Showing posts with label Anne Bancroft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anne Bancroft. Show all posts

Monday, August 20, 2018

Silent Movie (1976)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix

"What's the matter with you? Don't you know who I used to be?" 

Once celebrated film director Mel Funn is working on his comeback project. With the help of his best buds Marty Eggs (Marty Feldman) and Dom Bell (Dom DeLuise) they set out to make his dream happen. The trio stop by Big Pictures Studios to meet with the Studio Chief (Sid Caesar). Rival studio, Engulf and Devour, run by Engulf (Harold Gould) and Devour (Ron Carey), wants to put Big Picture Studios out of business. Funn offers Studio Chief his idea to save the company: the first silent movie made in over forty years. What could go wrong? With Studio Chief in the hospital, Funn and his crew set out on an adventure to get the biggest stars to be in their picture.

Silent Movie (1976) pokes fun at the film industry while paying homage to the silent films that started it all. This backstage comedy is 99.9% silent. Only one word is uttered and of course the actor to speak it is renowned mime Marcel Marceau. Because why not? Silent Movie is filled with hilarious gags, physical comedy that will leave you in stitches. It has one of the best line-ups of guest stars of any movie. In addition to Marceau, the comic trio recruit Burt Reynolds, James Caan, Liza Minnelli, Anne Bancroft (Mel Brooks' wife) and Paul Newman. Each cameo comes with its own highly entertaining comedy sequence. My favorite one was with Liza Minnelli. Brooks, Feldman and DeLuise dress up in suits of armor and enter the studio commissary where Minnelli has lunch. The trio don't know how to move gracefully in their clunky armor and chaos inevitably ensues. I watched that one scene four times before I could even move on to the rest of the film. It's that good.

On the heels of the success of Blazing Saddles (1974), his homage to Westerns, and Young Frankenstein (1974), his homage to classic horror, Brooks was in a position to tackle another genre, one near and dear to his heart.

"I never cared about religion, but I prayed to silent movies. It was my contact with things soulful. I'd go [to the silent movie theater] as often as I could." - Mel Brooks

According to Brooks biographer Dale Sherman (Mel Brooks FAQ), the idea came from writer Ron Clark who presented it to Brooks at a party. Brooks wasn't so sure about Clark's idea. How would a silent movie appeal to a modern audience? According to Sherman, Clark suggested "a movie in color, set in the current time, with all the modern camera techniques available, and with big movie stars... but without sound."

Brooks worked with Clark on the script and added his previous collaborators Rudy De Luca and Barry Levinson to the project. 20th Century Fox was on board with the idea, thanks to the nostalgia boom of the 1960s nad '70s and Brooks' recent box office success. However, just to be safe, the studio wanted Brooks to record sound. Just in case the whole silent movie aspect didn't pan out. But Brooks was confident it would work. The only sound added was Marceau's single word of dialogue, John Morris' score and synchronized sound for the various gags.

Then there was the cast. DeLuise and Feldman, Brooks' co-stars, were on board early on. Bernadette Peters, who plays Brooks' love interest, replaced Madeline Kahn who had to drop out. Then there were the guest stars. Brooks couldn't offer them much money. However, it wasn't a lot of work and it was a great opportunity to be featured in a movie poised for box office success. Caan, Reynolds, Minnelli and others agreed because who wouldn't want to work with Brooks circa 1976? Steve McQueen wanted the Paul Newman part but when he heard it was taken and that his friendly screen rival would be in the picture, he bowed out.

Silent Movie was made for $4 million and grossed over $36 million. It got mixed reviews but a lot of laughs.

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel

Anne Bancroft: A Life
by Douglass K. Daniel
University Press of Kentucky
408 pages
September 2017
Hardcover ISBN: 9780813169682

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"Personally and professionally, she was determined to live by her own terms." - Douglass K. Daniel

If ever there was a woman who was born to be an actress it was Anne Bancroft. Born in 1931 and raised in the Bronx, Bancroft was second generation American from sturdy Naples stock and her heritage was obvious from her given name: Anna Maria Louisa Italiano. The acting bug bit at a very young age and Anna would find any excuse to entertain. She could sing, dance and act and along with her God given talent she was also incredibly driven.

She didn't waste a minute getting started on her new found profession. Fresh out of high school, she attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and studied under Lee Strasburg. She got her first professional acting role, complete with a new name, Anne Marno, in the live television show Torrents of Spring. Eventually she dropped Marno for Bancroft and headed for Hollywood. Her ultimate goal was to be a movie star but her career would take her down a long and winding journey from TV, to Broadway and to Hollywood and back again. Even with the ups and many downs of her acting career, Bancroft never lost the passion and fire that drove her to pursue her art.

In the first comprehensive biography on the life and career of Anne Bancroft, author Douglass K. Daniel explores just what it took for this talented actress to make her mark. Bancroft started in Hollywood just as the studio system was winding down. She signed a contract with Twentieth Century Fox but that was short lived. Daniel writes,

"The major studios were moving toward shedding their contract talent in the face of financial uncertainty. The independence that came with picking and choosing roles could not be separated from the loss of security represented by regular employment."  

- Douglass K. Daniel

Relegated to small roles in films like  Don't Bother to Knock (1952), her film debut, or B-movies like New York Confidential (1955). Bancroft didn't fit a mold and while Hollywood struggled place her in roles that suited her talents. It was Bancroft's stage work that breathed new life into her film career. She had successful runs on Broadway with Two for the Seesaw, co-starring Henry Fonda, and The Miracle Worker, with Patty Duke. She lost the film role for the former but managed to get it for the latter and eventually went on to win the Academy Award for her role as Anne Sullivan. More parts came and went.  In Daniel's biography, we learn about her work in  The Slender Thread (1965), 7 Women (1966) and others leading up to her break out role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967). That film immortalized her but didn't necessarily boost her career. Other notable films discussed include The Hindenburg (1975), Fatso (1980), which she wrote, co-starred and directed, The Elephant Man (1980), Garbo Talks (1984), Agnes of God (1985), 84 Charing Cross Road (1987) and more.

"Mel and I are adamant. Our work is public, our other life is not." - Anne Bancroft

Bancroft's personal life was harder to pin down. She treasured her privacy and was adamant about keeping a work-life balance. In the biography reader learn a little about her first marriage to Martin May, a strange union that would end almost as soon as it began. Bancroft went on to find happiness in her second marriage to actor/director/producer Mel Brooks. They met while Bancroft was performing on the TV show Kraft Music Hall and immediately hit it off. Brooks and Bancroft collaborated on projects including Silent Movie (1976) and To Be or Not to Be (1983). Brooks achieved a level of success that Bancroft did not. She scaled back to one project a year after the birth of their only child Max only to realize later that career and motherhood could go hand in hand. Brooks and Bancroft seemed like an odd pair but their relationship worked on many levels. They were intensely private about their personal lives, had strong work ethics, respected each other as husband and wife and as performers. They were married until her death in 2005 and Bancroft worked up until the very end. Even as the roles got smaller and projects felt more stifling, her passion to be an entertainer never diminished.

Anne Bancroft and Mel Brooks

Throughout her career, Bancroft struggled to find good parts in good movies. She faced many obstacles as a woman and eventually as a woman of a certain age. Today we talk about gender inequality in the film industry and Anne Bancroft can be seen as an early spokesperson for women in film. In 1984 she said,

"People don't write wonderful parts for women because women have not been given a chance to live wonderful lives that people want to write about, and because most of the writers are men." 

Anne Bancroft: A Life by Douglass K. Daniel is an extensive look at an actress who lived life on her terms and offers readers insight into a woman who battled to have the career she wanted.

Thank you to University Press of Kentucky for sending me a copy of the book for review.

This is my first review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

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!

Friday, November 3, 2017

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson by Beverly Gray

Seduced by Mrs. Robinson
How The Graduate Became the Touchstone of a Generation
by Beverly Gray
Algonquin Books
304 pages
November 2017

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

No movie studio would touch it. Producer Lawrence Turman had shopped around Charles Webb's quirky novel The Graduate without much success. It wasn't until larger-than-life film promoter and producer Joseph E. Levine decided to finance the project that it moved forward. Turman brought on director Mike Nichols who had just completed Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) and the project began to take form. Dustin Hoffman, a relative newcomer, was considered an odd choice. They tried to get Robert Redford on board but he just didn't understand the character. Little did anyone know that Hoffman would be the perfect candidate for the title role and that his character would resonate so profoundly with young people for decades to come.

"The Graduate lasts party because it has something for everyone: the restless youth; the disappointed elder; the cinephile who values artistic innovation." - Beverly Gray

The Graduate had everything going against it yet everything going for it at the same time. It triumphed because of many factors. It spoke to a generation that was coming-of-age during the Vietnam War and unsure about their future. The Graduate's Benjamin was their hero; one who was willing to say no to plastics and imagine a different life for himself. Audiences cheered on because he represented themselves. And there was more. Simon & Garfunkel's music, the visual artistry, the performances by the cast, the brilliant work by the screenwriter, director, producer, and the rest of the crew. It all melded together to make one beautiful movie.

Behind the scenes of The Graduate
"The turbulent year 1967 turned out to be a high-watermark for new American cinema." - Beverly Gray

Releasing on the 50th anniversary of the film, author Beverly Gray's new book Seduced by Mrs. Robinson explores every aspect of The Graduate's history from its birth as Charles Webb's novel, to the production of the film and the aftermath of its legacy. Gray did extensive interviews with producer Lawrence Turman and also talked with other important figures in the making of the film including the star Dustin Hoffman and screenwriter Buck Henry. Readers can tell this is a passion project because of how much time and effort has gone into exploring every facets of this very important film. Gray inserts herself in the narrative. As a young woman coming-of-age in Los Angeles, when The Graduate released she was part of that generation that the film resonated so strongly with. The book is not only about the journey of the film but also her journey in discovering it's impact on our culture.

"This is as close to The Catcher in the Rye as anything I've found." - Mike Nichols

As someone who reads a lot of film books, it's rare that I find a book so brilliantly written. Gray has a fantastic voice. Her writing style is approachable and as a former story editor for Roger Corman she has a knack for storytelling. Gray offers a lot of interesting insights and information about the film that will give readers a new appreciation for this classic.

There are lots of nuggets of trivia to be taken away. Doris Day turned down the role because it offended her values. Anne Bancroft was dressed in animal prints and put in jungle-like settings (poolside with tropical plants) to visually convey her character. This was inspired by Nichols' reading of Henry James The Beast in the Jungle. Haskell Wexler lacked the enthusiasm to the film's cinematographer and was replaced by Robert Surtees.  And those are just a few bits of information. The book is chock full of them.

I learned more than I ever needed to know about The Graduate. I was quite shocked to see how big of a deal Dustin Hoffman's appearance was at the time and how everyone made rather rude comments about his nose. I've always thought he was a rather good looking guy. On my first viewing of The Graduate the impact of the story was completely lost on me. Over time I've learned to appreciate it more and Gray's book definitely made me understand the film's importance.

I have two quibbles with the book. One is that there is absolutely no mention of storyboard artist Harold Michelson who contributed significantly to the visual style of the movie. He's not even listed in the "Roll Credits" section in the backmatter. I know the author disputes just how involved Michelson was in the movie but I was surprised he was skipped over completely. The second is that there is one 60 page section of the book completely devoted to scene-by-scene plot description. I wasn't sure this was necessary. However, this reads fairly quickly and there are some insights and interesting observations embedded that can make it worth your while if you don't mind a refresher of the movie.

I had the pleasure of meeting Beverly Gray at the 2017 TCM Classic Film Festival. You can watch my interview with her here.

Thank you to Algonquin Books for sending me a copy of this book for review!


UPDATE: Congrats to Sal the winner of the giveaway. Thanks to everyone who participated!

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