Sunday, February 28, 2021

William Shatner as THE INTRUDER (1962)

 He claims to be from Los Angeles. He's traveling via bus to a small Southern town. He's handsome, clean cut, young and wearing a white suit. He's a White guy. He appears to be a true and charming gentleman. He checks into a local, inexpensive hotel where the kindly old lady who works the front desk casually uses a racial slur when referring to one of her employees. The man in the white suit smiles when she says what she says. Later, after a friendly breakfast with a married couple, the stranger in the white suit catches a cab and asks the driver, "You know where n****rtown is?" The driver does. The stranger is taken there. This stranger is THE INTRUDER, a racist who says his job is "social worker," but he's really in town to fan the flames of racism against school integration that's just been ordered by law. The mysterious, manipulative and morally bankrupt stranger is played with great strength by William Shatner four years before we saw him on the NBC series that made him a pop icon, STAR TREK. Nowadays, we love the way Shatner lampoons his own TV celebrity. On March 26, he and Jean Smart make their debut on a new sitcom called SENIOR MOMENT. But, back in the day, Shatner did some impressive dramatic work -- like in THE INTRUDER, a 1962 release. The year before, Shatner held his own opposite heavyweight veteran Spencer Tracy and other top stars in JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG. Shatner had a supporting role in that film which took the Oscar for Best Actor (Maximilian Schell) and was a nominee for Best Picture. THE INTRUDER was a flop at the box office but, I feel, it rates re-appreciation today. It's a tight, intense and relevant film. I saw it a few years ago and blogged about it. However, I watched it again recently and it had even more sting because of the early January takeover of the Capitol Building in Washington, DC. Shatner delivers a fierce, memorable performance.

Why did THE INTRUDER flop at the box office? Audiences probably weren't ready to face its blunt, direct racism during those turbulent years of the Civil Rights movement. THE INTRUDER was produced and directed by Roger Corman at a time when he was very popular for giving the public entertaining and modesty budgeted horror or teen rebel flicks starring Vincent Price and introducing new talent such as Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern and Peter Fonda.

Adam Cramer, the intruder, connives the townspeople to revolt against the court-ordered integration telling them such a legal act is not democratic. Cramer is also against freedom of the press. A local editor with a teen daughter who attends the newly-integrated school, is not personally for integration but he supports it because "it's a law." Cramer opposes him while making sexual advances to the editor's teen daughter.

Cramer warns the White townspeople against the NAACP. He tells them it's associated with Communists and Jews. When he speaks in public, his body language is reminiscent of a Mussolini or Hitler. He will incite the crowd to some KKK mob violence that leads to a fatal Black church bombing. Keep in mind this movie came out in 1962. In 1963, there would be the racist bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four little girls -- a racist American crime that would make international headlines.


 Director Roger Corman realized that bigotry, as he Rodgers & Hammerstein song in SOUTH PACIFIC lyrically states, "...has to be CAREFULLY TAUGHT." There's a scene in which an innocent Black student has been accused of raping a blonde girl who also attends his school. A crowd with a lynch mob mentality, headed by Doug Cramer, corners him on a playground. Notice that there are youngsters in that threatening crowd.


Thank you for THE INTRUDER, Roger Corman. Today, your 1961 deserves attention and discussion. It is still a relevant, intelligent piece of work with fine performances.

THE INTRUDER is on DVD. You can also see it on YouTube. The film runs about 85 minutes. Here's a clip.



Thursday, February 25, 2021

Hit the Road with THE INDEPENDENTS

 This new indie feature is a musical drama with many moments of levity. It's called THE INDEPENDENTS and it's a charmer, a well-written and well-played winner. It's musical but not a big production Oscar-nominated musical like DREAMGIRLS, CHICAGO, MOULIN ROUGE! or LES MISERABLES. It's a scaled down musical like HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and the wonderful ONCE. THE INDEPENDENTS, written and directed by actor Greg Naughton, boasts about a dozen songs presented in a realistic way -- like while recording demo tapes or singing in clubs. This is basically a road movie and like most good road movies from the 1941 Preston Sturges classic, SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS to the Martin Brest 1988 comedy/action caper, MIDNIGHT RUN, road movies show that often the best friends you could ever hope to find are those you meet on your journey. THE INDEPENDENTS is no exception.


 Rich is in his modest New York City apartment, half naked, playing his guitar and singing a song he's written. It's a gentle, James Taylor-esque song. Nonetheless, the old lady pounds on the floor upstairs for him to stop. Rich is an English professor at a local college. That's his day job. But his heart is really in music. His mother calls to remind him "You're not a kid anymore." She doesn't support his musical dreams and firmly reminds him that he's close to getting his doctorate. Rich meets Greg, a sad-eyed and friendly neighbor who's heard and totally digs Rich's music that he hears coming out of his apartment. Greg is a musician too. He's invited into Rich's apartment. They play music together. They blend and instantly bond. Rich gets a booking to play at an Ohio folk music festival one weekend. It turns out that Greg wants to drive out to Ohio to see his estranged girlfriend. They hit the road in Greg's van. Greg says "Guys like us, we don't stop making music." Along the way, they pick up a long-haired, tight-lipped hitchhiker. At first, they're understandably nervous and regret their good deed. However, Brian the hitchhiker turns out to be a musician too and he likes their music. The three bond. All three want to head to the Ohio music festival with their good 3-part harmony. Brian reveals "I just gave up making friends and wound up playing the guitar." They seem to be driven by the hope that you're never too old to make your dreams come true.

Of course, their are emotional bumps along the way and an offer to play a set at a club in Los Angeles. The bumps are so major that Rich wonders if should've stayed in New York and just give in to being an English professor. All three musicians have some heartbreak they'd like to see in the rear view mirror get smaller and smaller as they go forward. Here's a trailer.


There's a funny Emerald City doorbell/THE WIZARD OF OZ moment when Rich and Brian arrive at the club in L.A. Screenwriter/director Greg Naughton plays sad-eyed Greg. Rich Price plays English professor Rich. Brian Chartrand plays hitchhiker Brian. Two Broadway musical veterans have non-musical bit roles in THE INDEPENDENTS. There's James Naughton (I LOVE MY WIFE and CITY OF ANGELS) as the ticket-writing cop and Broadway revival goddess Kelli O'Hara (SOUTH PACIFIC, THE PAJAMA GAME and THE KING AND I) as the estranged girlfriend. James Naughton is the father of THE INDEPENDENTS actor/director Greg Naughton. Kelli O'Hara is Greg's wife.

There's a sweet little tenderness to this musical. Some of us will be able to relate to the 3 musicians'
 heartaches and disappointments. I know I did. The films runs 1 hour and 35 minutes. THE INDEPENDENTS opens February 26th.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

My Hollywood Request for Black Actresses

Recently, I my sister and I gleefully laughed out loud, yet again, at the comedy brilliance of Judy Holliday in BORN YESTERDAY (1950). She won the Best Actress Oscar for playing the dumb blonde girlfriend of a bully racketeer boyfriend with dark political ambitions. When she realizes that he's limiting her personal freedoms like a fascist leader, she gets smart and makes her own personal declaration of independence.

What does that have to do with Black -- and Latina -- actresses? Let me take you for a short walk down Old Hollywood Lane. Claudette Colbert won the Best Actress Oscar for Frank Capra's screwball comedy, IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934). Diane Keaton won the Best Actress Oscar for Woody Allen's classic comedy, ANNIE HALL (1977). Mira Sorvino won her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the Woody Allen comedy, MIGHTY APHRODITE (1995). Dianne Wiest won both her Best Supporting Actress Oscars for Woody Allen comedies -- HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986) and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (1995). Barbra Streisand was very funny in the first half of the musical comedy, FUNNY GIRL (1968), and took home a Best Actress Academy Award for her work.  Enter Whoopi Goldberg.


 I can only think of one Black actress who got nominated and won an Oscar for a comedy performance. That is Whoopi Goldberg who got the second of her two Oscar nominations for the comedy/fantasy/murder mystery, GHOST (1990). She played the sometime con artist who truly possesses a psychic gift and is in contact with the spirit of a murdered husband. She redeems herself by helping his grief-stricken widow.

I worked with Whoopi for two years on-air. This was when she had a weekday morning radio show out of New York City that aired nationally. She brought me into the show to do entertainment reports -- mainly reviews of new films and recommendations of classic films. So, I would go to a radio studio in Manhattan and sit thigh-to-thigh next to and perform with a show biz icon. My favorite experiences during those fun years, 2006 to 2008, were when Whoopi pulled me aside and talked to me not as star to non-star, but as two Black people trying to keep employed in the entertainment industry. She revealed to me her huge disappointment that she could not get an audition for GHOST. She told me that the producers, the same team that gave us the comedy hit, AIRPLANE! (1980), had auditioned just about every other Black actresses with a Screen Actors Guild card, but would not okay her for an audition. And she had a Best Actress Oscar nomination to her credit for THE COLOR PURPLE (1985) plus her hit one-woman 1985 Broadway comedy show produced by Mike Nichols.  She then told me that when GHOST star, Patrick Swayze, got wind of this, he took action. He told the producers to let Whoopi audition or he was dropping out of the project. She auditioned, she got the role, she won her Oscar.

Let's look at some of the roles that got Black actresses Oscar nominations:

Hattie McDaniel (Oscar winner): Maid in GONE WITH THE WIND (1939),

Ethel Waters: Retired maid in PINKY (1949)

Juanita Moore: Maid in IMITATION OF LIFE (1959)

Cicely Tyson: Poor sharecropper's wife in SOUNDER (1972)

Diahann Carroll: Poor single working NYC mother and maid in CLAUDINE (1974)

Alfre Woodard: Maid in CROSS CREEK (1984)

Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey: Worked as maids in THE COLOR PURPLE (1985)

Halle Berry (Oscar winner): Poor single working mother in MONSTER'S BALL (2001)

Taraji P. Henson: Maid in THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (2008)

Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer (Oscar winner): Maids in THE HELP (2011).

Mary J. Blige: Poor sharecropper's wife in MUDBOUND (2017).


How I'd love to see a Black actress be offered and, later, be Oscar-nominated for a sophisticated comedy role like Dianne Wiest played in HANNAH AND HER SISTERS and BULLETS OVER BROADWAY or the fabulously energetic and glamorous one Rosalind Russell gave in 1958's AUNTIE MAME (Best Actress nominee). Or like Goldie Hawn -- Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for the 1969 comedy, CACTUS FLOWER, and Best Actress Oscar nominee for the 1980 comedy, PRIVATE BENJAMIN.

Rita Moreno said in a TCM interview that she had no good Hollywood offers for seven years after she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1961's musical drama, WEST SIDE STORY. Like many Oscar-nominated Black actresses, she had to turn to TV for steady employment. She also did Broadway work and won a Tony for her performance in the comedy, THE RITZ. She repeated her role in the 1976. Personally, I would've graced Rita Moreno with a second Oscar nomination for her daffy performance as the Puerto Rican singer and Broadway hopeful who has more ambition than talent. She works as a headliner in a deluxe gay bathhouse in New York City. Here's a clip of Rita as Googie Gomez singing for the boys in THE RITZ.


Hollywood, please start giving our Black and Latina actress some good, upscale comedy roles. Have you seen Leslie Jones in the female remake of GHOSTBUSTERS? She'll be in COMING TO AMERICA: 2. Did you see Kerry Washington as one of the funniest SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE guest hosts of 2013? Did you see Alfre Woodard exercise her comedy chops as the harried suburban L.A. wife trying to make the perfect Thanksgiving dinner in WHAT'S COOKING? (2000). Have you seen the TV sitcom performances of Yvette Nicole Brown on COMMUNITY, Tracee Ellis Ross and Jenifer Lewis on BLACK-ish? There's a lotta talent out there to consider for good film comedy roles.







Monday, February 22, 2021

Movie Dances for Washington's Birthday

 I'm a baby boomer. I grew up loving February 22nd. Why? Because it was George Washington's Birthday and that meant a day off from school. George Washington, our first American president and the man who, in his youth, replied "I cannot tell a lie" when asked if he chopped down a cherry tree. I lao loved Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12th. That too was a federal holiday which meant a day off from school. Today, those two days got lumped into one which we now call Presidents Day, a federal holiday. I don't like it. I wish we still honored those two presidents individually with two days off in February instead of one. How do you feel about it?   

In old Hollywood, Ray Bolger did a dance number with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. 1952's APRIL IN PARIS, a Warner Bros. musical co-starring Doris Day, had Bolger as a Washington, DC government office worker who will, of course, fall in love with the Doris Day character. Before that, however, he had time to swing out with the presidents.


 
Fred Astaire saluted Washington's Birthday with the "I Can't Tell a Lie" number in 1942's HOLIDAY INN, a Paramount musical full of old and new songs by Irving Berlin. Here's Astaire with Marjorie Reynolds. This is one of my favorite Fred Astaire dance numbers.


I hope you enjoyed this Washington's Birthday dance break. I wish we had the day off.



Sunday, February 21, 2021

About DA 5 BLOODS

 Lord, have mercy. What a riveting, excellent film. Another remarkable accomplishment from filmmaker Spike Lee. Currently on Netflix, DA 5 BLOODS focuses on four Black veterans of the Vietnam war who reunite in Vietnam to find the remains of their squad leader and to find a large suitcase full of buried gold bricks. The late squad leader is the fifth blood brother. That's the plot on the surface. The foundation of DA 5 BLOODS is a tale of love. The story is built on the love of those five African American men for each other regardless of their differences and how the years have changed them. They reunite at what had once been the site of military chaos and political turbulence. Now it's a deluxe hotel.


 "After you've been in a war, you understand it never really ends," one character says. We'll see the reality of this as the search for the gold puts the veterans back in a war again in Vietnam. There's a touch of Huston's THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948) with the Delroy Lindo character, a hard-edged, self-described "broken man" who voted for Trump and wears a red MAGA cap, as a modern-day Fred C. Dobbs as played by Humphrey Bogart. Let me say this right now -- if Delroy Lindo does not get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for DA 5 BLOODS. the Hollywood Academy has lost its damn mind. It's another memorable performance from Lindo. I felt he should've been a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee for 1999's THE CIDER HOUSE RULES. But, Michael Caine was also excellent in it and he was nominated in that category. Caine had won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986). However, he was not present at the awards because he was on location shooting what turned to be a major bomb of a movie. He's a beloved figure in Hollywood. He was present to accept his Oscar for THE CIDER HOUSE RULES and was moved to tears at the standing ovation he received. Caine was the sentimental favorite.

Lindo's "broken man" is fascinating to watch. He's a mixture of strength and fragility, an intimidating figure whose locked in emotions have frayed his relationship with his loving, grown son, The son journeys to Vietnam to see that his father is okay. He will see that his father's lust for the gold is -- to use a line from 1957's THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI that is used in DA 5 BLOODS -- "Madness. Madness." His father and his father's friend has survived a controversial war, a war that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr criticized in an April 4th, 1967 sermon at Riverside Church in New York City. Many African American men were drafted into a war they didn't believe in and drafted to fight for their country at a time when Black Americans were still fighting for their civil rights.

DA 5 BLOODS stars Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Broadway's Norm Lewis and the late Chadwick Boseman as the 5 blood brothers. Boseman stars as the squad leader killed in battle and is seen in flashbacks. Jonathan Majors, seen in the HBO series LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, stars as the son. Majors has arms that look like they were sculpted by Da Vinci.


 DA 5 BLOODS runs 2 hours and 35 minutes. I did not feel long to me. There's plenty of emotional and physical action. Spike Lee delivered one of the best films of 2020.



Saturday, February 20, 2021

For Benicio Del Toro Fans

 I saw this movie at a screening in New York City. I was at the screening because I'd be reviewing the movie on the live weekday morning national radio show Whoopi Goldberg had at the time. (Yes. One of the most memorable yet surreal points of my career was the two years I went to work and sat right next to an Oscar-winning show biz icon so we could both perform on-air.) The 2007 film was THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (AFTER THE WEDDING and HBO's THE UNDOING starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant). I felt THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE had Halle Berry's best performance following her historic Best Actress Oscar win for MONSTER'S BALL (2001). For us Benicio Del Toro fans at the screening, we felt he was in top form in Bier's film. However, a huge number of moviegoers missed this movie. Ironically, the weekend it opened nationally, Southern California was being devastated by massive wildfire. In the Los Angeles area, a major market for movies, regular programming was interrupted for live coverage of the fire. It was also a lead story in the network newscasts. Instead of going to the movies, folks in some sections of Southern California were being told to evacuate. So I want to remind Benicio Del Toro fans of this film right now.

Director Susanne Bier deals with families experiencing a sudden emotional collapse due to dramatic events. THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE deal with grief, recovery, love and forgiveness. Halle Berry and David Duchovny play a happily married couple with two kids. The husband has a generous, giving and compassionate heart. His longtime friend, Jerry, is a recovering drug addict. The husband was a great help to Jerry when others would have discarded him from their lives. Audrey, his wife (Berry) is one such person who would've discarded Jerry. The husband dies being a Good Samaritan. Jerry attends the funeral.



Click onto the link and watch the short theatrical trailer for the film:


I read a couple of reviews by local, not widely-known critics who didn't think the married couple resembled a typical family. My sense was that the criticism was based in the couple being interracial. In 2007, while promoting the film, Halle Berry called the marriage "the American family of the 21st Century." Look at TV commercials today. Notice how many interracial married couples we see in some of them. Halle Berry was right.

There are times when THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE may seem like an above average made-for-TV movie, but stay with it. There's nothing pompous as Susanne Bier's direction. It keeps a middle-class sensibility about it. As for Halle Berry, she's very good in this, landing the kind of role that does not usually go to Black actresses. She's not a maid, she's not a housekeeper, she's not a financially-struggling single working mother living in an under-served community, she's not a poor sharecropper's wife. She's a suburban mother trying to work through grief and other complicated emotions while forming a new life after her sudden loss. I think you'll appreciate the heartfelt performances. Especially Del Toro's.

You can stream it on YouTube and Amazon Prime.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Starring Ruby Dee

 "How do you feel when you sell a man?" That's a line from a movie starring the late, great Broadway, film and TV actress, Ruby Dee. The movie is an intense racial/political drama called UPTIGHT, a remake of a classic John Ford film from 1930s Hollywood. It's also one of those rare pre-1970s film distributed by a major Hollywood studio that lists a Black woman in its screenplay credits at the open of the movie. Ruby Dee not only acted in UPTIGHT, she was one of its screenwriters. If you subscribe to Criterion Channel, you can watch this rarely-seen film now as part of the "Starring Ruby Dee" series.


 Dee doesn't have a large role in UPTIGHT. But, when she's on, she sets the screen on fire. Her performance makes you want to shout "Shame on you, Hollywood! Shame on you for not giving her the lead role opportunities you gave White actresses." Dee had sizeable movie roles in THE JACKIE ROBINSON STORY and the Joseph L. Mankiewicz 20th Century Fox drama NO WAY OUT, both released in 1950. NO WAY OUT starred Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier. Ruby Dee and Sidney Poitier played husband and wife in the original Broadway cast of Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking play, A RAISIN IN THE SUN. They repeated their roles in the 1961 film adaptation. The original Broadway cast appeared in the film and the screenplay for that Columbia Pictures release was written by Lorraine Hansberry. That onscreen credit was a first for a Black woman. Look at Dee's film performance in A RAISIN IN THE SUN. It was worthy of a Best Actress Oscar nomination -- but didn't get one. Ruby Dee got her one and only Oscar nomination for 2007's AMERICAN GANGSTER. I've written several times about the fact that actresses of color such as Rita Moreno, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Alfre Woodard and Angela Bassett down to Best Actress Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe (2009's PRECIOUS) achieved one Oscar nomination and then had to turn to TV for steady employment. After the Oscar nomination, Hollywood had no opportunities for them. However, White actresses such as Ann-Margret, Cher, Julia Roberts, Marisa Tomei and Jennifer Lawrence got one Oscar nomination and, afterwards, were pitched so many good script offers that they went on to get another Oscar nomination. Log onto IMDb.com and check out Ruby Dee's extensive filmography. Notice how much of her work was on television. But she came along at a time when Hollywood studios were still timid and discriminatory when it came to Black actresses                                                 

Think of how many times you saw Black woman in Hollywood films as maids and housekeepers. Then along comes Martin Ritt's classic modern-day western, HUD starring Paul Newman and Patricia Neal. Neal won a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar for playing the earthy housekeeper in HUD. However, in the novel written by Larry McMurtry that's the basis for HUD, the housekeeper was a Black woman. Just imagine if Ruby Dee had a shot at that role.

 About UPTIGHT...it's a 1968 remake of John Ford's 1935 drama, THE INFORMER. In it, an Irish rebel in 1922 squeals on his friend and then becomes hunted himself by other Irish rebels. It won Oscars for Best Actor (Victor McLaglen), Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Music Score.


 UPTIGHT was directed by Jules Dassin. Dassin was Jewish and grew up in Harlem and the Bronx. For Hollywood, he directed the entertaining WW2 fantasy/comedy, THE CANTERVILLE GHOST starring Charles Laughton, BRUTE FORCE starring Burt Lancaster, THE NAKED CITY and THIEVES' HIGHWAY. He directed the classic French crime caper, 1955's RIFIFI. When I was a youngster, Dassin was very popular because his foreign comedy, NEVER ON SUNDAY, had charmed American moviegoers. It's a Pygmalion comedy about a popular Greek hooker with a heart of gold. Dassin starred in it opposite his second wife, Greek actress and activist, Melina Mercouri. The performance brought her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress and him a nomination for Best Director.

UPTIGHT opens with footage of the Atlanta funeral procession for the assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King. In Cleveland, a group of Black activists is angry that Dr. King's principle of non-violent protest seemed to be ineffectual. He'd been shot and killed. So had civil rights activist Medgar Evers and others. They feel the movement needs to be more muscular, more aggressive. One of the group's rebels, Johnny Wells, is sought by the cops. Johnny's friend, Tank, drinks too much. He's unemployed. He cannot take care of the kids he had with his girlfriend, Laurie (played by Ruby Dee.) His sister is angry at him for not being more focused on the revolution. Julian Mayfield plays Tank. We can see the pools of pain in his eyes and feel the dissonance in his soul. He will become an informer for money from White cops.


This film was pretty revolutionary in itself. It has two straight Black male friends verbally professing their love for each other. It has an openly gay male Black character who is a key figure. He's not a stereotyped gay character that we can laugh at. He adds a racial/political gravity to the action. Roscoe Lee Browne is a standout as that gay character.  


The under-appreciated Janet MacLachlan stars as Tank's sister. The cast includes Raymond St. Jacques and Frank Silvera. There's a solid supporting performance from another Black actress who got one Oscar nomination. Juanita Moore, Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for her memorable work as the troubled Black mother in IMITATION OF LIFE (1959), stars as the mother of rebel activist, Johnny Wells. Like Ruby, she is excellent in a small role.

There's good cinematography and smart direction from Jules Dassin who co-wrote the screenplay with Ruby Dee. Dee and her husband, Ossie Davis, knew Dr. King. They attended his historic 1963 March on Washington. This 1968 Paramount Pictures movie was released during the racially turbulent 1960s. In that decade, civil rights activists Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King were shot and killed. We'd learn of the racist bombing murders for four little Black girls in church in Birmingham, Alabama. In 1969, Black Panther Fred Hampton would be shot and killed while unarmed and in bed. I'm sure all that gave UPTIGHT an extra racial/political urgency when it hit movie theaters. Check out the "Starring Ruby Dee" series now on Criterion Channel.


 

 

Thursday, February 18, 2021

On NOMADLAND

 Back in 2017, I heard reputable veteran film critics on the KPCC Friday edition of AirTalk hosted by Larry Mantle praised a new indie film called THE RIDER. This was during the radio show's hour called FilmWeek. Based on their recommendations, I watched THE RIDER, a very American tale written and directed by Chloé Zhao. The film is about a new definition of masculinity that takes place in Heartland America. A young cowboy suffers a serious head injury while riding. During recovery and afterwards, he has to redefine what masculinity is within himself. The film moved me so that I watched it and then watched it again the next day. In NOMADLAND, writer/director Zhao gives us another American character whose life is in need of redefinition. This character, Fern, is beautifully played by 2-time Best Actress Oscar winner, Frances McDormand.


 
Fern, a widow who deeply loved her husband, finds her small town, pleasant life suddenly upended. She worked for the main company in town. The company goes out of business during the Recession leaving all employees out of work. The town goes broke to such an extent that it loses its zip code. Fern takes to living in a van and traveling the western part of the country. There are great vistas of mountains and fields and deserts. Fern is a whiz. She's self-sufficient, she used to tutor schoolkids, and she's got skills that get her hired for a time at Amazon. As she says to one former student she runs into while shopping, "I'm not homeless, I'm just house-less." She is a nomad. And, along the road, she meets other nomads and hears their stories as they bond. To be suddenly out of work and forced to part with many longtime belongings before hitting the road in search of new employment is a story familiar to many of us within the last 10 years. It's familiar to me. It happened to me 10 years ago. I lost my once-affordable studio apartment in New York. I moved in with a friend in San Francisco and sought employment there. No luck. Then I went to the Sacramento area, back to New York City for a while, then to Connecticut, New Jersey and back to New York City for a few weeks where I got work as a dogwalker. I lived with different friends and a relative.

On the road, without the attention grabbers like the internet, television and such, Fern can hear her innermost thoughts, she can allow true feelings to surface and give voice to them. McDormand does not have the amount of dialogue she had in films such as MISSISSIPPI BURNING, FARGO, ALMOST FAMOUS and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Nevertheless, she expresses a great deal with the tone of her voice, her body posture and, especially, her eyes. You catch her various emotions and she changes along her new road in life. Just like THE RIDER, this is a quiet yet strong film, full of grace and a certain reverence for its lead character. There are middle-aged people in this film who made their acting debuts as nomads and they are excellent. There's also the fine actor David Strathairn as a nomad who becomes romantically taken with Fern's independent spirit. Here's a trailer.


NOMADLAND introduces us to working class people who believed in the American Dream, a dream that didn't quite come true. So they persevered and moved on, helping each other along the way. Watching Fern go west and encounter hardship, friendship, and new feelings in family ties make this a very worth-while road movie to see. Brava to writer/director Chloé Zhao. She did a great job.. NOMADLAND is a Fox Searchlight film.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Happy Birthday, Lou Diamond Phillips

 In my TV career, I've been lucky enough to have two on-camera experiences with actor Lou Diamond Phillips. Both experiences, which were TV interviews, left me smiling for hours afterwards. He was as charming as he is talented --- and he's extremely talented. If you've followed his film and TV and Broadway performances over the years, you know that he consistently gets to the truth of a character. As an actor, he never disappoints. I interviewed Lou for the first time during my years as a VH1 veejay and talk show host. He was a guest on my talk show to promote his movie, LA BAMBA. The 1987 hit film was a 1950s rock music biopic about Ritchie Valens. Not only was it a good movie, there was great diversity in the cast. You had an actor of color in the lead role and you had Latino actors playing the relatives of the Latino rock star. Also there was Chicano director, Luis Valdez. The movie, anchored by Lou's excellent performance, put Lou on the movie industry map.


 After the interview, before he left our VH1 studio, he surprised me with a thank-you hug and a kiss.


 Following LA BAMBA, I was never disappointed spending money to see him onscreen in STAND AND DELIVER, YOUNG GUNS, COURAGE UNDER FIRE and on Broadway in a revival of the classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, THE KING AND I. 

The next opportunity I had to interview him was when he was promoting THE 33, one of my favorite films of 2015. Directed by Patricia Riggen, it's the tale of the 33 men in Chile who were trapped for 69 days way down in the earth when a mine collapsed. They were mine workers. I watched their miraculous rescue when it was covered live on CNN. Lou played one of the trapper workers, a strong man with a personality and intellect to match. I love his work in this film.

In honor of his birthday, here's that interview I did with Lou Diamond Phillips.


Again, I'm smiling. Here's a clip from THE 33 featuring Lou Diamond Phillips.


Thanks for the solid performances, Lou.






Monday, February 15, 2021

Big Fun with BRIDGERTON

 Millions of Netflix viewers were dazzled by BRIDGERTON, the scandalous and sophisticated new TV series from successful executive producer, Shonda Rhimes (GREY'S ANATOMY, SCANDAL and HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER). The Netflix series takes place in the horse-and-carriage days of London. I watched the first two episodes of the 8-episode Season 1. Well, I too was dazzled. From the opening narration by Julie Andrews, to the saucy scripts, the sets, the racially diverse cast and the costumes. BRIDGERTON is big fun. 

The first episode, as the voice of Julie Andrews tells us, is about the "upcoming social season." This is like an American debutante ball with the purpose of attracting a future husband with a good standing in society. The eight Bridgerton girls are placed on display like prized cows at auction. As the girls prepare for a presentation, one bellows out to her sister "Daphne, you must make haste!" Daphne is an independent spirit. She's poised and proper, yet not above punching out some society lout who tries to grope her. When she's presented to the Queen, the Queen remarks "Flawless, my dear." That compliment gets Daphne in London's top gossip column and makes her the "It" girl of eager suitors. None really interests her. But, there's the handsome Duke of Hastings, a seeming ne'er do well named Simon Bassett. He's got some history. He's also got some looks. He's played by the extremely handsome, sexy and talented Regé-Jean Page. He and Daphne will bicker and bond.


The popularity Regé-Jean Page has acquired from BRIDGERTON has been a boost to his career. His name is now being tossed around to be the new James Bond. On February 20th, he'll be the guest host on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.

Phoebe Dynevor is perfectly cast as Daphne, the young lady who wants to find love on her own terms. If you're a fan of classic films, notice that in hair and costumes. Dynevor is styled like Audrey Hepburn in Hollywood's 1956 version of WAR AND PEACE.
 

BRIDGERTON is based on novels by Julia Quinn, One knockout performance comes from the openly gay, Black actress Golda Rosheuvel. As the Queen, she can steal a scene with just the arch of an eyebrow. She is sensational.


Episode 2 is more serious and strong. One Black titled character engages in discrimination based on social status and physical challenge. I will definitely be watching more episodes.



Sunday, February 14, 2021

Happy Valentine's Day Music

 This year, Cupid is wearing a face mask. Love during a pandemic. That's Valentine's Day 2021 for you. But the great thing is -- love still endures. Maybe we can't go outside because of freezing temperatures. Maybe we can't kiss with the carefree abandon we had a couple of years ago at this time, but we can still show and give love. Ain't that grand?

To add a little brightness to the background of your Valentine's Day activities, here's some music for you. First up is Lena Horne from her 1950s Waldorf Astoria nightclub engagement. She's swingin' the tune "I Love to Love."


It's one of my favorite films of the 1980s. From THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS (1989), Michelle Pfeiffer sings the classic "My Funny Valentine."

From the 1942 musical, HOLIDAY INN, with a bunch of songs all written by Irving Berlin, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds dance to "Be Careful, It's My Heart" sung by Bing Crosby.

Here's the great jazz vocalist, Carmen McRae, singing "Isn't It Romantic?"

And finally...a number from Disney LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955). Singer Peggy Lee got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her dramatic performance as an alcoholic 1920s band singer in PETE KELLY'S BLUES (1955). She should've also gotten a Best Song Oscar nomination for co-writing this lovely tune for LADY AND THE TRAMP, "Bella Notte."

I hope you have some romance in your life. I had some years ago -- and it was wonderful. Happy Valentine's Day. 

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Monday, February 8, 2021

Queen Latifah is THE EQUALIZER

A popular 1980s CBS series starring British actor Edward Woodward that inspired two movie versions starring Denzel Washington, THE EQUALIZER has been rebooted for CBS. This time, the Equalizer is being played by a woman -- Queen Latifah. I read a review of the premiere episode in The Hollywood Reporter. The critic pretty much concentrated on the script which he/she found average and felt the episode was entertaining but gave us nothing new. I have a different opinion. First of all, Queen Latifah is that rare Black actress who received an Oscar nomination and then didn't have to go to TV for steady employment because Hollywood offered no follow-up scripts. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Taraji P. Henson, Gabourey Sidibe and even Viola Davis had to turn to television when Hollywood disappointed them after they achieved an Oscar nomination. Except for Viola Davis, all those other Black actresses have only one Oscar nomination to their credit. White actresses like Julia Roberts, Amy Adams, Michelle Williams and Jennifer Lawrence had their choice of script offers after receiving their first Oscar nomination and went on to get other Oscar nominations. Queen Latifah was a Best Supporting Actress nominee for the musical CHICAGO (2002). After that, she starred on the big screen in BEAUTY SHOP (2005) and LAST HOLIDAY (2006) which is a remake of a classic 1950 British film of the same name with Latifah portraying the lead character previously done by Alec Guinness. She was very good in the under-seen comedy/drama STRANGER THAN FICTION (2006) with Will Ferrell and she played Motormouth Maybelle in the musical HAIRSPRAY (2007). Now she stars in a crime/action TV series.


In the genre of action/heroine features, few Black women have gotten those lead roles. Queen Latifah has such a lead role. She's Robyn McCall, an Army veteran who served in the Middle East and then worked for the CIA. She left that organization after something went wrong on a mission in Venezuela. She's still valued by the CIA. Today she's a single and unemployed mom with a teen daughter. Robyn is contacted secretly to do some Equalizer work. Robyn's motto will be: Got a problem? Odds against you? I can help. In the premiere episode, she helps a young Black woman who witnessed a murder dodge the clutches of the bad guys. There is a touch of the NCIS franchise in this reboot, but you are getting something vastly different with a single Black mother who's a war vet in the lead role. She doesn't have a British demeanor and accent like Edward Woodward. She's more vulnerable than the constantly stoic Denzel Washington. There's a fine scene near the end in which Robyn and her daughter, a smart kid who did something highly irresponsible, are seated in car outside a women's detention center. Robyn explains to her daughter why she got into the army and why young Black women don't really have the luxury to be irresponsible in America. She points to the detention center. It's a strong and meaningful scene. Since her Oscar nomination, Queen Latifah's acting has grown richer. As Robyn McCall, our new Equalizer, there's something complicated behind her eyes. There is the Latifah swagger in the action scenes. There's a;so complexity in her dealings with her daughter. The movies I mentioned in the first paragraph that Latifah did after CHICAGO are all comedies. The dramatic premiere episode of THE EQUALIZER had her in fine form and doing some of her best acting. She's also one of the executive producers for the series.


 Give it a look. THE EQUALIZER will air Sunday nights at 8p on CBS.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Happy Super Bowl Sunday

 It's like the Oscars for straight guys. Today is Super Bowl Sunday. By the way, whenever my hetero buddies complain about the length of the Oscars telecast, I always remind them about the Super Bowl game and the pre-game shows. One year on a Super Bowl Sunday, I flew from New York to Minneapolis to visit my sister. The game was on when I arrived at the airport for my departing flight. When I arrived in Minneapolis and got into my sister's apartment, the game was still on. So, don't complain about the Oscars. For the gay community, that awards show is OUR Super Bowl.

For movie entertainment before the big game, there are some movies that are ripe for watching today. There's 1932's HORSE FEATHERS starring the Marx Brothers in a football game...


 ...there's the 1940 biopic, KNUTE ROCKNE, ALL AMERICAN with Pat O'Brien as the famed football coach, there's 1974's THE LONGEST YARD with Burt Reynolds in a prison football game and there's 1979's NORTH DALLAS FORTY starring Nick Nolte in one of his best comedy/drama roles as the veteran,  non-conformist NFL star. Add to them the 1982 musical comedy THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS starring Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton. Parton stars as Miss Mona, the sweet and shapely lady who runs a...business...that's very popular with local football players in need of hormonal recreation. 1986's WILDCATS stars Goldie Hawn as a high school football coach in the Chicago area. Woody Harrelson's film debut. Screen newcomer Wesley Snipes is in it too. Hawn was a producer of this comedy, Notice, in the speaking roles, that there is way more racial diversity among the actors than we saw in the John Hughes teen comedies also set in the Chicago area during the 1980s. The Hughes teen comedies were predominantly Caucasian. Then there's the inspirational sports drama REMEMBER THE TITANS, a 2000 release with Denzel Washington as a high school football coach.


 But, for me, required viewing every Super Bowl Sunday is a Debbie Reynolds musical number in 1953's I LOVE MELVIN. It's been noted that Debbie was one of the few women in film who danced with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Bob Fosse. Debbie Reynolds was the only woman in film to use an Oscar as a nutcracker in movie -- 1954's SUSAN SLEPT HERE. Well, she was also the only woman to dance in a musical number as a football. Here she is in the "Saturday Afternoon Before the Game" number from I LOVE MELVIN.

Enjoy your Sunday Bowl Sunday. Save me some Buffalo wings.


Saturday, February 6, 2021

On JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

 Lord, what a bold and muscular movie. I am so glad it's being released during this Black History Month. There is Black history and Black tragedy in this late 1960s story that takes us to the life and assassination of community activist and Illinois Black Panther Party chairman, Fred Hampton. He was shot and killed in 1969 at age 21 on Chicago's West Side. This was the same decade in which Black civil rights activists Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King were also shot and killed. The film is JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, directed with a strong 1970s style by Shaka King. London-born actor Daniel Kaluuya is the British son of Ugandan parents. He was a Best Actor Oscar nominee for the 2017 horror film from Jordan Peele, GET OUT. I was absolutely amazed at the performance from Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton. It's a thing of power and beauty.


 In a way, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH, could be a companion piece to GET OUT. In the Jordan Peele socio/horror film, Kaluuya plays the young man determined to hold on to his Blackness and not have it stolen and overpowered by White America. LaKeith Stanfield played the Black man obviously bewitched by White society and favoring it over Black identity and Black bonding. That is, until the flash of a camera pointed at him breaks the spell. Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are the two main figures in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH. Kaluuya, as I mentioned, plays Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton, a man who became a strong, powerful voice of change in Chicago's Black community. LaKeith Stanfield plays Bill O'Neal, the Black FBI informant who worked with White FBI agents and helped bring about the assassination of Hampton. The real O'Neal is seen in TV documentary interview footage at the beginning of the movie. 


You almost ache at the unignorable relevance this film about a 1960s incident has to our modern times in America -- especially the times we endured with previous White House administration. It's very much a "Black Lives Matter" story. The Black Panthers want to get meals to underprivileged Black children in homes that can't always afford three meals a day. The organization is demonized by White political factions. Unarmed Black men are shot multiple times and killed by police. This look at 20th century history is a reflection of our current 21st century racial history. 

Director Shaka King delivers a memorable film that's not always easy to watch. The final shoot-out with Chicago cops opening relentless gunfire on the building in which Fred Hampton lies in bed unarmed and the aftermath of the shoot-out made me gasp. Also in the building with Hampton was his very pregnant girlfriend. And there's the real-life FBI informant/Judas seen in documentary interview footage at the beginning and the end. LaKeith Stanfield hits the right tone as the man at emotional odds with his own Blackness. The excellent Jesse Plemons (OTHER PEOPLE and THE POST) stars as the FBI agent who bewitches O'Neal into betraying one of his own kind. If JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH brings Daniel Kaluuya another Oscar nomination for Best Actor, I will not be surprised.

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH opens February 12th/



Friday, February 5, 2021

Mama Corleone was King

I was on Twitter today and saw that someone had posted a photo from 1972's THE GODFATHER. In the photo was Mama Corleone. 

A popular singer had an acting role in the movie. He was Al Martino. He played Johnny Fontane. Back in the early 70s, radio was a top source of entertainment. Singers got plenty of airplay and Martino was one of those singers. Did you ever see the 1964 Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland thriller called HUSH...HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE? In those closing credits, Martino sings the title tune.

Then was another singer in THE GODFATHER. A sensational jazz singer. My parents had her records and I grew up listening to her sublime vocals. The singer was the late Morgana King. She played Mama Corleone. To give your ears a treat, here's one of the album cuts I heard many times in our house when I was a kid. Morgana King sings the theme to another movie -- 1961's A TASTE OF HONEY.


I hope you enjoyed it. Here's another one. A Cole Porter classic. "It's De-Lovely."






Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Movies You May Have Missed 3

 Here's another quartet of good movies you may have missed when they were in theatrical release. My first recommendation comes as it's now Black History Month. The film marked the directorial debut of Ryan Coogler, an African American director, and boasts a predominantly Black cast. It's based on a true story, a story that I saw covered in TV newscasts. From 2013, the film is FRUITVALE STATION. The title is a mass transit train stop in the Bay Area of northern California. It's an Oakland/San Francisco stop. I was living in San Francisco when the movie opened. I had an urge to see it after reading a promotional poster for it in a cineplex lobby. The poster was filled with rave reviews from prestigious film critics. My first thought was, "Wow. Those are reviews that lead to Oscar nominations." FRUITVALE STATION was honored and the cast received a tremendous ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. However, when Oscar nominations were revealed, there was no mention of FRUITVALE STATION. Not a single nomination. This was an oversight that eventually led to the "Oscars So White" social media hashtag and controversy about the Oscars' lack of racial diversity in the top categories. FRUITVALE STATION stars the gifted Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. She was a Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for 2011's THE HELP. FRUITVALE STATION should've brought Spencer her second nomination. Michael B. Jordan is excellent.

Jordan and Spencer play son and mother. Jordan plays Oscar Grant, a Black man in his early 20s, had done time in prison. Now out, he wants to be a responsible citizen, son and parent to his child. The essential thing we need to know about his character is translated in the opening scene. Notice how he treats a dog. In flashbacks, we see his life and his tragic death. An unarmed Oscar Grant was shot to death by a transit cop while Grant and his girlfriend, the mother of his child, were on their way to a New Year's Eve celebration. Director/screenwriter Ryan Coogler tells the story with grace and subtlety. His is an outstanding directorial debut. Here's a clip.


I saw FRUITVALE STATION one weekday afternoon in San Francisco. Shortly before the feature started, about five young White women entered and sat in the row right in front of me. They looked to be giggly 20-somethings and I considered moving to a different row to be away from their chattiness. Not only were they quiet and respectful during the movie, they and I were in tears at the end of it. Director Ryan Coogler went on to make 2018's BLACK PANTHER which was such an international box office blockbuster that the Academy could not ignore it. His Afro-centric action/fantasy hit was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture. FRUITVALE STATION, a 90-minute feature, is currently on Netflix.


 He may not be a major movie star like a Tom Hanks or Meryl Streep, but actor James Cromwell definitely has lots of fans. I love the tall, lean, versatile actor in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, THE GREEN MILE, THE ARTIST, THE QUEEN and, of course, BABE, the adorable pig story that brought him an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. James Cromwell hit a major home-run in a good, little-seen indie drama of 2012. I saw this one with a Black buddy of mine, both of us middle-aged, and we were awed at how good Cromwell and co-star Genevieve Bujold were. Bujold was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for playing the doomed Anne Boleyn in the historical epic, 1969's ANNE OF A THOUSAND DAYS. Cromwell plays a farmer in STILL MINE who fights back when local corporate-minded authorities block his efforts to build a cottage for him and his longtime wife who's been diagnosed with oncoming dementia. Ultimately, STILL MINE is a love story. Here's a trailer.

STILL MINE is a must-see for James Cromwell fans. It's available to watch for free on IMDb TV.


Mike Sargent, co-president of the Black Film Critics Circle, had me on his film review TV show back in 2014 and we both raved about a new film from Great Britain. We were stunned that it was based on a true political story during the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher years that we never heard about here in the U.S. This was another very good but little-seen movie. PRIDE stars Imelda Staunton, Bill Nighy, Paddy Considine and Dominic West. The film focuses on a group of gay and lesbian activists that raises money to help the families hit hard financially by the British miners strike of 1984. This would become a major campaign. Heterosexual miners were forced to changed their attitudes towards gays and some gays had to change their attitudes about the tolerance of straight people. PRIDE is a good, surprising, entertaining film. Here''s a trailer.

PRIDE is available to stream on Amazon Pride video.

If you're in the mood for a somewhat naughty, socially impolite comedy, I've got a recommendation. This is another film Mike Sargent and I reviewed on his film review TV show. It's the first film directed by actor Jason Bateman. He stars in it, too, playing the kind of crusty character W.C. Fields would've played in a 1930s comedy. The movie is called BAD WORDS and Bateman plays a 40-year old, often insufferable, man who finds a loophole in the rules for a prestigious regional spelling bee. He becomes a grown-up contestant in the field of schoolkids. On a plane, he encounters the outwardly friendly kid who will be his fierce competitor. Mike and I went into the screening of BAD WORDS expecting it to be a loud, kind o' crude comedy full of frat boy humor. We were surprised. There's a reason why the 40-year old wants to enter the spelling bee. Underneath all the naughty humor is a story about the power of words, how we use them and the impact our words have on others. Here's a trailer.


BAD WORDS is available to stream on Amazon Prime video. Enjoy the movies!







Monday, February 1, 2021

COMEDY FROM OSSIE DAVIS

 It's the first day of Black History Month and I've got some history about one of my favorite actors for you. He's the late, great Ossie Davis.  How I loved and appreciated his work in fine films such as Sidney Lumet's THE HILL (1965) and Otto Preminger's THE CARDINAL (1963). In that film, I was thrilled to see a representation of myself. I saw Preminger's movie when I was a kid -- a Black Catholic kid growing up in South Central Los Angeles. I saw Black priests in Sunday masses at church, but I never saw any on TV or in movies. Ossie Davis played a Black Catholic priest in THE CARDINAL.   


 I'm sure that millions of serious film lovers know him from the classic 1989 Spike Lee production, DO THE RIGHT THING. The Ossie Davis show biz history goes way back. In fact, he was not just an actor. He was also a director (1970's COTTON COMES TO HARLEM and 1973's GORDON'S WAR), a screenwriter and a playwright. His name was not included in the credits, but we see Ossie Davis play a relative to the Sidney Poitier hospital doctor character in the 20th Century Fox race drama, NO WAY OUT, a 1950 feature starring Poitier and Richard Widmark. With Ossie Davis in that drama, we see Ruby Dee. Ruby Dee was his wife and frequent acting partner. When Sidney Poitier finished his original cast run in the lead role of Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking Broadway play, 1959's A RAISIN IN THE SUN, also starring Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis succeeded him in the part.

 Davis wrote a Broadway comedy, a comment on the Civil Rights movement and what is was fighting for in the early 1960s. He starred in his play and his co-star leading lady was Ruby Dee. Ossie Davis played the robust, subversive and sexy preacher named PURLIE VICTORIOUS. The 1961 play was adapted into a 1963 film with most of the original Broadway cast recreating their roles.

The majority of film and TV roles that Ruby Dee got were dramatic. In PURLIE VICTORIOUS, we got to see her comedy skills -- and they were delicious. There's a touch of Judy Holliday whimsy in her portrayal of the sweet, guileless and lovable Lutiebelle Gussie Mae Jenkins. Lutiebelle catches the eye of Reverend Purlie when he returns to his hometown in Georgia.  Here's a photo of the Broadway cast getting a backstage visit from a real Civil Rights activist preacher -- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the back on the right side wearing black eye make-up is cast member Alan Alda.

I first saw the 1963 comedy film on local Channel 9 in Los Angeles. Back then, the station's call letters were KHJ-TV. Channel 9 had a Friday night movie show that highlighted independent and foreign films. One night it showed GONE ARE THE DAYS!, the alternate title for PURLIE VICTORIOUS. My dad was a brawny World war 2 veteran, a somewhat reserved man who was nowhere near as loquacious and animated as Mom. Dad watched GONE ARE THE DAYS! and howled with laughter so hard at the Godfrey Cambridge performance that tears rolled down his cheeks. I love that memory. 

Why GONE ARE THE DAYS! aka PURLIE VICTORIOUS has not been rediscovered, I have no idea. It stars two of the several Black actresses who got one Oscar nomination but should've received more. If only Hollywood had more good script opportunities for Black actresses after they received an Oscar nomination. In this Ossie Davis comedy, the two actresses are Ruby Dee (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for 2007's AMERICAN GANGSTER) and Beah Richards (Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for 1967's GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER).

To see GONE ARE THE DAYS!, the Ossie Davis work that broke my dad up with laughter, click onto this YouTube link: 👇

https://youtu.be/wj6dH82LXQE.


Ossie Davis' play was adapted into the hit 1970 Broadway musical comedy, PURLIE, starring Cleavon Little and Melba Moore. The performances made the two actors Tony winners. Ossie Davis wrote the book for PURLIE. Happy Black History Month.

On THE MITCHELLS vs THE MACHINES

 I've got a recommendation for you. Do you need some good-natured laughs? Do you like animation? Do you have a knowledge of films made b...