Posted by Greg Ferrara on November 25, 2016
We all have performers or movies that grant us entry into genres, eras, or styles. Spencer Tracy was one of the actors who got me hooked into classic cinema. Boris Karloff hooked me into horror. And Yves Montand was the first international star I ever really knew. Like many stars appealing to a new generation, it was his later work that I saw first and precisely what interested me in seeing his earlier work. I didn’t take too much notice of him at first but as he began appearing in more and more of the movies I was watching on Saturday afternoons in my childhood, I began to wonder where this fine actor got his start. For Montand, it started with singing and live performing until he was discovered by Edith Piaf. For me, it started with Z (1969).
Posted by Susan Doll on November 14, 2016
A tough week for America. After a long, bitter election year, the end game is a divided and angry country. Disillusioned with both sides, I find escape—and solace—in a pair of moody film noirs in which a cynical, jaded Robert Mitchum encapsulates how I feel.
In The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), Mitchum plays Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, a small-time gunrunner who is barely making ends meet on the margins of the underworld. The last of his luck runs out when he finds himself facing another long stint in prison. He weighs his loyalty to his criminal associates against snitching on them to the cops, which would keep him out of prison.
TV writer Paul Monash adapted the screenplay from a novel by George V. Higgins, a real-life assistant DA. Higgins captured a detailed, intimate view of the lifestyle of street criminals. The corrupt, dog-eat-dog world of the novel easily translated to film noir. Gloomy, with only a minimal amount of action, The Friends of Eddie Coyle wraps itself in melancholy, a tone that Mitchum could so easily express in his baritone voice, somnolent expression and minimalist acting style.
Posted by Susan Doll on October 17, 2016
This month, TCM spotlights “Trailblazing Women–Actresses Who Made a Difference,” a series of movies featuring female stars who contributed to the industry, culture, and society. The series covers all eras of movie history, from Mary Pickford, who was an industry powerhouse in the silent days, to Jane Fonda and Cicely Tyson, who were activists off the screen in 1970s and 1980s. The program is the second part of a three-year effort in partnership with Women in Film (WIF) in which TCM devotes October to championing the achievements of women in Hollywood
TCM viewers who are enjoying “Trailblazing Women” should check out the new, third edition of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by film historian Molly Haskell. Haskell, who sometimes cohosts on TCM, covers the silent era to the late 20th century, the same time frame as “Trailblazing Women.” While there is some overlap between the series and the book, Haskell’s focus is on the image of women in the movies, the stars who embodied these images, and the relationship of these images to women in society.
Posted by Susan Doll on August 15, 2016
My favorite days of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars are those devoted to character actors, neglected stars, or actors whose careers were limited to one genre—sort of, the forgotten and forsaken of film history. It’s not that these actors were not famous, established, or major stars in their day, but to today’s audiences, they lack the iconic recognition of Golden Age favorites like Bogart, Tracy, Ball, or Davis. If it weren’t for TCM, the forgotten and forsaken would be lost to time.
Case in point: Ask most people to name a Ruby Keeler film, and the response would be, “Who?” Even movie lovers know her only from a handful of Warner Bros. musicals, specifically 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933. I confess I knew very little about her: I have seen her Depression-era musicals, I remembered that she was married to Al Jolson, and I recalled that she had an amazing comeback in the early 1970s when she starred on Broadway in No, No Nanette.
Posted by Susan Doll on February 1, 2016
Clark Gable was born on this day 115 years ago in the tiny town of Cadiz, Ohio. Like all movie lovers, I appreciate the King of Hollywood as a signifier of the glamour and charm of the Golden Age. However, Gable is also a fellow Ohioan, so a couple of years ago, I visited his childhood home on Charleston Street in Cadiz, because that’s what Ohioans do—they drop in on each other and visit for a spell.
Gable’s birth home, or at least a replica of it, is located on a quiet residential street in the heart of Cadiz. The original house had been torn down in the 1960s. Twenty years later, when the local economy tanked because the area’s coal-mining companies were floundering, the Clark Gable Foundation was formed in the hopes of bringing in tourist dollars to Cadiz. The Foundation raised money to erect a marker on the property where the house once stood. A few years later, the Foundation pulled together enough money to rebuild the two-story wood-frame home.
Posted by Susan Doll on January 4, 2016
To celebrate Elvis Presley’s 81st birthday, TCM will show four feature films and two documentaries this Friday, January 8. I have a soft spot for the last film scheduled, This Is Elvis, because it was the movie that motivated me to write my dissertation on Presley, which provided the core material for several books.
Produced, directed, and written by Andrew Solt and Malcolm Leo, This Is Elvis combines television appearances, news footage, voice-over narration, and re-created scenes with actors to interpret Presley’s life and career. In other words, don’t expect an expository documentary like you might find on the Biography Channel. Instead, the heavy use of re-created scenes, simulated newsreels, and feigned interviews make this an example of a performative documentary, in which the filmmakers stage scenes and direct performances to mimic drama or to depict a specific outcome.
The film is structured in flashback, which adds drama and interest to the material. It opens with the shocking news of Elvis’s death and then cuts back to his childhood in Tupelo, Mississippi. Altogether, four separate actors portray Presley at various points in his life, including Paul Boensh III who plays ten-year-old Elvis. In the childhood scenes, Elvis is depicted learning the guitar from an old blues singer, played by real-life bluesman Furry Lewis. David Scott stars as the teenage Elvis, who performs in front of his high-school class for a talent show. Dana Mackay portrays Elvis during the sequence in which his mother becomes ill and then dies, which occurred when the singer was in the army. The most authentic portrayal is given by Johnny Harra, a real-life tribute artist who plays Presley during his Vegas years.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 14, 2015
As part of Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday celebration, TCM has included several television specials in their Wednesday Sinatra-centric programming. This Wednesday, December 16, the 1973 special Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back airs at 8:00pm EST.
However, one TV special that was not included in the December programming is The Frank Sinatra Timex Special, which was broadcast in 1960. I like this special, not because it is particularly good, but because of the history behind it. It represents a key moment in the career of Elvis Presley as well as one of the few times that Sinatra back-pedaled a bit.
The Frank Sinatra Timex Special was part of a plan to re-tool Presley’s star image. Elvis’s tour of duty in the army from 1958 to 1960 had provided the perfect opportunity to break away from the Elvis the Pelvis image that had created controversy during the 1950s. His legendary manager, the notorious Colonel Tom Parker took a potentially disastrous situation for any performer’s career–being away from the public for two years–and turned it around to the singer’s advantage by releasing positive publicity about Elvis’s service to his country. After his discharge, Presley’s management team, which included Parker, film producer Hal Wallis, and William Morris agent Abe Lastfogel, planned to steer his career toward an image and musical style that would attract a more mainstream audience.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 7, 2015
When I was very young, I made a mental list of adventures I wanted to experience in my life—a kind-of bucket list before the phrase was coined. One of those experiences was to hear Frank Sinatra sing in concert, preferably in Vegas or some Hollywood night club that existed only in my imagination. While friends dreamed of seeing the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, various Motown groups, or even the Monkees, I wanted to see the Voice. Unfortunately, I never got to hear Sinatra sing live.
This month, TCM celebrates Sinatra’s 100th birthday by devoting Wednesday evenings to his music and movies. In addition to 35 films, the line-up includes five television specials. While I never got to hear Sinatra in person, I have seen most of his movies and all of his TV specials, including one not shown as part of the TCM celebration—The Frank Sinatra Timex Special in which the Rat Pack welcomed Elvis Presley home from the army.
Posted by Susan Doll on November 2, 2015
No 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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