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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Joan Fontaine's Thanksgiving, 1951

The setting: London, late November, 1951. Joan Fontaine and the rest of the Ivanhoe cast and crew were almost finished with filming in London's MGM stuido. It had been a 5-month long shoot. Joan couldn't make it back to the United States for Thanksgiving, so she celebrated in London, and invited some friends over, including actress Mary Martin who was appearing onstage in "South Pacific". Martin, 4 years older than Joan, seemed to dominate the evening.

Here's how it went, in Ms Fontaine's own words. (Excerpt from her 1978 autobiography, "No Bed of Roses")

As we were shooting Ivanhoe in late November, I could not get home for Thanksgiving with the children. Therefore I arranged with the service kitchen at Grosvenor Square to prepare a real American Thanksgiving for a few of my friends. Mary Martin and her husband, Dick Halliday, were staying at the Savoy Hotel during her highly successful run of "South Pacific", so I invited them, as well as the cast of Ivanhoe.

Although I had stressed that the gathering was to be very informal, and I was in slacks, Mary Martin arrived in a black-cut velvet Mainbocher. Mary took over. Standing in what is called in the theatre "fireplace center," she directed us all, the conversation, even tow here we should sit at table. As the Hallidays left that evening, Dick said his thanks with "We had a nice time. Not very nice, but nice."

--From the book "No Bed of Roses" (1978)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"The Devil's Own"/"The Witches" (1966) with Joan

"The Devil's Own": Not to be confused with the 1997 Brad Pitt film of the same name (or a 1916 silent film with Harry Carey, unrelated to either picture) This one is from Britain's Hammer Film Productions, and is also known as "The Witches" according to advertisements outside the United States.

dfordoom of Cult Movie Reviews recently posted an excellent review of this film, which insipred me to look into it further.

The 1962 novel "The Devil's Own" was written by Norah Lofts, who wrote it under the name of Peter Curtis, for a reason I don't understand (witchcraft-related?) Joan plays a schoolteacher who is exposed to the craft while teaching as a missionary in Africa. She's so frightened that she has a nervous breakdown. After returning to her native England, she becomes the head teacher of a small school in a rural village (a "village without hope" according to the eerie trailer - watch below), where she investigates the strange behavior of the townsfolk (including her 14-year old student with ties to the craft) and other unexplained mysteries. Directed by Cyril Frankel ("School for Scoundrels")

When I first heard about this film, Ms. Fontaine's last theatrical performance, I thought she accepted the movie role because she needed the money. How embarrassed I was to learn that she was in fact a co-producer (!) and insisted on starring in it, having loved the orignal novel.

Initial release date: Nov 21, 1966

Read another review from Mondo Esoterica. Read the Tainted Archive's blog post on Hammer Films.