Adolphe Menjou: From Valentino to Kubrick

Adolphe Menjou Holding Daschund Aboard ShipToday, the films of Adolphe Menjou are highlighted as part TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. Classic movie lovers know Menjou as the dapper, erudite gent with the cane, hat, and waxed mustache. In comedies, melodramas, crime stories, and historical dramas, he was the older suitor, the authoritative boss, the cultured crook, the aristocrat. He was such a fixture in Golden Age movies that it is easy to assume he always played supporting characters. That’s the assumption an entertainment writer for the McClatchy-Tribune Information Services made just a few days ago in an online article promoting Summer Under the Stars. The writer questioned TCM’s decision to include Menjou, Mae Clarke, Virginia Bruce, and Monty Woolley, implying they were never really stars. She also hints that perhaps these performers are too obscure to be true stars. The writer, who will remain nameless, commits the fatal error that many web scribes make: She failed to adequately research her topic, assuming that if her generation has not heard of these actors, they must be obscure. She is wrong about Menjou. He was indeed a star before he evolved into a well-respected supporting player; as a matter of fact, he was a romantic lead for almost a decade.

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Costuming Sci-Fi Adventure, Old School

Tonight TCM airs one of my favorite films of all time, The Adventures of Robin Hood, directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighly, and starring Errol Flynn in the role that truly cemented his status as a swashbuckling icon after earlier star-making successes like Captain Blood set the stage. Also starring cinematic greats Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Alan Hale, Sr., Eugene Pallette, and Claude Rains, The Adventures of Robin Hood stands the test of time despite the fact that Flynn is prancing around in green tights, not looking rugged at all.  Or maybe because of that?  Later renditions of Robin Hood, including that one with Kevin Costner, tried to make Robin appear, clothing-wise, more as he would have in real life, or so we’re led to believe.  And to that I say phooey.  Why is everyone so concerned with making everyone look so damn salt of the earth and rugged?

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August 1, 2015
David Kalat
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Ernst Lubitsch Forgives Himself

If you were so inclined, you could convincingly argue that Ernst Lubitsch’s Heaven Can Wait is a representative example of its time: a costume drama that luxuriates in period detail (playing to the strengths of 20th Century Fox); .a character study told with inventive narrative techniques and non-chronological structure (ike Preston Sturges’ The Great McGinty or Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane); in glorious Technicolor (surging to popularity in the wake of Snow White and The Seven Dwarves).

Except…this is Ernst Lubitsch we are talking about. He did not make movies like everyone else.

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KEYWORDS: Don Ameche, Ernst Lubitsch, Gene Tierney, Heaven Can Wait
COMMENTS: 5
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Suddenly: The Assassin’s Game

This morning on TCM, Suddenly, the 1954 thriller starring Sterling Hayden and Frank Sinatra, aired and if you didn’t see it, you missed a good one.  The story is of an assassination attempt on the president of the United States who happens to be passing through the town of Suddenly, California.  The secret service show up to check all the buildings and houses in the parts of the town that the president will be passing through and enlist the aid of Sheriff  Tod Shaw (Sterling Hayden).  The Benson house on the hill, overlooking the train tracks where the president’s train will pull into town, is owned by Pop Benson (James Gleason), a former secret service man himself, and his widowed daughter, Ellen, and her son, Pidge, live with him.  Before the sheriff and secret service can check his house, though, three men posing as FBI agents show up and say they’re investigating the house instead.  The “FBI agents” are led by John Baron (Frank Sinatra) who says they’re helping out the service but when Shaw and the secret service arrive, Baron and his men kill the secret service agent and wound Shaw.  It turns out they’re hired assassins, there to kill the president. Baron will be the trigger man with a house full of hostages.  Now Shaw, one of those hostages, has less than an hour to stop Baron before the president arrives.

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Birdwatching in Bodega Bay

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My better half and I just celebrated our wedding anniversary by taking a leisurely road trip through the Sonoma backwoods and along the California Coast. On our return, we decided to make a stop in Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock shot THE BIRDS (1963). I’ve spent time in Bodega before and it is one of the loveliest little coastal towns in Sonoma. It’s also extremely proud of its association with one of Hitchcock’s best and most celebrated films. While I was there I wandered along the wharf, visited some filming locations and spent time at the Hitchcock museum located inside the Bodega Country Store. The trip was a lot of fun and I snapped many pictures while I was there so I thought I would share my adventure in Bodega Bay with TCM’s blog readers.

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Shock Cinema #48 reviewed!

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Now that TCM Underground is taking a little summer break, I finally have a chance to get around to my mail. The latest issue of Shock Cinema dropped in over the transom so long ago, it seems to me, that I hope it’s still on the newsstands (you know, because it’s 1945 and you all still buy your magazines from newsstands) for you to pick up after my rave review! But I’m getting ahead of myself…   [...MORE]

Ugly American: Run of the Arrow (1957)

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In the summer of 1956, Sam Fuller took a 50% stake in Globe Enterprises, an independent production company that would strike deals with RKO, Twentieth-Century Fox, and Columbia for financing and distribution. He received creative control over his projects, and though this setup only lasted through 1961, he made six strong films with Globe: Run of the Arrow, China Gate, Forty Guns, Verboten!, The Crimson Kimono, and Underworld U.S.A. His first Globe production, Run of the Arrow (’57), is now available on a long-overdue DVD from the Warner Archive, and reflects the unusual freedom Fuller secured himself in this period. It is a prickly, jumpy Western in which a post-Civil War Confederate loyalist named O’Meara (Rod Steiger) joins the Sioux in order to fight against the United States. It depicts America as a land of perpetual warfare, one in which race and cultural hatreds are reconfigured to justify the current battle, whether without or within. It is a film of jagged rhythms, its chase scenes broken into extreme long shots and close-ups, which are then followed by minutes-long takes of two-shot conversations. At no point does one feel settled or comfortable regarding a character’s motivations or their position in space, and that is how Fuller wanted it.

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My Treasures from the Dream Factory

DreamFactory_posterTCM joins with Bonham’s auction house to present “Treasures from the Dream Factory,” a selection of high-profile movie memorabilia to be sold this November. This is the third year for the event, which is open to everyone. The first year, the statue from The Maltese Falcon sold for $4 million; last year, the piano from Casablanca was auctioned for $3.5 million. I am sure you have seen the video preview on TCM for this year’s auction. Among the items up for bidding is a Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane, which had been given to Herman Mankiewicz at the end of shooting, Dorothy’s gingham dress from The Wizard of Oz, a Golden Ticket from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a variety of items from Natalie Wood’s estate. The video promises that most of the items for auction will be affordable to the average collector, despite these high-profile pieces.

The video for the auction prompted me to think about what pieces of movie memorabilia I would like to own. I discovered that my tastes run on a much smaller scale than iconic props and costumes from Hollywood’s most famous movies. However, Hendrik Wynands, the head of construction on Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory who provided the Golden Ticket, makes a good point in the video. He notes that people should collect what appeals to them based on the movies that touch them personally. That is where the true value lies. Memorabilia is more than owning a piece of the movie; it’s a tangible reminder of the meaning that the movie holds for the collector, and a trigger for the emotions behind that meaning. [...MORE]

Break on Through to the Other Side

Overlook 1921

If you stay up past midnight tonight, TCM will be screening an influential supernatural film about a violent alcoholic who at one point will grab an ax to splinter down a door behind which can be found his terrified family. And, yes, ghosts are involved. And, no, it’s not The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). The film in question is Victor Sjöström’s The Phantom Carriage, which was released in 1921. Fans of The Shining will be quick to notice that this is the same year printed at bottom of the iconic last shot of Kubrick’s film that shows us a black-and-white photograph with Jack Torrance frozen in time. [...MORE]

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July 25, 2015
David Kalat
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Miracle Mile

A very long time ago, back in the Reagan Administration when I was a pimply high school nerd, my friend Andrew Chilton and I were comparing notes on movies we’d seen recently we recommended to each other. I raved about David Byrne’s absurdist slice-of-life True Stories; Andrew told me to go see Miracle Mile. But Andrew’s recommendation was shaky: his tastes and mine didn’t always line up well, and the best he could summon for this was that it was a messy film with lots of problems but which was really interesting. And since I was already backlogged for as far as the eye could see on great masterpieces I intended to watch, I let this slide. But his recommendation haunted me at the periphery of my memory for almost 30 years, and I finally got around to taking Andrew at his word.

I have to choose my words carefully here, because if I tell you this is a flawed movie that is nevertheless really interesting, I’m just going to make the same mistake and you won’t click the fold and keep reading. So… let me just say that Miracle Mile is a movie that might just save the world.

Whaddya think? Wanna keep reading?

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KEYWORDS: Miracle Mile
COMMENTS: 10
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