Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trapeze (1956)

“You really fly high” - Mike
“Because I’m not afraid of anything.” - Lola

As one of the few trapeze artists to ever perform a triple somersault, one of the most dangerous and highly skilled moves, Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) seems unstoppable. That is until a fall leaves him crippled and puts an end to his career as a flier. Years later Ribble is working as a stage hand at a Paris circus run by famous Bouglione (Thomas Gomez), a tyrant who cares little about his performers and a lot about making a profit. Ribble meets Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis), a talented young trapeze artist who idolizes Ribble and dreams of becoming a flier in the circus. With a little push from his old flame and fellow circus performer Rosa (Katy Jurado), Ribble takes Tino under his wing. The two work on a new act with Ribble as catcher and Tino as flier, with the intention of getting Tino to the ultimate goal of perfecting the triple. Working with Tino breathes new life into Ribble. But one woman stands in their way: Lola (Gina Lollobrigida). She’s a headstrong acrobat, who came from a particularly dire situation in her native Italy. Lola will do anything and step over anyone to succeed. When Bouglione puts this unlikely trio together for the act, the opportunist, the dreamer and the fallen star must come together to put on the performance of a lifetime. When both Ribble and Tino fall for the tempestuous Lola, will their act fall apart? Will Ribble finally be able to help Tino master that triple?

Trapeze (1956) was based on Max Catto's 1950 novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto. It was adapted to screen by Liam O’Brien (brother of actor Edmond O’Brien) and James R. Webb with uncredited help by writers Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. The film was plagued with legal troubles as other authors came forward claiming that the film’s plot was stolen from their own original stories. Author Badia Jacobs filed a lawsuit in 1962 claiming that her unpublished manuscript entitled “No Alternative” was plagiarized by Catto for his novel. In 1948, Jacobs gave her manuscript to agent Ben Medford and claims Medford subsequently plotted with Catto to steal the story and publish it as The Killing Frost. Jacobs did not find out about Catto’s novel until she saw the film adaptation years later. The two stories were vastly different and the judge eventually dismissed the case. Screenwriter Daniel Fuchs also filed suit. Fuchs’ story The Daring Young Man was published in Collier’s magazine in 1940 and he adapted it into a screenplay which he claims he gave to producer Harold Hecht who then stole it for the movie. After two years of litigation, both parties settled out of court for $50k.

Burt Lancaster’s production company, one he co-owned with Harold Hecht and James Hill, produced the film. At the time it was called Joanna Productions but was eventually was renamed Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions. Before becoming an actor, Lancaster was a skilled acrobat and trapeze artist. He performed in circuses, carnivals and nightclubs until an injury ended his career, much like character Mike Ribble in the film. Lancaster was eager to make a movie about the circus and relive his acrobat days. He partnered with his childhood friend Nick Cravat who became an adviser and body double in the film. Lancaster does the majority of his own stunts as a trapeze catcher in the film. Other stuntmen and women were used in the film. Eddie Ward of the Ringling Bros. Circus was a technical consultant. Tragically, Lollobrigida’s stuntwoman died during the filming of one of the scenes when she fell 40 feet and broke her back.

In the mid 1950s, Lancaster was on top of his game and his clout was enough to get an independent film like Trapeze under way. It was a big production shot entirely at the Cirque d’Hiver and the Billancourt Studios in Paris. Montgomery Clift was under consideration for the part of Tino. The role eventually went to Tony Curtis who was borrowed from Universal. Trapeze was director Carol Reed’s first American film. It was also Gina Lollobrigida’s first film with an American production company (an arrangement with Howard Hughes prevented her from making films in Hollywood). Trapeze was shot in CinemaScope and released through United Artists in July 1956. It was a huge hit earning $4.1 million in the first week and was screened in over 400 theaters in the United States. It broke United Artists’ record for highest grossing film both domestically and internationally.

Trapeze (1956) is an enjoyable film with lots of great aerial stunts and a love triangle drama to boot. Lancaster and Curtis proved to be a great onscreen duo and would later re-team for Sweet Smell of Success (1957). They play off of each other so well. Gina Lollobrigida plays a terribly unlikable character but she does it so well. I enjoyed Katy Jurado’s role as Rosa. She’s basically the polar opposite of Lollobrigida’s Lola. I would have liked a bit more backstory about Rosa and her relationship with Ribble. Jurado’s role is understated but key to giving the film a sense of balance. Otherwise you have three very headstrong characters (four if you want to add Gomez’ Bouglione) causing chaos in the story. In Catto’s novel, the love triangle becomes murderous and Tino and Ribble’s relationship turns out to be more than just mentor and apprentice. I'd love to see a modern remake take on Catto's LGBT love story and tragic ending.

Trapeze (1956) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Studio Classics line. The disc includes subtitles, audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, the original theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber related trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Final Summer Reading Round-Up

Photo via Emily on Instagram

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light
Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film by Alan K. Rode

Emily on Instagram
Every Frenchman Has One by Olivia de Havilland
Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star by Stephen Michael Shearer
Sylvia Sidney: Paid by the Tear by Scott O'Brien

Photo courtesy of Andy

James of Dark Lane Creative
The Art of Looking in Hitchcock's Rear Window by Stefan Sharff
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
The Desire to Desire: The Woman's Film of the 1940s by Mary Ann Doane
Hollywood Beyond the Screen: Design and Material Culture by
The Technicolor Time Machine by Harry Harrison

Karen of Shadows and Satin
Behind the Scenes by Rudy Behlmer
A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin
Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film by Kenneth Turan
The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain
So Big by Edna Ferber
Week-end Marriage by Faith Baldwin

All 6 reviews can be found here

Lee of Totallee.net
The Movies: From 1930 to the Present by Jeremy Pascall (see video above)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Raquel of Out of the Past
The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey

Robby on Instagram
Burt Lancaster: An American Life by Kate Buford
Doris Day: Her Own Story by A.E. Hotchner

Ruth of Silver Screenings
Conversations with the Great Moviemakers of Hollywood's Golden Age
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Hollywood Jewels
The Matinee Idols by David Carroll
The Speed of Sound by Scott Eyman
Swanson on Swanson

All 6 reviews can be found here

Sarah on Goodreads
Hank & Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman

Vanessa of Super Veebs
The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey
Elsa Lanchester, Herself: An Autobiography by Elsa Lanchester (partial read)
The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy
A Rose For Mrs. Miniver: The Life of Greer Garson by Michael Troyan
The Salad Days: An Autobiography by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.

 All 6 reviews can be found here.

Congratulations to the following recipients for completing 6 books.

Emily on Instagram
Lee of Totallee.net
Robby on Instagram
Sarah on Goodreads

I chose three grand prize winners at random and those winners are:

Emily, James and Lee!

Winners will receive their choice of a single disc Warner Archive DVD. 

Thanks to everyone who participated. See you next year.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey

The Girl on the Balcony
Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo & Juliet
by Olivia Hussey
Kensington Publishing
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496717078
320 pages
July 2018

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

"Juliet: It's the defining role of my life... It changed everything, and you would define my life in ways I never could have imagined."

At the tender age of 15, Olivia Hussey landed the role of a lifetime: Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). Alongside newcomer Leonard Whiting, the duo captivated audiences around the world breathing new life into Shakespeare's renowned play. When I was a teenager I saw Romeo and Juliet in my high school English class. In fact I was shown the film more than once over the years and I remember being in total awe of how this movie recreated a world lost to time but I was particularly captivated by the chemistry between Hussey and Whiting. It opened my eyes and awakened something within me. This year at the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival I got a chance to meet Hussey and Whiting and thank them in person for how their movie affected me all those years ago.

In Olivia Hussey's memoir The Girl on the Balcony, she takes readers on a journey of her entire life from her early days in Argentina to the present day. The second of two children, her parents split up shortly after she was born and a few years later her mother whisked her and her brother off to England. It was here that Hussey pursued her interest in acting. After a stint on stage and a couple bit parts in movie, she traveled to Cinecitta in Italy to audition for Zeffirelli for the part of Juliet. She was paired with Whiting from the very beginning and the two were up against hundreds of other hopefuls. The making of this movie was highly anticipated by many and became a worldwide cinematic event. It catapulted Hussey into stardom.

In the book Hussey recounts in wonderful detail the making of Romeo and Juliet. I was especially pleased by this because like many others that is one of the reasons I was drawn to the book. The reader settles into to the world of 1960s Cinecitta. I particularly loved reading the passages of the sweet bond she developed with Whiting, they remained friends for decades, and the mutual admiration between her and director Zeffirelli. He could be a tough director but she acknowledges that he knew what he was doing and could bring out the best performances from her. The two would later work on Jesus of Nazareth together.

Hussey is a gentle soul who wears her heart on her sleeve. You can tell this from her book. We follow the ups and downs of her life. Her marriages to Dean "Dino" Paul Martin (her first great love who died tragically in a plane crash), Akira Fuse (the Japanese rock legend) and her current husband David Glen Eisley with whom she's been in a loving and supportive marriage since 1991. We learn about her children Alex, Max, and India. There are also the various films and TV shows she worked on over the years which culminated with another role of a lifetime, Mother Theresa in the TV movie Madre Teresa. She discusses moving to LA, living in the Tate-Polanski home just weeks after the Manson murders, her abusive relationship with Christopher Jones (Ryan's Daughter), and her tender bond with the Dean Martin clan. We learn about the classic Hollywood legends that entered her world over the years including Robert Mitchum (he was a good cook), Frank Sinatra (helped her out with Dino Martin was arrested), Elizabeth Taylor (Burton once said Hussey was like Taylor), Bette Davis ("working with her was its own kind of suffering), David Niven ("like me he was a giggler"), Burt Lancaster (she was in awe of him) and many more.

We also learn about Hussey's spiritual enlightenment when she met the guru who would change her life. Then there were her bouts of post partum depression, her drinking problem and the stage 4 breast cancer that almost claimed her life. I was particularly interested to learn about her struggles with agoraphobia. When I met Hussey on the red carpet at this year's TCMFF, I noticed that she remained arm-in-arm with Whiting the entire time. In fact when I shook both of their hands, she would not remove her arm from his. Now I realize Whiting must have been giving her support because with all the press, photographers and the bleachers filled with adoring fans, that must have triggered her agoraphobia. We sometimes think of movie stars as extreme extroverts but it's interesting to learn that some of them have their own social anxieties and fears like we do.

Hussey's memoir is a delightful read. She has a gentle and soothing narrative voice. There are a few grammatical errors that could be easily cleaned up with some editing. Fans of Romeo and Juliet or anyone interested looking for a straightforward and highly readable memoir will want to check this one out.

A special thank you to my friend Vanessa who gave me an autographed copy of Hussey's book as a gift.

This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.  

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