A wonderful homage to the cinema industry and the legacy of films.
The smell of coffee fills the air of the large cinema as it starts to fill with people. This early morning screening is part of a special strand of the Glasgow Film Festival, paying tribute to the late American actress and singer Gloria Grahame. Before the screening begins, Alan Hunter – co-director of the festival – gives a short introduction to the film, providing some context on the time-period, the inspiration behind the main characters (which is rumoured to be Zelda and Fitzgerald), and the many Oscars the film won (5 out of 6 nominations). I found this opening a very nice addition to the screening, helping integrate the film as part of the festival, and setting this screening apart from a rewatch of an old classic at home.
Unlike many in the crowd, I had not seen this 1950s American melodrama before, and I was very pleasantly surprised by it. Following the fall from grace of a prominent and talented producer – Jonathan Shields (played by Kirk Douglas) – three of his old colleagues are contacted in the hope of creating a movie under Shields to reinvigorate his status At first, all three of his old friends – director Fred Amiel (played by Barry Sullivan), writer James Lee (played by Dick Powell), and actress Georgia Lorrison (played by Lana Turner) – adamantly decline.
The following hour and a half explores three separate story lines, as each of the characters delve into their past with Jonathan Shields to justify why they won’t work with him ever again. They reveal how they met Jonathan, became his close friend and were ultimately betrayed by his ego. While all three of these characters are talking about the same man, each story manages to be distinctly compelling. Fred’s story pertains to the rise of Jonathan, and their journey as co-workers until Jonathan takes credit for Fred’s script.
Dick’s narrative explores how he was lured to Hollywood to write a screenplay adaptation of his book. He moves with his wife Rosemary, played by Gloria Grahame, but because of her incessant distractions, Dick struggles to write. This leads Jonathan to create distance between the couple, which finally results in a plane crash. While not directly responsible for her death, Jonathan does little to console his new friend, and instead rejoices at the lack of distractions her death will allow. Finally, Georgia’s story follows her rise to stardom as she becomes Jonathan’s muse, luring her to do his bidding with the promise of love.
While most of the plot is serious, there is a strong sense of comedy sprinkled throughout. One scene that I found particularly funny was when Jonathan carries an exhausted and drunk Georgia in his arms back to his house. We expect him to be chivalrous and loving, but instead he dumps her unceremoniously into his pool. The film successfully plays with the audience’s expectations like this on several occasions. Furthermore, the talented actors are able to capture both the dramatic moments that the film requires to build tension, and the lightness of comedic timing. This balance is achieved perfectly throughout, which keeps the narrative flowing easily despite its long runtime.
While the new screenings are clearly the main attraction of a Film Festival, I found the Glasgow Film Festival’s appreciation for older films a beautifully complimentary attribute. Not only does it attract a broader audience, with an older crowd getting the chance to revisit films they might have enjoyed in their youth on a big screen again, it also affords a sense of legacy and history to the festival. On my way out of the cinema, I overheard a lady tell her friend: “It was really nice seeing an old movie like that.” And I couldn’t agree more.