Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What the past two days were like for me

On the bright side, though, at least I didn't have to eat my shoe.

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Smiling Lieutenant

The Miriam Hopkins Blogathon is an event devoted to the actress, hosted by Silver Screenings and A Small Press Life. For a complete list of participating bloggers, visit the links at either site.


A bit of explanation for the newbies: City Mouse is a cartoon character I created in 2008 when I was living in Ohio and have since brought over to WSW more or less intact. Click on the label "cartoons" over in the sidebar if you wanna see more. 

I wasn't planning on taking this approach for this post, but the truth is that I wasn't able to get a hold of The Smiling Lieutenant. Someone on Netflix had checked it out (I know, right?) and I couldn't wait for it to return, so I put this together two days ago, based on the one scene from the movie available on YouTube. 

Donna and Sophie are supporting characters in the strip who like old movies too. This is their solo debut.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Jean Arthur

It's hard to decide which aspect of Jean Arthur I tend to think of first. She had a distinctive voice, for one thing: a little squeaky, a little high, yet not a stereotypical dumb-blonde exaggeration. Its elocution is too refined for that. Then there's that chin of hers. It wasn't Reese Witherspoon-sized, but it does seem kinda prominent, in a subtle way. Basically, she was beautiful, but just unique-looking enough to distinguish herself from more traditional-looking comic beauties from the 30s and 40s like Carole Lombard and Betty Grable.

I haven't seen enough of Lombard's films to compare Arthur to her, but in my mind, Arthur stands out a bit more, partly because of her unique looks, and partly because of her role in some of the great films of Frank Capra, in particular Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. (I haven't seen You Can't Take It With You.)

I think what I like about her in those films is how active she is. She's not just a love interest, she does things, important things. Her perspective in Deeds is critical to the story, because she shapes the public's image of Longfellow Deeds, and once it gets out of control, she feels a responsibility to fix it. In Smith, it's she who suggests that Jimmy Stewart filibuster the Senate in order to clear his name and stop Claude Rains' bill from passing. She's spunky and full of verve and she embodies the spirit of these seminal films.

This quote attributed to her from IMDB seems to justify these kinds of roles: "It's hardly fair for women to do the same things at the same hours every day of their lives, while men have new experiences, meet new people every day. I felt that way as a little girl, with two older brothers around the house. It seemed to me that they led adventurous lives, compared with mine. I felt cheated and frustrated. I became a tomboy in self-defense. I decided that I was going to do things that were exciting, or at least interesting."

I was a little disappointed with The More The Merrier, which aired on TCM a couple of weeks ago. I had heard good things about it, and had missed it a couple of previous times that it aired. For one thing, Charles Coburn steals the movie right out from under Arthur and Joel McCrea. More importantly, though, despite a fairly passionate seduction scene late in the film,  I didn't completely buy the romance between Arthur and McCrea. I didn't care enough about it. 

The movie as a whole didn't feel screwball enough, except in the scenes with Coburn, and it kinda felt like the romance was there simply because the filmmakers felt one was needed. I was more interested in the bits about the wartime housing shortage in Washington, which was a real thing back then. Still, Arthur was game as she always was. Apparently this was her one and only Oscar nominated role. While it's always nice to see a comedic role get awards recognition, I wish she had gotten the nod for Deeds instead, like her co-star Gary Cooper.

A livelier Arthur film, for me, is A Foreign Affair. Her character in that has the stick-up-her-butt nature as in Merrier, but then she does things like this:

I think I love her for this scene alone.

Arthur never felt comfortable making movies, according to the 1997 biography Jean Arthur: The Actress Nobody Knew. She quit movies temporarily in 1944 and tried to take on the theater, but stage fright led to her dropping the role of Billie in Born Yesterday. Apparently she left the show during previews, and that's when Judy Holliday stepped in, but considering how much that role made Holliday's career, one can't help but wonder what might have been if Arthur had remained with it. I can kinda see her in the role, too. 

A Foreign Affair and Shane were her last two movies, made years apart late in her career, and after Broadway she tried to do television. The Jean Arthur Show only lasted one season, 1966. It aired opposite The Big Valley and couldn't match that show's success. Here's a promo for it. It doesn't strike me as anything special, sorry to say.

It's unfortunate that Arthur struggled with self-confidence and stage fright throughout her career. She always struck me as being quite self-assured and bold on screen. Still, I'm glad we got as much of her as we did, because she made some great movies.

Next: Edward G. Robinson

Jean Arthur movies:
Mr. Deeds Goes To Town
A Foreign Affair

Jack Lemmon

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Open the curtains on the CinemaScope Blogathon!

The battle between film and television goes all the way back to the early days of TV, and the movie industry, then as now, did whatever it could to win the battle against the young upstart medium. One of the most memorable enhancements to the movie-going experience is the one my pal Becky and I are gonna explore in March with the CinemaScope Blogathon!

Before IMAX, there was CinemaScope - basically, movies filmed in a much wider image than had been the norm up to that point in film history. The curved-screen image of Cinerama was the predecessor, but CinemaScope was what 20th Century Fox and other major Hollywood studios used for many of their movies throughout the 50s and 60s, and some of the greatest films of all time, in a wide variety of genres, were filmed in CinemaScope.

The choice is yours: to get in on the action, pick a movie shot in CinemaScope to write about, or maybe an actor or director or studio associated with CinemaScope movies, or the filming process itself, or foreign movies shot in CinemaScope, or maybe the connection to Cinerama. It's up to you! Becky and I will round up all your posts on the weekend of March 13-15.

Here's the master list of eligible movies, at a very good site called the American Widescreen Museum, which you should totally check out while you're there. They've got a ton of information about CinemaScope, Cinerama, plus a poster gallery, and a lot more.

Banners? We got banners. The Rebel Without a Cause banner up top is one, here are the rest...

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun
seen on TV @ TCM

So A Raisin in the Sun was revived on Broadway last year, and after seeing the film version again, I kinda wish I had seen it live as well. Denzel Washington might be too old for the part, but I have absolutely no problem imagining him stepping into Sidney Poitier's shoes. The revival did very well: it won three Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play, and even the President and First Lady went to see it.

Raisin is a play that has enjoyed a long shelf life, being adapted for film and television, being remade into a musical, even inspiring spin-offs: the Pulitzer Prize-winner Clybourne Park and Beneatha's Place, a play inspired both by Park and Raisin.

It's been around for so long that people forget that it was inspired by an actual legal case experienced first-hand by its author, Lorraine Hansberry. She was born in Chicago, where Raisin takes place, and as a child, she and her family moved to a white neighborhood where they were violently harassed by the residents. 

They refused to move, however, and went to court to defend their right to stay. In 1940, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled against them, but the decision was overturned by the US Supreme Court, and Hansberry v. Lee established the precedent that made it illegal for whites to keep blacks out of neighborhoods. 

Raisin fictionalized the story, peppered with Hansberry's ideas about things like racial identity and religion and at 29, she became the first black woman to write a Broadway play. Poitier, Claudia McNeil as the mother, and Ruby Dee as Poitier's wife, all starred in the original stage version, and they all appeared in the film as well. Hansberry got to write the screenplay, but it took her three drafts before Columbia was willing to film it. (Movie Morlocks has the story of some of the details behind the making of the film version, some of which will really surprise you.)

What I love about Raisin is that while race is a crucial element of the story, it's not the whole story. Poitier's Walter Lee has big dreams, but feels constrained, not only by the larger world, but by his own family, who doesn't always understand what it is he's after in life. There's a great deal of anger, frustration and tension within the family, but there's love as well, even if it isn't always expressed as openly or as often.

I watched this with my mother, and FINALLY, I picked a movie that she's not only heard of, but she has seen. More than once, in fact! She loves Poitier, and she surprised me when she said that she had seen Raisin co-star Diana Sands on Broadway long ago, in The Owl and the Pussycat. My father took her to see it.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oscar 2014: The nominees

American Sniper
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything

The rest.

Well, so much for my prediction that Ava DuVernay would get a Best Director nod. The talk was that Team Selma only sent screeners of the film to the Academy and no one else, and that this may have been a contributing factor as to why it didn't register with the guilds, but I thought the Academy would save it somehow. I haven't seen Sniper, but was Bradley Cooper really that much better than David Oyelowo? Did Bennett Miller really do a better job of directing Foxcatcher than DuVernay did with Selma? Especially head-scratching since Foxcatcher somehow missed out on Picture but still managed to snag Director, Actor, Supporting Actor and Original Screenplay. (Note that there are only eight nominees this year, when we had been getting nine each year of the new system.) And Selma's only other nod was for Original Song (which, in fairness, it'll probably win)? I blame Paramount for dropping the ball with this one. Selma deserved much, much better.

Not as much love for Nightcrawler as I had hoped. It looked like it had a legitimate shot at breaking all the way through, especially Jake Gyllenhaal for Best Actor and maybe Rene Russo in Supporting Actress and maybe even Picture (only eight nominees). Again, I have to ask, was Cooper really believed to be that much better? I guess I'll have to go see this movie to find out. Still, I'll gladly take an Original Screenplay nod for Nightcrawler. It deserved that much, at least, but I really expected more.

Yay for Richard Linklater and Wes Anderson, two distinctive and innovative filmmakers who have had long and distinguished careers and are both enjoying tremendous success with two outstanding films.

Yay for Marion Cotillard making the Best Actress cut. I really gotta see that movie.

Yay for Whiplash doing well, even getting an Editing nomination, though I had hoped Damien Chazelle would make the Director cut.

Yay for Ida getting not only Best Foreign Language but a surprise Best Cinematography nomination.

That's all I have to say at the moment. There are robberies and surprises in the Oscar nominations every year, and this year is no different.


2013 nominees
2012 nominees
2011 nominees
2010 nominees

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nothing Sacred

Nothing Sacred
seen online via YouTube

Watch enough Old Hollywood movies and read enough stories about that era and sooner or later you'll come across the name Ben Hecht. He was a screenwriter, as well as a playwright and novelist, among the other hats he wore, whose career covered almost the entire studio era and a little bit of the silent era as well. He was one of the first Academy Award winners, and would gather five more nominations and another win before his career was through. And although his name wasn't always in the screen credits, he had a hand in writing some of the greatest films of all time, including the original Scarface, Wuthering Heights, Gunga Din, His Girl Friday, Spellbound, Notorious, and many more, often in rapid fashion.

Born in New York in 1894, he ran away to Chicago at 16 where he became a reporter, during a period when the competition in this field was intense. In 1926, he moved to Hollywood at the invitation of screenwriter and friend Herman J. Mankiewicz, lured by the promise of easy money. His first credited screenplay, the 1927 gangster picture Underworld, went on to win the first "technical" original screenplay Oscar in 1929. The exact category was Best Writing, Original Story, and Hecht was the sole recipient, though the adaptation was credited on-screen to Charles Furthman and Robert N. Lee. 

From there, he went on to split his time between Hollywood and New York, writing original scripts and doctoring others, alone or in collaboration with others, such as his longtime partner Charles MacArthur, while continuing to write plays and books. Hecht saw writing movies as simply a way to pay the bills, in part because he resented working under Hollywood's production code, which limited what movies could explicitly say and do. Throughout his life, Hecht was also a civil rights supporter and a pro-Israel activist who worked tirelessly to save Jewish refugees from the Holocaust. In 1969, five years after Hecht's death, Norman Jewison made a movie inspired by Hecht's early days in Chicago called Gaily, Gaily, starring Beau Bridges.

Journalism was a common theme throughout Hecht's work, and his comedy Nothing Sacred, like his famous play The Front Page (which was made and re-made into movies several times), takes a cockeyed look at the industry and the scruples, or lack of same, which guide its progress. Carole Lombard, stunningly beautiful in Technicolor, plays a small-town New England girl mistakenly believed to be dying of radium poisoning by big city reporter Fredric March, who tries to make her a cause celebre in order to save his own career, unaware of the fact that she's actually not in danger of premature death.

Hecht has the sole on-screen credit for the screenplay, "suggested by a story by" one James H. Street, but a number of others did uncredited polishing on the script and the original treatment, including uber-producer David O. Selznick, director William Wellman, Budd Schulberg, Moss Hart and Ring Lardner Jr., among others.

Sacred spares no expense to skewer newspaper reporters and their morals. March's character is the type who never let facts get in the way of a good story, and as a result his editor (named Oliver Stone! Speaking of people who have been known to exaggerate the truth) puts him in the doghouse. He's just as eager to exploit her as everyone else in New York, however, once March breaks the Lombard story - which leads, naturally, to March having a change of heart over the whole thing because he's fallen in love with her. 

The means by which Lombard is feted are hilarious. One example: March and Lombard go to a nightclub that salutes her in a presentation in which extravagantly costumed showgirls depicted, more or less, as famous women throughout history parade on stage... on horseback.

Sacred is a lot of fun, and Hecht, who bounced back and forth throughout a variety of genres throughout his film career, has rarely been better - and though he had no love for the medium ("I concede the movies alone did not undo the American mind. A number of forces worked away at that project. But always, well up in front and never faltering at their frowzy task, were the movies."), he provided it with some of its greatest memories.

Ultra-coolness! The opening credits featured
cartoonish mannequins of Lombard and March, along with
co-stars Charles Winninger and Walter Connolly.
Click image to enlarge.