Feb 28, 2015

Screenshots of the Week: Lipstick on the Mirror

Pre-Post-it communications in Slightly Scarlet (1956) and Butterfield 8 (1960)

Feb 27, 2015

Classic Links and TCM Film Festival Announcement

I am delighted to announce that for the second year in a row I will be providing coverage of the TCM Classic Film Festival as an official member of the media.

Now that I've had a taste of it, nothing could have kept me away from the festival, or prevented me from sharing my experiences, but with credentials, I am able to share so much more. I'm grateful for the opportunity!

At the top of my festival list: seeing Sophia Loren and Ann-Margret, and hopefully covering this year's handprint ceremony (which I hear will honor festival guest Christopher Plummer). I'd also love to attend the screenings with newly-added guests Shirley MacLaine and single-time Bond George Lazenby, as reported in The Hollywood Reporter.

More films I'd like to see: 42nd Street, Pinocchio, hand-cranked films from 1902-1913 (including my beloved Melies), Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. and of course Calamity Jane, one of my favorite Doris Day films.

The list of offerings at the festival gets better every day and I am so excited! This year I will also give a heads up on Twitter as to the screenings I am attending, so if you are flying solo and need a seatmate, just tweet at me at @classicmovieblg and come join me.

On to more links:

Can you name all the one-word Oscar best picture winners? Apparently I can't, which wouldn't bother me so much if I didn't practically ace the quiz on almonds.

If you covet those funky Lego Oscars featured on the ceremony this past Sunday, never fear, here are instructions for making one of your own.

This exhibit featuring costumes from classic movies looks stunning. One of these days I'm going to make it to one of these events, even if it is across the world.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954) will return to theaters on March 22 and 25 as part of another fantastic Fathom/TCM event. This time Ben Manckiewicz will be introducing the film.

Feb 25, 2015

Far From the Madding Crowd (1967) on Blu-ray

The pastoral romantic epic Far From the Madding Crowd is now available on Blu-ray in a new release from Warner Archive.

Based on Thomas Hardy's first literary success, the film stays close to the novel's plotline, taking its time, but moving along smoothly through its nearly three hour running time. Set in the countryside of England during Victorian times, it tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie), the strong-willed owner by inheritance of a large farm and her romantic entanglements with three men.

In his review of the film Roger Ebert called Julie Christie, "too sweet and superficial" to handle the complexities of playing Bathsheba. While I haven't read Hardy's book, and can't comment on whether Christie captures Everdene as conceived, I thought that the way she used sweetness to charm, while often behaving in a less becoming way, was a good choice.

She plays a woman who doesn't know the extent of abilities: for attracting men, for feeling passion. She doesn't see how her sweet nature draws admirers and conceals her more turbulent personality. While she knows that she is strong, the complexities of that strength are not yet clear to her, and Christie effectively communicates her developing awareness of herself and the way she affects others.

The men who romance her, Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp are also well cast. As a sheepherder who is at first overconfident in his ability to win Bathsheba, Bates is cast against type as Gabriel Oak, a strong, decent man who otherwise is rightfully certain of his skill and what he has to offer. Finch is appropriately tense and awkward as Boldwood, the neighboring gentleman farmer who takes Bathsheba's joke valentine too seriously and becomes romantically obsessed with her. There's a dangerous hint of sociopathy to Stamp's portrayal of a reckless sergeant, who faces tragedy before he begins to regret his behavior.

Director John Schlesinger has created a beautifully detailed world. You can feel the weight of the farm work and the cast performing it looks authentic, as if he came upon them all by chance and decided to turn on the camera. Aided by director of photography Nicholas Roeg, who would eventually become an accomplished film director himself, he captures a heightened landscape, in which the light turns blades of grass silver and sun rays appear to reach out and caress Christie's face.

The gorgeous spectacle of it all just about distracts you from the curiously flat feel of the drama. Though it centers on romance, it seems lacking in passion. Even in a famously thrilling scene where Stamp demonstrates his skill with the sword by repeatedly endangering Bathsheba, there is excitement, but somehow the romantic element doesn't ignite. You understand why this reckless man would get her blood pumping, but you don't feel it.

It is enjoyable to watch the film though, because Schlesinger trusts his audience to understand all that is necessary. He lets the world of his characters unfold with natural ease. When Bathsheba's sheep begin to collapse from bloat, you don't get a lecture about the danger of livestock eating clover, but the urgency of the situation is made clear. In one of the most revealing moments, Bathsheba and Gabriel work frantically together to save her barley ricks, and you can see how well matched they are, even if there is no moment when the music rises and they lock eyes. In the upcoming version of the film starring Carey Mulligan, the scene has that moment, and loses the subtlety of their strengthening connection.

The picture is sharp and clean, but with enough grain to retain the nostalgic, bucolic feel. This is an extended version of the film, with three additional minutes that were not included in the original North American release. Special features include a trailer and a featurette made at the time of filming, with footage of Christie examining the filming locations.

Far From the Madding Crowd is a lush, inviting film and deserving of a wider audience.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the Blu-ray for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Feb 23, 2015

Review: Jazz and Heroin in Shirley Clarke's The Connection (1961)

Milestone Films continues its six-year effort to release iconoclastic filmmaker Shirley Clarke's films on DVD and Blu-ray with her feature debut, The Connection (1961). In it, eight heroin junkies wait for their fix in a rundown Manhattan loft while a filmmaker and his assistant document their tortured existence.

Freddie Redd
Based on a 1959 play by Jack Gelber, Clarke cast most of the actors from the original off-Broadway production. Half the junkie quota is filled by The Freddie Redd Quartet, led by a hunch-shouldered Jackie MacLean on the alto sax and Redd on the piano. Warren Finnerty reprises his Obie-winning role as Leach, the boil-inflicted owner of the apartment while Clarke's lover Carl Lee plays the smoothly amoral dealer, Cowboy. Roscoe Lee Brown is heard more than he is seen as the filmmaker's assistant, but he is charismatic and handsome in this early role and clearly the actor in the cast on the way to greater things.

I'd been warned that it could take a while to get into the film, and it's true, the first few minutes feel like a mess, full of wild chatter and overdramatic gestures. You wonder where this ragged bunch is headed. Once you're locked in its groove though, it's hard to look away.

Clarke creates a gritty atmosphere, absent the gloss of mainstream films, but still artificial. You get a feel for real human weaknesses, from actors who are clearly putting on a show. The contradiction lends the production an odd excitement. Everything feels a bit uneasy and you wonder who will come lunging at the camera next. This is deliberately rebellious filmmaking .

Jackie MacLean
Making a film on one set is a dangerous pursuit, but Clarke has a way of shifting gears that constantly refreshes the scene. She whips the camera or completely darkens the image, bringing actors so close they are shadows and suddenly widening the view again. She zooms in on details, a crack in the wall, the cockroach scaling it, all the filthy details of this sordid life.

While the film portrays the addict's life as bleak, it has no moral message about drugs. These men are sick and desperate, but it is their human weaknesses and not the narcotics that are held up for scrutiny. This is clear in the final minutes, when an overdose empties the room of several men, their cowardice and lack of loyalty painted much darker than their addictions.

The jazz quartet is one of the most exciting elements of The Connection, giving the surroundings life whenever the confinement of the set starts to become oppressive. Though the musicians spend long periods slumped over their instruments, like they've got nothing left to give, they constantly come to life again, playing as though they have all the energy in the world. It's a great document of some fine jazz artists.

Though the film won plaudits at Cannes Film Festival, New York State censors rejected its release in the United States. Clarke decided to release the film without approval, but the screenings were shut down after two showings and the projectionist arrested.
The group waits

While the primary problem was said to be the number of times the characters used the s-word, usually in reference to their fix, there are plenty of other reasons censors had to object. A man looking at gay porn, the still-shocking sight of a needle going into Leach's arm as he gasps on the edge of anticipated euphoria and perhaps worst of all, the fact that black characters were painted as complex human beings, living in equality and nonchalant ease among white people.

With poor distribution, the film didn't make back its production costs, despite it being infinitely less expensive to make than a Hollywood production. It makes you wonder what movies would have been like today had it been readily available to influence budding filmmakers. Thanks to the efforts of Milestone, it now can do just that, and thrill new audiences with its adventurous spirit.

Disc bonus features include a trailer and photo gallery, a very cute home movie from the film set, conversations with the film's art director Albert Brenner and Freddie Redd, audio tracks of a pair of songs used to market the film in 1964 and four minutes of color footage featuring Carl Lee and a poodle named Max.

Many thanks to Milestone Films for providing a copy of the film for review.

All photos courtesy of Milestone Films

Feb 22, 2015

Quote of the Week

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The Oscar is a cruel joke hatched up by a cruel town and handed out in a cruel ceremony.

-Marion Davies

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Feb 20, 2015

Classic Links

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RIP Louis Jourdan . Such a beautiful man. I just hated him for breaking Joan Fontaine's heart in Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948), but I understood why she fell so hard for him.

I can't believe there have been six ties in Oscar history. It seems like that would be almost impossible!

Though I don't watch enough new movies to be terribly excited about the upcoming Oscars, I always like to watch any big celebration of film. If only the classic stars in this amazing gallery of past ceremonies could be on the stage this Sunday.

This is an excellent history of some of the more contentious issues surrounding the Oscars.

I love Raquelle's list of new and upcoming books at Out of the Past, many of which will be reviewed here soon. If only I had time to read them all!

A retired "dentist to the stars" remembers Marilyn Monroe's beautiful teeth.

I see a bit of Gable Sr. in Clark Gable III, but not so much the confident strength he exuded. Definitely not the same career path!

The Great Villain Blogathon sounds like a lot of fun. Evil characters are always the most interesting.

This is a bit out of my usual timeframe, but I have to give props to Eddie Murphy for the sharp speech he gave about black actors in Hollywood before presenting the Academy Award for best picture in 1988. He spoke some harsh words, but ended up charming the audience. It had to have taken a lot of courage to do that.

Feb 18, 2015

William Shatner Battles Himself in White Comanche (1968)

The new Warner Archive release  White Comanche features William Shatner playing half-breed twins at war with each other. If you like Shatner or the kind of oddball films that he picks, or more likely inspires with his presence, then this bare bones Western will not disappoint.

Miserable Cotten, Brooding Shatner
Just about everyone in Comanche seems lost. The hapless cast looks like it's dutifully following instructions from an elementary school drama teacher. The romantic lead appears to have missed a turn on the way to a groovy spy flick. As the sheriff of a dusty Western town, Joseph Cotten seems baffled, and maybe a bit angry to find himself so far from his Citizen Kane days. Even the soundtrack is confused, with its jazzy bass and heavy use of hi-hat cymbals you half expect to see Sammy Davis Jr. pop out of a bush to do a snappy number.

But instead you get William Shatner dressed like a cowboy, trotting through the hills on a horse, and not looking a bit lost. The best thing about Shatner is he always knows exactly who he is and where he is going, and he doesn't care what anyone thinks about it. His misplaced, but mesmerizing, confidence colors everything around him and transforms a forgettable flick into an amusing oddity.
Good Shatner

Made in Spain while Shatner was on a break from filming Star Trek, he approaches each of the twins with his familiar stoic, but somehow busy intensity. One is Johnny Moon, a good-hearted wanderer who lives among the white people, the other is Notah a psychopathic peyote addict who lives among the natives, when he's not attacking stagecoaches.

Clearly Moon is meant to be the strong, silent Eastwood type in this Espanol take on the spaghetti western. But as in his other roles, Bill plays the Shatner type by managing to overact underacting his role.

He plays the loud version of the Shatner type as Notah, his face smeared with war paint that looks like it came from a pre-school craft table. There must also be a good barber in the tribe, because he is always clean shaven and sports a haircut more appropriate for a desk job than ambushing white people. I smile every time I think of his version of a war whoop.

Evil Shatner
Everything about this film feels cheap, the tables in the saloon look like they might break before anyone gets shoved into them, and half the actors look like they're trying to remember when they're supposed to start shoving.

Joseph Cotten seems like the only one in the cast who knows that he is speaking horrible lines, but he somehow manages to pull off a credible performance. Maybe he couldn't be bad if he tried.

It would all be so sad if there weren't Moon Shatner fighting Notah Shatner, spitting out crazy lines, and inexplicably dressing himself exactly like his brother for the final show-down so you have no idea who is shooting who. It's a baffling experience, and that soundtrack burrows into your head for days, never letting you forget what you've been through.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Feb 16, 2015

Book Review: Carole Lombard Lives on in A Touch of Stardust

A Touch of Stardust: A Novel
Kate Alcott
Double Day
Release Date: 2/17/15

I approached A Touch of Stardust with caution, because I am always wary of novels that fictionalize the lives of my movie idols. As Carole Lombard and Clark Gable are among my first silver screen loves, I felt especially on guard when I learned that they would be supporting players in this story about an aspiring screenwriter set against the backdrop of the production of Gone With the Wind (1939). Their portrayal is plausible for the most part though, and fits nicely into this story of love and ambition in the years leading up to World War II.

In the starring role is Julie Crawford of Fort Wayne, Indiana, who is working in the office of David Selznick as he ramps up production on the legendary GWTW. She and the producer's assistant Andy meet cute at the filming of the burning of Atlanta and begin a tentative affair. Not long after, Julie crosses paths with Lombard, and she is promoted to be her assistant when the star takes a liking to her.

Julie eventually connects with legendary screenwriter Frances Marion and begins to make a name for herself as a screenwriter while she endures a communications breakdown in her relationship with Andy. Lombard becomes her friend and confidante while Selznick's massive production surges on in the background.

For the most part, Alcott does well weaving movie history into her fictional world. Occasionally the details can be awkward (I can't imagine Lombard informing anyone that she is known as "The Profane Angel"), but for the most part I found the mix of fiction and fact entertaining and smoothly combined. I enjoyed the scenes on the movie set, which really gave me a feel for what it would have been like to be part of such a massive production.

The characterizations of Gable and Lombard are sympathetic and believable, and I appreciated that Alcott did not make Ms. Carole too cartoonish as has often happened in fictional portraits of the wild and crazy star. I also loved her saucy, intelligent rendering of Vivien Leigh.

While I found Julie's story engaging, at times her character didn't feel plausible. She never struck me as a 1930s woman. Even for a feminist ahead of her times, she felt overly modern in some respects. The rest of the characters, including those based on real people, fit into the era more comfortably.

Overall this is an interesting read though, with a great respect for the history it uses as a backdrop and just enough novel twists to save it from cliché.

Many thanks to Doubleday for providing a copy of the book for review.

Feb 15, 2015

Quote of the Week

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My mother and I were at a film once, and we came out through the lobby and she said, 'I want to see you do that someday.' And that was all that was needed. Because I already wanted to do it. But you have to have somebody tell you, or you need to be pushed a bit. And that's the only thing she's ever said to me about acting. Was she wanted to see me do that.

-Gene Hackman

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Feb 13, 2015

Classic Links

I like this sketch of Cruella De Vil in a snazzy, bell bottom pant suit. Too bad it never made it into 101 Dalmations--The Dissolve

Raquelle shares some extremely helpful tips on budgeting for TCM Classic Film Festival at Out of the Past.

It doesn't make me feel any less terrified by the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (1939) to know that most of them were actually tiny rubber figurines.

In anticipation of walking on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next month at TCMFF, I brushed up on my facts about the famous boulevard.

Leonard Maltin reviews the new book about Technicolor. I've heard such good things about it that I may need to check it out!

This is an interesting post about the uproar a Margaret Lockwood film from the UK caused among censors in the US.

Screenshot of the Week: A Reflection

Barbara Dennek in Jacques Tati's Playtime (1967)

Feb 11, 2015

Wild Women on DVD: Nancy Kwan and Mamie Van Doren

I love the high-spirited, incredibly silly flicks that Warner Archive has been releasing lately. The new batch is as much fun as the pair of 60s films I reviewed last Wednesday.

This week's double feature is headlined by two very different female characters who are heading towards domestic life, while embracing a bit of wildness along the way.

The Wild Affair (1965)
I've always been disappointed that Nancy Kwan didn't have a bigger career, though her performances in The World of Suzie Wong (1960) and Flower Drum Song (1961) are enough to grant her minor legend status. While both of those roles were seriously sexy, she didn't allow herself to be a vapid bombshell. There was always an air of amused wisdom about her, as if she knew she had a lot more to offer than her beauty, but she wasn't going to let just anyone in on the secret.

In The Wild Affair, Kwan gets the chance to play this type with a more modern flair. She is completely hip to the times as Marjorie Lee, a young secretary on the verge of plunging into matrimony, but still curious about the shifting tides brought forth by the sexual revolution. Looking for one last blast before embracing domesticity, she throws an orgiastic company party on her last day of work.

Marjorie is twenty years old, not long a woman, but already wise. This is partly because every man she meets feels the need to paw at her. You can't stay a child long with all that groping. Her boss, played with lecherous glee by Terry-Thomas, was especially grabby. I wanted to shout at the man to leave her alone!

But this woman knows how to take care of herself. She's got all the energy of youth, and she's willing to experiment, but she's also smart enough to know when to get out of a bad situation. This is the savvy, unapologetic female I'm always craving to see in films. That such a part is played by Nancy Kwan is too good to be true. It's great to see her break free in an adventurous, sharp and playful role.

Kwan is clever, funny, and gracefully walks the line between sweet and street smart. While her character shows hints of being resigned to a conventional life, you get the feeling that a woman that alive could never truly roll along with the status quo.

A lot of supposedly swinging sixties movies can make you cringe with their stilted, but farcical interpretations of the sexual revolution. This flick jumps headfirst into the lusty insanity of it all.

To make it all even more of its time, Kwan rocks a mod Vidal Sassoon bob and a hip wardrobe created by London designer Mary Quant.

Side note to silent film/early talkie fans: Bessie Love is delightful in a brief appearance as Marjorie's mother.

Born Reckless (1958)

Mamie Van Doren was Universal's attempt to launch its own bleach blonde bombshell in the fifties, a la Marilyn Monroe. She certainly looked the part, but just like Jayne Mansfield and Diana Dors, she possessed an entirely different kind of charm than the breathy queen of 1950s sex symbols. Energetic, playful and ready to rock, Van Doren always seemed the most happy-go-lucky of the sexy blondes.

In Born Reckless Van Doren plays one of her most vibrant roles as cowgirl singer and trick rider Jackie, who travels with rodeo star Kelly Cobb (Jeff Richards) and his handler Cool Man (Arthur Hunnicutt) through the competitive circuit. She pines for Kelly and wants to settle down with him on the ranch he's buying with his winnings, but he's still sowing his oats and pays little attention to Jackie.

Perhaps Kelly is suffering from an overload of attention from gorgeous cowgirls, because it is impossible to believe that he wouldn't at least give Jackie a tumble, even though her torpedo-boobed bombshell appearance is at odds with the domestic-minded singer's wholesome values.

It doesn't matter though. This movie isn't concerned with plot. It's about rip-snorting rodeo scenes, bar fights and excellent rockabilly cowboy songs. Van Doren takes on most of the singing duties, and her numbers are a lot of fun because she looks like she's having a blast. Something to Dream About in particular had me tapping my toes for days afterwards. Rockabilly Texan Johnny Olenn and His Group also tear through a couple of raucous numbers, including the memorable title track.

It's uncomplicated fun. There are no surprises. This is the kind of movie you watch when you need to be cheered up, but don't want to save for a rainy day.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Feb 10, 2015

Shopping Classic: Movie Totes on Red Bubble

I've been thinking lately that I'd like to buy a new tote. What better than to get a bag that reflects my classic movie love? Deciding what to buy hasn't been as easy as I expected though. I found thousands of choices on the first site I searched. Look at these amazing picks from Red Bubble:

Novak & Stewart/Bell,Book & Candle

Robert Mitchum/Night of the Hunter

Cary Grant/North by Northwest

 3D Giraffe
3D Giraffe

 Voyage to the Moon
Voyage to the Moon

3D Glasses

 Anna May Wong
Anna May Wong


It has been torture deciding which one I want, but I think I may need to go with this:

Mary Pickford

I received no compensation for this post. I'm just a fan.

Feb 9, 2015

Book Review: The Sound of Music Story

The Sound of Music Story
Tom Santopietro
St. Martin's Press, 2015

The Sound of Music Story begins just as the famous movie does, with Julie Andrews purposefully striding up a green hillside and effortlessly twirling as she begins to sing. The only difference: this time she is flung to the ground by the force of the helicopter filming her from above. After ten takes, many of them ending with her face in the grass, the rising star screamed that she'd had enough.

I'll never look at that opening scene the same again, but I don't mind, because The Sound of Music is as interesting behind the scenes as it is onscreen. In his thorough history of the musical, Tom Santopietro tells the story of the real von Trapp family, the first appearance of their fictional counterparts onscreen in a pair of popular German comedy-dramas, the stage musical and blockbuster film to follow.

The notes on casting are worth the read alone. Imagine what the movie would have been like if Walter Matthau had been cast as Captain von Trapp? Or if Mia Farrow and Sharon Tate had been seriously considered to dance through a gazebo as Liesl? What if Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly had accepted the offer to direct? Or if William Wyler hadn't eventually admitted his dislike for the show and took this on as his first musical instead of Funny Girl (1968)?

Maria Von Trapp was not much like her stage and screen counterparts. The product of a rough childhood, she was tough, controlling and difficult to impress. She exerted great control over her singing family, which naturally caused some resentment, though many of the children would participate in some way in the family legacy when their stage career was over. They even capitalized on their fame by opening the Von Trapp Family Lodge in Vermont, which still attracts sentimental musical lovers to this day.

So the petite, cheerful Mary Martin was not much like the real Maria Von Trapp, but the women became friends and she won the sturdy Austrian's approval for her portrayal in the stage musical version of her family story. The show was an enormous hit, the last Rogers and Hammerstein score, and many thought their best. It took a few years, but it was inevitable that the show would eventually make it to the screen.

The process of casting and pre-production reads like a journal of missed catastrophes. There are so many ways this movie could have gone off the rails with bad casting, the wrong director or ill-advised staging, but these disasters are all avoided, sometimes barely. Robert Wise was the perfect choice for director, he had a knack for finding talent he could trust, so he could step back and let them work their magic. Finding this dream team is perhaps his biggest accomplishment, because once they were assembled, this was a remarkably happy production, one that cast and crew were sorry to leave behind when filming ended.

Santopietro's text is full of detail, but flows nicely with an almost airy feel. He gets the meat of the story, but makes plenty of asides for amusing anecdotes, like the time Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews were trying to film their romantic gazebo scene, but kept breaking into laughter because the lights overhead were making fart noises. You also get a good feel for the social dynamics of the set, with a cranky Plummer, the cheerful, team-building Andrews and charming elements like the enormous crush Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich) had on his screen stepmother (you can see how much he adores her as they perform alongside each other for the Lonely Goatherd number).

The initial audience reaction to the film was of intense, overwhelming love. One preview audience was so impressed that it rose for an unheard of standing ovation at intermission. Even the real Maria Von Trapp was entranced, becoming so wrapped up in the movie that she walked down the aisle of the theater as if she were a part of the onscreen re-enactment of her own wedding.

Critics were not as kind. The filmmakers thought they had it made with that rapturous audience response, but film criticism in the 1960s was already brutal, and a sweet story like The Sound of Music raised ire to the point of almost seeming to offend acerbic critics like Pauline Kael. It didn't make a bit of difference for the film's box office though, and it also cleaned up during awards season, winning the Academy Award for best picture, director, music, film editor and sound.

The final portion of the book is dedicated to life after the film's reception, from the impact it had on its cast and crew to its cultural influence. While there is much of interest here, the text starts to lose momentum, getting slightly bogged down by all the details and analysis. That said, it's fun to know what happened to the kids in the cast. It can't be easy to weave together details like that Liesl would eventually become an interior decorator and help her friend Michael Jackson with his Neverland Ranch or that The Sound of Music is hugely popular in China because for several years it was one of the only five movies that Chairman Mao allowed to be screened.

While the image of Julie Andrews being slammed to the ground by a helicopter or giggling with Christopher Plummer over flatulent lights strips away a little illusion, it was encouraging to learn that the set of third highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation) was a happy one and a world as rich and fascinating as the musical on the screen.

Feb 8, 2015

Quote of the Week

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For me, acting is not an all-consuming thing, except for the moment when I'm actually doing it. There is a point beyond acting, a point where living becomes important.

-William Holden

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Feb 7, 2015

Feb 6, 2015

Classic Links

Though I've become a bit overwhelmed by how many online streaming options there are now, I'm excited to check out Shout Factory TV, the new streaming option from Shout Factory. They haven't posted many movies yet, but it's free and I've already spotted a few things I'd like to check out--Shout Factory TV

I love this huge gallery of African American performers compiled for Black History Month. It reminds me of so many of my favorite moments in film and music--Once Upon a Screen…

It looks like 35mm film will survive for at least a bit longer. I hope filmmakers come to appreciate the different possibilities available to them in both digital and film--/Film

Alec Baldwin's take on movie stardom and Marlene Dietrich is perfect--Stargayzing

Film website Black Maria held a hugely successful screening of Libeled Lady (1936) in LA, just for the joy of creating a communal film experience. They are fundraising to launch more screenings in other US cities--Black Maria

I never thought a movie review would make me say, "wow, I really want to see that Richard Dix flick," but the day has come--Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

SNL's goofy alternate ending for Casablanca (1942) envisions Ilsa totally horrified by the thought of sacrificing everything for Rick and ready to gas up the plane and make her escape--Screen Crush

I love these British stamps with television and movie themes. How can I get my hands on one of those Thunderbirds stamps?--Kine Artefacts

Feb 2, 2015

On DVD: 1960s Fun in Panic Button and Kill or Cure

I had a lot of fun checking out the oddball sixties comedies Panic Button and Kill or Cure this week, both new releases from Warner Archive. Offbeat flicks like these are a huge reason why I love MOD (Manufacture on Demand) discs so much.

Panic Button (1964)

Just from reading the cast list I knew that Panic Button was going to be unusual. Maurice Chevalier, Eleanor Parker and Jayne Mansfield in the same low-budget production? I had to see how that would pan out.

A somewhat frail, but still jaunty Chevalier stars as a washed up actor who lives in his ex-wife's (Eleanor Parker) hotel for women. He is delighted when a business group hires him to appear in a television pilot of Romeo and Juliet. It's all a scam though, the businessmen are looking for a tax write-off and have purposely hired an unpopular star in anticipation of being rejected by the networks. Mansfield is recruited to be his Juliet.

While the film seems to be going down the same road as The Producers, the only similarity is in the basic idea. Panic Button is nowhere near as good as the Mel Brooks hit, but everyone involved seems to know they're in a lousy production and not care a whit. Most of the cast appears to be having a blast, especially Chevalier and Parker, and that's what makes the movie so much fun.

Parker and Chevalier are the friendliest exes you'll ever see in a movie. The elderly actor is clearly living in his former love's hotel because of her generosity and their conversations, while not all sweet, are based in a sort of affectionate respect. Of course, you never believe for a minute that they could have been married. Their father-daughter vibe is as much about the kind of chemistry they possess as their 34-year age difference.

Parker, Chevalier and Croccolo
Mansfield, seeming unhappier than her cast mates, is noticeably less bubbly than usual, though just as much a bombshell in her role as a fake artist and aspiring actress. She wears a series of bizarre platinum wigs that got more of my attention than her performance, but she is appealing. Apparently Chevalier enjoyed working with her.

Though the film often feels padded, with long establishing shots and superfluous Chevalier songs, there are enough comic moments to give it zing. I especially loved a scene where Parker, Chevalier and hotel worker Carlo Croccolo dress up as nuns and sneak away to the Venice Film Festival with the film. It's the sort of set-up that usually makes you cringe, but they seem so amused to be trotting around Italy in habits that you have to smile.

Kill or Cure (1962)

Kill or Cure is more conventionally successful than Panic Button, but it has some of the same off-kilter goofiness. Gap-toothed British comedian Terry-Thomas is a private investigator who is hired by a wealthy woman to go under cover to investigate suspicious activity at a health hotel where she is a guest. Once he arrives, he is horrified to realize he is expected to live on grass salad and putrid juice drinks while enduring rough salt rubs and ice cold showers.

His nemesis is a disciplined doctor at the hotel, played by Dennis Price, who is perhaps best known for playing the sinister lead in Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949). The good doctor believes fervently in the cuisine and health regime that so horrifies the PI. He also insists on conducting his own investigation when Terry-Thomas' client is murdered and the hotel is thrown into a panic.

Price and Terry-Thomas have great chemistry, and the movie is most amusing when they are playing off each other. As different as their lifestyles are, they have a similar way of approaching a problem, and their mutual realization of that both infuriates and impresses them. It would have been great to see them headline more comedies together.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Feb 1, 2015

Quote of the Week

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When the makers of films are as unafraid of good films as the public, we shall really have a renaissance.

-King Vidor

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