Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dinner and a Movie: Particle Fever

Particles of Lantern Light

By Steve Herte

What a whirlwind week! On Monday night I had to tell my Dad that it was the only night he would see me. Tuesday night is karaoke night at Gabby O’Hara’s Pub and I was celebrating my friend (and dancing partner) Betty’s birthday by (she wanted to do this) letting her pick all my songs without telling me what they were. Helene and I started this tradition long ago but it was more interesting when Helene was around because she knew me and could (and did) pick songs I could sing but would never pick for myself. Betty was much more conservative.

Wednesday night I attended a Members-Only preview of Pterosaurs - First in Flight, the new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. It was awesome! Up until this exhibit I only knew three names of flying dinosaurs. Now I know there were 150 species of them ranging in size from a hummingbird to the Quetzalcoatlus, which was the size of a two-seater plane! I know, they had a full-sized model of one suspended from the ceiling. The children there had great fun at an interactive video where they could control the pterodactyls on the screens before them. I spent an hour and a half there and then had dinner at Swagat, my 134th Indian restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue.

Thursday, my sister (the nurse) was able to free up her busy schedule to slot me in for her 60th birthday dinner (which I promised her on December 9th). We went to Nancy’s Fireside on Jericho Turnpike and had a great evening of conversation and good food and drink. At family gatherings we never get to talk that much, so it was a fun evening.

And Friday? Well, you know what I do Fridays. Read on and enjoy!

Particle Fever (Anthos Media, 2013) – Director: Mark Levinson. Cast: Martin Aleksa, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Savas Dimopoulos, Monica Dunford, Fabiola Gianotti, David Kaplan, & Mike Lamont. Documentary, Color, 99 minutes.

Why is the universe so big? Why is it expanding at an accelerated pace? Is there such a thing as a “Multiverse?” Why is gravity the weakest of all forces? What holds the nucleus of an atom together? Are there particles outside the electron orbits to be discovered? These are among the questions to (hopefully) be answered when the Large Hadron Collider powered up for the first time on September 10, 2008. This 17-mile-long loop of technology under Switzerland and France near Geneva is the focus of this new documentary.

Produced by David Kaplan and directed by Mark Levinson, this beautifully photographed, majestically scored film attempts to compress the 18-year building, the first testing, the crucial power-up and the resulting data involved in the creation of this complex marvel of modern science.


The movie starts in rural bucolic Switzerland and the camera pans a peaceful scene until it focuses on the alien dome that is CERN (“Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” – in English, the European Council for Nuclear Research). CERN was founded in 1954 and has been accelerating proton beams in the first Synchrocyclotron, the Proton Synchrotron and the Large Electron-Positron Collider until the late 1980s when ground was broken for the Large Hadron Collider. We see the gargantuan machine being assembled and hear from various international scientists of their first impressions regarding the enterprise.

Kaplan is a Theoretical Particle Physicist and professor of physics at Johns Hopkins University. Martin Aleksa received his PhD in Physics at the Vienna University of Technology and works on the ATLAS project at CERN. Nima Arkani-Hamed is an American/Canadian theoretical physicist on the faculty at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Savas Dimopoulos is a particle physicist at Stanford University, California. Monica Dunford is a young post-doc from the University of Pennsylvania working on the ATLAS experiment. Fabiola Gianotti is an Italian particle physicist from the University of Milan who also works on the ATLAS project. Mike Lamont is the LHC Machine Coordinator at CERN and head of machine operations. We hear impressions and insights from all these participants throughout the film, share their excitement and awe and even chuckle at their humor. At one point at a lecture an audience member asks David what possible economic benefits could come from the LHC. His response: “I absolutely don’t know.”

On the American side, the audience is treated to the reasons why the proposed collider in Waxahachie, Texas, (which would have been bigger than the LHC and finished first) was scrapped. Congress canned it with comments such as, “Understanding the universe is not important…” and “Let the Europeans build it first! We’ll steal their technology…”

We see the great anticipation when the first particle beam is set in motion (a year or two before the grand start up) and the tension in the room waiting for that first “blip” of light on the view screen. We watch as digital graphics depict the two particle beams as they draw closer and closer to collision and exult when the ATLAS, CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid), LHCb (Large Hadron Collider Beauty), and ALICE (A Large Ion Collider Experiment – to detect quark/gluon plasma) particle detectors start lighting up their respective screens with collision data. We wonder at the initial measurements when the Higgs Boson is detected and it weighs in at 140 GeV (Giga-electron-volts), meaning there are no new particles to be discovered and the “Multiverse” has been proven. The scientists explained that they were hoping for it to be 114 GeV at which weight the Standard Model of physics would be complete with the Higgs Boson at the center and “Supersymetry” proven. Then, the final measurement comes in at 125 GeV, right in the middle and we know that neither extreme has been proven. We wonder with the physicists where to go next.

Lastly we applaud Peter Higgs, who appears in the movie teary-eyed that his particle has been discovered in his lifetime (he’s 79 at the time), and as he is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics with François Englert in 2013 "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider."

Particle Fever, though it tries with animated graphics to make the topic “user friendly,” is not for the uninitiated. No matter how the director attempts to entertain, the topic becomes dry and sleep inducing. Fortunately, the musical score is quite explosive at crucial times to bring the audience back to life. In the hour and 39 minutes we see David and Nima furiously scribbling Greek lettered equations on blackboards which are cryptic at best, a pictorial graphic of the Standard Model with the “H” for Higgs at the center but without any further definition of terms, and we can’t help but notice that physicists all seem to have dreadful hair. I guess they have a lot of other things on their minds besides grooming. Also, the four collision points and data detectors were not decrypted as to how they received their names. I would have liked to see that. I’m glad that I saw the movie, since my minor in college was physics, but I needed a little more information.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Lantern Thai Kitchen
311 2nd Avenue (at 18th Street), New York


The glass-fronted property on the northwest corner of Second Avenue and 18th Street with the tastefully small neon sign merely saying “Lantern” over the door is almost unnoticeable. Had I not been searching for it I might have missed it. Inside, the two chandeliers with faux candles and the skinny foot-long incandescent bulbs suspended from the recessed white ceiling compete (unsuccessfully) with the street light coming in the floor-to-ceiling windows. Three artfully constructed “trees” form the centerpiece of the restaurant and divide the rows of tables into two. 

The young lady at the Captain’s Station met me and asked if I would like to eat at the bar. I told her I prefer a table for dining and she led me to the last table in the front window where the bar began. I thought it was perfect, cozy but isolated, warm but drafty (though far from the entrance) and unfortunately (as Arthur Schwartz would describe it) “Mongolia.” “Mongolia” is where you are seated and no one sees you right away (or in the worst case ignores you) and service is what you make it. I had no problem with that. I know how to get attention.

It turns out that the one who seated me, Tong, was my prime server. Four different servers attended me during my stay, but hers was the name on the check. Tong presented me with the menu, the drinks and wine list and a glass of water. Shortly before I started reading she asked if I wanted a cocktail. I explained that I hadn’t had time to read the menu yet and she left. The time it took to decide on my Strawberry Long Island Iced Tea (Grey Goose Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Patron Silver Tequila, Bombay Sapphire Gin, cola and strawberry garnish) and the time it took for her to reappear gave me an idea of how long my entire dinner would take.

There were 16 Appetizers, 7 Salads, 3 Soups (with a choice of chicken, vegetable, tofu, or shrimp), 7 Noodle dishes, 6 Wok-Fried dishes, 4 “Curry” dishes, 4 Rice dishes, 9 Poultry and Meat dishes, 12 Fish and Shellfish dishes, and 9 Sides. Lots of choices. I chose Lantern Thai because of the several vegetable and seafood dishes listed on the menu. 


Little did I know I would find two of my favorite Thai appetizers. From previous experience, I have loved Curry Puffs (onions, potatoes and curry powder) and Cheese (actually, Crab) Rangoon (yes, I know Rangoon is in Burma – or Myanmar if you’re a revolutionary) and there they both were. I decided to order both. A different girl delivered my towering drink (which was delicious) and took my dinner order. I noticed right away we had not only a language problem, but a hearing problem as well. The noise level in the restaurant was not that bad, but I think her hearing was. Between my shouting and her repeating my order we established communication.


The Curry Puffs and Cheese Rangoon arrived first on matching long rectangular platters. The finely mashed potatoes and onions in the Curry Puffs were only lightly flavored with aromatic curry and sealed in a crisp rice dough and came with a white coconut dipping sauce. The Cheese Rangoon had a crab stick wrapped in home-made cream cheese wrapped again in crispy rice batter and came with a sweet duck sauce. My Vegetable Tom Kah Soup made its appearance at the same time. I prayed that my main course was not right on their heels but suspected it would be at my table way before I finished what I had (and had room for it). I tasted everything first to see what was hottest in temperature and to determine which would cool down first. The soup was indeed hottest. The coconut-based broth was delightful and a treasure trove of broccoli, zucchini, celery, onions, tomatoes, string beans and some vegetables I’ve never seen before. It was excellent: alternating between appetizers and spoonsful of soup worked out fine.

Oh no, here comes a third server with my main course! It’s too big to fit on the table with the three less than half-finished prior courses. I sent it back wondering how long it would take to recover it. But, as I said, I know how to get attention. I enjoyed the food that I had and carefully sipped my drink until they were all finished. Then when Tong came to ask if I wanted another drink I ordered a glass of Malbec and let her know that I was ready for my fish. It didn’t take that long.


The Three-Flavor Red Snapper was a golden-fried whole fish and the three flavors were chili, basil, and spicy “tamarind lava.” It was topped with slices of red and green pepper and the tamarind lava made a bloody-looking sauce on the plate. Granted, this dish looked appetizing only to me. When I tried photographing it the closest I could come was “ghastly,” but it tasted great. The spice overwhelmed the basil and tamarind (usually sweet) and the frying made a super crispy coating on the outside that required a steak knife to cut the flesh from the bones. It was work, it was delicious and I had no problem with “surprise” bones (ones that suddenly appear in your mouth and have to be removed). Although it looked daunting at over a foot long, I finished it proudly and the Malbec served to compliment it perfectly, adding its spicy flavor to the chili.

Server number four cleared my table and asked if I wanted dessert. I said yes and he brought me the menu. I thought the Home Made Volcanic Ice Cream topped with pineapple sauce sounded the most interesting and ordered it with a pot of Hot Green Tea. The tea arrived almost immediately in a remarkably heavy black iron pot accompanied by a handle-less white ceramic cup. It was wonderful. I waited for the dessert, and waited, and waited, but as nine o’clock arrived I asked for the check. When Tong brought it, sure enough the dessert was not there. Server number four did not record the order.

Slightly disappointed, but sated, I paid the check and asked number four where the restroom was. Though not surprised at the cardboard “Out of Order” sign on the men’s room urinal, I used the other available facility in the room, returned to my now less accessible (two people were sitting on stools at the end of the bar) table, got my coat and bag, snagged a business card and left Lantern Thai.


I believe that if I ever decide to return to Lantern Thai Kitchen, it will be with a small group. I still love Thai cuisine and there are enough interesting dishes to try, but I’m not sitting in that corner again.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Cinéma Inhabituel for April 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

TCM is taking a different approach with its “Star of the Month” by making it into a John Wayne marathon of sorts. It begins on April 21 and ends on April 26. I don't know why they're taking this approach for they did not do this before and they are not repeating it in May (June Allyson) or June (Rock Hudson). But maybe we should just sit back and enjoy this All-Wayne-All-Of-The-Time film fest.

STAR OF THE MONTH – JOHN WAYNE


April 21: Tune in for Duke at 8 pm in his first starring role. He plays a young mountaineer leading hundreds of settlers on a journey from Missouri to California in Raoul Walsh’s epic Western, The Big Trail (Fox, 1930). Although the Duke was fine, the movie bombed at the box office. As this was the Depression, this was tantamount to a death sentence for the actors involved, especially Wayne. It didn’t matter if one could act or not, but a star has to bring in the green, otherwise he or she is washed up quickly. And this is exactly what happened with Wayne. He went on to years of starring roles in cheap B-Westerns and serials and minor supporting roles in other films. It wasn’t until John Ford’s Stagecoach in 1939 that Wayne was able to see career daylight. Fair treatment? No, but that was the economics of the business. Film fans, especially Western fans, should tune in to this underrated gem.

At 10:30 pm comes New Frontier, a 1939 production from Republic made after Wayne wrapped on Stagecoach. This film is interesting because it was the final time Wayne appeared as Stony Brooke in the Three Mesquiteers series. The series originally started in 1935 with The Three Mesquiteers, about a trio of World War I buddies who go west to farmstead but find nothing but trouble. The original cast was Ray Corrigan as Tuscon Smith, Robert Livingston as Stony Brooke, and Sid Saylor as Lullaby Joslin. Terhune replaced Saylor in the sequel, Ghost-Town Gold, in 1936. Livingston left the series for a while in 1938 because of personality conflicts with Corrigan, and Wayne took the role of Brooke beginning with Pals of the Saddle (1938). He played Brooke in seven more films in 1938-39, three more after Stagecoach in fulfillment of his contract. Like his predecessor, Livingston, Wayne also had a personality crash with Corrigan, who made sure Wayne’s time as Brooke was a miserable one. Added to the fact that he had three more to make after his critical and popular plash as The Ringo Kid only made matters worse.

Haunted Gold, one of the quickies Wayne churned out for Warner Brothers, comes on at midnight. An otherwise uneventful film, but look for the statue of the original Maltese Falcon sitting on the piano of heroine Sheila Terry. Also look for Wayne’s horse, named Duke.

The only other catch for the night is seeing Wayne as an office worker seduced by Barbara Stanwyck in the notorious 1933 drama, Baby Face. Look carefully, however, for Wayne is not given much screen time.

April 22: An entire day of Wayne films kicks off with The Life of Jimmy Dolan (WB, 1933). Wayne has a bit part as a boxer. This is followed by a load of B-Westerns Wayne made for Warners and Monogram. The best of the bunch are Randy Rides Alone (Great title!) at 1:30 pm, followed by The Star Packer at 2:45 pm. At 8:00 pm, the Grade-A films come out, beginning with Stagecoach. Then it’s the sublime The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (10:00), Fort Apache(12:15 am), and The Searchers (2:30 am). The evening wraps with an underrated film from John Ford that features an excellent performance from Wayne, The Long Voyage Home (4:45 am).

April 23: The Wayne marathon continues with 3 Godfathers (6:45 am), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (8:45), and Rio Grande (10:45). At 12:30 pm, it’s the heralded The Quiet Man from 1952. Beginning at 8 pm, it’s “John Wayne Goes to War.” We begin with the excellent They Were Expendable (1945), followed by Operation Pacific (10:45), The Fighting Seabees at 1:00 am (See if you can count how many Japanese Wayne kills single-handedly), Back to Bataan at 3:00, and The Green Berets at 4:45 am, with George Takei.

April 24: The day begins with more war films starring Wayne. The best of the bunch are Flying Tigers at 9:15 am, and Cast a Giant Shadow, a 1966 film about the founding of Israel with an all-star cast, at 3:15 pm. In the evening, it’s a mixed genre bag with Howard Hawks’ 1948 masterpiece, Red River, leading off. The best of the rest are Reap the Wild Wind (12:45 am) from 1942 with Wayne as a sailor chasing both pirates and Paulette Goddard; and The Spoilers (3:15 am) with Wayne and Randolph Scott fighting for the affections of saloon singer Marlene Dietrich.


April 25: Yet more Wayne, beginning with Tall in the Saddle (RKO, 1944) at 6:15 am. Also of interest in the afternoon are Trouble Along the Way (1:45) with Wayne as a hard-driving football coach, Big Jim McLain, a 1952 opus that finds Wayne and Jim Arness fighting Commies in Hawaii, and the 1958 Howard Hawks Western, Rio Bravo (5:15) with Dean Marin and Angie Dickinson. The evening starts at 8:00 with North to Alaska, with Wayne and Stewart Granger as prospectors having to deal with con man Ernie Kovacs. At 10:15 it’s McClintock!, starring Wayne and Maureen O’Hara as a battling married couple in the West. At 12:45 am, it’s Wayne’s swan song, The Shootist, from 1976. He plays a dying gunman trying to get his affairs in order. The evening then rounds out with 1965’s The Sons of Katie Elder (2:30 am), and at 4:45 am, the epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, also from 1965.

April 26: The Wayne-a-Thon finally comes to an end with 1971’s Big Jake showing at 8:15 am.

OTHER NEWS

TCM salutes MGM’s 90th anniversary on April 17 and 18 with such fare as the Garbo-Gilbert silent steamer, Flesh and the Devil from 1926 (April 17, 8:00 pm),Grand Hotel (April 17, 10:00 pm), the original Mutiny on the Bounty (April 17, midnight), Ninotchka (April 17, 2:15 am), The Band Wagon (April 18, 9:00 am), North by Northwest (April 18, 11:00 am), The Postman Always Rings Twice with John Garfield and Lana Turner (April 18, 10:00 pm), and Singin’ In The Rain (midnight).

OUT OF THE ORDINARY

April 20: Tune in at midnight for a double header of Fritz Lang’s silent spy thriller, Spione (1928), followed by Max Ophuls’ 1955 drama, Lola Montes.


Spione, or Spies was inspired by a real life story about Scotland Yard’s uncovering of a Soviet spy ring working in London under the cover of being a trade delegation. But when Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, get through with it, Spione becomes something more akin to a pulp thriller: financial mastermind Haghi (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) runs a international espionage network under the cover of a bank. In fact, his headquarters is under the bank’s foundation. A master of disguise, he controls a vast surveillance network used to steal state secrets. His top operative is the beautiful Sonia (Gerda Maurus). Opposing them are rival agent Doctor Masimoto (Lupu Pick) and the heroic Agent 326 (Willy Fritsch), who falls in love with Sonia while trying to stop Haghi. It contains all the familiar Lang tricks and turns and will thrill all Lang’s fans. Even for those who usually bypass silents, this is still fun to watch.

In Lola Montes, director Ophuls picks up the story of the celebrated courtesan after her days of adventure have passed and she is reduced to being a featured attraction in a circus. It was the only color movie that Ophuls directed and was the last of his career. Panned by critics upon its release, it came to the attention of the French New Wave directors and critics who celebrated Ophuls’ themes about how male-dominated society destroys women and the paths they try to pursue to independence and happiness. Ophuls said in interviews that his inspiration for the film came from seeing how celebrities Judy Garland and Zsa Zsa Gabor were treated by society after being caught in affairs. It’s a lushly filmed saga with the colors popping out right at us, but more than that, it’s a thoughtful piece that will make the viewer reflect after it ends. As Francois Truffaut observed, “there are films that demand undivided attention. Lola Montes is one of them.”


April 27: It’s a double feature from Finnish director Ari Kaurismaki, beginning with The Match Factory Girl at 2:00 am. It’s the third film in Kaurismaki’s “Proletariat Trilogy,” after Shadows in Paradise (1986), about a garbageman, and Ariel (1988) about an unemployed miner. This time the subject is Iris, a young woman who toils on a factory assembly line. After work she returns to a tiny apartment, where she lives with her uncaring mother and stepfather. It’s a roof over her head, but nothing more, as she turns over her wages, does the cooking and cleaning, and sleeps on the sofa. Looking for any kind of affection, she frequents a dance hall, where she meets and sleeps with a man, with whom she falls in love. But she means nothing to him, which proves to have rather disastrous consequences. Rejected, depressed, her life a mess, Iris wakes up and decides to gain revenge on those who wronged her. But the style of the director keeps this from lapsing into a wallowing in depression. His method of following each helping of misery with another gives the film a veneer of black comedy, and we find ourselves rooting for Iris to exact her revenge.

The Match Factory Girl is followed at 3:15 am by Kaurismaki’s second film in the “Proletariat Trilogy,” Ariel. It’s the story of Taisto Kasurinen, a Finnish coal miner thrown out of work when the mine is closed and shuttered. He meets his father afterwards in a coffee house. Dad tells him how much life stinks, then retreats to the restroom and blows his brains out. Taisto cleans out his bank account of 8,000 marks, but loses the money to a pair of muggers. Needing money, he then becomes a dockworker, working intermittently. He meets Irmeli, a divorced woman with a son and falls in love. As he finds work is not forthcoming, he sells his car, and as he walks out with his money he spots one of the men who robbed him. The man pulls a knife and Taisto kills him in self-defense, but instead he is framed as the criminal and sentenced to prison. He quickly befriends his cellmate, Mikkonen, and when Irmeli visits him one day he proposes marriage, to which she accepts. He and Mikkonen break out of prison, he marries Irmeli, and after a series of escapades during which Mikkonen is shot and killed, Taisto and Irmeli finally make it to the ship that will take them to Mexico – the Ariel. Again, it’s the director’s method of staging each scene and setback that turns the film from a mere depression-filled melodrama into a black comedy. It’s definitely worth a peek.

April 28: Looking for a nice little change of pace? Then say no more and tune in at 3:30 pm to Night Flight, an MGM drama from 1933 starring John Barrymore as A. Riviere, a man who runs his air freight company with an iron hand, driving his pilots harder and harder and clashing with his easygoing inspector, Robineau (Lionel Barrymore). The movie’s plot is concerned with a desperately ill child in Rio de Janeiro who needs medicine from Santiago, Chile, ASAP. Robert Montgomery is the pilot that takes the serum from Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina, flying through rough weather, only to be fined by Riviere for arriving late. From there, pilot William Gargan flies the serum to Rio over the protests of wife Myrna Loy, who fears that he won’t get to Rio alive. In the meantime, there’s a subplot with pilot Clark Gable flying from the southern tip of Chile to Rio in stormy night weather as wife Helen Hayes worries. It’s an interesting little picture that was suddenly vaulted by the studio in 1942, remaining there until TCM and Warners Home Video came to the rescue.

PSYCHOTRONICA & THE B-HIVE

To paraphrase Spencer Tracy from Pat and Mike, “there’s not much there, but what’s there is cherce.”

April 19: We begin with one of the few good films to come from hack director Otto Preminger, Laura, which airs at 8:00 pm. Dana Andrews is in excellent form as a detective investigating the murder of Gene Tierney, who casts a spell over everyone she meets, including Andrews. It’s a delightful Whodunit filled with plot twists, including the ultimate twist just when Andrews thinks he’s solved the mystery. Clifton Webb is memorable as the acerbic critic Waldo Lydecker and won the Oscar for his performance. Judith Anderson is fine as Laura’s wealthy, scheming aunt, Ann Treadwell, as is Vincent Price, who plays Laura’s oily parasite of a fiancée, Shelby Carpenter. For those who want to see just how good Price could be, especially in a non-horror role, tune in and find out. Laura was originally slated as a B-film, but the favorable reaction was so great that it began playing as the featured attraction and made Preminger, who won the Oscar as Best Director for the film, one of the hottest directors in Hollywood.


At 2:00 am comes one of the great-demented horrors from Italian director Mario Bava, Hatchet for the Honeymoon (1970). Stephen Forsyth stars as a bridal shop owner stuck in a loveless marriage to wife Laura Betti, who is obsessed with the occult. However, he’s also bothered no end by a childhood trauma that he can only recall in tiny, disjointed fragments. He discovers that each time he kills one of his female clients (with a hatchet) after she ties the knot, more of his puzzle becomes clear to him. He finally gets around to killing his wife, burying her in the hothouse garden, but she proves to be a hard person to get rid of in a most supernatural manner. The performance of Betti, one of Italy’s most distinguished actresses, makes this one to catch. Also keep your ears peeled for the soundtrack by Sante Maria Romitelli.

We then go from the sublime to the boring as TCM airs Roger Corman’s fangless horror film, The Terror, with Jack Nicholson as a French soldier in the Napoleonic Era who is separated from his regiment and through a series of misfortunate events, ends up at the castle of Boris Karloff. Jack is looking for this mysterious woman named Helene (Sandra Knight) who has loved and left him. He has trailed her to Karloff’s castle, but Karloff claims there is no woman inside. Nicholson enters and looks for her while Karloff continues acting mysterious. It has a great Gothic atmosphere, but makes no sense whatsoever. For Corman completists only.

April 21: Before the John Wayne marathon begins that night, TCM devoted the morning and afternoon to teen moves from the ‘60s, especially the “Beach Party” series starring Frankie and Annette. Yeah, they’re stupid. Yeah, they’re badly acted and have low production values. BUT – they are fun to watch, nonetheless, because try as one might, it’s impossible to take these films seriously. As to “best” of the bunch, they are as follows: Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine(AIP, 1965) at 6 am, with Vincent Price as a mad scientist out to ensnare the fortunes of the world’s wealthiest men using bikini-clad beautiful robots and Frankie Avalon as the secret agent who foils his plan. At 12:45 pm, it’s Bikini Beach, as Frankie faces competition from British rock star The Potato Bug (also played by Avalon). How bad is it? Let me quote critic Michael Weldon: “He (Avalon) had trouble with one role, let alone two. His Bug portrayal, complete with long wig and ‘yeah-yeahs,’ is really embarrassing.” In other words: great entertainment for those hooked on bad movies.


April 26: We go from the ridiculous to the sublime beginning at 2:00 am with The Candy Snatchers (1973), a totally wretched, sleazy, and lurid piece of celluloid utterly lacking any quality. It’s about the abduction of 19-year old Candy (Susan Sennet) by a trio of kidnapers (Tiffany Bolling, Brad David and Vince Martorano) who bind and gag her, then bury her alive in a grave supplied only with an air pipe as they demand ransom from her stepfather, the owner of a jewelry store. But Pops has other plans and could care less. The key to her freedom is in the hands of a small, mute, autistic boy who has witnessed the kidnapping. Now, if he could only communicate with the adults and refrain from dropping snacks down the air pipe, everything might just work out.

Bolling, a former Playboy model, has called this movie “the worst film in the history of the world,” and said she only did it because she needed work and was on cocaine at the time and unable to form good judgments. Yeah . . . Okay.

The sublime comes to us at 3:45 am in the form of Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). It’s a fine tale, directed by Brian Forbes, about a self-styled medium (Kim Stanley) who kidnaps a child so she can help police solve the crime. Although may of the scenes could be shortened or deleted to strengthen the film, the main reason to watch is the performances of Kim Stanley and Richard Attenborough as her weak-willed husband. The two are well supported by Judith Donner as the kidnapped child and Nanette Newman as the distraught mother. It’s definitely one to watch.

April 30: Let’s wind up the month on a high note with one of director Fritz Lang’s best thrillers, Man Hunt (1941) which airs at 10:00 pm. Walter Pidgeon is perfect as Captain Alan Thorndyke, a big game hunter who infiltrates Hitler’s Berchtesgarden retreat and gets the Fuehrer in his sights before being stopped by the Gestapo. Brought before Gestapo Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders), Thorndyke tells him that he never intended to shoot, but his pleas hit deaf ears. Instead he is given a confession to sign that says he was an agent of the British government. He refuses to sign and is tortured, but when he continues to refuse to sign, Quive-Smith arranges for him to be thrown off a cliff, in order that it looks like an accident, but Thorndyke falls into a river and survives. He eludes the Gestapo and makes it to England, but they are in close pursuit. He manages to evade them with the help of a young Cockney woman, Jenny Stokes (Joan Bennett). It’s touch and go with the Nazis until the final scenes, as Lang keeps the pressure up, helped by the sublime villainy of Sanders. For those who haven’t yet seen this one, by all means watch. You will not be disappointed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

TCM TiVo Alert for April 15-22

TCM TiVo ALERT
 For
April 15–April 22
  
DAVID’S BEST BETS:

JAILHOUSE ROCK (April 15, 10:00 pm): This 1957 film is easily one of Elvis' best. He’s in prison on a manslaughter conviction. His cellmate, a former country-and-western singer played by Mickey Shaughnessy, recognizes Vince Everett (Presley) has musical talent after hearing him sing, and serves as a mentor. When Everett is released after 20 months in prison, he looks for work as a singer. He becomes a success thanks to a producer and his love interest, played by Judy Tyler (she and her husband died shortly after the film wrapped up production). Presley does a solid job, showing that if he had the right material, he was a good actor. The film is critical of the music industry with Vince, tired of getting ripped off, creates his own record label with Judy. The film's highlight is the iconic “Jailhouse Rock” performance Everett does for a television special. It doesn’t get much better than this. 

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (April 22, 10:00 p.m.): I'm not a John Wayne fan, but I certainly recognize when he gives an excellent performance. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is his finest film. It doesn't hurt that he gets to play off the legendary James Stewart and Lee Marvin, one of cinema's most underrated actors who is at ease playing the hero or the villain; he's great as the latter in this movie. Told in a flashback, this film, directed by John Ford, is extraordinary and one of the finest Westerns you'll ever see. It also features one of film's most iconic lines, told to Stewart's character, a U.S. senator, by a newspaperman: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." Don't miss this one if you haven't seen it.

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (April 16, 8:00 pm): Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson follow up their acclaimed performances in Howard’s End with this classic character study about a butler who sacrifices personal happiness for his duties. Emma Thompson is simply wonderful as the one he loves and loses; the housekeeper who nearly penetrates his Stoic armor. It’s the director-producer team of Ivory and Merchant at their finest. Scriptwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala does a marvelous job in adapting the Booker Prize winning novel by Japanese-born Englishman Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a thoughtful, intelligent, quietly intense movie that stands out in an era where the mindless, CGI action picture was beginning to establish box office dominance. I always thought it a shame that Hopkins and Thompson never teamed for another film, especially with Ivory and Merchant.

MY MAN GODFREY (April 16, 12:00 am): William Powell was an actor who improved any film in which he appeared. So imagine what he could do when given a first-rate film with first-rate co-stars, first-rate script, and a first-rate director. Thus we have My Man Godfrey, a film that artfully combines screwball comedy with social commentary without becoming annoying in the process. Powell plays a bum, a “forgotten man” who becomes the butler for a very rich – and very zany and self-absorbed – household, managing to serve their needs while teaching them about caring for their fellow men. Carole Lombard was nominated for an Oscar for her performance as the dizzy heiress who discovers Powell in the city dump while on a “scavenger hunt” for a charity event. Lombard decides the best thing to do would be to hire him as the family butler, which sets everything in motion. The chemistry is so strong between Powell and Lombard that one wonder why they ever divorced a couple of years earlier. Gail Patrick is great as Lombard’s scheming sister, Alice Brady as the girl’s scatterbrained mother, and always memorable Eugene Pallette as the family’s exasperated father. Mischa Auer also gives a wonderful performance as the “mascot” of the household. (Watch for his imitation of a gorilla.) In short, this is film in which everything adds up to a masterpiece of the genre, and one that can stand up to repeated viewings.

WE DISAGREE ON ... A KING IN NEW YORK (April 19, 6:00 am)

ED: B-. There comes a time when an artist reaches the end of the road. This film is a perfect example, a mixture of excellent social commentary and self-indulgent sermonizing about the McCarthy era. Most of the second half of the film is devoted to this tedious and pompous dialogue. The fact that Chaplin uses his own 10-year old son – playing a schoolboy whose parents are damaged by the anti-communist purges – to utter the dialogue, is testament to the futility that creeps in when the humor leaves. The young man’s lines don’t come across so much as normal conversation as they do as political pronouncements delivered with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. They manage to undo the first half of the film, which was riding along quite nicely. Charlie would have been better served if he would have just gotten over it. Thus the grade.


DAVID: A-. In his last starring role, Charlie Chaplin goes out with a bang. This satirical look at America's Red-baiting in the early 1950s is both biting, dead-on and quite funny. Chaplin's personal liberal leaning landed him in hot water with the U.S. House on Un-American Activities Committee, and he takes great joy in exposing its members and supporters as he did with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in The Great Dictator, though that film is better than A King in New York. This film is ahead of its time as it shows America's obsessions with television and advertising that still resonate today. Chaplin is the deposed king of a fictional European country who escapes to New York to live in a luxury hotel. That is until his prime minister steals the royal treasury leaving Chaplin's character with no other choice than to be a TV pitchman and media celebrity to pay the bills. It's not an all-time classic, but it's an entertaining and interesting film made all the more important as it's Chaplin's final movie.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Mel's Cine-Files


By Melissa Agar

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (Marvel Entertainment/Walt Disney, 2014) – Directors: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo & Joss Whedon (post-credits scene). Writers: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely (s/p), Ed Brubaker (concept and story), & Joe Simon, Jack Kirby (comic book). Cast: Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, Cobie Smulders, Frank Grillo, Maximiliano Hernandez, Emily Van Camp, Hayley Atwell, & Toby Jones. Color, 136 minutes.

It is hard to go anywhere these days without encountering people complaining about the state of our world and reminiscing about the “good old days.” I’ll admit to moments of being guilty of this myself, but working with high school kids does give me a chance to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sure, my students are outfitted with technology I could only have dreamed of when I was in high school, but the core of their identities haven’t changed all that much. Our kids are still driven by the same things that drove us – a desire to be free, an unflinching loyalty to friends, and a fundamental belief in justice and fairness above all. Those values may get lost in all the twittering and instagramming, but they are, indeed, still there. This truth also runs through the core of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the latest installment in Marvel Studios’s epic series.

It is a truth that our hero, Steve Rogers (Evans), is struggling to discover. After decades in deep freeze, Captain America is still coming to terms with the world he’s awoken to. He embraces the technology that allows him to play catch-up to all he missed during his nap, but it’s the obscured motives and shady politics that leave him questioning what role he can play in the contemporary world. It’s hard, in a world filled with terrorists and counterterrorism agencies, to tell who the good guy is and who the bad guy is, and that is taking Cap a lot longer to adjust to than iPods and the Internet. 

When Nick Fury (Jackson), a guy who has always kind of walked that line between trustworthy and shady, is attacked by shadowy forces that may or may not be connected to SHIELD, Steve finds himself on the wrong side of power and on the run with only Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Johansson) to keep him company. Steve and Natasha turn to Steve’s new friend Sam Wilson (Mackie), a war veteran who has his own heroic secrets. Their quest to uncover why Fury was targeted leads them to uncovering shadowy figures lurking within SHIELD and governments all over the world and puts them in the line of fire of a mythical assassin known as the Winter Soldier. All of this leads to the looming launch of a project known as Project Insight, a counterterrorism strike so awesome that it could eradicate the globe of all known terrorists and potential terrorists within seconds of launch.


There is a dual core of cynicism and hope running through the core of The Winter Soldier. On the one hand, people who lie and kill to get what they want surround Cap. Nick Fury tells Cap to trust no one, and it’s a lesson our hero learns time and again as he finds himself face to face with betrayal and danger. Even the motivation behind all of this subterfuge is a masquerade of sorts. The powers that be, in launching Project Insight, claim that they are striking terrorists before the terrorists can strike us, but when targets listed include Bruce Banner and Stark Industries, it seems as if there is more going on than just some preemptive strikes against national security threats. The film becomes, then, a political thriller and commentary on our own counterterrorist policies. Surely, I’m not the only one who thought of drone strikes as Fury lays out the awesome potential of SHIELD’s latest weaponry.

On the other hand, there a sense of hope and belief that people are still good deep down and will stand up for those core American values when the chips are down. Cap finds solace with friends like Natasha, Sam, and Agent Maria Hill (Smulders) who are willing to lay down their lives to protect innocent (and maybe even not entirely innocent) lives. When Cap issues a challenge to SHIELD employees to do the right thing, a war erupts as agents turn on each other as Project Insight’s coming to fruition looms. 

Thematically, there is a lot going on in The Winter Soldier. There is a lot going on visually, too, although the film is less reliant on CGI effects than other Marvel films.  (Looking at you, Thor!) At times, the action does become a bit chaotic and overwhelming, a truth of many contemporary action films who seem to feel like it’s just not good enough unless the entire frame is literally PACKED with imagery. When you factor in the 3D (and I did opt to see the film in 3D after having enjoyed its use in the first Captain America film), the hyperkinetic energy of the action sequences can be a bit overwhelming. The 3D here was also not as effectively utilized as it was in other Marvel films. Outside of some additional depth, there just weren’t those moments that took my breath away like there have been before. Maybe I wasted $3 for the 3D showing or maybe this is the future of 3D films – added depth and fewer “in your face” moments. 

The Winter Soldier is not a perfect film, but its willingness to allow for deeper meaning behind the action puts it a cut above many other comic book films. While I tend to prefer the swagger of Iron Man, the earnestness of Captain America has its appeal and makes for a far more enjoyable afternoon at the theaters than some of the more brooding entries like ThorThe Dark Knight, or Man of Steel. Captain America has awoken to a world far more complicated than the one he left, but it is a world where the inherent values he was so willing to fight to protect still exist even if they are hidden behind greater layers of corruption and greed. In the end, Cap will save the day (we assume) and those values will rise to remind us that freedom, friendship, and justice will always win out in the end.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In Memoriam: Mickey Rooney

By Ed Garea

If there was anyone who could be said to be literally born into show business, it was Mickey Rooney. From his debut in Vaudeville at only 17 months of age, he remained a star until the day he died. It was said of Rooney that he could do it all: act, sing, play piano and drums, and anything else that was needed.

His son, Michael Joseph Rooney, confirmed Mickey’s death on April 6. Mickey was 93.

Rooney was born Ninian Joseph Yule Jr. in Brooklyn on Sept. 23, 1920. His father, Joe Yule Sr., was a headliner on the second-rate Vaudeville circuits, and his mother, Nell Carter, danced in a burlesque chorus line. Known as Sonny Yule, he grew up in boarding houses and practically lived backstage. His parents divorced when he was 4, his mother returning home to Kansas City, Missouri. It looked as though he would get the chance to lead a normal childhood when his mother spotted a notice in Variety that Hal Roach was looking for children for his Our Gang comedies.


Roach’s offer to Sonny’s mother was $5 a day, but she declined, waiting for a better offer. When none was forthcoming, she and Sonny returned to Kansas City for a while, then returned to Hollywood, where Sonny secured a job in a musical revue for $50 a week. A few months later he was in a Fox short titled Not to Be Trusted, under the name of Mickey McBan. His mother then answered an audition call for the role of Mickey McGuire in a series of shorts based on the popular “Toonerville Trolley” comic strip. He won the lead, and as Mickey Yule, appeared in 78 of the shorts from 1927 to 1932. When not acting on the screen, he provided the voice for Walter Lantz’s “Oswald the Lucky Rabbit” cartoons, released through Universal Studios. His mother wanted to change his professional to Mickey McGuire, but when “Toonerville Trolley” comic strip creator Fontaine Fox objected, she chose the moniker Mickey Rooney instead.

Rooney signed on with MGM in 1934. His first notable role for the studio was playing Clark Gable as a boy in Manhattan Melodrama. He continued moving up the ladder, with roles in Ah, Wilderness (1935), and reprising his stage role as Puck in Max Reinhardt’s adaptation of A Midsummer’s Night Dream for Warners, where he appeared with James Cagney, Joe E. Brown, and Olivia de Havilland.


However, it was his role in a minor B film that sealed his path to stardom. A Family Affair, based on a 1928 Broadway play by Aurania Rouverol called “Skidding,” told of the trials and tribulations of the Hardy family in Carvel, Idaho. As Andy Hardy, youngest child of Judge James K. Hardy (Lionel Barrymore), Rooney’s part was strictly supporting, but the film took off at the box office and MGM decided to make a series out of it. Lewis Stone would take over the role of Judge Hardy for the rest of the series’ run, and Rooney saw his role as Andy turn from supporting to lead as the public couldn’t get enough of the Hardy family adventures. The series lasted for 15 films and is estimated to have earned over $75 million. He also won plaudits later that year for his role as a young deckhand in Captains Courageous with Spencer Tracy.

Although the public saw Rooney as the squeaky clean Andy Hardy, his off-screen persona was said to be more in line with Whitey Marsh, the delinquent he played in 1938’s Boys Town. Jackie Cooper said it was Joan Crawford who initiated him into the world of adult sex. For the 16-year old Rooney, it was none other than Norma Shearer. They had a hot and heavy affair while Shearer was filming Marie Antoniette, making so much noise in her trailer that the crew on the film complained to Louis Mayer himself. The death of her beloved husband, Irving Thalberg, and the continuing mental problems of her sister, Athole (married at the time to Howard Hawks), were said to have driven Shearer off the rails, and Rooney was but one in a long line of lovers (including Jimmy Stewart and George Raft) she took until she wed for the second, and last, time in 1942. For his part in the scandal, MGM severely reprimanded Rooney, and the studio publicity machine kept it quiet. They weren’t going to lose their cash cow if it could at all be helped. In fact, it wasn’t until Rooney spilled the beans in his autobiography, Life is Too Short, that the general public knew of the affair.

Looking around for other vehicles for Rooney, MGM again hit pay dirt when it decided to team him with their number one ingénue, Judy Garland. Having discovered positive buzz in their first film, Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), with Mickey playing a jockey tricked into throwing a race and Garland as the young woman who tries to help him, the studio next paired them in an Andy Hardy entry, 1938’s Love Finds Andy Hardy, with Garland playing Betsy Booth, a young lady visiting her relative, who lives next door to the Hardys. Though she has a crush on Andy, he regards her as too young. But she comes through at the end and gets Andy out of a jam with regular girlfriend Polly Benedict (Ann Rutherford). The character of Betsy proved so popular with the movie-going public that Garland reprised it in two later films: Andy Hardy Meets Debutante (1940) and Life Begins For Andy Hardy (1941).


Meanwhile, MGM also teamed the pair in a series of “Hey kids, let’s put on a show” musicals, beginning with Babes in Arms in 1939, where they put on a show to raise money for their out-of-work parents. It was MGM’s biggest money grosser of 1939 and earned Rooney an Oscar nomination as Best Actor. It was followed by Strike Up the Band (1940), where they raised money for a high school band contest; Babes on Broadway (1941), where they put on a show to send orphans on an excursion to the country; and, finally, Girl Crazy (1943), where they staged a rodeo to save their college from financial ruin. But the plots, such as they were, really didn’t matter. What really mattered was Judy’s voice, Mickey’s brashness and pluck, the music by such legends as the Gershwin brothers, and Rogers and Hart, among others, and the direction by veteran Busby Berkeley.

The year 1939 saw Rooney at the top of his game. That year, theater owners voted him the No. 1 box office star, ahead of second-place finisher Tyrone Power. In 1940, Rooney again took the crown, this time over Spencer Tracy. And in 1941, he made it three in a row, beating out Clark Gable. Also, at the 1939 Academy Awards, he and Deanna Durbin were presented with special juvenile Oscars for their contributions to the cinema. Besides the Hardy series and the musicals with Garland, Rooney also kept busy in films like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1939), Young Tom Edison (1940), Men of Boys Town (1941), A Yank at Eton(1942), The Human Comedy (1943 and his second Oscar nomination), and National Velvet (1944), with Elizabeth Taylor and his first adult role.

He was drafted into the Army in 1944 and until 1946 served in the Jeep Theater, a traveling troupe entertaining the troops, and acting as a personality on the American Forces Radio Network.

After his wartime service, however, he had a difficult time fitting back into Hollywood. MGM cast him in a new adult image as the lead in Killer McCoy, a remake of Robert Taylor’s 1938 boxing opus, The Crowd Roars. He also starred with Gloria DeHaven in the musical, Summer Holiday (1948), and as Lorenz Hart in Words and Music, a biopic about the songwriting team of Hart and Rodgers. But all three films failed at the box office; audiences now saw the qualities that made Rooney such a fan favorite during his earlier years as dated and annoying. Rooney settled his MGM contract in 1948 after a dispute about not being cast in their prestige 1948 war drama, Battleground, and began freelancing, appearing in nightclubs and in such forgettable fare as The Big Wheel (1949), Quicksand (1950), The Strip (1951), The Atomic Kid (1954), and Francis in the Haunted House (1956), where he took over from the departed Donald O’Connor as the talking mule’s sidekick. There were some gems in the mix, such as The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), The Bold and the Brave (1956, for which he garnered a Supporting Actor nomination), and Baby Face Nelson (1957), but these were few and far between. He tried to rekindle the magic with 1958’s Andy Hardy Comes Home, only to discover that the magic had left long ago.

Rooney fell victim to a series of demons in the ‘40s, including gambling (playing the ponies and craps), sleeping pills, alcohol, and, of course, marriage. Rooney was a serial monogamist, with eight marriages under his belt. He would divorce six times, with the divorce complaints focusing on the same issues: his fiery temper and his propensity to leave home for days and even weeks at a time.


The first of his marriages was to the 19-year old Ava Gardner in 1942 (he was 21). MGM fought against the marriage, and the subsequent divorce one year later. His next wife was Alabama beauty queen Betty Jane Phillips, who gave him sons Mickey Rooney Jr. and Tim Rooney. They would divorce in 1949. Spouse number three was actress Martha Vickers, who made a big splash as Lauren Bacall’s troubled sister in the 1946 noir, The Big Sleep. That union lasted until September 1952 and produced a son, Teddy Rooney. Mickey wasn’t back in circulation for long when he married spouse number four, Elaine Mahnken, who divorced her first husband while he was on probation for armed robbery. She took over the finances and brought Mickey to the cusp of solvency. He repaid her by going to Las Vegas and losing $50,000. That was that and they were granted a divorce in September 1958.

Again, Mickey wasn’t on the market for long when he married wife number five, Barbara Thomason, an aspiring actress. They had four children together: daughters Kimmy Sue Rooney, Kerry Yule Rooney, Kelly Ann Rooney, and son Joseph Kyle Rooney. It was during this marriage that Rooney declared bankruptcy, listing $500 cash in assets and almost $500,000 in debts, including $100,000 in delinquent taxes. In a settlement with the IRS, Rooney was grated an allowance of $200 a month, which forced him to borrow money to play the horses. But at least Barbara didn’t divorce him. A month after they separated in December 1965 and began a custody battle, Barbara Thomason Rooney was shot to death in Rooney’s Brentwood home by jealous lover Milos Milosevic, who then turned the gun on himself. The hit Rooney took in splashy tabloid publicity made him poison to many producers.

Rooney remained at large for a slightly longer period before wedding wife number six, Margaret Lane, in September 1966. That marriage had even less staying power, as the couple divorced in December 1967. It wasn’t until May 1969 that he wed spouse number seven, Carolyn Hockett. They had daughter Jonelle, and Mickey adopted Carolyn’s son, Jimmy, from a previous marriage. This one lasted almost six years, ending in divorce on January 24, 1975.

The multiple marriages and his other addictions, combined with an impulsive, mercurial nature, left Rooney is a state of perpetual need of funds. It was said that he earned $12 million before he was 40, and spent even more. When he was in desperate need of funds, playing Las Vegas was a safety valve – of sorts. As he said in his autobiography, he would often make $17,500 a week, then lose twice that amount at the crap tables.

At one point, in 1950, he was reduced to hawking Hadacol, a tonic with supposed health benefits (ironically, not unlike Vitajex) while touring the South with the “Hadacol Caravan,” an all-star revue extolling the dietary marvels of the product that also included celebrities like Milton Berle, Carmen Miranda, Chico Marx, Bob Hope, Cesar Romero, and Judy Garland, among others. Admission to the show was two Hadacol boxtops for adults and one for children. (Hadacol usually ran from $1.25 for 8-ounces to $3.50 for the 24-ounce “family size.”) Its inventor, Dudley LeBlanc, made over $10 million from sales until the government clamped down when it tested the mixture and discovered the “health” benefit came from it being 24 proof (12% alcohol).


And when films and Vegas proved to be not enough, there was television. He had a short-lived television series (33 episodes) on NBC in 1954-55. In 1957, he accepted a role on Playhouse 90 that a half-dozen other actors refused – that of a vicious, greedy and egomaniacal comedian named Sammy Hogarth in the teleplay, “The Comedian,” with a teleplay by Rod Serling and direction by John Frankenheimer. It was both a critical and commercial triumph, earning Rooney his first Emmy nomination. He followed this the next year with another critical triumph on Alcoa Theater starring in “Eddie,” a teleplay about a bookie who owes a fortune to loan sharks. He has until 6 pm to pay up, or else. It earned him another Emmy nomination.

However, no matter how any televised triumphs Rooney appeared in, his demons always left him broke and scratching for funds. He even tried his hand at directing, but the results were uneven at best. He did get to co-direct one of the all-time laff riots with Albert Zugsmith, The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (1960), in which he also starred, playing the Devil in, of all things, a padded snake suit.

But somehow he managed to revive his acting career by shifting his roles from leading to supporting. In 1961, he made a splash of sorts in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, playing the Japanese landlord, Mr. Yunioshi. His broad, over-the-top, stereotypical performance is condemned today, but in 1961, it was considered hysterical. Rooney followed this with roles in the critically acclaimed Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962) as Army, a boxing trainer who doesn’t want to sell his fighter down the river into a career as a pro wrestler. He also had a small, but lucrative, role in Stanley Kramer’s all-star extravaganza, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World(1963), as Ding Bell, who with buddy Benjy Benjamin (Buddy Hackett) is one of many chasing after a hidden fortune.

But, driven by his need for cash, he would take any role offered, starring with Hackett in Everything’s Ducky (1961) as two sailors who sneak their talking duck aboard their ship. It was a bad as it sounds. Another low budget wonder was AIP’s How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (1965), the last of the popular “Beach Party” series with Frankie and Annette. Rooney was “Peachy Keane,” a scheming ad executive looking for “the boy next door” and “the girl next door” for an advertising campaign. Also during this period he attempted another television series, this one called Mickey, where he played a hapless hotel owner. However, despite winning a Golden Globe Award, it only lasted for 13 episodes.

After the death of wife Barbara in January 1966, the resulting scandalous publicity made work hard to come by for Rooney. He would continue to plug away in mediocre movies such as Otto Preminger’s trainwreck, Skidoo (1968), the numbingly dull The Extraordinary Seaman (1969), and the excruciating The Comic(1969), with Dick Van Dyke. He would also pay the bills by guest starring on shows like “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” “The Dean Martin Show,” and “The Carol Burnett Show.” He also made 13 appearances on “Hollywood Squares” between 1969 and 1976, and made 15 appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” between 1970 and 1973.

He would personally hit bottom with the death of Judy Garland in 1969. Liza Minnelli has been quoted as saying that she wanted Rooney to give the eulogy at her mother’s funeral, but decided against it because Rooney’s emotional state made her feel that he might not be able to get through it, given his long and close friendship with Garland.

Things began to turn around for Rooney in the 70s. He gave up the booze and drugs and became a born-again Christian. In 1978, he wed his eighth – and final – wife, Jan Chamberlain, a country singer he met through son Mickey Rooney Jr. Their marriage lasted longer than his previous seven combined. (They would permanently separate, though, in 2012.) Jan brought a focus to her husband’s life, making him the star of their show.


In 1979, Rooney gained some of his best notices and his last Oscar nomination for his performance as Henry Dailey, a once successful horse trainer who receives one last shot at immortality in The Black Stallion. In 1981, he finally won an Emmy Award for his turn in the television movie Bill as a developmentally disabled man who has spent most of his life in an institution and must adjust to living in the outside world. A reprise of the role in the 1983 sequel, Bill: On His Own, led to his fifth – and final – Emmy nomination. Also, in 1983, he was awarded an honorary Oscar by the Academy “in recognition of his 60 years of versatility in a variety of film performances.”

In 1979, Rooney, along with fellow MGM hoofer Ann Miler, was approached by the duo of Ralph G. Allen and Al Dubin about starring on Broadway in an old-fashioned burlesque revue called Sugar Babies. He threw himself into the project with renewed energy, relying on his years in vaudeville to whip a motley collection of burlesque skits into shape. He would argue with the producers over every skit and every song, and was vindicated when the show opened on October 8, 1979, to ecstatic reviews from critics and strong sales. Both Rooney and Miller were nominated for Tony Awards. It would run for nearly three years after 1,208 performances. A road company with Carol Channing and Robert Morse headlining was unsuccessful – people wanted to see Mickey Rooney – so Rooney stayed four more years on the road with the show. In 1991, he returned to Broadway to star in The Will Rogers Follies, a review that played from May 1, 1991, to September 5, 1993, and 981 performances. And in 2007, he and wife Jan began touring in what they described as a “one man, one wife” show with the nostalgic title “Let’s Put On a Show.”

The coming of the new millennium failed to slow Rooney, as he appeared in Night at the Museum (2006) and The Muppets (2011) in addition to other movies. At the time of his death he was working on a new version of Jekyll and Hyde. His last live appearance was as a special guest on the TCM Classic Cruise in January 2013.

In 2011, Rooney obtained a restraining order against his stepson Christopher Aber and Mr. Aber’s wife, Christina, charging them with withholding food and medicine and forcing him to sign over his assets. He later filed suit against them, which was settled in 2013, with the Abers agreeing that they owed Rooney $2.8 million.

Also in 2011, Rooney repeated his allegations against the Abers in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which is considering legislation to curb abuses of senior citizens.

He is survived by wife Jan Chamberlin; sons Mickey Rooney Jr., Theodore Michael Rooney, Michael Joseph Rooney, and adopted son Jimmy Rooney; daughters Kelly Ann Rooney, Kerry Rooney, Kimmy Sue Rooney, and Jonelle Rooney. Son Tim Rooney died in 2006.


TRIVIA

Besides his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, Rooney also published a murder mystery, The Search for Sonny Skies, in 1994.

He was a co-owner for many years of the Mickey Rooney Tabas Hotel in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

In Life Is Too Short, Rooney mentions a brothel called "The T&M Studio," where the girls looked like Hollywood starlets. Although there were many rumors of such a brothel, no one would admit to ever having been there, or even verify its existence. Rooney also wrote that Groucho Marx had taken him there once, and Groucho appeared to be on a first-name basis with many of the hookers.

According to one story, Mickey Mouse was supposedly named for Rooney. It seems that Walt Disney saw young Rooney while working on the first drawings of what was to become Mickey Mouse. He asked the child actor what he thought of the drawings and also asked what his name was. This later was proven to be false.

Rooney broke his leg while filming A Midsummer’s Night Dream and was doubled by George Breakston in many scenes. Breakston would later go on to play “Beezy” Anderson, Andy Hardy’s best friend, in the Hardy Family series.

Rooney is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for longest movie career: 89 years (1925-2014).

Norman Lear considered him for role of Archie Bunker, but Rooney rejected the project just as Jackie Gleason had because of the controversial nature of the role.

THE ESSENTIAL MICKEY ROONEY

Death on the Diamond (MGM, 1934), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (WB, 1935), Ah, Wilderness! (MGM, 1935), A Family Affair (MGM, 1937), Captains Courageous (MGM, 1937), Love Finds Andy Hardy (MGM, 1938), Boys Town (MGM, 1938), Andy Hardy Gets Spring Fever (MGM, 1939), Young Tom Edison(MGM, 1940), Strike Up the Band (MGM, 1940), The Human Comedy (MGM, 1943), Girl Crazy (MGM, 1943), National Velvet (MGM, 1944), Quicksand (UA, 1950), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (Paramount, 1954), The Bold and the Brave (RKO, 1956), Baby Face Nelson (UA, 1957), The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (Universal, 1960), Requiem for a Heavyweight (Columbia, 1962), The Black Stallion (UA, 1979), Bill (CBS, 1981), Night at the Museum (20th Century Fox, 2006), The Muppets (Walt Disney, 2011), Driving Me Crazy (Keith Black Films, 2012).