Friday, November 17, 2017

Hangover Square (1945) #Noirvember

Hangover Square (1945)

"But Mr. Middleton, music is the most important thing to me."
"No Mr. Bone. The most important thing is your life."

Obsession can destroy a person. In the 1940s, venerated actor Laird Cregar was making strides in Hollywood. He had success in films such as Blood and Sand (1941), I Wake Up Screaming (1941), This Gun for Hire (1942) and Heaven Can Wait (1943). However he hit a major career roadblock when he lost the part of Waldo Lydecker in Laura (1944) to Clifton Webb. The problem was that Cregar looked the part of a heavy. Audiences instantly knew he was a villain. Cregar was a big guy, over 300 pounds with bulging eyes. For Hollywood this meant being relegated to obvious villain roles. He'd be denied romantic leads and complicated characters. Cregar's obsession with his craft led him on the road to destruction.

20th Century Fox's Darryl F. Zanuck didn't know what to do with Cregar who had turned down several roles hoping for something that would make him a star like his idol John Barrymore. After much negotiation, Cregar got the lead role in Hangover Square (1945). This role would be his last.  Cregar had gone on a crash diet losing a whopping 100 pounds. After the filming he planned on having operations that would transform him from villainous heavy to romantic leading man. He underwent the era's equivalent of gastric bypass surgery in December of 1944 with plastic surgery on his eyes to follow. Having done so much damage to his body in the quest to become the actor he always wanted to be, Cregar's body gave out and he died a few days after his stomach operation.

Linda Darnell and Laird Cregar

Cregar's performance as George Harvey Bone would be his grand finale. His character's trajectory would mirror his own. Directed by John Brahm, Hangover Square is a Film Noir set in the Edwardian era. George Harvey Bone is a celebrated composer. He suffers from psychotic spells that set him in murderous rages. When he comes out of these spells he doesn't remember what he's done and he returns to being his mild-mannered self. His friends Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier ) and Chapman's daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) are concerned about him and ask him to seek the advice of psychiatrist Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders). Dr. Middleton suspects the recent murders were committed by George but continues to study him to make sure.

George falls into the snare of lounge singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell). She's beautiful, exotic and just out of reach. She entices him in a way that the sweet and doe-eyed Barbara. Netta uses her sexual allure to get George to compose original songs for her. George falls in love and Netta has no clue what psychotic rage lurks beneath George's relative mild exterior. Everything literally goes up in flames in two dramatic climaxes: a Guy Fawkes bonfire followed by the tortured performance of George's masterpiece, his grand concerto.

The story was based on author Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel. Adapted for the screen by writer Barre Lyndon, significant changes were made to the plot. The setting was shifted from England on the brink of WWII to an Edwardian setting. In the movie, the principal character is a composer and music becomes an overarching theme in the story. Legendary composer Bernard Herrmann contributed a beautiful score as well as a fantastic 10 minute concerto.

Hangover Square is a stunning Film Noir. Cinematographer Joseph LaShelle's artistry is on full display. The artful composition of scenes with forced perspective, careful placing of objects and people and stunning lighting add to the eeriness of the film. There is one shot in particular that I loved. George Sanders' Dr. Middleton is confronting Cregar's George Bone. Sanders is in shadow and Cregar is washed in a harsh light. The recent 4k restoration sharpens the visual artistry of the film.

I'm always delighted to find a new-to-me Film Noir to fall in love with. Hangover Square did not disappoint. I particularly loved the performances and found a new appreciation for Laird Cregar. He artfully plays a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde type delivering a masterful final performance. Unfortunately we were all robbed of what could have been a long and legendary career from this talented man.

George Sanders and Faye Marlowe in Hangover Square (1945)
George Sanders and Faye Marlowe

I'll watch anything with George Sanders in it and he's what drew me to the film in the first place. I only wish there was more of him in this movie to enjoy! Linda Darnell is playful as the wily femme fatale. I was particularly delighted with Faye Marlowe whose Barbara is the polar opposite of Darnell's Netta. Hangover Square is her film debut. At the tender age of 17, Faye Marlowe was in a high school production of Our Town and caught the eye of a talent agent. Soon after she did a screen test and was signed to a contract with 20th Century Fox.  Years later Marlowe joked, "back in those days studios were signing up starlets like bad checks." Darryl F. Zanuck changed her surname to the glamorous Marlowe and John Brahm cast her in the role because she reminded him of his ex-wife. Marlowe is still with us and is the last surviving cast member.

Hangover Square (1945) is available on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber. Bonus features include audio commentary track with screenwriter/historian Steve Haberman and actress Faye Marlowe and a separate commentary track with author/historian Richard Schickel. There's a short doc on Laird Cregar, a few trailers and an audio recording radio production of the movie featuring Vincent Price in the lead role.

Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me a copy of the Blu-Ray to review!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Cinema Shame: Rocky

Before this year I had never seen a single movie in the Rocky franchise. Not one.

My friend Jay hosts a Cinema Shame podcast in which he invites a cinephile to watch a big film they've never seen before and come on to the show to discuss. On Twitter Jay challenged me to watch Rocky.

And I took the bait.

The term cinema shame refers to the regret a cinephile experiences because they haven't seen a particular film. For years I suffered my cinema shame in relative obscurity, keeping the embarrassment to myself. Now I celebrate and embrace my cinema shame. It gives me an opportunity to tackle exciting new projects and to experience some great movies for the first time.

When Jay and I discussed our plans for the episode, Jay came up with the idea of a two-parter and challenged me to watch all 6 of the Rocky movies and the spin-off Creed if I felt like it. Challenge accepted! I love the satisfaction I get from tackling big projects and this challenge spoke to the completeist in me.

And this year I was ready for Rocky in a way that I hadn't been before. I started a new exercise regiment that would not only challenge my physical strength but my mental and emotional strength too. I was prepared to appreciate Rocky's struggle.

I shared my Rocky movie watching experience with my husband Carlos who insisted he be there for my inaugural viewings.

The two episodes of the Rocky Series Shame are now live. In the first episode looks at Rocky I, II and III and the second at Rocky IV, V and Rocky Balboa along with a bit about Creed. I'm very proud of these episodes and I hope you'll give them a listen.

Now having conquered the Rocky series I feel like I can accomplish anything.

If you want more podcast goodness, check out my guest appearances in the podcast tab of this blog. Also subscribe to Cinema Shame for future episodes and dive into the archive of goodness.

Many thanks to Jay for having me on the show!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Stay Hungry (1976)

In the 1970s, Arnold Schwarzenegger was at the height of his bodybuilding career. By 1976, he had already won the IFBB Mr. Olympia competition 6 consecutive times (1970-1975). Shortly after his 6th win he announced his retirement from bodybuilding. He would briefly come out of his retirement to compete and win again in 1980. In fact, in 1974 he had planned to retire but was persuaded by filmmakers George Butler and Robert Fiore to compete one more time so they could include him in their documentary Pumping Iron (1977). He had lost weight for his part in director Bob Rafaelson's Stay Hungry and had to train to Mr. Olympia standards in only a few short months. Pumping Iron made Schwarzenegger a household name but Stay Hungry also put him on the map. He won a Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture and was destined for a career as a major movie star in the decades to come.

Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwarzenegger

Stay Hungry (1976) stars Jeff Bridges as Craig Blake, a young businessman in Birmingham, Alabama whose been given the task to buy out the last remaining stronghold in a planned development project: a gym. Craig lives in a relatively abandoned mansion, one he inherited from his recently deceased parents, along with his butler William (Scatman Crothers). He's a wealthy Southern boy with too much time on his hands. He starts hanging around at Thor Erickson's (R.G. Armstrong) gym and gets to know the characters who inhabit the place. There's Joe Santo (Arnold Schwarzenegger), Thor's prized athlete who is competing for a Mr. Universe title. Then there's Franklin (Robert Englund) the grease man and a member of the gym's entourage along with meat-head Newton (Roger E. Mosley). Then there are the two lady trainers, Anita (Helena Kallianotes) the bad-ass karate instructor and Mary Tate Farnsworth (Sally Field) the free-spirited aerobics instructor. Mary Tate is dating Joe who doesn't mind that she moves on from him to Craig. Or maybe not? It's difficult to tell who is with who as the romantic dynamics shift a lot. Craig attempts to bring his new friends into his world of country club cronies which includes his other girlfriend Dorothy (Kathleen Miller) and rival Lester (Ed Begley Jr.). He doesn't quite realize that his two worlds will inevitably clash. He's stuck between two very different existences and must learn to leave the gentile Southern life behind and embrace his true self.

Sally Field and Jeff Bridges

Stay Hungry is a strange and problematic film. Many scenes were unconventional for the sake of being unconventional. This is something characteristic of many films from the era. With fewer restrictions and the Hays Code long dead and buried, filmmakers were game for experimentation.

Things you'll see in this film: Arnold Schwarzengger playing a fiddle, Schwarznegger working out in a Batman costume, Sally Field in her only on-screen appearance in the buff, an attempted rape, a bunch of scantily clad bodybuilders running through the city streets, 5 bodybuilders on top of a bus (see below), a drug-fueled fight including gym equipment, and more.

Vincent Canby of The New York Times said in his 1976 review, "[Stay Hungry] pretends to be more eccentric than it is and to have more on its mind than it actually does." This is pretty much spot on. So much of this film felt forced. Stay Hungry gets in its own way. At its heart this is a movie about being true to yourself and pursuing your passion. I loved the juxtaposition of Joe and Craig's characters. Craig is held back by the Blake name and the country club culture he grew up in. Joe attaches himself to nothing but what he wants to do. He feels no connection to a name nor does he want to be tied down in a relationship. I particularly liked this quote from the film as spoken by Joe Santo:

"I don't want to be too comfortable. Once you get used to it it's hard to give up. I'd rather stay hungry."

A whole movie can be made from this one quote. Stay Hungry tried to do that but didn't quite get there.

I came to this movie because of my absolute love for the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno. Charles Gaines who wrote the novel Stay Hungry and adapted the story to film also worked on Pumping Iron. What saved Stay Hungry for me was that one glorious quote and all the bodybuilding scenes. I could cut out the rest of the movie and watch a much shorter version and be perfectly happy.

Stay Hungry is available on Blu-Ray from Olive Films.

Thanks to Olive Films for sending me the movie for review!


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