Saturday, November 26, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation


It is a pleasure to participate in the Six Degrees of Separation game started by Page over at My Love of Old Hollywood. I'll just recap the game so far. Page gave us two stars, Mabel Norman and Walter Matthau, and passed the torch on to Dave of Dave's Classic Films.

He pointed out that Mabel Norman was in Head Over Heels (1922) with Adolphe Menjou. Then Becky of ClassicBecky's Brain Food gave us Adolphe Menjou in Paths of Glory (1957) with Kirk Douglas. Next up to bat was Dawn of Noir and Chick Flicks. She chose Kirk Douglas, in Lonely are the Brave (1962), with Gena Rowlands. Then the game looped back to Page, who threw in Gena Rowlands and Rock Hudson in The Spiral Road (1962)

That leaves us at four degrees, and I have been chosen to present the fifth. Naturally, I wanted to link Rock Hudson to the best star ever, Doris Day. But, needing to make the game possible to complete on the next and final degree, I chose Rock Hudson and Burl Ives, also in The Spiral Road (1962). 

I'm booting the sixth degree over to Vincent at Carole & Co. Wrap it up for us, Vince!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas Banner Challenge

Kudos go to the first reader who identifies the movies, characters, and actors represented by the pictures in the Reel Revival banner. [Comment on this post] Give me all the info you can, even release dates if you know them. No Google or IMDB allowed! This is to test the latent knowledge of all you movie nuts. Honor system!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Banner feedback wanted

It's just about time for me to change the banner graphic at the top of the page, as I am accustomed to doing a few times a year. I thought that as I went into the design phase it would be nice to have some outside ideas as to what I should do with it. If you have one, comment or send me an email!

Roll Film

And I'm back! Sorry to have been gone so long. You know how life goes, though, in cycles. Some are busier than others. Having come through a REALLY busy one, I am hoping that things will slow down at least a little for the next.

I hope you noticed that even in my break from regular posting I finished and published my essay about why Doris Day is the best star ever. I hope you will read it on the Doris Day page and tell me what you think.

With Thanksgiving and Christmas upcoming, old movie watching kicks into high gear. To add to the fun, some of us old movie bloggers will be playing a game of Six Degrees of Separation to test each others' prowess and help you discover blogs you have not yet seen. Look for our first episode coming up soon!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon: Another Thin Man

Today we remember 1939 as an extraordinarily action-packed year for a number of reasons. War was breaking out in Europe as Hitler made his mad dash for total domination, the American economy continued to totter on the brink of internal decay, and Hollywood was cranking out classics like tomorrow would never come. As I wrote on the subject in college, 
"1939 was a time of trouble and threat, danger and doubtfulness; the cinema, by contrast, was a place of safety and ease, security and confidence. It was an escape for the masses, a factory of dreams in which the cares and woes of the real world were sponged away by the faces of fictional characters played by real-time heroes. The actors were people to be esteemed; their movie conduct was to be emulated, their magnificently crafted dreams to be pursued."
This blogathon celebrates only a small fraction of those great films, which continue to delight today whenever and wherever audiences find them out. 
An original poster
advertising the film.
Another Thin Man was made as part of the enormously successful Thin Man Series, which spanned 13 years with 6 movies. It capitalized on the delectable pairing of William Powell with Myrna Loy, an on-screen couple who had set American movie-going hearts on fire. 


The combination was truly perfect. Powell's debonairness, distinguished good looks, incomparable voice, and jolly personality with Loy's sophisticated beauty, gut-instinct comedic timing, and quick wit gave audiences a pair who appeared to be the most genuinely in love, sincerely married, and perfectly matched couple in the history of the world. Under the direction of W.S. Van Dyke (mostly) with a fantastic screen play based on top rate literature, the Thin Man Series was a masterpiece waiting to happen.


Cropped screenshot of William Powell and Myrna...Image via Wikipedia
This particular entry, the third in the series, is one of the best, though it would be hard to say which entry isn't one of the best. Another Thin Man is essentially an exercise in misdirection, expertly done. The film opens with retired-from-detecting Nick and Nora (we know how long that will last) taking an apartment in New York with new baby, Nicky Jr. As usual, it isn't long before Nick has run into both some ex-con buddies of his and another murder. In this case the murder occurs on the remote country estate to which Nora has taken Nick for a quiet weekend of business. The murdered man is Colonel MacFay, the old business partner of Nora's deceased father, and manager of her millions.


Shemp Howard: what a face.
Marjorie Main: always animated.










                      A really delightfully solid supporting cast, including Marjorie Main and Shemp Howard, makes up a cloud of suspects and misdirectors: blackmailers, thugs, thieves, Cuban gangsters, dangerous women, double-timers, disgruntled employees, and opportunistic family members. Just try to guess who-dunnit in this tangled mess where evidence, testimonies, and even the camera are trying to point you in the wrong direction. 


I'm not going to give the solution away. That's just no fun. But I do want to discuss some noteworthy elements of the film's composition. One of those is the lighting. This is an element of filmmaking that we don't often pay much attention to because we're looking at the actors, sets, and wardrobes. There is something about the way this film looks, however, that belies its excellence in set lighting. When Nick, Nora, Asta, and the baby are en route to the Colonel's country estate, the dampness and coldness of the setting is palpable, even though it's not raining on set. This is the result of clever lighting and film editing which, when combined with the suggestive dialogue of the characters, produces a convincing effect. Lighting is everything in black and white, much more important than it is for Technicolor. In Another Thin Man it is done noticeably well. 


Thematically, the film is somewhat sordid. At least three people die unnatural deaths, and even the family pet meets a gruesome end. More than one throat is slit. Yet the film retains its charm because we are spared the blood and gore and graphic conversations that "entertain" us in modern television and cinema. 


Nick looks at a bit of evidence.
His hands often held a glass
of some sort. 
Nora steals the liquor cabinet keys for Nick.












The constant reference to Nick's drinking habit is continued from the previous films, but less of his drinking is shown on-camera or made an issue of, in spite of Nora's pick-pocket theft of the liquor cabinet keys from the Colonel. Picking up the slack from the lack of alcohol content in the film, however, is casual conversation about adultery. Nick is the kind of ingratiating character who wins your trust immediately, so even though he is unfailingly popular with the ladies we have no doubt that he remains faithful to Nora - not for lack of opportunity but out of preference. The other characters, however, (Nora not included) not only expect but encourage Nick to pursue adulterous relationships, laughingly. This is expressed on more than one occasion and, as it adds nothing to the film, becomes tedious. It is probably the movie's sole weak point. 


The loving couple.
The emphasis on marital infidelity is contrasted by Nora's unwavering support of and loyalty to her husband, particularly when police investigators attempt to turn her against her husband by trumping up stories of his previous girlfriends. Nora is steadfast, as is Nick. The films leave you in doubt that it could ever not be that way. 


Loy and Powell made such a perfect couple on-screen, in fact, that it never occurred to the public that they might not be married in real life. On one notable occasion, the booking agent at a hotel reserved a single room for the stars to share, assuming that they were indeed a happily married couple. Needless to say, other arrangements had to be made when the two stars, never married, arrived for their stay. 


I wish they had been married. It would have been truly a triumph of wit and laughter and legend. Hollywood made a number of teams famous: Hudson and Day, Olivier and Leigh, Burton and Taylor, Bogie and Baby, Hepburn and Tracy. But none were as believable, natural, and right a combination as Powell and Loy. God bless them for the masterful performances they gave. 


Please visit the Classic Movie Blog Association homepage for links to more reviews of films made in 1939.
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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Starting this Sunday - The Classic Movies of 1939 Blogathon

Starting this Sunday and running through Tuesday 36 Classic Movie Association Bloggers will present 41 reviews of some of the best films ever made, which all happen to have premiered in 1939. 


My review of Another Thin Man will debut on Sunday, along with reviews of these well and lesser known films:



Another Thin ManImage via Wikipedia
It’s A Wonderful World
The Women
The Wizard of Oz
The Cat and the Canary
Charlie Chan at Treasure Island
Dark Victory
Destry Rides Again
Dodge City
Five Came Back
Gone With the Wind
On Your Toes
The Return of Dr. X

Visit the Classic Movie Blog Association homepage for the full schedule and links to participating blogs.
   


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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gaslight review at MovieFanFare.com

I am pleased to announce that my review of Gaslight is featured at moviefanfare.com today as the guest blog addition. Thanks to Chris and all the readers at FanFare for welcoming my review!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Happy Birthday, Doris!

Doris Day an Bord der USS Juneau Lizenz: Besch...Image via Wikipedia
I am proud to announce the unveiling of my new dedicated Doris Day page today on her birthday. Check it out at the Doris Day tab above.


Happy Birthday, Doris!


We love you!
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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Doris Day to turn 87 on Sunday, April 3rd

My favorite film star will turn 87 tomorrow. This fantastic lady, who usually stays as far away from the spotlight as possible, has confirmed that she will "call in" to the local Monterey Bay radio station that traditionally honors her every year on her birthday with hours of music, fan calls, and tribute. This year's broadcast will be the 5th annual Doris Day Birthday Celebration, and will run from 8am-12pm Pacific Standard Time on KIDD 630-AM.


Doris DayCover of Doris Day
Ms. Day typically connects with the station at least once during that time to thank her fans (she calls them friends) and chat with the DJs. Fans are welcome to call 831-375-6300 to wish Ms. Day a happy birthday. 


It is always a delight to hear her voice and the spunky laughter that still bubbles from her ever-lovable personality. 


Click here and here for more information about this broadcast.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor dead at 79

Screen icon Elizabeth Taylor died of congestive heart failure early this morning in Los Angeles. She was 79 years old. Though she may be gone now, certainly she will never be forgotten.
Cropped screenshot of Elizabeth Taylor from th...Image via Wikipedia




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Monday, February 21, 2011

Gaslight

How would you do without the electric lights to which you are so accustomed? What if you had only fires and gas lights to see by after sundown? Even better - or more terrifying - what if you lived in a creepy old London rowhouse with gas lights, a cruel husband, and the memory of your dead aunt, who was murdered there?!


This is precisely the situation that Paula (Ingrid Bergman) finds herself in after determining to face her worst fears with her new, and mysterious, husband. The worst is yet to come, however; in the flickering light of the dimming gas, Paula is losing her mind.  As she sinks into despair and misery, two men are poised on either side of her sanity: her husband trying to take her mind and a fond onlooker trying to save it.


This screenshot shows Ingrid Bergman and Charl...Image via Wikipedia

The result is a fascinatingly tense film that keeps you guessing and hanging on every word. For acting it can't be matched. Charles Boyer nails the part of the sadistic husband who has a nefarious motive for driving his wife slowly and systematically out of her mind. He was nominated for Best Actor for this role. 


Ingrid Bergman won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in this film, and it was well deserved. She is at every moment believable, and in every instant sympathetic. Her performance of growing terror will draw you out to the edge of your seat. 


Angela Lansbury ("Murder, She Wrote" and Beauty and the Beast) made her screen debut in this film and turned out such an accomplished performance that she too earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Not bad for a first outing. 


Joseph Cotten plays our hero. The man who once admired Paula's aunt and now sees in Paula a deeply troubled and threatened young woman. Can he intervene soon enough to save both her life and her mind?


Besides Bergman's win Gaslight scored the Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White Oscar and was nominated for three others:
  1. Best Cinematography, Black-and-White
  2. Best Picture
  3. Best Writing, Screenplay
Bergman also won the Golden Globe that year for Best Motion Picture Actress in this role. Even if you are not one to be swayed by awards, however (I usually don't trust 'em myself), I hope your interest is piqued enough to give this one a try. 

George Cukor directed this film to great emotional effect, but he also succeeded in producing a film that is visually intriguing if nothing else (but it's so much else!). His use of shadow in story-telling is unique and should be noted. Keep in mind, also, that Boyer was shorter than Bergman and had, on occasion, to stand on a box to make the scenes work. 


I hope you check this one out and come back to give your opinion. I'd love to hear what you think about it.


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Sunday, January 16, 2011

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: The Man Who Knew Too Much

I am honored to be taking part in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Hitchcock Blogathon - its largest blogathon yet. I'm not alone. In all there are 20 classic movie blogs covering a wide variety of Hitchcock masterpieces, staples, and lesser-known jewels; look to the bottom of this post for a full listing of all of the reviews and where they can be found. I look forward to reading each of them myself. I'm bound to learn a lot!


When I opened the invitation to participate in the blogathon, I didn't even have to think about which movie I would review. If you've been with this blog from the beginning, or know me personally, then you know that I adore Doris Day. Jimmy Stewart doesn't hurt either. So The Man Who Knew Too Much it is. Now, I've seen this film a number of times over the years, and it is one of my favorites to show friends who know nothing about Day and little about Hitchcock. But I knew that for a review of this kind I needed to watch it again and pay more attention to the details I had never focused on before. While I was at it, I figured I might as well start by viewing the original Man Who Knew Too Much made in Britain by Hitchcock in 1934. By Turner Classic Movies' account, this was the film that launched Hitchcock into the uninterrupted string of successes that made him world renowned. 


It was a fascinating experience, mostly. The audio quality of my copy is not exactly stellar, so I'm not sure I caught more than 80% of what was said, but that could also be due to the plethora of distractions that were assailing me as I watched. Incidentally, distractions do not affect me while I am watching the 1956 version with Doris Day, but more on that later. 


The 1934 version is notable, not so much for its story line or action, but for the performance delivered by Peter Lorre and the way in which Hitchcock framed the tension and suspense with dry and ironic humor interspersed throughout. As per Hitchcock's style, this humor is subtle, mostly visual, and it is entirely up to the viewer to take it or leave it. Peter Lorre, who is legendary in his creepiness and strangeness, doesn't disappoint in his role as the spy ringmaster. As always, I found him intriguing. But much of the rest of the film fell flat for me. 


The plot is this: 
A family vacationing in Switzerland is drawn into a spy caper when the wife becomes privy to the dying breaths of an operative who has uncovered an assassination plot against an important official. When their daughter is kidnapped to keep them quiet, her father and family friend go into the spy business themselves to recover her. Unfortunately, the child is a brat with whom it's hard to sympathize, and the film ends in a long shootout that lost my interest. 


In my opinion, Leonard Maltin had it backwards when he said that this version was the most exciting. Apparently, Hitchcock agreed with me. As he stated in an interview:


"Let's say that the first version was the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional."


In 1956, the famed director was ready to begin the remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much he had been planning since 1941. It was the only time he ever remade one of his own films. Having recently visited Morocco himself, the wheels of Hitchcock's unmatched morbid imagination began revolved around the idea of placing the plot in precisely that part of the world. The result was a American couple sucked into the dangers and excitement of espionage  in Marrakech, rather than a British couple drawn into similar adventure in Switzerland. The new plot involved a woman of musical talent as the wife and mother, and because of this Hitch had his mind set on Doris Day from the beginning. 


The project, originally retitled Into Thin Air, took shape under the supervision of both Hitch and Jimmy Stewart from the production end, with John Hayes and Bernard Herrmann on the scripting and musical ends. Hermann may be seen conducting the orchestra himself in the famous Royal Albert Music Hall scene at the end.


It was Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, however who were responsible for the Oscar-winning song that is to this day an integral part of Doris Day's image: "Que Sera, Sera" (though in those days it was officially, "Whatever Will Be, Will Be"). The tune, sung with such heartfelt emotion and capability by Doris Day, remains for me one of the highlights of the film.


According to Paramount production files, the project ended late and over-budget, but has grossed substantially more than it cost and gave Stewart and Day the never repeated opportunity of working together under the direction of one of the most brilliant and famous movie masterminds in history. The result is splendid.


Hitch's 1956 Man Who Knew Too Much, is, in a word, deft. It accomplishes the blend of adventure, intrigue, suspense, and humor that the earlier version hinted at but did not expertly combine. Sold by the excellent performances from all the actors involved, but particularly by Doris Day, the film not only distinguishes itself as a class act thriller, but also comes in as a fairly good musical in some respects. 

Here's the plot if you're unfamiliar:

Dr. and Mrs. Ben McKenna (Stewart and Day) are touring Morocco with their little boy Hank when they become acquainted with a mysterious Frenchman by the name of Louis Bernard. Their acquaintance is short but perplexing, with Bernard's odd and inquisitive behavior troubling Mrs. McKenna, formerly Jo Conway, the celebrated stage artist. The next day, while they are exploring the market place with a British couple they've befriended, the McKenna's are witness to Bernard's public murder, and Ben is the sole hearer of Bernard's last words. It isn't long before Hank is kidnapped and used to keep Ben silent about what Bernard told him. Ben tracks the kidnappers to London and the McKennas pursue them there. Once arrived, they decline to cooperate with Scotland Yard in fear of Hank's safety, and set off on their own to save Hank and stop an assassination attempt at the same time. The climax is a supreme combination of good music, high suspense, and dramatic accomplishment.


The film as a whole is also a telling demonstration of Hitchcock's genius and the extent to which he developed his own talents in the time between the two versions of the film (besides the general improvement in technology and methods). We see his mellow, dry humor lightly sprinkled throughout the film, deftly weaved in among the threads of tension and suspense. Particularly in the final moments Hitch seamless transitions from the emotional high of the conclusion to a very funny and similarly short moment that immediately precedes the credits.


Cultural depictions and foreign language are also used to much better effect than in the first film, with the foreign setting elevated the expectation and dread of the viewer. Priceless cinematic moments in which little movements and subtle staging say much more than lines being uttered are also highlights. Watch for the scene where Ben is called away from his interrogation with the French police to take the call from the kidnappers. Pay special attention to the small movements of his fingers and those of Drayton as they make a follow-up phone call. The import of those movements and the way in which they are framed by the camera is outstanding. 


In the end I always come back to the performance by Doris Day, however. The scene in which Ben gives her the news of their son's kidnapping is of Oscar calibre, in my opinion. Also impressive is the way in which she can intone such meaning and foreboding into the simplest of lines. Listen carefully when she has the following exchange with Ben early in the film:


Ben: "What does that mean?"
Jo: "It means that Mr. Bernard is a very mysterious man."


Ben: "I have nothing to hide."
Jo: "I have a feeling that Mr. Bernard has."


Such simple words packed with such foreshadowing. 


I hope you'll find time to fit this movie into your schedule soon. It's worth your while. As always your comments and feedback are welcome her at Reel Revival. Enjoy those films!


Check out these other Hitchcock Blogathon reviews at the blogs of other Classic Movie Blog Association members:
 The BirdsClassic Film & TV CafĂ© 
Dial M for MurderTrue Classics: The ABCs of Film
The Lady Vanishes – MacGuffin Movies 
LifeboatClassicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise 
MarnieMy Love of Old Hollywood 
Mr. and Mrs. SmithCarole & Co.
North By NorthwestBette’s Classic Movie Blog 
NotoriousTwenty Four Frames
The Pleasure GardenThrilling Days of Yesteryear 
Rear WindowJava’s Journey 
Rebecca­ ClassicBecky’s Film and Literary Review 
RopeKevin’s Movie Corner
Shadow of a Doubt - Great Entertainers Media Archive
The 39 StepsGarbo Laughs
Three Classic Hitchcock Killers The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
Torn Curtain - Via Margutta 51
The Trouble with HarryBit Part Actors
VertigoNoir and Chick Flicks
The Wrong ManThe Movie Projector
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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Upcoming....

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956 film)Image via Wikipedia
Don't miss the HITCHCOCK BLOGATHON on Monday, January 17. I will be reviewing The Man Who Knew Too Much here at Reel Revival, and my post will link to other classic movie bloggers' reviews of such masterpieces as The Lady Vanishes, Notorious, Rear Window, Rebecca, and Shadow of a Doubt.


This is the first event of its kind for the Classic Movie Blog Association, and it is bound to be a lot of fun. Don't miss it!


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