Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


Julie Harris, Ron Randell, and Laurence Harvey
I AM A CAMERA (1955). Director: Henry Cornelius.

In 1930's Berlin, writer Christopher Isherwood (Laurence Harvey) tries to make a name for himself while befriending a would-be actress and singer named Sally Bowles (Julie Harris) who has temporarily run out of luck. The two form a fast, platonic friendship and also get to know Natalia (Shelley Winters) and her secretly Jewish boyfriend, Fritz (Anton Diffring). Chris and Sally also become friends with a wealthy man named Clive (Ron Randell) who spends money like it's going out of style and plans on taking both of them on a trip to Hawaii. This is based on a book by the real-life Christopher Isherwood, and also on the play by John Van Druten. Isherwood's homosexuality isn't underscored but despite one scene when he comes on to Sally (who's wise to him and won't have any of it), it's pretty clear what's going on to the viewer (Clive's possible bisexuality is similarly suppressed but hinted at). Harvey's performance is quite good, as is Harris'; the only problem is that her character is so breathless and affected -- some might call her an overbearing "fag hag" -- that after awhile she becomes extremely annoying. Randell [Most Dangerous Man Alive], who certainly had an interesting career even if he never quite achieved stardom, is fine as Clive, and Winters [The Big Knife] and Diffring [The Man Who Could Cheat Death ] are also notable. The title refers to Isherwood's ability to record what he sees and hears like a camera and put it on paper, and the film has a modern-day framework with Isherwood discovering that Sally, whom he has not seen in years, has written a book about her life. The movie, unfortunately, isn't very entertaining and hasn't as much real substance as one might have hoped for. The business with the encroaching Nazis is kept to a minimum and there's only one dramatic scene that deals with it. A ridiculous party scene is meant to be funny but is only a bore. In truth, the musical version, Cabaret, isn't that much better.

Verdict: A little of Sally Bowles goes a long way. I don't think I could have spent five minutes with her. **.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill! I love Julie Harris in most things, but I must agree she is way over the top as Sally Bowles, grates on the nerves! I do very much enjoy Laurence Harvey's characterization, though, and was surprised that Van Druten did at least hint at his sexuality, retaining Isherwood's intentions. Shelley Winters, as always, is a hoot...what a scene stealer.

In person, Miss Harris was a lovely, gracious lady...I once had the honor of escorting her to a gala opening back in the 1990s, with Charles Durning and Charles Nelson Reilly. She truly was a doll!

Thanks for reminding me of this obscure's never on TCM, I only ran across it on YouTube a couple months ago.


William said...

I found this on youtube also, and was surprised to see it as it's practically a lost movie. I never met Julie Harris but I thought she was a terrific actress -- it's not so much Harris who grates on the nerves as the affected character of Sally Bowles. My favorite Harris performance is in "The Haunting."