Monday, November 20, 2017

2017 Classic Film Holiday Gift Guide




I'm proud to present my Holiday Gift Guide for 2017. In my guide you'll find a wide variety of gift ideas for the classic film lover in your life. These are also great products that you can buy for yourself with gift cards or holiday cash.

I split the guide into two sections. First is recommendations. These are products that I've come to love over the past year. The second section is my wish list. These are the products I have my eyes on for future purchase. 

I hope you enjoy the guide. Remember when you use my buy links to do your holiday shopping you help support this site. Thanks!

In the comment section below, tell me what's on your holiday wish list and what you would recommend for a classic movie fan.






Get started on your holiday card mailing list with these beauties. They'd also make amazing To:/From: cards to attach to presents. I love how Kate Gabrielle matches hilarious puns with her amazing designs.

Shop KateGabrielle.com

Other items from Kate Gabrielle's shop:




Give the gift of my all-time favorite movie.

Shop Warner Bros.

Further reading:




I have so much love for this documentary and its subjects. If your loved one is fascinated by the movie industry and always wanting for a good love story, look no further than Harold and Lillian.


Further reading:



Warner Archive Collection DVD-MODs

My Warner Archive Wednesday reviews are the most popular posts on this blog and for good reason! The folks at Warner Archive collection dig deep into their salt mines to uncover hidden gems for us to enjoy. I found many new-to-me favorites thanks to WAC. Here are a few DVDs I've enjoyed:

Gentleman Jim (1942)
Shop – Review

Hotel (1967)
Shop – Review

Beauty for the Asking (1939)
Shop – Review

Sorority House (1939)
Shop – Review



Warner Archive Collection Blu-Rays

In addition to their vast collection of DVD-MODs, Warner Archive has also been releasing Blu-Rays. They put a lot of care and attention to the restoration of these films. Each disc is a collector's item. Here are two of my favorite WAC Blu-Rays:

Where the Boys Are (1960)
Shop – Review

Bells are Ringing (1960)



Kino Lorber Blu-Rays

This year I've been watching a lot of Kino Lorber releases. I love the variety of films they release; everything from classic films, documentaries and independent movies. Kino has released lots of great classic films on Blu-Ray this year. Here are a few recent releases I recommend:

The High Commissioner (1968)

Since You Went Away (1944)

Zaza (1923)

Hangover Square (1945)




King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman's Technicolor Revue 
by James Layton and David Pierce

Does the classic film nut in your life have a super early cut off date for movies they watch? Like nothing past 1934? If they haven't already invested in Layton and Pierce's new book all about the early talkie musical King of Jazz (1930), then you need to fix that situation right away.


Other recommendation:
The Dawn of Technicolor: 1915-1935
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells Review



I recently subscribed to FilmStruck and it's been a great resource especially for independent and foreign cinema. FilmStruck is offering a free Roku stick when you buy a year's gift subscription.

Also recommended:



Classic Film Books

For classic film devotees it's not enough just to watch the movies. They need to read about them too. What better gift than to give a biography, memoir or new classic film book? Visit my latest New & Upcoming Classic Film Book Round-Up for more ideas.

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglas K. Daniel
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells

Hank & Jim : The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart by Scott Eyman
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells

 Reviews for these coming soon!

Other recommendations:
Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells Review

Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood 
by Kirk and Anne Douglas with Marcia Newberger
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Powells Review

Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel
Amazon – Barnes and Noble – PowellsReview




The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson Sets from Time Life

Chances are the classic film fanatic in your life also really loves classic TV. A lot of their favorite classic stars were also special guests on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. These sets are great fun.  You get complete episodes of the show, not clips, as well as commercials from the era.

Johnny Carson and Friends

The Tonight Show Vault Series Vol 1.

Further reading:


Other recommendations:

Martin & Rowan Laugh-In
AmazonBarnes and Noble Best BuyTime Life

Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts
AmazonBarnes and Noble Best BuyTime Life






Fritz Lang: The Silent Films Set from Kino Lorber

Fritz Lang is my favorite director. A Blu-Ray collection of his silent films? Yes please!

Amazon – Barnes and Noble Kino Lorber



100 Years of  Olympic Films from Criterion

When Criterion announced this 53 film set I knew I had to have it. Owning it is definitely a pipe dream but we all need something to aspire to.

Amazon – Barnes and Noble – Best Buy – Criterion


More Books!

One can never have too many books. Here are two I have my eye on.



Michael Curtiz: A Life in Film  by Alan K. Rode


Must-See Musicals: 50 Show-Stopping Movies We Can’t Forget 
by Richard Barrios
Amazon Barnes and NoblePowells


http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-6581483-11989414?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fandango.com%2Ffandango-gift-cards&cjsku=FGCPOPCORN75

Fandango Gift Cards

I just want more excuses to see new movies at my local cinemas. A gift card to the rescue!

Other options:
AMC Gift Card
Showcase Gift Card


What's on your holiday wish list?

Friday, November 17, 2017

Hangover Square (1945) #Noirvember


Hangover Square (1945)

"But Mr. Middleton, music is the most important thing to me."
"No Mr. Bone. The most important thing is your life."

Obsession can destroy a person. In the 1940s, venerated actor Laird Cregar was making strides in Hollywood. He had success in films such as Blood and Sand (1941), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), This Gun for Hire (1942) and Heaven Can Wait (1943). However he hit a major career roadblock when he lost the part of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944) to Clifton Webb. The problem was that Cregar looked the part of a heavy. Audiences instantly knew he was a villain. Cregar was a big guy, over 300 pounds with bulging eyes. For Hollywood this meant being relegated to obvious villain roles. He'd be denied romantic leads and complicated characters. Cregar's obsession with his craft led him on the road to destruction.

20th Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck didn't know what to do with Cregar who had turned down several roles hoping for something that would make him a star like his idol John Barrymore. After much negotiation, Cregar got the lead role in Hangover Square (1945). This role would be his last.  Cregar had gone on a crash diet losing a whopping 100 pounds. After the filming he planned on having operations that would transform him from villainous heavy to romantic leading man. He underwent the era's equivalent of gastric bypass surgery in December of 1944 with plastic surgery on his eyes to follow. Having done so much damage to his body in the quest to become the actor he always wanted to be, Cregar's body gave out and he died a few days after his stomach operation.


Linda Darnell and Laird Cregar

Cregar's performance as George Harvey Bone would be his grand finale. His character's trajectory would mirror his own. Directed by John Brahm, Hangover Square is a Film Noir set in the Edwardian era. George Harvey Bone is a celebrated composer. He suffers from psychotic spells that set him in murderous rages. When he comes out of these spells he doesn't remember what he's done and he returns to being his mild-mannered self. His friends Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier ) and Chapman's daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) are concerned about him and ask him to seek the advice of psychiatrist Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders). Dr. Middleton suspects the recent murders were committed by George but continues to study him to make sure.

George falls into the snare of lounge singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell). She's beautiful, exotic and just out of reach. She entices him in a way that the sweet and doe-eyed Barbara. Netta uses her sexual allure to get George to compose original songs for her. George falls in love and Netta has no clue what psychotic rage lurks beneath George's relative mild exterior. Everything literally goes up in flames in two dramatic climaxes: a Guy Fawkes bonfire followed by the tortured performance of George's masterpiece, his grand concerto.

The story was based on author Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel. Adapted for the screen by writer Barre Lyndon, significant changes were made to the plot. The setting was shifted from England on the brink of WWII to an Edwardian setting. In the movie, the principal character is a composer and music becomes an overarching theme in the story. Legendary composer Bernard Herrmann contributed a beautiful score as well as a fantastic 10 minute concerto.

Hangover Square is a stunning Film Noir. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle's artistry is on full display. The artful composition of scenes with forced perspective, careful placing of objects and people and stunning lighting add to the eeriness of the film. There is one shot in particular that I loved. George Sanders' Dr. Middleton is confronting Cregar's George Bone. Sanders is in shadow and Cregar is washed in a harsh light. The recent 4k restoration sharpens the visual artistry of the film.



I'm always delighted to find a new-to-me Film Noir to fall in love with. Hangover Square did not disappoint. I particularly loved the performances and found a new appreciation for Laird Cregar. He artfully plays a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type delivering a masterful final performance. Unfortunately we were all robbed of what could have been a long and legendary career from this talented man.

George Sanders and Faye Marlowe in Hangover Square (1945)
George Sanders and Faye Marlowe

I'll watch anything with George Sanders in it and he's what drew me to the film in the first place. I only wish there was more of him in this movie to enjoy! Linda Darnell is playful as the wily femme fatale. I was particularly delighted with Faye Marlowe whose Barbara is the polar opposite of Darnell's Netta. Hangover Square is her film debut. At the tender age of 17, Faye Marlowe was in a high school production of Our Town and caught the eye of a talent agent. Soon after she did a screen test and was signed to a contract with 20th Century Fox.  Years later Marlowe joked, "back in those days studios were signing up starlets like bad checks." Darryl F. Zanuck changed her surname to the glamorous Marlowe and John Brahm cast her in the role because she reminded him of his ex-wife. Marlowe is still with us and is the last surviving cast member.




Hangover Square (1945) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Bonus features include audio commentary track with screenwriter/historian Steve Haberman and actress Faye Marlowe and a separate commentary track with author/historian Richard Schickel. There's a short doc on Laird Cregar, a few trailers and an audio recording radio production of the movie featuring Vincent Price in the lead role.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray to review!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinema Shame: Rocky


https://cinemashame.wordpress.com/2017/10/10/episode-5-rocky-raquel-stecher/

https://cinemashame.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/episode-7-rocky-part-2-raquel-stecher/

Before this year I had never seen a single movie in the Rocky franchise. Not one.

My friend Jay hosts a Cinema Shame podcast in which he invites a cinephile to watch a big film they've never seen before and come on to the show to discuss. On Twitter Jay challenged me to watch Rocky.



And I took the bait.

The term cinema shame refers to the regret a cinephile experiences because they haven't seen a particular film. For years I suffered my cinema shame in relative obscurity, keeping the embarrassment to myself. Now I celebrate and embrace my cinema shame. It gives me an opportunity to tackle exciting new projects and to experience some great movies for the first time.

When Jay and I discussed our plans for the episode, Jay came up with the idea of a two-parter and challenged me to watch all 6 of the Rocky movies and the spin-off Creed if I felt like it. Challenge accepted! I love the satisfaction I get from tackling big projects and this challenge spoke to the completeist in me.

And this year I was ready for Rocky in a way that I hadn't been before. I started a new exercise regiment that would not only challenge my physical strength but my mental and emotional strength too. I was prepared to appreciate Rocky's struggle.

I shared my Rocky movie watching experience with my husband Carlos who insisted he be there for my inaugural viewings.

The two episodes of the Rocky Series Shame are now live. In the first episode looks at Rocky I, II and III and the second at Rocky IV, V and Rocky Balboa along with a bit about Creed. I'm very proud of these episodes and I hope you'll give them a listen.

Now having conquered the Rocky series I feel like I can accomplish anything.



If you want more podcast goodness, check out my guest appearances in the podcast tab of this blog. Also subscribe to Cinema Shame for future episodes and dive into the archive of goodness.

Many thanks to Jay for having me on the show!






Monday, November 13, 2017

Stay Hungry (1976)



In the 1970s, Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his bodybuilding career. By 1976, he had already won the IFBB Mr. Olympia competition 6 consecutive times (1970-1975). Shortly after his 6th win he announced his retirement from bodybuilding. He would briefly come out of his retirement to compete and win again in 1980. In fact, in 1974 he had planned to retire but was persuaded by filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore to compete one more time so they could include him in their documentary Pumping Iron (1977). He had lost weight for his part in director Bob Rafaelson's Stay Hungry and had to train to Mr. Olympia standards in only a few short months. Pumping Iron made Schwarzenegger a household name but Stay Hungry also put him on the map. He won a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture and was destined for a career as a major movie star in the decades to come.

Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Stay Hungry (1976) stars Jeff Bridges as Craig Blake, a young businessman in Birmingham, Alabama whose been given the task to buy out the last remaining stronghold in a planned development project: a gym. Craig lives in a relatively abandoned mansion, one he inherited from his recently deceased parents, along with his butler William (Scatman Crothers). He's a wealthy Southern boy with too much time on his hands. He starts hanging around at Thor Erickson's (R.G. Armstrong) gym and gets to know the characters who inhabit the place. There's Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Thor's prized athlete who is competing for a Mr. Universe title. Then there's Franklin (Robert Englund) the grease man and a member of the gym's entourage along with meat-head Newton (Roger E. Mosley). Then there are the two lady trainers, Anita (Helena Kallianotes) the bad-ass karate instructor and Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) the free-spirited aerobics instructor. Mary Tate is dating Joe who doesn't mind that she moves on from him to Craig. Or maybe not? It's difficult to tell who is with who as the romantic dynamics shift a lot. Craig attempts to bring his new friends into his world of country club cronies which includes his other girlfriend Dorothy (Kathleen Miller) and rival Lester (Ed Begley Jr.). He doesn't quite realize that his two worlds will inevitably clash. He's stuck between two very different existences and must learn to leave the gentile Southern life behind and embrace his true self.

Sally Field and Jeff Bridges

Stay Hungry is a strange and problematic film. Many scenes were unconventional for the sake of being unconventional. This is something characteristic of many films from the era. With fewer restrictions and the Hays Code long dead and buried, filmmakers were game for experimentation.

Things you'll see in this film: Arnold Schwarzengger playing a fiddle, Schwarznegger working out in a Batman costume, Sally Field in her only on-screen appearance in the buff, an attempted rape, a bunch of scantily clad bodybuilders running through the city streets, 5 bodybuilders on top of a bus (see below), a drug-fueled fight including gym equipment, and more.



Vincent Canby of The New York Times said in his 1976 review, "[Stay Hungry] pretends to be more eccentric than it is and to have more on its mind than it actually does." This is pretty much spot on. So much of this film felt forced. Stay Hungry gets in its own way. At its heart this is a movie about being true to yourself and pursuing your passion. I loved the juxtaposition of Joe and Craig's characters. Craig is held back by the Blake name and the country club culture he grew up in. Joe attaches himself to nothing but what he wants to do. He feels no connection to a name nor does he want to be tied down in a relationship. I particularly liked this quote from the film as spoken by Joe Santo:

"I don't want to be too comfortable. Once you get used to it it's hard to give up. I'd rather stay hungry."

A whole movie can be made from this one quote. Stay Hungry tried to do that but didn't quite get there.

I came to this movie because of my absolute love for the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Charles Gaines who wrote the novel Stay Hungry and adapted the story to film also worked on Pumping Iron. What saved Stay Hungry for me was that one glorious quote and all the bodybuilding scenes. I could cut out the rest of the movie and watch a much shorter version and be perfectly happy.

Stay Hungry is available on Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

Thanks to Olive Films for sending me the movie for review!

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Miracle Woman (1931)



"Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing..."


Barbara Stanwyck stars in The Miracle Woman (1931) as Florence Fallon, the daughter of a preacher. Her father dies of heartbreak when his parish replaced him with a younger man. The disillusioned Florence lashes out at the parish. Witnessing this is con man Bob Hornsby (Sam Hardy). The delivery of her impassioned speech inspires him and he convinces her to use her talents to make a tidy profit. He proclaims, "religion is great if you can sell it, no good if you give it away." Bob transforms Florence into Sister Fallon, a radio evangelist whose religious messages make her a nationwide sensation. They put on elaborate shows at Fallon's tabernacle using trickery to fool the masses into believing she can perform miracles.

Everything goes to plan until John Carson (David Manners) comes into Florence's life. John is a former Air Force pilot gone blind. He spends his days in his apartment, composing music, practicing with his ventriloquist dummy and interacting with his landlady/helper Mrs. Higgins (Beryl Mercer). Depressed about his situation, he writes a suicide note and plans to jump out of the window. He hears Florence's radio broadcast and her words save him. John seeks out the woman who gave him a new lease on life. During one of Sister Fallon's tabernacle spectacles, John joins Florence on stage while they are both in a cage of lions. John doesn't realize Florence is a scam artist when he falls in love with her. As the two spend time together, Florence falls for John too. Florence starts to doubt herself, the people she's hurting and starts to imagine a different life. Will she be able to get out of her situation and keep John? And can she wrangle herself away from her manager Bob's stronghold?

Barbara Stanwyck and David Manners in The Miracle Woman (1931)


The Miracle Woman (1931) is a Pre-Code film with a critical eye and a tender heart. It explores the dangers of using religion for greed and also what it means to see someone for who they truly are rather than what they pretend to be. Florence and John experience awakenings and rebirths as their stories progress. One could see this as a criticism of religion but I saw it as a warning against using faith for personal gain. I was enamored with the love story which is the heart and soul of the film.

Directed by Frank Capra for Columbia Studios, The Miracle Woman was based on John Meehan and Robert Riskin's play Bless You Sister and acquired by Harry Cohn. The story is loosely inspired by Aimee Semple McPherson, a Pentecostal evangelist famous in the 1920s and 1930s. The original play was a failure on Broadway. However Capra saw potential in the story especially after the success of George M. Cohan's The Miracle Man which was later adapted into a movie in 1919. Capra brought on Riskin to adapt the screenplay. Riskin was still traumatized by the failure of his Broadway production didn't think the story would work as a film. Capra then hired screenwriter Jo Swerling to take over. With a hat tip to The Miracle Man the title was changed to The Miracle Woman. Some details were changed including the name of the protagonist as well as the details involved with Florence meeting John Carson.

The movie was Capra's second of five collaborations with Barbara Stanwyck. David Manners was loaned out by First National for his part. He became famous for his role as John Harker in Dracula (1931). In later years he claimed to have never seen Dracula and asked that fans not send him copies of the film. Manners is absolutely charming in his role as John Carson. And it's clear that Capra was captivated with Stanwyck. The close-up shots and lighting of her character demonstrate the camera's attraction to its subject. Stanwyck and Manners would put in two very dangerous situations. This was in the days when the technology of movie making could only go so far. In the lion den scene Stanwyck and Manners were separated from the lions by an invisible net. During the film's climactic scene, both actors risked their lives as real flames shot up around them.

Unfortunately The Miracle Woman (1931) was a box office failure. With all of Capra and Swerling's good intentions not to make a movie that was anti-religion, audiences still didn't flock to the theaters for this one. The film was rejected by the British Board of Film Censors for its content and as a result never released theatrically in England. The box office failure had no effect on Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Capra's careers which were both on the rise.

The Miracle Woman (1931) is available on DVD through Sony Classics Choice Collection series. I recently watched the film on TCM. I highly recommend checking out Danny's excellent piece on the movie, completely with lots of visuals, over at Pre-Code.com.

Sources:
TCMDB
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940by Victoria Wilson

Monday, November 6, 2017

Since You Went Away (1944)


Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in Since You Went Away (1944)
Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Shirley Temple in Since You Went Away (1944)

"This is a story of the Unconquerable Fortress: the American Home..."

During WWII, producer David O. Selznick was searching for a way to contribute to the war effort. He was offered two opportunities by the government. The first was to produce a radio program, an idea he flatly turned down. Then the Navy approached him about starting a bureau of photography. Selznick took interest in this proposal but the project never materialized. Instead Selznick would produce a movie. But he didn't want to make a war movie. He needed to tell the story of WWII as it was experienced on the home front by those left behind. Fearful that he would be forever known as the producer of Gone With the Wind, this was an opportunity to not only make a great movie but to move from under his own shadow of fame.


The year was 1942 and Selznick was looking for a WWII home front story to be produced at Selznick International Studios. It took him more than a year to find just the right story. Author Margaret Buell Wilder had written a column in the Dayton Journal Herald called "Letters to a Soldier from His Wife." Wilder was a mother of two teenage daughters and while her husband was off at war she made ends meet by taking in boarders. The column proved popular and was even picked up later by the national women's magazine Ladies Home Journal. The letters were compiled into a book and published with the title Since You Went Away. Once Selznick discovered Wilder's book he knew this would be the film he wanted to make. At first Wilder adapted the screenplay but the final result was unsatisfactory to Selznick who would dominate every aspect of the making of the movie. He took Wilder's screenplay, broke it down and rebuilt it from the ground up.

The end result was the 3-hour family melodrama Since You Went Away (1944). The movie stars Claudette Colbert as Anne Hilton. Her husband Tim has gone off to war leaving her behind with their two teenage daughters Jane (Jennifer Jones) and Brig (Shirley Temple). The Hilton family face hardships ahead including rationing, cut backs, opening their home to boarders to make ends meet and worried about the family patriarch when they get the news that he is MIA. In their circle is Lieutenant Tony Willett (Joseph Cotten), Anne's former flame who still holds a torch for her. Then there is retired Colonel William Smollett (Monty Woolley), the crotchety old boarder who likes his breakfast a certain way and has unrealistic expectations for his shy grandson. Corporal Bill Smollett (Robert Walker) is said grandson. He wants nothing but to make his grandfather proud and to spend every waking moment with the object of his affections Jane Hilton. Helping keep the Hilton household together is Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) who pitches in to help the family even when they can't afford to pay her. Threatening to break the resolve of the Hiltons is uppity socialite Emily Hawkins (Agnes Moorehead). To her the war is an impediment to her expectations of a proper social life. The saga follows the family as Anne, Jane and Brig journey through the tough months ahead and deal with major sacrifices, death and the unknown.

One of the aspects about WWII that fascinates me is life on the home front. What was it like for those left behind? The anticipation of the safe return of their loved ones who are fighting overseas. The struggle to keep the family going through a time of uncertainty. The rationing, the cut backs, the housing shortage, the buying and selling of war bonds and more. Since You Went Away is on the surface a sappy melodrama but explores all of the aspects of home front life in a profound way.


Cast of Since You Went Away (1944)
Cast of Since You Went Away (1944)

The movie was mainly directed by John Cromwell but he also had help from Andre De Toth who worked on some of the scenes and Selznick who stepped in as director when Cromwell fell ill. Max Steiner produced the score which includes an overture and an intermission. Since You Went Away features a grand cast of players. Lionel Barrymore has a small role as a preacher. Guy Madison makes his film debut as a rival for Jane's affections. Alla Nazimova appears in the final role of her career. A sharp eye will spot Dorothy Dandridge, Butterfly McQueen and Rhonda Fleming in certain scenes. Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker were married at the time of filming but separated. Jones and Selznick would later marry.  Selznick had coaxed Shirley Temple out of her early retirement for this film. Actress Katharine Cornell campaigned for the role of Anne but lost out to Claudette Colbert who was a bigger star.

Since You Went Away (1944) proved to be a success. It struck a chord with contemporary audiences who flocked to the theaters to see it. The film was nominated for nine Academy Awards and Max Steiner won for Best Score. A newspaper announcement prior to the film's release proclaimed that Since You Went Away would be four hours long noting that it was longer than Selznick's Gone With the Wind. The film was edited down several times and the final version is just a few minutes shy of 3 hours.

I had avoided this film for years mostly for fear of watching Jennifer Jones and Robert Walker together. The way their marriage ended has always pained me. I'm glad I overcame that to finally watch the film. Since You Went Away is a favorite of my good friend Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood  who encourage me to see it. I fell for the story hook, line and sinker and was a sobbing mess at the end. It's overly long and sentimental but if you want to immerse yourself in the history of WWII especially the films of that era, it's not one to miss.

Since You Went Away (1944) is coming out from Kino Lorber on Blu-Ray later this month. The disc includes the Roadshow edition featuring the full overture and intermission of Max Steiner's score as well as a selection of trailers as well as closed captions. The Blu-Ray will make a great present for the classic film enthusiast and WWII history buff in your life.



Many thanks to Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray to review!

Sources
TCMDB
Google Newspaper Archive
Hollywood Enlists!: Propaganda Films of World War II by Ralph Donald

Friday, November 3, 2017

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson by Beverly Gray


Seduced by Mrs. Robinson
How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation
by Beverly Gray
Algonquin Books
304 pages
November 2017

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

No movie studio would touch it. Producer Lawrence Turman had shopped around Charles Webb's quirky novel The Graduate without much success. It wasn't until larger-than-life film promoter and producer Joseph E. Levine decided to finance the project that it moved forward. Turman brought on director Mike Nichols who had just completed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and the project began to take form. Dustin Hoffman, a relative newcomer, was considered an odd choice. They tried to get Robert Redford on board but he just didn't understand the character. Little did anyone know that Hoffman would be the perfect candidate for the title role and that his character would resonate so profoundly with young people for decades to come.


"The Graduate lasts party because it has something for everyone: the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values artistic innovation." - Beverly Gray

The Graduate had everything going against it yet everything going for it at the same time. It triumphed because of many factors. It spoke to a generation that was coming-of-age during the Vietnam War and unsure about their future. The Graduate's Benjamin was their hero; one who was willing to say no to plastics and imagine a different life for himself. Audiences cheered on because he represented themselves. And there was more. Simon & Garfunkel's music, the visual artistry, the performances by the cast, the brilliant work by the screenwriter, director, producer, and the rest of the crew. It all melded together to make one beautiful movie.

Behind the scenes of The Graduate
"The turbulent year 1967 turned out to be a high-watermark for new American cinema." - Beverly Gray

Releasing on the 50th anniversary of the film, author Beverly Gray's new book Seduced by Mrs. Robinson explores every aspect of The Graduate's history from its birth as Charles Webb's novel, to the production of the film and the aftermath of its legacy. Gray did extensive interviews with producer Lawrence Turman and also talked with other important figures in the making of the film including the star Dustin Hoffman and screenwriter Buck Henry. Readers can tell this is a passion project because of how much time and effort has gone into exploring every facets of this very important film. Gray inserts herself in the narrative. As a young woman coming-of-age in Los Angeles, when The Graduate released she was part of that generation that the film resonated so strongly with. The book is not only about the journey of the film but also her journey in discovering it's impact on our culture.

"This is as close to The Catcher in the Rye as anything I've found." - Mike Nichols

As someone who reads a lot of film books, it's rare that I find a book so brilliantly written. Gray has a fantastic voice. Her writing style is approachable and as a former story editor for Roger Corman she has a knack for storytelling. Gray offers a lot of interesting insights and information about the film that will give readers a new appreciation for this classic.

There are lots of nuggets of trivia to be taken away. Doris Day turned down the role because it offended her values. Anne Bancroft was dressed in animal prints and put in jungle-like settings (poolside with tropical plants) to visually convey her character. This was inspired by Nichols' reading of Henry James The Beast in the Jungle. Haskell Wexler lacked the enthusiasm to the film's cinematographer and was replaced by Robert Surtees.  And those are just a few bits of information. The book is chock full of them.

I learned more than I ever needed to know about The Graduate. I was quite shocked to see how big of a deal Dustin Hoffman's appearance was at the time and how everyone made rather rude comments about his nose. I've always thought he was a rather good looking guy. On my first viewing of The Graduate the impact of the story was completely lost on me. Over time I've learned to appreciate it more and Gray's book definitely made me understand the film's importance.

I have two quibbles with the book. One is that there is absolutely no mention of storyboard artist Harold Michelson who contributed significantly to the visual style of the movie. He's not even listed in the "Roll Credits" section in the backmatter. I know the author disputes just how involved Michelson was in the movie but I was surprised he was skipped over completely. The second is that there is one 60 page section of the book completely devoted to scene-by-scene plot description. I wasn't sure this was necessary. However, this reads fairly quickly and there are some insights and interesting observations embedded that can make it worth your while if you don't mind a refresher of the movie.

I had the pleasure of meeting Beverly Gray at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival. You can watch my interview with her here.




Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this book for review!


GIVEAWAY

UPDATE: Congrats to Sal the winner of the giveaway. Thanks to everyone who participated!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Liquidator (1965)



Rod Taylor could have played James Bond. In the documentary Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches, Taylor recalled meeting with Bond series producer Albert "Cubby Broccoli. When the part was offered to Taylor he responded saying, "Cubby it'll never work. That's TV. It'll never work on the big screen." Boy was Taylor wrong. In fact, he called it "the most stupidest remark I've ever made." However, Taylor got to play a James Bond-like character with Boysie Oakes/Agent L. in  The Liquidator. Taylor recalled the experience saying, "I had a ball. I played everything James Bond did tongue-in-cheek."

Trevor Howard in The Liquidator (1965)
Trevor Howard as Colonel Mostyn

Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Rod Taylor as Agent L/Boysie Oakes

Trevor Howard and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)


"He's a killer. He conceals it beautifully." - Colonel Mostyn

And The Liquidator (1965) was just that; a spy movie that didn't take itself too seriously. Rod Taylor stars as Boysie Oakes. During WWII, he saved Colonel Mostyn (Trevor Howard) completely by accident. Mostyn interprets the event very differently. Years later when the Colonel needs a trained assassin to eliminate enemies of the state, he knows just the man. Problem is Oakes isn't a killer, he's just really lucky. Oakes becomes Agent L (L for Liquidator) and is trained by Mostyn and his crew to take on the part. When Oakes fails his first task he quietly hires professional assassin Griffen (Eric Sykes) to do the dirty work while Oakes does what he does best, seduce beautiful women. Things are going well for Oakes. He's living the good life and secretly romancing Mostyn's secretary Iris Macintosh (Jill St. John), something that's strictly against Mostyn's rules. When the couple elopes to Monte Carlo, Oakes is captured by Russian operatives, including bumbling mastermind Sheriek (Akim Tamiroff), Oakes must escape and carry on Mostyn's new mission. But everything is not as it seems and Agent L's reality is about to do a complete 180 degree turn.

Eric Sykes and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Eric Sykes and Rod Taylor

Jill St. John in The Liquidator (1965)
Jill St. John as Iris Macintosh

Jill St. John and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Jill St. John and Rod Taylor

Akim Tamiroff and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Akim Tamiroff and Rod Taylor


The movie is based on the novel The Liquidator by John Gardner (not to be confused with the other John Gardner, author of Grendel). The book was released in 1964. MGM producer Jon Penington read the book on a plane and immediately sought to buy the film rights as soon as he landed in Los Angeles. He beat out a rival producer by just a few minutes. Penington hired writer Peter Yeldham to adapt Gardner's novel for the screen. MGM intended this to be a series and optioned two more films. However, MGM had just missed the spy movie fury. The release was delayed due to a rights issue which contributed to the eventual poor box office performance. The series was never meant to be.  Author John Gardner went on to write seven more novels in the Boysie Oakes series but none of them were ever adapted for the screen. Spy stories were Gardner's specialty and he even wrote some James Bond stories after Ian Fleming passed away.

Directed by cinematographer turned director Jack Cardiff, The Liquidator was filmed at MGM's British studios and on location in Monte Carlo, Nice and the Antibes. Trevor Howard and Rod Taylor were well suited to their roles and this is evident in their performances. Screenwriter Yeldham recalled that the two didn't get along well with each other on set because they had very different sensibilities.

Rod Taylor did all his own stunts for the film. Prior to filming the scene where Taylor fights another character as his car dangles on the edge of a cliff, it had rained. The crew dried off the car but the hood was still slick. In one shot you see Taylor almost slip off the hood. But luckily he grabbed on tightly and avoided falling 300+ feet to the rocky terrain below.

I don't care what anyone says, The Liquidator is a flat-out entertaining movie. It part comedy and part political thriller. These two conflicting elements makes the experience all that more enjoyable. While watching this, I couldn't help of the two Kingsman movies, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I wonder if The Liquidator at all influenced those stories. At one point Trevor Howard's Mostyn yells out "Remember your training!" to Rod Taylor's Oakes. That exact quote spoken in a similar situation is in The Golden Circle and delivered by Mark Strong's Merlin to Taron Egerton's Eggsy. Like The Liquidator, Kingsman has conflicting elements. On one level it's a serious action thriller with a lot of class and some excellent suits. On another level it can be quite ridiculous, in a fun way, and the class is toned down with a good dose of raunchiness.


Betty McDowall and Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Betty McDowall plays Rod Taylor's first target.

Rod Taylor in The Liquidator (1965)
Rod Taylor checks out the bar in his swanky new pad.


Let's be honest I watched this movie for three reasons: Rod Taylor, Jill St. John, and Akim Tamiroff. And they did not disappoint. Taylor's character fit him like a glove. St. John is always a pleasure on screen and her story line allows her to give two very different performances. The female roles are seriously lacking in this film and St. John's had more potential than was achieved. I adore character actor Akim Tamiroff. He proves to be utterly enjoyable as the bumbling villain. I have a new found appreciation for Trevor Howard after watching his performance as Mostyn. Also notable is actor David Tomlinson who plays the conniving Quadrant who tricks Oakes into a mission. His life story proved to be rather interesting and I'd love to see more of his work. The film boasts some beautiful cinematography, no doubt thanks to Jack Cardiff's notable talent. There is also a lot to enjoy if you're like me and gravitate towards eye grabbing clothing and set design. Tying it more to the James Bond movies, singer Shirley Bassey sings the title song "My Liquidator" written by Lalo Schifrin and Peter Callender for the film.

The Liquidator is a thoroughly enjoyable movie that doesn't take itself too seriously, even if you sometimes want it too.

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The Liquidator is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will help support this site. Thanks!


Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of The Liquidator (1965) to review!

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