REEFER TRILOGY
Three overwrought cautionary tales from the 1930s examine the perils of smoking marijuana in polite society.

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

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

SILENT SURVIVORS
Our list of at least a dozen silent film performers that are happily still with us.

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.

NOT STARRING DORIS DAY
We select three movie musicals we deeply wish the sunny singer/actress would have made.

MICKEY ROONEY’S BEST
Twelve examples of what made the late actor such an enduring movie star.

SPRING SPRING SPRING”
We take a closer look and listen at Johnny Mercer’s witty ditty about the coming of the season.

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.


Wednesday
Apr232014

April 23

Otto Preminger (above, flanked by Sammy Davis Jr. and Sidney Poitier on the set of 1959’s Porgy and Bess) dies of lung cancer and Alzheimer’s disease in New York City, 1989. The Great Love (1931), shot in his native Austria, was the notoriously difficult director’s debut film. In 1936, Preminger immigrated to the United States and shortly thereafter helmed his first American picture, Under Your Spell (1936), a comedy about a disillusioned singer (Lawrence Tibbett) and the dame (Wendy Barrie) who tries to lure him back into the spotlight. Eight years later came his breakthrough—the romantic mystery Laura (1944), starring Gene Tierney, Vincent Price, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb. It would mark the start of a decades-long run of films that were a mix of popular entertainments, critically acclaimed dramas and interesting failures.

Among his better-known titles are Daisy Kenyon (1947), Carmen Jones (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Anatomy of a Murder (1959), Exodus (1960) and Advise and Consent (1962), with the prize for his most dreadful movie likely split between the turgid terrorist kidnapping saga Rosebud (1975) and a humorless collision of flower power, mobster shenanigans and aging movie stars called Skidoo (1968). Of the latter film, New York Times critic Vincent Canby called it “something only for Preminger-watchers, or for people whose minds need pressing by a heavy, flat object.” The cast included Carol Channing, Jackie Gleason, Frankie Avalon, Mickey Rooney, George Raft and, as a character named God, Groucho Marx in his final film role. Said Preminger about the movie: “I don't think many people adore it. Except my wife, who adores all my pictures, because that's what you get married for.”

Tuesday
Apr222014

TCM Classic Film Festival 2014 Recap

The fifth annual Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival took place in Hollywood this month, with ever reliable hosts Robert Osborne and Ben Mankiewicz overseeing a program that included some 79 pictures, more than a dozen special talks and events, a fine array of celebrities and film scholars and thousands of fans willingly surrendering to the seductive power of a dark cinema.

Here, in brief, are our thoughts.

Blazing Saddles (1974)
It’s been called “The Funniest Movie Ever Made,” and the person who called it that was its director and chief survivor Mel Brooks as he introduced the screening to some 900 enthusiastic audience members at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The film certainly mined a rich, vulgar vein of comic gold, perhaps most memorably in the brief scene involving cowboys eating beans around a campfire. In a mere 34 seconds of gas-passing, Brooks created one of the most famous moments in popular entertainment and ushered in, for better or worse (probably worse), an enduring era of fart gags in American comedies.

Gone With the Wind (1939)
One experiences a special kind of movie-nerd nirvana when spending a Sunday afternoon at Grauman’s Chinese Theater watching Gone With the Wind unspool in a fleet four hours. It is a mammoth achievement that should be endlessly studied by film students as a model of traditional moviemaking. By graceful example, producer David O. Selznick, writer Sidney Howard and director Victor Fleming show the willing pupil how to introduce characters, how to use color, when to be intimate and when to be grand, how to build a scene and how to compose the frame. The whole thing simply works, beautifully.

Grey Gardens (1975)
One of cinéma vérité’s chief practitioners of the sixties and seventies, Albert Maysles, spoke of how he and brother David were first enlisted by Jackie Kennedy’s sister to shoot a documentary about their family. Then news broke of Jackie’s cousins Big Edie and Little Edie Bouvier Beale living in squalor in a dilapidated mansion on Long Island. The focus soon shifted to Mother Beale and her daughter, both more than willing to allow cameras into their homes and document their day-to-day life, warts and all. With its eccentric characters, memories of halcyon days, yearnings for what might have been, genuine tenderness and frequent sniping, the saga of the Beales plays like a New England version of a Tennessee Williams drama that he never wrote. And it’s a story with incredible staying power, inspiring a made-for-TV movie starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore, a Broadway musical starring Christine Ebersole and even a one hour as-yet-unreleased film by Jerry Torre, the Beales’s handyman who famously complimented Big Edie on the way she cooks her corn.

How Green Was My Valley (1941)
The screening of The Film That Beat Citizen Kane for Best Picture was graced by the rare presence of its star, Maureen O’Hara (above center, with costars Sara Allgood and Donald Crisp). She was funny, sharp, deeply devoted to God (which she mentioned several times) and, on occasion, simply overwhelmed by the audience’s enthusiasm towards her. Now in her nineties, she even expressed a bit of uncertainty about how old she really is, remarking, “It’s a terrible pain not to be sure of your age.” (For the record, she is 93.) TCM host Robert Osborne kicked off the interview by asking O’Hara what she thought of the film’s director, John Ford, to which she replied, “I thought I was here to talk about me.” It was a charming preamble to Ford’s effective and smartly sentimental story of a Welsh mining family and their struggles with change.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
As a reflection of the movie industry’s widescreen craze of the fifties, Invasion of the Body Snatchers was presented in SuperScope, dubbed “the poor man’s CinemaScope.” The process basically took a 1.85:1 aspect ratio film and lopped off the top and bottom of the screen for a more horizontal image. Though director Don Seigel protested, the studio won and the movie was released widescreen. A more substantial alteration, however, was made just prior to the its premier. Preview audiences were so turned off by the picture’s downbeat conclusion that the studio added a beginning and ending that relegated the central horror story to flashback status and sent the audience home with hope in their hearts. Fortunately, that’s just a minor misstep in this otherwise spare, creepy and effective story. Kevin McCarthy plays Miles Bennell, a doctor in a small town who finds that its citizens are not quite acting like themselves lately, conforming to a certain mindset and demeanor that has tempted many an audience member to go beyond its straightforward science fiction to see this as a political parable. 

The Lodger (1927)
I guess I was expecting more. Alfred Hitchcock’s third film, The Lodger, a Jack the Ripper-like tale starring Ivor Novello, was well received by audiences and critics upon its release in 1927. TCM chose it for this year’s festival, so you figure it must be noteworthy. And the festival guidebook heralded Hitchcock’s “use of camerawork to mirror the emotional tone of a scene.” Frankly, I don’t see it. Despite a few modern angles and expressionistic touches here and there, Hitchcock’s camera remains mostly static, and many of his interior scenes have a shoebox diorama feel to them. Perhaps it does the film no favors to remember how adroitly the director mixed suspense and humor in his later efforts, or to remember that 1927 was also the year that brought us such masterpieces as Sunrise, Metropolis and Napoleon. Still, it’s a competent film that greatly benefitted from an original score performed live by The Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra.

Mary Poppins (1964)
It’s treat to see Disney’s blockbuster musical in the wake of Saving Mr. Banks, last year’s film on the making of it. The story of a magical nanny in London was authored by P.L. Travers, a prickly, stubborn woman who went to battle with Walt Disney over the inclusion of songs and animation in the film version of her work. Before Travers arrived in California to make lives miserable, Disney had taken a shine to Mouseketeer Judy Harriet’s top ten hit “Tall Paul” and enlisted its composers, Richard and Robert Sherman, to write several songs for Mary Poppins. Following the screening, Richard Sherman, the songwriting duo’s surviving half, confirmed the difficulty the creative team had with Travers, likening it to being doused with ice cold water after a nice, warm shower.

The Nutty Professor (1963)
I’m not much of a Jerry Lewis fan, but since I’ve never seen him in person I thought I should at least attend the screening of The Nutty Professor and hear him introduce the film. With that under my belt, I would slip out of the auditorium and get in line to see Hat Check Girl (1932) at the Chinese 4. The program, as it turned out, ended up being one of the surprises of the festival. Lewis knows how to charm an audience, and the 88-year-old was funny and fairly self-deprecating during his 45-minute onstage interview with actress Illeana Douglas. He graciously acknowledged the talent and comic timing of Dean Martin, his show business partner of ten years. And he told enough stories about The Nutty Professor to pique my interest, so I decided to give the movie a chance. Well, the movie is not terrific. But it’s not terrible, either. For the unfamiliar, it’s a Jekyll-and-Hyde tale of Professor Kelp, a chemistry teacher who pines for a student named Stella (Stella Stevens). To overcome his awkwardness around women, he concocts a potion that turns him into Buddy Love, a smooth-talking, obnoxiously confident ladies man and lounge singer. The comedy contains some honest laughs, a fairly controlled and focused performance by Lewis, a likeable Stevens, great colors, Kathleen Freeman, and a killer wardrobe for Buddy Love by Edith Head. Damned if I didn’t enjoy it in spite of myself.

Oklahoma! (1955)
Shirley Jones, radiant at 80, introduced the festival’s opening night screening of the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein musical by singing the praises of costar Gordon Macrae. And we couldn’t agree more. He’s handsome, he’s a good actor, and he possesses a gorgeous singing voice, making him an ideal Curly opposite Jones’s ideal Laurie. What’s more, he’s a terrific lip-syncher, not just mouthing the words, but putting some breath and effort behind it, as if he’s singing along to the playback (which could very well be the case). As for the film as a whole, it is substantial, but not without its flaws. Studio sets fail to mesh with outdoor locations, Eddie Albert is miscast as Persian peddler Ali Hakim (though Albert performs it winningly), and Rod Steiger brings the required menace to the role of Jud, but is it wrong to want him to have some sort of forbidden allure? After all, why would Laurie hastily agree to go to the dance with someone so thoroughly brutish if he didn’t have a smidgen of sex appeal? Still, it’s always a kick to see Steiger take part in an Agnes de Mille ballet.

Paper Moon (1973)
There is a scene in Peter Bogdanovich’s Depression-era comedy that belies the notion that Tatum O’Neal’s performance was assembled in the editing room. Tatum plays a girl named Addie travelling across the Midwest with Moze (Ryan O’Neal) a man who may or may not be her father. The scene in question is a dialogue exchange between the two con artists as they discuss were to go next. Addie gets out a map, they argue about which towns to visit and what route to follow and, after much back and forth, the scene, done in one long take and lasting several minutes, ends. Throughout the segment—and indeed throughout the entire film—Tatum is solid and focused and easily holds her own with her more experienced dad. In the end, Paper Moon is Addie’s story, and though Tatum O’Neal enjoys more screen time than anyone else in the picture, she was only considered a supporting player come Oscar time. Perhaps that was owing to her youth and small stature. Perhaps it was due to her character ostensibly being under the adult supervision of Moze. Nevertheless, the ten-year-old O’Neal was duly recognized at the Academy Awards ceremony and to this date remains the youngest person to ever receive a competitive Oscar for acting.

Stagecoach (1939)
Thomas Mitchell had a very good year in 1939. Besides appearing in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Only Angels Have Wings and Gone With the Wind, Mitchell sank his chops into the meatiest role in Stagecoach, John Ford’s seminal western. The ensemble piece had eight distinctive characters, all New Mexico-bound passengers heading east aboard the vehicle of the title. But three performers stood out—Claire Trevor as the kind hooker forced to leave town by a gaggle of sneering busybodies, John Wayne in a star-making role as the heroic outlaw and Mitchell as the alcoholic doctor who must sober up quickly in order to deliver a baby. For his performance, Mitchell’s name was read on Oscar night as the year’s Best Supporting Actor.

The Women (1939) 
Anna Kendrick is a lovely young woman, pretty and funny and smart. The Oscar- and Tony-nominated actress also happens to be a huge fan of old movies, which just makes me love her more. As for The Women, Clare Booth Luce wrote the play, Anita Loos and Jane Murfin adapted it for the screen, and George Cukor directed an unprecedented assemblage of more than 130 actresses and no men. Three characters, played by Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford and Rosalind Russell, dominate the witty comedy about infidelity and female comradeship, but it was Russell who Kendrick and host Ben Mankeiwicz talked about most. In their mini tribute, Kendrick mentioned a gesture Russell does early on in the film: she and Phyllis Povah are in a powder room and Russell, about to convey a particularly spicy bit of gossip, sticks her leg out behind her, hooks a chair with her foot and draws it closer as she sits down on it. It’s a quick, deftly executed bit of business, and Kendrick said longs for the day she can use it in one of her movies. I’ll be watching for it.

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.

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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.

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