Jul 31, 2009
Jul 30, 2009
If you enjoyed the six pre-code musicals on TCM yesterday, I have a few more to suggest:
42nd Street (1933)
This essential Busby Berkeley-choreographed extravaganza was filmed the same year as Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade. Ruby Keeler is the ingénue who becomes a star overnight, despite the fact that she can’t stop anxiously eyeing her clomping feet (though she looks awfully cute doing it). The rest of the cast is a top-shelf roster of 1930s talent including: Dick Powell, Bebe Daniels, Warner Baxter, Guy Kibbee and wisecracking Ginger Rogers in a small early role.
Wonder Bar (1934)
Sex, adultery, sadism, murder, suicide and whooo, that’s just a short list of the insanity in this dark version of the Grand Hotel-type ensemble movie set in a busy nightclub. Busby Berkeley does the choreography again, and his productions have a mesmerizingly beautiful flair. Unfortunately, the final number, Goin’ to Heaven on a Mule is so drenched in racial stereotypes that even classic movie fans accustomed to weathering the odd cringe-worthy moment might find it hard to stomach, but the rest of this racy musical is great entertainment.
Murder at the Vanities (1934)
I hope to find that I am wrong, but I believe this is the only pre-code musical murder mystery. Detectives clamber around backstage trying to find out who is stabbing people with hatpins, while onstage, chorines cover their bare breasts and pose as cactus blossoms while Gertrude Michael sings a love song to marijuana (see the clip above). Offbeat characters, a handful of charming songs, and a hint of sleaze: this is the kind of movie that makes you wonder how far Hollywood would have gone if the production code were never enforced.
Jul 29, 2009
Stars with pluck—
Bigger than cinema: Nicholas Ray—
The FilmLinc Blog
70 years ago in Oscar history: hello Mr. Chips--
I love this picture of Audrey Hepburn with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis—
Coolness is Timeless
Madame Tussauds is coming to Hollywood—
Jul 28, 2009
In this excerpt from a 1981 interview on the BBC talk show Parkinson, Pat O'Brien is moved to tears as he discusses his 55-year friendship with James Cagney. I love how O'Brien holds Cagney's hand. The obviously deep affection between the two is incredibly moving.
Jul 27, 2009
I love this simultaneously awful and adorable clip of Bette Davis singing What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on The Andy Williams Show in 1962. She just bludgeons the song, which is pretty goofy in the first place, but her enthusiasm and lack of self-consciousness are incredibly endearing. In short: this is why I love Bette Davis.
Jul 26, 2009
Jul 25, 2009
Monkeys frolic in the jungle in this light-hearted Silly Symphony cartoon from Disney. The tune the birds sing in the beginning is Monkey and Chimp (Abba Dabba Dabba). Check out the lyrics:
Way down in the congo land sitting in a coconut tree,
there was a monkey and a chimp--and Lordy how she loved him.
Everynight in the pale moonlight sitting in the coconut tree,
these love words she always said to he...
"Abba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba"
said the monkey to the chimp.
"Abba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba"
said the chimpee to the monk.
All night long they chattered away.
All day long they were happy and gay,
swinging and swaying in a honky, tonky way.
"Abba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba dabba"
said the chimp, "I love but you."
Abba dabba dabba in monkey talk means
"Chimp, I love you too."
Then the ol' baboon, one night in June,
married them and very soon,
they sailed away on an abba dabba honeymoon.
A perfect song for this cartoon, eh?
Lyrics courtesy of BusSongs.com
Jul 23, 2009
Carmen Miranda, the Brazillian Bombshell: unique, vivacious and topped with fruit. She is best known for being a giddily cheerful representative of Brazil in a series of colorful Fox Studios musicals in the 1940’s. Though Miranda was often second banana to stars like Alice Faye and Betty Grable, she was easily as memorable as whoever topped the marquee. Her songs, like her English, were a mixture of South American hot and North American snap (check out her version of Chatanooga Choo Choo). Though her elaborate costumes were the most memorable thing about her, it is a testament to her charm that those piles of jewelry, bright swaths of fabric and towering hats never overwhelmed her. Miranda’s costumes and enthusiastic performances have inspired innumerable impressions over the years. Check out these seriously silly versions of Mamãe eu quero.
Here’s Miranda singing her version of the song in her first Fox musical That Night in Rio (1941):
Lucille Ball terrorizes Ricky with her Miranda impression in this 1951 episode of I Love Lucy:
Jerry Lewis dons Miranda drag (to fill in for Carmen Miranda!) and tangles with another unruly record player in Scared Stiff (1953):
Even Tom and Jerry get into the act! Here’s a kitten doing his best Miranda in Baby Puss (1943):
Mickey Rooney also does a great Miranda impression in Babes on Broadway (1941), but I couldn’t find a clip.
Jul 21, 2009
Review of David Niven biography—
Katharine Hepburn’s journals—
Pauls Valley Daily Democrat
The Gone With the Wind museum—
Cecil Beaton sketches become fabrics and wallpaper (beautiful pictures!)--
If It's Hip It's Here
Contemporary art group to remake 60s classic Darling—
Jul 20, 2009
As we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing today, don’t forget that Georges and Gaston Méliès filmed a trip to the moon over one hundred years ago! Loosely based on the novels From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells, the imaginative and groundbreaking Le Voyage Dans la Lune (1902) is the first sci-fi movie . Unfortunately, our movie space travelers do not tread as lightly on the moon as Neil Armstrong and company, but the silent short is still an entertaining and visually satisfying creation. The full version of the movie (not posted here) includes a celebratory parade honoring the returning space travelers. This sequence was believed lost until a complete print of the movie was discovered in a French barn in 2003 (it is now also available on DVD). I love the fanciful and extremely descriptive narration in this particular clip.
(Yep, that’s a still from the movie in my header.)
Sherlock Holmes’s staying power-
The Boston Globe
Ed White, Jimmy Stewart among aviation inductees—
Aldrin hosts TCM tribute to first lunar landing—
Starlet Dreams: Irene Ware—
Silents and Talkies
Hollywood starts pajama vogue—
Anita Ekberg admitted to hospital—
Piano sitter and sad-eyed 1920-30’s singing sensation Helen Morgan sings her classic torch song The Little Things You Used to Do in the 1935 musical Go Into Your Dance. Stars Ruby Keeler and Al Jolson also appear in the clip.
Jul 19, 2009
Jul 18, 2009
Jul 17, 2009
James Cagney is my favorite actor, so I couldn't let his birthday pass without paying a brief tribute. I love this clip, because it showcases so many of his most endearing quirks: the goofy voices, his buoyant energy and the tiny flourishes he added to every scene. He was a mesmerizing talent and so consistently good, whatever the quality of his material.
Jul 16, 2009
I feel inspired to pay tribute to Barbara Stanwyck today, on what would have been her 102nd birthday. She’s one of my favorite actresses, partly because while her efficient, regular Jane persona made you want to refer to her as “Babs” or “Stanny”, she was also was such a towering, forceful talent, that you might also be inclined to bow to her and call her ma’am. There are bad Stanwyck movies, but not bad Stanwyck performances; she was regular in that way as well.
While Stanwyck could play anything from the sunniest screwball heroine to the most sinister femme fatale, I always like her best when she plays a fighter, a down-on-her-luck woman with much to overcome and the will to win. She’s incredibly powerful in those moments when she gets fed up with the battle and unleashes a firestorm of anger. That’s why I love these three Stanwyck movies:
Miracle Woman (1931)
In this brisk pre-code, Stanwyck is the daughter of a small town preacher. When the insensitive actions of his congregation lead to his death, his furious daughter goes on the war path. Stanwyck berates her father’s parishioners with shoulder-rattling rage so powerful that she ends up clearing out the church. Here’s proof that right from the beginning of her career, Stanwyck was a mesmerizing performer.
Baby Face (1933)
This time Stanwyck’s lousy father gets a piece of her mind. Fed up with his trying to pimp her out to his speakeasy customers, she berates him for destroying her life with fire-spitting fury. Not long after, he blows himself up in his still and she takes off for the city to make her fortune by turning the tables on the male race.
The Furies (1950)
Yet another bad father raises Stanwyck’s ire in this gloomy, symbolic western. Papa Walter Huston has her lover hanged and it is enough to kill his daughter’s life-long admiration for him. Sitting tall on her horse, she unleashes a tirade that is only the start of her bitter quest for revenge.
I love this gallery of classic Hollywood actresses in hats—
Classic Hollywood Nerd
If you haven’t seen the beautiful new TCM posters. . .—
Rope of Silicon
Great gallery of Chaplin pics—
The Kitty Packard Pictorial
Now It’s a Wonderful Life angel Clarence not only has his wings, but a namesake hotel!—
A wistful champagne toast to William Powell—
Elizabeth Taylor denies Jackson grief breakdown—
Jul 15, 2009
I love this charmingly corny clip of Liza Minnelli and Gene Kelly chatting on Kelly’s 1978 special Gene Kelly: An American in Pasadena. They reminisce about the start of their friendship on the MGM lot, where Kelly was a star and Minnelli was a young girl visiting her mother and father at work (Kelly would often teach Minnelli new dance steps). The highlight is a clip of the two singing and dancing to Me and My Gal on The Gene Kelly Show in 1959. Though only thirteen, Minnelli was already a polished performer and the two are very sweet together.
Of course, Kelly first sang and danced to Me and My Gal with Minnelli’s mother, Judy Garland in the 1942 movie of the same name, which was also Kelly’s screen debut:
Jul 14, 2009
Jul 13, 2009
If you liked the four Susan Hayward movies they played on TCM today, I've got a few more favorites to suggest:
I Want to Live! (1958)
Hayward's Oscar-nominated performance as party girl Barbara Graham is wild, loose and full of lusty energy. In a showy role like this, she could have careened into camp, but she keeps a perfect balance between defiance and poignance.
Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947)
If you liked I'll Cry Tomorrow (1955), check out this soapier, more intimate Hayward flick about an insecure singer who struggles with alcoholism when she gives up her career for her husband.
Back Street (1961)
One of many screen versions of the Fannie Hurst novel about a woman who resigns herself to living in the shadows of her married lover's life. Glossy, melodramatic and colorful, this is one of Hayward's great campy roles.
Here a very young Doris Day sings My Lost Horizon with Les Brown and the Band of Renown in 1946. On first impression, she may be almost unrecognizable, more obviously because of her hair, but also because her early performance style is much more sensual than the wholesomely perky verve she favored in her Hollywood years. However, with closer attention, it is easy to recognize the tender vocal and expressive quirks that were uniquely hers. Day got her first taste of fame with a hit recording of Sentimental Journey that she made with the Les Brown band in 1945. By 1948, she was starring in her first movie, Romance on the High Seas, and on her way to box office-topping fame. Les Brown and the Band of Renown continued to prosper through the years as well. The band still plays today, led by Les Brown, Jr.
Jul 12, 2009
Jul 11, 2009
In this early color Fleischer 'toon a barnyard of newlywed animal couples take a rocketship to the moon. All are romantic and giddy, except for one hapless kitty, whose bride has missed the flight.
Jul 8, 2009
Watch Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pop out of a pair of cigarette packages and dance together in this clip from the Warner Bros. cartoon, September in the Rain (1937). Now look at the clip below to see the original dance, which takes place in the last few minutes of The Gay Divorcee (1934), to see how similar the routines were, down to tiny details (look out for a step Rogers makes on the way up, but not on the way down). Skip to the 2:00 mark for the dancing:
Jul 7, 2009
Jul 6, 2009
Doris Day: the girl next door, a bit remote—
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Philip French’s screen legends: Jean-Paul Belmondo—
Article from 1977-- Bette Davis advises women: don’t let men hold you back—
Katie Holmes to pay tribute to Judy Garland on dance show—
Jul 5, 2009
Jul 4, 2009
This is a Tom and Jerry cartoon, but not the Hanna Barbera cat and mouse version. This oddball human duo appeared in a series of cartoons produced by the Van Beuren studio in the early thirties. While their cartoons never found widespread popularity, they have a lot to recommend them, not the least being their similarity to the surreal, and slightly naughty, Fleischer cartoons from the same era. When the popularity of the cat and mouse duo eclipsed that of the original Tom and Jerry their names were changed to Dick and Larry. In this deliciously inventive 'toon, Jerry mocks Tom with the strange creations that emerge from his magic pencil.
Jul 2, 2009
Jul 1, 2009
Goodbye to Karl Malden, a deeply respected and respectable actor who had a legendary career on the silver screen, television and the stage. A whole generation knew him as the long-time pitchman for American Express, but he started his career in New York, onstage. Though he had a small role in They Knew What They Wanted (1940), Malden didn’t find screen success until after his service in World War II. His breakout role was in Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), a performance which won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Kazan also directed him in his other Oscar-nominated performance in On the Waterfront (1954). Though he had an overall aura of solid decency, Malden was a diverse actor. He could play that good guy role better than anyone, as he showed in Streetcar, Waterfront and the Bette Davis thriller Dead Ringer (1964), but he could also play sleazy, as he did in Baby Doll (1957) and he was downright despicable in the Troy Donahue potboiler Parrish (1961). Later in his career, he had a five year run as Detective Lt. Mike Stone on the television police drama The Streets of San Francisco, a role which earned him four Emmy nominations (he finally won in 1984 for the television miniseries Fatal Vision). Malden was married to Mona Greenburg for over 70 years. They had two daughters together, one of whom co-authored his 1997 autobiography, Where Do I Start?. His unique presence, visage and intelligent intensity have contributed to so many great, enduring screen moments. May he rest in peace.