Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Sinatra. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Never So Few (1959)

John Sturges’ Never So Few (1959) is part WWII drama and part exotic melodrama. Inspired by true events, it follows the story of American and British troops in Burma (now Myanmar) working on an attack on the Japanese but are in turn attacked by Chinese guerrillas. The troop is led by Captain Reynolds (Frank Sinatra), a fearless leader who isn’t afraid to make difficult decisions under the duress of war or to question the authority of his superiors. His troop is a motley crew of personalities including hard drinking but lovable Sergeant Norby (Dean Jones), macho man Sergeant Danforth (Charles Bronson), semi-incompetent army doctor Captain Travis (Peter Lawford) and Reynolds’ right hand man Captain Mortimer (Richard Johnson). Then there is Ringa (Steve McQueen), Reynolds and Mortimer’s driver, who quickly proves his worth and becomes an important aide to the troop. He’s always got a stash of booze somewhere for the drinking and shares Reynolds’ distaste for authority. Together this band of soldiers works with Kachin leader Nautaung (Philip Ahn) as they make their way through the jungles of Burma. Injected into this war drama is a love story between Reynolds and the glamorous Carla (Gina Lollobrigida). Carla is traveling with her beau, wealthy merchant Nikko Regas (Paul Henreid), but the rough and tough Reynolds quickly sweeps her off her feet. Can Reynolds infiltrate the guerrilla group that is putting his men in danger and still get back safely to Carla?

Never So Few is an adaptation of Tom T. Chamales' novel of the same name, Chamales, an army veteran who served during WWII, based his story on a controversial event that he personally witnessed and wrote about extensively. According to both the AFI and The Hollywood Reporter, the incident involved Chiang Kai-shek’s government authorizing “warlords to cross borders and kill [American and British troops] indiscriminately,” something the Los Angeles Consul General for the Republic of China vehemently denied. MGM bought the rights to the novel in 1956, year before its publication. The novel was adapted to the screen by writer Millard Kaufman. It was filmed on location in Myanmar (then Burma) as well as India, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and Thailand with some scenes shot on the MGM lot. The film was made for $3.5 million. It was a hit at the box office making $5.27 million gross worldwide. While audiences flocked to the movie, critics gave it mixed reviews.

I don’t know about you but I’m a sucker for all-star casts and Never So Few delivers on that front. So many of my favorites are in this movie including Gina Lollobrigida, Frank Sinatra, Steve McQueen, Peter Lawford, Paul Henreid, Charles Bronson, Brian Donlevy and I loved watching scenes with actors I’m fairly unfamiliar with like Dean Jones, Kipp Hamilton (who plays a fun loving army nurse) and Richard Johnson. It’s a male heavy cast but there is enough of Lollo and some other feisty women to give the film a bit of balance. The much beloved George Takei has a small role as a soldier in the hospital scene. This was one of my favorite moments in the movie when Sinatra’s Reynolds stands up to a higher ranking captain because the hospital is feeding the Burmese soldiers an American diet that is causing them dysentery. Reynolds’ character defies racial prejudice and shows compassion that’s lacking among the American/British authorities. Actor James Hong also has a bit part as the corrupt General Chao. Hong and Donlevy have a fantastic showdown which gives the film a satisfying and patriotic ending.

Many members of the cast and crew were war veterans. Here is a snapshot:

WWII experience:
Army: Tom T. Chamales
Army Air Corps: John Sturges, Charles Bronson
British Navy: Richard Johnson
Marine Corps: Steve McQueen, Millard Kaufman, Robert Bray

WWI experience:
Flying Corps: Brian Donlevy

The stand out in Never So Few is relative newcomer Steve McQueen. This was his first big budget movie and the first of his trilogy with John Sturges which includes The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). The role of Ringa was originally intended for Sammy Davis Jr. At this point in Sinatra’s career, he often had members of the Rat Pack in his movies. Davis and Sinatra had a falling out and Sinatra demanded that Davis be replaced. According to McQueen biographer Wes D. Gehring, Sturges and Sinatra watched several episodes of McQueen’s TV show Wanted: Dead or Alive and were impressed with what they saw. Sinatra set his sights on McQueen and requested that the role of Ringa be expanded to showcase the newcomer. The two got along on set and even pulled pranks on each other. McQueen and his wife Neile Adams quickly became part of the Rat Pack’s social circle. However, McQueen was hesitant about becoming an official member of the Rat Pack (or The Summit as Sinatra called it). McQueen thought it would hold him back in his acting career and he even turned down a part in the classic Rat Pack movie Ocean’s Eleven (1960) so he could distance himself a bit from the group.

Never So Few is an important drama because it looks at a lesser known moment in the history of WWII. The film is well-worth your time for the excellent cast and is essential viewing for any Steve McQueen fan. The story does drag on a bit and I felt Sinatra and Lollobrigida had a little chemistry but not enough to make their romance believable. There is a particular scene when Sinatra and Lollobrigida are about to kiss and Lollobrigida is talking about goat’s milk. It really “soured” the moment for me. And I would be remiss to not point out the very odd opening credits. It features vignettes of all the primary cast members with the exception of the two main stars. When I first watched it I thought I’d missed something and replayed it. Nope. We see Sinatra and Lollobrigida’s names in big letters but no vignette. I thought this a very odd choice.

Never So Few (1959) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection.When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

The film looks fantastic on Blu-Ray. You can hear the WAC trio discuss the film on their podcast All's Fair about 4 minutes in. D.W. Ferranti calls the film "half a courageous war movie and half a vengeance movie."

 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 Never So Few (1959) on Blu-Ray for review!

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!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Suddenly (1954)

Suddenly (1954) poster

"There's cruelty and hatred and tyranny in the world. You can't make believe they aren't there." - Pop Benson

Suddenly is a strange name for what seems like a sleepy little town. It’s a throwback from the old days when things used to happen quite suddenly there. The Gold rush, road agents, gamblers and gunfighters all became part of the town’s history. But much hasn’t happened in Suddenly for a long time. That is until now.

Directed by Lewis Allen and based on a shot story by Richard Sales, who also adapted it for screen, Suddenly (1954) is a taught crime thriller with elements of Film Noir. It’s an independent film from Libra Productions and distributed by United Artists starring Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason and Nancy Grace.

Sheriff Tod Shaw is beloved by the community he takes care of. He’s in love with a beautiful widow Ellen Benson (Nancy Gates) and befriends her son Pidge (Kim Charney). Ellen is reluctant to pursue a relationship with Tod because she’s struggling with the death of her husband in the Korean War. She shelters her son from the harsh realities of life but little does she know true danger is just around the corner.

One day the local train depot receives an important message. The president of the United States is making a pit stop in town and the Secret Service is calling upon the Sheriff to escort him safely out of town and to his final destination. Willis Bouchey plays Dan Carney, the chief of the Presidential staff, who is overseeing the security for the president's arrival. Upon chatting with the Sheriff he learns that his old Secret Service boss Pop Benson (James Gleason) lives in town. He lives with his daughter-in-law Ellen and grandson Pidge. Their home is situated by the train depot and has the perfect view of the station. Perhaps a bit too perfect.

Frank Sinatra is John Baron, the head of a trio including thugs Bart (Christopher Dark) and Benny (Paul Frees) know about that. They pretend to be FBI agents to get access to the Benson home and hold them hostage in their own home as the plot to shoot the president with a clear vantage point from inside the home. They're on assignment from a mystery employer: a half million to kill the president. The trio hold Pop, Ellen and Pidge hostage and soon Sheriff Tod and local electrician Jud (James O'Hara) join the trapped family. The situation seems hopeless. Can they get the word out to the Secret Service about the assassins in time to save the president?

"[Suddenly] marked the start of Sinatra's dramatic career on film as a leading man; there was no Lancaster or Montgomery Clift in sight now. This was the Frank Sinatra show, pure and simple, a feature film that turned into a one-man showcase the second he appeared onscreen." 
- Tom Santopietro, Sinatra in Hollywood

Nancy Gates, Kim Charney, Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra in Suddenly (1954)
Suddenly (1954) was Frank Sinatra's first role after From Here to Eternity (1953), the film that put Sinatra on the map again. Sinatra biographer James Kaplan notes, "[Frank Sinatra] had been interested in Richard Sale's pulpy yet propulsive script from the moment he saw it." It’s a good role for Sinatra. We’re mesmerized by the sadistic John Baron who got a taste for killing during his stint in WWII. He’s twitchy, trigger happy and enjoys making others suffer. As we reach the climax of the story the camera focuses more and more on Baron and having watched many Sinatra films, I've never seen one showcase Sinatra's scar quite as much as this one. James Kaplen says, "Suddenly's cinematographer, Charles G. Clarke, often shot Frank [Sinatra] in tight, unnerving close-ups and amazingly frequently on his bad side -- the left side of his face, the side deformed around the ear and neck by a forceps delivery at birth and a childhood mastoid operation." It adds to the many sinister qualities of Sinatra’s character.

"You're wrong about God and the gun, Sheriff. Without the gun, you would have never have spit at me. You would never have even noticed me. But because of the gun, you will remember me as you as you will live." - John Baron

Upon first viewing audiences will be caught up in the tension of the drama. On second viewing they might notice the overarching themes of patriotism and gun control. Ellen is scared of guns because of how they relate to her husband's death at war. Pidge is fascinated with toy guns because he wants to be like a Sheriff like Tod. His mother discourages him but both the Sheriff and his grandfather Pop Benson encourage him. For Suddenly's Sheriff, guns are a necessary part of keeping the town safe. For John Baron his sophisticated sniper rifle is a political tool for terrorism. The hostages see Baron as more than just a killer; he’s worse, he’s a traitor. After serving in WWII (and perhaps being dishonorably discharged), he turns his attentions to the pleasure of killing for the sake of killing and for money. The president is just another target for him. The Secret Service is tipped off to the trio of thugs when a dying stool pigeon’s deathbed confession reveals the assassination plot. His legacy is that last moment of patriotism. We also see Ellen admonished for her negative feelings about the Korean War and the sense of pride Pop Benson feels for having served his country in WWI and as President Coolidge’s bodyguard.

The film has a strange history. According to James Kaplan, Sinatra "won critical raves for Suddenly, by no means a big film, but the picture had died at the box office." It’s rumored that Lee Harvey Oswald watched the film at one time with the suggestion that it might have influenced his actions.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Suddenly (1954) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962), another Sinatra film dealing with an assassination plot, were pulled from circulation.  Or so they say. It's unclear what really happened but both films were unavailable for a long time. Some sources say Sinatra, who at one point was close friends with JFK, bought the rights for the films and pulled them. Other sources say it was an agreement among several parties at United Artists. Another theory is that both films were still available but were screened on rare occasions because few people wanted to be reminded of JFK's death. Out of the two films, Suddenly (1954) fell into the public domain when the copyright was not renewed.

Lou Lumenick, formerly of The New York Post writes, "A lawyer for United Artists told me they pulled the film from circulation in 1966 because they were unable to locate the heirs of producer Robert Bassler to renew the TV rights. Suddenly appeared on the public domain market very soon after its copyright failed to be renewed in 1982."

Public domain films are often neglected with bad copies in circulation online and on DVD. Lucky for us Suddenly (1954) is available on Blu-Ray from The Film Detective (distributed by Allied Vaughn), restored from the original 35mm film elements, presented in the original aspect ratio and including a restored soundtrack. There are no extras but it does include closed captioning.

The Film Detective's restoration of Suddenly (1954) is beautiful and this Blu-Ray is a must for your film library. I had seen this movie on TCM when Sinatra was Star of the Month back in December and was happy for an opportunity to see it again all polished up. There are some fine performances by Hayden and Gleason and Sinatra is simply terrifying in the role of John Baron. You can pair this  with either Cry Terror! (1958) or The Manchurian Candidate (1962) for an excellent double bill.

The film was shot in Saugus, a neighborhood of Santa Clarita, California. Robby of Dear Old Hollywood has a fun post about filming locations for Suddenly

Sources and links:
Sinatra: The Chairman by James Kaplan
The Washington Post
TCMDB article on Suddenly

Thank you to The Film Detective for sending me a copy to review.

Monday, April 4, 2016

On honoring my father's wishes and The Miracle of the Bells (1948)

Timing is everything.

My father passed away in August and since that time I have been in charge of his settling his affairs. Recently I took a day off to get a few errands done including delivering my parents' tax forms and paperwork to their lawyer. He's been in the business for 52 years and still does everything with pen and paper. When I entered his office I was struck by the lack of technology. He had a simple fold out desk, a basic chair, and paperwork scattered everywhere. There was no computer. He did everything the same way he had been doing it for the last half century. I delivered my parents' paperwork knowing that this is what my father would have wanted. He would have wanted his taxes to be done by the same lawyer who had been doing them for the family since the 1980s. He would have wanted them to be done with pen and paper. He would have wanted a paper check for his tax return. As my father's daughter I saw to it that his final tax forms were done the way he would have wanted because honoring the wishes of the dead is the responsibility of the living.

Later that same day I watched the RKO film The Miracle of the Bells (1948). It had been recorded on my DVR in December when TCM had their Frank Sinatra month and I forgot about it. I picked a film at random from my DVR and wouldn't you know it it's a film about carrying out the wishes of someone who has passed away. It's like the universe was waiting for this exact day for me to watch this movie.

It's a bizarre little film. Fred MacMurray plays press agent Bill Dunnigan. He brings the body of deceased actress Olga Treskovna (Alida Valli) to her hometown. She left him very specific instructions on what to do after she died. Olga wanted a funeral service held at St. Michael's church, 6 girls dressed as angels surrounding her casket, ringing of church bells and a burial at the top of a hill where her parents were laid to rest. Coaltown is aptly named because of the thriving mining business. The town is also the reason why Olga's parents died and why she died, the coal dust weakened her lungs and tuberculosis set in. Dunnigan's first encounters with the people of Coaltown is disheartening. No one remembers Olga, they speak ill of her father who was known as a town drunk and the funeral director (Harold Vermilyea) wants to squeeze every penny out of Dunnigan. His faith in humanity is restored when he meets Father Paul (Frank Sinatra, yes that Frank Sinatra) of St. Michael's church. Father Paul's humility, patience and willingness to listen allows Dunnigan to open up about Olga's story which the audience see through flashbacks.

Publicity photo of Fred MacMurray, Alida Valli and Frank Sinatra from The Miracle of the Bells (1948).

She's determined to become a star and knows she has very little time to achieve her goal. Dunnigan steps in as her savior in more ways than one.  As it turns out Dunnigan has discovered a wonderful new talent in Olga and works to get her the role of Joan of Arc in a film produced by Marcus Harris (Lee J. Cobb). Olga turns out a marvelous performance only to die the day after the film is finished. Harris threatens to shelve the film and reshoot it with another star. Dunnigan is determined to save Olga's legacy. He wants to make her funeral a national story. How does he do it? He pays 5 churches of Coaltown to ring their bells continuously for 72 hours hoping this will bring national attention to Olga and change Harris' mind about shelving the film. In order to make a difference Dunnigan will have to go big or go home.

The Miracle of the Bells (1948) might have an odd plot but this quirk film will draw you in and hold your attention. You can't help but root for the main characters even while you're scratching your head with confusion. The first scenes of the film show Dunnigan (MacMurray) bringing Olga's body to Coaltown and this sets a morbid tone to the film. It's not a weepy nor is the film overly sentimental. Which is odd because I think that was the intention in the first place. Because this film is so strange its quirks make it seem more genuine despite of itself. There are religious overtones but it's not heavy handed. Flashback scenes give us plenty of time to learn about Olga and to watch as her relationship with Dunnigan develops. They also give us a respite from the somber tone of the present day's situation.

This movie did not fare well despite it being based on the best-selling novel by Russell Janney. It suffered a financial loss at the box office and it was released when Frank Sinatra's career was on a downward spiral. Most people give this film unfavorable reviews however I liked it despite its flaws. Maybe you just have to be in the right mood to enjoy it.

The Miracle of the Bells (1948) is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)

It’s no secret that I’m completely enamored with mid-20th Century Las Vegas. If I could take a time travel vacation, one of my top choices would be a late 1950s or early 1960s Las Vegas. So it was inevitable that I watch Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) so I could swoon over all the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas that no longer exists and to be entertained as well.

I won a copy of this movie in a Warner Archive Kumbuya giveaway. Shout out to the lovely Aurora of Once Upon a Screen... who runs the Kumbuya platform for Warner Archive and does a splendid job at that. I do encourage you to sign up and become a part of that community.

Meet Me in Las Vegas was an MGM production directed by Roy Rowland and stars Cyd Charisse as Maria Covier. Maria is a ballerina who’s preparing for her Las Vegas debut. She’s all business. When she’s not rehearsing, she’s resting and when she’s not resting, she’s rehearsing. Her life revolves around her various dancing gigs and the only people who inhabit her world, other than her fellow dancers, are her assistant Sari (Lili Darvas) and her manager Pierre (Paul Henreid). Maria’s world is small and she likes to keep it that way.

Las Vegas doesn’t agree with Maria. She’s annoyed by the noisy casino and the slot machine in the bedroom of her hotel suite. On the flip side, no one loves Las Vegas more than rancher Chuck Rodwell (Dan Dailey). Chuck is known for his bad luck but that doesn't stop him from gambling away his hard-earned profits. He has so much fun at the casinos, gambling, flirting, drinking and signing, he's still hopeful that his bad luck streak will end and he comes back for more. His luck is about to change when he meets Maria. All he needs to do is hold her hand and he’ll win at any game: roulette, black jack, you name it he’ll win it. At first Maria is not amused by Chuck who urgently seeks her out as his good luck charm, but they start to warm up to each other. Maria finds that she’s missed out on a lot of fun and is making up for lost time with Chuck. The two start to fall in love. Will their lucky streak last forever?

This film has plenty glamorous shots of 1950s Las Vegas just waiting to be devoured. Any nostalgic Las Vegas enthusiast will love all the glorious shots of the different casinos, the marquees, the city streets, rows and rows of slot machines, the gambling tables, the pools and the lounges. During the movie, viewers take a short trip to Chuck’s ranch just outside of Las Vegas where we meet his feisty mom Miss Hattie played Agnes Moorehead, a familiar face for fans of the classic TV show Bewitched. And you’ll find plenty more familiar faces in this movie. There are cameo roles performed by Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre and several others (I won't spoil them all for you because part of the fun is being surprised by a recognizable star). Cyd Charisse's real life husband Tony Martin has a small part as a secret admirer. Fans of West Side Story will recognize George Chakiris who plays a newlywed spending his honeymoon in Las Vegas with his new bride (Betty Lynn). Jim Backus, of Gilligan's Island fame, plays the casino manager who has his hands full with the opinionated Maria. Sammy Davis Jr.’s voice (not body) makes an appearance in a dance number. And there are plenty of dance numbers that showcase Cyd Charisse’s terrific skill as a dancer and her long toned legs. There are musical performances by Lena Horne, Dan Dailey and many more.

I had a lot of fun watching this movie. Meet Me Las Vegas is a feast for the eyes and entertaining to boot. Even though the plot line isn’t all that realistic (if it were many of us would be looking for a lucky hand to hold so we can gamble our way into becoming millionaires) it’s still a lot of fun.

Spoiler Alert! For those of you who have written off the 1950s as a backwards time, check out this film. Classic film fans often find ourselves frustrated by this all too common ending: a successful woman gives up her career to be with the man she loves. Female (1933) anyone? I found it very refreshing that the couple in this story avoids this ending by coming to a compromise. They decide that each of them will work 6 months out of the year, with the other person by their side for support. That way Chuck can continue to be a rancher and Maria can continue to travel as a ballerina but they can still be together. It’s important to note that the screenwriter Isobel Lennart was a career woman herself which I’m sure had something to do with the ending of this film. End Spoiler Alert.

Meet Me In Las Vegas from Warner Bros.

Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956)  is available from the Warner Archive as a DVD-MOD which includes a trailer and two deleted musical numbers: It's Fun to Be in Love and Lena Horne's You Got Looks.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) as part of a Warner Archive Kumbuya giveaway.


Monday, October 21, 2013

The Man Who Seduced Hollywood by B. James Gladstone

The Man Who Seduced Hollywood
The Life and Loves of Greg Bautzer, Tinseltown's Most Powerful Lawyer
by B. James Gladstone
ISBN 9781613745793
Hardcover 352 pages
Chicago Review Press
May 2013

Barnes and Noble

“... Bautzer’s legacy is the way he created a public image in order to advertise his services and the swashbuckling way he practiced law. He planned his life as if it were a movie. He wrote the script, cast himself as the star, and directed it himself.” - Gladstone

I confess that I've never heard of famed Hollywood lawyer Greg Bautzer. Now thanks to B. James Gladstone's book I'm fully informed about this fascinating man. Bautzer was a quintessential charmer who used his people skills to woo beautiful women and win court cases. His list of romantic conquests is as impressive as his list of clients. Bautzer had relationships with actresses Lana Turner, Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford, Dorothy Lamour, Merle Oberon, Jane Wyman, Ann Sheridan, Simone Simon and that's only part of the full list.  Bautzer's clients included Howard Hughes, Marion Davies, Ingrid Berman, Robert Mitchum, Farah Fawcett, Jeanne Crain, Kirk Douglas and more. One of his clients and friends was actor Robert Wagner who wrote the foreword for this book.

Bautzer handled many high-profile Hollywood divorce cases most notably the very complicated one between Ingrid Bergman and her first husband Petter Lindstrom. There was adultery, a pregnancy, child custody issues as well as a morality clause in Bergman's film contract. Bautzer also handled Nancy Sinatra's divorce from Frank Sinatra but still managed to befriend Frank after the fact (that's an accomplishment if there ever was one!). He also handled wills and estates of big tycoons like William Randolph Heart and Howard Hughes as well as financial transactions of major corporations like TWA, CBS, Warner Bros., MGM, Paramount and the Flamingo casino in Las Vegas. He faced notorious gangster Bugsy, got punched by actor George Hamilton and tried to pick a fight Humphrey Bogart. Needless to say, there are countless stories about all the romances, fights, legal battles, friendships and partnerships that Bautzer had in his long life and career. Bautzer wasn’t perfect. He had a short temper, was obsessed with winning and eventually became an alcoholic. He wasn’t very good at monogamy either and didn’t take naturally to fatherhood. However, he was a talented lawyer who wanted loyalty above all else, loved his clients and would do anything for them. He was generous too and even waived legal fees if his clients were in financial straits.

The author B. James Gladstone is the Executive Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for Lionsgate Entertainment.  In this book, he’s covering the life of a figure who is both a legend and a hero to him. I couldn’t quite tell if Gladstone had ever interactive with Bautzer during his lifetime but he did have a brief friendship with actress Dana Wynters before her death in 2011. Wynters was Bautzer’s third wife, the mother of his only child Mark Bautzer and proved to be an invaluable resource to Gladstone in writing this book.

This book is an endlessly enjoyable read full of interesting stories about a figure who is very captivating. It follows Bautzer’s life story chronologically for the most part but some chapters dip in and out of different time periods. Some chapters focus on big moments, relationships and trial sin Bautzer’s life and career. These chapters profile Bautzer’s relationships with the following key figures: Lana Turner, Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, Dorothy Lamour, Marion Davies/William Randolph Hearst, Robert Evans (Paramount), Kirk Kerkorian (MGM), Dana Wynters, etc.

Bautzer was a key figure in many deals, transactions, divorces and meetings. Because of him certain movies were made and certain careers rose and flourished. While not essential to one’s film history education, I think it’s very interesting to read about the other people who worked Hollywood during it’s golden era. It wasn’t just actors, actresses, directors and producers. Many people in the industry and on the peripheral influenced film history in many ways.

I loved the story of how Bautzer borrowed $5,000 to start his career. He used that money to dress nicely, get the best tables and the best restaurants so he could pique the interest of the Hollywood elite and open doors to both meet them and work with them.

I did find one error in the book. The author recounts a story that Bautzer himself told many times of Marion Davies requesting a black Rolls Royce so she can take it to the 1953 New York wedding of JFK and Jacqueline Bouvier. The wedding was actually in Newport, Rhode Island. I thought maybe it was just a location error until the story also said that Davies had the car waiting for her at Grand Central Station. It's very possible that the story was actually about Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy's New York wedding in 1954. I did a little digging and found out that Davies was a guest at that wedding. Davies might have also gone to the JFK-Bouvier wedding too. I've been told that the author is looking into it and it will be clarified when the paperback is released.

Thank you to Meaghan of IPG for sending me a copy of this book to review!

Monday, December 31, 2012

New Year's and Ocean's 11 (1960)

Ocean's 11 (1960) is one of my favorite movies. In fact, it's in battle with Bachelor Mother for the #1 spot right now. I have at least 10 posts I could write about this darling film but today I'll stick with the New Year's theme. I apologize in advance that I do not have any screen caps for this post other than ones I stole from YouTube. My DVD copy went AWOL and my Blu-Ray is pretty useless on my Mac.

This is Ocean's 11 plus one. Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) has brought all his World War II buddies from the 82nd Airborne to Las Vegas for a well-orchestrated casino heist of Biblical proportions. Funded and originated by professional conman Acebos (Akim Tamiroff), the eleven men from the 82nd Airborne are going to rob millions of dollars from the five big casinos in Las Vegas. And they are going to do it at the stroke of midnight on New Year's.

The men involved in the New Year's Casino heist are Danny Ocean  (Frank Sinatra), Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford), Sam Harmon (Dean Martin), Josh Howard (Sammy Davis Jr.), Mushy O'Connors (Joey Bishop), Anthony Bergdorf (Richard Conte),  Roger Corneal (Henry Silva), Vince Massier (Buddy Lester), Curly Steffans (Richard Benedict), Peter Rheimer (Norman Fell) and Louis Jackson (Clem Harvey).

The casinos they are going to hit are the Flamingo, Sahara, Desert Inn, Riviera and the Sands.

Here's the plan. At the stroke of midnight, people at the different casinos will have countdown to the New Year and will begin singing Auld Lang Syne. Danny Ocean has calculated that the song takes about a minute and 38 seconds to sing. While they are singing, there will be an explosion at one of the local electrical towers bringing it down. It will black out all the casinos temporarily and the way Anthony Bergdorf (Richard Conte) has it set up, all the casino security doors will automatically open. During the blackout, the men will steal the money from the casinos, put it into garbage cans and Josh (Sammy Davis Jr) will pick up all the bags and bring them to the local trash dump for hiding.

The plan can't go wrong. Right?

Ocean's Eleven and Acebos chose New Year's as the perfect moment for their heist because it's a time of vulnerability for the casinos. Each casino will be packed with people drunkenly celebrating New Year's, singing Auld Lang Syne and without a care in the world. Their celebration is the perfect distraction for a quiet robbery. When the men do rob the casinos, it's in the dark so their identities are disguised and they hold the casino vault workers hostage and have them sing Auld Lang Syne while they are being robbed.

I love the New Year's in Las Vegas circa 1960. It's full of glamour with all the women dressed in their finest gowns and accessories and all the men in well-fitted suits and skinny ties. There are showgirls, singers and so much fun! There is so much wonderful 1960 kitsch with New Year's party favors, streamers, hats, noisemakers, balloons and more. Everyone is carefree, smoking and drinking to their hearts contents and ringing in the New Year with a kiss with their date or a perfect stranger.

A feathered showgirl pony carousel? WHY NOT?!

So was the casino heist planned and executed by Ocean's 11 on New Year's successful? You'll just have to watch the movie and find out.

Now I leave you with Dean Martin singing one of the movie's main songs "Ain't That a Kick in the Head". Happy New Year!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tony Rome (1967) is pretty darn cool

When Tony Rome is out and about, trouble is sure to follow. I really loved this movie, so much so that I watched it twice in a row. Once for the story and a second time for the atmosphere. I'm a gal who loves details and this film had a lot to savor. Here are some things I picked up on. Enjoy.

Flimsy nightgowns and balcony bar service

7-digit phone numbers without Area Codes

Old-fashioned product logos. In this case, beer cans.

Old-fashioned cars like this blue Ford.

Cocktail stirrers

Iconic shots such as this one.

Young Gena Rowlands

Old-fashioned hair clips

Jill St. John and her outfits

Going to bed with full make-up on

Ginormous pools in really fancy seaside hotels

Smaller Floridian seaside hotels. My dad used to own one back in the early 1970s.

Old-fashioned staplers.

Telephone Books/Yellow Pages

Typewriter-typed documents



Do you like to look for certain details in movies? What do you look for? I particularly like searching for objects that today are obsolete. There is some charm in things we used to rely on but don't anymore. Or even things like staplers that we use today but older versions seem to be of higher quality.

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