Girlhood: Anne of Green Gables (1934)

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The books of my childhood have no hold on me, no permanent perch in my imagination. I was immersed in the boys-solving-crimes genre of The Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown as a lad, and today I couldn’t dredge up a single plot point from the dozens I read. My wife, however, is continually revisiting the worlds of Laura Ingalls Wilder and L.M. Montgomery, with Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables deepening for her over time. They evoke a rambunctious, adventurous girlhood as well as a very tactile sense of place. The forbidding tundra of Little House’s upper midwest and idyllic Prince Edward Island of Anne are landscapes that she has incorporated into her being. If she ever goes starry eyed, she has probably escaped to the Ingalls cabin in her mind. As a selfish male, I desired access to this secret girls club. But as a lazy one, I haven’t had time to read the novels. So instead I viewed the 1934 adaptation of Anne of Green Gables, newly on DVD from the Warner Archive. It’s a polished RKO production that softens the book’s tragedies, but still captures the stumbling energies of Anne’s incorrigible youth.

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Return to Hell Harbor

blogposterHoist the colors! Tomorrow, Tuesday, January 19, TCM takes us out to sea with a series of cinematic adventures aboard pirate ships. Prepare to be shanghaied at the ungodly hour of 6:00am when the first film, Hell Harbor, kicks off the day-long celebration.

I confess I have already written about Hell Harbor back when TCM was spotlighting the film’s director, Henry King. That was several years ago, and Hell Harbor was not part of the programming on that occasion. I am revisiting the film, because this time around, I get to remind viewers to watch this forgotten film from the early sound era. Indeed, the sound is the most remarkable part of Hell Harbor, because it was shot on location in Tampa, Florida, in 1929—barely two years after the adoption of sync sound.

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Sophisticate or Yokel? Rugged or Delicate? The Roles They Couldn’t Play

Tonight on TCM, Design for Living airs, the 1933 adaptation of Noel Coward’s play, starring Gary Cooper, Frederic March, and Miriam Hopkins.  I bring it up because Gary Cooper, the man who spent a career playing the down-home, salt of the earth type in movies like Meet John Doe and Sergeant York, also had quite an affinity for playing sophisticated, as he shows in Design for Living.  He didn’t do it much.  Even when he played a decidedly non-yokel types, like the lexicographer of Ball of Fire or architect of The Fountainhead, they still had that Gary Cooper quality to them, if you know what I mean.   Once I started thinking about that, I started thinking about his co-star, Frederic March and how, even when he’s not playing entirely sophisticated types, there’s still that Frederic March quality there that seems sophisticated, the character of Mr. Hyde notwithstanding.  I always talk about the roles that actors are perfect for but what I never think about is what actors aren’t perfect for and how some actors couldn’t play a certain type if their career depended on it.

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January 16, 2016
David Kalat
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The Fall and Rise of Max Linder

There’s an autographed photo of Charlie Chaplin, inscribed “To the one and only Max, “The Professor”. From his disciple, Charlie Chaplin. May 12th 1917.”

The “Max” in this scenario was Max Linder, the seminal French comedian.  Chaplin was often stingy about acknowledging his debts to his various collaborators and peers, but he was never shy about praising Linder.  When Max Linder, died, Chaplin shuttered his studio for a day out of respect.

Linder’s influence extended far beyond Chaplin, though.  His screen comedy laid the groundwork for the entirety of the silent comedy era that followed: he made films full of absurd sight gags and slapstick, grounded in character and driven by farcical situations.  There’s scarcely a comedian who came in his wake whose work does not bear an overt and demonstrable debt to Linder’s.

That being said, Linder’s films are not nearly as well known as you’d expect given that background.  Some of his best works show up on TCM from time to time and are available on DVD; some of his pioneering early shorts are available on a Blu-Ray box set from France—true, true.  But being available and being watched are two different things.

Linder’s legacy is clouded, you see, by the unsettling facts of his life.  If I tell you “Max Linder is a genius of comedy, go see his films,” your next question is going to be, “Sounds great—tell me more about him.”  At which point, this whole conversation takes a sudden dark turn, and that’s the problem.

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KEYWORDS: Max Linder
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1937: My Favorite Year of the Thirties

We, each of us, have plenty of favorite movies and of those favorites, many will often come from the same year or, better put, each year contains many favorite films.  Some years, however, stand out more than others.  Today, one of the movies featured here on TCM is one of my personal favorites and also comes from a year that I have long held in high regard, despite it not having the same fame as another year in the thirties, 1939. No, my favorite year from the thirties is 1937, the year from which tonight’s late night, early morning movie, Dead End, sprang.   It was the year in which one of my favorite movies of all time was released and a year in which Hollywood was finally fully comfortable not only with sound but technicolor as well.

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15 Favorite Films of 2015

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Marlon Brando (who makes an appearance on my list) and his cat

With the Oscar nominations making news around the world today I thought I’d join my fellow Morlocks, Susan Doll and R. Emmet Sweeney, by sharing a list of some of the best new films I saw in 2015. As usual, I tend to have eclectic taste and a penchant for darker fare and foreign films so my list contains plenty of horror movies and only a few U.S. releases.

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This week on TCM Underground: Alice, Sweet Alice (1976) and I Confess (1953)

pizap.com14527108056381 To miss this week’s Catholic-themed TCM Underground would be an grievous sin! [...MORE]

The Great Train Clobbering: Emperor of the North (1973)

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“1933, the height of the Great Depression. Hoboes roamed the land; riding the rails in a  desperate search for jobs. Spurned by society, unwanted and homeless, they became a breed apart. Nomads who scorned the law and enforced their own. Dedicated to their destruction was the Railroad Man who stood between them and their only source of survival — The Trains.” – opening scroll of Emperor of the North

In Emperor of the North (1973) the Hobo and the Railroad Man are respective avatars of chaos and order, bloody abstractions who engage in a near-wordless duel to the death on a train rumbling through the Pacific Northwest. They have no back stories or personal motivation, they simply fight because it is in their nature, and the other one is there. Though the film is set in 1933 during the Depression, the story seems to take place outside history on a plane of pure hatred. Director Robert Aldrich expertly channels this hate in an elemental chase film in which stars Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin tear out chunks of each other’s flesh to perpetuate their mutually solitary ways of life. It was released last year on a pristine-looking Blu-ray from Twilight Time.

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The Moving Picture Girls

blogopenerWhile wandering through an antique mall in the middle of nowhere, I came across a beat-up bookcase crammed into a corner nook. As I walked toward it, a book caught my attention right away: The Movie Picture Girls. The faded brown cover showed a man cranking an old silent-movie camera while two young girls appeared in cameo portraits above him; it was clear that this was a girls’ adventure book about the movies.

The cover lists the author as Laura Lee Hope, who, according to the back insert, was also the author of The Bobbsey Twins series. The copyright date is 1914, an interesting juncture in film history when the industry was in the process of exiting the East Coast to make Hollywood its new company town. If Laura Lee Hope sounds like a too-perfect name for an author of young women’s fiction, then you won’t be surprised to learn that the name was too good to be true. Laura Lee Hope is the collective pseudonym for several writers who worked for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, a company that specialized in producing juvenile literature. Stratemeyer’s books were originally published by Grosset and Dunlap, though various series were reprinted by other publishers over the next several decades. Among the writers who penned The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, Tom Swift, and The Moving Picture Girls were owner Edward Stratemeyer, Howard Roger Garis and his wife Lilian McNamara Garis, and Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet.

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deliver us from sleepless nights, one day at a time

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Two weeks ago, shortly after finishing my last post, I read the obituary for Haskell Wexler, who received five Oscar noms and two wins. The one for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Mike Nichols, 1966) was to be the last Oscar given out for a black-and-white film. A week later I was reading the obituary for Vilmos Zsigmond, another Oscar-winning cinematographer legend who first blew me away in 1971 with McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Deliverance. They say death comes in threes, but I don’t remember reading anything about the grim reaper adding vocations to his deadly lottery numbers. Should I worry about Christopher Doyle and Emmanuel Lubezki? My fears were, of course, unfounded, as the third showbiz obit for me to read came last Friday, and it was for Pat Harrington Jr., aka: Schneider on One Day at a Time. They all made their contributions in the field of entertainment, and each NYT obit had its surprises. [...MORE]

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