Wednesday, January 31, 2018

My Cinema Shame Statement for 2018

In 2018 I will embrace my Cinema Shame! What exactly is Cinema Shame you ask? It's the regret you feel for not having watched that big movie everyone has seen, or the one that's won all the awards or that film you meant to get to but haven't... for years. There are numerous shades of cinema shame. I used to hide behind it but now I relish it for the new experiences it opens up.

The official Cinema Shame website and podcast called out for cinephiles to list their shame statements for 2018. These are the films we plan to take on this year. Having watched all the Rocky movies last year for the very first time, I’m ready to tackle some more. (I discussed the Rocky films on the Cinema Shame podcast. Listen to part one and part two and let me know what you think!)

A few years ago I made a list of big movies I hadn’t seen and planned to see that year. I failed miserably and watched none of them. That’s even more shameful that not having seen those films in the first place. I plan to correct that this year. This is a Cinema Shame list I shall conquer!
Instead of picking a random smattering of titles I haven’t gotten to yet, I decided to be a bit more methodical with creating my list. I picked 8 movies from 8 different sources of Cinema Shame.

A movie featuring my favorite actor – The Grass is Greener (1960)

I’ve seen a lot of Robert Mitchum movies but he had such long and varied career that I feel like I’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. The Grass is Greener is one of the few comedies he made and I still can’t believe I haven’t seen it. In addition to Mitchum it stars Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr and Jean Simmons, all actors I enjoy watching on screen. I need to get my hands on this movie STAT.

(Watched and reviewed)

A movie featuring my favorite actress – Assignment in Brittany (1943)

I’m almost done with the full list of Susan Peters’ feature films except for one glaring exception: Assignment in Brittany (1943)! What’s holding me back? I spoke to former child actor Darryl Hickman about this very film a couple of years ago and still haven’t seen it. Shame! It’s time to find a bootleg copy and get watching.

A movie on the AFI Top 100 list (and one my husband keeps bugging me to watch with him) – 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I’m not quite ready to tackle Star Wars yet (probably my biggest Cinema Shame) but I thought I’d add another major science fiction movie to the mix. Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece has escaped me for years possibly because I don’t tend to gravitate to Sci Fi. But this year I plan to keep an open mind and watch this one for the first time.

A rarity I own but have never watched – The Wild Party (1929)

I have a nice little collection of rareities and among them is a bootleg copy of The Wild Party. It’s Clara Bow’s talkie debut and one that I’ve had my eye on. I own it, why not watch it? I need to dust off my burned disc and pop it into the player like yesterday.

A movie on FilmStruck – Le Samourai (1967)

I’m not too familiar with Jean-Pierre Melville’s work and I haven’t seen many Alain Delon movies. I love French films and this one sounds right up my alley. So why haven’t I seen this yet? I need to get on it before I have to return my film buff card for a cone of shame

(Watched and reviewed)


A movie I missed at the TCM Film Festival – Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

I was saving my very first viewing of this movie for the 2014 TCM Film Festival. Director Norman Jewison was in attendance for a Q&A. Unfortunately I got sick and couldn’t make it to that screening. This is an uber classic that I’ve been reluctant to admit I haven’t seen yet. There is no time like the present to fix this.

(Watched and reviewed)

A movie from the Warner Archive – Get Carter (1971)

The very first movie I added to my watchlist when I subscribed to Warner Archive Instant was Get Carter (1971) and then I proceeded to not watch it even though I really wanted to. Film watching is funny that way. Sometimes we’re overwhelmed with choices that even a good one staring us right in the face gets looked over.

A movie that’s been languishing on my DVD Netflix queue – The Wild Bunch (1969)

In fact this was on that original shame list from a few years back that I never got to. It’s been sitting in the middle of the 300+ (almost 400) DVD Netflix Queue for years. Time to bump it up to the top!

(Watched and reviewed)

What's on your Cinema Shame list for 2018? Tell me in the comment section below!

How I'll feel after tackling this list.

Many thanks to Jay Patrick of the Cinema Shame website and podcast for the prompt!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Blood and Sand (1941)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

How do you capture the look and feel of Spain without having ever been there? This was the challenge director Rouben Mamoulian had working on Twentieth Century Fox's new big budget movie about a Spanish bullfighter. He had to make Mexico City and stage 5 of Fox Studios in Los Angeles transform into Spain on screen. Mamoulian looked to the art of great Spanish painters of El Greco and Goya for inspiration. He worked with his cinematography team consisted of Ernest Palmer and Ray Rennahan to recreate Spain and translate into Technicolor splendor. The result was Blood and Sand (1941).

Tyrone Power in Blood and Sand (1941)

"One can't build on sand."

Juan "Juanillo" Gallardo (Tyrone Power) is a born torero (bullfighter). The son of a slain matador, Juanillo begins his bullfighting career at a very young age despite the desperate pleas of his mother (Alla Nazimova). Without the ability to read or write, he has few options left to him. He defends the honor of his father to loudmouth journalist Natalio Curro (Laird Cregar). After the incident, young Juanillo gathers his cuadrillo (group of friends) and sets out to Madrid to become real matadors. Years later Juanillo comes home with his cuadrillo including El Nacional (John Carradine), the reluctant fighter who doubts the merits of the sport, and Manolo (Anthony Quinn), who thinks himself a better fighter than Juanillo. After their return Juanillo seeks his childhood sweetheart Carmen (Linda Darnell) for marriage. As he becomes recognized by many as the best matador in Spain, wealthy socialite Doña Sol (Rita Hayworth) attends one of his fights and the two begin an affair. And so begins Juanillo's downward spiral in his quest for glory.

Rita Hayworth in Blood and Sand (1941)

Linda Darnell in Blood and Sand (1941)

Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, Blood and Sand explores the various aspects of bullfighting as a sport and as a culture. Audiences get to see the many facets including fame, finery, rituals, pomp and circumstance, publicity, beautiful women, cuadrillos, familial despair and religion. The exotic and dangerous world of bullfighting lends itself to an exciting story. What's interesting about this movie is that it doesn't fully glorify this controversial sport. We see social inequality and injustice and brutality. Through John Carradine's character El Nacional we hear the voice of doubt.

In 1941, Tyrone Power was a Fox contract star at the top of his game and Blood and Sand was a great film to keep that momentum going. He was well-suited to the role of a matador as he could exhibit the screen charisma and physicality required for the story's complicated hero. Also it doesn't hurt that Power was one of the most handsome leading men in Hollywood. It seems realistic that he'd catch the eye of two women as beautiful as Linda Darnell and Rita Hayworth. And those two actresses play the perfect polar opposites: Darnell as the sweet, dutiful and religious wife and Hayworth as the bored, lusty socialite. I enjoyed Darnell's performance but thought Hayworth was a bit over-the-top as a temptress. There was too many instances of eyebrow arching and not enough subtlety for me. I usually enjoy Hayworth's performances so this is definitely a one off.

After the success of The Mark of Zorro (1940) starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, the swashbuckling remake of the Douglas Fairbanks classic, Fox was raring for a good follow-up. So they dipped back into the silent film well and found another story. Based on the 1908 novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez, Blood and Sand has been adapted for film several times. It was originally a Spanish film released in 1917, then released as a silent movie starring Rudolph Valentino in 1922 before it was adapted again in 1941. Fox considered adapting it in 1957 with Sophia Loren in Rita Hayworth's part as Doña Sol but project fell through. Another adaptation came in 1989 starring Chris Rydell, Sharon Stone and Ana Torrent.

Years later when Mamoulian visited Spain for the first time he said "I was most pleased to discover it looked exactly the way the Spanish masters had painted it and that it was as I had imagined it would be. People in Spain who had seen and loved the film did not believe I had never visited the country before making the film." At the Oscars in 1942, Blood and Sand was nominated for Best Art Direction-Interior Direction and won for Best Cinematography, Color.

Tyrone Power, John Carradine, Anthony Quinn and others were taught the art of bullfighting by champion Mexican matador Armillita Chico. Armillita was also Power's double in some of the bullfighting scenes. Power was also taught by a young aspiring American matador Budd Boetticher who worked on Blood and Sand and went on to direct westerns. An extended version with additional bullfighting scenes was distributed in South America.

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Blood and Sand. It's not the type of film I tend to gravitate towards. I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed it and how multi-layered the film turned out to be. I appreciated that it wasn't a glorification of bullfighting rather it showed many elements of this both celebrated and hated sport.

Blood and Sand (1941) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Not as a Stranger (1955)

"It isn't enough for you to have a brain. You have to have a heart."

Producer Stanley Kramer had staked his claim in Hollywood. After a string of successful films, he was ready to tackle being a director. For his directorial debut, he set his sights on Morton Tompson's bestselling novel Not as a Stranger. A huge hit with the public, the almost 1,000 page novel explored the work and social lives of doctors and nurses with a focus on its main character Lucas Marsh. Kramer was excited to adapt the story that took the nation by storm and he wanted to go big. He needed big stars and a big production. Little did Kramer know what he was getting into.

Medical student Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) will do anything to be a doctor. His best friend Al (Frank Sinatra) and buddy Brundage (Lee Marvin) know it. When Marsh goes home to get some of the money he inherited from his mother, he finds that his drunken father Joe (Lon Chaney Jr.) has spent it all. After hearing some harsh words from Joe, Lucas goes back to school with a major dilemma. If he doesn't pay the rest of his tuition bill in 30 days he's out. Even the lab gig his professor Dr. Aarons (Broderick Crawford) and the check he forked over isn't enough. Lucas has been chatting with the talented Swedish nurse Kristina Hedgivson (Olivia de Havilland). At a family dinner Kristina's sister Bruni (Virginia Christine) and brother-in-law Oley (Harry Morgan), Lucas discovers that Kristina has several thousand dollars stashed away. He speeds up their romance and marries Kristina for the money and the chance to be a doctor, even though his buddy Al warns him that it's not a good idea. Eventually the couple moves to a small town where Lucas will replace the resident doctor (Charles Bickford) but he encounters the gorgeous and seductive widow Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame). With his marriage in jeopardy, Lucas is also faced with a major operation that will test his skills as a doctor.

Not as a Stranger (1955) is a medical melodrama. To prepare for their parts, Mitchum, Sinatra and Crawford attended an autopsy in a hospital theater much like one in the beginning of the film and Mitchum and de Havilland had extensive training for the different surgery scenes. While Not as a Stranger an interesting look at hospital dynamics and the science of medicine circa the 1950s, this movie has some serious problems. At first I was annoyed by the over-the-top music and the fake Swedish accents and the sluggish pacing. But then I was frustrated by the fact that Mitchum, my favorite actor of all time, who could save pretty much any film, was terribly miscast. Perhaps it was a combination of various factors but Mitchum's Lucas is a very flat character. We don't get to learn enough about him or to connect with him for him to be fully dimensional. Olivia de Havilland serves well as the moral center of the film. Frank Sinatra is absolutely necessary to keep this film going. He's not only the voice of reason but he gives the movie some levity that it so desperately needs. The movie is overly long and at least 30-40 minutes could have been easily cut. What saves it is the wonderful cast and interesting subject matter.

Stanley Kramer, Olivia de Havilland, Frank Sinatra and Robert Mitchum on the set.

Kramer wanted to go big or go home. But perhaps he should have gone home. According to Don Lochte, in later years Kramer called the making of this movie "ten weeks of hell." Robert Mitchum told Lochte that "Stanley stays in his own way as a director." It wouldn't be fair to say this is all Kramer's fault. According to Mitchum biographer Lee Server, "Kramer had unwittingly loaded the picture with a number of Hollywood's most ferocious drinkers". Putting Mitchum, Chaney, Sinatra, Marvin, McCormick and Crawford in one movie might not have been the best idea. But Kramer believed in this cast. Lee Server in his book Baby I Don't Care wrote that there was a lot of hype for the movie adaptation. When news broke that Robert Mitchum would play Lucas Marsh, fans of the book were outraged. They didn't think he could pull off such a sensitive part. Kramer stood by Mitchum and proceeded.

It didn't turn out to be a total disaster. Not as a Stranger cost $2 million and made over $7 million at the box office. According to Frank Sinatra biographer James Kaplan, Sinatra was in the midst of a comeback and needed to keep working so accepting third billing and a smaller part was just something he had to do. Coming off of From Here to Eternity, Frank Sinatra still had something to prove if he wanted to be a big leading star in the movies. Not as a Stranger got him in front of audiences and kept that momentum going he desperately needed.

Olivia de Havilland and Gloria Grahame play polar opposites in a love triangle with Robert Mitchum. Their roles suited their particular strengths well. I wish De Havilland wasn't made to have that Swedish accent but I enjoyed her performance and for a while there she convinced me she was a trained nurse. Grahame was at this point becoming self-conscious about her appearance and was stuffing tissue underneath her front lip which makes her scenes kind of unbearable to watch.

During the making of this film, Mitchum, Sinatra and Crawford had some drinks with Joe DiMaggio and set after to break into Marilyn Monroe's apartment to get the couple back together. They broke into the wrong apartment in what was then called the "Wrong Door Raid."

I can't tell you not to watch Not as a Stranger. This film has such a fantastic cast and such an interesting backstory it would be a shame to ignore it.

Not as a Stranger (1955) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Besides a few issues in the beginning of the film, the Blu-Ray looks great. The extras include captions, various trailers and film commentary by Troy Howarth.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray to review!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

What I learned from Gentleman Jim (1942)

Errol Flynn in Gentleman Jim (1942)
Errol Flynn as James "Gentleman Jim" Corbett

Sometimes it takes a certain message delivered at just the right time to make a big impact. Gentleman Jim (1942) changed my life. And it really shouldn't have happened with this film. If you know me, you know that I avoid historical biopics like the plague, especially ones from the early days of film history. They are usually over-the-top, unrealistic and stretch the truth beyond what seems possible. I don't even know how I came across Gentleman Jim. Maybe I watched it on TCM one day? Maybe I was on an Errol Flynn kick? Maybe I watched it because I love sports movies? If you look at lists of the greatest films of all time, you won't find Gentleman Jim on it. It's a decent movie but it's not one of the best. But when I watched it years ago it taught me one of the most important life lessons that I've had at the forefront of my mind ever since: no one will hand you opportunities, if there is something you want in life you need to make it happen for yourself.

Gentleman Jim (1942)

"There's only the lucky and the unlucky. Those that happened to grab the right moment and those that didn't." - Alexis Smith as Miss Ware

Directed by Raoul Walsh, Gentleman Jim is based on the life of heavyweight boxing champion James J. Corbett. The story starts in San Francisco 1887. Jim Corbett (Errol Flynn) lives on the south side of the city and grew up sparring with his older brothers. He and his best bud Walter (Jack Carson) are bank clerks by day and boxing enthusiasts by night. Corbett wants to train at the exclusive Olympic Club and finds a way to get in when wealthy socialite Miss Ware (Alexis Smith) needs help bringing gambling money to her dad. Corbett makes a name for himself quickly as a boxer with potential. Everyone calls him Gentleman Jim for his penchant for wearing finery, outside of the ring of course. His meteoric rise is supported by his boxing enthusiast and fun loving dad Pat (Alan Hale). All the bouts in the ring lead up to the big match with current heavyweight champion John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond) .

The story is based on Corbett's autobiography The Roar of the Crowd although it takes some artistic liberties. Three studios were interested in the rights for the movie but Warner Bros. won out. Sports editor for the Chicago Herald and Corbett expert Ed Cochrane was a technical advisor on the film. Errol Flynn was trained by junior welterweight champion Mushy Callahan who also doubled for him in some shots, especially those with the fancy footwork. Flynn did a lot of his own boxing. The work was strenuous enough that he suffered a mild heart attack while making the movie.

8 years ago I wrote a piece on this blog called Gentleman Jim and Opportunities. In it I wrote "He's an Irishman from humble origins and we want to see him rise to the very top. Why? Because we want the same for ourselves. We want those opportunities. We want to be the best. We want to overcome our circumstances and triumph." Flynn's Corbett is an opportunist in that he both finds opportunities and makes them when he has no other option.

Skeptics will say, oh you could have learned that lesson somewhere else. And it's not like the concept was new to me. But for some reason this movie really drove it home. Ever since I watched Gentleman Jim I have made opportunities for myself. I learned how to spot good opportunities and not to be scared to try something new, even if it makes me so nervous that I get sick to my stomach and have anxiety for days. I'm always stronger on the other side and I never regret taking the chance. I learned over the years that it's okay to ask. The worst you can hear is no. And now I'm never afraid to ask because it just increases your chances of getting an opportunity you wouldn't have had before.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I bought Gentleman Jim (1942) during one of WAC's 4 for $44 sales. I just had to have this one!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In 50th Anniversary and Second Season

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

On January 22nd, 1968, 50 years ago today, the Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In premiered for its very first season. After a successful pilot aired the previous year, NBC, in beautiful downtown Burbank, ordered a full series. You bet your sweet bippy that Laugh-In became one of the zaniest shows ever to grace the small screen. With it's wacky skits, rapid fire jokes, political commentary, self-deprecating humor, and it's sock it to me gags, the show quickly became a hit with audiences. It was all verrrrry interesting. The name Laugh-In pokes fun at the protests and gatherings of the era which included sit-ins and love-ins. You didn't know that? Well look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's!

Dan Rowan and Dick Martin on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Dan Rowan and the beautiful Dick Martin (or so-and-so)

Gary Owens on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Announcer Gary Owens

"A wonderful world of fantasy. That's what Laugh-In brought to the public." - Gary Owens

Comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin met in 1952 when Rowan was a used car salesman and Martin was a bartender. They both had an interest in acting and comedy and when a mutual friend suggested they work together as a comedy team at nightclubs, the Rowan and Martin act was born. They worked their way up the ranks as a comedy duo. In the summer of 1966, they covered as guest hosts on The Dean Martin Show. The exposure catapulted them and producers took notice. NBC needed something to replace the recently canceled show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and to compete with rival network programming Gunsmoke and The Lucy Show. Variety shows were popular in the late 1960s and would be easy to produce and inexpensive. Producer George Schlatter and Ed Friendly developed the concept and produced it under their joint production company. NBC booked a one hour special for September 1967. After premiering as a series, Laugh-In went on for 140 episodes and 6 seasons before being canceled in 1973. The show was insanely popular and helped launch the careers of regulars like Goldie Hawn, Dave Madden and Lily Tomlin. Many writers worked for the show, including SNL's Lorne Michaels, and went on to successful careers in the business. It won several Primetime Emmys and two Golden Globe awards.

Judy Carne on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Judy Carne in beautiful downtown Burbank

Henry Gibson on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Henry Gibson

"Blow in my ear and I'll follow you anywhere."

Laugh-In was one-of-a-kind with rapid fire delivery of humor. Inspired by burlesque and vaudeville, a series of skits and gags were stitched together. The end result was a show that jumped from joke to joke at almost a blindingly fast pace. In the earlier days of TV, the only way to put together a show with so many small parts the editors had to splice the footage with a razor and piece it together. Because of this a master was created for each episode which helped preserve the show for future audiences.

Arte Johnson on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Arte Johnson
Alan Sues on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Alan Sues

"This won all those Emmys?"- Don Rickles

I started watching Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In last year with episodes airing on the TV network Decades. The zaniness took some getting used to but once I warmed up to the show I was hooked. So far I've dipped into pretty much every season of the show. Time Life recently released season 2 in a DVD set and having seen the episodes I have to say this one is the highlight of the series. It contains some of the best moments from the show and the cast of regulars had great chemistry.

Chelsea Brown and Goldie Hawn on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Chelsea Brown and Goldie Hawn

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Ruth Buzzi and Arte Johnson in the Gladys and Tyrone Skit

"Anne Bancroft is an undergraduate."

On season two you can expect some great comedy and a plethora of extra special guests. Dan Rowan, the straight man, and Dick Martin, the daft womanizer, are lovingly referred to as the big kids. I adore them as a comedy team. Today you can't get away with two middle-aged men dressed in tuxedo, with Rowan puffing away at a cigarette or pipe, delivering some rather adult jokes. Although technically the stars, its the motley crew of comedic talents that steal the show. These include announcer Gary Owens, actresses Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Judy Carne, Jo Anne Worley and Chelsea Brown and actors Alan Sues, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Dave Madden and Dick Whittington.

Arlene Dahl on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Arlene Dahl

Don Rickles on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Don Rickles, AKA the best special guest ever in the history of mankind

Recurring skits on the show include:

Cocktail Party — The Flying Fickle Finger of Fate — News: past, present and future — Gladys the spinster and Tyrone — Sock it to Me —  Here Comes the Judge —  C.F.G. Automat —  It's a Mod, Mod, Mod, Mod World with the painted go-go dancers —  Discovery of the week — Good night Dick — the Joke Wall

My favorite recurring skit? The cocktail party of course!

Classic film enthusiasts will love spotting some of their favorite stars as special guests on the various episodes. And anyone who was anyone made an appearance was on the show. Some of the guests on season two include:

Eve Arden —Jack Benny — Mel Brooks — Rosemary Clooney —  Joseph Cotten — Robert Culp— Tony Curtis — Arlene Dahl — Bobby Darin — Sammy Davis Jr. — Phyllis Diller — Kirk Douglas — Douglas Fairbanks Jr. — Zsa Zsa Gabor — James Garner — Greer Garson — Mitzi Gaynor — Frank Gorshin — Hugh Hefner — Bob Hope — Lena Horne — Rock Hudson — Van Johnson — Martin Landau — Peter Lawford — Jack Lemmon — Gina Lollobrigida — Ann Miller — Bob Newhart — France Nuyen — Otto Preminger — Vincent Price — Don Rickles — Cliff Robertson — Rod Serling — Sonny Tufts — Robert Wagner — John Wayne — Shelley Winters and more...

"Raquel Welch Smothers Brothers."

Guests performed skits, delivered one-lines and jokes while poking fun at the fact that they were on the show. An appearance on Laugh-In could do wonders for a guest. Presidential candidate Richard Nixon appears on season 2 in a short clip asking "sock it to me?" His appearance was credited with helping him win the election. His opponent Hubert Humphrey refused to be on the show and the rest is history.

Second Season

First Season

Time Life's Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In Season 2 DVD Box set includes 26 episodes on 7 discs. The first disc includes three interviews with Dick Martin, Gary Owens and Ruth Buzzi. All 26 episodes have been remastered and the set comes with a small booklet highlighting the content on each disc. I encourage you to pick this up because it's infinitely much more enjoyable to watch these restored episodes on DVD than on Decades where the quality is poor and the episodes are highly edited to fit in more commercial time.

Last year Time Life also released a 50th Anniversary set featuring all 140 episodes and 6 seasons of the show.

Thank you to Time Life for sending me the second season set to review!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Miracle Worker (1962)

Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (1962)
Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker (1962)

It seemed like an impossible task. How does one teach a young girl who is blind, deaf, and mute how to communicate with the world? It would take a teacher of great strength who would persist against all odds. It would take a miracle worker.

As a toddler, Helen Keller (Patty Duke) contracts a serious illness which leaves her blind then deaf. There are few resources for the Keller family and they raise her as best as they know how. Mother Kate Keller (Inga Swenson) dotes on her child, Captain Arthur Keller (Victor Jory) fusses over the situation and their oldest son James (Andrew Prine) thinks it's all a hopeless cause. Years pass and Helen has gotten worse. Spoiled by parents and servants who want nothing but to calm her down, Helen is in a chaotic state. Unkempt, erratic and with little understanding of the world around her, the Kellers are at their wits end. They take a chance on a teacher who offers to work with Helen. As soon as Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) arrives she gets to work on Helen. Trying to teach her words through sign language, decorum through example, and everything through repetition. It's an exhausting task as Helen fights her tooth and nail and the Kellers, including Aunt Ev (Kathleen Comegys), get in the way more than they help. It seems like Annie has the most difficult job in the world: to teach Helen how to communicate and to be a part of the world around her.

Inga Swenson, Victor Jory, Andrew Prine, Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft in a scene from The Miracle Worker (1962)

The Miracle Worker (1962) is based on William Gibson's play about Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan. Much of the inspiration comes from Keller's own autobiography. Gibson's play debuted on live television on Playhouse 90 and went on to become a popular Broadway production starring both Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke. Bancroft won a Tony Award for her performance. It was inevitable that The Miracle Worker would be adapted to film. According to Anne Bancroft biographer Douglass K. Daniel, William Gibson was dismayed by the play-to-film failure of his work Two for the Seesaw and wanted to make sure that didn't happen again. He collaborated with producer Fred Coe and director Arthur Penn. The three started a production company called Playfilm Productions and United Artists financed and distributed the film.

Bancroft and Duke almost didn't get their parts. United Artists wanted Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor to ensure a financial return on their investment. Duke was almost not considered because it was thought she was getting too old for the part. Thank goodness Gibson stood his ground because Bancroft and Duke deliver masterful performances and I can't imagine the film without either of them.

Patty Duke and Helen Keller

The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards including Best Director (Arthur Penn), Best Writing (William Gibson) and Best Costume Design (Ruth Morley). It's no surprise that Anne Bancroft won for Best Actress in a Leading Role and Patty Duke won Best Actress in a Supporting Role. Bancroft was not at the ceremony to accept her award and actress Joan Crawford accepted it on her behalf. Duke was the youngest actor to win a non-honorary Oscar until Tatum O'Neal broke the record in 1974.

The Miracle Worker (1962) is a film that grabs hold of you and won't let you go. It requires all of your concentration which you will so willingly give because the subject matter is fascinating. The film itself is not a miracle rather a result of hard work and a lot of talent. When I watched it I felt equal parts exhausted and enlightened. It's a complicated and brilliant film that breaks you down and builds you back up.

The Miracle Worker (1962) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

Thank you to Olive Films for sending me a copy of this film to review!

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Young in Heart (1938)

The Young in Heart (1938)

"And here came the Carletons, a merry little streamlined family exuding charm and a touch of larceny with every fortune-hunting smile..."

Producer David O. Selznick was in a bind. Gone With the Wind was costing his production company Selznick International Pictures a lot of money and they hadn't even started filming. Selznick knew that without any incoming cash flow there was no way he was going to be able to continue. He set out to make a few pictures in the interim that would generate some much needed box office returns. One of those movies was The Young in Heart (1938).

The Carletons are a family of con artists. There is Sahib (Roland Young) the monocle wearing, poker playing patriarch, his loving yet ditzy wife Marmy (Billie Burke) and their two kids the suave Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and the head strong George-Anne (Janet Gaynor). They travel around targeting wealthy socialites in hopes of conning them out of their money. The Carletons are working their prey at a resort in the Riviera. Richard has his eye on a plain jane socialite with a bankable dowry. George-Anne has a handsome yet not-so-rich Scotsman, Duncan (Richard Carlson) at her beck and call.

"You're so young. When you're old night comes too soon."

When the resort proprietors catch on, the Carletons are presented with a one-way train ticket back to London. On their journey, they meet a sweet older woman with a peculiar name, Miss Fortune (Minnie Dupree). She recently inherited a mansion and much wealth from an old beau. George-Anne sees an opportunity to get into the lady's good graces. She convinces her family to be kind to the lady in hopes they might be written into her will. But they all get a lot more then they bargained for. When George-Anne suggests they start acting like normal, hard-working folks instead of socializing gadabouts, they're reluctant at first. But then they find that they kind of like this new lifestyle. Sahib becomes a successful salesman at a car dealership. Richard gets a job at an engineering plant and falls for the secretary Leslie Saunders (Paulette Goddard). And they begin to care for Miss Fortune in a way that hadn't expected. George-Anne doesn't think any of them are capable of change and keeps beau Duncan at bay because she doesn't think she's good enough. Will the Carletons be able to con their way into Miss Fortune's will? Or will their true nature be revealed?

Richard (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Leslie (Paulette Goddard) buy Miss Fortune a puppy.

Based on the novel The Gay Banditti by I.A.R. Wylie serialized in The Saturday Evening Post, The Young in Heart was the perfect picture for Selznick to produce pre-Gone With the Wind. According to to author Steve Wilson in his book The Making of Gone With the Wind, some of the cast members of The Young in Heart were considered for GWTW including Billie Burke, Paulette Goddard who had tried for the part of Scarlett O'Hara and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. who turned down Ashley because he wanted to be Rhett.

The film was directed by Richard Wallace with some directorial work also completed by Lewis Milestone, Gilbert Pratt and Richard Thorpe. If the end of the film seems to have a different tone from the rest of the picture, it's because it was a new ending tacked on after the production had wrapped up. Test audiences reacted very negatively to the original ending. As a result, the plot was changed and the actors were called back to reshoot the final scenes.

The Flying Wombat, The Young in Heart (1938)
The Flying Wombat

William Cameron Menzies did the production design and went on to work with Selznick on Gone With the Wind. Vintage car enthusiasts will be mesmerized by the scenes at the Flying Wombat car dealership and by the car itself. These scenes are a final hurrah for the Art Deco era with its minimalist style and clean lines. The Flying Wombat was a Phantom Corsair that cost $12,000 to make. According to the AFI, it "was an experimental vehicle built by Rust Heinz of Pasadena, CA, with a body design by Maurice Schwatz." It was going to be produced in a limited run for the general public but that plan was canceled when Heinz suddenly died,

The cast of The Young in Heart is one of the best. Roland Young and Billie Burke are simply charming. I was blown away by Minnie Dupree who plays the kind hearted Miss Fortune. When I did some research on her, I was sad to see that she had only made two movies. Dupree was a celebrated stage actress and was brought on to this production when another actress dropped out at the last minute. Dupree gives the film much heart and I suspect she's the main reason why the ending was changed.

This film was not only Dupree's screen debut but also Richard Carlson's. Selznick offered the young actor, who proved to be quite the self-starter, a contract and Janet Gaynor encouraged Carlson to appear in the film. Besides delivering the worst Scottish accent ever, Carlson does a decent job in his debut. Paulette Goddard was also getting her start in film and this performance comes after Modern Times (1936). Gaynor at 32 and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at 29 were a bit too old for their parts. But they pull it off giving the film the youthfulness that was needed for the story. For Gaynor, this movie would be the last in a celebrated career before she retired (she made one more film appearance a couple decades later). Just the year before she had a stand out performance in the much celebrated A Star is Born (1937) and won an Academy Award. Gaynor married costume designer Gilbert Adrian and retired from the industry.

Selznick's film did well at the box office and went on to be nominated for three Academy Awards: Leon Shamroy for Best Cinematography and Best Music (Scoring and Original Score) for Franz Waxman.

I was utterly enchanted by The Young in Heart. It's just the sort of feel good movie that isn't sickly sweet with it's message. Rather it gently tugs at your heart strings. While the ending does feel rather abrupt and disjointed, I don't think my emotional state could have handled the alternative scenario. I loved watching the evolution of the Carleton family. They're an endearing foursome and I enjoyed watching them transform from no-good con artists to upstanding citizens.  If the film has one message it's that it doesn't matter what stage in life you are in, change is always possible.

The Young in Heart (1938) is a hidden gem, an obscure little film from a glorious era of filmmaking. It deserves more recognition than it currently receives. I dare you to watch it and not be charmed by it. Impossible.

Kino Lorber has released The Young in Heart (1938) on DVD and Blu-Ray. It doesn't have any extras yet it looks absolutely glorious on Blu-Ray.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a Blu-Ray copy of The Young in Heart (1938) to review.

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