MARY OF SCOTLAND (John Ford, 1936)

In addition to being a great actress, Katharine Hepburn was one of the most beautiful women to appear on-screen; and nowhere else is she quite so beautiful as she is in Mary of Scotland, based on Maxwell Anderson’s play, where (following Helen Hayes, for whom the part had been written) she plays Scotland’s ill-fated Mary […]

THE ICEMAN COMETH (John Frankenheimer, 1973)

Although Lee Marvin is only moderately effective as Hickey, The Iceman Cometh is a powerful, witheringly complex, brilliantly acted film—the finest achievement of director John Frankenheimer’s career, based on Eugene O’Neill’s greatest play, indeed, the greatest American play ever produced. In the grip of this electrifying work, with its Ibsenian overtones, for four straight hours, […]

MAN ON A TIGHTROPE (Elia Kazan, 1953)

The circus of life, where death continually hovers—a rootless or uprooted existence reflecting realities ranging from the status of refugees who were generated by war’s dislocations, to political upheaval and uncertainties, such as behind the Iron Curtain: these and related themes partially account for the plethora of films set around a circus, or employing the […]

LES MISERABLES (Richard Boleslawski, 1935)

Efficiently condensed by scenarist W. P. Lipscomb from Victor Hugo’s mammoth 1862 novel exposing social injustice, Les Misérables—note the Hollywood hybrid here: the accent, yes, but the upper-case “m”—is a grand, engrossing thing. It is the highest screen attainment of Richard Boleskawski, born Boleslaw Ryszard Srzednicki—a Pole, who trained at the Moscow Art Theater, and […]

ANNA KARENINA (Clarence Brown, 1935)

Greta Garbo, cinema’s greatest actress and most intoxicating beauty, played Anna Karenina twice, both times for Clarence Brown, her favorite director: in 1927, in the silent Love; in 1935, in the talkie, which reclaimed two things: the title of Lev Tolstoi’s novel; Anna’s suicidal end, which a happy ending had replaced for the sake of […]

DESIGN FOR LIVING (Ernst Lubitsch, 1933)

I have never read Noel Coward’s play Design for Living or seen it performed, but I understand that Ben Hecht’s script for the film, which Ernst Lubitsch, no less, directed, retains just one of Coward’s lines, presumably at least in part because, shortly before Hollywood imposed its production code, Coward’s risqué dialogue was considered too […]