Friday, January 27, 2017

New & Upcoming Classic Film Books (8)

There's nothing like cozying up to a fire with a hot drink and a good book. Stock up for winter with some reading material. Need some suggestions? I’ve got you covered with a brand new list of upcoming classic film books. Publication dates range from January to April 2017.

Are you new to my list? Here are the details. Links lead to Goodreads. Books include biographies, memoirs, scholary texts, coffee table books and more from a variety of publishers. All publication dates are subject to change. Clicking through the buy links for shopping helps support this site. Thank you!

by Gianni Bozzachi and Joey Tayler
The University Press of Kentucky
328 pages – December 2016

by Lawrence Napper
Wallflower Press
144 pages – January 2017

by Tim Newark
Osprey Publishing
208 pages – January 2017

by Lucy Holliday
416 page – January 2017

by Fabio Stassi
Portobello Books
240 pages – February 2017

by Stephen X. Sylvester, Mary Mallory and Donovan Brandt
Globe Pequot Press
272 pages – February 2017

by Sabina Stent
The Critical Press
150 pages - February 2017

by Noah Isenberg
W.W. Norton
336 pages – February 2017

by Marc Eliot
Dey Street Books
576 pages – March 2017

by Lucy Fischer
Columbia University Press
288 pages – March 2017

edited by Alain Silver & James Ursini
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
352 pages – March 2017

by Gabrielle Oldham, Mabel Langdon and Harry Langdon Jr.
University Press of Kentucky
366 pages – March 2017

by Delia Caproso Konzett
Rutgers University Press
264 pages – March 2017

by Sid Luft with Randy L. Schmidt
Chicago Review Press
480 pages – March 2017

by Michael Westmore and Jake Page
Lyons Press
320 pages – March 2017

by Elizabeth Winder
Flatiron Books
304 pages – March 2017

by Andrew Hansford, Karen Homer
Carlton Books
192 pages – April 2017

by Jon Lewis
University of California Press
248 pages – April 2017

by Cynthia Brideson & Sara Brideson
University Press of Kentucky
560 pages – April 2017

by Jose-Luis Bocquet and illustrated by Catel Muller
Self Made Hero
496 pages – April 2017

by Dave Thomspon
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
400 pages – April 2017

by Angela Cartwright and Tom McLaren
with a foreword by Maureen O’Hara
Insight Editions
304 pages – April 2017

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

The Strawberry Blonde (1941)

Biff Grimes would waltz with a strawberry blonde
And the band played on.
He'd glide 'cross the floor with the girl he adored
And the band played on.
But his brain was so loaded it nearly exploded;
The poor girl would shake with alarm.
He'd ne'er leave the girl with the strawberry curls
And the band played on.

Let's take a trip to New York City during the Gay Nineties with Raoul Walsh's film for Warner Bros. The Strawberry Blonde (1941). Adapted by screenwriting brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein from a James Hagan play, the movie follows the story of two couples whose romances are complicated by one beautiful strawberry blonde.

Biff Grimes (James Cagney) is a struggling dentist, and not necessarily a very good one, trying to make ends meet for him and his wife Amy (Olivia de Havilland). He gets word that his old friend turned arch nemesis Hugo Barnstead (Jack Carson) is coming to him for some dental work. We flashback to when Biff and Hugo started fighting over the neighborhood cutie Virginia (Rita Hayworth). Thrown into the mix is Amy, a nurse with a progressive mindset. She clashes with Biff whose views are more traditional. We follow the duo as they naturally pair off and when things go sour for all involved. The story wraps up with one final encounter that leaves audiences satisfied.

Rita Hayworth, Olivia de Havilland, James Cagney and Jack Carson

The Strawberry Blonde has a fantastic cast. Among the four heavyweights that star in the film are some beloved character actors and familiar faces. Alan Hale plays Old Man Grimes, Biff's dad. He's a lovable rogue who can't hold down a job, loves a good bar fight and is a total flirt with the ladies. One object of his affection is Una O'Connor who plays a snooty neighborhood woman. Then there is George Tobias who plays Nicholas, a local barbershop owner and Biff's sidekick. He's also got an eye for the strawberry blonde but winds up with a giggle monster instead. George Reeves plays the punchy college man who picks a fight with Biff. Supposedly my favorite actress Susan Peters is in the film. After close examination I couldn't spot her. I suspect she's part of George Reeves' garden party harem but I can't confirm that.

"Freethinkers have a lot of time on their hands." - Amy

Of all the characters Olivia de Havilland's Amy was my favorite. She's a forward thinking suffragist who scoffs at societal gender norms. She eventually settles into a traditional life with Biff. This was another thankless role Warner Bros. threw at de Havilland in her post-Gone with the Wind days. She eventually broke free from the studio's contract after quite a battle. While this role isn't really worthy of her talent I think it's a fun role and in my opinion she outshines Hayworth's prim and proper strawberry blonde. I wasn't crazy about Hayworth at all in this film. Her character is beautiful but in the end rather pathetic. Her role is an example of how Hollywood sometimes tried to downplay her ethnicity.

This film has all the romance of the era. It's a nostalgia piece that pays tribute to the finer things of the Belle Epoque. There are barber shops, complete with barber shop quartets, ferry rides, beer gardens, saloons, gas lamps and horse-drawn carriages. The women wear Edwardian fashions and the men don boater hats, shirt garters, starched collars and big twirly mustaches. Orry-Kelly designed the costumes and they are of of course of top notch quality. Studios during the golden age of Hollywood would often take liberties with hair styles and clothing in period pieces but that's not the case here. Attention to detail lends to the historical accuracy of the style. It's a shame that the film is in black-and-white. Technicolor would have served it better.

This isn't a musical but music plays an important role here. Turn-of-the-century standards become the film's theme songs. Most notably The Band Played On plays a crucial part in the film. It gives the story its purpose, kicks off the initial drama and is both a boon and a curse for the main character Biff. The ending credits serve as a sing-a-long with lyrics and music encouraging the audience to sing The Band Played On. I've never seen this before and I thought it was quite fun.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941) benefits from a great cast, fun music, beautiful costumes, funny scenes, playful dialogue and an overall sweet story with a good dose of drama. There are some dull spots but overall it's a fun film. It tries to kick off with a bang but doesn't really get into a rhythm until the two female leads make their appearances. Regardless you should give this one a try. It's a fun movie for nostalgia buffs.

The Strawberry Blonde (1941) is available from the Warner Archive Collection on DVD-MOD.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you Warner Archive for sending me The Strawberry Blonde (1941) to review!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016)

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher were two peas in a pod. They were also as different as a mother and daughter could possibly be. In December 2016, the world suffered a tragic loss when Fisher died at the age of 60 and her mother Reynolds died one day later at the age of 84. Their fates were inextricably linked not only as family but also as entertainment legends.

I can name a handful of amazing documentaries that benefit from being in the right place at the right time. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (2016) is one of those documentaries. Filmed from April 2014 to January 2015, directors Alexis Bloom and Fisher Stevens started this project as a look into the twilight years of star Debbie Reynolds. However, Fisher was such a powerful force both in and out of Reynolds' orbit that it naturally progressed to include her. With the help of producer, brother and son Todd Fisher, the filmmakers dive head first into the lives of these two Hollywood heavyweights.

"Age is horrible for all of us. But she falls from a greater height." - Carrie Fisher

Bright Lights explores the close bond between the two stars and the fraught years that led up to that point. The filmmakers are not afraid to explore the scandals that plagued the family for years. Reynolds' acrimonious divorce from Eddie Fisher, who left her for actress Elizabeth Taylor, is examined at length. On a visit to Todd Fisher's Nevada home, we view his collection of film posters. On one wall is a series of posters that depict the progress of Reynolds' relationship with his father Eddie Fisher.  It starts with Singin' in the Rain (1952) and Tammy and the Bachelor (1957), two films emblematic of Reynolds' stardom. Then it continues to The Tender Trap (1955) where it's said that Frank Sinatra warned Reynolds to never marry a singer. Then there is Bundle of Joy (1956), a remake of Bachelor Mother (1939) that stars both Reynolds and Fisher. It continues with Butterfield 8 (1960) and Cleopatra (1963), two films that hammered the nails into the coffin of the Reynolds-Fisher marriage.

The documentary spends a lot of time in the present day with the pair but is also chock full of clips from home movies showing both Fisher and Reynolds in their prime and at their worst. I was particularly taken with the clip of a 15 year old Fisher being cajoled onto the stage of Reynolds' nightclub act. She sings and her voice is incredible; a gift she inherited from her father. It really blew me away. Fisher reveals that she rebelled against her mother's efforts to direct into a career as a nightclub singer. A tearful Reynolds chokes up at the thought of what could have been.

Bright Lights has a very melancholy feel. Life has been tough for Reynolds and Fisher. The audience gets an insight into the struggles of being an aging entertainer and the complications of growing up in a showbiz family. Then there is the elephant in the room: Eddie Fisher. He abandoned the family years ago and we see some heartbreaking footage of Carrie having a loving conversation with the ailing Eddie a mere three months before he died in 2010. This moment and others are difficult to watch. But life can be difficult and although Reynolds and Fisher come from unique circumstances there is still much the audience, including myself, can relate to.

Then there is the lowest point in Debbie Reynolds' career: the failure to start the museum that would house the Hollywood costumes she collected over the years and the subsequent auctions. We see the third and final auction and how Reynolds struggles to part with many gems including the iconic suits the members of the Rat Pack wear in Ocean's 11 (1960). As a hopelessly devoted fan of that film it broke my heart to see her go through this. The auctions have been a point of controversy in the industry.

Whether you're a fan of Carrie Fisher or Debbie Reynolds or both, there is much to take in about both of their lives. I wasn't as familiar with Fisher's life story but was interested to learn about her Star Wars legacy, her personal problems but also her many strengths. It was tough to watch Debbie Reynolds struggle in her old age and I kicked myself for not knowing she had performed in the neighboring state of Connecticut just a few years ago. I could have attended! In the performance Reynolds' voice cracks and her body threatens to give out on her but she persists. Carrie and Todd jump on stage to give her a reprieve. It's evident that Reynolds's greatest loves were her children and being an entertainer.

Bright Lights (2016) ends with Reynolds accepting the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award in January of 2015. Reynolds was very sick leading up to this moment and we see both Fisher and Reynolds struggling. Knowing what happened almost two years later I finished the documentary with an overwhelming sense of sadness but also of joy that I got to live in a world where Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds lived, loved, laughed and shared their pain and joy with us.

Bright Lights is currently available on HBO.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Writer's block is demoralizing for any artist. It can last days, months, years and sometimes stall a brilliant writing career forever. And there is nothing like the feeling when a bit of inspiration comes along and breaks through the barrier between you and your words.

In the film Hotel Paradiso (1966), playwright Georges Feydeau is suffering from a bought of writer's block. He finds inspiration for his next play by observing the shenanigans of his neighbors in turn of the 20th century Paris. First there are the Cots. Marcelle Cot (Gina Lollobrigida) is annoyed by her husband's neglect and starving for any kind of affection. Henri Cot (Robert Morley) is too busy in his architectural work to pay much attention to his beautiful young bride. They live next door to another disgruntled couple the Bonifaces. Angelique Bonafice (Peggy Mount) has 20 years on Marcelle and is driving her husband batty with her incessant nagging and her controlling nature. Benedict Boniface (Alec Guinness) seizes an opportunity while his wife Angelique is away to have an affair with his neighbor Marcelle. Everything that could possibly go wrong does go wrong in this hilarious comedy of errors.

Based on Georges Feydeau and Maurice Desvallieres' L'Hôtel du libre échange, Hotel Paradiso changes the original play by putting the playwright into the story. The film was directed and produced by Peter Glenville who plays Feydeau in the film and also directed the successful Broadway and London theatre productions of Hotel Paradiso. Alec Guinness and Douglas Byng reprise their stage roles for the film.

Hotel Paradiso is chockfull of gags that will have you doubled over laughing. There are lots of fun characters each with their own quirks. Douglas Byng plays Monsieur Martin, a friend of the Bonifaces who brings his 4 daughters for a month long stay in Paris. M. Martin is a human barometer and develops a terrible stutter when the weather is bad. He's also a witness to the goings on that implicate the main characters. One of my favorite actors Akim Tamiroff plays Anniello, the proprietor of the Hotel Paradiso where most of the film's antics take place. It's the sort of seedy hotel where you pay by the hour for a secret rendezvous. Anniello's new hire George (David Battley) is a wrench in the works and fails at every task much to the audience's enjoyment.

Alec Guinness and Gina Lollobrigida in Hotel Paradiso (1966)

Gina Lollobrigida and Alec Guinness are the two reasons why you should watch this film. They're a mismatched pair which adds to the hilarity of their adulterous romance. Lollobrigida, known for playing prim and proper ladies on screen, excels at these kind of comedic roles. Her character is both horrified and intrigued by the idea of having an affair with her neighbor. Marcelle's husband's neglect drives her need for attention. Guinness' Benedict has years of pent up lust bursting out of him which he channels into this affair with Marcelle. The two escape to the Hotel Paradiso for a clandestine evening together only to be unwittingly followed by almost everyone they know, including playwright Feydeau who is writing down everything he observes.

The film is very British despite being based on a French play, taking place in Paris and having an Italian film star as the female lead. At different points in the film I had to remind myself that this was turn of the century Paris and not London.

Peggy Mount, Alec Guinness, Gina Lollobrigida and Robert Morley in Hotel Paradiso (1966)
I'm a sucker for a good comedy and it didn't hurt that two of my very favorite people, Gina Lollobrigida and Akim Tamiroff, were in the film. The motley cast of characters, hilariously enacted scenes and a two part ending that flips everything on its head makes the Hotel Paradiso (1966) a must see.

Monday, January 9, 2017

TCM Movie Night Menus

Movie Night Menus
Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by Films We Love
Tenaya and Andre Darlington
TCM - Running Press
9780762460939 - 224 pages
December 2016

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

"For a title to make it into these pages, it needed to have rousing food and drink scenes."

It’s not enough for me to just enjoy classic movies. I incorporate them into my every day life. For me, being a lover of classic film is not a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.

This is why I’m glad the brother-sister team Tenaya and Andre Darlington have released their newest collaboration: Movie Night Menus: Dinner and Drink Recipes Inspired by Films We Love. As someone who loves to cook and enjoys a great cocktail, the idea of pairing both of these things with classic films was just a recipe for success. Once I heard about Movie Night Menus I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. It’s published by Running Press who partners with Turner Classic Movies on a dedicated imprint of books for classic film enthusiasts and newcomers alike.

The Darlingtons are experienced food writers with sophisticated tastes for food, cocktails and entertaining.  Inspired by the movies and their love for fine dining, they built menus around 30 different classic films ranging from 1930 to 1987. Each film is spotlighted with an introduction that gives some background on the film, helpful for those who haven't watched it yet, as well as movie quotes and promotional stills. Every movie gets one cocktail and one or two food recipes. Some of the menus are full meals and others are meant for grazing throughout the movie. The recipes are inspired by food and drink featured in the film but also by other factors including style, era and setting. In addition to the recipes there are trivia bits and advice on how to decorate or set the table for entertaining.

The writing in this book is as delicious as the food. I even enjoyed reading the recipes and picked up a few tricks. Some of the recipes serve double duty and can be made for more than one film. The authors are very particular not only about ingredients, especially with the cocktails, but method as well. I cook a lot and can appreciate how good technique enhances the quality of the final product.

I've already made a few drinks from the book and last night I made the meal assigned to Casablanca (1942). See below. It consisted of Roasted Eggplant Tagine, a Moroccan dish, and a French 75, a gin and champagne cocktail. I added some grilled yogurt marinated chicken for some protein, plated it up, built the cocktails and we sat down to watch Casablanca. The meal was divine and I discovered a favorite new cocktail. My only quibble was that the recipe never called for roasted the eggplant. Carlos hates eggplant but ate the meal with much gusto. We clinked our highball glasses when Paul Henreid heads to the bar to order a champagne cocktail.

Casablanca (1942) meal

French 75 cocktail

Eggplant Tagine

It was so much fun to build a meal around a film. In my previous attempts I made meals exactly how they were depicted on screen. I made complete dinners for They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and Fortune Cookie (1966). Sometimes older recipes or food choices lend themselves to contemporary palates. The Darlingtons adapted several drinks and dishes for more modern tastes and use substitutes when certain liquors are no longer on the market.

There are so many recipes I want to try and only a few I'll skip. I'm not sure why but in the 1930s they really loved adding raw eggs to cocktails. Besides the occasional Pisco Sour, these are a pass for me. I really adored the pastry and fun ice cream champagne cocktail assigned to Breakfast at Tiffany's (1960). And I love how the authors had fun with films like Rope (1948) which includes recipes for Parmigiano Rope Twists, Camembert in a Coffin and the Art of a Choke, a cocktail made with an artichoke digestif. Other movies include: The Divorcee (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Female (1933), The Thin Man (1934), The Philadelphia Story (1940), Adam's Rib (1950), Giant (1956), The Apartment (1960), Dr. No (1962), The Graduate (1967), The Sting (1973), and so on ending with Moonstruck (1987).

I wish every recipe came with a photo but alas it wasn't the case. Fair warning to those of you who don't drink, this book is heavy on the booze. I much prefer cocktails to wine or beer so this was perfect for me. The entertaining tips were fun to read but I'm not sure if I'll actually put them into practice. Knowledgeable classic film buffs will pretty much know everything that's included in the intro and trivia bits which are more for newcomers.

This is such a fun book to read. Don't give in to the urge to just flip through to look at the pictures. Savor each and every page.

Tonight TCM will be airing some of the movies featured in the book and the authors will be taking over TCM's twitter during the marathon. If you're a classic movie fan with fine taste in food and an appreciation for a good cocktail, Movie Night Menus is a must-read.

Thank you to Running Press for sending me a copy of this book to review!

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