Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Best of the Cafe for 2014

With 2015 just around the corner, the Cafe's staff looked back over 2014 and selected our favorite posts of the year (you know, just in case you missed them!). It was a great year and we thank everyone who has visited this blog and especially those that left a comment. By the way, the posts below are listed in no particular order.

Elke Sommer got the year off to a fine start.
1. Our interview with the delightful Elke Sommer. (January 15)

2. The Five Best Cult Films of the 1960s. (April 28)

3. A review of My Cousin Rachel, which was part of the CMBA's Fabulous Films of the 1950s Blogathon. (May 22)

4. Our interview with author, actor, and grand storyteller Jim Rosin (whom Rick met at the Western Film Fair). (August 14)

5. A review of Delmer Daves' noir classic Dark Passage, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. (October 2)

6. British Classic Television A to Z, one of the most popular installments in our series of "A to Z" posts.

7. A tribute to the Boris Karloff-hosted classic TV series Thriller, posted as part of the Summer of Me TV Classic TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. (June 2)

8. Our James Stewart Blogathon, which featured many wonderful reviews of Mr. Stewart's films. (April 17)

9. Our interview with Deanna Brandenberger, exeuctive director of the Ava Gardner Museum in Smithfield, North Carolina. (September 29)

10. Our interview with the fascinating Piper Laurie, which Rick conducted during the Western Film Fair. (August 25)

We wish you all a happy New Year! See you in 2015.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Arthur Hailey's "Hotel"

I always think of Hotel as a follow-up to Arthur Hailey's Airport--when, in reality, the former film came out first. Made in 1967, it was based on Hailey's novel of the same title. Of course, the movie's structure--different stories set in a grand hotel--harkens back to...well...Grand Hotel (1932). Still, it's a serviceable plot device; the key is to wrap the framing story around interesting ones involving the guests. In that aspect, one could call Hotel a reasonable success.

The central story revolves arond the future of the St. Gregory, a posh but aging and debt-ridden hotel in New Orleans. Its elderly owner, Warren Trent (Melvyn Douglas), has a standing offer from developers who want the real estate, but not the hotel. The other option is to sell to hotel magnate Curtis O'Keefe (Kevin McCarthy), who wants to transform the St. Gregory from an upscale hotel into a very commercial one. Neither choice appeals to Trent, so his general manager Peter McDermott (Rod Taylor) tries to put together his own deal.

Merle Oberon as the Duchess.
Meanwhile, a visiting British dignitary (Michael Rennie) and his wife (Merle Oberon) find themselves in a quandry when he accidentally kills a child while driving drunk and flees the scene. While he struggles with his conscience, his wife tries to strike a bargain with the blackmailing house detective (Richard Conte). Other hotel guests fall prey to a clever thief (Karl Malden), who steals room keys and then robs the occupants while they sleep. Finally, Peter can't help but notice O'Keefe's lovely companion (Catherine Spaak) and she apparently has eyes for him.

Screenwriter Wendell Mayes (Anatomy of a Murder, Von Ryan's Express) simplifies and downsizes Hailey's novel. In the book, Peter has a checkered past and is interested in Trent's secretary (who's missing from the movie). Mayes jettisons a major subplot involving an attempted rape, adds the romance between Peter and O'Keefe's girlfriend, and alters the climax. Undoubtedly, major alterations were required to keep the running time at two hours. Still, too much time is spent on Malden's key thief, whose every appearance is accompanied by a playful jazz theme that becomes unbearable.

Rod Taylor as the hotel's manager.
Just as the unflappable, efficient McDermott keeps the St. Gregory operating smoothy, Rod Taylor keeps Hotel moving along from subplot to subplot. A reliable leading man, Taylor got pigeon-holed as a likable hero, which sadly limited his big screen appearances after the 1960s. Lame pictures like Trader Horn didn't help either. Still, he shifted his focus to television in the 1970s, where he thrived for the next two decades in series such as Bearcats! and Falcon Crest.

French actress Catherine Spaak.
While it's entertaining to see classic-era stars such as Ms. Oberon, Conte, and Douglas, they have relatively little screen time. In contrast, too much time is devoted to Kevin McCarthy's one-note "villain" and Catherine Spaak's tedious love interest for Taylor. To the latter's defense, the French beauty is saddled with the film's worst dialogue. When Taylor discovers her wearing only her slip in his apartment, she tells him seductively: "Take off your jacket. You interest me."

Coincidentally, Spaak and Karl Malden appeared in another movie together six years later: Dario Argento's suspense film Cat O'Nine Tails. As pointed out in other sources, there's another bit of trivia involving Malden. After his thief discovers a stolen wallet only contains a few dollars, he blames his bad luck on the growing popularity of credit cards. Years later, Malden would make a famous series of commercials for American Express, advising consumers not to leave home without their credit card.

Eighteen years after the release of Hotel, Aaron Spelling--already flourishing with the similar series The Love Boat and Fantasy Island--produced a TV series based on Hailey's novel. James Brolin played the manager of the St. Gregory, which was now located in San Francisco. Other series regulars during the show's five-year run included Connie Selleca, Shari Belafonte, and Anne Baxter.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Seven Things to Know About Walter Matthau

Carol Grace and Walter Matthau.
1. Walter Matthau met his second wife, Carol Grace, when they both appeared in the 1955-56 Broadway hit Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? She was previously married--twice--to playwright and author William Saroyan (The Human Comedy). In her 1992 memoir, Among The Porcupines, she wrote: "I married Saroyan the second time because I couldn't believe how terrible it was the first time. I married Walter because I love to sleep with him."

2. In 1961, Matthau played an investigator for the Florida Sheriff's Bureau in the half-hour syndicated TV series Tallahassee 7000. It was produced by Herbert B. Leonard, who co-created Route 66 with Stirling Silliphant. Like Route 66Tallahassee 7000 was shot on location. Matthau later claimed that he starred in the show only to pay off gambling debts.

Matthau as Oscar in the film version.
3. Walter Matthau made his Broadway debut in 1948, playing a servant in Anne of the Thousand Days. He was nominated for a Tony as Featured Actor in a Play for Once More With Feeling (1959) and then won that same award for A Shot in the Dark (1962). However, his career as a leading man took off after his Tony win for Male Comedy Performance in The Odd Couple in 1965. Matthau played slob Oscar to Art Carney's neat freak Felix. Years later, Matthau told Time Magazine: "Every actor looks all his life for a part that will combine his talents with his personality. The Odd Couple was mine. That was the plutonium I needed. It all started happening after that."

4. Walter Matthau directed himself and his wife, Carol, in 1959's Gangster Story. He played a criminal on the run who inadvertently infringes on mob territory (the plot bears a slight resemblance to one his best 1970s films, Charley Varrick). Matthau never directed again, although his son Charlie became a director. Charlie directed his father and Jack Lemmon in The Grass Harp.

5. Matthau and Lemmon appeared in ten movies together, starting with Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie (1966), which earned Matthau a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. He was nominated twice as Best Actor, for The Sunshine Boys (1975) and Kotch (1971). The latter film was directed by Jack Lemmon.

6. Lemmon and Matthau became great friends. Matthau told People Magazine in 1998: "The main thing I like about Jack is that he bathes every day, so I don't have to worry about being assaulted odoriferously."

7. He and Barbra Streisand clashed famously on the set of 1969's Hello, Dolly! I'll skip Walter's best-known insult about his co-star (just Google the film's title, Matthau, and butterfly) and close with this quip: "I would like to work with Barbra again on something more suitable to her talents--like Macbeth."

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Free Gift for Cafe Readers!

This holiday season, we want to show our appreciation to all the classic film and TV fans that have visited this blog over the last five years. As our gift to you, we are offering the free e-book Eat, Drink, and Watch Movies. This 446-page volume consists of 200 film reviews and essays written by the major contributors to the Classic Film & TV Cafe. Most of these reviews have appeared on our blog site, but there is also some never-before-published material.

Eat, Drink, and Watch Movies is available at absolutely no cost. You don't even have to register your e-mail to download it. Just click on the following secure link: https://copy.com/cwyWOtL97YuAhxlu

This link will take you to the Cafe's folder at Copy.com. Click on the book cover to browse the file. When you are ready to download it to your computer or mobile device, click the blue arrow download icon (shown on right). You can then save it to our PC or mobile device.

The e-book was published as an Adobe Acrobat file, so you should be able to view it on any device. The table of contents contains hyperlinks to each review so that you can go to them quickly.

If you have any trouble downloading the e-book, just send an e-mail to me (rick@classicfilmtvcafe.com). Like our blog, this was a nonprofit venture and no one at the Cafe will make any money off it, either directly or indirectly. In other words, we did it for the love of cinema!

Monday, December 15, 2014

We Describe the Movie...You Name It! (Holiday Edition)

Here are the rules to this quiz: Name each film below based on our vague description. All these movies either take place around Christmas or feature a key scene during the yuletide season. Be sure to include the question number with your response. Please don't answer more than three questions daily so others can play, too. There is one film that is the single best answer to each description. Most of these should be pretty easy. Happy holidays!

1. Man uses old injury to manipulate friend.

2. The U.S. Postal Service helps save the day.

3. Wanted: Cook, baby, husband.

4. A never-ending supply of sherry.

5. Hee haw.

6. That Girl meets Frank Capra.

7. John-Boy (looking for the movie!).

8. Singin' happy birthday to baby Jesus.

9. Nun plays tennis.

10. Woman kills husband on New Year's Eve.

11. Attorney and criminal fall in love.

12. An Egyptian mummy for a Christmas gift?

13. Drunken actor recounts A Christmas Carol to greedy family.

14. Almost the entire film takes place in a bank being robbed.

15. "Mommy's little piggy!"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Greatest Stars of the 1940s Poll

Who are the biggest classic film stars of the 1940s? You decide by taking our "Greatest Stars of the 1940s" poll!

Today through December 25th, you can cast your vote for up to ten of the 100+ classic film stars on our ballot. And if we omitted one of your choices, you can complete the "write-in" portion of the ballot and include them.

Remember this is a 1940s poll, so stars that dominated earlier (e.g., Charles Chaplin) and later decades (e.g., Marilyn Monroe) are not included.

As for the criteria for determining who is "the greatest," we leave that up to you.

Fell free to share this ballot link with any other classic film fans you think might be interested:

http://classicfilmtvcafe.polldaddy.com/s/greatest-stars-of-1940s

Monday, December 8, 2014

My Bodyguard: Facing Up to the School Bully and Forging Friendships

Today's video review takes a look at the appealing 1980 sleeper hit My Bodyguard, which stars Chris Makepeace, Adam Baldwin, and Matt Dillon. The supporting cast is an interesting mix of screen veterans and stars-to-be.

If you can't see the video review below in your browser, click here to view it directly from the Cafe's YouTube channel.


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remembering Television's Original Peter Pan

Mary Martin as Peter Pan.
With NBC mounting a new live production of Peter Pan on December 4th, I wanted to pay homage to the network's earlier version starring Mary Martin. That classic television special premiered almost 60 years ago, originally as an episode of the anthology series Producer's Showcase. Its success was immediate—Peter Pan became the most watched program in the brief history of network TV. Even more surprisingly, it provided what turned out to be its star's signature role.

In Ronald L. Davis' book Mary Martin, Broadway Legend, the author includes this quote from Ms. Martin: "Peter Pan is perhaps the most important thing, to me, that I have ever done in theater." That's high praise from a legendary star who is also identified with two Rodgers and Hammerstein classic stage musicals: South Pacific and The Sound of Music.

Whole books have been devoted to the history of James M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, which was originally written as a play in 1904 and later transformed into a novel (also known as Peter and Wendy). Actually, Peter made his first appearance as a character in Barrie’s 1902 novel The Little White Bird (portions of which were later published as Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens). Barrie bequeathed all profits from Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for children.

Martin was 41--but didn't look
her age!
In 1954, producer Edwin Lester and stage director Jerome Robbins came up with the idea to transform Barrie's Peter Pan into a Broadway musical. Ironically, just a year before, Walt Disney had adapted Barrie's play into an animated film with songs (though it's not really a musical). Lester hit the jackpot when Mary Martin agreed to play Peter Pan, a part typically portrayed by actresses. Martin was already a huge Broadway star, having won a Tony award for South Pacific.

From the beginning, the intent was to mount a stage musical and then "film" it for NBC television. Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh wrote the songs for the original version, which included now-favorites "I've Gotta Crow" and "I'm Flying." After a West Coast tryout, director Robbins decided to add more songs and turned to Jule Styne (already a popular songwriter) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (who had teamed with Leonard Bernstein for On the Town). The most notable contributions from Styne, Comden and Green were the songs "Never Never Land" and "Wendy."

Cyril Ritchard made a delightful
Captain Hook.
The Peter Pan musical opened on Broadway in October 1954 and, despite a planned limited run that lasted just 152 performances, earned Tony awards for Mary Martin and her co-star Cyril Ritchard (who, as is tradition, played Mr. Darling and Captain Hook).

The stage musical was then recreated on NBC's sound stages for Producer's Showcase and broadcast in March 1955. It was both a popular and critical success, earning Mary Martin an Emmy. NBC showed another live telecast with the same cast the following year. Then, in 1960, NBC mounted a third production, which was recorded as a stand-alone television special. This version was subsequently rebroadcast on NBC in 1963, 1966, 1973, and 1989. It has since been shown on the Disney Channel and released on DVD.

Sandy Duncan as Peter.
Although the Mary Martin Peter Pan (as dubbed by its fans) is the most famous, there have other adaptations of the Broadway musical on stage and on television. Sandy Duncan received a Tony nomination for a 1980 revival, which co-starred George Rose as Captain Hook.  In 1991, gymnast Cathy Rigby starred in a “theater in the round” revival. She also received a Tony nomination and later reprised the role in 1992 and 1998. My wife and I saw Lulu (To Sir, With Love) as Peter Pan in a West End production in the mid-1980s (she was fabulous!).

Mia Farrow and Danny Kaye.
Despite the steady stage revivals, the only attempt to replace Mary Martin as Peter Pan on TV occurred in 1976. The Hallmark Hall of Fame broadcast an entirely new musical with songs by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse. Mia Farrow portrayed Peter with Danny Kaye as Captain Hook. Despite a game cast, it was a rather mundane affair that was quickly dismissed by critics and viewers.

That brings us back to NBC’s Peter Pan Live! starring Allison Williams as Peter and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook. I hope it captures the spirit of the original, which Mary Martin described aptly in the aforementioned biography: “Neverland is the way I would like real life to be...timeless, free, mischievous, filled with gaiety, tenderness, and magic."

Monday, December 1, 2014

Five of the Biggest Classic Hollywood Scandals

Celebrity scandals undoubtedly get exposed quicker these days thanks to tabloid TV and social media. However, they have always provided rich fodder for gossip columns and literary exposes such as Kenneth Anger's notorious Hollywood Babylon. Today, we take a look at five of the biggest classic Hollywood scandals. We focused our attention on the rich and famous, as opposed to sensationalized events featuring lesser-known people (e.g., actress Peg Entwistle, who committed suicide by jumping off the "H" in the Hollywood Sign).

 Johnny Stompanato and Lana Turner.
Lana Turner and the murder of Johnny Stompanato. Lana was still a major star in the late 1950s when she met Stompanato shortly after her divorce from Lex Barker. Alas, "Handsome Harry" (one of his nicknames) was a bodyguard for gangster Mickey Cohen and prone to violence. Lana's tumultuous relationship with Stompanato came to an end on August 4, 1958 when Turner returned home from the Academy Awards. She and Stompanato engaged in a heated argument and, fearing for her mother, Lana's fourteen-year-old daughter Cheryl stabbed Stompanato to death with a kitchen knife. The incident was eventually ruled a justifiable homicide. 

Arbuckle's mug shot.
Fatty Arbuckle and the Death of Virginia Rappe. Perhaps the most notorious of all Hollywood scandals, the 1921 death of model-actress Virginia Rappe has been the subject of entire books. Rappe died from a ruptured bladder and secondary peritonitis after attending a party in a hotel room with Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle and others. There are various accounts of what happened at the party, although the one seized on by the tabloids was that Arbuckle raped Rappe and his weight caused her bladder to rupture. The police arrested Arbuckle and charged him with manslaughter. His first trial was declared a mistrial after the jury deliberated for over 40 hours and could not reach a verdict. A second trial with the same judge included new evidence, but also resulted in a deadlocked jury and no verdict. Arbuckle testified in the third trial and was found not guilty--the jury only deliberated for six minutes. The jury also issued a formal apology that began: "Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done him. We feel also that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration, under the evidence, for there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime."

Cooper and Velez.
The Suicide of Lupe Vélez. Best known for the Mexican Spitfire "B" film series, the Mexican-born Vélez played leading roles earlier in her career. Still, she was probably best known for her public persona; she once said: "Even though the public thinks I'm a pretty wild girl, I'm really not. I'm just me, Lupe Vélez, a simple and natural Lupe." After a stormy affair with Gary Cooper, she married Johnny Weissmuller in 1933. It was her only marriage and ended after five years. There are varied accounts about how Vélez--who was four months pregnant and unmarried--died in 1944. Today, it's generally believed she took an intentional overdose of barbiturates and died on her bed or the floor. She left two suicide notes, the first being to Harald Ramond, whom she mentions as the father of her child (there are rumors identifying others as potential fathers--to include Gary Cooper). Lupe's second note was to Beulah Kinder, her secretary and companion. It ended with: "Take care of Chips and Chops." They were her two dogs.

Jerry Giesler and client Errol Flynn.
Errol Flynn's Statutory Rape Trial. In 1942, at the height of his silver screen fame, Flynn was charged with two counts of statutory rape. The most intriguing version of the scandal was offered by Kenneth Anger, who alleged that powerful Los Angeles politicians trumped up the charges in retaliation for studios not paying to keep their stars out of trouble. A more likely account is the one offered by Flynn, who spends a chapter describing the trial and its consequences in his autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways. In any event, Warner Bros. hired famed attorney Jerry Giesler to defend Flynn. Giesler discredited the alleged victims and their accounts of the incidents. Flynn was found not guilty; he also fell in love with the young woman who worked in the snack bar at the courthouse. He married Nora Eddington in 1943.

Newlyweds Oona and Charles.
The Child Brides of Charles Chaplin. Although recognized as a comedic legend, Chaplin spent much of his life dodging controversies surrounding his marriages. His first wife, Mildred Harris, was 17 when she married the 30-year-old Chaplin after telling him she was pregnant (it turned out to be a false alarm). His second wife, Lita Grey, was just 16 when they were wed in Mexico after learning she was pregnant. His third wife, actress Paulette Goddard, was 21 when they married (although there are discrepancies regarding when she was born). After he and Goddard separated, actress Joan Barry filed a successful paternity suit against Chaplin--despite blood tests that indicated he was not the father of her baby. His affair with Barry also led to a criminal charge that he violated the Mann Act; he was acquitted after a two-week trial. Around the same time as those legal troubles, Charles Chaplin married Oona O'Neill, the daughter of playwright Eugene O'Neill. She was 18 and Chaplin was 54. They remained married until Chaplin's death in 1977 and had eight children.

Honorable mentions:  Robert Mitchum's two months in jail for possession of marijuana; producer Thomas Ince's death aboard William Randolph Hearst's yacht; and the mysterious suicide of actress Thelma Todd.