Monday, October 23, 2017

Catholic Guilt over BOOGIE NIGHTS

Praised by movie critics and graced with Oscar nominations, it's the film that could've been also known as TERMS OF ENDOWMENT.  Former pop star turned Oscar-nominated actor Mark Wahlberg now hopes that our Heavenly Father forgives him for playing porn star Dirk Diggler in BOOGIE NIGHTS.  I read this Oct. 20th news in The Chicago Tribune.  Personally, I still categorize BOOGIE NIGHTS as one of the top ten best American films of 1997.  Director Paul Thomas Anderson received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, Julianne Moore was an Oscar nominee for Best Supporting Actress and -- for delivering one of the finest performances of his long movie career -- Burt Reynolds was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.  Director Paul Thomas Anderson showed us that Mark Wahlberg, formerly known as the pop star Marky Mark, was more than just MTV music video eye candy.  He could handle dramatic film material.  He was excellent as the working class young guy in Southern California.  In his home, the air is thick with misery.  He and his father have been emotionally beaten down by his shrew of a mother.  The young guy has an ordinary job in a nightspot kitchen.  He's generously endowed.  Apparently, he can make some cash on the side just by letting men see it.  Like he's a $5 footlong at Subway.  His youth is rather pathetic and the heat of his mother's anger forces him out of the house and into another dysfunctional family.  But this family accepts him and makes him feel special.  He's been discovered by a maker of X-rated movies. The young discovery with the extra large penis gives himself a new name -- and a star is born.  Or porn.  But he will have a rise and fall in a changing area of the movie business.
As The Chicago Tribute reported, Mark Wahlberg was on stage addressing a group of fellow Catholics.  He was onstage in Chicago with Catholic Cardinal Blase Cupich.  Wahlberg was in Chicago to support Cardinal Cupich's effort to draw young people into the church.  Wahlberg remarked, "I just always hope that God is a movie fan and also forgiving, because I've made some poor choices in my past."  He went on to say that BOOGIE NIGHTS is at the top of the list.
Wow, Mark Wahlberg.  How will fellow cast members and the director/screenwriter feel about that statement?  And if the Cardinal and the folks in the audience are strict Catholics, they wouldn't have seen BOOGIE NIGHTS in the first place and would not have gotten a glimpse of what made Dirk Diggler a superstar.
When I was a kid, Mom and Dad would often get The Tidings as they left Sunday mass.  That was the Catholic newspaper for the L.A. archdiocese.  The Tidings always had a list of movies that Catholics could see and a list of movies that were "morally objectionable."  My passion for movies started when I was in grade school, so I paid attention to Hollywood news as fervently as I paid attention to cartoons on TV.  When Billy Wilder's KISS ME, STUPID starring Dean Martin and Kim Novak came out, Catholics were forbidden to see it.  I'll put it like this -- if you went to see KISS ME, STUPID and, when it was over, you got hit and killed by a drunk driver when you were crossing the street, you could go immediately to Hell and possibly be seated next to members of Hitler's Third Reich...just because you saw a Billy Wilder sex comedy.  Mom and Dad seemed to make it a point to see every film based on work by Tennessee Williams because all those movies were "morally objectionable."  I'm proud of them for that.  I'm proud to be Catholic but I am not about to let the Church tell me what film art I can and cannot see.

As for Wahlberg, remember him back in the Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch hip-hop days?  Remember what he started doing onstage?  He'd finish a song and drop his pants, standing in his drawers as a commercial for Calvin Klein underwear.  What about Scorcese's THE DEPARTED, the film that brought Mark Wahlberg an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor of 2006 -- didn't a character hold up a dildo in that crime thriller?  Then there are the comedies that Mark Wahlberg did with a potty-mouth stuffed bear, TED (2012) and TED 2 (2015).  I wonder if Cardinal Cupich saw those.

Mark Wahlberg needs to relax with the Catholic shame, in my opinion.  As an actor, he's got nothing to be ashamed of in BOOGIE NIGHTS.  It's an exceptional film.  I wish I'd had the opportunity to act in a film that good.  If I had, I would've taken my rosary to Sunday mass to say prayers of thanks.
Next month, Mark Wahlberg will be seen in the comedy DADDY'S HOME 2.  He'll star opposite fellow Catholic, Mel Gibson.  They'll play father and son.








Sunday, October 22, 2017

From THE CROWD to PSYCHO

In my previous blog piece, I wrote about some realistic visual detail in a silent film classic, THE CROWD.  That 1928 drama was directed by King Vidor.  The newlyweds in New York City, the housewife and the office employee husband, live in a small, low-income apartment.  In a sequence that takes place on Christmas Eve, we see the wife happily making dinner.  Relatives are coming over from her side of the family.  The husband is getting ready and the bathroom door is open.  Several times, see inside the small bathroom.  There's a sink and a toilet.  When the Motion Picture Production Codes would minimize film-making freedom starting in the early 1930 and be pretty strict through the 1950s, you would not see toilets in Hollywood films.  There would be large, glamorous bathrooms -- like the one Lana Turner had as a ZIEGFELD GIRL (1941) or Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker had in LAURA (1944), but you would never see a toilet.  In the bright Doris Day and David Niven comedy, PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1960), we see a family outgrow its Manhattan apartment and move to a big house in Connecticut.  There's a scene in the apartment bathroom.  The toilet is implied.  We don't see it.  THE CROWD gave us a realistic look at working class life in the big city.
The production codes were moral guidelines.  Basically, codes felt like the unlikable, conservative new principal in a high school for the performing arts.  Starting in the early 30s, there were rules against nudity, scenes of passion and lustful kissing, discussions of sexual aberrations, too much alcohol for a good time (Prohibition was in effect) and interracial relationships.  Those were some of the production code no-no's.  Realism like Vidor's in THE CROWD would disappear for a time as the Hollywood film-making technology advanced.
Directors like Billy Wilder (SOME LIKE IT HOT, THE APARTMENT) and Alfred Hitchcock artistically challenged the codes by showing that they'd grown outdated because society had grown up.  Look at Hitchcock's masterpiece.  Just like Vidor's THE CROWD, Hitchcock shows us a toilet.  It's a realistic visual because it's in a motel bathroom next to the shower.

Hitchcock's 1960 shocker was a groundbreaker.  And a box office champ.  Just like Doris Day and Grace Kelly, blondes who had a "good girl" movie image and did lead roles for Hitchcock, Janet Leigh was blonde and had graduate from years of a "girl next door" image at MGM in the 1940s.  Come the 1950s, she'd be half of one of Hollywood's hottest couples.  She was married to Tony Curtis.  Hitchcock cuts away that "good girl" image and makes her a sexy, smart, non-virgin.  I'm sure you've seen PSYCHO and don't need me to tell you what puts her character, Marion Crane, on the road to the Bates Motel.
Not only does Hitchcock do the unheard of -- he kills off the leading lady played by a top Hollywood star in the first third of the movie -- he has her character fall over dead in a close-up with....a toilet.
If you had shown an MGM leading lady in the same shot with a toilet in the 1940s, the head of studio boss L.B. Mayer would've exploded like those of the evil aliens hearing Slim Whitman music in MARS ATTACKS!

Janet Leigh received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for PSYCHO.

Three of the top ten box office hits for 1960 were PSYCHO, Billy Wilder's THE APARTMENT and PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.

In a way, an ordinary toilet became a visual symbol of early realism and later revolution in film-making.

There's a new documentary out about the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO.  From IFC Films, it's called "78/52."  The title refers to the number of shots and the number of edits in that terrifying murder scene.  Here's a trailer for the documentary:


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Todd Haynes and THE CROWD

He loves movies.  And he loves his audiences.  You can tell that from his movies.  Director Todd Haynes makes bold, provocative and original films.  Even when his original film evokes the work of classic film director.  Yes, I'm referring to his 2002 gem, FAR FROM HEAVEN, inspired by the best of the 1950s Douglas Sirk films.  He delved into race, marriage and homosexuality in FAR FROM HEAVEN.  Other Todd Haynes films that drew me to the box office are SAFE, I'M NOT THERE and the luscious CAROL starring Cate Blanchett.  And I loved his 2011 adaptation of MILDRED PIERCE for HBO.  It was truer to the novel than the famous Oscar-winning Warner Brothers adaptation starring Joan Crawford in 1945.  The original version was made during the age of Hollywood studios and production codes.  Aspects of the novel had to be watered down -- like the fact that Veda's bed should've had a speedometer on it.  She'd been laid, re-laid and par-laid. In a big way, Haynes fine version for HBO gave classic film fans a deeper appreciation for how screenwriter Ranald MacDougall took some steamy dramatic material that was often deliciously sordid, kept the mother love and ungrateful daughter essence and shaped it into somewhat of a film noir crime story with the hardworking mother losing her restaurants and the wicked getting their just desserts.
Todd Haynes has a new film out.  It's called WONDERSTRUCK.  He was this month's Guest Programmer on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and the first film he selected was a silent film classic.  It was King Vidor's THE CROWD from 1928.
What a fascinating film.  Powerful and poignant.  As we follow the life of newlyweds in the Big City, we get themes of independence versus conformity and promise versus commitment.  As King Vidor moves the camera up a New York City skyscraper and into a window to see the massive office where he's one of the guys toiling at a desk, we see one of the most famous shots of the film.
We can also see how this shot influenced a young Billy Wilder.  He kept it in mind for his opening scenes of THE APARTMENT showing us where C.C. Baxter, played by Jack Lemmon, worked.  King Vidor directed HALLELUJAH (1929), Wallace Beery in THE CHAMP (1931), Barbara Stanwyck in STELLA DALLAS (1937), Gregory Peck and Jennifer Jones in DUEL IN THE SUN (1946).  Here's an excerpt from King Vidor's 1928 classic, THE CROWD.

On the topic of production codes, there's something else in THE CROWD that Hollywood would never again show us in movies of the 1930s through the 1950s.

John and Mary tiny apartment close to a Manhattan train line.  Look at the right side of the above photo.  After the Niagara Falls scene in THE CROWD, the action goes to Christmas Eve.  Relatives are coming over and the new wife is cooking dinner.  John has to shave.  The bathroom door is open and we see a sink and...a toilet.  Once the production codes took hold of Hollywood in the early 1930s, toilets disappeared from sight.  I know that a commode is an odd thing to point out in a movie.  But, it does underscore how conservative the production codes were when they became the "Thou shalt not" commandments of Hollywood movie-making.  There's male nudity and a pair of physically affectionate lesbians in the 1927 silent classic WINGS, the first film to win the Oscar for Best Picture.  Maturity like that would also disappear and be forbidden under the censorship of Hollywood production codes.

THE CROWD influenced Todd Haynes while making his new film, WONDERSTRUCK.  It takes us to different time periods.  It's in color and black and white.  Here's a trailer.

I will be seeing WONDERSTRUCK.  Did you see FAR FROM HEAVEN?  Todd Haynes got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Julianne Moore got a very well-deserved Best Actress Oscar nomination for her  performance as the upscale suburban Connecticut housewife whose 1950s marriage cracks and her handsome African American gardener makes her aware of racial tensions in society.  I still say that Dennis Quaid should've been an Oscar nominee for his terrific work as her macho, closeted gay husband.  And can you remember who played the maid in the suburban Connecticut home?  That bit part was played by an actress named...Viola Davis.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Sally Field, THE WAY WEST

It's unusual for a guy to name a woman as a role model.  When someone is asked to name role models, he or she usually selects people of the same gender.  But Sally Field has been a role model for me in my career for quite a long time.  It just hit me as I write this that I've been a Sally Field fan for over half my life.  She first won my heart when I was boy and watched her every week on ABC as GIDGET.  That popular, perky Southern California teen character was first introduced in a light, entertaining novel (which I read), then she was successfully transferred to the big screen and first played by Sandra Dee.  GIDGET had other big screen adventures and was played by other young actresses.  Then she went over to prime time TV and a newcomer named Sally Field booked the lead role that sitcom.  She was perfectly cast and a great Gidget.  My mom watched her as Gidget too.  Her next ABC sitcom was THE FLYING NUN.  This was one wacky sitcom idea -- in the Convent San Tanco in Puerto Rico, there was a new American nun who, when the wind was just right, could fly thanks to the flaps on the head covering of her nun's habit.  Sister Bertrille would fly over San Juan, drop in and do good deeds as sort of a "Sister Fix-It."  Folks in the Hollywood industry made fun of the show.  Sally Field and that sitcom became a Hollywood punchline.  Just like GIDGET, I watched every episode of THE FLYING NUN.  To me, Sally Field made it work for the time it ran.  She was a serious young actress doing comedy, which is very hard work.  In between ABC's GIDGET and THE FLYING NUN, both shows of the 1960s, she made her big screen debut in a western with some Hollywood heavyweights.  You see her as soon as the action of 1967's THE WAY WEST starts.  She's the lusty, slovenly frontier teen seated on the back of wagon and holding a critter as the wagon heads west.  Her hormones are galloping like a runaway horse.  As her mother says, it's a chore to keep the girl away from every "three-legged boy" she sees.
The stars of the film were 3-time Oscar nominee Kirk Douglas...
 ...1-time Oscar nominee Robert Mitchum....
 ...and 1-time Oscar nominee Richard Widmark.
Newcomer Sally Field had a scene with Kirk Douglas and a scene with Robert Mitchum.
Her character is named "Mercy" and takes up with a married, older man on the journey.  He'll break her heart.  Field may seem an unlike choice to play a horny frontier teen, but you see that she approaches her material and her role with a serious attitude.  She does the work even though the industry wasn't taking her seriously then.  I know the feeling of being serious about the work I did but not being taken seriously within an industry community.  And I know that doing comedy well is often dismissed as easy, light work when it's just the opposite.  You can see that Sally Field has a keen awareness of and commitment to her character.  Mercy is an uneducated, poor pioneer teen who thinks that having sex with a male will not only make her feel good, but will make her special to him.  Sex will lead to instant love.
After THE WAY WEST and THE FLYING NUN, Sally Field dug in, studied hard, challenged the industry and delivered a stunning performance in the difficult role of SYBIL.  That 1976 TV mini-series cast Sally Field as the young woman under psychiatric analysis to get to the root of the multiple personalities dysfunction that make her life sad and chaotic.  It was an extraordinary performance.  But she still have to prove herself again.  She got across-the-board rave reviews for SYBIL but her agent didn't think she had the right stuff to be a film actress.  She fired that agent.

Sally Field is a native-born Southern Californian who has a gift for playing Southern women.  Mercy has a Southern accent in THE WAY WEST.  Sally Field has been nominated for the Oscar three times.  She won Best Actress for playing NORMA RAE (1979), a Southerner.  She won another Best Actress Oscar for playing a Southern woman in PLACE IN THE HEART (1984).  She was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for playing Mary Todd Lincoln, a First Lady with a Southern accent, in LINCOLN (2012).

When she played that boy crazy teen riding on the back of a covered wagon in THE WAY WEST, who would've thought she'd be the 2-time Oscar winner in that cast?

The actress brought me luck in my early TV career. The first celebrity interview I did that aired national was a 6-minute piece on Sally Field after her NORMA RAE victory.  She was promoting BACK ROADS, a 1981 comedy she did with Tommy Lee Jones.  She and Tommy Lee Jones reunited for Steven Spielberg's LINCOLN.

Sally Field was also a guest on my VH1 talk show in New York City when she was promoting another comedy, 1988's PUNCHLINE co-starring fellow ABC sitcom graduate, Tom Hanks.  They'd reunited for FORREST GUMP in which she'd play his devoted mother, a Southern woman.

On my VH1 show, she told me that PLACES IN THE HEART co-star John Malkovich owns a copy of her album, "The Flying Nun Sings."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Irene Dunne, LADY IN A JAM

Entertainment news publications reported that this year's summer box office was the lowest it had been in years.  Because I'm such a movie lover, I felt like I was personally responsible for some of that poor box office showing.  I'd grown weary of seeing caped comic book characters fly through the air with superhuman powers in sequels with fabulous special effects.  I wanted to see real people.  I didn't go to the movies as much over the summer because I got better, more satisfying entertainment on Netflix.  However, of the few movies I saw at the theaters, DUNKIRK was a very moving drama about a historic British event during World War 2, BABY DRIVER was exciting and different, and my absolute favorite movie I saw over the summer was the romantic comedy, THE BIG SICK.  I laughed, I cried, I got my money's worth.  Based on a true story from the life of handsome, young Muslim American comedian Kumail Nanjiani, last weekend's host on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, we get wit, a warm love story and a heartbreaking hospital element.  Just like in LOVE AFFAIR, one of Irene Dunne's best movies.  That 1939 gem starring Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer was remade as the very popular AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER starring Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant.  Remember the ladies crying about that remake in SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE?  THE BIG SICK was a wonderful reminder that the good romantic comedy has not become a lost art form.  When actresses like Irene Dunne, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck were tops in the 1930s and 40s, there was no shortage of romantic comedy scripts for them to choose from.  Nowadays, the pickings seem to be slim for actresses who long to do a good romantic comedy.  I watched an old Irene Dunne romantic comedy this week.  I laughed more in the first ten minutes of her movie than I did in all two hours of the 2012 romantic comedy, THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT.  And I was a background actor in that movie.  Irene Dunne's 1942 comedy, LADY IN A JAM, has some lessons today's Hollywood could learn.
Irene Dunne got five Oscar nominations for Best Actress in her career.  She should've received a special lifetime achievement Oscar for her remarkable career and performances.  Very effective dramatically, as in I REMEMBER MAMA, her last Oscar nomination, she was also a master at screwball comedy.  She started out as a dramatic actress in movies then came 1936's smart and sparkling comedy THEODORA GOES WILD.  That brought her an Oscar nomination and showed that she had a bright gift for comedy.  LADY IN A JAM is not one of her best and best known romantic comedies like THEODORA GOES WILD, THE AWFUL TRUTH and MY FAVORITE WIFE, but it's still good for some laughs and worth studying to see how Dunne makes the material pop.  Also -- and here's one thing I wish Hollywood would keep in mind -- Dunne and Jean Arthur were still doing knock-out romantic comedy lead lady roles in their early 40s.  And they looked fabulous.  Such is the case with 40-something Irene Dunne as the LADY IN A JAM.
Dunne plays Jane Palmer, an estate heiress who's been clueless about and keeping track of her finances. She's blown through all of her money and doesn't realize it.  When first we see her, she's smartly attired and wearing a chic hat.  Hats were Irene Dunne's movie signature look.  Jane is shopping for jewelry.  Expensive jewelry.  She can't quite make up her mind between two bracelets.  In Dunne's delivery and style, we see that Jane is a lovable ditz.

She'll return to her mansion to discover that, not only is she flat broke, but all her possessions are being tagged for auction because she's bankrupt.  In one touch that was delightfully typical of movies of that time, when the cook learns that the lady of the house is bankrupt and her items are up for auction, the cook makes a bee-line for Jane's mink coat.  The romantic element comes in thanks to Jane's guardian played by the gravelly-voiced and portly Eugene Pallette.  He gets a Manhattan psychoanalyst to talk to Jane and straighten out her screwball tendencies.  Patrick Knowles, best known for playing Lindsay opposite Rosalind Russell in AUNTIE MAME, is the by-the-book psychoanalyst who will fall in love with Jane.

When first he sees her, it's on the street after she's left the jewelry store.  She gets into the back seat of her limo, but the chauffeur quits on the spot because he hasn't been paid in a while.  She has to drive and, you guessed it, she'd bad at it.  The shrink takes over and drives her home.  He'll accompany her to Arizona where she's forced to live in a shack with her gun totin' grandma.
LADY IN A JAM was directed by Gregory La Cava (MY MAN GODFREY and STAGE DOOR).  Notice how he keeps the pace and dialogue delivery fluid.  Especially the dialogue.  It's back and forth and the metronome keeping time for an upbeat tune.  While I worked background on THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt, I watched one scene get improvised on the spot and shot a few times.  I had absolutely no reason really to be in the film and it didn't drive the story forward.  But it made guys on the crew laugh and it's in the final cut.  If you see that romantic comedy, notice that the first half hour could've easily been trimmed to fifteen minutes.  There was so much unnecessary dialogue delivered at a relaxed, rambling pace.  LADY IN A JAM is an enjoyable 90 minutes or less.  THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT was 2 hours and 5 minutes long.  It should've been 90 minutes or less too.

THE BIG SICK had a good, brisk pace and good characters.  Ray Romano and Holly Hunter almost stole the film as the girlfriend's parents.  Holly Hunter should get a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for THE BIG SICK.

LADY IN A JAM has supporting actors who know how to make screwball romantic comedy work.  Ralph Bellamy, who played the doofus cowboy beau in THE AWFUL TRUTH, has a similar role in LADY IN A JAM.  He calls the handsome big city psychoanalyst a "long-legged tenderfoot."            
Trivia note:  Some classic film fans tend to describe Ralph Bellamy as "the guy who never got the girl" in the 1930s and 40s movies.  Well...he did get the girl in one movie.  And the girl was Irene Dunne.  In 1934's THIS MAN IS MINE.

Of course, Miss Palmer, who was called a "spoiled brat" will learn to do things for herself and occasionally for other people.  Her feelings will get hurt in the process.  "Seems like the more you do for people, the less they appreciate it", she remarks in Arizona.

To me, even though LADY IN A JAM is a B-movie amongst her several A-quality films, it still has scenes that prove how watching her is a master class in comedy acting.  She can bring light and motion into a scene that has no activity.  In her opening scene, she's in the office of a gentleman breaking news to her about her account.  Notice how she moves in her seat, perfect for that screwball character, and notice the business she does with the ink pen in a holder on his desk. Marvelous.  That and her sitting on the shrink's lap in the final scene...wow, she was a pro.
I repeat:  I'll take 1942's LADY IN A JAM over 2012's THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT.  And I was an extra in THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT.


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Shots of ADAM'S RIB (1949)

With a bright, original screenplay by actress/writer Ruth Gordon and her husband, Garson Kanin, this is my favorite of the films that starred Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.  I'm sure you've seen this smart, sophisticated comedy about equality of the sexes and respect for the law.  They play a pair of married lawyers in New York City.  Their marriage is a great one.  They are opposites who obviously were attracted to each other.  You can tell that from their first scene.  It's early in the morning.  Time for breakfast.  She's a morning person, up and chipper.  He's not a morning person.  He's a big, sleepy bear trying to catch a little more sleep under the covers.
A local story made front page news.  A wife and mother followed her cheating husband to his girlfriend's apartment.  The emotionally distraught wife acts irrationally.  She has a gun that she doesn't know how to use.  She shoots open the door and wounds her husband.  Amanda (Hepburn) feels that there's a double standard for men and women -- especially in cases of adultery.  Adam (Tracy) feel that the wife, regardless of the husband being in the arms of the floozie girlfriend, broke the law.  Amanda gets the wife's case.  Adam is assigned the cheating husband's case.  Amanda and Adam have to oppose each other in court.  Tension builds for the married couple.  Laughs ensue for the viewers.
 In pleading for fairness for her client, Amanda asks the jury to "judge this case as you would if the sexes were reversed."  I love what director George Cukor does in this section.  He gets a close of Jean Hagen as the floozie girlfriend, a shot of Tom Ewell as the cheating husband and Judy Holliday as the wronged wife -- and then the image becomes each character as a member of the opposite sex.

Hagen ...

Ewell....

 Holliday....

I love those shots.  Another shot I love also comes from the courtroom scenes.  It's the shot of the jury.  Cukor and the screenwriters gave us something we rarely -- if ever -- saw in a Hollywood film before 1949's ADAM'S RIB.  We saw a high profile court case with a racially mixed jury.
I noticed that about the jury when I was a kid and first saw ADAM'S RIB on TV.  It made me smile then.  It still makes me happy to see that diversity today.

In a very hot Best Actress Oscar race, one that include Bette Davis for ALL ABOUT EVE and Gloria Swanson for SUNSET BLVD., Judy Holliday won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in BORN YESTERDAY.  She was again directed by George Cukor.  She repeated the character she originated in the hit Broadway play.  BORN YESTERDAY was based on the play of the same name written by Garson Kanin.

In 1944, Fox released a musical comedy for wartime audiences called SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS.  Carmen Miranda was a star of the film.
In one scene, the popular star has a scene with a bit player who's seen as a secretary.

That bit player was Cara Williams. She show her solid wisecracking comedy chops in 1950s movies and have supporting roles opposite Paul Newman (THE HELEN MORGAN STORY) and James Cagney (NEVER STEAL ANYTHING SMALL).  Cara Williams got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her dramatic work opposite Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in Stanley Kramer's THE DEFIANT ONES (1958).
Carmen Miranda has scenes in a defense plant in SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS.  In one scene, there's a female extra in the background.  She has not a line of dialogue and you don't see her name in the credits.  But the lady in the brown overalls is...Judy Holliday, future Broadway star and Best Actress Oscar winner.

I hope you enjoyed my Holliday information.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Inspired by Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth

Two Hollywood actresses who gave some of their best screen performances for the same studio, Columbia Pictures.  Both were a couple of Hollywood's top movie stars.  They were Jean Arthur, star of MR. DEEDS GOES TO TOWN, MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON, THE MORE THE MERRIER and THE TALK OF THE TOWN...
...and dancer/actress Rita Hayworth, star of COVER GIRL with Gene Kelly, YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER and YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH with Fred Astaire, TONIGHT AND EVERY NIGHT, THE LOVES OF CARMEN and GILDA.
When I was a little boy growing up in South Central L.A., both women were still working.  My passion for film began when I was in grade school.  During that time, I heard an afternoon movie host on our local NBC affiliate talk about Jean Arthur.  She was the star of the local afternoon movie.  Tom Frandsen, the KNBC host, mentioned that he always loved her voice.  My mother was in the living room and smiled.  I asked her about Jean Arthur's voice.  Mom continued smiling and said, "It was just different."  Arthur was in movies made during the silent film era.  One is Buster Keaton's SEVEN CHANCES (1925).  Ten years later, when movies were talking, her warm and slightly husky voice became one of the most recognizable in Hollywood films.  She retired from movie-making after SHANE (1953) even though, for years, she kept getting offers.  Ida Lupino did the role Jean Arthur reportedly turned down in 1972's JUNIOR BONNER.  But, she did star on a CBS sitcom that only lasted one season.  I begged my parents to let me stay up and see it because I wanted to experience her voice.  A long time later, when I was a grown-up, would I realize why my parents were so dumbstruck that their little boy wanted to stay up and see a woman who was a movie star when they were teenagers.  I fell in love with her voice and personality as half of the mother and son lawyer team on THE JEAN ARTHUR SHOW.  Brought to you by Jell-O in 1966.
In the early 1970s, my love of classic films was still growing.  Merv Griffin had coaxed the shy star to be a guest on his show. I was lucky enough to see it.  He showed a clip of Jean Arthur and James Stewart in MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON. It was a serious scene.  At the close of it, Arthur commented to Griffin that the political message of Capra's movie was still relevant.
That was a light bulb over-the-head moment for me.  Jean Arthur was specifically referring to President Nixon's Watergate scandal, a hot news story of the day.  Nixon was still in office.  Arthur's remark made me realize that classic films, like classic literature we studied in school, could be studied and could still have social significance that could appeal to a younger generation as I was at the time.  They were more than fodder for movie trivia contests.  I was determined to interview people who made films from that Golden Age and make their old work appeal to a new audience through the work I did as an interviewer and writer.  Jean Arthur made me unashamed to go further into my young love for classic films.  She inspired me to give it a purpose.
As for Rita Hayworth, she'd been interviewed in the Calendar section for a Sunday edition of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES.  Calendar was the arts and entertainment section.  In that interview, I got more of an awareness of Hayworth's Latino roots.  In her early films, she was credited as Rita Cansino with her real Spanish surname.  By 1939, her last name was changed to a more Anglo one.  In the newspaper interview, she mentioned that she'd love to follow Lauren Bacall playing Margo in APPLAUSE, the Broadway musical version of ALL ABOUT EVE, and she'd love to do a movie based on work by Lorca.  She'd been reading Lorca.  I was unaware of poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.  So...I went to our nearest library in the neighborhood and asked the librarian to help me learn something about him.

Something like that makes a librarian's day worthwhile.  Especially in South Central L.A.

Jean Arthur and Rita Hayworth worked together in one film -- Howard Hawks' 1939 classic, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS.  Their leading man was Cary Grant.  Not only did they share a movie and a leading man, they both celebrated birthdays on October 17th.
Yes, Rita Hayworth was gorgeous and she was called Hollywood's "Love Goddess."                      
But don't ever forget that, when it came to dance, she could really pick 'em up and lay 'em down.  Here she is as a Broadway chorus dancer in rehearsals with her choreographer boss played by Fred Astaire in 1941's YOU'LL NEVER GET RICH.  Music by Cole Porter.




Monday, October 16, 2017

Angela Lansbury, Happy Birthday!

She got three Oscar nominations for outstanding dramatic performances.  She became a top star of Broadway musicals.  She was the star of one of TV's longest-running hit series.  Let's wish an enthusiastic "Happy Birthday!" to Angela Lansbury.  Dame Angela is 92 today.
I am so glad that the Academy had the wisdom and class to award her an honorary Oscar in 2014 for decades of memorable screen performances.  Her excellence stood out in her film debut, so much so that it brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  The film was MGM's psychological thriller, GASLIGHT, the 1944 drama directed by George Cukor.  Star Ingrid Bergman won her first Best Actress Oscar for it.  Lansbury, who had a style and bearing that her seem older than she was, played the saucy maid who was quite ready to please the master of house in any room she could when his Mrs. was away.
She got another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a dear but doomed young lady in MGM's 1945 drama, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.
Her third Oscar nomination was again in the Best Supporting Actress category.  She played the malevolent mother in the 1962 political thriller, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.  She burns up in the screen with her brilliance in that role.  To show you what I meant about her having a style and bearing that made her seem older than she was, she played the mother to Laurence Harvey's character in THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.  In real life, there was only a three year gap in their ages.
Angela Lansbury and her mother each appeared in a Judy Garland MGM movie.  Lansbury's mother, Moyna MacGill, says not a word and gets laughs in a funny scene set in a diner.  The film is Vincente Minnelli's 1945 love story, THE CLOCK.  This wartime story starred Judy Garland in her first dramatic film and Robert Walker.  The two stars, Keenan Wynn and Moyna MacGill are in the diner scene.  Wynn is a harmless drunk on his verbal soapbox about society and MacGill is a lady eating at the counter who gets a quick flirt from the drunk.

Lansbury was a supporting actress in Judy Garland's Oscar winning 1946 musical western, THE HARVEY GIRLS.  Angela played the "bad girl" saloon singer and manager rival to Judy's "good girl".  Lansbury looks glamorous and has a number, but MGM dubbed her voice.
MGM dubbed her voice in another movie.  In the 1946 all-star musical, TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY, featuring just about all the A-list MGM musical talent, Lansbury had an English musical hall number.  Reportedly, she pushed producer Arthur Freed to let her sing the number and be heard with her own voice.  Freed let British-born Angela Lansbury do her own singing for that one assignment.

For a Hollywood studio that was famous for being the Tiffany of movie musicals, MGM really dropped the ball on utilizing Angela Lansbury's musical skills.

Broadway would let those skills of hers shine in its hit musical, MAME, the musical version of the hit Broadway and movie comedy, AUNTIE MAME.  This 1966 musical revived, revitalized and renewed Angela Lansbury's career.  She became the brightest star on Broadway, the songs from the shows were being recorded by a top pop singers of the day like Eydie Gorme and Johnny Mathis.  Also, thousands of Angela Lansbury's movie fans were probably surprised to discover that she could sing and dance.  My late mother was one.  She was a big Lansbury fan who loved her work in movies like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ALL FALL DOWN, DEAR HEART and DARK AT THE TOP OF THE STAIRS.  Mom bought the MAME original Broadway cast album.

Mom had no argument from me when she put a record full of show tunes on the hi-fi.  Here's a sample of the Lansbury musical talent that MGM and other Hollywood studios overlooked.

The rest is Broadway history.

And can you believe that, starring in the mid 1980s, she would get about a dozen Emmy nominations for Best Actress on MURDER, SHE WROTE...but she never won?  Angela Lansbury should get a special lifetime achievement Emmy.  In my humble opinion.

I saw Dame Angela on stage in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD.  She was extraordinary.  Come this Christmas Day, Angela Lansbury will be seen in the big, new Disney movie musical, MARY POPPINS RETURNS.









Catholic Guilt over BOOGIE NIGHTS

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