Archive for December, 2013


ANNE NOW FOR OUR LESSON


I recently saw a Gary Cooper/ Anne Sheridan picture called GOOD SAM  (1948), directed by Leo McCarey  (who gave us DUCK SOUP (1933),  THE AWFUL TRUTH (1937), and many others).  The picture was in line with Cooper’s everyman image, with tender moments reading the children bedtime stories.   The picture is filled with “Capra like” laughter and folksy humour; both literally and figuratively.  I was surprised by onscreen TCM host Robert Osbourne’s comment that the picture was not a success when released.  Anne Sheridan felt that there was no chemistry between her and Cooper on screen in spite of her ability to achieve this with people like Cagney, Flynn and Bogart.  The public sensed this and apparently stayed away in droves.   I enjoyed the picture for what it was worth as I am a big fan of Anne Sheridan.

The ‘Oomph’ girl as we know in my opinion is a vastly underrated performer of that time.  She was the  lucky elusive Hollywood dream personified having won a local beauty contest prize of a bit part in a film  in native Texas.   She was never a huge star yet always gave some very credible performances in pictures like THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1938), TORRID  ZONE (1940), ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938),  and NORA PRENTIS S (1947) and the seldom seen JUKE GIRL (1942)  with Ronald Reagan.  She was also a popular pin up girl in the 1940’s.

You cannot teach how to act still nor can you teach how to act with your eyes yet Anne Sheridan had this ability in spades.  She had that voice that could deliver the wise cracking dialogue but be tender.  She was equally at home in a Western or a boarding house comedy yet she never achieved huge stardom.  Sheridan was a face in the films having the ability to work steadily for years.

     I recently viewed an episode of Pistols and Petticoats, the 1966 Western Comedy series by the creators of THE MUNSTERS that Sheridan was working at the time of her death.    It’s not a pretty sight to see her at that time mind you the camera does it best to accentuate what is left of her once startling face.   She is noticeably gaunt yet she carries herself well and her eyes are still there, flashing and smiling. 

One other person of that style that I am currently enjoying now is the work of Anne Sothern. My first memory of her is a recurring role on THE LUCY SHOW as “Countess Framboise,” whom Gale Gordon’s Mr.  Mooney would bend over backwards to please.  I am finding the series of Maise films she did in the early forties a pleasure to watch even if the stories are often silly with many of the same plot devices repeated.  This is a first exposure for me to Sothern’s talents and the Maise series is a showcase for romantic comedy, rapid fire dialogue, mistaken identity, hearts broken and healed plus the ever popular song and dance.  Scanning Sothern’s career you find it is wide and varied with film extra work to her own television series.   Sothern was fortunate to have aged gracefully into roles as the media and times changed   yet she was like Anne Sheridan,  never a big star.

 This brings to mind the   ‘acting chops’ in today’s film and television world of generic personalities.   The mechanics of acting can be taught, a process can be instilled to achieve something yet the intangible talent is elusive.  Anne Sheridan, Anne Sothern and countless others are like treasures that you can experience again and again.  That ‘spark’ that happens between people on screen and on stage cannot be made to happen; it simply happens.

A GIFT FOR THE NEW YEAR

Small note to people interested in biographies.  You can obtain ‘MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY’ by MARY ASTOR’ as a free ebook if you have a Kobo e reader. Just go to the Kobo site and it’s yours.

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-ca/Search?Query=mary+astor

It’s large, easily readable and candid about her time in Hollywood, her marriages and you can read between the lines for lots of incidents that would not come out.  Reportedly the book Astor wrote that  was an explicit no holds barred tell all of her lovers and other people’s shenanigans never existed.

THE HORROR OF IT ALL

I wanted to write on ‘Classic Horror’ in film, television, and literature and in areas that these images touch. We can look on our breakfast table and see Count Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo Berry cereals. The ‘monsters’ become ‘friends’ that you marvel at as you appreciate the mythology. It is why I am reluctant to discuss the ‘new horror’ that is produced today. I find most of the film, television and books to be offensive to my sensibilities of taste and story.
People have approached me when they learn I have an interest in this and get annoyed when I don’t seem that interested in watching BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974) over the holidays. I would actually prefer to see MAD MONSTER PARTY (1967) or NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (1993).

There is a line of demarcation between horror fans who want to see graphic blood and gore which started in the sixties with the films of Mario Bava, and those of Hammer Studios that continue today in a more amplified version. The horror film becomes an episode of endurance, self- torture and self-documentation. Post your photo of your scared friends. Appear in an on camera promo for the film you just saw outside the theatre. It is more than a ramped up version of William Castle exploitation techniques. Who will be the first to turn away from what is seen on the screen? Who will endure what is being done to a person as part of some strange ritual of passage between the audience and the film makers? I find nothing interesting in the sub genres of horror particularly in Asia and Europe such as torture porn, medical torture or cannibal holocaust style pictures. Do we have such a need to feel superior that we need to watch these acts being perpetrated on others and then walk away?

I am not charting the naïve course through the world of horror in general. On the contrary, I am showing or hope to show the inadequacies of some of what is produced today. Today’s audience is vastly different in temperament, mobility, income, and technology from those of the past. There should be a change in audiences as the years advance. There should be new points of view, new ideas, and new ways of doing things and what follows are new audience requirements.
I wrote some of that in a posting regarding how fans get up to the minute information today as opposed to having to wait for one of two magazines that came out each month. Some people are more in love with the act of information gathering then the content they receive. Every film update, every new advance, not need to be thrust upon us but it is by the film makers, the studios, the effects people in order to sell that all important next thing. Get those bums in the seats, grind them silly and get them buying the Blu ray or DVD.

Today’s audience is not motivated like the audience of yesteryear. They go to watch the acts of decadence, dismemberment, CGI indulgence to experience an endurance test from the safety of the theatre chair. They read online on some sites the number of kills in a picture and the way things are done. No way does this cause as some people say the sudden outbreak of violence we see and read about in the newspapers and television. We make our own monsters through other means that are not the subject of a film blog. I have wondered if today’s audience of the horror film really watches what is on the screen. I will say they don’t and if they do, what do you see that makes you come back?

This is not a giant retort against everything new in the horror genre, or some pining for the good ole’ days. It is about perspective, it is about message, it is about value that has changed in a genre that has in many cases become derivative. How much longer can the ‘zombie’ craze go on? How much longer can the high school vampire stories continue to be produced? The answer is simply as long as people keep going to see them. The basic formula of that part of film making has not changed since the days of Lon Chaney, Lumieire Brothers and Thomas Edison. The upside to it all is that the genre of horror has entered the mainstream commercial consciousness. The work is exposed to a wide audience causing many people to begin developing as film makers, writers, actors, directors and effects people. The downside is now that everyone has a script, everyone does effects, and, as we all know, everyone has a camera. One hopes that amidst all that is being produced that new talent will rise up from the rest.

I suggest people learn to use the information from the net, actually read it and be concerned with the content. The new films are a manifestation of our accelerated, immediate gratification, crisis photo op, watch/read what is called popular in spite of not understanding it society. We all seem to want the payoff then onto the next thing. Why not stay a while, smell and taste the coffee?

Lastly I find it personally difficult to watch many of the newer films because they show a side of society that is best seen by the unlikely few such as homicide police, mental health professionals, animal/ humane society people and child welfare workers. One does not need to watch torture porn film when one can live it as the stories of the confinement and abuse come to light. One does not need to see people such as Paul Bernardo (Search the name it if you don’t know) on screen as their stories onscreen would pale in the soul destroying they have done. How many times have you heard the phrase, “It was just like a Hollywood movie?” You couldn’t write what happens in real events into a film since you would never believe it. Those that really experience the blackness of the human monster are in a film they can never walk away from.

Some of the newer pictures of this genre that I have enjoyed to a point in no particular order are THE OTHERS (2001) , LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) and the remake LET ME IN (2010), HOUSE (1986), HOUSE 2 (1987), HAUSU (1977). WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) , HENRY PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), RE ANIMATOR (1985), EVIL DEAD (1981), EVIL DEAD 2 (1987), THE FRIGHTENERS (1996), SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) and FRIGHT NIGHT (1985). Just because you can show everything doesn’t mean you should. The monsters in the blog are my friends with a sense of history and I hope they will be yours.

HOLIDAY DIFFERENCE

    Holidays are times that people love to watch the staples of the holidays.  Every generation has their favourites they put on and quite frankly watch without thinking. The films become like the Christmas cake or the poinsettia plant that someone brings you each year for no apparent reason other than they do it each year. That card from someone that you glance at, never really read, and put on your table or office cubicle on a string.  

I remember the usual films, THE GRINCH THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS with Boris Karloff; CHARLIE BROWN’S CHRISTMAS with the sad tree that tips over when an ornament is put on it.   The skating sequences from THE BISHOPS’S WIFE with David Niven, Cary Grant and Loretta Young are also part of holiday memories.  I still feel the cold slush on my legs when George Baily (Mr. Jimmy Stewart) is running down main street in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.  Bing Crosby singing the song “White Christmas” in HOLIDAY INN  (1942) always reminds me of the Second World War.   The two pictures I find myself futilely searching for each year to be shown are THE LEMON DROP KID (1951) and THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) with William Holden.

THE LEMON DROP KID (1951), directed by Edmund Beloin and Frank Taslin is a wonderful, warm piece of underated holiday filmmaking.  It has Bob Hope and Marilyn Maxwell; both in fine voice and wise cracking best.  The story concerns the Lemon Drop kid, (who gets his name from a fondness for the candy) persuading  gangster moll Brainy Baxter to not bet on a horse that ends up winning ten thousand dollars.  Angry Moose Moran who owns a casino wants it paid in full.

LEMON DROP KID (1951) is a comedy remake of the 1934 film of the same title with Lee Tracy, whom I remember as the brilliant, double talking, fast dealing publicity man from BLONDE BOMBSHELL (1933) with Jean Harlow.   Hope, Maxwell, and Jane Darwell play it all for sentimental laughs as the schemes build to get the $10,000 owed Moose Moran (Fred Clarke).  Lloyd Nolan does a turn and adds some Noir/Gangster  presence .     Willam Frawley- who would go onto fame as Fred Mertz on I LOVE LUCY- makes an appearance as ‘Gloomy Willie,’ also appeared in the 1934 version in a different role.

Holiday sentiment runs high in the sequence when the old street  woman lead Nellie Thursday ( Jane Darwell) are given a place to sleep out of the snow on mattresses on crap tables in Moose Moran’s casino.  You also get a glimpse of the original Damon Runyon  grittier feel of the original story  and the first film when we see crusty New Yorkers walking, joining along with Hope and Maxwell as they  introduce the world to the holiday classic song ” Silver Bells”. THE LEMON DROP KID (1951) features good songs, snappy dialogue, good writing that shows even the holidays can make a good natured  hustler into something warm and friendly.  I remember this film from my childhood which makes it a shame it isn’t shown as often as it should be perhaps that what makes it special.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is a completely different kind of darker holiday fare. Made in France and directed by Terance Young with William Holden and Virna Lisi in the cast.  A widowed single father of  a boy named Pascal, who are involved in tragic event off the coast of Corse.  An aircraft falls into the sea contaminating the water with nuclear radiation.  Nothing is thought of it until blue marks appear on Pascal and the fateful diagnosis of a terminal illness is delivered.  There is nothing for the family to do but to make Pascal comfortable for the next six months.

     How does this fit into holiday times?  I believe because it is a something real that people face even at holiday times. THE CHRISTMAS TREE handles this very delicate and grim subject matter with grace.  The moments showing Pascal laughing, playing,  going on holidays and Holden and Lisi’s characters try to make the best of a  tragic situation are wonderful. It is unfortunate that people receive this diagnoses in some shape or form even day of the year.  Never once in the film does Director Terance Young stoop to the fog shrouded, John William’s music, back lit style of Steven Spielberg sentiment.  This picture seems to be only available in French language version, which could hamper its distribution for some.

There are many memorable sequences in the film, such as Pascal staring into the eyes of a wolf. Bonding with the animals as he knows he is different because of what he has inside. The disease makes you different from the others in spite of outward appearance:  yet animals know.  The bond that happens with outsiders becomes more apparent in the ‘angry horse’ moment as the wolves race to the boy’s rescue.  You can do everything for your children when something like this happens but protect them from what is happening inside them. Holden and Lisi are subtle and brilliant in showing the futility of this yet the excude a warmth that we know will change as the disease takes its terrible course.

THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) is not a sentimental film. It shows a different side of a holiday that somewhere, someplace, people are going through or someone they know is going through.  It also brings to mind that despite all the other gifts the most important for everyone is that of good health.   THE LEMON DROP KID (1951) and THE CHRISTMAS TREE (1969) are two neglected bits of holiday fare, each a little different but still showing the resiliency of what it means to be thankful.

When I set out to do this blog, I gave myself the deadline of one article per week, alternating between NITRATE FROM THE GRAVE and the Classic Hollywood Blog STARDUST and SHADOWS. I said I would write what I thought would be interesting in each on that time frame. Sometimes I had half formed ideas. Other times I thought I would be regurgitating what others had said regarding a film or an idea. Since some of the best monsters are patchwork being I thought I would settle this instalment into fragments that had crossed my mind.

I recently sat down one evening and enjoyed a wonderful print of WHITE ZOMBIE (1932) with Bela Lugosi and Madge Bellamy. I saw this picture years ago in what I recall as a very poor print, possibly 16 mm. The moment when Lugosi (in what I think is one of his best roles; although some will say it is little more than DRACULA different eyebrows and beard) menaces the film hero by calling down his band of zombies, “For you, my friends, they are the Angels of Death.”

I was surprised by the quality of the print and the atmosphere of the sets; even if they were borrowed from Universal studios by the Halpern Brothers, later released by MGM. The scream of the ravens were piercingly similar to a human scream. The musical score was refreshingly different from other 1930s horror pictures. The closest parallel is the piano hypnotism scene in HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945)in which the music becomes a seductive force between John Carradine’s Dracula and his possible victim.

There was a recent theatrical restoration of the WHITE ZOMBIE, which this print could had been a part or from the recently released blu-ray. Lugosi’s performance is full of grand theatrical gestures, all well and good as it was the acting style of the time especially for one from European theatre.
The end of the helpless zombies on the cliff stuck me as being quite sad and correct considering what was happening. I will not reveal any spoilers for those that want to see it for the first time. I would be interested to see this picture on the wide screen in a 35 mm print, not just a projection of a blu ray or DVD.

I find I am fascinated with the news regarding releases from HAMMER FILMS. I speak particularly of DRACULA (1958) and CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1956) both of which have not been released in Canada yet I have viewed them both. Now much to my happy gnashing teeth on Blu-ray, we have THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, VAMPIRE CIRCUS and DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS and FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN released or soon to be on this planet.

A pleasure was to get “Dracula fangs’ if you were a boy or ‘zombie eye glasses,’ if you were a girl upon entering the theatre to see DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966). I was told that they were all gone when I went which is a tough thing for a young person to swallow yet I moved on. The film itself, featuring a dopey performance by Christopher Lee as a mute Count, reduced to hissing and gazing with vile glee, is stolen by Barbara Shelly. I had hoped that the mute Count would not suffer the fate of the mute Frankenstein Monster, as in GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), and end up speaking in the voice of Bela Lugosi. That would have be interesting to hear as we get two Draculas for the price of one and a remarkable feat since Lugosi had been dead for ten years in 1966.
The transformation of Barbara Shelley’s character from prim, proper lady to lustful creature of the night is remarkable as she uses her wiles to be “invited in”.

The other aspect of this film for me is the wonderful opening sequence of the funeral procession, dramatic entrances followed by some snappy dialogue between the Kent brothers, their wives, and Father Sandor played by booming Andrew Keir. Good solid mix of personalities, body types and style make it a fun scene to watch with just enough dialogue to tell us who these people are. The resurrection scene in the crypt instigated by Klove the butler is simply not to missed . DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS is more story of the vampire’s effect on people and a village; which is a slightly new perspective. Urban legend has it that Lee refused to say the ridiculous dialogue as it was written and wanted more money so his screen time was cut.

BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960) is actually the sequel to the 1958 version has been released on bluray is also in this same vein (yes, I said it) of the effect of vampires on a group of people. Peter Cushing did not battle Christopher Lee as Hammer found they could not afford both of them. The result was again a very credible if not more insidious film with darker subject and a truly suave deliciously evil Baron Meinster played David Peel. Take a look at Mr.Peel when you view the film and wonder where Robert Pattinson’s look got some inspiration. For my money while I find them all interesting I wait to see DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE and TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA on blu ray.

Finally as we enter this festive season of holidays for some and work for most of us I say that in spite of my enjoyment of things macabre in the Cinema, I say shut off your televisions and be with your family and friends if you can. If you are not able to do that by circumstance, then may I suggest you curl up with a good book of Ghost stories and your favourite beverage(s). Yes, it’s not technically cool, you can use a e-reader, it is still best to read the stories by candlelight or better still a Hurricane lamp.

Engage your mind in something that is not electronically pounding – the enjoyment of the simple printed word in paper form. Visit a second hand book shop or check your local library and watch the rich history that ghost stories have especially at Holiday time. Take in the likes of H.P Lovecraft, Sheridan La Fanu, Charles Dickens, William Hope Hodgson, Lord Dunsany and my personal favourite Algernon Blackwood. Invite them into your home for the holidays when the snow is blowing and you can’t see anything outside. When all is quiet and you are alone with your thoughts.

Curl up and be entertained.

STARDUST AND SHADOWS
Classic Hollywood Blog

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