Tag Archives: Daphne Du Maurier

Hungry Hill (1947, Brian Desmond Hurst)

I have never read Hungry Hill: The Novel, but even before I finished watching Hungry Hill: The Film, I’d decided it’s one of the worst novel-to-film adaptations. It’s impossible know what point novel author Daphne Du Maurier was trying to make but it didn’t come through in the film. If she was even just going for an engaging yarn, it didn’t come through. If she was even just going for rank, trite melodrama, it didn’t come through. Hungry Hill: The Film, which is dropping the subtitle from here on, isn’t even successfully melodramatic. It’s not successfully anything.

And maybe the weirdest thing about the film and it being an unsuccessful adaptation is the co-screenwriters… Du Maurier co-wrote the screenplay. She helped gut (based on my read of a synopsis online) her novel and reduce it to….

Not drivel (not exactly). But to the muck. She helped reduce it to the muck.

The first hour ends up being a love triangle between top-billed Margaret Lockwood and brothers Dennis Price and Michael Denison. It doesn’t start as a love triangle involving Lockwood, who takes forever to finally arrive and then doesn’t make things any better. The not better things are Price and Denison’s dad, Cecil Parker; he’s an asshole who pits his kids against each other but clearly favors Denison. Price ends up being the protagonist though, so Parker’s favor means little. Lockwood likes Denison because… he’s rich? At least with Price, she can like his unrestrained passion—Price and Lockwood share some of the flattest, most passionless movie kisses ever caught on celluloid. Especially since Lockwood’s supposed to be a big-time flirt. She’s just a big-time flirt who has zero interest in kissing.

For a while there are also two sisters—Jean Simmons and Barbara Waring. Waring’s around for background scenery and Simmons is there to give Price a chance to be a cool guy even though Parker hates him and Lockwood prefers his brother.

Once the film starts jumping ahead six months every two scenes, it’s only a matter of time before Simmons is presumably going to age out. She’s supposed to be the kid sister, after all. The film ingloriously dumps her and Waring, then remembers to start putting Parker in some old age makeup.

The last thirty or so minutes of Hungry Hill is all about the next heir, Dermot Walsh, clashing with grandfather Parker while mom Lockwood shields him from accountability. The film has lots of time jumps in this last thirty, but they’re rarely identified. Walsh never has to put on old age makeup, though I think his hair style changes. It’s all about him being a self-destructive blue blood alcoholic prick who’s in love with his brother’s fiancée (Eileen Herlie), who leads him on whenever the opportunity presents. There’s like one scene with Herlie and Lockwood (who’s in a bunch of old age makeup but’s still glamorous) and if they’d just chuck the script and have it about them rolling dudes in Monte Carlo or something… well, Hungry Hill would be saved.

Alas, no.

Hungry Hill is a multi-generational family epic with no interest in the family or the epic. The time it spends on Price and Lockwood’s… whatever isn’t just absent chemistry, it’s also narratively pointless given the third act. Again, whatever Du Maurier’s point for the story, for her 400-ish page novel, it never comes across. There’s a whole warring families thing between blue blood Parker and working class Arthur Sinclair but it’s never dramatic, which is an astounding failure given how the plot perturbs. It’s all over the title hill, where Parker is putting in a copper mine. Sinclair’s family used to own the land but Parker got it somehow because blue blood vs. working class. The kicker is Parker doesn’t even need the mine’s profits. He just wants to mine. Parker’s thoughtless, exploitative capitalist scum, Sinclair’s an annoying dick. Not exactly the fight of the century.

Price is likable and gives the film’s de facto best performance. Simmons is likable but she’s just there to prop up the mens. Walsh is terrible. Lockwood’s all right, all things considered. All right over all. She’s really boring at the beginning. Director Hurst seems to think her cleavage is the most important thing about her character. Parker’s bad. They’re all playing badly drawn caricatures. The film’s got no time for character development. The first act doesn’t skip months and years every scene but it tends to skip days and weeks. And it’s not like the actors get any help from Hurst, whose direction lacks even the wooden passion of the film’s kisses.

Real quick about Hurst. His direction is pretty bad, but some of it seems to be a lack of budget. At some point there just aren’t any exteriors available and establishing shots are rare—there’s always a lot at the mine though, like it’s the only real exterior they could shoot on. Hurst can show enthusiasm, however. For the fist fights. The film’s got two brawls and one mano a mano. Hurst all of a sudden remembers he can shoot things on an angle when the fists fly. Terrible, terrible angles.

Desmond Dickinson’s photography isn’t very good. Alan Jaggs’s editing makes no impression and is therefor fine. John Greenwood’s music starts out all right but gets utterly detached from the onscreen “drama.” It’s like Greenwood didn’t see the movie. Lucky him.

Hungry Hill does get one interested in the novel, if only to see what it was supposed to be like, though the film version might curse—oh, yeah, there’s a pointless Irish curse thing—anyway, the film version might curse the well. The hill. Doesn’t matter: the hill is an utterly unmemorable peak on a matte painting.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst; screenplay by Francis Crowdy, Terence Young, and Daphne Du Maurier, based on the novel by Du Maurier; director of photography, Desmond Dickinson; edited by Alan Jaggs; music by John Greenwood; produced by William Sistrom; released by General Film Distributors.

Starring Margaret Lockwood (Fanny Rosa), Dennis Price (Greyhound John Brodrick), Dermot Walsh (Wild Johnnie Brodrick), Cecil Parker (Copper John Brodrick), Michael Denison (Henry Brodrick), Jean Simmons (Jane Brodrick), Barbara Waring (Barbara Brodrick), Dan O’Herlihy (Harry Brodrick), Eileen Herlie (Katherine), Arthur Sinclair (Morty Donovan), Michael Golden (Sam Donovan), Siobhan McKenna (Kate Donovan), and F.J. McCormick (Old Tim).



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The Scapegoat (1959, Robert Hamer)

Despite Bette Davis playing a French dowager countess, The Scapegoat always feels very British. It’s probably exaggerated a little because it takes place in France, features mostly British people (save American Irene Worth) playing French people. Nicole Maurey is the only actual French person in the film, certainly the only one with a French accent. It draws some attention to her and how little she fits with the rest of the film, but it somehow works pretty well, which the film acknowledges enough to take for granted.

Scapegoat is also a little strange because it’s a character study of lead Alec Guinness, who’s in the middle of a peculiar mystery. The film opens with Guinness arriving in France on holiday; he’s a bored bachelor school teacher who’s given up on doing anything but teaching French to rich little British snots. He goes to France every year for the holiday and this time he’s thinking of just staying. He gets his wish in the form of… Alec Guinness. See, turns out Guinness has a French double and his double is a French nobleman who’s got land, title, and a whole bunch of debt. French Guinness is also at least a sociopath and always up to some kind of no good, having—it turns out—just ducked out on wife Worth after she’s suffered a miscarriage, but he also skipped out on mistress Maurey. Neither woman ends up getting an explanation because when Guinness gets home to his estate, he’s not French Guinness, he’s British Guinness. The double got him pass out drunk, switched places, disappeared.

Going forward—British Guinness is always going to be Guinness and French Guinness is always going to be French Guinness. So Guinness doesn’t really get particularly interested in why French Guinness has changed places with him, as life on the estate is an unhappy mess. French Guinness had left under the pretense he’d had a schizophrenic mental breakdown and needed to go to Paris to party. As much as any Alec Guinness, French or otherwise, is going to party. All by himself. No families, mistresses, doctors. And nobody except daughter Annabel Bartlett really seemed to care. But Guinness Guinness is overwhelmed at all the double has around him. He’s got a great kid, a sympathetic wife, a mistress, an estate, a failing but beloved business, and a cranky but not actually dangerous bedridden mum, Davis. Guinness tries to fix French Guinness’s life, which is the character study. But there’s still the mystery. Even if Guinness doesn’t acknowledge it.

That mystery comes back in the last twenty minutes of the film. The first twenty minutes are kind of slow, the next fifty breeze, the last twenty are a little awkward. Guinness is never appropriately suspicious, there’s not enough with Bartlett in the finale, and the resolution is too abrupt. Those reasons, more than everyone speaking with a British accent save Maurey, are why the film feels so British. It’s almost like director Hamer is trying to direct a slightly different, more comedic mystery script while the script is actually trying not to be comedic or mysterious. Only Hamer wrote the script; based on a Gore Vidal adaptation of the novel. So I want to assume it’s Vidal who turned it into this character study but who knows. Because, based on a summary, the novel sounds a bit more melodramatic.

It works out pretty well in the end, all things considered, but just makes it.

Guinness is phenomenal. The script gives him these great quiet reflection scenes without any narration—his narration is always matter-of-fact and goes away after a while; his reflection scenes are always beyond subtle. He’s exceptionally patient. Then as French Guinness, he’s got this subtle character arc, which the script sort of hints at but Guinness takes it a different direction. It’s rather good.

The special effects putting Guinness on screen twice are all good. Hamer never goofs off too much with it. He’s got an enthusiastic workman quality to his direction here, with cinematographer Paul Beeson helping a bit, and the special effects scenes are just the same. It’s not a gimmick, it’s a scene.

Of the supporting performances, Davis’s is the most fun. She’s got maybe three scenes and manages to imply a character arc. Bartlett’s performance is the most important because she’s the reason Guinness gets so interested. See, French Guinness—despite driving her into town each week for a music lesson (but really so he could go see Maurey)—he always wanted a boy. Guinness has no such prejudice. He also doesn’t have any animosity with Worth, which French Guinness seemed to have cultivated. Worth’s fine. She rarely gets time enough to develop her character. Pamela Brown has a really good scene opposite “brother” Guinness (she’s otherwise background). So all the acting is good or better.

The Scapegoat just has tone problems the conclusion doesn’t resolve satisfactorily enough, which… seems very British to me.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Hamer; screenplay by Hamer, adaptation by Gore Vidal, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier; director of photography, Paul Beeson; edited by Jack Harris; music by Bronislau Kaper; production designer, Elliot Scott; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Alec Guinness (John Barratt), Annabel Bartlett (Marie-Noel), Nicole Maurey (Bela), Irene Worth (Francoise), Geoffrey Keen (Gaston), Noel Howlett (Dr. Aloin), Peter Bull (Aristide), Pamela Brown (Blanche), and Bette Davis (The Countess).



My Cousin Rachel (1952, Henry Koster)

Olivia de Havilland is top-billed on My Cousin Rachel, but Richard Burton’s the star. For better or worse. Burton’s a young English gentleman, de Havilland is his cousin. And his cousin–and guardian’s–widow. She doesn’t appear for the first twenty-five minutes of the film, which instead have Burton becoming more and more concerned for his missing relative, who’s met de Havilland in Italy and impetuously married her.

The cousin calls for Burton because he suspects de Havilland (well, we don’t technically know it’s de Havilland yet because she isn’t in the movie yet) of poisoning him or somehow doing evil to him.

Burton’s trip to Italy culminates the film’s problems with rear screen projection. There’s some bad rear screen projection later, but pretty soon the movie is just set on the estate. The first act is rife with problems though. Joseph LaShelle’s photography never matches, contrast-wise, and director Koster shoots Burton super broody in front of those shots. Burton gets a lot better once de Havilland shows up, but at the beginning, he’s moody for no discernible reason. Other than him–at twenty-four–not being grown-up enough to be home alone (without the cousin who’s going to marry de Havilland… off-screen).

It causes a big disconnect as later on Burton’s often pouting about no one thinking he can put on his big boy pants by himself.

The Italy sequence is mostly indoors, with a couple too brief establishing shots. They don’t have problematic rear screen projection, they have problematic matte paintings. Again, it’s more the photography not matching than anything else causing the problems.

Once Burton gets back–after making a vow over his cousin’s grave to get to the bottom of his death–de Havilland shows up. She’s broke. Burton got all the money. He suspects her of being after it. Only it turns out she’s so sweet and sexy (even if she is thirty-five), Burton can’t resist her.

And then My Cousin Rachel turns into this wonderfully uncomfortable “romance” between de Havilland and Burton. Is she leading him on, how much is she leading him on, is she saint or villain. With a handful of exceptions, all of de Havilland’s scenes are opposite Burton. She gets few to herself, usually meant to raise or assuage the audience’s suspicions, but otherwise every moment is confusion. There’s Burton’s reliability, which gets more and more suspect as he gets more and more enraptured with her, but there’s also de Havilland’s actions and her timing of them. She’s definitely manipulating Burton; is it accidental or intentional. de Havilland has to raise those suspicions in scene and in subtext. There are no showdowns, no big revelations from her. She’s always a mystery. Only de Havilland doesn’t play it like she’s an intentional mystery.

The supporting cast oscillates between reinforcing suspicions and alleviating them. Burton’s guardian, Ronald Squire, is sometimes sure de Havilland’s good, sometimes sure she’s bad. Audrey Dalton, as Squire’s daughter and Burton’s initially presumed love interest, actually has the hardest part in the film because she’s got to get clued in to Burton’s obsession without ever seeing de Havilland encourage it. Given how things shake out in the end–and how badly the Italy interlude goes–Dalton probably should’ve been the protagonist (but not lead). She’s pretty much the only sympathetic character in the whole picture.

Then there’s George Dolenz as de Havilland’s Italian admirer and confidant. He’s another creep who might or might not be a creep. But since Burton gets to be quite the creep himself….

After a somewhat unsteady opening, the film gets quite good for the second and third acts. Burton’s a little too flat in his brooding, but de Havilland plays off it perfectly (apparently they couldn’t stand each other, which just seems to make their lop-sided chemistry all the better). And there’s even some great rear screen projection, albeit not of landscapes but for dream sequences.

The finale, however, is way too abrupt. The film forgets its been calling Burton’s reliability into question and only wants to concentrate on de Havilland’s. In the third act, even in good scenes, it’s hard not to notice there are only two female roles in Rachel–de Havilland’s succubus and Dalton’s saint. Even de Havilland and Dalton bring more to the parts, Johnson’s script doesn’t reward their contributions.

Franz Waxman’s score is all important. It’s dramatic, emotive, scary, lush, tragic, romantic. All the adjectives. The music is what gets the movie through some of the bad rear screen projection photography too. It implies a lot more going on in Burton’s head than Burton’s expressions or the narration do.

Koster’s direction is okay. It’s a little bland and it does nothing to get around the Code constraints, but some of those problems are Johnson’s fault, both as screenwriter and producer. Otherwise, Johnson’s script is excellent.

The movie just cops out with Burton, who’s the lead, even if he’s not top-billed. It’s constructed to cop out on de Havilland, but not on Burton, which is a shame. The film overcomes that first act and gets quite good thanks to de Havilland only to choke at its conclusion. Burton’s too flat on his own, sure, but it’s also on Johnson and Koster.

It’s a shame.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Henry Koster; screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the novel by Daphne Du Maurier; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Johnson; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Olivia de Havilland (Rachel), Richard Burton (Philip), Audrey Dalton (Louise), Ronald Squire (Kendall), George Dolenz (Rainaldi), Tudor Owen (Seecombe), and John Sutton (Ambrose).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE THIRD ANNUAL OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND BLOGATHON HOSTED BY PHYLLIS OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES AND CRYSTAL OF IN THE GOOD OLD DAYS OF CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD.


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