Tuesday, November 30, 2021

See tick, tick...BOOM!

 I'm old and I've watched a lot of old movies. A little over a year ago when I read that a film version of tick, tick...BOOM! was in the works, I mistakenly thought it would be a remake of a 1970 movie that starred Jim Brown, George Kennedy and Fredric March. But that racial drama was called TICK, TICK, TICK.

tick, tick...BOOM! is something else. Something wonderful.

The extremely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial debut with tick, tick...BOOM! and I pray he directs more movies. He directed this true musical story with a Bob Fosse-like energy and wit. To his credit, he's not copying Fosse like Rob Marshall did with the film version of CHICAGO. He's got those qualities we saw in Fosse films such as ALL THAT JAZZ and LENNY displayed via his own fresh, individual style.

New York city diner waiter-turned-Broadway great Jonathan Larson gave us the long-running Broadway musical, RENT. He was turning 30 and freaking out that, despite all his hard work, he'd not done anything noticeable and substantial in the theater world. tick, tick...BOOM! is the title of one of the shows he wrote before RENT. He's proud of but not haughty about his talent. At a party, he says to a jock fellow guest, "I'm the future of musical theater, Scott."

At a period of confusion and despair, he's been slapped down with rejections, he gets a message of encouragement from Broadway legend, Stephen Sondheim. The Sondheim sections of the film are like a sweet, unplanned memorial to him. 

Stephen Sondheim passed away last week at age 91. Over the weekend, I was touched by the number of non-famous people who'd received letters of encouragement from Sondheim. Those folks took photos of their letters and posted them on Twitter. To see Sondheim's generosity made me love him even more.

We see the trials and tribulations of Jonathan Larson as he struggles to make art and be more than just a diner waiter. We see his relationship with his girlfriend, his tender friendship with his gay Latino roommate, his previews of music he's written, the horror he feels when faced with the reality that he's losing friends to the AIDS crisis.

This musical bio is rich with passion and heart. And humor. The fantasy number in the Moondance Diner, inspired by a Sondheim number from SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE, is a classic. Andrew Garfield wins your heart with his performance. You feel his heartbreak, his disappointments, his joys and his New York spirit. In one tiff with his girlfriend, he blurts out "Everyone's unhappy in New York! That's what New York is." I laughed and I totally understood. I lived there for 25 years. I even ate at the Moondance Diner.

The engaging, touching performance from Andrew Garfield should bring him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. It's that good. And I'd give Lin-Manuel Miranda's film an Oscar nomination for Best Picture with him getting a nod for Best Director. Here's a trailer.


Bradley Whitford is totally cool as Stephen Sondheim. Theater fans will dig seeing cameo appearances of several Broadway stars -- Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, Bebe Neuwirth, Andre De Shields, Brian Stokes Mitchell and Chita Rivera. 

Andrew Garfield has one Oscar nomination to his credit. He received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for playing a real-life World War 2 hero in Mel Gibson's battlefield biopic, HACKSAW RIDGE (2016). Earlier this year, we saw Garfield hit a homerun as disgraced and imprisoned TV evangelist Jim Bakker in THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE. I reviewed that in my previous blog post. 

Again, Garfield plays a  real-life character. Oscar loves biopics. Think of all the actors who have won Oscars for playing real life figures. From Spencer Tracy in BOYS TOWN and Luise Rainer in THE GREAT ZIEGELD in the 1930s to Julia Roberts as Erin Brockovich, Forrest Whitaker as Idi Amin, Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, Sean Penn as Harvey Milk, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher, Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln, Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill and Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland. To name a few. 

Oscar loves biopics. Let's see if he loves the loveable tick, tick...BOOM! It's available on Netflix.



Monday, November 29, 2021

On THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE

 Yes, this is a biopic about disgraced TV evangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. The film was inspired by a documentary of the same name and actress Jessica Chastain is one of the producers. The movie opens with Chastain as the latter day Tammy Faye in tight close-up. She's wearing too much make-up. It gives her face a sad, cartoonish appearance. Few improvements can be made before her TV appearance -- because, for one, her lips are now permanently lined. Then we go back to the beginning to see how it all started for an Adam and Eve who grew their own Garden of Eden and then got kicked out of it. Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield are fascinating to watch as Jim and Tammy Faye. Chastain nails the Minnesota accent Tammy Faye never quite lost, the high-pitched voice and the cute little chuckle that morphed into a latter-day nervous laugh. Garfield is amazing as the once-boyish Jim who's open to Tammy Faye's manipulation. 

At the beginning of the movie, little girl Tammy plays with puppets and, at the dinner table with her large family, uses the word "harlot." Her emotionally distanced and non-smiling mother continues to not smile as she criticizes Tammy. Mother plays organ at church. Inside, the church is shown in beige, muted colors. Nothing bright and vibrant. The congregation is all white folks. People are gyrating as if spiritually in rapture and speaking in tongues. Tammy has peeked through windows to witness this. Then, one day, she enters the service, approaches the crucifix on the wall, throws up her hands and starts speaking in a non-sensical language. Is the girl acting? Well, never mind. The congregation buys it and believes she's a messenger from the Lord. 

As a young woman in Bible school, she's immediately attracted to the slim, conservatively dressed fellow student who preaches that God did not mean for us to be poor. He wants to preach abundance. She attaches herself to Jim Bakker and seems to woo him with the theory that the fastest way to a man's heart is through his penis.

They are both minor players on Christian television, a married couple, when they're invited to the palatial home of Pat Robertson, Christian broadcasting TV star. His house is huge. The pool is large. His wife is wearing a mink coat. The buffet tables have plates of hot dogs for the party guests. Ambitious Tammy Faye notices this right away, She makes it a point to be seen by Jerry Farwell who arrives to a rather majestic reception. He pompously talks about his mission to fight the liberal agenda, the feminist agenda and the homosexual agenda. Tammy counters by saying that homosexuals are "other human beings that I love."  She calls him "Jerry." He tells her to call him "Reverend Falwell."

Eventually Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker will become hugely popular Christian TV stars and live a fabulous lifestyle in a gigantic house. But they live beyond their means. She gets addicted to pills. He gets addicted to power. She can't fix her relationship with her stern, concerned mother. Jim and Tammy Faye will be betrayed by Jerry Falwell. Their marriage deteriorates.  All this drama in the name of the Lord. Here's a trailer.


I feel we needed to delve more into Tammy's early relationship with her mother and how it forged her personality. There's one telling scene where Tammy is at home in a big house while Jim is on TV that night. Tammy calls her mother and says she couldn't sleep. Mother snaps back with "You got me out of bed to tell me that you can't sleep." Tammy ends the phone conversation with "I love you," but there's no "I love you too" from her mother. They hang up. Mother, who was not asleep and is fully dressed, returns to her living room where' she's been watching Jim on TV.

Cherry Jones hits it out of the park as the mother. She's excellent. Also excellent is Vincent D'Onofrio as a pompous, backstabbing Jerry Falwell. Directed by Michael Showalter, the film has an abundant and clever use of real-life network news footage and interviews through the years of Jim and Tammy Faye scandals. From news coverage, you already know of lot of their story, but the performances by Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield really make this movie worth a look.


Sunday, November 28, 2021

By Stephen Sondheim

 I have pretty much grown up with his music. His glorious music. Stephen Sondheim died at age 91. He leaves a large and stunning body of work for us to enjoy. When I was a youngster in South Central L.A., thanks to FM radio in Los Angeles and record albums in my elementary school classrooms, I heard WEST SIDE STORY with its lyrics by Sondheim. I heard the original Broadway cast album and the 1961 movie soundtrack. My serious devotion to Sondheim music started when I heard the new original Broadway cast album of his new musical, COMPANY. That aired on an FM station in Los Angeles one Sunday afternoon. I listened to it in my room and said, "Wow. I've got to go to New York." That Broadway score was so modern, so original, so different from the traditional Broadway cast recordings I'd heard. I knew actor Dean Jones from TV sitcom work and Walt Disney moves. I didn't know he could sing. "Being Alive" had a beauty and a raw honesty that made me feel pleasantly disturbed. I did get to New York and I did see Stephen Sondheim musicals onstage.

For millions of us, Stephen Sondheim was not just a highly innovative, intelligent and imaginative lyricist and composer whose work revolutionized the Broadway musical, he was a religion. After I saw Angela Lansbury in Sondheim's SWEENEY TODD, I walked out of the theater as if I was leaving a mass on Easter Sunday. My soul had been illuminated.

I'm going to post a couple of videos with Stephen Sondheim songs very dear to my heart. Here is one of my favorite renditions and arrangements of a classic song -- with Sondheim lyrics -- from WEST SIDE STORY. Here is Tom Waits with "Somewhere."


Barbara Cook was a Broadway musical veteran with a voice that truly was Heaven-sent. Here she is doing two songs with music and lyrics by Sondheim. One is "Not a Day Goes By" from his MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG and the other is "Losing My Mind" from Stephen Sondheim's FOLLIES.


Stephen Sondheim was an American genius who elevated Broadway musicals to a new level. I hope you enjoyed the music.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Nicolas Cage and a PIG

 "You want your supply, I need my pig."  That's a statement from the hermit Nicolas Cage plays in his new indie film. The film is titled PIG. It's about a truffle hunter who lives alone with his pig in the Oregon woods outside of Portland. The pig forages for truffles. A young man in casual business attire drives in to pick up some truffles. Then one night, there's a home invasion and the hermit's pet is pig-napped. The pig is stolen. The scraggly, long-haired, unshaven and shabbily dressed loner is forced to go into the city, Portland, with the young man who gets truffles from him. He's driven to find his pig and get her back. 

I know that sounds like a very weird story but, trust me on this, Nicolas Cage is excellent and moving in PIG. This may be an arthouse film that's too unusual for Academy members. However, they should see it. Nicolas Cage is worthy of a Best Actor Oscar nomination for PIG.

On the surface, this is a movie about a homeless-looking man trying to find his pet pig. But there's something special under the surface. Like truffles. The pig-napping forces the mysterious loner to step out of his past. When the scraggly loner gets into Portland, trying to hunt down his pig, he winds up in sort of a restaurant version of FIGHT CLUB. He writes the name "Robin Feld" on a wall. There's an immediate, obvious respect for the name.

We'll see that the name opens doors for the hermit, regardless of how he looks. He's seated in upscale restaurants. This film is an unusual yet graceful meditation on love, loss and aging. As Cage's character sincerely says about his pet, "I love her." As he tells one Portland restaurant chef in a memorable scene, "We don't get a lot of things to really care about."


Cage has been at the acting game a long time. Remember the 1982 teen comedy, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH? Three actors who played high schoolers in it went on to win an Oscar for Best Actor -- Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Nicolas Cage. Cage followed that with solid work in RUMBLE FISH (1983), RACING WITH THE MOON with Sean Penn (I1984), RAISING ARIZONA (1987) and, the divine MOONSTRUCK (1987) with Cher. He did exceptional dramatic work in LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995) and ADAPTATION (2002). Then came a period of some rather loopy script choices and films that flew under the radar.

Nicolas Cage won the Best Actor Oscar for 1995's LEAVING LAS VEGAS. The Academy should be reminded of how good an actor he is by seeing his new film. This PIG brought out the best in actor Nicolas Cage.

The film also stars Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin. PIG is the directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski. He also wrote the screenplay.

Friday, November 26, 2021

On BEING THE RICARDOS

 This post will be about two women with whom I had the privilege to be up close to and engage in conversation -- Nicole Kidman and Lucille Ball. Earlier this month, I posted a short piece I wrote titled "They Loved Nicole as Lucy." BEING THE RICARDOS, starring Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, had screened in Los Angeles for Motion Picture Academy members and entertainment press reporters. There was a Question & Answer session with cast members right after the film. When Kidman was introduced, she entered to a standing ovation.

Before the production had been completed and screened, there was a lot of Twitter chat about the casting. Many were outdone that Kidman had been cast -- mainly because she doesn't resemble Lucille Ball or Lucy Ricardo. Director/screenwriter Aaron Sorkin punched back by telling upset people that Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., Lucy and Desi's children, are executive producers of the project and that the project is more about the power couple dealing with a major crisis while making the classic I LOVE LUCY sitcom. It's not about Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo.

If you've followed my blogposts for some time, you know that I spent one hour with Lucille Ball during my VH1 years as a veejay and prime time celebrity talk show host/interviewer. While in L.A. doing some work for VH1 and CBS, Lucille Ball invited me to her home for cocktails on the evening of St. Patrick's Day in 1989. Of course, I went. She was most gracious. We both had vodka tonics. What hit me was that I could tell she was definitely a businesswoman, a direct no-bullshit businesswoman. After I'd read Desi Arnaz's excellent autobiography -- A BOOK by DESI ARNAZ -- I realized that he was the one with the spontaneous, engaging, mischievous, joyful spirit like Lucy Ricardo's. Lucille Ball was the disciplined entertainer who took care of business matters like Ricky Ricardo did.

I saw BEING THE RICARDOS over the weekend. Had I attended the screening in Los Angeles, I would have enthusiastically joined in giving Nicole Kidman a standing ovation. Maybe she doesn't resemble Ball as much as Frances Fisher did in the 1991 CBS biopic presentation, LUCY & DESI: BEFORE THE LAUGHTER or Debra Messing dressed as Lucy Ricardo in an episode of the WILL & GRACE reboot, but she fully gets the guts and steeliness of the off-screen Lucille Ball from her years at RKO, where she met Desi around 1939 or '40, to her successful 1950s period on I LOVE LUCY. Ball was a tough dame who worked hard and knew what she wanted. But, for a long time in show business, she really didn't get what she wanted. BEING THE RICARDOS shows Lucy and Desi as what they became in the 1950s -- a top Hollywood power couple. They had network TV power together and individually.

I did a TV pilot with TV producer. He was a producer of the original THE HOLLYWOOD SQUARES. He worked with Lucille Ball once and I asked him what she was like. He answered that she was smart as a whip and tough as nails. That's what we see in Kidman's performance. We see the lusty and often turbulent relationship the two married stars had. They could have explosive marital arguments yet go onstage and play The Ricardos to a large and loving audience. That's how focused they were as actors. 

During the 1950s, when the show was an enormous hit, Desi's extra-marital affairs caused friction in the marriage. But the even bigger crisis was press reports that Lucille Bill was a Communist. In those years, the accusation of being  Communist could kill a performer's career stone cold dead in a heartbeat.

Comedy is hard work and Lucy took it very seriously. We see that the I LOVE LUCY production team of writers, directors and actors was not exactly a happy one while it made classic sitcom episodes. Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who played the Mertzes, couldn't stand each other. Nina Arianda and J.K. Simmons slam across two terrific performances as Vance and Frawley. Their non-stop bickering and insults are funnier than some of the dialogue given to Fred and Ethel Mertz. Sorkin shows how Ball was a comedy visionary. She could see in her mind how a scene should be played and staged. But, on the set, she had an iron fist in production to see her vision realized.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz started their romance while making the 1940 RKO musical comedy release, TOO MANY GIRLS, Desi was in the original cast of the Broadway musical and repised his role for the film adaptation. She had done bit parts and B-movie roles at RKO through the 1930s. She had the female lead role in TOO MANY GIRLS. He felt she had the talent to be a star and should've been. Hollywood didn't see her as a star, but she kept working. On a date, he asks her how she wound up in Hollywood. Lucy replies "I got kicked out in New York." She asks him the same. Cuban immigrant Desi replies "The Bolsheviks burned my house down." His father had been a mayor in Cuba.

There is one huge mistake in the screenplay that, for a veteran writer like Sorkin, just comes down to laziness and no one checking him on it. My favorite Lucille Ball movie is the 1942 RKO release, THE BIG STREET, co-starring Henry Fonda. It's a drama. Her character is crippled for half the film. Lucy is remarkable in it. In BEING THE RICAROS, Lucy excitedly tells Desi that she got the part in THE BIG STREET after Rita Hayworth and Judy Holliday proved to be unavailable. At that time, Ginger Rogers, (Lucy's buddy in 1936's FOLLOW THE FLEET and 1937's STAGE DOOR) was queen of the RKO lot. Hayworth may have been considered after her dramatic work in 1940's ANGELS OVER BROADWAY. However, Carole Lombard was Lucy's friend and idol. Lombard had proven to be a top screen beauty and Oscar-nominated screwball comedy star of the 1930s and early 40s. Plus, she'd displayed her solid dramatic skills in RKO's 1940 hospital drama, VIGIL IN THE NIGHT and as the lonely waitress in RKO's other 1940 drama, THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED.

Even though Judy Holliday's name keeps coming up in BEING THE RICARDOS as an early 1940s Hollywood star, that just was not the case. Proof is in the 1944 Fox musical comedy, SOMETHING FOR THE BOYS. You see Judy Holliday in that as an extra, a background actor standing behind Carmen Miranda during a musical number in a defense plant. Holliday's name wasn't even listed in the credits. Hollywood didn't start talking about Judy Holliday until her comedy supporting role in 1949's ADAM'S RIB starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Holliday became a big Broadway star in BORN YESTERDAY. She repeated her role in the film version and won the Oscar for Best Actress of 1950. I LOVE LUCY premiered in October 1951.

After Lucille Ball's excellence in 1942's BIG STREET, RKO canceled her contract. In the 1950s, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz became such a wealthy Hollywood power couple that they purchased the RKO studio backlot and made it the home of their Desilu Productions. Javier Bardem is very good, showing what a creative, imaginative and influential force he was in TV. Lucy was driven to keep the show a hit and to use it to repair her marriage. She was a high-powered working wife and mother whose Hollywood career didn't really take off until she became a big star on the small screen when she was 40. Then she had to combat accusations of being a Communist. Here's a trailer.

See BEING THE RICARDOS if you can. I interviewed Nicole Kidman a couple of times. She was delightfully warm, down-to-earth and funny. We seem to associate her with deep-dish dramas like THE HOURS, the film that netted her a Best Actress Oscar, but she can get laughs. Look at her opening scene in the unfortunate 2004 remake of THE STEPFORD WIVES. It's like a stand-up comedy routine. There are moments in the black-and-white I LOVE LUCY portions when she does call up the Lucy Ricardo comedy spirit.

I was really gripped and impressed by Nicole Kidman's emotional intensity playing the legendary TV star for whom comedy was serious business. 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Jazz Singer Beverly Kenney

 I have some totally cool Twitter followers. There's a car commercial on television. It's a car commercial promoting the new Lincoln Aviator. In the ad, you hear a female vocalist do a sensationally smooth jazz rendition of "It's a Most Unusual Day," a song introduced by Jane Powell in a 1948 MGM musical titled A DATE WITH JUDY.

I'd never heard that jazz vocal before but I loved it immediately. Who was the singer? Was it Blossom Dearie? Chris Connor? June Christy? None of the three. I asked for help on Twitter and, within 15 minutes, a follower messaged me that the singer is Beverly Kenney. Thank you, Charlee, for the answer!

Here's the Beverly Kenney jazz vocal heard in the TV commercial:


Wasn't that a treat for the ears? Here's another one. This song, I first heard on an album I had of vocals by Lee Wiley. Now, Beverly Kenney also does jazz justice to "A Woman's Intuition."


I searched online for some biographical information about this singer. It was sad. With that velvety voice, she suffered from mental issues and took her own life in 1960. New Jersey native Beverly Kenney was only 28 when she died in Greenwich Village.

She left us with rediscovered beauty.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

About AILEY

 The documentary opens with him receiving a prestigious Kennedy Center Honor. Actress Cicely Tyson is on stage and tells the formally-attired audience, "He is a choreographer of the heart." One of his dance numbers is presented. Then we go to the New York City street named in his honor -- Alvin Ailey Place. This fascinating 95-minute documentary is called AILEY and it is about the late, great dancer/choreographer Alvin Ailey. In my previous post, I wrote about actor Anton Walbrook who played the imperious, driven ballet company head in THE RED SHOES. He warns a new ballerina, one in whom he sees greatness, that she cannot have it both ways. She cannot be a great artist and have an ordinary life with average domestic pleasures. I thought of Walbrook's character in THE RED SHOES as I watched AILEY. Alvin Ailey is asked if he had to sacrifice anything in order to maintain that extraordinary career in the arts.  His answer -- "Everything."


Then I thought of my father. No, he wasn't a dancer. But, like Alvin Ailey, he was born in Texas during the Great Depression and, in his youth, moved to Los Angeles. Ailey moved with his mother. He never saw his father. By the time he was in his late teens, Ailey was drawn to ballet and he'd been introduced, by a friend, to the thrill of same-sex affection. But when Ailey saw classical ballets performed onstage, he did not see a representation of himself. He didn't see any Black dancers. However, he'd become one.

Eventually, he will get to New York. He will see celebrated Black dancers such as Katherine Dunham (who was featured in the all-Black 1943 Fox musical, STORMY WEATHER) and actress/dancer Carmen de Lavallade. He would take dance and be a stand-out with his talent, good looks and charisma. But he had his own ideas about dance. He started his own company and created stunning dance pieces such as "Blues Suite," "Cry," "The River," "Fever Swamp," and the exquisite "Revelations." You'll see excerpts in the documentary. Offstage, Ailey was driven and solo. He didn't have a significant other who loved him and that seemed to fray his spirit. 

Plus, at times when he was being applauded worldwide, there was still racial exclusion and discrimination and death in his homeland. The murder of Black Panther Fred Hampton (his life and death were portrayed in the 2021 film, JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH)  shook Ailey and a response came through in his art. At this time, he questioned whether upscale White people embraced him because they truly cared about his art or they basically wanted to position themselves as seeming liberal.

Some of those White folks who celebrated him did not embrace him when he was diagnosed with AIDS. You really need to see this fine documentary expertly directed by Jamila Wignot. We hear Ailey in his own words, we see him and his work. We see his dance company which was Black, White, Asian, Latino....racially diverse and inclusive unlike the ballet companies Ailey saw onstage in big cities in his youth. The comments from co-workers, former dancers and fellow choreographers -- such as Judith Jamison and Bill T. Jones -- are excellent. There is terrific archival footage. Above all, we see the genius of Alvin Ailey's choreography.


I'm positive that many White kids and young adults only knew Alvin Ailey's name because, in the 80s, it was much-publicized that Madonna had studied dance at Alvin Ailey studios. But those folks were unaware of history and significance. This is the true story of a major talent -- a Black, gay man who established his unique voice in the arts and took his place at the table. He gave us great work. He made great personal sacrifices. AILEY is worth watching. This is fine arts history, Black history and LGBTQ history. This documentary is on Amazon Prime.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

He Rocked THE RED SHOES

I am hardcore fan of performances given by Anton Walbrook. It is my strong opinion that he should have been a Best Actor Oscar nominee for his fabulous performance as the dashing, obsessed, driven Boris Lermontov, the renowned head of the ballet company in THE RED SHOES (1948). Lermontov is an effortlessly debonair man who can be both wise and ignorant, warm and monstrous. He is, as one character calls him, an "attractive brute." 

His all-consuming, relentless  passion for his art and the career of one superb ballerina will lead to a major, severe crack in the ice of his glacial elegance that will cause his breakdown at the final curtain. Walbrook inhabits the character totally, the smallest gestures of his physical carriage -- such as the raise of an eyebrow, the motion of a finger, his fixed stares, his posture which leads one to think he once was a fine ballet dancer himself -- are all brilliant.

This isn't the only Anton Walbrook performance I love. The Austrian actor is quite classy and charismatic in the 1933 German film, VICTOR AND VICTORIA. He originated the role that would be played by James Garner in the hit 1982 remake, VICTOR/VICTORIA, starring Julie Andrews. He's got a sophisticated menace about him in the 1940 British film, GASLIGHT. Charles Boyer would take on that role in the 1944 Hollywood remake opposite Ingrid Bergman. 49TH PARALLEL is a 1941 British wartime film that Walbrook steals from co-star Laurence Olivier. He's remarkable and one of the hearts of the wonderful 1943 British film, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP. He's deliciously jaunty in the 1955 British comedy, OH...ROSALINDA!

Did you see the classic 1944 murder mystery, LAURA, directed by Otto Preminger? What a movie. So much posh Manhattan decadence in that classic starring Gene Tierney and Clifton Webb.


 That film, in 1968, was adapted for a television production that aired as an ABC TV special.

In 1962, LAURA was adapted for West German television. Who took on Clifton Webb's role as Waldo Lydecker? Anton Walbrook!

When I discovered that a video of the 1962 foreign production is on YouTube, I had to see it whether it's all in German without subtitles or not. I just had to see Anton Walbrook.

If you share that same passion, click on the link below:

https://youtu.be/LXySR37r3QU.

Love me some Anton Walbrook.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

More Music by Johnny Mercer

 This music man was enormously talented. Songwriter, lyricist, singer Johnny Mercer was born on November 18, 1909 and the world became a better place for it. In August, I blogged a piece about this multi-Oscar winner and included some of his music. I'm giving you more of his music here -- and you may not even know that he wrote a couple of these gems. First up is "Travlin' Light" sung by Billie Holiday.


This classic song was later sung by Ida Lupino in ROAD HOUSE (1948) and by Frank Sinatra in YOUNG AT HEART (1954). But Johnny Mercer with Harold Arlen wrote it for Fred Astaire to introduce in THE SKY'S THE LIMIT (1943). Astaire played a G.I. on leave who just broke up with his sweetheart and tries to drink his blues away. Another song in the score, "My Shining Hour," brought Mercer an Oscar nomination for Best Song. Here's "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road).


Mercer with Jerome Kern wrote "I'm Old Fashioned" for Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth to introduce in YOU WERE NEVER LOVELIER (1942). Another song in the score, "Dearly Beloved," brought Mercer an Oscar nomination for Best Song.


Numerous top vocalists recorded "Moon River" from BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. But my favorite version of this song Mercer wrote with Henry Mancini is the original one -- introduced wistfully in the film by Audrey Hepburn. It won the Oscar for Best Song of 1961.


If you've got time for one more, here's Johnny Mercer singing the tune he wrote for Bing Crosby to do in Paramount's HERE COMES THE WAVES (1944). It got an Oscar nomination for Best Song. You hear this vocal in the opening minutes of the 1997 crime drama, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL.


Johnny Mercer was a true American artist.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

They Loved Nicole as Lucy

 I just had to share this. There was a critics' screening last night in Los Angeles for members of the press and the Motion Picture Academy. They screened BEING THE RICARDOS starring Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz. The two stars walked out to greet the audience after the movie and answer a few questions. When introduced, Kidman entered to a standing ovation. Best Actress Oscar buzz for her has already started. You know how Oscar loves biopics.


Scott Feinberg of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote "...the whole cast was great. Shame on me for doubting Kidman could nail Lucy. Big standing O."

Nathaniel Rogers of CRITICS CHOICE on Twitter wrote "It's true. Nicole Kidman is marvelous as Lucille Ball."

Matt Neglia of NEXT BEST PICTURE and CRITICS CHOICE on Twitter typed in with "BEING THE RICARDOS is a crackerjack piece of entertainment on creative control, power & influence. Aaron Sorkin's strongest directorial effort yet. Nicole Kidman & Javier Bardem fully inhabit Lucy & Desi with wit, layered emotion & brilliant comedic timing..."

VARIETY's Clayton Davis noted "BEING THE RICARDOS is full of wit and charm. Nicole Kidman owns the spirit and vigor of Lucille Ball. 

Dave Karger of TCM and NBC's TODAY show wrote "A 5th Oscar nomination for Nicole Kidman especially likely....the fantastic Javier Bardem (also a strong contender)..."

I'm eager to see it.  I loved Lucy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Petula Clark Music Break

 What does singer/actress Petula Clark have in common with Ginger Rogers, Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn and Cyd Charisse? She got to dance in a movie with Fred Astaire. As she told me on camera one morning on Fox 5's GOOD DAY NEW YORK when I had the great joy of meeting her, "I wasn't very good at it." I replied, "But you did it!" Petula Clark celebrated her 89th birthday this week. Now some of us who purchased her hit 45s of "Downtown," "Don't Sleep in the Subway," and "A Sign of the Times" when we were kids may find that impossible. However, in our baby boomer youth, we didn't know that Petula Clark, like Julie Andrews, had been a child entertainer in Great Britain during World War 2 and started acting in British movies in 1944. By the time she became a top pop star here in the U.S., she was already a veteran performer. I was then and still am a Petula Clark fan.


 My sister and I had a great Saturday afternoon at the movies when we were youngsters seeing Petula Clark and Peter O'Toole in the 1969 musical remake of 1939's GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS. Critics may have been lukewarm to the film, but I loved it. I loved the original song by Leslie Bricusse. I loved Petula Clark taking on the role previously done by Greer Garson. For Clark, as the woman who falls in love with and weds the shy British schoolteacher, the character was changed. In 1969, she was a popular music hall entertainer who liked to party. Ultimately, she finds some of those posh parties rather hollow but she finds happiness and fulfillment in the company of Mr. Chips, as she calls him. Bricusse passed away this year in October. He wrote some fabulous tunes for Pet to sing in the movie. "You and I," sung when Katherine (Clark) is now Mrs. Chipping, went on to become a favorite with jazz vocalists. Here it is, introduced by Petula Clark on the movie soundtrack.

Another original tune I love from the move is one Clark performs as the music hall star. In a clip from GOODBYE, MR. CHIPS, here is the rousing "London Is London."


Petula Clark and Fred Astaire played father and daughter in 1968's FINIAN'S RAINBOW. In this musical fantasy that takes on a social issue, they're two people from Ireland searching for a pot of gold in America. They go down South. There's a leprechaun involved. This was based on a Broadway hit that was pretty radical in 1947 when it opened. It tackled racial prejudice by having a bigoted White senator being turned Black to know how racial inequality feels. But, by the time FINIAN'S RAINBOW was adapted for the big screen by Warner Bros., America had gone through peak triumphs and turbulence of the 1960's Civil Rights Movement. Also it had seen popular movies dealing with racism, dealing with it in a way that won them Academy Awards. Those two hits films were IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967) and GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER (1967). Both starred Sidney Poitier and Beah Richards. When FINIAN'S RAINBOW arrived on screens, the material seemed a bit dated. Nevertheless Fred Astaire and Petula Clark had some magical musical moments. 

This is my favorite Petula Clark number. I totally dig the Brazilian jazz flavor given to the lush arrangement. With singer/actor Don Francks, here is "Old Devil Moon" from FINIAN'S RAINBOW.


I hope you enjoyed my Petula Clark music break.

Monday, November 15, 2021

William Holden and Ginger Rogers

 A buddy and I were once talking about William Holden and he said, "William Holden owned the 1950s." I agreed. And Holden did pretty well in the 1960s too. If my boyhood, if Mom and Dad saw that a William Holden movie playing at one of the three drive-in theaters we frequented, we went to see. They didn't care what the movie was about and they didn't care if the reviews for it happened to be lukewarm. William Holden was reason enough to go to the movies. He worked steadily and did good work through the 1940s, but nothing really made the good actor a big star. Then came 1950. He was the leading man in Billy Wilder's masterpiece, SUNSET BLVD and BORN YESTERDAY, the film that brought Judy Holliday the Best Actress Oscar. Billy Wilder's 1953 prisoner of war drama, STALAG 17, would land Holden the Oscar for Best Actor. More hit films were to come. Yes, Holden owned the 1950s.

More than any other Hollywood actor, William Holden had the right stuff and intellectual vibe to play a writer. Look at his performances as writers in SUNSET BLVD, BORN YESTERDAY, LOVE IS A MANY-SPLENDORED THING and PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES. As a Broadway director, he knew good playwriting in THE COUNTRY GIRL. Add to that list 1953's FOREVER FEMALE. This light, sophisticated comedy has William Holden as an aspiring Broadway playwright who works in a Greenwich Village food market to pay the rent. His blunt but likable character, Stanley Krown, has written a play that interests a Broadway producer, played by Paul Douglas, who wants to produce it for a top Broadway star, played by Ginger Rogers. The producer is the star's ex-husband. He's still in love with her and gets jealous when a romance blossoms between her and the young playwright.


Beatrice Page (Rogers) currently stars as a 29-year old woman in a sophisticated comedy. Critics called her "radiant" but found the play mediocre. Beatrice is definitely middle-aged. Stanley's play is a good one, a mother and daughter drama. Bea, still a bit sensitive about playing older women even though she is one -- like ALL ABOUT EVE's Margo Channing -- asks for rewrites to make the mother younger.


In comes a pert but annoying young actress who's determined to be cast as the daughter in the production. She's played by Pat Crowley. Crowley became popular in the mid 1960s as the mom on the TV sitcom version of PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES.


When Stanley and Bea happen to meet at Sardi's after her opening night, he honestly tells her that he didn't like the play. "The greatest quality an actress can have is humility," says Stanley. He felt Bea lacked humility. She was charming, but she knew she was charming. Harry, the producer, is present at the table for this. Bea takes it well. Harry takes a copy of the play Stanley wrote. 


Although they've been divorced for so long that Harry owes Bea $11,000 in back alimony, they're still friends and they work together. We know from the beginning that she and Harry continue to have romantic feelings for each other even though she gets engaged to Stanley. Meanwhile, can the young playwright get his work onstage in his original vision? Will Bea commit to the mother role? Will Sally dial it down and learn how to be charming? Will the producer have a hit Broadway show thanks to Stanley's play? Will Stanley marry Bea?

Irving Rapper -- who guided Bette Davis through NOW, VOYAGER and THE CORN IS GREEN -- directed FOREVER FEMALE. Billy Wilder could've done it better, probably, but the three veteran stars keep it afloat. Billy Wilder, by the way, directed Ginger Rogers in one of her screwball comedy winners -- 1942's THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR from Paramount Pictures. This followed her landmark original screen musicals of the 1930s with Fred Astaire and her Best Actress Oscar win for the 1940 feminist drama, KITTY FOYLE.  Pat Crowley as Sally in FOREVER FEMALE is so obnoxious and overacts with such force that you often find yourself waiting for Sally's scenes to end. But there's a reason for  her tiring performance. The three stars know how to underplay a scene to perfection and that neutralizes Sally's hyperactivity. 

FOREVER FEMALE is movie Mom introduced me to when I was a kid. It was on TV one lazy, sweet Saturday night when our family was at home together and relaxing. Mom wanted to see it. She loved Ginger Rogers' performance as the Broadway star trying to adjust to her age. Rogers does indeed have the poise, carriage and elegance of a beloved Broadway star. 1953's FOREVER FEMALE is a movie that Ginger Rogers fans should see as a companion piece to her 1937 classic, STAGE DOOR.  In that one, Ginger gave one of her best film performances as the wisecracking Broadway hopeful living in a New York City boardinghouse for actresses.

It was kind o' cool to see Rogers and Holden as sweethearts. FOREVER FEMALE was a Paramount release and runs about 95 minutes.



Sunday, November 14, 2021

Kidman as Lucy Ricardo

 People had no problem with her wearing a fake nose and playing novelist Virginia Woolf. But, man, did people on Twitter get the knickers in a twist when they that Best Actress Oscar winner Nicole Kidman had been cast to play Lucille Ball when Ball achieved superstar status for being Lucy Ricardo on I LOVE LUCY. Kidman won her Oscar for playing Virginia Woolf in THE HOURS (2002). The tall actress will be seen opposite the equally tall fellow Oscar winner, Javier Bardem, as Desi Arnaz. This upcoming film, called BEING THE RICARDOS, comes to us from Aaron Sorkin, the man who gave us THE WEST WING. The story reportedly covers one week during an I LOVE LUCY filming, a week in which Ball and Arnaz face a career and a marital crisis. Their children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., are two of the show's producers. Although Kidman will do scenes as Ball playing Lucy Ricardo, Lucie Arnaz has told fans that this film is not a recreation of her parents' classic sitcom, it's about her parents as the real-life married couple offscreen. Here's a trailer.


This won't be the first time we've seen a production about the stormy but productive marriage of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Frances Fisher had a supporting role in Clint Eastwood's UNFORGIVEN, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1992. After that she had a supporting role in TITANIC, Oscar winner for Best Picture of 1997. Before those movie assignments, Frances Fisher played Lucille Ball in the 1991 CBS presentation, LUCY & DESI: BEFORE THE LAUGHTER. Desi was played by Maurice Bernard. Here's something I found on YouTube.


Aaron Sorkin's BEING THE RICARDOS opens theatrically on December 10th. It arrives on Amazon Prime Video on December 21st.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Ruth Negga in PASSING

She delivers a powerful performance in another film about race in America. The first one, 2016's LOVING, was about Richard and Mildred Loving. The couple, married in the 1950s, was jailed. Jailed for being married. He was White, she was Black and interracial marriage was illegal in some United States. They took legal action and took their case to the Supreme Court. In 1967, Loving v. Virginia won. The Supreme Court ruled that interracial marriage was legal all across America. For her work as Mildred Loving, Ruth Negga earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Now Ruth Negga stars in PASSING, based on the acclaimed 1920s novel by Harlem Renaissance writer, Nella Larsen. The practice of light-skinned Black people pretending to be White was called passing. 

"Don't you know me?," Clare says when she approaches another woman seated in the classy hotel restaurant on a hot day in New York. The other woman, also very well-dressed, gives off an air of nervousness. She seems to be hiding her eyes with the brim of her delicate hat. We'll learn that she was nervous because she's Black. She doesn't make it a practice of passing but she can pass. She is seated in a place where Black people would not be welcomed. Clare, as it turns out, recognizes her friend whom she has not seen in 12 years. Nervous Irene had seen Clare being physically affectionate with a tall, handsome White men who left. Clare has made passing a ritual in her life. That man was her husband. He has no idea about the truth of her. He uses a racial slur in her presence. Irene has a Black husband, a doctor, and they live in Harlem with their two kids.

The point of passing is to have privilege, safety, equal opportunities and access. With her light skin and light hair, Clare can stay in a nice hotel room and order room service. An obviously Black person would not be allowed to stay in the hotel.

To pass, there must be separation to go hand-in-hand with the deception. And it can bring about jealousy. However, at some point, the person passing will long to go home. There will be a failing of Whiteness. Clare insinuates herself into Irene's Harlem life. Clare is jealous. Clare is bothered. But she allows it as she reflects "We're all of us passing for something or other. Aren't we?" 

Lovely and charismatic Clare seems to treat her passing as if it's a game she's winning while she describes her life as "pale." What will happen if the truth of things comes out? The performance from Ruth Negga as Clare is not the only terrific one in this film. The same praise goes to Tessa Thompson as the complicated, uneasy, middle class Irene and Andre Holland as Irene's wise husband. PASSING, now on Netflix, marks the directorial debut of actress Rebecca Hall. She also wrote the screenplay. Brava to Rebecca Hall for this amazing directorial debut. She gives us an elegant, potent film. Here's a trailer.



We've seen Black characters who are passing or who can pass in classic Hollywood films. There was the singer Julie LaVerne character in the 1936 and 1951 versions of SHOW BOAT, there was the light-skinned daughter of the Black maid in the 1934 and 1959 versions of IMITATION OF LIFE and there was the light-skinned nursing school graduate called PINKY (1949). Most of those films had a White actress playing the light-skinned Black woman. Only the original version of IMITATION OF LIFE (1934) had a real light-skinned Black actress playing the daughter who was passing. Fredi Washington was the actress and she gave an Oscar-nomination worthy performance. Ironically, Hollywood executives told Washington that if she pretended to be White, they could make her a glamorous 1930s movie star like Joan Crawford. She refused to deny her race and Hollywood had little work for her after 1934's IMITATION OF LIFE. 

Fredi Washington returned to New York City and did stage work.

PASSING, on Netflix, runs 1 hour 38 minutes. Netflix also has Ruth Negga in LOVING,

Friday, November 12, 2021

From Director James Whale

 For the most part, it's a two-character drama. If you're a fan of the classic 1930s work of director James Whale, the visuals of this short drama tell you it's another film from Whale. The expressionistic camera style. The striking play of light, darkness, shadow and lines in the black and white cinematographer. They call to mind images from his groundbreaking classics of the 1930s -- FRANKENSTEIN (1931), THE INVISIBLE MAN (1933) and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935). This 1949 short feature was the last film directed by James Whale. Just like those three horror movies he made, this non-horror drama features an outcast male figure who is hunted down by a predominantly male group of men. Whale's 1949 short film is HELLO OUT THERE! Based on a one-act play by William Saroyan and produced by millionaire Huntington Hartford, it gives actor Harry Morgan one of his rare film opportunities to have the lead role. He plays a gambler, a man behind bars in a Texas jail, a man "trying to break his bad luck." He's an intense, lonesome character who reveals "I've been lonesome all my life."


The story opens with the gambler yelling the title of the film. He's alone. A voice answers him. That voice comes from Ethel, the jail cook. She comes to the cell and tells him that he was knocked out and jailed. "They claim you tried to attack a woman," she tells him. His anger flares up and he tells her he never attacked a woman, They emotionally connect. Her loveliness, innocence and compassion touch his heart. He wishes they could run away together to San Francisco. He urges her not to stay in that small Texas town and settle into its conformity.

This was not a big budget production but it made good use of every penny in the budget it did have. It's a visually handsome production. Reportedly, it was shot in Hollywood at the KTTV television studios. Those were the Channel 11 call letters. It's now FOX 11 Los Angeles. Morgan bellows most of his dialogue as if he's onstage. However, this vehicle did come from a one-act play. He can be forgiven on that point because he gives a solid performance in a rare lead role. On television, he went on to a lead role as Pete in the early 1960s sitcom, PETE AND GLADYS. That sitcom followed his supporting role as a cop on the very popular DRAGNET. Years later came M*A*S*H* which really made Morgan a beloved TV sitcom actor. 

With his Everyman face and low, warm and recognizable voice, Harry Morgan was an excellent supporting actor in fine films such as STATE FAIR (1945), FROM THIS DAY FORWARD with Joan Fontaine, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT with Henry Fonda, HIGH NOON, THE GLENN MILLER STORY with James Stewart and INHERIT THE WIND with Spencer Tracy and Fredric March. James Whale put Morgan in the top role and you wish the actor had been given a similar opportunity in other films of the 1940s.

His 1930s horror classics made James Whale famous. However, he did work outside that genre keeping some of his classic monster movie sensibilities. To me, his 1936 adaptation of SHOW BOAT, based on the famous Broadway musical, is better than the deluxe 1951 remake from MGM. The racism and racial inequality that are a forceful undercurrent in the SHOW BOAT story are diluted somewhat in the MGM remake. It is unavoidable in Whale's version which stars Irene Dunne, Paul Robeson and Hattie McDaniel. Under Whale's direction, racism against Black people is the monster.

Whale, who died in 1957, was the openly gay film director portrayed by Ian McKellen in the 1998 biopic, GODS AND MONSTERS. The title came from a line of dialogue in Whale's BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. 

1949's HELLO OUT THERE! is like one of those moving, meaningful episodes of Rod Serling's THE TWILIGHT ZONE that folks saw in the early 60s. The half-hour short film, the last work of director James Whale, is worth a look.

www.rarefilmm.com.


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Dinah Shore Music Break

 Network TV gives us THE VOICE and AMERICAN IDOL, shows that introduce us to singing show biz hopefuls in musical competition to be tomorrow's new star. I miss the weekly music variety shows and the network music variety specials that gave us professional, known talent who entertained us by doing what they did best. My generation remembers Dinah Shore as the cool lady who had her own popular daytime talk show in the 70s....AND...had a much-publicized romance with Burt Reynolds. My parents watched Dinah host her very popular weekly music variety show in the 50s. 

Dinah Shore was one of the top female vocalists of the 40s and 50s. Her records spent many weeks in the top five of the Billboard charts. This week, after watching so much cable news, I needed music to refresh my spirits. Here's a reminder that Dinah Shore was not just a daytime talk show host. Here is Dinah on her weekly NBC show with special guest, Peggy Lee.


This is my absolute favorite Dinah Shore vocal. It's from a Danny Kaye movie called UP IN ARMS. Dinah played the army nurse in love with Kaye's G.I. character -- even though he's clueless to it. The movie was a 1944 musical comedy meant to boost moviegoer morale during World War 2. "Now I Know," by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, was an Oscar nominee for Best Song.


UP IN ARMS is a movie that entertained me many times when I got home from school in my grade school years. It aired frequently on the local CBS late afternoon movie. OK. Here's another Dinah Shore bit. This is a dream sequence jive number from UP IN ARMS with Danny Kaye. Enjoy.





Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Dean Stockwell Trailers

 He had a great career, one that boasted an impressive and extensive list of credits. Veteran actor Dean Stockwell passed away at age 85. You could sort of tell which news outlets had someone on staff with a vast knowledge of film history. Most reports of Stockwell's death read that he was a star of the hit TV series QUANTUM LEAP, got an Oscar nomination for 1988's MARRIED TO THE MOB and also appeared in 1986's BLUE VELVET. For example, those were the only three acting credits mentioned by ABC evening news anchor David Muir.

Stockwell, one of my favorite actors, was a child actor who grew into a talented adult actor who made some quality films years before QUANTUM LEAP and BLUE VELVET. I first noticed him as THE BOY WITH GREEN HAIR (1948) when I was a kid in Catholic elementary school back in South Central Los Angeles. The nuns borrowed a projector and showed the movie in the school auditorium as a special treat one St. Patrick's Day. Here's a trailer for the movie.


As a gifted child actor and as a versatile adult actor, Dean Stockwell starred in some films that had prestigious roots. As a kid, he held his own in ANCHORS AWEIGH (1945) with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra, the Best Picture Oscar winner GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT (1947) with Gregory Peck, SONG OF THE THIN MAN with William Powell and Myrna Loy as the parents to his character, THE SECRET GARDEN (1949) with Margaret O'Brien and Rudyard Kipling's KIM (1950) with Errol Flynn. Just to name a few. Scott Bakula, Stockwell's QUANTUM LEAP co-star told The Hollywood Reporter "I loved him dearly." He added "Having been a famous child actor, he had a soft spot for every young actor who came on our set. He was very protective of their rights and safety...His big-hearted response to the kids made all of us take notice and be better guardians ourselves."

Stockwell had a talent for handling material based on acclaimed literary works. As a young man, Dean Stockwell excelled as one of the two killers in COMPULSION (1959), based on the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924. Here's a trailer.


He gave another fine performance in SONS AND LOVERS (1960), based on the novel by D.H. Lawrence. Here's a trailer.


A Stockwell performance that grabs my heart every time is the one he gave in Eugene O'Neill's  LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (1962) with Katharine Hepburn. She received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Here's a trailer.


Dean Stockwell left us with a generous collection of sterling work to reappreciate, work that covered several decades.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

On PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987)

 A couple of days ago, in my MOVIES FOR THANKSGIVING DAY post, I gave you viewing recommendations for your holiday entertainment at home on turkey day. Another film that's popular on that holiday is the 1987 comedy PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. It was produced, directed and written by John Hughes. He's the filmmaker who became revered by a certain generation for his 1980s teen comedies SIXTEEN CANDLES, THE BREAKFAST CLUB, PRETTY IN PINK and FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF.

His 1987 comedy, starring Steve Martin as a short-tempered, stranded traveler in New York City trying to get home to Chicago in time for Thanksgiving dinner with his family, showed that Hughes could do more than teen comedies. The lovable, late John Candy had one of the best roles of his movie career as the sweet, chatty guy who becomes an unlikely traveling companion to Martin's character. Both are headed for Chicago. The Steve Martin and John Candy road comedy takes us from New York City to Wichita to St. Louis and, finally, Chicago. I like both stars in the comedy. However, it does have a similar trait I noticed in the John Hughes teen comedies that take place in or around Chicago -- no Black actors have featured roles.

I worked on TV in Milwaukee and spent a lot of time in Chicago in the 80s. I love Chicago. I love its diversity. In the 80s, we saw racial diversity just about every weekday when we looked at the audiences on Oprah's daytime talk show in Chicago. During the press junket for 1984's SIXTEEN CANDLES, I interviewed Hughes and asked him if we'd be seeing Black kids in his future teen comedies. He sort danced around the question in his answer. When I saw 1986's FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF, I felt that he should've just said "No."

TCM host Dave Karger, mentions in a TCM promo that he's a big fan of the filmmaker who seemed to capture the teen spirit of the 1980s. Karger is a dapper, knowledgeable young man. I'd like to ask him if he can name one Black character from a Hughes teen comedy starring Molly Ringwald or Matthew Broderick.

Here's something to do. If you watch PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES on Thanksgiving Day, keep a notepad nearby and make a mark for every time you see a Black actor in the film who has 5 or more lines. There are counter clerks, cab drivers, bus drivers, motorists...all sorts of other characters in the story that -- as I wrote -- goes from New York City to Wichita to St. Louis to Chicago.


That's what I noticed about movies from filmmaker John Hughes. And that's an aspect I never, ever heard brought up by the weekly movie critics -- predominantly white males -- on TV in those days. 

This is why I push for more representation for people of color not only in the arts, but in the criticism and conversation about the arts. Here's a clip from the 1987 John Hughes comedy.


Monday, November 8, 2021

WEST SIDE STORY On Its Way

 "Something's Coming" is a song from the classic Broadway score and the 1961 Oscar-winning film adaptation of WEST SIDE STORY. To me, the 1961 movie is a work of film art. "Something's Coming" also applies to the soon-to-be seen new version of WEST SIDE STORY from famed director Steven Spielberg. It was scheduled to open last year, but was held back because of pandemic. The new version hits screens early next month. The extraordinary Rita Moreno, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her powerful performance in the original, is in Spielberg's remake. She does the role of the shop owner. He was "Doc" in the original, played by Ned Glass. Moreno is also one of the remake's producers. She had script input in sections that, from what I've heard, were a bit too Caucasian for Puerto Rican characters to be saying. Here's a trailer for Spielberg's WEST SIDE STORY.


Here's what the studio is calling a "sneak peek."


My wish is that Rita Moreno has such a good role and is so terrific in the remake that she gets a second Oscar nomination for WEST SIDE STORY. What wonderful Hollywood history that would be.

Steven Spielberg's version is scheduled to open on December 10th.


Sunday, November 7, 2021

Movies for Thanksgiving Day

 For many years, when I lived in New York, I had an entertainment tradition on Thanksgiving Day. Before the big meal and after the watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, I'd watch Woody Allen's HANNAH AND HER SISTERS, a romantic comedy/drama that begins and ends with a turkey dinner. When I was still pretty new to the city, I worked on a local weekday show that aired on WPIX/Channel 11. On it, I interviewed veteran actress Maureen O'Sullivan and Barbara Hershey. The film hadn't opened yet and both ladies from the cast were extremely proud of it. I saw it in a private screening room packed with known film critics. The whole audience gasped with joy at the film's last line. We loved HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. For me, it's one of those films that makes me want to know why the hell Mia Farrow has never, ever been nominated for an Oscar. Not for ROSEMARY'S BABY, THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, RADIO DAYS, ALICE, BROADWAY DANNY ROSE or HANNAH AND HER SISTERS. Farrow is excellent as the oldest of three grown sisters. She's so dependable and supportive that her needs are often overlooked by her sisters and her husband. It seems as though Hannah has blended into the wallpaper. I'm the oldest of three kids and I saw some of myself in Hannah.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS brought Oscars in the Best Supporting category to Michael Caine and Dianne Wiest.


Nowadays I include the delightful 2009 feature from director Wes Anderson that's based on a novel by Roald Dahl. It's FANTASTIC MR. FOX featuring voiceover work from George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Willem Dafoe and Bill Murray. Even though life on land in the outside world has grown darker and more perilous, these underground critters learn to take joy in just being together for Thanksgiving. They make each other feel appreciated, despite some differences. I love this film. Humans need to learn from these talking animals.


Wes Anderson's new film, currently out, is THE FRENCH DISPATCH.

Another turkey-centric movie is a 2000 comedy that totally entertained me. I reviewed it for ABC News on Lifetime TV. This comedy did not get a lot of press, but it truly reflected the Los Angeles I know with its racial and sexual diversity. I grew up in Los Angeles. Gurinder Chadha directed and co-wrote this look at four different families in L.A. gathering for Thanksgiving dinner. Her comedy stars Alfre Woodard, Joan Chen, Lainie Kazan, Julianna Margulies, Oscar winner Mercedes Ruehl, Dennis Haysbert and A Martinez. It's a sweet movie called WHAT'S COOKING?


Director Gurinder Chadha grew up in London but she got the L.A. tone just right. She went on to direct the very popular BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002).

There you have it. Three films to keep in mind for your home entertainment on Thanksgiving Day.


Saturday, November 6, 2021

About WE'RE HERE on HBO

 "You are a product of some strong-ass people." That is a quote from a reality show episode that truly moved me. It's a show in its second season on HBO, a show that -- at first -- you'd think would be solely about three openly gay male entertainers on the road with fashion and make-up tips. Well, it has those tips while also blending in powerful moments of social acceptance and social issues. The show is called WE'RE HERE and the hosts are professional -- and talented -- drag queen performers. They are Bob the Drag Queen, Shangela and Eureka! Here's a short taste of the series.

True, this is a show that came through the door opened years ago by the calculatedly festive QUEER EYE FOR THE STRAIGHT GUY, the show that made Carson Kressley a celebrity, For the majority of that show's network TV run, there was no queer Black guy in the group. On the hit sitcom, WILL & GRACE, there was no regular or semi-regular gay Black character even though the show was set in an area of New York City below 23rd Street that had gay Black folks galore. I know because I lived a few blocks away from where Will and Grace did. When both shows were rebooted, you just knew we'd be seeing Black representation to make up for the lack of it in the shows' original runs. And we did. There is a Black member of the QUEER EYE group in the Netflix reboot. (Wait till the SEX AND THE CITY reboot airs. I bet columnist Carrie Bradshaw will have discovered that there are lots of upscale Black people in Manhattan. She didn't seem to know any 20 years ago.)

QUEER EYE, the original and the reboot, are driven by marketing. Essentially, the shows sell top-notch product -- hair care, clothing, home accessories, cookware and such. Some of the products can be pricey. WE'RE HERE goes to towns and visits people -- straight, gay, bi, etc. -- who are working class and would go to a barbershop or neighbor beauty parlor instead of a ritzy salon. The WE'RE HERE trio goes to towns and, at the end of each episode, put on a drag show that includes some of the local folks they've met. They talk to people about the personal emotional and/or public social barriers they've had to break through to establish a true sense of themselves. The three drag queens are extremely funny. They also draw people out with their down-home, real people charm and compassion. They really give their attention to people with broken hearts. They listen, They help where they can. That quality hooked me into the first season. I did wonder if the COVID crisis would cancel a second season.

I was happy to see that it did not. The WE'RE HERE trio visits cities that may not be on the list of fabulous vacation travel sites, but that adds to the gravity of the show. They reach out to and find a common bond with strangers. They meet and talk to folks who prove that some of the most extraordinary poets in the world are the ordinary people around us. The second season shows that. The queens travelled to a Texas border down and introduced us to the queer Mexican son of a very macho, very loving father. Their story put tears in my eyes. The episode took place in Del Rio, Texas.

I really cried watching the trio's visit to Selma, Alabama. We're reminded that the Black Civil Rights Movement and the LGBTQ fight for acceptance have a definite kinship. The trio met Black women who were foot soldier in the famous "Bloody Sunday" Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. From that episode came the opening quote of this blog post. It is a moving, memorable episode.

There's fun and frivolity in the last act of each episode. There's surprise and substance before the fabulous last. WE'RE HERE is a show worth watching. Visit the show's website. You can meet the queens and find a clip from the Selma, Alabama episode. Click onto this link:    www.hbo.com/were-here.


Wednesday, November 3, 2021

On COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE

 Last month on October 30th, I blogged a post about the first two episodes of the Colin Kaepernick biopic, a limited series, on Netflix. Last night, I finished watching the entire series. Wow. Kaepernick's "Trust your power...Love your Blackness" letter at the end of the final episode had me in tears. It was that moving and motivational. Not in a chronological order but imaginatively presented, we get the story of the NFL athlete's life from being a baby adopted by a White couple in Wisconsin through his high school years as a good student and stand-out athlete in Northern California. In addition to his young life story, which he introduces and narrates, the athlete/activist gives us history, serious history about race in America. Race and racial images. 

Those factors play heavily in his young life. Actors Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Offerman are excellent as his parents who love him but don't really help him connect to his Black identity. Notice the inside of his home. There's evidence of Black culture upstairs in Colin's room but not in the living room -- and definitely not in the kitchen. The parents gently try to sway him to invite a White girl to the homecoming dance. Dad points out the cute girl in the crowd that Bruce Springsteen brings onstage to join him in the "Dancing in the Dark" music video of 1984. That girl, we'd all learn later, was Courteney Cox who became a member of the FRIENDS cast. Colin is not interested in her. I used to present that music video during my on-air shift when I was a VH1 veejay in the late 80s. What I always noticed was there were no Black kids in Springsteen's crowd of fans. I think young Colin noticed the same thing. He invites a lovely Black girl to the dance. The scene where he goes to her house to pick her up and meets her sweet family is classic. When he sees the down-home food they have on a dining room table, Colin looks at it as if he just discovered a pot of gold. And when he's asked "Can I make you a plate?," he's in heaven. And he gets his first taste of sweet potato pie. Colin's Caucasian mom, bless her heart, cannot and does not cook like that.

Young Colin has his own dreams for his athletic future and his social life. However, there's a constant tug-of-war in those areas with his White parents and White coaches, They want him to follow their dreams.

COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE struck a nerve in me and touched my heart. Although I have never been an athlete, I did get that "Lord, I have been there" feeling especially in the episodes that touched on "White Privilege" and the "Acceptable Negro." Colin Kaepernick co-created this achingly relevant limited series with director Ava DuVernay. Newcomer Jaden Michael is amazing as teen Kaepernick. Simply amazing,


COLIN IN BLACK & WHITE is one of the finest, most stirring features I've seen this year.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

On BURT LANCASTER

 Mom and Dad were Burt Lancaster fans. I picked up the Lancaster appreciation from them. I have great memories of going to The Compton Drive-in movie theater in Compton or The Vermont Drive-in to see a new Burt Lancaster film. With my parents in the front seat while my little sister and I were in the back seat -- wearing our pajamas underneath our street clothes because we'd be sleepyheads when we got home a little after midnight -- we saw ELMER GANTRY and SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. I was a Black Catholic kid in Los Angeles who'd done some time in parochial elementary school when we saw ELMER GANTRY. First of all, Burt Lancaster's head in close-up on a drive-in movie screen looked so enormous that it should've been annexed as a state.


I was too young then to understand everything that was going on in ELMER GANTRY but the visual, the energy of the performances and the religious imagery held my attention. It held my attention with such strength that when ELMER GANTRY aired on CBS years later, its network premiere, I felt that a couple or more minutes were missing from the opening. I was right. TCM host, Robert Osborne, confirmed that decades later in one of his host segments.

Burt Lancaster won the Best Actor Oscar for 1960's ELMER GANTRY. To this day, I feel that his leading lady, Jean Simmons, should have been a Best Actress Oscar nominee for her riveting performance as the traveling evangelist who falls for con man's Gantry's religious hypocrisy yet holds on her to spiritual beliefs with a Joan of Arc-like fierceness.


 My parents urged me to watch JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG with them when it aired on local TV. They saw it as an important history lesson I needed to learn at a young age, a lesson of "Never again" should that bigotry and atrocity on trial happen, Lancaster has a major role in the film. As a teen, during summer vacations, I stayed up several times to see Burt Lancaster kiss Deborah Kerr in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY on Channel 2's The Late Show. I used to imitate the way he bellowed "Rain!" in the final scene of THE RAINMAKER. Mom coaxed to watch Burt Lancaster in BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ when it aired on network TV. She used that film to teach me a lesson for when times got tough. She told me that, if ever I was in an environment in which I was made to feel unwanted and unimportant, to go to that place of freedom and expression in my soul and take comfort there -- like the prisoner Lancaster played in BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ did.

When I see a movie, I like to give it my full attention. If seeing a movie for work purposes, I will sit through the closing credits. I sat through 1985's KISS OF THE SPIDER WOMAN multiple times. I have a deep love for that movie. I always noticed that Burt Lancaster received a special thank you in the end credits. He was not in the film. Was he a producer? I interviewed William Hurt, who'd won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance as the drag queen in the prison drama, why Lancaster received a special credit. Lancaster was more than supportive of the film project that earned Hurt his Oscar.

The rest of the Lancaster involvement comes up in the clip of Raúl Julia when he was a guest on my 1988 VH1 talk show. The clip is in this demo reel of mine:


Here's a great New York City movie memory. A friend and I saw 1989's FIELD OF DREAMS with a preview audience at the Ziegfeld Theater. The place was packed. When Burt Lancaster appeared onscreen, the whole audience instantly burst into enthusiastic applause. Burt Lancaster. He was one of Hollywood's best. I'm so glad my parents introduced me to his films when I was growing up in South Central L.A.

Monday, November 1, 2021

A Mankiewicz on Hitchcock

 If you're a frequent viewer of cable's TCM (Turner Classic Movies), you know that prime time host Ben Mankiewicz and actor/comedian Mario Cantone were partners every Sunday night in October. Together they discussed and presented scary movies. They were fabulous together, For Halloween night, they presented the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock masterpiece, PSYCHO. 


 
Ben mentioned that PSYCHO, although old, feels modern because Hitchcock opens the film with graphics that slide into view to tell us where we are, when and at what time: "Phoenix, Arizona," "Friday, December the Eleventh" and "Two Forty-Three P.M/" Then the camera pans over to a hotel room window. We peer in on two lovers who just enjoyed some afternoon delight. Secretary Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is lying on a bed. She's wearing a brassiere and a half-slip. Her boyfriend, who wants a divorce from his money-hungry wife, is shirtless. Ben mentioned that seeing two characters like that in 1960 was pretty bold. And it was.


Ben should take a look at Hitchcock's 1946 classic, NOTORIOUS. It stars Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. This film opens with a graphic telling us we're in "Miami, Florida," "Three-Twenty P.M." on "April the Twenty-Fourth, Nineteen Hundred and Forty-Six."

Then we're introduced to the patriotic Alicia Huberman whose German father has just been convicted of treason against the United States. Alicia (Ingrid Bergman in one of her best Hollywood roles) is very independent, She likes cocktails and she likes older men. She definitely is not a virgin. She is, however, open to true love and she's deserving of true love. She's approached by a handsome but occasionally caustic government agent (Cary Grant). With her knowledge, beauty, sophistication, connections and her past, she's of interest to Uncle Sam. Devlin, the handsome federal agent, becomes her main contact for what U.S. federal officials will ask to do for her country.

The government office, dominated by older men in charge, recruits her to do spy work in Rio. The government wants her to infiltrate a nest of Nazis in the home of one of her late father's Nazi friends. The Nazi friend (Claude Rains) lives with his Nazi mother. He's an unmarried man who once had deep romantic interest in Alicia. The interest was not at all mutual. Alicia did not testify on her father's behalf. She loves America and hated his political views. Patriotic Alicia accepts the espionage assignment, an assignment that puts her life in danger.


 The U.S. government officials essentially ask Alicia Huberman to go to bed with a Nazi to uncover secret new plots against America. She does all the dangerous hard work -- vertical and horizontal -- while those male officials back in the safe, comfortable office make snide remarks about her not being a virgin. This angers the handsome agent who's her contact.  THAT sexual aspect was pretty bold for 1946 -- and it would've been bold for 1960 too.

Tell Ben.

Hitchcock's NOTORIOUS was not-so-loosely remade by director John Woo as the Tom Cruise thriller, MISSION: IMPOSSIBL 2 released in 2000. Key scenes from the original were recreated. Thandie Newton starred as the woman with a "notorious" past who's approached to help the Mission Impossible team root out a villain with a deadly German item. She learns that the handsome guy she's initially attracted to (Tom Cruise) is a secret agent. She discovers this like Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) does during a high-speed vehicle chase in the first 20 minutes of NOTORIOUS. Newton's character accepts the dangerous mission to re-establish contact with the villain, a man once romantically interested in her. In another key scene, a famous one in the 1946 original with Hitchcock's three stars, she attempts to pass information to her contact (Cruise) at a racetrack while the villain is present. Anthony Hopkins makes a cameo appearance playing the role Louis Calhern had in NOTORIOUS opposite Cary Grant. Thandie Newton's character, like Ingrid Bergman's, will get a poison in her system. In both versions, the "notorious" woman/spy will be saved by the handsome contact agent.

The NOTORIOUS screenplay by Ben Hecht was not noted in the opening credits of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2. It should have been, in my opinion.

On LICORICE PIZZA

 I grew in Los Angeles, specifically South Central L.A. which was way more racially diverse than portrayed in local media at the time. Our f...