May 28, 2021

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: May Round-up


Ticklish Business 
April 21, 2021 

This is a great interview with Kym Karath, most famous for playing Greta, the youngest VonTrapp child in The Sound of Music (1965). She shares stories about the rest of her acting career and the many stars she worked with. The story of Karath’s discovery is adorable: she was more about dolls than acting, but being a movie star was okay too. 

Speeding Bullitt: The Life and Films of Steve McQueen 
April 22, 2021 

After reading the new Norman Jewison bio., I was curious to learn more about the production of The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). This episode filled in a few more holes in my knowledge about the film and had some good tidbits about a role that was at the time a big departure for Steve McQueen. 

Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast 
April 5, 2021 

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz talks about his remarkable family, hosting for a classic film network, and the many famous people he has met in this fascinating conversation. 

You Must Remember This 
May 3, 2021 

Karina Longworth returns with a typically well-researched and beautifully told story with lots of great details and surprises. This time it’s about classic Hollywood’s most successful and feared gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons. I like Longworth’s delivery a little more this time around; it seems more natural. While I didn't like the extent to which many criticized her more mannered way of speaking in previous seasons, I do find her more pleasant to listen to now. 

May 26, 2021

On Blu-ray: Three Roberts, Young, Mitchum, and Ryan in Crossfire (1947)


From the first shot, Crossfire (1947) seems to be throwing you into a genre flick. It opens with a fist fight, in shadow, mostly off camera. You can’t see faces. It feels like a film noir or a crime movie. 

As the action unfolds though, the social issue roots of the story reveal themselves. It’s still gritty and built for thrills, but there’s more substance than is obvious at first. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this fascinating film is bolstered by a charismatic cast and a well-written script by John Paxton which was nominated for an Academy Award. 

Whatever else Crossfire has going for it, and it’s got a lot, it’s especially remarkable for gathering three different and unique Roberts: Taylor, Mitchum, and Ryan. The trio settles into familiar roles, which makes the plot twists easy to project, but mystery isn’t the true draw here. Mitchum gets the best lines and he’s often funny in his dry way, Ryan has the showstopper part, and Taylor brings great depth to his role as a detective trying to unravel a murder. 

In a movie full of big personalities, it’s noteworthy that the lesser-known George Cooper makes such an impression. As a GI accused of murder, he’s sympathetic and appealing in that interesting way film actors can have of being relatable, but also more fascinating than normal folks. The son of silent film actor George Cooper Sr., his filmography shows a handful of westerns and crime movies in the forties, a few more television roles in the fifties, and only one more role in 1975. It seems that Cooper’s real love was painting and his connections in Hollywood gave him work that was a means to an end and enabled his return to society after serving in the Navy during World War II. He later achieved his dream of becoming an artist. 

Cooper has a couple of great scenes with his leading ladies. One is with Gloria Grahame, who is memorable in her small role as a downtrodden, but alluring bar girl who holds the key to the GI’s freedom. Another is a tender and somewhat offbeat moment in a movie theatre balcony with Jacqueline White, who plays his understanding wife. In these scenes Cooper effectively communicates the trauma and disorientation a soldier can feel, something he might have experienced himself as a veteran. 

In a film that centers on the impact different perspectives can have, it’s interesting how director Edward Dmytryk plays with point-of-view. From that first scene, he’s deliberate in the way he reveals the action and how he introduces characters. You can be quietly engrossed in a scene and suddenly have a new perspective based on the way his actors slip into the frame. 

When the social issue that’s the real focus of the film reveals itself, it unfortunately the dialogue-heavy exposition slows the action for a bit, though eventually things right themselves and the film hits its stride again. Ultimately Crossfire manages to both hold onto its genre intrigue and effectively share its message, winning Oscar nominations in addition to the screenplay for Dmytryk, Grahame, and Ryan.

Special features on the disc include commentary by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, and with audio interview excerpts from director Edward Dmytryk, and the informative featurette Crossfire: Hate is Like a Gun

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

May 19, 2021

Book Review--Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship


Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship 
Charles Casillo 
Kensington Books, 2021 

Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift had an unusual connection, particularly for Hollywood: a lasting, loyal friendship as intimate as a marriage, which endured throughout decades. In Elizabeth and Monty: The Untold Story of Their Intimate Friendship, Charles Casillo tells the story of their lives and how they supported each other through the best and worst of times. 

Taylor and Clift met while making the George Stevens film A Place in the Sun (1951). Elizabeth was a teenage MGM player, while Monty was at the time a bigger star and more seasoned as an actor. He taught her that acting was something to take seriously, but there was also an immediate, visceral connection between the two. For her it was passionate love, but eventually he made it clear that he would always prefer men sexually, though he deeply connected with women emotionally. 

The friendship that began on that production would last until death parted them, their loyalty to each other unaffected by distance, scandal, poor health, and the myriad disappointments that can complicated a life. They would make two more films together: Raintree County (1957) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959), the latter due to Taylor’s instance that a troubled Clift be cast. Casillo explores the way their relationship changed, from Elizabeth’s early desire for Monty to the more enduring, soulful friendship that developed over the years. 

Much of the story here will be familiar to fans of Taylor and Clift. Casillo draws heavily on Patricia Bosworth’s Clift biography and Kitty Kelley’s biography of Taylor. Aside from these more familiar sources, there are some interesting tidbits; I especially appreciated the insight from director Edward Dmytryk’s unpublished manuscript The Making of Raintree County, which reflects a critical time in Monty’s life and in his relationship with Elizabeth. 

Of the first source interviews included in the book, the most revealing and touching memories come from actor Kevin McCarthy, who with his wife Augusta Dabney was a close friend of Clift’s, though the couple had to withdraw from him to a degree as his behavior became more dangerous and erratic. McCarthy’s point of view is important, because he was present for many of the key points of Clift’s life, from his start on the stage in New York, to the decline of his Hollywood career. Most importantly, he was a guest at Elizabeth Taylor’s house and was driving ahead of Clift down a twisting hill on the night he crashed into a tree, changing his face and his life. 

The book leans heavily into the sex and scandals in Taylor and Clift’s lives, seeming to squeeze every last bit of sensation out of those elements. While these are important and even formative moments in their story, the degree to which they were lingered upon felt excessive. 

I found the details of Elizabeth and Monty’s interactions more compelling. Their relationship was a fascinating combination of devotion and selfishness, tough love and absolute acceptance. While it was pure love that kept them close over the years, it is clear that a mutual understanding of the complexities of human relationships helped them through the rough spots. In the end, I saw their connection with more clarity and better appreciated how unusually strong their bond was. 

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

May 12, 2021

Book Review--McQueen, Poitier and the Thrill of Filmmaking in Norman Jewison: A Director's Life

Norman Jewison: A Director's Life
Ira Wells
Sutherland House, 2021 

“I’ve met very few people who have his kind of passion, where it’s just in every aspect of his life.” -Harry Belafonte about Norman Jewison 

His films are a familiar part of popular culture: Moonstruck (1987), In the Heat of the Night (1967), and Fiddler on the Roof (1971) among them. He won awards, audiences, and critics over the course of a long, remarkably successful career, but Norman Jewison doesn’t have the name recognition of a lot of his peers. In an invigorating new biography of the director, Ira Wells digs into why and explores the life of a man who knew how to live to the fullest. 

Jewison went against the Hollywood norm in many ways: he was happily married for fifty-four years to wife Dixie, until her death (though the bio skips past a scant reference to his infidelities), he raised three well-adjusted, happy kids, and he never settled in Los Angeles, preferring the UK and his farm in Canada to life in a company town. He was also remarkably devoted to finding meaning and growth in his work, from his early days film television specials with Judy Garland and Harry Belefonte to his final film.

In a climate where the toxic behavior of so many directors and stars is being revealed, it was refreshing to learn how well Jewison treated his cast in crew. In his approach to making movies, he focused on creating a family rather than asserting control, the result ironically being that he had a great deal of control over his sets and only rarely felt compelled to bow to an especially powerful star. 

It was liberating to be able to simply enjoy learning about Jewison’s creative process and collaborations, especially his fruitful working relationship with editor/director Hal Ashby. Instead of reading about red-faced fury on the set, there’s stories of Jewison giving bear hugs to his stars for a good scene, gently coaxing actors into creating performances from their own instincts, and the environment he created that allowed inventive technical elements like the way cinematographer Haskell Wexler circled Steve McQueen and Fay Dunaway on a skateboard to get that famous swirling shot of them kissing in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). Though it was often frustrating and there were still plenty of personal conflicts, filming was a thrilling pursuit in Jewison’s world. 

While Jewison wanted to make profitable movies, his vision always came first, for better or for worse. As a result he pushed against studios to tackle unpopular topics, and make films dominated by Black (A Soldier’s Story [1984]) or female (Agnes of God [1985]) stars. It is interesting to note that these films were generally profitable and critically acclaimed. 

One of Jewison’s biggest faults was an occasional obliviousness about the feelings of others; an odd trait in a person with so much empathy that seemed rooted in his passionate interest in social justice and a sense of entitlement of being able to film what he wished. He was particularly insensitive to the idea that his desire to tell Black stories was not always welcomed by the Black community. When he wanted to make a biopic of Nat Turner and the violent slave uprising he led, many in the Black community begged him not to go forward with the project. He dug his heels in for far too long, though he did finally relent. He also gave in with reluctance when Spike Lee lobbied hard to take over directing duties from him for the Malcolm X biopic. 

Wells concludes that Jewison never made it to the top rank of directors because he wouldn’t play the Hollywood game. He never settled into the culture of the town and would only pour on the charm when he wanted to get a project made. Perhaps that is so, but when I think about Jewison’s joyful dance across the stage as he went to accept his Irving G. Thalberg from Nicolas Cage at the 1999 Academy Awards ceremony, he might have wanted more plaudits, and he deserves them, but what he had was more precious and rare. 

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

May 4, 2021

TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition: What to Watch


This year the remote edition of the TCM Classic Film Festival will run from May 6-9. As with the in-person event, there will be multiple venues: the channel, HBO Max, and ZOOM. 

While I enjoyed the Home Edition of the festival the network was able to pull together on short notice in 2020, I’m excited about what TCM has created with a lot more lead time. Overall this is a great opportunity for many people who have not been able to attend the annual event in Hollywood to experience a bit of what the fest has to offer. 

Of course, that also means experiencing the familiar festival conundrum of what to see when there are so many great choices. 

It pays to plan ahead and determine must-see events ahead of time when there are so many options. This year that means balancing between three possibilities: the live broadcast on TCM, a list of options on HBO Max that will be available from May 6-9, and attendance at free ZOOM events (some of which are now full) which require registration. 

I wanted to share my game plan as a sort of guide to navigating all these options:

Club TCM 

When TCMFF is in Hollywood, the Blossom Room at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel serves as Club TCM. This is a popular place to gather for a rest, a drink, and a chat, in addition to being a venue for special guests and presentations. While there isn’t a bar at the ZOOM Club TCM, there are events scheduled each day. Among them are the traditional Meet TCM panel which offers extra insight into the network, an opening night toast with the hosts, and a Mother’s Day chat with a trio of children of the stars. 

My must-see is Sight and Sound Makers: A Chat With Ben Burtt & Craig Barron. These two Oscar-winning sound and visual effects artists are well-loved among festival regulars for their amazing talks about the process of making sound for the movies. 

If you think you might want to check out a talk, be sure to sign up as soon as possible as events are already filling up. Also keep in mind that a chat link isn’t a reserved ticket, the event can still fill up, so be sure to log in a little early. 



Opening night film West Side Story, 8pm ET (also available on HBO Max with additional special features) 

One special element of TCMFF at home is that the audience for the opening night film isn’t limited to Spotlight passes and VIPs. This is going to be a special one too, with the still vibrant, still active trio of Rita Moreno, Russ Tamblyn, and George Chakaris appearing together as special guests before a showing of the musical that they will forever be associated with. 

Doctor X, 1:30am ET 

I’ve had a look at the restoration of this classic 2-strip Technicolor horror flick directed by Michael Curtiz and it is stunning. The improved look and sound of the film boosts the mystery and ghoulishness of the proceedings. There’s nothing like a gorgeous 2-strip-colored moon. 


The Whistle at Eaton Falls, 10:00am ET 

Each year of the festival, I go into at least one film with as little knowledge beforehand as possible. I know that Flicker Alley did the restoration of this drama and that is enough reason for me to give it a try. 

Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival: Sophia Loren
, 4:00PM ET 

I've already seen this chat with Loren and her son Eduardo, but it is so charming that I watch it any chance I get.

SF Sketchfest Presents Plan 9 From Outer Space Table Read
– Adapted by Dana Gould, 8:00pm ET 

It’s impressive how quickly the art of ZOOM dramatics has advanced in the past year. We’ve gone from straight table-read style events to this stylishly-produced spoof of Ed Wood’s goofball sci-fi classic. From the black and white “cinematography” to amusing backgrounds and miniatures, this is a great-looking production. The cast of players, led by Gould, perfectly balances camp with straight-faced fidelity to the script. Laraine Newman is a highlight as the bemused narrator. 

Plan 9 from Outer Space (1957), 9:30pm ET 

You’ll definitely want to watch the real deal after the table read just to see that yes, those were the real lines from the movie and they were performed with dead seriousness. 

TCM Underground Presents: Grease 2 (1982), 11:00pm ET 

As I first saw this movie when I was twelve, no one will ever convince me it isn’t genius. This follow-up to the original box office sensation is a lot of fun and a perfect Midnight flick. From young and gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer and Maxwell Caulfield, to the classic film connection via Judy Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft, the cast itself is enough of a draw, but the songs are also incredibly catchy. 

let me come in
 (2021), 3:15am ET 

If you can stay up, this Bill Morrison (Dawson City: Frozen Time [2016]) short is a wonderfully mesmerizing experience. Made from decaying footage from a German silent, it is the mysterious story of a man and a woman, lost in waves of disintegrating nitrate. 

Underworld U.S.A. (1961), 4:00am ET 

Another film I’m going into with little previous knowledge. Bill Hader’s introduction to this is a must-see; he always provides valuable insight into movies because he’s well-attuned to the tone of a film and the details that contribute to its overall mood. 


Tex Avery: The King of Cartoons (1988), 6:00am ET/ Tex Avery at MGM (1943-1955), 7:00am ET 

There’s no better time to learn about the life and career of a subversive and mischievous cartoon great than a Saturday morning! This brief documentary will be followed by some of the best of Avery’s work (though I have never warmed up to that devious little Screwball Squirrel…). 

I Love Trouble (1948), 8:00am ET 

I saw and loved this lighter take on the detective movie at a Noirfest many years ago. It was the first time I enjoyed Franchot Tone, who seems to be having the time of his life as a snarky investigator.

Nichols and May: Take Two (1996), 11:45am ET 

The best part of this episode of American Masters about the comedy team of Elaine May and Mike Nichols is that it includes full-length performances of some of the pair’s best routines. The intelligent and lightly erotic charge of these two has never been matched. 

 (1968), 5:45pm ET 

One of the biggest disappointments of TCMFF 2019 was that Jacqueline Bissett was unable to make her planned appearance before a screening of this slick crime flick at the Chinese Theatre. It was still a transformative experience, but I am glad she’s getting another chance to chat about one of her most memorable films. 

They Won’t Believe Me
(1947), 8:00pm ET 

This film noir starring Robert Taylor is another new film for me and a draw because it is newly restored in 4k from a nitrate print of the film. 

Lady Sings the Blues
(1972), 10:00pm ET 

Diana Ross was the first actress to win an Oscar nomination playing Billie Holiday. I’ve never seen this and I’m looking forward to seeing how Ross approached the part. 


Her Man (1930), 8:45am ET 

It’s just not TCMFF without a Pre-code. Watching Helen Twelvetrees starring as a bar girl in Havana sounds like a great way to start the day. 

Princess Tam Tam
 (1935), 12:45pm ET 

This restoration of Josephine Baker’s best film performance is a festival must-see. While film was a small part of this multi-talented artist’s career, she had a unique, vivacious effect on the screen. Worth a watch for her uninhibited and artful climactic dance performance alone. 

Hollywood Home Movies: Stars at Work and Play, 7:00pm ET 

This has been a popular annual feature at Club TCM, but I have never had the chance to attend. Now that I know what this presentation has to offer, I recommend it highly. There’s all sorts of goodies here, but the highlight is the films presented by the special guests: Tony Nicholas describes videos of his famous father and uncle, the Nicholas Brothers and Shirley Jones talks about footage of her on the set of her first film, Oklahoma (1955). They’re both incredibly charming and insightful. Also, you can’t miss the sight of Frank Morgan playing tennis in a hairnet. 

So This is Paris (1926), 8:00pm ET 

All I remember about this silent is that when I saw it for the first time at TCMFF a few years ago I laughed so loud that I snorted. Enough reason to check it out again, especially now that this early Ernst Lubitsch film has been restored. 

Fame (1980), 11:45pm ET 

Debbie Allen has been my pandemic angel, because the free dance classes she started giving on Instagram Live last Spring helped me to deal with a lot of the stress and confusion of the first days of being homebound. I can’t wait to see her again in her most famous film even though I can't keep up with her dance routines. 

News From Home (1977) 4:15am ET/ La Chambre (1972) 6:13am ET 

If I can stay awake, I plan to finish the fest with this dreamy, drifting pair of films directed by Chantal Akerman. News From Home is a remarkable time capsule of a New York long gone. I especially love the scenes Akerman captures on the subway, where the wary passengers seem unsure of the lady with the camera, but unwilling to confront her. La Chambre is a perfect after-hours short as it consists of the camera’s slow journey around a peaceful bedroom. 

I suspect that if I miss something I want to see at TCMFF this year, it will be on the HBO Max channel. There is so much amazing content scheduled, though the benefit of being able to see it at any time from May 6-9 helps. 

Though I would like to see all of the conversations with the filmmakers and performers that will be posted there, I’m going to make sure I see the talk with documentary director Barbara Kopple, because she has such a perceptive and affectionate way of talking about her work and her subjects. 

I’m also going to make time to watch Chain Lightning (1950) an action adventure drama starring Humphrey Bogart and Eleanor Parker. I recommend the Ben Burtt and Craig Barron special feature about the sounds in the film. As usual, they’re hilarious together and there’s a lot of interesting history here, including the frequent use of a single jet sound in several projects. 

There are three stunning features in the Special Collections category that are worth making a priority: 

One is the LA Rebellion collection, featuring the work of a trio of filmmakers who were students together at UCLA in the nineties. Jacqueline Stewart conducts a fascinating interview with directors Charles Burnett and Billy Woodbury about their work. The films in the collection: Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991), Woodbury’s Bless Their Little Hearts (1983), and Burnett’s To Sleep with Anger (1990) are diverse in subject matter, but similar in their attention to detail, strong characters, and realistic world-building. This is a truly magnificent collection. 

Another can’t-miss: the premiere of the documentary The Mystery of Méliès (2021) which explores the life and work of the pioneering filmmaker in a lively, inventive way. 

There’s also a collection of Powell and Pressburger films: Black Narcissus (1947), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) and The Red Shoes (1948), which is accompanied by a deeply touching short featuring Thelma Schoonmaker, who was married to Powell for the last ten years of his life. 

There’s so many other films in this collection that there’s sure to be something to please all tastes and the special features for each of them are a great way to emulate the festival experience. 

As with the TCMFF on Hollywood Boulevard, you’re not going to be able to see everything, but what you do see will be memorable.

All photos courtesy of TCM.