Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 21, 2016
I’m unapologetically biased when it comes to On the Waterfront (1954). I’m well aware of the controversy surrounding the production but I firmly believe it’s one of the greatest American films of the 1950s and on April 24 and 27 Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Sony Pictures Entertainment will be bringing this American classic to theaters across the country for a special two-day event. Both screenings will include an exclusive commentary by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz explaining how the film, which was shot in just 36 days, has had such a long-lasting cultural impact. Tickets are available at the Fathom Events website.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to experience this powerful and provocative movie on the big screen I highly recommend doing so. You might think you understand what made Marlon Brando such a commanding screen presence but until you’ve had the opportunity to see him strut and fret for more than an hour on the big screen, I don’t think you can fully appreciate what made him a Hollywood trailblazer and acting heavyweight. But don’t just come to watch Brando at his best. There are many more reasons to see On the Waterfront including Elia Kazan’s outstanding direction, Boris Kaufman’s moody black and white cinematography, Budd Schulberg’s potent script, Leonard Bernstein’s compelling score and a top-notch cast of supporting players that include Karl Malden, Eva Marie Saint, Rod Steiger and Lee J. Cobb firing on all-cylinders while delivering some of their finest screen work.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 14, 2016
This month Turner Classic Movies is spotlighting “The Best of the Barrymores.” The Barrymore family regularly appears on TCM but every Monday evening throughout April viewers can tune in and catch a selection of films featuring one or more of the Barrymore siblings in some of their best roles. Next Monday (April 18) the TCM spotlight will shine on Ethel Barrymore and one of the films scheduled to air is The Spiral Staircase (1946) at 10 PM EST/7 PM PST.
The Spiral Staircase is a longtime favorite of mine and the film has been hailed as a prototype for many of the best giallo; the Italian genre films that I touched on just last week in a piece titled Death Walk Twice: A Giallo Double Feature. With thoughts of murder and black-gloved killers still running through my mind, it seemed like a good time to revisit this classic thriller that features an Academy Award nominated performance by Ethel Barrymore as the bedridden matriarch of a wealthy family that is concealing some unsavory secrets.
Posted by Greg Ferrara on April 10, 2016
Today, TCM runs one of Hitchcock’s biggest hits of the forties, the suspense wartime thriller with Tallulah Bankhead, William Bendix, and John Hodiak, Lifeboat. Lifeboat is notable for taking place entirely on one confined set, the lifeboat that all of our characters are aboard for the duration. I can’t even imagine the story board sessions for a movie like this but it would be a daunting assignment for any director to undertake a movie where the setting just doesn’t change. At all. Fortunately, Alfred Hitchcock was at the helm so everything worked out just fine. Indeed, Lifeboat is one of my favorite one set wonders, though admittedly, I don’t have many. A film that takes place at the same location from start to finish needs to have crackling writing, enthusiastic and energetic acting, or virtuoso cinematography or all three. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long two hours.
Posted by Greg Ferrara on April 8, 2016
Tonight TCM airs one of the all time classics by anyone’s yardstick, The Wizard of Oz. It’s a movie that occupied a great deal of my childhood imagination as its annual showing was a highlight of each passing year, long before the days of cable and VCRs and DVDs when making sure you were home in front of the tv on Good Friday was your only chance to take in the magic of Oz. And a magical movie it was, and is to this day. It’s also a movie that can easily lead off a list I’ve wanted to do for some time: The First Time I Ever… What does that mean? Let’s start off with The Wizard of Oz and it should be clear.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on April 3, 2016
Coming up this Wednesday TCM is offering up The Front Page (Lewis Milestone, 1931). This pre-code screwball comedy co-produced by Howard Hughes is based on a scandalous 1928 Broadway play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, two veteran newspaper writers who had worked at rival Chicago papers in the 1920s. While the play raised eyebrows with rough language and double entendres, Milestone’s screen adaption, despite being pre-code, softened the edges a bit, with one example being the creative omission of the last word heard at the end of the play. The TCM trivia page notes how the “last line of the play had to be partly obliterated by the sound of a train because the censors (even of that day) wouldn’t allow the phrase ‘son-of-a-bitch’ to be used in the film.” Still, the original New York Times review observes that “the producers have succeeded in retaining many more of the lines of the play than was anticipated. The censor is in more than one instance virtually defied through ingenious ideas.” Given all the nudie postcards clearly decorating the walls in the background, I’d say the censors were already asleep at the wheel. [...MORE]
Posted by Susan Doll on March 28, 2016
In last week’s post, I offered snatches of internal memos from Warner Bros. regarding their day-to-day operations during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I quoted from memos between executive producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz, because I detected a long-term tension between the two, especially on the part of Wallis. Based on comments I received (including on Facebook), I don’t think some readers quite believed me, claiming that Wallis was only doing Jack Warner’s bidding, and that Warner was far worse. This week I focused on the memos of Jack Warner to see if he was, indeed, “worse” than Wallis. Warner could certainly be bad-tempered, irritable, and downright crabby, but, in my opinion, he was cantankerous with everyone. In a way I can’t fully explain but certainly intuit, it didn’t seem personal. My favorite aspect of the Warner memos was something I didn’t expect—a quirky humor that made me laugh out loud. Below is the unfiltered wit and venom of Jack Warner, vice-president in charge of production, i.e. the mogul behind Warner Bros.’s movies during the Golden Age. Make of it what you will.
As mentioned last week, memos on Warners’ pre-Code movies are scarce, but Jack did weigh in on certain issues that would not be relevant after the Code was enforced in 1934—most notably the breasts of some of his stars. In a 1933 memo about the dailies for Convention City, he wrote, “We must put brassieres on Joan Blondell and make her cover up her breasts,. . . .for Lord’s sake, don’t let those bulbs stick out.” In a pre-production memo regarding The Case of the Howling Dog, he reminds producer Sam Bischoff, “Be sure that Bette Davis has her bulbs wrapped up.” Davis’s “bulbs” became a moot point because the actress refused to appear in the film. She was suspended for this infraction of her contract, and the role was given to Mary Astor.
Posted by Greg Ferrara on March 27, 2016
One of the movies not playing on TCM this Easter Sunday is Rebel Without a Cause. There’s no reason it necessarily should but, technically, it’s an Easter movie since it begins its story on the night of Easter Sunday. That said, I thought of it, nonetheless, because this is Easter Sunday and if it’s Easter, that movie always comes to mind (I’m betting there’s almost no one else alive who has that happen to them). And one of the things that comes to mind whenever I think of Rebel Without a Cause is an interview I read years ago, now available online, with its screenwriter Stewart Stern. And when I think about that interview, I think about a key part of it where they discuss writing credits and how we all cling to myths about the movies and why.
Posted by Greg Ferrara on March 25, 2016
Last Friday, March 18th, when I looked at the TCM schedule, I was reminded how many movies there are out there and how few any of us has really seen. Much of the time I look at the TCM schedule and can honestly say I’ve seen at least half of what’s on that day. The other half I may not have seen but I’m completely familiar with them and may have even seen a few scenes. There are other days when I have seen literally every movie on the schedule for that day. Big classic movies that we’ve all seen, say, during the 31 Days of Oscar. And then, on days like last Friday, I look at the schedule and think, “Wow, I’ve only seen two!” Those two were A Song to Remember and That Uncertain Feeling. Of those on the schedule that I hadn’t seen? Well, there was Wide Open, But the Flesh is Weak, Lonely Wives, Roar of the Dragon, Sing and Like It, Smarty, The Night is Young, Young Man with Ideas, Gypsy Colt, Moonfleet, and First Comes Courage. I have not seen a one of them. And why should I have anyway? Do have any idea how many movies have been made?!
Posted by Susan Doll on March 21, 2016
Recently, while researching the production histories of specific Golden Age movies, I came across several dusty books from the back of my bookshelves. Evidently, I did not think they would be of much use to me. Purchased second-hand, they are a bit worse for wear. The books contain internal memos by producers and other behind-the-scenes personnel at the major Hollywood studios during the Golden Age, including Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox, and Selzick’s International Pictures. What a treasure! The memos offer juicy tidbits about the daily operations of the Hollywood industry during that magic time known as the Golden Age. This week, I thought I would share a few memos from Warner Bros. between executive producer Hal Wallis and director Michael Curtiz, because I found them enlightening.
According to Rudy Behlmer, who compiled Inside Warner Bros. 1935 – 1951, there aren’t a lot of studio papers prior to 1935. But, there are certainly a lot of memos afterward, partly because Wallis liked to flood his staff with notes and suggestions and partly because of studio policy. Printed at the bottom of the Warner Bros. interoffice stationary was the reminder: “Verbal messages cause misunderstanding and delays (please put them in writing).”
Posted by Susan Doll on March 14, 2016
Each Monday evening during the month of March, TCM celebrates “Art and Artists” by airing 18 movies about painters and sculptors. The most diverse films are those based on fictional artists or paintings, including everything from the horror classic The Mystery of the Wax Museum (March 21, 1:15am EST) to the comedy The Art of Love (March 28, 8:00pm EST). The series also spotlights dramatic biopics based on real-life artists, including tonight’s selection: Lust for Life, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Andrei Rublev.
With a background in art history, I am an unabashed fan of artist biopics, even though most of them are not really about the art. Directed by Alexander Korda in 1936, Rembrandt is an exercise in “good taste” as typified by big-budget British productions of that era. Charles Laughton as Rembrandt is given numerous opportunities to show off his gifts at dramatic recitation in a story that is mostly about enduring personal loss. El Greco, a TCM premiere, is a little-known Italian production with international star Mel Ferrer in the title role. The film posits El Greco as the outsider artist who butts heads with the closed minds of the Inquisition. The contributions of composer Ennio Morricone and set decorator Dante Ferretti, who would later team with Martin Scorsese, make this film worthwhile viewing. Of the four, Andrei Rublev by Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky is the most unconventional and the most cinematic. Tarkovsky eschewed a linear, cause-and-effect biographical structure in favor of experimental black-and-white imagery and a stripped down narrative in which little is explained but much is felt.
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