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!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934): Laurel and Hardy Meet Santa Claus (AND the Boogeyman!)

As a kid, I always looked forward to March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934), starring the classic comedy duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.  I must admit, however, that I did so with excited trepidation. To put it bluntly, that flick creeped me out! Much like The Wizard of OzMarch of the Wooden Soldiers (originally released as Babes in Toyland), featured many surreal looking characters and situations that fascinated as well as terrified this five year-old.

Based on a Victor Herbert operetta from 1903, the film was a fantasy extravaganza without the use of the yet to be invented CGI.  Set entirely in Toyland, bizarre almost grotesque looking costumes adorned inhabitants such as the Cat and the Fiddle, the Three Little Pigs and even a Mickey Mouse (almost) look-alike.  THEN there were the Boogeymen, Sasquatch wannabes who hooted and hollered while terrorizing Toyland.  Santa Clause even makes an appearance though he looks as if he made a stop at the North Pole Bar and Grill on his way in (make it a double Blitzen).  But of all these weird and wonderful eccentrics two ‘humans’ were creepiest of all and perhaps that’s because they were real people.  First, Silas Barnaby, the meanest man in Toyland, was a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge and the hated black clad villain in silent film melodramas.  You know, the one who tied the virginal damsel in distress to the railroad?  Henry Brandon, billed as his birth name Kleinbach here, would again play this Barnaby-like character in an Our Gang episode a few years down the road. Second, and perhaps most surprising was Mother Goose.  I don’t know, when she walked out with her gray finger waved, Goldie locked hair set underneath that tall prick-a-finger-you-die pointy black witches hat, heavy framed glasses sloped down on her nose and Salem witch trial collar wrapped ‘round her neck, I just didn’t get a good vibe.  On top of that, this was all heaped around a face that didn’t look a day over 25! Creepy…….

But these were mere window dressing for the deco grand guignol by producer Hal Roach.  The film was really a vehicle for Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, whose massive popularity was catapulted further still by the release of this film in Fall 1934.  As Stannie Dum and Ollie Dee, L&H tumble and bumble in the most celebrated way while trying to help Widow Peep and her daughter Little Bo Peep battle the nasty Barnaby, who holds the mortgage on the shoe they all live in together (get it, the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe?). Bo Peep makes eyes at Tom-Tom, the Piper’s Son and he gets in on the action too.

Although Stan and Ollie were the stars of the film no holds barred, the other actors overplayed their parts to perfection.  I mean this was Toyland in the midst of the Depression.  Kids loved it and dragged parents in droves.  Charlotte Henry, who was cast as Bo Peep, had just played another literary ingenue as the title character in the previous year’s Alice in Wonderland at Paramount.  As the comely maiden, wearing a blond wig borrowed from Jethreen Bodine, she always reminded me very much of June Marlow, another Hal Roach player who immortalized Miss Crabtree in his Our Gang shorts.  And speaking of resembling someone else in Tinseltown, if you have the opportunity to check out the movie sometime, see if you don’t agree that as Tom-Tom, tenor Felix Knight (pictured above) could be the kid brother of Robert Taylor.

Seems kind of odd that physical comedy giants Laurel and Hardy would be plunked down in the middle of a Herbert operetta but for celluloid whimsy it works and Stan and Ollie aren’t required to sing anyway (although Oliver Hardy did get his show business start singing).  With the flood of television sets in the 1950s and '60s, March of the Wooden Soldiers, also like The Wizard of Oz, made annual appearances to generations of kiddies.  Colorized at the end of the 20th century, the original black and white version is better, lending an even eerier feel to an already tantalizing funfest.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Kate Hepburn: POISON?

In an issue of Classic Movies Digest, Volume One, just released on Amazon, I discuss the period in the career of the late, great Katharine Hepburn when she was labeled BOX OFFICE POISON.  It was a moniker that she shared with other Hollywood greats but would overcome.  Below I offer a short excerpt from the newly bundled CMD Volume One, Issues 1-5.  Read it, enjoy it and hopefully you will want to check out the whole book.

Katharine Hepburn:  Box-Office Poison?

Making her film debut in 1932 with the legendary John Barrymore in A Bill of Divorcement, Connecticut born and bred Katharine Hepburn was set on a path for screen stardom.  Within a year of her auspicious Hollywood entrée, she starred in the first of her four Academy Award winning roles (Morning Glory), as well as one of the most recognized and popular films of the decade (Little Women).  She was the darling of her home studio, RKO, and her continued success seemed inevitable.  Unlike her contemporaries, she refused to play the Tinsel Town game.  She abhorred interviews and rebuffed reporters (when asked by one newsperson if she and then husband Ludlow Ogden Smith had any children, her unorthodox reply was:  “Two white and three colored”).  Her wearing of pants and masculine attire and her disdain for makeup was seen as too independent for public taste and she was tagged by some with the moniker “Katharine of Arrogance.”  Hepburn went back to the stage on her native East coast, for the not very well received The Lake.  When she returned to Hollywood, RKO cast her in Alice Adams (1935) for which she received yet another Oscar nomination, but the accolades were short lived.
In 1936, Hepburn made Sylvia Scarlett with Cary Grant and Brian Aherne, in which the non-stereotypical actress played a woman who is disguised as a young man.  The RKO oddity cost Kate a big chunk of her reputation and the studio a big chunk of change (The film lost a whopping $363,000 in Depression-era dollars).  Her period costume dramas, of the mid-‘30s, including Mary of Scotland, A Woman Rebels (both 1936) and Quality Street (1937), were flops as well, the latter two losing almost a quarter of a million dollars each at the box office.  The public was staying away from Hepburn pictures in droves.
Despite her rapidly slipping popularity, her agent, Leland Hayward, was able to negotiate a new contract with RKO and her first project under the new deal was a screen adaption of the Edna Ferber - George S. Kauffman Broadway hit, Stage Door.  The film enjoyed modest success and there seemed to be a ray of hope for Kate’s career.  Stage Door paired the haughty Hepburn with Ginger Rogers, who, commercially, was a much more popular star at the time and lucrative commodity for the studio.  As Hepburn’s status at RKO plummeted, Rogers’ simultaneous skyrocketed.  The movie’s director, Gregory La Cava, used the stars’ studio rivalry as an asset to the film, enhancing the on-screen cattiness to great advantage.  Still, the sparkling and intelligent comedy didn’t hit the mark that RKO execs had aimed for, bringing in only $81,000 in profits.
Desperate for a Hepburn hit and with fingers crossed, the studio cast her in a comedy, based on the humble financial success of Stage Door.  Again paired with Cary Grant, who had just made a comic breakthrough of his own with The Awful Truth, the actress starred in Bringing Up Baby, the story of a man, a woman and a leopard named Baby.  As inane as it sounded, that was the stuff of screwball comedies in the 1930s.  In retrospect, Bringing Up Baby is considered by some as one of the premiere classic comedies of its time, but in 1938 it was a box-office disaster, losing $365,000, and when RKO slated Hepburn’s next film to be the standard programmer Mother Carey’s Chickens, the actress saw the writing on the wall. Mother Carey’s Chickens was made but without Hepburn.  She bought out her contract for just over $200,000 and left the studio with which she had become synonymous.

Read the rest of the chapter and the others on the Golden Age of Hollywood, including The Bette Davis/ Miriam Hopkins Feud, Life of a Starlet: Lana Turner, movie reviews and behind the scenes stories and so much more in CLASSIC MOVIES DIGEST: Volume One, Issues 1-5!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hooray for Hollywood!

CLASSIC MOVIE LOVER ALERT! I'm happy to announce that I've just released my Classic Movies Digest Volume 1 BUNDLE. It is Issues 1 through 5 of my CMD eMagazine bundled into ONE VOLUME at almost HALF the PRICE than if you purchased them separately!!

Only $4.99 compared to $8.99 bought individually. Check it out and take advantage of this AWESOME deal.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Backbone of a Classic Movie

Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my new book, The Name Below The Title, Volume 3: 20 MORE Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of even more fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority.

The tragedy of Fox player Carole Landis (pictured above), the unique life of Dame Margaret Rutherford, best-known for her sprightly Miss Marple in the 1960s, the suicide of Clara Blandick, who played Judy Garland's Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz, the struggle for stardom and extreme weight loss by Laird Cregar.  These and so many others are featured in The Name Below The Title, Volume 3.  Click on the links for Amazon and read the first couple of chapters for FREE in the Amazon preview!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's May!

And Redgrave and the whole Camelot gang want to celebrate!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

You Like Classic Hollywood? SURE you do!

If you have followed this blog for the years it has been written or read any of my books on classic movies and the golden age of Hollywood, you know that I try to cover all aspects of that glorious age.  I have just released my newest issue of the e-magazine named after this blog:  Classic Movies Digest.  The latest, Volume 1, Issue 4, features some great films and an insightful piece on the scandal caused by Mary Astor's diary, which was a focus in her nasty divorce in the mid-1930s, plus more.

If you're a fan of classic movie lore click on the link below and check out the latest and if you enjoy it, I hope you will leave a positive review!
And say, thanks very much.
Classic Movies Digest, Volume 1, Issue 4

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fine Character Reference

 Character actors from the classic movie age are some of the most beloved stars of the era. In my newest book, The Name Below The Title, Volume 2: 20 MORE Classic Movie Character Actors From Hollywood's Golden Age, I celebrate the lives and contributions of even more fabulous personalities, some of my personal favorites, some whom are loved by a vast majority. Below I've posted an excerpt from the chapter on superb player, Elsa Lanchester. Enjoy and if you'd like to check out the rest of the book and the other 19 wonderful character actors, check out the book on Amazon.

In 1924 Lanchester and her partner, Harold Scott, opened a nightclub on Charlotte Street called the Cave of Harmony, a haven for London Bohemia.  Although the main focus was midnight performances of one-act plays and cabaret songs, Lanchester also included revivals of aged Victorian ballads and bawdy Cockney songs, including odd ditties such as “Rat Catcher’s Daughter.”  The Cave of Harmony became a popular haunt for toney artists and intellectuals, including writers H. G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, Evelyn Waugh, and future film director James Whale, who would play an important part in Elsa’s life during the next decade.  Her work at the Cave of Harmony was a labor of love, reaping little in financial gain and she participated in stage work elsewhere while continuing her tenure at her own establishment.

 In 1927, the colorful actress made her professional film debut in a supporting role in One of the Best, a silent costume drama produced by prestigious Gainsborough Pictures (Her first actual film appearance was in an amateur motion picture by her friend and author Evelyn Waugh called The Scarlet Woman: An Ecclesiastical Melodrama in 1925). Yet, even more memorable for her personally, if not professionally, was her participation, that same year, in a play by Arnold Bennett called Mr. Prohack, in which she was cast opposite a young character actor named Charles Laughton. The two actors reportedly were paid the same salaries, though Laughton played the title role and Elsa was cast in the smaller part of his secretary. They acted together in a set of short films the following year and in February 1929 were married. They continued to act together on occasion including in Payment Deferred on the London stage in May 1931, then traveling to the United States to debut the show on Broadway in September, where it ran for 70 performances in the autumn of ‘31. Laughton was cast in the movie version, released in 1932, though Lanchester was not.

 It was during this period that Laughton confessed to his wife of his homosexual tendencies. In her 1983 autobiography, Elsa Lanchester, Herself, she recounted the night he disclosed his secret. The actor arrived home late one evening in 1931 with Jeffrey Dell, who was adapting Payment Deferred for the stage, a policeman and a boy who apparently wanted money from Laughton, all in tow. According to Lanchester:

   “I was in bed when Charles came upstairs. ‘Something awful has happened,’ he said to me. ‘I have something to confess.’ He said that he had picked up the boy, and it wasn’t the first time he had done it; that he was homosexual partly, and he cried. I said, ‘It’s perfectly all right, it doesn’t matter. I understand it. Don’t worry about it.’ That’s why he cried. When I told him it didn’t matter. […]

 Later on, I would ask Charles what really happened, and once he told me that he had had a fellow on our sofa. The only thing I said was, “Fine, okay, but get rid of the sofa.” We did. We sold it.”

 When Laughton appeared in court concerning the incident, the judge called the money given to the boy “misguided generosity,” and a tiny paragraph at the bottom of a local newspaper read: “Actor warned about misguided generosity.” Only the boy’s name was listed.

 Lanchester is just one of the great character stars featured in the fun and informative book. If you love classic Hollywood, as I do, I hope you will give it a read. Check it out at the link below!


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