One for all, and all for one!

FOUR MUSKETEERS, THE, Frank Finlay, Michael York, Richard Chamberlain, Oliver Reed, 1974.

To view The Three Musketeers click here.

To view The Four Musketeers click here.

Director Richard Lester was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but he made some of the best British films of the 1960s. Inspired by Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati, he developed an acute funny bone and an appreciation of the absurd that allowed him to work side-by-side with bastions of British comedy such as Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. Lester’s sense of humor also appealed to The Beatles who personally selected the expat director to record the band’s exploits in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965). This music-fueled double feature introduced the Fab Four to audiences around the world and revealed how quirky, lively and charismatic the band could be on and off the stage. In both films, Lester aptly spotlighted the mop-tops playful camaraderie as they challenged authority, outwitted ostensible villains and used teamwork to right perceived wrongs.

By presenting The Beatles as a group of countercultural champions, the director laid the groundwork for many of his future films which included reinterpreting legends (Robin and Marian [1976], Butch and Sundance: The Early Days [1979]) and superheroes (Superman II [1980], Superman III [1983]). But outside of The Beatles movies, the best example of Lester’s appreciation for comical heroes can be found in The Three Musketeers (1974) and its impromptu sequel, The Four Musketeers (1974) currently streaming on FilmStruck.

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Shattered Glass: The Tin Drum (1979)

TIN DRUM, THE (1979)

To view The Tin Drum click here.

There’s a scene in the novel, The Tin Drum, by Gunter Grass, that portrays a place called The Onion Cellar Club. It’s a place where Germans can go to listen to music, cut open onions and weep. The onions provide the tears. It’s a harsh symbol, implying that the emotions that would naturally bring the tears are nonexistent. It also implies they’ve got a lot to cry about and much soul-cleansing to do. The movie does not contain such a scene but goes a different path, taking the seemingly unfilmable novel and narrowing it down to a little under three hours. It won the Palme d’Or at Cannes but many readers of the book were disappointed. I was not. I am never disappointed because a movie isn’t like the book. Two different mediums require two different routes to the same destination. I’m not even disappointed when a movie seems to project an entirely different attitude or tone than the novel, as long as it succeeds and stands on its own merits.  But does the 1979 adaptation do so? I’m not convinced.

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Inside Chuck Barris’s Head: Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002)

CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND (2002)

To view Confessions of a Dangerous Mind click here.

Innovative game show creator Chuck Barris, one of my favorite showbiz figures, died in March of this year. Obituaries rightly acknowledged his influence on reality television. While he created many game shows as head of Chuck Barris Productions, there are three that made pop culture history. The Dating Game (1965-1986), The Newlywed Game (1966-1974) and The Gong Show (1976-1980) shared in common a format designed to exploit the spontaneous and the unpredictable. The shows’ premises—dating, marriage and the desire to be the center of attention—often resulted in responses from contestants that could be embarrassing and downright humiliating.

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It’s Okay with Me: The Long Goodbye (1973)

THE LONG GOODBYE, Elliott Gould, 1973

As with many years past, I’m spending the transitional period between Christmas and New Year’s in Los Angeles — and as anyone else around here can tell you, it’s a calm but vaguely spooky environment. All of the usual traffic jams and chattering people have temporarily vanished into the ether, leaving a city still filled with sunlight, palm trees and holiday decorations everywhere. We’ve seen a lot of notable films shot in L.A. over the decades (and you can sample most of them in the superb documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself), but the one that really captures this eerie feeling of being in L.A. at winter time (even if it isn’t specifically set at that time of year) is The Long Goodbye (1973), one of the great ’70s noir films and a highlight in the career of director Robert Altman. [...MORE]

Truffaut’s Waltz into Darkness

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Though he still doesn’t quite enjoy household name status, Cornell Woolrich might be the most influential American mystery writer of the past century. The adaptations are an obvious place to start with Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) leading the pack, but his real legacy is the way he permanently embedded modern thrillers with recurring themes of the unreliability of memory, the pitfalls of falling in love with someone you think you know and the inescapable darkness that can claim even the most virtuous of souls. If you want to find out where films like Memento (2000) and The Usual Suspects (1995) came from, look no further than this master storyteller.

Hollywood really jumped on the Woolrich bandwagon in the ‘40s with a slew of radio adaptations as well as fascinating films like The Leopard Man (1943), Phantom Lady (1944), The Chase (1946), and Night Has a Thousand Eyes (1948). The big screen took less of an interest in him the following decades as television honed in on him instead, churning out numerous versions of his novels and short stories for home viewers on such programs as Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Thriller. The 1960s would prove to be Woolrich’s last decade on earth with his passing in 1968, but he had another resurgence from a most unlikely source: acclaimed French filmmaker François Truffaut.

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MOLLY HASKELL ON THE IMAGE OF WOMEN IN THE MOVIES

blogopener copyThis month, TCM spotlights “Trailblazing Women–Actresses Who Made a Difference,” a series of movies featuring female stars who contributed to the industry, culture, and society. The series covers all eras of movie history, from Mary Pickford, who was an industry powerhouse in the silent days, to Jane Fonda and Cicely Tyson, who were activists off the screen in 1970s and 1980s. The program is the second part of a three-year effort in partnership with Women in Film (WIF) in which TCM devotes October to championing the achievements of women in Hollywood

TCM viewers who are enjoying “Trailblazing Women” should check out the new, third edition of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by film historian Molly Haskell. Haskell, who sometimes cohosts on TCM, covers the silent era to the late 20th century, the same time frame as “Trailblazing Women.” While there is some overlap between the series and the book, Haskell’s focus is on the image of women in the movies, the stars who embodied these images, and the relationship of these images to women in society.

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Panning for Gold with Nicolas Roeg’s Eureka

Eureka 1 I have a real soft spot for that strange period after the ‘70s when all the British filmmaking enfants terribles tried to wedge their styles into a movie landscape that had radically changed in front of them. Ken Russell tore into the American cinematic arena with Altered States (1980) and Crimes of Passion (1984); Lindsay Anderson veered from satirical outrage with Britannia Hospital (1982) to genteel drama with The Whales of August (1987); John Boorman went phantasmagorical with Excalibur (1981) and primitive with The Emerald Forest (1985); Derek Jarman dispensed with narrative entirely for The Angelic Conversation (1985) and The Last of England (1988). Then there’s the strange case of Nicolas Roeg, who was riding high after the triple punch of Walkabout (1970), Don’t Look Now (1973), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Needless to say, the early ‘80s took him in some very surprising directions, first with the very ill-received Bad Timing (1980), which is now regarded as a transgressive classic, and what remains one of his most neglected and misunderstood films, Eureka (1983), airing on TCM in the appropriately wee hours of Friday. [...MORE]

Roddy McDowall: Celebrity Photographer

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Roddy McDowall surrounded by some of the celebrity portraits he took

On Monday, Aug. 15, Roddy McDowall will be headlining TCM’s Summer Under the Stars line-up. McDowell spent most of his life in the spotlight after landing his first film role in the British children’s film Scruffy (1938) when he was only 10-years-old. In 1940 his family relocated to Los Angeles to escape the London Blitz following the outbreak of WW2 and soon afterward he appeared in the Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley (1941) directed by John Ford. The film made McDowell a household name and the acclaimed child actor quickly landed parts in a number of family friendly films including My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943). In the 1950s, McDowall took a break from Hollywood and practiced his craft on stage but he returned in 1960 and continued to act in movies and television until his death in 1998.

During his long career, McDowall developed a passion for photography and Hollywood history. He revered his fellow actors and began snapping candid pictures of his costars on and off set when he was just a teenager. As he got older, McDowall’s obsession developed into a serious artistic pursuit and he became a highly respected professional photographer. His photos appeared in many prestigious magazines including LIFE, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest, Premiere and Playboy and his work was displayed in galleries. He also shot album covers and book jacket portraits for a number of famous friends.

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Summer Reading Suggestions

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Pull up a chair and pour yourself a nice cold glass of something. It’s time for my annual nonfiction Summer Reading Suggestions!

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The Moving Picture Girls

blogopenerWhile wandering through an antique mall in the middle of nowhere, I came across a beat-up bookcase crammed into a corner nook. As I walked toward it, a book caught my attention right away: The Movie Picture Girls. The faded brown cover showed a man cranking an old silent-movie camera while two young girls appeared in cameo portraits above him; it was clear that this was a girls’ adventure book about the movies.

The cover lists the author as Laura Lee Hope, who, according to the back insert, was also the author of The Bobbsey Twins series. The copyright date is 1914, an interesting juncture in film history when the industry was in the process of exiting the East Coast to make Hollywood its new company town. If Laura Lee Hope sounds like a too-perfect name for an author of young women’s fiction, then you won’t be surprised to learn that the name was too good to be true. Laura Lee Hope is the collective pseudonym for several writers who worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that specialized in producing juvenile literature. Stratemeyer’s books were originally published by Grosset and Dunlap, though various series were reprinted by other publishers over the next several decades. Among the writers who penned The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and The Moving Picture Girls were owner Edward Stratemeyer, Howard Roger Garis and his wife Lilian McNamara Garis, and Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet.

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