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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Coming To A Blog Near You!

For my Faithful Readers, I want to announce a new series beginning soon.  The series will be about the golden age of gangster films, 1930 - 1949.  Some of my earliest memories of classic movies are of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Paul Muni as the biggest, baddest guys of all.  I love those movies!  One of the most interesting facets of every one is the bad guy and his counterparts, the former partner turned good, the childhood friend who went a different way, the women who are good for him and the women who are bad.  I hope you will enjoy it.  In the meantime, here is a taste of what is to come:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Many Thanks to Dawn of Noir and Chick Flicks!

I am thrilled to be one of 7 classic movie blogs to have been awarded Dawn's Stylish Blogger Award.  Dawn has always created beautiful blog designs of her own, and I value her opinion.  Dawn is a prolific blogger who enjoys and follows over 40 classic film blogs.  She has asked her winners to tell 7 personal things of their choice about themselves, and I am happy to oblige:
  If I were stranded on a desert island and could have only one movie, I would choose Captain Blood (or The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, or 42nd Street -- well, it's tough to pick just one!)

  On that same desert island, with the choice of just one type of music, I would choose classical, all Russian composers -- they are the best!

  One last desert island choice -- if I could pick one actor and one actress to be stranded with me, it would be Errol Flynn and Bette Davis.  I know they didn't get along, but they'd just have to learn!

  I love the great original Broadway musicals, including Gypsy, Carousel, The Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd, Stop the World-I Want To Get Off, and West Side Story.

 I can sing a mean Ethel Merman.  I used to scare my cat by singing "Everything's Coming Up Roses" at the top of my voice.

  I loved introducing my sons to classic movies, and am now doing so with my grandkids.  We particularly like the original Universal horror movies and Vincent Price in anything!

   Among other reasons, I find it impossible to stop smoking and still watch my favorite old movies, particularly Bette Davis and Bogart films!
The six other winners of Dawn's award are:

Be sure you treat yourself to a visit to Dawn at http://www.dawnschickflicks.blogspot.com/.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Reflections in a Violet Eye -- Elizabeth Taylor

 A great many classic movie lovers will be posting tributes to Elizabeth Taylor.  She died today at the age of 79.  Elizabeth has been an integral part of movies and the Hollywood mystique from the time she was a very young child, and continued to be so until today.  My mother's generation watched her grow up on screen, and tabloids made a lot of money with the controversial parts of her life.  She married multiple times, had several serious illnesses, grieved the sudden death of her husband Mike Todd.  She bore her one-half share in the highly-publicized breakup of the marriages of Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton (the men bear the other half).  She endured public humiliation when she gained weight, came back strong and proved her incredible friendship to Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson and Michael Jackson in their own tragedies. 

We will never know the real story behind the events of Elizabeth's life.  Only she and her loved ones could ever know such things.  We do know she was a strong and resilient woman, still able to flash her beautiful smile even when she became aged and sick.  We know her through her movies, a wide range of performances in an eclectic mix of films, including National Velvet, Father of the Bride, A Place in the Sun, Suddenly, Last SummerGiant, Cat on a Hot Tin RoofWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Reflections in a Golden Eye.....just some of my personal favorites.  These performances show us the Elizabeth we remember.  So do these pictures:

From lovely child .....
to gorgeous 16-year old .....

From close friendship with Montgomery Clift .....
To Richard Burton, the true love of her life .....

From beautiful mature star .....
to difficult days enduring cruelty and piercing jibes of comics .....

..... And back again, surmounting her own personal difficulties.  She became the first celebrity to dare to speak publicly about AIDS, supporting dear friend Rock Hudson's bravery in stepping forward about his personal life and our responsibility to overcome bigotry to fight the disease.

R.I.P. Elizabeth ..... you will be remembered .....

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"I'm not an actor! I'm a movie star!" -- Jack and the Jungle Lion, a Novel by Stephen Jared

When I finished reading Stephen Jared’s new novel, Jack and the Jungle Lion, I thought immediately of that terrific line from My Favorite Year, a film about a swashbuckling star who knows what he is and proudly proclaims it. Jared’s fictional 1930’s-era action movie hero, Jack Hunter, is just such an archetypal movie star. In the grand tradition of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, Jack is a handsome, dashing champion of damsels in distress and fearless adventurer on screen. In his private life, Jack is everything you might expect in such a star, and less. He is handsome, charming, a little bumbling and rather spoiled in luxury, with a very healthy ego, and no more fearless than the average moviegoer. Jack discovers a lot about himself as the story develops, and Jared creates a delightfully endearing character that you just can’t help but like.

Jared describes Jack and the Jungle Lion as “A Romance of Adventure,” and that is exactly what it is. Set in the dazzling years of 1930’s movies, the book takes the reader on a sharply-paced, first-rate ride from Jack’s sumptuous Hollywood home to an unexpected and dangerous trek through the jungles of South America and back again. Jack the spoiled movie star returns from his all too real adventure a better man, just as charming and irresistible as ever, but with a genuine strength and realistic insight into his own character. He also stumbles upon love for a most unusual woman in a most unusual situation.

Jack Hunter’s story is narrated by a man who remembers Jack as his father’s friend. Jack had thrilled the young boy with many of his tales of adventure, and the captivated youngster never forgot them. The boy, now grown, introduces himself in the book’s prologue, then steps out of the way to let the story unwind on its own. We first meet Jack in his home, where he lives in a convenient but loveless marriage with Theda Lomond, a star of silent films whose career has stalled. Theda is determined to get back in the limelight, and very little else matters to her, including her husband. It isn’t really a hardship for Jack. He is not exactly emotionally invested in the showbiz marriage either. The household includes Jack’s tight-lipped, all-seeing butler, Mr. Quigg, who rarely makes his personal opinions known except with an upraised eyebrow or artfully silent response.

In the midst of studio ballyhoo and screaming fans, Jack climbs aboard a shining Ford Trimotor airplane to fly to South America to shoot his latest film on location. Jack’s idea of “on location” is a lovely city where he can get all the cocktails and comforts he wants. He boards the plane to find that he is accompanied by the movie’s animal trainer and two children, Tyler and Lindy. We also meet a key character, co-pilot Clancy. He is star-struck and childishly overjoyed to meet Jack Hunter. He is friendly, and he is also a drunk. The animal trainer, by the way, is a beautiful and tough lady named Maxine Daniels. During the flight, Jack does get to South America, but not the way he expected. The plane goes down into the uncharted jungle, and the adventure begins.

“Action Jack” as he is called, finds himself in a situation where his talents are of no use, at least not in the beginning. Jack, still dressed in his best tuxedo, does not feel the least bit heroic. He falls into a hole with sharp sticks on the sides, and Max informs him that the Jivaro tribe makes such traps and the sticks are poisoned. However, she serenely informs him that the poison must be old or he would be dead already:

Turning white as a sheet, he slapped at his torso and limbs for more sticks, and removed his jacket and fiercely shook it. Perspiration dripped from his forehead.
“All right, just calm down,” Max said soothingly.
“Calm down? Calm down? I’m not used to these kinds of circumstances! You’ll have to excuse me if I’m a little hysterical!”
....... Tears welled in the actor’s eyes. “I feel funny,” he said in a high-pitched, breaking voice.
“I’m telling you, you’re fine.”
“Well, that’s great!” said Jack, nearing a state of emotional collapse. “I’ve got a few more minutes to live till something else happens! Our plane crashed! We’re lost somewhere in South America! I fell in a poison-stick pit!”
....... ”Here’s a hanky for your nose,” offered Max.

Thus begins the relationship between Jack and Max, which makes as many circles and turns as the plane on its way down. Jared’s characters are as colorful and appealing as any in Jack’s adventure movies -- Max, the children who adore Action Jack, Clancy, a native boy named Chonjo, a trader named Umberto Allejandro Quinto (“Call me Pepe”), and a capuchin monkey who adopts Jack for his own. The odd troupe of stranded strangers have to work together through the dangers and perils of the jungle, and Jack, finding courage in himself he didn’t even know he had, strives to live up to the image most of them believe about him, particularly the children:

“Captain Gunner and the Lost City of Gold. Revenge of the Python Men.” The marooned maintained their westerly direction while Tyler rattled off names of pictures that starred his movie hero, Action Jack Hunter. “Fighting Ace and the Spell of the Voodoo Women. And the one with that jewel that would get real bright…”
“Desert Paradise of Doom,” Jack recalled.
“No, it was Treasure of the Sahara Sky.”
“It was? Oh, that’s right.”
“You were in the desert in Africa. Don’t you remember?”
“Or the ever versatile Culver City. Sure, I remember. Oh, the fun we had.”
……. Lindy’s blue eyes looked up at Jack through thick glasses. “Do you remember the scene where you danced with the princess in that ballroom in Cairo?....... That was my favorite part.”
“I’d be happy to show you a few steps once we’ve returned.”
Lindy bit her lower lip, embarrassed, and said “Okay, thanks,” and hurried to catch her brother …….

When the real perils begin, Jack finds the hero in himself who wants to save the companions he has come to care for, and he puts himself in real trouble to do so. When Max is embroiled in what Jack and Clancy believe to be an insurmountable danger, Jack sees the great disappointment in Tyler and Lindy:

……. Devastated, Tyler dragged his feet to a hammock, sulking. His sister’s shoulders slumped.
Jack watched the children for a moment and then again cast his gaze into the dark jungle ……. “What are we if we have no courage, Clancy?”
The tubby copilot ……. took deep breaths and rubbed his potato head, having a pretty good idea where this was going.
Jack whirled to the kids ……. “What do you say we rescue the beautiful princess from the dreaded chest pounders of doom?”

Jared has written a book that plays like a movie in the reader’s head. It probably should be a movie – I would spend the money for a ticket. I would like to enjoy more stories about Jack. Actually, I would like to meet Jack! Jared has published articles in the style of journalism, but Jack and the Jungle Lion is his first foray into the genre of novels. His book is a great read, and like the formula of movie success for Pixar, it has that unique mix of humor that adults appreciate, as well as what I believe is a book well-suited to the 10-14 age group of readers as well.

Stephen Jared is a working actor and writer, and if you would like to know more about him, visit his personal website at http://www.stephenjared.com/.  Be sure not to miss Jared’s special website about Jack and the Jungle Lion at http://www.jackandthejunglelion.com/.  It includes wonderful pictures and materials, particularly a fictional 1935 interview with Jack by a critic who is a caustic cross between Alexander Wolcott and H.L. Mencken. The critic considers Jack kind of a no-brained ninny, and the interview is hilarious. The beautifully nostalgic artwork for Jared’s novel was created by Paul Shipper of PS Studio, DPI. Shipper has a page on the website for Jack and the Jungle Lion, and you can learn more about him at his own site, http://www.myblog-blog.psstudiodpi.com/.   The book can be purchased through its website, at select bookstores and through Amazon.

Reviewed by Rebecca Barnes, March 15, 2011

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Dentist (GASP!) In Movies

I guess I'm on a roll.  (I just did an article on bosses in the movies.)  I saw my own dentist the other day, and was inspired again.  Believe me, he is nothing like the dentists I am highlighting today.   He gives the best novocaine shots in the business, but I still use the nitrous oxide in case he is having an off day.  Just a joke at your expense, Dr. S.!  His assistants are wonderful, but if they ever loom over me looking like this, I'll grab the high-speed drill and wave it around:

Our first dentist is the fabulously funny W.C. Fields in a 1932 short called, oddly enough, The Dentist.  Doctors of dentistry in that era must have been horrified that their patients might see this.  Fields is his usual comic genius ("Have you ever had this tooth pulled before?"), but the scene would have been nothing without the wonderful, very limber comedienne Elise Cavanna, who plays his unfortunate patient.  The full clip is 10 minutes long, but just forward it to 1.00 and watch until it hits 7:10.  Fields has to deal with his angry daughter for a few seconds during his work, but then he's back to the patient for the real show. It's one of the funniest 6 minutes you'll ever see:

Our second clip in my chosen trio of tooth-tuggers is one that most dentists have likely been bombarded with by patients, family, and friends about a million times.  Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors performs a song called Be A Dentist that should be required viewing for future generations of dental students who might not know about it.  Martin has already been introduced to us as a nasty kind of guy, and his true occupation and nature are revealed in the song:

Last, and unlike the first 2, is one of the most famous dentists in movie history.  It is not funny, was not meant to be funny, and is as far from funny as you can get.  It's the great Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man.  The dentist I went to at the time the movie came out was furious about it.  He was really concerned that his patients who were truly dentaphobic (I don't know if that is even a real word) might see it and let their teeth rot out of their heads before they ever came back to him.  Olivier plays an aging, escaped Nazi, dubbed the White Angel by his victims (a character based upon the real Doctor of Death, Josef Mengele),  He uses his dental skills to torture information out of Dustin Hoffman.  The scene is harrowing, to say the very least, and frankly a lot of the credit for that comes from the the quiet, almost soothing voice that Olivier uses in this tour de force performance.  I'm not going to post a clip of this one.  It's too disturbing to make readily available to someone who might otherwise take a second thought.  Plus, it really should be seen in the context of an incredible movie, not just as an isolated horror moment.

Let's see, how shall I leave you on a lighter note about Marathon Man?  I know -- Olivier and Hoffman were, of course, of two different generations of actors.  Olivier was a classically trained actor, and Hoffman came from the "feel it in your gut" modern style.  Hoffman had to do scenes where in the story he had not slept for 2 days and had been running for his life.  So, in real life, Hoffman stayed up for 2 days, did a lot of running and wore himself out.  He looked horrible and was exhausted when he came to film the scenes.  Olivier, as only he could,  looked at Hoffman and said "My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?"  Don't you love it!

Phobias about the dentist began a long time ago.  Those were the days when a slug of whiskey was all you got before the pliers came out:
Thank God for modern dentistry, eh?  So thank your dentist at your next visit.  However, I would not recommend this guy!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

We Mourn With Japan

Words cannot describe the feelings.  Yo-Yo Ma plays a traditional Japanese song that we all know.  The music speaks for our heartbreak and our prayers:

Monday, March 7, 2011

The BOSS in movies - No, Not Springsteen

Which boss would you prefer?

I was talking to my boss this morning, and I began thinking about the portrayal of employers in movies. They come in all shapes and sizes, some rotten, some wonderful – I must admit that the rotten ones are more fun. These are some of my favorites, good and bad, usually in the same movie. I will paraphrase Frankenstein’s monster in describing my choices:   “Boss bad!”  “Boss good!”

Boss Bad: Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). Talk about a mean old man! Devious, grasping, practically sociopathic in his indifference to fellow human beings, Mr. Potter will always be remembered as one employer for which nobody wants to work. To add to the mix, he doesn’t even have an epiphany at the end of the movie and show some redeeming quality!

Boss Good: James Stewart as George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life.” George and Mr. Potter could not be further apart on the boss scale. George cares about his employees, his clients, and is a great husband and father to boot. Justice and kindness are the characteristics which best describe him. I’d be his secretary any day!

Boss Bad: Everett Sloane as Walter Ramsey in Rod Serling’s Patterns (1956). Sometimes he even looks like the devil in this movie. He has an iron fist which he does not hesitate to use on his employees. In his quest for better business, he is determined to weed out the weakest of the high-ups in his company. It does not matter to him if they have been there for 40 years, if they display fine and decent personal qualities, or if they have desperate need for their jobs. He is interested only in the bottom line.

Boss Good: Van Heflin as Fred Staples in Patterns. Although just a good plant manager and not yet an executive, Fred is being groomed for a position at the top. He does have ambition, but cannot stand Ramsey, and is agonized over the thought of displacing one of the men targeted for replacement. However, when the plan becomes inevitable, Fred shows some hardness of his own in letting Ramsey know just what he thinks of him, and how Fred will do the job his own way, no matter how much he has to fight for it. It is obvious that Fred will be an exacting but just man as an executive.

Boss Bad: Dabney Coleman as Franklin Hart in Nine to Five (1980). Who could forget this slimy little toad enjoying his power with over-worked and under-paid employees? Demanding coffee, leering at his secretary, kissing up to the company’s big boys, and stealing a great idea from one of his “girls” are just some of the characteristics that cause his eventual and hilarious downfall, and made theatre audiences applaud with glee.

Boss Good: Lily Tomlin as Violet Newstead, Dolly Parton as Doralee Rhodes and Jane Fonda as Judy Bernly in Nine to Five. Although perhaps not technically bosses, these three women gave Franklin Hart his due (which included what they thought was accidental poisoning, kidnapping, holding him hostage, and being responsible for his relocation to a company branch in South America). At the end of the movie, they were moving up the ranks, and you knew they would make great bosses!

Boss Bad: Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather (1972). If you know what’s good for you, you will fetch coffee and balance his checkbook with a smile. He is quiet, dignified, and would squash you like a cockroach. So, if you aspire to a job that requires absolute loyalty, unquestioning obedience, lots of hand-kissing, and includes bumping-off the competition, Vito is the man for you.

Boss Good:  No one comes to mind...

And now for my personal choice in both categories, one who is even worse than the Godfather, and another you can't help but love:

Boss Bad: George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1984). Scrooge does not have to beat up or kill his lone employee, poor Bob Cratchitt. He just beats him down every day with insults, harshness, low pay, and he won’t even let him put one piece of coal on the fire. Working with Scrooge has to be the worst job ever. Of course Scrooge is not happy with all his money, doesn’t even make himself comfortable, but he is so nasty to Bob that it is impossible to feel sympathy for Scrooge’s psychological problems. Good heavens, the man doesn’t even feel bad for crippled Tiny Tim, standing at the corner with his cane, in the bitter cold, waiting for his father to leave work. Scrooge doesn’t even invite the boy to wait inside with his dad, telling him “Well, you’ll have a long wait then, won’t you?” It wouldn’t be much warmer inside I suppose, but what a heartless …. heartless ….. I can’t think of a word suitable for my readers. Just use your own imagination.

Boss Good: Timothy Bateson as Mr. Fezziwigg in A Christmas Carol. Scrooge didn’t learn a thing from this dear little man. Fezziwigg ran a good business, his employees worked fair hours, and he loved to make them laugh and enjoy life. Christmas Eve to him was not just another workday, but a time to close up shop, feed his people with good food and drink, and make merry with music and dancing. Even Scrooge felt compelled to defend him to the needling questions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, saying that Fezziwigg was not silly, but a good employer who did things that made people love him, "just little things". Scrooge’s memory of Mr. Fezziwigg was the first time you could see his evolution from a bad boss to a good one.

As for me, I've had good bosses and bad, one like Walter Ramsey, a couple just like Franklin Hart...but I have Boss Good now.  I feel safe in saying this without sounding like I'm looking for a raise, because she doesn't really follow my blog,  I don't mind -- she is a busy, full-time doctor, wife, and mother of 4 very young children.  Her free time at this point in her life is ... well, rare to non-existent!  I've been with her for 11 years, and don't plan to leave until I drop dead  or she kicks me out (or if I win the lottery).  So Dr. C you are in the Really Good category.

How about you? Do you have any favorite movie bosses, bad, good or both?