18 April 2019

David and Bathsheba (1951)

In the Technicolor Biblical epic David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951), Gregory Peck plays King David of Israel, who sees the beautiful Bathsheba (Susan Hayward) bathing from the palace roof. She is the wife of Uriah (Kieron Moore), one of his most trusted soldiers who is more devoted to army duty than to his wife. David and Bathsheba succumb to their feelings and their affair results in pregnancy. This has tragic consequences for his family and Israel.

Gregory Peck in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 87. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Kieron Moore.

Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 88. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward.

The infidelity question


David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) was loosely based on the life of David (Gregory Peck), the second King of Israel, who ruled Israel for approximately forty years (c. 1000 B.C. to 960 B.C.). It tells a very intimate story of David's fall from grace and how he tries to find it again.

The youth of David is told in flashback; how he was chosen by a Prophet of Yahweh to be King of Israel, and earns his way to be second to the king, Saul, by defeating Goliath the Philistine in battle when all else are afraid to beard the giant warrior. Goliath of Gath was portrayed by 203 cm-tall Lithuanian wrestler Walter Talun.

Thereafter, David finally is driven from the court of King Saul of Israel (Francis X. Bushman), becomes a famous warrior, and returns to claim the kingdom and become the instrument of death of Jonathan, the King's son, formerly a friend.

David's wars are successful - the film opens in fact with a successful attack scene. When the Ark of the Covenant is brought to Jerusalem, a soldier reaches out to steady it and is struck dead. While the prophet Nathan (Raymond Massey) declares this the will of God, a sceptical David pronounces it the result of a combination of heat-stroke and too much wine.

David's life is empty since his wife Michal (Jayne Meadows), is Saul's daughter and is cold to him. He craves for the true love of a woman who loves him as a man instead of as King. He turns to Bathsheba (Susan Hayward), whom he sees from the palace roof bathing naked.

Later Batsheba admits she had hoped he would see her. But she is married to Uriah (Kieron Moore), one of David's most trusted soldiers, and both know an affair would break the law of Moses. When she becomes pregnant, it becomes necessary for Uriah to come in from the battlefield and spend time at home. David's downfall begins when he orders Uriah into a suicidal battle, knowing that this will clear the way for his relationship with Bathsheba. His infatuation leads him to neglect his kingdom and his people, and invokes the wrath of God.

Uriah is killed, a war hero; but this does not solve the infidelity question.  Nathan the prophet advises David the people are dissatisfied with his leadership and desire his sons to rule. Nathan tells David he has forgotten that he is a servant of the Lord. Drought comes to Israel, and David's and Bathsheba's baby dies. Nathan returns to tell David that God is displeased with his sin. He will not die as the law demands, but he will be punished through misfortune in his family. David must rediscover his faith in God in order to save Bathsheba from death by stoning, his kingdom from drought and famine, and himself from his many sins.

At last, David places his hands on the Ark of the Covenant, recently brought to Jerusalem and housed in a temple, which has caused the death of others who accidentally came in contact with it, inviting his god to punish him - and nothing happens... David exits the temple, and finds that rain has come to his parched land.

Gregory Peck in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 89. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck.

Gregory Peck and Kieron Moore in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 90. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Kieron Moore.

Intense, hypnotising performance


David and Bathsheba (1951) was produced out of 20th Century Fox by Darryl F. Zanuck, and directed by veteran Henry King. The film is based around the second Old Testament book of Samuel from the Bible.

Seeing the success of Cecil B. DeMille's Samson and Delilah (1949), Zanuck had commissioned Philip Dunne to write a script based on King David. Phillip Dunne's Oscar nominated screenplay holds the attention throughout. His script is with much meditation and discussion, interspersed with bursts of word-for-word biblical dramatisations. This makes the film sometimes a bit talkative.

Typically for the genre, David and Bathsheba is a large, grandiose production. From its excellent set designs and art direction by Thomas Little, Lyle Weeler, and George Davis, along Alfred Newman's beautiful music score to the gorgeous Technicolor photography by Leon Shamroy.

The fine cast includes next to the mentioned actors, James Robertson Justice, Raymond Massey and John Sutton plus a dance by a young Gwen Verdon, the future musical theatre star .

David and Bathsheba has all the size and grandeur of many of the great biblical epics of the 1950s and 1960s, but it is the first that humanises the biblical characters themselves. The film earned an estimated $7 million at the US box office in 1951, making it the most popular film of the year.

The power of the film rests in Gregory Peck's intense, hypnotising performance as David. Toward the end, having hit rock bottom, he must answer for his life. These last 15 minutes of the film are great and the handsome Peck is an absolute joy to watch.

Craig Butler at AllMovie: "Fans of Biblical epics will find a lot to like in David and Bathsheba; although there's little here that will appeal to those who don't look favorably upon the genre. The script is predictably overblown, filled with the kind of bombast and stilted melodrama that is to be expected. It's ridiculous, yet in its own strange way, it works."

Gregory Peck and Raymond Massey in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 91. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Raymond Massey.

Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward in David and Bathsheba (1951)
British postcard by The Picturegoer Series, London, no. D 92. Photo: 20th Century Fox. Publicity still for David and Bathsheba (Henry King, 1951) with Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward.

Source: Craig Butler (AllMovie), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), American Film InstituteWikipedia and IMDb.

17 April 2019

Die blaue Laterne (1918)

At the end of the First World War, Henny Porten appeared as a tragic dancer in the drama Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918), based on the novel by Paul Lindau. The film was produced by the pioneering film company Messter-Film, for which Porten had appeared in films since 1906.

Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne (1918)
German postcard in the Film-Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 567/1. Photo: Messter-Film, Berlin. Publicity still of Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918).

Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne (1918)
German postcard in the Film-Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 567/2. Photo: Messter-Film, Berlin. Publicity still of Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918) with Henny Porten and Ferdinand van Alten.

Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne (1918)
German postcard in the Film-Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 567/3. Photo: Messter-Film, Berlin. Publicity still of Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918) with Henny Porten and Ferdinand van Alten.

A hostess in a shady nightclub


Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (1918) was made by Rudolf Biebrach in the Messter film studio in Berlin's Blücherstraße 32. Sets were designed by Jack Winter, while Karl Freund did the cinematography and the later director Eric Charell choreograped the dance scenes. Irene Daland wrote the script.

Sabine Steinhardt (Henny Porten) and her sister Ellen (Johanna Zimmermann) are both dancers. They have lived a righteous life so far when a dramatic event shakes everything up: embassy councilor Von Guntershausen (Ferdinand von Alten) seduces Sabine and makes her his lover. Ellen marries a banker.

After a while, however, Von Guntershausen drops Sabine. Repulsed by Sabine's morally casual way of life, Ellen turns away from her sister. Then Sabine lands as a hostess in the shady nightclub Die blaue Laterne (The Blue Lantern).

One day she accidentally becomes the guardian angel of the child of Privy Councilor Kurt Franzius (Bruno Eichgrün) and saves the child from great danger. Out of love and gratitude, Kurt Franzius wants to marry Sabine. But when he learns from the seducer Guntershausen about Sabine's past life, he refrains from his intention. Desperately, Sabine, now completely isolated, wants to poison herself, but she dies unexpectedly from a heart attack.

Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918) was submitted for German censorship in November 1918, while the premiere in Berlin took place on 29 November 1918, at the Mozartsaal cinema. Paimann’s Filmlisten wrote: "Story, acting and direction are excellent. Photography very good. (A Hit)."

Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne (1918)
German postcard in the Film-Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 567/4. Photo: Messter-Film, Berlin. Publicity still of Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918) with Henny Porten and Johanna Zimmermann.

Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne (1918)
German postcard in the Film-Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 567/5. Photo: Messter-Film, Berlin. Publicity still of Henny Porten in Die blaue Laterne/The Blue Lantern (Rudolf Biebrach, 1918). Porten is visible here in the inn The Blue Lantern.

Sources: Wikipedia (German) and IMDb.

16 April 2019

Bibi Andersson (1935-2019)

Swedish film actress Bibi Andersson died on Sunday 14 April 2019 at the age of 83. She is best known for her 13 films with director Ingmar Bergman.

Bibi Andersson in Smultronstället (1957)
Romanian postcard by Casa Filmului Acin, no. 53. Photo: Bibi Andersson in Smultronstället/Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957).

The film deals with class, sex and power


Berit Elisabet Andersson was born in Kungsholmen, Stockholm, in 1935. She was the daughter of Karin (née Mansion), a social worker, and Josef Andersson, a businessman. Her artistic dreams came early in life and were further supported by her older sister Gerd Andersson who became a ballet dancer at the Royal Opera and made her acting debut in 1951.

Bibi studied acting at the Terserus Drama School and from 1954 till 1956 at the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm. Then she joined the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, with which she was associated for 30 years. At first, she had to make do with bit parts and commercials. Her first collaboration with Ingmar Bergman was in 1951, when she participated in his production of an advertisement for the detergent 'Bris'.

That year, she also made her film debut in Fröken Julie/Miss Julie (Alf Sjöberg, 1951) starring Anita Björk and based on the play by August Strindberg. The film deals with class, sex and power as the title character, the daughter of a Count in 19th century Sweden, begins a relationship with one of the estate's servants. The film won the Grand Prix du Festival International du Film at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival.

A brief relationship with Ingmar Bergman made her quit school and follow him to the Malmö city theatre, where he was a director, performing in plays by August Strindberg and Hjalmar Bergman. She had a small part in Bergman's film comedy Sommarnattens leende/Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955), which was shown at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival.

In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, Andersson starred in 13 Bergman-directed pictures. These included Det sjunde inseglet/The Seventh Seal (1957) with Gunnar Björnstrand and Max von Sydow, Smultronstället/Wild Strawberries (1957) with Victor Sjöström, and Nära livet/Brink of Life (1958) with Eva Dahlbeck and Ingrid Thulin. At the 1958 Cannes Film Festival, Bergman won the Best Director Award and Andersson, Dahlbeck, Thulin and Barbro Hiort af Ornäs won the Best Actress Award together.

Andersson also appeared in Bergman's Ansiktet/The Face/The Magician (1958) with Max von Sydow, Djävulens öga/The Devil's Eye (1960) and the comedy För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor/All These Women (1964) a parody of Fellini's (Federico Fellini, 1963).

In 1963, Bibi Andersson won the Silver Bear for Best Actress award at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival for her role in Vilgot Sjöman's film Älskarinnan/The Mistress (1962). She also appeared in his drama Syskonbädd 1782/My Sister, My Love (Vilgot Sjöman, 1966). Her intense portrayal of the nurse Alma in the psychological drama Persona (Ingmar Bergman, 1966) with Liv Ullman, led to an increase in the number of cinematic roles offered her.

Bibi Andersson in Duel at Diablo (1966)
Italian postcard. Photo: Dear Film. Bibi Andersson in Duel at Diablo (Ralph Nelson, 1966).

Bibi Andersson (1935-2019)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, no. 62/73. Photo: Bibi Andersson in Chelovek s drugoy storony/The Man from the Other Side (Yuri Yegorov, 1972).

The first Danish film to win the Oscar


Bibi Andersson appeared that same year opposite James Garner and Sidney Poitier in the violent Western Duel at Diablo (Ralph Nelson, 1966). She also worked with John Huston on the Spy film The Kremlin Letter (1970).

She made her debut in American theatre in 1973 with a production of Erich Maria Remarque's Full Circle. Her best known American film is possibly I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (Anthony Page, 1977), that also starred Kathleen Quinlan as a a borderline schizophrenic.

During this period she also appeared in several Bergman productions, including the drama En passion/The Passion of Anna (1969) with Liv Ullman and Max von Sydow, the romantic drama Beröringen/The Touch (1971), starring Von Sydow, Andersson and Elliott Gould, and the TV miniseries Scener ur ett äktenskap/Scenes from a Marriage (1973) starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson.

During the following decades, Bibi Andersson acted in several international films. Robert Altman directed her in the post-apocalyptic Science Fiction film Quintet (1979) with Paul Newman and Brigitte Fossey. With Anthony Perkins, she starred in the Dutch film Twee vrouwen/Twice a Woman (George Sluizer, 1979). She also was one of the passengers in the American air disaster film The Concorde ... Airport '79 (David Lowell Rich, 1979) with Alain Delon and Robert Wagner.

In the American drama Exposed (James Toback, 1983), she co-starred with Nastassja Kinski and Rudolf Nureyev. She also appeared in Babettes gæstebud/Babette's Feast (Gabriel Axel, 1987), featuring Stéphane Audran and based on the story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen). It was the first Danish film to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

In 1990, she worked as a theatre director in Stockholm, directing several plays at Dramaten. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Andersson worked primarily in television and as a theatre actress, working with Ingmar Bergman among others. She was also a supervisor for the humanitarian project 'Road to Sarajevo'.

In 1996, she published her autobiography 'Ett ögonblick' (A Moment, or, literally, A Blink of the Eye). She was married first to the director Kjell Grede (1960-1973, divorced), and, secondly, to the politician and writer Per Ahlmark (1979-1981, divorced). Andersson then married Gabriel Mora Baeza in 2004. In 2009 she had a stroke. An article from 2010 says that since she had been hospitalised, she was unable to speak. Andersson had a daughter, Jenny Matilde Grede, with ex-husband Kjell Grede.

Bibi Andersson in Efter syndafallet (1964)
Swedish postcard. Photo: Beata Bergström. Bibi Andersson in a Dramaten production of the play 'Efter syndafallet' (After the Fall) by Arthur Miller, 1964. Direction by Frank Sundström.

Bibi Andersson and Inga Tidblad in Glasmenageriet (1965)
Swedish postcard. Photo: Beata Bergström. Bibi Andersson and Inga Tidblad in a Dramaten production of the play 'Glasmenageriet' (The Glass Menagerie) by Tennessee Williams, 1965. Direction by Staffan Aspelin.

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.