Sunday, March 28, 2010

Trivia Time - Part 30

Before we start this week's game, here's a recap from last week. Sazball gave two correct answers for #3, but for the second part of the answer, I was also looking for the actor Angus Lennie. For question # 4, Andy Devine did four films for director William Wellman. OK, now that I have that out of the way, let's start this week game.

Who Am I? During the early to mid 1960s, I was the highest paid "guest star" on television. Who Am I?

#1. Brain Buster # 1. In the 1947 Universal prison film Brute Force, what film is shown during "movie night"?

#2. Who played Connie Sellecca's mother on The Greatest American Hero?

#3. Brain Buster #2. What future Oscar-winning actor played the "jump master" in the James Cagney film 13 Rue Madeleine?

#4. Brain Buster #3. Wanted Dead Or Alive was a spin-off of what TV show? Who was the star?

#5. Brain Buster # 4. Who once called himself "The King of Unsold Pilots"?

#6. How many TV series has Robert Urich done (not counting mini-series)?

#7. Brain Buster #5. Who was the second woman admitted into the Directors Guild of America (DGA)?

#8. Who played Detective Sgt Sam Stone? On what show?

#9. According to an urban myth, during Larry Hagman's "contract problems" with the Dallas productors, this actor was going to replace Hagman as JR. The actor said it never happened, no one from Dallas ever called him. Who is he?

#10. Brain Buster #6. What actor, productor was the director of the early 1950s TV show The Adventures of Kit Carson? Who was the star?

Underrated Performer of the Week: Andy Devine

Andy Devine, the comic character actor, is this week's Underrated Performer. Andy was born on Octber 7, 1905 in Flagstaff, Arizonia and was raised in Kingman, Arizona.

His trademark high-pitch, gravelly voice was the result of a childhood accident. The story goes that while running with a stick (some versions have it as a curtain rod) in his mouth, Andy tripped and fell, ramming the object through the roof of his mouth. For about a year, he was unable to speak at all. When his voice came back, it had the wheezing, almost duo-toned sound that would become his trademark and make him a star.

Andy was a athlete, playing college football at St. Mary & St. Bendedict College, Arizona State Teachers College, and Santa Clara University. He was good enough to play semi-pro football under the fake name of Jeremiah Schwartz to keep his college amateur status.

Andy's first role was a uncredited part in the 1926 silent film The Collegians. He keep working in silent films, scoring his first good role in 1931's The Spirit of Notre Dame, playing a football player named Truck McCall. From then on, Andy was on his way.

He worked on the original 1932 Destry Rides Again starring Tom Mix, but his part wound up being deleted. In 1933, he made his first of four films for William "Wild Man" Wellman, Midnight Mary. It was followed by 1937's A Star Is Born and 1938's Men With Wings.

His next big film was John Ford's Stagecoach (1939), where he played the stagecoach driver Buck. John Ford gave Andy the part because of his actual experience in driving a six-horse team. Andy worked all through the 1940s, usually playing the comic relief. Some of his better films of this period are 1940's Buck Benny Rides Again with Jack Benny, 1941's The Flame of New Orleans with Marlene Dietrich, and Bruce Cabot, 1943's war film Corvette K-225 with Randolph Scott, and 1951's The Red Badge of Courage.

In 1951, Andy became well-known for playing Jingles P. Jones, a role Burl Ives turned down. in The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickok staring Guy Madison.

In 1953, Andy again teamed with William Wellman in the film Island in the Sky, one of the best films about flying search and rescue ever made. Wellman gave him the dramatic part of Willie Moon, a C47 pilot who leads a mission to find the downed John Wayne. It's by far my favorite of Andy's roles. In real life, Andy was a excellent pilot and owned a flying school that trained pilots for the US during World War II. Jack Webb also let Andy play a dramatic role in his 1955 film Pete Kelly's Blues. Andy played detective George Tenell.

In 1955, before the Wild Bill show ended, Andy took over the job of hosting a kids show that for, some of us of "'a certain age" would be what we remember Andy for: Andy's Gang, which ran from 1955 to 1960.

Andy worked on TV and films all during the 1960s and 1970s . His films include: John Ford's Two Rode Together and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, How the West Was Won, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, Myra Breckinridge, the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney's animated Robin Hood and the TV film The Over The Hill Gang. His last film was Won Ton Ton: The Dog That Saved Hollywood.

His TV work includes: Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, Hap Gorman on the first five episodes of Flipper, Batman, Burke's Law, Gunsmoke, The Virginian, and Alias Smith & Jones. His last project was the 1977 The Mouse and His Child as the voice of the Frog.

Andy has two stars on the Hollywood Hall of Fame, one for radio and one for TV. The main street in Kingman, Arizona is named Andy Devine Boulevard.

Andy died on February 18, 1977 in Orange CA.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Studio Logos Tournament: It's the Championship Game!

Only Universal and MGM remain after three weeks of action-packed, nail-biting match-ups to determine the most popular studio logo.

In last week's semi-final games, Universal crushed upstart The Archers in convincing fashion with a 13-2 victory. The road to the championship was more challenging for MGM, which held off a rally from Paramount to beat "The Mountain" by an 11-7 score.

The tournament bracket below shows how each team battled its way to the final game:

And here are this week's well-matched opponents:

Cast your vote for your favorite studio logo in the green sidebar. Good luck to both teams and thanks for supporting the first (and possibly last) Studio Logos Tournament!

Into the West: Destry Rides Again & Saves Dietrich’s Career!!!

It’s 1939 and things aren’t going well for Marlene Dietrich in Hollywood. Her longtime collaboration with Josef von Sternberg is over and she hasn’t made a good film since The Garden of Allah in 1936. And, then, as luck would have it, she’s cast against type as an unglamorous saloon singer in a satirical western. Who knew that all this sophisticated international star needed was a good old-fashioned non-typical American Western to revamp her career?

Based on the Max Brand pulp story of the same name, this film was a remake of the 1932 Tom Mix film (and subsequently was later remade in 1954 with Audie Murphy). George Marshall directs a pair of Western virgins in Dietrich and James Stewart (playing the title role) and does his very best to parody the classic Western. For example, Stewart plays a pacifistic unarmed lawman in a town where flying bullets are the norm. Released in the same year as Stagecoach, the film that set the classic western standard, Destry Rides Again sets its own unique template that other films like Cat Ballou and Blazing Saddles would later borrow from.

Dietrich,-Marlene-(Destry-Rides-Again)_03 The story take place in a town appropriately named BOTTLENECK—primarily because just about the whole movie takes place inside the Last Chance Saloon (where, yet another bit of irony here, Dietrich’s character works). Owned by a shady gambler named Kent (Brian Donlevy), the saloon is a hotbed for gunfights and cheating gamblers--most notably Kent himself. Right from the start, we see Frenchy (Dietrich) helping Kent cheat the hapless Lem Claggett (Tom Fadden) out of his $10,000 ranch by spilling hot coffee on him and allowing his cards to be switched. When Claggett complains to Sheriff Keogh (Joe King) that he was cheated, the sheriff confronts Kent and is shot and killed (off-screen).

Later, we see Frenchy doing her best Mae West impression as she sings “You’ve Got That Look That Leaves Me Weak” to a sexually charged audience. Soon after the song ends, Kent has the corrupt Mayor/Judge Slade (Samuel S. Hinds) announce the town drunk, Dimsdale (Charles Winninger), as the new sheriff.  Where is the esteemed new sheriff upon this announcement? Passed out on the floor, only to be roused by a whisky to the face. Oddly enough, he decides now is a good time to become sober. It seems that before he was a souse he’d been the deputy of Marshal Destry, a famous and respected lawman. He announces he’s going to hire Destry’s son, Tom (Stewart), to help bring order to Bottleneck.

Dimsdale’s (and also the town’s) expectations that Tom Destry will strike fear into criminals are quickly obliterated when a mild-mannered Tom emerges from the stage holding a parasol for fellow passenger, Janice (Irene Harvey). r2-destry-rides-again-pdvd_009 Immediately he becomes the source of ridicule, especially after he reveals that he doesn’t carry a gun and that he drinks milk instead of whisky. Frenchy goes so far as to give him a broom and bucket as tools that he can use to clean up Bottleneck. James Stewart is priceless in these scenes, with his famous aw-shucks attitude. With this characterization, George Marshall has now established the a-typical western sheriff/hero.

However, nothing is more priceless than the catfight between Frenchy and boarding house owner Lily Belle Callahan (Una Merkel). Angry that her Russian émigré husband Boris (Mischa Auer) has lost his pants to Frenchy in a card game, Lily accuses Frenchy of cheating Dietrich and cat fight and all hell breaks lose. In yet another atypical move, Marshall doesn’t have the obligatory barroom brawl occur between men but between two scrappy females. Perhaps one of the longest catfights ever, both women (without the aid of stand-ins) engage in punching and wrestling (among other things) one another to the ground (where they roll around for an extended amount of time) until Destry pours a bucket of water on them. Oh, no he didn’t!  This enrages Frenchy and she turns her wrath on him. After engaging in the same tactics she used on Lily, she grabs a gun and aims it at him. Deciding not to shoot him, she throws everything she can get her hands on at him and even finds herself on his shoulders at one time. This scene is absolutely side-splitting hilarious—her wrath and his bewildered amazement are priceless.

After Tom escapes the saloon, Dimsdale threatens to fire him for being the town laughing-stock. Tom tries to convince him that they can restore order without using guns. Explaining that a gun didn’t do his father any good when he was shot in the back in Tombstone, Tom convinces Dimsdale to give him a chance. We soon learn that just because he doesn’t want to carry a gun it doesn’t mean he can’t handle one. When he stops a group of cowboys from shooting their guns in the air, Tom borrows a gun and puts on a clinic to the amazement of onlookers. Soon Tom learns gal_Stewart_James_4 about the trouble between Kent and Claggett and decides that Frenchy is the person to get answers from. Over coffee in her room, Tom makes mild insinuations that Frenchy purposefully dropped coffee in Claggett’s lap to distract him from his cards. Offended, Frenchy throws him out, but not before he makes a sly comment about her not wearing so much makeup because it covers up her real beauty. As time wears on, Frenchy begins to admire Destry and even offers him her lucky rabbit’s foot and advises him to stay out of dark places.

With his newly sworn-in deputys, Boris, helping, Destry tricks Kent into believing that he knows where Sheriff Keogh’s body is. When Kent sends one of his thugs to check on the body, Boris and Dimsdale tail him and arrest him when he leads them to the body. To avoid the corrupt Mayor Slade presiding over the case, Destry sends for a federal judge. This causes Kent to plan a jailbreak for his man. Fearing that Destry will be killed in the jailbreak, Frenchy sends for him and tries to distract him by telling him she’s leaving town and wants him to go to New Orleans with her. When shots ring out, Destry rushes back to the jail to see the prisoner has escaped and that Dimsdale has been fatally shot. Having had enough, Destry arms himself with his father’s guns and with the help of the fed-up decent townspeople, storms the saloon. Frenchy even tells all the ladies (with pitchforks and rolling pins, nonetheless) they should help their men. Annex%20-%20Stewart,%20James%20(Destry%20Rides%20Again)_02 While the townsfolk are taking care of Kent’s men in the bar, Destry climbs up to the second floor in search of Kent. Just as Kent is about to shoot Destry, Frenchy throws herself in front of him and is mortally wounded. After shooting Kent, Destry holds Frenchy in his arms and honors her last request for a kiss. The way Frenchy rubs away her lipstick at this moment is heartbreaking. In the end, order is restored to the town, but not before Destry has lost another two people he loved to guns.

Before he became the serious cowboy/hero in such westerns as Winchester ‘73 and Broken Arrow, Stewart got to play the atypical Western hero. His easy-mannered performance is not a surprise, as it was his calling card on just about every film he ever made, but it is interesting to watch his Destry spin yarns into valuable lessons. His Destry reminds me of a Wild West Aesop.

Dietrich, of course, had her career revived by this film. She would go on to make two other westerns, The Spoilers and Rancho Notorious, but neither topped her performance here. She shows so many sides to her character it’s difficult to keep up: sassy, sexy, fierce, humorous, fearful, and loving. The bawdiness she puts into her musical numbers, most notably “See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have”, is wickedly enjoyable. She took a big risk playing against type here, but in the end it worked in her favor, as she started to play more diverse characters.

Hilariously entertaining on several levels, this is a true classic.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Fritz and Marlene Play Chuck-a-Luck in "Rancho Notorious"

Fritz Lang's complex tale of “hate, murder, and revenge” played a key role in the development of the “adult Western” in the 1950s. Films such as Rancho Notorious, Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur (1953) and Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954) featured brooding, driven characters who struggled to maintain their morality in a violent world. They presented quite a contrast to John's Ford's dignified Western heroes, as embodied by John Wayne (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon) and others.

The “hero” of Rancho Notorious is Vern Haskell (Arthur Kennedy), a lovesick cowpoke only eight days away from marrying Beth (Gloria Henry). The couple's idyllic dreams are destroyed when an outlaw named Kinch (Lloyd Gough) rapes and kills Beth. Obsessed with revenge, Vern devotes his life to finding Beth's killer. His only clue, obtained from the dying lips of Kinch's partner, is the name of the killer's destination: Chuck-a-Luck.

In the ensuing months, Vern learns that Chuck-a-Luck has something to do with Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich), a once popular dancehall queen. He also discovers that Altar's alleged lover, famed outlaw Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), was captured while trying to purchase a bottle of perfume. Vern gets himself thrown into jail with Frenchy and then, through good luck and his sharp wits, helps Frenchy escape. The grateful Frenchy takes Vern to Chuck-a-Luck, a ranch hideout for outlaws operated by Altar Keane. It is here that Verne hopes to find and execute Beth’s killer.

Lang's original title for the film was Chuck-a-Luck, but RKO executive Howard Hughes changed it because he thought European audiences would not understand the title (Lang's alleged response: “But they would know what Rancho Notorious is?”). While Hughes' title certainly has more flair, Lang's Chuck-a-Luck is more appropriate. Chuck-a-Luck is not only the name of Altar's ranch, but it's also a game of chance that's integral to the film's plot. When Altar and Frenchy first meet, she is playing her last $20 piece on a rigged Chuck-a-Luck wheel (which can best be described as vertical roulette). Frenchy pushes the crooked Chuck-a-Luck dealer aside and spins the wheel himself, ensuring that Altar wins big.

Some film critics go so far as to suggest that Lang structured the film like a Chuck-a-Luck wheel. Vern's search for Altar’s ranch, shown through several montage sequences, represents the spinning of the Chuck-a-Luck wheel. The montage stops—just as the wheel does—whenever Lang wants to show an important event, such as the barber shop fight where Vern learns about Altar Keane or the flashback where Frenchy meets Altar for the first time.

Like many of Lang's films, Rancho Notorious depicts an honest man who, through the intervention of events beyond his control, becomes morally ambiguous. In his quest for vengeance, Vern helps an outlaw escape justice, participates in a bank robbery, and shows a willingness to kill in cold blood. In some Lang films, his protagonists suffer retributions or somehow reestablish their faith in humanity: In Fury (1936) and The Big Heat (1953), the vengeance-minded characters played by Spencer Tracy and Glenn Ford pull back from the brink of a meaningless world. However, like Vern in Rancho Notorious, it's too late for other Lang characters like Henry Fonda's petty criminal in You Only Live Once (1937) and Edward G. Robinson's henpecked husband-turned-murderer in Scarlet Street (1945).

Rancho Notorious has never achieved the classic status of Lang's most revered works, such as Metropolis (1926), M (1931), and the Dr. Mabuse movies. However, in the late 1960s, when film writers began to view Lang as an auteur, they elevated it to the status of an essential work in Lang's legacy. And, though rarely rated as a must-see Western (the stagy sets don’t help), Rancho Notorious remains a favorite among genre fans due to its influence on other dark 1950s Western dramas such as The Hanging Tree. Even the funky “Legend of Chuck-a-Luck” ballad begins to grow on you after a few viewings.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Into the West: The Hanging Tree--A Harbinger of Hope

As Marty Robbins sings the foreshadowing lyrics of The Hanging Tree, Joseph “Doc” Frail (Gary Cooper) rides into a small Montana gold mining town, laden with sluices and poor, yet hopeful, townspeople. As Frail stops for a moment to regard a large malformed tree, another settler remarks that a “hanging tree” makes a town seem respectable.

The same could be said for having a real physician in this make-shift town (in lieu of a self-proclaimed healer named Grubb). On the surface, Doc Frail fits the bill. When a young girl’s illness turns out to be nothing but malnutrition, Frail loans the poor family his cow to provide milk. His only payment: a kiss on the check from his young patient.

But there’s a dark side to this quiet physician that wears his holster like a gunfighter. There are rumors about his past involving a man and a woman killed when a house burned to the ground. There’s also his treatment of Rune (Ben Piazza), a young man shot while trying to rob a sluice. Frail saves the embittered young man’s life, only to make him work as his bond-servant for payment—threatening to turn over the bullet he removed as evidence.

When a stagecoach is robbed, the townspeople divide into groups to look for its crew and passengers. They agree to fire two shots if someone has been found dead and three shots if alive. Karl Malden plays the sleazy prospector Frenchy, who finds the only survivor: an attractive young woman named Elizabeth (Maria Schell), who has been badly sunburned and temporarily blinded. Frenchy fires twice, waits for dramatic effect, and then fires a third shot in the air with a sly smirk on his face. This sets the tone for Frenchy’s questionable character, which comes into play again.

As Elizabeth recovers under the care of Doc Frail, she, Rune, and Frail form something of a modern family—complete with the usual frictions. The “father” has trouble expressing his emotions. The “son” thinks he hates his strict father. The “mother” tries to make peace between the two of them. Still, it’s a functional unit until Frail’s stubbornness—and perhaps guilt from the past—breaks up the family.

The Hanging Tree shares many similarities with the great Anthony Mann-James Stewart Westerns like Winchester ’73, The Far Country, and Bend of the River. The hero is a man with a questionable past who is given another chance at life. In the Mann-Stewart films, the heroes are often redeemed by communities (as in Far Country and Bend of the River). In The Hanging Tree, redemption comes in the form of a woman’s love and, to an extent, a boy’s respect for his father figure.

The Hanging Tree is also a well-developed portrait of a community that exists solely because of the gold mines. There are no elaborate saloons with musical performers as in many Westerns. The “town” is littered with make-shift buildings and tents filled with prostitutes and self-serving men like Grubb. As in Mann’s Westerns, the townspeople are an important part of the overall fabric of the film. They are sketched in carefully crafted vignettes where we get to know the kindly storekeeper, his suspicious wife, the vengeful gambler, etc.

Yet, while it plays like an Anthony Mann picture, The Hanging Tree is a testament to its underappreciated director, Delmer Daves. A graduate of Stanford University’s law school, Daves broke into the movie business as a highly-successful screenwriter, working on the scripts of The Petrified Forest, An Affair to Remember, and many others. As a writer and later director, he proved capable of making great films in almost any genre. Who else could take credit for making a war film with Cary Grant and John Garfield, a film noir with Edward G. Robinson, and a big screen soap with Troy Donahue? What Daves brought to all those films—and The Hanging Tree—was strong story-telling and an eye for great visuals. (He also seemed to have a knack for working with great composers like Max Steiner.)

The cast of The Hanging Tree is impeccable, led by Cooper’s simmering restraint and Maria Schell’s understated charm. George C. Scott, in his first film role, makes a strong impression in his brief scenes as Grubb. Karl Malden shows his versatility once again, revealing Frenchy’s sliminess in subtle layers.

There are plenty of Westerns with great title songs, such as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and 3:10 to Yuma. My favorite, though, is the Oscar-nominated The Hanging Tree, which was written by Jerry Livingston and Mack David. It nicely summarizes the moral of this Western tale: that “to really live, you must almost die” and “when a man is gone, he needs no gold.”

The Hanging Tree is a Western without shootouts at the bar, although guns point the way to life and death. It is a story of survival in challenging times, where sometimes you have to lend a hand, regardless of the cost. And where, in the end, family and love are more important than a lifetime of riches.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Into the West: "Bite the Bullet" Races Toward the Finish

Richard Brooks produced, wrote, and directed Bite the Bullet in 1975. A prolific screenwriter and later director, Brooks earned Oscar nominations for penning the screenplays for Blackboard Jungle (1955), The Professionals (1966), Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), and In Cold Blood (1967). He won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay Adaptation for Elmer Gantry in 1960. He married Jean Simmons, who was his leading lady in that movie.

Brooks loosely based Bite the Bullet on a 700-mile cross country horse race that took place in 1906. The film opens with a newspaper sponsoring such a race with the winner receiving $2,000. The race’s participants are followed by a train that stops at various checkpoints along a course loaded with supplies and even prostitutes for the men. When a horse and rider check in at these stops, they are allowed to rest, eat, and sleep and leave in the order they arrived. A newspaper reporter follows some of the racers with his motorcycle. He writes about the race and helps out any riders who might get into trouble.

The race’s contestants are a mixed group of people. Sam Clayton (Gene Hackman) and Luke Matthews (James Coburn) are former Rough Riders who went separate ways in life, but still remain good friends. Their friendship is the most interesting part of the movie. The race’s only female rider, a former prostitute named Miss Jones (Candice Bergen), has an ulterior motive for wanting to be in the race. A Mexican rider (Mario Arteaga), who is battling a painful toothache, wants to win the money to make a better life for his family. An old sick cowboy, Mister (Ben Johnson), is risking his life to participate in the grueling race. Carbo (Jan-Michael Vincent) is a young immature man who is cruel to animals. Jack Parker (Dabney Coleman) is the wealthy owner of a thoroughbred champion horse and desperately wants his horse to beat the quarter horses adapted to the Western territory. He has even hired an experienced rider to ride his horse. The last man is Sir Henry Norfolk (Ian Bannen), who traveled all the way from England to ride in a Western race just for the sport of it. He even rides an English saddle instead of the widely-used western saddle suited for a race like this one. The way these characters interact during the race reveals much about each of them and also how they deal with the changing times (a theme explored again by Brooks in The Professionals). The cowboy’s way of life is coming to an end with the new transportation of the twentieth century.

At the beginning Bite the Bullet, Sam in en route to deliver a champion thoroughbred horse to Jack Parker, who is waiting on the train. Sam is riding his own horse and leading the thoroughbred. He finds a wild mare that has been captured and tortured by wranglers. She is dead and Sam stops to remove a piece of metal stuck through her nose. He sees a foal belonging to the mare and hears coyotes approaching to kill the young horse. Sam loves horses and has a kind heart. He puts the foal across his saddle. He rides and sees a farm with a young boy milking a cow. Sam asks the boy if he would like a horse of his own. The boy says yes, but he can’t pay for the foal. Sam gives him the foal, telling him he doesn’t have to pay for it but just treat it well. Sam arrives late at the train stop and is promptly fired by Parker, who claims Sam made his champion thoroughbred walk too far.

In town, Sam meets his old friend Luke, who is a gambler and has bet his own money on himself to win the race. He asks Sam why he hasn’t entered the race. Sam says he has been fired by Parker and, since he’s out of a job, he adds his name to the race’s roster. Later, the two men encounter the young punk Carbo hitting a donkey and quickly put a stop to it. This scene and the rescue of the foal show Sam and Luke will not tolerate animal cruelty and truly love horses, which plays a key role in the film’s climax.

Sam and Luke also will not tolerate prejudice. When a stranger makes fun of the Mexican rider, Sam lies and says his grandfather was a Mexican. Luke follows suit and says he is part Cherokee Indian. The racist man is afraid to fight both of them and leaves. Later, the young Carbo calls Miss Jones a whore and doesn’t treat her with respect. Sam takes up for her and puts the kid in his place.

In one scene, Parker has his hired rider provide essentially handicap the race by telling him who has the best chance of winning. The rider replies that: the punk kid is too inexperienced; the Mexican is tough and so is his horse; Luke doesn’t have the best horse, but he takes chances and is lucky; the woman can ride as well as any man; and the Englishman’s horse can keep up with the thoroughbred. However, he says the one to watch is Sam. He has the experience, knows the territory, and his horse has the heart.

During the course of the story, you see these characters take care of each other. They help one another, support each other when bad things happen, grow to respect each other and even learn from one another--especially Carbo who races his horse so hard he kills him and Parker, who wants his champion horse to win wants a fair race.

Bite the Bullet is a well-acted Western with good themes, plenty of action, and interesting characters. Many things happen to the riders and their horses along the way. However, it is the story of Sam and Luke’s friendship that makes this movie an excellent Western. The surprise ending is one you will not forget.

Charles Bronson was offered the leading role of Sam Clayton, but turned it down. He would have been a good choice for the role, but Hackman does an outstanding job. The movie was shot on location in New Mexico and Nevada—the desert scenes will make you thirsty. My favorite quote is Miss Jones explaining to the young Carbo how a cowboy dresses and undresses. That description always makes me laugh.

Bite the Bullet was nominated for two Oscars: Best Sound Mixing and Best Music and Original Score by Alex North. North received an astounding 14 nominations for Best Original Score—and never won an Oscar (though he did receive an honorary one in 1986). The two leading men both later won Oscars for acting: Gene Hackman for The French Connection (1971) and Unforgiven (1992) and James Coburn won for Affliction (1997).

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Studio Logos Tournament: The Final Four

The tournament started with eight studio logos and, after two weeks of tight voting, only four are left! Last week, MGM crushed Republic by a score of 14-1 and Paramount edged Columbia 8-6. So the second round looks like this (click on image to enlarge):

One match-up pits The Archers, an upset winner on 20th Century-Fox in the first round, against Universal.

The other match-up has heavyweights MGM and Paramount pairing off against one another.

Please cast your votes in the green sidebar on the right. Note that this poll ends on Saturday (not Sunday as most of our polls do). Your choices will determine who played for the Studio Logos Championship!

Trivia Time - Part 29

This week Sazball has a "free pass." The rest of you are on your own.

Who Are We? We "three" were "introduced" in this 1947 Universal film with a screenplay by Richard Brooks. What's the film? And Who Are WE?

#1. Who were the two males stars of the film?

#2. What was one of the main reasons Andy Devine got the part of the stage driver in Stagecoach?

#3. According to the IMDb, how many films did Andy Devine do with William (Wild Man) Wellman?

#4. Name the films that Steve McQueen and Karl Malden did together!

#5. What are the two things the films The Great Escape and 633 Squadron have in common?

#6. In the film 633 Squadron, how many planes make it back from "the mission?

#7. Brain Buster #1.Cary Grant's last film 1966's Walk Don't Run is a remake of what film?

#8. Brain Buster #2. Anthony Mann was not the first choice to direct Winchester 73. Who was?

#9. Brain Buster #3.In the film Red Danube, what song is playing in the back round at "the Club" while Angela Lansbury is looking for Peter Lawford?

#10. What was the second western James Stewart did? Was it released second?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Week: Brenda de Banzie

“Who is Brenda de Banzie?” asked the Café reader. “And why does she deserve the illustrious Underrated Performer of the Week spot?”

Ms. de Banzie starred in only 17 films, but—like a few others honored here—the quality of her work far exceeded the quantity. She gave a brilliant performance in one of David Lean’s finest films and, in her second most famous role, she reprised a performance that earned her a Tony nomination. But before we get too far, some biographical information is required.

Brenda de Banzie was born in Manchester, England, in 1915 (some sources say 1909, but I’ll go with the reliable Film Encyclopedia). She made her British stage debut in 1935 and honed her acting skills in the theatre throughout the late 1930s and 1940s. She made her first film appearance in 1952 in a supporting role opposite Rex Harrison and Lilli Palmer in the murder mystery The Long Dark Hall.

In 1952, she returned to the West End in London and played a wealthy hotel proprietress whose husband plots to kill her in Murder Mistaken. For her performance, she won the prestigious Clarence Derwent Award (given by Equity, the performers’ union) for Best Supporting Actress.

In 1954, David Lean cast Brenda de Banzie as Maggie, Charles Laughton’s eldest daughter, in the delightful Hobson’s Choice. As a young woman who devises a well-crafted plan for success, de Banzie stole the film from Laughton (who’s quite funny, but a bit hammy) and John Mills (who’s almost as good as Brenda). I still remember the first time I saw Hobson’s Choice—when it was over, I was scrambling for my movie books to find out why I’d never heard of such a gifted actress. Hobson’s Choice won the British Film Academy Award for Best British Film, but somehow de Banzie lost the Best Actress Award to Yvonne Mitchell from The Divided Hearts.

Though film acting honors eluded her, the stage showed its appreciation in 1958 by giving her a Tony nomination as the long-suffering wife of Laurence Olivier’s bitter, middle-aged music hall performer in The Entertainer. She reprised the role for the 1960 film version with Olivier, Roger Livesey, Joan Plowright, and Alan Bates.

With the exceptions of Hobson’s Choice and The Entertainer, Brenda de Banzie didn’t get a lot of good parts, though she was fine in entertaining films such as Doctor at Sea (with Dirk Bogarde), A Matter of Innocence (with Hayley Mills), The Pink Panther, and the 1959 remake of The 39 Steps. Alfred Hitchcock gave her a brief—but very memorable—part as one of the kidnappers in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.

Brenda de Banzie died in 1981, at age 65, following surgery on a brain tumor. Her son Antony Marsh became an actor.

Into the West: Stagecoach, One Payload of a Western

stagecoach (Written by guest columnist Kim Wilson of the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die blog.)

It’s difficult to believe that John Wayne wasn’t always a star, but before Stagecoach he and the genre that made him famous, the Western, weren’t doing well. He’d had an earlier chance with The Big Trail (1930), but when that was a flop he was primarily relegated to making B Westerns. The Western itself wasn’t a hot commodity, so when director John Ford pitched the idea for his first sound Western to David O. Selznick, the profit-driven producer took a pass. Big mistake. Instead, Ford and Walter Wanger produced one of the most important Westerns ever made: Stagecoach, a film that delivered the money at the box office, reestablished the Western genre, and made John Wayne a star.

Set in what would become Ford’s staple western setting, Monument Valley, this film was nominated for seven Academy Awards and won two Oscars for Best Supporting Actor (Thomas Mitchell) and Best Score. Since most film critics cite Stagecoach as the Western’s savior, it is interesting that, in essence, this is a story about redemption. Screenwriter Dudley Nichols based his script about a group of people traveling on a stagecoach during an Apache uprising on both the Ernest Haycox short story "The Stage to Lordsburg" and Guy de Maupassant’s Boule de Suif. Brimming with colorful characters from various backgrounds, this is a story about overcoming social prejudices and working together to survive a common enemy, in this case a group of angry Apaches.

When the film opens we learn that the Apaches are on the warpath near the Arizona/Mexico border. As the army tries to telegraph nearby Lordsburg the line is cut. It is in Tonto, Arizona where we meet our stage riders: Buck (Andy Devine), the stage driver; Marshal Curley Wilcox (George Bancroft); Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a pregnant woman on her way to meet her Cavalry officer husband; Hatfield (John Carradine), a southern gambler; Henry Gatewood (Benton Churchill), the town’s embezzling banker; Dallas (top-billed Claire Trevor), a prostitute forced out of town; Doc Boone (Thomas Mitchell in an Oscar winning performance), a penniless drunk who is also forced out of town; and, Sam Peacock (Donald Meek), a whiskey salesman. Before heading out the stagecoach is warned by their cavalry escort Lieutenant Blanchard (Tim Holt) that there could be some trouble with Geronimo on the trail. Surprisingly no one decides to get off. Along the trail the stage stagecoach1 encounters Ringo Kid (John Wayne), a young man who has busted out of jail to avenge the deaths of his father and brother from the Plummer clan. The introduction of Wayne’s Ringo is one of the most iconic images of his career: a rapid tracking shot, which zooms in for a close-up of the face that would become the symbol of the Western. Ringo, however, is the symbol of a fugitive and is promptly placed under arrest by Marshal Curley.

When they arrive at the Dry Fork station, Lucy learns that her husband has been ordered to Apache Wells and the stage is told by Lieutenant Blanchard that he can’t escort them any farther. When Buck suggests they stay at Dry Fork, Gatewood, who unbeknownst to the others is on the run with the bank’s money, insists that they continue toward Lordsburg. Curly takes a vote and the ayes have it, so the trip will continue. Meanwhile, at the way station, sjff_03_img1375 the passengers become more acquainted with one another over dinner. Not knowing that Dallas is a prostitute, Ringo treats her with respect and sits her next to the pregnant Lucy, who is highly offended and is relieved when Hatfield suggests she move closer to the window to escape the heat. Ringo thinks it’s him they are offended by and tries to leave the table, but Dallas begs him to stay right where he’s at.

With their repast over, the stage heads off toward Apache Wells. When Buck decides to take the mountain road in an attempt to avoid the Apaches, the passengers encounter a dropping temperature and mounting tensions. In an effort to help the uncomfortable Lucy, Dallas offers to let her sleep on her shoulder but is rebuffed by the proper Southern lady. After enduring an expertly filmed dust storm, the stage arrives at Apache Wells. They are greeted by four Mexicans who inform them that the cavalry has already left and that Lucy’s husband has been injured badly in a fight with the Apaches. This causes her to go into labor. Too bad Doc Boone is high as a kite after sampling most of Mr. Peacock’s whiskey on the ride. After ingesting as much coffee as possible, Doc is aided by Dallas in delivering Lucy’s daughter. This is one of the film’s more ironic turns, as the woman who wasn’t good enough to sit next to helps johnford-stagecoach1939avi_00300850 deliver the baby of the woman who shunned her. It also provides us with the image of a maternal Dallas and an admiring Ringo, as she nestles the baby in her arms for inspection. This also sets up the classic image of Ringo watching Dallas walk down a darkened corridor and through a lighted doorway to get some fresh air. It becomes obvious that Ringo and Dallas are falling in love with one another. The problem is, he doesn’t know about her past and he has that pesky business of having to handle his business in Lordsburg, i.e. killing the Plummers. When she tries to explain about her past, he tells her he knows all he needs to know to marry her—that is, if he lives.

The next morning is both literally and figuratively the dawning of a new day. For example, when offered a drink a redemptive Doc refuses, seemingly rededicated to his profession since delivering Lucy’s baby. In addition, Lucy has a newfound admiration for Dallas, who sat up all night with the baby while she recovered her strength. Evidently while she was watching the baby, stagecoach-trevor-wayne Dallas hatched an escape plan for Ringo so he wouldn’t go to Lordsburg and a) learn about her past, and b) get shot to death by the Plummers—not certain which one she thought worse. When alone, she gives him a rifle and a horse and sends him on his way. He goes a few yards and then turns back—he sees Apache war smoke in the distance.

The stage hurriedly sets off for the ferry. When they arrive they find the ferry destroyed and all of the residents killed by the Apaches. The men rig the stage with hollowed-out logs to float it across the river. Once they make it across, they find themselves in wide-open country. In true John Ford fashion, the scene is shot from a high ridge that reveals Indians positioned to attack the isolated stage. Thinking that they have averted danger, the passengers are preparing to toast one another when an arrow whizzes by and hits Mr. Peacock in the chest. What ensues is 8 minutes of heart-pounding action, as everyone on the stage bands together to fight off the Indian attack. It is during this 375px-Yakima_Canutt_Stagecoach sequence that legendary stuntman Enos Yakima Canutt pulls off one of the most spectacular stunts ever: leaping from his horse onto the moving stage, then attempting to grab the reins he is shot by Ringo and falls down between the horses, grabs onto the thing that connects the horses to the stage and is dragged along the ground, only to be shot again which causes him to fall and have six horses and the stage run/roll right over top him—he lives. In the end, just as everyone is about to run out of ammunition the cavalry arrives to save the day. The only fatality is Hatfield, who was shot just before he was about to kill Lucy to save her from being captured and raped by the Indians.

Saved, the stage, escorted by the cavalry, arrives in Lordsburg. When friends of one of the Plummers sees Ringo on the stage they go to alert them of his arrival. Ringo then asks Marshall Curley to escort Dallas to his ranch across the border. The Marshall agrees and stwayne gives Ringo ten minutes to say goodbye to Dallas and to take care of his business with the Plummers. When Ringo tries to escort Dallas home, she refuses to tell him where she lives. In the end, he escorts her to a brothel and tells her he knows about her past and still wants to marry her. With this cleared up, Ringo sets off for the deserted street that will be the scene of his final stand against the three Plummers. Shot mostly in silhouette, Ford uses a long-shot to capture the adversaries as they advance closer to each other. At the last moment Ringo throws himself to the ground and fires three shots. When Dallas hears the shots she believes Ringo is dead. Amidst her grief, Dallas hears the sound of boots walking up behind her and turns to find Ringo emerging from the shadows. When Curly and Doc come to collect Ringo they allow the young couple to escape to Mexico and the freedom of a new beginning.

Truly a stellar film on every level. Bert Glennon’s cinematography is spectacular and sets the standard for all Westerns to follow. The plot, nothing short of a morality tale about the power of redemption, is engaging and at times gripping. The action sequences, both the Apache attack and the final shootout sequence sets the bar very high for the rest of the genre. And, finally, the cast is superb. Everyone does a wonderful job playing their particular part in this morality tale. Thomas Mitchell’s Doc and John Carradine’s Hatfield are truly memorable characters. In addition, Claire Trevor pulls off a superb performance as a woman of the world who just wants to be loved and respected. Her performance is multi-faceted. And, finally, John Wayne is excellent as the vengeance seeking Ringo. By far not one of my favorite actors, Wayne gives perhaps his second-best performance (The Quiet Man being his best) here. What he accomplished in this role launched him into a new phase of his career and created the quintessential image of the rugged cowboy in Hollywood’s classic film age. In addition, this film laid the cornerstones for what John Ford would later accomplish in the Western genre.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Into the West: Errol and Cuddles Tame a Town "full of men who look as if they'd step on baby chickens"

Errol Flynn was on the downside of his movie career when Warner Bros. put him back in the saddle again for 1945’s San Antonio. There was a time when scriptwriters tried to explain Flynn’s accent when he was cast in a Western. In Dodge City, he played an Irish soldier of fortune who journeyed to the American West. By 1945, though, he had already starred in four previous Westerns, so no explanation was required. It’s really a nod to Flynn’s versatility and charisma that he could attract audiences in swashbucklers, war films, Westerns, comedies, and even the occasional serious fare (e.g., That Forsyte Woman).

San Antonio is a mid-tier Warner Bros. effort that benefits from a solid cast, sturdy production values, and a splash of Technicolor. Still, it’s obvious that it was never intended to be a blockbuster Western in the mold of the studio’s earlier Dodge City and They Died With Their Boots On. In fact, the main theme is the same one composed by Max Steiner for Dodge. The screenplay, penned by Alan LeMay and W.R. Burnett, lacks originality and can’t supporting the film’s running time of 111 minutes.

Set in 1877, San Antonio opens with Charley Bates (John Litel) tracking his good friend, Clay Hardin (Flynn) to Mexico. Hardin left Texas after a gang of baddies burned his ranch, stole his cattle, shot him, and left him for dead. Rather than wallow in his misfortune, Hardin has sought out a tally book that links wealthy Roy Stuart (Paul Kelly) to the large-scale cattle rustling scheme. He returns to San Antonio to expose Stuart. Along the way, he meets a singer (Alexis Smith) and her entourage (Florence Bates and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall).

Admittedly, there are some bright spots in San Antonio. Alexis gets to warble the Oscar-nominated “Some Sunday Morning” in a saloon musical number. Part of the climatic gunfight takes place at night, in the shadows of the Alamo (the film was shot at Warners’ Calabasas Ranch near Burbank). Indeed, the interior sets, which also earned an Oscar nomination, pop out in vibrant color. It’s interesting, too, to have two villains (Kelly and Victor Francen) who try to get the goods on each other while keeping an eye on Flynn.

However, the film’s overall entertainment value hinges on its cast and they prove most capable. Errol and Alexis don’t generate a lot of sparks, but they exhibit a natural rapport which probably accounts for why they were paired so often (their best film being Gentleman Jim). Cuddles Sakall and Florence Bates are in top form in supporting roles played mostly for laughs. In a stagecoach scene with Alex and Errol, they have the following exchange when Florence—anxious to get Alexis married—inquires about the marital status of Errol’s character.

Cuddles (to Florence): “You were very rude. He wouldn’t marry you anyway.”

Florence: “I wasn’t asking for myself.”

Cuddles: “Don’t ask him for me either.”

It’s the kind of silly exchange that only Cuddles Sakall could make genuinely funny with his unique way of delivering dialogue. He and Errol teamed again for the following year’s entertaining comedy Never Say Goodbye with Eleanor Parker.

After San Antonio, Errol Flynn made three more Westerns. Montana reteamed him with Alexis Smith and Cuddles Sakall, but was a low-key affair. His leading lady in Rocky Mountain, Patrice Wymore, became his third and final wife. The most interesting of the trio was Silver River, which provided Errol with a juicy role as an unlikable silver mine owner in an offbeat variation of David and Bathsheba.

(Both Cuddles and Florence Bates have been profiled as Underrated Performers of the Week at the Cafe. Click on their underlined names to read the tributes to them.)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Into the West: Ethics and the Gunfighter in "Have Gun--Will Travel"

The 1960s were the Golden Age of the television Western with such classic series as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Rifleman, and Rawhide. In defining the "best" Western of the decade, one could easily argue the merits of a dozen or so series. However, when it comes to television's most memorable Western character of the 1960s, the answer is clearly Paladin from Have Gun--Will Travel.

A resident of the upscale Carlton Hotel in San Francisco, Paladin is a gentleman of refined tastes. He smokes only the finest imported cigars, wears expensive tailored suits, tips lavishly, and has a regular boxed seat at the opera house. No one knows exactly what he does for a living. In one episode, the desk clerk remarks:  "He must have investments all over the West. He's always going away on business trips."

Paladin's profession, of course, is as a gunfighter for hire. He selects his jobs carefully, usually by reading newspapers from throughout the region and honing in on situations that interest him. In "A Matter of Ethics," an episode from the first season, Paladin reads about a convicted murderer who fears he will be lynched before his trial. Paladin offers his services simply  by sending an envelope containing his business card (shown at right).

Paladin meets his prospective client Holgate (Harold J. Stone) aboard a train heading to Bender, Wyoming. Holgate, who's in the sheriff's custody, explains that the son of Max Bender--the man who founded the town--"caught a bullet" from him. For a fee of $200, Paladin agrees to ensure that Holgate is delivered safely to trial.

When they arrive in Bender, Paladin learns that the dead man's sister, Amy (a dark-haired Angie Dickinson), has been "stirring the pot" for a lynching. While he doesn't condone her actions, Paladin is sympathetic toward Amy: "She can't strap on a gun and fight this with her own hands."

By the end of the episode, guns have been fired and two people are dead. But, as is often the case with Have Gun--Will Travel, the outcome is unexpected and yet satisfying. Paladin honors his contract, gets paid, and maintains his code of ethics along the way. In one of the best scenes in the episode, Paladin explains his ethics by quoting two passages from Robert Browning--as the sheriff and Holgate gaze at him with perplexed expressions.

Richard Boone, who forged a solid if unspectacular screen career, is superb as Paladin. I can't imagine anyone else in the part...or really parts. Paladin is almost a man of dual personas: the gentleman dressed in white and the gunfighter garbed in black. They are one and the same person, of course. The gentleman gets tough in a few episodes and the gunfighter, as previously noted, quotes poetry and still smokes those fine cigars. It's like the black and white pieces on a chess board, one side of the game board mirroring the other. It's an appropriate analogy given the chess piece--the knight--inscribed on Paladin's card and holster.

"A Matter of Ethics"," written by series co-creator Sam Rolfe, is a strong outing in an outstanding TV series. In addition to Dickinson, it features a nice supporting turn by Strother Martin as an attorney that doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. It's a good introduction to a great series. Start with it and you can look forward to even better episodes penned by the likes of Bruce Geller (the man behind Mission: Impossible) and Gene Roddenberry (who created some sci fi show that aired in the late 1960s).

Monday, March 15, 2010

This Western Heats Up With a Red Sun

One of my favorite western movies is Red Sun. It is considered a formula Spaghetti Western that has loads of action and a simple plot. However, I think Red Sun has an interesting plot that tells the story of a friendship between two very different men who are culturally worlds apart.

The movie was made in Spain in 1971 and released in the United States a year later. With the apparent goal of attracting an international audience, the four stars were from different countries: Charles Bronson (U.S); Alain Delon (France); Ursula Andress (Switzerland); and Toshiro Mifune (Japan). Bronson had become a popular European performer by the early 1970s and had starred in several previous Westerns. Delon was known for his roles as a handsome man who often gets in trouble with the ladies. One of his most famous movies is 1960’s Plein Soleil (aka Purple Noon), which was remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999 with Matt Damon. Ursula Andress played the first Bond girl in Dr. No. Toshiro Mifune was Japan’s most well-known star, mostly due to his roles in Akira Kurosawa films like The Seven Samurai (which was remade in the U.S. as The Magnificent Seven with Bronson). Many critics consider the Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson movie, Shanghai Noon ( 2000), a spoof of Red Sun.

Director Terence Young had already scored huge hits with several James Bond movies such as: Dr. No (1962) with Ursula Andress; From Russia with Love (1963); and Thunderball (1965). He also directed The Valachi Papers in 1972 with Charles Bronson in the lead role again.

Set in the mid-19th century, Red Sun opens with a Japanese ambassador traveling by train from the Western U.S. to Washington, DC. His mission is to deliver an ancient samurai sword as a gift to the President of the U.S. The ambassador is accompanied by two samurai body guards, one of which is Toshiro Mifune who plays Kuroda. Gauche (Alain Delon), a bandit leader, and his partner Link (Bronson) rob the train. They have no idea where this train is going or who is traveling on it. After the robbery, Gauche turns on Link and tries to kill him. Then, he takes all the money and the samurai sword and kills Kuroda’s samurai friend. The Japanese ambassador tells Kuroda to find the samurai sword in seven days and return it in the same place when the train returns. If Kuroda does not retrieve the sword and kill Gauche for taking it, he will have to commit suicide because of his failure.

Link and Kuroda seek out Gauche for two different reasons. Kuroda wants to kill Gauche for taking the sword and killing his friend. Link wants to find Gauche and keep him alive until he can take him to where he has hidden the money. Link and Kuroda put their differences aside and decide to work together. These two culturally different men begin a trek to find Gauche and his hide out. While traveling together, Kuroda and Link began to respect one another. Link knows the territory and Kuroda is a worthy ally with his samurai sword. The two men form an unlikely friendship, with Link always questioning and making fun of Kuroda ,who retorts how odd he finds Americans.

Link knows that Gauche is traveling to a whorehouse to see his girlfriend Cristina, a beautiful prostitute played by Ursula Andress. Link forces Cristina to take him to Gauche’s hideout. Andress’s performance as the prostitute, who Gauche loves and spoils, is priceless. She is not only whiny, but has a very nasty temper. Cristina agrees to take Link and Kuroda to Gauche, but she escapes and goes to find Gauche herself. Unfortunately, she is quickly surrounded by Indians who want to torture her to death. What Link and Kuroda do for Cristina shows their respect and compassion for her. Link reveals that he may be a bandit, but is also a man with goodness in him.

The climax of Red Sun is not only exciting, but creatively filmed. It is one of my favorite scenes in a Western movie. The ending is a nice surprise, too. Despite its emphasis on action, Red Sun is a well-done story about the friendship between East versus West.

The film also features a memorable score by veteran film composer Maurice Jarre. He wrote quite a few impressive musical scores for film and television, winning Oscars for the following: Lawrence of Arabia (1962); Doctor Zhivago (1965); and A Passage to India (1984). My favorite of his scores is Red Sun and the title theme is on my iPod.

Charles Bronson was a man who loved horses. The horse he rides in this movie is his own. Notice the beautiful Spanish Andalusian horse that Andress rides too.

Red Sun is a hard movie to find on video and has not been released on DVD. Unfortunately, I do not own it on video, but I saw it recently on AMC. If you like Spaghetti Westerns and are a Charles Bronson fan, this is a must-see movie.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Studio Logos Tournament: Round One (continued)

Last week, Universal knocked off Warner Bros. for an easy 11-2 victory and The Archers upended 20th Century-Fox by a 7-4 score for a huge upset win. This week, we move the right side of the bracket with little Republic facing off against MGM and Paramount clashing with Columbia. (Click on the graphic below to view an enlarged version.)

Republic’s first logo was the Liberty Hall tower with a tolling bell. In the late 1940s, the logo was changed to the now familiar eagle on the mountain peak.

The MGM logo of a growling lion first appeared in the 1920s for the Metro-Goldwyn Company. The logo stuck when Louis Mayer joined the fold and MGM was born. There have been a few different lions over the years and a handful of interesting variations, such as when the lion transformed into an animated vampire at the start of The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Created in 1914, Paramount's mountain may be the oldest surviving studio logo. Naturally, it has been tweaked a few times, most notably when it was redesigned for widescreen films in the 1950s. It has also made "guest appearances" in films like The Road to Utopia.

Columbia's logo, known as both "Miss Liberty" and "Torch Lady," appeared as early as the 1920s. Like the Paramount mountain, it was redesigned for widescreen in the 1950s. It has also been tailored for certain films, such as Cat Ballou, in which Miss Liberty transformed into an animated, gun-toting version of the title character.

Those are the teams for the match-ups this week. Cast your votes in the green sidebar on the right and join us next week when then Final Four teams are revealed in the Studio Logos Tournament!

(To read more about the history of studio logos, check out Rick Mitchell's excellent article "Everything You Wanted To Know About American Film Company Logos But Were Afraid To Ask" at Hollywood Lost and Found.

Trivia Time - Part 28

This week's Trivia Time will still have a Western theme, but because of "March Madness" starting, anything might show up. You have been warned!

Who Am I? I am a Republic Western star. Legend has it that I could be the voice of a famous non-human TV star. Oh Wilbur, who am I?

#1. Gary Lockwood had a small uncredited part as a Russian basketball player in what film? Who was the director?

#2. Brain Buster #1: What other future star also had a uncredited part in this film?

#3. Brain Buster #2: This film is famous as the first film of whom?

#4. Brain Buster #3:  Bill Bixby had a uncredited part in this film that also had a small credited part by this actor, a future president of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild). Who is he and whats's the film?

#5. Brain Buster#4: In what modern Western did Walter Matthau play a sheriff?

#6. Who Composed the music for the above film?

#7. Brain Buster #5: The Warner Bros. 1954 Sci Fi classic Them! has small parts (one credited and two uncredited) by future TV stars. Who has the credited part and who is uncredited?

#8. Brain Buster #6: This one is hard! In the following clip from the first season of F Troop, there is some stock footage in the opening from two classic Warners Bros. Westerns. What are the films (big hint: they both starred Errol Flynn.)

#9. Brain Buster #7: Tony Curtis and Larry Storch did three films together. For a FREE PASS for next week, be the first to name them in order!

#10. Brain Buster #8: George C. Scott did two episodes of this series starring Glen Corbett. Name the show.

#11. What two actors in order played the role of Zefram Cochrane?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Underrated Performer of the Week: Jonathan Frid

He was once so popular that he received massive amounts of mail from his female fans imploring that he nibble on their necks. No, I'm not talking about Robert Patinson from the Twilight movies nor the two vampire hunks from True Blood. No, not even Frank Langella, who played a sexy Dracula on Broadway and in film. All those performers owe no small debt to the original vampire-turned-pop culture phenomenon: Dark Shadows's Barnabus Collins, as played by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid.

Born in Ontario in 1924, John Herbert Frid began acting in prep school as a teenager. He studied drama at McMaster University in Ontario, though his college days were interrupted by a stint in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. After the war, he graduated from McMaster and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatics Arts in London.

Returning to Canada in 1949, he worked in repertory companies and on television. Five years later, he enolled in the Yale School of Drama, eventually earning a Master's degree in directing in 1957. His first love was acting, though, and he played a wide range of roles for the next ten years--from Shakespearean characters to Starbuck in The Rainmaker. He gradually became interested in teaching drama and was looking for a position at a college when he was offered a brief stint as a vampire in a daytime soap called Dark Shadows.

Dan Curtis created Dark Shadows for ABC in 1966 as a contemporary Gothic soap set in the New England town of Collinsport. The show didn't perform well initially, so in an effort to liven things up, a plotline involving a ghost was added. Viewer interest perked up a little, so Curtis and head writer Art Wallace introduced a vampire in episode 211--and a pop culture icon was born.

A conflicted vampire still pining for his beloved (but long-dead) Josette, Barnabas was alternately charming and cruel--a perfect, well-rounded role for the Shakespearean-trained Frid to sink his teeth into (sorry...I just had to write that). Frid and Dark Shadows became so popular that Curtis adapted the series in 1970 as the theatrical film House of Dark Shadows (which summarized some of the show's plots and added an "ending"). Its financial success resulted in a sequel called Night of Dark Shadows, which didn't feature Barnabas...a bad decision in terms of box office.

After its burst of mainstream popularity, Dark Shadows faded slowly as must-see daytime television. The series ended in 1971. Frid, though, continued to stay busy. He starred in the made-for-TV movie The Devil's Daughter (with Joseph Cotten and Shelley Winters), headlined Oliver Stone's 1974 horror film Seizure, and returned to theatre.

Frid began doing readings at Dark Shadows conventions in the 1980s. He enjoyed that so much that he eventually developed the Readers Theatre and a one-man show. He also continued to perform on the stage in productions such as Arsenic and Old Lace and Mass Appeal.

Jonathan Frid never married. He is now 85 and semi-retired. But his legacy lives on--Johnny Depp may play Barnabus in a new version of Dark Shadows being developed by Tim Burton.