Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: May Roundup

The more time I spend at home, the more meaningful podcasts have been for me as a way to connect to the outside world. This is the first time in a while that every podcast in my roundup has been new to me. I'm expecting to find many more in the months to come. The episode titles link to the shows:

BBC Radio 3: Arts & Ideas
April 29, 2020
Host Matthew Sweet speaks with guests Pamela Hutchinson, Charlotte Croft, and Mark Glancy about Cary Grant, with a focus on how he crafted his image and the way his pre-Hollywood life affected that process. The episode also delves into interesting aspects of his career, such as how he was rare among male stars in that he was often pursued by women in his films, rather than filling the typical role of seducer.

You Can’t Eat the Sunshine
May 8, 2020
Rare book dealer Howard Prouty, Vintage Los Angeles curator Alison Martino and Jeff Mantor of the Larry Edmunds Bookshop talk about the history and decline of film bookshops in Hollywood in this illuminating episode that is also a call to action: Mantor has started a GoFundMe in order to keep his historic bookstore afloat at a time when he has lost all foot traffic and must rely solely on mail order. As a loyal customer of the store, at first on my yearly visits during the TCM Classic Film Festival, and now via mail, it was interesting to learn more about the history of the store, in addition to how it was included in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019).

Here Lies Amicus
May 5, 2020
 The best part of this podcast dedicated to the productions of UK-based Amicus Studios is its charming hosts Gabriela Masson and Cev Moore. Here they discuss the horrors of the witchcraft flick City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel) and yet the episode leaves you feeling cheerful because they so frequently get the giggles as they discuss the depravity of Christopher Lee and company. I look forward to hearing more from this well-informed and high-spirited duo.

Ask Jillian
Debra Tate is a Warrior Woman!
February 18, 2020

This was an unusual find: it turns out Jillian Barberie has been a friend of Debra Tate, sister of Sharon, for over 20 years. More a chat between friends than an interview, the two discuss many aspects of the life of Sharon Tate, the Tate family’s long fight to keep her murderers in prison, and how Quentin Tarantino and Margot Robbie worked with Debra to bring her sister back to life in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019). It was a fascinating conversation: Tate is smart, tough, and compassionate and as sad as it could be, it was good to hear her side of the story.

This is Not a Story About…
May 7, 2020
Filmmaker Ted Geoghegan’s new podcast explores classic Hollywood stories that take an unusual turn. This episode about Jackie, the MGM lion is as nail-biting and emotionally stirring as an old-time serial. I was riveted. Geoghegan’s friendly, well-informed storytelling reminds me a bit of Phoebe Judge from the Criminal podcast, with the difference that this is a one-man show and thus more intimate. A beautifully-produced show.

Calling Old Hollywood
May 1, 2020
Host Kat Lively has a delightfully dishy conversation with Laurie Jacobson, writer, wife of a former child star, and a long-time Hollywood resident who shares her insights on James Dean, Natalie Wood, and other actors from the classic age of movies. Jacobson is one of those Tinseltown regulars who has been there and seen it all. She’s also the first podcast guest I’ve encountered who has contracted and recovered from the Coronavirus.

On Blu-ray--Tex Avery Screwball Classics: Volume 1

There’s no better balm for tense times than the rowdy, absurd slapstick of Tex Avery. Made for a general audience, these 'toons aren’t always appropriate for the kids, though they aren’t likely to destroy their innocence either.

Newly released on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, Tex Avery: Screwball Classics Volume 1 is an eclectic, eccentric collection of his shorts. Though Big Heel-Watha is cringe worthy in its approach to Native Americans, for the most part the collection has timeless appeal. From a racy retelling of Red Riding Hood to a fast-paced, goofy take on murder mysteries, the common thread among them is that everyone and everything is a little off-center. In some respects, the concept is not that absurd.

My favorite short of the collection was Symphony in Slang, which features a hep cat at the gates of heaven trying to explain himself to heavenly hosts who don’t understand his hip language. They envision his story in strictly literal terms, which results in a lot of silly, but amusing visuals.

Also amusing: the sprightly elves of The Peachy Cobbler who create magical shoes for their owner, including a pair of heels that do a striptease.

The set also features a couple of recurring characters. Screwball Squirrel is a more sociopathic less charming version of Bugs Bunny; you actually feel sorry for the gallery of doofuses he destroys with glee. Droopy Dog is more loveable, defeating his enemies by keeping his chill and waiting for the fools to bring themselves down.

This disc was a wild ride: laugh-out-loud funny and a treat for the eyes. I’m looking forward to volume II.

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

Book Review--Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us About African Americans

Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us About African Americans
Frederick W. Gooding, Jr.
Rowman & Littlefield, 2020

The story of black victory at the Oscars is complicated: a saga of small steps forward, but often uneasy circumstances surrounding those gains. Winning isn’t just a matter of earning recognition, but also a reflection of what kinds of stories, roles, and stars get rewarded. In a new book, Black Oscars: From Mammy to Minny, What the Academy Awards Tell Us About African Americans, Frederick Gooding, Jr. approaches the subject with clarity and compassion, acknowledging progress, while analyzing the quality of those advancements.

Gooding creates a solid framework upon which to lay his examination of the history of Black performers at the Oscars. He has chosen to focus on the acting category because it receives the most attention and thus tends to have the strongest cultural impact. For each nomination, he considers the nationality, primary profession, frequency of individual nomination among performers, and the subject matter and tone of the films and performances for which they are nominated.

The theory Gooding presents is that there is an essential template for the black Oscar nominee which favors foreign-born actors over African Americans, a small pool of nominees who are nominated multiple times, performers who are already established in other fields such as music and sports, and stories that focus on biography and racial struggles. He concludes that Hollywood denies audiences and performers varied stories and roles or hiring fresh black talent because studios find it too risky. As a result, the same names appear year after year on nomination lists, and from films and for roles with limited range, denying cinematic expression of the full black experience.

Gooding approaches his subject with kindness, refusing to judge ambitious performers for accepting roles as mammies and slaves or branching out from other fields into acting, while acknowledging that the prevalence of these characterizations and the failure of studios to hire trained black actors causes harm. He not only understands the complexity of the matter, but is able to pick apart the various elements and present them in a compelling matter. His thinking is academic, but he writes with fluidity, making the subject accessible.

As he applies his theories to each nominee, moving through them chronologically, Gooding’s text is often repetitive, but the resulting tedium is the point. African American actors and filmmakers have exponentially more to offer than they have been given the opportunity to do. With this incisive and detailed study, it is clear where change needs to happen. It is only a matter of heeding the lessons of the past.

Many thanks to Rownman & Littlefield for providing a copy of the book for review.

On Blu-ray: Walter Huston and Ruth Chatterton in William Wyler's Dodsworth (1936)

I have revisited director William Wyler’s Dodsworth (1936), a film based on a Sinclair Lewis novel, many times over the years and the older I get, the richer it becomes. While any movie can change meaning with repeat viewings, this is a production that particularly reveals new facets with time. Now beautifully restored and available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, I recently enjoyed this drama of aging, love, and loneliness anew.

Walter Huston stars as Sam Dodsworth, a small-town auto magnate who sells his factory and plans to settle into retirement with his wife Fran (Ruth Chatterton). His significant other is much younger than he is and not so eager to sink into old age. After years of provincial boredom in the proper social circles, she is ready for some excitement.

The pair embarks on a cruise to Europe, where Fran struggles with the politics of shipboard flirtations (David Niven is sleek and charming as her shipboard suitor) and Sam meets a friendly and frank divorcee named Edith (Mary Astor), who has been living on the cheap in Italy. Life on the Continent strains the already weakening bond between the Dodsworths. Fran wants to sow her oats, but she doesn’t fully understand her needs, nor does she live in a society that supports her desires. Sam is eager to explore the local culture and can’t understand his wife’s frantic behavior.

Though Sam initially tries to force Fran to return home to meet her new grandchild and accept the reality of her age, he eventually realizes that she must have her freedom. While she embarks on a shallow adventure among posh, but cash-poor hangers on, he tries to keep busy at home and abroad. A chance meeting with Edith starts to point him on the right track, but his sense of marital duty complicates matters.

When I first saw Dodsworth, I viewed Fran as the villain of the piece. I focused on the vain, snobbish, disloyal aspects of this woman who could so easily discard her husband at the first opportunity. In subsequent viewings I have developed more empathy for this unhappy character. Even as a wealthy white woman, she is limited by societal expectations that are at odds with her desire for a vibrant life. You can sense her feelings of imprisonment in the requirements of convention.

In a way it is understandable that the Dodsworths were once drawn to each other. Each of them possesses a big spirit; they’re both hungry for adventure. It’s just that their concept of what that means has changed over time. Sam loves his wife, but in his refusal to try to truly understand her perspective, he is as toxic for Fran as she is for him. Edith sees this relationship for what it is, and tries to coax both the Dodsworths to see themselves with more clarity.

It was, and still is rare for a film to so thoroughly and effectively explore these adult, existential matters. In an industry so often focused on youthful adventure and romance, there’s something deeply satisfying about looking at what happens after marriage, parenthood, and retirement. It is a process of facing the truth and finding it devastating, beautiful, and full of the complexities that make life fascinating.

The Blu-ray includes a Lux Radio Theater production of Dodsworth from 1937, co-starring Huston and his wife Ninetta “Nan” Sunderland.

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

Podcasts for Classic Film Fans: April Roundup

Since I've been at home for over a month, I've had a lot more time to listen to podcasts. As a result, I have more episodes than usual to share this month. I've already seen some eyerolling on social media over the prospect of there being even more podcasts sprouting due to social distancing, but I say bring them on! If you have started a show recently, please feel free to share in the comments. I applaud anyone who can create in these strange times. Here's what grabbed my interest this month, episode titles link to the show:

TCM: The Plot Thickens
Peter Bogdanovich
April 28, 2020

During the TCM Home Edition of TCM Classic Film Festival, the network relentlessly plugged its new podcast, the first season of which features the best moments of fifteen hours of interviews host Ben Mankiewicz conducted with Peter Bogdanovich. With his close friendships and numerous book projects with great studio era stars and directors, there is probably no living filmmaker better connected to the great talents of classic Hollywood. So far the podcast is a compelling biography of the director, slickly produced and sure to be a hit with fans of TCM.

And the Runner Up Is…
A Letter to Three Wives (feat. Murtada Elfadl)
February 26, 2020

I love the concept of this show: discussing Oscar-nominated films that didn’t win and determining whether or not they deserved the award. This episode was especially interesting to me because I didn’t know there were an additional two wives in the source story and that one of their stories got cut from the film. Great history and analysis.

Behind the Screen: The Hollywood Reporter
The Irishman—Thelma Schoonmaker
Episode 58

January 31, 2020

More of a career overview than a full discussion about The Irishman, this episode lays bare film editor Schoonmaker’s brilliance and charm as she shares stories of getting her start in the industry, her mutually supportive working relationship with Martin Scorsese, and her views on filmmaking.

Classic Movie Musts
The Divorcee (1930) w/ Special Guest Mark Vieira
Episode 114

April 10, 2020

An engaging Mark Vieira (Forbidden Hollywood: The Pre-Code Era (1930-1934): When Sin Ruled the Movies) shares the story of the production of the scandalous pre-Code The Divorcee (1930), including how MGM managed to adapt the salacious novel to the screen and how Norma Shearer subverted her wholesome image to win the lead.

Pure Cinema Podcast
Something Weird Video
March 15, 2020

I loved this tribute to the cheaply-made, but culturally fascinating films released by the Something Weird video company. Started in Seattle by Mike Vraney and cultivated with his wife Lisa Petrucci, the company has kept exploitation directors like Doris Wishman and Herschell Gordon Lewis in circulation and introduced thousands of unusual flicks to generations of film fans. The movies shared here go deep into the company’s catalog. I found lots of new titles to seek out, as I always do listening to PCP.

Book vs Movie
All About Eve
Season 6, Episode 29

March 28, 2020

I’m a longtime fan of this lively show in which friends Margo P. and Margo D. compare movies with the books that inspired them. I’m delighted that they have branched out into short stories in order to offer a weekly episode schedule during quarantine. Their discussion of the Mary Orr story that inspired Joseph Mankiewicz’s widely adored film is a lot of fun. 

On Blu-ray: Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford in It Started with a Kiss (1959)

While it has its charms, It Started with a Kiss (1959) is best remembered as the film that introduced the bizarre vehicle that would one day be the Batmobile. Stars Debbie Reynolds and Glenn Ford are charming, but they are often adrift in this unfocused romance. I recently watched this mixed bag of a movie on a new Blu-ray release from Warner Archive.

Reynolds is Maggie Putnam, a clever showgirl on the hunt for a millionaire husband. While on the prowl at a lavish charity event, she instead meets Air Force Sergeant Joe Fitzpatrick (Ford), who has new orders to report for duty at a base in Spain. They have a whirlwind romance before he leaves, resulting in their marriage, which is bumpy from the start. To further complicate matters, Joe wins a luxurious Lincoln Futura prototype which draws plenty of unwanted attention.

Reynolds and Ford are an odd match. Despite Ford’s use of persistent courtship tactics that have dated poorly, the pair seems to have chemistry at first. Their first date is relaxed and fun, with conversation that has a rambling, casual quality that feels real. They are unable to sustain the feeling of those early scenes though.

The bland story and poorly written script are mostly to blame, but part of the problem is that Reynolds was 27 and looked younger and Ford was 43 and looked older. Of course, that never mattered with Bogie and Bacall, but here it is unsettling. They’re both attractive, but there’s no sizzle between them and in some respects that’s a relief, because they look more like an uncle and his niece than a married couple.

For most of its running time, It Started with a Kiss is a confused mess. There are misunderstandings, arguments, bland flirtations, and an overall feeling that everyone is waiting for some direction. Harry Morgan and Eva Gabor are a pleasant addition to the supporting cast, but they seem to be politely playing along while searching for the point of it all.

There are some perks: gorgeous costumes, beautiful Spanish scenery, and a pair of leads who are immensely appealing if not too hot together. The Lincoln steals the film though. With its bubble glass roof, bright red interior, and sharp tail fins, it looks like a grounded Jetsons space craft. Painted cherry red for the film, it would eventually be made over as the famous Batmobile on the Batman television program starring Adam West. It was a lot of fun to see an early version of this famous car. 

This is a film strictly for car fiends and devoted fans of Ford and Reynolds.

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

TCM Classic Film Festival Home Edition: Memories and Plans

Nothing can match the feeling of community and excitement about classic films you find at the TCM Classic Film Festival. When I first attended in 2014, I decided almost right away that I had to return the next year. The glow you get from this event stays with you throughout the rest of the year.

While I am disappointed that I will not be spending my seventh festival in Hollywood, I'm impressed by the Special Home Edition that TCM has put together. The schedule, which you can find here, is a beautifully-crafted collection of films and interviews which serve as a sort of greatest hits of the past ten years of the festival.

For those who have not attended, it offers a taste of what the event has to offer. For past attendees, it is a bittersweet brew of nostalgia, full of happy events, though many of the guests featured here are no longer with us.

At a media roundtable this morning, TCM General Manager Pola Changnon said that they will be closely monitoring the response to the home edition to gauge whether it may possibly continue alongside the Hollywood event, which is an exciting possibility for those who cannot make it to California for the festival.

I'm planning to have TCM on throughout the four days of the event, but there are a few things that I am going to make a point of watching with extra attention.

On first glance at the schedule, I decided I had to revisit these moments:

Friday, 4/17, Grey Gardens (1975): One of first films I saw at the festival. I had the magical opportunity to see Albert Maysles who was was physically frail, but still had a razor sharp mind and memory.

Saturday, 4/18, Mad Love (1935): Witnessing Bill Hader's Peter Lorre impression made this screening one of the best of 2019. I also adore this absolutely bonkers horror flick.

Saturday, 4/18, Vitaphone Shorts: As Ron Hutchinson of the Vitaphone Project has now passed, I am especially glad I got to see him present this entertaining program of shorts at the 2016 festival. His passion for these groundbreaking sound films thrilled the audience.

Sunday, 4/19, Red-Headed Woman (1933): I will watch any pre-code, but watching this film at the Egyptian was one of my favorite festival experiences just to hear the reaction of the crowd to Jean Harlow's audacity as a home-wrecking secretary.

New to me picks:

I'm pleased that several of the selections were things that I didn't have the chance to see at previous festivals. These are films and interviews I am especially excited to see for the first time:

I still haven't seen the version of Metropolis (1927) with the restored footage found in Argentina, so this is a must-see.

I have seen a recording of Luise Rainer: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2011), but it's such a remarkable interview: her hearing aid wasn't working, but Robert Osborne and Ms. Rainer made it all work. 

I'm seriously considering watching Neptune’s Daughter (1949) in the bath since this was a poolside screening at TCMFF 2010.

As festival guest Max von Sydow has recently passed, I want to pay tribute by watching The Seventh Seal (1957), which I haven't seen for a long time.

I was disappointed to miss the screening of Sounder (1972) at TCMFF 2018, so that is another must-see.

The one-two punch of Eva Marie Saint:  Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2014) and North by Northwest (1959) should be great. I saw Ms. Saint at another festival and she is a witty and charming interview subject.

After hearing raves about Harold and Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (2015) for years, I'm looking forward to finally watching this documentary.

I also can't wait to see the pre-code Night Flight (1933), followed by Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2013). I saw Ms. Novak before a screening at the 2014 festival and appreciated her refreshing honesty about Hollywood and the life of a film star.

The pre-code Double Harness (1933) is notorious among TCMFF regulars for having two screenings with overflow crowds. Lots of humor in making this programming choice.

I nearly passed out when I realized Norman Lloyd was behind me at a screening of Panique in 2017. I've never been able to make one of his interviews before though, so I am looking forward to Norman Lloyd: Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2016).

On the last day of the festival I will be most attentive during Peter O’Toole, Live from the TCM Classic Film Festival (2012) and Floyd Norman: An Animated Life (2016), but as with the rest of the line-up, I will have a hard time tearing myself away from this amazing selection of films and interviews.

Check out the TCMFF Home Edition page for more information about the schedule and links to many opportunities to watch content by the TCM hosts and connect on social media with other fans. It is going to be a great four days!

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