Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on December 10, 2013
Staring disconsolately at a blank wall as the Buffalo Bills are eliminated from playoff contention is one of my longest held traditions. It’s been fourteen years since that benighted franchise has played in the second season, and any damp flickerings of hope this go ’round were quashed after consecutive demolitions by league doormats (Falcons and Buccaneers). To avoid reflecting on these latest humiliations, I escape into pigskin fantasies of the silver screen. Luckily, TCM is airing a whole day of football flicks tomorrow, from 6:45 AM to 8PM. For heartsick fans of other downtrodden teams, may I suggest William Wellman’s College Coach (1933) and Jacques Tourneur’s Easy Living (1949)? The first is a speedy campus comedy with Pat O’Neil in short pants and a crooning Dick Powell, while the latter is a downbeat relationship drama with declining QB Victor Mature and his glory-hogging wife Lizbeth Scott. Neither will rescue your franchise from irrelevance, but they will pass the time until the indignities of next football Sunday.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 26, 2013
This tongue-in-cheek quote from director Christian Petzold identifies the severe economy of style associated with the “Berlin School” of filmmakers, now receiving a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Petzold, Thomas Arslan and Angela Schanelec each attended the Deutsche Film und Fernsehakademie Berlin (dffb) in the early 1990s under the tutelage of Harun Farocki and Hartmut Bitomsky. The three directors made recalcitrant, intensely observational genre films as a reaction to the 1990s “cinema of consensus” in Germany, as described by Eric Rentschler. The end of East Germany became the fodder for comedies like Go Trabi, Go (1991), along with the sober historical dramas that continue to this day (Downfall, The Lives of Others). This first generation of “Berlin School” directors instead wished to focus on the dislocations of the present, whether of the influx of Turkish immigrants, or internal displacement wrought by the shift from socialism to capitalism. Other directors with similar interests, who did not attend the dffb (including the editors of Revolver Magazine, Benjamin Heisenberg and Christoph Hochhausler), were later grouped with Petzold, Arslan and Schanelec as the “Berlin School” of filmmaking, which would produce the most critically-acclaimed German films since the “German New Wave” of Fassbinder, Herzog and Schroeter. It is a critic’s construct, first coined by German reviewer Merten Worthmann, and perhaps has led to the films being ignored in the United States. While “New Wave” suggests the vibrancy of youth, “Berlin School” elicits visions of pedantic schoolmasters chastising viewers with ruler thwacks to the wrist.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on November 12, 2013
“It didn’t take those women at the stage door to convince me I was nobody’s hero. I’d looked into a mirror once or twice. These light eyes, these limp features, these scars all over my face!”
-Lee Tracy, Picture Play Magazine, 1933
Although his career lasted until 1965, the image of Lee Tracy will forever be of a chatterbox on the make, established during his prolific run of pre-codes in the early 1930s. Whether he plays a tabloid reporter or ambulance chasing lawyer, Tracy’s characters were always looking for an angle as sharp as the crease in his fedora. His catalytic personality, a shotgun blast of nasal putdowns, led him to leading man roles, overcoming the perceived shortcomings of his pockmarked face, thinning hair and bantamweight build. Audiences, though, liked to root for this ruthless underdog. The Warner Archive released three Tracy pre-codes on DVD last week: The Half Naked Truth (’32) , Turn Back The Clock (’33) and The Nuisance (’33). In The Half Naked Truth, Tracy is a con-man/publicist as he turns hoochie coochie dancer Lupe Velez into a Broadway star. A hidden gem directed by Gregory La Cava, I wrote about it last year. So today I’ll focus on the latter two. He is cast against type in Turn Black the Clock, a proto It’s A Wonderful Life where his meek tobacconist is granted a time-traveling chance to re-live his life for money instead of love. The Nuisance, though, is a prime rat-a-tat Tracy, in which he hammers the local train company with phony injury claims, with the aid of his drunken doctor pal Frank Morgan. Cinematographer Gregg Toland and director Jack Conway make sure the camera moves with as much agility as Tracy’s tongue.
Posted by David Kalat on November 9, 2013
Once upon a time (1946), there was a movie (Two Smart People). It was a modest, unassuming thing. It was made on the cheap, and had no major stars (Lucille Ball and John Hodiak, supported by Elisha Cook Jr. and Lloyd Nolan). It was greeted by dismissive critical drubbing (The New York Times called it a “dreadfully boring hodgepodge about love and the confidence racket” that “suffers from lack of competent direction.” Ouch). It dutifully sank into the purgatory reserved for forgotten cinema. Subsequent surveys of film noir usually overlooked it, and even biographies of Lucy Ball felt no urge to linger over it.
And then, many decades later, the Warner Archive Collection hit upon a movie distribution business model that encouraged the commercial release of absolutely everything without regard to any expected sales figures. And so in 2013 it’s easy to sit down with a lovely DVD of Two Smart People and assess it with clear unjaundiced eyes—whereupon you will discover that OMG this thing rocks. Why, yes, yes it does.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 22, 2013
Poaching European talent has always been a popular Hollywood pastime, from Murnau to Lubitsch to Lang. Not every import had such an impact however, as proven by the reception of Caravan, a lavish 1934 gypsy musical directed by one Erik Charell. Charell and his leading lady Lilian Harvey had become a hot commodity after the international success of their German film operetta The Congress Dances (1932). Fox decided to make Caravan a “super-special” with a budget over a million dollars, importing French heartthrob Charles Boyer as the male lead. It was a financial and critical disaster, with the NY Times moaning that it was ”an exceptionally tedious enterprise”. Charell’s professional career was over – but what a way to go out (Harvey also flamed out in Hollywood after four films). Fully utilizing the emerging mobile camera technology, Caravan is a perpetually moving marvel, pirouetting through the gypsies like a fellow reveler. The average shot is thirty seven seconds long, so even expository conversations become epic journeys through the cavernous sets – providing an anarchic sense of freedom. Screening as part of MoMA’s “To Save and Project” series of film preservation, Caravan is a major re-discovery.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on October 20, 2013
Yesterday was International Home Movie Day, so it seemed fitting to watch Rock Hudson’s Home Movies (1992). The title of Mark Rappaport’s pseudo documentary is somewhat misleading, as the compilations of clips used are all taken from Hudson’s existing body of Hollywood work, rather than a personal stash of super-8 films. Actor Eric Farr appears sporadically as Hudson’s proxy to give voice to imagined musings by the actor as he speaks from beyond the grave on selected excerpts. From the Journals of Jean Seaberg finds Rappaport refining a similar template three years later, and in both cases there is an interesting appropriation of personality at work. In a curious turn of events, Rappaport’s name has been in the headlines recently due to a dispute involving an appropriation of his work, his films and his legacy, by Boston University Film professor Ray Carney – a story which has taken on a life of its own with plenty of extensive coverage. What surprises me is that, here it is, late October, a time when I should be joining all my fellow Morlocks writing about my favorite scary films, and instead I’m writing about Doris Day. To be more specific; the subject is the Day/Hudson romantic comedy Send Me No Flowers (1964), which screens tonight on TCM. But, you know what? There is actually something creepy about Doris Day… [...MORE]
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on October 17, 2013
Throughout the course of Vincent Price’s long career he worked with some of my favorite actresses such as Barbara Steele, Diana Rigg, Jennifer Jones and Linda Hayden. But if I had to point to Price’s most important costar I would single out the incomparable Gene Tierney who appeared in four movies with Price beginning with the historical adventure HUDSON’S BAY (1941) followed by Otto Preminger’s film noir masterpiece LAURA (1944), John M. Stahl’s suspenseful dark drama LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ spooky gothic thriller DRAGONWICK (1946). The last three films form a cinematic triumvirate loosely linked together by unbridled passion, suppressed madness, family secrets, romantic treachery, personal greed and ghosts. These elements become a large part of the dramatic template for many of Vincent Price’s best horror films including HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959), HOUSE OF USHER (1960), THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM (1961), THE HAUNTED PALACE (1963), THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1965) and THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1970) but they can be traced back to the three films he made with Gene Tierney.
Posted by Susan Doll on October 14, 2013
Librarian-archivist Christina Rice has just penned Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel, the first major biography of this star who has been forgotten by the public but still beloved by movie lovers. She was kind enough to let me interview her about the book, which will be TCM’s Book Corner Selection for November. Evidently, we Morlocks like to hobnob with the literary set, as evidenced by Greg Ferrara’s recent interview with Kendra Bean, author of Vivien Leigh: An Intimate Portrait, and a previous interview with Ms. Rice by Richard Harlan Smith about her expertise on Dvorak.
Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel will be officially released on November 4 via the University Press of Kentucky. If you live in Los Angeles, drop by the release party on November 12 at the Central Library on West 6th Street. Please read on for expert insights into Dvorak’s life and recommendations for her best films.
SD: Can you briefly summarize the scope of Ann Dvorak’s career for those who may only know her from her most well-known films, Scarface and Three on a Match? And, what type of role/character was her forte?
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 8, 2013
In its 51st edition the venerable New York Film Festival is testing its boundaries. While still a small, tightly curated affair compared to the industry bacchanals of Toronto and Cannes, they’ve been slowly increasing their scope. There are 36 official selection entries this year, thirteen more than 2011, and have expanded the Revivals and Views of the Avant Garde sections to the point where they could stand on their own. A mammoth Jean-Luc Godard retrospective is also running concurrently with the festival. The official selection was heavy on the Brits this year (with four, although I didn’t see any), and otherwise tried for their usual balance of star power (Captain Phillips) and experimentation (Norte, the End of History, all of Views).
The Centerpiece screening was the world premiere of Ben Stiller’s The Secret World of Walter Mitty, the second adaptation of James Thurber’s short story, following the 1947 Danny Kaye vehicle. Stiller’s directorial outings, from The Cable Guy (1996) to Tropic Thunder (2008), have been dark and masochistic comedies about pop culture’s corrosive power. Mitty, on the other hand, is a nostalgia piece, mourning the transition from analog to digital. Having little relation to Thurber’s moody miniature, Stiller’s Mitty takes the daydreaming office drone and shunts him into a world-hopping, mountain climbing journey of self-discovery, kind of a middle-aged male’s Eat Pray Love. Where Thurber’s story ends with Mitty fantasizing about his own demise, Stiller’s closes with all of his dreams coming true.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 26, 2013
As regular readers may or may not know, one of my hobbies is doll collecting. While perusing some recent doll releases I came across photos of a couple of new dolls based on one of my favorite romantic comedies, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967), starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. The dolls are part of the Poppy Parker line produced by Integrity Toys, which has also created a number of other impressive dolls based on classic movies including BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961), SABRINA (1954), FUNNY FACE (1957), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and MOMMIE DEAREST (1981). As both a doll collector and a classic movie fan I’ve been really impressed with the attention to detail that goes into these dolls so I decided to contact David Buttry, an acquaintance who works for Integrity Toys, and ask him a few questions about the company. I hope classic movies fans as well as fellow doll collectors will appreciate his answers and enjoy the accompanying photos.
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