Wednesday, 30 March 2011
R.I.P. Farley Granger
It always saddens me when a Hitchcock star dies, it reminds me that times are indeed a changing and that the last of the Golden era of Hollywood have all nearly left us. Yesterday it was announced that Farley Granger is the latest, following Elizabeth Taylor last week to pass. Farley Granger was 85.
Farley Granger had a career that spanned 6 decades both within film and TV, with his first supporting role in 1943's THE NORTH STAR. It was his third role in 1948 (ROPE), starring alongside the wonderful James Stewart and John Dall that was to be one of his most memorable. This was the first of two starring roles in a Hitchcock film, both with murderous happenings, the second STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951). The former just edging its way to the front to be my favourite of the two.
ROPE, based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder in 1924 of 14 year old schoolboy Robert "Bobby" Franks has Granger and Dall portraying characters based on Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb (see pic below), the two wealthy and stupidly intelligent University of Chicago students who together thought they could pull off the perfect crime. Admittedly they failed and were busted pretty soon after however it made for a fascinating case and is said to be the first case that was ever considered Trial of the Century!
Of course Hitchcock being Hitchcock, this tale of dark, macabre fantasies was right up his alleyway, and rightly so as it makes a bloody good story! The movie was loosely based on the play ROPE by Patrick Hamilton, very loosely actually as this was an English play with only vague similarities in comparison to the finished film.
Having already worked with the wonderful Hume Cronyn on Shadow of a Doubt (a film that featured Farley Granger's co-star from the movie ENCHANTMENT, and one of my all time favourite actresses, Teresa Wright), Hitchcock enlisted him to do the treatment for the screenplay of ROPE with Granger's partner of the time, Arthur Laurents adapting the play to suit American audiences.
Hitchcock's ROPE has the wonderful story of a dinner party hosted by our own Leopold and Loeb who have strangled their "inferior" classmate David and invited a small number of guests including David's father, his fiance Janet Walker (played by a shockingly underrated Joan Chandler) and served their buffet meal on the very chest that they have David's strangled corpse cleverly concealed in.
Granger is absolutely superb playing the wealthy, intelligent, albeit less cocky of our two murderous protagonists. Overtly nervous that their University mentor Rupert Cadell shall see right through their whole charade and therefore destroy everything for the egotistical pair.
Rope is an amazing film, and still completely relevant in this day and age...I think. It has wonderfully dark and humerous dialogue, and is in fact the source of one of my most favourite quotes of all time, delivered by the wonderfully quirky Janet Walker. "Freud says there is a reason for everything, even me"
The second murderous collaboration with Hitchcock as I have already mentioned was STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. Farley Granger plays professional tennis star Guy Haines, a man who has a chance encounter on a train with Robert Walker's fantastically queer Bruno Anthony. In all fairness, your name is Bruno Anthony, you're gonna turn out to be a bit of a nut no matter what cards you are dealt in life. Fortunately for us (fortunate of course because we get this superb character), not so fortunate for Farley Granger's character, or his estranged wife...Bruno is 110% KOOK!!!
Anyhoo, the two of them get to talking and Guy tells Bruno how he is dating the daughter of a senator, the lovely Anne Morgan (played by Ruth Roman). Guy wants to marry Anne and make the move into politics, there is only one thing that stands in his way, his estranged wife Miriam, a horrible and unfaithful kind of cow of a woman. Even back in the good old days there were gossip columns and Bruno had read all about Guy's marital problems with the oh so delightful...NOT...Miriam.
Whilst having lunch in Bruno's compartment, Bruno tells Guy how he wants rid of his father and concocts the perfect double murder. He will kill Miriam, leaving Guy to marry Anne, whilst Guy can kill his father. As the two of them have no previous connection and live in different towns, there is no identifiable motive for either crime.
Guy quickly finishes his lunch and hurriedly leaves the compartment and more importantly (and rather stupidly), his cigarette lighter, a gift from Anne that easily identifies him. Bruno pockets the lighter and in his deranged little mind, thinking he has a deal, sets off to Guy's hometown to track down Miriam and kills her.
After Guy hears of Miriam's death and realises it was Bruno who committed it, he obviously starts to get edgy. Bruno reminds Guy of their "agreement" and tells him that he has to keep up his side of the bargain, otherwise his lighter will find its way to the scene of Miriam's death and henceforth implicate Guy in her demise. Guy realises he is ultimately screwed when the only alibi he had on the train, a professor he knew, was completely plastered and can't even remember seeing him. Aaaah, the joys of long train journey's! Bruno sends Guy the key to the house he shares with his parents, along with a map to his fathers room and a gun.
Farley Granger and Robert Walker play off each other with great ease and the story trots along at a fine pace with the viewer not knowing what next to expect from the volatile Bruno. There is a particularly wonderful scene where he crashes a party thrown by the senator. Whilst mingling with the guests, and causing Guy to be particularly at unease, he is demonstrating how to strangle someone without them screaming, as you do. He gets a little carried away when he sees Anne's younger sister Barbara, who kind of resembles Miriam (Guy you sick freak, haha) and whilst having a flashback to killing her, he keeps on choking his subject. Barbara points out to Anne that "His hands were on her neck, but he was strangling me." Anne puts two and two together and Guy has to confess about the whole murderous state of affairs.
Now credit must be given for all performances in this film but especially Farley Granger and Robert Walker, with an extra nod to Patricia Hitchcock as Barbara, a character that she clearly had an absolute blast playing! Unfortunately for Robert Walker, he actually died shortly after this film was made, at the age of just 32. Having suffered from psychiatric problems and mental illness previously (how apt I hear you say!), Walker's housekeeper found him in an emotionally unstable state and called his psychiatrist who administered a dose of sodium amytal in the hope of calming him down. Walker suffered an acute allergic reaction to the drug and died shortly after his breathing stopped and all efforts to resuscitate him failed.
I guess in comparison, Granger was definitely the luckier of the two and went on to lead a long and fruitful life with a career of varying success in both film, TV and on the stage. He spent the last few decades of his life with partner Robert Calhoun who sadly died of lung cancer in 2008.
Whilst he had a career in which he covered such a large portion of work, for myself personally, he shall be remembered for his work with Hitchcock. Two wonderfully memorable performances in movies I can watch time and time again without ever getting sick of them. Although I have to admit I am really in the mood to go and watch ENCHANTMENT now. :)
So yes, rest in peace now Farley Granger. And if you haven't seen either of these movies then I urge you to do so a.s.a.p. You won't regret it! And if you do then clearly your taste in film sucks balls, haha!!!