BEHIND THE SCENES
Twenty-five cool photos reveal what goes on outside of movie camera range.

DESIGN IN FILM: THE MODERN HOUSEAn eight-minute video montage of modern homes—real and fake—as seen on the silver screen.

70MMThirty visually stunning films that illustrate the grandeur of large-format filmmaking.

12 GREAT MOVIE SONGSElvis, The Beatles and The Supremes join our list of favorite movie themes of the 1960s.

WILHELM SCREAMWe trace the history of one of the most famous and beloved sound effects in movies.

LOST HORIZONA dud receives its due as we explore the elements that made this 1973 musical so preposterously memorable.

GREAT CLOSING LINES
One hundred films whose final words of dialogue make indelible lasting impressions.

25 GREAT SILENT MOVIE POSTERSOur selection of artwork from the early days of motion pictures that expertly illustrate the tone and tale of the films they represent.

RAVES AND RASPBERRIES We select some choice bits from reviews by the late Roger Ebert.

ERROL FLYNN GETS WHACKEDThe actor recalls an unforgettable moment with Bette Davis on the set of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

CINEMATIC RIDESTen films where carnival attractions add to the plot and give their protagonists a cheap thrill.

20 DIRECTORS / 20 FILMSSome of the world’s best moviemakers from Hollywood’s Golden Era provide a behind-the-scenes look at their creations.

LOS ANGELES IN THE 1920SVintage clips offer a look at famous boulevards, studios, theaters, eateries and more.

BILLY WILDEROur favorite lines of dialogue from the Oscar-winning writer/director.

WOODY ALLENChoice lines of dialogue, from Take the Money and Run to Midnight in Paris.

JOHN QUALENFive of our favorite performances from the character actor’s lengthy career.

KATHARINE HEPBURNTen authoritative moments when Kate's movie character speaks her mind.

UFA MOVIE POSTERSA look at the early one sheets from the longest standing film studio in Germany.

THE LANGUAGE OF NOIRWe celebrate tough talk from the best of Hollywood’s gritty crime dramas.

HELICOPTER OVER HOLLYWOOD

Aerial shots of Hollywood in 1958 includes Griffith Observatory, Grauman’s Chinese Theater and major studios.

AMERICAWe celebrate one of the most exuberant dance numbers committed to film, a thrilling showcase for freakishly talented folks with music in their bones.

HOLLYWOOD POSTCARDSTen vintage postcards revealing the glories of Southern California's movie mecca.

MAJOR FILMS, MINOR GAFFESTwenty-five mistakes in some of the greatest movies ever made.

NEBRASKANSA look at some of the memorable talentsfrom Astaire to Zanuck—to come from the Cornhusker State.

GEORGE GERSHWINTen classic songs as seen on the silver screen.

GREAT ENDINGSA memorable tussle in Death Valley caps Erich von Stroheim’s broken classic.

10 GREAT POSTERSOur look at striking works of art that just happen to sell movie tickets.

MUST READMGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot provides a fascinating look at a lost treasure.

IN THE COOL, COOL, COOL OF THE EVENINGJane Wyman and Bing Crosby charm with the Oscar-winning song from Here Comes the Groom (1951).

PLUNDER ROADFilm noir at its best—and most economical. No backstory, a lean look and just 72 minutes long.

W.C. FIELDSTen of his most memorable character names.

CEDRIC GIBBONS
We take a good look at the work of MGM’s legendary art director.

PUBLICITY PHOTOS
Ten artful, playful and downright silly shots from some of the most famous movies in existence.

OSCARS RECAP
Twelve observations about the event that was, from a diva’s pipes to how Ellen mastered the ceremonies.

JEFFREY HUNTERWe tip our hat to the underrated (and very pretty) actor best known for going toe-to-toe with John Wayne in The Searchers and hanging on the cross in Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings.

MOVIE MOMENTS THAT MAKE LIFE WORTH LIVINGOur collection of ten little moments of breathtaking beauty, expert craftsmanship and happy accidents that rank as our favorites.

STARS ON STARS: 30 CANDID OPINIONSA collection of favorite quotes from movie folk discussing their peers.

ELVIS PRESLEYFive essential films for the Elvis movie fan.

BILL GOLD’S MOVIE POSTERSOur salute to the legendary graphic artist, including 25 of his posters for some of the most famous movies ever made.

BEAUTIFUL MENFilm giants Cary Grant and his ilk will have to wait. Here we look at ten not-so-obvious choices—actors blessed with incredible good looks, if not legendary status.

BEAUTIFUL WOMENTen of the most physically stunning females to grace the silver screen.

FOOTBALLFive classic films where gridiron shenanigans drive the plot. 

THE 43 FACES OF JOHNNY DEPPWe review the wide variety of characters the actor has played, from early teenager roles to larger-than-life eccentrics.

FRED ASTAIREFive lively numbers from the peerless hoofer.

THE ROAD TO HELEN LAWSONJudy Garland, Susan Hayward and the bumpy road Valley of the Dolls producers experienced in casting an important role in a truly lousy film.

 AMERICAN LANDMARKS ON FILM From the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge, we take a look at ten famous sights that added drama to the movies.

THE GIRL HUNT BALLETWe revisit the stylish Fred Astaire dream ballet from The Band Wagon (1953).

IOWA FILMS & STARSTen contributions the Hawkeye State has made to motion picture history.

SCREEN TESTSAudition footage from Monroe, Dean, Brando and others.

FOX THEATEROur fond look back at one of San Francisco’s grandest movie palaces.

AUTOBIOGRAPHIESTen great titles penned by industry legends.

THE BAND WAGONNanette Fabray recalls a glaring mistake in the 1953 classic musical.

TRIGGERWe celebrate the life and somewhat creepy afterlife of Roy Rogers's favorite mount.

CHARACTERS: AGNES GOOCHPeggy Cass's memorable turn as a plain Jane coaxed into living a little in Auntie Mame (1958).

DESIGNS ON FILMA handsome volume by author and designer Cathy Whitlock chronicles the history of Hollywood set design.

REBECCAFive screen tests for Hitchock’s 1940 classic, with comments by David O. Selznick.

AL HIRSCHFELDWe select our ten favorite movie posters by the famed caricaturist.

CHARACTERS: BABY ROSALIEIn a daffy send-up of Shirley Temple, June Preisser plays an aging child star in MGM's let's-put-on-a-show musical, Babes in Arms (1939).

PRESTON STURGESSnippets of dialogue from six of the writer/director’s best films.

ANSELMO BALLESTEROur gallery of ten striking one sheets from the Italian poster artist.

GREAT MOVIESCelebrating the cool jazz short, Jammin’ the Blues (1944).

BETTY HUTTONTwelve films that exemplify the charms of this freakishly energetic performer.

JOSEPH L. MANKIEWICZSmart dialogue from the Oscar-winning screenwriter.

BESTSELLERS

A dozen books that became publishing phenomena and, at times, well-made and popular films.


DESERT NOIROur report from this year’s Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs.

DIAMOND SETTINGSWe take a look at five of our favorite baseball movies of the ‘40s and ‘50s.

RED DREAM FACTORYWe profile eight films from a unique Russian-German film studio of the twenties and thirties.


Tuesday
Apr152014

April 15

Wallace Beery dies of a heart attack in Beverly Hills, 1949. Beery was an unlikely leading man—hulking and homely, delivering his lines in a slow, sloppy manner, as if he just learned to speak. And he was, by many accounts, an unlikable man, devoid of manners and refinement and difficult to work with. His affection for Jackie Cooper (above right, with Beery) in The Champ (1931) was on display chiefly after the director yelled “Action!” and before he yelled “Cut!” Otherwise Beery, who won an Oscar for his performance, treated his diminutive costar like an unwanted dog. Painted as a loveable slob by studio publicity, he became immensely popular with audiences in films like Min and Bill (1930), Grand Hotel (1932), Dinner at Eight (1933) and Treasure Island (1934).

“Two of the more trivial topics I never discuss,” Gloria Swanson once said, “are my marriage to Wallace Beery and those frozen dinners which have become famous with my name on them.” Swanson first met Beery on the set of Sweedie Goes to College (1915). They married in 1916, a union that lasted all of three weeks and was officially dissolved in 1919, doomed by Beery’s drinking and abuse towards Swanson. The actress remarked that Beery had been invited to every fashionable home in Beverly Hills…once.

Saturday
Apr122014

Alive and Kicking: Twelve Silent Film Actors Still With Us

The death of Mickey Rooney, who began his career in a series of silent short films, got us wondering if there are any more silent-era performers still alive. If Wikipedia is to be trusted, we have our answer. As with Rooney, all of the actors mentioned below were mere tots when they entered the business. Two of them, Jean Darling and Mildred Kornman, made silent Our Gang shorts. (Dickie Moore, pictured above, also made Our Gang shorts, but none were silent.) And Fay McKenzie made her movie debut at the ripe old age of zero.

Though likely not a complete list, the following dozen names are nevertheless a fairly good guide to living actors who appeared onscreen before the advent of sound.

Lassie Lou Ahern
Born June 25, 1920
Silent films include Call of the Wild (1923), Sweet Daddy (1924) and His Wooden Wedding (1925).

Mary Carlisle
Born February 3, 1914
Appeared in the silent film Long Live the King (1923).

Diana Serra Cary, aka Baby Peggy
Born October 26, 1918
Silent films include Her Circus Man (1921), Little Miss Mischief (1922) and The Darling of New York (1923).

Jean Darling
Born August 23, 1922
Silent films include Chicken Feed (1927), Rainy Days (1928) and Wiggle Your Ears (1929).

Manoel de Oliveira
Born December 11, 1908
Appeared in the silent film Fátima Milagrosa (1928).

Mildred Kornman
Born July 10, 1925
Silent films include Thundering Fleas (1926), Bring Home the Turkey (1927) and Playin’ Hookey (1928).

Carla Laemmle
Born October 20, 1909
Silent films include The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1927) and The Gate Crasher (1928).

Fay McKenzie
Born February 19, 1918
Silent films include Station Content (1918), When Love Comes (1922) and The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln (1924).

Dickie Moore
Born September 12, 1925
Appeared in the silent films The Beloved Rogue (1927) and Object: Alimony (1928).

Dorothy Morrison
Born January 3, 1919
Silent films include The Champeen (1923), Seein’ Things (1924) and The Love Bug (1925).

Billy Watson
Born December 25, 1923
Appeared in the silent films Taking a Chance and Taxi 13, both from 1928.

Louise Watson
Born November 22, 1919
Appeared in the silent film Taxi 13 (1928).

Thursday
Apr102014

Three on a Reefer: Anti-Marijuana Propaganda of the 1930s

The year 1936 was a banner one for cautionary cinema about marijuana and the evils sure to visit you if you dare to take a puff. Two films, Marihuana and the future cult classic Reefer Madness, were released that year, and a third, Assassin of Youth, was in production. Like television, rock and roll and marriage equality in years following, marijuana’s presence in polite society was almost certainly expected to bring about its downfall. One need only pick through the ruins of modern-day Colorado and Washington, where cannabis was recently legalized, to see how prescient these alarm-pullers were. Here are three examples of how the movies sensationalized the weedy menace.

Reefer Madness (1936)
A PTA meeting led by a concerned high school principal bookends the fevered drama about Mae (Thelma White) and Jack (Carleton Young), dope pushers who lure fresh-faced high schoolers to Mae's apartment to smoke the wacky tobacky. Mellowness is not the prevailing attitude. Thanks to this film, we now know that inhaling smoke from a marijuana cigarette leads to addiction, vehicular homicide, murder, attempted rape, suicide, extremely fast piano playing and insanity. "The next tragedy may be that of your daughter or your son,” the high school principal warns at the end of the movie, pointing randomly while adding, “or yours, or yours.” He then points directly to the camera to deliver his final line: “Or yours!” We are left with the words “TELL YOUR CHILDREN” superimposed on the image of the principal as the lights come up and the audience leaves so much smarter than when they came in. Small wonder that such ripe, over-the-top histrionics became a cult hit and camp classic. In 1998, a stage musical parody opened in Los Angeles; a movie version of the show was released in 2005.

Marihuana (1936)
Husband-and-wife team Dwain Esper and Hildegarde Stadie are the culprits behind the exploitation flick Marihuana, with Stadie as screenwriter and Esper at the helm. This cinematic twaddle sees a young lass named Burma (Harley Wood) toking up at a beach party and having sex with her boyfriend, while one of her girlfriends drowns during a skinny dip. Now pregnant, Burma and her boyfriend deal drugs to make enough ends meet in order to marry and raise a child. Burma gives up her baby for adoption after her boyfriend is killed in a drug deal and graduates from selling pot to dealing heavy narcotics. To scrape by, she kidnaps a child who, as queer circumstance would have it, turns out to be the one she gave up for adoption. In the end, the movie serves up a warning, not hope, as pillar-of-ruin Burma succumbs to a heroin overdose.

Assassin of Youth (1937)
Joan Barry (Luana Walters) would inherit her grandmother’s money in a heartbeat if she would only fulfill a morals clause in the old woman’s will. Too bad, then, that Joan becomes the target of her cousin Linda (Fay McKenzie) and Linda’s husband Jack (Michael Owen), who scheme to get her high and paint her as a floozy. Enter junior reporter Art Brighton (Arthur Gardner), whose undercover investigating reveals Linda and Jack’s nefarious motives. But is it too late to save Joan, who is caught up in a gang of pot-smoking criminals? Allow me to spoil the ending: No. And, for good measure, screenwriters Elmer Clifton and Charles A. Browne have Joan and Art get engaged by movie’s end. Clifton, who spent his early years working alongside D.W. Griffith, directed this exploitation flick, one of more than 90 titles in his career.

Tuesday
Apr082014

Mickey Rooney (1920-2014)


Can you name another actor who appeared in silent films and who was (or is) still alive in 2014? Mickey Rooney, who began his movie career in 1926, might have been the last of the breed. His first film was the silent one-reeler Not to Be Trusted, quickly followed by a series of Mickey Maguire shorts—78 of them starring Rooney—that dominated his early years as a performer. By the late 1930s, he was the affable, can-do juvenile who breezed through MGM musicals that usually centered around a bunch of kids ignoring naysayers to put on a show and save the world. In later years, he appeared to never turn down a job, with an ever-expanding IMDB.com filmography that contained entries as recent as this year. He was full of energy, but never manic like, say, a Betty Hutton or a Jerry Lewis. He could sing, dance and do comedy. In dramas, he was heartfelt and sincere. In short, Mickey Rooney was a good actor.

Here are twelve films that prove our point.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
A 14-year-old Rooney shows he can easily handle the Bard of Avon’s stylized dialogue in this star-laden version of the Shakespeare comedy. The main challenge for the actor—and the rest of the cast and crew—was working around Rooney’s broken leg, sustained during filming. A double was brought in, and, in certain scenes, bushes concealed the fact that Rooney was being wheeled around on a bicycle.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938)
Mickey Rooney made 19 Andy Hardy movies, and if you haven’t seen any of them, this is as good a start as any. Lana Turner, Ann Rutherford and Judy Garland (appearing with Rooney in the first of their many outings) join our leading man for a series of romantic entanglements and dead-end infatuations. Garland provides the musical element by crooning “In Between,” “It Never Rains But What It Pours” and “Meet the Beat of My Heart.”

Boys Town (1938)
Juvenile delinquent Whitey Marsh (Rooney) butts heads with Father Flanagan (Spencer Tracy) in MGM’s story of the famed home for trouble youth near Omaha, Nebraska. Marsh became one of the meatier roles in Rooney’s early career while costar Tracy picked up the second of his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars for this film.

Babes in Arms (1939)
Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland made ten movies together. Babes in Arms was one of their best, an early entry in their “let’s-put-on-a-show” extravaganzas. An extra treat occurs early on, as we see a very tiny Rooney in a clip from Broadway to Hollywood (1933), used in Babes in Arms as a flashback to show the vaudeville past of Rooney’s character.

The Human Comedy (1943)
Rooney received his second Best Actor Oscar nomination for this acclaimed home-front drama set during World War II. He played Homer Macauley, a teenager who becomes the man of the house after his father dies and his older brother goes off to fight. Macauley helps provide for his family by taking a job as a night messenger for the local telegraph office, often having to deliver news about loved ones killed in battle. Of Rooney’s performance, New York Times critic Bosley Crowther said, “There is a tenderness and restraint in his characterization, along with a genuine youthfulness, such as he has not shown for a long time.”

Girl Crazy (1943)
George and Ira Gershwin tunes elevate Busby Berkeley’s western-themed musical about a spoiled rich kid named Danny Churchill (Rooney) sent to an all-male college to learn some responsibility. The Dean’s granddaughter (Judy Garland, wearing mostly ugly costumes) adds some prickly romance to the proceedings. Berkeley was fired shortly after filming his first sequence—the rodeo finale—and replaced with Norman Taurog.

National Velvet (1944)
Elizabeth Taylor is determined to see her prize horse compete in the Grand National and enlists horse trainer Mickey Rooney to help her. The Clarence Brown-directed film, which received five Oscar nominations and won for editor Robert Kern and supporting actress Anne Revere, was one of the most acclaimed pictures in Rooney’s lengthy career.

Words and Music (1948)
Rooney costars with Tom Drake in this highly fictionalized chronicle of the songwriting duo Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. Rooney plays an audience-safe version of Hart, his psychological complexities simplified and sexual orientation made Hays Office-friendly. The best Rooney moments include his solo number “Manhattan” and his reunion with Judy Garland for “I Wish I Were in Love Again.”

The Strip (1951) 
Though not a great film, its pleasures include seeing the Sunset Strip in the early 1950s and a neat performance by Rooney as a drummer who wants to open his own nightclub. MGM’s refreshingly truthful ad campaign called it a “Musical Melodrama of the Dancer and the Drummer.” That pretty much sums it up.

The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)  
James Michener’s 1953 Korean War novel came to the big screen with an A-list cast that included William Holden, Grace Kelly, Fredric March and, as a maverick helicopter pilot, Mickey Rooney. Reviews were solid and the film earned an Oscar nod for editing and an actual Oscar for special effects.

The Bold and the Brave (1956)
Three American soldiers are stationed in Italy during World War II, and Rooney is easily the most interesting. The Academy thought so, too, and awarded him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Dooley, a relentless gambler seizing every opportunity to shoot craps.

The Black Stallion (1979) 
Rooney plays aging horse trainer Henry Dailey, who works with a young boy to prepare his Arabian steed for some serious horse racing. Dailey’s office includes a photo of his younger self on horseback, which is actually a still of Rooney in National Velvet.

Friday
Apr042014

TCM's Swell Film Festival Ad

It’s no challenge, really, to sell the public on The Wizard of Oz (1939). The movie is freakishly beloved, its visual elements instantly recognizable, a few of its lines of dialogue firmly ensconced in the American lexicon and its songs committed to many a memory. Any challenge, it would seem, would be to package the movie in a way that is entirely new, which is what TCM has done, not just to promote the screening of the movie during their upcoming classic film festival, but to promote the festival itself. So it was particularly refreshing to see Gale Sondergaard, in a costume test for her role as the Wicked Witch of the West, fifty feet tall and overlooking Hollywood and Highland. Before shooting began, of course, the actress was replaced by Margaret Hamilton when producers abandoned their initial concept of a beautiful witch for one with a more hideous visage. Sondergaard endured a makeup test as the ugly version before leaving the project outright.

The TCM Classic Film Festival will take place April 10-13 in Hollywood. As usual, we’ll be there.