asta 2
February 15, 2014
David Kalat
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Dog Star

Later this week, TCM is running a programming block to pay tribute to all of the 1937 Best Supporting Actor Nominees.  Which is one of those gloriously random, weirdly specific programming decisions that makes TCM such a delightful destination for obsessive compulsives.  The channel will run Leo McCarey’s screwball classic The Awful Truth, in honor of Ralph Bellamy’s Best Supporting Actor nod.  And that’s all fine and well and good—Bellamy is excellent in his “Right Wrong Man” role—but if you really want to celebrate the best supporting performance in this film, you need to be looking at Asta the Dog.

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KEYWORDS: After the Thin Man, Asta the Dog, Comedies of Remarriage, Screwball Comedy, The Awful Truth, The Thin Man
COMMENTS: 15
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January 25, 2014
David Kalat
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George C. Scott unwittingly trained a dolphin to kill the President of the United States

Mike Nichols was a veteran comedy director of stage and screen, not to mention a comedy performer of no small renown.  He would go on to become of the few people to win an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and a Tony (the fabled EGOT)—all but the Emmy being won for his comedy work.

Buck Henry was a prolific comedy writer whose career had taken him from the writing staff of The Steve Allen Show to co-creating Get Smart with Mel Brooks to updating Howard Hawks’ screwball classic Bringing Up Baby for a new generation under the title What’s Up Doc?  In the years to come he would become a recurring host of Saturday Night Live, a contributor to The Daily Show and a guest star on 30 Rock.

Together they had collaborated on The Graduate, and Catch 22.  They had a contractual obligation to producer Joseph E. Levine for a third film—and so in 1973 Mike Nichols and Buck Henry made a paranoid conspiracy thriller about a plot to use talking dolphins to assassinate the President.  This is a not a joke.

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KEYWORDS: Buck Henry, George C. Scott, Mike Nichols, The Day of the Dolphin
COMMENTS: 12
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More Cat/egories…

Harry & Tonto

My last post was spurred on (emphasis on “purr”) by the poster for Inside Llewyn Davis. The protagonist of that film at one point passes by a poster for The Incredible Journey (Fletcher Markle, 1963), which is a Disney movie about two dogs and one cat going trying to find their way home. The name for the cat that Llewyn Davis chases throughout the film is Ulysses, which was actually played by three tabbies – neither of which gets a credit in the film. (Sacrilege! Someone call P.E.T.A.) Whether the movie viewers then choose to consult Joyce or Homer for further inside references is a matter of taste. For me, because the story concerns a man who is ejected from his NYC environment who goes off on a series of adventures, which include alienating his family (and later getting back together with family), all while having some adventures on the road with a cat, I couldn’t help but think of Harry & Tonto (Paul Mazursky, 1975) – a film that starred two tabbies in the starring role of Tonto. But, mainly, it made me think of cats and movie posters. So here, as promised, are more images of exactly that. [...MORE]

Cinematic Cat-egories

Postcard of Luna Park

I was going to write about The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), because it’s screening tomorrow on TCM and, also, because the latest Coen brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis (2013), opens theatrically this coming Friday. Instead, I got stuck on the Inside Llewyn Davis poster. There is something about its composition that I find very striking. To notice it, you’ll have to ignore the top and bottom, which are lame in the ways that most movie posters are routinely lame: emphasizing celebrity names up top, and then all the normal credits at bottom. The middle section, however, is inspired. I can’t stop looking at the cat. There are several reasons for this, and the first is due to the sight-lines, which immediately reminded me of the Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog (1818) painting by famous German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. It’s a classic example of a visual construction where all the lines lead to the center. Except in Friedrich’s case the lines of the natural landscape converge on man, whereas with the Inside Llewyn Davis poster, the sight-lines provided by the New York City streetscape converge on the cat. I think this is great because, in my humble opinion, any movie poster is immediately improved with the addition of a feline presence. Since our furry little friends are said to have nine lives, in this post I’ll be looking at how cats have been depicted throughout cinema in nine different categories. [...MORE]

Rin Tin Tin: “He Could Leap 12 Feet and He Could Leap Through Time”

Author Susan Orlean recently published Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, a biography of the canine movie star. Instead of doing the usual round of book signings at bookstores, which are seldom lucrative these days unless the author is a star or celebrity, Orlean is touring theaters. The author is using the occasion to introduce new generations to Rin Tin Tin by showing a 1925 film starring the talented canine. I thoroughly enjoyed Orlean’s program, which included a short film about Rin Tin Tin, a reading from the book, a screening of Clash of the Wolves, a Q&A with the author, and a signing for those who purchased the book. If Orlean comes to your area, I can’t recommend her program enough; it offers much to think about regarding the meaning and value of pop culture in America, the bond between humans and animals, and the need for writers to find a larger context for their memories and experiences.

Unlike Lassie, who was a character created for the movies and played by several male dogs, Rin Tin Tin was a real pet from the real world before he became a movie star. And, there is much about his life story that is as heart-wrenching as any script for a movie. In September 1918, U.S. soldier Lee Duncan found a family of German shepherds in a bombed-out kennel in Fluiry in the Meuse Valley of France. A female with five puppies seemed to be the last survivors in the kennel, and Duncan took it upon himself to rescue them. He found homes for the mother and three pups, but he adopted the remaining two puppies, which he named Rin Tin Tin and Nenette (some sources use “Nanette”) after popular French dolls of the time. When he tried to arrange for passage for the two puppies on his return trip home to America, he ran into red tape. An officer intervened on Duncan’s behalf, and the puppies made the arduous voyage. Sadly, Nenette died from canine distemper shortly after her arrival in the States, but Rin Tin Tin grew into a strong, athletic dog. A striking-looking dog, Rin Tin Tin was nearly black, with gold marbling on his legs, chin, and chest. His unusually large, tulip-shaped ears were expressive, signaling mood or emotion through their twitchy movements or erect position.

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