Friday, April 13, 2012

DARLING 1965


I’ve not had that extensive an exposure to British New Wave— that post-war cultural movement in theater, literature, and film that propelled the lives and concerns of working-class England to the fore and ushered in the 60s vogue for social realist/ kitchen sink dramas like Look Back in Anger (1956) and Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) —but the few films I've seen have been distinguished by their decidedly testosterone-laden, male-centric point of view. So much so that the “Angry Young Men” label associated with these films is in most cases as likely a plot synopsis as genre signifier. 
The males are all a rebellious bunch, restless and tugging at the constraints of the British class system. The women, however, are portrayed as either fun-killing domestic drudges who stand as ball-and-chain obstacles to the hero’s independence, or sexually-available conquests whose troublesome biology (they would get pregnant at the most inconvenient times!) brands them potential anchors to a life of lower-class squalor.
The "Honeyglow" Girl
The ideal of the modern woman
Not to discount the film itself, but I loathed the passive roles played by Mary Ure and Claire Bloom in Look Back in Anger (Ure’s submissive doormat reminds me of nothing more than Wilma Flintstone as the browbeaten housewife in the teleplay, The Frogmouth). By contrast, I very much liked Simone Signoret’s worldly older-woman in Room at the Top (1959) and Rachel Roberts’ complex widow in This Sporting Life (1963); but for all of their dimensionality, neither character came to a particularly good end. It was doe-eyed Rita Tushingham in Tony Richardson’s marvelous A Taste of Honey (1961) who provided a welcome change-of-pace from all this masculine disagreeability shrouded in societal disillusionment. In my narrow experience Tushingham’s spirited Manchester teen was the lone, feminine voice of the genre until I happened upon John Schlesinger’s Billy Liar (1963) and that force of nature known as Julie Christie.

Christie’s role in the entirety of Billy Liar can’t amount to more than ten minutes of screen time, but as the easygoing, independent-minded Liz (so unlike the clingy, provincial, ready-to-wed other women in the film as to be another species of being), Julie Christie emerges the one you most remember. The frank simplicity of her performance coupled with her refreshingly open, guileless glamour proved to be something of a bellwether moment in the British New Wave and a turning point in the evolution of women in British cinema. The mid-60s reversal of England’s post-war economic decline signaled a gradual abandonment of tales of kitchen-sink-class oppression. Northern England’s working-class suburbs gave way to the burgeoning mod scene of London where social satire, consumerism, and youth-culture dominance took the place of traditional class rebellion.
Julie Christie as Diana Scott
Dirk Bogarde as Robert Gold
Laurence Harvey as Miles Brand
Roland Curram as Malcolm
Although the years have softened its bite somewhat, John Schlesinger’s Darling is a darkly comic, corrosive criticism of the swinging London jet set as embodied by its blithely self-centered, casually amoral, unrepentantly superficial heroine. Julie Christie’s Diana Scott is a London model possessing looks, self-confidence, charm, vivacity, ambition… in short, she personifies everything contemporary society deems worthwhile to possess. She’s everyone’s darling and, as the pop lifestyle magazines are quick to point out, the world is hers for the asking. Unfortunately, Diana’s outwardly appealing free-spirit independence is born of a rootless, restless dissatisfaction; a nagging internal deficiency her beauty and instinct for opportunistic survival conspire to help her to ignore. As the film ends, Diana, who is always looking out for herself, is left with herself.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM:
Perhaps because of all the macho bullying behind so much of it, I’ve never much warmed to the whole “Angry Young Man” genre. Angry Young Woman…now that’s another matter. Only two films come to mind: the above-mentioned A Taste of Honey; and the rarely-mentioned 1985 Meryl Streep drama, Plenty. A film that,  while not technically an example of the genre, is a wonderful female-centric perspective of post-war British disappointment.
There is no obvious Angry Young Woman in Darling, but there is something akin to rage at the center of what is eating at the never-satisfied-for-a-moment Diana. You see it in today’s films. Those romantic comedies where women are characterized by how much they shop and the label of the clothes on their backs. The films where the women are near perfect physical and intellectual specimens, yet their very "femaleness” is a weakness that dooms them to relationships with doofus schlubs like Seth Rogen. Those awful Sex and the City films where the over-privileged girlfriends can’t stop complaining for a moment to just count their blessings…it’s the same thing (Indeed, Diana Scott would fit right in with Carrie Bradshaw and her “I want it all” tribeswomen).
Sexual liberation yields little more than serial dissatisfaction
I don’t know about you, but when I see compulsive consumerism of the sort engaged in by women in today’s films as some sort of empowering birthright, I can’t help but feel there are some real hostilities and angers being repressed and swallowed up in this obsession with fashion. I can’t believe the battlefield of women’s liberation has become the local outlet store. 
What I like about Darling is how relentlessly it lampoons this culture we have fashioned for ourselves that sells people ideas of lifestyles rather than encourages us to live. Like a similar character played by Jacqueline Bisset in the 1969 film The Grasshopper, Christie’s Diana Scott has been led to believe that “liberation” is a complete lack of ties to anything. Even herself. As she flits from one dissatisfying situation to another, it never dawns on her that she has been sold a prepackaged, consumerist bill of goods as to what real freedom and happiness is. The chic trappings of the swinging lifestyle promoted by mod London are chiefly beneficial to the shopkeepers, stores, and businesses. For Diana, climbing the ladder of upward mobility ultimately offers her nothing more than increasingly sumptuous surroundings to feel desperately lonely in.
Having it All
PERFORMANCES:
I’m mad about everything in this film, but Darling is far from being the favorite film of many. Some find it dated, others complain of the satire being too heavy-handed; even the late john Schlesinger had stated in later years, “(Darling) seemed altogether too pleased with itself” and claimed his film was guilty of “epigrammatic dialog” that came off as self-consciously hip. What everyone unanimously agrees upon (even Schlesinger) is the star-making performance of Julie Christie; so natural a presence that the film takes on the feel of documentary whenever she’s onscreen. You can't take your eyes off of her.
I'm not sure which it is, but the career of briefly popular 60s British actress Judy Geeson (To Sir, With Love, Bersek) has been either plagued or helped by her uncanny resemblance to Julie Christie (r.)
An entire generation fell in love with Christie because of this film and it’s not hard to see why. In this her Oscar-winning role, Christie exhibits that appealingly straightforward quality that would characterize her entire career. She displays an incredible range and finds the humanity and humor in a character not exactly likeable. It’s always interesting when a smart actor plays a not-very-bright character. Christie doesn’t condescend in her portrayal of the shallow Diana. She conveys the character’s intellect in terms of a keen, almost animal awareness of knowing which way the wind is blowing and shifting her sights accordingly. Julie Christie is just a marvel here and endlessly resourceful in getting us to know more about a character who knows absolutely nothing about herself. 
It's difficult to think of Darling as being dated when Julie Christie as Diana Scott portrays the kind of talentless,self-promoting,arrogantly ignorant, opportunistic phony that so aptly describes any number of the Kardashians, Lohans, Snookies, and regional "housewives" of today.

THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
In films with lead actresses as talented and drop-dead gorgeous as Julie Christie, it's not uncommon for the male characters to fade into the background. Not so with Darling. In fact I can’t think of a film with a more solid, impressive, and eye-pleasing male cast. As a nice change of pace, the men in the cast are, by and large, more sensitive and emotionally needy than the heroine. Few actors have combined suave masculinity with vulnerable sensitivity as persuasively as Dirk Bogarde. As television reporter Robert Gold, Bogarde’s grounded sincerity (so easily read in his expressive eyes) casts a by-contrast harsh light on the frivolous affections of Christie’s Diana.
Diana (Christie) allows her vulnerabilities to show with her friend Malcolm (Roland Curran) 
Of course, the terrific Laurence Harvey (a delight in 1959s Expresso Bongo) makes for a rakishly reptilian—and surprisingly sexy—competitor for Diana’s affections, but Roland Curram in the role of Diana’s photographer friend, Malcolm, really made me sit up and take notice when I first saw Darling. For not only is the character of Malcolm funny, handsome, and a good friend, but Malcolm is that rare of rarities: a likeable, non-tragic, non-campy, unapologetically sexual, gay character. In a film made in 1965, no less! As the only genuinely decent character in the film, his scenes with Christie are refreshingly convivial and the only times her character ever appears to relax into herself.
Diana and her Gays
Darling was one of the earliest films to depict gay characters in a sympathetic light
Strangely, for a film with such a progressive attitude towards homosexuality, the closets were full to bursting on the set of Darling.  Matinee idol Dirk Bogarde was deeply closeted yet engaged in a brief fling with openly gay director John Schlesinger during the making of Darling (according to authorized Schlesinger biographer William J. Mann). Bogarde enjoyed a 40-year relationship with his agent, Tony Forwood, but invested considerable energy (throughout several autobiographies) in portraying himself publicly as a heterosexual. John Schlesinger harbored hopes that his friend, Roland Curram, might be inspired enough by his role in Darling to come out of the closet. Amused by his friend's presumption, Curram always insisted on his heterosexuality and went on to marry and later sire two children. In 1985, on the occasion of his divorce and ultimate coming out to his family and himself, Curram stated, “Of course, I told John later that he was right.”


Unfaithfully Yours - Diana's twin deceptions
Robert: "Your idea of fidelity is not having more than one man in bed at the same time"
  
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
I first saw Darling in 1980, by which time you’d think the film’s satirical slant would have lost its edge. That at least would be expected. The scary (and sad) thing is that while the jabs have lost their bite due to over-saturation, the chosen targets are nevertheless every bit as wanting of lampooning today as they were in 1965. I find it uncanny that the social absurdities Darling poked fun at 52 years ago (TV commercials, fame whores, liberal hypocrites, self-righteous homophobes, promiscuity for profit, the myth of “having it all”, etc.) are still a prominent part of our pop-culture landscape.
Darling is the film that made stars of both Julie Christie and John Schlesinger. Schlesinger's next film would be his last with Christie; the big-budget adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel, Far From the Madding Crowd (1967). After which he would go on to make the classics: Midnight Cowboy, Sunday, Bloody Sunday, and The Day of the Locust. Schlesinger  passed away in 2003.

Julie Christie is a legend, of course, and the promise of Darling has been realized in film after film throughout her career. Few actresses get to become iconic stars; fewer still owe it all to introducing to the cinema a new image of womanhood. There are many remarkable actresses around, but there is only one Julie Christie...she is in a class by herself.

Copyright © Ken Anderson

26 comments:

  1. Ken, you've written a great post on a film I've seen several times and always found excellent. I've heard many people complain that it's dated, but I don't find this myself. Any movie is going to be a reflection of the social attitudes and filmmaking style of its time, and there are few better examples of this than "Darling" (and I mean this in a good way). It's one of the best film examples I know of of the post-Angry Young Man/pre-psychedelic sensibility in Britain. And in some ways the film hasn't dated at all. As you wrote, "I find it uncanny that the social absurdities Darling poked fun at 52 years ago (TV commercials, fame whores, liberal hypocrites, self-righteous homophobes, promiscuity for profit, the myth of 'having it all', etc.) are still a prominent part of our pop-culture landscape." I couldn't agree more.

    I've read Schlesinger's self-criticism of "Darling" (also of "Sunday Bloody Sunday") and thought it echoed the criticisms of too many critics. I think he should have had more faith in his work and taken professional critcism less to heart. I find that "Darling" has the most controlled use of satire and irony of any of his films.

    You covered many more subjects in your post than I can comment on in a response of reasonable length. But I found your thoughts on the Angry Young Man films, the cast of "Darling," Julie Christie's career and acting style, the degrading stereotyping and sexism of the trend of media portrayals of women as compulsive consumers, and other subjects both well thought out and thought-provoking.

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  2. Hi Richard, I'm so happy you enjoyed the post! Thanks for your considered comments on "Darling". I agree with you that a film reflecting the attitudes and technological style of the time it was made is not necessarily representative of it being a dated film. "Darling" really does hold up remarkably well and remains so VERY watchable after all these years.

    I hadn't known that Schlesinger was equally self-critical of his marvelous "Sunday, Bloody Sunday". Today most directors get defensive rather than take critical reception to heart.

    It's nice that this film is a favorite of yours and I'm glad you found a couple of points of interest and concurrence in what I wrote. Now, I see that you've written about Sunday Bloody Sunday on your blog...I'm going to have to check it out!

    http://themovieprojector.blogspot.com/2011/06/sunday-bloody-sunday-1971.html

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  3. Oh ken, you man of impeccable taste. I do so love this film, such a beautiful film, both in terms of photography, London and a gorgeous cast all round.
    Roland Curram is a bit of a small screen fave for people with long memories over here in the UK. He played Frank Finlay's charming ladies man business partner in the excellent Bouquet Of Barbed Wire (yes, he really was so far in the closet, despite it being a bit obvious really!) he's a shadowy evil since the dawn of time made flesh in the bonkers Artemis 81 and then in the early 90s he played gay expat in Spain Freddie in the so bad it was good soap Eldorado.
    He married Sheila Gish (who you may know from Highlander) and both his daughters became actors; Kay Curram and Lou Gish. Tragically Lou died of cancer at the young age of 38, not long after Sheila succumbed to it. Sheila married Denis Lawson (Star Wars, Local Hero) and he brought the girls up after the divorce from Roland. Denis is the uncle of Ewan McGregor. So quite a 6 degrees of separation going on!

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    1. Mark, interesting you should mention Sheila Gish, who I know from British TV shown in the US (like "Charlie Resnick," "The House of Eliott," and "Inspector Morse"). In "Darling" she was one of the guests at that wild party of Laurence Harvey's that Diana Scott went to--so young she was nearly unrecognizable.

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    2. Now that I either didn't know, or if I did I'd forgot! Sheila married Roland in 64, so they were together when this was made. Interesting

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    3. Hi Mark. It's nice to hear from someone in the UK about this film. I don't know how it's regarded there, but I like that it is a favorite of yours.
      Thanks for all the professional backstory about Roland Curram. I really had no idea of his career at all after "Darling", in which he's so appealing. I saw an online article about his two daughters (very old, since I hadn't been aware that Lou had passed away) in which they comically recount how their father came out to them: "He had brought us up on Judy Garland, Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and Barbra Streisand, so we were hardly surprised." I love that!

      Thanks too to Richard for the Sheila Gish info, of which I wasn't aware. In this John Schlesinger bio I'm reading, it states that Curram dated Schlesinger's sister for a time and that Schlesinger borrowed the sequence where Diana & Malcolm "date" the same Italian waiter, from her real life.

      Thanks Mark (and Richard) for the enlightening comments. Oh, and Mark, isn't Julie Christie's birthday a national holiday in the UK by now? :-)

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    4. Alas no, but it should be!

      I think reception to Darling here was mixed. Some felt it was less successful than previous offerings from the creative team at Woodfall. Personally I think it stands up as well, it's just a different story being told to Billy Liar say, and there's nothing wrong with that.

      I believe Roland writes novels now. I certainly haven't seen him on TV in the last ten yrs (he was in an episode of Holby City, a favourite of mine, which is a medical drama like St Elsewhere or ER over there) Lou died in the mid 00s. Shame, she'd been a rather capable actor in the hilarious comedy Coupling shortly before her death.

      You'll see a piccie of Roland in Bouquet Of Barbed Wire on my blog here http://randomramblingsthoughtsandfiction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/lazy-sunday-afternoon.html

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    5. Hi Mark. Just finished looking at your post for "Bouquet of Barbed Roses" on your site. I love seeing Roland Curram all grown up and looking all pervy in his 70s polyester!
      You're right about Curram being a novelist now. I've seen a novel or two of his on Amazon. One, about a married man with a roving eye for a gay male model/escort, sounds positively autobiographical!
      Mark, I'm starting to think of you as a foreign correspondent, you have such a vast knowledge of film and filming. Much appreciated!

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    6. Haha Our Man In The UK. Yeah, fair enough!

      Here's a rather nice pic of him in the soap Eldorado. Hope the link works

      http://i102.photobucket.com/albums/m104/markbc79/97d2860871f3d35e35f6eb0477d3015a_L.jpg

      Keep the great blogs coming Ken

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  4. I just re-watched this film again just last week as a double feature with PETULIA. Christie turns a very amoral character into someone the viewer ultimately sympathizes with. This may have turned out differently in the hands of another actress.

    When I was young I always confused Julie Christie and Judy Geeson. I am surprised no one ever had the bright idea of casting them as sisters in something.

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  5. I agree, Christie's depth as an actress allows for a more fully-actualized characterization. The entire point of the film could have been lost with a less capable actress.

    There were quite a spate of British blondes in the 60s who adopted that bangs and pale lipstick look of Julie Christie, but Judy Geeson was so similar in looks that it was easy to confuse the two. I love the idea of their appearing in something together as sisters!
    Being the big Christie fan as I am, I'm ashamed to say I've never seen Petulia, but on getting your comment, I've put it on my Netlix queue.

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    1. I'm now trying to think if Judy ever actually appeared in anything alongside her real life sister, Sally Geeson?

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  6. Our man in the U.K...we're counting on you to inform us. (Especially me, as I didn't know Judy Geeson even had a sister!)
    By the way, has Judy ever commented on always having been referred to in the press (here at least) as the "poor man's Julie Christie"? I've always thought she was an excellent actress (10 Rillington Place) but have never been able to shake the Julie Christie thing when looking at her.

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    1. http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/224/judysallygeesonir5.jpg/

      ^Pic of them both. Hope the link works :)

      Sally was more familiar here I guess, especially on our TV screens.

      I'm not sure Judy had that much of an issue here to be honest. I agree she was excellent in 10 Rillington Place, such a brilliant film. Hers was a strange career, doing big movies like that and at the same time doing smaller films like the TV spin off movie Doomwatch and, at the end of the 70s, appearing on TV in wartime serial Danger UXB

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  7. Thanks so much! That's a perfectly charming photo of Judy and her heretofore unknown-to-me sister. Nice of you to dig it up.
    I hadn't followed Geeson's career much after the 60s, but was nicely surprised when she turned up as the neighbor on the 90s sitcom "Mad About You."
    A fave of mine is Joan Crawford's "Berserk" where Judy gives the classic line: "Kill! Kill! Kill! That's all I have inside me!" How the hell does one deliver a line like that with a straight face? She should be knighted for that alone.
    As always, Mark, you're a wealth of info. Much appreciated!

    Mark's Blog: Random Ramblings,Thoughts & Fiction
    http://randomramblingsthoughtsandfiction.blogspot.com/

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  8. Ken! You've NEVER seen PETULIA?!!! You need to rectify that immediately! Brilliant, brilliant film and performance by all involved!

    As for Judy Geeson as Sidney Poitier said to her character in TO SIR, WITH LOVE, she was a "smasher!"

    Never saw 10 RILLINGTON PLACE but I see it's available through the SONY CLASSIC MOD (Movies On Demand) program.

    I did see her in HERE WE GO 'ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH, PRUDENCE AND THE PILL, BERSERK and THREE INTO TWO WON'T GO and of course TO SIR, WITH LOVE.

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    1. Hey! They just screened your girl in "For Those Who think Young" on TCM tonight. Yes, and it is pitiable that I've never seen "Petulia" even once but have seen "Hot Rods to Hell"at lest four times. Movie love makes no sense.

      Anyhow, "Petulia" is on my Netflix list right after I return "The Damned" (my first time seeing THAT!)
      I've seen all of those Judy Geeson films you listed. Even that rarity "Two Gentlemen Sharing." I think I'm more a fan of hers than I'd thought.
      And yes, Geeson was indeed a "smasher!"

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    2. The Damned? Is that the Hammer with Oliver Reed?

      Speaking of Hammer and Geeson, I'll be blogging about Fear In The Night later ;)

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    3. "The Damned" is that 1969 Dirk Bogarde film by Luchino Visconti. Since I saw those pics of Bogarde on your site I've been going through a Bogarde rediscovery phase. he may have been fucked up as a man, but what a hell of an actor!
      As for "Fear in the Night": Judy Geeson AND Joan Collins?...be still my camp-loving heart! Can't wait.

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    4. Ah of course yes. Have to say not one of my faves, always preferred The Night Porter.

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    5. With the eye-candy of Bogarde, Helmut Berger, and Helmut Griem, "The Damned" will have to be pretty awful for me not to be besotted (alas, my superficiality, vis a vis onscreen beauty, is well-documented on this blog).
      "The Night Porter" ...that is really a disturbing favorite of mine, too.

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  9. Yes my girl was on TCM last night but I CAN'T STAND that movie! Godawful doesn't even BEGIN to describe it.

    Oh and I am SO GUILTY of superficiality vis a vis on screen beauty.

    We need to discuss that one at great length, LOL!

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  10. http://randomramblingsthoughtsandfiction.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/fear-in-night-1972.html

    if any Geeson fans are interested :)

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  11. Hello,
    I just want to say that I just love your web site. I recently discovered it and was amazed to see so many of my favourite films reviewed by you. Not only with good pictures from the film but with also very interesting and thoughtful comments.

    I have printed out many of your reviews and I enjoy reading them so much. I would have written sooner but I didn't know in which review I would leave a comment. So I chose "Darling" as it is the one I most recently read.

    I love Julie Christie and it seems almost everyone falls in love with her when they watch her "Darling". She was a hot star for a while in the 60's but very quickly her popularity faded. The critics seemed to turn on her, she made few films and many of them flopped. I'm amazed that her career in films cooled down in the 70's but she seeed to want to do less, which is a shame. I'm happy she's back in movies now!

    I'm so glad I finally got to see her in "In Search of Gregory" which could have been a better film in a more mysterious Antonioni-esque sense. Her role in it wasn't very good and I'm surprised that she took it!

    As for Judy Geeson; I love her too. So sweet and actually more easy to cast in films in the 60's. I wish more people knew of her!

    Thank you! -Wille

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    1. Hello Willie
      I was absolutely charmed by your comment and thank you for putting a big smile on my face! It pleases me that you found some of my posts interesting.
      Always a pleasure, too, to hear from a Julie Christie fan. She really is marvelous, and I've always felt her absolute disinterest in being a movie star has played havoc with her career longevity. I agree with you about "Search for Gregory" which I only saw a couple of years ago. She looks radiant, but an odd role to take.
      Happily she still makes films and is as incandescent as ever.
      Also, I love that you know Judy Geeson! I hope you've seen her in "10 Rillington Place" she's so great in it.
      I hope you stop by again and share some thoughts about other films on this blog that may be your favorites. You needed feel compelled to say anything about the post itself, just sharing your own affection for is always interesting to readers and other film fans. Thanks again, Willie!

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