Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year!

Here is a look back at the highlights of Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog through the months of 2009.

January
My first ever recipe post with a meal straight out of The Fortune Cookie (1966)
I try to make sense out of all those "Heaven" movies
I declared my adoration for Ernest Borgnine

February
My very first giveaway. TCM 31 Days of Oscars Notebooks
I take some friends to see Pillow Talk (1959) on the big screen.
My most controversial post ever: I declare never to participate in blog awards

March
I get people thinking about Susan Peters
I show off my own entertainment center and ask fellow bloggers to do the same.
Norma Shearer Week!

April
Norma Shearer Week continues into April
I turn a Ball of Fire (1942) review into a recipe
I become smitten with Pamela Tiffin

May
An Ode to My Father
Latino Images in Film series and giveaway in conjunction with TCM's festival

June
Guest Blogger month with lots of great contributions from: Mercurie, Jonas, Alex, Tommy, Nicole, Donna, Kate Gabrielle, Paulie, Steve-O and Sarah.

July 
Karl Malden breaks my heart
Then I fall in love with Carlos and watch The Hustler (1961) for him.

August
I watch Rebel Without a Cause (1955) outside in a park
I drag Kevin's butt to see The Arrangement (1969) at the HFA

September
I take a bit of a break this month. Lots going on but managed to post a few things.

October
I get to see director Stanley Donen in person twice! For Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) and Two for the Road (1967)
Carlos and I see Phantom of the Opera (1925) in an armory with live musical accompaniment. Just in time for Halloween.

November
Casablanca Squared happens!
I become fascinated with Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) who shares my birthday

December
I finally FINALLY watch It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and I liked it.
I make a menu out of Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
I bite my thumb at that mean blogger and at last put up my Anita Page - The Easiest Way (1931) post.

Happy New Year to you all!



Wednesday, December 30, 2009

George Sanders, Zsa Zsa and Me

George Sanders, Zsa Zsa, and Me
by David R. Slavitt
9780810126244
Northwestern University Press
2009

Slavitt has a lot to say. In this book, he gets an opportunity to get those thoughts on paper and into the public's hands. Slavitt is a film critic (local to me since he lives in my area) who has shmoozed with and panned lots of greats from the classic film world. You may think from the title that this book is just about George Sanders his wife Zsa Zsa Gabor and Slavitt. Well, you are completely wrong. While George Sanders' life is the foundation of this book, it is really a free platform for Slavitt to talk about his days as a critic and his interactions with various people in the film world.

While reading this book, to me it seemed like Slavitt was a pretty angry guy. What saves the book for me is that he's a no-nonsense, straight-talking critic who isn't afraid to tell you what he thinks. For that reason, and that reason alone ,I kind of admire the man. George Sanders is a figure of both admiration and curiousity for Slavitt. Sanders was a charming, intelligent man who didn't realize his talent and settled for making lots of not-so-great films and as the final words of the book read: "Sanders' performance [in Viaggio] and All About Eve earned him a crumb of immortality. It's more than most of us get." Slavitt touches upon a lot of aspects of Sanders' life including his odd relationship with Zsa Zsa Gabor who he claims is a sort of angel of death in the lives of her husband Sanders and his brother Tom Conway.

There is a laundry list of other stars mentioned throughout the book and I can guarantee you none of them are put on a pedestal and adored. Slavitt sees them as real people who may or may not have done extraordinary things, but not as untouchable ethereal stars. People mentioned in the book include Alfred Hitchcock, Kim Novak, Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Suzanne Pleshette, Jennifer Jones, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Otto Preminger, etc. Slavitt gives us insights that you won't find anywhere else. He tells us about how he disliked Suzanne Pleshette for snubbing his wife in an elevator and he tried to get out of a breakfast with Alfred Hitchcock because he couldn't stand The Birds and didn't want to face him. He also comments on a rumor started by Ava Gardner about her ex-husband Frank Sinatra's lack of sexual prowess. This book is not for the faint of heart. Pretty much everyone is a target for some disdain on Slavitt's part, except for George Sanders. If anyone is on a pedestal in this book, it's him.

I highly encourage you to read this if you have an interest in the life of George Sanders or if you want a different look at classic Hollywood. The book has no real structure and it moves strictly through wandering thoughts with everything coming back to Sanders.

I also want to take a moment to mention The Siren's series on George Sanders. She, like Slavitt, is fascinated by Sanders and has written some excellent pieces on him. Here are a few to check out:

Life with Zsa Zsa, or the Importance of Closet Space
Surreal Sanders: The Private Affairs of Bel-Ami (1947)
George and Bernard: Notes on a Scandal
George Sanders: "Caddishness of Homeric Proportions"
George Sanders on the Kind of Thing to Give the Public  

Special thank you to Northwestern University Press for sending me a copy to review. And a special thanks to Slavitt for mentioning Northeastern University Press (Boston)! I used to work there as an undergrad, a couple of years before it closed it's doors and it was nice to see it mentioned.

Monday, December 21, 2009

He Made Me Watch It ~ It's a Wonderful Life (1946)


On a cold Saturday evening, Carlos and I snuggled on the sofa had some mint Hot Cocoa (with some peppermint Schnapps for some added warmth) and watched It's a Wonderful Life (1946). After my 29 year + semi-voluntary boycott, I now join a legion of people who have watched and enjoyed this film. I am now one of many, rather than one of few.

I was very impressed by Jimmy Stewart's multi-dimensional performance as reluctant townie George Bailey. He certainly had his regular aw-shucks demeanor and it suited the character really well, but you see Bailey go through a wide range of emotions, from hopefulness, disappointment, love, anger, frustration, hopelessness, etc. And I have a tremendous soft spot for Jimmy Stewart. He is one of a serious of male actors who I look up to as fatherly figures. If Jimmy Stewart is crying on screen, I am crying off screen. George Bailey's desire to travel the world gets eclipsed by his responsibilities to his father's business and to his hometown of Bedford Falls. If Bailey leaves the town, the evil Potter (played by the completely unrecognizable Lionel Barrymore), will take over. We can't take the good out of the town and leave it to the evil. Oh no siree. And while Bailey's accomplishments probably eclipse that failure in his life, I still feel sad for him. Part of me really wants to see Bailey escape Bedford Falls and travel the world because people should allowed to live out their dreams. This film, and Capra's message, certainly is about the merit of the individual but in the end, Bailey had to sacrifice himself for his community. Bailey is a 1940's Jude Fawley if you ask me.

With really important films, especially ones that have an impact on myself and/or on others, I always go back to my inner Derrida. I want to deconstruct the film just the way he would. So I asked myself, "what makes It's a Wonderful Life so effective?". And my answer: opposites. Throughout the film, we see George Bailey and all the good he does for everyone in Bedford Falls. It isn't just enough to see it. We need to feel it too. So let's throw in a villain. Mr. Potter, the evil, greedy business magnate who is trying to take over Bedford Falls with his iron fist and cold heart. You put Mr. Potter side-by-side with George Bailey and Bailey looks a positive saint, even more so than he already did. Now you could have the film continue with just Mr. Potter battling George Bailey and you would have your standard run-of-the-mill good guy versus bad guy story. The clincher is the addition of the angel. And it's not just the angel himself. It's what the angel shows Bailey, but more important what is shown to us as the audience. We see Bedford Falls as it would exist WITHOUT George Bailey. Deconstructionism teaches us that the presence of something is intrinsically linked to it's absence. We really appreciate something when we understand it's absence as well as it's presence. It's a difficult concept to explain but once you comprehend it, it sticks with you for life and you can never shake it. We get the important of George Bailey in Bedford Falls because not only we see it but we see what life in the town would be like without him.

So what was my personal reaction to the film? I enjoyed it immensely and was very moved by it but I am okay with only watching it once in a great while. Maybe that's why this is such a Christmas classic. Once a year is probably enough for some folks. I hurt a lot for Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey and winced, cringed and hid my face in my hands/blanket at every moment of dramatic tension. It was a difficult film to watch. Carlos kept reassuring me that everything was going to be okay but it didn't help when I saw him get emotional. By the end of the film I had tears streaming down my face. Maybe it was for the best that I hadn't watched this film at the Brattle theatre.  It's always embarassing to have one's tear-soaked face exposed by the bright lights that turn on when the end credits roll.

What touched me (or bothered me) the most about this film is the kindness factor. The kindness that Bailey showed the town and the kindness the town showed back to him. Kindness is rare these days. I find that many kindnesses go unrewarded. While you shouldn't be kind to get a reward, the joy should be enough, the quality of one's life is immensely improved by acts of kindness. On some days, when I'm down and out and really need a hug or a kind word said to me, I come up empty. All I really get in return is people wanting sympathy for their own problems and not seeing that I have many of my own. Maybe people are too self-centered these days. Or maybe, just maybe I'll have my George Bailey moment one day. We'll see.

Now that I've thoroughly depressed you (or angered you, whichever), I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!

P.S. Why did no one tell me Gloria Grahame was in this film?!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) Menus

Every December I cling to one Christmas film which I proceed to watch over-and-over again. Last year it was Holiday Affair (1949) and the year before it was Love Actually (2004). This year it's Christmas in Connecticut (1945). My particular fascination with this film is all the food that is mentioned in the movie. I took an opportunity to sit down and right every food item that was mentioned and I created some fun menus. If you are familiar with the film, you'll spot some favorites. I included links to some recipes wherever available.

I hope you and your families have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!

------

Hallucinating on a Life Raft
Steak with Bordelaise Sauce - Wine

Ideal post-life raft post-starvation Dinner
Big, thick juicy steak - baked potatoes - asparagus with hollandaise sauce - chocolate cake with ice cream

Elizabeth Lane's Ultimate Christmas Dinner
Fresh Fruit Cup - Olives - Boullion
Roast Goose Bernaise - Walnut Dressing - Giblet Gravy
Cranberry Orange Relish - Buttered Green Beans - Candied Sweet Potatoes
Tomatoes - Celery Souffle - Hot Rolls - Lettuce with Russian Dressing
Mince Pie - Pumpkin Pie - Ice Cream - Old Fashioned Plum Pudding
Fresh Fruit - Mixed Nuts - Mints - Coffee

Sinky's Magoo Meal
Chicken Maryland

Elizabeth Lane's Fake Husband's Favorite Meal
Lettuce & Endive salad with a creamy blue cheese dressing
Roast Duck

The Meal that didn't happen
Toasted Veal Cutlets that haven't been toasted

Apartment Breakfast
A plate of sardines thrown away - Mushroom omelet - Toast with butter and jam - Coffee

Next Month's Mink Coat Installment Meal
Breat of grave, sauteed with peaches grenadine (no bones) - chicken soup with Mosel Wine (no bones)

Yardley's Reminiscing Through the Months Meal
October's Breast of Guinea - June's Strawberries Chantilly with rum and egg white

Felix's Cheer-You-Up-Out-of-a-Catastrophe Meal
Chicken Budapest - Brussel Sprouts a la Felix - Potatoes Au Gratin - Artichoke Hearts - Marinated Herring a la Creme

Ridiculous Buffet
Bologna - Horseradish - Nuts

The Ireland Meets Hungary Stew
Irish Stew + Paprika = Goulash

Post-Marathon Christmas Food Fest - Late Night Snack,
Chicken Drumsticks - Cold Chablis

Attractive Woman's Breakfast*
Flipped pancakes, good coffee and sizzling bacon

The Christmas Tease
Potage Mongol - Roast Goose Bernoise with walnut stuffing

Publisher's Temptation Breakfast
Kidney and onions


*served in a sunny kitchen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Old San Francisco (1927) and the Vengeful god

Fire of San Fransisco 1906

In continuation of yesterday's post... (some spoilers)

This movie isn't kidding around. A lot of folks even today consider San Fransisco a sinful city and it is portrayed that way in this film. There is a unique juxtaposition of various Biblical references peppered throughout the film alongside shots of sinful activities in the various seedy places of Old San Fransisco. You cannot watch this film and truly appreciate it without taking into account it's religious overtones. At one point in the film, Buckwell (Warner Oland) and his entourage are drinking and carousing in a dive in the Mile of Hell. A man barges in and boldly proclaims to all who will listen to him: "In the midst of thy inquities, God will punish thee! His wrath will fall from Heaven - ". This is a warning for sure.

The movie mostly takes place in 1906 and the biggest natural disaster that San Francisco (or California for that matter) has ever seen is imminent. The earthquake of 1906 was catastrophic and it's estimated that 3,000 people perished in the quake and the ensuing fires that engulfed the city. Most people were left homeless. We have the man's proclamation as well as other references to a vengeful God that lead us to this natural disaster at the epicenter of the film.

Dolores as Angel

In my opinion, Dolores (Dolores Costello) is the epitome of Christian innocence. She is a vertiable angel. She lives on the outskirts of the city and when she steps into the seedy parts of San Fransisco sticks out like a sore thumb. Buckwell's attempt to rape her just serves to show us how truly evil he is and how the city has got out of hand. After Buckwell gets caught and her grandfather dies trying to duel with Buckwell for her honor, Buckwell's true self is exposed to Dolores in a sort of godly revelation. Through the power of her Christianity, her god (and the ghosts of her ancestors!, she is given a moment of clairvoyance and is able to see that Buckwell isn't white as all the Chinamen in Chinatown thought. He's actually a Mongol. The titlecard reads "In the awful light of an outraged, wrathful, Christian God, the heathen soul of the Mongol stood revealed". Let's not get into the racist parts of this film, but this is useful information for Dolores. If she is able to reveal this to the Chinamen who are oppressed by this man who they thought was a white superior, she can stop Buckwell's reign of terror. He tries at all costs to stop her from revealing this. With the help of his sidekick Anna May Wong, he seeks his revenge by sneaking her into one of his brothels and having the madam dress her for services. This is not right and we know it. An angel cannot be sullied this way and just around the time she gets her first customer, she begins to pray the Our Father, while O'Shaugnessy is trying to save her with the help of Buckwell's now freed, but previously trapped midget brother, the earthquake starts. The walls collapse, rubble falls down on all the sinners and the whole city disassembles itself into chaos.

You Mongol!

To me this smacks of Samson and Delilah. So I pulled out my Oxford Annotated Bible and went to the Book of Judges Chapter 16 to refresh myself on the tale. The two stories are definitely parallel. Samson was born of barren parents who were blessed with the pregnancy by an angel of God if they promised not to cut his hair. Samson was born with incredible strength which he could keep unless his hair was cut. Delilah, a prositute and a spy for the Philistines, tries to find the secret of Samson's strength. In a moment of weakness, he tells her. She cuts his hair in his sleep and the Philistines capture Samson and gouge his eyes out. He is placed in between two pillars, in front of 3,000 Philistines for their amusement. He prays to God to give him one last bought of strength and he proceeds to bring down the pillars, and the building and he and all the Philistines perish in the rubble.

Dolores as Prostitute

Now back to the movie. Dolores has long hair, but her strength is really her innocence and beauty. Buckwell knows her strength is in her reputation as part of Spanish aristocracy and people believe and trust her because of her purity. Her weakness is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack), whom she loves. Buckwell traps O'Shaugnessy and uses him as ransom. He puts Dolores in a brothel (Delilah was in a brothel!) and the moment her innocence is at stake the walls fall down among everybody. It's not a perfect correlation but it's pretty darn close.

It's interesting that this story chose to equate the San Francisco earthquake as an act of God against the sinfulness of San Fransisco. I don't really have an opinion other than an objective one. In terms of storytelling, it's an interesting plot device to lead up to the earthquake. The event becomes part of the driving force of the storyline rather than something unfortunate that just happens.

I haven't seen any other films about the San Francisco earthquake and fires of 1906 so I'm not sure how other movies have treated the subject. Old San Francisco (1927) is a film I highly recommend to anyone with a particular interest in this important moment in US history.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) ~ Old San Francisco (1927)

OldSanFran

Actor Charles Emmett Mack (McNerney) must not have been scared to tackle heavy topics in his movies. In The First Auto (1927), the audience follows Mack's character and through him and others we see the effects that the invention of the automobile, and it's replacement of the horse-drawn carriage, has on American society and how new technology often times distances different generations. In Old San Francisco (1927), we learn about the history of the city of San Francisco through the stories of different characters.

CEMack1

Old San Francisco (1927) tackles the history of San Fransisco, California from the time when the Spanish established a colony there in 1776, to the Gold Rush of 1848 and on to the great earthquake and fires of 1906. The story lingers on 1906 but the city's past is just as important to the story as the city's present.

Like in The First Auto (1927), Old San Francisco tells a big story through the lives of a few people, thus giving us insight on a meaty topic through a microcosm. We follow the story of the Vasquez family, aristrocratic Spaniards who reside in a mansion in San Francisco. They hold very strongly to the ideals that they inherited from their Spanish ancestors and the family's downfall starts as they resist the overwhelming influence the Gold Rush of 1848 has on the town. At the point the story really starts, 1906, we are introduced to Dolores (Dolores Costello - how fitting!) an amazingly beautiful young Spanish-American woman who lives with her grandfather and strives to maintain the old Spanish customs. Their dilapidated mansion and the land it sits on, is lusted after by various potential buyers. One day, two irishmen show up at the mansion offering to buy it from the proud grandfather who obviously refuses. One of those irishmen is Terrence O'Shaugnessy (Charles Emmett Mack) who falls head over heels with Dolores. But he's got competition. There is another old-fashioned Spaniard in the neighborhood, nipping at Dolores' heels. There is greedy Czar Chris Buckwell (Warner Oland - the Swede of Charlie Chan fmae) who corruptly rules all the chinamen in Chinatown with his iron fist. Dolores' beauty is like a dazzling jewel that he must possess and Buckwell will do so by any means possible. O'Shaugnessy has a chance because Dolores is smitten with the senor, but he gets sidetracked with the prostitutes and booze on Cocktail Route. Will he be able to save Dolores from Buckwell's attempts to rape her and to coerce her grandfather out of his home?

CEMack2

Dolores


Charles Emmett Mack is again his charming loveable self in this film. The moment his character lays eyes on the beautiful Dolores, he stops, stares and drops his briefcase with important documents into the carriage. You just know that at that moment he leaves his business behind to concentrate on falling in love and pursuing Dolores. My heart just melted when he says (through title cards since this is a silent picture) "Sinful ye are - hiding your beauty from a starvin' world." His character gets sidetracked a lot. Even when he is living it up with the prostitutes on Cocktail Route, you still have the feeling that he is a genuinely good guy, just misguided by all the sinfulness that San Fransisco has to offer him. He plays the most real and mult-dimensional character in the movie. Everyone else seems to be one-dimensional. Dolores is pure and good, the grandfather is proud, Buckwell is greedy and evil, etc. Yet Terrence O'Shaugnessy waivers between good and bad and grows as a person as the story develops. He comes through at the end and you find yourself rooting for him all along the way. Don't let the other big stars Anna May Wong, Warner Oland, Dolores Costello, et.al dazzle you away from the genuine charms of Charles Emmett Mack.

WOland

I hope you'll take an opportunity to watch this film. It's available to buy in the Warner Archive collection or to rent on Classicflix. Next up is an examination of the religious overtones of the film. I thought it would be too much to put it in my general review so I separated it into another post.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Update: It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Unfortunately, my plans to see this movie for the first time were foiled. The Brattle completely sold out the show with online reservations and because I had free passes for my group of 4, I didn't do the online reservation and thus could not get in. Oh well. I still plan to watch this film this month but it won't be on the big screen. It'll be in the comfort of my own home, which on a rainy day like this, felt like a better option. Stay tuned for my actual review whenever I get around to watching this.

Special thanks to everyone for their encouragement!

But I don't want to see it! ~ It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

As of this very moment, I'm 29 years, 18 days and a few hours old. In that span of time I have never, not ever, not even once, seen the classic film It's a Wonderful Life (1946). I have had no even an iota of interest in watching it. Why? Who knows. I just never wanted to and still really don't. Do any of you have a film like that? A film that everyone praises to the skies but you react to the idea of watching it with an unenthusiastic "meh"?

Here are a few things you should know about me.

1) I didn't grow up celebrating Christmas but adopted the tradition as an adult.
2) I tend to shirk those movies that are uber-popular. Gone with the Wind, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, etc.
3) I believe life is too short to watch films that don't interest you when there are so many other films that do.
4) I will however take a film recommendation of a friend or someone I care about because sharing films is a great way to experience them.

Unfortunately, It's a Wonderful Life happens to be a really popular Christmas movie that my family never watched when aired during the holidays, that never piqued my interest and one in which no one has realy taken the initiative of forcing me to watch it. Until now.

Tonight, I will break my lifelong boycott of It's a Wonderful Life (1946). I have absolutely no idea what my reaction will be! Will I hate it and wonder why I even bothered? Will I love it so much that I wondered how I lived so long without this marvelous film? Or will I simply say "meh"?

Next up: My reaction

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Anita Page in Speedway (1929)

Another post, just for fun and Anita Page related. I recently watched Speedway (1929) because I'm on a 1920s/1930s sports movie kick and that particular film is about auto-racing. Anita Page co-stars as a girl who reluctantly falls in love with a goofy auto-racing heir played by William Haines. Anita's outfits were wonderful so I did a series of screen caps. Here are a few. If you want to see the whole lot, check out my photo set on Flickr.





















Aren't cloche hats wonderful?!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Quel Interprétation ~ Anita Page in The Easiest Way (1931)

Months and months ago I had planned a dual post with another blogger. We would both dress up as a particular classic film star. I would be sweet and she would be naughty. I chose to do Anita Page in The Easiest Way (1931) because for some reason I was really captivated by her wholesomeness in that film. I did my little photo shoot and waited. The other blogger forgot about me and posted her photo shoot on her blog anyways. I was a bit hurt, tucked my pictures away and forgot about them.

Then when I saw that Warner Bros. release The Easiest Way (1931) as part of their Warner Archive collection, I decided to blow the dust off my pictures and post them here.

Now this is a very loose interpretation. I saw a dress at H&M that looked very '20s style and had a nice color and polka-dots (I love polka-dots). It reminded me very much of this dress that Anita Page wears in the picture:




My outfit is sort a modern interpretation. I wore my purple-polka dotted H-M dress, my cloche hat, geometric tights, red high heels and I painted my nails with gold-colored nail polish (because a true Gold Digger would wear gold-colored nail polish right?).

So here is the result. This is purely just for fun! I hope you take the opportunity to watch The Easiest Way (1931) now that it's out on DVD. It's a nice little pre-code starring Constance Bennett, Robert Montgomery, Adolph Menjou, Anita Page and Clark Gable (in one of his early roles). If you are interested in Depression-era movies, that's quite a gem.



Sunday, November 29, 2009

Casablanca and Casablanca (1942) @ the Brattle

My favorite theatre The Brattle in Harvard Square (Cambridge, MA USA) happens to be situated in the same building as a restaurant called Casablanca. I have been to both places many times but always thought it would be cool to dine at Casablanca the restaurant and watch Casablanca (1942) the movie at the theatre on the same evening. The restaurant is inspired by the movie and the Brattle just happens to show that film on occassion. In talking about our mutual admiration for classic films and for the Brattle, I proposed this idea to Carlos early on in our relationship and I always had it in the back of my mind as a future date. Finally, The Brattle posted that this weekend they would be showcasing Casablanca (1942) as part of their Epstein Brothers Centennial series. This was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my dream so I gathered up a few friends, asked them to dress in their finest and we all headed over to Cambridge on a cold dreary November night to an event that I fondly dubbed "Casablanca Squared".

It was imperative that I go the whole nine yards and wear a really nice outfit that night. I was very inspired by the Ginger Rogers outfit Kate Gabrielle put together in her fabulous A Classic Movie Halloween post on her blog Silents and Talkies. I really liked the coat she listed and I had bought it a while ago from Forever 21. I dug into my closet for the rest of the pieces. I wore my Target cloche hat and gloves, my black skirt from TJ Maxx, my seamed nylons from Victoria's Secret, a pair of fabulous pumps from DSW and a white short-sleved collared shirt from H&M. This was the result:



I also wore my Robert Mitchum trenchcoat but unfortunately I don't have any pictures of that. If you want to see what the trenchcoat looks like, check out my Retro-Ware post.



We all met the Brattle got our tickets and headed to Casablanca. This restaurant has fabulous cocktails and good, albeit expensive food. I did a review about them on my food blog and it's funny to read back on it because I had said:
"It is very possible to watch the film Casablanca (1942) and then head downstairs to Casablanca to discuss the movie over drinks. I still dream of doing just that one of these days."
We did this but in reverse. It was Black Friday and with Carlos working at retail and not getting out until late, we had to go to the 9:30 pm showing of Casablanca. So we ate dinner before watching the movie.




Casablanca has these wonderful murals with different scenes from the movie. This one happens to be my favorite and I wanted to make sure we sat in front of it for our meal. I highly suggest taking a moment to stop by the restaurant's website and reading about the history of it came about.




My wonderful friends Gina, Lisa and Kevin came along. They all dressed up and looked fabulous. Check out Kevin with his fedora and his Humphrey Bogart-esque trenchcoat! This happened to be Gina's first time seeing Casablanca and I was excited to hear her reaction to the film. Lisa is my partner-in-crime and is always coming with me to various classic film showings and for that reason, and many others, she is awesome.



Carlos works with men's clothing so it is very easy for him to dress up and he always looks impeccable. Maybe I'm looking at him through girlfriend eyes, but he seemed to exude a Clark Gable quality that night. Casablanca (1942) happens to be Carlos' top-favorite film. It even beats out The Hustler (1961). He was really looking forward to sharing this film with me and I was excited to give the film the second chance I truly believe it deserved.



After our meal and our drinks, we headed to the Brattle. We sat way up in the balcony which happens to be my favorite spot in the theatre. It had been a good 7 years or so since I had seen Casablanca and back then I wasn't impressed. I've grown as a person and as a classic film buff since then so I came with an open-mind and lots of enthusiasm.

The film was wonderful. I loved watching Carlos mouth several lines of dialogue that he knew by heart. He also pointed out some of the fun goofs and squeezed my hand at various romantic moments during the film. I was very moved by the ending and got a little emotional. But who doesn't? The love story of Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) is one of the most moving in cinematic history. I thought it was interesting how both Bergman and Bogart expressed emotion. Bogart doesn't emote in his face at all and he has a veriratble stone face with only his lips in motion and the occasional brow lift. But you never once, not even for a single solitary moment question the love Rick feels for Ilsa. He expresses his emotions in his words, his actions and his gestures and in those beautiful sad eyes. Bergman has a more expressive face but she concentrated so much of her expression in those wonderful glossy eyes of hers. Her eyes spoke volumes.

I really enjoyed the cast which many have said is one of the great elements of this movie. Humphrey Bogart is just so cool and Ingrid Bergman's beauty takes your breath away. Claude Rains'  ambiguity makes you have wonderfully mixed feelings about his character. Paul Henreid's gentle expression makes you sympathize for him when really you want to hate him for keeping Rick and Ilsa apart (something Gina pointed out to me). Dooley Wilson's Sam is the epitome of loyalty and he's such an iconic figure in the movie. I have a special place in my heart for both Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall both of whom are in my favorite Christmas classic A Christmas in Connecticut (1945). And Peter Lorre makes any film better! At one moment during the film, I heard a very familiar French voice. It dawned on me! That guy was in Pillow Talk. Marcel Dalio plays Croupier in Casablanca and the distraught Interior decorator Pierrot in Pillow Talk (1959). Ha!

This was a wonderful night and I'm really happy that it worked out so well. Thank yous go out to several folks. Thanks to Gina, Lisa, Kevin and Carlos for enthusiastically joining me to Casablanca Squared. Thank you to Mercurie at A Shroud of Thoughts for your encouragement. Thanks to Caitlin at Fire and Music for your wonderful post on the film. Be sure you take a look at Alexi's blog Ingrid Bergman Life and Films for her post on the Casablanca.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Casablanca (1942) Round-Up

I'm surprised how few posts there are on Casablanca (1942). Here are the only ones I could find from my list of favorite bloggers. If you love this film, you should really take a moment out to dedicate a post about it! If you have a post on Casablanca that you'd like me to link here, drop me a line!

I have a special Casablanca post coming up so stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Charles Emmett Mack (oh and me too)





Today is my birthday. It falls so close to Thanksgiving that it often gets overlooked which suits me just well because as I get older these anniversaries get more and more depressing. So today I decided to honor someone other than myself who was born on November the 25th.

I first discovered Charles Emmett Mack when I was watching the Norma Shearer film The Devil's Circus (1926).  In researching the film for a post I have yet to write, I discovered that Charles Emmett Mack lived a tragically short life. He died in a car accident while shooting the film The First Auto (1927) (See my review of that film). I wondered what his career could have been had he lived longer. Mack had quite a dynamic onscreen presence. He had a kind countenance with a sort of playfullness in his eyes. His face seemed finely sculpted out of stone and he had the most amazing dimples that I'm sure had the ladies swooning.

There is very little to no information on this actor online. Below is what I could gather from various sources. If you have any information to add, please let me know!

Charles Emmett Mack

B. November 25, 1900 Scranton, Pennsylvania
D. March 17, 1927 Riverside, CA

~ Real Name: Charles Emmett McNerney or Charles Stewart McNerney (most sources list the first one)
~ Discovered by D.W. Griffith who put him in several of his movies.
~ Had a contract with Warner Bros. was being set-up for major stardom.
~ "Mack" seemed to be a popular name in early Hollywood. In addition to Charles Emmett Mack there was also Johnny Mack Brown, Helen Mack, Charles E. Mack, Charles Mack, Wilbur Mack, etc.
~ One source claims that his stage name was Charles Montague at first, but really that was his character's name in the film America (1924)
~ Died on the way to the set of The First Auto (1927) - It was a car accident which is ironic given the topic of the film he was shooting.
~ Buried in Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles

Filmography
Dream Street (1921) as Billy Mcfadden
The Daring Years (1923) as John Browning
Driven (1923) as Tom Tolliver
The White Rose (1923) as Guest At Inn
Youth for Sale (1924) as Tom Powers
America (1924) as Charles Philip Edward Montague
The Sixth Commandment (1924) as Henry Adams
Down Upon the Suwannee River (1925) as Bill Ruble
Bad Company (1925) as Dick Reynolds
Down Upon the Swanee River (1925)
A Woman of the World (1925) as Gareth Johns
The Devil's Circus (1926) as Carlstop
The Unknown Soldier (1926) as Fred Williams
Old San Francisco (1927) as Terrence O'Shaughnessy
The Rough Riders (1927) as Bert Henley
The First Auto (1927) as Bob Armstrong

On DVD

Dream Street (1921) ~ The Directors: Rare Films Of D.W. Griffith As Director Vol. 1
The White Rose (1923) ~ The Directors: Rare Films Of D.W. Griffith As Director Vol. 4
America (1924) also on ClassicFlix
A Woman of the World (1925)
The First Auto (1927) ~ Warner Archive also on ClassicFlix
Old San Fransisco (1927) ~ Warner Archive also on ClassicFlix

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Early Birthday Present



Carlos presented me with a copy of the out of print Norma Shearer biography by Gavin Lambert as an early birthday gift. When I say "presented", I mean hid it in my apartment and made me go on a wild goose chase to find it! I'm so happy to have this. Now I don't have to check it out several times a year from my local library because I OWN it.

Thank you Carlos!

Monday, November 16, 2009

If Eddie Felson from The Hustler (1961) was on Match.com

Fast_Eddie_Felson

I can't lose.

36-year old man
New York, NY
seeking women 25-35
within 10 miles of New York, NY



Relationship: Never Married
Have Kids: None
Want Kids: No Interest
Body Type: Fit
Height: 5' 10"
Smoke: Regularly. It helps me concentrate on my game.
Drink: Regularly. J.T.S Brown (Bourbon Whiskey)

In My Own Words:

My manager Charlie put me up to this. I'm not really looking for anyone but if someone with a similar life experience who understands a man with troubles comes around, I won't turn her away.

For Fun: Shooting Pool & Drinking J.T.S Brown
My Job: Shooting Pool
Favorite hot spots: Ames', Stan's and various other pool halls. Bus Station, Kentucky Derby, etc.

About Me
Best Feature: Blue Eyes
Sports and exercise: Shooting Pool & Fighting in Pool Halls
Education: Streets
Occupation: Sales Rep peddling Druggist Supplies/Shooting Pool
Income: Money comes and goes
Turn-ons: Hustling a sucker, making money, J.T.S. Brown, Blondes, Beating Minnesota Fats, etc.
Turn-offs: Losing to Minnesota Fats, Burt Young's greed, Having my thumbs broken, etc.


About My Date

Hair: Blonde, short
Eyes: Piercing yet sad
Height: 5' 0" - 5' 5"
Body type: Slender & Petite
Smoke: If she wants
Drink: Yes. I'll buy her a drink if she gets me breakfast.
Have kids: No
Want kids: No
----
This is dedicated to Carlos, whom I met on Match.com. He used "Faster Eddie Felson" as his screen name and channeled Eddie Felson on our first date.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The First Auto (1927)



We are living in a time of rapid and overwhelming technological change. The technologies of 20 years ago pale in comparison to everything we have today. Our culture as we know it is necessarily changing and adapting to these advancements. It's gotten to the point that we've so wholeheartedly accepted these new technologies into our life, that we've become dependent on them and we don't understand how we ever lived without them. I've only had my iPhone a few months but now it's my treasure. I carry it around me like I was a little girl with her precious baby doll. What did I do before the iPhone? How will this effect my life?

While the changes are happening, we don't stop to analyze and study them, that comes years later when we look back on what has transpired. I think it's very important that cultural shifts be explored and sometimes it takes a few years to really realize their impact. New technology divides generations. What older generations learned from schooling and hard work over the years seems to be trumped by the new technology that is more difficult for them to grasp but is easily understood by younger generations.

Sometimes we need films and other outlets to help us understand the ramifications of the rapid change of modern technology . In 1927, a film came about that offered to analyze, discuss and reconcile the very important transition in transportation technology from horse-driven carriage to the automobile (the horse-less carriage).

The First Auto (1927) is a Warner Bros. silent which was written by Darryl F. Zanuck and directed by Roy Del Ruth. The story follows Hank Armstrong (Russell Simpson) a popular horse-racer with a prize mare called Sloe Eyes. His son Bob (Charles Emmett Mack) is highly enthusiastic about a new invention called the "horseless carriage". He shares his passion with his girlfriend Rose (Patsy Ruth Miller) who is amused by Bob but also admires him for his enthusiasm. We start at the turn of the century and progress a few years; from the invention of the automobile to the later advancement towards racing cars. Hank watches his world fall apart as the advent of automobiles threatens his business, while his son Bob sees new and exciting opportunities open up before him. Progress and change are inevitable in society and Hank has to learn to embrace this new technology whether he wants to or not.


This film is quite excellent on so many levels. It explores a major technological advancement and a change in American culture. It focuses on two characters with a specific story to paint a bigger picture. It's both sad and funny. We see the technology evolve as the autos get more and more advanced.

This film was recently made available in the Warner Archive collection and I'm so happy it was! It really is a treat to see and you should take advantage and buy a copy of this film (or rent it on Classicflix). The biggest irony of the film is that Charles Emmett Mack died during the making of this film. He was driving to the set in his auto when he was broadsided by a wagon. Mack had offered to give costar Patsy Ruth Miller a ride, but she had declined on the account of her maid insisting she got some rest. If she had gone with Mack, it's possible that both co-stars would have died that day. At the point of Mack's death, almost all of the film had been shot, give or take a few scenes. At the end, Mack's character is noticeably absent but spoken about by Hank to keep him in the story. There is also a point towards the middle of the film in which Mack's character is far away and writes letters to his girl (part of the story? a rewrite? who knows). *Spoiler Alert*: At the climax of the film, Bob is racing his car and gets into an accident. At that point it looks like he may be dead. This kind of creeped me out. I thought that this may have been his real death and they kept it in the film! But alas, it was not and his character survived, but sadly he did not.







Monday, November 2, 2009

Tuesday Weld ~ Lord Love a Duck (1966)



This is one bizarre film. There is no other way around it, this film is very weird. And if you hear Tuesday Weld stars as Barbara Ann, a high school teen that aspires to be a movie star. She was named after Barbara Stanwyck and Ann Sheridan. Her mother, Marie (Lola Albright) is a cocktail waitress who has a drunken penchant of taking her customers home with her. Barbara Ann meets Mollymauk (Roddy McDowell) another high school student who seems to know everything about Barbara before they even met. In the beginning of the film we learn that Mollymauk (Alan or the "duck" referred to in the title) is mentally insane. Great! Mollymauk/Alan/duck follows around Barbara Ann trying to make all her wishes come true. She wants 12 cashmere sweaters, he convinces her to put a guilt trip on her estranged father to get them. She wants to get married to a rich man, he works that out for her. But every step of the way, Mollymauk/Alan/duck makes sure that all her granted wishes turn awry. This is when the movie really gets dark with suicide and attempted murder.

From what I understand, this film is supposed to be a spoof but I didn't find it very funny. Especially the darker parts towards the end seemed disturbing, even if they were ridiculous. This film pokes fun at bikini movies, high school, teenage-parent relationships in the 1960s, the movie industry, American culture (drive-in church?!) etc. It's an interesting satire but I can't say that I enjoyed this film. It may be too late in the decade. I seem to gravitate more towards the earlier half of the 1960s when films are becoming more experimental but haven't reached the state of utter bizareness!

One reviewer said that Tuesday Weld was very Tuesday Weld-ish in this film. However, this is only my second Tuesday Weld film so I'm not very sure what Tuesday Weld-ish means. She is very cute, pixie-ish and vibrant in the film and these qualities are what draw me to her as an actress. Please enjoy some screenshots of the lovely Tuesday Weld.









Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phantom of the Opera (1925) with the Alloy Orchestra

It seems like everyone on the blogosphere was doing some Halloween-type post or series on their blog. And I had absolutely nada, zilch, zip, nothing. It was a veritable Halloween FAIL. Then at the 11th hour came an opportunity so amazing that I just couldn't turn it down.

Yesterday afternoon I found out that Somerville's Arts at the Armory (MA) program was having a special event featuring the silent film Phantom of the Opera (1925) that very night. The film would be shown with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra. I couldn't believe my eyes. This was my chance to watch a silent film on the big screen with live music! I called Carlos and being the amazing boyfriend he is, he encouraged me to go ahead and buy the tickets so we could go (any other boyfriend would have shirked and mumbled some excuse about watching a sporting event on TV instead).



The even was held at this very cool building. It was an armory built in 1903 to house the Somerville Light Infrantry of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. Over the past century it's been used for many things and now the space is used for community arts programs.

The space was very open and they used really cool lighting. Red light pillars running alongside the wall, spotlights, and lots of blue and green lighting. It's hard to explain but you can get a feel for it from the picture. It was a very open space and quite suitable for a big production.



Carlos and I really just came for the screening of Phantom of the Opera (1925) with live music. However, if you go to a concert oftentimes you'll have to sit through the opening act. R/A and DJ Dzinga showed 3 short films with live techno-music accompaniment. This part of the event was really trippy. The first short we saw was the experiment German film The Fall of the House of Usher (1928). Woah. It was Art Deco & German Expressionism in a very hypnotic way. I didn't quite get it. Carlos was amused. The next two short films were very strange. Some trippy '60s/70's horror sequences that made me go all cross-eyed. The last short film has techno-music so loud that I thought I was going to go deaf. So when it was time for Phantom, I was more than ready.

The film was shown on a big elevated screen and the Alloy Orchestra played below. I was very impressed by their music and how they closely watched the movie to make sure their music suited what was going on in screen. It really enhanced the movie-watching experience. They used a wide variety of instruments including: drums, chimes, bells, horseshoes, cymbals, an accordion, a saw and some other metal with a violin bow (for the creepy sounds) and a multi-functional keyboard that happened to play organ music. Sometimes I would take my eyes off the screen just to see what instrument the orchestra would use next.

The film itself was spectacular. I had never seen it before so it was a real treat to watch it both on the big screen and with live music. The film we was an amalgamation of the 1925 and 1929 versions. Most notably, the 1929 version has a talking scene in which Carlotta sings a song in the opera. We didn't hear the sound but it was notably different visually than the others since it spent so much time focusing on her face and her mouth. In reading the Trivia section of this film's entry in IMDB, there are lots of differences between the two versions so it's interesting that what we saw was a fusion of the two.

The version we saw had what I consider extraordinary use of color. Many duo-tone scenes of green, blue, orange and red were found throughout the film. My favorite was with Lon Chaney as Erik the Phantom when he is perched on the statue at the top of the Paris Opera House. He's wearing a red suite with a red cape when he crashes theBal Masque as the red death. It's at night and the rest of the elements are blue. So it's great to see the contrast between the black and the blue of the night with the Phantom's bright red!

The sets in the film were so elaborate and beautiful. It seemed like a costly film to make. I think Phantom of the Opera (1925) is a great example of how sophisticated and beautiful silent films can be. Of course, the story looks at Erik the Phantom as a horrible monster who must be destroyed whereas notable late versions like Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, take a more sympathetic view of that character.

Interesting to note, Carla Laemmle, the niece of Phantom's producer Carl Laemmle, is in the film as one of the ballerinas. She was 15 when it was shot and she is the only surviving cast member of Phantom. And on that very same night, October 30th, 2009, Carla Laemmle was on the other side of the country celebrating her centennial birthday and signing books at the Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Los Angeles. Isn't that neat?

It was a really great night and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to see this and that Carlos was willing and excited to come with me. Now I leave you with some fun shots we took at the Armory. Perfect pictures for Halloween.

Have a safe and wonderful holiday!




Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse
by Francoise Sagan
9780061440793
Harper Modern Perennial Classics
Paperback
$12.99 US
Buy at Powells.com


I had watched the Otto Preminger film Bonjour Tristesse (1958) a while back for my You Otto See It series, and was very impressed by it. (See my post about it here) The film stars Jean Seberg, David Niven and Deborah Kerr. Seberg plays Cecile, a 17-year old who is living it up on the French Riviera with her bachelor father Raymond (David Niven). When an old family friend, Anne (Deborah Kerr), threatens their bohemian lifestyle by bringing structure and morality to their lives, Cecile becomes desperate to hold on to her free lifestyle at all costs. Even if it means breaking up Raymond and Anne's engagement.

The film is based on the Francoise Sagan novel published in 1954. Sagan is from France and wrote the novel in French at the age of 17. It was an instant hit and it only took a couple of years for the film rights to be snagged up and for the movie to be created. Many folks think that the novel is autobiographical considering the fact that both Sagan and her character Cecile are 17 years old and living in France. The novel is written in first-person narrative in Cecile's perspective and at times it did feel that I was reading a short memoir.

The book can be classified as a novella as it's only about 130 pages long. It's separated into two sections. The first part is when Anne comes into the lives of Raymond and Cecile. The second part is when Cecile puts into place her elaborate scheme to separate Raymond and Anne. It's a light, melancholy story and although it feels subdued it really makes you think about the consequences of people's actions. This story is very much about manipulation, aversion to change and the numbness and boredom experienced by the rich. Our present society is very fascinated by this, as you can see by the plethora of reality shows that follow rich people around. I think a story like Bonjour Tristesse is more eye-opening and intellectually stimulating.

Reading this book make realize not only how much I love this story but how excellent a job Otto Preminger did in adapting this novella for the screen. The 1958 film version is visually stunning bringing the characters and the setting alive before our eyes. Preminger stayed very true to the story and did little to change it. In fact, the film added to the story in a way that enhanced it. The novella is very linear chronologically. Preminger's film shifts from present day to past back to present day and did this by representing present day as black & white (the sad aftermath) and past day as color (the carefree happy days before the incident). There are a lot of little subtleties in the text that Preminger kept and showed on screen. For example, one of my favorite scenes involved Cecile being caught in the arms of her lover by Anne. Her lover kisses her shoulder and Cecile kisses the same spot. This very subtle and short moment, the shoulder-kissing, is in the novella! Preminger had picked up on a lot of the nuances of the novella and weaved them into the film. While Preminger stayed very close to the original book, I feel like he improved upon it by adding a few extra scenes and by adding a layer of social commentary. The novella is written in the perspective of Cecile so she is not capable the level of social awareness that Preminger added to the movie. I think this just enhances the story. For example, there is a scene when one of the two interchangeable maids gulps down champagne why the rich folk go about their amusement. This really shows the differences between the two classes, especially the obliviousness of the upperclass. This isn't in the book. Also, the novella was famous for being blunt sexually, with an outright reference to abortion. Preminger didn't include the abortion reference but he kept the language in the film sexy in an indirect way.

I think Bonjour Tristesse the novella and the film could be used as an example of a book-to-movie adaptation that went really well. Because an adaptation should do two things: it should stay true to the original story and improve upon it. What we get today is film directors trying change too much of the story or they are pressured by film studios to make the film in a way that makes it generate the big bucks. What ends up happening is they bastardize the story and lots of folks who loved the original book are outright disgusted by the movie adaptation (::cough ~Talented Mr. Ripley ~ cough::). I think classic film book adaptations worked a lot better even though they had the same pressures: money, pleasing film studios, time, etc.

I highly recommend you read the Sagan novella then watch the Otto Preminger film, and in that order.

Full Disclosure: A friend lent me her copy of this book.

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