Saturday, January 31, 2009

I Heart Ernest Borgnine

If reading his biography wasn't enough (read my review of it here), watching the great Ernest Borgnine on TCM's Private Screenings made me half-fall in love with the man. Borgnine is a cheerful, optomistic, hardworking actor who pursued his craft for pure love of it. He has just such a great attitude about the life he's led. His enthusiasm just rubbed off on me.

I promise Ernest Borgnine that I will watch more of his films, for sure. He has garnered so much of my respect that I at least owe him that. And I want to thank Ernest Borgnine for making Marty (1955), which is very high on my list of all-time favorites. I really identified with the Marty character and he played the role so well, I often find myself confusing Ernie with Marty. While I don't make such a huge fuss about the Oscars, I am really glad that he won Best Actor Oscar for this movie. Marty was a little film that almost didn't get made and Borgnine was a man who almost didn't go into show business (if it wasn't for his mother). And Borgnine is one of the few character actors to get the Best Actor Oscar!

So do any Ernest Borgnine enthusiasts have any recommendations for this budding fan? I would love to beef up my Netflix queue with some goodies. I've only seen Marty and From Here to Eternity (1953) thus far and already have Poseidon Adventure (1972) and The Catered Affair (1956) on my list. And if you saw the Private Screenings episode on TCM, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I don't want to set the world on fire, I just want to keep my nuts warm. - Ernie


Friday, January 30, 2009

Breaking the Code Boxed Set

If you haven't already, please check out my Breaking the Code Boxed Set project I did for Graduate school back '07. I mapped out the whole process from conception to creation. I picked out the movies, designed and created the slipcase for the boxed set, a booklet, naughty promotional postcards and web banner advertisement. I even wrote all the articles for the booklet. A lot of time, effort and love went into the project and although it was a while back, it still holds a very special place in my heart and it hurts me to see it collect dust back in the recesses of my archives. So please check it out!

If you haven't already noticed, the boxed set is not really for sale! It's just a school project. It's not real!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Good Heavens: Heaven Can Wait (1943)

It's funny how over time elements of a movie fade from memory. So much so that most of the particulars are forgotten. When the movie is seen again years later, the film feels brand new and fresh rather than familiar. It's as though those elements were pulled out of the memory vault and not only dusted off put thoroughly cleaned and shined until sparkly.

Watching Ernst Lubitsch' Heaven Can Wait (1943) recently, after a few years hiatus from my last viewing, felt like I had watched the film for the first time. Out of all the 5 heaven movies I'm reviewing (see original list here), this is the only one that actually involves the concept of heaven (and hell) as a place one goes after death. Henry Van Cleeve (Don Ameche) is at the gates of hell, where he expects to be, and his life is being reviewed by Satan, who is reluctant to let him in. What proceeds is a visual journey through the life and times of bad boy Cleeve, from infancy to death. The most moving part of his story is his relationship with his wife Martha (Gene Tierney). He steals her away from his cousin and they elope on his 26th birthday. They continue on to have a passionate and tumultuous marriage that is based on their intense love for one another.

I have to say, this was probably the worst film for me to watch at this stage of my life, as opposed to when I first saw it a few years back. Mortality has been ever-present on my mind lately and the thought of what happens when I die looms around me like a pesky mosquito that won't leave me be. Basically, I'm not in the right place right now to enjoy this film without being depressed by it. Maybe a few years from now, I can watch this film again with a different outlook. I'll put back the elements of this film in my memory vault and leave them there for now.

While most people will look forward to seeing Gene Tierney and Don Ameche in this film, I most enjoyed most of the other actors in the cast. They delighted me immensely when their presence graced the screen for a few or for numerous scenes. Those include Louis Calhern as the doting and befuddled father of Henry, Charles Coburn as the mischevious grandfather of Henry, Dickie Moore as the teenage Henry, Marjorie Main as Martha's stubborn mother and Eugene Pallette as Martha's equally stubborn father. Such a great ensemble of superb actors!

I really hope the title sequence panels for this movie were sewn by hand. Because that would be so cool!

Monday, January 26, 2009

New Books for Classic Film Fans

I found a slew of new (and newish) books out on the market that will be of interest to classic film fans. Not all of them are specifically about classic films but I find many of them tie-in well with related interests. Enjoy!

*To be fair, I'm including a link to as well as to IndieBound can direct you to one of your local independent bookstores. Buy local if you can. I'm also including a link to the publisher's page about the book as most bookstore sites don't have much information on these quite yet.
for fans of the great director

Vincente Minnelli
~Hollywood's Dark Dreamer~
by Emanuel Levy
St. Martin's
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

for department store fans. The store was central to the movie Miracle on 34th Street (1947).

Macy's~The Store. The Star. The Story~
by Robert M. Grippo
SquareOne Publishers
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

for B movie fans (aren't we all fans?)

The B List
~The National Society of Film Critics on the
Low-Budget Beauties, Genre-Bending Mavericks,
and Cult Classics We Love~
by David Sterritt and John C Anderson
Da Capo Press (hi Lissa!!!)
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

for fans of the 1920's and flaming youth

Bright Young People
~The Lost Generation of London's Jazz Age~
by DJ Taylor
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

for fans of comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton

Make 'Em Laugh
~ The Funny Business of America ~
by Michael Kantor and Laurence Maslon
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

fans of the Philo Vance mysteries of the late '20s/early '30s may appreciate this

Death by Water
~A Phryne Fisher Mystery~
by Kerry Greenwood
Poisoned Pen Press
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

fans of sharp and witty dialogue in classic films who aspire to charm through conversation

The Art of Conversation
~A Guided Tour of a Neglected Pleasure~
by Catherie Blyth
Gotham (Penguin)
Amazon - IndieBound - Publisher

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hot Toddy ~ Don Taylor

Name: Don Taylor

Stats: b. 1920- d. 1998. 29 films as actor, 11 films as director. Directed TV in the '80s.

Rating based on level of excellence: 3 out of 5 Humunahs!

Hotness Factors: Tall, gentlemanly stature, great hair and sheepish smile. He's the boy next door who looks innocent enough but will steal your hot daughter away when your back is turned.

Chicks He Digged: Married two actresses. First wife was TV actress Philis Avery and second wife was scream queen Hazel Court, who passed away last year.

For Optimal Hotness Watch:

Father of the Bride (1950) ~ He's the lucky kid who gets to marry virginal Elizabeth Taylor (at least on screen).

The Naked City (1948) ~ He plays a detective who scours the city of New York looking for the man who murdered glamour (see my post about the movie here).

Stalag 17 (1953) ~ He's the WWII Lieutenant who managed to blow up a Nazi train with a hand-made bomb. He's the hero of all the men at the POW camp. (see pictures below)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

20 Actors Movie Meme

It was inevitable after the 20 Actresses Movie Meme circulated among the blog world that an Actor one would follow suit. And I was ready! The men were much easier to select from than the women. While it's terribly easy for me to dislike an actress (she looked at me funny), I have high respect for many actors. This list was easy to order as well, since I have formed very strong attachments to certain actors and I could guage what number to put them at based on the strength of my feelings. I also use the giggle-mometer. Whenever I see any of these fine gentlemen onscreen, I let out a giggle. The higher-pitched and more annoying the giggle, the more I like him. I guess you don't want to be around me when I see my King Robert Mitchum on screen do you?

Robert Mitchum

Bobby Darin

Rock Hudson

(Kevin - This image is dedicated to you!)

Clark Gable

Kirk Douglas

Jimmy Stewart

Cary Grant

Richard Barthelmess

Lewis Stone

Buster Keaton
Laurel & Hardy

(Thank you Frank for this wonderful image!)

The Marx Bros.

William Powell
(image from Google-LIFE Archive)

Robert Montgomery

Sidney Poitier

George Sanders

Louis Calhern

Charles Laughton

Sterling Hayden

~Honorable Mention: 5 more to round it out to top 25~

Jack Lemmon

Dennis Morgan

Spencer Tracy

Chester Morris

Ramon Novarro

Now it's my turn to tag some folks, seeing as I tagged myself for this one. And the unlucky SOBs are....

Ibetolis @ Film for the Soul

Ginger @ Asleep in New York

Jonas @ All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!

Casey @ Noir Girl

Joanne @ Zippin' Along

Monday, January 19, 2009

Good News 1930 & 1947

Here is my submission for the L.A.M.B. (Large Association of Movie Blogs) Blog-a-thon entitled "Do Remakes Give You the Shakes?" Read the rules here. I decided to focus mine on Good News (1930) and it's remake Good News (1947).

Remakes are a good thing only if they are well done. Unfortunately, what we get these days are sad excuses for movies. They are so bad that their mere existence seems like an insult to the glory of the original. While folks these days will tell you that the remake phenomenon is a new thing, classic film fans will tell you it is absolutely not. Many classic films were remade, sometimes within a couple of years of the release of the original. Remakes were an opportunity to update a great story and make it more relevant to contemporary audiences. It was also a great way to use more advanced technology and improved movie-making skills to represent the story in a flashier way. What we end up with are great originals and great remakes. Plus plus!

Good News was a popular Broadway musical about the fictional Tait College and some of its students. You've got a love triangle, a big exam, a football championship and fantastic musical numbers. It's the ultimate collegiate musical.

Good News (1930) was a black-and-white early talkie musical with a 3-4 minute Technicolor finale. Unfortunately, today that last reel is nowhere to be found (please check your attics). Shot at the end of the Roaring Twenties, it best represents the period in style, dress, movement and language. The BEST part of the movie by far is Penny Singleton (then known as Dorothy McNulty). Her little girl voice, flailing limbs and impressive gymnastics make her stand out in a good way her two musical numbers "Good News" and "Varsity Drag". I became a big fan of Singelton's instantly after watching it. Ann Dvorak fans will be tickled pink to see her as one of the student dancers in Singleton's numbers.

Good News (1947) was a Technicolor musical starring June Allyson, Peter Lawford and Mel Torme (the Velvet Fog). While it does not have Penny Singleton, it does have the multi-talented Joan McCracken who single-handedly steals the movie from all its other stars. This remake improves on several things. It takes advantage of being all Technicolor with lots of bright vibrant outfits and set designs. The choreography and dancing are much more sophisticated and polished. There are more songs. So many that a few had to be cut out, including "Easier Way" which happens to be my favorite. The plot is more clearly defined and they improved upon the story by introducing some new characters. In this one, you could easily learn how to do the Varsity Drag and dance it with your friends. Or alone, in your apartment, in the early morning hours, when you are getting ready for work. Like I do sometimes.

While both films are excellent in their own way, the 1947 version was indeed an improvement for that audience. It was an opportunity to take a great movie (musical) and revive it for modern times. This is what remakes should do and can still do if only people would concern themselves with what they could make rather than what they could get.

Special thank you to Jonas from All Singing! All Talking! All Dancing! for sending me a copy of Good News (1930).

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Out of the Past (1947) by the Numbers

Repeat viewings of Out of the Past (1947) have been part of my movie watching repertoire for years. It all started when I was an undergrad in college and decided it would be fun to watch movies for homework! So I took a film class. The Quiet Man (1952) almost made me turn my back on classic films forever when Out of the Past saved me. When I watched it, I was both captivated and confused. I swooned in the same way I do when in the presence of a highly charistmatic man. I was hypnotized. Repeat viewings have increased by love and adoration for the film. I've seen it in for homework and for fun. I've seen it alone and with other people. I've seen it at home and recently got an opportunity to watch it on the big screen for the first time at the Brattle theater with several Out of the Past virgins. That seminal film encouraged me to pursue my interest in classic films, to nurture a love for the past and to start this little blog, my little haven on this vast web that is the internet.

What I discovered about Out of the Past when I last viewed it on the big screen, was how many wonderful small details enrich the film. I thought it would be fun to do a project of listing some of these details by the numbers. It was quite an intense process and it was difficult to be so thorough, but I'm pleased with the results. Enjoy!
  • 10 alcoholic beverages not paid for
  • 2 manly chin dimples
  • 36 cigarettes
  • 9 matches lit
  • 11 lighters lit
  • 12 outfits worn by Jane Greer

  • 6 dead bodies
  • 2 slaps and several punches
  • 5 instances of women being man-handled
  • 10 beautiful metaphors
  • 4 shots with the Golden Gate bridge in the background
  • 6 scenes with Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum together (alone)
  • 2 fishing rods
  • 1 shot glass thrown into the fire
  • 11 kisses
  • 4 trenchcoats
  • 6 times in which the word "cute" is used
  • 131 lbs. - the weight of Eunice Leonard and the suitcases of Kathy Moffat
  • 1 mean river

I'm sure I'm off by a couple of cigarettes, a slap and maybe a trenchcoat, but there you have it!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

~Vaya Con Dios~ Ricardo Montalban (1920-2009)

Thank you Ricardo Montalban for representing Latinos in an industry which often overlooks us.

~Descanse en pas. Vaya con Dios. Gracias por las imagenes y las memorias.~

Monday, January 12, 2009

Ginger's Review ~ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Go check out Ginger's review of the Fritz Lang noir Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) (starring Dana Andrews of course) over at Steve-O's blog Noir of the Week. Yes I know, I'm a blogger, recommending you read another blogger's post on another blogger's blog. But hey this is my blog, I can do what I want.

Ginger's review is straightforward and ultimately reaches out and smacks you in the face. She doesn't like the film and she's not afraid to tell you that. However, after reading the review you may still want to watch the film anyways just because of all the fun stuff she points out. Cheesy come-ons, burlesque clubs and strippers circa 1956? Sign me up!

Here is the linky love:

Ginger's Blog ~ Asleep in New York

Steve-O's Blog ~ Noir of the Week

Ginger's Review ~ Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Good Heavens: All This, and Heaven Too (1940)

All This, and Heaven Too (1940) is a Warner Bros. period epic starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. It was directed by Anatole Litvak, whom Bette Davis was both rumored to have clashed with professionally and had a romantic affair with. And according to Robert Osborne, studio execs felt that in this stage of Bette Davis' career, she had enough star power to carry a movie as the sole major star. This film is a departure fromt that with that as Charles Boyer, at the height of his fame, sharing top billing with the great Bette Davis.

The story is based on the Rachel Field novel. It's a fictionalized account of the true story of Henriette Deluzy Deportes (Davis), an English governess who finds work in the home of the French Duc de Praslin (Boyer). Deportes falls in love with the children she cares for as well as their father, provoking the ire of the Praslin's insanely jealous and demented wife, the Duchess de Praslin (Barbara O'Neil). Fans of Virginia Weidler will be happy to see her in this film playing one of the Praslin children.

The film was expensive and lavish with lots of period costumes and grand sets. All that money couldn't ensure a hit, and this film went on to have lukewarm reviews and did poorly at the box office. I can't say I'm surprised as I did not enjoy this film that much. For one, I have a tendency to shy away from classic period films. Studios back in the day took period dramatics too seriously. What we end up with is a lot of grandiose films that have the potential to overwhelm and bore instead of awe. For me personally, it was far too long (140 minutes) and every scene was dripping with seriousness. There needed to be some lighter elements, such as happy scenes with the children, to let the pace of the movie move forward more smoothly rather than dragging on which it did. I also wished they had tempered the characters a bit. More subtlety and less dramatics. Barbara O'Neil's performance, although nominated for an Oscar, felt over-the-top in the worst way possible. I found myself laughing at some of her scenes, which was definitely not what the filmmakers intended as a suitable audience response.

Writing about this film was quite painful. I delayed it as long as I could. I do not like to write about films I don't enjoy because I try to find merit in everything I view. But I can't be pleased with everything can I?!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Hot Toddy ~ Dennis Morgan

Stats: b. 1908- d. 1994. 54 movies from 1936 to 1957. Worked for MGM, Paramount and Warner Bros.

Rating: 4 out of 5 Humunahs!

Hotness Factors: A smile that could undo buttons, great hair, natural charm and charisma and a superb voice.

Chicks He Digged: Married to his high school sweetheart Lillian Vedder from 1933 until his death.

For Optimal Hotness Watch:

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) - He plays a soldier who gets a chance to celebrate Christmas with a Martha Stewart-like journalist played by Barbara Stanwyck. Warning: sight of Morgan in a uniform may induce swooning.

Kitty Foyle (1940) - It's been a while since I've seen this, but I believe Morgan plays a loveable rich cad who Ginger Rogers' Kitty Foyle is head over heels for.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

New Year's with the Marx Bros.

As I've said before, watching the Marx Bros. on New Year's has been an annual tradition that I thoroughly enjoy. Last year I invited my good friend Kevin to watch one of them with me on the big screen at the Brattle Theatre. Unfortunately, he got stuck in a snowstorm on his way back from Vermont and couldn't make it. No worries, because we made up for it with a 4:30pm viewing of Monkey Business (1931) on New Year's 2009! Kevin hadn't seen a Marx Bros. movie before and Monkey Business was new to me, so we were both in for a treat. And in the way only the Marx Bros. could do, hilarity ensued. We laughed as Groucho delivered his rapid-fire one-liners, as Harpo chased women and honked, as Chico misinterpreted and schemed and as Zeppo romanced. The audience seemed to enjoy Groucho and Harpo's antics and didn't necessarily appreciate Chico's famous misinterpretations. Maybe because they take a few seconds for the brain to process where as Groucho's jokes are instantly funny. However, it was very good to see so many people in the audience, many of whom bought all-day passes for the Marx Bros. marathon and had settled in for an afternoon of popcorn and laughs. It was really great to share the Marx Bros. with Kevin and I recommended he watch The Night at the Opera (1935) for even more laughs. And two hard-boiled eggs.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Quel Interprétation: The Fortune Cookie (1966)

I've decided to expand the concept of "Quel Interprétation" into general interpretations inspired by classic films and not just limit it to dress-up. My latest (and tasty) installment is inspired by Billy Wilder's comedy The Fortune Cookie (1966) . In this film, Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is a cameraman who gets knocked over by footballer player Boom Boom Johnson (Ron Rich) during a play and has to be taken to the hospital. Harry's brother-in-law Willie (Walter Matthau) is a scheming lawyer who sees this accident as an opportunity to sue the big guns at the TV studio for major dough. Willie uses Sandy, Harry's no-good and money hungry ex, to lure Harry into the scheme of pretending the injuries are worse than the are. All the while Boom Boom is feeling terrible guilt about the incident and is doing everything possible to make it up to Harry.

In one particular scene, Boom Boom cooks Harry an authentic Hungarian meal which consists of Paprika Chicken with egg noodles, red cabbage and apricot dumplings. We don't get to see the food, but all of us, including the two detectives spying across the street, are left with mouths watering.

It's unusual for me to find a meal served in an old movie appetizing. So when my tastebuds started to tingle, I knew I just had to make this meal! I did some research, got some recipes, and then made it for New Year's Eve dinner. I made some adjustments to the recipes and instead of apricot dumplings, which were too complicated, I made apricot cobbler. I took plenty of pictures too. Enjoy!

Braised Red Cabbage

1/2 Head of Red Cabbage cut into chunks
Olive Oil
Salt & Pepper to Taste

1 teaspoon of cider vingegar
1/4-1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth

(Although the glamour shot of the red cabbage shows an onion and a head of garlic, neither is necessary for this recipe.) Head some olive oil in a wide pot. Add red cabbage, salt and pepper and cook until the cabbage's tough structure begins to give a little. Add the splash of cider vinegar and the broth. You can also add a couple tablespoons of sugar if desired. Cover pot with lid and let simmer 20-30 minutes. Strain of excess liquid (which is now bright red) and serve.

Paprika Chicken

1 chopped onion
olive oil
Paprika and Salt for seasoning
1 14.oz can of whole tomatoes, drained and seeded
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth
1-1/2 teaspoon of flour mixed with 1 tablespoon of water
2 tablespoons of sour cream

Season chicken breast with salt and paprika.

Heat wide skillet (that has a lid) with olive oil. Add chopped onions, salt and paprika to taste. Cook onions until they get tender, about 5 minutes. Push onions to the side of the skillet.

Add seasoned chicken breasts to hot oil. Sear on both sides. Mix back with onions. Add canned tomatoes and break them down a bit with a wooden spatula. Add broth and simmer for 10 minutes covered. Then simmer uncovered for 5-10 more minutes until sauce has reduced a bit.

In the meantime, cook 2-3 cups of egg noodles in boiling salted waters for about 8 minutes. Drain and set aside. Don't let them sit too long or they'll dry out.

Remove chicken breasts from pan and set aside. Add flour mixture and sour cream to sauce and mix. Turn off the heat and stir until well mixed. Add back the chicken breasts. Serve chicken and sauce over egg noodles. Garnish with some parsley.

Vegetarians could easily substitute the chicken for vegetables or leave it out altogether.

Apricot Cobbler

6 apricots sliced
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of sugar
3/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup of cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes
1 egg slightly beaten
Splash of vanilla

Note that this makes a very small cobbler. Double or triple measurements depending on size of baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees Fahrenheit. Spray baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add sliced apricots and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix until apricots are fully coated and glistening.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add in slightly beaten egg and splash of vanilla and mix until incorporated. Then with your hands gently knead in cold cubes of butter until mixture is crumbly. Don't try to incorporate all the butter. Little blobs are good. They melt in the oven and make the topping crispy and yummy.

Cover apricots fully with crumbly mixture. Add baking dish to oven on a middle-rack and cook for 30-35 minutes (more if it's a bigger dish) until golden brown on top.

Serve hot or at room temperature by itself or with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream or some whipped cream.

The Fortune Cookie (1966) is available on DVD and TCM will be airing it on January 14th (at an ungodly hour) and February 28th.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Naked City (1948)

The plot of The Naked City (1948) is pretty straight-forward noir fare. A young model is killed in New York City and detectives are on the case to find out who committed the crime. As far as plot go, it's pretty unremarkable. However, the film itself was ground-breaking. It's the first movie ever to be filmed on location in New York city. Scenes were shot in the streets, in real apartments, in real buildings and with real people. The "extras" were real bystanders walking the streets. The movie was a sort of documentary/film hybrid. The story is fictional but the locations and all their elements are very real.

The film is narrated by Mark Hellinger, the producer. In the very beginning he introduces the movie, himself, the director Jules Dassin, etc. all by name. How many movies acknowledge within the context of the narration it's existence as a film and those responsible for its creation? What movie ever acknowledges itself as a movie? Occassionally, the acknowledgement comes as a joke buried deep within the center of the plot, however, The Naked City introduces itself in all seriousness as a movie. Reality is juxtaposed with fiction to create a vehicle unseen by moviegoers at that time.

This is the city as it is. Hot summer pavements, the children at play, the buildings in their naked stone, the people, without makeup.

These words are read by Hellinger at the end of the film's introduction and they are important. The film is stripped down of any of the glamour Hollywood was known for. It is literally a film without makeup. None of the actors in the film are particularly glamorous or showy. None are big name stars. They look like average folk working their way through a naked and gritty version of New York City. In fact, the only glamour in the film is killed off in the very beginning. The young model is murdered in her apartment and she is seen only in shadow and darkness. Her jewelry and other baubles are stolen and we never see them. Even the model's friend, who works in the same industry, is seen in a less glamorous light than one would expect. She is more victim than celebrated beauty. In this film, fanciness was removed and the grit was exposed. What we see throughout the rest of the movie are slices of the lives of the working class and shots of the city in all its naked, bare beauty. These elements make this not only an excellent film noir, but a superb movie all-around.

Sad Note: Producer/Narrator Mark Hellinger died of a heart attack in 1947, but survived long enough to have seen a preview of the ground-breaking film.

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