Tag Archives: Revenge

The Lady Eve: The Joke’s On Her

I’ve been thinking about the adage that the best screwball comedies have leads who are roughly equal, able to give-and-take and be worthy opponents: Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, Clarke Gable and Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. But my favorite screwball comedy, The Lady Eve, seems to defy that adage as Barbara Stanwyck appears to run all over the hapless Henry Fonda. So why do I love it so much?

I think it’s because everything is not as it seems. Director/writer Preston Sturges has deceived us, because his subtle joke is that the joke’s not on Henry Fonda at all; it’s on her and she’s the only one who’s in on it.

Barbara Stanwyck plays a tough, hard-boiled, unsentimental card sharp who takes advantage of poor suckers and then, like a sap, falls in love herself. She lays down her defenses and is rejected and humiliated. It’s the ultimate humiliation and she loses her self-respect. Because although it looks like she’s always in total control, manipulating Fonda at will, he’s the one who really is in control (though he doesn’t have the faintest idea that he is). She can captivate him, but because she’s so in love, he’s the one who can reject her or accept her.

That’s why she’s so bent on revenge; to regain her own personal self-respect. But she can’t help it; she still loves him. I think it’s that depth of emotion that I like so much about The Lady Eve (besides how hilarious it is). Her sincerity in love makes it clear that if her character doesn’t get her man, we’d be watching a tragedy instead of a comedy. Beneath the cynicism, the battle of the sexes, the ironic jabs at marriage and love and the rich, is a deeply romantic film because of how crazy the two leads are about each other. The Lady Eve has one of the most satisfying endings of any screwball comedy I’ve seen.

So basically, all the pratfalls, the humiliation that Fonda must go through is to make his humiliation equal to hers.

Random Note – in a fit of Sturges enthusiasm I named my cat Lady Eve, but sometimes I think I should have called her Buster. Lady Eve (the cat) has the most perfect stone-face as she watches life go by. She also needs to work on her sultry look.


Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Movies


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The Mummy (1959)

Themummy1959posterI am a big fan of the 1932 Universal The Mummy with Boris Karloff. It is a romance as much as a horror film, with an incredible performance by Karloff. But I had high hopes for Hammer Film’s The Mummy, especially because it starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, two actors who were completely awesome in Horror of Dracula. Hammer’s The Mummy is closer to the later Universal Mummy series, starting with The Mummy’s Hand in 1940, than it is to the original 1932 film, but it is still greatly entertaining. In fact, it definitely improves on The Mummy’s Hand.

Dr. Stephen Banning (Felix Aylmer) and his brother, Joseph Whemple (Raymond Huntley), are excavating in Egypt for the tomb of the Princess Ananka. His son, John Banning (Peter Cushing), is with them, but he has broken his leg and his uncle worries that unless he leaves the site and gets immediate medical attention, his leg will not heal properly. Before entering the tomb, Dr. Banning is warned by an Egyptian, Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), not to enter. There is a terrible curse on it, he says.

But Dr. Banning enters anyway and finds an ancient Scroll of Life, which contains a spell that can bring back the dead. When his brother finds him a little later on, he has had a complete and unexplained breakdown and is taken back to England to a sanitarium. John Banning and his uncle finish up the dig, but John waited too long to fix his leg and now has a permanent limp.

Three years pass and Mehemet Bey has a large box shipped to England. He is a follower, it turns out, of the Egyptian god who Princess Ananka served, Karnak. He has brought a mummy with him, Kharis, who was once a high priest to Karnak, but who loved the Princess Ananka and was buried alive and cursed to watch over her as punishment for breaking his vows and trying to use the sacred Scroll of Life to bring Ananka back to life. Soon Mehemet Bey is controlling Kharis using the scroll (he took it from Dr. Banning) to wreak revenge on all those who desecrated the tomb of Ananka: Dr. Stephen Banning, Joseph Whemple and John Banning.

the-mummy-1959-dir-fisher-peter-cushing-christopher-leeOf course, the mummy gets sidetracked partway through his murder spree when he runs into John Banning’s wife, Isobel, (Yvonne Furneaux), who looks remarkably like the princess Ananka (the actress plays the princess in flashbacks).

What took me aback, initially, is how Peter Cushing plays the film’s protagonist, John Banning. He is mild-mannered, a bit buttoned-up, almost sounds like David Niven at times. He’s nothing like the Van Helsing of Horror of Dracula. He also has a limp, so he is not the most agile hero, either. He is nearly strangled by the mummy several times, though he is quite brave in facing him. He uses his brain, primarily (especially in taking on Mehemet Bey), and is only shaken into a real display of emotion when he fears for the life of his wife when she is carried off by the mummy, though he is never so terrified that he loses his wits.

Christopher Lee, on the other hand, is the saddest mummy I have ever seen. Even Boris Karloff has nothing on Lee’s mournful eyes, which stand out all the more for being the only part of him visible through all his mummy wrappings. Karloff’s mummy had hope for the future, for a reunion with his lost love, but Lee’s mummy knows there is no hope. When he sees John Banning’s wife it is like he is grasping at a straw, for the return of his lost love.

the-mummy-1959-lobby-card-1After the murder of Dr. Banning and Whemple, an inspector comes in from Scotland Yard to investigate, Inspector Mulrooney (Eddie Byrnes), who is highly skeptical of John Banning’s story, at least until evidence begins mounting up. That is what I like about earlier films, especially Universal Horror films: people aren’t stupid. They aren’t implausibly eager to embrace a supernatural explanation, but aren’t backward in accepting one if the evidence is there. But the very English Scotland Yard inspector is just one part of a very English countryside for the second half of the film. This very Egyptian mummy is running about the English countryside, frightening poachers and giving people a lot to talk about in the pub.

Mehemet Bey is allowed to speak passionately against the despoiling of Egypt’s ancient tombs by the English, though his methods of revenge are somewhat extreme. But he is allowed to be an intelligent presence, if also a fanatical one. I did appreciate that this Hammer film kept him on topic regarding revenge. In the Universal series, all the priests of Karnak end up falling for the leading lady and using Kharis to steal her away while Lon Chaney, Jr. (who usually was playing the mummy) looked on long-sufferingly (I couldn’t figure out what the deal was; were these priests of Karnak too sheltered when they were young?).

I also appreciated what a calm leading lady Yvonne Furneaux made as Isobel (apart from fainting once, but she had to do that so the mummy could carry her draped over his arms artistically in true monster movie tradition). But she knows her power over Kharis. All she has to do is speak and he obeys, however reluctantly. When she tells him to put her down at the end, he looks heartbroken. Cursed, centuries old, controlled by other people (Bey and Isobel), he looks weary, which is not to take anything away from his scare power. At 6’5 and wrapped in moldering bandages, he’s an unnerving presence coming towards people, towering over all his victims.

1959, TERROR OF THE MUMMYAs I noted, the 1959 The Mummy has a lot in common with the Universal Mummy reboot, which began in 1940. In this series (which gets increasingly silly), the mummy is named Kharis, he was a high priest condemned to watch over the Princess Ananka’s tomb, the archaeologist’s name is Banning, the god’s name is Karnak, there is a priest controlling Kharis. The end of the 1944 The Mummy’s Ghost, which is the third of the later mummy films, is also familiar, except in the 1944 films, Kharis not only sinks into the bog, he takes the lady with him (which was at least original). But Hammer’s The Mummy does it better.

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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Movies


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The Bride of Lammermoor – Sir Walter Scott

Henry_Gillard_Glindoni01I’ve read that The Bride of Lammermoor is quite different from Sir Walter Scott’s usual books, but since the only other one I’ve read is Ivanhoe I can’t say if that’s true. The Bride of Lammermoor is much shorter, though, and Gothic, romantic, and mystical. There are a lot of comparisons to be made with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

It was published in 1819, but the story is set sometime in the late sixteen hundreds. Edgar, Master of Ravenswood, has lost his ancestral lands (rather, his father lost them because he supported James VII of Scotland, who was also James II of England – the king who was ousted during the Glorious Revolution in 1688). The new owner of the Ravenswood estate is Sir William Ashton, a malleable and shrewd lawyer who always has his finger to the political wind.

Ravenswood is a stern and fierce young man who desires to revenge himself on Sir William and now lives in the tower of Wolfscrag, which was once a fortress and looms over the ocean in dilapidated, Gothic splendor. However, instead of revenging himself, he saves Sir William and his daughter, Lucy Ashton, from attack by some kind of wild cow and Lucy and Edgar fall in love. The two engage themselves secretly, despite deep forebodings from an old former servant of Ravenswood’s named Alice, various portends (a dead raven falls at Lucy’s feet when they engage themselves to each other) and a warning from Ravenswood’s one remaining servant, Caleb.

Sir William is not actually entirely opposed to the match, since it is possible that Ravenswood’s uncle, the Marquis of A_______(we never do find out what the A________ stands for) might be able to raise Ravenswood up when his political party regains power in the Scottish parliament. But Lady Ashton is opposed. As soon as she arrives in the story, Sir William almost completely disappears, becoming a henpecked, ineffectual husband. Lady Ashton reminds many people of Lady Macbeth, although she does not love her husband as Lady Macbeth did; but she is the driving force behind him, the one he listens to, who is willing to stop at very little to get what she wants. And what she does not want is for Lucy to marry Ravenswood; she wants her to marry another young man called Bucklaw. She sets out, therefore, quite deliberately, to break her daughters resolution to honor her betrothal to Ravenswood and if breaking her resolution means breaking her mind, Lady Ashton does not balk.

The book ends in tragedy, madness, death, stabbing, and broken family lines. However, despite the inevitable sense of tragedy, it is not a depressing read. The chief fun comes from Ravenswood’s devoted family servant, Caleb Balderstone. He will do anything to keep up the family honor, including lying, stealing, and arson. It is always a source of amused suspense to both the reader and to Ravenswood to see how Caleb will find Ravenswood’s next meal or provide for his guests or excuse his lack of provisions or even prevent Ravenswood from having guests so that no one will know the extreme poverty Ravenswood has been reduced to. But his devotion is touching because of his genuine concern for his master, as well as the family honor.

Charles_Robert_Leslie_-_Sir_Walter_Scott_-_Ravenswood_and_Lucy_at_the_Mermaiden's_Well_-_Bride_of_LammermoorScott seems to be drawing, self-consciously, from “Macbeth.” They are both tales in Scotland, there is a woman who is the power behind the husband who causes most of the evil, there are mighty storms with thunder and rain, specters appear, and Scott even has three old women like the three Weird Sisters in “Macbeth,” though Scott’s three women are being led by one, Ailsie Gourlay, who seems to know who is marked out for death and even helps Lady Ashton to poison Lucy’s mind.

The book ends up being part Gothic, part comic, and also part political as people scheme to be part of the winning party while such troublemakers as Craigengelt tries to persuade Bucklaw and Ravenswood to assist the exiled James II in France. It was a little hard to follow all the political aspects, but it didn’t fundamentally diminish my understanding of the story. Another difficult aspect of the book is the language. Many of the Scottish characters, such as Caleb and Ailsie Gourlay and Alice, speak in a Scottish dialect that is hard to decipher.

The books central couple make a very curious romantic pair, because they are not particularly suited. She is romantic-minded (she loves the stories, myths and legends) and very meek and pliable. He is stern, proud and energetic. They seem bound to each other less because they love each other (they hardly know each other), but because in a moment of heady-emotion, they became betrothed. She is sticking to it for the romance of it and he because he is honorable.

One complaint I do have is that the book appears to be rushed at the end. Just when the book should be getting most dramatic is when it wraps up. Plot Spoilers! When Lucy goes mad and stabs her husband Bucklaw and when Ravenswood dies afterwards, it is recounted almost as if it were a postscript. However, it is still not a story that is easily forgotten; it seems to imprint itself very clearly on the imagination. End Plot Spoiler.

Walter Scott is said to have derived the story from life and it was a story that Scott heard from many different people, including his mother, and he always thought that his mother told it particularly well. He was worried that the story would lose something in translation from an oral story to a written one. He thought a full-length novel wouldn’t have nearly the impact of, as he put it, a story told in thirty minutes by the fire. I see what he means. Sometimes, when a story captures our imagination, it can be hard to actually do it justice in a novel, where you have to provide so many more details that you do not have to provide in an oral tale. I think the power of his story is more in the story than in the actual writing – though there is nothing wrong with his writing; it is skillfully amusing and evocative. However, this might be why there are many details that seem to get lost in the book that Scott neglects to give us, like why Ravenswood does not receive Lucy’s letters, but suddenly gets them later. This is a story, not about details or human motivations, but about the romance of the story itself. It is a book that cries out to be read during the evening or night, on a rainy day, or during a storm.

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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Fiction


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