Roy Scheider: He Didn’t Need a Bigger Boat

blog openerOn Saturday, June 4, TCM pays tribute to actor Roy Scheider by showcasing three of his films, The French Connection, The Seven Ups, and 2010. Scheider’s greatest success came during the Film School Generation, an era when directors sought new levels of realism, experimented with form and content, and cast ordinary-looking method actors instead of conventionally handsome movie stars. With his thin body, angular face, and broken nose (the result of an early flirtation with boxing), Scheider exhibited the everyman quality directors preferred.

I did not fully appreciate Scheider until I began showing movies from the 1970s and 1980s in my film studies classes. As I watched some of his best performances over and over, I became a fan. Though I respect all the talented actors from the Film School Generation, I believe Scheider is the era’s best chameleon in that he was completely absorbed into his roles. Pacino seems too showy; De Niro too iconic; Hoffman too calculated; Hackman too physically unappealing. As my personal contribution to TCM’s tribute, I offer ten facts that I did not know about Roy Scheider, which I hope inspires an appreciation of his talents and contributions.

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What is a War Movie, Anyway?

Genre is a term that means the same thing to many people while many nothing at all to most.  It’s meant as a way to organize and compartmentalize different types of movies so that, at the very least, we can scroll through our choices on Netflix more easily.  But, of course, if you know anything about genre you already know just how malleable that term is.  You can have so many overlapping genres for any one movie that the categories and sub-categories become interchangeable and ultimately pointless.  For instance, take today’s topic of this post, the war movie.  If you look at three of the war movies on the schedule today, you will find Glory, The Best Years of Our Lives, and M*A*S*H.  Three war movies as different from each other as any movies in completely different genres are from each one of them.

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May 28, 2016
David Kalat
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Scratchy Movie Theater: an Appreciation

Back in my formative years—or my movie watching formative years at least—there was a local independent TV station in Raleigh, NC called Channel 22.  It was my constant friend and companion, the venue by which I discovered and/or cemented my passion for such a wide range of movie genres, filmmakers, and specific oddball pictures.

As I remember it, all they did was show movies (if they ran any other kind of programming, I never watched it).  Their selections were a curious mix of seemingly arbitrary choices, with the occasionally carefully curated selections.

For example, I remember how sometime in the early 1980s they made this big deal about showing Creature From the Black Lagoon in 3-D.  This was pretty cool.

Mind you, on its original run, Creature From the Black Lagoon achieved its 3-D effects using polarized light, and so viewers without the polarized lenses would just see a flat image.  But for the TV broadcast, an anaglyph print was used—so you either needed to get your blue and red 3-D glasses from somewhere ahead of time or consign yourself to watching the thing with weird overlapping colors.

You had to go to a local convenience store (ours was a place called Fast Fare) to pick up your 3-D glasses.  When you did, they gave out a line drawing of the Creature you were supposed to color and return as part of the promotional coloring contest.  Well, I took it on myself to study how 3-D worked, and I painstakingly colored my entry in only blue and red to produce a proper 3-D effect.  If you looked at it using the very glasses they handed out at Fast Fare, you’d see the monster popping out of the page at you.

The winner of the contest got a tour of the TV station.  I got “Runner Up,” which came with a bumper sticker.  “Runner Up” indeed, the haven for cowards and scoundrels.  Bah!

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How Much Do You Have to See?

As I looked at the schedule for today I noticed William Wellman’s name in there.  The movie he directed that’s on the schedule today is Stingaree from 1934, starring Irene Dunne, Richard Dix, and Mary Boland.   I’ve never seen Stingaree but that notwithstanding, I’ve always listed William Wellman as a favorite director, along with many others.  I list him as a favorite because he directed movies that I love such as Wings, The Public Enemy, So Big, Night Nurse, A Star is Born, and Nothing Sacred.  In point of fact, however, I have not seen at least half of the movies he directed.  For every The High and the Mighty, which I have seen, there’s a Magic Town, which I haven’t.  I’ve seen The Ox-Bow Incident, I haven’t seen Track of the Cat.  Beau Geste, Story of G.I. Joe, Battleground?  Yes.  The Robin Hood of El Dorado, Reaching for the Sun, My Man and I?  No.  But does that matter?  Do you have to see everything a director does to declare him or her a favorite?  Would seeing a bunch of movies you don’t think are very good alter the fact that there are plenty of others by the same director that you think are great?  No and no.

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Robert Fuest & His Abominable Creations

rfvpVincent Price & Robert Fuest on the set of The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

TCM’s month-long celebration of American International Pictures comes to an end tonight with some of the company’s best productions from the seventies including Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha (1972), Brian De Palma‘s Sisters (1973), Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970) featuring one of Robert De Niro’s early screen appearances, William Crain’s Blacula (1972) and the little-seen A Matter of Time (1976), which was the last film directed by Vincente Minnelli. I haven’t seen the Minnelli film myself so I’m looking forward to finally catching up with it but today I thought I’d focus my attention on filmmaker Robert Fuest. Fuest directed the first AIP film airing in tonight’s impressive line-up, The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) featuring Vincent Price in one of his most memorable roles.

The late Robert Fuest, who died in 2012 at age 84, has become one of my favorite filmmakers over the years thanks to his artistic direction and ability to mix fear and humor into a creative combustible cocktail that yielded such gems as The Abominable Dr. Phibes and its sequel Dr. Phibes Rises Again (1972) as well as the brilliant, stylish and utterly bonkers Michael Moorcock adaptation, The Final Programme (1973). Other films in his impressive oeuvre include Just Like a Woman (1967), And Soon the Darkness (1970), Wuthering Heights (1970) and The Devil’s Rain (1975).

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This week TCM Underground is on shore leave for the celebration of Memorial Day

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In observance of the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend, TCM Underground has a 3-day pass and will be absent — with leave — to clear the deck for a lineup of movies about men (and women) in war. As the son of military parents (my father was a sergeant, my mom a corporal), we always had time for war movies and a lot of personal favorites are in the queue for Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday. In no particular order: THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), THE BIG PARADE (1925), MR. ROBERTS (1955), KELLY’S HEROES (1970), and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961). A lot of the actors in these movies actually served in the United States military, among them Lee Marvin (USMC), Henry Fonda (USN), Robert Ryan (USMC), Aldo Ray (USN), James Garner (Army), Charles Bronson (Army), James Coburn (Army), Don Rickles (USN), and Jack Warden (Army) — to name a few — while Sean Connery served with the British Royal Navy and David Niven left a promising Hollywood career to return to England for the duration of World War II.

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Hawk or dove, conservative or liberal, you don’t have to be a warmonger (or ignore the sad plight of many or our veterans — a situation that hasn’t improved all that much between World War I and The War Against Terror) to appreciate war movies or to value the sacrifice of the men and women of our country’s armed forces. As a boy, combat films taught me about purpose, dedication, and devotion and I’ll be tuning in over the long weekend to relive some fond boyhood memories while reflecting on the contributions made by the best of us in the worst of times.

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May 24, 2016
David Kalat
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Shane Black’s Long Kiss Goodnight

Hi everybody!  This isn’t my usual spot, but Mr. Sweeney’s out this week for very forgivable reasons.  It’s not my story to tell, but let’s just say there’s about to be a slight uptick in the world’s population, and leave it at that.  Since he didn’t want all y’all Morlockians to have to endure the indignities of a missing post, or a rerun, I’m filling in for the day.

And with the recent release of The Nice Guys, I’m in a bit of a Shane Black reverie.  It cast my mind back to the 1997 action thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight and a certain scene that, to my mind, encapsulates everything you need to know about contemporary commercial Hollywood cinema. If you had a space alien, or some Rip Van Winkle type, who wondered “what’s the deal with movies these days?,” you could just fire up the DVD player, scan forward to this scene, and let ‘er rip:

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KEYWORDS: Geena Davis, Shane Black, The Long Kiss Goodnight
COMMENTS: 19
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A Forgotten Film to Remember: The Ghost Goes West

blogopenerTomorrow night, May 24, at 9:45pm EST, TCM airs a charming romantic comedy with the unfortunate title of The Ghost Goes West. Unfortunate, because the title is misleading. The film is neither a horror tale, nor does it have anything to do with the Wild West. Released in 1936, The Ghost Goes West is a British film set in Scotland and Florida.

Robert Donat plays a dual role as the 20th century Scotsman Donald Glourie and his 18th century ancestor Murdoch Glourie. During a skrimish with British Red Coats, Murdoch is too busy chasing girls to fight for “the glory of Scotland,” a vague reference to the various tensions with Britain in that century. During battle, Murdoch is blown to bits, save for his Scottish tam o’ shanter, which flutters lightly to the ground. While in limbo between heaven and hell, the Scotsman is dubbed a coward by his deceased father for his shameful behavior in battle. Murdoch is returned to earth as a ghost and cursed to wander the halls of the Glourie castle.

 

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We Are Not Alone: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Forbidden Planet

Today on TCM, two of my favorite sci-fI movies air, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Forbidden Planet.  They approach their aliens from distinctly different angles but share characteristics that have always kept them at or near the top of my favorite sci-fi movies list.  The fact that I saw both of them for the first time in 1977 might be one of the reasons I have always thought of them in the same breath but there are other reasons, too, and I believe that both exemplify the best that science fiction cinema has to offer.

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May 21, 2016
David Kalat
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Buster Keaton vs. Double Dipping

For the benefit of those of you who don’t spend your free time lurking on silent film message boards, there’s a new 5-disc Blu-Ray set of Buster Keaton silent shorts coming from Kino International and Lobster Films on May 24th. This set includes newly restored versions of all of Keaton’s short films—and we’re not just talking his solo shorts (which have been on Blu-Ray before, and from Kino no less) but also the run of Roscoe Arbuckle shorts which co-starred Buster. All that, and the home video debut of the newly discovered alternate cut of The Blacksmith featuring footage never before seen in the U.S.

And this news has been met with… hostility, skepticism, and resistance. And therein lies this week’s story.

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KEYWORDS: Buster Keaton
COMMENTS: 10
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