Monday, March 18, 2019

SXSW Review: Sunset Over Mulholland Drive

Actress Connie Sawyers

"We take care of our own."

Founded in 1921 by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and D.W. Griffith, the Motion Picture and Television Fund Home (television was added later) seeks to care for members of the industry who were in need of full-time support. More than just a nursing home, the MPTF is a thriving community of retired visionaries. As Ted Witzer, former talent agent says, MPTF's community boasts "an incredible wealth of talent... just a little bit older."

Directed by Uli Gaulke, Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is a documentary that takes an intimate look at a group of MPTF residents and how they come together to collaborate on a project. The film was shot on the campus in 2017 and features the following residents:

  • Connie Sawyers - Actress
  • Ted Witzer - Talent Agent
  • Joel Rogosin - Television Producer
  • Deborah Rogosin - Therapist
  • Tony Lawrence - Screenwriter
  • Jerry Sedley Kaufmann - Director
  • Anne Faulkner - Actress
  • Daniel Selznick - Television Producer
  • Wright King - Actor
  • Phil Haberman - Sound Editor 
  • Dena Dietrich - Actress 
  • Duke Anderson - Sound Engineer
  • Maggie Malooly - Actress
  • Brett Hadley - Actor

I had the pleasure of visiting MPTF last Spring so I was particularly excited to see this film on the slate for this year's SXSW Film Festival. It's important for us to recognize the contributions, both big and small, that the MPTF residents made on the entertainment industry. So many figures from the past have been forgotten and overlooked and that's why classic film fans, like myself, know how valuable it is when the spotlight is focused on them. We cannot risk losing their stories forever.

The film focuses on a creative writing group which is organized by an MPTF staff member. It encourages individuals to write down their stories to preserve their legacies for their families and for future generations. About half way into the film we see the group work on a sequel to Casablanca, imagining what would happen if Rick and Ilsa reunited many years later. It's not the most interesting part of the documentary. This helps to give the film a storyline but I was much more interested in hearing from the different subjects than I was in finding how their project turned out.

Classic film lovers will appreciate all the references to films like Gone with the Wind2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, A Streetcar Named DesireAmerican Graffiti and many others. The different residents discuss working with people like David O. Selznick, Susan Hayward, Dean Martin, Elvis, etc.

Some of my favorite moments in the film included Connie Stevens talking about her career, the sweet story about how John Lawrence found love again after his wife passed away and seeing actor Wright King watch his scene with Vivien Leigh in A Streetcar Named Desire. Pretty much any moment when the film lingers on a scene or interview with one of the residents is a highlight for me.  A few of the subjects have passed away since the filming making these moments even more special.

There are beautiful shots of the MPTF campus. And as someone who's been there I can tell you it's stunning in real life. There is a short tour at the beginning but I wish we learned more about the history of MPTF and about the different facilities on campus.

Sunset Over Mulholland Drive is an important documentary for the sole reason that it brings awareness to those elderly members of the entertainment industry who have contributed so much but are at risk of being forgotten. There are times I felt the film a bit rushed and that perhaps it could have gone in a different direction. Until I get the MPTF documentary of my dreams, I'll be pointing people to this one as essential viewing.




Sunset Over Mulholland Drive had its world premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival as part of their Documentary Spotlight series.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Woman Wanted (1935)




Tony Baxter (Joel McCrea) is a full-time lawyer, part-time womanizer. He sets his sights on Ann Gray (Maureen O'Sullivan) when he spots her at the court house. Little does he know she's the defendant in a murder trial led by District Attorney Martin (Lewis Stone). When the jury finds her guilty, Ann is whisked away by a police escort which is later involved in a car crash. In the chaos of the accident, Ann makes her escape and by chance catches a ride with Tony who takes her back to his place. Baxter tries to hide Ann from his glamorous fiancee Betty (Adrienne Ames) with the help of his devoted butler Peedles (Robert Greig). When Tony finds out that not only is Ann on the lam from the cops she's also wanted by gangster Smiley (Louis Calhern), the real murderer, he helps her escape. Even embroiled in a sticky situation, Tony is determined to get the girl. Can they prove that Ann is innocent of this heinous crime?




Woman Wanted (1935) was directed by George B. Seitz for MGM. It's based on an original story by Wilson Collison and adapted to the screen by Leonard Fields and David Silverstein. According to the AFI, "following the release of Woman Wanted, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that, due to a studio error, too many names appeared in the writers credit in the preview credits. Only Fields, Silverstein and Collison were intended to receive writing credits." It was originally called Manhattan Madness before it was eventually changed to Woman Wanted.

The production was plagued with setbacks. Richard Boleslawski was set to direct but left two days into the project to work on O'Shaughnessy's Boy instead. Two more directors, Harry Beaumount and J. Walter Ruben, were assigned but eventually abandoned the film. MGM finally they settled on director George B. Seitz. For the lead role of Tony Baxter, Franchot Tone and Wallace Beery were considered but those plans fell through. MGM got Joel McCrea on loan. This is the only film McCrea and O'Sullivan made together. It was filmed over a couple of weeks in May 1935 and released later that year.

"Don't you worry about me, I can take care of myself." - Ann

Woman Wanted is cute movie with totally ridiculous and implausible scenarios. If you suspend your disbelief enough you'll find it enjoyable. There were several moments in the film that reminded me of other movies including Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Sullivan's Travels (1941). I couldn't help compare this with Hide-Out (1934), which also stars Maureen O'Sullivan in a story about a fugitive on the run. I reviewed that film in a previous Warner Archive Wednesday post. While Hide-Out is the better of the two films, O'Sullivan's character in Woman Wanted is a more complex character. She's strong-willed but also plagued with fear. There are two suicide attempts and while she is the victim of the story, I didn't get a sense that Tony (Joel McCrea) is coming to her rescue. The Tony-Ann dynamic is more like two partners-in-crime than a one-man rescue mission.

This movie has a superb supporting cast. I love McCrea and O'Sullivan but I also couldn't pass up the opportunity to see a movie featuring two of my personal favorites: Louis Calhern and Lewis Stone. I only wished they had a bit more screen time. I really loved the scenes with Adrienne Ames who plays the glamorous socialite Betty. She's basically playing herself but does it so well. Robert Greig does a superb job in the role of Peedles, Tony's loyal butler who cleverly maneuvers around his boss' sticky situations. He has some great lines and is the sources of most of the film's humor. Who doesn't love a good butler role? They're often the unsung heroes of a film.

Woman Wanted is a light drama that is equal parts endearing and eccentric. Worth watching for the superb cast. The brief running time of 67 minutes is also a bonus!



Woman Wanted (1935) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Woman Wanted (1935) on DVD for review!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Nothing Sacred (1937)



On the heels of A Star is Born (1937), William Wellman and David O. Selznick teamed up again to make Nothing Sacred (1937), a screwball comedy starring Carole Lombard and Fredric March. The story was based on James H. Street's "Letter to the Editor" published in International-Cosmopolitan in 1937 and adapted to the screen by Ben Hecht. According to the director's son William Wellman Jr., Wellman's contract restricted the overbearing Selznick only 6 visits to the set max. Selznick's enthusiasm for the project can be seen in the following telegram he sent to John Hay Whitney, chairman of the board of Selznick International Pictures:

"Nothing Sacred started shooting this morning. You wanted comedy boy you're going to get it, and bet it on your own head. After this one I am either the new Mack Sennett or I return to Dr. Eliot."

Ace reporter Wally Cook (Fredric March) finds himself in a pickle. He's been recently demoted to obituaries after he wrote a piece about a Sultan turned out to be a fake. Hoping to make good by his editor-in-chief Oliver Stone (Walter Connolly), he tackles his next big story which he's sure we'll get him back on track. Wally learns of a young woman dying of radium poisoning. He visits the fictional town of Warsaw, Vermont to find Hazel Flagg (Carole Lombard), a young woman dying of radium poisoning. Turns out town physician Dr. Downer (Charles Winninger) had misdiagnosed her. She hides this fact from Wally who offers to fly her and her doctor out to New York City for one last hurrah. There she becomes the toast of the town, a pathetic subject for the community to fawn over. Her "final days" become a spectacle making it a big story for the newspaper. When things start begin to unravel it becomes clear that Wally has fallen in love with Hazel and must find a way out of their predicament.

Produced by Selznick International Presents, Nothing Sacred was distributed by United Artists and was a hit with both critics and audiences. Shot in Technicolor, it offers a visual splendor enhanced by the recently remastered Blu-ray from Kino Lorber. From the elegant costumes, elaborate sets and gorgeous aerial footage of 1930s era New York City, this film is a feast for the eyes.

Nothing Sacred is a comedy through and through. Subtle jokes are weaved in throughout along with zany situations that make this a classic screwball comedy. According to historian Frank Thompson, the set was "pandemonium  [because] Lombard had every bit the talent and enthusiasm for pranks and mischief as Wellman." It was remade as Living it Up (1954) starring Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and also became a Broadway production known as Hazel Flagg.

There are lots of great supporting roles including Margaret Hamilton who plays an uptight store clerk. Hattie MacDaniel has a bit part as the wife of a boot black (Troy Brown Jr.) who pretends to be an African Sultan. Frank Fay plays the Master of Ceremonies at a gala thrown in Hazel's honor.

Nothing Sacred is a must-see for fans of the screwball comedy genre. With that said, I wanted to like this film but I thought it was just okay. I appreciated the performances, the visuals and the clever jokes. I definitely want to rewatch it to pick up on subtleties I may have missed. In the end, it didn't captivate me the way I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I've never cared for Carole Lombard as an actress, no matter how much I admire her as a person nor how many Lombard films I've seen to get over this aversion. I'll keep trying but for now I'm not there yet.


**** Spoilers Start ****

I've always been weary about films depicting liars and frauds. It has to be done well for me to appreciate the story. Honestly I was surprised that Hazel gets away with her fraud. The story has Wally and Hazel sailing off into the sunset. I guess what she did is not technically a crime so it didn't have to be punished according to the Production Code. The dying Hazel becomes a larger-than-life persona that transcends Hazel herself. The community wants a martyr they can fawn over and celebrate. In the end it didn't matter if Hazel was for real or not.

****Spoilers End****








Nothing Sacred (1937) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is exceptionally vivid in color and crispness. I wish I could show you a still or video from the Blu-ray so you can see just how stunning this restoration is! The Blu-ray comes from a brand new HD Master created from a 2k scan of a restored fine grain master. The disc also includes audio commentary by William Wellman Jr as well as a variety of Kino Lorber trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Nothing Sacred (1937) for review.

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