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How wonderful that Orson Welles' long unfinished film The Other Side of the Wind may finally be released! I hope this happens, because I'd love seeing a newly-released movie starring John Huston--The Dissolve


If you are looking for Halloween viewing suggestions, check out this fantastic list. I don't think of myself as a big horror fan, but so many of my favorite flicks are included here that I just might be--Movie Morlocks/TCM


This is an interesting post about Leonard Maltin's recent interview with Ron Howard, but I'm recommending it because of the fourth paragraph. Bette Davis was saucy!--Movie Crazy/Leonard Maltin

The Criterion Collection is releasing a book of its DVD cover art. I'm surprised this hasn't already happened. It looks lovely--Criterion Cast


I've always been fascinated by the way different countries interpret the same film in its posters. This gallery of different take on La Dolce Vita (1960) shows how many ways one film can be promoted--The Criterion Collection



The oldest known surviving film with an all-black cast, starring stage legend Bert Williams, has been restored and is currently playing at the Museum of Modern Art’s 12th annual To Save and Project festival. I hope this one makes it to DVD--The Guardian

Birthdays

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Ethel Waters (1896-1977)
Barbara Bel Geddes (1922-2005)

Birthdays

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Ruth Hussey (1911-2005)

Book Review--Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema


Scandals of Classic Hollywood: Sex, Deviance, and Drama from the Golden Age of American Cinema
Anne Helen Petersen
Penguin/Plume, 2014

Scandals of Classic Hollywood is not as scandalous as the sensational cover would have you believe, but it succeeds in its own way. Instead of titillating with the sex and deviance promised in the title, this is essentially a thoughtful examination of tinsel town celebrity from the 1920s to the end of the studio system in the 1950s.

Based on Buzzfeed writer and former professor Anne Helen Petersen's beloved Scandals of Classic Hollywood series on Hairpin.com, it draws on some of the information covered on the website, but is almost entirely new text. The tone is also different, more serious, less bloggy. Which is a shame, because I know that light tone is what endears a lot of people to the writer who is affectionately known as "AHP" by devoted fans.

As a sort of antidote to the fact-flouting sensationalism of Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon, Scandals relies on research to cover some of the most notorious events and personalities in Hollywood history, and several that are considerably less explosive. Stories include Fatty Arbuckle's murder trials and Wallace Reid's struggle with drug addiction, which are contrasted with the more benign, if highly public romances of famous lovers including Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and Bogie and Bacall.

The fourteen subjects are revealed, analyzed and treated with great compassion. These profiles are less about digging up dirt than going into the past to demonstrate how little gossip and perception of celebrities has changed.

Though I enjoyed the book for the most part, there were several things in Scandals that rankled the film nerd in me. I was distracted by little inaccuracies, like that the mansion that housed Biograph in New York was referred to as a studio lot, and bigger gaffes such as the claim that the notorious model Evelyn Nesbit Thaw's lover killed her husband when in fact it was her jealous hubby who pulled the trigger on her former lover Standford White. I'm nitpicking, but I'm always wary of any work where easily accessible facts such as these are missed.

There were also statements I took issue with, like the claim "…Jean Harlow was an ice queen, beguiling men with her aloof coolness…" What? No, there was nothing about Harlow that was icy or aloof, whether on screen or in her own life. Think of Red Dust, Bombshell and Public Enemy, among many more. The woman was all heat.

It was things like this that made me feel Petersen had done some good research, but didn't really have a true understanding of the golden era of Hollywood. She's studied it enthusiastically, and she makes interesting observations about that time, but it isn't in her bones. The depth at which she does understand the era is sufficient for an interesting read, but could prove frustrating for more devoted fans.

As one who clearly falls high on the movie geek spectrum, there was little here that was new to me, but I appreciated Petersen's analysis of the stars and their times. I especially liked the final section, in which Petersen discusses Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and James Dean. She makes some great observations here, discussing the way the men influenced each other, and the movie industry, in a thought provoking manner.

Overall, the book was an interesting read. Petersen has combined her academic roots and blogging experience into an intelligent and highly readable style. The text always flowed nicely and was never dry to me, though I can see how it might disappoint readers in search of something jucier. It is not likely to be a revelation for the TCM crowd, but could be a good start on classic Hollywood culture for emerging film obsessives or for those fascinated with celebrity culture.

Many thanks to Penguin/Plume for providing a copy of the book for review.


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Diana Serra Cary/Baby Peggy (96)
Fanny Brice (1891-1951)
Akim Tamiroff (1899-1972)

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Elsa Lanchester (1902-1986)
Edith Head (1897-1981)

New From Warner Archive: Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) on Blu-ray


When I settled in to watch the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of Yankee Doodle Dandy, I was expecting good, corny fun. Lively dance numbers, old-fashioned tunes--sweet-natured stuff. It had been several years since I'd seen it, and I had forgotten the emotional impact this deeply patriotic film could have. As I later snorted into a soggy tissue, I remembered.

There are several things that make this highly-fictionalized biopic of composer George M. Cohen good: legendary songs, straightforward, but energetically paced production numbers, smooth direction by Michael Curtiz and a cast including seventeen-year-old Joan Leslie and Walter Huston.

James Cagney makes it great though. It's a pleasure just to watch him move. He's made of springs, jelly and grasshopper legs. His dancing is great, he apparently did a fine impression of Cohan's stiff-legged style. However, it's just as much fun to watch him walk, turn his head or poke his finger in the air.

He was so alive, so explosive that you can see why he was cast as all those live-wire mobsters, but the actor also used that quality to great effect in Footlight Parade (1933). How could Warner Bros. have allowed nine years to pass before they cast Cagney in another musical? I always think of him as a great musical star, but sadly those were his two big opportunities to show what he could do in tap shoes, and so little at that in the earlier film.

Cagney was a life-long dancer though. In his autobiography, he talks about taking out his tap board whenever he felt the need to get a little exercise. He was always in good form and he proved that in Yankee Doodle Dandy.

What makes Cagney's performance a cut above the typical musical leading man was that he was also a deeply effective dramatic actor. That is what elevates this production beyond a simple fantasy about a famous man.

Of course there's more to this meticulously crafted film. The period details are strung together nicely, from the elaborate costumes to gas flames flickering from wall sconces in the vaudeville dressing rooms. One of the best thing about this Blu-ray edition is that you can enjoy all the craft that went into what you see on the screen.

By now I'm used to having my socks knocked off while newly appreciating a movie on Blu-ray, but I found I was especially appreciative of this one. I've always thought that this musical would have been more effective in color, but after seeing it in Blu, I no longer feel that way. I changed my mind in the middle of the famous Yankee Doodle Dandy number, when the camera scanned a line of chorus girls garbed in glamorous gowns.

You could see every strand of their swept up hairdos, each detail of their gowns. There was added sparkle in their jewelry. It elevated the whole experience.

Special features include a trailer, commentary by Warner Bros. film historian Rudy Behlmer, several audio clips of song rehearsals, a radio show, a cartoon, a short documentary of the making of the film, and a rather brutal wartime short starring Cagney, Ann Sothern and a very young Margaret O'Brien orating for dear life. Leonard Maltin also presents "Warner Night at the Movies" which adds a Casablanca trailer and newsreel to mimic a 1942 cinematic program. I was especially touched by a brief interview with John Travolta, in which he reminisced about his five year friendship with Cagney.

I'm delighted to have been reminded what a treasure this film is. I can just imagine how comforting its patriotism must have been to a country at war. Today that feeling of pride still rings true in an age of deeper cynicism.

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