On Blu-ray: Helen Slater and Faye Dunaway in Supergirl (1984)

The 1984 production of Supergirl has always felt like a missed opportunity to me. It has its moments, but suffers from a weak script and story. However, though it was a box office and critical bomb upon its release, it will nevertheless forever be a showcase for Helen Slater’s charming first screen performance. It also benefits from a small, but intriguing turn by Peter O’Toole and the scenery-chomping theatrics of Faye Dunaway, Peter Cook, and the slightly more understated Brenda Vaccaro. I recently had a chance to revisit the movie on the newly released, feature-packed Blu-ray from Warner Archive which includes the original theatrical release and the director’s cut of the film.

Supergirl begins in Argo City, the refuge of those who survived the destruction of Superman’s home planet Krypton. There Kyra (Slater) lives with her parents Zor-El (Simon Ward) and Alura (Mia Farrow). She is fascinated by the magical work of the scientist Zaltar (Peter O’Toole) which gets her in trouble when she launches herself into space via one of his creations. This is how she ends up on Earth, living incognito as boarding school student Linda Lee.

It doesn’t take long for power-mad sorceress Selena (Dunaway) to discover her presence. With the help of her evil sidekicks Nigel (Cook) and Bianca (Vaccaro), she is relentless in her quest to exploit Kara’s power so that she may rule the world.

In her screen debut, Slater showed promise that she has never entirely had the chance to fulfill. Upon its release, some critics found her performance bland, but I enjoyed her understated, humble approach to the role. Slater's inexperience lends her an appealing freshness. 

The pure joy of the scene where Kara/Supergirl discovers she can fly feels more potent because she really is a young performer experiencing a new kind of power. She approaches that moment with a quiet wonder not commonly found in a comic book flick. There’s a serenity to her that makes you lean in, as if to take in the magic she is experiencing.

The love interest is played by Hart Bochner, a dim-witted doofus so charisma deficient that it never makes sense that Linda/Kara would fight for him. Her friendship with O’Toole is more intriguing. In their brief scenes together, they take the action to a different emotional level, where a great actor seems to be recognizing a genuine emerging talent and taking her under his wing.

Supergirl suffers the most from its rambling script and essentially aimless plot. There’s never a sense of real peril, just a bit of toe tapping until you get to the next special effects scene. Those effects, while sometimes showing their age, are generally visually exciting and sometimes surreally beautiful. Dunaway, Cook and Vaccaro also draw some campy fun out of their villain roles. In the end though, it never becomes a cohesive whole.

This was the rare occasion where I was much more inspired by the disc’s special features than the film. I was mesmerized by the vintage documentary The Making of Supergirl, which featured the most pleasantly entertaining behind-the-scenes footage I’ve ever seen. This is mostly due to Slater, who is humble, clever, and game for anything her once-in-a-lifetime role. You can see why the filmmakers cast her and how hopeful they must have been that she would headline a new, successful franchise.

In addition to a rare director’s cut of the film, features on the two-disc set includes commentary by director Jeannott Szwarc and special project consultant Scott Michael Bosco and a theatrical trailer.

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

Classic Film on Podcasts: 6 More Great Episodes

I'm back with 6 more great podcast episodes for classic film fans! I was delighted to find a few new-to-me shows, in addition to enjoying more fascinating material from my favorites:

Talking Um...Uh... Jimmy Stewart
Episode 9
Kim Novak, ‘Vertigo’ (1958), ‘Bell, Book and Candle’ (1958)

The Jimmy Stewart Museum in the actor's hometown of Indiana, PA has a lovely podcast, hosted by Tim Vanderburg. All of the episodes are worth a listen, as there are great guests, including former co-stars, family, and one of his biographers, and other archival treats like a series of rare interviews with Stewart. I was most touched by this interview with Kim Novak though, where she discusses her loving professional relationship with Stewart. I especially enjoyed the story about how they reunited to present at the Oscars one year and the actor picked her up like they were going to the prom, even presenting her with a bouquet of flowers.

Noir Talk
Episode 12
Film noir before it was famous with Foster Hirsch

It's hard for to imagine a world before film noir. The cinematic style is so popular and such an integral part of movie making. Everything has to start somewhere though, and here author Foster Hirsch discusses his book Film Noir: The Dark Side of the Screen (1981) one of the first to be published about noir and how it wasn't an easy sell for publishers at first. In addition to describing his own journey with noir, Hirsch shares an interesting history of the form.

The Nod
March 5, 2018
Josephine and The Amazing Technicolor Rainbow Tribe

The Nod is one of my favorite cultural podcasts. Hosts Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings are brilliant at tackling complex subjects with compassion and good humor. While they often focus on current issues in black life, there is also a deep historical element to the podcast. I was delighted to hear their telling of the story of actress/singer Josephine Baker and the multi-cultural crew of children she adopted, because it was new to both of them, so they share a sense of wonder and disbelief in the telling. They interview one of Baker's children and explore the meaning and impact of her so-called "Rainbow Tribe" in a compelling way.

The Movies That Made Me
August 21, 2018 Allison Anders 
July 30, 2018 Illeana Douglas

This is the new official podcast for Trailers From Hell. It launched over the summer and it is already one of my favorites. Host Josh Olson and occasional co-host Joe Dante are so knowledgeable and they pick fascinating guests. I loved their wide-ranging conversation with director Allison Anders, which features a great discussion about two directors she admires: Ida Lupino and Anthony Mann. 

Make the Illeana Douglas episode your next stop: her list of top film picks is full of unusual, intriguing titles and they have a hilarious discussion about off-kilter DVD commentaries.

The Noir Factory
Case 20
Ida Lupino: Hollywood Legend

Steven Gomez's Noir Factory is a "fictional detective agency," with every episode a new "case" in the world of film noir. This episode is a great introduction to actress/director Ida Lupino. Gomez has a wonderfully personable podcasting style; as a longtime Ida fan there wasn't much that was new to me here, but it was such a pleasant listen.

For more great film podcasts, check out my previous posts:
Part One, Part Two

Top 30 Classic Movie Blogs on Feedspot

I just learned this morning that Feedspot has compiled a Top 30 list of classic movie sites. I'm honored to be included, because I am in great company. If you are looking for other places to indulge in your classic movie love, this is the perfect way to find a new favorite. There's a lot of knowledge, passion and fine writing to be found on this list.

It's encouraging to see there is appreciation out there for classic films and those who keep their legacy alive.

A Classic Movie Blog: Now on Instagram!

I invite you all to follow the new Instagram account for A Classic Movie Blog:


In addition to being a great way to keep tabs on the site, this is the spot for gorgeous classic film-related photos and other bits of fun. So far I've had a blast sharing these amazing images. Come join me!

On DVD: Pier Angeli in Fred Zinnemann's Teresa (1951)

Though she never emerged as a major star, the Italian-born Pier Angeli made a mark on Hollywood with a persona that combined serene self-assurance and melancholy. Here in her Hollywood debut, she plays the titular role of Teresa (1951), a post-WWII drama about Philip (John Ericson), a baby-faced soldier who courts and marries the young Italian, who then comes to America with him after the war. While the story is for the most part about his struggles during and after his military service, the ads for the film feature Angeli, and for good reason. She is the heart and blazing star of this intimate production now available on DVD from Warner Archive.

Teresa begins in the midst of World War II, where Philip is so overwhelmed by fear that he cannot fulfill his duties as a soldier. He is mentored by the more seasoned Sergeant Dobbs, played by Ralph Meeker with more depth than his lines offer on the page. He makes you want to ditch Philip and see what untold tales linger behind those knowing eyes.

Philip meets Teresa, a tender-hearted local villager, and quickly charms her and her family. They are married after the war and following a brief separation, are reunited in America. There they find new worries as Philip’s mother (Patricia Collinge) cannot endure her baby boy marrying, and a foreigner no less. She tortures Teresa with criticism while her weary husband (Richard Bishop) and friendly daughter (Peggy Ann Garner) run interference as best they can.

The screenplay is by Rebel Without a Cause (1955) scribe Stewart Stern, and much like in that film, the characters here are approached with sympathy and acceptance for their flaws. Their weaknesses are made clear, but so is their loneliness and vulnerability.

Collinge is a monstrous mother. It’s clear that her smothering is the root of Philip’s troubles and yet Stern takes you into her broken heart. She has destroyed her family, but not out of malice. Her fears have taken over and she is as much a victim as anyone.

Teresa was John Ericson’s first film for MGM. It is one of a handful of features he would make for the studio before decamping to television for the bulk of his career. He manages to draw some gentle appeal out of an often aggravating character, though you do sometimes wonder if Teresa made the right decision.

It is Angeli who brings life to Teresa though. Still a teenager, she has the emotional grounding and fresh-faced allure that Ingrid Bergman exuded in her early films. In direct contrast to Philip, her Teresa is wise beyond her years, innocent, but aware enough that leering soldiers are to be avoided and that her overprotective brother need not worry so much about her. Unlike Philip, her mother has allowed her to mature and the war has taken care of the rest. 

It’s a performance that should have led to a bigger career. Watching Angeli glow her way through the simplest of scenes inspires longing for more of her magic. It is a bittersweet taste of what could have been.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

In Theaters--Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017)

From the 1940s until the 1980s Scotty Bowers was the man Hollywood turned to for sexual satisfaction. Be it from himself or the men and women he arranged to service Tinsel Town’s randiest residents, for decades he made a living as a bartender, but built a life offering pleasure just for the joy of making people happy. Long a local legend, Bowers found mainstream attention when he told his story in the 2012 memoir Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, where he dished about the erotic proclivities of his clients, from Spencer Tracy and George Cukor, to Lana Turner and Ava Gardner. Now in the documentary Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood (2017), filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer looks more closely at the man who made a life fulfilling fantasies.

Bowers began adulthood as a Marine, fighting in some of the most harrowing battles of World War II. He returned from the war shattered, traumatized, and determined to create a happier world. As an attendant at a Hollywood gas station, he found his calling, when an invitation for and afternoon of nude swimming and sex with customer Walter Pidgeon inspired him to begin making his own connections between stars and willing partners. He arranged for hook-ups at the station, eventually moving on to bartending, which lessened his risk and gave him more flexibility. While the men and women he recommended made money, he never did and he never had a black book, keeping names and numbers in his head, and thus enabling him to fly under the radar for years.

Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood is full of people who love Bowers. A former sex worker credits him with giving him the means to buy a home, another leaves him multiple houses in his will, and parties full of old friends delight in his smiling presence. It is certainly inspiring to see this man in his nineties still active, working, socializing, and sharing his knowledge with eager film historians.

All is not well with Bowers though. His homes are rotting away beneath piles of possessions, much to the distress of his loving, but exhausted wife. While he doesn't attend to basic needs like this clutter or the rotting hole in his deck high in the Hollywood Hills, he is nevertheless in constant motion. As he struggles to climb down from a ladder he should never have ascended, it becomes clear that this is a man who chases sanity by keeping his mind occupied, whatever the risks.

As a child, Bowers was frequently molested by a neighbor, and in book and film he insists that it was a mutually pleasurable experience. It was only the first sexual encounter he would have with a grown man while still a child, but he draws no connection between those moments and his hypersexual adulthood. Still, it seems he knows something is off. After defiantly defending his abuser and insisting what they did together was acceptable he says, “I went along everything…and I never told anyone.” In that moment, shame appears to waver beneath his determination to remain upbeat.

There is also the trauma of the war, which has had the most profound impact on his life. He finally makes himself vulnerable when he discusses these years and the way they permanently marked him. 

These experiences seem to have left Bowers with only a superficial ability to be kind. In focusing on his clients and the nightlife that came with it, he essentially abandoned his common-law wife and daughter, providing them with material comfort and little else. He is likewise unresponsive to the pain of his current wife, who sighs and says she stays with him because of the brightness of his personality, despite the baggage that comes with it. He avoids self reflection, passing over his flaws lightly, determined that he is okay, that everything is okay.

As the AIDS epidemic cast a shadow over party life in 1980s Hollywood, Bowers reluctantly shut up shop, unwilling to risk the lives of the people he only wished to make happy. His legend was secure though and the town he serviced continued to embrace and care for him. Though there are those who feel he betrayed his clients by exposing their homosexuality, fetishes, and infidelities, he has stayed firm in his belief that it was all common knowledge for years. Ahead of his time in many ways, he also never saw anything wrong with the pursuit of pleasure, wherever that path led, and that is why he remains appreciated by many.

In focusing on the trauma lingering beneath Bower’s sunny exterior, Tyrnauer reveals uncomfortable truths that were more easily buried in his memoir. The result is a complex portrait of a survivor who offered acceptance and happiness the best way he knew how.

Many thanks to SIFF for providing a copy of the film for review. It is playing at SIFF Film Center in Seattle, August 24-30 and at other select theaters nationwide.

On DVD: A Baby-Faced Robert Young in The Band Plays On (1934)

I don’t tend to be drawn to sports films, but when they star Preston Foster as a football coach, my interest increases. Now available on DVD from Warner Archive, The Band Plays On (1934) benefits from this happy casting. It also stars an early career Robert Young and a pleasing young cast. In its modest way, it is cheerfully wholesome and playful, with enough drama and hard knocks to keep it from collapsing into a pile of sugar.

Young is one of four young men who are caught stealing a car. In the interest of reform, they are sent to play football with the altruistic Pacific University coach Howdy Hardy (Foster), who turns them into high school sports stars. The quartet moves on to college athletics and gradually find themselves in new trouble, with Howdy again faced with helping them redeem themselves.

The quartet of men, the other three played by Stuart Erwin, Russell Hardy, and William Tannen, have a natural, if unremarkable chemistry. They play well with the female lead, Betty Furness, as Taylor’s childhood sweetheart and Hardies’ sister, who variously mothers, romances and roots for the men. I found Erwin especially appealing in his role: a little less goofy than his persona typically dictates and revealing a more heartfelt performance than usual.

My admiration for the prolific and talented, but underappreciated Preston Foster continued here. He plays a familiar mentor role with great sensitivity, really seeming to feel the distress of his protégées and showing strength in a restrained, but confident manner. Foster is so good at communicating the interior world of his characters. By the end of a film, you know his characters as if they have become friends with you.

This flick was made to be a pleasant time-filler and it succeeds in that goal. I was more engaged than I expected to be.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.
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