OH OSCAR : The real THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (An Opinion)

STARDUST AND SHADOWS takes a brief break from our content to offer an opinion on the troubled institution for film fans which, of course, is the Academy Awards. Unless you live some place where there is no news or frankly you really “don’t give a damn” you would know that the Academy Awards are having a poor go in the media. Is this really the case? Yes,it is. As I see it, it is symptom of a large issue of audience apathy and lack of change.

The lack of change aspect is more than nominating women or giving people other than white males a chance: simple solutions on the surface. Make no mistake; this needs to be addressed but the troubles go deeper than that. I will say that Director Paul Schrader, who commented a while back on film making was partly right when he said:

“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said. “It was to a degree, but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.” Schrader added:

“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie. When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”

This may seem like the grumblings of a grumpy old man about young people not being “cinefiles,” yet he is essentially correct. You should not have to study film to enjoy it or know the history of every studio or star but it helps enrich the experience. Some people do not care. Movies are entertainment to laugh, yell, and leave when the end credits are running while wearing their coats that they don’t take off.

The market for film is world wide and delivered on all sorts of different platforms, from streaming sites to specialty channels to cinema houses and festivals. You will get people watching that are interested, however, when the availability is open more you get those that are not. The difficulty is when those that are not somewhat discriminatory in viewing begin to dominate which translates into blind acceptance. Film has created this market: huge cash cow. Yet it doesn’t know how to deal with it.

How does this effect the Academy Awards? Well, it creates the “fire storms” that make the awards not worth watching for some people. The awards themselves don’t do themselves favors as the show has become a three hour plus attempt to legitimize ourselves presentation designed to show off designer clothes, jewelry and pump new releases with trailers on television. It now caters to the cash cow audience that Hollywood has created.

The art of acting is reduced to reacting to CGI effects or being under piles of make up because the behemoth audience requires this kind of engagement. Hollywood has made the intimate drama of two people say of more with a meteor coming to destroy them nothing less then an Art House film which alienates those that don”t care. We speak of lost Hollywoods. This isn’t yesterday. It is the rapidly accelerating today so we need to make change at all levels.

Many don’t watch classic film because it’s in black and white. Many don’t watch foreign films or silent pictures because they don’t want to read their movies. These are all symptoms of what Hollywood created when its made that not caring cash cow audience.

Solutions to this would be a long and hard road. Hollywood has created a generation or more of audience by not seeing what is around them and not evolving the product. We need to lift this archaic content and viewing restrictions that some countries have. Film is world wide; not just one country although it seems the American model (meaning Hollywood) dominates. It’s a new version of an old problem of the major studios owning the theaters and block booking, except it’s not just the neighborhood that’s up for grabs.

The beautiful part of this is that somewhere someone will see the product on a new platform and be inspired to become a film maker in some capacity. We needed to make this accessible by not having so many restrictions or centralized production.

Production companies really do not listen to people even when they say they do or open large creative centers. We need to make small films more visible and eligible for an award of some type. We need to foster stronger acting values with real training in accent, body, with tangible roles and situations that challenge .

I will be watching the awards tonight not because I am not a cinefile but because I do care about this story telling medium that is in trouble. I do still believe in the magic time of the Stardust and Shadows. The dowager that is Hollywood survives.

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THE BAD SEED (1956)

Some films don’t  sit in areas of   style or content that fit a particular genre. THE BAD  SEED (1956) is thought to be Horror film,   a Film Noir or  a thriller.  Where  it fits  in the canon is not important only that it is  a strong film yet not to everyone’s taste.  THE BAD SEED (1956) fits right along with  WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962) and HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) as a  story  of  urban terror.

The Warner  Brothers  picture came from a Maxwell Anderson play from a novel by  William March.  Shot in moody black and white which still packs a punch for stories of this nature THE BAD SEED became one of the biggest hits of 1956. You can have a good story, good images but if the actors and Director and other  personal make poor choices then  the  film can be a missed opportunity this is not the case.

THE BAD SEED shines from the moment it opens with the quirky music mixing child rhythms and simple piano melodies which will become important later on by Composer Alex North.   The star of the show  is  Patty McCormick  as the  eight year old  Rhoda Penmark who is doted on by here parents Christine Penmark (Nancy Kelly)  and Col Kenneth Penmark (WillIam Hopper).

The love  expressed is sickly in nature with platitudes of  ‘doing no wrong’ and ‘The perfect child’ gushing out as Col Hopper is leaving on a work trip.   McCormick uses a high pitched voice to utter her  ‘Daddie’s’ and ‘Mommie’s while all dressed in “Pippi Longstocking’ braids and little  dresses.   Christine doesn’t look like a child of the fifties but a strange Doll contrivance reminiscent of the use  of a other Doll in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE (1962) .

 

 

Nancy Kelly as her mother Christine is high strung herself yet  doting on her  Daughters  whims. She tries to be a firm parent in tone at times yet looses the point of her talk when the  master manipulation begins by Rhoda.  She desperately wants her husband to stay but  Military work calls him away so he must go.  They have a strong marriage bordering of  desperation on Christine’s part as  shown when they kiss almost frantically as the Colonel is leaving. One senses this is a wife and  a mother on edge of what  we  do not as  yet know.

Evelyn Varden plays Monica Breedlove who is  a sort of nanny/ companion to both Christine and  Rhoda.    Breedlove  is  forever complimenting Rhoda on her perfect she is when she curtsy’s when guests arrive is always saccharine polite.   She tells Rhoda that she should have won the Penmanship medallion  which was  given to a classmate Claude Daigle as  she was the best at her school only the others  didn’t  see it.   Rhoda is  disappointed deeply yet the  anger and temper simmers just below the surface as  her expression darkens.

This not a childish disappointment to be  gotten over by gifts or  ice cream.  There is  something behind Rhoda’s  eyes when she hugs you see her expression switch to something malevolent  when not  visible then back again to sweet when she is seen.  Rhoda entertains herself by taking the covers the  soft heel covers off a pair of shoes to create  tap dancing boots  so she  can  click on the wooden floor much to her personal glee. Rhoda and her mother leave for a picnic and nearby park with her school friends.

Later when  back at home Christina and Monica her a  radio News report that a yet un identified child has  drown at a nearby park lake. This throws the home into panick as everyone thinks it is Rhoda but child is identified as Claude Daigle; the boy who won the prize.  It is also said that he had several abrasions on his face and head thought to bruising from the water knocking  him into the wharf. Christine is also worried that  Rhoda will be  traumatized as  she  saw the child’s corpse.

Rhoda’s teacher Mrs Fern (Joan Croyden) visits saying that Rhoda was  last person to see Claude alive and was  seen grabbing at his metal which would indicate a connection yet she stops short of accusation.

The story becomes  darker as connections are made and  Rhoda’s deep psychosis  comes to the surface yet always unpinned by the smile. Christine finds Claude’s penmanship medallion in Rhoda’s jewelery box and  demands to know  how she got it. Rhodas cajoles her even to the point of physically stroking her mothers next cooing that she ‘has  the best Mommie in the world  and the best family’ in an act similar to a master petting an  animal.

Christina makes  desperate calls to her husband yet he cannot get away from his duties but will try.   Christina also goes through the revelation of  a horrid family secret by her father Author Richard Bravo (Paul Fix) who comes to visit and see  his grand daughter.   Christine finds  her own origin in terms of a  parental confession is not what  she thought it was but something  entirely different that has  unleashed something beyond her control.

Several other roles complete  add color to this story particularly Ellen Heckart as the mother of the boy killed at the picnic  Hortense Daigle.   Heckart gives one of the best performances as a intoxicated broken mother seeking answers from Rhoda.  She know s Rhoda with with her soon Claude on the wharf and wants to know ‘any little thing’ or ‘thought’ he might have said in his last moments.  She makes catty remarks  about people’s hair being dyed and  how she is not  educated and  rich like all the people in the house only to be lead  away by her husband Henry Daigle (Frank Cady)

 

 

Jessie White as  Emory Wages  and Gage Clark as Reg Tasker  round out the family friends all  thinking that Rhoda is the perfect child.

 

Special mention to actor Henry Jones as  the slow, dimwitted gardner/ handyman LeRoy Jessup.  Jones in the best role I have seen him play shines  as  the  only person who sees Rhoda for what she is and enjoys what he sees.  Jessup calls her at one point ‘Mean’ which is okay  for him as he is ‘Mean’ as well.  Jessup taunts her with the  fact he  knows what she is thinking particularly  in a  wonderful moment as the two exchange  vicious  barbs while Rhoda is having a  imaginary tea party outside with a  gift she  got from her father. Rhoda  tosses him some straw packing material from  her  gift for his bed which is located in house basement next the  furnace.  Jessup knows all about  Rhoda before anyone else does as  he  taunts her  about her shoes with hard soles which will become important.

 

 

Revelations grow culminating in a shocking abrupt moment similar  to  NIGHT MOTHER (1986) which was also a play and a film.  The evil will be avenged by something greater than us all even if it contains  a ‘curtain call’ credit sequence meant to restore reality.

THE BAD  SEED (1956) is not your average thriller  film as it being characters thrust into a  orbit around a  single person unleashing a  chain of events. The actors were  many that originated their roles  in the Broadway production. Academy award nominations of which all would  lose featured one for Nancy Kelly for  Best actress, Best  supporting actress for  both Patty McCormick and Elleen Heckart and  Best  Cinematography for Harold Rossen

THE BAD SEED  was  remade for  television in 1985 and  was poorly received only to be remade again in 2018 with  Rob Lowe  directing.  Patty McCormick takes  bow as  Doctor March in the  film.

 

THE BAD  SEED (1956)  features  a wonderful ensemble  and  creative team that brings  this story that appears simple on the  surface yet grows  more insidious. You may notice that some of  actor blocking and movement is  theatrical in nature. You watch the  disintegration of a  family and a  change  of values for all.  True today we  never  really know what really  goes on behind someone’s eyes.

 

 

 

 

SUPERMAN (1948)

Film is primarily story telling and entertainment and nothing brought a generation of  children and  sometimes adults back to the  theater  then the  Serials.  Those  deeds   of  daring do taking place in  jungles,  lost cities,   Outer Space, a frontier  town,  to under the sea by  groups of  kids in a  gang  or a solitary  figure be it  Hero or intrepid  reporter, lion  trainer, detective , military officer or in this case an visitor from another planet.   The high flying adventures of Superman were a natural fit for kids all ages and the movies.

The fifteen part Columbia produced serial SUPERMAN (1948) featured  actor Kirk Alynn in the title role. Mr Alyn  who’s real name was  John Feggo Jr, is the first to play the live action MAN OF STEEL predating George Reeves on  the  television series  from 1951 to 1958.   It was the  first time the audience saw in ‘real life’  Jimmy Olsen, Perry White and  Lois Lane. The serial was  Directed  by Thomas Carr who later also worked on some of the initial television shows.   The style  was  naturally slam band  with  quick cuts, little dialogue, lots of stunts and the cliff hanger ending bringing the audience back.

SUPERMAN (1948) gives us a first glance at the origin and  arrival on Earth and adoption by the  Kents who find him when driving  home.  This sequences in the  first episode  called SUPERMAN COMES TO EARTH is very reminiscent of Glenn Ford/ Phyllis Thaxter finding scene in SUPERMAN (1978)  with almost the same style of  vehicle and  folksy humor. Kudos  goes out to the  film makers if  that was a homage.

 

The cast also features the  first live action Lois lane in the person of Noel Neill.  Neill was a  former pinup model during the  Second World War second only to Betty Grable. She was a regular in Monogram Studios and Republic Pictures  usually playing women in Distress.

 

he  also sang with Bing Crosby and performed regularly at his club.   It has been said that Lois lane was based  partly on Torchy Blane  character from the  film series  from 1937 to 1939.    Neill was  ‘Lois  Lane’ in the follow up  feature film with Kirk Alyn titled ATOM MAN VS  SUPERMAN (1950) .

Neill was so identified with the role that she   took over the part from Phyllis Coates after  the  first year of the  George  Reeves series due to  Coates committing to another project. Neill went on to be associated with  SUPERMAN by appearing in retrospectives.    Both her  and Kirk Alyn played Lois lanes’s mother Ellen on screen along with Alyn as  Sam Lane in SUPERMAN (1978).    Phyllis Coates would play Ella in  LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN Television series. While  Coates initially distanced herself from the role . Neill embraced it by giving talks on college campuses, attending conventions which endeared  herself to people with her warmth and  good humor.  A statue of “Lois lane’ in the likeness of Neill’s character was unveiled by her in Southern Illinois  city of   Metropolis  in 2010 as a lasting legacy.

 

The rights to the  character were obtained by Sam Katzman who would  go on the produce two Elvis Presley films and one by the  English pop group Herman’s Hermits.  The rights  were difficult to get at the time because Superman was huge with the  Comic audience plus he was only ten years since first appearing in ACTION COMICS issue number  one in 1938. Bob Kane/ Bill Finger creation Batman appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS issue twenty seven  in 1939.  Batman  had already appeared in live action  format  in the 1941 serial BATMAN and  BATMAN AND  ROBIN (1949).    Superman was more demanding character as one was dealing with heat rays, super breath, super  strength and of course flying on screen.  First National Comics  which later became DC wanted full control of the story hence negotiations were slow due to the later Classic Max Fleisher Cartoon series sold to Paramount.

Katzman tried to sell the property to Universal Studios but they had stopped making serials   Republic Pictures refused as  it was thought the “Flying” was impossible to duplicate on a budget so  the deal was made at Columbia Pictures.  The picture had many writers  including which  was pretty much they way series worked.

Katzman found Kirk Alyn by looking through photographs. he was   a  ‘hard sell”  to DC representative  Whitney Ellsworth.  Alyn did not  endear himself to the role by showing  up for the audition sporting a  goatee and  mustache as he was shooting another project. The  role was his in fact he  was  billed as only playing Clark Kent  not Superman.   Alyn performed  all the stunt himself with exception of  a leap from the back of  truck by Paul Strader.  Strader only did one stun in the series and had to leave production with a broken leg

 

SUPERMAN(1948) concerns  the Spider lady (Carol Forman)and her gang getting control of  the Reducer ray.  The  gang also discovers Kryptonite  at the effect it has on the MAN OF STEEL.

 

 

Plenty of car wrecks, Jimmy Olsen (Tommy Bond)heading to fiery doom of a blast furnace,  Runaway trains,  bullets  bouncing off people and crappy Perry White (Pierre Wadkin) growling as he  sends  Clark and Lois on assignments that prove  dangerous.

SUPERMAN (1948) was shot  entirely in the Los Angeles area and  surrounding Chatsworth in San Fernando Valley. The flying stunts were considered the  weakest asset  of the series which  featured strong writing  as you find Alyn holding a pose followed by animation of Superman in flight.  Alyn was  said to have spent an entire day strapped up in prototype of today’s wire work rigging with movable background of clouds which did not prove  effective so the animation was used.     Superman’s landings always occur in the foreground of the frame and landing are always behind objects.  Clark has  yet to prefect the trademark telephone booth change into costume so that was handled  behind objects like  rocks or trees

Alyn tends to strike poses almost to the point of caricature  but he makes up for it with  strong look and  voice of  Clark Kent that would set the visual standard for all that followed.    The stunts  range from holding a  running automobile, going  into fire,  x ray vision and  bending railroad tracks which must have been pretty cool to see.  Alyn’s  fighting  usually was him tossing around the actors ending with Superman holding up  two of them and knocking their heads together.

SUPERMAN (1948) was originally presented as a Saturday matinee yet after the  first three episodes it proved  so popular it played in “first run” movie houses that had never booked  serial It proved  to be  a “tremendous financial success” for the  studio and  for  Sam Katzman.  The  serial also made stars out  of both Kirk Alyn and  Noel Neill as  both went onto the other things all be it  similar.   Thee series now is available  for  viewing while dated in  approach and  budget it still has  strong genre writing and  good   old fashioned  slam bang, gangster shoot em up   entertainment.    Movies can  still be fun so its onward to another 80 years or more of  SUPERMAN.  Today we  need Heros even more.

 

HOMECOMING (1948)

Firstly let me say i have weakness for these so called  ‘Women’s pictures’ which became a genre in of their own.  I  was skeptical of HOMECOMING (1948) since it was a later career Clark Gable picture and I read in some biographies of how he disliked  the material he received.   In this instance both Clark and Lana  received a gem.

HOMECOMING (1948) was   Directed by Mervyn Leroy from the same studio that gave us the quintessential Hollywood  coming home war picture of the  forties: MGM’s  THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).    Hollywood had a market now for this style of picture with real drama occurring during the demobilization of all countries.  MGM had capitalized on the war story of  Girl/boy find each other and part because of shipping out as shown by the roles  of Van Johnson  as  the “fresh faced” soldier to the female cast next to him  to the brilliant  Judy Garland/ Robert Walker  picture  THE CLOCK (1945).  What makes all those films and indeed what makes any picture of that scope work for me is the  story and the ensemble that executes it.

 

HOMECOMING (1948)  was one of the  first roles Clark Gable was assigned to  after the death of Carole Lombard in plane crash in 1942.  The  first  being ADVENTURE (1945) which  was touted in the poster  that  GABLE IS BACK AND GARSON’S  GOT HIM’ followed by THE HUCKSTERS which was  another “soldier home in transition’ film  this time  with Deborah Kerr.  The main difference from all of these previous pictures being not quite successful or fulfilling for some is that HOMECOMING (1946)  is not an action picture but one of the heart.    I suggest  its  cerebral picture much like  the thinking in spite of the action, seaU storms and battles that goes on in  Gable/Crawford picture  STRANGE CARGO (1940).  Gable also gets to star against the underrated  Lana Turner who worked together  in HONKY TONK (1941) with whom he had better  on screen chemistry.

The story is quite simply American Surgeon Ulysses Johnson (Clark Gable) is coming home from the War.  As his ship nears the port of New York City the story unfolds in flashback.   Ulysses is  successful with huge house and wife Penny played Anne  Baxter.  They are childless because Ulysses never thought it was necessary or cared.  He is a ruthlessly efficient  surgeon who inspite good intentions reneges on promise to help  college  chum and  fellow  medical person Dr. Robert Sunday (John Hodiak) with  files he wanted  a consult on.   Sunday visits the  Johnson’s residence on the eve of Ulysses  leaving  for the  War only to find his work has not been done.   An argument ensues between the  two old friends  with Sunday accusing Ulysses of not caring for anything  in fact  going to war because its the  ‘place to be”.   Penny walks in ending to confrontation.

Penny and Ulysses promise not change because of the War as he goes off to do basic training. He gets assigned Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall (Lana Turner) and their adventure begins  through Europe. The two grow close as  want to happen in War yet they maintain their dignity. McCall has a  Son who’s Father was killed in China years before. Ulysses writes Penny each night professing his love for his family and telling her of  the hard nosed  nurse. McCall even  give  Johnson the  nickname of  “Uless” in fun. Of course the inevitable happens and sparks  fly but for all the right reasons  and with  dignity.

The picture  features a lightly naughty but fun bath sequence in which McCall asks Ulysses and  Lt. Col. Avery Silver  (Ray Collins) to have a bath with  her at  near by Roman ruin.  Avery begs off  and both Ulysses and  McCall go it alone with some amusing results.

 

 

McCall gets reassigned as  per  regulations.  They finally kiss in the doorway of Ulysses’s  tent with Turner  walking into the background in a  brilliant shot very reminiscent  of GONE WITH THE  WIND (1939).

 

Johnson gets leave in Paris where he meets McCall again by chance who has  yet to be reassigned.   The two head off in the Battle of the Bulge where they work together again. They grow  close but he  ‘belongs to someone else’ and their affection is unspoken till one night as  they are surrounded  at Bastogne when they both sadly reveal their feeling. The affection come out with words and gestures and almost a poignant admittance  to their Love masterfully handled  by both Gable, Turner and the choice of shots with lighting.

The story shifts to Penny Johnson and her  growing belief that she has lost her husband to ‘Snap Shot’ which she confides to Dr Sunday who is a family friend.  She  even tries to guess which one is  ‘Snap Shot’ from a picture of  the  unit Ulysses  send home

The story changes and people change. How can one  not be changed  by the experience of war of  operating sixteen hours  a day, watching people die including  personal friends like  Monk  (Cameron Mitchell)who delivered the Johnson’s laundry now   Sgt. Monkevickz who asked Johnson to look at him before he left for the  War. Canada makes  it into the film when Monk (Cameron Mitchell) say he is going off to fight in the Canadian army because they are fighting now much to the belittling of  his choice by Ulysses Johnson.

Lana Turner is wonderfully sensitive  as  the  not so glamorous Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall.  It is never explained  why her character is called  Snap Shot by all in the  film perhaps it is  her  cool efficiency which her character  shows in operating room situations. Turner does  well in military clothes as she  did before in the  KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) in which she was a motor pool mechanic complete with grease.  This offers Turner an chance to do what she did  for  years like no other  and that was  shed small tears very slowly without moving a facial muscle.

 

The  cast  is rounded out  by wonderful rock solid John Hodiak as  Dr Robert Sunday who like his name suggests is  the  pious center of the picture. Hodiak does  well in his moments with Gable as  the  two spar in great give and take  session.  Hodiak also offers the  shoulder  confessor to cry on for Penny Johnson who was played by his real life  wife Anne Baxter.    John Hodiak when onto an all to brief career in film which is a shame  due  to his  dark intense looks and  well modulated  tones could have been so much more.  Hodiak passed away tragically  at  age forty one of a fatal heart attack.

 

Anne Baxter looks  very inch the role of the wife.  Baxter variations of this role of  the unsure  glamour girl  like she  did in this picture  and  in  CIMMARRON (1960) as  Dixie Lee.  She wears the clothes well and does  the mannerisms well yet  leaves one with tone of  unsure about her life which is exactly what  the  roles  requires.   Her tone is light in speech which changes with one  crucial sentence when talking later  in the film to Ulysses.  Baxter is the  faithful wife that Hollywood  and Louis B. Mayer wanted  in HOMECOMING (1960)

Life had taken its tole on Gable which is only evident in a sequence in which the lines on his  face are evident during a  flashback moment of both him  and  Penny meeting for the first time.

HOMECOMING (1960)  is limited in action sequences  in spite of the  War going on plus there is some judicious editing of history. One cannot help but think that when one sees Ulysses Johnson wistfully or  tenderly   thinking on screen silently it is not Clark Gable dreaming of Carole Lombard and their  years. Life and  Art all in one. The picture  offers a  good  cast  with Gable, Turner, Hodiak and Baxter shining right along side  THE BEST YEARS OF  OUR LIVES (1946)