Sep 11, 2007

Jane Wyman 1914-2007

Jane Wyman started her film career as an ingenue, flitting in and out of celluloid parties and dancing in chorus lines. She developed her talent throughout the forties, gaining special attention as Ray Milland's sensitive girlfriend in The Lost Weekend (1945). In 1948, sge reached new heights with her performance as a deaf-mute woman in Johnny Belinda. The industry rewarded her with the Academy Award for Best Actress. As she entered middle age, she excelled as the sensible gal capable of quite unreasonable passion in the Sirk melodramas, Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All that Heaven Allows (1955). By the mid-fifties, she had moved to television, where she had her own show, Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theatre, for three years, in addition to appearing on several other shows. She even made her mark on the golden age of evening soaps, playing the steely matriarch of Falcon Crest throughout the eighties. Solid and dependable, but with a flirtatious charm, she has left behind a diverse and satisfying body of work.

Sep 7, 2007

49th Parallel (1941)

With Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey and Laurence Olvier all taking huge pay cuts to make this film “for the war effort” and Anton Walbrook donating half his salary to the International Red Cross, there’s no doubt that this World War II era film is propaganda. It is also great entertainment. A U-boat full of Nazis lands off the coast of Northern Canada and sends a small group of men out for provisions—with orders to destroy anyone who stands in their way. They take over an isolated outpost surrounded by Eskimos and soon learn by radio that their comrades have all been lost. As their numbers dwindle, they try to escape across the border to the still-neutral US, while blindly promoting their fuehrer and trampling the friendly strangers who try to help them along the way. The unusual focus on the antagonist’s story can bring up flashes of pity for these essentially brainwashed men, but their crimes are too severe to be entirely forgotten.

Aug 14, 2007

Quote of the Day

The feature film, it’s an allegory. It can be poetry. It’s truer than the truth.

-Jeanne Moreau

Aug 5, 2007

Quote of the Day

Always be smarter than the people who hire you.
-Lena Horne

Jul 31, 2007

Michelangelo Antonioni 1912-2007

Michelangelo Antonioni’s films gave his actors a chance to breathe. Performers such as Jack Nicholson and Monica Vitti, who were known for their strong personas and alluring charisma, showed new depth when given the opportunity to wander through his universe. Antonioni could give you a mystery, as in Blow-up (1966) and L’avventura (1960), and smoothly push it into the background as he found larger riddles which could never be solved and which overwhelmed the traditional concept of plot and story. His instinctive style was inimitable and wholly his own. The perfect farewell to this master of filmmaking is in the final scenes of L’Eclisse (1962); a montage of empty streets, buildings and objects which once formed a background for a pair of lovers, but now seem to deny that they ever existed. It is bleak, serene and beautiful, and it is pure Antonioni.

Photo Source

Jul 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007

Though the films of Ingmar Bergman are famous for their Nordic melancholy, it is a mistake to confine his work to this quality. His films evoked myriad emotions, from the wistful nostalgia in Smultronst√§llet/Wild Strawberries (1957) to the carnal comedy of Sommarnettens leende/ Smiles of a Summer Night (1955). He experimented fearlessly with images and storytelling, challenging the concept of how a narrative should unfold in masterpieces such as Persona (1966). In Ansiktet/The Magician (1958) and Jungfruk√§llan/ The Virgin Spring (1960), he reminded us how brutal a fairy tale could become as one marveled at its beauty. These few titles, from a career that lasted over a half century, are only a small sample of Bergman’s best works, but they point to the fact that his genius reflected a rich span of human emotion.

Jul 23, 2007

Quote of the Day

I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was six. Mother took me to see him in a department store and he asked for my autograph.
-Shirley Temple

Jul 17, 2007

Quote of the Day

They used to photograph Shirley Temple through gauze. They should photograph me through linoleum.
-Tallulah Bankhead

Jul 16, 2007

Boom Town

This glossy, boisterous MGM production is a happy home for its slightly odd, but somehow, nicely matched group of stars. Cranky, stocky Spencer Tracy and athletic, rambunctious Clark Gable are Texas oilmen who work their way up from the bottom and fight and make up plenty along the way. Claudette Colbert and Hedy Lamarr are the love interests, but the most profound relationship is between Gable and Tracy. Still, the women attract their share of attention: Colbert manages to be both a practical and glamorous mother and wife; Lamarr’s small role is just the right size for her somewhat intriguing personality and overwhelming beauty. It is easy to see why Boom Town was one of the most successful movies of 1940, though it has not risen to be a classic of the time.

Jul 12, 2007

Charles Lane 1905-2007

Often, Charles Lane played the kind of characters that made you scowl: uptight, cranky, and certainly not the matinee idol you came to see. Despite all that, he would grow on you, partly because he showed up in so many movies and television programs (over 300) that he became "that one guy" from "that one movie". In a way, he would became somewhat more familiar and comfortable than the star of the moment.

Lane is perhaps most famous for his television bits. He had a memorable role as a unimpressed man in the maternity ward waiting room in the classic episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy goes into labor. He also made his mark as J. Homer Bedloe on Petticoat Junction. However, he did appear in many movies, including, It's a Wonderful Life, Twentieth Century, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Lane completed his final role, as a narrator for the holiday short The Night Before Christmas, in 2006 at the age of 101. He was 102 when he passed away on July 9.

The clip is from the Marx Brothers movie The Big Store. In it, Lane is in fine, grouchy, form.

Quote of the Day

I improve on misquotation.
-Cary Grant

Jul 11, 2007

I Love Trouble

Though he had several starring roles and a long, successful career, Franchot Tone rarely had a part that allowed his wit and intelligence to shine through. That is why it is a shame that this film noir from 1948 is not readily available (never on VHS, DVD or TCM). In a rare screening at the SIFF Theater in Seattle last night, a lucky audience had the chance to enjoy one of Tone’s most charismatic performances.
He is a Raymond Chandler-style private eye on the trail of his client's mysterious wife, but like in The Big Sleep (1946), the plot isn't really the point. Tone plays the Marlowe type with a lighter touch than Dick Powell and less world weariness than Bogart. The business at hand is serious, but he can't help being amused by the characters he meets while he searches for answers. And they are a rich bunch. Glenda Farrell plays the Girl Friday role with her typical wit and sharp tongue, Janis Carter is surreally outrageous as a mysterious trophy wife, and there is a scene in a diner with a saucy waitress that could probably stand on its own as an amusing short subject. Raymond Burr also shows up in a bit part, though his appeal is so strong that you'll wish he had more to do. If you've get a chance to see this, don't miss it; it doesn't deserve its place in near obscurity.

Jul 9, 2007

The Hollywood Tirade

In real life, when you lose your temper, you've only given up something you can't get back. In the movies, losing your temper can be the key to stardom, accolades and audience sympathy. These three women unleashed some of the best tirades of classic Hollywood:

The Miracle Woman (1931), Barbara Stanwyck
No one could play the hurt woman pushed too far better than Stanwyck. Some of her best screen moments are when her voice deepens, her shoulders begin to shake, and the floodgates open.

She has one of her best tirades as Faith Fallon, a preacher’s daughter. When her father is abruptly fired after years of service, he dies from the shock, right before he is to give his last sermon. Heartbroken, Faith stands at the pulpit, where her father once stood, overcome with anger. She assaults the congregation with torrent of angry accusations that send them running out of the church, as if she is shooting them with arrows. She follows them, walking down the rows of pews until finally she is alone, exhausted and entirely lacking in the faith that used to guide her life. It is one of the most devastating scenes of Stanwyck's career, and an early sign of the enormity of her talent.

Bombshell (1933), Jean Harlow
Harlow had a rough start in Hollywood, primarily because she won fame for her looks before she learned how to act. Though no one could take their eyes off her, they couldn't stop laughing at the absurd accent she'd picked up from her acting coach either.

Comedy was Harlow's salvation. Though she was tired of playing tramps, she gave her career new life by playing a funny tramp in Red Headed Woman (1932). Harlow built on her newfound respect with Bombshell. She plays Lola Burns, a movie star victimized by fame and its trappings.

Lola loses her temper many times before the final credits, but her best tirade is near the beginning of the movie, where she is constantly thwarted in her attempts to get to work. Surrounded by hangers-on and barking dogs, she vents her frustration in a long, fast-paced speech during which she hardly seems to take a breath, all the while trying to gather her effects and get out the door. Here is ample proof that Harlow was one of the best screen comics.

Of Human Bondage (1934), Bette Davis
"You disgust me." When Philip Carey (Leslie Howard), rejects slatternly waitress Mildred (Bette Davis) with these words, he realizes his mistake instantly. She turns from a gooey-eyed lover into a vicious beast. Her eyes widen, her shoulders rattle back and forth and she launches into a tirade so harsh that time has not diluted its power.

Davis spits out her lines as if they are bitter seeds. Her eyes bug out and the veins her neck are so strained they look as if they could explode. It is a moment that could be overplayed so easily; everything she does teeters on the edge of absurdity, but she hones in on Mildred's anger with a precision that gives the moment unbearable intensity.

Jul 8, 2007

Quote of the Day

I'm not a real movie star--I've got the same wife I started out with twenty-eight years ago.
-Will Rogers

Jul 7, 2007

Deadline At Dawn

“Between you and me and the lamppost officer, happiness is no laughing matter”

Whether you find this movie hilarious, clever or insufferable will depend on your tastes, but you are not likely to be bored. The audience at the SIFF theater in Seattle last night hardly let a line go by without at least a giggle, and more often a belly laugh. I’m sure screenwriter Clifford Odets (of the famous Group Theater), with his playwright’s pedigree, meant to bring depth and beauty to this shady tale of a sailor who must clear himself of murder before dawn, but the florid screenplay doesn’t take a moment to breathe. It strains for drama with every syllable—not one word is wasted on the mundane. While Bill Williams is hilariously stiff as the sailor, Susan Hayward manages to draw some credibility out of her lines and Paul Lukas has an avuncular charm as the statistics-spouting cabbie. In all, it’s a good take on the film noir genre and worth a look. This has been on VHS at some point, so it is out there somewhere.

Update 4/20/10: On 7/13/10 Warner Home Video will release Deadline at Dawn on DVD!

Jul 5, 2007

Quote of the Day

Flops are a part of life's menu and I've never been a girl to miss out on any of the courses.
-Rosalind Russell, in The New York Herald Tribune (1957)

Jul 2, 2007

Quote of the Day

An eruption of trash that has lamed the American mind and retarded Americans from becoming cultured people.

-Ben Hecht, on the movies