The Spotlight Of The Month
American Classic Movies 2013
Doctor Zhivago 12/01/13
In a nutshell Doctor Zhivago (1965) is a love story about the poet Dr. Yuri Zhivago (Omar Sharif) who is married to Tonya (Geraldine Chaplin) but carries on an affair with Lara (Julie Christie) the woman who inspires him to write poetry. They both are swept up in the drama of Bolshevik revolution.
The cast also includes, Tom Courtenay as Pasha Antipov "Strelnikov," Alec Guinness (better known as Obi-Wan "Ben" Kenobi) General Yevgraf Zhivago, Ralph Richardson as Alexander Maximovich Gromeko, Rod Steiger as Victor Komarovsky, Rita Tushingham as Tonya Komarova and Jeffrey Rockland as Sasha. Winner of 6 academy awards including best art direction (John Box, Terence Marsh, Dario Simoni), cinematography (Freddie Young), adapted screenplay (Robert Bolt), costume design, best original score by Maurice Jarre which for many is probably the best remembered feature of the film.
The movie is based on the novel with the same name by Boris Pasternak. His book was banned in the Soviet Union and the film wasn't shown in Russia until 1994. I was lucky enough to see this movie on the big screen at Radio City Music Hall with my mom when I was a kid. Watching this film again after so many years continues to transports me to a different place and time. This is director David Leann's visual masterpiece and cinema at it's best. The runtime is 3 hours and 20 minutes with overture and intermission so bring out the pop corn sit back and enjoy the show.
Word of Mouth: Omar Sharif
The Postman Always Rings Twice 11/10/13
In 1934 James M. Cain published his book "The Postman Always Rings Twice" it incited controversy and was banned. Twelve years later (1946) MGM buys the rights but sanitizes the lewd romantic novel and produces a more restrained version for the big screen. There are two other Cain classic film adaptation "Double Indemnity" and "Mildred Pierce."
The plot is simple a young married woman played by Lana Turner falls in love with a drifter (John Garfield) which leads to the murder of her husband (Cecil Kellaway) the poor sap. One of my favorite MGM iconic sequence is the introduction of Turner in this film in her white shorts, while halter top and white turban dressed waiting for Garfield to return her lipstick that she had just dropped but instead he makes her come and get it. I love the steamy racy chemistry between the both of them they both play their parts perfectly in this hard-boiled film Noir. The cast includes Hume Cronyn who plays Arthur Keats the shyster lawyer and Leon Ames as Kyle Sackett the local prosecutor. Cora’s desire “to be somebody” resonates with many troubled souls today.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly 10/11/13
As you can see from my Classical Cinema section I love American classic movies but to be honest I've never been a big fan of the old American Westerns with the exemption of Shane, High Noon and a few other films, why? Well mainly because the Hollywood formula was always the same predictable cliché. The plots were "good vs. bad", "cowboys vs. Indians" (Indians always got their butts kicked) and so on. It wasn't until I saw the successful Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone that I became a fan of this particular genre.
Production & Cast
The 1966 film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was a co-production between companies in Italy, Spain and West Germany
starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, and Eli Wallach in the title roles. Director of photography Tonino Delli Colli was responsible for the film's wide screen cinematography and Ennio Morricone composed the famous lonely mournful film score which to me is inseparable from the film. The Man with No Name Trilogy "A Fistful of Dollars", "For A Few Dollars More"and "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" which I recently bought on Amazon.com was an invention of the Hollywood publicists. Clint Eastwood did have a name in all three movies Joe in the first movie, Manco in the second, and Blondie in the third. Leone's was given an inadequate budget of some 120,000 Euros for his first movie "A fist for of dollars" so he could only afford an virtually unknown actor (Clint Eastwood) who at the time received a straight fee salary of $15,000 which was lot better than cleaning swimming pools to survive from one month to the next.
I always liked the way Leone setup his operatic shots they were usually either closeups of interesting faces which lets the audience see the character's behavior and emotion (the casting was Spanish locals who looked weathered by work and sun) or sweeping landscape shots with people appearing very small in the background which created a sense of overwhelming isolation.
He used this technique a lot. In Leone's spaghetti westerns everything is bigger, harsh, grim, brutal and more dramatic than life. My favorite scene is the ending where Leone milks the draw scene where each man points a pistol at the other out beyond all reason to maintain suspense starting with the wide shot and working in to closeups.
The American version of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" was was chopped up in the editing room to an incomprehensible 139 minutes from the original 227 minutes. You can watch the uncut versions of all 3 films on DVD or on the new available
Blu-ray. In short Sergio Leone was a director who had vision and ambition, who invented himself almost as he invented the spaghetti Western.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly unofficial trailer
Leone's western part 2 interview
The wartime romantic drama Casablanca (1942) is one of my favorites films of all times. This film has a peculiar magic to it. It's beautifully crafted with an undying appeal. Considered one of the 10 greatest films of all time.
The Plot in a nutshell
Humphrey Bogart's who plays his first romantic role in Casablanca as Rick Blaine is the proprietor of an upscale nightclub and gambling den. A realist who "sticks his neck out for nobody" and remains neutral in all matters but then agrees to help Ilsa Lund the woman he loved and who he had a relationship with years earlier in Paris played by Ingrid Bergman. At the end he rises to heroism by helping Ilsa's husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) a hero of the the French Resistance defeat the Nazis.
Production & Cast
Directed by Michael Curtiz. The film cast includes, Claude Rains the Police chief Louis Renault, Conrad Veidt as Major Heinrich Strasser, Rick's nightclub competitor Signor Ferrarit played by Sydney Greenstreet, the sniveling cheat Signor Ugarte, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson as Sam the bar's piano player who in real life was a drummer and couldn't play the piano. The director, Michael Curtiz, and the writers Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch all won Oscars.
Here are a few things I love about this film, the pervasive theme song (music written by Max Steinera "As Time Goes By"
and "It Had to Be You", by Isham Jones, lyrics by Gus Kahn) the memorable lines," Here's looking at you, kid" the lead characters, the cynical wisecracks, the beautiful closeups and the black-and-white cinematography. Casablanca is one of the films where the more I see it, the more it gains resonance. If you haven't seen it skip the brainless junk that the new Hollywood is producing and go watch Casablanca on Netflix or on Youtube. This film never grows over-familiar so if you've seen it already...well then "Play it again Sam!" BTW Bogie never said it that way but that's how most of us remember it:-)
Rick: "Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine."
Rick: "We'll always have Paris."
Capt. Louis Renault: "Round up the usual suspects."
Ilsa: "Play it, Sam. Play 'As Time Goes By."
Rick Blaine: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
Rick Blaine: "Here's looking at you, kid."
Ilsa: "Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time."
Rick Blaine: "And remember, this gun is pointed right at your heart. Capt. Louis Renault replies, That is my 'least' vulnerable spot."
Capt. Louis Renault: "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!"
Rick Blaine: "I stick my neck out for nobody!"
Rick Blaine“It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world”
On The Waterfront 08/01/13
"You don't understand I could had class I coulda have been a contender I could've been somebody instead of a bum which is what I am, let's face it." (Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger in the famous taxi cab scene) The movies I remember are the ones I feel personally connected to "On the Waterfront" is one of those films. This is the movie that inspired Al Pacino as well as the film Raging bull by Robert De Niro who recites the same famous lines of the two brothers in the back seat of the taxicab. In the "I coulda been a contender” scene, you feel the love, shame and sadness when Charley pulls out the gun and hands it to his brother.`Oh, Charley!' But in the end loyalty between brothers prevail. Directed by Elia Kazan the film was to cast ol' blue eyes himself Frank Sinatra but in the end the lead role went to Marlon Brando in his best performance yes even better than 'The God Father" in my opinion.
Marlon Brando plays a ex-prize fighter who becomes a longshoreman and runs errands at the dock because of his brother Charley (Rod Steiger) the right-hand man of the corrupt boss, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb). Every working longshoreman owes Johnny Friendly their job and their souls. Terry witnesses a murder by Johnny's thugs and then gets involved with Edie Doyleand (Eva Marie Saint) the dead man's sister and starts feeling responsible for his death. Another major character is a priest played by Karl Malden (also starred in the 1970s crime drama, The Streets of San Francisco) who tries to encourage Terry Malloy and other longshoreman to testify against the corruption of the union. When one of the workers is crushed deliberately by the dock racketeers the priest raises his voice in anger, “if you don't think Christ is down here on the waterfront, you got another think coming”.
On a side note my dad was a Merchant Marine most of his life and occasionally worked as a longshoreman around the Brooklyn Naval yard. He told me most of what happened in the film was true but without the happy Hollywood ending."Back then you know how the union worked" my father said, "rat them out and you'll be swimming with the fishes. He once told me a story about a guy in his neighborhood in Brooklyn who was given "cement shoes" as they called it and disappeared one night silently into the east river. Anyway my dad loves gangster movies and so do I. I've must have seen this film at least a hundred times and I never get tired of watching it in fact I think I'll watch it over the weekend again. Nominated for 11 Oscars and winning eight, this is American movie at its best. By the way what the heck is a venetian blind doing in the back seat of a cab? "It was choo Charley,"...sorry I couldn't resist.
Sunset Boulevard 07/03/13
Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" is probably the best movie about the movie business and what happened to some of the silent stars with the introduction of film sound. One of my favorite lines in the film is when the destitute screenwriter Joe played by William Holden says to the silent star Norma played by Gloria Swanson “You used to be big,” Norma responds, "I am big it's the pictures that got small.” The plot is basically about a young penniless screenwriter who prostitute himself and ends up with a faded silent movie star who dreams about making a comeback. The film uses a very effective voice-over narration by Joe Gillis (William Holden) in flashback style. Other cast members include Erich von Stroheim who plays Max the faithful servant who himself was a director of the silent era and a newcomer Nancy Olson who plays Betty Schaefer. I've seen this movie too many times and it continues to be fresh and entertaining to this day.
Roman Holiday 06/09/13
Roman Holiday (1953) is an American classic movie directed by one of my favorite director's William Wyler. Filmed on location with many scenes shot on well known landmarks in Rome Italy. The romantic comedy is about a crown European sheltered princess Anya Smith or Smitty (Audrey Hepburn) who decides to escape her guardians and secretly leaves the embassy to experience Rome on her own and eventually falls in love with an American newsman Joe Bradley (Gregory Peck)
I love this movie on so many levels. First it stars my one of my favorite actor's Gregory Peck and one of my favorite director's William Wyler. It's also the movie that made me fall in love with Audrey Hepburn. This was Hepburn's first starring role and the film that increased her popularity. Originally the film was to have had only Gregory Peck's name above its title and Audrey Hepburn beneath in smaller font however Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her name to equal billing so that her name appeared before the title and in type as large as his. Peck was overheard saying to Wyler, "You've got to change that because she'll be a big star and I'll look like a big jerk." She did become a big star winning best actress in a leading role in the film Roman Holiday.
On a side note when I first watched the movie I didn't pay much attention to the scooters. It wasn't until after 2003 that I bought my first Vespa and found out that this film made half the world want to run out and buy a Vespa. Obviously Peck and Hepburn weren't riding the Vespa through Rome in the film but instead seated on the back of a four wheeled vehicle nevertheless they looked cute together on the bike. Returning home after recently traveling to Rome it was nice to see this movie again and to be able to identify all the major landmarks that Avani and I had visited like the Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Trevi Fountain and 'The Mouth of Truth' located at the Church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome. You can watch Roman Holiday in its entirety on youtube or here on my website.
La Dolce Vita 05/20/13
It's only appropriate after coming back from a wonderful vacation in Italy that I would include in my spotlight of the month a Fellini movie although not an American classic it is a classic. I saw my first Fedrick Felini film at the age of 11 when my sister took me the movies to see it with her boyfriend. The famous Trevi Fountain scene was shot over a week in the winter with Sylvia played by Anita Ekberg standing in the cold water in her dress for hours while Marchello Mastroianni had a wet suit beneath his clothes. The film was censored and banned in Spain until 1975 and contemned by the Vatican newspaper. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and ranked as "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema."
The Killing 04/20/13
Before I get into my spotlight film of the month I just want to briefly talk about Hollywood classical films. I once had a conversation with a friend of mine and I was taken aback when he said that he doesn't watch "old black and white films" as he put it because they were "too predicable too slow and too talky." Nothing could be further from the truth. There is definitely a different visual and sound style for making motion pictures back then compared to the "New Hollywood" films of today. In my opinion classic films offered something that too many new movies lack, namely content and quality scripts. I feel that the new generation is really missing out on some of the best films ever made which is a shame. So for all you classical cinema haters out there I decided to channel my sense of concern into something constructive and offer you a list of some of my favorite movies in no particular order or genre.
1.The Best Years of our Lives 1946 (Directed by William Wyler)
2.Casablanca 1942 (Directed by Michael Curtiz)
3.From here to Eternity 1953 (Directed by Fred Zinnemann
4.On the Waterfront 1954 (Directed by Elia Kazan)
5.Sunset Boulevard 1950 (Directed by Billy Wilder)
6.Mildred Pierce 1945 (Directed by Michael Curtiz)
7.Shane 1953 (Directed by Fred Zinnemann)
8.Double Indemnity 1944 (Directed by Billy Wilder)
9.The Postman Always Rings Twice 1946 (Directed by Tay Garnett)
10.Wuthering Heights 1939 (Directed by William Wyler)
Now back to the spotlight of the month...
'The Killing' is an example of black and white film noir at it's best. Director Stanley Kubrick was only 28 years when he released 'The Killing' his first big feature film. The movie is about a heist gone wrong. The gang leader and con man fresh out of jail Johnny Clay played by Sterling Hayden plans to pull off one last daring robbery that'll get him out of the game for good so he can settle down with his gal (Coleen Gray). The filmed was shot mostly in San Mateo and Venice, California and at the Bay Meadows Racetrack. I love the narrated detached voice by the uncredited Art Gilmore and some of the location of the shoot like the shabby motel in the background with residential rooms by the week or month, the low-rent "luxury" apartment yeah good times.
From Here to Eternity 03/01/13
The Best Years of Our Lives (01/07/13)
'From here to Eternity' is based on a novel by Jame Jones and made into a Hollywood film in 1953. The book version had to be toned down because of the sex and violence but the uncensored e-book is available. Wiki does a good job of explaining the plot so have a look if you like. Back in 2009 Ernest Borgnine gave a private screening on TCM and talks about his involvement in the film. 'From here to Eternity" is best remembered for the moonlit beach scene probably the most famous love scene in movie history where the young Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr have an intimate moment on the beach rolling around in the ocean with frothy waves and their lips locked as the surf washes over them.
One of the most beloved films in movie history with eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director Fred Zinnemann. With and all star cast Hollywood doesn't get any better than this. Burt Lancaster (Sergeant Milton Warden), Montgomery Clift (Robert E. Lee 'Prew' Prewitt), Deborah Kerr (Karen Holmes), Donna Reed (Alma), Frank Sinatra (Angelo Maggio), Ernest Borgnine (Sgt. James 'Fatso' Judson), and Jack Warden (Cpl. Buckley).
Here's the movie Frank Sinatra begged to be in but was rejected. In the end he got the non-singing secondary role of Maggio, the edgy soldier in 1953′s 'From Here to Eternity' winning best supporting actor. And speaking of Sinatra remember the scene from the Godfather where the mafia strong-arms a director into casting a young singer in his next film? Well rumors have it that this is based on true events surrounding Ol' Blue Eyes selection for this film. Who knows maybe a bloody horse's head did end up in someone's bed.
Now here's one of my favorite war films the 1946 film "The Best Years of Our Lives " directed by William Wyler and starring Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Virginia Mayo, and the non-professional actor Harold Russell. The film concentrates on American soldiers returning home from World War II and their difficulties returning to civilian life. It's the story of the after math of war and the saga of many ex-GI's. It's beautifully acted and has one of the strongest plots, score, and cinematography. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards in 1946 including best picture, best director and best original score. If you're interested in what went into the making of this this film check out the production section of Wikipedia. I envy those who are watching this movie for the first time.
Autumn Leaves (12/23/12)
My uncle is the reason for me watching and falling in love with classic films. As a kid my uncle and I would look through the TV guide and search out our favorite films. Sometimes we would have to wait days, weeks or even months before being able to watch our favorite movies. We had WOR-TV 'Million Dollar Movies" a series that began in NYC on local station WOR-TV channel 9 in 1955 and ran for many years. I remember seeing the original King Kong on WOR and many other great classic films for the first time in the 70's. Later in the 80's my uncle and I would stop by the public library and rent classic movies in VHS.
On one occasion we reserved Autumn Leaves starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson and directed by Robert Aldrich. I think this is one of my uncle's favorite movies cause we watched it so many times together. Basically the plot is about a self-employed typist "Millie" played by Crawford who falls for a lonely young man named Burt Hanson played by Cliff Robertson. Soon after they meet Burt proposes to Millie and she accepts they get married. Everything is rosie sweet until she begins to notice Burt displaying signs of mental instability he then becomes physically violent towards her. The violence is displayed when Millie finally bears the brunt of a old flying typewriter.
In her later career Joan Crawford got offers and starred in what became known as 'hag' films which were low budget horror B-movies played by over-acting actresses who were former sexy leading ladies but now looked haggard. Even though it wasn't the big Hollywood production of yesteryear she would still give fans her very best. Another favorite Crawford film of mine is Humoresque (1946) and Mildred Pierce (1945). I found a short clip on Youtube of young Joan in 'Dance, Fools, Dance' (1931). Although not exactly an Eleanor Powell on the dance floor but not too shabby either. You can watch Autumn Leaves on Youtube if you don't mind watching it in parts or on TCM. Last but not least is the music that inspired the film, Nat King Cole's rendition of Autumn Leaves. Remember classic never goes out of style!
This isn`t exactly a stable business. It`s like trying to stand up in a canoe with your pants down -
“I love playing bitches. There's a lot of bitch in every woman”
American Classic Movies 2016