Thursday, April 27, 2017

Jackie Brown on the "Walt Sent Me Podcast"



                                      I am a guest on this great podcast with Kristen Lopez and Todd Liebenow. We talk Disney News, discuss the Cartoon Short "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and worship at the alter of Pam Grier. Listen in, I think you will really enjoy it.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Free Fire


There is something just great about a movie set in a single claustrophobic location, filled with criminals. "Reservoir Dogs" by Quentin Tarantino served as his introduction to the world. The colorful characters and bantering dialogue were a swift kick in the pants to movie fans who had become jaded by traditional action thrillers. Just a couple of years ago, he plagiarized himself with another location bound crime film, this one set in the old west, "The Hateful Eight". While he has played with the idea of a single location, both of those films involve substantial flashback stories that take us from the set spot to other locations during the run time of the movie. "Free Fire" does not do any such thing. Everyone arrives at the location, and then the rest of the film takes place exclusively in those confines.

This is basically a criminal deal gone bad, that ends up in a shootout. It sounds very basic and from the perspective of story, it is. There are however a few tweaks that director Ben Wheatley and his co-screenwriter Amy Jump throw into the concoction.  For instance, the spark that lights the already intense situation has nothing to do with the deal. By coincidence, a couple of hotheads with a beef are in the two factions and tempers flare around a bunch of volatile people. Almost all of the characters are given some distinctive personality quirks in a short set up, and as a result we know that even when they are allied with another person, their inclination is likely to be to shoot.

Like most films featuring criminal activity, the parties are not entirely reliable. There are a number of double crosses and switches of loyalty. When bullets start to fly, often the direction you point your gun in is largely determined by where a previous shot came from. Early on, one character quizzes another, trying to reassure themselves, "You're not FBI are you?" "No. I'm IFM, In it For Myself." By the midway point of the film, pretty much everyone has joined the same group.

The stars of the film are Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Academy Award Winner Brie Larson. Larson plays Justine, a go between for the IRA group that wants some weapons, and the black-marketeers that are willing to supply them.  Her part here makes a little more sense than her recent turn as a photo journalist in "Kong: Skull Island",  but she basically serves the same purpose, to be the sole representative of her gender with a part in the story. The humor that is the main selling point of this film is enhanced by her presence as a distraction to the others and an opportunity to use some lines of dialogue to promote gender equity in a more unusual way. Hammer is the cooler than thou broker who always has a bon mot to drop. Sometimes he insults the players, often he is incredulously commenting on the circumstances. Copley is the ace in the hole for the movie. His first appearance provokes laughter as his suit is so clearly a 70s cut and his hair and other styling reek  of the decade. His odd South African accent, combined with a belligerent manner and a chip on his shoulder make for a great character that you can just tell will be the source of all kinds of amusement.

I should mention two other scene stealers as they are the ones who lite the fuse and just won"t let it burn out during the story. Sam Riley is a weaselly junkie, brought in on the job simply to load weapons and act as back up muscle. Everybody in this movie kicks his ass to some degree or another. Jack Reynor, who was the standout supporting character of the older brother in "Sing Street" last year, adds another great character role as a counter part local thug who has a surprise connection to the other character. Testosterone induced violence, flavored with a heavy dose of grim humor, and a seemingly endless supply of ammo, makes this film sing as well.



 
Our attendance last night was at the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, where there are frequent guest appearances to promote a film. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer were there last night and will return this evening to talk about some of the behind the scenes stories of the film. Both men were avuncular raconteurs who regaled us with amusing anecdotes about hair, wardrobe and the use of fire on set. The half hour was fun but not particularly deep. Let's face it the movie isn't deep, it is just entertaining as were the two stars.
After the Q and A.


Costume Display in the Arclight Lobby

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Dirty Harry punks the Lambcast

I stand in for Clint in defending justice and the Dirty Harry Franchise


Saturday, April 15, 2017

TCM Film Festival Day Four



Sunday mornings in Hollywood are a quiet time most weeks, but when the TCM Film Festival is in town, the pace gets quicker on the last day and it starts early.

Cock of the Air (1931)

This was a Howard Hughes production and it was pre-code so it is definitely a little racy for the time. Although mild by today's standards, this film must have had tongues wagging with it's story of a flirtatious aviator and a French Opera singer. The fact that the Opera singer is given a medal for moving away from Paris, where she is a distraction to too many officers, let's you know that this is not a chaste figure making a sacrifice for her country.

The dialogue is full of innuendo and then there are the stars costumes. They leave little of her decolletage to the imagination. The Hayes office forced 12 minutes of cuts in the film and it was thought that they were gone for good but a decade ago, the Motion Picture Academy discovered an uncensored print that lacked a soundtrack. Using the existing material and a copy of the script, four actors dub in the lines from the scenes that were previously cut. In the screening we saw, the sections that had been cut were identifiable by an icon on the screen that came and went as the story played out.

It was a fascinating experience to see the restored film in excellent shape, but even more so with the "lost" material reinserted and the censors cuts clearly indicated.

The film has a contentious romance at it's heart but there is also a lot of humor built into the story. There is not really much in the way of battle action but there are a few flying scenes and the bedroom farce sections will keep you in stitches.

Lured (1947)

It's completely normal to think of Lucille Ball as a television star. That is where she ultimately made her biggest mark, but she also starred in over 70 features and she was sometimes thought of as the Queen of the Bs of her era. This film is a noir inspired melodrama featuring a serial killer, dance hall girls, the personal columns and George Sanders. It is directed by 50s favorite Douglas Sirk, but features the glorious black and white of the late 40s noir films rather than the technicolor of "Magnificent Obsession" or "All that Heaven Allows".

Lucy is an American actress, stranded in London trying to make ends meet as a hostess in a dancehall. Her friend disappears and Scotland yard uses her to try and bait a serial killer who has been sending poetry inspired by a disturbed bard. It is interesting to see that the procedural of using a profile of a killer has been around a lot longer than "The Silence of the Lambs".  Working as a police undercover agent, Ball encounters suspects and falls in love with the stylish and snobby George Sanders. Sanders turns out to be a suspect as well. complicating the romance. The use of the personal ads and the cop falling for a suspect reminds me of the Al Pacino movie, "Sea of Love".

For a film that ultimately relies on suspense, there is a lot of humor and fluff. Balancing a romance with a serial killer story is awkward. Boris Karloff is another suspect, and at first he is played as a bit of a comic character but it does turn dark pretty quickly. I know that I have seen Cedric Hardwicke in movies before, but it is only days later that I realized he played the Pharo in "The Ten Commandments", I should have made that connection sooner. Charles Couburn as the head of Scotland Yard's team investigating the murders, makes no attempt to do an English accent, he gets by on his general charm and old man wisdom. Alan Napier was in "The Court Jester" yesterday and interestingly enough is Detective Gordon in this movie. I say interesting because that's one step away from a part that he did not have in his most famous role. He was Alfred in the 1960s Batman, and there he just answered the"bat phone" when Commissioner Gordon called.

Boris Karloff's daughter Sara was in attendee and she told a few stories about her father who was featured in this film.

Postcards From the Edge (1990)

Just as Robert Osborne's death hung over the Festival which was dedicated to him, the double whammy of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds was also heavy on many film lovers minds. There were two films being screened to honor the Mother/Daughter tandem that we lost in December. "Singin' in the Rain" was in the big house at Grauman's but we had been to a screening in January so chose instead to see the Roman à clef  "Postcards from the Edge", screenplay by Carrie Fisher. Although Fisher denied that it was based on her relationship with her own mother, the parallels are to obvious to ignore.

Meryl Streep first sang on screen not in "Mama Mia" or "Into the Woods" or "Ricki and the Flash", but rather in this film, where she plays the drug abusing actress daughter of a famous old time Hollywood singer Actress, played by Shirley MacLaine. There are a lot of Hollywood inside jokes, including a running story line concern the casual mating behaviors of people in the film business. The movie is littered with a variety of well known actors in brief parts including Rob Reiner, Gene Hackman, Richard Dreyfess, Dennis Quaid, and in one last minor role before she broke out into stardom later in this year Annette Bening.

I can't say that there is a strong narrative but I can say that the two leads were great in their parts. You can see under the brash enthusiasm of MacLaine's character to her more vulnerable parts. As usual, Streep is excellent and she is called on to do several district moods. She plays it straight when acting in a not very good film, she is angry as the casual lover betrayed by her own casualness, and she is frightened by the stupidity of her own choices when it comes to drug use. I thought her best moments were with Director Hackman as he tries to be honest with her and rescue her career at the same time.

This was the second Mike Nichols film we saw at the festival. It is not a work as assured and ground breaking as "The Graduate" but it was typical of the kinds of comedic dramas he would specialize in most of his later career.



What's Up Doc? (1972)

We left the screening of "Postcards" before the guests, Todd Fisher and Richard Dreyfess came out, because scheduling was tight and we wanted to get in to see this second Peter Bogdanovich film. Amanda had seen the bleak but moving "Last Picture Show" the day before, and this was an opportunity to cut loose and see what else he can do. From one year to the next it is hard to imagine a bigger shift in tone that this revival of the screwball comedy, featuring Barbara Streisand and Ryan O'Neal.

Streisand has the role that in the 1930s would have been played by Katherine Hepburn or in the 1940s by Barbara Stanwyk. She is a slightly nutty misfit with a huge pool of knowledge on the tip of her tongue because she has been thrown out of so many colleges and so many majors. She latches onto O'Neal as a cute professor of Musicology with an interesting theory of music and rocks. His fiance introduces us to Madeline Kahn, in her first film role where she steals the whole picture. Kahn is the dowdy and dominating woman that runs the life of the absent minded O'Neal and Streisand is jsut the ticket to relieve him of that burden.

Throw in four identical suitcases with stolen jewellery, secret government information, rock specimens and clothes and underwear and you are all set for the kind of slapstick and mistaken identity that made those films of an earlier era so fun. There is literally a gag with people going in and out of hotel room doors that looks like it could have been cribbed from a Marx Brothers film.  Like most of those older films, this movie has scene stealing character actors and wild shifts in momentum. The last section of the movie features an astounding chase through the streets of San Francisco, on foot, bike and in cars. "Bullit" looks simple by comparison.
 Bogdanovich appeared before the film to talk about the actors and the process of getting the movie made. He seemed to have clearly understood that if he wanted to have the ability to wok in different genres, he need to get to direct this film. This was also a film written in part by Buck Henry, who had been the guest the night before for "The Graduate".

Speedy (1928)

We finished the festival with a silent film from Harold Lloyd. Along with Keaton and Chaplin, Lloyd is one of the cornerstones of not just silent films but comedy films specifically. This version of the film is apparently widely available but this screening had something extra special to recommend it. It was to be accompanied by a live orchestra playing original music for the film.

The Alloy Orchestra is really a four piece ensemble and they follow the action closely throughout the film. Sprinkled in the score are familiar motifs relating to baseball and carnivals, which are both featured in the story. A feckless young man with great confidence, goes from job to job, trying to impress the parents of the girl he is in love with. His failure as a soda jerk or cab driver is incidental to the wild moments he encounters on the streets of New York and Coney Island.

The film narrative is slight but there are dozens of visual gags and the actors do a nice job playing sweethearts who are unaffected by the upheaval that surrounds them. In the end, the young man saves the day for his future father-in-law, but he ruins a suit and Babe Ruth's day along the way.  Suzanne Lloyd, Harold's Granddaughter and keeper of his legacy was present to reminisce with film historian and critic Leonard Maltin.

If you want to see what NYC looked like nearly a century ago, this movie will give you an extensive tour and make you long for the days when Coney Island served cotton candy in paper sacks.


Friday, April 14, 2017

TCM Film Festival Day Three



So let's see if we can get the whole day in on one post rather than spreading it out over several. Saturday is always a densely packed day at the TCMFF. It begins with one of the movies I treasure from my nostalgia bank. A comedy takeoff on my favorite film.

The Court Jester

The film features the clown prince of movie comedy from the 1940s and 50s, the amazing Danny Kaye. Like most people my age, I encountered this movie in reruns on Sunday afternoon movie programs. It is a brilliant take off on "Robin Hood" and other swashbucklers.

The movie looks great on the big screen and this is one of the reasons I chose to see a movie I practically know by heart, because I have never seen it it a theater. The color bursts forth in amazing hues and the costumes look lush and detailed. The opening number with Kaye pretending to be The Black Fox and dancing with miniature versions of himself was a riot. The Foxes outfit was reproduced a dozen times for the diminutive actors playing the acrobatic troop that Hawkins once worked with.  Captain Jean shows up in a similar outfit, tailored for a woman and with a slightly different color. This is the start of the little details that make a big screen viewing extra special.

The audience was full and host Illeana Douglas and guest Fred Willard shared their stories about seeing the film and loving Danny Kaye. Outside in line for the next film, I encountered a woman who had a myriad of tattoos, but her most recent ones were the focus of my attention.  If you look closely you will see here on the wrist a Vessel with a Pestle, a Chalice from the Palace, and a Flagon with the figure of a dragon. She definitely is a fan. My fandom will not go so far as to paint my body, but I do have a full post on the film here. I think you will find the review and story there worth your trip.







The Awful Truth

This was a last minute call for me. I'd originally planned on seeing "The Last Picture Show" with director Peter Bogdonovicth , but I decided that since I'd seen it only a month earlier, I'd look for
something else. My daughter Amanda and I split up at this point and she headed off to see the 70's classic while I queued up for a screwball comedy that I saw three decades or so before and had only a vague memory of.

This was a chance for me to sit with some of the TCM Party People I know from on-line. Kellee Pratt and her husband Gary were there as was Aurora from Citizen Screen. I saved a seat for my local blogging buddy Michael, and there were a dozen others from the group around us as well. Some of those folks were introduced to me and some were not but all of the group was friendly and full of anticipation.  The excitement was completely understandable because this movie is a delight. As with most screwball films, the premise is a little far fetched and convoluted but once you accept that, everything falls into place. Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are married couple who have some secrets that they keep from one another but they appear to be a little innocuous. Grant however lets his suspicions get the best of him and they pursue a divorce that neither of them really wants.

Ralph Bellamy plays the third wheel love interest who complicates the couples reunion. This is a part that he most have done in films a dozen times, including "His Girl Friday" where again his romantic proclivities are thwarted by Cary Grant. I'd just seen Grant in "North By Northwest" a few days ago, and It is amazing how great his range was. The picture at the top of this post was taken by TCM of the line for the film. If you look closely, you will see me giving the "Fight On" victory salute of my Trojan Family.

The Jerk

I saw this movie when it was first released and I thought it was hysterical but a bit of a thrown together piece of work. I must have watched bits and pieces of it over the years so that I knew it intimately. Watching the whole thing once more, it was much more coherent and professionally assembled than I remembered, although it was just as funny 38 years later.

Much of that credit belongs to the director Carl Reiner, who along with star and screenwriter Steve Martin, put together a series of loose sketches (much like they had done throughout their careers) to make a real movie. Reiner was present before the screening for a book signing that went on quite a while and caused a pretty big delay in the schedule.  I was worried I'd not make it in time to get to the next film where I was scheduled to reconnect with Amanda.

Reiner was much like Mel Brooks was, full of stories and very funny. He does digress a bit into some political themes that are prevalent these days. One of the reasons I  want to go to the festival is to get away from that subject matter and it was a little annoying. I was glad when he got the subject off his chest and went back to the film and his admiration of Steve Martin. Host Ben Mankiewicz, while interviewing him had a hard time understanding the baseball cap he had handy. The information that Reiner is not a Colorado Rockies fan, lead to realization that the hat logo had more to do with the guest than baseball. I'll bet you figure it out faster than Ben did.

I was Mr. Reiner last year at the TCM FF talking about "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid". At age 95, he has not lost his wit or enthusiasm for working. Apparently he has two other books coming out this year as well.





Best In Show

The least "classic" in terms of date released film I saw at the Festival was the most successful of the Christopher Guest directed improvisational films, "Best in Show". I suspect some classic film fans would be wondering why this movie is included in the program. It is barely seventeen years old and hardly the sort of thing that would attract this audience. It was however not only well attended but completely booked and I don't think anyone in the standby line got in.

Since the theme of the festival was comedy, it makes sense to have some of the funniest movies around included in your program. Since the Festival makes a great effort to add value to the screenings with special guests, this film really paid in spades because there were four actors from the film present to share some stories.

John Michael Higgins, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban and Jim Piddock sat down front and spoke of the process that is used to put these ensemble films together and they reminisced about the making of the film. Poor Bob Balaban had such a sore throat that he could not speak, but he participated with notes that the host or one of the co-stars would read. It seems appropriate that he was the one with a wing down since it was also true when they made the film. He had a large footbrace on his leg the whole time that they were shooting and had to have his slacks altered so that he could hide the fact but still wear the piece. Piddock recalled how difficult it was to play straight man to Willard. He also noted that all of their work was basically done in an afternoon and that there were no dogs present at the location where they shot.

We had an interesting encounter with a woman in line for the next movie. She had been in the screeing with us and she and her friend were discussing the film while we waited to get back into the main Chinese theater. She hated the film, and I think she represents many of the fans who would have questioned it's inclusion. However if you judge by the volume of laughter in the room and it's frequency, the movie was a success with most of the crowd.

The Graduate

While it may not be from the studio era that most fans of TCM would use to define "classic film", the rest of the world would certainly concede that this is at least a modern classic. "The Graduate" introduced Dustin Hoffman to the world and the themes of the movie reverberate throughout Hollywood for ten years after the film was released. As hard as it was for me to believe, my daughter had never seen it and I was anxious to get her take on the film.

The Simon and Garfunkel songs that are littered throughout the story are part of the soundtrack of we baby boomers lives. The opening sequence with Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin, being moved without any effort on his part by the people conveyor at LAX, with the blank tile walls behind him, completely forecasts the characters story and ambivalence. Much has been written about the final shots and the tentative smiles and uncertainty on the actors faces, but if you ask me, this was the moment that Mike Nichols earned his Academy Award.

Screenwriter Buck Henry was the guest and his was one of the most interesting interviews of the weekend. Mr. Henry is eighty seven years old and not quite as spry as Carl Reiner or his old collaborator Mel Brooks. He was in fact in a wheelchair, but he did not appear to be infirm. As he was interviewed, there were times when he seemed indifferent to or confused by the questions, but just when you thought he was out of it, he usually made an insightful comment or quip, and I began to think he was really just toying with us.

The fact that Robert Redford walked away from the part as Nichols continued to try and interest him in it might be well known. Henry added to the story however by explaining that Redford's reason given to the director was simple, he didn't get it. He also shared a piece of info that I was unaware of , Murray Hamilton was a replacement for an actor who Nichols let go. The actor was very capable but Nichols simply did not think he could play "rich". The actor was Gene Hackman, perhaps my very favorite actor ever. To me the bigger question was how he could play older. Hackman and Hoffman are pretty close to the same age and they shared rooms together at one point. Hackman moved on to "Bonnie and Clyde" which was not at all a bad trade for him.

The best part of the film came in the car on the ride home that night. I had the kind of discussion with my daughter that film fans always want to have. We had insights and disagreements and intelligent comments to make about a movie that inspired us. She has asked me several times what my favorite part of the festival was. I've not said it before but I will put it in writing right here. My favorite thing about this years TCM Film Festival was the forty minute ride home that night, talking to her about a great movie.





Wednesday, April 12, 2017

TCM FF Day 2 Part 4 Friday April 7

High Anxiety


I could have warned host Ben Mankiewicz that his notes would be worthless when interviewing Mel Brooks. I had the pleasure just a couple of months ago of watching Brooks participate in a presentation of Blazing Saddles. The man is a force of nature that cannot be controlled. The twenty or so minutes that Brooks was given was filled with laughter and applause. He repeated some of the same stories he told two months ago, but he added some new ones. I especially enjoyed hearing about his revenge on Harry Cohn and the pleading that was done on his behalf to keep his job.

High Anxiety is a pastiche of Hitchcock films that touches on several more than a dozen of the master's works or characters. I've heard it said that it is one of his lesser accomplishments, but since the story and jokes have to borrow from so many well known sources to begin with, it is a real achievement that it feels like a regular film and not a parody like one of the Airplane! or Naked Gun films.

The cast of this movie was packed with the funniest of actors from the 1970s. Madeline Kahn should have a statute somewhere to commemorate the day she entered our motion picture world. Her rendition of Hitch's icy blonde is spot on. Cloris Leachman has no vanity to serve when it comes to getting the laughs. He marble mouthed mustached nurse, is a nightmare version of the nightmare that was Mrs. Danvers seventy years ago. Harvey Korman was funny in almost everything he did and his fussy, emasculated psychiatrist is a character that can safely sit next to his role in Blazing Saddles.

Finally, Mel Brooks turns in a wonderful comedic performance as a psychiatrist with a major hang up that probably accounts for why he chose the profession in the first place. Brooks looks great in 1977, and could pull off a leading man role without having a matinee star like face. The two high points of the film for him are the shower scene where he effectively stands in for Janet leigh, and a musical turn at the piano bar. Brooks sells the title song as if it were part of the Great American Songbook, but also as a comic tune that sets the stage for events in the movie. The theme of this years Festival was Comedy, and this was one of the many films I saw that had the audience reeling. Of course they did get a big appitiezer to start the meal off with. 


Day 2 TCM FF Friday April 7 (Part 3)

The Bridge on the River Kwai

One of my on-line friends , in answer to a poll question concerning what movies are best on the big screen, answered "None". He believes that a movie isn't very good if it has to be experienced in a theater. Here is exhibit A in the case against this ridiculous claim. Movies were made for theaters not for TV screens, and the framing, cinematography, and spectacle can sometimes best be appreciated when it is thirty feet tall and seventy feet wide. "David Lean" is the answer to any of your friends who have a similar opinion. 

I've seen The Bridge on the River Kwai maybe a dozen times in my life. I own a beautiful Laserdisc edition. This however was the first time I think I have seen it on a big screen, and this was in the main theater at the famed home of Grauman's (now TCL). The expansiveness of the jungle can be appreciated more on the big screen. The Bridge itself, both as it is being completed and destroyed is much more impressive on the giant screen in this theater. The climax of the film looks more impressive and the madness of the characters involved is more completely noticeable as two of the principles lie in the foreground of the destruction.

It was the 60th anniversary of the films release and our host was Alex Trebeck, the quiz master of "Jeopardy". He shared the familiar story of how two blacklisted screenwriters were deprived of their credits for the film, which won the award for screenplay. The Award was given in 1958 to the author of the book, of whom one of the screenwriters said, "At least he had the good grace to not appear at the Awards to accept.".

William Holden manages to be even better in the film than I remembered, but it is Alec Guinness who really stands out and clear deserved to honor bestowed on him that year. The cast looks incredibly emaciated in the early parts of the film. It was probably as accurate as you could get without being accused of deliberately mistreating the actors. The battle of wills that dominates the first part of the movie is both tragic and comic. Col. Nichols remained dryly sardonic in spite of the hardships he had to endure. A Great Film in a great venue.

TCM Film Festival l Day Two (Part 3)

Friday April 7, 2017

Panique'

This was a restoration presentation of a film noir in French, made immediately after the war. It is based on a novel by a widely read and published Belgium author Georges Simenon. There is a combination of sadism, racism and voyeurism in the movie that makes it stand out. The actors seemed to be cast well and they were convincing in their roles.

Rather than being a procedural or a tradition femme fatale murder plot, the story opens with a crime having already been committed. A mysterious woman who does have the traditional markings of the dangerous woman, arrives in a provincial town and is immediately the subject of unwanted attention from a standoffish resident who others in the town dislike. She is just out of prison and is reconnecting with an old lover who she took the fall for. The loner knows more about the two of them then they are comfortable with and a cat and mouse game begins.

There is a slight hint of the paranormal, with a fortune teller at a traveling carnival indicating danger ahead. The loner turns out to have some pseudo scientific fortune telling skills of his own. The lover she has returned to is a complete cad and ultimately manages a betrayal of trust and the mob vengeance of the entire community. The stunning black and white composition, the clever plotting and the weirdness of the characters made this one of my favorites of the festival.

The son of Georges Simenon, an accomplished writer himself, came to the festival to discuss the film. His father had a wide group of friends and admirers and while some of his novels were turned into films. he was often opposed to the way that the stories had to be told. Once again, it was an interesting history lesson that included some international cinema. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Day 2 TCM Film Festival Friday April 7 (Part 2)

Beat the Devil

If you have never seen this odd film from director John Huston and Star Humphrey Bogart, you are likely to be thrown for a loop when you do. It is not at all what you would expect. It started out as a serious project but some of the circumstances are odd and after Truman Capote signed on to work th script, it becomes an outright comedy.

Jennifer Jones is really interesting as a woman who is fickle in love and has a tenuous relationship with the truth. The oddball characters start stacking up and although there is murder in the air, the drama of the story never seems to be the focus. Instead we are anticipating the next outrageous turn of events or quip from Bogart.

The first half of the film takes place onshore as the cast of characters awaits repairs to the vessel they are supposed to sail on. We take in local ruins, and the cast mistakenly think that characters have died. When you have Gina Lollobrigda and Jennifer Jones as romantic interests, you are a lucky guy. At least in love, but the scheme seems to be going off the rails at times. Bogart's partners include Robert Morely and Peter Lorre and Italian actor Marco Tulli. Everyone is double crossing everyone else and you will have a hard time following the plot and scheme, but that is mostly not relevant to enjoying the picture.

The program featured a discussion of the filming by script supervisor Angela Allen, who told several amusing stories about working with the cast. Apparently, one day when they were shooting at sea, the captain misunderstood the directions and had the ship sailing off to North Africa for a couple of hours before anyone realized it. The cast and crew did not get back into port until many hours into the night and they were lucky they did not wake up in Tunisia.


Day Two TCMFF Friday April 7

Beyond the Mouse: The 1930s Cartoons of Ub Iwerks


This/morning we have animated fare on the plate. The works of Ub Iwerks are going to be the subject of the program, Beyond the Mouse. There were ten cartoons from the 1930 period, starting with an Oswald Rabbit short that was pretty primitive but very amusing. The level/of violence was a bit high but it was entertaining. Steamboat Willie was next and it is probably a bit harsher than you remember.

Iwerks was very much responsible for the Look of Mickey Mouse early on. The reasons he went off on his own for this period did not seem to be about a problem with his friend Walt Disney, but rather exploring his creative impulses. There were a couple of early color cartoons and some of the background stuff stands out a bit more.

The Skeletons Dance was a great Black and White, I think that was still with the Disney group, but there were two follow ups with a character named Flip the Frog. They were both amusing but definitely a bit different. There was one sequence that the frog ends up with his pants around his ankles for a/big chunk of time. That seemed awkward. There were two Willie Whopper cartoons, a character I was not familiar with who tells tall tales. One was kinda dark about a trip to Hell and the Devil. So we got a little history lesson to start our day.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

TCM Film Festival Opening Night: In the Heat of the Night

Opening night at the TCM Film Festival was a double edged sword this evening. My plan had been to see the main event and then cruise down afterwards to see "The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)". Something created a hangup, and the screening did not start until forty-five minutes past the scheduled time. The late start meant that if we stayed for the whole film, we would miss the Hitchcock film. A real bummer because at the last minute it was announced that Martin Scorsese was going to introduce the film. Amanda had never scene the whole of "In the Heat of the Night" so it seemed wrong to leave, plus once the film gets started, you don't want to go anywhere. You get a chance to watch actors who are really good do what they do so well. Also, the guest list for the film is impressive.

Our host was TCM's Ben Mankiewicz, and his line up was amazing. Actress Lee Grant, who had been blacklisted and not worked for twelve years before this film, was there to talk about her experience. She was joined by the director Norman Jewison, who's CV is about the length of your arm. The producer of the film, who won the Academy Award that year for Best Picture, is Walter Mirisch. He is ninety-six years old, and still amazingly engaged with the film business. If you loved a movie from the sixties or seventies, there is a good chance his name is attached to it somewhere. He mentioned that he has lunch every week with the man he considers his best friend, the star of this film Sidney Pointier.  Mr. Pointier has voice issues so he could not participate in the discussion, so he just sat and watched the film from the row right in front of us.

Just on the other side of the aisle from us were Alan and Marilyn Bergman, who wrote the title song that was sung by Ray Charles. Their other musical collaborations are too long to even think about listing. Right behind them was actor Scott Wilson, who played the second suspect in the film. He is a personal favorite of mine because of his starring role in The Ninth Configuration among others. OK, now that the name dropping is over, let me share a little bit of what they shared.

Mirisch talked about his seventy year friendship with Poitier, and how the two of them found the property and spent a great deal of time developing it. The original treatment fixed a number of issues that the book had, but the screen writer had a job offer he could not turn down and he left the project to be replaced by Stirling Silliphant, who went on to win the Academy Award for best screenplay. Mirisch also told of how he negotiated the production cost of the film, based on the possibility that it would not play south of the Mason-Dixon line. He handicapped Director Jewison with a tight budget but a great script that they did not want to change. There was worry that the slap that Pointier gives to a white gentrified suspect might create race riots. Jewison regaled us with stories about how he and Rod Stieger worked out Chief Gillespie's character. The gum Stieger chews in the film is almost a co-star.

Of course the film holds up well in spite of the progress we have made as a country. The raw racism shown so casually would certainly shock today's younger viewers who would have a hard time seeing how blatant such prejudice was, not that long ago. The film is an important landmark in the transition from the Jim Crow attitudes of the day to more enlightened perspectives just a few years later. The murder mystery is a plot device to allow us to see racial tension boil over and remain in an undercurrent simultaneously.  Pointier was also in "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" in the same year. He was the number one box office star, and it mattered that this film succeed as it did.


We got to walk the Red carpet before the movie, so for a brief moment, we felt like celebrities, but no one asked me "Who I was wearing?"

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

TCM Film Festival Plan





This is the plan, of course that is the thing that makes God Laugh. We will see what parts of it we manage to accomplish. I hope some of my blogging colleagues will be attending and will look for me. I'll be looking for them. [I know the first three things are Thursday and not Friday. Don't Worry.]



Sunday, April 2, 2017

North By Northwest TCM and Fathom Events



With many film series, it is easy to say what your favorite is. Star Wars fans seem pretty passionate about "The Empire Strikes Back" and let's face it, no one likes "Cars 2". With directors, the same is not as obvious. When the film maker has such a unique style but also the talent to apply it to almost any genre, it gets to be more difficult. If asked, I would say my favorite Hitchcock films are "Vertigo", "North By Northwest" and "Psycho". As to which one I think is the best, well it depends on which one I saw last. Today, my favorite is the Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason thriller from 1959.



Since I am such a big fan of James Bond, it seems natural to love "North by Northwest" because it really feels like it set the groundwork for contemporary spy films.  There is an intricate plot, but most of the mystery is background for a series of sequences that are amazingly staged or performed. The actors get to play with their characters and make them something unique because the dialogue is so arch. 007 could easily have spouted the lines spoken by either Cary Grant or Eva Marie Saint. Mason is a forerunner for Dr. No and a dozen other masterminds who trade quips with the protagonist and make plans that in the end go awry.



Two major Hitchcock themes are fully exploited by this film. There is a cool blonde with the aura of danger surrounding her and there is the innocent man, caught up in a story wrongfully but effectively. Mild maneuvered mama's boy Roger Thornhill does not seem to be the type to be able to stand up to ruthless spies and killers but he turns out to be resourceful and charming enough to get halfway across the country to the climax of the film. His cleverness at escaping is demonstrated by his witty performance at a Chicago auction. The manner in which he thwarts the henchmen of the lead baddie is just the kind of thing that James Bond and Indiana Jones would specialize in later. Eva Marie Saint comes on like a locamotive which is appropriate given where she first meets Grant's Thornhill. Eve Kendall is a mystery wrapped in a most appealing package and dropping hints as to what is inside in the sexiest way possible.

Eve Kendall: I'm a big girl.
Roger Thornhill: Yeah, and in all the right places, too. 

Their exchanges while on the train to Chicago are worth the price of admission all on their own.



The two big set pieces of this movie are justifiably famous. The whole sequence with Grant out in the hinterlands of Iowa, waiting for a non-existent man to meet him in the middle of nowhere, is fascinating . From the time his bus drops him off to the moment the crop duster ends up as it does, there is basically only the sound of the fields and the infrequent traffic on the roads. Hitchcock doesn't have to sweeten the suspense with music at this point. Everything build tension by developing slowly and quietly. It is a far cry from the manner of most modern films which overdo it ninety percent of the time.  The spectacular chase across the heads and faces of Mt. Rushmore however, are perfectly framed by the amazing Bernard Hermann theme from the film. When silence is required, the music pulls back to allow the menacing face of Martin Landau to move closer to our heroes and really frighten us.

Everywhere in the movie, Hitchcock and his collaborator , writer Ernest Lehman, have created little moments of character that provide humor for the story. Roger Thornhill is a befuddled man, but he is also a creative advertising executive who can toss off a quip as easily as most jingles of the day. He has lines to his secretary, the thugs who kidnap him and his love interest, that would be memorable if they were in a pure comedy. Lehman and Hitchcock put those bon mots in his mouth at just the right time for effect but never in the way that some of the lines made famous by action stars of the 80s dropped like a hammer. Subtlety is a gift that the makers of this piece of entertainment provide us in regular doses.

I own this Blu ray and have watched it a number of times, but as usual with film, the experience of seeing it in a theater with an audience just as captivated as you are is intangibly better. There is an extensive selection of films being provided by TCM and Fathom for the next few months. Maybe if you are lucky, you will find something as wonderful as this movie to fill your eyes and brain with.