Monday, July 21, 2014

God Speed James Garner

James Garner and his wife Lois Fleischman Clarke. Source: AP
James Garner 

I was very sad and somewhat shocked to hear of the death of actor James Garner. On screen, he was always charming and gave consistently good performances. And boy was he handsome! James Garner was a talent who mastered both film and TV. I’ve enjoyed watching him in films such as Boys’ Night Out (1962), The Great Escape (1963), The Thrill of It All (1963) and Grand Prix (1966). And for me, the best parts of the contemporary film The Notebook (2004) were the scenes with Garner whose role and performance were what made the film a classic tearjerker. One of the things I love about Garner is that he was a fighter, a quality that I’m sure resulted from his rough childhood. He wasn’t afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

This blog has been getting a lot of traffic lately because of this post I did about James Garner two years ago: ‘Til Death Do Us Part – James Garner and Lois Fleischman Clarke. Before I got married in 2012, I did a blog series called ‘Til Death Do Us Part which celebrated Hollywood marriages that stood the test of time. I did a post on James Garner and his wife who at the time had been married for 55 years (now 57 years upon his death). I figured that all of the traffic was coming from people searching “James Garner Death”. On the contrary, many visitors found that post searching for "Lois Fleischman Clarke." The post serves as a nice little tribute to their marriage and a small insight into Garner's life.

 God Speed James Garner

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 TCM Summer Under the Stars

August is my favorite month of the year. Not only is it still summer here, often times less hot and humid than July, but it’s also that special time when TCM airs their best programming: Summer Under the Stars. They clear their schedule to do day-long tributes to 31 different classic movie stars while TCM fans rejoice! It’s a wonderful way to find a new actor or actress to enjoy, to relish the familiar favorites of a beloved star and to delve into a star’s career. I’m hardly ever disappointed with TCM’s line-ups for Summer Under the Stars and I even will take vacation time during certain parts of August so I can be at home to watch some of the programming!

Here’s what TCM has to say about this year’s Summer Under the Stars

“Turner Classic Movies' (TCM) enormously popular Summer Under the Stars is coming back for its 12th year as the network dedicates each day in August to saluting a different film star. This year, 14 stars will receive their first Summer Under the Stars salutes, including such favorites as Paul Muni (Aug. 6), William Powell (Aug. 9), Faye Dunaway (Aug. 15) and Betty Grable (Aug. 30). They will join such returning favorites as Jane Fonda (Aug. 1), Judy Garland (Aug. 4), Barbara Stanwyck (Aug. 5), James Stewart (Aug. 7), Charles Chaplin (Aug. 14), Claudette Colbert (Aug. 18), Ernest Borgnine (Aug. 23) and Alan Ladd (Aug. 31). TCM's 2014 edition of Summer Under the Stars will include 20 TCM premieres, including the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Salute to Jane Fonda on Aug. 1 and How Chaplin Became the Tramp (2014), a new documentary in honor of the 100th anniversary of the "Little Tramp" on film, on Aug. 14. Summer Under the Stars not only includes some of the best-known films by each star, but also some stellar performances from movies that haven’t been easily accessible in recent times, have enjoyed a change in critical evaluation since their original release, or might simply benefit from closer viewing.

Additional newcomers on the Summer Under the Stars lineup include Europe’s eternal femme fatale Jeanne Moreau (Aug. 8); Hitchcock’s rugged discovery in Lifeboat (1944), John Hodiak (Aug. 17); the woman who kept Bogart busy trying to knock off various movie wives, sultry Alexis Smith (Aug. 12); the distinguished Herbert Marshall (Aug. 16); perpetual scene stealer Thelma Ritter (Aug. 20); the fast-talking, scandal-plagued Lee Tracy (Aug. 21); Oscar®-winning character actor Edmond O’Brien (Aug. 27); the brilliant, underappreciated Gladys George (Aug. 24); and actor, crooner, film noir tough guy, director, producer, movie exec Dick Powell (Aug. 25).

"There’s so much great stuff going on in August here on TCM, this is not a good time to even consider being anywhere but within the immediate vicinity of the Turner Classic Movies 'on' button," Osborne wrote in this month's issue of the TCM Now Playing guide."

This year’s line-up includes:
August 1 – Jane Fonda #FondaTCM

August 2 – David Niven #NivenTCM

August 3 – Walter Pidgeon #PidgeonTCM
August 4 – Judy Garland #GarlandTCM
August 5 – Barbara Stanwyck #StanwyckTCM
August 6 – Paul Muni #MuniTCM
August 7 – James Stewart #StewartTCM
August 8 – Jeanne Moreau #MoreauTCM

August 9 – William Powell #WPowellTCM

August 10 – Carole Lombard #LombardTCM
August 11 – Marlon Brando #BrandoTCM
August 12 – Alexis Smith #SmithTCM
August 13 – Cary Grant #GrantTCM
August 14 – Charlie Chaplin #ChaplinTCM
August 15 – Faye Dunaway #DunawayTCM 
August 16 – Herbert Marshall #MarshallTCM
August 17 – John Hodiak #HodiakTCM
August 18 – Claudette Colbert #ColbertTCM
August 19 – Paul Newman #NewmanTCM
August 20 – Thelma Ritter #RitterTCM
August 21 – Lee Tracy #TracyTCM
August 22 – Audrey Hepburn #HepburnTCM
August 23 – Ernest Borgnine #BorgnineTCM
August 24 – Gladys George #GeorgeTCM
August 25 – Dick Powell #DPowellTCM
August 26 – Sophia Loren #LorenTCM
August 27 – Edmond O’Brien #ObrienTCM
August 28 – Arlene Dahl #DahlTCM
August 29 – Joseph Cotten #CottenTCM
August 30 – Betty Grable #GrableTCM
August 31 – Alan Ladd #LaddTCM

I’m particularly interested in watching the days dedicated to Jane Fonda, David Niven, Walter Pidgeon, William Powell, Alexis Smith, Herbert Marshall, Thelma Ritter, Ernest Borgnine and Edmond O’Brien. My only frustration with Summer Under the Stars is not being able to take the whole month off and not having a DVR! What’s really good about this year is the Watch TCM app. I haven’t used it as much as I’d like but I think it’ll come in handy in August when I miss a few key films during Summer Under the Stars.

You can find the full schedule as a PDF download here. Make sure to take a look at the dedicated site for Summer Under the Stars I'm hoping they'll update that page soon because there isn't much on it right now.

Here are some films from the schedule that I personally recommend:

Period of Adjustment (1962) with Jane Fonda – A very funny and very silly film. Stick with it and you’ll be rewarded with plenty of laughs.
Bachelor Mother (1939) with David Niven – It’s my favorite film of all-time. No other film has filled me with more joy than this one and my only hope for other people who see it is that it makes them smile.
How Green Was My Valley (1941) with Walter Pidgeon – I had a wonderful experience watching this at the last TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s an epic family saga that is a must-see, if anything to find out why it got the Oscar for Best Picture the same year Citizen Kane came out.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) with Judy Garland – A tender-hearted and fun family musical.
Jewel Robbery (1932) with William Powell – It’s a treasured favorite of Pre-Code enthusiasts like myself.
Double Wedding (1937) with William Powell – It is such a funny film and I consider it the best of the Powell-Loy pairings. Lots of Art Deco and lots of hilarious antics.
Three Days of the Condor (1975) with Faye Dunaway – Set aside your no-1970s films rule and give this one a shot. Terrific performances by Dunaway, Robert Redford and Max von Sydow.
The Secret Garden (1949) with Herbert Marshall – Excellent adaptation of the classic children’s novel. The technicolor sequences are dazzling.
Harper (1966) with Paul Newman – A fun film to watch if you like your detectives rogue and damaged.
Marty (1955) with Ernest Borgnine – If you don’t fall in love with Borgnine after watching this film there is something wrong with you!
He Ran All the Way (1951) with Gladys George – Clear your schedule for this one. It’s a fine film, John Garfield’s last, great suspense and cinematography and not available on DVD.
D.O.A. (1950) with Edmond O’Brien – Fantastic and suspenseful noir. It’s what got me hooked on O’Brien who is now one of my favorite actors!
I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) with Joseph Cotten – Charming and melancholy. Wonderful performances by Cotten and Ginger Rogers.

Here are just some of the films I’d love to watch during Summer Under the Stars:

Stella Dallas (1937) with Barbara Stanwyck
The Good Earth (1937) with Paul Muni
The 400 Blows (1959) with Jeanne Moreau
The Wild One (1953) with Marlon Brando
Hot Saturday (1932) with Cary Grant
Riptide (1934) with Herbert Marshall – I haven’t seen this one in a long time!
Cold Hand Luke (1967) with Paul Newman
Perfect Strangers (1950) with Thelma Ritter
The Strange Love of Molly Louvain (1932) with Lee Tracy
The Roarting Twenties (1939) with Gladys George
Quo Vadis (951) with Sophia Loren
The Bigamist (1953) with Edmond O’Brien
The Bride Goes Wild (1948) with Arlene Dahl
Gaslight (1944) with Joseph Cotten
Down Argentine Way (1940) with Betty Grable
The Blue Dahlia (1946) with Alan Ladd

Which stars are you looking forward to watching during Summer Under the Stars?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ -30- (1959)

Sam Gatlin (Jack Webb) is the managing editor of an L.A. newspaper’s morning edition. We follow him and his staff through their nine hour evening shift as they put together the morning’s paper. -30- (1959) is more of a slice of life tale than a plot-driven movie and there are various story threads throughout. The major ones include Sam Gatlin’s marriage to Peggy (Whitney Blake), the breaking news story of a young girl trapped in an L.A. sewer, a death in the family and the in-house bet to predict the gender of an Italian movie star’s unborn child.

This film was written by journalist-turned-screenwriter William Bowers  and was directed and produced by Jack Webb who also stars in it. Webb is best known from his role in Dragnet which saw a few iterations including two popular TV series and a feature film in 1954. This film has various TV personalities including David Nelson (Ozzie and Harriet), Howard McNear (The Andy Griffith Show) and Richard Deacon (The Dick Van Dyke Show) and William Conrad (various).

Classic film fans will recognize William Conrad as one of the two killers from the film noir The Killers (1946). In -30-, he plays a foul-tempered grump Jim Bathgate who taunts the office copy boys including the pouty faced Earl Collins (David Nelson). It’s difficult to take him serious with a name like Bathgate but his character is effective in putting the fear of God into the young staff underneath him. Richard Bakalyan plays Carl Thompson, who throughout the film gives a tour of the office to a married couple who have financial investments in the newspaper. It’s through his character that we meet some of the minor characters as well as learn about the various tasks and jobs required to keep a newspaper running. Thompson is both lovable and annoying and provides some comic relief in an otherwise dramatic film.


-30- was a box office flop. It’s slow and sentimental which doesn’t make for an exciting movie. I enjoyed it for what it was and didn’t have any expectations. It casts a relatively sympathetic light on newspaper journalists portraying them as hard-working and hard-nosed individuals who are very driven and often butt heads with each other but are at heart sympathetic human beings. It’s not like Ace in the Hole which will make you weep for humanity.

There are some wonderful roles in this film. I particularly enjoyed watch Webb, Conrad and Bakalyan as well as Louise Lorimer who plays Lady Wilson, a newspaper veteran and Gatlin’s right-hand “man”. Child actor Ronnie Dapo has a small role as Billy, a boy whose possible adoption by the Gatlin family proves to be a point of contention in the film. I immediately recognized the actor but couldn’t quite place him. It took a quick look up on IMDb to realize that Dapo also charmed audiences with his sweet face and innocences in one of my all-time favorite films Ocean’s 11 (1960).

The story of the young girl trapped in an L.A. sewer was inspired by the true story of a girl who fell down a well 10 years earlier. It got a lot of TV coverage in a time when TV was still very new. Those of you who were around in the 1980s might remember the story of Baby Jessica who also fell down a well. Her rescue was a media sensation. I remember as a young girl being glued to my TV screen hoping and praying that baby Jessica would survive the ordeal and much to our relief she did.

The term “-30-“ is used in journalism to mark the end of a story. It’s also used in this film to mark its ending and a brief explanation of the term is given. The closing credits for -30- are very entertaining to watch. Depending on the era, a film will usually have a brief closing credit scroll or nothing at all. In -30- we get a choppy kind of boring scroll in the opening credits with a drastically different closing credit sequence. The credit is put in front of an actor or actress or an object that represents them. The variety is what makes it entertaining. We get a full on shot of David Nelson for his credit, an empty chair for Jack Webb’s, a framed portrait for Whitney Blake and the back side of William Conrad for his. It’s not perfect but I had a lot of fun watching it.

Contemporary audiences will be incredibly frustrated trying to search for “-30- (1959)” online. Google will respond with the answer to a math equation! Here are some links for further reading that will save you from that headache.


Special note: The rental copy I received from ClassicFlix didn’t have the standard Warner Archive 10 minute chapters and also didn’t keep time. If I stopped the film at any point, I’d have to start over and try to find where I left off. I've encountered WAC DVDs like this before. I spoke with Matt from Warner Archive and he told me that these were faulty discs and all WAC discs should have the 10 minute chapters. This serves as a heads up in case you ever get a disc like this!

-30- (1959) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. 

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I rented -30- (1959) from ClassicFlix.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Interview with Richard Barrios, Author of Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter

I've had the pleasure of interviewing Richard Barrios, author of Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter. Check out my review of the book here.

Raquel Stecher: Some people love musicals and other people hate them. It always seems to be one extreme or the other. Why do film lovers have such a love-hate relationship with this film genre?

Richard Barrios: It’s been that way since the dawn of the movie musical, back in the late 1920s, and it’s still that way. There are lots of reasons, of course, and one large one has to do with the connection of songs with script—for some people, those two things need to be kept completely separate. It could be said, too, that even the most cynical of recent musicals can seem too innocent and out-of-place in a time as jaded and seen-it-all as our current one seems to be. For some, too, rock music has become so dominant that the music traditionally thought of as “show tunes” isn’t felt to be appealing; for a few, unfortunately, any kind of musical will still seem “too gay,” whatever that is. And then there’s also the notion about people bursting into song, which is so crucial that you wisely gave it its own question.

Stecher: You make a great point about how some viewers are turned off by the idea of actors “bursting into song” in musicals. Why does this turn off some people?

Barrios: I write, in the book, about the notion of “suspension of disbelief.” And no matter how unrealistic some films can get, with their explosions and fights and whatnot, there will always be a particular resistance to the idea of a character singing to another character. It’s felt, by some, as being just too unreal for film—a stage convention that doesn’t work when it’s on a big screen in a big closeup. That’s why, since the dawn of musical cinema (The Broadway Melody) to now (Jersey Boys), so many musicals have been backstage stories, where the characters are seen performing onstage, instead of “in ‘real’ life.”


Stecher: I love this sentence from your book “Falseness and honesty: what is a musical if not a phony way to tell the truth?” This is a really interesting dichotomy. What is about musicals that make them both honest and phony?

Barrios: In many ways, musicals are inherently artificial, aren’t they? People in the real world don’t just get up and sing or dance, either alone or with each other. (I tried singing to someone once, and it didn’t really turn out too well!) But the great thing about that artifice is that under it can be some kind of true and genuine feeling—expressions of love or loneliness or joy, or even things more complex. Maybe a little girl in Kansas wouldn’t have really walked through a barnyard singing about a land over the rainbow, but for sure the thoughts and dreams of that song would have occurred to her—likely in a less beautiful and eloquent way.

Stecher: While you talk about a lot of the big name musicals such as The Wizard of Oz (1939) and The Sound of Music (1965), you also discuss at length obscurities such as Whoopee! (1930), Sunnyside Up (1929), Madam Satan (1930) and The King of Jazz (1930). Should the reader of your book have a broad understanding of musicals both popular and rare?

Barrios: You know, it’s the nature of history to recall the milestones and, eventually, leave the “also-rans” behind. It’s true in movies and in politics and sports and everywhere else. But the history wasn’t made simply by the ones we recall; sometimes it’s simply a trick of fate that some films end up getting neglected. (Some, of course, deserve the neglect—but the real stinkers deserve recall, just as we won’t forget, say, the Titanic.) I write about the revered and beloved classics and also the ones that may have been adored when they were new and subsequently forgotten. Both types were important to the musical’s evolution…and if reading about, say, Madam Satan in Dangerous Rhythm, a reader is led to seek it out, then I’ve really done my job.

Madam Satan (1930)

Stecher: Early musicals were very experimental and with time good ideas were “recycled and regurgitated.” Why do you think that is?

Barrios: When a product or an idea scores big, there are usually a host of imitations. We see that now with things as diverse as reality TV and vampire fiction and, well, you name it. There are only going to ever be a finite number of “new ideas.” When musicals broke big in 1929, a few of them truly were innovative, both with their technique and subject matter, while far more looked back to a few models and imitated them. The first big backstage musical, The Broadway Melody, spawned dozens of imitations, and so did the Al Jolson films The Jazz Singer and The Singing Fool. Audiences soon became saturated with all the copies, and that plus the onset of the Great Depression put an end to musicals for several years.

The March of Time - Source
Stecher: Could you tell us a bit about The March of Time, that epic musical that never was to be?

Barrios: The most arresting aspect of The March of Time was that it wasn’t really “never to be”—it did actually happen! Here is the film industry’s most powerful studio, MGM, embarking on a huge plotless musical revue, and doing so without much in the way of planning for an overall structure. At the end of it, they had a massive pile of footage, songs and sketches that didn’t really seem to mean anything—so they tinkered some more, and kept tinkering, to give it some kind of point. Meanwhile, musicals were taking a nosedive. Finally, in the fall of 1930, MGM did something no other studio would have had the nerve to have done: it announced that The March of Time was shelved. Imagine that today—a hugely expensive film going completely unreleased. (The cost of March was about $800,000—an extremely high budget for 1930, and roughly equivalent to, say, $100 million today.) A tiny bit of the cost was recouped by putting some of the numbers into a comedy released in Germany, then farming out several sequences, including some in early Technicolor, in short subjects. (A couple of these featured The Three Stooges.) Then, in 1933, they put a few minutes of it into a backstage story called Broadway to Hollywood and were finally able to write off the whole mess on the company’s books. I don’t think ever, in all of film history, has such a major production been so completely aborted after it was shot. (I detail the whole saga in my book A Song in the Dark.) Fortunately, some of the numbers survive—and, seeing them, you can understand why the studio took the drastic step it did. That’s the take-away lesson of The March of Time: musicals need to be planned well, they don’t just happen spontaneously.

Stecher: What do you think is the biggest misconception about musicals?

Barrios: To refer to the subtitle of my book, that they don’t matter. That they’re just empty or mindless confections that should divert and then be forgotten in a few minutes. And of course that misconception is held not only by people who don’t like musicals, but also by some of the people who make them. Alas, too many musicals do seem empty and mindless—and really, they’re capable of so much more. The truly great ones have shown us this, over and over.

Stecher: In your book you discuss certain figures of musicals past including Bing Crosby and Judy Garland. Who do you find the most fascinating and whose work reveals a lot about the genre?

Barrios: So often, musicals are about the people, aren’t they? The ones who really delivered, like Astaire, the ones who moved away from them, like Ginger Rogers or Doris Day or Barbra Streisand, the ones like Gene Kelly who achieved miracles but sometimes made poor decisions, or the ones like Crosby who did a lot, but perhaps wasn’t totally committed to it. Then there are people like Garland and Betty Hutton, where personal or health issues sometimes kept them from achieving everything they could have. Though in Garland’s case especially, what she was able to achieve is pretty miraculous. Then there are the Jimmy Cagneys, who one wishes had made more musicals, and the Liza Minnellis and Bette Midlers, whose main stardom came at a time when few musicals were happening. These careers, and others like them, are one major way to chart a great deal of the history of the genre. Recently I did a presentation when I showed how some aspects of musicals keep on happening. In this case, it was showing film clips of a female star who stunned audiences with her musical talent, since up to then her fame in movies hadn’t been built on it. From the late 20s and early 30s, I showed Gloria Swanson, and from the early 2000s, Catherine Zeta Jones. And maybe that illustrates what I find the most fascinating with these people—that they have careers that enable history to keep repeating itself.

Love in the Rough (1930)

Stecher: What’s in store for musicals in the future? And when will there be another golf musical like Love in the Rough (1930)?

Barrios: You know, Love in the Rough was actually sort of a knock-off, like I discussed earlier, of another golf musical: Follow Thru. I wouldn’t hold my breath for too many, or any, more golf musicals—golf is traditionally one of those subjects that does not tend to make successful movies. (Remember The Legend of Bagger Vance?)

As for what lies ahead for musicals, I think it’s safe to say that there won’t be too many of them—nor will they be extinct. 2014, for example, is seeing the release of at least five major musicals: Jersey Boys, Begin Again, Get On Up (the James Brown bio), the Annie remake, and Into the Woods. And I think that the range of this quintet is probably indicative of what we’ll continue to have for a while: musical biopics, comedies with music (at least that’s what Begin Again looks like in its trailer), and Broadway adaptations, either remakes or first-timers. Obviously, if any of these are successful, that will mean more of that specific kind. Maybe it’s not the best of times just now, but at least it seems that there’s some interesting work awaiting us. I hope so—and, in any case, there’s a wonderful and available musical heritage that we can always enjoy when the new ones aren’t there.

Stecher: What are you working on next?

Barrios: Book-wise, I’m still dealing with Dangerous Rhythm, very happily doing presentations and lectures and interviews. If anyone asks me to do further things pertaining to musicals, I’ll be more than happy. Otherwise, I recently moved from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, so my life is quite occupied with homeowner-type duties. As far as future writing projects, I do have one current notion that I intend to expand: I grew up in South Louisiana, literally just out of the swamps, and never particularly felt that I fit in there all that well. As a kid and adolescent, I was able to find a great deal of my identity from going to the local movie theater, and also from all the film I watched on TV. So I’m thinking about the movies I saw growing up, and how they influenced me and were a reflection of who I thought I was—and often seemed more real to me than things happening in my life “off the screen.” And yes, musicals figured very prominently in that equation; I guess I’m living proof of my thesis that musicals do matter! Thanks for asking me such great questions—it’s been a treat.

Stecher: Thank you Richard Barrios for taking the time to do this interview!

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