A Sporting Try

Today on TCM, the 1942 classic Pride of the Yankees runs, the fictionalized account of Lou Gehrig and his all too young departure from this world due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a disease that eventually took his name, so associated with him it became.   Like many sports dramas, the real drama comes not from the game (baseball, obviously) but from the dilemmas and conflicts of the characters.  And I like it, to a degree.  If nothing else, it has the real Babe Ruth in it and, for me, that’s enough right there to recommend it as a living piece of history.  But as a sports fan, I’ve never much liked any sports movie, even the good ones.   Of course, there are exceptions and Pride of the Yankees is one of them, but in the end, they don’t work and, at least for me, I think I know why.



April 25, 2015
David Kalat
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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rodan!

When I was a kid, Ted Turner’s Superstation WTBS ran this thing practically every week. It became as comforting as an old blanket, as familiar as my own skin.

Eventually, as an adult, I revisited the world of Japanese giant monster movies. I wrote a couple of books, gave some lectures, recorded some audio commentaries, blah blah blah. And along the way I came to recognize this film about a doomed dinosaur is basically a doomed dinosaur itself.

In so many ways it prefigured the future: Rodan boldly leaps into full color, introduces one of Toho Studio’s most enduringly popular monsters and introduces one of the studio’s most enduringly prolific movie stars (Kenji Sahara). But for all it innovates, it’s the last gasp of what was then a dying way of making giant monster flicks. This approach to storytelling was almost instantly rendered obsolete.


KEYWORDS: Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, shinichi sekizawa, Takeshi Kimura

The One Note Performance

Today TCM airs Being There, the 1979 movie starring Peter Sellers, Melvin Douglas, and Shirley MacLaine that satirizes the culture of political celebrity in America.   In it, Sellers plays Chance, the gardener, who is put out of work, and home, when the wealthy owner of the Washington, DC townhouse where he resides dies.  He had lived in the house his whole life and when he is suddenly thrust into the world, he simply doesn’t know how to react because he doesn’t actually possess any life skills that would make the outside world workable for him.   He’s a simpleton, a man born and raised with no knowledge of how the world works, or that it even exists, and seeing everything through the prism of gardening.  It’s a one-note performance all the way as Peter Sellers retains, essentially, one tone, one level of volume, one attitude, for the whole thing.  And it works.  But is it good?



Classic Movie Star Museums: A Travel Guide


Next month marks the grand opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa. During the last 30 years more than one million visitors have reportedly journeyed to Winterset to tour the small house where Wayne was born on May 26, 1907 but now fans of the much beloved movie star will be able to enjoy a brand new 5,000 square facility built alongside Wayne’s original home. The museum features the largest collection of John Wayne memorabilia in existence including original movie posters, film costumes, props, scripts, photos, personal letters, original artwork, sculptures, a customized automobile and a movie theater where visitors can enjoy a documentary about Wayne and watch his films. The grand opening will take place between May 22-24 and includes a ribbon cutting ceremony presented by Scott Eyman (author of John Wayne: The Life and the Legend), a rodeo show and a guest appearance from actor, rodeo competitor and politician Chris Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s son) who appeared with Wayne in BIG JAKE (1971). Color me impressed! I think it’s encouraging to see small towns like Winterset celebrating their film history. For more information, please visit their official website: John Wayne Birthplace Museum

In light of this news, I started thinking about other smaller museums outside of Hollywood dedicated to preserving the memory of classic movie stars. I follow some of them on Twitter and occasionally try to share information about their fundraising efforts but now that spring’s arrived and many of us are starting to plan summer vacations I thought I’d put together a list of the small hometown museums that have sprung up across the U.S. honoring their local celebrities. It should be of interest to classic film fans who are planning a road trip soon or it just might surprise someone who unknowingly has a museum dedicated to a Hollywood personality in their own backyard.


This week on TCM Underground: Deathdream (1972)


We’re re-running DEATHDREAM (aka DEAD OF NIGHT, 1972) on TCM Underground on Saturday night. It’s a good movie to watch anyway, one for which you are encouraged to gather the family around you and enjoy and to look over at your children as they see it for the first time to appreciate their reactions and horrified, open-mouthed gasps… but it also offers us, in the countdown to Mother’s Day next month, a prime example of the use of mother/monster relationships in horror movies.  [...MORE]

Organization Man: Odd Man Out (1947)

4082_odd_man_out_(1947)movie_Odd Man Out has an absence at its center. It stars James Mason as a revolutionary in Northern Ireland, but he is either missing or comatose for the majority of its running time. A scattered group of fringe players search for his body, from IRA fellow travelers to middle-class families to eccentric bird merchants. What emerges is a portrait of a stunned post-WWII Belfast, tired of violence but in no hurry to pass Mason off to the cops. It is either sympathy or indolence that keeps him alive, as his husk is passed from alley to bar and finally, to the docks. The city’s cavernous, emptied out streets are the setting for Mason’s absolution. For though he is a murderer, Mason’s beatific, radiant performance gives his character a saintly aura, as if taking on the sins of the post-war world. Though it has overshadowed the lower-budgeted Brit-noirs of this period (which are in need of reclamation), Odd Man Out is more than worthy of its reputation. Earlier this month it received the Criterion treatment, released in a new HD restoration on DVD and Blu-ray, with their usual array of copious extras, including a new essay by Imogen Sara Smith.


Dust Off Your Bippy

bippyposterTwice in one day I was reminded of one of the strangest lines from one of my favorite television series. It’s not like “You bet your sweet bippy”—which was muttered every week for four seasons on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In—is part of contemporary slang or TV-speak. After all, Laugh-In was cancelled in 1973. And, yet the word “bippy” crossed my path twice last week. While looking over the TCM schedule last Thursday, I noticed that The Maltese Bippy is airing tomorrow, Tuesday, April 21 at 6:15pm. Just a few minutes later, while watching General Hospital, one of the characters blurted, “You bet your sweet bippy.” You know you are a true TV-geek when a nonsense word like bippy makes you instantly nostalgic for a 40-year-old series.

The series’ full title was Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In because it was hosted by the comedy team of Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. The two met in 1952, though both had been kicking around show biz for several years. The son of carnies, who were killed when he was a boy, the hard-luck Rowan had been a junior writer at Paramount before WWII, while the college-educated Martin wrote for radio comedy programs. After teaming up, they honed their act on television and in clubs. In 1958, they starred in a lackluster comedy western called Once Upon a Horse, which I actually saw on television decades ago, but they did not come close to the big time until Dean Martin tagged them as regulars for his summer show in 1966. Like all comedy teams, the two developed personas that formed the basis for their shtick. Rowan was the pipe-smoking straight man to Martin’s loony skirt-chaser.


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.


KEYWORDS: No Orchids for Miss Blandish

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.



Cooking with Sophia Loren


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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