Cinema’s Dynamic Duos: Director and Cinematographer


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Duos have been a fixture both in front of and behind the camera almost since the inception of cinema. A combination of supremely talented individuals creates an on-screen alchemy that is nothing short of unforgettable. That has certainly been the case with classic movie duos such as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, and even Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi when they did appear together, just to name a few.

Then there are the heralded combinations of star and director that have consistently produced priceless cinematic gold. Such has been the case with Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich, Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune (a personal favorite), and a classic example of this, John Wayne and John Ford. All of these provide unmistakable proof of what can happen when you have a visionary director combined with a star who can bring that vision to vivid cinematic life-true movie magic which stands the test of time.

Well, what has been true in front of the camera has also been true behind the camera. Though less recognized, certain collaborations  of talented individuals have worked out so well it could truly be said that what is onscreen would not be as good if both were not involved. That has certainly been true of some writer/director unions, but there are other situations where this would also be true. Such is the case with this truly dynamic duo: Alfred Hitchcock and cinematographer Robert Burks.

Robert Burks was the singular cinematographer used by Hitchcock during what could be called his most dynamic period of moviemaking, from 1951 to 1964, with the only exception being “Psycho”, which Hitchcock chose to shoot primarily using the crew from his television show. It has been said that Burks, besides being Hitchcock’s favorite cinematographer, may have also been his most important collaborator during that period since he worked with him the most consistently. But that’s not the only reason. Through 12 movies, Burks had the innate ability as well as technical mastery needed by Hitchcock to create the look and mood that allowed him to remain the ‘Master of Suspense’. From the dreamlike mood and dizzying heights of “Vertigo”, to the stark and bleak Quebec City setting of “I Confess” (Montgomery Clift pictured above), to the semi-documentary look and feel of “The Wrong Man” (Henry Fonda pictured above), to the high gloss and Technicolor sophistication of the French Riviera in “To Catch a Thief” for which he won an Academy Award, Burks captured it all, and in his own way made his mark on cinematic history.

Starting in 1951 with “Strangers On a Train” down to “Marnie” in 1964, Hitchcock brought out the best in Burks, allowing his versatility and visual range to be used to the full, and in a sense, Burks brought out the best in Hitchcock, giving him free rein for his visions to come to full fruition in large or small budget movies. Think of classic scenes from their films together and you can see both working at the height of their powers: the out of control merry-go-round in “Strangers on a Train” (Farley Granger and Robert Walker pictured above), the hulking figure of Raymond Burr facing off against a wheelchair bound  James Stewart in “Rear Window”, the iconic crop-duster sequence  as well as the chase on Mount Rushmore in “North by Northwest”, the desperate hand of Grace Kelly literally reaching right out of the screen in all its 3D glory while being attacked in “Dial M For Murder”,  an attic full of birds preying on a terrified Tippi Hedren in “The Birds” (Tippi Hedren pictured above)- indelible movie memories made all the more so by the images Burks brought to the screen.

An innovator in the use of both telephoto and wide-angle lenses as a means to create a specific mood, it’s interesting to note that once his partnership with Hitchcock ended after “Marnie”, with the exception of “A Patch of Blue” for which he was nominated for an Oscar, it has been said that the quality of his work declined. Some have said the same about Hitchcock’s quality of work after that as well, illustrating how much each one benefited from the other during their fruitful years together. Whatever the case, it can clearly be seen that when it comes to cinematic duos, what’s on the screen in teams of timeless quality can be equaled by those behind it, creating truly classic cinema that can be enjoyed both now and for years to come.


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If You’ve Seen…The You Must See… (#1)


In recognition of the fact that this blog has completed its first year (year and 2 months to be exact since it began in July of 2013 but who’s counting?), welcome to a new feature that will run every other month or so. It is called “If  You’ve Seen…Then You Must See…”  What it will do is take one movie from the Golden Era that is well-known or recognized as being of high quality, and then introduce a very similar movie in type or theme also from the Golden Era that is not as well-known but also of similar quality that you’re sure to enjoy.  The point is to help these lesser-known gems find an audience so that they can be fully appreciated like their more well-known counterparts are and receive some of the recognition they rightfully deserve in view of their excellence.  Here is our first matched set:

If You’ve Seen…”A Face in the Crowd”- A great movie with a great cast. Hard-hitting, superbly acted, and eerily prescient, this gem packs a real punch in showing what celebrity thrown upon the undeserving can do to all involved. Andy Griffith (pictured above) just about burns a hole in the screen as ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes, an amoral hillbilly hobo who rockets to stardom on fake charm, then makes fools of just about all who love and cater to him-including the public- until they get to know him better in a dramatic twist of fate. Powerfully directed by Elia Kazan, with excellent support from Patricia Neal, Anthony Franciosa, Walter Matthau (all pictured above) along with Lee Remick, this is one of the best movies of the 1950’s as well as one of the best depictions of  the unseen underbelly of show business, where scruples and success clearly do not always go hand in hand. Highly regarded by classic movie fans and rightly so. With that being said…

Then You Must See…”The Great Man.” This unknown gem from 1956 covers similar ground  as “A Face in the Crowd” with one striking difference-the subject of the movie is never seen. Directed by and starring Jose Ferrer, this is the story of a beloved radio star and leading network icon who dies in a car crash. Ferrer’s character, a reporter at the same network, is asked to create an hour-long program to be broadcast coast to coast to eulogize “The Great Man.” He is told that if he does a really good job on the assignment his own career will take off. So to get material, he tracks down the man’s co-workers, friends, and family.  There’s just one problem: no one who truly knew the man liked him. In a series of vignettes, we find that no one is willing to say anything good about him. It seems that beneath that wonderful public persona he created for his listeners was a total jerk. Nasty and vindictive, he used and discarded people left and right. He was a cheat, liar, drunk, and wife beater-and those are some of his better qualities.

The general consensus is “good riddance” when they discuss his death. So what is Ferrer to do? His bosses, with ulterior reasons of their own, are expecting a glowing tribute. Should he whitewash the man, tell the truth, or just cancel the program altogether? The answer is not until the final few minutes and is certainly no disappointment. The opening lines of the movie are in voiceover by Ferrer where he says, “It started on a Tuesday. It was a Tuesday like any other Tuesday of the week”, and set a tone for the rest of the movie to expect the unexpected. There are great performances from some of the better character actors of the day such as Keenan Wynn (pictured above), Dean Jagger as the head of the network with his own agenda, and Ed Wynn, Keenan’s father, in a particularly poignant role, as the man who gave “the great man” his first big break in radio and has his small radio station physically wrecked by him years later. Also with a fine performance by Julie London (pictured above) as his estranged alcoholic wife, this is a movie that can certainly hold its own with “A Face in the Crowd” and shares an interesting connection: The reason why they are similar in theme is because they are both supposedly based on Arthur Godfrey, a beloved radio and TV star of the 1950’s who was said to have a very mean streak behind the scenes.

So perhaps see for the first time or re-view “A Face in the Crowd”, and then look for “The Great Man” if you have a chance, and appreciate what both will provide, a highly entertaining take on behind-the scenes broadcasting that has not lost any of its power or relevance for audiences both then and now.




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Screen Gems-Five Criminally Underseen Postwar Foreign Films



A post on this site from December 2013 was entitled “5 of the Best Unknown (Or Lesser-Known) Foreign Films of the 1950’s.” The reason that decade in particular was highlighted was because of the emergence of some of the greatest filmmakers of all time from other countries, creating some of the best movies ever made in that one time period. Well, because there were so many great movies, it is inevitable that some other outstanding foreign films of the same period would be unjustly overlooked, so that particular post was an attempt ensure that certain  deserving  films were given a chance to be seen and savored by anyone desiring some truly rewarding movie-viewing experiences.

With that being the case, it must be admitted that while trying to isolate some truly great but overlooked foreign films to one decade, other noteworthy films that bookend that same time period could suffer the same fate as the ones mentioned in that post and continue to be less-known than they need to be. Because as was true of the 1950’s, the entire postwar period from 1946 and stretching even in to the early 1960’s produced  a wealth of outstanding films from abroad, so it would be a disservice just to isolate discussion of overlooked films to one decade and not mention other outstanding ones that fall around or in that same time period.

So, with that in mind, here in random order  are 5 Criminally Underseen Postwar Foreign Films that beg discovery from what could be considered one of the greatest if not the greatest era of foreign filmmaking the cinema has ever seen. They are as follows:

(1) Spring in a Small Town (1948) This gem from China is virtually unknown by the general public and even by quite a few film fans (though remade in 2002) yet it was voted the best Chinese-language film of all time by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society in 2002. One look and you’ll get an idea why. It is the story of a sickly landowner and his bored wife who are stirred out of their lethargy by a visit from an old friend, a doctor from Shanghai.  However, it just so happens that the young doctor was the first love of the wife some years earlier. What this leads to is not entirely expected and is played out very subtly but intensely, with excellent performances by all involved. A simple premise exceedingly well done and worth seeking out.

(2) Le Notte Bianche (1957) One of the lesser-known works by the great director Luchino Visconti (pictured above in close-up), from a novel by the esteemed Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky, this is a heartbreakingly beautiful jewel of a movie. Shot almost like a fairy-tale with exquisite cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno, it tells the story of a shy, lonely clerk, wonderfully played by Marcello Mastroianni (pictured above), who sees a woman crying on a bridge one night and finds out she’s waiting for a man, her one true love, to return to her at that bridge as he promised the year before. What follows is a very tender, melancholy story as Mastroianni falls helplessly in love with the enigmatic woman, played by a radiant Maria Schell (pictured above), finding a happiness that has eluded him and hoping beyond all hope that her love never returns. Along with an ending that is powerfully moving, this is a prime example of romantic storytelling at its best. Highly recommended.

(3) The Children Are Watching Us (1947) Released in this country in 1947 (so technically postwar here!) though released in Italy in 1944, this is a devastating drama from Vittorio De Sica (pictured above), director of the classic “Bicycle Thieves” along with other great neorealist films, about a four-year old boy who can’t avoid noticing that his mother is carrying on with another man and the effect this has on him. Told from the child’s point of view, this is a poignant, heart-wrenching film that is emotionally overwhelming in its impact. A real tear-jerker and not to be missed.

(4) Classe Tous Risques (1960) Crackling with intensity, this lesser-known French crime thriller starring Lino Ventura (pictured above) deserves a much wider audience. Starting out with a heist in a train station that rivals any modern-day action movie for sheer thrills and audacity, the pace never lets up, with Ventura as a gangster on the run with a family, finding out he’s on his own when his friends abandon him as the police close in and time begins to run out. Co-starring Jean-Paul Belmondo  as the man who becomes his only ally, this is a gripping film from beginning to end with a last line that is a fitting coda for the film yet startling in its abruptness and power. A great movie truly worthy of discovery.

(5) Letter Never Sent (1959) From Russian director Mikhail Kalatozov, director of one of the greatest foreign films ever made, “The Cranes Are Flying” from 1957, along with his best-known later work from 1964, the brilliantly shot “I Am Cuba”, this is a lesser-known but equally powerful film with both the director and his outstanding cinematographer, Sergei Urusevsky, working at the height of their powers. A work of pure cinema, it is the story of four geologists, three men and one woman, who have been dropped off in remote Siberia to search for diamonds. After their work is done they then find themselves trapped in an enormous forest fire truly in the middle of nowhere with almost no way of getting out alive. The snowscape scenes along with the forest fire create some of the most haunting and stunning visuals you will ever see on film. Some of the scenes can actually leave you awestruck, wondering how they were able to shoot such incredible imagery in such difficult conditions. A visual powerhouse with a spellbinding closing sequence that is astonishing in its beauty and simplicity,  this is truly rewarding viewing and deserves to be much better known.

So please keep these in mind when in the mood for something foreign from the past that may be less familiar to you, and get a chance to benefit greatly from a period of moviemaking that changed the face of cinema to the good of all movie fans both then and now.


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Behind the Curtain: The Three C’s (Part 3)


In this final post on the subject of “The Three C’s”,  three categories behind the scenes that enhance and make truly memorable what we see onscreen, I now come to what some would regard as the least important of the three, and what others may regard as what really ‘makes’ the movie, particularly movies from the Golden Age. What ‘C’ would this be? It would be the costume designer.

To put some perspective on this for those who may find this category nonessential in comparison to the previously discussed work of the cinematographer and the composer, it must be admitted that for many lovers of old movies part of the appeal is looking at the clothing worn by the stars of yesteryear, particularly movies of the ’30’s and ’40’s. They instantly evoke glamour, an attitude, a look that defines the character or the star that plays them, in many cases for years to come. From the trenchcoat and fedora of Humphrey Bogart which perfectly characterized  the tough-guy image that made him a superstar, to the sartorial splendor of Cary Grant (pictured above) setting the standard for well-dressed men even today, the influence has been profound. Along with the glorious gowns, dresses and stunning business suits worn by every major female star of the ’30s and ’40s in one film after another, movies of that era created an allure just through the costumes,  greatly adding to the timeless appeal of that period of moviemaking.

This was all due to the work and influence of the top costume designers in Hollywood who worked on just about every film you may know and love from that era-talents such as Orry-Kelly at Warner Brothers, Walter Plunkett at RKO, Adrian as well as Helen Rose and Irene at MGM, Jean Louis at Columbia, freelancer and 5-time Oscar winner Irene Sharaff (who, besides designing costumes for “the King and I”, also convinced Yul Brynner to shave his head), and perhaps the most well-known one of all, Edith Head, who worked primarily at Paramount during her heyday and later moved on to Universal. Though she worked with just about every major female star in Hollywood at one time or another and was nominated for and won more Oscars than any other woman in history, creating looks that have become legendary (such as Bette Davis and her dress in “All About Eve” pictured with Gary Merrill above)  her work with Alfred Hitchcock may be the most remembered: Grace Kelly’s breathtaking wardrobe in both “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief” (Grace Kelly pictured above from both films), along with Kim Novak’s iconic gray suit in “Vertigo” build on what already makes those movies so memorable. Add to this Orry-Kelly’s eye-popping designs for the top women at Warners such as Kay Francis (pictured above) and  Bette Davis, and Adrian’s image-defining work with Joan Crawford at MGM (Joan Crawford pictured above in “Grand Hotel” with Wallace Beery) along with the opulent “Marie Antoinette” and “The Women” (with a color fashion show in the middle of the movie that shows off his work!) and we get some idea of why what was seen on screen at the time set a standard  for sophistication and glamour that has stood the test of time.

With that being said, there are a couple of lesser-known designers who also did great work during that period, and even though their names may not be as recognizable, their contributions are, allowing their talent to stand alongside their more famous peers during the most stylish period in movie history. They are as follows:

(1) Dolly Tree- A leading costume designer at MGM during the 1930’s, her versatility allowed her to work on projects as diverse as the chic “The Thin Man” (William Powell and Myrna Loy pictured above) and the underappreciated great comedy “Libeled Lady” (pictured above) to historical epics such as “the Good Earth” and “David Copperfield”.  She became famous for dressing the major actresses of the studio such as Myrna Loy, Mae West, and Jean Harlow (One of Dolly Tree’s gowns pictured above, being modeled by Maureen O’Sullivan) . Although eventually overshadowed in fame and popularity by Adrian, she helped create and maintain the style and glamour of costume that MGM became famous for, a standard that remains to this day.

(2) Travilla (pictured above with Diahann Carroll) William Travilla,  always billed as just ‘Travilla’, designed gowns for many established stars while working at 20th Century Fox. However, it was his work with one particular star that established his legacy if not his name-Marilyn Monroe.  He designed the clothes for eight of her more popular movies, including “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” (Marilyn on phone pictured above), “How To Marry a Millionaire” (Monroe with co-stars Lauren Bacall, Betty Grable, and William Powell pictured above), and the most famous one of all where a certain white cocktail dress met a subway grate and the rest is history in “The Seven Year Itch”.  An Oscar winner in 1949 for one of Errol Flynn’s solid late-career swashbucklers, “Adventures of Don Juan”, his contributions have made a lasting imprint on movie history and his work with Monroe makes his impact undeniable.

The last three posts have hopefully shed a little more light on some of the dedicated craftspeople who have toiled in the background to bring what is onscreen to vivid life. So as opposed to paying “no attention to the man behind the curtain” as the Wizard of Oz said, keep them in mind when watching your favorites from the past, and you may hear or (you might know what’s coming so pardon the pun) ‘C’ more fully what you may have been missing all along.


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Behind the Curtain: The Three C’s (Part 2)



As mentioned in my last post, this continues a discussion of top talent ‘behind the curtain’ which brings to life the vivid imagery living in our memories of movies we love, particularly during Hollywood’s Golden Age. As was also highlighted, each type will fall under the letter ‘C’ and the first were the cinematographers. Well, as stated in that post, this next group is absolutely essential in our appreciation of what is seen onscreen, making a great movie unforgettable. Just who would this be? Welcome to the world of our next ‘C’: The music composer.

If you think about it for a moment, memories we have of favorite movies also often involve recall of a musical score of some kind that brings those pleasurable images back to mind to entertain or enthrall us once again. For example, how many can think of “Star Wars” and not recall the majestic opening theme by composer John Williams that sets the tone for the entire cinematic world to follow? Same with his brilliant work on “Jaws”, “Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and “ET”(John Williams, pictured above, creating the score for “Raiders”)

And who can recall the Sergio Leone classic “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly” (Clint Eastwood, pictured above) without also recalling the hauntingly plaintive whistling and harmonica theme created by Ennio Morricone that opens and punctuates the film? When you think about it, quite a few of our movie memories are hard-wired into a musical theme or score that gave added life to what we saw on screen and made it truly unforgettable.

That would certainly also apply to Hollywood’s Golden Age. Some of the greatest movies of that era are fondly remembered not just for what was seen onscreen, but also for the musical scores-scores, for example, that either evoked the necessary tension and menace a thriller demanded, or the sweep and grandeur a period piece called for to carry us successfully into another time. As examples of both, we need look no further than two giants of film composing during the Golden Age whose work has influenced countless others down to this day-Max Steiner and Bernard Herrmann.

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Max Steiner was one of the most respected, innovative, and brilliant composers of American film music, and his resume’ reveals a truly amazing number of exceptional film scores for films of all types. Nominated for an Academy Award eighteen times and a winner three times, one film score of his that has beyond doubt proved to be a lasting legacy is the one for “Gone With the Wind” (Vivien Leigh and Leslie Howard pictured above). One of the best and most-recognized film scores in motion-picture history, it instantly captures the epic scope of the film and the period it portrays. Along with his scores for “Casablanca” (Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet pictured above), “King Kong”, as well as many others, we can’t truly begin to appreciate movies of that period without also appreciating what his work as a composer provided to make that period of moviemaking so special.

Then there’s Bernard Herrmann. One of the most original and distinctive composers to ever work in film, he wrote nine scores for Alfred Hitchcock, and one of the most well-known ever made is the one he did for “Psycho”-the iconic shrieking violins used as a theme not only created the necessary nerve-jangling atmosphere, but it also showed how music and imagery combined in the right way (shower scene!) can have an unquestionable visual and visceral impact on an audience. Another one of the best film scores in Hollywood history and influential down to this day.

Besides the work of these men and others of the period, there are some lesser-known talents that had a major impact based on scores they produced or worked on during that time. A greater appreciation of their contributions enhances respect for how much what is heard, by means of these artists, increases our enjoyment of what is seen. There are 2 in particular that I’d like to highlight and they are as follows:

(1) Jerome Moross-Not a well-known name among the general public and even among quite a few classic film fans, mainly because he didn’t have the output of other film composers, but one of his scores has reached legendary status-“The Big Country” from 1958 (Poster pictured above). The opening theme music set to shots both distant and in close-up of a lone stagecoach thundering across open Western terrain as the credits roll, all in Technicolor and widescreen glory,  is a true feast for the eye and ear, a galvanizing display of the power of music to energize an already powerful moving image.  A true classic, and not only the best Western score ever made (The great score for “The Magnificent Seven” by Elmer Bernstein is a close or distant second, depending on how you look at it), but one of the best scores ever for a motion picture and a prime example of music’s immense contribution to the art of moviemaking.
(2) Muir Mathieson- Once again not a household name, especially not in this country, but in England Muir Mathieson was the preeminent musical presence when it came to British cinema. Probably the most prolific conductor in British films, he conducted the orchestra for practically every classic British film from 1934 until the late 1950’s. Almost always described as a “Musical Director” as opposed to composer, overall he is said to have conducted the music for over a thousand British films. As an example, in 1958 he conducted Bernard Herrmann’s score for Vertigo (Poster pictured above), and in that same year he is credited with musical directorship of 28 films. From the Oscar-winning “Hamlet” from 1948 starring Laurence Olivier, David Lean’s “Brief Encounter” and “Oliver Twist”, all the way to 1958’s Titanic saga “A Night to Remember” and beyond, Mathieson’s musical imprint can constantly be found, making these classics that much more memorable.
Hopefully these examples provide some idea of the breadth and scope of talent in this area that has richly enhanced what is seen on the silver screen, without which cinema, though a visual medium, would certainly be the poorer. Our last ‘C’ will cover an area that some would not consider essential but others may feel ‘makes’ the movie, especially during the Golden Era. What ‘C’ could that be? We’ll talk when we see you again soon.




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Behind the Curtain: The Three C’s (Part 1)


“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” So goes a famous line from the beloved classic “The Wizard of Oz”.  As you may remember, this was said to force attention to be given to a projected image of “the great and powerful Oz” and away from the real man behind the scenes creating the persona. That line has great significance when it comes to the art of moviemaking. Despite the efforts of many craftspeople, it is only the relative few in front of the camera and the well-known writers, directors, or producers that receive the lion’s share of praise and attention.

What this unintentionally has done is minimized the vast contributions of many very highly talented people when it comes to what we see and enjoy on the silver screen. Though it may be true that the talent of the performers along with the vision of the writers and/or directors draws us in,  the artistry and skill of those behind the scenes ensures how much of that comes to life and remains with us. This is important to recognize because a truly good or classic movie is not just one that is seen, it is felt, touching the emotions in such a way that it can be remembered years later and revisited often. With that in mind, there is certain behind the scenes talent truly deserving of recognition for accomplishing this feat, particularly when it comes to Hollywood’s Golden Age.  So in this post and 2 others to follow, some of these highly creative individuals in three categories will be highlighted, allowing for a fuller appreciation of their contributions to this most fertile period in moviemaking history. All three categories happen to start with the letter C (thus the title of this post!) and here is the first one: Cinematographers.

Cinematographers, or directors of photography, have been called the unsung heroes of moviemaking, and that becomes readily apparent when we consider that movies are a visual medium and they are the ones that bring that to life. Add to that the fact that what we most remember from a favorite movie is a scene or scenes that either moved, thrilled, or entertained us, and we are seeing the power of their craftsmanship at work. There were many great cinematographers during Hollywood’s Golden Age , creating indelible images that have left us with treasured memories of movie years gone by. However, certain ones can be said to have stood head and shoulders above others in doing some of the greatest work in this field in motion picture history. Two in particular come readily to mind: Gregg Toland (pictured above, in glasses) and John Alton.

There has been quite a bit written about the work of both men so I won’t dwell at great length on them here, but any discussion of cinematography during the Golden Era must include some mention of their work due to its immense influence even down to this day. Gregg Toland was the genius behind the genius Orson Welles when it came to his masterwork “Citizen Kane”. He used methods such as deep-focus along with other cinematic techniques to such brilliant storytelling effect that Welles was moved to give Toland on-screen credit right alongside him for what is still considered by most the best movie ever made. John Alton (a personal favorite) was a master of low-key lighting for dramatic effect, greatly contributing to what we now commonly accept as the ‘look’ of film-noir, with his classic lighting on display in such noir gems as “The Big Combo” and “Raw Deal” along with others. As he was once quoted as saying, “It’s not what you light-it’s what you DON’T light.” Another genius behind the camera whose work has inspired many and can be enjoyed as much now as it was then.

What I’d like to highlight at this time, though, are two other cinematographers of the Golden Age who may not be as well-known by movie fans  but their work certainly is, and their influence has been great in creating the classic images that still resonate today. They are as follows:

(1) Nicholas Musuraca- Another superb craftsman and master of low-key and chiaroscuro lighting, probably second only to John Alton in this area. Criminally underrated, he created what many consider to be the actual first film noir look for a for a movie in a dream sequence for  “Stranger on the Third Floor” starring Peter Lorre. Highly respected among his peers, and responsible for the moody camerawork that was the signature of RKO Studios, his black and white photography helped define that era of filmmaking and is certainly worthy of discovery today.

Must-sees: Out of the Past (1947), Cat People (1942, with Jane Randolph pictured above), Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), Deadline at Dawn (1946), The Spiral Staircase (1945), The Locket (1946, with Laraine Day pictured above), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Woman on Pier 13 (1949), Where Danger Lives (1950), Clash By Night (1952), The Blue Gardenia (1953, with Anne Baxter pictured above), The Hitch-Hiker (1953)

(2) Leon Shamroy- Known as “the cameraman’s cameraman”, he holds the record for having been nominated for an Oscar more times-18-than any other director of photography, winning four times. What truly distinguished him, though, was his mastery of Technicolor while at 20th Century Fox. The studio’s leading cinematographer, he is responsible for much of the glorious Technicolor imagery we associate with that period, creating shimmering feasts for the eye. His work certainly deserves attention as superb examples of the beauty and richness of color films during the Golden Era.

Must-sees: Leave Her to Heaven (1945, Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney pictured above), The Black Swan (1942 Maureen O’Hara and Tyrone Power pictured above), The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner pictured above), The Robe (1953), The Egyptian (1954), Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The King and I (1956), The Bravados (1958), Cleopatra (1963)

These examples hopefully provide some idea of the range of talent ‘behind the curtain’ that immeasurably shaped both what we see and feel when watching movies from the classic period, adding richly to our enjoyment. The next post will cover another important ‘C’ that is absolutely essential in our appreciation of what is on screen, making a great movie unforgettable. What could it be? Stay tuned and we’ll see.

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Crown Jewels-5 of the Best Underseen British Films of the Golden Age


The 1930’s through the early 1960’s is considered the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking and rightly so. However, for movies coming out of Great Britain during that same period, not so much. It must be said, though, that this would be a mistake. As opposed to being a period severely lagging behind what Hollywood was producing at the time, the evidence reveals quite the opposite.

As mentioned in a post on this site published back in August of last year entitled “Not So Stiff Upper Lip-Ten Visually Arresting British Films”, there was a period unofficially known as the “golden age” of British cinema that lasted from approximately 1934 to 1955. What did that period include? Try such well-known and loved gems as Hitchcock’s original “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, followed by “The 39 Steps”, and “The Lady Vanishes”; the works of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger such as the stunning “A Matter of Life and Death” along with the brilliant “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes”; and the masterful films of David Lean during the period, such as “Brief Encounter”, “Great Expectations”, “Oliver Twist”, and “Hobson’s Choice”. But that’s not all. There were also the great films of Carol Reed, such as “Odd Man Out” and “The Third Man”, the towering version of “Hamlet” starring and directed by Laurence Olivier, the exciting Gainsborough Studios melodramas of the ’40’s starring James Mason and others, such as “The Man in Grey” and “The Wicked Lady”, and the wonderful Ealing Studios comedies that ran from the late 40’s to the early ’50’s, with gems such as “The Man in the White Suit”, “The Lavender Hill Mob”, and “The Ladykillers” among others,  all making for a truly rich and varied period of British moviemaking, creating classics that have stood the test of time.

With that being said, there are also some gems from that period that are less well-known but are of very high quality and deserve attention. They are truly worth seeking out, with the end result being a more complete picture of  the movie greatness coming from Great Britain at that time that will not fail to entertain today. The list starts with the more obscure, with the last two perhaps known by some classic movie fans (but could use more!) and then a couple of honorable mentions thrown in for good measure. They are as follows:

( 1) They Drive By Night (1938) Not the better-known George Raft/Humphrey Bogart melodrama, but a knockout thriller in the Hitchcockian mode, it is the story of an ex-con just released from prison who finds himself the prime suspect for a murder he didn’t commit. Where it goes from there makes for a taut, riveting tale, with great cinematography of windswept streets and urban gloom and doom, along with a scene-stealing performance by Ernest Thesiger of “The Bride of Frankenstein” fame as an urbane older gentleman with a very dark secret.  A must-see and not to be missed.

(2) On the Night of the Fire (1939) The performance of Ralph Richardson (pictured above, right), one of the best actors of the 20th century, takes this little-seen gem to another level. The story of a humble barber who commits a petty theft and then becomes embroiled in blackmail and murder, it is a powerful drama with an unforgettable performance by Richardson, along with Diana Wynward as his wife who suffers because of his guilt, and is filled with haunting black and white imagery that adds to the intensely moody atmosphere. A winner that deserves to be better known.

(3) Love on the Dole (1941) A beautifully acted, well-crafted tale of life among the poor and unemployed in London during the Depression, it features Deborah Kerr (pictured above) in her third film and first starring role as the daughter of a struggling London family who decides to pull herself out of the mire of poverty but at great cost socially to herself and her family.  A grim, realistic depiction of the period,  unusual for the time, its powerful depiction of slum life and the working poor can still resonate today. An excellent film well worth seeking out.

(4) So Long at the Fair (1950) Perhaps a little better known than the other movies mentioned thus far but still not as well-known as it could or should be, this is an absorbing thriller built around an oft-repeated premise-What if what we thought existed never really did? This is the situation that Jean Simmons is thrown into as she searches for her brother who mysteriously vanishes during the 1889 Paris Exposition, or “the Fair”, that she attends with him but once he disappears is told by almost everyone that he was never there and no evidence of him is found. With the help of a sympathetic listener played by Dirk Bogarde (pictured above) who may or may not be what he seems, she eventually comes to realize the chilling truth. With a wonderful turn by actress Cathleen Nesbitt as the most sinister hotel owner you would ever not want to meet,  this is a nerve-wrackingly suspenseful tale which will keep you guessing to the very end. Excellent performances and another must-see.

(5) Ice Cold in Alex (1958) Once again, perhaps better known than the first three mentioned but still criminally underseen, this is the thoroughly engrossing story of a group of army personnel and nurses attempting a dangerous trek across the deserts of North Africa during the second world war. The commander, played by John Mills (pictured above) is determined to get through despite minefields and the presence of a German spy. An exciting desert adventure with plenty of suspenseful sequences, it also benefits from fine performances by Mills, Anthony Quayle, and Sylvia Syms. Directed by J. Lee Thompson, who went on to direct the far better-known World War II adventure “The Guns of Navarone in 1961, this movie could even be considered a notch above that one and is deserving of  far greater recognition. Oh, and about that title-the ending explains it all and makes a great movie unforgettable.

Now onto the honorable mentions:

(1) On Approval (1943) Actor Clive Brook of  “Cavalcade” and “Shanghai Express” fame directed, co-wrote, produced and stars (!) in this comedy and it is a hilarious delight. Two wealthy widows who are being courted by two poor aristocrats decide to give them a trial run for marriage, with unexpected results. The lines come fast and furious in this very funny comedy, filled with sparkling wit and excellent performances. Great fun and not to be missed.

(2) Sapphire (1959) Basil Dearden  is a somewhat underrated British director of the 1940’s and ’50’s who, although not on the level of a David Lean or Carol Reed, made some very fine films particularly in the postwar era, such as “The Captive Heart”, “Saraband”,  “Frieda”, “The Blue Lamp”, “Pool of London”, and “The League of Gentlemen”. “Sapphire”, though less-known than some of his other films, is one of his best. A penetrating study of racial politics at the time as well as a murder mystery, it follows two detectives investigating the murder of a pregnant girl, who, though initially assumed to be white, is found to be of mixed heritage, exposing the prejudices of the officers and those they are investigating. Superbly acted and directed, this movie begs for discovery and will be rewarding viewing for any who find it.

Hopefully this provides some idea of the quality coming from across the Atlantic at that time that any classic movie fan of today would not fail to enjoy. So see these if you can and you will have made a trip ‘across the pond’ that costs little but provides a cinematic treasure in return.

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Take Me to Your Leader: 3 of the Best Lesser-Known Science-Fiction Films of the 1950’s



The 1950s were very kind to science-fiction movies. While that may seem like a strange statement to some when looking at the amount of laughably bad science-fiction films that came out of that decade, the point is that so many science-fiction films did come out of that time, arguably more than any other decade before or since, in that way popularizing a genre that had not been fully exploited before. The climate and thinking at the time had a lot to do with this. With the explosion of the atom bomb just a few years earlier and the Cold War paranoia that followed, not knowing where it could lead, along with the beginnings of the space race, all kinds of possibilities loomed, or so it seemed, for undiscovered creatures to come from the earth itself or the skies above, even from inside man himself.

With that being the case, the time was ripe for the movies to explore all these possibilities and that they did, leading to a parade of aliens, monsters, and outer space sagas on every scale. While it must be admitted that quite a few of these movies have entered the pantheon of not just bad, but ‘so bad it’s good’ category, with cheesy special effects, obviously fake monsters that wouldn’t even scare a small child much less anyone else, cardboard sets, and even stiffer acting, the fact remains that there were a number of great science-fiction films of that period which have stood the test of time and have proved to be, not just fondly remembered, but influential even down to this day.

Movies such as “It Came From Outer Space” (Barbara Rush  and Richard Carlson pictured above), “It Came From Beneath the Sea”, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, “Rocketship X-M” (pictured above), “Destination Moon”, “War of the Worlds”, “The Thing From Another World”, “Earth vs. the Flying Saucers”, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms”, “Creature From the Black Lagoon”, “Forbidden Planet” (Jack Kelly, Warren Stevens and Leslie Nielsen pictured above), “Invaders From Mars”, “When Worlds Collide” (pictured above), “This Island Earth”, “Them!”, “The Incredible Shrinking Man” (pictured above), “20 Million Miles to Earth”, “The Blob”, “The Fly”, “Tarantula”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still”,  “Godzilla”, along with 2 gems from Hammer Studios, “The Quartermass Experiment” and “Enemy From Space”,  all offer either above-average special effects for the time, compelling storylines, or both, making them classics of the genre.

Well, there are a few others, while not as well-known, that are of similar quality and very worthy of discovery.  For fans of science-fiction of that period or ’50’s movies in general, if you’ve missed these, then finding and seeing them should prove to be rewarding. They are as follows:

(1) I Married a Monster From Outer Space (1958) Don’t let the cheesy title fool you. One of the better sci-fi films of the ’50’s, with a theme similar to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, it’s the story of a young man about to get married who is taken over by alien invaders and his new wife’s gradual realization that something is terribly wrong, not just with him, but the entire town. An effectively creepy vibe is developed throughout, making for compelling viewing. A cult classic, if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth seeking out.

(2) 4D Man (1959)  Even less known, it’s about a scientist who develops a machine allowing him to pass through any object or barrier, but each time he does he ages rapidly, so he begins draining the ‘energy’ or life from others in order to survive. A very well-done sci-fi/horror hybrid, with an interesting jazz score, realistic special effects, and an intense lead performance by one of the more intense television actors of the 1960’s, Robert Lansing. Criminally under-seen and well worth a look.

(3) World Without End (1956) A spaceship breaks the time barrier and returns to earth in the year 2508, only to find that intelligent humans have been driven underground by mutants. Kind of a version of H.G. Well’s “The Time Machine” set in a spaceship, this co-stars Rod Taylor, who interestingly went on to star in “The Time Machine” in 1960. A bit on the campy side, it nevertheless holds interest throughout, with a lively pace and surprisingly engaging performances, all making for worthwhile entertainment worthy of discovery.

Along with the others mentioned above, these three should certainly give anyone looking for above-average to great sci-fi from its most productive decade more than enough to find. Once you do, it can become clear that when it comes to science-fiction movies of the 1950’s, quality was not so alien after all.

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Silence Is Golden-Three of the Best Unknown (or lesser-known) Movies of the Silent Era


It has been said that silent movies are the only type of movie that can really be considered true cinema since they rely almost solely on visual storytelling, which is at the very core of the cinematic experience. Whether one chooses to agree with that assessment or not, the bottom line is that movies of the silent era do offer a treasure trove of images that have lingered in the memory many years after they were made and can move and thrill audiences even today: The last scene between the once-blind flower girl who now has her sight and her benefactor, the little tramp, in “City Lights”; The Odessa steps sequence in “The Battleship Potemkin”; the chariot race scene in the original “Ben-Hur”; the coming to life of the robot in “Metropolis.” Add to this the other great films of the period and you have  enough to satisfy any true classic movie lover: “Sunrise”, “The Crowd”, “The Wind”, “Underworld”, “Docks of New York”, “The Big Parade”, Hitchcock’s “The Lodger”, “The Last Laugh” and “The Last Command”, both starring one of the greatest actors of silent cinema, Emil Jannings (pictured above, next to Chaplin), becoming the first Best Actor Academy Award winner for his efforts in the latter film.

In addition to all that you have the Big Three: Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd (all pictured above). Truly their work has stood the test of time and continues to entertain and even, in the cases of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd with their death-defying feats, to amaze, with debate still raging in some circles as to whether Chaplin or Keaton was the greatest movie comic of all time. Their films, along with the works of D.W. Griffith such as “Intolerance” (with Lillian Gish pictured above), the wildly imaginative films of Erich Von Stroheim such as “Greed”, “The Wedding March”, and “Queen Kelly”, and the stunning work of Lon Chaney (pictured above) with movies such as “The Phantom of the Opera”, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”, and “The Unknown” (a personal favorite and an unforgettable movie!), and you have what would constitute some of the best work the cinema has ever produced.

Well there are some lesser-known gems during the silent period that are certainly worthy of attention based on their artistry, originality, and most of all, visual brilliance. The three listed below certainly fall in to that category and should be considered must-sees for anyone who wants to enhance their appreciation of silent cinema, or just cinema itself and all that it provides. They are as follows:

(1) Asphalt (1929)- Joe May was a German director with the distinction of giving Fritz Lang his start who fled the Nazis and made it to Hollywood where he directed some notable films, such as the very good “The House of the Seven Gables” and the excellent “Confession”, starring Kay Francis. But “Asphalt” is where you see his work at its creative peak. It tells the story of a shady lady jewel thief caught stealing by a young police officer who then does everything she can not to be taken to jail and shows where this leads to both for him and for her.  What really makes this work are the visuals-one of the best examples of German Expressionism with an outstanding opening sequence, this film is drenched in atmosphere along with intense performances by the leads: Betty Amann as the thief, Gustav Frolich, who was also in the classic “Metropolis” (pictured above, bottom left) as the police officer, and Hans Schlettow (pictured above next to Frolich) as Amann’s partner in crime.  Dazzling to look at, “Asphalt” is a title well worth remembering and will be hard to forget.

(2) A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929)- The movie starts out with a riveting image-on a dark and lonely night an escaped convict is fleeing from prison guards. He breaks into an isolated cottage where a woman is taking care of her baby. They lock eyes, she calls out his name-and then the story really begins. Told primarily in flashback, it is a tale of obsessiveness and jealousy with strong Hitchcockian overtones, compelling from start to finish, once again with outstanding visuals that add to its emotional power.  Also starring Hans Schlettow, it is listed by Time Out magazine as one of the 100 best British films ever made. See it and you’ll understand why.

(3) The Love of Jeanne Ney (1927)- G.W. Pabst was one of the great German directors working in Germany during the silent era along with Fritz Lang and F.W Murnau, and two of his films, “Pandora’s Box” and “Diary of a Lost Girl”, are well-known by many film fans since they both starred Louise Brooks, the legendary actress of the silent film era. “The Love of Jeanne Ney”, though perhaps not as well-known, is another prime example of his visual storytelling skill. It tells the story of Jeanne Ney, whose father is killed by the man she loves during the Russian Revolution, who, still in love, then settles in Paris where she must deal with deceit and treachery on almost every level. Melodramatic to the hilt, it is tremendously entertaining and filled with over-the-top performances that take it to another level, such as the actor with the fitting name of Fritz Rasp who plays the equivalent of a human rat, along with Brigitte Helm, the  robot from “Metropolis”, playing a blind girl  whose life is filled with tragedy. A real knock-out and worthy of discovery.

So keep these three in mind along with the other noteworthy movies of the era, and it will become unmistakably clear when it comes to that period in movie history that silence is indeed golden.

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Women Who Made the Movies: Part 2


In my last post I strived to highlight the top women, or in some cases the only women, working behind the scenes as producers, directors, or screenwriters during Hollywood’s golden age, creating great work that has rightfully stood the test of time. However,  screenwriting was a field that allowed more women to have a fairly prominent role than other positions during those years, so to only highlight three women, as I did in my last post, with so many more making such significant contributions during that historic time frame would be a disservice.  So, with that in mind, I would now like to add the names of other notable female screenwriters of the era to the ones already mentioned, along with their more recognized films or films needing to be seen, showing what an outstanding share these women had during the classic period of Hollywood moviemaking. It’s also important to note that most of these women were Oscar nominees, with some winning Oscars for their work. The range of classic movies these talented women had a hand in writing is quite impressive and could be surprising to some. They are as follows:

(1) Frances Goodrich- It’s A Wonderful Life (James Stewart and Henry Travers pictured above), Diary of Anne Frank, Father of the Bride, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Easter Parade

(2) Bess Meredyth-The Mark of Zorro

(3) Tess Slesinger-The Good Earth (Luise Rainier pictured above), A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

(4) Lenore Coffee-Sudden Fear, Tomorrow is Forever, The Great Lie (Bette Davis pictured above), Four Daughters (pictured above), Young at Heart

(5) Elizabeth Reinhardt-Laura (Gene Tierney pictured above), Cluny Brown

(6) Dorothy Parker-A Star Is Born (Fredric March and Janet Gaynor pictured above)

(7) Elizabeth Hill-The Citadel, H.M. Pulham, Esq.

(8) Lillian Hellman-Dead End, The Little Foxes, The Children’s Hour

(9) Harriet Frank Jr.-The Long Hot Summer (Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward pictured above), Hud (Paul Newman pictured above)

(10) Sonya Levien (Oscar Winner)-Quo Vadis, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939 version), Drums Along the Mohawk, Oklahoma!, Bhowani Junction (Ava Gardner pictured above)

(11) Bridget Boland-Gaslight (1940 British version), The Prisoner

(12) Irma Von Cube-Johnny Belinda (Jane Wyman and Lew Ayres pictured above)

(13) Sally Benson-Shadow of a Doubt (Joseph Cotton and Teresa wright pictured above), Meet Me in St. Louis (Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien pictured above)

(14) Helen Deutsch-National Velvet, Lili, I’ll Cry Tomorrow (Susan Hayward pictured above), King Solomon’s Mines

(15) Isobel Lennart-Love Me or Leave Me (James Cagney pictured above), Inn of the Sixth Happiness, The Sundowners (Robert Mitchum pictured above)

(16) Claudine West (Oscar Winner)-Mrs. Miniver, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Random Harvest (Ronald Colman pictured above)

(17) Frances Marion (2 time Oscar Winner)-The Big House, The Champ (Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper pictured above), Dinner at Eight

(18) Muriel Box (Oscar Winner)-The Seventh Veil

(19) Sarah Y. Mason (Oscar Winner)-Little Women (Katharine Hepburn pictured above), Magnificent Obsession (1954 version), Age of Innocence

(20) Catherine Turney-The Man I Love, A Stolen Life, No Man of Her Own (1950)

This certainly may not include all, but it does give a good idea of how much female screenwriting talent was at work during those most celebrated years of Hollywood cinema. And when you combine the above list with those women who primarily worked as part of a team, such as Phoebe Ephron with her husband Henry, Fay Kanin with her husband Michael, and Betty Comden with Adolph Green, the list and range of what they created becomes even more impressive. Without question, the contribution of women in various roles behind the scenes during that period, though relatively small in number, added greatly to the depth, breadth, and quality of work coming out of Hollywood during that time.

Then there are those in front of the camera. In my last post I mentioned that certain actresses would be highlighted in this one based on what they brought to the screen in almost every movie they were in. First, you have the actresses that were the true stars and superstars of the era: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Barbara Stanwyck, Claudette Colbert, Olivia de Havilland, Loretta Young, etc. Then you have actresses that never achieved that level of fame but attained a cult status years later due to the types of roles they played and the strong personas they brought to the screen that have continued to make them memorable. Such would be the case with actresses such as Ann Dvorak, Marie Windsor, Gloria Grahame, and Audrey Totter, among others.

Well, just a little beyond this group are the actresses that will be highlighted here, all being personal favorites. They did not reach the level of fame of their counterparts mentioned above nor did they necessarily reach the level of cult status achieved by the others. Rather, what they did was continue to put in noteworthy performances in film after film, creating a body of work in both big budget and low budget pictures that cemented their status as solid performers and enhanced  whatever they were in, making the movie just that much better due to their presence in it. There are three in particular that will be spotlighted, one an Oscar winner who is known  primarily by classic movie fans, another perhaps not as well-known who bounced between big budget and low budget productions without a true starring role, and the other, probably the least-known, who was primarily in low-budget productions but made each one memorable. They are as follows:

(1) Claire Trevor (pictured above, row second from bottom next to Katharine Hepburn) -The most well-known of the three particularly by classic movie fans, she raised whatever she was in to a higher level and never gave anything less than a solid performance. An Oscar winner for “Key Largo” where she plays the alcoholic girlfriend of mobster Edward G. Robinson, who forces her to sing for her liquor in one memorable scene, she was also known as The Queen of Film Noir which, though apt, somewhat does her a disservice as she was able to distinguish herself playing a variety of roles in different types of films. One of the best actresses to never truly hit a level of stardom like others of her era and definitely worthy of attention for her strong body of work.

Must sees: Stagecoach (1939), Murder, My Sweet (1944), Born to Kill (1947), Raw Deal (1948), Key Largo (1948), Hard, Fast, and Beautiful (1951), The High and the Mighty (1954)

(2) Jan Sterling (pictured above, left, bottom)-Rarely playing a good girl but always compelling, she was typecast for the most part in ‘blonde floozy’ roles, but she made the most of them and can be counted on for a memorable performance in whatever movie she appears in. Highly underrated, her work is well worth seeking out.

Must sees:  Johnny Belinda (1948), Caged (1950), Ace in the Hole (1951), Flesh and Fury (1952), Split Second (1953), The High and the Mighty (1954), Female on the Beach (1955), Women’s Prison (1955)

(3) Hillary Brooke (pictured above, right, bottom)- Probably the least known of the actresses mentioned, she specialized in portraying haughty, scheming women, but did so in a way that made each one extremely watchable. Though having the looks and bearing of a leading lady who gets the man, she rarely played one, which made the characters she did play even more interesting.  Her uniqueness truly makes her worthy of notice by any classic movie fan.

Must sees: Ministry of Fear (1944), Strange Impersonation (1946), Confidence Girl (1952), Invaders From Mars (1953), Heat Wave (1954)

Hopefully with these two posts a little more light has been shed on the important role women had during Hollywood’s golden age both in front of and behind the camera. Understanding their contributions can enhance appreciation for that time and help anyone see more clearly why it became what it is known as to this day: the most celebrated and creative period in moviemaking history.

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