Book Review--The Legendary Partnership of Wayne and Ford


Wayne and Ford: The Films, The Friendship and The Forging of an American Hero
Nancy Schoenberger
Doubleday Books/Nan A. Talese, 2017

John Wayne and John Ford are legends of American cinema. Both together and apart they made some of the most magnetic films Hollywood had to offer, but it is unlikely they would have reached the heights they did if they hadn't found each other. In a new book Nancy Shoenberger explores the life, work and relationship of these complex, influential men, focusing attention on the way they interpreted and communicated masculinity.

I was drawn to Wayne and Ford because I liked the way Schoenberger handled dual biography in her 2011 tome Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century. Here she tackles a less tumultuous, but similarly layered relationship. There's less heat, but plenty of intrigue.

Of the 200 films Wayne made in his long career, only 69 would be westerns, but they were his most significant roles, and mostly due to his work with Ford. Likewise, the director, who even somewhat ironically referred to himself as a maker of westerns approached many genres successfully, but found his greatest success making fantasies of masculinity and honor in the Monument Valley with his greatest star.

Wayne and Ford charts the simultaneously abusive and familial nature of their relationship. Though Ford inspired loyalty in his actors, who felt he gave them the artistic success they craved, he was a harsh and sadistic taskmaster. The director saved the worst of his abuse for Wayne, who always took it without complaint, even when he reached the heights of his success. Nevertheless, their bond was lifelong and both could depend on each other for help throughout their careers, whether or not it was requested.

Schoenberger looks for insight into this unusual relationship by digging into their personal lives and films. As both men often had great control over the way their movies were made, they were often a reflection of who they were. Despite the differences in their personalities and relationships, in their cinematic explorations of love, duty and what it is to be a man, the two are found to have similar values.

While there was not much that was new to me here, having read individual biographies of Wayne and Ford, being able to focus on their bond and films helped me to better understand the influence they had on each other and their public. In Wayne, Ford saw much that he wanted to be, and in a way he resented his manly physicality. The actor may not have understood this, but he was always aware that the director had essentially made his career after a decade of making cowboy flicks for kids and it is possible he never thought to think past that reality.

In the end, John Ford and John Wayne are only two humans, who lived their lives and passed on, and yet it is endlessly compelling to speculate about these complex men. Wayne and Ford is to be relished because it takes great care and enjoyment in that pursuit.

Many thanks to Doubleday Books/Nan A. Talese for providing a copy of the book for review.

Blu-ray Review: Charisse and Kelly in Brigadoon (1954)


The MGM production of the Learner and Lowe musical Brigadoon (1954) is a mixed bag, overwhelmed by inelegant artifice, but not without its moments of misty magic. Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly and Van Johnson lead a pleasantly quirky cast, directed by Vincente Minnelli. The film is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, with the welcome addition of three musical numbers from the show, that were edited from the final cut, in the special features.

Kelly and Johnson play a pair of American tourists who are in the midst of an unsuccessful hunting trip in the Scottish highlands. They come upon a curiously old-fashioned village, which they learn comes to life one day every century. They have arrived on the day of a wedding and become involved in all the drama and romance that entails.

As MGM's baseline was uniformly high during its musical heyday, Brigadoon has much going for it. Minnelli captures a dreamy, romantic mood, the cast is vibrant and jolly, and the musical numbers are executed with slick efficiency. It doesn’t always keep a steady momentum, but it moves well enough.

However, this screen adaptation of the Broadway sensation never quite finds its heart. As beautiful as it can be, it never feels as lush as it should. This is primarily due to studio insistence that the film be made on a soundstage instead of the outdoor locations it clearly needs to work as cinema. It is hard to enjoy Kelly and Charisse swooping around plaster rocks and painted backdrops when you know how magical it would be in the open air.

Kathryn Grayson was originally cast to play Charisse's role, and if she had, perhaps the musical would have been more focused on its strong point: the gorgeous score. Though it has its acrobatic moments, Brigadoon is best as a singing show. Though it was logical to bring more dance numbers into the production with Charisse and Kelly as leads, it doesn’t suit the spirit of of the production. Watching Johnson and Kelly break into a tap number in an otherworldly Scottish village gives you the feeling they have dropped into the wrong film.

While Minnelli for the most part films his cast to advantage, his staging of the musical numbers lacks impact. Too often he goes for a wide shot filled with rocks, trees and fake heather, making you work to focus on the players stranded in the middle of the screen. The moments in the score that should hit you with swelling emotion get lost, slipping away without payoff.

Part of this is also due to the cast, which with its dancing focus simply can’t do justice to the swooning romance of the score. It might have worked better on the soundstage if it had featured artists who could have mined the music for its full emotional impact: like Kathryn Grayson or Jane Powell singing in close-up with Howard Keel. It could have been magical if they’d been able to film that kind of combination on location.

Charisse and Kelly have their swoony moments though, even if they aren’t entirely suited to the material. Brigadoon should satisfy those who enjoy the pair together. Johnson is also enjoyably prickly, taking his cheerful young man persona in an interesting direction.

I always thought it was a shame that the tender Come to Me, Bend to Me didn’t make it into the film and was thrilled to see the outtake for that number in the special features. Also included are From This Day On, Sword Dance and an audio outtake for There but for You Go I. The Blu-ray image quality is solid, capturing the rich colors of the production.

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

Book Review--Anne Bancroft: A Life


Anne Bancroft: A Life
Douglass K. Daniel
University Press of Kentucky, 2017

Though she acted for decades, on the stage, screen and television, Anne Bancroft will forever be known as Mrs. Robinson. That role in The Graduate (1967) ensured her immortality. A best actress Oscar for The Miracle Worker (1962) added mainstream respectability to the mix, but there is so much more to the life and career of this unusually dedicated actress. From her screen debut in 1952, Bancroft worked steadily, never becoming a huge star, but nevertheless building a reputation as one of the best actresses of her generation. In her first full-length biography, Douglass Daniel tells the whole story, revealing the professional and personal details of this complex, compassionate and fascinating woman.

Bronx-born Bancroft’s career was filled with near misses. She almost starred on the stage in Funny Girl, she was close to filling the role that Suzanne Pleshette played in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, and that pattern continued until she more easily fell into character parts in her later years. While there were various reasons for losing these gigs, including her own high standards, it was often because she didn’t have the box office clout or star image to convince producers she could sell a film. Though Bancroft thrilled Broadway, television and film audiences with Emmy, Tony and Oscar winning performances, she continually found she had to hustle for roles.

Her flashiest triumphs aside, Bancroft wasn’t a major star. She was an actress and a particularly dedicated one at that. If there is any common thread in Daniel’s book, it is that she took her craft seriously and approached it with integrity. Maybe stardom could bring better roles, but the quality of her material and her performance were always more important.

As much as Bancroft craved and thrived living the actor’s life, she valued her family equally, if not more, and often made her personal life a priority. One of the most pleasing elements of the book is the way it explores her relationship with her second husband Mel Brooks. While this pairing of comedian and dramatic actress always seemed to puzzle the public, their marriage is one of the great Hollywood love stories. The pair was steadfastly devoted, living with compassion for each other, working around hectic schedules to be together and celebrating each other’s successes without a hint of jealousy.

The same is true of their son Max. Bancroft loved her much-desired only child to the point of smothering him, though she usually stopped short of such excesses. When she learned that Max had a learning disability, the actress put her career on hold so that she could ensure he got the proper guidance. Judging from the young Brooks’ successful writing career, she was effective. While Max was young, Anne worked little and favored projects that would allow her to return home at night. She even recorded herself reading bedtime stories so that her son would be read to sleep on those nights she couldn’t make it home.

That loyalty and devotion extended to Bancroft’s professional life. She was steadfast in her methods and professional demeanor. The many former co-stars and directors quoted in the book had a similar story to tell: that she had a laser focus on her work and approached each role with serious intensity, that she was not always up for making friends, but that she also never put on the airs of a star and could be counted on to help another actor shape a performance, sometimes saving a co-worker’s job in the process.

As Bancroft avoided the wild side of the Hollywood lifestyle and its pitfalls, she never suffered the effects of living too hard. Free of drugs and alcohol, excessive toxic relationships and poor financial decisions, she had the resources and grounding to be choosy about her work and flourished because of it.

Daniel takes a straightforward approach to telling Bancroft’s story, easily weaving together the personal and the professional. Given the wealth of material he has gotten from his sources, he wisely avoids adding his own analysis of the actress and lets her friends and associates fill out the details of her personality. The result is a rich, authentic portrait which effectively captures her essence.

Many thanks to the University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.

Documentary--Rod Taylor: Pulling No Punches (2016)


It's long baffled me that Rod Taylor isn't more revered by classic film fans, because as an actor and as a star, he had everything. Handsome, versatile and just as talented as the other top actors of his era, he could have coasted on swoon appeal, but always had a lot more to offer. In the Robert de Young-directed documentary, Pulling No Punches, the actor has his say and is lauded by his peers, biographer, industry associates and filmmakers. The attention is long overdue.

Pulling No Punches is built around a series of interviews with Taylor that the filmmakers conducted in late 2012, less than three years before his death in January 2015. The film could have succeeded solely on the strength of the actor's funny, energetic and bluntly honest reminiscing; he's a great storyteller, always leaving you wanting more. Though he is no longer as pretty as in his heyday, he's still incredibly sexy, because he is confident and witty in that endearingly open way that seems to be a unique trait of Australians.

I like the kinetic energy of the film that was built around these interviews. With retro graphics, smoothly paced editing and a snappy soundtrack, its rhythm interestingly mirrors Taylor's live wire, but suave persona. While it does eventually dig into Taylor's start in the industry, it begins by diving right into Sunday in New York (1963), swooping through film clips and talking head interviews like a reader flipping to the good parts.

That momentum is maintained throughout the film, which covers the basics, but goes at those details in an unconventional way, touching on films here and there, unfolding in an essentially chronological order, but with great focus on keeping the proceedings lively. As Taylor's career was all over the map, I can't think of a better approach to his filmography. It would be very difficult to cover the scope of his many achievements, but by zooming in on a variety of roles and experiences, the film covers a surprising amount of territory in less than an hour and a half.

It's almost comical to see the way Tippi Hedren, Veronica Cartwright and Angela Lansbury still swoon over Taylor in their interviews, decades after working with him. They see the magnetic and manly, but not macho appeal that seems to have been lost on many and, as two-time costar Maggie Smith notes, the seemingly effortless way he was able to work on set and build a character. Maybe Pulling No Punches will broaden the cult of Taylor. Once you join it, your heart never stops palpitating, but I recommend it heartily and this film is a good explanation as to why.

Many thanks to the Inkwell Films for providing access to the film.

DVD Review: Katharine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Undercurrent (1946)


A new wave of Katharine Hepburn flicks recently released on DVD from Warner Archive drew me to a pair of titles that, while not among her most celebrated, were of interest to me because of their unusual quirks. Sylvia Scarlett (1935) and Undercurrent (1946) vary in critical, box office and artistic success, but it is worth shining a light on both of these underseen films.



Sylvia Scarlett was a critical and box office bomb upon its release and time has not revealed that response to be unjust. It is a Hepburn picture by billing, but it is perhaps most notable for being the film where Cary Grant's persona truly began to take shape. Kate plays the daughter of an embezzler and thief (Edmund Gwenn) who must masquerade as the teenage Sylvester in order to escape the authorities with her father. They meet grifter Jimmy Monkley (Cary Grant) in their travels and team up with him to attempt to make a living without stooping to work.

Hepburn is handsome, but profoundly irritating as a boy and the action zig zags in an erratic way, sort of moving forward, sort of getting nowhere, but it is all so bizarre that you can't look away. Fluffy-haired Brian Aherne is appealing as Michael Fane a cheerful artist who is drawn to Sylvia, but doesn't quite understand what he sees in this handsome young boy. His confusion and the female advances "Sylvester" must manage are among the most interesting elements of the film.

While homosexuality was seen as repellant, even deviant at the time, the characters here don't seem overly concerned when they touch upon it. It makes you wonder if there were a few closeted souls in the audience who took this as a positive bit of representation. Sylvia is repulsed,but not too scandalized by the prospect of gay eroticism, but the lady who attempts the seduction seems mostly amused by her mistake. Michael is not only less tortured, but a bit intrigued.

Romantic maneuverings aside, it is Cary Grant's transformation from handsome mannequin to sexy devil that distinguishes the film. While his lame Cockney accent hits the ears with a splat, his charm makes up for much of that awkwardness. This is the true screen debut of the debonair, mischievous and dangerously flirtatious Grant that would become a legend even outside of his own understanding.



In the more critically and financially successful romantic noir Undercurrent, Hepburn is Ann Hamilton, a wealthy socialite approaching middle age, who unexpectedly veers into marriage with handsome businessman Alan Garroway. Perplexed by his reluctance to discuss his brother Michael (Robert Mitchum), who seems to have disappeared due to some kind of disgrace, she tries to learn more about this scorned sibling. In the process she finds herself drawn to this figure of mystery, at least partly because he is so elusive, but also because he seems to perfectly fit her sensibilities.

I love the idea of falling in love with someone you've never seen and director Vincent Minnelli creates a dreamy feeling of romance even though the prospective lovers are not acquainted for much of the film. That mood is so intense that when Alan becomes jealous of his wife's obsession, the change in tone feels like a brutal intrusion.

Undercurrent is ultimately an odd film, because the leads are brilliantly cast, but they don't quite fit together. Mitchum perfectly fits the image of Michael that Ann has created, but Hepburn is not a good fit for him. They are discordant in temperament onscreen and apparently were in real life as well, where she seemed to think he was a no-talent skating by on his looks. It's an odd situation where she is not well cast opposite her love interest, but she also fits her role quite well. It is the same for Taylor, who is dangerously seductive, but not believable as a man obsessed with Hepburn. In a way, that lack of cohesion adds intrigue to the film, because it creates an imbalance that keeps you slightly on edge.

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.


DVD Review: Edmond O'Brien Hits the Range In Cow Country (1953)


Cow Country is an essentially unremarkable, but pleasing western. It was made as one among many simple programmers, but star Edmond O'Brien is a reassuring presence and Peggy Castle steals the show with a bracingly memorable scene. The film is now available on DVD from Warner Archive.

Those who are familiar with the work of Edmond O'Brien (D.O.A. [1950], The Barefoot Contessa [1954], Seven Days in May [1964]) may not feel his image screams western star, but he actually made several films in the genre and even starred in a few. Instead of ambling across the screen like the lanky, muscular Wayne type, he has an efficient manner, focused on the most practical path to his desires. Though his presence is subdued, he's one of the few stars who is made more intriguing by the decency he exudes. You sense a history of pain behind that moral façade and it draws you to him.

He plays Ben Anthony, a range rider who is in charge of a freight line in Texas. When the wealthy owners of a local rendering plant put pressure on struggling cattlemen to sell their stock, Anthony leads the resistance against the corrupt businessmen. He must also compete with business rival Harry Odell (Robert Lowery) for the love of his childhood crush Linda Garnett (Helen Westcott).

Cow Country is the kind of film that could fade in the memory, settling in with other deliberately unremarkable westerns, but it is instead unforgettable because of Peggy Castle. As Melba Sykes, an impoverished but ambitious member of a family squatting on a ranch belonging to Linda's father, she is more passionate and lively by far than any of her costars.

Odell has been romancing Melba behind Linda's back and when she realizes he doesn't intend to marry her, she goes after him with a whip. She doesn't hold back either. It is a wildly entertaining scene and cathartic to boot. I'd like to see a film starring this character, because this moment alone makes the western worth a look.

As Anthony faces increasing violence from his adversaries, the film climaxes in a series of tense, well-paced action sequences that are much more engaging and suspenseful than the action preceding them. These opportunists are willing to be ruthless and it is frightening what they do to get what they want.

It's an enjoyable flick, engaging in a low-key way and with enough spice to keep the energy up.

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.

The National Film Registry: Nominate Your Picks By Friday, September 15!



Ever since its establishment in 1988, each year the National Film Preservation Board at the Library of Congress selects 25 American-made films to add to the National Film Registry. The group strives to pick "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films," in the hopes of recognizing not just award winners or box office champs, but a wide range of works that encompass American filmmaking. Inclusion on this list is huge, because every title is guaranteed to be preserved and made available to the public.

One of the most exciting elements of this process is that the public has input into which films are selected for the list. For a short period each year, film fans can send recommendations for up to 50 films via the Library of Congress website. If you want to have your say, the deadline for making suggestions is Friday, September 15.

Don't know what to recommend? The Board has you covered! Here is a list of significant films that have not yet made it to the registry. Many classic film fans have been stunned to see how many classics still haven't made the cut, but 25 films a year isn't much when you've got over one hundred years of film history to consider. As honored as the board members must be to participate in this process, it isn't easy.

To learn more about the selection process, I recommend watching the 2011 documentary These Amazing Shadows, which I reviewed here.

You can make nominations for the list here.

And if you need ideas, here's that list of films that have yet to make the list. UPDATE: A reader noted that one of my choices Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) had been added to the registry in 1992, so keep in mind that this list isn't quite up-to-date!

The National Film Registry Class of 2017 will be announced in December.

Of course I couldn't resist making my own list, which I have shared below. Which films would you pick?

Humorous Phases of Funny Faces (1906)
Kid Auto Races At Venice (1914)
Stella Maris (1918)
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1920)
The Scarecrow (1920)
The Blot (1921)
Beyond the Rocks (1922)
Robin Hood (1922)
The Toll of the Sea (1922)
Why Worry? (1923)
He Who Gets Slapped (1924)
The Merry Widow (1925)
Moana (1926)
The Cat & The Canary (1927)
Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Wedding March (1928)
The Letter (1929)
Whoopee! (1930)
Night Nurse (1931)
Possessed (1931)
Downstairs (1932)
Kongo (1932)
Shanghai Express (1932)
Red-Headed Woman (1932)
Bombshell (1933)
Employees Entrance (1933)
I'm No Angel (1933)
Queen Christina (1933)
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
Nothing Sacred (1937)
Alexander's Ragtime Band (1938)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)
Love Affair (1939)
Rebecca (1940)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1940)
Never Give a Sucker an Even Break (1941)
Gaslight (1944)
Murder, My Sweet (1944)
The Southerner (1945)
The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
The Lady From Shanghai (1948)
Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)
Harvey (1950)
Alice In Wonderland (1951)
Scaramouche (1952)
Pretty Poison (1968)
The Landlord (1970)
Claudine (1974)
Cooley High (1975)

Blu-ray Review: Lana Turner and John Wayne, An Oddly Compelling Pair in The Sea Chase (1955)


John Wayne, German. It doesn't make sense on paper, nor does it on the screen. In The Sea Chase the All-American cowboy doesn't seem remotely European, but he is reliably heroic as a morally sturdy naval officer in this sturdy war drama. He even makes you buy that Lana Turner, as a glamorous spy, could fall for him.

Wayne is Karl Ehrlich (really), a naval captain stationed on a freighter called The Ergenstrasse in Australia at the start of World War II. Though he despises Hitler, he realizes he must consider his crew's right to choose where their allegiances rest. He sets sail, escaping internment by the British, and takes on the challenge of returning his men to their homeland.

Facing the threat of mutiny, a treacherous Nazi sympathizer on his crew, and being under hot pursuit by the Brits, Ehrlich's life is further complicated by the arrival of Elsa Keller (Turner), who is also on the run. As the only woman onboard she is another dangerous distraction as he scrambles to find more wood to fuel the drastically understocked ship.

Of course Wayne and Turner have to fall in love, even if you'd never put them together. As a couple, they don't sizzle; this isn't a hot movie romance, but it is intriguing. It's more that they express the exhaustion of people who have lived hard and are ready for the comfort of someone who understands them. 

The love affair wouldn't have worked if Turner had landed in one of Wayne's westerns or he in one of her high-toned dramas, but the open seas is a fine middle ground. Their regard for each other is what makes them so touching together.

Turner slinks around in a tight, low-cut white dress, making the crew members drunk with lust. Wayne is scandalized; he knows she has driven a man to suicide. For her it is simply life, she causes a fuss as a matter of course; it has become background noise to her. 

So has dressing to kill. There's no need for her to wear a jaunty red scarf with her tight white sweater while stuck on a freighter, but it's how she plays the game and perhaps the glamour cheers her up. Also, she is Lana Turner, movie star. Even when she has to resort to men's dungarees to have clean clothes, she works it.

The pair are supported by a solid cast, with reliable actors like Dick Davalos (East of Eden), Alan Hale and James Arness onboard. Tab Hunter also makes an early appearance as a crewman. At this point in his career he couldn't even shout "land ho!" convincingly, but he clearly has presence.

Though this isn't quite the pulse-pounding actioner it aims to be, the slow build tension can be effective. Director John Farrow provides some genre thrills while also capturing the despair and destruction of this mostly self-contained bit of World War II drama.

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

Book Review--Living Like Audrey: Life Lessons From the Fairest Lady of All


Living Like Audrey: Life Lessons From the Fairest Lady of All
Victoria Loustalot
Rowman & Littlefield, 2017

Victoria Loustalot's new lifestyle guide for Audrey Hepburn fans is a pleasant compilation of photos, quotes, biography and insights into the life of the beloved actress. While there is not much new here for fans of the Oscar-winning actress, there is some interesting analysis and appreciation of her most admirable traits.

It's a lovely turquoise-hued volume, and while the book has an appealing look, I found it difficult to navigate. Every few pages the text is broken up by block quotes and multiple pages of images. While these are enjoyable and will likely draw many fans, it turns reading the text into a sort of dance, where you get to the unfinished sentence at the bottom of the page and have to decide whether to flip forward a few pages to finish the thought or hope you can remember where you left off after admiring a photo or two and reading a quote. Ending pages before photos and quotes with completed sentences would have done much to improve the design.

Photos are presented full page at a minimum, with some spilling partly over to the adjacent page. I recognized many from movie stills and magazines in this attractive collection. The quotes about Hepburn are also familiar; I recognized many from the 1997 A&E Biography special Audrey Hepburn: The Fairest Lady (I am pretty sure I have that program memorized. I actually heard the voice of Richard Dreyfuss in my head praising Audrey exactly as he did in his interview). In this respect, the book was in many ways a pleasant repackaging of familiar material.

What I found most interesting about Living Like Audrey was Loustalot's thorough examination of Hepburn's greatest qualities. While classic movie fans are familiar with the kind, gentle and giving aspects of the actresses' personality, she is not as often celebrated for her wit and wisdom. Here I found a satisfying tribute to her sense of humor, and the dark wit behind it.

Hepburn is also given credit for the profound way she spoke about humanity. When she told an interviewer speaking to her about her work with UNICEF that she didn't "believe in collective guilt, but I do believe in collective responsibility," in one non-judgmental, but emphatic statement she demonstrated strength, intelligence and a firm call to action. This is the best of Audrey. Instead of letting the starvation and fear she suffered in occupied Belgium during World War II make her cynical, she became a steely fighter for the vulnerable. Loustalot nicely emphasizes this side of the actress and her activism.

Living Like Audrey isn't required reading for Audrey fans, but it offers many delights and interesting insights.

Many thanks to Rowman & Littlefield for providing access to the book for review.

Book Review--Exploration and Discovery in Stan Brakhage: Interviews


Stan Brakhage Interviews
Suranjan Ganguly, ed.
University Press of Mississippi, 2017

I would rather think of myself as someone leaving a snail's trail in the moonlight than someone sitting and consciously making an art.

-Stan Brakhage

One of the most influential experimental filmmakers, Stan Brakhage created inspiring cinematic works for over fifty years. In those decades he explored non-narrative shorts, documentary, silent works and even scratching and painting his visions directly onto film stock. In a new book the scope of that work is revealed in a collection of eight interviews with Brakhage which span his career.

Brakhage literally had a unusual vision of the world because he had a visual impairment, and one which he sometimes ignored, stumbling through the world without the glasses that sharpened his focus. He spent much of his career attempting to translate that perspective, in addition to the other ways of seeing he experienced, to film, something he speaks about frequently in these interviews.

In crafting that vision, Brakhage worked to present a true view of his world, attempting to avoid creating works that were more decorative than meaningful. He was especially fixated on the process of making films that showed the pattern of colors and light that he saw with his eyes closed. By showing different kinds of vision like these, he would in essence communicate a fuller view of his life experience.

After having watched many of Brakhage's films over the years, it was fascinating to get a look at his process and what he intended to communicate with his various works. He was a fluid filmmaker, exploring many different ways of approaching his art, but there's always a core theme of obsession with detail and the process of finding beauty in ugliness as a way to accept the painful elements of life.

A frustrated poet and visual artist, once Brakhage knew film was his calling, he tried to tap into what only that medium could offer. He rejected narrative and, for the most part, music to explore what he could do with a purely visual, moving form. In rejecting these conventions, the filmmaker was able to free himself to a more straightforward, pure message and it was fascinating to read about his perspective on something as simple as the way light affects the way an object appears.

On occasion Brakhage would also push against the conventions of interview. At one point he challenges an interviewer who tries to recenter the conversation by saying "we're getting off on a series of abstractions." Those abstractions were at the center of existence for him and the most important things to explore.

It was also interesting to read about the different ways Brakhage's wives influenced his work. He was married to Jane Brakhage for thirty years, and her vision, contributions to the conception of his work, filming and editing were all key to the films he made in their years together. She was also his frequent subject, something which she allowed, but ultimately struggled to fully accept. In contrast, Brakhage's wife Marilyn Jull, who was with him for the last decade-and-a-half of his life refused to be his subject, changing once again his perception of his work, while also giving him guidance as to where to set his focus.

Overall the book was an interesting journey, one that might be mysterious to those unfamiliar with Stan Brakhage's work, but an important work for anyone interested in filmmaking.

Many thanks to University Press of Mississippi for providing a copy of the book for review.

Warner Archive Blu-ray: Where the Boys Are (1960)


The posters and trailer for the 1960 spring break romp Where The Boys Are are so relentlessly cheerful, that it's a bit disorienting to find that while there are certainly laughs in this beach bound flick, it also covers some dark territory. From the insensitive and entitled to the criminally violent, four college women learn that going where the boys are can be fun, but also perilous for body and soul.

Paul Prentiss, Dolores Hart, Connie Francis and Yvette Mimieux star as a quartet of restless college students, freezing through a snowy winter, ready to hit the road for Fort Lauderdale and sunny beaches. Almost right away the subject of sex comes up as Hart scandalizes her prim professor on the realities of relationships for her generation. She's all talk though and plenty hip to the things men will say to get her into bed.

Still, Hart is game for romance, as is the rest of her crew, only they expect to find husbands rather than erotic distraction for the length of their vacation. For all the freedom they grab from their school and parents to take their vacation, they all seem set on becoming as Prentiss says, "a walking, talking baby factory." For them, freedom has its limits and they want it that way.

None of the men they meet are on board with this philosophy though, and many of them are too horny to wait for the sexual revolution. For some of the girls, that simply means a few long nights of negotiation. For one, misunderstanding what men really want steals her innocence in a heartbreakingly brutal way. This side of sexuality had not been explored so thoroughly in the movies, and especially teen beach flicks. Some of it still disturbs today.

This darkness has  a flip side and much of the film's effervescence comes from its leading ladies, all of them at the beginning of their careers. Yvette Mimieux would also appear in Time Machine that year, and here as in that film, she is devastating to watch because she is so vulnerable. Of the four, she is the one who most indelibly captures the dangerous naivety that can lead to taking too seriously the first intoxicating rush of adult life and romantic attention. In her first film, Prentiss becomes a star right away, making her gangly limbs and blunt delivery into something both refreshing and oddly glamorous.

At the top of her singing career, Francis had to be talked into giving acting a try. Having some control over the songs she sang helped to convince her. Of course the title song would end up becoming her most famous. Her character is the only one that doesn't ring true though. While she is beautiful and charming, you are expected to believe she has trouble with men because she is too butch, something which only becomes clear when she sighs that she should quit the field hockey team.

While this trio beams with charisma, it is mellow, magnetic Dolores Hart who steals the show. Only three years away from ditching Hollywood to become a nun, she makes you yearn for more. Here is an actress who would have been especially fascinating as she aged, because no matter what dippy dialogue she was handed, she always managed to give it all a feeling of greater depth. Perhaps it is best to be grateful she made anything at all though; you can't fault her for finding her calling and escaping brutal Hollywood for a life of devotion.

For all its dramatic changes in tone, Where the Boys Are works, because the whole point of it is that it is chaotic. That the insanity and darkness on display are not even close to the debauchery of a modern day spring in Fort Lauderdale is both charming and a little sad. As much as these women are pushing the boundaries of romantic relationships, they and their men are still innocent in a way that is now lost.

The film is now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive on a disc that includes a trailer, a clip of the film's Fort Lauderdale premiere and a light-hearted featurette featuring interviews with Prentiss and Francis. There is also charming and upbeat commentary featuring Prentiss, who is a great storyteller because she's got a fantastic memory and doesn't take herself too seriously.

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

Book Review--William Faulkner in Hollywood: Screenwriting for the Studios


William Faulkner in Hollywood: Screenwriting for the Studios
Stefan Solomon
University of Georgia Press, 2017

William Faulkner was different from literary greats like F. Scott Fitzgerald and John Steinbeck who came to Hollywood chasing a big paycheck and then struggled to adapt. The novelist not only adjusted well to studio life, but thrived. In a new book, Stefan Solomon examines Faulkner's Hollywood experience and how it colored his creative output.

While Faulkner's time writing screenplays took him away from more personally satisfying literary pursuits, it also gave him the financial resources to continue that work, in addition to providing inspiration for its development. His practicality on that front, and his adaptability and ability to understand the demands of cinema worked enormously to his benefit. He was able to write in the style of different studios, finding success at RKO, MGM and Warner Bros, collaborating on fixing and conceiving projects, looking upon the whole enterprise as a job, though it was not without its artistic inspirations.

In fact, the inspiration ran two ways when it came to Faulkner's writing during his Hollywood years. The rich world of his literature colored his screenplays and sometimes that day work inspired his novel writing in the early morning hours, before he headed to the studio. Hollywood was never the dream. Faulkner always preferred his Mississippi home, but the writer embraced the opportunities movie money offered while reaping those creative benefits.

Faulkner was unusual among novelists in his grasp of the visual and aural language of movie writing. He was adept at integrating stage direction and sound into his scripts, creating a world to accompany his dialogue. On the other hand, the power of dialogue impressed itself upon the novelist, and he would begin to insert more of it in his literary works.

As a script fixer, Faulkner had a knack for adding dramatic tension, pumping life into literary sources so that they could live on the screen. He understood the needs of the cinematic form as well as he did their differences from literature. For example, director Jean Renoir felt Faulkner's small, but significant contributions to the script of The Southerner (1945) helped to translate its literary source to the screen. When the writer created a scene about competition over catching a desired fish, it both added dramatic tension and resolved an important plot thread.

The book examines both Faulkner's credited and uncredited work, demonstrating how, as with the Renoir film, the writer could significantly affect a movie with as little as a single scene or a few lines of dialogue. These efforts include work on films as diverse as Gunga Din (1939), Mildred Pierce (1945), The Big Sleep (1946) and Drums Along the Mohawk (1939). It is interesting to note that while Faulkner was more often contributor than lead, he tended to work on films that would become classics.

This is a highly accessible academic work, appropriate for the casual reader. It goes deep into the details, and reader interest will depend on whether or not that kind of analysis is appealing. The focus is on craft, with very little personal detail. Faulkner's methods and the way he navigated Hollywood take center stage.

Perhaps William Faulkner belonged in Mississippi, writing novels and eating watermelon on his back porch, but he made the most of his time in Hollywood. William Faulkner in Hollywood captures the unusual combination of vision, industry and practicality that made that so.

Many thanks to University of Georgia Press for providing a copy of the book for review.

Warner Archive Blu-ray: The Freedom of the Open Road in The Gumball Rally (1976)


A mid-seventies car race comedy is a tad out of the time range I typically cover at A Classic Movie Blog, but I was curious to see the post-code progression of films like The Great Race (1965) and It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963). I also desperately needed a purely escapist flick, which I got. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this loosely-arranged comedy provides eye-candy for classic car lovers and the freedom of the open road.

Led by bored businessman Michael Sarrazin, a group of speed freaks takes off on their annual cross country race, zooming from New York City to Los Angeles. The seven teams of driver and navigator are distinguished by make: Camaro, Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes, Cobra, Rolls Royce and Dodge, with a hapless motorcycle rider (based on Charlie Chaplin's silent person) thrown in the mix for physical comedy. With trickery, CB radios and radar detectors, they elude the police, making pit stops along the way where crews wait to change tires and make adjustments. It is as if the entire country is a race track.

At its best The Gumball Rally is alive with the thrill of speed, roaring engines and the freedom of discarding the law simply to have the wind whip through your hair. While sex plays a role, the biggest turn on is the cars, which are reason enough for automobile fanatics to watch. These are the bodies that get the most attention and while there are no truly stand-out sequences, the action is engaging in a sort of laidback, free form way.

With an enormous cast and most of the action on the road, this is not a film for character development. It has the odd feel of being only cast with supporting players, with no true stand-out performances, though Raul Julia is charismatic despite a terrible Italian accent, Gary Busey plays his Chiclet teeth and horsy laugh to great goofy effect and it is fun to see cult favorite Joanne Nail (Switchblade Sisters [1975]) as a navigator who has an interesting chemistry with her driver, and soap star Susan Flannery (Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful). Overall though, there are so many characters in the mix that it is easy to get lost.

While of course you don't approach this genre looking for strong character development, a charismatic lead or an intriguing relationship could have elevated this to a sort of classic status. Think Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit (1975) and the genuinely touching connection he made with Sally Field in that flick. Of course, that kind of magic is rare, and taken for what it is, The Gumball Rally is a good time and a great escape from responsibility.

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

ClassicFlix Reviews: 5 Fascinating Flicks


For the past few years, in addition to writing reviews for A Classic Movie Blog, I have also shared my takes on the latest releases for the film rental site ClassicFlix, which has recently shifted its operations to disc sales. As there is no overlap between the titles I review there and here, I thought I'd share some edited excerpts from my reviews of some of the most intriguing films I covered for the site. It is quite an array:

L'Inhumaine (1924)

This remarkable display of 1920s creative talents gets its vibrancy via contributions from an array of artisans including painters, architects and even glass artists, juxtaposing a creaky femme fatale story with sleek avant-garde style.

The l'inhumaine (inhuman woman) of the title is Claire Lescot, a wealthy opera singer who lives in a grand temple to art deco and cubism on the outskirts of Paris. There she surrounds herself with men who adore her, though she always remains cool to their attentions. She goes too far with the young engineer Einar Norsen (Jaque Catelain), the one suitor for whom she has true feelings, causing him to plunge his car off a cliff in romantic frustration. The incident causes a scandal, but this is the least of Lescot's worries as she finds that all is not as it appears.

French opera singer Georgette Lablanc stars at the titular dangerous woman and was also a major backer for the film, providing half of the funding. At 55, Leblanc had already reached her professional peak; movie stardom was just another adventure. With a face like a head on Easter Island, she is grand, if not quite believable as a woman who inspires overwhelming lust in so many men. She's like Mae West in that she isn't as stunning as she thinks she is, but her confidence in her own appeal adds to her allure.

The style of the film provides the substance. L'Inhumaine clearly isn't a showcase for acting talent or exploring new narrative forms. Lablanc in particular doesn't seem to know how to move in front of the camera, indulging in frequent chest heaving to express her emotions. The lack of nuance in the cast works in the film's favor though, adding to the sense of unease created by L'Herbier's unpredictable camerawork. They are not so much actors as figures to be adorned and moved through the creations of the various collaborators, oddly enhancing this portrait of an exciting, but chaotic modern world.


The Chase (1946)

Film noir typically evokes sharp-witted private dicks, smooth-talking gangsters and dark city streets. Dreaminess isn't regularly used to describe the genre but that is just what The Chase (1946) is, because this languid "wrong man" drama has the heady, slightly off-center feel of the surreal world of sleep.

Robert Cummings is Chuck Scott, a scruffy veteran who is starving to death until he finds a billfold full of cash on the sidewalk. After borrowing a few bucks to buy breakfast and a cigar, he tracks down the owner of the wallet at his Florida mansion. Insisting on seeing the man himself, he is introduced to millionaire Eddie Roman (Steve Cochran), a psychopathic criminal who claims to be in the "entertainment business."

Impressed with Chuck's honesty, Eddie immediately offers him a job as his chauffeur. The down-on-his-luck drifter is happy to take any job. Chuck is broke and appears to have been made at least somewhat emotionally numb by his war experiences. Unattached and aimless, he seems to think there is nothing in Eddie's world to which he would object, but that reserve is cracked when he meets the gangster's depressed wife Lorna (Michele Morgan).

The Chase is both a psychological and physical chase. Eddie requires absolute control: whether in business or his personal life, but along with his mania for power is a delight in deciphering the desires and needs of others and exploiting their dreams. He is dangerously clever, with an otherworldly ability to anticipate the actions of those he targets. Like a slasher movie serial killer, he moves forward with steady confidence while his victims scurry away in fear, tripping over metaphorical tree roots, their failures filling him with delight.

Cochran is the stand out here, in a performance that would doom him to typecasting as cruel villains. As his henchman, Lorre is sinister and self-amused, delighting in little tasks like subtly threatening a businessman in his boss' crosshairs, but always slightly irritated by Eddie's lack of caution.

As the morally flexible Chuck, Cummings is appropriately seedy. While Chuck is the nominal hero, he is a complicated man. There is still good left in him after his traumatic wartime experiences, but he is a damaged soul.

Morgan was not the first choice for the role of Lorna, but it is difficult to imagine any other actress pulling off the dreamy sadness and blunted joy she evokes here. She, above all the other stars, embodies the film's drifting, unreal feel.


23 Paces to Baker Street (1956)

23 Paces to Baker Street isn't necessarily a lost suspense classic, but it is entertaining and deserving of more attention. Starring Van Johnson, Vera Miles and Cecil Parker and directed by Henry Hathaway, it is a mystery that builds slowly but surely to a fascinating climax.

Van Johnson stars as Phil Hannon, a playwright who has exiled himself to London after an accident that has left him with a life-altering disability. Bitter, and with too much time on his hands, he is alert and ready for action when he overhears a conversation in a pub that seems to point to a dangerous crime on the horizon. He searches for answers with the help of his estranged love Jean (Vera Miles), who has followed him across the ocean because she refuses to give up on the depressed writer, and his butler Bob (Cecil Parker), who gradually realizes how deeply he has fallen into his employer's obsession.

The film proceeds slowly at first, but with consistent tension. While the police, and even Jean and Bob may not fully understand the danger unfolding, the audience always sees the emerging peril at hand. What that particular danger is stays unclear and here Hathaway shines, putting you in his character's shoes, making you wonder how far this should go before it becomes too dangerous. Once the threat becomes real, the action blows up and the momentum increases dramatically.

Johnson, Miles and Parker are a pleasing trio. Their chemistry, and the plot they drive forward, is reminiscent of James Stewart, Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954). Thanks to Parker though, the humor has a drier, more British feel.

One of the great pleasures of 23 Paces to Baker Street is the glimpse it offers into 1950s London. In addition to a gorgeous opening sequence, there are fascinating scenes on the streets and in a now demolished department store. With fewer cars and people, and a slower pace of life, it is almost as if you are looking at a different city. 


Night Train to Munich (1940)

Carol Reed's Night Train to Munich evinces the terror of a dawning war in a thriller which balances laughs, romance and action with remarkable ease. At this point in his career Reed had hit a certain rhythm, producing films that were polished, well-paced and always had emotional heft beneath a highly entertaining exterior.

Margaret Lockwood is Anna Bomasch, the daughter of a wealthy Czechoslovakian scientist. While her father barely escapes the Gestapo for London in the months leading up to World War II, she is arrested and sent to a concentration camp for interrogation; she refuses to reveal where her father has gone. There she befriends Captain Karl Marsen (Paul Henreid). He presents himself to her as a passionately rebellious teacher but is actually there undercover, in an attempt to get her to lead the Nazis to her father. Rex Harrison is a soldier who helps her.

Given the relative innocence of the time, its remarkable how effectively Night Train to Munich captures the menace of what was to come. Though there were many unknowns in that year, the advance of danger was clear and Reed captures that feeling of doom in many ways, from the bullying actions of a Nazi officer, to the dawning terror in the glances between two Englishmen who realize all the dry jokes in the world can not stop the upheaval to come.

Harrison, Lockwood and Henreid (here credited by his real name von Henreid) star in early roles, each similarly perched on the edge of their eventual greatness. Compared to his most famous parts, Harrison is almost pretty here, looking young, thin and much more mischievous. Two years after an equally nervy performance as the heroine in The Lady Vanishes, Lockwood once again possesses the perfect mix of elegance and grit, making it plausible that this daughter of wealth could manage such a great upheaval of her plush life. Henreid also ably manages a contradictory persona, exuding matinee idol eroticism while also projecting an aura of menace.


Destiny (1921)


Destiny is German director Fritz Lang's first major production and a worthy companion to his other silent era triumphs, the Die Nibelungen (1924) films and Metropolis (1927). It awakened filmmakers Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock to the thrills and artistic beauty of film and its special effects so impressed Douglas Fairbanks that he bought the rights in order to hold back the release of the film in the United States until he could imitate them for The Thief of Bagdad (1924).

In a dark tale that foreshadows the tone of Lang's work, Destiny is the story of a woman (Lil Dagover) who goes head-to-head with death (Bernhard Goetzke) in an attempt to win back her fiance (Walter Janssen), who he has taken as they enjoy a romantic afternoon at a pub. As the title suggests, Death is rather weary of claiming souls and he gives the grieving woman three chances to win back her lover. In a trio of scenarios, she is tasked with saving one of the lives on the Grim Reaper's list for imminent disposal. If she outwits Death one time, she gets her man back.

These three elaborate scenarios are the central action of the film. In each of them actors from the framing story join the two lovers and Death in what unfolds as a series of parallel worlds where the power of love is continually tested. With elaborate settings, and what the opening credits claim to be authentic costumes and artifacts, Lang stages his stories in an Arabian Nights-style Persia, Venice during the Renaissance and ancient China. In these tales the players enact highly exoticized and caricatured versions of the people of these cultures, often playing them for laughs, but these amusements do little to mask the darkness, violence and doom at the core of the action.

With his gaunt cheeks and oddly blank eyes, which give off the appearance of lacking pupils, Death looks frightening, but entirely over it all. Weary Death is the perfect title for this scenario. In his lair, surrounded by flickering candles which symbolize with eerie simplicity the living souls he will someday claim, he is motionless and emotionless, with a rigid expression of disillusionment that looks carved into his skull. He finds no joy in extinguishing lives, as he demonstrates in a chilling scene; a candle flame turns into a baby which he briefly holds with a jaded expression before it vanishes into the after world.

The special effects are among Destiny's most spellbinding elements, and still enchant nearly one hundred years later. You can see the bits Fairbanks borrowed for his own epic, including the way a flying carpet is approached and a flying scroll that looks much like a similarly lively rope in The Thief of Baghdad. Other effects were already fairly common at the time; creating transparent figures and making people appear out of thin air are elegantly executed and used to satisfyingly unsettling effect.




Warner Archive Blu-ray: March, Lancaster, Douglas and Gardner in Seven Days in May (1964)


Seven Days in May (1964) was director John Frankenheimer's follow-up to The Manchurian Candidate (1962), meant to be another unsettling portrait of power and politics. Given today's political climate though, it is striking how relatively sane everyone seems in this story of an attempted military takeover of the US government. While there are dark forces in the mix, for the most part the players here are intellectual, sober-minded and determined to act with honor. It feels like a fantasy. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this engrossing, underseen film is a fascinating comment on its own times and a timeless story of the eternal truth that everyone thinks they are the good guy.

Fredric March is embattled U.S. President Jordan Lyman, an increasingly unpopular leader who is under fire for signing a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union in the midst of the cold war. In fear for the safety of the nation, Air Force General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster) has been working undercover to overthrow the president and create a government which satisfies his concept of defense. When Colonel Martin "Jiggs" Casey learns of the imminent takeover, he rushes to inform the president and preserve the union.

What follows is a muted, but intense race to thwart the uprising in the seven days before it is to begin. Jiggs struggles to find his way through the conflict, a situation in which he does not agree with the actions of his president, but is determined to uphold the constitution. He is unsettled by the wrong he must do to protect his leader, and particularly that he must betray Scott's former mistress, and his friend, Eleanor Holbrook (Ava Gardner) to obtain potential ammunition.

I don't know how much Rod Serling's script draws from the Fletcher Knebel and Charles Bailey II book, but it bears his mark: a plea for reason, belief in honor, but little faith that humans can act in their own best interest. While the film makes protagonists of Jiggs and Lyman, it doesn't necessarily celebrate them. Perhaps they have the constitution behind them, but in some ways they can't claim moral superiority to Scott.

The General is a threat, but he isn't a monster either. Made during the Cuban missile crisis, many Americans agreed with General Scott's belief in a strong military offensive. Frankenheimer didn't, but he wanted to portray Lancaster's character as sane and level-headed.

Frankenheimer recorded commentary for the film, included in this release, in which says that he doesn't believe that this movie could be made today, because he doesn't think audiences would accept a president with the morals of March's Lyman. He believes the office has been debased. I don't know when he made those comments, but it is worth noting that this feeling about the highest office in the land has existed in varying degrees of passion since Kennedy's assassination.

Due to political tensions at the time, co-producer Kirk Douglas recalled getting pushback from several directions when he wanted to film the story. It was only when President Kennedy not only gave his approval, but encouraged the producers to continue that the production could continue. JFK had had his own experiences with a dangerously influential general and seemed to want the public to understand how fragile democracy can be.

Here that fragility is revealed quietly, behind doors, coming to the edge of crumbling without a hint to the public. In some ways it is insidiously subtle; Jiggs knows the threat is real, but in fighting to be heard, you sense his self-doubt. It isn't so much that he doesn't believe in his end goal, but rather that the forces against him are so relentless that he struggles to keep his focus and moral grounding.

While these major players drive the action, they make victims of their foot soldiers. The emotionally exhausted Holbrook is already down when Jiggs further betrays her trust. In their quest for truth presidential advisor Paul Girard (Martin Balsam) and Senator Raymond Clark (Edmond O'Brien) become casualties of their own patriotism. It is a trio of moving performances, all of them pawns in different ways.

March and Lancaster communicate their entitlement smoothly.Their characters are more alike than they'd care to admit, both of them in power because of their ability to ask for sacrifice and their ferocity in standing by their beliefs. It was interesting to see two actors with such bold personas playing low-key roles. Still, though they are more subtle, but you can see the confidence surging beneath the surface.

A fascinating commentary by John Frankenheimer is the sole Special Feature on the Blu-ray.

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

5 Fascinating Film Podcasts


After months of subscribing to podcasts that I never listened to on my PocketCast app, I finally settled in to listen to a few. Now I'm addicted! I love the personal, intimate feel of a great podcast and of course I have been especially interested in shows focused on movies.


I thought it would be fun to share some of the shows that I've been enjoying lately. This is by no means a "best of" list. I'm just getting started and have plenty of other shows to try. I plan to share more favorites in future posts. All podcast titles link to information about the show, including how to listen. If you'd like to spread the word about your own movie podcast, or tell me about a favorite show, please share in the comments!

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The official podcast of the Film Noir Foundation is only a few episodes old, but I've already found it to be a great source of information about the foundation's Noir City festival and the world of noir. Get your feet wet with the first episode, which features an interview with noir czar Eddie Muller.


I've long been an admirer of Brian Saur's film recommendation blog Rupert Pupkin Speaks (to which I have contributed!), so I was excited to hear he had started a podcast with Elric Kane (Shock Waves podcast). It's a fun show because these two seem to have seen everything. It's almost difficult to listen to while doing the dishes or whatever, because I have to keep stopping to write down new titles I want to see. A favorite: episode 9 in which they match classic noir titles with newer flicks.


I collect books which were the basis for classic films, so this podcast was a perfect fit for me. Two ladies named Margo dish about a book and the movie it influenced in a casual, coffeehouse chat style which is deceptively frothy; they always offer thought-provoking, incisive analysis. They cover a wide range of time periods, but there is plenty to keep classic film fans happy. Start with the Psycho episode, in which the Margos are rightly horrified by both the book and the movie.


This is a great podcast for people who don't think they have the time for podcasts. New Yorker critic Richard Brody doesn't waste any time, usually taking less than four minutes to give thoughtful analysis of his film of the week in a soothing, gentle voice. Most episodes are videocasts, though it can be appreciated without. Brody covers every conceivable time period, genre and nation in his review of cinema. I have learned so much from these brief episodes.  Just listen to all of them.


I feel silly mentioning Karina Longworth's incredibly popular podcast; who doesn't know about her by now? However, I can't leave her out either, because she is the reason I became interested in searching out more  movie-themed podcasts. I like how Longworth has varied her show, sometimes doing a one-off on an actress, other times embarking on a multi-episode arc. She does her research and she knows how to share these stories in an engaging way. There are so many good places to start with this show; one of my favorite arcs is the six episodes dedicated to Joan Crawford.

Warner Archive Blu-ray: Robert Morse and a Crazy Cast of Cameos in The Loved One (1965)


The Loved One takes a look at the superficial rot in society and gleefully flashes a pair of fangs. This satire of Hollywood, the funeral industry and grand gestures hiding devious acts jabs at corruption and greed. It's full of cameos, some performed by actors who for the most part have glossy, uncomplicated personas, and all seem to relish getting a chance to show a little edge. Now available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive, this is an unusual, rebellious film.

Robert Morse stars as Dennis Barlow, a young, plagiarist poet who travels from the UK to Hollywood and takes up residence with his Uncle Francis (John Gielgud). When his elderly relative hangs himself after losing his longtime job at a move studio, the leader of the local British colony (Robert Morley) insists that their compatriot have a grand funeral.

Barlow goes to the luxurious Whispering Glades cemetery and mortuary, where movie star glamorous ladies in veils and low-cut dresses wear elegant smiles, but attend to their customers with vicious efficiency. They quietly turn away Jews and gently shame acceptable applicants into choosing the most luxurious and expensive accommodations for their loved ones.

Obsessed with the tragically naïve cosmetician Aimée Thanatogenos (Anjanette Comer), Dennis begins to spend a lot of time at Whispering Glades, where he meets the corrupt owner, the Reverend Wilbur Glenworthy (Jonathan Winters) and the unhinged, but professional head embalmer Mr. Joyboy (Rod Steiger), who also lusts after Aimée, imagining her as an addition to his bizarre life with his gluttonous bedridden mother.

Left with little inheritance, Dennis goes to work at the local pet cemetery, owned by Reverend Glenworthy's twin brother Henry (Winters), where he also meets the genius teen rocket builder Gunther Fry (a remarkable early performance by 23-year-old Paul Williams). While Joyboy and Dennis pressure Aimée for marriage, the Reverend plots to improve his profits by any means necessary. It is not a healthy atmosphere for anyone with a hint of morals.

The Loved One seems to have irritated many upon its release. Source novel author Evelyn Waugh didn't want to be associated with the film, but was days from his death upon its release. Several offended studio executives marched out of an early screening, which delighted director Tony Richardson who seems to have felt the arrow hit the right spot. While the sensual and cynical elements of this dark comedy do not have the same power to offend that they did upon the film's release, it is easy to see how the executive types could have been annoyed and the moral types clutching their pearls. You could apply the monsters here to any time; the message is evergreen.

Perhaps it is the actors who came out best here, simply because they seem to be enjoying their roles so much. In the leads Morse, Comer and Winters commit in a way that is palpable, you feel their belief in their characters. It was also fun to see the way Liberace, Tab Hunter and Milton Berle snagged the opportunity to play against type in a trio of bitter cameos. Other standout bit roles include Lionel Stander, Roddy McDowell and Barbara Nichols, all thoroughly understanding the spirit of the project. And then there is Steiger, clearly having the time of his life in a creepy, kooky and outrageous performance that was reportedly his favorite.

For a film about corruption, deception and losing faith, The Loved One is a lot of fun. Perverse in a way the times call for.

The picture looks amazing, mostly due to the work of producer and cinematographer Haskell Wexler, though the disc quality is also good.

Special features on the Blu-ray include a theatrical trailer and the featurette Trying to Offend Everyone, which features interesting interviews with Comer, Morse and Williams. I always like to hear Williams speak in particular; he's got a great sense of humor.

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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