Roger Vadim: The Devil Is a Frenchman

Spirits of the Dead
I come here to praise Roger Vadim, not to bury him. Perhaps the most notorious bad boy director of French cinema, Vadim has been the subject of a few reputation rehab attempts over the years on home video, but it never seems to stick. Instead he’s still remembered (if at all) as the lothario who romanced Catherine Deneuve, Jane Fonda, and Brigitte Bardot, with the latter two becoming his wives. Granted, that’s a reputation Vadim himself did more than a bit to encourage by writing autobiographies with titles like Memoirs of the Devil and Bardot, Deneuve & Fonda: My Life with the Three Most Beautiful Women in the World. On the other hand, if people can wake up and enshrine Russ Meyer in the auteur firmament, there’s no reason his closest French counterpart shouldn’t have the same chance. One of his most outrageous films (and first Hollywood effort), 1971’s Pretty Maids All in a Row, will be shimmying back onto TCM in the wee hours this Thursday, August 18th, but that’s just the opening salvo in a full-on Vadim assault on your senses in August. On Tuesday, August 23rd, you can also savor his contribution to the three-film Edgar Allan Poe anthology Spirits of the Dead (1968) and, as part of the day’s Summer under the Stars salute to Brigitte Bardot, see some of their collaborations with The Night Heaven Fell (1958), And God Created Woman (1956), and Love on a Pillow (1962). Be sure to check out the other Bardot films, too, as they ramp up to the final sublime entry, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1963).

Past Lives: Muriel, or the Time of Return (1963)


“In general I am not interested in the events themselves but in what happens afterwards. Not the departure, but the return.” – Jean Cayrol

In Muriel, or The Time of Return (1963), the repressed past infiltrates the present like a fungal growth slowly inching across the frame. A pre-World War II lover and a ghostly memory from Algiers fill the gaps in the lives of the Aughain family of Boulogne-sur-mer, a sleepy, emptied out seaside town just waiting to be possessed. Alain Resnais’ follow-up to Last Year at Marienbad (’61), Muriel has a materialist, tactile sense of place, established through rapid montages of everyday objects, whereas Marienbad’s amorphous no-place was shot with languorous long takes. The shift can be attributed to his collaborators, moving from nouveau roman author/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet on Marienbad to Jean Cayrol on Muriel. Cayrol was a poet and concentration camp survivor who had provided the text for Resnais’ Night and Fog. He has these characters bear the physical weight of history, something that slows their steps and hunches their backs, and this lurch can now be seen on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. 


Ruby Keeler: Come and Meet Those Dancing Feet

blog42ndMy 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.


Stepping Out of Their Comfort Zones

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the movies, and it’s questionable on certain days if I even have, it’s that many stars famous for one thing are much more multifaceted than they appear.  Case in point: Musical stars.  Today, it’s Cyd Charisse’s day here at TCM and Charisse is known for her dancing prowess, as well she should be, but she did dramatic work as well.  Today, TCM showcases some of her films that feature that work and it’s a great thing to do.  Of course, her musical work will be on display also, and Charisse either appeared in or starred in some of the greatest musicals ever, including Singin’ in the Rain and The Band Wagon, both featured tonight.  But it’s just as important to see her in movies like  The Wild North and Two Weeks in Another Town, not because they’re her best work (they’re not) but because we get to see her outside her wheelhouse for a change (okay, she sings and dances in The Wild North but it’s still a western).   And it’s not just musical stars but stars from all genres who have tried on different hats with varying results.

Comfort Zone 01


The Murky “History of Film”: Let’s Clean it Up

The world of cinema is still new enough that we break it down by decades, much as we do television and popular music.  That’s all well and good for now but eventually the cinema will be hundreds of years old and decades won’t do anymore.  Not only that, I can’t imagine cinema in a hundred years will be recognizable to me now or anyone else.  Go back in time and ask someone in the early one-reeler silent period, say, around 1905, what movies would be like in a little over a hundred years and no one would say, “Oh, I imagine they will invent devices known as computers that will be used to create graphics that are photo-realistic.  This will enable them to create environments that cannot exist in the real world.  And, of course, long before they do this, there will be sound, full natural color, multiple characters arcs and story lines, instantaneous transmission of world events viewable to anyone with a handheld device with which they can gather the information of history in an instant or communicate with anyone visually and audibly at any moment.”   In other words, for all I know, the cinema of tomorrow will be something literally uploaded into your cerebral cortex and in an instant you will be inside the movie environment just as you are in your own space right now.  It will be like walking around the Jurassic Park as it happens.  There won’t be an audience with you and the characters won’t be aware of your existence, unless it’s an interactive movie and they’re supposed to be.  What I’m saying is, The Great Train Robbery, Orphans of the Storm, The General, The Rules of the Game, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, 8 1/2, The Godfather, The Matrix, and The Avengers will, for all intents and purposes, belong to the same rough period of filmmaking, the flat screen period.  Or something like that.



Roddy McDowall: Celebrity Photographer


Roddy McDowall surrounded by some of the celebrity portraits he took

On Monday, Aug. 15, Roddy McDowall will be headlining TCM’s Summer Under the Stars line-up. McDowell spent most of his life in the spotlight after landing his first film role in the British children’s film Scruffy (1938) when he was only 10-years-old. In 1940 his family relocated to Los Angeles to escape the London Blitz following the outbreak of WW2 and soon afterward he appeared in the Oscar-winning drama How Green Was My Valley (1941) directed by John Ford. The film made McDowell a household name and the acclaimed child actor quickly landed parts in a number of family friendly films including My Friend Flicka (1943) and Lassie Come Home (1943). In the 1950s, McDowall took a break from Hollywood and practiced his craft on stage but he returned in 1960 and continued to act in movies and television until his death in 1998.

During his long career, McDowall developed a passion for photography and Hollywood history. He revered his fellow actors and began snapping candid pictures of his costars on and off set when he was just a teenager. As he got older, McDowall’s obsession developed into a serious artistic pursuit and he became a highly respected professional photographer. His photos appeared in many prestigious magazines including LIFE, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Architectural Digest, Premiere and Playboy and his work was displayed in galleries. He also shot album covers and book jacket portraits for a number of famous friends.


Tripping through England with The Wrong Box and Time Bandits

The Wrong Box This Saturday you’ll have a great opportunity to take a little crash course in British comedy courtesy of a double feature of two period films (more or less): Time Bandits (1981) and The Wrong Box (1966). In addition to featuring once-in-a lifetime rosters of talent in front of and behind the camera, both are the result of some of England’s most enduring contributions to comedic pop culture in radio, TV, and film, showing how profoundly media could shape the approach to screen humor from one decade to the next. [...MORE]

Opiate of the Masses: Silk Stockings (1957)


Silk Stockings (1957) is remembered less for what it is than what it represents – the end of the Golden Age of MGM musicals. It was adapted from the last musical Cole Porter wrote for the stage, contains Fred Astaire’s final leading performance, and was director Rouben Mamoulian’s farewell feature film. Viewed outside of that melancholic context, the film is a peppy Cold War burlesque that turns the ideological battle of Communism and capitalism into a decision between cold logic and effortless entertainment (guess what wins). Astaire reunites with his Band Wagon co-star Cyd Charisse to solve East-West relations through dance and expensive undergarments. An enormous hit in its time, it was the highest grossing musical to ever play Radio City Music Hall, but its reputation has suffered since. Silk Stockings deserves a better fate than to be an answer to an end-of-career trivia question, and  Warner Archive is helping by releasing it on Blu-ray. It will also screen on TCM this coming Sunday, August 14th, at 6PM.

Easy to Love: A Trip in Time to Cypress Gardens

blogpoolGet out those goggles and fins and join Esther Williams as she swims her way onto our TV screens today as part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. Williams has a special connection to my new home state of Florida because her aqua-musical Easy to Love, which airs at 12:30, was shot on location at Cypress Gardens, located near Winter Haven.

For over 30 years, Cypress Gardens rivaled Silver Springs as the premier Florida tourist attraction. Dick Pope opened Cypress Gardens in 1936, and he was quickly hailed as the Father of Florida Tourism for turning acres of swampland into a garden paradise. The Gardens featured over 8,000 exotic plants on carefully landscaped grounds that could be seen and photographed from small boats that floated on a network of waterways. But, the main attraction at the Gardens became the waterskiing shows. According to Florida tourist lore, the show began by accident during World War II when a group of visiting servicemen asked about the waterskiing. Apparently, they had read a newspaper article about the park, which included a photo of a skier, and they assumed there was a water show. Pope’s children and their friends threw together an impromptu waterskiing demonstration, and a new twist on aquatic entertainment was born. The show developed into a variety of aqua-batic tricks that included ramp jumps at 35 mph, precision skiing by the Aqua Maids, and daredevil skiers in four-tier human pyramids. The Cypress Gardens Water Ski Team broke over 50 world records, and the park became known as the Water Ski Capital of the World.


Criminal Justice Warriors…

… Classic Hollywood Style.


Fighting for justice on the movie screen is often portrayed in the courtroom as noble but flawed lawyers with names like Atticus Finch and Frank Galvin fight for the rights of the underdog.  Or maybe it’s a senator like Jefferson Smith fighting in the halls of democracy for the people.  Or maybe Ma and Tom Joad are fighting for their right to survive.  Maybe a journalist battles antisemitism while a blind vet struggles with racism.  For the most part we can be assured that victory, even if just a moral one, will emerge from the battle, though not always.  But criminal justice is the kind of justice usually reserved for action and suspense movies.  Think Hitchcock and the “wrongly accused man flees” movies to see what I mean.  Fighting for criminal justice is either another courtroom movie, like Compulsion or Anatomy of a Murder, or a thriller, like The Fugitive.  But not always.  There are many movies in which someone fighting for criminal justice is dealt with in a very dark, down and gritty manner.  One of those comes on tonight.  Two others deal with wrongly accused but don’t go in the direction of the thriller, instead taking the road of grim drama to emphasize the injustice at hand.  In only one of them can we honestly say the lead character is innocent.

Criminal Justice 01

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