Sunday, December 5, 2010

TV Noir: Johnny Staccato (1959-60)

John Cassavetes is Johnny Staccato! The 1959-60 TV series is out on DVD! Cassavetes is the title character, a struggling jazz pianist-turned private detective. I used to watch this back in 2004 when the TRIO channel aired it on its Brilliant But Cancelled theme. I'd known about the show for years and finally saw it then. John Cassavetes was great, the chicks were cute, the Crime Jazz was cool, and the atmosphere was hardboiled; I loved the shots of 1959 NYC.

My favorite episodes:

Solomon- Directed by John Cassavetes. As arty and as Noir as this show ever got. It's easy to see how Cassavetes was influenced by European directors...or maybe vice versa. Cloris Leachman and Elisha Cook, Jr. are both great in this.

Night of Jeopardy- Cool plot twist in this story about some missing counterfeit plates; the term "T-Men" gets bandied about a lot.

A Piece of Paradise- Man, is this one downbeat and tragic. A brilliant episode. This is as about as dark in content as network TV got in 1959. A jockey is accused of murder, or was it that tough cop (Bert Freed) who hassles Johnny all the time?

While some aspects of the show are entertainingly dated (Beatniks, 1959-era slang, etc), I'm impressed at how the best shows have timelessness to them, particularly the ones directed by Cassavetes himself. I get the impression that he only agreed to star in Staccato so he could finance his independent films. Speaking of which, film school students should watch these to see how B&W photography is done. As for the acting, Cassavetes is always brilliant; he even breaks into "Victor Franko" mode on occasion!

This show wasn't going to last more than one year, as it's unlike almost anything on TV at the time, if not in concept, then in execution. Though there were other "Swinging Private Eye" shows on before and during Staccato's time: 77 Sunset Strip and its various spin offs; plus Richard Diamond; Peter Gunn; and Mike Hammer, all of which were contemporaries of Staccato. However, those shows lacked the punch and power that Johnny Staccato had. Much is mentioned about the Korean War and its effects on veterans. Staccato is a Korean War vet, as well. I don't think many TV shows of the time took on issues like pacifism, or decried the anti-communist witch hunts, either. There's even a creepy episode where a ventriloquist is semingly "controlled" by his puppet; shades of 1978's Magic, which starred Anthony Hopkins.

Supporting Cast: Eduardo Ciannelli as Waldo is a delightful father figure to Johnny Staccato; Garry "Quincy, M.E." Walberg and several fine guest stars. Martin Landau and John Cassavetes in the same room? They look like brothers!

Cassavetes' voiceover is another notable aspect of the program, too. A must for Noirheads!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bachelor Mother (1939) to DVD!

The 1939 Ginger Rogers-David Niven comedy, Bachelor Mother finally comes to DVD via the Warner Archive! I lovingly refer to the movie as "Get a blood test!", but it's a charming comedy with both Ginger and David Niven at their delightful peak. Seems that the only we classic movie folk can get our most-desired films on DVD is through these "made to order" programs. I was hesitant and skeptical about what pretty much amounts to a DV-R, but I'm also not going to deny myself a movie because of its format. Looks like I'll be ordering this along with a few other 1930s and '40s titles.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

In Memoriam: James MacArthur

James MacArthur, one of the best-remembered TV sidekicks, has died at age 72. He's best known as detective Danny Williams in the original Hawaii Five-O. Here's a nice picture of him with Jane Fonda and Celeste Holm, in what looks to be the late '50s or early '60s. MacArthur was the son of stage and screen legend Helen Hayes, who adopted James when he was an infant. MacArthur grew up with showbiz personalities all around him, yet always came off as a nice, unassuming guy. Yours truly is a huge Hawaii Five-O fan, and two years ago when I wrote Mr. MacArthur an email complimenting him on his work, he was kind enough to take the time to respond with a nice email.

James MacArthur, 1937-2010.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Katharine Hepburn: Without Love (1945)

Without Love was originally a stage production about an American diplomat who comes to Washington, D.C. to persuade Ireland--neutral during WWII--to join the Allies by allowing English ships into Irish ports. The diplomat goes "undercover" as an Irish butler while staying with a wealthy American widow--Hepburn--who discovers his identity and offers to enter into a platonic marriage.

The film is one of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's more obscure collaborations. It lacks, well, a lot. But a "big time" director like George Cukor, Elia Kazan, or George Stevens is noticeably absent, and is the first thing that springs to mind when watching Without Love. Instead, it's helmed by competent journeyman Harold S. Bucquet ("It's Booo-kaaaay!" as TV's Hyacinth would affirm), whose final film this was, as he would die in February 1946. Bucquet, best known for the Dr. Kildare series that starred Lew Ayres, is a strange choice for a Tracy-Hepburn vehicle. It's uncertain whether Bucquet was finally getting the chance to take on A-List projects or if he merely impressed Kate enough for her to bring him in for her next project with "Spen-suh."

The movie itself is one of those affairs where everything seems to be ideal for a decent motion picture: we have a game cast with Hepburn and Tracy, a knockout crew of second bananas (Lucille Ball and Keenan Wynn), and a situation that could provide some on screen fireworks with that patented Tracy-Hepburn chemistry, but it just doesn't come together in this film. It's a huge wasted opportunity to establish Tracy-Hepburn after the triumph of 1942's Woman of the Year. Audiences wouldn't get that until 1949, with Adam's Rib.

Despite the hackneyed and contrived plot, Kate felt a degree of loyalty to playwright Philip Barry and engaged on a stage production. She wanted Spencer for the diplomat part, but the producers feared Tracy's binge drinking would put the kibbosh on the play. Instead, they cast the "blandly debonair" Elliott Nugent as the diplomat. When Nugent's drinking started in earnest (Ha!), Without Love suffered.

By 1945, MGM was looking for another smash follow-up to 1942's Woman of the Year and so Without Love's narrative was altered: the Irish political angle was jettisoned and was substituted with the post-war housing shortage, which is as dated an issue as the previous plot. In the final film, Tracy would play scientist Pat Jamieson, who's looking for a place to stay in Washington, D.C. and Kate would play a widow, Jamie Rowan, providing him room and board and the two later agree to marry with the agreement that their relationship remain platonic; hence the title, "Without Love." Hepburn ends up assisting him in his kooky experiments in what is supposed to be cute, funny, and downright wacky. Unfortunately, they're nowhere near being amusing. Oh, we do get one seen-in-many-a-Kate-Hepburn montage: that of her sneezing inside of a glass helmet and attempting to wipe her nose, only the helmet gets in the way.

As to Kate's performance, watching her in Without Love playing her character, the widowed Jamie Rowan, is like witnessing Alice Adams' life ten years later; only she's widowed, creepy, and depressed. Kate haters will cheerfully point to her role here in order to make note of all the acting mannerisms that she's infamous for among her detractors. It's strange how a performer's lesser proclivities stand out when the film they're in is disappointing. Hepburn's performance betrays the screenplays stage--and stagey--origin. It probably didn't help matters any that Spencer Tracy's performance was inconsistent; sometimes he's engaged and interested, other times he's just not interested, what with the lame dialogue and fall-flat one liners he's given to spit out, all done in an offhanded and bored manner. There's also that damned dog that gobbles up valuable screen time; the mutt, named "Diz", is no Asta.

One thing I despise about many post-World War II films--specifically 1945-49--is the mawkish, cutesy, and regressive themes that took root in Hollywood. It's like everyone wanted to get back to "normal" and make sweet-saccharine-natured Americana. How could that even be possible after the horrific events of 1939-45? Thank goodness for Film Noir and B-Movies that dealt with the dirty underbelly of American life. The sanitized fantasy world of post-WWII films is discussed at length in Joseph C. Goulden's 1976 book, The Best Years: 1945-1950. In the chapter "The Movies Flicker Out", Goulden rips into the lifeless and empty offerings that Hollywood gushed forth in the years immediately following the war. Unfortunately, Without Love must be added to that long list of awkwardly-staged failures prevalent in the motion picture industry during the immediate post-war years.

I'll give Without Love another chance. Maybe when I'm in a big post-war mood where I want a "slice of life" after World War II movie, but then I'll probably just put on The Best Years of Our Lives instead.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

In Memoriam: Tony Curtis

Tony Curtis, 1925-2010

I first became aware of Tony Curtis in 1997, when I became obsessed with his 1957 movie, Sweet Smell of Success. It had everything going for it, and Tony Curtis-as-Sidney Falco was a wonderful performance. Why he wasn't nominated for a Best Actor Oscar is beyond my ability to comprehend. As I mentioned in a previous post, I watched Sweet Smell of Success every Friday night for fifteen consecutive weeks. Curtis became a hero to my pal and I, and we would quote Sidney Falco and Burt Lancaster's J.J. Hunsecker's lines constantly. Curtis became an icon of cool with us and anything he did on screen, regardless of quality, was fine with us. Curtis had made his reputaion in Sweet Smell of Success and he would always be press agent Sidney Falco to us. "A cookie full of arsenic", indeed.

I had seen Tony's breakthrough--at least as a serious actor and not mere teen idol--in The Defiant Ones, where his bigoted character John "Joker" Jackson was thrust into "equal" terms with Sidney Poitier's character, Noah Cullen. The immortal scene of Curtis and Poitier reaching out to one another while trying to escape is one of the greatest moments in cinematic history.

In 1998, I stumbled upon the 1971-72 British TV show, The Persuaders!, which I'd never heard of before. It had the future James Bond, Roger Moore, and Curtis partnered up as international playboys solving crimes in the French Riviera and throughout England. It became my all-time favorite TV show--it still is. It was a shock seeing him in middle age, though his boundless, acrobatic energy made that program the great fun it is.

Tony Curtis, 1925-2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Distractions, Distractions--and the Warner Archive

Mike Hammer must've spent hours marvelling over his wall-mounted, reel-to-reel answering machine in Kiss Me Deadly (1955)! I've been distracted as well, though not by gadgets. Seems I've spent the last few weeks in a big comic book mood and have neglected my blogging. I'm patiently waiting for the weather to cool down, the days to get shorter, and my attention span to grow longer as Fall--Florida has a Fall, of sorts--comes and Summer (and hurricane season) finally goes away.

I'm quite enamored with the Warner Brothers. Archive! I'm quite pleased that they've released The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which is an entry in my beloved Husbands and Wives Detectives genre, and it gives me hope to think that they'll give the "Fast" series the same treatment. They've also been introducing me to several films I've never heard of. That, coupled with their frequent sales has been great.
Okay, I promise to get back into the swing of things and get those posts that've been sitting in virtual storage...

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Hepburn: The Power of Four

As soon as I saw these four statuettes standing side by side, I knew who their owner was... Katharine Hepburn, of course. These four symbols of career triumph--though meaning seemingly little to Kate--are on display at the Smithsonian. Her first Oscar, won for 1933's Morning Glory, is located on the far right. It's constructed of tin-plated bronze, whereas begininng in 1945, the Oscar was made of Britannia, a (mostly) tin alloy. Like the beat-up looking Holy Grail in that Indiana Jones movie, that first award is the one that holds the most fascination and the fact that it's all timeworn drives home the realization that it's the real thing. It was thought lost in the September 1938 New England Hurricane, but was later found intact. This Oscar had...adventures.

Whether one agrees with the movies Kate won her Oscars for--and I could and will go on about it in the future--it's still a staggering sight to see those Academy Awards all lined in a row.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Getting Down to Business

In most of the northern hemisphere, Summer is coming to an end. But not here in South Florida, where it's 93 degrees Fahrenheit (or 34 Celsius or thereabouts) all of this changiness made me I realize that I've neglected Hollywood Dreamland for too long. This thought occurred to me when Patricia Neal died and I didn't write a single word in tribute to one of my favorite "dames." So I've put my other blog of '60s and '70s stuff on indefinite hiatus. I'd love to be able to continue two blogs at once but I just don't have it in me to do so. One or the other will invariably suffer, and so the Summer fling has come to a conclusion...for now. In the meantime, I will redouble my efforts at engaging your attention and hopefully entertaining those who stumble here. I'll have a new longwinded post next week, after the Labor Day weekend debauchery.

Monday, August 30, 2010

More Scrubbing Bubbles

Never let it be said that we at HD don't honor requests. That is, we received our first (sort of) request this past week in Fluff..or Stuff?, which had Claudette "Sign of the Cross" Colbert as its main attraction. We're cleaning out the archive with the remaining bath photos we could find: Myrna Loy and another Colbert. I'm not certain which movie the Myrna pic came from. I haven't seen any of her pre-Code films!

However, we have seen Sign of the Cross, which your blogger saw once upon a long ago when AMC--then known as American Movie Classics, now known as "A Million Commercials" or "A Million Cuts." AMC's demise, at least as a relevant classic movie channel, is the single saddest event of our classic-film-loving life. There are young people who love vintage films who cannot conceive of AMC ever being *the* source for amazing-quality, commercial-free movies. The world I grew up in is most definitely not the world I "inherited." Shame.

Crushing cultural depression aside, Sign of the Cross was an eye-popping experience. Not only was it downright erotic and sensual, it was the first pre-Code movie I ever saw. The context of such explicit material being shown within a 1930s movie is what makes it so titilating, not necessarily what's being shown, or better yet, implied.

Friday, August 27, 2010

William Holden: A Timeless Appeal

A childhood friend of mine used to do a dead-on but foul-mouthed impression of William Holden. It wasn’t a putdown of the actor, but our own (twisted?) way of paying tribute to a cherished performer. And we had nothing but admiration for William Holden. Even as kids we saw the kind of power and restrained rage he brought to a role. Holden was never over-the-top or stagy, even if my friend’s impersonation was. In fact, I’d have absolutely no difficulty in claiming that William Holden is my all-time favorite actor; yes, I know I anointed someone else with that title but all lists are subject to change.

There’s absolutely nothing dated, awkward, or stilted about his presence onscreen. The work he did in the light and fluffy Sabrina is just as fresh and entertaining as the tremendous and serious work he did in Stalag 17 and Network. Even in the less-inspired movies, Holden makes it worthwhile. The cliché about “getting better as they got older” applies to no one more so than it does William Holden.

I've been watching several of his movies lately: Sabrina, The Wild Bunch, Network and of course, Stalag 17, which was a childhood favorite that was also a family favorite; it was a film the men of the house would all watch together. I’ve been impressed with Holden's choice of roles, especially during the 1950s, when he was among Hollywood’s hardest-working actors. I first took notice of him as a kid, when he decked John Wayne in John Ford’s mixed-bag Civil War-era The Horse Soldiers (how’s that for a description?).

I've come to admire the Holden head of hair, the distinctive voice and the "Golden Boy" looks. I lament the fact that he never got to play detective Philip Marlowe, a role that would have fit the cynical Holden perfectly. Maybe it’s that cynicism that keeps the Holden flame burning. Perhaps that anger and bitterness he carried with him like he was always ready to chuck the whole Hollywood sham that made him rich, famous, and miserable.

Let’s face it: the guy was Joe Gillis, the screenwriter character from Sunset Boulevard and the part that made Holden’s career. Billy Wilder--one of the most cynical Hollywood characters of all time--was the perfect collaborator for Holden. However, whereas Wilder often injected humor to balance his cynicism and is usually thought of as a “comedy” director, it was Holden who made a career out of bringing to life cynical loners in every walk of life. A selection of Holden characters all fit this description: Joe Gillis, JJ Sefton, Pike Bishop, Ross Bodine, Bumper Morgan, Max Schumacher, Tim Culley, and Patrick Foley were all men on the outside, living what they thought was a self-reliant life but who were always broken by the system and who never truly fit in with the world; the eternal outsider. I remember reading in the Bob Woodward John Belushi biography, Wired, about Holden's bitterness concerning Hollywood and what a rotten town it was/is. I read this over twenty years ago, but the sentiment made quite an impression.

I shouldn't have been surprised, though. Even though one didn't expect to read hostile and negative sentiment from a so-called “success story” of Holden's stature. This from the same actor who was quoted as saying, “If that son of a bitch hadn’t died, I would’ve had my second Oscar”, referring to his Network co-star, Peter Finch, who won the Best Actor Academy Award posthumously in the scenery-chewing performance for the ages. The screenwriter for Network was Paddy Chayefsky, another master of the cynicism game.

Holden’s was a career that never dipped or fell far from sight, despite more than a few failures. It’s still impressive how Holden kept turning in brilliant performances as he got older. Holden was robbed when he didn't even get an Oscar nomination for The Wild Bunch, his star power --not to mention his bone-weary tiredness-- carried that movie and I never tire of his performance. It isn't often that I can say that I'm happy Lee Marvin turned down a tough guy role, but in the case of The Wild Bunch, nobody could've done a better job than Holden.

As far as career legacy is concerned, I won't claim that William Holden is "forgotten", but he probably hasn't enjoyed the staying power in the collective memory of movie fans that lavish more attention on Holden’s contemporaries like Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, or Robert Mitchum. I adore those actors but have come to the conclusion that William Holden is the more interesting and even superior actor, yet his ignominious end was a horrible and lonely death much like the kind Billy Wilder, Paddy Chayefsky…or Joe Gillis…might’ve banged out on his typewriter for a Holden protagonist.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fluff...or Stuff?

When it comes to blogging, I often wonder what people prefer to read--is it the in-depth, long-winded style entry with lots of personal opinions and some well-worn data? Or is the quickie post with a swell picture and a few pithy remarks better-suited to get you through your day?

Whatever one's preference, it seems like the quicki-fun pic o' the day gets more comments--comments make this blog go 'round--but they aren't as interesting as say, a nuanced review of a film that hopefully points out things that haven't been done to death already by blood-sucking scholars in their endless quest to drain the life out of popular culture.

The in-depth posts tend to get a few interested responses, unless of course it's a broadside taking a huge--and hopefully well-argued--series of unsparing but backed-up shots on a movie or performer but they don't have the popularity of the simpler, more being-at-work appeal. The former was done on Elizabeth Taylor: The Shrillness of You. That entry got lots of great pro-and-con comments from classic film lovers and it was fun--and cathartic--to do though too many of those "I dislike such-and-such a performer and movie" thing gets too quarelsome after awhile.

What do you, my dear readers, think? What do you like best about Hollywood Dreamland? What kinds of entries do you like/dislike? I'd put that widget beneath each post but I'd prefer an interactive dialogue. Constructive criticism is always welcome.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Stars Than There are in the Heavens

This is the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer alumni, circa 1944. Look at who's there! Kate Hepburn doesn't look too happy to be there. Robert Benchley's on the far right, third row; he'd be dead by the end of 1945. James Stewart's in his Army Air Force uniform and would be "playing soldier" for real. There are few notables missing, and it'd be more challenging to see who isn't there!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Katharine Hepburn Day on TCM

Turner Classic Movie's Summer Under the Stars is an addiction! They've earmarked August 20 as Katharine Hepburn's day and on top of that, they're playing many films from my favorite Kate era, the '30s and '40s! I've already reviewed Kate's performances in several of these movies and I'm long overdo in my review of Without Love (1945) (airs @10PM EST), which will hopefully be ready by the end of this month.
I also love the special graphics that TCM puts on their website. Let's hope the snazzy images snare unsuspecting youngsters and they're swept up into classic film.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Ex-Mrs Bradford on DVD

The Warner Brothers Archive has come through once again, as on August 10th, they released a DVD on demand of Columbia Pictures' 1936 mystery-comedy, The Ex-Mrs. Bradford. The film, a Thin Man take off starring William Powell and Jean Arthur, was reviewed here in these very pages last August. I didn't exactly love the movie but most any film in what I call the Husband and Wife Detective genre is well worth seeing.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Robert Ryan Day at TCM

Friday August 13 is Robert Ryan's turn in TCM's Summer Under the Stars. I'm thrilled at some of the films they've scheduled, especially those 1940s Westerns and 1973's The Outfit, which will find me up at 4am to watch--no fancy recording technology at this residence, folks! Ryan's day also reminds me that I should be horrified that he didn't make my top ten actors list earlier this year. I'm embarrassed and ashamed that Ryan didn't make the cut...same with William Holden, his Wild Bunch co-star, especially since I've been a fan of both for decades! I guess I need to re-do that list again. As for Ryan and Holden, writer Eddie Muller had a great line about the two veterans' roles in the 1969 film, saying that "Holden and Ryan are engaged in a Mexican standoff over who can project a more bone-weary tiredness." Great stuff! Ryan and Holden are alike in that their acting is timeless and that they adjusted and seamlessly fit in with whatever type of movie they were in.

Ryan often played roles which found his characaters to be friendlessly psychotic and perpetually on edge, ready to lash out at anything. The man himself was quite different but he's remembered for his earlier, sinister roles. When it came to Noir, Robert Ryan personified hostile malevolence just as Robert Mitchum was the face of existential indifference. For anyone unfamiliar with Robert Ryan's work, check out TCM this Saturday. Here's Turner Classic's Robert Ryan schedule, lovingly copied and pasted for your perusal, with the bold titles being my personal recommendations--and please, someone record The Outfit!!!

6:00 AM Trail Street (1947)
Bat Masterson fights to make Kansas safe for wheat farmers. Cast: Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys. Dir: Ray Enright. BW-84 mins, TV-G

7:30 AM Return of the Badmen (1948)
A farmer falls for the female leader of a band of notorious outlaws. Cast: Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys. Dir: Ray Enright. BW-90 mins, TV-PG, CC

9:15 AM Flying Leathernecks (1951)
A World War II Marine officer drives his men mercilessly during the battle for Guadalcanal. Cast: John Wayne, Robert Ryan, Jay C. Flippen. Dir: Nicholas Ray. C-102 mins, TV-PG, CC, DVS

11:00 AM Men In War (1957)
Two enemies join forces to save their men during a retreat from the North Koreans. Cast: Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Robert Keith. Dir: Anthony Mann. BW-98 mins, TV-PG

1:00 PM Crossfire (1947)
A crusading district attorney investigates the murder of a Jewish man. Cast: Robert Young, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan. Dir: Edward Dmytryk. BW-86 mins, TV-PG, CC

2:30 PM Act Of Violence (1949)
An embittered veteran tracks down a POW camp informer. Cast: Van Heflin, Robert Ryan, Janet Leigh. Dir: Fred Zinnemann. BW-82 mins, TV-PG, CC

4:00 PM God's Little Acre (1958)
A dirt-farmer lets his family fall apart while he hunts for his grandfather's buried gold. Cast: Robert Ryan, Aldo Ray, Tina Louise. Dir: Anthony Mann. BW-118 mins, TV-PG, Letterbox Format

6:00 PM Captain Nemo And The Underwater City (1969)
The infamous submarine captain rescues six shipwreck survivors. Cast: Robert Ryan, Chuck Connors, Nanette Newman. Dir: James Hill. C-106 mins, TV-G, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM Boy With Green Hair, The (1948)
An orphaned boy mystically acquires green hair and a mission to end war. Cast: Dean Stockwell, Pat O'Brien, Robert Ryan. Dir: Joseph Losey. C-82 mins, TV-G, CC

9:30 PM Set-Up, The (1949)
An aging boxer defies the gangsters who've ordered him to throw his last fight. Cast: Robert Ryan, Audrey Totter, George Tobias. Dir: Robert Wise. BW-73 mins, TV-PG, CC

11:00 PM Billy Budd (1962)
Adaptation of Herman Melville's classic tale of a ship's captain caught between an innocent young sailor and an evil officer. Cast: Peter Ustinov, Robert Ryan, Terence Stamp. Dir: Peter Ustinov. BW-123 mins, TV-G, Letterbox Format

1:15 AM Wild Bunch, The (1969)
A group of aging cowboys look for one last score in a corrupt border town. Cast: William Holden, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine. Dir: Sam Peckinpah. C-144 mins, TV-MA,

4:00 AM Outfit, The (1973) Record this, it's rare!!!
An ex-con takes on the mob to avenge his brother's death. Cast: Robert Duvall, Karen Black, Joe Don Baker. Dir: John Flynn. C-103 mins, TV-14

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back from London!

Had a swellegant, elegant time in London even if I wasn't able to stay as long as I wanted and see as much as I'd have liked. Still, I had a tremendous time there--great weather, too--and was actually sad about coming home! I'm exhausted from jet lag but wanted to touch base again, as it's been awhile.

As for Golden Age of Hollywood-related things, the Victoria & Albert Museum--do go if you get the chance--had a Grace Kelly exhibition entitled Grace Kelly: Style Icon, which runs until September 26. My wife loved this and I know many HD readers will, too.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dragon Seed (1944) Score Available--in Stereo!

In a previous post, we reviewed Katharine Hepburn's performance in the WWII drama/propaganda film, Dragon Seed. Today Film Score Monthly (FSM) has announced the release of Herbert Stothart's magnificent score to this film, in a 1000 copies-only limited edition. And it's in stereo which is a rarity indeed for a film of this age. Stothart's music is the best thing about Dragon Seed with its Far East, Exotica feel and lush and sensitive arrangements of folk songs and original material.

Sound samples available at FSM's homepage or at Screen Archives Entertainment, who distributes Film Score Monthly's releases. Price is $24.95 + shipping. They have numerous other film scores for sale and are all legitimate and are absolutely NOT bootleg releases. I cannot recommend them enough!

Dragon Seed (1944)

Limited Edition of 1,000 Copies.

Composed by: Herbert Stothart

Dragon Seed (1944) was based on the 1942 novel of the same name by Pearl S. Buck. Like her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good Earth (filmed by M-G-M in 1937), it is set in the turbulent world of China just before and during World War II and—like its predecessor—tells a story of family and personal tragedy set against an epic background of political struggle and armed conflict. M-G-M lavished an impressive and expensive physical production on the film, budgeted at an unprecedented three million dollars. Katherine Hepburn headed the A-list cast.

The studio similarly drew on top-drawer talent by assigning its finest musical dramatist, Herbert Stothart, to score the film. Stothart had already scored The Good Earth, and for Dragon Seed he created another strong, effective score rife with Asian color and lavish themes—including authentic folk tunes and national anthems. Stothart made extensive use of pentatonic scales and what were then considered “orientalisms,” but stamped the music with his own blend of lyricism and dramatic pulse that is sometimes tender, sometimes explosive, and always apt.

Due to the existence of dual microphone perspectives, FSM has been able to mix nearly all of Dragon Seed in genuine stereo. The sound quality utterly belies its age (over 65 years old). This 2CD set contains not only Stothart’s complete score, but numerous bonus tracks, including the trailer music and an alternate English-language version of the main title. The edition, limited to 1,000 copies, includes notes by Frank K. DeWald and Alexander Kaplan, numerous film stills and publicity materials in a 20-page booklet designed by FSM’s Joe Sikoryak.

Dragon Seed joins Random Harvest/The Yearling (FSMCD Vol. 9 No. 13) and Northwest Passage(FSMCD Vol. 12 No. 18) in FSM’s growing catalog of scores by this under-appreciated film music titan. Golden Age fans will rejoice and listeners unfamiliar with Stothart’s legacy are ripe for a major discovery.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rain (1932) Seems Appropriate!

I rarely need an excuse to post a 1930s photo of Joan Crawford, but with Tropical Storm Bonnie mere minutes away from the Florida coast, my thoughts turn to the memorable experience watching the 1932 film Rain, starring Crawford and Walter Huston. The purpose of this post is to put my thoughts down before I go and see the movie through adult, pre-Hays Office eyes. It'll be interesting to see if my childhood impressions hold up.

When I first saw Rain, I was about thirteen years old and it was either a Summer afternoon or me home sick. It was on one the local PBS stations early in the afternoon. It was a sunny day but for some reason I was marooned indoors. Rain was the first time I can recall watching a movie that old that wasn't a Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy feature. The movie, while not typical fare for a 1980s teenager, captivated me because of the environment it created, the mood was spellbinding. From what I remember, much of the story took place in a tropical region and perhaps in a greenhouse or plantation-style estate. I knew who Joan Crawford was thanks to Faye Dunaway's career-destroying performance as Joan in Mommie Dearest so naturally after that dysfunctional rollercoaster ride I became interested in seeing just how "nutso" this woman was.

The movie seemed more like a filmed play and the effect of that early talkies sound recording brought home the fact that I wasn't watching a Spielberg movie.

Aaargh! Rain is out of print and fetching big bucks on the secondary market! (Plenty of Keannu Reeves and Shia Lebeouf movies still available, I'm sure). My hopes now lie with Turner Classic Movies, so I guess I'd better pray for...ah, forget that.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Word from Our Sponsor(s) II

Oops! I forgot to include these ads with the last post--Blogger is still unwieldy to me--and these I've had on my hard drive for years! Here's Ginger Rogers again, hawking makeup and that perennial, third-place cola, Royal Crown! I'd buy RC if it were ever available! I seem to dimly recall it being in the soda machine at the Whiting Hall public swimming pool (along with Frosty root beer) back in 1980, but haven't seen it in machines since. Anyway, Ginger Rogers must've done scores of advertising because she's by far the actress I've seen in these things. I'll have to peruse my Taschen books' All-American Ads: the '40s for more examples. If you've never seen these giant, full-color books filled with vintage ads, then seek them out immediately! I believe the '40s edition is out of print, but the 1930s volume is still around.

Hey, it's my old love Gail Patrick! Gail, ever the sophisticate, is plugging for Rogers Bros. silverware here in 1947. This would be near the end of Gail's film career and she would go on to beat the men at their own game as a producer. Does the TV show Perry Mason ring a bell?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Word from Our Sponsor(s)...

Just as they do today, major motion picture stars shilled for products in the days of yore. It's especially noteworthy that the female actresses of the day were particularly prominent in product ads, as I'd imagine that much of their income could be derived from such work. There's no doubt that many stars, like Ginger Rogers, got the bulk of their cash from advertising work, whether for radio or in these lovely print ads. Rogers even mentions in her autobiography how she wasn't paid as much as many other performers and therefore had to work continuously to support her lifestyle.

This Carole Lombard ad is my favorite of the bunch, as it conveys that glamorous California/American West feeling that is grafted to my memory, despite me never having set foot in California or the 1930s...

I love these illustrated print ads, as they show an idealized vision of the products even better than photographs do, as they require almost no touch up as photographs would beginning in the 1960s, when illustrated ads took second place to their photographic counterparts.

After you've purchased and consumed these products, why not head out to the cinema and see the latest Cary and Ginger masterwork?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Linda Darnell: Lost in Time

It's hard to believe that I've only seen one Linda Darnell movie, Fallen Angel (1945). She's certainly great looking and not a melodramatic sort by any stretch. I grew up knowing who she was because my movie-loving grandmother was quite a fan of her. And my grandmother, ever the cheery optimist, never failed to mention Darnell's tragic early death in a 1965 house fire. So, with that happy story in mind, I need to explore Darnell's work, a project that very well might collapse if I learn that she appeared in nothing but empty-headed costume epics and crapola "historical dramas."

Darnell, as she appeared in Fallen Angel did a number on my brain because her Stella character came across as both hardened working girl and a fleeting wisp which nobody could possess. It's easy to see how Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews)--or any man-- could go koo-koo for her.

Speaking of Fallen Angel, there's a massive spoiler-filled rundown of the film over here. It makes anything I might write here redundant, but that won't stop yours truly from attempting a future review, using "newly developed" screencap technology.

Ethnic Linda: Made up to look like a foreign and "exotic" peasant girl.

Nice photo of Darnell with US serviceman, looking fresh-faced like a (dream) girl next door.

Most women don't dress like this anymore...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Elizabeth Taylor: The Shrillness of You

Despite the fact that Father of the Bride is among my favorite movies of all time, I’ve never been an Elizabeth Taylor fan. I truly believe that from the start of her career as a child star to the tabloid press’ obsession with her personal life, that Taylor has been a media creation from the very beginning. Yes, she’s an Oscar winning actress but are they movies that I’d ever want to sit through more than once? Taylor appeared in more dreadful, turgid, and empty “prestige pictures”—movies created to win Academy Awards—from the 1950s up to the mid-1960s. This list is but one reason why I largely despise 1950s-early ‘60s cinema: A Place in the Sun, Giant, Raintree County, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suddenly Last Summer, BUtterfield 8, and the greatest bomb of all time: Cleopatra. Let's also not forget and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

I particularly despise the films Taylor made with director George Stevens, the most bloated, tedious, and overblown director of the era. Giant is pure torture. Just try and enjoy that film with the Texas-baked accents, endlessly crying infants, preachy finger wagging about “tolerance”, and the pre-Johnny Depp performance of James Dean. Any movie where Rock Hudson is its greatest asset is its own worst enemy. Also take a look at Taylor’s 1960s work. It’s a series of glossy artistic flops no better than a TV soap opera of the day. Taylor’s career during the mid-‘50s to late ‘60s coincides with my own decreasing interest in movies of that era and an increased interest in television of the same time, which was memorably derided as the vast wasteland!

Taylor, beginning around 1957, became increasingly shrill and overwrought in her performances. Yes, many times the role demanded it but its just plain unpleasant to watch. I’ve come to associate Taylor and playwright Tennessee Williams as one miserable combination. Why was Hollywood so enamored with this man’s works? Was it the first signs of the Production Code cracking? Were the sexual overtones in Williams’ works—watered-down for audiences’ “protection” and in the case of Tin Roof, rendered unrecognizable somehow appealing to repressed audiences? (Brick’s unhappy. Why? No reason.) Perhaps Elizabeth Taylor’s performances and the increasing circus her personal life was becoming occurred at the same time for a reason. Art imitates life is apt here, but it doesn’t make for movies I’d want to watch more than once. I don’t know of anyone who includes Elizabeth Taylor in their favorite actress lists, or actually enjoys or is moved by anything she’s ever done in what has been a long and fascinating to watch—in a car wreck sort of way—career. Taylor lacks the innocence and vulnerability of Audrey Hepburn, the toughness of Susan Hayward, the comedic ability of Marilyn Monroe. Taylor’s appeal lies in the luridness of her stormy personal life, the dysfunctional relationship with the hammy Richard Burton, and her status as a studio-era creation.

Despite my dislike for Taylor’s acting and films, I credit her with being a survivor of that studio-era madness and so many tragedies in her life: illness, becoming a widow so young, and living life under a microscope. Her dedication to charity is admirable, indeed, and she seems like a genuinely good person, all things considered. I just don’t want to have to watch Giant ever again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

I've Been Cloned!

There's a site out there EDIT: I've deleted the link because that weasel doesn't deserve a link--that has full posts and pictures from yours truly! I'm not talking about friendly links and plugs, but everything! I'm not against using images from other sources--we all do it--but this is bizarre. I'm not sure whether to be flattered or not. Whatever the case, it's there and that's that. I just wish that my clone would post some of its own entries and allow me to be the doppleganger once in awhile...Check your blogs and see if it's happening to you...

Friday, June 4, 2010

Poll Results: William Powell

In last month's poll question: "Which actor most deserves a posthumous Academy Award for lifetime achievement?" William Powell treated his tough guy competitors to a butt kicking:

William Powell 32 (43%)

Robert Mitchum 19 (25%)
Glenn Ford 9 (12%)
Tyrone Power 8 (10%)
Leslie Howard 4 (5%)
Dana Andrews 2 (2%)

When thinking of who to select, I would definitely think of how each actor would've given their speech. Based on that reason alone, I would've voted Mitchum. He'd be amused by the whole thing and not moved at all. However, this is a posthumous award, so we'd have to take a more dewey and sentimental look at an after-the-fact Oscar. If Powell were to actually get an honorary Oscar, most of today's young dopes--and that includes a number of middle-aged dopes--wouldn't even know who William Powell even was. They'd probably think he was a former Secretary of State or something. Maybe copious clips of Bill with Myrna and Asta in their great Thin Man movies together would still have some effect--just as long as they don't attempt to remake those beloved films---we'd end up with Tom Hanks and Julianne Moore as Nick and Nora. Moore's Nora would have to have "six-pack abs" and "kick ass" ability while Hanks' Nick would be weak-willed and have to demonstrate "regret" and "torment" over his chronic drinking "problem."

In an era where smoking cigarettes on screen can earn a film an "R" rating and the only time class and romanticism is possible is through the lens of the past, a Thin Man remake is a reminder that we don't have elegant, suave, men-of-action and charming wit like William Powell anymore and it's a shame that he'll never receive any kind of honor from plastic surgery-obssessed, CGI-dependent, bad-comic-book movie Hollywood where the likes of Shia Lebeouf and Ben Affleck are considered the leading lights of cinema...Hey, this turned into a rant! :D

Monday, May 31, 2010

Katharine Hepburn: Dragon Seed (1944)

Heavy-handed sentiment and political messages never make for a great movie, and terms like “Important Film”, “World War II Propaganda”, and “Interesting Failure” come to mind when Dragon Seed (1944) is mentioned, but it’s no less a fascinating experiment. Based on the Pearl S. Buck novel, it’s the story of Ling-Tan (Walter Huston) and his family, the simile-and metaphor-spouting denizens of a Chinese village and the impact the Sino-Japanese War has on them.

Putting aside the whole controversy of westerners playing Asians, Kate gives an unremarkable performance even though the role of Jade was an opportunity for her to spout her independent, proto-feminist beliefs as well as a chance to publicize the Chinese war effort. The Chinese portrayed here would later be Communists and not exactly a United States ally, but that would be the case with the Soviet Union, too; it’s funny how politics work: your ally becomes your enemy and your enemy becomes…okay, you get the idea.

Still, this was 1944 and World War II was well under way. The war in China had been raging full on since 1937 (or 1931 if you count the conflict in Manchuria), when this film takes place, and China was suffering massive casualties while under siege from Imperial Japan since 1937. Hollywood tends to act years after the fact, just as they did in the production of For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), though the republican faction in Spain had long since been vanquished by Franco’s forces. With Dragon Seed, at least the struggle continued in China and perhaps the film could bring attention to this ally in the East. There was great sympathy for China and the Soviet Union during the war, and when watching Dragon Seed it’s best to keep that context in mind. The film is interesting more for its historical context than its dramatic power. It is also regrettable that the westerners portraying Asians is a distraction, even to those of us who dwell among the anointed ones flowing over with much wisdom. Sorry, I’ve been watching Dragon Seed

Katharine Hepburn receives top billing as Jade, the curious and free-thinking wife of Ling-Tan’s middle son Lao (Turhan Bey) and who wants to stand up to the invading Japanese. Or to be more specific it’s Katharine Hepburn playing herself in Asian-style makeup. You have to give Kate a ton of credit for trying vastly different roles; in our previous Hepburn performance review, she played a boy (in disguise). Jade longs to become educated and is interested in world events, especially the Japanese invasion. Hepburn’s first scene is at a propaganda film showing with what is probably a communist political officer narrating a newsreel of Japanese atrocities and is imploring the complacent Chinese farmers to act.

Hepburn is unremarkable in the role though she earnestly tries to become the character; but it just doesn’t work. She’s alternately coy, evasive, and downright flaky! There are some genuinely bizarre facial expressions, too which I found to be distracting. Jade is supposed to be shy in her admissions in wanting to be “of the new” and the modern and she’s full of so many deep, meaningful thoughts: “My thoughts are like a chain and one is fast to the other.” See? Jade is complex! She contains multitudes! Unfortunately, Kate delivers much of her dialogue as if she were in an opium-induced trance. I’d love to know what Hepburn did to prepare for this movie.

Dragon Seed, despite some manipulative yet effective scenes, is more a historical curiosity, one that was borne of public conscience and war aims rather than cinematic achievement. It was perhaps more important for Katharine Hepburn to be associated with this film’s purpose—the support of China—than it was to give a memorable performance. She lent her name and her presence to the project but she’s off the screen for long stretches, one as long as thirty minutes. Much of that time in the film is spent on showing the Japanese pillaging and destroying and being evil. It’s easy to rail against the depiction of the Japanese in the film, but this was after all the same campaign that brought The Rape of Nanking.

Dragon Seed airs on Turner Classic Movies June 23 @ 6am EST.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Joan Crawford was Hot in the '30s!

Indeed she was. Just a quick pic to touch base again. This is my favorite Joan Crawford photograph. We'll be back with more of the usual next week...