Charlotte Rampling: The Look

Woody Allen introduced me to Charlotte Rampling. It was during the early autumn of 1980 or possibly the early winter of 1981. I was a moody adolescent and family friends took me to see STARDUST MEMORIES (1980). At the time I was only remotely familiar with Allen’s work, having seen a few of his “early, funny pictures” but nothing had really prepared for me for the film I was about to see. And the indelible image of a broken, cheerless Charlotte Rampling quietly weeping into the camera while Allen zooms in on her remarkable face was seared into my brain. I sympathized with the hopelessness Rampling seemed to be conveying during those few moments but I’d never seen it illustrated in quite the same way. STARDUST MEMORIES quickly became a sort of touchstone film for me and the beguiling and beautiful Charlotte Rampling instantly became one of my favorite actresses.


Barbara and Wanda

Each month, my film-discussion group meets for a lively brunch to discuss a topic agreed on in the previous meeting. At the end of September, we will meet to talk about the films and careers of selected female directors. One of the films on the suggested viewing list is the early indie film Wanda, which will make its TCM debut this evening at 7pm CST/8pmEST. An uncompromising portrait of a working class woman born and raised in a Pennsylvania coal town, Wanda is the only film written and directed by actress Barbara Loden, who died of breast cancer in 1980.

Loden also starred in the title role as Wanda Goronski, whose choices in life are limited by her lack of education and economic opportunity. In her world, a woman’s only hope for a better life rests on the shoulders of a miner willing to marry her. But, it’s too late for Wanda, who has failed at marriage, so she lives on the fringes of an already marginalized region. In court to finalize her divorce, Wanda willingly gives up her two children to their father noting that they are better off with him. “I’m just no good,” she tells the judge. With no personal ties or job responsibilities, Wanda drifts with the wind, becoming further alienated from mainstream society with each misadventure. She goes with any man willing to pick up the tab, matter of factly putting up with their callousness and cruelty as though it were expected. Eventually, she stumbles across a thief in the process of robbing a beer joint, though she doesn’t realize the trouble she’s stepped into. Wanda joins the thief, whose name is Mr. Dennis, on the road for no other reason than she has no place else to go.


Joan Blondell: Big Deal on the Small Screen

As we’ve seen this past week on our Blondell Blog-a-thon, Miss Joan Blondell was a survivor.  Through her long movie career she always managed to come out on top, and her image as a plucky dame was one that audiences cherished and wouldn’t forget.  As her motion picture career began to slow down and she entered middle age — never a wonderful time for an actress, then as now — she was fortunate to still have some great career choices available to her.  Joan returned to the stage to much acclaim in the 1950s, and also began to appear on television during the same time, picking up roles on many of the prestigious dramatic  (and often live) anthologies of the TV’s early years.  In the first half of the decade she delighted audiences with roles on Schlitz Playhouse (as Calamity Jane), Suspense, Lux Video Theatre (with her A Tree Grows in Brooklyn co-star James Dunn), Fireside Theatre, Shower of Stars, G.E. True Theater, Shower of Stars, Playwrights ’56, Studio One, Playhouse 90, and The  United States Steel Hour.  The worst part about this fertile period in Joan’s career is that it’s pretty much impossible today to actually watch any of her performances in these very early TV series.  Our loss, for sure.



Take a look at this poster and tell me what you think this movie is about:

Blondie Johnson movie poster


Lucy Ricardo Was Just Like Us — She Loved Movie Stars!

This coming Saturday — tomorrow, August 6th – marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of show business’ forever and always top funny lady Lucille Ball, and also a day of Lucille Ball on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars.  It would be more than appropriate for anyone to celebrate this significant milestone, but I especially love Lucy.  My mother used to say that when I was a kid everytime she would come into a room I’d be watching I Love Lucy on TV, and I used to talk about it all the time.  Still do even today — watch and talk about it! [...MORE]

Party Girls to the Rescue!

The year is 1933, and times are tough all over.  What of the poor little rich boy, Henry Gibson (Ben Lyon), who can’t even inherit his millions unless he gets married by his 27th birthday?  And yes, Keaton fans, that’s the same idea as SEVEN CHANCES—but where Buster turned that premise into a feature-length chase scene, the movie we have in front of us here has different plans in store.  Luckily, Gibson’s got himself a wife—a beautiful young debutante whose icy good looks and haughty demeanor prove her high social standing.  On their honeymoon, the girl goes missing (hence the title of this flick, GIRL MISSING), and our distraught hero offers up a reward for his wife’s safe return.  This is all sensible enough, and fairly familiar thriller territory.  But Gibson’s life is about to be turned upside down by the arrival of a pair of gold-digging “chorus girls,” whose complete lack of restraint or decorum may very well save the day.  This is a movie that wouldn’t have been made even just a few years later, and pretty much doesn’t exist anymore even today.  This is Pre-Code, ladies and gentlemen, and it’s a riot.

Party Girls to the Rescue [...MORE]

Actress Jessica Harper — And She Can Cook, Too!

I don’t know how many of you fell in love with the winsome and talented Jessica Harper back — well, back nearly 40 years ago, longer than many of you have probably been alive — but if you were among the legions of fans she garnered when she starred in 1974′s Phantom of the Paradise, you may not realize that she has metamorphized into something quite remarkable and wonderful.  More wonderful than she was in Phantom of the Paradise?  Probably not possible, but something maybe unexpected and totally delightful.  [...MORE]

Hollywood’s First Woman of Photography: Ruth Harriet Louise

Photographer Ruth Harriet Louise in her studio with actress Joan Crawford

You might not be familiar with her name but you’re probably familiar with her work. Ruth Harriet Louise’s glamorous photos of classic movie stars have graced countless magazines and book covers. Her photos helped launch the careers of many beloved actors and they offered fans an intimate look at some of Hollywood’s most celebrated icons. Her impressive portfolio is still in circulation today and if you take a quick look around the TCM website you’re bound to come across one or two of Louise’s famous portraits starring back at you.



In my last post I explained the reasoning behind my programming choices for the first half of my Spring arthouse film calendar, today I finish the job. I accept the fact that anyone looking at my program will inevitably point to one (or more, perhaps even many) titles here and, in essence, ask the following question: “What the heck is THAT doing there?!” What follows below will hopefully dispel all head-scratching.


Knit Flicks

Happy New Year!

You may wish to begin the year by vowing to lose weight, (how original!…and welcome to the club), mastering the arcane intricacies of Farmville, (is it a game or a cult?), spending more quality time with your pet iguana, or finishing War and Peace–or at least cracking open the first, mischievous volume of The Autobiography of Mark Twain that Santa left behind for you. My personal mountain to climb in 2011 will be the nagging desire to finally conquer my mental block when it comes to knitting. Yes, “knit one, purl two” is a phrase that conjures up feelings of frustration, self-contempt and the urge to fling the needles and gnarled yarn across the room. Persistence, of course usually pays off. Unfortunately, for this chronically challenged crafter, the glamorous world of interweaving lamb’s wool into something useful and colorful has been a bust…so far.

My decision to follow the stony, humbling path of learning to knit began again at a recent trip to the movies when I spied a fellow theater goer knitting merrily away–in the dark! Impressive, especially since the movie was the rather loud (at times) and visually amusing Gulliver’s Travels (2010), though the intricate work of this knitting fiend in the next row never seemed to falter. After this, I decided to make a greater effort to psyche myself up, gird my loins and bite the bullet while admitting my many shortcomings face-to-face with the accomplished instructors at a local yarn shop. I’ve also begun to notice that some of the glamourpusses of the silver screen were demon knitters, and they don’t get more dazzling than Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky , do they?
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