The Last Picture Show

Bogdanovich Last Picture Show

“I thought you might want to go to the picture show. Miss Mosey is having to close it. Tonight’s the last night.” – Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms)

How is it that nobody has done a modern version of The Last Picture Show? I realize that Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 film, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry, is about much more than Miss Mosey having to close down the movie theater due to dwindling business and the rise of television, but let’s face it: the death of the Royal Theater in a small town, circa 1952, serves as a larger emblem of the many chapters in life that open and close for the characters of Anarene, Texas. It does so in ways that are understandable for anyone going through adolescence, their mid-life, and even death. Still: so much is implied by the four simple words of the title that it’s no surprise the book caught the eye of someone like Bogdanovich.

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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]

On the Cheap: Hollywood Boulevard (1976)

hollywood boulevard

Roger Corman’s career would be impossible today. There is no more infrastructure for low-budget genre experimentation, as filmmakers must increasingly rely on crowd-funding to get their modest projects off the ground (even Spike Lee took that route last week), with little hope of distribution. The only outfit as prolific as Corman’s New World Pictures is The Asylum, the mock-busters behind Sharknado, except their model doesn’t encourage the young but re-animates the old for a quick buck. Larry Fessenden’s Glass Eye Pix shares Corman’s huckster spirit and eye for talent, but only has the funds to make 2-3 films a year (New World could crank out 10). And while there is plenty of creativity on display in direct-to-video action movies (like Jesse V. Johnson and Isaac Florentine), they are totally isolated from Hollywood at-large, never graduating to larger productions like Corman alumni Martin Scorsese and Joe Dante. What we are robbed of from this lack is gonzo oddities like Dante and Allan Arkush’s Hollywood Boulevard (1976), a no-budget satire of an exploitation film production. Streaming on Netflix (cropped from 1.85 to 1.33, sadly), it’s a loving take-down of Corman’s shoestring flicks “shamelessly loaded with sex and violence”, per the tagline.

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Lucy vs. Lucille Ball

Recorder alert: set your DVRs for June 13th’s middle-of-the-night airing of the underrated screwball gem Next Time I Marry. This fun B-movie is a thinly-disguised knock-off of It Happened One Night, starring Lucille Ball in one of her most characteristic screen appearances, directed by the great Garson Kanin. There’s no good excuse for this treasure to be so little known, or to be relegated to such a bleary-eyed time slot, and if you don’t set a timer you’ll probably miss this chance to catch up with it.

(For some reason the movie poster doesn’t look anything like Lucille Ball, or costar James Ellison)

1938 Next time I marry (ing) 01

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George Sherman, Director of Westerns

16_1939 Wyoming Outlaw

When director George Sherman passed away at the age of 82 in 1991, he was noted only for the quantity of his output. The obituaries in both the Los Angeles and New York Times pointed out the “175″ credits he had accrued as a director for screens both large and small (IMDb lists 126), although nothing as to their quality aside from their “low-budget” origins. I recently enjoyed some of Sherman’s Three Mesquiteers Westerns that he made for Republic (which I wrote about here), but a recent column by Dave Kehr has made me ravenous for more. Reviewing Dawn at Soccoro (1954, released as part of a TCM Vault Collection), Kehr describes him as “experimental”, and the film as,  “a western that might have been imagined by Kafka.” Fortuitously, more of Sherman’s work has been reaching home video. Last month Universal released a budget-priced “Classic Westerns” set of 10 films that include two Shermans: Comanche Territory (1950) and Tomahawk (1951), while Olive Films finished off their stash of John Wayne Mesquiteers films with Wyoming Outlaw (1939).

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Sing a song, quote-along, and be a part of the party – at the movies.

Going to the movies has long been considered a mostly passive experience where you quietly sit in darkness to be carried off by a visual experience. A growing number of small exhibitors, however, are changing their tune. Instead of telling their customers to stay quiet during the film, they have been actively encouraging everyone at specific shows to sing-along, quote-along, and even share their texted heckles to hecklable-ready films via HECKLEVISION. There will, of course, always be new ways to have fun at the expense of poorly made films, but I’m more interested in the first two categories because of their celebratory nature. To sing a song from a film with other devotees, or to quote its lines in chorus, these add a rather touching and joyous element that one can easily imagine would warm the hearts of those who worked hard to make the film in question. Having missed my chance to attend a recent Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along, I’m looking forward to a pending screening in my area, made possible by Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, of a Labyrinth Sing-Along. I recently had the opportunity to ask Greg MacLennan, the Director of Interactive Programming at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, some questions about some of the other films that are currently enjoying revivals thanks to different forms of crowd participation.

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Snapshots of the Fall: Part II

In my last post I provided a look behind the curtain for the first five weeks of film programming for my fall film calendar. This week we look at the remaining 24 titles that round out the schedule. It features everything from classics such as Vertigo to the state premiere of the latest uncompromising and visually arresting film by Bruno Dumont, Outside Satan (a scene of which is pictured above). [...MORE]

DTV Action Items (Part 3): Inmate at The Asylum, an interview with director Richard Schenkman

This is the third and final post in  DTV ACTION ITEMS, a three-part series on direct-to-video action movies. Click here for Part 1, an interview with Outlaw Vern, and here for Part 2, a profile of actor Stone Cold Steve Austin.

The Asylum is the most disreputable studio in that most disreputable of markets: direct-to-video. They made their name cranking out cheaply made “mockbusters”, thinly veiled ripoffs of Hollywood blockbusters starring Z-list celebrities, many of which air in constant rotation on the SyFy channel. Last month Universal Studios sued them for copyright infringement on The Asylum’s Battleship take-off, American Battleship, starring Mario Van Peebles and Carl Weathers. Despite a hilariously cocky press release defending their film (” Looking for a scapegoat, or more publicity, for its pending box-office disaster, the executives at Universal filed this lawsuit in fear of a repeat of the box office flop, John Carter of Mars. The Universal action is wholly without merit and we will vigorously defend their claims in Court. Nonetheless, we appreciate the publicity.”), they changed the title to American Warships, which will be released on video May 22nd.

They are a crew of brilliantly amoral hucksters pranking Hollywood for fun and profit — a commendable goal for sure, but are the movies worth watching? When I spoke to Outlaw Vern two weeks back, he didn’t think so, nothing that “I get a laugh from the titles and covers like everybody else, but the parts I’ve seen have been terrible and not in a fun way.” One of their upcoming releases may indicate an uptick in quality, for Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies (out on DVD/Blu on May 29th) is a taut, resourceful piece of survival horror, completely lacking the forced campiness of most of The Asylum product. First-time Asylum director Richard Schenkman is an industry veteran who has made everything from indie comedies (The Pompatus of Love) to sci-fi (The Man From Earth), and his experience pays off. The pace is snappy, the action well-staged, and lead actor Bill Oberst is gruffly engaging as Honest Abe. I’d be surprised if its Hollywood counterpart, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, is as energetically entertaining. I spoke with Mr. Schenkman about his path into moviemaking, his opinion of The Asylum, and his experience shooting Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies.

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Quatermass and the X

Quatermass creator and screenwriter Nigel Kneale (1922 – 2006) has his roots in the Isle of Man, a small patch of over 200 square miles in size that is located between Great Britain and Ireland. Megalithic monuments that heralded a new development in human technology began to appear on the Isle of Man during the Neolithic Age. At present, the island is the center for various competing private space travel companies that are vying for a thirty million dollar Google Lunar X Prize, organized by the X Prize Foundation. “X” marks the spot, and in this case it’s where reality and space travel intersect, bringing us back to Nigel Kneale and The Quatermass Xperiment (U.S. title: The Creeping Unknown), which was the first feature film to introduce his beloved alien-battling character of Professor Bernard Quatermass of the British Experimental Rocket Group. [...MORE]

Edward L. Cahn’s You Have To Run Fast (1961)

Edward L. Cahn directed 11 films in 1961, and You Have to Run Fast was one of them. MGM recently released it on their DVD burn-on-demand service in a crisp transfer, making it easy to appreciate the thriller’s tight construction and  open-air location shooting. The AFI Catalog lists no production dates but it was undoubtedly completed in a week or two before Cahn and producer Robert E. Kent moved on to the next programmer (17 of which are now streaming on Netflix). I was tipped to Cahn’s work by Dave Kehr’s “Further Research” column in the November/December 2011 Film Comment, where he says, “Cahn…seemed to embrace the aesthetic of speed with a passion and personal commitment not always apparent in the work of his more feverishly productive Poverty Row peers.” Cahn reportedly filmed “an astonishing 40 setups a day”, but as You Have to Run Fast clearly shows, they flow with an ironclad visual logic, and establish a moral equivalency between a mob boss and the innocent he is tracking down.

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