Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Five Stars Blogathon: Pretty Faces, Good Hairlines

May 16 is National Classic Movie Day, and to celebrate my friend Rick at the Classic Film and TV Cafe has invited me to take part in a Five Stars Blogathon, in which I, along with other fellow classic movie bloggers, will list our FIVE favorite classic movie stars.  So let's get started!

Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, Katharine Hepburn, Audrey Hepburn, Marlon Brando.  These classic Hollywood stars contributed greatly to the great reputation of Tinsel Town's glorious golden age.  They are larger than life.  They are iconic.  Their reputations are immortal (as far as pop culture celebrities go).  And for these exact reasons, they are not even close among my favorites in classic movie actors and actresses.  

I have never been drawn to the mega-stars.  I always felt like most of those whose names are still recognized by the average Joe today, and whose image one might find on a beach towel or a coffee mug, were overrated to say the least.  Mind you, I'm not saying they didn't make good movies, or were uninteresting.  To the contrary.  They gained their unforgettable status due to fine films and intriguing roles.  But when I began being REALLY interested in "old" movies, it was the lesser known stars that I was drawn to.  Not secondary leads or obscure players (although many of them are great too), my favorites were still stars, make no doubt, but they didn't necessarily reach the echelons of a Bette Davis or a Mae West.  It's for this reason specifically that I am intrigued with my favorites.  They led very interesting lives, sported attractive personas, as well as faces.  They are often underrated but always enjoyed.

Jeanne Crain
I saw my first Jeanne Crain movie in the very late '70s.  It was Dangerous Crossing, a mystery thriller about a bride who loses her husband on their honeymoon voyage.  Even bigger problem, no one on board ever saw them together.  The first thing that struck me about Jeanne was how beautiful she was.  But I didn't see another of her films until a few years later, when I caught Margie on a Sunday afternoon TV airing.  Such colorful fun and, again, Jeanne was gorgeous.  Over the years I saw more of Crain's movies and her gentle beauty and understated acting appealed more and more.  She, like many of my favorites, has been all but forgotten except for the die hard classic movie fan, but her contribution to mid-century moviedom is significant.

Joan Bennett
When I was a young lad and just getting interested in classic film, I saw a TV movie called The Scarlett O'Hara War.  It told the story of how producer David O. Selznick led a search for the perfect actress to play the much-coveted role of Scarlett in Gone with the Wind (I write about this extensively in my book The Search for Scarlett O'Hara).  One of the many actresses vying for the part was a brunette beauty named Joan Bennett.  I started searching out Bennett's movies wherever I could, which wasn't easy in the early '80s, with limited channels on the pre-satellite/streaming boob tube.  But as I eventually watched her films, I saw how her dark, smoldering screen persona had captured audiences in her prime.  She's always been a solid, dependable, beautiful star in my book, and her movies never fail to satisfy.

Paulette Goddard
Paramount star Paulette Goddard is a ball of fire.  A vivacious vixen in the true sense.  She started her entertainment career as a teen in the famous (or perhaps infamous) Ziegfeld Follies.  Then in the early '30s, the already once-divorced Goddard met and became the muse of comedian Charles Chaplin.  Although the couple claimed to be married, their lack of proper documentation recording the event was a huge factor in costing Paulette the Scarlett O'Hara role in Gone with the Wind.  Ah, now we get back to where I first discovered Goddard.  Like Joan Bennett, I learned of Paulette and her career through the Selznick Scarlett Search.  Her beauty (I go for the pretty ones, but then, who doesn't?) and charisma lit up both the silver screen and her private life.  She was signed by Paramount and became one of its most popular stars of the early and mid-1940s.  Besides Chaplin, she was married to actor Burgess Meredith and novelist Erich Maria Remarque.  As spouses go, she really knew how to pick 'em... or, they knew how to pick her.

Joseph Cotten
He had a distinctive voice, also a rather distinctive look.  I don't believe a Hollywood producer would have said "I'm looking for a Joseph Cotten type."  He had a unique screen persona, or did he have a persona at all?  I mean, he could play a wide range of roles.  That's why I like Cotten.  He could play a villain with the absolute BEST of them (You must catch him in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt).  He could play the goodest good guy (I know, that's not proper English, but nonetheless watch Joe in Gaslight or Portrait of Jennie).  Urbane bon vivant or solid member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre, he was good at any genre he attempted.

Cary Grant
Okay, I've saved this last offering for a reason.  With all my fine talk about stars who, in my opinion, have traveled below the Hollywood movie radar, HOW can I choose Cary Grant as one of my very favorites?  He's an icon among icons, right?  Well, because the way I see it, Grant holds all the attributes I find attractive in my earlier choices:  physically appealing, debonair, charming to a fault, and able to display an ease in front of the camera that is unmatched.  Oh, and you can't beat his movies!  Sure, he had some turkeys on occasion, but who didn't?  Some of my personal favorite Grant films are The Awful Truth, In Name Only, Suspicion and Notorious.  Cary really let his hair down with Hitchcock.  Grant was an independent actor before it was cool and other stars were bound in blood to the big name studios.  I think most classic movie fans have at least a couple of favorite Cary Grant pictures.  What about you?

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Be My Guest....

Marie, a fellow classic movie fan is guest blogging with her take on remakes of classic films.
Take it away, Marie!

Have you ever been watching a movie and thought, “why does this plot seem familiar?”  I don’t mean the endless Christmas movies that all have the same story line.  Boy/Girl goes to small town full of Christmas magic, intent on selling/destroying magical Christmas business, falls in love with said small town and said boy/girl, regains love of Christmas, gives up all evil intent and settles in small town to live happily ever after.  I mean those movies that are modern adaptions of classic books or plays.  

  1. Clueless.  I watched this movie several times before it dawned on me.  Emma, by Jane Austen.  Much like Austen’s heroine, Cher, who appears on the surface to be a shallow, empty-headed Valley Girl, takes some lumps along her road to true love.
  2. Lion King.  I confess, I always cry at the end of this movie.  Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn the plot is loosely based on Hamlet, by William Shakespeare.  
  3. 10 Things I Hate About You.  Again, with the Shakespeare.  Based on Taming of the Shrew, this modern adaptation has Julia Stiles delivering a slightly more restrained, yet still acid tongued performance as Kate.  And Heath Ledger.  Need I say more?
  4. You’ve Got Mail.  Did you see the easter egg in this one?  Meg Ryan’s bookstore is called the Shop Around the Corner, which is the name of the first move adaption, The Shop Around the Corner (1940) starring James Stewart.  The idea was reworked in 1949 as a musical set in the 1900s as In the Good Old Summertime (1949) starring Judy Garland. The basic premise, a play entitled Parfumerie was written by Miklós László in 1937 and is set in Budapest.  Enter the internet and voila! Budapest to New York and forward 60 years.
  5. A Bug’s Life.  Surprise - Aesop! The Ant and the Grasshopper, an allegory about the perils of laziness is animated into a tale of good and evil, bullies and heroes, and hard work paying off in the end.  And who can resist the little caterpillar who turns into a “beyooootiful butterfly?”
  6. Hunger Games.  Yeah, sorry to disappoint you, but it’s not really an original idea.  Battle Royal, Koushun Takami’s 1999 novel about a Japanese dystopian society was adapted for film in 2000.
Some movies take another character or play and build an entirely different movie around it. Here are a couple that come to mind.
  1. To Be or Not to Be.  Hamlet.  The first, starring Jack Benny, Carole Lombard and Robert Stack.  The second, Mel Brooks and Ann Bancroft.  A comedic drama?  A dramatic comedy?  The movie is both hilarious and edge of your seat thriller.  
  2. Play It Again, Sam.  Casablanca.  A Woody Allen film based on the play of the same name, it’s about a playwright who conjures Bogey to help him with women.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Film Noir, 2017

For many a new year is a time to resolve to make positive changes in their lives.  A savings account sees a few extra bucks at the end of January, a treadmill racks up a few extra miles.  Those are fine and dandy resolutions for those who choose them and I applaud those who make them.  My classic movie resolve for 2017, however, is to watch more film noir flicks from Hollywood’s golden era.  Film noir is a movie genre that is popular by many who love classic movies and in some cases has a cult following.  I have watched and enjoyed dozens from this dark and brooding category but there are a multitude which I have still to catch and it is going to be a fun and ferocious ride.

Defining film noir with words is easy.  The style of film has been aptly described as a movie marked by a mood of menace.  Generally, the term is associated with the Hollywood thriller or detective pictures produced from the early 1940s through the mid-1950s.  To define the term cinematically is more complex.  Literally it translates as “black film” or “dark film” and was coined in 1946 by a French critic.  The characteristics?  The detectives are boiled harder than a twenty minute egg.  The dames (and they are dames) are brazen and know their way around the block so well they created a map.  Liquor and cigarettes are aplenty and colorful dialogue is shot as quickly and loudly as the revolver that shows itself in the following frame.  Directors who made their mark in the genre and even became synonymous with it include but are definitely not limited to Robert Siodmik, Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang and Otto Preminger.  Noir thrillers were a complete 180 degree turn from the colorful optimism of Hollywood’s crayon-coated Technicolor musicals and light comedies.

When these films started appearing on movie screens during and immediately following World War II, American audiences were drawn to the adult-oriented type of film and movie makers responded, enthusiastic to produce a more mature kind of picture for post-war viewers.  With the success of such offerings as Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Lang’s Woman in the Window, the studios began cranking out crime thrillers and murder dramas with a darker view than pre-war audiences had experienced.

At the core of many of these movies was a bad woman, better known as the femme fatale.  She was mysterious, distant, sultry, double-crossing and beautiful.  She would just as easily cause the downfall of the man of her choice as she would wash out her silk stockings at the end of a long day, probably even more easily.  Her lip-sticked mouth could form a disgusted snarl or a half-open come-hither kiss for her masculine prey, and it rarely opened to a smile or hearty laugh unless it was to mock her unsuspecting target.  The sap who gets caught in her clutches, or at the very least gets a whiff of her intoxicating perfume, was usually a corrupt character himself, maybe a private dick, petty crook or passing schmuck who couldn’t say no.  He was a disillusioned male who got caught up in a web of intrigue, mystery and murder.

This new style was strongly urban, with the big city as backdrop, backstreets and alleyways dimly lit by oncoming headlights serving as the main stage.  Noirs were filmed with hard shadows and unique camera angles by top cinematographers of the day.  By their standards, the higher the drama, the lower the light.  The stories were based on the best in hard-edged murder mysteries that the 1930s had to offer written by masters of hard-boiled detective fiction, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain.  Classic film noirs had titles that reflected the mood and themes of these pictures with tough-talkers, dark dames and nocturnal nemeses.  This Gun for Hire, Dark Passage, Scarlet Street, Kiss Me Deadly and Murder, My Sweet leave little doubt as to the grim and dangerous nature showcased between their opening credits and The End.  Over the decades since film noir made a strong impression on movie audiences, it has remained a durable and popular installment in Hollywood history.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

May 2017 Be a Classic Movie Year!

          Just as Joan Crawford rang in 1929 in her full flapper fare, I want to ring in 2017 as a year filled with classic movie fun.  May Old Acquaintance (1943) be NOT forgot, but enjoyed and relished along with the thousands of other great old films from days gone by.  HAPPY NEW YEAR!


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