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Tag Archives: Robert Cummings

The Lost Moment (1947)

220px-poster_of_the_movie_the_lost_momentThe Lost Moment is based on Henry James’ novella The Aspern Papers, though the movie is rather different in tone and plot (I want to review the novella in a later post). The movie is more in the line of a Gothic thriller/romance, akin to Rebecca.

Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings) is an American publisher interested in the writings of American poet Jeffrey Ashton (Jeffrey Aspern in the novella), a poet in the mold of Shelley or Byron. Ashton had written exquisite poems to a lovely woman named Juliana (Agnes Moorehead). When Venable hears that Juliana is still living at 105 years of age, in Venice, and that she might possess love letters from Ashton, he is determined to get his hands on those papers and publish them.

After his request by letter is refused, he visits her under a false name and becomes a lodger (she is badly in need of money). Also living with Juliana is her niece, Tina (Susan Hayward), who is distinctly hostile to Lewis. The entire house is riven with secrets and everyone – Tina, Juliana, and Lewis – are obsessed with those passionate love letters and the poet who wrote them.

There’s sort of a mystery, though not everything is answered at the end. Lewis feels strong hero-worship for Jeffrey Ashton and seems all to ready to topple headfirst into the ghost-ridden, self-contained fantasy world that Juliana and Tina have constructed for themselves.

Interestingly, the story ends up being Tina’s story most of all. When we first meet her, Susan Hayward plays her like a young Mrs. Danvers in training (seriously – if someone had ever made a movie about the backstory of Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, Susan Hayward would have been a candidate). She has the same frigidity, same way of doing her hair, the habit of suddenly appearing without having seemed to have walked, same hostility to the new member of the household.

However, as the story unfolds, she reveals an exceedingly vulnerable side to her character. It’s almost like she’s playing dual roles, with her soul at stake. But unfortunately, the film ends too abruptly and there are many questions that are never answered about her. Who were her parents? How is she really related to Juliana? Why does the priest say that she never had a chance at happiness from the moment she was first born? We needed a bit more.

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Agnes Moorehead, playing 105 years of age

Agnes Moorehead, on the other hand, is nearly unrecognizable as Juliana. When the film came out, much was made about her makeup…and deservedly so. She’s plays her like a dried up husk of a human who seems more like a ghost than a real human, shrunken into herself. I would never have known it was her if I hadn’t already known it was her. Juliana lives on her letters and memories from Jeffrey Ashton

There is something very poisonous about her, even though Tina initially comes across as the hostile one. Almost as though Juliana was inadvertently possessing Tina (Plot Spoiler: Tina occasionally goes into fits where she imagines that SHE is Juliana and steals the letters from Juliana). Juliana even complains at one point about feeling as though she had lost Jeffrey to Tina. She resents her, but sort of inhabits her, as well.

It’s a fascinating movie. Imperfect. There is a potential villain who’s character ultimately goes nowhere and the last third does not quite live up to the first two-quarters, either. The film built such an excellent ghostly feel, but didn’t quite know how to wrap it all up.

The film is the only movie directed by Martin Gabel and it’s somewhat uneven at times, though I do not possess the necessary cinematic knowledge to say why. It just feels uneven, how scenes transition – not as seamless as, say, a Hitchcock film. However, The Lost Moment fairly reeks of atmosphere and I liked the score by Daniele Amfitheatrof (who also wrote a gorgeous and moving score for Letter From an Unknown Woman).

Robert Cummings actually does pretty well. He is borderline smarmy, which seems to suit the character, willing to use all the women to get what he wants, including a highly impressionable and young maid. The film is not quite, properly speaking, a romance. The filmmakers seem to be trying to bend the story in that direction at the end, but it by no means feels inevitable.

Another Plot Spoiler: The final irony of the film, I thought, was the ultimate fate of Jeffrey Ashton (a fate completely made up for the movie). He is this extraordinary poet, writing passionate love letters to the Divine Juliana and her extraordinary eyes, yet at the end of the film, he is revealed to have been just another cad, loving and leaving his woman. Ultimately, he comes off as less extraordinary than the people in the movie: Juliana, Tina. It’s the opposite in the novella, where the characters prove to be rather inadequate compared to the glorious poet.

Juliana ends up being the one who holds the key to the whole story, though she is not in the movie as much as Tina and Lewis Venable. But Agnes Moorehead does a magnificent job of sort of haunting the film. We don’t even get a good look at her face half the time she is in the scene, but she still haunts it. Like a living ghost. I would have enjoyed seeing more of her and getting more of her story and Tina’s. It’s not often that one complains about a movie being too short, but this is one of those times.

This is my contribution to “The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon,” hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, who I want to thank for hosting this marvelous event! Click here for all the rest of the posts about her.

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Posted by on December 6, 2016 in Movies

 

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Dial M For Murder (1954)

dialmformurderposterBecause Dial M For Murder is an unusually close adaptation of a successful play, it does not seem to garner the same attention that other Hitchcock films do. There is simply less to say about Hitchcock as auteur. But as a masterful film of suspense, red-herrings, and the overlooked little things that trip one up, it cannot be topped. I never tire of watching it; there seems to be something new to see each time.

The film begins with Margo Wendice (Grace Kelly), sitting in white at the breakfast table and enjoying a demure kiss with her husband, former tennis star Tony Wendice (Ray Milland). Next, it is evening and she is in a flaming red dress and enjoying a passionate kiss with mystery writer Mark Halliday (Robert Cummings), who is her former lover. They have broken off the relationship and believe that Tony knows nothing about it. He’s changed, Margo tells Mark. He’s a more attentive husband now.

And for good reason. In fairness, I should warn that this post is rife with plot spoilers. If you have never seen it before, it is a stimulating experience to watch the story unfold without prior knowledge. My only warning is that it’s a film you have to pay close attention to. There are a lot of red-herrings.

Tony, it turns out, knows everything about Margo and Mark’s affair. He married Margo for her money and when he realized that she could leave him flat, he concocted a scheme that was a year in the making. He’s going to blackmail an old school fellow from Cambridge, Swan (Anthony Dawson) – a man constantly skating “on thin ice” – into killing his wife for him. He has everything planned down to the last detail and it is a marvel as he calmly unfurls his plan to Swan, a man who is no slouch himself when it comes to criminal scheming, but has nothing on Tony.

But as mystery-writer Mark discusses with Tony and Margo, murders are only perfect on paper. People do not always behave exactly as you expect them to. Owing to a small change in the behavior of Margo earlier in the evening, instead of being murdered by Swan, she manages to kill him in self-defense with a pair of scissors. Tony’s year of planning is a shambles, but he quickly contrives a second plan, which seems to work much better. With the judicious planting of a few telling objects, he make it look like Margo deliberately murdered Swan. The police, lead by Inspector Hubbard (John Williams), seem to fall exactly in line and she is convicted of murder.

Robert Cummings, Grace Kelly, Ray Milland

Robert Cummings, Grace Kelly, Ray Milland – an insincere lot of people in this moment

To me, the most fascinating part of this film is watching people think, especially Ray Milland as Tony. There are moments when he realizes that he has miscalculated, but everything still seems to fall his way. Will he succeed? Will he not? What is going to finally trip him up? The film is full of red-herrings. For example, part of Tony’s original plan was to call his wife on the phone while Swan kills her. But he’s late and we, as the audience, are convinced that his lateness is what is going to save her life. But ironically, it is something that happened earlier, that we’ve already forgotten about, that saves her life.

Earlier in the evening, she didn’t want to stay home alone while Tony and Mark went to a stag party and he had to convince her, suggesting it was an ideal time to paste his press clippings into an album. He persuades her, but as a result her scissors are on the desk instead of in her mending basket, providing her an ideal weapon.

Even Mark Halliday is a red-herring. Because he’s a mystery writer, one keeps expecting him to be the one to bring Tony down. But in what is the finest twist, the police actually turn out to be rather good at their job. As Inspector Hubbard says, “The saints preserve us from the gifted amateur!”

John Williams played the role of Inspector Hubbard on Broadway and reprised it for the film. He initially seems like your stereotypical British officer, conscientious, following his own line of reasoning and apparently missing the important details. The first time I watched this movie I maligned him twice. I thought he was a stupid policeman, began to rethink it as he seemed to be getting at something important and then impugned him again when he appeared to drop it. Williams is perfect, lending the character sympathy and kindness towards Margo, impatience with Mark and complete satisfaction when he gets his man. He even gets the last shot of the film, brushing his mustache with pleased self-congratulation.

John Williams as Inspector Hubbard during the play's Broadway run

John Williams as Inspector Hubbard during the play’s Broadway run

Grace Kelly and Robert Cummings are perfectly fine in the film, but it really belongs to Ray Milland (with Williams coming in second). He’s smooth, sophisticated, and believes he has all the answers…which largely he does. But as much as he might feel like he owns people (as he says he feels about Swan), he doesn’t. He’s awfully good at it, though. He says he puts himself in the place of others to see what they will do.

But everyone does that to a certain extent, which is another part of the fascination of the film. Everyone thinks, realizes, and put themselves in each other’s shoes to arrive at the exact same conclusion at the end. Sherlock Holmes would be proud at how they logically arrive at the only possible solution.

Given all the red-herrings, this last time I was finally able to isolate the three things that undid Tony. They are the scissors, the latchkeys and the money. Three things that seem innocuous and – in the case of the money and the scissors especially – things we completely forget about.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2016 in Movies

 

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