In praise of Eva Marie Saint on her 90th birthday

Today as weevamarie1 celebrate our nation’s independence, I would like to take a moment to wish a happy  birthday to the amazing Eva Marie Saint.  Eva Marie was “born on the 4th of July” in the year 1924.    She had a variety of acting roles on television, beginning in the late 1940’s.  Her first film role was in Elia Kazan’s 1954 classic On The Waterfront.   Her performance in this movie is superb.  Her  character, Edie Doyle, is the only significant female role in the movie, and she was surrounded by  several male actors, all of whom were a sheer powerhouse of performance.   Eva Marie does not just  hold her own with Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Rod Steiger, and Lee J. Cobb; she stands out.

It is hard to believe she was 30 when On The Waterfront was released, for she looks closer to 19.  Her  beauty could best be described as angelic, or otherworldly, which was precisely what the role called  for.  Edie Doyle was not only angelic physically, but morally as well.  Her meekness, her restraint, her  modesty represent the moral center of this amazing film.  Eva Marie won the Oscar for Best  Supporting Actress, one of eight Academy Awards bestowed on this American classic.

Eva Marie Saint only made one film with Alfred Hitchcock, and it just happens to be one of his best films, and a film that routinely ranks on “all time best” movie lists.  That movie is North by Northwest.   Eva Marie gives one of the strongest female performances in the entire Hitchcock canon.  Once again, she is a woman surrounded by men, who all desire her for different reasons.   The government wishes for her to fulfill her duty.  James Mason’s character also has a role for her to play.  And Cary Grant’s character is in love with her, but also using her to achieve his goal.  Eva Marie is brilliant from her first appearance on screen, and gets to show off her range.  Of course she is incredibly attractive, and her opening banter with Carey Grant has more than its share of sexual innuendo. evamarie2Both James Mason and Cary Grant believe they are using Eva Marie Saint; meanwhile, she is in complete control of the situation, and of them.  What her character didn’t plan on, of course, was falling in love with Cary Grant.    When Grant’s and Mason’s characters confront each other in the auction gallery, as Eva Marie sits forlornly in the chair, as if she is another piece to be sold to the highest bidder, her emotional turmoil is palpable.  She is smart, sexy, strong, a model of femininity;  the quintessential Hitchcock heroine.   She is also an ultra-modern woman, certainly by the standards of 1959, when the movie was released.

If On the Waterfront and North by Northwest were the only two films she ever made, her place in film history would be secured.   But of course she has continued to act, and act well.   She was good in the cold war comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.  She was memorably sweet and touching as Tom Hanks’ mother in the underrated Nothing In Common.   She was surprisingly well cast as Martha Kent in the 2006 Superman reboot Superman Returns.  And she continues to act to this day;  she can be seen in the 2014 film Winter’s Tale, starring Colin Farrell. So here is wishing a very happy 90th Birthday to a wonderful woman.  Thank you Eva Marie Saint, for all of the memorable performances.  May you have many more happy and healthy years.

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Remembering Saul Bass on his birthday

saulbassGraphic designer Saul Bass was born on May 8, 1920, making this year the 94th anniversary of his birth (Bass died in 1996).   Before we look at the Bass/Hitchcock connection,  let’s take a look at what made Bass’s career so memorable.

You may have never heard the name Saul Bass before, but you are definitely familiar with his work.  Bass designed dozens of corporate logos, many of which became iconic over time.   Everything from the AT&T “bell” logo, to the Warner Brothers’ “W” logo, and many others that you would instantly recognize, all were created by Saul Bass.

Take a look at the following corporate logos, all designed by Saul Bass.  How many do you recognize?  This is just a small portion of his total output over a 40 year career.

Saul-Bass-Logo-Design

Saul Bass was so good at marrying a logo to a brand, creating “brand recognition”, that it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling, asking Bass to design movie posters.  Saul Bass designed dozens of iconic movie posters over a span of 4 decades.  Let’s take a look at just a few of his many memorable posters, including three that he designed for Alfred Hitchcock.

SaulBassVertigoSaulBassPsychoSaulBassBirds

 

 

saulbassStalagsaulbassSeven

 

Saul Bass’ most significant contribution to movies was not his iconic posters, however, but his title sequences.  Movie directors began approaching Bass in the 1950’s to create innovative and memorable opening title sequences for films.  Bass’ first title sequence was for the 1954 movie “Carmen Jones”, and his last was for Martin Scorsese’s 1990 release “Casino.”   Within that 36-year span Saul Bass created many ground-breaking title sequences.  It is not an understatement to say that Bass single-handedly changed movie title sequences.

This is what Saul Bass had to say about creating a title sequence:  “My initial thoughts about what a title can do was to set mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story, to express the story in some metaphorical way.  I saw the title as a way of conditioning the audience, so that when the film actually began, viewers would already have an emotional resonance with it.”

Saul Bass created three title sequences for Alfred Hitchcock:  for Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho.  All three of his sequences are pitch-perfect; all succeed in “setting the audience up”, as Bass once put it.  It is worth noting that all three of these films were scored by Bernard Herrmann, and in each instance Saul Bass’ title sequence works in unison with Herrmann’s score to put the audience in a particular frame of mind, a particular emotional state, before seeing one image of Hitchcock’s movie, or hearing one line of dialogue.

Saul Bass’ legacy lives on beyond his death.  Not only are many of his corporate logos still used today, but his movie posters are collectors’ items,  and the title sequences he designed are seen every time somebody watches one of the classic films he was involved with.  Below you can watch Bass’s unforgettable title sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.  Note how in sync Bass’ title sequence is with Bernard Herrmann’s beautiful score.  (All rights to the movie Vertigo are owned by Universal Pictures.)

Happy Birthday, Jimmy Stewart.

James Stewart, the great American film actor, was born on May 20, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  Stewart is one of the most celebrated American actors ever to appear on screen.  He was and is a truly American actor, an Everyman, someone with whom the audience could identify, and sympathize.

Stewart was incredibly prolific; in a career that spanned over half a century, he appeared in hundreds of films, television shows, radio programs, stage plays, and fought for his country in World War II.

James Stewart was nominated for five Academy Awards in his long career, surprisingly winning only once;  he took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 1941, for The Philadelphia Story.   Stewart made four films with director Alfred Hitchcock during the course of his career, but was not nominated for an Oscar for any of these collaborations.    This is equally surprising, especially considering the power of his performance in 1958’s Vertigo,  certainly one of the most memorable roles of his film career.

Director Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart worked on three films together early in Stewart’s career.  This collaboration produced two unforgettable movies, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington and It’s A Wonderful Life.

James Stewart is one of the most decorated celebrities to serve his country in combat.  His rise from private to colonel in only 4 years is quite astonishing.  During the Second World War, he ultimately served as the command pilot of a B-24 bomber division, which flew many missions deep into Nazi territory.  He received the Distinguished Flying Cross twice, for actions he performed in combat.

Stewart was already a major star before the war, but it was after returning home that his career really exploded.   Consider for a moment Stewart’s film output during the fifties.  In this one decade, from 1950-59, Stewart starred in 22 films!!  His output just in this one decade includes Harvey, three films with Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo), The Spirit of St. Louis with Billy Wilder, The Greatest Show on Earth with Cecil B. DeMille, Anatomy of a Murder with Otto Preminger, and 8 movies with director Anthony Mann!  All in the same decade!  Five of the Mann/Stewart collaborations were westerns, including Winchester ’73 and The Naked Spur.  These westerns, which were shot on location whenever possible, had a gritty realism, and featured Stewart playing characters who were hard around the edges and morally ambiguous, a far cry from the characters he had played for Frank Capra early in his career.  These films are credited with revitalizing the western genre.

Stewart continued to work well into the 1980’s.  He died on July 2, 1997.

Alfred Hitchcock and Jimmy Stewart made four movies together.

Rope (1948) –  This is probably the weakest of the 4 Hitch/Stewart collaborations.  It is worth watching more for the technical proficiency employed than the plot.  Stewart was so unhappy with the technical delays that occured on set, he is rumored to have said he would never work  with Hitchcock again!  Thank goodness he didn’t keep his word.

Rear Window (1954) – Stewart was so enchanted by the screenplay, he agreed to take a percentage of the gross rather than an upfront fee, which turned out to be a very lucrative decision.  The film was a hit in its day, and continues to entertain a new generation.  It is routinely considered one of the greatest films of all time.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) – The most underrated of their four collaborations, this is actually a very entertaining and suspenseful movie.  It also did quite well at the box office.

Vertigo (1958) – A dense, psychologically complex work, which features brilliant performances by James Stewart and Kim Novak.  This film bombed upon its release, and received little critical acclaim.  It was decades after its release when the true power of this film began to be appreciated.  An absolute, undisputed classic.

So on the 104th anniversary of Jimmy Stewart’s birth, I’d like to say thank you for all the incredible, memorable performances Jimmy.  And for your service to your country.

Here is a clip of Jimmy Stewart honoring Alfred Hitchcock, when he recieved his AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1979.

In the late 1980’s, five of Hitchcock’s movies (including all four Jimmy Stewart collaborations) were re-released to theaters.  Here is the re-release trailer, narrated by Stewart. (Universal Pictures owns the rights to all of these film titles.)

Interview with Edna Green (Edna May Wonacott), from Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”

Edna May Wonacott with the master, Alfred Hitchcock

In my posted review of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Shadow of a Doubt I wrote that Edna May Wonacott (who played Ann Newton in the film), gives the best performance by a child actor in the entire Hitchcock canon.  And there are quite a few memorable ones:  Veronica Cartwright in The Birds, Desmond Tester in Sabotage, and Jerry Mathers in The Trouble with Harry spring to mind.

What makes Edna’s performance stand out?  Her character Ann Newton is wise beyond her years.  Other members of the Newton family treat her like a child, (which she certainly is), but she makes very mature observations.  Edna’s character gets many of the best lines in the movie, and many of them produce a smile.  My favorite line involves her character Ann commenting on her mother speaking very loud into the telephone:  “she thinks she has to cover the distance by sheer lung power”, quips Ann, a line rumored to be inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s own mother.  I also find it very significant that Ann is the only member of the Newton family who is on to her Uncle Charlie from the moment he steps off the train.  She knows that something is not quite right with him.  And Edna plays the part superbly.  It’s a performance I always enjoy, in a movie I’ve seen many times.

When I began to research Edna May Wonacott online, I soon learned that she is now Edna Green, and that she has quite a few fans.   The Lady Eve (who writes a blog on classic movies right here on wordpress and other sites as well) wrote a fantastic piece about Edna, which piqued my interest even further.  I was determind to write to Edna, and ask if she would consent to an interview for my blog.  Edna not only did reply, but graciously agreed to answer all of my questions about “innumerable things”, to steal a line from her character in the movie.   What follows is the complete text of our interview.

Steve:  How did you come to be cast in Shadow of a Doubt?

Edna:  I was standing on a street corner in Santa Rosa waiting for a bus to go home.  We had relatives visiting and my cousins and I went to town shopping.  Alfred Hitchcock and Jack Skirball the producer were standing on that corner looking at the intersection and discussing it, and I was kind of wondering what they were doing, and all of a sudden they started looking at me.  My older cousin wasn’t too happy about it and made me move away, and they still continued looking at me, and finally walked over to us and introduced themselves, and said they were going to make a movie in town and wanted to know if I would like to be in it!  Of course I said yes, and they said they would come out to our house and talk to my parents.  Then the bus came and we went home.  That afternoon they came out to the house and talked to my parents, and my mother and I went to Hollywood for a screen test, and that was how it got started.

Joseph Cotten and Edna May Wonacott from “Shadow of a Doubt”

 Did you become something of a celebrity in Santa Rosa?

Edna:  Naturally everybody in town was curious and lots of people came to my father’s grocery store that he owned, and wanted to touch the father of a movie star!  There was lots of publicity about it and lots of people watching the making of the movie since most of it was filmed on location in Santa Rosa.

  The ensemble cast in this film is amazing.  Everyone played their part so perfectly.  Did you bond as a group, when the camera was not rolling?

Edna:  It was like a job for all of us, and we became good friends as coworkers do. We didn’t get together other than work. I did become a close friend with Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter (Patricia) and when we went to Hollywood to finish the picture I would sometimes go out to their house for weekends. That was fun.

  It seems to me Teresa Wright had the most difficult role in this film, and she gives an outstanding performance.  What was it like to work with “big sister” Teresa?

Edna:  She was very nice, and so was everybody else who worked on the picture.  We were like a big family and had a good time.  Lots of practical jokes being played on each other and lots of laughs.

  Your character, Ann Newton, is the only one in the family who is immediately suspicious of Uncle Charlie.  Did you receive any specific directions on how to play your scenes with Joseph Cotten?  Did Hitchcock give alot of direction on the set to you and the other actors?

Edna:  I can’t say there were any specific instructions given.  Hitchcock just explained to me how my character felt about “Uncle Charlie” and more or less let me do my own thing.  He wanted not only my part but everybody’s part very natural and that was what I did.  I did just what he asked of me and I guess it pleased him.  He always described the scenes to us and it just seemed to come naturally.  It was very easy to understand what he wanted and that was how it came out.

  If you don’t mind a little character analysis, why do you think Ann was on to Uncle Charlie so quickly?

Edna:  I was only nine at the time and didn’t really give any thought to why Ann felt the way she did.  I can’t remember if I even knew the whole story until I saw the completed movie when it was made.  When a movie is made it’s not filmed in the sequence of the story.  We knew the night before what was being shot for the next day and that was the part you learned.

Edna May Wonacott (far right) as Ann Newton, with the rest of the Newton family.

 In his autobiography, Joseph Cotten said the screenplay for “Shadow of a Doubt” was so good that hardly a word was changed on the set.  Your character gets some of the best lines in the movie.  Do you recall if the dialogue was changed much?

Edna:  I don’t have any idea if the original dialogue was changed or not.  Probably not.  I didn’t really give much thought to what my lines were and just did what they wanted me to.  I know I had a good time everyday and enjoyed every minute of it.  Mainly because of having such nice people to work with.  Not only the actors but also all of the crew.

“Shadow of a Doubt” is one of Hitchcock’s most celebrated films of his early American period.  It routinely makes “best film” lists, airs on television and at film festivals.  Why do you think this film holds up so well, over 60 years after its release?

Edna:  It amazes me that the film is still so popular and everybody seems to remember it.  It is really one of the true classics and I feel really proud to have been a part of it.  I carry really fond memories for that part of my life, and I am thankful to have such a blessed time of my life on film, so to speak.  I also have lots of scrap books and have been invited to lots of functions to show my scrap books and share that part of my life.  In fact I still receive fan mail and a lot of it in the last few months has been coming from Europe.  Lots of people in their 30’s and 40’s are turning to the classic films nowadays.

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I would like to extend my deepest thanks to Edna May Wonacott for taking the time to share her memories from the making of Shadow of a Doubt, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best, and most personal, films.