Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Warner Archive Wednesday - Author Mark Beauregard on Moby-Dick (1930)

I present to you a very special edition of Warner Archive Wednesday. Today we have a special guest author Mark Beauregard who is a brilliant writer and also a good friend. Earlier this year Viking Books published his novel The Whale: A Love Story which explores the relationship between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne when Melville was writing Moby-Dick. It's a fascinating novel and I encourage you all to pick it up. Mark has studied Moby-Dick and Melville for 6 years and I couldn't think of anyone better to discuss the 1930 film adaptation of this mega-classic.

As a special bonus I'm hosting a giveaway of an autographed copy of Mark Beauregard's book. Details are at the bottom!

Single White Whale Seeks Adventure: How John Barrymore Turned Moby-Dick into a Love Triangle 
by Mark Beauregard 

We’re so used to Moby-Dick in our culture that it’s hard to imagine a time when we didn’t know the story of the White Whale. Even if you haven’t read Herman Melville’s book, you know the basic plot: boy meets whale, whale bites off boy’s leg, boy swears vengeance, whale kills everyone. The symbolic White Whale—that impossible desire that a person will sacrifice everything to attain—has become such a ubiquitous motif in America that literally not a day goes by without a mention in some newspaper article of a politician’s, athlete’s, or chef’s White Whale, and White Whale plush toys, beers, and salad tongs abound. We even have more than a dozen filmed adaptations, ranging from the perplexing (a broody, out-of-place William Hurt as Ahab in the BBC’s 2011 version) to the tediously reverent (John Huston’s 1956 version with Gregory Peck), but all of the adaptations and plays and operas and spoofs have one basic thing in common: they more or less follow the plot of the novel. Not so, John Barrymore’s curious 1930 version, which uses the novel to launch a melodramatic love triangle.

This first-ever talkie Moby-Dick was a remake of Barrymore’s own 1926 silent version, a wildly popular film called The Sea Beast, and neither movie cared a fig for the actual plot of Melville’s book, because by 1930, almost no one had read it. Melville’s great American novel was a commercial and critical flop when it appeared in 1851, and it disappeared from the public imagination for more than seventy years, until it was revived with a new edition in 1924. When The Sea Beast appeared, Melville’s book had only just been rediscovered and hadn’t yet entered the American popular imagination, so Barrymore and his crew used the epic quest of the mad Captain Ahab merely as a point of departure for a star-powered romance—a tangled triangle of love involving Barrymore’s drunk, fun-loving, swashbuckling Ahab; Ahab’s plotting brother (played by a dashing Lloyd Hughes); and the woman both men are in love with, a preacher’s daughter played by Joan Bennett in the winsome, early phase of her long and storied career. In fact, Bennett plays Faith Mapple, Father Mapple’s daughter—if you’ve read the book, this little tidbit tells you all you need to know about how fast and loose the filmmakers play with every element in Melville’s weighty book.

Joan Bennett, Lloyd Hughes and John Barrymore - Moby-Dick (1930)

In the 1920s, as ever, Hollywood was hungry for stories, and it didn’t really matter what happened as long as everything came out all right in the end. Never mind the tragic demise of Ahab and most of his ship’s crew in Melville’s book, and never mind that Moby-Dick swims inscrutably away: Warner Bros. knew what side their popcorn was buttered on, so they made a few changes to the plot (spoiler alert) to allow Ahab to kill the whale and get the girl! We can only imagine Melville’s apoplexy if he had lived to see this adaptation, and that’s part of the fun for us as modern viewers.

Barrymore’s Moby-Dick was directed by Lloyd Bacon—also the director of the song-and-dance fantasia 42nd Street—and it clips right along, alternating between comic scenes of Ahab’s drunken exploits ashore, not-altogether-wholesome love scenes between Ahab and Faith, and rousing action scenes of chest-thumping men on the open seas harpooning sperm whales. The special-effect sea beasts, while more Land Shark than Industrial Light and Magic, still lean toward the realistic, and the action sequences of Ahab’s men battling and spearing leviathans of the deep come off well: they’re splashy, exciting, and infused with a sense of genuine danger. But this is a movie whose pleasures add up to more than the sum of its parts.
Taken separately, the love triangle is corny, the animosity between Ahab and his brother is a bit Snidely Whiplash, and Ahab’s encounter with Moby-Dick is head-scratching in its utter disregard for the grandeur of Melville’s original. But taken as a whole, the movie becomes something sweeter and more memorable than it has any right to be: we feel Ahab’s genuine torment over his love for Faith; Faith’s anguished devotion to Ahab is ultimately endearing; and the way Ahab and his brother settle their feud (a plot point I won’t spoil!) seems both shocking and just.

Reviewing it in 1930 for The New York Times, critic Mordaunt Hall applauded the movie’s action scenes and admired its romantic heart (“The scenes in New Bedford and the romance of Ahab and Faith are capitally pictured and flawlessly acted”), but for us modern viewers the fun in this Warner Archive release is how it transports us back to a time when America’s cultural touchstones were different. No one had read Moby-Dick, no puckish marijuana grower had named a potent strain of weed after Ahab’s leviathan, and no journalist would even think of writing about a politician’s White Whale—no one would know what it meant!

Yes, in 1930, there were still beasts in the sea, but in the stories we told they were mainly obstacles in the way of a sailor’s return home (incidentally, Ron Howard uses this same romantic framing device for his 2015 whaling yarn In the Heart of the Sea, so maybe Hollywood hasn’t changed all that much). In this Warner Archive Moby-Dick, the romance is all the better because the gorgeous Joan Bennett is waiting home for Ahab, and the equally gorgeous John Barrymore distracts us from the story we know from Melville and lets us cheer when Moby-Dick goes down.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending us this title for review!

Mark Beauregard signing your copy of The Whale: A Love Story


In the comments below tell me about your favorite classic novel turned classic film. 
You'll be entered for a chance to win an autographed copy of The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard. 
Contest ends midnight Saturday December 10th and is open internationally. I'll announce the winner in the comments section below and e-mail the recipient. Good luck!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Come Fly With Me

Was there anything more glamorous than a movie star flying during the golden era of aviation? I remember when I was a little girl and my parents and I dressed up to fly. It was a big deal. I even remember having a TWA bag (too bad we didn't keep it!). Today air travel is a lot more casual but we can still dream of the time when flying in style was a must.

This month I gathered a collection of various photos of classic film stars flying to what I imagine are exotic locales or movie premieres. I named the collection Come Fly With Me after Frank Sinatra's song and the 1963 film. I posted the full collection on my Twitter, Facebook page, Google+ Collection and on my Pinterest as well. Here are a few of my favorites:

Altovise and Sammy Davis Jr. at Heathrow Airport
Altovise and Sammy Davis Jr. at Heathrow Airport
Brigitte Bardot flying Air France
Brigitte Bardot flying Air France

Françoise Dorléac and Catherine Deneuve flying Air France
Françoise Dorléac and Catherine Deneuve flying Air France

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra with a private jet
Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra

Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway

Gina Lollobrigida flying KLM Dutch Airlines
Gina Lollobrigida flying KLM Dutch Airlines

James Garner and his wife Lois flying TWA
James Garner and his wife Lois flying TWA

Jerry Lewis flying American Airlines
Jerry Lewis flying American Airlines

Dorothy and Robert Mitchum at the airport
Dorothy and Robert Mitchum

Paul Newman flying Alitalia
Paul Newman flying Alitalia

Sidney Poitier
Sidney Poitier

Sophia Loren at a Pan Am lounge
Sophia Loren at a Pan Am lounge

Telly Savalas and family at Heathrow Airport
Telly Savalas and family at Heathrow Airport

Robert Wagner and Spencer Tracy flying TWA
Robert Wagner and Spencer Tracy flying TWA

Yul Brynner at the airport
Yul Brynner

Friday, November 25, 2016

2016 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide

Is your loved one a bonafide classic film nut? Do you have absolutely no idea what to get them for the holidays? Look no further! I have some excellent ideas for you. These gifts range in price and fit any budget and will be guaranteed to please.

For the classic film fan who thinks they've seen it all but still wants to see more...

FilmStruck is a new streaming service created by the folks at Turner Classic Movies in collaboration with Criterion. Available on a multitude of devices this service streams a variety of indie and foreign films that will appeal to the film buff with sophisticated tastes. There is no gift membership option yet but you could always offer to purchase one of the plans for your loved one. $6.99 a month gets you the FilmStruck channel, $10.99 a month gets you FilmStruck and the Criterion Channel and you can buy a year's membership for both channels for a one time fee of $99.

For the time traveler...

Fitzpatrick Traveltalks

Take an armchair trip around the world with James Fitzpatrick "The Voice of the Globe". Warner Archive collects 186 of the Fitzpatrick TravelTalks shorts presented in glorious Technicolor. Fitzpatrick traveled the world capturing images of far off lands and familiar terrain here as well. These MGM shorts are from the 1930s to the early 1950s and are narrated by Fitzpatrick. Chances are your beloved has seen some of these on TCM but this is the first time they've all been made available on DVD-MOD and the newest Volume 3 completes the set. These are so much fun to watch and if your loved one is like me and adores time traveling with the help of movies and documentaries they'll love these! Each volume retails at $29.99 (the first two are on sale right now at 30% off!)

For the ultimate TCM fan...

Me at the Francis Ford Coppola Imprint Ceremony TCMFF 2016

You're buying them a trip of a lifetime with this pass. The 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival will be held in Hollywood April 6 to the 9th. The Essential Pass is sold out but other passes are still available. The Classic Pass is your best deal at $649. It gets you into everything except for the opening night movie and gala. I've been to this festival four times and each one was life changing. Read my extensive coverage of TCMFF for some ideas of what to expect.

For art lovers...

Many classic film fans are familiar with Kate Gabrielle's work. We've worn her fan club pins everywhere, especially at #TCMFF. Beyond her pins she's got great art prints, brooches, patches, pocket mirrors, greeting cards and more. My favorite piece from her collection is this fabulous Gene Tierney art print ($15) inspired by a scene from Leave Her to Heaven (1945). Add a frame to this and you have a fantastic holiday gift.

For the classic film fan on the go...

My TCM tote bags come in handy. I take them with me everywhere. I even have a TCM gym bag for my exercise gear. Tote bags are a great way to express your passion in simple and efficient manner.

For classic film enthusiasts who enjoy new movies too...

Fandango Gift Cards

Need to pad a holiday present with something extra? A Fandango gift card would help get your movie lover to the theatre to see some future classics. 

For Boston area classic film fans...

Membership to a repertory theatre

If the recipient of your gift is Boston based you could do no wrong by getting them a membership to one of our fine repertory theatres. These show classic movies on the big screen regularly and a membership supports their love for old movies and helps keep these wonder theatres in business. The Harvard Film Archive screens foreign and obscure classics and an individual membership is $55 and includes discounts, free screenings, special access and a subscription to their program calendar. The Brattle Theatre in Harvard has a wide variety of classic, cult and indie screenings as well as other events and special programming. A basic membership is $80 is includes 12 free passes plus concession stand coupons, discounts at several local shops and eateries and more. The Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline is an art house theatre with new and classic film screenings. A Film Buff membership is $75 a year (and tax deductible!) and includes free passes, member only benefits, discounts at the concession, on tickets and on merchandise and more. Not in Boston? Check if your classic film lover has a local repertory house with a membership option.

For bookish classic film fans...

If your movie lover is also big on reading, classic film books are a must. You can buy a set of titles as a nice bundle or add one to a package you're putting together. You can find a list of the most recently released titles on my latest New & Upcoming Classic Film Books round-up. Above titles include:

Retail $22.00
Not available until just after Christmas so you'd need an IOU.
by Shawn Levy
Retail $27.99
Calling all classic film fans! What present would you absolutely love to receive during the holidays? Tell me in the comments below.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook     Google+