Sunday, September 15, 2019

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs

Finding Zsa Zsa
The Gabors Behind the Legend
by Sam Staggs
Kensington Books
July 2019
448 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781496719591
AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

Before the Kardashians there were the Gabors. Zsa Zsa, Eva, Magda and the queen of the tribe Jolie, the Gabors were a force to be reckoned with. Between the four of them they had over 20 husbands. Their family name was synonymous with glamour, wealth, jewels and fame. When they came over from Hungary, they took America by storm.

Jolie was the strong-willed matriarch who commanded her daughters' respect and taught them to crave the good life. She ran a well-known jewelry store in New York. Magda was the serious, quiet one. She saw the horrors of WWII and helped smuggle soldiers, civilians and goods in and out of Hungary. By way of Portugal she was able to get herself and her parents out of Europe and away from the Nazis. Eva Gabor was the youngest of the brood and between Zsa Zsa and herself she took acting the most seriously. She worked in films and television throughout her life but always felt her thick Hungarian accent held her back. Then there was Zsa Zsa. The most famous of them all. Between her movie career, nine husbands, arrests and public scandals, she became a tabloid regular and a living legend. She suffered from bipolar disorder and her notoriety fascinated the public. She domineered the story of the Gabors and still does to this day.

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs is the cradle to grave story of the four Gabors. But like in real life, Zsa Zsa dominates the book because frankly she was the most interesting. However, Staggs gives all four ladies their chance in the spotlight. Staggs breaks down misconceptions of the Gabors as being famous for being famous. All four ladies were hard working and ambitious. The least ambitious was Zsa Zsa who was more preoccupied with glamour, parties and husbands than she was a career.

This story blends the four biographies together in a fairly seamless way. It's for the most part chronological but dips back in time occasionally depend on the subject. The book can be a bit salacious especially when it came to the romantic lives of the Gabors (both Zsa Zsa and Magda were married to actor George Sanders). There are a lot of juicy details there but I never felt like the author went too far or was trying to be hurtful. The author does interject with various quips and opinions about various matters which I took with a grain of salt. Overall the book reads like a novel which makes the 400+ pages fly by.

I have a personal interest in the Gabors. My father lived in California during the early 1970s and once met Zsa Zsa Gabor when he was working on her pool. He was from Portugal so I was particularly fascinated by Magda's story of her connections with the Portuguese embassy and how she was able to get her family out of Hungary. On the flip side of this, my mother is Dominican and was born into dictator Trujillo's regime. Reading about Zsa Zsa Gabor's romance with Trujillo's son Ramfis and former son-in-law Porfirio Rubirosa left a bad taste in my mouth. Zsa Zsa benefited financially from these romances during a time when Trujillo was ordering the massacre of Haitians and killing Dominicans who opposed him.

The saddest figure in the book is Francesca Hilton, the only child of Zsa Zsa Gabor. Her paternity was never verified but Gabor's husband Conrad Hilton is known as the father. She was never fully embraced by the Hilton family and Gabor's last husband ostracized her. She died in poverty. The author was in contact with Francesca for several years while working on the book and she's a main source of information. One thing I appreciated about the book is how well-researched it is. Staggs references the Gabor's memoirs but fact checks or finds alternate sources to verify stories or at least offer various scenarios. The Gabors were very preoccupied with how they presented themselves to the world so their accounts were often fabricated or exaggerated.

There is some information about Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor's Hollywood careers. I was particularly interested in Eva who seems fairly misunderstood. She wanted to hone her craft but her accent and family notoriety got in the way.

Finding Zsa Zsa: The Gabors Behind the Legend by Sam Staggs dives deep into the lives of one of the most glamorous families of the 20th century. It offers a compelling blend of storytelling, gossip and facts which will keep readers turning the page. The salaciousness might turn off some readers and if you're looking for an examination of the Gabors' Hollywood career, look elsewhere.



This is my fourth review for the Summer Reading Challenge.

Friday, September 13, 2019

TIFF: Seberg (2019)


We all recognize the iconic image of Jean Seberg in Jean Luc Godard's Breathless (1960) walking the streets of Paris and wearing her New York Herald Tribune shirt. For those with a richer knowledge of film history we know her film career started with a tortured performance as Joan of Arc in Saint Joan (1957) followed by a very different performance as Cecile, the bored rich kid in Bonjour Tristesse (1958), both directed by Otto Preminger. But what may not be as closely associated with Seberg is her involvement with Black Panther activist Hakim Jamal and the FBI investigation that ensued. They were relentless. Between the character assassination and the invasion of privacy, the FBI basically destroyed her. Jean Seberg called this time in her life a "nightmare" and she never fully recovered from it or the loss of her baby girl in 1970.

Written by Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse and directed Benedict Andrews, Seberg follows the story of Jean Seberg during the most difficult time of her short life. She's back in Hollywood after working in France for some years and while she wants more significant acting roles she finds herself auditioning for parts in Paint Your Wagon (1969) and Airport (1970). While traveling first class with her agent, she meets Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) who bursts into the cabin demanding a better seat for Malcolm X's widow. Seberg is taken by Jamal and when the fellow Black Panther members pose in front of press upon arrival, Seberg joins in. This puts her on the radar of FBI agents Carl Kowalski (Vince Vaughn) and Jack Solomon (Jack O'Connell). As Seberg becomes politically and romantically involved with Jamal, Jack and Carl become more and more intrusive as they gather intel on Seberg. When news breaks of Jamal and Seberg's affair, officially ending her marriage to Romain Gary (Yvan Attal), Seberg becomes increasingly paranoid that someone is out to get her.

Seberg is a mixed bag of a biopic. On the one hand it's an incredibly important story and a warning to the future. This abuse of power and invasion of privacy is frightening. We should always remember what happened to Jean Seberg. But on the other hand this film felt overly conventional and a bit cheesy. Critics have praised Kristen Stewart's portrayal of Seberg and while I like her as an actress I don't think she was a right fit for the role. For me it's all in the eyes and demeanor. Stewart has the weight of the world on her shoulders, a restless spirit and a brooding countenance. Seberg had these sad, soulful, glossy eyes and a lightness of being. Even Stewart herself said that Seberg had a "sprawling energy" and director Andrews would often remind Stewart of Seberg's natural effervescence in his direction. You can see Stewart trying to capture this but it felt forced. Before the die-hard Kristen Stewart fans come at me just note that I believe Stewart really did give her all for this part but there was just a disconnect that I couldn't quite get over.

The script writing team Joe Shrapnel (grandson of Deborah Kerr) and Anna Waterhouse put in a lot of research, poring over the FBI files and including many of real techniques used by the FBI even if the agents themselves are fictional. There are plenty of classic film references in the film. Otto Preminger, although not physically in the film, is mentioned throughout as a source of early trauma for Seberg. Also Stewart recreates scenes from Breathless and Saint Joan and we see her prepare for Paint Your Wagon.


I attended a press conference for the film which you can watch on TIFF's YouTube channel. See below.


Left to right: Writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse, actress Kristen Stewart and director Benedict Andrews



Seberg had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

TIFF: Judy (2019)

Image courtesy of TIFF

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy avoids the cradle-to-grave story and focuses on two of the most difficult periods in the life of Judy Garland. The story flashes back to 1939 when a teenage Judy Garland (Darci Shaw) is on the MGM lot making The Wizard of Oz (1939). It's there that she faces long working hours, an overbearing mother and a temperamental Louis B. Mayer. To maintain her weight she's restricted from eating the foods a teenager would typically indulge in and is put on a regimen of pills to reduce her appetite and to help her sleep. It's clear that Judy loves the spotlight but seeks the happiness that comes with living a normal life. As the years pass her two desires seems to be mutually exclusive.

Present day is the last months of Judy Garland's (Renee Zellweger) life. It's 1969 and Garland is struggling to make ends meet. She's forced to come to the decision to leave her children Lorna (Bella Ramsey) and Joey with their father Sidney Luft (Rufus Sewell) and take a job in London. It's there that she finds a welcoming audience of devoted fans. But she's struggling with anxiety, sleepless nights, anorexia and a dependency on pills and alcohol. Her new assistant, the strait laced Rosalyn (Jessie Buckley) is her rock, helping her get on to that stage when no one else seems to be able to. Mickey Deans (Finn Wittrock), a young man she met at her daughter Liza's (Gemma-Leah Devereux) party comes to London to sweep her off her feet. Their whirlwind romance is over as soon as it started. As Garland starts to decline, she must leave London but not without making one last splash, with the help of some good friends.


Image courtesy of TIFF

Judy was adapted by Tom Edge and Peter Quilter from the stage play End of the Rainbow. Zellweger really gives her all to play the part of Judy Garland. She hones the voice, the mannerisms and the presence which is no small task. Zellweger sings in the film and while she's no Judy Garland in the voice department it does add a layer of authenticity to her performance. This depiction of Judy gave me a real appreciation for the legend and why we love her and continue to love her as we do. She was just so genuine. She had an amazing talent, one that superseded anything us mere mortals could ever dream of. But at heart she was just a woman who wanted happiness and love. The story includes her time with her children and we see the pain she feels being away from them. They also added a plot line where she befriends two fans, a gay couple, to drive home the point that she was not only a gay icon but felt deeply for others.

By the end of the film I was really emotional. I found myself swept into this world and deeply moved by the legend of Judy Garland. I did feel the story was overly simplistic especially in how it depicted old Hollywood. Everything was presented as good or bad with very little in between. Mickey Rooney shows up in those early scenes as Judy's first crush and her MGM co-star but we don't see much about their lifelong friendship.

Does a Hollywood biopic have to be factually accurate to capture the true essence of a movie star? With so many biopics coming out we have to wonder if telling the truth is even the point. Or is it necessary to have a blend of fiction and reality to make magic on screen? I'm no Judy Garland expert so I can't speak to the inaccuracies but I do think die-hard Garland fans will take issues with the fictional parts and the focus on Garland's darkest days. I hope they see beyond that and give the film a shot.

This film did remind me of Stan & Ollie, the Laurel and Hardy biopic which also travels to the other side of the Atlantic and tells the story of the legends' last hurrah. I reviewed that film here and also discussed the film and the inherent problems with biopics in my discussion with Carl Sweeney over on The Movie Palace Podcast.

Judy explores the darkest days of Judy Garland's life while also capturing what made her such a beloved legend. Zellweger shines despite the film's flaws.



Judy had its Canadian premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Coquette (1929)




Directed and produced by Sam Taylor, Coquette (1929)A Drama of the American South stars Mary Pickford in her first ever talking picture. Pickford plays Norma Besant, a "silly little coquette", as she calls herself, who enjoys being the toast of the town. She's the beloved daughter of Dr. John Besant (John St. Polis), and the sister of the equally frivolous Jimmy (William Janney). Norma comes from a wealthy family and could have any guy she wants, including Stanley Wentworth (Matt Moore) who is absolutely smitten with her. Instead she's fallen in love with Michael Jeffrey (Johnny Mack Brown). He's from the bad part of town, has never had a steady job and can't afford the suit he'd be required to wear to take Norma to the Summer social. And Dr. Besant wants nothing to do with him. It's clear that their relationship is not off to a great start. Determined to earn Norma's affection fair and square, Michael leaves for a few months to make something of himself. He returns earlier than expected and the two lovebirds are reunited. When a scandalous rumor makes its way through the town, Michael and Dr. Besant come face-to-face and a tragic incident changes Norma's life forever.



"He's a diamond in the rough."

Coquette was based on Jed Harris' stage play and adapted by George Abbott, Ann Preston Bridgers, John Grey and Allen McNeil. Sam Taylor contributed to the dialogue and the film was produced independently and distributed by United Artists. Sets were designed by William Cameron Menzies.

This film's historical significance is more interesting than the film itself which I found to be quite dull and lifeless. The period between 1927-1929 was crucial as the industry was transitioning away from silents. A talkie debut was a big deal. For Mary Pickford it launched the next leg of her acting career and won her an Academy Award for Best Actress. The Academy Awards were still brand new and Pickford, ever the visionary, decided to campaign for the coveted prize. She did a publicity tour to drum up interest in the movie as well as in her nomination. This is commonplace now but was a brand new concept back then. Pickford's plan worked, the film was a success and she won the award. However, because Pickford was a founding member of the Academy, some felt that favoritism came into play.

Coquette is a silly Southern drama that I found needlessly frustrating. There is a lot of talk especially between Johnny Mack Brown and his rival for Mary Pickford's attention, John St. Polis, but no real action or reaction. Michael is never given a chance to prove himself and Dr. Besant is an elitist jerk. Overall the film lacked the emotional gravity and nuance that would have me feeling invested in the characters and their journey.

Watch Coquette for the delightful Mary Pickford's talkie debut, for the utterly handsome and underrated Johnny Mack Brown and for Louise Beavers who has a small role as the Besant family maid and Pickford's confidante.



Coquette (1929) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thank you! 

This is Coquette's DVD debut. George, D.W. and Matt of the Warner Archive Podcast discuss this film in the Dynamite Dames episode.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copy of Coquette (1929).

Monday, August 19, 2019

Summer Reading Challenge - Second Round-Up


Photo Source: Vanessa of Superveebs
We've all been busy bees this summer (or winter!) diving into our classic film books and soaking up all that knowledge (or being entertained if you're reading novels!). I'm so impressed by how many wonderful reviews have come through so far. This has been the most active and the most consistent summer reading challenge to date! And we hit a new milestone with our first ever podcast entry thanks to Carl over at the Movie Palace Podcast (I'm on the episode too!).

Here is the second batch of reviews. I encourage you to read them and share them far and wide.

If you're participating in the challenge, please make sure you submit your reviews to the link form on the summer reading page! Only submitted reviews count for the challenge.

Happy Reading!


Andy of AndyWolverton.com
Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean
Reinventing Hollywood: How 1940s Filmmakers Movie Storytelling by David Bordwell




Carl of The Movie Palace Podcast
(all three are discussed in the podcast)
Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle
Dynamic Dames by Sloan De Forest
Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira


Erin at Always Classic
Billy Liar by Keith Waterhouse



Lee at Hooks and Pages on YouTube
The Groucho Letters by Groucho Marx
Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

Photo Source: Welcome to Classic Mollywood
Molly of Welcome to Classic Mollywood
Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira



Raquel of Out of the Past
Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle

Rich from Wide Screen World
Banished from Memory by Mary Sheeran

Photo Source: Robby on Instagram

Robby on Instagram
Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride
Gregory Peck: A Biography by Gary Fishgall

Samantha of Musings of a Classic Film Addict
Seen from the Wings: Luise Rainer. My Mother, The Journey by Francesca Knittel Bowyer (plus interview!)

Sarah on Goodreads
Dark Pages by David Goodis

Steve on Goodreads
An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood by Neal Gabler
We'll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood's Most Beloved Film by Noah Isenberg

Vanessa of Super Veebs
Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain
Dynamic Dames by Sloan De Forest

Walter of Walts Popcorn Bytes
The Making of Casino Royale (1967) by Michael Richardson


Friday, August 16, 2019

Cinema Shame: Tom Horn (1980)


This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix. 

The completist in me has spoken and I must finish Steve McQueen's filmography. Even if that means watching a terrible movie like Tom Horn (1980). And yes it is indeed terrible. 

This film is part of my Cinema Shame Challenge for 2019 in which I watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980. If you want to participate in your own Cinema Shame challenge whether it by theme, month, year, whatever, visit the official website for more details.




Tom Horn (1980) was directed by Don Siegel. Then Elliot Silverstein. Then James William Geurcio. Then eventually Steve McQueen took over but because the Directors Guild of America (DGA) didn't allow actors to take director's credit after the film had already started, William Wiard was brought on to finish things up and give the film a final director's credit. The end result of that complicated production was a total mishmash of scenes. This aimless Western didn't capture my attention or my interest.

This was Steve McQueen's second to last film and he was already ill from the cancer that would eventually kill him in 1980. In fact McQueen died the same month I was born so I feel this weird connection with him. In Tom Horn, McQueen stars as the title character, a frontier scout with a legendary reputation. He worked for the Teddy Roosevelt administration, for the Pinkerton agency, was known for catching Geronimo, etc. He waltzes into town and gets off on a bad foot when boxer Jim Corbett beats him up. He's eventually hired by cattle farmer John C. Coble (Richard Farnsworth) to help catch (well, kill really) the cattle thieves that are a plague on other farmers. While he's cleaning up the joint, he meets Glendolene (Linda Evans), a local schoolteacher who is instantly smitten with him and the two have a sweet romance. Unfortunately Tom Horn is causing too much destruction and in an effort to get rid of him someone frames Tom for the murder of a young boy. The film follows Tom as he goes to trial for a crime he most likely did not commit. The real life Tom Horn was convicted yet later exonerated for the murder in 1993, 90 years after his death.

The film has a great cast: Steve McQueen, Richard Farnsworth, Linda Evans, Elisha Cook Jr. plays a stable hand at a horse ranch and Slim Pickens plays the town Sheriff who has a soft spot for Tom . The story suffers from woefully underdeveloped characters. The Evans-McQueen romance feels forced and false. There were some moments in the film where it tries to establish some personality traits for Tom Horn including a scene where he eats lobster for the first time or the different charms he carries with him that he ends up using to escape jail. In the end, Tom Horn is a flat and uninteresting character and McQueen was not in the position with both his career and his health to really invest himself in the role. If you're a Steve McQueen fan like I am, give this one a watch to check it off your list and move on.

Have you seen Tom Horn (1980)? What did you think? 




Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Tom Horn (1980) is available to rent on DVD.com

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle

Hollywood Black
The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers
by Donald Bogle
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762491414
264 pages
May 2019

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powell's

“Hollywood Black presents a gallery of important talents, both in front of the camera and behind it – actors, actresses, writers, directors, producers – who struggled against the odds to make unique statements on-screen.” - Donald Bogle

If ever there was a primer on the history of African American cinema, Hollywood Black by Donald Bogle is it. This new book out from TCM and Running Press offers a comprehensive look at the contributions made by black performers and filmmakers from the birth of cinema to the present day. Bogle offers insights, breaks down misconceptions and fills in the gaps of knowledge. This book is perfect for anyone who wants to learn more about black film history whether they know little or a lot. It offers a bounty of information without being overwhelming. The hybrid format of a coffee table book meets non-fiction history book makes it as approachable as it is educational.





For me context is key and Hollywood Black offers that it in its chronological approach to telling the history of African American cinema. We learn about the trends, the milestones, the movements, the struggles and how far we've come and how far we still have to go. Each chapter is devoted to a particular decade from the silent era to modern day. We learn about how black representation in film changed and evolved through the Great Depression, WWII, the Civil Rights movement, etc. Within each chapter are themed essays with a focus on one or two particular players.

Subjects discussed include:
Stepin Fetchit
Bill Bojangles Robinson
Hazel Scott
Theresa Harris
Herb Jeffries
Clarence Muse
Hattie McDaniel
Lena Horne
Dorothy Dandridge
Ruby Dee
James Edwards
Ethel Waters
Sidney Poitier
Harry Belafonte
Eartha Kitt
Sammy Davis Jr.
Cicely Tyson
Pamela Grier
Melvin Van Peebles
etc.

Each decade is given equal amount of coverage which becomes a problem when we get to the 1970s and beyond because there are many more movies and filmmakers to discuss. However it's necessary to include every decade to appreciate the depth and breadth of this history.

Hollywood Black features a foreword by the late, great John Singleton which I found to be quite touching. This is book would serve as a fine addition to any home library but could also be great for an introductory course to African American cultural or film studies.

If you want to learn more about how the book is structured, watch my video book review below. And make sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel! I'm trying to reach the milestone of 1,000 subscribers and every little bit helps!




You can hear me chat about Hollywood Black and other film books with Carl Sweeney host of The Movie Palace Podcast here.




Thank you to TCM and Running Press for sending me a copy of Hollywood Black to review.



This is my third review for the Summer Reading Challenge.


Sunday, August 11, 2019

Cinema Shame: Xanadu (1980)


This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

When I was crafting my Cinema Shame list for 2019 Xanadu (1980) was the first film that came to mind. A roller skating disco fantasy? Yes, please! If you're unfamiliar with Cinema Shame make sure you visit the official website for details. Cinema Shame is a way to challenge yourself to watch those movies you've been meaning to but haven't gotten around to yet. My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980.

Directed by Robert Greenwald, Xanadu follows the story of Sonny Malone (Michael Beck), a painter/designer who has a chance encounter with the beautiful and elusive Kira (Olivia Newton-John). What he doesn't know is that she's not a real girl. She's one of the nine muses and has appeared in his life to inspire him. Sonny works an unfulfilling job at an artist's studio. One day when his overbearing boss becomes too much for him Sonny heads out to the beach where he meets clarinet player Danny McGuire (Gene Kelly). Danny was a member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra and has a passion for big band music. Danny and Sonny become fast friends and we learn that Danny had his own Kira/muse back in his day. As Sonny begins to fall for Kira, she holds back but stays with him long enough to inspire him to collaborate with Danny. Together they combine their love for big band music and rock n roll and transform an abandoned auditorium into a roller skating disco palace.






Xanadu is loose adaptation of Down to Earth (1947). The story takes place in Hollywood and was filmed there as well as in Beverly Hills, Malibu and Venice Beach. The run down auditorium in the movie was the Pan-Pacific Auditorium in Fairfax. The intention was to drum up interest in the building to fund its restoration and give it a new life. Much like what happens in the film. Unfortunately Xanadu tanked at the box office and the Pan-Pacific eventually fell into more disrepair. After a series of small fires, a large one destroyed it for good in 1989. Xanadu is essentially the last hurrah for this gorgeous Art Deco building.

Xanadu is total confection. The film explores themes of old versus new and the timelessness of imagination and creativity. It's 100% ridiculous. Very little of it makes sense and the only reasons you should be watching it are for Gene Kelly, Olivia Newton-John, music by the Electric Light Orchestra, a couple of the musical numbers and to take a time travel trip back to 1980's SoCal.

I hate to single out a particular person for the downfall of a movie but Xanadu would have been 10 times better without Michael Beck. Singer Andy Gibb was slated to play Sonny Malone but had to drop out. Gibb's known drug abuse problems might have been a factor. So they found an Andy Gibb look-a-like instead. Gibb could sing, dance and had charisma, all of which Beck lacked. Olivia Newton-John is left to her own devices in several song and dance numbers. Gene Kelly comes to the rescue for a couple of them but Beck is pretty much useless. It's not his fault really. He wasn't the right fit for this role. They really should have nixed the idea of finding a Gibb look-a-like and went with a song-and-dance man instead.

"Just pretend it's 1945." - Kira
"I don't have to pretend. It is 1945 all over again." - Danny

As someone who loves 1940s culture, I was surprised to see how much that decade played in this otherwise very 1980s movie. Kelly and Newton-John have a love tap dance/big band number with Newton-John dressed in a WWII service uniform. Danny lives in a silent film star's old mansion and his passion for big band is juxtaposed with modern day rock n roll. Also I'm one of those weirdos who lives for the 1980s interpretation of the 1940s. That decade's style made a comeback in the '80s and in the big band/rock n roll song and dance number the '40s costumes are vintage with a modern twist. So fun!

Have you seen Xanadu? What did you think about it?



Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. Xanadu (1980) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

Friday, July 26, 2019

GIVEAWAY: Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II by Robert Matzen




A couple of months ago I attended Book Expo in New York City and I was on the look out for some good classic film books. Author Robert Mazen was there to promote his new biography on Audrey Hepburn. As a treat for my readers, I grabbed a sign copy to give to YOU!






About the Book:

Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn and World War II 
by Robert Matzen
400 pages
GoodKnight Books
April 2019

From the publisher: Twenty-five years after her passing, Audrey Hepburn remains the most beloved of all Hollywood stars, known as much for her role as UNICEF ambassador as for films like Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Several biographies have chronicled her stardom, but none has covered her intense experiences through five years of Nazi occupation in the Netherlands. 

According to her son, Luca Dotti, “The war made my mother who she was.” Audrey Hepburn’s war included participation in the Dutch Resistance, working as a doctor’s assistant during the “Bridge Too Far” battle of Arnhem, the brutal execution of her uncle, and the ordeal of the Hunger Winter of 1944. She also had to contend with the fact that her father was a Nazi agent and her mother was pro-Nazi for the first two years of the occupation. But the war years also brought triumphs as Audrey became Arnhem’s most famous young ballerina. Audrey’s own reminiscences, new interviews with people who knew her in the war, wartime diaries, and research in classified Dutch archives shed light on the riveting, untold story of Audrey Hepburn under fire in World War II. 

Also included is a section of color and black-and-white photos. Many of these images are from Audrey’s personal collection and are published here for the first time.




*****GIVEAWAY*****

RULES AND REGULATIONS

  • Must be 18+
  • Open Internationally
  • Maximum 3 entries (one required and two optional) per person
  • Must provide e-mail address in comment.
  • False or incomplete entries will not be accepted.
  • Contest ends Wednesday July 31st at midnight EST.
  • 1 winner will be selected and contacted via e-mail. I will also announce the winner in this post.
  • Prize is one autographed copy of the book.

HOW TO ENTER
  • REQUIRED: Leave a comment below telling me what your favorite Audrey Hepburn movie is AND why you love it. Make sure you leave your e-mail address too so I can contact you if you win.
  • OPTIONAL: For one additional entry, follow my movie themed Instagram @QuelleMovies and in your comment leave your Instagram user name.
  • OPTIONAL: For one additional entry, subscribe to my YouTube channel Out of the Past and in your comment leave your YouTube user name.

You can leave one comment with 1-3 entry options. Doesn't have to be a separate comment for each entry. I will edit out e-mail addresses and user names after the contest is over.

 Good luck!


***CONTEST IS OVER***

The winner is Amanda O.! 

Thank you to everyone who entered. Disqus wouldn't allow me to edit out the information so I copy and pasted the valid entries below and deleted the comments.


Amanda O. - Honestly for me it’s a toss up between “Roman Holiday” and “Charade” for my favorite Audrey film. Roman Holiday was the film that really got me into classics. I rented it when I was probably 13 or 14 and just fell in love with it and Audrey. And it led to me watching other classic films and falling in love with other classic actors and actresses. So it will always be special to me. My other favorite, “Charade”, is a comfort movie for me. No matter what mood I’m in or how bad a day I’m having that scene when Cary Grant showers with his clothes on always cracks me up and makes me happy and my day better. I love it so much! Thank you for having such a fun and interesting blog! I always look forward to your posts! 

Gillian K. -  I LOVE all of Audrey's films but if I had to pick one, I'd say Sabrina as it has an interesting plot twist, her character is so adorable and what a wardrobe she obtains in Paris! 

Helena G. - Audrey Hepburn is my all-time favorite actress. I absolutely cannot pick just 1 favorite film, but for this contest, I will explain how much I love her first starring role: Roman Holiday. She played an enchanting princess who wanted to experience normal life and was able to do so briefly before returning to her duties. The final scene where she stops being diplomatic to tell the press that Rome has her heart (and to let her love interest in the film know her true feelings) is legendary. She held her own alongside Gregory Peck and won an Oscar for her portrayal of strength alongside vulnerability, which I feel is the hallmark of her acting career and explains her passionate advocacy for UNICEF, since she had to be strong while a most vulnerable child during WW2. 

debra512 - My favorite Audrey Hepburn movie (even though I love so many), is Two For the Road. I loved her chemistry with Finney, I loved how mature and different it was for the time and for her. I also loved the theme song. She was so natural and funny and lovely.. I wish I could enter the other two but I don't like giving out social media names on other forms of social media for contest purposes- so sorry! But I would love the book as I think that time in her life shaped her so much and want to know more. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Summer Reading Challenge: First Round-Up

This year's Summer Reading Challenge is off to a great start. 35 eager readers have signed up to participate and there are already some wonderful book reviews available for your perusal. While the deadline to sign up has now passed, I encourage you to read on your own or sign up next year. If you have already signed up, please make sure you submit your finished reviews in the official link form. Your reviews won't count for the challenge and the giveaway if you don't submit your links! Also make sure you share on social with the hashtag #classicfilmreading.

Now on to the reviews:

Aisha at Screen Dreams
Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin

Andy at AndyWolverton.com
Moseby Confidential: Arthur Penn's Night Movies and the Rise of Neo-Noir by Matthew Asprey Gear
Noir City Sentinel Annual 3: The Best of the Noir City Sentinel 2010 by Eddie Muller
RKO Radio Pictures: A Titan is Born by Richard B. Jewell

Christine at Overture Books and Film
Glenn Ford: A Life by Peter Ford

Donna at Strictly Vintage Hollywood
About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel: Make-up Artist to the Stars by Dorothy and Meredith Ponedel

Erin at Always Classics
Dutch Girl: Audrey Hepburn in World War II by Robert Matzen
Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait by Kendra Bean




Lee at Totalle.net on YouTube
Kiss Hollywood Goodbye by Anita Loos




Raquel at Out of the Past
Dynamic Dames: 50 Leading Ladies Who Made History by Sloan De Forest (video review)
Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir by Victoria Riskin (video review)

Rich at Wide Screen World
All About Eve by Sam Staggs



Robby on Instagram
The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century by Margaret Talbot
Ink & Paint: The Women of Walt Disney’s Animation by Mindy Johnson.
In Pieces by Sally Field

Sarah on Goodreads
Grace: Secret Lives of a Princess by James Spada
Such Mad Fun: Ambition and Glamour in Hollywood's Golden Age by Robin R. Cutler

Vanessa at Super Veebs
Audrey Hepburn: An Elegant Spirit by Sean Hepburn Ferrer
The Castle On Sunset by Shawn Levy
Norma: The Story of Norma Shearer by Lawrence J. Quirk
Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant by Victoria Amador

Walter at WaltsPopcornBytes
Bring on the Empty Horses by David Niven
Fred Astaire by Stephen Harvey
Son of Harpo Speaks! by Bill Marx

Friday, July 19, 2019

Cinema Shame: Urban Cowboy (1980)


I'm chipping away at my 2019 Cinema Shame challenge. This year I gave myself the goal to watch 10 movies from my birth year 1980 for the very first time. I'm hoping I can tackle a few reviews this summer so I can keep up!

Oh boy. I'm not even sure how Urban Cowboy (1980) made it onto my Cinema Shame list. I'm just going to chalk it up to the fact that it met all of my criteria (film released in 1980 - check. film I haven't seen yet - check). But perhaps I should have skipped this one. It has NOT aged well and while I'm glad I watched it I'm not going to visit it again any time soon.

Urban Cowboy stars John Travolta as Bud, a small town cowboy who leaves for Houston to find a job in the oil business. He stays with his Uncle Bob (Barry Corbin) and Aunt Corene (Brooke Alderson) who take him out to the hottest club in town, Gilley's a hopping honky tonk bar where all the action happens. There he meets Sissy (Debra Winger), a bar regular with a spirited personality. They quickly fall in love and get married. Bud has his eye on mastering the mechanical bull at Gilley's and when former convict Wes (Scott Glenn) shows up at Gilley's Bud finds some competition for both the bull and Sissy. Bud and Sissy have a falling out driving Bud into the arms of the cowboy obsessed Pam (Madolyn Smith Osborne) and Sissy into the arms of Wes who teaches her how to ride a mechanical bull. As Bud trains for a mechanical bull riding competition, behind the scenes Wes is up to no good.



When Urban Cowboy hit theaters in the summer of 1980, critics called it the country western answer to Saturday Night Fever and they were not wrong. It definitely had that vibe even if the dancing wasn't as prominent. The film was directed by James Bridges and based on the real life story of Dew Westbrook and Betty Helmer, two Gilley regulars whose romance was profiled in an Esquire article. This movie just doesn't sit well in the 21st century and I found it off-putting. The domestic violence in particular is hard to swallow. Sissy, played by Debra Winger, has to endure a lot of emotional and physical abuse. Both Bud and Wes treat her like shit. Bud starts off as a total jerk and then comes around by the end. Wes seems okay but his criminal past and his flirtatious nature makes it apparent early on that he's not one to settle down with. Even so, both Bud and Wes' characters do a sudden about face that I didn't quite see coming and felt like a plot fix. In the end, I was only really invested in Sissy and everyone else (except for Bob and Corene!) could go to hell in a handbasket. I can see some of what people enjoy about this movie. It has a great cast, a great sense of place and time and plenty of dramatic tension throughout. The mechanical bull riding scenes were so much fun to watch. But for me the events in the story were either too predictable or came out of the blue. Overall the film left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Have you seen Urban Cowboy? What did you think? Did you like it more than I did?

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache



"Here is a woman who helped invent cinema, and there is a silence around her. It's absolutely intolerable and even stupid that we can't see these films." - Nicole Lise Bernheim, circa 1975


I’ve heard it said many times that we must preserve Alice Guy-Blache’s legacy. I didn’t fully appreciate the weight of this statement until I saw Pamela B. Green’s documentary Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache. This early filmmaking pioneer was present for the birth of cinema and helped shaped it at its very inception. She wrote, produced and directed and used filmmaking techniques such as close-ups, tinted color, synchronized sound, double exposure and various special effects that would become essential to filmmakers in the silent film era and beyond. She worked with various studios and in 1910 co-founded Solax Studios in Fort Lee, NJ with her husband Herbert Blache and business partner George A. Magie. After two decades of work and a thousand films, she disappeared from the industry and was mostly forgotten. In the years that followed and as film history was taken more seriously, Guy-Blache’s contributions were not recognized in the same way as her peers, including other women filmmakers like Lois Weber and Dorothy Arzner. Her legacy fell victim to deceit and the spread of misinformation. At the end of her life, she fought to set the record straight on many matters and her daughter Simone Blache even published her memoirs. But history still threatened to forget Guy-Blache forever. What needed to change? Her surviving films needed to be found, restored, viewed, studied and discussed. The more we learn about Alice Guy-Blache and her work, the better we can maintain an accurate depiction of the early days of cinema and the people who made it all happen.

Be Natural takes an investigative approach as it explores Alice Guy-Blache’s life and career, uncovers information, seeks out family members and interviews contemporary filmmakers in an effort to give Guy-Blache the recognition she deserves. The documentary employs mixed media visuals, archival photographs, interview footage with Guy-Blache from the late 1950s and the early 1960s. The film is narrated by Jodi Foster who also served as executive producer. While I was watching the film I thought to myself that this would be just the sort of project that Hugh Hefner would have invested in and I was right! He was also an executive producer along with Robert Redford and Regina K. Scully among others. There are so many talking heads in this documentary that it’s a bit overwhelming. Some discuss Guy-Blache at length and others appear for just a quick soundbite. Filmmakers featured include Peter Bogdanovich, Geena Davis, Agnes Varda, Diablo Cody, Ben Kingsley, Ava DuVernay, Kathleen Turner, Gillian Armstrong, Janeane Garofalo, etc. There are also interviews with family members, historians, professors, authors and archivists. Classic film enthusiasts will recognize some familiar faces including Kevin Brownlow, Anthony Slide, Cari Beauchamp and Jan-Christopher Horak. The documentary was inspired by Alison McMahan’s book Alice Guy Blache, Lost Visionary of the Cinema and director/producer Pamela B. Green established a Be Natural research team who did the investigative work on the film.

The documentary is choppy and jumps around a lot. Sometimes at a dizzying pace. I wish it could have slowed down and taken its time a bit. That doesn’t diminish the documentary’s importance which is profound. The film speaks to those of us who believe in the preservation of history and the acknowledgment of great works of those who have since passed on. Time and neglect can erase history and its up to us to speak Alice Guy-Blache’s name, to watch her films and to let future generations know about her story. Be Natural leads the charge in the name of Alice Guy-Blache.

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache is a profoundly important and enlightening documentary on an early filmmaking pioneer that time threatened to forget.

screens in select theaters this summer and fall. Visit the official website for more information. The film will be available on digital July 23rd and DVD August 20th from Kino Lorber.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin
A Hollywood Memoir
by Victoria Riskin
Pantheon
Hardcover ISBN: ISBN 9781524747282
February 2019
416 pages

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells

"My mother had a pioneer resilience, a vulnerability, a need for admiration... she never expected life to magically take care of her." - Victoria Riskin 
"[My father] was a private man who expressed his deeply held values and philosophy largely through his writing." - Victoria Riskin

In Victoria Riskin's new book Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir she paints a portrait of her two talented parents who were integral members of early Hollywood history in their own unique ways. Alternating chapters tell parallel stories of the actress and the screenwriter  There were a few bumps in the road before they began their romance amidst the backdrop of WWII. Wray and Riskin raised three children together, Susan from Wray's previous marriage and two fathered by Riskin, Robert Riskin Jr. and the youngest Victoria, whose name was inspired by America's victory in the war. Their romance was cut short when Riskin suffered a series of debilitating strokes of which he would never fully recover. He passed away in 1955 and Wray would outlive him for nearly a half century.

"She was at ease, often sparkling and impish, or graceful and guileless, beautiful and confident." - Victoria Riskin

Fay Wray is best known for her iconic role as Ann Darrow in King Kong (1933). The legacy of that performance would overshadow all of her other work which was vast in range. She started off in Hollywood as a teenager making silent comedies and two-reel Westerns. Eventually she graduated to meatier parts and leading roles in films like Erich von Stroheim's The Wedding March (1926). A successful transition into talking picture saw her a plethora of Pre-codes including Doctor X (1932) and The Most Dangerous Game (1932). Wray was a founding member of the Screen Actor's Guild and active in the community. She met and fell in love with John Monk Saunders, Hollywood screenwriter best known for his work on Wings (1927). The two had a tumultuous marriage that ended in a bitter divorce. Saunders' life had been spiraling out of control for years and he eventually committed suicide. They had one daughter Susan, later adopted by Wray's second husband Riskin. Wray stopped working during WWII to focus on her family and supporting the war effort. It wasn't until Riskin's stroke that she returned to work. In the 1950s her career saw her in films such as Hell on Frisco Bay (1955) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She worked in TV as well until she retired in 1965 only to return once in the 1980s.


"Writer and director each make a unique and invaluable contribution. One has the story to tell and the other a way to tell it. Each can make the other better." - Victoria Riskin

Robert Riskin arrived in Hollywood 1930 via Broadway where he brought his unique talents story development, character building and dialogue. According to Victoria Riskin, her father's films "reflected love for his characters, especially the ordinary people he cared about and the smart, independent women who were equal to- at least equal to-the men they were paired with." Under the helm of Harry Cohn at Columbia Pictures, Riskin collaborated with director Frank Capra. The Riskin-Capra partnership gave birth to many successful projects including Lady for a Day (1933), It Happened One Night (1934) You Can't Take It with You (1938)  Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) and Meet John Doe (1941). During WWII, Riskin worked for the United States Office of War Information and wrote and produced many propaganda films to help American war efforts. Riskin was a founding member of the Writer's Guild of America West and worked up until his debilitating stroke in 1950.

Robert Riskin and Fay Wray

Wray and Riskin's paths crossed various times throughout their careers but it wasn't until they attended a Christmas party hosted by actor Richard Barthelmess that a romance sparked between the two. On their first date they saw The Grapes of Wrath (1939) together. Wray was involved with Clifford Odets at the time but once that ended and WWII began the two found each other again and married on August 23rd, 1942.

Their youngest daughter Victoria Riskin has worked as a psychiatrist and a human rights activist. She wrote and produced movies for television and following in her father's footsteps she joined the Writer's Guild of America West and later served as president. In her book, she writes about her parents in glowing terms but isn't afraid to take a step back to criticize actions she didn't agree with.
Books written by family members have a natural bias and should be taken with a grain of salt. Riskin backs up her claims with examples and facts. The author's familial connection with her subjects is also a bonus for the reader because it gives us access to information that might have been available otherwise including family stories, personal letters and archival photos.

I enjoyed reading Riskin's wartime love letters to Wray and the author's stories of growing up in the Wray-Riskin household. Plenty of behind-the-scenes stories add richness to the text. The book is a memoir but also a "life and times" type of book and the author provides lots of context of the different eras (silent, Pre-Code, Great Depression, WWII, blacklist, etc.) and of key figures who orbited Wray and Riskin's world including Frank Capra, Harry Cohn, Jo and Flo Swerling, Merian Cooper, Dolores del Rio, etc. There are insights into Wray's complicated relationship with King Kong and the author's own reaction to seeing the film for the first time which I found very illuminating. The alternating chapters switch from Wray to Riskin and back but follow their lives in chronological order.

Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir is an engrossing and informative book written by a more than capable storyteller. Readers will find much to enjoy within the pages of this memoir. It does require some level of interest in Hollywood history to full appreciate the book but chances are if you're visiting my blog you already fall into that category. Watch my book review video for some additional thoughts on the book and how it's structured.





Thank you to Pantheon Books for sending me an advanced reader's copy of the book for review.



This is my second review for the Summer Reading Challenge.



Saturday, July 6, 2019

Madame X (1966)


"The moments of love are the only ones that matter." - Madame X 

Directed by David Lowell Rich, Madame X (1966) is one in a long line of frothy soap operas that delivers a good old-fashioned sob story. This film pulls out all the stops and leaves nothing behind in an effort to put its viewers' emotions through the wringer. It stars Lana Turner as Holly, later known as Madame X. She starts out as a happy woman, still beaming with that newlywed glow, but over the years her life slowly spirals out of control and she loses everything; her family, her identity and her will to live. Holly is married to Clay Anderson (John Forsythe), an upstart politician with big aspirations for his career. They live at the Anderson family mansion in Fairfield County, Connecticut with Estelle (Constance Bennett, in her final role), the glamorous matriarch who secretly hates her new daughter-in-law. Holly and Clay have a son, Clay Jr., and as Clay's work takes him abroad, Holly finds herself alone and neglected. She seeks solace in the arms of playboy Phil Benton (Ricardo Montalban). When tragedy strikes, Estelle finally finds a way to get rid of Holly from the Anderson family's life for good. Holly is given a new identity and a new life and any semblance of happiness becomes a thing of the past.




To tell you any more about Holly's story and the other characters who come into her life would be to spoil some major plot points. The fascination with Madame X/Holly's story is how many twists and turns it takes. Many men come into her life refusing to take no for an answer including her husband Clay (John Forsythe), her lover Phil (Ricardo Montalban), her Swiss rescuer Christian (John Van Dreelen), her blackmailer Dan (Burgess Meredith) and finally her grown son Clay Jr. (Keir Dullea). She's the pawn in a very cruel game of life and shows just how ugly it can be.

Madame X is one of many adaptations of French writer Alexandre Bisson's 1908 play La Femme X. Film adaptations began in 1916 and over the years it's been remade or has loosely inspired stories. There is a Madame X (1920) with Pauline Frederick, Madame X (1929) with Ruth Chatterton, Madame X (1937) with Gladys George and a 1981 TV adaptation starring Tuesday Weld. By the mid 1960s, the story had long been a property of MGM. When producer Ross Hunter procured the rights to adapt Bisson's play once again to film, he brought the property with him to Universal. He wanted it brought up to date for 1966 and screenwriter Jean Holloway was assigned to work on the script. Hunter had his eye on Douglas Sirk to direct but that plan fell through and David Lowell Rich, who went on to become known for his disaster films, was assigned to the project.

This was a nice plum role for its star Lana Turner. Over the course of the story she undergoes several transformations starting out as a glamorous blonde dressed in Jean Louis gowns and draped in jewels by David Webb and furs provided by Ben Kahn. As we follow Holly's story her look changes to reflect her changes in identity, her downward spiral and the passing of years. Turner effectively plays the character who eventually becomes known as Madame X because she will not say her own name to protect her loved ones. This character suffers one injustice after another and essentially carries the burden of the world on her shoulders. It can be too much even for a melodrama.

Madame X is worth watching for the fine cast of performers but the story is tiresome. There is no respite from all the suffering Holly has to go through and that made me feel exhausted by the end of that 1 hour and 40 minute journey.

The opening sequence and some of the early scenes were shot at the Anderson Estate in Holmby Hills, California. The Gothic Tudor style estate was built in 1927. 5 years after Madame X was filmed it was purchased by Hugh Hefner upon his girlfriend Barbi Benton's encouragement. It was later transformed into the Playboy Mansion. In season 5, episode 1 of the reality show Girls Next Door, Hugh Hefner shows the film to his girlfriends Holly, Bridget and Kendra and explains how the driveway was shot repeatedly to make it seem like it was longer than it was. In the film, we see the opening gate, the driveway, the mansion and a couple other areas of the estate. The interiors were shot at Universal.






Madame X (1966) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray is a must especially if you want to take in the film in all of its Technicolor glory. It includes brand new audio commentary by film historians Lee Gambin and Emma Westwood, English subtitles, the film's theatrical trailer as well as various other Kino Lorber trailers.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Madame X (1966) for review.

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