Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cinéma Inhabituel for April 1-15

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


Wow. This month, TCM has picked not only a star, but a superstar whose name is rather synonymous with the great epics that came out in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Quinn is also an actor who rose up the career ladder of Hollywood, going from extra to bit player to supporting actor, to lead, and finally to superstar. The amazing thing about Quinn, however, is how many bad movies he made, not just studio programmers, but lead roles, and this could probably be attributed to the fact that Quinn reached his apex just as the studio system collapsed. Actors had to choose on projects quickly and usually with only the advice of an agent.

April 1: It’s a night of Quinn at his best, starting at 8:00 pm with Viva Zapata! (1952). Quinn won a Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Eufemio Zapata, brother of revolutionary Emiliano, played by Marlon Brando. It’s a rousing film, directed by Elia Kazan with his usual verve.

It’s followed at 10:15 pm by the film Quinn is probably best known for amongst film buffs – Zorba the Greek (1962), and the performance for which he should have gotten the Oscar. Quinn is a lusty, larger-than-life laborer in Crete who helps stifled English writer Alan Bates discover the meaning of life. It’s a performance that solidified Quinn as one of the greatest slob-actors of all time. Irene Papas is also on hand as a widow to whom Bates finds himself attracted.

To 12:45 am it’s yet another great slob role for Quinn, this time as the painter Paul Gauguin in Lust for Life (1956). Although Kirk Douglas stars as tortured painter Vincent Van Gogh, Quinn more than holds his own, as witnessed by his Supporting Actor Oscar for the part.

At 3:00 am, we see Quinn in a supporting part, that of oily dancer Murray Burns in the James Cagney-Ann Sheridan soap opera, City for Conquest, from WB in 1940. It’s Cagney’s show as an easy-going sort of fellow who turns to boxing to help support his brother and show his girl, Sheridan, that he does have ambition. Of course, he goes blind from illegal in-ring shenanigans and ends up selling newspapers in a kiosk, but there’s that big scene when he gets to listen to little brother Arthur Kennedy conduct his own symphony at Carnegie Hall. With Donald Crisp as perhaps the only honest boxing promoter known to history and Elia Kazan as a gangster. Want to see really bad acting? Just check out Kazan’s performance in this movie and wonder no more as to why he went into directing.

Finally, at 5:00 am, it’s Quinn in the 1941 WB programmer, Knockout, as a slimy boxing promoter who manipulates prizefighter Arthur Kennedy. Could be better, could be worse, but Quinn is fine.

April 8: We begin at 8:00 pm with arguably the best film Quinn ever made. It’s La Strada (1954) from director Frederico Fellini. Quinn is masterful as Zampano, a crude and brutal carnival strongman who buys simple peasant girl Gelsomnia (Giulietta Masina) from her family to be his wife and help him with the act. Though he treats her worse than a beaten dog, all is fine until the day she encounters a tightrope walker known simply as “the Fool” (Richard Basehart), who changes everything. Quinn is wonderful, but it is Masina who dominates the film; his Method acting no match for her beautiful simplicity. (And yet, the producer who put up the money for the film specifically did not want Masina for the film. Fellini had to tell him to forget it and looked elsewhere for funding.) I know a lot of would-be fans who shy away from this movie because of all the analysis. Forget all that nonsense and just enjoy the movie for what it is: a beautiful, simple tale of carnival life. The only thing towards analysis I will say here is that the circus is a frequent theme of Fellini, perhaps mirroring Shakespeare’s line about "all the world being a stage..."

Hey, here’s one for the books. At 10:15 we can tune in to see a film starring Quinn made for Monogram! Yes, Monogram! It’s Black Gold (1947), a sentimental tale of an American Indian (Quinn) who discovers oil on his land and trains (get this) an adopted Chinese orphan (Ducky Louie) to ride his beloved thoroughbred. Why Monogram? Because it was the first studio to offer Quinn’s a starring role and he got to co-star with first-wife Katherine DeMille (daughter of C.B.). Don’t worry, though. It’s a fine film with an excellent performance from Quinn and first-rate direction from none other than Phil Karlson. This was also the first Monogram film to be made in color and was released under their Allied Artists label so filmgoers wouldn’t merely pass it by.

At midnight, it’s Dream of Kings (1969) from director Daniel Mann and National General. The plot is basically Zorba in America as Quinn plays a middle-aged man living on the margin, married to Irene Papas, with a sick young boy he wants to take to Greece, convinced the change of scenery will make him better. The only thing he lacks is money, and the film is wound around his attempts to get the money. Suds aplenty.

At the lonely hour of 2:00 am, it’s the excellent Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). This production from Columbia, written by Rod Serling and produced by David Susskind, was the film version of the 1956 teleplay starring Jack Palance as Mountain Rivera, a broken-down boxer who can no longer fight. Quinn plays Rivera in the film, along with Jackie Gleason as his duplicitous manager and Mickey Rooney as his sympathetic trainer. In the teleplay, things work out for Rivera, but in the film there is no escape as Gleason sells his contract to wrestling promoters to cover gambling debts, and Rivera is stuck.

3:45 am finds Quinn back in another supporting ethnic role, this time that of the Emir of Daibul in RKO’s Sinbad the Sailor (1947). It’s followed at 5:45 am by Larceny, Inc (1942), a funny comedy starring Edward G. Robinson as an ex-con who, with his pals, buys a decrepit luggage store in order to burrow into the vault of the bank next door. Things go wrong when Robinson unexpectedly makes the store a success. Quinn is an old cellmate of Robinson’s whose robbery scheme Eddie G. stole and who now wants his cut.

April 15: It’s evening of epics. At 8:00 pm comes Barabbas (1962) with Quinn as the thief who was pardoned so Jesus could take his place, followed at 10:30 pm by The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). Quinn is a humble Russian Roman Catholic priest released from hard labor in Siberia and sent to Rome to give the U.S.S.R. a foothold in the Vatican. He is quickly elevated to cardinal, and when the Pope dies, Quinn succeeds him, but on the eve of his coronation he makes an announcement that will change the Church forever.

Next is Lawrence of Arabia (1962) at 1:15 with Quinn in a supporting role as Auda Abu Tayi, one of Lawrence’s Arab allies against the Ottoman Turks. And finally, at 5:15 am, it’s Thieves Fall Out, a 1941 programmer from Warner Bros. starring Eddie Albert as a dreamer who has to rescue his kidnapped grandmother from Quinn and his gang.


The Friday Night Spotlight in April is devoted to special effects man and art director A. Arnold Gillespie. Gillespie was nominated for Oscars 13 times from 1939 to 1963 (winning four times) for his work with special effects, which were a lot more challenging then than now, with the advent of CGI. He joined MGM in 1925 as set designer for Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925), and over the year worked at the studio in different capacities (set designer, art director) until becoming head of the Special Effects Department in 1936. We run down the films being aired and his role in them.

April 3: We begin at 8:00 pm with The Wizard of Oz (1939, Special Effects). 10:00 pm – San Francisco (1936, Associate Art Director). 12:15 am – Tarzan and His Mate (1934, Art Director). 2:15 amMutiny on the Bounty (1935 - Associate Art Director).

April 10: It’s Test Pilot at 8:00 pm (1938, Special Effects). 10:15 pm – Boom Town (1940, Special Effects). 12:30 am – Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944, Special Effects). 3:00 am – The Good Earth (1937, Associate Art Director).


April 5: A double feature from Italian director Raffaello Matarazzo is on tap for the wee hours of the morning. Matarazzo is not as nearly well known as fellow directors Vittorio De Sica, Frederico Fellini and Roberto Rossellini, but his films were immensely successful with audiences in Italy. Despite this, he was not popular with the literati, who looked down on his films as mere soap-opera melodramas with wildly convoluted plots, overstated Catholic symbolism, and an intention to uphold the sacred family unit no matter what. Leftist critics labeled him a reactionary; Catholic critics deplored what they called his overheated sexuality, and mainstream critics called his work cheap, frivolous and a pale copy of neorealism.

However, with the passage of time a new generation of critics began to take up the cudgels, seeing in Matarazzo emotionally rich and elegantly woven tapestries of calamity that reached out to postwar Italian audiences in need of emotional relief. First rehabilitated by French critics in the ‘60s and Italian critics in the ‘70s, Matarazzo is now viewed as akin to Douglas Sirk, Vincente Minnelli, and Luchino Visconti as one of the treasures of the golden age of ‘50s melodramas.

The double feature begins at 2:45 am with his 1950 drama, Tormento, the story of Anna, a young woman in Naples whose stepmother hinders her life. She becomes mixed up with Carlo, who plans to liquidate his business as to have the funds necessary to marry. But he is blamed when his partner is murdered, and although innocent, he’s found guilty and given a long sentence. Now with a young daughter, Anna must return to her parents, and her stepmother stipulates that in order for the child to be taken care of, Anna must commit herself to a home for unmarried mothers.

Following at 4:30 am is Chi e senza paccato (Who Is Without Sin? 1952), a melodrama starring Amedeo Nazzari as Stefano, a smuggler who left the business and emigrated to Canada to work as a woodcutter. He is to be joined by Maria Nermoz (Yvonne Sanson), a woman he married by proxy. But Maria has to care for younger sister Lisette (Anna Maria Sandri), whose relationship with the rich young son of a local countess results in her pregnancy. On the instructions of the countess, a servant brings the baby to the Church and abandons him. Maria rushes to retrieve the baby, a son named Nino, but she’s mistaken as the one who abandoned the child. Lisette dies soon afterward and Maria’s in a pickle, sent to jail for child abandonment. Stefano, thinking Maria guilty annuls the marriage. 12 years pass. Stefano has made his fortune in Canada while Maria has wandered about Italy working various jobs after her release from prison. The truth finally comes out and the couple is happily reunited. I must admit that I haven’t yet seen this one, but if it’s anything like Tormento, which I’ve seen, I’m in for a lot of suds.

April 6: At 3:30 pm comes a 1933 film from MGM that one must see to believe. It’s Gabriel Over the White House, starring Walter Huston as President Judson Hammond, a crook only interested in what he can get out of the American people. His high living results in an auto accident, from which he emerges a changed man, for while recuperating he’s received a visit from the Archangel Gabriel. Now acknowledging that the country is in a mess of his doing, he vows to set America right. He fires the crooked cabinet members he’s appointed and goes before Congress to grant him the powers of a dictator in order to fight crime and make world peace. Congress (naturally or we wouldn’t have a film) grants him those powers and he slashes through bureaucracy to fight crime, cut unemployment, get the country back on its feet and bully the other nations into signing a permanent peace. In the end, his job finished, he dies a martyr. This one’s definitely a keeper.

April 12: It’s a Rudolph Valentino double feature! First up at midnight is The Young Rajah from 1922. Valentino plays an All-American boy who learns he is really an Indian ruler and must desert sweetheart Wanda Hawley to reclaim his throne. Son of the Sheik (1926), his last film, follows at 1:00 am. Here Valentino is an Arabian knight who falls for dancer Yasmin (Vilma Banky). Captured by her father, Valentino comes to believe that she tricked him, but later learns it was one of her jealous admirers who did the deed. He follows Yasmin to a dancehall where he has it out with the guy who betrayed him in a glorious knife fight. He emerges unscathed with Yasmin in his arms. The films are a genuine hoot and should be seen by anyone interested in Valentino’s grip on his fans, both female and male. Many male fans of Valentino dressed rather provocatively, giving rise to Valentino as possibly being the founder of the metrosexual look.

Following Valentino is a double feature of director Jean Renoir. At 2:25 am it’s French Cancan from 1955 starring Jean Gabin as a café proprietor who turns a laundress into a dancing star and revives the Cancan. It’s a wonderful evocation of the famous Moulon Rouge in glorious Technicolor, and anything with Jean Gabin is always worth seeing.

At 4:00 am, it’s The Golden Coach (1953), an utterly delightful film about an acting troupe touring South America in the 18th century and the amorous adventures of its star, played by the exquisite Anna Magnani. A flop upon release, it has since become one of Renoir’s most acclaimed films.


April 1: Beginning at 12:15 pm, it’s an afternoon of Abbott and Costello’s films made outside their home studio of Universal. In order – Rio Rita (MGM, 1942, 12:15), Lost in a Harem (MGM, 1944, 2:00), Abbott and Costello in Hollywood (MGM, 1945, 3:45), Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (WB, 1952, 5:15), and Jack and the Beanstalk (WB, 1952, 6:30). The last two, being in color, should interest the kiddies, but overall, the boys never performed well outside Universal for some reason, even though at MGM they had better production values.

April 4: At 2:15, it’s The Hunger, the 1983 cult favorite from MGM with Catherine Deneuve as the ageless vampire, David Bowie as her 300-year old lover, and Susan Sarandon as a gerontologist who becomes the object of Deneuve’s affection. Trashed by many critics and a box office bomb when originally released, it’s imaginative style gave it a new life on cable, VHS and laser disk. It has also influenced a new generation of vampire movies from Fright Night and The Lost Boys to the Twilight series.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

TCM TiVo Alert for April 1-7

April 1–April 7


WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (April 4, 8:00 pm): This 1957 film, directed by Billy Wilder, is one of the absolute best suspense movies you'll ever see. The story takes many interesting twists and the acting is outstanding, particularly Charles Laughton as an ill, but still brilliant, barrister who takes the case of a man, played by Tyrone Power in his last role, charged with murder. All of the evidence points to Power's character, Leonard Vole, as the killer, but Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Laughton) can't resist defending him. Things take a turn for the worse – or maybe it doesn't – when Vole's wife, played by Marlene Dietrich, is called as a witness for the prosecution. The ending is so unexpected and executed exceptionally well by all parties involved in the film. It is a shock that's heightened by the closing credits asking moviegoers to not reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen it.  

BEN-HUR (April 5, 1:30 pm): It's nearly four hours long, but it's one of cinema's most spectacular epics. Charlton Heston has his critics, but I can't think of any other actor who could have played the lead character in this film any better. Heston is Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince who ends up getting in a lot of trouble when reunited with an old friend, who happens to be a Roman tribune with a real mean streak. The incredible chariot race is reason enough to watch Ben-Hur. It's one of the most spectacular scenes you'll ever seen in film. Add to that Ben-Hur's time as a galley slave on a Roman boat and the preparation he does to exact revenge and you have an epic film in every way possible. My lone disappointment is the miracle at the end of the film as it comes across as forced. But it doesn't detract from the overall excellence of the movie.


LAURA (April 4, 10:15 pm): One of the great noirs – a film that works on every level, keeping us enthralled with each slight twist of the plot. It also boasts a great cast, including Dana Andrews, Clifton Webb, Gene Tierney, Dame Judith Anderson, and Vincent Price. How can one not love a film that opens with “I shall never forget the weekend Laura died,” spoken off screen by Webb? We focus on Dana Andrews as the detective investigating her murder – and who falls in love with her. But it’s Clifton Webb, as the acerbic critic Waldo Lydecker, a snob par excellence who seems just as captivated as Andrews with Laura, who walks away with the film. And as Laura, Gene Tierney is simply wonderful; her beauty answering any questions we might have as to her allure. It’s a film I can watch multiple times without ever becoming bored.

GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE (April 6, 3:30 pm): It’s one of the most incredible films ever made, and it comes from MGM, yet. Produced by William Randolph Hearst, it’s practically an advertisement for fascism, as party-hearty president Walter Huston is knocked for a loop in a car accident. When he comes out of his coma, he’s a changed man and uses dictatorial powers to take over, wiping out both unemployment and crime. If you haven’t seen this one yet, and the odds are great that you haven’t as this is rarely shown, by all means record and watch it. You’ll be knocked for a loop.


ED: B+. This is a slick, highly entertaining piece of fluff from director Howard Hawks with standout performances from Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as two singers that turn the heads of various men in two continents. Monroe was never better than in this film as the seductive Lorilei Lee. Russell gives a tremendous and sly comic performance as Monroe’s buddy, and the chemistry between the two is what moves the movie. The stars keep their characters likable while turning the men into mere foils for their constant battle-of-the-sexes wisecracks. Based on the venerable play from Anita Loos with script from Charles Lederer, Hawks’s movie version features the show stopping number, “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend,” from Marilyn Monroe. Madonna may have managed to imitate Monroe’s in her “Material Girl” video, but Monroe shows why she can never be duplicated. Look for Jane’s standout routine as well, a number titled “Ain’t There Anyone Here for Love,” a great number she sings and dances with a group of shipboard Olympic athletes dressed in gold lame bathing trunks. The number has become an enduring camp classic over the years. Thanks to Hawks, under the surface lies a feminist subtext that raises the film above that of a mere gold digger celebratory fest. Monroe may be singing about diamonds being a girl’s best friend, but what she’s really aiming at is financial independence.

DAVID: C-. I honestly wonder what Howard Hawks was thinking when he directed this film. If it was just for the money, I can accept that. If he thought he was directing something worthwhile, he was kidding himself. This 1953 musical about a pair of gold-digging showgirls (Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell) looking to marry rich guys is a one-trick pony – and the trick is tired and overdone. While only five years older than Monroe, Russell looks to be at least a decade older and has very little sex appeal here. Since her character is supposed to be sexy, though not as much as Monroe, there's a basic problem with casting Russell. As for Monroe, her ditsy blonde act, which we've seen in so many films, is too over-the-top here. How convenient that Monroe's boyfriend is very wealthy. Even so, it doesn't stop her from leading on an older, married man (Charles Coburn) because he's got even more money. I still can't figure out if she's supposed to be using him to get his wife's diamond tiara or is just overly friendly. Monroe can't sing or dance yet her character sings and dances. Her performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is famous more for how she looks than how she performs it. The plot, if you can call it that, is plodding and predictable: Russell falls for the private detective hired by the father of Monroe's boyfriend, who's concerned she's marrying the naive guy for his money. The music and dancing is forgettable and poorly performed. As Ed mentioned, the film is fluff and campy, but it's not that entertaining.

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

Friday, March 27, 2015

Gregory Walcott: In Memoriam

"Now You Just Hold On, Buster"

By Ed Garea

He was an accomplished actor who appeared in such notable films as Mister RobertsThe Eiger SanctionNorma Rae, and Midway. He romanced Claudette Colbert in Texas Lady (1955), portrayed hard-as-nails drill instructors in Battle Cry (1955) and Delbert Mann’s The Outsider (1960), and was Gene Hackman’s psychopathic brother in Prime Cut (1972). He worked with such noted filmmakers as Raoul Walsh, John Ford, Clint Eastwood, and Steven Spielberg.

And yet, for all that, he is probably best known among cinephiles for the role of pilot Jeff Trent in Ed Wood’s cult classic, Plan 9 From Outer Space.

Gregory Walcott passed away at his home in Canoga Park, Los Angeles, California, on March 20, 2015. His son, Men in Black puppeteer Todd Mattox, announced his death, which was attributed to natural causes. Walcott was 87.

For years afterward, Walcott avoided any reference to Plan 9 like the plague. In an interview with a reporter, he stated, “I will go to my grave not remembered for those meaty roles I did for the likes of John Ford or Steven Spielberg, but as the leading man in a film that many movie historians regard as the worst of all time. It's enough to drive a Puritan to drink!”

However, in recent years, his attitude softened greatly to the point where he made a cameo appearance in Tim Burton’s 1995 biopic, Ed Wood. He explained his position to the L.A. Times in 2000, “I didn't want to be remembered for (Plan 9). But it's better to be remembered for something than for nothing, don't you think?”

How Walcott came to star in Wood’s “masterpiece” is a story that like all stories connected with the film, is decidedly offbeat. In a 1998 interview for Filmax magazine, Walcott said he was approached by a friend, fledgling producer J. Edwards Reynolds, about starring in a sci-fi film opposite Bela Lugosi. “But Ed,” I replied, “Bela Lugosi is dead.” He was told not to worry, for director Ed Wood was going to use footage he shot of Lugosi before his death, and the footage would be blended into the film.

I refused at first,” Walcott said. “I read the script, and it was gibberish. It made no sense, but I saw Ed Reynolds as a naive, sweet man. I had done some pretty good things before that, so I thought I had a little credibility in Hollywood. I thought maybe my name would give the show some credibility. … The film was made surreptitiously. My agent didn’t even know I did it.”

The road for Greg Walcott was one many actors had trod. He was born Bernard Wasdon Mattox on January 13, 1928, in Wendell, North Carolina, outside Raleigh. He was raised in the nearby town of Wilson, where his father was a furniture salesman. He enlisted in the U.S. Army toward the end of World War II, and also saw action in the Korean War.

After leaving the service, his restless spirit took over and with a $100 in his pocket, he hitchhiked from the East Coast to California to pursue a dream of an acting career. Once there he studied the craft under Ben Bard. An agent spotted Walcott in a little theater play and helped him land his first movie role in Red Skies of Montana (1952). A couple of years later, he made something of a splash as a Marine Corps drill instructor in Raoul Walsh’s Battle Cry (1955), and the studio, Warner Brothers, signed him to a contract.

Aside from his role as Deputy Jess Foley in Texas Lady (1955), Walcott worked mainly in television with occasional film roles, mainly in Westerns, such as Warner Brothers’ Badman’s Country (1958), where he played Bat Masterson.

Then came Plan 9.

Walcott shot the film in late 1956 into the first part of 1957. As mentioned before, he took the role as a favor to J. Edwards Reynolds, a fellow member of his Baptist church who Wood conned into putting up the money for the film. Luckily for Walcott, the film took two years to find a distributor, and less than 20 release copies were struck, because the distributor, DCA, made Reynolds foot the cost of prints. It wouldn’t have made a difference at any rate, for the film played a week at most to empty houses. In 1961, it made its debut as late night fodder on independent TV stations. Thus, practically no one in the business knew Walcott appeared in it until the ‘70s, when the Medved Brothers gave the film a splash of publicity by naming it as the Worst Movie Ever Made in their book, The Golden Turkey Awards. Since then, Plan 9 and its director have become pop culture icons.

Regarding Walcott, in 1958, he appeared in a film almost as gruesome, critically speaking, as Plan 9. That would be Jet Attack (1958) from director Edward L. Cahn. Walcott is one of three pilots (with John Agar and James Dobson) sent behind North Korean lines to rescue a scientist held prisoner. There, they encounter a mysterious Russian nurse (Audrey Totter) who ultimately helps them in their mission, for she has fallen in love with Agar. (Yes, I know.)

In 1961, he won acclaim as drill instructor Sgt. Kiley in the Universal film The Outsider, the story of Ira Hayes, the Pima Indian who helped raise the flag at Iwo Jima. Walcott was third-billed behind star Tony Curtis (as Hayes) and James Franciscus. Later that year, Walcott co-starred as Det. Roger Havilland in NBC’s police drama 87thPrecinct (1961-62), based on the novels of Ed McBain.

Other prestige films he made during the ‘60s include On the Double (1961), with Danny Kaye, and Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), with Gregory Peck. Most of the paychecks during the decade were earned guest starring on television series, mainly Westerns such as Rawhide (5 appearances), The High Chaparral (2 appearances), The Big Valley, Alias Smith and Jones, and Bonanza (7 appearances).

In the ‘70s, he hooked up with Clint Eastwood, having earlier worked with the actor-director on Rawhide. He appeared in Joe Kidd (1972), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974), The Eiger Sanction (1975), and Every Which Way But Loose (1978). He said in later interviews that he enjoyed working for Eastwood, but noted that his character was the tough guy who was beaten thoroughly to a pulp by the star in the films.

Besides the Eastwood quartet, other major pictures Walcott appeared in included Prime Cut (1971), with Lee Marvin and Gene Hackman, Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974), Midway (1976), with Charlton Heston, and Martin Ritt’s Norma Rae (1978), where he had a memorable role who hauls away Sally Field’s character during the famous protest scene.

Again, the bulk of his work in both the ‘70s and ‘80s came from television, where he frequently guest starred on series from Baretta, to The Six Million Dollar Man, to Dallas. His last appearance came in a cameo role as a potential backer in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood (1994).

On the personal side, Walcott was married twice, first to Martha Garland, from 1948 to 1953, and later to Barbara May Watkins, to whom he was introduced at a party by Western legend Dale Evans. He married Barbara in 1954 and the marriage lasted for 55 years until her death in June 2010.

He also published a memoir, “Hollywood Adventures: The Gregory Walcott Story,” in 2003.

In addition to son Todd Mattox, Walcott's survivors include his daughters Jina and Pam and several grandchildren.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Dinner and a Movie
Friday Fantasy and Fish

By Steve Herte

St. Patrick’s Day came inconveniently on a Tuesday this year and effectively nixed my normal karaoke night. Thanks to my friend Henri, who learned about the event from his friend, I was invited to a Saturday evening Karaoke Coffee House event at a Knights of Columbus hall in Jackson Heights. The hosts, a married couple with endless personalities whom I would have expected to have met at Woodstock, knew of Gabby O’Hara’s and my regular KJ, Dave, as well as many of the more famous karaoke friends I’ve made.

It was an evening of animated features and CGI this past Friday. The art of animation has definitely improved on Disney’s side of the equation, though Warner’s will forever retain the comedy crown. But computer graphics are gradually insinuating formerly impossible characters into “live” movies with greater accuracy and believability. Now all we need are better writers and actors who can do justice to the scripts.

Frozen Fever (Walt Disney Pictures, 2015) – Directors: Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee. Voices: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, & Jonathan Groff. Color, 8 minutes.

In this animated short, it’s Anna’s (Bell) birthday and Elsa (Menzel) wants to celebrate it in grand style, but she’s coming down with a cold (fancy that). Every time she sneezes, she creates little snowmen that constantly try to eat the multi-layered ice-cream cake she prepared. Olaf (Gad) the snowman and Kristoff (Groff) along with Sven the reindeer try to help with the set-up but wind up constantly guarding the cake and herding throngs of cute little snow people. Olaf is so taken with his new “little brothers” that he names all of them and eventually escorts them to Elsa’s ice palace for safekeeping.

The party is a big success but the biggest gift of all for Anna is taking care of Elsa as she succumbs to a fever (definitely fantasy – the Ice Queen with a fever) and must be put to bed. It’s a charming but silly story with beautiful animation and a new song, “Making Today a Perfect Day.”

Rating: 3 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cinderella (Walt Disney Pictures, 2015) – Director: Kenneth Branagh. Writer: Chris Weitz (s/p). Cast: Lily James, Cate Blanchett, Richard Madden, Derek Jacobi, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Chaplin, Hayley Atwell, & Eloise Webb. Color, 105 minutes.

Just when I thought it was safe to watch a Disney movie . . .

This is a remake of Cinderella as a non-animated film, and quite unnecessary. I was perfectly happy with the original 1950 animated version and the 1965 production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s musical. They are delightful. Nevertheless, I went to see this film wondering what new things could be done with the story.

My lack of expectations was rewarded with a back-story at the beginning of the movie. Narrated by Carter, who later turns up as a slightly ditzy Fairy Godmother, it describes the happy life Ella (Webb), at 10 years old, had with her father (Chaplin) and mother (Atwell) in their lovely house on the outskirts of the kingdom.

Even at this early age, Ella was able to communicate with animals, computer generated creatures that were the one marvel of this film as they were seamlessly integrated with the live actors and yet retained their identity as animals (never speaking). Ella’s mother taught her daughter to believe everything, especially magical things. Her father loved to be with his daughter but was compelled to be away from home on long trips to provide for the family, much to Ella’s dismay.

But all is not always rosy. Ella’s mother develops an undiagnosed fatal medical condition, which leaves a very sad husband and daughter. With her dying breath she gives her daughter the sage advice, “Always be courageous and kind,” a phrase that will be repeated ad nauseam throughout the movie.

Ella grows up to young womanhood (James) and all is nice again until one day her father announces that he intends to wed a recently widowed woman with two daughters of her own. It’s his “second chance” and Ella is happy for him. Cue the entrance of the soon to be stepmother (Blanchett), Drisella (Sophie McShera) and Anastasia (Holliday Grainger). From the onset, these three highborn wannabes have nothing but disdain for the house, its furnishings and Ella.

Then, one day, father has go on another of his trips. Drisella and Anastasia ask him to bring back parasols and beauty cream. Ella asks only for a piece of the first tree branch that brushes his shoulder. Her gift is the only thing that makes it home.

With no money coming in, the stepmother dismisses the household staff and replaces them with Ella. When Ella offers her bedroom to Drisella and Anastasia she’s curtly thanked and relegated to the attic, which is too cold in winter, so Ella sleeps by the dying embers of the fire in the kitchen. The ashes on her face the next morning inspire Drisella to call her “Cinder-Ella.”

The three continue to mistreat Ella until one day in frustration she gallops away on a horse into the forest where she’s confronted by the largest computer-generated stag I’ve ever seen. Hearing huntsmen in the distance, Ella tells the stag to flee and it does. Something spooks her horse and they gallop off, only to be rescued by the Prince (Madden) himself. He’s captivated by her from the start but conceals his royalty by introducing himself as “Kit” the apprentice. The rest of the story you know.

One of the few high points of the movie – and the only humorous part – is when the Fairy Godmother does her magic. “Have you any fruits or vegetables? Squash? Kumquat?” “We have pumpkins.” Using the Disney-requisite “Bibbity-Bobbity-Boo!” she turns a pumpkin into a coach (while still inside the greenhouse – bad idea), the mice (one named Gus) into four white horses, two lizards into footmen (one played by Tom Edden) and a goose into a coachman (Gareth Mason). “I don’t know how to drive one of these – I’m a goose!”

Most of the dialogue is sappy and trite. It’s a wonder they managed to get Jacobi to play the king. The music is spectacular, soaring and beautiful and goes perfectly with the elaborate – almost baroque – sets. Otherwise, Cinderella is an over-the-top fashion show set to a fairy tale with great CGI effects. The costume department is to be commended – probably will win the movie’s only Oscar – for pushing the envelope to the breaking point in design. It’s a wonder the prince doesn’t trip over the acres of blue gown Cinderella wears to the ball. It’s also a wonder that that dress fits into the carriage. Her glass slippers looked as if created by Swarovski.

It’s the perfect film for little girls and Barbie dolls. As for acting, Blanchett did a sterling job considering the stock lines she was given and Jacobi was marvelous. All else, well, they were there.

Rating: 2 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar
75 Ninth Avenue (in Chelsea Market at 15th Street)New York

Aside from it being a seafood restaurant, the very name of this small oyster bar tucked away in New York’s Chelsea Market was an intriguing come-on. On the website I learned that both are fish monger terms. A cull is a lobster that has lost one of its claws. A pistol is a lobster that has lost both of its claws, probably due to predators. Appropriately, the Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar is located next to a restaurant called The Lobster Place.

Being a snowy night (hopefully the last we’ll see for the season), I took the 14th Street “L” subway line from the theater to Eighth Avenue (the last stop). The snow made walking problematic, and it took me a while to locate the correct corner. But where was the restaurant? It had to be in the Chelsea Market. I wandered a little through the shopping-mall-like space and asked the security guard, who replied, “Straight ahead, on your right, next to the waterfall.” They have an indoor waterfall? I followed his directions and didn’t stop until I heard the sound of gushing water. In a corner “grotto” made of bricks was more like a broken water-main pipe leaking into a pool below. This is a waterfall? Only in New York.

As I entered I saw two gentlemen. One asked if I had a reservation. I said had one at 7:45 pm, which it was at that time. He led me to the last stool at the bar and proudly indicated the coat-hooks located under the tin-covered surface. For this I made a reservation? It was a backless stool, but one without a table or a wall to lean on, bolted to the floor and therefore immobile. I had to arrange my stuff and myself to achieve a modicum of comfort while purging my brain of the thought that I had just been cleverly insulted (again).

But, as I’ve stated before, and must keep reminding myself, I’ve been to the best, now I’m going to the rest. My server, perky, dark-haired Jess, who reminded me of a young Liza Minnelli with a pierced lower lip, brought me the menu and wine list, along with a jug of water with the restaurant name emblazoned on it. I asked what gins she had. Surprisingly I’ve never heard of any she listed, mostly organic or herbal. But then she suggested Hayman’s London Dry Gin. How have I not heard of an English distillery that has been in existence since 1863? It was excellent and the resulting martini (I didn’t have to tell her “stirred, not shaken”) was equal to any Beefeater martini I’ve had. Things were looking up.

Although the restaurant was not particularly dark per se, I had difficulty reading the menu. The bold black font used for the dish titles was small and just about readable on the cinnamon brown background. The normal font describing the dishes was even smaller and might as well have been invisible. I considered getting my mini-flashlight out, but that was inside my shoulder bag, which was hanging on the hook under the bar and was trapped by my coat hanging over it. Too much effort was involved in extracting it. I used the votive candle in front of me. Still, it wasn’t easy, and I told Jess how difficult it was to read the menu.

From the menu I gathered that most New Yorkers do not observe Lenten abstinence; nearly every seafood appetizer was paired inextricably with ham, bacon or pancetta. When Jess told me the special of the day, it also paired fish with meat. I was beginning to feel trapped again. I explained my dilemma to Jess. She seemed to understand and pointed out dishes where meat did not figure as even a garnish. I selected three courses.

The wine list was equally cryptic to me and before my eyes crossed permanently, I asked Jess for a chardonnay. She consulted the resident expert and they recommended the 2012 Heroine Chardonnay from the Iconic Winery on the Sonoma Coast. It was exactly what I wanted, crisp, golden and light but with a sturdy flavor and an intriguing label featuring a Batgirl-like visage.

My first course was an endive salad – with valdeon bleu cheese, ruby red grapefruit slices, watermelon radish thinly sliced into fans, fried almonds, and lemon dressing. I love endives. They make a salad into finger-food. You can scoop up the other ingredients on a leaf of endive and enjoy all the flavors together. I found out that almonds (not my favorite nut) taste a lot better when they’ve been fried. That with the marvelous pairing of bleu cheese and grapefruit made this salad fun as well as delicious.

The second course was the hearty scallop and mussel chowder – house-smoked scallops, leeks, purple potatoes, celery root, and chili oil. “Did you see bacon listed under the ingredients? I didn’t either,” I commented to Jess. “It’s OK,” she said, “You didn’t know.” It was wonderful, though not a quite authentic, chowder. The purple potatoes, though tasty, were a little jarring but the mussels were sweet and tender and the scallops were appropriately unassertive except for their smoky flavor. The bacon ruled.

On Jess’ recommendation, I chose the salt baked whole fish – Mediterranean Dorado (they used the more colorful but affected term “Dorade”), lemon thyme, and garlic marinade as a main course over the Lobster Pho (pronounced “feu,” meaning fire) – a Vietnamese dish with vermicelli noodles, mussels, hake, chili, Vietnamese coriander, mint, lime, and bean sprouts.

The headless fish was served, skin on, atop a bed of salt with its tail end buried in golden-baked salt. Sprigs of thyme were stuffed inside the fish. The meat was pure white, juicy and tender, not as salty as I expected or as over herbed from the thyme, just perfect. I have one caution about this dish, well, actually two. The first is to be constantly aware of small bones. They turn up around the edges of the fish unexpectedly. The second caution is to be aware that the fish is resting on pure sea salt, which is the same color as the fish flesh. Be careful what you pop into your mouth. I got a couple of mouths-full of salt – not pleasant. However, do be sure to attack the meat on the underside of the rib cage. The better half of the fish is there. I had a great time.

I sided the fish with Brussels sprouts with caramelized shallots and aged Gouda cheese sprinkled on top. Excellent.

I was rapidly becoming sated, and the wooden stool was reminding my body that it was still there. So, in order to relieve the numbness I was beginning to feel in my nether parts, I eschewed dessert and after dinner drinks in favor of paying the check and leaving. Cull & Pistol is a great place to eat providing you are of age 20 to 35 and arrive (with a reservation – the place was packed the whole time I was there) in a group of four. There are no tables for two and certainly none for one. More than likely I will not return to this place because of the uncomfortable seating, but I thank Jess for her efforts to make me less so.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Albert Maysles: In Memoriam

It's Just a Shot Away

By Ed Garea

The world of documentary film lost one of its giants with the passing of Albert Maysles, who, along with his late brother David, was one of the giants of their unique American version of cinema verite, as illustrated in such films as SalesmenGrey Gardens, and Gimme Shelter.

To honor Mr. Maysles, TCM will air an evening of his documentaries tonight beginning at 8:00 pm.

Maysles died on March 5 of this year at his home in Manhattan. He was 88.

The Maysles Brothers were known for their departure from the usual documentary conventions in that they did not interview their subjects. As Albert explained it in a 1994 interview with The New York Times, “Making a film isn’t finding the answer to a question; it’s trying to capture life as it is."

He was born Albert H. Maysles in Boston on Nov. 26, 1926. His parents were both Jewish immigrants. His father, who emigrated from the Ukraine, was a postal clerk, and his mother, originally from Poland, was a schoolteacher.

The family lived in Dorchester and later moved to suburban Brookline, where Albert and younger brother David grew up. Albert was diagnosed with a learning disability, which he later credited with the development of intense listening skills that later served him well in documentary filmmaking.

Albert attended Syracuse University, from where he graduated in 1949 with a B.A. in Psychology. He later went on to earn his M.A. from Boston University, where he taught psychology for three years before switching to film. A trip to Russia to film a mental hospital was repeated the next year, but this time with a camera supplied to him by CBS, which permitted him to film his first documentary, Psychiatry in Russia, a silent film he made in 1955.

He followed this with Youth in Poland (1957), which began his collaboration with brother David. David, who had been working as a production assistant on Hollywood movies, served as co-director.

Their work impressed the famous documentarian Robert Drew. Drew, who has been called the “father” of cinema verite, invited Albert to be part of the crew, along with sound recordist D.A. Pennebaker, that produced the 1960 documentary Primary, which concerned the contest between John F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey for the Democratic presidential nomination in Wisconsin.

In 1962, he and David established Maysles Films, making ends meet by producing television commercials for firms such as IBM and Merrill Lynch. Their 1964 film on the Beatles, in which they followed the rock group to three U.S. cities, was to form the linchpin of the DVD, The Beatles: The First U.S. Visit. They followed their work on The Beatles with two 1966 documentaries, Meet Marlon Brando, and With Love From Truman, both of which were well received by public and critics alike.

But it was their 1968 film, Salesmen, a study of four door-to-door Bible sellers who target the poor, which made their reputation. The 85-minute documentary follows the salesmen as the travel cross-country selling expensive Bibles to low-income families, and the accompanying crises they endure, including burnout.

They followed it that year with Monterey Pop, a deftly filmed account of the most famous pre-Woodstock concert gathering, featuring the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Otis Redding, Simon and Garfunkel, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, the Who, and the Mamas and the Papas. An indication of how exactly the camera could follow the participants was evidenced by the oft-cited scene of Cass Elliot being deeply moved while listening to Janis Joplin’s set. At the end of “Ball and Chain,” Cass is caught saying, “Wow.”

Monterey Pop proved an excellent warm-up for what became their most famous documentary, Gimme Shelter (1970), about the 1969 American tour of the Rolling Stones, which ended with the tragedy that occurred during their concert at Altamont, California, in which a fan is shown being stabbed to death. The film became a staple of countless midnight showings across the country, earning critical admiration tempered by concerns that the Maysles Brothers were also exploiting the violence.

In 1975, they made what many critics consider their masterpiece, Grey Gardens, a portrait of Edith Bouvier and her daughter, Edith Bouvier Beale, both cousins of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The mother and daughter were filmed living in squalor and isolation in a once grand mansion in East Hampton, N.Y. The house, infested with fleas and populated not only by the mother and daughter, but a large population of cats and raccoons, was brought to public attention as a result of a story in the National Enquirer and a cover story in New York Magazine. When notified by the Suffolk County Health Department that the Beale women were to be evicted and the house razed, Jacqueline Onassis and her sister Lee Radziwill provide the necessary funds to repair the damage and bring the house up to village code.

Grey Gardens proved so popular that, over the years, it has taken on a life of its own, spawning a 2006 Broadway musical starring Christine Ebersole and Mary Louise Wilson, and a 2009 HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as the Beales, with Jeanne Tripplehorn as Jacqueline Onassis. The HBO production was nominated for 17 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning three, and was nominated for three Golden Globes.

Albert and David also made Vladimir Horowitz: The Last Romantic (1987), which was nominated for three Primetime Emmys, winning two. Their last collaboration was Islands (1987) a study of the artist Christo and his wife, Jeanne-Claude, nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 1987 Sundance Awards.

After David’s death from a stroke in 1987, Albert co-directed the 1992 Emmy Award winning Abortion: Desperate Choices, with Deborah Dickson and Susan Froemke.

Over the years since David’s death, Albert worked as director, co-director and cinematographer, on a wide range of subjects, from the Getty Museum, to Gypsy music, Sports Illustrated’s annual swimsuit issue, extreme choreography, rock concerts, and artist Keith Haring. In 2001, he received the Cinematography Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival for his documentary LaLee’s Kin: The Legacy of Cotton, about a Mississippi Delta family’s struggle against poverty. In 2006, he released The Beales of Grey Gardens, a new perspective on the Beales utilizing unseen footage from Grey Gardens. His latest project was Hollywood Renegade, a documentary about screenwriter Budd Schulberg and his times, to be released this year.

In 2006, he founded what is now the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem, and in July 2014, he received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama.

Survivors include Gillian Walker, his wife of 39 years; two daughters, Rebekah and Sara; a son, Philip; and a stepdaughter, Auralice Graft.


8:00 p.m. GREY GARDENS (Rialto Pictures, 1976): Edith Bouvier Beale, Edith B. Beale, Jr. Documentary of a reclusive Long Island mother and daughter living in their own world at their mansion, “Grey Gardens.”

9:48 p.m. PORTRAIT OF AN ACTOR (Calliope Films, 1971): George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere. A portrait of George C. Scott, as related on the set of his film, The Last Run.

10:00 p.m. SALESMAN (Maysles Films, 1968): Paul Brennan, Charles McDevitt. David Maysles directed this documentary about the adventures and misadventures of four door-to-door salesmen.

11:45 p.m. GIMME SHELTER (Maysles Films, 1970): The original rude boys of British rock, the Rolling Stones, tour America, culminating in a death at the Altamont Speedway Free Festival in California.

1:30 a.m. MEET MARLON BRANDO (Maysles Films, 1966): Marlon Brando, Rex Morgan. A portrait of Marlon Brando, who is in New York to promote his film Morituri, goes awry when Brando becomes more interested in an interview conducted by a former winner of the Miss USA beauty contest.