Saturday, November 29, 2008

sans thumbs: Roger Ebert Explains It All for You


A friend recently commented that she missed Roger Ebert. Say what? Roger may no longer be giving oral criticism on the tube, but he remains as vital as ever on the pages - and the web site - of The Chicago Sun Times.

Case in point: His lively and important essay of November 26th, titled "Death to film critics! Hail to the CelebCult!," a must-read for all serious moviegoers.

Roger writes:

"The lengthening toll of former film critics acts as a poster child for the self-destruction of American newspapers, which once hoped to be more like the New York Times and now yearn to become more like the National Enquirer. We used to be the town crier. Now we are the neighborhood gossip..."

Frankly, I also miss seeing Robert on the television, although I'm less sentimental about his newly retired Thumbs Up!/Down! rating system. I've no idea how Roger felt deep down about the thumb rating system that he and the late Gene Siskel popularized but, between us, I always thought of it as the bane of modern movie criticism. Way too simplitic.

I'd much rather savor Rogers words. Check out that essay and you'll see that I mean.

(Artwork: Roger, seemingly without his pesky, ubiquitous thumbs)

Friday, November 28, 2008

façade: Vince Vaughn

As unlikely as it seems, Vince Vaughn has made two family-friendly holiday films in about as many years.

This year, it's first-timer Seth Gordon's "Four Christmases" which, I am happy to report, is not nearly as sappy or as pandering as David Dobkins' missed opportunity, "Fred Claus" (2007).

In fact, for a good part of its running time, "Four Christmases" is delightfully, willfully unhealthy - anti-family to the hilt and bracingly anarchic. Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon play a happily isolated couple - isolated in San Francisco, no less, safely away from their awful relatives and unctous spawn - who are forced to visit their divorced, respective parents (and the parents' new mates) on Christmas day.

The film reaches some kind of delirious high when Robert Duvall as Vaughn's low-life father, refusing to have a professional install his new satallite dish (an unwanted gift from Vince), commenting, "I don't want some pedaphile coming in here and touching my underwear" - a line that Duvall manges to say with a straight face. His wry delivery of it is matched by the sequence in which Witherspoon gleefully hurls aside, one by one, a collection of brats who have been terrorizing her.

Unfortunately, as soon as Witherspoon and Vaughn announce that they don't like or want kids, you know exactly how this movie will end. In order to wise them up, "Four Christmases" turns, yes, sappy and pandering during its cowardly, unwatchable fade-out moments.

A sad waste.

But we're really here to discuss Vaughn today.

There seems to be this general assumption that ever since this antic, hyper actor enjoyed his breakthrough role in 1996's "Swingers" that he's pretty much played the same, glib, hugely affable character in just about all of his films ever since then. I'm thinking of such titles as "Old School," "Dodgeball" and, of course, "The Wedding Crashers."

It's been easy to forget that after "Swingers," Vaughn changed direction, appearing in a string of serious, now-forgotten movies, among them:

-"A Cool, Dry Place," a "Kramer Versus Kramer"-esque father-son drama co-starring Joey Lauren Adams and Monica Potter.

-"The Locusts," a piece of hothouse erotica, talky a la Tennessee Williams, with Kate Capshaw, Jeremy Davies, Ashley Judd and Paul Rudd.

-"Clay Pigeons," a dark comedic thriller with Joaquin Phoenix.

-"Return to Paradise," another thriller, romantic but upsetting, co-starring Anne Heche, Vera Farmiga and, again, Joaquin Phoenix.

-"The Cell," the Jennifer Lopez horror-fantasy and...

-"Psycho," the Gus Van Sant remake, with Julianne Moore, William H. Macy, Viggo Mortensen and, again, Anne Heche.

These films were all made within a three-year period, 1997-2000, before Vaughn returned - triumphantly - to comedy.

He has become the screen's preeminent hipster doofus.

Speaking of remakes, given Vaughn's penchant for talking a blue streak with razor-edge timing, he'd be perefect for the Cary Grant role in "His Girl Friday" and the Robert Preston part in "The Music Man."

I mean, the boy was made to sing "Trouble."

(Artwork: Vaughn, with Witherspoon, in "Four Christmases," and an atypically moody portrait shot of the funnyman during his dramatic phase)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

cinema obscura: Two with Carrie Snodgress

............. Frank Perry's "Diary of a Mad Housewife" (1970) ............
............. and John Badham's "The Impatient Heart" (1971) ...........


The late Carrie Snodgress was an old-fashioned movie star - think Jean Arthur - who came along a little too late. She broke into movies in 1970 - with roles in Jack Smight's "Rabbit, Run" and Frank Perry's "Diary of a Mad Housewife" - at a time when the world was head over heels in love in Ali MacGraw, a movie star in a decidedly different mold.

Snodgress was better on screen, see, than in glossy magazine spreads - and so her stint in movies was modest and way too brief.

"Diary of a Mad Housewife," for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, remains her signature role, and I'm a little surprised by how shabbily Universal has treated this fine, prestige film. The studio drew a lot of negative attention when it butchered the film from 104 minutes to 95 minutes for its network TV sale, filling in the holes with newly filmed scenes of a talking-head psychiatrist (played by Lester Rawlins) analyzing Snodgress's put-upon character, Tina Balser. Exacerbating matters, Universal tried to be "arty" about it by shooting the shrink upside-down (supposedly from the point of view of the couch-bound Tina).

And now the film has seemingly disappeared. Is Hollywood still punishing Frank Perry (even in death) for having directed "Mommie Dearest"?

Well, none of this is anything new. Universal also abused Karel Reisz' "Isadora," which hasn't been seen in its original version since the 1968 Cannes Film Festival; James Goldsmith's "Red Sky at Morning" (adding arch "Waltons"-like narration for its TV sale) and, most notoriously, Terry Gilliam's "Brazil," which at least caused enough of a stir among film buffs to be rescued from the studio.

I haven't seen "Diary of a Mad Housewife" in years, thanks to its premature burial, and I've a hunch that it is seriously dated now. Or perhaps it is a relevant as ever. Who knows? But the performances of Snodgress and Richard Benjamin as her demanding, domineering prince-husband remain vivid in my imagination. I'd love to see it again.

As good as Snodgress is in "Diary," she's even more impressive in a TV movie that she made a year later - in 1971 - also for Universal. "The Impatient Heart" - directed by the estimable John Badham from a script by the great Alvin Sargent - is first-class all the way. Snodgress plays an edgy, driven social worker who embraces the people in her charge while she alienates those in her private life. A control freak, she finds that she can't motivate or, rather, manipulate the guy (played by Michael Brandon) who is right for her.

How "The Impatient Heart" ended up on TV and not in theaters is a mystery only Universal can answer. I sincerely hope to see it again one day.
Note in Passing: While we're at it, a word for "Rabbit, Run," Smight's very good adaptation of the John Updike book with James Caan as Rabbit Angstrom and Snodgress, in full Bette Davis mode, as his pathetic alcoholic wife, Janice. A great performance.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster for Universal's "Diary of a Mad Housewife," and Snodgress with Caan in "Rabbit, Run")

Sunday, November 16, 2008

cinema obscura: Martin Ritt's "No Down Payment" (1957)

Martin Ritt, champion of the social conscience, directed this tidy little 1957 expose of the queasy side of then-modern suburbia - a fine film that came and went without making much of an impression because of the double whammy of (1) being ahead of its time and (2) holding an all-too-intimidating mirror up to unsuspecting audiences who essentially looked away. No one wanted to see a soiled American Dream. Ritts' work here, written by the blacklisted Philip Yordan (fronted by a credited Ben Maddow), clearly anticipates the work of John Cheever.

Utilizing a young cast of at once attractive and talented newcomers/Fox contract players portraying four couples, Ritt's film seems to have been the inadvertent template for the silliness and rampant shallowness that pervade "Desperate Housewives," only Ritt's portrait is not cozy and funny but something more devastating. This is no facile soap opera. He uncovers an unease in his film's prefabricated housing development.

Joanne Woodward and Cameron Mitchell are teamed here as the blue-collar Boones; Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens are the clean-cut Martins, newcomers to the neighborhood; Sheree North and Tony Randall are the sophisticated Flaggs, and Pat Hingle and Barbara Rush the the rock-solid Kreitzers. Each character is finely delineated, particularly the men, with Randall's alchohlic contrasting with Hunter's educated goldenboy who, in turn, constrasts with Mitchell's rough-around-the-edges brute.

"No Down Payment," neglected for 50 years, is disturbing and at times corrosive - and not that far removed from the picture of America today. A nervy minor masterwork.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster art from 20th Century-Fox's "No Down Payment," and, from left, its young cast - North, Randall, Rush, Hingle, Woodward, Mitchell, Owens and Hunter)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

cinema obscura: Robert Mulligan's "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965)

Thanks to Daryl Chin for alerting me to the fact that Natalie Wood's nearly impossible-to-see "Inside Daisy Clover" (1965) - produced by Alan J. Pakula and directed by Robert Mulligan from Gavin Lambert's novel - will be part of a Warner Home Entertainment boxed-set devoted to Wood.

Due to be released in February, the other titles in the set include remastered versions of Elia Kazan's "Splendor in the Grass" (1961) and Mervyn LeRoy's "Gypsy" (1962), both longtime VHS and DVD staples, along with such new titles as Gordon Douglas' "Bombers B-52" (1957), in which Wood played opposite her "Gypsy" co-star, Karl Malden, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.; Richard Quine's version of the Helen Gurley Brown tome, "Sex and the Single Girl" (1964), which had a solitary showing on
Turner Classics about a year ago, and Joseph Pevney's "Cash McCall" (1960), which also recently turned up for a single viewing on Turner.

"Inside Daisy Clover" is one of those films which divides movie buffs, beloved by some and detested by others. There's no doubt that it's an acquired taste, thanks largely to Wood's bravely quirky, potentially audience-alienating performance in the title role - that of a 1930s teen starlet nurtured and then devoured by Hollywood's monolithic studio system - one Swan Studios, run by a truly frightening Christopher Plummer (a role played the same year he did "The Sound of Music").

Warners, which produced the film, probably saw it as another variation on its Garland version of "A Star Is Born" (1954), what with its pseudo-musical contours that allowed for occasional musical numbers for Wood. But the Pakula-Mulligan team ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "Love with the Proper Stranger," Up the Down Staircase" and
"Baby, the Rain Must Fall")clearly had something altogether different in mind, bringing a quirky, sing-song quality to the movie that its detractors saw as dubious filmmaking. The fact is they were expeerimenting here, aiming for their film to have the same unstable quality that afflicts its troubled heroine and her daffy, unmotherly guardian, a card shark self-named The Dealer (Ruth Gordon).

The estimable co-stars include Robert Redford in one of his earlier roles as a closeted actor; Roddy McDowall as a callous, officious studio type, and Katharine Bard, a fine actress who died young in one of her rare film roles. (Redford was cast at the suggestion of Wood; a year later, they effectively reteamed in Sydney Pollack's "This Property Is Condemned," based on a Tennessee Williams play. Wood would also play walk-ons in two later Redford films, "Downhill Racer" and "The Candidate.")

The film, fashioned as a "movie" film, isn't the least bit sentitmental, least of all about Hollywood, although it brims with compassion. It's not always likable, but for me, thanks to the extraordinary Wood, "Inside Daisy Clover" works as an out-of-control life force, unstoppable.

I always thought of Mulligan's film as a companion piece to a work that came three years later in 1968, Robert Aldrich's "The Legend of Lylah Clare" starring Kim Novak and Peter Finch in roles not too dissimilar to the ones played by Wood and Plummer in "Inside Daisy Clover."

Note in Passing: "Inside Daisy Clover" came up on Dave Kehr's blog recently as part of a discussion about Universal's new Gregory Peck collection. (Peck, of course, made "To Kill a Mockingbird" for Mulligan.) Junko Yasutani, a regular on Dave's site, lists "Daisy Clover," along with a few other Mulligan titles - "Love with the Proper Stranger," "The Nickle Ride" and "The Other" - as "all good movies," while Stephen Bowie couldn't disagree more, flatly stating that "'Inside Daisy Clover' is excruciating." As I said, an acquired taste.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Two views of Natalie Wood as Gavin Lambert's Daisy Clover; poster art from the film)

Friday, November 14, 2008

The American New Wave, 1989-2009

For all intents and purposes, the modern American New Wave in filmmaking - perhaps better known as the Indie Movement - took root at the 1989 Sundance Film Festival where Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies, and Videotape" efficiently disarmed everyone and set a new, more lucrative standard for independent filmmaking.

Soderbergh's effort was that rare film that actually lived up to its clever, oh-so-provocative, attention-grabbing title.

True, America already had a history of independent filmmaking, especially visible in the the 1950s and '60s, but it was a conspicuously spotty one. Frank Perry and John Sayles made small, pleasing strides, while the Mirisch Brothers did autonomous alt flicks with major filmmakers for a major studio, United Artists. And, of course, there was John Cassavetes, who managed to straddle both worlds, two cinematic climates.

For the past 20 years, independent film - and by extension the assorted film festivals that showcase it - soared, both predictably co-opted and compromised by mainstream Hollywood. The films themselves were a novelty; the festivals, well, just another studio marketing tool.

But all good things come to an end. Miramax, the trendiest mini-major of the era, isn't what it used to be and its founders, the Weinstein Brothers, seem much less high-profile and less influential these days. One by one, the majors have dismantled their boutiques which specialized in, well, specialized movies, and films festivals have grown so ubiquitous and so hulking that most of what they now invariably screen is, frankly, crap.

Which brings us back to The Sundance Film Festival, which takes up residence in Park City, Utah.

Much has been written in the past year or so about how its cinematic glow has dimmed and how studios repeatedly get burned trying to outbid one another for films that play well in a festival setting but are usually dead on arrival in art houses. Two outright Sundance successes, and only two, come to mind - Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris' "Little Miss Sunshine" (2006) and Jason Reitman's "Juno" (2007), both picked up and distributed by Fox Searchlight, the one studio subsidiary that hasn't lost its way.

Or its glow.

Sundance 2009 is busy preparing for its annual festivities (15-25 January, 2009) and the studios and some of the press, still in denial, are scurrying to participate. All of this despite California's Proposition 8.

As you are probably aware, Proposition 8, known variously also as the Limit on Marriage Amendment or the California Marriage Protection Act, won in California, overturning a state Supreme Court ruling that permitted gay marriage. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, reportedly invested heavily in support of the proposition, urging California Mormons to get involved.

Some of the opponents of Proposition 8 - count me in - have suggested boycotting Utah in general and, because it is supported by the California-based studios, The Sundance Film Festival in particular. Sound idea?

Or fuzzy thinking?

You decide.

Maybe this would be a good time for The Sundance Film Festival to take a break, regroup and retool. It runs the risk of being left behind - I mean, given that the American New Wave appears to be dead, stone cold dead.

RIP.

(Artwork: Park City, Utah, the location of The Sundance Film Festival)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

cinema obscura: Delbert Mann's "The Outsider" (1962)

The young Native American actor Adam Beach was praised for his performance as Ira Hamilton Hayes in Clint Eastwood's recent "Flags of Our Fathers"(2006).

However, Beach was preceded in the role by the equally good Tony Curtis in the Delbert Mann film, "The Outsider," released by Universal in 1962 and yet another title that has not had an official home-entertainment incarnation in any format whatsoever. (There have been bootlegged VHS copies of it floating around, however.)

Hayes was the Puma Indian who attracted unsolicited attention and brief fame because he was one of the men who helped erect the American flag at Iwo Jima, an event that ultimately unraveled his life (if you are to believe the films about him.) William Bradford Huie and Stewart Stern wrote the screenplay for Mann's film, which is a solid little gem worth seeking out.

Note in Passing: Other lost Curtis films from the same era include
Richard Quine's "Sex and the Single Girl" and Vincent Minnelli's "Goodbye, Charlie" (both also from 1964), two lively little sex comedies, with Natalie Wood and Debbie Reynolds as Tony's leading ladies, respectively, and also "40 Pounds of Trouble" (1962), Norman Jewison's charming take on Damon Runyon's "Little Miss Marker," and Michael Anderson's "Wild and Wonderful" (1964), which paired Curtis with his then-wife Christine Kaufmann in a wry story of a jealous pet poodle; and Good luck finding any of them - both of which were covered here on March 7th.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Poster for Universal's "The Outsider")

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Marilyn/Sarah

FADE IN/FADE OUT

The lynch-mob mentality is nothing new to America and, arguably, it was perfected in Hollywood, where mean-spirited people routinely make audience-friendly movies. Seems a tad contradictory, right?

Well, that's show biz, kid. And politics. Yes, now people with pretensions of running the country have adopted Hollywood's "mean girls" spirit.

Part One: Flashback

Norma Jean Baker, an ambitious puppy, came to Hollywood in the late 1940s, and was snapped up by the suits at Twentieth Century-Fox, who renamed her Marilyn Monroe and groomed her for stardom.

Hollywood created Marilyn, exploited her for a little more than 10 years and then set out to destroy her when she exhibited she had a mind.

I've no idea if, when Monroe died of an overdose on August 5th, 1962, it was intentional or accidental, but I am convinced that she was murdered.

By Hollywood. By the studio system.


Part Two: Flashforward
It's August, 2008 and John McCain, the Republican running for President of the United States, takes everyone by surprise when he selects a seeming unknown, Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, as his vice president - although it became increasingly clear not only that Palin was actually choosen by certain higher-ups, strategists, in the McCain campaign, but also that she wasn't exactly an unknown entity. She was well-known by a group of influential conservatives pundits, whom she aggressively courted.

An aside: I had an immediate, near-visceral dislike of Palin who, at turns, came across as such dubious movie characters as Tracy Flick ("Election") and Lonesome Rhodes ("A Face in the Crowd"). She seemed jaw-droppingly unqualified and this first impression was exacerbated by the venom she casually spewed about Barack Obama on the campaign trail.

And unlike most people, I don't perceive Palin as a modern woman. Quite the contrary, I find her rather retro, almost creepily so.

When McCain lost the election, without missing a beat, his camp - allegedly unbeknownst to him - set out make Palin the scapegoat.

Like Monroe, she was created by an evil system, exploited by it and then cruelly abandoned by it. She was on her own now.

Consequently, I've gone from a Palin detractor to a Palin sympathizer.

There's no doubt that Palin was complicit in all of this. But to put it bluntly, she's getting a raw deal - a very raw deal - from the very people, overpaid morons, who mindlessly foisted her on us in the first place.

Part Three: Flipflop

I never expected much from Sarah Palin but I did expect more from Rachel Maddow.

My decision to flipflop was prompted by Maddow, the MSNBC pundit who, up until about 9:30 p.m. (est) last night, I admired and enjoyed. I liked the way she thinks. She's smart, savvy, quick and sarcastic. Hey, what can I say? I'm a die-hard liberal.

But, frankly, her coverage on Friday of Palin's sad attempts to defend herself against a huge machine which includes the McCain campaign, probably McCain himself and the carnivorous media (and, by extention, Maddow herself) was outright disgusting. Hands-down. No argument.

It was the first time that I could say Rachel Maddow was toxic.

Of all the people who covered the election, Maddow came across as the most sensible and fair-minded. Certainly, she would see that the villain of the piece is not Palin but the monolith that is the McCain campaign. But no.

Gloating and glib, in a piece titled "The Annotated Palin," Maddow took it on herself to dissect - literally dissect - every sentence in Palin's response to the McCain cowards (probably men) who have set out to destroy her professionally because their hopeless candidate didn't win (a failure that, by the way, has the potential to damage their careers along the way).

Maddow played right into their hands. Her schtick went on for a good six or seven minutes and, as a male feminist, I found it appalling.

I can't decide who's worse - the anonymous McCain person leaking all the anti-Palin stuff to the press or the media which continues to spread the possibly fake (and possibly libelous/slanderous) tips so eagerly. Of course, it's been assumed it's a woman within the McCain camp doing all the spilling - thereby setting woman against woman. Very nice, guys.

And very typical, too.

Anyway, as Palin talked, Maddow gleefully dissected. And we didn't just get her voiceover. No, we were treated to shots of Maddow in the upper left corner of the screen making her trendily snarky facial expressions. Only this time, it looked more as if she was having an extended seizure.

I felt like I was back in Junior High. Depressing.

And the sad fact - something missing on Maddow - is that Palin spoke this time with absolute clarity. There was nothing wrong with what she said.

Very unattractive, Rachel, and very much beneath you. Go back and look at that ugly segment. If you're still happy with it, congratulations. You'll have a career as imposing as, say, Bill O'Reilly's and Rush Limbaugh's.

A dubious aspiration indeed.

Note in Passing: At one point during the election campaign, one of Joe Scarborough's guests astutely opined that Sarah Palin possibly didn't work well with "handlers" probably because she was used to running her career on her own, mom and pop-style, with her husband, Todd.

She has certainly proven this to be right in the past couple of days, as she set out to defend herself. From where I sit, she's better when she, and only she, is in complete control of herself. My Question is, how on earth can she possibly pursue a national office - and run a major campaign for one - if she prefers going solitary, eschewing handlers?

Seems problematic.

(Artwork: Marilyn, Sarah and Rachel who - what? - just doesn't get it)

Thursday, November 06, 2008

cinema obscura: George Gallo's "My Mom's New Boyfriend" (2008)

Meg Ryan, meet Michelle Pfeiffer.

One of Ryan's more recent efforts, George Gallo's "My Mom's New Boyfriend" (which has a 2008 release date stamped on it), quietly surfaces on the Lifetime channel at 9 p.m., on Saturday, November 8th, and without ever having played theatrically in the United States.

The dubious journey of this sort-of romantic comedy, which also stars the estimable Antonio Banderas, Selma Blair and Colin Hanks, echoes what happened earlier this year with Pfeiffer's direct-to-DVD "I Could Never Be Your Woman," which was directed by Amy Heckerling and co-star Paul Rudd. The Lifetime playdate is timed to coincide with the film's DVD release. "My Mom's New Boyfriend" also had a splattering of European engagements - in such places as Turkey, Greece, Poland and Coatia.

What's going on here? Direct-to-DVD is not exactly a new phenomenom, at least for borderline titles with B- and C-list actors. But it's difficult to a handle on the idea of films starring performers of the caliber of Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer bypassing theaters for home entertainment.

This is not necessarily a judgment of the films' respective qualities (or lack thereof); more often than not, tricky, convoluted financing is usually the reason for films like "My Mom's New Boyfriend" and "I Could Never Be Your Woman" slipping through the cracks.

"My Mom's New Boyfriend" starts out light - detailing what happens when a young FBI agent (Hanks) is assigned to scrutinize his own mother Ryan) when she takes up with a shady guy (Banderas) - and grows more serious in tone (when mom starts to feel betrayed by people on all sides). Blair (as Hanks' fiancée) and Ryan share snappy repartee that keep matters frothy as the film itself morphs into something else.

The title "My Mom's New Boyfriend" makes this sound like a family-friendly film about a tween trying to sabotage his/her mom's new relationship. Prior to release on DVD (and on Lifetime), it was alternately titled "Homeland Security," "More Than You Know" and "My Spy." All lousy.

Note in Passing: Back in the early '90s, Gallo directed "Trapped in Paradise," with Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, and "29th Street," with Danny Aiello, Anthony LaPaglia and Lainie Kazan.

Where's he been?

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Dustjacket art for the new DVD release of "My Mom's New Boyfriend")

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

cinema obscura: Blake Edwards' "High Time" (1960)

A predecessor to the Rodney Dangerfield-Alan Metter collaboration "Back to School" (1986), Blake Edwards' jaunty, enjoyable "High Time" (1960), based on a story by Garson Kanin, gets a rare showing on HBO Signature at 6:15 a.m. (est) on Saturday, November 8th.

Bing Crosby plays a widower and successful restaurateur who decides, at age 51, to finally get a college education, also electing to live in a dorm with the rest of the guys - much to the chagrin of his grown son and daughter (Nina Shipman and Angus Duncan, respectively).

After a bumpy start, he assimilates into campus life, making fast friends with fellow students Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer, Fabian, Patrick Adiarte, Jimmy Boyd and Yvonne Craig - and finding some satisfying middle-aged love the second time around (cue for the Henry Mancini song of the same title) with French teacher Professor Gautier (Nicole Maurey).

Gavin MacLeod, who would have a memorable part in Edwards' "The Party" (1968), as well as "Operation Petticoat" (1959), has a role here as one of the college's professors.

Cinema Obscura is a recurring feature of The Passionate Moviegoer, devoted to those films that have been largely forgotten. Suggestions welcome.

(Artwork: Tuesday Weld and Fabian; Bing Crosby with Richard Beymer and Weld))

Saturday, November 01, 2008

turner this month - bravo!

Note: This is a regular monthly feature, highlighting, well, the highlights on Turner Classics' schedule. Why? Simple. Because Turner Classics remains a veritible college education in film.

Star of the Month: Charles Laughton.


Month after month, Turner Classics can be counted on to be an embarrassement of cinematic riches, but for me personally, November 2008 is especially outstanding. While perusing the schedule, I kept coming upon titles that are among my very favorites - films that would be on my Top 100 List, if I kept such lists.
1 November: Elia Kazan's ageless "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), a film as relevant today as when it was made - perhaps even more so. It should come as no surprise that over the past few decades, there have been several aborted attempts to remake it - with (reportedly) such diverse names as Mac Davis, Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Stiller attached to play a facsimile of writer Budd Schulberg's Lonesome Rhodes, the loudmouth baladeer who morphs into an influential populist and then a dangerous demagogue.

Sound familiar?

Of course, no one could pull off this role with the smooth precision that Andy Griffith brought to the role. Without resorting to histrionic heavy-lifting, Griffith created a portrait of a celebrity (said to be based on Arthur Godfrey) that uses a unctuous folksiness to mesmerize and then bamboozle a gullible American public.

Again, sound familiar?

2 November: Joseph L. Mankiewicz's shamelessly elitist "All About Eve" (1950) invites us to spend some late hours (beginning 1:15 a.m.) in the urbane company of Margo Channing, Eve Harrington, Addison de Witt, Bill Sampson, Karen and Lloyd Richards and flip Birdy. Who could resist such company and the Shubert Alley milieu they represent? Not me.

Also: Blake Edwards' "Victor/Victoria" (1982) in which Julie Andrews, who usually can do no wrong, is almost grotesquely miscast as a double cross-dressing chanteuse. Luckily, Robert Preston and an avid Lesley Ann Warren are on hand for distraction.

3 November: Anne Francis, Anne Jackson and Rita Moreno are "So Young, So Bad" in Bernard Vorhaus' 1950 exploitationer about reform-school girls. Paul Henried is the creepy older guy trying to reform them. Stay tuned for Delbert Mann's "Middle of the Night" (1959), Paddy Chayefsky's insightful look into the relationship between an older man (Fredric March in a particularly fine performance) and a younger woman (the enigmatic Kim Novak in another of her chameleon performances).

4 November: An eclectic Gig Young triple bill - George Seaton's "Teacher's Pet" (1958), a wonderfully acerbic, adult battle-of-the-sexes comedy with Clark Gable, Doris Day and Young; Anatole Litvak's "Five Miles to Midnight" (1963), one of those easy-to-watch "fake death" entertainments, this one with Anthony Perkins, Sophia Loren and Young, and Sam Peckinpah's delicious "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974), with Warren Oateas, Ralph Meeker and ... Young.

5 November: "The Bachelor Pary" (1957) another teaming of writer Paddy Chayefsky and director Delbert Mann. Don Murray stars, Jack Warden does his usual obnoxious bit and Carolyn Jones steals the piece as a character called The Existentialist, who talks a blue streak.

6 November: A double bill of works by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky - "Force of Evil" (1948), with John Garfield, and his comeback film, "Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here" (1969), starring Robert Redford, Katharine Ross, Susan Clark and Robert Blake.

7 November: Turner gets clever with this off-beat pairing of two gang films - Walter Hill's "The Warriors" (1979) and Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story" (1961), a case where one film not only does not compliment the other but actually makes the other seem ridiculous. WSS, which will be repeated on November 26th, is one of those films that has become unwatchable to me, its outstanding music and dance notwithstanding. Everything else is pretty bad, thanks largely to Arthur Laurents' source material (way too respected by scenarist Ernest Lehman). This is a case where Oscars eagerly handed to Rita Moreno and George Chakiris were thrown away, given that their respective competition that year included Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift, both unforgettable in "Judgment at Nuremberg."

Also, Billy Wilder's scathing "Ace in a Hole" (1951), with Kirk Douglas in classic form as a blowhard, opportunistic journalist, and "The Matchmaker" (1958), Joseph Anthony's film of the non-musical version of "Hello, Dolly!," starring the two Shirleys - Booth and MacLaine.

9 November: More bittersweet Wilder - "Sunset Boulevard" (1950), with Holden and Swanson - and Preston Sturges' "The Miracle of Morgan Creek" (1944), with Hutton and Bracken.

10 November: Joseph L. Mankiewicz's huge - and hugely underrated - "Cleopatra" (1963), with Taylor, Burton and Harrison. It gets an encore showing on November 26th.

11 November: J. Lee Thompson directs Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven, an ace cast, in "The Guns of Navarone" (1961).

12 November: The masterful Alfred Hitchcock conjurs up some provocative homoerotic tension between Robert Walker and Farley Granger in the hugely watchable "Strangers on a Train" (1951), a tidy thriller driven by the compelling idea of crisscross murders.

13 November: Have a pajama party with the late-night/early-morning showings of Ida Lupino's "Hard, Fast and Beautiful (1951); Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" (1966) with Vanessa Redgrave and David Hemmings, and the omnibus British film, "Quartet" (1948), based on stories by W. Somerset Maugham (who introduces each tale) and directed by ken Annakin, Arthur Crabtree, Harold French and Ralph Stuart.
Also: Vincente Minnelli's moody "outsider" drama, "Some Came Running..." (1958) which features fabulous ensemble performances by Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Carmen Phillips, Arthur Kennedy Leora Dana, Connie Gilchrist, Nancy Gates, Larry Gates (no relation), Martha Hyer, Betty Lou Keim, Steve Peck, John Brennan and particularly ... a fabulous Frank Sinatra.


14 November: More Hitchcock - "Rear Window" (1954), starring Jimmy Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr and Joseph MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira's production design - and Sidney Lumet's version of Eugene O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night" (1961), filmed with much fidelity and with a cast headed by Katharine Hepburn, in a career-capping role as addict Mary Tyrone.

15 November: Thrill impressario Dario Argento directs Jessica Harper in the inspired chiller "Suspiria" (1977) and Robert Aldrich guides a first-rate cast - Ida Lupino, Jack Palance and Rod Steiger - through Clifford Odets' provocative "The Big Knife" (1955).

16 November: Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life" (1959). Say no more.

17 November: Hitchcock invites to the leisurely hamlet of Bodega Bay, California where there's little to do but contemplate "The Birds" (1963). Also, Richard Brooks' "Something of Value" (1957), a sort of precursor to "The Defiant Ones," starring Rock Hudson and Sidney Poitier as childhood friends separated by racism in Africa.
18 November: More Paddy Chayefsky - the talky "The Hospital" (1971), directed by Arthur Hiller and starring George C. Scott. A big hit in its day, it is now largely forgotten.

19 November: Lindsay Anderson directs Richard Harris in a career-defining performance in "This Sporting Life" (1963), and two by Anthony Mann - "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (1964), with Stephen Boyd, Sophia Loren and James Mason, and "The Tin Star" (1957), with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins.

20 November: Sir Carol Reed's "Trapeze" (1956), an edgy circus drama with Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis as an ace trapeze team whose act is interrupted by Gina Lollobrigida.
22 November: Hichcock's masterwork, "Vertigo" (1958), is about falling - specifically the perils of falling in love - as Jimmy Stewart is sucked in by Kim Novak not once, but twice. Immediately followed by Joshua Logan's atmospheric but songless version of Harold Rome's belovede Broadway musical, "Fanny" (1961), starring Leslie Caron, Horst Buchholz, Charles Boyer and Maurice Chevalier. Rome's score is used as background music.

23 November: Robert DeNiro gives an affecting performance in John D. Hancock's "Bang The Drum Slowly" (1973), which also starred Michael Moriarty, hailed at the time as the next matinee idol.

Also, "The Nutty Professor" (1963), arguably Jerry Lewis's best film, a wicked decontruction of Dean Martin's public persona.

27 November: "Three for the Show" (1955) a sprightly musical about accidental bigamy by H.C. Potter starring Betty Grable, Jack Lemmon and Marge and Gower Champion. In its day, it was initially condemned by the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency, until cuts were made. Also, Doris Day in Howard Morris' "With Six You Get Eggrolls" (1968) and Charles Walters' "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" (1960), a bright comedy based on the lives of theater critic Walter Kerr and his wife Jean.

28 November: Ranald MacDougall's "Queen Bee" (1955), a turgid story about a manipulative woman starring - who else? - Joan Crawford. Also, John Huston's "The Misfits" (1961) in which Marilyn Monroe's psychic pain is piercingly palpable.
Artwork: Andy Griffith in "A Face in the Crowd"; star of the month Charles Laughton; poster art for "All About Eve"; Kim Novak and Fredric March in "Middle of the Night': Doris Day, Gig Young and Clark Gable in "Teacher's Pet"; assorted scenes from "West Side Story"; Dean Martin in "Some Came Running..."; Jimmy Stewart and Hitch doing his cameo in "Rear Window"; the schoolyard attack in "The Birds"; Saul Bass's classic interpretation of Stewart in "Vertigo," and Thelma Ritter, Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe in "The Misfits")