Posted by davidkalat on March 23, 2013
Just in case my love of screwball comedies wasn’t evident from all the times I’ve posted about it here before, I’m here this week to celebrate Ralph Bellamy’s contributions to the genre.
I need to note that upfront, because Ralph Bellamy had such a massive and sprawling career that you could be a huge Bellamy fan and not actually have seen any of the movies I’m going to talk about–even though Bellamy was a major force in the development of the screwball comedy, and was so singularly associated with it he became a punchline in and of himself.
Posted by Susan Doll on February 11, 2013
As a valentine to one of my favorite stars, I offer a celebratory tribute to Burt Reynolds, who turns 77 today. He is one of a handful of genuine stars, like Kurt Russell and Bruce Willis, who are underrated or unappreciated probably because they are associated with genre films. Reynolds is best remembered for his action-based comedies featuring car chases and stunts and for appearing nude in Cosmopolitan magazine. Both made use of his movie star image as the handsome, charming smart aleck with the crazy laugh. However, his career was more varied than a nude centerfold and the Smokey and the Bandit series suggests, and his appeal was much broader compared to action stars today.
Posted by Susan Doll on January 21, 2013
I love Old Hollywood. In my imagination, I have romanticized the Hollywood of the Golden Age as a glamorous era of larger-than-life, charismatic figures who linger poolside at the best hotels or dance till dawn at the Mocambo. On the fringes of the dream factory are the outrageous characters who thrive in a company town where the extraordinary is ordinary and the extravagant is routine. Among the latter is the famous Nudie Cohn, tailor to the stars. But, Nudie was no studio costumer like Edith Head or Orry-Kelly. Instead, he owned and operated Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors, specializing in western-styled jackets and wildly colored shirts festooned with rhinestones and piping. His primary clients were western movie stars of the Golden Age and country-western singers of the l960s, but his career lasted well into the Age of Aquarius, when he designed a jacket with marijuana leaves for Gram Parsons.
Posted by medusamorlock on January 19, 2013
I haven’t been around here in a while, but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wish success to TCM’s Danny Kaye 100th Birthday celebration all day this coming Sunday — tomorrow. As I showed in several posts in the past, I’ve been a Danny Kaye connoisseur nearly all my life, since the days I used to skip junior high to watch his movies on TV during the day (this is pre-VCR and DVR, although I used to record the soundtracks on reel-to-reel tape!). I bought my first copies of those “Movies on TV” books because of Danny, too, because I wanted to go through and find all his movies. Little did I know then that he only made 17, but we are fortunate that TCM will be bringing us a good selection of those on Sunday, plus some rare TV goodies.
Posted by davidkalat on January 5, 2013
The late 1970s and early 1980s were lousy with disaster flicks, a sub-genre to which Virus unquestionably belongs. Apocalypse thrillers have always been in vogue, but they do tend to shift in tone with the cultural zeitgeist. But there was something about the Cold War era that gave rise to some wonderful end-of-the-world movies the likes of which we don’t really encounter anymore. The bizarre illogic of the Cold War was somehow more conducive to nightmare poetry: two superpowers armed with enough firepower to destroy life on Earth countless times over, where in order to preserve the peace they each must threaten total war. The only thing keeping those nukes in their holsters was the promise of Mutually Assured Destruction (quite appropriately, MAD). Edward Albee couldn’t have thunk up any better.
And Virus, mind you, is the gift that keeps on giving. It’s a rip-snorting good movie that packs in not just one apocalypse, but two.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 24, 2012
During the Golden Age, when most stars were under contract to a studio, posing for publicity shots was part of the job of being a star. When not working on a film, stars were expected to report to the studio’s publicity department to be photographed and interviewed. The publicity departments included press agents who composed biographies for the stars, contributed articles to the fanzines, and publicized individual films from concept through distribution. They leaked details about casting, recounted the stars’ experiences on the set, and arranged interviews with gossip columnists and radio hosts. The low end of a press agent’s job was to spread rumors and stories about certain stars or to arrange publicity stunts. The high end of employees was represented by the staff and free-lance photographers who took thousands and thousands of photos for the studios. Some photos were publicity stills from the latest films; others were promotional portraits designed to reinforce a star’s image to remind fans of their appeal.
Posted by Susan Doll on November 12, 2012
I recently drove by one of those roadside sales that are occasionally set up at gas stations or abandoned parking lots in which vendors hawk kitschy items such as velvet paintings, pictures of unicorns, and huge photos of iconic movie stars. Nestled between Marilyn and Elvis was John Wayne decked out in his cowboy hat, vest, and kerchief, much like the image to the left. I noticed Duke right away because I had just finished reading a biography about him. I was struck by the idea that most passers-by would recognize the star immediately and yet know nothing about him, because—like other movie icons—his career, life, and star image have been reduced to a cliché. Wayne’s image has a political connotation because of his conservative beliefs that has only gotten narrower over the years. I have seen his image used for right-wing slogans I don’t think Wayne would approve of, and I have read articles and posts that vilify his films because the writer didn’t like his politics. After reading Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne by Ronald Davis, I was surprised by how little I knew about him. The following are 12 facts about John Wayne that amazed and amused me.
The name on his Wayne’s birth certificate is Marion Robert Morrison; in 1911, it was changed to Marion Michael Morrison when his younger brother was born and christened Robert. As a child, he was nicknamed Duke, because he had a large dog named Duke; the dog was Big Duke and the boy became Little Duke. He appeared uncredited in eleven films before playing a substantial role in the musical comedy Words and Music for which he was credited as Duke Morrison. In 1929, when he landed the lead in The Big Trail, director Raoul Walsh and producer Winfield Sheehan changed his name to John Wayne, an appellation he was never comfortable with.
Posted by Susan Doll on September 10, 2012
Monkey Business airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of a night devoted to the comedies of Cary Grant. Directed by Howard Hawks, this under-appreciated film was released at the tail end of the original cycle of screwball comedy. Monkey Business has always been one of my favorite comedies, largely because of the cast. Stars Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers were old hands at romantic comedy by the time this film came around, and they tackle the physical and situational humor with the experience and authority of veterans. Marilyn Monroe is featured in a secondary role, and she plays into her image as a blonde bombshell for comic effect. Familiar character actor Charles Coburn is appropriately blustery as Monroe’s boss, who is too enamored of her physical assets to care about her qualifications as his secretary.
The plot of Monkey Business turns on a farcical situation that exploits the differences and tensions between men and women, which is typical for screwball comedies. Grant stars as the brilliant but absent-minded Dr. Barnaby Fulton, a chemist who works for a big drug company run by Oliver Oxley, played by Coburn. Barnaby’s latest experiments involve the search for a youth serum. Oxley’s motives for wanting an elixir of youth go beyond just making money. They likely have something to do with his interest in his sexy, young secretary, Lois Laurel, played by MM. Lois can’t type, take dictation, or do anything else a secretary is required to do—a running joke in the film. At one point Coburn hands Miss Laurel a memo, adding, “Find someone to type this.”
Posted by Susan Doll on August 27, 2012
Earlier this month, the Morlocks participated in a blogathon in which we explored the films of Toshiro Mifune, the legendary Japanese movie star who was part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. While I was happy to give one of the worlds’ most talented actors his due, my first choice for the blogathon was Warren William, who will be spotlighted this Thursday, August 30.
Warren William is largely forgotten today, though he was a prolific film actor for Warner Bros. during the Depression. He did not have the reputation or long career of peers Jimmy Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, or William Powell, but William makes an interesting study for a couple of reasons. The Warner Bros. films of the early 1930s were ripped from the headlines of the day. They featured characters who struggled with issues of employment whether they were scrambling for a job, conniving to keep their job, or turning to crime because legitimate work eluded them. William’s urbane, well-dressed persona was suited to this hard-scrabble world because he could play the cold-hearted millionaires, abusive bosses, and society sophisticates who clashed with the working folk. Also, his career peaked in the early to mid-1930s, which parallels most of the pre-Code era (1930 to 1934). Several of William’s films include the edgy situations, randy characters, and provocative dialogue that we have all come to love about pre-Code movies.
Posted by Susan Doll on August 13, 2012
As an unabashed fan of movie stars from all eras, I am enjoying TCM’s marvelous lineup for this year’s Summer Under the Stars. And, no screen actor could be more deserving of a day than Lillian Gish, who is spotlighted on Wednesday, August 15. Gish , whose screen career began with An Unseen Enemy in 1912 and ended with The Whales of August in 1987, helped develop the art of screen acting while under the guidance of D.W. Griffith. It is a testament to her talent that she acted steadily throughout the silent era, survived the coming of sound to become a character actress during the Golden Age, costarred in one the 1950s most revered films, The Night of the Hunter, and then continued to work after the upheavals of the Film School Generation. Her career ended in what is generally considered to be the early modern era—quite a run for someone known as the “First Lady of the Silent Screen.”
Three of the films scheduled for Wednesday—Intolerance, Broken Blossoms, and Orphans of the Storm—were directed by D.W. Griffith, who was Gish’s mentor, colleague, and close friend. During their years together, Gish learned a great deal about filmmaking, and in 1919, he urged her to try her hand at directing. Griffith had just purchased the huge Henry Flagler mansion in Mamaroneck, New York, and was in the process of converting it into a movie studio. He wanted to keep his stock company of faithful actors and crew members happily occupied while developing new talent. Gish opted to direct sister Dorothy in a lighthearted romance titled Remodeling Her Husband. Gish’s little comedy became the first feature shot at Mamaroneck, because Griffith was busy shooting The Idol Dancer and The Love Flower on location in Florida. In addition to directing, Gish was also put in charge of the final renovations for the studio.
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