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

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

John Huston, Montgomery Clift and "Freud"

Hauntingly evocative Spanish-language theatre poster
Freud (also know as Freud - The Secret Passion)
In 1962, a herculean task in movie history was undertaken -- creation of a film about one of history's giants, Sigmund Freud.  Who better to tackle this project than another giant in his own field, John Houston? And who better to create the character of this complicated, tortured, gifted man than another in his own field, Montgomery Clift?  Few films are able to carry in a one-word title such expectation of things to come, but the name of Freud alone carries the weight of a genius who changed the identification and treatment of mental illness forever.  The theories of Sigmund Freud are a source of friction as much in our time as in his own.  Elements of Freud's original theories about the motivations of the subconscious mind have come under fire by some in modern psychiatry, yet are still widely-considered by others to be a major source of blinding truth as powerful as when this great man first postulated his theories.  In particular, Freud's theories of sexuality as the major psychic force, have been argued for generations.

Freud in 1885
 John Huston's film deals with the five-year period of 1885-1890 during which Freud began his journey into the field of mental illness with patients who had been termed "hysterical."  These patients, the most recognizable being women, suffered from physical maladies for which no organic cause could be found.  Doctors of the time erroneously assumed this to be exclusively the province of women, thus using the word hysteria which has its roots in the Greek regarding female.  The patients were written off as overly-dramatic females looking for attention.  Freud disagreed strongly, realized that this strange malady is also suffered by men, and was drawn to find the real root causes.  In these beginning years of discovery with regard to mental illness Freud made use of hypnosis, at the time a very controversial technique, to probe the mind for origins of mental trauma so heinous as to cause such debilitating problems as blindness and the inability to walk.

Montgomery Clift as Freud
 This early evolution of Freud's journey from hospital neurologist to ground-breaking theorist and practitioner is the subject of John Huston's Freud.   The years of Freud's career from 1885 to 1890 are considered the birth of psychoanalysis, and it is this period of time which with the film concerns itself.  Montgomery Clift, simply put, gives a masterful performance as Freud.  Clift, at only age 42, was nearing the end of his too-short life  The alcoholic, mental and physical  health problems affecting Clift caused such difficulties during filming that Universal Studios sued him for the cost of delays caused by him.  Fortunately, the trial took place after release of the film, showing it to be so successful and money-making for the studio, due mainly to the draw and performance of Clift, that the court ended up awarding a settlement to Clift, not the studio.  His great performance notwithstanding, some moviegoers were unhappy with his appearance in the film, disliking the moustache, beard and stiff-collared clothes designed to give Clift the realistic look of Freud.  Certain fans were not impressed, expecting to see the same clean-shaven, modern, handsome actor to whom they were accustomed.  More discerning moviegoers appreciated the experience that for the length of the movie, they might have been seeing Freud himself.

John Huston
Epic director Huston took a narrative approach to the movie, with his own distinctive voice as narrator, which I believe was an asset to the feel of the film as an almost documentary-type depiction of a piece of true history.  An absorbing screenplay by Charles Kaufman (Bridge to the Sun, When Tomorrow Comes) included, without shrinking, the often disturbing words of patients and doctor probing intimate sexual secrets. (Originally, the famed Jean Paul Sartre was slated to write the screenplay.  His work was found to be too long, complicated and unusable.  Huston and Sartre did not share the same vision, nor did they get along well.  Sartre eventually published his own screenplay as a book, "The Freud Scenario.")  Stark black and white cinematography, utilizing shadows and odd camera angles to depict a cave-like atmosphere in scenes depicting nightmares and memory, was beautifully created by Douglas Slocombe (Lion in WinterRaiders of the Lost Ark).  Perhaps the most unusual behind-the-scenes story is the musical score by Jerry Goldsmith (prolific writer of movie scores, as well as many Twilight Zone episodes).  I had not seen Freud for many years, and in watching it recently, the music was very familiar to me, only not in the context of the score of that movie.  After much thought and not a little frustration, I realized where I had heard it before.  It was a famous part, note by note, of the score to the 1979 movie Alien.  I discovered that Jerry Goldsmith also composed the score for Alien.  Goldsmith did not, however, intend for his score from Freud to be used either in part or whole.  It was a studio decision to use his previous work for a particularly important scene in Alien, and Goldsmith was not happy about it.

David McCallum
Clift and Susannah York

Freud's nightmare - delving deeply into the subconscious mind

In his beginning treatment, particularly of two patients, Freud began to develop his theory of the interpretation of dreams, the act of free association of words, and finally his discovery of "talk therapy," the infant name for the treatment of mental illness which Freud eventually termed "psychoanalysis."  The first of Freud's significant patients, Carl, is played by young David McCallum in his first movie role.  The deep-seated problems of this young man disturb the young doctor so badly that he cannot continue his treatment.  An eerie nightmare scene shows the extent of Freud's own intimate secrets and his reluctant discovery of the concept of infant sexuality and the origin of the Oedipus complex.  The short scene with McCallum and Freud's subsequent nightmare are disturbing, even now when we think we have seen everything.  The second patient, Cecily, played by Susannah York, forms the main basis for Freud's discoveries of feelings and events that had no name before he came along -- repression, false abuse memories, dream interpretation as a tool for deep memory, intensive talk therapy rather than hypnosis, and the transference of love from patient to therapist which is common in psychoanalysis.  York is excellent, although if Jean Paul Sartre had had his way, Marilyn Monroe would have played the part. In her early youth, Monroe could have played such a part well, as she did the part of the mentally disturbed young woman in 1952's Don't Bother To Knock.  However, by 1962 she was a mature woman and well-known sex symbol, no longer suitable for the part of a sick young girl.

The supporting cast is quite good, including Susan Kohner in a rather wasted part as Freud's wife Martha; Larry Parks as Dr. Breuer, Freud's partner and champion; and Eric Portman as Dr. Meynert, a man who was secretly aware of his own neuroses, yet worked to destroy Freud in the medical community.  A special nod should be given to character actor Fernand Ledoux as Dr. Charcot, a practitioner of medical hypnosis who was a great influence on Freud's development of the psychoanalytic method. 

Freud in later years
During his lifetime, Freud developed many explanations for the workings of the human mind, perhaps the most famous being his categorization of the three elements of the unconscious mind -- the id, the super-ego and the ego.  Fans of the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet will remember "monsters from the id" --- the portion of the psyche without strictures of conscience, struggling to break through and act without thought of consequence.  Freud called the second element of the psyche the super-ego, entirely opposite of the id, and acts strictly as the moral compass for the mind.  The third element, the ego, Freud believe to be the psychic element of balance for the other two.  Later in his career came another theory still fervently argued today, the aspect of deep-seated feminine envy of the male.  Indeed, to tell the whole story of Freud would require more than one movie can fulfill.

Freud is rarely shown on television and difficult to find for renting.  I was unable to find out why in my research.  It was a well-received, though controversial movie in 1962.  I was lucky enough to find the entire movie on Youtube.  The most enlightening and sexually open discussion of Freud's belief that sexuality is the driving force of human motivation is given in a scene of Freud's presentation to the medical society. The Victorian-era doctors are horrified and totally outraged.  I have set forth below the clip that includes this marvelous scene, a better example of both Clift's performance and the impact of the theory than I could ever write. To view the scene, forward to 2:37 and watch to 6:05.  It is a worthwhile four minutes for anyone who admires Huston's direction, Montgomery Clift's acting talent, great writing and unstinting truth.  Actually, those are the four best reasons to find and watch this extraordinary movie.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Four Little Gems -- Old Movies That Are New To Me

I ran across four little movie gems as I surfed through Netflix Instant Streaming, my last remaining source of uncut classic films, at least apart from my collection.  I have been pretty happy with the amount of classics available, although certainly not as many as a fan like me would like.  In using the Netflix suggestions, I found these four movies that I have watched one after the other, just mesmerized with them.   I do not say that they are great movies, or worthy of extensive praise -- they are all from the 1940's, most British, lovely black and white, not fast-paced yet keeping your attention .. just good little movies that appealed to me  My intention here is not to review, but to recommend.  They are pictured below, and I have numbered them in order of my favorites:

The Lost Moment (1947)  (My #1)
A story of high romance involving an American publisher searching for the long-lost love
letters of a great poet to his lover, Julianna.  the American finds Julianna, very aged, still alive
and living with her  mysterious niece in an old house filled with secrets, tragedy and madness.

Good Time Girl (1948)  (My #2) 
(pictured here, Flora Robson and a very young Diana Dors)
As narrated by a caseworker to another troubled girl, we learn the story of Gwen, unfolding
from abusive childhood, to rebellious teens, to eventual involvement in the world of crime
a a party girl whose young life is ruined by tragedy.  Although cetainly a moral message tale,
Good Time Girl is not a "B" exploitation fillm - I found it to be quite good with a talented cast.

Hungry Hill (1947)  (My #3)
A wealthy British family in the early 19th century makes a business decision to sink
a copper mine into the countryside of Hungry Hill, a venture which affects both the
family and community with several generations of both tragedy and hard-won redemption.
Beware of  Pity (1946)  (My #4)
A young British army officer becomes reluctantly involved  in the life of
a young crippled girl of a wealthy family.  The young man cannot return her love,
but finds himself embroiled in her family's appeal to him to help the girl by pretending to do so.

 All four films feature popular British and American actors of the era, many who cross over from one film to another, including Dennis Price, Margaret Lockwood, Maurice Elvey, Jean Kent, Peter Glenville -- and actors who eventually achieved greater fame such as Flora Robson, Herbert Lom, Robert Cummings Jean Simmons and Susan Hayward.  All are about mystery, madness, family dynasty, tragedy and even hope.  One or two may have been considered "B" films, although I have found that the term "B" film with regard to a British movie is different in quality from American.  Perhaps it is the accents!  They always just sound intelligent!

When you are looking for something you have not seen, something good, give these four movies a try.  I think you may react as I did, enjoying all of them, and finding that one or two may even become favorites.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Guys Do It Again!

Mike Nelson with his Robot Friends

Bill Corbett with his alter-ego, Crow T. Robot

Kevin Murphy, the man behind the
gumball head of  Tom Servo 

I thought you might enjoy a little update of the live-by-satellite theatre showing of Jack the Giant Killer, a movie which was verbally demolished by the Mystery Science Theatre 3000 trio in fine form.  (See my original pre-show article here: (http://www.classicbeckybrainfood.blogspot.com/2011/08/special-theatre-showing-of-really-bad.html)  You don't very often hear an audience of adults giggling and snorting, but that's what we did all through this special presentation.  My son and I left the theatre with sore facial muscles caused by extreme laughing.  We were also developing bruises on our ribs from reaching over and poking each other constantly.

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy appeared onstage/onscreen to do their shtick, and seeing their own live faces as well as hearing the familiar robot voices made the experience even more fun.  I cannot even begin to describe the stream of  marvelous humor, but some of the pertinent snarky remarks included:  "So, is he a really big guy who kills? ... No, dummy, he's a regular-sized guy killing a giant!" ... "Hey, he seems more like Jack the Giant Annoyer to me!" ... "Hoist the cliches, me hearties!" ... "Look!  The villain is a chubby version of Ming the Merciless!" ... "My God, Jack is wearing a Peter Pan outfit to fight a giant!"  Some of my favorites were aimed at the particularly annoying little leprechaun who lived in a bottle and spouted rhymes continuously.  The Irish jokes were plentiful, my favorite being, "I'll be free and puking up Guinness soon!"  I know the little green guy was supposed to be beguiling and beloved, but I just kept wanting to say "Be quiet!"

Rifftrax presents the MST3K guys periodically in theatres all over the country.  When you get the chance, be sure to attend one and have a great time with lots of other like-minded, sick-humored folks! 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Could You Use A Good Movie Laugh? I Could!

The great Leopold Stokowski and Mickey Mouse.
How did this odd combination come about?
Well, of course, Stokowski and Mickey met during Fantasia, the 1940 Disney masterpiece of animation and classical music.  If you know Fantasia well, I bet you thought I was going to link to Mickey's piece, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice."  Nope.  I just love this picture of the grand old man of classical music and the mouse.

No, this all really came about because I was thinking about going on a diet.  As a rather odd classical music and movie lover with brain synapse problems, this naturally led my thoughts to Fantasia, "The Dance of the Hours," and the hippos in tutus that we all love.  (Now, let me hasten to add that I don't think I need a diet that badly.)  OK, now that we've cleared that up, let us continue.

I am working on an article for my blog that is rather heavy (I swear that was accidental).  I needed a break from it, and I also needed to lighten up personally.  Strange things are happening here at CasaClassicBecky, and I want something that will make me laugh so hard I choke.  Doesn't sound like fun when you put it that way, but it is!  I found out some interesting things about how "The Dance of the Hours" was made as well.  For instance, I never knew that Walt Disney hired dancers from the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo to perform the ballet so that the animators would have reference to recreate the dance movements for the ostriches, hippos and alligators.  These dancers were not just the chorus, either -- the most surprising participant was Leonide Massine, premiere Russian dancer and choreographer whom many classic film mavens know as the demonic shoemaker from The Red Shoes.  The wonderful Cyd Charisse, a classically trained dancer, also took part.

The great Massine
Dad always called Cyd "The Legs"...



Sure, I can see the resemblance...
As long as we are talking about the interest that true artists had in being involved with Fantasia, this little anecdote is the one that fascinated me most. Stokowski was a giant in the world of classical music.  He inspired such awe in audiences and other artists that everybody was practically afraid of him, including, apparently, Walt Disney.  Following is a quote from the Internet Movie Database: 

"Walt Disney himself related the story of a chance meeting with Leopold Stokowski at Chasen's. They agreed to have dinner together. As they talked, Disney told of his plans to do "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and other possible projects using classical music with animation. Disney said that he was stunned when Stokowski, then one of the two most famous conductors in the country (the other being Arturo Toscanini), responded by saying, "I would like to conduct that for you." It was an offer he couldn't pass up."

Apparently, many artists at the height of their talents and careers could see the great potential in Disney's ambitious project.  And they were so right. 

Now it's time to laugh.  Here is "The Dance of the Hours" as presented in Fantasia in all its hilarious glory.  I can feel the corners of my lips starting to curl upward already...


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hitchcock and Herrmann--Alliance of Giants

Nothing lasts forever, but their genius will live on in our dreams.

Today, on Alfred Hitchcock's birthday, I cannot help but think of Bernard Herrmann.  Hitchcock and Herrmann were established professionals when they began to work together ... Hitchcock a great director, and Herrmann a great composer.  They did not need each other to be remembered for their work, but together they created a unique partnership in movie history.  Both were strong-willed men, both clung to their own ideas, and their relationship was stormy.  But what matter to us?  Their film alliance produced some of the best movies ever made, because of Hitchcock's incredible film visions and Herrmann's musical genius.

I have always considered Vertigo to be Hitchcock's masterpiece, and believe it was so in large part because of the perfection of Herrmann's musical score.  To celebrate both, I decided to listen to the Main Theme from Vertigo as interpreted by the fabulous Los Angeles Philharmonic and conductor Esa-Pekka-Salonen.  To those who have seen Vertigo, no more needs to be said.  For those who have not, no more needs to be explained as the strongest recommendation to do so.

Alfred Hitchcock (8/13/99 - 4/29/80. 
Bernard Herrmann (6/29/11 - 12/24/75). 
Equals in greatness.

A Tribute To Errol Flynn As His Own Sun Was Setting - His Performance In The Sun Also Rises

Errol Flynn as Mike Campbell in The Sun Also Rises
Errol Flynn died at the age of 50, a little over two years after appearing in 1957's The Sun Also Rises. Ernest Hemingway's novel is a story of people whose lives had been changed forever, some ruined, by the horrors of World War I. Hemingway's characters were damaged human beings who had lost their personal centers of identity with their war experiences, and they wandered in disillusionment and disenchantment. Flynn's character, Mike Campbell, is the most heartbreaking, and his performance was superb. The Sun Also Rises was not his last film, but it was his last significant performance, one which should have put to rest once and for all the ridiculous question of whether or not Errol Flynn was a real actor.
Errol Flynn as Mike Campbell, Eddie Albert as Bill Gorton, and Tyrone Power as Jake Barnes
My piece about this movie is not intended as a review, but as a spotlight for a wonderful actor who was never given his due by the industry to which he gave his talent, and for whose success he played a significant part. In discussing Flynn's work in The Sun Also Rises, it should be noted that the film was criticized for the choices of actors to play the leading roles. All were older than called for. Tyrone Power, Flynn and Eddie Albert were all in their late 40's. As per the usual Hollywood double standard, beautiful 34-year old Ava Gardner, who looked too young to be believable as a contemporary of the men, was cast as Brett Ashley. Gardner did a fine job, but casting her only further pointed up the age factor. Power and Flynn, both of whom battled alcoholism, difficult personal lives and the ravages of time, had lost the beauty of their youth, and this was probably a factor in the criticism as well.  Inexplicably, movie audiences were apparently unaware that youth and beauty do not last forever, even for movie stars, and perhaps they could not forgive their heroes for being real men.  I believe that The Sun Also Rises has its flaws, but it is a great film. This is due in large part to the performance of Errol Flynn.

It has been said that the character of Mike Campbell was so much like Flynn himself that it did not require much acting on his part. To my mind, that criticism shows incredible ignorance of acting as a craft as well as a gift.  Yes, the part of Mike Campbell is that of an aging, alcoholic playboy, but even if an actor drinks in his personal life, he cannot work if he is really drunk, and no director would put up with it.  People who are truly intoxicated are unobservant, clumsy and not sharp enough to work.  Actors have to remember lines, make the mark required for the shot, act with subtlety when required -- Flynn was acting.  It could not have been easy for him either.  Mike was a man of great charm whose looks and fortune were gone, who was no longer receiving the easy attention his youth and beauty once gave him, a  man forced to question all of the decisions of his life.  Flynn at this time was also dealing with the ultimate experience of all people reaching the latter part of life -- seeing the mistakes of our youth catch up with us and trying to deal with it.

Even in his older years, a "colorful fragment in a drab world."
(Pictured here in Crossed Swords)
When he was very young, with all of life before him, Flynn said, "I intend to live the first half of my life. I don't care about the rest." What young person ever truly believes he will get old and ill, or addicted to dangerous habits, or find tragedy in life? That belief in immortality is the charm of youth, and Flynn had more charm than anyone around him. When he matured and found that life as a movie star was not the picture of glamour most of us think, he once said, "It isn't what they say about you. It's what they whisper." There were many whispers surrounding Flynn's life, as well as headline shouts. When he began to age, and cruel remarks were made about him playing caricatures of himself, he said, "I allow myself to be understood as a colorful fragment in a drab world." Flynn was an enigmatic man, charismatic and determined to live fully to the end of his life, but also a man with demons to battle. Olivia deHavilland, who knew him well in his peak career days, said of Flynn, "He was a charming and magnetic man, but so tormented." Most surprising to me, even Jack Warner, known to be a harshly insensitive man who didn't like actors, Flynn included, once said, "Errol Flynn was one of the most charming and tragic men I have ever known."
*Quotes credited to Flynn's own writings and the Internet Movie Database* 

Flynn with Ava Gardner as Brett Ashley
The complex role of Mike Campbell required the ability to play charm, frighteningly-quick anger, self-deprecating humor, jealousy, disappointment and deep sadness. This was not an easy part to play, and despite his personal problems, Flynn was magnificent. The character of Mike carried much of the story's pathos on his shoulders, and Flynn's many scenes are some of the best. He received critical praise for his performance. So he was obviously nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor, right? No. According to daughter Rory Flynn's website devoted to her Dad:  "A recent Australian documentary on his life and career, narrated by Christopher Lee, included a film clip of Errol Flynn being interviewed on his being nominated for the Academy Award for his critically acclaimed performance in The Sun Also Rises. We are then told that the nomination 'disappeared'.  (http://www.inlikeflynn.com/.) 

That is all I could find out. You know, I'm sure that the incredibly handsome, don't-give-a-damn-what-you-think type of man like Flynn grated a lot of people the wrong way. I'm sure he could be difficult to deal with, as are many people. I'm certain men felt a jealous hate because their women wanted him -- women felt similar emotions because they couldn't have him exclusively. I would bet the family farm that many of these were the very people in the movie industry who had the ability to deny him a well-deserved chance at an award.  Flynn had always wanted very much to be considered a serious actor, and official recognition of this role would have done it for him.

The 1957 Best Supporting Actor nominees would have provided stiff competition for Flynn that year.  Red Buttons, who won for Sayonara, and Sessue Hayakawa, nominated for The Bridge On The River Kwai, both gave fantastic performances. Vittorio de Sica was excellent in A Farewell To Arms.  Flynn had given a performance of a stature that clearly belonged with those.  But do you know who the other two nominees were? Russ Tamblyn and Arthur Kennedy for Peyton Place! No disrespect intended to those actors, but for that movie and those performances, it was an absolute joke. Somebody wanted to be sure Flynn was left out, and did so in such a manner that they may as well have knocked on his door and slapped his face. Shameful.

Even today, when our culture is supposedly more tolerant and open, and when Flynn is loved more than ever before by classic film fans, the movie industry still refuses any tribute to him.  His loving daughter Rory has been trying to get a tribute to her Father from the Oscar people, and recently had to post on her aforementioned website:  "Dear supporters, We have all struggled to have the Academy of Motion Pictures award a posthumous Oscar to Errol Flynn. I am sad to share with you that the academy will not be able to do so. The president of the Academy, Mr. Sid Janis has informed me that the academy will not and has not given the award posthumously. It is a sad moment for me personally and I know to the many who share with me the joy and happiness that Errol Flynn brought to the screen and to our hearts. Thank you for your support. Rory." 

Janis's statement that the Academy does not give posthumous awards is just not true. My blogging friend Caftan Woman advised me that the great Edward G. Robinson had never been awarded an Oscar, and he was dying when the Academy decided to give him an honorary award.  Robinson died before the Oscar ceremony was ever held, yet he was posthumously given the honor he definitely deserved.  Selective regulations do not sit well with me, and I think the Academy's reasoning about Flynn shows incredible hypocrisy in denying this wonderful actor the recognition from his peers that he hoped for during his life.

I am providing a link to Youtube so that any interested readers who have not done so, can see first-hand the quality of Flynn's performance in The Sun Also Rises. Actually, the link is to the entire movie, which surprised me to find. I am providing here the beautiful opening credit, and 3 particular scenes in which Errol Flynn just shines, with the exact places for you to forward and easily find them. If you choose to watch these, the short time it takes is worth every second.


Opening credits with composer Hugo Friedhofer's magnificent score:
   From the very beginning to the director's credit.

Cafe scene after bullfight:
   1:16:20 - 1:19:16

Outdoor cafe after the fiesta:
   1:34:20 - 1:37:10

My favorite of Flynn's scenes, very short, revealing Mike as he truly is, when no one is looking:
   1:51:20 - 1:53:22

*I wrote and published this article originally on the Classic  Film and TV Cafe movie blog of which I am a member.  I would also like to thank Caftan woman, whose tip about the posthumous Oscar situation was so valuable.  Links to both sites can be found on my blogroll at the sidebar*

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cast of Mystery Science Theatre 3000...A Really Bad Movie...A Real Theatre...Sounds Like Fun to Me!

Would you like to see an unintentionally terrible movie and laugh until your stomach hurts? I've got just the thing for you. If you are in or anywhere near the Indianapolis area, get yourself over to the UA Galaxy Stadium 14 theatre on Wednesday, August 17th at 8:00 p.m. The best movie theatre in Indianapolis will be presenting a live showing (via satellite) of Jack The Giant Killer, as only the cast from Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) could do it. Appearing to present the movie will be Mike Nelson, the unwitting dunce shot into space by a mad scientist and forced to watch bad movies; Kevin Murphy (the voice of robot Tom Servo); and Bill Corbett (the voice of Crow T. Robot). They will be doing their famous and hilarious snarking of a movie that you would not want to see any other way! At theatres all around the country, fans will be experiencing real-time fun together.

Released by United Artists in 1962, Jack the Giant Killer was not intended to be a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) victim, but that's the way it turned out.  The cast includes hunky Kerwin Matthews of The Three Worlds of Gulliver and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad fame; Torin Thatcher, wonderful character actor who specialized in flashy, unforgettable villains and also starred in Sinbad with Matthews; and Judi Meredith as the Princess (there is always a Princess).  Meredith is a lovely girl who did a lot of TV work, but I don't remember her at all.  The story abounds with witches, sorcery and, obviously, a Giant.  Sounds good, doesn't it?  It's not, at least not the way director and co-writer Nathan Juran made it.  Juran actually directed two of my favorite sci-fi movies, the aforementioned Sinbad, and Ray Harryhausen's 20 Million Miles To Earth.  Well, you can't win 'em all!  Co-writer Orville Hampton also penned screenplays for such blockbuster sci-fi hits as The Alligator People, The Snake Woman and Rocketship X-M -- HUH?  Maybe Hampton was part of the problem here.  It also didn't help that the movie was produced by the rather obscure Edward Small Productions.  (That sounds uncomfortably close to "Edward D. Wood, Jr. Productions", which most film enthusiasts know was responsible for the worst movie ever made, Plan 9 From Outer Space.) 

Here in Indianapolis, The Galaxy Stadium 14 is an audience-friendly, well-run and very comfortable place to watch a movie.  (And no, I don't work there - I just like it!)  The Galaxy is located at 8105 East 96th Street, Indianapolis, IN 46256.  It is on the south side of 96th Street, just east of Hague Road, and can be easily accessed by interstate from any direction.  To make your evening more special, there are many good restaurants and bars within walking distance of the theatre. 

If you are 5 minutes or an hour away from Indianapolis, it would be worth your while to take a nice summer evening drive and come to have a great time.  Tickets are available at Fandango.com -- just search for Rifftrax and look for Jack the Giant Killer.  You can also call the theatre for further ticket information at 317-570-5678.  I'll be there with my son -- we are both MST3K enthusiasts.  Hope you can join us!

You just know that the MST3K guys won't be able
to resist mentioning Thatcher's hat!
Our lowly farm boy hero and his gal... Oops,
I mean, Her Royal Highness, the Princess!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bette Is So Bad!

My favorite picture of Bette Davis ... I wish I could walk around with
venetian blind shadows across my face ... it makes you look so good!

Most of my classic film favorites are on VHS tapes, and we all know those are becoming as obsolete as my old black rotary phone.  The tapes are getting old and the picture and sound quality are deteriorating.  I'm getting panicky about some of the old treasures I have taped off Turner Classic Movies that will never be available on DVD because they are too obscure.  Replace all of my famous favorites with DVDs, you say?  Hah!  Not unless I win the lottery, which I have actually been told is about as likely as having a giraffe with no parachute jump from a plane and crash through your living room ceiling.

Last year I gave myself a birthday present and a Christmas present.  Not that I don't get presents from other people, you understand.  I really do have family and friends who are willing to spend money on me.  These two particular items, though -- I was so greedy that I made sure I got them as gifts by spending my own money on me.  The fact that I had to put off paying the electric and gas bills to do it was a minor point.  I got two of the DVD collections of the movies of Bette Davis.  What a thrill to bring those home!  I lived in Bette-land all weekend with each one I bought.  Today, for some reason I can't explain, I am in the mood to see the great Evil Bette.  Maybe I'm feeling evil, and no one could inspire me to greater heights of meanness than Bette.  So just for fun, I'm going to spend the next couple of evenings (and late nights probably) with Bette at her most bitchy.  Here, in chronological order, are the movies I'm going to devour like a glutton devours dinner:

Jezebel (1938) Bette brazenly embarrasses poor Henry Fonda by wearing a lipstick-red gown at a ball where all young virgins wear white.  Well, maybe there was a good reason she did not wear white, and maybe it was all Henry's fault.  Oh, and later she tries to break up his marriage.  Forgot about that one.

The Letter (1940)  Bette coldly shoots her lover, lies to everybody about it, deceives her trusting husband (Herbert Marshall), hurts him when he finds out the truth, puts him through the torment of forgiving her infidelity, and then tells him ... "With all my heart, I still love the man I killed." 
 Lucrezia Borgia was an amateur compared to Bette.

The Little Foxes (1941) Boy, even her veil looks evil. Bette is a scheming, manipulative woman who has nothing but contempt for her sweet husband (poor Herbert Marshall again!). She wants money from him for a nasty business deal, he won't give it to her, and she watches him die of a heart attack as he desperately tries to find his heart medicine. Why do women like that always get the good ones?

 In This Our Life (1940)  Bette sits as no lady should ever sit with George Brent in the room. She breaks George's heart, steals from Olivia deHavilland (her own sister) the husband that Olivia loves. Bette then drives him to suicide, is nonetheless welcomed home by Olivia and parents, goes out drunk and runs down a little girl, tries to blame it on a young black friend, torments her dying uncle for money, then runs from police, crashes her car and dies. Applause, curtain down, good riddance!

Mr. Skeffington (1944) Maybe this doesn't really qualify as true evil, but Bette is an egotistical woman incapable of love who marries for money (Claude Rains), cares only about her looks, and doesn't want or care about her daughter. She is also really stupid.  Again, a mean woman gets a sweet, loving man.
 It's making me really mad.

Whatever Happened To Baby Jane (1962) Bette at her hammy best as an over-the-top, evil woman. She's also crazy. She's also delusional. And she beats her crippled sister (Joan Crawford) and serves rats to her for dinner. I personally have 4 sisters. I am going to choose carefully who I live with if I can't take of myself!

I hope you enjoyed this trip down Evil Bette lane.  To be fair, sometime I'll do an article about the loving, sacrificial, scared and wounded Bette ... Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, All This and Heaven Too, The Great Lie ... Bette could do anything!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Beware, My Lovely -- Film Noir With A Difference

This is my contribution to the Ida Lupino Blogathon being sponsored today and tomorrow at  www.missidalupino.wordpress.com.  The banner for this Blogathon is posted on my sidebar at right.  Don't miss these wonderful articles about a wonderful actress!

Beware, My Lovely is not a typical film noir. It does not take place in the underworld of Chicago or the back streets of New York. It is not set in modern time, nor does it involve crime bosses or femme fatale molls. Yet, it is as the genre name indicates, a dark movie, tense and disturbing, about a crime already committed and potential crime yet to come. The setting is a small American town in the year 1918. It is Christmas time in a lovely tree-lined neighborhood where children are laughing and playing and the sun is shining.

The film opens in the kitchen of a big-city apartment, where handyman Howard Wilton (Robert Ryan) discovers the dead body of the lady he has been working for. Howard looks at the body, shocked and confused. We know he does not know what to do, and in his fear he flees the building. The next scene opens in the small town described above, in the home of a World War I widow Helen Gordon (Ida Lupino). Helen is cleaning and preparing her house for Christmas. She is also saying goodbye to Walter (Taylor Holmes), her longtime boarder who is moving away. Helen’s niece Ruth (Barbara Whiting), a particularly sullen and malicious adolescent, is being punished by her mother, who has ordered her to help Aunt Helen with her cleaning. Some of Helen’s little piano pupils drop by, and Helen’s little dog is happily romping around with all the company.

Amidst all of this pleasant bustle, Howard walks through the front door. He seems intensely shy and unsure of himself, quiet and gentle. He is looking for work, and Helen decides to hire him for the day to help with the cleaning. Soon Walter is moved out, the children are gone home, Ruth has been released from her punishment, and the dog is outside. Helen is alone with Howard, and so begins a day of terror for her. Howard is mentally unstable, at once menacing and pitiful, sharp and alert one moment, confused and forgetful the next. Helen comes to realize that she is trapped in the house with him, and as she comes to understand the danger she is in, her fear and vulnerability increase with every moment.

Each scene of Beware, My Lovely builds upon the next like the little Russian doll that opens to reveal another smaller doll, than another, until the core is revealed. Screenwriter Mel Dinelli did a wonderful job with this subtly terrifying story. (Dinelli also wrote the screenplay for another of my favorite suspense thrillers, The Spiral Staircase.) There is little more I am willing to reveal about the film because the very nature of it depends upon the unknown. Suffice it to say that this is not a typical story with a typical ending.

Beware, My Lovely began as a stage play and then a radio play in 1945 on the popular Suspense program, starring Agnes Moorhead and Frank Sinatra in his radio drama debut.  Ida Lupino and her husband produced the movie of Beware, My Lovely in 1952. Lupino was one of the first women to begin working behind the camera to produce and direct movies. Director Harry Horner did his usual wonderful job (he also directed one of my favorite movies, The Heiress). The cast was solid, including long-time character actor Taylor Holmes and young Barbara Whiting, the sister of famed singer Margaret Whiting and the daughter of Robert Whiting, a prolific songwriter whose compositions included “Hooray for Hollywood”, “On the Good Ship Lollipop”, and “Too Marvelous for Words”. The art direction was done by the wonderful Albert D’Asgostino, who was also responsible for art direction in The Magnificent Ambersons. Mention must be made of the costume designer, Michael Woulfe. Lupino’s costume with the long hobble skirt popular in 1918 gives her an even greater look of trapped inability to save herself. Ryan’s clothing, including an oddly short tie, is rather dorky and sad, like a man who does not know how to dress himself.

With all these winning elements, the fact is that Beware, My Lovely is Robert Ryan’s film. Audiences accustomed to seeing Ryan as intensely masculine, tall and dominant, saw him in this movie as a sad, tired, mentally ill man. He is indeed menacing, but at the next moment unable to remember what had happened and afraid of his confusion. He terrorizes this woman, and at the same time has gentle feelings for her. His character cannot be pigeon-holed into good guy/bad guy, and Ryan masterfully creates this disturbing presence.  Beware, My Lovely belongs in the film noir genre despite its uncharacteristic elements, maybe even because of the peculiarity of mental volatility and disturbing undercurrents that darken the sunniest day.

(This article was originally posted on the Classic Film and TV Cafe)