This week on TCM Underground: Polyester (1981) and … All the Marbles (1981)


This week on TCM Underground, we’re going to party like it’s 1981!


Twilight of the B-Western: White Horse, Black Hat


C. Jack Lewis saw a lot in his 84 years. A Marine Corps veteran of three wars, he was also a self-described “reporter, drunk, editor and hobo” who spent decades on the fringes of Hollywood. A fan of Westerns since childhood, he broke into screenwriting just as the B-Western business was collapsing, thanks to the arrival of television. He managed to sell a few scripts for budget stars like Lash LaRue and Johnny Mack Brown, but would spend the majority his career as a journalist for horse and army publications (he was the founder of Gun World magazine). During that time he met all of the stars of his youth as they sank down the Hollywood food chain, making a living as extras on TV Westerns or as special attractions at traveling circuses. In his affecting memoir White Horse, Black Hat, published in 2002 by Scarecrow Press, Lewis wrote thumbnail portraits of these faded stars, a collection which captured the end of the B industry and the itinerant careers of the low-budget cowboy.


When Computers Were Big–and Evil

bloghalopenLet’s face it. All computers—from desktops to tablets—are like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Under the guise of support and service, they seek to control or destroy us. The proof is all around: Family members, friends, kids, students, coworkers waste hours surfing the Internet, looking at endless cat videos, playing pointless, time-sucking games, posting pithy sayings on Facebook as though they were the profound utterings of geniuses, and spouting off tweets they later regret. Of course, I recognize the hypocrisy here because you are reading my blog post on a laptop or tablet, but that doesn’t prevent me from wanting to take a ball-peen hammer to a computer on a weekly basis.


Top Five From the King. Vidor, that is.

Today, TCM airs one of the biggest big budget, all-star cast movies of all time, producer David O’Selznick’s 1947 Duel in the Sun, the movie he hoped would equal the success of his previous big budget extravaganza, Gone with the Wind.  It didn’t and ultimately was a disappointment, also because he wanted it to succeed for the lovely Jennifer Jones.  Despite the disappointment, it still performed well and has a lively pace, directed by the great King Vidor.  Perhaps it’s best that it’s remembered as a Selznick film and not a Vidor film since Selznick had so much control over his films he was often considered the defacto director anyway.  But Vidor had a long and varied career (a 67 year long career!) and has directed some of my favorite movies.  With a filmography as extensive as his, it’s tough to whittle it down to just five, but that’s I’m going to do: My top five favorite movies from the King himself, King Vidor.



November 21, 2015
David Kalat
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Goat-Staring for Fun and Profit

So here we are, in the middle of November, sandwiched between the release of the latest James Bond flick and the upcoming release of the new Star Wars.  The War on Terror rages on, with no end in sight.  The Coen Brothers have migrated to TV where Fargo is ripping it up.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if somehow, all these different experiences could be smoothed together into one event?  Wouldn’t that just save so much time?

So, I present to you, The Men Who Stare At Goats.   A spy-comedy derived as a fictionalized adaptation of a controversial non-fiction book about “psychic soldiers” fighting in Iraq, with overt Star Wars in-jokes…I can’t say it’s a good movie, but it has so much else going for it, quality might be beside the point.


KEYWORDS: Ewan MacGregor, George Clooney, The Men Who Stare at Goats

When Lightning Sort of Strikes Twice

Today TCM celebrates the career of the legendary Maureen O’Hara with a selection of movies that also features some of her favorite acting partners, including the also legendary John Wayne and Henry Fonda who, as it turns out, had children who entered the biz just like they did.  One of John Wayne’s kids, Patrick, is even in a few of the movies today with Maureen and his dad.  Later in the evening, there’s Sinbad the Sailor, with Douglas Fairbanks, son of… well, you know who.  In most cases of kids following in the footsteps of their parents, the career of mom or dad is simply too hard to top.  Sometimes, not.  Henry Fonda was the father of both Peter Fonda and Jane Fonda and, obviously, Jane did pretty well for herself.  She managed to take home two Oscars before her dad took home his first, and only, for On Golden Pond from 1981.   But in the two cases of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr and Patrick Wayne, the deck seemed almost impossibly stacked against them.



Life Advice from Douglas Fairbanks


TCM’s evening programming tonight spotlights silent film star and original action hero Douglas Fairbanks. If you tune in you can catch him in The Good Bad Man (1916), The Half-Breed (1916), The Mark of Zorro (1920), The Thief of Bagdad (1924), The Black Pirate (1926) and The Private Life of Don Juan (1924) beginning 8PM EST and 5PM PST. Coincidentally, I recently finished reading a great new biography about Fairbanks titled The First King of Hollywood by author Tracey Gossel. The book is one of the best actor biographies I’ve read in recent years and provides an extensively researched, extremely thoughtful and informative look at one of the biggest Hollywood stars of the silent era.

I learned a lot about Fairbanks from Gossel’s book that I didn’t know before. One of the more memorable takeaways was discovering his progressive views on race that greatly impacted the films he made. I was also impressed by the depth of his lifelong friendship with Charlie Chaplin and disappointed to learn that his relationship with his son (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) was so strained. In addition, it was a treat to discover how he expressed himself with the written word in passionate love letters to his wife and fellow screen icon, Mary Pickford. And I was even more surprised to learn that Fairbanks had written some inspirational self-help books in association with his friend and personal secretary, Kenneth Davenport.


This week on TCM Underground: Class of 1984 (1982)


Everybody loves a deadline, especially when the Big Moment is pinned to a foreboding calendar square. Those with an investment in Mayan prophesy sweated out the twelvemonth of 2012 waiting for an apocalypse that never reared its head, apparently having learned little from the pointless Y2K anxiety that attended the year 2000, which led the gullible to expect a global grid shutdown. Half a generation prior to that, due almost exclusively to the persuasive writing skills of George Orwell, 1984 was anticipated with queasy stomachs and alarmist bloviation long before the first of that year. British filmmaker Michael Radford adapted the 1949 novel 1984 for release in cinemas in the year in which Orwell’s dystopian vision laid its action – but two years earlier, and on the other end of the prestige spectrum, drive-in auteur Mark L. Lester had beaten Radford to the punch with the disruptive punk aesthetics of CLASS OF 1984 (1982).


Opening the Vaults: John Ford’s The Black Watch (1929)

Screenshot (96)

In the era of declining DVD sales, Hollywood studios are still experimenting with how to exploit their extensive libraries, if they choose to do so at all. With their Warner Archive line of manufactured-on-demand DVDs, and Warner Archive Instant streaming service, Warner Brothers has been the most aggressive in remastering, distributing and marketing their holdings. Universal, MGM, Sony and Fox have all started their own DVD-MOD labels, but with little-to-no publicity and questionable commitment to quality (Fox was notorious for releasing old cropped and pan and scan transfers to their MOD-DVDs). Some license titles to boutique labels like Twilight Time, Kino Lorber (my employer), and Shout! Factory, while Paramount has made the surprising step of launching a free YouTube channel with hundreds of titles, which they are calling “The Paramount Vault.” For now it is a branding exercise that doesn’t delve very deeply into their catalog, but Paramount starts dropping restored Republic Pictures films on there, I will take notice. Since Netflix has shown little interest in films made before Millennials were born, the one place that might turn a buck is iTunes and other transactional VOD providers (where you pay-per-movie), which have shown an insatiable desire for content regardless of the production year. And for their centenary, 20th Century Fox is releasing one hundred of their films to iTunes in HD, many of which have never been available on home video (you can see the full list at Will McKinley’s blog).  Announced in October, some of the rarer titles have recently appeared in the iTunes store, including John Ford’s first all-talkie feature The Black Watch (1929). Not included in the massive Ford At Fox box set and impossible to see otherwise except on fuzzy bootlegs, this is a promising development for the future accessibility of 20th Century Fox’s film library.


Flickering Florida: The Sunshine State on Film

blogposterOver the weekend, I participated in a conference called Flickering Landscapes, which was organized by Bruce Janz and Phil Peters of the University of Central Florida. The conference focused on the representation of Florida in film and television as well as the state’s extensive cinema history. Florida is unique in the way that its distinctive landscape has affected the state’s identity and image in popular culture. In addition, tourists, vacationers, and Hollywood image-makers have played a major role in shaping that identity—something native Floridians have learned to live with.

I thought I would share some of the history and ideas that I learned at the conference.

I recently wrote about Florida’s role in early cinema history after I discovered that director George Melford had been part of an effort to launch a film industry in St. Petersburg. (See October 26th  post.) I expanded on this piece of Florida history for my part in the conference, and I discussed two other attempts to establish film production on the Gulf Coast. In the mid-1920s, a real estate investor built a beautiful film studio half way between Tampa and Sarasota. Dubbed Sun City, the production center was considered a movie colony, which was supposed to include housing for actors and crew members, a school, a church, a city hall, a power plant, and other facilities necessary to be self-sustaining. The secretary-treasurer of the Sun City Holding Company decided to plat out the streets, pave them, and name them after famous movie stars of the era. He sent maps of Sun City to every Hollywood movie star with a street named after them, hoping they would relocate to Sun City to make films at the new studio. Unfortunately, the land bust caused by rampant real estate speculation destroyed any chance for Sun City to become successful, and the studio never produced a feature film. The only vestiges of this film colony are the town’s streets, which are still named after stars of the 1920s. I am sure current residents have no clue.

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