skip navigation

Movie News - Our extensive online Hollywood film and classic DVD news page.

  1. Top News Stories

    •  
    • TCM Remembers Ernest Borgnine -7/26

    • Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will remember the life and career of actor Ernest Borgnine on Thursday, July 26. Borgnine passed away Sunday, July 8th at the age of 95. TCM's 24-hour memorial tribute is set to begin at 6 a.m. (ET) with Borgnine's performance in The Catered Affair (1956). The tribute will include such essential Ernest Borgnine films as The Dirty Dozen (1967), From Here to Eternity (1953), and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Borgnine's Academy Award-winning role as Marty (1955) will air at 9 p.m. (ET) and there will be two showings of Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine (2009) as the actor sits down for a lively one-on-one talk with TCM host Robert Osborne. The following is a complete schedule (all times Eastern):




      6:00 a.m. - The Catered Affair
      8:00 a.m. - The Legend of Lylah Clare
      10:30 a.m. - Pay or Die
      12:30 p.m. - Torpedo Run
      2:30 p.m. - Ice Station Zebra
      5:15 p.m. - The Dirty Dozen
      8:00 p.m. - Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine
      9:00 p.m. - Marty
      10:45 p.m. - From Here to Eternity
      1:00 a.m. - The Wild Bunch
      3:30 a.m. - Bad Day at Black Rock
      5:00 a.m. - Private Screenings: Ernest Borgnine


      Ernest Borgnine, 1917-2012

      One of the most prolific and talented character actors in American film, Academy Award winner Ernest Borgnine appeared in every genre of motion picture for over 50 years, remaining active onscreen even as he entered his ninth decade. Cineastes may have dismissed Borgnine for his occasionally broad performances and roles in campy B-movies, but the actor was a favorite of film directors Delbert Mann, Robert Aldrich and Sam Peckinpah. He was a solid television presence in the 1960s on "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-66), during the 1980s in "Airwolf" (CBS, 1984-86), and in the new millennium as a superhero voice on "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Nickelodeon, 1999- ). To fans of classic Hollywood, Borgnine was recognized as a versatile performer who was equally adept at playing all-too-human heroes as he was hissable villains.

      Born Ermes Effron Borgnine on Jan. 24, 1917 in Hamden, CT, he was the only child of immigrant parents from Northern Italy. After his parents separated when he was two, he lived in Italy with her mother before returning to the United States at the age of five. After graduating high school in 1935, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and was discharged in 1941. When the United States entered World War II, he re-enlisted and served until 1945. After returning to civilian life, Borgnine labored at various factory jobs, but he found little enjoyment in a blue-collar career. Sensing his disillusionment, Borgnine's mother suggested that his larger-than-life personality and imposing presence might be positive qualities for an actor. In agreement, he enrolled at the Randall School of Drama in Hartford, CT. After graduation, he joined the well-regarded Barter Theater in Abington, VA, and honed his craft while working odd jobs at the theater. Finally, a break came in 1949 when he landed a supporting role in a Broadway production of "Harvey" with Joe E. Ross.

      Flush with success, he relocated to Los Angeles in 1951 and began landing supporting roles in films and on live television shows. His large frame, boxer's face (which frequently flashed his trademark gap-toothed smile) and husky tone made him a natural for heavies - so not surprisingly, he made his first impression on movie audiences as "Fatso" Judson, the vicious enlisted man who kills Frank Sinatra's Maggio in "From Here To Eternity" (1953). Borgnine's forceful turn in the Oscar-winning Best Picture led to other bad-guy roles in major films, including the Western "Johnny Guitar" (1954) and "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955) - in which he portrayed one of the local heels who threaten Spencer Tracy.

      In 1955, director Delbert Mann approached Borgnine to play the lead in a feature film version of Paddy Chayefsky's TV drama, "Marty." The original star, Rod Steiger, was unavailable, so Borgnine was tapped to play the title character - a lonely Bronx butcher who finds love with a shy schoolteacher (Betsy Blair). Borgnine's heart-rending performance earned him Academy Awards for Best Actor in the United States and Britain, as well as a Golden Globe. No longer relegated to villain status, the newly minted star enjoyed a wide variety of roles throughout the 1950s and 1960, including a cuckolded rancher in the Western "Jubal" (1956), the cabdriver husband of Bette Davis in "The Catered Affair" (1956), a Norse chieftain in "The Vikings" (1958) and a Mob-busting New York cop in "Pay Or Die" (1960).

      In 1962, Borgnine starred in an episode of the anthology series, "Alcoa Premiere" (ABC, 1961-63) as the commander of a WWII Navy PT boat crew that had gone native while avoiding Japanese patrols in the South Seas. The episode later served as the launching pad for "McHale's Navy" (ABC, 1962-66), a broad service comedy that enjoyed healthy ratings during its network run. The hit show even spawned two theatrical features, "McHale's Navy" (1964) and "McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force" (1965) - though Borgnine did not participate in the latter, due to scheduling conflicts with his role in Robert Aldrich's superior adventure film, "The Flight of the Phoenix" (1965). Years later, Borgnine would re-team with his "McHale" co-star Tim Conway to provide the voices of aging superheroes Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy for the popular animated series, "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Nickelodeon, 1999- ).

      After "McHale's" concluded its network run, Borgnine returned to a busy schedule of film appearances in Hollywood and abroad. Among his better projects were the WWII action flick "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), again for Robert Aldrich; 1968's "Ice Station Zebra," in which he played a duplicitous Russian for his "Bad Day at Black Rock" director John Sturges; and as the sympathetic Dutch Engstrom, second in command of "The Wild Bunch" (1969) for Sam Peckinpah. Borgnine also appeared in several Italian westerns and action films during this period and was the first "Center Square" on "The Hollywood Squares" (NBC, 1965-1982) when it premiered in 1965.

      Borgnine became even busier in the Seventies, though the quality of his films seemed to vary from project to project. No matter, though - his performances were consistently believable. Borgnine was the morally questionable New York cop who survived "The Poseidon Adventure" (1973) and a brutal conductor locked in combat with a willful train-hopping hobo (Lee Marvin) in Robert Aldrich's violent "Emperor of the North Pole" (1973). He even played real-life boxing coach Angelo Dundee opposite Muhammad Ali (as himself) in "The Greatest" (1977). Borgnine also stole scenes as the sadistic boss who was devoured ("Tear him up!") by Bruce Davison's trained rats in "Willard" (1971) and re-teamed with Peckinpah for the truck-driving action pic, "Convoy" (1978).

      In many cases, Borgnine was the best part of his films - he was the sole high point of the wretched Satanic thriller "The Devil's Rain" (1975), for which he endured a ridiculous make-up job which turned him into a ram-headed devil, and survived the box office debacle that was Walt Disney Pictures' live action sci-fi adventure, "The Black Hole" (1979). During this period, Borgnine even found time to pop up on television, most notably as a celebrity guest on "The Dean Martin Show" (NBC, 1965-1974), but also as a series regular on the short-lived sci-fi program, "Future Cop" (ABC, 1976-77) and as a worldly-wise soldier in Delbert Mann's moving adaptation of "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1979). Borgnine received an Emmy nomination for his performance in this production.

      The Eighties provided less substantial roles for Borgnine, but the actor, who was entering his sixth decade, showed no signs of slowing down or losing interest in his craft. Episodic television provided a steady flow of work for him, and he enjoyed a renewed burst of popularity as the jocular co-pilot and sidekick to taciturn hero Jan-Michael Vincent in the action series, "Airwolf" (CBS, 1984-86). But there were interesting supporting roles for Borgnine throughout the decade, including the enthusiastic Cabbie in John Carpenter's "Escape from New York" (1981), the menacing leader of a rural religious community in Wes Craven's little-seen "Deadly Blessing" (1981), and as J. Edgar Hoover in the Jimmy Hoffa/Robert Kennedy drama, "Blood Feud" (1983). But for the most part, Borgnine passed the decade in obscure low-budget productions on both sides of the Atlantic. When pressed, he simply stated that he liked to work.

      And he continued to work throughout the 1990s, albeit in largely unseen independent films or foreign productions. He did enjoy the occasional guest shot on an episodic television series, and had a few fun turns - most notably in a reunion with many of his surviving "Dirty Dozen" co-stars, who voiced a squadron of animated toy commandos in Joe Dante's "Small Soldiers." His expressive voice made him a natural go-to for cartoon voiceover work, and he could be heard in the "All Dogs Go to Heaven" sequels and series (ABC/Fox Family, 1996-99), among many others. Borgnine also made a brief return to sitcoms with the tepid comedy "The Single Guy" (NBC, 1995-97), for which he earned a smattering of press that trumpeted his "comeback;" however, even a passing glance at his endless list of credits made it clear that Borgnine had never entirely gone away.

      The relative slowdown of his career allowed Borgnine to indulge in a passion for driving around the country in a customized motor home, from which he would meet and talk with people in small towns. His wanderlust was the subject of a short documentary, "Ernest Borgnine On the Bus" (1997). Borgnine also frequently appeared in print and television ads for a cosmetics company owned by his fifth wife, Tova. Borgnine had been married a total of five times - prior to Tova included Mexican actress Katy Jurado and Broadway star Ethel Merman, whom he famously divorced in 1964 after just 32 days. His first marriage produced one child, while a fourth marriage to Donna Rancourt from 1965 to 1972 gave him two more children.

      As the 1990s flowed into the 21st century, Borgnine was introduced to a new audience when he was cast in a recurring voice role as Mermaid Man, a television superhero admired by absorbent man-boy "SpongeBob SquarePants" (Nickelodeon, 1999- ) on the top-rated cable cartoon. He was back in front of the camera playing a chauffeur wooing a small-town grandmother (Eileen Brennan) in the direct-to-video release "The Last Great Ride" (1999), and his booming baritone was tapped again to narrate the documentary "An American Hobo" in 2002. Borgnine earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie for his starring turn as a retired song-and-dance man in the TV movie, "A Grandpa for Christmas" (Hallmark, 2007), while reflecting on his own history in showbiz with the release of the 2008 memoir Ernie. He further added to his historic resume with a guest appearance in the series finale of NBC's Thursday night staple "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), offering a performance as a grieving widower that was recognized with an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor. Following a small role as Henry the Records Keeper in the action comedy "Red" (2010), starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren, Borgnine was honored with the 47th Annual Life Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild.

      * Biographical data provided by TCMdb

    • Comment
      share:
  1. New Books

    •  
    • Vanessa: The Life of Vanessa Redgrave

    • By Dan Callahan

      "She has made mistakes, but there is a case for her as the best actress alive, ready for further challenge." -Biographical Dictionary of Film , David Thomson

      Vanessa Redgrave has never taken the easy path. She has played formidable women, has been outspoken about her political beliefs, has followed her heart and been criticized throughout her career for the choices, both personal and professional, that she made. Now, Dan Callahan has written the first-ever biography of the woman some have called our greatest living actress.

      Vanessa was born into a distinguished acting family (her father, Michael Redgrave, was co-starring with Laurence Olivier in Hamlet at the Old Vic, when Olivier announced her birth to the audience during a curtain call) and made her motion picture debut in 1966's Morgan!, receiving an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

      Fiercely independent, she protested the war in Vietnam, marched to ban the bomb and became involved in various human rights and left-wing causes. In 1962 she married director Tony Richardson and they had two daughters, Natasha and Joely. When Richardson fell in love with French actress Jeanne Moreau a few years later, Redgrave divorced him. While filming Camelot (1967), she fell in love with her co-star, Franco Nero, and had a son out of wedlock with him in 1969, creating a scandal in the press both in Britain and America.

      Against this backdrop of changing social mores and dissenting political beliefs, Redgrave continued to lead her life the way she wanted, not the way others expected.

      She won an Academy Award for her supporting performance opposite Jane Fonda in Julia (1977). Prior to winning the award, she had been outspoken in her support of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the audience audibly booed political remarks she made during her acceptance speech.

      Despite the career ups and downs (often attributed to her political outspokenness), Redgrave was not one to focus on the past or wonder "What if?" She kept working and found success on Broadway and in the London Theater.

      She also found happiness later in life, reuniting with Franco Nero and marrying him in 2006. But she has had tragedy as well, as her daughter Natasha Richardson died in 2009 due to a tragic skiing accident, and a year later, she lost her brother Corin and her sister Lynn.

      Now in her seventies, Redgrave continues to live life on her terms and continues to act, proving that talent like hers knows no age limits. Dan Callahan is the associate editor at Siman Media Works. He wrote Barbara Stanwyck: The Miracle Woman and has published theater and film reviews in Time Out New York, Sight and Sound, The L Magazine and Slant Magazine. He lives in New York.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Roadshow! The Fall of Film Musicals in the 1960s

    • By Matthew Kennedy

      When The Sound of Music was released in 1965 it performed so well at the box office that studios rushed to duplicate its success, part of which was attributed to its roadshow platform. Roadshow films were wide-screen experiences complete with an overture and an intermission. These films included reserved seating in spacious, comfortable theaters as well as higher ticket prices for those seats. Handsomely printed programs and cast soundtracks were for sale in theater lobbies. Studios quickly put numerous musicals into production with the intention of giving them roadshow releases, including Paint Your Wagon, Doctor Doolittle, Star!, Camelot, and Hello, Dolly!.

      The critical response to these productions was almost universally bad, and their box office performances were unimpressive compared to The Sound of Music. What went so disastrously wrong?

      Film historian Matthew Kennedy explores the rapid decline of this beloved genre in an era fated to reinvent American art and culture. Roadshow! is the story of deeply talented but often misguided men and women who went in search of "the next Sound of Music " and glutted the American film market with a spate of appallingly expensive and financially ruinous musicals between 1967 and 1972.

      The successful titles, including Oliver!, Funny Girl, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cabaret, could not mitigate the disaster. "It would be difficult not to come to the conclusion that the American film industry is coming apart," wrote Vincent Canby in The New York Times, addressing these musicals' contribution to the Hollywood recession beginning in 1969.

      Rather than deride the failures of all involved, Kennedy offers an alternative view of a time too often reduced to love beads and sit-ins. Though routinely overlooked by cultural and film historians, these films matter in the story of America and the history of American film of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

      Equal parts "making of" film history, character studies, and critical analysis, Roadshow! is a cautionary tale of blind faith, artistic misjudgments, the cruelties of bad timing, changing tastes, and the occasional ray of sunlight in an industry where creativity and commerce live in uneasy harmony.

      Matthew Kennedy is a writer, film historian and anthropologist. He has written biographies about Marie Dressler, Joan Blondell, and director Edmund Goulding. He is a film and book critic for Bright Lights Film Journal and teaches film history at the City College of San Francisco.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Alice Adams: Vintage Movie Classics

    • By Booth Tarkington

      Brand new from Vintage Books comes the Vintage Movie Classics collection--new editions of great American novels that inspired classic films, in a handsome trade paperback format with new forewords from today's leading scholars of film and literature.

      Among the first titles to be released is Alice Adams.

      In a small Midwestern town in the wake of World War I, the Adams' family enjoys a modicum of respect, while at the same time trying to deal with personal setbacks that threaten what small social standing they have within their community.

      Young Alice Adams dreams of love and marriage beyond her family's social standing. When Alice finds herself being pursued by Arthur Russell, a wealthy young man about town, she enlists her mother's help in planning an elaborate dinner that hides the family's lower-middle-class status so Arthur will be suitably impressed.

      The realities of her situation eventually reveal themselves and her relationship with Arthur fizzles. With admirable resiliency, Alice's acceptance of this loss inspires her to help support her family. An enchanting and authentic tale of a family's aspirations to seek more out of life, Alice Adams reveals the strength of the human spirit and its incredible ability to evolve.

      Originally published in 1921, this bestselling Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Booth Tarkington was adapted into film twice, in 1923 and 1935, and its heroine still resonates with readers today.

      This edition includes a new foreword by author Anne Edwards.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Back Street: Vintage Movie Classics

    • By Fannie Hurst

      Brand new from Vintage Books comes the Vintage Movie Classics collection--new editions of great American novels that inspired classic films, in a handsome trade paperback format with new forewords from today's leading scholars of film and literature.

      Among the first titles to be released is Back Street.

      In Cincinnati, at the turn of the last century, charming and beautiful Ray Schmidt is surrounded by her admirers and friends. When Ray first meets Walter Saxel, their attraction is instant and everlasting.

      As their bond deepens, Ray finds herself envisioning a future with Walter, until one fateful day when the settling of her family affairs interferes with their plans to meet. Not knowing what happened, Walter forms a relationship with another woman soon marries her.

      Heartbroken, Ray manages to start a new life in New York City--though Walter is never far from her thoughts. A chance encounter rekindles their feelings and sets into motion the sacrifices the devoted Ray will make--living in the shadows, available whenever Walter calls, loving a man who never fully loves her back.

      Originally published in 1931, this bestselling classic novel about the heartbreak of living along the "back streets" of a man's life was adapted into film three times--in 1932, co-starring Irene Dunne and John Boles; in 1941, co-starring Margaret Sullavan and Charles Boyer and in 1961, co-starring Susan Hayward and John Gavin.

      This edition includes a new foreword by film historian Cari Beauchamp.

    • More >
    •  
  1. DVD Reviews

    •  
    • Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) on Blu-ray

    • Lon Chaney was the most unlikely of Hollywood superstar actors. Talented and ambitious, he fearlessly took on roles of tortured victims, twisted villains, and misshapen outcasts, parts that he brought to life with a mix of elaborate make-up, physically demanding incarnations, and emotionally intense performances. In some ways, you could see him as the De Niro of the silent era, sinking himself into each role so deeply he loses himself in it, at least as far as the viewer in concerned. In an industry that celebrates physical beauty and charisma, Chaney won over audiences by playing characters that looked or acted like monster while communicating their inner drives and torments with his eyes and his face and his body language. The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923 was his first major production, a lavish period drama based on a classic novel and created at a cost of over $1 million by Universal, at the time a second-tier studio with ambitions to compete with the majors in the blockbuster realm. It made him one of Hollywood's biggest screen stars.

      This adaptation largely hews to the narrative of Victor Hugo's novel. Chaney plays Quasimodo, the horribly misshapen, deaf and half blind bell-ringer at Notre Dame, nominally raised by Don Claudio (Nigel De Brulier), the Archdeacon of Notre Dame. He lives in the bell tower of the cathedral and watches the revelry in the public space below the parapets of the church, where he becomes fascinated by Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller), the gypsy dancer and daughter of Clopin (Ernest Torrence), the King of the Beggars. When she shows him kindness, he becomes a devoted protector even while the scheming Jehan (Brandon Hurst), brother to Don Claudio, plots to take Esmeralda as his own.

      Wallace Worsley, who previously directed Chaney in four features (among them the twisted 1920 crime thriller The Penalty), dutifully (if flatly) directs this massive production (he wasn't Chaney's first choice... or second... or third). The major characters get their introductions in turn before Quasimodo's story even begins and the mechanics of the relationships are spelled out in headlines that suggest where the story is heading, even if it turns out a bit misleading. When the dashing womanizer and king's guard Phoebus (Norman Kerry) sweeps the innocent Esmeralda off her feet with pretty words and gallant displays, the scene dissolves into an image of a moth in spider's web, a visual metaphor that is a charming as it is obvious. It's a momentary truth, however, as Phoebus is somehow transformed by her innocence and trust and escorts her home untouched. Esmeralda has that effect on everyone, it seems, except Jehan, who sets Quasimodo to kidnap her and then abandons the wretch when he's caught by the royal guards and sentenced to the lash in front of a cheering crowd.

      The most glaring change from the novel is splitting the character of Claude Frollo, the Archdeacon of Notre Dame, into two roles, each incarnating on one of the conflicting halves of his character. Don Claudio is the Archdeacon here, a true, moral man of the church and kindly protector of Quasimodo, while his lustful, corrupt side is spun off into the character of Jehan, his secular brother who keeps up the façade of upper class morality while working with the underworld. One wonders if the change was made to placate the church. In this version, the religious authority is nothing but pure and holy. And, quite frankly, impotent. Where Frollo was keenly aware of everything happening outside the doors of his cathedral, Don Claudio is oblivious to even the wildest revelry, wandering out of his cloistered church only when it fits the dramatic needs of the script. And where Quasimodo's devotion to Frollo arises from his debt to his caretaker and creates a powerful conflict when he takes on the role of protector of Esmeralda, there is no such relationship to bond him to Jehan or explain why he agrees to do the dirty work for this ne'er do well.

      The storytelling is mix of the grandiose and the clumsy, with Chaney largely anchoring the film and the size and scope of the spectacle elevating production. The sets are magnificent, the biggest that Universal had built to date (the giant exterior of the cathedral and surrounding building remained standing for decades and were reused for Universal's defining horror classics of the thirties), and the Cathedral exterior is extended by a hanging miniature so it towers over the public square in in front of the church, where the cast of thousands is gathered for the opening festival sequence and again for the climactic uprising as Clopin leads an assault on the cathedral. It was convincing enough to make some believe that Universal actually shot on location rather than on their backlot.

      Chaney's make-up is spectacularly grotesque, with a gargoylish face of distorted cheekbones, a distended eyeball, and teeth broken to nubs, mats of coarse hair across his chest and shoulders like a werewolf, and of course his hump and bent stance (the strap he designed to hold his plaster hump in place also kept him from standing upright). But the make-up is only the surface. Chaney gave Quasimodo a dynamic physical life, scrambling down climbing ropes (he was at times doubled by a stunt man) or hanging from the bell rope like a big kid, and a childlike innocence that gave every emotion a purity and intensity that drove his loyalties. He's less beast than arrested child in a deformed adult body, treated like an animal for so long he's become accustomed to it, yet still longing for contact. His affection for Esmeralda may begin with sexual attraction but her kindness to him in the face of abuse from everyone else makes him loyal and dedicated, like an animal bonded to its human.

      Patsy Ruth Miller manages to keep her innocence even while dancing for the crowds, becoming the conscience of the underworld, and Ernest Torrence is superb as the King of the Beggars, reluctantly giving in to her pleas of charity. Torrence moved freely between villains and heroes and between serious and comic roles in the silent cinema. He was a physically towering man with a big personality that he wielded well in his character turns and he plays Clopin as a man so powerful he doesn't need to make a show of physical intimidation. The immediate response of the criminal hordes to his orders, his gestures, even a quick glance, confirms his authority.

      Lon Chaney created a lot of twisted wretches, vengeful villains, and criminal masterminds, but Quasimodo remains his most sympathetic screen character. He gives a big, broad performance befitting the film and the character, a simple creature with the look and strength of a beast and the innocence and loyalty of a child.

      According to the liner notes, there are no existing original 35mm prints of the film and no camera negative (not that uncommon for a 1923 feature), so this edition was mastered for Blu-ray from a 16mm reduction print struck in 1926 from the original camera negative, a restoration produced by David Shepard and Serge Bromberg. It's the same source used for the 2007 DVD release from Image (titled The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Ultimate Edition) and apparently the closest to the original release that is known to archivists. The wear on the print is evident in a steady rain of minor surface scuffs and light vertical scratches down the image, but the trade-off is an improvement in sharpness and image from the earlier Image release (which was already far and away better than the other public domain editions on the market). It also features the orchestral score compiled by Donald Hunsberger and adapted and arranged by Robert Israel, conducting a small orchestra in the Czech Republic, from that earlier DVD release. The recording is bright and full, a lively and varied piece that draws in the viewer but ultimately lacks the dramatic scope and darkness that the story calls for.

      New to this edition is a slideshow gallery with over 100 original production and publicity stills set to selections from the score (it runs about 14 minutes) and a digital reproduction of the original souvenir program (both mastered in HD). Carried over from the Ultimate Edition DVD is the commentary track by Lon Chaney biographer and professional make-up artist Michael F. Blake, the (incomplete) 1915 short Alas and Alack featuring Chaney in two roles (one of them a hunchback) but missing the final act of the story, and newsreel footage of Chaney (out of costume) on the Cathedral set of Hunchback. The accompanying booklet features an informative (and well-illustrated) essay on the production of the film written by Michael F. Blake written for the earlier DVD release.

      by Sean Axmaker

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 on Blu-ray

    • If you're arriving late to class, here's the recap: director / producer / modern B-movie legend Lloyd Kaufman directed the original Class of Nuke 'Em High, a flamboyantly grotesque parody of high school movies and radioactive mutant horror, in 1986. The premise: a high school in Tromaville, the most toxic city in America, is located right next to a nuclear power plant and the students gets contaminated when a dealer sells drugs irradiated from the plant. It spawned two sequels (produced and co-written but not directed by Kaufman), the last one released in 1994. Twenty years later, Kaufman revives the franchise with a new micro-budget epic so sprawling that it was split into two parts (ostensibly upon the recommendation of Quentin Tarantino, a la Kill Bill). Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 was shown at film festivals and played limited runs and special midnight screenings across the country before landing on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms, which is still the primary mode of distribution for Troma's cult movies.

      In Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1, the old nuclear plant and its giant cooling towers (which loomed over the old high school thanks to cheap optical effects) have been bulldozed under (that's what passes for environmental clean-up in the Tromaverse) but a new business has sprung up in its place. As guest narrator Stan Lee explains over the opening montage of clips from the earlier trilogy, "Tromorganic Foodstuffs, Inc, was built right over the old Tromaville Nuclear Power Plant. What could go wrong?"

      Kaufman himself has a supporting role as the clownish and crooked Tromorganic CEO Lee Harvey Herzkauf, whose so-called organic food is filled with human body parts and glowing radioactive sludge, which is not exactly what we mean by the term "going green." He sells his slop to Troma High and the students don't think twice about scarfing down tacos that glow green and ooze slime, even the school genius, who shoots goop from his ears, spontaneously combusts, and finally explodes in a gooey mess. The Troma Poofs Glee Club, a tone-deaf collection of misfits, finds its harmony when the sludge mutates them into Cretins, a violent gang of post-punk bullies who sing a cappella numbers during their hyperactive reign of terror. Even our two heroes, social activist blogger Chrissy (Asta Paredes) and rich girl Lauren (Catherine Corcoran), are eventually mutated, but only after their instant antagonism transforms into passionate love and lots of gratuitous topless scenes. Yup, Kaufman makes his heroic romantic couple two girls in love. Call it "Green is the Grossest Color." While any resemblance to Blue is the Warmest Color is surely coincidental (both films debuted at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival), Kaufman would appreciate the connection. His films are farces, not satires, but he plucks targets and references from culture around him, high and low alike. Here he tosses mortgage foreclosures, Obamacare, and insistently tasteless Jerry Sandusky gags in a film where Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead is the American President and the members of the mutant glee club are named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

      Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 1 delivers the Troma brand of production value: a madcap collection of slapstick comedy, outrageously over-the-top gore gags, gratuitous nudity, dimwitted characters, aggressively corrupt and / or incompetent institutions and authority figures, an unending stream of fart jokes, and a general level of obliviousness to the most obvious signs of bad news. Kaufman has a fondness for old-style slapstick, the sloppier and stupider the better, and will throw in anything that he thinks might get a laugh or a reaction--Kaufman himself resorts to physical schtick that was old before he was even born--but it's his gleeful embrace of bad taste and political incorrectness that really defines his sensibility.

      Even the best Troma films are a little schizophrenic but this one is notably unfocused, rambling from scene to scene without any sense of direction and letting the film get cluttered with repetitive jokes and slack scenes. Maybe that's because Kaufman decided to split the film into two feature-length parts rather than trim the fat away and hone in on a rapid-fire film. It's hard to accuse the film of being self-indulgent--that's the Troma style--but this is one film where a little more discipline would have been appreciated. And yes, as the title suggests, this isn't the end of the story. The conclusion isn't so much a cliffhanger as a promise of even more outrageous complications and affronts to good taste to come in Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2, coming sometime in 2014 to a midnight screening or a home video format near you.

      Troma never fails to fill the disc releases of its signature releases with worthy extras. This one is a little light compared to special editions of the oft-rereleased Toxic Avenger films or the recent Poultrygeist but impressive by any other measure. There are two commentary tracks--one fielded by actors Catherine Corcoran, Asta Parades, Zac Amico, Clay von Carlowitz, and Stuart Kiczek, the other by writer / producer / director Lloyd Kaufman with his production team: producer Justin A. Martell, executive producer Matt Manjourides, associate producer Regina Katz, and co-writer Travis Campbell--and three featurettes (each under ten minutes).

      While there is a self-deprecating sense of humor to many Troma supplements, their featurettes and documentaries are always worth watching for their honest acknowledgement of the effort it takes to get a Troma film made on its model, the practical solutions to production problems, and the mistakes that get made because of the large number of inexperienced crew members and / or performers involved. They demand a lot of commitment from their cast members and "Casting Conundrum" shows how the casting process finds not just the most talented and charismatic actors but those willing to commit to the demands of role. "Pre-Production Hell with Mein-Kauf(Man)" shows Kaufman the director, who is a very different person than Kaufman the showman and onscreen goofball. "Special (Ed) Effects" offers behind-the-scenes footage of the effects crew preparing for their big scenes. Also features the brief clip reel "Cell-U-Lloyd Kaufman: 40 Years of TROMAtising The World," a music video and, of course, the trailer for the upcoming Return to Nuke 'Em High Volume 2.

      by Sean Axmaker

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • The Eddy Duchin Story on Blu-ray

    • The vogue for musical biographies in the classic Hollywood mold was beginning to wane when Anthony Mann and James Stewart scored a major hit The Glenn Miller Story, a romanticized telling of the life of the famous, ill-fated band leader. Two years later Columbia came up with this look at another big name, a pianist-bandleader who specialized in a lush Manhattan sound as opposed to the jazz of his time. Director George Sidney's The Eddy Duchin Story (1956) is a sincere and leisurely tale that doesn't try to be much more than two hours of melody and emotion. It also features fine performances from Tyrone Power, Kim Novak, and the City of New York.

      New York, 1931: Running away from a career as a pharmacist, young pianist Eddy Duchin (Tyrone Power) gets a job at the Central Park Casino playing intermissions for big bandleader Leo Reisman (Larry Keating). His introduction to the tuxedo set comes thanks to the intervention of beautiful socialite Marjorie Oelrichs (Kim Novak). As Eddy's popularity soars he overcomes his ambitions to join high society, only to fall in love with Marjorie. Duchin and his piano-led orchestra eventually become a top attraction of the Depression years. After his happy wedding to Marjorie, Eddy is certain that an angel must be looking after him. And then tragedy steps in to change everything.

      Hollywood musical biographies date quickly. Many are little more than mawkish bits of plotting and overeager actors, sandwiched between overblown production numbers. Real biographical facts are not a requirement, as the subject's personality is usually enlarged to become as big and romantic as his music. There's nothing very cinematic about watching a composer writing a song, which is why Words and Music (Rodgers & Hart) becomes a vaudeville show and Yankee Doodle Dandy (George M.Cohan) an ode to patriotic idealism. In these pictures the heroes are all touched by a magical 'genius' that opens doors and creates riches out of pure harmony. In movies like The Al Jolson Story, the message is that the 'great talent' has attained a new level of existence, like a demigod -- and the great music is there to convince us of it.

      Eddy Duchin is the perfect material for a musical biography, a wildly popular New York pianist of the 1930s. He dazzled the hi-toned nightclub crowd with his keyboard style, which included stunts like reversing hands in the middle of a piece. Duchin's early passing in 1951 provides the movie with a bittersweet ending, but central to his story is a personal tragedy that torpedoed what had previously been a charmed life. Much of the second half of The Eddy Duchin Story shows a bitter man only slowly finding his way back to his earlier values. For positive uplift, there's Eddy's son Peter, who in real live idolized his father and became a popular pianist in his own right.

      Duchin's story needs no exaggeration to generate the requisite pride and pathos of the genre, and director George Sidney lends it a sense of balance and elegance. Tyrone Power is far too old to play the young Duchin but his makeup here fares much better than that in John Ford's The Long Gray Line just a year earlier. To untrained eyes Power's keyboard work is quite convincing, as if he had studied Duchin's style before faking the fancy moves of the first pianist superstar.

      But the biggest appeal of The Eddy Duchin Story is probably Kim Novak, who at the time was in first bloom as one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. She's perfectly cast here as a classy heiress who swims in only the most exclusive Park Avenue circles. The manners and gilt of these surroundings are far more natural to her than the rowdy campus life in Five Against the House, and Novak never seemed enough of a schemer to be the femme fatale of Pushover. In The Eddy Duchin Story she's sensual and forbiddingly ladylike at the same time, qualities that surely excited Alfred Hitchcock when he needed a replacement for Vera Miles in Vertigo. No star wears clothing as well as did Novak; she hasn't a single un-photogenic angle.

      After forty minutes of upward career arc culminating in artistic and personal success, the Duchins have finally reached a state of bliss, installed in a glorious penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. That's when the film takes a sudden plunge into melodrama. On her wedding night Marjorie admits her terror of the wind, an unwelcome dark thought that enters as if a stagehand walked onscreen carrying a sign reading: Harbinger of Doom. Personal loss is a staple of musical biographies. As 'Red' Nichols, Danny Kaye lost a beloved child in The Five Pennies, and Eddy Duchin has his own date with tragedy. Kim Novak's sudden exit from the movie puts a definite damper on the proceedings.

      The rest of the film covers Eddy's initial estrangement from his growing son, his war service, and his second chance at happiness before leukemia cut him short. All of it retains a sense of restraint. The thankless role of wife Number Two is played by a young Victoria Shaw, an interesting actress seen mostly in cheaper Columbia fare such as Sam Fuller's Verboten! Power's anxiety and Shaw's strength prevent the show from veering into soap opera.

      George Sidney bathes The Eddy Duchin Story in glossy production values. The tasteful nightclub sets are packed with patrons in period costumes. Sidney's utilizes his MGM experience to prevent the frequent musical interludes from becoming repetitive. Some border on the obvious, as when sailor-Eddy plays a duet with an Okinawan tot on a piano found in a bombed-out bar. But the hot numbers in the NYC nightclubs set a standard for classy presentation, especially I'll Take Manhattan and Brazil, complete with fancy angles through Duchin's shiny grand piano.

      Even more classy and nostalgic are the film's many scenes filmed on location in and around Central Park and Park Avenue. The Technicolor photography captures many moods, especially in rainy weather. Coupled with the lush music score, these romantic sections are pleasant in and of themselves, like the scenery in a widescreen Western.

      James Whitmore, even more subdued than usual, fills out the stock role of Duchin's agent and manager. Young Rex Thompson played Deborah Kerr's son in the same year's The King and I and lends some interesting shadings to young Peter Duchin. Somewhere among the party girls is a young Betsy Jones-Moreland, who later became a Roger Corman perennial.

      The Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Eddy Duchin Story is a handsome rendering of this beautifully filmed show. Set against George Duning's romantic music, many of those scenes wandering through Central Park have the elegance of a fashion shoot. Tyrone Power & Kim Novak in color and CinemaScope, strolling in Manhattan... it's a piece of Hollywood glamour.

      The carefully produced audio track is in two-channel stereo, and an Isolated Music and Effects track is present. The original trailer plays up the film's classier aspects. Julie Kirgo's insert notes compare the real Mr. and Mrs. Duchin with their fictional counterparts and note the similar fate of star Tyrone Power, who died just two years later at the age of 44.

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Dead Kids (aka Strange Behavior) on Blu-ray

    • Originally released in the U.S. under the name Strange Behavior, Dead Kids is the debut screenplay by future director and Oscar-winning screenwriter Bill Condon (he Oscared for Gods and Monsters) and the directorial debut of producer Michael Laughlin (Two-Lane Blacktop), two Americans who got their offbeat horror movie made by filming it as an Australian / New Zealand / American co-production in New Zealand. The title Dead Kids makes it sound like a slasher picture or a zombie film, and while there are some elements of both of those genres echoing through the film, it's really a mix of mad scientist thriller and revenge movie dropped into a somewhat surreal recreation of small-town Midwest America.

      Michael Murphy stars as John Brady, an easy-going chief of police (or maybe county sheriff?) in Galesburg, a small Illinois town close enough to Chicago to request help from the city's homicide detectives. He's a widower and a single father to Pete (Dan Shor), a smart, good-looking high school kid who wants to go to city college, despite Dad's insistence he go to a major university and see a little of the world beyond this town. Dad has good reason to send Pete away: he blames a professor at the local college for the death of his wife. The professor is long deceased yet his legacy still hovers over the school through pre-recorded lectures and professors who continue his psychiatric research and experiments in behavior modification. Pete, eager to make a little extra money, signs up as their latest test subject in a vaguely-described study being run by the doctor's protégé (Fiona Lewis, with an air of icy dominatrix about her). The project, of course, turns out to have a sinister side, as an outbreak of violent, inexplicable murders attest. The first is perpetrated by a knife-wielding assailant in a Tor Johnson mask who pulls off the mask to reveal.... Okay, no spoilers, but be assured that the trail leads back to the college study and the creepy scientist spreading his unconventional ideas from beyond the grave.

      Dead Kids came out in 1981, when the slasher film was all the rage, and the influence of Halloween is evident. Laughlin uses the same Panavision format and has a swooping crane shot that creeps up to a house, looks through the living room window to show us the parents, and then rises up to the bedroom window of the daughter above, a move right out of John Carpenter's playbook. And where Carpenter used a Los Angeles suburb to play the fictional Illinois small town of Haddonville, Laughlin has New Zealand towns and locations playing Galesburg. In this case, however, the location make everything about it a little off. The write-up on the disc jacket reads "New Zealand doubling for suburban Illinois," but when the film leaves the tree-filled college campus and heads into town or out to the highway, it looks less like suburbia and more like a southwest outpost, a dusty town under vast blue skies that suggest the desert more than the Midwest.

      That's only part of the odd atmosphere of the film, which plays out in a Twilight Zone where the fifties, sixties, and seventies all converge in a swirl of cultural cues. The high school lettermen jackets look like they came out of a vintage family sitcom, the local radio deejay could be broadcasting out of American Graffiti, and the kids talk like they stepped out of an Archie comic. When the Chicago homicide detectives show up, it's aging Hollywood tough guy Scott Brady coming on like an old school private eye, right down to a shot of bourbon before he gets to work. A high school costume party channels sixties pop culture and the soundtrack straddles everything from sixties pop to late seventies rock and new wave. It takes the décor of a teenage bedroom, where Springsteen and Talking Heads albums are prominently displayed, to confirm the time period. Everything about this film feels a little off, from the locations to the costumes to the rambling pace, which drifts along with odd editing beats more seventies arthouse drama than eighties horror film. It takes half the film to confirm that John is indeed a lawman since he never wears a uniform, works out of a station that looks more like a down-at-heels lawyer's office from an old Hollywood movie, and is never referred to by rank. He's not "Chief" or "Officer Brady," he's just John.

      You could chalk up some of that atmosphere to Laughlin's awkward direction--his staging of some of the murder scenes are clumsy and he fails to execute a couple of rudimentary exercises in building suspense--but he clearly is trying for a different aesthetic here. It's no mistake that he repeatedly shoots the murder scenes with the victims visible but the killers unidentifiable, their heads framed out of the picture so all we see are bodies in motion. It's not to obscure the identity of the killers, mind you, but to reduce them to mere weapons wielded by a mastermind controlling their action. The script, which Laughlin co-wrote with Bill Condon, is less concerned with the spectacle of onscreen murder than the fear of losing control and the horror is more wrapped up in the familiar turning alien and threatening. The killings are less unsettling than the driven, sometimes self-destructive behavior of the killers, who are just as much victims here. And the film's money shot is not a murder but a classic needle-to-the-eyeball (no spoiler here: it's on the cover of the disc case and on the disc art itself). That's one scene that Laughlin nails for maximum effect.

      While Lauglin's technique is sometimes clumsy, his work with the lead actors is terrific. He draws excellent performances from Murphy and Louise Fletcher (cast, refreshingly, as a comforting friend of the family in love with widowed Murphy), brings out the playful personalities of the teenagers played by Shor and Marc McClure (Jimmy Olsen in the first two Superman movies), and makes the transformation of Shor's Pete from easy-going nice guy to cocky ladies' man quite unsettling. Dey Young (of Rock 'n' Roll High School), playing a college intern in a classic eighties ponytail who lets the suddenly emboldened Pete take her out on a date, fills out her character with a refreshing confidence and self-awareness. And for pure nostalgia, look for Charles Lane (Mr. Potter's rent collector in It's A Wonderful Life) working as the police department gopher (mostly he answers phones and gets coffee). Many of the bit parts are wooden or flat but his main characters have plenty of personality and life to them. It gives you people to invest in and makes the final act effectively unsettling.

      Severin masters the Blu-ray debut of the film from the original 35mm negative, which may be why it went with the Dead Kids title, as it was called for the Australian release, rather than the American Strange Behavior. Anamorphic photography is prone to distortion and focus issues around the edges of the lens. Where Panavision veteran John Carpenter overcame those issues in his films, Laughlin and DP Louis Horvath did not, apparently, and the image goes soft around the edges of the frame in many scenes on this disc. While not glaring, it becomes more obvious because of the clarity of the transfer. The color is muted, likely an issue with the original palette, and the sound is fine. Tangerine Dream scored the film but it's one of their less interesting scores, more a collection of atmospheric tones and dramatic stings than a sustained series of compositions like Thief, which came out the same year. You can, however, listen to the score on an isolated audio track.

      The release features both Blu-ray and DVD editions of the film and the supplements. The commentary track by writer Bill Condon and actors Dan Shor and Dey Young was recorded a decade ago for the original Elite DVD release and it's a lively session that's both fun and informative. New to this disc is a solo commentary track by director / co-writer Michael Laughlin and a 20-minute interview with make-up effects artist Craig Reardon, who was hired just days he had to deliver the film's defining effect. He tells you the whole story of his seat-of-the-pants solution.

      by Sean Axmaker

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • The Broken Circle Breakdown on DVD

    • The title of the The Broken Circle Breakdown, a major hit in its native Belgium and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film in the U.S., is a riff on the American country spiritual "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." This is the story of a great love and a devastating loss, and it indeed confronts a breakdown, both figurative and literal, in the family circle. The song opens the film, performed by a bluegrass band in Belgium fronted by Didier (Johan Heldenbergh), a one-time punk rocker who fell in love with American roots music. He learned to play the banjo because it's the closest instrument to the wail of the rock guitar. At least that's how he explains it to Elise (Veerle Baetens), a tattoo artist who has turned her own body into a canvas for her work, on their first date.

      That first date comes later in the film. Our introduction to Didier and Elise is in 2006 as they await results from a test that their young daughter Maybelle (Nell Cattrysse), named for Maybelle Carter of course, is undergoing. They are trying to hold it together to give their little girl all the strength and optimism they can muster. As this present-day drama unfolds, we slip back seven years to the early, heady days of their romance. It's practically love at first sight and they form an instant connection; the way the flashbacks jump through their life together, it looks like she moves in the next day. Their personal harmony is picked up in the band, where she joins the ensemble in duets with Didier, then as a lead singer and guitar player. His stunned, defensive reaction to the news that she's pregnant is the only sour note of their love song and he quickly recovers by starting a verse. They've been living out of a trailer while he slowly rebuilds the old homestead of his farm. Now he has a deadline: have a home ready for their child.

      The Broken Circle Breakdown is based on a play conceived and co-written by its star, Johan Heldenbergh, though judging by descriptions of the original stage production, the term "play" may be misleading. It reads more like a mix of theater and concert, with scenes from a relationship interspersed with a song cycle of American bluegrass music. Director Felix Van Groeningen reconceptualizes the project for the screen, reworking the story and the songs into a narrative and then fracturing the timeline. While the film jumps back and forth from the "present" day story of the couple facing their daughter's illness to the early days of their romance and the birth of their family, it's easy to follow the threads; they run pretty much in parallel. But after tragedy strikes, the structure becomes more fragmented and less linear, connected less by narrative threads and more by the intensity of emotion. It reflects the heightened drama and amps up the anxiety and the urgency of their ordeal. Elise slips into depression, lashes out at Didier and herself looking for something or someone to blame, and then finds a foundation in a kind of spiritualism. She can't bring Maybelle back, but saving the lives of a few birds is enough to connect with the memory of their little girl.

      Didier, in contrast, casts his blame outward and directs his rage against American President George W. Bush and the religious right. This is the early 2000s, as TV broadcasts of the Twin Towers attack and the Bush veto of stem cell research remind us. The furious rants are more about the anger of a helpless father than any political statement but those polarizing statements tend to get tangled up in the emotional drama. They are also a reminder that his adoration of America, based on his love of the music and stories of his beloved bluegrass classics, is really more of an affection for the idealized Americana of folk art. The real world is much messier and there is no romance to real tragedy.

      While the film doesn't flinch from the heavy toll it takes on Didier and Elise, or the intensity of emotion as their different ways of dealing with loss clash, this isn't all about ordeal. Heldenbergh and Baetens are compelling performers who invite you to invest in their lives and the band provides a community of support and love for them and their daughter. The music they make, all covers of classic bluegrass songs, overflows with joy, as does the romance that plays out in flashback. They do their own singing and are so expressive (and with such uncanny southern-country twang) that you might assume they are music stars in their own right. They weren't before, but the success of the film and the soundtrack has given them a second career performing with the film's band, kind of like the concert tours of American country folk music in the wake of O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

      The Broken Circle Breakdown is the kind of film that, to repeat a tired cliché, will make you laugh and make you cry. That's how it affected me. It's a powerful film that builds to intense, overwhelming emotions with a very human core. Van Groeningen's triumph is wrapping the heartbreak and anger up in the love and the support. He leaves us celebrating the beauty of what was rather than mourning what has lost.

      It's in Flemish with English subtitles but the songs are all sung in English, and the sole supplement is a short (under four minutes) English-language interview with director Felix Van Groeningen. The film is only available on disc in the US on DVD--no Blu-ray release has been announced--but it is also available as a Digital purchase or VOD rental. The disc is, unfortunately, not well mastered. The image is adequate for the most part but loses the gray between color and shadow in video noise. It's a distraction in only a few scenes but it is disappointing on the disc of an Oscar-nominated film. Also note that the disc case inaccurately lists the running time at 70 minutes, which is 41 minutes short of its actual length: 111 minutes.

      by Sean Axmaker

    • More >
    •  
  1. Press Release

    •  
    • Dick Dinman Explores the Mystery of Carole Lombard's Tragic Last Flight

    • DICK DINMAN EXPLORES THE MYSTERY OF CAROLE LOMBARD'S TRAGIC LAST FLIGHT: Producer/host Dick Dinman's guest is Robert Matzen whose new book FIREBALL: CAROLE LOMBARD AND THE MYSTERY OF FLIGHT 3 explores the mystery of superstar Carole Lombard's tragic last flight and is one of the most exhaustively researched, compelling, and beautifully written edge-of-your-seat Golden Age Hollywood-related books we've read in a long time.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show (broadcast every Friday 1:00-1:30 P.M. EST on WMPGFM) devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to www.dvdclassicscorner.com or www.dvdclassicscorner.net.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me - Now in Limited Release

    • The first thing one thinks after just a few minutes of Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is, why is this fantastic woman not more famous? Fans that follow Stephen Sondheim reunions soon learn about the high regard given the performer who sang "The Ladies Who Lunch" from 1970's Company. The woman is a ball of brash energy and winning charm. Some stars and divas are always 'on' and require an entourage to make themselves seem more important. Elaine plows through the world mostly on her own and her version of being "on" is being herself. In one clip John Turturro explains what makes Stritch unique. She has no defensive shell to cover her feelings. The real Elaine is all up front, on top, in your face. She can be brassy and profane, but nothing she says sounds phony. Riding home from a TV taping, Elaine expresses her doubts about the constant hugs and kisses among show people: "Everybody is just loving everybody too much for my money."

      The cameras of producer/director Chieme Karasawa follow Elaine Stritch through busy days of activity, beginning with her walks from her apartment at the Hotel Carlyle. She's courteous to well wishers, hugs their dogs and yells like Ratzo Rizzo when a car tries to cut her off in a crosswalk. At lunch with friends, she explains that she was alcohol-free for 22 years, but now that she's in her '80s she's back to taking one drink a day. She also has a diabetes problem, which in stressful situations makes her lose her temper and forget lyrics. Her sometimes-sharp outbursts in rehearsals and on TV stages are not pleas for pity or attention. On the "30 Rock" show, Tina Fey remarks that Elaine's energy keeps everyone on their toes.

      The documentary makes use of a handful of effective clips from old TV shows and movies, but most of the work of showing the scope of Ms. Stritchs's career is handled directly through the performer herself. Loyal assistant Maeve Butler spreads an enormous number of framed stills around a bedroom, and Elaine finds a great story in each. One of them is about her dates with John Kennedy. She asked him to take her to dinner, and she met his family. When it came time to say goodnight, Elaine chose not to sleep with him. That is the story of a lady in control.

      The way Elaine tells it, she came into show business with the morals of a convent school graduate. Now at least sixty years later, we hear her say a prayer before a demanding concert. She finishes it off with a burst of profanity. Nothing fake about this woman.

      The photos place Elaine Stritch in the center of Broadway culture from the late '40s forward. She's seen caricatured in scores of Al Hirschfeld cartoons. Other photos place her with dozens of Broadway greats. She's candid about the details of her career, and offers that she was fired from her first stage role for inexperience, not because star Kirk Douglas was after her. Later on Nöel Coward became so enamored of Elaine's performing that he wrote a musical for her. Elaine appeared in several movie roles, but few major parts.

      One very effective clip is from the 1970 documentary Company: Original Cast Album. Producer Hal Prince praises Elaine, saying that she's not often difficult but even when she is she's well worth it. We see her recording the song "Ladies Who Lunch" with Stephen Sondheim. Prince notes that she's more vulnerable than people think. A little later she is greeted at the famed Stella Adler Acting Studio, which wants to solicit Elaine's choice of a rehearsal room to be named after her. We're impressed when she asks for a small room -- she reasons that she was a student there, not a superstar. She certainly qualifies now -- Ms. Stritch is one of few remaining performers with a continuity link to old-time Broadway.

      The motivation to perform is the only possible explanation for Elaine's seemingly limitless personal energy. Yet she has a couple of bad spells and health scares in the show, when she suddenly seems more like a frightened, needy 86-year old. She remains well aware of the camera and doesn't mind letting it film her sudden difficulty in speaking. On the road, Elaine's music director and accompanist Rob Bowman is there to help raise her spirits, if needed.

      She also keeps the cameramen on their toes. At one point Elaine is discussing a contract when she notices the camera: "Don't you think you're awfully close, Shane?" The camera promptly retreats. Later on, while being filmed making a snack of English muffins, Elaine suddenly stops what she's doing to ask the cameraman why he's not following her around more closely. She openly admits that she tends to intimidate directors, and even in the old Company footage we don't see Stephen Sondheim contradicting her on camera. Her younger fan-associates sing her praises but without the usual gushing silliness; Elaine wouldn't put up with fawning for a minute. Yet she collects good friends like a soul magnet. One met Elaine at an AA meeting, and has a ready description for her: "She is a Molotov Cocktail of madness, sanity and genius."

      Getting set for a singing gig in East Hampton, Elaine wakes up feeling terrible. She asks to be left alone, and buries her head in a pillow. But she pops awake when Rob Bowman reports that the show's been cancelled: "Do we get paid?" Rob nods and Elaine clasps her hands in joy. "Aaooohhh, Brava! Sometimes you get the breaks."

      Elaine commits to a multiple city tour requiring her to sing a long playlist of Stephen Sondheim tunes, and throws herself into rehearsals not knowing if she'll be strong enough to finish. Mild diabetes attacks can impair her memory of all those difficult lyrics. On opening night Rob Bowman has a terrific set of arrangements prepared, but her memory comes unglued during rehearsal. Trying not to worry, she says she and Rob have no choice but to trust all those hours of rehearsal. It seems hopeless until Elaine reaches the stage, at which point she seems to cast off 25 years, pick up new energy and show her audience what real show business moxie is all about. If she does go up on a lyric or two, she pushes through in good humor. But most of the time she nails the complicated Stephen Sondheim songs. We feel her joy and triumph more than ever.

      Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me can be described as a backstage documentary about a star nearing the end of her performing career. Producer/director Chiemi Karasawa found the perfect documentary subject in Stritch, whose personality repels all hints of show biz baloney. Soon after filming started Elaine embraced the project whole-heartedly. If she suddenly felt chatty during the night, Karasawa would have to wake a cameraman and rush over to film Elaine in her bed. She doesn't tell stories out of school yet smiles as she remembers the men in her life. When talking about her alcoholism she can be evasive or fiercely self-critical. Just the thought of finding the next loving audience often lights up her face, bringing out her beauty. When she's tired out from traveling, the idea of retiring can sound equally attractive. Shoot Me brings us so close to Elaine Stritch that it's difficult not to fall in love with her.

      Attractively filmed and decorated with well-chosen music, Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me is a fast paced show composed almost completely of privileged moments. Notables with substantial on-screen input include James Gandolfini, Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Tracy Morgan, John Turturro and Alec Baldwin. The late James Gandolfini appears on camera looking like a schoolboy, to admit that he formed a crush on Elaine Stritch the moment he met her. "If we had both met when we were 35, I have no doubt that we would have had a torrid love affair which would have ended very badly."

      By Glenn Erickson

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • BROADWAY TO HOLLYWOOD, a new CD by Richard Glazier, Available Now

    • Recording this CD brought back many wonderful memories from my childhood. I have loved movies, movie music and Broadway musicals my entire life. I discovered a lot of this music for the first time when my parents bought me a 16mm Bell and Howell sound projector in the early 70s. It was one of the machines made out of metal from the 1950s and had to be manually threaded. In those days one could go to the public library and check out pristine prints of all the classic films for 2 days at no charge. Since my mom was an actress and a page at CBS in New York during the golden age of radio, she encouraged my passion for music, movies and Broadway. We spent countless hours in our basement where I shared a love, a wonderment, a passion for the American Popular Song with my mom as she told me all sorts of behind the scene stories. Her older sister (my Aunt Esther) was like my grandmother and we spent every Saturday together. She also fueled my passion and ultimately helped me write a fan letter to Ira Gershwin. Little did I know that would be a life defining moment for me. Although my Aunt Esther and my beloved mom have passed on I think about them every day and am reminded of many happy memories when I perform and hear this music. It is my wish that when you listen to this recording many happy memories will be brought to you as well.

      Richard Glazier

      For more information, please visit: www.richardglazier.com or www.centaurrecords.com.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Dick Dinman Salutes the "Giant" Talents of Earl Holliman

    • DINMAN SALUTES "BIG COMBO" CO-STAR EARL HOLLIMAN (Part One): Olive Films has just distributed a stunningly restored Blu-ray incarnation of the brutal and steamily sensual film noir classic THE BIG COMBO which is famous for its explicit visualization of a seamy underworld that oozes with seediness and lowlife characters and one of it's co-stars Earl Holliman joins producer/host Dick Dinman to share his intriguing early career experiences that led to his participation in this unrelentingly dark, violent and erotic masterwork.

      DICK DINMAN SALUTES THE "GIANT" TALENT OF EARL HOLLIMAN (Part Two): Classic film Blu-ray fans are raving about the massive JAMES DEAN ULTIMATE COLLECTOR'S EDITION (which includes EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and GIANT) whose co-star Earl Holliman shares with producer/host Dick Dinman his experiences with director George Stevens and stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean as well as his personal dissatisfaction with his own performance in the sci-fi classic FORBIDDEN PLANET and also reveals how he beat out a legendary "king" of rock and roll for a coveted (and Golden Globe winning) role in THE RAINMAKER.

      DINMAN SALUTES THE VERY FIRST "TWILIGHT ZONE" STAR EARL HOLLIMAN (Part Three): Star Earl Holliman's last of three visits with producer/host Dick Dinman includes revelatory details about his starring role in the very first episode of Rod Serling's TWILIGHT ZONE series, his affectionate observations about POLICEWOMAN co-star Angie Dickinson and his 34 year association with Actors and Others For Animals.

      The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show (broadcast every Friday 1:00-1:30 P.M. EST on WMPGFM) devoted to Golden Age Movie Classics as they become available on DVD. Your producer/host Dick Dinman includes a generous selection of classic scenes, classic film music and one-on-one interviews with stars, producers, and directors. To hear these as well as other DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR shows please go to the online archive.

    • More >
    •  
    •  
    • Ennio Morricone Postpones Concerts in US to June 2014

    • UPDATE:
      Ennio Morricone has suffered a back injury that has forced the postponement of his US concerts, originally dated March 20 and 23, to June 13 at Barclays Center in New York and June 15 at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Maestro Morricone has undergone an operation to repair a slipped disc, and his doctor has advised him not to travel long distances in the immediate future to ensure a full recovery.

      Morricone remarked, "Dear Friends, it saddens me deeply to have to postpone these concerts. I am very much looking forward to my first Los Angeles performance and only my second New York City performance, both of which are almost sold out. Hollywood has been instrumental in bringing my work to American audiences, and my 2007 performance in New York was one of the high points of my career to date. I'm grateful and sorry to my fans for having to delay these shows. I'll miss you, and I look forward to seeing you in June."

      Tickets to the original performance will be honored at the rescheduled performance. A full refund is available to those who cannot attend the rescheduled performance via the original point of purchase through May 1st.



      Ennio Morricone, who celbrated his 85th birthday on November 10, will be conducting an ensemble of 200 musicians and singers, for a single performance at Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE on Thursday, March 20, 2014 at 8 pm. This concert marks the legendary Morricone's first Los Angeles performance. Morricone has composed the scores for more than 450 films including five of Sergio Leone's westerns -­ A Fistful of Dollars; For a Few Dollars More; The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly; Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fistful of Dynamite - and The Battle of Algiers; Sacco and Vanzetti; Cinema Paradiso; 1900, Malena; The Untouchables; Once Upon A Time in America; The Mission; U-­Turn; The Unknown Woman; and The Best Offer, among hundreds of others.

      Tickets priced from $45 go on sale Friday, October 25 at 10am through AXS.com, and by phone at (888) 929-­7849. Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE is located at 777 Chick Hearn Ct., Los Angeles, CA 90015. For more information please visit enniomorricone-­usa-­2014.com. The concert is presented by Massimo Gallotta Productions and AEG and also will be scheduled in New York at Barclays Center Cushman and Wakefield Theatre on March 23, 2014.

      Born in Rome on November 10, 1928, Ennio Morricone started his film-­composing career in 1961 with Il Federale directed by Luciano Salce. Morricone then became famous worldwide with his scores for Sergio Leone's westerns. Since that time, Morricone has composed music for films by directors including Pedro Almodovar, Warren Beatty, Bernardo Bertolucci, Brian De Palma, Roland Joffè, Adrian Lyne, Giuliano Montaldo, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Roman Polanski, Gillo Pontecorvo, Oliver Stone, Giuseppe Tornatore, Margarethe Von Trotta, Henry Verneuil, and Lina Wertmuller.

      Morricone is the recipient of the honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for his "magnificent and multifaceted contributions to the art of film music" (2007), nominated for five Academy Awards, induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame for the soundtrack album of The Good The Bad and the Ugly, two Grammy Awards for Once Upon a Time in the West and The Untouchables, two Golden Globe awards for his scores for The Mission and 1900; the ASCAP lifetime achievement award, the career achievement award by the Film Music Society, and 27 Gold and 6 Platinum records.

      Morricone has composed over 100 pieces of concert music since 1946 including Concerto per Orchestra n.1 (1957); Frammenti di Eros (1985); Cantata per L'Europa (1988); UT, per tromba, archi e percussioni (1991); Ombra di Lontana Presenza (1997); Voci dal Silenzio (2002); Sicilo ed altri Frammenti (2006); Vuoto D'Anima Piena (2008); and Una Messa (2013).

      Since 2001, Morricone has engaged in intense concert activity, and has conducted more than 100 concerts in Europe, Asia, the United States, and in Central and South America of his film music and concert works. On February 2, 2007, Morricone conducted Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra in a major concert at the United Nations General Assembly to celebrate the appointment of UN General Secretary Ban Ki-­Moon, followed the next day by his historic United States debut at Radio City Music Hall, in a concert produced by Massimo Gallotta, who is producing the current Nokia Theatre L.A. LIVE and Barclays Center concerts.

    • More >
    •  
Frank Capra: Early Collection
5 early films from one of America's most influential directors...
$44.99
was $49.99
Columbia Pictures Pre-Code Collection (DVD)
Turner Classic Movies and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment...
$44.99
was $49.99
Hollywood Movie Stills: Art and Technique in the Golden Age of...
This photographic book is the most detailed and perceptive survey...
$24.99
Close

Close

  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca
  •  
  • Wednesday, March 20, 2011

  • Removed: 10:00pm Springfield Rifle
    12:00pm Casablanca
    Added: 1:00pm Virginia City
    12:15pm Casablanca