Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 26, 2013
As regular readers may or may not know, one of my hobbies is doll collecting. While perusing some recent doll releases I came across photos of a couple of new dolls based on one of my favorite romantic comedies, BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1967), starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. The dolls are part of the Poppy Parker line produced by Integrity Toys, which has also created a number of other impressive dolls based on classic movies including BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S (1961), SABRINA (1954), FUNNY FACE (1957), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and MOMMIE DEAREST (1981). As both a doll collector and a classic movie fan I’ve been really impressed with the attention to detail that goes into these dolls so I decided to contact David Buttry, an acquaintance who works for Integrity Toys, and ask him a few questions about the company. I hope classic movies fans as well as fellow doll collectors will appreciate his answers and enjoy the accompanying photos.
Posted by gregferrara on September 25, 2013
Today, in one of the more creative thematic lineups this month, TCM celebrates (is that the right word?) divorce or, at least, shows a lot of movies that all have divorce as a common plot element. Starting with The Divorcee at 6:00 a.m. and running through One is a Lonely Number at 6:15 p.m., it’s one divorce movie after another (with a brief respite at 8:00 for The Big Parade only to return to the theme with Street Scene and Stella Dallas). And while some of the movies playing today (especially The Divorcee and Stella Dallas) are personal favorites, it got me thinking about other doomed relationships in the movies and how, many times, they can be downright fun.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 24, 2013
In 2009 The New Zealand Project was initiated, a collaboration between the New Zealand Film Archive, the National Film Preservation Foundation and private collectors to preserve and distribute American films housed in the NZFA’s vaults. They had stacks of American nitrate prints that had gone untouched for years, since the NZFA had focused their efforts on preserving their local film history. In 2010 nitrate experts Leslie Lewis and Brian Meacham were sent to investigate their holdings and assess which titles were most in need of help. What they discovered was astonishing, a cache of presumably “lost” films, including John Ford’s Upstream and the first three reels of The White Shadow, for which Alfred Hitchcock was the assistant director, editor, scenarist and art director. In total 176 films were shipped to the U.S. for preservation. Many of these rescued titles are streaming on the National Film Preservation Foundation website, and today the NFPF released a DVD with some highlights of this trove. “Lost and Found: American Treasures From the New Zealand Film Archive” includes the Ford and Hitchcock features, as well as a selection of shorts and newsreels that haven’t been seen since their original release over 90 years ago. TCM will air a selection of these titles on November 17th and 24th.
Posted by Susan Doll on September 23, 2013
Though they rarely win awards or accolades, genre films have always driven Hollywood filmmaking. Formulaic and repetitive by nature, genres work by meeting audience expectations, because viewers find comfort, entertainment, and satisfaction in the familiar. The trick to good genre filmmaking is to balance between the old and the new, the familiar and the unexpected. Keeping genres interesting to viewers requires tweaking, updating, adjusting, or even subverting a genre’s formula or conventions. Efforts to completely re-invent a genre will likely result in box office failure, while refusing to tweak, adjust, or update can make a genre seem dull or worn out (see fellow Morlock Greg Ferrara’s recent post). One way to enliven a genre is to combine it with another genre or story trend. Sometimes that proves innovative (film noir and sci fi in Blade Runner); sometimes it seems cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster (western and sci fi in Cowboys & Aliens).
I recently re-watched the 1945 comedy Murder, He Says, a childhood favorite that I have always found peculiar. Watching it again made me realize that it is the movie’s odd mix of genres and story trends that is appealing and, ultimately, amusing. Much of the success of Murder, He Says is dependent on star Fred MacMurray, whose everyman persona and exquisite timing are assets to any genre. MacMurray plays Pete Marshall, an employee of the Trotter Poll (like the Gallup Poll) whose job entails interviewing rural folks about their lifestyles. Do you have electricity, running water, radio, a refrigerator, he asks one resident at the local general store. “What do you think we are, hicks?,” replies the bewhiskered man in his slouch hat and overalls.
Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on September 22, 2013
Within four years he filmed three acclaimed shorts and one feature that would later be hailed a masterpiece – only to die on October 5th, 1934, at the age of 29, from rheumatic septicaemia. Jean Vigo’s short life had been plagued by health problems, including an affliction of tuberculosis he got eight years earlier in 1926. Here’s something you probably shouldn’t do if you’ve suffered tuberculosis: spend three months during a particularly harsh winter shooting a story about barge dwellers on location, outdoors, on water, in the rain, snow, and fog. These extreme circumstances combined with the debilitating nature of an intensive and frenetic shooting schedule contributed to the young, frail director contracting the illness that would eventually kill him a few months after filming was completed. Adding insult to injury, the director was too weak from his illness to protest the mutilations that distributors inflicted on his first, and tragically, only feature film: L’Atalante.
Posted by David Kalat on September 21, 2013
From September and on for the next several months, on Mondays and Tuesdays TCM is airing a sprawling and ambitious multipart documentary called The Story of Film. As you have may have sussed out by now, this is a somewhat controversial program–in large measure because of its rather jaundiced view of classical Hollywood genre filmmaking. For an audience that watches TCM regularly, and finds leisure time to visit a TCM-sponsored classic movie blog like this, Story of Film‘s stance isn’t likely to find many happy supporters.
That being said, there’s a lot about Hollywood genres that is worth revisiting, challenging, and interrogating. There is too much received wisdom that has calcified around certain subjects, creating preconceptions that get in the way of being able to engage with these films in a fresh and clear-eyed way. And so, seen from that perspective, creator Mark Cousins’ approach represents an opportunity to explode some unhelpful conventional wisdom…
When it comes to silent comedy, though, he blows past that opportunity, managing to be simultaneously vaguely hostile to Hollywood’s classic era while also being uncritical about what it meant. Here’s what he says about silent comedy in the book version of Story of Film: “Silent American cinema’s greatest genre, comedy, had changed course at the beginning of the sound era and the fates of its director-stars were varied.” Yup, there it is again–that old canard about silent comedy being distinct from talkie comedy, and superior–treating 1928 as some kind of Rubicon.
Posted by Richard Harland Smith on September 20, 2013
The other day, while doing non-Morlock duty for Turner Classic Movies, I had occasion to write about the 1950 RKO Radio Pictures crime/trial drama HUNT THE MAN DOWN. This was Gig Young’s first starring role, after an apprenticeship serving and supporting the manly likes of Errol Flynn, John Wayne, and Barbara Stanwyck. You probably have not seen the film — not many people have these days — and in fact the picture itself is not really germane to my topic today. No, it’s just the poster I’m interested in. It’s textbook noir stuff, with tense, fearful faces ringing Young (cast as a crusading defense attorney out to clear the name of presumably wrongly convicted killer James Anderson — later the quite horrible Bob Ewell of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD) and lots of one-sheet hyperbole — standard issue. What makes the poster of particular interest to me is that Young is shooting laserbeams out of his eyes and melting the dude in the lower right hand corner. (Beat.) Okay, so those aren’t really laserbeams coming out of Gig Young’s eyes. I guess that luminous cone is meant to evoke a flashlight or searchlight, with the idea being that the light symbolizes Young’s vigilance, his diligence, and his hardwired connection to truth and justice. Why the light is melting (or seems to be melting — not really sure what’s going on there) is a question for another day. When I posted this onesheet on my Facebook page, my friend, film critic and blogger Marty McKee, commented “Gig Young shooting death rays from his face would make this film the best ever.” Indeed, it would. But the movie isn’t called MELT THE MAN DOWN, it’s called HUNT THE MAN DOWN, and in it, you will find, Gig Young plays a regular human being lawyer without the ability to cut the ether with laser eyes. It’s a worthwhile picture, to be sure, but you should go into it with the understanding that at no point during its running time will a human being be reduced to ash. You’ll enjoy yourself more if you accept that that expectation will never be met. Still, HUNT THE MAN DOWN offers us an intriguing variation on what had been, for many years at the movies, a recurring trend in the hawking of motion pictures: the often unfulfilled promise of laser eyes. [...MORE]
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on September 19, 2013
Boris Karloff & James Whale on the set of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)
(Note: FRANKENSTEIN airs on TCM September 23 as part of the ongoing STORY OF FILM series)
THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) is commonly considered the best of James Whale’s two Frankenstein films and while I absolutely love Elsa Lanchester’s iconic performance as the hissing she monster, I prefer the original. There are a number of reasons why I tend to gravitate towards FRANKENSTEIN (1931) over its sequel. First and foremost, the film takes itself more seriously and in turn, it’s the scarier movie. The fog shrouded cemeteries are more eerie and the stylized sets seem more threatening. Without any notable soundtrack the film can still generate genuine fear, unease and dread in me and in this age of overwrought scores that force audiences to bend to their will, I treasure silence in my horror cinema. FRANKENSTEIN also gives more screen time to the inimitable and undervalued Dwight Frye as the mad doctor’s hunchbacked assistant, Fritz. And Boris Karloff delivers a sensational wordless performance loaded with pathos and purpose. I also must single out Colin Clive’s taut interpretation of Dr. Frankenstein, which has been repeated by lessor actors so often that it’s become much too easy to take it for granted. Don’t get me wrong, I love BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN too but over the years I’ve found myself returning to Whale’s original film more often and with each subsequent viewing I discover more things to admire.
Posted by gregferrara on September 18, 2013
*On Monday, September 23rd, TCM airs episode four of The Story of Film, which covers, in part, “The Great American Genres.”*
For the first half of today’s schedule on TCM, the movies of Victor Mature will be showing. Conspicuously absent from the lineup is his most famous biblical epic, Samson and Delilah. It’s a big, lavish, rendering of the biblical story that focuses on all the sensational spectacle one would expect from a Cecil B. DeMille production (see an earlier post from me here talking about it). Hollywood served up biblical epics for decades before they suddenly tanked with the patrons and were removed from the bill of fare. It’s happened before with other genres, has happened since and will happen again. Call it “genre exhaustion.”
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on September 17, 2013
It’s hard to conceive of Howard Hawks without sound. His films are focused on work and its downtime, and it is in spurts of chatter in which his characters define themselves. As physical as their occupations may be, it’s always their words that reveal their true selves. Which is why watching Hawks’ silent films are so disorienting. The Museum of the Moving Image is in the midst of a full retrospective of Hawks’ work, and this past weekend they screened many of his silents, including A Girl in Every Port (1928), which manages to set up many of the director’s pet themes before the arrival of sound allowed his talents to fully emerge.
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