Monday, December 27, 2021

Top Ten Posts of 2021

As the year draws to a close, the Classic Film & TV Café traditionally ends it with a countdown of our ten most viewed posts. We published a total of 52 in 2021. Naturally, the countdown is a little skewed, since those posts that came out at the start of the year will have more views. But that won't stop us...we love year-end lists!

We included only posts that were originally published during 2021. We also omitted our monthly quizzes. To build a little suspense, we'll begin at No. 10 and work our way to No. 1.

But before we get started, we want to thank each of you who visited this blog this year and send some extra love to those who took the time to leave comments.

10. Ray Harryhausen's Valley of Gwangi 

 9.  Ranking All 25 James Bond Films from Best to Worst

 8. Jamie Lee Boards a Terror Train; The Animals Have Their Day

 7. Rodgers & Hammerstein Films: Ranked Best to Worst

 6. Michael Asimow Discusses His New Book on Truth and Trickery in Courtroom Movies

 5. Seven Things to Know About Burgess Meredith

 4. Seven Things to Know About Julie Newmar

 3. Celebrate National Classic Movie Day with the 6 Films - 6 Decades Blogathon!

 2. Seven Things to Know About William Hopper

 1. The Five Best Episodes of Banacek

Monday, December 20, 2021

The Movie Quote Game (Holiday Edition 2021)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from holiday movies--films that revolve around or take place during holidays. We will list a quote from a famous movie and ask you to name the movie. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it.

1.  "Mutual, I'm sure."

2.  "There are few people who know the secret of making a heaven here on earth. You are one of those rare people."

3.  "Why didn't you tell me I was in love with you?"

4.  "And Mrs. Claus has positively identified the kidnappers as Martians."

5.  "She was sort of a medium built, medium height. With a nice evening gown on with a belt in the back. She's sorta built like the girl I knew from the corner drugstore who used to play pinball. Conshwella Schlepkiss. I remember she was high man three weeks in a row."

6.  "You know my name, but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon?"

7.  "Everything is hunky-dunky!"

8.  "George, I am an old man, and most people hate me. But I don't like them either so that makes it all even."

9.  "Oh, Christmas isn't just a day, it's a frame of mind... and that's what's been changing. That's why I'm glad I'm here, maybe I can do something about it."

10. "William, Barney is dead. I shot him. I killed him. I shot him with this."  (This might be a difficult one to answer!)

11. "Some men are Baptists, others Catholics; my father was an Oldsmobile man."

12. "Well, what do you want me to do about it? If he's dying, he's dying."

13. "That's not the friggin' Christmas Star, Gris... It's the light at the sewerage treatment plant."

14. "I have known misfortune. Poverty. Humiliation. I've even known the shame of having to beg. But I have never received such an insult as you have just delivered. I have no price, young man--unless the value a man places upon his honor may be called be a price."

15. "I've positively decided we're going to get married at the earliest opportunity and I don't want to hear any arguments. That's final. I love you. Merry Christmas."

Monday, December 13, 2021

Sean, Gina, and $50 Million

Sean Connery as Tony.
Wheelchair-bound Charles Richmond mistreats his servants, bullies his adult nephew, and fosters tyranny wherever he goes. He is also worth $50 million.

With his inheritance limited to a mere $650,000, nephew Tony Richmond (Sean Connery) hatches a scheme to increase his share of the estate. He carefully selects a new nurse that will appeal to his uncle: an Italian beauty named Maria unwilling to tolerate Charles' cruelty. Her defiance and Tony's open criticism of her combine to peak Charles' interest. Tony is convinced that he can manipulate his uncle into marrying Maria (Gina Lollobrigida). She reluctantly agrees to Tony's plan--but who can trust whom?

Gina Lollobrigida as Maria.
Made in 1964, Woman of Straw is the kind of low-key thriller that Alfred Hitchcock might have made twenty years earlier. It's a tribute to the cast that they make the plot's double-crossing shenanigans interesting for most of the two-hour running time. Ralph Richardson is in top form as the despicable Charles, who shows no signs of humanity until he gradually develops feelings for Maria. Gina Lollobrigida is convincing, too, as the conflicted Maria who loses her taste for the scheme, but can't resist her attraction to Mark and his ambitions.

Ralph Richardson as Charles.
By today's standards, the biggest star in Woman of Straw is Sean Connery. But, in 1964, he was on the brink of international superstardom pending the release of Goldfinger later that year. He is adequate as the cold and calculating Mark, who somehow never elicits audience sympathy even after he reveals that Charles drove his father to suicide and then married his mother! It doesn't help that Connery's character fades to the background during the film's middle portion as the focus shifts to the Charles-Maria relationship.

Veteran director Basil Dearden takes advantage of the colorful locations shot in Majorca, Spain (though the use of rear screens in some scenes is distracting). However, he loses control of the film during its rambling final thirty minutes. There's really no reason for a movie like Woman of Straw to be two hours in length! One would think that Dearden, who directed such marvelous, efficient thrillers as Victim (1961), would know this. Additionally, it doesn't help that the climatic scene is a headscratcher that left my wife and me trying to figure out what happened.

The best reason to watch Woman of Straw is to see Gina Lollobrigida give one of her best English-language performances. Once dubbed "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World" (instead of Sophia Loren?), she had won several acting awards for her Italian films prior to Woman of Straw. It's unfortunate that she rarely got roles worthy of her talents in other English-language movies. She deserved better than being cast in light comedies opposite American stars like Rock Hudson and Bob Hope.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Classic Movies About Ballet

Moira Shearer in The Red Shoes.
The challenge of integrating a dynamic theatrical art form into the confines of cinema has proven to be a difficult task. Consequently, it has been undertaken almost exclusively by filmmakers/ballet lovers, whose artistic successes have been mixed equally with unmitigated failures.

British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger produced two outstanding ballet films, with Powell also contributing a third, less memorable solo effort. The first Powell-Pressburger ballet film was 1948’s The Red Shoes, which starred real-life ballerina Moira Shearer as a young dancer driven to her death by her inability to choose between ballet and a “normal” life. The highlight of this dazzling, colorful film is a 14-minute ballet of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Red Shoes,” brilliantly danced and photographed against stylized sets. The elaborate sets returned in 1951’s Tales of Hoffman, a fusion of drama, singing, and ballet based on Offenbach’s opera and featuring ballerina Shearer again. Powell turned to ballet once more, sans Pressburger, in 1959’s all-but-forgotten Honeymoon, which featured excerpts from the Spanish ballets “Los Amantes de Teruel” and “El Amor Brujo.”

Leslie Caron & Gene Kelly in
An American in Paris.
The most interesting pre-Red Shoes ballet picture was The Specter of the Rose (1946), an offbeat drama about a young dancer who is slowly losing his mind. It featured a rare screen appearance by drama teacher Michael Chekhov and the potent presence of Dame Judith Anderson. Gene Kelly, after choreographing a modern ballet for a set-piece in An American in Paris (1951), incorporated ballet into his all-dance 1957 picture Invitation to the Dance. Shot in 1952, this three-part anthology boasted energetic dancing and clever direction (including a combination of live action and cartoon), but it crashed at the boxoffice and almost ended Kelly’s career. In contrast, Herbert Ross’s The Turning Point (1977) was a solid popular and critical favorite. Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft had the starring roles as a pair of former ballerinas, but Mikhail Baryshnikov stole the film every time he took to the dance floor.

Ballets filmed in their entirety have been rare, but have nevertheless been captured in Peter Rabbit and the Tales of Beatrix Potter (1971), Nutcracker (1982), and Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986).

Margaret O'Brien in
The Unfinished Dance.
There have been numerous films, not expressly about ballet, which have featured ballerinas as principal characters. The role call of actresses who have played ballerinas is a varied one: Greta Garbo (Grand Hotel); Maureen O’Hara (Dance, Girl, Dance); Vivien Leigh (Waterloo Bridge); Loretta Young (The Men in Her Life); Margaret O’Brien (The Unfinished Dance); Janet Leigh (The Red Danube); Gene Tierney (Never Let Me Go); and Leslie Caron (Gaby).  (I think it's too early include the stars of The Black's not a classic yet).

Ballet segments have highlighted many mainstream musicals, though the sequences in An American in Paris, Oklahoma!, and On Your Toes stand out. Films about ballet, or featuring notable scenes, include:

Grand Hotel (1932)
On Your Toes (1939)
Dance, Girl, Dance (1940)
Waterloo Bridge (1940)
The Men in Her Life (1941)
The Dancing Masters (1943)
Specter of the Rose (1946)
Carnival (1946)
The Unfinished Dance (1947)
The Imperfect Lady (1947)
The Red Shoes (1948)
The Red Danube (1949)
Illicit Interlude (aka Summer Play; Summer Interlude) (1950)
An American in Paris (1951)
Tales of Hoffman (1951)
Limelight (1952)
Never Let Me Go (1953)
Dance Little Lady (1955)
Oklahoma! (1955)
Gaby (1956)
Meet Me in Las Vegas (aka Viva Las Vegas) (1956)
Invitation to the Dance (1957)
Angel in a Taxi (1959)
Honeymoon (1959)
Vampire and the Ballerina (1962)
Peter Rabbit and the Tales of Beatrix Potter (aka The Tales of Beatrix Potter) (1971)
The Turning Point (1977)
Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978)
The Cowboy and the Ballerina (1984 TVM)
Nutcracker (1982)
Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986)
Dancers (1987)
Dancing for Mr. B: Six Balanchine Ballerinas (1989)