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On Oscar Sunday, February 24, charities in 45 cities will bring the Oscar experience to life at viewing parties in each city. The Oscar Experience: Benefits is the Academy's grassroots outreach program that allows charities across the country to host official Oscar parties while raising money for their causes.
In 2012, the Oscar Experience: Benefits raised more than $3.1 million in 49 cities. Since its inception in 1994, as Oscar Night® America, the program has brought in more than $36.6 million, with all of the funds staying in the communities where they were raised.
All of the parties will feature a live broadcast of the 85th Academy Awards®; many will integrate Hollywood-style glamour elements, including red carpets, local celebrities, "paparazzi" and predict-the-winners contests.
"The Oscar Experience: Benefits is a natural extension of the philanthropic work the Academy does year-round," said Academy CEO Dawn Hudson. "We are thrilled to share a part of the Oscar experience with movie fans nationwide while supporting charities across the country."
The 2013 Oscar Experience: Benefits charities and cities are (alphabetical by city):
The New Mexico BioPark Society, Albuquerque, NM
The Center for Family Resources, Atlanta, GA
The Ellie Fund, Boston, MA
Shea's Performing Arts Center, Buffalo, NY
Virginia Film Festival, Charlottesville, VA
Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
People Working Cooperatively, Cincinnati, OH
KidFilm Festival, Dallas, TX
Denver Film Society, Denver, CO
Southgate Community Players, Detroit, MI
AIDS Connecticut (ACT), Hartford, CT
Hawaii International Film Festival, Honolulu, HI
American Cancer Society, High Plains Division, Houston, TX
United Way of Central Indiana, Indianapolis, IN
Variety of Eastern Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Variety Children's Charity of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas, NV
Wolfe Street Foundation, Inc., Little Rock, AK
MEND Meet Each Need with Dignity, Los Angeles, CA
WHAS Crusade for Children, Inc., Louisville, KY
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Memphis, Memphis, TN
COA Youth & Family Centers, Milwaukee, WI
Aegis Foundation, Inc., Minneapolis, MN
Belcourt Theatre, Nashville, TN
American Red Cross Southeast Louisiana Chapter, New Orleans, LA
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma City, OK
Alzheimer's Association Midlands Chapter, Omaha, NE
Variety - The Children's Charity of Florida, Inc., Orlando, FL
Palm Beach International Film Festival, Palm Beach, FL
Volunteers of America Delaware Valley, Philadelphia, PA
Pacific Region of the Arthritis Foundation, Phoenix, AZ
Community Theatre of Greensboro, Piedmont Triad area, NC
Rhode Island International Film Festival, Providence, RI
Central Virginia Film Institute, Richmond, VA
Utah AIDS Foundation, Salt Lake City, UT
Special Olympics Texas, San Antonio, TX
Community Campership Council, Inc., San Diego, CA
California Film Institute Education Program, San Francisco, CA
Starlight Children's Foundation Northwest, Seattle, WA
Robinson Film Center, Shreveport, LA
Isabel's House, Crisis Nursery of the Ozarks, Springfield, MO
Cinema St. Louis, St. Louis, MO
Tampa Theatre, Tampa, FL
Fox Tucson Theatre Foundation, Tucson, AZ
DC Shorts, Washington, DC
Waterfront Film Festival, Western Michigan (Grand Rapids)
To set these parties apart from thousands of other events taking place on Oscar Sunday, each Oscar Experience: Benefits party receives from the Academy copies of the official commemorative poster and the official Oscar show program, among other items.
Only one charity in a given media market may participate in the Oscar Experience: Benefits. Events are entirely produced by local nonprofit organizations with the active participation of the local ABC-TV affiliate station.
Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2012 will be presented on Sunday, February 24, 2013, at the Dolby Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center®, and televised live on the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.
FOLLOW THE ACADEMY at www.oscars.org
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Unsinkable, A Memoir (HarperCollins) is the definitive memoir by legendary actress and performer Debbie Reynolds--an entertaining and moving story of enduring friendships and unbreakable family bonds, of hitting bottom and rising to the top again--that offers a unique and deeply personal perspective on Hollywood and its elite, from the glory days of MGM to the present.
In the closing pages of her 1988 autobiography Debbie: My Life, Debbie Reynolds wrote about finding her "brave, loyal, and loving" new husband. After two broken marriages, this third, she believed, was her lucky charm. But within a few years, Debbie discovered that he had betrayed her emotionally and financially, nearly destroying her life.
Today, she writes, "When I read the optimistic ending of my last memoir now, I can't believe how naive I was when I wrote it. In Unsinkable, I look back at the many years since then, and share my memories of a film career that took me from the Miss Burbank Contest of 1948 to the work I did in 2012. . . . To paraphrase Bette Davis: Fasten your seatbelts, I've had a bumpy ride."
Unsinkable shines a spotlight on the resilient woman whose talent and passion for her work have endured for more than six decades. In her engaging, down-to-earth voice, Debbie shares private details about her man and money troubles, including building and losing her Las Vegas dream hotel and her treasured Hollywood memorabilia collection. Yet no matter how difficult the problems, the show always goes on.
Debbie also invites us into the close circle of her family, speaking with deep affection and honesty about her relationships with her children, Carrie and Todd Fisher. She looks back at her life as an actress during Hollywood's Golden Age--"the most magical time you could imagine"--including her lifelong friendship with (and years-long estrangement from) the legendary Elizabeth Taylor. Here, too, are stories that never reached the tabloids about numerous celebrities, such as Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Frank Sinatra, Mick Jagger, Gene Kelly, and many more. She takes us on a guided tour through her movies with delightful, often hilarious behind-the-scenes anecdotes about every film in which she was involved, from 1948 to the present.
Frank and forthright, and featuring dozens of previously unseen photos from Debbie's personal collection, Unsinkable is a poignant reminder that there is light in the darkest times. It is a revealing portrait of a woman whose determination is an inspiration.
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Better Left Unsaid (Stanford University Press), by Nora Gilbert, is in the unseemly position of defending censorship from the central allegations that are traditionally leveled against it. Taking two genres generally presumed to have been stymied by the censor's knife--the Victorian novel and classical Hollywood film--this book reveals the varied ways in which censorship, for all its blustery self-righteousness, can actually be good for sex, politics, feminism, and art.
As much as Victorianism is equated with such cultural impulses as repression and prudery, few scholars have explored the Victorian novel as a "censored" commodity--thanks, in large part, to the indirectness and intangibility of England's literary censorship process. This indirection stands in sharp contrast to the explicit, detailed formality of Hollywood's infamous Production Code of 1930. In comparing these two versions of censorship, Nora Gilbert explores the paradoxical effects of prohibitive practices. Rather than being ruined by censorship, Victorian novels and Hays Code films were stirred and stimulated by the very forces meant to restrain them.
A fascinating read for anyone interested in the intersections of film, literature and cultural history.
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With such seminal movies as The Exorcist and The French Connection, Academy Award-winning director William Friedkin secured his place as a great filmmaker. A maverick from the start, Friedkin joined other young directors who ushered in Hollywood's second Golden Age during the 1970s. Now, in his long-awaited memoir, The Friedkin Connection (HarperCollins), Friedkin provides a candid portrait of an extraordinary life and career.
His own success story has the makings of classic American film. He was born in Chicago, the son of Russian immigrants. Immediately after high school, he found work in the mailroom of a local television station, and patiently worked his way into the directing booth during the heyday of live TV. An award-winning documentary brought him attention as a talented new filmmaker, as well as an advocate for justice, and it caught the eye of producer David L. Wolper, who brought Friedkin to Los Angeles. There he moved from television (one of the last episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) to film (The Birthday Party, The Boys in the Band), displaying a versatile stylistic range. Released in 1971, The French Connection won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, and two years later, The Exorcist received ten Oscar nominations and catapulted Friedkin's career to stardom.
Penned by the director himself, The Friedkin Connection takes readers on a journey through the numerous chance encounters and unplanned occurrences that led a young man from a poor urban neighborhood to success in one of the most competitive industries and art forms in the world.
From the streets of Chicago to the executive suites of Hollywood, from star-studded movie sets to the precision of the editing room, from a passionate new artistic life as a renowned director of operas to his most recent tour de force, Killer Joe, William Friedkin has much to say about the world of moviemaking and his place within it.
Written with the narrative drive of one of his finest films, The Friedkin Connection is a wonderfully engaging look at an artist and an industry that has transformed who we are--and how we see ourselves.
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From the irresistible fantasy of E.T. to the gritty realism of Saving Private Ryan, the films of Steven Spielberg have captured the imagination of the world. Renowned critic Richard Schickel now gives us the definitive illustrated monograph on this Oscar®-winning Hollywood icon, whose long and glittering career few directors have equaled.
Spielberg is one of the most influential and inspirational minds in cinema, and Schickel provides perceptive analysis of nearly 40 years' worth of work, with illuminating film-by-film commentary on such masterpieces as the underwater thriller, Jaws; the high-speed adventures of Indiana Jones; the harrowing Schindler's List; sci-fi classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind; and the recent releases Tintin and War Horse. The book culminates with the long-awaited Lincoln and features over 250 dynamic images, plus revealing behind-the-scenes photos from DreamWorks's archives.
For more information about Steven Spielberg: A Retrospective, visit Sterling Publishing.
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The I Don't Care Girl (1953) has long deserved to be better known and respected, and its debut on DVD from Fox Cinema Archives will hopefully start to reverse that reputation. The picture had a troubled production that resulted in half its footage being scrapped (according to a Variety review from the time), and the resulting 78-minute feature can hardly be seen as an illuminating biopic of Eva Tanguay. As a narrative, it's choppy and not very penetrating, focusing more on an on-again, off-again light romance than on exploring what made Tanguay tick as a performer.
However, seen now for what it is rather than what it isn't, The I Don't Care Girl functions as a hugely enjoyable, brisk little movie that contains some very big production numbers -- spectacular ones, in fact. And I would venture to say that this picture probably contains the best dancing Mitzi Gaynor ever put on screen, if not her most appealing overall performance.
She's a fireball of bawdy energy and movement as Eva Tanguay, the famous vaudeville singer and dancer of the early 1900s. And she holds the movie together, because the storyline is frankly all over the place. After a brief opening sequence that shows Gaynor, as Tanguay, performing in a Ziegfeld Follies show, the film presents another, "meta," opening, in which a man arrives at the Twentieth Century-Fox studio lot asking to see a producer about the Eva Tanguay picture currently in preparation. The man doesn't get in to see the producer just yet, but we do, and it's George Jessel -- the actual producer of the movie we're watching -- playing himself. He takes a meeting with two screenwriters assigned to write this picture, and they strategize over how to proceed. In the course of the film, they will interview three men who knew Eva Tanguay, and as those men relate their tales, the film will flash back to show us different episodes of Tanguay's life, more or less in order but sometimes contradictory, with a slight "Rashomon" effect. The I Don't Care Girl, then, ends up being a movie about the attempt to make The I Don't Care Girl. (One can imagine screenwriter Charlie Kaufman perhaps having been inspired by this framework when he was writing Adaptation .)
In any event, the self-referential quality is not dwelled upon or dealt with heavy-handedly; it's treated lightly and matter-of-factly, and works more as a way of providing the audience with a pleasing "behind-the-scenes" feel, which makes sense for what is essentially a backstage musical on two levels -- the making of the film we're watching in the present and the scenes of Tanguay performing in the past. It also enables some highly amusing moments like the one in which vaudeville performer Ed McCoy (David Wayne) sits at a bar ruminating over who could possibly play him in the movie within the movie (which are, of course, one and the same movie): "This Gene Kelly might be able to do my dances. But for looks, well there's this Victor Mature, but he can't sing."
David Wayne as one of the three main men in this film is joined by Bob Graham, who never made another movie, and Oscar Levant, who is best known as a composer and pianist but also brought comic wit as an actor to a dozen or so movies, including The Band Wagon (1953). Yet the true "leading man" of The I Don't Care Girl has to be Jack Cole, who does not appear on screen but, as choreographer, is responsible for the three best numbers in the picture: "The Johnson Rag," "I Don't Care," and "Beale Street Blues." All three are modern 1950s production numbers ablaze in Technicolor, as opposed to the other numbers in the film that are all grounded in a 1910s time frame. But these modern ones work because the movie has established itself from the outset as having an almost anything-goes level of reality.
"The Johnson Rag" features witty, modern big-band interpretations of Mozart, some performed by Levant, and exquisite synchronized jazz dancing. At the end of the wild "I Don't Care," which was Tanguay's signature song and is actually performed twice in this film, Gaynor ascends a staircase ringed with flames, and it's truly a wonder her feathery costume didn't catch fire. "Beale Street Blues," the finale, is also good but not quite a showstopper like the earlier two numbers; possibly it got shuffled around in postproduction when the entire movie was restructured.
Gaynor's musical performance in all these numbers and more demonstrates -- both because of and in spite of the film's choppy quality -- that she was unfairly wasted in Hollywood and never quite had a chance to realize her potential as a major musical film star. She has few film credits and has spent most of her career instead as a successful live performer.
The I Don't Care Girl was directed by Lloyd Bacon, a veteran who turned out an astonishing number of snappy little movies starting in the silent era, including first-class musicals like 42nd Street (1933) and Footlight Parade (1933). He directed only three more films after The I Don't Care Girl and died in 1955. He has never been considered an auteur or great stylist, but rather as a workhorse who performed well in all genres. Possibly it's due to his great experience as a filmmaker that this film has its curious and brief pre-credit sequence of Eva Tanguay performing in a show, before the camera pans over to reveal Florenz Ziegfeld (Wilton Graff) watching in the wings and commenting on her dancing. It's a moment that the film never returns to; it exists entirely on its own. It may have been part of another sequence that was intended for the film and scrapped, and possibly Bacon decided to use this snippet as a way of establishing in visual terms that this would be a film that would show both Tanguay performing and the behind-the-scenes people who enabled her to do so. Regardless of whose idea it was, it's a beautifully economical -- if abstract -- method of setting up the way this entertaining film will work.
The I Don't Care Girl is one of a slew of interesting new burn-on-demand DVDs from Fox Cinema Archives, which has had an uneven record to date in its choices of titles and in the technical quality of its transfers, most of which have not been remastered. Happily, this one looks decent and will not disappoint. There are some other musicals in Fox's new batch that have also been under the radar in recent years and are well worth a look, such as Call Me Mister (1951) and Meet Me After the Show (1951), both starring Betty Grable late in her career, and Irish Eyes are Smiling (1944), starring June Haver at the beginning of hers. Also notable: The Model and the Marriage Broker (1952), starring the beautiful and forgotten star Jeanne Crain, and Sitting Pretty (1948), an enormous comedy hit in which Clifton Webb originated his character of Mr. Belvedere the babysitter. (The film was so popular that it spawned two sequels.) Fox has also issued the less-inspired 1958 Webb comedy The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker.
By Jeremy Arnold
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During the 1930s, John Wayne starred in over 60 films for Monogram and Republic, all but a few B-movie westerns, of a uniformity and modestly-budgeted scale that helped established the genre's familiarity, code of iconography, and perennial matinee appeal for all time. With only occasional exceptions, the Western began as a disposable movie myth (much as it had thrived as dime novels only, decades earlier), consumed like afternoon popcorn, in brisk double features and as serials during the silent years and into the talkie era, by generations of young Americans for whom the very real horses and very real guns were all there was to differentiate these frontier morality fables from the let's-pretend games the kids played when they got home. Which is a beguiling and necessary way to think about movie that we've all but forgotten - as pretend, as a form of play. How a movie might, by virtue of its clumsiness or guileless simplicity or stock ingredients, evoke one's experience of childhood play might just be the key to our love of cinema - one we ordinarily rationalize away with opinions about genre, acting, story structure, etc. Maybe at their core movies are all about being a kid again.
Given the profusion of '30s Westerns, even if you're considering only Wayne's filmography, you'd be surprised to come upon one more or less at random - as in, Westward Ho (1935) - and not find an unimpressive, shortcut-riddled programmer, staged and shot for maximum efficiency. Westward Ho, released on DVD by Olive Films along with scores of other Wayne entries, is actually something of a shocker, sheerly in terms of visual scale and energy. No expense seems to have been spared. Directed by studio cowhand Robert N. Bradbury, and stunningly shot by cinematographer Archie Stout (who started with B westerns but worked for John Ford, Rene Clair, William Wellman and Andre de Toth before he was through), the film is a stirring feast for even jaded eyeballs, beginning with breathtaking Ansel Adams-like vistas of a wagon train dwarfed by the Rockies, and then a tightly-choreographed band of 18 outlaws on horseback charging to a hilltop and lining up as they observe their mark in the desert below. When the attack comes, the notions of using stock footage (as Ford's classic Stagecoach did a few years later) is never broached; Bradbury's camera shifts perspectives endlessly, cutting on the action, and the melee (seen mostly in fascinating wide shots, not constructed out of close-ups) is huge and thrilling. Later, a massive shootout in the desert between what looks like dozens of gunslingers and dozens of outlaws, all amid a real stampeding cattle drive, puts the lie to cheapskate "B westerns"; this was a spectacle any A-list film would be proud of, executed with speed and visual imagination.
The narrative is another matter. When the film is confined to dialogue and exposition, it simply slogs through it, as if everyone involved were wishing that the whole film could just be hard-riding cowpoke action out on the plains, without any of this tiresome talking. (In this, too, the film conforms to a 10-year-old's way of thinking, for better or worse.) In the second half, we're granted entrance to the criminal kingpin's saloon-second-floor office (!), strangely decorated with an old desk, a file cabinet, and a divan! Wayne's frontier hunk, whose parents were killed and brother was kidnapped years earlier, gets fed up with the outlaw gangs and begins enlisting civilians into a band of vigilantes - all wearing back shirts and white kerchiefs as a uniform, and riding snow-white horses. This is a preadolescent kid's Western world, where the laundry is always pristine, and good guys are good all the way through, and cowboys spent their downtime singing in harmony around the campfire. Wayne, sings, too, in a dubbed baritone courtesy of Bradbury's son, and Westward Ho could be classified as a "singing cowboy" movie, with the vigilantes comprised largely of The Singing Riders (a one-shot supergroup of Western crooners led by Glenn Strange, whose career sort of peaked playing the Frankenstein monster in the last three Universal films in that classic cycle). Thankfully, because it remains desperately difficult to take singing cowboy movies very seriously, Bradbury's film only dawdles momentarily by the fireside, and climaxes with a hairy frontier battle in which horses were, sorry to say, clearly crippled.
Naturally, Wayne's hero confronts his long-lost brother - now an undercover bandit, played by Frank MacGlynn Jr. - but the story was and still is nothing new. The main attraction at the time wasn't even Wayne, who was a callow and strangely stiff leading man in 1935. It was the Western semiotics themselves, the place and time captured in a mythic frieze of fairy-tale good and evil, and of righteousness triumphing in the open wilderness where the law has little purchase. (In the '30s, Hollywood product had little advertising beyond the neighborhood marquee; people would just go, knowing they were in for musicals or westerns or comedies or whatever.) In this way, Bradbury's film is a slice of heaven, visiting our grade-school selves into that dusty, violent, man's-man sphere somewhere west of St. Louis and north of Hell, but keeping us safe and secure in our seats all the while. Still, Westward Ho is far from being a typical token genre piece of the Depression years - certainly, no Gene Autry vehicle had this much respect for chaotic action and landscape, and few Westerns before John Ford hit his stride in the '40s invested these stock stories with this much breadth and business.
By Michael Atkinson
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After a long career in supporting roles starting way back in 1916, English actor Edmund Gwenn became a household name playing Kris Kringle in 1947's Miracle on 34th Street. Fox soon arranged for Gwenn to play other kindly old gentlemen helping younger people -- a college professor in Apartment for Peggy and an angel in For Heaven's Sake. He was also loaned to Warners help out a harried working girl in Pretty Baby. But the best vehicle for Gwenn's special personality is the interesting Mister 880, a clever slice of 'whimsical realism' based on a true incident written up in The New Yorker. Dorothy McGuire and Burt Lancaster star in the Julian Blaustein production, which provides a gentle twist on gritty postwar movies about dedicated federal crime busters.
Secret Service Agent Steve Buchanan (Burt Lancaster) takes a crack at counterfeiting case number 880, an open file that's been embarrassing the Treasury Department for a decade. Somebody in New York is passing fake $1 bills, always in miniscule quantities. "Mister 880's" fake money is simply awful, printed on ordinary paper and with words like "Washington" misspelled. But the criminal doesn't pass much of it, and rarely in the same place. Buchanan is determined to catch and convict him out of professional pride. Steve and his partner Mac (Millard Mitchell) zero in on U.N. translator Ann Winslow (Dorothy McGuire) after she passes two of 880's distinctive bogus bucks. Steve goes undercover to date Ann, hoping to find a connection. Ann's neighbor is Skipper Miller (Edmund Gwenn), a toothless old-timer whose only friend is a little dog; as his funds have dried up Miller ekes out a living selling junk. Whenever he runs short, Skipper pulls out an ancient printing press called "Henry" and cooks up some more homemade moolah. Chasing down Mister 880 has cost the Secret Service a lot of time and manpower, and Steve's attitude is that the law doesn't make exceptions. But how can anyone sentence a harmless old snoot like Skipper to prison?
Less well known than Miracle on 34th Street, 1950's Mister 880 uses a similar formula: earnest young people come to the aid of a perhaps-senile old man and learn a life lesson or two. Taken from real life, this story is not a fantasy, and although the climax is sentimental it's definitely not a miracle. For once the happy courtroom finale not only makes good sense, it's how things turned out in real life. Screenwriter Robert Riskin is best known for his 'Capracorn' classics for director Frank Capra, but his light touch and affectionate characters are even more endearing when applied to a 'benign' criminal targeted by federal T-Men more accustomed to apprehending desperate felons.
Director Edmund Goulding had worked with Dorothy McGuire back in 1943 on her starring screen debut in Claudia. Nearing the end of a lengthy career, Goulding's name is on quite a few acknowledged classics, such as Grand Hotel, Dark Victory, The Constant Nymph and Nightmare Alley. The mostly relaxed pace in Mister 880 allows for a number of sensitive and nuanced scenes.
As did fellow producer Val Lewton, Julian Blaustein began his film career working for David O. Selznick before being hired by Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox. Blaustein frequently opted for progressive subject matter. His big hit Broken Arrow casts Native Americans as noble heroes, and presents a romance between James Stewart's army scout and Debra Paget's Indian princess. Blaustein also ran up against political realities in the comedy Half Angel, when his outspoken star Loretta Young insisted that her soon-to-be-blacklisted director Jules Dassin be replaced. Blaustein was the driving force behind the science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, which now plays as a liberal protest against militarism and political fear mongering.
Although Riskin's screenplay doesn't criticize the Secret Service, it derives some of its charm from watching Steve and Mac's undercover work thwarted by a harmless old man and a smart young woman. On an outing at Coney Island Skipper passes his funny money right under Mac's nose, and Steve ends up passing a fake bill himself. Ann suspects Steve's ruse early on and quietly uncovers his true identity. Fortunately, they both have a sense of humor. The United Nations gets the equivalent of a publicity plug when Steve and Mac visit and observe Ann working alongside her fellow translators. Steve's coming assignment is to help with criminal problems in the European nations still recovering from the war. In their different ways, both Ann and Steve are working for the international good.
Meanwhile, the lovers must focus on the problem of the adorable public enemy #880, Skipper, who is anything but faultless and adorable. Skipper even makes a good argument that his criminal activity saves the government money. Ann looks out for the old man and doesn't feel that he is a criminal, but Steve can't be swayed from his duty. As Dorothy McGuire was at the time associated with the liberal issue film Gentleman's Agreement, the chance at lighter material is a welcome development. The same goes for Burt Lancaster, most of whose early star vehicles had been violent action films, where his physique earned more critical comments than his acting. Mister 880 sees Lancaster handling a smaller-scale character with grace and good humor.
Mister 880 also fits in well with 20th-Fox's fad for filming on real locations, which at the time was an unusual and expensive practice. Hollywood sets mix seamlessly with material shot on location in New York. The partly semi-docu style also supports the film's insistence on workaday realities. Everyone must earn a living, and the thoughtful Ann Winslow takes on a real responsibility when she looks out for the eccentric man upstairs. There are no fantasy miracles and no exaggerated romantic reversals. Ann and Steve are attracted to each other, even though he thinks she may know the crook he's chasing, and she intuits that he's cozying up to her partly in the line of duty. Mister 880 generates a nice feeling about people.
The 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives DVD of Mister 880 is an acceptable presentation of this charming story. The transfer is not new but it's reasonably attractive, and sharp enough to show precise details on the currency, both real and counterfeit, that Burt Lancaster holds up to examine. A disclaimer title tells us that for this production only, the authorities gave 20th Fox special permission to sidestep Federal laws against using real money on screen.
By Glenn Erickson
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Hollywood did its part in World War II as forcefully as any other American industry, turning out entertainments to raise morale and inform the public. Early efforts included the escapist comedy All Through the Night, an unlikely story about a Runyon-esque gangster (Humphrey Bogart) foiling a Nazi cell in New York City. John Farrow directed a carefully fictionalized drama about the last stand of Marines and civilian contractors against the Japanese on Wake Island. With the guidance of the War Department, movies celebrated our allies' resistance to invading Axis armies on a country-by-country basis. In Edge of Darkness, for example, Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan portrayed patriotic Norwegians, battling occupying German forces.
Playing Germans in some of these movies were newcomers to Hollywood, political and religious refugees from the film industries of Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and France. Noted writers and directors came as well -- Bertolt Brecht, Robert Siodmak. One of the most prestigous émigrés was Jean Renoir, a great talent who fared reasonably well transplanted to Southern California. His Swamp Water (1941) is a superior drama about Florida backwoodsmen, and unrelated to the war. But Renoir's second Hollywood effort This Land is Mine (1943) is superior anti-Nazi propaganda. Working with writer Dudley Nichols and designer Eugène Lourié, Renoir doesn't rely on the depiction of enemy outrages to make his point. The show instead makes excellent use of actor Charles Laughton's ability to elicit strong emotions from the audience. Reuniting Laughton with his The Hunchback of Notre Dame co-star Maureen O'Hara, This Land is Mine dramatizes the fiercely patriotic need of occupied countries to resist their conquerors.
Nichols' story takes place in an unnamed European town, yet the first on-screen image is a very French WW1 memorial seen from multiple angles as the occupation begins. German Major Erich von Keller (Walter Slezak) is determined to avoid strong-arm tactics, so as to minimize local resistance. The Mayor (Thurston Hall) nervously asks everyone to cooperate. Railroad manager George Lambert (George Sanders) cooperates in part because he sympathizes with the German cause. But George's fianceé, schoolteacher Louise Martin (Maureen O'Hara) is very unhappy. Major Keller correctly deduces that the school principal Professor Sorel (Philip Merivale) is the author of anti-Nazi leaflets that are circulating, and has him arrested. Louise's fellow teacher Albert Lory (Charles Laughton) shares her concern. A mama's boy, Albert is so terrified by Allied air raids that he loses the respect of his young students. Albert wants to do the right thing to impress Louise, as he's secretly in love with her -- but his selfishly domineering mother Emma (Una O'Connor) is determined to keep "that woman" away from her boy.
Much to Louise's disgust, Albert meekly cooperates when they are ordered to rip pages out of the children's history books that offend the Germans. She is even more disheartened to learn that her own younger brother Paul (Kent Smith), a railroad switchman, is chummy with the occupying Germans, and even turns in leaflets when he finds them. Paul's activities alienate his girlfriend Julie (Nancy Gates) as well. Louise feels as if she is the town's lone patriot.
The deceptively straightforward This Land is Mine carefully sets up each male character to experience a crisis of conscience. The script's most sophisticated angle is that Walter Slezak's Major Keller is neither an ideologue nor a sadist, as was so often the case in wartime films. He actually suppresses evidence of sabotage as long as possible, in the knowledge that reprisals will only lead to more resistance. The men of the town range from a Quisling to a secret saboteur, but they're all judged through Louise, the Maureen O'Hara figure. She's disillusioned by the way her brother and fiancé calmly accept the occupation, even after the respected Professor Sorel is taken away.
Albert seems the only man Louise is able to influence. The pudgy, innocuous schoolteacher impresses nobody, especially when he cowers in the bomb shelter, as women and children sit calmly to each side. But Professor Sorel's arrest grants him an understanding of the nature of tyranny. Albert cannot control his mother, who goes to City Hall with the notion that the Mayor will have to do what she says because he tried to kiss her back in school. Later, understanding that his mother has caused the death of a true patriot, Albert seeks to atone for her while also striking a propaganda blow against his oppressors. The Germans force the town to try him for a murder he didn't commit, but he uses the defendant's box as a pulpit to deliver a scathing anti-Nazi speech. His courage demonstrates that he's the man truly worthy of Louise, even if he'll have to pay with his life. Major Keller won't find it easy to keep the locals in line, after Albert's sterling example of patriotic defiance.
This Land is Mine is a sterling showcase for Charles Laughton's formidable acting skills. The story is practically built around his talent. Laughton provides a gentle comic relief, playing the milquetoast with his bossy mom (Una O'Connor at her most screechy). He pets Louise's housecat as a substitute for petting her. Part of Albert's conversion shows him coming to the aid of one of his students teased and harassed because he is a Jew. The film's climax consists of three bravura solo speeches. In one of two courtroom scenes Albert interrupts his anti-Nazi argument to proclaim his love for Louise. Albert's now-adoring pupils receive an emotional stunner that will surely inoculate them against whatever ideological poison Major Keller can devise. Nichols, Renoir and Laughton make the speeches count as heartfelt anti-Fascist protest; unlike Charlie Chaplin's oratory at the end of The Great Dictator, this is a more proactive plea for humanity and justice against evil.
The story works on a emotional, theatrical level that neutralizes certain objections: it's altogether clear that Albert Lory's courtroom oratory would be quickly curtailed. The Germans arresting Albert would more likely hustle him from his classroom before he could say a single word. The inoffensive Albert has a special appeal for audiences that can't personally identify with dashing Errol Flynn heroics. For every Alpha Male in the audience there were surely forty nice guys that recognized a bit of Albert's shyness in themselves. Ordinary Joes might fantasize themselves as combat heroes, but Albert's moral martyrdom has the special side benefit of beautiful Louise Martin's undying love and affection. Rewards are where one finds them.
Of all of Hollywood's melodramas about brave resistance to Nazi occupation, Renoir's This Land is Mine has perhaps dated the least. We soon accept the nondescript names and generic "European" settings, which could stand in for any occupation, anywhere. Charles Laughton made several more wartime pictures, even playing an unlikely Admiral opposite Robert Taylor. Maureen O'Hara continued to be one of RKO's most beautiful attractions, mostly in lighter material. Jean Renoir made three more Hollywood features, staying on in America until 1947. His European career didn't resume until 1951's The River, a picture filmed entirely in India.
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of This Land is Mine is a good if not outstanding encoding of this fine wartime propaganda picture. Because of its stellar Charles Laughton performance, the movie enjoyed constant TV syndication through the 1950s and '60s. The opening reel has quite a bit of printed-in dirt flecks, which return at reel changes. But the film is intact, reasonably sharp and carries a strong audio track.
By Glenn Erickson
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Comedy writer, playwright and movie director George Seaton enjoyed a long run of film hits, many with his producing partner William Perlberg. His directing was never as forceful as his writing, and his writing too often settled for easy emotional connections with his audience. Seaton is the sole credited writer on the masterful The Song of Bernadette, yet nothing in his filmography can match Henry King's direction or Jennifer Jones' leading performance. Seaton instead made his mark with a number of audience-pleasing favorites, like the warm-hearted Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street.
Two of Seaton's most popular directing successes haven't aged as well. The Country Girl wallows in maudlin self-pity, and the light comedy Teacher's Pet only pretends to have anything relevant to say about the social responsibilities of journalists and teachers. The values in Seaton's films also come into question. 1950's The Big Lift begins as a thoughtful story of American airmen meeting possible romantic partners in Berlin. To serve the film's military-approved message, the women they find are limited to a flag-waving lover of democracy and a conniving opportunist. Miracle on 34th Street celebrates the true spirit of Christmas beyond materialism. Yet at its finish a happy family is granted a 'magical' house out of nowhere, just for believing in Santa Claus.
1948's Apartment for Peggy is a feel-good romantic comedy that takes a real postwar problem as its starting point. Many veterans attending college on the G.I. Bill were forced to live like paupers, practically camping out around college campuses. Although the Bill directed that housing be made available for the veterans and their young wives (a title card quotes the statute), supply couldn't keep up with the demand. Rather than address the issue, Seaton's film quickly turns into a romantic fairy tale with a soggy, sentimental core.
Retired philosophy professor Henry Barnes (Edmund Gwenn) has calmly decided that his usefulness is at an end, and has decided to commit suicide. Henry's faculty friends rally to plead and reason with him, to no avail. That's when Henry meets Peggy (Jeanne Crain) the 19 year-old bride of a penniless chemistry student on the G.I. Bill, Jason Taylor (William Holden). With no more housing available on the snowbound campus, the Taylors are freezing in a tiny trailer. When the outspoken Peggy discovers that Henry has an unused attic, she dismisses his objections and starts moving in. The noise interrupts Henry's work, but Peggy ignores his complaints and brings a dog into the house without his permission. Affection grows between the professor and his new tenants, especially when Peggy announces that she's carrying a baby. The new responsibility and a personal tragedy convince Jason to break off his studies and take a job selling cars. Peggy must find a way to get him back in school before his professors write him off. Meanwhile, old Henry has been saving up sleeping pills. With his book finished, he's once again intent on doing himself in.
Brightened by personable performances, Apartment for Peggy is a moderately likeable light drama that doesn't look too deeply at its own postwar subject matter. Our boys in uniform are back from fighting and with Uncle Sam's help are trying to catch up with their educations. William Holden's Jason is a responsible guy who wants a good life. Interestingly enough, he's the weak link in the marriage, always doubting his choice to get that chemistry degree and become a teacher. He's too easily tempted by the sales job, which in the screenwriter's estimation represents the worst kind of self-betrayal. When push comes to shove, the kindly professors conspire to help Jason retake the qualifying exams to resume his studies. Thanks to Peggy's lobbying, he is given the same special breaks once reserved for dunderheaded football players in old 'college spirit' comedies.
The dominant personality here is Peggy, the aggressive postwar woman who wants it all -- marriage, successful husband, happy family. She won't stop talking until she gets it. 1948 is the key year for this trend, with Betsy Drake in Every Girl Should Be Married serving as the prime example of the nervy and demanding "new woman" unwilling to wait meekly for her Prince Charming to come along. Peggy Taylor doesn't let the befuddled old professor get a word in edgewise, and when he offers to put in a good word on her behalf she lays siege to the housing office. Peggy is more than just a squeaky wheel, she's a smiling enforcer of good cheer, determined to get her way.
Peggy's way is proven to be the right way for all concerned. Professor Henry's colleagues waggle their fingers at him and worry themselves sick, but only the nervy Peggy can goad the old man into feeling that his life has value. Never mind that he's a noted philosopher, as the movie implies that too much logical introspection can be unhealthy. Peggy energizes Henry with the simple thought that what he calls 'living' is just getting by. If he's to appreciate life he must live it 'in the now', as she does.
Henry's primary therapy comes about when Peggy's fellow wives in the laundry room express dismay that they cannot carry on intelligent conversations with their student husbands. Peggy enlists Henry to lecture the girls in basic philosophy. He meets with success, but the subplot backfires by reinforcing the film's idea that higher education is for men only. 1948 was not the Dark Ages for co-ed education, yet none of these intelligent women is interested in any career role beyond housewife. At the very least, the brilliantly organized Peggy should be running a corporation.
The movie's most serious event occurs when Peggy's pregnancy runs into trouble. The development is exploited for its sentimental value, and to spur Jason to withdraw from his classes. We never find out if the harsh conditions forced on the student wives was a contributing factor -- to save money, Peggy wasn't taking vitamin pills. Peggy naturally bounces back, undaunted and stronger than ever. The superficially charming Apartment for Peggy is only masquerading as a problem movie. The problems are either not convincing, or too easily surmounted. A bright personality is the cure for all ills.
The "suicide at Christmas" theme also does not ring true. Henry is obviously not the irrelevant dotard he claims to be, and he isn't an isolated ideologue that might make suicide as a philosophical choice. What retired professor could be more active? Henry has plenty of good friends on the faculty, with whom he plays the violin in weekly informal get-togethers. He's finishing a new book. He is not morbidly depressed over being a widower, or having lost his only son to the war. In context, Henry's decision to do away with himself comes off as a screenwriter's trick, yet another eccentric mannerism to make Henry more interesting. Seaton uses the comic resolution of Henry's pill hoarding as the final throwaway joke in a movie that begs our emotional engagement, yet trivializes its every dramatic problem.
George Seaton's Miracle on 34th Street made an Oscar-winning star of the 71-year-old Edmund Gwenn. He had been in films since 1916, often playing officious clerks and stern authority figures. But the last ten years of his career saw him specialize in sentimentalized old men of wisdom.
At this point in his career William Holden hadn't yet established himself despite an auspicious beginning eight years earlier in Golden Boy and Our Town. It would be two more years before Holden's career took off in Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd. He'd work with George Seaton again in the well-received 1962 thriller The Counterfeit Traitor.
Star Jeanne Crain's bright face and earnest attitude enlivens any number of pictures. She received good film roles almost from the beginning, and remained an audience favorite even as major stardom proved evasive. In State Fair and Margie she's the healthiest all-American girl one can imagine, but she also had the acting skill to pull off touchy assignments like Pinky and People Will Talk, where she plays an unmarried mother. Apartment for Peggy requires Ms. Crain to prattle on incessantly and still remain likeable. Audiences in 1948 accepted the character without complaint.
The 20th Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R of Apartment for Peggy is a lackluster disc that will disappoint collectors. The film screens in much better condition on the studio's cable channels. Part of Fox's Made-On-Demand disc program, this release has been mastered from a tape source that could not be newer than the early 1990s. Colors are dull and the picture is dark overall. The entire image exhibits an overlay of video scan lines that look like bad TV reception from the days of rabbit ear antennas. It cannot be recommended.
It's unlikely that Fox Cinema Archives will generate repeat customers when so many of their discs are of inferior quality. Their new MOD disc of the Edward Dmytryk western Warlock, for instance, is an ancient pan-scan transfer even though the Amazon incorrectly lists it as 2:35. Fox released a very good enhanced CinemaScope DVD in 2005.
By Glenn Erickson
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A towering figure in the history and evolution of motion picture special effects, Ray Harryhausen created some of the most memorable creatures ever to stalk, slither and sail across movie screens in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. A tutelage under effects pioneers George Pal and Willis O'Brien inspired Harryhausen's own stop motion animation, which gave vivid life to aliens and monsters of myth in such iconic fantasy and science fiction films as "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms" (1953), "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), "One Million Years B.C." (1966) and "Clash of the Titans" (1981). Harryhausen's imaginative work would later serve as inspiration for generations of filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Tim Burton, James Cameron and countless others, all of whom paid tribute to him in their own fantasy film exploits.
Born Raymond Frederick Harryhausen in Los Angeles, CA on June 29, 1920, he was an avid reader of science fiction as a youth. His fascination with animation grew from a screening of "King Kong" (1933); he could not fathom how the giant ape moved, as he knew it was not a man in a suit and it moved too freely to be a puppet. Harryhausen soon learned that the secret behind the film was stop-motion animation, the process whereby a model is photographed one frame at a time, with minor adjustments between shots; when the footage is projected at normal speed, the model appears to move on its own. Harryhausen was so entranced by the technique and with its pioneer, Willis O'Brien, who almost single-handedly provided the effects for "Kong," that he set out to try it himself. His father encouraged him by building a studio for him in the corner of the garage, and his mother donated a coat to provide fur for a model of a bear. Harryhausen purchased a movie camera and began fooling around. By his late teens, he started taking night courses in motion picture photography at USC, where he learned about special effects, matte shots and multiple exposures. He also enrolled in art classes, studying sculpture and drawing, in part to ensure he had another career to fall back on.
He need not have worried. Harryhausen combined strong technical expertise with a natural talent for understanding movement and behavior. In 1940, he embarked on a special project; what was to be a full-length film entitled "Evolution," consisting entirely of stop-motion animated animals. The scope of the project eventually overwhelmed Harryhausen, who was also dissuaded when he saw Walt Disney's "Fantasia" (1940) and determined it was useless to continue. However, he did show some of his work to director George Pal, who hired him right away to work on his "Puppetoons" shorts. During World War II, Harryhausen was drafted into the Army Signal Corp, where he used his animation skills to make training films. After he was discharged at the end of the war, he returned to his home studio, where he made a short film, "Mother Goose Stories" (1946), which he sold to an independent producer for enough money that he could continue on to several additional short fairy tales, including "The Story of Little Red Riding Hood" (1949), "Hansel and Gretel" (1951) and "The Story of King Midas" (1953).
Harryhausen's career then took a big step forward when he contacted his hero O'Brien, with hopes to break in to the business. O'Brien was impressed with his work, hiring him to work as his assistant on another film about a giant ape, called "Mighty Joe Young" (1949). Written and directed by the same creative team as "Kong," the fantasy-drama, about a giant African ape who follows the girl he loves (Terry Moore) to America, featured more complex special effects than "Kong," and O'Brien's role as supervisor was to sort out the various problems that arose with the animation, while Harryhausen executed the majority of the actual effects. Though not regarded with the same level of admiration as "Kong," "Mighty Joe Young" was a box office hit and earned an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.
Harryhausen worked sporadically for the next few years, as projects started and stopped, and he returned to his studio to continue working on his fairy tale projects in the interim. He then met producer Charles Schneer, and began a fruitful relationship that would last several decades. The re-release of "Kong" in 1952 kicked off a monster movie craze in Hollywood, and Schneer and Harryhausen began production on a feature titled "The Monster Beneath the Sea," which borrowed heavily from the plot of "Kong." Upon hearing that Harryhausen's friend, fantasy author Ray Bradbury, had sold a story to The Saturday Evening Post about an aquatic dinosaur that is summoned to the surface by the song of a fog horn, they quickly convinced Warner Bros. to purchase the rights to the story. Bradbury's short tale, "The Fog Horn," became the nucleus of Harryhausen's first effort as a solo animator, Eugene Lourie's "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms." An effective monster movie about a four-legged dinosaur (a fictitious species called a Rhedosaurs) awakened from Arctic hibernation by nuclear tests run amok in New York City, the film was a massive success for the studio, and Harryhausen's creature wowed audiences with its lifelike movements. The Rhedosaurus was a test run for his new technique, which combined images by projecting live action elements onto a miniature set, in front of which models were animated, with still another layer of live action matted onto the foreground, effectively sandwiching the models in the frame. The process, which eliminated the use of an expensive optical print, was later known in his color efforts as "DynaMation."
The success of "Beast" led to more science fiction work for Harryhausen, and he delivered some of the most indelible images of the genre's boom in the 1950s. For Columbia's "It Came from Beneath the Sea" (1955), Harryhausen created a colossal octopus that terrorized San Francisco, and in one startling sequence, pulled down the Golden Gate Bridge. Amusingly, the film's budget-conscious producer, Sam Katzman, only allotted enough money to animate six of the creature's arms, resulting in what Harryhausen later dubbed a "hextapus." In "Earth vs. the Flying Saucers" (1956), Harryhausen unleashed a fleet of deadly UFOs on Washington D.C., which laid waste to the American military and in one jaw-dropping scene, brought down the Washington Monument. And in "20 Million Miles to Earth" (1957), Harryhausen created a lizard-like alien from Venus - dubbed the Ymir in press materials - that wreaked havoc in the streets of Rome before facing down soldiers in the Coliseum. As in all of his films, the show-stopper in "Earth" is a battle between the Ymir and a rogue elephant, which would set the tone for future monster rallies in his subsequent efforts.
Harryhausen also re-teamed with his mentor Willis O'Brien for a sequence in the 1956 feature-length documentary "The Animal World." Producer Irwin Allen had given O'Brien little time to conceive the film's opening, which was set in prehistoric times, and so the veteran called on Harryhausen to help him complete the eight-minute scene, which became the high point of the entire picture. All of Harryhausen's work had been in black and white, and he was reluctant to make the jump to color because of the difficulty in maintaining proper color balances with the DynaMation process. Producer Schneer convinced him otherwise for their next effort, "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad" (1958), and the results earned him not only his greatest film success of the 1950s, but a four-year contract with Columbia to produce more epic fantasies. Although somewhat stodgy (from a script and acting standpoint) by modern standards, Harryhausen's work is nothing short of spectacular, and includes some of his best-loved creations, including a fire-breathing dragon, the two-headed monster bird known as the Roc, a snake woman (inspired by a belly dancer he saw in Beirut), and a combative Cyclops who grapples furiously with the dragon. The film was later cited by Dennis Muren, head of George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic, as his inspiration for a career in special effects.
Harryhausen continued to amaze with his subsequent Columbia efforts, which included "The Three Worlds of Gulliver" (1960) and the Jules Verne adaptation "The Mysterious Island" (1961), which added a massive crab, an industrious honey bee, a giant mollusk and a prehistoric bird to his menagerie. But it was his next film that elevated Harryhausen to legendary status. "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) featured some of his most complex and challenging work to date, including the seven-headed serpent the Hydra and Talos, a giant bronze statute that comes to life to battle Jason and his men. However, both paled in comparison to a lengthy sequence in which a band of skeletons rise from the ground to wage a pitched sword battle with Jason. Completed by Harryhausen solo over a four-month period, it was a feat never again attempted by another animator, and rarely surpassed in any special effects-driven film.
Sadly, neither "Jason" nor his next effort, an adaptation of H.G. Wells' "The First Men in the Moon" (1964) was a box office success, leaving Harryhausen to freelance for the remainder of the 1960s and early 1970s. England's Hammer Films hired him to contribute some impressive dinosaurs to their remake of "One Million Years B.C." (1966), which scored largely on the strength of its leading lady, Raquel Welch, who appeared a fur bikini throughout the picture. Its success brought Harryhausen back to America for "The Valley of Gwangi" (1969), a personal project storyboarded by Willis O'Brien about a dinosaur discovered in Mexico during the early years of the 20th century. Though Harryhausen's work was typically top-notch, the film was buried by Warner Bros. on the bottom of a double bill and ultimately missed its target audience of young adults.
Harryhausen bounced back in the early '70s when Schneer convinced Columbia to revive Sinbad for a pair of new feature adventures. Shot in Europe for a remarkably low sum of money, "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad" (1973) was a worthy successor to "Seventh Voyage" and offered a dazzling array of creatures, including a club-wielding centaur, a tiny demon created from the blood of the film's chief villain played by Tom Baker, whose performance earned him his celebrated stint as "Doctor Who" (BBC, 1963-1989; 2005- ), and a seven-armed, sword-wielding statue of the Hindu goddess Kali that evoked both Talos and the skeletons from "Jason." Its success was followed by another hit, "Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger" (1977), which featured among its monstrous cast a giant walrus, a huge wasp (shades of the bee from "Mysterious Island"), and a cave-dwelling troglodyte that fought to the death with a saber-toothed tiger.
But gradually a new generation of visual effects artists, including stop-motion animators who had entered the business after seeing Harryhausen's work, emerged onto the scene, resulting in less emphasis on the work of a single artist for effects-driven movies. Undaunted, Harryhausen launched into a new film, "Clash of the Titans" (1981), which drew its storyline from the Greek myth of Perseus. Originally a modestly budgeted effort, MGM poured money into the film to hire an all-star cast, which included Burgess Meredith, Maggie Smith, Ursula Andress, Claire Bloom and a magnificently bearded and bewigged Laurence Olivier as Zeus. Their presence, however, was eclipsed by Harryhausen's creations, which included the winged horse Pegasus, a snake-headed Medusa, and a towering sea creature called the Kraken, which bore a distinct facial resemblance to the Ymir. Although a decent success at the box office, "Titans" convinced studio executives that Harryhausen's stop-motion technique was a costly and time-consuming process, especially when compared to more elaborate work done in recent special effects-driven films like "Star Wars" (1977). Faced with disinterest by Hollywood as a whole, Harryhausen and Schneer retired from filmmaking in the early 1980s.
However, he remained far from inactive in the decades that followed. He released several books devoted to his work, and supervised the release of his films on VHS, laserdisc and DVD. His work was honored with a 1992 Lifetime Achievement Oscar by the countless filmmaking professionals who had been influenced by his films. The award kicked off a renewed interest in his work and Harryhausen toured festivals, museums and colleges with his films and models, leaving a trail of sci-fi geeks, both young and old, waiting breathlessly to both meet him and hear him speak. He even returned to filmmaking in a limited capacity. In 2002, several filmmakers collaborated to help him finish "The Story of the Tortoise & the Hare," the fifth and final of his fairy tales, originally begun in 1952. The film won a 2003 Annie Award, and inspired Harryhausen to return to producing with surprising vigor for a man in his eighth decade. In 2005, he not only oversaw the release of a two-DVD set that compiled all of his non-feature efforts, but he also released colorized versions of his black-and-white films (citing that they were always intended as color pictures) and began work on a new series of short movies; this time based on works by Edgar Allan Poe. Harryhausen also worked on a colorized release of "Kong" director Meriam C. Cooper's "She" (1935), and furnished the artwork for a series of comic book sequels to some of his greatest film efforts.
(Courtesy of TCM Database)
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Though her name was little-remembered by anyone under the age of 50, Deanna Durbin once saved a major Hollywood studio from bankruptcy with a winning smile, an operatic singing voice and a can-do attitude. A MGM discovery, the 13 year-old Canadian émigré was dumped by the studio in favor of a young Judy Garland in one of Tinseltown's most notorious intra-office screw-ups. Taken in at Universal, Durbin was groomed as a rival to Fox's pint-sized headliner Shirley Temple. Her first picture, "Three Smart Girls" (1936), was an unexpected box office smash and a string of subsequent hits made Durbin Hollywood's highest paid female star and an honorary Academy Award winner. As her international fame grew, Durbin's fans came to include British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Holocaust diarist Anne Frank. Shrewd investments and a share in a line of trademarked merchandise made the actress independently wealthy by the time she was 18 years old. With the end of the Great Depression and America's entry into World War II, Durbin's trademark sparkle faded somewhat, eclipsed by the rising stock of Judy Garland at MGM. Unhappy in her final roles for Universal, Durbin walked out of the limelight in 1949, never to return to films despite lucrative offers from Hollywood and Broadway. Raising a family in France with her third husband, Durbin refused all but one interview over the subsequent decades, preferring peace and privacy to her lasting fame as Hollywood's "Little Miss Fix-It."
Deanna Durbin was born Edna Mae Durbin on Dec. 12, 1921, at Grace Hospital, a Christian community medical center in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her parents, James and Ada Durbin (nee Reed), were British immigrants who had landed in Canada with their daughter Edith from Lancashire in the United Kingdom. James Durbin worked as a machinist with the Canadian Pacific Railroad until ill health prompted him to move his family to the more forgiving climate of Southern California, where he supported his wife and two daughters through the first hard years of the Great Depression via a string of menial jobs. Enrolled at Bret Harte Junior High School in Burbank, Edna Mae enjoyed swimming, roller-skating, school dramatics and singing at church functions; it was her sister, Edith, who thought she possessed a singing voice worthy of cultivation and gambled her weekly salary as a school teacher on voice lessons. While a student at the Ralph Thomas Academy, Edna Mae received attention from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, on the hunt for a teen singer with an operatic voice to play the younger Ernestine Schumann-Heink in a proposed biography of the famed Austrian contralto.
Brought into Metro, Edna Mae sang an aria from Luigi Arditi's "Il Bacio" for a number of studio executives and later MGM head Louis B. Mayer, for whom she auditioned via telephone. With her voice at age 13 already as refined as that of a mature soprano, Durbin won the role but the diagnosis of leukemia and subsequent death of Mrs. Schumann-Heink in 1936 finished MGM's plan for a movie biopic. Edna Mae had been given a provisional six-month studio contract and was renamed Deanna Durbin, a stage name inspired in part by her family nickname of Deedee. MGM promoted their new acquisition in the trade papers and loaned her out for singing engagements on the radio. Just before the step contract was to expire, Mayer ordered a screen test of Durbin and another young hopeful named Judy Garland to determine which of the gifted singers might be retained as MGM's answer to Shirley Temple. Produced as a short film, "Every Sunday" (1936) prompted Mayer to bark to a subordinate "Drop the fat one." He had meant Garland, but it was Durbin's contract which was allowed to expire, leaving the now 14-year-old hopeful a free agent.
When MGM casting director Rufus LeMaire, who had played a part in Durbin's discovery at the studio, shifted his allegiance to Universal, he brought Durbin along with him. Put on a $300 weekly salary, Durbin was plugged into the ailing studio's "Three Smart Girls" (1936), as the youngest of a trio of sisters who contrive comedically to reconcile their estranged parents. While the film was in production and Universal was busy trumpeting their new star, Durbin was invited to perform on the weekly radio program of singer Eddie Cantor; after her first on-air appearance, Durbin received 4,000 fan letters. During production of the film, the Hays Office gave the script its stamp of approval, which encouraged Universal's new studio head, Charles Rogers, to upgrade the miserly $100,000 budget to nearly four times that. Produced by Joe Pasternak and directed by Henry Koster (who coached Durbin extensively through shooting), "Three Smart Girls" was a hit, earning close to $2 million at the box office and pulling Universal back from the brink of insolvency.
As instant a movie star as Hollywood ever minted, Deanna Durbin's weekly salary was increased to $3,000 per week to suit her celebrity standing. As her public stock rose, so did her asking price and the size of her perquisites, which included a $10,000 per-picture bonus. "Three Smart Girls" would spawn two sequels: "Three Smart Girls Grow Up" (1939) and "Hers to Hold" (1943). Durbin's name was placed above the title in the credits for her second film, "One Hundred Men and a Girl" (1937), which put her on the screen with legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski, appearing as himself. Another popular hit, the film stamped the Deanna Durbin template; part Andy Hardy, part Nancy Drew and somewhere between Shirley Temple and Jeannette McDonald, Durbin was an archetypal virginal schemer whose plans to help others - usually one or both parents - seem doomed to failure until the climactic deus ex machina brings tears of happiness and songs of joy. "Mad About Music" (1938) and the Oscar-nominated "That Certain Age" (1938) both returned significant box office receipts and solidified Durbin's standing as a top box office draw.
In 1939, Durbin and her old MGM stable mate Mickey Rooney received Juvenile Academy Awards "for bringing to the screen the spirit and personification of youth." Later that same year, Durbin was given her first highly-publicized onscreen kiss later in "First Love" (1939), courtesy of a 20-year-old Robert Stack, making his film debut. During this period, Durbin attained the age of consent and weathered two short-lived marriages; the first to assistant director Vaughn Paul and the second to producer Felix Jackson. By 1940, she had seven box office hits to her credit, but Durbin was growing frustrated by Universal's refusal to allow her to graduate to mature roles. In 1941, she was put on suspension for refusing a project and 1942 came and went with no new films starring Deanna Durbin. When Universal and Durbin came to terms at last, the actress had won the power of script approval. Her first film under this new agreement, "The Amazing Mrs. Holliday" (1943), had a tortured journey to the screen, with original director Jean Renoir replaced after 49 days by producer Bruce Manning. The New York Times singled out Durbin for scorn for choosing as her adult debut a project so "slapdash contrived and crude."
Stranger still for her fans was Durbin's appearance in "Christmas Holiday" (1943). Despite its title and the pairing of Durbin with Broadway hoofer Gene Kelly, the Robert Siodmak film was not a Yuletide-themed musical but a noir-inflected adaptation of the Somerset Maugham tale of a good woman brought down by a smooth-talking wastrel. Intimations of incest between Kelly's natty wastrel and onscreen mother Gale Sondergaard and the suggestion that Durbin's character has turned to prostitution to support herself were a bitter pill for audiences who watched "Little Miss Fix-It" grow up at the movies. "Can't Help Singing" (1944) marked Durbin's only film shot in Technicolor and remained illustrative of how her home studio was impeding her career. At MGM, Judy Garland had made the Technicolor musical "The Wizard of Oz" (1939) and was moving on to other A-list star vehicles while Durbin remained stalled in mostly juvenile roles. In 1943, Universal refused to loan Durbin to star in "Oklahoma!" on Broadway, setting the inevitable outcome in motion.
Durbin's final films for Universal were a mixed bag for audiences and critics alike, but the comic mystery "Lady on a Train" (1945) introduced her to the man who would become her third husband, French director Charles David. Unhappy in her work, Durbin was conversely the highest paid female star in Hollywood during this period, her home a sprawling 1.5 acre estate in the Pacific Palisades. Separated from her second husband and raising their daughter alone, Durbin found herself at constant loggerheads with Universal, which kept her on salary even as they shelved or recut her films, keeping "For the Love of Mary" (1948) off the screen for a year and slashing songs from the film adaptation of the Broadway musical "Up in Central Park" (1948). In 1949, Durbin was released from her studio contract. Decamping to France, she married Charles David in 1950 and bore him a son the following year. Having severed her ties with Hollywood, Durbin spent the rest of her long life in the company of family and close friends, fending off increasingly lucrative offers to make her comeback.
By Richard Harland Smith
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Avant-garde filmmaker Shirley Clarke had the same problem as other New York independents, even though she was far more successful than most. Her films The Connection and The Cool World found art house distribution and brought her name to prominence, but three years passed before she was in a position to make another picture. She eventually funded her experimental documentary feature Portrait of Jason with earnings from her work on a film for Expo '67.
This project was to be a break from Clarke's earlier work, a documentary that confronted the limitations of objective filmmaking head on. Clarke enlisted a very special personality to be filmed for twelve hours straight. Jason Holiday was a self-described hustler, houseboy and aspiring cabaret performer. A gay black man at time when gay sex was illegal in most states, Jason had invented a hipster personality for himself and lived a dodgy life looking for the easy path and doing "whatever needed to be done to get by."
We learn this and much more in Portrait of Jason, which consists of shots of Holiday talking about himself while drinking in Clarke's apartment in The Hotel Chelsea. Ms. Clarke lets us know exactly what the setup is right from the beginning. There are no titles. When a camera film roll runs out, the screen goes black and we hear Clarke telling the soundman to keep rolling. A few seconds later a new magazine has been loaded and the picture resumes again. No attempt is made to hide the 'rough edges' of the film shoot, quite the opposite. One of the few editorial adjustments Clarke makes is to cut out flash frames as the camera stops and starts.
Jason's self-invented public personality is "on" from the beginning, as he regales the audience with a barrage of smooth hipster jargon. Some of his talk is explicit about the sex and drugs in his life, but he also uses euphemisms and verbal sidesteps to steer away from places he doesn't want to go. For screenings in Sweden Clarke provided a glossary of Jason's hipster terminology, explaining expressions from 'uptight' and 'roach' to 'balling' and 'Sparkle Plenty.' We still must guess at what his full duties were when working as a "houseboy" to wealthy white women. Jason's audience was just the three-man crew and a couple of observers. He talks as if holding court in a cabaret, taking pains to be entertaining and congenial. He spends a great deal of time embellishing his reputation, smiling and laughing at his own jokes, and assuring his audience that he's telling the truth.
We're at all times aware that Shirley Clarke is present, as many takes begin with her verbal prompts. She'll say, "Tell us the cop story" and Jason will start a new monologue. Holiday apparently told the same stories at parties, as if they were material for a stand-up act. Clarke had known him as a colorful 'guy on the scene,' one of many eccentric personalities in search of fame. Clarke later said that Andy Warhol had tried to do something on film with Jason and Edie Sedgwick, but it hadn't worked out.
As the session went on for twelve hours, Clarke's editorial task was mainly to extract and arrange the most interesting material. Jason drinks and smokes through the night, becoming more mellow as the hours click by. No fades or transitions are used between takes. Cameraman Jeri Sopanen begins and ends a number of shots with the camera purposely out of focus. Jason is a blur while gathering his thoughts, and then the focus racks to clarity as he gets rolling with a particular story. The cameraman adds the same kind of "focus punctuation" when Jason finishes a story. After the figurative punch line, as Jason resumes his small talk, the focus is thrown out again to bring the 'scene' to a close.
Clarke must have chosen Jason Holiday because she knew he'd deliver a spectacle. Most audiences in 1967 had never seen an openly gay man talk about his lifestyle in such an exhibitionist manner. Holiday is funny and charming in a definite black / gay lounge-lizard vein. He's also sufficiently intelligent to be judicious about what he thinks his audience can and cannot handle. At one point he relates an incident involving a thoughtless racist remark from one of his lady employers, and we realize that he must endure casual offenses like this on a daily basis. He's learned to pretend that he has a thick skin, but we can sense the man's vulnerability. Jason only hints that his employment can sometimes involve sexual services; even he doesn't feel comfortable being more specific. When he gets close to something too personally revealing, he switches into Funny Mode and entertains us with another anecdote. At one point Holiday demonstrates an unexplainable 'cool' bit of body language, snapping his fingers while swinging his hand over his head in an offhand manner. The gesture expresses his laid-back attitude in a way that words cannot.
Portrait of Jason is far more than a film piece about an odd personality. A great deal of critical ink has been expended on its challenge to the notion of documentary objectivity. Shirley Clarke has eliminated most of the directorial tools used by documentary filmmakers to impose an author's message on filmed material. There are no passages of narration and no explanatory titles. The editing is a series of simple choices to either use or not use footage; there is no montage cutting and very little tightening of speeches, if any.
Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch used their entire 1960 film Chronicle of a Summer to ponder the practicality of cinéma vérité. Can film subjects really 'be themselves', or does the presence of a camera inevitably alter their behavior? Shirley Clarke's movie suggests an added complication, that the idea of "being ourselves" may be meaningless. We put on faces for the public, act differently with our family than with our co-workers, etc.. Jason has invented a complex public personality to survive in his unusual circumstance of being black as well as gay in a white-dominated society. Is there a "real" Jason Holiday / Aaron Payne? Is he acting or behaving?
Clarke knows that asking Holiday to be himself is meaningless, because Holiday's normal state is a deliberate performance. He carefully edits his checkered past in his monologues, and continually refers to his dream of being a New York stage performer -- he's even brought along a bag of hats bought for his act, which he tries on. Jason often affects speech patterns that remind us of characters from Tennessee Williams. Viewers unfamiliar with New York artistic fringe dwellers might conclude that he's seriously unbalanced, when he's merely adapted himself to an out-of-balance situation. Jason probably sees himself as a male, black, gay Holly Golightly.
Despite Clarke's occasional prompts from behind the camera, Jason Holiday is not really being directed. His personality would resist any attempt to shape him into a cinema pigeonhole; he's directing himself. We aren't certain what's happening in the film's later chapters, when Jason becomes more morose and self-critical, eventually appearing to drop his guard and admitting that he's as lonely and unhappy as the next guy. That's when we hear another off-camera voice, actor Carl Lee. Lee verbally badgers Holiday, pointing out his evasions and prevarications, urging him to stop the BS and be more honest. Jason breaks down and cries. We cannot be certain it the tears are spontaneous, or if the clever fellow is providing a dramatic finish to his filmic portrait. Is Jason exercising that much control over his 'performance', or has the long shooting session really broken down some of his defenses?
We're told that Shirley Clarke omitted more material in which she carried on the attack, reminding Jason of some inexcusable behavior and pressing him to face up to it. She later explained that the "scene" wasn't necessary, that it didn't break new emotional ground.
Milestone Films distributes video but is also a major distributor of important independent cinema. For several years the company has been working on "Project Shirley", an effort to find, restore and reissue the work of Shirley Clarke. All that remained of Portrait of Jason were some battered prints and edited versions. The Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research had some film cans labeled as outtakes, and Milestone's Dennis Doros had them sent to the UCLA Film Archive. As the footage had no titles and was interrupted by pieces of black leader, it was first assumed that they were indeed outtakes, until UCLA's Ross Lipman doubled back to check. The reels were then confirmed as a16mm fine-grain of the entire uncut feature. Milestone's theatrical restoration of Portrait of Jason brings the show to a clarity not seen since a few legendary New York screenings back in 1967.
Portrait of Jason opened April 19 at New York City's IFC Center, and plays through Tuesday, April 30. It will open May 17 in Los Angeles at the New Beverly Cinema, with a May 10 charity sneak preview at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Linwood Dunn Theater.
By Glenn Erickson
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DICK DINMAN AND TCM VAULT REVEAL GLENN FORD'S UNDERCOVER CRIMES (Part One): Producer/host Dick Dinman salutes TCM Vault's terrific GLENN FORD: UNDERCOVER CRIMES COLLECTION and Golden Age superstar Glenn Ford whose warm and naturalistic on-screen persona was in stark contrast to the driven, remote and chronically unfaithful reality of the man himself according to son Peter Ford, whose moving and nuanced biography of his father GLENN FORD: A LIFE reveals a Glenn Ford the public never knew with the keen insight and unflinching candor that only his son could provide. Peter Ford is producer/host Dick Dinman's guest on this, the first of six shows devoted to the criminally underrated film star. Part one covers Glenn Ford's humble beginnings, his callous mistreatment by his first film director, his first real break and his ultimately unhappy marriage to MGM's "queen of tap" Eleanor Powell.
DICK DINMAN AND TCM VAULT REVEAL GLENN FORD'S UNDERCOVER CRIMES (Part Two): In part two of our salute to the TCM Vault Collection's compelling GLENN FORD: UNDERCOVER CRIMES COLLECTION son Peter Ford "feels responsible" for the failure of his parents marriage and discusses Glenn Ford's huge film role break with Bette Davis (who makes a pass at him), and Ford is teamed with Rita Hayworth in the ultimate erotic noir GILDA during which the two begin their tempestuous extramarital affair.
DICK DINMAN AND TCM VAULT REVEAL GLENN FORD'S UNDERCOVER CRIMES (Part Three): Our salute to TCM Vault's GLENN FORD: UNDERCOVER CRIMES COLLECTION continues as we discover that Glenn Ford gets along famously with much disliked director Fritz Lang who offers Ford's young son Peter his first martini, and guest Peter Ford discloses his frustratingly difficult relationship with his dad which at one point almost leads to blows, and he reveals that Glenn gets Rita Hayworth pregnant.
DICK DINMAN AND TCM VAULT REVEAL GLENN FORD'S UNDERCOVER CRIMES (Part Four): Glenn Ford's co-star Eleanor Parker (in an exclusive interview you'll find nowhere else as this very private lady has agreed to no other broadcast interviews) joins Peter Ford on this show and shares her not completely flattering assessment of Ford with producer/host Dick Dinman, Glenn Ford's disintegrating film career is saved by two major MGM films (INTERRUPTED MELODY and BLACKBOARD JUNGLE), the "new, improved and dramatically different" Glenn Ford is finally propelled into superstardom, an affair with Jack Lemmon's eventual bride-to-be creates a lifelong coolness between Lemmon and Ford, Ford excels in three great Westerns, and delivers an incomparably finer performance in the first incarnation of RANSOM than Mel Gibson did in the remake.
DICK DINMAN SALUTES CRITERION'S WESTERN GOOD GUY (AND BAD GUY) GLENN FORD (Part Five): In honor of the Criterion Collection's sumptuous-looking Blu-ray releases of two of Glenn Ford's finest western classics (JUBAL and 3:10 TO YUMA) producer/host Dick Dinman and Peter Ford continue our salute to Glenn Ford as Ford is at odds with Marlon Brando in Japan, Ford and Shirley MacLaine get together, Glenn does two films with Debbie Reynolds and proposes, Glenn is voted number one box office star of the year, Frank Capra and Bette Davis verbally attack Glenn, three disastrous remakes instigate a precipitous career decline and producer/host Dick Dinman's previous guest Ernest Borgnine shares an uncomfortable experience with Ford on the set of JUBAL.
DICK DINMAN SALUTES CRITERION'S WESTERN GOOD GUY (AND BAD GUY) GLENN FORD (Part Six): We conclude our tribute to superstar Glenn Ford and our salute to the Criterion Collection's fantastic Blu-ray releases of JUBAL and 3:10 TO YUMA which are two of Ford's finest western dramas as Peter Ford and producer/host Dick Dinman cover Glenn Ford's affair with a reticent Hope Lange, director David Swift's incendiary quote about Ford, a brilliant Ford in Vincente Minnelli's THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER, Ford riding the range with Henry Fonda, Ford's superb cameo as Superman's earth father, the final career slide, his victimization by Hollywood "jackals", plus Michael Anderson Jr., (Ford's co-star in his last major film) affectionately reveals Ford's prankster side, and Peter Ford summarizes his conflicted feelings about his stormy relationship with his father and praises the consummate skill which made Glenn Ford a beloved star for so many decades.
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.
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On Friday May 24th, Bruce Crawford will present his 32nd classic film event with a salute to the legendary music and lyricist team of Rodgers and Hammerstein with a screening of their musical classic, Carousel, with special guest, star of the film, Oscar winning actress and TV legend Shirley Jones. The screening will take place at 7pm at the Joslyn Art Museum's Witherspoon Hall, 2200 Dodge St. Omaha, Nebraska. Mandy MacRae Daley, the daughter of co star Gordon MacRae will also be in attendance.
World renowned pop artist Nicolosi will also unveil an original art design he created for this event honoring Miss Jones, MacRae and Rodgers and Hammerstein and it will be available as an official United States Postal Service commemorative envelope.
Tickets are $20 at all Omaha Hy Vee food stores customer service counters. Proceeds benefit the Omaha Parks Foundation. For more information call: 402-926-8299
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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