Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Toast to New Year's Eve Movies

Sure, everyone writes about Christmas films in December… New Year’s Eve movies get no respect! To show some love for the last day of the year, here’s a listing of a few movies with memorable New Year’s Eve scenes:

Repeat Performance (1948). Joan Leslie plays Sheila Page, a popular stage actress who kills her playwright husband on December 31st. Distraught over what she has done, she goes to see her emotionally fragile friend, poet William Williams (Basehart). Sheila tells William that she wishes for a second chance—if she could live the year again, she would do things differently. When the clock strikes midnight, the year begins over again. Will Sheila be able to alter the ultimate course of destiny? This surprising “B” picture is probably my favorite New Year’s Eve film. It was remade for TV in 1989 as Turn Back the Clock.

The Poseidon Adventure (1972). An appropriate subtitle would be: What You Don’t Want to Be Doing on New Year’s Eve. On the last day of the year, a tidal wave capsizes the luxury ocean liner Poseidon. Gene Hackman plays the tough-minded priest that tries to guide the all-star cast to safety.

Holiday Inn (1942). Yes, it’s best known as the film that introduced “White Christmas”, but Holiday Inn also featured Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Start the New Year Right.”

Entertaining romances that climaxed with New Year’s Eve confessions of love include: Holiday (1938), The Apartment (1960), When Harry Met Sally (1989), and Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001).

Other memorable scenes include: Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) throwing a depressing New Year’s Eve party for two in Sunset Boulevard (1950); Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray realizing they’ve fallen in love in Remember the Night (1940); and Charlie Chaplin, as the Tramp, fantasizing about hosting a big New Year’s Eve party in The Gold Rush (1925).

Finally, the Café friends on Facebook added Showboat, After the Thin Man, and New Year’s Evil. What other films featuring New Year’s Eve scenes can you add?

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Name the Movie Game (December 29th Edition)

As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for me to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed before then.

Tuesday, December 29th: Will be checking the blog often between 7PM and 10PM eastern time

Wednesday, December 30th: Will be checking the blog often between 12:00PM and 10PM.

I am thinking of a movie made in the 1940's.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On the Road Again: The Great “Road” TV Shows of the 1960s

What’s a “road” TV show? Well, it’s a TV series where the protagonist travels from place to place—sometimes because he’s being chased, sometimes because he’s chasing someone (or something), and sometimes because he’s trying to find meaning in life. A TV series where the hero has a home base, such as Paladin’s San Francisco hotel in Have Gun Will Travel—doesn’t count. No, in a “road” show, the hero has to be constantly on the move. It also doesn’t count if traveling is a part of the protagonist’s job, as in Wanted: Dead or Alive, where Josh (Steve McQueen) goes to various places tracking down his quarry as a bounty hunter. Now that we’ve defined the genre, here are my picks for the most memorable “road” shows of the 1960s:

1. The Fugitive (1963-67). David Janssen spent four seasons on the road as Dr. Richard Kimble, a physician wrongly convicted of killing his wife. Kimble escapes during a train crash and tries to find the elusive one-armed man who may have killed his wife. Barry Morse is the only other regular, portraying Kimble’s “relentless pursuer” Lt. Philip Gerard. A clever updating of Les Miserablés, the series benefits from brilliant writing, Janssen’s low-key performance (his slight smile is understated acting at its finest), and consistently strong guest stars. This may be one of the first TV series to intersperse a continuing storyline with stand-alone stories: some episodes focus on Kimble trying to prove his innocence; others focus solely on the characters that Kimble meets along the way.

2. Route 66 (1960-64). Stirling Silliphant created this “road” show about two young men driving across America in search of “something”. The protagonists are college-educated Tod Stiles (Martin Milner) and street-smart Buz Murdock (George Maharis). They take to the road when Tod’s businessman father dies unexpectedly and leaves a pile of debts. Once Tod pays them off, all that remains of his inheritance is his father’s Corvette. Shot on location throughout the U.S., Route 66 is a portrait of the country in the early 1960s—the big cities, the rural towns, the motels, the factories, and the docks. Silliphant wrote the majority of the scripts, which often sounded like stage plays—but very good ones. Tod and Buz frequently took a back seat to the guest stars’ characters; in fact, in some episodes, the two stars were downright peripheral to the plot!

3. The Invaders (1967-68). Architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) accidentally sees a flying saucer land and learns that aliens are plotting to take over the world. Unfortunately, no one believes David. It doesn’t help that the aliens glow orange and disappear when they die! For its first half-season, this reverse variation of The Fugitive (both were exec produced by Quinn Martin) benefits from inventive stories (e.g., in the episode “The Mutant”, Suzanne Pleshette is an alien who feels emotions…unlike the majority of her race). In the second and final season, Vincent linked up with other believers to form an organization to fight the alien intruders and the show became less interesting (though there were still a few standout episodes).

4. Run for Your Life (1965-68). Ben Gazzara played Paul Bryan, a successful lawyer who learns that he has a terminal illness and only two years to live. He quits his job and goes on the road to live life to its fullest. This TV series was spun off from the episode “Rapture at Forty-Two” on the anthology series Kraft Suspense Theater. Gazzara received Emmy nominations for two of the series’ three seasons. Martin Milner from Route 66,guest starred on a couple of the episodes. Roy Huggins, who created The Fugitive (and many other shows), produced Run for Your Life.

5. The Loner (1965-66). Rod Serling created this "adult Western" that downplayed action in favor of human interest stories. Like The Twilight Zone, the series had a social conscience, this time in the form of hero William Colton (Lloyd Bridges), a former Union officer searching the West for a meaningful existence. This wasn’t the first Western about a drifter nor the last. Nick Adams played an ex-Confederate soldier roaming the West in The Rebel (1959-62), which featured a title tune sung by Johnny Cash. In the late 1960s, Walter Brennan and Dack Rambo looked for Dack’s father (who abandoned his son as an infant and became a gunfighter) in The Guns of Will Sonnett.

Honorable Mentions: Then Came Bronson with Michael Parks (in a role not unlike Buz on Route 66) riding his motorcycle throughout the country; The Immortal with Chris George as a race car driver being pursued by those who want his blood—literally, because it contains antibodies that prevent aging.

Trivia Time Part 16

For the last week of 2009, just three Who Am I's. One is easy, and two are pretty tough. Happy New Year to all of you. Thanks for playing.

Who Am I #1. I've worked in film, radio, and TV. Among the people I've worked with are: Ginger Rogers, Kate Hepburn, The Marx Brothers, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Fredric March, Ann Miller, and Richard Crenna. Who am I?

Who Am I #2. I'm a actor, writer and director. Among the people I've worked with are: Cliff Robertson, Lee Marvin, Oliver Reed, Kay Lenz, Jean Marsh, Sally Kellerman, Dane Clark, Dewey Martin, Robert Blake and Dyan Cannon.Who am I?

Who am I # 3. I've been around for a long time. I can say I've worked with just about every one in film and TV (No, Rick, I'm not Whit) and I can still work today. Who (OR WHAT) am I?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

This week's poll: You are going on Safari!

Santa left two tickets in your Christmas stocking for an all expense paid trip for two. Pack your bags! You are going on Safari! You are going to stay at the very best lodge. All you need is to pick your favorite Safari tour guide. Will it be....

1. Dana Andrews from Elephant Walk (1954). Knows the best place to spot elephants. And if you are up for a party...this guy knows all the best watering holes.

2. Stewart Granger from King Solomon's Mines (1950). Will take you on a wonderful romantic tour of beautiful villages where you will meet the friendly natives and see awesome views of Africa...not to mention an exciting tour of a diamond mine.

3. Clark Gable from Mogambo (1953). Will teach you the difference between a kangaroo and a baby rhino. A perfect host, but... a word of warning... keep a close eye on your wife.

4. Gregory Peck from The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952). Author and big game hunter who will take you kayaking...but just In case you fall in with the hippos, he is fearless and will fish you out. In the evening while you are relaxing around the camp fire with your hot chocolate, he will tell you stories about his past adventures.

5. Charlton Heston from The Naked Jungle (1954).This brooding plantation owner will show you how they exterminate ants from the plantations.

6. John Wayne from Hatari (1962). Heads a group of professional game hunters.You are guaranteed a spectacular adventure. Plenty of night life..drinking (soda), dancing, and singing.

7. Humphrey Bogart from African Queen (1951). The gruff -looking river tour guide will take you on a White River rafting adventure...sure to be "the most stimulating physical experience of your life time."

8. Gene Tierney from Sundown (1941) Our only female tour guide. You will travel by caravan through northern Africa, where you will see how people live their lives in quaint little villages.

I hope your safari was a wonderful experience.

Trivia Time Part 15: The Answers.

Gilby, Dawn, and Rick, you guys are getting too good at this. Maybe I'm making them too easy.
Here is what you missed:

#3. Rick you only gave me one film The Graduate. You forgot Catch-22.
#4. Andrew Prime & Earl Holliman were the stars of The Wide Country. In ran on NBC for 28 episodes from Sept 20, 1962 to April 25, 1963.
#6. Brain Buster # 2 - Bill Maxell's (Robert Culp) favorite stress reduction snack is dog biscuits. Woof , woof.
#7. Brain Buster # 3- King Harbor is a real place. It's in Redondo Beach, CA.

Underrated Performer of the Week: Arthur Hill

On the big and small screens, Arthur Hill specialized in portraying low-key, authoritative characters in films like The Andromeda Strain and TV series like Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law…so it’s ironic that his most famous role was as the sarcastic, volatile George in Edward Albee’s stage play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Arthur Hill was born in 1922 in Melfort, a small Saskatchewan town in Canada. He studied pre-law at the University of British Columbia, where his attendance was interrupted by a stint in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. After the war, he returned to college with the goal of following in his father’s footsteps as a lawyer. He supported himself in school by working in radio and eventually became interested in acting.

He moved to Great Britain in 1948 and worked in radio, television, and on the stage. He built a strong resume of theatre credits before relocating to New York. His first Broadway role was opposite Ruth Gordon in The Matchmaker in 1955. He followed it with impressive performances in Look Homeward, Angel (1957), The Gang’s All Here (1959), and All the Way Home (1960). His stage career reached its pinnacle when he won the Tony for Best Actor as George opposite Uta Hagen’s Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in 1962.

Throughout the late 1950s and the 1960s, Hill appeared regularly as a guest star in television series like The Fugitive, Route 66, The Invaders, and Mission: Impossible. He was in multiple episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The F.B.I., and The Name of the Game. His guest stint in the lawyer series The Defenders and Judd for the Defense foreshadowed his most famous TV role.

In 1971, Arthur Hill played the lead in the two-hour TV movie Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law. The resulting TV series ran on ABC from 1971-1974 and starred Hill as a compassionate, intelligent lawyer whose cases ranged from civil rights to murder. Lee Majors, David Soul, and (briefly) Reni Santoni each played Marshall’s assistant at various stages of the show’s run. The series performed modestly in the ratings, despite four “crossover episodes” with the much more successful Marcus Welby, M.D. (produced by the same company). The 1971 episode “Eulogy for a Wide Receiver” was directed by a young Steven Spielberg. Despite good reviews, even from the legal profession, Owen Marshall never captured the public’s fancy.

Hill’s most famous film role also came in 1971, when he starred as the head of a team of scientists trying to combat The Andromeda Strain (click on the title to read a film review). His other major film credits include Harper with Paul Newman, The Ugly American with Marlon Brando, and Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite.

After the cancellation of Owen Marshall, he focused on television, where he continued to be in demand as a guest star and for lead roles in made-for-TV movies. He gave outstanding performances as a judge fighting racial prejudice in the fact-based Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (1976) and as Robby Benson’s father in Death Be Not Proud (1975), a moving true story of a young man dying of a brain tumor.

Arthur Hill was married twice. His first wife, Peggy Hassard, died in 1996. He was survived by his second wife, Anne-Sophie Taraba. Hill died in 2006 after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A Heaping Helping of Sherlock Holmes

TCM kicks off a Christmas Day 2009 Sherlock Holmes marathon at 8:00 pm EST--on the same day that Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. as the famous detective, debuts in theaters nationwide. To prepare for this outbreak of Sherlockian sleuthing, you may want to check out my earlier post Universal's Sherlock Holmes Series with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce--A Top to Bottom Review.

Finally, every Holmes fan has a favorite film interpretator of the 221B Baker Street master detective. I've love to hear if you're a Rathbone afficionado, favor some of the one-time portrayers (e.g., Christopher Plummer in Murder By Decree), or go for a lesser-known one like John Nelville in the cult fave A Study in Terror. By the way, I like all of the movies just mentioned. But my two favorites are:

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, I tried in vain in see the Basil Rathbone version of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939). Every time it was listed in the newspaper, I’d tune in eagerly—only to see Hammer Films’ 1959 version starring Peter Cushing. I later learned that copyright issues prevented the Rathbone film from airing for many years. When it finally popped up on TV (on The CBS Late Movie, of all places), I was somewhat disappointed. Though Basil was entertaining as always, his Hound was surprisingly inferior to the 1959 version. Indeed, the Hammer Hound has improved with age, like a fine wine or, more appropriately, a glass of sherry (the vicar in the film has a fondness for it).

The opening scene is a spirited retelling of the legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles, with David Oxley shining as the utterly despicable Sir Hugo Baskerville. After the hound disposes of Sir Hugo, we learn that Dr. Mortimer is telling the tale to Holmes and Watson at 221B Baker Street. It's a shrewd way to introduce the backstory and inject some action in what it is basically a low-key mystery.

The rest of the plot follows Conan Doyle’s novel fairly faithfully. Indeed, the minor variations in the adaptation make the story more interesting. The climax is a bit disappointing. The vicious hound, when finally glimpsed, turns out to be a Great Dane with a leather mask on its head. When it attacks one of the villains, you can see the actor grab the dog as it starts to run by him.

Still, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a highly enjoyable affair. Peter Cushing makes a superb Holmes, all nervous energy as if his brain can barely contain his superior intellect. His interpretation is every bit as good as Basil Rathbone’s more acclaimed one. Andre Morrell plays Dr. Watson straight, instead of providing comic relief (as Nigel Bruce, whom I still love, did in the Rathbone films). His Watson is intelligent, affable, and observant—very much like the character in Conan Doyle’s novels and stories.

Director Terence Fisher was on a roll, having previously helmed Hammer’s Dracula (1958) and Curse of Frankenstein (1957). As he did in those films, Fisher brings a colorful atmosphere and brisk pacing to the Holmes mystery. He also carefully masks the film’s modest budget. Listen closely and you can hear James Bernard’s music from Dracula being recycled. Also, the night scenes look very much like twilight or late afternoon (of course, even Hitchcock had trouble making night scenes look dark enough in color).

Ironically, Christopher Lee (who played Sir Henry Baskerville) would take his turn as the Great Detective in the mediocre German film Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962). Cushing played Holmes again in a short-lived British TV series. Sadly, Hammer could never secure the rights to make additional Holmes films with Cushing and Morrell. (TCM will show it Dec 26, 2:45 am EST.)

The Scarlet Claw (1944)

Basil Rathbone spent much of his acting career stereotyped as a dastardly villain in films such Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Mark of Zorro. He played those parts so often that he spoofed himself—delightfully—in The Court Jester. Nigel Bruce fared no better, being typecast as a bumbling buffoon in The Charge of the Light Brigade, Rebecca, and many others. These two supporting players unexpectedly found themselves top-billed when, in 1939, Twentieth Century-Fox cast them as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

With his sharp features and abrupt delivery, Rathbone made an ideal Holmes—his interpretation is still considered the standard by which all others are measured. Although Bruce’s Watson is nothing like the cultured physician in the detective stories, the actor remains immensely likable and provides memorable comic relief. In addition to The Hound, Rathbone and Bruce made a well-received sequel, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Then, unexpectedly, Twentieth Century-Fox decided to end its Sherlock Holmes series.

In 1942, Universal convinced Rathbone and Bruce to reprise their roles in a series of 12 Holmes pictures. These movies featured smaller budgets than the Fox films and, most significantly, they updated the action to modern day. In addition to his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty, Holmes got to battle the Nazis (Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror) and dabble in espionage (Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon). The best of the Universal series—indeed one of the best of all Holmes films—is The Scarlet Claw.

All but the opening scene takes place in La Morte Rouge, a small Canadian village surrounded by marshes and enshrouded in fog. Holmes and Watson go there in response to a letter from a dead woman (well, she wrote it while she was alive). The detective duo soon discover a trail of corpses and a glowing phantom that runs across the marshes at night. Oh, yes, and the murderer turns out to be a master of disguises, too.

There is much to like in The Scarlet Claw. Although never shown, the murders are appropriately grisly. In one scene, Holmes displays the five-pronged garden tool used to rip open the victims’ throats. The “ghastly apparition” on the marshes hints of a supernatural explanation. The settings, particularly the murderer’s riverside house, are impressive for a backlot film. And, above all, director/co-writer Roy William Neill compresses the mystery into a well-paced, compact 74 minutes. Like all the Holmes films produced during World War II, The Scarlet Claw ends with a patriotic wartime ode, this one a tribute to Canada.

The other Holmes films in the Universal series pale in comparison to The Scarlet Claw. Still, several of them are enjoyable little mysteries, in particular Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, House of Fear, and The Pearl of Death. (TCM will show it Dec 26, 12:15 pm EST.)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Name the Movie Game (22 December Edition)

As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for me to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed before then.

I will be checking the blog often from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

I am thinking of a movie made in the 1940's. Distinguished film critic James Agee didn't like it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: "Meet Me in St. Louis," a Holiday from Beginning to End

One of the most charming and potent portrayals of Americana to ever grace the screen, Meet Me in St. Louis tugs at the heartstrings as powerfully today as it did 65 years ago when it was first crafted by MGM's "Freed Unit" and released in 1944.

The film's wondrous perfection is the work of producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli, a bravura ensemble cast, an ace artistic and technical team, songwriters Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and...Technicolor.

This is one of my all-time favorites...

Meet Me in St. Louis was adapted from a series of reminiscences by Sally Benson that first appeared in The New Yorker in early 1942. Told from the perspective of five-year-old 'Tootie' Smith, Benson's memory pieces, though rich in warmth and humor, were light on plot and conflict. A more defined storyline was developed, the characters were strengthened and 17-year-old Esther Smith (played by Judy Garland) became the pivotal character. The story evolved into a "year in the life" of an idealized American family and was comprised of vignettes set in each of the four seasons with its dramatic climax, a family crisis, set at Christmastime.

The Smith family home at 5135 Kensington Avenue was the film's central interior and Minnelli made the decision to build a continuous set with interconnecting rooms, just like an a actual house. He reportedly wanted the entire picture to have the look of a painting by Thomas Eakins (1844 - 1916, above is his Baby at Play) and art director Preston Ames' assignment was to recreate a St. Louis neighborhood, circa 1904, as evocatively as possible. Ames did so spectacularly, creating a full block of Kensington Avenue (at a cost of $200,000) on Metro's back lot.

Focused on the film's visual look and intent on accurate period detail, Minnelli supervised every aspect of set and production design. He brought in top Broadway set decorator Lemuel Ayres and, in addition, spent time with Sally Benson who described to him every feature of her girlhood home in St. Louis. To handle costume design, he turned to Irene Sharaff, another recent Broadway-to-Hollywood transplant. Sharaff researched the historic era carefully, even using a 1904 Sears & Roebuck catalog as a reference.

Minnelli and cinematographer George Folsey, a master of fluid camera work, took such pains with the film's colors and textures that many scenes do resemble period paintings. This was the first MGM film to be fully shot in Technicolor, and Folsey and Minnelli proved to be adept at the use of color, even managing to capture subtle changes in seasonal light.

The songwriting team of Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin composed three very special songs for Judy Garland: "The Boy Next Door," "The Trolley Song," and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Each became a standard in Garland's later repertoire and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" remains a holiday classic today. To add more period flavor, Blane and Martin also reworked popular tunes from the turn of the century - "Meet Me in St. Louis," "Skip to My Lou" and "Under the Bamboo Tree." Up to this time, most films had music inserted arbitrarily, but the songs in Meet Me in St. Louis were integrated into the action and dialogue to help advance the plot.

With such meticulous preparation and skilled collaboration, Vincente Minnelli's genius for utilizing and showcasing light, color, form and movement was able to soar.

Meet Me in St. Louis was an immediate hit, the highest grossing film of 1944. It turned out to be just the tonic a country at war needed to lift its spirits. The film firmly established Minnelli's reputation as a top director, provided Judy Garland with a solid push to the next plateau of her career and toward her ultimate status as a legend, and it ushered in a golden age of Hollywood musicals.

There is much to love about Meet Me in St. Louis. For me its charm is that, though nostalgic, the sentiment isn't heavy-handed. The film beguiles gently, taking one on a fanciful, many-faceted trip back...into a golden epoch. The turn of the century in America is depicted as a languid time before the World Wars and the Great Depression, an era when multi-generational families lived under the same roof...when mothers made vats of ketchup every summer in large, window-filled kitchens...when horse-drawn ice wagons regularly clattered down neighborhood streets...and when a young lady might easily fall in love with and dream of marrying a boy who lived right next door...

As Esther Smith, Judy Garland glows as the film's heart and soul. She is at her best - wistful and endearing, spunky and warm, her voice at an early peak.

Margaret O'Brien, as the high-spirited young 'Tootie,' adds a delightful dimension of childhood mischief and carries the imaginative Halloween sequence almost entirely on her own. She takes another precocious star turn during the climactic Christmas scenes with Judy Garland.

Leon Ames blusters as the bombastic but good-hearted family patriarch, Alonzo Smith. Mary Astor effortlessly inhabits the genteel yet womanly 'Mrs. Anna Smith.' Lucille Bremer is winning as Esther's demure older sister, Rose. Harry Davenport shines as crusty but lovable 'Grandpa' Smith. Marjorie Main adds spice as the cantankerous maid, Katie. Tom Drake is affecting as awkwardly appealing 'boy next door' John Truett. Very fine in fleeting roles are Chill Wills as Mr. Neely and a young June Lockhart as Lucille Ballard.

As I write, an image of Judy Garland drifts through my mind...it's a wintry night...she and Margaret O'Brien lean together, framed by a bedroom window...and Judy sings...

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Let your heart be light,
From now on
Our troubles will be out of sight.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas,
Make the Yule-tide gay,
From now on
Our troubles will be miles away.

Here we are as in olden days,
Happy golden days of yore,
Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more.

Through the years
We all will be together,
If the Fates allow,
Hang a shining star upon the highest bough
And have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Trivia Time Part 15

Ok, just a recap. Rick, no soup for you this week. Sharilee, you have a "free pass" this week. Sark's wife and Dawn ,your "free passes" are for January . All clear?

Who am I? I did films with Elvis, Bogie, Burt, and Kirk. Some people think I look better in Black & White than in color.

#1. Who did Bogie call Cinderella with a husky voice?

#2. In what film?

#3. Buck Henry did the screenplay for these two films and also had small but important roles. Name the films.

#4. Who were the two male stars of the NBC series The Wide Country?

#5. Brain Buster #1 When at NBC Fred Silverman had one of the biggest flops of the decade Name the show.

#6. Brain Buster #2. On The Greatest American Hero , what was Bill Maxell's (Robert Culp)favorite "stress reduction" snack?

#7. Brain Buster #3. Riptide takes place in King Harbor. Is it a real place? If so, where?

#8. Brain Buster #4. Who was Judd For the Defense?

#9. Brain Buster #5 Before Donna Reed & Hogan's Heroes, Bob Crane was a famous morning "Drive Time" DJ on what Southern Cal radio station?

#10. Brain Buster#6. Who replaced him?

Dial H for Hitchcock: Saboteur (1942)

Welcome to the second installment of Dial H for Hitchcock, a monthly feature to discuss the work of that one guy. Café author and Dial H creator Lady Eve was unable to initiate a discussion for this month. So for better or (more likely) for worse, I'll open this month's topic with a lesser known Hitch film, Saboteur, from 1942 (and not to be confused with his 1936 British movie, Sabotage).

Barry Kane (Robert Cummings) is falsely accused of sabotage, starting a fire at an aircraft plant which resulted in the death of his friend and co-worker. Barry suspects the man responsible is Fry (Norman Lloyd), who Barry and his friend had seen just before the fire. When the police cannot find Fry, Barry is on the lam, eventually teaming up with a young lady (Pris
cilla Lane). He gradually earns her trust as the two of them search for the saboteur.

Hitchcock was only allotted a small budget for this film, which prevented him from casting the actors he reportedly wanted, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Neither leading actor in Saboteur is very memorable, but I think Cummings and Lane both perform admirably. Additionally, they have good chemistry with one another, and their scenes together are strong. Lloyd, as the diabolical Fry, is an outstanding villain.

The director keeps the film moving at an exceptional pace, as it doesn't take long for Barry to start running from the authorities. Of course,
Saboteur is perhaps best remembered for the Statue of Liberty sequence, a suspenseful scene with effects that hold up well even nearly 70 years later. Hitch himself, in French filmmaker Françoise Truffaut's book on the director, described his film as being "cluttered with too many ideas." Maybe he is right, as there is indeed a lot going on. But it's still fun.

What does everyone else think?

Trivia Time Part 14: The Answers

Wow, what a great week. Gilby, Rick (your free pass is over), and Sharilee (you have a Free Pass for next week), you got all but three questions. Here is what you missed:

#1. Whit Bissell (who else) "took care" of that Commie spy scum Lee Marvin with a spear gun in Shack Out on 101. Sorry, Dawn.

#2. Frank Lovejoy was the male lead in Shack Out on 101.

# 6. Brain Buster #1. Here is the correct order for all the cars on Get Smart: #1 a Ferrari; #2. Sunbeam Tiger; #3 VW Karman Ghia; # 4 Opel GT; and  # 5 Alpha Romeo Spyder.

Don't take my word for it. Watch the video.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

This Week's Poll: What's Your Favorite Dance Number About Love?

This week's poll may be a challenge.  This is the season of love, and I thought it might be fun to choose your favorite dance number about love.  Here are your choices:

"Let's Face the Music and Dance" -- Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (from Follow the Fleet)







"Slaughter on 10th Avenue" -- Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen (from Words and Music)







"Dancing in the Dark" -- Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse (from The Bandwagon)







"An American in Paris Ballet" -- Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron







"Cheek to Cheek" -- Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (from Top Hat)












I realize that "Slaughter on 10th Avenue" doesn't exactly sound like a love dance, but if you have seen it, you know that it is.  I'll be very interested to see which of these fabulous numbers is the favorite.

Underrated Performer of the Week: Pamela Tiffin

The talented and lovely Pamela Tiffin born in 1942 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. After a brief modeling career as a teenager, she was "discovered" by productor Hal Wallis. He cast her in the film version of Tennessee Williams' Summer and Smoke in a supporting role opposite Laurence Harvey and Geraldine Page. Pamela received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.

The Golden Globes honored with another nomination for the her next film, Billy Wilder's frantically funny One, Two, Three. As James Cagney's semi-rebellious, none-too-bright employer's daughter, Ms. Tiffin proved herself to be a deft comedienne and gave what it is generally considered her best performance. Describing her new husband--a protestor in 1960 Berlin--to her mother, Tiffin's character gushes: "Do you realize that Otto spelled backwards is Otto?"

She had leading roles in her follow-up films, starting with a remake of State Fair co-starring Pat Boone, Bobby Darin, and Ann-Margret (Pamela had the role played by Jeanne Crain in the original). She, Dolores Hart, and Lois Nettleton played stewardesses seeking love in Come Fly With Me, a variation of Three Coins in the Fountain. Ironically, she also appeared in The Pleasure Seekers, a more direct remake of Three Coins, this time with Ann-Margret and Suzanne Pleshette as the other young women seeking romance.

Pamela was paired with James Darren twice: For Those Who Think Young (with Tina Louise, Paul Lynde, Bob Denver and Woody Woodbury) and The Lively Set with Doug Mc Clure (Bobby Darin sang the theme song).

In late 1966, she had her last good role in Harper with Paul Newman and Robert Wagner. She did a bunch of European exploitation films after that and stopped making films in 1974 to spend time with her family. She is now 67 and lives in New York. Below is the trailer from Come Fly With Me.

12 Days of Christmas: The Bishop's Wife

Snow fights and skating and shopping with Dudley
Lunch at Michel’s and a choir quite Godly
Divinely decorated Christmas tree
Done in one minute with angelic glee!
When the harp sounds
When the chair sticks
Think you’re feeling sad?
Then just think of Cary Grant smiling at thee
And then you will feel real glad!

(sung to the music of “My Favorite Things”)

I love this film! It is an endearing reminder to live giving thanks for the many blessings we have been given and a perfect movie to visit and revisit during the Christmas season.

David Niven portrays Bishop Henry Brougham, a man who thinks he must build a new cathedral, regardless of any cost. He needs help and an angel is sent to him named Dudley, a role tailor-made for Cary Grant. Everyone who meets Dudley is enchanted by him, except Henry. The Bishop’s wife, Julia, charmingly played by Loretta Young, is delighted that Henry will have an assistant because he spends too much time away from his family.

The supporting cast helps provide some of the movie’s most delightful moments. Monty Woolley plays Professor Wutheridge, a man lacking faith in himself as well as God. James Gleason is Sylvester, a cab driver who spends a wonderful, reaffirming day with Dudley and Julia that includes ice skating. Gladys Cooper plays the widow, Mrs. Hamilton, who mourns alone in her elegant mansion after a lost beau she once turned away for a wealthy husband. Elsa Lanchester shines as Matilda, the housekeeper in the Brougham household. And the Mitchell Boy Choir provides lovely vocals when they heed Dudley heralding them in after they have neglected to show up on time for practice.

This lovely picture from 1947 was unfortunately remade as The Preacher’s Wife almost 40 years later, lacking any semblance of the warmth of the original and once again making us question why anyone should tamper with a classic.

(If you're a Loretta Young fan, click on her name in the Labels to read Toto2's review of Come to the Stable and Sazball's tribute to The Loretta Young Show.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: When Fred Met Barbara - "Remember the Night" (1940)


In my family Now Voyager has long been the movie that we could sit and watch for 24 hours a day; we all know the dialogue and we compete to see who does the best Bette Davis impression. However, another film is poised to take the place of the iconic Warner Bros. romance. Remember the Night stars Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, the future murderous lovers of Double Indemnity, in very different roles as improbable soul mates who find the gift of love at Christmas. Although written by Preston Sturges, this is not one of his screwball comedies, but rather a comedy drama laced with darker moments; the bittersweet ending is a still a subject of debate to this day. It is well documented that director Mitchell Leisen ( Midnight, Frenchman's Creek, Hold Back the Dawn, To Each His Own ) made many changes to Sturges' screenplay. He cut scenes out completely, pared down others, and switched the emphasis from Fred MacMurray to Barbara Stanwyck. Although understandably unhappy with Leisen's script tampering, Sturges showed up every day on the set during shooting. He spent a lot of time with Barbara Stanwyck and promised to write a screwball comedy for her, which he did one year later with The Lady Eve. But his negative experience on this film led him to finally fulfill his dream of directing his own scripts; his first film as writer-director was The Great McGinty. Even though Remember the Night opened to favorable reviews, Sturges dismissed it summarily as unadulterated schmaltz














You were wrong Mr. Sturges! The greatness of this film lies in the fact that every moment that could have turned into a melodramatic cliché was transformed into a quietly believable interaction between characters. The growing love between Stanwyck and MacMurray is presented as a series of revelatory exchanges and actions which surprise both of them by creating feelings of affection and attraction which neither had expected. Barbara Stanwyck is magnificent in her portrayal of a petty criminal, cynical and initially unsympathetic, whose view of the world is softened by a holiday visit with MacMurray's family.















The basic story of Remember the Night involves a shoplifter, Lee Leander (Barbara Stanwyck) arrested on Christmas Eve trying to steal a diamond bracelet, facing prosecution by an assistant district attorney, John Sargent (Fred MacMurray) who knows he won't get a conviction from a jury on Christmas Eve and motions to postpone the trial until after the holiday. He feels bad about Lee's spending Christmas in jail and bails her out. She is brought to his apartment believing that he wants her to spend the night as repayment for posting bail. But that is not the case, and John tells her to go home but not before he takes her out to dinner. They are seen together at the restaurant by the judge in the case and leave quickly. Sargent is on his way home to Indiana to spend the holidays with his family and finds out that Lee also is a Hoosier, and offers to drop her off on the way home and pick her up on the return trip. Lee's attempt to reconcile with her estranged mother proves disastrous when the callous and unforgiving woman turns her own daughter out of her childhood home. John takes pity on her, inviting her to spend the holidays with his family. It is during this time that Lee's proximity to a loving family and the joy they share with each other breaks down the barriers she has set up for protection against the harsh world she inhabits. The affection that develops between her and John is depicted in small increments with unexpected outcomes. It is in this nurturing setting that Stanwyck begins to glow, exuding a brilliance, almost an inner light, perhaps reflecting a new found hope for the future. There are scenes in which Lee Leander is no longer a character played by Barbara Stanwyck, but a young woman with a troubled past accepting the kindness she is offered, and taking a new interest in changing the direction of her life. In one scene, while vigorously brushing her hair, Stanwyck seems to acknowledge the possibility that she could establish a better life for herself; with every stroke one more strand of her past falls away. She continues to engage in family-oriented activities; playing the piano and singing on Christmas Eve; and going to the annual barn dance, dressed in an old-fashioned party gown, with corset and layers of undergarments. With a bow in her hair and looking as lovely as a photograph from another era, she weakens John's resistance to his growing affection for her and he professes his love. They embrace and share their first meaningful kiss and John seems to be willing to forsake his burgeoning career in order to be with Lee. This change is not lost on John's mother; she approaches Lee and wistfully explains the hardships that her son endured in order to become a lawyer, intimating that a relationship with her would be detrimental to his future. John however is aware of his mother's objections and will not end his relationship with Lee. On the return trip for the court date John offers Lee a chance for freedom in Canada; with Niagara Falls as the backdrop Lee chooses to continue on to her trial.
















Still determined to prevent Lee from going to prison, John badgers and bullies Lee on the witness stand, until Lee realizes he is trying to throw the case. She interrupts his questioning and declares to the judge that she wants to plead guilty much to John's dismay. He follows her as she is led out of the courtroom and agonizingly questions her decision. For Lee the only way to redeem herself and make herself worthy of John's love is to pay for the crime that she committed. She refuses John's proposal of marriage but tells him that if he feels the same way when she's released she will marry him.


The most poignant moment in this scene however occurs when Lee asks John to hold her hand during her sentencing, indicating that she is frightened by the prospect of prison, but still determined to do the right thing. The ending of this film is written and performed in a way that leaves the audience without a definite idea of what will happen in the future. There is no guarantee that John's love will survive introspection or that Lee's rehabilitation will be successful. The darkness attributed to this ending is another way of saying that the outcome is uncertain as it is in real life.

Remember the Night is essentially a movie for all seasons. It doesn't hammer you over the head with lessons in morality, but rather gently and effectively depicts how love can heal a wounded spirit and change the course of one's life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Friday Night Late Movie: Michael York Defends a Fellow Officer Accused of "Conduct Unbecoming"

Conduct Unbecoming is a harsh indictment of the British Army, circa the 1890s, disguised as a courtroom drama. The irony is that the well-played trial scenes are so engrossing that the film’s point becomes almost too subtle. That hardly seems a fair criticism, though. Perhaps, it’s better to call Conduct Unbecoming a multilayered film in which some layers work better than others.

Michael York and James Faulkner play second lieutenants freshly assigned to the tradition-rich 20th Indian Light Cavalry in India. Mr. Drake (York) is an earnest, young man with middle-class origins, who wants to succeed as a British officer. Mr. Millington is his polar opposite, an impudent cynic from a wealthy family. He would like nothing better than to be kicked out of the army. As soon as we meet Millington, we know he is destined for trouble.

He finds it in the form of Mrs. Scarlett (Susannah York), an attractive widow who enjoys being the center of attention. Although she firmly rejects Millington’s advances during a ball, the young officer pursues her. When she is attacked later that evening, Mrs. Scarlett accuses Millington of the crime. In lieu of a scandalous court martial, the regimental colonel authorizes an informal midnight inquiry. Millington is allowed to choose his own defending officer and selects Drake because he is a “gentleman of honor.”

Drake faces overwhelming pressure during the start of the trial. His client is uncooperative and apathetic. Captain Harper (Stacy Keach), the president of the board, urges Drake to just go through the motions. But the reluctant “lawyer” refuses to give less than 100%. Eventually, the flippant Millington comes to respect Drake and learn the true meaning of duty. Drake’s persistent pursuit of the truth also gradually earns him the support of an influential superior officer (in what may be the best scene).

As with most military dramas, the relationships among the men take center stage. However, it’s unfortunate that the film’s female characters, both victims of atrocious crimes, come across as indifferent. Mrs. Scarlett, in particular, fears doing anything that could result in her “deportation” back in England. In India, she is the admired widow of an Army hero; in her homeland, she is just another pretty face.

Michael York, an actor I sometimes find bland, gives an appealing, convincing performance. He captures Drake’s tentativeness at the outset of the trial (Drake doesn’t know what he’s doing and is afraid he’s ruining his military career). As the trial progresses and Drake comes closer to the truth, York projects an air of confidence and authority. Stacy Keach stands out among the all-star supporting cast, which also includes Trevor Howard and James Donald.

I first saw Conduct Unbecoming at an art film theatre in Bloomington, Indiana. I remember liking it, but it wasn’t until my wife and I watched it many years later that I fully appreciated its virtues (especially a nice little twist involving Drake near the climax). It’s not a great film, but it’s consistently interesting and at times riveting—just what a good courtroom drama should be.

12 Days of Christmas: Holiday Affair (1949)

Holiday Affair (1949) is a light romantic comedy film starring Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. One of my favorite Christmas films, it's directed and produced by Don Hartman who wanted Mitchum to expand from his roles in film noir and war films.

The movie begins during the busy Christmas season with Connie Ennis (Janet Leigh) working as a professional comparison shopper, who is required to purchase an expensive electric train set. Connie in a hurry and does not have time to ask questions, which sends a red flag to sales clerk Steve Mason (Robert Mitchum). After purchasing the train, Connie rushes home to be with her six year old son. She believes that Timmy will not see the train, so she brings the electric train home with her. Timmy's curiosity gets the best of him, and he takes a peek inside the box with the train in it. Thrilled, thinking he is getting a train for Christmas until Connie, who is unaware that he has seen it, tells him the train is for the store. That night, Connie's boyfriend, lawyer Carl Davis (Wendell Corey), asks Connie to marry him. Connie then talks it over with Timmy, who is not happy about sharing his mother.

The next day, when Steve sees Connie bringing back the train for a refund, he threatens to report her to the store detective. Connie explains to him that she is a war widow with a son to support. Steve, in the Christmas spirit,refunds her money, but he is soon fired for not turning her in. While spending a wonderful afternoon together in Central Park, they talk about his future plans to build sailboats with his friend in California.

Later, while comparison shopping, Connie and Steve become separated in a crowd. Steve, with some detective work finds Connie's apartment and discovers Carl there. Carl is questioning Steve's presence and has an awkward moment with Timmy, who is still upset from the night before. Carl thinks it is best to leave before things get worse. Steve angers Connie, by saying that she should stop trying to make Timmy into the image of his father. Thinking he has worn out his welcome, he stops in to say his good bye's to Timmy. Timmy tells him about the train. As he is leaving, Steve gives Connie a passionate kiss.

On Christmas morning, Timmy opens the apartment door and finds the gift wraped train set outside. Excited he runs to thank his sleepy mother. Connie puts two and two together where the train came from and goes to confront Steve. Connie finds Steve in Central Park, and although she offers to pay him for the train, he refuses her money.

Who will Conny and Timmy be stringing popcorn on the Christmas tree with? Wendell Corey, a wonderful, stable man who is a little condesending, who wants to marry her. Or... Robert Mitchum, the drifter. Watch this charming Christmas film to find out...

The movie didn't do so well at the box office at the time of its release, but it has gained charm over the years.

According to Robert Osborne, Howard Hughes, the head of RKO, had Mitchum take the part to repair his image after his arrest for marijuana possession.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: A Fudging Good Time in Bob Clark's "A Christmas Story"

Getting something for someone who has everything hardly seems possible. But imagine what it's like to be someone who only wants one thing, and your longing is being thwarted by a constant threat of shooting your eye out.

Christmas is fast approaching, and young Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) has but one thing on his mind: an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle. But it turns out that everyone -- at least the people in authority -- believe that a simple BB gun is dangerous. Along the way towards that beautiful 25th day of December, Ralphie is burdened by numerous obstacles: leg lamps, ridiculously long lines to see Santa, a Christmas theme for his class, the Queen Mother of all dirty words, and the evil, yellow-eyed bully, Scut Farkus. But the Red Ryder is Ralphie's ultimate goal, and if he and his meatloaf-hating little brother and triple-dog-daring pals can make it to Christmas, maybe there will be something waiting for him under the Christmas tree... you know, aside from a pink bunny costume.

Upon initial theatrical release, Bob Clark's A Christmas Story (1983) did not fare well and received mostly negative critical responses. It certainly didn't help that he'd directed the raunchy comedy, Porky's, the previous year, with a sequel released mere months before A Christmas Story. (Clark had also helmed two notable horror films in the early '70s, Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things and Black Christmas.) But thanks to TV broadcasts, Clark's film eventually became a holiday favorite. Many sequences, such as when Ralphie is helping his old man change a flat tire and lets slip the F-dash-dash-dash word, are memorable and frequently quoted by fans.

Clark's movie is wonderful, a sweet and touching story told from the perspective of a young boy. The cast is topnotch, with Billingsley breathing life into one of the most lovable cinematic characters of all time. Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon, portraying Ralphie's parents, are likewise outstanding. The rest of the supporting cast, from Ian Petrella as Randy and even Zack Ward as Scut Farkus, is terrific, and the actors all have their time to shine.

The movie is loosely based on a book by author and radio personality Jean Shepherd, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash. Shepherd narrates the film (presumably an adult Ralphie) and even has a cameo in the film, as the man who tells Ralphie and Randy that "the line [to see Santa] ends here... it begins there." Ralphie mentions a specific Red Ryder gun (including a "compass in the stock and this thing which tells time" -- he's referring to a sundial), and although Shepherd clearly recalls such a model, no such gun had previously existed. (The Daisy "Buck Jones" model had a compass and sundial, but not the Red Ryder.) Director Clark also has a cameo. He's the neighbor standing on the street with the Old Man as he finds the perfect window spot for his "major award."

A sequel,
My Summer Story, was released in 1994. Like A Christmas Story, the script was based on stories from Shepherd's book. Clark returned to direct, and Shepherd was once again the narrator. The cast, however, was almost completely replaced, with Kieran Culkin (Macaulay's brother) as Ralphie and Charles Grodin and Mary Steenburgen as his parents. The film performed poorly at the box office and has since fallen into obscurity.

A Christmas Story is obviously about more than just Ralphie's quest for an official Red Ryder... well, you know the rest. It's a snapshot of childhood, a healthy slice of life that many people would love to have back. So while we can never be kids again, we can certainly have fun watching Ralphie, who will forever remain that little boy, wholesome and squeaky clean, and not just because he had his mouth washed out with Lifebouy soap.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Name the Movie Game (15 December Edition)

As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for me to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed before then.

I will be able to answer questions until about 11:00 p.m. daily Eastern time.

I am thinking of a movie that was made in the 1940s. Good luck!

12 Days of Christmas: Barbara Stanwyck Hosts a Christmas in Connecticut

Happily married housewife,
Mother of one precious baby,
Loves to cook with a passion
In a beautiful Connecticut farmhouse
Author of Smart Housekeeping column

The above profile of Elizabeth Lane, smartly played by Barbara Stanwyck, sounds pretty awesome. Yet the only elements of truth are contained in the last line and even this is fraught with lies because every recipe published in Lane’s column is taken from her friend, professional chef Felix Bassenak, delightfully portrayed by S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall.

The problem with building an existence on deception is that it can catch up to you at the most inopportune moment. For Lane, this happens when the magazine owner decides that she should play hostess to both a war hero and himself for Christmas in her fantastic farmhouse, with her fabulous family, and delectable dining.

The comedy of errors begins with a frenzy here! The hero, Jefferson Jones, played by Dennis Morgan, turns out to be a handsome and caring young man who finds himself attracted to what he thinks is a married woman with a young baby while Lane is equally smitten with Jones.

Some humorous scenes include when different babies are dropped off at the farmhouse to pass for Lane’s made-up child, one a blonde boy and the other a brunette girl. There are a number of attempts at a marriage between Lane and John Sloane (Reginald Gardiner)--a fellow who does care for her, is hosting the farce at his Connecticut farm, and is acting as the husband/father--but something always interrupts the effort.

Barbara Stanwyck is quite fun in this role, though it bears a strong resemblance to her work as Ann Mitchell, in Capra’s Meet John Doe. Christmas in Connecticut ends predictably but fans would expect and want nothing less.

Again, this movie was disastrously remade in 1992 and is reported to being remade even as I write, this time with Jennifer Garner.

Monday, December 14, 2009

12 Days of Christmas: George C. Scott's A Christmas Carol



“Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story I am going to relate.” Thus begins the 1984 version of  A Christmas Carol with George C. Scott, the version which this author believes to be one that eclipses all other adaptations of Dickens’ much loved book. There will be lovers of other film versions, namely the 1938 movie with Reginald Owen, the 1951 Alastair Sims rendering, and more recently, the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart, who may not agree. However, I was awed by Scott’s performance of Scrooge, not as a bumbling, crabby old man in a nightgown, but as a harsh miser, cruel man of business who progresses through the panoply of emotions from ruthlessness to fear, pathos and eventually joy.

There is no need to relate this well-known story here. This is a tribute to a marvelous ensemble cast and talented crew who brought Dickens’s own writing to life as it never had been before. Director Clive Donner, who had collaborated with Scott in 1982 for a version of Oliver Twist with Scott as Fagin, filmed the movie in Shrewsbury, England, and it looks and feels authentic in every way. Cinematographer Tony Imi gave a subtly diffused look to the film which strongly evoked feelings of a past time. Composer Nick Bicat’s score ranged from happy Christmas tunes to the frighteningly haunting, using sound effects, particularly for the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, that reminded me of fingernails on a chalkboard, disturbing and scary.

The cast is superb. Besides Scott as Scrooge, the cast is composed of primarily English actors who are well known and respected for their individual talents. Marley’s ghost (Frank Finlay), Fred Holywell (Roger Rees, who also narrates the film), Bob Cratchit (David Warner), Mrs. Cratchit (Susannah York), Scrooge’s father (Nigel Davenport), Angela Pleasance (Ghost of Christmas Past), Edward Woodward (a marvel of a giant as the Ghost of Christmas Present), Michael Carter (in the thankless anonymous role of the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come), and young Anthony Walters (as the best Tiny Tim on film). There is a wonderful rapport of the cast and a particularly enjoyable chemistry between Scott and Woodward (as the Ghost of Christmas Present) that shines in this spectacular film.

I have written the tribute I planned. I will let pictures of the principal players in their roles tell the rest of the story. I hope you enjoy them, and that you will not let this Christmas season go by without experiencing this best of all Christmas Carols.



The wonderful George C. Scott as Scrooge



David Warner as Bob Cratchit









Roger Rees as Fred Holywell










Frank Finlay as Marley's Ghost

Angela Pleasance as the Ghost of Christmas Past









Edward Woodward as the Ghost of Christmas Present









Michael Carter as the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This week's poll: Who would you hire as your lawyer if you were the defendant in a murder trial?

In last week's poll, you learned that your business partner had been murdered and that the police suspected you. You hired private eye Mike Hammer (he edged out Honey West and Jim Rockford in the previous poll) to investigate the crime and clear you of this bum rap. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, Mike failed to get the job done. In fact, things have gotten worse. Police detective Lieutenant Tragg found a custom-made handkerchief, embroidered with your initials, at the scene of the murder--and it was covered in the victim's blood! He arrested you and you're being held without bail.

Who are you going to hire as your lawyer?  Your choices are:

Paul Biegler (James Stewart, Anatomy of a Murder) - Crafty small-town lawyer (and former district attorney) who has a proven track record of outsmarting the big boys and girls. Talks a lot about fishing and plays the piano. Could the distractions prove too much?

Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur, L.A. Law) - She's ruthless and willing to bend the rules, especially if she benefits from doing so too. You might even feel sympathy for the prosecutor's witnesses when she cross-examines them. Just make sure that you don't ride in any elevators with Roz.

Horace Rumpole (Leo McKern, Rumpole of the Bailey) - Well, he doesn't look like a lawyer, but that's actually one of the strengths of this wily barrister. His experience with murder cases is limited, though, and he's not versed in U.S. law. Plus, you're concerned about his references to "she who must be obeyed."

Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck, To Kill a Mockingbird) - Highly moral, respected, hard-working lawyer. Voted the #1 movie hero by the American Film Institute. Unfortunately, his track record with murder trials isn't good.

Perry Mason (Raymond Burr) - Egotistical and very expensive, but also very good. Let's face it: the man not only gets his clients off the hook, but he exposes the real cultprit in the courtroom. Only downside is that he reminds you a lot of Lars Thorwald in Rear Window.

Sir Wilfred Robarts (Charles Laughton, Witness for the Prosecution) - Famous British barrister who has recovered from a heart attack by winning a big case (even though his client was killed in the courtroom after the trial). No one can deny Sir Wilfrid's masterful courtroom tactics...but that's not cocoa he's drinking during the trial!

Cast your vote in the poll in the green sidebar on the right. Hope you're found innocent....