Thursday, April 2, 2020

Up Periscope: Early James Garner

The same night that he proposes marriage to a recent acquaintance, Navy Lieutenant Kenneth Braden (James Garner) is whisked away to conduct a secret mission in the Pacific. Once aboard the submarine Barracuda, Captain Paul Stevenson (Edmund O'Brien) explains that Braden will be dropped off in a lagoon near a Japanese-occupied island. His task is to locate a enemy radio transmitter, photograph a radio code book, and return to the sub.

As if that's not challenging enough, the journey to the island is fraught with its own perils. The most significant may be that the submarine crew has lost confidence in its commander. During an earlier mission, Stevenson played it "by the book" and waited underwater for six hours while Japanese boats patrolled the ocean surface. However, as a result of the long wait, a young sailor died of wounds sustained during the attack.

Edmund O'Brien frets a lot.
Apparently, Warner Bros. was grooming James Garner, one of its biggest TV attractions, for movie stardom in Up Periscope (1959). However, it's clear that the studio didn't want to put too much effort into this modestly-budgeted actioner. The trek to Braden's destination contains some minor thrills (e.g., an aerial attack on the sub), but the plot never gains steam until the final half-hour. Add a pedestrian script and what you have is a rather perfunctory picture that does little but showcase Garner's natural appeal.

Edmund O'Brien deserves better than the clichéd role of the vessel commander who begins to doubt his own decisions. The same can be said of an interesting supporting cast, which is mostly wasted. Still, it's entertaining to watch early appearances by football player/future broadcaster Frank Gifford, Edd Byrnes, and Warren Oates. Judging by Byrnes' limited screen time, I'm guessing the production started before he became a pop culture phenomenon as Kookie on 77 Sunset Strip.

Alan Hale, Jr. with beard!
Two other actors may have unknowingly auditioned for their most famous roles. As Garner's bunkmate, Alan Hale, Jr. provides most of the film's humor--preparing him well for playing the Skipper in Gilligan's Island. Meanwhile, Henry Kulky, who plays the Barracuda's Chief Petty Officer, would play one again in the first season of the TV series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. (Sadly, he died of a heart attack, so the Seaview had a new CPO in seasons 2-4.)

If you're a James Garner fan, you probably ought to see Up Periscope. Garner displays everything that made him a film and TV star for decades, from the heartfelt love scenes with Andra Martin to the physicality of his (backlot) jungle scenes. That's the best recommendation for this otherwise soggy adventure.

James Garner and Andra Martin on the beach.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Cinema '62: A Book Review

In their new book Cinema '62: The Greatest Year at the Movies, authors Stephen Farber and Michael McClellan set out to dispel the popular notion that 1939 was the best year for movies. Farber, a former president of the Los Angeles Critics Association, and McClellan, a former senior executive for Landmark Theatres, make a compelling case that 1962 was a landmark year for motion pictures.

They contend that 1962 "stands out as a pivotal year in film history," as it signaled the end of the studio era and the "full-blown emergence of the New Hollywood." They support their argument with chapters devoted to topics such as: the growth of international cinema; the rise of new American auteurs such as John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick, and Sam Peckinpah; the continuing popularity of established stars like John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, and Henry Fonda; strong female roles in films such as The Manchurian Candidate, The Miracle Worker, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?; the popularity of literary adaptations; and the emergence of more films that examined racial conflict (e.g., To Kill a Mockingbird and The Intruder). These chapters serve as a potent reminder that the early 1960s were indeed a turning point in global cinema.

However, the authors are less successful when championing 1962 as an important year for psychological dramas and films with strong sexual themes. Otto Preminger had already knocked down sexual barriers in the 1950s, dealing frankly with the topic in popular films such as The Moon Is Blue and Anatomy of a Murder.  Likewise, psychological dramas were common in the decades prior to the 1960s, with subtle ventures such as Black Narcissus (1947) and more blatant ones like White Heat (1949) and Suddenly, Last Summer (1959).

Of course, as filmmaker Bill Condon states in the foreword to Cinema '62: "Choosing the best year in movies has always been fun sport, for film critics and fans alike." Keeping that in mind, Cinema '62 sparks an interesting, entertaining debate. One cannot deny that a proliferation of classic movies was released in 1962. In addition to films mentioned earlier in this review, the list of significant motion pictures includes: Lawrence of Arabia, The Music Man, Ride the High Country, Jules and Jim, Birdman of Alcatraz, Lolita, Victim, Lonely Are the Brave, David and Lisa, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Advise & Consent.

Farber and McClellan briefly address "Other Films of 1962" in an appendix that covers everything from Elvis Presley's popularity to Disney's reign at the box office to imported sand-and-sandal pictures like Damon and Pythias. Another appendix lists accolades and box office figures for major 1962 releases. Cinema '62 also contains a comprehensive index, although it would have been nice to include a handy list of all the major films released in the U.S. in 1962.

Note: We were provided with a digital review copy of this book.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

6 from the '60s Blogathon for National Classic Movie Day

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we are hosting the 6 from the '60s Blogathon. Per its title, the goal is for each participant to list his or her six favorite films from the 1960s and explain why they deserve such an honor!

The 1960s was a one of the great decades for movies, spanning the transition from the Golden Age of Hollywood to a new era filled with young auteurs (e.g., Kubrick, Frankenheimer, Peckinpah), rising stars (e.g., Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway), and influential international filmmakers (e.g., Truffaut, Godard, Fellini). It featured beloved films like To Kill a Mockingbird, cult movies like Point Blank, blockbusters like The Great Escape, and ground-breaking movies like Bonnie and Clyde. It also marked the debut of James Bond on the big screen and the birth of Spaghetti Westerns.

If you don't have a blog and still want to participate, you can list your six favorite 1960s films on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media on National Classic Movie Day on May 16th.

If you want to participate on May 16th, please list your blog and its web address in the comments below. You can also e-mail that information to When you publish your six picks from the '60s, please include a link back to this post. Be sure to read our blogathon guidelines, too!

The blogs participating are:

Caftan Woman
Classic Film & TV Cafe
Classic Films and Observations
The Colonel's Mix
4 Star Films
Hometowns to Hollywood
It's About TV
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
Last Seat Available
Maddy Loves Her Classic Films
Mrs. Charles
Once Upon a Time
A Person in the Dark
Reelweegiemidget Reviews
Shadows and Satin
Silver Scenes
The Story Enthusiast
Taking Up Room
Twenty Four Frames
Unknown Hollywood

Monday, March 23, 2020

Kirk Douglas's Lonely Are the Brave

Of all the films he made, Kirk Douglas listed Lonely Are the Brave (1962) as his favorite. Yet, this unusual contemporary Western was not a box office hit and rarely gets mentioned among his best movies. It has its admirers, though, to include Steven Spielberg and Kirk's son Michael.

It's easy to see what inspired Kirk to pursue adapting Edward Abbey's novel The Brave Cowboy. Its protagonist, Jack Burns, is a middle-aged cowboy who has refused to adapt with the times. He has no family, no street address, and no steady job. He prefers to live alone, converse mostly with his horse Whiskey, and sleep under the New Mexico stars. He is a good man who values independence above all else.

Jack also values friendship. He decides to take action when he learns that his best pal, Paul, has been sentenced to two years in prison for hiding illegal immigrants. Jack's solution is to get thrown into jail, so he can break out Paul. It's a flawed plan for many reasons, the most problematic being that Paul has a wife and son. The end result is that Paul stays behind and Jack becomes a hunted fugitive as he and Whiskey try to cross the mountains into Mexico.

Gene Rowlands as Jerry.
Kirk Douglas enlisted Dalton Trumbo to write the screenplay. The two had worked together previously with Spartacus (1960), the first film to credit, by name, the formerly blacklisted Trumbo in over a decade. The brilliance of Trumbo's screenplay for Lonely Are the Brave is the way in which it paints an in-depth portrait of its introverted protagonist. The audience learns about Jack from his scenes with Paul's wife Jerry (who knows him better than anyone else), the sheriff chasing him, and--yes--his horse Whiskey.

The film's finest scene may be Jack's farewell to Jerry (Gena Rowlands). Their love of one another, buried deeply by both, surfaces briefly when he reveals that he sometimes wishes he could have settled down with a family. It's a fleeting confession because Jack knows it's much too late to change his way of life. The relationship between Kirk Douglas and Gena Rowlands, in her first major film role, is electric. Their parting kiss is one filled with passion and regret.

Matthau as the gum-chewing sheriff.
Sheriff Morey Johnson provides an outsider's view of Jack. As the search for the fugitive continues, he develops a sort of respect for his quarry. At one point, Morey even admits to himself that he wishes the "cowboy" would escape. It's a perfect role for Walter Matthau, whose lawman bares more than a passing resemblance to the transit authority police officer he'd play in the later Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Finally, there's Jack's horse Whiskey, a young frisky mare who accompanies him on his trek over the hills. Jack's periodic conversations with Whiskey allow the cowboy to voice his inner thoughts for the audience. It's a clever narrative device, though Kirk Douglas once said that Whiskey also stole the film!
Jack talking with Whiskey the horse.
The supporting cast includes a bunch of familiar faces: George Kennedy as a sadistic police officer, William Schallert as Morey's deputy, Bill Bixby as a helicopter pilot, Carroll O'Connor as a truck driver, and Bill Raisch, who has a violent barroom brawl with Douglas. (Raisch achieved fame later as the true killer of Dr. Kimble's wife in The Fugitive). With its impressive cast, breathtaking B&W outdoor photography and Jerry Goldsmith's superb score, Lonely Are the Brave stands out as a unique, compelling film that deserves far more recognition.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Neil Simon's Murder By Death

Peter Falk as Sam Diamond.
Wealthy eccentric Lionel Twain has invited the world's six greatest detectives to his isolated mansion for "dinner and murder." Once his guests have been assembled, Twain reveals that a murder will take place at midnight and the first detective to unveil the killer will receive $1,000,000.

That's the premise for Neil Simon's Murder By Death (1976), a modestly amusing comedy that pays homage to some of literature's most famous detectives. Of course, the names and the characters have been tweaked for comedic purposes. Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot has become Milo Perrier (James Coco) and her Miss Marple transformed into Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester). Likewise, Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles have been turned into private eye Sam Diamond (Peter Falk) and socialites Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith). Finally, there's Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), a thinly-veiled version of Earl Derr Bigger's Charlie Chan.

Simon's affection for these characters and the mystery genre is apparent throughout Murder By Death. However, that's not to say that he's above poking fun at the detectives' best known traits. For example, Twain constantly expresses irritation at Sidney Wang's broken English and his wise sayings ("Conversation like television set on honeymoon--unnecessary"). Simon also delights to sending up some of the mystery genre's best-known conventions, such as revealing new information just before the culprit is unmasked.

Peter Sellers as Sidney Wang.
Simon's script for Murder By Death is filled with one-liners and sight gags. His strategy is one of quantity over quality, so that when a funny line falls flat, there's another one--hopefully more amusing--on the way. No topic is off limits, with Simon spinning jokes about Asian stereotypes, blindness, and gay people. Indeed, in this day of increased political awareness, one can envision Murder By Death being labeled as controversial  (especially for Sellers' portrayal of an Asian character).

The all-star cast appears to be having a grand time, especially Alec Guinness as the blind (or is he?) butler. The best detective portrayal belongs to James Coco, who would have made a fine Poirot in a serious mystery (with less emphasis on eating!). Neil Simon liked Peter Falk's hard-boiled private eye so well that he wrote The Cheap Detective (1978), a follow-up starring Falk in a similar role and with his Murder By Death co-stars James Coco and Eileen Brennan.

Alec Guinness as the butler.
There are multiple versions of Murder By Death due to outtakes being reinserted to increase its running time for broadcast television. The additional scenes include an appearance by Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson at the end of the film.

In an interview on one of the DVDs, Neil Simon expressed his admiration for Alec Guinness. During a break on the set, he said that Guinness was reading a script called Star Wars: "I said 'What's that about, Alec?' He said 'The future. Good stuff, I think. We'll see.'"

Monday, March 16, 2020

David Janssen in Birds of Prey

The KBEX traffc helicopter.
One of the first "water cooler" movies I can remember is the 1973 CBS telepic Birds of Prey. I'm not sure if the term "water cooler" had even been invented in regard to a movie everyone was talking about the next day. But regardless, many of the students in my high school--particularly the guys--were discussing this unusual made-for-TV action film on the morning following its broadcast.

David Janssen stars as Harry Walker, a former combat pilot who flies the traffic helicopter for radio station KBEX in Salt Lake City. During his daily flyover routine, he spots a bank robbery and reports it to police. When the culprits duck into a parking garage, Harry assumes that they will be captured, their hostage freed. and the $203,500 recovered. So, he is understandably surprised when a helicopter lands on the garage's roof and whisks away the bad guys. Without hesitation, Harry takes off in pursuit in his chopper.

David Janssen as pilot Harry Walker.
Except for a talkative interlude at its midpoint, Birds of Prey is a non-stop chase film featuring impressive aerial footage of its two helicopters. Like other well-done chase pictures, such as Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey, dialogue is kept to a minimum.

However, it's that dialogue-filled interlude that gives Birds of Prey its heft. When Harry picks up the robbers' hostage, a bank employee named T.J. (for Teresa Janice), their situation forces two very different people to share close quarters. T.J. is a naive 22-year-old who plans to get married in a few days. Harry is a middle-aged man with multiple ex-wives and a lonely future. For him, the chase is a reminder of times gone by--when he was a pilot during the war. For T.J., the entire situation, to include Harry, is the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her. These two people talk, flirt, kiss briefly (three times), and part from one another on Harry's insistence.

Elayne Heilveil as T.J.
David Janssen doesn't have to stretch much to play Harry; he specialized in playing world-weary figures with a quiet charm and an inner strength. Still, it's one of his best post-Fugitive performances, especially coming on the heels of his dull O'Hara, U.S. Treasury TV series (1971-72). As T.J., Elayne Heilveil gives an incredibly natural performance, which had me wondering why I'd never heard of her. Her filmography includes just thirty acting credits, though she appeared multiple times on the TV series Family and Beauty and the Beast.

Much of the background music consists of big band standards like "Moonlight Serenade" and "I'll Get By." Due to copyright issues, most prints of Birds of Prey include different music. You can tell if you watching a print with the original score by noting whether you can hear Janssen singing to the opening song or not.

Birds of Prey is not a made-for-television classic, but it's still an absorbing action film that also works as a character study. Be forewarned that the closing scene is a shocker!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Volume 4 - Disney Edition)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a classic movie and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it! Good luck.

1. The World's Greatest Island Treehouse.

2. The Dirigible and the Vikings.

3. The Glad Game--and How to Play It.

4. Businessman Without Shoes.

5. Timothy Q.

6. Monstro!

7. Tropical Forest Novel.

8. The Rascally Scottish Outlaw.

9. The Scientist Who Missed His Wedding.

10. A Lot of Dots.

11. Ascent on the Citadel.

12. The Ugly Bug Ball.

13. James Bond and the Banshee.

14. I Was a Teenage Were-Creature.

15. Money for Pigeons (and Your Kites for Free).

Monday, March 9, 2020

Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as The Snoop Sisters

Mildred Natwick and Helen Hayes.
Over a decade before Angela Lansbury starred in Murder, She Wrote, Helen Hayes played an elderly mystery author and amateur detective in The Snoop Sisters. The series co-starred Mildred Natwick as Hayes' sister and ran as a 90-minute installment on The NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie during the 1973-74 season. Originally, it shared the time slot with Banacek, Faraday and Company, and Tenafly.

The premise has bestselling writer Ernesta Snoop (Hayes) sharing a large apartment in New York City with her sister Gwendolyn (Mildred Natwick), known to friends simply as G. In the 1972 pilot film, The Female Instinct, Art Carney played the sisters' live-in chauffeur/cook Barney and Lawrence Pressman was their nephew, police Lieutenant Steve Ostrowski.

Lou Antonio as Barney.
By the time the regular series debuted in December 1973, Carney and Pressman had been replaced (Art Carney subsequently won a Best Actor Oscar for 1974's Harry and Tonto). Lou Antonio took over as Barney, transforming the character from a grumpy, elderly ex-con to a younger man who is occasionally befuddled by his employers. Veteran actor Bert Convy assumed the role of the sisters' nephew.

Both cast changes were for the better, especially Antonio whose personality meshes better with Hayes and Natwick. If he looks familiar, you may remember him from Cool Hand Luke or the Star Trek episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield."

As a comedy, The Snoop Sisters is a modestly successful TV series that relies heavily on its two stars. Helen Hayes tries a little too hard as Ernesta, stopping just short of playing the part tongue-in-cheek. However, Mildred Natwick finds the perfect balance as G, eliciting chuckles while still making her character believable. Her performance earned her an Emmy for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series, beating out co-star Helen Hayes among others.
G as the Bride of Frankenstein and Ernesta--minus mask--as the Monster.
As a mystery, The Snoop Sisters falters badly. The murderer is always easy to guess (though in one episode, no one is murdered). Additionally, some episodes have so much comedy that the mystery comes across as an afterthought. Ironically, the best one--"The Devil Made Me Do It!"--is not really a mystery at all, but an interesting tale about a secret witches' coven.

Vincent Price as a suspect.
The guest stars comprise the most delicious aspect of the series. The list includes a number of highly-respected film and stage stars such as Vincent Price, Paulette Goddard, Roddy McDowell, Victor Buono, Cyril Ritchard, Sam Jaffe, Walter Pigeon, Geraldine Page, and Joan Blondell. Most of them have brief appearances, though Price as a hammy actor and Ritchard as a warlock play major parts. Other guest stars include then-promising newcomers like Jill Clayburgh and William Devane. And, in a most unusual choice, Alice Cooper plays a coven leader called Prince and performs a complete song!

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Author-Movie Blogger John Greco Discusses His New Book "The Late Show"

John Greco--author, movie blogger, and photographer—just published his third collection of short stories, The Late Show and Other Tales of Celluloid Malice. This latest book incorporates his love of classic cinema into eight twisty, provocative tales of murder and mayhem. John recently took time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.

Café:  What inspired you to start writing?

John Greco:  Simply put, movies and TV. I first became an avid reader because of movies, reading novels based on films I liked as well as books on films and filmmaking. TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone, both of which my parents hated so watching became a challenge, but both shows were big influences and inspiration.  I didn’t try to write a story though until the early 1990s. My first attempts were dreadful.  After writing a few stories I stopped, mostly because work and life in general got in the way. Surprisingly, some of them still exist. After I retired, I started writing once again, even bringing back from the dead one or two of those early efforts though extremely made over. 

Café:   Are there any autobiographical elements to your stories? I wondered if the boy in "Six-Shooter," the story of a movie theater owner in a small New York town, was based on you.

John Greco:  There are always some elements that are biographical, but they get merged in with pure fiction. For example, I grew up in New York City, not a small town like the character in "Six-Shooter," but yes, I did watch a lot of Western movies and TV shows as a kid. Johnny Mack Brown, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry were staples at the time. That’s about as autobiographical as it gets, the rest is fiction. Ideas come from many sources: newspaper articles, conversations you have with others or overhear, things you see in the street, and even photographs. My own photography has inspired a few ideas. I think there are times you can’t help but toss in a bit that is biographical.

Café:   Many of the films referenced in The Late Show are film noir (e.g. Double Indemnity, Out of the Past). How has that film genre influenced your writing?

Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon.
John Greco:  As you know from my movie blog, I love film noir. Besides the Westerns that I previously mentioned, I watched plenty of gangster films early on. Warner Brothers films were a staple on one of the NYC stations on Sunday afternoons. As you know. Warner’s produced a lot of crime films. Many wintry Sunday afternoons were spent watching Bogart, Cagney, Garfield and company. I believe The Maltese Falcon was the first noir to really knock me out. True, at the time I first watched it I was too young to understand what film noir was. What I liked was Bogart’s Sam Spade character. Sam Spade was the perfect anti-hero. Unlike Cagney, whom I love, many of Bogart’s characters were tough guys who walked both sides of the mean streets. Spade lived on the edge, he lived by his own rules. He was one of the good guys, but in noir even the good guys were complicated. That’s what I found attractive, that along with the dangerous women who sometimes led them astray. Noir characters sometimes do bad things for the right reasons like the young character in "The Butcher’s Kid."

Café:   Who are some of your literary influences?

John Greco:  Joseph Heller was my first literary hero. I still regard his Catch-22 as a masterpiece. But it was James M. Cain who was the first crime writer whose work I fell in love with.  Both his The Postman Rings Twice and Double Indemnity definitely influenced me.  Then there is Elmore Leonard whose work is on a level all its own. He was a master of setting up a situation and twisting it in both a deadly and humorous way.  His characters are insanely unique and cool, and it’s sometimes hard to tell the good guys from the bad. I am also longtime admirer of Lawrence Block, Robert B. Parker, and Donald Westlake among many others. For me though, there is Elmore Leonard and then there is everyone else.

Café:   I know this is a tough question, but which story is your favorite and why?

Author John Greco.
John Greco:  Wow! That is tough. I don’t know if I could pick one, in fact, I know I can’t. In my new collection I would say "The Movie Club" and "The Butcher’s Kid." The latter came to me one day thinking about growing up in Brooklyn. There was a butcher shop called Castellano’s. One of the owners, I think they were two brothers, had a daughter I went to school with and I had a small crush on her at the time. Those small thoughts triggered my idea for the story which is completely fictional. I really like "Good for Nothing" from my short story collection Bitter Ends. It has both the noir quality and dark humor that I strive for in many pieces, though I don’t know if I always succeed at it. I have to mention a few other favorites like "We All Got What We Want," also from Bitter Ends and "Holcomb Bridge" from Devious Tales, both of which have a definite Hitchcockian twist.

Café:   Which of your stories would work best as a movie adaptation and who would you cast in it?

John Greco:  I don’t know about a movie, but some would work as an episode on Alfred Hitchcock Presents. "The Green Light" for example or "Holcomb Bridge." "Make it Right" would work as a Twilight Zone episode. Casting is tough, but I will say for "The Green Light," I always imagined a young Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in the roles of the seductive wife and her chump lover.

Café:   What did your wife think of The Late Show? I mean, there is a lot of killing and one tale is about a husband obsessed with old movies…..

John Greco:  Overall, it didn’t bother her. She reads a lot of mysteries--though one or two of the stories may have been more rough than she likes. As for the title story, when I first gave it to her to read, I thought she would say something like this is an exaggerated version of you and me. That’s the way I saw the story as I was writing it. As you know, I love movies, but I’m not as fanatical as the character in the story and my wife isn’t going to shoot least I hope not! (laughs)

Café:   What are your future publishing plans?

John Greco:  Well, another book is in the works, but it is some time off, maybe toward the end of the year. I am also looking to submit a few stories to both on-line magazines and print magazines.

Café:   Where can interested readers purchase your book?

John Greco:  The Late Show is currently on Amazon. I’m looking to add it to both Barnes and Noble and Kobo in the near future like my other books.

You can learn more about John Greco at his blogs Twenty Four Frames and John Greco-- Author/Photographer.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales

While Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992) racked up the critical accolades, I still maintain that the best Eastwood-directed Western is The Outlaw Josey Wales. Made 15 years earlier, Josey Wales is an unflinching portrait of a man coping with the loss of his family as the U.S. tries to heal from the wounds of its Civil War.

In the opening scene, farmer Josey Wales (Eastwood) loses his wife, his young son, and his home when a band of pro-Union "Redleg" marauders attack without provocation. Wales survives and joins a group of Confederate guerrillas led by a Captain Fletcher (John Vernon). Following General Robert E. Lee's surrender, Fletcher negotiates an agreement with a U.S. senator to gain amnesty for his men. Wales is the only one that refuses to participate.

Unknown to Fletcher, the amnesty is meaningless and all his soldiers are massacred. Wales opens fire on the Union troops, but eventually flees after being able to save only a young man named Jamie (Sam Bottoms). Wales is branded an outlaw with a bounty on his head. Fletcher and a Redleg named Terrill (Bill McKinney) are tasked with bringing Josey to justice. What Fletcher doesn't know is that Terrill is the man responsible for killing Wales' family.

Sondra Locke as the daughter.
For most of its running time, The Outlaw Josey Wales chronicles its protagonist's unlikely journey. I'm not talking about his trek from Missouri to Texas but rather his emotional journey as he gradually forms a new "family" consisting of an elderly Cherokee, a young Navajo woman, and a pioneer woman and her adult daughter. He provides and protects them while their reliance, gratitude, and friendship help him find peace and eventually a new home.

Eastwood has described The Outlaw Josey Wales as an anti-war film...and it's that, too. Josey avoids an expected showdown with the Comanches by reasoning with their leader. He explains that government leaders cannot be trusted and that treaties must be formed by men who live by their word. (This point is emphasized earlier in the film when the senator reneges on the amnesty agreement made with Fletcher).

Philip Kaufman co-wrote the screenplay and started out directing The Outlaw Josey Wales. However, Kaufman (perhaps best known for The Right Stuff) clashed with Eastwood. At the latter's insistence, Kaufman was removed as director and Eastwood took over. The Directors Guild of America was not pleased with Eastwood's treatment of Kaufman. Subsequently, it implemented what has come to be known as the "Eastwood rule," which prohibits an actor or producer from firing the director and then becoming the director himself.

Chief Dan George.
The standouts in the supporting cast are Chief Dan George as Josey's friend and Paula Trueman, who plays an elderly, opinionated, surprisingly resilient Kansas woman. The latter also appeared with Eastwood in the earlier Paint Your Wagon. Dan George was 74 when he did Josey Wales (he gets most of the good one-liners). He didn't start acting professionally until he was 60, but had already been Oscar-nominated for Best Supporting Actor for Little Big Man (1970).

It was on the set of The Outlaw Josey Wales that Eastwood met Sondra Locke. The two would become romantically involved for fourteen years. Following their breakup, Locke filed a palimony suit against Eastwood. They eventually settled out of court, but it was a long, complex legal battle. Still, one of their films made when they were together was Bronco Billy (1980). Although a very different film, it's also about the forming of an unlikely family of outcasts. It would make an interesting double-feature with The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Seven Things to Know About Angie Dickinson

1. Angie Dickinson's favorite film role was as the sexy housewife who is brutally murdered after an adulterous encounter in Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980). She told Vanity Fair in a 2008 interview: "I’m good in it, and it’s a great part. I’m sorry I didn’t try to go for an Academy Award for that role. I think I could have won it. But the studio didn’t want to put up the campaign, and I felt that I didn’t want to go for a supporting-actor award, because I’d always thought of myself as the lead, even though by then I wasn’t getting starring roles. I regret it now. Of course, De Palma is to blame for the great performance."

2. She played Sergeant Pepper Martin for four years on Police Woman (1974-78). She received three Emmy nominations for Best Actress (Drama) and four Golden Globe nominations, winning the award in 1975. According to People Magazine, Police Woman was President Gerald Ford's favorite TV series--he once rescheduled a White House press conference because of it. Angie's then-husband Burt Bacharach turned down the opportunity to compose the theme for Police Woman...because he didn't think the show would last long.

3. Angie Dickinson and Frank Sinatra had a ten-year affair. She told Vanity Fair: "Frank and I stayed friends for all those years, and it was just one of those great, comfortable things, where you always desire somebody, but you can live without them."

Angie Dickinson and Burt Bacharach.
4. Her 1965 marriage to Burt Bacharach was the second for each of them. Their daughter, Lea Nikki, was born prematurely and later diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. She committed suicide at age 40. Dickinson and Bacharach divorced in 1981. In a 2019 interview that aired on CBS, she said of Bacharach: "He never loved me, I can tell you that right now, the way one loves. He loved in his own way, which is not too good. And so, he had no respect for me."

5. Howard Hawks cast her in Rio Bravo (1959) after watching her in an episode of Perry Mason ("The Case of the One-Eyed Witness").

Angie as "Feathers" in Rio Bravo.
6. Angie Dickinson returned a $75,000 advance on her planned autobiography in 1989. She said the publisher wanted her to address a rumored affair with President John F. Kennedy. She refused to do it and shelved the book after completing 100 pages. In recent years, she has expressed a renewed interest in writing her life story.

7. During one of her many guest appearances on The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson noted her outfit and asked Angie Dickinson if she dressed for women or for men. She famously quipped: "I dress for women. I undress for men."

Monday, February 24, 2020

Christopher Lee in The Brides of Fu Manchu

This sequel to 1965's The Face of Fu Manchu is an unexpected improvement on Christopher Lee's debut as the Sax Rohmer's supervillain. Stylistically, it reminded me of an Avengers episode during the Mrs. Peel era--though it could have benefited from the presence of Steed and Mrs. Peel, of course.

The Brides of Fu Manchu opens with the closing scene of the original film, revealing that the criminal genius and his daughter Lin Tang survived the destruction of their lair. It's not long before Fu Manchu has hatched a new plot to dominate the world circa the 1920s.

His archnemesis Nayland Smith suspects a diabolical plot is afoot when the wives and daughters of the world's leading industrialists and scientists start disappearing. To be precise, eleven women from ten countries have been kidnapped in eighteen months. The women--the "brides" of the title--are being held captive by Fu Manchu so that their fathers or husbands will help him build a energy transmission device capable of destroying entire cities.

Douglas Wilmer as Smith.
As in Sax Rohmer's books, Scotland Yard detective Nayland Smith and his associate, Dr. Petrie, are sort of a poor man's Holmes and Watson. Still, it's entertaining to watch Smith match wits with Fu Manchu. The detective makes the first move by disguising one of his men as one of the girls' fathers. Fu Manchu gets the upper hand later when he sets up a reception antenna as a deception, causing Smith to be in the wrong place--resulting in the deaths of 123 people.

Dressed in elegant silk robes, Christopher Lee makes a menacing figure as the supervillain. Yes, it's easy to criticize the casting of a British actor as an Asian character. However, the reality is that the Fu Manchu movies would never have been made without Lee's star power. Douglas Wilmer co-stars as Nayland Smith, replacing Nigel Green who played the hero in The Face of Fu Manchu. Although Green is a fine actor, Wilmer is an upgrade as he's far more convincing as an intellectual man of action.

Producer Harry Alans Towers wrote the script under the pseudonym Peter Welbeck. His screenplay is also an improvement on the first film, interweaving plot elements such as a pit of poisonous vipers, hypnosis, the Foreign Legion, a chase between a roadster and a biplane, and, yes, the BBC.

Tsai Chin as the evil daughter.
A prolific filmmaker, Towers produced a total of five Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee as the diabolical title character and Tsai Chin as his daughter: The Face of Fu Manchu (1965); The Brides of Fu Manchu (1966); The Vengeance of Fu Manchu (1967); The Blood of Fu Manchu (1968); and The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969). If memory serves, the quality drops off significantly after Brides. Douglas Wilmer returns as Nayland Smith for Vengeance, but is replaced by Richard Greene in the last two entries in the series. (For good measure, Towers produced two movies featuring Shirley Eaton as Sax Rohmer's female villain Sumuru.)

You may recognize some familiar faces in the supporting cast. The aforementioned Tsai Chin is still active today, guest starring in TV series like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She also appeared in the 1993 hit The Joy Luck Club, one of the few Hollywood films with an all Asian cast. Burt Kwouk, who plays Fu Manchu's No. 1 henchman, is best known for his comedic skills. He played Cato, Inspector Clouseau's valet, in several Pink Panther films.

Here's a clip from The Brides of Fu Manchu, courtesy of our YouTube Channel:

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Hour of the Gun: After the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

James Garner as Wyatt Earp.
A decade after directing the Western classic The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957), director John Sturges returned to the Earp-Clanton saga with Hour of the Gun. In narrative terms, it's a sequel; indeed, the opening is the shoot-out at the famed corral in Tombstone, Arizona. However, the two movies are distinctly different in terms of cast, tone, and accuracy. Sturges emphasizes that last point by ending the opening credits with: "This picture is based on fact. This is the way it happened."

In Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, villain Ike Clanton was gunned down in the climax. Hour of the Gun reveals--accurately--that Clanton wasn't involved the gunfight. Only three men died that day at the O.K. Corral, all of them at the hands of the Earp Brothers (Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil) and Doc Holliday. Although Virgil Earp was the Tombstone marshal, Ike Clanton arranges for the Earps and Holliday to be charged with murder.

When the four men are acquitted during a trial, Clanton takes matters into his own hands. He has one Earp brother maimed and another one murdered, leading Wyatt Earp and Holliday to seek vengeance--and try to stay within the bounds of the law.

Hour of the Gun is a grim Western and, for most of its running time, that's a good thing. James Garner, whose natural humor was always a strength, leaves that levity behind. He portrays Wyatt Earp as an man torn between upholding the law and enforcing retribution. Boasting a mustache and black duds, he transforms into an angel of death wearing a silver badge.

Jason Robards as Doc Holliday.
Garner is wisely paired with Jason Robards as Doc Holliday, who serves as Wyatt's conscience. Robards almost steals the film with his portrayal of the bigger-than-life Holliday, a gambler, alcoholic, and tuberculous-inflicted gunfighter who (in this narrative) values friendship and loyalty above all else. It's the kind of performance that should have earned him an Oscar nomination (he did subsequently win Supporting Actor Oscars for Julia and All the President's Men).

The two leads are backed up by Robert Ryan as Clanton and a bevy of strong supporting players: William Windom, Frank Converse, Steve Ihnat, Jon Voight, Monte Markham, William Schallert, and Albert Salmi. It's interesting to note there are no significant female characters in the film.

Robert Ryan as Ike Clanton.
Despite its claim that "this is the way it happened," the screenplay boasts a few historical inaccuracies. The most obvious is the way it depicts Ike Clanton's demise at the climax. However, compared to previous film versions, to include John Ford's My Darling Clementine, it's much closer to the facts.

James Garner later portrayed a much older Wyatt Earl in Blake Edwards' Sunset (1988), a fictitious tale that had Earp teaming up with cowboy star Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) to solve a mystery in L.A. in 1929. Hollywood's fascination with the legend of Wyatt Earp peaked in the 1990s, with two films about the famous marshal being released within a year of each other:  Tombstone (1993), starring Kurt Russell as Earp, and Wyatt Earp (1994) with Kevin Costner.

Here's the opening scene of Hour of the Gun (1967), courtesy of the Cafe's YouTube Channel:

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Volume 3)

Here are the rules: We will provide an "alternate title" for a classic movie and ask you to name the actual film. Most of these are pretty easy. Please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play. You may have an answer other than the intended one--just be able to defend it! Note that the alternate title may be a variation of the original title or plot description.

1. Unwanted Guest With an Octopus.

2. While the Big Town Stays Awake.

3. The Bubblegun-colored Jungle Animal Visits Again.

4. Hole of Vipers.

5. Authentic Hot Breakfast Food.

6. I Was Rudolf's Double.

7. Pint-sized Roman.

8. Joe & Jerry & Daphne & Josephine.

9. The Kidnapping of Hank McKenna.

10. Incident in Bodega Bay.

11. The Mysterious Dr. Frail.

12. Mystery Writer and the Killer Dentist.

13. Cooler King and the Tunnel King (a really easy one!).

14. Expensive Gems Last a Long Time.

15. Captain Spitfire and The Hawke.

Friday, February 14, 2020

"Marty" and the Precision of Dialogue

Ernest Borgnine as Marty.
Marty Piletti (Ernest Borgnine) is a lonely 34-year-old butcher who lives with his mother in The Bronx. He has made sacrifices for others, especially his family, at the expense of his own happiness. He has all but given up hope of finding a meaningful relationship with a woman. As he tells his mother, he is tired of being hurt.

Marty's life takes a turn for the better when he meets Clara (Betsy Blair) at the Stardust Ballroom. Clara, a quiet school teacher, has been jilted by her date because she's a "dog." Marty asks her to dance and the two wind up spending the night together. They confide the most intimate secrets to one another. At one point, Marty is so excited at talking with Clara that he literally can't stop.

The next morning, Marty is giddy with the seeds of love. However, his mother and best friend both express reservations about Clara, implying that she's not good enough for Marty. When it comes time to call her, he isn't sure what to do.

Made in 1955, Marty is one of those personal dramas that Hollywood used to excel at making before space adventures and superheroes dominated the boxoffice. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky, one of the great television dramatists of the 1950s, expanded his own 1953 teleplay. In the book The Craft of the Screenwriter, Chayefsky explained the secret to his naturalistic dialogue: "My dialogue is precise. And it’s true. I think out the truth of what the people are saying and why they’re saying it. Dialogue comes because I know what I want my characters to say."

Marty and Clara.
A great example is a lengthy scene in which Marty starts talking about everything and anything as he and Clara exit the ballroom. Realizing he has been dominating the conversation, he tries to stop only to continue again. It's not just what Marty says, but the way he says it and how Borgnine delivers it that make the scene ring true.

Marty provides Ernest Borgnine with the role of a lifetime and he deservedly won a Best Actor Oscar. He had already established himself with strong supporting performances in From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). Still, it's safe to say that Marty elevated Borgnine to bigger parts (co-lead in 1956's Jubal) and paved the way for an enduring career.

Betsy Blair and Gene Kelly.
Sadly, his co-star Betsy Blair did not fare as well. Actually, Blair almost wasn't cast as Clara due to her left-wing political views. She lobbied hard to co-star in Marty, but gained little ground until her then-husband Gene Kelly got involved. In her autobiography The Memory of All That, she recounts a conversation in which Kelly told MGM executive Dory Schary that he wouldn't make It's Always Fair Weather if Schary didn't help Blair. She wrote: "(Schary) called the American Legion in Washington right there and then, in front of Gene, and he vouched for me. And so I was in Marty."

Although nominated for Best Supporting Actress, Blair lost to Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden. That's a shame for Blair is every bit as good as Borgnine. Her post-Marty career is pretty much forgettable, although there were a few bright spots. Interestingly, both she and Borgnine appeared in variations of Othello:  Blair was in the contemporary jazz drama All Night Long with Patrick McGoohan and Borgnine co-starred in the aforementioned Western Jubal with Glenn Ford.

In addition Borgnine's Oscar, Marty won for Best Picture, Best Director (Delbert Mann), and Best Screenplay (Chayefsky). Rod Steiger originated the role of Marty Piletti in Chayefsky's live TV drama with Nancy Marchand as Clara.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Missing Billy Wilder in "Cactus Flower"

Goldie Hawn as Toni.
I.A.L. Diamond co-wrote some pretty amazing screenplays--his work includes The Apartment and Some Like It Hot. Of course, his writing partner on those films was a guy named Billy Wilder. Mr. Diamond also occasionally branched out on his own. That was the case with the 1969 comedy Cactus Flower, which was based on a French stage play.

Walter Matthau stars as Julian Winston, a New York City dentist who has avoided marriage by telling his much-younger girlfriend Toni (Goldie Hawn) that he's married with three children. When Julian misses a date, Toni assumes he has chosen his wife over her and attempts suicide. A concerned Julian decides to marry Toni. The only problem is that Toni now wants to meet Julian's wife!

Goldie and Walter Matthau.
A desperate Julian tries to convince his highly-efficient nurse, Stephanie (Ingrid Bergman), to pose as his wife. Initially, Stephanie bluntly refuses and advises Julian to tell the truth. However, she has second thoughts and meets with Toni to explain she wants a divorce from Julian. Stephanie is too convincing, however--perhaps because she truly harbors some feelings for Julian?

After watching Cactus Flower for 15 minutes, it's obvious how the movie will end. Therefore, it's just a matter of execution: Can Diamond and the cast make the situations funny enough to justify the predictable plot? The answer is no for most of the film's running time. 

Even the usually delightful Walter Matthau displays an atypical lack of energy--though his lethargy succeeds in counteracting the excessive effort that Goldie Hawn puts in her performance. Amazingly, Goldie not only was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, she won! (For the record, I don't dislike Goldie. I enjoyed her immensely in Overboard...until it began popping up on television every week.)

Jack Weston with Ingrid Bergman.
There are a handful of amusing scenes and Ingrid Bergman makes Stephanie an appealing character. Rick Lenz also scores as Goldie's next-door neighbor, Igor, in the kind of role typically played by Jim Hutton in the 1960s.

As mentioned above, Cactus Flower originated as a 1964 French stage play, Fleur de cactus, written by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Gredy. Abe Burrows adapted it for Broadway in 1965 where it was an immediate hit and ran for almost three years. The Broadway leads were Barry Nelson (Julian), Lauren Bacall (Stephanie), Brenda Vaccaro (Toni), and Burt Brinckerhoff (Igor). Vaccaro and Brinckerhoff were nominated for Tony Awards in the Featured Actress and Actor categories.

As for screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond, he teamed up again with Billy Wilder for his next four films, including the offbeat Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and the underrated Avanti. He then retired from the movie business.

Monday, February 3, 2020

William Holden Leads the Devil's Brigade

Holden as the brigade commander.
A year after the boxoffice hit The Dirty Dozen (1967), David L. Wolper produced another World War II action film about a band of misfits transformed into an efficient combat unit. The differences are that The Devil's Brigade (1968) was based on fact and paints its story on a larger canvas.

William Holden stars as Lieutenant Colonel Robert Frederick, who is tasked with forming a special forces brigade consisting of both American and Canadian soldiers. While the Canadian battalion is already combat-ready, the American unit is saddled with former prisoners and AWOL candidates. Plus, friction forms almost immediately between the disciplined Canadians commanded by Major Crown (Cliff Robertson) and the rambunctious Americans led (sort of) by cigar-crunching Major Bricker (Vince Edwards).

Robertson as Major Crown.
To Crown's puzzlement, Frederick encourages the rivalry between the two battalions. Learning that the Canadians were handpicked, one American soldier (Claude Akins) quips: "Where I come from, the only thing we pick by hand is little yellow daffodils."

However, as sometimes happens in action pictures, a barroom brawl--this one started by local lumberjacks--requires the two sides to work together. Having bonded, the men form a cohesive fighting unit. That's a good thing because the Brigade is soon tasked to take a Nazi-occupied mountain in Italy that no one else has been able to capture.

Even with the real-life Robert Frederick (who retired as a Major-General) as a consultant, it's hard to tell what was fact-based and what was created for dramatic intent in The Devil's Brigade. It is worth noting that, according to the book The Devil's Brigade (co-written by one its members), the barroom brawl incident actually took place and did contribute to team-building. The only significant difference is that the instigators were miners and not lumberjacks.

Claude Akins and Andrew Prine as two
of the American soldiers.
The cast is solid, though they are mostly saddled with stereotypical characters (e.g., Carroll O'Connor's blustery general, Jack Watson's straight-arrow corporal). That may be a result of trying to introduce the audience to too many members of the Devil's Brigade. Holden gets the most screen time, which affords him the opportunity to add some nuance to his mission-focused commander.

It's worth noting that Richard Jaeckel appeared in both The Devil's Brigade and The Dirty Dozen. Also, some non-actors of note make brief appearances: Green Bay Packers football star Paul Hornung, champion middleweight boxer Gene Fullmer, and stunt man/future film director Hal Needham.

Veteran director Andrew V. McLaglen (Victor's son) handles the large-scale action scenes with precision. He also make maximum use of the spectacular mountain scenery in Italy and Utah (which stands in for Montana, where the brigade actually trained).

The Devil's Brigade doesn't rank with the best World War II action movies, but it's a respectable effort that won't disappoint fans of this genre. As for the real-life 1st Special Service Force--the official name for the brigade--its surviving members were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2015.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Seven Things to Know About Eva Gabor

1. Contrary to their uncanny resemblance, Eva and Zsa Zsa Gabor are not twins. Eva was two years younger than Zsa Zsa and four years younger than sister Magda. In a 1990 Los Angeles Times article, Eva said that Zsa Zsa was considered the "beauty" in the family and Magda was the "smart sister." As for herself, she sighed: "And while I was the ugly duckling, they used to say I had personality."

2. She was chairperson of the board of Eva Gabor International, one of the largest wig-makers in the world. She started the company in 1972. According to her publicist, her appearances on the Home Shopping Network broke sales records. And, yes, one of the wigs looked like her own blonde curls.

Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor.
3. Eva Gabor called playing the role of Lisa Douglas "the best six years of my life...I adored every minute of it." Of course, there was a good deal of Eva in her TV character. When Eva met President Lyndon B. Johnson in real life, she replied: "Hello, Mr. President, darling."

4. Eva was married five times, although she once said she was married "4 1/2 times, because one was on the rebound." Her longest marriage was 13 years to fourth husband, textile millionaire Richard Brown. Although they had known each other for nine months, they decided to get married two hours after Richard proposed. It was such short notice that neither of Eva's sisters could attend. Red Buttons gave away the 33-year-old bride and the wedding took place at the Hotel Flamingo in Las Vegas. After her last marriage ended in divorce in 1983, Eva became the frequent companion of Merv Griffin. She once said of him: "We’ve never been lovers, but we are great, great friends."

5. In a 1990 interview in the Chicago Tribune, she said of her role as a mother: "The other day I was having dinner with Merv and a couple of people, and we were talking about children, and I said, 'Well, my stepchildren love me more than my own.' And Merv said, 'But you don`t have any children of your own,' and I said, 'I don't?'" (Indeed, Eva Gabor never had any children.)

Eva, Zsa Zsa, and Magda Gabor.
6. Following the cancellation of Green Acres, Eva Gabor only made sporadic appearances in the entertainment field. She was a panelist on The Match Game for a year. She played a matchmaker in a pilot for a TV series in 1990 called Close Encounters, but the show wasn't picked up. She teamed up with Eddie Albert again in the made-for-TV movie Return to Green Acres (1990). Eva and Eddie Albert had previously reunited on Broadway in 1983 in a revival of You Can't Take It With You.

7. In 1995, Eva Gabor broke her hip while traveling in Mexico. When she was admitted to a hospital in Los Angeles, she was found to also be suffering from pneumonia. She died from respiratory failure on July 4th. Both her sisters survived her.