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

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 CafĂ©.   For the complete list of blogathon entries, click here:

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!