Archive for Romina Power

Forbidden Divas: 24

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2018 by dcairns

David Melville Wingrove hits us with another of those Forbidden Divas. You know the ones I mean! This movie was previously covered by Scout Tafoya in our ’68 Comeback Special, here.



“It is not enough to be innocent.” – Danielle Darrieux, 24 Hours in a Woman’s Life

 Let me start with a terrible confession. Danielle Darrieux is one of those stars I admire but have seldom actually liked. Even in her greatest roles such as the frivolous socialite transformed by love in Madame de (1953) she exudes a chilliness that makes her hard not engage with. I admire her coolly, remotely, from a distance – like an exquisite artificial orchid that has been sculpted in ice and preserved at a sub-zero temperature in a display case of finest cut glass. She seems less an actress than an icon put there to be venerated, a luxurious but rather hollow objet de culte.

None of her remoteness was apparent in her off-screen life – which was considerably livelier and more dramatic than most of her films. A leading lady from the age of fifteen, Darrieux was married in her youth to the film director Henri Decoin and the notorious gigolo stud Porfirio Rubirosa. (Yes, the name Italian waiters give to their supersize pepper mill.) After a brief flirtation with Hollywood, she returned to Paris just in time for the Second World War and the Nazi Occupation. Her enthusiastic but unreliable collaboration won her a notoriety that persisted until her death. She was forced to go into hiding at the end of the war, having been marked for death by both the Gestapo and the Resistance. Darrieux weathered the scandal by scorning even to discuss it. She kept working into her nineties and died in 2017 at the age of 100. Yet she never lost her air of icy hauteur. When a concert she gave in Paris sold out in record time, she remarked: “Nobody really wants to hear me sing. They just want to see if I drop dead in the middle of it.”

As a woman whose life story reads like a potted biography of 20th century Europe, Danielle Darrieux was a natural choice to star in Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life(1968). The film is based on a story by the Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, who prided himself throughout his life on being a European whose identity transcended national boundaries. Forced into exile by the Nazis, Zweig and his wife committed suicide in Brazil in 1942. Allegedly, they were unable to live with the loss of their ideal, which had always been that of a united, cultured and cosmopolitan Europe. One weeps to imagine what Zweig would make of Brexit – or of the populist thugs now governing Italy, Hungary, Poland and other European countries. His life and work bear witness to the futility and downright idiocy of borders and nation states. Are we heading for an era in which any educated person may soon start to feel like Stefan Zweig?

These are some of the issues that Twenty-Four Hours in a Woman’s Life, with its running time of less than 80 minutes, seeks to address. Its story takes place at the height of the First World War. Darrieux plays a French aristocrat, married to an English lord and on holiday in neutral Switzerland. Her husband is busy with his war duties so she is travelling with a group of with a group of upper-class Parisian ladies. Among them, oddly enough, is a teenage Romina Power, the pretty but utterly insipid daughter of Tyrone Power and Linda Christian. This girl would go on to appear in Jess Franco’s soft-core sleaze-fest Justine (1969) and achieve lasting notoriety as a pop star in Italy. Music plays an important part in Twenty-Four Hours as well, but rest assured it is of a far more elevated sort. As the film opens, the ladies are attending an outdoor concert by a lake, where a Hungarian pianist is playing music by the German composer Johannes Brahms. A few hardcore patriots are aghast at being forced to listen to “Hun music.” But for Darrieux, as for any cultivated Zweig protagonist, matters of art and culture take serene and automatic precedence over politics or national identity. It is symbolic, perhaps prophetic, that the concert is interrupted by a loud and torrential rainstorm.

Her friends catch the boat back to their hotel on the far side of the lake. But Darrieux, on a whim, decides to stay and hear the concert out, rain or no rain. Coming back alone late that night, she inadvertently gets on the wrong boat. It carries her – to her shock and surprise – across the border into Italy. At first she is mystified when a man in uniform asks for her passport. How, after all, can there be a border in the middle of a lake? When it transpires that she has no passport with her, the only option is to drop her on the Italian side and tell her to catch the first boat in the morning. Darrieux faces a night alone in a strange country, an undocumented and entirely illegal alien. She is, paradoxically, free for the first time in her life. The strait-jacket of identity has ceased, for a few hours anyway, to exist. She finds herself in the dubious position of doing (and being) whatever (and whoever) she wants.

She finds her way, through the rain, to an opulent casino. Its sumptuous Art Nouveau staircase is dominated by a giant stained-glass image of a peacock. Ladies parade up and down the stairs, resplendent in lilac wigs and glittering sequined gowns, fluttering their giant fans of ostrich plumes. Two stuffed peacocks spread their tail feathers on either side of the stairs. The writer-director Dominique Delouche (once an assistant to Fellini) served as his own designer for the costumes and sets. He creates an aura of boundless luxury on what was obviously a very small budget. Wandering into the main gambling hall, Darrieux spots a young blonde man (Robert Hoffmann) seated at a table playing roulette. His fingers drum nervously on the green baize, as he gambles away what is clearly that last money he has in the world. The wheel spins and he loses. Slowly, he gets up from the table and walks out alone into a thunderstorm. Darrieux – not even quite knowing why – follows him.

Although the man is easily young enough to be her son, the two become lovers for the night. The next day she learns he is a German. He has deserted from the army, as he can no longer stand the senseless act of killing for the sake of borders and nations. They go out rowing in a small boat on the lake. He points out a villa that reminds him of his family home. “It has an Italian terrace and a French garden,” he says. “But the house is in a Viennese style, the essence of Mozart and Schubert. That is my country!” Like the educated young Europeans of his day, he has grown up with no concern for national identities or boundaries. Suddenly, such things have become literally matters of life and death. The cosmopolitan Europe that was his home has become a hostile and alien world, one in which he no longer feels able to live. He carries a revolver with him in the pocket of his coat. He feels prepared, at any moment, to use it.

Hoffmann bears a passing resemblance to the young Helmut Berger, but is also a considerably worse actor. The plentiful nude shots – including just a few too many in a vaguely Crucifixion-like pose – suggest that Delouche did not really hire him for his acting. Delouche would make only two other features: L’Homme de Désir (1971) about a husband and wife who fall for the same young man and Divine (1975) about a young man’s obsession with a flamboyant theatrical diva, played once again by Darrieux. Having seen only the first of these movies, I cannot say which one is gayer. Twenty-Four Hours, which should have won Delouche an international reputation, was deprived of its world premiere when the 1968 Cannes Film Festival was called off due to the wave of strikes and student demonstrations across France. Delouche himself joined in the protests that prevented his own film from being shown. These days, in interview, he wonders why. Surely his costumes alone were worthy of a Palme d’Or?

Yet the revelation of 24 Hours must be Danielle Darrieux herself. As an older woman in love with a drifter half her age – and with all Europe going up in flames around her – she dares not just to make us cry, but to make us laugh. Her situation is poignant because it is ridiculous and she, a sophisticated and intelligent woman, knows precisely how ridiculous it is. She is passionate but not deluded, world-weary but never cynical. She makes us aware that irony and emotion do not merely coexist; they may, in fact, be two sides of a single overpowering and life-transforming experience. Darrieux gives a performance to rank with the very greatest. I may have to become a fan after all.

David Melville

Forbidden Divas: All At Sea

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2018 by dcairns

Hey everybody! David Melville is back with another plunge into the murky waters of forbidden divadom ~


All at Sea

“Where a beautiful woman is concerned, all men are curious.”
-Charles Korvin, Thunderstorm

Pity the poor actress who is more famous off the screen than on it. Linda Christian was a beautiful Mexican starlet who married Tyrone Power in 1949. The more cynical Hollywood insiders may say that was acting of a sort. But “the wedding of the century” (as the tabloid press described it) certainly kept the fans on the edge of their seats. Power and Christian became the most glamorous and golden of movie couples and their two children are minor celebrities in their own right: Romina as a pop star in Italy – and the lead in Jess Franco’s Justine (1969) – and Taryn as a swashbuckler in epics like Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger (1977). But when the couple divorced in 1955, Linda Christian slipped back into an obscurity she had never quite escaped.

One film, at least, suggests her fate was undeserved. Thunderstorm (1956) is a tale of tempestuous seas and torrid passions, set in an impoverished (but photogenic) fishing village on the Basque coast of Spain. One day, a rugged young fisherman named Diego (Carlos Thompson) finds a small yacht adrift in the bay. The vessel is leaking and half-waterlogged. But a gorgeous and only slightly dishevelled blonde lady lies unconscious on the cabin floor. She is, of course, Linda Christian. But she goes by the name of María Román. She declines to say who she is or where she comes from. She has a strange and almost otherworldly aura; dark portents of doom seem to follow wherever she goes. She is a B-movie variant of Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea crossed, perhaps, with Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. After all – as the script wastes no time in telling us – the local fisher folk are convinced such creatures do exist.

Most disquietingly of all, she is styled to look as much as possible like Grace Kelly – who was, at that time, Hollywood’s biggest female star. That is a shame because Christian (on the basis of this movie) has a natural and unaffected elegance of which the pallid and glacial Kelly could only dream. She is also a vastly warmer and more expressive actress. That tiny suitcase she packed for her cruise holds a seemingly inexhaustible stock of designer clothes. Wandering about the village like a sort of living poster for the New Look, Christian appears puzzled when local women – who spend most of their lives scaling and gutting fish – gape as if she were The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The men stare after her in naked and ill-disguised lust. The tyrannical mayor (Charles Korvin), his wastrel son (Garry Thorne) and his drunken brother (Tito Junco) all want to get in on the act. Stray hints tell us that Christian is not exactly a stranger to male attention.

The director, John Guillermin, photographs the village (its name is San Lorenzo) with almost as much relish as he photographs his star. Known today as a high-budget hack, Guillermin hit his stride in the 70s with a string of films – The Towering Inferno (1974), King Kong (1976), Death on the Nile (1978) – that required little more skill than switching on a camera and not standing in front of it. Yet here he shows a flair for moody and eccentric camera angles such as Orson Welles might envy. With a multiplicity of low-angle and high-angle shots, swooping overhead vistas and one bravura moment in a bar fight – where a bottle smashes in close-up and liquor floods over the lens – the tiny village starts to resemble a labyrinth by Piranesi or a Pop Surrealist drawing by Escher. As the smouldering intrigue around her heats up, Christian’s glamorous blonde castaway seems like a harbinger of Jessica Lange in the catastrophic rehash of King Kong. Indeed, it is this film – and not the 1933 creature features classic – that John Guillermin’s King Kong feels like a remake of.

Not that life in San Lorenzo is non-stop action. The village is a real Spanish location and most of its inhabitants are actual (dubbed) Spaniards – apart from the stars, who are a Mexican, an Argentine and a Hungarian. Yet the locals spend interminable screen time yammering over what size of oceangoing vessel would maximise their haul of fish. Thompson argues that small ships – which they all currently use – are no good for fishing in deep waters, where the richest stocks are to be found. Korvin – who owns all the boats and is too stingy to pay for new ones – insists that large ships could never sail in and out of the town’s tiny harbour. Literally every member of the cast (apart from Christian) seems to have an opinion on this. What’s more, they feel the urge to express it at wearisome length. Where, we ask ourselves, are those stringent European Union fishing quotas when we really need them?!

At one point Thompson, in a fit of derring-do, commandeers a large vessel from up the coast. He sails it into San Lorenzo harbour, narrowly avoiding the jagged rocks that loom up on every side. To be honest, Guillermin swings his camera so perilously close to the rocks that we start to feel a trifle worried. Thunderstorm is a visibly low-budget film; it seems most unlikely the producers could afford a new one. Yet the effect comes a whole lot closer to 3D than any of the 50s films that were actually shot in that overhyped and cumbersome process. We root for Thompson to sail home free and it almost looks as if he might…but then, suddenly, he glimpses Linda Christian posing provocatively on top of the highest rock, luring him to his doom like a siren out of some pagan Greek myth. In the end, he is forced to admit that Size Matters.

For all its flashes of visual flamboyance, Thunderstorm never did establish John Guillermin as an art-house auteur. No more did it establish Linda Christian as a motion picture star in her own right. But it is hard to dislike any movie that strives to outdo From Here to Eternity (1953) when it comes to steamy sex on the beach. In one swimming scene, Christian rises Venus-like out of the surf with her nipples clearly visible through her bra. Later, Thompson pins her down on the sands in a passionate clinch. The waves wash voluptuously over them, tried and tested symbols of movie passion. But then, alas, the waves grow larger. Swelling almost to the size of a small tsunami, they drag the lovers out to sea and Thompson all but drowns. The scene is ludicrous, but nobody could complain that it lacks boldness. You might say the same for Thunderstorm as a whole.

David Melville