American Classic Movies 2015
Spotlight Of The Month
Miracle on 34th street 12/23/15
Miracle on 34th Street is a timeless Christmas classic and one of my favorite holiday movies. Unlike other remakes of this film nothing can replace the original 1947 version or replace Edmund Gwenn's (Kris Kringle) performance. He won an Academy Awards for best actor in a supporting role, Miracle on 34th st was also nominated for Best Picture.
The story is about a little wise girl Susan played by Natalie Wood. At first she doesn't believe in Santa because her mom has raised her as a realist but ultimately she's proven wrong and becomes a believer in St. Nick. In case there’s anyone in this world who hasn’t already seen this film you'll feel like you should believe in Santa after watching it. Cast includes Maureen O'Hara as Doris Walker, John Payne as Frederick M. "Fred" Gailey, Porter Hall as Granville Sawyer and William Frawley (Fred in I love Lucy) as Charlie Halloran.
Maureen O'Hara was initially reluctant to take the role, having recently moved back to Ireland. She immediately changed her mind after reading the script and came back to America for the film.
Although the film is set during the Christmas season Darryl F. Zanuck insisted that it be released in June arguing that more people go to the movies in warmer weather.
Susan: I believe... I believe... It's silly, but I believe.
Fred Gailey: Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don't you see? It's not just Kris that's on trial, it's everything he stands for. It's kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.
Fred Gailey: Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.
Fred Gailey: Is it true that you're the owner of one of the biggest department stores in New York City?
Mr. R. H. Macy: THE biggest!
The Good Earth 11/31/15
The movie "The Good Earth" (1937) is a wonderful translation from a classic novel based by Pearl S. Buck to the big Hollywood screen. Initially the plan for the film envisioned by author Pearl Buck was to create an all-Chinese film, but MGM head Louis B. Mayer decided to go for better profits with bigger stars so Paul Muni ended up being cast as the farmer Wang Lung and Luise Rainer was cast as Mrs. Wang because the Hays Code prohibited actors of different races from playing husband and wife couples on film. The movie was four years in preparation and production. George Hill started as the director but died by the time this film went into production so the film was completed by Sidney Franklin and Victor Fleming who wasn't credited.
MGM took a while to complete The Good Earth there was a lot of behind-the-scenes chaos during the making of this film, the cast and script were forever being revised and the picture was edited and reedited but in the end The Good Earth has something to show for its time and money spent. Luise Rainer is real as O-Lan can be bringing to life the modest and loyal slave girl and Paul Muni is flawless in his role as the Chinese farmer Wang. And even though the film takes liberties with the novel's text the film does full justice to Miss Buck's novel IMO.
Because the Sino-Japanese war was in progress, the Chinese government threatened not to approve the movie if any Japanese actors were cast in any role.
James Stewart, who worked as a contract player at MGM in the 1930s, tested for, and almost got, the part of Wang Lung.
1500 extras were hired for the mob scene.
The film's budget was $3 million a huge amount at the time.
Because of difficulties with filming in China at the time due to the Nationalist regime, a 500 acre farm in Chatsworth, California was transformed into Chinese farmland.
Special effects experts were unable to produce an authentic looking locust plague. Just as they were about to abandon the scene, they received word that a real locust plague was taking place several states away. A camera crew was rushed to the scene to capture it on film.
Laura (1944) is a romantic and witty, melodramatic mystery thriller done in the highly-polished film Noir style and shot of course in glorious high-contrast black and white cinematography. Based on the suspense novel by Vera Caspary. The Movie begins in the traditional classic film Noir flashback. Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), is found dead on her apartment floor before the movie starts.
A tough New York detective Mark McPherson played by Dana Andrews investigates the killing, methodically questioning the chief suspects but as he gets deeper into the case, the more fascinated he becomes by the enigmatic Laura falling under her spell and in love with the girl's painted portrait.
The director wanted to use "Sophisticated Lady" by Duke Ellington for the main theme but ended up using the haunting original musical score by David Raskin which later became a jazz standard and played by many artist including Frank Sinatra and Charlie Parker but my favorite version is by the saxophonist Clifford Brown which I used on a video I shot years ago in the east village in NYC. Cast includes Clifton Webb as Waldo Lydecker, Vincent Price as Shelby Carpenter Judith Anderson as Ann Treadwell
and Dorothy Adams as Bessie Clary. I don't want to rob anyone of the enjoyment of watching this stylish film Noir unfold on screen so go watch it.
Waldo Lydecker: I don't use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.
Waldo Lydecker: My dear, either you were born on a extremely rustic community, where good manners are unknown,
or you suffer from a common feminine delusion that the mere fact of being a woman exempts you from the rules of civilized conduct.
Mark McPherson: I must say, for a charming, intelligent girl, you certainly surrounded yourself with a remarkable collection of dopes.
Shelby Carpenter: I don't know a lot about anything, but I know a little about practically everything.
Mark McPherson: Yeah, dames are always pulling a switch on you.
Mark McPherson: [about the list of suspects] You know you are on the list too.
Waldo Lydecker: Good. It would insult me to be overlooked.
Waldo Lydecker: Have you ever been in love?
Mark McPherson: A doll in Washington Heights once got a fox fur outta me.
Shelby Carpenter: For the last time, Louise, will you marry me?
Louise, Ann's Cook: No, but I cooked some chicken liver for you.
Bessie Clary: I ain't afraid of cops. I was brought up to spit whenever I saw one.
Mark McPherson: OK, go ahead and spit if that'll make you feel better.
Laura Hunt: By stooping so low you only degrade yourself.
Kiss of Death 09/31/15
Hollywood star Victor John Mature also known as "The Hunk" was one of those post war actors known for playing characters in biblical epic films as well as classic Film Noir movies such as City of Cry, I wake up screaming, The Las Vegas Story or this months Spotlight of the month "Kiss of Death" (1947). In short the story is about a crook name Nick Bianco played by Victor Mature who wants to go straight and start a new life but who is menaced by Tommy Udo the skinny psychopathic killer with the stupid laugh played by Richard Widmark's who goes out after Nick with a vengeance after he squeals on him.
Victor Mature had something that other actors didn't have his physique, 33-inch waist, 25-inch biceps, a 45-inch chest and standing 6 feet 2 1/2 inches tall. Woman had chosen him as the man they would most like to be marooned with on a desert island.
But beefcake Mature never took himself too seriously, he enjoyed telling others how he was rejected for membership in the Los Angeles Country Club because the club didn't accept actors, "Hell, I'm no actor, and I've got 28 pictures and a scrapbook of reviews to prove it." But the fact of the matter is that the reviews were good. The critics praised Kiss of Death as one of his best performance. This is one of those movies that keeps you clued to the screen to the very end, a classic of the Noir genre and a must see.
Victor Mature as Nick Bianco
Brian Donlevy as Assistant District Attorney Louis D'Angelo
Coleen Gray as Nettie
Richard Widmark as Tommy Udo
Mildred Dunnock as Mrs. Rizzo
Taylor Holmes as Earl Howser, Attorney
Howard Smith as Warden
Karl Malden as Sergeant William Cullen
Anthony Ross as Big Eddie Williams
Millard Mitchell as Detective Shelby
J. Scott Smart as Skeets
Directed by Henry Hathaway
Cinematography Norbert Brodine
Music by David Buttolph
My Favorite quotes:
Tommy Udo: You know what I do to squealers? I let 'em have it in the belly, so they can roll around for a long time thinkin' it over. You're worse than him, tellin' me he's comin' back? Ya lyin' old hag!
Tommy Udo: I wouldn't give you the skin off a grape.
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit 08/31/15
The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) is a cinema adaptation of Sloan Wilson's best-selling novel. The movie stars Gregory Peck who plays Tom Rath a suburban father and ex-army officer haunted by flashbacks of World War II. After the war he looks for a job as a writer and is assigned to write speeches for his boss played by Fredric March. He soon realize that his boss's success has come at the expense of personal happiness which leads him to ponder over his own personal life. One of his flashbacks includes a wartime romance with Italian village girl Maria (Marisa Pavan). After many years he runs into a war buddy Sgt. Caesar Gardella (Keenan Wynn ) who informs Tom that he has fathered an illegitimate child whom he has never seen. In the end Tom Rath makes a life-altering decision.
Directed by Nunnally Johnson and a superb hand-picked supporting cast including Jennifer Jones and Lee J. Cobb. BTW I'm a big fan of film composer Bernard Herman his music evokes strong emotions to the listeners.
My Favorite quotes:
Tom Rath: I don't know anything about public relations.
Bill Hawthorne: Who does? You've got a clean shirt and you bathe everyday. That's all there is to it.
Maria Montagne: Could you possibly give me some Spam?
Tom Rath: You like Spam?
Portrait of Jennie 07/31/15
In "Portrait of Jennie" (1948) Joseph Cotten plays Eben Adams a talented but struggling artist who has never been able to find inspiration for a painting. One day he meets an intriguing schoolgirl dressed in old fashion clothing named Jennie played by Jennifer Jones and strikes up an unusual friendship with her. He ends making a sketch of her from memory and an art dealer Miss Spinney played by Ethel Barrymore sees the potential in him. During the movie Jennie appears to be growing up rapidly than is possible. Eventually Eben finds he's falling in love with the ghost of a girl who died years earlier.
Portrait of Jennie is a spiritual fantasy film based on the novella by Robert Nathan. Directed by William Dieterle and produced by David O. Selznick. Music by Claude Debussy with a variation from Dimitri Tiomkin. Beautiful cinematography by Joseph H. August.
For some reason this movie has been under rated I don't know why it's really a great movie. Portrait of Jennie is poetic, romantic, philosophical there's something magical about this film. For those with a romantic soul like me will really enjoy this movie.
My Favorite quotes:
Jennie Appleton: I know we were meant to be together. The strands of our lives are woven together and neither the world nor time can tear them apart.
Jennie Appleton: There is no life, my darling, until you love and have been loved. And then there is no death.
Eben Adams: I want you, not dreams of you!
Jennie Appleton: How beautiful the world is Eben! The sun goes down in in the same lovely sky. Just as it did yesterday,
and will tomorrow.
Eben Adams: When is tomorrow, Jenny?
Jennie Appleton: Does it matter? It's always. This was tomorrow once.
Seven Samurai 06/17/15
I just got back from a 3 week vacation to Japan and so I thought it would be appropriate to spotlight "Seven Samurai" here at SPM. There are many great Japanese directors like Kenji Mizoguchi, Koji Wakamatsu, Yasujiro Ozu (one of my favorites) but Akira Kurosawa more than the others is responsible for bringing the cinema of Japan to a Western audience. His films are frequently inspired, copied and remade by European and American filmmakers such as George Lucas with "Star Wars" "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Dirty Dozen." Kurosawa's finest and most consistent movie has been Seven Samurai released in 1954 which tells the story of a group of peasant rice farmers who are terrorized and attacked by bandits recruit seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves. The movie is 207 minutes with intermission. Even thought there is a lot of violence in the movie it is more about duty and honor. This is Japan's version of Gone with the Wind a masterpiece of storytelling.
To Sir with Love 05/25/15
Although Sidney Poitier movies are not consider Classic Hollywood I decided to spotlight him for this month here at Sweet Production Media he was the first African-American ever to take home an Oscar for Best Actor. Many people enjoyed the racially provocative films he was in like "In the heat of the night" "The Defiant Ones" or 'Guess Who's Coming to Dinner' my personal
favorite is 'To sir with love.' His films had popularity with audiences of all racial backgrounds. He is one of my favorite actors.
Angel's with Dirty Faces 04/23/15
"Angel's with dirty faces" (1938) is a powerful gangster classic. The story is about two boyhood buddies who live in the slums of the lower east-side. Both of them reunite years later after "Rocky" a career criminal played by James Cagney is released from prison for a petty crime he committed as a kid. He soon learns that his childhood friend Jerry Connolly played by Pat O'Brien becomes a compassionate priest. Rocky ends up returning to his old east-side neighborhood to setup his racketeering operation while the priest struggles to lead the young neighborhood kids (The Dead End Kids) in the right path.
Directed by Michael Curtiz the same director who reteam with Humphrey Bogart for Casablanca. Supporting role by Ann Sheridan, George Bancroft and soon-to-be famous Humphrey Bogart who plays the yellow back stabbing lawyer. BTW there's a funny Warner Brothers cartoon spoof called Thugs with Dirty Mugs which was inspired by Angel's with dirty faces. If you enjoy tough talking low life hoods who terrorize their neighborhood and watch people slapping one another's faces this is the film for you. One of the best gangster films of the 1930's with a legendary cast. Nobody plays the tough guy better than Cagney...you got that? Shuuuut uuuup you dirty rat!
My Favorite quotes:
Soapy: Hey! Call a fair game or I'll slap you right in the kisser!
Rocky Sullivan: You'll slap me? You slap me in a dream, you better wake up and apologize.
Rocky Sullivan: [to Jim Frazier] Look, I know you're a smart lawyer - very smart - but don't get smart with me.
Rocky Sullivan: 'Morning, gentlemen. Nice day for a murder.
The right way to coach kids
Scarlet Street 03/30/15
As much as I love Edward G. Robinson in his gangster roles I love him even more in Scarlet Street (1945) where he plays the mild-mannered Christopher Cross an amateur painter married to a nagging wife. In short the story is about a guy who gets suckered into a beautiful dame Katherine March (Joan Bennett) and becomes happily her sugar daddy. Katherine lowlife boyfriend Johnny (Dan Duryea) knowing how much Chris's feels for her pimp controls Kitty to milk the old man for everything
Directed by Fritz Lang who also directed another movie with Edward G. Robinson and Joan Bennett called "The Woman in the Window" both films having similar plots. Unlike the movies coming out of Hollywood during the 30's where there was always a happy ending I really enjoy watching the dark (Noir) and cynical movies coming out of post WWII where most of the time there is no light at the end of the dark tunnel. As Scarlet Street will show you nice guy do finish last.
My favorite quotes:
Kitty March: If he were mean or vicious or if he'd bawl me out or something, I'd like him better.
Adele Cross: Next thing you'll be painting women without clothes.
Christopher Cross: I never saw a woman without any clothes.
Adele Cross: I should hope not!
Johnny Prince: I don't know what you told Janeway, but you got him eatin' right out of your hand.
Kitty March: It won't stop with lunch!
Kitty March: How can a man be so dumb... I've been waiting to laugh in your face ever since I met you.
You're old and ugly and I'm sick of you... sick, sick, sick!
Detour (1945) storyline in a nutshell is about a piano player Al Roberts (Tom Neal) who hitchhikes a ride from a gambler Charles Haskell (Edmund MacDonald) to Hollywood to join his girl Sue. When Haskell suffers a fatal heart attack, Roberts disposes of the body takes the gambler's identity and money and steals his car. He picks up beautiful hitch-hiker at a gas station named Vera, (Ann Savage) who later becomes aware of Robert's dirty little secrets and blackmails him by threatening to turn him in.
The film begins at the end of the story, then uses flashback and a melancholic haunted voice-over by Tom Neal to narrate the story. The look of the film is washed out giving it a kind of B-movie production feel which I love madly. You won't find any big shot movie stars in this film which helped to keep the cost down. Detour was Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and shot in 6 days under$30,000 and produced by Poverty Row film company. The acting is good, the plot holds up throughout the film, and the theme of fatalism is paramount. The film is in the public domain so you can see it on Youtube in its entirety just make sure you watch it at three in the morning in a dark room with a full bottle of JD and Blair's death habanero chips and you're likely to enjoy it.
My favorite quotes:
Al Roberts: That's life. Whichever way you turn, Fate sticks out a foot to trip you.
Al Roberts: So when this drunk handed me a ten spot after a request, I couldn't get very excited.
What was it I asked myself? A piece of paper crawling with germs.
Charles Haskell Jr.: I was tussling with the most dangerous animal in the world, a woman.
Charles Haskell Jr.: Certainly wasn't a draw! You know, there oughta be a law against dames with claws!
Vera: Life's like a ball game. You gotta take a swing at whatever comes along before you find it's the ninth inning.
Vera: Shut-up, yer makin' noises like a husband
Vera: Boy-o boy! Sure feels good to be clean again!
Out Of The Past 1/28/15
I'm kicking off the new year with one of the greatest masterpiece film Noir from RKO "Out Of The Past" (1947). Robert Mitchum in one of his greatest roles plays Jeff Bailey a small town gas station owner who tries to break with his dark past when a small time crook recognizes him and pulls him back to his old life. Kirk Douglas plays the gangster Whit Sterling who hires Jeff to track down his troublesome lover Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) who stoled $40,000 of his money and oh almost forgot....then shot him.
Out Of The Past contains all the elements of the film noir genre, the melodramatic flashback, the wise-guy dialogue, betrayal, corruption, perversion, cigarette smoking (no one smokes like Robert Mitchum), film-noir-style lighting and the morally ambiguous atmosphere. Director Jacques Tourneur worked with cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca for the third time and as they say the third time's the charm. A must see for all film noir fans. So grab a beer or a cup of Joe black of course - and savor this masterpiece!
My favorite quotes:
Jeff: "You're like a leaf that the wind blows from one gutter to another,"
Carson: "I lost her."
Jeff: "She's worth losing."
Katie: I don't want to die."
Jeff: "Neither do I, baby, but if I have to, I'm going to die last."
Ann Miller: She can't be all bad. No one is.
Jeff Bailey: Well, she comes the closest.
Leonard Eels: All women are wonders, because they reduce all men to the obvious.
Meta Carson: So do martinis.
Jeff Bailey: It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it.
Kathie Moffat: I'm sorry he didn't die.
Jeff Bailey: Give him time.
American Classic Movies 2016