Guest Post Sarah ~ Romeo & Juliet (1936) & West Side Story (1961)

The last entry for June's Guest Blogger Month extravaganza comes from the lovely Sarah from Cinema Splendor. Sarah's posts are always fun to read and she just about dazzles and amuses everyone who visits her delightful blog. She's also the biggest Natalie Wood fan on the planet! Hope you enjoy this entry.
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Disclaimer – it may help if you know the stories of Romeo & Juliet and West Side Story to read this post :)

So we all know that West Side Story is a modern retelling of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet. While they are similar, they also have their differences and my job is to show them to you! Raquelle made me...just kidding, I volunteered :)


Maria and Juliet both have fake deaths.
In R & J, Friar Laurence gives Juliet a potion to make her appear to be dead though she is really in a deeeeeep sleep. Deep enough to make her not have a pulse. Don't quite know how that one worked out, but okay...


Romeo doesn’t get the memo that Juliet isn’t really dead, so when he goes to see her ‘body’, he gets all upset and drinks poison to be with Juliet. She wakes up like, 3.5 seconds later and discovers Romeo all drawn out next to her. She has vice versa thinking and stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger to be with him.

WSS is totally different however because Anita gets upset after being harrassed by the jets and tells them that Chino shot Maria for loving Tony. Tony catches wind of this, runs out into the streets calling Chinos name begging him to shoot him too so he'd be with Maria. Tony and Maria find each other and while running towards each other all Bo Derek and Dudley Moore in 10 , guess what; Chino heard Tony yelling his name and shoots him. Insert a few dramatic moments and Maria walks away. The End. It isn’t shown or explained if Maria really did kill herself, so that’s one difference between the two stories.

Paris/Chino and the relationship between Tybalt/Bernardo and Nurse/Anita are completely different.

Paris in R & J has been arranged to marry Juliet. Chino in WSS has been arranged to marry Maria. Obviously both gals fall in love with other guys and these two are just left to their own devices.

Chino – kills Tony after he finds out about his relationship with Maria meaning he will probably end up in jail for quite a while.

Paris – After Juliet kills herself, he’s just sort of left in the dust. Poor Paris :(

Also, Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin. Nurse is kind of a confidant for Juliet. In the Shakespeare story, they’re not romantically involved, although Nurse shows some affection for Tybalt at the masked ball. Also, when Tybalt dies in the street fight, Nurse is visibly upset at his death. However, in West Side Story Anita and Bernardo are clearly lovers. Both Nurse’s and Anita’s reactions are similar in that they are both very upset at the deaths.

Romeo and Juliet are actually married while Tony and Maria are fake married.
R & J go to Friar Laurence (the same guy who give Juliet the “it’ll make you look dead” potion) to get married, like for real. Nobody knows about their holy matrimony except Nurse. Tony and Maria have a do-it-yourself wedding in the bridal shop (how appropriate) resulting in the scene that everybody hates and think its such a corn-fest, but…I kinda love it.

Do you see the “cross” above them? ;)


Mama will make him ask about your prospects.
Many!
If you go to church…
Oh, always.
Yes…Papa might like you.


Heh. Watch it here.

Guest Blogger Steve-O ~ On Classic Boxing Films

Since 2005, Steve-O has been bringing us weekly installments of in-depth reviews on Film Noirs over at his site Noir of the Week. It is one of the most comprehensive and interesting collection of articles, written by Steve-O and various other contributorss on this ever popular genre of films. Steve-O does us the pleaures of stopping by to enlighten us on classic boxing films. Enjoy!
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I'm a sucker for films about the sweet science. I admit it. As much as I try to convince co-workers that Rocky IV isn't really very good – I still find a great amount of pleasure watching it. However, I do find most modern boxing dramas – from Cinderella Man to Rocky - entertaining but a bit lacking.

Now if you want to talk about great boxing films – then you have to talk about the gritty classics from the 40s and 50s.

City for Conquest is a guilty pleasure. James Cagney plays the same guy he played in most WB tough-guy films. Cagney showcases some deft footwork in the ring – but his punches are thrown like one of the Dead End Kids in a brawl. The film is a very slick Warner Bros film filled with over-the-top drama. Strong performances make the film an absolute pleasure though. Ann Sheridan as the girlfriend, Arthur Kennedy playing the more sensitive brother, and Anthony Quinn as Sheridan's slimy dance partner all help tell the rags-to-riches tales. When Cagney goes blind in the ring and Sheridan's dancing career is also flushed the film has its most tear-jerking moment. City for Conquest is a New York story through and through - and it's one I find myself watching again and again.



More realistic is Body and Soul. John Garfield plays a young Jewish street kid who is lured into a career as a pugilist. He quickly moves up the ranks – and at the same time dumps his artist girlfriend and – surprisingly – his poor mother (played by Anne Revere). The film was an independent production by Garfield but the lack of a budget didn't stop clever film makers from making a slick sports movie. Unfortunately, a decent copy is a challenge to find. The US DVD release is muddy and cuts one of the best lines from the movie. When Charley is deciding to through a title fight – and make a fortune by betting against himself – a local grocer from the old neighbor hood says, "In Europe, the Nazis are killing our people, but here Charley is Champeen! No, it's not about the money." Charley is devastated by the comment. Hopefully someday a better DVD will be released of this one.



Kirk Douglas is at his evil best in Champion. In fact, I'm finding that Douglas is one of the best anti-heroes of the 40s and 50s. Barry Gifford, writing in his book Devil Thumbs a Ride & Other Unforgettable Films, calls Champion the most vicious boxing film until Raging Bull. Douglas as the cut-throat fighter makes Garfield in Body and Soul look like a boy scout in comparison. This was the big break out film for Douglas. Douglas – prior to Champion – learned how to smoke while making Strange Love of Martha Ivers because the director though he needed something to do with his hands. In Out of the Past and Ace in the Hole, he found amazing ways to light and share smokes. In Champion Douglas' hands were taped and gloved most of the time. He found what to do with them. Bury them into his opponent.





Robert Ryan - unlike the other leading men mentioned above – was actually a pretty decent boxer in his day. In The Set-Up he proves it. No film has better boxing fight scenes than this one. When I first saw this movie I loved it but I find – strangely- that I like it less and less with each viewing. I think I'm going to blame the DVD which seems too bright. The sets out on the streets look like sets. And the film feels too stagey at times. Ryan is fantastic in it and the fight scenes – it's worth repeating – are just perfect. Film noir fans love the cast of ugly faces including George Tobias, Wallace Ford and Percy Helton. Beauty does make an appearance though. Audry Totter – one of the queens of noir – plays Ryan's woman.





Finally, there's Bogart's last film The Harder They Fall. No, Bogie doesn't play a boxer. Luckily he keeps his shirt on and manages instead. The film both glorifies and condemns the sport. This is an appropriate send off to the grizzled Bogart. The film is heartbreaking when it shows broken down brain-damaged boxers of the past. Bogart's Eddie Willis is his best role since In a Lonely Place.





Recently at my blog, Noir of the Week, we covered both Body and Soul and The Set-Up. Film noir is notorious for using similar locations and professions. Boxing – with it's many appearances in dark cities - was the sport of film noir.

Guest Blogger Paulie ~ Once a Song and Dance Man, Always a Song and Dance Man

Paulie, creator of the blog Art, Movies, Wood and Whatnot, brings us the latest entry into this Guest Blogger series. It's with pure admiration that he writes about the career of the legendary actor James Cagney. You'd be hard pressed to find a classic film fan that doesn't at least appreciate Cagney, so I'm sure many of you will enjoy this post!
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James Francis Cagney . . . it's hard to put into words what this megawatt-hyperkinetic little powder-keg of a guy and his work has meant to me throughout my 42 years. I can honestly say I don't recall a time in my life when I didnt watch and enjoy his films. Some of my earliest recollections of movies are as a 4-5 year-old kid sitting on the floor about 2 feet from the TV completely and utterly entranced and enthralled by Rocky Sullivan, Tom Powers or Cody Jarret, oblivious to any and all goings on around me! I vividly recall going to Yale University law school to see "A Midsummer Nights Dream", I couldnt have been more than 5 or 6 years old and all that Shakespeare talk went way over my head but I loved it anyway! These were the days before cable, video and TCM so when these films played on TV or were getting screened somewhere it was an EVENT! My family, especially one of my uncles, were big time movie buffs and so the appreciation of the old Hollywood films was always encouraged and has only gown throughout the years for me. But above all others, Cagney remains my all-time favorite.

Born on July 17th, 1899, Cagney was a bit of an oddity in Hollywood . . . neither tall nor overly "Handsome" by Hollywood leading man terms, but what he may have lacked in stature or looks he made up for 100 times over by sheer talent and magnetic personality. William Wellman saw it when they began shooting "Public Enemy" in 1931 which is why Cagney's and Eddie Woods' roles were switched and he played Tom Powers, smashed a grapefruit in Mae Clark's face and became an overnight sensation! After which Warner Bros. put him in a string of quick, tough little pictures like "Smart Money", "Blonde Crazy", "Taxi", and "The Picture Snatcher". Some of those pre-code dramas are pretty intense and daring even by today's standards!

He was teamed often with WB workhorse actress Joan Blondell and pals Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh (the first Cagney/O'Brien teaming "Here Comes the Navy" was even nominated for best picture!). Capitalizing on the success of "42nd Street" and "Goldiggers of 1933" WB put Cagney in "Footlight Parade" and he finally got to show the world that he was more than just a tough-guy! His stylized singing and nimble dancing in the finale is quite enjoyable! The film itself is a non-stop joyride and remains my fave Busby Berkley musical.Cagney and Jack Warner butted heads constantly over scripts and salary and Jimmy walked several times during the 1930's. In 1938, after an unsuccessful attempt to work on his own productions ("The Great Guy" and "Something to Sing About"), he was back at WB playing what I consider THE definitive Cagney tough-guy role, Rocky Sullivan, in "Angles with Dirty Faces". I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this film and yet each time it seems fresh and vibrant, thanks not only to Cagney's oscar nominated performance (his first) but also to the top-notch supporting cast including Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids, and of course director Michael Curtiz and his production team.

The early 40's saw some very interesting work from Cagney in films like the underappreciated "City for Conquest", the hilarious, break-neck-paced "Torrid Zone" (Ann Sheridan nearly steals that one!) the funny and touching "Strawberry Blonde" and the technicolor "Captains of the Clouds". Then in 1942 Jimmy got his dream role of a lifetime, the chance to play George M.Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy". To say he rose to the task of this part is a severe understatement! Cagney is so great in this role and the film so well made that whatever corny patriotics and historical inaccuracies it may possess become irrelevent while viewing. Cagney walked off with a well-deserved Oscar for best actor that year!



After the triumph of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" he sort of lost his way, trying once again to go independent but in 1949 he returned to WB and made "White Heat" playing mother-fixated psychopath Cody Jarret and uttering one of the greatest tag lines in film history: "Made it Ma, Top of the World!" Co-star Virginia Mayo loves talking about working with Cagney and felt he shouldve gotten an oscar nomination for his work in that film. She also pointed out that acting scared when Jimmy had his hands on your throat was really EASY!! Cagney dismissed it as yet another routine gangster film.


The 1950's was uneven but there was some interesting work from Cagney in films like "Come Fill the Cup", the Nicholas Ray western "Run for Cover", and the Lon Chaney bio-pic "Man of a Thousand Faces". I dont think anyone would disagree that his best work in the 50's was in "Mr Roberts" and "Love Me, or Leave Me" which got Cagney his last oscar Nomination for best actor. He made a cameo appearance as George M Cohan in "The Seven little Foys" with Bob Hope and had shooting pains in his legs during his brief dancing routine.


In 1961 Cagney starred in Billy Wilder's hilarious frenetically paced comedy "One, Two, Three", spitting out dialogue at the speed of light with the energy of ten men! But he had trouble nailing the long stretches of fast dialogue and so decided that it was time to hang it up and retire.

In 1974 the AFI gave Jimmy their Lifetime Acheivement award, the first actor to recieve such an honor. His bouyant and hilarious acceptance speech ended with "For the record i never said mmmmmmmmm, you Dirty rat!!...what i said was (aping Cary Grant) Judy, Judy, Judy!"He came back to the big screen one last time in 1981 for Milos Forman's "Ragtime" which also paired him once again with lifelong friend Pat O'Brien. The 1984 TV movie "Terrible Joe Moran" was his last acting gig and James Francis Cagney passed away on March 30th, 1986, which ironically is the birthday of that uncle I mentioned who so encouraged me as a little kid to watch the old Hollywood films.

Watching a Cagney film for me is like recapturing a piece of my childhood because every time he's onscreen I become that little 4-5 year-old kid sitting on the floor about 2 feet from the TV completely and utterly entranced and enthralled by Rocky Sullivan, Tom Powers or Cody Jarret, oblivious to any and all goings on around me. Thank you James!

Guest Blogger Kate Gabrielle ~ Frederic March

Kate Gabrielle is a woman of many blogs. My favorite one of hers is Silents and Talkies which is a fusion of her love of classic film and her artistic talent. Today's guest post comes from the uber-talented Kate as she shows us why we should appreciate Frederic March.
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If I told you that there was an actor who was Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Robert Taylor all rolled into one, with a pinch of Paul Muni thrown in for good measure you'd probably think I'm nuts. But such an actor did exist, and his name was Fredric March.

Like Tracy and Muni, March was a real actor with a capital A. In films like A Star is Born, Inherit the Wind and The Best Years of Our Lives, March gives the kinds of performances that make you forget that he is an actor playing a role-- you're only seeing the character. And March went a step further than Tracy, often choosing roles that didn't mesh with his offscreen views if it got the point across. For instance, in real life March actually agreed with the Clarence Darrow side of the Inherit the Wind argument. But he played the role of Matthew Brady with conviction and a fire in his belly so that you believed that he believed the lines he was saying.

Like Gable and Taylor, March could also play a romantic lead. I mean, it was totally believable that Greta Garbo would leave her husband and son to spend her life in sin with Fredric March in Anna Karenina. In Design for Living, you can completely understand why Miriam Hopkins can't decide between Gary Cooper and Fredric March.



Speaking of Design for Living, this is the film that officially got me hooked on Fredric March. I never, in all my movie watching years, would have thought this particular word would describe him, but... he is so .... adorable. If you wouldn't mind the slight inconvenience of fast-forwarding a little through a YouTube video, you will get to see my favorite March moment out of all his films.

A little background first. In Design for Living, March plays an unpublished playwright who is being artistically challenged by Miriam Hopkins, his and friend Gary Cooper's shared paramour. In my favorite scene, he has finally finished Act I of his play, "Goodnight Bassington: a comedy in about three acts with a tragic ending." March reads the ending aloud to Gary Cooper. I'll be brutally honest-- I was giggling uncontrollably when I watched this scene for the first time.

Just fast forward to 1:30 (or watch the 1:30, that's funny too but mainly Gary Cooper) and hopefully you will see what amuses me so much.




Adorable.

I think it's a shame that Fredric March isn't remembered today with the same iconic status that Spencer Tracy has acquired. I believe that he could match, if not top, Tracy's acting ability when faced with any role. I don't even have to hypothesize about this because they actually did play the same role. In 1931, Fredric March played the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a whole ten years before Spencer Tracy re-created the role in 1941. While both actors bring something different to the role, I've always liked the March version ten times more. He really blends into his character, merges with the role in a way that Tracy could never quite manage... you always still see that good natured, honest Spencer Tracy peeking through whichever character he played.




Not to knock Spencer Tracy again, but really... which would you prefer? Spencer Tracy? OR...Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Robert Taylor all rolled into one with a pinch of Paul Muni thrown in for good measure?

Guest Blogger Donna ~ June Mathis and Rudolph Valentino

Today's guest post comes from the talented Donna, who runs the blog Strictly Vintage Hollywood and is also curator of Falcon Lair, a website dedicated the silent screen legend Rudolph Valentino. The site is full of interesting information and media for Rudy enthusiasts and for the Rudy-curious like myself. It's with excitement that I present Donna's entry into the Guest Blogger series!
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The world was dancing.
Paris had succumbed to
the mad rhythm of the
Argentine tango.


– The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

The Argentine Tango came to American shores as early as 1911 and was considered quite shocking for the day. Vernon and Irene Castle did lend some respectability to the tango in their ballroom dance exhibitions. True Tango madness among the youth of America did not reach a zenith until 1920-1921 with the release of the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had something that Vernon and Irene Castle did not, the pure, raw sensuality that was Rudolph Valentino. For this we must thank a woman who is relatively unknown today, June Mathis.

Hollywood history and legend has widely credited June Mathis with discovering Rudolph Valentino. Valentino landed the plum role of Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because Mathis recommended him after she saw him in Clara Kimball Young’s film The Eyes of Youth. Rudolph Valentino’s star began its irrevocable ascent because of her foresight, her vision. It was the guiding hand of June Mathis and the sensitive direction of Rex Ingram that helped Valentino give a performance that stands firm to this day. Not only was it through her vision that Rudolph Valentino gained stardom, they developed a fond and lasting friendship until his untimely death. Their friendship was no romance, she was a matronly and wise figure that Valentino looked to for guidance on more than one occasion.

Vicente Blasco Ibañez's popular war novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1918), was considered by studios to be unsuitable for the screen. Mathis took it upon herself to prove otherwise. It was through her perseverance that in 1919, Richard Rowland, then head of Metro, purchased the rights to the novel for the then- huge sum of twenty thousand dollars. June took on the difficult task of writing the adaptation of the novel, a sweeping story of a family, separated and engulfed by the tragedy of World War I. Mathis also exercised her considerable sway in obtaining director Rex Ingram and pushing for--and getting--the relatively unknown Rudolph Valentino for the lead role of Julio.

Contrary to what the naysayers in the industry and within Metro had predicted, the film was a tremendous hit. Stock in Ingram, Valentino and Mathis went up 150%. The enormous success of the film meant that June Mathis became a voice to be reckoned with in Hollywood, a real player in every sense of the word. Both she and Valentino rose to great personal heights in careers that continued to cross paths until their untimely deaths.
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Tantalized? Are your classic film taste buds tingling? Get your satisfaction by consuming the full meal at Donna's blog. To learn more about Mathis and Valentino, click here. Bon apetit!

Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog's Second Anniversary

On June 15th, 2007, I ventured out into the unknown with my very first post on this blog. It was an opening of sorts; a welcome to future readers. My first real post was on Dick Cavett's interview with Alfred Hitchcock. What followed was 2 years of faithful writing about classic movies and the stars that I love. It was slow at first, building up a readership and finding time to post in between full-time work and graduate school. Once I graduated last year, this blog really got into it's stride as I had more time to devote to it.

I'm very happy about the people I've met online and in person through my blog. I love all the comments and e-mails I've gotten. I have also loved seeing others start their own classic film blogs. This blog has really grown and I'm happy with everything I've been able to put into it.

I'm not sure what is in store for the future of this blog; whether I will continue it at the same pace, at a slower pace or even at all. Looking back though at the 2 years I am very happy that on that fateful day in 2007, I decided that all the words I had building up inside me about my love for classic movies could finally get a portal to be released into the world.

Here are some highlights of the past 2 years of blogging:

Sexiest Scenes in Film History ~ I still get lots of wayward Google searches land people here. I wish I could have continued the series, but I'm glad I at least got a few posts up.

Breaking the Code Boxed Set ~ I took a school project and tied it in with my blog. That's dedication.

Elia Kazan & You Otto See It ~ To prepare for Kevin's lectures on Kazan and Preminger, I wrote reviews for several films.

Partying Norma Shearer Style ~ I dressed up as Norma for Kevin's 30th Birthday party and he dressed up as James Dean!

I Saw Mickey Rooney with my Own Two Eyes ~ Seeing the legend in person.

The Friend Dynamic ~ I got a lot of compliments on this one. I dissect the dynamic of watching films with friends.

Work: My Classic Film Nest ~ Photographic tour of my classic film paraphenalia at work. Jonas @ All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! starts his blog.

Brattle & Harvard Film Archive Posts ~ Wonderful memories

Out of the Past (1947) by the Numbers ~ Just happens to be my favorite post. Such a fun project!

Good Heavens ~ I try to make sense of all of those movies with "Heaven" in the title.

Norma Shearer Week ~ A whole week devoted to my favorite actress. It's the biggest project that I have taken on and the results made me very happy.

Hot Toddy/Hot Chick ~ Celebrating the best in hotness.

Guest Blogger Months ~ This one is already a success and it's only half-way through the month!

If you would like to tell me what your favorite post or series was on my blog, I'd love to hear from you! (Not asking for praise, but would love to hear feedback for sure).

And a special thank you to Frank who indirectly inspired me to start writing a blog. He doesn't know this and I'm sure will be surprised to find out that he was the impetus for Out of the Past!

Guest Blogger Nicole ~ Jeffrey Lynn

Nicole over at Classic Hollywood Nerd gives us the latest entry in the Guest Blogger series, a wonderful post on the life and career of Jeffrey Lynn. Nicole shows an incredible dedication to old Hollywood for someone so young (she's only 19). I'm already impressed. Enjoy!
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Jeffrey Lynn’s career spanned from 1938 to 1990 in films, television, plays, and radio, yet not much is known on the actor today.

Jeffrey Lynn was born Ragnar Godfrey Lind on February 16th 1909 in Auburn, Massachusetts. Though information is difficult to find on his family, he did grow up with a rather large family: three sisters and two brothers. After graduating from Bates College with B.A. Degree, Jeffrey started off a career in teaching high school speech, English, and drama. Somehow though, he always managed to put some acting into classes and that’s when the young man decided he wanted to go to Hollywood. Jeffrey began with summer stock companies but eventually he caught the eye of Warner Brothers. He began his film career with rather small and unimportant characters but as time went by, Jeffrey’s roles got better and better.

Warner Bros was planning on making the Fannie Hurst story “Sister Act” into a movie, and there hopes was to get an all-star cast but things didn’t turn quite the way they had planned. Michael Curtiz, director of the film wanted Errol Flynn and Bette Davis to star in the film but because of other film obligations, they were unable to play the roles. Going from an A-list cast of actors, Warner Bros made the film into a B-list cast of actors that would star Priscilla Lane and her sisters Rosemary and Lola, Claude Rains, May Robson, Dick Foran, newcomer John Garfield, and Jeffrey Lynn. Curtiz felt unhappy with the casting but went along with directing the film. The film’s title was no longer going to be “Sister Act” but it was to be “Four Daughters”. The film would center around Four Women who are growing up and really beginning to fall in love. Jeffrey Lynn would play the character of Felix Dietz, a man who all the girls fall head over heels for. Jeffrey’s Felix and Priscilla’s Ann were destined to be together but someone came between them- John Garfield’s Mickey. The film was much more than just a B-List Cast, the film had an amazing storyline that fit perfectly with the actors’ portrayal of their characters.
After the huge success of “Four Daughters”, Jeffrey had made into Hollywood and was now on the top of his game until something suddenly got into the way. World War II was right around the corner and many Americans would join in and sacrifice their lives for other Americans. Deciding it was time for him to help, Jeffrey Lynn joined the Army Air Force, where he had earned a bronze star. Jeffrey spent about 4 years in the Air Force and when he did come back from the War, he had hoped he could revitalize his career but life had different plans for him.

Shortly after coming back from fighting, Jeffrey married magazine editor, Robin Chandler with whom he would have two children with Jeffrey Jr (born in 1948) and Letitia (born in 1949). As his roles in movies became less important to him, Jeffrey did some television but eventually went into real estate. Aside from doing real estate and television, Jeffrey also did some plays such as “The Philadelphia Story" (in which he played C.K. Dexter Haven) and “Mister Roberts” (where he played the title character).

Though it seemed that Jeffrey had disappeared from Hollywood, Jeffrey was about to get a role that would bring him back into the spotlight for some time. The creators of the television show, “Murder She Wrote”, wanted Jeffrey to reprise his role from his 1949 film “Strange Bargain in which starred alongside Martha Scott. Jeffrey agreed and the episode was a hit. Years after making the episode, Jeffrey passed away on November 24th 1995 with his third wife, Helen by his side. Though he didn’t establish the same career as Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable, Jeffrey did have a successful career.



From teaching, to acting, to fighting in the army, Jeffrey always was working. The particular reason I like him is because he often portrayed the everyday man, the guy next door, the one who could be your best friend and at the same time, be there for you. Even when the films weren’t that good, Jeffrey always did his best. One of his favorite films of his was 1941, Vincent Sherman film “Underground”, in which he had played a Nazi soldier who finally understands the wrong, that is being done in Germany and then retaliates. He wasn’t a one dimensional character either, he could play poet Joyce Kilmer or he could play gate swinging Felix Dietz. He had more talent than people gave him credit for.

8 Women (2002)

Now it's up! My guest post on Counting Down the Zeroes on 8 Women (2002). Check it out and let me know what you think. If you liked The Women (1939), this film will definitely interest you.

Guest Blogger Tommy Salami ~ They Just Don't Write 'em Like That Anymore

I don't think there is anyone out there that has the same passion and hunger for movies like the great Tommy Salami. His blog, Pluck You Too! is a veritable smorgasbord of delightful posts. They are always entertaining and interesting to read. And good grief is he prolific! How does he have time to sleep? Hope you enjoy his contribution to this series.

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I grew up among people many times my age. After my parents went splitsville, we moved into my grandmother's house for a while, and then lived on the same street- in two different apartments- for years. While my mother worked, we went to Grandma's after school. My many great-uncles came over for coffee every morning, and we'd go there for dinner with my Uncle Paul every Sunday, and often during the week. This was when meals was a long conversation interrupted with food, and many times the talk veered to movies.
The classics. This was where I first learned about Harvey, where Jimmy Stewart was pals with a giant invisible rabbit, and The Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum's evil preacher chasing two kids through the woods. Where I heard famous scenes reenacted, old gags remembered, and forgotten gems revealed. Some seemed beyond belief, like On Borrowed Time, in which Lionel Barrymore traps the Grim Reaper in a tree in his yard. But the most elusive was Tales of Manhattan (IMDb), an anthology ensemble film that followed a luxurious tuxedo coat that brought misery to some and fortune to others. It's still not on DVD, but gets shown on cable sometimes. I finally tracked it down a week or so ago.
It's amazing that a movie starring Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Edward G. Robinson, Charles Laughton, Paul Robeson, Charles Boyer, Cesar Romero, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, and W.C. Fields & Phil Silvers in the restored cut, would be unavailable. It seems largely unknown, and it's unfortunate, because while it's a bit on the long side it's an enjoyable film that has something, and someone, for everybody.
The coat begins life as a tailored suit for a famous, headstrong theater actor played by Charles Boyer; he's in love with old flame Rita Hayworth, and shuts down his successful show to chase her, even though she's already married. Thomas Mitchell, the character actor best known as Doc Boone from Stagecoach plays the husband, who seems the fool but has a sly glint to his eye that betrays the card up his sleeve. He's not as tipsy as he looks, and as he insists on showing them his favorite hunting rifle, the suspense ratchets up. But once again, the story is not as it seems. The actor begins giving the performance of his life, as he has a change of heart and wants to make things right for everyone.
Each episode gets lighter in tone, but all of them play games on the viewer. We get a lovely comedy scene when Cesar Romero, home from his bachelor party, gets in trouble when fiance Ginger Rogers finds a love note in his coat. But it's not his coat. Or is it? His pal Henry Fonda tries to cover for him, and we get to see him and Ginger at the top of their games as they have a verbal fencing match. Romero is delightful here, and I wonder if Hugh Laurie got ideas for Bertie Wooster after watching this. This funny skit is available on Youtube in 3 parts: 1 2 3
Next the coat is sold to a second hand shop where a long-suffering wife buys it for her composer husband, Charles Laughton, when by chance he gets to conduct his music before an orchestra. But the coat is too small, and he tears the sleeves, to the audience's uproarious laughter. The maestro watching him perform manages to shame them with simple dignity- he stands up and removes his own coat, so that Laughton may do the same. He's always been a powerfully expressive actor and this chapter, which has the least dialogue, is suited to him.
As the coat drifts down the social ladder it begins imbuing good luck instead of bad. In the film's most touching sequence, it finds Edward G. Robinson, a ruined alcoholic who lives on the street rather than take charity from the shelter. He's punishing himself, and if you've only seen Robinson as the stereotypical criminal he played in Key Largo, there's a whole lot more to his career.
Start with Double Indemnity, but his role here encapsulates his range quite well. His college reunion is being held at the Waldorf Astoria, and the man running the shelter decides to help clean him up so he can go. It becomes a game to him- can he fool his old buddies? The clothes make the man, and soon he is looking like a regal captain of industry. But mere chance makes him show his hand, and the speech he gives is quite touching.
This was post-30's screwball Depression era of My Man Godfrey, but Hollywood still had pathos for the "forgotten man," or as we'd call them, homeless. Robinson's performance captures the dignity of a ruined man paying penance for his mistakes, rather than beg. From there, the coat gets used in a robbery, stuffed with the stolen loot, and dropped from a plane as the crooks escape to Mexico. It falls far from Manhattan, on a poor sharecropper's land in the Deep South.
There it gets found by Paul Robeson and his very religious wife Ethel Waters, who believes it's a gift from God. This section is broadly comical and probably offensive today, but it contains Paul Robeson's last part before he was put on the Hollywood Blacklist for his labor activism and what history revises as "communist sympathies." His great presence helps alleviate the discomfort for modern viewers in seeing the '40s portrayal of a black rural community.

Robeson and his wife begin sharing the money with their neighbors, asking what they've prayed for, and granting the cash to get it. But only if they prayed for it. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is on hand as the town preacher with his trademark scratchy voice, but with no Jack Benny to mock, he feels more like a caricature; take it as the cameo it is, and it's not offensive. In fact, he's one of the funniest characters in the film.

This was my mother's favorite part as a child- many of her favorite movies involved treatment of race, like To Kill a Mockingbird. It passed to me, and that's one reason I sought this out. Movies like Cabin in the Sky and The Green Pastures- where Rex Ingram gets to play both a black God and a black Satan- have always intrigued me as part of the past. Because the film pulls so many switcheroos on us, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop- will the criminals land their plane and take the money? Will the police come and say it's stolen? Instead, the tension comes from findest the last member of town they haven't asked, a blind old man who might wish for something so great that they have to give their own wishes up to grant it. They end with singing a spiritual, a bit corny now, but Robeson's voice is worth hearing. Especially since there are few movies other than 1936's Show Boat. After 2 hours, we're satisfied with yet another good story and to learn the final resting place of the coat- as the old man's scarecrow!
But one of the best sequences of the film was cut- W.C. Fields buys the coat from Phil Silvers, to wear as he delivers a lecture for Margarent Dumont's Temperance assocation (they were the folks who got alcohol banned in Prohibition- thus endeth the history lesson). This was supposed to fit in between the Edward G. Robinson story and the Laughton one, but it was so funny that it stole the entire show! He finds what he thinks are wads of cash in the coat, so he eagerly buys it for $15, but Silvers hoodwinked him! At the Temperance Meeting, a disgruntled employee spikes the "cocoanut milk" with booze, and hilarity of course ensues. If you love W.C. Fields, it's a must-see, and thankfully it's on Youtube in 2 parts.

W.C. Fields and Phil Silvers
Tales of Manhattan is worth hunting down, and is of a bygone era when studio stables could produce huge ensemble casts. Nowadays the anthology film is rare; the last one I remember off the top of my head is Four Rooms, and they tend to use different directors as a gimmick. I loved watching this one and seeing one star after another, and the background peppered with character actors like bullfrog Eugene Pallette. I found the story the tailcoat ("Tails of Manhattan," get it?) drifting down the class structure from rich to poor quite clever, and the unexpected endings of some tales kept my interest through the somewhat long movie.

The Temperance Meeting
This sometimes plays on the Fox Movie Channel with the W.C. Fields section restored, so if you're lucky enough to get that on cable, watch it. It's also available online, and since it is unavailable on DVD I don't find it morally questionable to get it this way. I've suggest it many times on Turner Classic Movies' website, but I guess Fox has the rights. It felt great to finally see this lost gem, and brought back fond memories of morning coffee at my grandmother's house, with my Uncle Paul, great-uncles Jimmy and Butchy, and my mother chatting about the old movies they loved. They made me break the color barrier and watch black & white films that so many film "lovers" say they can't watch for some reason. And I'm very thankful to them for all those conversations and coffee cake.

Guest Blogger Alex ~ Red Desert (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1964, Italy)

Alex's blog The Korova Theatre, is a new discovery for me. On the blog, Alex writes wonderful, thoughtful and concise reviews and I was delighted when he said he wanted to participate in my Guest Blogger series. He's also a fellow LAMB! Baa! Hope you enjoy his contribution.
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Hello friends, my name is Alex and I’m the curator of THE KOROVA THEATRE, my eclectic electric blog where I write about films that I show in my home theatre. I find that writing helps me to reach a better understanding of the story, both in its subtext and superficial elements. The fun of cinema is in dialogue with others because we each see Art through our own glass darkly; we apply our own subjective experiences and knowledge upon a story and many times have an appreciation that differs from the creator’s intention! When we view a film it becomes our own, subsumed by our own consciousness: we think, we feel, we are. Beautiful. Case in point: Michelangelo Antonioni’s RED DESERT, a complex character study that leads Giuliana down a dark path of depression, lost amid the clacking machinery of modernity; insignificant and lonely. Please, don’t take my perceptions as Rule Of Law but give it a chance and allow yourself to walk beside our heroine…or in her shoes.




Giuliana has become an empty vessel, her internal gyroscope deformed, her soft voice a hollow discordant plea submerged in an ocean of despair, and her emotional affect the metal language of machines. Director Michelangelo Antonioni uses bright vibrant colors to offset the drabness of Giuliana’s inner world; he wraps her in a cold dense fog of desperation and hopelessness. The film is constructed around her vague perceptions and undefined suffering as she spirals deeper into the vortex of an untreated mental illness. She is married to a successful businessman and has a child but this seemingly perfect life is kept afloat by surface tension, this precarious balance of her emotional thermodynamics. Giuliana becomes isolated from the world, detached from others and alone in a crowd, when she speaks it seems reflexive and passive, her physical actions pre-programmed and manufactured. When she has an affair with Zeller, her husband’s colleague, she is victimized because he takes advantage of her weakened emotional state. Antonioni films the tryst without love, using the cold steel bed frame to create stark right angles, the physical act very mechanical. The soundtrack utilizes foreground effects such as a lonely tugboat whistle or the jet-stream explosion of steam from a factory’s vent to contradict long periods of silence. This industrial montage of sounds produces an aural dichotomy that represents Giuliana’s split from reality. The rusting intertwining pipes and hulking steel of the factories and shipyards are painted in bright living colors while she is dressed in dull greens or black, breathing life into this static non-living matter. Antonioni lets his camera linger on polluted pools of sludge and piles of industrial detritus before cutting back to his characters; the whole effect is to subtract from the character’s humanity, to make them seem less important in the very environment that they caused, and have become by-product of their own devices. Antonioni shoots in medium long shots with empty space between characters, separating them from each other with expertly fabricated compositions. Giuliana is ultimately lost; diminishing in the foreground while a giant smokestack vomits yellow poison. (A)

Guest Blogger Jonas ~ Sunset Blvd.: A Semi-Documentary in Disguise

I am so incredibly delighted to have the Talkie King himself Jonas, from the excellent blog All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!, contribute to this month's Guest Blogger series. Jonas is a premiere expert on the early days of cinema and he's taken this opportunity to write about Sunset Blvd. (1950), a seminal film that bridges two very different eras of film history; the forgotten days of silent film and the Golden Age of Hollywood.
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In 1911, Hollywood was not much more than a big, quite sleepy, orange plantation when the first movie studios settled down on Sunset Blvd, this almost 40 km long winding road that is actually quite far from a classic Parisian boulevard. In the 1920’s with the arrival of the star system big villas were built for the stars along this mighty boulevard, close to the studios. Some of these mansions were incredibly luxurious, almost baroque in style and didn’t leave the spectator indifferent. The rule of thumb was: The bigger the star – the more overblown and grotesque the palace. It was one of these houses that Billy Wilder saw and got fascinated by in the late 1940’s. Wilder had also heard that old forgotten stars from the silent era still lived in some of those houses.

Wilder and fellow writer Charles Bracket started to write a scenario about a young writer who is chosen to help write on a comeback script for Norma Desmond, an old eccentric film star living in a seemingly abandoned mansion located in a remote area of Sunset Blvd. Wilder and Bracket had Montgomery Clift in mind for the role of Joe Gillis, the young writer. But who would agree to play an aging forgotten film star who was to be totally out of touch with reality? Everyone wants to play a winner and look great on screen. The ideal would be to find a real forgotten silent film star, but who would agree to being forgotten and out of circulation? Wilder discussed the idea with Greta Garbo who had deliberately ended her career some years ago. But Garbo wasn’t interested, she wanted to be forgotten. Then Wilder and Bracket approached Mae West who just frowned and told them she was far too young to play a silent film star… Next! Mary Pickford was interested but was rejected when she wanted to change the script from dark and doom to a picture that was nice and lame. Pola Negri was offended by the offer as she was by no means forgotten and had no intention to play someone who was. One day George Cukor showed up and said “Why don’t you try to get Swanson”. Wilder and company was convinced that Swanson would be as impossible to get as landing a man on Mars. But very surprisingly Swanson was indeed interested but refused to do screen tests. Cukor then told her that if Paramount asked her to do ten screen tests she should just do them, otherwise he would shoot her. Swanson then understood how important she was to the film and agreed to the part.

When shooting was about to begin in May 1949 Montgomery Clift got cold feet and checked out. Clift had a private relation with an older woman at the time and was afraid that this was to be used against him in some way. William Holden was thus more or less thrown in at the last minute. With only a third of the script ready when shooting began it is my firm belief that Gloria Swanson was instrumental for the plot and that she agreed to share many details from her real life and career. The fact that so many things, lines and even props seems to come from Gloria herself, at least I believe it does, gives the movie an eerie documentary feel. I am also quite sure that Erich von Stroheim who plays Max, Norma Desmond's butler was chosen because of his earlier relation to Swanson and that it was Swanson herself who came up with his name as some sort of gesture, because she once had fired him from Queen Kelly, effectively ending his career (and her own). It is no coincidence that the movie that is projected in Norma Desmond’s private cinema is the infamously unfinished Queen Kelly from 1929 the only film that Swanson starred in that was directed by Stroheim. I know that the inclusion of the images from it definitely came from Swanson. Every single reel of Queen Kelly was property of Swanson's. The images from it shown in Sunset Boulevard are the first that were ever seen by a large audience in the US since the movie only had been released in a severely shortened European version in 1931. Another interesting detail worth mentioning occurs when we get a good glimpse of Cecil B. DeMille at work at the Paramount lot. He was the director that more or less discovered Swanson and his nickname for her in real life was “Young Fellow”, a nickname he naturally use when he meets Norma Desmond on the set in the movie.

The Bridge game is often mentioned in the reviews of Sunset Blvd. This is natural because the bridge players are the real old silent film stars Anna Q Nilsson (Swedish), Buster Keaton and HB Warner playing themselves. Many reviewers also state that they were forgotten like Norma Desmond was in the picture. This is not entirely true. Those veteran bridge players had done about twice as many movies as Swanson had done at the time. Anna Q. Nilsson made a staggering 200 movies between 1911-57, 39 of which are talkies. HB Warner did 134 movies between 1914-56, 90 of them were talkies. Buster Keaton have almost the same score, something like 145 films made and about 90 of them were talkies or TV work. Anna Q. Nilsson was one of the very first movie stars who became a well used bit player with time. HB Warner was never out of work during his career, he made about three pictures a year almost without skipping a beat. Buster Keaton was far from the star he once was, but his face never disappeared from the screen. He made lots of films during the 1940's. Contrary to other assumptions I have made I think their participation in Sunset Blvd. was planned before Gloria Swanson was considered for the movie because they had very little to do with each other in real life back in the days. In 1923 Gloria made a film called Zaza for Famous Players-Lasky Corporation in which she played against H.B Warner but that's it. H.B Warner and Anna Q. Nilsson did two movies together in the 1920's and were both contract players at First National for a long period of time. Buster Keaton was his own quite early on and never did anything with Swanson apart from Sunset Blvd.

The true forgotten stars of Sunset Blvd. are of course von Stroheim and Swanson. Remember that It was Gloria's second film since 1934 and merely her eighth talkie. She had made an unsuccessful attempt at a comeback (or return as Norma Desmond would put it) in 1941 in RKO's Father Takes A Wife but it was no success and made the company lose $100.000.


von Stroheim's history is very speckled. When he got kicked out in the cold from Queen Kelly in 1929, he had directed his last big picture and was from then on degraded to acting only. His talkie career consists almost entirely of strange parts as Germans or bizarre evil characters in movies made all over the world during the 30's and 40's. His best role from those years is without hesitation his brilliant Captain Rauffenstein in Renoir's La Grande Illusion in 1937.

All these details makes Sunset Blvd. a very strange and beautiful Film Noir and with its documentary references it becomes a multi faceted black diamond that will never fall out of fashion. Sunset Blvd. is cynical about everything to do with the movies, the business, fame and the cynicism of William Holden’s hard boiled narration. Everywhere it looks, it sees the damage that stardom can do and how people are willing to exploit each other to get it. That’s probably what makes it one of very few timeless movies, as relevant to the present day film industry as it was in 1950. You can’t leave Sunset Blvd. without mentioning Gloria Swanson’s superb performance. The role as Norma Desmond demands a broad performance, even alone within the walls of her mansion she's over the top. But using big gestures and broad manners and not going past the line where acting descends into unintentional comedy is a delicate balancing act which she pulls off almost effortlessly, especially when you consider that she really hadn’t worked since the early thirties. The role as Norma Desmond is without a doubt Gloria Swanson’s finest achievement, possibly also Billy Wilder's.
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Please make sure you watch Jonas' blog All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing! for a follow up post on Gloria Swanson's Queen Kelly.

Black-Eye Griffin

One of my favorite TV shows is Family Guy. It's fun, raunchy, clever and full of classic film references. Yes, that's right. You read that correctly. Classic film references. Everyone from Mickey Rooney to Ronald Reagan to Barbara Stanwyck to even Karl Malden have been featured/poked fun at on the show. One of my favorite segments is called "Black-Eye Griffin". The patriarch of the family, Peter Griffin, is telling his wife and kids the history of the Griffin family. Black-Eye Griffin was a silent screen star who was a hit in the 1920s but didn't transition well into talkies. Luckily, Hulu.com, one of my favorite new websites, had a clip of it up. Fox has a tight reign on this show, so any YouTube clips will be pulled immediately. So Hulu.com is your best bet for watching and sharing Family Guy clips.

Hope you like this one! If you are outside the US and can't see this clip, let me know as I can direct you to another site that has it.


Guest Blogger Mercurie ~ Ricardo Montalban

The first entry in the June Guest Blogger series hails from Mercurie over at the excellent blog A Shroud of Thoughts. Mercurie is a pop culture expert and his posts are always well-constructed, well-thought out and highly informative. It's with pleasure that I present to you this post from Mercurie on the late great Ricardo Montalban.
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I first encountered Ricardo Montalban on television. I am not sure it if it was his famous appearance as superman Khan Noonian Singh on Star Trek (a role in which he was so impressive that he reprised in The Wrath of the Khan), his guest apperance on Bonanza, or one of his many other guest appearances, but I remember him well from television in the Seventies.

It was only as a I grew older that I learned Ricardo Montalban was a bona fide movie star. He even had a contract with MGM. At a time when Hollywood was content to cast Hispanics in stereotypical roles, Montalban fought to improve the roles available to Latinos. Montalban's activism may well have hurt his movie career, but it helped improve the image of Hispanics in Hollywood.

Ricardo Montalban was born in Mexico City on 25 November, 1920, to parents who had immigrated from Castille in 1906. His older brother Carlos was already an actor in Hollywood when Montalban went to live with him as a teenager. It was not in Los Angeles, however, that Montalban would first be drawn into acting. It was on a trip with his brother in 1940 to New York City that Ricardo Montalban received a small part in the play Her Cardboard Lover and appeared in a Soundie, a short film that was essentially the predecessor of music videos (they played on specially made jukeboxes with small screens). Afterwards he appeared in the plays Our Betters and Private Affair.

Montalban returned to Mexico in 1941 when his mother fell ill. This was not the end of his acting career, as he made twelve movies in Mexico and became a star there. Because of his success MGM took notice of him and offered him a contract. He returned to Los Angeles to appear in the musical Fiesta with Esther Williams in 1947. For much of his early career Montalan was typecast as a "Latin Lover." With rugged good looks and a natural charm, Montalban excelled in such roles. In fact, he even became the first Hispanic actor to ever appear on the cover of Life in 1949.

While Ricardo Montalban had carved out a fairly lucrative niche for himself in Hollywood playing Latin Lovers, he also sought out better and more interesting roles. Among these was his first starring role, in the movie Border Incident (1949). There Montalban played Pablo Rodriguez, an agent of the Policia Judicial Federal working undercover to capture a band of smugglers. Rodriguez was a far cry from the sterotypical Mexican banditos which often appeared in Westerns, an intelligent, hard working officer of the law. It was very much a groundbreaking part, not only for Ricardo Montalban, but in terms of the way Hispanics were portrayed on the big screen.


Arguably, Montalban's movie career was at its peak in the years 1949 and 1950. He followed up his role in Border Incident with a role as Roderigues in the war movie Battleground (1950). Roderigues was a Latino from Los Angeles who was both respected and treated as an equal by his fellow soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division. Montalban followed this role with what might be his most impressive part aside from his role in Border Incident and his role as Khan in Star Trek. In John Sturges' Mystery Street (1950). Montalban's character, Lieutenant Peter Morales, is techincally Portugese American rather than Hispanic, but it still demonstrated his range and was one of those roles that helped open new doors for Latino actors. Lieutenant Morales was a police detective who had spent much of his career handling minor crimes when he is finally handed a major case. Morales is intelligent and street smart, and dedicated to his job. In many respects it was another groundbreaking role for Montalban.

For much of the Fifties Montalban continued to appear in films playing parts that were atypical for Hispanic actors at that time. He played a prizefighter who is worried his career might be coming to an end in Right Cross (1950). In My Man and I he played a Mexican farm laborer (1953). In Life in the Balance he played a man wrongfully accused of a series of murders. He would still appear as a Latin Lover, most notably in the film Latin Lovers (1953). Unfortunately, like so many actors who were not of Northern European descent, Montalban was often cast as other ethnicities. He played a Japanese man in Sayonara (1957), an Italian in The Saracen Blade (1954), and an Arab in Los amantes del desierto (1957). Montalban played Native Americans several times, starting with the role of Iron Shirt in Across the Wide Missouri (1951). Today it would be considered exceedingly politically incorrect for someone of purely Spanish descent, as Ricardo Montalban was, to play a Native American or an Arab. The reality of the time, however, was that Hollywood believed that anyone with a tan could play any ethnicity that was not Northern European. And it must be noted that Montalban always treated such roles with dignity and respect, never turning them into mere sterotypes.

Unfortunately MGM dropped Montalban in 1953 and film roles started to dry up for him by the late Fifties. It was in the late Fifties that he made his first appearances on Broadway, in Seventh Heaven (1955) and Jamaica (1957). It was also at this time that Ricardo Montalban first appeared on television. Throughout the years Montalban guest starred on such series as Climax, The Loretta Young Show (Loretta Young was Montalban's sister in law), Bonanza, The Untouchables, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Star Trek, and Police Story. He would be a regular on the night time soap operas Executive Suite and The Colbys. From 1977 to 1984 he played Mr. Roarke on Fantasy Island.

That is not to say Ricardo Montalban ceased acting in movies. He played memorable roles in Cheyenee Autumn and The Train Robbers. And, of course, he reprised his role as Khan in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. More recently, he played the grandfather in the Spy Kids films.

Throughout his career, Ricardo Montalban worked to improve the image of Latinos in Hollywood and put an end to stereotyping. In 1970 he founded Nostros to improve the image of Hispanics on film. In 1999 the Ricardo Montalban Foundation was founded to stage Hispanic productions.

Ricardo Montalban was very much a pioneer in the film industry. His insistence on playing Hispanic characters with dignity and respect and speaking out against stereotyping may well have cost him roles. Although handsome, debonaire, and charming, he never became a Hollywood leading man. Regardless, in his fight to improve the image of Latinos in Hollywood, Ricardo Montalban was very much a trailblazer. His hard work paved the way for such Hispanic stars today as Salma Hayek, Benicio del Toro, and Andy Garcia.

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