Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Dress I Love: THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER

It's now one of my favorite classic films to watch during the Christmas season.  It's brisk, goofy, glamorous and has big stars at Warner Brothers in a yuletide comedy.  The movie is 1942's THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER based on a Broadway hit in which dozens of celebrity names were dropped.  Monty Woolley plays Sheridan Whiteside, the role he originated on Broadway.  This volatile, meddlesome yet sentimental man in a wheelchair is loosely based on then popular theatre critic and radio personality named Alexander Woollcott.  Woollcott was a member of the famed Algonquin Table.  Bette Davis plays Whiteside's his long-suffering personal secretary, wrangler and friend, Maggie Cutler.
This New York City celebrity is on a personal appearance tour.  While in a small town, he breaks his leg and is confined to wheelchair in the home of a married couple with two grown children.  Well...Sherry thinks he's broken his leg.  He's really fine but he stays in the wheelchair.  He soon disrupts and takes over the household, inviting celebrity friends to pop over and giving sage advice to the two grown and frustrated children.  Because of him, things are topsy-turvy as Christmas Day approaches and Maggie works overtime to keep it all under control.
A private nurse is hired for the faker in the wheelchair.  Mary Wickes made her film debut as Miss Preen.  She and Monty Woolley were the only members of the original Broadway cast who repeated their roles in the film.  Maggie falls in love with a local reporter during the stay.  But Sheridan Whiteside has invited his fabulous friend, Lorraine Sheldon, to come over for a Christmas visit.  And to vamp her way into the getting the lead in a great play written by a local aspiring playwright.  The playwright happens to be Maggie's boyfriend reporter.  Ann Sheridan hits a major home run as the bitchy man-trap of a Broadway star.
That small town has never seen the likes of Lorraine Sheldon.  She carbonates the hormones of every red-blooded straight male she sees.  Sheridan Whiteside is a good friend to have.  He's been helpful in her career.  And he knows that Lorraine and Maggie are sophisticated rivals.  They can't stand each other.

No matter how famous Lorraine has become, no matter how much she has re-invented herself as a queen of Broadway, no matter how determined she is to wed her way into British society, there's still a touch of the Kansas City dame about her.  We see that in my favorite dress this vamp wears to meet a talented new playwright.
Look at the clasp detail on Sheldon's dress.  It makes Lorraine look like her tits are hitch-hiking.
It's so deliciously suggestive.  Chic and sophisticated with a slight unmistakable touch of the gutter.  I love it. The costume designer was the great Orr-Kelly.

Warner Brothers' popular star Ann Sheridan was nicknamed "The Oomph Girl" as the studio strapped her with a glamour girl image.
But Ann could act -- as she proved in the drama KING'S ROW -- and she had the right stuff for comedy as she proved in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER.  She's one of the few actresses who ever stole scenes from Bette Davis in a Warner Brothers film.  This Christmastime comedy really sizzles when Ann Sheridan shows up.

THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER was done as a special telecast on NBC in 1972.  Orson Welles took on the Sheridan Whiteside role.  It wasn't very good.  But Mary Wickes got to repeat her Miss Preen role yet again.
Mary Wickes played a private nurse opposite Bette Davis in THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER and in NOW, VOYAGER.  In the 1960s, they played co-workers in an ABC sitcom pilot for Aaron Spelling called THE DECORATOR.  I kid you not.  A sitcom pilot.  Bette played an interior decorator.  The sitcom pilot didn't get picked up.

Happy Holidays.  Enjoy THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER.  And dig that dress.




Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Shot I Love: THE THIRD MAN

This film is a classic in the true sense of the word and not just because it's well over 20 years old.  THE THIRD MAN directed by Carol Reed and released in 1949.  Joseph Cotten starred as Holly Martins, a poor writer who's visiting poor post-war Vienna to reunite with an old friend named Harry Lime.  When he arrives, Harry seems to be deceased.  We follow Holly and the police as they investigate under the manholes, below the surface, in the sewers.  When Harry died, who was "the third man" at the scene?  Harry left behind a woman who is still in love with him.  Holly gets answers as he goes below the surface of their friendship.  There's a lot of mystery.  You have the feeling that Holly is being watched.  Some people are reluctant to talk about Harry Lime.  Cinematographer Robert Kraskher gave us classic, gorgeously atmospheric black and white shots.  You other classic film fans could frame stills from THE THIRD MAN and put them on your walls as art.
Carol Reed cast a fellow director in his film.  A fellow director who was also a good actor.  A good actor named Orson Welles.  And Reed gave Welles one of the best shots -- and roles -- of his film career.
The opening credits of the film are now famous too.  Zither music was used to play what became "The Third Man Theme."  The zither music was novel and different.
The year after the film's release, "The Third Man Theme" topped the international music charts.  The zither was even referenced during the "Girl Hunt" murder mystery jazz ballet number with Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse in Vincente Minnelli's THE BAND WAGON (1953).
I also love this shot in the opening credits as the zither music plays and sets the tone for this tale.  Why do I love that credits shot so much?   For years, I always watched that credits shot and assumed it was just a zither as it played.  Then, during one repeat viewing, it hit me that it could also be a view from above street level.  A viewpoint of someone peering through blinds at a manhole on the street.  That makes sense if you've seen the movie.  There are two ways of looking at that opening shot -- just as Holly discovers there are two way of looking at his friend, Harry Lime.
THE THIRD MAN is a masterpiece.


Sunday, November 27, 2016

Jessica Chastain and Female Film Critics

Recently, I saw Jessica Chastain as MISS SLOANE.  She took that role and bit into it like it was a succulent, juicy prime rib dinner.  And, baby, was it fun watching her take every single bite.  Miss Sloane is a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.  She's one of the best in the business and one tough opponent. In order to play the game, she sometimes has to break the rules.  When she supports background checks on guns, she is for it because of America's gun violence history "...between Columbine and Charleston."  When that happens, the big boys try to break her.  They can try, but it sure as hell ain't gonna be easy.  Miss Sloane is ready.
Miss Sloane is no saint.  She's not exactly what one would call a "good girl."  She has her imperfections and desires like we all do.  This makes her a fascinating complicated woman to watch onscreen.
Just last week, I had watched THE HELP again.  There was Jessica Chastain as the ditzy young Southern wife who hires her first maid and gets a lesson in how to fry chicken.
We love this bubbly 1963 character because she hires Minny (Octavia Spencer in her Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning role) and embraces racial harmony.
In the town's caste system, she and Minny are both outsiders.  She treats Minny with respect and affection.
Chastain was also in the Best Supporting Actress Oscar category for THE HELP.  Her performance in MISS SLOANE is yet another display of the her terrific acting versatility.  In the 1940s or 50s, this role would've gone to a Barbara Stanwyck, Susan Hayward or Jennifer Jones.  In the 1970s, it would've been a Faye Dunaway vehicle.  It's that kind of role in a film driven by a strong actress.  Here's a movie promo.

In the Weekend Arts section of The New York Times on Friday, Nov. 25th, MISS SLOANE got some major space on a page.
 A big ad for MISS SLOANE that included six rave reviews.  All were from male critics.
On Twitter, Jessica Chastain tweeted this on Nov. 16th:  Hey #nastywomen -- If you love film and are good with a pen, how about becoming a critic?  We need female critics to bring balance & diversity."

Brava, Jessica!

If you've followed my blog posts, you know that I've written several times about TV's lack of race and gender diversity in the field of film critics on network morning news programs, local newscasts and on syndicated film review shows.  In my New York City years, I've reviewed film on local and network news programs -- but it was never easy to get those bookings.  I definitely felt executive resistance when I went for the opportunity.

New York City alone is at no loss for good veteran female film critics.  I know some of them.  I've seen many of them at movie screenings in Manhattan.

In 2012, I was half of an on-air team in a film review show pilot.  Film review shows aren't new, but this was one was because...it had two black film critics.  We got the green light from a prestigious PBS station to shoot the pilot.  When I agreed to do it, I pushed for a woman named Mia Mask to be my on-air film review partner.  She's African American, great to listen to and teaches film studies at Vassar College.  Mia knows movies.  I wanted viewers to see that black women -- and other women of color -- can review new movies and discuss classic films.  Think about it.  When have you ever seen a black female movie critic on TV?

Well, the executives wanted the team to be two men.  Which it was.  And there you have it.  By the way, that TV pilot reportedly is "still under consideration."  To repeat, we shot it in 2012.

The need for Hollywood diversity doesn't just apply to onscreen work.  It also applies to those who write and talk about the work and images that Hollywood gives us.

The first man quoted in the newspaper ad is the excellent Justin Chang of The Los Angeles Times.  Justin can be heard regularly on news radio station KPCC out of Southern California.  Every Friday, this NPR station has "FilmWeek," a fine one-hour film review show during the AirTalk hosted by Larry Mantle.  (Tom Hanks is a huge Larry Mantle fan.  So am I.)  Not only is FilmWeek a stimulating, witty, informative hour of non-snarky movie talk, it presents weekly guest film critics in a panel that has refreshing gender & race diversity.  It's the kind of diversity in the film review field that network TV has yet to give us -- and it's almost 2017.

To hear recent FilmWeek shows on KPCC's AirTalk, go here:  SCPR.org.  FilmWeek can be heard live on Fridays at Noon Pacific Time.

One last thing about MISS SLOANE.  It's the kind of entertaining political thriller that I recommend you see again -- just to realize how clever and smart that woman truly is.  You'll catch more the second time around.

MISS SLOANE is now playing in selected cities.  It opens nationwide on Dec. 9th.










Saturday, November 26, 2016

More FENCES Oscar Buzz

Will FENCES be decorated with Hollywood gold?  The Oscar buzz grows louder.  The film adaptation of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play by the late August Wilson hits movie screens on Christmas Day. The Broadway revival starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in a Tony-winning 2010 production.  Mr. Washington directed the film adaptation.  He and Viola Davis repeat their Broadway roles onscreen.  This may be the first time that a black actor and actress have recreated their Broadway lead role performances for the film of a celebrated play since Broadway's Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee starred in the 1961 movie of Lorraine Hansberry's A RAISIN IN THE SUN.  In 1959, playwright Lorraine Hansberry became the first African American woman to have a play produced on Broadway.  For FENCES, more critics are hailing the work of Viola Davis as Rose, the 1950s working class wife and mother. Rose is married to a former Negro League baseball player who struggles to raise his family.
There's also Oscar buzz that FENCES could bring an Oscar nomination to Denzel Washington and put the film in the Best Picture Oscar nomination category.
For Viola Davis, an Oscar nomination could bring her a very special and groundbreaking mention in the Hollywood history books.  I explain in this short video:

If you're on Twitter, you can see the newest trailer for FENCES.  More footage of Viola Davis has been added.  On Twitter, go to @FencesMovie.

Here's some other Oscar news for you:  For the first time in Hollywood history, more than one black woman was in the Oscar race for Best Actress.  This was for 1972.  Cicely Tyson was nominated for SOUNDER.  Diana Ross was nominated for LADY SINGS THE BLUES.

This week Cicely Tyson and Diana Ross, two Oscar nominees for Best Actress of 1972, were among the 21 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom honor presented at the White House.  The group of recipients also included Tom Hanks, Robert Redford, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Ellen DeGeneres and Bill and Melinda Gates.









Monday, November 21, 2016

I Saw MOONLIGHT

I was so moved by MOONLIGHT.  There were feelings of hurt and anger and confusion onscreen that echoed those just like the ones I had in my youth when I realized I was different.  This movie made tears stream down my face. MOONLIGHT is a remarkable film.  It's powerful, poetic, moving and memorable.  Director and screenwriter Barry Jenkins has given us one of the best films I've seen this year.  We follow the boy-to-manhood growth of a fatherless male named Chiron (pronounced Shy-rone). He's a boy who grows up in a tough section of Miami in 1980s.  He's jackknife slim and a good student who has a soulful, rightfully wary face.  He's quiet.  He's gay.  He's bullied and in need of kindness.
Chiron is dark-skinned.  He is, like grown-ups on my block in South Central L.A. used to say when I was kid, "so black he's almost blue."  In the film, there's a story about that same kind of observation that gives the film its title.
MOONLIGHT is significant.  It's real.  There's violence, there's tenderness.  It's intimate and compassionate.  It's a cinematic door opened that makes a way for other fresh voices and new images in film.

Chiron grows into tough manhood.  He's a muscular man who knows the mean streets and can survive on them.  He has power.  This is not the Hollywood stereotype of the black gay male.  We will see how the dysfunction of Chiron's early home life with his troubled single mother coupled with his rough days as a schoolboy have made him the young man he is -- and how that could change.
That's all I'm telling about about the story.  I want you to experience the rest for yourself.  I will tell you that Mahershala Ali as the black/Latino drug dealer who becomes a gentle father figure to young Chiron is absolutely outstanding.
                                              
The dinner table scene in which the sad, loner schoolboy asks his father figure what a faggot is will break your heart with its poignancy, its painful truth.  That is a memorable scene, beautifully written and performed.  Young Chiron really doesn't have a vocabulary to express his loneliness, to express how unconnected he feels to the world around him.  I remember that feeling.  Mahershala Ali is exceptional in this simple yet complicated scene.  Here's a clip in which his character, Juan, encounters Chiron's mother for the first time.

I really started paying more attention to Mr. Ali when I saw him as a regular on HOUSE OF CARDS with Kevin Spacey.  He was the best thing about FREE STATE OF JONES starring Matthew McConaughey earlier this year.  Ali as Moses in that Civil War drama is the film's highlight.  Singer Janelle Monae will have to balance film work with her music career.  She's got the right stuff for film acting and she's very good in this as the girlfriend to Chiron's caring but imperfect father figure.  The whole cast of MOONLIGHT is good -- especially the three actors who played Chiron in the three stages of his life that we experience.  Here's a trailer.
In Hollywood films, the experience of the black gay male has been pretty much ignored.  For the most part, Hollywood has portrayed black gay men as stereotypes and second class citizens if you will.  We didn't get the main roles like Tom Hanks in PHILADELPHIA, Philip Seymour Hoffman in CAPOTE, Sean Penn in MILK, Colin Firth in A SINGLE MAN, Greg Kinnear in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, Ian McKellen in GODS AND MONSTERS, Ed Harris in THE HOURS and TOMMY LEE JONES in JFK.  All those actors got Oscar nominations for playing upscale gay men in those films.  The first three actors listed won the Best Actor Oscar.  Black actors in Hollywood films haven't traditionally received such substantial roles as gay characters.  Hollywood has yet to embrace that diversity.

MOONLIGHT shows how independent films make bold steps to bring in diversity and fresh stories, stories that Hollywood would be foolish to ignore.  This touching tale of self-discovery deserves Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

Note to actors:  Notice how actor Trevante Rhodes as adult Chiron eats when he goes to the diner.  Look at how he holds his fork.  That is an excellent, accurate detail for a young man who's traveled the life road that character has in the last few years.  That is exactly how Jamie Foxx should have held his fork in DJANGO UNCHAINED.







Saturday, November 19, 2016

Hollywood Birthday Pairs

Here's a trivia post on pairs who shared movie screen credits and birthdays.  It's Saturday, November 19th.  Born on this day in show biz history, two stars of one of Hollywood's best and nastiest Manhattan murder mysteries. The nastiness is covered up by deluxe apartment furnishings, sophisticated clothing and swanky cocktail parties.  But it is definitely there.  The story with all this elegant seediness is played terrifically by Clifton Webb and the gorgeous Gene Tierney, the stars of LAURA.  In addition to being the stars of this 1944 classic, they also shared a November 19th birthday.
Joining Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney in the cast were Dana Andrews, excellent as the detective, Vincent Price as the big city freeloader who's not above banging an older babe for a few bucks, and Judith Anderson as an older babe.  Otto Preminger directed the film.  Preminger and Vincent Price would go on to play villains on the kooky and colorful ABC TV series in the 1960s, BATMAN, starring Adam West.  If you're into classic film noir from Hollywood and you haven't seen LAURA...make it an immediate DVD must-see.
Clifton Webb was a stage veteran by the time Hollywood gave him his first major film role.  That role was in LAURA and Webb got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance as the brilliant and spiteful columnist, Waldo Lydecker.  That kicked off a fabulous film career for Webb that went on well into the 1950s.

Did you know that Clifton Webb was a Broadway song and dance man?  As a matter of fact, he introduced the Irving Berlin song "Easter Parade."  Clifton Webb performed it in a 1933 Irving Berlin Broadway musical.  The song was sung by Bing Crosby in the hit movie HOLIDAY INN, for which Irving Berlin won an Oscar for Best Song of 1942.  The song he wrote for Bing to introduce in HOLIDAY INN was "White Christmas."  The Easter song became the title and was sung by two of MGM's top stars in a classic movie musical.  Judy Garland and Fred Astaire were the stars of 1948's EASTER PARADE.  Irving Berlin's "Easter Parade" was also sung by Don Ameche in ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND.  This highly entertaining 20th Century Fox musical was a 1938 release, full of the Irving Berlin catalogue.  The stars of this Irving Berlin musical were Alice Faye as the brassy singer who's given sort of a Pygmalion makeover by Alexander, played by Tyrone Power.  He's the classy leader of a band who hires her.  Of course, the mouthy singer falls in love with the bandleader after the makeover.

Alice Faye and Tyrone Power shared screen credits in a couple of films.  My favorite pairing of theirs is in ALEXANDER'S RAGTIME BAND.  And they also shared a May 5th birthday.
When I was new to New York City in the mid 1980s, I arrived to accept an on-air job for WPIX TV, New York City's local Channel 11.  One of the first celebrities I had the great privilege to interview on our weekday magazine show was Alice Faye.  Oh, man, she was sensational!  She was in town to promote an appearance.  We had a 5-minute interview but then we hung out for about fifteen minutes just chatting about life and her movies.  She was eager to chat more off the set when she realized I was classic film fan who knew him films and the names of songs she'd introduced in them.  She was proof that you can be over 60 and continue to be really hip.  I loved her attitude.  I still laugh at her comment about Fox studio head, her boss, Darryl F. Zanuck.  She could not stand him.  I think the lusty studio head tried several times to get his star in a "grand horizontal" and she wasn't having it.  Said Alice Faye, "Kid, I had one prayer and one prayer only at Fox: "Please, Lord, let me live long enough to see him die first."

Darryl F. Zanuck died in 1979.  Alice Faye died in 1998.

2-time Best Actress Oscar winner Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 100th birthday in July of this year.  Her second Academy Award came for her extraordinary performance as sweet, unsophisticated young woman jilted by a fortune hunter in THE HEIRESS.  Montgomery Clift starred as the handsome fortune hunter who pretends to love the heiress.
Master director William Wyler guided de Havilland to her second Oscar victory.  Not only did the star and the director share screen credits....
...they also shared a July 1st birthday.  They took time to cut a cake on the set.  That's co-star Miriam Hopkins on the right.

Can you think of any other films that had a pair of contributors to it who celebrated a birthday on the same day?




Wednesday, November 16, 2016

HIS GIRL FRIDAY Restored

You know the movie.  This classic is a gender-bender remake starring two actors in top form.  HIS GIRL FRIDAY starred Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell slamming across comedy performances that are just as fresh today as they were in 1940 when the film was released.  Grant was a master at screen comedy.  He was nominated for two Oscars.  Both nominations were for dramatic work.  Rosalind Russell racked up four Oscar nominations in her career.  HIS GIRL FRIDAY provided Russell with one of her signature roles.  But it didn't bring her an Oscar nomination.
THE FRONT PAGE, an early 1930s film version of the play, had two male leads in the newspaper story.  The Howard Hawks remake changed them to a bickering divorced couple -- the manipulative newspaper editor and his ace reporter who is also his ex-wife.  She's engaged. She plans to leave the journalism life and just be a housewife.  But an innocent man is scheduled to be executed and she's the right reporter to help the editor break the true story wide open.  If he can convince her to cover the story and delay her wedding to a big sweet dud played by Ralph Bellamy.
What a blessing it is for us classic film lovers to be in an age of film preservation and restoration.  When I was a kid in Los Angeles, the country wasn't wired for cable then.  We didn't have hundreds of cable channels and 24 hour TV programming.  We didn't have VHS, DVDs and DVR then.  We had the three senior networks -- CBS, ABC and NBC -- plus their local network affiliates. We also had a few local independent stations.  There were some old movies that aired a lot on more than one channel because they were "public domain."  The copyrights had not been renewed for whatever reason.  During summer vacations from school, three movies the aired a lot on local stations during those months were IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, HIS GIRL FRIDAY and Billy Wilder's ACE IN THE HOLE.  However, back then, Wilder's movie had been renamed THE BIG CARNIVAL because it was such a flop at the box office. And with unenlightened critics.  The prints of these movies were always grainy, scratchy and often edited down a bit to make room for commercials.  In my late teens and early adult years, those three films were constantly booked on revival movie theater schedules and we young baby boomers loved them.  I'm so proud that my generation so enthusiastically appreciated IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and ACE IN THE HOLE that it led to those works of art getting the love they deserved.  No longer are they public domain movies on VHS in the bargain buckets of drugstores.  They've been rescued, remastered and restored to mint condition.  They have prestige.

Come January 10th of next year, HIS GIRL FRIDAY gets love from the outstanding Criterion Collection.  That's the date for the Criterion release of HIS GIRL FRIDAY.  This Howard Hawks gem was on TCM one morning this week.  I had never, ever seen such a pearly print of that film.  It was gorgeous.
It's that's the quality we can expect from Criterion, that DVD package will make one fabulous belated Christmas gift.
In her autobiography, LIFE IS A BANQUET, Rosalind Russell had nothing but love and praise for Cary Grant -- and added that she really had to keep on her toes with Grant because he was such a comedy master.  She even had a couple of "ad libs" written for her to keep up.  And, yes, Hawks intended the machine-gun pace of their dialogue delivery.
She also wrote that, considering the zippy pace of the story coupled with the corrupt city politics Hildy Johnson (Roz) and Walter Burns (Cary) are hurriedly out to expose in the newspaper, she was worried about her character not showing a soft, feminine moment.

Hawks told her that moment would be when Hildy, in a slower and softer voice, interviews the unjustly convicted prisoner in his cell.  She offers the hopeless convict her cigarette and apologizes for the lipstick.  Watch that moment and you'll see just what director Howard Hawks meant.  And you'll see what Rosalind Russell expertly delivered.

Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell never won competitive Oscars but both performers received special awards from the Academy in the 1970s.  In 1940, moviegoers saw Cary Grant in HIS GIRL FRIDAY, MY FAVORITE WIFE and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY.  For Rosalind Russell, her "career girl" role as ace reporter Hildy Johnson followed her comedy breakthrough performance in 1939's THE WOMEN. 

So...for you HIS GIRL FRIDAY fans...look for the Criterion Collection release on Jan. 10th.
Criterion.com




Monday, November 14, 2016

In Judy Garland's Quartet

I needed a Judy Garland musical comedy yesterday.  One aired on TCM.  Most of my weekend TV viewing had consisted of news programs focused on the new team moving into the White House.  Personally, I'm starting to feel like Michael York's character during the "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" number in CABARET.  The Statue of Liberty must have tears streaming down her face ever since the election results were announced.  That's why I want to lighten my mood here and write about an actor who was lucky enough to dance with Judy Garland in one of her most entertaining MGM musicals.  I love her in this 1949 feature, one that teamed her with Van Johnson.  It's IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME.  Switching the action from Budapest to Chicago, this was a musical remake of the 1940 Ernst Lubitsch classic, THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER.  Judy Garland and Van Johnson played the bickering co-workers who are secretly and anonymously personal ad pen pal sweethearts.
Judy Garland and Van Johnson recreated the roles originally played onscreen by Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart.
Some of the best acting you see on TV and in films is done by folks whose names you don't even know.  They are bit players and otherwise non-stars who fully commit to their characters, take a small role and give it their all.  Often, you don't know their names but you remember their performances.  Such is the case with actor Charles Smith.  For classic film fans, that name may not be recognizable but you know his face.  Ever since I was a kid watching old movies on TV, I have loved seeing Charles Smith pop up in classic films.  He was one of the jitterbug teens who meets the middle-aged George M. Cohan in YANKEE DOODLE DANDY.  Cohan teaches them the meaning of the "Stix Nix Hix Pix" headline on Variety.  He is very touching as the sad young GI on leave who breaks down crying in joy when he hears from his mother in the World War II fantasy/drama A GUY NAMED JOE.  He's not even on screen for five minutes but you remember his telephone booth scene.  For IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME, his assignment was musical.  He was a member of the quartet that performs the "Play That Barbershop Chord" number with Judy.  Here he is right above Judy.
Here's Charles Smith again -- on the upper left of Judy.
This was a very cool booking for Charles Smith and not solely because he got to sing and dance with a Hollywood legend.  He was in that bright musical remake -- and he was also in the 1940 original.  The younger Smith was so warm, innocent and boyish as Rudy in the final scene of the Lubitsch film.  The store owner, played by Frank Morgan, was despondent after learning his wife had cheated on him.  At the end, we see that young Rudy will become like a son to the kind and lonely store owner, giving him a reason to smile again.

The next big screen remake of THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER was a big box office hit in the 1990s.  It was the romantic comedy YOU'VE GOT MAIL starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
Starting in the 1930s, 20th Century Fox hit on the successful movie formula of following three females as they seek love and rich husbands.  Come the 1940s, this formula was a great format to showcase the studio's Fox Blondes.  Betty Grable starred in MOON OVER MIAMI (1941) which highlighted her vivacious song & dance skills coupled with her famous pair o' great gams.  Fox used the formula again for HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE (1953) which highlighted Grable comedy chops and showcased a new Fox blonde named Marilyn Monroe.

Another musical comedy utilizing that Fox formula was 1946's THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE.  This film introduced moviegoers to blonde Broadway musical star Celeste Holm.  Blonde June Haver co-starred.

Charles Smith is in THREE LITTLE GIRLS IN BLUE.  He was paired with dancer Vera-Ellen.  Although both their singing voices were dubbed, they still stand as the two film actors who introduced a new song written for the movie.  A good song, it didn't really click with the public until Frank Sinatra recorded it about ten years later. 

Here are the dubbed Charles Smith and Vera-Ellen introducing it.  Charles Smith -- he was never a star but, man, he did some great stuff with the roles he got.  He was really proof of the old saying, "There are no small parts...only small actors."  Enjoy the song.  It's "You Make Me Feel So Young".


Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Kirk Douglas in POSSE

Is this 1975 western starring Kirk Douglas up there with his best work such as SPARTACUS, LUST FOR LIFE, THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, ACE IN THE HOLE, PATHS OF GLORY and LONELY ARE THE BRAVE?  No.  But it's not bad.  I was up late one night this week and POSSE came on a cable station.  I watched it.  It was my first time seeing POSSE.  On camera, Kirk Douglas starred as the shady Texas lawman, Marshal Howard Nightingale.  He's short on scruples.  If you love Kirk Douglas, POSSE is a movie that will make you love him even more.  Specifically for what the Hollywood legend did behind the camera.  He was a mensch.  (Look it up.)
If Marshal Nightingale can capture and hang an outlaw bank robber, that outlaw's dead body could be the marshal's stepping stone to a seat on the U.S. Senate.  Bruce Dern played the killer gunslinger, Jack Strawhorn.

James Stacy was a handsome and popular actor on a network TV series.  The TV western was called LANCER.  Tragedy struck in 1973.  Stacy was riding his motorcycle when he was hit by a drunk driver.
The accident left him physically disabled.  He lost an arm and a leg.  Two years after the accident, he was cast as a newspaper editor in POSSE.  Kirk Douglas had the supporting role written into the screenplay specifically for the disabled actor.
Kirk Douglas could do that because, not only was he the star of POSSE, he was also the director and the producer.  Kirk Douglas showed Hollywood that a physical disability did not mean an actor should be excluded from employment.  James Stacy was still an actor who could hit his marks and deliver dialogue.  We need big stars to push like that for the hiring of disabled actors in today's Hollywood.

"You're too ambitious, Marshal," says the honest newspaper editor to the marshal who has blood on his hands.  In the opening moments of the story, we witness Marshall Howard Nightingale order the merciless killings of bank robbers as they slept.
This 1975 film marked James Stacy's return to acting after the 1973 accident that made him an amputee.  Stacy even went to get an Emmy nomination for a performance as a disabled Vietnam vet.


As for Kirk Douglas, he was also a generous director with Bruce Dern.  He not only shared the spotlight with the much younger actor, he lets Dern shine in solo scenes.


One more thing:  It was really strong of Kirk Douglas, a major movie star, to cast himself in an unflattering role and be truthful to the character.  That's what gives POSSE its balls.  When one character says, "Honest men stay honest as long as it pays," we see that thanks to Douglas' work as director.
The movie has plenty of action and some excellent stunt work. The screenplay is above average and has entertaining substance.  Dern's character is a terrorist whose execution could benefit a glory-seeking, hypocritical public servant who's hungry for a political career. 

James Stacy had been married to and divorced from actresses Connie Stevens and Kim Darby (star of the original TRUE GRIT).  Reportedly, he retired from acting in 1991.

Stacy died in September of this year at age 79.

Actor, director, producer, humanitarian Kirk Douglas will be 100 next month on December 9th.




GMA Avoids the Gay

Friday, November 17th.  As usual, I was watching the network morning shows.  I wanted to catch the last half-hour of GOOD MORNING AMERICA be...