Monday, May 29, 2017

The Movie-TV Connection Game (May 2017)

What do Bill and George have in common?
The rules are simple: Given a pair or trio of films or performers, your task is to find the common connection. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, etc. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question.

1. The Thrill of It All and Palm Springs Weekend.

2. Tales of Manhattan and The Yellow Rolls Royce.

3, The TV series My Living Doll and Get Smart.

4. The Batman TV series and the film Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

5. Burt Reynolds and Charlton Heston.

6, The Lady from Shanghai and Enter the Dragon.

7. Citizen Kane and The Carpetbaggers.

8. Otto Preminger and George Sanders.

9. Claire Trevor and Ann-Margret.

10. Never Say Goodbye (1946) and Dear Ruth.

11. The TV series Cimarron Strip and The Name of the Game.

12. Clint Howard and Christopher George.

13. Julie Adams, Janet Leigh, and Ruth Roman.

14. William Holden and George Kennedy.

15. The Pink Panther (1963) and The Southern Star.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man

Ernest Hemingway wrote two dozen stories about his alter ego, Nick Adams, throughout his literary career. Playwright and novelist A.E. Hotchner, a Hemingway friend who later penned the biography Papa Hemingway, combined several of the Nick Adams stories into the 1962 film Adventures of a Young Man. Hemingway liked the idea and wrote the movie's opening and closing narration. It was his intent to record it, but he died in 1961.

The film opens in a small northern Michigan town in 1916 with Nick (Richard Beymer) feeling frustrated with a life already laid out for him by his parents. He loves his father (Arthur Kennedy), the town's physician, but can't cope with his domineering mother (Jessica Tandy). Nick sets out on "the road" to discover his place in the world and perhaps become a writer. On his odyssey, he encounters a punch-drunk former boxer (Paul Newman) and his caring friend, an alcoholic small-time promoter (Dan Dailey), and a newspaperman who admires Nick's spunk--just not enough to give the inexperienced young man a job.

Richard Beymer.
Nick ends up working in a restaurant in New York City, where he volunteers for the Italian Army (despite not being able to speak Italian). Once he joins his unit overseas, he is assigned to the medical corps where he befriends a fellow American (Eli Wallach) and an Italian officer (Ricardo Montalban). The horrors of war, a serious injury, and the death of two loved ones change Nick's outlook on life--leaving him more experienced, perhaps sadder, but also better prepared for the challenges that await him.

The idea behind Adventures of a Young Man is both interesting and worthy. The opening scenes, set during a colorful autumn and accented by Franz Waxman's score, have an almost lyrical quality. It's a shame that the rest of the film--which clocks in at almost 2 1/2 hours--can't sustain it. Instead, it tries to mask its obvious flaws: a bland protagonist, miscasting, and a lack of cohesion.

Having never read the Nick Adams stories, I can only comment on the character presented on screen. He's a self-centered, incredibly naïve, and uninteresting young man until much too late in the movie. Even in his final scenes, when he's supposed to have undergone a transformation, Nick's focus seems to be on his own needs. It would have been nice to see him show some interest in what became of his jilted girlfriend (Diane Baker) and loyal friend (Michael J. Pollard).

Paul Newman in makeup.
It doesn't help that Nick is played by Richard Beymer, best known for starring as Tony in the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story. Beymer's All-American looks may work to his advantage as Nick, but his limited acting range becomes more apparent as the movie progresses. His later scenes opposite seasoned pros Eli Wallach and Ricardo Montalban are almost painful to watch. (Surprisingly, though, Paul Newman gives the film's worst performance as "The Battler," a former boxer who mumbles incoherently and stares open-mouthed into space. It just goes to show that anyone can have a bad day--but when A-list actors do, it's captured on celluloid for posterity.)

Other than sequencing Hemingway's stories, screenwriter Hotchner makes no attempt to connect them. As a result, Adventures of a Young Man unfolds like a string of disjointed TV episodes featuring a single continuing character.

Still, I suspect that Hemingway fans will want to see Adventures of a Young Man. For those readers who admire the Nick Adams stories, here are some of the titles interwoven into the plot: The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife, Indian Camp, The End of Something, The Three-Day Blow, The Battler, and Now I Lay Me.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The African Queen Rides Into Adventure with Bogart and Hepburn

Guest blogger Chris Cummins from MovieFanFare pays tribute to a Bogey-Hepburn classic:

Released on December 23, 1951, The African Queen (based on the C.S. Forester novel of the same name) is a cinematic masterpiece that is highlighted by unforgettable lead performances from Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Directed by John Huston, this classic blend of drama, action, and romance stars Humphrey Bogart (who won his only Oscar for this role) as a hard-drinking boat captain who takes aboard prim British missionary Katharine Hepburn in WWI-era Africa. Determined to travel down a treacherous river to sink a German gunboat, the unlikely couple is drawn together as they set their seemingly impossible plan in motion. 

The African Queen features romantic tension, a supporting cast that includes Robert Morley and Theodore Bikel, and a stunning third act. It regularly makes top ten lists of the best films from the Golden Age of Hollywood. We’ve included the film’s original theatrical trailer below. If you’ve somehow missed seeing this film event over the years, we encourage you taking a voyage aboard The African Queen. It’s a trip that is always worth taking.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Celebrate National Classic Movie Day with the Five Stars Blogathon!

For the third consecutive year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe is celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year, we're shining the spotlight on those actors and actresses that made the Golden Days of Hollywood glitter brightly.

The Five Stars Blogathon invites bloggers to list their five favorite movie stars and explain why they love them. It's that simple. In the schedule below, we have included links to over forty participant across the blogosphere. We encourage you to visit each one and learn about the stars they love.

If you don't have a blog, you can still participate by listing your five favorite stars on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, or another social media platform.

And since May 16th is all about our love of classic movies, it's a great day to introduce a friend to the wonderful films from the silents to the 1970s!

Here is the Five Stars Blogathon schedule:

Another Old Movie Blog
Anybody Got a Match?
B Noir Detour
Caftan Woman
Carole & Co.
Cary Grant Won't Eat You
Champagne for Lunch
CineMaven's Essays from the Couch
Classic Film & TV Café
Classic Movie Digest
Classic Movie Treasures
Critica Retro
The Flapper Dame
Hometowns to Hollywood
Journeys in Classic Film
Little Bits of Classics
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
The Movie Night Group's Guide to Classic Film
Musings of a Classic Film Addict
Old Hollywood Films
Once Upon a Screen
A Person in the Dark
Phyllis Loves Classic Movies
Pure Entertainment Preservation Society
Realweegiemidget Reviews
Shadows and Satin
A Shroud of Thoughts
Silver Scenes
Silver Screenings
Silver Screen Modes
Story Enthusiast
Taking Up Room
Thoughts All Sorts
Twenty Four Frames
Unknown Hollywood
Whimsically Classic

Five Stars Blogathon: Cary Grant Tops My List of Favorite Stars

This is my contribution to the Five Stars Blogathon in support of National Classic Movie Day. I encourage you to check out all the posts to this wonderful blogathon. When my fellow contributor Rick asked me to write about my five favorite film stars, I came up with four of them quickly. It was a challenge, though, to determine who to place in that last slot!

1. Cary Grant - Debonair and dashingly handsome, I most admire Cary Grant for his versatility. He can play zany roles in comedies like Holiday, charming heroes in escapist fare such as To Catch a Thief, or serious roles like the bitter government agent in Notorious. My favorite Cary Grant movies: Bringing Up Baby, North By Northwest, and The Bishop's Wife.

2.  Deborah Kerr - This gracious, understated actress lights up the silver screen with her compelling presence. She can play a lonely woman whose passion erupts on a sandy beach (From Here to Eternity) or an elegant governess in which a dance is the only way to convey her feelings (The King and I). She can even convincingly play three women in the same film (the under-appreciated Life and Times of Colonel Blimp). My favorite Deborah Kerr films must include Black Narcissus and The Chalk Garden.

3.  David Niven - This classy performer has a unique gift: He makes any movie better when he's in it. Although he became a Hollywood star, it's surprising how many supporting roles he had throughout his career. He flew alongside Errol Flynn in The Dawn Patrol, eluded Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther, and was one of the hotel residents in Separate Tables. He was also an entertaining writer, as evidenced by his delightful books Bring On the Empty Horses and The Moon's a Balloon. Some of my favorite films with this multifaceted actor: A Matter of Life and Death (aka Stairway to Heaven), The Birds and the Bees, and The Guns of Navarone.

4.  Danny Kaye - I always thought this gifted actor/dancer/singer should have been a bigger star. He was an absolute master of comic timing, as evidenced by the hilarious "Chalice in the Palace" and "Get it? Got it. Good!" routines in The Court Jester. He was also incredibly graceful on the dance floor, as he wonderfully displayed with Vera-Ellen in the lovely White Christmas number "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing." These two also happen to be my favorite Danny Kaye movies.

5.  Katharine Hepburn - I am sure this strong-willed, intelligent actress will show up on many lists in this blogathon--and rightfully so. Like Cary Grant, she was equally at home in comedy and drama. She also managed to remain a star for an incredible five decades (six if you count a trio of made-for-TV movies and a small role in Love Affair). My favorite Katharine Hepburn films include Holiday, Desk Set, and Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Honorable Mentions:  Charles Laughton, Alec Guinness, Alastair Sim, Vincent Price, and Gene Tierney.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

When Sherlock Holmes Was Young

Nicholas Rowe as a teenage Sherlock.
Holmes purists may quibble that Young Sherlock Holmes (1985) is an insult to the classic mysteries of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After all, Holmes and Watson certainly didn’t meet as schoolboys, as this movie implies. But let those hardcore fans quibble all they want. Young Sherlock Homes is a fanciful “What if?” movie which--though it doesn't always succeed--might have pleased Doyle.

The gripping opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the lively mystery. A Victorian gentleman is shot with a blow dart just before entering a restaurant. When he starts to eat his favorite roasted poultry, his dinner suddenly comes to life and attacks him. As he fends off the snapping bird, we see what the other restaurant patrons see: a raving lunatic screaming and flinging his arms at the air. When the same gentleman's coat tries to strangle him later that evening, he jumps out a two-story window to his death. Thus, the mystery is afoot.

Watson finds a key clue.
Behind this cloak of crime is the story of teenagers Holmes and Watson, who meet when the bookish Watson transfers to a London boarding school. When Watson first encounters him, Holmes is frustrated that he has not yet mastered the violin--after all, he’s been playing it for three days. Considered egotistical by his peers and teachers, Holmes is bored until he, his girlfriend Elizabeth, and Watson become involved in murder.

Despite its intriguing opening, the mystery falters halfway through the film. The lack of viable suspects makes the villain obvious. And Holmes doesn't even have to use his famous deductive reasoning to solve the puzzle. One of the would-be victims tells him all the details. There are also a few too many special effects and a Steven Spielberg-inspired flying sequence (he was an executive producer).

The fact that the movie still entertains is a tribute to director Barry Levinson and his fine young cast. Levinson (“The Natural”) has lovingly created an atmospheric, snowy Victorian London. Filled with fleeting shadows and eccentric characters, the film unfolds like an amber-tinted postcard from the past. It’s rare when a film can be enjoyed for its sheer visual elegance.

As Holmes, Nicholas Rowe delivers a crisp, slightly aloof performance that is perfectly balanced by Alan Cox’s charming, awkward Watson. There is a strong rapport between the two that keeps the movie moving even when the plot is not.

Screenwriter Chris Columbus has fun explaining the origins of such famous Holmesian objects as the deerstalker cap, the briar pipe, and the Inverness coat. It's intriguing to note several similarities to the Harry Potter books which J.K. Rowling would write 12 years later. The first films, of course, were directed by Chris Columbus.

Be sure to stick around for the post-credits sequence.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Seven Things to Know About Billy Wilder

Embed from Getty Images

1. Billy Wilder only directed 26 feature-length films and three of those were released in 1957 (The Spirit of St. Louis, Love in the Afternoon, and Witness for the Prosecution). In contrast, Alfred Hitchcock directed over 50 movies.

2. He was one of the first "script doctors." Wilder allegedly worked "uncredited" on the scripts for The Bishop's Wife, That Certain Age, Mutiny on the Bounty (1960), Casino Royale (1967), and others.

The Apartment won six Oscars.
3. Billy Wilder collaborated with I.A.L. Diamond on 12 screenplays and with Charles Brackett on 11 more. He and Diamond received Best Screenplay nominations for Some Like It Hot and The Fortune Cookie; they won an Oscar for The Apartment. Wilder and Brackett received Oscar nominations for Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn, and A Foreign Affair. They won a Best Screenplay Oscar for The Lost Weekend and Sunset Boulevard.

4. Neither Diamond nor Brackett worked with Billy Wilder on Witness for the Prosecution. In adapting Agatha Christie's popular stage play, Wilder and co-writers Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus thought the story needed some humor. They added Nurse Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester), who cares for the recovering Sir Wilfrid during the trial. Lanchester earned a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance. Incidentally, Kurnitz described his collaboration with Billy Wilder as "working with Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde."

Liam Neeson as Schindler.
5. In his Steven Spielberg biography, author Joseph McBride notes that Billy Wilder was interested in directing Schindler's List. Wilder lost his mother, grandmother, and stepfather in the Holocaust. When he saw Steven Spielberg's finished film, he said: "The movie is absolutely perfection."

6. Wilder compiled an impressive collection of modern art, which featured the works of acclaimed artists such as Pablo Picasso. When Christie's auctioned off some of his collection in 1989, Wilder earned $32.6 million.

Billy Wilder and Gloria Swanson.
7. Billy Wilder is responsible for a number of famous quotes, but my favorite is this one about filmmaking: "I have ten commandants. The first nine are: Thou shalt not bore. The tenth is: Thou shalt have right of final cut."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

James Garner Makes a Fine Marlowe

Garner as Chandler's detective.
Having consumed the Philip Marlowe novels as a teenager, I'm typically hard on the film adaptations of Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective. The only one that truly captures Chandler's cynical protagonist and his unflattering portrait of L.A. is Murder, My Sweet. That 1944 version of the novel Farewell, My Lovely holds up well thanks to Dick Powell's sharp performance and Edward Dmytryk's moody direction. My choice for runner-up, Marlowe (1969), may be a surprise, certainly for fans that prefer the more conventional Big Sleep (1946).

At first blush, James Garner may not seem like the ideal Philip Marlowe. But in screenwriter Stirling Silliphant's update of Chandler's The Little Sister (1949), Garner channels his dry wit into an enjoyable, effective performance. It's just a shame that the producers selected one of the lesser Marlowe novels for their movie.

Marlowe's client is Orfamay Quest (Sharon Farrell), a naive young woman from rural Kansas who is searching for her missing brother Orrin. Marlowe tracks the latter to a seedy seaside hotel, but learns his quarry has departed--and the desk clerk has been murdered with an ice pick. When Marlowe later follows up on another lead, he discovers a second body stabbed with an ice pick. Before the police appear on the scene, the detective searches the room and finds a film processing ticket under the dead man's toupee.

Garner and Gayle Hunnicut.
The photographs show television sitcom star Mavis Wald (Gayle Hunnicut) in a compromising position with gangster Sonny Steelgrave. Marlowe suspects blackmail and soon finds himself immersed in a web of deceit, greed, and jealousy.

Raymond Chandler's intricate plotting is one of his trademarks. In fact, in the Marlowe novels, he often integrated the plots of some of his earlier short stories. Personally, I find Chandler's complex mysteries easier to follow in print than on film. In Marlowe, Silliphant remains faithful to Chandler novel, but has trouble tying up all the loose ends. The conclusion, in particular, is messy, though male fans can at least find solace in a tasteful Rita Moreno striptease.

Bruce Lee destroys Marlowe's office.
Still, there's much to like in Marlowe, from Garner's strong performance to the ease with which Silliphant has transplanted the character to the late 1960s. One of the film's highlights is Bruce Lee's supporting turn as one of Steelgrave's henchman. He first visits Marlowe's office to offer the private eye money to back off from Mavis. When Marlowe refuses, Lee's baddie displays his impressive martial arts skills by smashing up the detective's office. Later, the two have another entertaining (though too short) encounter on a rooftop.

It's a shame that Garner wasn't cast in additional Marlowe movies. I would have especially liked to have see him in an adaptation of The Lady in the Lake, my favorite Marlowe novel, which has only been filmed once (as Robert Montgomery's gimmicky first-person Lady in the Lake). Of course, Garner later channeled some of his Marlowe persona into a TV detective named Jim Rockford. That turned out pretty well for him.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Classic Movies About Horse Racing and Equitation

Mickey Rooney in National Velvet.
With the Kentucky Derby just around the corner, we thought it was a perfect time to reprint this entry on classic horse racing movies from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series (reprinted with the authors' permission). Since we're talking "classic" movies, don't expect to see a film released later than the 1980s in the list (sorry, Seabiscuit!).

Mickey Rooney is the undisputed champ of horse racing sagas with a track career spanning half a century. He played the son of a disgraced jockey in Down the Stretch (1936), Wallace Beery’s jockey protegé in Stablemates (1938), a young jockey involved with crooks (and teamed with Judy Garland for the first time) in Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937), Elizabeth Taylor’s young mentor in National Velvet (1944), the trainer of The Black Stallion (1979), and a horse owner in Lightning, the White Stallion (1986). 

Surprisingly, Rooney never made a race track comedy. However, horse racing hijinks seem to be a requirement for most comedians. The Marx Brothers produced the most memorable, 1937’s A Day at the Races, which featured Groucho at his best as horse doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush. Abbott and Costello raced a steed named Tea Biscuit in It Ain’t Hay (1943). It was called Money for Jam in Great Britain, which one shouldn’t confuse with Money from Home (1953), another stateside horse race comedy with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. 

Donald O'Connor with Francis.
Hope and Crosby never raced horses in the Road movies, but Bob gambled on them in Sorrowful Jones (1949) and The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), while Bing backed one in Frank Capra’s Riding High (1950). Donald O’Connor and his talking mule sidekick Francis could have made a fortune in Francis Goes to the Races (1951), since the race horses told Francis that they always determined the winner before the race even began. 

A little boy’s ability to predict horse race results with amazing accuracy ended in tragedy in The Rocking Horse Winner, a 1949 adaptation of the D.H. Lawrence short story. 

Phar Lap with Tom Burlinson.
Filmmakers have deemed few real-life horse racing champions worthy of film biographies. The exceptions include a pair of exceptional horses in The Story of Seabiscuit (1949), The Great Dan Patch (1949), and Phar Lap (1983), the latter being Australia’s most famous racing champ. 

Although most horse races are of the thoroughbred variety, a handful have explored other horse racing events: Elizabeth Taylor entered “The Pie” in the Grand National Steeplechase in National Velvet; father and daughter Charles Coburn and Peggy Cummins raced trotting horses in The Green Grass of Wyoming (1948); Tatum O’Neal and Melissa Gilbert set their sights on equestrian championships in, respectively, International Velvet (1978) and Sylvester (1985); and Gene Hackman and James Coburn were two of the riders in the grueling cross-country horse race in Bite the Bullet (1975). 

Non-horse racing films with memorable sequences include My Fair Lady (1964) and the carousel horse race in Mary Poppins (1964). Film critics have pondered for years whether the title of Million Dollar Legs (1939) refers to the film’s race horse or its star Betty Grable. 

Sporting Blood (1931)
Broadway Bill (aka Strictly Confidential) (1934) 
Little Miss Marker (aka The Girl in Pawn) (1934) 
Down the Stretch (1936) 
Three Men on a Horse (1936) 
Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936) 
A Day at the Races (1937) 
Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry (1937) 
Racing Lady (1937) 
Saratoga (1937) 
Sing You Sinners (1938) 
Stablemates (1938) 
Come on George (1939) 
Million Dollar Legs (1939) 
The Lady’s from Kentucky (1939) 
It Ain’t Hay (aka Money for Jam(1943) 
National Velvet (1944) 
Home in Indiana (1944) 
The Great Mike (1944) 
She Went to the Races (1945) 
My Brother Talks to Horses (1946) 
The Homestretch (1947) 
Black Gold (1947) 
The Green Grass of Wyoming (1948) 
The Story of Seabiscuit (aka Pride of Kentucky) (1949) 
The Great Dan Patch (1949) 
Sorrowful Jones (1949) 
Under My Skin (1949) 
The Rocking Horse Winner (1949) 
Boy from Indiana (1950) 
The Pride of Maryland (1950) 
Blue Grass of Kentucky (1950) 
Riding High (1950) 
Francis Goes to the Races (1951) 
Blue Blood (1951) 
The Galloping Major (1951) 
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951) 
The Rainbow Jacket (1951) 
Boots Malone (1952) 
Four Against Fate (aka Derby Day(1952) 
A Girl in Every Port (1952) 
Money from Home (1953) 
Fast Company (1953) 
Pride of the Blue Grass (1954) 
The Fighting Chance (1955) 
Dry Rot (1956) 
Glory (1956) 
The Killing (1956) 
Photo Finish (1957) 
Just My Luck (1957) 
The Sad Horse (1959) 
Mary Poppins (1964) 
My Fair Lady (1964) 
The Reivers (aka The Yellow Winton Flyer) (1969) 
Bite the Bullet (1975) 
International Velvet (1978) 
Casey’s Shadow (1978) 
Run for the Roses (aka Thoroughbred) (1978) 
My Old Man (1979 TVM) 
The Black Stallion (1979) 
Little Miss Marker (1980) 
On the Right Track (1981) 
Phar Lap (1983) 
Sylvester (1985) 
The Longshot (1986) 
Lightning, the White Stallion (1986) 
Hot to Trot (1988) 
Let It Ride (1989)