Evelyn Prentice (1934)

The union of marriage is one that is cherished and celebrated by virtually all societies. It represents love, companionship, and most of all trust between two individuals with presumable a deeply shared connection. A great deal of responsibility, compromising, and openness must be mutual between both parties in cultivating an increasingly grounded and resonant amalgamation, especially with children present. It is when mistrust and dishonesty begin budding that this growing, anchored foundation may become windswept. It is history and sincerity that then drives the path towards dissolution or resolution. “Evelyn Prentice” is a 1934 drama directed by William K. Howard starring the dynamic duo of William Powell and Myrna Loy exploring this very issue with a very unique, unusual, and devastating secret at its core.

John Prentice (William Powell) is a confident and flirtatious defence lawyer who has the reputation of winning all of his cases. Nancy Harrison (Rosalind Russell) is his latest client who he acquitted who is obviously very grateful for his services, but wants to continue a very different kind of service with him behind closed doors. John’s marriage to Evelyn (Myrna Loy) is deemed to be quite peachy to others, but his physical and mental absence related to work poses great discomfort with Evelyn. She catches the eye of master money manipulator Lawrence Kennard (Harvey Stephens), and they begin written correspondence. Various events lead to Evelyn asking Lawrence to end their communication, but he threatens her with blackmail. A gunshot is then heard with Evelyn running out of the apartment, and speculations subsequently run wild.

This particular project is obviously quite different from Loy and Powell’s other well-known pairings for two obvious reasons that come to mind. It is definitely NOT a comedy, and the gumshoeing as per the Thin Man movies is not collaborative at all. In fact, there is a high amount of secrecy and concealment on Evelyn’s part. Despite the differences and intermittent datedness of some core messages in the film, it still displays the timeless ample tension, doubt, and fear that accompany a team in distress. Loy and Powell demonstrate their chemistry and charisma in this dramatic and problematic atmosphere that would only grow with further pairings, helping to create the iconic partnership forever embedded in cinema.

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I do not own the above photo. Also, this post is part of the Bill and Myrna’s New Year’s Blogathon hosted by The Flapper Dame and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies! Please check out the other posts!

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The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover (1989)

The unfortunate reality of oppression and tyranny continues to reign in various facets of society, from households to governments. The sheer bravado, sense of entitlement, and perception of power that shrouds those in control creates an alternative truth from the actualities of the world in which they live. All of this heightened greed serves to further destroy and suppress the desires and wishes of those dependent on these deemed leaders. However, borne from this suffering often comes protest, revenge, and ultimately poetic and social justice. “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” is a delicious (no pun intended) satire directed by Peter Greenaway which addresses this common historical tale with style, wit, dark humour, and vengeance.

The title is most appropriate for the film, as the crux of the story revolves around the four aforementioned characters. Richard Boarst (Richard Bohringer) is the devoted and knowledgeable head chef of the prestigious “Le Hollandaise” restaurant. He is overrun and owned by the ruthless, bolstering, and possessive buffoon, Albert Spica (Michael Gambon). Spica frequents the restaurant every night with his band of unmerry men (quite the opposite of Robin Hood) whereby he abuses any customer, friend, or foe who slightly displeases him. His classy yet unfortunate wife, Georgina (the fabulous Helen Mirren), is trapped in a highly abusive marriage, yearning for a means to think and act for herself. Along comes Michael (Alan Howard), a bookkeeper who frequents the restaurant as well and who also catches the eye of Georgina. They begin having a torrid affair during bathroom breaks and in the kitchen with Richard’s aid in concealing the lust. This is amidst Albert’s complete oblivion to his wife’s inner torture in their marriage. Brutality, increasing deception, literary attentiveness, and the stripping of innocence subsequently occur, culminating in a disturbing yet just finale.

I must mention the glorious set design and cinematography of the film, which I feel further highlights many themes in the film. Firstly, the camerawork is so fluid, gliding from intense, violent imagery to more still and orderly surroundings with gradual, smooth transitions between the scenes. The warehouse design of the kitchen and decadence of the restaurant accents the large class divide and inequities between those served and those being served. The stark white bathrooms represent sanctuary and momentary purity from the stresses of life. The harsh and bright red shades in the dining room are quite intense, showcasing fear, control, anger, and bloodshed. I feel that the calmness of the blues and greens within the kitchen emphasizes the community and loyalty amongst the staff, their strength, and fortitude. While Albert threatens to crumble and invade the white, green, and blue settings, the resiliency of the seemingly “lower class group” and the empowering and fearless Georgina rise to combat his power. Overall, I feel that this film is a perfect blend of genres and use of environmental surroundings showcasing the importance of defending human rights and equity for all in the face of utter repression.

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I do not own the above image.

The American Friend (1977)

The art and mastery of deception have been approached by many and accomplished by few. Distinguishing features discerning individuals’ capabilities in this realm include narcissism, antisocial traits, and overall lack of empathy. Those with these aforementioned traits may slide into the world of fraudulence with great ease while those with higher levels of compassion and appreciation of others’ needs undoubtedly experience guilt. However, particular needs, desires, and goals may create drive to bypass emotions associated with guilt to fulfill immoral acts. Wim Winders’ 1977 neo-noir “The American Friend” based on Patricia Highsmith’s 1974 novel “Ripley’s Game” wholeheartedly explores this concept with a humble frame-maker at the epicentre of this dilemma.

Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz) is, as already mentioned, an owner of a frame-making shop in Hamburg with an extremely rare hematological malady. He has an initial icy encounter with wealthy American “cowboy” and art forgery extraordinaire Tom Ripley (Dennis Hopper) at an art auction. French gangster Raoul Minot (Gerard Blain) subsequently asks Ripley to kill members of a rival crime syndicate. Displeased by this interaction with the frame-maker, Ripley indirectly rights this disdainful encounter by setting up Zimmermann as a lowly assassin for this purpose. Unsuspecting and honest Zimmermann is thus carefully manipulated and deeply thrust into the once unknown crime underworld with financial coercion.

Many elements of this film create synergy in its effective delivery of suspense and urgency. The slow buildup of knowingly future tense scenes produces a sense of dread, desperation, and bewilderment. I feel that this necessary technique pays homage to the film noir aura, and especially the style of Hitchcock. The dissimilar and plot-enhancing fast-paced train sequence pays homage to “Shadow of a Doubt” and “Strangers on a Train”, the latter which is based on a novel of the same name written by Highsmith. I also believe that he contrasting vast scenery of Hamburg and claustrophobic images within rooms amplify the conflicted and tormented inner selves of the main characters.

Ultimately, Ripley and Zimmermann establish a mutual agreement. Some may even call it a friendship, with Ripley being “the American friend”. However, there is a lack of genuineness and sense of hypocrisy in the contextual use of the word. This amicability was built on lies, murder, initial disrespect, and exploitation. I believe that both used each other as means to an end in their pursuits, which is unfortunately how some so-called “friendships” operate in the real world. Roots of jealousy and conspiracy can grow from either acquaintances or perceivably strong friendships, leading to a destructive snowball effect. It is therefore imperative that honesty, humility, respect, and true care serve as the foundation for any relationship.

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I do not own the above image.