Showing posts with label Mary Astor. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mary Astor. Show all posts

Monday, April 22, 2019

Desert Fury (1947)

Desert Fury poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel

Mary Astor's Purple Diary
The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936
by Edward Sorel
Liveright (W.W. Norton & Co)
October 2016
Hardcover ISBN: 9781631490231
165 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powell's

It was the 1960s. Edward Sorel and his new bride had just moved into their apartment on the Upper East side of Manhattan. The hideous linoleum flooring in their new kitchen had to go. As Sorel dutifully ripped up the flooring he discovered something that would spark his imagination: newspapers from 1936 plastered with headlines about Mary Astor’s sex scandal. Sorel read the newspapers in utter fascination. His research would lead him to Astor’s autobiography, court documents and an interview Astor’s daughter Marylyn. Sorel had intended to create an illustrated book about Astor and the scandal but deadlines kept him from his goal. Five decades later and with fewer and fewer reasons to procrastinate, Sorel finally produced the book we have today.

“Mary [Astor] was a textbook example of what is taught in Psych 101: A child who has been denied love and affection from her parents is generally going to pursue love in all the wrong places.” – Edward Sorel

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936 explores the life of actress Mary Astor with a focus on the courtroom scandal that rocked Hollywood in 1936. Born Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke, the actress later dubbed Mary Astor, was off to a rough start in the business. Her father Otto Langhanke had seen an opportunity to exploit his daughter’s good looks and the family packed up and moved to New York City. He immediately saw dollar signs and his greed would have an adverse affect on Astor's life and career. After he bungled up an opportunity for her to work with D.W. Griffith, Jesse L. Lasky saw a photo of Astor that immediately captivated him. He gave her a contract and his publicity department dubbed her Mary Astor to give her an air of sophistication. It was the same photo, captioned "On the Brink of Womanhood", that also captivated John Barrymore. Warner Bros. was eager to please Barrymore and upon his request got Lasky to loan out Astor for Beau Brummel (1924). The 17 year old Astor and 42 year old Barrymore had a wild affair.

“She was smart, witty, and self-denigrating.” - Edward Sorel on Mary Astor

Mary Astor, On the Brink of Womanhood

Through excellent written and visual storytelling, Sorel weaves the tale of Astor's romances. Her first marriage to Kenneth Hawks, brother of Howard Hawks, ended in tragedy when his plane crashed on the set of his movie Such Men Are Dangerous (1930). Astor then married gynecologist Franklyn Thorpe. This union produced a daughter, Marylyn, and much contention. Thorpe was as greedy with Astor's earnings as was her father and their relationship quickly soured. She fled to New York City and had a wild affair with Broadway playwright George S. Kaufman. Unfortunately for Astor, her enthusiastic chronicling of their tryst in her purple diary was discovered by Thorpe. When Astor finally decided to divorce Thorpe and seek custody of their daughter Marylyn, Thorpe took her to court using the purple diary as ammunition. The scandal that ensued threatened Astor's work on her new film Dodsworth. Would they replace her? Could her career survive such a public controversy?

Sorel goes into detail about the affair and the scandal using any details he could get his hands on. While Astor and Kaufman were secretive about their affair and the infamous purple diary was eventually destroyed, Sorel cleverly imagines a conversation with Mary Astor's ghost in which she tells the story that otherwise is lost forever.

“I bet you spend too much time indoors watching old movies.” - Mary Astor's ghost to Edward Sorel

This book is also in part the story of Edward Sorel. He describes growing up in the Bronx and being a kid who loved to "draw pictures and go to the movies." He weaves in stories of his two marriages and his work as an illustrator. When Sorel steps away from the Astor story to tell his own, they never feel like deviations because he parallels his story with hers so beautifully. I enjoyed learning about Sorel as much as I did about Astor.

This book is a collector's item. It's lusciously produced and contains numerous pieces of exquisite art by Edward Sorel. The pieces accompany the text but also stand out on their own. One of my favorites is the big two page spread found on the endpapers. Astor lounges seductively as elements of her life make up the foreground and background.

Art by Edward Sorel from Mary Astor's Purple Diary

Mary Astor's Purple Diary explores the actress' life and scandal in a richly produced volume containing renowned Edward Sorel's beautiful artwork.

Thank you to Liveright for sending me a copy of this book to review.

Portrait of an Artist: The Life and Work of Edward Sorel

Monday, March 20, 2017

Portrait of an Artist: The Life and Work of Edward Sorel

Portrait of an Artist The Life and Work of Edward SorelOn a chilly Sunday afternoon, we headed into Boston for a very special event. Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center was hosting a grand opening for their new exhibition entitled Portrait of an Artist: The Life and Work of Edward Sorel. Celebrated artist Edward Sorel was on hand along his good friend legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer. A dedicated room boasted a variety of art from Edward Sorel's long and industrious career.

For those of you unfamiliar with Sorel, he's known for his political, editorial and entertainment caricatures, cartoons and illustrations. His work has graced many covers of The New Yorker and has appeared in Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic and many other illustrious publications. He's also the illustrator of several books including his latest one Mary Astor's Purple Diary which explores in both text and caricature Mary Astor's 1936 courtroom scandal. Woody Allen recently reviewed the book in The New York Times saying "in Sorel’s colloquial, eccentric style, the tale he tells is juicy, funny and, in the end, touching."

I spend some time browsing the exhibit which boasted a collection of his New Yorker covers, many individual editorials, photographs of Sorel and his family and a video loop displaying a short documentary. It was a very crowded exhibit with many folks eager to see the works on display. Of course I was drawn to Sorel's classic film related pieces. Familiar faces including Clark Gable, Mary Astor, Claudette Colbert, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and more are caricatured in his works. A particular favorite of mine is Sorel's Frank Sinatra illustration on the April 1966 cover of Esquire magazine.

Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel's Frank Sinatra portrait for Esquire
and other works
Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel exhibit
Edward Sorel exhibit
Illustration from Mary Astor's Purple Diary
and other classic film art

Me with a copy of Mary Astor's Purple Diary
and artist Edward Sorel in the background

Woody Allen's New York Times Book Review
Woody Allen's New York Times Book Review piece on display
After exploring the exhibit, we were all seated to hear from the special guests. First up was Cullen Murphy, editor-at-large Vanity Fair and son of acclaimed artist John Cullen Murphy. He's worked with Edward Sorel over 30 years. In his speech he reflected,

"If for some fluke, all the other sources of information in our society were to disappear and all that was left was the work of Edward Sorel on the walls, would the future get us right? And I think they would have our number."
Cullen Murphy, editor at Vanity Fair

Murphy also reflected on artist Jules Feiffer and asked the audience "how many people do you know who have won a Pulitzer Prize, an Obie award and an Oscar?" Feiffer won an Academy Award in 1961 for his animated short Munro (1960).

Jules Feiffer
Artist Jules Feiffer
If you work in the book industry like I do, Jules Feiffer is a familiar name. His work has appeared in countless books and periodicals and he's generally considered one of the greatest cartoonists of the 20th and 21st centuries. Feiffer was impressed with the exhibition and proud of his friend Edward Sorel. He remembered the very charged political time when he and Sorel were growing up in the Bronx. Feiffer said,

"During the great Depression... when everybody was poor and nothing was happening... there was this cultural explosion. There was radio from coast to coast with great comics and radio shows. There were movies. There was Fred and Ginger. There was William Powell and Myrna Loy. One could be a leftie radical, socio-communist during the week and on Saturday night you went to the movies. The movies were the religion."

Feiffer went on discuss the cultural shift when expressing very liberal points of view became dangerous. He noted that for three artists in particular, Feiffer, Sorel and David Levine, it joined them in "a kind of sensibility of protest." Each of them found their own unique style and way to express their political views. Feiffer says "Ed found his from the politics and the movies." He calls Sorel's art "a bombshell" and notes the sense of immediacy that comes the influence of the movies as well as Sorel's keen sense of place and architecture in his works. Feiffer joked that can never remember the name of Sorel's new book only because the original title "Screwball Tragedy" still sticks in his mind.

Edward Sorel
Artist Edward Sorel
Feiffer and the audience toasted honoree Edward Sorel who then proceeded to the stage to give his thanks to family, friends, colleagues and the Gotlieb Center. Sorel reflected that he wouldn't have been able to do what he did in the 1960s if Feiffer hadn't led the way with his innovation in the 1950s. Sorel joked that you should never call yourself a self-made man because it takes not only hard work but a lot of luck to get far in life. He remembers how lucky he was in the 1950s when it was a lucrative time to have a career. In his first year as a professional illustrator, he was fired 9 times yet each new job paid better than the last.

Me with Edward Sorel at his book signing

Following the talk there was a book signing. I was eager to meet Edward Sorel and have him sign my copy of Mary Astor's Purple Diary. I had a quick moment to tell him about my love of classic movies and to pose with him for a photo.

My husband Carlos got to meet him too and Sorel autographed his exhibition booklet.

This event was free and open to the public. If you have an opportunity to go to an event at the Gotlieb center I highly recommend it. Neither Carlos nor I had ever been there so we took the time to explore the various displays, many of which were classic film related. Here are some of our favorites displays.

Mary Astor display at the Howard Gotlieb Center

Pages from the edited manuscript of Mary Astor's autobiography

Carlos in front of the Michael Douglas display

A letter from Kirk Douglas to Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Lauren Bacall display at the Howard Gotlieb Center

Oscar statuettes. Left to right: Rex Harrison for My Fair Lady, Myrna Loy's Honorary Oscar, Gene Kelly's An American in Paris Best Picture Oscar

My review of Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

The world's best remake

We hate remakes don't we? Hollywood seems to be money hungry now, milking the last few drops out of the golden teats of brands just to make some dough. Nothing is sacred. All those classics you hold near and dear are just waiting to be butchered by some big studio wanting to make a fast buck. It's just a matter of time until classic power houses such as Casablanca (1942), The Wizard of Oz (1939) and Gone with the Wind (1939) are remade for today's contemporary audience. However, remakes aren't new. They are an old tradition in the movie business. Let's take The Maltese Falcon (1941) for example. Not only is it a remake of the 1931 version it's also preceded by another remake Satan Met a Lady (1936) with Bette Davis and Warren William. 

I often wonder what goes into the decision making process of 21st century movie studios when they decide to remake a classic. I like to envision that young upstarts at these studios, fresh out of film school but have not yet made an emotional connection to certain classics come up with these ideas only to have them robbed by the powers that be that throw money around to make it happen. Then they see who's hot, who's available, who's willing to butcher and/or remake this film to cash in on some big box office dough. Some remakes are good but the unfortunate truth is that most are really bad. But audiences will still flock to theaters because these established names are recognizable. Who wants to take a chance on an unknown when there is something safe and familiar instead?

One thing about The Maltese Falcon is that if they ever remake it again they can NOT top the cast. Humphrey Bogart was effortlessly cool as Sam Spade. Mary Astor as the dangerous, scared and alluring Brigid O'Shaunessy was simply divine. And I couldn't imagine any other team of criminals than Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook Jr. Or could I? While I watched the film I looked closely at each of the actor's faces and tried to come up with the first contemporary actor that came to mind. In some cases it was physical appearance in other cases it was a random association based on essence. This new cast could either prove as a nightmare or a decent possibility to you. For me, it would only work if they did something fresh and new with it. If they do ever remake this, there is no way they will be able to find an actor like Bogie. He has no equivalent. There is no replacement. Bogie was Bogie, 'nuff said.

Humphrey Bogart

Ben Affleck
(I have this strange Bogie-Affleck thing. Don't ask)

Mary Astor

Julianne Moore
(Astor pouted in the same way Moore does)

Sydney Greenstreet

James Gandolfini
(Gandolfini can't play loveable but he can sure play a big round intimidator)

Peter Lorre

Johnny Galecki
(Hair, eyes, they sort of resemble each other. Plus some guy called Chuck Lorre produces the Big Bang Theory. I didn't even realize this until I was looking up the actor!)

Elisha Cook Jr.

Casey Affleck
(eh. They just look alike!)

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