Happy Ending or Apocalyptic Nightmare, Mike Hammer Style

With few exceptions, movies have one ending.  Most of the time, the ending you see on the screen is not only the ending intended, it’s the only ending anyone ever had in mind.  Sometimes the ending is changed, though, either to make a movie play better to specific audiences or because some studio head didn’t like how it came off.  Some famous examples are Fatal Attraction, in which the Glenn Close character kills herself while framing the Michael Douglas character (test audiences didn’t react well and another ending was filmed where Douglas and Anne Archer off Close) and Brazil which had not only a different, happier, ending put on the movie by the studio but had many changes throughout the film as well.  And, of course, Suspicion is famous for altering the plot from the novel upon which is was based.  There’s still debate over whether Hitchcock didn’t like keeping Cary Grant from being the killer (read all about under the “Production” header here for the details).  Now this post isn’t about alternate endings, really.  If you like, you can go to Google, type in “alternate endings” and be treated to thousands of links for “The Ten Best/Worst Alternate Endings in Movies” that will contain variations for the same movies from the last 25 years or so (these lists are never aware that movies existed before 1990).  No, it’s more about how a little change can make a big difference and how I’ve thought about one movie again and again because its ending, how they chose to end it and how they almost did, haunts me still.  And be warned, SPOILERS abound.

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Elisabeth Lutyens: Horror Queen of Film Composers

LutyensFemale film composers are a rarity but there are some wonderful examples of talented women working behind the scenes who managed to flourish under the tight deadlines imposed by film studios while creating memorable music for the movies.

One of my favorite female composers is the late Elisabeth Lutyens who was born on July 9th in 1906. On the occasion of what would have been her 109th birthday if she had managed to live that long, I thought I’d celebrate her career in British horror films where Lutyens earned her “Horror Queen” moniker by composing some of the genre’s most innovative, accomplished and unsettling soundtracks.

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This week on TCM Underground: Bayou (1957) and Baby Doll (1956)

Poor White Trash Tune in to TCM on Saturday night at 11pm (PST)/2am (EST) for a double shot of swampy sensuality and kudzu-choked carnality with occasional violence.  [...MORE]

Appassionata: I’ve Always Loved You (1946)

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“The color overshadows the plot.” – Frank Borzage on I’ve Always Loved You (’46)

 In 1945 Frank Borzage signed a lavish five-year deal with the penurious Republic Pictures, and it granted him unusual autonomy over his projects.  I’ve Always Loved You was the first film he made for Republic, and he invested it with the full force of his religious romanticism, where love is the one true savior. Limited only by the restraints of the Production Code, the film has the barest of plots, its three main characters floating around each other on a plane of pure feeling, their shifting passions expressed through music and color scheme – it was the only film ever shot in three-strip Technicolor for Republic. Set in and around the classical music world of Carnegie Hall, the most impassioned contact occurs during cross-cutting between separate renditions of Rachmaninoff’s “Second Piano Concerto”. If you give yourself over to it (and you can on the Olive Films Blu-ray, out now), the last act miracle achieves an emotional intensity akin to that of Rossellini’s Voyage to Italy. French filmmaker and critic  Luc Moullet wrote it was “perhaps Borzage’s masterpiece….The excess of insipidness and sentimentality exceeds all allowable limits and annihilates the power of criticism and reflection, giving way to pure beauty.” In Film Comment, Kent Jones described it as an “extreme film brought to the brink of madness.” Beauty and madness are the son and the Holy Spirit in Borzage’s trinity, in which God is love.

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Big Blondes, Big Guns, and Big Bad Criminals: Fun with Film Noir Posters

posterdangerlivesI love movie posters from the Golden Age, because they were designed and executed by graphic artists and illustrators. They retained the expressive flavor of paintings and illustrations and followed the aesthetics of those artistic mediums. In contrast, today’s photography-based posters, no matter how artistic, are grounded in the realism inherent in that medium. Film noir posters are particularly appealing, because the genre is defined by specific visual characteristics, and the posters echo those in interesting ways.

Most of the posters in this article are from upcoming movies yet to air as part of TCM’s Summer of Darkness. The posters not only depict the noir style and suggest the genre’s themes, but I thought they might entice readers to catch a few of these films on Fridays during the month of July.

The covers of detective magazines and novels as well as posters for gangster films influenced the imagery found on noir posters—big blondes, big guns, and big bad criminals. The suit and fedora worn by the private eyes on the magazine covers became the conventional costume of the noir protagonist in the movies and posters. His hard-boiled nature was suggested visually through the serious, focused expression of the movie’s male lead. The posters also borrowed the color coding for femme fatales and bad girls, depicting them in low-cut red dresses to suggest passion, danger, and violence.

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The Names Have Been Changed for Dramatic License

The movies have a long history of telling true stories by making them completely untrue.  I’m not talking about taking a movie about a famous person, like Night and Day‘s telling of Cole Porter’s life, and highly fictionalizing it to the extent that it’s almost completely created from scratch.  And I’m not talking about alternate history movies where famous events turn out a different way than they really did, like in Inglourious Basterds.  No, I’m talking about movies like tonight’s showing of The Great Dictator by, as it turns out, the great Charlie Chaplin, where it’s about a specific figure, in this case Adolf Hitler, but the name is changed to Adenoid Hynkel.  Is there an advantage to doing it that way instead of just lampooning the real person?  Absolutely, but there are drawbacks, too.  Let’s look at five famous examples where the stories are eerily familiar but the none of the names ring a bell.

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July 4, 2015
David Kalat
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Remaking Godzilla

Greg Ferrara’s thoughtful pieces on remakes last week and yesterday got me thinking again about Godzilla—which was the subject of my own thoughtless post last week. Maybe too many things get me thinking about Godzilla. But since Godzilla movies have been “rebooted” so many times over the years (1954, 1984, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2014 to choose the most obvious ones) there’s almost no remake-related issue that hasn’t been touched on in Godzillaland at least once.

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KEYWORDS: Gareth Edwards, Godzilla
COMMENTS: 6
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Where the Remake Went Wrong (and Right): No Way Out

Last week I did a post on how the remake Against All Odds paled next to its original inspiration, Out of the Past.  I enjoyed writing it and reading the comments and discussion that followed, as always, and decided to keep doing it.  Now, making the argument that Against All Odds is a faint shadow of Out of the Past is, admittedly, easy pickings.  I mean, yes, there were some good things in Against All Odds, not least of which being James Woods fantastic supporting performance, but the fact is that Out of the Past is one of the best, maybe the best film noir ever made.  Tonight, on the other hand, there’s a solid thriller running and almost forty years later, there was a remake of it and the remake isn’t half bad, really.  I like the original better but the remake has much to recommend itself.  The original is The Big Clock, with Ray Milland and Charles Laughton, and the remake is No Way Out, with Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. Both have plenty to offer.

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Underrated ’65

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When asked what my favorite film decade is I always mention the sixties. So what is it about the swinging sixties that I find so damn appealing? There are a plethora of reasons including the influx of foreign films that had begun to influence and inspire American filmmakers while avant-garde as well as pop art sensibilities began to flourish around the world. Long-held prejudices were being addressed in American cinema and black, Hispanic and Asian actors were able to find significant starring roles that broke racial barriers. The Hollywood studio system may have been on the decline but many of the best films produced during the decade were directed by old masters such as Alfred Hitchcock, Otto Preminger, Billy Wilder, John Huston, John Ford, John Sturges and Orson Welles who seemed to embrace change and created some of their most challenging and important work during this period.

I mention all this because myself and Millie De Chirico (the lovely TCM Manager of Programming) were recently asked to participate in Brain Saur’s Underrated ’65 project currently ongoing at his blog, Rupert Pupkin Speaks. Brian is an ardent supporter of classic film and you can always find interesting recommendations there as well as regular updates about new and upcoming DVD releases. I was happy to take part because I love sixties cinema and there are plenty of undervalued films from 1965 that deserve more attention and thoughtful consideration. So many that I had a hard time narrowing my list down to a mere Top 10 but that’s what I did and I thought it was worth sharing here.

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This week on TCM Underground: Cleopatra Jones plus Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold

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Nearly forty years after the advent of Blaxploitation, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the parodies (CLEOPATRA SCHWARTZ, BLACK DYNAMITE) that followed from the genuine articles (CLEOPATRA JONES, BLACK SHAMPOO) that broke out of the Hollywood studio system in the 1970s to appeal an African-American movie-going demographic accustomed to searching high and wide for racial representation on the big screen. The unparalleled success enjoyed by United Artists with Ossie Davis’ COTTON COMES TO HARLEM (1970) and by MGM with Gordon Parks’ SHAFT (1971) led to a flood of films that made household names out of former character actors (Yaphet Kotto, William Marshall), stage players (Thalmus Rasulala, Paula Kelly), professional athletes (Jim Brown, Fred Williamson), fashion models (Richard Roundtree, Tamara Dobson), standup comedians (Richard Pryor, Rudy Rae Moore), and even the occasional receptionist (Pam Grier, Gloria Hendry). Yet even when fronted by predominantly all-black casts, Blaxploitation films (as they were later dubbed, not always flatteringly) were more often than not driven by white executives and overseen by white directors-for-hire. Such was the case for the Warner Bros. hit CLEOPATRA JONES (1973), a marriage of Blaxploitation elements with the outr tropes of the spy subgenre (particularized by the popular James Bond franchise, whose lead had changed from Sean Connery to Roger Moore for the Blaxploitation-flavored LIVE AND LET DIE), made by a creative team that was almost entirely Caucasian.  [...MORE]

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