Monday, September 28, 2020

The Alternate Movie Title Game (Volume 6 - Bette Davis 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! Note that all the answers will be Bette Davis movies.

1.  Irish Rabbit.

2.  The Education of Morgan Evans.

3.  The Ram's Horn.

4.  I Wiped My Mouth.

5.  Louise, Helen, and Grace.

6.  Fahrenheit 451: The Beginning (this one might be tough).

7.  Octopus in the House.

8.  Blackmail in Malaya.

9.  Margo.

10. I'm Not Me!

11. Two Cigarettes.

12. Be Very Quiet, Ms. Hollis.

13. Hoosier Nuptials.

14. The Small Vulpes (who said this game wasn't educational?).

15. The Hurleys and the Hallorans.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Tony Curtis as The Great Impostor

Young Ferdinand Demara, Jr. isn't one to take "no" for an answer, even after well-intentioned Father Devlin (Karl Malden) explains that sometimes you just have to accept your limitations.

Years later, Demara  (Tony Curtis) encounters a major career obstacle when his application for Officer Candidate School is rejected by the Army because he lacks a high school diploma. After mulling over the situation, he forges college transcripts and is accepted as an officer by the Marines. That plan goes quickly awry, though, when he learns he must undergo a security check by the F.B.I.

Tony Curtis and Raymond Massey.
Demara promptly fakes his suicide and embarks on a career of creating false identities. He spends time as a Trappist monk, a deputy prison warden, a military ship's physician, and a teacher. His ability to learn quickly serves him well--especially when performing surgical operations after reading a few pages of Gray's Anatomy! Not all goes according to plan since he's captured by the Army and spends 18 months in prison. But he even turns that into a positive and later becomes a leader for prison reform in a maximum security facility.

Incredibly, The Great Impostor is based on the life the Ferdinand Waldo Demara, Jr. While some of the film is fictitious, the real Demara did pose as a monk, assistant prison warden, naval surgeon, and teacher. His life was the subject of the biography The Great Impostor, written by Robert Crichton.

Tony Curtis with Sue Ane Langdon.
If you're looking for insight into Demara's extraordinary life, you won't find it in The Great Impostor. The lead character's rationale is he's doing these fantastic things because he can--and because the thrill of potential capture is exciting. It doesn't help that the film has been shaped as a breezy Tony Curtis vehicle for the most part. One almost expects a cheerful Curtis to break the fourth wall and start talking to the audience long before he smiles at us in the final shot.

There are couple of serious segments, such as when Demara tries to reach a hardened convict and later performs emergency surgeries on 18 Korean combat casualties. In these scenes, it becomes apparent that Demara wants to do good--even if his actions put innocent people at life-threatening risks. (Imagine being operated on by a man with no medical experience whatsoever!)

Tony Curtis's fans are sure to enjoy The Great Impostor. Coming off the most impressive stretch of his career (1957-60), the actor seems to be having fun and lays on the charm. He is surrounded by a bunch of veteran actors (Edmond O'Brien, Raymond Massey, Arthur O'Connell) and attractive co-stars (Joan Blackman and Sue Ane Langdon, who steals all her scenes). However, in the end, it's just a shame that Tony didn't get the opportunity to play Demara in a more serious film, something along the lines of Steven Spielberg's more compelling Catch Me If You Can (2002).

Monday, September 14, 2020

Arabesque: Stanley Donen's Follow-up to Charade

Sophia Loren as Yasmin.
Oxford University professor David Pollack (Gregory Peck) is ill-prepared for spies, murder, and abduction when he agrees to translate a hieroglyphic message. On the plus side, he rather enjoys spending time with an exotic beauty named Yasmin (Sophia Loren), who may be working for the good guys...or the bad guys. Frankly, for much of Arabesque, David doesn't know who to trust.

Made in 1966, Arabesque is a breezy entertainment in which the plot is purely secondary. For the record, it has something to do with a Middle East country whose prime minister is about to sign an agreement that will devalue an oil baron's (Alan Badel) empire. The key to everything is a piece of paper with the aforementioned hieroglyphics (which in Hitchcockian terms is the film's MacGuffin).

Gregory Peck as the professor.
Style takes precedence over narrative in Arabesque, which was clearly-intended as a follow-up to the more successful Charade (1963). Both films were directed by Stanley Donen with music by Henry Mancini and with two big stars in the lead roles. More specifically, both films featured male stars who were much older than their female co-stars. A key difference, though, is that the roles have been reversed. In Charade, Audrey Hepburn's character is the innocent who gets caught up in the intrigue. In Arabesque, Gregory Peck plays the naive college professor who soon finds himself mixed up with villains and double agents.

Unsurprisingly, Donen wanted Charade star Cary Grant to play Pollack opposite Sophia Loren. However, Grant allegedly didn't like the screenplay, although the dialogue was written with him in mind. While Gregory Peck is a fine actor, it's strange to hear him spout Cary Grant one-liners--which seem to fall flat most of the time.

Loren being zipped into Christian Dior.
In contrast, Sophia Loren appears much more comfortable in the role of the mischievous Yasmin, whose willingness to use Pollack eventually gives way to caring for him. She also gets to wear a lot of fabulous Christian Dior dresses and hats. I've read that she wears twenty different pairs of shoes in Arabesque, though I didn't stop to count them.

With its colorful locations and Donen's nimble direction, Arabesque works as a satisfactory way to spend 105 minutes. Still, those hoping for a repeat of the Charade magic will be sadly disappointed.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Seven Things to Know About Karen Valentine

Karen Valentine in 1995
(photo by J.M. Smith)
1. A California resident, Karen Valentine competed in the 1964 Miss Teenage America pageant. She won the talent competition with "a pantomime take-off of a bossa nova song" (according to Life Magazine). Her performance caught the attention of Ed Sullivan, who invited her to appear on his weekly variety show.

2. In 1969, Karen landed her most famous role, as young energetic high school teacher Alice Johnson in Room 222. The following year, she earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Comedy. She was nominated a second time in 1971 and remained with the show throughout its five-year run.

As Alice Johnson in Room 222.
3. In a 2013 interview with Mark Voger, Karen Valentine said about Room 222: "It was the first show, I think, that showed blacks and whites interacting so well together, and role models in teachers and counselors. It was so well accepted that in certain parts of the country, Room 222 was required viewing by some of the teachers and principals and administrative staffs around different schools."

4. Following the cancellation of Room 222, Karen Valentine got her own TV series in 1975. In Karen, she played a single, independent woman working for Open America, a citizens' advocate organization. Charles Lane co-starred as the organization's curmudgeonly founder (replacing Denver Pyle, who played the role in the pilot). Despite being co-created by Larry Gelbert (M*A*S*H), Karen was cancelled at mid-season.

5. Karen Valentine remained in high demand throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Her unsold television pilots include: A Girl's Life (1983) with Fred Dryer as her boyfriend and Joan Hackett as her mom; Adam's House (1983), in which she played a Chicago social worker; and a proposed 1980 series based on The Goodbye Girl.

6. Karen also appeared in a number of made-for-TV movies, most notably: the title role in Gidget Grows Up (1969); one of  Buddy Edsen's "daughters" in The Daughters of Joshua Cabe (1972); a stewardess with multiple husbands in different cities in Coffee, Tea or Me? (1973); and a "birthday present" for Richard Long in The Girl Who Came Gift Wrapped (1974). Her last movie/TV acting credit is the 2004 Hallmark Channel movie Wedding Daze, with John Larroquette.

7. Karen Valentine was married to Carl MacLaughlin, Jr. for almost four years. His profession is sometimes listed as actor, though his only credit in the IMDb is an appearance with Karen on a Merv Griffin Show about celebrity married couples. Since 1977, Karen has been wed to musician Gary Verna. He won an Daytime Creative Arts Emmy for an original song he co-wrote for The Young and the Restless.