Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On THE TALL TARGET (1951)

If you appreciate classic films and you're up for an energetic, suspenseful drama, I've got a recommendation. THE TALL TARGET does not get much talk in the classic film discussion, but that's no reflection on its quality. The film runs only about 1 hour and 15 minutes and it's not a big budget studio film. It is, however, full of good actors and it's the work of a good director, Anthony Mann. He gave audiences tough, tight westerns such as 1950's THE FURIES starring Barbara Stanwyck, BEND OF THE RIVER and THE NAKED SPUR, both starring James Stewart in the 1950s and the 1961 historical epic, EL CID, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. THE TALL TARGET uses a historical figure in its story. We go back to 1861. A New York City detective is on a train from New York to Baltimore. He's moving fast to ruin an on-board plot to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln before he reaches Baltimore to deliver a pre-Inauguration speech. Multi-talented Dick Powell stars as the detective.
This Anthony Mann drama is a lean cut of good meat. It rates a look today because of our political climate. Besides the race to foil a deadly plot, there's a theme of race running through THE TALL TARGET. Actor Jon Voight, a man who has posted videos on social media proclaiming his support for Trump, will be awarded a National Medal of the Arts. Voight has called Trump "the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln." In THE TALL TARGET, passengers are blunt with their feelings about Lincoln. One man says "If somebody puts a bullet into Lincoln, I'll be the first to shake his hand."
In one of those performances that makes you wonder why it took Hollywood a little over 50 years to give her an Oscar nomination, Ruby Dee delivers in a supporting role as a well-dressed slave maid. She's travelling with the pretty belle who's the first to tell anyone that she and Rachel, her maid, grew up together. That may very well be, but Rachel is still not free like the white lady is. Says Rachel, "Freedom isn't a thing you should be able to give me, Miss Ginny. Freedom is something I should have been born with."  A pro-abolition reporter asks Rachel, "If you slaves were free, would you go back to Africa to live?" In that scene, featuring actress Florence Bates as the journalist, once senses the pro-abolitionist feels America instantly will become "post-racial" once Lincoln is sworn into office.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated and, tragically, was assassinated in 1865 while in office. One gigantic irony in the script is the Dick Powell character. The detective's name is John Kennedy. America would be paralyzed with grief on November 22, 1963 upon getting the horrible news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot and killed that day in Dallas, Texas. President Kennedy was the one U.S. President since Lincoln to be assassinated.

Here is a clip from THE TALL TARGET.

This 1951 thriller stars Dick Powell, Adolphe Menjou, Marshall Thompson, Will Geer, Florence Bates and screen newcomer Ruby Dee. It's available on Amazon.

More notes: In the 1930s, Dick Powell sang in major Warner Bros. musicals and introduced tunes that became standards in our Great American Songbook. See him and hear his excellent voice in 42nd STREET, GOLDDIGGERS OF 1933, FOOTLIGHT PARADE, HOLLYWOOD HOTEL and 20th Century Fox's ON THE AVENUE. In the 1940s, he reinvented himself as one of the best hardboiled private eyes in film noir. See him as Philip Marlowe in 1944's MURDER, MY SWEET.  In the 1950s, he acted in more film dramas, became a film director and a successful network TV producer. Ruby Dee, of film and Broadway, followed THE TALL TARGET with the Broadway and film version of A RAISIN IN THE SUN (1961), GONE ARE THE DAYS!, BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972, directed by Sidney Poitier), DO THE RIGHT THING and JUNGLE FEVER, both directed by Spike Lee. She got her one Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for AMERICAN GANGSTER (2007).

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Check Out THE UNICORN

This new sitcom airs Thursday nights on CBS. I've watched every episode since it premiered and every single one has made me laugh. What hooked me into watching, first of all, was the title. I wanted to see why it's called THE UNICORN. Second, I'm a fan of its lead actor, Walton Goggins. If he'd been around in the 1950s and 60s, he would've been cast in just about every now-classic western from those decades. He would've been a gunslinger in SHANE, HIGH NOON, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and TRUE GRIT. He's got that kind of a face. It's a very cool character face with its teeth like extra large and super-white Chiclets.
You may have seen Walton Goggins on TV shows such as THE SHIELD, JUSTIFIED and SONS OF ANARCHY. Now he's a suburban widower dad raising girls and gingerly stepping into the area of dating again. He's doing this with the urging and help of married friends who do not want him to be lonely. THE UNICORN is a warm, smart and funny show. Wade, the widower, is a most huggable new sitcom dad. His daughters are refreshingly down-to-earth and not precocious. They're good kids. They loved their late mom a lot -- and so did their dad. That's evident. We never lose sight of the fact that all the action springs from a loneliness in the devoted dad. Wade is awkward. He's sincere. Wade's heart is still healing from grief while he works hard to be a responsible, attentive single dad. The wisdom of the show comes in the viewpoints we realize when Wade is brave when he starts conversation that could lead possibly to a date. This is another reason why I stayed with the show. Online dating is not easy. When I was emotionally ready, years after my partner passed away, I tried online dating. I tried on three different sites. I liken the experience to hitting myself in the head with a polo mallet -- it felt so good when I stopped. Yes, Wade is brave and he has a good support system.
The two married couples are fabulous friends and perfectly cast. I love the black couple played by Omar Miller and Maya Lynn Robinson. I wish they were my married friends -- and I wish I could date a sweet guy like Wade -- even though Michelle (Maya Lynn Robinson) revealed this honest observation to Wade: "I cringe when you dance."
By the way, Wade is called a "unicorn" because he's that rare creature roaming free that a woman would want. He's employed, atrractive and serious about commitment. It's a comfortable show that recognizes tender areas of the heart I've known. It's a show with characters that I feel I know, a show that makes me laugh. As usual, Goggins is good. What's wrong with a half-hour of gentle entertainment? THE UNICORN airs Thursday nights at 8:30 on CBS.


Wednesday, November 13, 2019

On HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER

Let me tell you about a lunch experience I once had with a buddy in midtown Manhattan. He wanted to grab a bite and, because he was shopping that day, he suggested the cafe in a posh Manhattan department store. I just wanted a cheeseburger deluxe. Nothing fancy. I ordered what was advertised on the menu as a cheeseburger. It came on a fancy plate. The burger was not served on a bun. No. Instead, it was inside an English muffin. As for the fries, there were about six Julienne fries underneath a piece of Romaine lettuce. When I lifted up the lettuce with my fork, I felt like an American G.I. who'd just discovered a half dozen concentration camp survivors huddled together in a corner. That's how thin those fries were. Uptown where I lived for a while in Harlem, I could've gotten a cheeseburger the size of a back wheel on a kid's tricycle with fries cut on the thick side. Plus a bowl of cole slaw. And it would've been cheaper than that fancy alleged cheeseburger deluxe in the department store cafe. Which brings me to film critics and a review of HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER.
I took film courses in college. I've done film reviews on local and network TV. My goal as a film critic, mainly, was to take a smart working class approach to the film in my reviews. I did not expect to win a Pulitzer or to be quoted in newspaper ads, but I did go after film critic work on TV enthusiastically because I never saw anyone who looked like me -- or our neighbors on the block in South Central Los Angeles -- do regular film reviews on local or network TV. Film critics on TV, be it Los Angeles or New York City, were mostly Caucasian males. Sometimes, the way they reviewed a film, made me think they were playing to an audience of follow Caucasians that would order a posh cheeseburger served on an English muffin.

HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is now on Netflix. It's an unsophisticated, fun comedy about an aging and clueless Mexican gigolo whose longtime sugar mama wife (older than he) downsizes him in favor of something younger. He leaves their Bel Air mansion and, out of economic desperation, winds up living with his wonderful estranged sister and her little boy, his nephew. Maximo's motto in his gigolo life has been "Once you lower your expectations, the sky's the limit." Maximo acts and occasionally dresses as if he's still a hot piece of man-candy in his 20s. Now in his 40s, he must learn how to act his age, how to be a better brother and how to be a good uncle. Eugenio Derbez plays Maximo. Derbez is a popular movie star in Mexico. The cast also includes Raquel Welch. Welch looks sensational and reminds moviegoers that she can do comedy. Linda Lavin, Renee Taylor and Kristin Bell are in the movie too with funny scenes. Salma Hayek stars as Maximo's sister, a single working mom.
When HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER opened theatrically, I heard a scholarly (and Caucasian) film critic review it on a Los Angeles NPR program. He was not mean in his short review. However, he did pretty much dismiss it as a goofy movie that probably would not do much at the box office. When I heard him say that, I thought to myself, "Dude. Are your sure about that? Do you realize how massively populated with Mexicans Southern California is? Mexicans who go to the movies?"

I watched HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER last night on Netflix. It had me laughing in the first five minutes. It starts like a sentimental Lifetime TV or Disney movie about the simple, poor Mexican family with the loving papa who works long hours. We see papa, mama, the little boy and the little girl. Then we see how the little boy grew up to become the Mexican version of AMERICAN GIGOLO. Maximo has devolved from being a hot lover to being a hot mess as he pursues one more possible sugar mama.

Click onto this link to see a trailer for the 2017 release:

https://youtu.be/QqArNgzBfoQ.

True, HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER is lowbrow. But there's heart to it that the critic on the radio show never mentioned. Raphael Alejandro, the kid actor who played the bookworm nephew, is absolutely adorable. He's so natural. So perfectly awkward and charming. I loved watching how the relationship between the shy nephew and the errant uncle grew into a tender family bond.
After a day of impeachment-related news and battling polar temperatures outside, I was in the mood for some easy laughs, likeable characters and a beer. HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER sure was fun. As for the film critic's comment that it probably would not do much at the box office, here's some news: It cost about $13 million to make. It raked in $62 million at the box office.



Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Sweetness of FORREST GUMP

Last weekend on CBS SUNDAY MORNING, there was a fine feature to honor Veterans Day. In the feature, two actors were interviewed. First, there was Gary Sinise. He played Lieutenant Dan, the amputee and Vietnam War vet, in 1994's FORREST GUMP starring Tom Hanks and Sally Field. Sinise got a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance. The actor never served but many of his relatives did and, for years, he has tirelessly devoted himself to volunteer work on behalf of veterans. The other person interviewed is a veteran. He served in one of our 21st Century conflicts. He'd like to act again. He acted with Sally Field when he was a kid. He played little Forrest Gump, the boy with the Southern accent who was told to "Run, Forrest! Run!" Michael Conner Humphreys served in Iraq. He's now 34. Hanks studied Humphrey's accent to use in his performance as the grown Gump.
This post is about set decoration and art design in the movie.
I'm a longtime fan of Tom Hanks. I have been since his ABC TV days in drag on the sitcom, BOSOM BUDDIES back in the early 80s. I'd read the Winston Groom novel, FORREST GUMP, within a weekend. Politically incorrect? Yes, it is. A bit rude and racy? It's that too. And damn funny. FORREST GUMP, the 1986 novel, is like something Mark Twain would've written if he'd smoked pot instead of cigars. Before the movie opened, there was hot buzz on it. A publicist for a rival film company gave me this tip: "If you get invited to a screening of FORREST GUMP, go. It's really good."

Well, I did want to see it because of Tom Hanks. I especially wanted to see how Hanks would pull off being a big musclehunk idiot savant who was terrific on the football field and once said, "Bein' an idiot is no box o' chocolates." Could Hanks pull off playing a John Cena-type? Had he lifted weights to prepare for the role?
Forrest had a selfish and whiny mother and a girlfriend who did not limit her generous sexual favors to just him. His many misadventures in life ranged from the sports field to outer space to making a sci-fi movie with a cranky Raquel Welch. The characters played by Sally Field and Robin Wright -- and even Mr. Hanks himself -- in the Robert Zemeckis film had been sweetened from the original source material.

For the film version, screenwriter Eric Roth removed the book's apple vinegar tartness and replaced it with four cups of sugar. Forrest Gump on film was not the big beefcake idiot savant of the novel. His famous quote in the novel was changed for the screenplay to "Life is like a box chocolates...."

You know the rest.

Part of this clip was played in the CBS SUNDAY MORNING piece. I noticed something in the scene I'd never noticed before when I watched the movie.

Watch the clip again. Forrest says that now-famous movie line. Doesn't it look like he and the lady on the bench are seated on top of a giant Hershey bar? That whole "box of chocolates" philosophy is reflected in the set decoration. I had never noticed that until last weekend on CBS SUNDAY MORNING.

The CBS SUNDAY MORNING feature, "How two FORREST GUMP actors served their country," can be seen if you look for it here  cbsnews.com.



Monday, November 11, 2019

Adam Beach in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS

His powerful, heartbreaking performance in FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is the one that moved me the most. FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS is the 2006 film directed by Clint Eastwood that tells the story of the six men who raised the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima. This battle was a turning point in World War 2. The Associated Press photo taken of the event shot to fame in our modern American history. Movie history was made in the casting and performance of actor Adam Beach as one of the flag-raising heroes. It's November 11th, Veterans Day, the perfect day to watch that fine film displaying Adam Beach's excellent work.
Adam Beach grew up on a reservation. He's a Native American. In FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS, he plays Ira Hayes, the real-life Native American G.I. Hayes was a troubled soul who had a hard life after having been thrust into the national spotlight as a hero. His life and hard times were perfect material to inspire a script -- which it did. He was played onscreen twice. Both times by white actors. The most well-known portrayal of veteran Ira Hayes was done by Tony Curtis in the 1961 biopic, THE OUTSIDER. Before that, Hayes was played by Lee Marvin in a 1960 television production. I think you'll be moved by Beach's performance in the Eastwood film.
 Here's a trailer for FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS.

I first noticed Adam Beach in the totally entertaining 1998 indie road comedy/drama called SMOKE SIGNALS. A young Indian guy, a book nerd from the reservation, is a natural-born storyteller. But is anyone paying attention to his stories? He's on a road trip with friends, a trip that will teach him more about his history. Beach plays the macho and handsome Victor. When I was a regular on GOOD DAY NEW YORK on WNYW/Channel 5, I had the great privilege to interview Chris Eyre, the director of SMOKE SIGNALS, on our show. Telling him in person on live TV what a fan I am of his movie was a big thrill. The screenplay was by Sherman Alexie, based on his book. Dig it. It's a film about Native Americans, directed and written by Native Americans with Native American actors in the cast. I loved telling our morning show audience about SMOKE SIGNALS.

Adam Beach is a graduate of LAW& ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. He was a cast member for a couple of years. If he looked familiar, that could be it.

November 11th is Veterans Day -- and Adam Beach's birthday. Happy Birthday to him and heartfelt gratitude to all men and women who served.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Scorsese & Minnelli

Director Martin Scorsese seems destined to be invited to the Oscars again as a nominee thanks to his new saga, THE IRISHMAN. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. The reviews have been like critics throwing roses at Scorsese's feet. All the reviews I read added that the film is so good and moves so energetically that you don't feel its 3 1/2 hour running time at all. I want to give you a Martin Scorsese-directed music break right now. Marty, which I've never called him, directed Best Actress Oscar winner Liza Minnelli in two musical projects. There was THE ACT which premiered on Broadway in 1977. THE ACT had a score by John Kander and Fred Ebb and costumes by Halston. Scorsese directed Liza Minnelli to a Best Actress Tony win for her performance as a fading film star making a comeback as a Las Vegas singer.
In her act, she recalls her chaotic romantic and professional life.
Here's Minnelli singing one of my favorite songs from the score -- the smooth "It's the Strangest Thing."

Liza Minnelli won her Oscar for 1972's CABARET directed by Bob Fosse. Her next big movie musical drama was 1977's NEW YORK, NEW YORK directed by Martin Scorsese with new songs by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Liza's leading man was Robert De Niro. As usual, when Scorsese had the film in the editing room to ready it for release, his motto was not "to make a long story short." I saw this movie the day it opened. I love Liza Minnelli. She'd never looked so glamorous before in a film. Her singing was in peak form.
I have seen NEW YORK, NEW YORK several times since first it opened and I still feel that it could've worked very well coming in at 2 hours instead of its 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Also, with its central story of two talented performers in love yet in conflict because the man gets jealous of the woman's success, Scorsese didn't control the reins on the masculine anger. As you can guess, De Niro's character is the one with the anger issues. The U.S.A. is celebrating the end of World War 2. He's a sax player in need of work now. She's a classy vocalist. They work together. They fall in love. They get married. Then it becomes RAGING BULL STRIKES UP THE BAND AND SLAPS HIS WIFE LIKE SHE'S A BASS FIDDLE. Scorsese seemed out to give us the co-dependent, troubled romanticism of Michael Curtiz's MY DREAM IS YOURS starring Doris Day, Powell & Pressburger's THE RED SHOES and Cukor's 1954 remake of A STAR IS BORN with Judy Garland and James Mason -- all films with musical numbers. He could've succeeded. But De Niro's character cheats on his sweet wife, he has an explosive temper and he's physically abusive to her when she's about nine months pregnant. To me, Scorsese needed to pull back on those elements and the excessive ad libbing.

Nevertheless, I totally dig what Scorsese did with Liza's musical numbers. After singer Francine Evans (Minnelli) finally breaks away from her abusive marriage, she finds her own new voice as a woman and as a singer when she records "But The World Goes 'Round."

Francine is a hit on the Billboard charts as a solo vocalist. Soon, Hollywood calls and she transitions into movie star. Near the end of the story, Francine is doing a live engagement. It's the early 1950s and she's a star playing the swanky nightspot where she and her ex-husband first met in 1945. She introduces a song to the packed audience "New York, New York."

Click onto the link to see the number:

https://youtu.be/ge7NiJuSpac.

Both of those songs from Scorsese's NEW YORK, NEW YORK were eligible for an Oscar nomination. Neither song was nominated. The Oscar winner for Best Song of 1977 was "You Light Up My Life" from the forgettable movie of the same name.




Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Great James Earl Jones

It's a political drama and a story about race in America. The production was based on a best-selling novel by Irving Wallace. My dad had a paperback copy of the book at home when I was a kid. In the production, with a screenplay by Rod Serling, an elder statesman of a senator in 1970s Washington, DC speaks with casual and frank racism. He says "...the White House doesn't seem near white enough for me tonight." That is a line from the 1972 made-for-TV production, THE MAN, based on the novel of the same name and starring James Earl Jones as America's first black president. To me, James Earl Jones gave one of his most compelling performances in this 90-minute feature that aired on ABC TV. What a magnificent actor.
After he'd dazzled Broadway audiences with his performance as the boxer in THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, he recreated his role in the 20th Century Fox film adaptation.
For that, Mr. Jones became to the second black man in history to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actor. The first was Sidney Poitier. In 1970's THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, Jones radiated in intense vibe of athletic and racial power. The boxer was his own man. Here's a clip.

The first black actor to be nominated for an Oscar was Hattie McDaniel in the Best Supporting Actress category for 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND. She won. From Hattie to Ethel Waters, Dorothy Dandridge and Rita Moreno to Diahann Carroll, Cicely Tyson, Rosie Perez and Angela Bassett to Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Forest Whitaker and Jamie Foxx to Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe and the late Ruby Dee -- those are all actors/actresses of color with one solo Oscar nomination to their credit. James Earl Jones is also on that list with one Oscar nomination.

James Earl Jones followed THE GREAT WHITE HOPE (1970) with ABC TV's network presentation of THE MAN (1972) and followed that with CLAUDINE (1974), the urban family life story that brought Diahann Carroll her Best Actress Oscar nomination. After CLAUDINE, from 1974 to 1976, most of his on-camera work was in TV performances.

When you see his performance in THE MAN, you may feel as I did -- that James Earl Jones should've been getting the same amount of good big screen opportunities in the 1970s that Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson did after their first Oscar nominations.

THE MAN should have been a highly promoted big screen Paramount release. But Hollywood has long been cocooned in the notion that black stories don't sell. And THE MAN was a story in which an African American male becomes president, black newsmakers have meetings with him in the White House, there are black journalists in the press room and a member of the new First Family is a university graduate student in philosophy. The upscale, strong modern roles for black actors in THE MAN probably made many heads on white Hollywood movie executives explode like those on the evil Martians hearing Slim Whitman sing in MARS ATTACKS!

The late Janet MacLachlan played a schoolteacher in 1972's SOUNDER, a Depression-era story set down South about a poor black family. That same year, on network TV, she played the graduate school/activist daughter of America's first black president. Like her widower father who was a college professor in New Hampshire, she can hold her own in an intellectual debate.

With the current climate of the USA, aspects of this 1972 TV film will feel achingly relevant today. Remember how people thought the election of President Barack Obama meant that America had become instantly "post-racial"? Watch THE MAN. An accident claims the lives of the President and the Speaker of the House. Douglass Dilman (James Earl Jones) becomes next in line to assume the powers of the Commander-in-Chief. One white cabinet member is jealous. At home, he's verbally castrated by his racist Washington society wife. Then there's the senator who plans to "...strike a blow on behalf of White Supremacy." All the while, unassuming and erudite Douglass Dilman must steady himself under the heavy weight of his newly-placed crown. Jones translates the overwhelming weight of his new position with a tremble of Dilman's hand as he tries to pour himself a drink. It's a compact, effective, brilliant example of the actor's artistry. Dilman's daughter realizes his inner conflict. "I can't be what everyone wants me to be," he says.

James Earl Jones is surrounded by a group of top Hollywood veterans in the cast -- Burgess Meredith, Lew Ayres, Martin Balsam, William Windom and Barbara Rush. Comedian Jack Benny is in the opening scenes as host of the White House Correspondents' Dinner.

I saw THE MAN on TV when I was in high school and I was moved. I watched it recently. Again I say, "James Earl Jones. What a magnificent actor." If you want to see THE MAN, which runs 90 minutes, click onto this link:

https://youtu.be/TeINMIJaaXA.




Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Children of a Loesser Musical

It's that time of year again. It's time to target an Oscar-winning song like it's the chubby, awkward kid inside a schoolyard circle for a unsupervised game of dodge ball. The song is "Baby, It's Cold Outside," a funny composition from Frank Loesser, the Tony-winning talent who wrote the songs for two classic Broadway musicals -- GUYS AND DOLLS and HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING. Big screen movie versions were made of those two Broadway hits. In Hollywood, Bette Davis sang his amusing "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" to a Best Song Oscar nomination in THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (1943) and Betty Hutton sang his gorgeous "I Wish I Didn't Love You So" to a Best Song Oscar nomination in THE PERILS OF PAULINE (1947). Aretha Franklin covered that ballad on one of her albums. Then came a 1949 MGM musical comedy called NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER. Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban were the lead stars.
Red Skelton and Betty Garrett co-star to handle most of the comedy.
Frank Loesser wrote the songs the stars sing in that musical. His light-hearted "Baby, It's Cold Outside" was included in the NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER score and it brought Frank Loesser the Oscar for Best Song of 1949. Before I bring up something new that John Legend and Kelly Clarkson have done to Loesser's novelty tune, let me tell you the plot of the movie and set the scene for the song's introduction.
Esther Williams was the famous swimming star of MGM in the 1940s and 40s. Moviegoers made a bee-line to movie theaters to see her in a glamorous swimsuit do Technicolor big budget numbers in a big budget studio pool. The story of NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER is set in the Hollywood, California area. Esther plays a championship swimmer who's approached by a man to be his partner in a swimsuit design company. After some consideration, she accepts his offer. It turns out she has a sharp, creative mind and a keen head for business. The company is a hit and she's a successful executive in it. She says "I'm strictly a career girl." Visiting Los Angeles is a star athlete, He's a handsome South American polo player in L.A. with his team for a match. The swimsuit company executive has an idea for an event that would include the polo player who constantly gets his photo in the papers when he makes personal appearances. The executive lives with her ditzy sister. The sister meets the polo player's L.A. masseuse. He's a lovable dork who pretends to be the polo player. Whoever he is, he makes the sister act like Pepé Le Pew.

Big sister is in a snit thinking that little sister is in Jose's apartment to make herself available for romance. She charges over to his place and forces her way in, checking every room for her sister. She's embarrassed to discover that, not only is he alone, he's never met her sister. José (Ricardo Montalban) and Eve (Esther Williams) had one dance number together in the movie. During that number, he tried to give her a kiss. He was unsuccessful. He tries again in his apartment after she apologizes and considers having a drink with him. "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is sung on a starry night in Los Angeles. That's the gag of the title and lyrics from Jose such as "But, baby, you'll freeze out there.." and "..never such a blizzard before" as Eve coyly suggests she's leaving. Remember, she's a career girl out to book the celebrity polo player for a top promotional event with her company. Also, José is a harmless flirt. Eve is never in danger.

Then we cut to the loopy, lovestruck sister who's with the man she thinks is a South American polo player.
Notice that in the Betty Garrett and Red Skelton reprise of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" that the female is way more aggressive than the male was in the Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams section. Today, politically correct millennials have misinterpreted the female's line "Say, what's in this drink?" to imply a spiked drink with the intention of date rape. Have young singers done their homework? Have they seen the original performance of the entire song in NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER? Has anyone ever pointed out that the most physically aggressive amorous person in the musical quartet is the youngest female? Watch the entire call-and-response comedy number from 1949's NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER performed by Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. Remember that the scene is set on a starry night in Los Angeles.

Recently, there came news that John Legend and Kelly Clarkson wanted to perform the song but decided to write some new lyrics to make it more "woke" and rid it of any sexual controversy. Deana Martin, daughter of the late singer/actor Dean Martin, said that Legend "...should write his own song if he doesn't like this one, but don't change the lyrics. It's a classic, perfect song."

I agree with her. You're John Legend and Kelly Clarkson! Write a new Christmas song. Why tamper with that Oscar-winner from a 1949 G-rated movie musical? Or...pick another retro holiday duet. Do "That Holiday Feeling" performed by Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

Through the years, after its Oscar win, that Frank Loesser duet has been recorded as written by Dean Martin with a female chorus, James Taylor with Natalie Cole, Dolly Parton with Rod Taylor and Zooey Deschanel with Leon Redbone for the ELF soundtrack. I saw the few new lyrics for John Legend's "reimagined" version of the song. They are pleasantly bland and do not flow smoothly with the late Frank Loesser's original witty lyrics. People need to stop picking on that old song. Heck. If you want to prove to folks that you're sensitive and aware, rewrite lyrics to "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" instead.

For grins, here's a jovial updated rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" done by two dudes -- John Schneider and Tom Wopat, the actors formerly known on TV as THE DUKES OF HAZZARD.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

She Would Dig STUMPTOWN

Around the time this new ABC series premiered, GOOD MORNING AMERICA had the show's lead actor, Cobie Smulders, in the studio for a live interview. She was absolutely charming and witty. Her winning personality made you want to see the show. The show is STUMPTOWN, based a series of graphic novels. Stumptown is a nickname for Portland, the city in Oregon where Dex Parios lives and fights crime as a private eye. Think of California-based private eyes we've seen in movies -- Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and J.J. Gittes in CHINATOWN. Dex is like a grunge band that follows a long set of recordings by a celebrated West Coast jazz artist such as Chet Baker or Dave Brubeck. STUMPTOWN is an action-packed well-written and well-directed series blessed with the vibrant performance of Cobie Smulders as the tattered, tough and tender Dex.
This female private eye is one of ABC's new season stand-out characters.
Writer Susanna Lee did the article "Stumptown and TV's Legacy of Hard-Boiled Detectives" for vulture.com. In her October 30th piece, she mentioned other female private eyes -- Netflix's Jessica Jones, Hulu's rebooted Veronica Mars and the CW's Nancy Drew.

Years before actress Cobie Smulders was born, there was a totally cool female private eye on ABC. Her name was HONEY WEST and she was played by the late Anne Francis. If GOOD MORNING AMERICA had responded to any of my employment requests to be a segment producer on the show, or an on-air contributor, I would've included a HONEY WEST mention in the Cobie Smulders interview as a respectful nod to women's history in television.  Classic film fans know blonde Anne Francis as the outer space alien beauty in 1956's FORBIDDEN PLANET and as Fanny Brice's Ziegfeld showgirl pal in 1968's FUNNY GIRL. Anne Francis rocked that female private eye TV role.
HONEY WEST should've had a longer run than it did. I recall the show airing on Friday nights. I was in grade school at the time. Come Mondays, HONEY WEST was a hot topic in our playground talk during recess. We kids loved her beauty mole, the convertible she drove, the secret radio device in her lipstick case she used to communicate with her private eye partner, her skill at karate chopping bad guys, and we loved her pet ocelot. Honey West had her own private eye agency. Her partner, Sam, was played by handsome John Ericson. John Ericson and Anne Francis had co-starred in the classic MGM drama, 1955's BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Ryan. Honey West was a California private eye first introduced in an episode of ABC's detective series, BURKE'S LAW. On that popular show, Gene Barry was Amos Burke, a millionaire Los Angeles police detective. HONEY WEST, lasting only from 1965 to 1966, made a strong impression on her fans. Episodes are now on DVD. Here's the show's hipster opening that I loved.

HONEY WEST strutted into the private eye boys club like a combination of Marilyn Monroe and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer. Unlike the cases of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe or John Shaft, the female private eye genre has been unwisely untapped by Hollywood. Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski (the V.I. standing for Victoria Iphigenia) solved murder cases in novels by Sara Paretsky. The 1991 film, V.I. WARSHAWSKI, starred Kathleen Turner in the title role. Hollywood didn't do anything else with the Chicago private investigator.

Back in 1990, when I was on VH1, a buddy of mine was in New York City for a few days and took me out to lunch. He worked for a film company in Hollywood, a company that sought ideas for possible new projects. Over lunch, he told me that his company was hungry for projects that would appeal to baby boomers. He asked if I, perchance, had any ideas for projects.

I pitched a movie version of HONEY WEST starring Michelle Pfeiffer as Honey with a good supporting role for Anne Francis.  But does Hollywood ever listen to me? No.

STUMPTOWN airs Wednesday nights on ABC. Honey West would dig it.



Sunday, November 3, 2019

About PAPI CHULO (2019)

If the opening incident in PAPI CHULO had actually happened on a live local TV newscast, an LGBTQ news site on Twitter would have tweeted "Gay Weatherman Breaks Down During Hot Forecast." Young, slim and telegenic Sean has just begun his weather segment on a local independent Los Angeles TV station. It'll be hot the next week or so, the Santa Ana winds will whip things up and there's a continuing drought. Sean is bright-eyed and pleasant but he starts to stammer a bit. The stammer increases. Then something whips up inside of him. He starts to cry on air. Neither the floor director, the control room crew nor the anchor duo are prepared to deal with this little live TV breakdown. Sean's boss orders him to go home early and take a few days off. Handsome Matt Bomer plays Sean.
Sean lives alone in a place with a great view and a nice deck that needs a new coat of paint. We find out that Sean has been suffering through an emotional drought. Carlos is the name of the man that got away. Their relationship ended six months ago. Sean calls Carlos' voicemail to hear his voice and leave a message. In the meantime, Sean tries to paint the deck himself. The results are unsatisfactory. So, he resorts to that Southern California practice of hiring a Mexican laborer for day work. He finds a man in his 50s in front of a hardware store who's available for work. Ernesto, played by Alejandro Patiño, speaks minimal English and has a face that makes him look like a foreign cousin to Abe Vigoda. Ernesto describes himself as "married and fat." However, his wonderful wife finds him sexy.

Once Sean gets Ernesto into his car and onto his deck, he becomes chatty. He knows some Spanish, a few words and phrases here and there. More than anything, though, he needs someone who will listen to him. It's funny and there is sort a THE ODD COUPLE vibe to this pair of men. The awkward, heartbroken young gay man and the straight, middle-aged family man who keeps calling his wife with updates.
The deck job, to be done right, will take more than one day. Sean thought it would take an afternoon. Nevertheless, he has no problem picking up Ernesto for more work and dropping him back at the hardware store to catch his bus home. Sean makes lunch for Ernesto and keeps talking. He takes Ernesto with him an on exercise hike and for a ride in a rowboat. Ernesto wonders what the heck he's gotten himself into but the money is good. As unlikely as it may seem, the older man of a different race and class has a healing effect on Sean. The storm in the TV weatherman's heart seems to be passing. Chatty Sean even brings Ernesto as his guest to a gay party thrown by friends. Yes, Ernesto is like a fish out of water at the party. He makes a quick call to his amused wife. Yet, he notices that Sean truly is a sweet, lonely man with polite friends.
I'd only seen Matt Bomer in "hot-looking guy" roles like in the movies MAGIC MIKE, MAGIC MIKE XXL and a guest appearance on an episode of the rebooted WILL & GRACE. In this, you see that he's more than just a pretty face. There's an insecurity and a slight nervous energy to the way Sean carries himself off-camera. Also, there's that visible little cloud of unhappiness behind his bright eyes. Matt Bomer gives a good performance. Sean is likeable. One thing we notice is his group of friends at the party. The married couple hosting the party is two black gay men. The party crowd is mixed in areas of race and age. Will Sean's loneliness and chattiness drive Ernesto away? Does Sean have a crush on Ernesto?
I first heard about PAPI CHULO while streaming a film review hour on KPCC, an NPR station out of Pasadena, California. Critics reviewed this independent movie on the show in June and had positive things to say about it. Their warmth towards it plus the rent-a-buddy angle had comedy appeal to me. It did make me laugh, especially Ernesto's phone calls to the wife, but -- as the critics said -- the story takes a poignant turn.

Ernesto is married. He's a father. He's afraid of immigration. If Sean had built a wall in his mind to keep Mexicans like Ernesto out of his comfortable Caucasian American life, he would not have started to heal from the end of his relationship with Carlos. To the gay male community, it's continuously projected that youth, a handsome face and a hot sexual playground of a body are the most important items when it comes to romantic attraction. A gay character like Sean is very refreshing. I read a high-tone online review of the movie in which the critic felt it had outdated racial tropes. I disagree. We've seen characters like Ernesto in other films, laborers working for white folks. Did we learn about the laborer's family life? Did we go into their neighborhoods, drop into their homes, meet their family and friends and have food with them? Rarely. In PAPI CHULO we did. Overall, it's a gentle, entertaining film about human connections, one that doesn't put on airs -- like GREEN BOOK. It was written and directed by John Butler. It runs 1 hour 38 minutes.




Wednesday, October 30, 2019

About DOLEMITE IS MY NAME

The reviews I read for Eddie Murphy's performance as the late Rudy Ray Moore were almost like thank-you notes. They were full of gratitude and appreciation. The reviews did not exaggerate. Eddie Murphy is so good in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME and the low-budget biopic is so entertaining that I watched it twice. This movie works in delightful ways that are almost subversive. You almost don't realize that this story set in the black community of my Los Angeles youth gives you fresh images of black people in working class L.A. In this "Me Too" era, we see that women can be totally naked in a work-related situation and be treated with respect by her male co-workers. We see a valentine to embracing diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry. We see that black people read film reviews in newspapers and entertainment news publications. We'll see a black man pay back all the folks who loaned him money. I love me some DOLEMITE IS MY NAME starring Eddie Murphy at the top of his game.
 If you are unfamiliar with Rudy Ray Moore, you need to know that you will hear salty language that starts in the opening minute of the story. I was a child of the 60s in South Central Los Angeles. Everybody in the 'hood knew the work of Rudy Ray Moore. His comedy albums were "adults only" and his album covers were equally naughty.
Did you see LA LA LAND? Emma Stone played the aspiring actress who works at a coffeeshop in Los Angeles. She has a meltdown because she's been auditioning for six years but nothing has clicked yet for her show biz career. White girl. In her 20s. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME takes us to the black community in Los Angeles in the early 1970s. Rudy Ray Moore is now middle-aged with a pot belly and a bald spot. He's not young, he's not handsome, he's not white, he's not sophisticated. Still, he has not given up on his show biz dreams. When first we see him, he is hustling to get his 45 played on a local radio station. Rudy manages a local record store. At night, he moonlights as an emcee in a neighborhood nightclub.  Rudy may drop lots of 4-letter words when he talks but don't let that give you a narrow-minded image of him. He's an honorable man, a street smart guy with a heart o' gold. Gratitude and appreciation are part of his spirit along with his gift for bawdy humor. While grabbing a bite with his three buddies (played fabulously by Mike Epps, Craig Robinson and Tituss Burgess), he gets verbally slapped in the face with the reality of his current status. Hurt, he leaves the diner. One of the buddies runs after him to apologize. Rudy says, "Hey, man, how'd my life get so damn small?"

In biopics of white 1950s rock stars, we saw them get musical inspiration from black music and black musicians. Here, we see a black man get inspiration from a member of his own race and community. He gets inspiration from a neighborhood wino who frequently drops into the record shop. He may be a bum to society. However, he's got knowledge to offer. He inspires Rudy. Rudy reinvents himself with a harmless pimp persona onstage -- complete with wig and sporty outfit -- and does ribald nursery rhymes for adults only in his emcee bits. Rudy is a hit. With the help of his three amigos, he cuts a grassroots comedy album as his new persona, Dolemite. Those raunchy and funny albums are a hit with the L.A. black folks in Crenshaw, South Central and Baldwin Hills.  His comedy albums are too blue to play on radio like comedy cuts from Flip Wilson, George Carlin or -- as his aunt would say -- "that sweet Bill Cosby," but he's making money. Rudy and the three buddies grab a bite again. To celebrate, he wants to treat them to a movie. One of the guys had been talking about THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. Another mentions that he wants to see SHAFT IN AFRICA. Rudy suggests THE FRONT PAGE because he read the reviews that called it one of the funniest films now playing. The four go to see the Billy Wilder 1970s remake of a 1931 movie.

This scene rocks. I grew up in L.A. I went to see THE FRONT PAGE when it played because it was directed by Billy Wilder. I saw it at a theatre in Inglewood. Whereas TV, radio, The Los Angeles Times, The Herald Examiner, Variety and The Hollywood Reporter never hired black critics and seemed to assume black moviegoers had no awareness of filmmakers like Billy Wilder, here was a black comedian who wants to see a new Billy Wilder movie because the reviews he read were good. The movie audience is packed. The four are the only black folks in the audience.  I felt like I knew Rudy's three friends. The scene reflected movie experiences I had when I was a kid. In theaters or at school, I'd hear my friends say "How come there ain't no black kids dancing in those BEACH PARTY or Elvis Presley movies?"

Rudy's three friends had no idea what THE FRONT PAGE was about and they noticed that no black folks were in it. Rudy realized the power of film. His next goal was to make a movie.

He goes on the road doing comedy dates as Dolemite. At one club, he sees a woman at a low point in her life. After his show, he talks to her. Her name is Lady Reed. She's a single working mother who broke free from an abusive relationship. Rudy sees something special in her that nobody else ever did. He makes Lady Reed part of his comedy act. What a performance Da'Vine Joy Randolph delivers as Lady Reed. Her character goes from wounded and cynical, to hopeless, to business-like, to unexpectedly happy in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME. Da'Vine Joy Randolph lights up the screen.

Rudy and his pals spot a black actor in a booth at a strip club. Rudy approaches him to pitch the Dolemite movie. The actor turns out to pretentious and disinterested. He immediately chuckles and tells them that he has an agent, he has an entertainment lawyer, and he's been "directed by Roland Polanski." The actor played an elevator operator in ROSEMARY'S BABY. Persuasive Rudy offers the actor that chance to direct the movie. Bingo. That appeals to the actor's vanity.  As the pretentious director, Wesley Snipes reminds us that he's got comedy skills. Giving his character a splash of late 1960s Sammy Davis Jr., it's Wesley Snipe's best comedy performance since 1995's TO WONG FOO, THANKS FOR EVERYTHING! JULIE NEWMAR.
You may feel it's a bit like BOWFINGER and ED WOOD. You will laugh. You will love seeing Rudy, his three male buddies and Lady Reed actually get their independent movie project done. They are black, they are middle-aged, one of the guys is gay and there's a full-figured woman. They are everything Hollywood does not want. This group will stick to its dream.
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is not just a funny biopic. It's about perseverance, diversity, inclusion and representation. Is Toney (Tituss Burgess) treated like an outcast for being gay? No. He works for Rudy in the record store. Rudy confides in him. He makes Toney the accountant on the movie project because he keeps accurate books right down to the penny and he's dependable. Lady Reed has never seen a woman who looked like her on a movie screen. Click onto this link to see a trailer:

https://youtu.be/gLZk03rXpVc.

Rudy and Lady Reed are both single. There's no romance between them, yet he has affection and respect for her. With his help, her life will be in a much better place at the end than it was when they met. Although Rudy Ray Moore's Kung fu blaxploitation movie got lousy reviews from the white critics, his low-budget DOLEMITE indie movie did better at the box office than Billy Wilder's remake of THE FRONT PAGE did. DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a funny and heartwarming R-rated biopic that I'll be watching again. I need the laughs.






Thursday, October 24, 2019

Bingewatch HAP AND LEONARD

I have written before that HAP AND LEONARD, which aired on Sundance TV back in 2016, is one of the best TV series I'd seen since our new century began in 2000. That's not embellishment. That's a fact. It did not get renewed after its third season. It should have been renewed. In addition to that, it should've received way more attention than it got from entertainment reporters and LGBTQ organizations such as GLAAD. GLAAD annually honors performers who are members of the LGBTQ community as well as straight allies This series was a great ally. Author Joe R. Lansdale, the man who created the characters in a series of novels, definitely deserved an award of gratitude for giving us a fresh, original, Black and gay character. Leonard, vigorously played by Michael K. Williams, hit the prime time TV landscape like a punch from Mike Tyson in his prime. Leonard is a Black, openly gay Vietnam veteran. And he's a Republican. You don't want to mess with him. He will open a large can o' whip-ass on you in  heartbeat. He will do that, too, if you mess with his longtime best friend, a white heterosexual pacifist called Hap. Hap did time in prison for opposing the draft during the Vietnam War.  Hap and Leonard are loyal friends. They love each other. They have each other's back. They know each other's basic heartbreak. James Purefoy is perfectly cast as Hap. It's a subtle, sensitive yet strong performance. Hap is measured. Leonard is explosive. The two lead actors complement each other so well they seem to be one unit. HAP AND LEONARD is an exciting crime thriller that takes us down South. The series is not only exciting, there's humor and -- for a show set in the 1980s -- there's a lot of drama that is achingly relevant today.
HAP AND LEONARD is a smart series that resonates in our current times of Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville, LGBTQ rights, Black Republicans on the Hill coming to terms with today's Caucasian Republican president comparing himself to a "lynching" victim in a tweet regarding the impeachment inquiry, and it resonates with why we take a knee with Colin Kaepernick.

Each season had only six episodes. Perfect for binge-watching. I planned to watch the first two episodes of the first season when it premiered and review those two episodes. I was immediately hooked. Not only that, I texted a couple of buddies and urged them to watch the show. I'm sure you remember Christina Hendricks as the shapely, sophisticated and smart character on MAD MEN. You've got to see her in the first season of HAP AND LEONARD. The crime story was called "swamp noir." I agree. With that in mind, she was absolutely the femme fatale on the hunt for a sunken treasure -- like a backwoods Barbara Stanwyck. She's ambitious and dealing with the big boys. When her character, Trudy, says "I keep thinking it'll get easier, but then I'll remember that's not how the world works," she brings you into her complicated character. You don't agree with everything Trudy does, but you understand why she does it. Henricks rocked that role, a role that allowed her to show her acting versatility.
The academy members who hand out Golden Globes and Emmys also overlooked HAP AND LEONARD. No nominations at all for that well-acted, well-written series. I know they are two different kinds of shows but HAP AND LEONARD should've received the amount of Emmy attention that RuPaul's DRAG RACE and MODERN FAMILY did. Both shows reflect gay images. So did HAP AND LEONARD -- in a refreshingly non-traditional, significant way.
And then there's actor Michael K. Williams as Leonard. GLAAD, the Oscars people and the Emmys people award and honor straight white actors for playing gay characters. We've gone through decades of white and African American actors being reluctant to commit to playing gay characters. Especially Black actors. Remember the film version of the Broadway drama SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION? Will Smith went after the lead role in the 1993 movie to graduate from being a sitcom actor. He worked opposite Donald Sutherland and Stockard Channing. However, he would not commit to the same-sex kiss which was key to advancing the action in an important scene. His fakeness in that scene stood out in a big way on the big screen. When I saw it in New York City, moviegoers audibly grumbled in dissatisfaction. Michael K. Williams has played openly gay characters in three network TV productions. He played Omar, who was gay and kissed another man, on HBO's acclaimed series THE WIRE. He played a real-life gay activist in ABC's production of WHEN WE RISE. It chronicled the U.S. gay rights movements starting with the 1969 Stonewall Revolt. He's the openly gay Vietnam vet on HAP AND LEONARD.

GLAAD should bestow actor Michael K. Williams with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
HAP AND LEONARD, all three seasons, is available for binge-watching on Netflix.



Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Cameron Douglas Interviewed

His father is the Oscar-winning film actor and producer, Michael Douglas. His grandfather is the Hollywood screen legend, Kirk Douglas. Cameron Douglas, born into what some would call Hollywood royalty, has survived some brutally rough life. He was hooked on cocaine and heroin. He had a gun and might have killed someone out of desperation caused by drugs. Fortunately, he didn't. He did time in federal prison and was on suicide watch. He wrote about this in a new memoir. His famous father thought he'd get a call one day telling him that his son, Cameron, was dead. Cameron was interviewed in a one-hour ABC News special that aired last night. Veteran journalist Diane Sawyer conducted the exclusive interview.
If I was her producer for the show, I would've argued with our corporate masters about one specific clip. Because of Cameron's celebrated family history, I expected to see clips of grandfather's famous films. A news program can show clips from classic films. It doesn't have to pay for them because it's a news program. Remember in the heyday of INSIDE THE ACTORS STUDIO when James Lipton would interview stars who acted in celebrated older films? He rarely showed clips. That's because his show was considered programming/entertainment and he would've had to pay for use of older clips. That kind of money was not in his budget.

In the first 10 minutes of the news special, when Diane Sawyer had established the extremely dangerous road Cameron Douglas had been traveling down since his teen years, we see footage of Kirk Douglas. Film footage. One movie clip is shown with the audio up. Kirk is singing and playing an accordion. Then there's a clip of Kirk Douglas in an archive interview singing the same song. It's positioned as if that musical movie scene is as famous as the "I'm Spartacus" scene from SPARTACUS, a scene of him as Vincent van Gogh in LUST FOR LIFE or his angry outburst at the military irresponsibility in Kubrick's PATHS OF GLORY. Kirk's musical moment with an accordion was entertaining but not as famous as those other scenes. The accordion scene was from a 1954 release -- 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA.  It's a Disney film.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.  I would've argued that clip's placement that early in the hour because it seemed like -- after establishing ex-con Cameron Douglas could have been killed or died of a drug overdose -- there had to be a blatant plug for Disney Classics. There was a corporate selfishness about its placement there. An insensitivity.  Later in the hour we did see clips of Kirk Douglas in SPARTACUS, PATHS OF GLORY and GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL. But none got the audio time that 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA did.
This is just my opinion as a viewer. I haven't had a steady, weekly job in years. I have worked in TV. I had my own VH1 talk show and Kirk Douglas was my sole guest for the premiere episode back in the 80s. I've interviewed Michael Douglas a couple of times. At a party in New York City, I met and chatted with another Kirk Douglas son -- the one who later died of drug overdose. All three treated me like a gentleman. I would've placed the clip from the 1954 Disney movie later in the hour, during a lighter section when Cameron told of a funny comment from grandfather Kirk. That is, if corporate masters forced us to use the clip.

DANCING WITH THE STARS recently had a 2-hour salute to Disney night. GOOD MORNING AMERICA now has two distinct personalities. The first hour is news. The second hour is practically a music variety show, heavy on the Disney product promotion, with a studio audience that applauds. I wish Disney would pull back from plugging itself in news features. To keep its dignity, if you will.
Michael Douglas was in the last half of the interview. It was very touching. Congratulations on being clean and calm now, Cameron. Big blessings to you and your family.


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wilde Man Dorian Gray

This post is about a film that featured actor Hurd Hatfield. He had a long career with some noteworthy films in his list of credits. His most famous performance was his lead role in MGM's 1945 release, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY. Based on the classic novel by Oscar Wilde, the lead role went to Hatfield quite early in his film career. His other film credits included 1944's DRAGON SEED starring Katharine Hepburn, 1948's JOAN OF ARC starring Ingrid Bergman, KING OF KINGS (1961), EL CID (1961), THE BOSTON STRANGLER (1968) and CRIMES OF THE HEART (1986). Hurd had a handsome, lean, rather aristocratic face that served him well in playing Dorian Gray. It could seem at once ethereal and eerie. When I was a kid, I loved seeing THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY on local TV because it gave me such a creepy feeling. It wasn't a monster movie. It wasn't a science-fiction movie. But glacially elegant Dorian Gray definitely was unnatural, unearthly, wicked and almost like a vampire. He never aged.
As I got older, I came to appreciate the movie much, much more. It stars Hurd Hatfield, George Sanders, Donna Reed, Angela Lansbury and Peter Lawford. One of the biggest stars involved with the 1945 production of THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY is not seen at all in the MGM movie.
He's veteran cinematographer Harry Stradling. What he does with the black and white cinematography is rich and psychologically revealing. It enhances the story and the characters. The movie was on TCM one day over the summer and I watched it. I was fascinated by the dark beauty of it. The old movie totally drew me in again so powerfully that I logged off social media in order to give it my full attention. In my youth, I noticed that Hatfield did not move as much as other characters did. There was a stillness to him. Dorian Gray drew people to him. Watching it again, I noticed more of Stradling's art as cinematographer. It you watch it, notice that characters such as the ladies played by Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury are fully lit facially. They get lovely close-ups. Then notice Hurd Hatfield's impassive face in his close-ups. Half his face is lit, the other half is in shadow. If he was moving around as much as the other players were, you couldn't get that lighting effect on his face. That half lit, half dark effect is excellent. It's perfect for Dorian Gray. Also, when I was a youngster, I thought that Hatfield's face was flat. Nothing happening. I didn't mind because the story was so spooky. I was wrong about the actor. Hatfield is like Jane Greer playing the femme fatale character in the 1947 film noir classic, OUT OF THE PAST. The face is impassive as crime is being committed, but there's a lot going on in the eyes. Hurd Hatfield gave a fine performance.
There's one sequence that is chilling and, artistically, beautiful. The man who painted Dorian Gray's picture 20 years earlier goes to the attic to see it. He is a good man. Dorian has evil deeds on his soul. The door is closed and the lighting brings out a similarity to the sign of the cross in the carved design of the door. Dorian's face will be half in light, half in shadow. A lamp will swing back and forth causing changes in light and shadow. This is a film that utilizes the psychological impact of black and white and saves vivid color for a shocking special effect.

1945's THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY has performances and production values worthy of your attention, if you're one who appreciates the art of classic films. The film brought Angela Lansbury an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Harry Stradling's film credits included 1938's PYGMALION, EASTER PARADE, A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, A FACE IN THE CROWD, GUYS AND DOLLS, AUNTIE MAME, MY FAIR LADY and FUNNY GIRL. Harry Stradling won an Oscar for his cinematography on THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.






On THE TALL TARGET (1951)

If you appreciate classic films and you're up for an energetic, suspenseful drama, I've got a recommendation. THE TALL TARGET does...