Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hollywood Stories, Vol. 3

By Ed Garea

Some of what you read below is true. Some is pure fantasy. But we include them all in this column, dedicated to a town unable to tell the difference between reality and fantasy.

Sam Goldwyn and Pete Smith

Garson Kanin, in his memoir Hollywood, said that Goldwyn’s famous malaprops were written by his publicity agent, Pete Smith. Years later Pete Smith would gain fame as the producer/narrator of a series of shorts titled A Pete Smith Speciality. One of the writers of those shorts was Arthur Marx, son of Groucho. In Arthur’s autobiography, Son of Groucho, he tells about his father meeting up with Dore Schary, then head of MGM, and his wife Miriam. Miriam made the mistake of chiding Groucho for his taste in young women, asking why he can’t stay away from the shiksas. Groucho told Miriam to mind her own business in no uncertain terms. Her husband, was still mad as hell over the matter when he returned to work the next Monday. He summoned Pete Smith into his office. Since he couldn’t fire Groucho, he did the next best thing – he had Smith fire Arthur.

James Whale and Jean Harlow


Before he came to Universal in 1931 and wrote his name into Hollywood history as one of the greatest directors to sit behind the camera, James Whale served as a dialogue director. While working on Howard Hughes’ Hell’s Angels (1930), he had to work with Jean Harlow, who he despised. The feeling was mutual on her part. This was her first big break, she was terrified, and Whale was of no help whatsoever. She came to him for help on her famous “Would you be shocked if I put on something more comfortable?” scene. Whale starred at her and coldly replied, “My dear girl, I can tell you how to be an actress, but I cannot tell you how to be a woman.”

Rory Calhoun

To say that Rory liked the ladies was an understatement. When his wife, actress Lita Baron, sued him for divorce, she named 79 women with whom he had allegedly committed adultery. Calhoun’s response? "Heck, she didn't even include half of them.”

Joan Crawford

Ever since daughter Christina published Mommie Dearest, her hatchet job on life with her mother, Joan Crawford has been the butt of innumerable jokes. (“Christina! Your bath is ready! I’ve been boiling it for an hour!”) However, few people knew of Joan’s generosity. In his biography of the actress, Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford, Donald Spoto reveals that in 1934 Joan contacted surgeon Dr. William Branch and asked him to help her devise a program that would pay the hospital bills of any destitute patient who had worked in the movie business. The patients were to receive all necessary care at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, where she had endowed several rooms and a surgical suite. All bills were sent to her and paid quickly. There was one caveat: her name was not to be used and she was to receive no credit or publicity whatsoever. Years later when a reporter learned of her actions she feigned ignorance. Spoto quotes a confidential memo from the hospital: “In the two years after 1937, more than 390 major surgeries were completed. Joan Crawford paid the bills, she never knew the people for whom she was passing, and she didn’t care.”

As for Christina, from all accounts she and brother Christopher were a handful for their mother. After spending an afternoon with Joan and Christina, Myrna Loy said that watching Joan put up with Christina made her thankful that she couldn’t have children. 

Carole Lombard

Lombard was noted for her down-to-earth attitude. She was not only popular with her fellow actors, but also with those who worked behind the camera. She was famous for remembering their birthdays and coming to their aid in emergencies. A famous story about Lombard happened when she was dating George Raft in the early ‘30s. They were both starring in Bolero (1934), and after filming George popped into her dressing room only to find her peroxiding her pubic hairs. As Raft stood there, perplexed, Lombard casually looked up and said, “Relax Georgie, I’m just making my cuffs match my collar.”

When Gable was filming Gone With the Wind, Lombard became suspicious of Vivien Leigh, thinking that she might have begins on Gable. But Clark laughed and said that Leigh only had eyes for her fiancee, Laurence Olivier. To prove it he invited the couple over for dinner. During the course of the dinner, Lombard asked her husband, who was deeply in conversation with Olivier, if he would pass the potatoes. No answer. She asked again. Still no answer. Finally, she shouted, “Will you please pass the f—ing potatoes!” Gable looked up and said, “What did you say?” To which Leigh replied in her English accent, “I believe she asked you to please pass the f—ing potatoes.” Lombard exploded in laughter and from that moment she and Leigh became good friends, especially after she learned that Leigh loved a dirty joke as much as she did.

Lombard once admitted to her good friend Garson Kanin that Gable wasn’t all that good in the sack. “Clark is a lousy lay,” she told Kanin. “A few inches shorter and he’d be the Queen of Hollywood.”

After she was tragically killed in a plane crash, Paramount had to excise a line from her last movie, To Be or Not to Be before release. The line? “What can happen in a plane?”

All About Eve

The part of Margo Channing was first offered to Barbara Stanwyck, who turned it down, possibly because playing an aging star was a little to close to home. Claudette Colbert accepted the part and was set to go when she injured her back in an accident. Scratch Colbert. Geraldine Fitzgerald was next offered the part, but the producers withdrew the offer because of her demands, one of which was her instance that the scene where Margo gets drunk be taken out of the script. That left Bette Davis. She readily accepted and not only got a badly needed career boost from her performance, but also gained a husband in co-star Gary Merrill.

Celeste Holm, who played the role of Karen Richards, the wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and the confidant of Margo Channing, used to greet everyone each morning on the set with a “Cheery good morning.” When she wished it to Bette Davis, Davis snarled and said, “Oh shit, good manners.” Holm never spoke to Davis for the rest of her life.


Marilyn Monroe, just beginning on her career, had a small part in the film. She was an hour late for the first of her two scenes and took 25 takes to get it right. Holm noted that “she was scared to death.” Zsa Zsa Gabor, who visited the set daily to keep an eye on husband George Sanders with Monroe there, observed four different crew members go into Monroe’s dressing room for sex on one evening alone.

Sanders, who won the Best Supporting Actor for his role as acerbic critic Addison DeWitt, was an indifferent actor, not really in love with his profession. In fact, he only went into it on the advice of a co-worker in a London advertising agency. That co-worker? Greer Garson.

Norma Shearer

When her husband, Irving Thalberg, died from a bout of pneumonia, Norma went off the rails. Her family was always mentally fragile. Sister Athole, who was married to Howard Hawks, spent many years in a mental hospital, where she died in 1985. 

At any rate, while filming Marie Antoinette in 1938, the 36-year-old Shearer carried on an affair with 18-year-old Mickey Rooney. Their trysts took place in her dressing room and their antics were so loud that it wasn’t long before management was informed and Shearer and Rooney found themselves on the carpet in Louis Mayer’s office. “You’re twice his age,” Mayer yelled at Shearer. “Act yours!” He then turned to Rooney, “And you . . . how could you? You’re Andy Hardy!” In 1942, after she retired, Shearer married ski instructor Martin Arrouge, who was 11 years her junior.

She never removed her wedding ring during filming, instead covering it with a piece of flesh-colored tape.

She was offered the past of Mrs. Miniver, but refused it, as she didn’t want to play a woman with grown children. The part made a star out of Greer Garson.

After retirement, while staying at a ski lodge, Shearer noticed a photo of the receptionist’s daughter and recommended her to MGM. That young lady became a big star under the name Janet Leigh.

Robert Taylor

In his early days in Hollywood, Taylor was quite timid and finally worked up enough courage to ask his boss at MGM, Louis Mayer, for a raise. Mayer, who had heard it all before, pulled his usual shtick, telling Taylor how he had developed his talent, trained and encouraged him though thick and thin, etc. As they were leaving his office Mayer put his arm on Taylor’s shoulder and told him, “If God had blessed me with a son, I can think of nobody I’d rather have wanted than a son like you.” When asked later if he had gotten the raise, Taylor said, “No, but I gained a father.”

His marriage to Barbara Stanwyck was at the insistence of MGM in response to magazine articles about Hollywood couples “living in sin.” Taylor was a mama’s boy and Mama did not like his intended bride one bit, skipping the ceremony. Astonishingly, Taylor refused to kiss the bride for photographers and actually spent his wedding night at his mother’s while Stanwyck fumed in the honeymoon suite.

Gloria Grahame

Gloria married director Nicholas Ray in 1948, when she was 28. The groom was 12 years her senior. The marriage unraveled four years later when Ray discovered his wife in bed with his 13-year old son, Tony. In 1960, after a disastrous second marriage to writer-producer Cy Howard, she married Tony.

Basil Rathbone


Rathbone was a genuine hero during World War I, awarded the Military Cross for heroism on the battlefield. When later asked how he won the award, Rathbone, a modest man by nature, replied, “All I did was disguise me self as a tree – that’s correct, a tree – and cried no man’s land to gather a bit of information from the German lines. I have not since been called upon to play a tree.”

Friday, November 17, 2017

Geostorm

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Geostorm (WB, 2017) – Director: Dean Devlin. Writers: Dean Devlin & Paul Guyot. Stars: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Eugenio Derbez, Amr Waked, Adepero Oduye, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris, Robert Sheehan, Richard Schiff, Mare Winningham, Zadie Beetz & Talitha Eliana Bateman. Color, Rated PG-13, 109 minutes.      

It’s 2019 and due to climate change Earth’s weather is even more unpredictable and the storms much more severe. Seventeen countries have agreed to create an enormous grid of satellites in space to regulate the earth’s weather. Dubbed “Dutch Boy” after the tale of a child in the Netherlands who saved a town by sticking his finger into the dike, this grid can defuse hurricanes and tornadoes.

Designer and builder Jake Lawson (Butler) is not the easiest person to get along with. In fact, he’s being grilled by Senator Cross (Schiff) at a Senate subcommittee hearing about activating satellites without permission. He’s taken off the project, replaced by his estranged brother Max Lawson (Sturgess) and relegated to his trailer home in Cocoa Beach, Florida, where he lives with his daughter, Hannah (Bateman).

Three years later, Dutch Boy, in U.S. control since going online, is about to be released to worldwide custody with a UN committee responsible for keeping it operational. But “operational malfunctions” are starting to happen. An entire village in Afghanistan is flash-frozen. 

When an Indian crewman aboard the International Climate Space Station pulls the equivalent of the black box from the defective satellite and stows it in a locker, he suddenly finds himself trapped in an airlock and blown out into space.

Cheng Long (Wu), Max’s man in Hong Kong, reports his terrifying obstacle course drive to avoid major gas line explosions in the streets caused by microwaves from the Hong Kong satellite. Long makes it back to the states but is pushed into oncoming traffic on Dupont Circle and dies before speaking to Max.

Secretary of State Leonard Dekkom (Harris) recommends that Max get Jake to return to the ICSS to fix the problems. Justifiably miffed at his brother, Jake agrees to go. On his arrival he meets the other members of the operational crew, Ute Fassbinder (Lara) from Germany, Al Hernandez (Derbez) from Mexico, a rather ill-mannered Duncan Taylor (Sheehan) from Australia, Ray Dussette (Waked) from France and Eni Adisa (Oduye) from Nigeria.

When the Hong Kong satellite is retrieved, a malfunction in the robotic arm flails the satellite about like a demented amusement park ride. Another satellite causes softball-to Volkswagen-beetle-sized hail to fall in Tokyo.


Looking for the answers, Jake and Ute find a massive hard drive stuck in the cables of the space station. When they retrieve it, Jake’s jet pack malfunctions and he has to eject the drive in order to regain control of his movements. Unknown to the remainder of the crew, however, Jake palmed the heart of the hard drive before losing the larger part of the device. He suspects a mole on the ICSS and only tells Ute.

Back on Earth, Max has lost login access to the satellites and he links up with Dana (Beetz), a computer hacker for the Department of Defense to find out why. Soon he learns about Project “Zeus,” where a series of malfunctions can lead to an unavoidable, world-destroying geostorm.

Max and Jake come to the same conclusion – Dutch Boy has been made into a weapon. This could only have come from the highest levels of U.S. government, and both suspect President Andrew Palma (Garcia), the only person who has the kill codes for the satellites. They learn that, with fingerprints and retinas, he is the kill code. Max teams up with lover Secret Service Agent Sarah Wilson (Cornish) to kidnap the president while Jake and Ute seek out the mole who planted the virus on the ICSS that triggered the auto-destruct sequence.

Back on Earth the weather is reaching a crisis stage. Tornadoes march across Mumbai, a beach in Rio de Janeiro has been flash frozen, and a titanic tidal wave hits Dubai. At the Democratic National Convention in Orlando, a powerful lightning storm hits. And the countdown is ticking until the “geostorm” continues.

The movie throws everything it has at the audience except for the debris flung by the four tornadoes. The effect is noticeably better than the tornadoes in London in The Avengers (1998) and I noted that no one scene overplayed its time. The special effects were well directed. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised and impressed, though I’ve seen a few of these effects before. The buildings toppling like dominoes in Hong Kong was a bit hokey and almost cliché, but otherwise good.

The acting was surprisingly good all round except for Robert Sheehan, who made it obvious that he was a troublemaker. I liked Andy Garcia as the president. He looks good in the role.

Aside from being totally unbelievable, Geostorm is entertaining and a good disaster film. With the exception of Hong Kong, the models were convincing and the story was engaging. One could believe a power-hungry, enemy-hating politician would concoct such an elaborate scheme and almost wipe-out the entire planet.

Rating: 2 1/2 out of 5 martini glasses.


Temple Court
5 Beekman Street, New York

Located in a building that goes back to 1761 and is one of only two red brick “skyscrapers” in downtown Manhattan, Temple Court has been in business since October 2016, along with its neighboring eatery, Augustine. 

The entrance at 5 Beekman Street in between Corinthian leads to the elegant bar between the restaurants. As I was led through a doorway into Temple Court I noticed a large photo of Edgar Allen Poe in the bar. 


From my table I could see three elaborate, multi-tiered, shaded chandeliers and stained glass panels lit from behind. No sooner had I settled in than my server, Forhad, appeared and asked if I would be interested in champagne or caviar to start. I politely demurred, explaining that I would rather make my selections from the menu before doing something impulsive.

The wine list also had cocktails named after famous architects and builders. I chose the Casimir Goerck Cocktail – Boodle’s London dry gin, Aperol, Dolin Dry, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. It was a pleasant burnt orange color and almost an apricot-like flavor moderated by the juniper of the gin. (Casimir, by the way, was a city surveyor from 1788 to 1798 who helped lay out the street plans for New York.)

While sipping my cocktail, another server brought Amuse Bouche, a squash panna cotta with chopped nuts and green garnish. It was an interesting and sweet two bites. As I began studying the wine list, beverage director Jarred Roth arrived to assist. After deciding the French merlots were way too pricey I found one from New York, a 2010 Merlot Reserve from McCall winery on the North Fork of Long Island that was perfect. The tannins were light and the blackberry fruits were very tasty.

Ever since the restaurant Fresh closed I haven’t seen Belon oysters on any menu. The two large oysters were prepared Rockefeller style with watercress, spinach, fennel and bacon. If you’ve never had Belon oysters, they are a unique taste experience. Unlike regular oysters, they are not briny and look more like a solid piece of seafood. I enjoyed having them again.

When a restaurant under-describes a dish on the menu, I know it will be better than just a surprise. The sweetbreads with Brussels sprouts, bacon, and chanterelles didn’t mention that the sprouts were shaved paper thin or that the dish was topped with visible shaved black truffles. The sweetbreads were well cooked, not crisp and not mushy, the equivalent of al dente in pasta. Combined with the earthy truffles it was ambrosia.

For my main dish I consulted Forhad. The bacon wrapped rabbit mortadella sounded really great, but I had seen another dish on the Chef’s Tasting Menu. After Forhad checked with the kitchen, he said I could have that dish as my main course. The venison Wellington with chestnuts and Brussels sprouts was equal to my best memory of Beef Wellington. The meat was tender and juicy and the flavor of liver accented the space between the meat and the flaky pastry crust. The chestnuts were little gems to be savored between slices of venison.


Even with my third loaf of bread I still had room for dessert. I chose especially the Gateau Basque with figs, walnuts and rosemary, and it was another unique foray into dining. The semi-crisp fluted cake was moist, gingery with a hint of cinnamon. The figs, combined with vanilla ice cream, made for a totally unassuming and perfect dessert.

I decided to forego may usual espresso for their Cortado coffee (espresso with warm milk). It made for a nice change, and to accompany it I chose a 2013 Zweigelt Eiswein from Austria. Eiswein (ice wine) is made in small batches when the weather suddenly turns cold on a grape vine and intensifies the sugars. It’s great as an after dinner drink.

I don’t know what impressed me more about Temple Court, the cuisine or the fabulous décor. Tom Collichio did a stellar job with the menu, organizing it with a nod to the antiquity of the building and the renovations made afterward.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinéma Inhabituel for November 16-30

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

The TCM Spotlight, “The Hollywood Blacklist,” continues with more example of films performed in, directed or written by those who suffered blacklisting. What one will immediately notice from the films is that they are totally innocuous. There is no overt “commie propaganda” to be had. The studios simply wouldn’t have allowed it. What should also be noted is that this was a battle of ignorant bullies versus gullible idiots. Although there were many innocent souls caught in the fishnets who were guilty only of being idealistic, this cannot be said of the Hollywood Ten. The opening documentary, Hollywood on Trial, would have the viewer believe these ten were heroic artists persecuted by the government. But in reality they were no more than arrogant hacks. Not one of them produced anything that could be identified as a classic of literature. They were failed novelists and playwrights, working at the pleasure of the studios. They participated the making of a few excellent movies, but a movie requires more than a screenwriter, or in Dmytryk’s case, a director. The movies to which they contributed in World War II were made at the behest of the Roosevelt Administration, which wanted to push and strengthen morale.

For instance, consider Tender Comrade. It’s no more communist than The Phantom of the Opera. If it’s dominated by anything it’s pro-Americanism, as seen by all the jingoistic speeches. The idea of the lady welders – note that they work at a defense plant – pooling their resources was an idea actively pushed by the Administration as an answer to the shortages brought about by the war effort. Petrol and food were in short supply and were rationed. The most notorious movie of the war, Mission to Moscow, which was not shown, was the direct result of the Administration as propaganda to get the public behind our “ally,” Russia. 

These movies came back to haunt only some of those who made them. Studio heads such as Louis Mayer and Jack Warner were untouched. They were powerful and had lawyers to look after their interests. Those at the bottom of the food chain were considered expendable as they had no power and couldn’t afford legal help.

But the Hollywood Ten could have availed themselves of legal counsel. They were on the higher rungs of the employee ladder, earning roughly $2,000-$3,000 per week. Their downfall came from their arrogant idea to take on Congress, a blatant misreading of the temper of the times. When asked the standard question of “Are no now or have you ever been…,” Lardner replied, “I could answer the question exactly the way you want, but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.” That worked fine in the movies he wrote, but in the real world it fell flat on its face and alienated public support, which was vital if these characters were to get off. Looking over various documentaries on the hearings, I noted the absence of any effective legal counsel. Even the Mob had the good sense to have lawyers present when appearing at hearings.

And not everyone suffered the wrath of the HUAC. For instance, Lucille Ball admitted she listed her party affiliation as Communist when she registered to vote in 1936. And, according to the records of the California Secretary of State, in 1936 she was appointed to the State Central Committee of the Communist Party of California. In 1953 she met privately with HUAC investigator William Wheeler and gave him sealed testimony stating stated that she had registered to vote as a Communist "or intended to vote the Communist Party ticket" in 1936 at the insistence of her grandfather, who was a socialist. She also added that at no time did she intend to vote as a Communist. However, she also registered to vote as a Communist in 1938 and held Communist Party meetings and classes in her home. Ball was a very popular and loved television star who had the weight of the CBS legal counsel behind her. 

As for Dmytryk, he returned to the hearing in 1951, confessed all, and named 26 other party members. This ended his blacklisting and he was hired by producer Stanley Kramer to direct The Caine Mutiny.

November 20: The evening begins at 8 pm with Herbert Biberman’s 1954 indie production, Salt of the Earth. Written by Michael Wilson, directed by Biberman and produced by Paul Jarrico, it stars blacklisted actor Will Geer. The film concerns Latino mine workers who go on strike and the hardships they face as a consequence. Mexican actress Rosaura Revueltas, who plays Esperanza Quintero, one of the miner’s wives, was mysteriously deported during the making of the film on a minor passport violation and her role in the film had to be completed by a double.

At 10 pm comes The Brave One (1956), a cute story of a young Mexican boy who saves his pet bull from a certain death in the bull ring by securing a pardon from the president. The screenplay was by “Robert Rich,” a pseudonym for blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.

At Midnight, Cry the Beloved Country (1952), an expose of the apartheid system of South Africa. It stars blacklisted actor Canada Lee.


Rififi, blacklisted director Jules Dassin’s 1955 film about a jewelry heist, airs at the late hour of 2 am. For those who haven’t yet seen this classic, we urge you to record it. It is the best heist film ever made and influenced many others that followed.

Closing out the evening is The Big Night (1951), a film about a teenager (John Barrymore, Jr.) who takes on the Mob after they beat up his father (Preston Foster). Directed by the blacklisted Joseph Losey (who was forced to flee to England to work), one of its stars is the blacklisted actress Dorothy Comingore,

November 21: At 8 pm it’s Friendly Persuasion (1956), a drama about a peaceful Quaker family in Indiana whose principles are tested by the Civil War. One of its writers was Michael Wilson.

At 10:30 pm, The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), David Lean’s classic film based on Pierre Boulle’s novel about how the Japanese press-ganged Allied POWs to build a railroad from Bangkok, Thailand to Rangoon, Burma. Blacklisted writers Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson couldn’t take credit, so the script was credited to Boulle.

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), at 1:30 am, is a noir about three men – ex-con Robert Ryan, former cop Ed Begley and chronic gambler (Harry Belafonte) – who try to change their lot in life by teaming up to steal a payroll from a small-town bank in upstate New York. But their partnership is doomed from the start because of the racial tensions within the group. One of the film’s writers was the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky.

At 3:30 am comes The Law vs. Billy the Kid, a 1954 cheapie from producer Sam Katzman and director William Castle with a script by blacklisted Bernard Gordon. “Unmemorable” is the beast way to describe it.

November 27: At 8 pm, Exodus (1960), director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Leon Uris’s novel about the birth of Israel. Preminger not only hired blacklisted Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay, but also gave him screen credit, which along with Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus, also written by Trumbo with screen credit, broke the back off the blacklist. 

11:45 pm, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here (1969), the tale of a Palute Indian (Robert Blake) who kills the father of his girlfriend in a fight, directed by Polansky, who was now free of the blacklist.

1:45 am, The Cincinnati Kid (1963), the story of a brash young gambler (Steve McQueen) who challenges the undisputed king of the poker gaming tables in New Orleans (blacklisted Edward G. Robinson). Ring Lardner, Jr, one of the Hollywood Ten, worked uncredited on an early draft of the script.

3:45 am, Edge of the City (1957), a drama about an army deserter (John Cassavettes) and a Black dock worker (Sidney Poitier) who join forced to take on corrupt union racketeer Jack Warden. The blacklisted Ruby Dee plays Poitier’s wife.

November 28: The final night begins at 8 pm with The Front (1976), a comedy-drama about the blacklist, with Woody Allen as a bookie hired to act as a front for a blacklisted writer. Directed by the blacklisted Martin Ritt with Zero Mostel, also blacklisted, as one of its co-stars.

10 pm, The Landlord (1970), a drama about a spoiled rich kid (Beau Bridges) who buys a tenement building in Brooklyn and gets involved in the lives of its tenants. With the blacklisted Lee Grant as Beau’s racist, high society mother. (She received a Best Supporting Actress nomination that year for her performance.)


Midnight, David and Lisa (1962), a story about a troubled young man (Keir Dullea) who begins to deal with his problems after befriending a young schizophrenic (Janet Margolin). Blacklisted Howard Da Silva co-stars as Dr. Alan Swinford, Keir’s psychiatrist.

2 am, The Loved One (1965), based on novelist Evelyn Waugh’s wicked satire of the funeral industry in California. Blacklisted Lionel Stander is one of the supporting cast.

NOTABLE

November 17: At 4:45 am, the great Maria Falconetti in Carl Theodore Dreyer’s 1928 silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc, about the last period in the life of the famous martyr and saint. Falconetti, a major star of the Paris stage, was put through hell by Dreyer, who wanted “an authentic performance” from his star. The shoot was so grueling that Falconetti swore off films altogether. 

November 19: At 2:15 am comes the 1967 Czech avant-garde epic, Marketa Lazarova. The film, set in the Middle Ages, focuses on the relationship between two warring families. The plan clan led by Kozlk (Josef Kemr) and his son Mikolas (Frantisek Veleck) are bandit knights at war with the king and royal army, who want everyone to convert to Christianity. Their rival is the family led by bandit knight Lazar (Michal Kozuch), who are leaning toward Christianity. Lazar's daughter, Marketa Lazarova (Magda Vsryov), due to join a convent, is kidnapped by Mikolas, who makes her his mistress. The two eventually fall in love, but cannot change the film’s tragic outcome.

November 24: Director Jean Renoir’s 1937 Grand Illusion, airing at 3:30 am, a thoughtful story of French POWs and their relationship to their German captors, was the first foreign film to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. Starring Jean Gabin, Pierre Fresnay, Erich Von Stroheim, Dita Parlo and Marcel Dallo, it’s a complex antiwar film. Famed French critic Andre Bazin saw it as revealing the hidden meanings behind the events of World War I. For Bazin, the Grand Illusion is the illusion of hatred, “which arbitrarily divides men who are in reality not separated by anything.” He also noted the illusion of boundaries and the wars which result from them; the illusion of races, and the illusion of social classes. In the final analysis, “The war, the product of hatred and division, paradoxically reveals the falseness of all barriers of prejudice separating man from man.” This is a film everyone interested in cinema should see, a beautifully constructed story of men in crisis and their reactions to one another. 


November 26: A late night treat from Italy with Marco Bellocchio’s Fist in His Pocket (1968), a tale of a deeply disturbed man, subject to seizures, who decides to wipe out his highly dysfunctional family. It’s followed at 4 am by Fellini’s early gem from 1953, I Vitelloni. Many consider 1954’s La Strada as the best of his early films, but this one has it beat. Originally released in the U.S. as The Young and the Passionate, it’s usually translated as “The Young Bulls.” However, a more idiomatic translation would be “Adolescent Slobs.” It’s about five frustrated small town boys with big plans. The five are sons of indulgent, middle-class families who live off their parents while loafing and dreaming of riches, glory and especially, women. While their ideals are lofty, their execution is often pointless. They waste their time and energies on dubious pursuits and whatever dreams or ideas they have are childish. The brilliance of the film lies in Fellini’s observation of them without any hint of disdain; while his tone is satirical, he balances it with warmth and a certain amount of nostalgia. The film influenced a host of directors both in Europe and America. We can see its influence in such films as Scorsese’s Mean Streets, Lucas’ American Graffiti, and Levinson’s Diner. The film is autobiographical, and Fellini’s character, Moraldo (Franco Interlenghi), is the only one to escape from the futility of life in the small town. The film launched the career of Alberto Sordi and was awarded The Venice Film Festival’s Silver Lion (best director) in 1953.

ST. ANDREW’S DAY

November 30: TCM is celebrating St, Andrew’s Day, the national day of Scotland, with five films beginning at 8 pm with 1955’s Wee Geordie. Starring Alastair Sim and Bill Travers, it’s a delightful film about the young Travers, who is sent to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics to compete in the hammer throwing contest. 

Following at 10 pm is High and Dry (aka The Maggie), a comedy about the skipper (Alex Mackenzie) of a small cargo boat (called a puffer) who cons his way into hauling a load of expensive furniture to the holiday island home of high-strung American financier Paul Douglas. When Douglas discovers his valuable cargo is being hauled on Mackenzie’s decrepit boat, he flies up from London to demand the goods be moved to a modern vessel for hauling. But Mackenzie needs the freight hauling fee to stay afloat and he is bound and determined to see it through. It’s a typical Ealing effort, with strong characters and an excellent script. I haven’t seen this since I watched it on my local PBS station as a teenager, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing it again.

At Midnight comes the Errol Flynn swashbuckler, The Master of Ballantrae, from 1953, followed by Gene Kelly and Van Johnson in the MGM musical, Brigadoon, about a town in Scotland that materializes once every century. 

Finally, it’s Burt Lancaster and Peter Riegert in the wonderful Local Hero (1983). Riegert is a successful oil company executive sent by Lancaster to Scotland to purchase an idyllic seaside village to be converted into a refinery. But things don’t go as planned when both succumb to the charms of the area and its inhabitants. It’s a gentle comedy with a good script and strong characters, filled with a good number of incredible moments. As it’s being shown at the ungodly hour of 3:45 am, we recommend that one should record it. You won’t be disappointed. 

PRE-CODE

November 16: At 6 am Marion Davies stars as a scatterbrained young woman who throws a big party to advance her boyfriend's career. in King Vidor’s 1930 comedy, Not So Dumb. . .  At 9:00 am, American heiress Constance Bennett marries into British nobility in Our Betters from 1933. . . 3:00 pm has Jimmy Durante in the 1934 comedy Hollywood Party. It’s a so-so affair with the best scene being the battle between Lupe Velez versus Laurel and Hardy at the hotel bar. . . Following at 4:15 is the classic ensemble comedy, Dinner at Eight (1933), directed by George Cukor with an all-star cast led by Marie Dressler, Jean Harlow, Wallace Beery and the Barrymore brothers.


November 17: Honest working woman Irene Dunne falls for skirt-chasing playboy Lowell Sherman in the sophisticated comedy Bachelor Apartment (1931) at 6 am. . . At 8 am womanizing opera star Adolphe Menjou falls in love with his young protege Irene Dunne in The Great Lover (1931). . . Young Jewish doctor (Ricardo Cortez) who rises from the slums of New York to become a West End Avenue – and later Park Avenue – surgeon and loses touch with his roots in the 1932 melodrama Symphony of Six Million. After Cortez botches an operation on his father (Gregory Ratoff), he vows never again to touch another surgical instrument. But he must break his vow when his crippled girlfriend (Irene Dunne) decides to have an operation to fix her spinal condition. . . Embittered Eurasian Myrna Loy is out for revenge on everyone who made her life miserable in school in 1933’s Thirteen Women (read our essay on it here). And that includes Irene Dunne. . . At 12:15 Dunne stars as a social worker whose fight for reform is compromised by her love for corrupt judge Walter Huston in Ann Vickers (1933). Following at 1:45 pm, Anna and Jim Stanley (Irene Dunne and Charles Bickford discover their newly-found wealth is driving them apart in No Other Woman (1933). . . And at 3 pm, music-hall singer (Irene Dunne) loses her son (Douglas Walton) to her callous father-in-law (Lionel Atwill) after her husband (Phillips Holmes) kills himself in the well-made 1933 soaper The Secret of Madame Blanche. Later complications involving murder conspire to reunite mother and son, but you won’t believe it. 

November 19: Ann Harding and William Powell star in the excellent Double Harness (1933) at 6 am. (Record it.)

November 20: A Ginger Rogers morning features Professional Sweetheart from 1933 at 7:45 am.

November 26: Rogers returns in Rafter Romance, also from 1933, at 6 am. . . At Noon, it’s William Powell, Kay Francis, Aline MacMahon and Frank McHugh run the superior romance, One Way Passage, from 1932. Read our review of it here.

November 27: Irene Dunne and Pat O’Brien headline the interesting Consolation Marriage (1931) at 12:15 pm.

PSYCHOTRONICA AND THE B-HIVE

November 16: Janice Templeton (Marsha Mason) and husband Bill (John Beck) fear daughter Ivy (Susan Swift) is the reincarnation of Anthony Hopkins’ daughter, who burned to death in a terrible accident, in Audrey Rose from 1977, directed by Robert Wise.

November 18: Donovan’s Brain, from 1947, starring Lew Ayres, Gene Evans and Nancy (Reagan) Davis, airs at 3 pm. A Pam Grier double feature begins at 2 am with Black Mama, White Mama (1972), followed by Pam starring with Bernie Casey in Hit Man (1973) at 3:45 am.

November 19: A double feature featuring Robby the Robot begins at 8 pm with Forbidden Planet (1956), followed at 10 pm by The Invisible Boy from 1957.

Monday, November 13, 2017

TCM TiVo Alert for November 15-22

TCM TiVo ALERT
For
November 15–November 22

DAVID’S BEST BETS:

THE GOODBYE GIRL (November 16, 10:15 pm): This film came during the peak of Richard Dreyfuss' acting career and is one of his best performances. He won an Oscar for Best Actor (becoming, at the time, the youngest to win the award) for this 1977 film. The screenplay, written by Neil Simon, is good, but the acting and interaction between Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings (the latter two were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively) are outstanding. Cummings, who was 10 when the film was released (and flamed out as an actress a couple of years later), is marvelous as Mason's precocious daughter. It's a very charming and entertaining romantic comedy.

BEING THERE (November 17, 9:45 pm): Peter Sellers was known for his versatility as an actor. He often played more than one character in films and could easily go from maniacal to subdued while always being interesting. Being There is one of Sellers' last films and his finest role. He is a simple-minded gardener in this 1979 film who learns everything from watching TV. One circumstance leads to another and Chance (Sellers) ends up being an adviser to the president of the United States with what he says interpreted to be brilliant advice. It is a clever, funny, heartwarming and beautiful. Melvyn Douglas as a wealthy businessman and adviser to the president is outstanding, and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Sellers was nominated for Best Actor, losing to Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer). During his acceptance speech, Hoffman said he couldn't believe he beat Sellers; neither can I.

ED’S BEST BETS:

GUN CRAZY (November 15, 8:15 am): Director Joseph H. Lewis’s ahead-of-its-time noir about two lovers (Peggy Cummins, John Dall) that go on a crime spree. Low-budget specialists Frank and Maurice King, whose only caveat to director Lewis was not to go over budget, produced it. Lewis, as I've noted earlier, was a specialist at saving a penny, as his career was spent in Poverty Row. It also takes a load off when one is working from a terrific script from blacklisted Dalton Trumbo (fronted by Millard Kaufman) and MacKinlay Kantor, who wrote the original story. While it was just another low-budget film here in America, over in France it was discovered by the Cahiers crowd and lionized as one of the great films from America. Such was its power that directors Truffaut, Godard, Melville, and Chabrol all stole from it. Its always great viewing and a Must See.

RIFIFI (November 20, 2:00 am): Leave it to a master craftsman like Jules Dassin to make one of the great Heist-Gone-Wrong films. Four cronies plan the perfect crime and have everything figured out to the letter – except for each other, and this proves to be the fatal mistake. Because it was a low-budget film, Dassin couldn’t afford a star like Jean Gabin, but he does quite fine with the hand he’s dealt. In his review for the French newspaper Arts, Francois Truffaut wrote: “Jules Dassin made the best ‘noir’ film I have ever see from the worst roman noir I have ever read.” The novel’s author, Auguste LeBreton co-wrote the screenplay and later wrote Bob The Gambler, another top-notch crime thriller, for Jean-Paul Melville. It seems LeBreton translated better into film than he did into print.

WE DISAGREE ON ... MEAN STREETS (November 17, 12:15 am)

ED: A-
. This is the film that made critics sit up and take notice of young Martin Scorsese. It has all the hallmarks of a Scorsese film: expressionistic lighting, fluid camerawork, sudden outbursts of violence, and that wonderful eclectic soundtrack. Scorsese would refine these techniques over time, but Mean Streets contains that raw, passionate energy of youth. It’s also a claustrophobic film, set in the confined world of Little Italy, with its main character, Charlie (a superb performance by Harvey Keitel), a lower rank Mafioso who inhabits a dark world of pool halls, cinemas, and bars. We first see him coming out of confession, rather unhappy with his penance. But as we follow him into the bar, symbolically lit in red, and see his chaotic, violent friend, Johnny Boy (another winning performance from Robert DeNiro) stroll in with “Jumping Jack Flash” in the background, we immediately realize that Johnny Boy is the personification of Charlie’s penance. “You send me this, Lord,” Charlie says. Stay tuned for the argument between the two over Johnny Boy’s debts in the back room. Though more than a bit raw, it shows the Scorsese yet to come. Mean Streets is a wonderful character study of a man trapped in his environment with no way out, torn between the entreaties of his girlfriend to leave the life behind and move away with her, and his loyalty to his uncle. One also gets a distinct whiff of the personal in the film, which only adds to its charm. It’s a brilliant film, and though flawed, it’s still better than most directors in their prime.


DAVID: B-. My biggest issue with Mean Streets is I saw it for the first time a couple of years ago (and a friend gave it to me on DVD) and having heard glowing praise – it's on several lists of the greatest films of all-time – I expected to be blown away by this movie. It's good, even very good, but I can't consider it great. I'm sure it was ahead of its time when it was released in 1973, and the talents of director Martin Scorsese and actors Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel are obvious. But having seen so many other Scorsese-DeNiro films, this one just doesn't measure up to Taxi DriverRaging BullThe King of Comedy and Goodfellas, for examples. I'm not going to bother to mention other films directed by Scorsese and/or starring DeNiro and Keitel that are better than Mean Streets as I think you get my point. Ed's description of this film as "more than a bit raw" and "flawed" are accurate. It has moments of brilliance quickly followed by scenes that drag and seem pointless. It's unpolished, which isn't a bad thing, but it comes across at times as lacking focus. While the soundtrack is excellent, there's far too much music in the movie to the point of distraction. Overall, the film is compelling and interesting, the lead actors are fantastic and Scorsese does an admirable job directing just his third film. But, simply put, it could have been better.

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

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Last Drive-In

By Ignatz Norvegicus

I just drove back from Gettysburg and was enjoying a lo-carb charcoal-broiled hamburger in peace and quiet.  

Let’s go to a movie tonight. What’s playing?” she said. “No!!!!!” I thought to myself. “I’ll check, Muffin,” is what I actually said.

I ran through the listing at my corporate cinema megaplex. Wonder Woman ... no way. I saw Batman vs. Superman. I don’t want to spend $11 and encourage the jackasses at Warner Brothers to make any more comic book films for another fifty years. Of course, we’re all morons and they won’t stop making this crap.   

Cars 3?” “No.” Ok, scratch that off.  

I got to the last one. Transformers: The Last Knight. Just saying it made me think of Lou Reed, pin-popping in a bathroom stall somewhere in Alphabet City.

That sounds good.”  

She must have really wanted to get the hell out of the house.

Can we go to that drive-in we passed a few weeks ago?” I asked in the tone I usually reserve for those occasions when I want to get out of attending anything related to her family or shoe-shopping.

Are there going to be mosquitoes?”

Probably.”

Then, you need to bring a can of Off.”

I could do that.

The last movie I saw at a drive-in was Dirty Dingus Magee. Sinatra had stopped trying. Shep’s ex-wife (Lois Nettleton) was in it. It was 1970. I didn’t remember much about the movie but saw it later during my college years.


The setting was the swamps of Jersey, the Route 3 Drive-In. There was a playground beneath the screen and sea planes took off and landed in the background. To a seven-year old, it was paradise ... with foil-wrapped hot dogs. Paradise closed in the early 70’s and is now a god-forsaken office building-cum-parking lot. From station wagon memories to cubicle nightmares. From LeSabres and lawn chairs to Civics and carpal tunnel.

The Family Drive-in is one of the last drive-in movie theaters in these here parts. It’s just south of Stephens City, Va. Which is about three blocks long and is no goddamn city unless you’ve been in the desert for forty years and think a place with a post office and a 7-Eleven is the crossroads of the world.

But, it is a drive-in and just a half hour away from Chez Ignatz. So, we jumped into the Jeep and hit I-81.

Traffic was backed up for about 1/4 mile on US-11 Southbound. We crept along on the shoulder until we turned right. As we turned into the theater’s entrance, we were greeted by a clean cut young man who asked what movie we wanted to see. After I muttered “Coconuts,” I told him “Transformers.” He told me that I was good to go. I guess the parking spaces for Cars 3 were already filled up an hour before the start.  

The total cost was $16. Two adults, two movies. Transformers: The Last Knight and 47 something or other. No way I was staying for that last one – whatever it was about.

About fifteen minutes prior to the start of the feature, a PA announcer, who sounded like Arthur Q. Bryan eating peanut butter, told us the ground rules. No smoking, no drinking, being respectful of your neighbor, blah, blah, blah. All good. Except for the bit about the bathrooms not being modern. More to come on that later.

Then, he made announcements about special guests. “Girl Scout Camp 44 with visitors from all over the world.” “Jane something or other who was celebrating a birthday.” Then, a couple celebrating an anniversary. An anniversary. Wow, that guy is getting off cheap.  

We were surrounded by families. All eating. And eating. And eating. Next to me was a lady lounging on a chaise with a bag of popcorn the size of a tall kitchen trash bag. Carbs and salt, baby!

Then, Arthur Q. told us to rise for the National Anthem. Everyone did. No live singer, unfortunately. It would have been nice to hear the Girl Scouts. What we got was a recording that sounded like the Ray Coniff Singers. This is not something I see at the local stadium seater. It was a dignified moment. A fleeting, dignified moment.  

Now, back to the giant bags of popcorn. There were a lot of large people wandering around. Big people ... all carrying giant sodas and wearing shorts. These folks were ready for bed.

The trailers came and went, the movie started. I decided to visit the men's room. It was behind the snack bar and it was not modern. It was crude. About a foot away on either side of the one sink were urinals. Not historic old urinals like at PJ Clarke’s Saloon or McSorley’s Ale House but something designed by a government worker who did not understand plumbing or hygiene, I took one look at this and said “I’m not peeing here.”

I returned to my Jeep and the, ahem, film.

King Arthur and robots. This is going to be good. And, it keeps jumping around. Polo. Outer space, or something. A junkyard or is it a half-demolished stadium.

Dead robots? Can that happen? Sentimentality? Really?  

Doesn’t Anthony Hopkins have enough money? I remember when Olivier appeared in the Neil Diamond version of The Jazz Singer. Same thing here. Whoredom.

Turturro. The Jesus. Nine-year old girls, Dude. It’s a payday.

Jumping around again. Was this thing written by an ADHD kid on a steady diet of Lucky Charms and Fanta grape?

Day Trader is a stupid name for a robot. Crap, it’s a stupid name for a day trader. It sounded like Buscemi. It was. He was out of his element here. 

More jumping around. I need some Xanax.  

Is that Walter Sobchak? It is Goodman! Where are the Coen Brothers when you need them?

There were people involved with this mess that know how to make a good movie. One of them could have pointed out that a possum carcass on the interstate for 24 hours was better put together than Transformers: The Last Knight.

Marky Mark? Even he deserved better. His throwaway line about the Slant-6 of Darts and Valiants made a lot more sense than the Camelot plot line. By the way, Wahlberg’s brother reminds me a lot of Sinatra circa ‘69. He could do a Dingus remake when Blue Bloods dies the death.

What was with all the shifting? It reminded me of the first Roxy Music album, which had more to do with good movies than this.

The film sucked. No, it super sucked.  

But, the drive-in experience was pretty cool. Americans out on a Saturday night, engaging in good, clean fun and making the most of the ancient theater. There aren’t many left.  

It reminded me of 50 years ago. We are a lot fatter. Our cars are boring. Most of us are not optimistic about the future. But we know the good things we have.