Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Davis, de Havilland, Flynn, Cagney, Bogart ...

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Day Is It?

Holiday weekends always throw me off.  I never know what day it is.  I planned to post an article on Monday, which I thought was today but was actually yesterday.  My brain, like my purse,  is a bottomless pit ... a lot of things just get lost down there.

My youngest son, Greg, is getting married Saturday.  I am so happy for him, and I love his fiancee.  I'm also a nervous wreck ... did this get done, did I forget something, oh my God I didn't hem my outfit, should I just attend by webcam and then I won't have to worry about how anything looks except from the neck up ... you know what I mean.

So, I'm not going to do an extensive article because I wouldn't do it well anyway.  After Saturday, the panic will have disappeared and my mind will be free.

I have some great ideas for the Brain Food.  I'd like to do another entry to my Overlooked At The Oscars series.  Of course, I am joining the Forgotten Stars Blogathon, and looking forward to it.  I'm also in the mood to spoof a Vincent Price movie ... love that man!  I am looking forward to visiting blogs and seeing what good stuff I have missed.

So long for now, kids.  I'll be working on something good ... but then, you will be the judges of that!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

This article is my contribution to the Billy Wilder Blogathon, hosted by Aurora at Once Upon A Screen (aurorasginjoint.com) and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled (kelleepratt.com).  Click on those links to find the list of contributors to this event.  

The film I have chosen to highlight of all the works of Billy Wilder is probably the one of which he was most disappointed, most loved by him, didn't make much money, and was not a hit at the box office.  Wilder was a prolific director and writer, one of the best.  His movies always carried the Wilder touch of humor, sharp dialogue and human pathos.  The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (hereafter referred to as Private Life), released in 1970, contains all of those, plus the added touch of the love Wilder felt for the great detective.

Robert Stephens as Holmes
Wilder had a dream about creating a film dedicated to Holmes as not just the razor-sharp consulting detective, but also a man with a private life, feelings and emotions.  Arthur Conan Doyle did not create emotions for the great detective since those human reactions get in the way of logic and deduction, something Holmes would never allow.  However, it was Wilder's intention to create what the lovers of Holmes had never seen -- the life he and his friend Dr. Watson shared in between the great cases they solved.  Wilder and his long-time collaborator I.A.L. Diamond worked assiduously on a script that became the building block for a three-hour movie.  (Diamond also co-wrote Wilder's The Apartment, one of my top 10 favorite films.)  The two men wrote an episodic film which told the stories of four particularly strange cases (one of which had the very interesting name of The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners).  Originally, Holmes and Watson were to have been played by Peter O'Toole and Peter Sellers, respectively.  Much as I love both of them, Private Life would have suffered.  Wilder also believed that lesser-known actors would better showcase the story he wanted to tell.

Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson
Sadly, the real 'dreadful business' affecting Private Life was the reluctance of United Artists to release such an epic-length movie.  UA had just lost a great deal of money on Hello, Dolly and a couple of other blockbuster flops.  Wilder was forced to agree to an unbelievable cutting of half the original running time.  The episodic format made it a little easier to cut because the studio just cut out two of the cases, but Wilder was devastated:  "... when I came back [from Paris], it was an absolute disaster, the way it was cut.  The whole prologue was cut, a half-sequence was cut.  I had tears in my eyes as I looked at the thing ... It was the most elegant picture I've ever shot."  Private Life was left with basically two primary stories to tell, one of a beautiful woman, Gabrielle (Genevieve Page) in which a missing husband and six midgets play a part, and one that involved the Loch Ness monster and the royal family.  There is also a very funny episode in which Holmes is forced to intimate that he and Watson are gay lovers, in order to fend off a determined Russian ballerina.  Of interest to classic movie fans are two cameo appearances:  Christopher Lee appears as Sherlock's brother Mycroft; and the part of a gravedigger is played by Stanley Holloway, a tribute to the wonderful character actor who had also played the part of the gravedigger in Olivier's Hamlet 22 years  before.

Robert Stephens
However, no matter what was done to the movie, I completely agree with Wilder ... it is a wonderfully elegant picture.  The two paramount reasons for this are the incredible music by Miklos Rozsa and the prodigious talents of British actor Robert Stephens as Holmes.  Stephens was a classically trained actor, described as on a par with Laurence Olivier.  Stephens' own private life was rocky, with failed marriages and a drinking problem to contend with, but his professional life of acting primarily on stage, with a few films to his credit, was indeed tour de force.  He brought to his depiction of Holmes a wonderfully effete air and nasal British accent that was haughty enough for the top of London society.  He was pencil-thin (which Wilder insisted upon), and kept a nose-in-the-air attitude that just fit perfectly with the humor that Wilder and Diamond had written for him.  Of particular note is his annoyance with Watson (Colin Blakely) because of his description of Holmes wearing a deerstalker cap and cape, which Holmes had never worn and only did so because the public expected it of him. Holmes disagreed vehemently with other descriptions made by Watson:

Holmes:  "I don't dislike women, I merely distrust them.  The twinkle in the eye and the arsenic in the soup."
Holmes:  "You've painted me as a hopeless drug addict just because I occasionally take a five-percent solution of cocaine."
Watson:  "A seven-percent solution."
Holmes.  "Five percent.  Don't you think I am aware you've been diluting it behind my back?"

Robert Stephens and Genevieve Page as Gabrielle ('the woman')
Stephens was wonderful in the humorous parts, but particularly striking in the portrayal of Holmes with regard to 'the woman' and his feelings and relationship with her, and a core of loneliness that was Wilder's creation.  After I saw Private Life for the first time, I believed that Stephens was one of the best Holmes in movie adaptations.  Stephens had a lot to work with in Wilder and Diamond's spot-on writing.  Another important aspect of the film is the music of Miklos Rozsa.

Rozsa's music had graced many films, including Ben Hur and Lust for Life.  He was at the top of his game with Private Life.  I've always believed that music can make or break a movie, and great music can play as important a part as any star or director.  Rozsa created a score that included his Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 24, which is highlighted in the opening titles.  I found the opening truly haunting -- a mysterious box being opened to reveal possessions of Holmes and Watson, with a manuscript that had never been read.  Rozsa's accompanying music, particularly when it segues into the concerto, is ravishing to the ear.  If you have not seen Private Life, make an effort to do so, if only to relish Billy Wilder's writing and direction, Robert Stephens' marvelous performance, and the music of Miklos Rozsa.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Charlie Chan's Cure For Insomnia

 Today is April 30th ... the last day of the month ... the waning hours of the evening of the last day of the month.  Midnight is an hour and a half away, and after midnight, it is no longer April.  I promised myself to do an article here before the end of April.  I also made that promise to a caring friend who gave me a nudge about doing something, anything on my blog.  So here it is ... something.  It's not an in-depth review or a historical retrospective.  It's just some stream-of-consciousness thinking about my intimate relationship with Charlie Chan in the wee hours of the morning.  (I know what you're thinking....)

The month of April brought with it some stressful events, and one side-effect was an unrelenting insomnia that didn't respond well even to sleeping pills.   I would get about 3-4 hours of comatose sleep and then wake right up again.  Reading doesn't work well with tired eyes, and you have to be careful what you watch on TV at 2 a.m.  Action shows or thriller movies just wake you up more.  Great classic movies aren't usually a good idea because your mind insists on staying awake to experience them.  Finally, I settled upon the perfect thing to enjoy and yet settle the brain down to eventual sleep ... Charlie Chan.

Warner Oland
I just love Charlie Chan movies, always have.  My high school steady boyfriend fell in love with me when I was able to name the three famous Chan actors, Warner Oland, Sidney Toler and Roland Winters.  (I knew we were a match made in Heaven when he started quoting W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers.)  I never liked Roland Winters, but I love Oland and Toler.  Oland seemed to me the more sophisticated Charlie Chan, with a bit of polite menace in his countenance.  Toler is the friendlier father type of Charlie Chan, always ready with Confucius humor.  There is a Charlie Chan for any mood.

Sidney Toler
I know it isn't correct anymore to love the two best Charlies ... Oland was Swedish and Toler was from Missouri ... but I can't help it.  I didn't know they were a stereotype when I was a kid watching them on TV.  I just thought they were always smarter than anybody else at solving mysteries, and they always had a superior smile in answer to any insults they might receive.  I felt the same way about Mantan Moreland ... my favorite Toler movies are the ones in which Mantan appears as Birmingham Brown.  Again, my child self was not aware that these movie roles were hurtful to black people.  I just thought Mantan was so funny, and was the only one who seemed smart enough to know when he was in a dangerous situation.  Willie Best appeared in one Chan film as Chattanooga Brown, Birmingham's cousin, and I remember wishing I had a cool nickname like those.

Mantan Moreland and one of Charlie's sons
(I forget which one...)
The Charlie Chan movies are fun, not very long, pretty quiet actually ... when insomnia kept me from sleeping, I began to stretch out on the recliner, turn off all the lights, keep the volume low, and play some on a loop that included Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, Murder at Midnight, Charlie Chan in Egypt.  The background scores are soothing, the pace is not hurried, and eventually I was usually out like a light.  The loop would keep playing until it turned itself off, and I was blissfully asleep.  So thanks, Charlie ... you cured me.

I found a clip on Youtube of Mantan Moreland and his vaudeville partner, Ben Carter, doing their famous "interrupted sentence" routine in some of the Chan movies.  (The clip names it "incomplete sentence" routine, but that's wrong.)  They are so good at it, and it always tickles me.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Beauty and the Hollywood Beast - The 2014 Oscars

Kim Novak 

Liza Minnelli

After last year's Oscar ceremony, a shameful debacle of the lowest common denominator headed by Seth Macfarlane, I thought this year would be at best tasteful, at worst boring.  Ellen DeGeneres as host turned out to be light and funny for the most part, a few zings here and there for fun, and I've always liked her.  That is why I was really shocked when she was so mean to Liza Minnelli.  Ellen thought it was funny to tell Liza in front of millions of people that she looked like a male impersonator.  Such remarks are funny only when they aren't true.  Unfortunately, at this point, Liza does look like an impersonation of herself, so it isn't funny at all.  Liza suffers from mental and physical disabilities, as did her dear mother, Judy Garland, and it takes a pretty hard heart to ignore that for the sake of a 20 second laugh.  It was plain that Liza was flustered, and I'm sure she was very hurt and embarrassed, the kind of hurt that takes a while to sink in and then stays with you forever.  Shame on Ellen for throwing a cruel spotlight on a troubled and unguarded person.

That opening salvo of uncharitable behavior was topped later by the treatment that Kim Novak received, from her ignominious arrival on the stage to the behavior of the audience of supposed peers.  Kim Novak was a big star of a bygone era.  What on earth possessed the director to just send her out with no announcement, as if she were just another presenter?  She deserved at least a special word from the host, but received none.  Worse yet, the audience of actors and movie-makers practically sat on their hands.  Oh there was applause, but nothing special at all.  It was the worst case of Hollywood with its virtual head up its virtual rear end.  I'm pretty sure it was all because Kim took the unfortunate step of plastic surgery which turned out badly.  She does not look recognizable anymore, she was plainly nervous and overwhelmed, and probably embarrassed that she did not evoke any special recognition from the audience.  All of that could have been avoided by a director who was professional enough to see a potential problem with just bringing her out cold, or a host with enough sense to prepare the audience who may not recognize her fast enough.  All it would have taken was "Ladies and gentleman, we are privileged to have with us tonight a Hollywood legend -- Kim Novak."  I'm sure the reaction would have been different, some real applause and recognition.  What a simple thing to have done, which was apparently beyond the ability of the show's planners.  It would also have been nice if somebody had said how great it was to see Kim Novak.  It's hard to believe that nobody thought to render that little kindness.  Only one person helped Kim, her fellow presenter, Matthew McConaughey.  He put his arm around her, and it was clear that he saw her tentative behavior, her obvious nervousness.  His behavior was that of a gentleman and a caring human being.

Now she is no longer young and beautiful, and has bravely revealed the severe problems that being manic-depressive have meant to her life.  Hell, I could say the exact same thing about myself. And despite a bad surgery job, she doesn't look anywhere near 80 as a whole!  When you get older you lose the pretty face of youth, and lifelong mental disabilities can make you more frail in dealing with the cold, cruel world, not necessarily stronger.  Kim has spoken about herself and revealed a woman with great strengths, but also difficulty with public appearance. It takes a society of compassion to deal with sick people, shy people, nervous people -- it takes individuals with some sense of empathy to see and divert such people from hurt.  There was only one person in that crowd of people, and thank goodness for him.

I always loved Kim Novak.  She could hold her own on screen, and it was her incredible beauty and air of wistful vulnerability that made her a star.  I am reminded of a wonderful line from My Favorite Year, a movie about an aging matinee idol who said of himself, "I'm not an actor, I'm a movie star!"  In the movies, it is no shame to be popular because of looks.  Even one of the oldest songs about Hollywood says "...any office boy or young mechanic can be a panic with just a good looking pan."  She always lit up the screen with her presence and I always felt the star quality that made her a pleasure to watch.  The problem is that youth and beauty are transitory, time is relentless, and human beings don't always make the best judgments under pressure.

Hollywood is hard on people without a tough skin.  Modern Hollywood is especially obsessed with looks and youth.  It is the utmost hypocrisy to insist that actresses have those qualities, and then laugh at someone who is insecure and desperate enough to undergo plastic surgery to reach for what is past.  The young women working in movies are going to lose their looks eventually too.  It appears that they won't have a clue about the feelings of disconnect and disrespect which that obsession can mean to one of their own profession until it happens to them.  ( I don't include the men, who are allowed to be old, wrinkled and sagging and still be accepted as desirable.)  Hollywood isn't the only source of meanness -- the multitude of nasty twitter posts about Kim's altered face, as well as Liza's appearance, made me feel a little sick.  They are being quoted all over the internet, and I feel awful that the women will certainly see them and be hurt all over again.

Kim, I wish you could know tonight that many fans love you, remember your beauty, admire the woman that you are now, and don't give a damn about your outward appearance.  Liza, you were once a striking girl with youthful exuberance, and you now are a woman contending with age and illness, and the same feelings apply to you.  Countering the smirking laughter, there is also a lot of outrage that you were both treated badly.  Kindness is the best of human virtues -- you should have received at least that from your own people.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Captain Hook and Cyril Ritchard -- A Fond Tribute

If you are old enough to remember the wonderful 1960 television production of Peter Pan with Mary Martin as Peter and the fabulous Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook, you have probably remembered Cyril with great fondness.  Or perhaps you have been lucky enough to see the show some time over the years.  Cyril stole the show as the rather hapless leader of the dumbest bunch of pirates ever gathered.  He was flamboyant, funny as hell, and made his mark on my whole generation.  I ran across this picture of his wedding to his wife Madge in 1935.  I just had to share it.  Is Madge's dress magnificent or what?  And Cyril is the epitome of the dapper English gentleman.  The picture is a little bit fuzzy, but I just had to make it big enough to really showcase its beauty.

Cyril was an immensely popular and prolific stage star of musical comedies.  Because of the TV production of Peter Pan, the whole country was able to experience his charisma and great talent.  He was also the good friend of another figure who made his mark on my childhood, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen.  Many may remember Bishop Sheen's popular TV show, which was top in the ratings for many years.  When Cyril died December 18, 1977 at age 80, Bishop Sheen celebrated his funeral Mass.

If you haven't seen him perform, I found one of his funniest numbers in Peter Pan to post here.  Whenever Captain Hook needed to think, he called his pirate band to inspire him with music.  They would ask:  "What tempo, Captain?"  He would reply:  "Tempo, Tempo, Tempo!" and decide.  This one is his ultimate, the hilarious waltz.  I hope it makes you laugh as much as I do, no matter how many times I see it.  My favorite line is Hook's angry response to disrespect:  "NO!  BI-CARBONATE OF SODA, NO!"

Cyril Ritchard -- nobody could top him as Captain Hook!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

And You Thought YOUR Boyfriend Was Bad!

Everybody has had one ... the boyfriend who turns out to be the biggest four-flushing, dirt-eating, woman-ogling, foul-mouthed, eats-with-his-mouth-open, bullying maroon who breaks up with you the day before Valentine's and then wants to get back together the next day.  Gentlemen readers, you are free to substitute the feminine gender and any similar characteristics ... it's only fair.  The movies are chock full of nasty boyfriends, so count yourselves lucky, girls, that you didn't try to date any of these guys.
(Spoilers are par for the course here, so continue at your own risk.)

Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson in Key Largo, 1948).

The ultimate gangster, Rocco has no conscience or love at all for the woman who has stuck with him for many years.  Gaye Dawn (Claire Trevor) is now an aging, alcoholic, former nightclub singer. She is pitiful, an abused woman who keeps coming back for more.  Rocco enjoys it a lot.  Oh, that horrendous scene in which Rocco forces her to stand and sing for her liquor!  Anybody with a heart can't watch that without wincing and feeling sick for this woman.  And then he welshes on his promise and won't give her a drink.  Thank heaven for Bogart, who not only gives Gaye her drink, but gives Rocco a bullet in the end.


Morris Townsend (Montgomery Clift in The Heiress, 1949).

Every time I see this movie, my mind keeps repeating "How could he?  How could he?!"  Gorgeous, charming Morris, who makes rich, homely Catherine (Olivia de Havilland) blossom like a flower because she believes he loves her ... who can forget Catherine sitting in the parlor with her bags packed, waiting for Morris to come and get her so they can elope?  And he never comes ... her hopeful, loving face wilts and part of her dies forever.

Morris returns after Catherine inherits her money, with excuses and "the same old lies" says Catherine, after telling Morris to return that night and elope with her.  He returns, and in one of the most powerful endings ever, he hammers desperately at the bolted door while Catherine, now a strong woman, climbs the stairs and leaves him behind.  What woman wouldn't give her right middle finger to get that chance!  There are two separate camps of opinion about Morris.  Some believe he really did want to protect her from angering her father with an elopement and possibly losing her inheritance.  Others believe he was just a complete rat.  I'm with the rat pack.


Danny (Robert Montgomery in Night Must Fall, 1937).

Definitely cute, Danny may not seem to fit the category of boyfriend to Olivia (Rosalind Russell), but the chemistry is there and the sparks fly throughout this story of a pathological killer.  Charm exudes from Danny and everybody loves him ... except Olivia, who feels that Danny is a dangerous man even while she is attracted to him.  Robert Montgomery is just wonderful in this part, quite a departure at the time from his usual light comedy fare.  This guy is scary!

Mrs. Bramson (Dame May Whitty) is an annoying bully of a woman, but she believes Danny is like a son to her.  She doesn't deserve her fate at the hands of the sweet young man who comes home to finds her alone and scared, and seems to be comforting her with brandy and sweet talk.  She doesn't know that a pillow and Danny's strong hands will follow that drink.


Tom Stevens (Hugh Marlowe in The Day The Earth Stood Still, 1951).

The ultimate wormy guy, Tom somehow wriggled his way into Helen Benson's (Patricia Neal) life as her boyfriend.  Nothing really untoward had happened yet, although there were signs of jealous pique and controlling behavior.  However, when Klaatu and Gort arrived from space, Tom was unconcerned that he might be bringing doom to the planet Earth.  All he could think of was being a big man.  Helen pleads with him not to betray Klaatu, but all Tom could say is "You'll feel differently when you see my name in the papers."  "I feel differently now," she says.  Smart woman.

Obviously Klaatu (dreamy perfectly tailored Michael Rennie) would be a fabulous boyfriend, but even Gort would have been a better catch than Tom.


Ashley Wilkes (Leslie Howard in Gone With The Wind, 1939).

I hope I don't get too much hate mail for this one, but I've always thought Ashley was a major wimp and quite a tease to Scarlett.  She always gets the blame, but Ashley kept stringing her along all through the movie.  (He counts as a boyfriend since he squired Scarlett around before his marriage and didn't give up the job completely after that.)  Rhett was so right ... Ashley couldn't go all out one way or the other.  It's a good thing for him Melanie was so kind and understanding, or he would have had the door slammed in his face pretty quick.  I would have had more respect for him if he had just thrown Scarlett down in the mud at war-torn Tara and had  his way with her.  They would both have gotten it out of their system and life could go on...

Man up, Mr. Wilkes!  Do it, or don't do it, but bring it to some kind of climax already!


Bluto (Popeye cartoons, beginning 1933)

Everybody's favorite big bully, Bluto courted and abused Olive Oyl at every opportunity.  Popeye was always there to save her, but wait a minute ... is it possible that Olive was responsible to some degree?

Yep, there's old Olive fawning and simpering over big bad Bluto.  I just can't feel sorry for her ... in her case, she really asks for it!

The moral of all this is:  Listen to your Mom and Dad when they beg you to dump that guy!

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Welcome To My Polar Pad

What movies shall I watch while Indianapolis temperatures dip to 15 below (real temperature!) and we get 10 feet of snow (well, one foot anyway)?  I can think of a few.....

This will be home sweet home for me ... I won't have gorgeous Dr. Zhivago to cuddle with, but my kitty Harriet loves to sit in my lap, so at least that will be warm.

I had to get candles and flashlight batteries -- so did everybody else in town.  We were all making the March of the Penguins to the drugstore.  Of course, if the power really does go out, so does the heat ... then my eyelids will freeze shut and candles and flashlights won't be any help.

 Dive!  Dive!  Not a good time to come up!  (Ice Station Zebra)  Hey, I bet my car will look like that!

 Jaws took a swim too far north...(I'll watch that one to remember summer heat).

The Thing of it is, I should have installed indoor plumbing...

I'll end with something really beautiful..  The Snowman makes cold and snow look fun.  And the superb song "Walking in the Air" always makes me feel fabulous, no matter what the weather.  Sung by England's St. Paul Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty with a piercing sweetness.

Happy shivering, everybody!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Overlooked at the Oscars (Well, Underlooked Anyway) Part 3

From the time I first loved movies, the musical scores have always played a large part in my admiration for a film.  Over the years I kept a mental list of the scores I loved the best, music that moved and thrilled me. Eventually, when I became interested enough in what went on behind the camera to see who did what, I had a revelation -- every single one of my favorites were written by Bernard Herrmann.   I also love Elmer Bernstein, Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Miklos Rosza and other greats.  But there was always something about Herrmann that caught at my heart and mind before I even knew who he was.  He was the ultimate romantic, his music lush and gorgeous.

This picture of Herrmann is taken from his cameo in Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.
He did win one Oscar in 1942, for The Devil and Daniel Webster.  It was a good score, but after that, Herrmann never won another Oscar.  This is the man who composed incredible music for so many great and popular movies, much of it music that is well-known -- Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Citizen KaneThe Day the Earth Stood Still, Fahrenheit 451, Jane Eyre, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Herrmann's personal favorite), and many more.  Herrmann was a ground-breaker as well as a classical composer.  The Day the Earth Stood Still stands out with instruments and sounds that became standard for science fiction movies.  At the end of his career, Herrmann composed a marvelous, jazzy, dark score for Taxi Driver, music quite different from his previous work, and it was perfect for that movie.  He died right after he recorded the soundtrack for the studio.

So, I suppose he was not totally overlooked at the Oscars, but I think he should have won enough Oscars to cover every coffee table in his home.  I will never understand the thinking of the voters during his career.  Herrmann was a giant in the movie industry, and was treated like Tom Thumb by the Oscars.  I thought some of my readers might enjoy hearing some of my favorites by Herrmann, so I have posted some really good pieces, most of which are 2-3 minutes long.  Wonderful stuff...

Fahrenheit 451

Jane Eyre

Citizen Kane

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Taxi Driver

Monday, December 23, 2013

Happy Christmas, Everybody

19th Century Spanish Nativity 

Classic Becky's Brain Food has been sadly inactive the past few months, mainly because Classic Becky's brain has not received enough nourishment to feed it ... well, health problems aside, it is my hope that this Christmas season will see some activity emerging on my blog.  Since its beginning, I have had the good luck to be associated with the wonderful people of the Classic Movie Blog Association, as well as other followers whom I treasure.  I wish for all of you a joyful Christmas!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas

I love a classy piece of art, don't you?
The terror of all that is human?  A shock-test for your scare endurance?  Hmmm.......  Now who would guess that a movie by that name, advertised with a schlock poster like that, would turn out to be a wonderful little film, literate and thoughtful, that would find a special place in my movie-lovin' heart?  I wouldn't have expected it ... but it did.  Hammer Studios released The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas in October, 1957.  It is not one of Hammer's better-known releases,  boasts no big production values, did not receive very good reviews upon release ... yet I believe it is one of the best of the Hammer lineup.
 FYI:  There is a spoiler regarding the end of this movie.

I really love Hammer's Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies, and never miss them when I get the chance to see them.  Still, I guess my favorites are the stories that rely more on psychological fear, particularly Five Million Years To Earth (aka Quatermass and the Pit), The Gorgon, and The Abominable Snowman.  Writer Nigel Neale must appeal to me, because he created two of those, Five Million Years to Earth and The Abominable Snowman.  Director Val Guest was also responsible for another good Hammer production, The Quatermas Xperiment, as well as a non-Hammer film that is in my top 10 sci-fi list, The Day The Earth Caught Fire.  Even The Abominable Snowman's music appeals to me ... it just sounds Tibetan and mountainous, as silly as that may sound, with its gongs and soaring strings.  The composer for the soundtrack was Humphrey Searle, who, although I don't recognize most of the movies he wrote for, did the wonderfully eerie music for the best scary movie ever made, 1963's The Haunting.  The Abominable Snowman has a great deal of solid talent behind it.

The overwhelming vastness of the Himalayas is captured cleverly by cinematographer Arthur Grant, using several different techniques, including cable cars.  The film makers used the Pyrenees mountains in France during winter to double for the long shots of the mountain range.  Production designer Bernard Robinson, well-known for his ability to create sets for Hammer that were used for many different productions, smoothly blended the real location shots with wonderfully seamless studio sets. The mountains are like a living entity in this film.  We are inexorably drawn into the feeling of howling winds, cold, exhaustion and fear of the climbing group's trek into what seem to be the mountains of the moon.

Dr. John Rollason and the Lhama 
Peter Cushing stars as Dr. John Rollason, a British botanist sent to Tibet to study rare plants.  However, it is a legendary creature in which his interests really lie, what the Tibetans call the Yeti. Neither beast nor man, the Yeti are believed to live in the highest peaks of the frozen Himalayan mountains. Huge footsteps are the only evidence ever seen by man. Rollason believes that the Yeti may be a third branch of the great evolutionary split between ape and man.  Arnold Marle appears as the Lhama of the Buddhist lamasery from which the expedition commences. He is mysterious, cunning and other-worldly, possessed with strange powers of knowledge.  He is aware of Rollason's obsessive desire before Rollason himself makes the final decision to join a climbing expedition for the search.  Maureen Connell, as Rollason's wife Helen, is the voice of his conscience and inner doubts, fearful of what she sees as a doomed expedition.

The other members of the expedition have their own unique reasons for searching for the Yeti.  Forrest Tucker is Tom Friend, a domineering carnival barker-type of man whose interest in the Yeti is far from scientific. We watch Friend evolve during the film from a greedy, bullying "fairground trickster", in the words of Dr. Rollason, who puts his own friend's life in danger to get what he wants, to a man who realizes his failings and eventual destiny.  (Critics almost unanimously panned Tucker's performance, but I completely disagree.  I think he did a fine job.)  Ed Shelley, played by Robert Brown, is Friend’s companion, a blustering man of little imagination and less class, but real loyalty to Friend. Scottish actor Michael Brill is McNee, gentle, quiet, whose fearful search for the Yeti is a personal quest. In the course of the expedition, each man finds himself faced with the deepest, sometimes primitive, parts of his psyche.

 The one great arrogance that all members of the party bring with them, even Rollason, is the belief that the Yeti is something to be hunted, in one way or another.  Rollason believes his own particular hunt is for science, Friend for profit,  but all feel justified in pursuing the Yeti.  Rollason himself is perhaps the more culpable, as he believes the Yeti may be more than an animal, where Friend sees it as something that belongs in a zoo.  Perhaps it is in Kusang (Wolfe Morris), the climbing party's guide, that we see the dual nature of man's ability to think one way and do another.  Kusang is perfectly willing to go along with Friend's desire for profit in treating the expedition as an animal hunt, even going so far as identifying an obvious mountain monkey as the abominable snowman.  However, when Kusang unexpectedly runs into the object of their search, he cries in terror "You make me see true Yeti!"  It is obvious that he has believed all along in a real living presence that deserved respect.  Although Rollason and McNee at least had some realization that this was the case, their personal desires overcame that very important consideration.

Rollason, when at last faced by the Yeti, sees humanity and wisdom in the haunting eyes.  We as the audience see the same.  We might initially have expected to see a monster, but we have met a fellow thinking creature.  I found this movie to be quite poetic and haunting in nature.  I know that those eyes and the quiet music that accompanied that shot stayed with me ... perhaps you will feel the same.

This post is part of the Hammer Halloween Blogathon hosted by the Classic Film and TV Café.   For the complete list of blogathon entries, click here:

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Sister Rebecca Flynnigan Answers Your Questions

If the nuns were in charge, everybody would have studied ...

Some of my friends and readers have asked me to identify all of the quotes in my blog header -- so, with an appropriate flourish, here they are!

"With all my heart, I still love the man I killed."  Bette Davis in The Letter

"May I obey all your commands with equal pleasure, sire!"  Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood

"Waddya hear, waddya say?"  James Cagney in Angels With Dirty Faces

"The stuff that dreams are made of."  Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.
My oldest son's favorite movie riddle is "What is the last line of The Maltese Falcon?"  A lot of people think it's the one just quoted.  It's really "Huh?", spoken by policeman Ward Bond. What poetry!
(That's an old chestnut for rabid classic fans.)

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."  Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire

"Yes, I can be very cruel.  I have been taught by masters."  Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress

"It's alive!  It's alive!"  Colin Clive in Frankenstein
Or, Colin Clive in Bride of Frankenstein, though I think he only says it once in that one.
Or, Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein
Or ... Udo Kier in Andy Warhol's Frankenstein?  Know any other versions?

"Rosebud."  Orson Welles in Citizen Kane

"Made it, Ma!  Top of the world!"  James Cagney in White Heat

Sunday, July 28, 2013

It's Alive! It's Alive! ... I Mean ... I'm Alive! I'm Alive!

I know this one ... I know I know it!
It's ... wait a minute ... it's ... what is it?"

It's been a while since I've posted anything here, six months to be exact, and returning to writing is proving to be a daunting task.  I've managed to procrastinate somewhat creatively -- I changed the color palette on the blog a little and moved things around -- I've always said that the wealthy buy new mansions, the middle class redecorates, and the poor rearrange.  The most significant change is my blog description.  It is made up of famous classic movie quotes.  They are not obscure, and not meant to be.  I decided to just highlight the ones that popped up in my mind first.  I think it would be fun to see who can identify them.

Now I have movie-lovin' friends who will be able to name each movie from which the quotes come, as well as the actors who spoke them, the year the movie came out, and the cinematographer who shot the scene.  I know some pretty smart people.  To them I say, control yourself ... maybe don't give them all away with the first comment.  It will be hard, but grit your teeth, gird your loins, and remember the most important lesson of kindergarten -- share with others.  To the others, I hope you have fun figuring out the origins of the quotes.  I'll watch the comments, of course, and fill in the information on any quotes that may go unrecognized.

I've sure missed all of you, and I'm glad to be back.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Darwin Was Right -- Everything Evolves, Even The Ritz!

I'm not puttin' you on ... (sorry, I couldn't stop myself) ... Irving Berlin's "Puttin' On The Ritz" made a startling evolution in lyrics and meaning from the time it was first written until Fred Astaire's famous film version.  I think most people would be very surprised (I was) to find that the original lyrics and dance milieu in the 1930 film below portrayed the top-hat-and-tails crowd going to Harlem to watch black people dress and dance in the stereotypically offensive way of days gone by. Even the set is racist.  As always with classic films, we have to remember the era in which movies and songs were created and see them as such.  Actually, I think it is not a bad idea to be reminded not only of history, which cannot be changed, but of the enormous evolution of thinking in our culture, by all except the most dim-bulbed Americans.  Even by the time Astaire's number came along in 1946, the lyrics had been changed, all of the black American reference removed, and the song had become much more sophisticated as well.

I've found four completely different, completely original versions of "Puttin' On The Ritz" that range from 1930 to 2012.  I had never seen No.1 before, and I doubt if many have. It incorporates the original lyrics, and I have printed those below it.  No.2, the Astaire film version, is spotlighted in a video created by someone who is not only very clever, but also who, I would bet good money, is a classic movie fanatic! This one, as we know, uses the changed lyrics that we all know today, which are also printed below it.  No 3 is a version that Irving Berlin would never have dreamed of!  No.4 is one that takes the song and puts it to use celebrating youth and happiness, and I just love it.

No. 1:  Harry Richman in Puttin' On The Ritz, 1930, original lyrics printed below.

Have you seen the well-to-do; Upon Lennox Avenue; 
On that famous thoroughfare; With their noses in the air.
High hats and narrow collars; White spats and fifteen dollars; 
Spending every dime; For a wonderful time.

If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz
Spangled gowns upon the bevy; Of high browns from down the levy; All misfits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
That's where each and every lulu-belle goes; Every Thursday evening with her swell beaus; Rubbin' elbows.

Come with me, we'll attend their jubilee; And seen them spend their last two bits; Puttin' on the Ritz.
(Instrumental break -- (Boys, look at dat man puttin' on dat Ritz; You look at him; I can't.)
If you're blue; And you don't know where to go to; Why don't you go where Harlem flits; Puttin' on the Ritz.

No. 2:  Fred Astaire in Blue Skies, 1946, (with a difference), and lyrics we all know today.

Have you seen the well-to-do, up and down Park Avenue,
On that famous thoroughfare, with their noses in the air;
High hats and Arrowed collars, white spats and lots of dollars,
Spending every dime, for a wonderful time

If you're blue and you don't know where to go to,

Why don't you go where fashion sits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.
Different types who wear a daycoat, pants with stripes
And cut away coat, perfect fits, 
Puttin' on the Ritz.

Dressed up like a million dollar trouper,

Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper (super duper.)
Come let's mix where Rockefellers walk with sticks
Or umbrellas in their mitts,
Puttin' on the Ritz.

No. 3:  Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein, 1974.

Lyrics don't even matter with Wilder and Boyle!

No. 4:  The Moscow Flash Mob, 2012, one of my favorite favorites!

That is some wedding gift!

As a special bonus, click here to see a really funny version where the only things that dance are the upper keys on a musical instrument of complete gorgeosity (my Dad made up that word)!

Boy, after all this, If I had some Ritz to put on right now, I would go out on the town!

This all started because I had a yen to watch Astaire/ Rogers numbers on Youtube.  I'm just in a musical mood, I guess, something that my friend and fellow CMBA member Page  experiences all the time with her great love of musicals.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Overlooked at the Oscars -- Part Two

"Geez, I lost?  Waddya mean?  I was workin' with ya here!"

*This article contains plot spoilers*

When I settled in to watch the 1996 Oscars, I just knew for sure that William H. Macy would win Best Supporting Actor for Fargo. With all the truly fine performances in that movie (including a well-deserved Best Actress award for Frances McDormand), Macy practically carries the show as the ultimate weasel, Jerry Lundegard -- a character who at first seems like a pathetic clown, someone to laugh at and pity.  However, as the story evolves, Macy makes us shiver as he creates the true character of Jerry -- a greedy loser who can't even embezzle money successfully, a cruelly indifferent husband and father who puts his sweet, dimwitted wife in mortal danger and never even thinks of the effect his actions will have on his young son.  Watching Macy's face carefully, the viewer can see that in every scene, every situation, Jerry's eyes are as dead as any killer-for-hire, not the eyes of a normal person.  Jerry, the passive-aggressive criminal, eventually wreaks murderous havoc on every person he involves in his scheme.  And yet, he still makes us snicker and snort throughout -- until his last scene, when we begin to laugh, then stare in shock at Macy's acting chops with Jerry's reaction to the punishment for what he has done.  To my mind, it was the best performance of the year.

So what happened?  "And the Oscar goes to....Cuba Gooding, Jr. for Jerry Maguire."  What?!!  You've got to be kidding...  Now I know Jerry Maguire was a very popular movie, and Gooding was, well, good.  Not great, but good.  His performance paled against Macy's primo portrayal of a difficult character to play.  I remember thinking that Gooding was new and popular that year, and so often that affects votes during Oscar time.  So, in my opinion, a good performance was lauded over a great one.

Last month's movie for Overlooked at the Oscars post, White Heat, was an easy one in which to highlight one scene of  fantastic acting.  Fargo doesn't really offer that -- it's a totality of performance that shows it.  However, I chose a favorite scene in which Macy runs most of the gamut of Jerry's character, all the time with those eyes that remain dead and expressionless, no matter what the face is doing.

My next installment in "Overlooked at the Oscars" will be a little different -- about a great film artist whose entire body of work was Oscar-snubbed!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Best 7 Minute, 49 Second Movie You'll Ever See

I intended to work on the next post in my series, Overlooked at the Oscars, Part 2 -- but I didn't feel like it.  That's all.  No good reason.  Just didn't.  (Ah, what a great example of pithy writing ...)  Actually, I am in a dreamy mood, and this little post fits the bill tonight.

So I went to YouTube and found my favorite 7 minute, 49 second film, "Let's Face the Music and Dance."  I call it that because it is a musical mini-drama which stands on its own within a movie.  You don't even have to watch the movie, which is good, because Follow The Fleet (1936) is not my favorite Astaire/Rogers plot.  It actually bores me to tears.  But oh, the song by Irving Berlin, the fabulous dance at the very end ...  It's worth sitting through the rest of the show, although thanks to modern technology (and YouTube poster, iumuggle *thanks!*), I don't have to.  As a devoted Rogers/Astaire fan, I believe without doubt that this is the best work they ever did.  That's hard to say, because "Cheek to Cheek" is so perfect; however, this is not just a dance.  It's a film equivalent of a short story, with their partnership at its greatest.  Pay attention at the beginning, because you will see a very young, platinum-blonde Lucille Ball.  We also get to see one of Ginger's most gorgeous gowns, a bugle-beaded treasure of a costume.  It's lovely, looks ethereal, and was so heavy that one of the sleeves whacked Fred across the face and really hurt!  My friend and fellow blogger, Christian of Silver Screen Modiste (see the link to his marvelous blog in my sidebar blogroll), mentioned in one of his articles about Hollywood gowns that the dress weighed about 30 pounds.  At this point in her life, Ginger doesn't look like she weighs a whole lot more than that!

I hope you have 7 minutes and 49 seconds to see the best at their best, with, I must say, the most sophisticated, dramatic exit of all the great dance endings they ever did!

Overlooked at the Oscars, Part 2 coming soon....

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dueling Divas Blogathon ... In Manly Style!

*This article is my contribution to the Dueling Divas Blogathon sponsored by Lara at Backlots, one of my favorite movie blogs.  Follow the link on my sidebar just to the right of this article to find the other entries for this fun project!

Dueling Divas are usually 2 actresses who hate each other in real life, or 2 female characters in a movie who spar verbally through the whole thing.  My take on dueling divas is a little different.  The title of diva can be used for men as well as women, but let's face it ... it just doesn't sound masculine.  Mine really duel -- with swords -- to the death.  I thought, OK, maybe I could call them some more manly version of the word.  I thought of Dueling Divos, but that reminded me too much of these guys ...

"Whip it ... whip it good!"
So I went looking for other words, and I found the perfect name -- Dueling Demigods!  Did I hear someone snicker out there?  Well, I thought it was good.  It's a little pagan, but then so are the feelings of women (and men) everywhere who watch movie stars in doublets and tights as they parry and thrust!  Whew, gosh, is it hot in here, or is it just me?

I don't feel like writing anything of depth and profound wisdom right now -- I just feel like having fun showing some of the really good sword fights in really good movies with the best of the Dueling Demigods.  So, with a mindset of complete objectivity and no particular preference, I immediately chose Errol Flynn and my mind went blank thereafter.  No, not really ... I did think of two others.  But first, The Great Flynn:

(notice how I used red letters? ... blood ... red ... get it?)

Errol Flynn as Captain Blood and Basil Rathbone as Captain Levasseur ...
The obligatory close-up and blade-pushing contest ...
Poor Basil gets it in the end ...

A point of interest -- Basil Rathbone was in real life a very fine swordsman.  It's too bad he was always the one skewered in the movies!


(notice how I used green letters ... Sherwood forest, green trees ... get it?)

Errol as Robin Hood and Basil as the Sheriff of Nottingham ...
Another blade-pushing close-up ... the formula always worked!

Basil looks determined to win this one for a change!
Oh man!  Skewered again!


(notice how I used blue letters? ... seahawk ... the ocean blue ... get it?)

Duel No. 1 -- just a warm-up

Errol Flynn as, who else, the Sea Hawk! With Gilbert Roland as his Spanish opponent ...

Flynn triumphs in the end ... was there any doubt?

Duel No. 2 -- In my opinion, one of the best sword fights ever put on film.

Henry Daniell as Duke something-or-other ....

Here it is again, kids ... it does look great!

Take that, you ... you ... lousy duellist, you!
A point of interest -- Henry Daniell, a fine actor and great villain, was so bad at trying to mimic swordplay that he was only in posed pictures/close-ups.  All of the other scenes during the sword fight were doubled by someone who was actually coordinated.  Flynn was quite good at his swordplay technique, yet he -- yes, even HE -- had to be doubled in a fabulous long shot of the duellists moving incredibly quickly across a large room, using the beautiful legwork that only a trained professional could do.  I was so frustrated that I could not find any other really good pictures of this fabulous duel!


(notice how I used black letters ... Zorro wore black ... get it?)

There were many wonderful duels in movies.  However, besides The Great Flynn, I think another memorable one (not to mention beautiful) is Tyrone Power as Zorro.  Once again, expert Basil Rathbone must pretend that he couldn't take Power within 15 seconds of an actual duel ...

Tyrone as Zorro, and Basil as ... what was his name anyway?
I won't even bother to say it again ...
Man, I've had it!  I'm signing up for the Sherlock Holmes deal!

And we can't forget one of the most memorable sword scenes of all:

Well, I hope you enjoyed my Dueling Demigods ... now I'm going to watch these movies again over the weekend!