Saturday, September 30, 2017

HIDDEN FIGURES on HBO

Lord, how I love me some Taraji P. Henson.  I said this in a recent podcast with my friend Keith Price and I will repeat it right here, right now:  Nothing against Emma Stone for LA LA LAND and Meryl Streep getting her annual Oscar nomination, but Taraji P. Henson should have been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for HIDDEN FIGURES.  She's exceptional in it.  I watched HIDDEN FIGURES again this weekend.  It's airing on HBO.  I paid to see it twice in a theater.  Loved it both times. Loved it even more when I saw it on HBO.
It's a biopic, based on real people who had important jobs in America's space program at NASA at a critical time in the early 1960s.  President Kennedy was in competition with the Russians and Black Americans were fighting for Civil Rights.  HIDDEN FIGURES focuses on the three African American women who were trailblazers at NASA at a time when seats on buses and restrooms were segregated.  Schools were segregated.  This trio had to endure the humiliations of such segregation within the workplace while using their knowledge to help send John Glenn up into space.
This historic space voyage of astronaut John Glenn would not have been a successful without the brain power and calculations of Katherine Johnson.

Back in my middle and high school years in South Central Los Angeles, when quality films like HIDDEN FIGURES came out, films that were entertaining and educational, schools for special rates for student showings.  That often meant we'd get on buses for a field trip to Hollywood to see the movie on a school day.  I don't know if schools still do that today as part of their fine arts programs.  I have two nephews of middle and high school ages.  I would want them to see HIDDEN FIGURES.  I'd want to see it with them and stress that it's their history as Black Americans.  It's history their uncle remembers.  I was in grade school when John F. Kennedy was president and the Civil Rights Movement was in full force.  There is TV news footage in HIDDEN FIGURES that I remember seeing the days the events happened when I was a little boy.

This is great American history in HIDDEN FIGURES, history that is still achingly relevant today.  It expertly shows how the playing field has not been level in our country's racial history.  A Black woman with a brilliant mind at NASA was not allowed to have coffee from the same coffeepot as her white co-workers.  But, yet, she's working just as...if not, twice...as hard.

Kirsten Dunst, an actress I love watching and interviewing, has excellent as the office supervisor to the character Octavia Spencer plays.  Dunst is so accurate and good in her performance.  I have worked for people just like that -- mostly in TV newsrooms in liberal New York City.

All three lead actresses -- Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae -- remind me so much of women in our neighborhood when I was growing up.  They remind me of Mom and friends of our family.  The tribulations of those three women remind me of pressures and angers I've felt as a grown up.  I will admit it to you.  There is a strong, memorable scene Taraji P. Henson has as extraordinary mathematician Katherine G. Johnson.  Ms. Johnson, in the middle of the office, has to explain to her boss why her restroom breaks are so long.  It's because the "Colored" ladies room isn't even in the same building.  She has to run outside to another building.  In that scene, when she calls everyone out with the realization of how the playing field is not level for her, that she cannot even drink from the same coffeepot, she brings tears to my eyes.  I've felt that hot sting of inequality.

If you get HBO, make a point to see HIDDEN FIGURES if you haven't already.  Consider making it family viewing.  The vital, trailblazing achievements of those three women were not in the history books when I was a kid.  They should have been.  Their story did come out -- and it's remarkable. 

Katherine Johnson is now in her late 90s.  She appeared on the Oscars telecast early this year.  NASA celebrated her achievements with a building named in her honor last year.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Viva Diversity and Illeana Douglas!

She's one of the best and most under-rated actresses in the film business.  She always stands out and she's always good -- even if the movie isn't.  As Norman Maine in 1954's A STAR IS BORN mentioned, she just has "that little something extra."  She's actress Illeana Douglas.
Look at her work, comic and dramatic, in films such as Scorcese's GOODFELLAS and his remake of CAPE FEAR, in TO DIE FOR, GHOST WORLD, GRACE OF MY HEART and the comedy with my favorite of her performances, HAPPY, TEXAS.  She's also a walking bookshelf of Hollywood history.  TCM has utilized that knowledge of hers.  Illeana Douglas is one of the best guest hosts TCM has had since the esteemed late TCM host, Robert Osborne, started to reduce his fulltime duties years ago. 

Her passion for films and filmmaking (she also directs) plus her original looks at old films light up her segments.  I was thrilled to read that, starting October 2nd, she returns to host TCM's month-long salute to TRAILBLAZING WOMEN again.  She did this last year and her spotlight on women in film was terrific.  I loved and greatly appreciated that she brought women of color into the spotlight.  She had Rita Moreno and groundbreaking African American director Julie Dash as guest co-hosts.  Dash, who gave us 1991's influential DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, was an excellent solo guest host last December after she co-hosted with Illeana.
I write this as a veteran entertainment news reporter who worked on network TV, national radio and as a contributor to ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY magazine.  Also, I've been a hardcore TCM fan since 1999.  However, in the last couple of years, I've grown increasingly frustrated at the scarce amount of African American representation in TCM segments.  This is something I'd mention in an entertainment news report.  The last African American guest host I recall seeing was Julie Dash in December of last year.  There's no Black person sharing wine in any of the three TCM Wine Club spots that air.  No Black person is a guide in the TCM Tour Bus commercials.  No African American actor or director has been seen as a guest co- host with Alec Baldwin for THE ESSENTIALS this year.  In the "Let's Movie" promo featuring all three TCM hosts, there's no African American presence.  In the last couple of years, we've rarely seen an African American talent as a monthly TCM Guest Programmer.  There was no Black TCM contributor on the red carpet in Hollywood for the TCM Film Festival coverage earlier this year -- and a highlight of the festival was a special 50th anniversary screening of IN THE THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT.  Screen legend Sidney Poitier, star of the racially-charged murder mystery that was released during the Civil Rights era, attended the screening as did several others involved with that Best Picture of 1967 Oscar winner.
This lack of African American representation has been especially noticeable over the last couple of years during Hollywood's "Oscars So White" issue, an issue NPR contacted me to talk about on the air.

Illeana Douglas will bring some diversity into the TRAILBLAZING WOMEN mix again, I read.  Thank you, Illeana!  One of her guest co-hosts will be Stephanie Allain, an African American producer who has the Oscar nominated HUSTLE & FLOW with future EMPIRE stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson on her resumé.
Allain's HUSTLE & FLOW earned Howard an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Again....thank you, Illeana.  Representation matters.  TRAILBLAZING WOMEN starts October 2nd on TCM.

As for trailblazing director Julie Dash, big news about her came out this week.  She will direct a film about Rosa Parks, the legendary American, that centers on her serious activism ten years before her iconic moment of Civil Rights defiance on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Jane Fonda Looks Fabulous

Did you see Jane Fonda, 2-time Best Actress Oscar winner, on the Emmys telecast recently?  She should have been presented a special achievement Emmy for disrupting stereotypes about age.  Her Netflix sitcom with Lily Tomlin, GRACE AND FRANKIE, is an absolute hoot.  In a red carpet interview before the telecast, Fonda blissfully remarked that she's almost 80 and grateful to have a job.  Yes.  She's almost 80.
 She'll be 80 this coming December.  And she was an Emmy nominee.
GRACE AND FRANKIE brought Jane Fonda an Emmy nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.
Can we talk about age in Hollywood?  Let's look at a hit movie that co-starred Jane Fonda.  It's the 1981 film version of the acclaimed play, ON GOLDEN POND.  Jane Fonda acted opposite her father, Henry Fonda.  They played father and daughter in the film.  It was his last.

Screen great Katharine Hepburn, in her early 70s, had dislocated her shoulder while playing tennis a couple of months before shooting started.  The film's director, Mark Rydell, told ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY in 2003 that getting the film made was difficult.  Not because of Hepburn's sports injury or star egos, but because of age-ism basically from men who could put up the money for it.  Jane Fonda was a very big box office star at the time.  Nonetheless, financiers were reluctant to fund the project.  The attitude was that Henry Fonda, also a screen great like Katharine Hepburn, had not had a hit in years.  They felt that Katharine Hepburn was just a legend and not relevant anymore.  They loved Jane but she was in a supporting role. And their final complaint was "Who wants to see a picture about death?"
Apparently millions of people did.  I recall seeing it with a friend one night.  The large movie theater was packed.  ON GOLDEN POND was a major box office hit with moviegoers who were young and not so young.  The film about family, love, life and death was nominated for Best Picture of 1981.  Mark Rydell was nominated for Best Director.  Jane Fonda was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.  Katharine Hepburn won her fourth Oscar for Best Actress.  Henry Fonda won the Oscar for Best Actor.  To ill to attend to ceremony, Jane accepted for him.  He died a few months later at age 77.

Jane Fonda is older than Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn were when they made ON GOLDEN POND.  Jane has re-teamed with Robert Redford for a love story that has received some mighty fine reviews.  In the 1960s, they were in Neil Simon's comedy BAREFOOT IN THE PARK and the drama THE CHASE.  Then came 1979's romantic comedy, THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN.
In OUR SOULS AT NIGHT, they play a widow and a widower who have lived next to each for quite some time in Colorado, but never really got to know each other.  That changes.  Take a look at this trailer:  https://youtu.be/lci71HjGvaM.

Leading man Robert Redford is 81.
I will definitely be seeing OUR SOULS AT NIGHT.  Again, Jane Fonda looks fabulous.





Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Loved Him in HAIL, CAESAR!

I happened to channel surf over to HBO and I saw a close-up shot of actor Alden Ehrenreich.  If you're an enthusiast for Hollywood history from the days when the major studios reigned, that is exactly that kind of name a studio like MGM or Paramount would have changed to something easier to spell on a marquee and something that sounded more movie star-like.  Like...Eric Alden.  I stayed on the HBO channel because of him.  Because I am such a hard-core fan of his comic performance in HAIL, CAESAR, a Coen Brothers satire on Hollywood when the major studios reigned.  That was one of the best supporting actor performances I saw onscreen last year.  A good friend and I saw it when it played theatrically.  We howled with laughter at his work.  I admit it. I have watched HAIL, CAESAR at least five times this year on HBO and I wait for his scene with Ralph Fiennes.  It breaks me up every...darn...time.
Alden plays an "Aw, shucks" kind o' guy, a singing cowboy star in low-budget but popular westerns.  He's a simple, unassuming, unsophisticated fellow whom, you can tell, is loved by the crew.  The studio, however, decides to elevate his image.  He's cast in a film version of a Broadway romance in which characters dress in tuxes and gowns for dinner.  It's a formal affair with a formal director.                
At rehearsals on the set, Hobie Doyle making an entrance in a tuxedo looks as comfortable as a steed wearing tap shoes instead of horse shoes.  Plus, Hobie is trying to do high society dialogue and he still has his cowboy twang.  It's the scene with the ascot-wearing, politely exasperated director that always makes me laugh.  It's my favorite scene in the movie -- and the scene that got the biggest laugh when my buddy and I saw it at the theater.  Fiennes plays the director trying to teach the clueless cowboy actor how to speak.  As he did in THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, a film that should have brought Ralph Fiennes another Oscar nomination, he surprised me with his exceptional comedy chops.  For years, we've grown accustomed to Ralph Fiennes making a great impression in deep-dish dramas like SCHINDLER'S LIST, THE ENGLISH PATIENT, THE CONSTANT GARDENER and there's his work as Lord Voldemort in the HARRY POTTER movies.
Alden Ehrenreich is so perfectly cast as Hobie Doyle and perfectly is how he plays that sweet cowboy character.  He gives HAIL, CAESAR! a warmth that's usually missing in Coen Brothers movies.  His scene with Ralph Fiennes is the stuff that film fans find in classic screwball comedies from the 1930s and 40s.

This week on HBO channels, Alden is in another Hollywood-on-Hollywood story that takes us back to the early 1950s.  RULES DON'T APPLY came out last year and did not get a big reception from moviegoers.  Warren Beatty directed the film and stars in it as a very loopy Howard Hughes.  As in Scorcese's THE AVIATOR starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious multi-millionaire aviator, film producer and ladies man, Hughes got batshit crazier the older he got.  But in Beatty's film, Hughes is crazy but still a visionary and he's warmer thanks to funny scenes.  I didn't seen the whole film, so I wont' review it.  But, once again, I loved Alden Ehrenreich who seemed to be an overwhelmed assistant to Hughes who tries to balance working for the famous man and falling in love with a young, lovely movie star hopeful who's also caught the playboy eye of Howard Hughes.

I'm convinced that if Alden Ehrenreich had been on the Paramount lot in the 1940s, he would've landed lead roles in Preston Sturges comedies.  You could see him in CHRISTMAS IN JULY, THE MIRACLE OF MORGAN'S CREEK or HAIL THE CONQUERING HERO.  That's the quality of his comedy acting you see in HAIL, CAESAR! and RULES DON'T APPLY.  There's a scene in what I saw of RULES DON'T APPLY that I loved.  Alden's character does not like to fly.  His boss wants to go up in his plane.  A co-pilot, played by Steve Coogan, is bewildered and anxious because, well, Howard Hughes is batshit crazy.  The assistant is holding on for dear life, the co-pilot realizes that one of the back doors is open and Howard Hughes is cheerfully, erratically flying the plane.  He pilots the plane and enthusiastically tells a show biz story about Al Jolson.  Then, following the story, Hughes breaks out into a Jolson medley.  Let me tell you.  I never expected to hear Warren Beatty sing "Swanee" in a movie.  Alden's charm, charisma and comedy talents come through in RULES DON'T APPLY also.

Alden Ehrenreich will become part of the STAR WARS legacy.  In an upcoming prequel, he'll play the young Han Solo.  I'm sure he'll be terrific.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trump as WEST SIDE STORY Cop

It's early Tuesday, September 26th.  Puerto Rico and her residents have been in a critical state for five days since being devastated by a monstrous hurricane.  People are without food, without water and Hurricane Maria wiped out all electricity.  Fellow Americans are desperate for help in Puerto Rico.  But Donald Trump, as we have seen in the news, has focused a bigger share of his attention on the NFL.  Hurricane Maria was the most severe hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century and he's arguing with the NFL.  Singer/actress Jennifer Lopez stepped up to help before the U.S. President did.  She's giving $1 million.  I was watching CBS THIS MORNING and the anchors reported on Trump's most recent Twitter messages.  He's still tweeting about the NFL.  About Puerto Rico, he noted that it's "suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt owed to Wall Street and the banks..."  Have you seen the TV news reports from Puerto Rico?  Babies and wheelchair-bound elderly are without food and medication.  This morning, the mayor of San Juan told CBS that two people on life support died yesterday because the hospital ran out of fuel.  But Trump brings up debt to Wall Street. I hope he says something more compassionate by tonight.  In the meantime, he reminds me of a character in the classic film WEST SIDE STORY, the brilliant adaptation of the hit Broadway musical that gave us a modern, urban take on ROMEO AND JULIET.  In a modern setting, the war was between the Jets, a street gang of white guys and their girlfriends, and the Sharks, all Puerto Ricans.  It's a turf war rooted in bigotry and inequality here in America.
Trump reminds of a specific character in the movie WEST SIDE STORY.  And not one who sings or dances.
He reminds of Lieutenant Schrank, the police officer.  He's a man in power, a man in a position to keep the peace -- a man with a great responsibility to maintain fairness, to serve and protect.  But notice the regard this authority figure has for the Puerto Ricans.  Is he respectful when talking to the brown-skinned New Yorkers?  Notice how he fuels the anger of the white gang members with his remarks while also treating them a bit like buddies.
 Is Lieut. Schrank being responsible or divisive with his power?
If you're on Twitter and want good reports from Puerto Rico, follow CBS News reporter David Begnaud.  He's filed some heart-wrenching, vivid reports from the island on the condition of the needy.

If you haven't already, take a look at the big picture.  WEST SIDE STORY, the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1961.
"Yeah, sure.  I know.  It's a free country.  I ain't got the right.  But I got a badge.  What do you got?  Things are tough all over.  Beat it."  ~Lieutenant Schrank to Puerto Rican Bernardo in WEST SIDE STORY.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In Praise of Eddie Marsan

STILL LIFE. Actor Eddie Marsan was excellent in STILL LIFE. I am not the only African American moviegoer who feels that he is one of the best actors working in film and television today.  I know that for a fact.  I'm a proud Eddie Marsan fan.
Back in 2008, I saw Mike Leigh's HAPPY-GO-LUCKY because two working class, average movie-goer Black friends of mine in New York City raved about it and the performances from Sally Hawkins and Eddie Marsan.  I went to see it and immediately shared their opinion.  Sally Hawkins, as the steely optimist, should have been an Oscar nominee for Best Actress.  Her character constantly seemed to be in some object that moves her forward.  Like a car.  Eddie Marsan played her hot-tempered driving instructor.  Even though his explosive anger makes him as red in the face as a firetruck, her optimism can not be dented or detoured.
HAPPY-GO-LUCKY was really my introduction to Eddie Marsan and Sally Hawkins.
Most TV viewers here in the U.S. will know Eddie Marsan from Showtime's RAY DONOVAN series as Terry, the boxer stricken with Parkinson's disease.
Early last month I binge-watched an original musical comedy TV series that ran for a couple of seasons on ABC.  Set in Medieval times, it was for folks who dig Broadway showtunes, MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, the Broadway musical it inspired, MONTY PYTHON'S SPAMALOT, and SHREK.  The series is GALAVANT.  A few of the songs written for this comedy series were good enough for Best Song Oscar nominations had GALAVANT been a feature film.  One of the things that really tickled me about the first season is that, near the season finale, its scripts make reference to the fact that the cast doesn't know if the show will be picked up for a second season.  That knowledge gave all involved a "go for broke" attitude as episodes neared the finale.  The show got funnier, hipper and saucier.
The opener for Season 2 was one of the funniest sitcom episodes that I'd seen from ABC in years.  And this was an ABC show.  Lead male characters from GALAVANT -- Galavant the knight and his clueless King --  must go to the Enchanted Forest.  The Enchanted Forest turns out to be pretty much a Medieval gay bar.  With entertainment.  It's like CAMELOT goes to West Hollywood.
The King is still clueless.  Death visits GALAVANT in Season 2.  Death gets to perform a big musical production number.  Halfway through this funny number, I said out loud, "Whoa!  It's Eddie Marsan!"  Yes, he sang and danced the role of Death.  His Fosse musical-like song is called "Goodbye."  It's a hoot.  I loved it.  Eddie Marsan is terrific with comedy material.  That's in the 7th episode of Season 2, called "Love and Death."
GALAVANT did not get picked up for a Season 3.  I know the feeling.  In New York City, I was a frequent guest critic on a weekly film review/interview show that I loved.  It aired on national cable's ARISE TV and I still feel that it was a groundbreaking program.  ARISE ON SCREEN was hosted by an African American film critic who not only reviewed mainstream Hollywood films but also independent and foreign films.  Plus, he gave frequent attention to LGBT and women filmmakers.  Every week, he had two guest critics to join him in reviews.  This was also groundbreaking because he always presented women -- especially women of color -- to give their reviews.  As I've written before, the field of film critics on weekly TV on American news and syndicated shows lacked race and gender diversity for decades.  ARISE ON SCREEN was rich with diversity every weekend, but the entertainment press never bothered to write about our show.  We didn't get picked up.
I was one of the ARISE ON SCREEN guest critics for the broadcast in which STILL LIFE was reviewed.  The three of us -- two Black men and one Black woman -- gave STILL LIFE a very enthusiastic thumbs up recommendation.  It's a winner.  Mr. Marsan's brilliance shines.  I'd put this Eddie Marsan performance in a category alongside Alec Guinness' in the 1950 British classic, LAST HOLIDAY.

In the 2015 British import, Marsan plays a quiet man who deals with death for a living.  He's a case worker who contacts relatives of the recently deceased.  He requests that the survivors get involved with the funeral arrangements.  He works to bring dignity to the dead because the people whose cases he handles died alone.  Loved ones had pulled away from them and didn't keep in touch.  He himself is like the deceased.  There is no loved one who keeps in touch with him.  That's a shame because he's a very dear man.  He lives alone.  He eats alone.

At the funeral services, he's often the only person in the pews.  John May, the case worker, is not a dull man even though his work and environment at work and at home seem sterile.  As he goes about his commitment to the dead, his life changes and takes on some color.  Something sweet and unexpected enters his world.  Here's a trailer for STILL LIFE:
STILL LIFE.  Be prepared for poignancy and a marvelous performance by Eddie Marsan.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Movie Shots I Love: Diahann Carroll

CASABLANCA.  A true Hollywood classic, released during World War 2 and the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1943.  Ingrid Bergman was the luminous leading lady in the wartime love story.  In the film, an African American cast member, Dooley Wilson, would play an upscale performer in a swanky nightclub.  That performer would have a cocktail with the two white lead characters.  Dooley Wilson as Sam would share a bottle of champagne in Paris with Rick and Ilsa famously played by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.  This was a breakthrough for a Black actor in a 1940s top Hollywood studio film.  The Black character was a positive image, not treated as a second class citizen.  The actor interacted with the stars in the scene, not as a domestic but as an acquaintance.  That sort of scene, again with a positive racial image, happened in another love story that starred Ingrid Bergman.  She wasn't in the scene, but her leading man was.  In 1961's GOODBYE AGAIN, released during America's Civil Rights era, future Best Actress Oscar nominee Diahann Carroll has a short but wonderfully sophisticated scene.  By that time, Carroll had been onscreen with Dorothy Dandridge in CARMEN JONES (1954) and PORGY AND BESS (1959).  She'd starred in the Broadway musical HOUSE OF FLOWERS.
Diahann Carroll sings in 1961's GOODBYE AGAIN, entertaining the lead male character played by Anthony Perkins.  I love these shots from the movie.
He stars as the younger man who's fallen in love with a mature married woman played by the still luminous Ingrid Bergman.  Because the woman is married, the relationship is -- of course -- complicated.  He's got a case of the blues.
 He invites the singer the join him for a drink and some conversation.
 She accepts his invitation.
As in CASABLANCA, this was a breakthrough moment for the upscale presentation of a Black character and the actor exchanged dialogue with one of the white stars.  Even though her musical numbers were given the deluxe treatment when Lena Horne was at MGM, the Tiffany of Hollywood studios for musicals, the presentation of Horne was limited.  The glamorous, gorgeous African American singer never got to interact with any white fellow actors in any MGM movies.  She was featured in films along with Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Esther Williams, Gene Kelly, Mickey Rooney and Van Johnson...but she never got to do dialogue with them.  This Hollywood restriction frustrated Horne in the 1940s.

Diahann Carroll was also in director Martin Ritt's 1961 drama love story, PARIS BLUES.  She's an American schoolteacher on vacation in Paris with her best friend.  Joanne Woodward played her best friend.  In Paris, they meet American musicians played by Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier.

In 1962, Diahann Carroll would open on Broadway in NO STRINGS, a musical drama with songs by Richard Rodgers.  In yet another vehicle set in Paris, she would play a high fashion model living and working in Paris who meets and falls in love with a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist.  The Black model can do better financially in Paris that she could back home in 1960s America.  He's suffered from writer's block since arriving in France.  She restores his confidence.  Confidence restored, he wants to return to America.  But will their interracial romance have the freedom at home that it does there in Paris?  Social issues were the undercurrent in this show.  Diahann Carroll introduced the song "The Sweetest Sounds." She also became the first Black woman to win the Tony Award for Best Actress in a musical.

Unfortunately, Hollywood didn't have the balls to make a film version of this groundbreaking hit Broadway musical, NO STRINGS.  Here's "The Sweetest Sounds" sung by Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley from the original Broadway cast recording

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Billy Wilder Tapped British Films

Did you know that a 1949 British comedy starring a young Petula Clark influenced a Billy Wilder classic?  First of all, it should be no surprise that the master director and screenwriter appreciated British films.  Look at his adaptation of the hit Broadway comedy, THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH.  He tailored that to fit the talents and star quality of Marilyn Monroe.  And his tailoring fit her like a velvet glove.  Tom Ewell originated the role on Broadway.  He plays the middle-aged, average New York City man who works in the publishing business.  The paperback division.  His wife and little boy are in Maine to escape the dog days of the Manhattan summer.  He has rather innocent James Thurber-esque fantasies in the apartment while he's alone, missing his wife and son.  In his brownstone building, his fantasies increase when he meets the gorgeous young blonde TV commercial actress who has rented the room upstairs.  The Girl was played by Marilyn Monroe at her sensational sex symbol peak.
About the adaptation...did you see the William Wyler classic THE HEIRESS starring Olivia de Havilland?  Remember the maid, Mariah?  ("Bolt the door, Mariah.")  She was played by Vanessa Brown.  Brown originated the role of The Girl on Broadway opposite Tom Ewell in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH.  Let's face it -- Mariah was no Marilyn Monroe.
In Wilder's THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955), he joshes the British film classic, BRIEF ENCOUNTER.  In the 1945 drama, an innocent friendship between a suburban wife and a hospital doctor develops into an unexpected affair.  Both characters in this David Lean film are middle-aged.  His film was a big hit with American audiences too.  Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 is BRIEF ENCOUNTER's major music theme.  Wilder gently lampoons Lean's film by using the same Rachmaninoff piece for married Mr. Sherman's middle-aged fantasies in THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH when he's innocently attracted to The Girl Upstairs.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER had a piece of business that inspired THE APARTMENT.  In BRIEF ENCOUNTER, the doctor has a single friend who has an apartment.  The doctor uses his judgmental bachelor friend's apartment for privacy with the married woman.

This character with the apartment, Stephen, intrigued Billy Wilder and inspired Jack Lemmon's C.C. Baxter character in THE APARTMENT, the Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1960.  Wilder won Oscars for producing the Best Picture, for directing it and for Best Original Screenplay co-written with I.A.L. Diamond.
A lesser known British film is the 1949 comedy/drama called THE ROMANTIC AGE and later retitled NAUGHTY ARLETTE.  We meet The Dicksons.  Mr. Dickson is the rather starchy, middle-aged teacher in a girl's academy.  Mrs. Dickson is a pianist.  Future 1960s pop music star Petula Clark played their charming daughter, a student at the school.  Mai Zetterling, not French and proving it with her accent, played the irritating French girl determined to seduce the teacher.  She does succeed at getting him in a hot kiss in the rain.  His lips respond.  Will this spoiled French tart succeed in breaking up his marriage and home life?
About ten minutes into the 1949 film, Mrs. Dickson is at the piano.  She plays a selection that's immediately recognizable to Wilder fans. It's heard again in NAUGHTY ARLETTE.  The composition is called "Jealous Lover."  We came to know it as the wonderful and popular Theme to THE APARTMENT.  Billy Wilder used the Charles Williams music composition from the 1949 British film for his 1960 Hollywood classic.  If I was Charles Williams, I'd be thrilled that my memorable piece of music found a great life by being used in a much better film than it originally was.
And that's how Billy Wilder tapped British films.  

Notes from Alice Faye and Don Ameche

If you're a fan of the late, great queen of Broadway...that legendary belter, Ethel Merman, then be sure to watch Turner Classic Movies ...