Check out my guest post on the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog! I share my list of my five favorite underrated dramas and why I love them.
Friday, August 30, 2013
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Young Man With a Horn (1950) airs on TCM Friday August 30th at 8AM EST for the Kirk Douglas Summer Under the Stars day and it's not a film to be missed. This post is my second contribution to this year's Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted by Jill and Michael.
The story is based on the novel Young Man With a Horn by Dorothy Baker. The books is considered to be the first jazz novel and is loosely based on real life jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke but is really in essence a work of fiction. I plan to review the novel for my 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge so stay tuned for that!
The film follows the life story of Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas), a jazz trumpeter, from beginning to end. We first see Rick as a young boy. He's parentless and being raised by his sister. He discovers music, jazz in particular, purely by accident and is instantly enamored. Rick watches jazz musicians turn out tunes and dreams of owning the trumpet he sees in a local pawn shop. He's a white kid amongst a lot of African-American jazz musicians including Art Hazzard (Juano Hernandez), who would become his life-long friend. The years pass and Rick fine tunes his skills and becomes a professional jazz musician.
Rick meets Jo Jordan (Doris Day), the girl he should be with, and Amy North (Lauren Bacall), the girl he wants to be with. Jo is a singer who befriends Rick and tries to help him out during his many low points. However, Rick has his eye on Amy, a sophisticated and glamorous socialite who is enamored with Rick. She's talentless and is intrigued by Rick's wealth of talent. She goes to school and parties to fill the hours of her days because she's terribly bored. Rick and Amy marry but it's a turbulent marriage that sends Rick on a downward spiral.
Young Man With a Horn is a wonderful film. When reading the novel, I discovered that while the film doesn't stay very true to the original story, it focuses more on Rick's romantic life and downward spiral, it still stands well on its own. The film was released 63 years ago and is notable because, as of today, all three main stars are still alive: Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Doris Day. It deals with issues of race, love and alcoholism. Kirk Douglas is really good at playing characters who are intense and passionate and the character of Rick Martin is no exception. Doris Day has an opportunity to sing as well as to play the good girl character she's become known for in the years that followed. Lauren Bacall is really enticing as the femme fatale whose siren call is Rick's downfall. Lesbianism is hinted at in the story when Amy North brings home a female companion for what looks like a romantic rendezvous. Author Dorothy Baker didn't include this in the novel but was interested in homosexual characters and they appear in several of her novels. We talk a lot more openly today about homosexuality so for modern audiences this doesn't mean much but probably did mean a lot in 1950.
I've seen this film several times and feel a sort of bond with it. I watched the film early on when I started to develop an interest in classic movies and it has stuck with me ever since. Each time I watch it I get something new out of it.
So get up early or set your DVR for Young Man With a Horn (1950)! If you do miss it, it's available to rent from ClassicFlix and Netflix and you can purchase it as part of the TCM Greatest Classic Legends: Kirk Douglas DVD Set or the Doris Day Collection Volume 1. It used to be available as a stand-alone DVD but has since gone out of print.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Going Hollywood (1933) is just the sort of bizarre musical that needs to be seen to be believed. The plot is definitely not the reason to watch it. You need to see this film for the amazing musical numbers. Early 20th century music is under-appreciated in my opinion. Get acquainted with some of the classics from song writers Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed by listening to the Bing Crosby deliver them with his golden voice. Perhaps you might be weirded out by the scarecrows, the moving daisies or the turban-sleeved dancers in front of a vertical orchestra pit in some of the numbers. But that's okay. This film is the best seen when you are not in the clearest state of mind. For example, after you've had a couple strong cocktails, or in my case, when you are a little sleep drunk. It's trippy, it's bizarre, it's an odd little film that will confuse you, repulse you and titillate you at the same time.
So you want to know the plot? Fine, here it is. Marion Davies, that's William Randolph Hearst's girl, plays Sylvia. She's a French teacher at the most uppity stuck-up school of spinsters that you ever did see. The teachers at this school don't believe in life, love or music. The head teacher won't even allow radio to be played. Pshaw! Sylvia is not having any of that. She wants to dance and love and listen to dulcet tunes. She turns on her radio in an act of rebellion and listens to an amazing song by the popular crooner Bill Williams (Bing Crosby). Convinced she's in love with him after hearing one song, she quits her job and goes to find him.
Bill is on his way to Hollywood to film a picture with the French actress Lili (Fifi D'Orsay). In true stalker fashion, Sylvia follows him on his journey. She's everywhere. His hotel room, his train car, his movie set, etc. She even shows up in black face to confuse him! What is wrong with this woman? She's coming on way too strong and is scaring him off.
Sylvia doesn't get Bill's romantic attentions until a series of events happens in her favor. But things get complicated because of the other woman in Bill's life, Lili, and his new drinking problem. Does she win him over with her ::cough:: charm or will she lose him forever? There's the realistic ending and then there's the Hollywood ending. How do you think this one ended?
There are some notable performances in this film that I'd to point out. Sterling Holloway, also known as the original voice of Winnie-the-Pooh, has an uncredited part as a radio remote technician who works with Bill Williams. He has the funniest scene in the movie. Sterling's technician character follows Bill around to record a song for the radio as he's getting dressed.
Ned Sparks, forever known for playing loveable grumps, plays Conroy, the film director trying to find some order amidst a lot of chaos. Fifi D'Orsay is hilarious as the temperamental French movie actress who has her eyes on Bill. Bing Crosby's Bill sings Nacio Herb Brown's song Temptation to her in one scene and she gives these looks to the camera that are very reminiscent of the ones the robot Maria does in Metropolis (1927). I wonder if it's a reference? Patsy Kelly has a comedic role as the friendly tomboy sidekick of Sylvia. Stuart Erwin plays the financial backer to the film in the story and the guy who should get the girl but doesn't. I looked him up on IMDb and was sad to read that he missed out on the lead male role in the Blondie series.The Three Radio Rogues have a scene in the film and receive billing. I knew nothing about them but apparently they were a famous radio personalities who were known for doing excellent imitations. They do some in the film.
I thought it was interesting how much of a role Radio plays in the Going Hollywood. Radio is the catalyst for the chain of events that make up the film. Bill is a radio star, listening to the radio is banned at the school and is an act of rebellion on Sylvia's part, radio is what inspires Sylvia to follow Bill to Hollywood, etc. This film is a backstage musical about Hollywood but in many ways it's really a love letter to radio.
Did I intrigue you enough with my rambling review that you want to watch Going Hollywood (1933) now? Did I mention that there is a cat fight between Marion Davies and Fifi D'Orsay?! Or how about this amazing musical number in a train station?
Going Hollywood (1933) is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Going Hollywood (1933) from Warner Archive for review.
Monday, August 19, 2013
We are past the second month mark so I'm sharing some new entries for the 2013 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.
Everyone can chose to read up to 6 books but if you read a total 6 and review them by September 15th, you are eligible to win a prize. The prize in question is your choice of any single disc movie from the Warner Archive and up to $30 worth of books from Barnes and Noble or your favorite Independent Bookstore (or a gift certificate). The prize can be modified if the winner is from outside the U.S.!
How is everyone doing? I have 3 books read, 2 books reviewed, I'm almost done with my 4th book and I'm half way through my 5th. I'm starting to feel the time crunch but I'm confident I can finish the 6 before the deadline of September 15th.
If you are behind, don't be discouraged. Make a plan. Figure out how much reading you have to do, how long you have and try to make daily goals. You can do it! Also, be realistic. If reading 6 books isn't going to happen, lower your number.
On to the reviews!
Lê of Crítica Retrô
Lembranças de Hollywood, de Dulce Damasceno de Brito (There is a Translate button for those of you who are not fluent in Portuguese!)
Margaret of The Great Katharine Hepburn
Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching by Jennifer C. Garlen
Movies and the Battle of the Sexes by ZetMec
The Private World of Katharine Hepburn by John Bryson
Raquel of Out of the Past
My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles
Rich of Wide Screen World
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star by Dick Moore
Sara on Goodreads
My Lunches with Orson: Conversations Between Henry Jaglom and Orson Welles
The Making of The African Queen, or: How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall and Huston and almost lost my mind by Katharine Hepburn
Travis of Cinemalacrum
British Cinema and the Cold War: The State, Propaganda and Consensus
Killer Kaiju Monsters
(Editor's Note: If you have posted since July 15th and your review is not included above, let me know in the comment section below and I'll add it.)
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
The Tall Target (1951) is a historical detective story based on the disputed Baltimore Plot; a conspiracy to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln on his scheduled train stop in Baltimore, Maryland. The year is 1861 and President Lincoln was on a whistle stop tour that would take him to Washington D.C. America was already deeply divided over slavery and traveling through Maryland would prove to be a rather dangerous venture. The Tall Target explores the Baltimore Plot and how it might have been foiled.
The film stars Dick Powell as New York Detective John Kennedy. Let's stop and talk about that name for a second. The character John Kennedy is based on real life New York Police Superintendent John Alexander Kennedy who allegedly discovered the Baltimore Plot. However, today's audiences are going to think of John F. Kennedy, the President who was assassinated a little over a decade after this film was released, much like Lincoln had been almost a hundred years earlier. At first when I heard the name, I immediately thought of that common theory that Lincoln and Kennedy were linked by various odd coincidences. It's often thought that Kennedy had a secretary named Lincoln and Lincoln had a secretary named Kennedy. The former is true but the latter is not. I stopped the movie and did a little research before continuing. It was bugging me because I thought maybe the John Kennedy in the film would go on to become the Kennedy of Lincoln's administration and I needed clarification. Maybe the myth of Lincoln having a Kennedy as a secretary came from the real life John Alexander Kennedy who was supposedly instrumental in foiling the Baltimore Plot?
Name confusion aside, Dick Powell's John Kennedy is a New York Detective who senses that trouble awaits for Lincoln on his scheduled stop in Baltimore. It's unclear how he gets this information but because it's out of his jurisdiction and because it isn't war time quite yet, he has to forgo his detective badge and head out to prevent the assassination on his own. Adolphe Menjou plays Colonel Caleb Jeffers. The Colonel is well aware of Kennedy's investigation and they travel on the same train to Baltimore. On the train is southerner Lance Beaufort (Marshall Thompson). He's a military man traveling with his sister Ginny (Paula Raymond) and her slave maid Rachel (Ruby Dee).
Kennedy's troubles begin almost instantly when there is confusion about his ticket, someone steals his coat and his identity and the people on the train seem to have different motives. Kennedy discovers Lance Beaufort is in on the Baltimore Plot but Kennedy is now being sought after by the police. He can't prove his identity because he is missing his badge, his ticket and all his identification. I particularly enjoyed Powell's performance as well as that of Ruby Dee. Dee's character Rachel is instrumental in helping Powell with his mission to prevent Lincoln's assassination.
We all know how this ends. Lincoln doesn't get assassinated on his inaugural tour and he also ends up skipping the Baltimore stop. However, the fun about this movie is finding out how the plot gets foiled!
This film is satisfying because it gives us the story of an Abraham Lincoln assassination that didn't happen. Even almost 150 years later, as a nation we are still troubled by President Abraham Lincoln's assassination and it still fascinates us. We are still invested in Lincoln and the story of his life and his death. What if the plot was discovered early and the perpetrator was caught in time before the crime ever happened? We want a hero to step in and save our President! And in this film it happens without altering history.
The Tall Target has a lot going for it: a great title, an interesting story, the pacing keeps things exciting, all the action happens on a train and I particularly enjoyed the performances of Powell, Menjou and Dee. I recommend reading about the Baltimore Plot before you watch the film. Knowing a bit of the context going in helps a lot.
Summary: A suspenseful and interesting historical detective story, The Tall Target (1951) explores the disputed Baltimore Plot to assassinate President Elect Abraham Lincoln in 1861.
The Tall Target (1951) is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I rented The Tall Target (1951) from ClassicFlix.
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Bullitt (1968) will be showing on August 9th (Friday) 4:00 PM EST on Turner Classic Movies as part of the Summer Under the Stars Steve McQueen day. Here are my top 10 reasons why I think you should watch this fantastic film.
1. The fantastic car chase through the streets of San Francisco - I do enjoy a good car chase scene and this one does not disappoint. The exciting twists and turns and jumps along San Francisco's hilly and windy streets are perfect for this scene. And there is a nice big finale that is just oh so satisfying. I could watch this car chase over and over again and never be bored. While there was a stunt driver for some of the difficult maneuvers, Steve McQueen does a lot of the driving himself. There is also a really good airport chase scene too.
2. Steve McQueen - This is the ideal type of role for Steve McQueen. McQueen was especially good at performances in which there was limited dialogue because his efforts were better spent being cool, commanding the screen, racing cars and doing other physical work. This film was produced by McQueen's production company Solar Productions in conjunction with Warner Bros. and Seven Arts. So it's got the special Steve McQueen touch.
3. Confusing Plot - The plot is convoluted and confusing and pretty typical for a 1960's detective movie. Why is this a good thing? Because it gives you the opportunity to sit back, relax and take in the movie without having to preoccupy yourself with the plot details on your first viewing. With repeat viewings, the story starts to make more sense. And because of the convoluted nature of the plot, you find something new with each viewing that you didn't quite catch before. This film just begs to be watched over and over again.
4. Robert Vaughn - He is so wonderfully despicable in this film. According to IMDB, Vaughn didn't want to do the film. McQueen had his heart set on having Vaugh in the film and Warner Bros. kept offering more and more money until Vaughn said yes. Looking back on the film, Robert Vaughn said it was one of his best performances. Vaughn's character Walter Chambers is the polar opposite of McQueen's Frank Bullitt. Chambers's style is a lot more formal and conservative and his motivations are more political. Bullitt just wants to get the bad guy.
5. Steve McQueen's Style - Turtleneck, gun holster, sports coat, dark trousers and Chukka boots (or brown suede boots depending on which fashion guru you talk to). Gentleman, take special note of McQueen's outfits in this. He's casual and while his outfits may seem understated at first glance, they stand out from all the rest.
6. Young Jacqueline Bisset & Robert Duvall - Jacqueline Bisset is so young in this that she's barely recognizable! Bisset plays Cathy, Bullitt's architect girlfriend. Her role is small but very important. She represents the innocence and the emotion that Bullitt is missing in his life. Watch for Robert Duvall . He has a small role as a taxi driver who feeds Bullitt some useful information.
7. 1960s San Francisco - If you want to see what 1960s San Francisco looked like, watch this film! There are lots of great shots and views, especially during the car chase scene.
8. Realism - On location shooting, McQueen doing his own stunts, real life doctors and nurses in hospital scenes. This is not a glossed up Hollywood production. This is a gritty detective film.
9. Lalo Schifrin's Score - I have a difficult time writing about music so I don't often discuss soundtracks or scores on this blog. Lalo Schifrin is an Argentinian musician and composer with a long history of composing music for TV and film. The score for Bullitt is especially good. What I like about the score is that it complements the film very well. I think contemporary films are often weighed down with too much music. Bullitt has moments of silence and moments when the score is needed to build tension or excitement.
10. Cinematography, Film Editing and Direction - This film was beautifully shot. It's directed by Peter Yates and the cinematography is by William A. Fraker. Film Editor Frank P. Keller won the film's only Academy Award for Best Film Editing! The editing and cinematography is especially noticeable in the car chase scene. There is one particular shot I love of Bullitt wearing sunglasses and looking in a rear view mirror. If you watch the movie, look for it. It's classic!
So there you have it. Clear off your schedule or rev up your DVR and make sure to watch Bullitt (1968). If you miss it on TCM, the film is available on DVD and Blu-Ray.
A special thanks to my husband Carlos who helped me with this post!
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
The seventh set in the popular Forbidden Hollywood Collection is a true gem. All four films, on 4 MOD-DVD discs, are rife with all the sins that make Pre-Codes so enjoyable to watch.
I started to do something recently that I have been wanting to do for a very long time: watch Pre-Codes every morning. It sounds like a silly ritual and I blame it all on TCM's influence. I had TCM for years before I moved out on my own and couldn't afford cable anymore (I got it back last year). I had become used to waking up early in the morning, turning on TCM and watching about 20-30 minutes of whatever early 1930s film was showing. It became a habit and for years afterwards I had always craved Pre-Codes in the morning. The only bad part about this was that I would want to watch the entire film but didn't have the time. I would either rent it or buy it later but that didn't always work because many of the films weren't available on DVD. Now that I own numerous Pre-Codes, including several of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection sets, I decided that I would pop in a DVD in the morning and watch 30 minutes of a Pre-Code. I know it seems like such a weird thing but this new morning ritual makes me so happy and gives me a nice start to my day. If I have time, I watch the entire film in the morning if I can. I started this new ritual with the seventh set in the Forbidden Hollywood Collection and I had so much fun that I hope to stick with it.
Now on to the films...
The Hatchet Man (1932) - This curio from First National stars Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young. They are both made to look Asian and Loretta Young is almost unrecognizable in "yellow face". The story takes place in San Francisco's Chinatown and explores the conflict between old Chinese traditions and the modern sensibilities of 1930s America. Edward G. Robinson plays Wong Low Get, a Hatchet Man who acts as an executioner for the different Tongs in Chinatown. Whenever a crime is committed, he executes the criminal with his hatchet. He has to kill his best friend but before he does he makes a promise to take care of his daughter Sun Toya San (Loretta Young). There is romance, adultery, betrayal and violence in this rather disturbing movie. It's the slowest of the four films in the set and probably the most odd but worth watching.
Skyscrapers Souls (1932) - This is the first of the two Warren William films in this set, this Pre-Code looks at the lives of the people who work in a New York City skyscraper. All the action happens inside the building. The conceit works really well and made for a very enjoyable and clever little film. Warren William is despicable as the womanizing executive who is hell bent on owning the entire building. That skyscraper is his life, he lives, breathes, eats, works and sleeps in it. He's having an affair with his secretary Sarah (Verree Teasdale), funds his wife's (Hedda Hopper) adventures to keep her out of his sight but isn't satisfied until he gets his hands on his secretary's secretary Lynn (Maureen O'Sullivan) who happens to be having a romance with bank teller Tom (Norman Foster). That is quite a romantic entanglement! Anita Page is also in the film but has a very minor role. She receives good billing and I don't think she was utilized well. It's an enjoyable film with a rather serious ending.
Employees' Entrance (1933) - Warren William is back to his old antics in this film (well not really, in real life he was a very nice guy!). William plays Kurt Anderson, a tough executive who runs a department store with an iron fist. He has no compassion for anyone except for those who are willing to sacrifice everything, even happiness, in the name of business. Alice White plays Polly, a fashion model who Kurt hires on the side to be a romantic distraction to a busy-body executive. Kurt himself has his eye on another fashion model, Madeline, played by Loretta Young. He lures her into bed only to abandon her shortly after. When Madeline marries the boss' right-hand-man Martin West (Wallace Ford), they have to keep it a secret. Things get really messy when sex, booze and money get involved! If anyone tells you that they think old movies are tame, show them this film! In fact, sit them down and show them several Pre-Codes.
Dog lovers may not care for one particular scene in the film. Consider yourself warned.
Ex-Lady (1933) - I know that Bette Davis used to make fun of her early movies and this one is considered to be one of her flops. I have always disagreed with Bette Davis though and her early pictures are my favorites. In my honest opinion, this one is the best of the set. I enjoyed it so much and the story really resonated with me. It doesn't try to shock like other Pre-Codes do. Instead it takes an honest look at romantic relationships and marriage. Bette Davis plays Helen, a very accomplished artist whose illustrations are highly sought after. She's an independent woman and in charge of her own life and career. Gene Raymond plays Don, an advertiser and Helen's beau. Helen doesn't want to get married so instead Don sneaks in to her apartment and sleeps over regularly. Helen's parents find out and they feel pressure to marry but Helen fights it every step of the way. I could go on but this film is so good that I hope to devote an entire post to it. This film most likely flopped because it took an honest look at relationships instead of romanticizing the marriage ideal. That kind of truth doesn't make for popular entertainment. Everyone wants the fantasy, not the reality. This film is a new favorite indeed!
Forbidden Hollywood Collection: Volume 7 is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 7 from Warner Archive for review.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Carlos and I headed to Boston to do some filming location research on The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). It's a project I had in mind for a long time and I hope to do the same for Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) which was also shot in the Boston area.
In The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) recruits several highly trained criminals to do a bank heist. They don't know who hired them and they don't know each other. Only Thomas Crown knows who they are. He figures this is the perfect crime because no one can squeal on anybody else. In the beginning of the film, you see all the criminals arrive in Boston and head to the Boston Mercantile Bank. This part of the film offers lots of glimpses of downtown Boston circa late 1960s.
Boston Common at Park Street
Alas, we couldn't find the exact spot in the Boston Common so we just shot a few pictures of the general area. The phone booths from the movie are long gone.
South Station. Maybe? We were at a loss and couldn't find anything in South Station that looked quite like this.
This is what part of the interior of South Station looks like today.
Faneuil Hall in Boston.
The surrounding area of the historic Faneuil Hall looks nothing like it did back in 1968. My how things change! The Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market Place area is a popular tourist location. There are lots of shops, restaurants, eateries and live outdoor entertainment.
We think this is the entrance/exit of the Downtown Crossing subway stop (locally known as just a T stop) but we are not sure. Downtown Crossing area has gone through a lot of changes recently. The original Filene's Department Store and Filene's Basement in Boston, there since 1909, is being torn down for condominiums. The building is not part of the movie but important to the area so I thought I'd share it.
This is where we think the above shot from the film was taken but we are not sure. This entrance/exit is right beneath the Filene's building.
Truly the end of an era!
We tried and tried but couldn't quite figure out which streets these were. I think one of them is Washington Street. The actor is clearly walking across more than one street to get to Congress Street where the bank is. Below are a couple streets that could be these above.
We had better luck finding the Boston Mercantile Bank exterior which is on 55 Congress Street. The interior scenes of the bank robbery were filmed elsewhere.
See those dots? I think that is where the old Boston Mercantile Bank sign used to be.
City of Boston Police Department Headquarters. After the bank robbery, you can see an image of a police car driving by and of this building. The building is now a Loews Boston Hotel but they left the old inscription up.
In this scene, the getaway car drives off with all the money. I noted the name of the Snifter Tavern on the right and Googled it. It's no longer around but I found that the address was 237 Congress Street.
This is what the current 237 Congress Street looks like from the other side of the road. Note that the building with the Trade Composition Co. from the film screencap no longer exists. But there is a building in the far distance that is still the same and that and the address of the tavern is how I know I got the right spot.
In this scene, Vicki Anderson (Faye Dunaway) meets with Boston Police Detective Eddy Malone (Paul Burke) at the Prudential Center. I'll admit that I didn't quite find the spot but this looked similar and was in the same area.
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