Love the author? Rereading something pithy? Here are films – fiction and documentary- about the person.
Dangerous Edge-A Life of Graham Greene 2013 A celebrated writer of short stories, novels (an astonishing number of which became films), travel books, over 1000 film reviews (one about Shirley Temple got him sued by the 6 year-old) and political journalism, Graham Greene was also an intelligence agent whose immediate superior was Russian spy Kim Philby. Only excitement and danger kept the writer from “boredom” that provoked numerous suicide attempts. One of the talking heads here is a psychiatrist.
We hear and see Greene, his wife Vivien, authors Paul Theroux, Shirley Hazard, and John Mortimer, catch glimpses of his first wife and are offered numerous photos of Greene with the love (affair) of his life, an attractive married woman. There are clips from films made of his work, quotes from books, and considerable period footage of covered wars and foreign locations in which he lived and created.
What makes this documentary particularly appealing is its sequential referencing to books in accordance with where Greene was, what he was doing with whom and that which was autobiographical. An excellent portrait. Rent on Amazon Prime.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Beloved Infidel 1959 Directed by Henry King. Gregory Peck as Fitzgerald and Deborah Kerr as Sheilah Grahame. Towards the end of Fitzgerald’s life, having published no recent novels and had three screenplays rejected, he’s hard up for money to pay bills for wife Zelda’s asylum incarceration and daughter Scottie’s college. None of this is apparent when he meets and falls in love/lust with gossip columnist Grahame at a party. They become a passionate couple.
Fitzgerald is fired from the studio, gets roaring drunk and humiliates her. Not realizing yet this is alcoholism, she rents a beach house so they can be discreetly together while he writes his next novel. First chapters rejected, he once again goes on a bender, this time both verbally cruel and violent. She flees back to her own home. He sobers up and pursues her, swearing off alcohol, eventually convincing Grahame – too late. His unfinished novel The Last Tycoon resulted. Melodramatic (oh, the music, the crashing waves!) and unsympathetic to Fitzgerald. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Last Call 2002 Based on the memoirs of Fitzgerald’s secretary, Frances Kroll. Directed by Henry Bromell. Jeremy Irons is Fitzgerald with Sissy Spacek as Zelda, Neve Campbell as Frances Kroll, Natalie Radford as Sheilah Grahame. The dissolute F. Scott Fitzgerald advertises for a secretary. Young Frances answers and passes muster. At first she’s given only errands – pacifying Grahame, disposing of empty gin bottles, and balancing his checkbook. Always with a whopping hangover, he avoids writing.
We see Fitzgerld wandering the house every night encountering the wife he knows isn’t there. Irons is wrenchingly authentic and, unlike Peck, rather sympathetic. Eventually, Frances nudges him into productivity. He goes to dinner at her home to research her Jewish family for the book and is courtly, writes productively, and invites her to a club with Sheilah and the visiting Scottie – both of whom are very grateful to Frances. Knowing it can lead nowhere, Frances becomes smitten.
Illness – a result of the alcoholism – strikes once more and Frances drives him to Sheilah’s. They’ll resume dictation in the morning. Morning never comes. Again, his unfinished novel is The Last Tycoon, based on movie executive Irving Thalberg. The only false note is his secretary having to take care of Fitzgerald’s funeral (to which no one comes?!) and burial. He was 44 when he died. Edmund Wilson completed the novel which was published posthumously. Free with Amazon Prime.
In Love and War 1996 Based on the book Hemmingway in Love and War by Henry S. Villard and James Nagel. Directed by Richard Attenborough. The film depicts Hemmingway’s actual experiences as a WWI volunteer ambulance driver in Northern Italy. Wounded, he was sent to a military hospital where he shared a room with Villard and was nursed by Agnes von Kurowsky. The author and nurse fell in love though never consummated the relationship nor met after the war as they do in the script.
Here, wide-eyed 18 year-old Hemmingway (Chris O’Donnell) is so anxious to see action denied by his CO, he hightails it across the lines and into a trench of Italians. When a bomb hits, he hoists a moaning soldier over his shoulder and walks through explosions to safety. The not-as-romantic truth is that he was returning from bringing chocolates and cigarettes to the front line. He did, however, help Italian soldiers to to a field hospital sustaining multiple leg wounds.
Transferred to Milan, Hemmingway met/meets 26 year-old nurse, Agnes (Sandra Bullock). Instead of waiting for the doctor to amputate, she irrigates the wound saving his leg. As a character, the author is presented as cocky, charming, sincere, and compassionate. We get an unglossed, close-up look at the hospital, surgery and battlegrounds.
Things go a little too Hollywood smoothly and Hemmingway has a rival in the form of a handsome Italian doctor (with a palazzo!), but Agnes’ difficult decisions feel sympathetic and realistic. Both actors do a nice, low key job. A Farewell to Arms was based on the experience. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Hemingway and Gelhorn 2012 Directed by Philip Kaufman. Ernest Hemmingway (a miscast Clive Owen) first meets journalist Martha Gelhorn (an excellent Nicole Kidman) in a Key West bar (she comes on to him), then again in Spain during the Civil War. He’s making the propaganda film The Spanish Earth with John Dos Passos (David Strathairn). She’s an aspiring war correspondent for Colliers. The writer was then married to his second wife, Pauline, portrayed as Catholic and cloying, though justifiably near the end of her rope.
Gelhorn is (and apparently was) stubborn, brave, confident, and direct, impressing “Papa.” Hemmingway manifests as volatile, violent, heedless of danger, and a sexual predator. The film shows him goading the newbie into writing when she begins to fall apart in the face of war. They come together (in bed) during a cinematic bombing (remember the crashing waves of the fifties?) and are able to move to Havana together marrying after Spain. It’s a tempestuous relationship.
Gelhorn gradually becomes well known for her work arousing jealousy in her husband. “Are you a war correspondent, or wife in my bed?” She leaves him several times to cover events abroad while he works on novels. A cruel, angry drunk, her husband intermittently humiliates her. She’s the only one of four wives to divorce him (after four years). It’s a great story but Owen and sloppy editing with placing actors into period footage are serious issues. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Martha Gelhorn covered every major conflict of the 20th century. She was the only woman on the beach on D-Day and one of the first to see the remains of a Concentration Camp. The 2011 documentary No Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII features Gellhorn and how she changed war reporting. (The journalist committed suicide at age 89.)
Agatha 1979 Directed by Michael Apted. With Vanessa Redgrave as Agatha Christie, Timothy Dalton as her husband Archie, and Dustin Hoffman as the (fictional) American reporter Wally Stanton who tracks her down to the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate when the author disappears in 1926.
Stanton introduces himself to Christie as an American seeking treatment at the hotel spa. They spend the evening together. He keeps tabs on the writer and prevents a suicide attempt. An infatuation grows. After Christie is found, Stanton decides not to file his story. The two meet once more. Not implausible but also not very well written. Rent on Amazon Prime.
The Mystery of Agatha Christie 2014 Directed by Clare Lewins. David Suchet, who for 25 years played Christie’s compulsive/obsessive Belgian detective Hercule Poirot on PBS, learns about Christie herself. The actor visits her grandson Matthew Prichard who shows him photos and childhood writing as well as lending her hand-written autobiography, meets with two biographers, and visits the seaside hotel to which she disappeared for 11 days causing a country-wide search.
Christie wrote rather good, rhyming poetry at 10, but had next to no formal education having been raised by a family who thought “wife” was sufficient profession. The young woman met Archie Christie at a dance in 1912. They married despite her family’s objections. When he went to war, she joined as a nurse meeting Belgian refugees who gave her the idea for Poirot. After the war, Agatha wrote stories and took a job as a pharmacy assistant which offered an education in later used poison references. Archie became increasingly unfaithful. The marriage suffered.
Around this time, the author disappeared. Authorities found her abandoned car crashed into a tree very close to a cliff. When she was identified by two musicians in the hotel’s house band, Archie told the papers his wife had amnesia. Other conjectures were a publicity stunt or complicated revenge on her husband. They divorced. The documentary takes us through the rest of her happier life. Congenial and informative. Free with Amazon Prime.
Top Bigstock photo: Glass of Daiquiri cocktail and statue of American writer Ernest Hemingway in the bar El Floridita in Havanna