"The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" ... Bogart, Shakespeare, The Maltese Falcon, Those Great Movies

Friday, December 11, 2009

Brief Reflections

By ClassicBecky

I believe that many classic movie lovers fear the same thing I do, namely, political correctness.  I remember a few years ago when the United States Postal Service released an honorary stamp in tribute to the great blues artist Robert Johnson.  The most famous picture of Johnson that we have is of him looking into the camera holding his guitar and smoking a cigarette.  The Postal Service decided to digitally remove the cigarette from his mouth because of political correctness.  They changed Robert Johnson as he was to a false Robert Johnson who would fit their ideas of what is acceptable.  That is a horrifying travesty.  Anyone who has ever read George Orwell's "1984" is aware of what can happen when such thinking is taken to the limit. 

Our beloved classic films could very well be treated in the same way in the current climate.  Obviously there are things in classic films that society has evolved enough to realize are offensive, i.e. racial stereotypes, social habits that are no longer acceptable, etc.  However, this is history on film, and to change history is to crack the foundation of truth.  I fear that possibly in the near future, these movies will be cut and pasted to remove any dance numbers, comedy bits or habits that no longer fit a society of political correctness.  Removing smoking alone would be a full-time job, especially with a Bette Davis or Humphrey Bogart movie!

This is not a paranoid fantasy.  It happened to Robert Johnson's picture.  I have already seen a movie so chopped up, certainly not a classic one by any means, "Robin Hood - Men in Tights" by Mel Brooks.  Whoever edited this movie for the particular channel that showed it removed all references to gay jokes.  If you have seen that movie, you know that this resulted in its being chopped to pieces.  This may not be a stirring call to arms because of the particular movie, but it illustrates my fears.  If it could happen to one movie, it can happen to another.  Those of us who love classic film must be alert to this kind of trend and speak out if and when it finally hits the films we love.   History is history and truth is truth.  Neither should ever be changed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Here's a Turkey for Thanksgiving -- Raised To Be Rotten

By ClassicBecky

For those who are old enough to remember Carol Burnette's movie spoofs, the above was the title for one her best. The actual movie is 1950's Born To Be Bad, and it did indeed live up to its name. Miscasting, an unbelievable storyline and melodrama to the nth degree made this movie, in my opinion, one of the great turkeys of all time. Even a cast of solid, talented actors could not save this disaster.

Casting Joan Fontaine as the scheming, vicious Christabelle was the first mistake. (Even the name Christabelle was pretty bad.) Fontaine was never meant for such a part, and she tries to act up a storm with side-glances, overdone raised eyebrows, fake smiles and body language intended to show her as a siren out for gold. It doesn't work. Zachary Scott as her rich conquest must have been a moron not to see through her embarrasingly obvious tricks to lure him away from his innocent fiancee, played by Joan Leslie. Robert Ryan as Christabelle's true lust partner is also a sap for falling in lustful love with the fake, manipulative woman as played by Fontaine. Fontaine is a beautiful woman, but she just isn't sexy. Why the studly Ryan finds her so desirable is a mystery. There is nothing subtle in her acting. Only one friend, Gobby, played by Mel Ferrer, sees through her, but says nothing. Joan Leslie also sees through her, but somehow fails to talk it over with her intended husband, for God knows what reason. I guess so the movie would go on longer.

Eventually the jig is up, and Christabelle goes on her merry way toting along all the furs and money she can get her hands on. Only friend Mel Ferrer has the sense to relieve Christabelle of the keys to the mansion. Zachary Scott and Joan Leslie patch things up too easily, and that is finally the end. The movie is only about 90 minutes long, but seems like 3 hours. To sum up, Born To Be Bad has only one redeeming value -- it inspired one of the best spoofs Carol Burnett ever made, better than the movie itself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


By ClassicBecky

Are you a classic film lover but don’t think you really like classical music? Think again! You have been listening to music by Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Robert Schumann and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, right along with the great movie composers, including Bernard Hermann, Max Steiner, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Miklos Rosza. Korngold and Rosza can really be classified as classical since both composed music for orchestra and violin apart from movie scores. It would take another article to talk about the great movie music by those and other fine composers for film. This article is about the long-hairs, the old white dudes, the classical composers and their important role in movies.

There are obvious examples of classical music in movies, i.e. the movie biographies of composers themselves. A Song of Love comes to mind, with Katharine Hepburn and Paul Henreid, the story of Schumann and his accomplished pianist wife, Clara. Made in 1947, the movie also stars Robert Walker as Johannes Brahms. The music throughout is of course by Schumann, with some Brahms thrown in, and is a delight to the ear. As Schumann’s mental health declines, his most beautiful music accentuates the sorrow. 1945’s A Song To Remember is the biography of Frederic Chopin. Although it stars Cornel Wilde as Chopin and Merle Oberon as George Sand, even Paul Muni as Chopin’s teacher, the movies is kind of a dud. But the music – oh the music – Chopin throughout and beautiful enough to make the movie seem better than it is.

Two more recent films belong in this category as well. Ken Russell’s idiosyncratic version of the life of Peter Tchaikovsky is 1971’s The Music Lovers, starring Richard Chamberlain. Anyone who thinks classical music is just for relaxing must see this film and bask in the magnificent music of Tchaikovsky. Like a well-written movie soundtrack, Tchaikovsky’s music is used to enhance the emotional content of the movie, and stresses the pathos of the sad life of this genius. In 1994, Gary Oldman starred as Ludwig von Beethoven in Immortal Beloved. The music of Beethoven marches through this movie and into our hearts. The climax with the beloved 9th symphony having been composed by the deaf genius would bring tears to the eyes of the most jaded viewer.

Then there are well-loved movies that incorporate classical music into the score, or use particular pieces almost in place of a score. One that I love is a 1945 British film, Brief Encounter, starring Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. One of the most decent love stories about two people, each married, who deal with their feelings about one another, this movie could stand by itself. But the music of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto weaves throughout this beautiful story and enhances it immensely.

Max Steiner scored most of Bette Davis’s best films, but he shared credit with Tchaikovsky in 1941’s The Great Lie. Mary Astor plays larger than life classical pianist Sandra Kovack, with George Brent as the man both women love. Astor plays portions of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in the movie, and it is also showcased for the climax of the film. Then there is Humoresque, with Joan Crawford and John Garfield. Released in 1946, this melodramatic story of a woman in love with a struggling violinist is scored by the great Franz Waxman, but also by the music of Wagner, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dvorak. What better than lush classical romantic era music to showcase a melodrama?

The final film I like for this category is more recent, 1980’s Somewhere in Time with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. A love story of two people who live in different times, this movie is famous for its glorious score by John Barry. But it is even more famous for the love scenes which are lushly enhanced by Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. An unwieldy name for a gorgeous piece of music, the movie’s romance would have been just another love story without it.

There are so many examples of classical music in movies, and too little time and room. I have offered a few for your consideration. Maybe you know others you would like to bring to our attention, and that would be wonderful. All input is welcome from all movie lovers

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Welcome To My Cyberworld!

ClassicBecky here.  Welcome to all lovers of literature and music.  As you can no doubt see, Sherlock Holmes movies and literature are a special favorite of mine.  Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are closest to my heart as the consummate characterization of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Homes and friend Dr. Watson. There have been other wonderful portrayals of Holmes, notably Jeremy Brett in British television, as well as a wonderful recent version of The Hound of the Baskervilles with Richard Roxburgh. 

I hope that you will enjoy my reviews and articles about books and music.