Saturday, September 29, 2018
Recently my good friend Derek Koch of the Monster Kid Radio podcast applied the "Vincent Price Tag" on me. Apparently the "Vincent Price Tag" has been going around YouTube for awhile--it is a series of questions concerning the legendary actor, and various podcasts have been "tagging" others to take up the challenge of responding with their own answers to the queries. I consider it an honor and a privilege to be asked to participate, so without further ado.....
1. What is your favorite Vincent Price horror film?
Without question, THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES. It's my all time favorite Vincent Price performance. The entire movie is a magnificent summation of Price's entire horror film persona--and it is also so quirky and unique it can't be compared with anything else. Dr. Phibes is a truly flamboyant and grandiose character--he literally is larger than life (and death)--yet many forget how subtle Price is in the role. There's been rumors going around for some time about a remake, maybe involving Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. To me that would be more horrid than any of Phibes' murders--there's no way any actor could match the brilliance in Price's portrayal. For me, Anton Phibes is Vincent Price's signature role.
2. What is your favorite Vincent Price non-horror film?
I'm going to pick DRAGONWYCK. I don't consider that a horror film (there's some film buffs that do). It does have some Poe-like elements, but I classify it as a Gothic romantic melodrama. Price plays Nicholas Van Ryn, an 1840s New York aristocrat. At first the handsome, cultured and articulate Van Ryn overwhelms and charms his distant naive country cousin played by Gene Tierney, but the woman soon finds that her storybook romance has some rather dark passages to it. Price is perfect as Van Ryn, and the role served as a harbinger for all the erudite villains he would play throughout the rest of his screen career.
3. Who would win in a fight between Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, and Christopher Lee?
A fight between the three titans of terror never happened on-screen--even though there were two opportunities in which it could have happened: SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. The trio appeared in both of those films, yet neither movie took proper advantage of the fact. If they had faced off against one another, who do I think would have won? That's a hard one to contemplate. Price and Lee were much taller than Cushing, but Cushing did fight various monsters in hand-to-hand combat...in my mind I could see the three of them facing off in a triple gunfight, much like the one in the climax of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. But who could rightly pick the winner in such a scenario? If I have to come up with an answer, it would be that they'd wipe each other out--but the audience would sure win.
4. What was the better Vincent Price contribution to a musical album--his work on Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or his participation on Alice Cooper's "Welcome to My Nightmare"?
I would have to say "Thriller", since it had more of a worldwide impact. Alice Cooper was huge in the mid-70s, and I'm sure my late friend Bill Andert would want me to pick the Nightmare album....but the "Thriller" song still gets played regularly on Eighties radio stations today.
5. If you could replace one actor in any horror film with Vincent Price, which role would you choose?
There's so many ways one could go with this. I'm going to choose the character that Paul Muller played in the Barbara Steele film NIGHTMARE CASTLE. This movie is an Italian Gothic, and that particular genre was heavily influenced by the Vincent Price/Roger Corman/AIP Poe series. It would have been fantastic to see Price star in a true Italian Gothic thriller, especially this one, as it would reunite him with Barbara Steele, his co-star in THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM. Muller's character is a 19th Century brooding scientist who tortures and kills his wife and her lover, then marries his wife's mentally disturbed stepsister, who he then tries to drive totally insane. Price would have really went to town on this one. Muller is fine in the role, but just imagine if Price had played it...and how he would have handled the florid dialogue.
6. If you met Vincent Price in a movie, he would probably kill you. How would you want to be killed by Vincent Price?
I don't find the prospect of musing over my own demise very entertaining...but I guess if I had to go, I wouldn't want it to be violent or painful. Perhaps poison in a glass of wine? That sounds like something Price would do to someone. I'm not a drinker, but I'm sure Price would be devious enough to get me to imbibe...and knowing Price, it would be an excellent wine as well.
7. Vincent Price guest-starred in several classic TV shows. What is your favorite appearance?
Anyone who knows me will expect me to pick Price's role as Egghead in the 1960s BATMAN TV show. I was leaning toward that....but I'll surprise a few people and go with Price's guest stint on THE BRADY BUNCH. What is notable about Price's appearance with the Bradys is that his character is a bit seedy, run down, and kind of pathetic...so much so that even though he's held the Brady boys against their will, the family winds up feeling sorry for him!
8. Vincent Price starred in eight films with the word "house" included in the title. Which one of these is your favorite?
I have to go with HOUSE OF USHER. I believe that Roderick Usher is one of Price's greatest screen characterizations, and this was the first film in the Price/Roger Corman/AIP Poe series. HOUSE OF USHER was one of the most important films in Vincent Price's career, and it is one of the most important American Gothic films overall.
9. If Vincent Price could read you a bedtime story, which one would it be?
Well, Vincent Price could read the phone book to me and I'm sure I'd find it entertaining. Picking a horror tale for him to read is somewhat generic--so how about Dr. Seuss' GREEN EGGS AND HAM? Seriously, I loved that book as a kid...to hear Price interpret it would be amazing!
10. Vincent Price lent his voice to several animated shows and films. Which voice over is your favorite?
I've got to go with THE 13 GHOSTS OF SCOOBY-DOO. The fact that he was chosen to appear on it shows you how much pop culture impact Vincent Price had.
I had a lot of fun writing this particular blog, and I thank Derek for choosing me to participate. Instead of me tagging one select individual or blog, I'd like to invite any and all of you who happen to read this post to take up the mantle and participate yourselves.
Wednesday, September 26, 2018
This fall the University of Notre Dame is hosting a series called "Operation Frankenstein", in which a number of events will be helda to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley's famed novel. As part of the series, a number of Frankenstein films are being screened at the Browning Cinema, located on campus at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center.
Last night the Browning featured a digital presentation of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. I never thought I'd get the chance to see any Hammer film at Notre Dame, let alone this one...so obviously I attended.
Just about all of my Hammer viewings have been on some sort of television screen, so seeing one of them at any theater period is a real treat. If you've read only a few of my blog posts, I'm sure you know something about THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. First Hammer color Gothic horror...first real Peter Cushing & Christopher Lee film...a significant event in fantastic cinema history...but how would it play on a 21st Century college campus, particularly one as esteemed as Notre Dame's?
I arrived at the Browning wearing my Peter Cushing shirt, and the two ladies who were accepting tickets outside the theater were quite impressed by my wardrobe. We talked about Hammer, Cushing, and Lee for a bit, and then I ventured in and got a seat at my usual preferred location for any movie I see anywhere--middle of the theater, middle of the row. I was hoping that maybe someone in the audience would also say something about the Cushing shirt, but it wasn't to be (someone did say to me "Cool shirt" as I was leaving after the film).
The screening actually attracted a decent crowd for a Tuesday night showing at the Browning. Most of the audience was made up of students--I assumed they were there as part of a class. Those that weren't students (at least I didn't think they were) appeared older than me. Listening to the conversations going on around me before the movie started, I didn't hear anyone mentioning Hammer, or Cushing & Lee...and I started to realize that maybe most of the folks here had never seen this movie, or any Hammer movie.
This gave me the unique experience of viewing a film that I knew like the back of my hand in a theater full of people who didn't have extensive knowledge of it. I truly enjoyed watching THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN on a big screen in a theater setting, but I also was paying close attention to how the rest of the audience was reacting to what they were seeing.
During the early scenes which show Baron Frankenstein as a boy, there were a few giggles..and I started to think, "Oh boy...here we go." But as the movie went along, and Peter Cushing's obsession to create life advanced further and further, I could feel that the audience was starting to get into it. Mind you, I wouldn't say they were overwhelmed by it--a few folks pulled out their phones to look at from time to time, and there were a few misplaced snickers--but the crowd was overall quiet and respectful.
They also had some interesting reactions. When the movie cuts from Hazel Court's Elizabeth proclaiming that it has always been the Baron's wish to marry her to the Baron making out with his maid, nearly everyone went OOOHH!! the way kids do at recess when they find out something bad about someone. They also reacted with surprise when Christopher Lee's creature unwraps his bandages and reveals his car wreck of a face. The biggest reaction was when the Creature gets shot in the eye and blood spurts from his wound...one lady even said very loudly "Oh Geez...". The reactions weren't snarky or sarcastic...the crowd really was paying attention to the film and following the story. The audience especially appreciated the way Peter Cushing delivered the Baron's droll asides. If Terence Fisher had been at the showing, I think he would have been pleased.
For my part, I've seen THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN so many times (the first time had to have been on the "Son of Svengoolie" program sometime in the mid-1980s) that I know it by heart. But seeing it in this type of venue reiterated several things for me.
First of all, the whole Hammer atmosphere, as represented by Jack Asher's cinematography, Bernard Robinson's production design, and James Bernard's music, still came through as strong as ever. Once again I was reminded why Peter Cushing is my favorite actor of all time--he carries this film, he makes it work, he makes you buy into it. Christopher Lee doesn't have all that much to do as the Creature--but his body language is so utterly alien he still manages to give an effectively creepy performance. Unfortunately I was also reminded of what a dud character Robert Urquhart's Paul Krempe is. It's not the actor's fault--Urquhart does the best he can with a thankless role. It's Jimmy Sangster's script that makes the character--the supposed "voice of reason"--so whiny, ineffective, and annoying.
Maybe, just maybe, someone in the audience last night will be encouraged to seek out other Hammer productions, or even other movies starring Peter Cushing and/or Christopher Lee. And maybe the Browning Cinema will be encouraged to show other Hammer films in the future.
Sunday, September 23, 2018
GOD'S GIFT TO WOMEN is a strange 1931 Pre-Code comedy from Warner Brothers. It was directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz, and it features a number of actresses that have rather notable reputations among film buffs today.
The movie is set in Paris and stars vaudeville comic Frank Fay as a notorious ladies man. Fay is introduced walking into a nightclub with an entourage including Joan Blondell, Louise Brooks, and the Sisters G. You'd think with that type of arm candy the guy would be plenty satisfied--but he immediately is attracted to a young blonde female sitting at a table played by Laura La Plante (the star of the silent THE CAT AND THE CANARY). La Plante is an American who has a rich father, and her daddy isn't too happy to find out about Fay's history of being a lady killer. Fay tries to tell the father (who is played by Charles Winninger) that he's willing to change his ways and give up his partying life and settle down, and the father sends a doctor to examine him. The doctor tells Fay he must give up all excitement--especially women--or he will assuredly have a heart attack. Fay spends the rest of the film trying to avoid his former lovers and figure out a way to get back to La Plante.
I don't really know all that much about Frank Fay, other than he was a bad husband to Barbara Stanwyck. My good friend Steve Zalusky, who is an expert on American pop culture of the 1920s and 1930s, informs me that Fay could be considered the inventor of stand-up comedy, and that he was a early version of Bob Hope and Milton Berle. Fay must have had something going on back then to get lead roles in Hollywood films and to win the hand of Stanwyck, but from my viewpoint of just watching his performance here I can't figure out what that was. In my opinion Fay certainly isn't believable as a out-and-out Romeo type (to me he kind of resembles Liberace). Maybe the whole point of Fay being cast in this role was something of a joke--but he doesn't seem all that appealing or entertaining in this film. He also doesn't seem anything like the sophisticated European he is supposed to be playing. Maurice Chevalier would have been perfect to play Fay's role.
The most interesting thing for me about GOD'S GIFT TO WOMEN (and the main reason I watched it) was the female cast. Joan Blondell and Louise Brooks are worth watching in any cinematic situation. I'm quite interested in the Sisters G now after seeing them on the Criterion Blu-ray of KING OF JAZZ. The movie also has Margaret Livingston, the vamp of the famous silent SUNRISE, as yet another of Fay's lovers. Unfortunately none of those ladies I've just mentioned get to do all that much. We are treated to the sight of both Blondell and Brooks in lingerie, and they even engage in a catfight. Sadly (especially for old movie weirdos) the entire sequence containing such pleasures is rather brief. According to my internet research GOD'S GIFT TO WOMEN featured a few musical numbers, including one showcasing the Sisters G, but they were cut out before the film's general release. The result is that the Sisters are in the background of a few scenes and nothing more. Margaret Livingston only gets to appear in one sequence. Even Laura La Plante, who is supposedly the lead female character, has very little chance to shine--one just wonders what her character sees in Fay.
Louise Brooks and Joan Blondell show what Pre-Code is all about in GOD'S GIFT TO WOMEN
Frank Fay dominates the proceedings here, and depending how you feel about him will determine how you feel about GOD'S GIFT TO WOMEN. I didn't find Fay all that funny, and I wished the script had taken better advantage of all the actresses involved. Michael Curtiz tries to bring some visual flair to the tale when he can, but it's basically a drawing room farce. Let me put that another way--the movie tries to be a drawing room farce, but it comes off to me as weird instead of risque.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
MY MAN GODFREY (1936) isn't just one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time--it's one of the greatest American film comedies, period. The movie has just been released on Blu-ray by Criterion.
The rich Bullock sisters, Irene (Carole Lombard) and Cornelia (Gail Patrick), visit a New York City dump in search of a "Forgotten Man" for a scavenger hunt. They come across a rather unusual and articulate hobo by the name of Godfrey (William Powell). The snooty Cornelia upsets Godfrey, but he agrees to accompany the flighty Irene. Irene becomes so taken with him that she hires Godfrey as the family butler. To say that the Bullock family is eccentric is an understatement, but Godfrey deals with them in his own inimitable way, while trying to navigate around Irene's growing affection for him.
MY MAN GODFREY is one of those few films that flow so effortlessly it doesn't even seem to be scripted or directed. The man who did direct it, Gregory La Cava, had a reputation for keeping things loose on the set, and on this film he had the perfect cast to work with. MY MAN GODFREY is also one of those few films where everyone in the ensemble steals the movie. Four different actors were nominated for Oscars here--William Powell, Best Actor, Carole Lombard, Best Actress, Mischa Auer, Best Supporting Actor, Alice Brady, Best Supporting Actress--but the other main cast members such as Eugene Pallette, Gail Patrick, and Jean Dixon could have easily been nominated as well.
I've always been impressed with how smooth William Powell was as an actor. His best attribute when it came to comedy was his ability to convey to an audience the absurdity of a situation without being absurd himself. Most performers would overreact to the zaniness going on around them in a story like MY MAN GODFREY, but Powell does more with a brief glance or a slightly raised eyebrow. It's a style of light comedic screen acting that is almost extinct today.
Carole Lombard and William Powell in MY MAN GODFREY
Of course I'm going to praise Carole Lombard here--she's my all-time favorite movie actress, after all. The thing is, calling her "The Screwball Girl" is a bit of a misnomer--she was one of the most intelligent women working in Hollywood at the time. If any other actress had played Irene Bullock, the character might have come off as silly, spoiled, or annoying, but Lombard has so much likability and personality we can't help but be charmed by her. Lombard as Irene adorably reacts to everything the way a 10-year-old girl would--but that's because Irene is essentially a little girl (one main reason why Godfrey doesn't automatically return her affections the way any other man would). Lombard had a naturally unaffected way of being funny while still being glamorous and enticing.
It's very easy to over analyze a movie like MY MAN GODFREY. Simply put, it's an all-around enjoyable film, with a great cast led by two true Hollywood legends. The climax wraps things up a bit too neatly, but this movie wasn't meant to be a social statement--it's supposed to be entertainment, and there's nothing wrong with just sitting back and appreciating a happy ending.
For whatever reason MY MAN GODFREY had fallen into public domain mode, and as a result there are dozens of cheap versions of it on home video. Criterion had released a DVD version of it a while back. This new Blu-ray version from Criterion is easily the best I've ever seen the film look, with greatly increased sharpness and detail.
The new extras include an excellent booklet essay examining the movie by Farran Smith Nehme, and two new featurettes. One of them has Gary Giddins discussing the picture, and the other has Nick Pinkerton looking back on the life and film career of Gregory La Cava. Both featurettes are informative and well worth watching. There is also a radio adaptation of MY MAN GODFREY starring Powell and Lombard on this disc, along with a few outtakes and a trailer. I do have to say that I found the lack of an audio commentary disappointing--this movie cries out for one--and I really wish there had been some sort of featurette on Carole Lombard and her relationship to the 1930s Hollywood screwball comedy genre.
I'm sure most film buffs have one of those cheap home video comedies of MY MAN GODFREY already (I did), but this Criterion version gives the movie the treatment it deserves.
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Ever since the 21st Century began I've been hearing about how physical media--DVDs, Blu-rays, CDs, books, magazines, etc.--is on the way out. You wouldn't know that if you visited my house. I have five different shelves filled with various discs, and I've got books piled up all over the place, including boxes of them (and numerous magazines) in my basement.
I've spent a great deal of my hard-earned money on physical media (and it's not like a make a lot of money either). Many people have told me, "You don't need to buy all that stuff now! Just stream it, or watch and read it on the internet!" Well, I love collecting this stuff, it's one of my hobbies. Not that long ago I wrote a blog post on my very first home video purchase, a cheap public domain VHS version of HORROR EXPRESS. In that post I related how cool it was to actually own a Peter Cushing/Christopher Lee film--it was if I now had a personal connection to it. I still feel that way when I get a super-duper release from Criterion or Arrow today. You can psychoanalyze that feeling all you want--some people get that feeling from buying clothes, or working on cars...I get it from buying an obscure monster movie that very few have ever heard of. To each his own.
One of the great things about physical media is that once you've bought it, it's yours. You don't have to worry about the copyright being an issue, or what happens if your power source is interrupted, or your device being damaged or going on the fritz. No one is going to take away your physical media, unless they break into your residence and steal it. You can watch it (or read it) whenever you feel like.
I realize that some feel they may not have the room to keep or store many items on physical media, but I don't think these things take up that much room--that basically comes down to each individual's preference. In my situation it helps that I'm a single guy, and I can do what I want in my own house.
As for the "You can find cheaper and better ways to get this stuff than buying an actual copy", is it more efficient to use streaming or Kindle when most of the product available on those devices are things I'm not interested in? I've been encouraged to try services like Netflix just so I can watch one particular show--then why not just go and buy that show on home video? Most streaming services have very few choices of interest for hardcore film buffs. There are thousands and thousands of films that will never show up on any streaming service, simply because they will be considered too old or not mainstream enough.
When it comes to books, for me there's no comparison between reading something on a screen and actually holding a copy in your own hands and reading it page by page. Whenever I read something on a screen I have a tendency to skim through it--that's a bad habit, and it's one reason why I try to keep my blog posts short and to the point. There's nothing more relaxing for me than to read a good book on a subject I'm interested in. Reading that same material on a screen....it just wouldn't be the same. Maybe that's a silly way to look at it, but it's how I feel.
Maybe I can explain my love for actual books in another way. I recently purchased a book featuring posters for the films that involved Ray Harryhausen. It is a magnificent volume, with all sorts of wonderful and imaginative poster art. Could one get the same satisfaction from this book if you viewed it from a hand-held device? I certainly wouldn't.
Speaking of hand-held devices, I realize now that plenty of folks watch movies on them. I've viewed films on YouTube with my laptop....but watching an entire feature film--in widescreen yet--on a cell phone?? Can you imagine watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA or THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY on a hand-held device?? I know someone reading this is probably thinking, "That's what the kids do nowadays." Okay, fine, whatever....but I really don't see how you can properly appreciate any film that way.
One time when my Dad was staying with me for a couple days, he told me, "If you hadn't bought all this stuff you have, you'd be a millionaire!!" (He was also referring to the sports memorabilia that I own). The thing is, if I hadn't bought all of this stuff, I'm sure I would have spent it on other things. We all have something that gets us through life. Some people medicate themselves through alcohol or drugs--I do it with movies and books. One of the reasons I'm able to spend money on the things I have is the fact that I don't drink or do any type of drugs. I've never even smoked dope. I'm not saying this to assert some sort of moral superiority, I'm just stating it to point out that if one wants to follow certain interests in life, one has to make certain choices to be able to do so. I've made my choices and I'm happy with them. Whenever my friend Josh Kennedy and I discuss the latest crazy movie-related purchase one of us has made, we always come to the same conclusion--"There are far worse things we could be spending our money on."
The fact is, if you have any interest in entertainment that goes beyond the mainstream, you are going to have to invest in some form of physical media. It may be a hassle at times to do this, but if it makes you happy in the end, that's all that matters. I would much rather watch movies or read books I have an interest in than deal with most people, so for me, physical media will always be the way to go.
Thursday, September 13, 2018
Probably no other film director has been the subject of more books than Alfred Hitchcock. I'd venture that the number of volumes concerning the man runs into the hundreds, and dozens more seem to crop up each year. One has to wonder about these new Hitchcock tomes--what more can one say about him and his films that hasn't already been said? What new angles are there left to explore?
HITCHCOCK'S HEROINES, written by Caroline Young and published by Insight Editions, thankfully is a worthy addition to the Alfred Hitchcock library. The book is a well-produced coffee table sized exploration on the leading ladies of a number of Hitchcock's films, their personal relationships with the director, and their characters.
HITCHCOCK'S HEROINES examines 23 films and main female stars of each, starting with the 1927 silent THE LODGER and ending with 1972's FRENZY. Because of this format a few actresses are showcased in more than one chapter--Ingrid Bergman gets two chapters, Grace Kelly gets three, and Tippi Hedren gets two. The book goes beyond the usual ladies associated with Hitchcock--performers such as June Howard-Tripp, Anny Ondra, and Nova Pilbeam are also featured.
Each chapter gives a thorough analysis of the leading lady for the film selected--why she was cast, how she interpreted her role, and what her relationship with Hitchcock was like. The wardrobes for the ladies in each particular film are also examined, as Hitchcock himself had very exact instructions for what the actresses in his movies should be wearing.
One of the main themes of the book is Hitchcock's quixotic personality when it came to relating to women. The author makes the case that Hitchcock was very respectful toward major stars who were not intimidated by him, such as Carole Lombard and Ingrid Bergman. However, this work does not shy away from the accusations made toward Hitchcock by women such as Tippi Hedren and Vera Miles. The charge that Hitchcock's work had a misogynistic streak running through it is also discussed.
What really makes the book special in my opinion are the number of high-quality photographs reproduced in it, with many of them being an entire page. Whatever you may think of Hitchcock's personal behavior, the man did have an eye for beauty, and he knew how to present that beauty in visual and dramatic ways. The photos in this book make that abundantly clear.
The fact that HITCHCOCK'S HEROINES was written by a woman is a distinct plus, in that it gives a refreshing spin on a subject that has been discussed over and over again. While reading this book one is reminded of how vitally important the leading ladies of Hitchcock's films were to him and his work. I already own a number of books written about Alfred Hitchcock and his movies, and I'm glad I added this one to the list.
Friday, September 7, 2018
When I was a pre-teenager, my parents almost never went to the movies. Their philosophy was, "It'll be shown on TV eventually." I had to beg them over and over again just to get them to take me to any of the Star Wars films. But for SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, they made an exception. My entire family made a special trip to the drive-in (not only did my parents not like going to movies, they didn't even like going to movie theaters) in the summer of 1977 to see it. (Remember, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT was rated PG, so it was considered "safe" for my younger brother and me to go along.)
The main reason they went to see this film was Burt Reynolds. The man was a huge star in the 1970s, especially to lower-middle class working people like my parents. Movies like DELIVERANCE, GATOR, and THE LONGEST YARD made Reynolds quite popular in flyover country. To many Americans back then Reynolds seemed like one of them. He may have been a movie star, but he still seemed like an ordinary guy who had fun with his success and didn't come off as elitist or condescending. He didn't appear in critically-acclaimed films, but he starred in titles regular folks enjoyed and wanted to see.
Reynolds also had a huge off-screen persona back in the 70s and early 80s. His various affairs and escapades constantly got him into the tabloids or magazines like PEOPLE or US (about the only type of literature my parents ever read). He also made several appearances on THE TONIGHT SHOW with Johnny Carson, and don't underestimate how that helped Reynolds' popularity--at the time Carson was far more influential than all the present-day late night hosts put together.
I honestly believe that in some ways Burt Reynolds was a latter-day Clark Gable. I realize that what I just wrote might cause some of you to do a spit take, but let me explain. Both men had a cocky self-assurance on the screen, and both men were excellent at comic timing. Both men were also extremely attractive to women, and they knew it. They also spent a majority of their acting careers playing narcissistic jerks--but they each had the innate ability to make such characters seem palatable to a mass audience. That type of charisma and magnetism can't be taught in any acting class--you either have it or you don't. Burt Reynolds was like the cool kid in high school everybody wanted to hang around with.
Reynolds wasn't just admired by adults--kids (like myself) appreciated him as well. When the youngsters of late 70s America weren't pretending to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, they wanted to be the Bandit or Hooper. After we saw SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT I told my Dad I wanted my very first car to be a Pontiac Trans Am--needless to say I never got it.
Reynolds wound up riding the country-action comedy train for far too long, and his tabloid lifestyle eventually caught up with him, to the delight of his more "sophisticated" critics. He made a comeback in the 1990s with the TV show EVENING SHADE and his role in BOOGIE NIGHTS. Reynolds had directed a number of the films and TV shows he appeared in, but he wasn't able to manage his career as successfully as his friend and contemporary Clint Eastwood.
Burt Reynolds should be remembered as a true movie star who didn't take himself seriously and entertained millions of people. He had, and always will have, a major impact on pop culture.
Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Now, here's a question that seems relatively simple, but is actually quite complicated. My immediate response would be, "I'd like to spend time with one of the Hammer heroines!" The thing is, I basically did that for real on the set of HOUSE OF THE GORGON earlier this year. But the question isn't about which classic monster movie performer you'd like to hang out with..it's which classic monster movie character.
And that's where it gets complicated, because, when you think about it, how many great classic monster movie characters are the type of people one would want to spend time with off the screen?? Can you honestly imagine hanging out with, say, Bela Lugosi's Dr. Vollin, or Peter Lorre's Dr. Gogol? I highly doubt those chaps would be all that much fun to be around. It's always entertaining to watch the mad scientists played by the likes of Lionel Atwill or George Zucco....but to spend time with those characters for real would be highly dangerous.
Okay...instead of picking a mad scientist type, what about a classic monster movie good guy? What about, say, Robert Armstrong's Carl Denham? No doubt you'd have an exciting time with him...but you'd also run the risk of sacrificing yourself for whatever crazy scheme he'd have cooked up. If you hung out with one of David Manners' characters, you'd probably wind up bored to death. Lionel Atwill's Inspector Krogh from SON OF FRANKENSTEIN might seem a safe choice...but you'd spend a lot of time stifling laughter over his one-armed antics.
One of Kenneth Tobey's monster fighting characters might make pleasant company....then again, maybe not, considering that most of them were highly professional military men who didn't seem all that comfortable with down time. Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing might seem the obvious choice for me--but remember what happened to his "close friend" Jonathan Harker in HORROR OF DRACULA?
How about a female character instead of a male one? Fay Wray's characters would spend a lot of time screaming at you, and Evelyn Ankers' characters, well...I have the feeling they'd be a bit high maintenance. As for the English Gothic female characters, most of them have rather questionable taste in men, such as Veronica Carlson's Maria in DRACULA HAS RISEN FROM THE GRAVE.
Instead of picking one of the stars of a classic monster movie, and dealing with all the trouble that entails, how about a supporting character? There's plenty of issues when you go down that route as well. Could you imagine dealing with, say, Una O'Connor's Mrs. Hall for any length of time?? Or any member of the Femm family from THE OLD DARK HOUSE?
Maybe the safest bet is to pick a background character, someone who is out of the way and observing everything going on around them. Maybe one of the villagers in a typical Universal or Hammer horror film. If you did that you'd find yourself spending a lot of time at the local tavern or pub instead of working for a living, and every so often you'd have to grab a torch and join up with a righteous mob. (Come to think of it, there's plenty of 21st Century Americans who live that type of lifestyle....)
One also has to consider where most classic horror film characters live--old dark houses, subterranean hideouts, caves, sewers, dungeons, crypts, etc. If you are one of those "Halloween every day" type of people, this might be okay, but others might want to ask their favorite classic horror film character if they'd like to head out to the mall for the afternoon instead.
We are, though, only talking about one day....surely one can handle certain difficulties over that time? How would you like to deal with Lon Chaney Jr's Lawrence Talbot whining and moaning for 24 hours? (He even drove Boris Karloff's Dr. Niemann to anger over it.)
Fact is, when you get right down to it, there's very few classic horror film characters (in my opinion at least) that one would seriously enjoy spending an entire day with. It's not like most of them would sit on the couch with you and eat junk food and watch the game on your big-screen TV.
For me, the classic horror characters are best experienced through their various films. But if I had to pick one, it would be Peter Cushing's Dr. Van Helsing. If things got really bad, Van Helsing could take care of the vampires, and I'd keep an eye on the ladies.
Tuesday, September 4, 2018
BUFFALO BILL is a 1944 film produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by the vastly underappreciated William Wellman. The movie purports to be a biography of the famous William Cody, a man who was a legend in his own time. I say "purports" because the end result is about as realistic as the average GREEN ACRES episode.
When we are introduced to Buffalo Bill at the beginning of the story, he has already spent most of his life being a scout and dealing with native tribes in the Old West, and he looks around 40 years old. Bill (Joel McCrea) saves a traveling party from an Indian ambush, and among the group are a U.S. Senator and his lovely daughter (Maureen O'Hara, looking gorgeous as always in Technicolor). Bill falls in love with Maureen at first sight (who wouldn't?), but their relationship is affected by an uprising by various tribes, and Cody's disagreements with the military authorities on how to handle the situation. After taking part in a large battle between the U.S. Cavalry and a tribal confederation, Cody becomes a hero, and his exploits are extensively written about by dime novelist Ned Buntline (Thomas Mitchell). Cody goes back East to Washington and tries to reunite with his now-estranged wife, but his outspoken views on the Native American situation make him unpopular. Cody is reduced to working in a sideshow act, but it is there that he gets the idea for a grand Wild West show, and he becomes a worldwide hero once again.
It's hard to believe that the man who directed one of the darkest Westerns ever made, THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, also made this picture. Then again, maybe Wellman should deserve some credit for being able to turn out two such totally different films in the same genre. BUFFALO BILL is classic Hollywood myth-making--there's not much to Cody's character except that he is soft-spoken, straightforward, and determined in his convictions. That is essentially the type of role Joel McCrea played his entire acting career, and while he fits the bill here, at least for this version of Buffalo Bill, he doesn't have the flamboyance one would expect of the world's most famous Wild West showman. (McCrea also appears decidely uncomfortable with long hair and a goatee.)
Wellman apparently hated the script, but he still tried to bring some historical perspective to the story. For a film made released in 1944, it has a rather modern viewpoint when it comes to Native Americans. Time and time again Bill goes out of his way to declare that it is the whites who have caused all the trouble on the frontier, and that Indians should be treated with the same respect the U.S. Government gives to foreign diplomats. There's also a subplot about how when Cody goes to Washington D.C. and ticks off numerous politicians, he is attacked as lying about his escapades out West--was this Wellman's subtle way of letting the audience know that some historians consider the real Cody to be something of a phony?
Maureen O'Hara doesn't get much of a chance to use her legendary on-screen fiery attitude--here she's basically the dutiful wife. Linda Darnell's role in this picture is rather puzzling. She plays a young Native American woman who is intelligent enough to teach white children. She appears to have a crush on Buffalo Bill, and, considering she is third-billed, one expects her to be set up as a rival to Maureen O'Hara...but this never really develops, and Darnell, as in most of her films, comes to a bad end. One has to wonder if some of Darnell's scenes were cut. (Darnell and O'Hara do get to share a scene together, which gives the viewer a chance to see two of the most beautiful women in cinema history at the very same time.)
Like most movies made during the Golden Age of Hollywood, there's plenty of fine supporting talent on hand, such as Thomas Mitchell and Edgar Buchanan. Anthony Quinn steals the show as a noble native American warrior--honestly he might have made a better Buffalo Bill than McCrea.
The large Cavalry-Indian battle I referred to is by far the movie's main highlight. Despite having such a colorful character as the main subject, the film doesn't have a lot of action in it. There's way too many attempts at light humor which just seem silly. Still, Wellman keeps things moving along, and even though he wasn't all that happy with the project, he made it as entertaining as it could possibly be. Just don't expect a "warts and all" version of Buffalo Bill's life--not when at the end a kid with crutches says, "AND GOD BLESS YOU, BUFFALO BILL!!!"
Sunday, September 2, 2018
The fantastic movie magazine CINEMA RETRO has come out with another magnificent special issue. This one covers five big-budget historical epics made and released in the 1960s--LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, the 1962 version of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY, THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD, and KHARTOUM. All of these films were photographed in 70mm--a format that is all but extinct today.
The issue is 80 pages long, and it extensively covers and analyzes each production. It is also filled to the brim with photos, stills, and advertising art from the movies. If I had any quibble with this, it is that many of the photos are not large enough to take in properly--but I'm sure that if all the pictures were reproduced in a larger size the issue would have to be at least twice as big and twice as expensive.
I own three of the films covered on home video. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is one of the greatest movies ever made, and one wonders what more can be said about it--but this issue still makes it seem fresh and exciting. THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE is a very underrated epic that needs more attention--it is basically a more sedate version of GLADIATOR. KHARTOUM is also very underrated, and like the other two films I have just mentioned has a momentous cast.
MGM's 1962 remake of MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY is a film I have only seen parts of--from what I did see I wasn't too impressed with it. This issue tries to make the case that it is better than its reputation has led some to believe. THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is George Stevens' mammoth attempt to recreate the life of Christ--at the time it was released it was the most expensive American film ever made. Out of all the films in this issue THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD is the one that has the least critical or popular acclaim, and CINEMA RETRO does not shy away from that.
Some folks are annoyed by the phrase "They don't make 'em like this anymore", because it suggests that classic film making is always better than that of the present day--but it accurately describes the movies showcased in this special issue. The time, money and talent invested in these productions--particularly productions that have these types of subjects--would not be invested the same way today. This style of movie-making truly is a lost art, and thankfully CINEMA RETRO goes out of its way to celebrate it.