Ida Lupino’s The Bigamist (1953)

Today is Edmond O’Brien’s day here at TCM and later tonight (much later, as in 1:30 a.m., EST) will be showing the little seen 1953 drama, The Bigamist.  Starring O’Brien (of course) with Joan Fontaine, Edmund Gwenn, and Ida Lupino, who also directs, the film takes a personal and sensitive look at the life of a man who ends up married to two women, both of whom he loves.  Given the controversial topic and the time of its release, 1953, one would think the movie would have a far harsher, more disapproving take on the subject and yet it’s as nonjudgmental and understanding as a movie could be.  Ida Lupino flew under the radar as a director in the then (and still) male-dominated occupation and, as a result, could make movies like The Bigamist that, since they weren’t expected to have a wide release anyway, could deal with such topics head on.

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Unfollowing The Golden Rule: Good Sam (1948)

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“I’ve tried to break him of it…but he just loves people!”  -Lucille (Ann Sheridan) complaining about her husband Sam (Gary Cooper) in Good Sam

In 1948 Leo McCarey was coming off the biggest hits of his career, as Bing Crosby’s singing priest in Going My Way (1944) and The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945) topped the box office. Both films were amiable attempts at humanizing Catholicism, moving from the inaccessible Latin mass to the lucid curative powers of pop crooning. They also feature McCarey’s talent for improvisation - Bells features a Nativity scene enacted by children who replace “O Holy Night” with “Happy Birthday”. For Good Sam, McCarey again returned to a religious theme, placing a man of saintly selflessness in the bourgeois suburbs. Sam’s insistence on giving away his time and money to those around him frustrates his wife Lucille, who has to deal with the human consequences of his do-goodism. That is, she has to care for all the strays he brings home as their nest egg slowly dissipates. Lucille is the cynical realist to Sam’s idealist Christian (they’re Episcopalian), but their love allows them to bridge the philosophical gap. It is, for the most part, a bitterly funny film. It posits the impossibility of saintliness in a materialist society, and McCarey mourns this loss through comedy rather than tragedy. Decades later, after the film had disappeared from view, McCarey stated, “the moment was ill chosen to make a film about apostleship.” This fascinating, frequently hilarious apostle-out-of-time feature  is now available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

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Battle of the Powells: William vs. Dick

dickToday, TCM pays tribute to Dick Powell, airing 14 of his films as part of Summer Under the Stars. Earlier this month, a day had been devoted to William Powell. As a major fan of both stars, I can’t decide if I was more excited to listen to Dick Powell croon and crack wise, or watch William Powell woo his costars with wit and style.

Like several male stars from the Golden Age, neither Powell was classically handsome. Yet, both are attractive and appealing because of their cultivated charisma and star images. WP was the elegant gentleman who exuded romance and class, while his keen sense of humor prevented his characters from becoming too high brow or pompous. Though he played oily cads very early in his career, his star image as the suave gent was cemented by the 1930s and remained remarkably consistent until his last movie, Mr. Roberts, in 1955. I admire those Golden Age movie stars who were able to maneuver their images through the changes in the industry and the ravages of aging. But, then again, who doesn’t respect Dick Powell for completely changing his star image from the sweet-faced crooner of backstage musicals to the wise-cracking, hard-boiled anti-hero of film noir.

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Seven Days in May

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Coming up soon on TCM is an interesting political thriller by John Frankenheimer that usually gets lost in the shuffle. Seven Days in May (1964) is based on the novel by Fletcher Knebel and was co-authored by Charles W. Bailey II, with a script by Rod Serling. Knebel’s career in writing was sparked by a chapter he wrote on John F. Kennedy in the book Candidates (1960). Bailey was a journalist, newspaper editor, and novelist. The book was on the New York Times bestseller list for almost a year and was a personal favorite of J.F.K. – which was no surprise, given that the subject matter was inspired by an interview Knebel did of Kennedy’s Navy Secretary, John Connally, at the Pentagon. As director/writer/professor Alex Cox points out in the book he published last year, The President and the Provocateur, in Knebel’s interview: “Connally spoke of ‘the frustrations of his admirals, who bridled under the restraints of civilian leadership, and felt muzzled in their political expression.’ Connally, as Knebel understood him, seemed to be musing that possession of nuclear weapons might lead the United States to become a military dictatorship.” [...MORE]

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August 23, 2014
David Kalat
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Canon Fodder

I’ve outed myself as a Doctor Who fan in this space before. As a TV show, even if it is a record-breakingly long-running TV show, it’s not really within the remit of this blog—but then again, Doctor Who has been wearing its cinematic ambitions pretty openly on its sleeve lately. Movie directors like Nick Hurran, Ben Wheatley and Douglas Mackinnon are directing the current season, with no less than Peter Jackson in talks to direct an episode next year; tonight’s season premiere is showing in movie theaters around the world, and that’s not even the first time this has happened.  I’ve blogged here about one of the 1960s big screen adaptations, and so for parallelism’s sake I’m returning today to finish the cycle and talk about 1965’s Dr. Who and the Daleks.

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Death Notice: Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide

2014 MaltlinAnother week, another obituary… only this time we’re here to bury a book (and, time permitting, praise it). Plume, the boutique imprint of Penguin Random House has announced that Leonard Maltin’s 2015 Movie Guide will be the last of the series, the end of the line for the movie-lover’s favorite doorstop. It’s a bittersweet moment, one that has many of us, I’m sure, remembering the first time we clapped eyes on one of Maltin’s ever-thickening guides. I was 12, on the cusp of turning 13, and I had convinced my mother to sign me up to be a member of a book club that brokered in volumes on movie-making and entertainment. I barely remember what three books I ordered as part of the introductory offer (one was a Vincent Price biography) but part of the deal was that you got a free copy of the Maltin guide. I had no idea who Leonard Maltin was but a free book was nothing to sneeze at. Though there were no pictures, the The 1975 Edition TV Movies Guide edited by Leonard Maltin (we weren’t so much about the catchy titles back in the day) became my constant companion and the closest thing I would have to a bedmate for the next eight years. (Yeah, I was a late bloomer.) Though the book fell well short of its promise to relay “everything you want to know and more about 10,000 movies now being shown on TV” (fault: publisher, not editor), there was more than enough in there on which a pre-teen cinephile could glut himself. Over the next several years, I used my allowance to keep current with Maltin, as the TV Movies Guide became Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies and Leonard Maltin’s TV Movies Video Guide and Leonard Maltin’s Movie & Video Guide and finally Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide

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Saying Good Night to Brian G. Hutton (1935-2014): Night Watch (1973)

taylorhutton1Last week this blog started to resemble the obituary section of my local newspaper and while I hate to continue that trend I couldn’t let Brian G. Hutton’s demise go unmentioned. The New York born director and actor is best remembered today for his work on two popular big-budget WW2 films, WHERE EAGLES DARE (1968) and KELLY’S HEROES (1971) but he also appeared in some memorable films such as John Sturges’ GUN FIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957) and the Elvis vehicle, KING CREOLE (1958) as well as many popular television shows including GUNSMOKE, PERRY MASON, RAWHIDE and ALFRED HITHCOCK PRESENTS. The last film Hutton helmed was the Indiana Jones inspired HIGH ROAD TO CHINA (1983) and soon afterward he retired his directing chair. According to the fine folks at Cinema Retro, Hutton’s self-deprecating sense of humor often led him to criticize his own movies and he didn’t look back all that fondly at the time he spent in Hollywood but many film enthusiasts like myself appreciate the eclectic body of work he left behind.

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A Trio of Titanics

Early today TCM is showing Titanic from 1953 starring Barbara Stanwyck, Clifton Webb, and today’s star of the day Thelma Ritter as Maude Young, a fictionalized version of Molly Brown.  The tragic events of the night of April 14, 1912 have inspired many a filmmaker to add their own touch to the story.  It’s appeared in theatrical cameos (Calvalcade, Time Bandits), television movies (S.O.S. Titanic), television miniseries (the 2012 Titanic), German propaganda (the 1943 Nazi produced Titanic), computer games (Titanic: Adventure Out of Time), fictionalized spy thrillers (the none too thrilling Raise the Titanic) and, of course, full-blown Hollywood period productions.   It’s that last category I’ll deal with for this post.

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Brainquake: The Lost Novel by Samuel Fuller

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“Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.” -the first line of Sam Fuller’s Brainquake

Sam Fuller was not one for the slow burn. He preferred instant incineration. He learned his potent pulp technique in the NYC tabloids as a crime reporter, where an attention grabbing lede was all that mattered. The same skill is applied to his movie potboilers, as in The Naked Kiss‘ gonzo opener, where a bald prostitute assaults a john with her purse. His penchant for arresting opening scenes also appears in his novels – one of which is appearing in English for the first time this year. Fuller wrote Brainquake in the early 1990s, but it was only published in French and Japanese, rejected by U.S. editors for being too “European”. Intrepid pulp purveyors Hard Case Crime have corrected this injustice by releasing Brainquake last week in its English debut, complete with a gloriously seamy cover painting by Glen Orbik. The book is a densely plotted crime fiction farrago, deeply informed by Fuller’s experience as an exile. Ever since his inflammatory anti-racist White Dog was banned from U.S. cinemas, Fuller could only find work in Europe, and so he moved there with his wife Christa. The center of Brainquake is a monosyllabic bagman for the NYC mob who ends up on the lam in Paris. The bagman also happens to suffer from hallucination-inducing migraines that lend the book its title. Stacked with memorable characters, from a serial killer in priest’s garb to a melancholy French resistance fighter, the book is an overheated, overstuffed and never less than entertaining slab of Fuller’s expansive pulp imagination.

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Generation Clash: ‘The Happening’

happosterAccording to the film history books, 1967 was a seminal year for the Film School Generation because of three movies: Bonnie and Clyde, Cool Hand Luke, and The Graduate. The films’ departure from the conventions of Hollywood’s classic narrative style in story and technique combined with their counter-culture perspective was considered revolutionary. Because of their critical and box-office success, this trio of high-profile films announced to the world that there was a new sheriff in town.

However, other films released that year were just as modern and provocative, including Point Blank, Fearless Vampires Killers, Two for the Road, and In Cold Blood. Even fluff such as Thoroughly Modern Millie seemed modern in its self-reflexive comedy and spoofing of the musical genre. It is also important to remember that in 1967 the studios were still releasing conventional Hollywood movies with big-name stars and happy endings, such as War Wagon, Camelot, Barefoot in the Park, and Doctor Dolittle—hopelessly out of date in any year!

While it is helpful for film history books to draw a clean line between traditional Hollywood and the Film School “brats”, in truth, the era was much messier. The conventions of the old and the innovations of the new were not so clearly delineated, nor did they seamlessly merge. Instead, they often clashed or awkwardly overlapped. One of the clumsiest attempts to address the aesthetics and themes of the 1960s is The Happening, which aired last Friday on TCM as part of Summer Under the Stars: Faye Dunaway. Released in March 1967, The Happening represents Dunaway’s second film, though she may have shot it before Hurry Sundown, which was in theaters a month earlier. I recommend The Happening, not because it is a good film but because it is a fascinating—if inane—marker of its era.

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