. Summertime (1955)

Summertime posterWhile other middle-aged female stars were forced to play bitter and twisted women clinging on to their youth (and their men) – All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard etc – Hepburn gave a wonderful, appealingly vulnerable performance as a “spinster” falling in love for the first time during a holiday in Venice in this beautiful and sensitive film by director David Lean. Neither the 40-something Hepburn nor Venice ever looked lovelier.

4. The African Queen (1951)The African Queen posterJohn Huston’s exciting First World War-set adventure/romance stars Hepburn as a buttoned-up missionary who finds herself (in more ways than one) when she and boozy steamboat captain Humphrey Bogart (who won his only Oscar for his performance) undertake an increasingly dangerous journey downriver, taking on the elements, the river currents and even the Germans at various points.

5. Alice Adams (1935) Alice Adams poster

Despite what the poster says, Hepburn was in fact in her later twenties when she played the awkward young social climber whose compulsive need to put on airs and graces (and force her slightly screwy family to do the same) is her undoing in this gentle comedy from George Stevens. It also starred a young Fred MacMurray, and Hepburn counted it as one of her favourite of her own films.

* Visit www.whatson.bfi.org.uk for the full programme

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Style on Film: To Catch a Thief

This is our first glimpse of Grace Kelly in one of her most stylish – and summery – films, To Catch a Thief, the 1955 romantic suspense movie by Alfred Hitchcock. Sunning herself at the Cannes Beach Club, she pauses mid suncream application as she clocks our hero, ex cat burglar and Resistance fighter John Robie (Cary Grant), strolling by.   It’s quite a while (20 minutes) before this first, fleeting, appearance by Kelly – and there’s another ten minutes before she is next onscreen –  but there’s still plenty of style to ogle, in the debonair form of Cary Grant.

When Francie (Grace Kelly) and Robie are finally introduced over dinner, she is a goddess-like vision in this elegant, flowing – and very now – strappy blue chiffon gown, created by the film’s costume designer, the inimitable Edith Head. Despite being the daughter of an oil tycooness who talks about “cuddling up to her jewellery” in bed, Francie, tellingly, is initially seen sans bijoux. There’s not so much as a pearl earring on her .. Francie is next seen just for a few seconds in a yellowy day dress before she slips into her bathing gear – this stunning ensemble which causes heads to turn as she strolls through the hotel lobby en route to her swimming date with the one-time cat burglar she’s sinking her claws into…Edith Head may well have been briefed by Alfred Hitchcock to dress his heroine in cool colours in order to underline the idea of her as an ice princess (and, presumably, play to Grace Kelly’s image as “the fair Miss Frigidaire”), but Francie is not exactly backwards at coming forwards – and on to the object of her desire. Dressed in a demure, dusty pink day dress (which, personally, I can’t stand), Francie whisks John off on a racy car trip. Driving at speed with a smug, knowing, in-control, look, she calls the shots about where they’re going and where they’ll have the picnic during which she famously asks: “Do you want a leg or a breast?” ..Having sussed that the object of her desire is also the object of the police’s, Francie tells John to come to her suite for cocktails and a bird’s eye view of the firework display at 8pm sharp. “I haven’t got a decent watch,” says John. “Steal one,” she replies. For the rendez-vous, she wears a simple, strapless white chiffon number chosen to showcase her mother’s (fake) diamond necklace.Francie has to work at it but she does manage to seduce John into some romantic action. (Her attempts at seducing him into some cat burglary aren’t quite as successful.) When they meet a few days later, and a contrite Francie confesses that she has fallen in love with him, she is dressed simply in a cream coat with a black top or dress underneath.The climax of the film is a lavish masquerade ball, with all the guests decked out in the style of the 16th Century. This proved to be the most expensive scene costume-wise that Edith Head had ever designed, and it’s an absolute riot of Crayola-coloured, crinolined dresses. Francie’s golden gown – the only strapless one in sight – stands out. To end, here’s a couple of shots that aren’t from the film. The first is a publicity shot of that extraordinarily simple yet stunning, icey blue Grecian gown: And the second is a favourite shot of Grace Kelly and Cary Grant off-duty. She’s wearing her own clothes (or at least clothes that weren’t seen in the film), and doing for espadrilles what Audrey Hepburn did for ballet pumps .. 

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My Week in Style

Cary Grant onstage at the Regal Cinema, Glasgow, July 1958 (c) The Herald and Times Group

Last week was a blur of all of my favourite things – jazz, Hollywood stars (sadly only in photographic form), beauty products, getting glammed up, watching classic movies, hanging out with fascinating characters. (And all that had happened by Wednesday….).

The first part of the week was spent in the company of such glamorous, dead stars as the uber-urbane Cary Grant (pictured) – whose image, along with those of Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich, I was hanging in my exhibition at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.  It’s been a labour of love for many years, this project of researching what stars did when they visited Scotland, and I’m delighted to see all the photos up on the walls in the City of Stars exhibition which opened officially on Saturday.

As I mentioned last week, two of the female stars in the collection – Judy Garland and Katharine Hepburn – were wearing Balmain when they were photographed in Glasgow, and it was a real thrill, on Thursday, to be able to talk to someone who had first-hand dealings with Balmain. The already legendary jazz singer Annie Ross was in town to attend the Glasgow Film Festival premiere of No One But Me, a new documentary about her, and to give a couple of concerts. (Click here for my review of the first gig, published in The Herald and on my jazz blog.)

At the second after-show party, she and I resumed a conversation (we began it in 2007) about how she was fitted for a dress by the great Balmain when she was appearing in a revue in Paris. During her fitting, she was tipped off that the couturier was working on a wedding dress … for a certain Rita Hayworth. Annie  “hipped me” – as the jazz guys say -to a biography of Balmain’s right-hand woman, Ginette Spanier, a few years back and I finally managed to track down a copy recently. I’ll report back once I’ve read it..

Annie may be 81 but she looks fantastic, and from observing her post- concert habits, I can only conclude that double Macallans and cigarettes are having the opposite effect on her than they have on the rest of the population. With her dark red hair, false eyelashes and terrific bone structure she is still a striking woman – and her style is fabulous. She wears colourful flowing kimonos and jackets over a simple streamlined black turtle-neck and slim trousers ensemble.

Last time I met her, at the 2010 Norwich Jazz Party, I was suffering from a bug and feeling like death warmed up. I looked washed out and puffy – never moreso than when photographed next to the glamorous and chic Ms Ross. A while after our picture was taken, I went to her room to give her the beautiful, dark shocking pink nail lacquer I’d been planning to wear – it seemed far more appropriate to give it to her than use it myself, given the parlous state of my my health and of my appearance!

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My Week in Beauty

MONDAY

Like many of my friends, I spent Monday mourning the end of the best TV crime series since The Killing (which preceded it!) – Spiral, the French drama which (much more stylish than Law and Order) concerns itself not just with the cops, but also with the investigating judges, the prosecutors and the defence lawyers. There may be some damned good-looking actors in the cast (personally, I have a soft-spot for bad-boy Gilou) but the character who keeps me glued to the screen is the flame-haired bad girl lawyer Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot), whose wardrobe and look are always striking – and not at all your run-of-the-mill Parisian professional.  I’m sure I’m not the only viewer who’s been considering dyeing her hair red as a result of a girl crush on JK.

TUESDAY

When it comes to perfumes that are quintessentially Parisian, the house of Guerlain’s collection springs instantly to mind – and no wonder: it’s been on the go for over 150 years.

The Aqua Allegoria range may be quite a bit younger – it was introduced in 1999 – but it is steeped in the Guerlain tradition. The bottle is a classic – inspired by the original 19th century Eau de Cologne Imperiale flacon – and the fragrances are fresh and summery but very classical. This summer’s addition, Aqua Allegoria Jasminora (£35.50; from www.houseoffraser.co.uk from June 1) is a lovely fresh scent which was created by Guerlain’s Thierry Wasser using Calabrian jasmine, a lighter jasmine than is found in most perfumes. Its freshness is complemented by white flowers with green tones, along with cyclamen and lily of the valley. The bottom line? It’s a very feminine, classy summer scent.

WEDNESDAY

I’d been looking forward to my Wednesday afternoon catch-up with the Ojon PR girl for ages.. Why? Because I’d been tipped off that this fabulous haircare range was finally going to sort out the one problem that its fans have identified: the dodgy bottles.

Not only have the bottles been redesigned (no more broken lids – hurrah!) but the collection has been refined and revamped. I tried the Ojon Color Sustain (from £18; available from John Lewis from May 21) almost immediately and found it to be a worthy, possibly even superior, replacement for the old Shine & Protect products. I especially liked the Ojon Color Sustain Color Protecting Cream (£22) which protects the hair from the damaging effects of blow-drying.

THURSDAY

If there’s one company that knows how to do things in style it’s Chanel which chose Frasers in Glasgow as the site for its first Chanel Espace Parfums outside London, and invited journalists along to visit it on Thursday. Not only does this beautifully kitted-out boutique (everything about its look derives from Coco Chanel’s signature style and from aspects of her life) sell the Les Exclusifs collection of fragrances created or revived by house “nose” Jacques Polge, but it also offers customers the chance to discover the world of Chanel perfumes (48 in all) through its unique olfactive bar where concentrates of all the fragrances are sniffable on ceramic blotters. Fragrance expert Joanna Norman guided me through the Chanel perfumes on Thursday and it was a fascinating tour. What makes the ceramic blotter idea so useful is the fact that there’s no need to scoosh any perfumes – and therefore less likelihood of what industry people call “nasal confusion”. It’s much easier to identify what you like – and eliminate what you don’t. Anyone contemplating changing their perfume, or simply interested in how fragrance works should pop in and ask for a consultation.

FRIDAY

Unlike Kim Novak (pictured here, with the swoonsome Cary Grant), who showed hers off at every opportunity, my back has never really had any attention. But all that changed on Friday when I accepted an invitation to have a back treatment Clarins Spa in Frasers (0141 221 5760).

Clarins Neck, Back & Shoulder Massage (£33) proved to be just what the doctor ordered. Using the Renew Body Serum and the Smoothing Body Scrub, Lindsay, my therapist, untangled the knots of tension in my neck and shoulders and gave my back a thorough going-over, both in terms of massage and treating the usually neglected skin. The serum is great for hydrating, but doesn’t leave the skin feeling overloaded with product – perfect if congestion is an issue.

If you fancy getting your back in Cary-worthy condition, you can try out the Neck, Back & Shoulder Massage for free, if you book a Clarins Professional Face or Body Treatment at any Clarins Spa between now and May 31. To be redeemed by July 26.

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Style on Film: Charade

‘Tis autumn, and if ever there were a stylish, autumnal film it’s Charade (1963), the super-sexy thriller-cum-rom com which stars Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Paris, Henry Mancini’s wonderful music and a fabulous array of Givenchy clothes – far more than we see in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Here’s our first glimpse of Audrey’s character, Reggie – sporting ski-wear, sixties-style. (In case you’re wondering, she’s sitting outside an indoor swimming pool!)

Reggie returns from her ski trip to find that her apartment as been stripped of all her possessions. Luckily, she had obviously taken all her new season outfits on holiday with her.. Here’s the first of the 12 ensembles we see her in during the rest of the film.

If you’re in the market for a new coat, and you like the streamlined, unfussy 1960s look, Charade is a great source of inspiration. My own favourite ensemble from the film is the one Reggie wears when she visits Walter Matthau’s character at the American Embassy for the first time: the coat is tomato red, funnel-necked with bracelet-length sleeves and it’s teamed with a leopard print hat, long black gloves, black kitten heels and a black patent bag. You can glimpse it in this trailer:

For a post-funeral night on the town, newly-widowed Reggie is a vision of elegant simplicity – a little black dress and little black bolero jacket, and minimal jewellery. You can’t see it in the only photo I could find of the frock, but it has a sparkling black peplum waist and matching trim round the hem..

Doing her damnedest to be inconspicuous as she follows the Cary Grant character, Reggie dons that well-established uniform of the private eye – the raincoat. But few private eyes ever looked as chic (or conscipuous!).

The beige dress with the deep black waistband which Reggie was wearing under her raincoat sums up the sublime simplicity of her Charade wardrobe.

I’m not mad-keen on the white hat in the next outfit but Audrey carries it off beautifully, of course. Here’s the ensemble she wears when she drops her ice cream cone during a stroll along the banks of the Seine.

For the famous chase scene through the Metro and the Palais-Royale, Reggie sports another lovely coat, this time in a mustard shade, with a matching dress underneath.

Who said navy blue and black couldn’t go together? Reggie shows us how to do it in style in the final scenes from Charade, where her navy suit is accessorized with black shoes and a black bag, balanced out by the white hat and gloves  from before. You see – Charade is not only an exercise in sparkling comedy; it’s also a master-class in style.

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Style File: Grace Kelly’s Film Years

This Helen Rose gown, one of several from High Society which were given to Grace Kelly as a wedding gift from MGM, is in the V&A exhibition.

Grace Kelly, one of the most influential style icons of the 20th Century, is the subject of a major exhibition which opens this weekend at the V & A in London. A movie star who became a real-life princess, she is the perfect example of what it means to be stylish: although she followed fashion, she was always true to her distinctive, ladylike look. Only very rarely did she deviate from the streamlined, unfussy suits and dresses which she knew suited her.

The exhibition is divided into three parts: Grace Kelly the actress, Grace Kelly the bride, and Princess Grace of Monaco. Although the view of Jenny Lister, the curator, is that Grace Kelly wouldn’t have become an enduring style icon had she not had a high-profile wedding and become a princess, I personally believe that her movie years alone would have ensured her status.

Here are some of my own favourites from her onscreen wardrobe during the 1950s, starting with a selection from Rear Window (1954), the Alfred Hitchcock thriller which acknowledged the growing fascination with Kelly’s style by casting her as a young woman who works in the fashion industry.

The Edith Head suit - worn with a cream halterneck and cream pillbox hat - in Rear Window was very much Grace Kelly's own style.

Playing a fashion-mad socialite, Kelly is seen in a different outfit in every scene – and her onscreen wardrobe includes slinky lingerie (which she memorably pulls from the dinkiest overnight case – much to the bemusement of her boyfriend, James Stewart), evening wear and casual attire. It’s a veritable fashion parade – and much of it was a reflection of Kelly’s own style. Here’s how she makes her entrance – note the signature pearls are there from the get-go, and watch how the outfit is revealed very gradually (and tantalisingly), culminating in a full-length shot.

In To Catch a Thief (1955), Kelly worked again with director Alfred Hitchcock and costume designer Edith Head, and the wardrobe was as memorable as Rear Window’s. As a  socialite holidaying on the Riviera, she was seen in a number of casual outfits – including this chic little ensemble:

Of course, To Catch a Thief pairs Kelly with another great style icon, Cary Grant who  swaps his usual sharp suits for the casual clobber that one presumes is de rigueur for a retired continental cat burglar. I love this picture of this most elegant pair of stars relaxing between takes – and, although espadrilles aren’t associated with Kelly in the way that Hermes bags, pearls and twinsets are, I always think of her when I am tempted to buy a pair…

It’s not just the To Catch a Thief espadrilles that have forever linked Grace Kelly with this style of footwear in my mind; she also sported them – with beige shirt and chinos (and silk kerchief) – in the opening scenes of High Society (1956).

But  back to To Catch a Thief … The evening gown that people often remember is the gold lame, Marie Antoinette number which Kelly wears for the masked ball. I’m not a fan of it; this beautiful, Grecian-style gown gets my vote in the evening wear stakes.

High Society was Grace Kelly’s last film, made during the short period between her engagement and her wedding, a period when she was also assembling her trousseau under the watchful eyes of fashion commentators from all over the world. Her clothes in High Society were designed by Helen Rose, and, again were very much in-keeping with her own personal style – so much so that she was given a number of the gowns  as a wedding present from her studio, MGM. One of these was this exquisite dress, again in the draped, Grecian style – appropriately enough, as her character has something of a Goddess complex..

This gown, which was worn over a swimming costume in High Society, is also in the V&A exhibition.

*Grace Kelly: Style Icon runs at the V&A from April 17- September 26; the accompanying book, Grace Kelly Style (V&A, £19.99) is out now.

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Hold The Front Page!

The Glasgow Film Theatre is currently showing a mini-season of films from a genre which is routinely overlooked but is as quintessentially American as the gangster movie and the western.

The season, Heroes and Villains, celebrates journalism on the silver screen and belongs to a bigger genre – the newspaper movie, which had its heyday in the 1930s.

The newspaper building (or at least newspaper buildings until ten years ago, when journalists became  bogged down by bureaucracy and cost-cutting) is an obvious setting for a Hollywood movie. All human life can be found there, and the pace – leisurely and laidback at the beginning of the day; frantic and frenetic as deadlines approach – is quite unlike that of any other workplace.

Many of the great newspaper movies have been based on true stories: after all, this was – like the gangster movie – a genre born out of topicality. The 1933 James Cagney comedy Picture Snatcher, for example, was based on the scandal surrounding the New York Daily News’s secretly snatched photograph of murderess Ruth Snyder in the electric chair. Cagney – like Jude Law in The Road to Perdition – played a snapper who often beat the cops to grisly crime scenes.

Some of the most memorable characters in newspaper movies were inspired by real people, proof that newspaper people are not only excellent sniffers-out of stories but also great material in themselves. It took only a handful of tyrannical editors to furnish Hollywood with enough material to create the stereotypical kick-ass editor character we see in such classic newspaper movies as Nothing Sacred (1937) and His Girl Friday (1940).

Both these films were comedies but the newspaper movie can also be a hard-hitting drama (in the case of Five Star Final), a fantasy (Superman) or a crime drama.

Indeed, the newspaper movie has most often functioned as a variation on the traditional crime movie, with the reporter playing the detective role. The Humphrey Bogart film Deadline USA (1952) and Ron Howard’s all-star comedy-drama The Paper (1994) focused on newspaper investigations into mob murders.  And, of course, All the President’s Men (1976) concerned the Washington Post’s investigation into what proved to be the scoop of the century – the Watergate scandal.

But what sets these films apart from crime dramas is that they are as much about the putting together of a newspaper and the people involved in that process as they are about the investigation.

The newspaper genre is one of the few which showed women working as men’s equals from day one:  in 1931, the year in which the newspaper genre broke through, Fay Wray starred as a hotshot reporter battling corruption in The Finger Points, and Loretta Young (above) played Gallagher, just “one of the boys” in the newsroom and the press bar, in Platinum Blonde.

The most popular film version of the hit Broadway play The Front Page was the second one, His Girl Friday, in which ace reporter Hildy Johnson was rewritten as a woman, and played – with great panache – by Rosalind Russell. And Katharine Hepburn portrayed a leading political columnist in Woman of the Year in 1942.

Roles like these were among the best that Hollywood had to offer since the characters were – by necessity, since they were operating in a male-dominated environment – feisty and street-smart.

THE newspaper genre came about as a result of coincidence. The 1920s had been a boom time for the newspaper and magazine industry in America. A new style of tabloid emerged in the 1920s: the sensationalistic rag which shied away from no topic and which would publish photos of murder victims, suicides, illicit lovers caught offguard – anything likely to titillate the readership. There was no level to which these papers wouldn’t stoop for a scoop. And the truth was rarely newsworthy.

Against this backdrop came the sound era in Hollywood, and studios suddenly found themselves in need of snappy, realistic dialogue.  The idealised characters and situations favoured by many of the filmmakers of the silent era were now passe, and audiences,  reeling from the effects of the Depression, demanded films which tackled the problems facing society.

Prohibition and gangsters quickly became favoured topics, and movies set in newspapers were seen as the perfect vehicles for debates about corruption, crime and poverty. The role of newspapers themselves could be dealt with in this new genre, and there was plenty of comic material to be found in the crazy stunts pulled off by some of the tabloids in the bid to increase circulation.

Five Star Final and The Front Page were two of the first newspaper movies. Both were made in 1931, both had their roots in reality, and both had been successful Broadway plays. Five Star Final was written by Louis Weitzenkorn, former editor of one of New York’s most salacious rags, The Evening Graphic (fondly known as the Pornographic). Randall, the editor, played by Edward G Robinson, was based on another Evening Graphic editor, Emile Gauvrau, who, like Lady Macbeth, was always washing his hands as if to rid himself of guilt for some of his dirtier deeds.

Five Star Final spared no detail about the way in which the sleazier papers operated. The opening shot is of an old news vendor being beaten up by thugs employed to ensure that the Evening Gazette is given the prime position on the news-stands.

Written by former newspapermen BenHecht and Charles MacArthur, The Front Page (remade as His Girl Friday, then again in 1974 as The Front Page, and then re-worked as Broadcast News in 1988) was a black comedy about a newspaper finding an escaped death-row convict, and trying to keep him hidden to protect its scoop. The editor, Walter Burns (most famously played by Cary Grant in His Girl Friday), was based on Walter Howie, the Chicago editor whom Ben Hecht claimed he would not work, “being incapable of such treachery as he proposed”.

Clearly, there was no scheme too odious for Walter and Hildy who, at one point reminisces: “Remember the time we stole old Aggie Haggerty’s stomach off the coroner’s table? We proved she’d been poisoned, didn’t we?”

Hecht also satirised the tabloids’ desperate publicity stunts in his 1937 comedy Nothing Sacred (above)  in which reporter Frederic March and his newspaper shamelessly exploit an apparently dying girl (Carole Lombard), little realising that she is in fact exploiting them.

Exploitation was also the theme of Billy Wilder’s blackly cynical Ace in the Hole (1951)  in which reporter Kirk Douglas artificially prolongs a human interest story so he can get as much mileage out of it as possible.

In the 1930s, when it was fashionable to look down on hacks, the newspaper genre was at the peak of its popularity. When the papers tidied up their act, and journalists – especially war correspondents – were looked on in a more respectful manner, the genre began to die. And by the 1980s, the setting for journalism-themed movies had switched to the TV newsroom. But I’ll bet there are still would-be hot-shot reporters and girl fridays out there who seek the thrills of the 1930s-style newspaper offices..

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Christmas Crackers, Hollywood-style

Strangely for something with as much sentimental potential as Christmas, there is only a handful of really classic Christmas movies. Yet, every year, this buff draws up a list of Christmas movies to watch in the run-up to the big day – and every year she fails miserably to get through them all.

The viewing itinerary usually kicks off with a little-known 1945 comedy called The Cheaters, which is getting a rare screening on Channel 4 this weekend. With a screwball cast that includes the elephantine Eugene Pallette and the twittery Billie Burke (best remembered as Glinda from The Wizard of Oz), it’s about a family of hard-up socialites who – in order to impress their daughter’s rich suitor – take in the down-and-out Joseph Schildkraut over Christmas, and learn a thing or two about dignity from him.

The Cheaters makes a nice double bill with Christmas in Connecticut (pictured), another rarely shown 1945 comedy, this time about a sophisticated magazine columnist (Barbara Stanwyck) forced to live up to her phoney reputation as a Nigella-style domestic goddess when her editor decides to spend the holidays at her country cottage.

Continuing the unwelcome guest theme, The Man Who Came to Dinner (1941) is one I always manage to squeeze in to the viewing schedule. A gloriously funny comedy, it stars Monty Woolley as the obnoxious “idol of the airwaves” Sheridan Whiteside (a character based on the humorist Alexander Woollcott) who, during a lecture tour, breaks his leg and has to spend his recovery – and Christmas – at the home of the unlucky mid-west family outside whose house he slipped.

“Christmas may be postponed this year,” says one gossip column reporting the accident which has left the Stanley family confined to the upstairs quarters of their own home. The snazzy script, packed with one-liners, is a joy and the performances – by Billie Burke (again), Bette Davis, chic glamourpuss Ann Sheridan (my Christmas style icon), the wonderful character actress Mary Wickes and Jimmy Durante (playing a character based on Harpo Marx) – are as sparkling as a glass of Christmas bubbly.

Versions – live and animated – of A Christmas Carol abound, but the most atmospheric and haunting of all is the 1951 British classic, Scrooge, with the peerless Scots actor Alastair Sim gloriously dour as the miser who claims that “Christmas is a humbug” until he is visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve and realises that friendship and love are worth more than money.

Wash that one down with the gentler The Bishop’s Wife (1947), a grown-up romantic fantasy in which Cary Grant stars as a particularly debonair and charming angel named Dudley, who answers the prayers of a stressed-out clergyman (David Niven)and his neglected wife (Loretta Young) at Christmas-time, and leaves a trail of swooning ladies in his wake.

Or settle down with family favourite Miracle on 34th Street (1947 – a vintage year for Christmas movies) in which department store Santa Edmund Gwenn has to prove that he’s the real McCoy to a non-believing seven-year-old (Natalie Wood).

Heartwarming Christmas scenes feature in plenty of movies, but the ones worth digging out in the run-up to midnight are Little Women (any of the three versions will do, as long as you have your hankies handy) and Meet Me In St Louis (1944).

Although it covers a whole year in the lives of the characters it depicts, Meet Me In St Louis easily qualifies as a festive film: not only does it embody all the sentiments of the season, but it also features Judy Garland introducing the beautiful song Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas which is guaranteed to jerk a few buckets’ worth of tears.

The hours spanning Christmas Eve and Christmas morning should be spent in the company of Clarence the Angel, Zuzu, George, Uncle Billy and everyone else in Frank Capra’s evergreen It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – the definitive Christmas movie.

And, if by December 27, I feel that I’ve overdosed on the old Christmas spirit, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment (1960) will provide just the right amount of cynicism to prepare me for the horrors of Hogmanay…

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Hallowe’en Movies

It may not have inspired nearly as many movies as those cheerier, more wholesome, festivities that take place in December, but Hallowe’en rears its ugly, pumpkin, head in a rich mix of classic films – from family fantasies, such as ET, to such serious dramas as Kramer Vs Kramer.

It pops up in musicals, romantic comedies, thrillers and chillers. Just as there are certain movies which are perfect for getting us into a Christmassy mood, so there is a less well-documented collection of films which are ideal for conjuring up the spirit of Hallowe’en. Here’s my guide to essential Hallowe’en viewing.

HALLOWE’EN MUST-SEES
1. Arsenic and Old Lace (1941)
“Insanity runs in my family,” says Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) in this madcap black comedy. “In fact, it practically gallops.” And it’s all unleashed on one wild Hallowe’en night when he discovers a body stashed in the window seat of the quaint Brooklyn home shared by his beloved spinster aunts. Turns out they have a penchant for bumping off lonely old gentlemen. It’s not just Aunt Martha and Aunt Abi who are nuts; Mortimer’s brother Teddy thinks he’s Theodore Roosevelt, and his other sibling, Jonathan, is a maniac who flies into a murderous rage when anyone comments on his obvious resemblance to Boris Karloff…
This timeless classic blends high octane comedy – Cary Grant was never as hysterical as when he was playing the increasingly hysterical Mortimer – with black humour and the genuine chills provided by torture-loving Jonathan Brewster and his slimy, plastic surgeon, sidekick Dr Einstein (the ever-creepy Peter Lorre). It’s a great one to watch in the dark in the middle of the night .. Director Frank Capra followed this Hallowe’en-themed film with the greatest Christmas movie of them all – It’s a Wonderful Life.
2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Two festive seasons for the price of one in this cult animation from the eccentric mind of Tim Burton, a magician of the macabre whose every film hints of Hallowe’en-style horrors. This musical, which was clearly inspired by Burton’s heroes, the illustrators Charles Addams and Edward Gorey, tells the story of Pumpkin Jack, the main man in Hallowe’en Town, and what happens when he tires of the Hallowe’en routine and tries his hand at being Santa instead..
TRICKS AND TREATS
3. Meet Me in St Louis (1944)
Is there anyone who has seen this heart-warming Judy Garland musical and doesn’t remember the traumatic trick-or-treating scene in which little Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) rises to the terrible challenge of approaching the front door of the scariest man in the street – and throwing flour in his face. Director Vincente Minnelli brilliantly captures the menacing mood as Tootie tentatively knocks on the door… and her jubilation as she realises that she is “the bravest of them all and the most horrible” after she has completed the task that none of the other kids would take on..
4. Everyone Says I Love You (1996)
Woody Allen’s joyful musical – in which stars ranging from Drew Barrymore to Alan Alda bravely sang old standards (regardless of how well – or not, in the case of Julia Roberts – they could sing) – follows a year in the life of a wacky Park Avenue family. One of the highlights is the Hallowe’en sequence when the children from the building come to the door to trick or treat. This being the wealthiest part of New York, you don’t just get a kid in a supermarket outfit singing a pop song; you get full, MGM-style, production numbers. And the one that the family falls for is a girl dressed as a banana, singing Carmen Miranda’s Chiquita Banana song, accompanied by two maracas-shaking boys in Mexican costume.
OF MICE AND BOGEY MEN
5. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)
It’s not a horror movie, but this peerless film of Harper Lee’s wonderful book has an unforgettable scene, set at Hallowe’en, which is utterly terrifying. Our young heroine, Scout, through whose eyes the story is told, is set upon by an assailant in the dark as she and her brother Jem are returning home from a Hallowe’en pageant at their school. Scout is still in her ham costume and is knocked to the ground as the attacker lays into Jem. Her unwieldy, solid costume prevents her from seeing what’s happening and who her attacker is and stops her from being able to get to her feet. All of which adds to the suspense, which is brilliantly heightened by Elmer Bernstein’s magnificent music. The scene is not only extremely scary but also a pivotal point in the plot – as it leads to our first glimpse of the mysterious Boo Radley..
6. Hallowe’en (1978)
The low-budget chiller that spawned several sequels and a series of spoofs (the Scary Movies etc), this creepy horror flick takes place on October 31 when a psychotic killer, who has been mistakenly released from an institution, returns to his family home to pick up where he left off 15 years earlier. Jamie Lee Curtis followed in her mother Janet “Psycho” Leigh’s filmic footsteps by being something of a magnet for the murderer..
SAUCY SORCERESSES
7. I Married a Witch (1942)
Veronica Lake – she of the peekaboo fringe, petite figure and impish face – was brilliantly cast as Jennifer, the mischievous minx of a witch, who, having been burned at the stake in the 17th century, plots revenge on the modern-day ancestor of the puritan responsible for her fate. She seduces him, wrecks his marriage plans and his political campaign and, of course, ends up falling in love with him in this downright magic romantic comedy which undoubtedly inspired the hit 1960s TV show, Bewitched, but is ten times funnier..
8. Bell, Book and Candle (1958)
As sexy sorceresses go, they don’t come more sultry and spellbinding (or chic) than the beatnik witch Gillian Holroyd in this stylish romantic fantasy/comedy which reunited Vertigo stars Kim Novak and James Stewart. Gillian takes a fancy to her new neighbour and uses her magic powers to make him fall in love with her and out of love with the bully who made her life hell at school. Needless to say that she doesn’t expect to fall hook, line and sinker herself …
This dreamy, Manhattan-set romance also stars Elsa “The Bride of Frankenstein” Lanchester as Gillian’s mad old aunt Queenie, while Jack Lemmon is great fun as Gillian’s brother, a wizard with a regular gig playing the bongos at the local witches’ hangout, the Zodiac Club, in Greenwich Village.
9. The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
Three witches for the price of one in this fantastical comedy: Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer discover they have magic powers when a devilish stranger (Jack Nicholson) blows into town in answer to their prayers. He wreaks so much havoc that they ultimately have to draw on their powers to get rid of him too…
WICKED WITCHES
10. The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Why The Wizard of Oz has become a staple of the Christmas TV schedule beats me: it should surely be reserved for Hallowe’en viewing. After all, you don’t get very many witches who are uglier than the Wicked Witch of the West (Margaret Hamilton) with her hatchet features, snotter-coloured complexion, scrawny frame and stripy stockings. And that voice that saws right through one’s head as it cackles “Surrender Dorothy!”. Her entourage of flying monkeys in military costume aside, the Wicked Witch is a creature of convention with all the accessories that are considered de rigueur for a witch at Hallowe’en: broomstick, cauldron, pointy black hat….
11. The Witches (1990)
Considerably more evil than the Wicked Witch of the West – just watch how she gleefully pushes a baby in its pram down the steep slope to a cliff edge – is the Grand High Witch, played by Anjelica Huston in Nicolas Roeg’s movie of Roald Dahl’s book The Witches. With her Hitler-like oratory and her desire to wipe out a section of the population (ie: children), the Grand High Witch is one of the scariest sorceresses ever portrayed on film. And far too terrifying for young audiences.
On a lighter note, she is also one of the most striking-looking of all movie witches: you’ve got to admit that, in her slinky black satin, purple trimmed, dress, her long black gloves, Cleopatra-style hair and blood-red lips, she cuts quite a dash. At least, that is, until she peels off her human skin to reveal her real, hideous, witch face.
12. Sleeping Beauty (1959)
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most magnificent villain of them all? Not the Queen from Snow White, though she is a contender, but the elegant, beautiful and utterly evil Maleficent, the bad witch from Disney’s wonderful interpretation of Sleeping Beauty. Left off the guest list for the christening of Princess Aurora, this horned witch casts a terrifying spell on the infant: that when she turns 18, she will prick her finger on a spindle and die…
Like Anjelica Huston’s Grand High Witch, Maleficent is a vision in swathes of black and purple (clearly the only colours for any self-respecting sorceress to sport), and a supermodel of the supernatural world (by way of total contrast with her arch enemies – the three dumpy, frumpy good fairies). And forget your black cats and brooms; Maleficent has a crow as her assistant and can transform herself into whatever she likes – most memorably, a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon.

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Paris on Film, Je T’aime

I was in Paris a couple of weeks ago, to hear about a new skincare launch by Chanel and to do some research for a forthcoming piece about the new biopic Coco Avant Chanel.

As we traced the great couturiere’s dainty footsteps across the quartier where she lived and worked, I was struck by just how many great films I’ve loved have been set and filmed there. And how, any time I need a fix of my favourite city, I have any number of wonderful movies available to me for an instant Parisian pick-me-up.

Filmmakers just love Paris. It’s little wonder, given the possibilities that it offers. Its spectacular scenery has lent itself to unforgettable musical numbers in everything from Vincente Minnelli’s Gigi (a whirlwind tour through the parks of Paris if ever there was one) to Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You (who could forget Goldie Hawn dancing in the air on the banks of the Seine as she sings “I’m Through With Love”?).

Its buildings, squares and streets have added atmosphere and authenticity to historical epics and period dramas (think Dangerous Liaisons or A Very Long Engagement) and so much of the city is unspoiled that actual locations – the scene of the attempted assassination of General De Gaulle, at the corner of the rue de Rennes and the boulevard du Montparnasse, as featured in The Day of the Jackal, for example – can be used in their cinematic recreations.

You don’t need to be a director to be able to visualise clearly what the scene must have been like in the vast place de la Concorde when Madame La Guillotine was entertaining the crowds, or to imagine the misery of life in the Conciergerie prison where Marie-Antoinette and hundreds of others were held before they lost their heads: they have been preserved for posterity.

Similarly, legendary Parisian institutions – such as Maxim’s restaurant (as featured in the sumptuous Art Nouveau extravaganza Gigi as well as the tres chic sixties caper comedy How To Steal a Million), the Moulin Rouge, and the Chartier brasserie, where Jodie Foster lunched in A Very Long Engagement – have barely changed in decades, and so lend themselves beautifully to films set in any period since they opened. The Ritz will undoubtedly play its part in Coco Avant Chanel, as it was here that she enjoyed trysts with her lovers before nipping across the rue Cambon to her boutique.

The world-famous metro system and its iconic, labyrinthine stations have played host to nail-biting chases in such great (and very dissimilar) movies as Diva and Charade, and the Eiffel Tower has played a pivotal part in everything from Ealing comedy (The Lavender Hill Mob) to James Bond thriller (A View to a Kill). A moonlit Bateau Mouche cruise on the Seine is where Cary Grant and a Givenchy-clad Audrey Hepburn fall in love in one of the most evocative of all Paris films, the super-sexy comedy-thriller Charade.

The many facets of the city’s personality are reflected in the range of films that have been set there. The threatening side of Paris – especially to hapless American tourists – was exploited to great effect in the Roman Polanski thriller Frantic, in which Harrison Ford’s wife disappears without a trace from their hotel bedroom.

The often deserted platforms and empty corridors of the metro evoke the eery, unsettling side of a city with its fair share of nutters. Just ask Steve Buscemi who, in the recent portmanteau movie Paris Je T’aime, has an unpleasant (and not entirely unusual) experience while waiting for a train in the Tuileries station. Equally, the sordid and tacky parts of Paris have been shown in a diverse range of films including Amelie, which views the sex shops around the Faubourg St-Denis with characteristic bemusement.

Few films have evoked the quixotic, magical side of Paris as well as Amelie, which portrayed the city as a big adventure playground for romantics and underlined the fact that it’s the sum of its many parts, of which the pretty, whimsical, self-contained Montmartre area is just one.

Meanwhile, such Parisian passions as American jazz have produced some superior jazz movies, including Paris Blues and Round Midnight. And the city’s status as the capital of style has inspired a string of fashion films, among them Pret-a-Porter, Robert Altman’s chronicle of the catwalk shows, and the gloriously chic Funny Face.

Indeed, Funny Face is probably the greatest of all the cinematic billet doux from Hollywood to Paris. A gorgeous, colourful, joie-de-vivre-exuding movie, it highlights how one person’s Paris can be entirely different from another’s – because of all these separate, but overlapping, facets to the city’s character. While Fred Astaire’s urbane photographer character is drawn to the grandeur of the Champs-Elysees, the fashion editor played by Kay Thompson wants to hit the shops around the rue St-Honore, and our bookish, beatnik heroine, Audrey Hepburn, can’t wait “to philosophise with all the guys in Montmartre – and Montparnasse”, and explore cafe culture. .

Paris Je T’aime cleverly used this all-things-to-all-people idea to highly original effect, by gathering together 18 different stories, each set in a different part of the city. It’s the ultimate Paris film locations-wise, but, of course, the love affair between Paris and the movies isn’t dependent on complete authenticity. The most famous romantic movie of all time, Casablanca, was partly set in Paris and although filmed entirely in California, it captured the city’s romantic personality by suggesting that Paris was more than a place; it is a state of mind.

After all, as Bogey says to Ingrid Bergman as they separate forever: “We’ll always have Paris.”

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