Category Archives: Classic Film

Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Lady Macbeth and Kurasawa’s “Throne of Blood” (1957)

Throne of Blood 1

General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), who has just committed regicide at the bidding of his evil wife, Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada)

Over the past few weeks, we’ve examined how disreputable women have been portrayed in American cinema ( 1944’s Murder, My Sweet) and Irish cinema (1998’s Waking Ned Devine).  In this article, we’re going to take a look at how a great master of Japanese film did a unique take on Shakespeare’s evil villainess, Lady Macbeth.


Akira Kurasawa (1910-1998) was one of the most influential film makers of all time.  Although many American moviegoers are not acquainted with this director’s work, they are probably familiar with the following American remakes based on Kurasawa films:

1960’s The Magnificent Seven (about gunslingers who rescue a Mexican village from bandits) is a remake of 1954’s The Seven Samurai.  The Magnificent Seven was remade a second time in 2016.

1964’s For a Fistful of Dollars (a gunslinger takes advantage of two feuding families in the old West) is based on 1961’s Yojimbo, about a samurai who does the same to a Japanese village.

1964’s The Outrage (various witnesses tell conflicting stories regarding a rape-murder) is based on 1950’s Rashomon.

1977’s Star Wars (about a group of misfits who rescue an intergalactic princess and save the galaxy from evil forces) was strongly influenced by 1958’s The Hidden Fortress, about another group of misfits who rescue a Japanese princess.

Conversely, Kurasawa was inspired by the classics of Gorki, Tolstoy, and Shakespeare and made films based on their works.  His greatest interpretation of the latter is 1957’s Throne of Blood (AKA Spider Web Castle), based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.


Throne of Blood, which is set in 16th century feudal Japan, essentially follows the plot of the earlier play:  General Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) is told by a sinister forest spirit (Chieko Naniwa) that he is destined to replace the current reigning lord of Spider Web Castle.  Spurred on by his ambitious wife (Isuzu Yamada), Washizu murders Lord Tsuzuki (Takamaru Sasaki) and his own best friend, General Miki (Minoru Chiaki).  As a result of his actions General Washizu does in fact become lord of the castle.  But just like Macbeth, Washizu dies as violently as he has lived.

Instead of falling back on Shakespeare’s written language, Kurasawa tells the story cinematically through exciting battle sequences and exquisite black and white cinematography.  In addition, Kurasawa uses elements of Japanese Noh theatre in order to dramatize interactions among main characters.

Noh is an ancient art form using pantomime, exaggerated gesture, and masks in order to communicate emotion and characterization.  In Throne of Blood, Kurasawa directs his actors to maintain fixed expressions corresponding to Noh masks.  Below, we see Lord Washizu, his wife, his friend Miki, the forest spirit, and their corresponding masks:

Noh 1

In the case of Washizu’s wife, the technique is used to chilling effect.  Shakespeare’s Lady MacBeth is often played as a bit of a nag as she incites her husband to action.  In contrast, Lady Asaji quietly and insidiously makes suggestions to her husband while remaining almost completely still in face and body.  Thus, Asaji acts more like an inner voice to Washizu than a separate character.  The scene below is typical of the physical relationship between the two characters:  Asiji is seated while Washizu restlessly paces back and forth in response to his wife’s comments.

Throne of Blood 5

The use of ancient Japanese theatrical techniques in a film may sound a bit esoteric, but in fact it is most helpful to viewers who do not know the Japanese language.  Even without subtitles, one can understand a great deal by watching the movement and pantomime in this film.  It also helps to be familiar with the Shakespeare play.

I would strongly encourage you to watch this unsettling, weird and wonderful movie.  It’s Shakespeare like you’ve never seen before.  In my opinion, it’s as great in its own way as the original.

You can download Throne of Blood through by clicking onto the following link:

You can buy a Blu-Ray DVD of Throne of Blood by clicking onto the following link:


Pluses:   Great performances by Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada.  Several elements of Macbeth, including the witch scene, Banquo’s ghost scene, and the moving forests of Dunsinane are wonderfully rendered.  Exciting battle sequences.  Climactic death scene.

Minus:  None that I can think of.  If you are a serious student of film, this is a must-see!

Cast:  Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Minoru Chiaki, Takamaru Sasaki, Chieko Naniwa

Director:  Akira Kurosawa

Unrated (not for little kids.  The final death scene is gruesome.)

In Black and White.

Subtitled in English (originally in Japanese)

Length:  110 minutes


“Throne of Blood.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   1 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

“Noh.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  23 March 2017.

Crucianelli, Guy.  “The Chilling Effect of Noh Theater on Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.”  26 March 2014.  Web.




Vixens, Vamps, and Tramps: Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944)


Dick Powell and femme fatale Claire Trevor in “Murder, My Sweet”

Claire Trevor was one of Hollywood’s finest character actresses.  And you won’t find many who were more under rated.


Trevor began her acting career onstage in 1929 and starred on Broadway in 1932.  Like so many other stage performers, she went Hollywood  in the early 1930’s.

Trevor’s most memorable 1930’s role was the prostitute “Dallas” in John Ford’s great western, Stagecoach (1939).  Although this film is remembered for John Wayne’s breakthrough performance, it was Trevor who anchored the story with her realistic, heartfelt portrayal of a fallen woman who desperately wanted to remake her life.

Wayne went on to bigger and better things, but Trevor soon found that the role of “Dallas” proved to be something of a career liability, as producers and directors cast her over and over again as the “bad girl with a heart of gold” in B westerns.  In addition, Trevor was often typecast as the “gun moll” and “crook” in B level crime stories.  Ironically, Trevor’s superior acting skills probably contributed to her being placed in these second-tier films.  Trevor was well-known by directors as a dependable, versatile performer who added class and depth to any project, regardless of its quality.  If there was any question as to how to solve a casting problem, the answer would often be:  “Get Trevor!”

In 1948, Trevor won an Oscar for her unforgettable portrayal of Gaye Dawn, the washed-up singer in John Huston’s Key Largo.

On the way to her Oscar, Trevor scored a choice role in director Edward Dmytryk’s classic 1944 film noir, Murder, My Sweet (based on Raymond Chandler’s 1940 novel Farewell, My Lovely).  The film is probably most memorable for actor Dick Powell’s great performance as hard-boiled detective Philip Marlowe.  However, Trevor is also quite good playing the second wife of an elderly wealthy man.


The first time that we see Trevor is a memorable one.  As Powell enters the rich man’s study, we note that the aging tycoon is standing in front of an easy chair, blocking the person sitting there….but not entirely.  Peeking from behind is a shapely leg sheathed in silk.  The man moves, revealing Trevor leaning back into the cushions.  She turns her head towards the camera, and we see a lovely but weary face that silently conveys all the troubles of the world.  The music stops.  Powell stares.  And we know that he’s in for a mess of trouble.

Claire Trevor leg

If you’ve never seen Murder, My Sweet, please do so.  It’s as fresh and gritty as the day it was released.  The dialog still crackles.  The chiaroscuro photography is great.  And…for God’s sake, it’s Raymond Chandler!

Murder, My Sweet is a staple of Turner Classic Movies.  However, you can also purchase a Blu-ray copy on by clicking onto the following link:

You can download a digital copy by clicking onto the following link:

Finally, I would like to recommend a very good bio of Ms. Trevor by Carolyn McGivern.  Among other things, the book explains how an actress as good as Trevor never made it into the top echelon of stardom.  You can purchase it through Kindle by clicking onto the following link:



Pluses:   Great adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s novel Farewell My Lovely ; excellent performances by all; classic example of the film noir genre, especially re: cinematography.

Minus:  Can’t think of any.  If you are a student of film and have not seen this movie, please…..see……it!

Cast:  Dick Powell, Claire Trevor, Anne Shirley, Mike Mazurki, Otto Kruger, Miles Mander, Douglas Walton, Ralf Harolde

Director:  Edward Dmytryk.


Black and White

Length:  1 hour 35 minutes



McGivern, Carolyn.   Claire Trevor:  Queen of the Bs and Hollywood Film Noir.  Reel Publishing (2013).  Kindle edition.

“Claire Trevor.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   9 March 2017.  Web.  10 March 2017.

For Valentine’s Day: “I Know Where I’m Going” (1945)


Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller), a most stubborn woman; and her bemused admirer Torquil (Roger Livesey)

I know where I’m goin’/and I know who’s goin’ with me/
I know who I love/But the dear knows who I’ll marry.   – Scottish folksong


Ever since childhood, Joan Webster has known exactly what she wants from life and how to get it.  Her latest objective involves marriage to a wealthy British industrialist.  The wedding is to take place on the Isle of Kiloran, off the west coast of Scotland.  Unfortunately, Joan only gets as far as the Isle of Mull before being detained by bad weather.

While waiting for the wind and rain to die down, Joan gets to know some of the more unusual inhabitants of Mull:  Catriona, a shaggy-haired huntress who wanders around the island with a pack of deer hounds, and Colonel Barnstaple, a rather inept falconer.  And oh yes, there’s Torquil (Roger Livesey), a kilted fellow with gentle eyes and an easy smile, who cannot stop looking at Joan from the moment she steps off the boat.

It’s pretty obvious from the beginning of this lovely romantic comedy what will happen to Joan in the end.  The fun is in watching her helplessly trying to resist the charm and attraction of Mull, its people….and of course, Torquil.

Note:  Look for ’60’s/’70’s singing star Petula Clark, who plays the bespectacled child of a rich family in this film.

You can download a rental copy of I Know Where I’m Going by clicking onto the following link:


Directors Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell were known for their collaboration on a series of 1940’s and ’50’s British films which ranged from gentle comedy (I Know Where I’m Going) to fantasy (1946’s A Matter of Life and Death, 1948’s The Red Shoes) to exotic drama (1947’s Black Narcissus).  A Powell/Pressburger production always featured great art design and cinematography.  The ballet film The Red Shoes is perhaps the best example of this duo’s artistry in visual presentation.  The exquisite ballet sequence in the middle of the film was the primary reason that Red Shoes won the Academy Award for Best Production Design and Best Original Music Score.


Pluses:  Gorgeous shots of the Island of Mull (yes, there is such a place), delightful performances from those playing the inhabitants of Mull, good romantic chemistry between lead actors Hiller and Livesey.  Opening credits humorously set up the storyline.

Minus:  I really cannot think of any.  If you’re looking for big drama or huge laughs, don’t see this picture.  If you’re looking for a gentle love story with some enjoyable supporting performances, definitely see this picture.

Cast:  Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey, Pamela Brown, Finlay Currie, George Carney, Nancy Price, Catherine Lacey, Captain C.W.R. Knight, Petula Clark.

Director(s):  Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Unrated.  (I should warn PETA sympathizers that there’s a brief scene where a trained falcon picks away at a dead rabbit.  They do hunt in Scotland.)

Black and white

Length:  93 minutes



Movies and the Jews: “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet” (1940)


Edward G. Robinson as Nobel-prize winner Dr. Paul Ehrlich

The opening scene takes place in a medical consulting room in 19th century Germany.  A young clinician has given his patient some bad news.  Although nothing is said directly, both men know that the situation is grim.  Immediately after the patient walks into the lobby, a commotion ensues.  The man has committed suicide.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich, the clinician,  just told his patient that he has syphilis.  There is no cure.  The man could expect to develop horrible end-stage symptoms like blindness, paralysis, or dementia before the disease ultimately took his life.  In addition, a diagnosis of syphilis at this time in history meant excommunication from society, which is yet another death.  It’s no wonder that the patient chose to end his life right then and there.

In Warner Brother’s excellent bio pic, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, we see Nobel-prize winner Ehrlich (played by an unrecognizable Edward G. Robinson) spend the remainder of his life researching various methods of chemotherapy in order to cure disease, ultimately beating syphilis.  He describes each treatment as a “magic bullet” specifically modified to the nature of the disease to be treated.  Ehrlich accomplishes much on his way to the Nobel Prize:  A ground-breaking method for staining bacterial samples in order to facilitate identification and diagnosis; contribution to the development of an effective diphtheria serum; and development of an arsenic-based chemotherapy to treat syphilis.

Dr. Ehrlich’s road is not an easy one.  His research is dependent on the support of countless public and private donors.  But we’re talking Germany, Dr. Ehrlich is a Jew, and well….some are hesitant about donating to someone of the “Hebraic religion.”  In addition, Ehrlich has a most disconcerting habit of hiring the best in the medical field, regardless of race or creed.  At one point, some potential donors discover that he has a Japanese research scientist working in the laboratory….horrors!


The real Dr. Ehrlich with his colleague, Dr. Sahachiro Hata

Things really come to a head when Dr. Ehrlich visits a rich dowager (played by Maria Ouspenskaya) in order to solicit funds for his research.  A clip from the film shows people’s reactions when they find out what he is currently working on:

Fortunately, the dowager is far more open-minded than her guests, and she gives Dr. Ehrlich a generous amount of money.  This enables the doctor to successfully complete his experiments regarding syphilis chemotherapy.


Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) was a German-Jewish physician and scientist responsible for many innovations in the areas of hematology, immunology, and antimicrobial chemotherapy.  He is probably best known for his development of arsphenamine (Salvarsan), which was the first effective treatment for syphilis.  For his contributions to medicine, Ehrlich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine in 1908.

At the time that Magic Bullet was released, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party were in the process of destroying records of Ehrlich’s work; according to Hitler, “A scientific discovery by a Jew is worthless.”  All the more reason to see this film in remembrance of a brilliant Jewish scientist’s contribution to medicine and humanity.

You can purchase DVD’s of Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet on by clicking the following link:



Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) is probably best known for his role as Enrico Bandello, the title character of 1931’s Little Caesar.  Robinson’s spectacular performance as the two-bit hoodlum who rises to the top of organized crime led to a series of gangster roles, most famously in 1948’s Key Largo.

It may be surprising to some that this “Italian hood” was born into a Romanian-Jewish family as Emanuel Goldenberg.  When “Manny” Goldenberg was 10 years old, his family emigrated from Romania to the U.S.A (New York City).  Goldenberg decided at a young age to become an actor.  He was known in New York circles as Edward G. Robinson, a versatile performer who could play almost any ethnic part (Robinson spoke several languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew, Romanian, English and German).   One of Robinson’s favorite sayings was, “I’m not so much on face value (he was not a handsome man), but when it comes to stage value, I’ll deliver for you.”

Robinson was eventually hired by Warner Brothers, and went on to portray one of Hollywood’s most famous criminals.  The endless parade of “hood” parts that followed made Robinson yearn for a different kind of role.  He jumped at the chance to play Dr. Ehrlich when the opportunity presented itself in 1940, and he did a magnificent job.

For more information on the life of Edward G. Robinson, read Alan L. Gansberg’s excellent biography, Little Caesar:  A Biography of Edward G. Robinson.  You can purchase a hard copy or Kindle version of the book at by clicking on the following link:



Pluses:  Energetic performance by Edward G. Robinson; excellent plain-language explanations of the scientific theories behind Dr. Ehrlich’s research.

Minus:  Misogynistic portrayal of Dr. Ehrlich’s wife (Ruth Gordon).  She doesn’t even get to be with him when he dies.  Instead, Dr. Ehrlich asks her to step into the parlor and play the piano!

Cast:  Edward G. Robinson, Ruth Gordon, Otto Kruger, Donald Crisp

Director:  William Dieterle

Rating:  Unrated

Black and white

Length:  103 minutes


“Paul Ehrlich.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  31  July 2016.  Web.  2 December 2016

“Edward G. Robinson.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   28 December 2016.  Web.  28 December 2016.

Gansberg, Alan L.  Little Caesar:  A Biography of Edward G. Robinson.  The Scarecrow Press, Inc. (2004)






In Appreciation of Shirley Temple: The Little Princess (1939)


Two of Miss Minchen’s boarding students, about to get a big surprise from the devilish Miss Temple

If it’s Shirley Temple, it’s automatically a holiday film.  And that’s why I’m including 1939’s The Little Princess in my December list.

Several years ago, I dated a gentleman from India who was not well acquainted with American cinema.  I thought it might be fun to show him 1985’s That’s Dancin’, a compilation of American dancing legends like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, The Nicholas Brothers, etc.  The one thing that my date focused on was a segment from The Little Colonel (1935), where seven year-old Shirley Temple tap dances with veteran hoofer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and matches him step for step.  He couldn’t believe that a little girl could do what Temple does in this sequence.

Such is the legacy of the greatest child actor of all time.  In addition to her dancing skills, Temple had the ability to project on camera innocence, insouscience, tomboyishness, female guile, and old-soul wisdom.  We see all of this in The Little Princess, an adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic children’s story.

Storyline:  In 1899, Sara Crewe (Temple) is enrolled into Miss Minchen’s Boarding School for Girls.  Sarah’s father, Captain Crewe (Ian Hunter), goes off to fight in the Boer War.  He comes up missing in action, and all of his assets are impounded.  In one fell swoop, Sara is reduced from her position as Miss Minchen’s favorite to serving girl in order to pay her debts.  Things look grim, until a series of events reunite Sara with her beloved father.

I would really prefer not to elaborate on the plot.  Instead, take a look at The Little Princess, one of Temple’s best.  You can purchase the DVD through the following link:

In addition, you can obtain an instant download from through the following link:



Plus:  Great plot, incandescent performance by Shirley Temple, great supporting performances from Arthur Treacher and Cesar Romero (yes, the guy who played “The Joker” in the 1960’s Batman series.)

Minus:  An unnecessary romantic subplot

Cast:  Shirley Temple, Ian Hunter, Richard Greene, Anita Louise, Arthur Treacher, Cesar Romero

Director:  Walter Lang

Rating:  Unrated

In color

Length:  93 minutes




Movies and the Jews: Der Dybbuk (1937)


Leah the Bride’s pas de deux with Death

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”  – From the Song of Songs

In celebration of Hanukkah, I will be writing this month about classics of Jewish cinema.

“I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine,” is one of the most celebrated statements of love from the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs, also known as Songs of Solomon in the Christian Old Testament.  However, the phrase takes on a sinister meaning in this 1937 Yiddish film, whose subject is a young bride possessed by the soul of her dead lover.

Der Dybbuk is a film from Poland based on S. Ansky’s The Dybbuk.  Ansky’s play, originally written in 1914, was the result of years of research concerning folktales of the Russian and Ukrainian Hassidic Jews.  The play has long been considered a seminal work of the Yiddish theatre.

Storyline:  Two friends (Nisan and Sender) pledge that their children will marry each other.  Years later, when Nisan’s son Chanan shows up at Sender’s doorstep, Sender reneges on the promise and arranges to have his daughter Leah marry a rich suitor.  In desperation,  Chanan calls upon Satan to ensure that he will have the young maiden as his own, and he dies.  During the wedding ceremony, Leah is suddenly possessed by Chanan’s spirit (the dybbuk).  The situation is mitigated by a Jewish exorcist, who successfully expels the dybbuk.  However, Leah ends up choosing to die in order to be with her soulmate, Chanan, in the next world.

As a horror/fantasy offering, the 1937 film of the play is rather long and somewhat static, with all actors using old-fashioned silent movie acting technique.  However, it’s worth everything to see the wedding scene, which is a set piece that plays as a parody of the dance sequences in The Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky.  Here we see a strange, Expressionistic ballet presented by peasants, poor people, and the wedding party.  The most chilling scene features a variation on the medieval Dance of Death, where Leah the Bride performs a pas de deux with an anonymous person wearing a death mask.


This film offers an invaluable time capsule concerning Jewish Chassidic life as it existed prior to the Holocaust.  For example, we get to hear Nigunim, Jewish songs without words, throughout the film, as well as lovely dance melodies.  Who knows how much of this music was lost in the tragedy that was to follow just a few years after The Dybbuk was filmed.

One happy outcome to this story:  The actors who played Leah (Lili Liliana) and Chanan (Leon Liebgold) actually fell in love and remained married for more than fifty years.

You can purchase a DVD of The Dybbuk at through the following link:


I would strongly recommend reading Kenneth Turan’s Not to be Missed:  Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film for more information on The Dybbuk’s history.  In case you’re not familiar with Turan:  He is the chief film critic for the L.A. Times, and a fine writer.  I am indebted to him for introducing me to this film.  You can purchase a hard copy or Kindle version of Turan’s book through the following link:


Pluses:  Evocative expressionistic cinematography; great wedding scene; fascinating story

Minus:  Silent movie-style acting; some sections not subtitled.

Cast:  Abraham Morewski, Ajzyk Samberg, Mojzesz Lipman, Lili Liliana, Leon Liebgold

Director:  Michal Waszynski

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

Country of origin:  Poland

Language:  Yiddish, with English subtitles

Length:  125 minutes (some versions are shorter)


“The Dybbuk (film)”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  813 November 2016.  Web.  6 December 2016.

Turan, Kenneth.  Not to be Missed:  Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film.  PublicAffairs New York (Copyright 2014)












Holiday Movies: The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

shop“Well, I really wouldn’t care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know what I’d find.  Instead of a heart, a handbag.  Instead of a soul, a suitcase.  And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter…which doesn’t work.”   – Klara Novak, addressing her co-worker and nemesis, Alfred Kralik.

Alfred Kralik (James Stewart) and Klara Novak (Margaret Sullavan) work together in a small gift store in Budapest. Well…perhaps “work together” is overstating the situation.  The two clerks loath each other and are barely on speaking terms.  Thank goodness, Kralik has a romantic prospect outside of work; he has been receiving notes through a letter exchange from a young lady interested in dating.  Incidentally, Novak has been using the same letter exchange and also has an opportunity to meet someone special.

If you can’t figure out what happens next, you have probably never seen In the Good Old Summertime, You’ve Got Mail, or any other romantic comedies based on the plot line of this movie, which in turn was based on a play written in 1937 by Miklos Laszlo.  Suffice to say that both characters get a big surprise on Christmas Eve when they find out who they’ve been writing to.

What separates this movie from its successors is the elegant, gay tone set by the director, Ernst Lubitsch.  The quality that Lubitsch always contributed to his comic films has been referred to as “The Lubitsch Touch”:  Sophistication, wit, charm, and sparkling dialog which make each scene a delight.

Below are some typical examples of Shop dialog.  Note how often commerce, a major theme of Shop, is referenced:


First employee:   Always the first one [at work].

Second employee:  It’s none of your business…let me tell you.  It doesn’t hurt to be too early.

First employee:  What for and why?  Who sees you?  Me.  And who sees me?  You.  What does it get us?  Can we give each other a raise?  No.


Customer:  How much is that belt in the window?  The one that’s marked $2.95?


Errand Boy:  Well Doctor, I would say it’s a nervous breakdown.   What do you think?

Doctor:  It appears to be an acute epileptic manifestation and a pan phobic melancholiac with indication of a neurasthenic corpus.

Errand Boy:  Is that more expensive than a nervous breakdown?


Shop is also graced with enjoyable supporting performances from veteran actors Frank Morgan and Felix Bressart.

So, get yourself into the Christmas shopping mood, fix yourself a nice hot toddy and watch this charming film.  It is frequently shown on TCM and can also be purchased from on DVD via the following link:

You can also purchase it on instant download at the following link:

Plus:  Great performances by all, witty dialog, clever story with ending that’s both tender and funny.

Minus:  Can’t think of any; this qualifies as one of those classics you must see.

Cast:  James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart.

Director:  Ernst Lubitsch

Rating:  Unrated

Black and white

Length:  99 minutes






Veterans Day Films: The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)


Homer, Fred, and Al on their way home from combat

This movie, which won the Academy Award for Best Film in 1946, is a moving tale about three World War II veterans and their difficulties in readjusting to civilian life.

Fred (Dana Andrews), Homer (Harold Russell), and Al (Fredric March) have returned to their home town of Boone City after discharge from the military.  Each of these men has his own challenges:  Al is dealing with incipient alcoholism, Fred with post traumatic stress disorder, and Homer with the physical challenges of having lost both of his hands in combat.  (It should be noted that Russell, a non-actor, was actually a WWII veteran and double amputee.)

Ironically, Homer the amputee adjusts to his situation better than the other two.  Fred is chronically unemployed and married to an unsympathetic, unfaithful wife.  And Al and his spouse are confronted with the reality that their daughter (Teresa Wright) has fallen in love with Fred and intends to break up his marriage.

If you have never seen this movie, please do so.  It is beautifully acted, with real-life situations that still ring true today.

The Best Years of Our Lives is frequently shown on Turner Classic Movies and can be obtained through, either on DVD or on instant download.

Instant download address is:


DVD purchase address is:


Pluses:  Beautifully acted, believable real-life situations

Minus:  Can’t think of any

Cast:  Fredric March, Dana Andrews, Harold Russell, Myrna Loy, Teresa Wright

Director:  William Wyler

Rating:  Unrated

Black and white

Length:  172 minutes

The Heiress (1949)

The Heiress was adapted from the 1880 novel Washington Square by Henry James.  Catherine (Olivia DeHavilland), a rather plain and naïve young woman, falls in love with a fortune hunter (played by Montgomery Clift).  Meanwhile, her cold and emotionally abusive father (played by Ralph Richardson), who anticipates the young man’s true motives, does everything he can to stave off the romance.  Dr. Sloper does in fact save the girl from herself, but succeeds in permanently embittering her.

Dr. Sloper eventually dies, and Catherine inherits his considerable fortune…and the fortune hunter returns.  What happens next is stunning.

Pluses:  Shakesperean actor Ralph Richardson beautifully plays the cold, cruel Dr. Sloper.  DeHavilland is masterful in a difficult part which requires her to transform from a young, naïve girl into a bitter old maid.

Minus:  Montgomery Clift’s Method acting does not stand up well to Richardson and DeHavilland’s more polished technique.

Rating:  Unrated

Black and White

This film is frequently shown on Turner Classic Movies.  You can also find it on Prime or Instant Video.

“Ben-Hur” Trivia Quiz


As you may know, a new version of Ben-Hur has recently been released to theatres around the country.  Of course I do classic films, so I will be focusing on the celebrated 1959 version starring Charlton Heston.

I thought it might be fun to present the subject in the form of a quiz.  So get your propeller hats on, and let’s go!  (Answers can be found at the end of the quiz.)

1.  On whose novel is the film Ben-Hur based?

a.  Henryk Sienkiewicz
b.  Edward Bulwer-Lytton
c.  Lewis Wallace

2.  Ben-Hur won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and that record has been unmatched to this day.  True or False?

3.   The person in Ben-Hur who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor was:

a.  Sam Jaffe
b.  Hugh Griffith
c.  Jack Hawkins

4.  In the chariot sequence, Ben-Hur drives four beautiful white Arabians owned by Sheik Ilderim.  What did the sheik name his horses after?

a.  Stars
b.  Planets
c.  Constellations

5.  A pivotal character in the novel is missing from the 1959 version of Ben-Hur.  That character is:

a.  Esther
b.  Iras
c.  Simonides

6. How many times must charioteers ride around the course to win a race at the Circus Maximus?

a. 7
b. 8
c. 9

7. Judah Ben-Hur is actually based on a historical character. True or False?

8. One of the most famous stunts in the chariot race occurs when Ben Hur’s vehicle is launched over the top of a broken chariot. The stunt man who performed this feat was:

a. Yakima Canutt
b. Joe Canutt
c. Johnson Canutt

9. During the author’s lifetime, the novel Ben-Hur did not do well in terms of sales. True or False?

10. At the time of its release, Ben-Hur was the third longest film ever released (3 hours, 37 minutes). Which two celebrated movies were longer?



  1.  The correct answer is c. Lew Wallace.

General Lewis “Lew” Wallace (1827-1905) was a Union officer in the American Civil War.  Afterwards, he served as Governor of the New Mexico Territory from 1878 to 1881.

Lew Wallace

Aside from being known as the author of Ben-Hur:  A Tale of the Christ, Wallace became embroiled in a controversary concerning the bloody Battle of Shiloh in 1862.  Although the Union army won this conflict, U.S. casualty rates were extremely high.  General Ulysses S. Grant blamed  Wallace for taking too long to get his reserves in position to support the rest of the troops, thus upping the casualties.  Wallace tried to defend himself, arguing that information delayed by higher command affected his response.  However, the Battle of Shiloh never ceased to cast a shadow over Wallace’s war record and reputation.

2.  False.  At least two movies have matched that record since 1959:  1997’s Titanic; and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King.  All three won for Best Picture.

3.  The correct answer is b. Hugh Griffith.  Hugh Griffith, a Welsh character actor, turned in an entertaining performance as the wily Sheik Ilderim.  In 1963, Griffith gave another memorable performance as rambunctious Squire Western in Tom Jones, director Tony Richardson’s adaptation of Henry Fielding’s 18th century novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling.  Tom Jones won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1963.  Griffith was nominated by the Academy for his role in that picture, but did not win.

Hugh Griffith

4.  The correct answer is a. Stars.  The horses’ names were:  Aldebaran, Altair, Antares, and Rigel.

5.  The correct answer is b.  Iras.  Iras is a femme fatale in Wallace’s novel who does not appear in the 1959 film version.  She does appear in a 1925 silent movie version of the Wallace novel.  In the original story, Ben-Hur becomes romantically involved with Iras, but eventually marries Esther, the daughter of faithful family slave Simonides.  Although Iras’ father is good-guy Balthazar, one of the Three Wise Men who seek Jesus, Iras turns out to be rather nasty.  She becomes bad-guy Messala’s mistress and at one point attempts to murder Ben-Hur by calling in a hit man!

Poster advertising 1925 silent movie “Ben-Hur”
Ben-Hur  (Ramon Navarro) with bad girl Iras (Carmel Myers)

6.  The correct answer is c. 9 times.  In the movie, you can track the course of the race by watching a row of golden dolphins hanging above the track.  Each time a circuit is completed, a dolphin is flipped over.

7.  The answer is false.  Ben-Hur is an entirely fictional character.  However….

At least one historian has suggested that the bad luck dogging the Hur family throughout the story is based on Wallace’s own perception that his reputation regarding Shiloh was ruined because of circumstances beyond his control.

8. b. Joe Canutt.  Joe was the son of famed stuntman Yakima Canutt, who served as an assistant director for Ben-Hur.  Before Joe Canutt attempted the stunt, his father advised that he attach himself to the chariot with ropes.  Joe did not do this, and was almost killed when he was catapulted into the air as his vehicle flew over the wreckage.  He was able to save himself by grabbing onto the front of the chariot.  It was decided that the sequence would be kept, and you can see it in the finished version of the film.

Ben Hur 1959 D

9.  False.  Although sales were initially slow when Wallace published the book in 1880, by 1886 he was earning $11,000 in annual royalties from his Biblical era novel.  By 1900, Ben-Hur was the best-selling American novel of the 19th century.  Ironically, one of the book’s fans was Ulysses S. Grant, the man who had criticized Wallace’s performance at the Battle of Shiloh.

10.  Gone with the Wind (3 hours and 57 minutes) and The Ten Commandments (3 hours and 40 minutes).


Wallace, Lew.  Ben-Hur:  A Tale of the Christ.  Harper & Brothers.  1880.

“Lew Wallace,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  16 August 2016.  Web.  19 August 2016.

Swansburg, John.  “The Passion of Lew Wallace.”  Web.

“List of Academy Award Records,” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  19 August 2016.  Web.  19 August 2016.

All photos obtained through Wikimedia or Bing Public Domain