Posted by Moira Finnie on September 29, 2010
Tony Curtis, who died on September 29th at age 85, never seemed to be at rest. Even in repose and in old age, he appeared to be an eternally restless spirit. Sometimes that drive got him into trouble, but it often spurred him to keep trying to be something more than he was at every stage of his existence on earth. He was a rascal, one of the last of his breed, and he became his life’s ambition since childhood: a very big movie star. He was also a good actor.
Posted by Moira Finnie on May 19, 2010
Color me green with envy after reading all those positive reports from all over about the recent TCM Classic Film Festival. While giving friends who attended the third degree to extract every droplet of vicarious enjoyment from their accounts of that long, delirious weekend in LA, one of the things that stands out in their reporting is the mention of the large number of young people in the audience, as well as the “lifers,” (aka those of us who have been movie-mad since childhood). Recently, I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a youthful filmmaker who could be representative of this fresh wave of classic film lovers on the horizon.
From the viewpoint of most of us, Rebecca Bozzo, a twenty-something graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, is already a working film professional, but her ebullient enthusiasm for what she describes as the “collaborative energy” of movie making has an infectious quality that blends real knowledge and a joyous passion, even as she describes the sometimes arduous but invigorating process of collaboration with diverse people. Growing up in a household where her supportive parents exposed her to great films from Hitchcock, Cukor, Stevens, and Minnelli, her father was particularly involved in the National Film Society efforts to preserve films. With this cinematically aware family background, a growing desire to be a part of the film industry as a director and producer almost seems inevitable.
Posted by Moira Finnie on May 12, 2010
Asking Elliot Lavine to talk about his favorite film noirs is a little like asking a parent of many different children to describe what he loves about his babies. If you are anywhere near San Francisco in the next few weeks, you may want to hightail it over to the newly remodeled Roxie Theater in the Mission district for a chance to admire some of his neglected favorites–Elliot‘s nearly forgotten, “cheap, lowdown and tawdry” stepchildren, consisting of 28 rarely screened B noirs from the Poverty Row Studios. These movies will be on display from Friday, May 14th through Thursday, May 27th in a program entitled I STILL Wake Up Dreaming: Noir is Dead! / Long Live Noir! A complete list of these movies is posted at the end of this blog with links to the Roxie for times and ticket information. A few days ago, Elliot was kind enough to submit to a grilling from me about all things film noir…
Posted by Moira Finnie on April 14, 2010
On Saturday, April 24th at 3:30 PM at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles, the audience at the TCM Classic Film Festival will have an opportunity to see director George Cukor’s effect on Joan Crawford when A Woman’s Face (1941) is introduced by Illeana Douglas, the granddaughter of Melvyn Douglas, and Casey LaLonde, the grandson of Joan Crawford. For those of us who won’t be able to make it that day, this movie may still be worth exploring on DVD and whenever it appears on the TCM schedule.
Seeing A Woman’s Face (1941) for the first time a few years ago made me realize all over again why Joan Crawford was–like her or not–more than a movie star: She could act. The actress cited this film as one of the performances that ultimately helped her to earn an Oscar as Best Actress later in this decade for Mildred Pierce (1945). A Woman’s Face may be her among her best films. It deserves a bigger audience.
Posted by Moira Finnie on April 7, 2010
Now that Spring is here, I can look back on this event with amusement as I recall Daniel Webster’s comment that there “is nothing so powerful as truth—and often nothing so strange” Ain’t it the truth?:
The Real and the Imaginary Elisabeth of Bavaria (1837-1898)
The Scene: My Living Room
The Time: The Late Winter Doldrums
The Occasion: An Intervention
The Participants: My Loved Ones
What prompted this intervention by my family? Shuffling into the living room, none of my near and dear ones seemed to want to meet my eye. As they gently explained, it was time to remember that I’m an American living in the 21st century. “Chuck this new-found interest in moldy royalty, and, well, get back to reality.” Sure, sure, I knew they were right, but still…
Posted by Moira Finnie on March 31, 2010
This is the second part of a profile of actress Helen Walker. The first part can be seen here.
“No wonder so many actors are out of work,…considering all the lousy scripts the agents hand you…with such big build-ups. They’re nearly all tripe. The dialogue is all the same. Everything’s been done before. I’ve read 15 or 20 scripts in the last three weeks and only one was any good.”
–Helen Walker, in one of her more impolitic public comments to a reporter in the 1940s.
After almost three years in Hollywood, Helen Walker‘s life and career came to a turning point by the mid-1940s. As seen in the first part of this two part blog on the actress, found here, Walker had proven that she could hold her own in fast comedic company with popular successes such as Brewster’s Millions (1945) and Murder, He Says (1945). She had also shown an untapped capacity for drama evidenced by her effectiveness in The Man on Half Moon Street (1943). Critics had begun to describe her as a “charmingly different personality,” noting her poise and ability to uncover a laugh or a character nuance–sometimes despite the quality of the rest of the production. Still, Paramount persisted in using their contractee’s services in several B movies destined for Broadway grind houses and a dismal spot on the lower halves of double bills. Walker refused to appear in one more ill-conceived comedy, (1945′s all-star melange, Duffy’s Tavern (1945), based on a popular radio show), followed by another, Follow That Woman (1945). She also made the tactical error of bluntly pointing out to a Los Angeles Times reporter that she felt “stymied…while waiting confidently for ‘grown-up’ parts.”
Posted by Moira Finnie on March 3, 2010
Ernest Hemingway may have loathed most of the translations of his own stories to film, and sometimes with good reason. Happy endings were tacked on to many of his stories. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) a conflicted hero lived, despite a touch of systemic septicemia, a gangrenous leg, and a heckuva death wish. (The author fumed and called it ‘The Snows of Zanuck’ in private). Political realities were sometimes lost. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) does not seem to have a commie in sight and only one mention of a fascist is made, at least by name. Evocative situations were embellished. The Killers (1946) left Hemingway’s terse masterpiece behind after the first superb fifteen minutes, but the author expressed some liking for that one despite this amplification, (his acceptance of the film may have been partly due to the presence of Ava Gardner and the likability of the producer, Mark Hellinger). “A fat actor”–in Hemingway’s words–played one of his best characters when an aging Spencer Tracy took the lead in The Old Man and the Sea (1958) a novella that led to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to the writer in 1954. Other, lesser known adaptations of Hemingway stories fared a bit better, with glimmers of the writer’s elusive style in A Farewell to Arms (1932), and The Breaking Point (1950).
Of course, Ernie wasn’t allergic to the money the studios tossed in his lap for these tales, though he was miffed when he learned what some of them eventually earned after he sold the rights to the books to filmmakers. He reportedly didn’t speak to Howard Hawks for six months after he challenged the director to make a movie from what Hawks called “his worst book”; only to have To Have and To Have Not become a giant hit, even though the story had little to do with the original novel. Nor did he disdain the company of the beautiful and the gifted people who sometimes took roles in these movies. Who can blame him for feeling the pull of the glamorous company of his hunting buddy Gary Cooper, beautiful Ava Gardner or the glorious Ingrid Bergman, among others?
Posted by Moira Finnie on February 24, 2010
Motherhood and the movies have often made for boffo box office returns. My glowing memories of those warm-hearted, endearingly fluttery, or nobly self-sacrificing mothers played by Spring Byington, Mary Astor, Fay Bainter and Barbara Stanwyck and others in classic movies may have fogged my vision of celluloid motherhood a bit.
The Silver Cord (1933), a 77 year old film made at RKO, broke that clichéd Mom mold with a disquieting crack, blending a domestic drama with strong elements of high camp. There were Bad Moms around in dramas before and after this exercise in theatrical Freudianism. Noel Coward enjoyed his first big success in the mid 1920s dramatizing the unhealthy relationship between a glamorous nymphomaniac socialite and her drug addicted son in The Vortex (1927), which was made into a silent movie in 1927. The same year as The Silver Cord (1933), director John Ford offered a surprisingly negative portrait of a mother played by Henrietta Crossman in Pilgrimage. Crossman’s dour character was so fixated on avoiding a marriage by her only son to “an unsuitable girl,” she sent him off to the trenches of World War I. And Gladys Cooper brought the Bad Mom to an artistic high point with her portrayals of lethally clinging matriarchs in Now, Voyager (1942) and Separate Tables (1958) in the ’40s and ’50s. The grandma of many of the later indictments of maternal love, however, might be this early talkie, which is statically staged but electrifying, thanks to the author, the actors and their under-appreciated director, John Cromwell.
Posted by Moira Finnie on February 17, 2010
Last year, in part because of the celebrations surrounding the films of 1939, I had a chance to introduce Gone With the Wind to younger viewers in my family who had never seen the film. It’s not a favorite movie of mine, so I could understand their appalled reactions to the innate racism of the story that implied that a slave’s first loyalty was to the families that owned them, (even after the Civil War and emancipation). Seen at a glance in GWTW, maybe the antebellum South’s biggest problems may only seem to be uppity white trash like Victor Jory’s oily Jonas Wilkerson, or the need for rebellious girls like Scarlett to maintain their hypocritical poses in a rigid social structure, while secretly acting on their own half-understood impulses, and the upheaval caused by those damn Yankees. But look a bit closer and you can see the story of changing attitudes and a brave woman struggling to make her mark in a world that both rejected and accepted her. I don’t mean Scarlett Katie O’Hara, either.
Posted by Moira Finnie on February 10, 2010
Captured! (1933-Roy Del Ruth) is a Warner Brothers film that was advertised in overheated ad copy of the time as a “cavalcade of human passions in the maelstrom of mankind’s great adventure”. This little known pre-code movie never reaches those hyperbolic proportions, and has largely been forgotten, but, despite its strengths and flaws, I suspect that the situations depicted among men isolated in the time of war may have had an unacknowledged impact on later depictions of POW camps on film, influencing everything from La Grande Illusion (1937-Jean Renoir) to The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943-Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger) to Stalag 17 (1953-Billy wilder) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957-David Lean). The movie is an uneven look at the erosion of accepted values in the 20th century, and it is also an interesting glimpse of the changing public attitudes toward war, influenced by a rise of pacifism following World War I.
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