Friday, March 16, 2018

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939)

1939 was a good year for David O. Selznick. While in the midst of working on what would become recognized as one of the greatest movies of all time, Gone with the Wind, Selznick was also making strides at his studio Selznick International Pictures. He had his talent scout Katharine Brown (aka Kay B. Barrett) constantly on the lookout for new faces. A young elevator operator in New York City mentioned the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936) to Brown. She watched it in a small art house theatre and then immediately had the film sent to Selznick in Hollywood. Selznick was sold and he invited Bergman to Hollywood to remake the movie in English and to sign a contract with his studio. In her 1973 interview with British TV host Parkinson, Ingrid Bergman said, "I owe my career in America to the elevator boy." Bergman was immediately groomed for stardom. She had to work on her English, they had to figure out what to do with her figure (a curvaceous 5'10 actress was not the norm), and her name. She had already made a career for herself in Europe with her real name and didn't want to let it go. Her name was hers and it was here to stay. Selznick and his team had to concede. It was fortuitous for everyone involved that they had come to this agreement because Bergman was now on a trajectory to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood.

Merriam-Webster definition of intermezzo:
1: a short light entr'acte
2 a : a movement coming between the major sections of an extended musical work
b : a short independent instrumental composition
3 : a usually brief interlude or diversion

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) stars Leslie Howard as Holger Brandt, a celebrated composer and violinist who has just finished his tour with retiring pianist Thomas Stenborg (John Halliday). After many months away from home, he finally returns to his devoted wife Margit (Edna Best), his son Eric (Douglas Scott) and his daughter Ann Marie (Ann E. Todd). Ann Marie is following in her father's footsteps and has taken up classical music. She's been taking piano lessons from Anita Hoffman (Ingrid Bergman). Holger pays Anita no mind until he witnesses her incredible talent at the piano. Their mutual passion for music intertwines with their feelings for each other. Anita becomes Holger's new accompanist and the two leave everything behind them to live a new life of romantic bliss. However the past begins to creep up on them. And there is Holger's family to think of, especially little Ann Marie who keeps hoping her father will come home soon. Holger and Anita must decide whether their love will be forever or if it'll just be a brief intermezzo.

Leslie Howard and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

"I haven't any right to be happy the way I'm happy with you... I'm fighting to be sensible." - Anita
"Love isn't sensible." - Holger

The film was directed by Gregory Ratoff whom Selznick borrowed from 20th Century Fox. William Wyler was going to be the director but had to drop out due to a delay in production and other commitments. It was a huge hit and launched Bergman's career into the stratosphere. A few years later she'd star in another film, you might have heard of it, Casablanca (1942). 1939 was a good year for Leslie Howard too. He also starred in Gone With the Wind and Intermezzo was his film producing debut. Selznick made Intermezzo for $4.8 million and it went on to make $153.8 million at the box office. It was nominated for two Oscars, Gregg Toland for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White and Louis Forbes for Best Music, Scoring.

Ann E. Todd and Ingrid Bergman in Intermezzo

The story of Intermezzo had parallels to the lives of some of it's stars. Child actress Ann E. Todd, who plays the Holger's classical music loving daughter Ann Marie, was the daughter of musicians, notable Burrill Phillips, a composer and pianist. She was raised by her grandparents and encouraged to become an actress. It wasn't her calling through and after she gave up acting in the early 1950s she pursued her interest in classical music. She got a masters degree in music history and became a college professor in San Francisco. Star Leslie Howard had his own intermezzo with Hollywood secretary Violette Cunnington. The two had an extramarital affair. She passed away of sepsis at the age of 32 just months before Howard perished in a plane crash during WWII. Howard left one of his houses to Cunnington in his will which hadn't been updated after she had passed. Ingrid Bergman suffered a huge scandal when she left her husband Petter Lindstrom for director Roberto Rossellini. The affair made her persona non grata in Hollywood for years until she returned in 1956.

When I watched this film years ago, I was surprised how this made it through in the era of the Hays Code. According to the AFI "materials contained in the MPAA/PCA disclose that Joseph Breen insisted that 'Anita' be punished for her adultery." That seems to suggest something different than what actually happens in the story. Intermezzo is an ultimately heartbreaking film that doesn't leave you completely destroyed. You know what has to happen but you still find yourself enjoying the journey.

Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. The disc includes audio commentary from Film Historian Kat Ellinger and a few trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me the Intermezzo Blu-Ray for review!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Paul Newman is Harper

Paul Newman as Lew Harper in Harper (1966)

"I don't think Paul Newman really thinks he is Paul Newman in his head." William Goldman

Harper (1966)

Paul Newman needed something to get him out of his funk. He was in the midst of a box office drought and the movie he was currently working on was turning out to be a disaster. The year was 1965 and Newman was filming Lady L (1965) in Paris. Newman's part was seriously lacking and he wasn't getting on with his director Peter Ustinov or his leading lady Sophia Loren. Meanwhile, producer Elliot Kastner had a part that seemed perfect for Newman. He flew to Paris to present Newman the script. Newman liked it and was on board with the project. Then Kastner hit a bit of a snag. His director wanted to make some changes that would change what Newman liked about the script. Newman was far too valuable to the project and the director simply was not. So Kastner fired him and hired Jack Smight to take over.

William Goldman, a novelist who was new to the movie business, wrote said script. Goldman met Kastner when the producer optioned his novel Boys and Girls Together. Goldman suggested to Kastner they should make a movie out of Ross Macdonald's detective story The Moving Target, originally published in 1949. Macdonald's book was the first in a series of novels following the adventures of private investigator Lew Archer. The series was so popular that by 1965 he had already published 12 installments. In his lifetime Macdonald wrote 18 Lew Archer mysteries, ranging in publication from 1949 to 1976, and a handful of short story collections. For the role of Lew Archer, the first actor that came to mind was Frank Sinatra. But he turned down the part. Next on the list Paul Newman who seemed an even better fit than Sinatra. Newman would be perfect for the part especially when the 1949 novel was updated with a cool swinging 1960s sensibility. Writer Goldman was new and willing to please. And this came in handy for Kastner when Newman had one big change he wanted to make to his character.

Newman really needed this project to revive his career. He had just turned 40 and knew if he didn't turn things around his career could go south quickly. The letter H had been lucky for Newman. Both
The Hustler (1961) and Hud (1963) served him well and he had to keep that moment going. And that meant Lew Archer had to become Lew Harper. With the name change, Newman could make this character his own. Newman might not have been right for Lew Archer but Lew Harper would fit him like a glove. Newman embodied the charismatic anti-hero, a character type he had done well with before and after. By the mid 1960s, after countless James Bond spin-offs, the film industry was suffering from spy movie fatigue. Going back to the tried and true private eye detective story was a sound decision. But Newman had to make one big concession to take on the role. Back in 1959, Newman butted heads with Jack Warner and acrimoniously parted ways with Warner Bros. Newman wanted the role  of Harper badly enough that he conceded to go back to his old studio. A big pay day ($500k or $750k against 10 percent gross, depending on the source) made the decision easier to swallow. According to biographer Shawn Levy, Newman once told a reporter "A feud should live a full and colorful life and then it should die a natural death and be forgotten."

The movie was simply called Harper (1966) and production ran from June to August 1965. As further insurance for the movie's success, actress Lauren Bacall was hired to play the role of Mrs. Sampson, the rich housewife who hires Lew Harper to find her missing husband. Her presence in the film connects it to the bygone era of classic detective novels and movies. Especially Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, in which she starred with husband Humphrey Bogart in the movie adaptation. Also in the cast of Harper was Julie Harris who played the drug addicted lounge pianist, Pamela Tiffin, Mrs. Sampson's beautiful and manipulative step-daughter, Arthur Hill, Harper's friend and the Sampson family lawyer, Robert Wagner, the family's personal airplane pilot and Shelley Winters, the aging movie star. Janet Leigh played Harper's soon-to-be ex-wife, a character not in the original novel but would add some romantic angst to the plot and more star power to the movie.

Even with all the big names on board, this was Paul Newman's film. Newman honed the Harper character in such a way that according to writer Christine Becker he "reaffirmed his rebel cool status." He modeled some of the mannerisms after Robert F. Kennedy. According to Newman biographer Shawn Levy, Kennedy "had a habit of standing beside people and looking away from them with his head titled when listening to them. It was a weird sort of engaged non-engagement and it fit the character beautifully."

Harper (1966) was a big hit with audiences and Warner Bros. turned a nice profit with their $2 million movie. According to another Newman biographer, Marian Edelman,  "the public loved Harper, and it put Paul Newman back on the top-10 list of box-office stars of the year." The critics were more hesitant about the movie's value but it didn't matter. Newman was back on top. Warner Bros. capitalized on Newman using taglines and slogans like "Paul Newman is Harper", "Excitement clings to him like a dame" and "Girls go for Harper." Perhaps Frank Sinatra, seeing the success of Newman in Harper, changed his mind about making a detective movie. He would go on to play private eye in Tony Rome (1967) and A Lady in Cement (1968).

Harper also did wonders for screenwriter William Goldman's career. According to Lawrence J. Quirk, "Goldman came through and the success of Harper put him on the map." And by the time Harper was released, Ross Macdonald had published book #13 in the Lew Archer series, Black Money, which got a boost from the film. This made up for the mere $12,500 he received from the film.

After Harper, Newman went on to more successes with Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967) and another H film Hombre (1967). Kastner and Goldman had plans to follow up Harper with another story in the Lew Archer/Harper saga. Unfortunately it never materialized. Newman wouldn't revisit the character of Lew Harper until almost a decade later.

"Harper is a simplified version of Paul Newman you might say. He's a man of action with a certain flare, a certain self-conscious dramatic sense of what he's doing." - Ross MacDonald

The Drowning Pool (1975)

In 1969, Paul Newman joined forces with Barbra Streisand and Sidney Poitier to start the independent production company First Artists. This new project would allow these big stars more control over their movies. Actors like Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman joined later. First Artists films were distributed by Warner Bros. So when the character of Lew Harper came back into Newman's life it meant he had even more say in how things would pan out.

Producer Lawrence Turman had missed out on an opportunity to work on Harper and when the occasion arose to revisit it he wouldn't pass it up. Turman and fellow producer David Foster optioned the rights to Macdonald's second Lew Archer novel The Drowning Pool, which was published in 1950. This time around Macdonald would get a better pay day than he did with harper. He made $100k plus 5 perfect of the net profits. But there were lots of changes to Macdonald's novel to be made. Newman's wife, celebrated actress Joanne Woodward, would co-star in the film and she suggested the story's setting be changed from Southern California to New Orleans. Louisiana was Woodward's old stomping grounds and it would add an exotic, southern element to the film. The screenplay went through three different writers: Tracy Keenan Wynn, Lorenzo Semple Jr. and Walter Hill (William Goldman was no longer interested). The end result was something quite different from the original concept.

According Lawrence J. Quirk, "Newman insisted Stuart Rosenberg, who needed the work, be given the picture." With Rosenberg on board as director, production for The Drowning Pool began in the fall of 1974. The filming was done on location in Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana. Newman's Harper travels from LA to New Orleans to help an old client Iris (Joanne Woodward), a frustrated rich housewife who enlists Harper to find out who is blackmailing her. The cast includes Anthony Franciosa as the shady copy Broussard, Murray Hamilton as the psychopath business owner Kilbourne, Gail Strickland as Kilbourne's wife and Melanie Griffith as Iris' precocious and manipulative teenage daughter. The story line and characters are similar to the first story but there is much more at risk for Harper in this film. The "drowning pool" refers to a climactic scene when Paul Newman and Gail Strickland are trapped in a hydrotherapy room of an abandoned asylum. They try to flood the room to escape through the roof. Newman had a blast making The Drowning Pool. According to Shawn Levy, Newman said "I simply adore the character because it will accommodate any kind of actor's invention... It's just lovely to get up in the morning, it's great to go to work, because you know you're going to have a lot of fun that day."

The Drowning Pool was released that summer of 1975. Earlier that same year a short-lived TV show called Archer, based on the Macdonald books and starring Brian Keith as Lew Archer ran from January to March. Unfortunately both the show and the new movie were doomed. The Drowning Pool was a bomb with critics and a box office failure. Why did it tank? There could be several reasons. Perhaps they waited too long between movies and audiences just didn't care about Harper anymore. Maybe Newman had aged out of his character? When you compare the two movies, The Drowning Pool plods along while Harper's pacing has a lot more momentum. Harper is hip and The Drowning Pool takes itself too seriously. While, the second film doesn't capture the magic of the first Newman fans will find much to enjoy from both performances.

Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975) are now available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. These Blu-Ray editions are pristine. They looked like they were filmed yesterday and not several decades ago. The Drowning Pool Blu-Ray comes with a fun featurette called Harper Days Are Here Again showing the behind-the-scenes of shooting with some clips from the film.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copies of Harper (1966) and The Drowning Pool (1975) on Blu-Ray!

Monday, March 12, 2018

5 Questions with Ben Mankiewicz on FilmStruck's new TCM Select

If you haven't already signed up for TCM's streaming service FilmStruck now is the best time. FilmStruck, in collaboration with Warner Bros. Digital, will be adding hundreds of classic movies to the service. And to celebrate beloved movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, TCM Select will offer streaming classics with bonus content.

Since FilmStruck first launched it's been the go-to service for arthouse, foreign and independent cinema and now that they are boosting their service with classic movies will make this a one stop shop for the ultimate movie fan. This will mean that Warner Bros.'s Warner Archive Instant streaming service will be sunsetting in April. Many of those titles will be transferring over to FilmStruck. And I hope some of the quirkier and more obscure titles available on Warner Archive Instant will make it over to FilmStruck too.

Want to know more about what FilmStruck and TCM Select have to offer? I had the pleasure of asking TCM host Ben Mankiewicz some questions about the newly expanded service.

Raquel Stecher: What makes FilmStruck stand out as a streaming service? 

Ben Mankiewicz: FilmStruck is the only streaming service for serious movie fans. From the Criterion Collection to foreign films to arthouse films to cult films, and now to the best movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age, there is no comparable service. Netflix, Amazon and Hulu all have a role to play as we go forward and reinvent how we watch something, but if you are a true movie lover there’s only one service you need and it’s FilmStruck. It’s not close.

Stecher: What role will you be playing with FilmStruck’s TCM Select and what kind of bonus content can we expect? 

Mankiewicz: I’ll be shooting introductions for the TCM Select movies that appear on FilmStruck and we’ll have a rotating library of roughly 600 movies. We’ll be curating them similarly to the job we do here on Turner Classic Movies, by putting them in their proper cinematic and Hollywood context.

Stecher:  If you curated a new FilmStruck collection, what would be the theme and what would some of the movies include? 

Mankiewicz: I’d do a noir collection and then I’d call Eddie Muller and tell him to curate it. Otherwise I’d curate a collection of movies about journalism and the media, from The Front Page through Spotlight and The Post, which we have no chance of getting on FilmStruck right now since I think one is still in theaters. I’d include The Front Page, His Girl Friday, Citizen Kane, Ace in the Hole, A Face in the Crowd, Sweet Smell of Success, All the President’s Men, Absence of Malice, and the movies of today as soon as we can get them.

Stecher: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? 

Mankiewicz: What are some of the TCM Select films that you personally recommend subscribers watch? Night in the City, Jules Dassin’s last movie before he was blacklisted. Sweet Smell of Success, as good of a movie as there is about the ugly side of publicists and the media. Really, there’s not a movie on TCM Select that I wouldn’t put the full force of a recommendation behind.

Stecher: Why do you think TCM has such devoted fans and what do you hope they will get out of FilmStruck? 

Mankiewicz: Every actor, every host, every athlete has said that they have the best fans in the world, but here’s the truth, and I mean this, TCM has the most dedicated and attentive fans in the history of this business. Since we took on the mantle to protect and present classic Hollywood films, our fans have said, ‘Okay fine, but in that case you best do it right.’ So they don’t just watch us, they watch over us to make sure we don’t make a mistake. We’ve been true to our core mission at TCM and we will continue with that core mission as we expand into FilmStruck with TCM Select, and if we make a mistake, we’re certain our fans will let us know and that’s a blessing.

Many thanks to Ben Mankiewicz of TCM for taking the time to answer my questions.

For those of you interested in subscribing to FilmStruck and getting the TCM Select titles, here is the pricing breakdown and available devices. They offer a 14 day free trial so you can test it out before you commit.

FilmStruck – $6.99/month - arthouse, foreign and cult films, plus TCM Select, an exclusive rotating collection of the most iconic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood, supplemented with hosted introductions, rare archival TCM content and bonus materials.

FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel – $10.99/month - offering everything in the FilmStruck subscription plus unlimited access to Criterion’s entire streaming library of films and special features, along with channel-exclusive original programming such as filmmaker profiles, master classes, and curated series by celebrated guests from the film world and beyond.

Annual Subscription - $99/year for FilmStruck + The Criterion Channel (a $30 annual savings) . (I have this one!)

Devices -  Roku, Google Chromecast, Apple TV 4th generation devices, Amazon Fire TV, web, iOS and Android devices. FilmStruck can be accessed via the Apple App store, as well as online and via Google Play for Android users.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Goodbye Again (1933)

Goodbye Again (1933)

Author Kenneth Bixby (Warren William) is one hot ticket. His sensational novels are titillating lady readers all over the country. Bixby and his secretary Anne (Joan Blondell) are on a nation wide book tour and have made a pit stop in Cleveland. Anne, who is a secretary by name but is practically his wife in all other respects, tends to Bixby's hectic schedule, his meals, his growing scrapbook and the multitude of calls for lectures and bookstore visits. But Bixby is more interested in attending prize fights than he is giving short informal talks or autographs to his adoring fans. And a possible distraction for this perennial playboy is just around the corner. Housewife Julie (Genevieve Tobin) is bored with her life and her mild mannered husband Harvey (Hugh Hubert). Her obsession with Bixby, with whom she once had a fling, has turned her into a crazed fan. Julie is convinced she's the inspiration for all his passionate novels. Julie and Bixby have an affair while Julie's uptight sister Elizabeth (Helen Chandler) and brother-in-law Arthur (Wallace Ford) try to separate them to save Julie's marriage. Caught in the middle is the long suffering Anne who sees her beloved Bixby slipping away from her and Bixby who wants nothing to do with outrageous situation. Can sensible Anne get Bixby out of this jam?

Goodbye Again (1933)

Joan Blondell in Goodbye Again (1933)

Goodbye Again (1933)

Goodbye Again (1933) is a ridiculous movie that has to be seen to be believed. This film is full of outrageous antics, zippy one-liners and a love triangle so twisted it will make your head spin. When does this guy have time to write his books? It's amazing how much comedy they tried to fit in only 66 minutes. And like many Pre-Codes, Goodbye Again is infused with sexual innuendos and scenarios. Bixby and Julie have a full on affair and Anne practically lives with Bixby while they're on the road. At one point Bixby pretends to have a son and he claims that he's not married, just "bohemian". Based on a successful play by Allan Scott and George Haight, Goodbye Again was directed by Michael Curtiz for First National picture after they had merged with Warner Bros.

Goodbye Again (1933)

Goodbye Again (1933)

Warren William and Joan Blondell were two of the most dynamic on screen personalities in the Pre-Code era. This is one of five feature films they appeared in together. The others were Three on a Match (1932), Gold Diggers of 1933Smarty (1934) and Stage Struck (1936). William and Blondell are the two biggest reasons to watch this film. William fits the bill as the remorseful playboy and Blondell is at her best as the wise-cracking and sensible dame. Tobin was a bit too over-the-top for my taste but it's what her character called for. And there wasn't nearly enough for Hugh Hubert to do.

You have to be in the mood for a zany whackadoodle film to appreciate Goodbye Again. This short screwball comedy moves so quickly that you'll have to watch it a second time to catch what you missed. In Alan K. Rode's book Michael Curtiz: A Life, he says 

"Blondell was never better than in this film. She serves up smart-aleck palaver to William, who volleys it right back... Variety got it exactly right, 'Perfect for audiences of quick wit, but too slick for others.' Fortunately, there were enough clever theatergoers who appreciated this amusing picture."

Goodbye Again (1933) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. You can hear George Feltenstein, Matt Patterson and D.W. Ferranti discuss this movie on the Warner Archive podcast. This movie makes its home video debut with this DVD release.

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 Goodbye Again (1933) to review!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hank & Jim by Scott Eyman

Hank & Jim
The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart
by Scott Eyman
Hardcover ISBN: 9781501102172
Simon & Schuster
October 20017

Amazon Barnes and Noble Powells

Their friendship was an oxymoron. They were polar opposites and they were two peas in a pod. Actors Henry Fonda and James Stewart couldn't have been more different from each other or more the same. Fonda was a liberal and Stewart a conservative. They didn't agree on politics, morality or relationships. But their mutual respect for each other meant they agreed to disagree. They shared a deep love for acting even if they both approached their careers very differently. When fame reared it's ugly head, they both understood that the key to keeping their sanity was to not bring work home with them. When Hank and Jim were together the conversation was never about work and sometimes it was about nothing at all. They both appreciated silence and could just be together without saying much. They met before they became major stars and stayed friends through their successes and trials and tribulations. Other people came and went but their friendship lasted until the bitter end.

Historian Scott Eyman's Hank & Jim explores one of the most enduring and fascinating Hollywood friendships in film history. The narrative follows the parallel lives of two movie legends from their salad days during the Great Depression, to their transition to Hollywood and the many movies and theatre productions to come. It also explores Fonda's five marriages and his relationship with his son Peter and daughter Jane as well as Stewart's marriage to Gloria and raising their two sets of twins. In between it all was Margaret Sullavan, the vibrant yet troubled actress whom enchanted Fonda (she became his first wife) and Stewart (he longed for her but she was always out of reach). The book also details their WWII years when Fonda served in the Navy and Stewart in the Army Air Corps.

This book could have easily been called Hank & Jim & Friends because there is a lot of information about Fonda and Stewart's friendships with other key figures including Burgess Meredith, Gary Cooper, James Garner, John Swope, Joshua Logan, and especially Leland Hayward. But overall this book paints a portrait of two men who had two distinctly different careers as actors, even when they worked as University Players or in the several films they worked on together. Eyman discusses their many films and, especially is the case with Fonda, their many Broadway and off-Broadway productions. None of their films are discussed too in-depth so that they could all be highlighted as they occur in the timeline of Fonda and Stewart's respective careers.

The biggest takeaway from reading Hank & Jim was how Fonda and Stewart understood and respected each other. This was the foundation of their friendship. It's the reason why it lasted so long and why it was so special.

This book is incredibly well-organized. It flips back and forth between Fonda and Stewart following their lives and careers in tandem. Even with all the switching, the transitions were so smooth that I never felt lost. It's clear that Eyman did a thorough job at researching this book. He interviewed Shirlee Fonda, Brooke Hayward, Kelly Stewart and others who knew both principal figures well including Robert Wagner, Norman Lloyd and more. Peter and Jane Fonda are heavily quoted. Eyman credits the late Robert Osborne in being instrumental in the genesis of the book.

While I usually love Eyman's books, I never quite found Hank & Jim all that engrossing. I struggled to finish this one in a way that I haven't with other dual biographies. I have heard from other classic film enthusiasts who read and loved this book. I've also heard from at least one other person who shared my same reaction. The preface and epilogue are brilliantly written and I would definitely go back to the book to re-read those. I just wasn't as captivated by the meat of the book. With that said, if you have a keen interest in both figures, I would highly recommend giving this book a try.

Hank & Jim by Scott Eyman is a well-researched and thorough look at an enduring friendship of two major Hollywood legends.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy of Hank & Jim to review!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

I Like Your Nerve (1931)

I Like Your Nerve (1931) title card

"Why must you always be so unsociable in motor cars?"

Rich people behaving badly always makes for good comedy. The Pre-Code I Like Your Nerve (1931) stars Douglas Fairbanks Jr. as Larry O'Brien, an American causing mayhem in Central America. He gets booted out by the local authorities but decides to stay when he spies the beautiful young Diane Forsythe (Loretta Young). They have a brief meet-cute moment before she's off. Once he finds out she's American and not a local, he sets his sights on her. Diane likes the look of Larry, and his nerve!, but she's already spoken for. Her step-father Areal Pacheco (Henry Kolker), is the Minister of Finance for the unnamed Central American country, he's set her up with middle-aged businessman Clive Lattimer (Edmund Breon). Pacheco has been dipping into government funds and Lattimer's $200k would help him avoid the fate of the previous Ministers of Finance which have all been killed for their corruption. Meanwhile, up-to-no-good Larry gets bailed out of jail by his "eternal bachelor" friend Archie Lester (Claud Allister) and sets off to break up Diane and her fiancee. Can he win Diane's affections and save her step-father from the firing squad? Not without some hilarious antics and trickery.

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in I Like Your Nerve (1931)

Loretta Young in I Like Your Nerve (1931)

Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in I Like Your Nerve (1931)

Loretta Young in I Like Your Nerve (1931)

I Like Your Nerve was directed by William C. McGann for First National Pictures. That studio had been absorbed by Warner Bros. but was still making pictures under that name. McGann had a career directing B pictures and went on to work as a cinematographer and special effects technician. The story is based on an original idea by Roland Pertwee and adapted by Houston Branch. Boris Karloff is in the film but has a dreadfully small and rather useless role as Luigi, the butler for the Pacheco mansion.

I love really early talkies and can forgive some of the clunkiness of the final product. The film industry was still trying to work out the kinks of their transition from silents to talkies. Some people are turned off by this by I find it quite charming. I was even amused by the choice of music which often times didn't even match what was going on in the story.

Technically I Like Your Nerve is not complete. According to the AFI:

"Contemporary reviews describe an opening scene that was not in the viewed film. In this scene, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. is a spectacled bookworm with a straight-laced mother who goes to the tropics when a fortune-teller advises him to travel to Central America."

This may explain why the beginning of the film seems so abrupt. However, it also feels out of character for Larry who is more playboy than bookworm. Unless the fortune-teller encounter somehow transformed him.

I Like Your Nerve is more silly comedy than racy Pre-Code. The stars Loretta Young and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. are delightful in this frothy, cheesy romp. I generally don't care for Loretta Young except for in her early films. Cars play an important role in the film. They are harbingers of chaos but also a means for the couple to be together. I love vintage cars and enjoyed watching these early models zipping through different scenes.

The film is only 62 minutes long and if you want a palate cleanser after a long or difficult movie, this would be a good fit. It's a bit backwards, a bit sexist and the Central American setting (why couldn't they have picked a country?) is more a plot device than anything substantial. It's just a fun movie that you shouldn't take too seriously.

I Like Your Nerve (1931) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. You can listen to George Feltenstein, D.W. Ferranti and Matt Patterson of WAC discuss this film on their podcast. D.W. calls this film "bonkers" and Matt calls Fairbanks Jr. "anarchy in an automobile". Both are statements I heartily agree with.

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 I Like Your Nerve (1931) to review!

Thursday, February 22, 2018

My TCM Swag

Today on my YouTube channel I'm sharing my favorite TCM swag. These are TCM branded items that I've collected over the years.

A few years ago I shared two posts about my favorite items in my classic film collection. Not only movies themselves but lots of other stuff too. Some of the TCM items I mention in the video are also in these posts.

Coolest Classic Film Stuff I Own Part One
Coolest Classic Film Stuff I Own Part Two

The item featured in the image above is TCM's Noir Alley Gardenia & Lily Candle. In the video I do a fun unboxing.

I hope you enjoy!

What's your favorite TCM branded item in your collection?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

For Love of Ivy (1968)

Today is Sidney Poitier's birthday! The legendary actor turns 91. To celebrate I'm taking a look at Poitier's film writing debut from 1968: For Love of Ivy. 1967 was a good year in Poitier's career especially with the release of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, In the Heat of the Night and To Sir, With Love. He was in a position to take on a new challenge. Poitier wanted a part as a romantic lead; something in the same vein as a Cary Grant movie. In a rush of inspiration Poitier wrote down an outline for a story. He simply called it Ivy. Poitier later collaborated with Robert Alan Arthur who would be integral in taking the outline and fleshing it out into a full fledged movie. The story was a romantic comedy, meant for a mainstream audience, with two African-American leads. It would be ground breaking. The end result was For Love of Ivy (1968).

Ivy Moore (Abbey Lincoln) is a 20-something who works full-time for the wealthy Austin household. She's not just their maid, she's like a member of their family. She's an integral part of what holds them together. When Ivy announces to Doris (Nan Martin) and Frank Austin (Caroll O'Connor) that she plans to leave her job for a new life in the city, they panic. The Austin kids, free-spirited hippie Tim (Beau Bridges) and boy-crazy Gena (Lauri Peters) concoct a plan to keep Ivy around. Tim, who does a bit of gambling on the side, enlists his one African-American friend Jack Parks (Sidney Poitier) to go out on a date with Ivy. If Ivy finds a guy and settles down, surely she'll reconsider leaving the Austin household. Tim and Gena try everything to get Jack and Ivy together. Jack is comfortable in his bachelor lifestyle. He runs a shipping company called Par-Tal which is really just a front for his illegal underground casino. Ivy has no idea what she's getting into. Thrust into an awkward situation, she makes the best of it while keeping true to her fiery independent spirit. Will these two fall in love or will Tim and Gena's plan be a total and utter disaster?

More than 300 women tried out for the title role of Ivy. It ultimately went to jazz singer Abbey Lincoln. This was her second film in a very short film career. Both Lincoln and Poitier are charismatic on screen. However I didn't buy them as a couple. Something seemed off. Maybe it was a lack of chemistry with each other, the deliberately slow pace of the story or some other factor. Once something started to happen I was relieved because the waiting was torturous. Intended to be a romantic comedy, For Love of Ivy isn't very funny. With the exception of a few outrageous scenes, it doesn't try very hard to be comedic. According to Poitier biographer Aram Goudsouzian "Daniel Mann's direction sapped the pungency from the better one-liners. He rendered the actors excessively mannered, and the picture moves slower than the light script demands. Thanks to Mann, the romantic comedy had little comedy." The film is more heavy-handed than it is light-hearted. For Love of Ivy has potential that it does not deliver. The film made a modest profit at the box office and Sidney Poitier received on-screen credit for his original idea.

Race is not intended to be at the forefront of the story but it's always there on the surface. The story juxtaposes a wealthy white family whose antics are always ridiculous with more grounded sensibility of Ivy and even Parks. I thought it was interesting that Parks' underground casino is run by African-American and serves a strictly white clientele only. When Ivy tries to bet, Parks refuses saying that he doesn't allow his people to gamble there.

The performances really save the picture. Poitier is charming and it is so good to see him in a bonafide romantic leading role. Lincoln proves her worth to be the center of the story. Beau Bridges is a delight as scheming hippie son of a wealthy family. Caroll O'Connor is the confused and angry patriarch in an all too short a role. Nan Martin is over-the-top as the flustered matriarch. I also enjoyed Leon Bibb as Billy Talbot, one of Parks' main men who is eager to take over the business.

For Love of Ivy (1968) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.

Thank you to the folks at Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray for review.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

In Search of Fellini (2017)

In Search of Fellini

Have you ever fallen head-over-heels in love with a movie? That's what happened to voice actress Nancy Cartwright when she saw Frederico Fellini’s La Strada (1954). So much so that she wrote letters to Fellini and traveled to Italy to meet him in hopes that he would grant her request to adapt La Strada into a play. She never got to meet the director, who passed away in 1993, but her wild adventure to Italy inspired her one-woman play appropriately titled In Search of Fellini. For years Cartwright, who is best known as the voice of Bart on The Simpson’s, wanted to adapt her story into a film. In 2017, the film In Search of Fellini, loosely based on her own story, came to life. Cartwright produced the story with her production company Spotted Cow Entertainment, co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Kjenaas and even has an on screen role as Cosima, a character very much inspired by La Strada.

“The visionary is the only true realist.” – Frederico Fellini

Lucy (Ksenia Solo) is a naive 20 year old woman. Her over-protective mother Claire (Maria Bello) has sheltered her all her life. Claire used to be an adventurous young woman alongside her no nonsense sister Kerri (Mary Lynn Rjskub). After a series of bad relationships, Claire got pregnant with Lucy and from the moment she gave birth she decided to protect her daughter from all of life’s trials and tribulations. Fast forward to 1993 and Lucy is essentially a 13 year old in a 20 year old’s body. Faced with terminal lung cancer, Claire, with the help of Kerri, wants to help Lucy grow up and get a life. When Lucy has an ill-fated trip to Cleveland for a job opportunity, she stumbles upon a Fellini film festival and is mesmerized by La Strada. She watches all the Fellini she can get her hands on and an obsession begins. Lucy travels to Italy in search for Fellini but discovers many hardships along the way. Her fantastical trip mirrors several Fellini films in the odd occurences and encounters she faces in Verona, Milan, Venice and Rome. She meets two men, Angelo (Lorenzo Balducci), who will unlock her dormant sensuality, and Placido (Paolo Bernardini) who proves to be dangerous temptation. Will Lucy ever find Fellini? Or is this a journey of discovery for something completely different?

Ksenia Solo and Maria Bello, In Search of Fellini

In Search of Fellini

In Search of Fellini

"You guys just pretend you're on a cloud and watch movies." - Kerri

I was drawn to In Search of Fellini (2017) because I myself am a cinephile who will travel far to pursue my passion. However, what happens to Lucy in the movie is so fantastical and unbelievable that I had a difficult time relating to the character even though I found so much of myself in her. I had a difficult time believing this was based on a true story. I can't tell you how many times I've been to Europe and wished that something magical or extraordinary would happen to me there. It never did. But in the span of a few days numerous events happen to Lucy. I wasn't buying it. This film is pure fantasy.

In Search of Fellini is a love letter to cinema, to Fellini and to finding your true self. It's about breaking free from what holds you back. There is a lot here for classic film lovers. There are numerous references to It's a Wonderful Life (1946) and Romeo & Juliet (1968), two films both Claire and Lucy watch extensively. It's a Wonderful Life represents how Lucy is stuck in a sheltered life and Romeo & Juliet represents her imminent sexual awakening and her journey to Italy. Lucy attends a Fellini film festival and is so in love with La Strada that she comes home with a stack of Fellini movies on VHS. In addition to La Strada, we see references to La Dolce Vita (1960), Amarcord (1973), 8-1/2 (1963), Roma (1972) and more. I love how Lucy becomes Lucia, or light in Italian and people are drawn to her quiet energy. It was interesting to see how different notable scenes from Fellini films are recreated in Italy circa 1993. Any Fellini fan will find much to savor and enjoy with this film.

The fantastical elements of this movie drove me nuts. Maybe because I once was a sheltered cinephile, I wanted this story to be more realistic. I kept asking questions like "how did she get a passport so quickly?" "why didn't she book a hotel?" and "how did she do so much walking and not get blisters?". The film kept trying to elevate me to another dimension and I kept trying to drag it back down to reality.

In Search of Fellini DVD

In Search of Fellini (2017) is available on DVD and digital.

DVD: Amazon
Digital: Amazon — iTunesFandango
Also available to rent on DVD Netflix

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

My Favorite Classic Movies, A Milestone and a New Look!

This post is a big deal. Why? It's my 1,000th! To celebrate I have four big announcements to make.

The FIRST is Out of the Past now has a brand new design courtesy of the super talented Kate Gabrielle. Take a look around and let me know what you think! The look also extends to my social media channels. I love the retro vibe, the animated header and the color palette. Kate is an incredible artist and I'm so grateful for all the hard work she did in creating this original design. Make sure you head over to her store to check out what she has to offer.

The SECOND is with the new designs I'm launching a Out of the Past Zazzle shop. I already have some cool merchandise for sale including workout tank-tops, iPhone cases, tote bags, magnets and buttons. I'll be adding more stuff to the shop soon.

The THIRD is that I'm reviving my YouTube channel and will be adding lots of great new content. Today I'm sharing my new video where I talk about my favorite classic movies. I discuss in depth about my top five, my favorite contemporary classic and a bunch of other favorites too.

The FOURTH is my new blog! I started a sister site called Bygone Voyager which is all about historical movies and TV shows. I encourage you to go visit and let me know what you'd like me to review!

A big thank you to all of you who have supported me over the years. On to the next 1,000 posts!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Cinema Shame: The Wild Bunch (1969)

Four years ago I created a watch list for 2014. These were the films that I hadn't seen yet that I wanted to make a point to watch that year. The Wild Bunch (1969) was one of those films. Unfortunately I never got to it that year or since. So when Jay of Cinema Shame prompted bloggers to submit their Cinema Shame statements for 2018 I added this one to mine!

Directed by Sam Peckinpah, The Wild Bunch (1969) follows a band of outlaws as they seek out one big heist. The year is 1913. Pike Bishop (William Holden) leads his "wild bunch", consisted Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine), Lyle Gorch (Warren Oates), Angel (Jaime Sanchez), Tector Gorch (Ben Johnson) and others to a dessert town to rob the railroad office's bank. What Pike and his men don't know is that this was a lure created by the railroad, Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan) and his own band of bounty hunters to trap the wild bunch. The robbery goes south and ends in a deadly shoot-out with the wild bunch getting away. When they discover their loot was nothing but bags of steel washers, they seek out another opportunity for a big pay day to make up for this failure. They head for the border and pick up old Freddie Sykes (Edmond O'Brien) along the way. Pike's past begins to haunt him. He's tired of this life and wants one last big heist so he can settle down. But his former partner Deke has made it his mission to capture Pike no matter what it takes. As the two bands cross the border into Mexico, a long chase filled with more heists, lots of booze, women, guns and violence.

"Being sure is my business." - William Holden as Pike Bishop

The Wild Bunch is a movie that revels in violence. Right from the very beginning when we see children feeding scorpions to fire ants, we realize that this movie is going to be tough as nails. In a post Hays Code world, this movie tested the waters and set the standards for increased violence and blood shed on film. Ernest Borgnine once said, "I made The Wild Bunch, which was the beginning of the splattering of blood and everything else. But there was a moral behind it. The moral was that, by golly, bad guys got it. That was it." The film was highly controversial at it's time. It won praise and disdain from those who were in awe of the filmmaking techniques and the performances and others who were appalled by its graphic and relentless representation of violence.

Maybe that's why The Wild Bunch is a mixed bag for me. I can appreciate the artistry of this film but am also repulsed by its violence. The cast is superb and includes some of my favorites like Borgnine, Ryan and O'Brien. I marveled at the excellent filmmaking and on location shooting. The film felt real to me. Like I was in Mexico right alongside the wild bunch on this outrageous adventure. It's not a film I feel the need to watch again but one I'm glad I saw. The Wild Bunch does make me want to watch more of Peckinpah's work. He received his one and only Academy Award nomination, in the Adapted Screenplay category, for this film.

Have you seen The Wild Bunch (1969)? What did you think of it? Tell me your thoughts below.
Stay tuned for more reviews or quick takes on my Cinema Shame movies for 2018!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Way West (1967)

The Way West (1967)

Traveling from the Missouri River to the valleys of Oregon, being a pioneer on the Oregon Trail was a hard life. The journey was so treacherous there is no guarantee you'd make it. The motivation of an ultimate reward, a new home and a chance at prosperity, drove many to take that chance. Led by Senator Tadlock (Kirk Douglas), a group of pioneers head forth through what will be a difficult quest. Tadlock, a widower with a young son, has big plans for Oregon. He's drawn out a map of what his new city will look like and works tirelessly to make that vision a reality. Tadlock must find a way to lead his group of pioneers through uncharted territory. He hires a scout, Dick Summers (Robert Mitchum), a man of nature who knows the many dangers of the terrain ahead and can speak the language of the local Native American tribes. In Tadlock's group is a motley cast of characters including Lije Evans (Richard Widmark), the emotional leader when Tadlock gets too caught up in his own devices, his wife Becky Evans (Lola Albright) and son Brownie (Michael McGrevey). Then there is the rough-n-tough McBee clan, Mr. McBee (Harry Carey Jr.), Mrs. McBee (Connie Sawyer) and their daughter Mercy McBee (Sally Field), a young girl on the verge of womanhood. Then there are the newlyweds Johnnie (Michael Whitney) and Amanda Mack (Katherine Justice) who have had a rough start on their marriage. These pioneers must stick together on this journey even when the goings get tough which they will time and time again.

Robert Mitchum in The Way West (1967)

Kirk Douglas in The Way West (1967)

Jack Elam, Richard Widmark, Lola Albright & Michael McGreevey in The Way West (1967)

Jack Elam, Richard Widmark and Robert Mitchum in The Way West (1967)

The Way West (1967)

Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum and Richard Widmark  in The Way West (1967)

Sally Field and Michael McGreevey in The Way West (1967)

Robert Mitchum in The Way West (1967)

The Way West (1967) is an epic Western drama based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by A.B. Guthrie, Jr. This is the second story in Guthrie's trilogy. The first book, The Big Sky was adapted in 1952 and the third book These Thousand Hills was adapted in 1959. The Way West was independently financed through producer Harold Hecht's production company and distributed through United Artists. Hecht produced several acclaimed films including Marty (1955), Sweet Smell of Success (1957) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). He ran Norma Productions with Burt Lancaster before striking it out on his own. In the 1960s, Hecht was one of the top independent producers of his day and The Way West was his swan song. It's his last credited role as a producer. He went on to work on one more picture, Ulzana's Raid (1972), before leaving the business for good.

I didn't know much, if anything about The Way West before I watched it recently. It's become an obscurity in the long history of classic Westerns. Director Andrew V. McLaglen, who had studied under the tutelage of William Wellman and John Ford among others, was considered one of the last great director of Westerns. He had extensive experience directing this genre for both film and television. Unfortunately, The Way West was a commercial failure. It couldn't deliver based on expectations. For an epic Western with a trio of big name headliners, it should have been a guaranteed hit. I believe the film suffers from too many cooks in the kitchen. When the film was in the editing process, United Artists demanded that McLaglen cut the first 22 minutes of the film to make it shorter. McLaglen felt this hurt the picture because audiences were not properly introduced to the three main characters. I felt that the beginning was rather abrupt and there wasn't much time to learn about Tadlock, Summers and Lije. Within a couple minutes we're introduced to all three and then the story kicks into gear. There's little to no character building and this is a crucial misstep as we need to feel connected to these characters to want to follow them on their long journey.

The Way West has garnered mixed reviews and I've read quite a few scathing ones online. I don't feel like this is a bad picture. Even with the abrupt beginning, I found it to be quite an enjoyable film. And this is coming from someone who doesn't like Westerns (I make exceptions for all Mitchum Westerns.) I wish Widmark had more to do in the story but Mitchum and Douglas play to their strengths. Mitchum and Douglas worked together in Out of the Past (1947) and The Way West was their only other film working together (they appear in The List of Adrian Messenger (1962) but not in the same scenes.) Director McLaglen said about Mitchum and Douglas:

 "They were poles apart in personality. Bob was an easygoing guy, and Kirk was more volatile. But there was never a feud. I felt within myself that Kirk probably wasn't one of Bob's favorite guys, but you'd never know it. Bob wasn't the kind of guy that goes spouting off with that kind of stuff."

According to Mitchum biographer Lee Server, Mitchum was offered the choice of the scout or the part of Lije. When Mitchum couldn't make a decision, the filmmakers made it for him. The scout suited him best. Server said, "Mitchum's role was a custom fit, one more lonely, stoic outsider turning his back on civilization by the fade-out." Kirk Douglas supposedly was a pain in the neck during the making of the film. He wanted to control and other cast members remember him being rude to them. But it's hard to imagine the film without him. His off-screen personality suited the on-screen character of Tadlock.

The Way West was Sally Field's film debut. It also features character actor Jack Elam as the stowaway preacher Weatherby. Mitchum's brother John Mitchum plays Little Henry and Patric Knowles plays Captain Grant. Connie Sawyer, who plays Mrs. McBee, passed away last month at the age of 105.

The film was shot on location in Eugene and Bend, Oregon with absolutely no studio work whatsoever. It feels real and the cast and crew went through their own hardships to film in the wilderness. Jack Elam said "the whole picture was one tough son of a gun."

The Way West (1967) Blu-Ray

The Way West (1967) is available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Kino Lorber.  The screencaps above are from the previous DVD edition. Kino Lorber's Blu-Ray is stunning and the quality has improved significantly.

When you purchase through my buy links you help support this site. Thanks! And please make sure to visit my new Amazon shop.

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

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