Showing posts with label Paramount. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paramount. Show all posts

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Kino Lorber Studio Classics: Arise, My Love (1940) and No Time for Love (1943)


Check out my latest YouTube video where I review two Kino Lorber Studio Classics Blu-rays: Arise, My Love (1940) and No Time for Love (1943). Both are Paramount films directed Mitchell Leisen and starring Claudette Colbert. Arise, My Love (1940) is a light romantic drama set in WWII starring Ray Milland. No Time for Love (1943) is a hilarious screwball comedy starring Fred MacMurray and also featuring Ilka Chase and June Havoc.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Funeral in Berlin (1966)

Ex-con turned British spy Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) is sent to Berlin on a mission. He must find Soviet intelligence officer in charge of the Berlin Wall, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka) and make him defect from his position. Palmer is tasked to concoct an elaborate escape out of Berlin for Stok with the help of his contact Johnny Vulkan (Paul Hubschmid) and hires criminal mastermind Otto Kreutzmann (Gunter Meisner) to help him. In the meantime Palmer becomes enamored with the beautiful Samantha Steel (Eva Renzi), an Israeli spy sent to hunt down a former Nazi. This target holds the secret documents that reveal where jewels stolen during WWII are hidden. Things get really complicated for Palmer when he's double-crossed, important figures in the mission keep dying and the true identity of the Nazi is revealed.

Directed by Guy Hamilton, Funeral in Berlin (1966) is the second of the Harry Palmer spy films starring Michael Caine. He also appeared in The Ipcress File (1965) and Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and the character was revisited with two more films in the 1990s. Funeral in Berlin was shot on location at a time when crossing the Berlin Wall was met with a lot of red tape or was highly dangerous to do illegally. Funeral in Berlin is the least interesting of the three Harry Palmer films I've seen. Mostly due to a lack of character development and the numerous double-crossings make the plot difficult to follow. However, one could watch all three Harry Palmer films back to back and enjoy them immensely. Caine is so friggin' cool as Harry Palmer with his neatly pressed suits, combed back hair and thick rimmed eyeglasses.

Funeral in Berlin is a Cold War spy thriller that is not as captivating as the other Harry Palmer films starring Michael Caine but still delivers enough intrigue to be worth a viewing. I read that Akim Tamiroff was supposed to play Colonel Stok and I can't help but think it would have been a better movie with him in it!

Funeral in Berlin (1966) is available on DVD from Paramount. You can purchase a copy at my MovieZyng store.

 Thank you to Allied Vaughn for sending me a copy of Funeral in Berlin (1966) for review.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Interview with Thelma Todd biographer Michelle Morgan

Michelle Morgan

I had the honor to interview Michelle Morgan, author of The Ice Cream Blonde: The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd , which I reviewed on this blog last month. It's a fantastic biography that humanizes an otherwise tragic figure. If you haven't read it already I hope this interview will entice you to do so. Thank you to Michelle Morgan for taking the time to answer my questions!

Why write about Thelma Todd?

Morgan - I discovered Thelma while I was working on a biography about Marilyn Monroe. Her ex-husband’s name came up in a letter and I was intrigued about who he was. A quick search on the Internet led me to Thelma and her mysterious death. After that I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I realized that just like Marilyn, Thelma was a very under-estimated person and over the years more and more lies and rumors have been attributed to her. I wanted to show who Thelma really was. She wasn’t just “the body in the garage.” She was a real-life person and it was very important to me to treat her that way.

The Ice Cream Blonde

What kind of research did you do for this book?

Morgan - I did absolutely everything I could in order to find out information. I bought the huge Coroner’s report; I read literally thousands of newspaper and magazine articles and interviews; I spoke to anyone I could think of who might own something related to Thelma’s life; I accessed the FBI records; I watched movies; collected documents and photos… Literally everything I could do, I did. In fact even during the editing process, I was still researching in order to answer the editor’s questions. The research for this book was never ending but it was very much worth it and I enjoyed every minute of the process.

What was the most surprising thing you discovered when you were researching Thelma Todd? 

Morgan - Just how very approachable, warm and funny she was. Up until the time I started researching her life, I had heard so many stories about her having a drinking problem; being a gangster’s moll; and just generally having quite a questionable personality. Going back to interviews, stories and memories from the time showed that this was absolutely not true. Thelma was hard-working, very friendly with fans and friends, intelligent, a good negotiator, strong, independent and a genuinely warm person. I was so pleased to find such a lovely woman underneath all the rumors, and I became a huge fan. I will forever hold a good thought for her and will continue to collect about her.

Why do you think Thelma had such a strong connection to her home town Lawrence, Massachusetts? 

Morgan - I’m sure it had a lot to do with Lawrence being her hometown. She had a fairly secure childhood there, her family lived there for the whole of her life, and she had many memories there too. I think the Lawrence people helped to keep her going when she felt unsure about her abilities as an actress. Knowing they were spurring her on, made a big difference in her attitude. In fact Thelma said as much to a crowd of fans, during one of her trips back there.

I’m planning on a trip to Lawrence to explore different locations that were important to Thelma Todd. Is there anything I should look for?

Morgan - With the passage of time, some of Thelma’s locations are now long gone. However, you can visit her resting place at Bellevue Cemetery (her ashes are there). The cemetery is also where family members are buried, including her brother, who died tragically at a very young age. Another good location is 22 Bowdoin Street, where many of the Todd family lived over the years. The funeral for her brother and father both left from there and Thelma stayed at the house on many occasions. In fact after her daughter’s death, Thelma’s mother moved back to Lawrence and into 22 Bowdoin Street. The street as a whole still looks remarkably like it did in Thelma’s day, so would be a great place to go if you want a real sense of Thelma’s early years.

Could you tell us a bit about the Paramount School, where Thelma Todd studied acting before heading to Hollywood? 

Morgan - The idea behind the Paramount School was to give students the tools and techniques they needed for acting in front of a camera. A lot of actors were heading to Hollywood with a thorough stage training, but their performances were exaggerated because of the way they’d worked in theatre. This did not go down well with studio heads, so they were actively seeking people who actually knew how to act in movies. The Paramount School gave students an opportunity to learn the trade and make a film at the same time. It was also hoped that a few stars would be discovered along the way, and this is what happened with Thelma and her classmate Charles ‘Buddy’ Rogers. However, while the school may have been a way to fill her time, Thelma was somewhat frustrated by it and always felt that she could have learned a lot more as an extra girl in the movies. The school was also looked down upon by some in Hollywood, who wondered why they should welcome these kids who they felt had no experience other than in a classroom.

Thelma Todd found more success in comedy shorts than in dramatic features. Why do you think that is?

Morgan - I think it was purely because she was extremely good at comedy. Her facial expressions, her body language, her eyes (especially her eyes!) were made for comedy. She was an extraordinary comedienne and audiences really warmed to her in funny roles.

Thelma and her mother were really close. Tell us a bit about their relationship over the years and what happened with Alice after Thelma died. 

Morgan - Yes they were very close, but at the same time Alice had known a lot of loss and heartbreak (she lost both her husband and son very tragically), so she could be a little overpowering in her love for Thelma. The two lived together for many years which I’m sure the actress felt fairly restricted, particularly when it came to her love life. However, she moved out when marrying Pat De Cicco, and while the relationship may have failed, it did give her the opportunity of gaining a little independence from her mother, once and for all. Instead of moving back in with her, she instead went to live first with a friend and then in her own house. However, while they may have lived apart, the two remained very close and actually went shopping together on the very last day Thelma was seen alive. They spent the entire day together and the actress’s driver dropped Alice home after taking Thelma to her final party. After Thelma’s death, Alice moved back to Lawrence and divided her time between the family home on Bowdoin Street and a lakeside cottage. She outlived her daughter by many years and died in December 1969.

What do you hope readers will get from reading The Ice Cream Blonde?

Morgan - I hope that they will see that Thelma was a real-life person, not just an image on the screen or a body in a garage. She worked hard, had many friends who loved her, and had sadness and happiness just as we all do. If people can get past the rumors and see that she was a human being, that is the most important thing to me. I also hope that the book starts a renewed interest in her career, which in turn will lead to some of her films being released on DVD.

What advice do you have for someone who might want to write a biography about a classic film star?

Morgan - Writing biography is extremely hard work, not only with the actual writing, but the constant researching, sources, photographs etc. You really need to think outside the box and explore every avenue to try and find new and exciting information. It is challenging but also very rewarding. I would say that if you are interested in writing biography, do some initial research first; just casually to see what you can find out. If you find yourself becoming more and more excited with the process, then absolutely go for it. If you find the research rather boring or your heart’s not really in it, then perhaps biography isn’t for you.

Thank you to Michelle Morgan and Chicago Review Press!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935)

Ruggles of Red Gap (1935) is a charming movie, adapted from the 1915 novel by Harry Leon Wilson which also became a popular Broadway show. Directed by Leo McCarey, a fine director who explored many social issues in his films, this Paramount movie has a superb cast including Charles Laughton, ZaSu Pitts, Mary Boland, Charles Ruggles, Roland Young and Leila Hyams.

This is just the feel-good film that is perfect for lifting ones spirit on a gloomy day. And that's just what this film did for me. These past few weeks have consisted of tightly packed schedules with few breaks and many opportunities for anxiety attacks. When I finally got a break, I needed a film to make me feel good about life and that's just what Ruggles of Red Gap did for me.

Charles Laughton stars as Marmaduke "Bill" Ruggles, a British butler whose superior, the Earl of Burnstead (Roland Young), lost him in a poker game. The winners of that game were the American Couple Egbert (Charles Ruggles) and Effie Floud (Mary Boland). These nouveau rich country folk from Red Gap, Washington are in Paris to soak up some culture courtesy of their oil fortune. Effie is particularly interested in climbing the social ladder and thinks Ruggles will be a wonderful trophy to show off to her friends back home. Ruggles is uncomfortable working for Americans, breaking the traditions he's worked so hard for years to uphold, and it shows in the sometimes obvious and sometimes subtle facial expressions Laughton gives to the Ruggles character.

"Well, well you old tarantula!"

Something happens to Ruggles when he moves to Red Gap with this new couple. His new superior Mr. Egbert Floud's personality starts to rub off on him. Egbert doesn't have the same appetite for sophistication hat his wife does. He wants only to be his fun-loving cowpoke self.

"Hey, we just met. Squat-ez vous."
When the townsfolk confuse Ruggles for a Colonel of the British Army instead of just a butler, Ruggles finds an opportunity to reinvent himself and live the American dream of freedom, prosperity and success.

"...miraculously there comes a man. A person of importance, however small. A man whose decisions and whose future are  in his own hands." - Ruggles
Ruggles falls for the local spinster Prunella (ZaSu Pitts) and starts to make his own plans for life other than being a butler. All the performances are splendid. I loved Laughton, Pitts, Boland and Ruggles especially. Roland Young and Leila Hyams have interesting supporting roles and I love the character of Belknap-Jackson played by Lucien Littlefield.

"I tell you that Belknap-Jackson is a Boston Cream Puff!"
At one point the film takes a rather strange patriotic turn. There is one scene in which a bunch of guys in a Red Gap tavern are struggling to remember what Lincoln said during his Gettysburg Address but Ruggles knows every word. According to what I found online, this scene was very emotional for Charles Laughton and he remembered it fondly. During filming the British Laughton was considering applying for American citizenship.

This film is a wonderful comedy which is elevated by it's exploration of social issues of class and personal freedom. There are sober moments, times when you laugh out loud at the exploits of the Floud couple and when your heart is touched by tender scenes between Ruggles and Prunella Judson (Pitts). At the end of the film, I found myself crying in the best possible way there is to cry. McCarey's Make Way for Tomorrow (1937) made me cry hysterically but Ruggles of Red Gap made me cry tears of joy.

Please watch this film if you can. If stories can still move you emotionally and you haven't grown completely numb to them, let this film in. You'll be a better person for it.

Ruggles of Red Gap is one of the many movies Universal acquired from Paramount. It's part of the Universal Vault Series on DVD-R. I rented it from ClassicFlix (they don't have it for sale). There is also a Blu-Ray version. Both DVD and Blu-Rays look to be out of print or their availability is limited. I'm hoping to purchase this one but can't find where I can get a new copy!

ETA: Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings tells me that Universal Vault Series are sold exclusively on Amazon but there is talk of making them available at other retailers in the future.

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