Together Brothers (1974)


Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Local policeman Mr. Kool (Ed Bernard) is everyone’s favorite neighborhood cop in a poor black community in Galveston, Texas. So it comes as a heartbreaking shock when he turns up shot to death in cold blood one night near the playground. The only witness was five-year-old Tommy (Anthony Wilson), who was so traumatized by the incident that he’s refusing to say a word. When the local police seem slow on the tail of the killer, Tommy’s big brother H.J. (Ahmad Nurradin) and his friends take it upon themselves to gather a list of suspects. Soon, the trail leads them to the mysterious Billy Most (Lincoln Kilpatrick), just out of prison on an arrest made by Mr. Kool himself.

Say, folks! If you’re interested in the topic of queer images in film, have I got an event for YOU! From June 18-22, Garbo Laughs (that’s me) and Pussy Goes Grrr will be hosting the Queer Film Blogathon. Check it out now to find out how you can contribute and even win prizes. The party simply won’t be the same without you!

Although I’ve mentioned several times on this blog that I’m not a real big fan of the cinema of the 1970s, I felt it was important for this particular series to go outside of my classic comfort zone and include a review of a film from the first post-Code decade. That’s because I simply do not feel right holding an LGBT blogathon and only covering decades in which the T (trans or transgender) portion of that acronym was essentially nonexistent on the silver screen. I mean sure, if you throw cross-dressing and drag under the trans umbrella, you’ve got material dating back to the very foundation of the medium of film. But the transgender identity doesn’t stop at gender performativity the way drag and cross-dressing do (if you’ll pardon me for the gross oversimplification); being transgender means that one’s internal gender identity differs from the gender one was assigned at birth, an assignment usually made based on one’s biological sex. To be as inclusive as possible, I wanted to seek out and highlight a depiction of a transgender individual fitting this definition. That was nigh on impossible to do if I limited myself to films made before 1970.

Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, transgender individuals have not been represented accurately or positively in film… well, ever, really. Yes, there are of course exceptions, but they are few and far between, and even the current norm is nowhere near exemplary. One of the first and still most pervasive utilizations of transgender characters in film has been the trope of the “transgender killer,” an antagonist whose “confused” gender identity/expression is typically used as a metaphor for a deeper, more dangerous psychological disturbance. Think Psycho, Homicidal, Dressed to Kill, Sleepaway Camp, and the most egregious offender, Silence of the Lambs. Needless to say, continually portraying transgender people as crazed serial murderers is neither accurate nor positive. Unfortunately, Together Brothers, directed for 20th Century Fox by William A. Graham, is yet another example of this trope in use.

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Gaslight (1944)


Image Source: Listal

Synopsis: Following in the footsteps of her murdered aunt, Paula Alquist (Ingrid Bergman) sets off to become a great opera singer — but falls in love with her accompanist along the way. Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer) promises to whisk Paula away from her troubled past and show her true love and happiness. But right away, Paula’s nerves are tested when the couple moves into her aunt’s house and scene of her murder. Losing and misplacing things without remembering ever touching them, hearing strange noises in the house at night, and feeling seething resentment from their maid Nancy (Angela Lansbury), Paula’s life becomes dismal, and Gregory insists that her health is at stake. But is Paula really going crazy — or is that just what Gregory wants her to believe? Soon, a curious stranger (Joseph Cotten) pays Paula a visit and reveals that all may not be what it seems.

Well, it’s sure taken me long enough to get around to watching this one, especially given the fact that I own it. Directed by George Cukor for MGM in 1944, Gaslight is a remake of a British film of the same name released only four years prior, which itself is an adaptation of “Angel Street,” a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. It was nominated in seven categories at that year’s Academy Awards, winning Ingrid Bergman her first Best Actress Oscar as well as taking home the award for Best Art Direction (Black and White). The term “gaslighting,” which means to abusively manipulate a victim into doubting her or his own sense of reality using emotional and physical tactics, originated with what Charles Boyer’s character does to his wife Bergman in this film. It has become a part of culture and a major part of feminist theory.

While I knew from feminist theory that this was an important film with an all-too-relevant story to tell, I have to admit that I started off disappointed. There isn’t much mystery here, unlike in 1955’s Diabolique which uses superficially-similar themes, as to what Gregory is doing to Paula. We get the sense very early on in their relationship that he is slimy, untrustworthy, manipulative and abusive. We can see it, so why can’t Paula? Albeit, she is young and recovering from major emotional trauma, looking to her new husband to distract her and spirit her away from her turbulent past; but one doesn’t want to see a “weak” female lead character when dissecting a film for its feminist leanings. At some point it just becomes a waiting game for when Joseph Cotten’s character will nonchalantly decide to probe deeper into what’s going on and save Paula from the terrifying prison her husband has created for her.

YEAH DO IT, INGY! CUT OFF HIS EARS!

Paula’s lack of agency and role as a pawn for the two men in her life, while distressing, is wholeheartedly redeemed in the film’s climactic confrontation between Paula and Gregory in the attic. While the viewer is relieved that Brian Cameron has finally swooped in to rescue the damsel in distress, it is just such a wonderful breath of fresh air to see her shove him aside and confront her abuser head-on. I was definitely cheering! Indeed, in running away from her intended career to be with the man she loves, in agreeing to move into her aunt’s house despite it holding so many haunting memories for her, we see that Paula has been a strong-willed, heroic character all along – it is simply her slimeball of a husband who has broken her into this weak, scared little thing incapable of speaking up for herself. Sure, it takes another man to point it out to her, but Paula gets her comeuppance in the end, on her terms.

There are other female characters I found interesting in this film. Angela Lansbury as the petulant maid Nancy is smokin’ an interesting one to examine. Much like Bette Davis’ Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage, Nancy has no use for other women and only speaks to men in order to further her own prospects. It is implied from her introduction that she is in collusion with Gregory, if not actively participating in the process of gaslighting Paula. She doesn’t need to show sympathy for Paula out of any sort of “sisterly” connection, because she is only interested in getting what she wants and playing by her rules. Wouldn’t you feel the same if you’d grown up a poor working-class Cockney girl, likely having watched both your parents work themselves to the bone making the lives of rich people more comfortable? (Or am I reading way too much into this minor character?) I was also intrigued by the “comic relief” neighborhood busybody played by Dame May Whitty. I wonder about her place as an oblivious, murder-obsessed matron in an otherwise serious dramatic thriller. Is she perhaps intended as a stand-in for the audience? For, in sitting here for nearly two hours seeking to be “entertained” by watching this poor woman be tortured and imprisoned in her own home, aren’t we sort of “Bloodthirsty Bessies” ourselves?

“My husband’s going to methodically convince me that my sense of reality is incorrect when he finds out about this!”

Overall what sells this film is Cukor’s magnificent directing. The sets, the lighting, the music are all pitch-perfect and help the film to achieve the necessary Gothic, noir-ish atmosphere it needs to triumph. The scene I found most chilling is the part where Gregory and Paula go on a cheery little date to the Tower of London, and in the torture chamber (who chose this frighteningly-romantic location, anyway?!?), with the shadows of the devices intended to inflict pain and death swooping in around her, Paula discovers that the brooch Gregory has entrusted her with has gone missing. I found it a very foreboding hint of what Paula believes might happen to her when Gregory finds out about the brooch. And of course, when he does find out, he plays it off like he doesn’t care, for the sake of her feelings, because he’s just such a sweet and sympathetic guy. (Slimeball!)

Gaslight is a magnificent film by a magnificent director with a magnificent cast. You shouldn’t need me to recommend it, but I wholeheartedly do. A film with many layers and textures of meaning and symbolism, this one has major replay value and definitely lives up to its well-deserved hype.


Gaslight (1944) – 4.5/5 stars

Diabolique (1955)

Image Source: MovieGoods

Synopsis: Christina Delassalle (Véra Clouzot) and Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret) used to have the same problem: they were in love with the same man. Now they have a different problem: they both loathe the same man. With Christina as his sickly wife and Nicole as his strong-willed mistress, Michel Delassalle (Paul Meurisse) uses physical force to keep both women under his thumb. Finally, Nicole proposes the only remaining solution to Christina: they should murder Delassalle. Christina reluctantly and fearfully goes through with the plan, and they dump the body in the swimming pool. But when the pool is drained the next day, the body is nowhere to be found. Soon, eerie signs of Delassalle start popping up everywhere, from the suit he died in coming back from the cleaners to a foggy visage of his face appearing in the background of a photograph. Could the evil man possibly have survived their foolproof plan – or is he tormenting them from beyond the grave?

I went into this film knowing only two things about it: 1. It starred Simone Signoret, who I’ve wanted to see more of ever since her captivating performance in Ship of Fools (1965). 2. It was part of the Criterion Collection expiring from Netflix Instant on July 22, presumably to move over to Hulu Plus, where Criterion is cloistering away all its best films, never again to be seen by me (in streaming form, anyway). I’m so glad I got to see this film before it escaped my grasp. Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot in 1955 under the original French title Les diaboliques (The Devils), something about Diabolique makes it feel older than its 56 years. In its use of black and white, its noirish nuances, it definitely feels more ’40s than ’50s, especially when you compare it to the sprawling Cinemascope epics being produced in the United States around the same time. This is, of course, in no way a jab at the film, merely an observation. Who needs blaring Technicolor and sweeping landscapes when you’ve got a perfectly spooky little French ghost story to draw you in? (more…)

Rope (1948)

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Synopsis: Brandon Shaw (John Dall) and Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) think they’ve got it all. Both with genius IQs and coming from well-to-do families, they wholeheartedly believe in Nietzsche’s theory of the “Superman,” one who is so superior to other human beings that he is not required to abide by their laws. To prove their superiority, the boys plot to commit the “perfect murder,” strangling their friend David Kentley and concealing his body in their apartment. However, Phillip is horrified when Brandon takes their scheme a bit too far and invites David’s friends and family over for a dinner party, serving the food from atop the trunk containing David’s body. One of the guests is the boys’ philosophy professor Rupert Cadell (James Stewart), the man who taught them Nietzsche’s theory. Will Rupert be able to see through the boys’ so-called “perfect crime?”

Here on Garbo Laughs, I’m dedicating the entire month of June to the topic of Queer Cinema (LGBTQs, and depictions thereof, in classic film). This includes reviewing one relevant film from each decade from the 1910s to the 1990s. This is all leading up to my Queer Film Blogathon on June 27th. Won’t you join me in celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month by contributing a post or two (or three)?

It always astounds me that Rope isn’t thought of alongside Psycho, North by Northwest, and Vertigo as one of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best films. While it gets a lot of play in film classes due to Hitch’s “revolutionary” method of limited cuts, making (most of) the entire film feel like one continuous real-time take, out in the real world this is often looked down on as a distracting “gimmick.” I would argue that the point of view in Rear Window is also a gimmick, but that film doesn’t get nearly as much flack as Rope does. Maybe that’s because the Rear Window gimmick is more deftly executed than the Rope gimmick; I’ll give you that one. Regardless, it’s beyond my comprehension why some people apparently find the editing in Rope so distracting that they can’t realize what a fascinating film it is. In fact, it’s my favorite Hitchcock thriller. (We even recreated it with toys once!) But maybe that’s because I appreciate in Rope something that not all viewers can see, or want to see, and that is this: Rope is really, really gay. And that’s what I like best about it. (more…)

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: The 39 Steps (1935)

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Synopsis: Richard Hannay (Robert Donat), a Canadian man on a visit to England, decides one night to attend a show at the local music hall around the corner from his rented apartment. Unexpectedly, shots ring out in the theater and all the patrons scurry to evacuate. Upon exiting, Hannay is approached by a mysterious woman (Lucie Mannheim) who asks if she can come home with him. The woman identifies herself as Annabella Smith, a foreign agent trying to prevent enemy spies from smuggling British military secrets out of the country. She alludes only vaguely to something called the 39 Steps, said to be somehow involved in the nefarious plot. Hannay doesn’t believe her at first, but is convinced later that night when she turns up in his bedroom with a knife plunged into her back. Knowing he’ll be implicated in Annabella’s murder or killed by the enemy agents if he stays, Hannay decides to flee to Scotland, where Annabella’s next contact (Godfrey Tearle) is waiting to give further instructions. When the police catch up to Hannay on the train, he barges into the compartment of Pamela (Madeleine Carroll), a young woman traveling alone. Hannay begs Pamela to keep his cover, but when the police arrive she identifies him as the fugitive they’re hunting for. Hannay manages to evade their grasp this time – but with both the law and foreign spies on his trail, can he keep running forever? And what – or who – are the 39 Steps?

This is an official entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association’s Hitchcock Blogathon – one day, twenty blogs paying tribute to the Master of Suspense, director Alfred Hitchcock! Whether you’re new to Hitchcock or a lifelong fan, today is the day to get a variety of bloggers’ perspectives on his greatest films, whether they be well-known classics or obscure gems. Check out the CMBA blog for a complete list of participating sites.

I want to start off this review by thanking the Classic Movie Blog Association for hosting this Alfred Hitchcock blogathon. When I first got word of this event, I knew I wanted to participate, but I was unsure of which film I should focus on. I could have chosen one of my old favorites – like Notorious (1946), Rope (1948), or Rear Window (1954) – but I didn’t feel like I had anything new or original to say about these much-lauded classics. So I started to peruse the Netflix Instant options to see if there were any other Hitch flicks available that I hadn’t yet seen. That’s how I came across The 39 Steps, which I had heard of but had never actually taken the time to sit down and watch. So I’m grateful to the CMBA for giving me a reason to check this film out – because I think it may be a new favorite.

Here in the United States we don’t talk much about Hitchcock’s pre-WWII British films, as he is generally considered not to have reached his zenith until after he signed with David O. Selznick in 1940 and started making films in America. Of Hitchcock’s British films, The 39 Steps is arguably the most well-known and critically acclaimed; I say “arguably” because 1934’s The Man Who Knew Too Much with Peter Lorre is also a recognizable title to many casual film fans, although they may just be confusing it with the 1956 American remake starring Jimmy Stewart. The 39 Steps is considered “early” Hitchcock in the sense that it is pre-1940, but in reality the director had already made nearly twenty feature films in the fifteen years prior to 1935. This situates The 39 Steps nicely in the middle – a sort of “transitional” film, if you will – in that it predicts many of Hitchcock’s later masterpieces but also shows the auteur at a technical and narrative level defined and honed enough to make it a work of art in its own right. In other words, this isn’t a film that only cinephiles interested in Hitchcock’s development as a director will take an interest in; it’s simply a good movie that anybody can enjoy. (more…)