A Forgotten Film to Remember: Patterns

blogbook“The patterns of which this piece speaks are behavior patterns of little human beings in a big world—lost in it, intimidated by it, and whose biggest job is to survive in it.” So said Rod Serling about his 1955 tele-drama Patterns, which was adapted into a feature film the following year. The quote by Serling is from the Bantam paperback version of the narrative, which was published in 1957. The story was produced in three separate mediums—television, film, and written fiction (left)—suggesting that it hit a nerve with audiences during the 1950s.

The film version, which airs on TCM this Saturday, September 24, at 10:15pm EST, differs from the tele-drama primarily in the casting of movie star Van Heflin as protagonist Fred Staples. Industrial engineer Staples and his wife, Nancy, played by Beatrice Straight, relocate from friendly Mansfield, Ohio, to cold-hearted Manhattan after Fred takes a job with Ramsey & Co. He and veteran vice-president Bill Briggs, played by Ed Begley, hit it off until Fred learns from company president Walter Ramsey that he was hired to replace the older man. Everett Sloane costars as Ramsey, who brow-beats Briggs in meeting after meeting, hoping to force the older executive to resign or retire. Caught in the middle, Staples struggles with his conscience. Though he protests the unfairness of Ramsey’s tactics, he stops short of making any real sacrifice on his friend’s behalf.

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A MAD DASH FOR CASH

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It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (Stanley Kramer, 1963) screens this Wednesday on TCM. The madcap road-race featuring a who’s-who of comedy racing across state lines to dig up stolen cash is a marvel of story-line simplicity and fun. I wish I could have seen at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2013 where it was screened on 70mm with five stars in attendance: Barrie Chase, Marvin Kaplan, Mickey Rooney, and Karen Sharpe Kramer. Jonathan Winters, who was supposed to attend, passed away two weeks before that screening. This “comedy to end all comedies” provided him his film debut – it was a role he almost turned down had his wife not changed his mind. It wasn’t the first time his wife could be thanked for a career choice. He had only been married a few months when he lost his wristwatch and his wife read about a talent contest offering up a wristwatch as first prize. They were strapped for cash, she knew he could win, urged him to participate, and a comic was born. What other tidbits might be said of the sprawling cast of Kramer’s slapstick road-trip? [...MORE]

Playing it Straight: Dr. Strangelove

Years ago, Arthur Schlesinger was asked by David Wallechinsky to list his favorite political movies  for Wallechinsky’s 1977 edition of The Book of Lists.  Schlesinger had some interesting titles on his list, including Robert Altman’s Nashville, but the one at the top was Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.  It had only been thirteen years since its release at that point but the movie was already regarded as one of the greatest comedy satires ever made.  It certainly deserves its placement in the pantheon of great political comedies and there’s little more I could say about it that hasn’t already been said (in fact, the best article I have ever read on the movie and its source material is here – it’s a fantastic piece) so in this space I’d like to focus on one thing only: the acting and how damned blasted wonderful it is from every single participant.

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Out of the Closet: Tab Hunter Confidential (2015)

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On September 19 TCM is airing a Tab Hunter double feature.
More info about programming can be found at the end of my post.

Everyone loves a good Hollywood tragedy. The violent murders of Sharon Tate and Sal Mineo generate more press and web articles than the body of work they left behind while the estates of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean continue to benefit from our endless fascination with early death by misadventure. For better or worse, we obsess over stories of fallen stars who died while they were still young and beautiful as well as those who died violently or wasted away in obscurity. Stories about celebrities who endure great personal and professional hardship but manage to survive and thrive into comfortable old age tend to sell fewer magazines. Tab Hunter’s story is a survivor’s story. It’s uplifting, empowering and intriguingly retold in Tab Hunter Confidential (2015), a new documentary directed by Jeffrey Schwarz that was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray. It is also currently streaming on Amazon and Netflix.

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Day of the Doberman

dobermangang_1 Do you love dogs? Of course you do, and so do most moviegoers if Hollywood history is any indication. However, if you had to name the biggest decade for man’s best friend, which one would it be? The heyday of Rin-Tin-Tin in the ‘20s? The arrival of Lassie in 1943 or her TV reign in the ‘50s? Maybe, but for my money the winner hands down has to be the 1970s – and there’s one breed that personified the Me Decade more than any other. Just as the United States was plunging into the chaos of Watergate, the whole country seemed to go canine crazy in 1972 when the most famous comic strip pooch got a theatrical vehicle with Snoopy Come Home and the Newberry-winning novel Sounder became a multiple Oscar-nominated prestige release. [...MORE]

Family Ties: Sunset Song (2015)

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“The June moors whispered and rustled and shook their cloaks, yellow with broom and powdered faintly with purple – that was the heather but not the full passion of its colour yet … and maybe the wind would veer there in an hour or so and you’d feel the change in the life and strum of the thing, bringing a streaming coolness out of the sea”. – Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sunset Song (1932)

Chris Guthrie, the young protagonist of Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s novel of rural Scottish life Sunset Song, is introduced as part of the landscape, an adornment to the hinterlands of Aberdeen. Her family suffers mightily, with an abusive father, a depressed mother, and the coming of WWI, but Chris always remains loyal to the land which bore her. Terence Davies’ 2015 film adaptation, now available on DVD and VOD in the U.S., is an elegiac heartbreaker which presents Chris as an iron-willed witness to the end of Scotland’s pre-industrial way of life. Played by model Agyness Deyn with stiff-backed reserve, Chris remains fiercely loyal to her conservative town despite the continued thwarting of her artistic ambitions – she is an enigma, and her mystical devotion to home is something that Davies dares not try to explain. She has absorbed an entire country’s worth of tragedies, but carries on anyway, as Davies’ camera floats around her, keeping her mystery intact.

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Flipper Meets the Creature from the Black Lagoon

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I enjoy reading and writing about the cinematic history of my adopted home state of Florida . From the silent era when Jacksonville almost became the center of the industry until now, Florida has served as an attractive location for film production.

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Movie Love: General or Specialized

I apologize for my back to back posts lately but that’s only because we have not yet replaced the irreplaceable David Kalat whose Saturday posts provided a nice break between my Friday and Sunday posts.  David’s posts were the kind that I would call specialized whereas mine tend to the more general.  That’s not to say that David didn’t have the ability to write about anything, he did.  It’s just that he was, to my eyes, a bonafide expert on silent comedy.  As I look over the Morlocks here, I think it’s a nice even mix between the specialized and the general but I still envy the specialists, knowing I will never be one.

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Gene Hackman: A Perfectly Ordinary Man

Gene Hackman shows his talents today on TCM with a pair of terrific movies, The Conversation from 1974 and Scarecrow from 1973. He also makes an appearance, and a great one, in the movie following those two, Young Frankenstein, and it was in the seventies that he became not only a box office draw but one of the most respected actors in the business.  He did all of it without matinee idol looks, a brooding persona, a flamboyant acting style, or a playboy personality.  He was perfectly ordinary in every way, except for the acting.

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52 Films By Women: #52FilmsByWomen

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Last October TCM in association with WIF (Women in Film) launched their Trailblazing Women film initiative by airing a month of movies made by women. Many of the films and filmmakers highlighted during the month-long programming event were often overlooked, underseen and deserving of a wider audience. Trailblazing Women was groundbreaking television that introduced the work of many women filmmakers to a much wider audience.

As part of the year-long Trailblazing Women initiative, WIF asked visitors to their website to join them in watching 52 Films By Women aka #52FilmsByWomen. The objective was to get people talking about women filmmakers by urging them to watch one film directed or co-directed by a woman every week between October 2015 and October 2016. Viewers were also encouraged to promote their viewing experiences by using the hashtag #52FilmsByWomen on social media. I joined the pledge last year and for the past 11 months I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of my favorite women made films and discovering new favorites. Next month #52FilmsByWomen comes to an end so I thought I’d share a few highlights from my viewing experience and hopefully inspire others to continue to seek out and watch films made by talented women.

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