Robert Mitchum Spotlight: Home from the Hill

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Thanks, everyone for the recommendations of Robert Mitchum films to explore during this winter’s festival of a star whose filmography I know too little about. Home from the Hill (1960) is a family saga of repressed passions with the scale and flavor of Giant (1956). This film is a better melodrama with puzzling characters that lodge in your heart. Combine the fine direction by Vincente Minnelli, the strong presence by Mitchum, the excellent acting by newbies George Peppard and George Hamilton, and place them on location shots of Paris, TX (exterior) and Oxford, Mississippi (interior) for a charismatic, southern experience.  Check out the Turner Classic Movies site for facts and trivia found HERE

“Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson

Under the wide and starry sky/Dig the grave and let me lie:/Glad did I live and gladly die,/And I laid me down with a will.

This be the verse you ‘grave for me:/ Here he lies where he long’d to be;/Home is the sailor, home from the sea,/And the hunter home from the hill.

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Captain Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum) has everything a man could desire. He possesses a beautiful wife, Hannah (Eleanor Parker), and the wealth and power as an East Texas baron. His son Theron will carry on the family name, and a collection of stuffed trophies are daily reminders of his prowess as outdoors man. Wade Hunnicutt is the epitome of the alpha dog who does what he wants when he wants because he can.

Now step behind the impressive facade of wealth and power, and the thorns and scars of a broken family emerge, player by player. Who is Rafe played by George Peppard? Sensitive, wise, calm, tender, honorable–George gives a performance that overshadows his mentor, Robert Mitchum. It is the primary reason to watch the film for Rafe is a character that will stay with you long after the film is over.  I admire the direction of Vincente Minnelli. His staging and versatile shots are beautiful, colorful and balanced.

For me, epics are hard to watch because they run too long or the melodrama descends into a soap opera or the acting dips and feels flat. Take Giant for instance. However, Home from the Hill has enough plot twists and room for all the characters to change and grow.  My only criticism would be I disliked how the music manipulated the audience to respond emotionally instead of allowing the actors to do that. When the scene changed, the music staged the mood and how you should react to it. Still, 150 minutes flew by, and I cared for many of the characters, especially Rafe. 4.5 / 5.

Did you feel sorry for confused son Theron? Libby who disgraced her family? Bitter and icy Hannah? What was your favorite scene? 

David Bowie and The Elephant Man

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In Chicago,1980, I saw David Bowie on stage as John Merrick in The Elephant Man. Without using prosthetic or make up, he contorted his torso and twisted his arm to imitate the Victorian freak show attraction. In Merrick, the head covered with fungal abnormalities held the bountiful dreams of the inner man. During the performance, I was in the third row pinching myself, because a short distance away from was the pop-icon. I held my breath; I was part of an audience that was silent, listening to words instead of the music. My admiration for Bowie as an actor superseded my appreciation for him as a musician. After multiple albums including The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Heroes, and Let’s Dance, I enjoyed seeing Bowie in a different light. As an actor, I was impressed.

Discovered in a freak show, John Merrick was rescued by a doctor who transferred the side-show attraction from the dark alleys of the Whitechapel District in London to the chandelier-parlors of the elite. John Merrick was a physical abomination. In the telling of the story, he shared an emotional connection with Mrs. Kendal, a famous actress and their link was obvious. Their personae was the only dimension anyone cared to see. I can see why David Bowie wanted to play this role. I have wondered about icons in general. They are larger than life and defined by their exteriors. What about the vulnerable, human inside? That love-hate relationship with the paparazzi? Did their dreams of fame become a curse?

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Do you like David Lynch’s 1980 film?

In the notorious Whitechapel district in London, John (Joseph) Merrick appeared briefly in the Jack the Ripper story which starred Johnny Depp in From Hell (2001). 

How did Merrick inherit the name The Elephant Man? In Victorian days, “maternal impression” was a belief that the mother’s emotional/psychological perceptions transferred to the child. Supposedly, an elephant startled Merrick’s mother at a circus while she carried him. By the age of five, his skin and bone abnormalities presented themselves. The weight of his malformed head caused Merrick’s death. It’s a sad story.

David Bowie’s performance has stayed with me over the decades later. While Mark Hamill and Bradley Cooper have played The Elephant Man on stage, and I don’t know how well they did, I find it hard to imagine them outdoing Bowie’s performance. He understood the duplicity of appearance and reality. The facade of the freak show marvel vs. the private, gentle man who dreamed and possessed ideas like the rest of us.

Ang Lee stars in the Lucky 13 Film Club

Welcome Stu from Popcorn Nights for helping me host December’s topic, the filmography of Ang Lee. Stu says: 

Not many directors can deliver an eclectic range of genres like Ang Lee. During the last twenty-odd years, he has consistently offered viewers four star films, and a few of them are outstanding. Some directors have bursts and lulls and some lose their mojo. Ang Lee, however, rarely wastes my time, and I appreciate that. Sense and Sensibility and Lust, Caution are my personal favorites.

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Her role was dense and the story line creamy and hot, a mug brimming with secrets and meaningful glances; this quiet thriller simmers, and clocked at two hours and thirty-nine minutes, you’ll need time and a comfy couch to sip and savor this sensory treat. Chinese actress Tang Wei portrays secret agent Wong Chia Chi, or Jiazhi, involved in an espionage ring of revolutionaries who plot to kill Mr. Yee, a despised, political official of the Imperial Japanese Army during 1938-1942. Set in Hong Kong and Shanghai, this unusual love story encapsulated a range of emotions including passion, tenderness, hatred, and sacrifice–it hearkened to nineteenth century sophistication like Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. The obvious theme is secrecy. No one is who they claim to be, and the cast of characters are surprised at the lengths they are willing to go for their passions. This is an Ang Lee specialty. No character is allowed to be simple. When it comes to relationships, they are complicated and universal.

Let’s talk about sex. 

Rated NC-17, for the first hour, Lee establishes the back story and has us empathizing with Wong Chia Chi as the naïve girl who loves to go to the movies and discovers she is good at acting at her Chinese university. She assumes the identity as Mrs. Mai and infiltrates the inner circle of Mr. Lee. Coy and confident, we can see she is acting, mimicking the actresses she has seen on the screen and participating in a cause for the rebellion. When she becomes Mr. Lee’s mistress and the sex happens, Mr. Lee and she reach a level of intimacy that flips what is real and what is fake. The world gets their masked exteriors while out of their need for one another, trust and authenticity blossoms. I wasn’t watching sex, I was privy to a concert of the beautiful music of blended bodies. Sex was a supporting character of the composition. That level of intimacy combined with beautiful costumes, exotic settings, and great acting by the entire cast, few directors (Jane Campion’s,The Piano) have managed to pull it off–love–but Ang Lee succeeds here.

I am echoing Tom’s questions and invite you to comment about any of Ang Lee’s films. Why do you like Ang Lee? Is it the complicated love relationships? His genre repertoire? His collaborations? His experimentation of special effects and how it is used to extend the story line?

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