Classic Movie Takes


Our Winter themed movies have cold, snowy landscapes. The first is a dark forbidding Russia during the first World War; the second has snow fights and snowmen and the third, a family is snowed in during the winter.

Dr. Zhivago

The cinematography of Dr. Zhivago’s snowy setting is breathtaking, yet most of the film’s scenes were shot in Spain, not Russia, where the story takes place. The film is really a love story between Doctor Yuri Andreyevich Zhivago (Omar Sharif) and Larissa (“Lara”) Antipova (Julie Christie). But the love between Dr. Zhivago and his wife, Tonya Gromeko (Geraldine Chaplin) is also undeniable. It prompted one moviegoer (my cousin, Robin) to comment that it wasn’t until she saw this movie that she understood how a man could love two women at the same time.

The backdrop to the intense love story is the action of the Russian Revolution and World War I. We learn of the story of Andre and Lara from a 1940s era General Yevgraf Andreyevich Zhivago (Alec Guinness) who is searching for the daughter of his half brother, (Dr. Zhivago). He believes a young woman named Tonya Komarova (Rita Tushingham) may be his niece. He tells her the story of her father’s life; that Yuri was orphaned and was taken in by Alexander “Pasha” (Ralph Richardson) and Anna (Siobhan McKenna) Gromeko and grows up with Tonya (their daughter).

Later, Zhivago marries Tonya and writes poems that are considered revolutionary. He becomes smitten with Lara who is having an affair with Ipolitovish Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) an older man who she shoots after he rapes her. But she is also involved with Pavel Pavlovich (Tom Courtenay), a revolutionary who she later marries. During World War I, Zhivago is drafted and as a doctor, tends to the wounded on the battlefield where he sees Lara who has also enlisted as a nurse so that she can look for her husband, Pasha. Yuri and Lara fall in love but after the war, Yuri goes back to his wife, Tonya. Years later, he meets Lara again and they give in to their feelings for one another. Eventually, Lara gives birth to Yuri’s daughter but loses her during a political struggle between Russia and Mongolia.

It is Zhivago’s brother, Yevgraf that finds the daughter and becomes convinced that she is his niece. There are many messages in this film: love, denial, commitment, betrayal, resilience, and they show the complicated facets of human emotions that still resound in the lives of people today. Written by Boris Pasternak, the 1965 film won five Academy Awards. Particularly memorable is the score by Maurice Jarre, “Lara’s Theme” or “Somewhere My Love,” which spent 42 weeks on the UK singles chart. Directed by David Lean, he was also noted for films such as The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Dr. Zhivago is a classic, epic love story that never gets old.

Meet Me in St. Louis is a story of the turn-of-the-century family in St. Louis, Missouri, during the 1904 World’s Fair. It focuses on an upper middle class family that lives in a Victorian home with three daughters: Judy Garland as Esther Smith, Lucille Bremer as Rose Smith, and Margaret O’Brien as “Tootie” Smith; a son; Henry H. Daniels Jr. as Alonzo "Lon" Smith Jr.; mother and father, Mary Astor as Mrs. Anna Smith and Leon Ames as Mr. Alonzo Smith. Harry Davenport plays grandpa. Marjorie Main is the beloved housekeeper Katie. The family’s love and devotion to one another is heartwarming but demonstrates that even the most apparently perfect family has the normal problems such as hindered romance, the possible uprooting of the home because of the fathers change in job status and a little girl played by Margaret O’Brien who is the baby of the family and who provides much of the drama through her fears, fantasy and trouble-making. The musical score adapted by Roger Edens is excellent and was nominated for an Academy Award for Scoring of a Musical Picture.  The film was also nominated for Academy Awards for Best Cinematography, Color, Best Music, Song (Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin for "The Trolley Song") and Best Writing, Screenplay.

The producer, Arthur Freed, wanted a “trolley car” song, which was specifically written for the movie and provides one of the most upbeat moments when Judy Garland sings “The Trolley Song.” The Halloween sequence is a memorable moment when goaded by the neighborhood children to throw flour on a neighbor in a scary mansion to prove she is brave on Halloween. Tom Drake plays John Truett, the boy next door, who Judy Garland falls in love with but has much trouble in catching his attention. Also memorable is Judy Garland singing “Have Yourself a Merry Christmas.” It is especially poignant because the movie was made at a time, 1944, when many families were missing loved ones who were overseas fighting in World War II. Vincent Minelli directed the movie and later became Judy Garland’s husband. The story encapsulates a lovely bygone era of a more innocent time in our country.


Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

This film made in 1954, is a musical set in the mountains of Oregon in 1850. It is the story of a family of seven “mountain men” headed by Howard Keel as Adam. The brothers are Jeff Richards as Benjamin, Matt Mattox as Caleb, Marc Platt as Daniel, Jacques d’Amboise as Ephraim, Tommy Rall as Frank and Russ Tamblyn as Gideon. They are in dire need of wives before winter sets in and take off to find them in town using the story of the Sabine Women from Plutarch as a rationale to kidnap them. The mountain men cause an avalanche to ward off the townsfolk, including the women’s suitors from town, pursuing them as they head for their ranch with the women. The women must wait until spring until the snow thaws out in the mountain pass that separates the town and the ranch the men live on. The seven young women are; Julie Newmar as Dorcas, Ruta Kilmonis as Ruth, Norma Doggett as Martha, Virginia Gibson as Liza, Betty Carr as Sarah and Nancy Kilgas is Alice. Jane Powell is Milly, a strong-willed young woman who becomes the matriarchal figure, protector and leader of the young women.

She also teaches the young men how to dance and to act toward the women. In this time period the men are given a chance to woo the young women or lose them. They cannot marry the women yet because they forgot to kidnap a preacher. There are many splendid dance and song sequences. The film was directed by Stanley Donen, with music by Saul Chaplin and Gene de Paul and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and choreography by Michael Kidd. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers won the Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and was nominated for four additional awards, including Best Picture of the Year.

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