CMBA’s Banned and Blacklisted: CROSSFIRE (1947)

 

Incredibly tense, politically-charged times in Hollywood erupted seventy years ago when the infamous “The Hollywood Ten” were cited with contempt of Congress on November 24, 1947. After ten writers and directors refused to fully answer questions to the HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) regarding involvements with the Communist Party, thus began the blacklisting of scores of artists in the industry. Although it is not a crime to be a Communist in this country, and the many allegations that artists were injecting Communist propaganda into their films were never proven, the witch hunt continued and wrecked the careers and lives of many.

Even those who cooperated with the HUAC, were never affiliated with the Communist Party, and/or challenged the legitimacy of the process found themselves blacklisted thanks to the rumors and whisperings from the HUAC. Even being accused of being a Communist assumed guilt in Hollywood for which there was no crime committed. The blacklisting did not end until 1960. It was a dark stain in our history.

Two of The Hollywood Ten, producer and screenwriter Adrian Scott and director Edward Dmytryk, worked together to complete the pivotal film, CROSSFIRE, just a couple of months prior to being subpoenaed to the HUAC. After several successful films, including this one, this would be their final collaboration. With the screenplay written by John Paxton, it was based on Richard Brooks’ military-influenced crime novel “The Brick Foxhole” which was originally centered on the murder of a homosexual man. Producers Adrian Scott and Dore Schary pitched a new twist to the story. For CROSSFIRE, the bulk of the story unravels the crime post-murder, and the victim is a straight Jewish man.

Schary was concerned the anti-Semitic messaging would be a red flag, gaining unwanted attention from the HUAC. As it turns out, he was right. Interestingly, another film with anti-Semitism themes, Elia Kazan’s GENTLEMAN’S AGREEMENT was released later the same year with even more critical acclaim as that year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture.

Despite a tight budget and shooting schedule, plus tackling a controversial script under watchful eyes, CROSSFIRE (1947) remains one of RKO’s if not perhaps of any studio’s best film noirs. Beginning with a murder, we are then introduced to Robert Young as the serene, pipe-smoking Finley, who is investigating the case, followed by a slew of potential suspects, friends and foes, of which many are military. We discover that not only was the victim Jewish, but that appears to be the only motivation for his demise. Finlay is hunting down a madman whose rage lurks just below the surface and whose deep bigotry results in murder.

With a headlining trio of three swell Roberts- Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Robert Young- the casting offers unforgettable performances. Mitchum and Young represent a calm front of tag-teaming good guys, fleshing out demobilized soldiers with possible ulterior motives. Robert Ryan plays Montgomery, the bigoted monster of intermittent restraint of rage, to perfection. A role he performed so well he earned an Oscar nom, that also typecast him for a majority of his career.

The supporting cast is outstanding, as well. Sam Levene, Paul Kelly, Steve Brodie, Jacqueline White, and Gloria Grahame to name a few. In her first role with RKO following a brief stint at MGM, Grahame is a stand-out and it earned her an Oscar Nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Like Ryan, this film set the mold for many more-naughty-than-nice roles to come. What really drives this film in addition to these performances is the phenomenal cinematography from J Roy Hunt. When one gushes about the glowing beauty of light and dark shadows of a great film noir (as I often do), CROSSFIRE is a perfect example.

For me, one of the most powerful moments comes when a potential witness for the police faces a moral dilemma. He questions whether he should help the police capture Montgomery when he wasn’t directly affected by Monty’s anti-Semitism. Finlay gives him a rather convincing speech about his own Irish grandfather who faced similar treatment as a new immigrant. It’s powerful because Finlay must convince the apathetic soldier that anyone can be the target of bigotry so none of us can afford to look the other way.

History is a mixed bag for Edward Dmytryk. His talents are rarely disputed. After serving time for his conviction as part of The Hollywood Ten, he experienced regret. He faced the HUAC again in 1951 and recanted his initial defiance. Between his prison time with subsequent blacklisting, and his public distancing from The Hollywood Ten, he made a couple of films in the U.K. Then, Stanley Kramer gave him a chance to transition back to Hollywood. He went on to make many more films in Hollywood for the rest of his career, including winning an Oscar for THE CAINE MUTINY (1954).

Some say he was able to save his career by recanting. Some say he sold out. Fast-forward seventy years later and what have we learned from this? Where does history judge all of those involved in the blacklisting, the HUAC, victims and perpetrators alike? Some have stated “it was a different time” and “people were protecting their jobs to support their families” in sympathy for those that did not defy the HUAC or even named names. Yet many modern-day Americans find it incredulous to believe it took so long to stand up to the HUAC when no actual crimes were committed by those targeted. With hindsight, the wrongs of that ‘Red Scare’ witch hunt seem obvious.

Hateful intolerance remains a presence. We live in precarious times today that reveals an alarming buildup of bigotry and nationalism similar to previous historic levels. Wedged between the nazi horrors revealed in the Nuremberg trials and the onset of McCarthyism, CROSSFIRE’s take on the dangers of bigotry was topical then yet remains relevant to this day.


*This post was my contribution to the CMBA Fall 2017 Blogathon, Banned and Blacklisted, Nov. 15-19, 2017. As a proud member of the Classic Movies Blog Association, I feel privileged to participate and encourage you to read the other entries.

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She Kills Her Husband Once but THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, 1946

The postman always rings twice doesn’t refer to a mail carrier’s methodology of delivery in this 1946 film noir directed by Tay Garnett, starring John Garfield and Lana Turner. This is film noir, friends, so we are addressing the subject of dark and dirty crime. Not just any crime but murder. Mariticide, to be exact.

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Mariticide is the act of killing one’s husband. Not exactly a new concept in film noir. As a matter of fact, many parallels can be drawn between this film and Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). In THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946), the title alludes (spoilers ahead!) not to the beginning fiery heat of two lovers, not to the detailed steps of planning the murder of a spouse, but moreso to the aftermath and ironic justice in how this ill-fated romance ends.

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Many crime stories and film noirs focus on the tension, motivation and players that lead up to or explain the crime. While THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946) does a marvelous job in that arena, a good chunk of the story focuses on good ole karma that comes along not on the first ring, but on that second ding. I’ll save those scrumptious details for you to savor when you watch the film.

Before I get ahead of myself, let’s start at the beginning and chat about the sparks that brought this doomed couple of criminal lovers together. John Garfield as Frank Chambers is perfection as the casual drifter who floats in to the Twin Oaks roadside diner on a breeze. Actually, he wanders in via hitchhiking with the local district attorney (who lives closeby and will become a key factor in his undoing) and is soon greeted by the local motorcycle cop who is often witness in rather inconvenient ways.

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He soon meets Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway), owner of the cafe, and they quickly conduct a job interview via on-the-spot character reads. Note: we will discover later that Nick fails miserably at both job interviews and character assessments. After Frank confidently and casually pushes his loosely tied commitment for the position, Nick dashes off to greet a gas customer outside as Frank is introduced to his platinum blonde doom aka Mrs. Smith inside. We meet Lana Turner as Cora Smith in a memorable character debut where the camera follows her from her ‘accidental’ lipstick drop and roll to the slow pan up her legs to her petite frame in iconic ivory shorts, crop top and turbin.

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The heat and tension is palatable from the very first exchange. Frank wastes no time in making his move. But first, and what plays out as a very interesting foreshadowing, is the power struggle gauntlet is thrown down upon their very initial exchange- over lipstick, no doubt. Before their first first kiss, which Frank plants boldly and rather assumedly, Frank issues the challenge of who is in charge. Cora plays her best game of sexy meets coy to lure Frank close to the flame via handing her the fiery red lipstick. But watch Frank pause, lean back and challenge Cora to come to him. She succumbs allowing Frank to think this was his game. But is it? This initial exchange was the true precursor and warning for them both.

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Through a botched attempt to run away, Cora symbolically morphs from pristine and crisp white to dirty, sweaty, and dusty hitchhiker as she has a change of heart. This is not how she planned. They go back. Narrowly escaping Nick’s discovery, Frank has an opening to leave. But as countless film noir anti-heroes eventually do, he ignores any instinct to do the right thing. Frank: “Right then, I shoulda walked outta that place… She had me licked and she knew it.”

After initial and seeming resistence, we later learn that she was actually the one strategically in charge all along. And he acted helpless in acting better on his own behalf. Once the hooks were firmly embedded deep, even the red flag of ‘if you truly love me, you’ll murder for me’ couldn’t stop her quest to fulfill her ambitious needs to “be somebody.” Cora challenges Frank: “Do you love me? Do you love me so much that nothing else matters?”

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Watching this trainwreck of an excuse for love unfold, as the audience we see the red flags, the road signs of dangerous curves up ahead… everywhere. From our lofty tower of wisdom, we see the mistakes, the grave errors in judgement. While this film spends a good chunk of time and detail serving justice post-mariticide in an ironic twist of fate for these two with a one-two punch, the fascinating components remain the motivations and evolutions of behavior.

Why this film remains a classic, besides enjoying the sexual tension sizzle off the screen and the nail-biting moments of thrills and suspense, what keeps us riveted as the voyeurs to this obsessive, dysfunctional romance is the undercurrent of self questioning, playing out in our own hearts and heads of how obsession can turn oneself against their own morality. Where is that line drawn? What does it take to push someone over the edge? This film ultimately begs the question: if a smart, non-commitment, non-romantic type like Frank can fall into such a deep, tragic trap, could something like this happen to anyone? Yes, perhaps even you?

I think that is what is at the heart of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE (1946). Even the sharpest cynic can blunder and fall prey. Not that murder is a very likely result, but I wager to guess that a significant number of people have experienced a type of obsessive love that has altered their judgement in morality, which was not in their own best interests. So, let that mail courier ring your doorbell twice, even three times. But watch out for the Lana Turner cunning beauties of the roadside cafes. More importantly, watch out for the little voice in your heart and head whenever you hear it crying out “NO!!” – sometimes it’s important to listen.

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This post was my contribution to the ‘Til Death Us Do Part Blogathon on CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch. As this is sure to be a rousing assembly of blog posts of spouse-murdering twist and turns, I encourage you to read all the other contributors!

 

 

 

31 DAYS OF OSCAR BLOGATHON- Day 2

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Taking the baton from fellow co-host Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, who brought us the initial round of blogger contributions yesterday, today I pick up on the second day of the 31 Days Of Oscar Blogathon. Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club will pick up the final day tomorrow. Explore all three days for three days for the best in the blogger biz for everything Oscar.

Just a reminder, this is our 5th year hosting this event in conjunction with Turner Classic Movies network’s month-long event to honor the Academy’s Oscars. TCM is showcasing this year’s special programming in alpha order. Click here for more info: TCM’s 31 Days Of Oscar

Now, onto today’s lineup!

Pop Culture Pundit takes a look at the brilliance of PURPLE RAIN: A Traditional Musical With an Anti-Traditional Score.

CineMaven’s Essays From The Couch presents Jeff Lundenberger as guest blogger as he goes deep in the Best Actress field of 1950 with, And The Winner Is…

Charlene’s (Mostly) Classic Movie Reviews discusses the beauty and bleakness of existence in The Diving Bell and Butterfly (2007)

Wolffian Classic Movies Digest explores the unforgettable oblique angles and visual styles of Cinematography in THE THIRD MAN.

Weegie Midget swoops in for a caped landing with Best Actor Oscar Winners in Superhero Movies!

Blogged Of The Darned enjoys life’s banquet in 3 Beekman Place- The Art Direction/ Set Design of AUNTIE MAME. I promise you won’t starve to death when reading this one.

I will continue to add more posts later today so check back for more blogger bliss! And to all the participating writers and readers alike, Aurora, Paula and I cannot THANK YOU enough for your continuing support!

…Kellee

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Victor McLaglen – A Man as Big as the Screen

*The following is a guest post by my husband Gary, aka Santa on twitter as @SantaIsThinking

I signed up for the What A Character! Blogathon to write a post on one of my favorite character actors, Victor McLaglen (pronounced Muh-clog-len, not Mack-loff-len) because he appears in my favorite movies, adorns one of my walls at home, and reminds me in so many ways of my dad.

As I did research on him I realized that plenty had been written on him so what could I possibly add to that? He’s very loved by so many. So I decided, as I sit here with a Guinness, to focus on two things that I find most interesting about him, his adventurous youth and his big screen (grin) charm. vm-image-1

Victor Andrew de Bier Everleigh McLaglen (10 December 1886 – 7 November 1959)

His Adventurous Youth – Boers, Boxing, and Baghdad

Victor McLaglen was big enough at 14 to enlist in the English Army to fight the Boers. (Sounds like a young English lad’s dream, until he was found out a short time after and had to exit the Army.) When he was 18, he moved to Canada, became a wrestler and a boxer and toured with circuses, vaudeville and Wild West shows.

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He fought under his own name and took on the nickname ‘Sharkey’ McLaglen. In 1909, he survived a 6-round exhibition bout with heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. Commenting later on the fight, “He never knocked me down . . . but he sure beat the livin’ be-Jesus out of me.” In 1918, he was named the heavyweight champion of the British Army. For the record, Victor’s lifetime boxing record (as far as is known) was 11-6-1, with 9 KOs.

He returned to Britain in 1913 and enlisted in the Army, then served as captain (acting) with the 10th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Besides serving in WW1, other early chapters in his life included serving as a bodyguard for an Indian Rajah and later as Provost Marshal (head of Military Police) for the city of Baghdad. In the 1920’s, he was off to Hollywood.

His Career – Big Screen Grins and Bromance

Though a big man at 6’ 2 1/2” and broad-shouldered, it was his roguish charm and big toothy smile that took up most of the big screen. He often grinned and fought his was across the screen with the biggest Hollywood stars of the day (including Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara). The ease and charm with which he interacted with his co-stars served to compliment and enhance their own substantial on-screen charisma.

Victor appeared as MacChesney, in the original bromance adventure movie Gunda Din (1939). The chemistry he had with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks is why this film is in my top 5 films of all time. His comic timing and dialogue delivery was on par with his co-actors. If you’ve not seen it, rent it or buy it. And if you have seen it, might be time to watch it again (so says my Guinness). As you watch these three British sergeants and their native water bearer take on a murder cult in colonial British India, you’ll see a “best buds” heroic action movie DNA that has been passed down and continues to make ripples through many more modern flicks (and not just that poor Temple of Doom movie.)

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In The Quite Man (1952), McLaglen (now late in his career) played the role of Squire “Red” Will Danaher, resident loud-mouthed brother to Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara.) In it, Victor squares off with Sean Thornton (John Wayne) over his sister, a farmstead, and that ornery Irish pride. It’s got romance, drinking, brawling, and… brawling. And the extended cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors of the day. By the time this was filmed, Victor was 64, but he still gave John Wayne a run for his money with his hulking physical presence and personality (though John Ford and Wayne did have to take it easy on him during filming). His performance got him his second Academy nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

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This post isn’t an exhaustive overview of McLaglen’s life and family; others have done a better job of that. Rather it’s a feel-good loving tribute to someone I love watching on film. But if you want a few other notable movies to watch to get his range, try The Informer (1935) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949) another great pairing with Ford and John Wayne and The Lost Patrol (1934). The last Pre-Code feature has Boris Karloff in it and is a great survival story.

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McLaglen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8, 1960. I discovered his films in the early 70’s with my dad and continue to re-watch them today with my Irish wife. That lovable, hard-nosed character actor will always have a place in my heart…and I hope he can find a place in yours.

This is my entry to the 2016 What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora at Once Upon A Screen, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club, taking place all this weekend. Check all three day’s of posts this weekend for other fascinating character actor profiles. Catch me as @santaisthinking on Twitter.

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The Black Pools of Noir in MURDER, MY SWEET 1944

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It’s dark. Too dark to see without assistance from a handy flashlight to confirm the time on his watch. Private dick Philip Marlowe is scouting out the meeting place in a densely wooded area, just off the road. He walks cautiously as dense, smoky fog crawls along the ground, in his tipped fedora and buttoned up trench coat. He hears the snap of a twig underfoot, close range, and turns abruptly only to see a deer.

He heads back to his parked car. Leaning against the large, open top convertible and without looking down, he tells the man hiding in the back of his car- the same man who just hired him to go into those dark woods to help him buy back a stolen jade necklace- that they’re likely being watched and tested for obedience, for this mysterious exchange. Unexpectantly, Marlowe is suddenly struck from behind on the head. Hard.

As he slumps to the ground we hear him narrate in a raspy-smooth voice, “I caught the blackjack right behind my ear. A black pool opened up at my feet and I dived in. It had no bottom. I felt pretty good… like an amputated leg.” Visually we see black edges closing in on his unconsciousness body until total darkness fills the screen.

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This is just one scene from Edward Dmytryk’s MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) which perfectly evokes the many hallmarks of a signature film noir. Even before I completed the TCM/Ball State University course in Film Noir last summer, I had seen this film prior and knew this was what film noir is supposed to be.

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All the beautiful shades of shadows and light are glowing on the screen. Dick Powell as Philip Marlowe drops bitter and sarcastic cynacism in descriptive lingo that his profession as a hard-nosed private investigator affords. From time to time, he narrates to us. Often with uniquely descriptive metaphors. He’s no hero charging in wearing a ten gallon white hat, but he’s not exactly the villainous anti-hero either. Ultimately he does the right thing, but not out of conformity to society rules. He’s in business for himself.

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He fully appreciates a pretty dame- good or bad. And speaking of bad dames, a good film noir isn’t complete without a beautiful and cunning femme fatale. Enter Claire Trevor. He doesn’t fool easily, although he sometimes likes to lead on as though he does. And a typical film noir is based on a crime drama. The crime is presented via a missing girlfriend and jade necklace. But were they ever missing/stolen or merely borrowed? And why are so many people interested in hiring Marlowe to find- or bury -the truth? Time will reveal all as Marlowe finds himself a very popular dick for hire.

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And what about those black pools? Another calling card of a film noir is a dream sequence. The more trippier, the better. Marlowe swims in that black pool more than once and it gets saturated wet in trippy.

Now that we’ve laid out all the evidence why MURDER, MY SWEET (1944) qualifies as   a definitive film noir, let’s discuss why it’s also one of my favorites of this genre (and perhaps should be yours too):

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Dick Powell. Dick Powell has always been one of my favorites of the silver screen. But like so many, we were introduced to him through Pre-Codes. In the thirties, he shined as the upbeat, charming crooner of those terrific Busby Berkley musicals and other classics. He was usually the guy singing and smiling his way into the hearts of the sweet girl next door or sassy sidekick (like cuties Ruby Keeler and Joan Blondell). But for the first time in his career, MURDER, MY SWEET took a dramatic turn of character for Powell. His role as Philip Marlowe was a major risk that paid off successfully and launched him into the noir world and other dramatic roles. Not all actors can boast such a successful breaking of typecasting and transition so effectively into the changing times of the big screen. He would transition again post-noir as a producer and director.

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Because of his prior roles in the thirties and his natural skills in comedy, I’ll admit there were times in viewing this film for the first time that I expected him to go more campy. Especially considering the dialogue, one could easily play it as dark humor and break character. But he delivers with a five o’clock shave, a heavy-smoky voice and candidly acerbic tone that a gumshoe Marlowe demands.

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Claire Trevor. This role came right between her big roles as Dallas, a woman of ill-repute and good intentions, in STAGECOACH (1939) and Gaye Dawn, the complex mess of a lush in KEY LARGO (1948). The deeper I look into these roles, the more I’m convinced Claire Trevor is a highly underappreciated actor. The variety and nuances across these three roles are a testiment to her range. Here in MURDER, MY SWEET she plays the femme fatale very well, with sophisticated beauty masking her street-wise naughtiness as Helen Grayle.

Anne Shirley is another underrated actor. Her portrayal as Ann Grayle keeps you guessing sometimes to see if she plays the sinner or the saint, but the good girl emerges ultimately to give great contrast to Trevor. The role is not quite as meaty as it could be, so Trevor tends to steal the scenes.

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The love/hate dynamic between Marlowe and Moose Malloy. Mike Mazurki appealingly plays the big thug with a broken heart who possesses more brawn than brains. Malloy is more than a typical hired heavy. He’s an unexpected romantic yet also like a big, dumb animal that can’t figure out if he wants to play with his food. Unfortunately for Marlowe, he’s often on the dinner menu. But I like the way that, no matter how many times he gets hurt, there’s a part of Marlowe that looks upon Moose like a big puppy that somehow just doesn’t know any better.

Dialogue. Oh the writing in this film is priceless!

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In introducing Marlowe, he narrates, setting up a scene with visual artistry and coarse flair, as the camera cuts a path through images of the city at night with all the neon flashing landscape:

“It was seven o’clock. Anyway it was dark. I’m a homing pigeon. I always come back to the stinking coop no matter how late it is. I’d been out peeking under Sunday sections looking for an old barber named Dominic, whose wife wanted him back. I forget why. Only reason I took the job is because my bank account was trying to crawl under a duck. And I never found him.  I just found out all over just how big this city is. My feet hurt and my mind felt like a plumber’s handkerchief. The office bottle hadn’t sparked me up, so I’d taken out my little black book and decided to go grouse hunting. Nothing like soft shoulders to improve my morale. The soft shoulders had a date, thought she could do something about, was going to check right back. There’s something about the dead silence of an office building at night. Not quite real. The traffic down below was something that didn’t have anything to do with me.”  

What a fascinating way to introduce a character. It’s so quintessentially noir. Thanks to the stylistic writings of Raymond Chandler (novel) and John Paxton (screenplay), it strongly influenced an entire genre and style of film. Here are some more lines that make me smile…

On women:

“She was cute as lace pants.” (Moose Mallory)

“She was a charming middle-aged lady with a face like a bucket of mud. I gave her a drink. She was a gal who’d take a drink, if she had to knock you down to get the bottle.”

On love and such romantic notions:

“I tried to picture him in love with somebody, but it didn’t work.” (Marlowe on Malloy)

“He’s in love and in a big hurry. He’ll get over that.” 

Helen Grayle: “I find men *very* attractive.”
Philip Marlowe: “I imagine they meet you halfway.”

On being roughed up or drugged up:

“My throat felt sore, but the fingers feeling it didn’t feel anything. They were just a bunch of bananas that looked like fingers.”

“‘Okay Marlowe,’ I said to myself. ‘You’re a tough guy. You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough – like putting your pants on.'”

And these lines gave me a chuckle:

“He died in the middle of a glass of beer. His wife Jessie finished it for him.”

“It was a nice little front yard. Cozy, okay for the average family. Only you’d need a compass to go to the mailbox. The house was all right, too, but it wasn’t as big as Buckingham Palace.”


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This post was my contribution to the Film Noir Blogathon, hosted by Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In, Aug. 12-14. And kudos to Connie of Silver Scenes for the fabulous banners. With a tremendous list of participants, I encourage you to read these noir knock-outs.

The Seduction of SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932)

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Josef von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS was the top grossing film of 1932 (in US and Canada)- at the apex of the salacious Pre-Code era. With good reason.

This exotic film takes us on a journey via rail in Northern China from Peking to Shanghai. There’s a uniquely diverse group of passengers that sometimes clash and sometimes simmer for the ride. Ultimately, each are surprised to find out who can be trusted, and who should be feared, when they become directly embroiled in local politics and civil unrest. And when old flames rekindle things really start to sizzle.

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Marlene Dietrich portrays Shanghai Lily, along with her traveling companion, Anna May Wong as Hui Fei, and they make a HELLUVA entrance. Shanghai Lily is mysterious, drop-dead gorgeous and with every little movement she poses draped in the most stunning fashions, enveloped in the most sensuous glowing light and shadows. Her boudoir reputation precedes her.

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Shanghai Lily: “It took more than one man to change my name to Shanghai Lily.”

As for Ms. Anna May Wong’s Hui Fei, she is one tough lady and not to be messed with. While Hui Fei projects street-wise, her striking companion is apparently bedroom savvy. Like Shanghai Lily, she also carries herself with high style and a penetrating beauty.

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Clive Brook plays Captain “Doc” Harvey. He’s a suave military man and a former lover to Shanghai Lily. He’s apprehensive to her flirtations at first with the promiscuous rumors. As hard as he tries to avoid falling for her, in the end, and via her sacrifices that reveals her love for him, her undeniable sexual appeal and their love prevail.

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As for the rest of the cast of key characters, Warner Oland (most famous for his many turns as Charlie Chan) is untrustworthy Mr. Henry Chang. Lawrence Grant is Reverend Carmichael, who discovers there’s more to Shanghai Lily than a tarnished reputation. Louise Glosser Hale is the uptight, prude Mrs. Haggerty.  And Eugene Pallette is spectacular as the hilarious Sam Salt.

For comic relief, Eugene Pallette’s Sam Salt delivers the most witty lines. Keep in mind that by today’s standards they are blatantly racist, but there’s something about his delivery (thanks to that lovable Pallette way) that makes us laugh at his non-PC ignorance of Chinese culture, rather than the 1932 audiences that likely laughed with him. As my daughter pointed out, he’s sorta a Pre-Code Peter Griffin (Family Guy reference):

Sam Salt: “I can’t make head or tail outta’ you, Mr. Chang. Are you Chinese, or are you white, or what are you?”
Mr. Henry Chang: “My mother is Chinese. My father was white.”
Sam Salt: “You look more like a white man to me.”
Mr. Henry Chang: “I’m not proud of my white blood.”
Sam Salt: “Oh, you’re not, are you?”
Mr. Henry Chang: “No, I’m not.”
Sam Salt: “Rather be a Chinaman, huh?”
Mr. Henry Chang: “Yes.”
Sam Salt: “What future is there in bein’ a Chinaman? You’re born, eat your way through a handful of rice, and you die. What a country! Let’s have a drink!”

Sam Salt: “I don’t know what you’re saying brother… but don’t say it again.”

Along with these inappropriately funny moments, the other characters provide us entertainment in just how uncomfortable they are just to be near Shanghai Lily, as though her ill-repute will somehow rub off. But what really makes this film is not these things, nor the story (although those are all great), it’s the visual telling of the story… through dramatic, jaw-dropping fashions and through the so-hot-the-screen-steams images of Marlene Dietrich.

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When you consider Marlene Dietrich’s personal life as well as her behind the scenes relationship with director Josef von Sternberg, this performance may not come as a surprise. She was brilliant in understanding how to convey her image on screen in just the perfect light and shadows. That is, she was the perfect student of Josef von Sternberg’s teachings in these skills (skills she utilized the remainder of her life.)

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But when you add in Dietrich’s own extremely sexual persona, it’s no wonder this film unravels as though we the audience are experiencing one long seduction directly from the empress of Pre-Code seduction herself. Let’s face it, she isn’t really seducing the ilk of glossy smooth Clive Brook. The camera is the object of her desire. And we all benefit in her aim.

This perspective on SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932) is my contribution to the “Hot & Bothered Blogathon” as hosted by those saucy bloggers Theresa of Cinemaven’s Essays from the Couch and Aurora of Citizen Screen, July 9-10. Explore both of their sites to read more lustful and licentious posts.

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Clara Bow is “IT”(1927)

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Elinor Glyn’s novel “It” may be a different story than the film adaption, but the concept of “It” remains the same. What exactly is “It”? To claim it simply meant sex or sex appeal is selling it short. According to Clarence Badger’s/Josef von Sternberg’s IT (1927), “Self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not – and something in you that gives the impression that you are not all cold. That’s ‘It’!”

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To be more specific, “It” was sex appeal enhanced with this description and the film’s star Clara Bow was ‘It’ in spades. She was the definition of the ‘It girl’ and it defined her for her entire career.

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In the film, Clara Bow portrays the beautiful, young, department store clerk, Betty Lou Spence who exudes an air of confidence and a bubbly zest for life. Betty has her sights set on the boss and son of the company, Cyrus Waltham (Antonio Moreno). But it’s his pal Monty (William Austin) that first sets his sights on her. Monty has read about a new book by Elinor Glyn referring to “It.” He discussed his intentions of finding a girl with “It” with his friend Cyrus as they walk the sales floor. Monty sees Betty and knows he’s discovered ‘It’! He asks her out and she insists on going to the fanciest restaurant in town, The Ritz.

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There’s a charming scene when she prepares her limited wardrobe for this event. Her friend helps her transform her basic black dress with a lace collar (appropriate for work but not The Ritz) into a cocktail dress. Later at dinner, she takes joy in adapting to high-end society life. She spies her conquest, Cyrus Waltham, who is seated at a nearby table along with his steady date. Playfully, she offers Monty a wishbone and with her winning end of the bone she prophetically claims, “I am going to get my wish” as she looks over sensually at Waltham.

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Cyrus’s date, blue blood Adela Van Norman (Jacqueline Gadsdon) is guarded because she assumes she will be Mrs. Waltham someday. Author Elinor Glyn (playing herself) walks in. Cyrus motions her over and asks her to explain “It” from her novel creating all the buzz (see her definition above.) Adela, completely lacking in ‘It,’ should be worried by now. Betty strategically forces a ‘bump in’ with Cyrus  in the lobby. The flirting and attraction is immediate and strong. Betty makes a bet with him that he won’t recognize her the next time he sees her. He takes the bet assuming his draw to her would make that impossible.

The next day at work, Betty is calling out a dishonest shopper, who chronically returns items she’s worn for six months then returns. Her manager sends her up to Cyrus’s office to be scolded. He finally looks up and serendipitously realizes he’s just lost their bet from the night before. She suggests a date at the beach “Fun House” (Coney Island?) will square their deal.

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After a delightful evening of fun, Cyrus sneaks in a kiss as he drops her off at her place. She slaps him for his presumptive action, “so you’re a Minute Man! The minute you know a girl you think you can kiss her!” She takes her stuffed toy souvenir and marches into her building. But inside she playfully smiles as she happily ponders her evening. She’s hooked and so is he.

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Later on, trouble has exploded back at her apartment. Betty shares a place with her friend and her friend’s little baby. But some meddling neighbors are trying to take her baby away from her. Her friend has been ill and unable to work so they assume she has no means to take care of the baby. The entire neighborhood rushes to the scene, including a young reporter (Gary Cooper) who takes notes as the drama unfolds. Betty and Monty arrive in time for Betty to claim the baby is her own to protect her friend.

Monty is alarmed to discover Betty is a fatherless mother. He shows up the next day to reveal the bad news to Cyrus with the newspaper article in hand. Not fully satisfied,  the snooping ladies arrive at Waltham’s office to confirm her employment. Monty acknowledges that the fatherless mother is the same as his target of affections, Betty. Cyrus is crushed. When bonus checks are passed out to staff, Cyrus is unable to even look at her face.

She sneaks a moment alone in his office. She flirts but is surprised by the cooler response. Assuming he’s upset by her slap, he instead offers a “left-hand arrangment” of bling and other materialistic offerings. She’s justifiably and visibly upset. He says, “I’m crazy about you, isn’t that enough?” She barks back, “is that what men like you call love?” Her pride prompts her to quit her job.

Monty later arrives at her place with enormous baskets of flowers and edible treats. “I’ve come to forgive you,” he proclaims. In a few exchanges the whole baby’s rightful mother confusion is cleared up. They laugh it off and Monty mentions that he told Cyrus the wrong baby story. Betty’s furious that Cyrus never gave her benefit of the doubt.

She forces Monty to take her as his mysterious ‘plus one’ on Cyrus’s yacht cruise. (Along with buying her a whole new wardrobe appropriate to high seas with high society.) Thirsty for payback, she plans to use her ‘It skills’ to manipulate Cyrus into proposing to her just to laugh in his face in rejection.

On board, Monty is visibly nervous and distressed in being placed in this awkward scene that is soon to unfold. Cyrus senses something is up. Monty only divulges, “I feel so low old chap that I could get on stilts and walk under a dachshund.” Then his mystery date enters the room on cue. Cyrus is a conflicted mix of excitement and pain in seeing her.

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Betty plays the part well. She acts coy knowing she has Cyrus’s full attention. Adela recognizes this woman looks familiar but can’t place her as the socialite she pretends to be. Regardless, she knows she’s a direct threat. And the games continue.

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In a moment alone, Betty gives him a look. She has him in her hooks now. He proposes on the spot. She laughs in his face and walks off. Immediately, she cries with regret. The payback didn’t feel as funny or sweet as she planned. She loves him.

Meanwhile, Monty breaks his secret to Cyrus, explaining the whole baby mix-up.  He runs after her, leaving Monty at the ship’s helm. Distracted Monty collides the boat with another. Both Adela and Betty go flying off the deck and into the waters.

Despite all that expensive education and breeding, somehow swim lessons were not covered because Adela appears to be struggling to swim or stay afloat. Betty attempts to rescue her. Adela’s jealousy bubbles up just as she repeatedly tries to push Betty underwater. Street smart Betty knocks Adela out cold then holds her head up. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to save a swimmer when they’re not busy trying to drown you.

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The fellas finally join the party: Cyrus swimming with a life-preserver and Monty in a row-boat. Adela is pulled into Monty’s boat so Cyrus can swim after Betty. She swims off stating she’s “going home.” Cyrus pursues and catches up with her at the hoisted anchor. They embrace in a kiss. As defeated and deflated Adela looks on, she knows she’s been licked. And Monty looks on to Adela announcing that they, the ‘non-Its’ should stick together.

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IT (1927) is a fun, sweet little romantic comedy. The premise and central characterization reminds me of Colleen Moore in William A Seiter’s WHY BE GOOD? (1929). The supporting cast does a fine job, especially William Austin as Monty with his heavy eye liner and comedic expressions. Or, at least that’s all it would be if it were not for Clara Bow. Wise casting placed Bow as THE flapper girl of the Jazz Age who embodied her era. In addition to a rocketing rise to mega stardom after this film’s performance, Bow also has the distinction of starring in the first ever Oscar winning Best Picture,  William A Wellman’s WINGS (1927), released the same year.

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Clara Bow’s real life was a complete nightmare. To say someone has “daddy issues” doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. So to see her perform with such illuminating energy, such radiant beauty, confidence, and well… “It” is even more impressive. From everything we know about Clara Bow’s personal life (the tragic details need to be detailed in another post), she was likely happiest throwing herself into her work. And it shows.

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circa 1925: American silent film actress Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), the original ‘It girl’, gives a wink and a smile for the camera. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

This post was written expressly for the SEX! (now that I have your attention) Blogathon, hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog June 19-21, 2016. Look back to each day’s list of bloggers for sexy contributions. I chose to write about Clara Bow in IT because not only did her performance define sex for that entire era, and launched her career to mega star status, the film describes sex in a way that seems applicable to any era. Yet only the rare examples could compete with Bow’s level of on-screen self-assured confidence, effervescent presence and sexual magnetism in the decades following her reign.

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A PreCode Paralyzed Piranha: Walter Huston in A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931)

One of the many joys of attending a classic film festival such as the recent TCM Classic Film Festival, sometimes you get a chance to screen a film for the first time. When seeing a decades old film for the very first time, yet on the big screen, it’s like momentarily slipping back in time. I imagined what it may have been for audiences of the past.

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Recently at #TCMFF 2016, I experienced such a unique pleasure in screening William Wyler’s A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931). It’s a PreCode with such dark tones, that Czar of Noir Eddie Muller himself introduced this screening with a brief interview of Wyler’s son, David Wyler.

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The story takes place in a small fishing town, centered on the main character, Walter Huston as Seth Law. He’s a strong, mean, miserable son of a bitch. As low brow as that sounds, I’m underselling it. Seth’s wife has just died so he takes his son, Douglass Montgomery/Kent Douglass as Matt Law, to the local dive to get drunk. Initially we give him some slack in his aggressive handling of the situation, assuming temporary grief. Soon Seth’s true nature becomes clear as he cruelly berates his son to prove his manhood and by attempting to force him to drink heavily. Matt is uncomfortable and offended by his father’s behavior but not strong enough to stand up to him. In his aggression, the father openly manhandles women as he slings back shots then starts a violent brawl that finishes with Matt out cold.

In striking contrast to his father, Matt is a kind, gentle and handsome blond lad. Back home, Seth announces he will simply replace his wife with a mail-order bride of strong stock. He has plucked her from a simple description in a catalogue (in “Heart and Hand” magazine, selecting a 35-year-old, hard-working good cook named Ada Peterson); not unlike picking out the strongest draft horse for the farm. Calculated enough to know his son would make the more persuasive communicator, Seth tells Matt to write the letter. Matt gingerly approaches his domineering dad with a trade. Now that he’s older and there’s help on the way, he wants to branch out on his own. He’s never liked it there. And who could blame him?

On the day of the new bride’s arrival, Matt is unable to convince his father to ‘clean up’ to greet his betrothed. Instead, he treated it like any other day, went about his fishing business and left it up to Matt to welcome her. A true romantic. When a young, very attractive, slight wisp of a gal shows up at the door, Matt is confused.

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This nineteen year old is evidently not the Ada Peterson as advertised. Young Ruth Evans (Helen Chandler) explains that she came in her friend’s place because the original bride-to-be had already married another by his letter’s arrival. There is an instant chemistry between the two. She initially assumes Matt is her groom.

Reality comes crashing in soon enough after he explains the mix-up and Pops walks in. In his socially inept and jarring method, Seth inspects his new livestock with disapproval. Ruth begs for him to reconsider because she has no where else to go. Besides, if his son is so sweet, how bad can dad be, right? Ruth eventually convinces him to change his mind after he realizes his pretty new bride can provide assets that a housekeeper cannot. Now he inspects her with hungry eyes. She’s switched to deep regret. Apprehensive, she ponders her mistake yet reluctantly moves forward with the wedding. It’s clear that without someone to stand up to Seth, she is not strong enough, physically nor rhetorically, to persuade him otherwise.

At the wedding ceremony, a crowd of unruly, drunken locals align with Seth’s behavior yet widen her eyes to the grim future before her. She’s sunk. After the spectacle of ill manners, Seth approaches Ruth back at the house. He’s ready for bed time, looking at her like she’s a gazelle dinner at a lion den. She openly states she’s made a big mistake; she tries to talk him out of it. Her pleas fall flat on his ears. He wants his dinner and he doesn’t care if she doesn’t comply.

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Matt finally intervenes and a violent confrontation ensues. The fight ends with Matt assuming he’s accidentally killed his father. No such luck. The town doctor is called and he says Seth will likely never walk again. Ruth and Matt feel doomed and torn, trapped by an obligation to stay. Meanwhile, this tragedy and a bond of fear of Seth has only drawn them closer together.

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Seth is determined to grow stronger and defy the doctor’s diagnosis. He is more ruthless than ever before to assert his bullying power over his son and display his machismo to his young bride. It’s nighttime. An intense storm is brewing outside. Matt slips into Ruth’s room. She confides in him that she is too afraid to stay a moment longer. They plan to escape together.

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Seth, whose bed has been set up on the main floor downstairs for obvious reasons, picks up that something is going on. With paralyzed legs, he pulls himself off the bed and crawls along the floor towards the staircase. Slowly and surely, he drags his body up each spindle of each step, along the outside of the staircase. His strong and determined arms pull him up as he peers onto the second floor. There light coming from underneath Ruth’s door.

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Sitting on her bed, as Ruth and Matt find love and solace in each other’s arms, Matt attempts to convince her to stay until morning, after the storm settles down. Ruth expresses that she is too filled with fear to wait. Just then, Seth bursts in. What follows is a frightening, suspenseful explosion of violence, fear and a chase through a horrific stormy sea.

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I’ve never been so freaked out by a paralyzed cinematic figure before. When Walter Huston crawls and drags his way upstairs, you do not think of him as having the disadvantage in power. Not in the slightest. Instead, you are biting your nails and gripped by your own fears that his son Matt will meet his doom.

That’s how intense, strong and cruel he comes across. It also has an eery quality that reminded me heavily of Tod Browning’s FREAKS (1932) when you see them crawl in the muddy muck under the circus trailer, with knife clinched in teeth, to hunt down their deserving victim.

The violent explosion between Matt and Seth is indeed a nail-biter. Seth pulls his body around the room on the floor, posturing his body to block, shoving chests of drawers and beds around like they were kindling, and one-handedly throwing a chair down the stairs after Matt, knocking him out. Trust me, there is no handicap on Seth’s part.

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I won’t give up the exact ending but the climax is palatably intense, with Seth remaining a terrifying threat right up to the end. Walter Huston makes this role. In his PreCode days, he sometimes played a father figure, or a cop, but was a master as the villain. There is something about his presence. When he says something, you believe it. His face scrunches up in an evil snarl. He’s defiant, intimidating, menacing, with a confidence deep in his bones that comes across boldly on the screen. There are many great screen villains, but I guarantee you’ll never forget this one.

This was my contribution to The Great Villains Blogathon, hosted by those lovely blogging ladies Kristina of SPEAKEASY, Ruth of SILVER SCREENINGS and Karen of SHADOWS and SATIN, May 15-20.

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Happy #ClassicMovieDay! My 5 Movies on an Island

 

May 16th is National Classic Movie Day.

Rick of CLASSIC FILM & TV CAFE chose to honor this with the 5 Movies On An Island Blogathon. As Rick states, “the intent is for participants to write about the five classic movies they’d want to have with them if stranded on a deserted island. (Yes, you can assume you have electricity, a projector, big screen, and popcorn!)” I’m so glad Rick allowed us the popcorn. I’ll take it a step further and assume a comfy couch, dark chocolate and my family and friends.

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I’ve thought long and hard on this daunting task. Daunting, that is, for any true classic film fan whenever asked to narrow down their top films. Especially when one enjoys such an eclectic variety of film. But to add to the challenge, this isn’t as simple as listing off your favorite five films. Au contraire. One must consider these would be your ONLY five films.

So I thought of all the factors that must be considered. What films could be watched hundreds of times over? Staying power… check. What if you have nothing but the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the warm sand, gentle ocean breezes and cocoanuts to entertain you? Alright, obviously that sounds beyond terrific, but even in paradise we Old Movie Weirdos need our cinema. Entertaining, got it. Also, what films (and charismatic stars) would keep you company over the years stuck on that island? Even Gilligan had an entourage after all. So, a large ensemble of cast may be in order. Hmmm… check.

Comedy has always been my favorite genre, especially when the chips are down. As my predictament of being separated from society would more than likely present an earnest challenge to my serious need for socialization, comedies would be a must. Check. But then I paused for a moment… I needed the inclusion for inspiration of the human spirit. It may be the magic elixar for the optimism required to keep hope of being rescued someday. Ah yes, that would be a nice feather in the cap, too.

Noting all of these factors with this belaboured process, I reached the following results:

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  1. THE GREAT RACE (1965). It’s no secret this has been a favorite of mine since childhood. It hit most of the check marks too. Definitely a comedy. And not just any comedy, but a comedy dedicated to the great Laurel & Hardy and director Blake Edward’s own way of paying homage to that entire wonderful era of comedic filmmaking. Ensemble cast. And what a terrific cast- Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood in their prime, with Jack Lemmon and Peter Falk that make me laugh until I cry, and a team of funny character actors like Keenan Wynn, Larry Storch and Vivian Vance, too. For for a full review and details on this one, click HERE.

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2.  IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963). Here’s another film that I’ve seen countless times over and have no issue in seeing it another hundreds of times more. Additionally, this one also checks the boxes for both comedy and ensemble casting. With a terrific sense of adventure, I know all of these comedy legends would keep me laughing and company on those lonesome nights with only the gritty sand in my toes. Click HERE for more details on why I think this film would be perfectly suited in my island of five.

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3. ARSENIC and OLD LACE (1944). I wouldn’t dare be stuck on a stranded island without my Cary Grant, of course. And a screwball or romantic comedy would be just the ticket. But the Sophie’s Choice faced me down. Which Cary Grant film? THE PHILADELPHIA STORY? BRINGING UP BABY? THE AWFUL TRUTH? MY FAVORITE WIFE? It was practically a coin toss but I finally came to the decision to go with the screwiest one of the lot. And while it may be Grant’s least favorite of his films, in many ways it’s my most. Besides, nothing makes you feel better about your crazy predicament than knowing at least you’re not with a bunch of murderers where insanity runs in the family so much that it “it practically gallops.”

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4. GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 (1933). I knew a musical would be on my list. Oh sure, a grand and technicolor MGM sort would be delightful, or perhaps the SOUND OF MUSIC would be a fine choice for something uplifting with a plethora of earworms to sing along on the beach. Or even some Ginger and Fred or Gene Kelly? For me, a Busby Berkley vehicle from the deliciously naughty PreCode era is more my style. But again, the task of narrowing it down faced me. FOOTLIGHT PARADE ? 42nd STREET? Truly tough options but GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933 was my first BB love. And with a cast that includes Joan Blondell, Aline MacMahon, Warren William, Ginger Rogers, Dick Powell, Guy Kibbee, Ned Sparks, Ruby Keeler (hello, PreCode dream team!) with toe-tapping tunes as “We’re In The Money,” “Pettin’ In The Park” and “Remember My Forgotten Man,” my lonely troubles would easily melt away.

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5. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). When addressing the very last slot, it’s a real toughie. I won’t deny that films like THE THIN MAN, CITY LIGHTS and a variety of Hitchcock films ran through my mind. I wanted to pick an inspirational film. One that moves me to tears. One that’s so classic it will feel moving every time. With just the right amount of comedy and still uplifting in the end, despite the dark tones, Frank Capra’s IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE fits the bill. When straddled with a bleak outlook and challenging obstacles, George Bailey is my go-to guy.

Hope you enjoyed my list and process. As you can see, I enjoyed it too but it was not an easy endeavor. What are your classic five films if stranded on a deserted island? And why? Whatever your picks may be, go enjoy National Classic Movie Day this May 16th by enjoying one or several cinema treasures. If you’re a classic film freak like me, it’s a holiday to celebrate all year long.

TCM Film Fest 2016: Emotions Run High

gary_tcmff_line_sketchLast week I departed from a ten day stay in Hollywood. A grand adventure of exploring the origins of Old Hollywood- both via site-seeing and serving as a Social Producer for the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, which took place April 28-may 1. For us classic cinephile fanatics, this year’s schedule of screenings and events tapped deep into a range of emotions, appropriate to the official theme of Moving Images.

[For a full pictorial review of our discoveries into Old Hollywood, look for my pre and post fest coverage in a post coming soon. My travel companions Aurora @CitizenScreen, Annmarie @ClassicMovieHub and Jeanelle @NebraskaNellie and I spent time with pals Laura of @LauraMiscMovie, her hubby Doug, Elise of @EliseCD and Danny of @Cinephiled for unforgettable forays into site-seeing, off the typical tourist grid. ]

For a second year in a row, I was privileged to be selected to act as a Social Producer for this year’s fest. (Click here for that post.) As such, we SPs conducted a little bit of business, including attending the Press Conference, then set out to enjoy this classic movie marathon. Here are my highlights:

DAY ONE, Thursday 4/28:

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Reunited with actor James Karen after the trivia game win. (We’ve met at Buster Keaton Celebration in Iola, KS in years’ past)

“So You Think You Know The Movies” is a popular trivia game, hosted by Film Forum’s hilarious Bruce Goldstein, held annually at Club TCM. SP and media archivist Ariel Schudson (@ArchivistAriel) gathered up a group of us to form a team or two. And lo and behold, our team won! We each contributed at least one answer but Cinematically Insane’s Will McKinley (@willmckinley) saved the day via classic film trivia world domination in a nail-biting tie-breaker.

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My first screening of the fest began with a punch to the gut. Famed film historian Donald Bogle introduced director of ONE POTATO, TWO POTATO, Larry Peerce. It was a film new to me and its impression will be forever etched in my memory. The ground-breaking film on interracial marriage was simple, thoughtful yet incredibly powerful story that left me in tears. I should note that minutes prior to an emotionally raw and unconventional ending, fire alarms sounded; evacuating the entire TCL Chinese Multiplex. We were able to return to complete our screenings; but for many of us, the unfortunate timing was a pinch of salt in our open wounds of emotion.

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Czar of Noir Eddie Muller/ Photo credit: Getty Images for Turner

My second screening took an Argentinian noir twist in Fernando Ayala’s LOS TALLOS AMARGOS. Another new discovery for me, the Czar of Noir Eddie Muller introduced this rarely seen gem which was restored by UCLA’s Film and Television Archive and partially financed by his Film Noir Foundation with rich cinematography by Ricardo Younis. Knee-deep in fraud and paranoia for profit, a reporter (Carlos Cores) pairs up with a Hungarian expat (Vassili Lambrinos) and unravels down a wicked path in this tale of self-destruction.

DAY TWO, 4/29 :
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The second day started with the sumptious Pre-Code feast with Joseph von Sternberg’s SHANGHAI EXPRESS (1932). For a fashionista like me, this is a high-style feast for the eyes. Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong are unparallel visions in this gorgeous print. Author Jeremy Arnold introduced celebrated cinematographer and the director’s son, Nicholas von Sternberg, who contributed fun stories on Ms. Dietrich. A personal favorite, and my husband’s (aka @santaisthinking) first time viewing, this was a major highlight of the fest for both of us.

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Actress Jennifer Grant, daughter of Cary Grant

Like countless others, we were shut out of DOUBLE HARNESS so we headed over to the Roosevelt to catch a glimpse of Illeana Douglas’s (@Illeanarama) book signing, grabbed a bite (you remember food, right?) with friends before heading over to catch Cary Grant’s daughter Jennifer Grant introduce her dad’s rarely seen film, WHEN YOU’RE IN LOVE (1937). This was a silly romcom romp where we’re treated to the “Tennessee Nightingale” Grace Moore and Grant tickling the ivories. As he is my all-time favorite actor, this was a very special must-see!

Next up, we indulged in Bruce Goldstein’s Vaudeville 101, at Club TCM. This was a delightful peek at the history and some examples of the early vaudeville acts. Kept me laughing out loud and a few were snipets of the Vitaphone presentation I attended the next day.

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Actor Alec Baldwin interviews screen and stage legend Angela Lansbury/ Photo credit: Getty Images for Turner

We camped out early in front of Grauman’s TCL Chinese Theater in giddy anticipation to see charming Alec Baldwin introducing John Frankenheimer’s THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962) with special guest, legendary Angela Lansbury. This dark political thriller remains relevant after all these years and while all the performances were terrific, naughty mommy Lansbury is clearly the stand-out. What a thrill to witness how energetic and razor-sharp this stage and screen icon continues to be.

DAY THREE, 4/30:
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The crowds lined up early at the majestic Egyptian venue for my first event on Saturday with Ron Hutchinson’s presentation of the 90th Anniversary of Vitaphone.  As the founder of The Vitaphone Project, Hutchinson offered the packed house with a brief history of when sound was first synchronized with film, then entertained us with a variety of shorts. Captivating songs and hilarious vaudeville routines from George Burns and Gracie Allen, Baby Rose Marie, Shaw and Lee, Molly Picon and others kept the audience in stitches. What a happy way to start the day! Between our loud laughter that morning and the fact that I can’t stop thinking about those shorts, this presentation developed into my favorite one at the fest.
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Eddie Muller introduced David Wyler with our second feature, William Wyler’s A HOUSE DIVIDED (1931). As Muller pointed out, while it is technically a Pre-Code, it has major noir tones thanks to its cinematography and Walter Huston’s acting chops of his intensely dark character. Again, it was a joy to have a member of the director’s own family, who is also a vet of the entertainment industry and an experienced producer, introduce this early talkie on film.

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TCM Wine Club tasting with dear friends… Aurora (L), Theresa (R) and me (C)

After taking quick peeks at both Alec Baldwin’s interview with Elliot Gould at Club TCM and Rita Moreno’s book signing in the Roosevelt lobby, we took a nice break at the TCM Wine Club wine tasting. Situated poolside, this was a welcome and relaxing reprieve from the fast pace of running to screenings and passing out my #TCMFFSP ribbons to enjoy a few moments of crisp and cool Chardonnay. I recommend!

Then, we settled in back at Club TCM for a more casual view into Hollywood history with Hollywood Home Movies. From movie stars at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club to the Nicolas Brothers at The Palace with special guest Tony Nicholas himself in attendance with his family, this was such a fun and intimate presentation.

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Plethora of friends gather for MIDNIGHT screening

I was pleased to end my evening with a 1930s screwball romcom with Bonnie Hunt’s introduction of Mitchell Leisen’s MIDNIGHT (1939). With dream pairing of writers Billy Wilder and Charles Bracket and a cast that included the stunning and witty Claudette Colbert, a young stached Don Ameche, and an animated John Barrymore, they lit up the screen, scene after scene. I also appreciated that Bonnie Hunt joined us in the audience, sitting in a seat close by to our large group and laughed equally as hard and loudly as we did. Big props to you, Ms. Hunt!

DAY FOUR, 5/1:

I chose to sleep in a bit instead of being included the many who were turned away from DOUBLE HARNESS a second time. Instead, we camped out early to grab a good positioning for Charlie Chaplin’s THE KID (1921). Chaplin’s first feature as director, star, writer and producer, this premiere restoration was a compelling and emotional experience, further enhanced by a detailed intro by acclaimed Parisian film archivist Serge Bromberg.

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David Steinberg, Photo credit: Getty images for Turner

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HORSE FEATHERS screening- TCM Programmer Scott McGee and family- Ethan & Shannon, Photo credit: Getty Images for Turner

We quickly dashed over to comedy great David Steinberg’s intro to Norman Z McLeod’s HORSE FEATHERS (1932).  Groucho, Harpo and Chico are joined by Thelma Todd for this hilarious college football classic. I think the only one in the audience who laughed harder than me was TCM programmer Scott McGee.

Another quick turnaround rushed us back into the same TCL Chinese Multiplex House #1 for John Ford’s grand SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949). Another homage to Monument Valley, this stunning vision on the big screen was another must-see for me. At last year’s #TCMFF, I was thrilled to see Ford’s MY DARLING CLEMENTINE introduced by Peter Fonda and Keith Carradine. Carradine was on hand to honor us with an intro again.

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CINEMA PARADISO star Salvatore Cascio and TCM host Ben Mankiewicz/ Photo credit: Getty Images for Turner

My final screening of the fest was the most emotional one of the long weekend. Writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore’s CINEMA PARADISO (1988) may seem like an unconventional choice to close #TCMFF to those who have never seen it, but for those of us who know and love this film, it was the perfect choice. A foreign film made in the late eighties, this film is a beautiful and deeply emotional tribute to classic film fans. I was not alone as tears streamed down my face for the entire last ten minutes and during other segments as well. Now all grown up Salvatore Cacsio, who played the central character of young Toto, charmed the crowd at Grauman’s TCL Chinese Theatre with his translated guest intro with Ben Mankiewicz. I compliment #TCMFF programmer Charlie Tabesh for this superb pick.

The last night ended with crowded Roosevelt of attendees’ goodbyes and photo opps followed by a late supper at Mel’s Drive-In with friends. My many gratitudes include:

Thanks to Debbie Lynn Elias aka @moviesharkd for including me along with other SPs Aurora @CitizenScreen, Annmarie @ClassicMovieHub and Kristen Lopez @Journeys_Film on her LA-based radio program, BEHIND THE LENS on Adrenaline Radio, generously providing us a platform to discuss our our roles of Social Producers and the #TCMFF. And all her supportive tweets!
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Thanks to my artist hubby Gary @santaisthinking for offering up creative and witty sketches, just for fun! You can probably still find them via #sketchTCMFF on twitter.

Thanks to the entire TCM staff and crew for all their hard work on another successful fest! Spotlight and Essentials passes sold out in a record 14 minutes and the Classic Passes sold out faster than ever before. According to the Press Conference, a projected 26,000 attendees enjoyed this year’s mega event. From a past gig in trade show management of a similar show size in my past life, I can assure you this takes organized planning, countless hours and months of hard work and skilled efficiency… KUDOS, TCM team!

Special TCM staff thanks to Noralil Fiores and Marya Gates for masterfully running the Social Producer program. I can’t imagine leading these initiatives, while TCM launches FilmStruck and TCM Backlots all at the same time. Whew!

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Pals Karen, Jessica, Raquel, Carlos and Danny

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#TCMParty class picture/ Photo credit: Will McKinley

And a VERY special shout-out to all my #TCMFF friends, new and reunited alike. So many which began and continue via the #TCMparty twitter experience and via the Going To TCM Film Fest Facebook page.

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Swapping childhood stories with actress, author and TCM friend Illeana Douglas (L), myself and husband Gary Pratt (R)

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Will McKinley (L), myself (C), TCM host Ben Mankiewicz (R) at the closing party

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Actress Monika Henreid, daughter of Paul Henreid (R) and me

Overall, it was another stellar fest that included star gazing, new discoveries, a ‘family’ reunion of meaningful connections with classic film friends (or #OldMovieWeirdos as we like to call ourselves) and fully cinematic range of emotions. If you love classic movies, love TCM, and you simply want to feel right at home like never before, this is it. Hope to see you at #TCMFF in 2017!

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