Quote of the Week

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Don't ever try to disguise yourself in order to approach an ideal. Think of the irregularities of your face as the Treasure--which they really are.

-Sophia Loren

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TCMFF Coverage and Viewing Lists Galore!

Photo credit: A Classic Movie Blog

In just 24 hours, I will be hoping an early morning flight to Los Angeles, destination Hollywood! I am beyond excited to attend the TCM Classic Film Festival for a second year.

I am looking forward to sharing my experiences with you all as a member of the media, particularly with those of you who will be watching the festivities from home. I've also watched TCMFF from afar, and I know that while nothing beats being there, it can be a lot of fun to catch a glimpse of the action.

I will make you feel like you are there!

For oodles of festival updates follow me on Twitter at @classicmovieblg and on Instagram at kcclassic.

I'll add a few brief posts to the blog during the festival as well, to be followed by more detailed coverage once I join the real world again.

It has been interesting to see the many choices other bloggers have made after agonizing over the festival schedule.

My list hasn't changed much since I posted it, though I am considering switching out The French Connection (1971) for the hand-cranked films presentation.


Check out these other lists for inspiration, and to get a feel for how the festival will unfold:

A Shroud of Thoughts
Backlots
The Black Maria
Cinema Sentries
Classic Movie Blog
The Hollywood Revue

I See a Dark Theater
Journeys in Classic Film
Lindsay's Movie Musings
Once Upon a Screen
Out of the Past

Precode.com
Vivien Leight and Laurence Olivier


The Black Maria will also be live blogging the event here (page not live until festival time).

And remember, if you're flying solo at a screening and you'd like a seat buddy, send me a tweet at  @classicmovieblg to join up with me and whatever other gang I'm with!

Warner Archive: Fredric March Madness

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Though he's appeared in some of my favorite films, Fredric March has never really been on my radar. I've always enjoyed him, and I think he's talented, but I've tended to take him for granted. I've now been cured of my blasé attitude thanks to the release of several March films from Warner Archive.

I unintentionally watched these films in chronological order, which ended up being fascinating, because I got to see March developing his talent over the course of ten years. It struck me how diverse he was as a performer, able to handle comedy and drama with equal ease, sometimes switching between the two in a matter of moments.

March was also less reliant on his persona than many of the stars, and even character actors, of his time. The three films reviewed here are very different in tone and structure and he appears dramatically different in each one. He was remarkably able to disappear into a role.



We Live Again (1934)


This drama based on the lesser-known Tolstoy novel Resurrection is perhaps best remembered for being one of Samuel Goldwyn's failed attempts to make Anna Sten a movie idol. The Russian actress was beautiful, but had limited range as an actress, and didn't have the star power to pick up the slack.

It's a beautiful production though, with gorgeous sets and costumes that live up to the famous Goldwyn standard. Full of orgies, elaborate church services, smart stepping officers and large groups of wailing folk musicians, it is a fascinating portrait of Russia, Hollywood-style.

March is Dmitri, a prince who falls in love with peasant girl Katusha (Sten). After a night of passion, he leaves her for the armed forces, unaware that she is pregnant. Fired for her indiscretion, Katusha's child dies and she is forced into prostitution. When she gets in trouble with the law, the now more worldly woman is discovered again by Dmitri, and he tries to make up for the wrong he has done.

The movie jumps quickly through time, as must happen if an epic novel is to fit into 80 minutes. Predictably, the politics in the novel are mostly set aside for romance. March elegantly manages the lightning quick changes his character must appear to be making over many years. He never seems less than sincere, and even manages to draw some passion out of his scenes with the oddly blank Sten.



One Foot in Heaven (1941)

In a dramatically different role, March plays William Spence, an aspiring Canadian medical student who gets the calling and becomes a Methodist pastor. Over the course of his career, Spence led congregations throughout the American Midwest. Based on his son Hartzell's memoirs, this episodic movie isn't quite a forgotten classic, but is charming nevertheless.

I've always been a bit wary of Hollywood biopics. Despite the diversity of subjects, they always seem to plod through the same basic challenges, awkwardly jumping from one event to the next in an attempt to cram everything into formal dramatic structure. While Spence's biography can get lost in its rambling, it has a natural ease that gives you the feeling of bumping along a country road in a wooden wagon. It also jumps right into his religious career, avoiding any tedious childhood exposition.

March gives his character a lived-in feel, avoiding the glossy perfection of the typical biopic hero. He lets himself be cranky and overbearing, while never abandoning the well-meaning man at the heart of it all. As his loyal wife, Martha Scott matches March in temperament and determination. They're a great team, whether in the midst of an argument or quietly supporting each other through a new challenge.

I especially liked a scene set in a movie theater, where Spence tries, and fails, to show his son the immorality of films. It's a great picture of the early days of cinema, with booing audience members, snack vendors in the aisles, and excited kids struggling to stay put in rickety chairs. Whenever the film seems to be rattling off a story with no point, it draws you back in with moments like these.



The Adventures of Mark Twain (1944)


March truly disappears into his role in this also remarkably entertaining biopic of writer Samuel Clemens, more famously known as Mark Twain. With a crazy beak of a nose and a wild wig, he even looks like the author. It's an unruly epic, full of the cynically witty humor that made its subject famous.

Max Steiner does a remarkable job with the score, making it sound lazy river relaxed, but somehow grand at the same time. It is the perfect underscoring for an early steamboat scene, set in a misty evening so beautifully staged that you can almost feel the dampness of the air. March lives up to these magnificent trappings, so lost in the spirit of Twain that you have to remind yourself who you are watching.

Alexis Smith is also appealing as Twain's wife, projecting more warmth than she is usually allowed, in a role that doesn't give her much to do, but which she gives sympathetic life.

It is a remarkable portrait, beautifully capturing the spirit of its subject, most of all because of March's astonishing performance.

---

The March epic Anthony Adverse (1936), co-starring Olivia de Havilland is also now available from the Archive.

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


Classic Links


I was saddened to hear that Robert Osborne will not be attending the TCM Classic Film Festival this year due to a "minor medical procedure." Osborne is such a constant, reassuring presence at events throughout the festival; he will be missed. I'm glad that he his taking care of himself though.

Get better soon Bob! You're the face of a fandom and we love you.

Osborne's letter to the press is here.

Will also shared some details about Osborne's past health issues and how the festival will adjust its schedule at Cinematically Insane.

I love this recent interview with Lana Wood, Natalie Wood's younger sister. She really knows how to dish.

Laura shares a fun story about meeting Winston Severn, a former child actor who made an appearance at a recent screening of one of his films, Edgar G. Ulmer's Her Sister's Secret (1946)--Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

The Beach Party Blogathon, to be hosted by Speakeasy June 8-12 sounds like a lot of fun. I immediately thought that I'd like to write about the bizarre horror flick The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965). Check out the great movie poster-style banners too!

A nice gallery of Françoise Dorléac photos. She did a lot in only 25 years.

TCMFF Prefunc: Cooking with Sophia Loren


While I've yet to check out Sophia Loren's new memoir, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, I have had the pleasure of reading her cookbooks. She wrote two of them, one published in 1972, the other over twenty years later in 1998. Both books are lot of fun, very autobiographical and full of that joy for life that Loren exudes so delightfully.

The most glamorous pizza chef ever
Loren wrote the notes that would become her first cookbook, In the Kitchen With Love, when she was pregnant with her son Carlo, Jr. She was under doctor's orders to rest. To calm her anxiety about the upcoming birth and fill long days of confinement, she began to cook the recipes she remembered from her childhood.

The book has dozens of these recipes, all traditional Italian cuisine, arranged in neat little paragraphs. She also adds snippets of advice about eating and entertaining called Digressions. Her insights are among the best parts of the book. They're revealing, charming and timelessly practical. Over forty years later, her thoughts about taking care of guests, sourcing fresh ingredients and smoking at the table (she thinks it's yucky, as most people do now!) are still useful.

Some of the recipes had me drooling. Fried artichokes? Fried pizza? And on the healthier side, Polenta with Gorgonzola.

Loren making sauce, with full cat eyes and her cook
I wasn't so sure about the Beans with Caviar, though Loren insists it is divine. The Tuna Fish Loaf and Kidneys and Bacon kind of disturbed me too, though if Ms. Sophia were making it, I'm sure I'd be game for anything.

And her sandwich recipes are so fancy! I'd pass on the celery and almond sandwich, and the lettuce and mayonnaise sandwich, which is laden with butter too, sounds a bit much. But her salmon sandwich with anchovies and egg yolk intrigued me, as did the combo of mozzarella and pimiento or tomato.

There's also lots of photos of Loren at work in the kitchen, looking every bit the star you want her to be. Full eye make-up, big, gold hoops in her ears. This is how you cook darling!

Unfortunately, the book is long out of print, but it's out there if you're willing to pay a bit for it. I was lucky to find a copy at the library, but I adore it so much that I am sure I'll eventually track down one of my own. Check it out if you can!


Sophia Loren's Recipes & Memories has a lot of the same kinds of recipes, but is overall a much different book. It's more elaborate, with photos on every page, more details about Loren's personal life and the sort of detailed cooking instructions more commonly found in modern recipe books. While it doesn't have the fascination of a 40-year-old viewpoint, it is equally as charming as her first book and the recipes are a bit more palatable for current tastes.

While there are many new recipes, the Fried Pizzas make another appearance. My goodness that sounds delicious. Loren also sings the praises of caviar and beans again in this volume. Maybe I'll have to give that a try after all?

This book is also out of print, but used copies are much more affordable. It's worth tracking one down if you have any interest in Italian cooking. The recipes seem practical to make, and look delicious.

Be forewarned that it doesn't matter how stuffed you think you might be, reading these books will make you hungry!

Now I need to track down Sophia's book about beauty. Who better to give tips on that?

Oh to be a guest at this party!

Quote of the Week

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To enjoy life to its fullest, one must build contrast into it. And the more extreme the contrast the fuller the life.

-George Sanders

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Classic Links


The big news for many classic film fans this week was the release of the full schedule for TCM Classic Film Festival 2015. There's been a lot of controversy over the films selected this year, with some fans questioning the inclusion of several films from the 80s and 90s, and others questioning how selections fit the theme.

While I understand where these concerns are coming from, I've got to say I've found plenty of things I wanted to see. I'm also excited about the special guests this year. Any event where I can see Sophia Loren, Ann-Margret, Christopher Plummer, Shirley MacLaine and Norman Lloyd is fine by me!

I shared my picks earlier this week. It's also been fun to see what other bloggers are planning to see. Here's a few lists I've read the past few days:

Precode.com
Out of the Past
The Hollywood Revue
Backlots

I've been enjoying taking a look at the TCMFF Tumblr account lately. It really gets you excited about the films it features, whether or not you're attending the festival.

I really enjoyed this post at Black Maria which addresses the controversy over the programming choices at the festival this year. Very thoughtfully written, and with some great points.

Having just enjoyed him in the new Blu-ray of Far From the Madding Crowd (1967), I was especially interested to read this new interview with Terence Stamp.

TCMFF Prefunc: 10 Reasons I Dig Christopher Plummer

Plummer in 2009

Handsome, intelligent and wickedly talented, Christopher Plummer is a legend of both the stage and screen. I'm thrilled that he will be attending TCM Classic Film Festival 2015. Though I will not be in the audience when he introduces the opening night film, The Sound of Music (1965), with Julie Andrews and a trio of his screen offspring, I plan to attend his handprint and footprint ceremony in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre (yeah, still having trouble with the TCL Chinese name...).

There are several reasons why I adore Plummer. Here's a few of them:

1. He was my first movie crush

I only recently realized this. While enjoying all the 50th anniversary tributes to The Sound of Music (1965), I remembered that he was the first actor to give me that delightfully swoony feeling. So good looking! So sophisticated! He enthralled my 6-year-old self. I'll never forget the butterflies I had in my stomach the first time I saw him dance with Julie Andrews. That scene has the same effect on me today:



2. He has great career integrity

Though he has found widespread fame for his movie roles, Plummer stepped gingerly into the cinematic world. I admire that he has continued to do significant work in the stage roles he enjoys. He even chose Hamlet over film stardom when David O. Selznick offered him a lucrative movie contract, which he discusses in this 2009 interview:



3. He has a sense of humor about "that movie"

Though, as Plummer says in the clip above, the fact that The Sound of Music (1965) overshadows his long and varied career "pisses me off," the story "was not his cup of tea" and it isn't his favorite film, he appreciates that he was part of a beloved classic. He has also always spoken generously of his costar Julie Andrews.

In this clip filmed on the set of the movie, it is clear that Plummer was given the part because he had that extra depth to offer that he felt was better embodied in his other, more serious works. He shares some interesting insights on acting here (Julie Andrews and director Robert Wise make appearances too):



4. He makes silly movies not so silly

The particular silly movie I have in mind is Star Crash (1978). This Star Wars rip-off, which I adore by the way, features ridiculous dialogue, costumes that look like they were made out of garbage bags and plastic sheeting, and a crazy, but fantastic cast including David Hasselhoff, former child evangelist Marjoe Gortner, cult favorite Joe Spinell and British bombshell Caroline Munro.

It's all a gorgeous, goofy mess. However, while wearing an eye-searing metallic costume, Plummer gives his brief part as the Emperor, and dad to Hasselhoff, all the majesty of a Shakespearean actor performing King Lear. Check out the way he proclaims "halt the flow of time!":



5. He truly deserved his Oscar for Beginners (2011)

When a performer has had a long, celebrated career, sometimes an Academy Award can seem like a lifetime appreciation award. While an award of that sort was certainly due Plummer, his performance as a man who comes out of the closet at age 75, and not long after learns he has cancer, stands on its own as a remarkable achievement. He brilliantly embodies the happy/sad persona of a dying man who never stops living life to the fullest or succumbs to self pity. You can see him in action here:



6. He brings great excitement to classic roles

Check out the electricity he generates as Hamlet, opposite Jo Maxwell Muller as Ophelia, in a 1964 television production:



7. He plays a mean piano

Plummer apparently trained as a classical pianist before beginning his acting career. As can be heard from this clip of him playing the Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano concerto on the set of Elsa and Fred in 2014, he has kept up with his practicing:



8. He continues to be active as a performer

Speaking of Elsa and Fred, his starring role opposite fellow TCMFF guest Shirley MacLaine is one of three movies he made in 2014. According to IMDb, he has made appearances in or done voice work for five upcoming films in 2015. Here's the trailer for Elsa and Fred. I love these two together:



9. He still makes great movies

In addition to his wonderful performance in Beginners, Plummer has contributed to several interesting films over the past decade, including Up (2009), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), The New World (2005) and Inside Man (2006).

10. He speaks his mind

One of the things I most admire about Christopher Plummer is his ability to speak his mind in an intelligent, frank and essentially kind manner. Whatever issues he may have with a film, director or whatever, he always has something nice to say,but he doesn't pull punches. Here he talks about his frustrations in working with Terrance Malick on The New World (2005):



Joy! The TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule is Here: What I Plan to See


It is once again that beautiful, horrible time of year when the TCM Classic Film Festival schedule is released!

Like many film fans, I found it difficult to tear myself away from this page yesterday, as I delighted and agonized over the offerings for TCMFF 2015. There's been a lot of controversy this year over the many newer films on the schedule, but I found plenty of older classics that I am excited to see. Some of those newer flicks look pretty good to me too.

My biggest disappointments this year are that I won't be able to fit in a poolside screening or one of a pair of 60s epics (Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence of Arabia) on the schedule. For the most part though, I should be able to see the things I really want to see.

I plan to watch seventeen films, as I did last year. It's a pretty tight schedule, but I've got it arranged so I should be able to sit down for a meal at least once a day (in addition to snacking like crazy) and spend some time soaking up the ambiance of the festival beyond waiting in line (though that can be lots of fun at TCMFF).

My priority: live appearances. Those are always the most memorable, and as sad as it sounds, can sometimes be the last opportunity to see a star in person. My other selections are a mix of films that are completely new to me and some favorites that I've wanted to see on the big screen with an enthusiastic audience.

So here they are! My choices, arranged by day (and subject to many, many changes):

Lombard and Powell in My Man Godfrey (1936)


Day 1, Thursday, March 26


I enjoyed the Meet TCM panel last year--lots of good insight into what's going on behind the scenes for the channel--so I plan to check that out first at Club TCM.

The trivia event So You Think You Know the Movies? sounds like fun, so I might check out that at Club TCM too, depending on what else is going on. I remember changing my mind a lot that first day of the festival.

Though I don't have access to attend The Sound of Music (1965), I'm sure the red carpet for the opening film will be amazing, so I'm planning to check that out. It was great fun catching a glimpse of Shirley Jones from across the street last year.

I'm going to attend the opening night party for a while too before attending my first movie of the festival. Right out of the gate, I've got a tough decision to make. I adore Garbo and John Gilbert in Queen Christina (1933) and it would be amazing to see it on the big screen. However, I also love Too Late For Tears (1949), and after years of watching this film noir on terrible public domain prints, it would be great to see the restored version.

My Man Godfrey (1936) was my first Carole Lombard film, and I saw it for the first time on the big screen. The experience is such a happy memory for me, and this remains one of my favorite comedies. It'll be a great way to end the first day of the festival.

Christopher Plummer in 2007


Day 2, Friday, March 27


The Christopher Plummer hand and footprint ceremony will likely keep me from attending the first time slot of Friday films and maybe even the second too, but it will be worth it to see this amazing actor honored. In addition to the man of the hour, Shirley MacLaine and William Shatner will speak.

If I do catch something in the second time slot of the day, it will probably be The Proud Rebel (1958). I will have already seen most of the films I plan to attend at TCMFF and I want to watch be sure to catch a few which are entirely new to me. I like Alan Ladd and Olivia de Havilland, so I figure this western is a good gamble.

Then I will be lining up at the Egyptian Theater in the hopes of seeing the marvelous Ann-Margret introduce The Cincinnati Kid (1965), which also stars Steve McQueen, Edward G. Robinson and Joan Blondell. This was the first announcement that got me excited about the 2015 festival. I can't wait to see one of my favorite actresses in person.

If I can dash to the Chinese Multiplex in time (I've managed this before, so fingers crossed) I'm going to check out the entirely new-to-me pre-code Don't Bet on Women (1931), which features Jeanette MacDonald in her only non-singing role.

Then I will boomerang back to the Egyptian to see my silent movie crush Buster Keaton in Steamboat Bill Jr. (1929). I hope to see more silent movies at this year's festival, as the reaction of the crowd is almost as amusing as what's up on the screen.

Then perhaps another run down Hollywood Blvd. will be necessary (note to self: wear the comfiest shoes this day) to get a good seat for On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), my favorite Bond flick, introduced by George Lazenby. I'm looking forward to seeing the actor, but oh to have seen co-star Diana Rigg as well!

This year I'm going to attempt two midnight movie screenings, because both of them are sure to be can't miss experiences. The first: Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor costarring in Boom! (1968). This movie looks campy as hell, and I've been dying to see it for years.

Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment (1960)


Day 3, Saturday, March 28


I'm going to start the day with the Colleen Moore silent Why Be Good? (1929), which I enjoyed seeing for the first time on a Warner Archive MOD release last year. Long thought lost, it's amazing that now this amusing film will play before an audience.

Though I'm disappointed to miss both of the great 1960s epics on the schedule, Lawrence of Arabia (1962) plays during the Plummer ceremony and Doctor Zhivago (1965) during 42nd Street (1933), which I am determined to see on the big screen! It was one of the first pre-codes I enjoyed as a teenage film fan.

Then I'm going to grab a place in line to see Robert Osborne interview Sophia Loren at the Montalban Theatre. I really wanted to see the John Ford pre-code Air Mail (1932), which is also playing in this time slot. Fingers crossed that it will play again in one of the TBA slots the last day of the festival.

If I can make it, I'll follow the interview with a peek at Christmas in July (1940), a Preston Sturges-directed and scripted comedy that I saw years ago, but don't remember well, except that I enjoyed it, as I tend to do anything with Sturges attached.

I adore the Grauman's Chinese Theatre (aka, TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX, but I'm still having trouble adjusting to the name change) and am looking forward to the one-two punch of Shirley MacLaine introducing The Apartment (1960) and director William Friedkin speaking before The French Connection (1971).

That last time slot is a tough one, because I really wanted to see the hand-cranked films (including my beloved A Trip to the Moon (1902)!), watch Robert Morse introduce The Loved One (1965) and revel in the craziness that is Earthquake (1974) poolside.

The French Connection will be an amazing on the big screen though, it's something I've wanted to experience since I first saw the film years ago. I also treasure festival guests that are fascinating interview subjects, like Alan Arkin and Albert Maysles (RIP dear man) were, and I hear that Friedkin always has great insights to share.

I'm going to finish up the night with a midnight showing of the extremely rare Nothing Lasts Forever (1984), which I was devastated to miss when it recently aired on TCM (I still don't know how I managed to do that). I feel lucky to have another chance to see it.

Sophia Loren in 2009


Day 4, Sunday, March 29


As I recall, I began Sunday morning of TCMFF 2014 mistakenly washing my hair very squeaky clean with body wash because I was so tired. Fortunately, I'll be starting the day with a dose of sunshine, courtesy of Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953), one of my favorite Day films. The snappy opening number is so much fun and will be a great eye-opener.

Then, in a bizarre shift of mood, I hope to see Psycho (1960), because I'm sure that will be interesting with an audience. It's such a familiar movie that I often take it for granted, but every time I see it, I am reminded of how remarkable it is, from its soundtrack, technique and performances, to the dread it inspires.

Hopefully I'll be able to catch the Conversation with Shirley MacLaine at Club TCM next, but if not, I'm hopping into line at Grauman's again for The Philadelphia Story (1940).

For my third film of the day in Grauman's Chinese, and my last film of the festival, I want to see Sophia Loren introduce Marriage Italian Style (1964). Loren has such a delightful personality. I'm sure seeing her will be a TCMFF highlight.

Then I'll head over to the closing night party to say goodbye to my fellow film geeks by the Hollywood Roosevelt pool.

It's all going to go by fast, but it will be an amazing four days, no matter what I end up seeing or doing.

If you're traveling to the festival this year, I'd love to know what you plan to see. Please share links or lists in the comments!

Quote of the Week


He was a very funny little man. He would squat on a ladder like a frog, watching you go through a funny routine, and he’d laugh so much he’d fall off. Then he’d get up again and we’d go through the whole thing again with him still dying laughing — but giving a little advice here and there. By the tenth or twelfth take you realised that you were far from your original interpretation — you were playing pure Lubitsch.

-David Niven, about director Ernst Lubitsch

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Classic Links

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The Monterey SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) is facing challenges selling Joan Fontaine's Oscar, which the actress willed to the organization upon her death in 2013. I'm surprised this is an issue, since Fontaine won the award in 1942, before the Academy required winners to sign an agreement that they would offer to sell the award back to the organization for one dollar before making any other sale. Hopefully the SPCA will be able to work something out and raise funds with the sale as desired by Fontaine.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner shared the titles of the ten classic movies that he required cast members to watch for inspiration. Only Blue Velvet (1987) surprised me, at least at first. You can really see the influence of several of these films in the show. (via Warner Archive)

This post about 14 Things You Might Not Know About The Sound of Music, includes a clip of Mia Farrow auditioning for Liesl (not a songbird that one), Julie Andrews talking with the real Maria on television and footage of the real Von Trapp Family singers. Added bonus, Andrews performing The Lonely Goatheard with the Muppets.

I was fascinated to read this article about pioneering English film critic CA Lejeune.

TCMFF Prefunc: 10 Reasons I Dig Ann-Margret

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I adore Ann-Margret. She puts so much into her performances, be it dancing, singing, acting, or all three. You never see her sweat either. She is one of the best entertainers because she always does just that, entertain, and in a big way. I'm so excited that this amazing woman will be introducing a screening of The Cincinnati Kid (1965) at TCM Classic Film Festival.

It's hard to put into words just how wonderful she is, so I'll show you:

1. The way she's too much, but you always want more. Exhibit 1, this 1961 screentest:



2. Her ability to steal a movie from anyone. Even Elvis.



3. Superhuman dance skills



4. She was an awesome cartoon.



She sang a cute lullaby to Pebbles too.

5. She has a sense of humor. Exhibit 1, modern art in The Swinger (1966)



Exhibit 2 from Tommy (1975)

6. The best opening number. The best closing number.



7. She recorded a song with dreamy Lee Hazlewood.



8. She kills it in dramas.



9. This--for infinite reasons



10. And of course that she'll be introducing this at TCMFF 2015

DVD Review: Before Nanook of the North, There Was In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914)


At the turn of the twentieth century, photographer Edward S. Curtis made his name documenting Native Americans, striving to preserve memories of a culture that he saw slipping away. Feeling these static images were not enough to capture the richness of native life, he turned to the new medium of film. The result is In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914), a movie more documentary than drama, but still filled with excitement , tension and beautifully-composed shots.

Now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Milestone Films, this nearly-lost film can be appreciated over one hundred years later.

Filmed in British Columbia, on the Pacific Coast, the film featured members of the Kwakwaka’wakw tribe at a time where the practice of many of their customs was outlawed by the Canadian government (as was also experienced by tribes in the United States). In the making of his film, Curtis not only documented these traditions, but he gave the tribe an opportunity to practice them freely with the defense that they were making a movie.

The plot is the slightest clothesline for the majesty of the people themselves: their costumes, dances and deliberate lifestyle. Its native vision quest, romance and battles demonstrate how even in the very first feature films, the template was set for epic movies to follow, but I can think of nothing since that has captured the essence of tribal life so well.

All of the props were created with an eye to authenticity and used by natives who knew exactly what to do with them. Enormous canoes were created to be propelled in the water by men schooled in the traditional way of rowing. Costumes are much like those you will see hanging in a museum like the Burke in Seattle, Washington, but they take on an entirely new dimension when worn by the people who understood their meaning best.

Edward S. Curtis in a 1889 self-portrait
While the film can be enjoyed on a purely documentary level, there is also proof here that movies could be exciting and full of action over one hundred years ago, when filmmakers were still mastering the basics of a new medium. Without close-ups, jump cuts or extensive use of special effects, Curtis generates tension, drama and even a touch of romance.

It is thrilling to watch the dancers in their animal costumes, moving together confidently in perfect rhythm. The sight of three canoes, loading with dancing men advancing on the camera is an unusual one in the history of cinema and Curtis captures the energy of the group so that their passion is palpable to the viewer.

The restoration of the film must have been extremely difficult given the materials available. As source material, there were two heavily-worn, incomplete prints. As both were incomplete, several scenes had to be bridged with stills and image captures from existing film. Given all of that, I'm impressed by the final result.

While there are lots of scratches and damaged or missing film, the picture is of surprisingly decent quality. The gorgeous tinting does a lot to improve image quality. New intertitles are also tinted, each with a nice border in the style of traditional native art and in a font appropriate to the film's vintage.

The newly-recorded soundtrack is of a string ensemble playing the music originally composed for the film's release. It is sharp, clean and also does much to improve the quality of the film overall.

Filming of a scene, Curtis behind the camera

As is often the case with Milestone releases, the special features are of equal importance to the featured film. There's an interesting, and significantly shorter, version of the film with voiceovers that was released in 1973 called In the Land of War Canoes. I found that this version helped me to understand the original with a bit more clarity.

There are also several audio clips of traditional native songs, assorted documentaries, including films about Curtis, the restoration process and the recording of the score. I was especially interested to see the interviews with family members of the people featured in the film. There is also extensive modern-day footage of tribe members performing dances similar to those seen in the film.

It's an inspiring package, educational, entertaining and an exhilarating opportunity to see Native Americans dominate a film.

Many thanks to Milestone Films for providing a copy of the DVD for review.

Book Review: George Sanders' Memoirs of a Professional Cad now available as eBook


Memoirs of a Professional Cad: The Autobiography of George Sanders
George Sanders
Dean Street Press, March 2015 (originally published 1960)

Is there anything more delightful than getting something you've dreamed of for years and having it live up to your expectations? I've wanted to read George Sanders' legendary autobiography ever since my introduction to the actor in All About Eve (1950) as a teenager. Now it is available for the first time on eBook from Dean St. Press. It is every bit as witty and entertaining as I expected.

There can be no movie as outrageous as the life Sanders lived. He was born into Tsarist Russia, eventually fleeing the Russian Revolution as it nipped at his heels. As a young man he promoted various brands of cigarettes in South America. Then came acting, and eventually movie stardom.

The facts of this cynical world traveler's life are entertaining enough in themselves: Sanders had a pet ostrich in his apartment in Argentina, after winning an ill-advised duel, he was asked to leave South America and the amusing details of his marriage to the glamorous and self-absorbed Zsa Zsa Gabor could fill a book on their own. This is all made even better because George Sanders writes exactly the way he speaks in his film roles. You can practically hear the smooth purr of his voice in your ear.

Sanders progresses through his memories as he pleases, pulling out stories as he sees fit. It has the feel of a clever party guest regaling an attentive crowd. You get a sense for the complexities of the actor's personality: his deep compassion, adoration of women (despite an of-its-time caddish line of talk about them), appreciation of beauty and excitement, and a bone-deep weariness about the madness of it all. Though he keeps a witty, humorous tone, it is for the most part a darkly comic memoir.

I was most touched by Sanders' extensive retelling of his experiences with Tyrone Power on the set of Solomon and Sheba (1959), where the younger actor died suddenly of a heart attack. He shares his admiration of Power and his brave widow Debbie Minardos, and the absurdity of the chaotic funeral services that followed. His memories are bittersweet, and reveal much about fame and the realities of a Hollywood star.

I'm glad that Sanders' memoirs end before life turned darker for him. As he writes the last words, he is still newly married to the love of his life Benita Hume, who would die of cancer seven years later. He had not suffered the death of his estranged, alcoholic brother Tom Conway and his mother or succumbed to dementia himself. That final treacherous girlfriend who would convince him to sell his beloved home in Majorca was still in his future.

There was a rocky road ahead for Sanders, but he leaves us happy, in love and enjoying the fruits of his labors as much as a deeply cynical, though also appreciative, man like himself could.

Many thanks to Dean Street Press for sending a copy of the book for review.


Quote of the Week

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Audrey [Hepburn] was something entirely different on thescreen than what she was in real life. Not that she was vulgar--she wasn't…But there was so much inside her and she could put the sexiness on a little bit and the effect was really something.

-Billy Wilder

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