Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Sterling Hayden's Wars by Lee Mandel

Sterling Hayden's Wars
by Lee Mandel
University Press of Mississippi
May 2018
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496816979
368 pages

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“Sterling Hayden, the individualist who could never quite belong or find contentment.”

This is not a biography about the actor Sterling Hayden. This a biography about a man and the struggles that plagued him for his 70 years on earth. There’s very little information in this book about Hayden’s acting career. Probably because Hayden himself was so indifferent about his movie roles. His acting was just a means to an end. To get the money he needed to finance his true passion: sailing.

Sterling Walter was born March 26, 1916 in New Jersey. His father died when he was only 9 years old and his mother remarried James Hayden, a shifty businessman who eventually gave Sterling his new surname. They moved around quite a bit, always staying fairly close to the sea. In fact the Hayden family lived for several years in my home state of Massachusetts. He even worked for a short stint at the legendary (and now demolished) Filene’s Basement in Boston.

As Hayden biographer Lee Mandel describes it, Hayden was “enchanted by the ocean” and dreamed of going out on adventures. He went on his first voyage at the age of 17. As a sailor he was a natural fit. He was eager to learn, becoming an expert in no time, and could handle long and grueling voyages. Each new trip just fueled the flames and he’d spend the rest of his life always trying to get back to sea.


Photo Source: University Press of Mississipi/Catherine Hayden

Being a full-time sailor didn’t pay well and his seafaring friends encouraged him to find another job that would help fund his interests. Two of his drinking buddies thought the tall, handsome and brawny Hayden had the looks and charisma to become a movie star. One buddy had the connections and the other helped him get an audition with Paramount executive Edward H. Griffith. Hayden had absolutely no acting experience and had never entertained the idea of becoming an actor. It might have seemed like a gamble but Griffith saw a lot of potential in Hayden. Paramount's publicity campaign to launch Hayden into the stratosphere involved proclaiming him “the most beautiful man in Hollywood” and giving him the second male lead in Virginia (1941) alongside stars Madeleine Carroll and Fred MacMurray.

As soon as Hayden’s acting career started it was put on hold when the U.S. entered WWII. Hayden had recently married his co-star Carroll but the two would spend the war years apart and their marriage never got the foundation it needed. They eventually divorced. Hayden enlisted in the Marine Corps but quickly discovered that his newfound fame was a burden. Not wanting any special treatment, he legally changed his name to John Hamilton to separate himself from his public persona (he changed it back to Sterling Hayden in 1958). Mandel’s book goes into painstaking detail about Hayden’s years as a Marine. Readers learn about Operation AUDREY, the HACIENDA mission, his work for the Office of Strategic Service and his time in Yugoslavia. He rose in ranks to Lieutenant and then Captain and received medals for his service.

Hayden’s time overseas heavily influenced his politics and when he came back to the states he joined the Communist party. He quickly grew disillusioned and after 6 months. When the HUAC (House of Un-American Activities Committee) began their Communist witch hunt, Hayden at first hid his former political ties. He even joined the Hollywood delegation that fought back against the HUAC. When things took a turn, he followed his lawyer’s advice to contact the FBI and voluntarily testify at a HUAC hearing. Naming names was “the price of forgiveness” and while he was able to bounce back into his acting career his decision adversely affected the careers of others. He regretted the decision for the rest of his life.


The Asphalt Jungle was a turning point in his acting career and according to Mandel, Dr. Strangelove “proved to be a sort of renaissance for Hayden, who seemed to have recreated himself as a character actor." Mandel briefly touches upon Hayden’s films such as Blaze of Noon, Journey into Light, The Star, Johnny Guitar, Suddenly, The Killing, Hard Contract, The Godfather and The Long Goodbye. When he wasn’t acting, he regularly attended therapy sessions and sought financing for ocean voyages. Hayden’s post-HUAC life included a contentious marriage with his second wife Betty which lead to their divorce and bitter custody battle for their four kids. Hayden won custody and worked hard at being a good father (a rarity among Hollywood actors). He married his third wife Kitty and they remained together until his death in 1986 at the age of 70. It wasn’t a perfect marriage but they stuck with it. Mandel paints a glowing portrait of Kitty as a long-suffering wife who was a veritable saint to stick by Hayden through the many problems that plagued him in his later years.

Lee Mandel’s Sterling Hayden’s Wars is not a typical biography. Especially not one about an actor. Instead of the traditional biography, this book focuses closely on Hayden’s battles which can be broken down into the following list:

WWII
HUAC
Finances
Self-doubt
Second marriage
Custody of his children
4 month trip on his schooner The Wanderer
Alcoholism
Depression
Cancer

"We are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idocy of the charade... The years thunder by. The dreams of our youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.” – Sterling Hayden

I’d be lying if I said I was okay with there not being much information about Hayden’s acting career. With that being said, in Hayden’s story I found someone who was real and relatable. I could empathize with his disconnect between the career that paid and the passion that didn’t. I shared some of his social ideals and his fervent desire for travel and adventure. I admired his natural ability to write and his deep, brooding thoughts. However, he could also be a very frustrating figure to understand. Self-doubt and a need to be taken seriously constantly got in the way of rational decision making. I was interested to learn that Dalton Trumbo, a victim of the HUAC and Hollywood Blacklist, approached Hayden to play Joe’s father in the film adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun. Hayden turned down the role because it hit too close to home. I wish he had gone through with it.

If it wasn’t such a damn interesting story I would say skip this book because of the lack of content of Hayden’s acting career. But the truth is Lee Mandel’s Sterling Hayden’s Wars is more than worthy of your time. If you've read Hayden's memoir Wanderer and wanted to keep that voyage going, make sure you give Mandel's book a shot.


Thank you to University press of Mississippi for sending me a copy of Sterling Hayden's Wars to review.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries



You may be familiar with Frank Capra's Hollywood films but how much do you know about the propaganda documentaries he made during WWII? The Sicilian born Frank Capra emigrated to the US in 1903. Here he developed a fervent patriotism that helped chart the course of his life and career. After failed attempts at becoming a chemical engineer and later a screenwriter, he found his talents for directing film suited him best. In Hollywood he made hits such as It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Meet John Doe (1941). Before re-enlisting in the Army in 1941, he made Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) hoping that its release would secure finances for his family while he was away. When the war ended and Capra came back to Hollywood, much had changed not only in the industry but with Capra himself. He made the independent film It's a Wonderful Life (1946) which wouldn't become the beloved classic that we know today until much later. Capra would make 5 more films over the next decade and a half but couldn't recapture the magic of his pre-war career.

While Capra was in the Army, his contribution to the war effort was primarily propaganda filmmaking. He served as executive producer and co-director on several different documentaries. Seven of these films made up his Why We Fight series.

New from Olive Films is Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries and Blu-Ray (and DVD) that features five of these films, 2 of which are from the Why We Fight series. In addition, Joseph McBride, Frank Capra biographer (Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success) is featured in an original documentary about Capra's life and career with a particular focus on his work during WWII. He also makes a 4 minute introduction to each of the 5 films.

This new one disc set contains the following:

Frank Capra: Why We Fight
31 minutes

Capra biographer Joseph McBride covers the scope of Frank Capra's life and his filmmaking career. Capra served in the Army for both WWI and WWII. We learn about his patriotism, conservative politics and personal conflicts. Confused with the changing ideologies of America during the war, Capra tried his best to make sense of this to make documentaries that would serve to help with the war effort. Capra received the Distinguished Service Medal for his contributions but was very ambivalent about the films he made during this time with the exception of The Battle of Russia. McBride speaks throughout this doc and unfortunately has a very monotone and dry delivery. The subject matter is interesting enough to make it worth your while. I was particularly fascinated by Capra's post-war career and his struggle to transition back into the industry.


Prelude to War (1942)
dir. by Frank Capra, Anatole Litvak
52 min

This is the first of Capra's Why We Fight films and it starts off with the following:

"This film, the first of a series, has been prepared by the War Department to acquaint members of the Army with factual information as to the causes, the events lead up to our entry into the war and the principles for which we are fighting."

The film drives home its message of freedom and equality by comparing and contrasting the United States with the fascist regimes of Germany and Japan. These are presented as two separate earths and begs the question: which one would you want to live on? I was particularly fascinated by the propaganda messaging against the suppression of religious freedom and exploring the dangers of not taking the war seriously.


The Battle of Russia Part 1 (1943)
36 min
The Battle of Russia Part 2 (1943)
47 min
dir. by Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak

Russian born director Anatole Litvak joined forces with Frank Capra to direct this two part documentary, another entry into Capra's Why We Fight series. This propaganda film was pro-Russia and served to support our ally in the fight against the Nazis. Along with the pro-Soviet sentiment is quite a bit of anti-Nazi messaging. The first part focuses on Russia's military battles leading up to the WWII and the second part follows their battles against German invasion. It also clearly depicts Russia's successes in either defending or recapturing their borders. A hit upon its release in the US, the film didn't age well in the post-war McCarthy era.


The Negro Soldier (1944)
dir. by Stuart Heisler
produced by
40 min

After reading Mark Harris' book Five Came Back, I was most interested in seeing Heisler and Capra's film The Negro Soldier. This propaganda film had two purposes: 1) as a means to convince white people that it was crucial to have black people fight in the war and 2) as a means to recruit said black people. Carlton Moss wrote the script and also appears in the film as the black priest delivering a message to his parish about the importance of service. The film depicts the history of African-Americans in battle but also explores their contributions to American culture and their potential to contribute to the war effort.


Tunisian Victory (1944)
dir. by Frank Capra, John Huston and Hugh Stewart
76 min

During the war, American and British forces banded together to free Tunisia from the Nazis.  Although united in the battle, the Americans and Brits didn't see eye to eye and their union was fraught with tension. This spilled over to the documentary. The Brits had real footage which they used in their film Desert Victory. The American filmmaking team had their own footage as well but due to an unfortunate accident it was forever lost at sea. The British weren't about to give up their footage so Capra, Stewart and Huston joined forces to recreate the scenes with actors. Because of the reenactments, this one has the most cinematic feel of all the films in the set. It also feels the most contrived.


Your Job in Germany (1945)
dir. by Frank Capra
13 min

"The problem now is future peace — that is your job in Germany."

Made specifically for the American occupation troops in Germany to teach them how to treat the German people and what to be wary of, Your Job in Germany was written by Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. This documentary short stands out in the set because it served to educate G.I.s rather than inform the public. Warner Bros. repackaged the film the following year and released it as Hitler Lives. McBride points out in his introduction that all of these war films were in the public domain because they were made with taxpayer money and not for profit.



Mr. Capra Goes to War: Frank Capra's World War II Documentaries is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Olive Films. The disc includes English subtitles and the option to play McBride's introduction before each film. This is a fantastic one disc set and is a must for WWII buffs and film history enthusiasts alike. 


Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray for review. 
When you use my buy links you hep support this site.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)



On the surface Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews) has everything going for him. He's a successful novelist and engaged to the beautiful and wealthy Susan Spencer (Joan Fontaine). But the restless Tom keeps postponing their marriage. When Susan's father, newspaper publisher Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), and Tom witness an execution, the two concoct a plan to prove that circumstantial evidence can send an innocent man to the electric chair. They want to prove to District Attorney Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf) that the justice system is inherently flawed in this way. The unsolved case of the murdered nightclub performer Patty Gray seems to be the perfect case for them to tackle. The two work together building up fake evidence to make it seem like Tom killed Patty. When Tom is inevitably arrested and brought to court, the end of their game is in sight. But when Austin Spencer dies in a fiery car crash on the way to the court house with the documents that will absolve Tom, now he's on his own. That is unless his fiancee Susan, who hadn't been privy to Austin and Tom's plan, can save him. But when Susan finds out something shocking about Tom, and why he wouldn't commit to a wedding date, she has to face some harsh truths and make one of the biggest decisions of her life.


Dana Andrews and Joan Fontaine in a publicity photo for Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Sidney Blackmer and Dana Andrews in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) has one of the best plot twists of all time. I've watched it on several occasions and even though I know the ending the film gets under my skin with every viewing. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it because the twist is what makes this movie so good. And beyond the plot device, the movie's exploration of capital punishment, double jeopardy and the justice system overall is thought-provoking.

This novel concept came from the mind of writer Douglas Morrow. Not only was Morrow an Academy Award winning screenwriter (The Stratton Story), he was also at one time an opera singer, a law student at Columbia, a movie producer and eventually went on to serve on an advisory council for NASA. The Space Foundation even has a public outreach award named in his honor. The original plan was for Morrow to create his own independent production company and develop his story idea into a screenplay with Ida Lupino. They both had Joseph Cotten in mind to star in the role of Tom Garrett. However, that plan fell through and another independent producer, Bert Friedlob, bought the rights to Morrow's story. Lupino and Cotten were eventually dropped from the project. I can only surmise that if Lupino had indeed contributed to the screenplay, the female characters wouldn't be so one-dimensional as they were in the final product.

This is one of two films Friedlob worked on with director Fritz Lang. The two had a contentious relationship (you can read more about this in my article on While the City Sleeps, their first film together). They worked on both While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt simultaneously with the latter shot in Chicago over 20 days. The atmosphere on the set was rife with tension. Lang and Friedlob butted heads on many aspects of the production and couldn't come to an agreement about the ending. Eventually Lang got the ending he wanted but he wasn't satisfied in the least bit with the final picture. According to Lang biographer Patrick McGillligan, Lang said the following about Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, "I hate it but it was a great success. I don't know why." While it failed at the box office, the film would go on to receive critical praise over the years. In 2009, director Peter Hyams remade the film in a drama starring Michael Douglas, Amber Tamblyn and Jesse Metcalfe.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt proved to be its own sort of death knell. Frustrated by the lack of control he had over his film projects, Fritz Lang left Hollywood for good. He made three films in Europe before retiring. Producer Bert Friedlob, once married to actress Eleanor Parker and renowned as a lothario and businessman, died of cancer in 1956 at the age of 49 just a month after the release of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. His cancer came on suddenly and developed rapidly despite several surgeries performed to save him. RKO distributed Friedlob's final film but their demise was just around the corner. In January 1957, RKO ceased operations. Actress Joan Fontaine was nearing the end of her movie career. She made only 6 more films after this one and went on to work in TV.




Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection.
When you use my buy link to make a purchase at the WB Shop you help support this site. Thanks! The Blu-Ray features a brand new 1080p HD remaster as well as the original trailer and closed captions.

George, D.W. and Matt discuss the film on the Warner Archive Podcast episode The Darkness of Noir. For those of you participating in #Noirvember make sure you add Beyond a Reasonable Doubt to your to-be-watched list!

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 Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) on Blu-Ray for review!

Monday, November 5, 2018

A Fistful of Dynamite (1971)




Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon

Juan Miranda (Rod Steiger) didn't set out to become the hero of the Mexican Revolution. He just wanted to rob a bank. After a successful heist in which Juan and his extended family take over a coach transporting members of the wealthy elite, Juan sets his sights on something bigger: the Mesa Verde National Bank. He gets the idea when he meets John Mallory (James Coburn), a dynamite expert, I.R.A terrorist and fugitive on the run. Juan meets John, John meets Juan... it's destiny. Juan wants John on his team but John likes being a lone outlaw just fine. John finds a way to work Juan's bank heist idea into this own plans only to have Juan discover that the bank has no money. Instead it was a makeshift political prison. Juan just freed hundreds of prisoners and has been declared a national hero. But Juan's troubles are just beginning. The Mexican army wants to rid the country of the revolutionaries. When a major tragedy befalls Juan and when one of John's allies turns traitor, this reluctant duo must come face-to-face with the oppressive regime. It's a battle that culminates into one explosive finale.

I only learned one thing from you. - Juan
Oh what's that? - John
How to get fucked. - Juan

Director Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is a Zapata Western, a sub-genre of the Spaghetti Western in which the stories are set in Mexico, often during the Mexican Revolution of the 1910s. This sub-sub-genre sets out to take a look at the revolution that is vastly different from the Hollywood stories that came before. Leone's film has a long and complicated history. The story is based on an original idea by Sergio Donati. Leone and Donati fleshed out the story and worked with writer Luciano Vincenzoni on the screenplay. Leone didn't intend to direct the film. Both Sam Peckinpah and Peter Bogdanovich were considered but neither worked out for different reasons. For the two leads Clint Eastwood, Jason Robards, Eli Wallach, Malcolm McDowell and George Lazenby were all considered. In fact Wallach, who was initially reluctant to take the part, dropped his current project upon Leone's encouragement. However, United Artists had already hired Steiger for the role of Juan Miranda and wouldn't budge. As a result, Wallach sued.

There are so many versions of this film that it's hard to keep track. First off there's the title. In Italy it was released as Giu la Testa which translates to Keep Your Head Down. Leone historian Sir Christopher Frayling has said that Keep Your Head Down would have been an excellent title for the movie and I agree. Instead the English-language title was Duck, You Sucker, a line often repeated by James Coburn's character John Mallory. However that title wasn't going to jive with American audiences so it was changed to A Fistful of Dynamite, a reference Leone's landmark Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars (1964). And in Europe the film was also referred to as C'era una volta la rivoluzione or Once Upon a Time.. a Revolution. The different releases worldwide came with different cuts. Several scenes were deleted or shortened depending on the market. For example, in one version the extended slow-motion flashback scene at the very end when John is remembering a menage trois with his girlfriend Coleen (Vivienne Chandler) and his best friend Nolan (David Warbeck) is shortened to 30 seconds essentially removing a bit of storyline essential to understanding John's relationship with Nolan.

A Fistful of Dynamite was shot in Spain and Ireland. While its set during the Mexican Revolution, the film serves as a general commentary of war, imperialism and is even influenced by the Italian political climate of the time. Several scenes were inspired by works of art depicting important moments in history. Leone's film has great depth that really can't be fully explored in just one viewing. I'm not well-versed in Leone's Spaghetti Westerns and I came to this mostly to watch Rod Steiger and James Coburn, two of my favorite actors. I was particularly fascinated with Coburn's John Mallory and the film's slow-motion flashbacks to his life back in Ireland. And the possible suggestion that John and Nolan had a romantic relationship. The movie meanders, takes its time with its characters and even with that explosive finale. There was no rush to tell the story and it allows viewers to settle into this world.  The true hero of the film though is Ennio Morricone's music. The various themes and the chants (Shon, Shon... Shon, Shon) are entrancing.




A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) is dark, gritty Leone classic ready to be rediscovered. It's available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!'

The Blu-Ray contains two separate audio commentaries by filmmaker Alex Cox and film history Sir Christopher Frayling, 6 featurettes ranging from 7-22 minutes each, 2 animated galleries, 6 radio spots and several Sergio Leone movie trailers. The case comes with a reversible jacket.



Thank you to  Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of A Fistful of Dynamite (1971) on Blu-Ray to review.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Home from the Hill (1960)



An entry into the genre of Southern family dramas like Giant (1956), Written on the Wind (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Splendor in the Grass (1961), director Vincente Minnelli's Home from the Hill (1960) has all the makings of a sweeping epic. You've got the dysfunction family with a long suffering matriarch, disturbed offspring, a scandal or two swept under the rug, and a tough as nails patriarch who has staked his claim as the unofficial leader of the small town community. That patriarch is Captain Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum), the manliest man who ever did man.

The wealthiest landowner in a rural Texas town, Wade has a commanding presence. When he isn't taking care of business, he can be found out with his cohorts and hound dogs hunting for ducks. Or you'll find him drunk and cavorting with the local prostitute Opal (Constance Ford) or some poor guy's wife. The local men admire him or hate him. Wade's 17 year old son Theron (George Hamilton) is the laughing stock of those men. Sick and tired of being a mama's boy he seeks his dad for an education in how to be a true Hunnicutt. For years Wade left Theron alone because of a deal he made with his wife Hannah (Eleanor Parker). She'd stay in the marriage as long as she could raise her son how she saw fit. Wade breaks this promise increasing the tension in already dysfunctional family. Rafe (George Peppard), Wade's illegitimate son, is Wade's ideal but he won't recognize him as his own. Rafe has all the traits of a manly man that Theron wants and Theron has all the fatherly attention that Rafe wants. When a local teen Libby (Luana Patten) falls for Theron and gets pregnant with his child, Wade rejects her and her family. Rafe steps in to take care of what Wade made Theron abandon. But Wade has messed with one too many lives and now there's a price to pay.

"What every man hunts out there is himself."


Home from the Hill is based on William Humphrey's novel by the same name. Released in 1957, it was Humphrey's second published book but first novel. Producer Sol C. Siegel purchased the rights in 1958 and the subsequent success of both the book and the movie adaptation afforded Humphrey the opportunity to quit his day job as a college professor and pursue writing full time. The story was adapted to screen by husband and wife screenwriting team Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, who specialized in adapting Southern dramas, especially the works of William Faulkner.

According to the AFI, Siegel left the project before filming and Edmund Grainger took over. Both receive on screen credits. Made for MGM and filmed in Cinemascope and Metrocolor, Home from the Hill was shot on location in Mississippi and Texas. According to Robert Mitchum biographer Lee Server, Mitchum wasn't terribly interested in the role but it was good pay ($200k plus percentage of the gross), top billing and he'd get some extra vacation time out of the deal. Also he'd be able to do some bream fishing while he was on location. Director Minnelli had this to say about Mitchum:

"Few actors I've worked with bring so much of themselves to a picture, and none do it with a total lack of affectation as Robert Mitchum does. " 
Home from the Hill served as a launching pad for two promising careers. This was relative newcomer George Hamilton's second film, third if you count the bit part he played in a movie as a child. 1960 was a good year for him which also saw roles in Where the Boys Are (1960) and All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960). The other George, George Peppard, studied acting with Lee Strasberg and after some work in television starting making movies. Home from the Hill was his third and the following year would find him in his most memorable role, Paul in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Peppard and Minnelli butted heads. A method actor, Peppard wanted to be in tune with his character's emotions. And Minnelli's direction didn't jive with Peppard's style. Peppard threatened to leave the picture but Mitchum convinced him to stay saying that leaving would cause more problems than it was worth. Another newcomer, Yvette Mimieux, shot scenes for the film but her character was ultimately cut from the story.

Captain Wade is one of Robert Mitchum's most macho roles ever. I love the scene when Wade takes Theron (George Hamilton) to his man cave. They dressed up that set in the most masculine way possible: red leather chairs, a bear skin rug, a mini-fridge filled with bottles of beer, cabinets displaying an extensive collection of rifles and hunting trophies hung on the wall. Mitchum's Wade sits in his red leather chair, beer in hand, hound dogs at his beck and call and delivers a speech to Theron about how he can become a true Hunnicutt.


"It takes a special kind of man to handle that. The kind of man that walks around with nothing in his pockets. No identification because everyone knows who you are. No cash, because anybody in town would be happy to lend you anything you need. No keys, 'cause you don't keep a lock on a single thing you own. And no watch, because time waits on you."

The celebration of being a man's man is short lived. Captain Wade's story, and ultimately Theron's, is a tragic one. The toxic masculinity wreaks havoc on the entire family from Theron to Hannah to Rafe and Libby but especially Wade. Home from the Hill can be seen as a study of gender roles in society and how the pressure to adhere to strict rules on masculinity, and femininity too, can be destructive.

Home from the Hill improves with multiple viewings. I watched this one for the first time last year, in celebration of Mitchum's centennial. I wasn't impressed but took more note of the themes and of Mitchum's performance on the second go around. Much beloved in its time, it deserves more recognition for its exploration of toxic masculinity, its portrayal of a dysfunctional family, Minnelli's excellent direction and the great cast.






Home from the Hill (1960) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link to make a purchase at the WB Shop you help support this site. Thanks!

The Blu-Ray features an original trailer and English subtitles. The new 1080p HD master looks fantastic. I've seen this film before but it was a whole different experience seeing the remastered version. It's gorgeous!


 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 Home from the Hill (1960) on Blu-Ray for review!

Friday, October 26, 2018

GIVEAWAY: The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey




Today I have a special treat for my film book loving readers! Here's your chance to win an autographed copy of The Girl on the Balcony by Olivia Hussey. Yes you read that correctly. Autographed!

I reviewed Hussey's new memoir back in September. You can read the full review here. But to recap here is an excerpt of that review:

At the tender age of 15, Olivia Hussey landed the role of a lifetime: Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968). Alongside newcomer Leonard Whiting, the duo captivated audiences around the world breathing new life into Shakespeare's renowned play. In Olivia Hussey's memoir The Girl on the Balcony, she takes readers on a journey of her entire life from her early days in Argentina to the present day.  Hussey recounts in wonderful detail the making of Romeo and Juliet. I was especially pleased by this because like many others that is one of the reasons I was drawn to the book. The reader settles into to the world of 1960s Cinecitta. I particularly loved reading the passages of the sweet bond she developed with Whiting, they remained friends for decades, and the mutual admiration between her and director Zeffirelli. He could be a tough director but she acknowledges that he knew what he was doing and could bring out the best performances from her. The two would later work on Jesus of Nazareth together.







Hussey is a gentle soul who wears her heart on her sleeve. You can tell this from her book. We follow the ups and downs of her life. Her marriages to Dean "Dino" Paul Martin (her first great love who died tragically in a plane crash), Akira Fuse (the Japanese rock legend) and her current husband David Glen Eisley with whom she's been in a loving and supportive marriage since 1991. We learn about her children Alex, Max, and India. There are also the various films and TV shows she worked on over the years which culminated with another role of a lifetime, Mother Theresa in the TV movie Madre Teresa. She discusses moving to LA, living in the Tate-Polanski home just weeks after the Manson murders, her abusive relationship with Christopher Jones (Ryan's Daughter), and her tender bond with the Dean Martin clan. We learn about the classic Hollywood legends that entered her world over the years including Robert Mitchum (he was a good cook), Frank Sinatra (helped her out with Dino Martin was arrested), Elizabeth Taylor (Burton once said Hussey was like Taylor), Bette Davis ("working with her was its own kind of suffering), David Niven ("like me he was a giggler"), Burt Lancaster (she was in awe of him) and many more.




The Girl on the Balcony
Olivia Hussey Finds Life After Romeo & Juliet
by Olivia Hussey
Kensington Publishing
320 pages

Thanks to the good folks at Kensington Publishing one winner will receive an autographed copy of Hussey's memoir.

*****************

CONTEST IS NOW OVER

Congrats to winner DKoren!

To enter:
1) Leave a comment below describing your favorite scene from Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet (1968)
2) Include your e-mail address in the comment so I can contact you if you win. Addresses will be removed after the contest is over. 

 * Open to US only.
 * Must be age 18 or over.
* One entry per person.
* Entry must be complete based on criteria above to qualify.
 * Contest ends October 28th at 11:59 PM EST.
* One winner will be selected, contacted via e-mail, and announced here.


Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Found at Mostly Lost Vol. 2




Found at Mostly Lost Vol. 2
On sale October 30th



Earlier this year at the TCM Classic Film Festival I attended a presentation on the Mostly Lost workshop and let’s just say I was utterly fascinated. For those of you unfamiliar with Mostly Lost, it’s a film identification workshop run by the Library of Congress at their National Audio-Visual Conservation Center in Culpeper, VA. Started in 2012, the workshop gathers historians, experts and fans to collaborate on identifying silent and early sound films. These are movies, pulled from the LoC’s film archive, that are missing titles or other identifiers or have been previously  misidentified. Attendees are encouraged to shout out anything they recognize whether it’s an actor or actress, a film studio logo, a location, a period style of dress or hairdo, car models, or anything that will provide some information about the film. Live music, by silent film accompanists like Ben Model, is performed at these screenings. Attendees bring laptops, smartphones, books, etc. to help them in their research. This sounds like such a fun workshop especially for any film historian who loves research. It's also another way in which the Library of Congress contributes to film preservation and knowledge.

Thanks to Ben Model and his distribution company Undercrank Productions, a selection of films identified during the workshop are now available on DVD! In Found At Mostly Lost: Volume 2, Model offers 10 shorts ranging from 7-22 minutes in length. These films were identified by the Mostly Lost team during 2015-2017 workshops and features new piano scores by accompanists Philip Carli, Andrew E. Simpson and Ben Model.

Do Me a Favor (1922)

The DVD includes the following:
Adolph Zink (1903) - Thomas A. Edison Co. - 11 minutes
And the Villain Still Pursued Her; or the Author’s Dream (1906) - Vitagraph - 8 minutes
Derby Day (1922) - Monty Banks - 12 minutes
Do Me a Favor (1922) - Snub Pollard - 10 minutes
The Faithful Dog; or, True to the End (1907) - Eclipse - 8 minutes
The Falling Arrow (1909) - James Young Deer - 8 minutes
Fresh Fish (1922) - Bobby Bumps (animated)  - 7 minutes
In the Tall Grass Country (1910) - Francis Ford, Edith Storey - 10 minutes
The Noodle Nut (1921) - Billy Bletcher - 8 minutes
The Sunshine Spreader (1920s) - 22 minutes


Monty Banks and Lucille Hutton in Derby Day (1922)

My favorite film of the collection was Derby Day, a hilarious 12 minute short starring Monty Banks as a guy who just wants some lunch. In his pursuit for food, he gets caught up in random, bizarre situations that culminate with him racing in a local Derby. The only downside to the short is that it came with German title cards, one of which I stopped to translate online just to figure out what was going on.

Another comedy short I enjoyed was The Noodle Nut, a zany story about two noodle factory workers vying for the hand of one woman. They compete to sell a pack of 5 foot long noodles to a Mack R. Roni, a noodle buyer. The man who sells the noodles gets the girl. Things go awry and hilarity inevitably ensues.

Fresh Fish was an interesting short, a mix of live action and animation. This cute story features a young boy hand cranking an animated movie while his cat watches on. Within the animation is the story of a boy going fishing with his dog. Eventually the animated dog and the live action cat interact with each other.

The collection also features a few dramas. My favorite of those was The Faithful Dog, a tragic tale of a blind beggar and his beloved companion who sticks with him to the bitter end. I also enjoyed In the Tall Grass Country, a modest story of a country boy in love with a girl who has mistaken his sister as a rival love interest.

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Found at Mostly Lost: Vol 2 DVD goes on sale 10/30/18. This would make a great gift for the silent film enthusiast or film history buff in your life.

Thank you to Ben Model of Undercrank Productions for sending me a copy for review!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)



"At first glance, everything looked the same. It wasn't. Something evil had taken possession of the town."

Set in the fictional Santa Mira, California, the epitome of small town America, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) follows Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) as he uncovers the truth behind the bizarre behavior in his community. It all starts with a frightened young boy who claims his mom is not really his mom. Dr. Miles' high school sweetheart Becky (Dana Wynter) has a cousin who's convinced that her uncle is not quite right. While he looks and acts like her uncle, something is off. Then suddenly a lifeless form appears at the home Jack (King Donovan) and Teddy (Carolyn Jones). And then they all make a shocking discovery: giant plant pods are replicating the townspeople and replacing them with lifelike creatures that seem like the real thing but are devoid of everything that makes someone truly human. It's up to Dr. Miles and Becky to escape Santa Mira and let the outside world know what's happening before the plant pods take over the world. Can these two get the word out before the plant pods replace them?

Inspired by Sloan de Forest's book Must See Sci-Fi, I'm tackling a genre that I've always avoided. When I read Sloan's description of this movie I thought to myself "why haven't I seen this one yet? It sounds terrific!" On the surface, a story about over-sized plant pods from outer space invading a small town did not appeal to me. However, Sloan described this not as a movie about alien invasion but as a Cold War paranoia film that tapped into the fears of the time. And with that I was sold.

The film is based on the novel The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney, serialized in Collier's Magazine from November to December 1954. Producer Walter Wanger and Allied Artists Productions got the rights to the film and writer Daniel Mainwaring (author of Build My Gallows High/Out of the Past) adapted it to screen. Sam Peckinpah, who has a small role in the film as a gas meter reader, worked with Wanger and also served as dialogue director. Peckinpah's contributions to the script have been inflated over the years and Mainwaring at one point filed a complaint with the WGA and Peckinpah recanted his claims.

The title was changed from The Body Snatchers to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to separate it from Val Lewton's 1945 film The Body Snatcher. Titles such as Sleep No More, They Come From Another World, Evil in the Night, Better off Dead, A World in Danger, It Could Happen, and Out of the Darkness were considered but ultimately shelved.

Directed by Don Siegel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was shot over 23 days (other sources claims it was 19) on location in the famous Bronson Cave in Griffith Park, other parts of the Hollywood Hills and Los Angeles. Sierra Madre served as the small town Santa Mira. Filmed in SuperScope and with a budget of $300k, the filmmakers could not predict that their low-budget B-movie would go on to become one of the most beloved and influential science fiction movies of all time.



"How long can we keep going without hope?" - Kevin McCarthy

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is gripping and suspenseful. The build up was perfectly paced. At no point did it seem hokey or cheesy. It's a sophisticated 1950s B-movie that did a lot with a little. Kevin McCarthy was a perfect fit for the role of Dr. Miles. Not only did he have the acting chops to deliver a great performance but he also had the stamina for a very physically demanding role. McCarthy had that everyman look that made him well-suited for the part. Dana Wynter is perfectly matched as Dr. Miles' partner. While her part could have been solely as damsel in distress but she has much more autonomy than that. I was fascinated that both Dr. Miles and Becky are divorcees. It sets them up as characters who refuse to remain in a bad situation because of societal pressure.

Whether the social and political commentary was intentional or not, Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been seen as both anti-Communism and anti-McCarthyism. And while it spoke to the fears of Cold War America, the film is ultimately timeless. The story is about inherent fears that we all have: conformity, complacency, submission and the loss of identity, control and free will. It also explores mass hysteria and to some extent mob mentality. I was particularly drawn by the fear of sleep, a state in which we're at our most vulnerable, and the fear of not being believed, especially when we have something really important to say.




Olive Films has recently released a limited edition Blu-Ray and DVD of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) as part of their Olive Signature series. This edition has a limited run of 5,000 copies and is packed with lots of extras.

The limited edition Blu-Ray includes:
  • Blu-Ray with new high-definition digital restoration
  • booklet with essay by Kier-La Janisse
  • Two audio commentaries: 1) film historian Richard Harland Smith 2) Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter and filmmaker Joe Dante
  • Visual essay - The Stranger in Your Lover's Eyes by Kristoffer Tabori, son of Don Siegel
  • The Fear is Real - 12 min short doc, interviews with filmmakers Larry Cohen and Joe Dante
  • I No Longer Belong: The Rise and Fall of Walter Wanger – 21 min doc with film scholar Matthew Bernstein
  • Sleep No More: Invasion of the Body Snatchers Revisited – 26 min retrospective including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, John Landis, Mick Garris, and Stuart Gordon
  • The Fear and the Fiction: The Body Snatchers Phenomenon –  8 min short doc including Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, John Landis, Mick Garris and Stuart Gordon
  • 7 min 1985 archival interview with Kevin McCarthy hosted by Tom Hatten
  • Return to Santa Mira – a series of 1 minute vignettes on the filming locations (only downside is that you can't play all of these together, have to be played one by one)
  • What’s In a Name? – 2 minute short doc on the history behind the title
  • Photo gallery of archival documents
  • Original theatrical trailer
The quality of the Blu-Ray is fantastic, the new cover art is stunning and I enjoyed exploring all the extras it had to offer. It's a very nice package and would make a great purchase for Halloween or Holiday gift. I would snap this one up quickly because I wouldn't be surprised if it sells out soon.


Check out my latest YouTube video! I show the new Blu-Ray set around the 7:50 min mark:



Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy of Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Olive Signature Blu-Ray for review!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Never So Few (1959)

John Sturges’ Never So Few (1959) is part WWII drama and part exotic melodrama. Inspired by true events, it follows the story of American and British troops in Burma (now Myanmar) working on an attack on the Japanese but are in turn attacked by Chinese guerrillas. The troop is led by Captain Reynolds (Frank Sinatra), a fearless leader who isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions under the duress of war or to question the authority of his superiors. His troop is a motley crew of personalities including hard drinking but lovable Sergeant Norby (Dean Jones), macho man Sergeant Danforth (Charles Bronson), semi-incompetent army doctor Captain Travis (Peter Lawford) and Reynolds’ right hand man Captain Mortimer (Richard Johnson). Then there is Ringa (Steve McQueen), Reynolds and Mortimer’s driver, who quickly proves his worth and becomes an important aide to the troop. He’s always got a stash of booze somewhere for the drinking and shares Reynolds’ distaste for authority. Together this band of soldiers works with Kachin leader Nautaung (Philip Ahn) as they make their way through the jungles of Burma. Injected into this war drama is a love story between Reynolds and the glamorous Carla (Gina Lollobrigida). Carla is traveling with her beau, wealthy merchant Nikko Regas (Paul Henreid), but the rough and tough Reynolds quickly sweeps her off her feet. Can Reynolds infiltrate the guerrilla group that is putting his men in danger and still get back safely to Carla?

Never So Few is an adaptation of Tom T. Chamales' novel of the same name, Chamales, an army veteran who served during WWII, based his story on a controversial event that he personally witnessed and wrote about extensively. According to both the AFI and The Hollywood Reporter, the incident involved Chiang Kai-shek’s government authorizing “warlords to cross borders and kill [American and British troops] indiscriminately,” something the Los Angeles Consul General for the Republic of China vehemently denied. MGM bought the rights to the novel in 1956, year before its publication. The novel was adapted to the screen by writer Millard Kaufman. It was filmed on location in Myanmar (then Burma) as well as India, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and Thailand with some scenes shot on the MGM lot. The film was made for $3.5 million. It was a hit at the box office making $5.27 million gross worldwide. While audiences flocked to the movie, critics gave it mixed reviews.






I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for all-star casts and Never So Few delivers on that front. So many of my favorites are in this movie including Gina Lollobrigida, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Peter Lawford, Paul Henreid, Charles Bronson, Brian Donlevy and I loved watching scenes with actors I’m fairly unfamiliar with like Dean Jones, Kipp Hamilton (who plays a fun loving army nurse) and Richard Johnson. It’s a male heavy cast but there is enough of Lollo and some other feisty women to give the film a bit of balance. The much beloved George Takei has a small role as a soldier in the hospital scene. This was one of my favorite moments in the movie when Sinatra’s Reynolds stands up to a higher ranking captain because the hospital is feeding the Burmese soldiers an American diet that is causing them dysentery. Reynolds’ character defies racial prejudice and shows compassion that’s lacking among the American/British authorities. Actor James Hong also has a bit part as the corrupt General Chao. Hong and Donlevy have a fantastic showdown which gives the film a satisfying and patriotic ending.

Many members of the cast and crew were war veterans. Here is a snapshot:

WWII experience:
Army: Tom T. Chamales
Army Air Corps: John Sturges, Charles Bronson
British Navy: Richard Johnson
Marine Corps: Steve McQueen, Millard Kaufman, Robert Bray

WWI experience:
Flying Corps: Brian Donlevy



The stand out in Never So Few is relative newcomer Steve McQueen. This was his first big budget movie and the first of his trilogy with John Sturges which includes The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The role of Ringa was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. At this point in Sinatra’s career, he often had members of the Rat Pack in his movies. Davis and Sinatra had a falling out and Sinatra demanded that Davis be replaced. According to McQueen biographer Wes D. Gehring, Sturges and Sinatra watched several episodes of McQueen’s TV show Wanted: Dead or Alive and were impressed with what they saw. Sinatra set his sights on McQueen and requested that the role of Ringa be expanded to showcase the newcomer. The two got along on set and even pulled pranks on each other. McQueen and his wife Neile Adams quickly became part of the Rat Pack’s social circle. However, McQueen was hesitant about becoming an official member of the Rat Pack (or The Summit as Sinatra called it). McQueen thought it would hold him back in his acting career and he even turned down a part in the classic Rat Pack movie Ocean’s Eleven (1960) so he could distance himself a bit from the group.

Never So Few is an important drama because it looks at a lesser known moment in the history of WWII. The film is well-worth your time for the excellent cast and is essential viewing for any Steve McQueen fan. The story does drag on a bit and I felt Sinatra and Lollobrigida had a little chemistry but not enough to make their romance believable. There is a particular scene when Sinatra and Lollobrigida are about to kiss and Lollobrigida is talking about goat’s milk. It really “soured” the moment for me. And I would be remiss to not point out the very odd opening credits. It features vignettes of all the primary cast members with the exception of the two main stars. When I first watched it I thought I’d missed something and replayed it. Nope. We see Sinatra and Lollobrigida’s names in big letters but no vignette. I thought this a very odd choice.





Never So Few (1959) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection.When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

The film looks fantastic on Blu-Ray. You can hear the WAC trio discuss the film on their podcast All's Fair about 4 minutes in. D.W. Ferranti calls the film "half a courageous war movie and half a vengeance movie."


 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 Never So Few (1959) on Blu-Ray for review!

Monday, October 1, 2018

A Star is Born Book Review and Giveaway


A Star is Born
Judy Garland and the Film That Got Away
by Lorna Luft and Jeffrey Vance
Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762464814
248 pages
September 2018
Amazon Barnes and NoblePowells

I'm doing things a little different this time with a video book review! Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me copies of their newest book about A Star is Born movies, most notably the 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason. With the 2018 version coming out later this week, it's a great time to look at how these films fit into the context of Hollywood history and how the 1954 version failed to be Judy Garland's great comeback. Watch the video to find out what I had to say about this new book!





Because I received two review copies of the book I decided to host a giveaway for the additional copy.




GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!!!
****************

To enter:

1) Subscribe to my YouTube Channel
2) In the comment section down below, tell me what is your favorite A Star is Born film (What Price Hollywood? counts) and why.
3) Include your e-mail address in the comment so I can contact you if you win. 
Addresses will be removed after the contest is over.

* Open internationally. 
* Must be age 18 or over.
* Must complete all three prompts to be eligible. 
* Contest ends October 4th at 11:59 PM EST.
* One winner will be selected, contacted via e-mail, and announced here.



Congrats to the winner Despina!


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Ask Me Anything: Classic Movies Edition




Recently on social media I sent out a prompt for people to submit me questions about classic movies. I got some really great responses!

  • What’s an old film you’ve changed your mind on over the years? For better or worse.
  • What is a popular, well-liked classic film that you personally can't get into?
  • What classic movie that you love is one you feel is criminally overlooked by the general public?
  • What do you think was the best year for movies?
  • What are five classic films that you’d recommend people share with their friends when introducing them to the world of old movies?
  • If you could un-see any classic film and watch it again for the very first time, which one would it be?
  • Which classic film actor or actress do you think would have made an awesome YouTuber?
  • If you could go on a cross-country road trip with 3 classic film stars, who would they be, which type of vehicle would you take and who would do the bulk of the driving?
  • Pick a decade of movies to send to the outer limits of the universe as a time capsule of that Earth's BEST represents. Examples of why you chose that decade. .
  • How did you take the path into reviewing/writing about classic movies?
  • Which actor/actress would you most like to have dinner and drinks with while watching a classic movie MST3K style?
  • Which classic - a film that is commonly thought of among the pantheon of great old films - would you most like to see remade, and why?
  • Have you watched a classic movie that you felt should have been more popular but was maybe too ahead of its time, risqué, etc?
  • Who or what led you to become a fan of classic film?
  • What is the first classic movie you fell in love with?
  • What is the first classic movie you remember watching?
  • What is the best way to get young people interested in classic movies?
  • In your opinion, the best classic movie?

I recorded my answers and posted them up on my YouTube channel today. I hope you enjoy the questions and my answers! Thank you to everyone who participated.

And if you like my YouTube videos, make sure to subscribe to my channel.


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Trapeze (1956)


“You really fly high” - Mike
“Because I’m not afraid of anything.” - Lola

As one of the few trapeze artists to ever perform a triple somersault, one of the most dangerous and highly skilled moves, Mike Ribble (Burt Lancaster) seems unstoppable. That is until a fall leaves him crippled and puts an end to his career as a flier. Years later Ribble is working as a stage hand at a Paris circus run by famous Bouglione (Thomas Gomez), a tyrant who cares little about his performers and a lot about making a profit. Ribble meets Tino Orsini (Tony Curtis), a talented young trapeze artist who idolizes Ribble and dreams of becoming a flier in the circus. With a little push from his old flame and fellow circus performer Rosa (Katy Jurado), Ribble takes Tino under his wing. The two work on a new act with Ribble as catcher and Tino as flier, with the intention of getting Tino to the ultimate goal of perfecting the triple. Working with Tino breathes new life into Ribble. But one woman stands in their way: Lola (Gina Lollobrigida). She’s a headstrong acrobat, who came from a particularly dire situation in her native Italy. Lola will do anything and step over anyone to succeed. When Bouglione puts this unlikely trio together for the act, the opportunist, the dreamer and the fallen star must come together to put on the performance of a lifetime. When both Ribble and Tino fall for the tempestuous Lola, will their act fall apart? Will Ribble finally be able to help Tino master that triple?




Trapeze (1956) was based on Max Catto's 1950 novel The Killing Frost by Max Catto. It was adapted to screen by Liam O’Brien (brother of actor Edmond O’Brien) and James R. Webb with uncredited help by writers Ben Hecht and Wolf Mankowitz. The film was plagued with legal troubles as other authors came forward claiming that the film’s plot was stolen from their own original stories. Author Badia Jacobs filed a lawsuit in 1962 claiming that her unpublished manuscript entitled “No Alternative” was plagiarized by Catto for his novel. In 1948, Jacobs gave her manuscript to agent Ben Medford and claims Medford subsequently plotted with Catto to steal the story and publish it as The Killing Frost. Jacobs did not find out about Catto’s novel until she saw the film adaptation years later. The two stories were vastly different and the judge eventually dismissed the case. Screenwriter Daniel Fuchs also filed suit. Fuchs’ story The Daring Young Man was published in Collier’s magazine in 1940 and he adapted it into a screenplay which he claims he gave to producer Harold Hecht who then stole it for the movie. After two years of litigation, both parties settled out of court for $50k.

Burt Lancaster’s production company, one he co-owned with Harold Hecht and James Hill, produced the film. At the time it was called Joanna Productions but was eventually was renamed Hill-Hecht-Lancaster Productions. Before becoming an actor, Lancaster was a skilled acrobat and trapeze artist. He performed in circuses, carnivals and nightclubs until an injury ended his career, much like character Mike Ribble in the film. Lancaster was eager to make a movie about the circus and relive his acrobat days. He partnered with his childhood friend Nick Cravat who became an adviser and body double in the film. Lancaster does the majority of his own stunts as a trapeze catcher in the film. Other stuntmen and women were used in the film. Eddie Ward of the Ringling Bros. Circus was a technical consultant. Tragically, Lollobrigida’s stuntwoman died during the filming of one of the scenes when she fell 40 feet and broke her back.

In the mid 1950s, Lancaster was on top of his game and his clout was enough to get an independent film like Trapeze under way. It was a big production shot entirely at the Cirque d’Hiver and the Billancourt Studios in Paris. Montgomery Clift was under consideration for the part of Tino. The role eventually went to Tony Curtis who was borrowed from Universal. Trapeze was director Carol Reed’s first American film. It was also Gina Lollobrigida’s first film with an American production company (an arrangement with Howard Hughes prevented her from making films in Hollywood). Trapeze was shot in CinemaScope and released through United Artists in July 1956. It was a huge hit earning $4.1 million in the first week and was screened in over 400 theaters in the United States. It broke United Artists’ record for highest grossing film both domestically and internationally.

Trapeze (1956) is an enjoyable film with lots of great aerial stunts and a love triangle drama to boot. Lancaster and Curtis proved to be a great onscreen duo and would later re-team for Sweet Smell of Success (1957). They play off of each other so well. Gina Lollobrigida plays a terribly unlikable character but she does it so well. I enjoyed Katy Jurado’s role as Rosa. She’s basically the polar opposite of Lollobrigida’s Lola. I would have liked a bit more backstory about Rosa and her relationship with Ribble. Jurado’s role is understated but key to giving the film a sense of balance. Otherwise you have three very headstrong characters (four if you want to add Gomez’ Bouglione) causing chaos in the story. In Catto’s novel, the love triangle becomes murderous and Tino and Ribble’s relationship turns out to be more than just mentor and apprentice. I'd love to see a modern remake take on Catto's LGBT love story and tragic ending.




Trapeze (1956) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD as part of the Studio Classics line. The disc includes subtitles, audio commentary by film historian Kat Ellinger, the original theatrical trailer and other Kino Lorber related trailers.


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

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