Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 12, 2013
Today is Buck Jones’ birthday (b. Dec. 12th 1891) and although his name might not be familiar to modern movie audiences the much loved B-movie cowboy was once one of the most popular western stars in Hollywood. Jones began his career in silent films and successfully transferred to making talkies while working with some interesting talent including directors John Ford, William Wellman, W. S. Van Dyke, James W. Horne, Lambert Hillyer and Kurt Neumann and fellow actors such as John Wayne, Carol Lombard, Tom Mix, Gabby Hayes, Lon Chaney Jr., Susan Fleming, Anita Louise and Buster Crabbe (just to name a few). At the height of his fame (roughly between 1925 and 1938) Jones was making 6-8 films a year and his likeness, along with his white horse called Silver, could be found in comic books and on advertisements for many products that appealed to kids including Schwinn bicycles, Post breakfast cereals, Royal Crown Cola and Daisy air guns. His fan club, affectionately known as The Buck Jones Rangers, boasted over three million members and at one point in his career Jones was one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood and supposedly received more fan mail than any star.
Posted by gregferrara on December 11, 2013
Many stars of the silent period became stars of the sound period, too. Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo are two big examples of a star’s silent movie appeal crossing over into the sound era. Others include Norma Shearer, Donald Crisp, Janet Gaynor and Wallace Beery, all actors who gracefully made the transition from silents to sound. But would they be famous, would they be known today at all without their sound careers? While some silent stars still have immense name recognition, like Rudolph Valentino, their films are known with far fewer frequency than their more successful sound counterparts.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 10, 2013
Staring disconsolately at a blank wall as the Buffalo Bills are eliminated from playoff contention is one of my longest held traditions. It’s been fourteen years since that benighted franchise has played in the second season, and any damp flickerings of hope this go ’round were quashed after consecutive demolitions by league doormats (Falcons and Buccaneers). To avoid reflecting on these latest humiliations, I escape into pigskin fantasies of the silver screen. Luckily, TCM is airing a whole day of football flicks tomorrow, from 6:45 AM to 8PM. For heartsick fans of other downtrodden teams, may I suggest William Wellman’s College Coach (1933) and Jacques Tourneur’s Easy Living (1949)? The first is a speedy campus comedy with Pat O’Neil in short pants and a crooning Dick Powell, while the latter is a downbeat relationship drama with declining QB Victor Mature and his glory-hogging wife Lizbeth Scott. Neither will rescue your franchise from irrelevance, but they will pass the time until the indignities of next football Sunday.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 9, 2013
As coincidence would have it, today marks the birthday of both Dalton Trumbo and Kirk Douglas, whose names are linked because of their participation in breaking the back of the infamous Hollywood blacklist during the production of Spartacus. The ultimate survivor, Douglas has lived through the decline of the studio system, the upheaval of the Film School Generation, the politics that come with a career in Hollywood, and the effects of a stroke. Today, he turns 97. Trumbo survived ten months in prison as one of the Hollywood Ten as well as the indignity of the blacklist. He died in 1976 at the age of 71.
Trouble began for Trumbo, a highly respected screenwriter for such films as A Bill of Divorcement, Kitty Foyle, and A Guy Named Joe, when he appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947. Despite his impressive filmography, it was his script for Tender Comrades, and its alleged “communist” message, that landed him in front of the committee, along with nine other writers, directors and producers. Collectively known as the Hollywood Ten, the group refused to answer some of HUAC’s questions, resulting in a storm of publicity and an angry, vengeful Congress. Trumbo served about ten months in a federal pen for contempt of Congress. Afterward, he moved to Mexico City for a couple of years, then quietly returned to Hollywood in 1954, where he began writing screenplays under assumed names and behind “fronts,” that is, people who used their names to submit scripts and rewrites for blacklisted writers. [...MORE]
Posted by gregferrara on December 8, 2013
I noticed Scrooge on the schedule today at TCM. It’s the musical version of A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens’ timeless classic (I’ve never used that cliche before but if it doesn’t apply to A Christmas Carol, what good is it?) about a miserly old man, Ebeneezer Scrooge, who learns the true meaning of the giving spirit from three such spirits, and his old partner Jacob Marley, on Christmas Eve (or Christmas day, I suppose, since it happens in the early morning hours). I’ve written up A Christmas Carol twice for TCM, once here for the 1938 version, and once here for the 1951 version. If they asked me to write up Scrooge as well, I would, even though, full disclosure, I’ve never really liked it. Fuller disclosure, I’ve never really liked any musical version better than the non-musical original. But it generally works, I’ll give it that. And other musicals based on plays work, too. And if it works one way, why not try the other way? Why not make straight up, all non-musical versions of famous musicals?
If you look up the word “self-indulgent” in the dictionary, I wouldn’t be surprised if you find that the definition is a TCM blogger who commits three entire weekly posts to a French director whose films are almost never even shown on the channel, and whose work is orthogonally situated to the tastes of the target audience. Well, self-indulgent I may be, but there’s more to the story of Claude Chabrol than I managed to fit in the last two weeks.
I’ve mentioned that Chabrol is one of my favorite directors, but that alone isn’t quite justification to come back for thirds—the reason I’m still on a Chabrol kick is that this last piece of the story deals with the central questions of what constitutes artistry and authorship, in ways that matter far beyond any appreciation just of one man’s body of work (no matter how extraordinary that body of work may be). This is about the endless stupid (and endlessly stupid) alleged schism between great movies and commercial pap.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on December 6, 2013
I’ve been on an island horror movie kick lately. An island setting can really goose the claustrophobia factor of certain horror movies, limiting the free range of the characters and forcing the protagonists into closer proximity to the lurking fear. THE GHOST BREAKERS (1940) and ISLAND OF TERROR (1965) and WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (1976) and SHOCK WAVES (1977) and ZOMBIE (1980) are all very fine examples of this subgenre and they are movies to which I return again and again for that — I’ll say it again — coziness factor. Yeah, even Lucio Fulci can be cozy, if you’re in the right frame of mind. One of my favorites of this number won’t likely make anyone else’s Top 10 list but I’ve watched the damn thing five or six times over the past month or so — I speak of course of Jim O’Connolly’s TOWER OF EVIL… [...MORE]
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on December 5, 2013
2013 has quietly developed into a groundbreaking year for black actors and directors. Steve McQueen’s 12 YEARS A SLAVE starring Chiwetal Ejiofor, Ryan Coogler’s FRUITVALE STATION starring Michael B. Jordan and Lee Daniels’ THE BUTLER starring Forest Whitaker are all possible Oscar contenders for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor and Idris Elba’s performance in MANDELA: A LONG WALK TO FREEDOM has also garnered considerable critical attention in recent months. These talented individuals may end up making history at the 86th Academy Awards ceremony next year if they receive the award nominations many claim they deserve. And while I don’t think you can measure a film’s value by the awards it receives it would be naïve to assume that those gold statues and the publicity they generate don’t hold any weight. In Hollywood winning an Oscar can open doors and close deals. The attention they procure can introduce you and your work to vast communities of people who may have never taken notice or been exposed to it before. Despite its fluctuating ratings, the Academy Awards is the most watched award show in the world and that kind of exposure makes Oscar gold invaluable. And few people understand the value of Oscar gold as well as Sidney Poitier.
Posted by gregferrara on December 4, 2013
I know someone who lets details destroy everything when it comes to art. This is a person to whom appreciation of art does not come naturally, or at all. I avoid discussing film with this unnamed person because he immediately dismisses anything in which some detail is off or wrong. For instance, this illustrious art aficionado recently described the excellent How Green was My Valley as a “stinker.” Why? It wasn’t actually filmed in Wales. Also, the accents weren’t right. No, I’m not making this up. I wish I were. For this person, art is a puzzle box he will never solve, a labyrinth he will never penetrate or emerge from with greater understanding. And nothing’s worse than if the detail in question is the character’s accent. If the accent’s off, that’s all he’ll notice. The odd thing is, I’m not above that kind of viewpoint myself, if the movie’s bad. The problem with my friend is that he cannot see that the picture is good despite the accents being off. Me, and pretty much every other movie fan I know, goes in the opposite direction. If the movie’s good, who cares about the accent. If the movie’s bad, we think, “Well couldn’t they have at least gotten that right?!”
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 3, 2013
For Jack Benny The Horn Blows at Midnight was a punchline, the crowning clunker in his failed movie career. He made it the object of self-deprecating scorn on his radio and TV shows, and as late as 1957 on The Jack Benny Program he staged a slow burning sketch that ended with a security guard spotting Benny on a studio lot: “-Jack Benny? -Yes. -The one that starred in The Horn Blows at Midnight? -Yes, yes. I made that for Warner Brothers years ago. Did you see it? -See it? I directed it!” As his last feature in a starring role, Benny kept the film alive as a joke, but as the recent Warner Archive DVD release shows, it’s worthy of more than his deadpan putdowns.
A true oddity that seeped through the Warner Brothers studio filter, it depicts heaven as a corporate bureaucracy in which Jack Benny is just another angelic cog, a variation of which Albert Brooks used in Defending Your Life. Earth is an anonymous planet slated for destruction by harried middle manager Guy Kibbee, who sends Benny to do the deed. After a series of mortal mishaps, Benny gets stuck in NYC, and cultivates a liking for the finer things in flesh-bound life. The script is a pileup of increasingly improbable gags, which director Raoul Walsh speeds through with verve and a definite lack of religious deference. Aided by the kaleidoscopic special effects of Lawrence Butler, the celestial choir is turned into a faceless mass of cardboard cutouts, making life in the swing clubs and ballrooms all the more desirable.
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