Saturday, August 28, 2021

About Donald O'Connor

 He fascinated me. He was a most under-appreciated triple threat Hollywood talent. He could sing, he could dance, he could act. Donald O'Connor was one terrific entertainer as a child, as a teen and as an adult. He shines in the 1938 Paramount musical comedy, SING YOUR SNNERS. It's about three brothers who are a popular singing trio. O'Connor was about 11 or 12 and there he is, giving you screen charisma as he keeps up with stars Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray as his siblings. I have loved Donald O'Connor movies ever since I was a kid in Los Angeles. When I was a boy in grade school, there was no such thing as VHS, DVD or cable TV. The local TV stations back then aired of lot of old movies. I'd get home from school and there would be a late afternoon movie on some station to lead into the local evening news. One station, Channel 13, had some of the 1940s Universal musicals starring Donald O'Connor and Peggy Ryan. Those two teen performers were sort of Universal's answer to MGM's Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland. Local ABC aired the Donald O'Connor FRANCIS movies of the 1950s.

Like millions of fellow classic film devotees, I love Donald O'Connor as Cosmo in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). He lights up the screen with his every appearance. His dancing is sensational.


I read the Rita Moreno memoir and her account of being in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN really gave me more insight into his film career. She was almost more in awe of Donald O'Connor than she was of the classically trained Gene Kelly. His 1940s musicals as a teen/young adult star for Universal were surely popular. However, the studio gave those movies nowhere near the budget it gave to its Deanna Durbin, Abbott & Costello or even its monster movies. They were given a minimal budget and look as though they were shot in five weeks with no more than two takes required of the actors. But, in all of those movies, you see Donald O'Connor bringing his A-game to a production with a B-movie budget.

In 1950, Universal put Donald O'Connor in another movie with a bargain basement budget. The comedy, FRANCIS, has him as an Army soldier who encounters a talking mule. Francis was the mule. The comedy cost about $622,000 to make. It made $3 million at the box office. And that's the under-appreciation of Donald O'Connor that Rita Moreno points out in her memoir. FRANCIS was such a hit for Universal that it was the first of a franchise concluding in 1955. Donald O'Connor would get a role in an A-list musical like 1952's SINGIN' IN THE RAIN or Fox's CALL ME MADAM (1953) starring Ethel Merman or Fox's THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS (1954) starring Ethel Merman, Marilyn Monroe and Mitzi Gaynor, and then he'd have to go to Universal to make another comedy with a talking mule. A modestly budgeted comedy that would make millions.

Universal never gave Donald O'Connor an A-list musical project like MGM, 20th Century Fox and Paramount did.

For SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, Gene Kelly was the choreographer. For the two Fox musicals O'Connor did with Ethel Merman, MGM veteran Robert Alton was the choreographer. Durinng Donald O'Connor's very long association with Universal, his choreographer was Louis Da Pron. If you see O'Connor's dance numbers in Universal's 1948 musical western called FEUDIN', FUSSIN' AND A-FIGHTIN', you'll recognize the Da Pron influence in O'Connor's "Make 'Em Laugh" SINGIN' IN THE RAIN number. In Universal's 1948 musical, ARE YOU WITH IT?, Lou Da Pron donned a bow tie, played a bartender and joined Donald O'Connor in this number.


If the hoofer wearing a hat looked familiar, he should. He's Lew Parker. On the classic hit sitcom, THAT GIRL (1966-1971), Marlo Thomas played Ann Marie, as aspiring actress in New York City. Lew Parker played Ann Marie's father.

After SINGIN' IN THE RAIN, Donald O'Connor made another MGM musical with Debbie Reynolds. She played an aspiring actress in New York City and he was a photographer for a top national magazine in 1953's I LOVE MELVIN. I love this number choreographed by Robert Alton.


Donald O'Connor's next film release in 1953 was Universal's FRANCIS COVERS THE BIG TOWN.









Thursday, August 26, 2021

By Johnny Mercer

 I wish I had the songwriting gift that Johnny Mercer had. Even if you didn't know it, you know a Johnny Mercer tune or two. He took more than one walk to the stage to accept an Oscar in the Best Song category. The lyricist was nominated for writing "Jeepers Creepers," "Blues in the Night," "That Old Black Magic" and "My Shining Hour" among others. He won his first Oscar for "On the Atchison, Topeka and the Sante Fe" introduced by Judy Garland in the 1946 musical western, THE HARVEY GIRLS. He won another for "In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening" from 1951's HERE COMES THE GROOM, a third for "Moon River" from 1961's BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S and his last one for "Days of Wine and Roses" from the 1962 film of the same name.


One of my all-time favorite songs is one that Mercer wrote for a 1942 musical comedy from Paramount Pictures. THE FLEET'S IN starred Dorothy Lamour and a young, fresh-faced William Holden. The song is "I Remember You." Here's lovely Lamour as she introduces it.

I have a very dear friend, a terrific jazz singer, named Paula West. Paula lives in San Francisco. One day, I was at her apartment while she was going through songbooks to select numbers for an upcoming show. She had a thick book of songs by Johnny Mercer. A song that is NOT in the book is the very popular "I Remember You."

Why? Well, the married Mr. Mercer fell in love with Judy Garland and their brief romance inspired the song. It crystallized his feelings for Judy. Mrs. Mercer excluded it from the book. Yep. She found out about the affair.

Another Paramount musical comedy to boost morale during World War II was 1944's HERE COME THE WAVES starring Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton. It brought Mercer a Best Song Oscar nomination for "Accentuate the Positive" introduced in the movie by Crosby. In blackface. Mercer cut a swingin' record of it himself. You hear that record with Mercer's totally cool vocal in the opening minutes of the movie L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.

There's another original Johnny Mercer tune in HERE COME THE WAVES that is pretty much obscure but, baby, it's a gem. The song is called "I Promise You" and it gets a velvety duet introduction from Bing Crosby and Betty Hutton in a highlight of the movie. 

When I first heard it, I thought "Wow. What a great song to do at a wedding or a wedding reception." I still feel that way. However, the actor part of me now thinks one could approach it with a different emotional core. Think of Mercer and Garland. You could sing it as one secretly vowing to still be devoted to the one you love -- even though the one you love is marrying someone else. Listen to Mercer's lyrics.


Johnny Mercer. What an extraordinary music man.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Short Note on ALIEN (1979)

 My all-time favorite action movie hero is Ripley, the character we first in the 1979 sci-fi horror thriller, ALIEN. The character played so terrifically by a then unknown actress named Sigourney Weaver.  As I write this, ALIEN is airing now on FXM Retro. That's the Fox classic movie channel that airs older movies commercial free in the daytime. I have seen this movie numerous times. I saw it with my brother the day it opened nationwide. We were in Milwaukee at the time. We're both L.A. kids. We both graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee. I had begun my first professional TV job -- working as a weekly film reviewer and entertainment contributor on the city's ABC affiliate, WISN TV. Like, I'm sure, millions of other moviegoers, we knew really nothing about the movie, but we were intrigued by the imaginative promotional poster showing a giant egg in space, cracked and emitting an eerie light. There was the sentence, "In space no one can hear you scream."


My brother and I sat in that early afternoon movie audience. ALIEN just about scared the black off us. In the dinner scenem when the baby creature bursts out of Kane's torso, my shocked brother and I looked at each other and said, "Damn! He was an egg!"

I paid to see ALIEN again and again during its theatrical release. I watched it countless times on VHS and DVD rentals. Here's my note for you fellow ALIEN fans. In all times I've seen this classic, I saw something today in the first five minutes of the film that I'd never noticed before. The crew is waking up in their sleep pods. Two pods are open. Kane is in one. Next to him is Ash. The pods are open as the two crew members still lie flat with their eyes closed. We see that bare-chested Kane is obviously inhaling and exhaling. Now look at Ash's torso. No visible signs of breathing at all. And we will discover why.

Brilliant.

This year, in these pandemic times, special screenings of ALIEN should be held in states like Florida and Texas. In the first 40 minutes, when Dallas and Kane leave the ship on an exploratory mission, a facehugger pops out of a large alien egg and attaches itself to Kane's face. Dallas wants to take Kane back into the ship. He radios Ripley, the officer in charge. Dallas wants her to open the hatch. Scientist Ripley is suspicious of the strange organism covering Kane's face. Dallas still wants her to open the hatch.

Ripley: Wait a minute. If we let it in, the ship could be infected. You know the quarntine procedure. Twenty-four hours for decontamination.


Was Ripley right? See ALIEN. Then see Ripley in 1986's ALIENS. Then think of U.S. governors wanting to penalize people for wearing masks and getting vaccinated.



Saturday, August 14, 2021

About THE KING AND I (1956)

Yul Brynner, who originated the role in the Rodgers & Hammerstein Broadway musical, took home the Best Actor Academy Award for his dynamic performance in the deluxe 20th Century Fox film adaption. The film brought the great Deborah Kerr one of her six Oscar nominations for Best Actress. THE KING AND I was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 1956. Here's a trailer for a classic musical that I have loved since my childhood in South Central Los Angeles:


I know this is an old Hollywood musical. But, if you look at 1956's THE KING AND I with a 2021 awareness -- in this age of despicable violence against Asian-Americans and our age of Black Lives Matter -- this musical still holds up. It has a contemporary relevance.

We know the basic story. A genteel widow with a little boy leaves Great Britain to become a governess and tutor, teaching English to the children and wives of a stubborn, macho king in Siam. Siam is now known as Thailand. She becomes a tutor to the king too. Unexpressed romantic feelings will develop. That's the basic story for the Rodgers & Hammerstein vehicle.

But wait. There's more -- when you look past the well-known show tunes. In 2021, this 1956 movie has an anti-slavery theme that rings significant to Black Lives Matter. The genteel Anna, played by Deborah Kerr, is also a steely feminist. She believes in gender equality and proves to be a match for the king, challenging his macho sexism. Anna will cause the king to bellow "You are very difficult woman!" The Siam action in THE KING AND I occurs while the Civil War wages on in America. The Asian royal is aware of President Abraham Lincoln. Anna tells him that she admires Lincoln "very much." She is against slavery and strives to make the king stop treating many of his subjects like slaves.  The king, owner of many books, reads the Bible and questions one miraculous point. Anna reminds him that the Bible "...was not written by men of science, but by men of faith." She sees the potential in this larger-than-life, intelligent royal to do the right thing and become a better king.

An entertainment industry buddy of mine took me as her guest to see a 1996 Broadway revival of THE KING AND I. It was wonderful. She knew the leading lady and we went backstage to see and compliment her. During our brief chat, the actress leaned over to me and revealed that she wasn't sure, at first, if she wanted to do the show. She was afraid the script might seem dated.

The South Central L.A. theater enthusiast in me came out:  "It's still relevant today," I blurted out to her. I told her that just about every other Black family that we knew in our community had at least one Rodgers & Hammerstein movie musical soundtrack in its record collection along with the Motown albums. Why? Because classic Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals like THE KING AND I, SOUTH PACIFIC snd THE SOUND OF MUSIC shouted down intolerance and racial bigotry. And the music was fabulous. I told her that when Anna sings "Getting To Know You," it's not just a cheery show tune, it's a lesson in equality and inclusion. "Getting to know YOU, getting to know all about YOU. Getting to like YOU, getting to hope you like me..." That is major. Anna is not some white woman strolling on in with a colonial attitude and proclaiming "Now you all have to do as I say and dress the way my people dress. And, by the way, you all have to kick Buddha to the curb and start worshipping my image of a very Caucasian Jesus Christ." 

Listen to the lyrics and look at the classroom choreography of the "Getting To Know You" number. Anna has an affection for the children. She respects and embraces their Asian culture, customs and clothing as she shares her culture.

The king is given a young, lovely slave-girl as a gift. Her name is Tuptim. She's played by the future WEST SIDE STORY Oscar-winner, Rita Moreno. Tuptim has a secret love. He's an equally oppressed young man who lives outside the palace limits. Tuptim speaks English and she's a reader. Anna hates that Tuptim is treated like a slave who will eventually be used by the king for procreation purposes. Anna helps Tuptim see her secret love. Important British people are invited to the palace for a royal dinner. With Anna's help, the king wants to show that he is not a barbarian. After the sphisticated and successful gala dinner, there is entertainment. Tuptim has written an Asian musical adaptation of Uncle Tom's Cabin, the anti-slavery novel by America's Harriet Beecher Stowe. Tuptim is its narrator.

When all the guests are gone, the king and Anna cheerfully discuss how well the dinner party went. One of the guests was a dear friend of Anna's. He and Anna danced that evening, making the king a tad jealous. The British gentleman sweetly makes it known that he'd love for Anna to return to Britain and marry him.

I live for the "Shall We Dance" number. It's one of the sexiest dance numbers in a classic Hollywood musical performed by two non-dancers. We know that Anna is anti-slavery. As she sings about the thrill of being a girl and attending her first dance, we see that she'd also be pro-interracial romance. Notice that the camera cuts to the handsome, muscular, robust king when she sings "...and shall you be my new romance..." The two do an energetic polka that leaves Anna breathing rather post-orgasmically. And the king wants to..."do it again."


One last thing -- in RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT, this year's terrific and terrifically honest documentary about Rita Moreno, she talks about 1956's THE KING AND I. (Both she and Deborah Kerr loved working with Brynner.) Leading man Yul Brynner remarked to Rita that she didn't have much of a part. She agreed.

Tuptim was the first role in a Hollywood film offered to Dorothy Dandridge after her groundbreaking and sizzling performance in Fox's 1954 musical drama, CARMEN JONES.  That film made Dandridge the first Black woman in Hollywood history to be an Oscar nominee for Best Actress. Reportedly, Otto Preminger, director of CARMEN JONES, advised Dandridge to not accept that small role in THE KING AND I. The next film Dorothy Dandrige made in Hollywood was, unfortunately for us, her last. She played Bess in the 1959 adaptation of the musical drama, PORGY AND BESS. Sidney Poitier starred as Porgy in the Samuel Goldwyn production.

Think about that with regard to Hollywood opportunities for talented women of color.

Thursday, August 12, 2021

SOMEBODY FEED PHIL...in Chicago

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post calle "Eating in Rio on SOMEBODY FEED PHIL." On Netflix, there's a most entertaining food & travel ocumentary series titled SOMEBODY FEED PHIL that's apparwnly been on for a couple of seasons. I just discovered it last weekend. I watched the Rio episode and loved it.  The charismatic and wise host is Phil Rosenthal, the man who created the hit sitcom, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND. Scroll down to read my previous post about Phil.


I've been watching S3 -- Season 3 -- of SOMEBODY FEED PHIL on Netflix. I watched him eat his way through San Francisco, Singapore, the Mississippi Delta and Marrakesh. All wonderful visits with foods that made my mouth water. 

Each episode I've seen has fabulous food, fabulous sites, great food, groovy people and laughs. And each episode also has a heart that may reveal itself after the laughs Phil gives us. The San Francisco episode was about hope.

That brings me this special recommendation of the Season 3/Episode 2 of SOMEBODY FEED PHIL...in Chicago.  Like Phil -- and as Sinatra sang -- "My Kind of Town Chicago Is." I grew up in South Central L.A. and graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee. I started my professional radio & TV career there after graduation. Over a course of 10 years in Milwaukee, before I accepted a New York City TV job offer in 1985, I took many tips to Chicsgo. Chicago is where I had deep dish pizza, one of my first dates with a guy, got career advice from Jack Lemmon, shook hands with Frank Sinatra, marveled at the great architecture, delighted in its museums and enjoyed some excellent theater. And food. Like Phil, I love Chicago, but not in the winter! We can live without a Chicago winter. However, early in my TV career, I did go there from Milwaukee a couple of times in the winter for auditions. I trudged through Chicago's frigid wind and snow looking like a giant Fudgesicle, but that's how serious I was to get ahead in my chosen profession..

Phil treats us to terrific archtectural sites and sensational food. The big heart of this episode omes near the end. Phil's warmth and genuine interest in people he's just met are in full bloom when he visits Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church

Phil tells us about the time he was a little boy and his parents took him to see Sidney Poitier in LILIES OF THE FIELD. He loved the song "Amen," heard in the movie, and sang it a lot around the house. When I was a boy, my parents took my sister and me to see LILIES OF THE FIELD too because -- well, in our community, seeing a new Sidney Poitier movie was the law. "Amen" was so popular thar we were singing it in Sunday Catholic masses.

The song is key in Phil's church visit. The heart of the Chicago episode is Phil Rosenthal's visit with the Black members of the congregation. His ease with and immediate fondness for the folks is a master class lesson in how to embrace diversity and inclusion. It's something we need much more of in today's world. Thank you, Phil.

If you csn, watch it on Netflix. Season 3/Episode 2 of SOMEBODY FEEL PHIL.Here's a trailer for Season 3.



Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Molly Shannon Movies

She got belly laughs out of me with her comedy work as a cast member on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. In recent years, she's left me slack-jawed at the depth of her dramatic work. I am sure I'm not the only TV viewer who was dazzled by the performance Molly Shannon gave this summer in the first season of HBO's THE WHITE LOTUS. She played the ebullient, shallow upscale mother who seems to smell of a perfume called "White Privilege" who makes a surprise visit to her equally shallow son during his honeymoon in Hawaii. Shannon was fabulous in the guest role.


 In this blog post, I want to recommend two post-SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE indie movies Molly Shannon made which show that she's not just a sketch comedy funny lady. Molly Shannon is one gifted, versatile actress whose dramatic work can leave you awestruck.

OTHER PEOPLE was released in 2016. When it played in film festivals, a few critics felt the film could bring Molly Shannon a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Shannon's performance is a revelation. But, LA LA LAND opened that same year and all critics went gaga for it and the lead performance from Emma Stone. OTHER PEOPLE was overshadowed. In New York City, the Recession really kicked me to the curb financially and emotionally. I could not get work after having been a part of two consecutive job lay-offs. I was on two national shows that got cancelled. I lost my apartment. I'd not been romantically involved with a guy for years -- and not by choice. For a time, I was forced to live with some rather conservative relatives in a suburban Sacramento area. It was easy for me to connect emotionally to the gay son in OTHER PEOPLE.

His TV comedy writer work in New York City has hit several potholes. The relationship with his boyfriend has hit a deadend. He goes home to Sacramento and his mostly conservative family in a big beige house. He returns to be of help to a family member. The only one who understands and makes him laugh is his mother -- and she's terminally ill. Many fragile emotions have to be stepped over like landmines. Molly Shannon plays the loving mother. Jesse Plemons plays her loving son. Here's a trailer.


OTHER PEOPLE runs 1 hour and 37 minutes. Shannon will make you laugh and break your heart. I wish she had been in the Best Actress Oscar category for 2016.

Before that, the indie film that awkened me to Molly Shannon's dramatic potential was the 2007 indie comedy/drama, YEAR OF THE DOG. 

A secretary at a firm in Southern California is middle-aged and lonely. Her love of dogs fills up the hole in her heart. It's a love that borders on obsession as she takes more chances in the world of dating, urged on by her best friend/office mate played by future Oscar winner Regina King. We watch Shannon's character start to slowly spin out of control after her dog dies. Here's a trailer.


YEAR OF THE DOG also runs 1 hour and 37 minutes. It was written and directed by Mike White, the man who gsve us THE WHITE LOTUS currently on HBO. I hope you can stream and enjoy these two films starring the talented Molly Shannon.


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Viva VIVO!

 I love animated features. I have ever since I was a kid. I was especially fond of the classic animated Disney features. When I was a kid in the 1960s, the avuncular Walt Disney hosted Disney's WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR Sunday nights on NBC. The show often aired some of those features. Also, from my childhood through my adult years, those classics would be re-released theatrically every seven years -- PETER PAN, PINOCCHIO, BAMBI, CINDERELLA, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, DUMBO, LADY AND THE TRAMP, SLEEPING BEAUTY. You can't readily see those richly designed pre-1960 classics today. They don't air on network or cable TV. They're not re-released theatrically. They're under house arrest on Disney Plus (+) and can only be streamed there once you join. That brings me to VIVO on Netflix from Sony Pictures Animation. Iy's a colorful musical with original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, an executive producer and the voice of Vivo. I watched VIVO this weekend. The animation is like gettng a great big, unexpected valentine in the mail. I absolutely loved it. Some reminded me of vintage Disney animation from the studio's 1950s period.


The story's action takes us from Cuba to Florida. The plot is a simple one for kids to understand and a sweet one for grown-ups to embrace. It's about friendship, loyalty and love. Vivo is a hard-luck kinkajou in Havana. He's adopted, if you will, by a kindly older street musician in Havana. Even though the animal and human cannot speak to each other, they can communicate through music. They became fast friends -- and a very popular street musician pair in the Havana plaza where they make good money from the crowd. 

One day, Andres (Vivo's partner) gets a letter from Miami. It's a tender letter from Marta Sandoval, the famous Latin singer soon to give a concert and retire. She and Andres had been sweethearts in their youth in Cuba when she was an unknown, Andres loved her but, for purely unselfish reasons, never told her. Marta wants to see him and Andres wants to see her. He'd written a song for her called "Para Marta" and, after all these years, wants to give it to her. 

He passes away before he can make the trip. Vivo is determined to get to Florida to give Marta the song for his late friend. He gets there with the unlikely help of a single parent, purple-haired little girl named Gabi, travelling with her mother. Gabi is a totally cool, independent thinker who yearns to break away from being a member of a bland, conformist, girl scouts-like troop. Gabi and Vivo bond and embark on a Florida adventure to deliver "Para Marta" to singer Marta Sandoval.

About the songs: Lin-Manuel Miranda really hit an out-of-the-park home run with this score. Gabi's number, "My Own Drum," is a hip-hop winner. "One More Song" is a poignant love tune. "Keep the Beat" is a fun rhythm number about perseverance, Lin-Manuel Miranda should get a Best Song Oscar nomination for "One More Song" or "Keep the Beat." Or both. He's just right for the voice of Vivo. Ynairly Sino is wonderful as the voice of Gabi. Brian Tyree Henry is a comedy stand-out as the voice of a lovesick tropical bird called a spoonbill. Gloria Estefan voices Marta Sandoval -- and she does sing one of the new tunes. The mature Marta is styled with a sophisticated look reminiscent of the late Latin music legend, Celia Cruz. Here's a trailer for VIVO on Netflix.


VIVO is sentimental, sweet, touching, exciting and funny. I laughed out loud at several scenes, I was touched by the bittersweet moments and I was groovin' to the new Miranda music. VIVO runs 1 hour and 35 minutes. It's good family entertainment. I plan to see it again.

Miranda produced this year's film version of INTO THE HEIGHTS, based on his hit Broadway musical of the same name. John M. Chu directed the movie. It opened to rave reviews from noted film critics. A week or two later, a non-film critic on Twtter accused the film of colorism -- claiming that most of the large Latinx cast was light-skinned and Afro-Latinos were few. National news outlets picked up the story. Miranda immediately responded to the press and addressed the situation like a true gentleman. He said that it was an important issue to raise and he'd be mindful of it in future onscreen projects. I haven't seen INTO THE HEIGHTS yet. I did see VIVO.

From the open of the Latino-centric VIVO to its final scene, no one could accuse this Lin-Manuel Miranda production of colorism. Although animated, there are many Latinos of different shades and body types in it. I've yet to see anyone bring up that positive fact on social media.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Eating in Rio on SOMEBODY FEED PHIL

 I have to share this with you. A few days ago, I was really stressed out and wanted some mental relief come evening time. I wanted a piece of entertainment that would refresh my mind and mood. I went to Netflix and clicked onto an episode of a food/travel series called SOMEBODY FEED PHIL. I knew nothing about the host, I knew nothing about the show. I'd just discovered it. But when I read that the episode was in Rio de Janeiro and focused on the Brazilian food, that was good enough for me. What a tasty discovery! I watched and loved SOMEBODY FEED PHIL The host is a tall, lanky, chatty, affable, middle-aged American. He was new to me. I'd never seen him do any host work on TV. Well, come to find out, he hasn't done any regular hosting on commercial television, but we have seen his work on network TV. Phil Rosenthal is the host of SOMEBODY FEED PHIL. He created the long-running hit sitcom, EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND.


Rosenthal is warm and funny and has a lively personality However, he never lets his personality eclipse his guests and other people he meets along the way. He keeps the focus on them. And the food. The dishes he presented all looked so succulent and delicious that I wished I could fly to Brazil with plenty of money, lots of extra napkins and eat my way through Rio. The pork ribs with pineapple salsa? Oooh, Daddy, yes please! Also, being a guy who loves lamb, Rio menus would make me feel like I was in heaven. I'd be eating as if I'd just discovered my stomach.

The food and Phil's tourist segments are beautifully photographed. He visits sites that are traditional for our American tourists such as Sugarloaf Mountain and the famous Christ the Redeemer statue. But his camera crew gives us angles and viewpoints we don't usually see. Rosenthal has a hearty appetite, loves to share his food and loves to mingle. His culinary visits took him to upscale Rio restaurants, street booths and to a favela in the lower income part of town. The favela visit is a good example of how Phil's warmth engages strangers, He finds a cafe with great working class food. When he gets the young owner to tell the story of how and why he opened the place, the story is very touching. Here's a trailer for SOMEBODY FEED PHIL on Netflix.

The next episode puts Phil in San Francisco. I lived there in 2011 and I'm eager to see where Phil takes us to eat. In the meantime, I really wish I had a big plate of those Brazilian pork ribs with pineapple salsa.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Kim Hunter in Movie Harlem

 I saw the 1944 movie on cable with the title WHEN STRANGERS MARRY. Apparently, when it was re-released, it was given the title BETRAYED. Future Broadway star and Oscar winner Kim Hunter stars in this suspense tale along with Robert Mitchum and Dean Jagger. 

I'd never heard of the movie until this week. When I came across it on cable, I really kept WHEN STRANGERS MARRY on for background sound while I worked on some writing. But the story and acting caught my interest. Plus, I was awed by the movie's positive images of Black folks. The Kim Hunter and Dean Jagger characters wind up in Harlem and casually go into a Harlem tavern called Big Jim's. 


 WHEN STRANGERS MARRY was a Monogram Pictures production. Monogram was sort of the poor cousin of Hollywood studios. This will give you an idea about it: In the 1940s, when the Academy Awards were a deluxe Hollywood affair with a banquet, Bob Hope did some master of ceremonies duty after the dinner. He quipped something like "It's great to see all the studios represented here tonight. Paramount has a table, MGM has a table, Warner Brothers has a table, Fox has a table ... Monogram has a stool..."

WHEN STRANGERS MARRY does not look like a bargain basement prodution. The acting is so good, the black and white cinemtography is so good, the editing and pace are so energetic that you'd think it came out of MGM or Warner Bros. It's an entertaining film that runs about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

With Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter gained fame in the original Broadway production and the 1951 film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. She played Stella and won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. She made her film debut in a 1943 occult thriller called THE SEVENTH VICTIM (which airs September 10th at 8p ET on Turner Classic Movies). In that, she leaves school to head to Greenwich Village in New York City and find her missing older sister. Her sister got involved with a Satanic cult. WHEN STRANGERS MARRY was Hunter's third film and, again, she played a character who goes to Greenwich Village.

Hunter plays a sweet bride from Ohio who quickly fell in love with and married a salesman in Ohio. A month later, he has to leave on business and sends her a message from Philadelphia to meet him at a hotel in New York City. We see the happy bride on a train to NYC. When she arrives at the hotel, her husband isn't there. But she runs into a friend who's staying at the hotel. He's also a salesman, they knew each other in Ohio and he wanted to marry her. She turned him down. When the loving husband does show up, he's a bit dodgy when asked about his whereabouts. He seems to be ducking the other salesman from Ohio. And what's this newspaper business about a silk stockings murder in Philadelphia? The bride confides in the Ohio friend and asks for his help in solving a couple of riddles abut her husband. A handsome Dean Jagger -- with a full head o' dark hair -- plays the husband. Screen newcomer Robert Mitchum plays the friend. This 1944 film was early in his career. He'd score a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for 1945's THE STORY OF G.I. JOE and really hit big in the1947 RKO film noir classic, OUT OF THE PAST. WHEN STRANGERS MARRY shows his magnetism, talent and promise -- promise he later fulfilled in such films as OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955), HEAVEN KNOWS, MR. ALLISON (1957), THE SUNDOWNERS (1960) and CAPE FEAR (1962).

Before the Harlem scenes, something caught me in the first five minutes of WHEN STRANGERS MARRY. Sam McDaniel, the actor brother of GONE WITH THE WIND Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel, appeared in many movies. Like his sister, he was constantly cast in domestic roles, many of which went uncredited. He played train porters numerous times and was always burdened with having to speak in that stereotypical way Hollywood made many Black actors speak in the 1930s and 40s. An example -- "You sho izz right about dat, boss! You sho izz right."


Not so in WHEN STRANGERS MARRY. Sam McDaniel's porter character opens and closes the film. He speaks in his natural voice. When the white husband and wife go into the Harlem tavern and take a table, the sight of the Harlem customers is refreshing. They're well-dressed, dapper, sophisticated -- like the nightclub crowd enjoying Duke Ellington in Vincente Minnelli's all-Black MGM musical, CABIN IN THE SKY (1943). When the piano player in the tavern gives out with some music, the husband and wife watch as a couple takes to the dance floor. The male dancer may look familiar. He was in that CABIN IN THE SKY nightclub dance number featuring Duke Ellington..
 
The husband and wife leave the tavern. Outside, they see two Black cops on motorcyles chatting about a sports event that night. The white married couple strolls down about ten Harlem blocks from 137th & Lenox Avenue. Yes, I said "stroll." Not "walks quickly smelling of fear." The big money studios rarely gave moviegoers that quality of racial inclusion with its stars back then.

WHEN STRANGERS MARRY was directed by William Castle. In the 50s and 60s, he was known for such delightfully cheesey movies as THE TINGLER, HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, 13 FRIGHTENED GIRLS and STRAIT-JACKET starring Joan Crawford.

1944's WHEN STRANGERS MARRY isn't cheesy. I'm glad I saw it. I was pleasantly surprised.


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