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June 28, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

Caligari Glen Ross (Expressionism is for Closers)

Now that the announcement has been made official I can go ahead and ‘fess up: I recently recorded an audio commentary for the newly restored Cabinet of Dr. Caligari for the UK Blu-Ray release by Masters of Cinema.  It was a huge thrill for me—I’d been wanting to do a Caligari commentary for years and no one had asked me yet.  But not only was it a chance to finally yammer my way through Robert Wiene’s masterwork, but this new restoration is simply stunning—it’s from the original 35mm negative.  Looks like it was shot yesterday.

And seeing this film fresh makes all the difference in the world, because there are so many myths and misconceptions about Caligari that need clearing up.  Like, that this film is some kind of avant garde work of art.  Because (ahem) it’s not.

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KEYWORDS: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
COMMENTS: 6
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“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?” – Remembering Eli Wallach 1915-2014

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“I wonder if my brother remembers his brother?”
- Tuco (Eli Wallach) in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

We lost Eli Wallach on June 26th at the ripe old age of 98. The talented actor was beloved by film fans and fellow actors so quickly cobbled together obituaries as well as many heartfelt tributes have begun flooding the World Wide Web. It’s with much trepidation that I tip my own toe into these grief-filled waters but since hearing the news I haven’t been able to get Wallach out of my head. The Brooklyn born son of Jewish parents who immigrated to America from Poland appeared in over 150 films and television productions including BABY DOLL (1956), THE LINEUP (1958), SEVEN THIEVES (1960), THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), THE MISFITS (1961), HOW THE WEST WAS WON (1962), THE VICTORS (1963), LORD JIM (1965), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), THE TIGER MAKES OUT (1967), ACE HIGH (1968) and THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR (1970), which are just a few early highlights from his lengthy body of work. And while it’s difficult to point to a favorite role in a career as vast and varied as Wallach’s I can’t deny that his unforgettable turn as the grinning bandito in THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY has had the biggest and most long-lasting impact on me. It’s a film I first saw nearly 40 years ago with my father when I was just an impressionable kid and much like THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (another favorite Wallach film), THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY is a movie that I have returned to countless times and each viewing experience becomes richer and more rewarding.

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Pirates 101: Of Wenches and Ladies, Corsets and Balloon Pants

pirateopeningI love pirates who swashbuckle their way through high adventure on the high seas, but I am not always thrilled with the women who try to tame them.  For this second installment in my series in support of TCM’s Friday Night Spotlight on pirate movies, I offer some thoughts on wenches, ladies, and female buccaneers.

A common female character in pirate movies is the aristocratic woman—or, lady—who detests the roguish protagonist because he is uncouth, ill-mannered, and unrefined. Typically, her father represents a powerful local authority, which makes him the arch-enemy of the pirate. Often, the pirate kidnaps the lady, or she finds herself aboard his ship through unforeseen circumstances, instigating a series of romantic adventures in which his virile masculinity wins her over. In the end, the lady lies to authorities, claiming that she had actually run away with the pirate of her own volition; or, she realizes he has acted nobly, which alters her opinion of him. In the silent version of The Sea Hawk (1924), the smitten Lady Rosamund  defends her pirate kidnapper, while in Captain Blood (airing this Friday, June 20), the governor’s daughter changes her low opinion when Blood fights for England against the French.

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They Wore It Well: Actors & Mustaches

mustache1James D. Barnes in THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903)

Throughout the month of June you’re going to be seeing a lot of mustaches on TCM. Every Friday night you can tune in and enjoy some carefully coiffed facial hair in a series of Pirate Pictures hosted by funny man Greg Proops. And on June 9th mustache lovers won’t want to miss Mustache Monday. This special one day event will feature a series of films with famously mustachioed actors including Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Groucho Marx, William Powell, Peter Sellers and Sean Connery, which segues into a tribute to British born actor Richard Harris who often sported a mustache as well as a full beard.

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“The World’s Most Beautiful Animal!”

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Ava Gardner in a publicity shot for THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
Airing on TCM June 1st.

Ava Gardner makes one of my favorite film entrances of all time in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which airs on TCM June 1st. If you want to kick off the new month with a bang I highly recommend making time for this verbose Technicolor-noir that critiques Hollywood excess and the powerful studio system that frequently exploited its stars. Mankiewicz’s film is a heady brew of CITIZEN KANE (1941), LAURA (1944), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and the director’s own ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) shot with abundant style by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. It dramatically depicts the rise and fall of Maria Vargas aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal” (Ava Gardner), a seductive Latin dancer and renowned beauty who is discovered in a Madrid nightclub and carted off to Hollywood where stardom awaits. Her fascinating story is told in flashbacks by the men who knew her and begins in a rain soaked cemetery where our chief narrator, veteran director and recovering alcoholic Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), is attending Maria’s funeral.

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“I’m Not an Actor, I’m a Movie Star”: Notes on ‘My Favorite Year’

MFYbenjyTonight and tomorrow evening, TCM presents six movies produced through Brooksfilms, the production company headed by Mel Brooks. In addition to Brooks’s comedies, the company has been responsible for a variety of movies not associated with the comic mind that spawned Blazing Saddles, including my favorite David Lynch film, The Elephant Man, and a gothic horror flick called The Doctor and the Devils.

Tomorrow night, TCM airs the Brooksfilms production My Favorite Year, which happens to be my favorite Peter O’Toole movie, though fans of his more lauded signature roles might disagree. Set during the Golden Age of Television, when prime-time programming was produced live in New York, the story unfolds from the perspective of Benjy Stone, a junior writer on the comedy series The King Kaiser Show. O’Toole plays Hollywood movie star Alan Swann, who is guest-starring on the show because he needs the money. Benjy is assigned to watch Swann throughout the week of preparation and rehearsal, because the star lives as large as his image, chasing women and drinking at every opportunity. As a result of their week together, Benjy, who is both disillusioned and awestruck by Swann, grows from a wise-cracking kid into a mature young man.

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John Wayne – American Adman!

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John Wayne posing for an Air France ad (1961)

One of the world’s most widely beloved movie stars is John Wayne (TCM’s Star of the Month) and throughout his celebrated career, Wayne endorsed a number of notable products and causes. Regular readers may have noticed that I’m fascinated with advertising, particularly the way that Hollywood stars like Wayne have used their likeness to sell us goods and cultivate their public image. As I mentioned last year in a piece I compiled about Barbara Stanwyck, product placements and celebrity endorsements are as old as Hollywood but modern audiences are often unaware of them. When we see Clifton Webb furiously tapping away on a Remington typewriter in Otto Preminger’s LAURA (1944) for example, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it was probably a carefully selected brand tie-in. And while Webb was typing on his Remington, his costar Gene Tierney was using her timeless beauty to sell Royal Crown Cola in an effort to promote herself and her upcoming film, A BELL FOR ADONO (1945).

These tiny details and seemingly useless facts might not mean much to most film viewers but I think the lasting impact of some Hollywood stars can be linked to the ways in which they sold themselves to the public when they weren’t appearing in films. John Wayne is recognized today for the movies he made but he also endured himself to audiences through product endorsements in popular magazines like LIFE and The Saturday Evening Post. In the 1940s and 1950s, Wayne became a friendly and familiar face in film as well as television where he appeared in a number of commercials. What follows are some of my favorite examples of John Wayne – American Adman!

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Adventures of a TCM Fest-Goer

festopener3Last weekend, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival as just another movie-lover in the crowd. The 2014 festival featured appearances by big-name stars Maureen O’Hara, Mel Brooks, Alan Arkin, Shirley Jones, and Jerry Lewis (left, at Grauman’s Theater with Quentin Tarantino). Interestingly, while waiting in line with other fest-goers, conversations drifted to the rapidly declining roster of Hollywood legends available to attend these events. Perhaps it was the recent death of Mickey Rooney, who was honored with a screening of National Velvet, that prompted these solemn conversations. Fest-goers speculated on what could possibly replace the interviews and appearances by these incomparable stars. Some presumed that TCM would showcase the films of younger stars and then reach out to them to appear in person—along the lines of the Richard Dreyfuss tribute this year. Others speculated that offspring of the major stars could step in to honor a famous parent, as Fraser Heston did for his father, Charlton, and Suzanne Lloyd did for her grandfather, Harold.

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April 19, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

Occupy Fritz Lang

There is a secret conspiracy that rules the world.

This hidden power can make or break a fortune at a moment’s whim.  It decrees the rise and fall of nations.  It chooses who lives, and who dies.

There are some—like the heroic British spy with a number for a name, or the alluring Mata Hari-like international woman of mystery he keeps running into—who think they can use the tools of surveillance, cryptography, and overall spookcraft to expose this obscure force and save the world.

Wanna know a secret?  This secret power—he’s a banker.  You can Occupy Wall Street all you want: the Great Banker is the spider at the heart of this massive web, and he will outlast you all.

So, yeah, for a silent movie made in Germany in 1928, there’s a lot going on here.  You can play along at home if you want when TCM runs this later tonight.

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KEYWORDS: Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang, spies
COMMENTS: 4
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Of Hurricanes, Hamburgers, and Huston: Revisiting Key Largo

largohustonOne of my courses this semester includes a section on an auteur—that fancy French word for master director. I let my students choose which director to study from a list that included a variety of filmmakers from different eras. To my great surprise and delight, they selected John Huston over more recent and more famous directors.

I began the section on Huston with Key Largo, a crime drama released in 1948. The film stars Huston favorite Humphrey Bogart as WWII veteran Frank McCloud, who visits the Key Largo home of one of the men from his unit. The young man had been killed in combat, and McCloud feels compelled to call on the man’s father and widow, Nora. Nora is played by Lauren Bacall, and the father is portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who, by this point in his career, was forced to play his roles in a wheelchair because of the crippling effects of arthritis and two hip fractures. Barrymore’s character owns the Hotel Largo, which has been taken over by gangster Johnny Rocco, played with great flair by Edward G. Robinson. While Rocco and his gang wait for an associate, a hurricane hits the Florida Keys and confines all of them inside the Hotel Largo.

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