Tag Archives: Sylvia Sidney

Sabotage (1936, Alfred Hitchcock)

Sabotage demands the viewer's attention. It opens with a dictionary definition of Sabotage, forcing the viewer to read something and then immediately relate it to the rapidly edited sabotage of a power station. This sequence, which sets off the first act of the film, takes place in maybe a minute, maybe less. Charles Frend's editing is rapid and fluid; it's ever moving, ever graceful.

This first act almost seems like a stage play, establishing the principal cast members. There's suspicious husband Oskar Homolka, his young wife Sylvia Sidney, her younger brother (the reason why she's married to a troll, even if he's nice) Desmond Tester and, finally, the too friendly shop keep from next door John Loder.

Over the film's first sixteen or so minutes, Hitchcock creates an odd domestic short. Sidney doesn't question Homolka, who maybe is just suspicious generally and not explicitly.

But then everything changes–the film follows Homolka and Loder on their separate paths, with Sidney and Tester sort of the spheres they're exerting gravity on. Hitchcock is very expressionistic during the first half of the film; the odd domestic situation, while apparently tolerable, is a little off.

Later on is when Hitchcock opens up, when Sabotage has its first amazing sequence. Then there's a lull and then the second amazing sequence. The second one is nearly silent. The finale, which is intricate, is just gravy.

Sidney and Homolka are both fantastic. Loder's strong. Excellent supporting cast.

Great script, great direction, great Bernard Knowles photography–Sabotage's entirely phenomenal.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by Charles Bennett, Ian Hay, Helen Simpson, E.V.H. Emmett and Alma Reville, based on a novel by Joseph Conrad; director of photography, Bernard Knowles; edited by Charles Frend; produced by Michael Balcon; released by Gaumont British Distributors.

Starring Sylvia Sidney (Mrs. Verloc), Oskar Homolka (Karl Anton Verloc), Desmond Tester (Stevie), John Loder (Ted), Joyce Barbour (Renee), Matthew Boulton (Superintendent Talbot), S.J. Warmington (Hollingshead) and William Dewhurst (The Professor).


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Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams (1973, Gilbert Cates)

What is this film and how have I never heard of it.

Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams is somewhat indescribable in terms of plot. I mean, it obviously isn’t indescribable–I could list the scenes (there are about fifteen in the film, which means it averages a scene every six minutes and that calculation sounds about right) and there’s a narrative, but the film feels like an adaptation of a play. There’s a lot of conversation, a lot of dialogue, but at times, there’s also a lot of movement. So it couldn’t really be a play–the use of Johnny Mandel’s score, absolutely essential, wouldn’t have been done on stage and the film–the story–wouldn’t work without it.

During the last scene, it occurred to me Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams is the end of a long novel. It’s maybe the third part, where the two characters who each got their own earlier section, finally commingle.

Most of the film–it only runs ninety minutes, so most only means fifty minutes to an hour–belongs to Joanne Woodward. She starts it, her relationship with her family kicks off the second half, she gets to do voiceovers, she gets to have dream sequences. It’s her film for a while. But in the last twenty minutes–and here’s where Summer Wishes becomes something entirely singular and spectacular in any American cinema I’ve seen–the film ceases to be about her and becomes about her husband, played by Martin Balsam. Specifically, it’s about him returning–a World War II veteran–to a battlefield. These scenes are of astounding power. American cinema–good and bad–visibly devastates. Starting with the silents, through the Golden Age, into the seventies, now (especially now), it visibly devastates. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just a feature of the way Americans tell stories. Summer Wishes doesn’t visibly devastate. A friend of mine’s coming to visit and wanted to watch a great film he’d never heard of from the 1970s and here I found it without looking.

The film’s obviously not out on DVD–it apparently never even had a laserdisc release–so I got stuck with the pan and scanned VHS. Gilbert Cates, who I’ve never heard of, does an excellent job directing the film. The pan and scan can’t impair it. He makes each line of dialogue, each exchange, spellbinding. There’s an early scene with Woodward and Sylvia Sidney bickering about bickering with each other–the conversation ought to be drawing attention to the artifice, but it doesn’t. It does the opposite. The next scene, with the pair walking down the street, is marvelous (probably the first scene in the film where it occurred to me Summer Wishes was going to be quite good).

Stewart Stern’s script–for a while–uses both dream sequences and voiceover narrations. The narrations seem like a progression from the dreams (the dreams stop once the narration starts), but then the narration goes too. Instead of replacing it with another device, Stern tells the rest of the story without adornment. I kept waiting for the dreams to come back or for another narration, but not only did none ever come, I couldn’t figure out how Stern used them. While watching the film, the thought was brief as not to distract, but as I’m thinking about it now… I don’t understand how Stern’s script works. It shouldn’t, but it excels.

Woodward and Balsam both give great performances. I think Balsam’s a little more impressive, only because Woodward’s frequently excellent. Balsam’s a solid actor, but this performance is just spectacular.

The supporting cast–Sidney, Dori Brenner–is good.

During the last twenty minutes, after it becomes clear how good Summer Wishes is going to turn out, I kept getting excited. Each minute was, I predicted, going to be another great minute of film. And they are.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Gilbert Cates; written by Stewart Stern; director of photography, Gerald Hirschfeld; edited by Sidney Katz; music by Johnny Mandel; production designer, Peter Dohanos; produced by Jack Brodsky; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joanne Woodward (Rita Walden), Martin Balsam (Harry Walden), Sylvia Sidney (Mrs. Pritchett), Tresa Hughes (Betty Goody), Dori Brenner (Anna), Ron Richards (Bobby Walden), Win Forman (Fred Goody), Peter Marklin (Joel) and Nancy Andrews (Mrs. Hungerford).


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