Thursday, September 30, 2010

God Speed Tony Curtis (1925-2010)

Oh Tony, you shall be missed. Thank you so much for all of your performances ranging from serious to all-out kooky (more kooky than serious!). I will never forget you donning a skimpy toga in Spartacus (1960), dressing in drag in Some Like it Hot (1959), toting around a big salami in Captain Newman, M.D. (1963), jumping off a pier with Natalie Wood in Sex and the Single Girl (1964) and distracting Audrey Hepburn in Paris, When it Sizzles (1964).

And you know why else I admire you Tony? Because you took on that role of John "Joker" Jackson in The Defiant Ones (1958). You had to be shackled to Sidney Poitier the entire picture. You took on that role when others like Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas turned it down because it was either unrealistic to be shackled to a black man in terms of the story (former) or because of personal racial prejudice (latter). Not only that, you insisted that Sidney Poitier take top billing. Kudos to you Mr. Tony Curtis! Kudos to you and God Speed.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sobbing uncontrollably during Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)

A couple of months ago - I add a bunch of Criterion Collection DVDs to my Netflix queue. Make Way for Tomorrow (1937)  is one of them. It gets buried at the bottom of a very long list. I forget about it.

Somewhat recently - TCM shows Make Way for Tomorrow. My mom watches it all the way through holding her bladder because she doesn't want to miss a single moment. When it ends, she's left confused but doesn't think about it since she is already running to the bathroom for relief.

The next day  - My mom calls me. This is a bilingual recreation of our conversation.

Mom - Raquelle yo vie una pelicula muy buena en el canal 213. Era tan bueno que yo aguantaba la pee-pee para no dejar de verlo. Pero no entendie el final. Yo quiero que tu me ayudas. / Raquelle I saw a very good movie on channel 213 (my mom's name for TCM). It was so good that I held my pee so I wouldn't stop watching it. But I couldn't understand the ending. I want you to help me.

Me - Come se llamaba?/What was it called? (This is a loaded question, usually my mom can't answer this and it's followed by a "What was it about?" "Who was in it?" which causes my mother to get very flustered indeed).

Mom - Yo lo escribi! Make. Way. For. Tomorrow./ I wrote it down. " "

Me - Esta bien. Voy a verlo para ayudarte entender el final./ Ok. I'll watch it to help you understand the ending.

I went to Netflix to see if the film was on DVD and was pleasantly surprised that it was and I had already put it on my queue. I moved it to the top of the list.

Now this isn't the first time my mother has asked me for help figuring out the ending of a film. If the ending has any kind of twist, she gets confused. When I explain the twist to her, then everything makes sense. She had some difficulty with the ending of The Woman in the Window (1944). In that case, she didn't want to believe the ending so she told herself that she misunderstood it. We watched that one together so we followed up the film with a good discussion about the plot. There have been a few movies in which I Googled the film to find out the twist and reported back to her, instead of watching them. In this case, since the film was already of interest to me, I decided to see it for myself.

Sunday evening  - Carlos and I just had dinner and we are deciding what movie to watch. I bring up the conversation with my mom and that she needed help understanding the movie. So in pops the DVD into the player and the film starts.

About 30 minutes into the film I start to cry.

The crying gets worse.

Carlos grabs me some tissues.

The crying turns into sobbing.

We have to fast forward through some parts of the film because I just can't take it.

Carlos begs me to stop the movie since it's clearly bothering me but I refuse because I want to help my mother understand the ending.

At the point in the film where the main couple is recreating their honeymoon, I already have a box of tissues, I am hugging a big blanket and I am sobbing uncontrollably.

The film mercifully ends.

Immediately after the film:

I call my mom and I ask her why in the name of all that is good would she make me watch this movie. The words come out of my mouth in between sobs. I explained the ending to her (again she just second-guessed herself, she understood it all along). She profusely apologized for making me watch the film. It's not her fault. She didn't know how it would affect me. Carlos isn't too happy that I suffered so much during the film. He put the DVD into the Netflix sleeve and sealed it up before I even had a chance to watch the DVD extras.

Plot (with some bias and some spoilers): Barkley (Victor Moore) and Lucy Cooper (Beulah Bondi) have been married for 50 years. They have five ungrateful children who are now grown and have lives of their own (not that their lives are any good anyway those idiots). The Coopers are about to be kicked out of their home and have nowhere to go. The ungrateful children split them up and take care of them bregrudgingly. One particularly evil daughter hates taking care of her father, that bitch, and wants to send him to her sister in California. This means the couple, still head-over-heels in love with each other, may be separated permanently because who knows if they will live to see each other again. Those heartless, selfish good-for-nothings separate their parents because at their old age they are an incovenience to them. Those same parents who gave birth to them, raised them, fed them, clothed them and sent them out into the world. And what do the parents get? Jack SHIT. Those ungrateful children should be lined up and shot.

Yes it's a sad film but what reason did I have to sob uncontrollably like I did? I'm talking heaving sobs complete with lots and lots of mucus.

First of all, thoughts of death follow me around. I've been known to have panic attacks about it. Thinking about impending death is not a good thing for me. Second of all, I just moved in with my beau Carlos. Thinking about what it would be like to be separated at an old age and to have death parts us makes me very very sad. Third of all, my 30th birthday is just right around the corner. I'm growing up. I'm getting older. And it scares me very much.

I recommend this film to all of those younger classic film fans who think they are so special because they are young. I think they need to be knocked off the pedestal they put themselves on.

And even though I clearly had a difficult time watching this, I think it's also a film everyone should see. It makes you appreciate life and the special people in it. And because of that, Make Way for Tomorrow is a classic.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ella Fitzgerald, a picture book and Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942)

The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 1 (Buck Privates / Hold That Ghost / In the Navy / Keep 'Em Flying / One Night in the Tropics / Pardon My Sarong / Ride 'Em Cowboy / Who Done It?)It was very common back in the day for established musicians to grace the silver screen with a cameo in a motion picture. There are a few notable appearances among Jazz greats in classic films. Examples include Louis Armstrong in High Society (1956) and Pennies from Heaven (1936), Duke Ellington in Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington in Cabin in the Sky (1943), Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne in The Man with the Golden Arm (1959), Chet Baker in an Italian-movie-you'll-never-see-because-it-was-destroyed, etc. Musicians appeared in the popular Abbott and Costello films including The Andrews Sisters, Dick Powell and someone I didn't quite expect to find: Ella Fitzgerald.

Let me start by expressing my love and adoration for Ella Fitzgerald and her music. There isn't a song of hers that I don't enjoy and my iPod/iPhone is filled with Ella's music including some of her duets with Louis Armstrong. There is a sense of joy in her music that always seems to be cut in turn by sadness. It's as though she's elated to be belting out these tunes but they come from a place that is melancholy at best. Her songs are heartfelt and they sound and feel that way. And then some of her songs are just downright sexy! My favorite of her songs include: April in Paris (from 1956), I Let a Song Go out of My Heart, How About Me?, All the Things You Are, Just One of Those Things, From This Moment On, The Man I Love, I'm Beginning to See the Light, Love You Madly, and I'm particularly enamored with her Dream A Little Dream of Me duet with Louis.

I enjoy the opening lyrics of How About Me?. And the way Ella sings them just about breaks my heart:

It's over, all over - And soon somebody else - will make a fuss about you - but how about me?

For those of you who are not already aware, my day job is at a children's book publisher. I've been in the book business since I was 17 (which is ::mumble:: years now) and as a classic film fan I'm really happy to see that the book industry and my hobby find many ways to connect with each other. However, it doesn't happen often at my work.

Back in December, I near fell out of my chair when I found out that we were publishing a picture book about Ella Fitzgerald. It's called Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald written by Roxane Orgill and illustrated by Sean Qualls. There are so many wonderful things about this book. Orgill, who writes picture books about historical figures (including one on Fred and Adele Astaire!), is a fabulous writer and Qualls' illustrations are rich and lush (I can't stand faded pastels that are so common in kids books these days).

I was trying to figure out something unique to call out the title on the company's Facebook page. So I took a moment to read the inside flap of the dust jacket to learn more about the author and illustrator. The company tries to include quotes from the author or illustrator about what inspired them to write or illustrate the book. This is the quote from Orgill:

"Although I'd known Ella Fitzgerald's singing for ages, I didn't 'get' her until I saw a film clip of her singing 'A Tisket, A Tasket' standing in the aisle of a bus. She was both guileless child and determined adult, a combination I had never encountered. The image plus the sound was like opening a door."

Film clip? Film? What film? A classic film? Wait what? A clip from a classic film inspired this picture book?!

I immediately did Google searches and found the following clip from the Abbott and Costello film Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942):

Lyrics to A-Tisket, A-Tasket

A-tisket, A-tasket
A brown and yellow basket
I send a letter to my mommy
on the way I dropped it

I dropped it, I dropped it
yes on the way I dropped it
a little girlie picked it up
and put it in her pocket

She was truckin' on down the avenue
with not a single thing to do
she was a peck peck pecking all around
when she spied it on the ground

She took it, she took it
my little yellow basket
and if she doesn't bring it back
I think that I will die

Oh dear, I wonder where my basket can be?

Oh gee, I wish that little girl I could see?

Oh why was I so careless with that basket of mine?
That itty bitty basket was the joy of mine.

A tisket, A tasket
I lost my yellow basket
won't someone help me find my basket
and make me happy again

A-Tisket, A-Tasket was a very important song for Ella. She wrote the song, based on an old nursery rhyme, while she was traveling with the Chick Webb band. It was the first song that became a major radio hit for the band and put Ella Fitzgerald on the map in 1938. Four years later, she would sing the song again in her very first appearance in a motion picture.

I posted the clip of Ella singing "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" on Facebook almost immediately after finding it on YouTube. What better way to pitch the book than by showing the film clip that inspired it's creation? Then I e-mailed my good friend and co-worker Frank who just happens to be an Abbott and Costello enthusiast. I had never seen Ride 'Em Cowboy, nor any other Abbott and Costello film for that matter, and I didn't even know Ella Fitzgerald was ever even in a movie! Frank lent me the The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 1 which contained the film so I could see it for myself.

Ella Fitzgerald doesn't just have the "A Tisket, A Tisket" scene, she has a minor role in the film as Ruby, a member of a traveling rodeo. That's rodeo pronounced "row-day-oh" not "row-dee-oh". She has one other musical number singing "Rockin' and Reelin'" with The Merry Macs. You can watch that clip here.

If you are a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, make sure you check out both Ride 'Em Cowboy (1942) as well as Orgill & Qualls picture book!

P.S. There is a giveaway on Goodreads for a copy of the book. I highly encourage you to sign up for the contest if you are a Goodreads member! The contest ends on Monday so hurry up.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat: Ella Fitzgerald (Hardcover) by Roxane Orgill

Skit-Scat Raggedy Cat

by Roxane Orgill

Giveaway ends September 13, 2010.
See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Noir 100 at the Brattle ~ The Sleeping City (1950)

The last film in the Brattle's Noir 100 series was The Sleeping City (1950). My good friend Kevin and I got a chance to see this last night. I had come to the film only with the knowledge that it was a noir starring Richard Conte. I had no understanding of the plot. And by the time I got to Harvard Square to meet with Kevin for dinner, I had completely forgotten the name of the film. This may seem strange to some people but one of my favorite ways to watch new films is to come to them completely ignorant. Everything about the film-watching experience is a surprise. I come to it with no previous expectations or preconceived notions. My reception of the story starts off as a complete blank allowing the directors, producers, cinematographers, writers, costume designers, actors, actresses and everyone else involved in the creation of the movie an opportunity to take their paintbrushes and paint the story for me on a nice clean canvas.

The Sleeping City (1950) is directed by George Sherman and stars Richard Conte. Conte starts off the film with a documentary-style introduction telling the audience about the famous Bellevue Hospital in New York. This intro serves as a reality check to the audience (it's just a movie folks, it didn't really happen!). However, in one way the intro is misleading. You think the film will be a synecdoche in that this smaller story will in some way represent the bigger picture; the significance of a hospital and the lives of its doctors and nurses. But it doesn't. What it does do is focus on the story at hand. This film was evenly paced with the story sucking you in at the very beginning and spitting you out only at the very end. The plot goes along at a decent clip. 

So what the heck is this movie about? Glad you asked...

An intern from Bellevue has just been shot at close range and murdered in broad daylight. No one knows who did it. The local police recruit a detective, Frank Rowan (Richard Conte), who has some medical experience to pose as an intern and work at the hospital in order to derive clues about the murder from the other doctors and nurses. He gets in deep, romancing pretty nurse Ann (Coleen Gray), befriending disturbed intern Steve (Alex Nicol) and gambling with hospital worker Pop (Richard Taber). But when another person is murdered, can he find the killer before he becomes the next target?

If you get a chance to see this film, please do. It's not available on DVD so lucky schmucks like myself, Kevin and the 20+ other people at the theater last night got a real treat.

Special thank you to Kevin for coming with me to this film. Watching movies with you is always a pleasure.

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