Showing posts with label Vincente Minnelli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Vincente Minnelli. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Home from the Hill (1960)

An entry into the genre of Southern family dramas like Giant (1956), Written on the Wind (1956), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) and Splendor in the Grass (1961), director Vincente Minnelli's Home from the Hill (1960) has all the makings of a sweeping epic. You've got the dysfunction family with a long suffering matriarch, disturbed offspring, a scandal or two swept under the rug, and a tough as nails patriarch who has staked his claim as the unofficial leader of the small town community. That patriarch is Captain Wade Hunnicutt (Robert Mitchum), the manliest man who ever did man.

The wealthiest landowner in a rural Texas town, Wade has a commanding presence. When he isn't taking care of business, he can be found out with his cohorts and hound dogs hunting for ducks. Or you'll find him drunk and cavorting with the local prostitute Opal (Constance Ford) or some poor guy's wife. The local men admire him or hate him. Wade's 17 year old son Theron (George Hamilton) is the laughing stock of those men. Sick and tired of being a mama's boy he seeks his dad for an education in how to be a true Hunnicutt. For years Wade left Theron alone because of a deal he made with his wife Hannah (Eleanor Parker). She'd stay in the marriage as long as she could raise her son how she saw fit. Wade breaks this promise increasing the tension in already dysfunctional family. Rafe (George Peppard), Wade's illegitimate son, is Wade's ideal but he won't recognize him as his own. Rafe has all the traits of a manly man that Theron wants and Theron has all the fatherly attention that Rafe wants. When a local teen Libby (Luana Patten) falls for Theron and gets pregnant with his child, Wade rejects her and her family. Rafe steps in to take care of what Wade made Theron abandon. But Wade has messed with one too many lives and now there's a price to pay.

"What every man hunts out there is himself."

Home from the Hill is based on William Humphrey's novel by the same name. Released in 1957, it was Humphrey's second published book but first novel. Producer Sol C. Siegel purchased the rights in 1958 and the subsequent success of both the book and the movie adaptation afforded Humphrey the opportunity to quit his day job as a college professor and pursue writing full time. The story was adapted to screen by husband and wife screenwriting team Harriet Frank Jr. and Irving Ravetch, who specialized in adapting Southern dramas, especially the works of William Faulkner.

According to the AFI, Siegel left the project before filming and Edmund Grainger took over. Both receive on screen credits. Made for MGM and filmed in Cinemascope and Metrocolor, Home from the Hill was shot on location in Mississippi and Texas. According to Robert Mitchum biographer Lee Server, Mitchum wasn't terribly interested in the role but it was good pay ($200k plus percentage of the gross), top billing and he'd get some extra vacation time out of the deal. Also he'd be able to do some bream fishing while he was on location. Director Minnelli had this to say about Mitchum:

"Few actors I've worked with bring so much of themselves to a picture, and none do it with a total lack of affectation as Robert Mitchum does. " 
Home from the Hill served as a launching pad for two promising careers. This was relative newcomer George Hamilton's second film, third if you count the bit part he played in a movie as a child. 1960 was a good year for him which also saw roles in Where the Boys Are (1960) and All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960). The other George, George Peppard, studied acting with Lee Strasberg and after some work in television starting making movies. Home from the Hill was his third and the following year would find him in his most memorable role, Paul in Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Peppard and Minnelli butted heads. A method actor, Peppard wanted to be in tune with his character's emotions. And Minnelli's direction didn't jive with Peppard's style. Peppard threatened to leave the picture but Mitchum convinced him to stay saying that leaving would cause more problems than it was worth. Another newcomer, Yvette Mimieux, shot scenes for the film but her character was ultimately cut from the story.

Captain Wade is one of Robert Mitchum's most macho roles ever. I love the scene when Wade takes Theron (George Hamilton) to his man cave. They dressed up that set in the most masculine way possible: red leather chairs, a bear skin rug, a mini-fridge filled with bottles of beer, cabinets displaying an extensive collection of rifles and hunting trophies hung on the wall. Mitchum's Wade sits in his red leather chair, beer in hand, hound dogs at his beck and call and delivers a speech to Theron about how he can become a true Hunnicutt.

"It takes a special kind of man to handle that. The kind of man that walks around with nothing in his pockets. No identification because everyone knows who you are. No cash, because anybody in town would be happy to lend you anything you need. No keys, 'cause you don't keep a lock on a single thing you own. And no watch, because time waits on you."

The celebration of being a man's man is short lived. Captain Wade's story, and ultimately Theron's, is a tragic one. The toxic masculinity wreaks havoc on the entire family from Theron to Hannah to Rafe and Libby but especially Wade. Home from the Hill can be seen as a study of gender roles in society and how the pressure to adhere to strict rules on masculinity, and femininity too, can be destructive.

Home from the Hill improves with multiple viewings. I watched this one for the first time last year, in celebration of Mitchum's centennial. I wasn't impressed but took more note of the themes and of Mitchum's performance on the second go around. Much beloved in its time, it deserves more recognition for its exploration of toxic masculinity, its portrayal of a dysfunctional family, Minnelli's excellent direction and the great cast.

Home from the Hill (1960) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link to make a purchase at the WB Shop you help support this site. Thanks!

The Blu-Ray features an original trailer and English subtitles. The new 1080p HD master looks fantastic. I've seen this film before but it was a whole different experience seeing the remastered version. It's gorgeous!

 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 Home from the Hill (1960) on Blu-Ray for review!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

"What does she mean to you? Two weeks of company in another town?"

It's no secret that the film industry loves remakes and sequels. Take an established story and characters with a following, slap on a number and a new story line or give it a fresh take with a new crew and wait for the financial rewards to come rolling in. It's riskier to take a chance on a new story than to revisit a tried and true formula. And as long as there are movies, there will always be filmmakers revisiting previous successes.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) is The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) non-sequel you didn't know you wanted. Both are backstage MGM melodramas about the film industry, both star Kirk Douglas, both are directed by Vincente Minnelli and both share the same crew including producer John Houseman, composer David Raskin and screenwriter Charles Schnee. Just take the essence of the original, give it a new story, film it at Cinecitta in Rome and set it ablaze with Metrocolor and you have Two Weeks.

Cinecitta circa 1962

Kirk Douglas in Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Based on the novel by Irwin Shaw, Two Weeks in Another Town follows the story of Jack Andrus (Kirk Douglas), a former actor whose spent the past few years in an asylum recovering from his mental breakdown. His old director, Maurice Kruger (Edward G. Robinson), summons him to Rome where he's working on a new film at Cinecitta. At first it's just a small gig, $5,000 in Jack's pocket and a chance to work on a movie set again. But Kruger, eager to capture the filmmaking magic they once had, wants Jack to stick around and offers him the job of dubbing supervisor. When Kruger has a heart attack, most likely brought on by his overbearing wife Clara (Claire Trevor), his tormented star Davie Drew (George Hamilton) and his temperamental female star Barzelli (Rosanna Schiaffino), Jack takes over as director. The project and his romance with budding young actress Veronica (Dahlia Lavi) breathes new life into Jack but his ex-wife, actress Carlotta (Cyd Charisse), threatens to destroy him.

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Jack Andrus is the perfect role for Kirk Douglas. His character is intense, emotional and temperamental but also serves as the hero the audience wants to champion. George Hamilton's method actor, pseudo-James Dean type is supposed to be characteristic of Jack before his breakdown but Hamilton wasn't a good fit for the part, something that he admitted to himself. It's also unclear why his character is so tormented in the first place. His character and many others are caricatures of film industry types or are just plain misogynistic: the innocent beauty, the angry old hag, the jaded assistant, the temperamental actress, the destructive femme fatale, the tyrant director, the heartless film reporter, and so on and so forth. The film does tap into an interesting philosophical query: can you be true to your authentic self when your life is devoted to pretending to be other people? There are a few moments where I thought the film was really going to explore this but then it went right back to the melodrama.

And melodrama it was. Over-the-top is the best way to describe Two Weeks in Another Town. From the characters, the music, the plot, and the absolutely bonkers car crash but not quite a crash sequence with Douglas and Charisse. I couldn't help comparing Two Weeks with another Kirk Douglas film The Arrangement (1969). In that film he's an ad executive who is frustrated with his job and his passionless marriage, he has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. He finds some joy in a romance with a younger woman (Faye Dunaway). In the Two Weeks, Douglas' Jack, before he goes to Rome, is a film star, frustrated with his job, in a toxic marriage, has a nervous breakdown which leads to a terrible car accident that he miraculously survives. Both movies are not great but I found them to be enjoyable and I had fun comparing the two.

Two Weeks in Another Town was a bomb at the box office and garnered terrible reviews. Director Minnelli was quoted as saying "It's painful to talk about the ruin of that film even now." The magic of The Bad and the Beautiful, which won 5 Academy Awards and was nominated for a 6th, couldn't be captured ten years later in a new setting. Scenes from the original are shown in Two Weeks. In the story Kruger is its director and Jack its star and they are watching the film to understand what filmmaking magic the two had lost and how can they recapture it. Two Weeks was the final project for screenwriter Charles Schnee who died the year of its release. The film also reunited Claire Trevor and Edward G. Robinson who were both in another beloved classic movie, Key Largo (1948).

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)

Should you bother with Two Weeks in Another Town (1962)? My answer is a resounding yes. If you don't come to it with high expectations and you embrace the melodrama you can be treated a simple and beautifully styled movie. I enjoyed the on location shooting in full color, performances by some of my most favorite actors, and exquisite costumes and decor. I wanted to jump into the movie, steal some goodies and go back to 2018 with my haul. In the film Kirk Douglas drives a beautiful Maserati which I appreciated for its retro body style but car enthusiasts will love because it's a rare model, a 3500 GT Vignale Spyder, that has been made the rounds with vintage car collectors and is still in existence today.

Collection. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks! 

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me the Blu-Ray of Two Weeks in Another Town (1962) to review!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bells Are Ringing (1960)

"I'm in love, with a man.
Plaza o double four double three.
What a perfect relationship.
I can't see him, he can't see me.
I'm in love, with a voice.
Plaza o double four double three.
What a perfect relationship
I talk to him, and he just talks to me."

During the late 1950s things weren't looking up for actress Judy Holliday. Her marriage to David Oppenheim was over. She had been summoned by the House Un-American Activities Committee and although she wasn't blacklisted her movie career suffered as a result. Things needed to change for the better and quickly. In steps in her good friends Adolph Green and Betty Comden, the writing duo behind many stellar musicals on stage and on the big screen. Inspired by Holliday's time as a switchboard operator at the Mercury Theatre, Comden and Green create a musical with her in mind. It becomes a huge hit on Broadway with over 900 performances before MGM picks it up and adapts it for screen. The end result is a sparkling musical that serves as a last hurrah for the brilliant Judy Holliday: Bells Are Ringing (1960).

The film stars Judy Holliday as Ella Peterson. She lives and works with her two roommates in a dilapidated freestanding brownstone in New York City. The three of them run a service called Susanswerphone, an answering service for everyone from artists, to local businesses to busy socialites. Ella has a soft spot for her clients and becomes personally involved with them, much to the dismay of her boss and roommate Sue (Jean Stapleton) who wants to keep things strictly business. The thing is Ella is starting to fall in love with the man behind Plaza-04433, Jeffrey Moss (Dean Martin). He's a writer working on his newest musical The Midas Touch. However he's down and out because his writing partner left him and he'd rather drink than face writing by himself. In steps Ella to save the day. Jeffrey thinks Ella is really a 60 year old lady and lovingly refers to her as "Mom". When Ella meets Jeffrey in person she pretends to be Melisande Scott and they fall in love.

A wrench is thrown in the works when two police inspectors have their eye on bringing down Susanswerphone. They suspect it's really some sort of escort service. Sue puts pressure on Ella to be on her best behavior and having a romance with Jeffrey could ruin everything. To complicate things further, Sue is smitten with J. Otto Prantz (Eddie Foy Jr.), the leader of a bookie ring who disguises his illegal activity behind the ruse of the classical music distribution company Titanic Records. Unbeknownst to the smitten Sue and her two roommates, Otto is taking bets on horse races under the guise of orders for Beethoven symphonies and the like.

Ella can't help herself. She wants to help Jeffrey but she also wants to help the dentist who dreams of  being a songwriter and local beatnik Blake Barton (Frank Gorshin) who dreams of making it big as an actor. She wants to help everyone but doesn't want hurt the business either. What's a gal to do?

Judy Holliday sneaks into Dean Martin's apartment in Bells Are Ringing (1960)

With plenty of memorable musical numbers, fun characters and a zany plot with a satisfying ending, Bells Are Ringing (1960) is sure to please. Having seen the film several times recently I've fallen completely head over heels for it. Judy Holliday is so charming. It's her final film role and her only leading part in a color movie which makes it extra special and something to treasure. My favorite numbers of hers are It's a Perfect Relationship, a delightful song you'll find yourself singing over and over again, and the somber The Party's Over. The Titanic Records/bookie scheme is brilliantly explained in It's A Simple Little System lead by Eddie Foy Jr. Let's not forget Dean Martin who has several great solo songs and duets with Holliday. In addition to Comden and Green, Bells Are Ringing features powerhouses from movie musicals including director Vincente Minnelli, producer Arthur Freed, musical director Andre Previn and songwriter Jule Styne.

Bells Are Ringing (1960) was begging to be brought out on Blu-Ray and the good folks at Warner Archive heard the call and did just that. Seeing Judy Holliday don a gorgeous red party dress in the brilliant color only Blu-Ray can bring makes the whole thing worthwhile. The Blu-Ray includes several extras including two deleted musical numbers and an alternate version of The Midas Touch scene and the film's trailer. There is also a featurette from the 2005 DVD release which includes archival footage of Comden and Green discussing the movie, an interview with Hal Linden, who was Sydney Chaplin's understudy for the role of Jeffrey Moss on Broadway, as well as an interview with actor Frank Gorshin. I love that the Blu-Ray has English subtitles and a song selection menu which gave me an opportunity to play my favorites over and over again while also learning the lyrics.

The story of this film has a somber note as well. Holliday had a rough time making the picture. Ever the perfectionist she wanted it to be just as good as the Broadway production. She had a love affair with Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie Chaplin, and her co-star on Broadway. That relationship ended before MGM started production on the film. It was inevitable that they had to replace Chaplin. Vincente Minnelli had just made Some Came Running with Dean Martin so he was a natural choice for the role. Holliday was sick during the making of Bells Are Ringing and died 5 years later of breast cancer. It's a shame we don't have more time with her. It makes films like this all the more special.

Bells are Ringing (1960) is available on Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive. Their Blu-Rays are pressed discs and not made on demand like their DVDs. You'll definitely want to pick up a copy of this one!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me Bells Are Ringing (1960) for review!

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