Monday, December 21, 2009

HOLLYWOOD DREAM LAND (PART I)

I don't look anything like the guy in the photo above, but if his musical accompaniment is inspired by the gorgeous Ava Gardner, then let this image represent the blogger and his muse! I've been taking a break from this place lately, but am finally working up a head of steam again. I haven't even touched a Golden Age movie DVD or flipped on Turner Classic Movies except once (to watch The Parallax View), and I have been pursuing other interests. But I've started work on that Thin Man overview I mentioned before as well as some Katharine Hepburn ideas. Thanks for sticking around and not getting disgusted with my lack of postings here lately. ------------------------------- ------------------- -------------
As I continue to age and become increasingly feeble, forgetful, and just plain dopey, I nevertheless come up with theories that appear to be accurate. Case in point: Rita Hayworth. The movie goddess and dreams of millions of men the world over was best known for being a red-headed pinup during World War II. However, in the 1948 film noir The Lady From Shanghai, hubby Orson Welles had Rita dye her hair for her role ass a sick and twisted femme fatale. But you knew all that. Now before I go forth with my crackpot belief, I'll have you know that what I don't know about style could be stuffed into the Grand Canyon. But what I've always found interesting about Rita-as-blonde is how well she makes that look work for her. Rita was of latin extraction, so her looks were such that her dark complexion wouldn't really work all that well with blonde hair. In fact, I see zillions of bleach blondes of all ages out there in the real world and I can tell from their olive or yellowish complexion--or black eyebrows--that they're not real blondes. How did Rita Hayworth pull this look off? Perhaps the fact that Shanghai was filmed in black and white helped. But the color still pictured above shows Hayworth aquitting herself quite well with this look, latina extraction and all. I guess some women are just plain beautiful no matter how they're made up. ---------------------------- -------------------- ----------- The results are in! The winner(s)of the poll question, "Which is your favorite Astaire/Rogers musical?" is Top Hat (1935) AND Swing Time (1936)! Here's how the carnage looked: Top Hat (1935) 22 (31%) Swing Time (1936) 22 (31%) Shall We Dance (1937) 7 (10%) The Gay Divorcee (1934) 4 (5%) Follow the Fleet (1936) 4 (5%) Flying Down to Rio (1933) 3 (4%) Carefree (1938) 3 (4%) The Barkleys of Broadway (1949) 3 (4%) The Story of Vernon & Irene Castle (1939) 2 (2%) Roberta (1935) 0 (0%) I have no problem with this poll ending in a two-way tie because one could make a persuasive argument for either Top Hat or Swing Time being Fred and Ginger's most beloved film! Swing Time usually wins this contest handily, but this time Top Hat gave the former quite a bit of trouble, as Top Hat led the voting by as many as seven votes early on. Each film has its own virtues. Top Hat has the better supporting cast, comedic dialogue, and songs. Swing Time has Ginger looking her very best, with all that rehearsal time sculpting her magnificent form to perfection; plus, there's THE dress, which surpasses any and all dresses ever crafted for any film EVER. You can quote me on that. Swing Time also has Fred owning "The Way You Look Tonight", singing it better than anyone ever did or well (sorry, Sinatra). Top Hat has the better pacing, as Swing Time has to burn thirty minutes before getting to a Fred and Ginger song and dance number. This is typical George Stevens bloat, though in a Fred and Ginger film, it thankfully doesn't come close to the director's 1950s indulgences (Giant, anyone?). Swing Time does have the best dance number in "Never Gonna Dance" and that positively tear-jerking finale with fred and Ginger simultaneously singing each other's songs from earlier in the movie, with Ginger taking "The Way You Look Tonight" and Fred handling "A Fine Romance" and it ending triumphantly with their embrace. LOVE that! As for the other films, I'm rather surprised that Roberta didn't garner a single vote! Not one! Irene Dunne singing like an angel wasn't enough, I guess. Maybe it was that frog-throated dope in the beginning, or Ginger's annoying Russian princess accent that was present even when she sang. Or perhaps it was the unloved studliness of Randolph Scott, whose appearance in Follow the Fleet didn't seem to affect that movie's four votes. I also have to applaud those gutsy individualists who cast their vote for The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and Carefree. I'd be interested in learning the whys of your selections, other than "it's my favorite"!
Regardless of which films won or didn't, I always find something to enjoy in even the least of Fred and Ginger's movies, and their worst is 100 times better than a lot of people's "best." I'd rather watch Fred and Ginger "do the Yam" than a lot of other acts doing their best-known numbers! I love these movies that much. --------------------------------- ----------------------- -------------
Here he is, Nick Charles himself, playing out the string of a long, productive life. William Powell, the debonair one, the thinking man's Cary Grant. Relaxing poolside with that ever-present cocktail. If one of Hollywood's greatest stars ever had a happy ending, then it was William Powell. Happily married to his (younger) wife of thirty years, Powell retreated into a private, simple life. Apparently he became lovably grouchy owing to his increasing deafness. Any man who endures the death of his fiancee, cancer at the peak of his career, and the suicide of his son has got to emerge a winner. The interview is from Hollywood Studio magazine. Feel that California heat...
This month is Hollywood Dreamland's first anniversary. I was Lazy Bones Jones last month, but have renewed purpose for October. I'll be focusing on Nick Charles with a typically offbeat rundown of The Thin Man series, my favorite films of all time, ------------------------ ------------- ------- Ever see The Awful Truth (1937)? Remember Aunt Patsy (Ms. Cecil Cunningham) who played the sassy, undersexed confidant of Lucy (Irenne Dunne)? The same character who hands Ralph Bellamy's mama's boy his "diploma"? The same woman who steals virtually every scene she's in? That's the kind of woman I refer to as a Grand Old Dame. Several women with that same sort of pluck populated Hollywood during the Golden Age, and the persona they crafted existed in real life, too. In fact, the women who played tough old gals who were quick with a quip, bawdy in demeanor and behavior, and who could outdrink the men without a thought. Some names that come to mind: Bette Davis, Lucille Ball, Shelley Winters, Elizabeth Taylor, and Bea Arthur. These are women who battled their men on screen and off. Whose marriages toughened them and their dealings with studio bosses and sexist directors toughened their attitudes towards men and life. These "broads"--and I use that name in the very best sense of that usually derogatory term--were great raconteurs, who knew where all the bodies were buried and laughed about it. Ever see Bette Davis on The Dick Cavett Show from the early 1970s? Here was perhaps the greatest Grand Old Dame of them all, smoking, drinking, and swearing with aplomb. But also absolutely charming. As a kid, I knew there was something special about these women who emerged from the studio system run by tightfisted tyrants like Jack Warner, Hal Wallis, and Daryl F. Zanuck, Gals like Davis, Garland, and Taylor had to be tough, or die meekly. Garland coped with booze and drugs and died young, but not before becoming a wonderful storyteller with a great laugh. She could hold a room spellbound with her dramatic and comedic flair. Women like Davis were so much more interesting than their shrinking violet successors of the 1950s and 1960s, where women seemed to take a step back after progressing during the 30s and World War II. They became institutions unto themselves. Do we have anyone like that today? I don't think so. Liz Taylor is scarce in public these days, and no one who's a star today has that kind of charisma or presence to tell great tales. We communicate more and say less these days, which would no doubt disappoint Dames like Davis. I recommend the Dick Cavett DVD set Hollywood Greats, to see Bette in action. Judy Garland did an interview on either The Jack Paar Show or The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Go scour youtube for those. --------------------------------- --------------- ----------- I'm overdue in posting this past month's poll results...So here they are- The winner of the poll question, “Which of these actors had the best on-screen chemistry with Audrey Hepburn is Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday (1953). Of the 79 votes cast, the results are as follows: Gregory Peck- Roman Holiday 34 (43%) Cary Grant- Charade 25 (31%) George Peppard- Breakfast at Tiffany's 10 (12%) Humphrey Bogart- Sabrina 4 (5%) Rex Harrison- My Fair Lady 3 (3%) Gary Cooper- Love in the Afternoon 2 (2%) Fred Astaire- Funny Face 1 (1%) I’ve gone on about Audrey Hepburn’s career-defining role in Roman Holiday before, so for this I’d like to recognize Gregory Peck’s 1950s film roles. The Fifties was a decade in which he received no Oscar nominations, but that time period finds the handsome—my wife thinks he’s dreamy-- and popular actor in many disparate and challenging roles. Peck had gotten a few Academy Award nominations in the late-1940s, but became a full-fledged star in the 1950s. The Gunfighter (1950) has Peck in a fondly-remembered role as the best gunslinger in the west that is doomed by his very profession’s credo that there’s always someone trying to prove themselves against you, and that there’s always someone faster and more accurate on the draw. David and Bathsheba (1951) If it was the 1950s, you did a Biblical Epic, or at least you wore a toga. Interesting? No. Varied? Absolutely! The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) Peck as the dying Hemingwayesque writer with a bitchy wife is dying and reflects on better times. Why didn’t they ever do Papa right in those 1950s film adaptations of his work? Only Bernard Herrmann’s score truly soars. The Man In the Gray Flannel Suit (1955) “That sounds hot”, said the girl at Blockbuster Video back in 1997 when I asked if they had this film for rent. Jennifer Jones was no great actress, but she showed up with her weird ways and indefinite personality to play Peck’s wife, who had already sired a kid during his harrowing WWII experiences. More interesting was that Peck had become the prototypical man of his generation. If men wanted to be Burt Lancaster as he was in From Here to Eternity (1953), then most Joes actually found themselves in Peck’s predicament in this turgid effort. Another fine Bernard Herrmann score, though. Moby Dick (1956) This is one of Peck’s great roles. He eschews the controlled and lets loose with a buoyant, dark, and obsessive character in Ahab. Plus, Peck himself almost got killed by that rubber whale. Greg wouldn’t explore this megalomaniac until his portrayal of General Douglas MacArthur in the 1970s. Designing Woman (1957) Greg is a bachelor sportswriter in this splashy and colorful romantic comedy co-starring Lauren Bacall, who was a lot less interesting without Bogart and seemed adrift in her post-Bogart career. To be fair, Bogart had just died when she made this film, and Peck commended her professionalism. This movie could’ve been wonderful, but Peck just isn’t “bachelor” enough. He should’ve thrown in some Ahab wildness here. The Bravados (1958) Rancher Peck kills off the gang of outlaws whom he believes murdered his wife. A dark, relentless film only brightened by a very young—and not as hot as she would be in middle age—Joan Collins. Peck is one-note here, but acquits himself well in his final scene. Nice cast of character actors in this one. The Big Country (1958) Peck’s best movie and role of the 1950s. It’s a HUGE, sprawling, epic Western that has William Wyler/1950s written all over it. The Big Country also has one of the great Western music scores of all time in Jerome Moross' effort. Peck is gaining steam again; A good performance from him, and everyone else, too. On the Beach (1959) Post-nuclear war film set in Australia. Another interesting choice for Peck, who could do anything by this point. Boy, those days were so bad when everybody worried about the Cold War and the USSR. Things are so much safer now! ----------------- ----------- -----
I was pleased to learn that Hollywood Dreamland favorite Gary Cooper has received a United Staes Postage stamp. I'm also pleased to see that it's the more mature Coop, from the period when he did For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943) and The Fountainhead (1949). By the mid-1940s Cooper had become an American institution, and this other institution, the United States Postal Service, has done a fine job in honoring him. I know many people like to bash the post office, but more often than not they get my packages to me in much better shape than their competition.
The stamp looks great, though I noticed that the price has been cancelled out; so much for the belief that people are "basically good"! ------------------ --------- ---- For as long as I can remember, many up-and-coming actors have been given the appellation, The Next Brando. A few names that come to mind: James Dean Paul Newman Steve McQueen Christopher Jones John Saxon Horst Bucholz Russell Crowe Mickey Rourke Sean Penn Steven Hill Martin Landau Burt Reynolds Al Pacino James Caan Robert De Niro Ben Gazzara John Cassavetes Peter Falk Martin Sheen ...and many more, I'm sure... So who came closest to being "The Next Brando", and what the Hell does that actually mean? Has there been anyone with that kind of effect on the acting profession? On a related note, I remember a Siskel & Ebert show where they compared the careers of Humphrey Bogart and Jack Nicholson...do these actors have any acolytes? I guess the influence of Marlon Brando is everywhere, even if it isn't readily acknowledged by today's "hot" stars.

I have more questions than answers when it comes to this (or any other) topic, but I was hoping this could be hashed out in the comments section. Feel free to speak your mind about this important world issue.

Okay... sing, you sinners!

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Take a look at Joan Crawford, Carole Lombard, and Kay Francis. All long and lean--well, not really, of the three ladies, only Kay Francis was actually tall: 5'9" (1.75 Meters) Crawford was 5'5" and Lombard 5'2"! Hollywood had the art of illusion down pat, especially in the 1930s. I love finding photographs of 1930s stars done in a Deco-style setting. It drives home the fact that movie stars were truly at their peak of prestige and the most desirable objects--yes, objects--of the general public's fantasy during that time. It sure makes for some striking imagery.
Carole Lombard
When people think of glamour, they must think of the 1930s, an era so glamorous--at least when it came to Hollywood--that it is today--as it no doubt was then--largely unattainable because of its very perfection. 1930s gowns leave very little to the imagination: The long, satin, backless gowns expose every flaw and one must have a wonderful build to carry off this look. The short hair popular for women then isn't flattering to every face, either. You should see my wife's grandmother's 1930s nursing school yearbook--so many tragic attempts at beauty with disastrous "done at home" hairstyles--discombobulated bobs, crispy-fried Marcels...if it weren't so hilarious, it'd be four-hanky material. So many women mutilated by well-meaning friends and incompetent, small town hairstylists of semi-rural, Mid-West America. The 1940s, with its stacked shoulder pads, imposed "V" shape, and abundance of fabric is a whole lot easier to emulate because no matter what the body type, it can be done. Not so with the 1930s.

Kay Francis

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One afternoon in 2006 I was scanning the channels when I stopped upon Turner Classic Movies and saw an interesting-looking 1930s movie. It may have been this one. Anyway, I forgot about the movie, but I didn't forget what proved to be my introduction to Kay Francis. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see anything else with her in it because I didn't have TCM for eighteen long, bitter, hellacious months. In fact, I wept copious tears when September, 2008 saw TCM spotlighting Kay Francis as their "Star of the Month." Curse my barbed-wire soul for not having TCM! Now that I think about it, how in blazes did I not have internet access AND Turner Classic Movies for so long??? What am I, a Buddhist monk? Insane, ascetic lifestyle aside, it was only last week when I made sure I tuned in to Turner Classic Movies--I've had it back for a few months now--and I jumped at the chance to see 1932's pre-Code delight, Trouble In Paradise. This also happened to be the first Ernst Lubitsch film I'd ever seen in its entirety. Simply put, Trouble In Paradise is one of the few perfect movie experiences I've ever had. Not a scene, not a word of witty, literate dialogue, not a moment is wasted in this wondrous film. Miriam Hopkins, despite her limited screen time, sparkled, Herbert Marshall gave the performance of his life and then there's Kay Francis... I'll admit to thinking she wasn't much of an actress, based on what I had foolishly surmised to be the truth. I felt that while she was charismatic and lovely, in an awkward beauty sort of way, I didn't think she had the acting "chops" to interest me. Yet in Paradise, whatever it was she did had me watching her and listening to her wonderful-sounding voice and gazing with adoration at her perfect profile, which was showcased a lot. The film went by like a whirlwind and I barely had time to cheer before it was over. I was left dazzled by the production and I found myself on the lookout for more of Kay Francis. Sorry for the lack of deep, meaningful, and thoughtful analysis of this film, but I'm too gah-gah for that academic stuff now. I'm enjoying the thrill of discovery...

--------------------------- --------------- ------- It's been too long, and since this is the tribute that would not die, I submit to you another chapter of this blog's unofficial icon, Gail Patrick.
Amazing Gail: One of the best pictures I've seen of her.
Early-30s Gail: She looks about 23 here. Nice! "Love Crazy" Gail: Based on her dress, I'm guessing this is a promo from 1941. Exotic Gail: I have a few in this series, where Gail looks "ethnic." Which role could this be? ----------------- ---------- ----- Ah, good ol' Jimmy Stewart. Always the one with the sage wisdom. Actually, Stewart cribbed that line from another acting titan, Laurence Olivier, he of the infamous line to "Method" actor Dustin Hoffman: "Dear boy, it's called acting." "You play yourself--in deference to the character." That line sums up my view on the kind of acting I love best. To me, acting isn't always about the becoming of the character, but rather the characteristics of the performer that are revealed in that performance. Make sense? I hope so. Let me know if it doesn't, as I try my best to avoid pretentious talk. What follows is most likely obvious to everyone else, but I feel the need to tell myself this. Movie stars like Stewart, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Burt Lancaster all act brilliantly within the parameters of who they are. Now don't get me wrong, I treasure the work of Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and James Caan--always have; but I don't think they're any better or worse than their Golden Age predeccessors. James Stewart didn't need to gain sixty pounds or wear a digital "fat suit" to play Jefferson Smith, and John Wayne didn't have to hang around tormented war veterans to "get a handle" on Ethan Edwards, yet these performers managed to create two of the greatest characters in cinematic history. They tapped resources within themselves and the likes of Wayne and Stewart revealed more about the spectrum of their personalities--and without all of that Strasberg baggage. I love seeing the individual's personality come out in a performance, that's what makes a movie star an artist--their very individuality in a role. That's their personal charisma that comes out of the actor whether they want it to or not. "I don't act; I react."--John Wayne Atta boy, Duke. There's a lot more to Wayne's quote than his dismissing the criticism of his acting ability. I take that statement as being a personal one, as in how John Wayne himself would answer another actor's line. That's the acting within one's parameters that I've been going on about. "Learn your lines and don't trip over the furniture."--Spencer Tracy It's that simple. If you know what's being said, you'll know how to say it, and say it like it's supposed to be. Besides that, everyone watching a movie is a co-creator of the art, in that we all filter art through our own experiences and opinions, and that's what Golden Age giants like Grant, Wayne, and Stewart do, too. ---------------------- ------- ------- ----
This post began as a fun "what if?" concept but has become a rambling, barely coherent rant--make that "lament." I could go on all day about it, but I'll restrain myself here.
Something I've often thought about was whether the Golden Age stars who perhaps aren't as well known by today's average Joe or Jane could "cut it" in today's movie business. I'm sure it's just my wishful thinking and glorification of those stars and that era, but could someone like Gary Cooper be as big a star nowadays like he was in his heyday? I have to wonder. On the surface, it would seem that given Coop's looks, sex appeal, and nice guy reputation, he would be a darling at the box office. But would Cooper's subtle acting resonate with the moviegoer of 2009? He probably wouldn't be "emotional" enough, or "sensitive" enough, at least in the obvious, self-help, talk show-baring-of-the-soul sort of way that men engage in today. Actually, Cooper had all of those tender qualities, he just didn't wear them on his sleeve like a Clift or Dean. Maybe those 1950s actors really did change everything forever. Stoicism is kaput, but it's really subtelty and reading-between-the-lines acting that is forever gone. Grown ups can read between the lines, kids need everything spelled out for them.
In this age where movies look like video games, the 18-35 demographic is the portal to riches, and the overly-simplistic titling of any movie sequel in a film franchise (not counting James Bond) is simply titled with a number--not even a roman numeral anymore. Everything is so incredibly dumbed down today. There's a stigma against everything not fresh out of puberty. It's like the society is so afraid of being called "old", but it's more like they fear growing up. Black and white is anathema to today's audiences, even those in their fifties they who ironically grew up with the Pepsi slogan "For those who think young." I used to hold out hope that there would be a reaction to the stultifying, vapid popular culture we have had over the past ten years: "Reality" shows, endless Law & Order and CSI spinoffs, the polarizing and sensationalized news programs airing 24/7 and that at least some quality might emerge. I realize that every decade has had its share of mindless entertainment and that only the good stuff is remembered, but I feel that we don't have that excuse anymore. The unprecedented access to anything that the internet can provide should've been, but hasn't led to any intellectual curiosity, or at least not enough to make a difference.
Oh. Gary Cooper. He'd be a rancher in Montana today, because he would be so unlike anyone working in films. He'd still be handsome, quiet, and forthright--just not in the movies.

Sorry, Coop: Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur wouldn't be employable in today's Hollywood. The fox they would just CGI...

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It’s Carole! In the 110 votes cast (a Hollywood Dreamland record), the majority of you voted Carole Lombard as the quintessential 1930s actress. The 1930s is hands down the best decade for women that there has ever been! So plentiful were the choices that I had to omit the likes of Irene Dunne and Claudette Colbert. But I doubt they were serious contenders. Here’s how the voting went: Carole Lombard 29 (26%) Bette Davis 18 (16%) Jean Harlow 16 (14%) Myrna Loy 14 (12%) Ginger Rogers 14 (12%) Katharine Hepburn 7 (6%) Greta Garbo 6 (5%) Joan Crawford 6 (5%) I’m sure that there are many Carole Lombard fans out there, even if she did have a great campaign manager…But I have no problem with her taking the crown in this poll, because after all, Carole’s career pretty much spanned the 1930s and she is probably associated with this decade more than any other actress. I think the voting tally accurately reflects the popularity as well as the memories of classic movie fans. I think that Carole could do comedy *and* drama better than anyone, which isn’t to say the others couldn’t do both well, but Lombard was just perfect in both styles and had more opportunities to do them. I like how she can mix drama and comedy at once, as she does in that great scene of her break down in My Man Godfrey, with her sighing and mock hopelessness. I have a more opinionated view of Carole's abilities in an upcoming post, just bear with me while I write it! Bette Davis almost never did comedy, though she was funny as hell. I think as long as Davis’ career was, that she really missed out by not doing more comedy roles, because she was that good. Jean Harlow didn’t find her way until she started being funny, but her career and life was cut even shorter than Lombard’s. Had she not died in 1937, I truly believe that Jean Harlow would’ve emerged as the greatest star of her time. Myrna Loy did much better than expected in this poll, but maybe she was just too buttoned-down to come out the winner here. Ginger Rogers' being shackled to Fred Astaire probably hurt her chances, and while she wanted to do more dramatic roles (winning an Oscar for Kitty Foyle), I think she hurt her long-term career by running away from comedy and musicals, which turned out to be her strengths. Katharine Hepburn. Where were the Kate fans again? They seem to be legion over at the IMDB boards, but were nowhere to be found here. My corner of the internet is entirely too tiny… Greta Garbo. Maybe she’s under the radar outside of her small, dedicated following, but she was quite popular in the 1930s and a media figure despite her penchant for reclusiveness… Joan Crawford is a polarizing figure due to her “Mommy Dearest” reputation. Boy, did Christina’s book deconstruct the Crawford legend or what? It couldn’t have been her fearsome eyebrows, as they wouldn’t take over her face until the 1940s. She still managed to get some votes towards the end, though. And yes, I do like her… As for our champ, Miss Lombard, click the first picture in this post--to quote Ralphie's dad: it's indescribably beautiful!

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