Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Prize (1963)



Directed by Mark Robson, The Prize (1963) stars Paul Newman as Andrew Craig, a celebrated novelist with a penchant for booze and women. Having just won the Nobel Prize in literature, Craig is whisked away to Stockholm, Sweden to accept the honor and fraternize with his fellow laureates. Little does he know he'll be caught up an international web of intrigue. Among the laureates is physicist Dr. Max Stratman (Edward G. Robinson) who mysteriously disappears and is replaced by a look-a-like in his stead. Stratman's niece Emily (Diane Baker) is in charge of the scheme and seduces Craig to keep his nose out of her business. She's got competition from Inger Lisa Andersson (Elke Sommer), the representative from the Swedish Foreign Ministry assigned to look after Craig. To complicate things, Nobel winning scientist Dr. Denise Marceau (Micheline Presle) is counting on the handsome Craig to help make her husband jealous. In the lead up to the award ceremony, Craig has several run ins with international spies who want him dead. Will he save Dr. Stratman, and himself, in time for the big day?

The Prize is a Cold War thriller that doesn't take itself too seriously but really should have. It's a convoluted mess of a film. The dramatic and comedic elements clash and on the whole the story feels disjointed. Had they stuck with the more serious elements of the story or completely revamped it into a silly 1960s comedy, it could have worked either way. But doesn't quite work as is. I had never heard of the film until recently and now I know why. It's not a notable film by any means.

It's still fairly enjoyable for several reasons. First there's Paul Newman. The character of Andrew Craig doesn't quite suit him but Newman could really do anything and make it look good. There is a hilarious scene when he's running away from two hit men and he finds himself at a nudist's conference. It's funny and charming and one of the highlights of the film. By the 1960s, Sweden had developed a reputation for being a sexually progressive culture and that's touched upon in this film. While Elke Sommer plays Newman's main love interest, Diane Baker as Emily Stratman is far more interesting as a character. She's duplicitous but you can tell something else is going on to make her that way. Baker plays her with a subtlety that's rare for that era. Sommer's Ms. Anderson is beautiful but quite boring. Baker was far more interesting. .

As much as I love Edward G. Robinson, he doesn't have much to do in the film and the swap between the real Dr. Stratman and the imposter was weak at best. Other notable actors include Kevin McCarthy who plays Dr. John Garrett, Nobel laureate in medicine, Leo G. Carroll as Count Jacobsson and Micheline Presle as the worldly and playful Dr. Marceau.

Shot in Panavision and Metrocolor for MGM, The Prize is visually stunning and looks spectacular on Blu-ray. If you're smitten with the 1960s aesthetic, like I am, you'll be pleased with this offering. The film was shot on location in Sweden and between the costumes, sets and the good looking cast, it's truly a feast for the eyes.



The Prize (1963) is available on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

The film has been remastered (1080p HD with DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0). The Blu-ray has subtitles and a trailer but no additional extras.

 Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of The Prize (1963) on Blu-ray for review!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Desert Fury (1947)

Desert Fury poster

"I'm a big girl now. I'm allowed to play with matches."

Director Lewis Allen's Desert Fury (1947) stars Lizabeth Scott as Paula Haller, the daughter of a wealthy gambling magnate, Fritzi Haller (Mary Astor), who returns home to the fictional town of Chuckawalla, Nevada. Paula brings home with her a defiant spirit and a determination to live her life by her own rules. Mother and daughter have a complicated relationship. Fritzi has a strange fixation on Paula which leads to her to want to control every aspect of her daughter's life, including her romantic attachments. But Paula rebels. As Paula crosses the bridge back to Chuckawalla, two men come into her life. First there's the straight-laced and responsible Tom Hanson (Burt Lancaster), who left behind a career in rodeo for the sake of his health and now works as a deputy sheriff. He's the safe bet. Then there's the mysterious Eddie Bendix (John Hodiak), the racketeer who travels the country with his partner Johnny Ryan (Wendell Corey) looking for their next money making scheme. Eddie's got some serious baggage. He's been kicked out of Vegas, his wife died under mysterious circumstances and he's got a contentious history with Fritzi. Eddie's all wrong for Paula but she wants him. Will Paula make the wise decision or will she make the wrong one?

Based on the novel Desert Town by Ramona Stewart, Desert Fury was produced by Hal Wallis for Paramount and adapted to the screen by Robert Rossen. It was filmed in Cottonwood and Sedona, AZ, Palmdale, CA and Paramount studios. The film makes great use of Technicolor with the beautiful scenic shots, the gorgeous Edith Head costumes and fantastic sets. Adding to the dramatic atmosphere in the film is a score by Miklos Rozsa.

The film features fresh young faces. It's Wendell Corey's film debut, Lizabeth Scott's fourth film and it was intended to be Burt Lancaster's debut but he made two films prior to this one, including his notable debut in The Killers (1946). According to Hal Wallis biographer Bernard F. Dick , "Lancaster truly despised [the film] along with the critics and the public." Wallis and Lancaster had a 'contentious working relationship" and "Lancaster wanted to break his contract with Wallis, but he stayed on with the understanding that he be allowed at least two outside pictures a year."

Desert Fury is delightful melodramatic confection. It's not a good film by any means but boy is it enjoyable. It's worth watching alone for the fantastic cast and the envy-inducing wardrobe worn by Lizabeth Scott and Mary Astor. Scott, Hodiak, Astor, Lancaster all play to their strengths and Corey is superb as the reserved bad guy.

There's a strong sexual subtext with Johnny and Eddie's relationship mirroring that of a married couple. The two are inseparable and Paula poses a real threat to their partnership. Johnny refers to himself as Eddie's nursemaid and when Eddie recounts to Paula how he met Johnny he says, "I went home with that night... we were together from then on." The relationship between Paula and her mom Fritzi is fraught with tension. Fritzi's a bit too fixated on her daughter and Paula refers to her mom by her first name. There is a strong theme of the delineation between present and past lives and the bridge featured in the film almost becomes another character as it functions not only as a meeting point and passage way but also becomes a place where tragedy occurs.

For years Desert Fury was locked up in the Paramount-Universal distribution jail. It is now available on Blu-ray and DVD for the very first time (at least in North America!).




Desert Fury (1947) is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Kino Lorber Studio Classics. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

The Blu-Ray includes audio commentary by Imogen Sara Smith, subtitles and trailers of other Kino Lorber releases.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of Desert Fury (1947) for review.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Forbidden Hollywood by Mark A. Vieira

Forbidden Hollywood
The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934)
When Sin Ruled the Movies
by Mark A. Vieira
TCM and Running Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780762466771
April 2019
252 pages

AmazonBarnes and Noble Powells TCM Shop


"Pre-Code refers to the four-year period before the Production Code was strengthened and enforced. There had been a Code since 1930, but the studios negotiated with it, bypassed it, or just plain ignored it." - Mark A. Vieira

For true classic movie fans, it's not enough to just watch our favorite films. We need to extend the experience. We watch, research, learn, share, repeat. We relish the details. One of the reasons I love classic film books is that they provide me with context on why these films were made. They help me understand how movies were influenced by politics, culture, social mores, industry trends and the lives and careers of the key players involved.

Mark A. Vieira's new book Forbidden Hollywood does just that for the Pre-Code era. It provides the context needed to fully appreciate what made 1930-1934 a unique period in film history. Movies were an increasingly popular form of entertainment and with the threat of government regulation looming over them, Hollywood decided to self-regulate. But during the Great Depression, stakes were high and a power struggle ensued between the studios and the censors. Who were the people on both sides of the table? First who have the studio execs, the directors, the producers, the writers who were all trying to circumnavigate the system, one they had originally agreed upon but prevented them from producing the scandalous movies that Depression era audiences would put their hard earned money towards. On the other side you have the censors, Will Hays, Joseph Breen, the MPPDA, the SRC and countless state regulators who were fighting a losing battle. When the censors finally put their foot down and the production Code was finally enforced the way it was intended to be, the Pre-Code era was officially over.

Forbidden Hollywood is the ideal film book. It's the perfect marriage of information and entertainment. The text focuses on the people behind-the-scenes and the beautiful photographs showcase those in front of the camera. This coffee table style book is compact enough to read comfortably but large enough to be displayed in all its glory. The text starts with an introduction from the author and a section devoted to the 1920s, which set the stage for what was to come. Then each section is a year-by-year analysis, breaking down the escalating factors that made Hollywood filmmakers bolder and the censors weaker. Within each section are chapters based on themes that help readers tie the threads together of what exactly what was going on in the Pre-Code era. And for anyone whose studied this era, it's not an easy one to follow which makes Vieira's direction all that more helpful.


Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press

Source: Running Press


Some of the films discussed include:
Little Caesar (1931)
The Public Enemy (1931)
A Free Soul (1931)
Mata Hari (1931)
The Easiest Way (1931)
Possessed (1931)
Cock of the Air (1932)
Scarface (1932)
Red Headed Woman (1932)
Grand Hotel (1932)
The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932)
Freaks (1932)
Call Her Savage (1932)
Sign of the Cross (1932)
Island of Lost Souls (1932)
So This Is Africa (1933)
She Done Him Wrong (1933)
42nd Street (1933)
Gold Diggers of 1933
Footlight Parade (1933)
Baby Face (1933)
Tarzan and His Mate (1934)
and more

If you want to know more about how the book is structured, what it looks like inside and more, check out my video review of the book below!




Make sure you check out my interview with Mark A. Vieira on the TCM website and the TCM Tumblr (which has some additional images!).

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

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cinema Shame: American Gigolo (1980)



My 2019 Cinema Shame challenge got off to an auspicious start. Seven days into the year not only had I posted my challenge but I had also already seen two of the movies on my list. Then months passed, I never reviewed those films and now I find myself mid-April having to start all over again. But no sweat. Let's begin from the beginning.

My challenge for this year is to watch 10 films from my birth year 1980. These are films I've never seen before (hence "Cinema Shame").  I kick off the challenge anew with American Gigolo (1980). 

Written and directed by Paul Schrader, American Gigolo stars Richard Gere as Julian Kaye, a handsome gigolo whose clientele mostly consists of the wealthy elite of Beverly Hills. With the help of his madame/boss Anne (Nina van Pallandt), he plays both escort and sex therapist to older rich ladies. Julian, or "Julie" as some call him, is very devoted to his job. He wears Armani suits, drives a Mercedes Benz (a 450 SL R107), speaks multiple languages and knows how to navigate the social scene. One day he meets Michelle (Lauren Hutton), the wife of Senator Stratton (Brian Davies). The two have a wild love affair. In the midst of it all, Julian gets a secret side gig from his shady pimp friend Leon (Bill Duke) who sets Julian up with a couple. Weeks later the wife from that gig has been found brutally murdered and detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) is on the case. All fingers point to Julian who is clearly innocent. He's been set-up. But by who? And why?

"Legal is not always right. Men make laws. Sometimes they're wrong." - Julian Kaye





American Gigolo was filmed in early 1979 and released February 1980. Something I love about the 1970s and the early 1980s is Hollywood's newfound comfort with on-screen sexuality. We lose that later on and to this day people are more put off by sex in film than they are violence which, in my opinion, is an utter shame. I love how Julian Kaye enjoys his work and takes pride in offering quality service to the women who hire him. In one scene he discusses working for three hours with a client to achieve a particular goal that had previously seemed impossible. The portrayal of gender dynamics in the film was perhaps what drew me in the most. Julian's boss is a woman, his most trusted allies are women and any toxic relationships in his life all come from men. 

It's not a perfect film but I enjoyed American Gigolo  not only for the portrayal of sexuality (which at times was still a bit corny but hey its 1979/1980) and the exploration of gender roles but also for the crime drama aspect. Julian Kaye is solving a murder mystery while simultaneously trying to clear his name without revealing his own illegal activities. Richard Gere is charming as the debonair yet reserved gigolo and he's worth the price of admission alone. I had never seen Lauren Hutton in a film. I remember growing up in the 1990s, the age of the supermodel, and Hutton was still highly revered as one of the greats. 

Have you seen American Gigolo? If so, what did you think?

Monday, April 8, 2019

Stan & Ollie (2018)



"They had reached the top..."

The year was 1937. Comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, simply known as Laurel and Hardy, were at the top of their game. While filming Way Out West, Laurel, who had been taking a more active role in the writing, direction and production of their films, had a falling out with producer Hal Roach. When Laurel parted ways with Roach, Hardy didn't follow suit and found a new partner in Harry Langdon. But there was no Hardy without Laurel and vice versa. The two quickly reunited and continued their legendary collaboration.

"We're not exactly spring chickens anymore."

Fast forward to 1953 when Laurel and Hardy are about to embark on their second European tour. They traveled all across the UK doing stage productions of their famous skits. The tour's main purpose is to drum up the needed support to make their next film, a spoof on Robin Hood, for the Associated British-Pathe studios. That film was never meant to be. This tour inevitably was to be their last hurrah. Before Hardy shuffled off his mortal coil and Laurel retired, they would prove once again that they could make 'em laugh.

Directed by Jon S. Baird, Stan & Ollie (2018) is a heartfelt ode to two comedic geniuses whose identities were inextricably tied to each other. Written by Jeff Pope and A.J. Marriot, the story focuses on Laurel and Hardy's final European tour in 1953 but dips back to 1937 when they were at a crossroads in their life and career.

The film stars Steve Coogan as Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly as Oliver "Babe" Hardy. Coogan and Reilly embody the spirit, the mannerisms, the personalities almost effortlessly. They really captured the magic of Laurel and Hardy's comedic chemistry and how their characters drew from their real life temperaments. It's quite astonishing how Coogan and Reilly transformed themselves into their characters. Reilly wears a prosthetic suit made to look different depending on if the scenes were set in 1937 or 1953. Usually prosthetics look rather fake but the make-up team on this movie did an amazing job because Reilly really indeed look like Hardy. They made several, more subtle changes to Coogan's appearance but they were still incredibly effective.

Coogan and Reilly are playing two sides of Laurel and Hardy. We see them as performers but much of the film is about them as business partners. Laurel is the tireless workaholic always coming up with new ideas and ventures and Hardy is the more relaxed fun loving one who just enjoys performing. Coogan and Reilly do a great job portraying both sides of their personalities and the film shows how these sides sometimes blend together.

Paralleling their story was Lucille Hardy (Shirley Henderson) and Ida Laurel (Nina Arianda), the two devoted wives who have their own comedic dynamic as polar opposite characters. Danny Huston plays the irate Hal Roach and Rufus Jones plays Bernie Delfont, the duo's tour manager.

By the end of the movie I was working my way through a box of tissues because I got so emotional. This is a beautiful film. A sincere portrait of a partnership and a friendship. It's essentially one big love story that turned me into a puddle of goo.

I watched this movie with my husband Carlos and he had confessed to me that he'd never seen a Laurel and Hardy film. I stopped Stan & Ollie to show him Liberty (1929) which is my favorite of their films. We also watched the original dance sequence from Way Out West (1937) which is recreated a couple of times by Coogan and Reilly in the film.

You don't have to know Laurel and Hardy to appreciate the film. However, if you are indeed a fan it makes Stan & Ollie all the more special. This film is a treasure. Go seek it out.




Stan & Ollie is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Sony Picture Classics. The Blu-ray extras include three vignettes: Making of Stan & Ollie (4 min.), Playful Prosthetics (3 min.) and Dancing Duo (3.5 min), a Q&A with Cast & Crew (30 min.), deleted and extended scenes, theatrical trailer and other Sony related trailers.


Please visit my MovieZyng Store for other Sony Picture Classic releases and a wide variety of classic film related DVDs and Blu-rays.


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