Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
The Dardos Award is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing. These stamps were created with the intention of promoting fraternization between bloggers, a way of showing affection and gratitude for work that adds value to the Web.
I'm self conscious enough as it is, but I can't refuse an honor from my peers, can I? So instead of pulling a Marlon Brando and sending Sacheen Littlefeather to refuse the honor, I say "Thank You!" to those who feel this small corner of the bloggosphere is worthy. I'm touched.
The rules state that I have to pass this on to five other blogs I deem worthy...I enjoy many blogs, but these are some of my favorites who deserve your time(even though three of the five don't know I exist).
Sunday, February 22, 2009
"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has recognized Jerry Lewis with one of its greatest honors, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.
The award, named after renowned actor, past Academy president and motion picture industry supporter Jean Hersholt, is bestowed by the Academy on an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry."
Jerry Lewis should have received the Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award years ago. Heck, he should have at least gotten a certificate for coming up with the Video Assist in 1960, when making his directorial debut (in Miami!) in The Bellboy.
But let's face it: comedy never gets the recognition that drama does. Comedy is infinitely more difficult to do, if it weren't, they wouldn't need laugh tracks on most every situation comedy ever produced. Dramas don't require a "sobbing track" or a "suspense track" of a faux audience reacting to dramatic action onscreen, do they? Lewis was Paramount's big moneymaker in the 1950s and 1960s and was given full control over his work. Such was the confidence that studio founder Adolph Zukor essentially gave the star anything he wanted because the producer knew that a Lewis film would make a tidy profit at the box office. Lewis was/is a perfectionist and demanding. He had zero tolerance for incompetents, as he states in the DVD featurette for his 1963 masterwork, The Nutty Professor.
...the Hersholt award is an award honoring humanitarians, and it's one Lewis should have received decades ago, because no one in Hollywood is more associated with charitable work than Lewis. His Labor Day Telethons (held annually since 1960) are the stuff of legend, and I can remember watching them in the 1970s, when Lewis had infinitely more screen time than he has in recent years. I even recall Lewis' Sinatra-planned reunion with Dean Martin in 1976; that was my first time watching the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon! I was only vaguely aware of who Dean Martin was, but before I knew of Lewis the auteur, I recognized him as the "Jerry's Kids" sponsor. I'll bet a couple of generations do the same. I mentioned in a previous post that I wouldn't be watching the Oscars this year, however, I'll be tuning in at my usual booth at The Purple Pit--but only for Jerry's long overdue recognition.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Here are four of the best web pages that focus on one film:
Raintree County- I love the film’s music score more than the film itself, but this site makes this average epic much more interesting. The film’s back story is infinitely more arresting than the finished product, with Montgomery Clift’s disfiguring car accident the most memorable incident. There's also plenty of information about the novel and its author's tragic life.
The Sand Pebbles- This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid. The Sand Pebbles site is chock full of vintage stills, articles, programs, and deleted scenes.
Monday, February 16, 2009
That’s right, another miserable sod! I’ve been re-reading Against Type: a Biography of Burt Lancaster by Gary Fishgall (1995). It’s the first comprehensive Lancaster biography I’ve seen and the only one I’ve read, though I’ve been meaning to snag a copy of Kate Buford’s Burt Lancaster: an American Life. Against Type's narrative largely consists of behind-the-scenes anecdotes about his movie work, as well as the state of the world and the film industry as it was during Lancaster’s career, which spanned nearly fifty years. I’m glad the coverage of Burt the performer is emphasized over Burt the human being, because the latter was a difficult man to like: cold, ruthless, insensitive, and at times, downright nasty. As a result, Against Type plays like a broken record: Lancaster neglected his wife and children, carried on numerous affairs, bullied his co-stars and directed his directors, which led to a tense set, but when the project wrapped, there was nothing but kind words about Burt’s professionalism and drive for perfection, but never Burt the human being. There was no mistaking him for a nice guy, even if he gave his time and money to the civil rights struggle and championed liberal causes.
What I found to be the most fascinating thing about Burt Lancaster was that just like another Hollywood Dreamland hero, Cary Grant, he had his share of fears and insecurities. Lancaster covered his with an air of superiority and arrogance. Lancaster was not formally trained but had the charisma, natural ability, and keen intelligence to learn his craft and use his natural talents to blast most other performers off the screen. Still, when faced with formally-trained actors like Montgomery Clift, Lancaster’s knees literally shook with fear. He never got over that insecurity, even after establishing himself as one of the best actors of the 1960s. When making 1977’s The Island of Dr. Moreau*, Lancaster had the same fear of classically-trained Michael York, who was also twenty-eight years younger than the aging Lancaster, a former acrobat used to doing many of his own stunts, and who felt the onset of age acutely. When Lancaster was cast as Ned Merrill in the film adaptation of John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, Burt was throwing up off camera before filming when it struck him how tough it would be to play the film's affluent WASP protaganist, a background so different from his own. Director Frank Perry, who fought with Burt throughout the filming of The Swimmer, got a sense of satisfaction at seeing the big star afraid to screw up a most challenging role, as Burt was throwing up on the set before shooting began. Lancaster also was deeply depressed about growing older. A professional acrobat who did many of his own stunts, Lancaster nonetheless saw the proverbial writing on the wall and made the move to playing character parts in the late 1960s, rather than the traditional leading man roles which were appropriate for actors half his age.
It is the anecdotes about Lancaster overcoming his personal insecurities on a professional level that make for a fascinating look into Lancaster the man, because it was his fiery determination and ability to get the best possible performance out of himself from a part that may not have been ideally suited to his range that makes Lancaster an interesting actor to watch. Against Type is aptly titled. Just read it with an interest in Burt Lancaster, the artist; the man himself will only disappoint you.
*Yours truly saw The Island of Dr. Moreau in a drive-in theater (still extant!) at age five and was duly traumatized by the mutated humans and had nightmares about it for days afterwards---okay, years afterwards--in fact, I recently watched the film's trailer and couldn't believe how some of that imagery still disturbed me, particularly when the real animals are attacking the Hum-animals. I think the concept itself is what creeps me out, not the obviously-latex masks worn by the actors. Just don't tell anyone that I was disturbed by a Samuel Z. Arkoff production, okay?
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
I won't be watching the Oscars this year, but if you do, please wish host Hugh Jackman luck. He has some big shoes to fill. But that’s not fair to Jackman, or any other Academy Awards host, because Bob Hope (1903-2003) is the Gold Standard of Oscar hosts. “Ski Nose” helmed the awards eighteen times:
1939, 1940, 1942, 1944, 1945, 1952, 1954, 1957, 1961, 1964, 1956, 1966, 1967, 1970, 1974, and 1977.
The funny thing is, when I went down the list of notable Academy Awards emcees (Jerry Lewis, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal) I laughed to myself that I was even comparing these accomplished performers to He That Was Hope. I was embarrassed for having even thought of putting someone else up against him!
One of Hope’s main gags was bemoaning his failure to be nominated, but he was entirely too modest and self deprecating to show off his countless humanitarian awards, which included Lifetime Achievement Oscars in 1941, 1945, 1953, and 1966. You can add the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, too. Growing up I never knew this, because young me fell for his schtick hook, line, and sinker.
But Hope was more than an awards-collecting machine, he was a comic master. It’s become fashionable to bash Hope for his latter-career NBC specials, when he merely read off the cue cards, but anyone putting him down for those last few years doesn’t know the extent of his power during his prime. Hope had impeccable comic timing, with his great ability to do double takes, skewer the topics of the day (something that gives me, a history buff, insight into those times) and be a most generous performer, letting his leading lady make a fool out of him to get the laughs (his Nov 13, 1943 Command Performance radio sketch about the steak with Lana Turner is a classic). Smart man, that Bob Hope. Having seen (and heard) a lot of Hope in action, he was definitely a man in command, with the charisma, presence, and quick wit to get a show moving. And during his heyday, he was great for an improvisational line and that often got the bigger laugh. The quintessential emcee. Next year marks the seventieth anniversary of Hope’s first crack at the hosting duties; I hope they give him a warm tribute. Then I'll be watching.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Pride of the Marines (1945)
Of Human Bondage (1946)
Detective Story (1951)
Above and Beyond (1952)
Valley of the Kings (1954)
Interrupted Melody (1955)
The Man with the Golden Arm (1955)
The Seventh Sin (1957)
Home from the Hill (1960)
The Sound of Music (1965)
Thanks to Millie at Classic Forever for inspiring this post…
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Lillies of the Field (1963)
Most people, including movie buffs, don't pay attention to film music, unless it's over-the-top and annoying, or a song that happens to be memorable in a positive way. Goldsmith wasn't known for his songs and catchy themes like his contemporaries Henry Mancini and John Williams, but Goldsmith's marches to Patton and Star Trek: The Motion Picture are his most recognizable and enduring compositions. Star Trek: The Next Generation used Jerry's theme because Trek creator Gene Roddenberry loved it so. It's Goldsmith's lasting musical legacy.
Friday, February 6, 2009
These photos were taken during rehearsals for the 30th Academy Awards, held on March 26, 1958. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas performed a silly musical comedy number written by Frank Sinatra’s favored songwriters, Sammy Kahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, “It’s Great Not to Be Nominated.” The bit was performed just before the Best Actor award was presented. The song’s cringe worthy lyrics poked fun at the five nominees:
“There’s Marlon Brando, Hi ya’ll/That corny southern drawl.”
“Anthony Franciosa, you’ve got our vote/If he wins I’ll cut my throat.”
“Charles Laughton, he’s great/Yeah, if you’re voting for weight.”
“Anthony Quinn, isn’t he uncanny/Your *father* would look great in a scene with Magnani.”
“Alec flew all the way from Britain/Bully, Burt that’s why my teeth are grittin’”
The three nominees present reacted in different ways; Marlon Brando smiled and waved to the pair, Anthony Franciosa nervously chomped gum, though wife Shelley Winters roared with laughter at his expense, Anthony Quinn was also amused--no nerves from a two-time Oscar winner.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
As long as I got a fist, I'll punch it!
And as long as I've got a tooth, I'll bite it!
And when I'm old and grey
and toothless and bootless,
I'll gum it, till I go to heaven,
and booze goes to hell!
~Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry
Burt Lancaster’s Oscar-winning performance as unholy con man Elmer Gantry (1960) is quite simply the most enjoyable performance I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch. From the moment he’s onscreen, Lancaster charms and amuses as he’s sliding across the floor on his knees, railing against sinners, or telling his rapt audience what they want to hear. Burt would appear to have sixty-four teeth instead of the traditional thirty-two, as his zillion megawatt star power shines brighter than any other performance ever. The fact that Lancaster doesn’t get swallowed up by the sometimes lumbering film is testament to his charisma. Witness his rousing singing of the spiritual I’m on My Way, the way he chows down on a simple plate of black-eyed peas and acts as though it were manna from heaven. Lancaster is always “on." Elmer Gantry was his crowning achievement as an actor and anyone who’s seen the movie will never forget his performance. He's commanding on the screen; preaching, shouting, and spellbinding. The movie is eminently quotable, with every confident line delivered in Lancaster’s singular voice (which I've been known to impersonate for unwilling friends, hated enemies, and complete strangers).
In 1997 I was fairly new to classic film (outside of westerns, war, and the Three Stooges) and Lancaster was among the first movie stars I took an interest in watching. He had made a lasting impression on me years before after I saw him in Gunfight at O.K. Corral, but it wasn’t until 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success that I became fascinated with the actor. I had originally sought out the movie because I wanted to soak up the film’s 1950s NYC atmosphere; the nightclubs, the dirty cops, sleazy performers, and down-and-out losers. A friend and I had a weekly ritual of watching two movies every Friday night. The first film of the evening varied, but the finale was always Sweet Smell of Success, which we watched for fifteen consecutive Fridays. The movie itself is brilliant, capturing the New York City in that time and place, and Burt Lancaster’s JJ Hunsecker mesmerized me with his reptilian chill and icy reserve. A character surrounded by expensive art yet asking the slimy Sidney Falco how many S’s there were in “Picasso.” Everything about the character was cold. Then along came 1960 and Elmer Gantry, and a completely hot-blooded character. With these two performances I saw Lancaster in two very different roles at the peak of his powers.
Lancaster was my introduction to the Hollywood I’ve since come to love so much. He wasn’t strictly an action hero like John Wayne and he lacked the polish and sophistication of Cary Grant. But he was so much more adaptable to various roles. Lancaster was always one to choose interesting and challenging parts, ones that sometimes forced him into awkwardness onscreen, Come Back, Little Sheba is the first example of Lancaster “stretching out.” It did nothing for him awards wise, but it enhanced his reputation at a time when leading men stayed well within their limitations. Lancaster was too young for the role, but executes his part admirably. Watch Lancaster with fellow tough guys Robert Ryan and Lee Marvin in 1966's The Professionals. This was the film that made me realize that Burt could hang with the toughest of hombres and still come out on top. His character is by far the most engaging of the group. Lancaster must have learned from his experience with Gary Cooper in 1954’s Vera Cruz, when Lancaster mugs, chews scenery, and carries on while Cooper ends up looking all the better for it! Ten years later, Lancaster underplays Marvin’s tough S.O.B. persona because no one was nastier than Lee Marvin. No one. So Burt goes in another direction and remains the most memorable character in the movie. There’s also The Swimmer (1968), a film based on a haunting John Cheever story about a middle-aged man in crisis—aren’t they always—and having quite a time in dealing with it. I won’t reveal the plot, but I couldn’t imagine any other actor from Lancaster’s generation taking on such a role and being so vulnerable. Burt’s brilliant in it and The Swimmer is one of the great forgotten movies of the 1960s.
Good for the Ladies: Here are Lancaster's female co-stars who were nominated or won Oscars in their films with him: (*won)
Barbara Stanwyck- Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Shirley Booth*- Come Back, Little Sheba (1952)
Deborah Kerr- From Here to Eternity (1953)
Anna Magnani*- The Rose Tattoo (1955)
Katharine Hepburn- The Rainmaker (1956)
Shirley Jones*- Elmer Gantry (1960)
Susan Sarandon- Atlantic City (1981)
I admire actors whose performances improve as they age (Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, Clint Eastwood, John Wayne) and I’ll add Lancaster to that list, too. It would seem that Lancaster was the best possible actor for a novice film buff to follow because his career remained interesting for its entire run, whether it was in a late 1940s Noir (The Killers; I’ll Walk Alone; Criss Cross) the mega star period of the fifties (The Crimson Pirate; From Here to Eternity; Gunfight at the O.K. Corral), his career peak of the early 1960s (Elmer Gantry; The Birdman of Alcatraz), the studied character roles of the late sixties-early seventies (a trio of gritty westerns; Go Tell the Spartans) or his status as elder statesman in the 1980s (Atlantic City; Field of Dreams). Burt Lancaster was my introduction to “grown up” classic films and I couldn’t be happier, or more entertained.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Bette Davis March 28, 1938
Audrey Hepburn Sep 7, 1953
Elizabeth Taylor August 22, 1949
Katharine Hepburn September 1, 1952
Ava Gardner September 3, 1951