Saturday, October 24, 2015

Airplane! ...and don't call me Shirley!

This article is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Blogathon, "Planes, Trains and Automobiles."  Click here to find all the wonderful bloggers and their articles!

Sitting in the audience for the 1980 premiere of Airplane, waves of laughter began with the first few seconds and continued throughout the whole movie.

(I didn't realize until my second viewing that the jet airliner was making propeller noises!)

Airplane is one of the best comedy films ever made -- every one of us at that premiere laughed so hard we all had sore throats at the end ... those of us who stayed through the credits got even more laughs, particularly with the ending threats of penalites of prison and all that, which ends with "So There!"

Airplane was a first of its kind -- the types of jokes and slapstick comedy it created have been copied many times over the years.  I wonder if it isn't rather difficult for generations of kids since that time to understand just how funny this movie was.  A great deal of it is dated with references to politics and culture of the time, which subsequent generations would probably not understand unless they had a mother like me who raised my kids with the classics and the best of the modern.  Another huge part of the film's comedy which younger audiences would not understand, was seeing previously famous leading men and women, none of whom had ever done comedy, appear in these roles.  A particular favorite of mine is Robert Stack, one of the most straight-backed, monotonal, stiff upper lip actors ever.  I loved him as Eliot Ness on TV, and he was always a straight drama man.  It took just a few seconds to change his persona forever with one of the biggest laughs for me....

Robert Stack

The handsome, straight-laced, Leslie Nielsen found a new and prolific career simply by appearing in Airplane.  He went on to do Naked Gun, Dracula Dead and Loving It, and many more comedies.....

Peter Graves, another actor who had never done comedy, had made his mark also hosting TV series.  It was such a fabulously funny shock to see him play the role of Captain Oveur....

Lloyd Bridges, father of Beau and Jeff, known to TV audiences from Sea Hunt, with a prolific film career behind him, all drama, was another wonderful pick....

The jive guys and Barbara Billingsley--June Cleaver, the Beaver's mother!  Who knew?  Another huge laugh...

Kareem Abdul Jabbar -- sports fans everywhere still know about this one!

And a very, very special appearance by the fabulous Ethel Merman!  What a treat!

To end this tribute to a wonderful movie, here's a shout-out to the relatively unknown young stars, Julie Hagerty and Roberts Hays, performing one of the best known scenes -- disco love in a sleazy waterfront bar!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Bride of Frankenstein ... 'Til Death Do Us Part

To kick off the month of Halloween ghosties and ghoulies, I want to re-introduce my take on Bride of Frankenstein.  It was originally posted in 2010, when I had about 4 followers.  I'm pretty sure I have a few more now, and I hope you enjoy it.
Elsa Lanchester of t he big eyes, cupid's bow mouth
and the ultimate bouffant hairdo.
Since 1931, when director James Whale brought his own unique film-making vision to Mary Shelley's novel, Frankenstein has spawned many, many remakes, sequels, mini-series and comedies.  Everyone wants to put their own personal stamp on this seminal horror story, some quite good, a lot just plain awful.  Bride of Frankenstein is different. There has only been one attempt of which I am aware at re-making it, a really dreadful movie called The Bride, with Sting and Jennifer Beals. (Mystery Science Theatre 3000 would have had a hey-day with that one!)

Lanchester with her iconic highlights, and Boris Karloff as the monster.
I think it would be impossible to re-capture in a remake the wonderful dark humor infused into the original bride story that was mostly responsible, in my opinion, for its unique nature. Bride of Frankenstein was born in the mind of director James Whale and his brand of side-glancing, off-beat humor which was his personal stamp. When I was a kid, I thought the story was deadly serious, and believed I should see it that way. After I had a few years under my belt, I realized how really funny this movie is. It still has the pathos of the poor monster’s loneliness and solitude, it has the wonderful eerie atmosphere of light and shadow, that fabulous laboratory, and lots of lightning. But it also has Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorious with his little human menagerie, the violin-playing blind hermit, and of course Elsa Lanchester with the hair!

O.P. Heggie as the Hermit
As for the storyline, the monster is back on the rampage, frightening people everywhere, being misunderstood in his intentions, and longing for someone like himself to be his friend. He comes upon a hut in the woods and hears the music of a violin. The hut is inhabited by a blind man who welcomes the monster without fear since he can’t see him. The monster has learned to talk in rudimentary language, and the two men sit down together to eat dinner. When the blind man strikes a match to light a cigar, the monster screams because of his fear of fire. The blind man explains to him that fire is good, and offers him a cigar. “Smoke is good!” the blind man says, and the monster inhales and says “Smoke….good.” (In these days of political correctness, we may yet see this scene cut out, although the rampaging and killing will of course be left in.) The two are happy to be friends, but of course the villagers that populate every Frankenstein movie break up the friendship.  Some men stop by the hut and since they are not blind, they panic and attack the monster.  To the hermit's dismay, his new friend leaves and the villagers burn his house down accidentally.  Oh yes, they were a big help.

The wonderful Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorius
Meanwhile, Praetorius is insinuating himself into Dr. Frankenstein’s life (Colin Clive reprises his role, looking a bit the worse for wear since the original Frankenstein). Ernest Thesiger is wonderful as the mad Praetorius, with his long, skeletal face and clipped British accent. He plays Praetorious in a threatening but gleeful way, prancing at times and clapping his hands together. Dr. Frankenstein is not interested in trying to re-animate dead tissue anymore, but Praetorius piques his interest by showing him his new brand of re-animation, or rather, creation of life. Praetorius displays his collection of tiny people kept in glass jars, a king, a queen, a bishop, a ballerina, alive and well and playing pranks. When the tiny people speak, it is with tiny squeaks like cartoon mice. Dr. Frankenstein is horrified, but interested. At one point, the monster finds Praetorius sitting in what looks like an open-air crypt, drinking gin and relaxing. When the monster realizes that it would be possible for Dr. Frankenstein to create a female, he hounds and threatens, with the help of Praetorius, until the doctor agrees.

The gang is all here ... Colin Clive, Elsa Lanchester,
Boris Karloff and Ernest Thesiger
The female is created in the same laboratory (that’s pronounced laBORatory) where the monster was brought to life. Her shroud is much more stylish, though, well-fitted and displaying a fine figure. She opens her eyes – the next scene shows her standing, dressed in a widely-shaped, floor-length, long-sleeved white dress. Her hair is done up in a very chic updo, dark with lightning-shaped white hair on either side. She sees Dr. Frankenstein and likes him, sees the monster and hates him, and utters a few creepy, distinctive echoing cries. The monster sees that she refuses his overtures, and decides he has had enough rejection in his life. He grabs a lever. Praetorius cries “Don’t touch that lever. You’ll blow us all to atoms!” Why such a lever would be installed in the first place is never explained. The monster, in an unusual mood of love for his creator, tells him to leave – “You live! We belong dead!” Then of course, he pulls the lever, and Praetorius’ warning comes true.


Rosalind Ayres as the Bride and Ian McKellan as Dr. Frankenstein
I cannot write about Bride of Frankenstein without paying tribute to two movies where it plays major roles. The first is Gods and Monsters starring Ian McKellan as James Whale. In a flashback for Whale, we see him shooting the bride's creation scene. The actor who plays Praetorius turns to Whale and says “Are Colin and I supposed to have done her hair?” Gods and Monsters is a tremendous movie and you shouldn’t miss it.

What a fabulous bunch ... Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman,
Terry Garr, Peter Boyle and Madeline Kahn.
The second movie is, of course, Young Frankenstein. For any lover of the Frankenstein movies, this is a must. It takes elements from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. It is one of the greatest comedy films I have ever seen. The wonderful Madeline Kahn plays the woman who becomes the bride, and the scene where she comes out of the bathroom to her new husband, with her hair in that style, is not to be missed. Frankly, I can never watch any of the Frankenstein movies anymore without the hilarious Young Frankenstein always in my mind.  Create a really fun, binge-watching October weekend for yourself – watch the aforementioned original Frankenstein trio. Then watch Young Frankenstein and Gods and Monsters. It will be an experience you won’t forget!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Mockingbird Will Never Die

Dear Readers, it's no secret that I'm an avid classic movie lover as well as an avid reader of great books.  To Kill A Mockingbird, movie and book, have a permanent place in my mind and heart.  I had to make a decision for myself about all the hoopla with the publication of Harper Lee's first draft idea for Mockingbird.  In my opinion, about which I don't really feel humble, is that it was irresponsible and unethical to make money by outing "Go Set a Watchman," Harper Lee's first draft idea.

Mockingbird is a superb book that inspired a superb movie, a treasure for both movie lovers and lovers of literature who know greatness when they see it.  Harper Lee's first story idea was bad, as they so often are. Her publisher suggested something different, as they so often do. So she eventually wrote a great book; maybe then was when she got some help from her friend Truman Capote.  I've never believed the old rumor that he actually wrote it.  It's not his style at all.  He may have given valuable advice, but if I had such a writer for a friend and I was stuck on my writing, I would welcome his help too.

I don't know all the facts about how "Watchman" came to be published; I don't know what Harper Lee had to do with it or what advice she was given.  With the greatest respect, Miss Lee is a very old lady, eccentric in many ways, and someone should have had the heart to squelch the idea of publishing that draft, which was squelched in the first place because it was bad.  I would die if anybody saw some of the first drafts I've written! Most writers would.  

I'm sure many of you know more about the events leading up to the "Watchman" release, and I'm not averse to learning facts.  I guess after I first read some of the articles about it and got a look at the story, I was just suspicious about Miss Lee's involvement and, frankly, just didn't care about the draft.  It was just that ... a draft.  Now so many people are terribly upset, re-thinking the real Mockingbird, and that is very sad.  It's especially sad for the generations of kids who will get to know this novel and book that Oprah Winfrey called our national book.  It is likely that their experience will be tinged by knowing from the start about the backlash against the idea of Atticus Finch being a racist, the most important issue being discussed.  That word, used however carefully or with whatever back-pedaling, is immediate cultural death to anyone or anything involved.  That would indeed be a tragedy, one which is up to us to avert by teaching our children and grandchildren how to understand and what to ignore in the case of Mockingbird.

For us, Atticus Finch will always be a loving father and decent, caring and educated man, in a time and place in which some of those virtues were not prevalent.  That is how Harper Lee offered him to us.  That is who he is.  To Kill A Mockingbird will never disappear as long as we adults make a firm decision to teach our children just as Atticus taught his own.

A decent man and the innocence of children change, for
a moment, their corner of the world.

This will never be goodbye, Atticus ... it will always be our tribute.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Teresa Wright -- Quietly Unforgettable

Teresa Wright

When I was a teenager, I wanted to be Rita Hayworth or Vivien Leigh.  The sheer beauty of these women was intoxicating, and at that age I thought that was the be all and the end all for a woman.  When I got a little older, I came to realize that even great beauty just wouldn't do.  I began to notice other qualities of women I admired, particularly my mother.  I became acquainted with the movies of Teresa Wright, and ever since then have felt that if I were not myself, I would like to be her.  It wasn't just her looks or talent -- she was certainly lovely and a wonderful actress.  She was not glamorous and did not want to be.  Teresa's prime movie career was set in a time I have always loved.  She was in her 20's during the 1940's.  I had always felt I would been better suited there than in my own time.  The 40's, even though stricken by war, seemed a wonderful time to be a young woman living in a medium-sized town where decent people lived ordinary lives (eg. Shadow of a Doubt); where modesty, love, and the importance of fidelity were desirable virtues (eg. The Best Years of Our Lives); where love of country and responsibility for it were commonplace (eg. Mrs. Miniver). The most famous movies in which Teresa appeared, added to the three already mentioned, were The Little Foxes and Pride of the Yankees.  These films spanned the years of 1941 to 1946.  

Teresa and Dame May Whitty in Mrs. Miniver

Lest I be dismissed as a rose-colored glasses type, I certainly know that those years, the towns portrayed, the stories themselves also held behind closed doors the fear, unhappiness and difficulties with life as in any era.  In fact, each of the five movies has Teresa starting out as an innocent girl, only to be forced to deal with disappointment, sorrow and sometimes just plain evil -- a  beloved, yet murderous, Uncle Charlie in Shadow; post-war mental and social damage, divorce and physical disability in Best Years; the effect of war on an ordinary English family, and death that comes as never expected in Mrs. Miniver; greed and evil in a young girl's mother and uncles in Foxes; and deep sorrow for a wife with her husband's illness in Pride.

Teresa in The Best Years of Our Lives

Teresa's movie career began to decline after 1946, although she made several, none of which ever reached the the level of importance of the first five.  Teresa then became a prolific actress on television, with a few occasional movies, and worked until she was 78 years old.  She died in 2005.

So why do I feel so akin to a decade that ended before I was born?  I like what I've seen and heard about the cultural attitudes, the social aspect of relationships and other heavy issues.  But right now, I'm thinking about the fabulous big band music, the way that men dressed in suits and fedoras, and the women's clothes that looked like ball gowns compared to the way we appear in public these days.  One of the fun things about Teresa for me is her clothes.  In every movie she is dressed in beautiful, simple day wear, tailored just to her.  You can imagine yourself in clothes like that, as opposed to period costumes or mink-laden outfits for the rich.  Teresa always looked great, cool and womanly.  I liked her hair too.

Teresa and Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver

Teresa and detective in Shadow of a Doubt

Teresa,  Joseph Cotton and a cop in Shadow of a Doubt

It's hard to believe that Teresa Wright could fall under the category of forgotten stars, but I bet not many people other than us have any idea who she is.  That's such a shame.  She made important, great movies, and neither she nor they should be forgotten.

Friday, May 15, 2015

National Classic Movie Day -- "Going My Way"

What a movie ... what a cast!
This is my contribution to National Classic Movie Day, arranged by Rick of Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Click here to find all of the contributors.

In May of 1944 the United States was embroiled in the dark days of World War II. After 2 ½ years of war, grief and fear of the future, American audiences chose as their favorite movie a little film which helped them remember what life is ultimately about -- love of God, love of people, humor in the midst of difficulty, ordinary human beings living each day as it comes. Going My Way was a Paramount film directed by Leo McCarey. McCarey was known mostly for his comedies before the 1940’s, working with such greats as the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and Mae West. During the 40’s, McCarey became increasingly concerned about the needs of people struggling with wartime difficulties, as well as social injustice of the economically disadvantaged.

Going My Way is the story of two Catholic priests at St. Dominic parish in a poor neighborhood. Fr. O’Malley (Bing Crosby) arrives at the parish supposedly to assist the aging pastor, Fr. Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald). In point of fact, the Bishop has plans to eventually replace Fr. Fitzgibbon, who is now in his 70’s and is reluctant to retire. Fr. Fitzgibbon has been a priest for 45 years, and it has been that long since he has seen Ireland or his now extremely elderly mother. Fr. O’Malley’s modern, easy-style personality rubs the fiery old pastor the wrong way, and Fr. O’Malley is kind to him, always careful to show respect and patience in their relationship. Throughout the movie, we meet people who cross paths with Fr. O’Malley – Carol (Jean Heather), a runaway whose future causes no end of concern for the priest; Ted Harris Jr. (James Brown), whose interest in Carol is a further cause for concern; Genevieve (Rise Stevens), whom Fr. O’Malley once loved; and a gang of neighborhood boys led by Tony Scaponi (Stanley Clements). (You have to love that name, Tony Scaponi!) A third priest, Fr. O’Dowd (Frank McHugh), the same age and modern outlook as Fr. O’Malley, turns up to be another thorn in the old pastor’s side. Fr. O’Malley deals with each person in the same spiritually dedicated, yet firm feet-on-the-ground attitude which characterizes his moral makeup. There is great humor in this story, sorrow, and an ending that is quiet and intensely moving.

Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald

Going My Way is a slice-of-life movie, simply portraying the life of a church parish day to day. There is no hurry to McCarey’s direction, allowing each scene to unfold with rich personality and character-driven plot. The audience feels as if they know the people in this film, as proven by the fact that this was the highest-grossing film of 1944. In those days, without television or re-runs, that meant that there was a lot of repeat viewing and thus more theatre tickets sold. Going My Way swept the Oscars that year, winning best picture, best director, best actor for Crosby, best supporting actor for Fitzgerald, best screenplay, best song for “Swinging On A Star” written by Van Huesen and Burke. This was in a year where competition was stiff and the movie was up against such films as Cary Grant’s Arsenic and Old Lace, Olivier’s Henry V, Garland’s Meet Me In St. Louis and Ingrid Bergman’s Gaslight. Interestingly, Fitzgerald and Crosby were both nominated for best actor, as well as Fitzgerald’s nomination for best supporting actor, a double-nominee practice that was later disallowed.

Bing and the gang

The cast of Going My Way is one that shines in its individual parts. Bing Crosby is perfection as the younger priest who sings and plays piano, just as comfortable with boogie woogie as spiritual songs. His work with the neighborhood boys in turning them into a choir is beautifully portrayed. (One of the boys is Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer who we remember from Our Gang serials.) They truly sing like angels when they perform the title song with real-life opera great Rise Stevens. But it’s their performance with the song “Swinging On A Star” that audiences really loved. The part of the old pastor, Fr. Fitzgibbon, seemed tailor made for Barry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was 56 at the time, only 15 years older than Crosby, yet he seemed and looked very old, a testament to his acting and good makeup. He is funny and sweet in his part, and you can’t help but love him.

Frank McHugh
Wonderful Frank McHugh as Fr. O’Dowd is the perfect comic relief with his distinctive way of speaking and his famous high breathy laugh. McHugh was a member of the Irish Mafia, a spoof name for a group of actors, mostly Irish, who met fairly regularly which included James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien. Stanley Clements (Tony Scaponi) eventually replaced Leo Gorcey in the Bowery Boys last seven movies. You may recognize James Brown as Ted Haines -- he starred in the Rin Tin Tin television series.  The rest of the supporting cast round out this wonderful ensemble with solid performances.

In the following year, 1945, Bing Crosby reprised his role as Fr. O'Malley in The Bells of St. Mary's, starring Ingrid Bergman as the Mother Superior.  It was also a huge hit, and in my opinion, Bergman still holds the gold medal for best and most beautiful nun in films.

Director McCarey and Bing Crosby were both devout Catholics and that shows in their dedication to the film and their love for the ideals of the Church. After the war, Crosby obtained permission to screen the movie for Pope Pius XII and meet with him personally. Some, particularly in our own time, pronounce this movie as saccharine and idealistic. I disagree completely. It set forth ideals and the efforts of ordinary people to live up to them. Now, when scandal has marred the image of the Catholic Church, this little movie is a timely reminder that the same ideals are still there, and that 99.9% of priests are as good and dedicated as Fr. O’Malley (although not many of them sing as well). That is a living legacy from Leo McCarey and Bing Crosby.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Evolution of Tod Browning's Freaks

European poster for Freaks
This article is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association's Spring Blogathon, Fabulous Films of of the 1930's.  Click here to find all the wonderful bloggers who are participating:

Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks has been analyzed, reviewed, hated, admired, recommended and shunned since its first screening 83 years ago. My interest is in one aspect of this movie's impact upon audiences -- the evolution of its acceptance.  In his production, Browning filmed this fictional story of circus freaks using not actors, but real men and women who had been born with deformities and made their living traveling the sideshow circuit.  In many ways, the movie was a source of pride for most of its stars.  They had lived their lives being stared at and vilified, and made their living in the only way open to them -- as circus attractions.  The idea of being wanted for a mainstream Hollywood movie appealed to most of those who appeared in Freaks.  Browning himself believed not only in the monetary interests of a shock value movie, but also in spotlighting the fact that these are human beings with the same feelings as anyone else, kindness, love, anger, bitterness and rage.  His intentions met with complete failure in 1932.  Stories abounded of people fainting and running screaming up the aisles during the first few minutes of the movie.  Freaks was considered so disgusting that theatres throughout the country pulled it and refused to show it.  It was definitely a box office dud, and only decades later was it met with interest and perceptive observation.

The aspect of Freaks that interests me for the purpose of this article is simple -- we are not as dramatically affected by Freaks now as people were in 1932.  We certainly have a better understanding of medical anomalies.  Deformities are no longer seen as a curse or an evil as in the past.  The development of babies in the womb is an open book because of prenatal imagery, and we have reached a point in medical involvement in which some problems can actually be fixed in utero.  Deformities certainly still occur, but for us in a country rich in medical breakthroughs and treatments, the same anomalies as seen in Freaks are very rare, if not completely eradicated.  Even the crude terms used for deformities have evolved ... pinheads are microcephalics, Siamese twins are conjoined siblings, midgets and dwarves are little people ... names can indeed hurt, and our modern terminology helps to make that a thing of the past.

We now have television shows that spotlight people who are different.  Little People, Big World is very popular, showing a family who is really like any other family, with the exception of certain special needs.  However, it is my observation that most families require special needs of many types, even though these may be invisible.  The problem of the "dysfunctional family" has become so widespread that functional families seem to be a rarity.  There are a great many TV shows about fat people, strange obsessions, odd-looking people who are that way either by birth or choice of tattooing and piercing.  There isn't a whole lot that we don't see anymore.  The people of under-developed countries particularly suffer from terrible deformities and diseases, and now remarkable doctors, plastic surgeons and nurses give of their time and skill to travel around the world to help them without charge.

We still stare ... there is no denying that ... but most of us try not to and are embarrassed when we do, a far cry from years past.  I remember shopping for groceries and turning the corner of an aisle to be confronted by a man with an advanced case of  neurofibromatosis, which used to be called Elephant Man's disease.  I couldn't help being shocked, but I managed to quell the instinctive gasp we do when surprised in that way.  He just gave me a smile, and I smiled back with a little shake of the head at myself.  It turned out he was the produce man, and I will never forget his gracious behavior and the courage he must have had to just be living a normal life with a normal job.  Would I have screamed and run in 1932?  I am glad I live in a world where an unintentional surprise was all that I experienced and all that this gentleman had to endure.  There are still people who rudely snap pictures on their cell phones of those who are different, but media attention to these insensitive jerks prove them to be undeserving of any respect, an opinion shared by the majority of Americans.

Sometimes it seems that nothing ever really changes, and we see that opinion manifested every day in the news.  Various ethnic groups, religious groups, political groups, all cry out that bigotry is still the same as years past.  I do not believe that.  Certainly there are people who have not changed, who still live by the code of discrimination, but I see that more people have evolved than not.  Such issues are now discussed openly, and people who suffer bigotry have more ways to address and punish the haters than ever before.  That is because there are more of us who want to do what is right than ever before.  Just this one small example shows that ... at least for the cast of Freaks we know things have evolved -- the very word itself, freaks, is no longer tolerated.

Here is a little pictorial of some of the performers we were introduced to in Freaks.  All were very well known in their day.


Johnny Eck, the Half Boy and Prince Randian, the Living Torso

Brother and sister act Harry and Daisy Earles

Actress Rose Dione with Schlitze, Zip and Pip,
and a little person who I believe to be Angeleno

Violet and Daisy Hilton (with actors portraying their husbands)

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Big Blogathon About The Big Picture

You could do a great line-up with Cinemascope!  Roman soldiers everywhere!
(A scene from The Robe, the first movie released in Cinemascope)

It's March 13, the first day of the Cinemascope blogathon ... set aside some time March 13th through 16th to enjoy the bloggers who will be presenting their work on the best movies in Cinemascope as well as the process itself.

Bloggers:  Check your blog link below and let me know if there are any errors.

March 13th

How To Marry A Millionaire:  by

The Long Hot Summer:  by

The Innocents / The Lady and the Tramp:  by

Gunmans Walk:  by

Love Me Or Leave Me:  by

Our Man Flint:  by

The Great Locomotive Chase:  by

Ride the High Country: by

March 14

Move Over Darling:  by

Peyton Place:  by

Three Coins in the Fountain:  by

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness:  by

Retrospective of Cinemascope:  by Scenes from the Morgue:

A Bad Day at Black Rock:  by

Cinerama!  by

Tammy and the Bachelor:  by

March 15

My 10 Favorite Cinemascope Films: by

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes: by

Silk Stockings:  by

Snow White and the Three Stooges:  by

Daddy Long Legs:  by

The Alligator People:  by

Blood Alley:  by

There's No Business Like Show Business:  by

March 16

Seven Brides for Seven  Brothers:  by

Black Widow:  by

House of  Bamboo / Lola Montez:

The Girl Can't Help It / Jailhouse Rock / Les Girls:  by

The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit:  by

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Let Us Rope You Into Another Fun Blogathon!

My buddy Rich  (of Wide Screen World) and I will be hosting a blogathon about the wonders of Cinemascope and the blockbuster movies that were presented in movie theatre screens bigger than ever.  Head on over to Rich's blog to read all about it!  He has made some great banners -- my favorite is Fantastic Voyage, with the little submarine moving through a vein.  In Cinemascope, even the corpuscles were big!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sorry Peter, But I Have To Pan You

It is a given that the new NBC live Peter Pan which aired tonight will be compared to the original version, also NBC, in 1960. It starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, Broadway veterans with powerful voices and sly, sarcastic delivery of humor.  I loved it.  Tonight, I really did sit down to watch with high hopes. I don't know Alison Williams at all, but I love Christopher Walken.  I worried a bit about his laid-back style, but hoped he would step it up as the evil, hilarious Captain Hook.  I hoped that the funniest bits were be left in and that it would not be ultra-modernized.  

Christopher Walken's first appearance as Captain Hook, sans hat, reminded me of Fu Manchu.  I love the guy, I really do, but his dry, quiet humor just doesn't fit this part at all.  It needs flamboyance and high humor, which Cyril Ritchard gave it in the 1960 live TV version.  A new (generic and forgettable) song for the initial pirate appearance was pretty flat, with Walken languishing in his chair looking a little stoned (which is pretty much what he always looks like ... it's part of his charm ... just not for Hook).  He was funny at times, but all in all, his performance was not up to par.

Cyril Ritchard (1960 live TV version)

Mary Martin (1960 live TV version)

Alison Williams

Alison Williams has a nice enough voice, but it is very thin and exudes very little emotion of any kind.  She is rather flat in her performance, and there is no zap to her acting or singing.  In every department, Mary Martin blew Williams out of the water.  I thought she was a disappointment.

Wendy, Peter and Michael are .... well, just like all of the Wendys, Peters and Michaels in other versions.  They and the Lost Boys were cute and did an adequate job.

I did notice a technical problem that was surprising, considering the first-class treatment of this show.  During a couple of William's and Walken's songs, the orchestra was easier to hear than their singing.  Chorales were no problem, but solo singers were not loud enough.  Of course, Walken and Williams have similar voices -- too thin and without power.  I also read on the internet a criticism that the flying gear looked just the same as it did 54 years ago.  That didn't bother me -- how else can you do it on live TV without wires?  It's not like a movie where they can hide such things.

I loved the pirates ... funny, wonderful dancers and singers.  In contrast to the pirates' singing, Walken often sounded like he was whispering.

Sondra Lee (1960 live TV version)

In what I figured would be a controversial issue, Indian Queen Tiger Lily and her tribe were replaced by a gorgeous native Princess, played by Alanna Saunders, and her curiously naked-looking male tribe.  The Princess has a feather on front of her forehead, where Tiger Lily had one on the back of her head.  The Princess also has a better designer.  The new look is apparently considered more respectful -- the credits showed a Native American consultant, so I guess he knows.  However, I don't think a real native Princess would have access to shiny, metallic fabric made into a dress with only straps covering important places.  The original song, "Ugg uh Wugg", was cut out for modern sensitivities, but it was lots of fun.  I've always remembered how the dancers positioned themselves in a V and leaned from side to side until you were sure they were going to fall over.  The replacement song is tepid and not likely to be something you will hum or remember the lyrics.  The original Tiger Lily herself, Sondra Lee, gave an interview about this new version of Peter Pan.  She wishes them luck; however:

"Lee says that while she won't be watching the new version, she's read about it -- and she's not happy the producers have cut Tiger Lily's big song "Ugg-a-Wugg."  It's been replaced by "True Blood Brothers," a new song ... whose composer consulted Native Americans to make sure the song is more authentic than, say, the Land O'Lakes Lady.  Lee thinks that's silly.  "There was no such thing as political correctness when we did the show.  The song is about word games, and kids play word games all the time ... People come up to me all the time and say "Ugg-a-Wugg"!  They love it.  If you have a classic, don't mess with it..."

I enjoy writing about movies I love more than movies I don't like, so I'll never be a true critic.  But, in this case, I think a wonderful musical was not given the proper cast or new treatment, and that's a shame.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Charlie Chan's Cure For Insomnia

The last few months have brought with them some stressful events, and one side-effect was an unrelenting insomnia that didn't respond well even to sleeping pills.   I would get about 3-4 hours of comatose sleep and then wake right up again.  Reading doesn't work well with tired eyes, and you have to be careful what you watch on TV at 2 a.m.  Action shows or thriller movies just wake you up more.  Great classic movies aren't usually a good idea because your mind insists on staying awake to experience them.  Finally, I settled upon the perfect thing to enjoy and yet settle the brain down to eventual sleep ... Charlie Chan.

Warner Oland
I just love Charlie Chan movies, always have.  My high school steady boyfriend fell in love with me when I was able to name the three famous Chan actors, Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters.  (I knew we were a match made in Heaven when he started quoting W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.)  I never liked Roland Winters, but I love Oland and Toler.  Oland seemed to me the more sophisticated Charlie Chan, with a bit of polite menace in his countenance.  Toler is the friendlier father type of Charlie Chan, always ready with Confucius humor.  There is a Charlie Chan for any mood.

Sidney Toler
I know it isn't correct anymore to love the two best Charlies ... Oland was Swedish and Toler was from Missouri ... but I can't help it.  I didn't know they were a stereotype when I was a kid watching them on TV.  I just thought they were always smarter than anybody else at solving mysteries, and they always had a superior smile in answer to any insults they might receive.  I felt the same way about Mantan Moreland ... my favorite Toler movies are the ones in which Mantan appears as Birmingham Brown.  Again, my child self was not aware that these movie roles were hurtful to black people.  I just thought Mantan was so funny, and was the only one who seemed smart enough to know when he was in a dangerous situation.  Willie Best appeared in one Chan film as Chattanooga Brown, Birmingham's cousin, and I remember wishing I had a cool nickname like those.

Mantan Moreland and one of Charlie's sons
(I forget which one...)
The Charlie Chan movies are fun, not very long, pretty quiet actually ... when insomnia kept me from sleeping, I began to stretch out on the recliner, turn off all the lights, keep the volume low, and play some on a loop that included Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, Murder at Midnight, Charlie Chan in Egypt.  The background scores are soothing, the pace is not hurried, and eventually I was usually out like a light.  The loop would keep playing until it turned itself off, and I was blissfully asleep.  So thanks, Charlie ... you cured me.

I found a clip on Youtube of Mantan Moreland and his vaudeville partner, Ben Carter, doing their famous "interrupted sentence" routine in some of the Chan movies.  (The clip names it "incomplete sentence" routine, but that's wrong.)  They are so good at it, and it always tickles me.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Day Is It?

Holiday weekends always throw me off.  I never know what day it is.  I planned to post an article on Monday, which I thought was today but was actually yesterday.  My brain, like my purse,  is a bottomless pit ... a lot of things just get lost down there.

My youngest son, Greg, is getting married Saturday.  I am so happy for him, and I love his fiancee.  I'm also a nervous wreck ... did this get done, did I forget something, oh my God I didn't hem my outfit, should I just attend by webcam and then I won't have to worry about how anything looks except from the neck up ... you know what I mean.

So, I'm not going to do an extensive article because I wouldn't do it well anyway.  After Saturday, the panic will have disappeared and my mind will be free.

I have some great ideas for the Brain Food.  I'd like to do another entry to my Overlooked At The Oscars series.  Of course, I am joining the Forgotten Stars Blogathon, and looking forward to it.  I'm also in the mood to spoof a Vincent Price movie ... love that man!  I am looking forward to visiting blogs and seeing what good stuff I have missed.

So long for now, kids.  I'll be working on something good ... but then, you will be the judges of that!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

This article is my contribution to the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by Aurora at Once Upon A Screen ( and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled (  Click on those links to find the list of contributors to this event.  

The film I have chosen to highlight of all the works of Billy Wilder is probably the one of which he was most disappointed, most loved by him, didn't make much money, and was not a hit at the box office.  Wilder was a prolific director and writer, one of the best.  His movies always carried the Wilder touch of humor, sharp dialogue and human pathos.  The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (hereafter referred to as Private Life), released in 1970, contains all of those, plus the added touch of the love Wilder felt for the great detective.

Robert Stephens as Holmes
Wilder had a dream about creating a film dedicated to Holmes as not just the razor-sharp consulting detective, but also a man with a private life, feelings and emotions.  Arthur Conan Doyle did not create emotions for the great detective since those human reactions get in the way of logic and deduction, something Holmes would never allow.  However, it was Wilder's intention to create what the lovers of Holmes had never seen -- the life he and his friend Dr. Watson shared in between the great cases they solved.  Wilder and his long-time collaborator I.A.L. Diamond worked assiduously on a script that became the building block for a three-hour movie.  (Diamond also co-wrote Wilder's The Apartment, one of my top 10 favorite films.)  The two men wrote an episodic film which told the stories of four particularly strange cases (one of which had the very interesting name of The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners).  Originally, Holmes and Watson were to have been played by Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers, respectively.  Much as I love both of them, Private Life would have suffered.  Wilder also believed that lesser-known actors would better showcase the story he wanted to tell.

Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson
Sadly, the real 'dreadful business' affecting Private Life was the reluctance of United Artists to release such an epic-length movie.  UA had just lost a great deal of money on Hello, Dolly and a couple of other blockbuster flops.  Wilder was forced to agree to an unbelievable cutting of half the original running time.  The episodic format made it a little easier to cut because the studio just cut out two of the cases, but Wilder was devastated:  "... when I came back [from Paris], it was an absolute disaster, the way it was cut.  The whole prologue was cut, a half-sequence was cut.  I had tears in my eyes as I looked at the thing ... It was the most elegant picture I've ever shot."  Private Life was left with basically two primary stories to tell, one of a beautiful woman, Gabrielle (Genevieve Page) in which a missing husband and six midgets play a part, and one that involved the Loch Ness monster and the royal family.  There is also a very funny episode in which Holmes is forced to intimate that he and Watson are gay lovers, in order to fend off a determined Russian ballerina.  Of interest to classic movie fans are two cameo appearances:  Christopher Lee appears as Sherlock's brother Mycroft; and the part of a gravedigger is played by Stanley Holloway, a tribute to the wonderful character actor who had also played the part of the gravedigger in Olivier's Hamlet 22 years  before.

Robert Stephens
However, no matter what was done to the movie, I completely agree with Wilder ... it is a wonderfully elegant picture.  The two paramount reasons for this are the incredible music by Miklos Rozsa and the prodigious talents of British actor Robert Stephens as Holmes.  Stephens was a classically trained actor, described as on a par with Laurence Olivier.  Stephens' own private life was rocky, with failed marriages and a drinking problem to contend with, but his professional life of acting primarily on stage, with a few films to his credit, was indeed tour de force.  He brought to his depiction of Holmes a wonderfully effete air and nasal British accent that was haughty enough for the top of London society.  He was pencil-thin (which Wilder insisted upon), and kept a nose-in-the-air attitude that just fit perfectly with the humor that Wilder and Diamond had written for him.  Of particular note is his annoyance with Watson (Colin Blakely) because of his description of Holmes wearing a deerstalker cap and cape, which Holmes had never worn and only did so because the public expected it of him. Holmes disagreed vehemently with other descriptions made by Watson:

Holmes:  "I don't dislike women, I merely distrust them.  The twinkle in the eye and the arsenic in the soup."
Holmes:  "You've painted me as a hopeless drug addict just because I occasionally take a five-percent solution of cocaine."
Watson:  "A seven-percent solution."
Holmes.  "Five percent.  Don't you think I am aware you've been diluting it behind my back?"

Robert Stephens and Genevieve Page as Gabrielle ('the woman')
Stephens was wonderful in the humorous parts, but particularly striking in the portrayal of Holmes with regard to 'the woman' and his feelings and relationship with her, and a core of loneliness that was Wilder's creation.  After I saw Private Life for the first time, I believed that Stephens was one of the best Holmes in movie adaptations.  Stephens had a lot to work with in Wilder and Diamond's spot-on writing.  Another important aspect of the film is the music of Miklos Rozsa.

Rozsa's music had graced many films, including Ben Hur and Lust for Life.  He was at the top of his game with Private Life.  I've always believed that music can make or break a movie, and great music can play as important a part as any star or director.  Rozsa created a score that included his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 24, which is highlighted in the opening titles.  I found the opening truly haunting -- a mysterious box being opened to reveal possessions of Holmes and Watson, with a manuscript that had never been read.  Rozsa's accompanying music, particularly when it segues into the concerto, is ravishing to the ear.  If you have not seen Private Life, make an effort to do so, if only to relish Billy Wilder's writing and direction, Robert Stephens' marvelous performance, and the music of Miklos Rozsa.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Beauty and the Hollywood Beast - The 2014 Oscars

Kim Novak 

Liza Minnelli

After last year's Oscar ceremony, a shameful debacle of the lowest common denominator headed by Seth Macfarlane, I thought this year would be at best tasteful, at worst boring.  Ellen DeGeneres as host turned out to be light and funny for the most part, a few zings here and there for fun, and I've always liked her.  That is why I was really shocked when she was so mean to Liza Minnelli.  Ellen thought it was funny to tell Liza in front of millions of people that she looked like a male impersonator.  Such remarks are funny only when they aren't true.  Unfortunately, at this point, Liza does look like an impersonation of herself, so it isn't funny at all.  Liza suffers from mental and physical disabilities, as did her dear mother, Judy Garland, and it takes a pretty hard heart to ignore that for the sake of a 20 second laugh.  It was plain that Liza was flustered, and I'm sure she was very hurt and embarrassed, the kind of hurt that takes a while to sink in and then stays with you forever.  Shame on Ellen for throwing a cruel spotlight on a troubled and unguarded person.

That opening salvo of uncharitable behavior was topped later by the treatment that Kim Novak received, from her ignominious arrival on the stage to the behavior of the audience of supposed peers.  Kim Novak was a big star of a bygone era.  What on earth possessed the director to just send her out with no announcement, as if she were just another presenter?  She deserved at least a special word from the host, but received none.  Worse yet, the audience of actors and movie-makers practically sat on their hands.  Oh there was applause, but nothing special at all.  It was the worst case of Hollywood with its virtual head up its virtual rear end.  I'm pretty sure it was all because Kim took the unfortunate step of plastic surgery which turned out badly.  She does not look recognizable anymore, she was plainly nervous and overwhelmed, and probably embarrassed that she did not evoke any special recognition from the audience.

All of that could have been avoided by a director who was professional enough to see a potential problem with just bringing her out cold, or a host with enough sense to prepare the audience who may not recognize her fast enough.  All it would have taken was "Ladies and gentleman, we are privileged to have with us tonight a Hollywood legend -- Kim Novak."  I'm sure the reaction would have been different, some real applause and recognition.  What a simple thing to have done, which was apparently beyond the ability of the show's planners.  It would also have been nice if somebody had said how great it was to see Kim Novak.  It's hard to believe that nobody thought to render that little kindness.  Only one person helped Kim, her fellow presenter, Matthew McConaughey.  He put his arm around her, and it was clear that he saw her tentative behavior, her obvious nervousness.  His behavior was that of a gentleman and a caring human being.

Now she is no longer young and beautiful, and has bravely revealed the severe problems that being manic-depressive have meant to her life.  Hell, I could say the exact same thing about myself. And despite a bad surgery job, she doesn't look anywhere near 80 as a whole!  When you get older you lose the pretty face of youth, and lifelong mental disabilities can make you more frail in dealing with the cold, cruel world, not necessarily stronger.  Kim has spoken about herself and revealed a woman with great strengths, but also difficulty with public appearance. It takes a society of compassion to deal with sick people, shy people, nervous people -- it takes individuals with some sense of empathy to see and divert such people from hurt.  There was only one person in that crowd of people, and thank goodness for him.

I always loved Kim Novak.  She could hold her own on screen, and it was her incredible beauty and air of wistful vulnerability that made her a star.  I am reminded of a wonderful line from My Favorite Year, a movie about an aging matinee idol who said of himself, "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"  In the movies, it is no shame to be popular because of looks.  Even one of the oldest songs about Hollywood says "...any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic with just a good looking pan."  She always lit up the screen with her presence and I always felt the star quality that made her a pleasure to watch.  The problem is that youth and beauty are transitory, time is relentless, and human beings don't always make the best judgments under pressure.

Hollywood is hard on people without a tough skin.  Modern Hollywood is especially obsessed with looks and youth.  It is the utmost hypocrisy to insist that actresses have those qualities, and then laugh at someone who is insecure and desperate enough to undergo plastic surgery to reach for what is past.  The young women working in movies are going to lose their looks eventually too.  It appears that they won't have a clue about the feelings of disconnect and disrespect which that obsession can mean to one of their own profession until it happens to them.  ( I don't include the men, who are allowed to be old, wrinkled and sagging and still be accepted as desirable.)  Hollywood isn't the only source of meanness -- the multitude of nasty twitter posts about Kim's altered face, as well as Liza's appearance, made me feel a little sick.  They are being quoted all over the internet, and I feel awful that the women will certainly see them and be hurt all over again.

Kim, I wish you could know tonight that many fans love you, remember your beauty, admire the woman that you are now, and don't give a damn about your outward appearance.  Liza, you were once a striking girl with youthful exuberance, and you now are a woman contending with age and illness, and the same feelings apply to you.  Countering the smirking laughter, there is also a lot of outrage that you were both treated badly.  Kindness is the best of human virtues -- you should have received at least that from your own people.