Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
With Vladimir Putin and Russia so much in the headlines lately, now seems as good a time as any to check out one or more of the following cinematic takes on the Motherland.
Anna Karenina(1935) Clarence Brown (National Velvet, The Yearling) directed this adaption of the Tolstoy novel of the same name. Greta Garbo stars in the title role as Anna Karenina wife of Czarist official Karenin (Basil Rathbone best known for his many on-screen turns as Sherlock Holmes) whose torrid love affair with Count Vronsky (Fredric March of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Best Years of Our Lives) tears her life apart. Generally considered the best of the many, many adaptions, it won the Mussollini Cup for Best Foreign Film at the Venice Film Festival, Garbo won a New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress, and it was ranked #42 on AFI’s 100 Years…100 Passions.
Doctor Zhivago (1965) Directed by David Lean (Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia) this British-Italian romantic epic drama based on the Boris Pasternak novel of the same name clocks in at over three hours and spans decades from Russia pre-World War I, to the Russian Revolution, to the Russian Civil War, to post World War II. KGB officer Yevgraf (the late great Alec Guinness) has tracked down a young woman Tanya (Rita Tushingham of An Awfully Big Adventure and Being Julia) he believes to be the daughter of his deceased half-brother Yuri Zhivago. He commences to tell her the tragic tale of doctor and poet Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif in arguably his greatest role) and his doomed love affair with Lara (Julie Christie). Other memorable performances come from Rod Steiger as the opportunistic Komarovsky, Tom Courtenay as idealistic student turned militant Pasha, and Geraldine Chaplin as Yuri’s wife Tasha. It won five Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Cinematography, as well as five Golden Globes including Best Lead Actor, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture Drama.
Burnt by the Sun (1994) Co-written and directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, who stars in the film as well. It is the summer of 1936, the time of the Great Purge and legendary Red Army Officer Kotov is living happily with his beautiful wife Maroussia and daughter Nadia in a home owned by his in-laws who were former aristocrats. But Maroussia’s long lost fiancé the ex-Nobleman and White Army veteran Mitya suddenly returns bringing long buried secrets and devastation in his wake. Burnt by the Sun won the Grand Prize at Cannes as well as the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Thief (1997) Pavel Chukrai wrote and directed this drama. Post World War II, poor widow Katya (Yekaterina Rednikova) and her son Sanya meet the handsome dashing officer Tolyan (Vladimir Mashkov of Behind Enemy Lines and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). Tolyan becomes a father figure to Sanya and increasingly vital to both of them while at the same time showing an increasing dark side-not to mention being in fact a criminal. It won the UNICEF award at the Venice Film Festival, the Nika Award for Best Picture and Best Directing and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Red Army (2014) Gabe Polsky wrote, directed, and produced this American-Russian documentary about the legendary Soviet Union national ice hockey team through the eyes of team Slava Fetsiov and the 80’s era union known as The Russian Five. Polsky explores how politics interwove with sports and the National Hockey League’s aggressive recruiting tactics. Every single one of the players is critical of their former Viktor Tikhonov and his slave driver tactics. It currently enjoys a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
Top photo from BIgstock: Assumption Cathedral (Cathedral of the Dormition Uspensky sobor) of the Moscow Kremlin in winter at sunset
Ah, the holiday season. A time for generosity, merriment, good cheer…and felonies. Yep, in the real world, crooks don’t take a break for Christmas and they didn’t in any of the following five films either.
We’re No Angels(1955) Humphry Bogart (in one of his very few comedic roles), Aldo Ray, and Peter Ustinov star as three prisoners who manage a daring escape from Devil’s Island on Christmas Eve and arrive at a small French colonial town. They quickly become involved with a local shopkeeper and his family. Originally, they’re just looking for a hideout and a chance to steal supplies to make a getaway, but much to their own surprise, they end up becoming the ‘guardian angels’ of the family. Also starring Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, and Leo G. Carroll.
Die Hard(1988) Directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) and starring Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman in the iconic roles that launched their careers into superstardom. Arguably the most perfect action movie ever made, it also happens to be set during the Christmas holidays, thus we get plenty of tinsel along with the gratuitous violence. And who doesn’t love a DMC Christmas rap? Featuring such classic zingers as “Ho-ho-ho-Now I have a machine gun,” and “If this is how they celebrate Christmas I gotta be there for New Year’s!”
Home Alone(1990) Directed by Chris Columbus (Gremlins and Harry Potter) and starring young Macauley Culkin as Kevin McAllister who is mistakenly left behind while the rest of his family flies off to celebrate Christmas in Paris. Kevin finds himself enjoying the time to himself but when thieves Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) figure out the truth, they plan a home invasion only to have Kevin turn the tables on them. Culkin was nominated for a Golden Globe and Home Alone became the highest grossing live action comedy film of all time.
The Ref(1994) This black comedy directed by Ted Demme stars Denis Leary as jewel thief Gus. Gus accidentally trips an alarm and hijacks a car owned by a wealthy, married couple Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline Chausser (Judy Greer). Unfortunately for Gus, Lloyd and Caroline are a severely dysfunctional couple whose constant bickering drives him nuts. Matters are further complicated by the unexpected arrival of troubled son Jesse, and then Lloyd’s family, including his brother, sister in law, nephew, niece, and horrible mother, Rose (Glynis Johns). Gus soon finds himself unwittingly playing counselor to the whole clan while trying to avoid the police and get the hell out of suburban Connecticut.
Bad Santa(2003) Terry Zwigoff, (Crumb, Ghost World) directed this raunchy black comedy Every year professional thieves Willie Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton at his most hilarious) and his dwarf assistant Marcus (Tony Cox of Willow, Spaceballs, and Beetlejuice), pose as a department store Santa and his elf assistant. They use their access to rob the malls blind with the help of Marcus’s wife Lois (Lauren Tom of The Joy Luck Club and Futurama), their getaway driver. Willie’s alcoholism, sex-addiction, and foul mouthed behavior though, have begun to alienate Marcus. Meanwhile, Willie befriends a sweet, fatherless, overweight child named Thurman (Brett Kelly) while taking up with a fetching bar lass Sue (Lauren Graham), with a Santa fetish. It well earned its R rating in theaters and there’s an unrated option now for rental! Bad Santa 2, also starring Thornton, is now in theaters.
Growing up with Frankenstein as her father was as far from being part of a horror show as could be. That was how Sara Karloff remembered life with Boris Karloff and how he handled originating and perpetuating the scary monster that came to be known as Frankenstein.
According to Sara, her father was “the antithesis of the part he played in the 1931 classic horror movie, Frankenstein. Boris Karloff was the funniest, gentlest, kindest, quietist and most articulate English gentleman that ever lived.”
Born William Henry Pratt in England, Boris Karloff was the youngest of nine children. When asked how he got his stage name, his daughter said, “Karloff came from his mother’s family and Boris came out of thin air.” He studied for the British Council Service, but did not pursue that path. Instead he went to British Columbia where he played bit parts in eighty movies. Sara said that Frankenstein was his eighty-first film, adding, “No one saw the first eighty of them.” She said her father described his part playing extras in obscure roles as “being the third from the left in the fourth row.”
After twenty years in the business, the forty-four year-old Karloff was offered the role of a lifetime by James Whale, the English film director. My father said he was “jolly lucky to have a job,” and quickly accepted the non-speaking role of Frankenstein. “My father’s name was not listed in the movie’s opening credits and he wasn’t even invited to the premier,” she said. “No one expected the monster to be the star.” Collin Clive played the part of Dr. Frankenstein and he was slated to be the star.
Although Boris Karloff was only five feet and eleven inches tall, make-up, camera angles, shadows and two-inch high plaster boots made him appear looming. “It took four hours to apply the make-up and three hours to take it off,” she said. “Working in Hollywood during the hot month of August and wearing a dark wool suit resulted in my father losing twenty-five pounds during filming.”
After the make-up and costume came off, Boris Karloff enjoyed life on his three and one-half acre estate in Beverly Hills where he liked to garden, read and pursue his life-long passion of playing cricket. He was on the Hollywood Cricket Team. He also loved animals. At one time, the Karloff family owned twenty-two dogs and a pig named Violet.
“Always the consummate professional,” was how Sara Karloff described her father who, along with a group of other actors, founded the Screen Actors Guild as a way to give back to the profession he loved and was so grateful to have had the opportunity to work in.
Boris Karloff worked in the film industry all his life, but no role surpassed the one he created as Frankenstein, the monster put together from used body parts, which made him an overnight star.
Sara Karloff said she was nineteen years-old before she saw the movie, made in 1931, several years before she was born. “Since my father never brought his work home I was mesmerized by the role he created, but more importantly in awe of the man behind the monster. He was the least scary human being in the world.”
In addition to Frankenstein, the part that rolled out the red carpet for him, Boris Karloff appeared in many other movies, television shows, Broadway Plays, and radio shows. One of his favorite roles, according to Sara Karloff, was the aging horror film icon, Byron Orlok in the thriller Target directed by Peter Bogdanovic. It was made in 1968, just one year before Karloff’s death on Ground Hog’s Day in 1969.
Karloff also enjoyed working with other movie monsters, namely Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Basil Rathbone. “While on the set, the group played practical jokes, each trying to out-“Boogie Man” the others,” said Sara Karloff.
Keeping her father’s professional and personal legacy alive, Sara Karloff maintains a website, www.karloff.com and participates in many Halloween-themed productions (Chiller Theater at the Sheraton in Parsippany, New Jersey is hosting an event) and throughout the year speaks to Boris Karloff’s multi-generation fan-base.
On Thursday, July 14th a terrorist drove a monster truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, France. More than 80 people died. The holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille which is commonly considered to have kicked off the French Revolution. (Even if only seven prisoners were actually released.) In honor of this historic event, and remembering those who died during what should have been a joyous celebration, consider watching one of the following films. We stand with France.
A Tale of Two Cities(1935) Eighty years later, director Jack Conway’s (Northwest Passage, A Star is Born) adaption of the Charles Dickens masterpiece is generally regarded as the best cinematic version of the classic saga. Ronald Colman plays the famous dissipated misanthrope Sydney Carton, Donald Woods the gallant Frenchman Charles Darnay, Elizabeth Allen in the ingénue role of Lucy Manet, and the late great Basil Rathbone as the villainous aristocrat Marquis St. Evremonde.
Start the Revolution Without Me (1970) Directed by Bud Yorkin (Divorce American Style, Inspector Clouseau) this screwball comedy stars Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland as two sets of identical twins switched at birth. One set is haughty and aristocratic while the other are poor and dim-witted and they find themselves involved in palace intrigue and wacky hijinks right on the eve of the French Revolution. Also starring Hugh Griffith (Ben-Hur, Tom Jones) as King Louis and Orson Welles serving as Narrator.
The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) Based on the classic swashbuckler of the same name by Baroness Orczy and directed by Clive Donner (What’s New Pussycat? Vampira) In 1792, during the reign of terror, the Scarlet Pimpernel saves French aristocrats from the guillotine while posing as foppish dandy Sir Perceval Blakeney (Anthony Andrews). Percy marries the stunning French actress Marguerite St. Just (Jane Seymour) but her past relationship with Robespierre’s agent Paul Chauvelin (Ian McKellan!) endangers his plans to save the young Dauphin, eldest son of the late King of France. Also starring James Villiers, Eleanor David, and Richard Morant.
Ridicule (1996) Directed by Patrick Leconte (The Hairdresser’s Husband, Girl on a Bridge) and set in Versailles in the late 18th century, and shown primarily through the eyes of minor aristocrat and engineer Ponceludon (Charles Berling), Ridicule shows a corrupt and decadent French court, where social status can rise and fall based on the ability to dole out witty (and cruel) insults while avoiding being the object of ridicule oneself. In one extreme example a nobleman is forced to leave court for the loss of a single shoe and is so distraught he hangs himself. The film won four Cesar Awards including best director and best film.
Farewell My Queen (2012) Directed by Benoit Jacquot (The Wings of the Dove), we see the routines of palace life at Versailles through the eyes of Sidonie Laborde (Lea Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color and Spectre) maid to Queen Antoinette (Diane Kruger of Inglorious Bastards and National Treasure). Taking place over three days from the storming of the Bastille to the Royal Family’s (failed) attempt to flee Versailles for Switzerland. It won three Cesar Awards including best cinematography and was nominated for seven more including best actress, best director, and best film.
Top photo: Paris France Palace of Justice, Palais de Justice, is the center of the French legal system. Bigstock photo.