Happy Birthday Fayard Nicholas

brosjumpinjiveA few years back, I was teaching the musical comedy when a male student remarked that he did not care for musicals because they were like chick flicks—too focused on romance and too filled with music that was old-fashioned. He did not find the production numbers with Fred Astaire from Top Hat to be particularly impressive; while he recognized that Astaire was good at his craft, anyone can take lessons and learn to dance, or so he claimed. For the next class, I came armed with a clip of the Nicholas Brothers performing their famous staircase dance from Stormy Weather (left). The class was dutifully impressed, and the student who dismissed musicals begrudgingly admitted that he liked the Nicholas Brothers whom he compared to athletes. The incident came to mind because today is Fayard Nicholas’s birthday, and it seemed fitting to acknowledge the talents of the Nicholas Brothers.

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Stephen King Goes to the Movies

Horrors of Stephen King

A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King (Laurent Bouzereau, 2011), an hour-long documentary with the iconic best-selling author, premiered three years ago on TCM and is being brought back this Saturday. The topics covered include the early horrors that both scared and inspired him as a kid, moving on to films like Dementia 13, Night of the Living Dead, both versions of The Thing, his love of B-movies, ghosts, vampires, religion, slashers, and a section I’m especially looking forward to seeing where he discusses the movies that were made from his books. With the latter in mind, I’m here to provide a few highlights from a 600+ page paperback released five years ago that I stumbled across while attending the last Telluride Film Festival titled Stephen King Goes to the Movies. [...MORE]

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October 18, 2014
David Kalat
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I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords

So, in case you haven’t heard, there’s this movie called Phase IV. It’s a 1970s apocalyptic sci-fi thriller about killer super-intelligent ants, and it was directed by Saul Bass of all people. And instead of special effects, the killer ants are played by real ants, filmed in close-up by National Geographic photographer Ken Middleham.

Either that is enough to make you drop everything and go see it (or go see it again) immediately, or you’re one of those people whose tastes make no sense to me.

But the thing is, as deliriously entertaining as Phase IV is, it’s a singular creation that could only have existed when it did, and couldn’t be (re)made today. And therein lies this week’s story…

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KEYWORDS: Phase IV, Saul Bass
COMMENTS: 5
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Hand in Hand in Hell: My Top 10 Horror Movie Brother and Sister Acts

Night of the Hunter

This Sunday, October 19th, marks the 30th anniversary of the death of my sister Cheryl Ann, or Cheri, as we called her. She died just two weeks shy of her 29th birthday. I was 23 at the time, just turned; I’m 53 now and I guess that makes Cheri the baby these days, frozen as she is at that — it seems to me now in my middle years — very young age. I’ve been thinking about my late sister but also watching a lot of spooky movies for the Halloween season and it all came together for me this week how many portrayals there are in genre films of brothers and sisters lost in bad territory. I guess we have Hansel and Gretel to blame for that. Odd that the most famous brothers in western civilization are Cain and Abel and the most famous brother and sister Hansel and Gretel. Maybe it’s because I grew up with sisters that I prefer fairy tales to Bible stories. But anyway. By way of turning sorrow into light, I offer you my highly subjective and far from comprehensive list (please, no comments telling me “you forgot…”) of my favorite brother and sister acts in fright films. [...MORE]

Aaahoo! She-Wolf of London (1946)

swlposterThe setting is London in the early 1900s, where a young Scottish woman named Phyllis Allenby (June Lockhart) is preparing to wed her beau (Don Porter). The happy couple’s plans are interrupted when someone or something begins killing locals at a nearby park. Terrified Phyllis is certain an old Scottish curse that has plagued her family for centuries is turning her into a bloodthirsty werewolf while she sleeps but her domineering aunt Martha (Sara Haden ) and lovesick cousin Carol (Jan Wiley) seem to think otherwise. Is Phyllis a werewolf? Is she going mad? Or is something else even more sinister stalking the nearby park under the cover of night? SHE-WOLF OF LONDON (1946) is often dismissed as one of the lessor entries in the Universal monster cannon but while watching this briskly paced B-movie again recently after decades of reading numerous dismissals, I was swept up by the films moody atmosphere and shaken by its surprising brutality. The film may not satisfy viewers anticipating a typical monster movie but SHE-WOLF OF LONDON has plenty of things to recommend it and with Halloween quickly approaching it seemed like the perfect time to praise its unsung sinister charm.

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The Proving Grounds of Safari! (1956)

I recently wrote up Safari for TCM (it can be found here on the main site) and it airs later tonight, much later, so here’s my chance to elaborate on a few things I put in the article but couldn’t flesh out.  First off, I liked Safari a good deal when I saw it but it has a couple of very disturbing moments when footage of actual animal kills are shown.  In one, a large bull elephant is brought down by rifle and there is no doubt from the footage that it’s real.  The bullet penetration in the elephant’s head can be quite clearly seen and the elephant immediately drops to the ground in a heap.  That was no staging, it was an actual death, and the kind of thing that can make me never revisit a movie again.  In fact, I may never revisit Safari again for just that reason even though the rest of the movie is a solid action adventure with good performances from the leads and some damn fine photography.  Second, the movie provides a good example of a young director doing a kind of test run for the movies he will later be known for.  The director is Terrence Young and those later movies have something to do with a gent named Bond, James Bond.

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Lonely Rodeo: The Lusty Men (1952)

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The Lusty Men is haunted by the Great Depression. It’s about economic displacement, wandering the countryside to make a buck at podunk rodeos, and where the dream of owning a home seems forever out of reach. As with most Hollywood studio projects, The Lusty Men was built out of compromise and circumstance, starting as a Life magazine article on the rodeo by Claude Stanush, and turning into a largely improvised character study by director Nicholas Ray and star Robert Mitchum. In between were a series of scripts, the first by David Dortort, and the second by Horace McCoy, who had made his name writing about Depression desperation, most famously in his novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  None of them satisfied Ray or producers Jerry Wald and Norman Krasna, so they often worked without a screenplay. It is a vulnerably acted film, as Ray teases out the fragility in Mitchum and co-stars Arthur Kennedy and Susan Hayward. It is a love triangle of sorts, but one enacted with complete honesty and forthrightness. The question is between the stability of Arthur Kennedy or the soulfulness of Mitchum, and while aesthetically it’s an easy decision (Mitchum has never been so beautiful), for characters raised dirt poor it’s a heart-wrenching choice. The Lusty Men, recently restored on 35mm by Warner Brothers, The Film Foundation and the Nicholas Ray Foundation, has finally been released on DVD by the Warner Archive (it also airs 11/4 at 1:30PM on TCM). Ever since the restored print screened at the New York Film Festival last year, I was patiently awaiting a Blu-ray release, but this will have to do. Luckily the DVD is in fine shape, aside from the beat-up archival rodeo footage which sets the stage for the drama to come.

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Hollywood’s Deco-rators: Cedric, Hans, and Van Nest

decomaidens2Our Modern Maidens (left, 1929), best known as an early flapper vehicle for Joan Crawford, airs on TCM this Wednesday at 9:45am. In addition to its role in Crawford’s burgeoning stardom, the film was renowned for its Art Deco set design by Cedric Gibbons, who had launched his signature Deco style a year earlier with Our Dancing Daughters (1928).

Art Deco and Hollywood fit together like hand in glove. Originally known as Modernism, Deco emerged in the 1920s, depicting and capturing the fast pace and modern lifestyle associated with the Jazz Age. This unique linear style began in the mid-1920s with ornate zig-zags and geometric shapes then quickly evolved into the stripped-down curvilinear forms of Streamline Moderne in the 1930s. Other styles of the time included Bauhaus and the International Style. The catch-all phrase Art Deco was not coined until the 1960s to refer to most of the styles of this era.

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Lift Up Your Voice In Song… Or Don’t

Today TCM airs Bob Fosse’s 1969 musical, Sweet Charity, starring Shirley MacLaine and Sammy Davis, Jr.   It’s a loose – very loose – musical adaptation of Federico Fellini’s 1957 masterpiece, Nights of Cabiria, starring Giulietta Masina in what is, to my mind, one of the greatest performances ever captured by a motion picture camera.    Now here’s the thing:  I like Sweet Charity on its own, or I should say, I like it well enough.  I’m not crazy about it but I think MacLaine is, as usual, terrific and I can watch Davis’ Rhythm of Life number over and over and over.  Like I said, on its own, I like it.  As a remake of Nights of Cabiria, I am, shall we say, unimpressed.  When a team of artists decide to remake a non-musical as a musical, they take a huge risk, as they would with even a straight ahead remake, but sometimes the risk pays off.  And sometimes it doesn’t.

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October 11, 2014
David Kalat
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How Not to Stay Awake, French Style

Once upon a time I was very tired. More to the point, I was very tired in Montreal.

Julie and I were in Montreal for a child-free vacation, and we were so happy to have some time to ourselves we hadn’t done much planning. On arriving in the city we just looked around at what was going on, and saw that the Art Museum was going to be showing Marcel L’Herbier’s Fantastic Night (1942). I’ve been fascinated by the history of French horror and sci-fi films, and at the time I was considering fleshing out my chapter from Fear Without Frontiers into a book of its own—catching an actual 35mm print of this treasure was clearly must-see territory.

But how to spend the day leading up to it? Why, the Montreal Beer Festival, of course! And after a full day of sampling Canadian microbrews and eating sausages, we decided to burn off some of the woozy haze by walking to the Art Museum—some 4 miles away. We got there to find the Museum screening room’s AC was on the fritz, making the theater toasty. And so, warm and boozy and tired, we settled in to watch a B&W subtitled movie about a man who can’t stay awake. Hoo boy.

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KEYWORDS: Fantastic Night, La Nuit Fantastique, Marcel L'Herbier
COMMENTS: 4
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