All My Favorites in One Place: The Best Casts Ever Assembled

A few months ago, I wrote a piece here on some of my favorite ensembles of supporting players where the leads were far from my favorite thing.  I focused on how with certain movies, the main story didn’t grab me but the great supporting cast did.  Well, as I wrote that I already had in mind a piece on my favorite casts, period, the ones in which I love pretty much every lead and supporting player in the enterprise.  Still, I didn’t think about it far beyond that original post until coming upon a movie on the schedule today and everything came flooding back in.  The movie is The Wild Bunch and it’s one of my favorite movies, the kind that becomes a favorite from the moment you see it and remains so through multiple viewings down the road.  And one of the reasons it’s such a favorite is that cast.  One of the best casts ever assembled.

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Sexual Revolution on Campus – Three in the Attic (1968)

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Judy Pace and Christopher Jones in Three in the Attic (1968)

“Non-swimmers should never leap bare-assed into the sea of love.”
- Dean Nazarin (Nan Martin) in Three in the Attic

TCM continues their month-long celebration of American International Pictures tonight with a series of films that showcase their efforts to capitalize on the youth zeitgeist of the 1960s. Movies scheduled to air include the original Beach Party (1963) along with more controversial fare such as the Roger Corman’s outlaw biker extravaganza The Wild Angels (1966), the experimental drug film The Trip (1967) which I wrote about a few months ago, and the political farce Wild in the Streets (1968). Tonight also marks the TCM debut of Three in the Attic (1968), a fairly bleak sex comedy that loosely dabbles in gender politics and became the studio’s highest grossing film of the decade. Despite its financial success and popularity with audiences, Three in the Attic has largely been forgotten and has yet to find its way onto DVD.

The film was the brainchild of Richard Wilson (The Big Boodle; 1957, Al Capone; 1959, Invitation to a Gunfighter; 1964, etc.), a longtime cohort of Orson Welles who had produced and acted in a number of Welles’s films including Citizen Kane (1941) The Lady from Shanghai (1947) and Macbeth (1948) before he started making his own movies. Wilson’s eighth directorial effort was Three in the Attic and it came about after he spotted an article by author Stephen Yafa in a 1967 issue of Playboy where the writer discussed his recent novel titled Paxton Quigley’s Had the Course. In the article, Yafa humorously explains that he wrote the book “. . . out of venomous contempt for all the claptrap I’d ever seen which presumed to examine the sex life of young Americans and succeeded only in vilifying our lower regions.” Wilson was intrigued by Yafa’s off-color sense of humor and he convinced American International Pictures to let him produce and direct an adaptation of the book retitled Three in the Attic.

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This week on TCM Underground: The Sid Saga (1985-2003) and Multiple SIDosis (1970)!

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All too often we throw around the word “amateur” when we want to insult someone’s work as being slipshod or coarse, forgetting in our insistence on authenticity and professionalism that the word is derived from the Latin root “to love.” This week on TCM Underground, we focus our programming on Sid Laverents. Hobbyist. Movie maker. Amateur.

By the time he completed his four-part magnum opus, The Sid Saga(1985-2003), Sid Laverents had attained superstar status on the amateur filmmaking scene. Born Sidney Nicklas Laverents in 1908, his real estate speculator father had dragged the family back and forth across the nation in search of the next land boom, resulting in a picaresque education and an appreciably eclectic sensibility. Already a student of piano and drums, Laverents taught himself banjo, ukulele, and harmonica and supported himself during the Depression as a one-man band on the vaudeville circuit. Married for the second time and settled in San Diego before World War II, Laverents worked for the Consolidated Aircraft Corporation from 1941 until 1967 (apart from a stretch in the military, repairing planes in India for the United States Army). In 1956, he bought a 16mm Bolex camera to film his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary and two years later joined the San Diego Amateur Movie Makers Club. With exquisite patience, Laverents progressed from filming travelogues and garden snails to manipulating image and sound via sophisticated in-camera editing techniques. Prepared for exhibition at his film club, Laverents’ 9-minute Multiple SIDosis (1970), in which the filmmaker performs Felix Arndt’s 1916 ragtime instrumental “Nola” on uke, ocarina, Jew’s harp and other instruments, all depicted via multiple exposures (from two to ten), became a staple of film rental outfits and was included in the National Film Registry in 2000, when Laverents was 92 years old.

Multiple_Sid_002-550wThe bulk of The Sid Saga was completed in 1986, with the octogenarian adding small pieces to the autobiographical mosaic over the course of the next two decades, switching from 16mm film to video for the fourth and final component. Constructed chronologically and kicked off by a framing device in which friends of the family ask about a particularly beguiling scrapbook, Laverents guides the viewer through his early years as a busker, his vaudeville tenure, the breakup of his first marriage and union with his second wife Stella, his sidebar as a Fuller Brush salesman, his wartime service in Calcutta, the infidelity that destroyed his second marriage, his 1949 meeting of third wife Adelaide (costar of many of his 16mm short subjects), and his subsequent hobby of amateur filmmaking (illustrated with copious clips). An update in 1989 fills the viewer in on Adelaide’s death and sets up the saga’s shot-on-video coda, the whole package comprised of an invigorating combination of animation, still photography, and pre-digital photographic trickery. The film’s postscript finds a widowed Laverents assuaging his loneliness by fixing up his home, losing a hundred pounds, and submitting to a facelift in a bid to attract a life companion. The Sid Saga concludes with the filmmaker bonding with a Scandinavian woman 17 years his junior and enjoying his cinematic acclaim while expressing his wish to live to be a hundred.

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In January 2004, Laverents was given a career retrospective by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, titled “The Wonderful World of Sid’s Cinema.” It should not count as a spoiler to note that Laverents achieved his life expectancy goal – and them some – lasting to the milestone age of 100 years, nine months, and a day before his death on May 6, 2009. A year earlier, he had been thrown a centenary celebration at the James Bridges Theater, on the campus of UCLA. Fearful he would not be able to attend due to poor health, Laverents prepared a shot-on-video apology but managed to make the event, to gather kudos, bask in the acclaim, and present a double feature of Multiple SIDosis and The Sid Saga. Summing up the DIY filmmaker’s importance to cinema in The New York Times, Matt Haber championed Laverents as “a distinctively American artist: a rec-room tinkerer with the can-do optimism of someone who got through the Depression and found comfort in the suburbs. Following his own whims rather than any cultural movement, he turned himself from a one-man band into a one-man independent movie studio. Mr. Laverents makes multitalented feature filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderbergh look like slackers.”

Hypno-Murder: Secrets of the French Police (1932)

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Secrets of the French Police is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink oddity that flings together police procedurals, adventure serials, and a horror villain with hypno-murder powers. Never settling into one genre for more than a few scenes, it’s totally incoherent and bizarrely entertaining, as it absorbs influences from the famous French Inspector Bertillon to Dracula and The Mystery of the Wax Museum. This RKO programmer from 1932 is now on DVD as part of the Warner Archive’s Forbidden Hollywood Volume 10, and is recommended for those with attention deficit disorder.

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Memos from Zanuck: “It All Depends on How You Tell the Story”

blogopenerA few weeks ago, I wrote about the behind-the-scenes memos between Jack Warner and his producers, directors, and stars that can be found in a book titled Inside Warner Bros. 1935 – 1951. Compiled by Rudy Behlmer, the memos are fascinating and revelatory. Not only do they offer insights into the daily operations of the major studios, they also revealed the personalities, peculiarities, and peccadillos of the moguls who ran Hollywood during the Golden Age. This week, I thought I would skim through Behlmer’s Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck: The Golden Years at Twentieth Century-Fox to uncover forgotten details of the studio’s history that classic movie fans might find enlightening. Though his memos are not as quirky or unintentionally funny as Warner’s, they confirmed my opinion regarding his strengths as a producer.

I have always thought of Zanuck as a literate man whose early years as a scriptwriter for Warner Bros. served him well as an executive producer. Zanuck exhibited a talent for shaping scripts during preproduction and sharpening films during editing. While directors such as John Ford and Preston Sturges often bristled at his interference and disagreed with him about cutting down scenes and sequences, Zanuck was a stickler for linear narratives with sharp pacing, which he called “tempo.” Often, his judgment was correct. His cut of My Darling Clementine did tighten the narrative without losing the majesty of the visuals and gravity of the characters.

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The History Behind Watching Movies

How often have we decided to watch or not watch a movie based on nothing more than a feeling?  This movie or that movie may have gotten excellent reviews or recommendations from trusted companions that it’s incredibly fun and entertaining but we decide we’d rather watch this tried and true personal favorite instead.  This has happened to me dozens of times.  I forsake the viewing of an unknown quantity with the viewing of a known quantity, and a personal favorite at that.   Now, how many times has actual history, as in the history you study in school and read about in large volumes written by scholars and historians, influenced the decision?  If you’re me, the answer is still “dozens of times.”  Some movies I will watch in an instant if it involves some kind of historical recreation that fascinates me.  Others, I won’t even bother.

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May 14, 2016
David Kalat
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David Kalat’s Day Off

So this week, on May 15 and 18th, TCM is teaming up with Fathom Events to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Ferris Bueller’s Day off by returning it to theaters for a select engagement.  You can click this link to find a local screening and book your tickets.  And, in honor of this event, I’m taking the day off.  See y’all later!

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Greetings, Movie Morlocks readers. I am Julie Stapel, the only member of the Stapel-Kalat family not to have guest blogged here. And what better time to do it than now—when David has gone on a madcap Chicago adventure just like our protagonist Ferris Bueller (see photos).

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off means a great deal to me and I’m happy for the opportunity to talk about why. First, a bit of origin story on me. I grew up in Columbia City, Indiana, a bodaciously small town (to quote Charles de Mar in another of my favorite movies, Better Off Dead). Growing up, Chicago was my Shangri-La—mythical, perfect. I was fortunate to take both family and school trips to Chicago with some frequency when I was growing up. I would cry as soon as the skyline came into view and again as the skyline faded into the distance as we were going home. Now I commute in every day for work and it still gets me sometime. It’s an impossibly beautiful city.

So imagine my delight when, in 1986, when I was 16, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, was released. Of course, Columbia City had no movie theater at the time so we had to go to Fort Wayne to see it. (Fort Wayne is very nice too but never had the ability to quite capture my heart with its skyline). Not only was I precisely in the John Hughes age demographic, but the movie is a love letter to Chicago with its sweeping aerial shots of the lake and the city that served no narrative purpose at all. They were just beautiful. I saw it at least 5 times in the theater and dozens of times on TV and video in the years since then, including with my own children who never had to long for Chicago.

Now I’m no film scholar and my observations are a bit meandering, but here goes . . . .

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KEYWORDS: Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, John Hughes, Matthew Broderick
COMMENTS: 3
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A Love/Hate Relationship with the Movies

When you love the movies as much as we do, complications are inevitable.  As a youngster, just dipping your toe in the waters of the cinematic ocean, you confidently answer the question, “What’s your favorite movie?” with an actual title.  Years later, there are too many to name.  Years after that, even your favorites, you admit, have good and bad parts.  You may still have an overriding favorite, but along the way you’ve discovered dozens if not hundreds of movies that you have both love and hate for.  For instance, yesterday TCM aired Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? I love Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier, Cecil… okay, I love the whole cast.  I hate the sappy screenplay.  I love the final speech, however, even though it’s sappy.  I hate the scene where Poitier schools his father, as if his father hadn’t seen ten times more than he ever has.  I love the silly scene of Tracy and Hepburn at the drive-in soda shop.  I hate the laughable portrayal of young people in that very scene.  You get the idea.  Love and hate.  Speaking of which…

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Mistress of Menace: Barbara Steele in The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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There was a depth to her. On the surface she was a beautiful brunette woman. Beneath that–and you could almost get poetic here looking into her eyes–you could see layer, upon layer, upon layer. I could probably best, and inadequately, describe it as a kind of exotic mystery.” – Roger Corman on Barbara Steele

There are many reasons why you should turn into TCM tonight (8 PM EST/5 PM PST) to catch The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) hosted by Roger Corman. First and foremost, it was the second film in Corman’s laudable Edgar Allan ‘Poe Cycle’ and it remains one of the director’s most frightening achievements generating a palpable sense of dread within its opening minutes with help from Les Baxter’s bone-chilling score. It is also one of American International Picture’s best looking productions displaying some sumptuous 16th century inspired set design by Daniel Haller who, with a minuscule budget, transforms a Hollywood set into a medieval castle draped in blood red and cryptic black velvet accompanied by glimmers of antique gold. Richard Matheson’s script is surprisingly innovative adapting Poe’s suspenseful tale told by a single nameless protagonist into a full-blown gothic drama with multiple characters and elements of mystery, romance and supernatural horror. In addition, Vincent Price delivers one of his greatest performances here as the ill-fated Don Nicholas Medina, a deeply troubled character who alternates between profound melancholy and all-consuming madness. Last but certainly not least, it has the distinction of being the first American horror film featuring the beguiling Mistress of Menace, Barbara Steele.

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This week on TCM Underground: Death Force (1978) and Clay Pigeon (1971)

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If you’ve grown tired of all the repeats here at TCM Underground lately, oh brother have we got something very special for you this week!

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