Happy Birthday, Burt Lancaster

burtatlanticcity1No Golden Age movie star projected vitality, vigor, and a lust for life more heartily than Burt Lancaster, born on this date in 1913. With his dazzling smile and handsome Irish looks, he was destined to be a movie star. The mere mention of his name conjures up his most iconic roles, such as the title characters in Elmer Gantry or The Birdman of Alcatraz. Movie lovers know that he began his career in film noir, playing the Swede in The Killers and Joe Collins in Brute Force. Reviewers took notice of the devilishly good-looking actor, referring to him as a “brawny Apollo.” Though he tried to play against this image by starring as the acid-tongued gossip columnist in Sweet Smell of Success or as a working-class brute in The Rose Tattoo, it was an image difficult for fans to forget. Lancaster can be seen this month on TCM in The Professionals (November 29, 8:00pm) and in Three Girls and a Sailor, in which he appears in a cameo as himself (November 19, 6:15pm).

In the 1980s and 1990s, his career took an interesting turn. He appeared in the films of young directors who cast the aging actor because of his status as a fabled movie star. In Phil Alden Robinson’s Field of Dreams, Lancaster costarred as Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, a baseball player who played only one game during his pro career before retiring to become a doctor. As an icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood, Lancaster was much like his character, who represented the glory days of baseball. In Daniel Petrie’s Rocket Gibraltar, Lancaster starred as the dying patriarch of a dysfunctional family who demands a Viking funeral. Who would be more deserving of a mythic funeral than a movie star from Hollywood’s most mythic era?

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A Forgotten Director to Remember: George Melford

blogopener Last Thursday, I was researching early film production on Florida’s Gulf Coast for an upcoming conference. Taking a break from slogging through dozens of Florida newspapers from the 1930s, I decided to read colleague Kimberly Lindbergs’s terrific post on the Turner Classic Movies-Fathom Event for October. This month’s event consists of a double feature of the original Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, along with the Spanish-language version, which was shot at the same time. (Movie lovers have another opportunity to see the dueling Draculas this Wednesday, October 28, at a participating theater near you.) When I resumed my research, I was surprised to find multiple references to George Melford, who was the director of the Spanish version of the 1931 horror classic.

Little is known about Melford beyond his participation in this unusual moment in film history when Universal decided to produce two versions of certain titles in different languages. Their goal was to hang onto their foreign markets, who were not keen on distributing English-speaking movies. Apparently, Melford was a veteran director of the silent era, and Universal had faith that he could deliver well-crafted films for the Spanish-speaking markets.

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Double Your Pleasure with a Dracula Double Feature

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On Sunday Oct. 25th and Wednesday Oct. 28th, classic horror fans are in for a real cinematic treat. Turner Classic Movies in association with Fathom Events and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment will be bringing DRACULA (1931), along with its Spanish language equivalent, back to the big screen. This Dracula double feature will be shown at selected theaters across the country and is accompanied by an introduction from TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Tickets can be purchased online at the Fathom Events website.

Tod Browning’s DRACULA is rightly hailed as a horror classic while the Spanish version directed by George Melford was assumed lost and went largely unseen by modern audiences following its initial release until it was restored and distributed on home video in 1992. Both films were shot at the same time using the same sets but with different casts, which was a typical practice by studios in the early 1930s. Their goal was to appeal to international audiences eager to see new-fangled sound films in their own language. The idea quickly went out of favor due to the high cost of producing multiple movies but the Spanish language version of DRACULA is one of best examples we have of this popular practice.

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City Lights

City Lights

Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and Andrei Tarkovsky agree on something when they all cite City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) as one of their favorite films of all time. With an eye to the fact that TCM will be screening it this Wednesday, I decided to check out Charles Chaplin: My Autobiography and bee-lined to the chapter that discusses the events leading up to the release of this film. It’s a fascinating read wherein Chaplin describes the end of the silent-film era as the film industry transitioned toward sound. Chaplin’s first experience with sound films were so jarring and wretched that he originally thought “the days of sound were numbered.” Then came The Broadway Melody (Harry Beaumont, 1929), which although Chaplin found it “a cheap dull affair” was a huge box-office success, and “overnight every theatre began wiring for sound. That was the twilight of silent films.” Thankfully, Chaplin’s resolve to champion the art of silent films would result in the genius of City Lights and also Modern Times (1936). Even his first “talkie”, The Great Dictator (1940), squeezed out a lot of joy at the expense of the sound era. But the writing was on the wall, and it came with an ominous soundtrack. [...MORE]

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October 3, 2015
David Kalat
Posted by:

Dance, Girl, Dance

It is one of Hollywood’s most revered myths—the talented yet undiscovered starlet from some flyover backwater, desperate to make it big in the city. Forget The Voice, this stuff goes all the way back to the dawn of mass media. You could be forgiven for wondering which was more numerous: the wanna-be stars or the movies made about them.

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Nameless Fear: The Lost Moment (1947)

Poster_of_the_movie_The_Lost_MomentI felt the past closing all around me like a fog, filling me with a nameless fear.
- Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings)

After enjoying many of the Susan Hayward films that aired on TCM last month, I decided to seek out some of her other work and in the process I stumbled across The Lost Moment (1947). And as regular readers know, I usually focus my attention on horror films and thrillers during the month of October and this neglected black-and-white gem that tells a haunting story about lost love and an unspeakable crime of passion is the perfect film to kick-start the season of scaring.

This surprisingly sumptuous Universal production takes place in Venice where an ambitious publisher named Lewis Venable (Robert Cummings), disguises himself as a writer and takes lodging in a sprawling waterway estate owned by the 105-year-old lover (Agnes Moorehead) of a renowned poet who disappeared under mysterious circumstances decades earlier. He hopes to gain access to a stash of love letters written by the poet to his lady love but the woman’s stern niece (Susan Hayward) suspects that the publisher is up to no good. While attempting to find the missing letters, Cummings’s character uncovers many horrible family secrets hidden within the walls of the crumbling cobweb coated estate that he hadn’t bargained for.

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Of Flappers, Hoppers, and Shifters

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Tonight on TCM, bubbly Colleen Moore stars as flapper Pert Kelly in Why Be Good?, a 1929 romantic melodrama that turned out to be the last gasp of the flapper archetype. When the stock market crashed eight months later, the mood of the nation changed, and the high-spirited frivolity of the flapper no longer seemed appropriate.

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We All Go a Little Mad Some Times. . .

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TCM in conjunction with Fathom Entertainment brings Psycho to the big screen on September 20 and September 23 at participating theaters. Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, which shows at 2:00pm and 7:00pm on both days, will be presented by Ben Mankiewicz in a brief filmed introduction. While many movie lovers have undoubtedly seen Psycho, rewatch it anew on a big screen with an audience, the way it was intended to be seen.

Every Hitchcock fan—and who isn’t?—has their favorite sequence or scene. Psycho is filled with iconic moments—from Marion’s first appearance in black underwear to her encounter with the cop in shades to the shower scene to the reveal at the end accompanied by Bernard Herrmann’s shrieking score. My favorite sequence is the parlor scene in which a shy Norman Bates asks Marion to come into the parlor behind the office. As soon as he says “parlor,” think: “Come into my parlor said the spider to the fly.”

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Appreciating W.C.

blogopenerLast weekend, TCM celebrated W.C. Fields in a tribute titled 100 Years in Film. Fields’ first venture into the movies was a century ago in a one‑reeler titled Pool Sharks (aka The Pool Shark). Fields’s granddaughter, Dr. Harriet Fields, cohosted the four-film tribute, which included David Copperfield plus the comedian’s three most popular films, It’s a Gift, You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man, and The Bank Dick.

Though Fields is justly famous for his vocal inflections, making him a perfect performer for talking films, he did appear in a handful of silent films. And, while I love his classics, I also have a fondness for two of his silent films, which I have been lucky enough to see. Sallie of the Sawdust, a film version of the play Poppy, was directed by D.W. Griffith in 1925. Griffith and Fields seem an unlikely creative pairing, but the legendary director rendered the small-town atmosphere perfectly, capturing the warmth and local color of Americana. I remember the imagery and characters made me yearn for an America that has long since passed, or maybe never really existed.

I discovered It’s the Old Army Game while researching movies shot in Florida, a long-time interest for me. The silent comedy stars Fields as a small-town, drug-store owner with the  indecent name of Elmer Prettywillie. Elmer puts up with the idiosyncratic customers who frequent his store, including the matron who wakes him up in the middle of the night for a two cent stamp and the freeloading firemen who always want soda pops on the house. Elmer is ripe for the pickings when a fast talking real estate speculator talks him into a Florida land scheme.

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Telluride 2015

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Tomorrow TCM hosts its yearly salute to the Telluride Film Festival with 24-hours of TFF-related programming. TCM kicks things off with The Lion in Winter (Anthony Harvey, 1968) and wraps up with China 9, Liberty 37 (Monte Hellman, 1978). I’m between film screenings at Telluride now, where the fest is marking its 42nd year as one of the more prestigious film festivals in the nation, and feel obliged to remind readers that one of the reasons TFF is so unique among a mushroom-like proliferation of other movie festivals resides in their dedication to highlighting the legacy of film (with archive prints, restorations of classics – also the reason I’m so fond of the TCM Classic Film Festival) as well as the liberties they afford their guest programmers, who are tasked with selecting overlooked films.   [...MORE]

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