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April 18, 2015
David Kalat
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50 Shades of Miss Blandish

 Tomorrow (Sunday the 19th), TCM will be wallowing in filth. Yup, they’re going to be screening a movie that the Monthly Film Bulletin labeled “the most sickening exhibition of brutality, perversion, sex and sadism ever to be shown on a cinema screen.” Sight and Sound deemed it “a piece of calculated nastiness,” the Daily Mirror called it “as fragrant as a cesspool,” and Sunday Pictorial raved “a piece of nauseating muck.” And if that isn’t enough blurbs to fill out your movie poster with, let’s also add that the Daily Express declared it a “wicked disgrace to the British film industry,” the Star pronounced it “one of the most undesirable pictures ever turned out by a British studio,” and the Sunday Times proposed inventing an all new rating just to classify this one film: “D for Disgusting.”

So, what are we talking about here? A piece of hard-core pornography, perhaps? A snuff film? A work of Soviet Socialist Realism full of secret communist propaganda?

Nope—it’s a 1948 film noir with the unassuming title of No Orchids for Miss Blandish.

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KEYWORDS: No Orchids for Miss Blandish
COMMENTS: 2
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The Screen is Alive with the Sound of Music

It was fifty years ago that the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music, debuted on the silver screen.  Adapted from the successful stage production, which debuted six years earlier, in 1959, on Broadway, and went on to win five Tony Awards, it quickly became one of the all-time box office giants and one of filmdom’s most beloved musicals.  There’s a reason for that, several really, and soon, this April 19th and 22nd, movie fans will be able to see them all on the big screen for the first time in years as Fathom, in cooperation with Turner Classic Movies, presents The Sound of Music all around the country in selected theaters.

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Cooking with Sophia Loren

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Next Tuesday (April 21st) TCM is celebrating the illustrious career of Sophia Loren with a tribute that includes three important TCM premieres beginning with the first U.S. television screening of HUMAN VOICE (La voce umana, 2014). This bittersweet 25-minute film is directed by Loren’s son Edoardo Ponti, and is based on the iconic Jean Cocteau play about a woman whose final telephone conversation with her lover reflects her despair over losing him. This is followed by THE GOLD OF NAPLES (L’oro di Napoli, 1954), an anthology that gave Loren one of her first starring roles; and the saucy comedy drama MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE (1964), made at the height of her reign as a leading screen goddess.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are the times I spent visiting with my Italian nonna or as I affectionately called her, “Nana.” Nana was my great grandmother who was born in the Piedmont region of Italy and arrived in America around 1915 when she was a young woman. Nana never learned how to speak fluid English and preferred her native tongue, which sounded like pure poetry to me. Unfortunately, this meant we couldn’t communicate very well due to my lack of Italian language skills but her warm eyes and welcoming smile spoke volumes. I can vividly remember watching Nana cook Italian meals for large family gatherings and the smells coming from her kitchen were always intoxicating. Although I didn’t know it at the time, my great grandmother was a culinary artist and she taught many of the women in my family how to cook as well, including my own mother who learned how to make some great Italian meals thanks to Nana’s expertise. My great grandmother passed away long before I became interested in cooking but I often wish she was still around to offer me some tips. Instead, I’ve had to rely on cookbooks and cooking shows to learn the ins and outs of Italian cooking and I’ve recently found myself turning to the lovely Sophia Loren for advice. Loren is one of my favorite actresses and the curvaceous Italian beauty also happens to be an accomplished cook who wrote a number of successful cookbooks.
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This week on TCM Underground: It’s PSYCHOSATURDAY, with CAT O’NINE TAILS (1971) and THE STRANGLER (1964)

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Cat O'Nine Tails

TCM Underground’s line-up this week is just as interesting for the pairing of the films being aired as it is for the films themselves. We showed Dario Argento’s CAT O’NINE TAILS (1971) back in November (you can read my original TCMU write-up here) and if I remember correctly Burt Topper’s THE STRANGLER (1964) was aired last summer. They’re both good movies, I like them a lot, and I own them (regrettably, THE STRANGLER only on VHS). I’m tempted to put on a put of coffee and make a night of it, because seeing these two films, which I have many times, together in one shot would be pretty, you should pardon the expression, killer.

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The Reality Principle: Art of the Real at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

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Before the start of his heartbreaking rural romance True Heart Susie (1919), D.W. Griffith asks in an intertitle, “Is real life interesting?” He implies that the answer is yes, expecting that you’ll sit through the ninety minutes to follow based on its adherence to the facts of everyday life. But there is no expectation of documentary truth, since the star is Lillian Gish and and the writer of the story, Marian Fremont, are named front and center. Instead, Griffith said, “I am trying to develop realism in pictures by teaching the value of deliberation and repose.” The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s second annual Art of the Real series, a wide-ranging survey of non-fiction (ish) cinema that runs through April 24th, is one that privileges the contemplative and dreamlike over works that only admit to one truth. Like Griffith’s work, the Art of the Real films (over twenty shorts and features), co-programmed by Rachael Rakes and Dennis Lim, think along with you, offering multifarious pathways to the “real”. The series will feature the North American premiere of the Lebanese portrait film Birds of September, Luo Li’s environmental doc/shaggy dog mystery Li Wen at East Lake and Luísa Homem & Pedro Pinho’s epic observational documentary of the Cape Verde tourist boom Trading Cities. Not to mention sidebars on The Actualities of Agnès Varda (with Varda introducing her films in person) and Repeat as Necessary: The Art of Reenactment, which takes the abused reenactment form and traces its storied history in documentary art.

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The most affecting work in the series, though, might be its simplest. Masa Sawada’s I, Kamikaze is a seventy-five minute interview with the ninety-year-old former kamikaze pilot Fujio Hayashi. Hayashi sits behind a table, his glasses traveling up and down his nose, as he dredges up the memories from his time in the Japanese Imperial Navy. One of the original volunteers for the air suicide attack units, he was, and remains, a good soldier. He lost his mother at a young age, and the few words he spares for his father depicts a neglectful, distant figure (after he returned from WWII, he said, “I’m back. I’m sorry for losing the war.” His father did not respond, and they barely spoke the rest of their lives). Hayashi poured his soul into the unit, and was willing and able to give up his life for his country. Instead he was tasked with training the young kamikaze recruits, ordering their missions, and hence, their deaths. Hayashi takes long, considered pauses before many of his answers, opening up blocks of time to study his face, his posture and his too-large suits. These are silences filled with thought, for Hayashi and the viewer. His expressions are almost entirely impenetrable and thus open to interpretation, a stonewall even when discussing his good friend Nishio, whom he had to order on a suicide mission. His military bearing is still intact, emotions attaching to the meaning of the words, but none in the inflection of his steady, phlegmy voice. Hayashi is comfortable with death, and has lived with it all his life. He keeps repeating that for long stretches of his life living or dying made no difference to him. He was, in this sense, the perfect kamikaze -though he was never able to achieve his intended destiny. He describes that period as “memories bathed in light”, and that when it is his turn to leave on his final mission, he will have a smile on his face, just as the kamikaze pilots did on theirs as they were heading out into oblivion.

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The Misadventures of a Film Fest Fan(atic)

sffopenerI love attending film festivals. I love the manic dash from theater to theater to catch as many movies as possible; I enjoy comparing notes with complete strangers who become my new best friends as I queue up for the next movie; I like the feeling of triumph when I squeeze in four or five movies in one day. Most of all, I enjoy helping an unknown movie by writing about it, and I like suggesting good films to readers who might appreciate them. I only write about movies that I like, and I make an effort to contact the filmmakers to let them know I appreciated their work. I find there are too many negative reviews and too much snarky writing, and I won’t contribute to that. For me, festivals are all about the films: How many can I see; how can I give a little-known gem some exposure; how can I let others know about this movie.

The Sarasota Film Festival (SFF) is in full swing in my new adoptive hometown, and I was eager to cover it, because of its focus on American indie features and documentaries. As a matter of fact, the fest’s slogan is “the Hearts and Minds of Independent Film.” Not only am I writing about the fest for my TCM post, suggesting titles to readers for future viewing, but I am also covering it for a local radio station, WSLR.

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The Joy of the Performance

Later tonight, French Cancan airs on TCM and I have to say, I’ve got a bone to pick with Leonard Maltin (or whichever one of his staff wrote the entry for it – that’s not a knock, that’s simply how his guides work, with a full staff writing the reviews but Maltin getting the byline). In the description on our website here, where we use Leonard Maltin’s capsule reviews next to each title on the schedule, he (they) give it a mere three stars (out of four) and add in, for good measure, that it’s “not top-drawer Renoir.”  Well, I was given the pleasure of writing the movie up for TCM and, quite frankly, I think it is top drawer Renoir and does what the movies often have a tough time doing, visualizing the joy of performance.  

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April 11, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Mermaids in Love

Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (coming up on TCM on Thursday) is a thing of sunshine and jazz music, set at a seaside amusement park. Instead of assaulting the viewer with gore or violence, Harrington finds suspense in such subtleties as watching a girl eat a fish, and or when she then catches a seagull with her bare hands.

This is still a genre film, mind you–Dennis Hopper plays a sailor who falls in love with a girl who believes herself to be a mermaid–but the casual naturalism of the film seems unrelated to the world of gothic monsters and bug-eyed aliens that characterized horror fare of the early 1960s. If audiences had ever seen anything quite like this before, it would have been in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless—a riff on lowbrow genre elements to provide structure to a film that presents itself as slice-of-life glimpse of a disaffected youth culture. The distributors recognized the affinity, and played it up as a marketing strategy. The press kit sold Night Tide as a “unique American New Wave thriller,” and went on to highlight Harrington’s work in experimental film.

Let’s set aside the incongruity of a movie company trying to sell a teen-oriented horror flick on the basis that it was an arthouse film in the French tradition made by an underground artist. That’s weird, but it’s not even the weirdest aspect of all this.

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KEYWORDS: Curtis Harrington, Dennis Hopper, Night Tide
COMMENTS: 2
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I Got the Music in Me… Do You?

A Summer Place airs (or “aired” depending on when you read this) this morning on TCM and I have two confessions: First, as famous as it is, I didn’t actually see it until a couple of years ago.  Yes, it took me that long to get around to it but the theme song has played in my head for years.​  It’s a song I’ve heard in a thousand different contexts and more than a few different movies, usually resourced for the purposes of parody.  Here’s the second confession: Even after seeing the movie, I still think of the song first.  Film is a medium that often employs dozens upon dozens of skilled craft people and artists, all working together towards an end result that, hopefully, will stick with the viewer for years afterwards.  Sometimes, though, what sticks with the viewer has nothing to do with all those people and everything to do with the musician putting together the score.  

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A Troy Donahue Top 10

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Troy Donahue is getting the red carpet treatment on TCM tonight with a marathon of movies that feature the tall, blond and blue-eyed heartthrob. Donahue was an object of lust for countless teenagers during the late 1950s and early 1960s but he isn’t a particularly well regarded actor. In fact, critics heaped plenty of scorn on Donahue during his career and he became the butt of gentle jokes in musicals (A CHORUS LINE, GREASE) and television shows (THE SIMPSONS). Despite this, Donahue appeared in a number of entertaining and impressive films before he died in 2001 at age 65. The conventionally handsome actor wasn’t afraid to take roles that subverted his pretty boy image and besides being a favorite performer of filmmaker Delmer Daves, he worked with many notable directors who often employed his talents multiple times including Douglas Sirk, Jack Arnold, Blake Edwards, Raul Walsh, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone and John Waters. In anticipation of TCM’s programming, I thought I would share a list of my Top 10 Favorite Troy Donahue movies. Some of them will be airing tonight and the others can be found on video, DVD or streaming online.

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