Six years doing this and still fun. Among the subjects discussed are my 50 Favorite Films (Feb 2012-June 2014), films and personalities of the 1960s (July 2014-July 2015), the 1940s (Aug 2015-Dec 2016), the 1970s (Jan-Aug 2017), the 1930s (Sept-Dec 2017) and 80s films (Jan-Mar 2018). Now we're on the 1950s. Always reviews of current films. It is easy to navigate through the site. Have fun. Dash off a note if something strikes your fancy. New postings every Tuesday and Friday.
There was a professional life before I Love Lucy. Lucille Ball liked to intimate there wasn't. She said she was washed up in Hollywood when she turned to television and that she had grown tired of making B films. There were 24 movies in the 40s and a number of good ones. We know what the lady could do in comedy but she was an actress whose dramatic turns always made me sit up and take notice and whose singing and dancing skills were evident. Let's notice some of her work from those long-ago days...
They made a whopping 10 films together and that ought to qualify them as a screen team. Two of those films are world-famous and in the spirit of all good character actors, they gave their films... well, some character. Both were certified oddballs which made them most recognizable to the public. When one became aware of their presences in a movie, one knew what to expect. We could always count on Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet to deliver the goods.
One of the most reliable of actors, Dana Andrews could certainly claim the 40s as his decade. He owes some of his good fortune to the fact that he was exempted from the service because of family status (wife and four kids), allowing him to slide into top roles that very well may have gone to others had they been around. He is one of the film noir icons but did just as well in family dramas, war films, women's stories, westerns, sci-fi and even a musical. I have immensely liked a number of his films and one of his best roles is in one of my 50 favorites.
What a pair. There haven't been too many screen teams, let alone married-to-one-another screen teams, to cause this kind of excitement. The public didn't seem to mind that Humphrey Bogart was 24 years older than Lauren Bacall or that he was married, unhappily so. They made four films together, three of which were quite wonderful. There were plans to do more but he died at age 57 in 1957. It was a fascinating relationship, watched at the time by the entire world, it seems. We're lucky to have these films to see all the magic they dispersed.
Directed by Jay Roach 2015 Biographical Drama 2 hours, 4 minutes From Bleecker Street Media
Starring Bryan Cranston Diane Lane Helen Mirren Michael Stuhlbarg Elle Fanning David James Elliott John Goodman Louis C. K. Alan Tudyk Roger Bart Dean O'Gorman Christian Berkel Richard Portnow Adewale Akinnuoye-Adbaje
Certain things stand out as I think of each of the major studios. Each has a definable leader, someone who has groomed and guided his studio before, during and sometimes after the Golden Age of Hollywood. In those days the studios yielded massive power. Each studio, of course, had its own unique story full of drama, pathos, triumphs.
Talk about endurance. She started in movies in 1932 and made her last one in 1969. She appeared in 86 movies and after she quit she went on to star in a popular nighttime soap opera for nine years and became the highest paid woman in television. She outlasted most of her famous contemporaries. What a trouper.
Her boss, Fox head honcho Darryl F. Zanuck, referred to her as the most beautiful woman in the history of movies. That's quite a statement considering the bevy of beauties he bedded and hired for his famous studio. Perhaps Elizabeth Taylor, Lana Turner, Hedy Lamarr and others may have taken exception to his comments but I think it goes without saying that Gene Tierney was exceptionally beautiful.
She was blunt, feisty, passionate, proud and fearless, both on the screen and off. I regarded her as one of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses. That flaming red hair, emerald green eyes and creamy complexion coaxed the film capital into calling her The Queen of Technicolor. And indeed she was. Her associations with director John Ford and actor John Wayne proved she could stand toe-to-toe with the guys, engage in some impressive battles and never lose her femininity.
There are actresses who never seem to mesh well within the gates of Tinseltown. On some level, of course, they have talent and looks and desire. There are often others who champion them, guide them, nurture them. In the 1930s, 40s and 50s particularly, there were studios to groom them, dress them, teach them, showcase them. Some are lured by fame and fortune and a determination to have it at any cost once the ride begins. And the cost comes. And sometimes it comes with tragedy.
Statuesque has often been used to describe her and it is an appropriate appellation. Her height of 5'9" certainly was helpful as was that hair piled high upon her lovely head. On the screen or off, she was never a slouch in the wardrobe department either, more than filling out those big-girl shoulder pads. A smoky, husky voice suggested an air of seduction. She had a demeanor that smacked of aristocracy, a manner that could be dismissive and a look that said I dare you. I knew she was my kind of actress from the moment I saw her.
I can't believe he's passed away. I can oh so easily close my eyes and see the little tyke throwing rocks at his brother Travis and screaming it's my dog. Kevin Corcoran is gone? He was 66? Where did all the time go?
One ponders how she felt being most famous for a hairstyle... more so than for her acting chops, which is too bad. In film noir she stood out as a femme fatale actress and there was no doubt she was a troubled and troublesome one. By the time Veronica Lake waved goodbye to Hollywood, they were quite happy to see her go.
He was one of the great movie stars of all-time and a fine actor as well. He certainly made some dramas but light comedy was his forte and in that genre he knew no equal with his suave manners and sophisticated banter. He began making films in 1932 and ended his career in 1966 with 72 films to his credit. I suppose my favorite decade for him was the 50s but there is no denying that his best and most prolific time was the 1940s. Let's take a look at those films:
Raise your hand if you know who Hoagy Carmichael is. Hint: he is not a sandwich. Primarily a composer and a piano man, he also dabbled in some singing and some band leading. Somehow he slipped into acting as well. In the 11 movies he made, I always got a big smile when I saw him... so laid back, so confident, so self-assured. He brought class to everything he did.
He was Hollywood royalty. That last name, hard as it was to spell and pronounce, could be attached to any number of people in a family that glorified the movie capital. His body of work contains some of the finest films any director could hope for. He was every bit as much a writer as he was a director and he is the only person to win back-to-back Oscars for writing and directing.
What sort of relationship movie queens Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had has been the subject of speculation for many decades. Most would probably subscribe to the theory that they had a grand feud. Such chatter filled the gossip columns of the day and has been written about in books, including one that concerned itself with nothing else. But was it for real or did it just make good copy? When Hedda and Louella lacked newsworthy items for their columns, might they simply hauled out some old Joan & Bette well-worn stories to fill out the space? If it was a real, honest-to-goodness feud, then what caused it?
Why are some actors not able to climb to the top of the Hollywood ladder? Is it a lack of drop-dead looks? A lack of acting talent? Were they not into playing the game, whatever that might entail? Maybe it's just a simple ol' they didn't make it because they didn't. Who knows why and surely it's different in every case anyway. I suspect to make it to the top, which, like it or not, means fit to play a romantic lead, one's just got to have that certain something. Undefinable. Elusive. Sometimes fleeting. Maybe these guys didn't have that. But on the other hand, they had long careers. Something must have worked.
In this day and age he is pretty much forgotten. What a shame. I'm guessing if one were asked to name the 10 best actors of the 40s, his name would not be among them. Not only was he one of the best actors of his day but there had really not been anyone quite like him. Several were to follow who knew how to work it like he did, but he was something to behold in his time. If one wants to discuss good acting in the 40s, somewhere right at the beginning of the conversation one should mention John Garfield.
I'll guess that you have not been thinking of Cornel Wilde this month but I have. I just finished my piece on Betty Hutton, who, of course, was his leading lady in The Greatest Show on Earth. But my Wilde thoughts started with the piece on Tyrone Power because both were known for those costume dramas where they dash about in tights (doncha hate that?) and brandish a sword. Wilde was more or less a successor to Power or at least a backup and since they both worked at Fox, I'll further guess Wilde inherited some of those roles Power nixed.
The 1940s can lay claim to three famous Bettys. The one who spelled her name differently was, of course, the drama queen, Bette Davis. But we had two Bettys, both glitzy blondes, who were musical-comedy queens. 20th Century Fox staked its claim on Betty Grable, a wise choice, as she became the soldiers' dream girl and a top box office draw. Across town Paramount had a fireball, the likes of which the screen had never seen before... or since. Her name was Betty Hutton. They called her the blonde bombshell.
I knew who he was when I was still a young kid because he directed Niagara, a movie that electrified me when I saw it in its initial release. I was already paying attention to who directed the movies I saw. And I made notes. I learned to get pretty excited about his work mainly because he ventured into film noir and later in his career he steered a lot of westerns. Need I say more?
It was the face that set millions of hearts a-flutter. The entire face was
flawless but I'm thinking it was those eyes that were particularly
devastating... so dark and welcoming... the full brows... and eyelashes so long
that those who knew him said they could cast shadows on that beautiful
face. Some may prefer the word handsome but I think beautiful
is more fitting. Irony arrives when we learn that he found his face to be
a curse. Oh, he knew it opened doors for him, always had, and many of
those were bedroom doors. But he felt it kept him from being respected,
being taken seriously as an actor... and he wanted that more than anything in
the world... more than any woman, more than any man.
She was a doe-eyed, fresh-facedingénue-type who graced the screen in several film noirs and then sequed into a number of westerns. No wonder I liked her and followed her work. It was lovely of her to take her final curtain at a time I am showcasing the 1940s because her best work was done in that decade. By the 50s she was appearing in mainly B-westerns and then horror films. As her film career ebbed, she turned to television, and lots of it, before retiring.
We have concluded a year of discussing movies of the 1960s. Now it's time for a look at the 1940s, a decade often and rightfully referred to as Hollywood's Golden Age. Movies truly arrived in the 40s. It was the shiny example of what a glorious goal looked like when it came true. All that work... all the learning and fiddling... all the fretting and hoping... all the jockeying for positions. Movies had come a long way. In this decade the color process improved and outdoor adventures and musicals were something to behold.
I have wondered now and then over the last half century how many people were as taken in by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna as I was when we saw them in 1966 in Born Free. She was very pretty, controlled, strong, soft-spoken and every inch a lady. He was handsome and professorial, slow to burn, with a stiff upper lip, let's-just-carry-on sort of demeanor. Did I mention they were British?
For my last posting on a director associated mostly with the 1960s, I give you Jack Cardiff. Who, you say? This probably will be one of my least-read articles and that's fine. I want to honor him because, although he was a director of some note in the 60s, he was considered to be one of the greatest cinematographers in movie history. What, you say? I don't write long pieces on cinematographers! Well, no I don't. But although I will spend more time on his directing career, it would be impossible, if not plain wrong, to ignore his exquisite camerawork. Shall we focus?
He played around with romantic, leading man roles but I recall him more as a second lead in scores of movies. Regardless, whether playing bad guys in westerns and crime movies or characters with warmth and humor, when all the pistons were firing and the gears clicked, Brian Keith was a good, reliable, utterly watchable actor who could hold his own with the best of them.
If you know who Christopher Jones is, you must really know your movie stuff. He only made seven movies. He was going to shuck it all after every one of them but didn't until he made the sixth and best of them all. Then he said goodbye and most of the public heard nothing of him for 26 years when he came back for one more film. Again he vanished and we heard nothing more until his death last year. Who was this enigmatic creature? Let's see what we can get into.
I admit that writing about Richard Harris made me think about Anthony Franciosa because both were royal pains on movie sets. I thought each was a good actor and utterly watchable. In Tony's case, he fired up my imagination as I watched that combustible magnetism explode on the screen. Unfortunately he tore into directors, actors, cameramen and whoever else was handy and ultimately Hollywood stopped thinking of him for important films.
He would approve of this paragraph because he thought one should just put it out there and let the chips fall where they may. So then... he was a very good actor, a director, a singer, a poet, a writer, a professor, a fairly absent father, a disastrous husband, a troublemaker, a hitter, a cocaine abuser and an alcoholic of mythic proportions. On the screen he completely captured my attention and I was always saddened somehow that he frequently did the same off screen.
Oh, I'm so sorry. You thought this was going to be about Jack Nicholson or maybe Jack Lemmon and it's not. Eat some chocolate. You'll feel so much better. No, this is about three character actors all named Jack and all prominent in the 60s, 70s and on. You might have even confused one's name with another one. Don't look. Guess. Who do you think they are? When you're ready, click on...
Just as I said in my postings on Geraldine Page and Maureen Stapleton, Robert Preston would have considered himself a Broadway baby rather than a big-deal movie actor. Unlike those ladies, however, he made many mainly B movies in the 40s and 50s. His movie career really never took off until the 60s. What I enjoyed most about his acting was his enormous enthusiasm. Whether he was handling drama or comedy or even singing, he put a lot of energy into what he did.
Most of his films are thoughtful studies of relationships. They were often seen in tandem with struggles of equality, usually featuring poor or ethnic characters. He seemed to care about his characters like little girls care for their dolls. He groomed them, watched out for them, wept for them, smiled at them, kept them locked in his brain. His themes, while bold and decidedly liberal in nature, took a back seat to his beloved characters.
She was a scattershot of emotions. It's why she vomited before most stage performances and hit the vodka sitting on her vanity table in her dressing room as soon as the curtain came down. After a lifetime on the stage, she never conquered the thought that somebody was going to kill her after the curtain went up. She spent nearly two decades in therapy wrestling with those emotions and she clearly used them to become one of America's finest actresses.
To tell you the truth, I don't know all that much about her. In terms of movie-making I don't know much about Greece either but perhaps that's for another posting. Irene Papas first came into my consciousness in 1956 in a western called Tribute to a Bad Man. It was supposed to topline Spencer Tracy but ended up starring James Cagney and Papas was his wife. It was not very good.
She had beenan Oscar trivia question: what actress has been nominated for seven Oscars without a win? It was all to change at the 1986 Academy Awards when F. Murray Abraham, the previous year's best actor winner, opened the envelope and declared... ah, I consider this woman the greatest actor in the English language. The winner is Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful. Meryl Streep, a nominee for her superb performance in Out of Africa, jumped out of her seat and led the long standing ovation. Hollywood had finally acknowledged Gerry. It was long overdue.
Best known for his sensitive directing of one of the most acclaimed films of all time, 1962s To Kill a Mockingbird, Robert Mulligan was one of a number of directors to emerge from the heyday of live television. His movie career, I suppose, was rather erratic although I pretty much liked everything he did. He alternated between hits and misses and also between commercial films and films that simply appealed to him, knowing they may go nowhere. They say he had no truly identifiable style but I found him to be uniquely good at directing adolescents in some worthy coming-of-age stories.
Carroll Baker was a fixture in American films for 10 years or so, from the mid-50s to the mid-60s. Her first three starring films were as different as they could be. Two resulted in huge box office receipts and in the third she had the controversial title role that would shoot her to international fame. But some things happened and she fled to Italy for a few years to nurse her wounds. She's been back for many years now making films most of us have never seen nor heard of. What happened to Carroll Baker?
As a little girl she had a number of charming roles. In 1947 alone she had a small part as Gene Tierney's daughter in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir and a larger role as Maureen O'Hara's daughter in the classic, Miracle on 34th Street. The following decade, as a teenager, she appeared in two classics, a large role in 1955s Rebel Without a Cause and a small but central role in 1956s John Ford western, The Searchers. Despite the classic nature of these films and all the others she made in those decades, it was the 1960s that brought Natalie Wood into full blossom as a beautiful and talented actress. Let's take a look at those films.
I had the happiest experience two days ago in a movie theater that I have had in years and years. I again saw The Sound of Music on the big screen. Unless you've been away from the planet, you know this is the 50th anniversary of one of the finest films ever made, musical or not.
His artistry as a director is legendary. Much like Hollywood director Stanley Kramer, Lumet, known as a New York director with many of his films being made there, cherished making social dramas with a slight leftist leaning. Many actors wanted to work for him and why not since he steered 18 of them to Oscar nominations. I wonder who else can say that. Not all of his films are well-regarded but there are more than a few that are true gems.
I am not an expert on James Bond films although I have seen every one of them and as long as I can crawl to the box office, I will see those to come. I can't name all the villains or locales or cars or artillery. I can't even name all the Bond girls but the ones from the 1960s, when the franchise began, still stick in my mind. It seems that Bond girls could generally be called those with whom he wound up in bed. I think, too, they were usually the good girls, but not always. We'll not comment on their looks individually. Space is limited and c'mon, there wasn't a homely one in the bunch.
In the 1950s and 1960s, he was Hollywood's golden boy. He had the looks
of those who descended from Mt. Olympus. Not since the days of pretty
boys Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power had the movies seen anyone this
handsome. He stood tall at 6'5" with a strong
voice and one of the heartiest laughs in the business. He also had a
secret and a very dangerous one for the times but it was a far different
Hollywood then than it is now and for the most part the movie folks and the
press were willing to look the other way.
He worked from the 1930s through the early 1980s and while I could have included him in any of those decades, I am writing about him in my piece on the 1960s because, believe it or not, it wasn't until then that he truly settled into stardom. He became more of a force at the closing of the 50s when he starred in an Oscar Best Picture and won a Best Actor Oscar for another.
If you are one who hates violence on the screen, here is the man to whom you could direct some of your ire. He wouldn't have cared what you thought and if given the chance, most likely would have told you so to your face. He didn't much care what Hollywood thought either, except for those few times when he needed to eat and all the beer bottles had already been turned in.
I'm reading here that a rogue is an independent person who rejects conventional rules of society in favor of following his own personal goals and values. It goes on to say it's an unprincipled person whose behavior one disapproves of but who is nonetheless likeable or attractive. That is a pretty good way to start a piece on Steve McQueen, 1960s icon and from time to time the most popular actor in the world.
Have you ever been aware of how many movie titles are Johnny Something? No? Well, then you must have a life. I, on the other hand, have been intrigued by how many times that name has been used in a title. I would guess more than any other name. Why is that? Wouldn't Tommy or Jimmy or Bobby have worked just as well? So many were bad boys, too, and had screwy last names. It takes moxie for a studio to give a title the full name of a character because, unless it was based on a book, they aren't great crowd drawers. Start thinking (if you haven't already) of the Johnny titles you know and then click below.
In some ways she reminded me of Marilyn Monroe and perhaps I needed someone to remind me of her. I guess I was drawn to beautiful blonde actresses who were troubled and hurting. I always wanted to help. MM's death was particularly painful as I lived only blocks from her. Seberg was a world away but the saddest thing was I saw it coming. I hovered around the news on her like hummingbirds at a feeder. She was beaten down at the beginning of her career and it went downhill from there. The curtain call was not unexpected.
Perhaps his directorial achievements have been neglected somewhat by American showbiz types because he's not American. It's just a point I'm considering. Perhaps it's because he isn't identified with one genre... like John Ford was with westerns or Hitchcock was for mysteries. Hollywood has a tendency to think you're magnificent if you stick with what you know best. I don't know why directors who tackle several genres (and do them well) are often disparaged as some sort of interlopers. Others seem to eternally classify them as journeymen directors. It's not right.
Another trio coming your way... all very sixties. If you were around then or know your movies from the old days, you've heard of them. I title it what I do because I think their main contribution to films was decorative. Nothing wrong with that from my point of view. Let it be known I have certainly loved some of their films. Let's see who they are:
For a couple of decades he was certainly Hollywood's idea of the suave Continental lover. It's probably fitting that he passed away on Valentine's Day. It's been years since we've heard of him. Although well-liked in the film industry, he always kept his private life very private. He was never one to engage in much publicity and was never particularly given to ballyhooing his films. He was married to the same woman, his childhood sweetheart, for 67 years.
I have mentioned her numerous times in these pages and I am sorry that I have to write an obit but given her age of 92, I certainly knew the day was coming. I have some sorrow about a few things about Lizabeth Scott. I am sorry her main period of fame was for only a dozen years and that she made a mere 21 movies. I am sorry that she didn't expand her talent more than she did. I am sorry that she is mostly forgotten. I am truly sorry that she didn't write an autobiography and that she didn't come out of the closet that must have had locks, deadbolts, chains and a security alarm on it.
Yul Brynner has always fascinated me. It may be true that when I have mentioned him in this blog, it has been in generally unfavorable terms. It also seems true that he is most deserving of smears hurled by his detractors. He was a piece of work... conceited, arrogant, mean, controlling, insufferable, frequently unstable, a liar and a cheater. I am not even sure he was a great actor, although I thought he was a good one and more importantly, one of the most mesmerizing screen presences I have ever encountered.
I think Stephen Sondheim may have been right. Maria. Maria. Maria. It is a beautiful sound. It has been a favorite female name of mine since childhood. I was in the sixth grade with a pretty little blonde I fancied. She smiled at me and told me her name was Maria. It was inevitable that I would one day sit up and take notice of a certain gorgeous blonde actress arriving in America from Austria to make movies. Her name, too, was Maria. Maria Schell.
He was essentially a director of comedies and had been for five decades or so. Some would put him in the same category with such esteemed old-timers as Preston Sturges, Ernst Lubitsch and Howard Hawks. Blake Edwards would often combine slapstick and homages to silent films with sophisticated humor, melancholia and social commentary. One might say he took his comedies seriously. He was devoted to his characters and yet faithful to his audiences. For most of his career, he certainly knew how to put on a great show.
I do like my trio postings, don't I? I get to do three personalities at once. Three birds with one stone, so to speak, if you will. This trio, all actresses of varying talents and films, have in common that they started their careers being on fire. They would light up the sky with dazzling movie debuts and then go by way of the meteor. These types of careers fascinate me. Now, you go ahead, click on the button below and see who they are.
We're not that far apart in age. Barbara Hershey once represented for me a lifestyle that I wished I had been more involved in but never could... a flower child, a hippie. Convention was never my thing and I always admired rebels, people bold enough to say no thanks, I'll do it my way. But there was more... she was a good actress, an authentic one, often pulling back layer after layer of complex characters. She is able to embroider together sensuality, sincerity and a degree of omniscience and usually with a ready smile. Her sense of self seems so entrenched that she could never betray it in her work.
As in stud muffins...! Oh, you suspected that, didn't you? Here are three examples of male beauty in the 60s... and as luck would have it, we just happen to be discussing the 60s. By the way, some serious male beauty. Those faces could, in fact, have something to do with their not making it to the top of the acting ladder. Their successes at their craft varies among the three just as the handsomeness does. They were all actors I liked and whose careers I was pretty much on top of. Let's visit...