Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Even Weary Bloggers Need a Break

It's off to Walt Disney World! The weather's due to be grand--the Disney Company has an exclusive deal with Mother Nature--and yours truly will drop his pretentious worldly sophistication and enjoy the Disneyfied creations that the Magic Kingdom offers. Please stop by and say hi! I'll be the adult-looking fellow crying because I'm cranky from the heat or upset that my wife won't let me have that eight-foot stuffed Pluto toy. Perhaps I'll have a nostalgia-fueled nervous breakdown in what's left of Tomorrowland since most everything I loved from it is in the Disney equivalent of Boot Hill. Ah, the whiff of diesel in our world of tomorrow...I also hope not to suffer from too much Johnny Depp Envy when riding my favorite attraction, Pirates of the Caribbean, which has been crassly co-opted blessed with the addition of Johnny's delightful visage.

Over the last week or so I've been studiously examining various past Walt Disney World guide maps from The Florida Project. This excellent site has scans of several WDW guide maps, making it possible for the deluded and bitter Disney fan to fret and harrumph over the many ill-advised changes that've been made over the years. Whether it be the destruction of a perpetually-broken down attraction (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) or an altered shop (Disneyana and Mickey's Mart), the olde maps are--to quote Barry Fitzgerald--sure to bring a tear to your eye. So after my blogging batteries are recharged from this trip, you can bet that I'll feel like a hundred Pesos again, ready to prattle on and on and on about Hollywood's Golden Age...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Missing Movies: The Macomber Affair (1947)

As a longtime Ernest Hemingway fan--note the badge at the bottom of this blog--I've wanted to see the 1947 film The Macomber Affair but it's never on TV. The one fleeting image I had of this movie was back in the mid '90s, when I first learned of this movie's existence it was the above still from a Hemingway coffee table book! The Macomber Affair is based on the brilliant story The Short-Happy Life of Francis Macomber, which is included in the author's short story collection, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories. The movie stars Gregory Peck (who appeared in 1952's The Snows of Kilimanjaro), Joan Bennett, and Robert Preston.

The story is about a married couple (Preston and Bennett) out on a safari with "Great White Hunter" Peck. The wife henpecks and has no respect for her husband because he bolted when confronting a lion. The bulk of the story is the tension between the couple and...well, I won't spoil the end. I wonder if the film changes the story's tremendous finale? As for the casting, it looks like they did well. I love Joan Bennett, but Jane Greer would've made a great Margot Macomber, too. However, it's Preston's performance that I'm most interested in seeing. As for Peck, I'm sure he exudes enough Captain Ahab/General MacArthur-esque confidence to pull of the role of Wilson.

From the few reviews I've read, the movie is considered one of the better adaptations of Hemingway's work. I was disappointed that The Macomber Affair wasn't included on the Hemingway Classics Collection DVD set. It was a United Artists release with a score by Miklós Rózsa (Lust for Life; Ben-Hur; King of Kings) . I've been on a Rózsa kick lately and would be interested in hearing this score and of course seeing the film. This looks to be something right up Turner Classic Movies' alley. If they don't air it, then perhaps it can berendered via the made-to-order DV-R. The Macomber Affair should be made available, especially with that cast, as Peck was well on his way to being a superstar and Preston and Bennett already crafty veterans, plus there's that Hemingway connection and a music score by a legendary composer. I'd like to think that The Macomber Affair is a forgotten gem just waiting for rediscovery. The film is ranked #521 on TCM's list for films not on DVD.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogs I Love, Part II-A

As I splashed another cup of lukewarm coffee down my gullet this morning, I realized that I had been more like a regular panelist on other people's blog comments sections, and with Spring in fulll swing, I descended into my usual mode of blogging underachievement by devising another segment of Blogs I Love. I've been spending a lot of time at these blogs lately, what with me actually having interests outside of 1930s and '40s movies. Here are a few blogs well worthy of your time and attention. One of them I've listed before but the other two are largely non-film blogs with fascinating subject matter. Let me introduce them:

Goodfella's Movie Blog- Previously mentioned but due for another nod is Dave's blog. He's wrapping up a Film Noir counrdown of epic proportions. Also not to be missed is the amazingly enlightening comments section, where the big brains of film criticism discuss--and often disagree with-- Dave's rankings!

Voyages Extraordinaires, which has the sub-title "Scientific Romances of a Bygone Age." This blog is not mere "Steampunk" as blogger Cory Gross goes into detail on the era as well as the subsequent art, literature, and cinema influenced by the Victorian Age. This includes Disney and Doctor Who in addition to progenitors Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Do have a look.

Vintage Disneyland Tickets- I've never been to Disneyland but I am making a return trip to Walt Disney World at the end of the month--hence my distracted nature--Tim has posted tons of fascinating Disney-related items such as guidebooks, promotional items, and material meant only for employees' eyes. Through the site one gets a vivid history of Disneyland and I've learned a lot in the short time since discovering the place.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Classic Films I've Never Seen: Walt Disney's Fantasia (1940)

This is the first entry in a series of classic Golden Age films that, you guessed it: I've never seen! We begin with Walt Disney's Fantasia from 1940. I've never had the chance to watch what looks to be a beautifully rendered animated film set to classical music. I'm aware of what the movie contains, and I also realize that there was some abomination of a remake in 2000, the coincidentally named Fantasia 2000, which I avoided at the time because I didn't want that to be my first exposure to the concept. Perhaps 2010 is the year that Disney will open its vaults and allow me to procure a copy of the 1940 "real deal" original--without censorious cuts, either.

I blame my not having seen Fantasia for having come of age in the late '70-early '80s, a time when the Walt Disney studio largely abandoned quality animation and instead focused on live-action epics like Snowball Express, Herbie, The North Avenue Irregulars, Freaky Friday, and The Cat from Outer Space. Nothing against those films, as I liked them all and even nursed a crush on Barbara Harris, too. I must also admit that my attention was given over to "gritty" fare like Star Wars and The Six Million Dollar Man. Still, even as a hair helmeted seven-year-old dope I knew that Disney had a reputation as an animation powerhouse and I wanted to see more of the magic I'd witnessed in Pinocchio (say the word a hundred times and it ceases to sound like a name) and Dumbo. I wasn't really interested in the animated offerings they did release during my own childhood, as they never appealed to me like the one-after-the-other masterworks they cranked out with frightening regularity in both the animated feature length and animated short films.

From what I've seen of Fantasia, it looks marvelous. Disney always gets credit for their wonderful animation--no one, but no one ever rendered water in motion like Disney. Yes, I'm easily entertained, but the Disney crew earned their reputation for excellence. Even if the scripts of most Mickey Mouse cartoons were lacking, it never mattered to me--remember my stance on plotlines--because the animation was always hypnotically watchable and it looks as though Fantasia's animation might've been the peak of that brilliance. I can't wait for the day I see it.

Postscript: In looking up Fantasia, numerous pictures of some singer come up; who the heck is she???

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Guilty Pleasure Syndrome or: How I Learned to Not Care If People Know I'm a Mickey Rooney Fan

I’ve never had any use for the term Guilty Pleasure. Well, except for the purposes of this post…A Guilty Pleasure is usually defined as something of dubious quality or reputation that one enjoys ashamedly. In classic movie parlance, it’s often a critically reviled, poorly made, or widely despised film. But even then the term requires further clarification; as certain movies become cult favorites and earn “cool” status, such as Reefer Madness or Plan 9 from Outer Space. Everyone knows those films are "bad", but they’re "good" in that they’re unintentionally hilarious. Those cinematic masterworks have an infamous reputation and thrive because of it. Therefore, they can freely be declared guilty pleasures without fear of ridicule.

The true guilty pleasure consists of movies that are largely unknown or formerly popular movies whose reputations haven’t aged well because they represent either an “antiquated” viewpoint or lack the “edginess” that every friggin’ thing in pop culture must have these days. These “shameful” or “lame” films haven’t received critical or cultish rehabilitation, either, so you can rest assured that you’ll blush if you dare admit to liking, say, anything with Mickey Rooney in it. As a matter of fact, Rooney’s films are the so-called “Guilty Pleasure” that inspired this very post.

I love Rooney’s Andy Hardy films, a wildly popular and hugely profitable movie series produced by MGM in the 1930s and ‘40s. Despite being made during the heart of the Great Depression, the delightful Hardy movies embody an idealized America and were everything that MGM studio honcho Louis B. Mayer thought represented the best of America. The movies have a naïve charm, wit and sense of optimism that the times required. Seen now, they’re probably laughably “lame” or “saccharine”, and worse than that, “Disneyesque”, which has become another pejorative term. Andy’s father, the stern, patrician but understanding Judge Hardy, was a wonderful counterbalance to Andy’s kooky and youthful zeal. Today’s kids aren’t kooky, or ebullient; in fact, they’re often self-absorbed teen vampires; kind of a Party of Five with fangs.

Rooney aka The Mick, was once the biggest box-office draw in the US of A. And despite a (up and down) career that’s lasted some seventy-five years, Oscar nominations, an honorary Oscar, and praise from no less than Laurence Olivier (Rooney was “the single best film actor America.”), Rooney’s reputation pretty much lies in tatters, so to claim to be a Mickey Rooney fan is tantamount to being a Boy Named Sue. The whole idiocy of the Guilty Pleasure is based on some sort of “cool” taste. In fact, I'm conviced that the term Guilty Pleasure was brought to you by the same people who use the term “They say…” when dispensing advice or “facts.”

The Bottom Line: I don’t believe in Guilty Pleasures. All of my movie interests are present and accounted for. There is no boundary line between what I like that is hailed as a masterpiece or what is routinely reviled by my fellow classic movie aficionados. In this age of revisionism and retro-themed interests, most every film can receive a critical and popular—as defined within classic film circles—reappraisal, thus freeing it from perdition.

So be proud about your less-popular classic film interests and fer cryin' out loud, write about them! The world doesn't need another review of Casablanca but it could sure use a well-thought-out analysis of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Poll Results: Cary Grant

My, how history has changed! The results of last month's poll question, "With whom did Katharine Hepburn have the best onscreen chemistry?" has given Cary Grant a narrow victory over Spencer Tracy. Of the 62 votes cast:

Cary Grant 32 (51%)

Spencer Tracy 30 (48%)

It's easy to understand why Cary won--he's better looking! Isn't that why he won? No? Okay, I'll maintain the position that his looks had nothing to do with his narrow victory. Grant's four films with Hepburn are all comedies and are well-regarded, even the cult favorite Sylvia Scarlett (1936), which was a critical and commercial flop upon its initial release but has now been credited with being the movie where Cary Grant "found his Cary Grantness"--let's all pause to thank director George Cukor--and the duo's other three movies: Bringing up Baby; Holiday; and The Philadelphia Story are out and out brilliant---another pause to thank George Cukor for those last two movies. There are very few duos who've collaborated on movies in which the films themselves, not just the onscreen chemistry, are regarded as masterworks.

What I've noticed about Kate and Cary's films together is that the Hepburn we get in those films is an actress who had yet to develop into the headbutting career woman, an onscreen characterization present in her movies with Spencer. The 1930s Hepburn was, in my view, more apt to play a wounded or fragile character more often than she did post-Philadelphia Story. The Kate of the 1930s is my favorite as her variety and the scope of her roles makes her endlessly fascinating. Her collaborations with Grant rank among my favorite movies of all time, and while I adore Spencer Tracy, his onscreen work with Hepburn is often too combative and I have to be in a tremendously good mood in order to get into the spirit of their movies.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The New Golden Age

I've thought long and hard--it's time for a change. The Golden Age, as I now define it, shall include early-'70s movies and if there happens to be any old-time stars in said films, then that's fine, too. What's better than seeing John Wayne in a dried-out gray toupee and emptying a MAC-10 submachinegun into Al "The Turk" Lettieri and his polyester-suited goons? Wayne was offered the role of Dirty Harry first but turned it down. So to compensate for his boneheaded judgement, he made McQ (1974), the movie that features The Duke rollin' down the mean streets of Seattle to Elmer Bernstein's funky score, lookin' to bend his badge over some drug peddler's skull. McQ is John Wayne at his vigilante best!

Glamour is best defined by how good members of the pimping community think you look, so a plaid, ginormous-lapeled Sears suit with white shoes and necktie as wide as the berth you'd give a Great White shark *is* the new definition of glam. Besides, if the 1930s were so great, then why did we abandon those styles? Who needs Carole Lombard when you have Glenda Jackson? Who needs William Powell when there's Tiny Tim? Laugh-In says more about our lives than Robert Benchley ever could! And why would women ever need support garments? "Ms." is a perfectly fine way to address a newly-libererated woman wearing ten-inch-tall cork souled shoes and hot pants, right? I say to heck with the '30s and '40s and huzzah to the Charles Bronson Deathwish 'stache, and the Lucille Ball Mame vaseline cheesecloth filter! Forget "happy days are here again" and let's embrace "Power to the People!" Now the question is...can you all dig it?