Give Us Absolution

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The passing of screenwriter and playwright Peter Shaffer this summer (June 6, to be precise) is another reminder of how most successful writers tend to be remembered for one or two signature works. In this case, all of his obituaries focused on two titles, both of which he translated from stage to screen himself: Equus, filmed in 1977 by Sidney Lumet with Richard Burton and Peter Firth, and Amadeus, turned into an Oscar-winning 1984 film directed by Milos Forman with F. Murray Abraham and Tom Hulce.

Less remarked upon but not entirely ignored was the fact that Peter was preceded into this world by five minutes in 1926 by a twin brother, Anthony Shaffer,  who also turned a successful, Edgar Award-winning 1970 play into a hit film: Sleuth (1972), directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and starring Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine.  (Harold Pinter later overhauled it considerably for a 2007 version directed by Kenneth Branagh, with Caine switching roles opposite Jude Law.) [...MORE]

Love Triangle: It’s a Date (1940)


“Film for film, William A. Seiter may have given more pleasure to more people than any other director of the classical Hollywood era.” – Dave Kehr, Film Comment

William A. Seiter made companionable films, ones populated with sly comic actors given room to work. He started directing silent short comedies in 1915 and ended working on the television sitcom The Gale Storm Show in 1960. In between he was a sensitive shaper of star personas, from the Dadaist antics of Wheeler and Woolsey through the stubborn independence of Ginger Rogers. Less known today are the four 1940s musical comedies he made with star Deanna “Winnipeg’s Sweetheart” Durbin, a cute Canadian teen with a legit soprano singing voice who became a sensation, and was the highest paid actress in Hollywood by 1947 (she retired the following year at age 26). Warner Archive released the first of these, It’s A Date (1940), on DVD last month, and it’s a divertingly funny love triangle, pitting mother (Kay Francis) and daughter (Durbin) against each other for a plum acting role as well as the love of Walter Pidgeon. The set-up is a frame for Seiter and cast to hang gags on, and the deep bench of character players includes Eugene Pallette, Samuel S. Hinds, and S.Z. Sakall.


David Bordwell and “The Rhapsodes”: Old-School Film Critics

blogopenerThe sheer volume of movie reviews suggests that everyone and their mothers have become film critics. And, I mean that literally. I once worked as the managing editor of a video magazine. One day a young woman phoned to tell me that she and her mother would like to review movies for the magazine, particularly “old” movies. By that she meant movies from the 1970s. She assured me they were qualified because, “We watch a lot of movies from the 1970s.”

Before the Internet “democratized” film reviewing, critics like Ebert, Denby, Turan, and Rosenbaum wrote for newspapers, journals, or magazines. Movie-lovers of my generation read their reviews and essays because they were well written, and each review taught us something about film or culture. The critic I followed religiously was Dave Kehr, who wrote for the Chicago Reader, then the Chicago Tribune, before moving to one of the New York papers. He is currently a film curator at MoMA.

The proliferation of reviewing in recent years has watered down the art or craft of film criticism. Few reviewers are distinct writers, let alone talented ones. Cheap sarcasm has replaced style, particularly for young reviewers who look for reasons to dislike a film so they can jab at it. What they don’t realize is that this snarky discourse makes their reviews sound so similar they are virtually interchangeable. Film scholar David Bordwell’s latest book, The Rhapsodes: How 1940s Critics Changed American Film Culture, reminded me of the dismal state of contemporary reviewing because it chronicles the work of four film critics who not only knew how to write but who had distinctive voices and points of view. [...MORE]

The Early Adopters: Cut ‘Em Some Slack

Whenever I see a movie made at the cutting edge of a new technology getting grief for not being an utterly refined example of said technology, I think, “Well, of course not! They were the first!”  I think of this often whenever I think of the early days of sound and how much criticism the early sound period films get.  Hell, I’ve done it myself.  There are plenty of early sound movies that are unnervingly quiet except for the talking.  No ambient sounds, no musical scores, no sound effects.  And early sound comedies had awkwardly long pauses between lines because they thought they had to hold for laughter like they do on a stage.  The Marx Brothers were among those who understood pauses between jokes was deadly and a part of the pleasure of watching something like the last frenetic ten minutes of Duck Soup is that you’ll miss some of the jokes from laughing too hard at the previous joke.  But all of this extends too things cinematic far beyond sound.  Movies change, quickly, and if wasn’t for filmmakers experimenting with things in their early stages, we’d never get to the refined stages we enjoy so much.

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July 30, 2016
David Kalat
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I Did It My Way (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Buster Keaton’s Doughboys)

So, gentle readers, this is my farewell. I started writing for TCM’s website ten years ago; I joined the Movie Morlocks six years ago. Since my debut here in the fall of 2010 I’ve posted over 300 blog posts. Between the Morlocks posts and my work on the website, I’ve contributed significantly more than 500,000 words—the equivalent of something like 6 full-length books.

It has been a phenomenal experience. I’ve been so grateful for the opportunity to share the stage with my fellow Morlocks—an extraordinary collection of worldclass film writers—and speak to such an engaged, knowledgeable audience. It’s been a blast. But I’ve chosen to resign from TCM so I can spend more time yelling at the raccoons in my neighborhood. Raccoons have got to be an atheist’s best argument for evolution—what Intelligent Deisgner worth his salt would deliberately invent hyper-intelligent trash-eating scavengers with thumbs? And really, if after 500,000 words I haven’t totally exhausted everything I could possibly have to say about classic movies, you’ve got to agree I’ve certainly long ago run out of useful or interesting things to say.

In the spirit of going out as I came in, I’m going to take my final post as an excuse to once again bang the drum in favor of an unloved, underappreciated gem by a slapstick clown. My first post was about Charlie Chaplin’s Kid Auto Races, and today I’ll go down swinging in favor of Buster Keaton’s MGM talkie Doughboys. Yes. Seriously. Come on, click the fold to keep reading –this will be our last time together, let’s make it special!


KEYWORDS: Buster Keaton, Doughboys, MGM

The Next Voice You Hear Won’t Have the Right Accent…

… but does it matter?

Tonight on TCM, the 1979 adventure adaptation of The Man in the Iron Mask, in this case titled The Fifth Musketeer, airs and it’s a good case of a movie that has no genuine concern for what anyone sounds like.  The actors playing the famous characters from Alexandre Dumas’ The d’Artagnan Romances include Beau Bridges as Louis XIV / Philippe of Gascony, Cornel Wilde as D’Artagnan, Ian McShane as Fouquet, Alan Hale, Jr. as Porthos, Lloyd Bridges as Aramis, Jose Ferrer as Athos, Olivia de Havilland as the Queen Mother, and Rex Harrison as Colbert.  No need for a double take, you did indeed see Lloyd Bridges listed as Aramis.  And no, he does not at any point attempt to sound like anyone other than Lloyd Bridges.  Nor does he attempt any different inflections or mannerisms that would indicate anything but a 20th century man.  The same goes for Alan Hale, Jr.  Beau Bridges plays himself for one role, Philippe, and engages in an accent and foppish mannerisms for the other role, Louis XIV.  The movie has a lot of problems but the actors aren’t one of them.  It doesn’t matter at all that none of them sound particularly French.



Poster Gallery: Remembering Jack Davis 1924-2016


Artist and pop culture chronicler Jack Davis passed away this week at age 91 after a long and productive career that spanned decades and traversed many mediums. Throughout his life, Davis won numerous awards and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2003. Today the prolific illustrator is probably best remembered for his work in comic books but he also designed some iconic movie posters and worked hand-in-hand with Rankin/Bass productions on some of the company’s most beloved animated movies and TV shows.



ABBA: The Movie

Earlier this year I made a trek with three friends to Stockholm where we got to experience firsthand the Eurovision Song Contest, that annual feast of musical excess, questionable taste, vocal acrobatics, and international squabbling. This year proved to be no exception, and though it’s still a niche event in the United States, all of Europe and many other countries (particularly Israel and Australia) treat it like a major sporting event. Tradition holds that the winner’s country hosts the following year’s contest, so it was Sweden’s sixth turn to be taken over for a couple of weeks by Eurovision fans.

Not surprisingly, you couldn’t walk through a store or sit through an event without hearing the name “ABBA” at least a few times. Sweden’s greatest pop music export, the fabulous foursome famously won the contest in 1974 with “Waterloo,” energizing a career that would burn brightly until the group’s dissolution in 1982. Since 2013, Stockholm has also been home to ABBA: The Museum, an eye-popping immersion in the group’s music, impact, and blazingly colorful outfits (including the weirdly lifelike figures in the photo below). However, the group’s popularity is perhaps greater than ever around the world, and as I concluded walking through rooms flickering with concert footage and music clips, they’re also one of the most cinematic music acts of all time. [...MORE]

Summer of Rohmer: The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007)


I am ending my Summer of Rohmer series with a film set in the spring. Yes, it is a shocking betrayal of the series’ seasonal brand, but I was eager to revisit The Romance of Astrea and Celadon (2007), and extend my stay in Rohmer’s world. Over the last six weeks I have traveled to a variety of France’s hottest vacation spots for romantic anxiety, from a Saint-Tropez country house in La Collectionneuse (1967) to Dinard, the beachside town in A Summer’s Tale (1997).  The Romance of Astrea and Celadon transported me to the valley of the Sioule in Auvergne, a bucolic green landscape for star-crossed lovers in 5th-century Gaul to suffer in. For his final feature (he passed away in 2010), Rohmer adapted Honoré d’Urfé’s L’Astree (ca. 1607 – 1627), a 5,000 page hit at the royal courts. Rohmer focused on the spine of the digressive novel – the romance between the shepherd Celadon and the shepherdess Astrea, and the miscommunication, madness, and masquerades that delay their union. Though set millennia in the past, the film works over familiar Rohmerian ground, as it ponders the nature of love and fidelity, while trying to square the contradictory impulses of each.


The Story of DeMille’s Lost City

blogopenerA few weeks ago, my friend and wonderful colleague Daphne Rosenzweig left an article in my mail cubby at Ringling College titled “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMIlle. ” The article described the enormous Egyptian-style set built for Cecil B. DeMille’s 1925 version of The Ten Commandments and also chronicled the efforts of filmmaker Peter Brosnan to make a documentary about the set, which still exists beneath the sand dunes near Guadalupe, California. Originally called the City of the Pharaoh, the set was the largest built to date.

Film historians live for these kinds of stories, and I decided to track down the documentary. My search led me to Mr. Brosnan, who spent 30 years making a film about the City of the Pharoah, now referred to as the Lost City. He and his friend Bruce Cardozo began their quest to find and excavate the Lost City as well as to document their efforts in 1982. Sadly, just before the final cut of the film, The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille, Mr. Cardozo died unexpectedly.

Mr. Brosnan was kind enough to allow me to interview him about the Lost City, its excavation, and his film. He is currently shopping for a distributor while the film makes the rounds of the festival circuit, most recently playing the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Check out the movie’s website at and view the trailer at

[...MORE] is the official blog for TCM. No topic is too obscure or niche to be excluded from our film discussions. And we welcome your comments on our blogs and bloggers.
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