Jun 29, 2022

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: June Round-up

This month I’m pleased to share a bit of personal podcast news. First, Watching Classic Movies podcast will be back with new episodes on July 13! In addition to that, I was a guest on Robert Bellissimo’s video podcast. We had a great talk about the rediscovered and restored film noir Repeat Performance (1947). You can watch our conversation here:

And here is this month's round-up. All episode titles link to the show:

The Academy Museum Podcast: And the Oscar Goes To…
June 2, 2022 

This is an excellent history of Hattie McDaniel’s pioneering Oscar win. I don’t think it is well known how much she fought to even be nominated for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939). She was a strong woman! The interviews with Oscar winters Mo’nique and Whoopi Goldberg offer an interesting historical perspective on the win.

Lions, Towers & Shields
June 16, 2022 

This is great show for interesting, accessible conversations about the classics. I loved the depth of this talk about Gilda (1946). There’s lots of film knowledge shared among three guests and host Shelly Brisbin and they have fantastic chemistry.

Beyond the Screenplay
April 8, 2022 

I cringed a bit, as I do, about some of the dismissive comments here about old movies, but those words came with a full acceptance of the timeless brilliance of Casablanca (1942). This film remains an astonishing accomplishment. The script, the cast, and all those magical elements you can’t measure make it deserving of its legendary status. This conversation perfectly captures its essence.

Scarred For Life
May 29, 2022 

This was my introduction to the mini-industry of Christian propaganda films focused on the rapture. A Thief in the Night (1972) is a bonkers example of the genre; it uses horror tropes to get its point across. I watched the film on Tubi before I listened and was glad I did, because context makes this conversation much more enjoyable.

Jun 15, 2022

On Blu-ray: Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Bergman, and Lana Turner in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)


While the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March remains my favorite, MGM’s 1941 production starring Spencer Tracy has grown on me over the years. I still find it overlong and too heavy on the dialogue, but there’s much to love about it. I recently revisited the film on a new Blu-ray from Warner Archive. 

One of the most fascinating elements of this take on Robert Louis Stevenson’s Victorian tale of a scientist who brings out his evil side is that a studio known for going big with everything in its lavish productions did very little with make-up when it came to Tracy’s transformation to Hyde. His brow is darkened and his features made to look more severe, but Tracy’s acting is what makes the alter ego he plays so chilling. He perfectly embodies the dichotomy of a man, from the mask he wears as he moves in society to the more animalistic desires raging beneath that façade. 

Much has been made of the casting of the female leads in this film. For some the casting of the fresh-faced Ingrid Bergman as tortured bar girl Ivy and bleach-blonde Lana Turner as Tracy’s virginal intended seems backwards. I thought that at one time myself, but I’ve come to realize that the film wouldn’t have worked had the roles been switched. 

For the most part this is because the role of Ivy requires an intensity that Turner would never have on the screen. Bergman gives a deeply harrowing performance, going to frantic emotional heights that few actresses of the period would be able to match. It is an exponentially more challenging role. 

On the other hand, Turner was well suited to playing the young and innocent Beatrix. This was years before The Postman Rings Twice (1946) and audiences at the time would have felt the part suited her persona. It was also the perfect role to showcase what she did have to offer as an actress. 

It’s a solid trio of performances, but they aren’t in the film they deserve. There’s more talk than action, especially in the early scenes and those scenes go into far more detail than is necessary. It is here where I vastly prefer the pre-Code version. 

There is a bit of that pre-Code spirit in the film’s surreal and erotic dream sequences though. Tracy’s sexual frustration is illustrated in a series of sensual and downright kinky fantasies centered on the two women in his life. How did the image of Tracy whipping Turner and Bergman as his bare-shouldered steeds made it past censors? Perhaps the scenes were viewed as art; whatever happened, it’s these moments that give the film a wild edge that is much needed to cut through the MGM-style pomp. 

This is for the most part a satisfying film; Tracy’s performance alone makes it a classic. 

As a special feature there is also a theatrical trailer on the disc. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.

Jun 8, 2022

Book Review--Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema's Greatest Stunts


Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts 
Scott McGee 
TCM/Running Press, 2022 

I could only read Danger on the Silver Screen: 50 Films Celebrating Cinema’s Greatest Stunts In short bursts, because I got so tense. In his new book Scott McGee goes into great detail in describing the process and experience of preparing and performing screen stunts and it is suspenseful reading. The unwritten qualifier here is that this collection of “Cinema’s Greatest Stunts” is from Hollywood productions, so while there are international stars in the mix, the films are all from the USA. 

One of the most surprising things I learn from Danger on the Silver Screen is that while stunt work is incredibly dangerous, many performers not only survived, but continued to work as stunt advisors and second unit directors well into their senior years. When you think of legendary performers like Yakima Canutt surviving all the bumps and breaks to inspire and guide new generations, it's clear that it is a profession not of recklessness, but of careful planning best led by experts who have been there. 

I loved the variety of genres covered. No stunt book would be complete without featuring silent film comics Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, both of whom performed work as dangerous as actors more famous for derring do like Douglas Fairbanks. 

It was also interesting to see how stunts have developed over the years, with the insight of industry veterans, and the bravery of stars like Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, and Tom Cruise who are dedicated to doing as much of their own stunt work as possible. I was encouraged to realize so many filmmakers want real action no matter how much CGI has advanced. 

The book includes good selection of films because rather than being intended as a collection of the best stunt films (though many of the best are included), it offers a diverse view of the kinds of stunts that have successfully emerged in cinema. I liked how McGee would mention obscure related films in several of the entries; it would have been great to see a couple of them in the list of fifty since they would likely be new to many readers. While I had seen all of the fifty films on the list, I came away with a long list of those other films mentioned to watch. 

Overall I’m becoming a big fan of the books TCM releases. They’re gorgeous to look at, but there’s also a lot of substance. I also like the warmth of the various writing styles; rather than having a dry standard template, there’s always a personal feel to the text. 

Many thanks to TCM and Running Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

Jun 1, 2022

On Blu-ray: James Coburn is a Doctor Detective in The Carey Treatment (1972)

I went into the new Warner Archive Blu-ray release of The Carey Treatment (1972) knowing nothing about the film except that it starred James Coburn, one of my favorite actors. The Blake Edwards-directed production, based on an early novel by Michael Crichton has much to offer, though it left me with mixed emotions. So much of it feels like unfulfilled potential. 

It was bracing to learn that an illegal abortion played a key role in this mystery drama just days after hearing of the leaked plans by the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe vs. Wade. The film isn’t about that, but rather how justice suffers in the corruption of systems. Still, it was a chilling reminder of how long this issue and the discord around it have been a part of our society. 

The abortion in question leads to the death of the daughter (played by daughter of Mel Tormé, Melissa Tormé-March) of a Boston hospital director Dr. J.D. Randall (Dan O’Herlihy). Blame quickly falls to Dr. David Tao (James Hong), a physician at the hospital who is known for performing the procedure at cost for women of limited means. 

There is no solid evidence that Tao is guilty though, a fact that is clear to his friend and a pathologist Dr. Peter Carey (James Coburn) who has recently arrived in town to take a cushy job at the hospital. While Tao sits in jail, Carey defies all orders to mind his business so that he may free his colleague. 

Hong is a clear-eyed, refreshing presence in the macho world of seventies cinema, it was a disappointment to realize he would only book-end the main action of the film. Still, it was nice to see the prolific actor in an early role. He’s a lightly cynical counterpoint to the determined Dr. Carey. 

In the titular role, James Coburn unleashes his reliable, easy charm, taking on a character who seems like a scoundrel on the surface, but who has empathy and sensitivity in opposition to many of the male roles of the era. He has the same morality as a superhero, but none of the corny, upstanding aura that comes with that. 

The often underused Jennifer O’Neill is Carey’s love interest. She’s a dietician with a deadbeat husband on an extended ski vacation and a young son to support. While she is only there to allow Carey’s inner monologue to translate into dialogue and exposition, it’s interesting the way the relationship unfolds. Instead of the familiar game of pressure and subtle aggression, Carey gently communicates his attraction. His simple, unsleazy flirtation is welcome and indicates his confidence in himself and the challenges he faces. 

There are a few stand-outs in the intriguing supporting cast. Elizabeth Allen is smoothly entitled as the wife of Dr. Randall and stepmother of his deceased daughter. Skye Aubrey also stands out as a troubled nurse who loses control of her life. The always reliably skeezy Michael Blodgett brings his low-lidded corruption to the role of a masseuse who looks like trouble, but somehow still  gets away with way too much. 

While the story and cast are solid and this was a generally entertaining film, it felt a bit sloppy and ill-formed. In reading about the production, I learned that due to studio interference, Edwards was not able to make the film as he desired. He would later take out his frustrations by alluding to the incident in S.O.B. (1981). It’s a shame, because all the talents involved were capable of much more, but Coburn’s charisma makes up for a lot and is reason enough to make the film a must-see for fans of the actor. 

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review.