Monday, July 30, 2018

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)




Dave Burke (Ed Begley) has a plan. The disgraced former New York City cop, disillusioned with the system, has been dreaming of the perfect bank heist. He's been keeping an eye on a small town bank and Burke knows exactly when to strike. He enlists two friends to help him pull off the heist. First there's Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), an ex-con who is trying to make things right with his live-in girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters). Unable to support her financially, he takes Burke up on his offer to make a quick $50k with the robbery. Then there's Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), a jazz singer who is deep in debt with his local bookies. He's separated from his wife Ruth (Kim Hamilton) and their daughter Eadie and knows he won't be able to come back to old life unless he gets himself out of this mess. But Burke has two problems. Slater is a terrible racist and unwilling to work with Johnny. And Burke has to seek out the head bookie and his team of thugs to put the pressure on Ingram. Burke's plan is solid but can Slater and Ingram stop butting heads long enough to execute the robbery?



Directed by Robert Wise, Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is a film noir with a social agenda. The story of racial tension in 1950s America is effectively told through the lens of a bank heist drama.


***SPOILER STARTS***

The final scene of Odds Against Tomorrow delivers a poignant message: in the end we're all the same. After botching the bank heist because Slater (Robert Ryan) wouldn't trust Ingram (Harry Belafonte) with a key, they chase each other to fuel storage center. They meet their demise when a shoot out causes a massive explosion. The police discover their charred remains and any identifier of race or status is completely gone.

***SPOILER ENDS***


Shot on location in Manhattan and upstate New York, the film is gritty and real. Harry Belafonte, who was at the height of his music career, has the lead role and top billing. The movie was produced by his company HarBel Productions, Inc. and released through United Artists. It was remarkable for its time for having an African-American lead actor in a film noir. HarBel Productions was in negotiations with Richard Widmark for the role of Slater but eventually the part went to Robert Ryan. Widmark and Ryan were both perfect for the role so it was no loss either way. Ryan, who was a champion for civil rights, was at first hesitant to play Slater. According to Ryan biographer J.R. Jones, he said "a great many people realize that the characters they see on the screen are fictional or created but there is a substantial group that does not make that distinction." Recognizing the quality of the script and the significance of the movie, Ryan eventually agreed.

Ryan who played an anti-semitic character in Crossfire (1947) is reunited with his co-star in that film Gloria Grahame. Grahame has a small role in Odds Against Tomorrow as the next-door neighbor turned temptress Helen. Her part doesn't quite make sense for the movie except to inject the film with a bit of sex. Grahame and Ryan have a steamy scene when Helen's attempts to flirt with Slater get her more than she bargained for. In one racy shot, Ryan rips open Grahame's robe. According to the AFI,

"Gloria Grahame threatened a $100,000 lawsuit against United Artists, demanding they refrain from using certain photos of her in publicity for the film on the grounds that they were candid and taken without her knowledge. The photographs were taken by co-star Robert Ryan. The outcome of Grahame's demand has not been determined." 

I'd be remiss not to point out some of the fine performances in this film. Beyond Belafonte and Ryan, Ed Begley is adept at playing a character that is equal parts dark and sympathetic. I wanted more from Shelley Winters who is always a delight to watch on screen. I felt like her part was lacking. I was particularly fascinated with Richard Bright's Coco, one of Bacco's bookie thugs who antagonizes Johnny Ingram. There is a sadistic homoerotic tension between the two characters. His character reminded me a bit of Neville Brand's part in D.O.A. (1950). Robert Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson have bit parts as employees of the underground jazz club.

Odds Against Tomorrow was based on William P. McGivern's novel by the same name. It was adapted to screen by screenwriter Abraham Polonsky and Nelson Gidding. Polonsky, an unabashed Marxist and former member of the Communist Party, was blacklisted in 1951. He was named by actor Sterling Hayden and when brought to the HUAC  Polonsky refused to testify. For Odds Against Tomorrow, he used the name of left-wing African-American author John O. Killens as a front. It wasn't until 1996 that the WGA finally gave Polonsky credit for his work on this film. Before being blacklisted, Polonsky had written and directed Force of Evil (1948).

Fans of French cinema need to watch Odds Against Tomorrow particularly for the impact it had on director Jean-Pierre Melville. He was heavily influenced by Wise's film, watched it over 80 times and kept his own 35mm copy. Throughout his career, Melville would make references to Odds Against Tomorrow in his own movies.





Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) is available on Blu-Ray from Olive Films. Many thanks to Olive Films for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Must See Sci-Fi by Sloan De Forest


Must See Sci-Fi
50 Movies That are Out of This World
by Sloan De Forest
Foreword by Roger Corman
TCM/Running Press
Paperback ISBN: 9780762491520
May 2018

AmazonBarnes and NoblePowells

"The most memorable science-fiction movies are ones that defy our expectations." - Sloan De Forest

Science-fiction has always been a genre I've steered clear of. Having seen a smattering of films here and there, I came to the conclusion that this genre was not for me. When I went to the TCM Classic Film Festival back in April, the newest book published by the TCM and Running Press imprint, Must See Sci-Fi was in my welcome bag. I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. Should I keep it? Should I hand it off to someone else? Fast forward a couple months later and my husband and I are at the beach. I brought a stack of classic film books with me, including this one, to film my Summer Reading video. My husband immediately picked up Must See Sci-Fi, commented several times about how good the book was but grumbled about how it was missing one of his favorite Sci-Fi movies Dune. I decided to give it a whirl and the end result surprised me.

Whatever Sloan De Forest is selling I am buying. With this one book, she made me a bonafide Sci-Fi convert. What exactly have I been missing all these years? De Forest adeptly makes it clear. With each of the 50 films highlighted, she elevates them with her deep research and thoughtful insights while also knocking down any misconceptions or trepidations I had of watching these movies. This is more than a collection of movies with a little bit of trivia and some fun stills to look at. De Forest explores how each of these entries into the sci-fi genre questions and comments on society of the era by looking into an alternate future. De Forest also makes connections between early science fiction movies and newer ones tracing the influence they had decades later. She also explores the filmmaking process, what brought the different filmmakers to each project and the impact the film had on the industry and its audiences.

Alphaville (1965)
Things to Come (1936)
The Invisible Man (1933)

Arranged in chronological order, the book starts with A Trip to the Moon (1902) and ends with Arrival (2016). Classic film fans will want to read about early sci-fi films including Metropolis (1927), Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), Things to Come (1936), It Came From Outer Space (1953), Them! (1954), Godzilla (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Blob (1958), The Time Machine (1960), Alphaville (1965),  Barbarella (1968), Planet of the Apes (1968), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and many more. Each film gets its own five page section with poster art, film stills, behind-the-scene photos as well as De Forest's take on the film's significance and how it came to be made (and in some cases remade). Each section also includes three 'Far-Out Facts", one description of a "Mind-Blowing Moment" and two related recommendations listed under 'Keep Watching". There are some spoilers but not too many. When I sensed one coming on, I skipped over a few sentences with a mental note to return once I had seen the movie.

Now to put on my book publishing geek hat on. Running Press is publishing the books in the TCM Must See series in sturdy paperbacks with french flaps. These are much easier to hold than the Into the Dark film noir book which was bigger and published in a paper-over-board hardcover. The Sci-Fi book is in full-color and I loved the design and choice of font. Overall the format lent itself to a very enjoyable reading experience.

Must See Sci-Fi is one of the best film books I've read in a long time. Sloan De Forest is a marvelous writer and thoroughly convincing in her enthusiasm for the genre. While I had seen some of the films featured in the book, I hadn't seen the majority of them. I come away from this book with an open mind and a nice list of new-to-me films to discover.

If you haven't already, check out my interview with Sloan De Forest about this book and her love of sci-fi.



GIVEAWAY (CONTEST OVER)

Thanks to the good folks at Running Press, I have 5 copies of Must See Sci-Fi up for grabs.


Rules and Regulations: Must be 18+ or over. US Only. You can only enter one time follow one or both prompts. Must follow prompts as indicated below. Incomplete entries will not be acknowledged. Contest ends Thursday August 2nd, 2018 at midnight EST. 5 winners will be chosen the following day and announced below and contacted via e-mail.

To enter: 

  • Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite science fiction movie is and why. Make sure you include your e-mail address so I can contact you if you win. (Edited to add: E-mail addresses have been removed from comments below)
  • For an additional entry, follow my Instagram @QuelleMovies and leave your username in the comment section below. You can include it in your original entry. Doesn't have to be a separate comment.
Five winners are:

1) Lux
2) Greg
3) The Pop Culturallists
4) Chris
5) Caitlin



This is my second review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

SaveSave

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Interview with Sloan De Forest, author of Must See Sci-Fi

Sloan De Forest. Photo credit: Manoah Bowman

I've had the privilege of interviewing Sloan De Forest, author of Must See Sci-Fi: 50 Movies That are Out of This World (TCM/Running Press). She's an actress, writer and film historian and has written about film for Sony, Time Warner Cable, the Mary Pickford Foundation, and Bright Lights Film Journal. She's contributed essays to the books Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life and Grace Kelly: Hollywood Dream Girl.

I'll be posting my review of her book (spoiler alert, it's rocking my world right now) and hosting a giveaway later this week. In the meantime, enjoy the interview:


Raquel Stecher: Tell us about your background as a film historian and your connection to old Hollywood.

Sloan De Forest: I took the circuitous route to become a film historian. I started as an actor and aspiring screenwriter. I did take some acting classes, but I mostly learned to act from watching those timeless performances by the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Carole Lombard, and others. Turner Classic Movies was my college major! So I fell in love with classic film on my own before discovering it’s in my blood – my great-great uncle was Lee De Forest, who invented the sound-on-film process for talking pictures in 1923. He was the first to capture the voices of Elsa Lanchester, Una Merkel, and others on film, and provided a music soundtrack to Pola Negri’s first Hollywood film. That was an exciting connection to discover.

Lee De Forest


Stecher: How did you first fall in love with the science fiction genre?

De Forest: It may have started the summer I turned 11, when I was visiting my grandparents in the country and there was nothing to do but watch old movies on television. I saw The Blob and the 1958 version of The Fly, which had a real impact on me. I also discovered old Twilight Zone episodes that summer. I didn’t consciously realize that I was falling in love with sci-fi, but those images stayed in my mind. Then in the '90s, Mystery Science Theater 3000 was my gateway into Ed Wood, then into Roger Corman, which led me to classics like Forbidden Planet. I think because of their outrageous production design and costumes, Forbidden Planet and Barbarella were the sci-fis that fascinated me as a teenager. Well, those and Plan 9 from Outer Space.





Stecher: How did you come to work on Must See Sci-Fi?

De Forest: As a first-time author, I was incredibly lucky. Fellow TCM author Manoah Bowman is someone I had met through a mutual friend. He knew I was a writer, editor, and Natalie Wood fan, so he hired me to contribute to his 2016 book Natalie Wood: Reflections on a Legendary Life. From there, I had a foot in the door to write my own TCM book. It just so happened they were looking for someone to write a must-see guide for science fiction, and so it worked out perfectly.

Stecher: How did you curate the list of 50 science fiction movies for the book?

De Forest: With great difficulty! But seriously. There was quite a bit of friendly back-and-forth between me and TCM before settling on a final 50. Ultimately, you’re never going to please everyone with this kind of book, so it’s somewhat subjective. We wanted to include the most memorable, the most groundbreaking, and the most impactful films of the genre and I believe we succeeded. Even if we left out some that are great movies, I tried to include them in the Keep Watching section or at least mention them in the text. So I actually discuss A LOT more than 50 movies.

Stecher: What kind of research did you do for the book?

De Forest: I watched and re-watched all the films, of course, even if I had already seen them many times. Next I read books about the making of the films when I could, and went to the Margaret Herrick Library in Beverly Hills, which is a great resource for production files, press books, and clippings. I kept my online research to a minimum because—even though there are some great and highly reputable websites—I tried to avoid repeating all the same old information available on Wikipedia. But with some of these classics like Star Wars for example, repetition is impossible to avoid, because everything there is to know is already common internet knowledge. But I tried to dig deep—in old newspaper archives, for example—and find a few nuggets.





Stecher: Which movies did you leave out that you wish could have made the cut?

De Forest: I wanted to include a couple of my personal favorites, like Galaxy Quest and Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I don’t think Sky Captain is strictly considered science fiction, but I am fascinated by that movie. There’s nothing else like it. As for Galaxy Quest, I’m not sure why it didn’t make the cut, but you can’t have everything! I already negotiated to get Alphaville and Barbarella back on the list after TCM suggested cutting them, so I was happy enough with those two not to push my luck. I also wish I could have written in more detail about Blade Runner 2049, but, tragically, it was released one month after I finished the book.

Stecher: How did early classic movies influence modern day sci-fi movies?

De Forest: Good question. I think there is probably a greater influence there than many people realize, because, when you stop and think about it, science fiction was a literary genre where writers could describe aliens, spaceships, and monsters in great detail without having the burden of showing them. So the first filmmakers to actually depict those unknown entities on film were really pioneers. They were taking an enormous risk, using a great deal of imagination and primitive technology or craftsmanship to show a Martian, for example, on film for the first time. It was brand-new territory they were exploring. Once these images were out there, they became the building blocks of all later sci-fi movies. No matter how original a filmmaker may be nowadays, I think it’s impossible for them not to be influenced by the classics to some degree.

Stecher: Why do you think movie going audiences love science fiction?

De Forest: Like the genres of fantasy and supernatural horror, sci-fi presents us with possibilities that lie beyond our everyday world. But sci-fi is usually more grounded in what might be possible in the future. So I think people respond to the idea that with a science fiction movie—unlike in fantasy or the supernatural—they are seeing incredible images and ideas that actually could become a reality one day. It can be fascinating to explore. Personally, I’m fascinated by watching older sci-fi because you get to see how the filmmakers imagined our world of today, fifty or more years ago. It’s not always the brilliant movies that get it right, either! Logan’s Run, for example, may not have been the greatest movie, but it predicted using technology for pleasure and ease, whereas so many others only envisioned technology that could destroy the planet or send us into space.

Stecher: What would you say to someone who is hesitant about delving into the science fiction genre?

De Forest: I would say that they are likely to be pleasantly surprised. I was someone who enjoyed sci-fi, but did not consider myself a die-hard sci-fi fanatic. Then when I started working on the book, I realized some of my all-time favorite movies are science fiction. Most people have probably already seen a sci-fi movie they love... Star Wars, E.T., Back to the Future, Alien, The Terminator... Those are some of the most popular films ever. If someone is younger and hasn’t seen those titles, I would recommend starting with them because they’re so accessible. And then see where they take you!

Photo via SloanDeForest.com 

Stecher: What do you hope readers will come away with after they read Must See Sci-Fi?

De Forest:  I hope the book inspires them to seek out the films they haven’t seen yet, and to re-watch the ones they saw years ago. Even if they know all the 50 movies by heart, I discuss and recommend many more obscure titles in the book, so there are hundreds of movies mentioned. I also hope the book starts conversations. The overall aim is to get people excited about movies. That’s what it’s all about.


Many thanks to Sloan for taking the time out for this interview!

Monday, July 23, 2018

Cinema Shame: Le samouraï (1967)




When I was curating my Cinema Shame list for 2018, I looked to FilmStruck for some inspiration. Le samouraï (1967) is a staple on FilmStruck's Criterion Channel and one of the first films I noticed on the service when I signed up as a beta user. I wasn’t familiar with director Jean-Pierre Melville’s work and hadn’t seen many Alain Delon films. For me that’s good enough a reason to dive in because I love exploring unfamiliar territory. In addition to that, my love of French cinema and the influence of my friend Kate Gabrielle, who is a big Alain Delon fan, helped put Le samouraï on my FilmStruck watchlist.

Le samouraï stars Alain Delon as Jef Costello, a professional hitman hired to kill the owner of a jazz club. He goes through an elaborate ritual in preparation for the kill: he dresses up in his signature trench coat, with popped collar, hat and white gloves, he establishes an alibi with his girlfriend Jane (Nathalie Delon) and he steals a car. The hit goes according to plan until it doesn’t. The club’s pianiste (Cathy Rosier) becomes a witness to the murder. Jef is put in a police line up and is suspected of being the killer by Le Commissaire (Francois Perier). This puts his bosses, which include some of the club’s staff, in a precarious situation. They decide that they must get rid of Jef to protect themselves. Jef goes from killer for hire to target.

Jean-Pierre Melville was heavily influenced by American Film Noir and it shows in Le samouraï. This French neo-noir thriller is atmospheric and strikingly visual. I love how the film plays with light and shadow. Alain Delon is a perfect fit for Jef, the cold, detached and methodical protagonist. Delon brings a mystique to the character that makes Jef one cool mofo. Delon is a work of art in motion. I love how beautifully he’s positioned in the different scenes. With his amazing blue eyes are piercing through the screen, Delon is someone you just want to keep looking at. Yes there are other actors in this movie but they all seem to serve as pawns to tell Jef’s story.


Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï

Alain Delon in Le samouraï


Alain Delon in Le samouraï


And his story is brilliantly told. The first 10 minutes are without any dialogue. We watch Jef go through the motions of his pre-kill ritual. Just watching him we learn about what kind of man he is but also we’re held at a distance. In one of the early, it’s a rainy day, Jef has just stolen a car and a beautiful young woman looks over at him while they sit in traffic. He acknowledges her presence but makes it clearn he has no interest in pursuing any form of interaction with her. As the audience we have the same dynamic with him. In Jef’s apartment is a bullfinch in a cage. I like to think the bird represents Jef’s fear of being trapped. He’ll do anything to be free and stay free. At any cost.

I fell for Le samouraï hook, line and sinker. I’m here for more Melville, more Delon and more French neo-noir. It was by happenstance that I watched Robert Wise's film noir thriller Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) immediately after watching Le samouraï . I found out later that Melville adored that film, kept his own 35mm copy, and watched it over 80 times. A review of that film is coming soon!

Le samouraï is available to watch on FilmStruck's Criterion Channel. There is no expiration date so this one is not going anywhere anytime soon.



Le samouraï (1967) is the fourth of eight films that I am watching for the 2018 Cinema Shame challenge. Check out my original list and stay tuned for more reviews!
SaveSave

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Comet Over Broadway (1938)


Comet Over Broadway (1938)


Eve Appleton (Kay Francis) has big dreams. She’s a working woman, tending the newspaper stand by day and performing in community theater by night, all while taking care of her husband Bill (John Litel) and daughter Jackie (Sybil Jason/Victoria Elizabeth Scott). But she wants more than just a  home life. She wants to be an actress on Broadway. When big shot actor Wilton Banks (Ian Keith) rolls into town, she sees an opportunity for advancement but he sees an opportunity to get her into bed. Unaware of his attentions, she’s rescued by her husband Bill who accidentally kills Wilton. Their lawyer friend Grant (Donald Crisp) defends Bill in court. Despite their efforts, Bill is sentenced to life in prison. Eve makes a promise to Bill that she will raise the funds for his appeal. She sets off with her daughter and gets jobs in burlesque and vaudeville. On the road, she meets fellow actress “Tim” (Minna Gombell) along the way. Tim offers to raise Eve’s daughter Jackie so Eve can focus on her career. When Eve meets and falls in love with playwright Bert Ballin (Ian Hunter) she loses an opportunity to appear on Broadway and instead travels to London’s West End for the career she’s always wanted. Will this new life and new love make her forget what she’s left behind? Or will she stay true to her promise and get Bill get out of prison?

Ian Keith and Kay Francis in Comet Over Broadway (1938)
Ian Keith and Kay Francis

Donald Crisp and Kay Francis Comet Over Broadway (1938)
Donald Crisp and Kay Francis

John Litel and Kay Francis

Minna Gombel and Kay Francis Comet Over Broadway (1938)
Minna Gombell and Kay Francis

Kay Francis and Ian Hunter Comet Over Broadway (1938)
Kay Francis and Ian Hunter

Kay Francis and Sybil Jason Comet Over Broadway (1938)
Kay Francis and Sybil Jason

Comet Over Broadway (1938) was based on Faith Baldwin’s story for Cosmopolitan magazine. Baldwin was a prolific writer who published more than 80 novels, books of poetry and short story collections over her lifetime. Many of her short stories appeared in ladies magazines and several were adapted to film. Much like the character Eve, Baldwin wanted to be an actress. However she found herself more suited to being an author. In an interview Baldwin said, “people have to have some escape hatch, some way to get out of themselves, especially during the Depression.” Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Baldwin’s story for their production arm First National Pictures. Originally titled Curtain Call it was then changed to Comet Over Broadway. Neither title really suited the picture. The story was adapted for screen by writers Mark Hellinger and Robert Buckner. The script languished and was reworked by uncredited contributors Frank Cavett, Fritz Falkenstein and Brewster Morse. After many edits, it's unclear how much of Baldwin’s original story appears in the final product. She received a credit nonetheless.

The film was set to star Bette Davis who at the time was taking over Kay Francis’ title as queen of Warner Bros. Davis read the script and referred to it as "weak tea". There was already a lot of tension between Davis and WB and Davis was horrified that this was the first part assigned to her after her stand out role in Jezebel (1938). She refused to be in Comet Over Broadway and WB suspended her with no pay. Eventually the dust settled, Davis’ suspension lifted and she went on to make Sisters (1938) instead. Miriam Hopkins was set to replace Bette Davis but dropped out to make another movie. That’s when Kay Francis stepped in. Also its said that Ronald Reagan was supposed to play Bert Ballin, Ian Hunter’s part, but dropped out. According to Kay Francis biographers Lynn Kear and John Rossman, Francis struggled with a serious skin issue and weight gain. She received medical treatment and went on a severe grapefruit diet in order to continue filming.

The film was intended to be a major A level production for Warner Bros. According to the AFI, “when directors William Keighley and Edmund Goulding turned it down, the project was shelved. Then Bryan Foy took over the production in the B unit.” WB eventually assigned Busby Berkeley as director. Berkeley was best known for choreographing and directing music and dance sequences but he also directed a handful of films for the studio. Berkeley had to temporarily step down from production and director John Farrow came on to replace him. Most online sources say it was because Berkeley was ill. However, Berkeley biographer Jeffrey Spivak claims it was because he had to appear in court. In divorce proceedings Irving Wheeler accused Berkeley of stealing away his wife actress Carole Landis. The two had an affair while Landis and Wheeler were married but Landis claimed that she had been separated from Wheeler long before that relationship began. Berkeley and Landis were engaged after her divorce was finalized but never went through with the marriage.

Comet Over Broadway surprised me in many ways. It’s a drama with comedic moments. Minna Gombell who plays Francis’ wisecracking and kind-hearted sidekick, who is always “approaching 40”, is the film’s much needed comic relief. I really thought that, because of the era, Francis’ Eve was going to be punished for wanting to pursue a career rather than being content as a housewife. But throughout the movie it’s never suggested that she shouldn’t be working or that her profession was responsible for the tragedies in her life.



***SPOILER STARTS***

In the prison scene when Francis and Litel’s characters are reunited years later, Litel’s Bill reveals that he has a heart condition. I honestly thought his character would be killed off so that Francis’ Eve could get together with Hunter’s Bert. I even yelled at the screen “they’re going to kill off John Litel!” Thankfully this didn’t happen.

***SPOILER ENDS**



While it might be jarring for contemporary audiences to imagine a mother handing off her child to another woman to raise, it wasn’t all that uncommon at the time. (My own grandmother did this twice!) I was particularly fascinated with the Donald Crisp story line in which he tries to defend John Litel’s character but can only do so much. A high priced legal team is required to free Litel. Money in exchange for Litel’s freedom is the driving force behind the plot. Is this subtle commentary on the criminal justice system?

Comet Over Broadway is an enjoyable backstage drama peppered with moments of humor. I particularly enjoyed watching Minna Gombell and Sybil Jason in their scenes together. Ian Hunter, although second billed, is barely in the film and his character served more as a plot device than a meaningful character. I don't particularly care for Kay Francis but thought she was well suited for the part. The film does suffer from a weak script but all the surprises and Gombell's performance kept me interested.

Fun facts: Barry Nelson and Susan Hayward have bit roles. I spotted Hayward right away in a short community theater scene where she delivers a line or two to Francis. Also my good friend Jessica Pickens named her blog Comet Over Hollywood after this film. If you don’t follow her already make sure you visit her blog.


Comet Over Broadway (1938) DVD


Comet Over Broadway (1938) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection.When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The Warner Archive trio George, D.W. and Matt discuss the film (about 15 minutes in) on the "You Can" episode of their podcast.


Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me Comet Over Broadway (1938) to review!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Summer Reading Challenge - First Round-Up

Photo via Kate Gabrielle


The enthusiasm level for this year's summer reading challenge is off the charts. Thanks to everyone who jumped in, signed up and got reading. There are lots of great reviews up and people have been sharing their TBR stacks too.

If you're participating in the challenge, make sure you use the form to submit your reviews. You must submit if you want to be eligible for the prize!

Now for the reviews:

Andy W. of Journeys in Darkness and Light
Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window edited by John Belton
The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
Noir by Christopher Moore
Peter Cushing: An Autobiography


Danny R. of Pre-Code.com
Summer Reading List

Photo via Pre-Code.com

David on David C. Tucker Blog
Claire Trevor: The Life and Films of the Queen of Noir by Derek Sculthorpe
Hooked on Hollywood: Discoveries from a Lifetime of Film Fandom by Leonard Maltin

Emily on Instagram
Joan Crawford: A Talent for Living by Jennifer Bitman
Miller's High Life by Ann Miller

Jeremy of Pillow Shots
Ernst Lubitsch: Laughter in Paradise by Scott Eyman




Lee of Totallee.net
Video reviews
How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn
James Dean: A Biography by John Howlett (see above)
Summer Reading List

Kate G. of Silents and Talkies
Summer Reading List

Raquel S. of Out of the Past
Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel
Summer Reading List

Sarah A. on Goodreads
Ginger: My Story by Ginger Rogers
Lana: The Lady, the Legend, the Truth by Lana Turner
Love, Lucy by Lucille Ball


Photo via Robby

Robby C. on Instagram
Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light by Patrick McGilligan

Vanessa B. from Super Veebs
Summer Reading List

Victor K. from Popcorn and Flickers
Summer reading list



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Under Capricorn (1949)



When everyone is a convict, who can you trust?

The year is 1831. Convict ships transport prisoners from the British Empire to the penal colony of Australia. They also bring with them gentleman looking to make their fortune in a new land. When Charles Adare (Michael Wilding) arrives in Sydney seeking a business opportunity to make him rich, he meets wealthy landowner and ex-convict Sam Flusky (Joseph Cotten). As the to partner on a business deal, Adare discovers that Flusky's wife, Lady Henrietta (Ingrid Bergman), is his old schoolmate from Ireland. She's in a terrible state and he takes pity on her. The Flusky household is run completely by ex-convicts and the overbearing housekeeper Milly (Margaret Leighton), who has designs on replacing the lady of the house, is slipping alcohol into Henrietta making her dependent on alcohol. When Adare discovers this he tries to save Henrietta and Sam from their sad state of affairs, he gets more than he bargained for. Will the Flusky's dark secret destroy them or will Adare be able to save the day?


"Tomorrow will look after itself."

Under Capricorn (1949) is an unusual entry into Alfred Hitchcock's filmography. The master of suspense opted to work on a costume drama instead of the thrillers he was known for. The story was based on a novel by Helen Simpson which was also a play by John Colton and Margaret Linden. It was adapted for the screen by actor Hume Cronyn (who also adapted Rope) and screenwriter James Bridie. Why did Hitchcock pick this work to direct?  When asked about this in his conversation with Francois Truffaut, Hitchcock replied,

 "I had no special admiration for the novel, and I don't think I would have made the picture if it hadn't been for Ingrid Bergman. At the time she was the biggest star in America."

In 1947, Hitchcock and his business partner Sidney Bernstein started Transatlantic Pictures. Their first film Rope (1948) was an experiment in filmmaking. It was Hitchcock's first shot in color and it has become legendary for its long ten minute takes and very little editing. With Under Capricorn, Hitchcock continued the experiment with color and more long shots but it didn't work out as well in this second venture. In conversation with Truffaut about the film, Hitchcock said,

"No doubt about it; films must be cut. As an experiment, Rope may be forgiven, but it was definitely a mistake when I insisted on applying the same techniques to Under Capricorn."

Because of the caliber Bergman brought to the production, Hitchcock felt the need to make Under Capricorn a big production and spent roughly $2.5 million, a lot for the late 1940s, on the movie. Unfortunately, like Rope, Under Capricorn was a box office failure. Both films suffered from scandal. Rope was banned in several markets because of the implied homosexuality and Under Capricorn's star Bergman had an extramarital affair with director Robert Rossellini that effectively put her Hollywood career on hold. After the release of Under Capricorn, the Bankers Trust Company, which had financed the film, repossessed it. The film was not shown again to the public until CBS acquired the rights in 1967. They've owned it ever since.

Under Capricorn is a lesser known Hitchcock film and there is a good reason why. There is no suspense, no thrill, just a lot of melodrama and dialogue. It's easy to make connections to previous Hitchcock films like Rebecca (housekeeper vs. wife), Notorious (poisoning) and Rope (dark secret, experimental filmmaking). But this is not as good as those films. It is worth watching to see how this fits in Hitchcock's filmography and for Bergman's performance. She has a long dramatic retelling of a murder which could have been shown as a flashback but Hitchcock opted instead to give Bergman a monologue so she could shine. After Under Capricorn, Hitchcock realized costume dramas were not for him and he never revisited this genre.




Under Capricorn (1949) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. The BFI and Kino did a 4k restoration and color correction of the movie. This special edition includes the following extras: a commentary track by film historian Kat Ellinger, 12 minute audio clip of Francois Truffaut's interview with Alfred Hitchcock, a 26 minute doc called A Cinema of Signs: Claude Chabrol on Alfred Hitchcock and various trailers. In one part of the Chabrol doc he highlights several scenes in Under Capricorn analyzing composition and symbolism. The Blu-Ray disc also comes with an interchangeable jacket as seen above.


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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


"What does she mean to you? Two weeks of company in another town?"


It's no secret that the film industry loves remakes and sequels. Take an established story and characters with a following, slap on a number and a new story line or give it a fresh take with a new crew and wait for the financial rewards to come rolling in. It's riskier to take a chance on a new story than to revisit a tried and true formula. And as long as there are movies, there will always be filmmakers revisiting previous successes.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) non-sequel you didn't know you wanted. Both are backstage MGM melodramas about the film industry, both star Kirk Douglas, both are directed by Vincente Minnelli and both share the same crew including producer John Houseman, composer David Raskin and screenwriter Charles Schnee. Just take the essence of the original, give it a new story, film it at Cinecitta in Rome and set it ablaze with Metrocolor and you have Two Weeks.

Cinecitta circa 1962

Kirk Douglas in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, Two Weeks in Another Town follows the story of Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), a former actor whose spent the past few years in an asylum recovering from his mental breakdown. His old director, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), summons him to Rome where he's working on a new film at Cinecitta. At first it's just a small gig, $5,000 in Jack's pocket and a chance to work on a movie set again. But Kruger, eager to capture the filmmaking magic they once had, wants Jack to stick around and offers him the job of dubbing supervisor. When Kruger has a heart attack, most likely brought on by his overbearing wife Clara (Claire Trevor), his tormented star Davie Drew (George Hamilton) and his temperamental female star Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino), Jack takes over as director. The project and his romance with budding young actress Veronica (Dahlia Lavi) breathes new life into Jack but his ex-wife, actress Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), threatens to destroy him.


Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Jack Andrus is the perfect role for Kirk Douglas. His character is intense, emotional and temperamental but also serves as the hero the audience wants to champion. George Hamilton's method actor, pseudo-James Dean type is supposed to be characteristic of Jack before his breakdown but Hamilton wasn't a good fit for the part, something that he admitted to himself. It's also unclear why his character is so tormented in the first place. His character and many others are caricatures of film industry types or are just plain misogynistic: the innocent beauty, the angry old hag, the jaded assistant, the temperamental actress, the destructive femme fatale, the tyrant director, the heartless film reporter, and so on and so forth. The film does tap into an interesting philosophical query: can you be true to your authentic self when your life is devoted to pretending to be other people? There are a few moments where I thought the film was really going to explore this but then it went right back to the melodrama.

And melodrama it was. Over-the-top is the best way to describe Two Weeks in Another Town. From the characters, the music, the plot, and the absolutely bonkers car crash but not quite a crash sequence with Douglas and Charisse. I couldn't help comparing Two Weeks with another Kirk Douglas film The Arrangement (1969). In that film he's an ad executive who is frustrated with his job and his passionless marriage, he has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. He finds some joy in a romance with a younger woman (Faye Dunaway). In the Two Weeks, Douglas' Jack, before he goes to Rome, is a film star, frustrated with his job, in a toxic marriage, has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. Both movies are not great but I found them to be enjoyable and I had fun comparing the two.

Two Weeks in Another Town was a bomb at the box office and garnered terrible reviews. Director Minnelli was quoted as saying "It's painful to talk about the ruin of that film even now." The magic of The Bad and the Beautiful, which won 5 Academy Awards and was nominated for a 6th, couldn't be captured ten years later in a new setting. Scenes from the original are shown in Two Weeks. In the story Kruger is its director and Jack its star and they are watching the film to understand what filmmaking magic the two had lost and how can they recapture it. Two Weeks was the final project for screenwriter Charles Schnee who died the year of its release. The film also reunited Claire Trevor and Edward G. Robinson who were both in another beloved classic movie, Key Largo (1948).


Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)


Should you bother with Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)? My answer is a resounding yes. If you don't come to it with high expectations and you embrace the melodrama you can be treated a simple and beautifully styled movie. I enjoyed the on location shooting in full color, performances by some of my most favorite actors, and exquisite costumes and decor. I wanted to jump into the movie, steal some goodies and go back to 2018 with my haul. In the film Kirk Douglas drives a beautiful Maserati which I appreciated for its retro body style but car enthusiasts will love because it's a rare model, a 3500 GT Vignale Spyder, that has been made the rounds with vintage car collectors and is still in existence today.




Collection. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks! 



Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me the Blu-Ray of Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) to review!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel

Anne Bancroft: A Life
by Douglass K. Daniel
University Press of Kentucky
408 pages
September 2017
Hardcover ISBN: 9780813169682

Amazon Barnes and NoblePowell's

"Personally and professionally, she was determined to live by her own terms." - Douglass K. Daniel

If ever there was a woman who was born to be an actress it was Anne Bancroft. Born in 1931 and raised in the Bronx, Bancroft was second generation American from sturdy Naples stock and her heritage was obvious from her given name: Anna Maria Louisa Italiano. The acting bug bit at a very young age and Anna would find any excuse to entertain. She could sing, dance and act and along with her God given talent she was also incredibly driven.

She didn't waste a minute getting started on her new found profession. Fresh out of high school, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and studied under Lee Strasburg. She got her first professional acting role, complete with a new name, Anne Marno, in the live television show Torrents of Spring. Eventually she dropped Marno for Bancroft and headed for Hollywood. Her ultimate goal was to be a movie star but her career would take her down a long and winding journey from TV, to Broadway and to Hollywood and back again. Even with the ups and many downs of her acting career, Bancroft never lost the passion and fire that drove her to pursue her art.

In the first comprehensive biography on the life and career of Anne Bancroft, author Douglass K. Daniel explores just what it took for this talented actress to make her mark. Bancroft started in Hollywood just as the studio system was winding down. She signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox but that was short lived. Daniel writes,

"The major studios were moving toward shedding their contract talent in the face of financial uncertainty. The independence that came with picking and choosing roles could not be separated from the loss of security represented by regular employment."  

- Douglass K. Daniel

Relegated to small roles in films like  Don't Bother to Knock (1952), her film debut, or B-movies like New York Confidential (1955). Bancroft didn't fit a mold and while Hollywood struggled place her in roles that suited her talents. It was Bancroft's stage work that breathed new life into her film career. She had successful runs on Broadway with Two for the Seesaw, co-starring Henry Fonda, and The Miracle Worker, with Patty Duke. She lost the film role for the former but managed to get it for the latter and eventually went on to win the Academy Award for her role as Anne Sullivan. More parts came and went.  In Daniel's biography, we learn about her work in  The Slender Thread (1965), 7 Women (1966) and others leading up to her break out role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967). That film immortalized her but didn't necessarily boost her career. Other notable films discussed include The Hindenburg (1975), Fatso (1980), which she wrote, co-starred and directed, The Elephant Man (1980), Garbo Talks (1984), Agnes of God (1985), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) and more.


"Mel and I are adamant. Our work is public, our other life is not." - Anne Bancroft


Bancroft's personal life was harder to pin down. She treasured her privacy and was adamant about keeping a work-life balance. In the biography reader learn a little about her first marriage to Martin May, a strange union that would end almost as soon as it began. Bancroft went on to find happiness in her second marriage to actor/director/producer Mel Brooks. They met while Bancroft was performing on the TV show Kraft Music Hall and immediately hit it off. Brooks and Bancroft collaborated on projects including Silent Movie (1976) and To Be or Not to Be (1983). Brooks achieved a level of success that Bancroft did not. She scaled back to one project a year after the birth of their only child Max only to realize later that career and motherhood could go hand in hand. Brooks and Bancroft seemed like an odd pair but their relationship worked on many levels. They were intensely private about their personal lives, had strong work ethics, respected each other as husband and wife and as performers. They were married until her death in 2005 and Bancroft worked up until the very end. Even as the roles got smaller and projects felt more stifling, her passion to be an entertainer never diminished.


Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

Throughout her career, Bancroft struggled to find good parts in good movies. She faced many obstacles as a woman and eventually as a woman of a certain age. Today we talk about gender inequality in the film industry and Anne Bancroft can be seen as an early spokesperson for women in film. In 1984 she said,

"People don't write wonderful parts for women because women have not been given a chance to live wonderful lives that people want to write about, and because most of the writers are men." 

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel is an extensive look at an actress who lived life on her terms and offers readers insight into a woman who battled to have the career she wanted.

Thank you to University Press of Kentucky for sending me a copy of the book for review.



This is my first review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Love, Cecil

Love, Cecil poster


"I started out with very little talent but I was so tormented with ambition." 
Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)

Cecil Beaton was many things. He was a photographer, a writer, a painter, a set decorator, a costume designer and a socialite. But if we were to put him in one master category it would have to be that of artist. Beaton was an aesthete to the highest degree. Born with an appreciation for all things beautiful, Beaton was drawn to art in its many forms. His first love was the theater and he loved looking at photographic portraits of stage actresses. This led to his personal ambition to photograph them himself. He set out to learn photography but a traditional education was not for him. Beaton did poorly in school and rarely attended lectures while in college. Everything he learned about art was self-taught. He mastered techniques in photography through sheer determination. Before the word "selfies" ever became part of our daily lexicon, Beaton made taking self-portraits an almost daily practice. His two sisters were his models and with them he learned how to master the art of styling, staging, and posing.

Beaton went on to have a long and industrious career in fashion and art. He was a tireless worker, always on the go and game for anything. His work took him to Hollywood, a place that brought him an opportunity to work with some of the best subjects in the world. Beaton stylized the sets and costumes for films like Gigi (1958) and My Fair Lady (1964). He shot iconic portraits of legendary stars like Katharine Hepburn, Gary Cooper, Marilyn Monroe, Orson Welles, Sylvia Sidney, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Leslie Caron, Marlon Brando, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Barbra Streisand, Merle Oberon, Lillian Gish and Grace Kelly. His favorite model was Greta Garbo. Not only was she the ideal subject for his photography, he was immensely drawn to her as a person. The two had tumultuous friendship which led to a brief affair. Beaton was a complicated fellow, never settling down and besides his relationship with Garbo, he preferred the company of men. He wasn't afraid to be a dandy in a time when homosexuality was illegal in his home country of England.

Cecil Beaton's portrait of Gary Cooper


Cecil Beaton's portrait of Greta Garbo

New from Zeitgeist Films and directed by Lisa Immordino Vreeland, Love, Cecil chronicles the life and career of the man whose style made an indelible mark on the 20th century. We learn about his often tumultuous relationships with his family growing up and with his friends, lovers and collaborators. There is even footage of George Cukor discussing how the two didn't get along while making My Fair Lady. The film includes interviews with a variety of experts including magazine editors, photographers, historians, designers, museum curators, artists and people who knew Beaton well including his biographer, a former model, his former butler and the director of the first documentary on Beaton's life entitled Beaton by Bailey. We also hear from Beaton himself through archival footage and from his journal entries, read by actor Rupert Everett.

This is a multi-faceted look at an artist who had the capacity to delight and to shock. He was opinionated, disapproving and sometimes rude. As a contributor to Vogue, he once made the mistake of incorporating an anti-Semitic slur into one of his article sketches. The issue had to be scrapped. To make up for his grievous error, Beaton contributed to the WWII effort as a war photographer. He traveled all over the world, working tirelessly and was even in a serious airplane crash. Beaton's work was published in many outlets including one on the cover of LIFE magazine.



Classic film enthusiasts will be interested to learn about Beaton's contributions to the visual spectacle of two very important mid-century films: My Fair Lady and Gigi. Beaton worked on others but these are the two focused on in this documentary. I was particularly taken with the beautiful portraits Beaton shot of many of my favorite actors and actresses.



Love, Cecil is a dynamic exploration of an artistic genius whose passion for beauty influenced everything he did. Highly recommended.



Love, Cecil recently opened at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City. It will be playing in Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Atlanta and many other cities across the country through July and August and into the fall. Visit Zeitgeist Films' official website for dates and locations.

Recommended viewing: Pair Love, Cecil with another Zeitgest Film documentary Bill Cunningham: New York (2010). I found these two figures, both fashion photographers, both complicated individuals, to be very similar in many ways.

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook     Google+