Friday, September 23, 2016

Jennifer Seeks the Goblin King

I rarely discuss recent films in this venue, but quite frankly (despite some of the discussion I've seen about banning films after 1960 from TCM) 30 years ago is not all that recent.  So I'm going to look at Labyrinth (1986), which had a Fathom Events celebration for its 30th Anniversary.  I will confess right now, I'd not seen the film before, and am not really familiar with David Bowie (The Goblin King).  My husband, however, assured me I would enjoy it, and indeed I did.

The plot is straight out of Joseph Campbell, involving a hero's (in this case, heroine's) quest, which is also a journey to maturity.  Sarah, a teen with a vivid imagination, spends her days imaging a fantasy world in which she confronts The Goblin King.  It's her real world that to her mind is a horror. She has to deal with her stepmother (Shelley Thompson) and a new baby brother, Toby (Toby Froud), who seemingly never stops crying (it doesn't help that Sarah is either yelling at him or ignoring him).  In anger, she curses little Toby: may he taken away by The Goblin King, an action she quickly repents her actions.  But it is too late - the Goblin King appears,  informing her that she has 16 hours to traverse the labyrinth that surrounds The Goblin King's castle, or Toby will be turned into a goblin forever.
I love the Muppets, but was unsure how I would react to these very un-Muppet characters.   However, as he does with the Muppets, director Jim Henson gives us a cadre of characters that we can relate to, even if they aren't "real".  They work within the concept of the epic nature of the story and provide an accessibility for both adults and children.  The other plus is the interaction of both Ms. Connelly and Mr. Bowie with the puppets.  They make you believe that these other characters are real.

We are all familiar with Ms. Connelly's work as an adult - especially her Academy Award winning performance in A Beautiful Mind (2002).  Her talent is already evident here: both in her ease with the puppet characters, as well as her scenes with Mr. Bowie.  She's 15 years old, to his 38.  But both are able to create a chemistry that is ageless (and also not icky).  Especially in the dream scene where they dance together, the pair are fascinating to watch. 
 
Mr. Bowie's death earlier this year makes it impossible to not stop to say a few more words about his performance.  Again, I was not really familiar with him, either as an actor or singer - certainly, I'd heard of him, could identify a photo of him, and knew that much of his film work had been favorably received.  But I'd not seen any of it, and thought the hype about him might be just that.  I was wrong.  He is remarkable here, giving The Goblin King a sexiness and appeal that are undeniable.  He needs to be scary and attractive at the same time, and he does that very successfully.  I'm hoping now to locate a few more of his films.  In the meantime, I'm going to recommend this New York Times article that appeared shortly after his death.

As is often the case with Fathom Events, there was a preliminary film that discussed the history of Labyrinth.  Included was a section on the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta, GA, which is now the home of the puppets from this movie.  The Henson Family, who had kept the puppets after Jim Henson's untimely death in 1990, donated the puppets to the Center, where they are being restored and displayed for the film's anniversary.  It was sad to learn that, in order to preserve them, the puppets are no longer usable as performance tools, but nice to know that they will have a home where generations can view them in the context of the film.

I'm going to close with this trailer from Labyrinth.  I heartily recommend the film for the next time you want a bit of fantasy in your life.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Student Nurse Florence

My fascination with in women in medicine extends to way nurses are portrayed in classic cinema.  So, this week, our group watched the 1939 film Four Girls in White. The film follows four young women who enter a three year nursing program, each for her own reasons:  Gertie Robbins (Una Merkel) wants a job which will give her three (or more) meals a day; Mary Forbes (Mary Howard) wants to be a district nurse so she can better support her small daughter; Patricia Page (Ann Rutherford) is there because her sister, Norma (Florence Rice) has entered the program.  And Norma? Norma's decided the hospital is the route to a rich husband. 

This is an interesting film, which combines humor, drama, engaging characters, and a good script.  It's a story which provides a (somewhat glorified) view of nursing education, as well as a nice bunch of stories - some romantic, some comic, some tragic.  But it really is never boring and is often surprising.  It does a excellent job introducing us to our lead character - realizing she and her sister will be late for their school orientation, Norma puts in a phony call for an ambulance, then begs a ride to the school from the answering physician, Stephen Melford (Alan Marshal).  No fool, Dr. Melford quickly figures out their ruse and exacts a punishment (he could, of course, turn her and her sister into the police, but that's never discussed).  Norma, of course, is smitten, primarily because he is a young, handsome, and unmarried physician.

We were especially impressed with Alan Marshall's portrayal of Dr. Melford.  The movie presents him as another physician of the Hollywood hero mode: a doctor who wants to work in the hospital at lower pay because there he treats people who truly need him, takes ambulance duty because a colleague needed assistance, and is a researcher trying to better mankind   It could be a tricky role, because Melford is so innately "good", but Marshall gives him a sense of humor; Melford's discussions with Norma concerning his career choices are sincere without being saccharine. At one point, according to this AFI Catalog article, Gene Raymond was set for the role. We think Marshall was a much better choice. 

An engaging actor, Marshall appeared in 24 films between 1936 and 1959 (he died in 1961, at the age of 51).  An Australian citizen, he was unable to join the US Military during World War II, and acquiesced to his wife's request that he not attempt to return to Australia to enlist (quite frankly, it would have been very dangerous just to travel TO Australia).  Instead, he did numerous bond tours, receiving the The United States Treasury Award for his work.  By 1944, he pulled back from film work - he had always disliked Hollywood, and his film work and bond tours had exhausted him.  He would return to films and to television in the 1950s, and worked steadily - often with friends like Vincent Price (in The House on Haunted Hill).  For more information on Mr. Marshall, visit this webpage that is dedicated to him.  He also worked onstage - his final role was in play of Sextette, starring Mae West.  He was appearing in Chicago in that play (along with his son, Kit), when he suffered a heart attack.

We liked Florence Rice in the role of Norma.  This TCM article is rather critical of her (as well as Ann Harding - who has nothing to do with this movie. We like Ann Harding), but we feel unfairly so.   One isn't supposed to really LIKE Norma - she's an opportunist, and the audience is never clear if her interest in Melford is because he is a doctor, with a potential for wealth, or because she really has a regard for him.  Rice is not afraid to play her as selfish and a bit unpleasant.  Her only saving grace is her loving relationship with her sister (it seems evident that the girls are alone in the world. No other family is mentioned) - that is what gives one hope that her character will eventually grow up.  We were intrigued with the use of a statue of Florence Nightingale in the story.  It serves as a barometer for Norma's growth as a person - she complains to it when her selfishness is the most egregious; it also signals her reform later in the film. It's an interesting way to heroize the character of The Nurse.

Ms. Rice had a decent career, mostly in second leads.  She was still working fairly steadily when she retired in 1943.  She married her third husband, Fred Butler in 1946, a marriage that would last until her death in 1974. 
One character in the film is a bit of a mystery.  Mary Forbes, who has been forced to put her child into a foster  home (on a farm), while she completes the three year nursing program in the city.  Though it is never stated outright, there are hints that Mary is an unwed mother.  She never mentions a husband, never says she is widowed, but she is clearly the sole support of the child.  And the character is, as is often the case for unwed mothers during the "Code" period, punished for her "sins".  It's an interesting plot point, that we suspect would have been evident to the contemporary audience. 

A number of interesting character actors appear in the film, notably Jessie Ralph as the nursing instructor, Miss Tobias, Sara Haden as Miss Bennett,  Kent Taylor as millionaire Robert Maitland, and Buddy Ebsen as orderly Express.  The relationship between Ebsen and Una Merkel provide most of the humor to the film (some of it on the silly side). 

We will leave you with this clip from the film.  As fans of the Cherry Ames books, we found the film an enjoyable look at the start of a career.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dorothy Flirts

Celia Faraday (Dorothy Mackaill) has had it.  She's 26 and unmarried, and her younger sister Evelyn (Leila Hyams) is trying to set her up with a marriage to the idiotic Raleigh Raleigh (William Austin).  It seems their father Sir William Farady (Claude Gillingwater) will not permit Evelyn to marry until Celia is safely in wedded bliss.  Celia had already been forced to be the green stocking when her other younger sister married, and Sir William will not see it happen again - it's too embarrassing (for him).  Celia, on the other hand, could care less; she's not all that interested in marriage and doesn't care if her sisters want to have husbands.  So, she makes up a fiance who's been shipped to India.  But, when her sister steals and mails one of Celia's fake letters to her "beloved" Colonel John "Wabbles" Smith, the letter is delivered to the very puzzled Colonel John S. Smith (Basil Rathbone) in India, who determines to meet his unknown "lover". Thus begins The Flirting Widow (1930)

The beauty of this slight little film is the interplay between Basil Rathbone and Dorothy Mackaill.  Until he arrives at her doorstep, the film is rather banal, but once they begin to interact, the chemistry is palpable.  As always, Dorothy Mackaill is wonderful in the film; the addition of Rathbone gives her someone whom she can really bounce off.  Added to that, he is quite dashing and amusing as the bemused fiance of a woman he's never actually met. 

For a precode film, this one is rather tame.  My colleague at Pre-code.com points out a scene in which a watch gets dropped down Celia's front (with the very interested Colonel Smith watching her retrieve it. You can see a photo of the scene on his website, above).  There is also the character of Raleigh Raleigh - though not stated outright, the film hints that he is gay.  Aunt Ida's drunk scene also might give later censors a bit of a shudder (this is, after all, still the era of prohibition. Sure, it's set in England, but when would that stop a censor?)  But by and large, this is a subdued precode film, which just skirts around the borders of naughtiness.
We did find the character of Celia to be very interesting.  She has an almost masculine way about her when we first meet her - a severe slicked back hairstyle, a tie and sweater;  but later, once she's not being harassed to marry, her clothing and hair are soft and more traditionally feminine.  Much like the film Devotion, which we earlier discussed (and would be released the following year), this is a woman who is rather abused by a family that considers her to be more of a servant than a daughter or sister.  But Celia is released from her servitude by her declaration of an engagement.  Only as the appendage of  a man (even a fictitious one) is she permitted the independence she craves. 


In their review of the film, the New York Times also commented on the slight nature of the film.  However, they too agreed that the chemistry between Rathbone and Mackaill was outstanding.  Though not an earthshattering film, it's a pleasant enough way to spend 72 minutes, if only to see Dorothy Mackaill with an actor who is her equal.


 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Deborah Sings (with Marni's Voice)

Another TCM Presents, this time The King and I (1956) starring Deborah Kerr, (Anna Leonowens) and Yul Brynner (King Mongkut).  Based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, The English Governess and the Siamese Court (published in 1870) told the story - from her point of view, of course - of her years as royal governess to the wives and children of King Mongkut of Siam. It's been made three times as a film - first as the drama with Irene Dunne (who, ironicaly, had a magnificent singing voice in a non-musical role) Anna and the King of Siam (1946), then, this version, with the wonderful Deborah Kerr (who couldn't sing, and had the equally magnificent Marnie Nixon dubbing for her).  Finally, the 1999 Anna and the King, with Jodie Foster in the role of Anna.  All three films, and the book, are banned in Thailand, because of the portrayal of King Mongkut.  This discussion from the New York Review of Books goes into some details about their antipathy to the story (the King is made to look ridiculous, Anna seems to get preeminence in billing and advertising). But, as they point out in the article, this is HOLLYWOOD history, not real history.

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There are a number of differences between the 1946 and 1956 films - most, perhaps to soften the musical a bit.  In Anna and the King of Siam, the break between Anna and King Mongkut (Rex Harrison) occurs when the King burns Tuptim (Linda Darnell) and her lover to death at the stake, whereas in The King and I, Anna becomes infuriated when the King threatens to whip (but is unable to do so) Tuptim (Rita Moreno).  The drama ends with Anna remaining in Siam after the death of her son, whereas the musical ends with both mother and son remaining to support young Chulalongkorn (Patrick Adiarte).  Historically, Anna's on, Louis Leonowens eventually returned to Siam to become a Captain in the Royal Cavalry (commissioned by his schoolfellow, the royal prince Chulalongkorn. married twice and had two children.  He lived to age 63 (he and his wife died in the 1919 flu pandemic).

This TCM article provides some background about the Broadway musical, and the introduction of Yul Brynner into the role that would make him a star.  Brynner had no illusions about Broadway or film stardom - he was planning on being a director, as he assumed his rather exotic appearance would not make him a conventional leading man.  In a sense, he was right, but he became so ingrained in this role (for which he won the Tony) that there was no question that he would be included in the film version - at least on the studio's part.  He wanted to direct it (and star Marlon Brando as the King).  However, some hard negotiations landed him the role, script approval, and a tidy sum of money - and an Oscar.  It also led to him being seen AS a leading man, albeit an unconventional one, in such films as The Magnificent Seven (1960), Anastasia (1956), and Solomon and Sheba (1959).  Nor was the film the end of Mr. Brynner's association with The King and I.  He played the King in the 1978 and 1985 revivals of the play.  He died four months after the second revival closed.
 

Unfortunately, we were not to see his illustrious co-star Gertrude Lawrence in the film.  Though Ms. Lawrence had first refusal on any film version of the play, she died of cancer in 1954 (3 weeks after her final appearance as Anna).  Supportive of her co-star, one of her last acts before her death was to arrange that Mr. Brynner's name appear on the theatre marquee (her name had been the only one listed).  With the exception of the vocal issues, however, Ms. Kerr is a worthy successor, an actress who can do more with a raised eyebrow than most can do with their whole body.  And with a wardrobe of enormous period dresses, Ms. Kerr WEARS them - they never overwhelm her or her character.

A few days after we saw this film, we were at a Disney concert (the Wolf Trap orchestra performing to clips of  Disney films), and my husband was struck by the similarities between the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast and the Shall We Dance number in The King and I.  Below are two screen shots.  Note the dresses - the same wide skirt, the same off the shoulder top, and both are shades of gold. Even the rooms bear a resemblance to one another. Coincidence? I bet not!


This July, we lost the wonderful Marnie Nixon at age 86.  I was lucky enough to see her perform (in a non-singing role) on Broadway in James Joyce's The Dead.  Ms. Nixon was a gifted actress and singer, not just a voice behind the curtain, subbing for Deborah Kerr, Natalie Wood, and Audrey Hepburn.  She did eventually get to sing in front of the camera - as Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music (she obviously did NOT need to ghost sing for the lead in THAT film!)  Ms. Nixon sings the line: "She waltzes on her way to mass and whistles on the stair."  While we often see the illustrious actresses listed above when we think of these films, when we hum the songs from The King and I or West Side Story, it is Marnie Nixon's voice that we hear in our head.  It's fitting, I think to close with Ms. Nixon singing the Shall We Dance number. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Harrison Find the Ark

This year, the American Film Institute awarded its Lifetime Achievement Award to John Williams.  In celebration of this event, and of the 35 anniversary of its release, AFI ran Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) at their Silver Theatre.  I saw Indie in his first run, back in 1981, and it was with great pleasure that I returned to see the film again on a big screen.  Yes, I have the DVD (for all the Indiana Jones films, as it happens), but the lure of a big screen was enough to get me into a theatre to revisit this amazingly enjoyable film.

It's 1933.  Dr. Indiana Jones  (Harrison Ford), an archaeologist of some renown, is approached by the U.S. government to begin a dig of some importance:  find the Ark of the Covenant, the receptacle of the 10 Commandments that God bestowed upon Noah.  The Ark, which is alleged to possess mystical powers, is being sought by the Nazi government, and the American officials want Indie to find it before the Nazis.  To do this, Indie must revisit his past, in the form of Marion Raven (Karen Allen), daughter of his former mentor, and Indie's one-time lover.  Much more than hijinks ensue, as Indie has to face Marion, the Nazis, and his rival, the unscrupulous Dr. RenĂ© Belloq  (Paul Freeman).
I'm going to spend a moment venting my minor annoyance at the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.  Not that I think the folks who have received it aren't worthy - they most certainly are (and Mr. Williams is no exception).  But what annoys me are the huge gaps.  They won't give the award to someone deceased (it's hard to have a dinner given for you if you are dead) or to someone who won't COME to the dinner (so Katharine Hepburn never got the Award. She wasn't about to get dressed up for an award), so the people that, for example, Mr. Williams admired (like Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklos Rosza, and Alfred Newman), will never enter the pantheon.  Plus, out of 44 awards, only one has gone to a person of color (Morgan Freeman) and only eight have been given to a woman (Bette Davis, Lillian Gish, Barbara Stanywck, Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand, Meryl Streep, Shirley MacLaine, Jane Fonda).  It really irritates me.  Rant ended.
Many stories on the history of this film exist.  Perhaps the most famous is that Harrison Ford was not the first choice (or even the second or third choice) to play Indiana Jones.  Tom Selleck was the initial selection for the role, but he had a contract with CBS for an already filmed (but not optioned) pilot, Magnum, P.I.  CBS decided to exercise their option, Selleck decided to honor the contract, and the rest, as they say, is history (both film and television.  After all, the Smithsonian Institute has both Magnum's and Indie's hats!).  Among the many actors considered for the role were: Nick Nolte, Steve Martin, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Tim Matheson, Nick Mancuso, Peter Coyote,  Jack Nicholson, and Jeff Bridges (who was offered the part, and declined).  These articles on Raiders trivia from Moviefone and Business Insider (which also has a clip from Tom Selleck's screen test) have more information. 
Ford is such an overpowering presence in the film, that we sometimes forget about the other wonderful actors who appear in supporting roles.  Denholm Elliott as Indy's boss at the University, Dr. Marcus Brody is just delightful.  Alfred Molina, in his screen debut, appears as Satipo, in the first segment of the film (Satipo does not fare very well in the caverns).  But, stealing the show is John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, Indy's friend and colleague in Cairo.  A big bear of a man, Sallah is smart and resourceful.  At one point, he uses his children to rescue Indy from the clutches of Belloq and the Nazis.  The character would appear again in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  John-Rhys Davies has had a broad career - he appeared as Gimli in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, in Star Trek: Voyager (as Leonardo da Vinci), as Joe Gargery in the BBC Great Expectations (1991), and in I, Claudius (1976). 

Let's not forget the wonderful Karen Allen, who makes Marion a force to be reckoncame back to the franchise in Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, though she is less involved with acting presently - she now runs Karen Allen Fiber Arts, which among other things sells Ms. Allen's knit products.

The film garnered a number of awards, including Oscars for Art-Set Direction and Sound, and a Special Oscar for Sound Effects Editing. It was also nominated for Picture, Director, Cinematography, and Music.  The list of other awards and nominations is too long to go into here.  I suggest you visit the IMDB Awards page for the film, to see the extensive list.  The AFI has also honored the film outside of its achievement awards to George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and John Williams: it is #60 AFI Greatest Movies and #10 100 Years, 100 Thrills

I'll leave you with the trailer to the film.  It's been announced that there will be an Indiana Jones #5, with a tentative release date of 2019.  I'm (not so patiently) waiting!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Olivia is an Italian Widow

Told that another English winter will kill him, Ambrose Ashley (John Sutton) leaves his estate in the hands of his cousin, and adopted son, Philip (Richard Burton).  Promising to return in the spring, Ambrose initially delays his return, followed by a letter announcing his marriage to the widow Rachel Sangalletti (Olivia de Havilland).  The letters stop; but finally, one arrives, written in a shaky hand, telling Phillip that Ambrose's life in in danger - and that the culprit is his wife, Rachel.  Philip rushes to Ambrose's side, to find that his cousin is dead (supposedly of a brain tumor), Mrs. Ashley has left the area, and Philip is the heir to Ambrose's vast estate. Convinced that Rachel murdered his beloved cousin, Philip returns to Cornwall, and waits to revenge himself on My Cousin Rachel (1953).

Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, author of Rebecca, the film has the distinction of being the third du Maurier film featuring a member of the de Havilland/Fontaine family, as Ms. de Havilland's sister Joan had already appeared in Rebecca (1940, for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award) and in Frenchman's Creek (1944).  Like the other films, My Cousin Rachel, set on the Cornish coast, has the wild English seaside feel to it.  And, like the other two films, we have a character who is ambiguous.  Is Rachel to be trusted?  Or is she, as we eventually discover about the title character in Rebecca, a manipulative woman, out only for money and position?
This was the Hollywood film introduction of Richard Burton (he had already appeared in a few films and television shows in the UK), who was only 26 at the time.  Commentary by Ben Mankiewicz, which preceded the movie noted that he was unfamiliar with film and the camera.  He wanted to play out the entire scene, though only certain shots were needed for close-ups and other angles.  Director Henry Koster spent time teaching Burton to save himself up for the big scenes, and not waste his energies on shots that required only a look or a line, a lesson that would stand Burton in good stead in his 77 film and television appearances.  Burton was nominated for best supporting actor for his performance in this film, and deservedly so (he lost to Anthony Quinn in Viva Zapata!).  He is able to turn the character of Philip on a dime, going from mature, thoughtful man, to petulant child in a heartbeat. 

Though not nominated for the Oscar that year (sad but true), Ms. de Havilland gives a masterful performance as Rachel.  She plays her as a question mark.  Is she guilty of murder?  Is she in love with Philip? Was she in love with Ambrose?  What is her relationship, really, with Guido Ranaldi (George Dolenz)?  The audience is never sure. We delight in her, we admire her, and we even like her, but we are really never sure if we can trust her. 
The AFI Catalog notes that the story was initially serialized in Ladies Home Journal, and though filmed versions of du Maurier's novels had a proven record of success, the major studios shied away from her asking price of $80,000.  George Cukor and Vivien Leigh were original considerations for director and for the part of Rachel, but Cukor disliked the script (as did du Maurier, who offered her own screen treatment) and withdrew.  But Ms. Leigh was not the only contender for the title role - the part was allegedly offered to Greta Garbo, and David Selznick wanted it for his wife Jennifer Jones. 

Director Koster's son Nicholas plays the young Philip.  Also in the cast is George Dolenz, whose son is know to many of us - future Monkee Micky Dolenz.  Audrey Dalton makes her screen debut as Philip's best friend and neighbor,  Louise Kendall, and is quite good in a small part.  Ms. Dalton would go on to appear in Titanic (1953) as Barbara Stanwyck's daughter Annette Sturges, and to a total of 59 film and television appearances. Born in Ireland, she married assistant director James H. Brown in 1953. The marriage lasted until 1977; they had four children.  In 1979, she remarried, this time to an engineer (Rod F. Simenz), at which point she seems to have retired. 

This is not the only telling of the story of My Cousin Rachel.  On 7 September 1953, Olivia de Havilland reprized her title role (with Ron Randall as Philip) in a Lux Radio Theatre presentation of the story. In 1982, the BBC produced a four-hour series starring  Christopher Guard and Geraldine Chaplin as Philip and Rachel.  A new feature film version is in post-production, with Rachel Weisz and Sam Clafin in the lead roles. It is currently listed as having a release date sometime in 2017. 

Though perhaps not a glowing one, this New York Times review is quite impressed with the film. Our group was much more so, with one of the members saying it was "the best film [she had] seen in a long time".  We strongly recommend it, and leave you with this trailer to whet your appetite.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Olivia's Trip to Italy

Six years ago, our group reviewed Light in the Piazza (1962) when we began looking a the films of Olivia de Havilland.  As the film is one that several of us love, and a newer group member had never seen it, we decided to revisit this excellent film.  Ms. de Havilland plays Margaret Johnson, an American visiting Italy with her daughter Clara (Yvette Mimieux).  As they see the sights in Florence, they are approached by Fabrizio Naccarelli (George Hamilton), a young Florentine who is captivated by Clara.  Margaret attempts to avoid Fabrizio, but to no avail - he is not to be dissuaded.  Meg's problem? Clara suffered a traumatic brain injury when she was 12; as a result, though she is a lovely young woman of 26, she has the mental age of a pre-teen.

Based on the novel The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer (New York, 1960), the story first appeared in The New Yorker.  Reviews in the Hollywood Reporter and Variety praised the film (see TCM article), but the New York Times review is scathing.  A shame, really, because it is a moving film, with an exceptional cast - Bosley Crowther just didn't get it.

It's interesting how several years distance from the film, and new discussants adds to one's appreciation.  In our prior discussion, we were very critical of Barry Sullivan, who played Clara's father, Noel Johnson.  Noel is a hard man to like, primarily because of his attitude towards his daughter - he is both jealous of her and embarrassed by her.  His solution: ship her off to Maryland (he's a tobacco executive in Winston-Salem, NC), where visits will be limited, and she will be "safe" in something that is not "an institution" (he describes it as a "country club, or should be for the amount we're paying").  It also means his wife will be all his, not the guardian of their daughter.  Did we like Noel any better? Of course not, but we were more appreciative of the way Mr. Sullivan played him.  He's not afraid to make him unattractive, and it works well.
Our opinion of Signor Naccarelli, as portrayed by Rossano Brazzi, didn't change all that much.  We still found him somewhat shady.  Signor Naccarelli does, however, bring a bit of humanity to Meg;  Meg is so tied up in knots over her fears for her daughter's future, that it is only the flirtatious Signor who is able to finally loosen her up a bit, with his flattery and attempt at lovemaking. But his efforts to blackmail Meg for a larger dowry are rather petty - he's not a poor man, and it is likely Noel will happily supply plenty of money to his daughter's upkeep (though, of course, Signor Naccarelli is not aware that Noel will pay pretty much anything to have Clara out of sight).

Some years ago, two of us saw the Broadway musical version (2006) Light in the Piazza at Lincoln Center.  We enjoyed it, but somehow it didn't click the way the film did.  I think perhaps that the film had more intimacy than the play.  Regardless, it was a good night of theatre, and we appreciated that they would want to tell this story again.  Here is a clip from that version.
Light in the Piazza does a good job in portraying a difficult subject, and we were especially impressed by Yvette Mimieux and George Hamilton.  Originally, Italian actor Thomas Millian was cast as Fabrizio, but Hamilton actively campaigned for the role.  Hamilton is not afraid to make Fabrizio a simple man - not stupid, but a man who wants a loving wife, a home and a family.  He sees in Clara the child bride he yearns for - a playmate of sorts, but a loving one who will revel with him in his love of home and family.  He also makes him a bit of a stalker (with his relentless ability to find Clara and Meg, no matter what part of Florence into which they venture), making Meg's distrust of him eminently understandable, but also providing the audience with a chuckle.

In the end, the film hinges on whether or not we can accept the sincerity of Ms. Mimieux's Clara.  We have to believe that Meg is right in her decision with regards to Clara's future.  Can she be a wife and mother? Can she live in the Florentine world, among adults, and not be ridiculed?  Ms. Mimieux gives us a picture of a girl who, though disabled, is going to be able to grow and adapt, as long as she has the help of those who love her.  Currently retired, Ms. Mimieux made a total of  24 films (most in the 1960s and 1970s), as well as many television appearances.  Her appearance in 1964 as Pat Holmes, the epileptic surfer in the episode "Tyger, Tyger" of Dr. Kildare was very memorable (she was nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Female TV Star).  She currently works in real estate and is married to her second husband of 20 years, Howard Ruby.

We'll leave you with this trailer from the film.  Next time (there will be a bit of a gap, as I'm off to a wedding), we'll return with another Olivia de Havilland film.