Sunday, February 27, 2011

Trivia Time - Part 73

Here are the answers to those questions from TT72 that are leftover from last week:

Who Am I? Although I had a brief acting career, I'm probably best known as an announcer/side kick on a 1950s/early '60s "quiz show". Who Am I?
Answer: George Fenneman

2. Name the classic '50s film that Who Am I? #2 was in, and the quiz show mentioned in the question. Why was this quiz show different from others of the period?

Answers: The Thing from Another World; You Bet Your Life, starring Groucho Marx and George Fenneman, was filmed rather than produced as a live show.

6. To what real-life tragic incident did WKRP in Cincinnati devote an episode?

Answer: Eleven people were killed and dozens injured in the crush of people trying to get into the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati for a Who concert on December 3, 1979.

9. Name the Tony-award-winning actress who had a short-lived series on CBS that featured Tom Bosley before Happy Days.

Answer: Sandy Duncan

You may notice a number of questions having to do with the Academy Awards in one way or another in this week's set....we decided on an Oscar theme in tribute to the festivities at the Kodak Theater. Not that we're necessarily watching them, LOL!

Who Am I? Of the films directed by me in the 1960s, there were two of them (approximately five years apart) in which the leads won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Who Am I?

Who Said This? Person #1 "What if my parachute doesn't open?" Person #2 "Then you'll be the first one on the ground" Who Said This?

Who Are We and Which Film is This? We were in the supporting cast of an MGM film starring Robert Taylor. We are: an Academy Award winner, a future TV star/producer, and a future U.S. senator. Who Are We and Which Film is This?

Who Said This? "That guy could go to sleep on a clothesline." Who Said This?

1. Name the films and the actors mentioned in Who Am I?

2. This Oscar-winning film featured Robert Wagner, Thelma Ritter, and Richard Basehart, among others. Name the film and the stars. What was the Oscar for?

3. This 1950s film is considered by some to be the first wide-screen "disaster" film. It was nominated for 6 Academy Awards, and won one. Name the film, director, and the specific wide-screen format used.

4. Name two films from the 1950s featuring two actresses in the same movie who competed against each other for Best Actress.

5. Name five films from the 1950s featuring two actresses in the same movie who competed against each other for Best Supporting Actress.

6. Upon seeing a film, Gary Cooper said, "I should have made this movie!" Name the film and the star.

7. Name one thing these films have in common: Dead End,
The Women,
and Test Pilot.

8. This film earned Walter Brennan his first Best Supporting Actor Oscar. One director began the film, and another finished it. Name the two directors and the film in question.

9. Name one thing these films have in common: Show Boat (1936), A Night at the Opera, and A Day at the Races.

10. In the film Captains Courageous, who received top billing?

11. What do Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, Peter O'Toole and Barbara Stanwyck all have in common?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Black Cat (1934)

Without a doubt the most unusual horror film to come out of Hollywood in the 1930s was Universal Studio's’ The Black Cat (1934). How does one go about creating such a unique film? You take two renowned horror stars (Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, and Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff—in the first of seven films they would appear in together), add a dash of a director (Edgar G. Ulmer) heavily influenced by German expressionism, and then you mix in some strange amalgamation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat” and “The Fall of the House of Usher” with necrophilia and satanism, and , finally, you top it off with an an eye-catching art deco set design by Charles D. Hall. Never mind that the story is difficult to understand (Universal ordered massive changes to the original cut due to its risqué plot),this is just too bizarre a film to miss.

Predating The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) by more than 40-years, The Black Cat finds two young lovers caught in the middle of a sadistic chess match between a mad architect/scientist and a depressed doctor. Dr. Vitus Werdegast (Lugosi) is returning home to Vizhegrad (Hungary) after spending the last 15 years in a Russian prison camp (Kurgaal). On the Orient Express (no Poirot doesn’t show up), Dr. Werdegast meets Joan (Jacqueline Wells) and Peter (David Manners) and immediately notices that Joan looks a lot like his lost wife. He tells them that he is on his way to visit an old friend, famed architect Hjalmar Poelzig (Karloff), at his mansion, which just happens to be built on a cliff overlooking the “greatest graveyard in the world” at Fort Marmorus. Really? Could there be a more ominous setting?

Later, when the bus they are travelling on crashes into a ravine, Joan is injured and it is determined that the couple should accompany Dr. Werdegast and his servant Thamal (Harry Cording) to the mansion. And this brings us to the best part of the film—the set design of Poelzig’s digs. Everything is ultra-modern, from the lighting (entire walls light up) to the super-sleek curved staircase.  Photographer John J. Mescall uses every inch of the set design and beyond-clever lighting to create some outstanding visual elements—you have to see it to truly appreciate it.

In a rather strange poke at Dracula (and Lugosi?), Poelzig is first introduced to the audience rising rigidly from his bed.  With a widow’s peak and dramatic sense of style (he wears a priest’s robe), Poelzig looks like the kind of man who would commune with the devil. It soon becomes apparent that Werdegast and Poelzig aren’t really BFF’s. Evidently Poelzig betrayed his countrymen in WWI and ran off when the Russians came. What Werdegast really wants is to find his wife (Karen) and daughter, and he thinks Poelzig might know where they are. Well, yeah, he does—he married Karen after telling her Werdegast was dead. Ah, the plot thickens…

As if this news wasn’t enough, Werdegast must deal with a reappearing black cat. For a normal person this wouldn’t be a big deal, but Werdegast is deathly afraid of them—did I mention he’s a psychiatrist…yeah, you’d think he could engage in some self-analysis to overcome this fear. Nope…instead he chooses to regard them as, and I quote, “the living embodiment of evil.” Ah, Werdegast, there are eviler things in the world—just ask Poelzig, who has a cellar full of dead women encased in glass. One of these women happens to be Karen (Lucille Lund) and when Poelzig reintroduces the “couple” it is not a happy time. Werdegast attempts to shoot Poelzig, but before he can pull the trigger another black cat saunters in and immobilizes the doctor.

Later, we learn that the doctor’s daughter, Karen (Lucille Lund…yeah, just go with it) is now Poelzig’s wife…a secret he chooses to keep from the doctor. One secret he doesn’t have a problem sharing, though, is that he plans to use Joan in a satanic black mass ritual. Of course, he is willing to challenge the doctor to a game of chess for Joan’s soul. Too bad for Joan that the doctor isn’t Bobby Fisher… Ah, and so let the Bach toccatas begin—really, Poelzig plays them on his creepy organ right before he kills Karen for sassing him. And, then the fun really begins!

Although it isn’t Halloween, Poelzig decides to host a satanic cult party at the fortress and Joan is the guest of honor. Organ music, broken Latin, black-tie attire, and a human sacrifice as the ultimate party game—who’d want to miss out on that! Well, Joan for one…I won’t spoil the ending for you, but lets just say it is a blast.

Unique in every sense, The Black Cat is high camp without being a camp film (is that possible?). Lugosi and Karloff play well off one another, but I wasn’t shocked to learn that neither received an Academy Award nomination for their performances in this film.  Still, I was a bit miffed that neither Charles D. Hall or John J. Mescall were recognized for their outstanding set design and photography.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Remington Steele -- A Timeless Dramedy

The Premise

Remington Steele (1982-1987) stars Stephanie Zimbalist as private investigator, Laura Holt, who cannot draw clients until she invents a masculine superior for her letterhead. Enter Peirce Brosnan as a mystery man who assumes the fictional Steele’s identity, joins the firm and seduces Laura. Together, the pair battle crime and their feelings for each other.

Even though the premise of a woman who cannot get clients solely due to her gender wouldn’t play today, Steele ages well because, mercifully, most of the episodes do not dwell on Laura as a stranger in her profession; the writers treat this character as a competent detective who gets on with the business at hand--solving cases.

A Drama With a Sense of Humor

The show is revolutionary in another way as well--it is an hour long detective show that dares to include humor and yet retains dramatic lighting (as opposed to the stark, shadowless lighting of sitcoms). The executives at MTM Enterprises, who produced the show, wanted to take out the humor. Blending drama and comedy in an hour long show was a fairly new concept. It had been done before with Hart to Hart (1979-1984), and would be done again with Moonlighting (1984-1989), but these shows were on a competing network. It had never been done at Steele‘s network: NBC; executives were worried about the new approach.

Another concern was the fact that the two leads were theater-trained actors, not TV stars, who had performed only in drama, never in comedy. Executive producer and co-creator Michael Gleason notes that at the time he assumed that if you’re a good actor you can do comedy, which is not always the case. Gleason states that he “lucked out” in casting two stars who have instinctive comic timing.

The heartfelt drama when Steele occasionally opens up his past to Laura, their work as a team and the actors’ sincerity keep the show from becoming too hammy or too much of a farce. The brilliant writing, elegant cinematography and tasteful costumes (Brosnan wears a tuxedo a lot, foreshadowing his shaken, but not stirred, performances) also help to make Remington Steele a timeless dramatic comedy.

Written by Java, a Cafe guest contributor, who blogs regularly at Java's Journey.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bond Is Forever: “For Your Eyes Only”

When a British communications device, ATAC (Automatic Target Attack Communicator), is lost at sea, a marine archaeologist, commissioned to help in locating the device, is assassinated. MI6 agent James Bond (Roger Moore), assigned to recover the ATAC, tracks down the assassin but is unable to speak to the man before he is killed by Melina (Carole Bouquet), the marine archaeologist’s daughter. Seeking the man responsible for the hit, both Bond and Melina are led to Cortina in Italy’s Dolomites, where the two must elude various hitmen. A Greek contact/informant, Ari Kristatos (Julian Glover), tells 007 that the man most likely responsible for the theft of the ATAC is Milos Columbo (Topol), who in turn points the finger at Kristatos. Everything comes to a head at a monastery high in the mountains, where Bond and his allies attempt to keep the ATAC from being turned over to the KGB.

For Your Eyes Only (1981) was the cinematic de
but for director John Glen, who’d worked in the capacity of editor and second unit director on previous Bond films and would continue as director for the next four films in the 007 series (to include the remaining films with Moore and both films with Timothy Dalton). The film, a vast improvement over the preceding Bond effort, Moonraker (1979), has a pleasant sense of humor and entertaining action sequences. Interestingly, a skiing scene that leads to a bobsled track is reminiscent of 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, on which Glen worked as editor/second unit director. Moore, who has always been memorable in his portrayal of 007, is unmistakably comfortable in the role, and his scenes with Bouquet are highlights, as the couple works well together. Bouquet’s Melina is one of the best Bond Girls: independent, athletic, and unparalleled, all of her qualities exemplified by her chic weapon of choice, a crossbow.

One of the film’s best sequences is when Bond and Melina are tied together and keelhauled (dragged underwater by ship, with marine growth causing serious injury and/or blood in the water and movement attracting sharks). This scene was likely inspired by Ian Fleming’s novel, Live and Let Die, in which Mr. Big dispatches similar punishment to Bond a
nd Solitaire. The sequence in For Your Eyes Only is not only superbly filmed, but it also allows for a terrific line: “Hold tight,” Bond says to Melina, as the line wanes and the two are yanked from the ship’s deck into the water.

Perhaps more importantly, the keelhauling sequence is an expression of Bond’s self-reliance in the film, as he is not dependent upon gadgets. Bond effects escapes and dodges assassination attempts with his skill and cunning. Even Bond’s car, a Lotus Esprit which viewers can assume is armed to the
teeth, has not a chance to display its equipment, as a villain tries to gain entrance by smashing a window and detonates the car and himself. Bond must then evade the bad guys in Melina’s Citroën 2CV, a standard, unfurnished vehicle (though it does prove versatile). When the spy goes to see Q (the always charming Desmond Llewelyn), he receives no gadgets, as he and Q utilize the Identigraph to help identify a potential lead. Bond is supplied with another Lotus, but, like the first one, its presumed accessories are never shown.

The pre-credit sequence features Bond’s nemesis, Blofeld, his face once again unseen, like in the films preceding You Only Live
Twice (1967). The scene also features a reference to Bond’s love, Tracy, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This would be a final farewell to Blofeld, who would not appear in further 007 movies.

Australian actress Cassandra Harris has a small role as a countess and Columbo’s mistress. At the time of filming For Your Eyes Only, Harris was married to actor Pierce Brosnan, who producers hoped would follow Moore as 007. However, Brosnan’s TV series, Remington Steele, conflicted, and the role ultimately went to Dalton. Harris and Brosnan were married until the actress’ death from cancer in 1991. Four years later, Brosnan would finally take over as Bond in GoldenEye.

Lynn-Holly Johnson plays Bibi, an accomplished ice skater and Olympic hopeful sponsored by Kristatos. Johnson was a professional figure skater (her ability is displayed in the film) who made her film debut in Ice Castles (1978), in which she played a young skat
er who overcomes a debilitating accident that renders her blind. In For Your Eyes Only, Bibi is undoubtedly quite young, so much that when she attempts to seduce 007, it’s more than a little disturbing (and a relief when Bond is clearly neither interested nor tempted). Despite playing a juvenile character, Johnson was in actuality only about a year-and-a-half younger than French actress Bouquet, who was Bond’s romantic interest. Bouquet had a successful film career in her native country, winning a César (the French equivalent of an Oscar) for Best Actress for the 1989 movie, Trop belle pour toi (Too Beautiful for You).

Aside from Bond alumni Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, Geoffrey Keen as the Minister of Defence, Walter Gotell as KGB head General Gogol, and Llewelyn as Q, there are a number of familiar faces in For Your Eyes Only. Glover has had the distinction of appearing in two additional series which were popular with audiences, as Walter Donovan, the antagonist in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) and General Maximilian Veers in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). Star Wars fans may also recognize Paul Brooke, playing a man who loses to Bond at the casino table: he was Malakili in Return of the Jedi (1983), keeper of Rancor, the creature whom Luke Skywalker faces in Jabba the Hutt’s pit. Likewise, Jack Klaff, a notable villain in For Your Eyes Only, was a pilot for the Rebel Alliance, call sign Red Four, in 1977’s Star Wars (or, for the purists, Episode IV: A New Hope). Chaim Topol, typically credited as Topol, was Tevye in the award-winning Fiddler on the Roof (1971) and also played Zarkov in the campy Flash Gordon (1980), which has since garnered a cult following.

Bernard Lee, who had played MI6 head, M, in every Bond film up to and including Moonraker, died from cancer in January 1981. In the film, M is on leave, and Bond receives his orders from both the Minister of Defence and M’s Chief of Staff (James Villiers). Robert Brown would debut as M in the subsequent Bond film, Octopussy (1983).

Following the disastrous box office results of Heaven’s Gate (1980), United Artists was essentially bankrupt. For Your Eyes Only was financially successful and helped save the company from bankruptcy, though United Artists was purchased by MGM and future Bond releases would be distributed by MGM/UA and/or would be a co-production.

The film’s title song, written by composer Bill Conti and lyricist Michael Leeson, was performed by Sheena Easton, who, for whatever reason, appears in the opening credits sequence. American rock band Blondie had written a version of “For Your Eyes Only,” but reportedly declined an offer to record the song written by Conti and Leeson. The Blondie song appears on the band’s 1982 album, The Hunter.

For Your Eyes Only is my favorite Bond film with Roger Moore. It is a favorite for my wife as well, although she must suffer through my seemingly nonstop renditions of the title song for a week or two after each viewing. The film boasts reliable characters and story, and action scenes that are profound and, best of all, unadulterated fun. What does everyone else think of Moore’s fifth go-round as James Bond?

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Casino Royale (2006).

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ulysses -- Man, Myth, Magnificent Moron? Well, I Like Him...

Homer’s tale of The Odyssey has to be one of the richest stories of Greek history and mythology ever written. It is chock full of incredible adventures, sex, cruel Olympian gods, the most famous faithful wife in history, sex, drunken cyclops, wailing sirens, longing for home, and – did I say – sex. It doesn’t sound like something an old blind man would come up with out of the blue, does it?

In 1954, Italian producers Dino de Laurentiis and Carlo Ponti took on the filming of what was at the time a very expensive project, the filming of the story of Ulysses. De Laurentiis is well known for a strangely eclectic variety of productions, including Nights of Cabiria, La Strada, Barabbas (a favorite of mine) and, oddly enough, Army of Darkness and all three of the Hannibal Lector movies. Carlo Ponti is the man who discovered and married Sophia Loren, his greatest claim to fame. One odd little note about Ponti – he was considered for the part of Vito Corleone in The Godfather, despite the fact that he was not an actor. He must have had the ethnic look and background down pat. Either that or he had powerful “friends.” Director Mario Camerini’s works are mostly Italian and unknown to me, except for his involvement in King Vidor’s production of War and Peace.

The fact that Ulysses is an Italian production is easily discerned by the fact that only 2 people in the film actually speak English, Kirk Douglas as Ulysses and Anthony Quinn as Antinous. Everyone else is speaking Italian, and although the dubbing isn’t bad, it’s pretty obvious most of the time. Every other actor in the film has an extremely Italian name, except for one, Tania Weber. I don’t know how she got in there. Maybe Tony or Kirk brought her along. I always wondered what it is like to shoot a movie scene where each person is speaking a different language, especially a love scene. But then, it isn’t unusual for a man and a woman to be talking about love in different languages, even if they speak the same one.

Kirk Douglas turns in a wonderful performance as the brave, strong, sometimes clever, stupid at the worst times, braggart and adventurer, Ulysses. Kirk really chews up the scenery with this one, and it works. After all, Ulysses is a larger-than-life character, and he deserves all the emoting Kirk can give. Kirk was in his prime in this movie, young and handsome and charismatic.  Gorgeous Silvana Mangano (wife of lucky de Laurentiss) plays Ulysses' long-suffering wife Penelope. Mangano also plays the temptress Circe, a wonderful idea for the film as Circe’s resemblance to his beloved wife makes it pretty easy for her to seduce Ulysses and keep him there on her island for a year (after turning his men into swine). Unusual woman.
The movie begins with Ulysses washed up on the shore of an island. He has total amnesia, and becomes engaged to the daughter of the ruler of the island. She is a really beautiful girl with the unfortunate name of Nausicaa. I suppose it didn’t sound funny to the ancient Greeks, but it's a bit stomach-turning in our day. Ulysses makes plans for the wedding, engages in a wrestling match, and all the while memories are surfacing. His story is then told in flashbacks as he looks out at the sea.

Ulysses is pretty good at being true to Homer’s epic poem, at least the portions that were told in this movie. Some events of the legendary 10-year journey home from Troy are left out completely. *There is no mention of Ulysses’ stay of 7 years on the island of the goddess Calypso. She loved him and he spurned her. I would have to re-read Homer to be sure that he spurned her for the whole 7 years. That’s a long time for a rugged, impulsive, physically perfect specimen like Ulysses to be celibate, but then this story is part history, part mythology, so that must be one of the myth parts.*

*Two other good parts of the story were also excised. Aeolus, master of the winds, gave Ulysses a bag in which he had trapped all the winds except the west wind, and warned him not to open the bag until the right time. Unfortunately, Ulysses’ men were not too bright, and just as they sighted their homeland, Ithaca, one of them opened the bag and the winds blew them half a world away again. The second deleted adventure involves the twin sea threats of the 6-headed monster Scylla and his vast whirlpool partner Charybdis. Wonderful story, but the movie was already expensive, and trying to recreate that scene in 1954 would have bankrupted the company.*

However, there is plenty to enjoy in this movie. My favorite part is the adventure of Ulysses and his men on the Island of the Cyclops. In the movie, only one cyclops is evident, Polyphemus, giant son of Poseidon.  *In Homer's poem, the island is occupied by other cyclops as well.* When the men come ashore looking for food and water, they discover a giant cave. Inside are sheep and cheese, and they are delighted. Why their leader Ulysses isn't too worried that everything in there is of enormous size, I don’t know. Maybe he was just too hungry to notice. In a bit of bad luck, Polyphemus comes home while the men are inside the cave. He rolls a gigantic rock across the entrance, and promptly eats one of the men for a snack. Ulysses reveals his clever side, sparring with Polyphemus in order to secure their release. He introduces Polyphemus to wine, and the giant is ecstatic. He drinks all of their wine in a couple of gulps, goes outside to get giant handfuls of grapes, and demands that the men make more wine. The scene is very amusing, as the men dance on the grapes to make wine, faster and faster, and the giant drinks and drinks until he gets drunk. Ulysses is apparently a little dim-witted in the fact that fresh grape juice isn’t going to do anything but give Polyphemus, well, shall we say digestive problems, but that’s where suspension of disbelief comes into play for the viewer.

While Polyphemus lolls like a drunken sot, Ulysses finds his giant club and whittles one end to a sharp point. At the opportune moment, Ulysses and his men drive the nasty weapon into poor Polyphemus’ only eye. In a literally blind rage, the cyclops ends up moving the rock and the men slip out and hightail it back to the ship. As Polyphemus roars in his frustration at not being able to find them, Ulysses shouts out in triumph his name and heritage, his homeland, so that the giant would know who had defeated him. Not a smart move. Polyphemus tattled to his Dad, Poseidon, and Dad cursed Ulysses’ voyage, saying he would not reach Ithaca for 10 years. *I was a little surprised that the movie makers did not include the cleverest part of Ulysses’ arguments with Polyphemus. In Homer’s tale, after the cyclops had eaten a few men, Ulysses distracted him with the wine, a potent magical wine that didn't take much to get the cyclops inebriated. Polyphemus asked who he was, and Ulysses said in Greek “nobody.” The cyclops, who apparently didn’t speak Greek, then said that in gratitude, he would eat “nobody” last. To escape, the men actually tied themselves to the undersides of the sheep, and when the blinded Polyphemus ran his hand across the tops of the sheep to be sure the men weren’t trying to ride out, he was fooled. So he opened the rock for the sheep to get out. As Ulysses and his men made their escape, Polyphemus roared out “Nobody has blinded me.” So his fellow cyclops on the island took him at his word and ignored him. Pretty good stuff.*

Meanwhile, back on the home front, poor Queen Penelope has raised their son Telemachus and waited 10 years for the husband she believes will return. However, she is being forced to remarry by the men who want to be king in the long-gone Ulysses’ place. Penelope, desperate to hold off this event, has told the men she would make her decision after she finishes weaving a large tapestry. Unknown to the men, every night Penelope would undo the weaving she had done during the day, and naturally the tapestry was not coming along very fast. The men live in her house, eat her food, and have a good old time waiting. Finally, one man comes who is not patient. It is Antinous, played by Anthony Quinn. He almost manages to seduce the lonely Penelope, and it is not hard to understand why she might give in. Kirk is great, but my grief would suddenly disappear with Tony making moves.

All this time, Ulysses tries desperately to get home, but Poseidon’s curse prevents him. He and his men land on the island of Circe. She wants Ulysses, and tries to keep him there with every spell at her disposal. She turns his men into swine (which some women say isn’t hard – just kidding, guys). Ulysses is seduced by her – um – charms, and a whole year goes by while he thinks it’s only a few days. Circe accedes to his desire to leave, the men are returned to their former human selves, and Ulysses and the crew depart.

Soon they come to an island with rocky shores strewn with the wreckage of ships. One of Ulysses’ men recognizes that they have come to the Island of the Sirens, whose wailing song drives men to madness so that they end up shipwrecked and drowned. Ulysses makes every man put wax plugs in their ears to they cannot hear the song, and will be able to sail away. However, his curiosity is intense, and he orders one of his men to lash him securely to the mast. He will not use the ear wax (yuk– well, you know what I mean), because he wants to hear the sirens sing. This is a very powerful scene acted beautifully by Kirk. To him, the sirens sound like his wife Penelope telling him he has reached home, to come to her and be with her, and he is convinced they have finally reached Ithaca. He shouts at the men to untie him, they are home, but the unhearing men continue on until the island is left behind. Ulysses is astounded at the cruelty of the gods and devastated by the event.

At this point in the movie, Ulysses remembers who he is, tells the lovely but poorly named Nausicaa that he is sorry, and finally reaches Ithaca. He comes to his home dressed in rags and pretending to be a beggar to see what has been going on in his absence.  He wants to be sure Penelope still loves him and has been faithful to him.  Now that's what I call nerve.  He's had 7 allegedly celibate years with Calypso, one totally sexually abandoned year with Circe, and has been engaged and probably intimate with the beautiful (urp) Nausicaa.  OK, so he can explain -- I was bewitched, I don't remember a thing -- right. Telemachus meets him, and father and son are reunited. Telemachus explains that just that day Penelope has agreed that whoever can complete a task she will devise, can marry her. She has decided that whoever can bend Ulysses’ bow and string it, then shoot an arrow through the holes in the heads of 10 lined-up axes, may marry her. Penelope knows that no one has ever even been able to bend the bow of Ulysses, much less succeed at the axe trick, and feels safe. Ulysses also meets Penelope, but she does not recognize him in the beggar's outfit, and tells him of her sorrow and faithfulness.

Each man tries the bow, but no one can come close to bending, not even studly Tony. Ulysses, still disguised as a beggar, asks if he may try, to everyone’s amusement. He bends the bow, places the bowstring, and shoots straight through the axes. He then shakes off his beggar’s hood, and everyone knows it is Ulysses. He and Telemachus, with the help of the household men, slaughter all of the would-be suitors. Penelope realizes it is Ulysses who has come home at last. *Again, a clever part of Homer’s story is ignored. Actually, Penelope is suspicious and even after seeing his face, is not sure if it is really Ulysses.  He must have changed a lot. Ulysses convinces her by telling her that their bed is made from an olive tree that is still growing and rooted in the earth.  That is so cool – I want a bed like that!*

Ulysses is a lot of fun, very moving in parts, well made, if you don't mind the funny echoing sound that dubbing often caused in those days, and well worth watching. Just for fun, I’ve written directions below for the way to find a very short video of the wrestling scene on Youtube that makes me laugh. I’m not a prude, far from it – I love a good raunchy joke and have fun with bawdy humor. With that said, this video shows Kirk and another Alpha male in diaper-like loin things performing compromising wrestling moves that are kind of embarrassing.  A lot of bare chests, upper thighs and backend glimpses -- we've all seen sword and sandal movies, such as the recent stinko movie 300 (sorry, Gerard Butler fanatics), but at least Kirk and these guys show real muscles!)   Anyway, hope you enjoy!

Go to Youtube -- in the search box, type Wrestling Movie Clip - Ulysses.  It will take you to the page where the clip is at the top, posted by WrestlingExcellence.  It's a hoot!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Oscar Blogathon: Best Actress of 1963 - A Profile of Nominee Rachel Roberts

Welsh actress Rachel Roberts once said: "It is very difficult to be taken seriously when you're introduced at a party to somebody as the fourth Mrs. Rex Harrison." Despite winning the British equivalent of the Oscar three times, Roberts never achieved critical acclaim on the level of her contemporaries, such as Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Christie. Her nine-year marriage to Harrison ended in a 1971 divorce that took a toll on the actress, who battled alcoholism and depression even as her career flourished in the 1970s. In 1980, at the age of 53, she committed suicide. Roberts wrote a series of journals that documented the last three years of her life. It was published in 1985 as No Bells on Sunday: The Rachel Roberts Journals. In its review, The New York Times called it a "'sad book from which are missing her charm, effervescence and humor.''

Rachel Roberts was born in Llanelli, Wales, on 20 September 1927. She studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she won the Athene Seyler Award for Comedy. She made her professional stage debut as Ceres in The Tempest at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1951. Her fellow performers included Richard Burton, Alan Badel, Michael Redgrave, Hugh Griffith, Barbara Jefford, and Ian Bannen (how's that for cast?).

Roberts made her film debut in 1954's Young and Willing, a drama about female convicts starring Glynis Johns. Throughout the 1950s, she worked steadily on the stage, in film, and in a television adaptation of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend (which co-starred a young David McCallum). She also met and married actor Alan Dobie in 1955; the couple divorced six years later.

Rachel Roberts' big career break came in 1961 with Karel Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. She played an unhappy middle-class wife who has an affair with a younger man (Albert Finney) and becomes pregnant. Her searing performance earned her the Best British Actress award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA).

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was one of the first British New Wave films. This cinematic movement evolved from the convergence of late 1950s British "angry young man" stage dramas (e.g., John Osborne's Look Back in Anger) and documentary films focusing on the working classes. The British New Wave directors hailed from the theatre (Tony Richardson), the documentary field (Lindsay Anderson), and--like some of the French New Wave directors--film criticism (Reisz). The British New Wave films typically featured male working-class protoganists mired in grim surroundings with little chance of happiness. Portraying women with a cold exterior that masked a desperate need for passion, Rachel Roberts excelled as the nominal "heroine" in these films.

Lindsay Anderson cast Roberts as a widowed landlady who has an affair with a brutal rugby player in This Sporting Life (1963). Produced by Reisz, This Sporting Life made a star out of Richard Harris and earned Rachel Roberts her second BAFTA Best British Actress award. She was also nominated for her only Academy Award, but lost Best Actress to Patricia Neal for Hud.

Despite her critical acclaim, Roberts worked mostly in British television for the remainder of the 1960s. There were a few bright spots, such as co-starring with Dirk Bogarde in an adaptation of Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. In 1968, she starred with husband Rex Harrison, whom she had married four years earlier, in the film A Flea in Her Ear.

Around that time, Roberts moved to the U.S., where she starred in made-for-TV movies and guest starred on TV series such as Night Gallery and Marcus Welby, M.D. After she and Harrison divorced in 1971, her film career took off again. Lindsay Anderson cast her in O Lucky Man! (1973), a modern-day Candide in which Roberts played three roles. Indeed, most of the cast--including Helen Mirren and Ralph Richardson--played several characters (though star Malcolm McDowell did not). This imaginative satire, punctuated by Alan Price's terrific songs, earned Roberts her best critical praise in years.

In Murder on the Orient Express.
Rachel Roberts followed it with a supporting role in the all-star Murder on the Orient Express (1974), a starring role in Peter Weir's haunting Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), and a featured role in Yanks (1979), a World War II romantic drama starring Richard Gere and Vanessa Redgrave. Roberts won her third BAFTA award, this time as Best Supporting Actress, for Yanks.

During this same period, she also appeared on the Broadway stage, in plays such as a revival of The Visit and the original farce Habeas Corpus. For the latter, she won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play.

Despite her steady work on stage and in film and television, Rachel Roberts never recovered from her divorce from Harrison. In deep depression, she committed suicide in her home in Los Angeles in 1980. Twelve years later, Lindsay Anderson spread the ashes of Roberts and her friend, actress Jill Bennett, in the Thames while Alan Price sang Is That All There Is? The scene appeared as a surprisingly upbeat tribute to life in Anderson's otherwise satiric 1995 documentary about himself, also titled Is That All There Is?

During the ceremony, with the actresses' friends throwing flowers in the river, Anderson said: "(Roberts and Bennett) both had great humor and great zest. I know-- up there--they'll be having a good laugh."

All this week, you can enjoy the Oscar Blogathon: Best Actress of 1963, hosted by Classicfilmboy's Movie Paradise.

Tuesday, Feb. 22: Kevin's Movie Corner will present Shirley MacLaine in Irma La Douce.

Wednesday, Feb. 23: Classicfilmboy will cover Leslie Caron in The L-Shaped Room.

Thursday, Feb. 24: ClassicBecky's Film and Literary Review will examine Patricia Neal in Hud.

Friday, Feb. 25: Noir and Chick Flicks will look at Natalie Wood in Love With the Proper Stranger.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Trivia Time - Part 72

Last week's TT was quite short, and only one question remains unanswered. The question and its answer are below:

3. Name one thing the following films have in common: Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing, The Purple Heart, and The Man with the Golden Gun.

Answer: Richard Loo

This week we have brought the number of questions back up to our norm; I encourage everyone to participate, including all of you "lurkers" who read the questions but have never tried try to answer any.

Don't be shy! Give it a shot! It will only hurt a little, LOL! We usually only pick on our friend Classic Becky (better known as Becks).

Who Said This? But oh please, if it should not be you, don't ever tell me. Who Said This?

Who Am I? I'm an Oscar-winning actress who made 11 films in my own country before I made my first American film. I've played a wide range of characters, from sinners to saints. Who Am I?

Who Am I? Although I had a brief acting career, I'm probably best known as an announcer/side kick on a 1950s/early '60s "quiz show". Who Am I?

1. Name a "saint" played by Who Am I? #1.

2. Name the classic'50s film that Who Am I? #2 was in, and the quiz show mentioned in the question. Why was this quiz show different from others of the period?

3. This ground-breaking PBS series was one of the first "reality shows". It featured a family from Santa Barbara, CA. Name the series and the family.

4. This titled French aristocrat and this Oscar-winning African American actor teamed up in the early '70s in a short-lived ABC TV series. Name the series and the actors.

5. Besides It Takes a Thief, on what other TV show did Fred Astaire have a recurring role?

6. To what real-life tragic incident did WKRP in Cincinnatti devote an episode?

7. This early '60s film was the first film for a foreign-born actress who ultimately earned multiple Oscar nominations during her career. It was the last film for an Oscar-winning character actor who was once a drinking buddy of John Barrymore and Errol Flynn. Name the film, the stars, and the actress and actor mentioned in the description.

8. The names "Thomson" and "Leslie" are both included in the name given to me at birth. Give my full legal name.

9. Name the Tony-award-winning actress who had a short-lived series on CBS that featured Tom Bosley before Happy Days.

10. A remake of this movie was made with Rock Hudson and Jennifer Jones. Name the film and the stars of the original version.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Greek Mythology Meets Carnival in Black Orpheus

French director Marcel Camus had a novel idea about a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: stage it in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival and use an all-black cast.  It was a risky proposition, especially when you consider that it was filmed primarily on location with streets full of people, but it worked out spectacularly. Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro, 1959) went on to win the Palme d’Or at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival and the 1960 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

Breno_Mello_(screenshot_from_Black_Orpheus)[1]Our hero, Orfeu (Breno Mello), is an engaged and handsome Rio trolley driver. His fiancee, Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), is a beautiful but jealous woman with anger issues. When an innocent, country girl, Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn), comes to the city to escape from a man who is trying to kill her, she catches Orfeu’s eye and Mira’s ire. It is a tragic love story shot in a beautiful, vibrant location, with an  outstanding soundtrack full of samba music.

From the opening scene of the film, where white Greek statues transform into rhythmically inclined black men, Camus shatters any preconceived notions the viewer might have about this being another traditional film about the Greek legend. That’s not to say that the story is totally stripped of its tradition, as many of the characters are named after those in the original story.  Brenno Mello as OrpheeOf course, there is Orfeu (Orpheus) and Eurydice, but there are other Greek references, such as Hermes (Alexandro Constantino), who is always ready with directions, and a janitor who serves as Charon, ferryman of Hades. In addition, there is a dog that represents the three-headed dog of Hades, Cerberus, who guards the dead at the morgue (Hades).

Though told in a modern way, with more colorful characters and music, the story is the same. Eurydice is a woman running away from death, and when it comes, the man who loves her wants to bring her deathback at any cost. Camus and his costume department benefit greatly from the Carnival setting, as clothes can be used both symbolically and stylistically. For example, the man who has come to kill Eurydice is dressed in a creepy skeleton costume. This works, of course, because costumes are a part of Carnival. And the theme of life and death that goes along with Carnival is stressed in a convincing way.  No one would find it strange that Death (dressed in a skeleton costume) would wield a knife at a Carnival celebration.

In addition, the theme of Fate is paramount in this film. As most know, the Fates (according to Greek mythology) decide how long one lives—when it is time to die, no one can outrun their destiny.  It was fated that Orfeu would meet Eurydice and black-orpheus-1fall in love. It was also fate that no matter how fast Eurydice ran from death, either from the creepy skeleton or the jealous Mira, eventually the time would come for her to die—even at the accidental hands of the man who loved her.

I suppose a lot of people prefer the happier elements of the film, when the young couple fall in love and there is a lot of dancing and singing. I , myself, enjoy Orfeu’s descent into the underworld. When he calls to Eurydice through song and a voodoo ritual, and she appears in the form of an old woman and begs him not to look at her before they reach  the Orfeu_Negro1upper world, it is heartbreaking—especially when he looks at her and her spirit disappears forever. Watching Orfeu carry his beloved’s body back to his burning house is an eerie experience as well.

Quite simply, it is a heartbreaking tale of lost love.  There is a smoldering quality to the passionate love affair between Orfeu and Eurydice. And the foreboding nature of the samba drums is at times unbearable. Anyone familiar with the Greek legend knows what the outcome will be, but that doesn’t make it any less brutal when it does come. For a primarily unknown and untrained cast, the acting is rather good, especially Marpessa Dawn as Eurydice. Overall, a visually stunning film and a story that absolutely rips your heart out—and then watches it beat in rhythm to the pulsating drums of its soundtrack.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Men Are the Beasts in Don Coscarelli’s “The Beastmaster”

Believing in a witch’s prophecy that he will die at the hands of the king’s first born, a wicked priest, Maax (Rip Torn), sends a minion to steal the unborn child. A peasant saves the infant from being sacrificed and raises him as his own. Years later, the boy has become a man, Dar (Marc Singer), living in a small village that is besieged by Maax and his villainous horde. During the attack, an unconscious Dar is pulled to safety by his steadfast canine. Upon awakening, the man sees that he is the only remaining member of his tribe, and he swears vengeance against Maax and his venomous rein.

While still very young, Dar learns that he has an ability to commune with beasts. It’s a mental and physical connection, as Dar says that the animals can comprehend both his thoughts and his feelings. On his road to retribution, Dar befriends a falcon, Sharak, a black tiger, Ruh, and two ferrets, Kodo and Podo. The man eventually encounters Kiri (Tanya Roberts), who tells him that she is a slave. When learning that Kiri is to be one of Maax’ sacrifices, Dar makes it his purpose to save her. He receives an ally in Seth (John Amos), a warrior pr
otecting the king’s son, Tal (Josh Milrad). They seek to rescue Kiri, who is Tal’s cousin, and free the imprisoned king and the people from under the control of Maax.
The Beastmaster (1982) was co-written and directed by Don Coscarelli, who also helmed the iconic horror feature Phantasm (1979), as well as its sequels, and the cult favorite, Bubba Ho-Tep (2003). Coscarelli specializes in delightfully absurd plots: Phantasm concerns an otherworldly mortician changing corpses into dwarf-sized creatures to do his bidding, and Bubba Ho-Tep is about a still-living Elvis Presley battling a mummy. Though The Beastmaster belongs to a more clearly defined genre, it is still vintage Coscarelli, as Dar confronts witches with repulsive, deformed faces and the bodies of young women, bird-like beings that wrap their wings around their prey and leave behind nothing but bones, and men turned into mindless brutes adorned in spiked metal armor.

Though it’s easy to sympathize with a man forced to battle seemingly unbeatable odds, Dar is an engaging character. His bond with animals is perhaps his most appealing quality. He earns the respect of wild beasts, so that the villains are identified not necessarily by malicious acts but by antagonizing Dar. Viewers may tend to disregard humans who neither believe in nor agree with the beastmaster. Dar is muscular and athletic, but he is not bodybuilder-sized like Schwarzenegger’s Conan, so he has the appearance of an everyday man, an idea reinforced by the unassuming performance from Singer. Dar does not simply swing a heavy sword. He climbs and kicks, utilizing movements that flow and help make the ch
aracter more natural. This is aided by the fact that Singer has studied kung fu.
Dar spends the better part of the film as an outcast. Stolen from his mother’s womb and his tribe destroyed, he is even pushed away by the people he is helping, being called a “freak” by the marred king (who, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, is Dar’s father). The beasts are his family, as Dar allocates their skills: Sharak is his eyes, Ruh his strength, and the ferrets his cunning. But the capabilities of each are apparently limitless, as Dar’s survival is predicated on their very existence. As a viewer, it is preferable for Dar to have the unconditional support of the always reliable animals, as his human companions are burdened by the all-too-human faults of betrayal and self-preservation.

Like other Coscarelli films, The Beastmaster ultimately garnered a loyal following, and sequels were invariably produced. The first was Beastmaster 2: Through the Portal of Time (1991), a mildly interesting misfire that took Dar to modern day, followed by the equally uninspired made-for-TV Beastmaster III: The Eye of Braxus (1996). Singer returned for both films, but Coscarelli handled neither sequel. Sylvio Tabet produced all three films, directed the first sequel, and created a Canadian TV series, BeastMaster, in 1999, w
hich lasted three seasons. Though Dar was portrayed in the series by actor Daniel Goddard, Singer did appear in the third season as Dartanus.
The Beastmaster was loosely based on the 1959 novel, The Beast Master, by sci-fi author Andre Norton (one of the pen names of Alice Mary Norton). Although Norton received no credit for the 1982 Coscarelli film, she is credited in the series. The year after The Beastmaster, Marc Singer would star in the very popular mini-series, V, about a stealthy invasion by reptilian aliens, which was followed by a second mini-series, V: The Final Battle, and a short-lived regular series, V: The Series. More recently, Singer will be making an appearance in the second season of the currently running V, a remake of the original mini-series.
Coscarelli’s film is one of the more memorable sword-and-sorcery movies. The director retains a frantic pace, pitting Dar against extraordinary obstacles. But in a world filled with beasts, the most deadly and evil -- the witches, the winged creatures, the army of faceless soldiers -- encompass a monstrosity derived from their humanlike features. The animals, on the other hand, are kindred spirits, and Dar, who places his faith and safety in them, is the unwavering hero.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Gorgon: A Stone-Cold Hammer Chiller

During the mid-1960s, Hammer Films briefly diverged from its Frankenstein and Dracula series to produce a quartet of underrated little chillers: Kiss of the Vampire, Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, and The Gorgon. All four films featured strong casts, impressive set design (amazingly done on a modest budget), and first-rate technical credits. While Vampire has gained the most fame over the years, The Gorgon has remained largely forgotten. In truth, it never received due respect, not even when Hammer first released it as a double-feature with the vastly inferior Curse of the Mummy's Tomb.

Set in the European village of Vandork, The Gorgon opens with a young painter named Bruno learning that his model/lover, Sascha, is pregnant. When Bruno storms out to discuss his intentions with Sascha's father, she follows him. Weaving through the woods on a bright moon-lit night, Sascha passes near Castle Borski where she sees something horrifying--even as she screams, she cannot refrain from looking at it.

The next day, Dr. Namaroff (Peter Cushing) of the Vandorf Medical Institution prepares to examine Sascha's body. As the sheet-covered corpse is wheeled into the laboratory, a gray-colored hand brushes against an iron basket--and a finger breaks off like a piece of plaster.

Hands turn to stone as a dying victim
writtes a letter of warning.
However Namaraoff doesn't mention this incident at the inquest. He implies that Sascha died at the hands of Bruno, who was subsequently discovered to have hanged himself. The coroner rules it a homicide and suicide...a tidy decision for everyone except Bruno's father. He is determined to proves his son's innocence and, in the process, explain why Vandorf has been the site of seven unsolved murders in the last five years.

Fisher's use of shadows contributes much to
the film's eeriness.
Running a snappy 83 minutes, The Gorgon generates a genuinely creepy atmosphere where much is left to shadows, reflections, and one's imagination. Interestingly, director Terence Fisher's early work (such as Curse of Frankenstein) has been criticized for its emphasis on visual horror. That's not giving Fisher proper credit; he was a polished craftsman who adapted his style to fit the film. The Gorgon is a low-key film and its best scenes achieve an eerie, other-worldly quality, such as when Bruno's father enters Castle Borski--a withered collection of stones, its floors covered with pigeons and dead leaves that swirl as the whistling wind cuts through the structure.

If there's a connection to Fisher's earlier work (he's considered an auteur in France), it's a pervading sense of gloom. No character is safe and it quickly becomes evident that there's a strong likelihood of a downbeat ending. In Fisher's films, the heroes sometimes perish or, if they survive, they are scarred by their experiences. It's no surprise that Victor Frankenstein, the "hero" of Hammer's Frankenstein films--most of which were directed by Fisher--is also a villain.

Barbara Shelley as she
the Gorgon?
The Gorgon benefits from a solid cast, led by the always-reliable Cushing and the talented Barbara Shelley in one of her meatier Hammer roles. Richard Pasco as the nominal hero and Michael Goodliffe as Bruno's father are both convincing in supporting roles. Christopher Lee makes an appearance well into the film, as if Hammer thought The Gorgon needed more star power.

John Gilling, a Hammer veteran, penned the screenplay from a short story by J. Llewellyn Devine. He claimed his original screenplay was altered by producer Anthony Hinds. Even so, what remains is an above-average script with one puzzling part. The three Gorgon sisters are identified as Medusa, Magaera, and Tisiphone. However, in Greek mythology, Medusa is the only one of that trio who is a gorgon; Magaera and Tisiphone were two of the three Furies (or Erinyes), whose heads were also adorned with serpents.

Magaera, when she is shown in The Gorgon, looks less than impressive. Fortunately, her appearances are few and do not detract from the film. For while it may not rank with Hammer's finest horrors, such as Brides of Dracula, The Gorgon is a sharp little film that relies on mood and a sense of dread to create a memorable viewing experience.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Trivia Time - Part 71

First, here are the answers to last week's Trivia Time:

Who Said This? "She was Cinderella with a husky voice" Who Said This?

Answer: Humphrey Bogart

Who Are We? One of us is an Academy Award winning director who appeared as an actor in this director's third feature film. Who Are We?

Answer: Francois Truffaut and Stephen Spielberg (the movie was Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Who Said This?
"I love my country and I love my slippers." Who Said This?

Answer: Jack Benny in To Be or Not to Be.

Who Am I? Born in England, I began my career on the English stage. In film I had a long career as a character actor, frequently portraying doctors, professors, or military officers. I was privileged to work with Howard Hawks, Claude Rains, Gary Cooper, Ernst Lubitsch, Barbara Stanwyck, Carole Lombard, Michael Curtiz, Vincent Price, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and Joan Crawford, among many others. Who Am I?

Answer: Stanley Ridges

Who Said This? person #1: "Shall we drink to a blitzkrieg?"; person #2: "No, I prefer a slow encirclement." Who Said This?

Answer: #! is Stanley Ridges, #2 is Carole Lombard, in To Be or Not to Be.

Who Said This? "I'll kick you bow-legged!" Who Said This?

Answer: Cary Grant to Ann Sheridan in I Was a Male War Bride.

1. Name the lady to whom Who Said This? #1 was referring.

Answer: Humphrey Bogart said this of Elizabeth Scott in Dead Reckoning.

4. This "Road" picture boasts performances by three Oscar winners. Name the film and the Oscar-winning actors.

Answer: Road to Hong Kong, with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, David Niven.

5. Who composed the famous Warner Brothers fanfare? Name the film it was originally composed for and the year.

Answer: angelnumber25 gave the answer to the first half of the question: Max Steiner.
He composed it for the 1937 film, Tovarich.

6. Name the actor who crossed swords with both Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone, and who danced with Alice Faye. (hint: he was also in a movie with Roland Young.)

Answer: Eugene Pallette

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a number of questions left unanswered, so for a Valentine's Day present, we will make this week EASY. Maybe we've been overwhelming you, so we'll try underwhelming you this time!

Here are the questions for TT71:

Who Said This? "Always pays to tell the truth, Lord. Thank you. I see that now." Who Said This?

1. How many films did Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson appear in together? Name them.

2. Name one thing the following films have in common: The Bishop's Wife, A Free Soul, Crash Dive, and Keys to the Kingdom.

3. Name one thing the following films have in common: Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing, The Purple Heart, and The Man with the Golden Gun.

4. In which film did Errol Flynn and Alan Hale first appear together?

5. Name the films that Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs made together.