Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Secret Movie Star Word Game

Here's the answer to this week's puzzle. Congrats again to Toto for figuring out that James Cagney was the Secret Movie Star.

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The object of this game is simple:  Fill in the numbered horizontal rows based on the clues given below. The letters in the red boxes spell out of the name of a famous movie star vertically. You likely won't need all of the clues to figure out this week's secret star. If no one has guessed the star (which isn't likely), I'll post the name tonight. Good luck and have fun!


Your clues:

1. June Allyson’s husband.

2. Her character’s name in this TV show was derived from her “man appeal.”

3. She and her husband shared an apartment with a philosophy professor.

4. Steve Allen played him in a screen biography.

5. Dukenfield’s stage name.

6. Owner of the yacht the Zaca in real life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Trivia Time - delay in posting

Due to computer problems, there will be a delay in posting this week's Trivia Time. I hope to get things running smoothly again soon!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Time Machine - Victorian Beauty and Futuristic Horror

All of us have certain movies that capture something that speaks to our dreams. Usually I suppose they are the great dramas, but I have found that isn’t always the case. The Time Machine, released by MGM in 1960, mesmerized me from the beginning, even before the credits. It begins with silence, then the tiny ticking of a clock that moves across the screen. Then more clocks pass by, each with their own cadence, becoming a little larger and a little louder until finally London’s Big Ben gives its thunderous toll and the music crashes in to begin the title and credits. The Time Machine pulls you along from the picturesque, quiet Victorian age of great beauty, to excitement and action, and on to horrific futuristic events as the time traveler takes his journey.

George Pal produced and directed The Time Machine, based on H.G. Wells’ novel of the same name. The screenplay takes many liberties with Wells’ original novel, but then when has that ever been a problem for Hollywood? Pal’s other well-known movies include The War of the Worlds (1953), Houdini (1953) and Conquest of Space (1955). Pal had been an animator for most of his career, and his best movies carry his stamp of thrilling, larger-than-life story telling, with dynamic music and vivid, eye-popping color. However, with The Time Machine, Pal created more than just an action sci-fi movie. An important contributing factor is the music. I have always believed that the musical score can make or break a movie, and part of the credit for the feel of this movie must include composer Russell Garcia, who set the stage for the Victorian age with lilting, Irish-sounding music of great sentimentality, and was also responsible for creating an electrifying, frightening score during the action sequences. Cinematographer Paul Vogel brought the screen to dazzling life, and the make-up artist William Tuttle, working on George Pal’s own design, helped to create one of the most famous monster tribes in sci-fi history, the dreaded Morlocks. The Time Machine was awarded one Oscar, for its special effects, considered groundbreaking for its time.


The story is that of H. George Wells (sound familiar?), played by one of my favorites, Rod Taylor. (Pal originally wanted Paul Scofield for the part of George, a role that doesn’t seem to be at all suitable for the great British stage actor. I believe that Rod Taylor, with his young and vigorous talent and singular mannerisms, better fit the bill.) George is an inventor, a dreamer, unhappy with the world he lives in. He is preoccupied with the concept of time, and his house is filled with the most beautiful clocks you’ll ever see. George has invited a group of his friends to dinner, mostly practical businessmen, one a doctor who has little sense of humor (played by Sebastian Cabot in a wonderful harrumphing, stolid British manner), none of whom are the dreamer type, and one who is always happily soused. Then there is one of my most beloved best friend characters, a Scot named David Filby, played sweetly by Alan Young. (Sad to say, Alan Young is best remembered for his role in the TV series Mr. Ed as the owner of a talking horse.) George has not arrived for his own dinner, and his faithful housekeeper, Mrs. Watchett (Doris Lloyd) announces that George left instructions to serve dinner if he was detained. The men settle comfortably at the dining room table, when suddenly George appears in the doorway, disheveled, wounded, exhausted. He sits down and asks for food and wine. His friend, the pleasant drunk, pours a large glass of wine with shaking hands and unintentionally drinks it himself. Then George begins to tell his story.
George reminds the men of their dinner the week before, when he announced that he had built a machine that could move through time. The friends of course don’t believe it, and George brings out his miniature model. It is a small, exquisitely crafted little machine that looks somewhat like a sled with a sphere-shaped circle behind the traveler’s seat. George asks the doctor to give him a cigar to represent a time traveler, which he bends to fit in a seated position. He explains that if his experiment works, they will never see the machine again, as it will forever speed forward in time. He asks the doctor to use his own finger to throw the tiny switch. The little machine begins to hum, the sphere begins to twirl, and the chandelier above their heads tinkles and shakes. The humming grows louder, the sphere twirls until it blurs, then suddenly the machine is gone with a final whistling echo.

George is exhilarated with the success, but even after having seen with their own eyes, his friends refuse to believe it could have happened. They leave in a group, thanking George for an interesting evening. George, angry and dismayed at their reaction, strides to his desk to write a note. Then David peeks around at him from one of the large chairs in front of the fire. “I thought I should stay,” he says. He tells George he is worried about him and wants to help. He learns that George is not interested in going into the past, but into the future. “I don’t much like the time I was born in,” George says. He thanks David for his concern, but says he would rather be alone.

As soon as David leaves, George goes to his laboratory. The door opens, the music swells and there is the full-size time machine. What an exciting moment. The machine is absolutely stunning in every way. It is just like the miniature, incredibly crafted with brass engravings, velvet seat and gorgeous colors, a real thing of beauty. The camera follows George around the machine, accompanied with haunting music, so that the audience can see its exquisite nature. The machine was designed by MGM art director Bill Ferrari, with George Pal’s direction that since he had loved his sled as a child, he wanted it to be sled-like. George climbs onto the seat, pulls the handle and begins his voyage into the future

His journey is fascinating. He stops at different points in time, is able to see what becomes of his home and his friend, watches his city grow and sees its destruction and much more. The techniques used to show the passage of time, both slow and fast, are very clever.  One involved a lit candle that burns down, showing the passage of time.  Although it sounds like a simple scene, it took 5 days to shoot to get the right effect. One of the most memorable is a store mannequin that George can see from his lab window. As time passes, the lady mannequin’s clothes change, going from chaste Victorian to modern short skirts and bathing suits. George feels a kinship with the mannequin because, like himself inside the time machine, she never ages. Cataclysmic events begin to occur, and George finally has to speed his way through time at a blurring rate. He stops in the year 802701. There he finds a world that looks wonderfully evolved. Young beautiful people called the Eloi play and swim and somehow are fed without any work. (The word “eloi” means “My God” in Aramaic.) George notices that there are no old people, and also that the Eloi are strangely ignorant,  uninterested in what goes on around them, and careless of life itself. Yvette Mimieux, only age 17, plays Weena, a young girl who does find interest in this strange man who has appeared from nowhere. Soon, George is to learn the true nature of the Eloi and the meaning of the strange Sphinx in the middle of the forest when he is made aware of the horror in that seemingly lovely world, another group that lives underground, the Morlocks.















That is as much of the story as you need to whet your appetite. I did not describe many of the exciting events of George’s journey so as to avoid spoiling everything for those who have not seen it. I would love to tell the ending because it is one of my favorite movie endings, but I am restraining myself. Suffice it to say that The Time Machine does not disappoint. As an interesting note, George Pal kept the miniature time machine in his home until it was destroyed by a fire. The larger model was found years later in a thrift shop in California, covered with dust and in pieces. However, the lucky finder bought and restored it. What I wouldn’t give to have that beautiful thing – it would be the admittedly unusual centerpiece of my living room!

George Pal hoped to make a sequel to the movie, and Rod Taylor was interested as well, but MGM rejected the idea. Perhaps that is just as well. This movie is unique and its reputation would likely only be tainted by what might have been the usual  inadequate sequel. I remember seeing a showing of The Time Machine on TV around 1995 that was hosted by Rod Taylor. He was of course 35 years older than when he played George, and with a wistful grin he said “It’s very strange to see myself so young as I find myself becoming more aged.” He loved being part of The Time Machine, and with good reason. It’s a damn good movie. (Well, if Rhett Butler can say damn, I guess I can too!)

The Nutty Professor (1963)

The Nutty Professor (1963). Science-fiction comedy film produced, directed, co-written with Bill Richmond and Jerry Lewis. The score was composed by Walter Scharf.
Professor Julius Kelp (Jerry Lewis) is a nerdy, introverted, accident prone, university professor who always seems to find himself in trouble with the university by continually destroying the classroom lab. When a football-player bullies Kelp, he decides to join a gym, with no results. He then invents a potion that turns him into the handsome, smooth, obnoxious, Buddy Love.
As Buddy Love, he now as the confidence to date one of his students, Stella Purdy (Stella Stevens), who finds herself strangely attracted to him. Buddy impresses the crowd with his jazzy personality at the Purple Pit, a nightclub where everyone hangs out. He also teaches the bartender how to mix the cocktail, The "Alaskan Polar Bear Heater" (which is two shots of vodka, a little rum, some bitters, a smidgen of vinegar, a shot of vermouth, a shot of gin, a shot of scotch, a little brandy, a lemon peel, orange peel, cherry, and some more scotch). At one point, the bartender says: "You going to drink this here, or are you going to take it home and rub it on your chest?"
Love says "mix it nice" and pour it into a tall glass. The bartender asks if he can take a sip, when he does he freezes like a statue. While the drink started as fictional, it now listed among real drinks.
Later that night, Buddy performs at the student dance and while on stage, the formula starts to wear off. Will this Jekyll and Hyde's real identity be revealed?
I thought Jerry Lewis must be a very talented actor to be able to manage two very distinct characters with two distinct personalities.
Fun Facts:
Film debut of Henry Gibson.
Buddy Love is often thought to be Lewis' former show business partner Dean Martin. Film Critic Danny Peary wrote in his book Cult Movies that the character of Love is actually the real counterpart of Jerry Lewis. Les Brown and his Band play themselves in the senior prom scenes. Stella Steven's costumes (and the rest of the casts costumes as well) were designed by Edith Head.
The Nutty Professor was filmed mostly on the campus of Arizona State University (Tempe, AZ) in 1962 with the prom portion filmed in the newly completed Gammage Auditorium Hall (designed by Frank Lloyd Wright).
Stella Stevens was first under contract to 20th Century Fox. Then after performing in the role for the musical Li'l Abner (1959), she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures (1959-1963) and later Columbia Pictures (1964-1968). She shared the 1960 Golden Globe Award for "Most Promising Newcomer - Female", with Tuesday Weld, Angie Dickinson and Janet Munro for the film, Say One For Me.
In 1962, Stevens performed with Elvis Presley in the movie, Girls! Girls! Girls. Later that year, she played Jerry Lewis's love interest in The Nutty Professor. This was followed by other comedy, The Courtship of Eddie's Father and opposite Dean Martin in the Matt Helm film The Silencers, plus How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life.
Stevens was featured in the western, The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970) and in the film The Poseidon Adventure (1972), as the wife of Ernest Borgnine's character.
Stevens was a regular on the 1981-1982 prime time soap opera Flamingo Road. She teamed with Sandy Dennis in a touring production of an all-female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple, playing the Oscar Madison character. She had a contract role on NBC's daytime drama Santa Barbara as Phyllis Blake from 1989 to 1990. Stevens produced and directed two films, The Ranch (1989) and The American Heroine (1979).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Alien: If You Watch It Alone, No One Will Hear You Scream

The tagline of Alien describes the movie well: “In space no one will hear you scream.” I hope no one watches this movie alone because you are likely to do just that…scream! I have never seen a movie that scared me, but this one made me jump several times in my theater seat. Released in the summer of 1979, Alien made Sigourney Weaver a star. It is her character, Ripley, who makes the movie so exciting. I love strong women movie characters and Ripley is right there with Princess Leia from Star Wars. She is intelligent, courageous, and even loves the ship’s resident cat, Jones.

Alien begins with the Nostromo, a cargo ship returning to Earth carrying 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore. The ship’s crew resides in deep sleep chambers in order to make the long journey home. However, after the ship’s computer awakens them, they realize they are only halfway back to Earth. The seven crew members are: Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt); Executive Officer Kane (John Hurt); Navigation Officer Lambert (Veronica Cartwright); Warrant Officer Ripley (Sigourney Weaver); Science Officer Ash (Ian Holm); and the two ship engineers, Parker (Yophet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton).

Captain Dallas soon learns why they have been awakened. The Nostromo’s computer, named Mother, has picked up a distress transmission from an unknown planet. Engineers Parker and Brett don’t think they should investigate this distress signal. However, Science Officer Ash says that their employers have written in their contracts that all distress calls must be investigated.

When Navigation Officer Lambert discovers the origin of the distress call, Captain Dallas, Executive Officer Kane, and Lambert go to investigate. The planet is a horrible place with constant storms making their journey difficult. Soon, they discover a crashed space ship and the body of its pilot, who apparently died long ago. They notice that the bones inside the dead pilot’s chest look like they exploded from inside. Kane wonders throughout the ship and discovers a large chamber covered in a mist. He trips and falls over the edge and lands on a floor below. He notifies Dallas that there are hundreds of cylinder shaped things that look like eggs. Kane sees one of the eggs open. He peers closer and something jumps out.

Dallas and Lambert return to the Nostromo with Kane, who has something attached to his face. Officer Ripley refuses to let them inside the ship, stating that they need to be quarantined because they could infect others. Dallas and Lambert scream to Ripley to open the hatch and let them enter with Kane, but she adamantly refuses. Ash suddenly opens the hatch and Kane is taken to the sick bay. After removing Kane’s helmet, they see the alien life form is hugging his face with its tail tightly wrapped around his neck. Ash tries to get the alien off Kane’s face. He even cuts one of the alien’s appendages only to discover that its blood is an acid so powerful that it drips through the floor of the ship making holes. Ash concludes that trying to remove the alien will kill Kane. Hours later, the alien appears to be dead and off Kane’s face. He seems to be fully recovered.

However, while eating a meal with the crew, Kane suddenly goes into convulsions. When the alien implanted in Kane by the facehugger burst from his chest, I nearly jumped out of my theater seat. This is one of the most famous science fiction movie scenes in history. The rest of the movie is incredibly tense as one by one the crew members are forced to confront one of the scariest, most terrifying aliens in the history of cinema. From that shocking scene, the cleverly-written Alien moves speedily to its surprise ending (indeed, it’s my favorite science fiction movie ending).

Ridley Scott, who helmed Alien, has been nominated for three Academy Awards as Best Director for Thelma and Louise (1991), Gladiator (2000), and Black Hawk Down (2001). Alien won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects in 1979. I think Scott deserved to win an Oscar for best director for Blade Runner (1982), which is an outstanding science fiction movie too and very original for the time it was made.

After her star-making performance in Alien, Sigourney Weaver starred in the sequel Aliens (1986) directed by James Cameron. She was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role for Aliens, but didn’t win. It is an awesome sequel and the best sequel to any science fiction movie I have ever seen. The best sequel to any movie in my opinion would be The Empire Strikes Back, but to me Star Wars movies are simply in a class of their own. Alien and Aliens spawned four sequels. Alien3 (1992) and Alien: Resurrection (1997) star Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. The other two sequels, Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), didn’t feature Ellen Ripley. I am such an Alien fan that I own all these movies on DVD. Sigourney Weaver furthered her fine acting career by making other notable films, such as: Eyewitness (1981) with William Hurt; The Year of Living Dangerously with Mel Gibson (1982); Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey (1988); and Working Girl (1988). She was nominated for an Oscar for Gorillas in the Mist for Best Actress in a leading role and also as Best Actress for a Supporting Role for Working Girl the same year. She is an outstanding actress and I can’t believe she has never won an Oscar.

Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett wrote the screenplay. H. R. Giger is famous for the Alien art work used in the films. Jerry Goldsmith wrote the music, which (needlessly to say) is on my iPod.

There are so many interesting facts about Alien I will just mention a few of them. The only actor who really knew the details about the chest bursting scene was John Hurt who played the unfortunate Kane. The other actors knew the basic facts, but not all of them. The shock on Veronica Cartwright’s face is great because she was not expecting to be splattered with blood. Ridley Scott wanted real reactions from his actors. Translated into several foreign languages, the movie is often called Alien: The 8th Passenger. The movie was first entitled Star Beast before it was changed to Alien. Originally, the character of Ripley was going to be a man; I am sure glad that was changed. There were 130 eggs made for the alien ship chamber. Ridley Scott had difficulty in getting Jones, the ship’s cat, to hiss and back away from the Alien. A screen was put in front of Jones with a German Shepherd on the other side. When the screen was lifted naturally, the cat was shocked by the dog into backing away from him and hissing too. Scott did all the hand held camera scenes himself. The screen test that earned Weaver the role of Ripley was her last speech in the movie. The producers of the It! Terror from Beyond Space (1958) considered suing for plagiarism because they thought the plot for Alien was too similar to their movie. Veronica Cartwright played Rod Taylor’s little sister in Hitchcock’s The Birds. She was chosen for the role of Ripley only to show up on the costume set to find out she was playing Lambert instead. Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca in Star Wars wanted the Alien part. The part was given to Bolaji Badego, a young African design student discovered by Ridley Scott. And lastly, Scott named the Nostromo’s computer, Mother, thinking how it related to the Alien’s eggs on the crashed ship.

This is one of my all time favorite science fiction movies. I watch science fiction films all the time and enjoy them!! Alien and Aliens are awesome films to me because my older son and I watched them over and over. My son even has action figures of the Alien creatures. I love science fiction movies so much that my husband is taking me to see Piranha in 3D this week-end. Yes, my husband truly loves me that much!! I know it will be cheesy, have terrible acting, and poor special effects compared to Alien, but I am a true sci-fi movie fan, and I will love it anyway.

By the way, there is a cool ride at Disney World called the Great Movie Ride. You are in a movable seat that goes from one movie set to another. One park of the ride is a scene from Alien. My older son and I were so excited about the Alien scene that we went on the ride twelve times. It is one of my favorite things to do at Disney World. Check out this link: http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/hollywood-studios/attractions/great-movie-ride/

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bond Is Forever: “The Living Daylights”

General Georgi Koskov (Jeroen Krabbé) of the KGB, planning to defect to the UK, specifically requests the protection and assistance of MI6 agent James Bond (Timothy Dalton). However, after accusing KGB head General Pushkin (John Rhys-Davies) of initiating assassinations of British and American agents, Koskov is captured by the KGB and returned presumably to Moscow. Bond’s mission is to assassinate Pushkin, but he is reluctant, as he begins to question not only Pushkin’s involvement but also Koskov’s information and defection. He shadows a cellist, Kara Milovy (Maryam d’Abo), an apparent sniper sent to kill General Koskov and who 007 was supposed to have eliminated (“I only kill professionals”). Bond’s investigation ultimately points him in the direction of American arms dealer, Brad Whitaker (Jon Don Baker), but meanwhile, Bond and Kara must evade the KGB, as well as assassins and various explosives.

The Living Daylights (1987), its title and opening plot device taken from Ian Fleming’s short story of the same name, was the 007 debut for Welsh actor Dalton. Originally, the Bond film to follow 1985’s A View to a Kill was to star Roger Moore for an eighth turn as the British spy. After Moore decided to depart from the series, the producers had cast Pierce Brosnan, but a surprise renewal of his TV show, Remington Steele, kept Brosnan from accepting the role (an offer which was supposedly withdrawn by producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, who did not want audiences to associate James Bond with Remington Steele). Dalton himself was reportedly asked to be Sean Connery’s replacement for On Her Majesty Secret Service (1969), but he declined the offer, believing that, at around 22 years of age, he was too young to portray Bond. Dalton is a laudable 007, his portrait of the spy with less humor than Moore but an equal amount of charm. He’s more physical, comparable to Connery’s work, but with a delivery all his own.

The Living Daylights is a solid entry in the Bond series. The movie opens by dropping the audience into the action, literally dropping 007 and other agents, who parachute as part of a training exercise which turns deadly. The movie erupts with thrilling action sequences, as Bond pilots an airplane carrying an armed explosive, finds an imaginative use for a cello and its accompanying case, and is pursued in his impressively outfitted Aston Martin, to which hopefully audiences have learned to not grow too attached. The always welcome Q (Desmond Llewelyn) gives Bond a set of keys which open the majority of locks, with a keychain that responds to whistling (either to release a stun gas or to explode, depending on the tune).

Additionally, the film boasts strong performances from the supporting cast. Maryam d’Abo is wonderful as Kara. Her character is naive and trusting, but she is not unintelligent. She also proves more than capable in combat. Likewise, Art Malik is exceptional as Kamran Shah, leader of a group of freedom fighters in Afghanistan. Shah has little screen time, but the character is given both personality and depth. Krabbé, as well as Andreas Wisniewski paying KGB assassin Necros, provide energetic showings (and Wisniewski would play one of the villains in the immensely successful actioner, Die Hard, the following year). The only exception is Baker, who makes a rather bland villain as Whitaker. He would fare better as CIA agent Jack Wade, a pseudo-substitute for Felix Leiter, in the subsequent Bond films, GoldenEye (1995) and Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).


Although there are a number of familiar components in The Living Daylights (e.g., Bond introducing himself, his drink of choice, etc.), there are also a couple of notable changes. Caroline Bliss plays Miss Moneypenny for the first time, a role she would reprise only once in the next Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989). Her predecessor, Lois Maxwell, had played Moneypenny for each of the previous 14 movies. Walter Gotell, who’d appeared as KGB head General Gogol in the latter five films with Moore, was originially scripted
as Gogol in the scenes that ultimately featured General Pushkin. Reportedly, Gotell was too ill to handle a more substantial role, so he only did a cameo. It was the final Bond film for Gotell and his character. Virginia Hey, who plays Pushkins girlfriend, also starred in George Millers cult film, The Road Warrior (1981), and portrayed Zhaan in the cult SyFy (formerly Sci-Fi Channel) series, Farscape (and still strikingly beautiful as a bald female with blue skin).

While Bond always has his reliable Walther PPK at hand, he also employs a Walther WA2000 sniper rifle near the beginning of the film. John Terry plays Felix Leiter in The Living Daylights, and, like most actors portraying the CIA agent, would not return to the role. Terry is perhaps better known more recently as the enigmatic Christian Shephard in ABC’s popular series, Lost. In The Living Daylights, agents are being killed, and the message left behind reads, “Smiert Spionam” (translated as “Death to spies”). The terrorist organization in Fleming’s novels, SMERSH, was actually an acronym of these words, spelled Smert Shpionam (SMERt SHpionam). Interestingly,
although referenced in From Russia with Love (1963), SMERSH does not actually appear in the cinematic adaptations, as Bond typically deals with SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion). The terrorist group in Casino Royale (2006) is officially named as Quantum in 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

The Living Daylights was the final film to utilize a title of a story or novel by Fleming until the 2006 adaptation of Casino Royale. Director John Glen had helmed the previous three Bond movies and would direct the next film as well. He was also editor of three additional movies with 007. The title song was performed by Norwegian pop group a-ha, most famous for its hit single, “Take On Me” (as well as its award-winning music video that combined rotoscoping animation with live action). While the song is one of the weaker tunes to open a Bond film, it is well incorporated into the movie’s score.

This is one of my personal favorites of the James Bond movies. The action is topnotch, the story compelling, the characters refined, and the entertainment level on high throughout. Dalton is a distinguished Bond, and he was equally good in his follow-up film. Does anyone have any thoughts on The Living Daylights or its 007 star?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Tomorrow Never Dies (1997).

Monday, August 23, 2010

About John Gilbert...an interview with Leatrice Gilbert Fountain

Today Turner Classic Movies will showcase the films of silent screen star John Gilbert as part of its "Summer Under the Stars" line up. Viewers will have a chance to see eight silents, a mix of Gilbert's most celebrated films and lesser-known gems, as well as six sound pictures, most rarely seen.

If this daylong tribute marks a high point in the resurgence of John Gilbert, it is also a triumph for his daughter, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, who has worked tirelessly for nearly 40 years to restore her father's reputation.

I spoke with Leatrice after the "Summer Under the Stars" schedule was announced.

"Speechless and surprised," was Leatrice's reaction to the all-day honor, "and it's so satisfying."

Leatrice was born just as her parents, John Gilbert and silent film star Leatrice Joy, were divorcing in the mid-1920s. Raised by her mother (the two are pictured at right), she yearned to know her father. She recalls, "My nurse told my mother that I kept asking when my daddy was coming home." But the marriage was finished and Leatrice had little contact with her illustrious dad.

Time passed, and then came a summer Leatrice and her mother spent in Malibu - where, it turned out, her father was also staying. She had been trying but hadn't managed to run into him yet when one day, as she was rolling in the surf, the victim of a rogue wave, strong hands snatched her from the sea. Leatrice looked up to see that her rescuer was her handsome father.

A while later Leatrice sent him a letter; she asked for his picture and enclosed one of herself. This ignited what Leatrice calls "a brief, intense relationship" that spanned the last year of John Gilbert's life.

"He appeared, we clicked and the future looked bright," she remembers. He was the only adult in her life that didn't talk down to her, he spoke to her as an adult and asked her grown-up questions. "I was a news junkie even then," she says, and her father talked with her about various topics of the day, from President Roosevelt to the repeal of prohibition. In that short period, Leatrice achieved a bond with her father that she didn't have with her mother ("a sweet fluff-head") or stepfather.

"My father lived on a Hollywood hillside in a Spanish-style home near a water tower. In my mind he lived in the tower of a castle at the top of a hill." Gilbert had the aura of a storybook prince for his daughter and when he died suddenly of a heart attack in January 1936 at age 38, Leatrice was devastated. Her longed-for connection with him had completely engaged her and then he was gone - "I felt a great emptiness...I don't think I ever got over the loss."

As years passed, John Gilbert, a top MGM star at the height of the silent era, was reduced to a Hollywood footnote. What most people knew about him, if they knew anything, were oft-repeated (and reprinted) tales of an inadequate voice that didn't translate to sound, a broken romance with Greta Garbo, questionable acting ability and a drinking problem that killed him.

At the time of his death Gilbert's great silent pictures were no longer shown and his career was in flux, so Leatrice grew up not knowing enough about her father's life or career to actively dispute the mythology that had become accepted as truth.

By the early 1970s, Leatrice was a married woman with five children living on the East Coast. Though she didn't know it at the time, she was about to embark on one of her life's missions, the restoration of her father's name. New York's Museum of Modern Art invited her to a screening of one of John Gilbert's signature silent films, Erich von Stroheim's The Merry Widow (1925). Watching the film for the first time, Leatrice experienced a jolt; she realized her father was not simply a handsome face, but a gifted actor. She recalls, "A young fan came up to me and commented on the "wonderful film" and said he wanted to write a book about John Gilbert. It then became my cause...I knew I wanted to be the one to write the book."

Once committed, Leatrice began to seek out her father's other films. She traveled to Eastman House in Rochester, NY, where she told fabled film curator James Card, "I don't know anything about my father's work," and Mr. Card eagerly replied, "Come with me and I'll show you..." Between Eastman House, MOMA and the Library of Congress, she saw all of John Gilbert's available films.

Leatrice was a busy wife and mother when she began her research and so she worked "in bursts" over several years. In the course of her work she met with many people who knew or worked with her father. Today Leatrice looks back and realizes she began her undertaking in the nick of time; most of the people she interviewed were soon gone. She met with cameramen and other technicians, she met with directors like Clarence Brown, John Ford, Howard Hawks and King Vidor, and she met with stars like Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Lillian Gish and Norma Shearer.

According to Leatrice, some remembered John Gilbert from before he was a star, when he was affectionately looked upon as "an adopted kid on the MGM lot." All responded warmly to her and Leatrice discovered that they all had liked her father and respected his work. She stayed with King Vidor's daughter and was able to spend days talking with the man who had directed her father in two of his best silent films, The Big Parade (1925) and Bardelys the Magnificent (1926). Clarence Brown, who directed Gilbert and Garbo in Flesh and the Devil (1926), generously spent an entire afternoon with Leatrice sharing his memories.

Norma Shearer, whom Leatrice believes may have once had a fling with Gilbert, told her of his passing, "Some of the tears I shed while making Romeo and Juliet were for your father."

The transformation in industry and public perception of John Gilbert came slowly, but Leatrice recalls a moment when she knew attitudes were shifting. In the early '80s she was invited by esteemed silent film historian/author/documentary filmmaker Kevin Brownlow (co-producer of the distinguished Hollywood series for Thames Television) to introduce a screening of Flesh and the Devil in London. She remembers enthusiastic crowds of young and old lined up to see the film and that, "New writers and reviewers watched without bias and wrote about what they saw on the screen."

In 1985 St. Martin's Press published Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of the Legendary John Gilbert, Leatrice's biography of her father, written with John Maxim. Filled with Leatrice's detailed research, the book not only recounted the story of John Gilbert's life but also went a long way to set the record straight on the rumors about him.

Perhaps the most virulent myth debunked is the story that John Gilbert's "high voice" had caused the collapse of his career. Gilbert's first talking feature, a film Leatrice describes as "a romantic comedy that was mistaken by audiences and critics for a straight romance," was a resounding flop. The dialogue was laughable and laughed at. But some said it was Gilbert's voice that caused the tittering. The voice theory was not the consensus at the time but it was the story that stuck over time. Leatrice calls her father's voice "a light baritone similar to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.'s." Ultimately, a combination of factors plagued Gilbert's transition to sound: his disastrous relationship with MGM kingpin Louis B. Mayer, the quality of the early talkies to which he was assigned and, perhaps, a change in audience tastes from Victorian-era morality to pre-Code realism.

In her book Leatrice pointed out that John Gilbert continued to receive film offers till the end of his life. Marlene Dietrich, his final love, had persuaded him to co-star with her in Desire (1936), but he was forced to drop out after he suffered one in a series of three heart attacks, the last of which killed him. Leatrice is firm that, though her father did drink to excess, "he did not drink himself to death."

Regarding Gilbert's storied romance and rumored near-wedding with Greta Garbo, Leatrice comments,"I don't think she ever had any intention of marrying him."

Dark Star was a great success and Leatrice traveled the talk show circuit, spoke to college audiences, appeared at silent film events and gave countless interviews. She still gives an occasional interview and has continued to frequent silent film festivals and screenings around the world, introducing her father's pictures and taking part in panel discussions. Her "swan song" on the road, she told me, might have been last year's annual Pordenone Silent Film Festival in Italy, the largest silent film festival in the world. At this writing, though, Leatrice is beginning to change her mind...she just might go to Pordenone again this year...I hope so.

She muses, "In his lifetime, my father did not believe his film work would last or be remembered and he said as much to his close friends."

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain's passionate campaign to restore her father's reputation has succeeded beyond anything she might once have imagined. Today she is happy to report that her children are able to "bask in the reflected glory of their grandfather." Like their mother, they attend screenings and introduce his films to new generations of appreciative fans.


John Gilbert on TCM, Aug. 24
(Times shown = Eastern/Pacific)
The Busher (1919) - silent with Colleen Moore - 6am/3am
He Who Gets Slapped (1924) - silent with Lon Chaney and Norma Shearer - 7am/4am
The Merry Widow (1925) - the silent film that made Gilbert a star - 8:30am/5:30am
The Show (1927) - silent directed by Tod Browning - 11am/8am
Desert Nights (1929) - Gilbert's last silent - 12:30pm/9:30am
Way for a Sailor (1930) - with Wallace Beery - 1:45pm/10:45am
Gentleman's Fate (1931) - directed by Mervyn LeRoy - 3:15pm/12:15pm
The Phantom of Paris (1931) - Gilbert took the title role followng Lon Chaney's death - 5pm/2pm
Downstairs (1932) - "a dark little masterpiece" - 6:30pm/3:30pm
The Big Parade (1925) - silent classic, perhaps Gilbert's best film - 8pm/5pm
Bardeleys the Magnificent (1926) - swashbuckling silent classic - 10:15pm/7:15pm
Flesh and the Devil (1926) - silent classic with Garbo - 12am/9pm
Queen Christina (1933) - Garbo and Gilbert's classic sound film - 2am/11pm
The Captain Hates the Sea (1934) - Gilbert's last film, with Victor McLaglen - 4am/1am

Trivia Time - Part 48

Who Am I? I'm a banjo-player who's worked with Ann Sothern, Glenn Ford, Stella Stevens, Mary Tyler Moore, and Shelley Fabares, among others. Who Am I?

Who Am I? I was the first (perhaps the only) actress to win two Emmy Awards for playing the same role in two separate television productions of the same play. Who Am I?

1. For which role did Who Am I? #2 win the two Emmy Awards?

2. What do Jack Benny's 1928 Maxwell, Barney Rubble, and Pepe Le Pew all have in common?

3. Name four films that Walter Brennan did for director Howard Hawks.

4. What do the movies Casablanca, The General Died at Dawn, and Ball of Fire have in common?

5. Which 1960s film features a chase sequence down San Francisco's Lombard Street? (No, it's not Bullitt!)

6. Who was the star of the film in #5?

7. This 1960s film featured two Academy Award winners (one male, one female), plus a score by Neal Hefti. The supporting cast includes Eddie Mayehoff, Jack Albertson, and Mary Wickes. Name the film.

8. Who were the two Academy Award winners in #7?

9. How many movies did Claire Bloom make with Richard Burton? Name them.

10. During the silent film era and continuing into the early "talkies", she was a character actress who played supporting roles in dozens of films. This earned her the title, "Queen of the Quickies". Then her career took a sharp right turn in a different direction, and she became very successful in a completely new career. Name this person.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Movie That Saved a Franchise--Star Trek II:The Wrath of Khan

I recently watched all six of the Star Trek films featuring the original cast. That experience confirmed what I had long suspected: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan may be the best sequel to follow a mediocre first film. To be fair, Star Trek: The Motion Picture wasn’t as bad as I remembered—but it’s a lumbering journey to “where no man has gone before.” There’s too much stately footage of the starship Enterprise and the new characters (weakly played by Stephen Collins and Indian actress Persis Khambata) lack interest. Despite critical drubbing and much Trekkie criticism, the film was a boxoffice smash and so Paramount gave the green light for a sequel.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was ousted from the project and the reins were handed over to producer Harve Bennett. A non-Trekkie, Bennett watched every episode of the TV series and determined that the first film lacked two ingredients: (1) a dynamic villain and (2) an emphasis on the on the “triangle” of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy.

The Wrath of Khan resurrects one of the series’ most memorable bad guys, the supergenius Khan (Montalban), who attempted to take over the Enterprise in the TV episode “Space Seed.” After being thwarted by Kirk and crew, Khan and his followers were marooned on an unpopulated planet and given the opportunity to start again. Alas, in The Wrath of Khan, we learn that the destruction of a neighboring planet has turned Khan’s world in a deadly desert and that Khan’s wife has perished as a result. When a starship on a scientific mission inadvertently provides Khan with a means to escape, the mad man seeks his vengeance on Kirk.

Khan lures the Enterprise to a scienctific station working on the Genesis Project, an experimental device that can create life on a planet with no life—but which can also used as a devastating weapon. It just so happens that the Genesis project leaders are one of Kirk’s former flames…and the son Kirk has never seen.

The coincidental aspects of the story are a bit hard to swallow, but co-writer/director Nicholas Meyer zips the plot along so speedily that one has little time to notice. I really like how he crosscuts from Kirk to Khan to the Genesis team as they all converge on the same location.

The Kirk-Spock friendship forms the heart of the film (McCoy is used primarily for comic relief). Their closing scene together is the best in all Trek films and also provides the most memorable line of dialogue: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few—or the one.”

With its back-to-basics approach, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan laid the groundwork for the rest of the Trek films and pretty much saved the Star Trek franchise. It also forms a trilogy with the Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (their plots are connected, whereas the last two films are stand-alone adventures).

In addition to Wrath of Khan, writer-director Nicholas Meyer was also involved in the next two best series entries in the series: The Voyage Home (an amusing time travel adventure) and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (an effective mix of politics, sci fi, and mystery). Meyer, whose filmography is surprisingly short, also directed another time travel tale: the classic Time After Time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 47 - the Answers

Well, the only two remaining unanswered questions are #4 and #8...good work, all!

#4: Austin Pendleton (it was tricky, I know)

#8: Arthur Treacher

See you tomorrow! You've been warned, LOL!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bride of Frankenstein -- Unique In Every Way

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is such a staple for classic film lovers and horror movie lovers that it is difficult to add anything to the many reviews and articles written over the years. From the time that director James Whale designed the look for the monster in 1931’s original Frankenstein and directed it to perfection, all the way up to the present day, Mary Shelley’s novel has been a favorite for each generation of movie-makers. Everyone wants to put their own personal stamp on this exciting story, some quite good, others just plain awful.



Bride of Frankenstein is different. There has only been 1 attempt of which I am aware at re-making it, a really dreadful movie called The Bride, with Sting and Jennifer Beals. (Remember Mystery Science Theatre 3000? They would have had a hey-day with that one!) As far as other serious attempts, I know of only two that are worth mentioning. These were movies about the entire Frankenstein story, a made-for-TV movie with Jane Seymour as the bride, and Kenneth Branagh’s version featuring Helena Bonham Carter. However, those two can’t really be considered re-makes, as they were trying to film the entire novel.

I think it would be impossible to re-capture the wonderful dark humor infused into the original bride story that was mostly responsible, in my opinion, for its unique nature. Bride of Frankenstein was written by William Hurlbut and John Balderston, and also incorporated James Whale's brand of side-glancing, off-beat humor which was his personal stamp. When I was a kid, I thought the story was deadly serious, and believed I should see it that way. After I had a few years under my belt, I realized how really funny this movie is. It still has the pathos of the poor monster’s loneliness and solitude, it has the wonderful eerie atmosphere of light and shadow, that fabulous laboratory, and lots of lightning. But it also has Ernest Thesiger as Dr. Praetorius with his little human menagerie, O.P. Heggie as the violin-playing blind hermit, and of course Elsa Lanchester with the hair!

As for the storyline, the movie opens with Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley at the famous villa where Mary wrote the novel "Frankenstein." She explains that the story was not finished, and begins to tell the rest. The monster is back on the rampage, having escaped the fiery windmill in the first story. (In the opening scene, Boris Karloff fell into a well which was part of the set and broke his leg. The metal rods that held his legs rigid for his distinctive walk helped keep the bone in place until he got to a doctor.) The monster frightens people everywhere, is misunderstood in his intentions, and longs for someone like himself to be his friend. He comes upon a hut in the woods and hears the music of a violin. The hut is inhabited by a blind man, who welcomes the monster without fear since he can’t see him. The monster learns some words, and the two men sit down together to eat dinner. When the blind man strikes a match to light a cigar, the monster screams because of his fear of fire. The blind man explains to him that fire is good, and offers him a cigar. “Smoke is good!” the blind man says, and the monster inhales and says “Smoke….good.” (In these days of political correctness, we may yet see this scene cut out, although the rampaging and killing will of course be left in.) Some villagers come by, and since they are not blind, they panic, attack the monster and drive him away.

Meanwhile, Dr. Praetorius is insinuating himself into Dr. Frankenstein’s life (Colin Clive reprises his role, looking a bit the worse for wear during the 4 years since the original Frankenstein. Clive had also broken his leg just as shooting began on the film, and is shown in seated positions throughout.) Ernest Thesiger is wonderful as the mad Dr. Praetorius, with his long, skeletal face and clipped British accent. He plays Praetorius in a threatening but gleeful way, prancing at times and clapping his hands together. Frankenstein is not interested in trying to re-animate dead tissue anymore, but Praetorius piques his interest by showing him his new brand of re-animation, or rather, creation of life. Praetorius displays his collection of tiny people kept in glass jars, a king, a queen, a bishop, a ballerina, a mermaid, alive and well and playing pranks. (The famous little person, Billy Barty, was to have been part of the menageries, but his scenes were cut.) When the tiny people speak, it is with tiny squeaks like cartoon mice. Frankenstein is horrified and interested, but still does not want to go back into the body-building business. Later, the monster finds Praetorius sitting in what looks like an open-air crypt, drinking gin and relaxing. When the monster realizes that it would be possible for Dr. Frankenstein to create a female, Praetorius is able to enlist him to kidnap Frankenstein's wife and hold her hostage until he agrees to do so.

The female is created in the same laboratory (that’s pronounced laBORatory) where the monster was brought to life. Her shroud is much more stylish, though, well-fitted and displaying a fine figure. (It was so well-fitted that Elsa Lanchester was unable to move. She had to be carried around the set.) The bride opens her eyes – the next scene shows her standing, dressed in a widely-shaped, floor-length, long-sleeved white dress. (Lanchester was 5'4", and was put on stilts to make her much taller.) Her hair is done up in a very chic updo, dark with lightning-shaped white hair on either side. She sees Dr. Frankenstein and likes him, sees the monster and hates him, and utters a few distinctive echoing cries. The monster sees that she refuses his overtures, and decides he has had enough rejection in his life. He grabs a lever. Dr. Praetorius cries “Don’t touch that lever. You’ll blow us all to atoms!” Why such a lever would be installed in the first place is never explained. The monster, in an unusual mood of love for his creator, tells him to leave – “You live! We belong dead!” Then of course, he pulls the lever, and Dr. Praetorius’ warning comes true.


I just cannot write about Bride of Frankenstein without paying tribute to two movies where it plays major roles The first is Gods and Monsters, a biographical film about James Whale with Ian McKellan, In a flashback for Whale, we see him shooting the scene where the bride stands in her finery. The actor who plays Praetorius turns to Whale and says “Are Colin and I supposed to have done her hair?” Gods and Monsters is a tremendous movie and you shouldn’t miss it.


The second movie is, of course, Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein. For any lover of the Frankenstein movies, this is a must. It takes elements from Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein and Son of Frankenstein. It is one of the greatest comedy films I have ever seen. The wonderful Madeline Kahn plays the woman who becomes the bride, and the scene where she comes out of the bathroom to her new husband, with her hair in that style, is not to be missed. Cloris Leachman as Frau Blucher, Peter Boyle as the monster, Marty Feldman as Igor (that's pronouced Eye-gor), Gene Hackman as the blind hermit (a scene with an ending line I'll never forget),Terri Garr as the voluptuous laboratory assistant and the marvelous Gene Wilder as Dr. Frankenstein (that's Fronk-en-steen) are an unbelievably funny ensemble. Frankly, I can never watch any of the Frankenstein movies anymore without the hilarious Young Frankenstein always in my mind. Make a really fun weekend for yourself. Watch these movies in order. It will be an experience you won't forget.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

People-eating Plants Stalk Howard Keel and Janette Scott in "The Day of the Triffids"

British author John Wyndham provided the literary basis for two of the most compelling science fiction films of the 1960s: Village of the Damned and The Day of the Triffids. While the former film has a more prestigious reputation, Triffids has its share of admirers. While a low budget often prevents it from achieving its aims, The Day of Triffids remains an intriguing, satisfying vision of life on Earth after a different kind of alien invasion.

As in Village of the Damned, an inexplicable, seemingly harmless phenomenon ultimately threatens the existence of the human race. In this case, it’s a worldwide meteor shower touted by the media as a “once-in- lifetime spectacle that must be seen.” Unfortunately, the glare from the meteors severs the optic nerve—leaving most of Earth’s population blind. To make matters worse, the meteors activate exterrestrial seeds that had been dormant for years. The seeds quickly sprout into Triffids, giant man-eating plants that can uproot themselves and seek their human quarry.

The film’s main protagonist is Mason (Howard Keel), a first mate who can see only because he was recovering from eye surgery on the night of the meteor shower. As Mason travels throughout the ruins of Europe looking for answers, his story is intercut with the Goodwins. Tom Goodwin (Kieron Moore) is an alcoholic marine biologist battling Triffids in a remote lighthouse laboratory off the coast of Cornwall with his long-suffering wife (Janette Scott).

When I first saw The Day of the Triffids, I was struck by the film’s unusual structure, for the two plots (Mason and the Goodwins) never converge. Years later, I learned that the footage of the Goodwins was filmed by famed cinematographer and occasional director Freddie Francis after principal photography was completed. The reason: the film’s original running time was too short! Ironically, it’s the most interesting plot because of what it doesn’t tell us. We never learn why Tom started drinking or why Susan stays with her self-centered husband. It’s almost a snapshot of a faltering marriage, with no beginning and no end.

The film’s strength, though, lies with its frightening premise. Forget the Triffids (who are too lumbering to be a real threat). Imagine what would happen if most of the world’s inhabitants suddenly went blind. Day of the Triffids explores this theme with several chilling sequences: a airplane full of panicked passengers; blind people groping frantically when they learn a young girl can see; and escaped convicts who take advantage of the visually impaired. It’s too bad that the variable, low-budget special effects (by Wally Veevers from Night of the Demon) lessen some of the impact.

Those who have read Wyndham’s novel deride the 1962 version of The Day of Triffids. They tend to favor the 1981 British miniseries, which I've never seen. It may be very good, but the original Triffids will always remain a favorite: a well-done, low-budget feature that rises above the ordinary on the basis of its ingenuity.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Interview with Silent Screen Star John Gilbert's Daughter...coming soon


One Sunday night last January I turned on Turner Classic Movies and happened upon the documentary, Rediscovering John Gilbert. One of Gilbert's great silent classics, Bardelys the Magnificent (1926, directed by King Vidor), had aired earlier, and though I'd missed it, I watched the documentary beginning to end.

Prominently featured in the film on Gilbert was his daughter Leatrice who, I learned, had written a biography of her father in the mid-1980s: Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of the Legendary John Gilbert. Interested, I decided to pick up the book and tracked down a copy on Amazon.

In the course of all of this I also managed to make contact with Leatrice Gilbert Fountain and we began a friendly correspondence. For example, when I read in Dark Star that John Gilbert had attended Hitchcock Military Academy for a time and realized that the school had been located in the town where I live, I shared this with Leatrice (and later let her know that I'd found the spot where it once stood).

A blog that I posted here at the Cafe, "Blue Angel of Mercy? Another view of Marlene Dietrich," was inspired by a section in Dark Star on Dietrich's relationship with John Gilbert and about her relationship with young Leatrice following Gilbert's death. Both Leatrice and I were very happy when Movie FanFare asked to republish the blog.

And then last month I received TCM's schedule for August and discovered that John Gilbert was to be honored with his own day as part of the annual "Summer Under the Stars" showcase. I contacted Leatrice and we eventually decided to do a phone interview to be published here at the Cafe. Our conversation was a delight...and Leatrice is a jewel - intelligent, articulate, amusing and very warm and kind.

Leatrice Gilbert Fountain's interview will post here on August 23. My hope is that the blog does as much to pay tribute to Leatrice, who has devoted many years to restoring her father's reputation, as it does to promote viewing the films of John Gilbert on TCM, Tuesday, August 24, beginning 6am Eastern/3am Pacific.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 47

Who am I? In my first English language film one of my co-stars was Ethel Barrymore. Among many other roles, I have played a prince, a playboy, an uncredited narrator for a Billy Wilder film, a tutor, and a judge. Who am I?

Which film is this? The supporting cast includes Tommy Sands, Kay Medford, Larry Hagman, Peter Marshall, and James Coco. Name the film.

1. For Which Film is This?, who were the three top-billed stars?

2. What was the first film in which both Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn appeared?

3. Who was the star and who was the director of the film in #2?

4. What do the films What's Up Doc?, The Muppet Movie, and Catch 22 have in common?

5. In which film did Who Am I? play a judge?

6. Directed Ronald Reagan in Bedtime for Bonzo, but is best known for producing a long-running talk show. Who is this person and what was the name of the talk show?

7. The brother of the star of the talk show in #5 was the director of a competing talk show; name the brother and the show.

8. Who was the "sidekick" of the star of the show in #7?

9. Who was the "sidekick" of the star of the show in #6?

10. Name the game show hosted by the star of the show in #6.

Trivia Time - Part 46 - the Answers

First, thanks for playing, Lady Eve, Classic Becky and Dawn!

The answers to the rest:

1. Car 99 1935; Fred MacMurray
3. The scores were all composed by Jerry Goldsmith
5. Frank Tashlin
6. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? 1957
7. Tony Randall, Jayne Mansfield
8. John Ridgely
9. Alan Hale

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Invaders: "The Ivy Curtain"

The first season of The Invaders ranked with the best sci fi on television in the 1960s. The premise was a canny mixture of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Fugitive (only in reverse).

Roy Thinnes stars as architect David Vincent, who accidentally spies an alien spaceship landing on Earth when he pulls off the road late one night to get a cup of coffee at Bud’s Diner (which, from the looks of it, has been long out of business). Vincent quickly discovers that the human-looking aliens aren’t friendly—their mission is to make Earth their home. When his incredible story meets with the expected skepticism, Vincent sets off in pursuit of the Invaders, determined to collect evidence and thwart them whenever possible. Whereas Richard Kimble was the hunted in The Fugitive, David Vincent becomes the hunter in The Invaders. It’s no coincidence that executive producer Quinn Martin and producer Alan Armer were driving forces behind both shows.

One of the finest episodes during Season 1 is “The Ivy Curtain.” It opens with an airplane malfunctioning in-flight during a thunderstorm. During the subsequent emergency landing, a large piece of cargo falls on top of one of the executives on board. The pilot rushes to help his passenger—but despite a huge gash in the executive’s arm, there’s no blood…no wound…no pain. The passengers surround the pilot like a pack of wolves ready to pounce on their prey. The title credits roll.

The focus then shifts to Vincent, who has arrived in a small New Mexico town on the heels of William Burns. The narrator (a Quinn Martin staple) informs viewers that Burns is an educator and business administrator—who has been on “planet Earth for less than a year.” Vincent trails Burns to Midland Academy, where the architect is captured by the aliens.

Vincent quickly escapes and learns that Midland Academy is one of several training camps for new alien visitors to Earth. They take college-like classes where they are taught the “language of emotion" (they even practice simulating fear). In one classroom, alien students are hooked to a computer that downloads Earth’s historical data into their brains (wish I’d had one of those machines in college!). The most intriguing “course” has young aliens learning how to blend in at a simulated (but still groovy) 1960s dance joint. In between doing The Twist, the teen Invaders huddle around tables and spout hip dialogue designed to inspire human anarchy.

The rest of the plot takes a more conventional approach in examining the failing marriage between a pilot (Jack Warner) and his restless wife (Susan Oliver). Yet, even this subplot is well-played by the guest stars, especially Oliver who convincingly portrays a woman who loves her husband, but needs more excitement than he can provide.

The best Invaders episodes, though, spotlight the menacing aliens. They are typically suave, intellectual villains who have ingrained themselves into the fabric of humankind. They are executives, doctors, educators, scientists, and politicians. It’s hard to tell them apart from the good guys—even their henchmen seems to dress like CIA agents in black business suits, sunglasses, and shoulder holsters.

Roy Thinnes anchors the show with an appealing presence and the requisite passion to stop the alien invasion. Still, he lacks the depth of character that David Janssen brought to The Fugitive (e.g., no one gained more mileage from a crack of a smile).

Apparently, though, the producers of The Invaders worried that Vincent’s one-man mission would prove wearisome as the series progressed. In Season 2, Vincent found and joined a group of fellow alien hunters called The Believers. It was an interesting concept that failed to live up to its potential except for a handful of episodes. Or, perhaps, The Invaders was just running out of fresh ideas as do all TV series. Still, at its best—as in episodes like “The Ivy Curtain”—The Invaders was a fascinating, sometimes thought-provoking TV series that lived up to its intriguing premise.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Man vs. Machine in Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"

The Metropolis is a huge, expansive city with skyscrapers and elevated railways. This is where the rich live lavishly and play in beautiful gardens, carefree and content. Well below where the wealthy reside is the “workers’ city,” where laborers work long, hard hours to maintain the city above them. Fredersen (Alfred Abel), “Master of Metropolis,” runs the city with cold determination. His son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), enjoys his buoyant lifestyle, but one day, he follows a young woman to where the workers work underground. Horrified by an accident which leaves a number of laborers deceased, Freder hurriedly tells his father what he has witnessed. Fredersen, however, is upset that he’s been informed of the incident by his son (in lieu of an employee) and is more concerned with “plans” that a foreman discovered on two of the dead workers. The papers found are actually maps to a place in the city’s catacombs, where workers congregate to listen to Maria (Brigitte Helm), the woman with whom Freder has become obsessed.

Meanwhile, Freder returns to the workers’ city and swaps places with one of the laborers. As Maria tells the workers that a “Mediator” will essentially be the savior and establish balance between the planners and the laborers, Freder believes that he is to be the Me
diator. Fredersen convinces inventor/scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to make his Maschinenmensch (“machine-man”) in the likeness of Maria, to instill doubt among the workers’ faith in the woman. Rotwang, however, has a sinister purpose, as he and Fredersen were once in love with the same woman, who married Fredersen and died giving birth to Freder. Rotwang sends the Maria-machine to spark a revolution among the laborers, hoping to destroy Metropolis and murder Fredersen’s son.

One of the most significant qualities of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film, Metropolis, is a bleak view of capitalism. It is doubtless from the beginning that the extravagant metropolis could not exist without the work of the men below. These are not men who go into work each day, heads held high. In fact, they literally hang their heads and hide their faces, a slow march to and from work. The movie opens with a shift change, and the audience follows the men unto what looks to be a freight elevator and leisurely descends into the depths of the city. The workers appear to be on their way to prison, which, in many respects, they are. After one of Fredersen’s men is fired, Freder rushes to the man’s side and stops him from putting a bullet into his head. Such an act implies that, without employment, however burdensome, death is the only viable option.

A common fear that is frequently expressed in sci-fi films (e.g., James Cameron’s
Terminator series) is a general uneasiness of machines taking over the world. Metropolis makes such a somber concept even darker with a man who intentionally creates a machine to destroy his own kind. And in the end, potential destruction is not at the hands of the machines, but the hands of the men, as the Maschinenmensch is instructed to coerce the workers into destroying themselves. This coincides with an image Freder has following the accident, one of Moloch, a machine to which the laborers are sacrificed. It’s a frightening idea not just because of the implication of men working to their deaths, but, in Freder’s vision, the men willingly walk up the steps into the mouth of Moloch.


There are men vs. machine comparisons throughout Metropolis. In addition to the Maria and Maschinenmensch duality, the men, in the process of labor, are staged and choreographed to look like machines. Their movements are sharp and precise and, most notably, monotonous, to the point where, if watched long enough, the men will truly resemble machinery. This goes back to an appraisal of capitalism, in that the political ideal is not a construction of equality, but a hierarchy, with the wealthy high in the sky and the laborers nothing more than cogs in the machinery.

Klein-Rogge is the titular doctor of Lang’s
Dr. Mabuse films (1922 and 1933), the first film which also featured his Metropolis co-star, Abel. Although she is completely unrecognizable, actress Helm was actually playing the part of the Maschinenmensch. There are various prints of Metropolis with multiple running times. This is partly due to some of the footage reportedly being lost after its premiere in Germany, but also from the speed of the frame rate (or frames per second), long a source of debate among film historians and enthusiasts.

Metropolis is a much loved sci-fi classic, and deservedly so. When the film was released in 1927, the year of the movie’s setting, 2026, was nearly a century away. Now, in 2010, we are much closer to the time of Metropolis, and the film’s impact has not diminished in the slightest. It’s an expression of societal classes that can be applied to what is happening in the present, as well as a fear that may still lurk in our hearts today.