Thursday, January 18, 2018

trivia..................................................................... eddie hodges! ronny howard! paul ford! huh?


As difficult as it is to believe, the brain-tease game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, is nearly 25 years old, its source dating back to a Premiere magazine article published about Bacon in 1994. But the game is actually much older than that. Movie buffs have been playing variations of it for decades, the only difference is that it originally had nothing to do with Kevin Bacon. The challenge could utilize the name of any movie star.

Personally, I've always referred to the game as Connections and, at one point in time, invented my own (rather demented) contortion of it, in which the thread connects two actors who have never performed together in a film. Case in point: Eddie Hodges and Ron (formerly Ronny) Howard.

Their only relation is that both are redheads and both played the role of Winthrop Paroo in Meredith Willson's "The Music Man" - Hodges, at age ten, in the original 1957 Broadway production and Howard, at age eight, in the 1962 Warner Bros. film, both versions directed by Morton DaCosta.

And I'm also throwing the wonderful Paul Ford into the mix. Here goes...

~"The Music Man," starring Robert Preston and Barbara Cook, opened on Broadway on December 19th, 1957 at the Majestic Theater. Meredith Willson had been working on the show for years and discovered Eddie Hodges when he was watching the "Name That Tune" TV show in 1953.

~Ronny Howard made his film debut at age five in 1959 in Anatol Litvak's "The Journey," which was also the film debut of Jason Robards, Jr., who decades later Howard - now Ron - would directed in two films, "Parenthood" (1989) and "The Paper" (1994). Oddly enough, Howard never directed Andy Griffith with whom he appeared on the TV series, "The Andy Griffith Show" (aka, "Mayberry RFD), from 1960 to 1966, or Shirley Jones, with whom he appeared in two back-to-back films -"The Music Man" and Vincente Minnelli's "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" (1963). Curious.

~Hodges was the darling of Broadway when "The Music Man" opened and, in no time flat, he made is movie debut in 1959 as Frank Sinatra's son in Frank Capra's "A Hole in the Head," where he sang "High Hopes" - live on screen - with Sinatra.

A year later, Hodges had the title role in Michael Curtiz's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with a supporting cast of some terrific character actors, headed by Tony Randall and with Archie Moore as Jim. It was an MGM release and, decades earlier, Hodges would have fit comfortably into the Metro family.

~During the Broadway season of 1960, Hodges appeared as Henry Fonda's son in Ira Levin's comedy, "Critic's Choice," directed by Otto Preminger. It opened December 14th of that year at the Ethel Barrymore Theater and, although it was not a critical success and played for only 189 performances, Warner Bros. purchased the screen rights and filmed it in 1963 with Bob Hope (in the Fonda role) and Lucille Ball. Another child actor, Ricky Kelman, played the role originated by Hodges.

 ~Another play opened during the 1960 Broadway season, "Advise and Consent," based on the 1959 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Allen Drury. Loring Mandel did the adaptation, which was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner (who helmed the films "The Best Man" and "Patton," among others). The cast of largely character actors included Chester Morris, Ed Begley, Kevin McCarthy, Henry Jones, Barnard Hughes and Richard Kiley. It opened November 17th, 1960 at the Cort Theater, where it played for 212 performances. Again, not a runaway hit, but Otto Preminger in New York at the time (as noted above) saw it and snapped up the film rights.

~Hodges was the darling of Broadway when "The Music Man" opened and, in no time flat, he made is movie debut in 1959 as Frank Sinatra's son in Frank Capra's "A Hole in the Head," where he sang "High Hopes" - live on screen - with Sinatra.

A year later, Hodges had the title role in Michael Curtiz's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," with a supporting cast of some terrific character actors, headed by Tony Randall and with Archie Moore as Jim. It was an MGM release and, decades earlier, Hodges would have fit comfortably into the Metro family.
In 1962, two Broadway productions were released as films. Preminger filmed "Advise and Consent" - actually not the play, but the Frury book. (The rights to the two were irrevocably intertwined.) Wendell Mayes did the adaptation this time. Henry Fonda, Preminger's star of "Critic's Choice" in New York, was cast as the liberal Robert Leffingwell, the President's nominee for Secretary of State  - a character in the book who is only referenced in the Mandel play - and Hodges plays his son. The film's terrific cast also includes Charles Laughton (in the role played on stage by Henry Jones), Don Murray (Richard Kiley on stage), George Grizzard (Kevin McCarthy), Walter Pidgeon (Chester Morris), Edward Andrews (Ed Begley) and Malcolm Atterbury (Barnard Hughes). Betty White made her film debut here at a Senator named Bessie Adams.


And Paul Ford played Senator Stanley Donata, a role performed on stage by Clarence Kavanaugh.

~Also in 1962, Ford played Mayor George Shinn in DaCosta's film of "The Music Man." But Eddie Hodges, his co-star in "Advise and Consent," wasn't cast as Winthrop, the role Hodges had played on Broadway. He was 15 now and decidedly too old for the role. Ronny Howard, of course, was cast.

~Howard, as we all know by now, would go on to become an Oscar-winning filmmaker, and Hodges, after starring in a pair of Disney musicals ("Summer Magic" and "The Happiest Millionaire"), left show business to become a mental health counselor, according IMDb.

Paul Ford, still adored for his role on "The Phil Silvers Show" (aka, "Sergeant Bilko"), was one of film's most reliable character actors for more than 30 years, including Stanley Kramer's 1963 Cinerama comedy extravaganze, "It's a Mad, Mad Mad, Mad World," but he got to play his first lead in Sumner Arthur Long's stage comedy, "Never Too Late," opposite Maureen O'Sullivan, in 1962. Yes, 1962, the same year as the films of "Advise and Consent" and "The Music Man." something of a banner year for Paul Ford.

~"Never Too Late" opened at the Playhouse Theater on November 27th, 1962. The play was directed by no less than George Abbott and ran for a total of 1,007 performances, a decided hit. After it closed on April 24th, 1965, Ford immediately went into film the Bud Yorkin movie version which Warner Bros. released in November of that year. A year later, Ford appeared in Norman Jewison's "The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming" and Fielder Cook's "A Big Hand for the Little Lady," his last major films. He died six years later in 1972 of heart failure. He was 74.

I still miss him. 

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~Eddie Hodges, circa 1957

~Ronny Howard in a scene from the film of "The Music Man"
~Photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

~Poster art for the original 1957 Broadway production of "The Music Man"

 ~The Playbill for the 1960 Broadway staging of "Advise and Consent"
 
~Saul Bass poster art for the 1962 film of "Advise and Consent 

~Poster art for the 1962 film of "The Music Man"

~Publicity still of Paul Ford in "The Music Man"
~Photography: Warner Bros. 1962©

Sunday, January 14, 2018

cinema obscura: Fritz Lang's "Der Müde Tod" (1921)


Fritz Lang thrusts the viewer into an intense emotional whirlpool in his 1921 silent film, "Der Müde Tod," for a while one of the lesser known titles in his canon of work but, with a recent restoration and release on DVD and Blu-ray (via Kino Lorber), now recognized as the resource and foundation utilized by other filmmakers, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel.

Personally, it's an achievement that I've always found utterly fascinating  and compulsively watchable - but almost impossible to see in recent years.

Its long inaccessibility had much to do with the fact that the rep houses and campus film programs which would regularly screen the film (sadly) went out of business, one by one, during the past couple decades.

"Der Müde Tod," which translates, tellingly, as "The Tired Death," was released as "Destiny" when it premiered in the United States in 1924 - on July 6th in New York - and is largely known by that title.

"Destiny" is the kind of film that, on paper, can sound positively purple. Initially a dream-like tale of two lovers, the film is dimmed when their future together is threatened by Death (Bernhard Goetzke) who materializes to snatch the nameless Young Man (Walter Janssen).

The Young Woman (Lil Dagover) contemplates suicide when Death challenges her with a deal that she can hardly refuse: There's a boy and there are also these three candles, each representing a human life.

As each candle is extinguished, someone dies. But if one candle stays lighted, the boy will be spared and survive.

This main storyline gives way to three subplots - set in ancient Persia, Renaissance Venice and China - that are both wildly methaphorical and metaphysical as the woman frantically searches for someone to give up their life once the boy's is spared. The elderly, who are already too uncomfortably close to death, run from her. Of course they do.

There is some alert, unexpected humor in this death-drenched fable as the heroine confronts some carefully-designed stumbling blocks - until she and her lover are reunited in a way that can be described only as supremely Lang-ian. Relax. No spoiler here.

I've always been struck by the methodical pace and overriding sense of calm of this very dark, moody fairy tale. Lang kept things in check here, via both his creative direction of the material and the performances of his game cast.

The result is an impressively muted work, in which a master filmmaker brilliantly deconstructs the notion of "romantic cinema."

Regarding Comments: All comments are enthusiastically appreciated but are moderated before publication. Replies signed "unknown" or "anonymous" are not encouraged. Please sign any response with a name (real or fabricated) or initials.  Be advised that a "name" will be assigned to any accepted post signed "unknown" or "anonymous." Thank you.
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~Bernhard Goetzke as Death and Lil Dagover as The Young Woman in a scene from "Destiny"/"Der Müde Tod"

~Dagover and Goetzke (as death in disguise) in another scene

~photography: Decla-Bioscop AG 1921 © & Kino Lorder 2016©

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

the attack of the late-night hosts

Since it hasn't been addressed by anyone in the entertainment media to date, I suppose that I'll be the messenger and announce the bad news - namely, the latest annoying trend of the in-progress awards season.

It appears that the major awards shows have been co-opted by the networks that air them and are now obliged to use in-house talent as hosts.  Jimmy Fallon, who oversees NBC's "The Tonight Show," hosted NBC's Golden Globes telecast in 2017 and, this year, NBC enlisted Seth Meyers, star of NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers," to do the job.

Did I remember to mention NBC?

Meanwhile, over at ABC, seemingly the permanent home of the annual Oscarcast, Jimmy Kimmel - star of ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" - hosted the ABC telecast last year and will do the honors again this year for ABC.

That's ABC, like the alphabet.

Not to be outdone, CBS, with The Grammys on its schedule, has invited James Corden, the star of CBS's "The Late Late Show with James Corden," for a repeat performance. Corden hosted the CBS telecast last year.

CBS, got that?

It seems that a dubious precedent has been set and that this is now a permanent arrangement between the awards shows and the networks. The problem is, these late-night hosts can been seen on television every night.

There's nothing special about them. Nothing.

Who can we expect to host future awards show, specifically those devoted to TV and film? An evening news anchor? David Muir? Is Michael Strahan next? George Stephanopoulos perhaps? At least the umpteen country music awards shows are always hosted by country music talent. Same with The Tonys (but, then, no one seems to care about the poor Tonys).

Gone are the days of an actual, bona-fide movie star hosting the Oscars - Steve Martin, Jack Lemmon, Whoopi Goldberg, Billy Crystal, Frank Sinatra, Chris Rock, David Niven. David who? And of course, the pro, Bob Hope.

Heck, as disappointing as Seth McFarlane and Ann Hathaway & James Franco were on the Oscarcasts, at least they represented risky, original thinking. Seth Meyers? He was barely competent, boring actually. Yawn.

Someone at NBC must really, really love him.
 
As for the Golden Globes, frankly, I enjoyed the show more during the Ken Shapiro era when there was no host, just an unseen announcer. It was lean and clean. There was really no point to bringing on Ricky Gervais to host, other than to mimic the Oscars. (It should be the other way around: The hopeless Oscarcast should be actively working to be more like the lively Golden Globes.) But, admittedly, Gervais was huge fun, as always - and so were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler who followed him.

And so, I anticipate, with some dread, exactly what network golden boy will be foisted on us and the next unsuspecting awards show.

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~Bob Hope and Oscar
~photography: The Academy Of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences 1971©


~Amy Poehler and Tina Fey with a couple of Golden Globes
~photography: The Hollywood Foreign Press 2015©

Friday, January 05, 2018

cinema obscura: James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything" (1994) - The Unseen Musical Version

James L. Brooks' 1994 "I'll Do Anything" is long overdue as a home entertainment candidate in its original form as a musical, something that has evaded this re-worked work. And for more than 20 years now.

You may not remember but this Columbia release started life as a full-fledged original musical, featuring nine songs written by Prince, Sinead O'Connor and Carole King, accompanied by choreography by Twyla Tharp.

However, when test audiences proved resistant to the musical numbers, Brooks methodically started to remove them, screening after screening.

One by one by one...

By the time Brooks got through, all of the songs were gone, except for a snippet of one King contribution sung by child actress Whittni Wright, who plays the daughter of Nick Nolte's struggling actor in the movie.

The weird thing is, "I'll Do Anything" is an inside tale all about Hollywood and its symbiotic relationship with the aforementioned test screenings -  and about how principles are sacrificed for the bottom line, namely to please paying audiences (who often don't know what they really want). In short, the film ironically turned into exactly what it was cynically critiquing.

While Brooks apparently has closely guarded the deleted songs, making sure no one sees or even hears them, a resourceful buff can locate glimpses of the musical numbers. Case in point: Certain old VHS tapes of Columbia titles include the trailer for the film when it was planned to be released as a musical. (Check out Paul Mazursky's "The Pickle" on video.) And the  laser disc version of the movie includes a "making of" documentary which shows co-stars Albert Brooks and Julie Kavner performing in numbers.

Also, for a while, bootleg copies of the soundtrack were floating around.

Back on February, 20th, 1994, reliable Chris Willman wrote an article for The Los Angeles Times, titled "Princely Bootleg: Some People'll Do Anything to Hear These Songs," about those bootleg CDs.  Willman wrote:

"Albert Brooks croons two songs: 'I'll Do Anything' (lyric: 'What good is a captain if he ain't got a crew / What good is a me if I AIN'T . . . GOT . . . A YOU!') and 'There Is Lonely.' Brooks' singing voice has been described charitably as gravitating toward the Jimmy Durante or Tom Waits end of the gravelly scale, and less charitably as an Oscar the Grouch affectation.

"There are two more torturous tunes that draw the greatest winces from illicit listeners. One is Julie Kavner's 'My Little Pill,' a sort of update of 'Mother's Little Helper,' related to the truncated drug subplot, and recited in a maddeningly childlike sing-song voice. The other is Whittni Wright's rendition of Sinead O'Connor's mopey 'This Lonely Life' that won't have anyone comparing her to the other singing Whitney."

Apparently, Prince wrote something called "WoW!," for which Willman printed the lyric in its entirety. Not good. Still, I'd give anything to see and hear Nolte's singing debut on a song called "Be My Mirror."

Maybe one day... But, then, maybe not.

Notes in Passing:  One of the outstanding non-musical moments in the film involves a meeting during which a few studio honchos and underlings discuss actors who have auditioned for a role, including Nolte.  They are ruthless in their assessment of him.  One of the underlings, played by Jolie Richardson, who had been dating Nolte and likes him, is asked if she finds him sexy and if she would sleep with him. (The studio person doesn't put it that quite gently, however.) No one in the room is aware of her relationship with Nolte, of course. Too weak to challenge the popular opinion in the room, Richardson says "No" without missing a beat.

An utterly unforgettable moment in an otherwise forgotten film.

Speaking of missing scenes in Columbia films, after something like 33 years, Kevin Costner's sequence (sequences?) in Lawrence Kasdan's "The Big Chill" has (have?) also failed to see the light of day on home entertainment, either reinstated into the film or as added features.

Finally, whatever happened to Whittni Wright? She was adorable - and a good little actress.

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~Poster art for "I'll Do Anything"

~Nick Nolte in a scene from the film 
~photography: Columbia Pictures 1994©

Monday, January 01, 2018

character counts: the two arthurs

In the 1950s, your average male movie star was nothing less than iconic - bigger than life and capable of making his fans seem small and childlike. I mean, few men off-screen measured up to Burt Lancaster or Kirk Douglas.

They were too intimidating to be our friends. Almost scary.

Closer to real life, as always, were the reliable character actors, and few were as relatable or as memorable as the two Arthurs - Kennedy and O'Connell - men who effortlessly inhabited a world and situations that were as familiar as our own. They were also polar opposites of each other, with Kennedy's characters often trapped in a discordant, dangerous psychological struggle with themselves, while O'Connell's seemingly innate easy-goingness made the viewer feel safe and comfortable.
Kennedy is particuarly unforgettable as the bad fathers in Mark Robson's "Peyton Place" (1957) and Delmer Dave's "A Summer Place" (1959) and as Frank Sinatra's cowardly brother in Vincente Minnelli's "Some Came Running..." (1958), for which he was nominated for a well-deserved Academy Award.

Arthur K. is also compulsively watchable in Joseph Pevney's "Twilight of the Gods" (1958), Richard Brooks' "Elmer Gantry" (1960), Gordon Douglas' "Claudelle Inglish" (1961), David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962) and Robson's "Trial" (1955), among many other titles.

O'Connell, who appeared in something like 130 films, excelled in two in particular, both directed by Joshua Logan - "Picnic" (1955), as Rosalind Russell's reluctant, way-too pliable boyfriend, and "Bus Stop" (1956), as an old stallion trying to keep a young buck in line. He is bumbling and funny in Richard Quine's "Operation Mad Ball" (1957), solid and funny in Blake Edwards' "Operation Petticoat" (1959) and typically supportive opposite James Stewart and Eve Arden in Otto Preminger's peerless courtroom classic, "Anatomy of a Murder" (also 1959).

The good, gray, seemingly ageless O'Connell also had a curious knack for creating chemistry with the teen stars of his day - as Pat Boone's disapproving uncle in Henry Levin's "April Love" (1957); in Don Siegel's "Hound-Dog Man" (1959) which had him sharing scenes with Fabian and Carol Lynley; in Frank Capra's "Pocketful of Miracles" (1961), opposite Ann-Margret (as her faux "royal" stepfather) and, most telling, as the cozy fathers of Sandra Dee and Elvis Presley in Paul Wendkos' "Gidget" (1959) and Gordon Douglas' "Follow That Dream" (1962), respectively. To use a word of which his characters decidedly would not approve, he was sublime.
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~Arthur Kennedy with Nancy Gates in a scene  from "Some Came Running..."
~photography: MGM 1958©

~Two publicity shots of Kennedy, circa the early 1950s 

~Arthur O'Connell in a publicity shot for "Follow That Dream" 
 ~photography: United Artists 1962©

~Publicity shot of O'Connell, circa the late 1940s

~O'Connell with James Stewart in a scene from "Anatomy of a Murder"
 ~photography: Columbia Pictures 1959©