Makeup vs. Acting


The recent gangster biopic Black Mass stars Johnny Depp as real-life organized crime boss Whitey Bulger, a fixture in Boston’s criminal underworld from the 1960s through the 1990s. Depp gives an intense performance as the ruthless mobster, who was legendary for his unpredictable behavior and violent methods. The actor embraced the role, mastering the South Boston accent and adopting street-tough mannerisms. I recommend Black Mass, which was directed by Scott Cooper (Out of the Furnace; Crazy Heart) whose realist style serves the story well.


Blazing her own path


Ida Lupino is the Keith Richards of female directors. Lupino was born in London during a WWI German zeppelin bombing. Richards was born in London during WWII while V1 and V2 rockets tore through the sky – thus inspiring one of my favorite lines in rock: “I was born in a cross-fire hurricane”. Richards picked up a guitar to became the ultimate bad-boy of rock-and-roll and was exiled from his own country. Lupino was quoted in the Hollywood Reporter as saying “My father once said to me, ‘You’re born to be bad,”… And it was true. I made eight films in England before I came to America, and I played a tramp or a slut in all of them.” Richards blazed his own path. So did Lupino, who recognized that the studio was treating her like “the poor man’s Bette Davis” so she got behind the camera and joined the ranks of directors like Sam Fuller and Don Siegel, cinema rogues who found inspiration in dark alleys as they tackled tough subjects on their own terms.  [...MORE]

October 3, 2015
David Kalat
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Dance, Girl, Dance

It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.



Why Do We Complain About Horror?

Have you ever heard anyone complain that “family drama” has been done to death?  Whether it’s The Magnificent Ambersons, Ordinary People, or In the Bedroom, family drama has been around for a long time and accounted for a substantial amount of movies.  How about war films?  Ever heard someone say, “Oh no, not another war movie?”  How about a good detective thriller?  Political drama?  Sports movie? Even the dreaded romantic comedy, aka the “Rom-Com,” doesn’t get the complaints that it’s done to death.  Oh, people may hate them, but they don’t think there’s an overload.  But mention zombies and, oh crikey, here we go.  “Zombies? Oh, I can’t take anymore zombie movies!”  In fact, every few years it seems like we tire of a specific subgenre of horror.  The seventies gave us too many devil movies, the eighties into the nineties, too many vampire flicks, starting with Salem’s Lot on tv, moving into the comic horror of Fright Night, and culminating with Francis Ford Coppola’s romantic opera, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Also in the eighties we got slasher films and everyone got tired of those.  But like any good horror monster, they keep coming because everyone knows, no matter how much we complain, we’ll always want more.



Nameless Fear: The Lost Moment (1947)

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Lost_MomentI felt the past closing all around me like a fog, filling me with a nameless fear.
- Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings)

After enjoying many of the Susan Hayward films that aired on TCM last month, I decided to seek out some of her other work and in the process I stumbled across The Lost Moment (1947). And as regular readers know, I usually focus my attention on horror films and thrillers during the month of October and this neglected black-and-white gem that tells a haunting story about lost love and an unspeakable crime of passion is the perfect film to kick-start the season of scaring.

This surprisingly sumptuous Universal production takes place in Venice where an ambitious publisher named Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings), disguises himself as a writer and takes lodging in a sprawling waterway estate owned by the 105-year-old lover (Agnes Moorehead) of a renowned poet who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades earlier. He hopes to gain access to a stash of love letters written by the poet to his lady love but the woman’s stern niece (Susan Hayward) suspects that the publisher is up to no good. While attempting to find the missing letters, Cummings’s character uncovers many horrible family secrets hidden within the walls of the crumbling cobweb coated estate that he hadn’t bargained for.


This week on TCM Underground: Rattlers (1976) and The Swarm (1978)


This week on TCM Underground, two “animal revenge” shockers from the latter half of the 1970s. Before I begin, a confession: when I was a pre-teen I killed a snake in the side yard of my childhood home. I didn’t have to kill the snake, it wasn’t threatening me in any way, it wasn’t even all that big… but I had been socialized to fear and hate snakes and to think of their presence on my property as a crime punishable by death. Watching that snake die in front of me changed me in a major way and I will never forget its death agonies, the way its mouth gaped as the life ran out of it. So with that on my conscience, I go into animal revenge movies with some reluctance because, even though they invariably target mankind’s corruption of the natural world, they still turn animals — God’s creatures, if you want to look at it that way — into constructs of fear and loathing when the truth of the matter is that far more animals die by the hand of man than vice versa. As a Cub Scout leader it is my job, and my honor, to try and undo some of that damage when I lead scouts into a wilderness setting, to teach kids that they don’t have to go into the woods with an aim to kill animals, even the dangerous ones. I will admit to not having the highest enthusiasm for this double feature of “animals attack!” movies but, to paraphrase a recent Internet meme, I will still do my job and tell you all about them.


Thrill Kill: 10 to Midnight (1983)



Charles Bronson’s association with the exploitation mavens at Cannon Films started with Death Wish II (1982), and continued through six years and seven more movies of profitable urban bloodshed. The second of these was 10 to Midnight (1983), a ultra-sleazy slasher film in which Bronson’s morally dubious cop attempts to protect his daughter from a loony who commits murders in the nude. Now out on Blu-ray from Twilight Time (available exclusively through Screen Archives), it’s a lowest-common-denominator product that gives the people what they want, and what they wanted in 1983 was healthy heaping of gently jogging nudity (male and female), a few spurts of blood, and Bronson looking constipated, apparently.


Of Flappers, Hoppers, and Shifters


Tonight on TCM, bubbly Colleen Moore stars as flapper Pert Kelly in Why Be Good?, a 1929 romantic melodrama that turned out to be the last gasp of the flapper archetype. When the stock market crashed eight months later, the mood of the nation changed, and the high-spirited frivolity of the flapper no longer seemed appropriate.


Who Played That Part the Best?

Today on TCM, Anna and the King of Siam plays, the 1946 classic starring Rex Harrison as the King of Siam and Irene Dunne as Anna.  As most people on the planet earth know, the movie was remade as a stage musical which then graduated to the movies starring the same actor that made the musical a hit, Yul Brynner.  In the role of Anna, was Deborah Kerr.  Now there are a lot of different critiques that could go into determining which actors did a better job with their roles and lots of pros and cons to be weighed.  Or we could just bulldoze our opinion over the landscape and be done with it.  I don’t normally like go that route but this time, why not?  Why not every one of us pick roles played by different actors and let everyone else know who did the better job?  Be warned:  This post will commit several acts of classic cinema blasphemy.  You will not agree with me every time or at all and perhaps even think I am crazy.  So be it.  Let’s begin.



September 26, 2015
David Kalat
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Preston Sturges Origin Story

Preston Sturges was a born storyteller, he just didn’t know it. For a very long time.

He was also born to make screwball comedies—for a while, he actually lived a screwball plot. He started dating Eleanor Hutton, a proper heiress with a high society family. He dated a lot of girls, but this one struck a nerve. They started thinking seriously about marriage. But when these thoughts were shared with the Hutton clan, there were the usual “oh my!”s and monocles dropping into wineglasses. The Huttons were sure their daughter was acting up to provoke them, certain this roustabout boyfriend of hers was just a gold-digger.

But threatening to cut her off did not deter the boyfriend. Instead, the two eloped—while the papers went mad with the story of the runaway heiress and her playwright lover.

For the moment, let’s ignore the fact that Sturges’ movie-ready romance turned out to be a bust. Instead, let’s spend some time luxuriating in this period of Preston’s life, when he started to find his way into Hollywood, in the most half-assed way possible.


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