Thursday, August 30, 2007

Out of the Past, Into the Now: Metropolis (1927)

I thought I'd start yet another new mini-series on this blog in which I point out references in our present culture (pop culture, literature, etc.) to classic films. I see them all over the place and I think it might be a fun new venture to list them here. Here is my first entry.

Metropolis (1927) anyone?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Robert Mitchum's Sad Eyes: Two for the Seesaw (1962)

Certain die-hard Robert Mitchum fans, such as myself, hold a dear secret about one tiny particular aspect of his lengthy career. No, I'm not talking about his brief foray into the music industry with his Calypso album (::shudders::). I'm referring to the few select romantic films he made. Mitchum is more well-known as the tough, mean guy or the tough, nice guy in many a film noir, Western, war drama or thriller. However, he had a much softer side - one that twinkled through his sad eyes and escaped through his parted lips.

My first encounter with a Mitchum-romance, as I like to call it, was Holiday Affair (1949) (co-starring Janet Leigh). At first, I was surprised that Robert Mitchum was even in this film. Mitchum! He's the big, surly, manly-man in all those great film noirs. What is he doing in a nice, heart-warming Christmas movie? Then when I actually watched the film, I was even more shocked to see that it was also a romance! (And yes he was part of the romance!) Mitchum was not man-handling some woman telling her, "Baby, I don't care", he was opening his heart and showing he did care, while maintaining his domineering masculinity of course. It was all lovey-dovey and I just lovey-dovied this other side of Mitchum.

So, when Mitchum was saluted with his own Summer Under the Stars day on TCM recently, I was incredibly happy to see that they were showcasing another lesser-known Mitchum-romance. In this case, it was Two for the Seesaw (1962) and his love interest was Shirley MacLaine. In contrast to Holiday Affair (1949) , this is a much grittier, realistic film. Robert Mitchum plays a soon-to-be-divorced lawyer who finds himself nearly penniless and heart broken in New York City. Shirley MacLaine is a young, street-wise dancer who has health issues as well as men issues. They meet as she is trying to hock off an ice box at some strange beat party and he, unlike most men today who are just plain wimps!, actively pursues her.

There are a few interesting things about this film. Robert Mitchum and Shirley MacLaine had a real life, 3-year, love affair as a result of working very closely on set. Might I add that they were both married at the time? (naughty!) The film is also a good example of Breaking the Code as it shows an openness to talk about sex in a romantic relationship - something that wouldn't have been discussed on-screen even a few years earlier. And finally, never have I seen a film that really shows the complexity in the minutiae of a romance. Oftentimes you get a taste of the dynamics but this film really dives in and stays there for long run.

Monday, August 27, 2007

John Wayne: His Private Secretary (1933)

Making love like a Romeo. Drinking like a fish. -Wallace, Sr.

If you are a John Wayne fan, please watch this film. If you are not a John Wayne fan and can claim a physical aversion to Westerns, please watch this film. If anything, watch it for its novelty as an atypical John Wayne film. Wayne plays Dick Wallace, a rich, young skirt-chaser whose father is frustrated with his son's antics and is desparate to make him a responsible young adult. When the right woman comes along, Dick Wallace quickly changes his tune, but it's up to his new love to convince his father that he's changed his ways for good.

This film is on DVD but if your some type of visual purist, you may be frustrated with the grainy and out of focus shots. Much wasn't done to restore the original print. If you love bonus materials, you may also be disappointed as they are rather strange and vaguely related to the movie. (For example, one of the extras is a clip of a psychadelic, 70's choreographed dance to protest pollution. Weird...) If you can overcome the poor visuals and the other DVD strangeness, you may find yourself enjoying watching a very young and very handsome John Wayne light up the screen.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Breaking the Code: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

All last summer, Sebastian was famished for blondes... fed up with the dark ones - Catherine

If I had to chose the one film that represented Hollywood's rebellion against the Hays Code, it would most definitely be Suddenly, Last Summer (1959). This film is as explicit as it is coy. It is in the throes of desperation - wanting to tell the viewer what it wants to say but having to hold back. The story is bursting from the seams, although it is mostly contained, some secrets find a way to ooze out the sides.

After viewing this film recently for the first time, I wondered how much of the story is representative (or at least symbolic) of the fight against the Code? Take for example, Elizabeth Taylor's character, Catherine. The previous summer she had witnessed the most utterly grotesque sequence of events that culminated in the horrific death of her manipulative cousin, Sebastian. After her return from Europe, the story is held inside her tormented mind and she is consquentially punished for the danger the truth she holds represents to others. Katharine Hepburn plays Violet, Sebastian's mother, whose incestuous relationship with her son lends to her desperate need to keep Sebastian's image alive and well - one even may say "pure". Catherine threatens to tarnish the image with the tale of Sebastian's last summer in Europe and Violet wants to literally rip the story out of her brain, by means of employing Dr. Curkowicz, played by Montgomery Clift, to perform a lobotomy.

[potential spoilers ahead]

Catherine is the owner of a story that needs to be told and encounters a long and difficult path to become the story's teller. When she is finally able to give birth to the story, the experience is painful, ensuiing in screams and sobs but in the end healing. Violet, the censor, the person still alive who is most threatened by this story is not capable of handling it after repressing it for so long.

Catherine - Story - Hollywood

Violet - Censor - Hays Code

Does anyone see the connection? I tend not to think this was in any way on purpose but it was probably a subconscious for of rebellion. It could also be the English major in me just looking for something to analyze. Who knows? What I do know is this film is unquestionably part of Hollywood's break from the code.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Breaking the Code

It is no coincidence that my favorite classic films find themselves situated before and after the Hays Code's reign of power over the film industry. (The Hays Code being the set of statutes imposed upon filmmakers to promote a particular form of morality.) Firstly, there are the pre-Codes, most notably those talkies from the early 1930s that were often playful and jovial even when they dealt with difficult subjects. Although the Hays Code was already in place during this time, it generally wasn't enforced and leaving filmmakers more carefree to explore a broad range of subjects and themes. After 1934, the Code held its grip on the industry for a substantial amounf of time. It wasn't until the late '50s, when television proved to be a dangerous competitor to cinemas when the Code began to lose its power. Films started to come out in spicier flavors to lure back those customers who had begun to hibernate in front of their televisions. Filmmakers broke more and more of the Code's statues over the next decade or so until the industry moved permanently onto a less-restrictive ratings system in 1967.

I find the films I most enjoy and relate to are ones from 1930-1934 and 1955-1960. (Even though one might consider the latter half to be early to mid 50's into the late '60s, I find that the 60's was a decade upon itself and I always view it as it's own entity.) These two timeframes represent moments of rebellion from repression. I want to take the opportunity to discuss those particular films that defied the code individually because they are so powerful and they boast the potential to shatter the people's preconceived notions of classic films.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Desperate Plea!

For those of you who are Netflix users and are currently renting Ace in the Hole (1951), I make a desparate plea for you to watch it and return it in a timely manner. It has fallen into the blackhole of the availability bracket "Very Long Wait" which often means it will be a good month before I can get my hands on it. (I remember once having to wait two months to watch Ray (2004) because the DVD came out during the time of much Oscar-hoopla!). I do so want to see it before my Fall classes start and my movie-watching time will be very limited. If worse comes to worse, I may have to ::gasp:: rent it from Blockbuster or ::louder gasp:: pull out my poor, limp wallet and buy it on DVD. So before I go to drastic measures, please return your copy!
~ From the Management ~

Thursday, August 16, 2007

MySpace is for Classic Film Lovers

Name your favorite actor or actress from classic film. Chances are they have a page. Some fan out there poured their heart, soul and knowledge of html coding into a veritable shrine in honor of their favorite star. These honorary pages are full of photographs, videos, music and biographical information, often putting bland IMDB pages to shame. When you find one, you inevitably find others because MySpace is a friendly place and chances are this fan has a list of fans who also have related shrines. They are quite fun to explore and I highly recommend checking them out.

Here are some of my favorites...

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Hidden Gem: State Fair (1962)

Our state fair, is the best state fair in our state.

I have always been fascinated by the way people watch films, especially how they chose the films they see. A person's past repertoire of films seen says a lot about who they are and what motivates them. I like to think that the body of films I've seen shows that I'm adventurous, curious, open-minded, passionate and emotionally-driven. It also demonstrates how I tend to form attachments, especially to particular persons.

State Fair (1962) is one of many remakes of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. The film is difficult to find. It is not often shown on TV and it's not available on it's own DVD. Rather, it lives in the bonus materials of it's more popular sibling, the 1945 version. You wouldn't think to look for it there, if you were searching for it. And why would you be searching for it anyways?

I found it because I was actively searching for it as one of the many Bobby Darin films I wanted to see (because I Heart Bobby Darin!). I watched it first, before seeing the 1945 version, and was pleasantly surprised. I'm not usually one for musicals but there was something light and refreshingly bouyant about this film. My favorite part was the feeling I had of having unearthed a hidden gem...

... and then came the domino-effect. Watching this film became a catalyst for watching many more. I loved the music in this film, so I watched the 1945 version to get another dose of it. Then I found that I really enjoyed Dana Andrews in that film, and maybe I should watch another one of his. Oh, and look at that. Alice Faye made her film comeback with State Fair (1962) , her last film after Fallen Angel (1945), which also stars Dana Andrews, so I saw that. Then there was Pamela Tiffin, who I found pleasantly annoying as Bobby Darin's love interest. Then I stumble upon her film Come Fly with Me (1963), a nice '60s romantic comedy, which introduced me to Dolores Hart, who was in another film Where the Boys Are (1960), which of course I had to see. Also, State Fair (1962) was my first introduction to Ann-Margret, and I just had to see another of her films, so I saw Made in Paris (1966). This made me realize, that the '60s weren't so bad and that actually I really love '60s romantic/sex comedies and wanted to watch more of those films and so on and so forth. I could go on (because it did go on from there) but I think you get the drift.

This is very representative of my viewing pattern. I watch one film, I enjoy it, I can't get enough, so I watch a lot more semi-related films. It's a wonder I find time to do anything else. I do however, highly recommend watching this film, if you haven't already. Ignore moral of the story, which is out-dated and quite boring, and enjoy it as a fun and light musical. And who knows, maybe you'll go on a fun-filled film journey afterwards like I did.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Catalyst for a Little Crazy

Has watching a particular film ever made you do something kind of strange? Maybe even a little crazy? Not Taxi Driver (1976)/attempted-assasination-on-a-president type of crazy, but something that might warrant a raised eyebrow?

I'm what you might call an "emotional viewer." Movies (and books too) intertwine themselves into my life, and to some extent I become emotionally invested in them. They affect me and I think about them long after seeing them, especially if I can relate to a theme or a particular character. So, sometimes, after watching a particularly touching story, I tend to become, let's say... over-enthustiastic.

All That Heaven Allows (1956)/Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961) - Double Feature - I watched both films for the first time within a week of each other. And for months afterwards, I could not stop craving croissants and coffee! In All That Heaven Allows, one of the most romantic scenes is when Jane Wyman's character offers Rock Hudson's character breakfast and he only takes a roll and coffee. That is the moment when their love starts to blossom. Then in Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly, who I think is the epitome of self-transformation and classic style, pulls out a croissant and sips at her coffee while admiring a window display showcasing jewels. I could not help thinking that she was just so hip and so cool and why am I not more like her?!

Pillow Talk (1959) - My pillow and I, both agree, there must be a pillow-talking boy for me. My favorite part about this movie is the title song. I find myself humming it or outright singing it as I wash the dishes, sweep the floors, make the bed etc. etc. Especially if I'm rueing the sometimes sorry state of being a single, independent professional woman.

84 Charing Cross Road (1986) and book - This story (based on a real life cross-atlantic friendship) is one of the many reasons I took a trip to England a few years back. I made a point to go to Charing Cross Road in London and find the location of the original store. I knew beforehand that the actual bookstore wouldn't be there but at the same time I wasn't expecting to find a Pizza Hut! In the end, I was happy to see a commemorative plaque in honor of this amazing story.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Update: Strangers on a Train (1951)

"I certainly admire people who do things." - Bruno

My second viewing of this film went really well. It was great to see it on the big screen in a proper theatre with good friends close by. I managed to successfuly maintain a steady breathing pattern, most noticeably through the party scene. However, there were moments in which I felt that my heart would leap out of my chest. This film is thrilling and creepy on a psychological level and it didn't lose much of its potency the second time around.

It's funny the things you forget about a film over time. My memory bank seems to have deleted (or just plain neglected) some things from my first viewing. The opening sequence with the camera following two different pairs of shoes (Bruno's flashy ones and Guy's practical ones) and the really cool shot of the murder shot through the reflection of the lense of a pair of glasses were both welcome surprises. I quite enjoyed the creepiness the infamous tennis court scene where Bruno's gaze is firmly fixed on Guy while everyone else in the stands follows the ball back and forth. And I had forgotten how thrilling the musical carousel-gone-awry scene was! I believe at one point during that scene my jaw dropped and stayed dropped for a considerable amount of time.

I am glad that now I can be thrilled, and not emotionally traumatized, by this film. I don't know if I will be able to say the same for The Night of the Hunter (1955), but we'll see.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

My Prized Posession

My well-loved copy of the Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide (ISBN-13: 978-0-4522-8620-7) is a familiar sight in my apartment. Unlike most books in my personal library, it is not shelved amongst other tomes. It is often found in a convenient spot; on the sofa, next to my computer, near the TV or on the coffee table. Convenience is key and I take supreme pleasure in thumbing through its pages and poring over the lenthy list of films referenced within. And it is, at all times, accompanied by a red felt pen.

This book is very much a part of my film-viewing experience. With my red pen in hand, I document films seen by drawing a star next to a particular selection. The back of the book boasts an index of stars and directors with their films listed below their respective names. I always make sure to underline which of their films I've seen to get a better idea of how familiar I am with their work. This all might seem quite mundane and boring. However, watching films is rarely a physical, tangible experience. It is all in the mind. Being able to connect something physical to the mental is supremely reassuring to me which is why this methodical documentation enhances the experience to me.

I highly recommend this guide for any of you out there who are classic film fans. It boasts an impressive list of films and enough of a synopsis of each film to either pique the interest (or serve as a refresher). However, this book is not without some flaws. Obscure silents or lesser-known '30s comedies are noticeably missing [much to my dismay I couldn't find Lady of the Night (1925) or There's Always a Woman (1938) ]. Also, the cut-off is 1960, so I'm at a loss to document my favorite '60s films, of which I have many. And because the book was published in 2005 and Plume has no immediate plans to update its contents, listed DVD availability is very out-of-date.

Yet this guide, even with its flaws, is my ultimate classic movie companion and one of my most prized posessions.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Strangers on a Train (1951)

The time has come for me to come to terms with this movie. My first viewing happened during a very difficult time in my life, in which I was struggling with the impending deaths of two loved ones. I was emotionally raw and exposed to the full brunt of anything even remotely unsettling. In hindsight, I should have stayed away from films such as this, but with my other experiences with pre-Psycho Hitchcock, I probably thought I was relatively safe with this film. Boy, was I wrong.

I must give kudos to the great Alfred Hitchcock for creating a film that was truly scary indeed. I remember it was a sunny afternoon, on a seemingly innocent day, when I popped the DVD of this film into the player. As engrossing as Hitchcock films often are, I was swept into the story immediately. Then, sometime into the film, came the scene that harshly struck the chord that twanged and sent disonant reverberations right through me.

It was the party scene with Robert Walker as Bruno, a man who had trapped Guy, played by Farley Granger, into a sordid deal; a murder for a murder. With a nervous Guy in the background, Bruno carried on a conversatin with two older ladies about murder and how one would successfully suffocate another person. Bruno, to my utter dismay, proceeds to demonstrate the correct technique one of the ladies' throats. He tightens his grip on her windpipe, then freezes when he sees Barbara, played by Hitchock's daughter Patricia, in the background. All the while staring at her, he is still choking the little old lady. He cannot bring himself to let go and has to be pulled off of her.

At that moment, I started to hyperventilate. I could not catch my breath. I stopped the movie immediately and ran out of the room gasping for air. I must have been so terrified during the scene that I had just stopped breathing altogether, as though Bruno was choking me! Quite traumatized by the experience, it took me a full week before I could watch the remaining length of the movie (careful, of course, to avoid the scene that, literally, took my breath away).

I am a firm believer that what you get from a film depends on what point you are in your life when you see it. Right now, I'm in a good place and feel that I could watch it again. So on Monday, I will watch Strangers on a Train (1951), properly, in an actual theatre, in the dark and I won't be scared.

I hope...

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