Jan 30, 2012

Classic Links

Why Alfred Hitchcock turned down a knighthood (at first)— Alfred Hitchcock Geek 

If you have the time to listen, this program has a fascinating description of Marlene Dietrich’s visit to Poland with her stage show in 1964. It includes an interview with a gracious Dietrich— News from Poland 

Here’s how to get a free download of the catalogs from both Debbie Reynolds auctions. The pictures are amazing!— Java’s Journey 

I love this review of Libeled Lady (1936), so much to take in!— Bette’s Classic Movie Blog 

A great post on modern movies and nostalgia— Kine Artefacts

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Jan 29, 2012

Letty Lynton (1932)

This is a repost (with edits) in honor of the LAMB event taking place on Monday, 1/29.

The pre-code drama Letty Lynton (1932) is best known for two reasons: being unavailable to the general public due to legal issues (you can read about that kerfuffle here) and the “Letty Lynton dress” —a white organdy gown with large ruffled sleeves designed by Adrian—of which Macy’s sold thousands of copies. Since there was so much off screen drama connected to the movie, I was afraid I would be underwhelmed by the movie. Thank heaven I was wrong.

Joan Crawford plays the titular heroine, an American socialite who is attempting to escape her unhappy home life by indulging in an affair with the wealthy, but slimy Emile (Nils Asther) in Uruguay. She knows this man is no good for her, but she's hooked. After several attempts to escape her toxic beaux, Letty finally hops a steamship for home. While onboard, she meets Jerry (Robert Montgomery), a playful, wealthy American. The pair fall in love, and are engaged to be married by the journey’s end. Unfortunately, Emile is determined to win Letty back, and he isn’t going to be nice about it. Letty spends the rest of the flick getting herself out of this situation in a decidedly pre-code fashion.

This simple story is made more intriguing by the well-tuned performances of a solid cast. Director Clarence Brown guides his players with a sure hand, smoothly changing the tone as the drama unfolds--from lightly screwball to depressingly dingy, gently romantic to tense and threatening. Letty’s showdown with Emile is a particularly gripping, horrific scene.

I also enjoyed the easygoing rapport between Letty and Jerry as they got to know each other. Clark Gable was originally slated for the role of Jerry, but I don’t think he could have managed the mixture of playful affection and gravity that Montgomery accomplishes here.

Crawford effectively demonstrates the hurt bubbling beneath her flippant party girl shell. She convincingly portrays a desperate woman, who regrets ever acting on her boredom. Once she was light and happy, but now that she has given in to her lust, she has also unleashed her dark side. She is clearly ashamed of her fall from grace, though she is willing to do anything to fight her way back.

My only complaint is that the ending felt too pat. While I do think it is possible that the wealthy and influential could affect this sort of a resolution, it is a bit of a dramatic letdown after such an intense climax. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that there’s no way the drama could have panned out that way after the code went into full effect.

More Joan posts:

 Here she is on What's My Line?

 Crawford also makes an appearance in this Mountain Dew ad.

Quote of the Week

Gene would shoot each take 40 times, and in those days you worked six days a week, and had Sunday to faint.

-Debbie Reynolds, about working with Gene Kelly on Singin' in the Rain (1952)

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Jan 27, 2012

Classic Links

This is an interesting post about the alleged musical rape in The Artist (2011) and musical homage in general— All Talking! All Singing All Dancing! 

“. . .she wants audience reaction shots of dewy 20-year-old starlets looking puzzled as shit at the sight of Janet Gaynor.” Heehee. I’m guessing a lot of you have already read this post, but if you haven’t—it’s a must-- Self-Styled Siren 

Katherine Heigl grumbles about her long work hours on the set until Debbie Reynolds tells her she used to dance with bleeding feet. Take that you young whippersnapper!— IMDB 

Megan Fox won’t be playing Elizabeth Taylor in the upcoming television biopic. Now that the project has gotten attention, the producers are free to hire an unknown! Or can we still just drop the whole thing?— IMDB 

RIP screenwriter Robert Dozier, son of producer William Dozier— Vineyard Gazette 

I like this review of Mary Pickford's Kiki (1931), because while it is honest about the movie's shortcomings, it also acknowledges the charm of its ill-cast, but irresistible star— Movietone Cameos

Jan 25, 2012

Classic Links

Though Debbie Reynolds had originally planned to have more memorabilia auctions, she has changed her mind. It looks like the experience was more painful than she expected. I thought she was pretty tough for going through the first two– IMDB

Hooray! Hollywood Heyday is back with the news from May 8, 1932— Hollywood Heyday 

Five films about films. There are some interesting choices here— Movie Classics 

Check out all the posts for the Comedy Classics Blogathon sponsored by the Classic Movie Blog Association— Classic Movie Blog Association

Jan 24, 2012

Review--These Amazing Shadows: Full Version

Film is the art form of the twentieth century, and we have let it go. -Robin Blaetz, Chair of Film Studies, Mount Holyoke College 

So much of film history has been lost, but there’s still a great deal that can be saved if we are willing to do it. -Stephen Leggett, National Film Registry Coordinator 

A couple of days after I posted my review of the documentary These Amazing Shadows, I received an email from one of the directors of the film, Kurt Norton. He mentioned that there was a longer version of the film, and asked if I wanted to see a copy. I sure did!

The version of the film in my previous review was edited for television, and specifically an episode of the PBS program Independent Lens. It runs just under an hour. The full version, which was screened at Sundance in 2011, is about 88 minutes. This is the version which has now been released on DVD and BluRay.

I got a very different feeling from the full-length version of These Amazing Shadows. It went into a lot more detail about the board and their process. It was interesting to see how this diverse gathering of film experts collaborated with and inspired each other. They all seemed dedicated to challenging both themselves and the public by striving to find diverse choices that were worthy of preservation.

This part of the documentary gave me great insight into the reasons members pick films. They definitely aren’t there to pick their favorites, and at least one member said she would actually pick a film she didn’t like if she felt it had merit. It is this spirit that seems to aid the group in reaching a consensus when there are hundreds of titles to consider each year.

It was fascinating to get a peek at the process of selection, but I was even more intrigued by the segments that showed film preservationists at work. What enormous patience it must take to prepare a film, frame-by-frame, for preservation. Watching one woman at work, I figured she had to have a permanent crick in her neck. She sits every work day looking at frail pieces of film, removing small pieces of tape and treating tiny tears.

One of these preservationists, George Willeman, nitrate film vault manager of the Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation even coined the phrase “These Amazing Shadows.” In this version of the film, Willeman has a lot more screen time. I enjoyed the charisma and panache he exuded in his entertaining, but also informative segments.

I also loved getting a peek inside a film vault. My stomach dropped as I watched Willeman peel frail bits of material off a damaged reel. It really drove home how fragile these films are, and how important preservation is.

This version of the film also tells the story of the discovery of censored footage from the pre-code Barbara Stanwyck flick Baby Face (1933). While comparing two copies of the film, Willeman realized one reel was larger. When he compared the films, he realized he had found footage that was believed to be lost for decades. The film was finally restored in 2005.

I was also moved by the stories of loss, preservation and restoration in a short film that was one of the special features on the DVD called Lost Forever: The Art of Preservation. This is a closer examination of film preservation, with several of the interviewees from These Amazing Shadows providing background. There are many stories of discoveries made in archives far away from the United States, where films were often abandoned at their last stop after their run had ended.

One discovery of over 400 reels of discard films buried under the ground really got to me. Movies by stars such as Douglas Fairbanks and John Barrymore were left to rot away. Some of these films could have been lost forever if they had not been found.

It was also amusing to see some of the interview outtakes. John Waters was especially funny, mostly because his opinions about these movies are unusual, but undeniably practical. .

I liked having the opportunity to watch both versions of These Amazing Shadows, because it gave me the opportunity to really focus on different aspects of the film. Though I loved the segments where interviewees discussed different elements of the movies, I was most fascinated by the work of the board and the preservationists. I wouldn't be surprised if this film eventually made it onto the registry itself. It’s a rich document of a worthy cause.

You can read my original review of the film here.

Thank you to Kurt Norton for giving me the opportunity to view this DVD.

Jan 22, 2012

Classic Links

Dick Cavett remembers an amusing series of phone conversations with Marlene Dietrich— New York Times

I’ve never heard of Vertigo-ing a movie. This is pretty funny. It works surprisingly well with Mean Girls— Huffington Post 

This is a nice story about Cary Grant’s generosity to a struggling hospital—  Queens Chronicle

If this really was Elizabeth Taylor’s typical daily menu, I’m surprised she lived into her seventies. Bacon for two meals a day? Sounds good to me— Village Voice 

What if recent films had been made decades earlier?— Collider (via Mental Floss )

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Quote of the Week

Cheap footwear equals low class, with the correct footwear a woman can conquer the world.

-Joan Crawford

Image Source: Classic Film Scans

Jan 20, 2012

Classic Links

A bio of Alice Faye with tons of gorgeous photos— My Love of Old Hollywood 

I love this comparison of the very similar and yet dramatically different 1937 and 1952 versions of The Prisoner of ZendaSidewalk Crossings 

Do you know your Hitchcock cameos? Take this quiz to find out. I’m ashamed to say I missed a couple (maybe ashamed is an overstatement)— Mental Floss 

Now Elizabeth Taylor’s art collection is going to be auctioned. Every time there’s a Taylor auction, I remember how she considered herself to be not the owner, but only the temporary custodian of her jewels. I wonder if she felt that way about the rest of her possessions? I think it’s a great philosophy-- IMDB 

TCM’s list of the 10 most influential silent films. No surprises here!— Criterion Cast 

How to live in a noir past— The Poison Pen 

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Jan 16, 2012

Classic Links

RIP two actresses:
Denise Darcel (pictured)-- The Guardian
Dorothy Morris-- Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings 

There’s a slapstick version of The Wizard of Oz?— Forgotten Films 

I love this scalding and brilliant letter Raymond Chandler wrote to Hitchcock— Pondering Life 

The adventure classics that inspired Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)— Mental Floss 

I’m sure there would be a lot to tell in a televisions series about the Bates Motel that serves as a prequel to Psycho (1960), but wouldn’t it be distracting to already know what happens to everyone?— /Film 

The Monkey makes some good points about screwball comedy here— A Mythical Monkey Writes About the Movies 

I’ve been enjoying seeing video clips on the Gunslinger. This one is particularly magical— If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger. . . 

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Jan 15, 2012

Quote of the Week

Technical progress kills a kind of human quality in us.

-Jean Renoir

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Jan 13, 2012

Classic Links

A book about the real life events that inspired Double Indemnity-- Shadows and Satin 

I’m disappointed that the new Loy bio. does not appear to have much more to say than the actress said about herself in her autobiography, Being and Becoming. I’ve had a copy of that for years and still haven’t read it. I should get on that! This is a thoughtful review- Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence 

I always liked Gloria Grahame, because she seems like the kind of dame who could talk you into a lot of trouble on a girls’ night out-- Film Noir Photos 

People who write like this astound me. It must be a lot of fun in this woman’s brain-- Asleep in New York

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Jan 11, 2012

Classic Links

As some of you know, I usually get in a snit when Hollywood classics are remade. I suppose you could make the argument that this one isn’t technically a remake, but I’m fascinated by this new take on the Wizard of Oz. This is a world that I feel could be interpreted in new ways, especially since it came from such a rich series of books. – /Film 

I think I’ve posted these Saul Bass title sequences before, but there’s no way to overdo these beauties— Movie Title Stills Collection (via /Film)

Wow, this Kim Novak thing is crazy. I was turned off by the language she used in her statement (her use of the ‘r’ word upset me the most), but I can’t weigh in until I see The Artist (2011). I’m not sure I’m interested enough in the whole uproar to revisit it though.

The first thing I thought of when I read her statement was, “I wonder if she’s seen Greenhilly?” It’s a sketch from an old episode of SNL. Does anyone remember this? Alec Baldwin is visiting this fancy estate, and the joke is that he is so alluring that he drives everyone to kiss him, from a maid to the family dog (who has a long tongue and a penchant for frenching—don’t worry, it’s a puppet). The first time I ever heard the love theme from Vertigo was in that sketch. I wonder what Novak would think of the use of the score for a satire like that?

Except for this teeny clip that doesn’t do it justice, I can’t find the sketch anywhere online, but at least you can hear the music. This site has the sketch transcript and a shot of the amorous doggy.

Lindsay Lohan as Elizabeth Taylor? I think Lohan’s voice would make it difficult for me to accept her in the role. This picture of her in Interview dressed as Taylor makes me think of a little girl playing dress up! Actually, who the heck could play Taylor? We ought to just leave that one alone— The Advocate 

The Jane Powell exercise tape. I love it!— Comet Over Hollywood 

I have no trouble believing that Joan Collins is totally sane.— IMDB 

I think Universal should bring back the little plane for their new logo— Criterion Cast Image Source

Jan 10, 2012

Constellation TV: A New Way to View Films Online

Late last year, I received an invitation to try Constellation TV, a new online theater. Rather than streaming titles at any time, users buy individual admissions to specific show times. This is meant to heighten the social experience of watching the movies in a couple of ways.

Some showings are hosted by VIPs, such as the directors of the movies and people who are knowledgeable about the movies such as film journalists. These guests introduce the films via webcam and then answer questions at the end. Showings without hosts still have social opportunities via a chat bar that can be displayed for the entire film.

Though I was invited to attend a hosted showing, it was at 5PM West Coast Time, which was a difficult time of day for me to manage. I eventually became too curious to try the service to wait for a hosted showing I could attend. I decided to watch Grey Gardens (1975) on a Sunday afternoon.

My first step was to purchase my ticket. That gave me access to the theater, where I could enter any time before the showing. There was a nifty countdown clock which showed me exactly how much time I had until show time.

The main theater screen is set up into a few sections. Along the bottom there is a bar which shows an icon for each audience member. On the right, there is a column for chat, with an entry box at the bottom. Then the movie plays in the remaining space in the upper left portion of the screen (click on the image to get a better view).

It took me a bit of digging to figure out how to make the screen full size. It turned out a little rectangular icon on the left of the screen does that. This is a good option for viewers who wish to hide the chat feature.

There were a couple of technical issues during the screening. For some reason, a line of random characters would periodically flash over the screen:

It happened frequently enough to irk me, though it didn’t quite take me out of the movie. It also stopped to load a couple of times near the end, though I couldn’t tell if that was due to Constellation or my own connection.

Except for a couple of people who popped in during the last ten minutes of the movie, I was alone in the theater for the entire showing. That was a bit of a bummer, but I didn’t necessarily expect to interact with audience members. Still, it was exciting to see those icons pop up. I realized how much fun it would be to have a little chat during certain films. As someone who can’t even stand it when audience members whisper in a regular theater, I thought this was amusing.

Though I didn’t get to have the prime, VIP-hosted Constellation TV experience, I do see some interesting possibilities with this model. If I’d invited guests to my showing, it could have been fun to chat back and forth about Grey Gardens and the loveable Edies. I also think it would be interesting to see a movie introduced by its director or by someone who had good insight into the medium. It would be about as close to a film festival screening experience as you could get online.

I’m planning to keep tabs on Constellation TV. I’d like to see where the company goes with this concept, because there are lots of interesting possibilities. I’d still like to attend a hosted event if the timing works out. I hope that some future hosted events will be scheduled at more convenient times for those of us in PST.

I’m also curious to see what kinds of titles will come out of the Criterion Collection relationship. Some of the classic titles that have been made available include the Seventh Seal (1957) and Mr. Hulot's Holiday (1953), both of which were hosted by film experts.With expanded offerings and show times, this could be a fun concept.

Constellation TV

Jan 9, 2012

Classic Links

I’d love to have this in my backyard too, but I’m afraid it would spook the dogs next door. They have enough trouble with my cat and her evil eye— If Charlie Parker Was a Gunslinger. . . 

RIP silent era screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas, 111. She was the third oldest person in California!-- IMDB 

Here are some of the entertaining contributions to the #favoritethingsinclassicfilm tag that bounced around Twitter for a couple of days (at least!)— Sittin' on a Backyard Fence 

I’d love to see one of these costume exhibits someday— IMDB

City Streets (1931), directed by the innovative and artful Rouben Mamoulian— Movietone Cameos 

A great George Sanders flick: Scandal in Paris (1946)-- Classic Movie Ramblings 

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Jan 8, 2012

Quote of the Week

A film is a ribbon of dreams. The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.

 -Orson Welles

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Jan 6, 2012

#favoritethingsinclassicfilms= Fun+Community-Work-Sleep

 It all started with a tweet yesterday morning:

What followed was an amazing bonding experience among us classic movie geeks on Twitter. Dozens, maybe even hundreds of tweets followed. The simple, open-ended idea gave everyone free reign to be creative in describing the things they loved about classic movies, from great moments and performers, to the way stars used to dress and behave.

The results were entertaining and addictive. I usually check in with Twitter a few times a day, but yesterday I could hardly pull myself away. Even during times when I usually give the laptop a rest, I would check back in and get sucked into the vortex again, reading tweets and writing my own. I finally realized it was past my bedtime and I needed to wrap it up!

Check out some of these posts. I’m not even picking favorites here. I just grabbed a few that I retweeted:

There’s so much more than this to see, but you get the idea. Twenty-four hours later, people are still posting with this tag. It’s been like a party!

If you are not on Twitter, I highly recommend it as a place to meet classic movie fans. If you’re wondering who to follow, just take a look at #FavoriteThingsInClassicFilms and #FavouriteThingsInClassicFilms and you are sure to find many interesting people. I'm there too @classicmovieblg!

Thanks to Jill at Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence for an idea that was brilliant in its simplicity. You can follow her at @biscuitkitten.

Classic Links

 Have you seen the version of Metropolis with songs by Adam Ant and Freddie Mercury? It’s kind of awful and kind of mesmerizing. This review sums it up beautifully, though Chris is more generous about all the tinkering than I am— Silent Volume 

There’s a new print of Napoleon (1927) with 30 more minutes of newly found footage. It’s also been restored. I can’t wait to check this out— Criterion Cast 

Going through Marilyn Monroe's clothes before they go up for auction (at least, that was the part that interested me)-- Slate

This is a nice tribute to Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer. I love the interview clip— Noir and Chick Flicks 

I’m excited to see a big UPA cartoon collection coming out. So much good stuff— ClassicFlix

The Natalie Wood investigation is now a cold case. It seems like it should never have been re-opened. The whole thing is so sad. I feel sorry for her loved ones and especially her sister— IMDB

Jan 4, 2012

Classic Links

Though I didn’t know much about her yesterday, I love Diana Dors now. If you watch the movie linked in this post, you might find you do too (if you don’t already). There are also many other Dors titles on YT. I plan to watch them all! The Siren writes a fascinating review, as always— Self-Styled Siren 

Laura wrote a lot of great movie reviews last year. She’d got them all linked here. I plan to use this as a resource for finding new things to watch— Laura's Miscellaneous Musings 

I didn’t know Hedy Lamarr inspired the Cat Woman character. Really?— IMDB

I’ll bet this item made a lot of people go “oh yeah, Jean Paul Belmondo. I love him!” I know at least one person did— IMDB

Review Round-up:

My Cousin Rachel (1952) Olivia and Joan: Sisters of the Silver Screen
Yellow Sky (1948) The Movie Projector

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Jan 1, 2012