Friday, March 16, 2018

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)

1939 was a good year for David O. Selznick. While in the midst of working on what would become recognized as one of the greatest movies of all time, Gone with the Wind, Selznick was also making strides at his studio Selznick International Pictures. He had his talent scout Katharine Brown (aka Kay B. Barrett) constantly on the lookout for new faces. A young elevator operator in New York City mentioned the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936) to Brown. She watched it in a small art house theatre and then immediately had the film sent to Selznick in Hollywood. Selznick was sold and he invited Bergman to Hollywood to remake the movie in English and to sign a contract with his studio. In her 1973 interview with British TV host Parkinson, Ingrid Bergman said, "I owe my career in America to the elevator boy." Bergman was immediately groomed for stardom. She had to work on her English, they had to figure out what to do with her figure (a curvaceous 5'10 actress was not the norm), and her name. She had already made a career for herself in Europe with her real name and didn't want to let it go. Her name was hers and it was here to stay. Selznick and his team had to concede. It was fortuitous for everyone involved that they had come to this agreement because Bergman was now on a trajectory to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Merriam-Webster definition of intermezzo:
1: a short light entr'acte
2 a : a movement coming between the major sections of an extended musical work
b : a short independent instrumental composition
3 : a usually brief interlude or diversion

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) stars Leslie Howard as Holger Brandt, a celebrated composer and violinist who has just finished his tour with retiring pianist Thomas Stenborg (John Halliday). After many months away from home, he finally returns to his devoted wife Margit (Edna Best), his son Eric (Douglas Scott) and his daughter Ann Marie (Ann E. Todd). Ann Marie is following in her father's footsteps and has taken up classical music. She's been taking piano lessons from Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman). Holger pays Anita no mind until he witnesses her incredible talent at the piano. Their mutual passion for music intertwines with their feelings for each other. Anita becomes Holger's new accompanist and the two leave everything behind them to live a new life of romantic bliss. However the past begins to creep up on them. And there is Holger's family to think of, especially little Ann Marie who keeps hoping her father will come home soon. Holger and Anita must decide whether their love will be forever or if it'll just be a brief intermezzo.

Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

"I haven't any right to be happy the way I'm happy with you... I'm fighting to be sensible." - Anita
"Love isn't sensible." - Holger

The film was directed by Gregory Ratoff whom Selznick borrowed from 20th Century Fox. William Wyler was going to be the director but had to drop out due to a delay in production and other commitments. It was a huge hit and launched Bergman's career into the stratosphere. A few years later she'd star in another film, you might have heard of it, Casablanca (1942). 1939 was a good year for Leslie Howard too. He also starred in Gone With the Wind and Intermezzo was his film producing debut. Selznick made Intermezzo for $4.8 million and it went on to make $153.8 million at the box office. It was nominated for two Oscars, Gregg Toland for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Louis Forbes for Best Music, Scoring.

Ann E. Todd and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

The story of Intermezzo had parallels to the lives of some of it's stars. Child actress Ann E. Todd, who plays the Holger's classical music loving daughter Ann Marie, was the daughter of musicians, notable Burrill Phillips, a composer and pianist. She was raised by her grandparents and encouraged to become an actress. It wasn't her calling through and after she gave up acting in the early 1950s she pursued her interest in classical music. She got a masters degree in music history and became a college professor in San Francisco. Star Leslie Howard had his own intermezzo with Hollywood secretary Violette Cunnington. The two had an extramarital affair. She passed away of sepsis at the age of 32 just months before Howard perished in a plane crash during WWII. Howard left one of his houses to Cunnington in his will which hadn't been updated after she had passed. Ingrid Bergman suffered a huge scandal when she left her husband Petter Lindstrom for director Roberto Rossellini. The affair made her persona non grata in Hollywood for years until she returned in 1956.

When I watched this film years ago, I was surprised how this made it through in the era of the Hays Code. According to the AFI "materials contained in the MPAA/PCA disclose that Joseph Breen insisted that 'Anita' be punished for her adultery." That seems to suggest something different than what actually happens in the story. Intermezzo is an ultimately heartbreaking film that doesn't leave you completely destroyed. You know what has to happen but you still find yourself enjoying the journey.

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. The disc includes audio commentary from Film Historian Kat Ellinger and a few trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me the Intermezzo Blu-Ray for review!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paul Newman is Harper

Paul Newman as Lew Harper in Harper (1966)

"I don't think Paul Newman really thinks he is Paul Newman in his head." William Goldman

Harper (1966)

Paul Newman needed something to get him out of his funk. He was in the midst of a box office drought and the movie he was currently working on was turning out to be a disaster. The year was 1965 and Newman was filming Lady L (1965) in Paris. Newman's part was seriously lacking and he wasn't getting on with his director Peter Ustinov or his leading lady Sophia Loren. Meanwhile, producer Elliot Kastner had a part that seemed perfect for Newman. He flew to Paris to present Newman the script. Newman liked it and was on board with the project. Then Kastner hit a bit of a snag. His director wanted to make some changes that would change what Newman liked about the script. Newman was far too valuable to the project and the director simply was not. So Kastner fired him and hired Jack Smight to take over.

William Goldman, a novelist who was new to the movie business, wrote said script. Goldman met Kastner when the producer optioned his novel Boys and Girls Together. Goldman suggested to Kastner they should make a movie out of Ross Macdonald's detective story The Moving Target, originally published in 1949. Macdonald's book was the first in a series of novels following the adventures of private investigator Lew Archer. The series was so popular that by 1965 he had already published 12 installments. In his lifetime Macdonald wrote 18 Lew Archer mysteries, ranging in publication from 1949 to 1976, and a handful of short story collections. For the role of Lew Archer, the first actor that came to mind was Frank Sinatra. But he turned down the part. Next on the list Paul Newman who seemed an even better fit than Sinatra. Newman would be perfect for the part especially when the 1949 novel was updated with a cool swinging 1960s sensibility. Writer Goldman was new and willing to please. And this came in handy for Kastner when Newman had one big change he wanted to make to his character.

Newman really needed this project to revive his career. He had just turned 40 and knew if he didn't turn things around his career could go south quickly. The letter H had been lucky for Newman. Both
The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963) served him well and he had to keep that moment going. And that meant Lew Archer had to become Lew Harper. With the name change, Newman could make this character his own. Newman might not have been right for Lew Archer but Lew Harper would fit him like a glove. Newman embodied the charismatic anti-hero, a character type he had done well with before and after. By the mid 1960s, after countless James Bond spin-offs, the film industry was suffering from spy movie fatigue. Going back to the tried and true private eye detective story was a sound decision. But Newman had to make one big concession to take on the role. Back in 1959, Newman butted heads with Jack Warner and acrimoniously parted ways with Warner Bros. Newman wanted the role  of Harper badly enough that he conceded to go back to his old studio. A big pay day ($500k or $750k against 10 percent gross, depending on the source) made the decision easier to swallow. According to biographer Shawn Levy, Newman once told a reporter "A feud should live a full and colorful life and then it should die a natural death and be forgotten."

The movie was simply called Harper (1966) and production ran from June to August 1965. As further insurance for the movie's success, actress Lauren Bacall was hired to play the role of Mrs. Sampson, the rich housewife who hires Lew Harper to find her missing husband. Her presence in the film connects it to the bygone era of classic detective novels and movies. Especially Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, in which she starred with husband Humphrey Bogart in the movie adaptation. Also in the cast of Harper was Julie Harris who played the drug addicted lounge pianist, Pamela Tiffin, Mrs. Sampson's beautiful and manipulative step-daughter, Arthur Hill, Harper's friend and the Sampson family lawyer, Robert Wagner, the family's personal airplane pilot and Shelley Winters, the aging movie star. Janet Leigh played Harper's soon-to-be ex-wife, a character not in the original novel but would add some romantic angst to the plot and more star power to the movie.

Even with all the big names on board, this was Paul Newman's film. Newman honed the Harper character in such a way that according to writer Christine Becker he "reaffirmed his rebel cool status." He modeled some of the mannerisms after Robert F. Kennedy. According to Newman biographer Shawn Levy, Kennedy "had a habit of standing beside people and looking away from them with his head titled when listening to them. It was a weird sort of engaged non-engagement and it fit the character beautifully."

Harper (1966) was a big hit with audiences and Warner Bros. turned a nice profit with their $2 million movie. According to another Newman biographer, Marian Edelman,  "the public loved Harper, and it put Paul Newman back on the top-10 list of box-office stars of the year." The critics were more hesitant about the movie's value but it didn't matter. Newman was back on top. Warner Bros. capitalized on Newman using taglines and slogans like "Paul Newman is Harper", "Excitement clings to him like a dame" and "Girls go for Harper." Perhaps Frank Sinatra, seeing the success of Newman in Harper, changed his mind about making a detective movie. He would go on to play private eye in Tony Rome (1967) and A Lady in Cement (1968).

Harper also did wonders for screenwriter William Goldman's career. According to Lawrence J. Quirk, "Goldman came through and the success of Harper put him on the map." And by the time Harper was released, Ross Macdonald had published book #13 in the Lew Archer series, Black Money, which got a boost from the film. This made up for the mere $12,500 he received from the film.

After Harper, Newman went on to more successes with Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and another H film Hombre (1967). Kastner and Goldman had plans to follow up Harper with another story in the Lew Archer/Harper saga. Unfortunately it never materialized. Newman wouldn't revisit the character of Lew Harper until almost a decade later.

"Harper is a simplified version of Paul Newman you might say. He's a man of action with a certain flare, a certain self-conscious dramatic sense of what he's doing." - Ross MacDonald

The Drowning Pool (1975)

In 1969, Paul Newman joined forces with Barbra Streisand and Sidney Poitier to start the independent production company First Artists. This new project would allow these big stars more control over their movies. Actors like Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman joined later. First Artists films were distributed by Warner Bros. So when the character of Lew Harper came back into Newman's life it meant he had even more say in how things would pan out.

Producer Lawrence Turman had missed out on an opportunity to work on Harper and when the occasion arose to revisit it he wouldn't pass it up. Turman and fellow producer David Foster optioned the rights to Macdonald's second Lew Archer novel The Drowning Pool, which was published in 1950. This time around Macdonald would get a better pay day than he did with harper. He made $100k plus 5 perfect of the net profits. But there were lots of changes to Macdonald's novel to be made. Newman's wife, celebrated actress Joanne Woodward, would co-star in the film and she suggested the story's setting be changed from Southern California to New Orleans. Louisiana was Woodward's old stomping grounds and it would add an exotic, southern element to the film. The screenplay went through three different writers: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Walter Hill (William Goldman was no longer interested). The end result was something quite different from the original concept.

According Lawrence J. Quirk, "Newman insisted Stuart Rosenberg, who needed the work, be given the picture." With Rosenberg on board as director, production for The Drowning Pool began in the fall of 1974. The filming was done on location in Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana. Newman's Harper travels from LA to New Orleans to help an old client Iris (Joanne Woodward), a frustrated rich housewife who enlists Harper to find out who is blackmailing her. The cast includes Anthony Franciosa as the shady copy Broussard, Murray Hamilton as the psychopath business owner Kilbourne, Gail Strickland as Kilbourne's wife and Melanie Griffith as Iris' precocious and manipulative teenage daughter. The story line and characters are similar to the first story but there is much more at risk for Harper in this film. The "drowning pool" refers to a climactic scene when Paul Newman and Gail Strickland are trapped in a hydrotherapy room of an abandoned asylum. They try to flood the room to escape through the roof. Newman had a blast making The Drowning Pool. According to Shawn Levy, Newman said "I simply adore the character because it will accommodate any kind of actor's invention... It's just lovely to get up in the morning, it's great to go to work, because you know you're going to have a lot of fun that day."

The Drowning Pool was released that summer of 1975. Earlier that same year a short-lived TV show called Archer, based on the Macdonald books and starring Brian Keith as Lew Archer ran from January to March. Unfortunately both the show and the new movie were doomed. The Drowning Pool was a bomb with critics and a box office failure. Why did it tank? There could be several reasons. Perhaps they waited too long between movies and audiences just didn't care about Harper anymore. Maybe Newman had aged out of his character? When you compare the two movies, The Drowning Pool plods along while Harper's pacing has a lot more momentum. Harper is hip and The Drowning Pool takes itself too seriously. While, the second film doesn't capture the magic of the first Newman fans will find much to enjoy from both performances.

Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975) are now available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. These Blu-Ray editions are pristine. They looked like they were filmed yesterday and not several decades ago. The Drowning Pool Blu-Ray comes with a fun featurette called Harper Days Are Here Again showing the behind-the-scenes of shooting with some clips from the film.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copies of Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975) on Blu-Ray!

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 Questions with Ben Mankiewicz on FilmStruck's new TCM Select

If you haven't already signed up for TCM's streaming service FilmStruck now is the best time. FilmStruck, in collaboration with Warner Bros. Digital, will be adding hundreds of classic movies to the service. And to celebrate beloved movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, TCM Select will offer streaming classics with bonus content.

Since FilmStruck first launched it's been the go-to service for arthouse, foreign and independent cinema and now that they are boosting their service with classic movies will make this a one stop shop for the ultimate movie fan. This will mean that Warner Bros.'s Warner Archive Instant streaming service will be sunsetting in April. Many of those titles will be transferring over to FilmStruck. And I hope some of the quirkier and more obscure titles available on Warner Archive Instant will make it over to FilmStruck too.

Want to know more about what FilmStruck and TCM Select have to offer? I had the pleasure of asking TCM host Ben Mankiewicz some questions about the newly expanded service.

Raquel Stecher: What makes FilmStruck stand out as a streaming service? 

Ben Mankiewicz: FilmStruck is the only streaming service for serious movie fans. From the Criterion Collection to foreign films to arthouse films to cult films, and now to the best movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, there is no comparable service. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have a role to play as we go forward and reinvent how we watch something, but if you are a true movie lover there’s only one service you need and it’s FilmStruck. It’s not close.

Stecher: What role will you be playing with FilmStruck’s TCM Select and what kind of bonus content can we expect? 

Mankiewicz: I’ll be shooting introductions for the TCM Select movies that appear on FilmStruck and we’ll have a rotating library of roughly 600 movies. We’ll be curating them similarly to the job we do here on Turner Classic Movies, by putting them in their proper cinematic and Hollywood context.

Stecher:  If you curated a new FilmStruck collection, what would be the theme and what would some of the movies include? 

Mankiewicz: I’d do a noir collection and then I’d call Eddie Muller and tell him to curate it. Otherwise I’d curate a collection of movies about journalism and the media, from The Front Page through Spotlight and The Post, which we have no chance of getting on FilmStruck right now since I think one is still in theaters. I’d include The Front Page, His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, Ace in the Hole, A Face in the Crowd, Sweet Smell of Success, All the President’s Men, Absence of Malice, and the movies of today as soon as we can get them.

Stecher: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? 

Mankiewicz: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? Night in the City, Jules Dassin’s last movie before he was blacklisted. Sweet Smell of Success, as good of a movie as there is about the ugly side of publicists and the media. Really, there’s not a movie on TCM Select that I wouldn’t put the full force of a recommendation behind.

Stecher: Why do you think TCM has such devoted fans and what do you hope they will get out of FilmStruck? 

Mankiewicz: Every actor, every host, every athlete has said that they have the best fans in the world, but here’s the truth, and I mean this, TCM has the most dedicated and attentive fans in the history of this business. Since we took on the mantle to protect and present classic Hollywood films, our fans have said, ‘Okay fine, but in that case you best do it right.’ So they don’t just watch us, they watch over us to make sure we don’t make a mistake. We’ve been true to our core mission at TCM and we will continue with that core mission as we expand into FilmStruck with TCM Select, and if we make a mistake, we’re certain our fans will let us know and that’s a blessing.

Many thanks to Ben Mankiewicz of TCM for taking the time to answer my questions.

For those of you interested in subscribing to FilmStruck and getting the TCM Select titles, here is the pricing breakdown and available devices. They offer a 14 day free trial so you can test it out before you commit.

FilmStruck – $6.99/month - arthouse, foreign and cult films, plus TCM Select, an exclusive rotating collection of the most iconic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, supplemented with hosted introductions, rare archival TCM content and bonus materials.

FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel – $10.99/month - offering everything in the FilmStruck subscription plus unlimited access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of films and special features, along with channel-exclusive original programming such as filmmaker profiles, master classes, and curated series by celebrated guests from the film world and beyond.

Annual Subscription - $99/year for FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel (a $30 annual savings) . (I have this one!)

Devices -  Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV 4th generation devices, Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and Android devices. FilmStruck can be accessed via the Apple App store, as well as online and via Google Play for Android users.

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