Saturday, December 24, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Yikes! Where have I been??? Anyway, just catching up with things during the holiday season, so here are some first thoughts on the recent PBS American Masters documentary on Woody Allen:
Part one was two hours and while it's interesting to have an extensive interview with Woody, there just seems to be a glossing over of the content of his films. A movie every year for thirty five years will do that. Part one stops at Stardust Memories...which has become my favorite Allen film.
I liked the stand up material they showed from 1962 and '63, when Woody was a Hefneresque-type comedian.
This aired on two of my local PBS stations and both of them had the screen all wrong; names cut off, etc. It's like they have it formatted for those widescreen TVs...they don't even know how to present their own medium. I also found it prude that they blurred out the huge plastic breast from Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, even if it was hilarious to see a gigantic pixilated/censored fake boob trundling on screen. Friggin' puritans.
Part II of the American Masters doc was good as it showed Allen actually directing. It was also interesting to see the the (color) footage of him at work on Stardust Memories, both on set and in the editing room. I disagree with the oft-quoted critical unwashed belief that Stardust Memories is a "misstep." I wish they'd discussed more of Woody's use of music in his films, but overrall I was enthralled with the entire program.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Seems to me that there’s a 1920s revival going on! Numerous movies and TV programs have been released that either feature or take place in the ‘20s and I find it all quite exciting! Looks like I picked the right time to become enamored with the first truly modern decade! It’s a refreshing alternative for retro aficionados not really interested in the early ‘60s Mad Men craze currently sweeping the nation. A list of these Jazz Age-era projects includes:
Paris- The Luminous Years: Toward the Making of the Modern is a fascinating two-hour documentary about the Paris arts scene of 1905-1930. Much of the program is dedicated to the painters of the early 20th Century (Picasso, Chagall, Braque, et al.) Hemingway and the '20s get coverage, with the best part being the archival Sylvia Beach interview. There are also segments on Sergei Diaghilev's ballets, Stravinsky's music, and the Dada (anti)-art movement. Watch it HERE on the PBS website.
The doc is highly informative--particularly about the painters and makes it all worthwhile. It sheds light on the period 1905-1910 that I've always found interesting but evasive in terms of the level of coverage in documentaries such as these. Watch it HERE on the PBS website.
Midnight In Paris- Woody Allen’s latest film—and a HUGE hit, by Woodman box office standards—has captured the imagination of yours truly and a number of other bloggers, and has introduced many people to several Modernist icons including Man Ray, Luis Buñuel, Ernest Hemingway--yes, there are those who only know his name and nothing more—and Gertrude Stein.
Boardwalk Empire- The HBO series about Prohibition bootleggers produced by Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg debuted last year and has garnered good press. I saw only one episode but was immediately hooked on the costumes, art direction, and brilliant performance of Steve Buscemi.
Prohibition- Documentary giant Ken Burns covers America’s “Noble Experiment” in an engrossing five-and-a-half- hour overview that’s definitely not “dry”, except in the temperance meaning of the word.
The Great Gatsby- Upcoming Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge) project of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel stars that seemingly retro-obsessed actor, Leonardo DiCaprio.
J. Edgar- Another film starring DiCaprio, as the eternally-youthful Leo takes on the role of controversial FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover became head of the Bureau in 1922. It remains to be seen how much of the film will spend time on that early decade, but I’m counting it anyway. It’s directed by Clint Eastwood.
I hope that this 1920s revival brings much interest in this most fascinating era. It's been a long time since movies chronicling a past era influenced style and various subcultures. I was the kind who held out hope that 2002's Gangs of New York would influence today's hooligans into wearing horizontal-striped shirts and stovepipe hats during their empty-headed pursuits, but alas, it was not to be. My fingers are crossed that we shoot for higher aspirations in this, the time of the 1920s revival.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Please pardon my obsession with this movie, but one of the best aspects of Midnight In Paris is its vivid recreation of 1920s artistic luminaries like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salvador Dali, and Luis Buñuel is the tremendous performance of the heretofore unknown to me Corey Stoll. His take on Ernest Hemingway is rendered with affection and humor, and it's clear that writer-director Woody Allen admires the More-Macho-Than-Anyone-Else-in-Human-History author a great deal.
In doing some quick research on Corey Stoll, I was surprised to learn that he wore a wig for Midnight In Paris and even more impressive, how his demeanor is totally unlike the legend he plays in the movie. I guess that's why they call it acting.
Friday, September 23, 2011
"The only way men can respond to a star is to gaze at it from their remote planet. And even when a star passes out of our sight in the sequence of orbits; we believe that it exists still and feel the gravitational pull it exerts."
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
"Nostalgia is denial - denial of the painful present... the name for this denial is golden age thinking - the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one one's living in - its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present."~Paul (Michael Sheen) in Midnight In Paris
Legendary writer-director and Golden Age devotee Woody Allen's latest movie, the airy and light Midnight In Paris, has become a favorite of mine.
This review contains spoilers, so consider yourselves warned.
What it's About: With Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen continues his exploration of nostalgia, romance, and of course, chronic dissatisfaction. The film tells of hack Hollywood screenwriter Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) who travels to Paris with his fiancé, Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her conservative-to-a-fault parents, who are in Paris on business. An unwelcome addition to their Paris trip is the coincidental appearance of Inez' college crush, the know-it-all Paul (Michael Sheen) who takes advantage of every opportunity to rub his encyclopedic knowledge of the arts in Gil's face.
Gil realizes that he'd like to chuck his unsatisfying screenwriting career and move permanently to Paris in order to work on his novel about a man who runs a nostalgia shop. Gil is convinced that Paris in the 1920s with the Lost Generation of writers and artists was the greatest time to be alive. in Midnight In Paris, Gil gets to see that era firsthand and meets the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, and most memorably: Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll; in a scene-stealing but not movie-stealing, performance).
It was wonderful that my cinematic hero has paid tribute to my literary hero. I was unaware that Allen even liked Hemingway! Whatever the case, Woody has captured enough of their essence to (hopefully) inspire newbies as well as those who've loved this stuff for years.
It's also great to know that the film has gotten some young people interested in the 1920s. I've long since wanted a movie with this kind of content to capture the imagination of those who may not have known anything about that time but leaves the viewer wishing to learn all about it.
As someone who's worshipped Hemingway for the past seventeen years, I have to say that I was thrilled at how Woody made those knowing references (despite some minor anachronisms; but really, no big deal) and how he paid attention to the little details, like Gertrude Stein's sitting room--it looked just like its photographs--and how Kathy Bates even sat like Stein. Fitzgerald was dapper and charming, Adrien Brody's Salvador Dali was another comedic turn. I was so happy while watching Midnight In Paris. I'm pleased that Woody's getting praise--and good box office receipts--for his work once again.
While I am a Hemingway buff, there was a scene in a car where Hem was discussing passion and women that I didn't recognize as coming from a specific book of his. It seemed more like an approximation of Hemingway rather than something from his actual work. Hats off to Woody the screenwriter for "channeling" Hemingway with the following hilariously dead-on send up of "Papa."
"I believe that love that is true and real creates a respite from death. All cowardice comes from not loving, or not loving well, which is the same thing. And when the man who is brave and true looks death squarely in the face like some rhino hunters I know, or Belmonte, who's truly brave. It is because they love with sufficient passion to push death out of their minds, until the return that it does to all men. And then you must make really good love again. Think about it."
~Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll) in Midnight In Paris
A Few Hemingway Quibbles: In the movie, Hemingway asks Owen Wilson if he's ever shot a lion. There's also further mention by Gertude Stein (Kathy Bates) that Hemingway and Adriana (not the Adriana that Hem went koo-koo for in 1948) went on safari, when in fact Hemingway's first safari was in 1933-34 (can't remember if it overlapped; I think it did), which inspired The Snows of Kilimanjaro, so it's unlikely that Hemingway had shot a lion during the 1920s. Once again, minor quibbles.
Owen Wilson's performance was quite good. Before this, I always viewed him as Ben Stiller's sidekick who never appeared in any good movies. I didn't think one way or the other about his actual ability since those movies were so atrocious. I'm glad that he's put in a fine Woodylike performance and I hope he and Allen work together again. I think Owen struck a perfect balance with his performance. He wasn't unlike the typical Woody character, but he was still different enough to avoid a dead-on (and distracting) caricature like Kenneth Branagh and Edward Norton have done in previous Allen films.
There has been criticism over Woody's dipping into the same well in recent movies and borrowing from himself, but Allen has always expressed chronic dissatisfaction with his own films and as a result has revisited the same themes multiple times. Many great artists re-interpret their own work--yes, I consider Woody Allen a great artist--Walt Whitman re-edited Leaves of Grass during the course of his lifetime, Duke Ellington and Charles Mingus constantly re-arranged their compositions during their careers in jazz, with Ellington doing so over a fifty-year period. John Ford and Howard Hawks continued to work in the Western genre and focused on the same themes. In Hawks' case, even remade one of his own films (Rio Bravo later remade as El Dorado; both of which are excellent). Martin Scorsese has revisited the gangster genre, and Barry Levinson has most every one of his movies set in Baltimore. There's absolutely nothing wrong with a filmmaker returning to certain themes and storylines during the course of their work; in fact, I'd be disappointed if an artist of Woody Allen's stature didn't return to the themes found in most of his films.
The bottom line is that I loved Midnight In Paris, though I agree that while it's by no means a high concept film, part of its enjoyment--at least for me--came from the amusing characterizations of the artists. It probably helps to have some knowledge of their work and lives beforehand, but I don't see any evidence that Allen was attempting to make some big intellectual point or trying to fool anyone with the movie. While Woody has always been smitten with the 1920s-1940s, his inner New Yorker can't help but cast a cynical eye over all he surveys. The fact that the know-it-all Paul is correct in his analysis of Gil's romanticism of the past shows that Woody himself is just as wary of the existence of any "Golden Age."
The film's dual messages--live and love your life today and understand that there is no one "Golden Age"--is about as deep as it gets here. I enjoyed Midnight In Paris for being an affectionate tip of the hat to some of the writers and artists Allen--and perhaps his audience--admires. It's a film that many Golden Age film fans will enjoy.
Friday, August 19, 2011
...at least I like to think so!
Yesterday TCM featured French actor Jean Gabin (though NOT Quai des Brumes (1938), pictured above) by airing his films in its annual August Under the Stars showcase. Yes, I'm quite pleased!
The poll results of last month's question, "Should TCM air more foreign films?" ended 19-16, with the yays edging the nays.
If yesterday's Gabin marathon is any indication, perhaps enough viewers want to see more foreign films on TCM, or better still, a separate channel dedicated to foreign far, with a Euro-Robert Osborne type--or Elvis Mitchell--taking on the hosting duties. It would be a refreshing change...for a change.
The Gabin festival reminded me once again of how little of international film I've seen. My own preference is for the Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and '60s, but seeing movies from a pre-WWII vintage would be an exciting and no doubt eye opening experience and tie in with this blog's focus, as well.
For posterity's sake, here are the Gabin films that Turner Classic Movies played yesterday:
6:00 AM Gueule d'amour (1937)
A retired cavalry officer discovers the woman who won his heart was in love with the uniform.
Dir: Jean Gremillon Cast: Jean Gabin, Mireille Balin.
8:00 AM Remorques (1941)
A married tugboat captain falls for a woman he rescues from a sinking ship.
Dir: Jean Gremillon Cast: Jean Gabin, Alain Cuny.
9:30 AM Jour Se Leve, Le (1939)
A young factory worker loses the woman he loves to a vicious schemer.
Dir: Marcel Carne Cast: Jean Gabin, Jacqueline Laurent, Arletty.
11:00 AM 110 Air de Paris, L' (1954)
An over-the-hill boxer stakes his fortune on training a young railroad-worker.
Dir: Marcel Carne Cast: Arletty, Jean Gabin, Roland Lesaffre.
1:00 PM Leur derniere nuit (1953)
A schoolteacher falls for a librarian who's secretly the head of a criminal ring.
Dir: Georges Lacombe Cast: Jean Gabin, Madeleine Robinson.
2:45 PM Desordre et la nuit, le (1958)
A homicide detective tries to protect a pretty drug addict implicated in a murder.
Dir: Gilles Grangier Cast: Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Nadja Tiller.
4:30 PM Maria Chapdelaine (1934)
A Canadian frontierswoman must choose from among three suitors.
Dir: Julien Duvivier Cast: Madeleine Renaud, Suzanne Desprès, Gaby Triquet, Jean Gabin, Jean-Pierre Aumont.
6:00 PM La Bandera (1934)
A murderer escapes France to join the Spanish Foreign Legion, where he finds love while pursued by the law.
Dir: Julien Duvivier Cast: Jean Gabin, Annabella, Robert Le Vigan, Raymond Aimos, Pierre Renoir, Gaston Modot.
8:00 PM Pepe Le Moko (1941)
Love for a beautiful woman draws a gangster out of hiding.
Dir: Julien Duvivier Cast: Jean Gabin, Mireille Balin, Gabriel Gabrio.
10:00 PM Grand Illusion (1937)
French POWs fight to escape their German captors during World War I.
Dir: Jean Renoir Cast: Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Marcel Dalio.
Erich von Stroheim, Dita Parlo, (Julien) Carette, Gaston Modot, Jean Daste.
12:00 AM La Bete Humaine (1938)
A railroad engineer enters an affair with his friend's amoral wife.
Dir: Jean Renoir. Cast: Jean Gabin, Simone Simon, Fernand Ledoux.
2:00 AM Touchez Pas Au Grisbi (1954)
An aging gangster comes out of retirement when his best friend is kidnapped.
Dir: Jacques Becker. Cast: Jean Gabin, René Dary, Dora Doll.
4:00 AM Des gens sans importance (1955)
An unhappy waitress starts an affair with a married truck driver.
Dir: Henri Verneuil. Cast: Jean Gabin, Françoise Arnoul, Pierre Mondy.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Holiday (1938; Dir. George Cukor) is among my all-time favorite movies, but while watching it this morning I noticed the boom microphone shadow across Lew Ayres' face. Ayres' performance, along with the rest of the cast, is impressive. The fact that Holiday is one of the most overlooked films of the Golden Age of Hollywood still baffles me. Perhaps it's due to it coming among Katharine Hepburn's "Box Office Poison" period, during which she made such "failures" as Bringing Up Baby. But unlike that Howard Hawks masterwork, Cukor's Holiday hasn't garnered the overdue praise that befits a movie of its quality...visible boom notwithstanding.
I've written about Hepburn's excellent performance in this film before, but the things that draw me to Holiday time and again are the social commentary and class distinctions, all set during the powderkeg economic conditions of the 1930s.
The most famous--and amazingly prescient--line of dialogue is spoken by Cary Grant's Johnny Case character, a footloose and happy-go-lucky guy who's nonetheless seriously trying to "find himself" decades before baby boomers made that phrase commonplace. It's no surprise that Holiday enjoyed a small surge in popularity during the late sixties and early seventies, when another round of social upheaval was present:
"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite."
Oh, the irony.
The film also touches on the political instability of the era. The fascist states in Germany and Italy were reviving the economies shattered by the 1929 stock market crash. There was much speculation about Capitalism's viability in those dark times, so the idea of Fascism--and Communism--seemed like options worth considering to many people. However, Holiday doesn't embrace any of those totalitarian systems, but it does raise the questions on peoples' minds in 1938. The Setons' cousins, Seton and Laura Cram (Henry Daniell and Binnie Barnes) areseen as cold, almost sinister beings and it's a more-than-subtle warning about those other systems. The liberals, Professor and Mrs. Potter (Edward Everett Horton and Jean Dixon) take exception to the beliefs of the Crams, as this exchange indicates:
Seton Cram: "It wouldn't take that long [to make more money] if we had the right kind of governement."
Susan Elliot Potter: "Like which country for example, Mr. Cram?"
It's these social commentaries that help make Holiday such an interesting movie. Yes, the romance between the leads is the main focus, but in these class distinctions it's fascinating to see how American society is portrayed here. Like all great works of art, Holiday holds something new for the viewer with each viewing. It's one of the great--if forgotten--films of the 1930s.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Turner Classic Movies is the best place on TV to see classic, uncut movies. But seeing as there aren't any channels--at least in the US of A--dedicated to foreign and/or art films, why couldn't TCM expand the definition of classic film to include more foreign films in their schedule? TCM would be the best hope for this, since the Independent Film Channel (IFC) is crap, what with it being chock full of manipulative pharmaceutical ads that advocate self-medication, as well as decidedly UN-independent films like the Three Stooges (though I love Curly Howard)!
The other oasis is the Sundance Channel, which largely sticks to contemporary indie stuff, would anyone besides me like it if TCM dedicated more time to classic foreign films by the likes of Kurosawa, Bergman, and Fellini (to name a few)? What about 1930s movies from other countries? There are only so many airings of the usual English-language fare that the classic film maven can watch and I think a widening of the classic film niche would make TCM all the better. Keep in mind this is all coming froma culture-starved yank who'd love to expand his horizons and be better informed on what the non-Hollywood film world was like.
Learning that the international geniuses of film looked to Hollywood for inspiration has also increased my own personal interest in movies made outside of Hollywood. I owe it to myself to watch Akira Kurosawa's work, seeing as he was quite an admirer of the John Ford-John Wayne collaborations.
If increasing its foreign film output doesn't float your boat, what about a separate "Turner Classics International" channel? I don't agree with the parochial attitude regarding TCM, even if it was launched and made its reputation as a Hollywood-oriented channel. TCM has introduced me to dozens of American movies--as did the late and lamented American Movie Classics--and TCM would no doubt do the same for international films, but seeing as a separate channel ("Turner Classic International") isn't in the works, I'd be more than happy with, say, a Wednesday night showcase of foreign films each week.
In this age of seemingly unlimited channels, we have surprisingly few choices. How sad that in an age of so many channels, that so much sameness still dominates TV. Of course, barring any move on TCM's part, I could just join Netflix and subscribe to foreign fare to my heart's content, but it's a different thing altogether to see TCM use its influence to expand the movie buff's interests as well as seeing that there is more to classic film than what comes from Hollywood.
Thoughts? I've also added a handy-dandy poll to "scientifically" determine if more foreign film on TCM is a popular idea.
Monday, June 27, 2011
“That’s so overrated!” “He’s/She’s so overrated!” “They’re overrated!”
If I had a penny for every time I read or heard the word “overrated” as it relates to classic film, I’d be the world’s wealthiest--and therefore best--blogger.
Overrated: To overestimate the merits of; rate too highly.
I don’t know how this term came to such heavy usage. I associate it with people under thirty who happen to see a classic film and come away from it less than impressed. “Yeah, I saw [classic movie title here] and it was okay, but it’s so overrated. Cary Grant is so overrated. John Wayne is overrated. Katharine Hepburn is overrated. Audrey Hepburn is overrated. Bette Davis is overrated.”
This scene from Woody Allen’s Manhattan illustrates so much that is wrong with the term “Overrated”:
Yale: “LeWitt is overrated. In fact,
he may be a candidate for the academy.”
Yale: “Mary and I have invented the Academy
of the Overrated for such notables as
- Gustav Mahler,
- Isak Dinesen and Carl Jung.”
Yale: “ Scott Fitzgerald.”
Mary: “ Lenny Bruce. Can't forget him, can we?”
Yale: “How about Norman Mailer?”
Isaac: “I think those people are all terrific.”
Isaac: “Gee, what about Mozart?
You guys don't wanna leave out Mozart.”
Isaac: “Get her away from me. I don't think
I can take too much more of her.”
What exactly does this “Overrated” stuff actually mean? “That it’s unworthy of its praise”, said a workmate of mine one day last year. He’s a Twentysomething, so you knew that was coming.
There are several reasons why people—mostly young people, but also older people who are unfamiliar with something but when they finally see it they don’t think much of it anyway. Let’s see if I can nail down some of the reasons why something earns the Overrated tag:
1. The Arrogance of Youth. “Unworthy of its praise”, as my colleague said. That’s a hugely arrogant viewpoint, one I take to mean: “My opinion negates all that has come before it! I have spoken!” It’s perhaps an unfair criticism, but it’s natural for the next generation to knock what came before it. However, it’s largely a knee jerk reaction to something but it’s a viewpoint that mellows with time and experience.
2. Overexposure. Take for example Star Wars. A movie which was once considered a towering achievement. It was a box office smash and ushered in new special effects technology, revitalized the Golden Age-style film score, and otherwise entered the popular vernacular. Star Wars profoundly influenced the marketing of movies (for better or worse) and has become a folk tale to people who weren’t born when the movie was released in 1977. However, endless regurgitations of how great it is, with the dialogue endlessly plastered all over pop culture, and its influence over subsequent (lesser) cinematic efforts have made Star Wars into something we take for granted because its presence is so pervasive. The media culture devours and spits out everything new and popular, so all films get this treatment. By the way, I’m of the age group (I’m shoving forty) that grew up worshipping Star Wars, but now I can’t stand it. LOL
Most kids despise their elders’ stories. Imagine having to sit through one’s grandfather reminisce over the Great Depression and how he walked uphill both ways to school every morning, or how about some Baby Boomer’s drug-addled ramblings over how great Woodstock was: “There’s nothing worse than a Baby Boomer reminiscing”, I always say. Isn’t this the same group who said “If you remember the Sixties, you weren’t there.” Those Boomers sure remember a lot about something they’re supposed to forget. However, there is something to be said about the reputation of a film diminishing its impact, but that’s more the fault of media overexposure than anything wrong with the movie itself. I can sympathize with a young person’s point of view.
3. People Only Relate to Their Own Time. People tend to ridicule anything that came before their birth, so the entirety of the world as it once was is closed off to them. Many of them don’t have the ability to view something in the context in which it was made. Any movie, no matter how “timeless” it’s supposed to be, is of the era in which it’s made. Most young people today won’t notice the importance of the scene in Casablanca when the Nazis are drowned out by the French singing La Marseillaise. They merely see it as some silly singing contest. A little research into World War II may help one understand the scene’s original context and imagine what it would’ve meant to the audiences of 1943 (besides being a propaganda tool, of course). I often tell young skeptics to wait a few years until their beloved and revered pop movies and music get skewered by the generation after theirs; it’ll happen, just you wait…
4. Special Effects. According to that same workmate, the shark in Jaws “looked so fake.” I asked him if he thought that CGI effects looked more realistic. He said yes. I then asked if he failed to notice how “fake” and unrealistic the movement was of a CGI animal that was supposed to be running. The thing looked huge, but leapt around as though it had no weight to it. It moved like an object much lighter and smaller than it was supposed to be. It also resembled a video game graphic rather than a living, furry beast. His beloved CGI was already dated and horrendously phony looking and it wasn’t even five years old.
My first reaction to people proclaiming something as overrated is to believe that not much thought has gone into that statement and that they’re dismissing all that was before them because they have the notion that something old is already out of date and useless, like a three-month-old gallon of milk. It’s just not so. We tend to believe that anything of the here and now is somehow superior to what came before it. It’s the assumption that newer automatically means better, when in fact there are things from the now and the then that are worth keeping, while both eras also have elements that can be jettisoned.
Friday, June 17, 2011
He was the only actor in Hollywood who posed for more mug shots than publicity photos. The day his mother killed herself in 1960,  was arrested for breaking down a woman's door and assaulting her boyfriend.
His off-screen antics also continued, and in 1948 he served three months for breaking a student's jaw. Throughout the 1950s, he faced a string of charges from kicking a policeman while drunk and disorderly to hitting a waiter in the face with a sugar-bowl and attempting to choke the life out of a cab driver."
Hint: It ain't Shia Leboeuf!
Friday, June 3, 2011
Fast and Loose (MGM, 1939; Director: Edwin L. Marin) is the second of three entries in the sleuthing saga of husband and wife rare book dealers Joel and Guarda Sloane. This one stars Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell as the sleuthing couple. The studio was still trying to replicate the success of their Thin Man series with a similar-themed married detective duo when their star, William Powell, was out of action for two years while undergoing treatment for Cancer (all of which is chronicled in Replacing the Thin Man.)
Note: Forgive me when I interchange the actors’ names and that of their characters. Joel=Bob; Guarda=Roz. We’re also spoiler free as always, these reviews merely splatter some scattered thoughts and impressions of the movie seen.
The Story: Joel and Guarda Sloane are in an expensive line of work, but seeing as there’s a Depression on, they’re finding themselves in dire financial straits. Luckily, they get the chance to sell a Shakespeare manuscript, but when its owner winds up dead, Joel and Guarda find themselves working another murder case.
The fact that the Sloanes have creditors nipping at their heels doesn’t stop them from engaging in Nick-and-Nora like revelry as Fast and Loose opens, with the camera panning along the floor with various undergarments strewn about the room and finally settling on our heroes sleeping off their hangover—in separate beds, naturally. They also have “cute” signs hung on their front door, like “Milkman, please leave 1 quart of aspirin tablets”, things that would appear in later Thin Man movies, when that series’ sophisticated banter occasionally gave way to attacks of the cutes. More Nick and Nora-style witticisms continue as Joel and Guarda’s phone rings, with the couple “talking” to it as if that will get it to stop. It’s all Thin Man by association as well as execution.
Montgomery has an amusing bit when he talks to his bleary-faced reflection in a gorgeous Cedric Gibbons-designed bathroom set, with the round mirror and Deco shower stall being quite impressive; it’s a shame we only see it in that one scene and the shower stall only in passing!
“I don’t know who you are my friend, but if you stand still I’ll shave you.”
Robert Montgomery is quite good in Fast and Loose. Bob in light comedy mode is always a treat and he’s fun to watch here. He avoids any comparisons to William Powell’s Nick Charles and inhabits the Joel Sloane role with his own pleasant style (and he wears a porkpie hat, too). Montgomery has several impressive scenes, all in keeping with the breezy tone of this “light” murder mystery.
Rosalind Russell’s Guarda Sloane, however, is a bit too much like Nora Charles, only with a jealous streak. In fact, Roz’s speaking tones in the film’s first half hour are very much like those of Myrna Loy’s. It’s as if Russell is aware of the limitations of her character and that it’s all been done already—by Myrna Loy. That doesn’t keep us from enjoying her go at this role. Only in the scenes where she plays things with a broader comic range does she emanate her trademark Rozness. It’s also interesting to note that she wears low-heeled shoes in Fast and Loose, because the 5’8’ Russell towers over Montgomery!
Montgomery and Russell have solid on-screen chemistry, though they have comparatively little screen time together. The bit where Guarda is tying a ribbon into the brainstorming Joel's hair is amusing.
The Supporting Cast: All are quite good, despite my never having seen most of them before. The entire group is paraded early on in the film, giving the viewer a chance to see a bunch of contract players act guilty. Most notable are Etienne Giradot, who plays the absent-minded Mr. Oates. One of the ongoing jokes in Fast and Loose is Guarda’s correcting Oates’ mangling of clichés. She has more time with Oates than she does with her own husband.
There’s also a fine performance by Sidney Blackmer (Lucky Nolan), the mob boss who’s a combination of polished villainy and menace. Nolan’s the kind of bad guy who’s smooth and calculating but isn’s above slapping a dame in her yap for mouthing off. Blackmer would later enjoy a long career in several TV guest appearances, including Robert Montgomery Presents, appearing in that program three times. Blackmer gets the best line in the movie: “May I have the pleasure of your absence?”
One cast member of particular interest is the role of Phil Sergeant, played by Anthony Allan (though credited as “John Hubbard; that’s Hollywood). Allan looks like he could work as Bob Montgomery’s stand in or stunt double, as the two look alarmingly alike! They even have similar-styled hair. There’s a shot of the two standing face to face and they resemble mirror images of one another. Bob even says (as Sergeant is hauled away as a suspect): “There goes the only protégé I ever had!” Is that an in joke?
“I worry when someone shoots you.”
Other Thin Man-style touches include the Lucky Nolan gambling den scene, where many comedic shenanigans occur. Joel performs an amusing hidden coin trick on one of Lucky’s thugs which he punctuates with a bored “Ho hum.” Joel says that twice in the movie, as if they were trying it as a catchphrase. After a violent fracas injures our heroes, the couple sport matching steaks for their matching black eyes. Guarda mentions that her appetite is intensifying as she’s got food on her face.
The murder mystery element takes a turn for the brutal when one of the suspects is murdered and found stuffed inside a standing suit of armor that all wealthy people in the ‘30s had.
I love how in 1930s and ‘40s films, the cops look like cops and the thugs look like thugs. Nowadays, they’re apt to resemble those ivory-fleshed teen vampire people that have addled the brain of a generation.
All in all, Fast and Loose is a fun seventy-five minute distraction from the present day, with enough star power and charisma from the two leads to make it all worthwhile. None of the three “Fast” movies are yet available on DVD, but it looks like an ideal project for the Warner Brothers Archive. These would make a fine addition to my growing collection of Husband and Wife Detective movies.
A special thanks to Carrie of Classic Montgomery for providing some of these pictures.
Friday, May 27, 2011
The #1 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
Double Indemnity fails to win Best Picture in 1944.
It would help to get inside the Academy’s mindset in early 1945 in order to try and comprehend why one of the greatest of all crime dramas lost Best Picture to the relentlessly cheery and sentimental Going My Way.
It was early 1945 and World War II was near its end. The Academy, wishing to send an “uplifting” message to the world, chose the movie about two Irish Catholic priests trying to save their parish instead of the film about an adulterous and murderous couple killing the woman’s husband for the policy benefits. What’s not wholesome about the entrepreneurial spirit? That’s as powerful an illustration of the human spirit as teaching some incorrigible boys to sing, isn’t it? You mean it isn’t?
The single greatest Oscar travesty of the Golden Age is Going My Way 's Best Picture victory over Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. The latter is the first truly brilliant Film Noir and the first time the writer-director gave the movie going audience a glimpse of his greatness. Never again would Wilder be as chilling or ruthless (that includes 1951’s Ace in the Hole) without the trademark Wilder humor. The very title “Double Indemnity” forever changed an insurance policy term into thought-association trigger words for cold-blooded murder.
The primary reason Double Indemnity didn’t win is because the story and characters are just so unappealing! The sweaty-lipped Fred MacMurray-as Walter Neff is the epitome of slime and Barbara Stanwyck is the definitive Black Widow, Phyllis Dietrichson.
Another reason why it lost was no doubt due to the popularity of Bing Crosby, whose multimedia power was second to none during the ‘30s and ‘40s. It's also worth noting that the tenor of those times helped the Crosby vehicle win scads of awards, so it’s no wonder Going My Way emerged as the Best Picture winner. However, in retrospect, Going My Way represents the toothless and overly-sentimental type of movie that gives classic film a bad name. Noir, on the other hand, has emerged as all that is stylish about great cinema. Double Indemnity is a work of art. The cinematography, music, set direction, and especially its dialogue serve to create the perfect cinematic environment, whereas Going My Way looks like a series of indoor sets. Double Indemnity creates a vivid Los Angeles of the mind. If the stories of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler (co-author of the screenplay), and Double Indemnity's author, James M. Cain could come to life in our most vivid imaginings, they would look exactly like Double Indemnity. The film’s atmosphere is smothering in its oppressiveness. Every flickering frame of this movie is sinister, and evil. Only the mighty presence of Edward G. Robinson emerges from the dreariness. The film is leagues ahead of the other Best Picture nominees:
Gaslight- Gothic psychological thriller that was the second-best movie of the five films nominated.
Going My Way- That Barry Fitzgerald movie.
Since You Went Away- Sentimental and mawkish to the extreme, though the ending is guaranteed to produce a couple of tears.
Wilson- Heavily sanitized biopic of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson; the kind of movie “designed” to win Oscars.
When watching these five films, I can’t help but think how of their time the other four are, but Double Indemnity is like some undying evil that only grows in stature with each subsequent viewing. As many times as I’ve seen it, the murder scene still has the ability to produce unbearable tension. Billy Wilder’s first bona fide masterpiece had no business losing to those other efforts by directors whose best work was in the previous decade. McCarey peaked with The Awful Truth, and Cukor with The Philadelphia Story. The other two, John Cromwell of Since You Went Away and Henry King of Wilson, were essentially competent, but journeymen directors; though to be fair, King had a couple of good efforts left in him in the 1940s yet his work comes nowhere near that of Wilder’s, largely regarded as the best writer-director of all time, which subsequent Oscar award ceremonies would prove; just not in 1944, when the Academy should’ve recognized how special a talent he was.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The #2 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
High Noon fails to win Best Picture in 1952.
The result of the 1952 Best Picture race was among the first that shocked me when I first learned of it so many years ago. It was 1990, and I had recently seen High Noon at my grandfather's recommendation. I was 18 or 19 and quite taken with High Noon's themes of courage and duty. I was especially impressed with Gary Cooper's performance. His very screen presence captivated me. Thankfully, he won (his second) Best Actor Oscar that year, his second, though Leonard Maltin claimed it was "Cooper's only Oscar" in the old VHS edition of High Noon. I must’ve watched the movie a dozen times or so in an embarrassingly short amount of time and even more so when I became all the more enamored with old cinema in 1997; it remains a favorite today.
One day around the time I had discovered the movie, I was leafing through my Inside Oscar book (the edition with the red cover), I was flabbergasted and in denial when I saw the winner’s asterisk next to the empty entertainment “spectacle”, The Greatest Show on Earth. I was further surprised to discover that a Western had only won Best Picture one time, when Cimarron pulled off the feat in 1930. Anyway, I had seen The Greatest Show on Earth as a child and while it was chock full of notable stars, it was a less-than-memorable two hours. In fact, it’s only memorable if you carry the youthful trauma of having been savagely beaten by angry clowns.
By the way, I happen to like the circus; went to one as a kid.
The Greatest Show on Earth is by no means an awful film; it’s nice, well-made entertainment, like the circus. It’s definitely not Best Picture material and it’s not a work of art, but Demille was due, so the Academy lavished his circus drama with the top prize. It’s just a shame that the more deserving High Noon was denied Best Picture. I’d have an easier time accepting any other nominee winning instead of The Greatest Show on Earth. The other contestants that year were Ivanhoe, Moulin Rouge, and The Quiet Man. It's a travesty in itself that for fifty-nine years, the Western never won Best Picture. Only 1931's Cimarron pulled that feat; it wouldn't be until 1990 when Dances With Wolves finally earned Oscar's greatest prize. It pains me deeply to think of all the Western films that didn't win, or even worse, never even nominated.
The accepted reason why this won Best Picture is because it was the industry’s tribute to director Cecil B. Demille. I understand that, but why not just give him the Best Director Oscar—it went to John Ford for The Quiet Man—or why not just be content with the Thalberg Award, which is what they also gave him? Did the Academy have to derail Fred Zinneman’s masterwork? They sure did!
Greatest is never remembered as one of the finest motion pictures of all time and it sure isn’t; whereas High Noon, despite the subsequent over emphasis on the political allegory it’s supposed to be (I don’t buy it), is still one of the finest Westerns ever made. The cinematography, direction, music, Cooper, and the entire supporting cast are tremendous. High Noon has achieved immortality among great movies while Greatest is largely forgotten. You’d have to remind yourself that James Stewart was in this and it doesn’t figure prominently in the careers of anyone involved except for them to say they worked with Demille.
High Noon's director, Fred Zinneman, would get a measure of redemption the next year, when From Here to Eternity crushed all opposition, but High Noon losing Best Picture still hurts.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
The #3 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
Deborah Kerr NEVER wins.
I’d love to have been a fly on the wall if Deborah Kerr and Glenn Close commiserated over their combined eleven Oscar losses. Somehow I think the talk would shift to more interesting subjects, but the point is made: these are the Best Actress bridesmaids of all time (honorable mention goes to Rosalind Russell).
Until 1958, Kerr and Susan Hayward were the two perpetual losers. Then, even Hayward got an Oscar—and beat Kerr in the process. Deborah did get another nomination in 1960, for The Sundowners, which was a prime-of-her-career capper that showed her in a vastly different light than many of her 1950s roles.
Deborah Kerr remains the quintessential Oscar bridesmaid, having failed six times to win that golden statuette. Three times she certainly could’ve and should’ve won for at least two, but Kerr’s bad luck outweighed all of the ways an Oscar is awarded. She was unable to capitalize on being from the United Kingdom, for having “paid her dues”, or for having been the beneficiary of an Oscar sweep.
Kerr’s Best Actress nominations:
Edward, My Son (1949) Lost to Olivia DeHavilland in The Heiress
From Here to Eternity (1953) Lost to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday
The King and I (1956) Lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia
Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) Lost to Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve
Separate Tables (1958) Lost to Susan Hayward in I Want to Live!
The Sundowners (1960) Lost to Elizabeth Taylor in BUtterfield 8
Kerr was too versatile for her own good, as her six nominations in eleven years (1949-60) saw her playing everything from an alcoholic to a nun to an adulterous officer’s wife; Kerr was as versatile an actress as a leading actress could be, especially during the 1950s when most every performer played well within their marketability and comfort. Very few actresses of that period would allow themselves to take a role where all glamour is sacrificed for a character. Kerr in Separate Tables is a vastly different person than the super hot blonde she played in From Here to Eternity. Both characters, however, are imbued with great vulnerability that was a Deborah Kerr trademark.
If there was one year where Deborah Kerr should’ve won Best Actress, it should have been for Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Her rapport with burly Bob Mitchum (himself snubbed that year) was cinematic magic and Kerr would get no greater showcase. She also should have won against the pity party victory that was Elizabeth Taylor’s win in BUtterfield 8 in 1960.
I remember saying "It's about time!" when Deborah Kerr was finally recognized by the Academy in 1994 with an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
The #4 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
Kirk Douglas fails to win Best Actor, 1956.
Whenever I think of the stage performance defeating a classic film performance, Yul Brynner’s Best Actor victory over Kirk Douglas immediately comes to mind. In fact, it’s my own personal “Poster Child” of that very phenomenon. I don’t think many share my view on this example, because Kirk Douglas has always been a polarizing figure. Some don’t care for his intense portrayals; others can’t stand his chin dimple. Whatever the case, the fact that the creepy, monotone-voiced Brynner deserved an Oscar over Douglas’ greatest performance—as Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life—is a travesty, indeed.
Douglas’ director, Vincente Minnelli, believed that "Kirk Douglas achieved a moving and memorable portrait of the artist—a man of massive creative power, triggered by severe emotional stress, the fear and horror of madness. In my opinion, Kirk should have won the Academy Award." Douglas himself referred to his as a "very painful experience: "Not only did I look like Van Gogh, I was the same age  he was when he committed suicide.”
I wonder if there’ll ever be an actor who will play Vincent Van Gogh with the same ferocity and consummate skill as Douglas. Whatever the case, the role of Van Gogh was a perfect match for Kirk’s own flights of intensity and near-the-boiling-point line delivery, which barely contained his inner fire. Whether or not one likes the Douglas style—I’ve yet to meet a woman who likes him, so if you’re a fan of his, please come forward—and Douglas remains very much a “man’s man” actor. Even if one dislikes the actor’s style, I’d still state that his performance in Lust for Life would impress the average viewer.
It’s genuinely surprising that Kirk lost, especially since it was his third career nomination, the others being in 1949 for the boxing film Champion and in 1952 for playing a tyrannical and ultimately desperate Hollywood producer in The Bad and the Beautiful. But as we know, Hollywood often awards those who’ve “paid their dues”--unless it means lavishing too much praise and awards on a “new sensation", which is what they did for Yul Brynner, the Best Actor winner in 1956. But really: was that "Shall We Dance" number really reason enough to give the Oscar to Yul Brynner?
It’s understandable why Brynner won, because 1956 was a career year for him in terms of his time in the public spotlight. In 1956, Yul appeared in two turgid epics: The Ten Commandments (a Best Picture nominee) and Anastasia (winning Ingrid Bergman another Best Actress Oscar), which further boosted his stock. In fact, all five of the Best Picture nominees were turgid epics and in my view, one of the worst years for Best Picture nominees. With Yul’s mug plastered everywhere in promotion of those hollow and creatuvely empty epics, it’s no wonder he won. Oscar loves to bestow itself upon those who have moneymaking or appearances in other films during the same year.
Compared to the three colorful and splashy epics that Brynner appeared in, Lust for Life must’ve seemed like a low-budget art film by comparison. It certainly helped that Yul played his King and I role on Broadway over 4525 times and let’s never forget how much Oscar loves to award performances that originate on the stage. The stage often gets glorified by film actors who disdain the cheap commercialism and empty spectacle of movies (though they love the money film roles offer), so it’s no wonder Academy voters heap awards on the “only true legitimate” performing arena.
It’s also been established that Hollywood loves to give awards to “exotic” performers in the often-mistaken notion that foreign performers are somehow more worthy than their American counterparts. They have been more deserving many times in the past, just not in 1956. It’s certainly polite of them to favor international performers, but when one looks at the list of American actors who lose to the international flavor of the month (particularly in recent decades), it becomes a semi-annual travesty.
Brynner would go on playing stone-faced, monotone “tough guys” with his peculiar voice and get acted off the screen by the likes of Steve McQueen and Richard Benjamin. Meanwhile, Kirk’s career as an actor, author, director, and producer would bring forth numerous memorable works in a career that has endured to this day. Brynner may now be best known for a posthumous lung cancer public service announcement; type in “Yul Brynner” on Youtube and see what comes up first—it sure ain’t The King and I.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The #5 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
James Stewart fails to win Best Actor for It's a Wonderful Life.
Forget the annual Christmas tradition, forget Clarence and his stinkin' wings, forget Gloria Grahame..oh, wait, scratch that last one...
I'm a lukewarm admirer of Frank Capra. I'm an "everyman" kind of guy, but Capra laid the sticky sentiment on with a trowel, and sometimes I can't go near any of his movies for long periods of time; I'm going through such a time right now.
But James Stewart was so darned good in It's a Wonderful Life and he really is the sole reason (not counting Gloria Grahame) to watch this every Christmas. The Academy should've been forced to live in Pottersville for denying Stewart his second Best Actor Award for this movie. Instead, it would be Fredric March who would get his second Oscar, for The Best Years of Our Lives. At one time considered the best actor...period (replacing Paul Muni, I guess), March snagged his second Oscar in a role that could not have been at all challenging to the great thespian--and he was a fine actor, indeed. I just don't see how his performance was an Oscar-winning one. Maybe Hollywood wanted to recognize the "everyman" soldier that March portrayed, adjusting to a changed home and family, but in the many times I've watched Best Years--and I love that movie--there's nothing in March's perfunctory performance that I found Oscar worthy.
Let's also not forget that Harold Russell was recognized as such when he won Best Supporting Actor *and* a special Oscar "for bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans through his appearance in The Best Years of Our Lives."
March's winning is a most curious affair.
Furthermore, if the Academy truly wanted to recognize the common soldier, they could've awarded Stewart for that--a Bomber Pilot during WWII--but instead the Academy got carried away and awarded every statuette to Best Years as long as they didn't have to give non-nominees Dana Andrews and Myrna Loy anything, of course.
Stewart probably didn't think much one way or the other about winning or losing. After all, he was no stranger to compensation Oscars when he himself won in 1940 for The Philadelphia Story, something I've defended and which is this blog's very first post. The fact that Jimmy already had an Oscar is the only thing keeping this travesty from being higher on the list.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Before the top five Golden Age Oscar travesties are unveiled, Let's take a moment to mention what didn't make it. This is because I don’t think of these as major travesties--though others might--yet somehow I felt the need to include them, just to let you know they were thought about, but not enough to be in the running.
“Near travesties” considered for this list, but ultimately rejected:
How Green Was My Valley beats out Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon for Best Picture, 1941.
I think too highly of John Ford and his reputation, so I can’t muster any vitriol on this issue. I’m also a lukewarm Citizen Kane and Maltese Falcon fan. I like both movies and understand their importance and appeal, but the Ford Factor weighs too heavily for me to label this a travesty.
Thelma Ritter never wins an Oscar.
Though nominated six times for Best Supporting Actress, Thelma Ritter never won. While this is highly unfortunate, in looking at the roles for which Miss Ritter received her nominations, I feel as though she lost out to superior performances each and every time even if she lost to actors via the dreaded stage performance-turned -film-performance curse which reared its ugly head in the case of 1950 and 1951:
All About Eve (1950) Lost to Josephine Hull in Harvey
The Mating Season (1951) Lost to Kim Hunter in A Streetcar Named Desire
With a Song in My Heart (1952) Lost to Gloria Grahame in The Bad and the Beautiful
Pickup on South Street (1953) Lost to Donna Reed in From Here to Eternity
Pillow Talk (1959) Lost to Shelley Winter in The Diary of Anne Frank
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) Lost to Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker
Marlon Brando fails to win Best Actor in 1951.
It was a stage role that Brando played a zillion times; my dislike for actors getting Oscar nominations for stage roles holds true in this and every regard, despite my admiration for Brando in general. Besides, Bogart was better.
Barbara Stanwyck never wins an Oscar.
This omission pains me the most, but in looking at Babs' nominations, with the exception of 1937--see travesty #9--when Stanwyck was nominated for Stella Dallas--I couldn't make a case for her beating out the actual victors:
Ball of Fire (1942) Lost to Greer Garson in Mrs. Miniver
Double Indemnity (1944) Lost to Ingrid Bergman in Gaslight
Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) Lost to Jane Wyman in Johnny Belinda
So while it's a travesty that Barbara Stanwyck never won a "competitive" Oscar, at least her losses were in years with memorable winners.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
The #6 Oscar travesty of the Golden Age
Barry Fitzgerald’s nominations for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor for the same role in 1944.
“Performances by an actor or actress in any supporting role may be nominated for either the Best Acting Award or the Award for Best Supporting Player.”
~the Academy’s official rules circa 1944.
Oh, so you can be lead and second banana?
Barry Fitzgerald wasn’t a man, he was a leprechaun; a wee leprechaun who charmed and enchanted the Academy out of its then-fashionable high-waisted pants. His half-senile, Best Supporting Actor-winning performance as the "lovable" Father Fitzgibbon in Going My Way notwithstanding, Barry Fitzgerald could do no wrong in 1944. He was so lucky that he beat a manslaughter rap a month before the Oscar nominations were announced.
But the real travesty lies in that the Academy’s dopey rules prevented 1944’s most deserving Supporting Actor--Clifton Webb in Laura—from taking home the Oscar. The dual nomination also aided his Going My Way co-star, Bing Crosby. Crosby was the odds on favorite, but in case that wasn't enough, voters could refrain from voting for Fitzgerald for Best Actor, knowing they could award him Best Supporting Actor instead. In a sense, the game was rigged for ol' Barry, wasn't it?
Fitzgerald later knocked the head off of his plaster Oscar while practicing his golf swing in his living room, and Paramount paid for its replacement. In a way he received two Oscars anyway. Imagine the horror if Fitzgerald had somehow won the Best Actor award, too? If that happened I doubt we would've been treated to Crosby and Fitzy’s subsequent blarney team ups throughout the rest of the ‘40s.
Not only did Fitzgerald’s unfair (but within the flawed rules) dual nomination deny the deliciously catty Webb-as-Waldo Lydecker the Oscar, but his intrusion in the Best Actor category kept some other worthy performer from receiving a nod.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I originally titled this entry "Judy Holliday wins Best Actress, 1950", but I love Judy Holliday and her turn as Billie Dawn in Born Yesterday is delightful; she was never better. It's probably the only reason this travesty isn't higher on the list. Why? Because I have this prejudice against actors who play a role forever on stage and then cop an Oscar for the same performance in a film. Yes, stage and screen are different mediums blah blah blah, but it almost always ends up costing a once-in-a-lifetime film performance the Oscar I feel it richly deserves.
Anne Baxter in All About Eve
Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday
Eleanor Parker in Caged
Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard
Bette had votes pulled away from her by her All About Eve co-star, Anne Baxter; she was also up against a career-defining role with Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard. Bette losing among such fine competition and the fact that All About Eve was just too good for its own good; an abundance of riches in a year that was among the very best roles for women. Still, Davis-as-Margo Channing is among her top three Oscar-nominated performances and it's a shame she didn't bring home the prize a third time.
Thursday, May 19, 2011
The #8 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age
Edith Head fails to win the first Best Costume Design award in 1948.
It may not seem such a travesty to you, but it most certainly is. Why? Edith Head was the greatest costume designer in movie history, with 35 nominations and eight victories. In terms of total dominance, only Walt Disney compares to Edith Head--in any category. Head is, ahem, Head and shoulders above the rest. With her stunning loss in 1948, even Edith herself could not conceal her disappointment in losing for her film, The Emperor Waltz:
"There was no doubt in my mind that I would win that Oscar. I deserved it—for longevity if nothing else. I had been doing motion pictures before the Oscar even existed. And besides, my picture had the best costumes of any nominated picture. The serious competition [and the only; just two nominees. ~CKDH] was Joan of Arc, designed by Madame Karinska and Dorothy Kenkins. To my mind, there was no way Ingrid Bergman’s sackcloths and suits of armor could win over my Viennese finery.
Since I am not very emotional, no one knew that I was in shock. My husband squeezed my hand and we watched the remaining presentations, but I do not remember the rest of the evening.”
With the Oscars being the political and business-oriented awards they are, it’s baffling that the Academy did not select Edith Head as its first Best Costume winner. In fact, the result goes against its own unofficial, unspoken policy of rewarding those who’ve “served their time” or “paid their dues.” Head understood this and knew how the Academy and the film industry worked. Yet for some reason, she was not deemed worthy enough to win the category's first award. It’s baffling, especially considering that clunky armor defeated sophisticated material. It’s like Oscar’s politics only work against the people who deserve the award the most.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The #9 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age
Luise Rainier wins Best Actress Oscars in 1936 and 1937.
Luise Rainier's consecutive Oscar wins were a blight on an otherwise glorious era of cinema. I honestly don't have much ire to vent about her win for The Great Ziegfeld. Yes, it's melodramatic and painful to watch, but the other nominees' performances didn't move me much, either. It didn't make me angry as when Rainier won the next year's award, for The Good Earth. That is when we’ve entered travesty territory! The travesty is that the other nominees she bested all gave career-defining or near-career defining performances. Her winning a second time denied more-deserving actresses two years in a row. It's one thing for an actress to win along with a film's Oscar sweep, but to have it happen two years running is where my incredulity begins. In fact, I'll bet during my more "vulnerable" moments, my eyes will bulge and my face will contort and stretch just like Rainier's did in The Good Earth. It's especially painful when you realize the calibre of performer that she defeated among that year's Best Actress nominees:
Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth
Greta Garbo in Camille
Janet Gaynor in A Star Is Born
Barbara Stanwyck in Stella Dallas
To make matters worse, Rainier split from Hollywood at the peak of her stardom, making an appraisal of what "could have been" impossible. I truly believe that Hollywood wants to forget she ever existed. God bless her for fighting the system, kicking the moguls to the curb before they could do the same to her, and living a long life, but Luise Rainier had no business winning Academy Awards; and certainly not two in a row. Her back-to-back wins exist only as the answer to a trivia question and to serve as a reason to shake one's head in disbelief.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Golden Age of Hollywood was also the Golden Age of the Academy Awards, right? Ha! The sickening sneer you have on your face is matched by the one I have perpetually smeared on my own grubby mug as I scratch out my own personal Top Ten Oscar Travesties. However, before the series commences, I'd better lay down the ground rules.
Only the Golden Age: For the purposes of this series, let’s just say it’s 1934 to, oh, 1950-something. That way I don’t have to delve into the unpleasantness of Glenda Jackson’s two Oscar wins or the fact that Jerry Goldsmith has only one measly Oscar out of his multitude of nominations.
Snubs: While this qualifies as a travesty in itself, this countdown won’t have me moaning and wailing like an elderly, old-world-widow over Myrna Loy’s zero nominations. More importantly, the list will not discuss “should’ve been nominated” performers, directors, writers, and technical personnel. The travesties will only include the actual nominees of a given year.
Just One Person’s View: Remember, it’s just how I see it. I’m sure everyone out there has their own strongly-held opinions about Oscar’s greatest travesties, and believe me; I can’t wait to read what you consider the best/worst omissions and inclusions.
Now let’s begin the countdown…
The #10 Oscar Travesty of the Golden Age:
Sweet Leilani wins the 1937 Best Song Oscar over They Can't Take That Away From Me.
Apparently, "they" could AND did...take that away from them, that is.
Poor George Gershwin. Not only did the man die at the tragically early age of 38 in July 1937, but to add further insult to this most grievous event, one of his finest compositions, from the Astaire-Rogers musical Shall We Dance, They Can’t Take That Away from Me lost the Best Song Oscar to Harry Owens’ Sweet Leilani. We should all be so lucky as to have a Hawaiian vacation and have a grateful Bing Crosby go to bat for you against a tough Hollywood producer to include your ditty in a most forgettable movie. To be fair, Sweet Leilani must’ve sounded exotic to haole ears in 1937, and Bing Crosby had a huge-selling record with it, so its commercial appeal is also understandable. It still ruffles my feathers, though.
Perhaps Gershwin’s masterwork lost because of his prolonged journey into “highbrow” music. Or maybe it was due to the fact that an Astaire song—The Way You Look Tonight—deservedly won the Best Song Oscar in 1936. Politics always played a part with the Oscars, and this has been proven over the course of many decades. However, to show what a restrained, stand-up blogger I am, this will be the only music-related travesty on the top ten list.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
In looking back at just some of Disney’s 1970s live-action cinematic endeavors, this partial list alone reads like a Shakespearean tragedy:
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
The Shaggy D.A.
The Apple Dumpling Gang
The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again
The Cat from Outer Space (both M*A*S*H commanders are in this: Harry Morgan and McLean Stevenson)
The North Avenue Irregulars (sounds like an ad for adult diapers)
Hot Lead and Cold Feet
Escape from Witch Mountain
Return to Witch Mountain
And of course, The Black Hole (aka “We passed on Star Wars”).
Disney’s animated features have fared a bit better, not that I’ve seen them:
The Fox and the Hound (1981; this one was heavily advertised, so naturally I didn’t go and see it)
Don’t know why Disney eschewed its proud and successful animated tradition for Joe Flynn and Dean Jones, but they did and it’s my first impression of Disney the movie studio. Their less-than-stellar legacy is something I can’t grasp. Why would they make the move to live-action movies when they were the world’s leader in animated feature films dating back to 1937? I honestly want to know. If any Disney aficionados out there are reading this and can answer this question, please comment.
Now, it’s time for some bitter reminiscences...tongue in cheek, of course, but more than a kernel of truth.
I remember my parents always raving about Disney's great animated features, but they were too busy splitting up to take me, I guess. For whatever reasons, I never saw those classic Disney animated films on TV or in any theatrical re-releases there might have been. As a result of my deprived childhood and Disney's ineptitude, I've never seen many of those early Disney classics. Fantasia in particular has eluded me all these years. I haven't even bothered to see them on home video; I'd really prefer seeing them on the big screen, but even that's unlikely as they bastardize their own films with politically correct changes. Jerks. So even the home video aspect of this tragic tale can’t rescue me from my lethargy.
Those of you of the Baby Boomer generation have one more thing to be thankful for, and that’s the superiority of your collective Disney experience over that of the so-called Generation X. You had the novelty of the opening of Disneyland, the weekly Disney show at its 1950s and ‘60s peak and the frequent cinematic re-releases of all those animated Disney classics. Even the Generation Y people have a better Disney nostalgia, with virtually every movie made beginning with The Little Mermaid and on through the ’90s. My generation had the Osmonds singing at Disneyland and Bette Midler and Shelley Long “buddy” movies.
When I was a little kid in the mid-to-late 1970s, Disney wasn't doing much animation. Lots of Ken Berry and Dean Jones live-action crapola which bored me to tears. Plus there was the Herbie the Car series, which I actually didn’t mind, especially Herbie Rides Again. That’s the one with Helen Hayes fighting some monolithic building conglomerate who wants to tear down her humble home in favor of some skyscraper. However, the one movie that stings with remembrance was the 1972 non-opus un-classic, Snowball Express. I had suffered through this wretched movie one day in 1982 and vowed never to put myself through that again. A week or so later, a friend and I were going to a movie house to see a Disney movie with his then-twentysomething brother and his girlfriend. Anyway, the morning we were set to go, my buddy came down with the flu. He got to stay home with the comfort of his fever, chills, and vomiting whereas I had to sit still with “grown ups” (as I classified anyone five years or older than me) who, at least to my mind, were going to talk about “adult” things like college, alcohol, and other non-Star Wars action figure-related topics.
Anyway, guess what “surprise” Disney movie we were set to see? You guessed it: Snowball Express. Seeing that film twice in less than a week almost qualified me to do Charlton Heston’s mouthing the dialogue of the Woodstock documentary in The Omega Man, only without the lost idealism. I did feel like the last person on the planet, though.
I recently watched Snowball Express on TV, not as a way of punishing myself, but rather seeing if my hostility and unpleasant memories still held true. Surprisingly, they did not. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Harry Morgan is fun as always, and there are several TV actors who bring a familiarity and nostalgia to the proceedings: Dick Van Patten (who never seemed to work outside of the 1970s), Johnny Whitaker (Family Affair), George Lindsey (Goober from Andy Griffith), and the great blowhard villain from many a 1970s Disney film, Keenan Wynn. Was it Pinocchio? Did it evoke memories of Fantasia? I wouldn’t know, because I still haven’t seen those films.