Wednesday, January 28, 2009

28-29 january, 2009: Good, Gray Jack

Jack Lemmon - disheveled, unshaven and experimenting in Clive Donner's "Luv" (1967)

Jack Lemmon's career, by my count, went through four stages.

There was his early Columbia/Richard Quine run; his United Artists/Billy Wilder period; the 1970s-'80s section (for me, the most interesting), during which he experimented with aging on film and in life, and his finale where he did tiny variations on old men in such titles as James Foley's "Glengarry Glen Ross," Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Oliver Stone's "JFK," Martha Coolidge's "Out to Sea" and, of course, the hugely popular "Grumpy Old Men" Twins.

For its Lemmon tribute tonight, Turner Classic Movies is dwelling largely on his fascinating '70s-'80s period. The one exception is its 8 p.m., est., screening of Donald Petrie's "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), co-starring Walter Matthau (natch), which opens this concluding chapter of Star of the Month.

"Grumpy Old Men" is followed immediately at 10 p.m., est., by Melvin Frank's filmization of Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1975), which features one of Jack's best and most intuitive performances. Cast opposite a game Anne Bancroft, Jack plays a suddenly out-of-work middle-aged man, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with intense discipline and precision. The roles on stage were played by Lee Grant and Peter Falk, who appeared with Jack in Blake Edwards' "The Great Race" (1965) and Clive Donner's "Luv" (1967), detailed below.

From here, we move on to back-to-back screenings of his Oscar-nominated role in James Bridges' "The China Syndrome" (1979), at midnight, est., and his Oscar-winning performance in John G. Avildsen's "Save the Tiger" (1973), arguably the definitive mid-life-crisis film. It airs tomorrow - Thursday, 29 January - at 2:15 a.m., est.

Above and Below: Al Hirschfeld's take on the films of "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" and "Luv"
At 4 p.m., est., there's Billy Wilder's luxurient, leisurely romance of impromptu, last-chance love, "Avanti!" (1972), from the Samuel Taylor play, followed at 6:30 a.m., est. by Arthur Hiller's "The Out-of-Towners" (1969), based on an original screenplay by Neil Simon - inarguably, a comedy that continues to improve with age, with a comic duet by Jack and Sandy Dennis as a couple who become almost obsessively angry when confronted by a brutalizing New York. They turn as bullying and as ugly as the city itself and that's exactly the point, friends.

The evening and the tribute conclude with a rare letterboxed screening, at 8:15 a.m., of Donner's film of Murray Schisgal's brilliant crackpot-of-a-play, "Luv," in which Jack, Peter Falk and Elaine May assume the roles played by Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson on stage. (Donner is best-known for directing 1965's "What's New, Pussycat?")

The material transfers uncertainly to the screen and Jack - seen here unshaven, disheveled and emaciated (due to weight loss for the role) as a vagrant - doesn't really have the Second City sensibility that it requires (Arkin had it in spades) but it works as a worthy, if misconceived experiment by a good sport. The acerbic, madcap May, the best-cast person in the film, effortlessly steals the show - a piece that has little on its mind except to ruminate ad infinitum on the glories of love while its characters continually trash it. Love, that is. Of all the title's in Turner's tribute, this is the one I'm looking forward to seeing again.
Jack and Catherine in "The April Fools" - Where is it?
Missing from this particuarly rich (if largely unheralded) period of Jack's career are his Oscar-nominated performance in Constantin Costa-Gavras' affecting "Missing" (1982); his charming mid-life romance with Catherine Deneuve in Stuart Rosenberg's neglected "The April Fools" (1969); his offbeat chemistry with Genevieve Bujold in John Korty's quirky "Alex and the Gypsy" (1976) and, to a much lesser degree, Bob Clark's "Tribute" (1980) and Billy Wilder's "The Front Page" (1974).

Notes in Passing: Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin, whose role Jack played in the film of "Luv," eventually teamed up in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Also, Columbia possibly had plans to talented Elaine May, given that it cast her in two prime comedy roles - in Carl Reiner's "Enter Laughing," as well as "Luv." Incidentally, Donner's first choice for the female role in "Luv" was ... Julie Christie. Both were made in 1967.

Elaine May on location in New York with "Luv" co-stars, Jack and Peter Falk

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

21-22 january, 2009: Lemmon & Quine (with a generous splash of Kovacs)/Lemmon & Swift

Richard Quine directs Jack Lemmon & Kim Novak in "The Notorious Landlady" (Columbia, 1962)
"I'm a Democrat from New England - I have no prejudices"

-Jack Lemmon as the young diplomat William Gridley
in "The Notorious Landlady"
-Script by Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart
-Directed by Richard Quine

On today's Star of the Month tribute to Jack Lemmon, the Turner programmers have craftily gathered a bunch of titles directed by the talented but woefully neglected (and ill-fated) Richard Quine.

Before there was the team of Wilder and Lemmon, there was Quine and Lemmon - who worked on a series of collaborations that I find more appealing and companionable than the films that Jack made with Billy. (I know, I know: Blasphemy!) The two pairings overlapped for a short time: Jack worked regularly with Quine early in his career (six films), while he spent a good part of the middle section working for Wilder (seven titles). (Quine died at age 69 in 1989 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound; Wilder died of pneumonia in 2002 at age 96, outliving Lemmon by two years.)

Jack's work with Quine is pretty even-keeled, all of their films solidly good, whereas his work with Wilder is all over the map, ranging from classic to, well, unwatchable ("Buddy, Buddy," anyone? "The Front Page"?).

Quine and Lemmon both came to Columbia at the same time, with Quine directing the actor's screen test there. They collaborated in 1954 on "Extra Dollars," a promotional piece made for the United States Treasury Department before making their first movie together, 1955's "My Sister Eileen," aired on 8 January as part of the tribute.

Their five remaining titles are on tonight, plus Jack's two collaborations with David Swift, the puerile "Under the Yum Yum Tree" and the charming "Good Neighbor Sam" - with Turner honoring their chronology.

The cut-ups in Quine's "Operation Mad Ball" - Arthur O'Connell, Jack, Kathryn Grant and Ernies Kovacs
"Operation Mad Ball" (1957) - Wednesday, 21 January at 8 p.m., est. Lemmon and Matthau? How about Lemmon and Kovacs? Jack originally teamed with the singular comic Ernie Kovacs in three films, starting with this antic military farce, something of a precursor to Robert Altman's equally anarchic "M*A*S*H." Kovacs is shamelessly funny (as his Mickey Rooney in a small role as a cut-up eccentrically named Yancy Skibo), and one can only imagine what the late comeic might have been like opposite Lemmon in "The Odd Couple." OK, they were the original Odd Couple. (With sincere apologies to Walter Matthau.) The ace supporting cast as the GIs: Dick York, Roger Smith, William Hickey, William Leslie, L.Q.Jones, Dick Crockett, Paul Picerni, Eddie Ryder and David McMahon.

Jack as the playful warlock in Quine's "Bell, Book and Candle" (1958)
"Bell, Book and Candle" (1959), airing 10 p.m., est. A film that refuses to age. It's forever modern, with Kim Novak (Quine's muse) as a witch who casts a spell on Jimmy Stewart so that love is unavoidable. Jack, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester are assorted witches causing mayhem on the periphery; Ernie Kovacs is the quack writer hoping to expose/exploit them. Pay attention to James Wong Howe's shimmering photography and George Duning's memorable score.

Doris caught between Jack and Steve Forrest in Quine's "It Happened to Jane" (1959)
"It Happened to Jane" (1959), airing at 11:45 p.m., est. This one has been called Capra-esque, but it's actually better than Capra. Aside from Ernie Kovacs' wicked impersonation of Columbia head Harry Cohn (who, conveniently, died a year before production), this Lemmon-Quine film boasts two sequences that are better than anything in Lemmon-Wilder collaborations - the town meeting, filmed verité style by Quine using the real townspeople of Chester, Conn. (where the film was made), and the sly scene in which Doris Day finesses a declaration of love out of Jack's character, staged while Jack shovels coal into a train's engine.

Jack taking a leap of faith in Quine's "The Notorious Landlady" (1962)
"The Notorious Landlady" (1962), airing Thursday, 22 January at 1:30 p.m., est. This velvety take on Hitchcock - part comedy, part mystery - was adatped from a short story bby Margery Sharp by the estimable Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart. Quine directed, natch, and a great cast came through for him - Jack, Kim, Fred (Ataire), Lionel Jeffries, Estelle Winwood, Philippa Beavans and Maxwell Reed. This is the one Lemmon film that I can't get enough of (pardon the dangling participle).

Jack lusting after Carol Lynley in Swift's "Under the Yum Yum Tree" (1963)
"Under the Yun Yum Tree" (1963), airing at 3:45 a.m., est. This is pure junk. Jack inherited his role as a womanizing landlord who rents only to ... women from Gig Young, who played the role on stage. It remains Jack's biggest money maker - and given that it followed another puerile hit, "Irma La Douce," it made him the biggest box-office draw of that year. Much to Jack's mixed feelings of delight and chargin.

Jack painting himself into a corner in Swift's "Good Neighbor Sam" (1964)
"Good Neighbor Sam" (1964), airing at 5:45 a.m., est. I love this comedy. It has the contours of a classic farce, but its crtedibility was hurt because Jack and David Swift had collaborated just a few months earlier on the highly disposable (albeit entertaining) "Under the Yum Yum Tree." Jack steps into a vintage Cary Grant role here (read: "Bringing Up Baby," replete with eyeglasses). Composer Frank deVol wrote a delightful theme for the film, and co-star Romy Schneider, in her second American film (following Otto Preminger's "The Cardinal" in 1963), is clearly having the time of her life. Bonuses: pert Dorothy Provine as Mrs. Sam; Frank DeVol's happy score and the soothing, pastel-tinted photography of master cinematographer Burnett Guffey ("Bonnie and Clyde").

Jack scaling heights in Quine's "How to Murder Your Wife" (1965)
"How to Murder Your Wife" (1965), airing at 8 a.m., est. Jack' final film with Quine has a huge fan base, but, frankly, its appeal has always been lost on me. The film - a sexist romp - want to have it both ways, lampooning sexism while also embracing it. Jack plays a well-fed, pampered creator of a hugely popular comic strip, "Brash Bannigan," whose antics he acts out. Nice touch. But when he attends a bachelor party and, drunkenly, ends up married himself (to that dish, Virna Lisi), he incorporates it into his strip, ruining it. The only way out? Murder his wife, of course. While Jack and Virna have no visible chemistry, our guy makes out like gangbusters with Terry-Thomas, Eddie Mayehoff, Clair Trevor and Max Showalter. The movie has its moments, but this is one case where location photography (New York) was a hindrance. This cartoonish material begs out for the artificial feel of a soundstage.

Piven/Gleason

The current Jeremy Piven/"Speed-the-Plow" controversy brings to mind a bit of Broadway folklore involving Jackie Gleason.

Back in the late 1950s, Gleason was anxious to open on Broadway in a musical and settled on one produced by David Merrick - Bob Merrill's 1959 "Take Me Along," co-starring Walter Pidgeon and based on Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness."

"Open." Yes, the operative word, it seems, is that Gleason wanted to open in a Broadway musical, not necessarily appear in one for any length of time.

Well, the show was a huge success but, as the dust of the acclaim settled, Gleason quickly tired of it, calling in sick regularly. Columnists Dorothy Killgalen and Walter Winchell, among others, had a field day, speculating on why Merrick, noted for his temper and an ego as big as Gleason's, didn't explode.

Turns out, the legendary producer was prepared for Gleason's behavior, reportedly taking out a special insurance policy that covered him whenever his star missed a performance. Once Gleason found out, he retaliated by never missing another performance. He stayed with the show until his contract ended.

Time Magazine alluded to this feud in a piece titled "The Big Hustler" in which Merrick comments that Gleason repeatedly threatened during the nogtiations for the show to "get sick" if he wasn't kept happy. The now-timely article ran 47 years ago ... on Friday, 29 December, 1961.

Artword: The Playbill from Jackie Gleason's "Take Me Along," and Jeremy Piven

the contrarian: "30." Rocks. NOT.

The Ubiquitous Tina Fey, Writing TV's Best Sitcom
Once again, I am contentedly in the minority - TV-wise, that is.

A few years ago, I was bewildered by the euphoria among television critics over "My Name Is Earl." The first show seemed refreshingly oddball. The second show seemed the same. The third and fourth shows? No different. After a few weeks, I had the vague suspicion that I watching the same exact episode over and over again. And, still, despite this glaring creative bankruptcy, the reviewers continued to do head-spins.

Now it's "30 Rock." Exactly what is the big deal, folks? It's been lionized as one of the best sitcoms - ever - as well as the best currently on the tube. Hands-down. No questions asked. Well, I find it without a single thread of humor and, narratively, it's all over the place - a mess really.

The characters are, frankly, unappealing and - let's put it out there - I am so over Alec Baldwin (a favorite of mine, btw) and his redundant shtick.

Much of this is the result of the bad writing - which is supposed to be star Tina Fey's experetise. I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, accounting interference from top brass for much of the show's juvenile jokes - that is, until her outburst at the recent Golden Globes, "Suck it!," directed twice at critical internet pests. Real mature. Just like her show.

Not.

façade: Mickey Rourke

Mickey: Contemplative, Poetic and ... Threatening
Mickey Rourke burst onto the film scene in Peter Levin's powerful 1980 based on-a-true-story televison movie, "Rape and Marriage: The Rideout Case," in which he played John Rideout to Linda Hamilton's Greta.

He had already played small roles in two high-profile films - Steven Spielberg's "1941" (1979) and Vernon Zimmerman's black comedy, "Fade to Black" (1980) - but in another year or so, he'd take command of the big screen with a series of commanding performances in a string of estimable films that made him, yes, the latest "next James Dean."

For approximately a dacade, he reigned in interesting titles for the most interesting filmmakers - as Lawrence Kasdan's "Body Heat" (1981), Barry Levinson's "Diner" (1982), Nicolas Roeg's "Eureka" (1983), Francis Ford Coppola's "Rumble Fish" (1983), Stuart Rosenberg's "The Pope of Greenwich Village" (1984), Michael Cimino's "Year of the Dragon" (1985), Adrien Lyne’s “9½ Weeks” (1986), Alan Parker's "Angel Heart" (1987), Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly" (1987), Mike Hodges' "A Prayer for the Dying" (1987), Liliana Cavani's "Francesco" (1989), Walter Hill's "Johnny Handsome" (1989) and Roger Donaldson's "White Sands" (1992).

In those films, he brilliantly juxtaposed a certain delicacy with toughness, delivering his dialogue in an intimidating whisper. He was both seductive and threatening. And while women were attracted to other actors for their distinctly masculine features, they were drawn to Mickey's trademark lips, always pursed and usually with a cigarette ensconced between them.

Much about Mickey Rourke has changed - physically - but that soft whisper and those beestung lips remain ever intact. Welcome back.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

façade: Hermès Pan

For no specific reason (other than the fact that I want to), this little essay is devoted to that artist with the most exotic of names, Hermès Pan.

Pan - born Hermès Panagiotopoulos on 10 December 1909 in Memphis, Tennessee - was (1) a movie choreographer extraordinaire, (2) Fred Astaire's house dance designer, (3) Astaire's near-doppelganger and (4) the man who, with Astaire, groomed the sublime Barrie Chase for a career on screen that could have rivaled Cyd Charisse's.

But Chase elected to retire young. Silly girl.

Actually, there is somewhat of a hook: "Flower Drum Song," one of the films choreographed by Pan during his most active period (and a recent inductee in the National Film Registry), airs tomorrow on Turner classics - Sunday, 18 January at 2:15 p.m., est.

Pan's glory days were in the 1930s when he worked with Astaire and Ginger Rogers in their great Art Deco musicals. But much later, between 1957 and 1973 and towards the end of his career, Pan was apparently the go-to guy for film choreography, overseeing 16 films in as many years:

"Pal Joey" (George Sidney, 1957)
"Silk Stockings" (Rouben Mamoulian, 1957)
"Never Steal Anything Small" (Charles Lederer, 1959)
"Porgy and Bess" (Otto Preminger, 1959)
"The Blue Angel" (Edward Dmytryk, 1959)
"Can-Can" (Walter Lang, 1960)
"Bells Are Ringing" (Vincinte Minnelli, 1960 - uncredited)
"The Pleasure of His Company" (George Seaton, 1961)
"Flower Drum Song" (Henry Koster, 1961)
"Cleopatra" (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1963)
"The Pink Panther" (Blake Edwards, 1963 - uncredited)
"My Fair Lady" (George Cukor, 1964)
"The Great Race" (Blake Edwards, 1965)
"Finian's Rainbow" (Francis Ford Coppola, 1968)
"Darling Lili" (Blake Edwards, 1970)
"Lost Horizon" (Charles Jarrott, 1973)

Both "Can-Can" and "Flower Drum Song," made a year apart, feature beautiful ballet sequences that can be considered companion pieces to one another. Regarding "Bells Are Ringing," although Charles O'Curran is listed as its choreographer, Hal Linden singles out Pan in his commentary on the film's DVD. My suspicion is that Pan quietly contributed the steps for the "Midas Touch" number which is performed in the movie by Linden (and is basically obscured in the background).

Pan also choreographed Astaire's three acclaimed TV specials - "An Evening with Fred Astaire" (1958), "Another Evening with Fred Astaire" (1959) and "Astaire Time" (1960), which is where Barrie Chase comes into the picture. After a few small roles in films such as Edmund Goulding's "Mardi Gras," she was Astaire's new dancing partner.

In '59, Pan was hired by Frank Sinatra to choreograph the aforementioned "Can-Can," and brought Chase along to play the second female lead, Claudine, the main can-can dancer. (Chase, Pan and Sinatra had all worked together on "Pal Joey.")

Chase ultimately bolted the production when most of her musical numbers were given to star Shirley MacLaine, as detailed in the DVD's liner notes.

MacLaine herself recounted this to Newsweek in its May 28, 1998/Sinatra Tribute issue in a piece carrying her byline.

Talking to Sinatra in the piece, she wrote: "You strong-armed Twentieth Century-Fox to make 'Can-Can' because you thought I should do a musical. And you had them combine the two female leads into a single character so people could see more of what I could do." That's only partially true. The character of Claudine was watered-down but still very much exists in the film. It was eventually recast with Juliet Prowse, who replaced the very wise Chase. Bad film, that "Can-Can."

Pan performed infrequently on screen (as a "specialty dancer") - most notably with both Betty Grable and Rita Hayworth - but for the most part enjoyed watching his terpsichorean creations from the wings. He died of a stroke at age 88 on 19 September 1990 in Beverly Hills.



(Artwork: Hermès Pan kicks it up with Betty Grable in Walter Lang's "Coney Island")

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

14-15 january, 2009: Lemmon-y Wilder

Turner Movie Classics devotes most of its on-going Jack Lemmon tribute on tomorrw and Thursday (14-15 January) to his work with his mentor, Billy Wilder - specifically to the team's first four films together.
"The Apartment," airing Wednesday, 14 January at 8 pm., est., is a film that I wrote about at length when I introduced this site in August of 2006. It's the film that change my life - or, at least, the way I look at movies.

It is the first film that I read, the first film where I noticed more than just plot and dialogue and acting - the first film in which I confronted, blissfully so, the concept of "filmmaking," its power and what it means.
It is also the first film during which I really watched Jack Lemmon. Of course, I had enjoyed him in previous roles - most notably Richard Quine's "Operaton Mad Ball" (1957) and Wilder's "Some Like It Hot" (1959) but, here, he made me stop and watch.

I wrote:

"When I first saw it, Billy Wilder’s 'The Apartment' created a longing so ardent that I thought my chest and head would implode...

"I remember little else about that summer - or that year, for that matter - except that I loved "The Apartment" and that I related to its star, Jack Lemmon, in the most complete, complicated way possible. A point of reference and a role model, at last! ... With such dubious assets as his slight build, sagging shoulders, slouching posture and wide-open face filled with basset-hound anxiety, Lemmon filled me with wonder for someone who seemed so much like me - or so I liked to think."


“The Apartment” has stayed with me ever since that first childhood viewing. It’s familiar and comforting, like an old easy chair that’s been lugged to each new place in which I’ve lived – to remind me of where I’ve been and from where I’ve come. It is like a ribbon, a thread, that has run through my life and I can always go back to it. And, like me, throughout the years, it has evolved and changed. It hasn’t remained the same and, for some reason, I find that ... reassuring. Now, shut up and deal.
As much as I love "The Apartment," I'm the first to admit that it is not exactly perfect. The two major scenes between Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMuarry - their initial encounter in the Chinese restaurant and the sequence before MacLaine's character attempts suicide - are fairly deadly. Pure soap opera. Plus they are seemingly, glaringly, out of sync with the rest of the movie. The actors aren't to blame. But the writing is. It's difficult to believe that Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond wrote those sequences.

Moving on, Wilder's biggest hit - and Jack's most emblematic perforance - follows with "Some Like It Hot," the 1959 comedy classic showing Wednesday, 14 January at 10:15 p.m., est. It seems redundant to say anything about. You've all seen it. You all know it. Say no more.


No matter what measure one might use, Billy Wilder's film version of "Irma La Douce," airing Thursday, 15 January at 12:30 a.m., est., looms as a major embarrassment - a leering piece of "tired businessman's entertainment" that's sexed-up and yet decidedly unsexy.

Full disclosure: I loved this film as a kid and, I guess, it helps to be 12 to truly appreciate it.

What's odd is that the material - nonsense about a man pretending to be his prostitute-girlfriend's most valuable client - had potential, and worked very well as a saucy international stage musical with music by Marguerite Monnot (famed for "The Poor People of Paris") and original book and lyrics by Alexandre Breffort.

The musical originated at the Theatre Gramont in Paris, opening November 12th, 1956. The London production, with the book and lyrics translated by Julian More, David Heneker and Monty Norman, opened July 17th, 1958 and ran for a whopping 1512 performances. Later, it was optioned for New York by David Merrick and the original Broadway production opened September 29th, 1960 at New York's Plymouth Theatre and ran for 527 performances. Sir Peter Brook ("Marat/Sade") directed both the London and New York productions of the musical.

Wilder somehow managed to take what was a light soufflé on stage and turn it into an obvious, leaden and, at 147 minutes, elephantine mess - 147 minutes and that's without all the songs.

The famed director took Monnot's clever, likable melodies and promptly deleted them from his script, relegating them to the background as incidental music (scored by André Previn). Even reduced, Monnot's contribution remains the only worthwhile thing about the film. That and designer Alexandre Trauner's sprawling soundstage recreation of Paris' Les Halles district - a "Disneyland for adults," Wilder quipped.

The play's rousing showstopper, "Dis-Donc, Dis-Donc," was retained - well, sort of - as a dance number for the film's eventual Irma, Shirley MacLaine, a moment in the film which seems to lead up an intermission break that never comes.

Wilder had always intended Jack Lemmon to play a guy desperate to keep his girlfriend as pure as possible, so much so that he dons a disguise and hires her to pleasure him. When Lemmon signed on, Wilder was in negotiations with Elizabeth Taylor to play Irma. Bachelor Lemmon to the New York Times at the time: "Lucky girl!"


Meanwhile, Wilder was trying to ward off Marilyn Monroe who, reportedly, desperately wanted the role. Taylor got caught up in a little number called
"Cleopatra" and Monroe eventually segued into George Cukor's "Something's Got to Give." MacLaine, who of course worked with both Wilder and Lemmon on "The Apartment" and who was perfect for the role, ultimately played Irma.

An aside: one has to wonder if Wilder may have entertained thoughts of making a musical given MacLaine's song-and-dance background and the fact that Lemmon had starred in a few film musicals. And also because one of Wilder's supporting players here is the late Bruce Yarnell who played the role of Hippolyte and who was a rising young star in the musical theater at the time (B'ways's "The Happiest Girl in the World" with Janice Rule). Yarnell was once under consideration by Richard Lester to play Captain Miles Gloriosus in the film of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the role eventually played by Leon Greene.

"Irma" was shot largely on a soundstage in Hollywood, but by the time the crew got to France for some location work, Monroe had died from an overdose and Lemmon had married Felicia Farr (with both Wilder and director Richard Quine serving as his best men in Paris).
On the basis of the wild success of this film and the two that followed it - "Under the Yum Yum Tree" and "Good Neighbor Sam," both directed by David Swift - Lemmon was the Number One box office star of 1964. Lemmon would disavow "Yum Yum" which makes sense (it's pretty low) and "Sam" which doesn't (it's an engaging comedy).

He would have done well to also distance himself from the adolescent smirk of "Irma La Douce" but I guess he had too much regard for Wilder.

The intertwined careers of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are celebrated by Turner Classics with"The Fortune Cookie," being screened Thursday, 15 January AT 3 a.m., EST. Billy Wilder's sardonic, gray-colored farce was sort of a blind date for the boys - their first film together and the start of their unexpected teaming.

Matthau has the showier role as the shady, game-playing lawyer, Whiplash Willie Gingrich; Lemmon - playing Willie's easily manipulated brother-in-law, Harry Hinkle, a convenient accident victim - pretty much handed the film over to him. Lemmon may be immobolized in a wheelchair but his quiet performance, free of the usual Lemmon fussiness, is a revelation - an education in relaxed, minimal screen acting.

The talented Judi West and Ron Rich shine in supporting roles - she as Lemmon's disreputable wife and he as the athlete who allegedly crippled him - and they're so good that one has to wonder exactly what happened to them. West, who had made a name for herself in the Marilyn Monroe role in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller's "After the Fall," went on to marry actor John Rubenstein, but did little film work thereafter. Rich, to the best of my knowledge, made only one other film, 1968's "Chubasco."

What a waste.

The evening ends on a mild note with "Kotch," the only film directed by Lemmon, airing Thursday, 15 January at 5:15 a.m., est. The movie is notable largely for Matthau's none-too-convincing (yet Oscar-nomianted) performance as a senior citizen and for its curious, particulary negative portrayal of women (played here by Felicia Farr, Jack's wife, and Deborah Winters, the daughter of editor Ralph Winters and an especially unpleasant young actress at the time). The less said about it, the better.

Note in Passing: Jack was once slated to direct the film version of John Ford Noonan's off-Broadway hit, "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking," from a script by the late, great Wendy Wasserstein and starring Susan Sarandon and Jill Clayburgh but, alas, it never happened.
Trivia: There's a memorable reference to "The Music Man" in the film, but originally the stage show that Lemmon invites MacLaine to see was "The Sound of Music." Which makes sense, given that Wilder was one of that show's investors. Jack told me that Wilder changed his script after he finally saw "The Sound of Music." He didn't like it. And opted for "The Music Man" instead. (Never mind that "The Sound of Music" was a brand new hit at the time, while "The Music Man" was nearing the end of its run.)

(Artwork: Jack, out in the cold in "The Apartment"; Jack, Shirley and Fred in a cute publicity shot for "The Apartment," The actors and some director lunching between scenes of "The Apartment," and Jack and Shirl in the film's final scene; Jack and Marilyn - in color, no less! - in "Some Like a Hot"; poster art for "Irma La Douce," and Jack and Walter in a publicity shot for "The Fortune Cookie." All four are Billy Wilder films, of course. Also, a display ad for "Kotch." And, finally, Jack stood up at "The Music Man")

missed opportunity: Jack Lemmon's "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking"


Jack Lemmon tried his hand at directing on only one occasion - "Kotch," the 1971 comedy-drama starring his buddy Walter Matthau that airs on Turner on Tursday, 15 January at 5:15 a.m., est., as part of its Lemmon tribute.

He seemingly stopped there. Seemingly.

In the early 1980s, Lemmon was once on board to direct a film version of John Ford Noonan's off-Broadway hit, "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking," for Burt Sugarman (the producer-husband of Mary Hart who would go on to produce the film of another play, Mark Medoff's "Children of a Lesser God," in 1986).

"White Chicks," adapted for the screen first by Noonan himself and then by Wendy Wasserstein, was to star Jill Clayburgh and Susan Sarandon, the latter having appeared in the piece on stage opposite Eileen Brennan.

20th Century-Fox went so far as to design pre-production ads for the film, but the project never came together.


(Artwork: Pre-production ad from a Variety pullout, circa 1981, for the shelved "A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking" film)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

E!diocy


E!d-i-o-cy 
–noun (plural -cies).
1. utterly senseless or foolish behavior as espoused by the E! channel; a stupid or foolish act, statement, etc., as espoused by the E! channel.
2. Psychology. the state of being an idiot, E!-style.


I'm currrently watching the E! channel's red-carpet coverage of The Golden Globes - two shows that handily qualify as dumb and dumber.

Watching a lot of unattractive, obnoxious gay guys and ditzy women heavily made-up to resemble prostitutes, it occured to me that there has been this concerted effort by a certain segment of the media to turn American women into ... idiots. I mean, does the average woman actually care about the borrowed, borderline ugly dresses of ambitious actresses desperate for attention? I guess we're currently experiencing this dubious phenomenon thanks to those vapid gay guys and heavily made-up women who hang on their every word - and also to the assembly-line of chick flicks and romcoms that reached something of a nadir lately.

But the real blame goes to "Sex and the City," which started all this product-placement obsessive preoccupation with shoes and handbags - and whose unfortunate run on HBO has been accurately described by sex columnist Dan Savage as "a reign of terror." Amen.

And who are you wearing?

(Artwork: Sarah Jessica - isn't she gorgeous?)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

7-8 january, 2009: A Half-Dozen Lemmons

Starting tomorrow, Turner Movie Classics devotes its evening schedule for all four Wednesdays in January to a month-long tribute to Jack Lemmon. Good News. Even better news is the Lemmon title picked by Turner to inagurate this Star of the Month series. No, it isn't the usual suspect. It's not a Billy Wilder film. And it isn't Blake Edwards' "Days of Wine and Roses," blessedly not even part of the series (more about that later).

Here's the schedule for Jack, Part One, airing on Wednesday, 7 January and Thursday, 8 January:

Mark Robson's "Phffft!" (1954), at 8 p.m., est. - Lemmon's second movie to be released - a marital comedy written by playwright George Axelrod that has remained impressively contemporary for more than 50 years now - has always existed, inexplicably so, in the shadows of his first, George Cukor's delightful "It Should Happen to You!" Actually, maybe it's not all that inexplicable, given that Cukor's name always went further in movie-critics circles and among buffs than Robson's ever did.

(Note: "Phffft!" was actually filmed after "Three for the Show" - see below - which was Jack's second film but whose release was delayed because of censorship problems.)

Nevertheless, both films have one thing in common - uncommonly smart, alert scripts written by people who honed their skills on the stage. ("It Should Happen to You" was penned by Garson Kanin.) Axelrod - the author of the scripts for "The Seven Year Itch" and "The Manchurian Candidate" and the director of "Lord Love a Duck" - came up with sharp, ageless observations as he investigates the disintegration of the marriage of Nina and Robert Tracy (played by Judy Holliday and Lemmon who, of course, were teamed earlier that year in "It Should Happen to You!") and the way it inevitably rebounds. You could call the film post-trendy.

Axelrod's dialogue is a particular treat. That invaluable character actor,
Jack Carson, plays Charlie Anderson, Lemmon's best friend - a confirmed bachelor who forever hands out both bad and interesting dating advice. His lecture on the allure of facial hair provides an excellent case in point:

Charlie: "Grow a moustache. A moustache is very important, It's all part of the famous Charlie Anderson Theory on the Efficacy of Face Hair in Dealing with the Opposite Sex. Sure. Always remember this, Bobby -- dames become unpredictable when faced with a moustache -- it both arouses and angers them -- Being as it is a symbol of masculinity, they feel drawn toward it. And at the same time, because of envy, they feel inpelled to cause its removal. All men should raise moustaches from time to time." (The italicized words are in Axelrod's script but they were cut from the final film, along with other compelling thoughts on the subject.)

At one point in the film, both the Lemmon and Holliday characters take dance lessons at an Arthur Murray's, only to end up together in the next scene on the dance floor of a nightclub, doing a wickedly hilarous mambo (choreographed by an uncredited Jack Cole, who also designed the dances for "Three for the Show"). Here is a movie moment ever bit as memorable - and as witty - as anything in a Wilder film.

A great way to introduce this Lemmon series - and a great introduction to Lemmon in general. Brave and atypical. The film's full, original title was "Phffft: Chronicle of a Happy Divorce."

Note in Passing: BTW, although Cukor's "It Should Happen to You!" is not officially a part of January's 25-film tribute to Lemmon, Turner Classics will telecast in on Sunday, 1 February at noon, est.
John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy's "Mister Roberts" (1955), at 9:45 p.m., est - In 1955, following "It Should Happen to You!" and "Phffft!," Lemmon was scheduled to make his third film, a musical remake of "My Sister Eileen," which was also to be his third film with Judy Holliday (until scheduling bumped her from the film) and his first with a close friend, director Richard Quine, who directed his screen test at Columbia.

But first came the popular film adaptation of "Mister Roberts," based on the Thomas Heggen book and the Joshua Logan play.

The film of "Mister Roberts," like the play, goes down easy and is very easy to watch, but it also has something of an edge - for me, at least. And I trace that edge to Henry Fonda's performance, which I never found as pleasant or as inspiring as most people.

It's been documented that when Warners was preparing "Roberts" for the screen, Fonda wasn't at the top of its list for the title role, even though he created it on stage. Both William Holden and Marlon Brando (a compelling bit of casting here) were the studio's first choices. Exacerbating matters, the film's original director John Ford, who had a say in the matter, reportedly wanted John Wayne for the role, despite his history with Fonda.

Fonda got the role, of course, but his relationship with Ford was never the same again. Fonda apparently had a lot of complaints about the film - about how Ford had expanded the role played by Ward Bond and how he was directing the seabees in the film to behave like "schoolboys." Ford left the film early - illness being the official reason for his departure - and he was replaced by Mervyn LeRoy, who toughened up the seabees a bit, in the tradition of his Warner gangster films.

Anyway, I may be imaginging it, but Fonda's displeasure with the film seems to seep through and into the movie itself. I don't know much about Hollywood politics but he failed to get an Acadmey Award nomination for his role here - an odd omisson as Fonda must of have seemed like an Oscar shoo-in in 1955.

I don't want to dwell on the wrong thing here of slight Jack's Oscar-winning performance - the month is devoted to him after all - but I find it fascinating that such a companionable, friendly film had so much unrest behind the scenes. Who knew?

Jack, of course, floats on a comic cloud as Ensign Pulver - his comedy timing here is as light as air and his reading of the line, "I'm looking for marbles all day long," is brilliant. Favorite scene: Roberts (Fonda) and Doc (the irreplacable William Powell) discovering Pulver's arcade pillows...

Doc: "Toujours l'amour ... Souvenir of San Diego ... Oh, you kid!"

Roberts: "Tonight or never ... Compliments of Allis-Chalmers Farm Equipment ... We plow deep while others sleep."

Jack's role was played on stage by David Wayne, and he and Wayne would inevitably star together many years later in Billy Wilder's remake of "The Front Page" (1974).

For the next six hours, Turner has cleverly combined Jack's three film musicals into a sort of mini-festival-within-the-festival. Starting Thursday, 8 January at 12 midnight, est. TCM screens Richard Quine's "My Sister Eileen" and H.C. Potter's "Three for the Show" (both from 1955) and Dick Powell's "You Can't Run Away from It" (a 1956 remake of Frank Capra's 1934 classic, "It Happened One Night").

Quine's "My Sister Eileen" is the pick of the lot here, thanks largely to a pleasing Jule Styne-Leo Robin score, early Bob Fosse choreography (before it became terminally mannered) and a smash lead performance by Betty Garrett (her only real lead), inherited when Judy Holliday had to back out at the last minute. Janet Leigh makes a charming Eileen (and dances well with Fosse) and Jack, in a largely supporting role, has fun with his giddily salicious "Bigger Than Both of Us" solo.

Director Quine started out as an actor and appeared in 25 titles, including Rosalind Russell's original "My Sister Eileen" film (1942), in which he played soda jerk Frank Lippincott, the young man nursing a crush on Janet Blair's Eileen. Thirteen years later, he would direct this film, with the role of Lippincott going to Fosse (billed as Robert Fosse, incidentally).

"Three for the Show" is familiar stuff - the tale of someone who ends up, inadvertently, with two spouses. Officially, Potter's film is a remake of Wesley Ruggles' 1940 film with Jean Arthur, "Too Many Husbands." Betty Grable has the Arthur role here, with Jack and Gower Champion as her husbands. You've also seen this before in Garson Kanin's 1940 "My Favorite Wife" (with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne) and Michael Gordon's 1965 "Move Over, Darling" (with Doris Day and Jame Garner).

Jack gets to see "How Come You Do Me?" with Grable and dance in two numbers - a competition dance with Gower Champion and a dream ballet set to "Swan Lake." This musical remake is noted largely for Jack Cole's nimble choreography and for having been slammed with the C (condemned) rating from the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency because it was perceived as condoning ... adultry.

"You Can't Run Away from It" is something of a pseudo-musical remake of "It Happened One Night." By all accounts, this film, a real curisoity, started out as a major production for Columbia Pictures, with Powell – Allyson’s husband, of course – directing a Claude Binyon script that is impressively faithful to the Robert Riskin original and with Jack, fresh off “Mister Roberts,” in the Clark Gable role. Allyson, of course, essayed the original Claudette Colbert part.

The songs, written by Johnny Mercer and Gene DePaul – at least, what’s left of them – are literate and witty. The clever wordplay, for example, between Allyson and Lemmon during the Walls of Jericho number, titled “Temporarily,” has the kind of articulate sophistication that anticipated what Meredith Willson would accomplish, with much more acclaim, in “The Music Man,” a few years later.

But something went wrong, my hunch being that Columbia lost faith in the film – the first clue being the unattractive title that was ultimately attached to the movie. Somewhere along the way, a musical turned into a quasi-musical, with last-minute editing haste evident in the release version.

This is no more apparent than in the “Thumbing a Ride” duet, which is complete on the Decca soundtrack album but truncated on film, with just about all of Lemmon’s savvy lyrics deleted for some bizarre reason. Given that the film’s principals – Allyson, Lemmon and Powell – are all deceased now, one can only speculate what happened.

And it’s unlikely that any of the missing musical footage is sitting on some shelf at Columbia.

Alas, the widescreen film is not being presented letterboxed on Turner (a true rarity) which leads me to believe that "You Can't Run Away from It" has yet to be restored by the people at Sony.

Robert Parrish's "Fire Down Below" (Thursday, 8 January, at 5:30 a.m., est) ends the night on a rather oddball note. This teeming, hothouse drama from 1957, co-starring Robert Mitchum and Rita Hayworth, is inarguably Jack's most atypical film and performance. Jack wrote the "Harmonica Theme" for the film.

Among those notable titles missing from this month-long tribute are the aforementioned "It Should Happen to You!" and "Days of Wine and Roses," along with:



















Delmer Dave's very fine "Cowboy" (1958); Blake Edwards' elephantine slapstick "The Great Race" (1965); Stuart Rosenberg's sublime "The April Fools" (1969); Billy Wilder's "The Front Page" (1974); Donald Wyre's Olivier-remake, "The Entertainer" (1976); John Korty's quirky "Alex and the Gypsy" (1976); Bob Clark's film of Jack's play, "Tribute" (1980); Constantin Costa-Gavras' wrenching "Missing" (1982); Glen Jordan's formulic "Mass Appeal" (1984); Ettore Scola's Italian-made "Maccheroni" (1985), with Marcello Mastroianni; Edwards' neglected "That's Life" (1986); Jack's penultimate film (for me, at least), James Foley's "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992); Harvey Miller's "Getting Away with Murder" (1996), and Martha Coolidge's "Out to Sea" (1997).

Also missing - thankfully - is Mick Jackson's cloying TV film "Tuesdays with Morrie" (1999). As for "Days of Wine and Roses," while it brought Jack a lot of attention (including a well-deserved Oscar nomination), I've always been put off by its facile script. It is really poorly written.

And it hasn't aged well.

(Artwork: Jack with Judy Holliday and Jack Carson in a scene from Mark Robson's "Phffft!," a colorful lobby card from the black-&-white film and Jack and Judy in another still shot; Lemmon with James Cagney, William Powell, Henry Fonda and Ward Bond behind-the-scenes of "Mister Roberts," Lemmon as the incorrigible Ensign Pulver, and the ad for the film in a 1955 Radio City Music Hall program; a display ad from The New Yorker magazine for the run of "My Sister Eileen" at Gotham's Victoria Theatre; poster art for "Three for the Show" and "Fire Down Below"; June Allyson, beaming in color by Technicolor in "You Can't Run Away from It," and the poster art for Dick Powell's film)

façade: Jack Carson

Now is the time to praise Jack Carson. Yes, Jack Carson - supreme character actor, companionable sidekick, likable screen presence.

I mention him because Carson (1910-1963) pops up on Turner Classics during its Star of the Month tribute to Jack Lemmon.

The two Jacks appear together in Mark Robson's "Phffft!," airing tomorrow, Wednesday, 7 January at 8 p.m., est., on TCM.

Carson arrived in Hollywood in 1937, found work at RKO as an extra and proved to be an adjustible wrench, an actor who could do anything - Sing. Dance. Do Comedy. Handle heavy drama. And support the star without upstaging the star. Which is very important in terms of career longevity.

Carson made something like a hundred movies, plus innumerable TV appearances, and he was especially effective in the 1950s when he provided titanic support in such films as George Marshall's 'Red Garters" (1954), Robson's "Phffft!" (1954), George Cukor's "A Star Is Born" (1954), Edward Buzzell's "Ain't Misbehavin'" (1955), Jack Arnold's "The Tattered Dress" (1957), Douglas Sirk's "The Tarnished Angels" (1958), Leo McCarey's "Rally 'Round the Flag, Boys" (1958) and Richard Brooks' "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" (1958), the latter two with Paul Newman.

My own favorite Carson performance was opposite Rosalind Russell in Michael Curtiz's "Roughly Speaking" (1945), whose story (based on a novel by Louise Randall Pierson) was ahead of its time in its observations of an independent-minded woman trying to cope and excel in a man's world and the husband who elects to back her up and support her even though he doesn't fully endorse - or even understand - her views.

Carson was a playful co-star in two 1948 musicals - opposite Doris Day in her first film, Michael Curtiz's "Romance on the High Seas," and Ann Sothern in James V. Kern's "April Showers." And there were good roles in such diverse films as Alfred Hitchcock's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" (1941), Raoul Walsh's "The Strawberry Blonde" (1951), Elliott Nugent's "The Male Animal" (1942), Frank Capra's "Arsenic and Old Lace" (1945) and, of course, Curtiz's "Mildred Pierce" (1945).

I always found Jack Carson to be pleasingly human, ever-reliable and affable, someone to anticipate in a film. His final movie was Daniel Petrie's "The Bramble Bush," a Warner soap opera starring Richard Burton, Barbara Rush and Angie Dickinson made in 1960. He died three years later, at age 53, of stomach cancer.

(Artwork: Affable Jack Carson, much missed)

Friday, January 02, 2009

cinema obscura: Mike Binder's "Man About Town" (2006)


A lost Mike Binder film starring Ben Affleck has been popping up on The Movie Channel lately, namely "Man About Town," a comedy-drama about marital infidelity that premiered at the Santa Barbara Film Festival in February, 2006 but never had a theatrical run in this country.

It played Russia, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium, among other places, but strangely enough, not here.

From what I gather, Affleck does a good job as a Hollywood talent agent who loses his confidence and starts to question his worth when he discovers that wife Rebecca Romijn has cheated on him.

The estimable supporting caswt includes John Cleese, Gina Gershon, Kal Penn, Bai Ling, Howard Hesseman, Jerry O'Connell, Adam Goldberg, Amber Valletta, Damien Wayans and Binder himself.

"Man About Town" - which Binder made between the Kevin Costner-Joan Allen film, "The Upside of Anger" (2005), and Adam Sandler's "Reign Over Me" (2007) - encores on The Movie Channel on Sunday, 11 January at 6 p.m., est., and again on Thursday, 15 January at 8 p.m., est.

(Artwork: Poster art for "Man About Town")

turner this month - bravo!

Star of the Month: Jack Lemmon Arguably film's most affable Everyman, Jack will be the subject of a 25-title retrospective, running Wednesdays in January - as well as separate posts here.

Recurring Feature Throughout the Month: "New York vs. Los Angeles," a series of films set in both locales - i.e, Woody Allen's "Annie Hall" (1977) and Arthur Hiller's "The Out-of-Towners" (1969).

Also: George Sidney's bad, bad "Bye, Bye Birdie" (the worst!) ... Henry Koster's "Floweer Drum Song," a recent National Film Registry inductee ... Jerrold Freedman's superior B-movie, "Kansas City Bomber" ... Troy and Connie in "Susan Slade" and "Palm Springs Weekend" ... Truffaut's seminal "Jules et Jim" ... William Wyler's "The Children's Hour," intelligent, empathetic and well-acted ... Bud Yorkin's very fine "Divorce, American Style" ... and Hitch's hugely entertaining "North by Northwest"...

Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (Saturday, 3 January at 3:30 p.m., est.) Hitch's compulsively watchable 1959 film - yet another masterful blend of intelligent suspense and fascinating psychology - conclusively confirms him as the master Poet Laureate of case studies about people, usually innocent, in the throes of alienation. Here, a smoothly befuddled yet cogently shrewd Cary Grant cannot trust just about anyone. A title which has always existed, cozily, somewhere in the middle of Hitchcock's filmography, "North by Northwest" has grown and evolved since its August, 1959 debut at Radio City Music Hall. It's perfect. This time around, savor Bernard Hermann's rushing music score and Eva Marie Saint's new slant on the Hitchcock blonde, a take that has remained impressively contemporary for 50 years now.

Gene Kelly & Stanley Donen's "It's Always Fair Weather" (Sunday, 4 January at 12:45 a.m., est.) Kelly and Donen had a scathingly brilliant idea of doing a follow-up to their "On the Town" success (airing on Turner on Thursday, 8 January at 8 p.m., est.), checking in with their three sailors years later, during a reunion in - where else? - New York. With neither Frank Sinatra nor Jules Munchin available, the project looked like history but Kelly and Donen willfully pushed ahead with it anyway, despite less-than-enthusiastic support from MGM. (The musical genre was starting to wane.) Perhaps because of this uphill battle, the resulting 1955 film (about GIs rather than seabees) is something of a minor masterpiece - much, much better than the overrated "On the Town" - and the supporting cast of Michael Kidd and Dan Daily (in for Sinatra and Munchin) and the equally sublime Dolores Gray and Cyd Charisse seems to know it's into something good, possibly great. Belatedly, moviegoers came to feel the same way. Two of film's most under-utliized dancing personalities, Daily and Charisse, are in their prime here.

Jerrold Freedman's "Kansas City Bomber" (Sunday, 4 January at 4:30 a.m., est.) If one performance proves that Raquel Welch can be an actress of range and invention, it's the one firmly embedded in the middle of this companionable 1972 B-movie that revolves around the then-Roller Derby craze. Here, she uses her statuesque body and powerful limbs to plumb the depths of amibition and grief of a desperate woman - a single mother of two - with no resources other than her sheer guts and willfulness. There isn't a moment in this fine little film when Welch isn't wholly believable. She shares one particularly memorable scene with a very young Jodie Foster as her alienated daughter and quite a few with Kevin McCarthy as her duplicitous, sleazy boss and Helena Kallianiotes, Norman Alden and Jeanne Cooper as other derby denizens. Tom Rickman ("Coal Miner's Daughter") and Barry Sandler ("Making Love") worked on the script with Calvin Clements Sr. The solid direction is by Jerrold Freedman, a TV hand who also helmed 1986's "Native Son" (from the Richard Wright book) but who has remained largely in TV.

Delmer Dave's "Susan Slade" (Monday, 4 January at 2 p.m., est.) Delmer Dave's third-act career, which spanned from the mid-1950s to the mid-'60s, was neatly divided into two well-defined sections - his Westerns (made mostly for Columbia) and his soaps (made exclusively for Warners). The former group is represented by such estimable titles as "Jubal," "The Hanging Tree," "Cowboy," "The Last Wagon," "Drum Beat," "The Badlanders" and, of course, "3:10 to Yuma," all made between 1954 and 1959. His soap period also kicked off in '59, with "A Summer Place," whose popularity led to a trilogy that includes "Parrish" and "Susan Slade" (both from 1961), all starring Troy Donohue.

Connie Stevens was a Warners TV actress ("77 Sunset Strip"/"Hawaiian Eye") who had a co-starring role in "Parrish" and the lead title role in "Susan Slade," in which she's excellent as an unwed mother forced to live a double life when her mother (Dorothy Maguire), in an effort to protect Susan, opts to pose as the mother of the child. There is something so internal and timorous about Stevens' handling of the role that one could well imagine her as a Hitchcock blonde. (There are shades of "Marnie" here.) Stevens had fun in the comic William Conrad thriller, "Two on a Guillotine" (1965) and in Bud Yorkin's "Never Too Late" (also '65), from the Broadway comedy, and she appeared in Robert Aldrich's "The Grissom Gang" (1971), in which she shared the screen with Kim Darby - the ex-wife of Stevens' ex-husband, James Stacy. Got that?

But her film career never took off. There were reports that the role that Stevens really wanted was Eliza Doolittle in Warners' film of "My Fair Lady," but Jack Warner refused to entertain the thought. Too bad. I've a hunch she could have pulled it off. Getting back to Daves, he ended his career at Warners, directing "Rome Adventure" (1962), new to DVD; "Spencer's Mountain" (1963), long available on home entertainment, and "Youngblood Hawke" 1964) and "The Battle of the Villa Fiorita" (1965), two titles that, for all intents and purposes, are lost.

Henry Hathaway's
"Niagara"
(Sunday, 11 January at 8 p.m., est.) Nasty fun. Hathaway's seedy little tale of infidelity and murder was the only film during her lifetime to exploit the dark side of star Marilyn Monroe. (Roy Ward Baker's earlier "Don't Bother to Knock" just barely touched on it.) This was the first - and only - time we'd see a deadly Monroe; after the Howard Hawks twins, "Monkey Business' and "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," things were never quite the same.



The "Maisie" Series (Tuesday, 13 January, starting at 6 a.m., est, until 5:45 p.m.) Elemental and essential. Turner screens eight - count 'em - eight "Maisie" features, made between 1939 and 1946, each running 90 minutes or less and starring the unsinkable Ann Sothern. The filmmakers include Edwin L. Marin, H.C. Potter, Norman Z. McLeod, Roy Del Ruth and Harry Beaumont but the staple is Sothern who turns a series of '40s programmers into vivacious star turns. Get ready to settle in for the day.

William Wyler's "The Children's Hour" (Friday, 16 January at 8 p.m., est.) Underrated in its day, Wyler's 1961 adaptation of the Lillian Hellman play is one of those rare (and fortunate) films belatedly appreciated with age. I've no idea if the movie was always under-appreciated or if it actually improved with advancing years. Probably a little of both.

The story of two teacher's whose lives are ruined by a lie that turns out to be half-true (or maybe not), "The Children's Hour" boasts stellar performances by Audrey Hepburn (who uses her face most expressively in the concluding scenes) and particuarly Shirley MacLaine (who has a bravura turn near the end). But this time out, pay attention to Franz Planer's evocative cinematography (which makes sure that the material, which is essentially still stagebound, is never static); the gorgeous music score by Alex North; the terrific supporting work by two old Grand Dames, the singular Miriam Hopkins and the commanding Fay Bainter (who was Oscar-nominated here), and the performances of two young actresses, the always good Veronica Cartwright (Hitchcock's "The Birds" and, many years later, Philip Kaufman's remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers") and, in the difficult central role, the remarkable Karen Balkin, who would make only one more film, Peter Hyams' 1974 "Our Times."

A sad waste.

Wyler, of course, filmed this material (with Hopkins in the MacLaine role) in 1936 under the title "These Three" (and with all hints of homosexuality removed). Ironically, for a while, United Artists dickered with the idea of also changing the title of the remake - to the nondescript "The Infamous."

The brass thought that "The Children's Hour" would mislead audiences into thinking it was a family film. Wyler balked. The title stayed.

Henry Koster's
"Flower Drum Song"
(Sunday, 18 January at 2:15 p.m., est.) Another late-bloomer. Koster's delightful musical comedy - the most bearable of all Rodgers and Hammerstein shows - was recently added by the National Film Registry to its ever-growing list of of films that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant. (Check out Dave Kehr for the inside dope.) The movie was - and remains - revolutionary for its all-Asian cast. The only Caucasian character in it, tellingly, is a vagrant played by Herman Rudin who robs Benson Fong on his front doorstep.

The glorious Rodgers and Hammerstein score - their jazziest - was overseen by the reliable R-&-H team of Alfred Newman and Ken Darby and Hermes Pan, Astaire's house choreographer, designed the many wonderful dance sequences. This time, keep your eye on "Sunday," "Grant Avenue," the "Love, Look Away" dream ballet and the hilarious, inventive hoedown during "Chop Suey," all executed without the help of excessive editing that flaws so many modern movie musicals. I'll have more to say about Pan in a separate post. Also worth noting: Jack Soo's amusing, prolonged impersonation of Dean Martin; Russell Metty's color-embracing cinematography that matches Dong Kingman's gorgeous titles are, and the wide array of costumes of veteran designer Irene Sharaff, who repeated her Broadway assignment here.

All in all, terrific musical deserving of the late evaluation it's received.

George Sidney's "Bye, Bye Birdie" (Sunday, 18 January at 8 p.m., est.) The worst. Period. It's been rumored for years now that most of the 1963 Columbia film's participants hate it, save for the grotesquely miscast Ann-Margret (as a 14-year-old!). And why should she hate it? Sidney, after all, worshipped her with his camera (as he would do a year later in the equally awful "Viva Las Vegas"). Gower Champion, who helmed the piece on Broadway, was supposed to make his directorial film debut with this project, but left it early on, reportedly because of the liberties taken with the material. (Half of the stage songs are missing, along with a few choice jokes.) He was planning on casting Jack Lemmon and Debbie Reynolds in the leads, and would subsequently make his directing debut with Reynolds' charming (and lost) "My Six Loves," released by Paramount the same year as "Birdie."

About the only positives in the film are Maureen Stapleton's bruskness as Dick Van Dyke's edgy mother and Janet Leigh, ever the good sport and team player, making the best of a bad situation. (Leigh once confided in me that when it came to her musicals, she preferred Richard Quine's "My Sister Eileen," airing on Turner on Thursday, 8 January at 12 a.m., est.) If you want to see the real "Bye, Bye Birdie," stay with Gene Saks' excellent (and faithful) version made for TV in 1995.

Speaking of Reynolds, check out her two entertaining films that bookend the "Bye, Bye Birdie" showing - George Marshall's bit of homespun charm, "The Mating Game" (Sunday, 18 January at 6:15 p.m., est.), and Bud Yorkin's deliciously acidic and sophisticated "Divorce, American Style" (Sunday, 18 January at 10 p.m., est.)

Speaking of "Divorce, American Style," take note of the funny sequence which Reynolds and Dick Van Dyke share with their respective divorce lawyers, played by Shelly Berman and Dick Gautier - both of whom had a history with Van Dyke at the time. Berman and Van Dyke had appeared on Broadway with Nancy Walker and Bert Lahr in the 1959 musical revue, "The Boys Against the Girls," and, a year later, Gautier played the title role in Van Dyke's aforementioned "Bye, Bye Birdie." (Too bad Columbia didn't recruit the witty Gautier to recreate his stage role for its film of "Birdie" instead of that gyrating blank, Jesse Pearson.)

Richard Brooks' "Elmer Gantry" (Monday, 19 January at 1:45 p.m., est.) Ah, and here we have Brooks' grand, panoramic 1960 showcase of the screen-embracing Burt Lancaster in possibly his most expansive, sexually threatening performance as a hard-drinking, pleasure-loving, low-down traveling preacher/scam artist. Lancaster's brand of thuggery is consistently entertaining. You heard this before but this time, it's true - you can't take your eyes off him. Co-starring the inexpendable Jean Simmmons, Arthur Kennedy, Patti Page, Hugh Marlowe, Edward Andrews, John McIntire, Dean Jagger and an Oscar-winning Shirley Jones.

"Elmer Gantry" will be repeated Sunday, 1 February at 12 a.m., est.

Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (Tuesday, 20 January at 12:45 p.m., est.) Employing a distinctly physical (and fierce) acting technique, Andy Griffith - brand-new to films at the time - fully inhabits his role of the white trash Lonesome Rhodes, a recidivist who actually has talent as a singer and is groomed to be a radio star by a group of better educated people who, alas, are blind to Lonesome's brand of naked opportunism. They are played by Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau and Anthony Franciosa, plus Lee Remick is on hand as Lonesome's breif, white-trash young wife. But Griffith is the one to watch here. He's downright primal.

A vivid cautionary tale that was ahead of its time and is totally pertinent today, "A Face in the Crowd" is the kind of movie where one keeps discovering little secrets. Lee Remick co-stars as the grasping young woman who matches Lonesome in his naked ambition, highly recognizable in these times.

A rare showing of the George Pal/Henry Levin's "The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm," an elaborate 1962 fantasy and only one of two films actually made in Cinerama (the other being "How the West Was Won," of course, from the same year), airing Wednesday, 21 January at 5:15 p.m., est.

Joseph Mankiewicz's "All About Eve" (Thursday, 22 January at 11:45 p.m., est.)

Here we have dueling divas, an acerbic theater critic and some of the best dialogue ever. Stay up late and watch Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard" afterwards (Friday, 23 January at 2:15 a.m., est.) and then decide if respective stars Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson deserved to lose their pushy Oscar bids that year (1950) to "Born Yesterday's" modest Judy Holliday.



















Norman Taurog's "Palm Springs Weekend" (Sunday, 25 January at 4 p.m., est.) If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. American-International had honed in on the youth market with its fairly deadly "Beach Blanket" flicks, and Warners, with its stable of young players (Donahue and Stevens again, Ty Hardin, Robert Conrad and Stefanie Powers), decided to give them some competition. Actually, all of this started with MGM's bizarre "Where the Boys Are" (a surf-and-sand romp that has a vicious gang rape smack-dab in its middle), and, for what it's worth, Taurog's film is slightly closer to Henry Levin's "Boys" than to William Asher's "Beach Blanket" movies. Look for the late columnist Shirley Eder in a cameo appearance with Stefanie Powers, set in a record store.Asher's "Beach Blanket Bingo" follows (Sunday, 25 January at 6 p.m., est.)

Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim" (Monday, 26 January at 2 a.m., est.) Truffaut's seminal 1962 French classic is about a male friendship that's both threatened and enriched when a free-spirited woman (are there any other kind in some movies?) penetrates its dark, secretive recesses, signaling a slow, potentially painful dissolution of a former life and an introduction to a compelling new one. Oskar Werner and Henri Serre are the philosphical men and Jeanne Moreau is the thrilling woman who introduces the idea of liberation and a new way of looking at and approaching life.

Lesser known, American but definitely worth you while is Irvin Kershner's "The Hoodlum Priest" (Tuesday, 27 January at 11 a.m.), a quietly powerful little drama with the ever underrated Don Murray as the real-life activist priest, Charles Clark in a pleasing acting duet with Keir Dullea as a young hood on death row. Acting vets Larry Gates and Logan Ramsay round out the cast, and a lovely young actress named Cindi Wood is the female lead. She made only two films, both in 1961 - this and Robert Mulligan's "The Great Imposter," opposite Tony Curtis. She died young in 1983 following a long illness. A sad loss.

Douglas Sirk's "Imitation of Life" (Thursday, 29 January at 2 p.m., est.) makes for a good afternoon watch, thanks to Sirk's inimitable storytelling sense and star Lana Turner's slyly witty turn as an actress given to dramatics. Made in 1959. Later in the evening, there will be a series of '60s-'70s urban romantic comedies (starting at 8 p.m., est) - Woody Allen's 'Annie Hall," Albert Brooks' "Modern Romance," Billy Wilder's "The Apartment" and Hal Ashby's "Shampoo."

Richard Brooks' "Sweet Bird of Youth" (Friday, January 30 at 10:30 p.m.) Paul Newman and co-star Geraldine Page reprised their Broadway roles for Brooks' entertaining adaptation of the Tennessee Williams drama. In it, Newman, as a scam artist, returns to his hometown with aging movie queen Page in tow. For my money, this is the best Tennessee Williams adaptation ever, in which Newman played Chance Wayne to Geraldine Page's Alexandra Del Lago. What marvelous names! Ed Begley won an Oscar for his performance as the town boss. Preceded by Robert Aldrich's "Hush ... Hust, Sweet Charlotte" (Friday, 30 January at 8 p.m., est.), a tangy Mint-Julep-of-a-movie with an arsenic chaser and followed by Charles Laughton's "The Night of the Hunter" (Saturday, 31 January at 12:45 a.m., est.), a merry bit of derangement cinema, and Lou Adler's "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains" (Saturday, 31 January at 2:30 a.m., est.), starring a young Diane lane as a punk rocker..


Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window" (Saturday, 31 January at 1:30 p.m.). You've seen it a million times. You know the drill. Still, there's only one way to end the month. On a high note, of course.

(Artwork: Turner "Star of the Month" Jack Lemmon, in the 1960s; the Saul Bass-designed title card for Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"; poster art for the Kelly-Donen "It's Always Fair Weather"; Raquel Welch works out in Jerrold Freedman's "Kansas City Bomber"; poster art for Delmer Dave's "Susan Slade"; poster art for Henry Hathaway's "Niagara" and a shot of Marilyn from the film looking untrustworthy; Ann Sothern as "Maisie"; Audrey Hepburn, James Garner and Shirley MacLaine in William Wyler's "The Children's Hour"; Nancy Kwan in scenes from Henry Koster's "Flower Drum Song"; Janet Leigh giving her all to a film that doesn't deserve it, George Sidney's "Bye, Bye Birdie"; poster art for Richard Brooks' "Elmer Gantry"; Andy Griffith as Lonesome Rhodes in Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd"; poster art for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's "All About Eve," the French release of "The Wonderful Wolrd of the Brothers Grimm," Norman Taurog's "Palm Springs Weekend" and Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim"; Don Murray and Charles Clark, the real-life priest that Murray plays in Irvin Kershner's "The Hoodlum Priest"; Paul and Geraldine in "Sweet Bird of Youth," and Hitch (in a cameo) and Jimmy in "Rear Window")