Quote: Barbara Stanwyck on Carole Lombard

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So alive, modern, frank, and natural that she stands out like a beacon on a lightship in this odd place called Hollywood.

-Barbara Stanwyck about Carole Lombard


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GIVEAWAY! On Blu-ray: Paul Newman, Edward G. Robinson and Elke Sommer in The Prize (1963)


The Prize is an unusual film, with a mixed-bag cast and the unique premise of romance and intrigue in the milieu of the Pulitzer Prize ceremony. Starring Paul Newman, Elke Sommer and the eternally reliable Edward G. Robinson, it has the rare quality of seeming simultaneously familiar and bizarrely novel. Now Warner Archive has released this Stockholm-set thriller on Blu-ray, a copy of which I will be giving away! (See bottom of post for details.)

Newman and Robinson have traveled to Stockholm to be awarded the Pulitzer for literature and physics respectively, the former under the watchful eye of hostess Sommer, the latter with his niece (Diane Baker). They settle into a plush hotel where they are gifted with champagne and lavish gift baskets. Here we meet the other prize winners in a series of lightly humorous vignettes that belie the danger to come.

Notorious for heavy drinking and party boy antics, no one believes Newman when he begins to suspect that Robinson has been switched with an impostor. He keeps pressing though, and digging with that writer’s determination to reveal the full plot. Here the imprint of screenwriter Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest) is clear as the danger and mystery begin to imperil an essentially ordinary man who has no idea of the enormity of what he faces.

Though it isn’t as juicy, The Prize has the high gloss allure of large cast dramas like Hotel (1967) and Week-end at the Waldorf (1945). It makes no pretense of existing in a realistic world. There’s an artificial feel to the way the characters interact, who instead of having conversations seem to be announcing to each other the witticisms they’ve been thinking up in their spare time. That can be irritating or great escapism, depending on your mood.

Here Newman is especially guilty of his habit of seeming overly amused with himself, but when he is forced to focus on his physicality, as with a fast-paced bridge chase scene, he reveals great skill as a slapstick comedian. His romance with Sommer is perfunctory, for the most part because the actress was always a bit too cold and distant to be believable in a love affair. Robinson is typically in tune with his role and costars, hitting every note right with his reassuring ease.

It runs longer than it needs to, and the cast could stand a few stronger character actors, but it’s a fun bit of fluff.

Special features on the disc include a trailer for the film.

GIVEAWAY!

Warner Archive has given me an extra copy of the Blu-ray which I would be delighted to send to one of you. To enter, leave a comment on this post telling me your favorite actor in the film and why. Responses due by Thursday, March 28. I will announce the winner on Friday, March 29. 


GOOD LUCK!



Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Quote: Alfred Hitchcock on Cinema

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The screen must speak its own language, freshly coined.

-Alfred Hitchcock


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March Podcast Roundup for Classic Film Fans: 6 Great Episodes



This month's podcast roundup is another fascinating mix of old favorites and new finds. I'm particularly impressed by the new shows that have been debuting lately. All titles link to the episode:


Movies Silently
Death and Tinting with Christopher Bird
February 26, 2019

Episode 1

In the first episode of her podcast, Movies Silently blogger Fritzi Kramer has a detailed discussion about tinted films with guest Christopher Bird. It was fascinating to listen to their insights about the technique and art of this early film colorization process, the dangers of nitrate, and preservation. There’s also a fun feature where Kramer provides the proper pronunciation for commonly mispronounced names in silent film. Stick around to the end for her giggle-inducing fake ads as well. This was an engaging debut. I learned a lot and I’m looking forward to future episodes.


She Kills
Illeana Douglas and Grae Drake
March 11, 2019

Episode 4

Shudder's new podcast about women in horror was an instant favorite for me. Though it's advertised as being hosted by Adrienne Barbeau, she only introduces and closes each episode and doesn’t interact with the guests. The core of each show is a discussion between two guests about various tropes regarding women in horror, such as the final girl and damsels in distress. So far pairings have included Karyn Kusama and Emily Deschanel, Jennifer Tilly and Grae Drake and Barbara Crampton and Clarke Wolfe. All of these are excellent shows and worth a listen, but I picked the episode featuring Illeana Douglas and Grae Drake (Rotten Tomatoes) discussing the "Crazy Bitch" trope because as always, Douglas includes the Golden Age of Hollywood in her comments.




Movie Sign with the Mads
Easy Rider
February 4, 2018


I’ve always associated the voices of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000 mad scientists Frank Conniff and Trace Beaulieu with late night television viewings of the show as I settled down after a night out. It’s a comforting memory for me and for that reason I was predisposed to liking their film podcast Movie Sign with the Mads. They discuss a different film each episode, be it a classic or a new release, with their co-host Carolina Hidalgo (Sirius Radio). It’s no surprise that these two have a lot to say about movies, and their chemistry is a perfect fit for podcasting, but the added element of Hidalgo, who is a generation younger, lends an interesting flavor to the conversation. This is especially evident in their episode about Easy Rider, where the Mads share firsthand experience with the initial release of the film while Hidalgo talks about her impressions as a new viewer.




The Magic Lantern
Andrei Rublev
February 24, 2018

Episode 98

The Magic Lantern hosts Ericca Long and Cole Roulain have such soothing voices. If you listen to them around bedtime, it's a bit like a cinematic lullaby. In each episode they discuss a classic film, from big studio productions to art-house favorites. The thing that distinguishes Long and Roulain’s production from any number of other shows with the same format is their easygoing pace and gently reflective tone which is unlike anything I’ve encountered so far in a podcast. This is their first Patreon patron-requested episode, an exploration of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966).



Book vs. Movie
The Manchurian Candidate
March 3, 2018


I have a lot of respect for Margo D. and Margo P., the charming co-hosts of this show in which they compare movies with the books that inspired them. While these two emphasize that they are not experts in film or literature, they are nevertheless a well-read, intellectually curious pair. Their conversations feel like coffee shop conversation: accessible, but thoughtful. I enjoyed their recent episode about The Manchurian Candidate, because they had their qualms about the book and are typically engaging and charismatic in explaining why.



Film Comment
Art and Fascism
February 27, 2018


Film Comment Editor in Chief Nicolas Rapold discusses an article from the latest issue of the magazine about German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935) with the piece’s author J. Hoberman and filmmaker/professor Zoe Beloff. They discuss the culture and politics around Riefenstahl’s work, the legacy of Triumph of the Will in particular, her opportunism, and even float the thought that despite her talent, she is perhaps overrated as a filmmaker.

Pre-codes on DVD: Ginger Rogers in Professional Sweetheart (1930) and Helen Twelvetrees in Unashamed (1932)


There's nothing more welcome on my doorstep (apologies to my cats) than a package of pre-code films. Here's a pair of new releases from Warner Archive that I recently viewed:

Professional Sweetheart (1930)

This lively romantic comedy catches Ginger Rogers before musical fame, but already in the full bloom of her charms. She’s plays a radio star with a spotless image, called the “purity girl,” but desperate to cut a rug in Harlem and dropkick her reputation for a little fun.

In order to convince her to sign a new contract, the radio station suits allow her to pick a boyfriend from the bulging files full of the love letters and photographs she receives from her fans. The handsome, but dull Norman Foster is the winning pick. Rogers is pleased, and despite initial misgivings doesn’t even mind him whisking her off to the country to take care of his modest home, but the call of stardom is powerful as long as there is a radio in the corner of the living room.

She hears her maid (Theresa Harris) filling her position on-air and doing a little too well in the role at that. Seeing the always charming Harris shed her maid's uniform for an evening gown and a place in front of the microphone was one of the highlights of the film for me. Unfortunately, her scenes as a star were brief and it is never explained what happens to her when Rogers returns to claim her crown.

Though Rogers’ scrappy, but sparkling singing voice was one of the most charming aspects of her persona, here I was alarmed to find she was dubbed by the talented, but more operatic Etta Moten. It took some getting used to, though it wasn’t unpleasant.

Rogers is surrounded by some of the best of the Warner Bros contract players; they’re the people that make you grin when they pop up in a scene. There’s Zasu Pitts as a half prim/half randy lady rag journalist, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, and Gregory Ratoff prancing through their shtick as radio executives, and then dear, bland Foster justifying his presence with a strong jaw.

It’s the kind of Warner’s pre-code production where the racy stuff is inserted in lightning-fast moments and everyone knows exactly how to keep the action moving. Not a classic, but a very good time.


Unashamed (1932)

Fans of Helen Twelvetrees will find little to surprise them in Unashamed. This murder-courtroom melodrama has the gowns, plucked eyebrows, and romance-gone-wrong that were firmly in the actress’s wheelhouse. Costarring Robert Young in his adorable young man phase, Lewis Stone, and Jean Hersholt, it is a production meant to reassure more than tread new ground.

Twelvetrees is wealthy young Joan, devoted sister to her brother Dick (Young), affectionate daughter to her father (Robert Warwick), and poor romantic decision-maker all on her own. She falls under the spell of cash poor polo player Harry (Monroe Owsley) and doesn’t see him placing her into a trap via sexual scandal until it is too late.

Dick defends his sister's honor in a heated confrontation that ends in him killing the sleazy homme fatale. Still blind to her lover’s faults, Joan refuses to stand up for her brother in court. Of course she eventually bows to family bonds, whatever the sacrifice, in the end.

This unremarkable, but smoothly assembled production is best recommended for fans of Twelvetrees and Young.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing copies of the films for review. These are Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVDs. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Quote: Lina Wertmüller on Fellini and Marcello Mastroianni

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Federico and Marcello never took each other too seriously.They both mocked each other for their diva status.They didn't really buy into it.They never lost their sense of humor.

-Lina Wertmüller, about Federico Fellini and Marcello Mastoianni


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Book Review--Southern History on Screen: Race and Rights 1976-2016


Southern History on Screen: Race and Rights 1976-2016
Ed. Brian M. Jack
University Press of Kentucky, 2019

For all the liberties it takes with the truth, cinema has always had a strong influence on reality. Whether it is the reflection of societal unrest or the ability to inspire movements among the people, its impact is undeniable. In a new book of essays edited by Brian M. Jack, the portrayal of the South in film and how it relates to issues such as slavery, identity, and social upheaval are weighed against the world in which these movies were released.

The ten essays cover a wide range of issues within that realm, from the public to the domestic. It is as intimate as familial relations and wide as the systems that oppress people of color. In essence, it reveals a cinematic landscape that has evolved in the way it treats race, but still has a long way to go as far as telling a well-rounded history of the South.

I was especially impressed by Caroline Schroeter’s essay which compared D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation (1915) with Nate Parker’s 2016 rebuke of the same name. She explores the way Griffith’s influential epic in some ways helped to set and reinforce damaging perceptions of black people in America, possibly including a revival of the Ku Klux Klan. When Parker filmed an essential response to the film with his telling of a slave rebellion, he made several compelling arguments, but as Schroeter notes, his neglect of female characters and denial of their own agency is problematic. At its best, the essays in the book balance history, society and the true state of social progress in this way.

This collection is a thoughtful, deep dive into the South as it is represented, and it covers a surprising breadth of topics with success. While critical assessments of the problematic aspects of classics like Birth of a Nation (1915) and Gone with the Wind (1939) have become a familiar part of cinematic discourse, and current releases are subject to a similar interrogation, the films of the seventies through the nineties are also ripe for new exploration. That is perhaps the greatest triumph of this collection, which digs into movies from that period like Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), The Color Purple (1985) and Fried Green Tomatoes (1991) with an eye to the society it reflected then compared the way things are now.

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.
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