Monday, May 30, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for June 1-7

 TCM TiVo ALERT 
For
June 1–June 7

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE SEVEN UPS (June 4, 10:00 pm): This is just a hair below SerpicoThe French ConnectionDog Day AfternoonTaxi Driver, and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three when it comes to great early to mid-1970s films that capture the grit, grime, danger, disgust, excitement and anything-goes attitude of New York City in that era. Roy Scheider is great as the head of a renegade group of cops who'll stop at nothing, particularly after one of their own is killed, and go beyond the law to catch the bad guys. It's certainly not the most sophisticated movie ever made, but it's among the most entertaining.

ON THE WATERFRONT (June 6, 7:15 am): There is so much to enjoy and admire about this 1954 film. The story is complex yet simple – the struggle facing Terry Malloy (Marlon Brando) as to whether he should do the right thing or the smart thing, and the repercussions that decision has on him, his brother, other longshoremen and those living near the dock. The acting is brilliant with Brando at his best and incredible performances by the supporting cast, in particular, Lee J. Cobb and Rod Steiger. The film takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions – anger, joy, hostility, frustration, sympathy, sadness and happiness. It's rare for a movie to not only do that, but do it exceptionally well. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE LOWER DEPTHS (June 2, 7:45 am): An interesting, though talky, drama from Akira Kurosawa about poverty in the “lower depths” of society. It’s based on Maxim Gorky’s play, At Bottom. Kurosawa changed the setting from Imperial Russia to Edo (as Tokyo used to be known) in the mid-19th century. Toshiro Mifune, the leading man in many of Kurosawa’s films, is the thief Sutekichi. He lives in a small hostel where the landlady Osugi (Isuzu Yamada) treats all for tenants badly; even a newly arrived priest. Though she is married, she is crazy about Sutekichi. Sutekichi, however, is in love with Okayo (Kyoko Kagawa), Osugi’s sister. When Osugi discovers the truth she goes into a jealous rage and incites Sutekichi to kill her husband. The consequences are dire, and neither Sutekichi nor Osugi have a happy ending. The film illustrates one of Kurosawa’s strength’s  the ability to adapt material from other sources and give it a spin all his own. A definite Must See.

BRIGHTON ROCK (June 7, 10:00 pm): From the Boulting Brothers comes this excellent adaptation (by Terence Rattigan) of Graham Greene’s novel about a gang of lowlife hoods in Brighton, England, and their teenage leader, Pinkie Brown. It’s a sequel of sorts to Greene’s novel, This Gun for Sale (published in the U.S as This Gun for Hire and made into a film in 1941 starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake). It’s also the breakthrough role for young Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. It was the most popular film in England when released in 1947, but didn’t do that much business here under the title Young Scarface. It also scored an incredible 100% on the Rotten Tomatoes website. if you’re looking for any further reason to watch. Oh, by the way, it has one of the best – and most cynical – endings of any film.

WE AGREE ON ... MY FAVORITE YEAR (June 5, 6:00 pm)

ED: A+. Richard Benjamin’s first outing as a director is a resounding success thanks to a great screenplay and outstanding performances from practically the entire cast. It’s based on a real life incident where Mel Brooks, then a junior writer on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, had to mind that week’s guest star, Errol Flynn, who was notorious for his love of the bottle and and diversion that came his way. It’s also the story of how Brooks met Anne Bancroft, who at the time worked for the station. Peter O’Toole, as Allen Swann, based on Flynn, is hilarious, as is Joseph Bologna laying a thinly veiled Sid Caesar. Anne DiSalvo is Selma Diamond and Basil Hoffman is Neil Simon. Finally, Mark Linn-Baker, as junior writer Benjy Stone, makes for a fine Mel Brooks. This film gently harkens back to a time when television was in its infancy and live and neatly captures the spirit of the era. Also, it has one of the best endings of any comedy I’ve seen. 


DAVID: A+. This film really has no business being as excellent as it is. Richard Benjamin was a fine actor, but an awful director  and this was his first film as a director. Mark Linn-Baker (best known as Cousin Larry on the TV show Perfect Strangers) was a mediocre actor, and he is given the supporting actor lead here. Jessica Harper, the most prominent female actress in this movie, also wasn't much of a talent. They all greatly exceed their abilities in this 1982 movie. But what makes My Favorite Year a great film is the wonderfully charming screenplay written by Dennis Palumbo, and Peter O'Toole as Allen Swann, based on Errol Flynn. O'Toole gives one of the funniest and entertaining over-the-top performances I've ever seen. The lines are great: "I'm not an actor. I'm a movie star!" "Dying is easy. Comedy is hard." and "My good man, what I choose to do with my schlong is my business," to name a few. But it's O'Toole's delivery that make them memorable. He was nominated for a Best Leading Actor Oscar for this film, his seventh nomination and seventh loss. He would later be nominated and lose a record eight times. As Ed mentions, the film is based on real people who worked on Your Show of Shows, and is funny and sweet without overdoing it – which can certainly be a challenge.

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Secret Six

Train Wreck Cinema

By Ed Garea

The Secret Six (MGM, 1931) – Director: George W. Hill. Writer: Frances Marion. Stars: Wallace Beery, Lewis Stone, Johnny Mack Brown, Jean Harlow, Marjorie Rambeau, Paul Hurst, Clark Gable, Ralph Bellamy, John Miljan, DeWitt Jennings, Murray Kinnell, Fletcher Norton, Louis Natheaux, Frank McGlynn Sr., & Theodore von Eltz. B&W, 83 minutes.

The Secret Six is an obscure film that is obscure for a very good reason: it stinks. It provides an excellent example of what happens when a studio attempts to copy the style of another, in this case, Warner Brothers. 

Warner Brothers films from the era feature snappy dialogue, good direction, great acting, and wonderful scenarios. On the other hand, The Secret Six, coming from a studio that epitomizes glamour, features terrible dialogue, unfocused direction, and wooden acting, along with an uninspired mise-en-scene

It was Jean Harlow’s first pairing with Clark Gable, and though the two manage to acquit themselves nicely throughout, the same can’t be said of their co-stars. Lewis Stone, as a dipso lawyer, seems as if he’s sleepwalking through the film, and Ralph Bellamy as a ruthless gangster makes Lew Ayres’ performance in Doorway to Hell seem realistic.


The film is centered around the rise of a gangster named Louis Scorpio (Beery) from slaughterhouse worker to the ruler of a criminal empire. Recruited by the suave Johnny Franks (Bellamy) as a strong-arm for a bootlegging gang led by the refined attorney, Richard Newton (Stone), his job is to help Johnny and his aide Nick “the Gouger” Mizoski (Hurst) expand Newton’s empire by horning into the neighboring territory of Joe Colimo (Miljan). 

When Colimo’s brother, Ivan (Rudolph), who Colimo wants to keep out of the business, is killed in a showdown with Newton’s boys, Franks tries to make amends by framing Scorpio and arranges to have the unknowing hitman wait at a site where Colimo’s boys can take their revenge. 

However, Colimo’s men miss their target, merely wounding Scorpio. Making his way back to gang headquarters, he easily figures out who’s behind his attempted rubout and shoot Franks in the back. As the film progresses, Scorpio moves up in the gang, becoming Newton’s partner, and the rackets, becoming the city’s top hood. He runs Nick for mayor, and when placed on trial, has Newton bribe the jury.

Following the trial, the police close in on Scorpio, and a shootout at Frank’s steak house, the gang’s headquarters, ensues. Newton cleans out the safe and attempts to flee, but Scorpio shots him and grabs the money. He tries to hide out at the apartment of Peaches, a gang moll who was in love with Johnny, and is bitter that Scorpio killed her paramour. She turns him over to the police and Scorpio is condemned to death row.


If Hill and Marion had kept the story to the rise and fall of Scorpio alone and added extra touches to the plot, the film might have turned out somewhat decently. But the film loses its way by adding a subplot concerning reporters Hank Rogers (Brown) and Carl Luckner (Gable) and their competition for the affections of gang employee Anne Cortland (Harlow), who Scorpio hires to distract them and keep them off his trail. The credit for this subplot is a bit confused. Some attribute it to Irving Thalberg, who saw the potential of Harlow and Gable while reviewing the rushes. Others attribute it to Marion, who expanded their characters with each new draft of the script. 

Beery is his usual slob character; in this case, a slaughterhouse worker recruited by Johnny Franks with the promise of easy profits from bootlegging. To give him something that will distinguish him, Marion has him as a teetotaler who drinks only milk. The milk bottle comes into play after Beery narrowly escapes the hit after Johnny framed him. When he returns, wounded, to the gang’s headquarters, he spots the milk bottle in the trash can and deduces it was Johnny who framed him. Bellamy seems to be the victim of the added subplot, as if there was no longer any room for his character given the introduction of three new faces. It might have proved interesting if his character were allowed to linger on. Johnny’s death leaves Newton and Scorpio in a rather uneasy partnership, with Newton’s patrician manner – trying to guide Scorpio into following a plan – clashing with Scorpio’s application of the laws of the jungle: strike quickly and leave no witnesses. But again the film leaves so many plot points unattended; the relationship between Newton and Scorpio could have produced a much better movie if it, too, didn’t fall victim to the subplot.

Just as we’re getting a handle on Scorpio and looking forward to see what happens, the plot spins off into the Gable-Harlow-Brown triangle and Scorpio’s trial. Too bad, for Beery is the dynamo that makes the film go. Unfortunately, his character seems to be pulled along by events rather than being the one behind the events.

As Scorpio gains power, he orchestrates Nick’s election as mayor. Nick’s first act is to fire the honest police chief, who had promised to get those that had killed his son. Again, we only get to gaze at the surface. Power also attracts reporters to Scorpio, in this case it's Rogers (Brown) and Luckner (Gable). Scorpio attempts to crudely buy them off by presenting them with gold cigarette cases containing a number of $1,000 bills. Neither reporter takes the bait. Using his employee, Anne, Scorpio keeps tabs on Brown and Luckner, but he doesn’t know that Brown and Anne have fallen in love. Luckner also loves Anne, but realizes Brown got there first. 

When Brown discovers that Anne has been setting him up all along, he’s dismayed. Scorpio learns that Brown plans an expose of his rackets and sends out of couple of the boys to whack him. Anne gets wind of it and tries to reach Hank, but in true melodramatic fashion, just as she’s about to tell him of the plot, the gangsters gun him down. She swears to avenge his death. 

Carl is also upset by Hank’s killing and we soon learn he is working with the deposed chief of police and a vigilante group of powerful bureaucrats called “The Secret Six” who have banded together to bring Scorpio down. Their plan? Nail him for income tax evasion, of course. This is the first – and last time – we see the Secret Six. They are wearing the sort of masks that the Lone Ranger wears, as if they were dressed for a cheesy masquerade party. It’s clear that are simply a plot device to hasten the downfall of Scorpio. They commission Carl to gather evidence against Scorpio and his mob, but also instruct him to wait until all the gangsters are in town before making any arrests.

Supposedly, the Secret Six are based on a real-life group of vigilantes that helped bring down Al Capone. However, as subsequent history of the Mob in Chicago shows, the “Outfit” (as it was called) managed not only to survive the vigilantes, but thrive as well, branching off into Las Vegas and Cuba.

The main problem with the film, in addition to the time expended on the subplot, is the casting of Beery as Scorpio. He comes off more folksy than threatening, and the opening scenes of his recruitment establish him as slow-witted muscle, the sort who couldn’t count the fingers of one hands and come up with the same number twice. Yet, we’re led to believe that within the space of 20 minutes he changes into a wily character able to take over the gang and the city as well. It just doesn’t play. Gable could have played that character with a lot more panache.


The most compelling reason to watch The Secret Six is to see the development of Gable and Harlow from supporting players to their later starring roles. It's interesting to watch them in Red Dust (made a year later) right after The Secret Six ends to marvel at their progress.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Angry Birds

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Angry Birds (Columbia, 2016) – Directors: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly. Writer: Jon Vitti. Voices: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Sean Penn, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate McKinnon, Tony Hale, Hannibal Buress, Ike Barinholtz, Tituss Burgess, Ian Hecox, Anthony Padilla, Billy Eichner, Charli XCX, Cristela Alonzo, & Jillian Bell. Color, Rated PG, 97 minutes.

Angry Birds has become quite a popular downloaded app. For instance, it has kept my great-niece occupied for hours. At first, I pooh-poohed it as a kiddie game. Then I downloaded it to my Kindle and discovered that it actually took some skill to play and win. I didn’t know why the birds were angry or what the pigs did to deserve their attacks, but it was fun destroying the pig city with the various capabilities of the different birds you hurled from a slingshot.

The movie provides the back story. Red (Sudeikis) is a loner who lives far from the main village on Bird Island. He’s sarcastic, cynical, self-centered and not too social. After ruining a youngster’s birthday party, he is sentenced to anger management classes held by Mathilda (Rudolph).

We learn in a flashback that Red was not always angry. He was bullied and teased as a young bird for his enormous black eyebrows and he was ignored by the females because he wasn’t tall and good-looking.


At Mathilda’s house, Red meets the other members of his anger group, Chuck (Gad), Bomb (McBride), and Terence (Penn). Chuck is the bird equivalent of Hammy the Squirrel from Over the Hedge and does everything fast, including talking. Bomb’s major fault is literally blowing up when excited. His topknot even looks like a fuse on his round dark gray body. Terence is a huge version of Red who generally growls and scowls menacingly.

One day, a ship arrives at Bird Island with pigs. Leonard (Hader), who we later learn is the king of the pigs, offers the birds gifts and entertainment, teaching them how to build and use a giant slingshot to get from one place to another quicker. (None of the birds on Bird Island can fly, the reason being that they don’t have to go anywhere.) Red is the only one suspicious of pigs bearing gifts. It’s not until the pigs provide a cowboy show and party for the birds while stealing all their eggs that everyone realizes that Red was right. Now he has to be a leader.

But where to find inspiration and wisdom? There is a legend on Bird Island about the Mighty Eagle, the one bird who can fly, and who lives near the Lake of Wisdom. Red concludes that if such a character really exists, he must live at the top of the central mountain of Bird Island (which looks suspiciously like a carving of an eagle’s head.) He, Chuck and Bomb start climbing and at last arrive at the Lake of Wisdom. Chuck and Bomb start swimming in it, drinking it and frolicking until the Mighty Eagle emerges from his cave and relieves himself in it.

Needless to say, Mighty Eagle (Dinklage) is a big disappointment to Red, who rallies the other birds to build a raft out of anything they can find to chase the pigs back to Pig Island (it’s easy, they just follow the waste trail the pigs left behind.). Those who have played the game know the rest.

I had wondered how a simple app would become an hour and 37 minutes worth of movie, but it worked. There were some slow moments unnecessarily emphasizing Red’s solitude, but the animation was excellent and the voice/character matches were perfect. I laughed at the photographer (Burgess) who inscribed pictures with his beak Flintstone style and the Mime Bird (Hale), who was always in the way.

The script was clever, with Red getting most of the good lines, and funny in several spots, especially his reactions to the diverse “talents” of his fellow birds during the battle with the pigs. Cinematically, it’s a beautiful bit of camera work including a gift; Red and Chuck are searching Leonard’s palace and come to a corridor full of doors. Chuck opens one to reveal two twin pigs dressed as little girls in pinafores (think The Shining). They quickly close the door.

Overall, Angry Birds is a fun movie, great for kids and adults who never forgot what it means to be a kid. Remember to stay through all the credits. There are two “afterwords” hinting at a sequel.

Rating: 3½ out of 5 Martini glasses.


Gabriel Kreuther Bar
41 W. 42nd St., New York

Gabriel Kreuther’s restaurant, located in the gracefully sloping and appropriately named Grace Building, will be a year old in June. I noticed the Alsatian newcomer back then, but didn't had an opportunity to get a reservation until now.

Though the website states that it “overlooks the greenery of Bryant Park,” it doesn’t “overlook” anything. The entrance is at street level and the windows face Bryant Park across 42nd Street. The entrance on 42nd Street is understated, but once inside, diners can view a scene from possibly a Japanese screen/room divider in black and white of birds, hills and rivers.


Inside, the restaurant is divided into the bar section on the left half and the dining area on the right half, sectioned off by light wood arches. My seating was somewhat disappointing, with a tiny, 18-inch diameter cocktail table in front of me, but I was nonetheless glad I came.

The food menu was quite straight-forward. After a quick consult with Luis, my server, I learned that the four categories were small plates and I asked if three smalls and a large was too much. He didn’t think so and I assured him of my good appetite. With the advice of Luis, I was able to make my selections and the order in which they should arrive. Looking at the ridiculous prices on the wine list, I decided to order by the glass, as they had a nice selection.


The first dish was king crab croquettes: nine one-inch crispy delights arranged like pool balls on an elegant brown ceramic dish. It’s a good thing I’m a big fan of king crab because ground up and flavored, these delicious tidbits could have been anything.

My wine for this dish was a 2012 Nathan Kendall Pinot Noir from the Finger Lakes region of New York – a light bodied red appropriate for appetizers.

My next course was called “The Hen of the Woods Mushrooms Tarte Flambé,” served with comté cheese (a Gruyere), chives, nutmeg and onion. I was amazed at how well the woodsy, earthy flavors mixed with the sharp accents of the other ingredients. The manager advised me to eat it while it was hot from the flaming process. (Unfortunately, they do not flambé items at tableside anymore due to fire codes.) To go with the dish I ordered a glass of 2011 Domaine de la Pinte, Pinte Bien, from Poulsard vineyards in Jura, France. 


The third course arrived under a beautiful glass shaped like a Turk’s cap. The server removed the cap and waved the bell under my nose so I could breathe in the delicious applewood smoke on the sturgeon tart with caviar mousseline. For those who have never eaten sturgeon before, it is not comparable to any other fish in flavor. It’s not oily or fishy, just pleasant with an almost vegetable quality. Caviar one either loves or hates, but I found mine neither salty nor fishy. I paired this dish with a 2010 Nervi Gattinara, a full-bodied red from the Piedmont region of Italy.

I had chosen the main course way before the others. Seeing it online, I had to have it: red wine braised tripe gratiné with de puy lentils (a marvelous French green lentil) and thyme, served in an immaculate white bowl. The grated cheese on top accented the red wine sauce and the diced pieces of tripe were so tender I almost couldn’t find them. Even someone who’s never had tripe would like this dish. The perfect marriage to this dish was the 2012 Kathryn Hall Cabernet Blend, a rich, full bodied, deep red wine with a memorable aftertaste from Napa Valley.

Surprisingly, I still had room for the grand marnier baba with fresh mango and vanilla ice cream. I have to dine at more Alsatian restaurants. This is only my third. Even the double espresso was special. I didn’t mind in the least that I was dining in a bar. The only difference could possibly be the white tablecloths in the dining area. But I would definitely return to this gem on 42nd.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Alan Young: In Memoriam

Willllburrrrr

By Ed Garea

Alan Young, the multi-talented actor-comedian most famous as the straight man for a talking horse in the ‘60s, died May 19 at the Motion Picture & Television Home in Woodland Hills, Calif. He was 96.

He was born Angus Young on Nov. 19, 1919, of Scottish parents in North Shields, Northumberland, England, near the Scottish border. His father was a tap dancer and his mother a singer. The family moved to Edinburgh when he was a child, where his father worked in the mines, and then to a community outside Vancouver, Canada.


In an aside, Young said the reason he legally changed his first name to Alan (as mentioned in his 2007 autobiography Mister Ed and Me and More!) was because Americans always made unflattering comments about it and often mispronounced it as “Agnes.”

As a youth, Young was frequently bedridden with asthma, spending his days listening to the radio, where he kept track of jokes and began writing his own comedy sketches. He began entertaining in Vancouver when he was 13. He got a job as an office boy at a local radio station. After slipping in a part for himself on a drama show when he was typing up the script, he became an actor. 

By the time he graduated from high school, he had his own radio program, Stag Party, on the CBC network, but left to serve in the Canadian navy during World War II. While living in Toronto after his discharge from the service, Young was contacted by agent Frank Cooper – who also was instrumental in the careers of Frank Sinatra and Dinah Shore – after Cooper accidentally picked up Young’s show through the static on his radio. 

Cooper brought Young to New York to tell jokes on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame radio program in 1944, which led to Young being hired as a summer replacement on The Eddie Cantor Show. (The host was one of his heroes.) This led to his own show, The Alan Young Show on ABC radio, where his amiable, low-key style attracted a wide U.S. audience. 


He also drew attention from Hollywood, with roles in such films as Margie (1946), Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949), and Aaron Slick from Punkin Crick (1952), but they fared poorly at the box office and confined him to a television career. CBS brought the radio show to television as variety show, where his gentle comedic style, in contrast to the slapstick and old vaudeville of other variety shows, led TV Guide to name him “the Charlie Chaplin of television” in 1950. The fledgling Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Emmys to Young as best actor and to the show as best variety series. 

In 1952, Howard Hughes, who had seen Young on TV, hired him for the lead in a film version of George Bernard Shaw’s comedy, Androcles and the Lion. When it opened in theaters, however, it was met with stony silence, so Hughes withdrew the movie and shot two weeks of new sequences to spice things up. "He put in girls with gauze and a real lion, and it became a blood-and-guts film," Young recalled in 1987.

In 1960, he was approached by director Arthur Lubin, who was readying a new television show based on a loose adaptation of his Francis the Talking Mule series for Universal in the ‘50s. He would play Wilbur Post, a befuddled architect who lives in a nice home in the San Fernando Valley with his wife, Carol (Connie Hines). Behind the house is a barn, where the talkative Mister Ed, a golden palomino, resides – however, only Wilbur can hear him speak. (Mr. Ed only talked to Wilbur because, in his judgment, Wilbur was the only person worth talking to.)

How Young got the role of Wilbur is not exactly known. Young said he initially turned down the part because “I don’t want to work with anybody who doesn’t clean up after himself.” But it was said that George Burns, who had done an earlier, unsuccessful Mister Ed pilot with another actor, convinced Young to play Wilbur Post, telling Young: “You look like the sort of fellow a horse would talk to.” Young took that as a compliment and agreed to star. He wanted the show named Mr. Ed instead of The Alan Young Show as two earlier shows by that name had flopped. 

Based on a series of magazine short stories by Walter Brooks (not only did the horse talk, he also got drunk), the show was produced by Filmways and began life on CBS as a syndicated show on about 100 stations sponsored by Studebaker. Response was so popular that, after 26 episodes, CBS bought the show from the sponsor, which aired until February 1966. 

The voice of Ed was supplied by Allan “Rocky” Lane, a star of several Western B movies. Lane got the part through sheer luck. At the time, he was flat broke and sleeping on the couch of a friend, the horse trainer Les Hilton. Supposedly, the producers heard Lane asking where the coffee was kept while auditioning and hired him as Ed’s voice on the spot. However, the actor was never recognized in the credits, which noted that Mr. Ed was played by “himself.”

Hilton trained Mr. Ed to “talk” by placing a soft nylon strip between his gums and upper lip. Eventually, Young said Hilton removed the strip after the horse learned to move his lips only after Young had finished his lines. “Ed was very smart,” Young was quoted in interviews. “He actually learned to move his lips on cue when the trainer touched his hoof.”

Because producers didn’t want anyone to know the secret of Mr. Ed’s “talking,” Young made up a story about putting peanut butter in the horse’s mouth, which the animal then would try to lick off. 

The show was known for its bouncy theme song and the coining by Mr. Ed of the phrase: “Willllburrrrr.” It attracted a wide group of celebrity guest stars, ranging from Clint Eastwood to Mae West to baseball great Sandy Koufax.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1990, Young described Wilbur as “naive and bumbling,”and “Ed as the wily one.” Young added, “I think it’s the same chemistry that made Laurel and Hardy, and Jackie Gleason and Art Carney: It’s the one guy making a fool of the other guy.”

When the show finally went off the air it won new fans in later decades through constant cable TV syndication and video releases with Young right there for the ride. He owned a portion of the show and made a fortune off the royalties.

Young also appeared in Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (1955), Tom Thumb (1958), The Time Machine (1960, and its 2002 remake), The Cat From Outer Space (1978), and Beverly Hills Cop III (1994). He also lent his voice to a number of animated productions, including the voice of Scrooge McDuck in Duck Tales, The Ren and Stimpy Show, The Smurfs, and The Great Mouse Detective. A Christian Scientist from his teen years, he took a brief sabbatical from Hollywood during the mid-1960s, spending three years establishing a film and broadcasting center, then touring the country for two years as a Christian Science lecturer. But disillusioned by the church bureaucracy, he returned to Hollywood in 1976. 



His marriages to Mary Anne Grimes, Virginia McCurdy and Mary Chipman ended in divorce.

Contributions in Young's name may be made to the Motion Picture & Television Fund and to Y.E.S. The Arc, a residential program in Arizona for people with special needs.

Trivia

He once went on a date with Norma Jean Baker, who later became Marilyn Monroe. 

He's the only actor to appear in both The Time Machine (1960) and The Time Machine (2002).

Was 40 years old when he played the 18-year-old James Filby in The Time Machine (1960).

Repeated the role of Filby for a mini-sequel of the original movie The Time Machine (1960) in 1992.

Young was awarded a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for Radio at 6927 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Depending on the source, the horse that played Mr. Ed is said to have died in 1979 at the age of 30, 33 or 34. Other reputable sources give the date of death as 1968, 1973 and 1974.

Mr. Ed and Walt Disney's canine film star Big Red won Patsy awards, presented by the American Humane Society, as the top animal performers of 1962.

Monday, May 23, 2016

One Way Passage

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

One Way Passage (WB, 1932) – Director: Tay Garnett. Writers: Wilson Mizner & Joseph Jackson (s/p). Robert Lord (story). Stars: Kay Francis, William Powell, Aline MacMahon, Frank McHugh, Warren Hymer, & Frederick Burton. B&W, 67 minutes.

Today, Kay Francis is seen as the Queen of the Weepies. That, along with her Elmer Fudd-like speech impediment, tends to downgrade her in the eyes of many casual fans. But Kay Francis was one of the most important figures in the development of motion pictures in the era of sound. Her four-hankie films drew many women customers and enabled Warner Bros. to escape financial ruin during the Depression. Francis also coined a type: the mink-clad martyr who suffered nobly through each film, bravely overcoming whatever difficulties were cooked up by the writers. She set the canvas for later queens of suffering such as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

One of her best weepies is One Way Passage, from 1932, a film she almost didn’t get to make. Although director Tay Garnett wanted her as the star, studio executive Darryl Zanuck thought she was too lightweight an actress for such a heavy role. But Garnett won out and Francis was cast.


The film opens in a Hong Kong bar, as Joan Ames (Francis) and Dan Hardest (Powell) literally bump into one another, causing Dan to spill his freshly made Paradise Cocktail. But it’s love at first sight, and leads to a toast, as Joan remarks, "Always the most precious. The last few drops.” (Not only Dan’s spilled drink, we quickly surmise, but about what remains.) They break their glasses and cross the stems before Dan departs, a motif that would be employed throughout the film.

Trusting in chance as their only hope for seeing each other again, Joan returns to her friends. Dan, without taking his eyes off her, leaves the bar, where he is arrested by Steve Burke (Hymer), a policeman who pokes a gun in Dan’s back and swiftly overcomes Dan’s resistance to slap the bracelets on him, cuffing him to his own wrist. Steve, it seems, has been pursuing Dan since he escaped from San Quentin, where he was sent after being convicted of murder. Burke’s job is to bring him back to hang.

While on deck of the ship headed to San Francisco, Dan, still cuffed to Burke, talks his captor into showing him the key to the cuffs. Burke also remarks to Dan that he can’t swim. Unbolting the railing without Steve’s knowledge, Dan pulls Burke overboard with him to the ocean and manages to unlock the handcuffs. Then, instead of swimming to shore, Dan dunks Burke underwater and holds him there. But director Garnett, knowing this act of cold-blooded murder would lose Dan sympathy in the eyes of the audience, has Dan come to his senses after hearing the cry of ”man overboard” coming from the ship. He lifts Burke’s head out of the water and swims him back to the boat. Dan may be a murderer, but to soften his character with the audience, McHugh’s character, Skippy, says at one point that Dan was “croaking the dirtiest heel who ever lived.”

Grateful to his rescuer, and realizing there is no way for Dan to escape from the ship, Steve agrees to remove his handcuffs. Joan is also aboard the ship, and while she seems healthy, we learn she is actually very ill and has only a short time to live, although we are never told what it is that’s killing her. (Terminal prickly-heat? Mogo on the gogogo?)


Just before the ship leaves its dock, Skippy, a petty thief on the run, barely eludes the Hong Kong police by running up the gangplank and jumping onto the ship as it pulls away. During the voyage, Dan and Joan spend every minute together, breaking their glasses after a toast to symbolize living for the moment.

Steve also has his moments, as when he is immediately smitten by the exotic figure and accent of Countess Barilhaus (MacMahon). But as they pass by Dan and Joan, the Countess and Dan share a recognizing glance, tipping us off that there’s more here than meets the eye. And so there is, for in the next scene the Countess and Skippy are sharing a bottle. As she reminisces over old times in her natural voice we learn that the "Countess Barilhaus," is better known as Barrel House Betty (MacMahon), a dame who makes her living on the grift. We also learn that Betty is tired of this life and wishes to settle down with a financially-secure man.

Neither Dan nor Joan can bear to tell the other the truth, but while Joan plans a trip ashore in Honolulu, Dan plans an escape. But Steve, expecting Dan to escape, has him locked in the brig during the stopover. Betty also decides to help Dan. Flirting with Steve, she gets the key to the brig and passes it to Skippy (McHugh). Skippy unlocks the cell, releasing Dan, who goes ashore with Joan while Steve and Betty do the same. 

There is a wonderful scene that just could not be filmed if the picture were made a couple of years later. Skippy meets up with Betty in her cabin where she hands him the bullets from Burke’s gun. This should give Dan free range once the boat docks in Honolulu. Skippy, puzzled, asks Betty how she got close enough to get a hold of Burke’s pistol. Betty simply replies with a jerk of her head, which the camera follows to reveal Burke's tie laid across a chair. She then shushes Skippy, leaving the audience no doubt that not only did she seduce Burke, but that he's still asleep in her bed.

After spending a lovely day together, Dan is about to tell Joan about his planned escape when she suddenly collapses. To save her life, Dan carries her back to the ship, giving up his chance at freedom. The doctor warns him that another shock could kill Joan, so he keeps his secret. Meanwhile, Steve and Betty have also fallen in love. Steve asks Betty to marry him. She tells him who she really is, but it doesn’t matter. Joan learns the truth about Dan when she overhears a porter’s conversation, but says goodbye to him, pretending that everything is fine. They agree to meet in Caliente on New Year's Eve even though they know that is impossible. At midnight on New Year's Eve, a bartender in Caliente hears a sound and turns to find the shattered stems of two glasses, broken in the same way that Dan and Joan always broke them, but no one is there.


One thing Warner Bros. had going for it was its strong supporting cast of actors, which is on full display in One Way Passage. Warren Hymer brings a little depth to what otherwise would be a cardboard role as Steve Burke. His humanity in releasing Dan from the cuffs after Dan rescued him from the water is tempered with common sense, as when he has Dan committed to the brig while the ship stops in Honolulu. It’s a typical Hymer one-note performance, but in this film he has a little more to do than simply growl and act tough, and he comes through nicely.

Frank McHugh is the real underpinning of the film. Without his antics the movie would sink of its own weight. When he jumps aboard the S.S. Maloa just as it’s pulling out of Hong Kong he looks back and gives his patented “ha…ha…ha” laugh. No one can do that like McHugh, who did it in almost every film he made. He's given several scenes to pick pockets and steal liquor. Watch for his scene where he has a run-in with himself in a mirror. It’s an old gag that could have easily fallen flat, but McHugh pulls off the character of Skippy so deftly that we believe that is indeed who he really is. He functions in the film as the link between Joan and Dan on the one hand, and Steve and Betty on the other. 

MacMahon also shines as Betty the grifter, putting on her act with such grace that we actually buy it. At first, she speaks in broken English, and later rattling off her lines in wonderfully slangy English with Skippy. Her scenes with McHugh are precious as they let their hair down with each other, almost like an old married couple. From these scenes it’s obvious that they know each other very well. When they run into one another, Skippy asks, “Betty, don’t they ever get on to ya? You’ve been gettin’ away with this stuff for years.”

Behind the scenery, Garnett’s direction was superb, getting exceptional performances out of his cast. Powell is his usual suave, sophisticated self, but in One Way Passage, Garnett makes him more vulnerable than we see him in other films, where he is always so reassured. With Francis’ character, Garnett tones down the suds and gives her a softer glow. 



We see what he did with Hymer, and as for McHugh and MacMahon, he seems just to have simply let them do their thing, as it were. The duo never needed any special coaching, as their professionalism never allowed them to stoop to overacting to steal a scene. MacMahon could steal a scene just with her eyes alone, and McHugh knew, instinctively it seems, when to ratchet things up and when to tone them down.

Robert Lord won an Oscar for Original Story for his part in writing the film, and screenwriters Wilson and Jackson mix in plenty of period lingo without drawing the dialogue. Robert Kurrle’s cinematography is consistent throughout, using lighting to great effect, especially in the opening scene where our lovers meet.

The film was re-released in 1937 in a edited form and remade in 1939 as Till We Meet Again, starring Merle Oberon and George Brent as the doomed couple. Bette Davis was originally approached for the role, but as she starred in Dark Victory the same year, she decided against going to the proverbial well once too often, at least in the same year. The remake tanked at the box office, as Oberon and Brent failed their chemistry class. Later that same year, Francis and Powell recreated their roles for a radio adaptation on Lux Radio Theatre. It would be the last time the two actors worked together.

One Way Passage stands as one of the finest romances ever to come out of Hollywood. It also marks the sixth pairing of Powell and Francis, and was their biggest hit, both critically and commercially, grossing slightly over $1.1 million. The pair was first teamed at Paramount, where their on-screen chemistry was noticed by the studio, and turned into a string of financially successful melodramas. When Warner Bros. lured them away (Paramount could no longer afford them), they teamed for two films, Jewel Robbery and this film. Yet, despite their success they were never teamed again by the studio.

A little over a year later, Powell, thoroughly disillusioned by the way the studio was using him, jumped over to MGM. As for Francis, her career slowly began to fade, a victim of poor scripts and a lack of interest on the part of the studio. By the mid-40s she was working at Monogram Studios, where she was given the “luxury” of being billed as the producer in addition to her star billing. But while her career was at its height run the early ‘30s, there was no actress more popular than Kay Francis. Besides playing the mink-clad martyr, Francis also excelled at playing the free-thinking, independent woman, seen in such Pre-Code favorites as Mary Stevens, MD (1933), Mandalay, and Dr. Monica (both 1934). Of all the forgotten stars of Hollywood, her star burned brightest during its height.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
May 23–May 31

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

BLACULA (May 26, 3:45 am): Only American International Pictures could successfully make a Blaxploitation horror film, and the small studio did it twice - the original from 1972 and the sequel Scream Blacula Scream a year later. William Marshall is an African prince Mamuwalde in the year 1780 visiting Count Dracula to convince him to help stop the slave trade. Instead, Dracula laughs at him and bites him on the neck turning him into a vampire. Mamuwalde is given the clever name "Blacula" by the Count, sealed in a coffin and locked in a room with his wife, who subsequently dies, for all eternity. That is until a couple of interior decorators buy everything at Count Dracula's castle, including Blacula's coffin, and brings all of it to then-modern-day Los Angeles. Blacula is released from his coffin, and roams the streets of L.A. at night, terrorizing some and falling in love with a woman who looks just like his wife – primarily because the same actress plays both roles. It's a lot of fun with very little blood. 

BREAKING AWAY (May 31, 9:30 pm): This is an excellent coming-of-age film about a group of four directionless high school graduates from working-class families in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University. The college kids look down on the townies, who they call "cutters" because their fathers and/or grandfathers used to work as stonecutters in a quarry. Of the four, the lead is Dave (Dennis Christopher), a talented cyclist enamored with Italian races to the point he speaks with an Italian accent. He falls in love with a female college student using the accent and claims to attend the university. His life falls apart when a professional Italian cycling team comes to Bloomington to participate in a race. He tries to bond with them, but when they see how good he is, they treat him poorly and one puts a tire pump in his bicycle wheel causing him to crash. He then tells the girl (Robyn Douglass) the truth and she slaps him. The film's climax is The Little 500, an annual four-man bicycle race with the boys believing Dave can ride the entire race and win. He nearly does it, but gets hurt with the other three each have to get on the bike. The film is spectacular and the ending will have you cheering. The supporting cast is solid with great performances from Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley as Dave's three friends, and Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Dave's parents. 

ED’S BEST BETS:

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (May 26, 8:00 pm): A totally enjoyable romp with Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, a madman who is hunting down and killing a team of doctors he believes killed his beloved wife. Phibes disposes of his victims in a spectacular variety of gruesome ways, all of which are based on the 10 biblical curses inflicted on the Egyptians in Exodus. Virginia North is excellent as Phibes’ assistant, Vulnavia,and Joseph Cotten is the Dr. Vesalius, the chief surgeon of the mishandled operation. Directed with campy style by Robert Fuest, a former art director, the movie is a hoot from beginning to end as Price never lets up.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (May 27, 8:30 am): A most vivid telling of Richard Conner’s classic story about a megalomanic big-game hunter named Count Zaroff who hunts people on his remote island. As Zaroff Leslie Banks gives a great over-the-top creepy, almost campy, performance. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray are selected to be his latest prey, but what Zaroff doesn’t take into account is that McCrea’s characters is a big-game hunter himself. With Robert Armstrong in an effective performance as Wray’s weak, alcoholic brother. A must for those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s one of the classics of the horror genre. Remade several times without success.

WE AGREE ON ... THE 400 BLOWS (May 31, 11:30 pm)

ED: A+. Francois Truffaut’s landmark film is one of the most intense and moving movies ever made about the life of a young adolescent and how he drifts into delinquency. Truffaut reaches back into his own childhood and, through the character of Antoine Doinel, brings the viewer into his private world: a resourceful boy typecast by adults as a troublemaker and a victim of a self-absorbed mother and stepfather who take no interest in him or his world, ministering only to their particular needs of the moment. When he is arrested for petty theft (the starkest scene in the movie is the image of the young Doinel in the paddy wagon, riding through the streets of Paris at night and looking out through the bars), his parents discuss him as a lost cause with the police and leave him to the mercy of the social services, which place him in a reform school/youth camp, from which he runs away at the end. Watch for Jeanne Moreau in a cameo as a woman walking her dog on a Paris street. 


DAVID: A+. Francois Truffaut's first feature length film from 1959 is a masterpiece. I enjoy it so much that I watched it again earlier this week, and it's as fresh as the first time I saw it. As Ed wrote, it's an intense look at Antoine Doinel (expertly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who would portray the same character in three more feature-length films and a short), a mischievous and clever 12-year-old Parisian. He isn't a bad kid. But his defiance of authority and lack of supervision by his mother – who attempts to manipulate him when the boy sees her kissing another man – and stepfather gets him labeled a delinquent. That leads to him cutting school, running away and eventually stealing a typewriter from his father's office resulting in his arrest when he returns it after failing to sell it. That is the turning point in the film with his stepfather – we don't find out he's not Antoine's biological father until then – allowing his stepson to be prosecuted by the police and eventually sent to a camp for juvenile delinquents. It is there that we experience the true horror of an intelligent boy who made mistakes paying a very serious penalty. Most of the key players in the film are children, which can be very risky as they have limited or no acting experience. But Truffaut was already a brilliant director – on his way to being the greatest in the history of cinema – and he is able to get fantastic performances from the boys. Also, the cinematography is stunning with the gritty streets of Paris being Antoine's main supporting actor. The final scene is liberating and beautiful with Antoine successfully escaping from the camp and making it to the ocean, which he had dreamed of visiting. Don't be fooled by the title. It's a literal translation of a term the French use which means to raise hell.

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Elvis & Nixon

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Elvis & Nixon (Bleecker Street Media, 2016) – Director: Liza Johnson. Writers: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes (s/p). Stars: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettier, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ahna O’Reilly, Ian Hoch, Ritchie Montgomery, & Nathalie Love. Color, Rated R, 86 minutes.

It’s December of 1970, and Elvis Presley (Shannon) is sitting in his television room at Graceland. Several screens are tuned to various news programs and show protests, drug busts, and hippies burning the American flag. Elvis takes out a pistol, shoots the nearest television and shuts the system down.

Like a teleprompter typing a script for a newscaster, we see words explaining that this month, Elvis went to the White House and spent a few hours with President Richard Nixon (Spacey). But no one knows what the conversation was like as it occurred behind closed doors. This clever film posits a possible scenario.



Elvis has just come off a major tour and his love of all things American fuels his zeal to destroy the “drug culture” that is destroying the youth of his homeland. He decides to fly to Los Angeles and see his best friend Jerry Schilling (Pettyfer) and reunite with Sonny West (Knoxville) to hopefully arrange a meeting with the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs John Finlator (Letts) to volunteer as an undercover agent at large. But first he has to get on a plane from Tennessee. Though star struck when she first sees Elvis, Margaret the ticket agent (Benson) for American Airlines is appropriately terrified when he reveals he’s packing a sidearm. He’s held by security until Jerry can talk them out of this “misunderstanding.”

Though Jerry is reluctant to be “back in the business,” Elvis talks him into going to Washington, D.C., where Sonny joins them at their hotel.

The visit to Finlator proves futile and disappointing and the FBI is not an option. The next step is the president himself. Elvis writes his introductory letter to the president on the plane ride and soon, Jerry drives him to the west gate of the White House. There, the guards restrain their amazement at who’s visiting to do their job, but are eventually sweet-talked into delivering the letter. When it gets to presidential advisers Egil Krogh (Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Peters) and verified by White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman (Donovan), they are ecstatic at what a visit from Elvis would mean to Nixon’s image.

But Nixon nixes the idea of talking with a “rock and roller.” It’s not until Krogh and Chapin meet with Sonny and Jerry at “an undisclosed Washington, D.C., location” that the idea of contacting Nixon’s daughter Julie and that’s the key that unlocks the door to the Oval Office.

Elvis and Nixon is a subtle comedy of the meeting between two huge egos and what they could have talked about. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Richard Nixon is frankly amazing. Though the caricature is close visually, his mannerisms and vocal accents make the role believable. Michael Shannon’s Elvis has Johnny Cash overtones but still is very convincing.

There is a funny scene at the Los Angeles International Airport where an Elvis impersonator mistakes Elvis to be a fellow impersonator and he demonstrates how he should act. Shannon applauds him and, as Elvis would, accepts the advice without correcting the error. And yes, just once, he says, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” Alex Pettyfer is wonderful as Jerry, a man who now has a life, a girl he wants to marry – Charlotte (Ferreira) – and a date he wants to keep with her parents. He manages to effectively juggle this situation with his deep friendship with Elvis until finally, Presley releases him to his future.

Aside from a few “F” bombs – two from Nixon and two from Krogh – the dialogue in this film is clean and well written. The script never verges on the incredible and the humor never gets silly. The whole concept of Elvis deeming himself capable of going around unnoticed and undercover is the main cause for laughter in the movie, especially when he wears an enormous gold belt into the Oval Office.

The end credits reveal what happened to each character afterward, the Watergate scandal and its results, and states “Elvis never went undercover.” I enjoyed Elvis and Nixon and hope it plays in more theaters (only two in Manhattan a week after opening). It’s a good film about the most requested photo from the National Archives: Nixon and Elvis shaking hands (and David's computer screensaver).


Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.


Cherche Midi
282 Bowery, New York

Somehow I thought this restaurant was a lot older than it is. In fact, the blue pinstriped awning only went up in June of 2014, a little less than one and a half years ago. Owner Keith McNally named it after the left-bank street in Paris where he once lived; a street famous in 1847 for a military prison built there. The name Cherche Midi means to search for midday. It comes from the popular French phrase, Elle cherche midi à quatorze heurs” – searching for noon at two in the afternoon. It's a way of explaining that a person makes a situation more difficult than it has to be. But there’s nothing easier than dining at Cherche Midi.


The entrance on Bowery Street leads straight to the Captain’s Station where my reservation was confirmed, I was seated by the window to the street and sat on a red leather banquette with my back to the wall. The room is spacious and lit with a golden glow from the globes suspended from the ceiling. The octagonal-tiled floor harkens back to a simpler time and the gigantic wine rack is made even more formidable by well-placed mirrors. The effect is calming: this is a place to meet, talk and dine in comfort.

When I was settled in, my server John greeted me and, after listing the specials, asked if I wanted a cocktail. I chose “The Ol’ Sour cocktail,” a mixture of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bourbon, cognac, génépy (an herbal liqueur from the Alpine regions that, like absinthe, is made from wormwood), sweet vermouth, and a lemon twist. I like bourbon and I loved this drink. It had a subtler, “greener” tang to it and a sturdy kick.

After a brief session with John over the size of certain dishes, I was ready to order. Before he left he asked if I wanted bread. “What’s a meal without bread?” I said, and soon there was a lovely basket of bread and butter.


The first course was crispy tête de cochon (pig’s head), three croquettes stuffed with extremely tender pork and flavored with grain mustard on a platter with pickled vegetables (cauliflower, wild mushrooms, red onions) providing color as well as a contrasting taste.

When I saw that the restaurant served Zinfandel by the glass, I ordered the 2013 Three Valley Zinfandel, from Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County California. It was a delicious, full-bodied red with a fruity nose and sturdy aftertaste promising a solid marriage to my meal.

The second course was the only one not a special, but something I look for in all “real” French restaurants. The frog’s legs were not served as I would expect. Instead of the traditional “cuisses” (looking like little pairs of pants on the plate), the bones were dislocated and served in a beautiful green garlic velouté with garlic chips and crisp parsley. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I got over that. 


Next came the pan-roasted halibut over tiny morels with fingerling potatoes and ramp beurre blanc sauce. When John described this dish he called the morels “mushrooms,” which is like calling a truffle a fungus. They are so much more than a mushroom: Their woody flavor melded with the flaky fish and the savory ramps and butter to create a major experience rather than “just halibut.”

Although I love crêpes suzette, the selection of cheeses was too enticing and, when I saw how they were displayed by the servers, with little name flags on a silver platter, I knew what my dessert would be. I chose the Moses Sleeper raw cow cheese from Vermont, the mimolettea hard orange cow choose from France and the fragrant bleu Colston Bassett Stilton. They were served with green apple slices, red grapes, honey, compote and almost black, toasted baguette slices. It was Heaven. I was so happy I forgot about an after dinner drink with my double espresso.

For such an excellent, innovative, yet traditional, French restaurant, Cherche Midi is in rather a strange location, but I’m not complaining. The prices are reasonable, the service is friendly, there are at least three other red wines I have to try, and of course, there’s the fantastic food. As Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back!”

And the restaurant had quite the unusual bathroom. See for yourself.



For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.