Sunday, February 28, 2010

Trivai Time - Part 26

Wahoo! The Cafe is going Western this month! I thought I'd kick it off with an all Western Trivia Time. Sazball has the only "free pass" for this week. OK, ready to saddle up and hit the trail?

Who Am I? I've played Watt Earp in two different films. Who Am I?

#1. Name the two films and the directors.
#2. Who was my co-star in the second film? Who did he play?
#3. What film has both Harry Cary Senior and Jr. in the cast?
#4. Brain Buster # 1. Who Played Marshall Simon Fry? In what show or film?
#5. Brain Buster # 2. What do the films: Night Passage, Giant, Duel In the Sun, and Rio Bravo have in common?
#6. Who were the two male stars of the Warners Bros ABC Series Lawman?
#7. Brain Buster #3. What were the three shows in the Warners Bros hour-long rotating format on ABC? Who were the stars?
#8. Brain Buster #4. What classic western had the following actor:  Jack Elam, DeForest Kelly, Lee Van Cleef, and Whit Bissell in the cast?
# 9. Brain Buster #5. Name the three films that Frankie Lane sang the theme song over the opening credits.
#10. Joanne Dru's brother was a famous TV game show host. Who is he? What was the game show?
#11. What was the name of the horse James Stewart rode in most of his 1950's/early 60's westerns?
#12. Philip Carney played the role of Captain Parmalee for all 56 episodes of Laredo who were his two co-stars for all 56 episodes. On what network?
#13. Brain Buster #6. Philip was also famous for doing what series of TV spots?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Love Stories: Where is My Beast? Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast (1946)


This 1946 version of the beloved fairytale Beauty and the Beast, directed by Jean Cocteau, noted artist, poet and filmmaker, is considered to be his masterpiece, which brilliantly blended his personal artistic vision and the elements of wondrous fantasy and enchantment. Cocteau felt that this motion picture would not only help revive the once thriving French cinema but also brighten the lives of his fellow Frenchman who endured six years of cultural darkness under the Nazi occupation. Along with his set decorator, costume designer, composer, and with a little help from famed director, Rene Clement, Cocteau managed to produce a magnificent and enduring evocation of the story''s magical world and the characters who inhabit it.

The idea for a film adaptation came from Cocteau's lover, the actor Jean Marais, and Cocteau believed that this would provide a showcase for Marais' talents, as he would be playing three roles; Avenant, Belle's roguish suitor, the beast, and the prince. For the role of Bellle Cocteau chose Josette Day, who possessed a wholesome and appealing loveliness and in addition had experience as a ballerina.

Filming began in the summer of 1945 not long after the end of World War II. Equipment and material needed for motion pictures was practically nonexistent; cameras, fabric for costumes, film stock and even electricity presented logistic challenges. Cocteau and his talented crew brilliantly utilized the resources available to them. The special effects, disembodied arms protrude from the wall holding candelabras, statues come to life, doors open and close, magic mirrors, and beautiful ball gowns created for Belle by invisible seamstresses, all contributed to the otherworldly aura that Cocteau envisioned for the beast's castle. His desire to have every scene in the film reflect the work of the Dutch Masters, especially Vermeer, were also beautifully realized. A major challenge was the creation of the beast's make up. The filmmakers were lucky enough to find an elderly craftsman who worked painstakingly to create a visage that both defined the contours of Marais' facial structure, but also clearly represented the beast's menacing nature. His brilliantly lit and expressive eyes remained the only visible features of his face.

Other than a few tweaks by Cocteau the scenario follows the basic storyline of the centuries-old tale. We meet Belle's family who are now living in reduced circumstances due to the father's series of financial losses. Belle has two greedy and self-serving sisters and a lazy but ambitious brother. The father has been informed that one of his ships safely reached port and he is summoned to collect his riches. Two of the daughters ask him to bring them valuable presents, while Belle simply asks for a rose. Unfortunately, when the merchant arrives at the docks he is told that his fortune has been handed over to his creditors to pay his outstanding debts and that there is nothing left for him. Forced to return home at night he loses his way and comes upon a mysterious castle in the deep woods. When he calls out he is answered by what sounds like a low roar, and though frightened, he enters the beasts domain, where he finds himself faced with the many magical elements that occupy the beasts living quarters. Although a lavish display of food has been prepared for him, he's too tired to eat and falls asleep. Upon awakening he hastily prepares to return home when he comes across a glorious garden with an unusual rose bush bearing stunning white roses and he picks one for his daughter Belle. Suddenly there is a loud roar and the beast appears, telling the father that plucking a rose is punishable by death. He offers the father a reprieve if he will send one of his daughters to replace him. The merchant is given the use of a horse named Magnificent, who will take him back to his family. Upon arriving home he is chastised by his two daughters and his son for not killing the beast and stealing his riches. Amidst the bickering and accusations the devoted Belle slips away on Magnificent and is transported to the beast's domain.

Belle's odyssey through the various rooms is presented in slow motion creating a dreamlike sequence as she encounters all the enchanted objects occupying every part of the castle. When the beast appears to her she is horrified at first, but he treats her with gentleness and kindness, which allays her fear. He declares that he will join her for supper every evening at seven o'clock and will ask her to marry him each night. As time passes Belle develops a fondness for this creature in whom she recognizes a passionate but impossible desire to be human. The beast has fallen in love with Belle and it becomes increasingly difficult for him to stay away from her, exemplified by one horrific incident when the beast, fresh from a kill, bloodied and feverish, appears at Belle's bedroom door. Shame overwhelms him and he cries out to Belle to close her door. Belle finds herself eagerly awaiting the presence of the beast at dinner even though she refuses his proposal every time he asks. Indeed Belle has quite unconsciously developed a fondness for her captor.

One day the magic mirror discloses to Belle that her father has been gravely ill since her departure and is now on the verge of death. She implores the beast to allow her to visit her father, promising to return. He grants her wish allowing her eight days away from him stating that if she does not return he will die of grief. He gives her the two most valuable objects in his life, the golden key that opens the door to the building which stores his vast wealth; and his glove, which will transport her back to the castle. Belle's return invigorates her father and he makes a recovery; while by his side she sheds tears that turn to diamonds. The rest of her family is not pleased by her return knowing what a great fortune is within their grasp. Avenant joins the plot to murder the beast and steal his riches. The sisters in an attempt to detain Belle so that she will miss her deadline to return, use onions to elicit phony tears as they plead with her to stay. Meanwhile, they have stolen the golden key and given it to Avenant and their brother.

A tormented Beast sends Magnificent to bring Belle back to him, but when the horse arrives, the two would-be thieves mount him and head for the treasure. Afraid to open the door with the key, Avenant suggests that they enter the building through the skylight. By this time Belle has discovered her family's treachery and has also seen an image of the dying beast in the magic mirror that the Beast sent along with Magnificent. In a panic, she uses the glove to return to the Beast in time to save him. She is too late and the Beast is dead. As she cradles him in her arms and is about to declare her love for him, Avenant is killed by an arrow shot by a statue of the goddess Diana, the protector of the Beast's wealth. Belle's brother looks on in horror as the dying Avenant changes into the beast, while the Beast is resurrected as a handsome prince who looks exactly like Avenant. The prince and Belle float gracefully up to his kingdom where Belle will be his Queen.

A happy ending? Yes, but with qualifications. Belle is not overjoyed that the prince looks like Avenant. The prince is aware of this and asks her if she loved Avenant and she replies "Yes". When he asks if she loved the Beast, she also answers "Yes", but with a totally different tone of voice. Her delivery of the second 'yes' makes us believe that she would rather have the beast at her side than the Prince Charming who takes his place. She loved the beast for the gentle soul he truly was, and his ugliness was of no consequence. It is said that at the film's premiere, Greta Garbo shouted from the audience, "Where is my Beast?", echoing Belle's exact thoughts.

Underrated Performer of the Week: Paul Douglas

A versatile actor equally at ease in comedy and drama, Paul Douglas's film career started at age 42 and lasted just eleven years.

Although he was interested in drama in high school, his early jobs centered around sports. After attending Yale, the Philiadelphia native played professional football with his hometown's Frankford Yellow Jackets. That led to radio gigs as a sports announcer and news commentator.

He made his Broadway debut in 1935 in the short-lived Broadway play Double Dummy. Eleven years later, he was working in radio when Garson Kanin offered him the role of gruff scrap-metal tycoon Harry Brock in Born Yesterday. The play was a smash hit, running for 1642 performances over three years, and making stars of Douglas and his leading lady Judy Holliday.

His film career started in 1949 with key supporting performances in A Letter to Three Wives and It Happens Every Spring. The latter, one of my favorite Douglas films, cast him as a likable baseball catcher on the St. Louis Cardinals. Ray Milland stars as a college professor who accidentally invents a formula that repels wood--so when he rubs it on a baseball, no one can hit the ball with a wooden bat. To earn money to marry his girl, Milland joins the Cardinals as a pitcher (it's interesting to note that he cheats by using his formula on some pitches). When Douglas spots the formula in Milland's locker one day, the pitcher tells him it's hair tonic. That sets up one of the funniest scenes in this engaging film--and shows off Douglas's marvelous skills as comedian.

Lead roles and key supporting ones quickly followed:  he was a soft-hearted gangster in Love That Brute (1950); a police captain who works with Richard Widmark to prevent an epidemic in Panic in the Streets (1950); a fisherman involved with Barbara Stanwyck in Clash by Night (1952); and a businessman being blackmailed amid the corporate politics of Executive Suite (1954).

He plays a corporate executive again in my favorite Douglas film: The Solid Gold Cadillac (1956). Paired again with Judy Holliday, Douglas plays a well-meaning CEO who doesn't realize that his board of directors is fleecing the company's stockholders. He and Holliday form one of the great screen couples. It's a shame he didn't reprise his Born Yesterday role opposite her. Allegedly, Douglas declined the part (eventually played by Broderick Crawford) because it was reduced for the film version.

When Paul Douglas died of  a heart attack at 52, he was being considered for the Fred MacMurray role in The Apartment (1960). He had just appeared in an episode of The Twilight Zone called "The Mighty Casey." When the episode was completed, Rod Serling noted that Douglas didn't look well. A few days later, Douglas died. Serling used his own money to reshoot the show with Jack Warden in the Douglas role.

Paul Douglas was married five times. He walked down the aisle with actress Jan Sterling in 1950; they were married at the time of his death.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: It! The Terror from Beyond Space

This low-budget, monster-in-a-spaceship film languished in obscurity for 21 years until sci fi buffs hailed it as the inspiration for Alien in 1979. There are similarities between the two movies, but it's still a stretch to claim that Alien borrowed its premise from this earlier film. As Bill Warren points out in his excellent sci fi film encyclopedia Keep Watching the Skies!, both movies owe an immense debt to 1951's The Thing (from Another World). From a film perspective, The Thing pioneered the plotline whereby people battle a hungry alien creature in a confined, isolated setting.

Set in 1973, It! opens with Colonel Edward Carruthers (Marshall Thompson) facing court-martial changes for murdering the members of his Mars expedition. A second spaceship, commanded by Colonel James Van Heusen (Kim Spalding), journeys to the red planet to take Carruthers into custody. Carruthers staunchly maintains his innocence, claiming that his fellow team members were "killed by something--not me."

That something creeps aboard Van Heusen's craft as it blasts off from Mars. After two crew members disappear mysteriously, Carruthers and the others discover the alien stowaway (which even resembles The Thing--with an uglier face courtesy of a fakey rubber mask). The rest of the film concerns the crew's efforts to destroy the creature (played by Ray "Crash" Corrigan). They shoot it with bullets, set booby traps with explosive grenades, hurl gas grenades at it, burn it with a blow torch, and (again recalling The Thing) electrocute it.

Other than the basic premise, the strongest resemblance to Alien is a scene in which the crew confronts the creature in an air vent. The alien uses an injured crew member as bait to lure the other humans into the deadly confines of the vent system. It's one of the few times in the film that the creature exhibits intelligence, a trait which would have made it much more menacing than a lumbering hulk.

It's also unfortunate that director Edward L. Cahn shows glimpses of the creature so early in the film. Screenwriter Jerome Bixby's story opens as a whodunit with no indication of an alien creature's involvement. Therefore, a more intriguing approach would have been for the crew to suspect Carruthers initially when their co-workers began turning up dead. As it is, the film copies The Thing's structure, in which the emphasis is on destroying the monster while suffering as few fatalities as possible.

Despite these limitations, It! The Terror From Beyond Space rates as an above-average, low budget sci fi film. It was Cahn's best effort in the genre, although his follow-up film, 1959's Invisible Invaders, foreshadowed 1968's Night of the Living Dead with its eeries scenes of the dead walking again.

Screenwriter Jerome Bixby's greatest contribution to sci-fi and fantasy was his short story "It's a Good Life." This creepy tale of a young boy who controls an entire town served as the basis for one of The Twilight Zone's most famous episodes (with Billy Mumy as the boy). It was also remade, and significantly altered, as part of Twilight Zone--The Movie.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bond Is Forever: "Live and Let Die"

In the 1960s, Roger Moore was the star of the popular UK series, The Saint. The actor had reportedly been offered the role of James Bond but had to decline. Following On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969), after George Lazenby assumed that one Bond film would be enough to secure a successful film career (it wasn't), and Sean Connery left the series, believing that 1971's Diamonds Are Forever would be the final time he was to portray 007 (it wasn't), Moore made his Bond debut in 1973 with Live and Let Die.

After three British agents, stationed in New York, New Orleans, and San Monique (an island in the Caribbeans), are murdered, James Bond is sent to investigate. The agent in New York had been keeping an eye on Dr. Kananga (Yaphet Kotto), nefarious dictator of San Monique. Bond is eventually led to the Fillet of Soul restaurant, run by a mysterious man known as Mr. Big, who has at least one additional Fillet of Soul in New Orleans (which, as it happens, was being monitored by one of the deceased agents). Bond gets help from Solitaire (Jane Seymour), a psychic who specializes in Tarot cards and whose gift is often utilized by Kananga. The agent must elude henchmen with metal claws, voodoo rituals, snakes, crocodiles, and an exceptionally annoying Louisiana sheriff.

Live and Let Die was released during the run of blaxploitation films -- movies featuring a predominantly black cast aimed at black audiences. The majority of these films highlighted an urban setting, such as Shaft (1971) with Richard Roundtree, Black Caesar with Fred Williamson and Coffy with Pam Grier (both 1973). Julius Harris, who plays Tee Hee (the aforementioned clawed bad guy), starred in a number of movies of this genre, including Black Caesar, Hell Up in Harlem (1973), and Friday Foster (1975), with Grier and Harris' Live and Let Die co-star, Kotto. Live and Let Die is sometimes criticized for exploiting either the black actors or the genre itself. Such an argument, however, overlooks the strong showings from the supporting cast, particularly Kotto, Harris, and even Earl Jolly Brown as Whisper, who earns his nickname by only speaking in a whispering voice.

Jane Seymour is one of my favorite Bond girls. Solitaire is a dynamic, multi-dimensional character, able to play both sides and keep herself moderately safe. And since Kunanga fully believes in her psychic abilities and Bond needs her assistance in locating Kunanga, Solitaire is a woman on whom both the good guy and the bad guy must rely. Seymour is also incredibly beautiful, and Solitaire seems just a bit out of Bond's league, an idea which is strengthened by the fact that 007 has to employ Tarot-card trickery to get the lady to sleep with him.

In addition to Bond's deception of Solitaire, Live and Let Die does have its flaws. Clifton James stars as J.W. Pepper, the Louisiana sheriff who tries to stop 007 as the agent is chased by Kunanga's men. Pepper was possibly included to add comic relief, but the comedy falls flat, and the sheriff just proves superfluous to a chase sequence that is already overlong. Likewise, the manner in which Bond disposes of the villain is preposterous.
By Live and Let Die, the Bond formula had been solidified. A pre-credit sequence, followed by a title song performed by a popular artist, in this case Paul McCartney and Wings with a wonderfully memorable tune. A beautiful Bond girl, a wealthy, powerful Bond villain, and baddies with colorful names such as Mr. Big and Whisper. And, unlike Dr. No (last month's Bond Is Forever selection), Bond is equipped with gadgets (although Q (Desmond Llewelyn) does not appear in Live and Let Die, he is mentioned by name as M hands 007 a watch loaded with goodies).

There are many familiar faces in this Bond outing. In addition to others mentioned, some viewers may recognize Geoffrey Holder from the 1982 adaptation of
Annie. Holder had also starred in commercials for the soft drink, 7-Up, in the 1970s, and was brought back in the '80s after the success of Annie. Fans of the British film studio, Hammer Film Productions, might notice Hammer regular Madeline Smith, who shares Bond's bed at the film's beginning. Smith had significant roles in Taste the Blood of Dracula, The Vampire Lovers (both 1970), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974). And perhaps actor Roy Stewart is not well known to Bond fans, but, in Live and Let Die, he is playing Quarrel, Jr., the son of Bond's partner in Dr. No (1962).
George Martin, who produced nearly everything The Beatles recorded, also produced the title song and handled the film's score (which may explain why McCartney's song is incorporated throughout the film). This was the first Bond film not scored by John Barry, who would return the following year for The Man with the Golden Gun. The song, "Live and Let Die", was covered by rock band, Guns n' Roses, for Use Your Illusion I in 1991. The single was a hit, although not as much as the original.

By 1973, David Hedison was the fifth actor to portray CIA agent and Bond friend, Felix Leiter. However, Hedison reprised the role in
Licence to Kill in 1989 and, aside from actor Jeffrey Wright (who has starred in 2006's Casino Royale and 2008's Quantum of Solace with Daniel Craig), is the only actor to play Felix more than once.

I would love to hear other people's thoughts on
Live and Let Die. Any Solitaire fans? And how about Connery vs. Moore as 007?

Bond Is Forever
will return next month with From Russia with Love (1963).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Name the Movie Game (23 February Edition)

Hi, everyone! As always, here's a quick recap of 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 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.

I will answer questions until 11 p.m. EST tonight.

I'm thinking of a movie made in the 1950s.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Love Stories: Romance, Music, Motion...It's a Clean Sweep for Dirty Dancing!

Dirty Dancing has to be one of the most romantic movies in movie history. It was made in 1987 and directed by Emile Ardolino, who has won several awards. Eleanor Bergstein, who wrote the screenplay, based the lead male and female characters on real people she knew. Those roles were played by the charismatic Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, the daughter of Joel Grey, the Oscar-winning actor from Cabaret. Both Swayze and Grey were relatively unknowns at the time. Most of the dance scenes in this movie were choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who is now probably most famous for the High School Musical films.

Jennifer Grey had already been trained as a dancer. She was only 27 years old when the movie was filmed. Patrick Swayze was 34 and an accomplished dancer himself. He and Grey had worked together three years earlier in Red Dawn. Grey didn’t really want to work with Swayze again, saying that they hadn’t gotten along well on their previous film. However, the two actors worked out their differences and made movie history with their electric chemistry on the screen.

The story takes place in 1963 in the Catskill Mountains where the Kellerman family is vacationing. Dr. Kellerman (Jerry Orbach) is a Jewish physician who is a friend of the resort’s owner. He and his wife have two daughters. One daughter’s name is Frances, but she is called “Baby” by her family. Baby is 17 years old and going to Mount Holyoke College in the fall. While at the resort, Baby is captivated by a dancing instructor named Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze). She is invited to one of the staff parties, where she sees Johnny and his friends dancing in a “dirty” way.

Later, Baby finds out that Johnny’s dance partner, Penny Johnson (Cynthia Rhodes), is pregnant and the father is another staff member. Penny gets an abortion and starts hemorrhaging afterwards. She refuses to go to a doctor because abortions are illegal. Baby feels sorry for Penny and convinces her physician father to help Penny. Dr. Kellerman saves Penny’s life. However, he falsely assumes that Johnny was the man who fathered Penny’s baby. He forbids Baby to associate with Johnny and his “lowly” friends again.

Of course, Baby does not listen to her father--because she is 17 years old and in love with Johnny. Johnny tries to resist her innocent charm, but he finally gives in and they have an affair. Baby is seen by another guest leaving Johnny’s cabin. The guest is jealous of Baby spending the night with Johnny, so she tells the resort’s owner that Johnny stole a guest’s wallet. The turning point in the movie is when the resort manager is going to fire Johnny. Baby does something for Johnny which changes his life. The dance scene in the end of the movie is stunning and so romantic that just thinking about it makes me shiver.

Dirty Dancing, which was made on a budget of only five million dollars, earned over two hundred million dollars worldwide. The movie made history when the video was the first one to sell over a million copies. Several songs from the movie became famous. “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” won a the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Grammy Award for best duet, and a Golden Globe award. Another song, “She’s Like the Wind,” was written by Patrick Swayze and Stacy Widelitz. Swayze even sings it in the movie. The dance scenes in this movie, as well as the music, played a major part in the film’s popularity. Some women consider it the most romantic film in history. It certainly made Patrick Swayze famous.

The movie wasn’t filmed in the Catskill Mountains in New York. It was filmed at Lake Lure in North Carolina and the Mountain Lake Resort near Roanoke, Virginia. Lake Lure is a beautiful place and I have been there on a vacation. It is famous not only for being one of the settings in Dirty Dancing; a scene from the movie The Last of the Mohicans was filmed there as well. The lake scenes were supposed to be in the summer, however, it was October and the leaves were changing colors. The leaves had to be painted green. The last line of the movie is famous, but I cannot include it in my review because I would give away the ending.

If you have never seen Dirty Dancing, it is a must see movie. It is my favorite romantic movie. The songs are outstanding and on my iPod. I think it is Patrick Swayze’s best movie. I was so sad when Patrick died, but with Dirty Dancing and Ghost he leaves behind a great legacy in the movies.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

This Week's Poll: Who is Your Favorite Movie Pirate?

Aargh, maties! This week’s poll focuses on those rascally rogues who were bold enough to fly the jolly roger aboard their plundering ships as they sailed across the silver screen. As always, it was tough to get the list of nominees down to a manageable size. As a result, privateers got the boot (sorry, fans of The Sea Hawk) and, of course, there’s no Johnny Depp because Pirates of the Caribbean isn’t a film classic (time will tell!). It was also with reluctance that I omitted such famous movie pirates as Long John Silver (Robert Newton in Treasure Island), Captain Kidd (Charles Laughton played him twice), and Blackbeard (Peter Ustinov played his ghost). With that said, here are your nominees:

Captain Vallo (Burt Lancaster, The Crimson Pirate) – Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat (Burt’s former acrobat partner) play the world’s most athletic pirates in this lighthearted action flick from Robert Siodmak. It’s lively and fun and a little hectic at times. It’s amazing that Burt made this in 1952 and then From Here to Eternity the next year.

Captain Peter Blood (Errol Flynn, Captain Blood) – Flynn vaulted to stardom as a wrongly convicted physician who is sold into slavery and escapes to become a famous pirate. It was the first pairing of Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, who would become a classic screen couple. Based on the bestselling novel by Rafael Sabatini.

Jamie Waring (Tyrone Powers, The Black Swan) – Powers portrays a roguish pirate who reluctantly reforms…only to return to his swashbuckling ways as one of the good guys. Maureen O’Hara, who would later play a pirate herself, is Jamie’s eventual love interest. George Sanders co-stars a baddie called Redbeard. Also based on a Sabatini novel.

Serafin (Gene Kelly, The Pirate) – Okay, Kelly isn’t really a pirate in this movie…he plays a circus troupe performer who poses as the notorious “Mack the Black” to win the love of Judy Garland. But he still spends much of the film acting like a pirate…plus he sings and dances “Be a Clown”—so he’s get included in this poll!

Prudence “Spitfire” Stevens (Maureen O’Hara, Against All Flags) – Ms. O’Hara proves that female pirates can hold their own against the guys in this entertaining swashbuckler. She plays a Madagascar-based buccaneer whose suspects Errol Flynn of being a spy among her fellow mates (she’s right!).

Captain Hook (Hans Conried, Peter Pan) – Conreid provided the voice for the animated Captain Hook in Disney’s 1953 colorful Peter Pan. But for those of us who grew up watching the TV adaptation of the Peter Pan Broadway musical, the definitive Hook was Cyril Ritchard. For this poll, though we’ll stick with Disney’s Hook since more people may be familiar with him.

The Black Pirate (Douglas Fairbanks) –Fairbanks stars as a young nobleman who becomes a buccaneer to avenge his father whose untimely death was caused by…pirates! This classic silent adventures was originally shot in early two-strip Technicolor, though most prints today are black-and-white.

As always, any comments about omissions are welcomed. In the meantime, please cast your vote in the green sidebar on the right.

Trivia Time - Part 25

Welcome back to Trivia Time.This week, no one has a "FREE PASS". So, you feeling lucky, well, do you?

Who Am I #1. I was in two of three Lubitsch films in the late 30's/early 40's . I was also in King Vidor's Comrade X .Who Am I? And what Lubitsch film am I not in?

Who Am I # 2. I'm a Grammy winning singer songwriter, but from 1994 to 2002 I've sung over credits in 12 films. The directors I've worked with include Sam Raimi, Garry Marshall, Robert Redford, Forest Whitaker, and Robert Duvall. Who Am I ?

#1. Name the films Who Am I #2 did with Duvall and Redford?

#2. What other singer songwriter did Who Am I #2 sing with and on what film?

#3. Brain Buster # 1. Who played the "drug dealer" in the 1955 film Man With the Golden Arm?

#4. Charles Coburn won a Oscar for his role in what 1943 film?

#5. Name his co-stars.

Underrated Performer of The Week: Felix Bressart


This role won Felix a contract with MGM and he was on his way.

In 1940, he did seven pictures including Edison, the Man with Spencer Tracy and two of my all time favorite films. The first was King Vidor's Comrade X with Clark Gable and Hedy Lamar where he plays Vanya, Hedy's father. Felix steals just about every scene he's in, as shown in this small clip with Clark.




Felix worked with Lubitsch for the second time in what is his best known role, as Pirovitch in The Shop Around The Corner. It's favorite number two.



1941 found Felix in four films, the best ones being Ziegfeld Girl and Blossoms in the Dust. The following year, he made Mr. and Mrs. North, Crossroads, Iceland, and his third film with Lubitsch, To Be Or Not To Be with Jack Benny & Carole Lombard. He plays Greenberg, and his Shylock's "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech from The Merchant of Venice is one of the film's high points.

He worked with Spencer Tracy again in 1944's The Seventh Cross and also did The Song of Russia, Blonde Fever, and Greenwich Village.

In RKO's 1945 B musical Ding Dong Williams, Felix had third billing as Hugo Meyerheld, the head of a movie studio's music department (this is one of Felix's films that I have not seen yet). He gets to conduct Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu."

In 1948, Felix played Pete in Portrait of Jennie and Prof. Gerkikoff in Howard Hawks' musical remake of Ball of Fire: A Song Is Born with Danny Kaye and Virgina Mayo.

While working on 1949's My Friend Irma, Felix died suddenly on March 17th of leukemia. He was 57. His part of Professor Kropotkin was recast with Hans Conried  The producers had Hans speak throughout the film, but Felix is seen in all the long shots.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trivia Time Part 24 -The Answers

Wow,I have not had to do this in a while. I thought I'd post these early so I can get on with "the creation "of next weeks questions. Sazball, as always your amazing, Dawn and Rick did god work too.

Who Am I #2 I'm Brain Donlevy. The films are Union Pacific, Beau Geste, and Destry Rides Again.

#4. I really did not expect anyone to get this. The Paramount star whose billboard "gets it" in The War of the Worlds is Bob Hope! Look for it the next time you see the film. It's there, but you have to be quick.

# 5. The exact number of how many scores Max did is not really known, but most agree on over 300 film scores.

# 7. Dawn did a good job and got Max's second Academy Award score for Now Voyager. The first was for the John Ford film The Informer and the third was for Since You Went Away.

See you on Sunday.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love Stories: A Matter of Life and Death

I first saw A Matter of Life and Death (1946), aka Stairway to Heaven, when I was a young woman in love. I started to watch it one night when it was broadcast on television and I found it to be mesmerizing. I remember discussing it with the young man that I would marry. It is a love story that literally transcends this world.

British Squadron Leader Peter D. Carter (David Niven) finds himself on the 2nd of May 1945 in a situation without a good resolution. The bombed and tattered airplane he is flying is on fire, without working instruments or landing gear, and is going to crash. There are no parachutes left because he has sent all of the other men out with them, except for Bob who has already died. Peter is a poet and quotes from Sir Walter Raleigh’s The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage, whose verses chronicle a believer’s soul being taken to heaven, where it is forgiven, and awaiting its immortal body. Peter also quotes from Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, the passage with “But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” because he knows his minutes are numbered and passing quickly.

The person with whom Peter is speaking is an American stationed in England named June (Kim Hunter), who is attempting to maintain radio communication with him to help if at all possible. Peter provides June with the critical facts of what has happened to Station Warrenden bomber group AG. He asks June to send a telegram to his mother and two sisters about his love for them. Peter explains he is going to bail out, without a chute, because he would rather jump than fry.

Peter becomes concerned he is frightening June and he doesn’t want to do that. He asks if she is pretty and tells her she has a good voice and guts and, if she is around when they find his body, she should look away. Peter presses and tells June he wants to be alone with her. He learns she was born in Boston, Mass., and asks the big question.

Peter: Are you in love with anybody? No, no, don’t answer that.
June: I could love a man like you, Peter.
Peter: I love you, June. You’re Life, and I’m leaving you.

And these are just the opening seven minutes of this classic film. Our next setting shifts to monochrome, away from Earth’s three-strip Technicolor, and it is in Heaven where we learn that the alarm bells ring when the records don’t match; then, the bells start to ring. When Peter wakes up he is in water, on the beach, and surveys what he thinks must be Heaven. He is delighted to see a dog but then puzzled by a “Keep Out” sign. He then sees a woman bicycling and speaks with her, immediately knowing that she is June and he is alive and they have fallen in love.

The error of not collecting Peter at his appointed time was made by Conductor 71, charmingly portrayed by Marius Goring (who starred with Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes, beautifully written about at the Café by ClassicBecky). He is sent to bring Peter in now but Peter refuses to go with him. June takes Peter to meet Dr. Frank Reeves (Roger Livesey), who sincerely wants to help Peter and encourages him to fight. And that is what the movie becomes, as this matter of Peter’s life and death is argued before a celestial court.

This film was lovingly made by the Archers, Sir Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, just after the end of WWII. Jack Cardiff provided the spectacular cinematography. David Niven and Kim Hunter have remarkable chemistry and are provided excellent support by Roger Livesey, who had appeared in two other Archers’ films The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and I Know Where I’m Going. Another of my favorite films is their atmospheric Black Narcissus, which features cinematography, courtesy of Jack Cardiff again, that is arguably among the most brilliant lensing ever done. That film's unforgettable performance is provided by Kathleen Byron, who has a small role in A Matter of Life and Death.

In rewatching this film with my husband, it was pleasant to recall my first viewing. Though three decades have moved along, we are still very much in love.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Eleanor Parker and Charlton Heston Find Love--and a Lot of Ants--in "The Naked Jungle"

The producing-directing team of George Pal and Byron Haskin followed up their classic The War of the Worlds with The Naked Jungle (1954), a well-written character study which builds to a lively climax involving billions of soldier ants.

Eleanor Parker is ideally cast as Joanna Selby, a young woman who has traded her cultured lifestyle in New Orleans for a more challenging existence on a South American plantation buried in the jungle. She makes this sacrifice willingly for her new husband Christopher Leiningen—a man she has never met.

Her first encounter with Leiningen (Charlton Heston) does not go well. She greets him in her bedroom, looking quite fetching in a lacy nightgown. But Leiningen, his clothes soiled and dripping with sweat, coldly replies: “You're not dressed, madam. I should come back at another time.” This unexpectedly frigid greeting sets the tone for Leiningen's brusque attitude toward his young bride. Clearly, he is attracted to Joanna physically, for he watches her undress in silhouette and breaks down the door to her bedroom in a drunken state. But Leiningen is, as Joanna observes, afraid of her. She is more beautiful, more intelligent, and more courageous than he ever expected.

Leiningen eventually realizes the cause of his own behavior and decides that the best course for the newlyweds is a quick divorce. However, as he escorts Joanna to the river, he learns of a column of soldier ants approaching his plantation—thus setting the stage for a memorable, and surprising, climax.

It's easy to remember The Naked Jungle for the exciting ant attack, although it's not quite as thrilling as its build-up (the local commissioner notes that the ant column is “twenty miles long and two wide, forty miles of agonizing death—you can't stop it”). However, when placed in context of the entire film, the ant attack constitutes a subplot which serves the purpose of bringing Leiningen and Joanna together. In that sense, The Naked Jungle is no more about ants than The Birds was about birds. In both films, an “attack by nature” was used to resolve a conflict between two characters.

The Yordan-MacDougall screenplay sparkles with sharp dialogue and intriguing plot ambiguities. When Leiningen reels off his rigid daily schedule, Joanna (still wearing her enticing nightgown) quips: “What time is bedtime?” Later, Leiningen tells Joanna how he came to the jungle at the age of 19 and had not “been with a woman” for the past fifteen years. Judging from his awkward behavior around Joanna, one has to wonder if Leiningen had ever been with a woman. He could easily be a 34-year-old frustrated virgin male.

The Naked Jungle has its faults, to be sure. Leiningen's transformation from rude host to caring companion is a bit too rushed. The rear-screen projection, always a problem in color films, and the stagy sets constantly remind the viewer of the artificiality of the setting. (The poor rear-screen is a surprise since the cinematographer was the famed Ernest Laszlo.) Overall, though, The Naked Jungle is a well-written, well-played character study with an unexpected turn of events in the final stretch.


Click here to read Sazball's profile of Eleanor Parker.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Name the Movie Game (16 February Edition)

Hi, everyone! As always, here's a quick recap of 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 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.

I will answer questions until 11 p.m. tonight (and starting again tomorrow if we're still playing).



I'm thinking of a movie from the 1940's

Blue Angel of mercy? Another view of Marlene Dietrich

Marlene Dietrich is one of only a very few film legends whose career spanned 60+years. Her life in film began in the early 1920s with silent pictures. It came to a close with Maximillian Schell's 1984 Oscar-nominated documentary, Marlene, in which she speaks but does not appear on camera.

Dietrich shot to fame as Lola-Lola in Josef von Sternberg's The Blue Angel (1930). Shortly after the film premiered, she left Germany for the U.S. where she and von Sternberg collaborated on six more films during the 1930s, all for Paramount Pictures. The first, Morocco (1930), was nominated for four Oscars, including a Best Actress nod for Dietrich. By the late 30s, her career had cooled somewhat but was reignited when she co-starred with James Stewart in the 1939 hit, Destry Rides Again. Although Dietrich continued making films in the 1940s, most were shot before the U.S. entered the war or made after the war ended. Though she appeared in only nine films from 1950 - 1978, several are classics: Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950), Fritz Lang's Rancho Notorious (1952), Billy Wilder's Witness for the Prosecution (1957), Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (1958) and Stanley Kramer's Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

In 1953, the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas offered her the unheard of sum of $30,000 a week to perform on stage. Her run was so successful that she was quickly signed for a similar engagement in London. The London show was also a smash and she followed it with a return engagement at the Sahara. This was the beginning of Dietrich's celebrated career (and reinvention) as a high-ticket chanteuse that lasted through the mid-1970s. She performed her concert act for a 1972 TV special that earned her an impressive-for-the-era $250,000 paycheck.

Her final film appearance was a cameo in Just a Gigolo (1978) starring David Bowie.

Marlene Dietrich is generally remembered for her glamour and allure, her iconic films, her concert career and her amorous adventures. Her generous spirit is less well known.

Let's take a look...

While she was in England in 1937 working on a film, von Ribbentrop, Hitler's then-ambassador to Great Britain, approached her and pressured her to return to Germany. She refused and became a U.S. citizen in 1939. When America entered World War II, Dietrich was one of the first stars to sell war bonds. She entertained troops on front lines all over Europe and in North Africa, appeared at sevicemen's canteens and made anti-Nazi broadcasts in Germany.

The OSS (the CIA of the time) had a Morale Operations (MO) branch that began producing 'black' (propaganda aimed at psychological warfare) radio programs in 1943. These programs reached listeners throughout Europe and the Mediterranean and were intended to create discord in the Axis countries. In 1944, the MO began to recruit Hollywood talent to boost the quality of programming on its stations. The most popular station was Soldatensender (Soldiers' Radio), and one of the most popular songs it played was Dietrich's "Lili Marlene," with 'black' lyrics created especially for the German version. The Nazi government banned the broadcast of "Lili Marlene, " but the ban was lifted in the face of a backlash among Axis soldiers. "Lili Marlene" soon became the song played at the end of every Soldantensender broadcast.

In 1945, the U.S. government awarded Marlene Dietrich the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one of the first presented. Similarly, France made her a chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

But Dietrich's altruism did not begin with World War II. Consider...

In 1934 Dietrich became romantically involved with one of the great stars of silent films, John Gilbert. Gilbert's young daughter Leatrice came to know Dietrich through her father. In her 1985 biography of him, Dark Star, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain wrote of Dietrich's kindness to her, particularly after John Gilbert's death in early 1936.

According to Leatrice, during her romance with John Gilbert, Dietrich tried to help revitalize his career as well as his health and well-being. She arranged for Gilbert to make a test for the role of her jewel-thief partner in Desire. Gilbert got the part. Unfortunately, shortly after filming began, he suffered a heart attack and was replaced in the role.

Leatrice recalled visiting her father's house on December 24,1935 and being dazzled by the beautiful Christmas tree, decorated in the German tradition by Dietrich herself. She noted that Dietrich thoughtfully slipped away that day so she could spend time alone with her father.

Just over two weeks later John Gilbert was dead at 38.

Following his funeral, Dietrich contacted Leatrice's mother with information and advice about Gilbert's will that could benefit her daughter. Though her mother was unable to successfully pursue the information Dietrich provided, much more important to young Leatrice was the relationship she developed with Dietrich.

A week after John Gilbert's funeral, Leatrice received a beautiful bouquet from Dietrich with a card in her handwriting, "I adored your father. Let me adore you."

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain wrote in Dark Star that for many years thereafter Dietrich made a point of trying to fill the void left by her father's death. She remembers Dietrich as a "fairy godmother" and tells how the star took her to theater openings, on long walks and talks, baked cookies and cakes for her and generally made her feel like "a princess." All this was at a time when Dietrich was very busy with her film career.

Fountain reflects, "I wonder if Marlene Dietrich realized what a difference her presence made to me." She also recounts stories of Dietrich's early days in Hollywood when word began to circulate that she paid the overdue rent of a studio secretary who'd lost her job, that she picked up the hospital bill for the child of a studio electrician and other such acts of generosity. Fountain emphasizes that Dietrich would never take credit for these deeds nor would she talk to Fountain about her efforts to help John Gilbert; Leatrice had to go to other sources to find out.

Marlene Dietrich died at age 90 in Paris on May 6, 1992. Her celebrity remains legendary, but her humanity has a place in the Dietrich legend as well.

References: Dark Star by Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, http://www.cia.gov/ (2008 featured story), http://www.marlene.com/ (Marlene Dietrich/Official Website)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Black History Month Classic Movie Blogathon: In the Heat of the Night

This racially-charged mystery, 1968’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, has aged gracefully over the years. The secret to its success can be attributed to its many layers. Peel back the mystery plot and you have a potent examination of racial tension in the South in the 1960s. Peel that back and you have a rich character study of two lonely police detectives, from completely different backgrounds, who gradually earn each other’s respect.

The film opens with a nighttime “tour” of Sparta, Mississippi, as police officer Sam Woods (Warren Oates) makes his rounds in his patrol car. He stops at a diner for a cold Coca Cola, then drives past closed shops with their bright neon signs. He pauses at a house where a young exhibitionist walks around in the nude. It’s a typical night in the sleepy little town…until Sam finds a dead body in an alley way.

The murder victim turns out to be an industrialist who planned to build a big factory in Sparta. The local police chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), quickly launches an investigation that results in the arrest of a well-dressed black man at the train station. Much to Gillespie’s dismay, he learns his prime suspect is actually a police detective from Philadelphia named Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), who was awaiting a connecting train to Memphis. Tibb’s Philly superior tells Gillespie that Virgil is his “number one homicide expert.”

Though Gillespie doesn’t like Tibbs, he realizes that he needs help. Gillespie knows his subordinates are ineffective (they can’t even remember to oil the air conditioner) and the mayor won’t support him if he fails to find the killer quickly. Most importantly, Gillespie realizes that he’s out of his element; he just wants to run a “nice clean town” and lacks the expertise to handle a homicide investigation. For his part, Tibbs is torn—he’s eager to leave, but wouldn’t mind showing up these prejudiced, ignorant white men.

The film’s most famous scene is the confrontation between Tibbs and Endicott (Larry Gates), a wealthy cotton farmer and a principal murder suspect. Their conversation begins as a calm discussion on orchids, but Endicott quickly shows his racist side when he notes his flowers are “like the Negro…they need care and feeding and cultivating.” Tibbs coolly ignores the insult and persists with probing questions. When Endicott realizes he’s under investigation for murder, he slaps Tibbs across the face. Without hesitation, Tibbs strikes him back. When an enraged Endicott asks Gillespie what he’s going to do about Tibbs’ actions, the police chief replies simply: “I don’t know.”

Seen today, the scene still works as powerful drama. It no doubt had a greater and more significant impact when In the Heat of the Night was originally released. Ironically, Tibbs’ slap wasn’t in the novel nor the original screenplay (in both, Tibbs just walks away). In a February 2009 interview with the American Academy of Achievement, Poitier said he read the script and then told producer Walter Mirisch: “I will insist that I respond to this man (Endicott) precisely as a human being would ordinarily respond to this man. And he pops me, and I'll pop him right back. And I said, if you want me to play it, you will put that in writing. And in writing you will also say that if this picture plays the South, that that scene is never, ever removed.” Mirisch agreed and a classic, landmark scene made its way into a mainstream Hollywood film.

Historical significance aside, the film’s best-played scene has Tibbs and Gillespie relaxing in the latter’s drabby home as a train whistle echoes in the distance. Drinking warm bourbon, Gillespie confesses to Tibbs that the Philly detective is the first person to see the inside of his home. Then, in an unguarded moment, Gillespie opens up about his mundane existence and isolation.

Gillespie: Don’t you get just a little lonely?

Tibbs: No lonelier than you, man.

Gillespie: Oh now, don’t get smart, Black boy. I don’t need it. No pity, thank you. No thank you.

The scene perfectly illustrates the performers’ contrasting acting styles (which is one reason why they work so well together). Steiger dramatically transforms from a sad sack looking off into a corner of room into a proud man who is offended that Tibbs would empathize with him. Poitier, meanwhile, says very little, slumping in his chair to convey exhaustion and leaning forward attentively to show interest in Gillespie.

Thanks in part to Stirling Silliphant’s excellent dialogue, In the Heat of the Night provides an ideal showcase for its two leads. Steiger, who had a tendency to overact in later movies, remains in total control here. Gillespie’s sloppy appearance, yellow-tinted sunglasses, and constant gum-chewing makes him look like a typical redneck Southern sheriff—but Steiger skillfully avoids playing the stereotype. Gillespie comes across as wily, independent, proud, prejudiced, and lonely. The performance earned Steiger a well-deserved Best Actor Oscar.

Poitier matches him scene for scene as the intelligent, proud, equally prejudiced Tibbs. He skillfully underplays the Philadelphia detective, so that when Tibbs strikes Endicott or flashes his anger toward Gillespie, those scenes catch fire. Amazingly, Poitier was not Oscar nominated, perhaps because his votes were split among three memorable 1967 performances: In the Heat of the Night, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, and To Sir, With Love.

Strip away its atmospheric setting and riveting characters and In the Heat of the Night is just an average mystery. But, in this case, the plot is just a means to the ends. The film is foremost a character study of two strong-willed men (played by two actors at the peak of their careers). Secondly, it’s a portrait of Southern life in the late 1960s. Some of it may be exaggerated, but overall, screenwriter Silliphant and director Norman Jewison skillfully capture a time and a place—making the viewer feel like they’ve just experienced a visit to Sparta in the 1960s. That’s what makes the confrontation between Tibbs and Endicott so powerful.

In the Heat of the Night also spawned one of the most famous lines of dialogue in movie history (the American Film Institute ranked it #16…it should have been higher). When Tibbs’ investigative skills expose a flaw in Gillespie’s initial theory about the crime, the following exchange take place:

Gillespie: Well, you're pretty sure of yourself, ain't you, Virgil? Virgil, that's a funny name for a nigger boy to come from Philadelphia. What do they call you up there?

Tibbs: They call me Mister Tibbs!

And that’s exactly what they called Virgil in two sequels in which Poitier reprised the role: They Call Me MISTER Tibbs (1970) and The Organization (1971). Sadly, neither film is very good. They transform Tibbs into a family man working in a big city—making him just another detective working the streets in a 1970s urban crime film.

In 1988, In the Heat of the Night was adapted as a television series starring Carroll O’Connor as Gillespie and Howard Rollins as Tibbs. Set in Sparta again, the show lasted for eight seasons, although Rollins was dropped after 1993 due to legal problems.


The Black History Month Classic Movie Blogathon is presented by the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA). Click here to visit the CMBA web site, where you'll find links to other reviews in the blogathon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Week's Poll: What was the Best Prime Time Soap on U.S. Television in the 1980s?

Backstabbing! Cat-fighting! Corporate takeovers! Expensive fashions!

Prime time soap operas dominated the first half of the 1980s on U.S. television. For the 1984-85 TV season, four soaps finished in the Top Ten for the year: Dynasty (1); Dallas (2); Knots Landing (9); and Falcon Crest (10). The show that started this 1980s infatuation was Dallas, which debuted to modest ratings in 1978. By the end of the 1979-80 TV season, it had become a solid hit, finishing #6 for the year. In that season’s final episode, someone shot the dastardly J.R. Ewing—a cliffhanger that captured the nation’s attention and propelled Dallas into a megahit. For the next five years, it finished in first or second place every season. Naturally, imitations followed quickly.

The first was Knots Landings, which was considered a Dallas spin-off even though creator David Jacobs conceived it first. Knots was followed by Aaron Spelling’s Dynasty, which struggled through its first year, but came into its own when Joan Collins joined the cast at the start of the second season. Dynasty eventually supplanted Dallas as television’s #1 show in 1985. It even spawned its own spinoff called The Colbys (which never caught the public’s fancy).

A few other soaps enjoyed modest success, such as Falcon Crest, but most of them struggled. The failures included Flamingo Road, Secrets of Midland Heights, Kings Crossing, and Emerald Point, N.A.S.

By the second half of the decade, a resurgence in sitcoms (led by NBC’s Thursday night block) pushed prime time soaps out of the spotlight. Dynasty ended in 1989, Dallas left the air in 1991, and Knots Landing lasted until 1993. Now, without further ado, here are your nominations for best prime-time soap of the 1980s:

Dallas – The saga of the Ewing family and its oil empire survived its share of major cast changes and bizarre plots—thanks mostly to its villainous protagonist J.R. Ewing. As played by Larry Hagman, J.R. was ruthless and egocentric, but he could also be funny and charming. And every once in awhile, he’d do something good! That kept viewers hooked even when Donna Reed temporarily replaced the beloved Barbara Bel Geddes as matriarch Ellie Ewing and when a whole season was explained away as a dream.

Dynasty – Blake Carrington, like J.R., was an oil tycoon…but the similarity ended there. Blake (John Forsythe) was a member of the jet set, which posed challenges for his much-younger bride and former secretary Krystle (Linda Evans). The first season was tough, but it got much worse for Krystle when Blake’s ex, Alexis (Joan Collins), showed up in season two. The nasty Alexis resented Krystle immediately and their mutual dislike escalated into several memorable catfights on the show.

Emerald Point, N.A.S. – The N.A.S. stood for Naval Air Station and Emerald Point was a fictional base in the Southern U.S. commanded by Rear Admiral Thomas Mallory (Dennis Weaver). Much of the drama centered around Mallory’s three daughters: Celia (Susan Dey), Kay (Stephanie Dunnam), and Leslie (Doran Clark). Despite an interesting setting and good cast (Robert Vaughn, Robert Loggia, Jill St. John, Sela Ward, and Patrick O’Neal), Emerald Point, N.A.S. languished in the ratings and was canceled after a single season.

Falcon Crest – Who needs oil when you can run a winery empire in scenic Tuscany Valley (a fictional version of Napa Valley)? Jane Wyman starred as Angela Channing, the ruthless (what else?) owner of the Falcon Crest Vineyards. Unfortunately, her moral nephew Jason Goberti (Robert Foxworth) inherited a portion of the family’s business. Falcon Crest was created by Earl Hamner, who envisioned it originally as a family drama similar to his hit series The Waltons. He tweaked the formula when CBS wanted another soap to schedule after Dallas—resulting in a successful nine-year run for Falcon Crest.

Knots Landing – Loosely inspired by Ingmar Bergman’s Scene From a Marriage, Knots Landing began as a drama about three families living in a cul de sac in the fictional Southern California town. Its Dallas connection was that J.R.’s brother, Gary (Ted Shackleford), was one of the residents. To spice up the proceedings, Donna Mills joined the show in the second season as Abby Fairgate, who served as a female J.R. (though far more subtle). Indeed, Knots was known for its strong female characters played by Michele Lee, Joan Van Ark, Constance McCashin, Michelle Phillips, Julie Harris, and Mills.

Those are your nominees for best prime time soap of the 1980s. Cast your vote in the green sidebar on the right!

Underrated Performer of the Week - Eleanor Parker


Eleanor Parker?? Although one of the great beauties and among the finest actresses of the 40s and 50s she is among the forgotten performers who have faded into near obscurity. I watched her in two films back to back, Pride of the Marines with John Garfield, and Above And Beyond with Robert Taylor. I'm still impressed by her exquisite loveliness, even in black-and-white, and her ability to become the characters she portrayed. She was called the "women of a thousand faces" because she imbued every character she played with a distinct personality that was not her own. She was nominated for three Academy Awards and her acting abilities were equal to those of her better-known contemporaries Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn. And yet today she remains an afterthought in discussions about Hollywood's best actresses. Although part of this status can be blamed on Warner Bros. for not giving her the solid roles she deserved, Parker probably contributed by her refusal to go along with the Hollywood game. She was not interested in doing interviews or posing for cheesecake photos. She also refused to attend night clubs and parties where she could be photographed for publicity purposes or gossip column scoops. She preferred to spend as much time as possible at home with her family. Her decision to avoid the studio protocol for grooming its contract players like Ann Sheridan, helped to deny her a prominent place in Hollywood's collective memory.

Parker had acted locally in her home state of Ohio and after graduation from high school left for California to study at the Pasadena Playhouse. She was offered a screen test, but turned it down in order to finish her studies. In 1941 she did have a screen test at Warner Bros. and was signed to a contract three days later. Her debut film was supposed to be They Died with Their Boots On (1941), but her scene was eventually deleted from the movie. She was then placed in a series of one and two reel Technicolor short films. Warner Bros. continued to cast her in below par productions, and though frustrated, Parker still gave her all to each performance. Finally the studio cast her in an A picture, the controversial Mission to Moscow, a film glorifying Russia, our World War II ally, which later became a vehicle for the House Un-American Activities Committee in their effort to identify communists in the film industry. She played real-life American ambassador to Russia Joseph Davies daughter, with Walter Houston and Ann Harding as her parents. She received positive critical response, but the film was not successful. She was supposed to play the role of Miriam Hopkins’ daughter in the last half of Old Acquaintance; she was requested by director Vincent Sherman who was turned down by Warner Bros. explaining that the actress Dolores Moran had been signed for the role at the time when Edmund Goulding was the director. Instead she appeared in the second film version of the Broadway play Outward Bound, Between Two Worlds, in which a group of dead ship passengers await their fate in the afterlife. Her costars included Paul Henried and John Garfield. Unfortunately this movie proved to be another box office bust. After several more low-budget films she was given her first leading role in the 1944 production The Very Thought of You., directed by Delmar Daves and costarring Dennis Morgan, with a story depicting the plight of young soldiers who married quickly and the impact on their families once they were shipped overseas. The film and Eleanor Parker's sensitive performance were well received by audiences; although some critics gave it a negative reception, they praised Parker’s performance as the young wife trying to cope on the home front with her husband's hostile family. In 1945 Warners planned to make a film based on a magazine article about the Marine Al Schmidt, who was blinded at Guadalcanal and received the Navy Cross for his heroism. John Garfield was to be the star; he had enjoyed a pleasant working relationship with Parker in Between Two Worlds and requested her for the role of his girlfriend Ruth, replacing Alexis Smith, who was the original choice. Her performance in Pride of the Marines was lauded by fans and critics alike; her love for Al was tender and feisty, mirroring her attempts to help him lead a normal life even though he was blind. Oddly after two well received sensitive portrayals, Warners chose her to re-create Bette Davis's role in a remake of the 1934 film Of Human Bondage. Inevitably Parker's performance was compared unfavorably to Davis, but analysis of her portrayal reveals that she was effective in many scenes. Like the first film, this also proved to be unpopular.

Fed up with the poor quality of the films she was assigned, Parker refused to appear in another low-budget piece of fluff and was suspended by the studio. At the end of the suspension the studio persisted in its shabby treatment of Parker, with roles in two unsuccessful films both costarring Errol Flynn; the lifeless comedy Never Say Goodbye and the stale soap opera, Escape Me Never. After three disappointments in a row, Parker yearned for a role that was commensurate with her talent. The opportunity presented itself when Warner Bros. acquired the rights to the Broadway comedy hit, Voice of the Turtle and chose Parker to recreate the role originated by Margaret Sullavan on stage. Neither the studio nor Parker expected the objections to her casting raised by almost all of the principals associated with the play.

Ronald Reagan, who was the male lead, wanted Warners to use his friend June Allyson for the role, but they declined to do so and Reagan was the first to be miffed by the choice of Parker. Then the play's producer dropped out, dissatisfied with the casting. Additional departures from the project included John van Druten, author of the play, who was going to direct the film. He felt Margaret Sullavan should recreate her role. Director Irving Rapper was then assigned to the project and also attempted to abandon ship because of Parker, but was persuaded by Warners to remain. In the end. all their opposition proved unwarranted, as Parker gave a delightful performance, tapping into a vein of comedic timing that had never been seen in her previous performances. She was silly, eccentric and lovable as Sally Middleton, and some critics deemed her performance more natural and spontaneous than Sullavan's. It is one of the highlights of Parker's career.

The 1950's ushered in an era of Oscar nominations for Parker. In the hard-hitting, realistically brutal evocation of life in a women's prison, Caged, she played Marie Allen, a 19-year-old who had the misfortune to marry a petty criminal whose attempted robbery lands the young woman in prison. The movie depicts the evolution of the innocent naïve Marie into a potentially hardened criminal due to the unrelenting and cruel treatment she received at the hands of the sadistic prison matrons. She deservedly was nominated for best actress but lost to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. She was nominated again for her portrayal of Kirk Douglas' anxious and neglected wife in the Detective Story, who harbors a deep and dangerous secret. Her final bid for the Oscar was for her performance as world-renowned soprano Marjorie Lawrence who contracted polio at the height of her career and her fight against this life-threatening illness. Parker considers Interrupted Melody the best film she ever made. Denied the Oscar three times, she stated that it would've been nice to win , but that she was satisfied with her career without one on her mantle. She went on to play the Baroness in the Sound of Music, the role that is probably best remembered today.


Although choice film roles were scarce, she did appear in the lively swashbuckler Scaramouche and played opposite Frank Sinatra as his duplicitous wife in the Man with the Golden Arm. Robert Taylor was her costar in three films, Above and Beyond, Many Rivers to Cross, and Valley of the Kings, none of which were spectacularly successful. In Escape from Fort Bravo, an entertaining action filled western, she and her costar William Holden created just enough sexual tension to keep things interesting. Impressive supporting roles included performances opposite Frank Sinatra in A Hole in the Head and with Robert Mitchum in Home from the Hill. In the early 60s she began a career in television, appearing in many series and was nominated for an Emmy for her guest role on The 11th Hour. She also was one of the major characters in the short-lived Hollywood behind-the-scenes drama Bracken's World, but departed the show in midseason due to the poor quality of scripts. She continued to work in television on such shows as Murder, She Wrote, The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. She also garnered glowing reviews as Corbin Bernsen's mother in the made for television drama Dead on the Money in 1991.

For those of us familiar with her work it is a mystery why she is not considered to be among the hierarchy of film actresses. But as explained above, it probably doesn't matter to her as much as it does to her legion of fans whose appreciation she has earned for her many memorable performances in a career that spans almost 60 years.