The Mirror Crack’d (1980)

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Oh joy! An Agatha Christie murder mystery set in the 1950s on location in England with … four of the era’s real-life stars in the leading roles! What a brilliant idea, at least. Elizabeth Taylor re-enacts a story Christie knew about Gene Tierney who was embraced by a fan at the Hollywood Canteen while Tierney was pregnant with her first child by husband Oleg Cassini. The fan had left quarantine where she was languishing with German measles. Tragically, Tierney’s daughter was born blind and deaf and severely retarded as a result of the woman’s selfishness. Christie took the idea and ran with it, bringing movie star Marina Rudd on location to film the story of the sisters Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots with old rival Lola Brewster (Kim Novak) a production being directed by her husband Jason (Rock Hudson) and produced by Lola’s husband Marty (Tony Curtis). This was Taylor and Hudson’s second film together twenty-five years after the epoch-defining Giant. A chance meeting at the launch party brings Marina into contact with the woman who she now realises had infected her at a theatre during WW2 and the woman is murdered then anonymous letters start arriving … Jonathan Hales and Barry Sandler adapted the novel, John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin produced and Guy Hamilton directed, with Angela Lansbury playing Miss Marple in what proved to be an audition for Murder, She Wrote. She is accompanied by her nephew at Scotland Yard Dermot Craddock (Edward Fox):  there’s a top-notch cast list with Pierce Brosnan to be spotted in a small role. And when was the last time you saw Anthony Steel?!  This isn’t the tense mystery that it should be, but it provides vast pleasures for those of us consumed with Hollywood in all its iterations. The cinematography by the great Christopher Challis doesn’t hurt but the final shot of the fabulous Ms Taylor is deeply unflattering and should have been rethought (Natalie Wood had been the first choice for the role).  On the other hand, there are close shots of her eyes that are not in any of her other films – and they are legendary!

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The Razor’s Edge (1946)

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Somerset Maugham’s magnificent novel of the Lost Generation gets the A treatment from Darryl F. Zanuck’s Twentieth-Century Fox. It was a vehicle for the ludicrously beautiful Tyrone Power, newly returned from the War, just like the hero, socialite Larry Darrell, on a quest to find himself after WW1. The obscenely brilliant Lamar Trotti (who died far too young) crafted a faithful screenplay and Maugham himself, who drifts in and out of the story (“as if he leads our lives for us”) is played by Herbert Marshall.  Only Gene Tierney was gorgeous enough to cast opposite Power and she is the woman who can’t let go of him – even after she has. He turns up years later in Paris after his Indian odyssey and she is still in love with him despite husband (John Payne) and children and gets in the way of his self-sacrificing marriage to their childhood friend, the tragic alcoholic Sophie, played in an extraordinarily vivid performance by Anne Baxter (despite the boxy costumes which accentuate her disproportionate frame). Uncle Elliott, the social climber, is played by the wonderfully epicene Clifton Webb (he’ll always be Waldo Lydecker to me). It is meticulously directed by the overwhelmingly gifted British actor/writer/director Edmund Goulding who would be reunited with Power the following year for the simply astonishing Nightmare Alley. Those were the days. The material was so potent that writer/director John Byrum did a version in 1984 starring Bill Murray and Theresa Russell, but that’s another story.

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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An extraordinary film in so many ways. A woman bewitches a man and ruins his life. Or does he destroy hers? She is Gene Tierney, a performer whose legacy is little recognised today but she had a great run in the 1940s. He is Cornel Wilde, a mild presence at best, perfectly suited as the mediocre writer who doesn’t quite know what he’s getting into by marrying a woman whose father he closely resembles. Or does he? She walks out on her fiance, she marries him instead, kills his crippled brother in a scene that remains one of the best ever filmed and then she kills their unborn child and THEN … frames him for her own murder after she discovers his love for her cousin, brought up as her adoptive sister and to whom he has dedicated his latest book. She might be one of the most evil women who ever lived in anyone’s imagination, or one of the most wronged. After all, didn’t he want her as a muse? And then dragged all manner of people into their domestic environment. She says early on, Every book’s a confession. And he is wanting for inspiration. Jo Swerling was enlisted by fabled producer Darryl F. Zanuck to adapt Ben Ames Williams’ bestselling novel which Tierney read and then petitioned for the role. Amazing houses, wonderful cinematography by Leon Shamroy, sublime costuming (Kay Nelson with a helping hand from Oleg Cassini) and effective direction by John M. Stahl, responsible for so many terrific melodramas. This is framed as a film noir with its flashback narration but really belongs in that genre. Tierney is genius.