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A body floats, face down, in a illuminated swimming pool.
That image immediately makes us think of Billy Wilder's classic film, Sunset Blvd. David Thomson's latest book, Moments That Made the Movies, is filled with such memorable images.
In his first fully illustrated work, David Thomson breaks new ground by focusing in on a series of such moments--which his readers will also experience in beautifully reproduced imagery--from seventy-two films across a 100-year-plus span. An indispensable counterpart to both his classic Biographical Dictionary of Film (called "a miracle" by Sight and Sound) and his lauded recent history, The Big Screen ("a pungently written, brilliant book" according to David Denby), Moments takes readers on an unprecedented visual tour, where the specifics of the imagery the reader is seeing are inextricably tied to the text.
Whether focusing in on one scene, or even a few seconds of celluloid, this book finds and displays uniquely revealing moments in film history. As Thomson writes, "there are surprises, offbeat choices, as well as plenty of films that you might have guessed would be included--though not always with the moments you anticipated."
TCM is proud to share excerpts from a few of these Moments:
THE BAND WAGON
1953, VINCENTE MINNELLI
Halting and Then Fluent Motion
In Vincente Minnelli's The Band Wagon, we have a behind-the-scenes story of putting on a show. The MGM musical was nearing its end in 1953, but the end was tumultuous. Perhaps because of what we know of that demise, The Band Wagon seems from out of the past.
"And we can face the music together Dancing in the dark"
"Dancing in the Dark" was written by Arthur Schwartz (Howard Dietz supplied the lyrics but they are not used in this number), and Conrad Salinger did the orchestration. Guess who made the dance?
It is one of the most tender and dramatic dances in Fred Astaire's work in that it is the full coming together of two people who are distant and chilly at first, but who are brought to the brink of love by the act of dancing. It is an extended take, of course, in the imperative Astaire style, and in full figure, with the camera moving to cover the dancers. (Minnelli directed, and he was a unique artist, but I think it's clear that Astaire is the auteur of this and most of his other numbers). It is a dance where the two people begin by being apart, and are only slowly drawn into life movements that pick up melody. Touch or contact come gradually and then move into a rapture of embrace, unified turns and exalting lifts. But the hesitancy before the passion is entrancing and the simplicity of the white figures is akin to ballet. As an auteur, Fred had a very simple code: that dance could solve everything. Was the cinema ever closer to bliss? [...]
NORTH BY NORTHWEST
1959, ALFRED HITCHCOCK
A man, caught up in a case of mistaken identity, goes to great lengths to prove his innocence, perhaps never quite so adroitly as Cary Grant does in North by Northwest. The film is filled with scenes that allow Alfred Hitchcock to play not only with Grant but with the audience as well, like a cat with a trapped mouse.
In one of the most far-fetched events ever filmed in an alleged drama-don't forget that the phrase from the film's title comes from Hamlet ("I am but mad north-north-west"),- it alludes to a kind of deliberate madness meant to throw people off the track.
And so, Roger O. Thornhill (Cary Grant), in his crazed attempt to prove his innocence (a state of being that never worked with Grant's face or bearing), undertakes an appointment to meet the mythical George Kaplan: He takes the Greyhound bus out of Chicago, headed for Indianapolis, and gets off at the "Prairie Stop" on Highway 41. In fact, they filmed the scene in the semi-desert outside Bakersfield, California, and it feels as hot and unpleasant as that area, as well as ridiculous. Thornhill has the kind of smart gray suit you expect Cary Grant to wear, but nothing else--no luggage, no book to read, no life. He sees a man at the bus stop (the dour, reliable Malcolm Atterbury, uncredited), but he's just waiting for a bus. Still, he does have the local knowledge and the vague story sense to wonder why that plane over there--a gnat in the blue, a snarl on the sound track--is "dustin' crops where there ain't no crops." [...]
1974, Roman Polanski
As Tough as Life
This is a story set in Los Angeles, in 1937, that's just two years before Raymond Chandler published his seminal novel, The Big Sleep. You may recall that Philip Marlowe in that book, and Humphrey Bogart in the film were not just superior beings and shabby supermen. They were facing danger and intrigue for next to nothing, because they believed in right, liked to kiss the girl now and then, and hoped to get off a few choice wisecracks. Jake Gittes in Chinatown, despite the smiling presence of Jack Nicholson and his cocksure attitude, is not nearly as expert. He gets his nose slit. He tells a crass, dirty joke unaware there's a lady (Faye Dunaway) standing behind him. One way or another, that lady is killed, shot through the eye. The granddaughter goes back to the evil embrace of Noah Cross (John Huston) and not one damn thing is done in Los Angeles to arrest Cross or take away from his authority. So Chinatown is shot through with nostalgia for the city that once was and a deep respect for the Marlowe attitude. There is a showdown scene where that suddenly stares us in the face. Gittes is confronting Noah Cross. He knows how Hollis Mulwray (the water expert) was killed. He has the spectacles he found in the saltwater pond. He can pin it all on Cross. And he can rebuke the man who raped his own daughter so that she gave birth to her sister.
[Writer Robert] Towne had wanted a happier ending, until the director, Roman Polanski, said no, it had to be as tough as life. And just as Polanski redid the ending, so it was the tiny thug he played who slit Nicholson's nose. But Polanski had had a life of damage in Poland--and there was more in L.A., much more, on Cielo Drive and then in Jack's own house.[...]
David Thomson is the film critic for The New Republic. He is probably best known for a series of groundbreaking books: The Biographical Dictionary of Film (now in its fifth edition); Showman: The Life of David O. Selznick; The Whole Equation; Have You Seen...? and The Big Screen: The Story of the Movies. Born in London in 1941, he now lives in San Francisco.
Edited by Paul Duncan and Jürgen Müller
Fog shrouded streets, minimalist lighting, a mysterious woman, a down on his luck hero and the forces that conspire against him are all main ingredients in film noir. This new book by Taschen takes the reader through the evolving history of the genre decade by decade.
With an introduction by Paul Schrader--film noir scholar, screenwriter (Taxi Driver), and director--this is the first film-by-film photo-rich exploration of film noir and neo noir. This essential study begins with the early German and French silent films that were influencers of the noir style, then journeys through such seminal works as Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Vertigo. As it travels through the decades to the present day via Chinatown, Pulp Fiction and the recent cult favorite, Drive we see how noir may have changed to fit the times but never lost sight of the stylistic roots that make a film noir.
It's a film world populated by gangsters, private eyes, psychopaths and femmes fatales, where deception comes too easily, lust clouds good judgment and trust often leads to betrayal and, sometimes, death.
The editors have taken care in choosing posters and rare stills, and have provided cast/crew details, quotes from the film and from critics, and analyses of the films presented. The 100 films selected represent a Who's Who of directorial talent and star power. Side-by-side films from the major studios are the gritty, cynical B-films that helped define noir with their minimalist storylines and production values that resulted in a highly stylized film genre that was nonetheless gut-wrenchingly real.
This well-produced encyclopedia of film noir is destined to become an essential part of any movie lovers' library.
Paul Duncan has edited 50 film books for TASCHEN, including the award-winning The Ingmar Bergman Archives, and authored Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick for the Taschen Film Series.
Jürgen Müller has worked as an art critic, a curator of numerous exhibitions, and has published books and numerous articles on cinema and art history. Currently he holds the chair for art history at the University of Dresden, where he lives. Müller is the series editor for TASCHEN's by decade film surveys.
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By Robert Hofler
"For anyone starting out as an actor, Henry Wilson was the most powerful agent in Hollywood. And he helped a lot of people. His life is tragic, really. Henry loved Hollywood more than anyone." -- Robert Osborne
Just in time for TCM's June Star of the Month tribute to Rock Hudson comes the reissue of this 2005 book by Robert Hofler, about the man who propelled Hudson to stardom--now available in paperback as well as e-book.
Henry Wilson (1911-1978) was one of the quintessential power brokers in Hollywood during the 1940s and 1950s. He launched the careers of Lana Turner and Joan Fontaine, got Natalie Wood her breakthrough role in Rebel Without a Cause and helped Gena Rowlands land a number of television projects that helped her finance husband John Cassavetes' first independent feature, Faces.
But it is the men he represented that Wilson is most remembered for. From Guy Madison to Tab Hunter to Rock Hudson and many others, Wilson had an eye for the prototypical, post-World War II male sex symbol.
Wilson was also a true "casting couch" agent, brokering sex for opportunity on the silver screen. While this practice was well-known in Hollywood, for gay actors and film professionals the casting couch was a dangerous cliff: a public revelation could and would ruin a career.
The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson tells the story of Henry Wilson and the male stars whose careers he helped shape. It is also a cautionary tale--a dark look into Hollywood at a time of great sexual oppression, roaming vice squads searching for gay and/or communist activity, and the dangers and impediments for gay actors of the era.
Robert Hofler is the theater critic for The Wrap . His other books include the Allan Carr biography, Party Animals, The Movie That Changed My Life and Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to Clockwork Orange- How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos . Hofler lives in New York City.
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By John F. Kasson
Her image appeared in periodicals and advertisements roughly twenty times daily; she rivaled FDR as the most photographed person in the world. For four consecutive years, Shirley Temple was the world's box-office champion. By early 1935 her mail was reported as four thousand letters a week, and hers was the second-most popular girl's name in the country.
Her portrait brightened the homes of countless admirers: from a black laborer's cabin in South Carolina and young Andy Warhol's house in Pittsburgh to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover's recreation room in Washington, DC, and gangster "Bumpy" Johnson's Harlem apartment. Her movies were box-office bonanzas and children asked Santa for Shirley Temple dolls for Christmas.
What distinguished Shirley Temple from every other Hollywood star of that era--and everyone since--was how brilliantly she shone. Amid the deprivation and despair of the Great Depression, Shirley Temple radiated optimism and plucky good cheer that lifted the spirits of millions and shaped their collective character for generations to come.
Through her movies and personal appearances, Temple became the ambassador of optimism, thrift, and resilience to a public struggling to stay afloat through the economic devastation that surrounded them. Her seemingly inexhaustible good cheer was contagious and her movies proved to be just the medicine Americans needed during an especially anxious decade.
Tap-dancing across racial boundaries with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, foiling villains, and mending the hearts and troubles of the deserving, Shirley Temple personified the hopes and dreams of Americans. To do so, she worked virtually every day of her childhood, transforming her own family as well as the lives of her fans.
Kasson draws upon scripts, fan magazines and reviews, as well as personal memoirs and oral histories. These materials demonstrate the depth of Temple's appeal and the power of Hollywood in the era of the dream factory, when people of all ages found comfort in the movies of a small child who, against all odds, championed the idea of never losing hope.
John F. Kasson is a professor of history and American studies at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the author of Amusing the Million, among many other seminal works of cultural history. He lives in Chapel Hill.
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By Richard Barrios
Singin' in the Rain, The Sound of Music, Camelot--love them, or love to hate them, movie musicals have been a major part of all our lives. They're so glitzy and catchy it seems impossible that they could have turned out any differently than they did onscreen. But the ease with which they unfold is deceptive. Dorothy's dream of finding a land Somewhere Over the Rainbow was nearly cut, and even a film as great as The Band Wagon was, at the time, a major flop.
Barrios explores movie musicals from the early breakthrough hits, The Jazz Singer and Broadway Melody, to present-day Oscar winners Chicago and Les Misérables. History, film analysis, and a touch of backstage gossip combine to make this an insightful look at musicals and the powerful, complex bond they forge with their audiences.
Going behind the scenes, Barrios uncovers the rocky relationship between Broadway and Hollywood, the unpublicized off-camera struggles of directors, stars, and producers, and all the various ways by which many films overcame obstacles to become our most indelible cultural touchstones--while others ended up as train wrecks.
From animated classics like Disney's Silly Symphonies to Busby Berkeley's geometric choreography to MGM's Freed Unit and beyond, Barrios explores the history of movie musicals and their enduring impact. Without them, Barrios argues, modern cultural touchstones like MTV would have never existed.
Richard Barrios worked in the music and film industries before turning to film history with the award-winning A Song in the Dark and Screened Out. He lectures extensively and appears frequently on television and in film and DVD documentaries. He lives in Philadelphia.
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In 1964 everyone under age 25 seemed to be a Beatles fan. The big wave hit America hard and fast early in the year. The four British 'lads' were a breath of fresh air, a welcome break from assassinations and nuclear standoffs. Their songs were rich with melody and the 'new sound' we were all told was coming from England. We were hungry for every snippet of B&W news footage of the Beatles smiling and making clever jokes in their unique suits and mop top haircuts. They just plain could do no wrong, as if they held the copyright on fun and happiness. For Gods such as these, movie stardom couldn't be far off.
A Hard Day's Night turned out to be one of the happiest film accidents of the 1960s. David Picker signed United Artists on barely knowing what he was getting into, and the deal was closed so quickly that UA ceded ultimate ownership to producer Walter Shenson. But the choice of director was ideal for all parties. The Beatles had no intention of making a standard rock 'n' roll exploitation picture. For every Jailhouse Rock, four major embarrassments showed unhappy singers lip-synching to playback and sharing the stage with whatever pop act the record companies were pushing that year. American director Richard Lester had worked with The Goons and Peter Sellers, and the Beatles approved of his anarchic approach to comedy. Working with a script by Alun Owen, a writer familiar with Liverpool argot, Lester fashioned a wild farce that combined convincing newsreel-like action with a satire of a 'typical' day in the life for the Beatles. Viewers would get plenty of privileged time to hang out with the four most admired young men in the world.
Although scripted, A Hard Day's Night is so freely assembled that audiences thought the Beatles were making it all up as they went along. The Fab Four avoid teeming mobs of teenaged girls, attend parties, give reporters grief and amuse each other in hotels and on trains. They display their public personalities, ratcheted up three notches in cleverness. Paul's crotchety grandfather (Wilfred Brambell) gets in constant trouble making petty side deals; Ringo becomes melancholy and wanders off just as rehearsals for a big television performance get underway. The neurotic Telly director comes unglued - will they make it back to the studio by airtime?
There's nothing quite like this film: it's hard to imagine a better Beatles introduction to the mass audience. The show often takes on the look of a verité documentary, and displays a cutting style that captures perfectly the Beatles' impish sense of humor and effusive spontaneity. The lads give their minders headaches while tormenting (in good fun) the fussy BBC types preparing a video concert. Although never as bleakly absurd as an average Goon skit, the comedy draws upon silent-movie slapstick and silliness for its own sake -- but always in the service of character. Some of the Beatle interactions with passersby are inspired, such as John's impromptu love scene with an actress (Anna Quayle) in a narrow hallway. Sidebar gags suitable for a comic strip frequently intrude, like some business with a car thief ignored by the Bobbies that dash about like Keystone Cops. To create a break from the hectic pace, Director Lester takes time out for a slower sequence in which a lonely Ringo wanders down by the riverbank. Without his band mates he's just another sad-faced bloke. Viewers were dazzled by the Beatles and charmed by a stunning new visual approach. Lester continued this anarchic comedy style in his follow-up romantic comedy The Knack ... and How to Get It.
Great care was taken to integrate the musical interludes into the film fabric. The first is the most daring -- the boys are playing cards in a train's baggage car when a song starts to play. Across a cut they've suddenly unpacked their equipment and are performing to a small audience of fans peering through a wire mesh fence. The reality then switches back, and yet it all seems perfectly natural. There's also the revolutionary "Can't Buy Me Love" sequence, that compresses the energy of a year into one brief music video-like playground romp. George Martin arranged a half-dozen instrumental cues that would now be classified as easy listening covers; since UA's original soundtrack album is no longer in print these can only be heard in the movie. The best is Martin's arrangement of "This Boy", which becomes a theme for Ringo. The fireworks are of course reserved for the finale, when The Beatles perform for a hall packed with screaming teenage girls. Brilliantly edited, it helped ignite the pandemonium of Beatlemania -- American kids yelled and cheered in film screenings as well.
A Hard Day's Night made us think we were privy to the 'true' personalities of the Beatles. It places the four non-actors in such familiar situations that they often seem to be 'behaving' more than acting. Today an entire PR company would be in charge of the spin given the Beatles' image, but in this movie those decisions seem to have been arrived at by pure professional insight. The boys are mostly kept away from their hordes of star-crazed fans, leaving their status vaguely 'available' -- no girlfriends (or wives) are in evidence to make the average female fan feel resentful or inadequate. The tearful, hysterical girls that pour out their hearts at the finale are a phenomenon that the Beatles couldn't deal with individually, so the only recourse was to be remote Gods of music. The movies flattened and scrubbed Elvis into a boring self-parody, but with intuitive marketing savvy (no committee, no focus group) the Beatles' renown was amplified a hundred-fold. United Artists got an incredible bargain, but the Beatles became superstars bigger than anything Hollywood had seen in decades.
The hotel staff, reporters, and television personnel are wildlife naturally found in the Beatles' habitat. Amusing Wilfrid Brambell gets major screen time, and luckily isn't too distracting. His character gives the boys someone to bounce off of and argue with. Grandfather's sour, caustic attitude also provides a baseline to insure that the Beatles' constant snippy remarks don't come off as cynical. The neurotic fashion exec (Kenneth Haigh) doesn't recognize George and tries to squeeze him as a resource for 'what the kids think'. The scene shows the Beatles transcending marketing hogwash mainly by ignoring it. George is soon shown the door, but not before introducing a new word to the lexicon: grotty.
This one movie is perhaps the greatest national advertisement England ever exported. Contrasted with the violent divisiveness blanketing the news media here in the States, that island looked like Utopia. The police were sweet and thoughtful. Everyone was into rock music (sure they were...) and Youth seemed to rule all. The film gave American fans their first chance to see what the Beatles were like. It differentiated them by type: the cute one, the cool one, the quiet one and the funny one. With modifications, these public images stayed the same throughout their partnership. The frustration came when the Beatles attempted to evolve beyond the public images so firmly established here.
The Criterion Collection's Blu-ray + DVD of A Hard Day's Night is a definitive edition of this beloved rock musical. The B&W HD transfer pulls everything out of Gilbert Taylor's marvelous images, transporting us back to the days when everything from England seemed perfect -- even if civilians in the street are almost always wearing raincoats.
A DVD from 2002 had vandalized the film's audio mix by replacing the song tracks with stereophonic versions. Criterion's new release offers three audio choices, an original monaural track plus new stereo and 5.1DTS-HD Master Audio surround mixes, all uncompressed on the Blu-ray.
The new disc has overcome another limitation of the older DVD extras -- Criterion is able to use Beatles music where appropriate, out of context with the film itself. A 2002 commentary offers filming memories from cast and crewmembers, but the Collection's excellent video extras are a comprehensive resource. In Their Own Voices (18 minutes) edits Beatle interview material to produce an opinion montage about the making of the film. You Can't Do That is a 1994 anniversary docu that includes an outtake of a Beatles song. Things They Said Today assembles an excellent compendium of interviews, stills and clips. As it is also from the 2002 DVD, no Beatles music is heard. Helpful little arrows identify marginal actors and personalities in the clips. Richard Lester has the best quote: "They told me I was the father of MTV. I wrote back and demanded a blood test."
In Anatomy of a Style the film's story editor and music editor discuss the treatment of the musical sequences. Picturewise is a thoughtful video essay on Richard Lester by David Cairns, narrated by Rita Tushingham. Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn's The Road to A Hard Day's Night is an absorbing, concise history of the quartet from their teenaged beginnings up until the production of their first movie. The final video extra is Lester's Oscar-nominated The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film (1960), a short comedy made with The Goons. Two reissue trailers are included as well.
The fat insert booklet (80 pages) contains an essay by Howard Hampton and interview excerpts from director Lester. Criterion's disc producer is Kim Hendrickson.
By Glenn Erickson
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Fox Home Entertainment has lately been issuing more of its classic musicals on made-on-demand DVD-Rs, via the Fox Cinema Archives label. Very quietly, many of the famous musicals of Betty Grable, Alice Faye and others have been hitting the marketplace, some in better picture and sound quality than others. One of the most important, and best, of Betty Grable's musicals is happily one of the better-looking titles of the bunch: Mother Wore Tights (1947).
This was Twentieth Century-Fox's biggest hit of 1947 (even bigger than Forever Amber) and the fourth highest grossing movie overall for that year. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Color Cinematography, Best Original Song ("You Do"), and Best Scoring, for which it won.
But Mother Wore Tights is the type of classic film that today is often dismissed merely as silly, popular entertainment. In truth, it deserves far more respect. After all, audiences have shown in recent years that they still respond strongly to musical performances on screen, given the enormous success of musical reality shows on television, dance videos on youtube and social media, and occasional big-screen musicals. Yet the current movie musicals tend to be stage adaptations and have a forced, theatrical feel; a truly integrated musical film like Hollywood used to make so skillfully in the studio era remains a very rare bird. Mother Wore Tights may not be a musical for the ages like Singin' in the Rain (1952) or Swing Time (1936), but it is nonetheless extremely sophisticated in its musical storytelling and as such is a good reminder of what is possible to achieve in the genre. It's also important as a vivid reflection of a particular era in American society.
The film spans the first sixteen years or so of the 1900s, telling the story of a couple (Betty Grable and Dan Dailey) who build a routine as a pair of vaudeville musical performers, get married and have two kids. The focus is not on a strongly driving plot but rather on a series of episodes in these characters' lives, with the aim of imbuing a pleasantly nostalgic atmosphere. An off-screen Anne Baxter, as one of the couple's now-grown children, narrates the film as an extended flashback, and she brings much emotional feeling to her voiceover, infusing it with sweetness and warmth. In this sense, Mother Wore Tights is very much akin to movies like I Remember Mama (1948), Chicken Every Sunday (1949), Stars in My Crown (1950) (which it especially resembles), and I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951). The release years are no accident: all these films are slices of gentle Americana, suffused with nostalgia, that touch upon a post-World War II longing for American society to get back to normal, to the way things were in a supposedly simpler time. Mother Wore Tights is a fairly simple little musical with no real showstopping, high-octane production numbers, so clearly the thing about it that so resonated with moviegoers was this warm emotional tone -- not to mention Betty Grable, the top female box-office draw of the time.
Mother Wore Tights was not only Grable's biggest moneymaker up to that point, but her favorite film of her career. She's certainly at her most likeable and appealing in it. Grable was not a classic beauty, or even especially "pretty." And while she could sing and dance perfectly well, she was not spectacularly talented at either. But she had a sex appeal -- it came from her endearingly down-to-earth demeanor, from her combination of energy, modesty and girl-next-door earnestness. And of course from those famous legs, which Fox insured for $1 million. Grable was a star before World War II, became the #1 pinup girl during the war, and remained a top star for years afterward, beloved by both men and women. With Mother Wore Tights, Fox gave her top-shelf production design, color, costumes, the works -- and paired her for the first time with Dan Dailey, an ideal choice. His part was originally meant for Fred Astaire or James Cagney, but the studio was unable to land either, which is a good thing, for they would have unbalanced this film and drawn too much attention away from Grable. Dailey was not yet a star, but he meshed with Grable's persona perfectly, offering his own brand of down-home charm. The two are believable together, and their characters feel like equals. Audiences responded so well that Grable and Dailey were paired in three further musicals: When My Baby Smiles at Me (1948), My Blue Heaven (1950), and Call Me Mister (1951).
But the best thing Fox gave Grable in this picture was a musical story built around her strengths and her persona. In the opening sequence, we are introduced to Grable and Dailey as an old married couple napping on a porch, and then, thanks to quick, humorous cuts to their past, as energetic singers and dancers. Then we flash back further, to Grable's high school dance in Oakland, and to her post-graduate trip across the bay to a new life in San Francisco. Through all this, Anne Baxter's narration establishes a tone of sweet humor and family nostalgia, perfectly setting up the attitude of the entire film. And it's only on the boat, a full five minutes into the movie, that the first word of dialogue is uttered. (Any prior words have all been in the narration or song lyrics.) In just a few minutes, then, Mother Wore Tights has navigated a tremendous amount of time and space, and introduced its characters, story, and approach in very cinematic terms -- and in musical terms. Grable and Dailey have been established as musical performers above all else.
And the film doesn't stop there. Two minutes of screen time after the boat, the movie has found a way for Betty Grable to raise her dress and show her famous legs to a vaudeville producer (and us!); three minutes later, she meets Dan Dailey during a musical number. The point is that by introducing the two characters musically, in both the present and the past, by making them equal in that approach, Mother Wore Tights has aligned us with them musically and made us accept them as performers without our even thinking about it. This is the result of a conceptual skill and sophistication which is rarely on display anymore, but which Hollywood honed to an art form during the studio era. It seems easy and effortless but is actually quite complex. The main story conflicts of this film involve tension between work and having kids, and later on over one child's embarrassment at her parents' professions. Both conflicts will be resolved musically. In fact, all the major problems and tensions will be resolved through song and/or dance -- something that we may not even notice consciously while we're watching, but which keeps the film unified and satisfying.
All this is not meant to make a case for Mother Wore Tights as one of the finest Hollywood musicals -- it's not. Rather, it's to illuminate the high craftsmanship that permeates even a piece of "mere" popular entertainment like this one. This is a bread-and-butter musical for Fox in the '40s, a typical example of what they could do very well. Even the songs, by Mack Gordon and Josef Myrow, exist at the level of generally sufficient yet consistently pleasing, though the sweet "I Do" and the infectious "Kokomo, Indiana" do stand out. (The former was Oscar-nominated, but the latter became a big hit.) The supporting cast is solid, with Sara Allgood memorable as Grable's plucky mother, and young Mona Freeman lovely as Grable's daughter Iris. (Incidentally, Freeman died very recently -- in May 2014.)
Just as this film is solidly "good" without being over the top spectacular, so is Fox Cinema Archives' DVD-R. The color looks okay but far from ideal. It's probably the best Fox could do, though, as loads of original Fox elements from this era were lost in the 1970s, and in many cases, existing Eastmancolor dupes are the only source material. But Mother Wore Tights looks better than several other Grable titles that have emerged lately, and it's well worth a look.
By Jeremy Arnold
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In 2002 Todd Haynes directed Far from Heaven, a conscious attempt to re-visit Douglas Sirk's 1955 'women's weepie' potboiler All That Heaven Allows, right down to the oversaturated colors, bright fall foliage and lush vintage interiors. Although Haynes' film captures the right look, the original is so dependent on its '50s context that it can't be replicated now, at least not in the same way. Sirk's film illuminates a bygone 'consensus' America that won't tolerate even small deviations from accepted behavior. The frustrated wife in Far from Heaven not only discovers that her husband is gay, she seeks solace in an interracial relationship. Both of those issues of course existed in the 1950s, but polite society declined to acknowledge them. As taboo topics, they were banished from the media and mostly talked about in cautious whispers. Kept in a 'reality Kindergarten', readers and audiences of that decade were scandalized by the 'shocking' content of things like Peyton Place.
Douglas Sirk's 1950s melodramas were popular but disposable entertainments that came into their own only when American critics, influenced by their French colleagues, began discovering a new vitality in Hollywood product of the Cold War years. Embraced by critics looking for formal values and proto-feminist ideas, Sirk gained a new respectability, even if the consensus was that he was worthwhile because his work transcended an unworthy genre. Made for Universal-International producers Ross Hunter and Al Zugsmith, Sirk's glossy pictures are soap operas loaded with romance, color, and a kind of 'High Hollywood' style that never quite becomes high camp. Fake and honest at the same time, they are artificial constructions filled with powerful real emotions. Douglas Sirk is a genuine original. The contemporary director that has really carried on the 'Sirkian' tradition is Spain's insightful Pedro Almodóvar.
All That Heaven Allows was an instant follow-up to Magnificent Obesession, Douglas Sirk's breakout Universal soaper that made Rock Hudson a star. That picture's great achievement was to prevail over story elements so absurd as to be insulting. No matter how preposterous things become, the movie always makes emotional sense.
The setup in Heaven is much simpler. The good-looking widow Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) has plenty of money but finds herself in a socially awkward position. One older suitor offers her 'companionship' and a middle-aged lothario (Tol Avery) tries to rush her into the sack, but Cary holds out for something better. She finds herself attracted to handsome, gracious Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson), her gardener. Cary is intrigued by Ron's simple approach to life and his disdain for her petty associates. Although the 'nature man' Ron is fifteen years her junior, she's captivated by the perfect home he makes for them in an abandoned mill. Cary can ignore the disapproval of her snooty friends, but is horrified when her own grown children throw tantrums at the thought of her marrying someone they assume is so obviously after her money. The thought of their mother having sex with a younger man is unthinkable. Cary impulsively calls off her engagement, a decision she soon regrets.
This insightful movie can be seen as an outgrowth of the glossy romance fiction found in '50s women's magazines, in which the mere suggestion of illicit sex or adultery was enough to arouse the presumably repressed target audience. Our Cary Scott is a bourgeois fantasy, an affluent woman untroubled by the basic problems of making a living. Cary has grace, good manners and keeps most of her inner doubts to herself. But when something perfect comes along that holds the promise of true happiness, social forces seem to militate against her.
Heaven is about the invisible chains of an informal, rigidly unforgiving social system. Local gossip Mona Plash (Jacqueline deWit) lurks like a viper, ready to slur Cary's reputation. Cary's best friend Sara (Agnes Moorehead) means well but is also intimidated by social pressure, and advises Cary to lay off the younger Ron. The real anguish comes via Cary's children. To our surprise, it is the conservative younger generation that harbors twisted notions of sex. Psychology-quoting Kay (Gloria Talbott of I Married a Monster from Outer Space) goes apoplectic over the idea of Mom marrying a (gasp) gardener. She tries to explain her humiliation to her boyfriend in psychological terms. Kay's idea of daughter-mother openness is to tell Cary to her face that, "when we reach a certain age, sex becomes incongruous."
Director Douglas Sirk understood melodrama and respected it as a worthy format -- a drama of strong emotions and interpersonal conflict, that uses stylistic tools -- image, composition, music -- to heighten the experience. To emboss a mother-daughter confrontation on our minds, Sirk interrupts the already-dynamic lighting to bathe Kay in wild red and green light from some weird universe of emotion. It's as if the room had been invaded by Mario Bava. Cary's son Ned (William Reynolds) cries that his mother's rash actions have put a screen between them. Sure enough, a real screen blocks our view of his frantic face.
The vulnerable-looking Jane Wyman is the perfect identification model for this stealth ode to domestic non-conformism. Her Cary is mature, but also desirable and unspoiled, the product of Eisenhower's consumer success story. She's raised her kids and kept up appearances, and now isn't sure what she should be doing with her life. Characters in a soap opera mostly talk their problems to death. Douglas Sirk uses every tool at his disposal to help communicate Wyman's predicament away from verbal exposition. Cary finds herself alone, staring into mirrors and through windows. Visual clues emphasize the choices open to her, which boil down to a snowy isolation versus a fireplace with Ron. Their relationship is represented by a Wedgewood jug Ron repairs to please her. When it is accidentally broken, the suggestion is that Cary may be emotionally beyond repair. Within this consistently artificial world, the blunt symbol is more than acceptable. Sirk uses romance-novel fantasy to dramatize very real human emotions.
All That Heaven Allows' glossiest fantasy is Rock Hudson's Ron Kirby. The ruggedly handsome Ron works in gardens but never seems to sweat or get dirty. He embodies Henry Thoreau's Walden Pond philosophy of getting free of the rat race, which in this movie translates into ditching the country-club social swim for honest and open-minded friends. With his private acres in a verdant forest, Ron lives awfully well for a gardener and owner of a one-man tree nursery. And don't forget the picturesque abandoned mill, ideal for romantic meetings. It's almost a Disney fantasy out there, as every view is a gorgeous nature postcard. Ron's best friend is a deer that comes up for a handout. Ron is not an intellectual. He hasn't read Thoreau's writing; he simply lives it. A confident outdoorsman yet totally housebroken, Ron is gentle, sensitive, patient and thoughtful to an extreme... in other words, he's like no man alive.
Strangely enough, Jane Wyman wasn't even forty when she played Cary Scott, who is presumed to be at least 45. Is the idea that Ron Kirby can't find a passionate, soulful woman nearer his own age? He's such a mellow woodchuck that we understand his lack of attraction to the bouncy blonde 'young thing' Mary Ann (Merry Anders). Sirk's direction keeps our attention focused on various misunderstandings and bitter ironies, and even a wild accident occurring at an emotional highpoint. It results in one of those 'movie' injuries, the kind where one gets to stay at home in front of the fire and look as handsome as hell, while supposedly near death.
As if bestowing Mother Nature's blessing on their union, a real Bambi shows up as Ron and Cary regard their joyous future in a picture window view of a wintry Garden of Eden. Sirk and Jane Wyman pitch Cary's emotions perfectly, to match the emotional needs of their viewing audience. Despite the heavy stylization around Cary and Ron, their feelings never seem phony. Loneliness is a universal problem, and class snobbery is something we all can relate to. The final kicker is the loveless abuse of Cary's children. After ruining her chances of being with the man she loves, they bring her a cruelly ironic consolation prize, a television. The salesman might as well be sealing Cary in her tomb: " ... turn that dial and you have all the company you want right there on the screen. Drama, comedy, life's parade at your fingertips." The sight of Jane Wyman staring into the electronic grave is chilling. It's acknowledged as one of the more powerful film images of the decade.
Criterion's Blu-ray of All That Heaven Allows is a major upgrade from the company's DVD release of 2001. The remastered HD images replicate the saturated Technicolor hues of the original, which pop off the screen and have a marked emotional impact. Cameraman Russell Metty makes everything look clean, and bright, while fabrics, furs and faces take on a tactile quality. Producer Ross Hunter clearly had Universal's full cooperation, as the overall production is flawless. Frank Skinner's music score borrows from the work of Franz Liszt.
The major extra from the old DVD was Behind the Mirror: A Profile of Douglas Sirk, a 1979 BBC docu- interview that remains the best speaking record of the director. To this has been added another French TV interview from 1982, a new interview with Universal contract actor William Reynolds, a trailer and a commentary in which John Mercer and Tamar Jeffers-McDonald analyze all of the film's striking compositional effects.
Of particular interest is Mark Rappaport's Rock Hudson's Home Movies, which aren't home movies but an analysis of the actor's unique position as a gay man -- who acts in movies -- as a straight character -- often pretending to be gay. Rappaport explains that Hudson had a reel of film that he showed to friends at his house, clips from his movies that inferred a gay subtext. What at first appears to be a joke -- Rappaport mattes himself into the picture and performs the role of Rock's secret voice -- soon becomes entirely convincing. Hudson's dramas and comedies are indeed packed with what really seem to be intentional byplay with his secret closeted identity. His masculine womanizers are forever inventing comic alter egos with coded gay qualities. Even the male relationships in his films - the clips do have to be a bit selective here -- often involve a character lobbying to fend off female romantic complications. Rappaport's video piece is made from dozens of sometimes-ragged film clips. The biggest surprise is that the fun adds up to good film analysis. Rock Hudson was first and foremost a nice guy, and we come to a better understanding of his strange predicament.
By Glenn Erickson
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Whether you believe Jerry Lewis is a comic genius, a braying clown, a shrewd show-biz pro who carefully cultivated a popular stage and screen persona, a hopeless egotist with a cringing need for attention, or simply a comic with a gift for manic physical humor that clicked with audiences in the fifties and sixties, most people agree that The Nutty Professor was his greatest film as a director and his most interesting variation on the child-man figure he had transformed into Hollywood gold.
Lewis' fourth film as a director is a reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought into the modern world by way of Lewis' cartoonish take on the institutions and social cultures of contemporary life. His Jekyll is nebbish college professor and chemist Julius Kelp, the child-man of his previous films grown up from boy to adult, no more capable of the social world but clearly educated and perhaps even brilliant. His adenoidal juvenile voice has tempered into something oddly lived in and the spasmodic, childlike body has slowed and slumped into a walking shrug, acknowledging his inability to take on the world on its own terms. Julius is smitten with Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), a curvaceous co-ed who sits up front of every chemistry class and looks up wide-eyed at every lecture. It's not clear if she likes him, respects him, or just feels bad for him, but there is something about this harmless social grotesque that makes her care for his plight. Attraction is another matter, however, so Kelp goes on a self-improvement kick at Vic Tanney's gym (one of many glaring product placements in the film; Lewis was a pioneer in this aspect of production, a dubious achievement to be sure). When that fails to produce measurable results, he falls back on his specialty: better living through chemistry.
Where Stevenson's good doctor is a humanitarian and moralist who unleashes the suppressed id within as an experiment and gets addicted to the rush, Kelp's experiment is a bit more self-centered and pointedly directed. He concocts a formula specifically to transform him into his imagined ideal of what women want: the confident, popular, aggressive ladies' man that the shy, stammering, socially awkward Julius can never be. While the standard take in 1963 was that lounge lizard Buddy Love was a rather nasty satire of his former partner Dean Martin, most fans realize that Buddy is really Lewis' flip side writ big and pushed to extremes. This wannabe crooner and life of the party doesn't just need the spotlight, he demands it and rides roughshod over anyone who might challenge him. Buddy Love is a social sociopath, so self-absorbed and sexist and bullying that his instant popularity is part of the joke. Even Stella is befuddled by her attraction to him. Though she is too often reduced to wide-eyed, open-mouthed looks of surprise, curiosity and sheer fascination, she holds her own bantering with Buddy and calls out his arrogance and attitude, yet gives in to his every invitation for a date or a ride. Is there something else in the formula that lulls people into adoration? Or is it Lewis' own comment on the way the public willingly puts up with boorishness and a naked demand for attention as part of the pact with talent?
Lewis, who nearing 40 when he made The Nutty Professor, had been playing younger than his real age in every leading role since the fifties and even Julius comes off as a young teacher, the boy genius who graduated early and struggles to play the authority figure to his college students. But Lewis lets his age show in Buddy, which makes him even creepier. With his hair greased down, his face heavy with eyeliner and eyebrow pencil, and his face lined with age and covered in stubble and sweat, he's the thirtysomething crashing the college crowd. His outfits are so loud they drown out the rest of the candy-colored visual din of Lewis' sets, a glib show-off's idea of style and taste. Whether Lewis knew it or not, he was crafting a second alter ego, one where he could channel the less cute sides of his comic instincts. This is the version of himself he started to reveal in public in the seventies, playing his insult comedy as a schtick that he would dismiss with a goofy grin then slip right back into, and the side of Lewis that Martin Scorsese drew from for The King of Comedy's Jerry Langford. That transformation suggests that Buddy Love is less a caricature than the real id that Lewis suppressed in his spastic innocent act.
Where Lewis' films with directors Frank Tashlin and Norman Taurog drop the Kid into vaguely real-world settings, Lewis creates utterly artificial worlds for his own directorial efforts, cartoon incarnations that are already parodies of what they represent. The Purple Pit, the official college hotspot of The Nutty Professor, is a velvet bachelor pad fantasy gone haywire, the college classrooms and offices and labs are dollhouse versions with pastel walls and candy-colored props (the test tubes and vials filled with jelly bean liquids must have caused a national shortage for food coloring), and the costume design fills the frame with splashes of bright, bold colors, like flowers blooming in the midst of the film. Lewis is more conceptually inventive than he's often given credit for, sneaking in surreal gags between the buffoonery and crazy physical gags. His flashback to childhood is hilariously grotesque caricature that sneaks in a sense of self-image. The "chime" of his pocket watch is a surround sound audio blast. The classroom explosions of chemistry experiments gone wrong that almost get him fired are Three Stooges slapstick by way of cries of desperation.
The films that Lewis wrote, directed, and /or produced for himself were essentially showcases for gags and comic ingenuity, situations on which to hang a bunch of comic bits on. The Nutty Professor, which he co-wrote with regular collaborator Bill Richmond, is an exception in his directorial filmography, a story that intertwines the twin drives of Julius and Buddy and the uneasy partnership of the two. There's an evolution here, with Julius increasingly subservient to the needs of dominant Buddy and Buddy serving as the revenge of Julius, turning the girl that the professor could never get into his plaything and making a mockery of the college dean (Del Moore, hilarious), who is left pantsed and playing a Shakespeare monologue to an empty room in one scene. His need to keep bringing Buddy Love back is an addiction to feed the kind of adoration and attention that Kelp could never manage. Kelp is a far more self-aware figure than any role he played in any other of his self-produced pictures, and it makes him more vulnerable and even oddly admirable. Lewis' goofy dance while playing chaperone at the college prom, carried away by the toe-tapping tunes of the Les Brown Combo, is funny to be sure, but it's also relatable. Just because no one will dance with Julius doesn't mean the impulse isn't bursting to get out. Even if he isn't willing to admit to himself, his body can't help but let it all out. The comedy builds on previous bits and the comedy is in service to developing and illustrating the story. You don't find that kind of evolution in The Bellboy or The Ladies' Man. It helps make The Nutty Professor Lewis' comic masterpiece.
Paramount debuts The Nutty Professor on Blu-ray in a four-disc box set that offers two additional Lewis films on DVD and a bonus CD in addition to the supplements and other bonus goodies. The new Blu-ray edition is beautifully mastered with a clean, clear, sharp image and colors that pop, the way that Lewis intended. The film was originally mixed and released in mono and that track is included here along with a 5.1 DTS-HD remix that shows respectable restraint: no show-off effects here, just a subtle separation of effects in a soundtrack that remains largely centered.
New to disc is the 20-minute featurette "Jerry Lewis: No Apologies," catches up with Lewis at age 87, with new interviews discussing the origins and production of The Nutty Professor and clips of him discussing his life and career in front of audiences. He's mellower here than he's been in previous years, in part due to the effects of aging on his body (which he discusses at great length), and he comes off as genuinely appreciative of the audience that comes out to listen to him talk about his life and career, but age has not made him any more modest.
Carried over from the previous DVD "Special Edition" release in 2004 is commentary by Lewis and his friend Steve Lawrence (who comes off as a kind of sycophant or yes man, adding little to the conversation beyond a constant stream of praises), the 15-minute making-of featurette "Perfecting the Formula" (featuring interview clips with Lewis discussing creation of The Nutty Professor) and the 30-minute retrospective featurette "Jerry Lewis at Work" (with Lewis historian James Neibaur), an archival clip of Lewis at the dedication of a Julius Kelp figure at the Movieland Wax Museum, deleted scenes, bloopers, archival promos with Jerry Lewis and Stella Stevens, test footage, and the trailer.
Also featured are a DVD edition of The Nutty Professor and two bonus DVDs which are re-releases of films previously available as singles. Cinderfella (1960), which spins the Cinderella fairy tale into a Lewis vehicle with Ed Wynn as his red-nosed fairy godfather and Anna Maria Alberghetti as his Princess Charming, is directed and written by Frank Tashlin, the best of Lewis' directors and the filmmaker who most influenced his own directorial style. The Errand Boy (1961), which sets Lewis loose on a movie studio lot as a spy for the head of the studio, is directed by Lewis himself. Both films feature commentary by Lewis and Steve Lawrence. There's also a bonus CD of "Phoney Phone Calls," recordings of prank calls that Lewis made and recorded between 1959 and 1972 and originally released to disc in 2001.
The box also features booklets with reproductions of storyboards, a cutting script with Lewis' notes, and a recreation of his self-published illustrated "Instruction Book for Being a Person" that he wrote and handed out to the cast and production crew of The Nutty Professor, and "A Personal Message from Jerry Lewis" written for this release.
by Sean Axmaker
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Paul Crump, an African American Chicago man convicted of murdering a security guard during the robbery of a meatpacking plant and sentenced to death in 1953, had faced 14 stays of execution when William Friedkin, a young television producer, took on his story. The People vs. Paul Crump became his directorial debut, a documentary that eschews any pretense of balance and instead makes Crump's case directly to the viewers. This is documentary as advocacy, championing a cause with passionate and persuasive filmmaking, and the filmmaking is indeed provocative and compelling. The first shot of the film, an evocative shot of Crump leaning against the prison bars of his cell while another inmate blows a harmonica, comes right out of a social drama of injustice, immediately putting our sympathies with Crump.
It starts conventionally enough, with newspaper reporter John Justin Smith narrating in hardboiled newsman mode as he outlines Crump's case with a mix of historical fact and personal connection. Smith introduces us the man behind the story in an interview that plays out like an old movie, with Smith hammering questions at Crump like a tough but committed investigative reporter grilling an indicted politician, skeptical but moved by the testimony and the compromised evidence against him. Crump comes off calm and measured in his responses and his confessions of other crimes and failings give the ring to truth to his account of events. Then Friedkin jumps from the static new newsreel interview style to a stylized recreation of the crime with actors playing out the robbery on the actual locations. Friedkin shoots it with a mobile handheld camera, a cinema verité style by way of a B-movie crime thriller or hard-hitting exploitation exposé.
It's no stretch to see the roots of The French Connection in this vital scene, or in a later sequence when Friedkin dramatizes Crump's account of his arrest and the torture he suffered at the hands of the Chicago police detectives. Crump maintains his innocence, stating that a confession was beaten out of him in a two-day interrogation. Friedkin's camera is in the middle of the action, uncomfortably close to the bodies and faces in the frame, giving the sequence both an electric immediacy and a nightmarish terror. As Crump describes the torture, Friedkin cuts away from Crump to illustrate his account in dramatic, fragmented shots, like a battlefield cameraman trying to take it all in during the chaos of the moment, and cameraman Wilmer "Bill" Butler creates vivid images in stark black and white. This was the film debut of the very Bill Butler who went on to shoot The Conversation and Jaws, among many other films.
By this description, The People vs. Paul Crump reads less as a documentary than a docudrama and unlike, say, the way Errol Morris uses recreations to question and contrast contradictory testimony of a single incident, Friedkin offers no alternatives. He puts images to words to provide a visceral effect and those scenes remain the most powerful moments of the film. Further blurring the line between documentary and fictionalized dramatization, he has Crump's mother play herself within the recreations. But they are only part of the film. Prison warden Jack Johnson, a critic of capitol punishment, champions Crump's case and argues that Crump has been rehabilitated over the nine years in prison. Crump's attorney, Donald Moore, seconds Crump's account of the abuse of Crump's civil rights to get a confession. The Chicago PD's reputation for brutality was so widespread that Friedkin never even questions the account. No surprise that the police are not given a voice here.
It's a sophisticated piece of filmmaking from a first-time filmmaker. Friedkin had trained as a TV newsman, shooting and editing short, ostensibly objective pieces for television, but for this he steps out of his television news producer role to make a case and sway minds. This is no dispassionate overview of the case but a passionate argument for his position, and Friedkin uses the tools of dramatic filmmaking to works the audience's emotions in addition to their reason and intellect. Friedkin makes the case for Crump's innocence, calling into question the evidence used to convict him and giving Crump a forum to tell his story, but he also rouses the audience's sense of injustice.
The People vs. Paul Crump was produced for TV but never broadcast, due to the controversial nature of the subject matter, but it was screened for critics and reporters in Chicago and shown at film festivals, where it did indeed raise awareness for Crump's case, inspiring news stories and encouraging public support for Crump. Ultimately his death sentence was commuted, even though his conviction was not.
The hour-long production makes his DVD debut in a newly remastered 2K digital restoration from a 16mm print, using sophisticated digital clean-up software, according to the disc notes. It was shot on a small budget with professional newsgathering equipment designed to be light, portable and flexible in all situations, and gives an image and soundtrack that is on the rough and ready side, which works to its advantage in the recreation. Given that texture inherent in the original production, the quality of this edition may not be readily apparent--the soundtrack has a level of hiss and the image is grainy--but there is little damage on the film and no jitter in the image, and while the detail of 16mm film is far less than 35mm, it still provides a strong picture that this digital master recovers. The imperfections are almost all due to the conditions of its production and the disc preserves the integrity of the original film.
There are no video extras but Facets includes a useful Cine-Notes booklet with an essay by film studies professor Susan Doll (also one of TCM's Movie Morlocks) on the history of the Crump's case and the film's production plus script excerpts and notes on Friedkin's career.
by Sean Axmaker
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DICK DINMAN AND SCHAWN BELSTON SALUTE RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN FOX CLASSICS. Producer/host Dick Dinman welcomes his returning guest Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment's Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services Schawn Belston as they salute the Rodgers and Hammerstein film classics STATE FAIR, CAROUSEL, THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE SOUND OF MUSIC and two versions of OKLAHOMA all of which have been restored to sumptuous sight and sound Blu-ray perfection in the just released RODGERS AND HAMMERSTEIN BLU-RAY COLLECTION.
The award-winning DICK DINMAN'S DVD CLASSICS CORNER ON THE AIR is the only weekly half hour show 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 http://www.dvdclassicscorner.com/ or http://www.dvdclassicscorner.net/.
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Don't miss the Hollywood Bowl's special movie-themed nights sponsored by Turner Classic Movies. Pollstar magazine's Best Major Outdoor Venue (ten years in a row!), the Hollywood Bowl is the largest natural outdoor amphitheater in the United States. Throughout the summer the LA Phil presents the best in jazz, classical, Broadway, and world music, featuring artists that range from Yo-Yo Ma to Janelle Monae, John Williams to Steve Martin, and Gladys Knight to The Pixies. This summer's special movie-themed nights include many crowd favorites:
Sunday, July 13, 7:30pm
Bring the family to the fun-filled Grease Sing-A-Long, which returns with a pre-show performance and the much-loved movie musical on the Bowl's giant screen. Grease is the word! Come early for a 7:30pm pre-show with Sha Na Na.
Didi Conn ("Frenchy"), host
Sha Na Na musical guest
Sunday, August 31, 7:30pm
The Big Picture: Hitchcock
Suspense! Sinister plots! Mistaken identities! This year's Big Picture is a thrilling tribute to the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock. Mesmerizing, haunting and psychologically gripping scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest), Dimitri Tiomkin (Strangers on a Train, Dial M for Murder) and more will be played live while spellbinding scenes are projected on the Bowl's big screen.
Hollywood Bowl Orchestra
David Newman, conductor
Eva Marie Saint, host
Saturday, September 20, 6:00pm
Sound of Music Sing-A-Long
The Hollywood hills are alive with The Sound of Music! Everyone's favorite sing-along returns to the giant screen at the Bowl. Bring your costume for the pre-show parade, and warm up your vocal cords for this beloved and always sold-out event.
Make the most of your Hollywood Bowl experience with a picnic dinner. You can bring your own food or buy on site. For tickets and information, visit HollywoodBowl.com
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Turner Classic Movies Pays Tribute to Eli Wallach on Monday, June 30 with the following festival of films. This program will replace the previously scheduled movies for that day so please take note.
The new schedule for Monday, June 30 will be:
9:00 AM Kisses for My President
11:00 AM Act One
1:00 PM How the West Was Won
3:45 PM The Misfits
6:00 PM Baby Doll
One of the most respected actors in American performance, Eli Wallach's career never quite matched his long list of stage credits in terms of quality, but he had nevertheless contributed some memorable characters to film. Movieg rs knew him best for a pair of similar characters - the cruel Mexican bandit Calvera, whose raids on a poor village prompt the formation of "The Magnificent Seven" (1960), and as the scheming, scene-stealing Tuco in Sergio Leone's groundbreaking spaghetti Western, "The Good, The Bad and the Ugly" (1967). But Wallach's career stretched back a decade prior and continued on well into the 21st century, during which he played almost every ethnic type and moral stripe under the sun. While his record on the big screen remained spotty, Wallach thrived on television with an Emmy-winning performance in "The Poppy is a Flower" (ABC, 1966) and a campy turn as Mr. Freeze on "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). Over the years, he remained under the radar while performing onstage or in lesser-known pictures, only to resurface in projects like the revival of "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1978), the acclaimed miniseries "The Executioner's Song" (NBC, 1982) and Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), in which he had a memorable scene as a mobster who dies while eating poisoned cannoli. By the time the nonagenarian delivered award-worthy small screen performances on "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 2006-07) and "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ), Wallach's place as one of Hollywood's most venerated character performers had been assured.
Born Eli Herschel Wallach on Dec. 7, 1915 in Brooklyn, NY, he made his performing debut as part of an amateur production while still in high school. At some point in his early life, Wallach lost the sight in his right eye, the result of a hemorrhage (Wallach was vague about the date in his autobiography). After gaining a BA from the University of Texas in Austin and a Masters' degree in education from the City College of New York, Wallach earned a scholarship to New York's prestigious Neighborhood Playhouse, where he first cut his teeth on the Method style of acting. After graduation in 1940, he landed a smattering of minor stage roles before WWII intervened; he joined the Army in 1941 and served as a medical administrative officer, being dispatched to numerous points across the globe, including Hawaii, Casablanca and France. It was in the latter location that his superiors learned of his acting background and asked Wallach to mount a production to entertain the recuperating troops. With the assistance of other members of his company, Wallach wrote and performed "This is the Army?" a satirical revue in which he played Hitler, among other roles. It would be the first of many memorable villains Wallach would play during his long career.
After being discharged from the service, Wallach resumed his acting career and made his Broadway debut in 1945. He also joined the Actor's Studio, spending two seasons with the American Repertory Theater before blossoming into a major stage star in the early '50s - thanks to a pair of Tennessee Williams plays, "The Rose Tattoo" and "Camino Real." The former landed Wallach a Tony Award. The actor returned to the theater frequently over the next six decades in countless productions ranging from Eugene Ionesco's "Rhinoceros," "Teahouse of the August Moon," and "Mister Roberts." In 1948, he met and married fellow actress Anne Jackson, with whom he had appeared in countless stage productions, as well as the 1967 comedy "The Tiger Makes Out," which he also co-produced. They year 1956 marked the beginning of Wallach's screen career in the controversial Elia Kazan feature "Baby Doll." As earthy Sicilian Silva Vaccaro, who lustily pursues the teenage bride (Carroll Baker) of hapless mill owner Karl Malden, Wallach generated considerable heat for his non-traditional leading man, undoubtedly contributing to the film being banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and several international markets. The buzz generated by "Baby Doll" boosted Wallach's profile in Hollywood and overseas, where he won a BAFTA for his work in 1957. He was soon busy with numerous film projects - often playing mad, bad and dangerous variations on the Vaccaro personality, including the psychotic hitman in Don Siegel's gritty noir "Lineup" (1958); Sgt. Craig, who spits insults even after a horrific facial injury in "The Victors" (1963); and as Poncho/Baron von R litz, he teamed with Edward G. Robinson and fellow Method advocate Rod Steiger in "Seven Thieves" (1960), a glitzy caper.
Wallach's profile by the early 1960s was significant enough for him to share top billing with Steve McQueen and Yul Brynner in "The Magnificent Seven" and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monr (who babysat Wallach's daughter Roberta during the film's troubled shoot) in "The Misfits" (1961) - the fabled last film for both Monr and Gable. He was also a frequent guest star on television, especially anthology series like "Playhouse 90" (CBS, 1956-1961) and "The Hallmark Hall of Fame" (CBS, 1951- ), for which he was a notable Dauphin opposite Julie Harris' Joan of Arc in "The Lark" (1957). He also made an amusing Mr. Freeze (one of three actors to play the character) on two episodes of the campy series, "Batman" (ABC, 1966-68). On a more prestigious note, Wallach won an Emmy for "Poppies are Also Flowers" (1966), an all-star drama penned by Ian Fleming and produced in part by the United Nations about the international drug trade.
By the mid-1960s, Wallach was a dependable character actor with a knack for foreign characters who often wielded a degree of swagger and occasional menace. In addition to the Mexican Calvera and the Italian Guido in "The Misfits," Wallach was a Greek kidnapper in the Disney film "The Moon-Spinners" (1965), an amorous Latin dictator on the make for American female president Polly Bergen in "Kisses for My President" (1964), and an Arab shah in "Genghis Khan" (1965). In 1967, Wallach traveled to Italy to film the third in a trilogy of operatically violent Westerns for director Sergio Leone; his performance as Tuco in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was arguably his best turn on screen; one that allowed him to work with his full and formidable acting palette. Over the course of Leone's three-hours-plus masterpiece, we were shown all sides of Tuco - from the duplicitous creep who would abandon his own partner in crime (Clint Eastwood) in the middle of the blazing desert, to the loyal friend who rescues Eastwood from the same fate, to the wronged brother who lashes out against his sanctimonious priest brother, to the sympathetic victim of a cruel sadist (Lee Van Cleef) who will go to any length to discover a cache of hidden gold. Wallach tackled each of these emotions with a vigor and humor that was positively riveting in every scene. His performance was a key element in the film's worldwide success.
Despite being nearly killed on three occasions during the making of the iconic film (due to faulty and lax production issues), Wallach acknowledged the movie's impact on his career on numerous occasions after its release. He even named his 2005 autobiography The Good, the Bad, and Me: In My Anecdotage and in 2003, he and Eastwood re-dubbed 18 minutes of footage that had been excised from the film before its 1967 release in America. Wallach also returned to Italy several times to appear in other "spaghetti Westerns," usually as variations on Tuco. Wallach was supposed to reunite with Leone for the film "Duck, You Sucker" (1973), but scheduling conflicts prevented this from happening (his role was later assumed by Rod Steiger).
Wallach remained as busy in the '70s and '80s as he did in the previous decade, though his roles were largely character parts and the quality frequently ranged from top Hollywood product to low-budget fare. Among his better films from the period were "Cinderella Liberty" (1973), in which he played a tough-as-nails Navy lifer; "Movie Movie" (1978), Stanley Donen's clever tribute to vintage Hollywood melodramas and musicals; John Huston's Bicentennial-themed short "Independence," in which he captured the intelligence and wry humor of Benjamin Franklin. Wallach also appeared in numerous TV movies, including the thriller "A Cold Night's Death" (1973), co-starring Robert Culp, about scientists losing their grip in the Arctic; the drama "Skokie" (1981) co-starring Danny Kaye, about Holocaust survivors facing neo-Nazis; and the thriller "The Executioner's Song" (1982), based on the Norman Mailer book about serial killer, Gary Gilmore. But Wallach also enlivened plenty of junk during this period, too, including "The Deep" (1977), the wretched Satanic thriller "The Sentinel" (1977), and the overwrought teens-on-drugs TV feature, "The People" (1970).
As the 1980s wore on into the 1990s and the new millennium, Wallach continued to answer the call for character parts - long after many of his contemporaries had passed on. He was a near-sighted hit man in the limp Kirk Douglas-Burt Lancaster comedy, "Tough Guys" (1986), a psychologist testifying against a seemingly deranged call girl (Barbara Streisand) in "Nuts" (1987), the candy-loving Don Altobello in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather III" (1990), and Ben Stiller's sympathetic rabbi advisor in Edward Norton's wry comedy, "Keeping the Faith" (2000).
In 2003, he reunited with his friend and former co-star Clint Eastwood to play a cagey storeowner in "Mystic River" - for which he was uncredited. As Wallach entered his ninth decade, he did not appear to slow down in the least. He was a former blacklisted TV writer on an episode of "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (NBC, 2006- ) and enjoyed sizable roles in "The Hoax" (2006) - about Clifford Irving's bogus biography of Howard Hughes - and "The Holiday" (2006), in which he played a charming elderly screenwriter befriended by Kate Winslet in the romantic comedy. Wallach found himself back in play at the Emmy awards after a 20 year absence, earning a nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for his performance on "Studio 60." After voiceover roles in "Constantine's Sword" (2008) and "The T Tactic" (2009), Wallach returned to the small screen as a dying elderly man for an episode of "Nurse Jackie" (Showtime, 2009- ). His performance earned the 94-year-old an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
(Biography courtesy of TCMDb)
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For the second year in a row this May, I journeyed from Los Angeles to Palm Springs for four days of gritty film noir -- courtesy of the annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. This year's edition, the fifteenth, was even better than last year's, as festival producer and host Alan K. Rode offered up a solid assortment of the familiar and not-so-familiar, with genuine classics like Sunset Blvd. and The Killers mixedwith intriguing obscurities like Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. The recipe worked, as Rode reported afterwards that the festival broke attendance records and sold out several shows. Twelve films were screened in a 72-hour period that began Thursday evening, May 8, and ended late Sunday afternoon, May 11. The movies themselves (almost all in 35mm), the fascinating guest speakers, the attentive audiences, the comfy theater, the big screen, the host hotel, even the quality popcorn -- all made for a sparkling and hugely enjoyable four days. What follows is a first-person account of those days designed to give a sense of what the overall experience was like, since this festival makes for a perfect little getaway and I can highly recommend making plans to attend in 2015.
The festival was founded in 2000 by Palm Springs resident and writer Arthur Lyons. Since Lyons' death in 2008, the festival has continued strongly thanks to the aforementioned Alan K. Rode as well as Palm Springs residents and Cultural Center Founders Ric and Rozene Supple, and the San Francisco-based Film Noir Foundation, which has rescued and preserved many noir films and puts on annual Noir City festivals in Hollywood, San Francisco and other cities. FNF founder and president Eddie Muller -- also an occasional TCM host -- was on hand with Rode and film historian Foster Hirsch to introduce the weekend's screenings and interview the special guests.
I pulled into the driveway of the Palm Springs Renaissance Hotel at about 5pm on Thursday afternoon. After a two-plus-hour drive into the desert, the hotel's sleek lobby felt like an oasis. This was the festival's host hotel, and it was an ideal choice -- only five minutes away from the Camelot Theatre, and nice enough to feel like a comfy retreat without being too over-the-top or expensive. I had no complaints. And there was just enough time to grab a burger and salad in the Renaissance bar area before heading off to the Camelot Theatre for the opening night movie: The Window (1949). An hour before showtime, a considerable crowd was already gathering for what would be a capacity screening. Why The Window -- an outstanding suspense picture that was a sleeper hit for RKO back in the day -- isn't better known or more often revived is beyond me. Perhaps it's because it does not feature A-list stars. In any case, the cast that it does have -- Barbara Hale, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Stewart, Ruth Roman, Bobby Driscoll -- are all superb. Based on a Cornell Woolrich story entitled The Boy Who Cried Murder, the brisk 73-minute film centers on a New York boy (Driscoll) who is prone to telling lies and embarrassing his parents (Hale and Kennedy). Sleeping on the upstairs fire escape one night, he witnesses, through a window, his neighbors Stewart and Roman murdering a man. When he tells his parents, they don't believe him. When he tells the police, they investigate but end up not believing him either. Then, in a scene that Alfred Hitchcock would have loved, Hale marches Driscoll upstairs to apologize to Stewart and Roman, not realizing that this will place her terrified kid in genuine danger. The suspense only ratchets up from there in what is ultimately an ingeniously written, atmospherically directed little thriller -- a perfect film of its type. And there actually is a slight Hitchcock connection -- Window director Ted Tetzlaff 's last film as a cinematographer had been Notorious (1946), after which he moved full time into directing.
The Window is also notable for making the most of a limited budget with evocative sets and décor--hallmarks of the noir style. The New York tenement where the action is set is extremely convincing, aided by fine location work shot in Harlem. Tetzlaff gives the setting an appropriately claustrophobic feel, with the tenement, the surrounding run-down streets, and a condemned building next door all coming off as prison-like. In the marvelous climax, with Bobby Driscoll in mortal peril, you get the feeling there's nowhere to run.
Following the screening of this beautiful 35mm print funded by the Film Noir Foundation, Rode welcomed leading lady Barbara Hale to the stage for a very rare public appearance. The 92-year-old actress was in fantastic shape and instantly won over the crowd with entertaining tales from The Window and her overall career, which includes a long television stint as Della Street opposite Raymond Burr's Perry Mason. Hale recalled that while on location in New York for The Window -- which she saw this night for the first time in 65 years -- it was so cold that the entire cast was wearing long underwear beneath their costumes. This was remarkable to hear, for the film does a great job in convincing us that the action is really taking place during a hot, sweaty summer.
She continued that Arthur Kennedy "was so true to life that actually he seemed more like an actor when we weren't shooting," and that Ruth Roman became a dear friend as a result of this picture. Of little Bobby Driscoll, who was borrowed from Disney and won a special Oscar for his performance, Hale said that he became like her real child at the time and that she felt very protective of him. Her devastation over his later drug problems and untimely 1968 death was still apparent: "I just adored that child," she said in a shaky voice. "It's very hard for me to talk about it. He became my baby." Hale also spoke sweetly of meeting her future husband, actor Bill Williams, on the set of West of the Pecos (1945): "What a lovely fella he was... just the sweetest smile and the best daddy. I miss him terribly. It was a wonderful marriage." But her funniest story concerned her friend (and West of the Pecos co-star) Robert Mitchum, who saw her one day across the crowded RKO commissary, and shouted: "Hey, Hale! Ya gettin' any?!" "He was the biggest tease," Hale recalled with a twinkle. "Just full of the devil!"
After Hale's talk, there was a lovely, catered reception outside the theater in the mild Palm Springs night. This was followed, for me anyway, by a quick drive back to the Renaissance and straight to bed for some peaceful slumber.
Friday started off with a 10am screening of another 73-minute RKO gem: Roadblock (1951), with Charles McGraw in a rare leading role not as a villain but as a more sensitive, if still hard-edged, insurance investigator. Alan K. Rode, author of a strong 2007 biography of McGraw, said in his introduction, "This is the kinder, gentler McGraw, the conflicted McGraw who plays what I would call the noir chump." Indeed, McGraw's screen persona makes him entirely convincing both as a virtuous cop figure and as a contemptible villain, which is a key reason why his transformation here from one to the other is so credible. Shot in eighteen days in and around downtown Los Angeles, Roadblock moves like lightning and is entirely satisfying. It screened in Palm Springs in a new -- and the only known -- 35mm print, which exists thanks to the funding of the Film Noir Foundation and lab work by Warner Bros. and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. It played great to the morning audience. It was preceded by a short film by director Greg King entitled Glass Sun (2013), an imaginative, wordless throwback to classic noir.
After a nice lunch with friends at the Renaissance, Friday's second picture was Too Late For Tears (1949), continuing its triumphant tour of film noir festivals in San Francisco, Hollywood, and now Palm Springs, after a five-year restoration project spearheaded by the Film Noir Foundation. As Eddie Muller told the crowd, "It's a miracle that there's a show this afternoon." A decade ago, Muller explained, he had wanted to show the film but found there were no complete, undamaged prints known to exist. Eventually, a dupe negative of the French release version (entitled La Tigresse) showed up at the UCLA Film and Television Archive, and UCLA's Scott MacQueen was able to cherry-pick the best shots from that negative and two other print sources to end up with the superb print available now.
Too Late For Tears, starring Lizabeth Scott, Arthur Kennedy, Dan Duryea, Don DeFore, and a suitcase containing $60,000, was an independent film produced by Hunt Stromberg and released by United Artists, which is why, without the protection of a major studio owner, the prints fell into disrepair over the years. The movie plays as a fine noir thriller with Lizabeth Scott at her villainous best, in full-fledged femme fatale mode. Muller said that virtually the entire budget was spent on its two main stars, Scott and Duryea, with the production cutting corners everywhere else.
The 4pm movie, Billy Wilder's masterful Sunset Blvd. (1950), was one I have seen many, many times, so I decided to play hooky and camp out for a couple of blissful hours by the Renaissance Hotel's large, beautiful pool. It was buzzing with guests and their families, creating a very agreeable vibe. But I made sure to return to the Camelot for the post-film discussion between Rode and actress Nancy Olson, who plays the young writer Betty Schaefer in the film. I was glad I did, for Olson gave a fascinating interview that touched on details of the film's making, the cast, director Billy Wilder, and that overall era of Hollywood. A mere 20 years old during filming (not, she pointed out, 22 -- as is mentioned of her character on screen!), she still sounded incredulous that as a UCLA student who was nicknamed "Wholesome Olson" and who didn't even know who Gloria Swanson was, she had the good fortune to begin her screen career with a movie like this one. "You wonder about destiny, about how your life takes turns," she said. "The door opened and I became a leading character in one of the greatest films ever made. That is amazing!"
Olson recalled that Swanson was incredibly dedicated to her role of Norma Desmond, often "begging" Billy Wilder to stay late after filming to work on the next day's scenes. Olson also said it was usual studio practice for all the dozen or so films being shot at Paramount at any given time to have their dailies shown at 6pm in a little theater. Typically, directors and technicians would come to watch their own work and then leave before the other films' dailies began. But "then Sunset Blvd. started to show its dailies, and nobody left. It was very unusual. They had to bring in extra seats!" Of Sunset Blvd.'s timeless appeal, Olson said "this film told the truth about not only the film business but the world. It's a story that has a kind of resonance about people selling their souls, as Bill Holden did, to survive. And about falling in love with the wrong person at the wrong time, and the consequences of all that."
Following Sunset Blvd., a quick, tasty dinner with friends was in order at the Camelot Theatre's upstairs cafe. Then it was back down for the evening movie, Sorry, Wrong Number (1948). Film historian, noir scholar and author, and college professor Foster Hirsch introduced the film as "pure, hardcore noir -- straight up, no chaser, all the way. If you came here for fun and uplift, you've come to the wrong place!" Director Anatole Litvak's movie was based on a famous 22-minute radio play starring Agnes Moorhead that was expanded by author Lucille Fletcher into a complicated screenplay full of flashbacks, and flashbacks within flashbacks. Barbara Stanwyck stars as the bedridden heiress who overhears a murder plot on the telephone but is unable to convince husband Burt Lancaster or anyone else of this. The movie stands as an interesting experiment in bringing the techniques and qualities of radio drama to the screen, with pronounced, heightened visual and aural effects that are akin to purely aural, old-fashioned radio plays. To me, it came off as overdone and sometimes shrill, but the movie does stay true to the storytelling mode it creates, features a great cast, and certainly it played well on this evening.
Speaking afterwards with Foster Hirsch was Victoria Wilson, author of the recent biography A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, the first of two volumes about the actress. Wilson has a fulltime day job as an editor for Knopf (Hirsch himself is one of her writers), so she worked nights and weekends for fifteen years to complete this volume. She said that Stanwyck's acting is timeless because "there was only one thing that really interested her, and that was the truth of whatever the situation was. Her acting doesn't age, it doesn't date, because she always went for the truth." Hirsch asked about the ramifications of Stanwyck's early years, when she was essentially an abandoned child, since her mother died when she was four and her father deserted the family soon thereafter. Wilson replied, "I don't think she ever got over it. If you think about the things that haunt you, at a certain point in your life you're able to put them aside, and they don't stand in your way. But if you really don't cope with them, they come back to haunt you. And that's what happened to her and that's what I'm going to be writing about in volume two."
It was still so warm after this screening that a walk down festive Palm Canyon Drive with some ice cream and friends seemed like a good idea, before heading back to the Renaissance for some drinks in the bar lounge.
Day 3, Saturday, kicked off at 10am with yet another 73-minute gem, Southside 1-1000 (1950), screening in a beautiful 35mm print again made possible by the Film Noir Foundation. This Allied Artists release, an obvious knockoff of the similar T-Men (1947), is nonetheless a nifty little low-budget suspenser in its own right, fast-moving and efficiently done, with some memorable set pieces. With documentary-style narration that was in vogue at the time, the film follows a Secret Service agent (Don DeFore) on the trail of counterfeiters. Produced by the King brothers (Frank and Maurice King) as a follow-up to their masterful, Joseph Lewis-directed Gun Crazy (1950), this was originally to have been directed by Lewis as well. But Lewis left for MGM and bigger movies, and the King brothers replaced him with Boris Ingster, whose Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) is considered by some to be the first true film noir ever made.This would be Ingster's third and final film as director, but as Eddie Muller pointed out in his intro, Ingster had a long, prominent screen career in various capacities going back to the 1920s, and remains a fascinating figure to study. "The King brothers," Muller said, "had a special knack for finding people that were on the way up or on the way down."
Southside 1-1000 makes excellent and imaginative use of L.A. locations, including a sequence on Angels' Flight railway filmed right inside the actual car, and Union Station. It features a solid cast of heavies like George Tobias and Barry Kelley (who memorably tells his son to "beat it" when the kid asks for some cake), as well as a fetching and strong leading lady, Andrea King. And the film contains what Muller labeled "the weirdest opening sequence ever" -- a flag-waving piece of Red-Scare-era patriotism about the Korean War and the necessity for Americans to spend money to fight Communism. It's possible the sequence was tacked on simply to pad the film's short running time. Muller said it "makes me laugh because [the King brothers] were kind of petty crooks in their early days, bootleggers, and their dad was a racketeer, and they got in the movie business through pinball machines -- and for these guys to be giving us a lesson in patriotism is a beautiful thing indeed."
The next movie was for me the biggest discovery of the festival: Storm Warning (1951). While not a particularly rare title -- it's been issued on DVD more than once -- I had never seen it or even been aware of it. It's certainly an oddball movie, with Ginger Rogers and Doris Day prominent in the cast even though the film is nowhere close to being a musical. One could argue whether Storm Warning, dark as it is, is actually a film noir, but it does create an anxious, tense atmosphere of mob violence and contains a powerful sequence in particular that is undeniably, strongly noir: Ginger Rogers walks down a dark street one night as all the shop owners turn off their lights, one after the next, making her (and us) feel very alone and ever more nervous. The scene pays off with Rogers witnessing a highly unsettling act of violence carried out by the Ku Klux Klan. It turns out that everyone in town is either part of the Klan or too scared to speak against them. Local prosecutor Ronald Reagan (quite good here in his last film for Warner Bros.) hopes that Rogers' outsider status will give her the impetus to speak up, but complicating matters is her younger sister's (Doris Day's) marriage to one of the Klan members (Steve Cochran).
Rogers and Day wanted nothing to do with Storm Warning, which is certainly among the most unusual films on both their resumes. But they are very convincing as sisters, and their against-type casting works to heighten our interest. They are both very appealing, even though Day in particular is completely deglamorized. Cochran is also terrific in a part originally meant for Marlon Brando (who turned it down), even donning a white t-shirt à la Brando in scene after scene. There is no racial violence in this film. Producer Jerry Wald, director Stuart Heisler and writers Richard Brooks and Daniel Fuchs instead use the Klan as a way of telling a metaphorical story with a subtext of McCarthy-era America and the HUAC anti-Communist witch hunts. Foster Hirsch explained this very well in his fascinating introduction, pointing out that the pressures of that time -- conformity, thought control, intimidation, fear, bearing witness -- are what Wald was interested in capturing here. "There's not a single laugh in the entire movie," said Hirsch, which was a strong endorsement of the serious issues at stake.
Next up was The Killers (1946), one of the all-time great noirs and Burt Lancaster's screen debut. This is a picture I could quote verbally or visually from every scene, so I availed myself once again of the Renaissance Hotel's sparkling pool area and the Palm Springs sunshine before returning for the intriguing post-screening discussion between Alan K. Rode, Lancaster's widow Susie Lancaster, and Kate Buford, author of the fine 2000 biography Burt Lancaster: An American Life. Their conversation delved into Lancaster's entire career, including his run as a very successful independent producer (with Harold Hecht) in the 1950s, a decade that began in the era of studio domination and ended in the brave new world of independent production. Lancaster's extraordinary discipline and filmmaking intelligence carried him through. As Buford said, quoting film historian Neal Gabler: "[when] you track the course of Lancaster's career in '50s Hollywood, you track '50s Hollywood."
Susie Lancaster related an evocative little anecdote from The Professionals (1966) that spoke to Lancaster's sense of professionalism. One day early on, Lee Marvin was not on set when he was supposed to be, so Lancaster rode his horse into the nearby town, found Marvin, grabbed him by the shoulders and shook some sense into him. And Marvin was never a problem again on the shoot. Susie also spoke sweetly of Lancaster the man, especially their final years together, with Lancaster working to stay in great physical shape and maintaining a positive attitude right to the end. And the talk touched on other great Lancaster performances like Ulzana's Raid (1972) and Go Tell the Spartans (1978), with Buford offering some fascinating food for thought regarding Lancaster's performance in Atlantic City (1981). She said, "Atlantic City is The Killers brought to its conclusion. If the Swede had not died, he'd be running numbers in Atlantic City. There's a beautiful integrity balancing those two movies."
Before the Saturday evening film got underway, Eddie Muller polled the audience to ask how many had seen the film before. Only a few hands went up, prompting Muller to laugh, "OK, this is not many. This is gonna blow people's minds. You people are really not at all prepared for what you're about to see! It's a treat." Indeed! Shack Out on 101 (1955), while not technically a film noir, was in keeping with the day's Red Scare theme, as seen in Southside 1-1000 and Storm Warning. But here, the subject is very overt and highly comedic. This is one of the oddest, most absurd comedies to come out of the 1950s -- a true guilty pleasure. It's terrible yet deliriously wonderful. It makes no sense but you just don't care while watching it. Lee Marvin, as a diner cook named Slob, and Keenan Wynn, as the diner owner, are hilarious as they trade barbs, shoot harpoons, lift dumbbells, prance around in scuba gear, and lust after sultry waitress Terry Moore. Moore is involved with nuclear physicist Frank Lovejoy, who is scheming with Marvin in a plot that seems to involve the passing of nuclear secrets. Eventually the balance of the Cold War seems to rest in these individuals in this oceanside diner. Meanwhile, the movie finds time for moments like a love scene between Moore and Lovejoy that's played as a conversation about the Bill of Rights; the more they quote the Constitution, the more hot and bothered they get. Muller called this film "inexplicable. It's as if William Inge had fallen in his studio, knocked himself unconscious, yet his fingers kept typing."
Terry Moore, now 85, was there afterwards to speak, and she was as crowd-pleasing as the film. The audience just loved her as she playfully challenged Muller ("Tell me why this movie's weird, Eddie!"), and reminisced over Marvin and Wynn, "the two funniest men I've ever known. I never enjoyed working with any two people as much as I did with Lee and Keenan. [It was] the first time anyone ever talked to me like I was one of the guys. It was an experience I will never, never forget." Moore's screen career goes back to 1940, when she had bit parts in Maryland and The Howards of Virginia, and she is still working, with a recent role in the HBO series True Detective and a new movie coming out later in 2014, Aimy in a Cage, which she said contains the best performance she has ever given. "I want to give Betty White a run for her money!" she joked about her longevity.
Moore confessed to not remembering too much about working with Frank Lovejoy, prompting Muller to say, "Well, you kissed him more than anybody in the movie. You must have some memory of that." Terry replied, "I -- I kissed so many guys!" and drew a big laugh. She added that the one man she kissed onscreen she will never forget was Tyrone Power, her co-star in King of the Kyber Rifles (1953) and "the greatest person I ever knew." Later she spoke of her secret marriage to Howard Hughes, "the first love of my life," who still shows up in her dreams, and also of her famous decision to pose for Playboy at the age of 55: "I was sick and tired of Hollywood only thinking women were worthwhile between the age of 15 and 25. I wanted to prove them wrong."
Back at the Renaissance Hotel outdoor bar area, drinks were in order as friends talked over the day's films and events. Rode, his wife, and Lancaster and Buford even stopped by for a chat. But then it was off to bed, for in just a few hours, the final day of the festival would kick off with some major star wattage in the form of Humphrey Bogart in Deadline U.S.A. (1952) -- one of the great newspaper movies. As Eddie Muller said, quoting film critic Dave Kehr, "This is a movie about newspaper people told the way newspaper people feel about themselves when they've had a few too many." The screenplay by Richard Brooks, who also directed, was inspired by the real-life 1931 folding of The New York World, once published by Joseph Pulitzer. In the film, which is first-rate, editor Humphrey Bogart launches a print crusade against a local gangster (Martin Gabel) and fights to keep his newspaper alive as the owner's heirs consider selling, which would mean the paper's end. Brooks, Muller explained, had been a newspaperman before coming to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter and novelist. "He was a passionate believer that movies needed to have messages, that they needed to say something important about the culture." The issues in Deadline U.S.A. are still timely, Muller said, issues "of who's in charge of the business, and why it exists, and what is the fate of the paper and the public that it serves if the paper isn't there."
Next was Laura (1944), Otto Preminger's all-time classic that was screened as a tribute to the late Marvin Paige, a veteran casting director and a driving force of this festival from its inception until his death late last year. This was his favorite film. Screened this day in a flawless DCP, Laura was of course as spellbinding as ever, from Clifton Webb's magnetic opening narration to David Raksin's timeless score and everything in between. Dana Andrews, Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb are all so perfect in their roles that it's head-scratching to realize that the original choices were John Hodiak, Jennifer Jones and Laird Cregar. But just as with Casablanca (1942), the pieces eventually fell into place to create the perfect cast for a great movie. Alan K. Rode noted that Andrews remains an underrated, letter-perfect actor who, like Spencer Tracy, you can never catch "acting."
After the show, Susan Andrews took the stage with Rode to share some loving memories of her famous father. Eventually the talk turned to his struggle with alcoholism, and Susan wondered if his career might have had a more upward trajectory had he turned sober before 1969. For ten years after that date, however, Andrews had some of the happiest years of his life as he toured in stock with his wife.
One of Andrews' closest Hollywood friends was Jacques Tourneur, director of the final film, Out of the Past (1947). This, of course, is another all-time classic starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas. It's also a perfect movie with which to close out a film noir festival, as it is arguably the picture that most epitomizes the noir style, with one of the greatest alluring and deadly femme fatales, an iconic noir hero in Robert Mitchum, beautiful, shadowy, expressionistic lighting, and a story structure that emphasizes fatalism and doom above all else. To see it in 35mm is always a treat.
As I drove back to L.A., I marveled over how the weekend had managed to showcase so many films, guests and activities, yet still overall felt relaxing and unhurried. Surely the proximity of the Renaissance Hotel to the Camelot Theatre had a lot to do with it, as did the strategic scheduling of films with an eye to their running times, so as to allow enough time between shows to leave, actually do something like have a meal or relax by the pool, and then come back for the next screening.. And the festivalgoers were a nice group of people, passionate about the movies and respectful during screenings. I really don't have a bad word to say about the entire experience -- it was a perfect combination of moviegoing, intellectual stimulation, and plain old vacationing. Rode and the other organizers deserve a tip of the fedora and all the best for continuing the good work next year and beyond.
For more information about the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, go to arthurlyonsfilmnoir.ning
For more information about the Renaissance Hotel, go to renaissancehotelpalmsprings.com
Videotaped interviews of the special guests will eventually be posted on the Film Noir Foundation website and can be seen here: www.filmnoirfoundation.org/video.html.
By Jeremy Arnold
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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.
For more information, please visit: www.richardglazier.com or www.centaurrecords.com.
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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