Monday, 11 July 2011

Ray Milland #2

Ten Ray Milland movies you really ought to see - in no particular order, as usual, and over two posts for a change...

The Major and the Minor (Billy Wilder, 1942): a strange, complicated screwball comedy where former scalp masseuse Susan Applegate (Ginger Rogers) manages to pass herself off as both a precocious 12 year-old and her own mother before eventually wedding Major Philip Kirby (Milland), who had initially taken her for a frightened child who needed his help after she had boarded a train with only a child’s ticket and had been caught smoking! Wilder had been in Hollywood for nine years and made a name fro himself as a screenwriter, working with Charles Brackett (who co-scripted this film too), but this was the first movie he directed. Initially, he and Brackett had Cary Grant in mind for the role of Philip Kirby, which wouldn’t be the only time Milland took a role intended for him: twelve years later, Grant wanted to take the role of the husband in Dial M for Murder, but the studio thought audiences would not accept him as someone who arranges for the murder of his wife. Supposedly, Rogers, coming off an Oscar-winning performance in Kitty Foyle, chose both the director and Milland.

“Why don't you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?"

The Uninvited (Lewis Allen, 1947):a romantic gothic tale with a pervasive sense of genuine menace - in the Rebecca mould, but with real ghosts. One of the best filmed ghost stories and one which, thankfully, isn’t over-reliant on special effects. Superbly photographed by Charles Lang, who won the Oscar for Best Black and White Cinematography.

"They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and sea fog, and eerie stories. That’s not because there are more ghosts here than in other places, mind you. It’s just that people who live hereabouts are strangely aware of them."

Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944): a Hitchcockian-style, tense ‘spy-noir’ based on a novel by Graham Greene, set in London during World War Two, in which our hero is on the lam from Nazis and finds himself accused of murder because of a strange string of events kicked off by winning a cake at a village fete.

The Lost Weekend (Billy Wilder, 1945): Milland stars as a New York writer battling alcoholism in this sharp social drama. Allegedly, Wilder wanted to direct this after having worked with the alcoholic Raymond Chandler on Double Indemnity (1944). Although he had played serious roles, the public's view was that Milland was generally a light comedy actor, but Wilder clearly saw more in him and his Oscar-winning performance marked something of a watershed in his career because it changed the movie industry’s perception of his ability and range.

“And out there in that great big concrete jungle, I wonder how many others that are like me. Poor bedeviled guys on fire with thirst. Such comical figures to the rest of the world as they stagger blindly towards another binge, another bender, another spree.”

Panic in the Year Zero! (Ray Milland, 1962): a post-apocalyptic science-fiction movie exploiting the cold war anxieties of the era. After a nuclear attack destroys Los Angeles, Harry Baldwin (Milland) and his family head for the hills to wait for a return to some kind of order, but mob rule takes over and Baldwin must fight force with force to survive, though the film stresses the idea that there must be no end: only a beginning.

Michael Atkinson, of The Village Voice, wrote admiringly: "This forgotten, saber-toothed 1962 AIP cheapie might be the most expressive on-the-ground nightmare of the Cold War era, providing a template not only for countless social-breakdown genre flicks (most particularly, Michael Haneke's Time of the Wolf) but also for authentic crisis—shades of New Orleans haunt its margins...the movie is nevertheless an anxious, detail-rich essay on moral collapse.”

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