Technicolor Daze: Scaramouche, Chad Hanna, and Apache Drums

 

scaramouche-janet-leigh-stewart-everettChad-Hanna-Half-Sheet20002

When I have an empty afternoon to kill, I go to the movies.  This past Saturday my hours were filled to bursting with the “Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond” series at MoMA, which runs through August 5th. The way the schedule fell, my matinees were made up of MGM’s frothy swashbuckler Scaramouche (1952) and the kindly circus folk of 20th Century Fox’s Chad Hanna (1940), with the prime evening slot held by the dark, violent Universal-International Western, Apache Drums (1952). This is a series after my own heart, a 60+ feature cavalcade of movies classic and obscure from 1922 – 1955, all exhibited on film (a rarer and rarer pleasure). My random sampling spanned two decades, three genres, and a variety of approaches to Technicolor. Scaramouche is all gleaming candy colors — you are almost invited to go up and lick the screen. Chad Hanna and Apache Drums are more subdued in their palettes, both making use of darkness and chiaroscuro to capture folds in upstate New York circus tents and candlelight in a Southwestern church under siege, respectively.

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June 27, 2015
David Kalat
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Uh oh, Monster Zero

In the mid-sixties, United Productions of America’s Henry Saperstein went shopping for high quality monster movies for North American distribution. Toho Studios shared with Hammer Studios in England the reputation of producing a steady supply of monster movies with a consistent level of quality. Choosing to deal with Toho rather than Hammer, Saperstein eventually won the confidence of Toho producer Tomoyuki Tanaka.

Saperstein’s involvement began with Frankenstein Conquers the World, which was then already in preproduction, and continued for years—on to the likes of War of the Gargantuas, and later Godzilla’s Revenge and Terror of Mechagodzilla.

Monster Zero would be Saperstein’s first full-fledged co-production, and boy is it a doozy. (Check it out Sunday the 28th for yourself)

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KEYWORDS: Godzilla, Henry Saperstein, Kumi Mizuno, Nick Adams
COMMENTS: 6
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Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl

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You can catch Arlene Dahl in a number of films airing on TCM in July:
• SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949) JULY 03
• NO QUESTIONS ASKED (1951) JULY 17
• LIFE WITH FATHER (1947) JULY 29

Arlene Dahl was a stunning redhead and a capable actress who I’ve enjoyed watching in a number of films including REIGN OF TERROR (1949), SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), WOMAN’S WORLD (1954) and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). However, her most successful career was in the multibillion-dollar beauty industry where she started as a syndicated columnist offering advice on dieting, plastic surgery, make-up, fashion and the latest hairstyling trends. By 1954 she was managing her own line of lingerie and cosmetics under the Arlene Dahl Enterprises banner and in 1965 she published her first of many books titled Always Ask a Man: The Key to Femininity. Dahl’s book capitalized on her Hollywood credentials and dished out beauty tips along with suggestions on how women could best attract and keep their men.

With the women’s movement on the rise and the sexual revolution bubbling loudly under the surface of polite society, the mid-sixties was a challenging time. Especially for women like Arlene Dahl who had accepted her place, no matter how begrudgingly, in a society that often treated her like a second-class citizen. And although she had admirably managed to create a successful business for herself at a time when American women still weren’t allowed to get an Ivy League education, Dahl makes it clear in Always Ask a Man that she was no bra burning radical. Her antiquated ideas about womanhood are supported, and in some cases weakened, by a surprising number of male actors who are quoted throughout her book. These beloved film figures, including Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Bob Hope, Richard Burton and Burt Lancaster, freely offered their thoughts on femininity and beauty to Arlene Dahl, which she undoubtedly hoped would help sell her book and boost her arguments. 50-years-later, many of the actor’s casual comments are cringe-inducing reminders of a bygone era while others are more thoughtful and enduring. As history, particularly Hollywood history, their observations on women in 1965 makes for fascinating reading so I decided to collect some of the more provocative quotes and share them here.

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Postwar Amnesiac Blues: The Clay Pigeon (1949)

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After the conclusion of WWII, the subject of the returning soldier became a popular one in B-movies, with the image of a dazed G-man wandering desolate back alleys becoming cinematic shorthand for post-traumatic stress. While the prestige pics explored how the soldiers’ physical toll left psychological scars (The Best Years of Our Lives, Pride of the Marines), the Bs were blunter in opting for amnesiac narratives, in which the veterans have lost all memory of their war efforts, and have to piece it back together, usually in a labyrinthine urban environment (Somewhere in the NightThe Crooked Way). These stories usually find a way to reconstitute these broken men and integrate them back into America. The Clay Pigeon (1949) is a particularly effective film noir of this type, directed by Richard Fleischer from a Carl Foreman script for RKO, soon after Howard Hughes took over. Released by the Warner Archive on DVD this month, its post-war America is one of paranoia and betrayal, where one is guilty until proven innocent.

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Ozark Elegy: The Shepherd of the Hills (1941)

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After the success of Stagecoach (1939), John Wayne was in demand. While still under contract to poverty row Republic Studios, he was lent out to United Artists for The Long Voyage Home (1940), Universal for Seven Sinners (1940) and Paramount for The Shepherd of the Hills (1941). While still making interesting features for Republic, including Raoul Walsh’s Dark Command (1940), he was positioning himself as prestige-picture ready. Shepherd of the Hills was a prime property adapted from a million-selling novel, to be shot in Technicolor by director Henry Hathaway and DPs Charles Lang and W. Howard Greene. Hathaway was an advocate for location shooting, and had already filmed Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) in Technicolor at Big Bear Lake in California, where Shepherd would end up as well. The ongoing “Glorious Technicolor” series at the Museum of Modern Art is screening both Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Shepherd of the Hills as part of its sixty feature extravaganza. Shepherd is a delicate, strange and mournful drama of the breakdown of an insular Ozark Mountain community, one trapped in a cycle of intergenerational violence. John Wayne stars alongside his childhood Western hero Harry Carey, and the film acts as a series of lessons from Carey to Wayne, on and off screen.

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June 13, 2015
David Kalat
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The Blank Stare of Harry Langdon

Back when I started my endless ramblings about the transition from silent slapstick to screwball comedies, I led by singling out Harry Langdon’s Tramp, Tramp, Tramp as a fulcrum point where screwball becomes imperative. So it’s time to come back to Harry Langdon, and indulgently celebrate what made him so gloriously awesome, even if his style of comedy was unsustainable over the long run. Harry, this one’s for you.

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KEYWORDS: Harry Langdon
COMMENTS: 3
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Men Among Monsters: Remembering Christopher Lee & Richard Johnson

leejohnsonChristopher Lee & Richard Johnson

Horror fans received a double blow this week. It started with the news that Richard Johnson (1927-2015) had died and today we woke up to the news that Christopher Lee (1922-2015), arguably the last of the great classic horror film icons, had shuffled off this mortal coil to join his old pal Peter Cushing in repose.

Both Lee and Johnson worked in a variety of film genres and played remarkably similar roles throughout their careers including soldiers, kings, adventure seekers, fortune hunters, cops, criminals, doctors, professors, investigators, government spies and spy villains. But for myself and many others, it is their distinct body of work in horror films that has made the most impact and will undoubtedly survive them for many decades to come.

Before learning about Lee’s passing I was preparing a written tribute to Richard Johnson, which you’ll find below, but I couldn’t possibly let Lee’s death go unmentioned. He remains one of my favorite performers and a giant among men both figuratively and literally. The tall, dark and strikingly handsome actor will undoubtedly receive many well-deserved accolades today and in the weeks to come but I hope you’ll make time to watch TCM’s touching video tribute.

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June 6, 2015
David Kalat
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The Rise and Fall of Jimmy Parrott

For the last several weeks we’ve been looking at romantic comedies of the 1930s/40s, specifically the talented filmmakers and (mostly female) comedians whose careers flourished with the transition from slapstick to screwball. But in this story there are some gaps—potholes in history where was supposed to be, for some reason, wasn’t. Consider poor Jimmy Parrott, doomed to live and die in the shadow of his brother Charley.

Jimmy Parrott, or James Parrott, or Paul Parrott, call him what you will, was a talented screen comedian with real gifts for gag construction and physical business. Off camera he was a brilliant comedy writer and director who helped shape the careers of numerous comedy stars, and helped define the unique magic of the Hal Roach studio. Many of his contemporaries who followed the same career trajectory ended up as leading lights of the new screwball mode (as we’ve seen these last few weeks). But Jimmy Parrott was haunted by various personal demons that would bring him to a tragic and untimely end before he had a chance to reap that reward.

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KEYWORDS: charley chase, hal roach, Jimmy Parrott, laurel and hardy
COMMENTS: 2
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Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings

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Maybe it was the Hollywood homes featured in my last post or the ongoing worldwide celebration of Orson Welles 100th birthday? Whatever the reason, I spent a great deal of time thinking about William Randolph Hearst and his massive estate at San Simeon last week. As any classic film fan worth their salt knows, the newspaper mogul once played host to many Hollywood stars and starlets at Hearst Castle and his life was brilliantly satirized by Welles’ in CITIZEN KANE (1941). For better or worse, the film has forever colored our view of Hearst as well as his mistress, actress Marion Davies, while his home remains a mythical Xanadu currently opened to the public as a state run museum that I once had the pleasure to visit.

I was at the impressionable age of 10 or 11-years old when I got the opportunity to explore Hearst Castle and the experience left an undeniable mark on my young mind. My late grandmother, who lived a short distance away in Goleta, California, planned the trip and I knew nothing about the place until we arrived at the entrance and I was bombarded by guide books and picture postcards that featured familiar faces from the movies I’d grown up watching. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Clark Gable were just a few of the recognizable celebrities that had once graced these hallowed grounds while participating in private sporting events and attending extravagant parties.

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The Hollywood Style

hollywoodsbookRegular readers might remember a blog post I wrote last year about Hollywood portrait photographer Eliot Elisofon. I’m a huge admirer of his work so I decided to track down used copies of some of the books he wrote and one of my most interesting recent purchases was a lavish coffee table photo collection titled The Hollywood Style originally published in 1969 and co-authored by film historian Arthur Knight. The book provides an intimate look at the luxurious homes of various classic film actors and directors while combining three of my personal passions, history, photography and pre-80s interior design, into an impressive triumvirate that revels in Hollywood extravagance.

If you’ve ever pondered the design of Cecil B. DeMille’s home office or wondered what Jennifer Jones’ bedroom might look like you should find the following photos as curious and captivating as I did.

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