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Tag Archives: Cineguild

Blanche Fury (Feb. 19, 1948)

Marc Allégret’s Blanche Fury is a brilliantly made bodice-ripper. It’s based on the 1939 historical romance by Marjorie Bowen (published under Bowen’s pseudonym “Joseph Shearing”), and it strikes the perfect balance between high-minded Victorian drama and tawdry escapism.

The attractive and imperious English actress Valerie Hobson is perfectly cast as Blanche, a proud young woman forced to labor as a servant after the deaths of her parents.

When the film begins, it is 1853, and Blanche Fuller is continually being sacked from her domestic positions for her acid tongue and independent manner. She is 25 years old, ambitious, and has no desire to live the rest of her life as a paid companion to bedridden old ladies.

So when she accepts a position at Clare Hall from her uncle, Simon Fury (Walter Fitzgerald), she has her sights set on bigger things than room, board, and a small salary.

Her uncle Simon’s son, Laurence Fury (Michael Gough), is a widower with a young daughter, Lavinia (Susanne Gibbs), who has had neither suitable companionship nor adequate tuition since her mother’s death.

Blanche and the young girl have an easy rapport and grow to love each other. The same cannot be said of Blanche and Laurence, even though Blanche marries him to secure her position as an aristocratic lady.

The viewer gets the sense that there wouldn’t be much of an erotic spark between them even without the presence of Philip Thorn (Stewart Granger), the illegitimate offspring of the late Adam Thorn and an Italian woman.

Thorn is the squire of Clare Hall, and a servant, but he is as desperate to take his “rightful place” as Blanche is to take hers.

Still photographs don’t fully convey Stewart Granger’s erotic power in this film. His performance as Thorn is as pitch-perfect as Hobson’s performance as Blanche. He perfectly captures Thorn’s ambition and seductive power, as well as the violence and malevolence that swirls below his icy surface.

Blanche Fury has a faster pace than a lot of historical melodramas. There are fires, murders, dastardly schemes, and even dangerous bands of Gypsies. Clifton Parker’s music is full of drama and passion. The Technicolor cinematography is gorgeous. Victorian romances aren’t always to my liking, but it didn’t take long for Blanche Fury to completely engross me.

It’s currently streaming on Netflix. The color looks a little washed out and the print is a little softer than I’d like, but it’s a decent copy. There’s also — at least for the time being — a full version of the film on YouTube, which you can watch below:

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Great Expectations (Dec. 26, 1946)

I’ve never held Charles Dickens in the high esteem that many others do. Granted, I’ve only read one of his novels in its entirety — Hard Times (1854). Based solely on that book and the story “A Christmas Carol,” which I’m pretty sure I’ve read in its original form at least once, Dickens was a splendid caricaturist. I could picture every facet of the grotesque antagonists and tenacious protagonists of Hard Times. They looked and acted like real people. But it was all on the surface. None of them felt like real people, and I was never convinced that they had internal lives or realistic motivations. I’m a big fan of psychological realism and believable characters, so if I’m going to read a Victorian novel, I’d much rather it be by George Eliot or Thomas Hardy than by Dickens.

The only other Dickens novel I’ve ever taken a crack at was Great Expectations (1861), which was assigned reading in my 9th-grade English class. I never finished it. (Sorry, Ms. Lee-Tino.)

But based on the roughly 25% of the novel that I did read, David Lean’s Great Expectations seems like a pretty solid adaptation. Orphaned boy Phillip “Pip” Pirrip (Anthony Wager) lives with his ill-tempered older sister (Freda Jackson) and her husband, Joe Gargery (Bernard Miles), a kind-hearted blacksmith. One night, out on the moors, Pip is accosted by an escaped convict, Abel Magwitch (Finlay Currie), who makes him promise to return with food and a file with which to saw through his chains. The terrified Pip keeps his promise, but the authorities arrive on the scene, Magwitch attacks another escapee, and they’re both taken back to prison.

Soon, we meet one of Dickens’s great grotesque characters, Miss Havisham (Martita Hunt), a mentally twisted shut-in who is gleefully brainwashing her beautiful young charge Estella (Jean Simmons) to be the ultimate heartbreaker, and punish men who are foolish enough to fall in love with her. Pip is sent to Miss Havisham’s on a regular basis to improve his manners, but it should go without saying that he ends up receiving a very different kind of education.

All of this is very well done, and beautifully filmed — especially the scenes at night on the moors. The problem for me came after about 40 minutes, when several years pass and Anthony Wager is replaced by John Mills — as the adult version of Pip — for the rest of the picture. Although Pip has only supposed to have aged a few years (from boyhood to manhood), Mills was 38 years old, and the effect is jarring. He’s perfectly handsome, but he just doesn’t look like a young man starting out in the world. The other major actor to change is Estella, which is even more jarring. The gorgeous 17 year-old Jean Simmons is replaced by the 29 year-old Valerie Hobson, who is far less charming than Simmons and looks nothing like her.

Great Expectations premiered in the United Kingdom on December 26, 1946, and opened in the United States during the spring of 1947. At the 20th Academy Awards, it was nominated for best picture, David Lean was nominated for best director, and the film was nominated for best adapted screenplay. It won two awards, one for best black and white cinematography and one for best black and white art direction.

I enjoyed it, but the change of actors in midstream and the general Dickensian nonsense of the plot kept me at arm’s length. Great Expectations is beloved by a great many people, however, so if it sounds as if it’s up your alley, by all means check it out.