The Trek to Stardom for the Stars of ‘Star Trek’

startrioWhen Leonard Nimoy died at the end of last week, many from my generation mourned the loss by posting photos and quotes related to Mr. Spock, Nimoy’s iconic television character, to social media outlets. The outpouring of sorrow and the testimonials of childhood devotion reveal the profound impact that a beloved television program can have on a generation.

Like William Shatner, Nimoy did not always relish his identification as one of television’s most recognizable characters. When Star Trek ended in 1969 after three seasons, both tried to shake off their Trek personas by pursuing other roles. Nimoy even penned an autobiography titled I Am Not Spock in 1975. DeForest Kelley, the third in the trio of interstellar comrades, was not as vocal about moving on to new opportunities, but he, too, was eager to continue his career. It took several decades for the trio to realize what fans knew all along—Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy were more than characters from an old TV series. Eventually, Shatner and Nimoy embraced their iconic characters, discussing them at length in their bios Star Trek Memories and I Am Spock.

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Shakespeare in Love and Me

Today on TCM, one musical after another is on the schedule and I’ve written up musicals here so often that I have to take a break from the singing and dancing and move a little further down the schedule to write about something else.  So what’s playing later, as we hit the late night hours, at least on Eastern Standard Time?  Shakespeare in Love, that’s what.  Using that as my pivot point is pretty easy because I have more than a few thoughts that immediately spring to mind when I think of that movie, which doesn’t happen very often so perhaps I should say instead, when that movie’s title crosses my line of vision.  Here are just some of those thoughts.

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Rabbits_(Night_of_the_Lepus)
February 28, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Kill da wabbit

So—later this week, TCM will be running Night of the Lepus. It’s been on TCM before—but usually relegated to the late night TCM Underground slot. This Wednesday it’s on at 6pm Eastern where decent folk might stumble across it unawares. Which is awesome.

There are few films as mocked as Night of the Lepus. You only have to mention the premise (attack of the giant bunnies!) and the derision sets in on its own. It’s a wonder the whole genre of horror didn’t just curl up and die in embarrassment. Legions of film critics, genre fans, and innocent bystanders have set up their tents in the let’s-make-fun-of-the-dumb-bunnies camp—all sharing the assumption that the problem here was the choice of monster. How could killer rabbits ever be scary?

But if it is self-evidently obvious that rabbits can’t ever be a scary monster… then what would motivate a motion-picture institution run by responsible adults to invest in a thing like this? What were they thinking?

Come on—click the fold and find out. I know you want to. I promise the answer will surprise you.

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KEYWORDS: Night of the Lepus
COMMENTS: 8
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Okay, Here’s Everything

When I write my posts here at the Movie Morlocks, I try my best to work whatever is on the schedule that day into my piece.  You may have noticed a phrase I use with alarming regularity (seriously, go back and check out my past posts), “today/tonight on TCM,” because I find my inspiration from the movies I watch on TCM.  If I see Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is playing (last week’s post) I might think of movie deaths that don’t sadden.  The week before that, it was directors who were actors because John Huston movies were playing.   Before that, Poltergeist was playing and I wrote on “Big Horror” versus “Little Horror.”  Before that, it was all about works not normally associated with a director (James Whale’s Man in the Iron Mask was playing) and before that, acting without words (Old Man and the Sea with Spencer Tracy was on that day).   As long as TCM continues to play movies, I’ll have ideas for posts.  It’s almost like wearing a school uniform: You never have to worry about picking out your clothes (“Oh no, what do I write about for my next post? Oh, right, whatever movie is on the schedule.”).  Then, earlier this week I thought, for the first time ever, why not write about every movie on the schedule?  I mean, not in detail, of course, but general thoughts and feelings on each one.  Okay, let’s do it.  Here’s everything.

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Regrettable Viewing Experiences? I’ve Had a Few!

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I follow a lot of people on Twitter and one of the most active and notable is Will McKinley who runs the excellent Cinematically Insane blog. Will has been a guest on TCM as well as TCM’s Official Podcast and he often shares interesting links on Twitter. This week Will led me to The Hitless Wonder Blog run by Dan Day who asked his readers a somewhat loaded question: “What are the worst films you have seen in a theater?” I rarely waste time talking about films I dislike but occasionally it’s fun to blow off some steam so I decided to answer Dan’s question at the Movie Morlocks today. What follows is a list of some of my worst movie viewing experiences. But beware! My post is bound to offend a few readers.

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Movie mapping: Counting my horror film steps

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Because I spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on my can, I try to get out into the real world and get some exercise. I used to run a bit but I’ve slowed it down in the last year or so and I’m more interested in hiking. The bottom line is that I’m around a lot of people who are taking their fitness with great seriousness and it seems as though everybody’s wearing the Fitbit nowadays, or some other device that counts the number of steps they take in a day, a week, a month. My worlds cannot help but collide and so I’ve been thinking about my movie steps, specifically my horror movie steps, and those first fright films that got me started on the weird and wonderful journey that is my life in fear.

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Johnny Mercer Goes Hollywood: Old Man Rhythm (1935) and To Beat the Band (1935)

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Johnny Mercer is one of the finest lyricists the United States has ever produced, contributing “Moon River”, “Fools Rush In” and “Days of Wine and Roses” to the Great American Songbook. Before he wrote that string of immortal hits, he tried (and folded) his hand at movie stardom, appearing in some sprightly B musicals for RKO starting in 1935. In the early 1930s Johnny Mercer was just another hard working lyricist, with his steadiest paycheck coming from the Paul Whiteman Orchestra as both writer and singer. He had made a name for himself in 1933 with “Lazybones”, written with Hoagy Carmichael, which attracted the attention of the aging but still popular “Pops” Whiteman. The hope was that Mercer could replace the recently departed Bing Crosby in his touring road show. The Savannah-born Mercer was paired with legendary Texas trombonist Jack Teagarden, and they formed a kind of Southern comedy duo, interpreting Fats Waller and “Harlemania” for the white masses. Their routines were enough to get the attention of Hollywood, and RKO lured him West. Mercer had dreams of contributing songs to major musicals, but he had to prove his mettle in the Bs first. The Warner Archive recently released a DVD of Mercer’s first two silver screen forays, the irresistible college comedy Old Man Rhythm (’35) and morbid farce  To Beat the Band (’35). These cheap B pictures are enlivened by the spectacular talents RKO had at its disposal, including  choreographer Hermes Pan, production designer Van Nest Polglase and director of photography Nicholas Musuraca (Cat People, Out of the Past). They are Bs that look like As, and though none of Mercer’s tunes in these films became standards, there were no duds. Billie Holiday agreed, and would record “Eeny Meeny Miney Mo” and “If You Were Mine” from To Beat the Band later in ’35.

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A Forgotten Film to Remember: Kind Lady

ethelopeningEver since reading Good Night, Sweet Prince, a biography of John Barrymore by his comrade in revelry, Gene Fowler, I have been fascinated with the Barrymore family. Handsome, tragic John has become my favorite Barrymore, because he was so flawed and yet so talented. Equally talented but not flawed was his older sister Ethel Barrymore. Next Saturday, February 28, at 9:15am, Ethel stars in Kind Lady, part of TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar programming.

Before noting Barrymore’s contribution, I would be remiss if I did not mention Kind Lady’s narrative pedigree. Originally a short story by Hugh Walpole titled “The Silver Casket,” it was turned into a beloved stage play by Edward Chodorov in 1935. The first film version was released in 1936 and starred Basil Rathbone as Elcott and Aline MacMahon as Mrs. Herries. The screenplay for the 1951 version, which was credited to Chodorov, Jerry Davis, and former Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett, made changes to the original material. Characters were eliminated to streamline the story, a key murder was moved toward the end of the film, and an exciting climactic sequence was added (a Hitchcockian approach). The film was aided enormously by the direction of John Sturges, who has earned a place in the history books for his widescreen, Technicolor films that exploited spectacular outdoor settings (Bad Day at Black Rock, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape). Released in 1951, Kind Lady is a black-and-white thriller with a claustrophobic set, but Sturges seemed equally adept within these perimeters. He milked the limited setting to its full advantage to create tension while adding visual interest through camera movement.

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What worth a glimpse into an archive?

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Gene Hayworth works at the university library here in Boulder and has many duties, one being that he manages various subscriptions for the faculty. He recently set up a trial with Entertainment Industry Magazine Archive and I promised him I’d poke around to see if the Film Studies faculty I work with might find it of interest. Given that this particular service costs well over a hundred times what I pay for access to my yearly IMDb Pro account, I was curious what it had to offer. I randomly picked six films, screening throughout the week a month from now on TCM, to plug into the search engine: Papillon, The In-Laws, Along the Great Divide, The Manitou, Spring Fever, and Baby Doll. Included here are some of the results. [...MORE]

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February 21, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Masters of Screwball 3: Sturges After Sturges (or, The Keystone Pipeline)

Here’s where we find ourselves–the proverbial wild west. A shapely blonde dancehall singer, clutching a smoking gun. She’s trembling with residual anger, surrounded by friends and allies who are aghast at her latest escapade. She’s just shot a judge, in the buttocks, for the second time in as many hours.

That’s what’s onscreen, in the opening salvo of Preston Sturges’ first Technicolor picture. To step out of the screen, though, we must acknowledge the disappointing truth. This was a disastrous flop for all concerned. Preston Sturges had just tossed 2 million of 20th Century Fox’s money into a hole. Betty Grable had just ruined her streak of profitable hits. Darryl F. Zanuck had just alienated one of Hollywood’s true geniuses. No one came out unscathed.

None of which is to imply that The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend is a waste of your time. Far from it. In fact, set aside that even lesser Sturges is still imminently watchable fun, let’s approach this more coldly. Not as a movie to be enjoyed, but as an archeological artifact to help us better understand Sturges’ genius, and its limitations.

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KEYWORDS: Betty Grable, Preston Sturges, The Beautiful Blonde From Bashful Bend
COMMENTS: 3
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