Posted by Susan Doll on May 6, 2013
Once again, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival as a civilian; that is, a regular fan who went for the movies, the stars, and the camaraderie. The festival was held at the end of April this year, which meant that it coincided with the end of the semester for me. I must have looked peculiar sitting on the floor in the queue lines grading final exams, but I would not have missed the fest’s four intense days of nonstop movie-going for anything.
The 2013 festival differed from last year’s in that it featured more tried and true classic films that are regularly shown on TCM, and it included several big-budget spectaculars with long running times. For those reasons, I did not see quite as many films as I did last year, but that is a minor quibble. The fest was still a highlight of my year, and I plan to go again in 2014. I thought I would share some treasures and surprises from this year’s fest for those who might like to attend but are still on the fence.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 31, 2012
During the last phase of his career, Harry Carey, Jr., appeared in small but significant parts in some of the few westerns produced in Hollywood during the 1980s. In Walter Hill’s The Long Riders, he played a stagecoach passenger named George Arthur, who is robbed by members of the James-Younger Gang. When George reveals that he had fought for the South during the Civil War, Bob Younger shakes his hand. The unreconstructed rebel bonds with the outlaws as he helps them rob a cowardly passenger who lies about fighting for the Stars and Bars. As the gang rides away with guns blazing, George walks toward the camera, murmuring in amazement, “I’ll be god damned and go to hell”—a proper testimonial after an encounter with legends. The stage hold-up is one of my favorite scenes in the film because it is Harry Carey, Jr., who delivers this line. As a member of John Ford’s stock company, Carey had walked among a few western legends himself, albeit cinematic ones.
Carey died last week at the age of 91, and most obituaries identified him with Ford, John Wayne, Ward Bond, Ben Johnson, and the other actors associated with Ford’s troupe. Carey was proud of his close association with Ford and his westerns even when he didn’t fully agree with the great director’s attitude toward his actors. In his autobiography Company of Heroes: My Life As an Actor in the John Ford Stock Company, he declared, “. . . I’ve only had one teacher. That man was John Ford. He was my nemesis and my hero. There were times when I was not an admirer—but when the day’s work was done—I loved him.”
Posted by highhurdler on October 28, 2012
Have you ever gone to the theater expecting to see a movie (or play) about one thing but, once there, were then completely surprised – pleasantly or unpleasantly – with what transpired on the screen (or stage). For me, it used to happen more frequently before the explosion of the Internet (where spoilers abound), but it can still happen today when I adopt an intentional approach to such entertainment. For instance, when I watch a classic film, it happens more often because I tend to seek, find and view lesser known films on TCM or, in this case, the Fox Movie Channel.
Posted by Susan Doll on October 8, 2012
The careers of character actors seem to be a study in contradictions: They are unsung in their roles yet highly respected in the industry; they are unknown by name but recognizable by face. Though today’s character actors can add texture and depth to almost any movie, their numbers can’t compare to the hundreds of supporting players in the films of the 1930s through the 1950s, which was as much a Golden Age for characters actors as it was for classic movies.
Character actors from the classic era were not movie stars. They rarely played the protagonist or leading lady, and expectations of their contributions to movies differed from that of stars. They specialized in well-defined secondary roles that were suited to their physical characteristics or individual voices. Once a character actor established a specific image, viewers learned to recognize the actor’s face and then associate him or her with certain roles. Characters that seemed sketchy or slight on the written page were vividly brought to life and given distinction by the casting of the right veteran character actors. Some of these actors played within a very narrow range, essentially appearing in the same roles for decades. Others enjoyed a versatile persona that allowed for some diversity while still fulfilling viewers’ expectations for their characters.
Posted by Susan Doll on May 28, 2012
The Hollywood Museum is located on Highland Avenue near Hollywood Boulevard. The innocuously named museum was formerly the Hollywood History Museum, which likely sounded too dry or dull for tourists. Before that it was the Max Factor Museum, because the building is the original Max Factor headquarters where many a Golden Age star developed her signature look, from hair color to makeup design. My friend and I decided to check out the Hollywood Museum while attending the TCM Classic Film Festival in April. Visiting the museum became part of my quest to find some remnant of the glamor and mystique of the Golden Age among the noise and clamor of today’s Hollywood.
The rose-colored lobby and first floor of the 1935 Max Factor Building have retained its original Art Deco look. The primary make-up rooms have been preserved and restored with the original chairs, settees, lights, and multi-angled mirrors. It was enlightening to stroll through the rooms where Billie Burke, Lucille Ball, Joan Crawford, Claudette Colbert, and dozens of others were given the star treatment. The rooms suggested the kind of lavish attention the stars must have received: Each of the four primary rooms was devoted to women of a specific hair color: Blondes, Redheads, Brunettes, and Brownettes. The color of each room was selected to flatter the hair color. The rooms reminded me that the stars’ personal looks were extensions of their images, and it was their images that the studios were selling. The stars’ images were not only used to lure people into theaters to see their films but also to promote products in magazines. Ads featuring virtually every major star of the Golden Age lined the walls of the hallways.
Posted by Susan Doll on May 21, 2012
I am still “reeling” from attending last month’s TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood. As a film historian, I have been reflecting on the relationship between the past and present—not only the connections between classic and contemporary films but also the lingering echoes of the film industry’s mythic, glamorous past amongst today’s crass, noisy Hollywood. As I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard the first evening, I felt that nothing was left of that enchanted Hollywood of the past that exists mostly in my imagination! The traffic was worse than rush hour in Chicago, festival attendees crowded the shops and restaurants, and, tourists with children clogged the sidewalks to take photos of their little darlings posing with “actors” costumed as movie characters and superheroes. It’s next to impossible to race past a group of people dressed like Transformers.
When I looked more closely, however, I did find Old Hollywood: It was integrated, intertwined, and infused with the present day, right under everyone’s noses. Uncovering it reinforced my belief that—for better or worse—the past is always part of the present, whether people see it or not. It also made the noise, clamor, and tackiness of modern-day Hollywood more tolerable. My thoughts have inspired a two-part post on the ghosts of old Hollywood that still linger among the noise and tourism. Today and next week, I will offer a few observations on this notion in addition to a little history and a bit of reflection.
Posted by Susan Doll on April 23, 2012
Recovering from the TCM Classic Film Fest, which was held last weekend in Hollywood, took a few days, but it is now a glorious memory. The fest proved to be a communal experience, a learning opportunity, and a chance to reflect on the power of movies to connect us as a society and culture. Watching 14 movies in four days was exhausting but also rejuvenating.
LOST ON THE MEAN STREETS OF FILM NOIR. The fest included ten programming themes, and my friend Maryann and I managed to see at least one film from six of the programs. (By the way, attending with a friend is a must, because the urge to talk about the movies immediately after the screenings is overwhelming.) However, one theme attracted us more than the others—The Noir Style, programmed by author Eddie Muller, who is also the founder of the Noir Foundation. We watched four of Muller’s selections: Criss Cross, Cry Danger, Gun Crazy, and Raw Deal. In addition, we caught Fall Guy, a rare noir film that was not part of Muller’s program.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on February 14, 2012
On February 4th, the last living veteran of WW1 passed away in King’s Lynn, England. Florence Green was 110 years old, and had joined up with the Women’s Royal Air Force in September 1918, two months before the armistice. The last surviving combat veteran, Briton Claude Choles, died in Australia in 2011. The Great War is no longer part of the world’s living memory, and so drifts slowly from history and into myth (see: War Horse). This process will accelerate in 2014-2018, the 100th Anniversary of the conflict. But no images, not even Spielberg’s, have defined the war more than those in All Quiet On the Western Front, Universal’s grim gamble of 1930. Banned in Poland, reviled in Germany, and a tough sell to studios, this adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s landmark novel is one of the bleakest films ever made in Hollywood. Universal is releasing it on Blu-Ray today in a pristine restoration, in a nearly-complete 133 minute version, while also including the rare silent edition, which was made for theaters not yet equipped for sound (For background on all the edits inflicted on the film, please read Lou Lumenick’s article in the NY Post).
Posted by moirafinnie on December 14, 2011
My favorite mad scientist may just be Dr. Arthur Carrington, the hopelessly naive (but very dressy) ascot-, turtleneck-, and blazer-wearing trailblazer in The Thing From Another World (1951). Every time I see this movie set in a military and scientific observation station in the frozen North, I always wonder where this man’s parka could be. Did he forget to pack it in a moment of absent-mindedness while in the lower 48? As played by character actor Robert Cornthwaite (seen above, with his head in a script), he is the embodiment of polished intellectual curiosity without a shred of common sense.
As far as I’m concerned, you can keep the other actors in this movie, (even George Fenneman, shortly before he became Groucho Marx’s game show flunky and that big galoot lumbering around in disguise long before Gunsmoke premiered on television)–the star of this film is the rather epicene Doc Carrington, played to a fare-thee-well by the unsung Cornthwaite, a small man with a receding hairline, a sneaky wit, and a cold mien that suits this part perfectly. The authoritative actor, seething with a bookish hauteur, appears to have created a colorful backstory for his character–He is the erudite man of science, disheartened (and maybe bored out of his skull), who is becoming increasingly unable to cope with the psychological demands of his daily grind after months penned up inside the bleak, fetid atmosphere of this frostbitten outpost where he languishes in the company of a passel of Air Force yahoos, a few doddering biologists, and some malleable underlings. The bottled-up, almost terminally frustrated Carrington appears to be a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, as eventually becomes clear throughout the nimbly staged 87 minute movie. He’s also quite a hoot.
Posted by medusamorlock on October 31, 2011
I really wanted to contribute something to this Halloween blogfest, so I offer a little nonsensical coda about a movie I’m sure a lot of us have seen many times and probably enjoy. Funny + spooky has been a movie tradition forever, and nobody did it quite as well as the limber-limbed and rubber-faced actor/comedian Don Knotts in his 1966 feature film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
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