Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Winner of the Steve McQueen Book Giveaway!

The winner is Chad of noirWhale.com and noirWhale on Tumblr. Congrats Chad and thank you to everyone who entered my contest.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Comfort Movies on my Birthday

Today is my birthday! Yay! Having a birthday fall around Thanksgiving can be a mixed blessing. The big holiday competes with my birthday and my friends and family have other plans that revolve around Thanksgiving. While yesterday I spent quality time with my family, today I'm all by myself. But that's okay! Because I have my wonderful online friends and lots and lots of classic film to keep me company.

I don't tend to re-watch films all too often mostly because of personal guilt. I feel guilty watching my favorites when there are so many new-to-me films to explore. However, on the week of my birthday, I set aside my feelings of guilt and watched whatever I wanted! YEAH! There is something so comforting in watching a favorite old movie. It's like wrapping yourself in a soft blanket you've had for years. It feels delightful.

This week I watched these, my beloved classics:

Tony Rome (1967) - 1960s Miami seemed like a fabulous place to be (even with all the crime, extortion and junkies). Frank Sinatra is at the height of his coolness during this decade and his Tony Rome character is wonderful. I also love how sexy Jill St. John and Gena Rowlands are in this. I love watching this film for the ambience and atmosphere and for all the amazing details.

Ocean's 11 (1960) - In my mind, I've written several posts about this film but none of them have made it on to this blog. One time I watched this film 3 times in a row just wishing I could celebrate New Year's in 1960s Las Vegas with the Rat Pack. It's such a cool movie. I even watched this on my iPhone on the treadmill at the gym (and once on the stair master too!). Today I watched it for the great cast, the ambience, Ee-O 11 (one of my favorite songs) and that amazing final scene.

Bachelor Mother (1939) - In my opinion, Bachelor Mother is the best film to come out of 1939, the greatest year in movie history. It's such a cute fun movie. For years, I've dreamed of having a New Year's Eve like the one Ginger Rogers and David Niven have in the film. I ended up watching this film three times this week! 'Apply Nu Chea!

Holiday Affair (1949) - Of course, what birthday would it be without a healthy dose of my favorite big barrel-chested lug, Robert Mitchum. Holiday Affair is one of the few romances he did and this is a romance-family-holiday film to boot! He's just so incredibly charming as the Toy department clerk who gets fired because of Janet Leigh. The two fall in love in the midst of crazy circumstances. Such an adorable and heart-warming film. I had to watch it a couple of times.

A Patch of Blue (1965) - I fall in love with Sidney Poitier every single time I each this film. A Patch of Blue is a heart-wrenching/warming story of a blind Caucasian woman who falls in love with a seeing African-American man. So charming and your heart is made of stone if you don't empathize with poor Selina, the main character.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) - I watch this film each year. I'm not a fan of Barbara Stanwyck but she's absolutely charming in this holiday classic alongside the dimpled Dennis Morgan, big-bellied Sydney Greenstreet and the hilarious S.K. Sakall who practically steals the picture away from the big stars. I especially love all the food talk. For fun, check out my Christmas in Connecticut Menus

Yours, Mine and Ours (1968) - My health in the past year hasn't been the greatest. But films like Yours, Mine and Ours always put life in perspective. Even when life gives you more than you can handle, make do with what you got and give it your best shot! And count your blessings. In the case of this movie, Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda have 20 of them! Quite a handful indeed. This is such a fun movie to watch too!

If you could watch as many of your favorite films as you wanted on your birthday, what would you watch? 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Winner of Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir by Piper Laurie

Kathy from Florida!

This was Kathy's entry: "My favorite Piper Laurie movie is "Tim" (1979).  I like how she gets into the heart of an older woman.  At first you see her almost resigned to a lonely life, then she meets a young man. She befriends him, then begins to have feelings for him. This frightens her, but finally she realizes that life doesn't always go the way you assume it will, and when something good comes along, you shouldn't be afraid to embrace it."

Thank you to Kathy and everyone who entered my giveaway!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Steve McQueen: A Biography by Marc Eliot

Steve McQueen: A Biography by Marc Eliot
368 pages
October 2011
Crown Archetype (Random House)

I don't remember the names of many biographers but Marc Eliot stands out for me. I've read Eliot's biographies on Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart. Both were excellent, well-written and highly entertaining reads. The Cary Grant biography is a controversial one among classic film enthusiasts, especially ones who hold Grant in high regard, mostly because Eliot really digs deep into dark recesses of Grant's past and reveals things about Grant's life that are quite shocking. (Read my review of the book from 2006 here ) He goes easier on Jimmy Stewart but both biographies are pretty juicy. I couldn't finish the Jimmy Stewart one because he dies at the end and I really didn't want him to die.

Both Carlos and I really enjoy biographies that dish it up. He likes the dirt even more than I do. But one thing we both do is we take all of the information with a grain of salt. A few years ago I read a book about books written about Marilyn Monroe (now wrap your head around that one). The whole point of the book, to me, was that no one will ever really know the true story of Marilyn Monroe. It doesn't matter how much research you do, how many people you interview, how many letters you read, you don't know 100% of the truth. No one does. And even if you had direct access to the person you are profiling, chances are they won't even tell you the whole truth. Biographers do their best, some hold back and some share it all even when some of the information is really unappealing. My advice is to take all biographies with a grain of salt. You'll be a better reader for it. Although do stay away from biographers whose only goal is to sensationalize and not to inform (i.e. Darwin Porter).

Marc Eliot's biography on Steve McQueen was a fascinating and entertaining read that I really enjoyed. Although I've only recently started watching McQueen's films, I knew McQueen's life story from a documentary I had seen. For me, the Eliot's biography built upon the framework of the documentary. It provides the reader with so much information and even McQueen experts will learn a thing or two. Eliot's writing can be very blunt. Take the first sentence of the introduction as an example:

Terence Steven McQueen was the product of a one-night stand that stretched into a year and six months of misery between Terrence William McQueen, a handsome, philandering stunt pilot for a traveling circus, and Jullian Crawford, a teenage alcoholic prostitute.

Wow! The whole book doesn't read like this but it does give you some insight of what you are getting into. Steve McQueen went from inauspicious beginnings to become a world famous movie star. He roamed around the country, worked in the Carribean, went off to war, got odd jobs and committed random acts of petty theft. He started taking acting classes in New York, which were free to him under the G.I. Bill, because he thought it might be a fun thing to do. While taking classes, he met a young actress by the name of Neile Adams who would later become Neile McQueen, wife of Steve and mother of their two children. Marc Eliot heavily references Neile McQueen's memoir. I don't blame him because she is really the greatest living expert on Steve McQueen, having been with him throughout most of his career and was still close to him up until his death. She saw it all!

Eliot really explores McQueen's Method acting styles and how McQueen used real life situations to influence his on screen roles. It's not often you read a biography of an actor in which their acting style is given significant consideration. Why was McQueen so charismatic as an actor? McQueen's unpredictability, something that was discovered in his early years as a budding actor and would continue to be a hallmark of his style throughout his career, was one of the things that made him so captivating as an actor. That along with his blue eyes. McQueen was in constant competition with Paul Newman who was roughly his age, started out in films around the same time and also had gorgeous blue eyes. Also, McQueen was a man's man in the way that our society stereotypes masculinity. He rode bikes, shot guns (was trained by Sammy Davis Jr. of all people), raced cars, flew planes and generally liked to be outside doing things.

McQueen saw success in the popular TV show western Wanted: Dead or Alive, which was produced by veteran actor Dick Powell. My friend Paulie of Art, Movies, Wood and Whatnot would appreciate the fact that his favorite actress Clara Bow was a huge fan of the show and even wired Steve McQueen to express her gratitude for such wonderful entertainment. McQueen made some bad business moves early in his career. Desperate for money, he agreed to act in the film The Blob. He thought it would do nothing so he asked for a chunk of money up front. Little did he know the film would be a cult classic and he would have become an overnight millionaire if he had taken a percentage of the profits instead. McQueen became a world-wide film sensation, with international markets chomping at the bit for his films. His earlier films include The Magnificent Seven (1960), Hell is for Heroes (1962), The Great Escape (1963), Love with the Proper Stranger (1963), Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965), The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Nevada Smith (1966) and The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) among others. The climax of his career was Bullitt (1968) which really exemplified McQueen at his best. He was cool, quiet and mysterious, an authority figure with an edge, had beautiful arm candy in the form of a young Jacqueline Bisset and got to film an amazing car chase on location (McQueen loved racing cars). It's considered the quintessential McQueen. He was always frustrated with every film he made before Bullitt and after Bullitt. He thought his parts weren't big enough or that someone else was stealing his thunder. And after Bullitt, he tried to recapture the magic of the film by doing other racing/car chase movies like Les Mans (1971) and The Getaway (1972) . He went on to do films like The Towering Inferno (1974), Papillon (1973), Tom Horn (1980) etc. As time went on, McQueen became increasingly frustrated and jaded. He divorced his first wife, married actress Ali McGraw and then they divorced and he married model Barbara Minty. Eliot devotes time to each of McQueen's films while also focusing on McQueen as man and husband. I would skim the sections of films I haven't seen so I wouldn't read any spoilers. Once I had seen the film I'd go back to the same section and read it more carefully.

I have a strange real-life connection to Steve McQueen. The last film McQueen made before he died in November of 1980 (also the month and year I was born) was The Hunter (1980). The script was an adaptation of a book written by none other than my screenwriting professor in Grad school. Also, a few weeks ago while I was at my cubicle at work, I turned around and saw a couple of people talking to someone. That someone happened to be LeVar Burton who also appears in The Hunter. WOW! Now all I need to do is to meet Eli Wallach in real life (::fingers crossed::) and I'll be super connected to that movie.

Marc Eliot's biography on Steve McQueen is a very entertaining and informative guide for McQueen enthusiasts and newbies alike. I hope you'll take the opportunity to read it.

Fun Facts:

  • Steve McQueen was almost executed by Rebels in Cuba when he ventured outside of safe territory
  • He started with theatre and TV apperances before appearing in films
  • McQueen collected antique cars and bikes, most of which were auctioned off after his death to pay taxes he owed.
  • Rumor is Sinatra tried to get McQueen to become part of the Rat Pack but gossip columnist Hedda Hopper discouraged him.
  • McQueen was mostly deaf in his right ear.
  • He contracted mesothelioma from cleaning pipes filled with asbestos during the war. The cancer would kill him in 1980.
  • McQueen started Solar Productions out of frustrations of not getting good roles.
  • Karl Malden convinced a frustrated McQueen to stick with Cincinnati Kid after he threatened to leave.
  • McQueen and James Garner couldn't stand each other. McQueen was always in competition with Garner and Garner didn't think McQueen was all that great as an actor.
  • McQueen got a black belt in martial arts.
  • I did find an error in the book. Eliot claims the below image is an early headshot of McQueen. It's really a cropping of a publicity shot for the film Baby the Rain Must Fall (1965).

Disclaimer: A big thank to you to Random House - Crown Archetype for sending me this book to review. I really love Marc Eliot's biographies so it was a pleasure to read a new one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Cincinnati Kid (1965)

"You're just not ready for me yet" - Cincinnati Kid

Most classic film enthusiasts consume films at a high rate. I am not one of those people. My slow rate of consumption leaves for a lot of new discovery. Having only seen two of Steve McQueen's movies prior to receiving a copy of the new McQueen biography, I thought it was a good as time as any to explore McQueen's body of work. I asked a few people which McQueen film they recommended I watch and pretty much received a list of every film the actor ever made. Carlos is a big Steve McQueen fan and was very excited about my new found interest in the actor. He showed me Bullitt (1968) and The Getaway (1972). But of all the McQueen films I hadn't seen, the first one on my list was The Cincinnati Kid (1965). Why? For various reasons. Stories set in the deep South are always so deliciously intense and I love anything sports related as long as it's connected with the 1920s/1930s. This film takes place in 1930s New Orleans and concerns itself with poker gambling (a "sport" of the elite and the lower class alike). It's got a magnificent cast including the beautiful 1960s starlets Tuesday Weld and Ann-Margret, the 1930s superstars Joan Blondell and Edward G. Robinson and the blue-eyed Karl Malden who always makes my heart melt a little whenever I watch him on screen. Steve McQueen just seems like the cherry on top of this delicious ice cream sundae of a film.

The Cincinnati Kid is not the best film I've ever seen but it's one of the coolest and most fun I've watched in a while. I was fascinated by Edward G. Robinson's tie pin and his glass of creme de menthe, Joan Blondell's fox stole complete with $100 bill in its mouth, the juxtaposition between sweet Tuesday Weld and the saucy Ann-Margret, how incredibly quiet Steve McQueen was and how well Karl Malden plays frightened characters. It's difficult for me to articulate why I wanted to watch this film and why I liked it. So I will allow these screen shots to express that for me.

Stay tuned, all of my screen caps (including several not posted here) will be available on the Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog Facebook page!

There are lots of great overhead shots like this one. 

Train and Railroad track scenes always make me nervous. Run, McQueen run!

Could use some more Tabasco.

Tuesday Weld and Steve McQueen share a sweet yet oddly sexy scene together.

Do you always have to cheat?

Turkish bath looks pretty good to me right now.

What's up with that beer glass? What did Tuesday Weld eat? Should I make a Steak and Salad dinner? These are the type of random questions I ask myself throughout a movie.

You've got problems if there is a shooting range built into your home.

Frolicking in a field.

McQueen had a great smile. He should have used it more!

Pocket Watch sighting!

Two Hollywood legends meet again. Don't tell Blondell that Robinson called her an old b****.

Edward G. Robinson complained that Steve McQueen never looked him in the eye. Technically, he's looking at him here. 

Why are they sniffing the decks?

Karl Malden looking uber cool with his tie and matching pocket square. Dealin' out the cards.


Doubt that McQueen was tough? He's biting into a lemon. No joke. And he doesn't even wince from the sourness of the lemon juice. Amazing!

Bring out Lady Fingers!

See how that Fox Stole has a $100 bill in it's mouth. I'm guessing it's a $100 because Blondell is high class.

Another great overhead shot. If anything, this film is candy for the eyes.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learning to Live Out Loud by Piper Laurie

"I had achieved my childhood dream of becoming a movie star and then left it all behind for a second career as a serious actor." - Piper Laurie

Learning to Live Out Loud: A Memoir
by Piper Laurie
November 2011
Crown Archetype (Random House)

It's a given that reading an autobiography is a much different experience than reading a biography. Any good biographer can dig up the facts on an important figure but they cannot present those facts with personal context. The autobiographer presents his or her story with a layer of nostalgia and a sense of pain that is the result of drudging up the past in a way that no biographer can. Film actress Piper Laurie wrote this autobiography in a storytelling style. This is much different than the conversational style of Ernest Borgnine's autobiography. Piper Laurie is not having a conversation with her readers, she doesn't even acknowledge them, she's just telling the story of her life and all the people who happened to be a part of it.

The title "Learning to Live Out Loud" stems from the actress' problems with being able to vocalize. It was less shyness and more just an innate instinct to be quiet and listen. It took her years just to be able to laugh out loud and speak up for herself. I think it's a wonder she became a movie star!

The book reads chronologically from the very beginning of her life as Rosetta Jacobs and continues on to her movie and acting career as Piper Laurie. At a very young age, her parents sent her off to a sanitarium with her older sister Sherrye. This experience proved very traumatic for the young Rosetta who just wanted to be loved by her parents, especially her mom. By the age of 17, and with some theatre experience under her belt, Rosetta became Piper Laurie the film star. She had a 7 year contract with Universal which got her several B movies that left her frustrated as an actress. Laurie eventually got out of her contract and started making better pictures including The Hustler (1961). After The Hustler, she didn't make films for quite a long time but continued to act in theater and on TV. There were three phases of her career, her B movie/ Universal film career as a young starlet, her work in the late 1950s and early 1960s, then her work as an older woman starting from Carrie (1976) and on to various movies and TV shows.

Piper Laurie's autobiography was an absolute pleasure to read. Her writing style takes some getting used to but once you dive in you don't want to put the book down. Laurie's narrative is very charming and while she remembers a lot of specifics there are some failings of memory that are natural for someone who has had such a long and interesting life as she had. Laurie is not scared to talk about her many lovers. Some of her stories might shock you even though she never goes into any explicit details. I think highly conservative people may not enjoy reading about her experience with Ronald Reagan or a particular choice she made in her life. However, it's by no means a salacious tell-all. Laurie just happens to be a very independently minded woman who learned to live life on her own terms.

Laurie writes a lot about her experiences shooting different films. I enjoyed reading about The Hustler (1961), Until They Sail (1957) and even Carrie (1976) although I haven't seen that film. She also talks about notable Hollywood figures including Dennis Morgan, Donald O'Connor, Walter Matthau, Rock Hudson, Mel Gibson, George C. Scott, Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Clark Gable,  Joseph Mankiewicz, Howard Hughes, Ronald Reagan, etc. Notice how all of those people I listed are men? Piper Laurie rarely talks about other actresses or women in the business. She did develop a friendship with her Until They Sail co-star Jean Simmons, Joanne Woodward, Elia Kazan's wife and a few other women but the only really important women in her life were her mom, her sister Sherrye and her daughter Anna. Laurie really thrived on her relationships with men.

What's interesting about Laurie's reminiscences of her film roles and theater productions is that she not only talks about the behind the scenes goings on but she also relates how she prepared for the roles, how she researched them (sometimes even putting herself in danger to do so) and the acting methods and techniques she learned and used. While a biography would give you cold hard facts, an autobiography like Piper Laurie's can give you so much more.

Even if you don't necessarily have an interest in Piper Laurie's acting career, I think classic film enthusiasts should read this book. The span of time between 1949 and 1961 is very telling about how the Hollywood machine would treat young starlets and it's great fun to read about the other major stars of the day. Laurie grew up enamored with film stars so she was star struck when she met many of the big legends in person. It's fun to be a classic film fan reading about another one.

Disclaimer: I contacted Crown Archetype to get this book to review.

Read my review of The Hustler (1961) as well as my Match.com inspired profile for the main character Fast Eddie Felson.

It's giveaway time! Thanks to the good folks at Crown Archetype (Random House), I'm giving away one copy of Learning to Live Out Loud by Piper Laurie. Just fill out the form! Contest ends 11/10/2011. US Only.

UPDATE: The giveaway is now over. Winner will be announced in a separate post.

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