Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer Reading Challenge - Second Round-Up

My favorite place to read is on my front porch. What's yours?

This summer has flown by. Was someone leaning on the fast forward button or something?

To all the summer reading participants, how is your reading going? I'm just over the halfway point and really hoping I can finish by the end of the month. ::fingers crossed:: Congrats to speed readers Andy and Vanessa who have already finished their challenges! And thank you to all the participants. I'm having a blast reading your reviews. Keep up the good work.

Below are the newest reviews since my last round-up. Enjoy!

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light
Asheville Movies Volume 1: The Silent Era by Frank Thompson
Design for Dying by Renee Patrick   
Noir City Annual 2015 edited by Eddie Muller

Daffny of A Vintage Nerd
Uncommon Knowledge by Judy Lewis

Emily on Instagram
Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel
Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin by David Kaufman

Jay of Thirty Hertz Rumble
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films 1931-1946 by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas

Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood
My Way of Life by Joan Crawford

Le of Crítica Retrô
Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock by Bill Krohn

Molly of Dreaming in the Balcony
The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung
Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski
Gentleman: The William Powell Story by Charles Francisco

Nicole of an Ode to Dust
James Cagney: The Authorized Biography by Doug Warren with James Cagney

Raquel of Out of the Past
Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood by Kirk and Anne Douglas
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic by Richard Sandomir

Rich of Wide Screen World
Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx by Stefan Kanfer
Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story by Annette Funicello
Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff 

Make 'Em Laugh: Short-term Memories of Long-term Friends by Debbie Reynolds
You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age by Robert J. Wagner and Scott Eyman

Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin

Friday, August 11, 2017

Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood

Kirk and Anne
Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood
by Kirk and Anne Douglas with Marcia Newberger
foreword by Michael Douglas
TCM and Running Press
May 2017
 Hardcover ISBN: 9780762462179240 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

In March when I visited Boston University's Gotlieb Center, they had on display a 2008 letter from Kirk Douglas to his son Michael Douglas. It included a funny hand drawn portrait in profile of Kirk and his trademark cleft chin. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to read some more letters written by Hollywood movie stars? Fast forward a month later when I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival. Lo and behold in my goodie bag was a copy of TCM and Running Press' new book Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood. What an unexpected treat! Kirk Douglas is one of my very favorite actors and this was a wonderful opportunity to read some of his letters and to learn about his 60+ year marriage to his wife Anne Buydens Douglas.

“Each of them brings out the very best in the other.” – Michael Douglas 

Kirk Douglas met Anne Buydens in Paris 1953. They fell in love and married in Las Vegas the following year. It sounds like the makings of a whirlwind romance but it was anything but that. Anne heard that Kirk Douglas needed a translator while he was in Europe. She met with him and turned down the job. This drove Kirk a little batty. The divorced Kirk had a busy dating life and was serious with actress Pier Angeli when he met Anne. Although he was immediately smitten with Anne and she with him, he made it clear early on that he planned on marrying Pier. Oh how different dating was back then! Anne couldn’t stand being the other woman and she broke up with Kirk which drove him right into her arms. They soon married and are still married today more than 60 years later.
The book is written from both Kirk and Anne’s perspectives. Readers learn the story of young Issur Danielovitch, a young Jewish man growing up in abject poverty in Amsterdam, NY. He grew up with a doting mother, 6 sisters, a disinterested father and a passion for acting. Then there’s the story of Hannelore Marx born and raised in Germany. During WWII she fled the Nazis and reemerged as Anne Buydens. Kirk Douglas became a world-famous actor and Anne became a movie industry executive helping Hollywood actors with translation and organizing the Cannes Film Festivals. We learn about their family lives, careers, how they met and the journey they had with all it’s ups and downs including Anne’s breast cancer, Kirk’s stroke, manager Sam Norton’s extortion of their finances and the death of their son Eric.

Anne and Kirk Douglas, February 1957. Photo source: Richard C. Miller

“If we live to be a hundred, there will still be so many unsaid things. As I write, I realize that I have been the happiest in my life with you.” – Kirk Douglas in a letter to his wife Anne 

Within the pages of this book are countless letters between Kirk and Anne. They are sickeningly romantic and will make you doubt how much you really love your significant other. Kirk and Anne have a special relationship that can be described using the contemporary phrase “relationship goals.” Also included are letters from famous friends. We learn about their Hollywood lifestyle and their friendships with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Todd, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh Merle Oberon, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, William Haines, and many more. Kirk Douglas was a goodwill ambassador for the government. Kirk and Anne developed a social circle of political heavyweights included presidents like JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Anne is an a-plus socialite and in many cases their friends were more dazzled by her than her movie star husband.

“I’ve outlived many of the friends I work with and I miss them.” – Kirk Douglas 

I loved learning about Kirk and Anne Douglas’ charitable efforts. First there is the Anne Douglas Center, a rehab for homeless women. Then there is the Anne and Kirk Douglas Playground Award. Los Angeles schools have benefited from this program. The Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Country Home has an Alzheimer’s unit and their MPTF Home has a Kirk Douglas Care Pavillion thanks to the Douglas’ donations. There is even a Kirk Douglas scholarship at his alma mater St. Lawrence University.

For those of you who are particularly interested in Kirk Douglas' film career, myself included, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes information about the making of Lust for Life (1956), The Indian Fighter (1955), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Seven Days in May (1964) (JFK encourage him to make the movie!), and more. Neither Kirk nor Anne are afraid to gossip so there is quite a bit of dish about their movie star friends and colleagues.

Kirk and Anne is a beautiful book filled with heartwarming letters and fascinating stories. It's a unique insight into the marriage and lifestyle of a Hollywood couple. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and now want to dive into more books about Kirk Douglas; he’s written several. I encourage you to pick up this book. It’s a quick read and will be a nice addition to your home library.

This is my third book review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

36 Hours (1965)

 36 Hours (1965)

Prisoners of war are interrogated and tortured for their secrets. But what happens when they're tricked out of them?

Directed and adapted for the screen by George Seaton, 36 Hours (1965) is a fascinating WWII film about a major in the US Navy whose drugged and captured by the Germans. When he comes to he's made to believe that it's 6 years later and the war is over opening up the opportunity for the Germans to learn crucial information about the imminent invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day.

James Garner stars as Major Jefferson Pike. The US Navy has sent him to Lisbon, Portugal on an intelligence mission. However before he's able to execute his assignment, a German spy slips something into his coffee which knocks him out and he's taken prisoner. While he's unconscious a team of Nazis work to execute an elaborate plan that's been months in the making. Led by psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), the team has studied Pike for months. Their plan is to make him think it's 1950 and he's recovering in an American Navy hospital. He's recruited fellow Germans who speak impeccable English to play Americans. Also part of his team is Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint), a concentration camp victim who spoke good English, was a trained nurse and saw this as an opportunity out of her situation. Anna plays his wife and nurse and Gerber plays a sympathetic American major and psychiatrist. A team of doctors perform plastic surgery on Pike to make him look like he's aged by 6 years. Gerber gets word from his higher ups that he only has 36 hours to finish his project and get important battle details out of Pike. His superior Otto Schack (Werner Peters) is visiting and anxious to interrogate the prisoner all the while doubting Gerber's plan. Will Pike figure out what's going on before he reveals too much?

Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)
Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)

36 Hours is based on an original story by writers Luis Vance and Carl K. Hittleman. However, Roald Dahl, popular writer and WWII veteran, had written a story in 1944 called Beware of the Dog that was very similar to Vance and Hittleman's story. Dahl's wife actress Patricia Neal was considering the part of Anna and noticed the similarities. In order to avoid a lawsuit, MGM bought the rights to Dahl's story and he received credit. Roald Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown confirms that Dahl was paid $30k for the film rights to Beware of the Dog. Most sources say the movie was adapted from Dahl's story but his is quite different. The two stories share in common the concept of tricking someone into think they are in a different place and time. I couldn't find any corroboration to this information other than IMDb. If you see any information please let me know because it makes for a very interesting back story!

James Garner's company Cherokee Productions co-produced 36 Hours along with William Perlberg and George Seaton. It was filmed on location in Yosemite National Park which was meant to represent the German countryside where Pike was isolated. I was delighted to see real footage of Lisbon, Portugal in the early 1960s. My father was from Portugal and I spent quite a bit of time visiting family there. At the time of filming my dad would have already been living in the US but it was still so fun to see my dad's country on film.

36 Hours is a taut war drama that kept me enthralled. I enjoyed the performances by the three leads James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Saint's Anna is a very dark character. She's become numb because of her experiences in a concentration camp and is purely in survival mode. Saint is roughed up a bit in the movie and the plot line about her not being able to cry felt a bit over done. However I think her character was very interesting and it was great to see Saint in a role like this. Taylor's performance as Gerber was nuanced and brilliant. His character is probably the most complex of the bunch. Garner is great as Pike but I don't feel like the role was all that challenging for him. Pike is kind of a one-note character and he's confused when he comes to but I didn't quite believe it when he starts to realize what's going on. Garner is one of my favorite actors so it was still great to see him in this. And I also admire the fact that he was heavily involved behind the scenes too. I really enjoyed John Banner's performance as the Ernst. He plays an important character in the final part of the film. Describing his story line would be a major spoiler because he helps the plot come to its final conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed 36 Hours. I loved it's unusual story line and seeing a different take on WWII. The ending is predictable because it's based on real events but it's still so much fun to watch. Hat tip to writer Andy Ross who convinced me that I had to watch this one. You can check out his article on the movie here.

36 Hours (1965) is available on DVD-MOD and Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. It's also streaming on Warner Archive Instant. I watched the Blu-Ray version and highly recommend it.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a Blu-Ray copy of 36 Hours to review!

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