22 March 2018

John Mills

Sir John Mills (1908-2005) was one of the most popular and beloved English actors. The Oscar-winner appeared in more than 120 films and TV films in a career stretching over eight decades. He often played people who are not at all exceptional, but become heroes because of their decency, bravery and good judgement. 

John Mills
British postcard by Real Photograph, no. 177. Photo: London Films.

John Mills in The Way to the Stars (1945)
British autograph card. Photo: publicity still for The Way to the Stars (Anthony Asquith, 1945).

John Mills and Juliet Mills in the studio
British postcard by Rotary Photo, London, no. F.S. 18. Caption: John Mills with his small daughter 'Bunch' in the studio. The picture was taken during the shooting of Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946). At the time, Juliet (or Bunch) must have been four years old. Juliet Mills is the elder sister of Hayley.

Hayley Mills and John Mills in The Chalk Garden (1964)
Spanish postcard by Postal Oscarcolor, no. 264. Publicity still for The Chalk Garden (Ronald Neame, 1964).

Juvenile Lead

Sir John Mills, CBE was born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in the seaside resort North Elmham, England, in 1908. He was  the son of Edith (Baker), a theatre box office manager, and Lewis Mills, a mathematics teacher. It was the stage world, rather than his father's academic milieu, which most attracted the young Mills.

After a job as a clerk in a corn merchant's office, Mills moved to London, where he enrolled at Zelia Raye's Dancing School. He started his professional career in 1929 as a chorus boy in the revue The Five O'clock Girl at the London Hippodrome. He followed this with a cabaret act.Making as many contacts as possible, Mills was able to secure work on the legitimate stage.

Mills got a job with a theatrical company that toured India, China and the Far East performing a number of plays. Noël Coward saw him appear in a production of Journey's End in Singapore and wrote Mills a letter of introduction to use back in London. On his return Mills starred in The 1931 Revue, Coward's Cavalcade (1931) and the Noël Coward revue Words and Music (1932).

His film debut was in the quota quickie The Midshipmaid (Albert de Courville, 1932), a comedy with musical interludes starring Jessie Matthews. The following years, he learned his craft in such 'quota quickies', low-cost, quickly-accomplished films commissioned by American distributors active in the UK or by British cinema owners  to satisfy the quota requirements.

Next Mills was a juvenile lead in the mystery The Ghost Camera (Bernard Vorhaus, 1933) with Henry Kendall and Ida Lupino. Wikipedia: "Despite being made quickly on a low budget, the film has come to be considered as one of the most successful Quota quickies made during the Thirties."

He then played lead roles in the musical Charing Cross Road (Albert de Courville, 1935), Brown on Resolution (Walter Forde, 1935) with Betty Balfour, Tudor Rose (Robert Stevenson, 1936) starring Cedric Hardwicke and Nova Pilbeam, and The Green Cockatoo (William Cameron Menzies, 1937).

He did Aren't Men Beasts? (1936) on stage and worked for Hollywood director Raoul Walsh in O.H.M.S. (1937). His Hollywood debut was in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (Sam Wood, 1939) with Robert Donat, but he refused the American studios' entreaties to sign a contract and returned to England.

John Mills joined the army in 1939 but occasionally made films on leave, such as the comedy  Old Bill and Son (Ian Dalrymple, 1940) and the war film Cottage to Let (Anthony Asquith, 1941) with Leslie Banks. He also appeared in the classic In Which We Serve (Noel Coward, David Lean, 1942).

He relished acting in films and the cinema made him an internationally renowned star. His climb to stardom began when he had the lead role in We Dive at Dawn (Anthony Asquith, 1943), a film about submariners. He was top billed in This Happy Breed (David Lean, 1944), directed by  from a Noël Coward play. The film was a big hit and director David Lean would go on to direct Mills in some of his most memorable performances.

John Mills
British Postcard, no. F. S. 23. Publicity photo for Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

John Mills
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. W 443. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Organisation Ltd.

John Mills
British postcard.

John Mills
Belgian collectors card by Merbotex, no. 67. Photo: Gaumont Eagle-Lion.

Traditionally British Heroes

After the war, John Mills took the lead in Great Expectations (David Lean, 1946). It was the third biggest hit at the British box office this year and Mills was voted the sixth most popular star. Subsequently he had another big hit as Captain Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (Charles Frend, 1948). It was the fourth most watched film of the year in Britain and Mills was the eighth biggest star.

Over the next decade he made his career playing other traditionally British heroes and became particularly associated with war dramas, such as The Colditz Story (Guy Hamilton, 1954), Above Us the Waves (Ralph Thomas, 1955) with John Gregson and Donald Sinden, and Ice Cold in Alex (J. Lee Thompson, 1958). He is credited with playing more military roles than any other star. In 31 of his films, almost a third of his whole cinematic output, he portrayed soldiers, usually officers.

David Lean directed Mills in a memorable performance in the romantic comedy Hobson's Choice (1954) with Charles Laughton. Other significant films in which he appeared include War and Peace (King Vidor, 1956), The Chalk Garden (Ronald Neame, 1964), King Rat (Bryan Forbes, 1965), and Oklahoma Crude (Stanley Kramer, 1973).

With his daughter Hayley Mills he also appeared in Tiger Bay (J. Lee Thompson, 1959) and The Family Way (Roy Boulting, 1966) and had a cameo in her Disney hit The Parent Trap (David Swift, 1961). In 1966, Mills directed Sky West and Crooked (aka Gypsy Girl), which starred Hayley and was written by his wife, Mary Hayley Bell.

As he aged, his proclivity for well-written roles enabled him to make a seamless transition from a lead to character lead to character actor. For his role as the village idiot in Ryan's Daughter (David Lean, 1970) — a complete departure from his usual style — he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

For Richard Attenborough, Mills played in Young Winston (1972) and Gandhi (1982), with Ben Kinsley. Among his last films were Bean (Mel Smith, 1997) starring Rowan AtkinsonBright Young Things (Stephen Fry, 2003) and Lights2 (Marcus Dillistone, 2005), his final film appearance as a tramp.

Altogether he appeared in over 120 films. Jon C. Hopwood at IMDb: "No male star of English cinema enjoyed such a long and rewarding career as a star while appearing predominantly in English films. As an actor, Mills chose his roles on the basis of the quality of the script rather than its propriety as a 'star' turn. Because of this, he played roles that were more akin to character parts". Mills was appointed a Commander of the British Empire in 1960 and was knighted in 1976.

His first wife was the actress Aileen Raymond, (1932-1941). After their divorce, he married the dramatist Mary Hayley Bell. Their marriage, on 16 January 1941, lasted for 64 years, until his death in 2005. He was 97. Mills and Bell had two daughters, actresses Juliet and Hayley Mills and one son, Jonathan Mills, a screenwriter. His grandson is Crispian Mills, the lead singer of the pop group Kula Shaker. John Mills' life, both off screen and on, was summed up  in his autobiography Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen, Please (1980).

John Mills
British autograph card.

John Mills
British postcard.

John Mills
British postcard, no. W 211.

John Mills
British postcard in the Picturegoer series, London, no. D 131. Photo: British Lion.

Sources: Jon C. Hopwood (IMDb), Hal Erickson (AllMovie), Wikipedia and IMDb.

21 March 2018

Die Richterin (1917)

In the silent German melodrama Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917), Lotte Neumann stars as a young woman who brings tragedy to her fiance and herself by being a moral judge. Neumann produced the film herself for her own company. The postcard series was published by the well-known Berlin firm Photochemie.

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2092. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2093. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

A Moral Bride of Yore

Fritz Rönninger (Carl Clewing) owns a large printing works. One day, the businessman falls in love with his neighbour's daughter (Lotte Neumann), who was brought up in strict order by her father (Magnus Stifter).

Fritz turns out to be a kind and sincere candidate for her favour, and so one day the girl agrees to his request to marry him. Since Fritz does not want to go into marriage with a lie, he admits her a misstep, but one which took place a long time ago: in his youth he had once falsified a check and went to jail.

The strict paternal principles of custom and morality have turned Rönninger's future bride into a moral judge, and so she lets the upcoming marriage burst at the last moment.

Deeply saddened, Rönniger decides to give up his previous life completely. He sells his company and goes to Monaco with his new lover. There he leads a licentious life, probably only to numb his painful loss.

When he is finally broke, Fritz kills himself. In his farewell letter he blames his 'moral' bride of yore on his downfall. She had 'judged' him with her unforgiving morals. As she reads the letter, she realises her injustice towards Rönninger and also takes her life, by drowning herself.

Die Richterin was produced by Lotte Neumann herself and shot at the Mutoskop studio in Berlin-Lankwitz. It was the fourth part the Lotte Neumann-serie. The script was by Hans Land, pseudonym of Hugo Landsberger.

In October 1917 it was presented to the German Board of Censorship and quite soon after it was released. IMDb dates the film in 1918 because of the premiere of the film in Hungary on 28 January 1918.

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2094. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Lotte Neumann in Die Richterin 5
German postcard by Photochemie, Berlin, no K. 2095. Photo: Lotte Neumann-Film. Publicity still for Die Richterin/The Judge (Paul von Woringen, 1917).

Sources: Wikipedia (German), The German Early Cinema DatabaseFilmportal.de and IMDb.

20 March 2018

Luchino Visconti

Today, at the Royal Dutch institute in Rome, the presentation will take place of Reframing Luchino Visconti: film and art, a monograph written by EFSP-contributor Ivo Blom and published by Sidestone Press. This study deals with the ways in which Luchino Visconti appropriated visual arts and the cinema of previous filmmakers in his own films. Whilst much has been written about literary and theatrical influences upon Visconti’s work – besides film maker, he was also a leading theatre and opera director – there has been a lot of speculation about but little hard corroboration of pictorial influences in his films. Ivo's book goes deeply into set and costume design and cinematography. For today's post, we did a selection of our postcards of Visconti's films and stage plays.

Giuseppe Visconti's home theatre in Milan
Italian postcard by Officine G. Ricordi e Co., Milano. Luchino Visconti (born 1906) was raised with theatre and staging from a very young age. His father, duke Giuseppe Visconti di Modrone, staged his own stage plays. Under the pseudonym of Joseph von Jcsti (Von Jcsti is an anagram of Visconti), he directed plays at his home theatre in Palazzo Visconti in Milan. This is a postcard for the play Un po' d'amore (A Little Love), a revue in three acts. A lady named Teresa writes on the card, that it is the revue she saw last winter in Casa Visconti. This must have been Winter 1912-1913, as the card is dated 2 September 1913.

Alida Valli in Senso (1954)
Dutch postcard by Takken, Utrecht, no. 1683. Photo: publicity still for Senso (Luchino Visconti, 1954) with Alida Valli. The picture was taken at Villa Godi Malinverni, Lugo di Vicenza, the first villa designed by Andrea Palladio. The murals were by painters from the School of Veronese.

Alida Valli and Farley Granger in Senso (1954)
Italian postcard by Rotocalco Dagnino, Torino. Photo: Lux Film. Alida Valli and Farley Granger as countess Livia Serpieri and Lt. Franz Mahler in Luchino Visconti's historical film Senso (1954). Visconti refers here to the famous romantic painting by Francesco Hayez, Il Bacio (The Kiss, 1859).

Farley Granger in Senso (1954)
Italian postcard by Bromostampa, Milano, no. 7. Photo: Publicity still of Farley Granger in Senso (1954).

Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell in Le notti bianche (1957)
German postcard by Ufa, Berlin-Tempelhof, no. FK 3486. Photo: G.B. Poletto. Publicity still for Le notti bianche/ White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957) with Marcello Mastroianni and Maria Schell.

Jean Marais in Le notti bianche (1957)
German postcard by Rüdel-Verlag, Hamburg-Bergedorf, no. 2141. Photo: J. Arthur Rank Film. Publicity still for Le notti bianche/ White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957) with Jean Marais.

Jean Marais and Maria Schell in Le notti bianche (1957)
Photocard. Publicity still for Le notti bianche/ White Nights (Luchino Visconti, 1957) with Jean Marais and Maria Schell.

Alain Delon
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Film-Vertrieb, Berlin, 1967. retail price: 0,20 MDN.Photo: publicity still for Rocco e i suoi fratelli/Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960), featuring Alain Delon as Rocco.

Annie Girardot in Rocco e i suoi fratelli (1960)
East-German postcard by VEB Progress Filmvertrieb, Berlin, no. 1696, 1962. Photo: publicity still for Rocco e i suoi fratelli/Rocco and his brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960) with Annie Girardot as Nadia.

Alain Delon in Rocco e i suoi Fratelli (1960)
Spanish postcard by Archivo Bermejo, no. 7363. Photo: Radio Films, 1961. Publicity still for Rocco e i suoi fratelli/Rocco and His Brothers (Luchino Visconti, 1960) with Alain Delon.

Alain Delon
French postcard by the Bibliothèque Nationale Paris/Imp. Bussière A.G., Paris, 1990. Photo: Roger Pic. Alain Delonin the play Dommage qu'elle soit une p.../Its a pity she's a whore, written by John Ford and directed by Luchino Visconti (1961) in Paris.

Thomas Milian & Romy Schneider in Boccaccio 70
Publicity still used in Germany, distributed by Rank, mark of the German censor FSK. Tomas Milian and Romy Schneider in Luchino Visconti's episode Il lavoro in the episode film Boccaccio '70 (1962). Milian plays a bored aristocrat, caught in a scandal with callgirls. Schneider plays his rich and equally bored Austrian wife, who tries to seduce her husband and make him pay for love just like he did with his callgirls. It works, but leaves the woman with bitterness. The set of the film was terribly costly because of all the authentic, valuable objects present.

Romy Schneider in Boccaccio '70
Dutch postcard. Photo: HAFBO. Romy Schneider dressed in Chanel in the episode Il lavoro/The Job (1961) by Luchino Visconti, part of the episodefilm Boccaccio '70. Schneider was a big fan of Chanel's fashion herself.

Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale in Il Gattopardo (1963)
Vintage card. Photo: publicity still for Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.

Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale in Il Gattopardo (1963)
Small Romanian collectors card. Photo: publicity still for Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963) with Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale.

Alain Delon in Il Gattopardo
Small Romanian collectors card. Photo: Alain Delon as Tancredi Falconieri in Il Gattopardo/The Leopard (Luchino Visconti, 1963).

Morte a Venezia/ Death in Venice
Dutch postcard, using an original poster of Morte a Venezia/Death in Venice, for a Dutch rerelease of the film. Photo: Björn Andresen and Dirk Bogarde in Morte a Venezia/Death in Venice (Luchino Visconti, 1972).

Reframing Luchino Visconti: film and art

Where does the visual splendour of Visconti’s films come from? In  the first part of his Reframing Luchino Visconti: film and art, Ivo Blom tells how visual arts (painting, sculpture, photography) served in set and costume design (e.g. as props and as sources of inspiration). The second part of the book focuses on (deep) staging, framing, mobile framing and mirroring.

The book is based on extensive archival research, interviews with Visconti’s collaborators and secondary literature, and is richly illustrated with pictures obtained from museums, photo services and films.

Reframing Luchino Visconti: film and art will be released as paperback and hardback, and will also appear in Open Access. Highly recommended!

Sources: Ivo Blom (personal blog) and Sidestone Press.

Ivo, good luck today!