Friday, July 3, 2020

The Assassination Bureau (1969): Review by Kate Gabrielle




The Assassination Bureau (1969) is an energetic, suspenseful, and imaginative romp through an alternate version of turn-of-the-century Europe where the chair of a secretive murder-for-hire organization, Ivan Dragomiroff (Oliver Reed), teams up with feminist journalist Miss Winter (Diana Rigg) to prevent World War I. Sure, he might be partially to blame for the Archduke Ferdinand's accidental assassination by tossing him a bomb concealed inside of a large sausage, but his heart is in the right place!

This dark comedy begins with Miss Winter seeking out The Assassination Bureau to commission a hit on Ivan Dragomiroff himself! Miss Winter believes that his demise will put an end to the increasing number of senseless murders being committed, and her first assignment as a newly minted journalist will be to trail Dragomiroff and cover his ultimate end for the paper. Driven partially by amusement at the offer and a desire to reset the moral compass of his increasingly mercenary institution, Dragomiroff accepts Miss Winter's request, with one caveat. If he is able to kill the other members of the board - corrupt men willing to trade an indefinite number of human lives in exchange for more power or wealth - then The Assassination Bureau can remain intact with him as chair, and restore its original mission to only eliminate those who are really and truly deserving of death.

Bedecked in a series of outlandish disguises, the members of the board all begin drawing up dastardly and inventive ways to kill each other off. A match sparked in a gas-filled room, bombs in briefcases, bombs in headboards, the aforementioned bomb in the sausage, and a particularly surprising death by helium! As Dragomiroff traipses across Europe leaving fiery, smoking buildings in his wake, Miss Winter follows along to cover the story and - predictably, but nonetheless adorably - becomes increasingly worried about the safety of the man that she just paid twenty thousand pounds to kill!

Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed have great chemistry here - in one scene when they are still in the verbal sparring stage of the "mismatched romantic duo" trope a hotel porter mistakes them for a married couple, and you could easily see how he could make that mistake. Dragomiroff remarks "it seems we have a married look ... because you're after my blood, no doubt." Of course, she's not the only one after his blood! Dragomiroff's second in command, Lord Bostwick (Telly Savalas) is so determined to see Miss Winter's hit carried out that he offers an additional ten thousand pound bonus to the person who does the deed. Savalas plays Lord Bostwick as a congenial villain, a man who delights in the game of death as much as the power he stands to gain from it. He is the perfect foil for Reed, who manages to portray an idealistic and upstanding hero with his characteristic devil-may-care flippancy.

The Assassination Bureau is as visually bright as the humor is dark - so many rich velvets, and so much attention to detail! In particular I was fascinated by a series of paintings lining the walls of the Bureau's conference room (a round room hidden behind beautiful curved bookcases) that depict famous assassinations throughout history, and a duo of beds in a brothel that are built to look like a swan and a peacock. Combining colorful, jaunty imagery with inset vintage newsreel footage, The Assassination Bureau puts a groovy 1960s twist on a fun turn of the century story.




The Assassination Bureau is available to purchase through the official



Kate Gabrielle is an illustrator and classic film fan. You can find her classic movie inspired artwork on her website, kategabrielle.com, and 10 years of film musings on her blog The Films in My Life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953): A Review by Kyle Edwards




The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) is an early-1950s British comedy which tells a story similar to many real occurrences throughout the world. After Britain's large, nationalized railroad company "British Railways" decides to cease operations over a rural branch line, a small group of concerned locals spring into action to buy the lot of it and save their treasured train. Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the ragtag group manages to defy the odds and preserve the rail line.

This film is the Orient Express of cinema, providing a scenic, entertaining connection between varied points; these being suspense, clever humor and heartwarming satisfaction. The primary antagonists in the film are a pair of gentlemen who wish to gain from the closure of the rail line by offering bus service in place of the train. After these men fail to block the new railroad from gaining government approval to operate, they take matters into their own hands. Several devious attempts at sabotaging the railway are made — all appear successful at first. However, the ingenuity, determination and teamwork displayed by the group aboard the train prevails every time. Throughout the film, the rails are blocked, the critically essential water tower is ruined and drained, and the entire train is even set loose and forced to derail. Wherever the bus company men do their worst... the railroad men and women do far better.

The Titfield Thunderbolt has a captivating storyline, solid cinematography and a skilled cast. The plot itself, though fictional, is based on the story of the Talyllyn Railway in Wales — which became the world's first railway to be preserved by volunteers in 1951. In a broader sense, the film is very representative of things to come in the years that followed. As railroads around the globe experienced increasing overall decline throughout the 1950s, 60s and 70s, many groups appeared from thin air and saved historic railways and equipment from total destruction. In this film, there's some truth behind the added element of the seemingly-evil bus operators trying to destroy the railway. Motorcoach, trucking, automobile and airline companies all applied heavy pressure on the railroad industry in their formative years — both directly and by pushing for government regulations that lined their pockets at the expense of the high iron.

This movie beautifully captures the inherent nostalgia of the railroad and the love that many people — of all ages — have for the steam train. Although many historic rail lines have been lost forever, The Titfield Thunderbolt's success story, though fictional, provides a burst of joy that makes the viewer grateful for the existing real-life success stories. As with the preservation of any object, machine or place, there must be a lot of care and determination for there to be any resulting positive outcome. This film, though light and humorous, highlights the perseverance of those who wish to save things that are at risk for obliteration. Just like a real rail line, this film has plenty of ups, downs and unexpected twists. But it's fun, thrilling and very much worth the ride.





The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953) is available on Blu-ray from Film Movement.

Thank you to Film Movement for providing a copy for review.



Kyle Edwards of Trainiac Productions

"I enjoy long walks on the beach, but prefer to study railroad history, photograph the giant machinery in action and enjoy any films from days gone by. I love to create as much as I love to enjoy the creations of others."

Monday, June 29, 2020

Whisky Galore (1949): Review by Kate Gabrielle



It’s 1943 in wartime Scotland and the residents of the small island of Todday are fighting a battle far worse than anything they could have ever imagined when World War II began — they are plumb out of whisky! In Whisky Galore, a colorful group of characters band together to salvage cases of alcohol from a sinking supply ship that ran aground near the island, while the daughters of the town’s postmaster (and most fervent admirer of whisky) contemplate marriage to their respective suitors. After the initial comical scenes depicting the moment when the "water of life" went dry, the film drags a bit, spending a little too much time on exposition for storylines that don't pay off until the end.

But once the townspeople concoct their plan to plunder the ship full of whisky, things really pick up the pace and all of the exposition starts coming together. In what is perhaps the most rewarding payoff, a mild-mannered man who lives under the roof - and thumb - of his overzealous fire-and-brimstone mother finally works up the nerve to speak up for himself once he's poured several glasses of pilfered whisky down the hatch. And an early scene on the effectiveness of roadblocks on an island with only one main thoroughfare finally comes full circle during a thrilling car chase!

A cast of regular Ealing players combined with local extras from the on-location island of Barra makes for a realistic, vibrant, and distinctive bunch that's reminiscent of Ballykissangel (1996-2001) and Waking Ned Devine (1998). The star of the film is definitely the town as a whole, but top-billed actors Basil Radford and Joan Greenwood (ironically the only non-Scottish members of the cast) pull their weight as the Home Guard commander and one of the postmaster's daughters.

Greenwood doesn't have very much to work with here -- her scenes consist of pretty much a loop of applying lipstick, answering the telephone in her father's shop and gazing lovingly at her fiance -- but, as was her custom, she takes those small scenes and turns them into works of art. Exuding composure and calm indifference, every line that she utters in her signature gravely voice elevates the script beyond the written words.

Radford - who you may recognize as one half of the popular Charters and Caldicott duo - transitions throughout the film from a somewhat bumbling Home Guard commander into something of a Javert character, determined to sabotage the whisky theft and hold accountable any and all townspeople who had anything to do with the heist. It is a small saving grace that his wife seems to be rooting for him to fail, and finds great pleasure in the moment he gets his comeuppance!

Despite the lag in pace in the first quarter of the film, this was a very pleasant and delightful film! Once it found its footing it was so lively and cheeky! And there are so many small moments that feel like they could only come from a British film of this era. An elderly man storing whisky in his hot water bottle; the sound of bagpipes being used to drown out the ranting and raving of a stuffy old woman; a man agreeing to allow his daughter's betrothal on the condition that his future son-in-law procure him whisky for the rèiteach. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my favorite scene in the film, a montage of villagers hiding their whisky in the most inventive and creative places in their homes. It's reminiscent of scenes from other wartime movies where people banded together for the good of the country - or in this case, for the sake of whisky!

The Film Movement Blu-Ray is a beautiful print with crystal-clear sound, something that I appreciate all the more in movies like this one that take place in a seaside setting, where the sound of the waves and seagulls are an essential part of the experience. Bonus features include an audio commentary by John Ellis, a documentary about the film, a featurette about the real life events that inspired the movie, and a 16-page booklet. You also get the 1954 film The Maggie, starring Paul Douglas.




Whisky Galore is available on Blu-Ray from Film Movement.

Thank you to Film Movement for providing a copy for review.




Kate Gabrielle is an illustrator and classic film fan. You can find her classic movie inspired artwork on her website, kategabrielle.com, and 10 years of film musings on her blog The Films in My Life.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Ghost of Peter Sellers


"For 43 years I covered up this very dark spot of my life. I carried this grudge against myself. After all these years, I'm here and I'm lost. What have I done?" - director Peter Medak

Peter Sellers developed a reputation for being difficult. By the time he started filming Ghost in the Noonday Sun (1974) he was not in a good place. He and Liza Minnelli had just broken up and he was feeling lonely and out of sorts. And he was about to make director Peter Medak's life a living hell. Four decades later Medak would live to tell the tale.

The new documentary The Ghost of Peter Sellers paints the portrait of a temperamental star on the path of self-destruction and a young director with a tormented past who remained hopeful even in the most dire of circumstances. Directed, narrated and starring Medak himself, this is a cathartic exploration of a production that has haunted him for many years. Viewers follow along as Medak interviews those who were involved with the film or had a connection with key players especially Peter Sellers himself. Interview subjects include writer Spike Milligan's agent Norma Farnes, producer and financier John Heyman, directors Joe McGrath and Piers Haggard who had worked with Sellers on other films, Sellers' personal assistant Susan Wood, actor Murray Melvin, Tony Franciosa's widow Rita Franciosa and many others. For a brief moment we hear from actor Robert Wagner who co-starred with Sellers in The Pink Panther (1963). Medak sits down with his friends and colleagues trying to reconstruct what exactly happened and takes us to Cyprus where the filming took place.


Medak interviewing McGrath and Haggard

"Making this documentary film was probably the craziest exercise I have ever done. It meant reaching deep inside and travelling alone through the memories of the worst directing experience of my entire life, reliving every moment again and walking in my own shadow of what happened on my movie 46 years ago." - Peter Medak

Ghost in the Noonday Sun was a high seas comedy starring Peter Sellers, Peter Boyle and Tony Franciosa. If you've never seen or even heard of this film there is a reason why. It was a disaster of a production and Columbia Pictures decided not to give it a theatrical release. Medak was an up-and-coming director. His film The Ruling Class (1972) had been nominated for a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His wife was pregnant with their second child, money was tight and he needed his next production to be a sure thing.

Sellers was at the height of his fame. A new Sellers production had the potential to be bought sight unseen. Resting on the laurels of the Sellers dynamic was Medak's biggest mistake. What the hell had he just gotten into? Even with the foreboding sense of an impending disaster the hopeful young director trudged forward.

 "I have a name of being difficult but I'm not difficult at all. I just can't take mediocrity. I cannot take it on any level." - Peter Sellers

You'd think that Sellers would be the villain of the story but that really isn't the case. Yes his behavior is inexcusable but it is clear that there was more going on behind the scenes. Medak clearly admires Sellers comedic genius and mourns his long lost colleague.

The Ghost of Peter Sellers is an enthralling documentary that offers insights into the filmmaking experience and how a person's actions have ripple effects that last long after they have passed on. If you're at all interested in Peter Sellers, film history and the filmmaking process, give this documentary a watch.




The Ghost of Peter Sellers is available today on VOD including Amazon Prime and Google Play.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Kino Lorber: Pioneers of Queer Cinema


Releasing in virtual cinemas today through Kino Marquee are three European films from the 1930s that were landmarks in queer representation. Just in time for Pride Month, this trifecta offers some insight into the gay subculture of pre WWII Germany and Denmark and offers classic film fans an opportunity to broaden their horizons with movies they might not have encountered otherwise. These films were way ahead of their time and it seems fitting that they be presented in this new virtual format of theatrical releases. For the full listing of participating theaters, visit the Kino Marquee website.






Madchen in Uniform (1931)
Directed by Leontine Sagan
Germany

Sagan's seminal lesbian drama paved the way for queer films to come. Set in a Prussian all-girls school in Weimar Republic Germany, the story follows Manuela (Hertha Thiele), a new student who falls deeply in love with one of her teachers, Fraulein von Bernberg (Dorothea Wieck). As their relationship blossoms, the old-fashioned and strict headmistress threatens order and adherence to Prussian virtues at all costs. I won't go too much into this film as I'm writing a lengthy piece about it for TCM (I'll link it here once it goes live). There is a reason why this is such a landmark film. It broke down barriers in its representation of lesbian romance. Madchen in Uniform was a huge hit during its time. Germany had a thriving gay subculture before the Nazi regime who later would try to destroy this film. It was a hit overseas as well. After being banned during WWII, it enjoyed a revival in the 1970s from feminists and the lesbian community. It's been remade a few times and other lesbian dramas set in all-girl schools, Olivia (1950) (read my review of that film here!) and The Children's Hour (1961), soon followed.

Madchen in Uniform will be available next month on DVD and Blu-ray through Kino Lorber.




Michael (1924)
Directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer
Denmark

Dreyer's atmospheric drama set in the art world is sophisticated as it is somber. Walter Slezak stars as the titular Michael, an up-and-coming artist who resides with his mentor/lover, the great Claude Zoret (Benjamin Christensen). Zoret is a great influence to Michael but their relationship is threatened when Zoret's new patron, Countess Zamikoff (Nora Gregor), who is after Zoret's wealth and seduces Michael as a means of getting to the money. Michael is a slow moving drama that can be a bit difficult to get into. It's worth your time just to watch a silent film that is so frank about the characters' sexualities The beautiful cinematography by Karl Freund doesn't hurt either. Furthermore, fans of Walter Slezak's later work, American films like Come September and Life Boat, will find him delightfully unrecognizable and the handsome Michael.

Michael is available on DVD through Kino Lorber and for digital rental or purchase through Kino Now.




Victor and Victoria (1933)
Directed by Reinhold Schünzel
Germany

Love Victor/Victoria (1982)? Here's your opportunity to watch the original! Victor and Victoria (1933) is a vivacious German musical that had me absolutely transfixed. It has an energy that is just infectious and kept me wanting more. Renate Muller stars as Susanne, a singer looking for her big break. She befriends Victor (Hermann Thimig), a vaudeville entertaining known for performing in drag as his alter-ego Victoria. When Victor falls ill with a cold, he convinces Susanne to pretend she's a man performing as a woman to cover for him. Susanne makes an unexpected splash as Victoria and continues the ruse by pretending to be a man who dresses up as a woman on stage full time. When she starts to fall for Robert (Anton Walbrook) things get a bit complicated. This was my favorite film of the three. And heck I'll go as far as to say it's even better than Blake Edwards' remake. I'd watch this again and again and it's already on my wishlist to get this on Blu-ray.


Victor and Victoria is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray through Kino Lorber.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Bruce Lee ESPN 30 for 30: Be Water


“Empty your mind. Be formless like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. If you put water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. If you put water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. It can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” - Bruce Lee

Directed by Bao Nguyen, ESPN Films presents Be Water, a new documentary about Bruce Lee, the cinema superstar and martial arts legend whose life was cut tragically short. In conjunction with the Bruce Lee Family Archive, Be Water, a reference to Lee's philosophy about martial arts combat, offers a comprehensive look at the charismatic leading man and powerhouse athlete who took the world by storm.

The American born Bruce Lee was raised in Hong Kong and was forever a man caught between two worlds. He would spend his career building a bridge between East and West. Lee began his career in the entertainment industry at a young age. His father, who did not appreciate Lee's developing interest in martial arts and acting, sent him back to America in hopes that his son would forge a different path.

Bruce Lee was a master of the martial arts combat known as Wing Chun. Lee studied other forms of combat and idolized Muhammad Ali whose boxing moves Lee incorporated into his own work. Originally Lee had plans to start a nationwide chain of martial arts schools but at a Long Beach Tournament he was spotted by hairdresser Jay Sebring who told his client producer William Dozier about Lee. Dozier had been looking for an Asian actor to appear in the television series The Green Hornet. Lee auditioned and got the part.

Credit: Bruce Lee Family


The rest should have been smooth sailing for Lee but it was anything but. Lee had everything going for him. He was handsome, charming, incredibly fit, a supremely talented athlete and had an on screen persona that was just electric. But being a Chinese American with a thick accent held him back in an industry that was just not ready or willing to accept him. Lee understood that making it in Hollywood was the Holy Grail of success. He went back to Hong Kong to make films hoping that would elevate his star power. There he proved that he was a film star. Bruce Lee was about to take Hollywood by storm with Enter the Dragon and his work on an upcoming feature film Game of Death. Tragically, he died in Hong Kong at the age of 32. He didn't live to see the success he could have in Hollywood or the legend that he would become.

"I'm sure that my father did not fully appreciate the behemoth he was up against. How deeply systemic it is. That said I don't think he was naive. He just believed in himself so deeply. He knew he had something to share that was worthwhile. He knew how hard he was willing to work." - Shannon Lee

Be Water is one of the best biographical documentaries I've ever had the privilege to see. And I don't make that statement lightly. Nguyen does an incredible job chronicling Bruce Lee's life and career, weaving in Lee's struggles as a Chinese-American man and the treatment of Asians in the entertainment industry. There are moments that are just infuriating like seeing how Lee had to fight to get dialogue for his character Kato in The Green Hornet and how he lost the role in the TV series Kung Fu to actor David Carradine. Throughout the documentary we get a sense of Lee's free spirit, his love for his family, his natural confidence, outgoing nature and strong work ethic. Lee was a proactive participant in his journey; never complacent, always fighting for better roles and representation.

The documentary is solely made up of archival footage including clips from his films and television appearances, home videos, audition tapes, family photos, interviews, newsreel footage and more. It is narrated by the interviews with those who knew him best including his daughter Shannon Lee, his wife Linda Lee Caldwell, his brother Robert Lee, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Nancy Kwan, close friends, film producers and others. If you watch this film, do not stop before you get to the end credits. Perhaps the best end credits I have ever seen. I really love what Nguyen did with this. It was quite touching and I was very moved. When you watch the film you'll know what I mean.

"As a child of Vietnamese war refugees, I grew up in America where depictions of Asians and Asian Americans were through a very skewed and narrow lens... It wasn’t until I saw a young man named Bruce Lee onscreen did that all change. I saw someone who looked like me for the first time, with an unapologetic confidence and magnetism that resonated on every inch of the silver screen. Since then and through the making of this film which has taken me over 5 years, I have learned about the racial struggles that Bruce Lee had to overcome to become a cultural icon and it has always been my hope to share his personal story with all the fears, struggles, and vulnerabilities that made him human." Bao Nguyen



Be Water premieres on ESPN as part of their 30 for 30 series on June 7th at 9 PM EST.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Black Film History: A Reading List



Whether you want to expand your knowledge or diversify your summer reading challenge selections, here are a variety of classic film books about black film history to consider.

I didn't include any buy links. I encourage you to Google these titles (or click on my reviews if I listed them) if you want more information. If you're interested in purchasing books, I recommend contacting your favorite independent bookstore to see if they have any titles in stock or if they can order on your behalf. I recently placed an order with Larry Edmunds Bookshop that included Sidney Poitier's memoir This Life and a biography on Bill "Bojangles" Robinson.

If you want to get started with a few articles before diving into books, I have some pieces I wrote for Turner Classic Movies, DVD Netflix and The Film Detective that I recommend. Over the past year and a half I've been researching African-American film history and am really proud of the pieces that I was able to write for those outlets. Full list is at the very bottom of this post.

If you have recommendations to share, please leave a comment. I would love to hear from you.


PERSONAL RECOMMENDATIONS


Hollywood Black
The Stars, The Films, The Filmmakers
by Donald Bogle

Other titles:

 Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks
An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films
by Donald Bogle

Bright Boulevards, Bold Dreams
The Story of Black Hollywood
by Donald Bogle




Brotherhood in Rhythm
The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers
by Constance Valis Hill



The Devil Finds Work
by James Baldwin



The Many Faces of Josephine Baker
Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy

by Peggy Caravantes

(Review)




Life Beyond Measure
Letters to my Great-Grandaughter
by Sidney Poitier
(Review)



The Measure of a Man
A Spiritual Autobiography
by Sidney Poitier



Photo by Sammy Davis Jr.
(Review)



Stealing the Show
African American Performers and Audiences in 1930s Hollywood
by Miriam J. Petty



Stepin Fetchit
The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry
by Mel Watkins
(Review)


MORE TITLES TO CONSIDER



America's Mistress
The Life and Times of Eartha Kitt
by John L. Williams


Black Oscars
From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us about African Americans
By Frederick Jr. Gooding




Dorothy Dandridge
A Biography
by Donald Bogle




Hattie McDaniel
Black Ambition, White Hollywood
by Jill Watts




Hollywood at the Intersection of Race and Identity
edited by Delia Malia Caparoso Konzett



In Black and White
The Life of Sammy Davis Jr.
by Wil Haygood



Josephine Baker
by Jose-Luis Bocquet and illustrated by Catel Muller



Mr. Bojangles
The Biography of Bill Robinson
by James Haskins and N.R. Mitgang




My One Good Nerve
by Ruby Dee




My Song: A Memoir
by Harry Belafonte with Michael Shnayerson




Oscar Micheaux
The Life of America's First Black Filmmaker
by Patrick McGilligan



Separate Cinema
The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art
by John Duke Kisch


Sing and Shout
The Mighty Voice of Paul Robeson
By Susan Goldman Rubin




Stars for Freedom
Hollywood, Black Celebrities and the Civil Rights Movement
by Emilie Raymond


Stormy Weather
The Life of Lena Horne
by James Gavin

MY ARTICLES ON BLACK FILM HISTORY

DVD Netflix

Turner Classic Movies

Film Detective

Friday, May 29, 2020

Hollywood Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson

Hollywood Godfather
The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson
by W.R. Wilkerson III
Chicago Review Press
352 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 9781613736609
September 2018

Amazon — Barnes and Noble — Powell's

"All his life Billy was in love with the impossible." — Joe Pasternak


Billy Wilkerson’s biggest dream was to be his own boss. He accomplished that in spades when he founded The Hollywood Reporter in 1930. The first issue ran September 3rd of that year and up until the day he died Wilkerson would be heavily involved in the day-to-day operations and would write 8,320 daily editorials himself. His success with The Hollywood Reporter came from constant innovation, aggressive tactics to sell ad space and the shrewd buildup of influence. At one time, Billy Wilkerson was the most powerful man in the entertainment industry.

A medical school drop out, Wilkerson transitioned to film and wore many hats in his early days in the industry. He worked in sales, marketing promotion, film criticism and journalism, all of which gave him wisdom and experience to make The Hollywood Reporter a success. In New Jersey he owned a Nickelodeon and a luxe theater. He eventually moved to Hollywood with dreams of becoming a filmmaker. He worked with his friend Joe Pasternak and with actor El Brendel on a film project called Help Yourself. He shopped it around but no one bit. Hollywood had rejected Wilkerson and it hurt. Badly. He exacted revenge in a monumental way by going after the studio moguls with the first daily trade paper for the film industry.

Wilkerson went on to have other business ventures including the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas and the Cafe Trocadero and Ciro in Hollywood. Many of his business ventures were innovative but ultimately failed him financially or personally. Wilkerson was tight-fisted with money and very demanding of his employees. He was a devout Catholic but also a man of many vices. He was a reckless gambler and had a severe Coca Cola addiction that ruined his health. Wilkerson was vehemently anti-communist and used his power, his connections with Howard Hughes and the public platform of The Hollywood Reporter to take down perceived communists in the industry. He could be very cruel, was unapologetic about his actions and used his mob connections to his advantage. The only thing that could truly be admired about Wilkerson is his business acumen and innovation. He was always thinking on his feet.

"The most successful figures in the entertainment industry... shared a sense of determination, an ability to weather massive misfortune." - W.R. Wilkerson III
Billy Wilkerson and his son W.R. Wilkerson III - Photo Source: The Hollywood Reporter

Billy Wilkerson: Photo Source: The Hollywood Reporter


Hollywood Godfather: The Life and Crimes of Billy Wilkerson effectively chronicles the life of a difficult man who had a profound influence on the film industry in its early days. The biography is written by Wilkerson's son. I'm always a bit cautious about biographies written by family members. However, while reading the book I kept forgetting that the book was written by Wilkerson’s son. It felt very unbiased and thorough. The author leaves no stone unturned and is not afraid to explore the ugly side of his father's life story. And there was plenty of dirt to dig up. Perhaps the most shocking was Wilkerson's involvement with the Hollywood Blacklist. Even after the fact, Wilkerson was unapologetic about what he had done.

This biography offers a comprehensive look at Wilkerson's life and career, with a particular focus on the later, and his dealings with close friends including Joe Schenck, Joe Pasternak, Greg Bautzer (his lawyer), Howard Hughes, Johnny Rosselli (a mobster) and Lana Turner. The author conducted extensive interviews with his father’s right hand man George Kennedy who helped supply much of the information found in the book. Many people refused to be interviewed and it's a testament to the author's efforts that he pursued as many avenues and angles as he could to offer such a thorough biography.

 Thank you to Chicago Review Press for a copy of Hollywood Godfather for review.

Please note that this book review is not an entry into my summer reading challenge.

Monday, May 25, 2020

2020 Summer Reading Challenge





It's that time again! I'm very happy to announce this year's Summer Reading Challenge (or Winter for those of you on the Southern Hemisphere)! We're all spending way more time at home this year and that means plenty of time for reading. And what's the best kind of reading? Classic film reading!

I'm keeping the challenge the same but I encourage you to do additional posts including sharing your TBR stack of books, your shelfie (a selfie of your book collection), favorite place to read, favorite classic film books you've read in the past, etc. Keep the hashtag #ClassicFilmReading going all summer long with classic film book posts!

Please remember that in order to participate you must follow each of the rules below. The three most important ones are signing up, using the hashtag and submitting your review links.

If you don't read all 6 books that's okay! You can participate with one or two books if that's all you have time for. 

All of the details and the forms are on the main hub for the Summer Reading Challenge. Here is an overview of the rules.

Summer Reading Challenge Rules

  • Sign up for the challenge on the official page.
  • Read a classic film book
  • Write a review and post it on your Blog, Instagram or Goodreads profile
  • Use hashtag #classicfilmreading
  • Submit your review link  on the official page.
  • Repeat until you have read and reviewed 6 books!
  • Review 6 and be automatically entered to win a prize.

Challenge runs from June 1st until September 15th, 2020. Sign-up before July 15th.



If you complete all 6 reviews by September 15th you’ll be eligible to win one single disc DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection, film of your choosing. # of winners to be determined.

Open internationally.

HAPPY READING!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Olivia (1950) on OVID




Directed by Jacqueline Audry, Olivia (1950) is a little-known French drama about an English student who, while attending a French finishing school, falls in love with her headmistress. The film is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Dorothy Bussy and stars Marie-Claire Olivia as the title character. The young English teen struggled to fit in at her previous school and finds the new school more welcoming. The girls at the new school are separated into two cliques: one clique favors Mademoiselle Julie (Edwige Feuillere) and the other favors Mademoiselle Cara (Simone Simon). Mademoiselle Julie is a competent headmistress. However Mademoiselle Cara is volatile, emotionally manipulative and suffers from a mysterious ailment that may be a figment of her imagination. When Mademoiselle Julie whisks Olivia away for a private field trip to Paris, Olivia's feelings for her headmistress deepen. Back at the finishing school, tensions arise. Secrecy, jealousy, tragedy. What will become of Mademoiselle Julie and Olivia?

Olivia (1950) is a rare gem. A lesbian drama directed by a woman is not unusual to find these days but back in 1950 it was virtually unheard of. Olivia is not the best film. It's overblown and a bit convoluted. Simone Simon is in her element as the temperamental and pouty Mademoiselle Cara. Feuillere and Olivia are  dutifully restrained in their performances. But if you've seen such films as Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019), which is a masterpiece in its own right (you can read my review here), and want to watch an equivalent from a different era, Olivia is a good companion film. I had never heard of this film before discovering it on OVID.tv, a newer streaming service that I've been having a great time exploring. Olivia was recently restored and is currently distributed through Icarus Films. I highly recommend you seek out this rarity if you get a chance.




OVID streams a variety of independent and foreign films. Visit OVID.tv for more information about their offerings.

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