Darn that Rachmaninov. Especially on Thursdays

Noel Coward’s “Brief Encounters”, directed by David Lean.

How a brief encounter can change a life, especially if it’s Thursday and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto # 2 is playing on the soundtrack. It’s in a train station where Alec and Laura meet. She has something in her eye and he gets it out. Of course that is what a doctor would do, and since he is a doctor, he does just that. He is a general practitioner come to Milford for a day of work at the hospital and she is a housewife come to town for some shopping and a movie. It is a Thursday and she’s happily married until he tells her, “You can never be dull.”

For several Thursdays they meet in passing. Then suddenly one Thursday the doctor and the housewife, happily married, are having way too much fun as they set off for the movies. On the way back to the train station, he slips his hand around her arm. Then it is tea as they wait for their respective trains. He talks about his desire to make the world a better place. Then there’s that damned Rachmaninov and you know there’s unhappiness in store for her. And possibly him.

“May I see you again? Next Thursday?” he pleads. She resists, then relents. She watches his train leave, realizing how dangerous things may be getting as she speaks his name to herself. “Alec.”

Laura, it would have to be a Laura, takes her train home and her boy has had an accident. She feels guilty. But the accident is not serious. She confesses to her husband that she met a strange man and offers to invite him to dinner to show her husband it was harmless. Her husband seems not to care, saying that it would be an inconvenience. Why don’t she invite him to lunch?

Alec doesn’t show the next Thursday afternoon as she waits for him, half-hoping that he will not show. She goes off to the movies, then it’s back to the train station and tea. She leaves the station to catch her train. As she takes one last look around her, she sees the good doctor running toward her. “I’m so sorry,” he says. Of course, he is. They always are in these kinds of movies. He explains why he is late and she is relieved. Now her walls drop like the walls of Jericho.

The next Thursday they are at the movies and then a lake. They take a boat and are on the water. And there’s Rachmaninov. And they are having a bloody good time.

Tea again in a boat house and they are quiet. Then he says the words. You know, the words that always doom happily marrieds to a life of unhappiness. “I’ve fallen in love with you,” Alec the doctor says to Laura the housewife, and now they are desperately doomed people. You know it, and they know it. And the fun they’ve had is over.  Just misery and betrayal.

Why must these kinds of movies be so sad, so tragic? Why couldn’t it be two unmarried, readily available people, falling desperately in love, who have the encounter that becomes a lifetime of happiness? Oh, we’ve seen that movie before too and it is “Love Story”. The woman dies at the end, and it too is sad.

That they are unmarried and happily in love doing all the things that happily-in-love people do, that is what Laura dreams about as she catches her train for home. But the reality is that now her life is a lie. And it is a Thursday lie, this lie she tells her husband. She calls a friend to cover for her. “And I’ll do it for you,” she promises at the end of the telephone conversation.

Another Thursday and the two lovers are together again, having dinner in a hotel dining room. No sex as far as we know, but they might as well have had sex for all the guilt she is feeling. The two go off into the country for a drive. He talks of his love for her and they are on a bridge. This kind of thing always seems to happen on bridges, and a bridge in the country on a lovely afternoon is the best place for it to happen. The next thing you know it is night and they are saying their good nights, longingly. It is such a desperate kind of good night.

There’s that Rachmaninov and it is hard to resist Rachmaninov. Especially if it’s night and it is raining and you are in need of refuge from a marriage that has become, of all things, boring. She misses her train and follows him back to a nearby flat where he is staying with a friend. She runs up the stairs and knocks on his door. He opens the door and invites her in.

She is about to fall into Alec’s arms when suddenly his friend returns and comes in the back way. She leaves without being seen. But the doctor’s friend picks up her coat and hands it to Alec and says, “You have hidden depths.” He says other things, showing his disapproval. Alec follows Laura, leaving his friend’s disappointment behind him.

The next scene we see is Laura running down the street. It is night and there’s Rachmaninov. She’s missed her train and telephones her husband to tell him she will be late getting home. She lies. She is with a librarian friend whose mother is ill, She hangs up and wanders the streets for three hours and then she is back at the train station. The doctor shows up and they argue.

“Could you really say goodbye? I love you, Laura, and I shall love you to the end of my life. This is the beginning of the end of it all.” It is a desperate speech. He tells her that he will be leaving England and soon unless she tells him to do otherwise. She doesn’t. They both know that it is the only way out. But let’s have another Thursday. She takes the train home, and again there is Rachmaninov playing that damned Concerto # 2.

The following Thursday there is again a drive in the country and more Rachmaninov. Then they are having tea in the train station, struggling to get up the courage to say goodbye. And having tea, there is all this sadness filling the movie. You just know that this can’t end well. You’ve seen enough of these movies and they never end well. “I do love you with all my heart and soul,” Alec says to Laura one last time. “I want to die,” Laura says to her doctor.

A woman acquaintance of Laura’s intrudes and forces herself on them. She joins them for tea, interrupting their sadness with her talk. She can’t seem to stop talking. Alec gets up to catch his train. As he leaves, he squeezes Laura’s shoulder for one last goodbye. Then he walks out of the station. It’s over, but how can it be over? Laura’s heart is dying, and when the woman goes to the counter to retrieve her tea, Laura leaves the station. She starts to jump under a train, possibly his train, that is passing but she doesn’t. She returns to the station and almost faints.

Then she is in the living room of her home with her husband and Rachmaninov is playing and her husband comes over to her in her chair where she has been dreaming. He says, “You’ve been a long way away. Thank you for coming back to me.” He doesn’t say, “Back to us.” He says “Back to me.”

David Lean’s first movie that he directed totally alone is over. It is the beginning of David Lean’s ascendancy and Noel Coward’s decline. Already we see the potential of what is to come.

Did Alfred Hitchcock have erotic dreams about Grace Kelly?

The Director’s wife of twenty years and more was not happy. She had gone onto the set of “Rear Window” for several times and each time, she caught Hitch eyeing his female star more than he normally eyed his female stars. It looked to her like there was love in his eyes. Then again, perhaps it was lust. But lust was not threatening. Alma could deal with lust.

As long as she’d known her husband, Alma knew that Hitch had a thing for blondes. But this was different. This Grace Kelly was becoming a fetish and Alma was concerned. She thought about this concern quite a lot for the next several weeks, several weeks when her beloved Hitch didn’t speak to her. He came home from viewing the rushes and grunted his way through supper, then showered and went off to bed.

What was she to do? she wondered. She had never been challenged for Hitch’s affections this way before. She began to lose sleep. She lost her appetite. Her hair started falling out. If this continued, she would end up as bald as Hitch.

The next time she went to the set, several of the cast approached her and complained about how long the movie was taking. Even James Stewart, always a gentleman and an actor Alma considered extremely nice, even James Stewart yelled at her. But Hitch kept delaying, demanding more and more shots, especially of the blonde actress.

Pretty soon Alma was spending more time alone. She had always enjoyed visiting Hitch’s sets. But now it was either stay away or bite her fingers off out of nervous frustration.

Then she saw it. It was just a little item in the newspaper. Not much of a thing at all. Some little showboat of a prince was coming to town. He had promised one of the local charities that he’d make an appearance for them.

Maybe. Yes, maybe. He was single after all. It was just then that she remembered Grace humming “Some day my prince will come” several times on the set.

Alma called up the actress’ press agent and told him how well she thought Grace was doing with the movie. “She might even get an Oscar for this one,” Alma said. “It’s her best work so far.” Then, just before she hung up, she let it drop. Perhaps it would be good p.r. for Grace and the film if she was seen with this prince. Hollywood royalty and real royalty, that would be the headline. And it would raise money for charity, which was something Hollywood always saw as a good thing.

Well, as you know, the rest is history. Grace and that prince were married and lived magically happily ever after.

But poor Hitch. He never quite recuperated. Sure, there was Eva Marie Saint and Doris Day and Kim Novak and Tippi Hedrun and Janet Leigh. But none were Grace Kelly.

For years, Alma wondered what it was about Grace that hit Hitch so hard. Why had Hitch broken her heart over a Hollywood starlet who would break his heart?

Then, in his eighties, Hitch became ill and passed into a coma. Only once did he wake up. As he lay there, staring at the ceiling, Alma begged, “Why Hitch? Why Grace Kelly?” Hitch did not answer.

Then, days later, as he was getting ready to pass on to that movie studio in the sky, he whispered one final word and died. The word he spoke softly into Alma’s ear was “MacGuffin.”

It’s Christmas, 1183. Let the Games Begin

Peter O’Toole is Henry 2, King of England; Katherine Hepburn is his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. What a pair. You don’t need to know a lot of history to know that “Lion in Winter” is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” in a castle, only the George and Martha of this story have three sons. And all of them have knives. As Eleanor says, “Of course, he has a knife. He always has a knife. We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians.”

The movie, “Lion in Winter”, is set in a castle in the Middle Ages. The only way to heat the joint up is with a family fight. It may be Christmas but Eleanor hits that proverbial nail on the head when she lets out with, “It might as well be Lent.”

And what’s Christmas without a family get-together? The Plantagenets gather at Daddy’s place in Anjou for a jolly good time. Henry is the Lion and Eleanor the Winter, two great forces baring their teeth at one another and using their sons to do it. Henry wants John, the youngest, to be the next king, Eleanor wants Richard to take over the family biz from Dad. Neither parent seems to care much for Geoffrey. So he gets Burgundy. Isn’t that the way it is with middle children? Don’t they always end up with Burgundy?

Along the way, they’ll use Philip, the King of France, to get what they want. As Eleanor tells Richard, “Promise him anything.” It’s the Plantagenet way. But Phil has some tricks up his sleeve too. However, he is never a match for Henry–and Eleanor. The question is: Is Henry a match for his three sons? And his wife of thirty years?

For Hepburn, it is a new career. She had only completed three movies between 1957 and 1968. Much of that time she tended to an ailing Spencer Tracy. He had passed on in 1967 shortly after doing “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. It seemed that now she was liberated, and she gave this magnificent performance, one of the best in a career of great performances. Here she is a match for Lawrence of Arabia, and he too delivers a stunning performance, portraying one of history’s great kings. In addition to these two, there’s a future James Bond as the King of France and Anthony Hopkins, years before he became Sir Anthony, playing Richard.

If you don’t think writers matter, think again. James Goldman’s script, adapted from his play, has some amazing dialogue. It only goes to show how good a director and actors can be with a good, and in this case, a great, script.

Here’s just a sample of a conversation:

Eleanor: You look fit. War agrees with you. I keep informed; I follow all your slaughters from a distance. Do sit down.

Prince Richard: Is this an audience… a good night hug with kisses… or an ambush?

Eleanor: Let’s hope it’s a reunion.

Give yourself a treat and see “Lion in Winter”. I think you’ll love it.

A Movie for Our Times

That Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith). He’s a charmer in “A Face in the Crowd” (1957).. He’s got just about the whole darn country eating out of his hands. Even that Patricia Neal, and she don’t charm so easy.  He turns that smile at you, you’re a goner. He’s so good he can aw-shucks the pants off anybody.

Patricia Neal don’t know where he’s from or who he is.  All she knows is she found him in jail when she’s auditioning folks for her radio show, “Face in the Crowd”. He’s not just another run-of-the-mill hobo. Soon’s she puts him on the show, she knows there ain’t nothing run-of-the-mill about him. He’s got something. That something that just may take him far. It’s a something that’s larger than life.

‘Fore you know it he’s going national. No local radio show is big enough for him. And he does it all. Sings them songs of his, tells stories and lays out wisdom like he’s the Good Lord His own self. Ol’ Lonesome, he’s got folks eating out of the palm of his hand.

For Lonesome, enough ain’t enough. He’s got to have more and more and more. More money. More women. More power. More more. I swear that man is greedy. Greedier than Old Midas ever was.

Seems Patricia Neal has fallen in love with him. She’s blinded by all that charm of his. But there’s that day his charm wears off her but good. She sees him for what he really is, and she doesn’t like it. Seems there ain’t much she can do. Or is there?

Attention Please! Movie Review! Movie Review

Looking for a movie to watch while staying at home. Here’s a gem of a film. It’s the absolutely brilliant The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. ‘Course you can guess what Uncle Bardie will have to say about it. You know he’s about to give an A+. five-star, thumbs-up to the 2005 film, based on the equally brilliant book of the same name.

There’s few films that should be seen over and over again. Not many but a few. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the leader of that pack. It’s Doctor Who with a good budget, only better. Actually it is three movies in one. First you see it forward. Then you see it backward on a backward movie-playing machine. You can purchase the special player to play it backwards from a little old lady on Fifty-fourth Street. She gets them wholesale from a warehouse in the two-hundred-and-third dimension. Finally you play it sideways. But that’s a whole different fish of another sea.

Speaking of fish, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy begins with dolphins singing their farewell to the planet, “So long and thanks for all the fish.” Then there’s a man waking up and yawning. Can’t you feel the excitement building up? Before you know it, he’s brushing his teeth. His name is Arthur Dent.

Outside some guys are about to break Arthur’s house. They’re tearing it down to make room for a new highway. They have bulldozers to do the job too. Unfortunately that isn’t the bad news. The bad news, the Vogons are coming. What’s the big deal about that? you ask.

That is where Ford Prefect, Arthur’s friend, comes in. He knows things because he’s from somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. This is a really good part of the movie where the two have a drink in the local pub and the drinking is done to the sound of Perry Como singing “Magic Moments” in the background.

Any movie that can get Perry Como singing in it is bound to get at least one star just for the effort. Ford tells Arthur that the earth is going to be destroyed in about twelve minutes, just enough time for Arthur and Ford to consume three beers. What’s an end of the world without a beer or two?

The Vogons are going to blow up earth to make room for a new thoroughfare through this corner of space. Just as Arthur and Ford are finishing up their last beer, a spaceship arrives and its driven by those Vogons. A very ugly race indeed. So ugly they put the ug in ugly.

Before they can make the earth go kablooey, Ford throws out his towel and grabs Arthur and they are transported inside the Vogon vessel. Arthur has done his first bit of hitchhiking, thanks to Ford’s towel. And don’t panic. The dolphins got the heck off the third-planet-from-the-sun safely.

To understand the outer space creatures, Arthur needs to stick a fish in his ear. The fish do the translating from Vogon to Arthur Dent-ish. Arthur and Ford are escorted to an arena where the Vogons are reciting poetry. The Vogons are possibly, no make that definitely, the worst reciters of poetry in the galaxy, and possibly in the universe. Oh, you think not. I’m here to tell you men have gone insane listening to Vogon poetry. Somehow, and that is a big somehow, Arthur manages a smile and says some nice things about the poem recited.

Suddenly he and Ford are dropped back into space. (And they didn’t even receive an invitation from Space either.) They manage to hold their breaths for thirty seconds before they fall into another spaceship. They find themselves turned into sofas and in a white room. (I mean, if you’re going to land in an alien spacecraft, what better disguise  than a sofa. I’ve had dreams of being a sofa, but all I do in those dreams is sit there and wait for something to happen.)

They shake off their sofa disguises and the door opens. In comes a very depressed robot named Marvin, voiced by Alan Rickman. He was built with GPP. That stands for Genuine People Personality. Marvin, not Alan Rickman.

How do we know that Marvin is depressed? He talks. If Alan Rickman was a depressed robot, this is the depressed robot he’d be. Some of the things Marvin says: “I’d make a suggestion but you wouldn’t listen. No one ever does.” “I’ve been talking to the ship’s computer. It hates me.” And “I have a million ideas. They all point to certain death.”

On the spaceship, Arthur and Ford meet the heroine, Trillian (Zooey Deschanel). It takes a lot of courage to be on the same ship with the worst dressed sentient being in the universe. But Trillian is up to the job.

Zaphod Beeblebrox, better known as a narcissistic moron, has two heads, one inside the other. He’s the president of the galaxy. And he is a narcissistic moron. But you can take some comfort in the fact that he does smarten up when he puts on the Thinking Cap. He is in search of the ultimate question. He already has the ultimate answer. That answer is 42.

In pursuit of this ultimate question, Arthur, Ford, Zooey, Marvin and Zaphod go to the legendary planet Margrathea. Unfortunately, when they arrive, not one but two, yes two, nuclear missiles are fired at them. What happens next? You will have to see the movie to find out. Let’s just say it has to do with a whale. Marvin sums the experience up in his own inimitable way with: “I told you this would all end in tears.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the few movies that can out-Fifth Element The Fifth Element. If any studio is thinking of remaking this movie, don’t. This is a movie that should only be remade once every two hundred years. Go ahead and do 27.5 remakes of Batman Begins. I really don’t care. Just leave Hitchhiker’s Guide alone. If you do make the attempt, don’t be surprised if a Vogon shows up at your door with that darn nasty attitude of theirs.

Oh, one final thing. Make sure you’ve got your towel when you see this one. You might need it. And Marvin will appreciate it.