Sunday, September 30, 2012

cinema obscura: Frank Tashlin's "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" (1956)

Leslie Parrish (right) toasts Tom Ewell and Sheree North in Frank Tashlin's elusive "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts," airing on Turner Classic Movies next month
The incomparable Frank Tashlin (1913-1972) began his professional life as a cartoonist/animator and when he branched out and started working with humans, he animated them, too. Hilariously so. And he brought a cartoonish quality to the one subject that connects most of his films.


It was the 1950s and the Playboy philosophy was just beginning its reign of terror - and Tashlin's wide-screen comedies exposed the era's accepted penchant for leering (the filmmaker essentially fetishized it) for what it was. Junevile and unattractive and funny as hell.

Turner Classic Movie unearths one of Tashlin's more elusive, forgotten treasures next month, with a screening of 1956's "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" scheduled for 2 October at 8 p.m. Tom Ewell plays his patented creepy middle-aged, middle-class wolf inexplicably married to a military babe - the wonderful Sheree North - and much of the film is about his relentless ploys to get her discharged. The film is as unstable as its noxious hero, wildly incorrect and guiltily pleasurable in spite of itself.

"The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" has sporadically popped up on the unreliable and erratic Fox Movie Channel, but it took Turner to finally showcase it. Hopefully, TCM will also claim another Tashlin orphan at the mercy of the Fox Movie Channel - namely 1962's "Bachelor Flat."
Tuesday, Terry and Tashlin, together at last
"Bachelor Flat" offers Terry-Thomas in prime form as displaced Britisher, a professorial paleontologist who teaches in an alien Southern California and who is wildly attractive to women - an inadvertent ladies men whose life comes to consist of colliding females.

Tashlin's cast here also includes Celeste Holm (as T-T's fiancée), and Tuesday Weld and Richard Beymer who had starrred two years earlier for Blake Edwards in another breezy Fox comedy, "High Time" (1960), all in the above photo/left.

And speaking of Tashlin, too few of his broad comedies from the the 1950s and early '60s have made it to home entertainment in any form. Sure, it's relatively easy to see his two Jayne Mansfield flicks, "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?" and "The Girl Can't Help It," "Artists and Models" (1955), with Martin and Lewis and Shirley MacLaine and "Susan Slept Here" (1954) with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds. But what about the others? Aside from "The Lieutenant Wore Skirts" and "Bachelor Flat," also missing are "Say One for Me" (1959), also with Reynolds, this time with Bing Crosby and Robert Wagner and "The Man from the Diner's Club" (1963) with Danny Kaye and Cara Williams.

Release them, I say!

Monday, September 24, 2012

quote/unquote: David Edelstein

In the most recent "Sight & Sound" poll (of critics, filmmakers, and cinéphiles), Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane" (1941) was unceremoniously bumped from its decades-long first place as "the best film of all time" by Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo" (1958).

Writing in New York magazine, ace critic David Edelstein wittily explained the reasoning behind the not-so-surprising switch: "Both (films) ... center on lonely men — like the critics who cast most of the S&S votes."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

greatness, fifty years ago

David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia": '62's Crown Jewel

 Bravo, Turner!

The good people at Turner Classic Movies - bless 'em - have set aside tomorrow's morning/afternoon programming for a mini-tribute to my favorite movie year. That would be the incredible 1962 which, 50 years ago, produced a treasure trove of compulsively watchable films.

The day kicks off at 6 am (est) with Richard Brooks' splendid film of Tennessee Williams' "Sweet Bird of Youth," followed immediately by Mervyn LeRoy's extraordinary filmization of the Styne-Sondheim musical, ”Gypsy” ; John Frankenheimer's prescient "The Manchurian Candidate"; Blake Edwards' cautionary ”Days of Wine and Roses”; François Truffaut's seminal "Jules et Jim," and Stanley Kubrick's silky smooth "Lolita," a revolutionary film by way of Vladimir Nabokov.

Can't wait.

Look, I love the film year 1939 as much as the next cinéphile, but the 70 years-plus of praise that it has accumulated (and, I hasten to add, deserved) tends to diminish other great movie years, before and after.

And 1962 is a vivid case in point.

Great, great year.

For longer than I care to remember, I've been doing spin for 1962. If neglected films are my forté - not to mention, the thrust of this site - then 1962 defines everything that is important to me in terms of movies.

I was a lone voice on the subject until that fine critic Stephen Farber wrote his fabulous essay, "1962: When the Silver Screen Never Looked So Golden," for The New York Times on Sunday, 15 September, 2002.

Exacerbating matters for films that year, a city-wide strike halted newspaper production in December, which meant no New York Ten Best lists and no NY film critics awards in '62. But, back in 2009, the film arm of Brooklyn's Academy of Music (BAM) belatedly corrected matters by organizing a modest event titled "BAMcinématek 1962: New York Film Critics Circle," which was devoted to a handful of films from that year.

Check out A.O. Scott's 16 October, 2009 New York Times report on that 12-title event.

With that said, and in no particular order, here is a unannotated list of the noteworthy films, both domestic and foreign, released in America in 1962 - noteworthy for their breadth and variety and for their eclectic mix of veteran filmmakers and newcomers.

Some are great, some merely good. But I think you'll agree: It was some year. BAM only scratched the surface of '62's fascinating filmography.

Here goes:

David Lean: "Lawrence of Arabia"

Jacques Demy: "Lola"

Alain Resnais: "Last Year at Marienbad"

Three by John Frankenheimer: "The Manchurian Candidate," "Birdman of Alcatraz" and "All Fall Down"

Three by Delbert Mann: "The Outsider," "Lover Come Back" and "That Touch of Mink"

Parrish and Harvey, "The Manchurian Candidate"
John Cassavetes: "Too Late Blues"

Sidney Gilliat: "Only Two Can Play"

Two by Frank Tashlin:"Bachelor Flat" and "It's Only Money"

Guy Green: "Light in the Piazza"

Pietro Germi: "Divorce - Italian Style"

Two by Sidney Lumet: "A View from the Bridge" and "Long Day's Journey into Night"

Two by Vincente Minnelli: "Two Weeks in Another Town" and "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"

Two by Edward Dmytryk: "Walk on the Wild Side" and "The Reluctant Saint"

Otto Preminger: "Advise and Consent"

Jacques Rivette: "Paris Belongs to Us"

Roger Corman: "Tales of Terror"

Stanley Kubrick: "Lolita"

John Guillermin: "Waltz of the Toreadors"

Delmer Daves: "Rome Adventure"

Leo McCarey: "Satan Never Sleeps"

Newman and Page, "Sweet Bird of Youth"
Two by Sidney J. Furie: "Night of Passion" and "Wonderful to Be Young"

Andrei Tarkovsky: "The Violin and the Roller"

Richard Brooks: "Sweet Bird of Youth"

Orson Welles: "Mr. Arkadin"

Two by Henri Verneuil: "Maxime" and "The Most Wanted Man in the World"

Two by Tony Richardson: "A Taste of Honey" and "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner"

Jack Clayton: "The Innocents"

Michael Cacoyannis: "Electra"

John Ford: "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence"

Peter Ustinov: "Billy Budd"

Agnes Varda: "Cleo from 5 to 7"

Two by Blake Edwards: "Experiment in Terror" and ”Days of Wine and Roses”

Freddie Francis: "Two and Two Make Six"

Bryan Forbes: "Whistle Down the Wind"

Serge Bourguignon: "Sundays and Cybele"

Mervyn LeRoy: ”Gypsy”

Morton DaCosta: ”The Music Man”

Luis Buñuel: "Viridiana"

'62 produced at least two top movie musicals - LeRoy's "Gypsy" and DaCosta's "The Music Man," both from Warners

Michael Powell:
"Peeping Tom"

Andre Cayette: "Tomorrow Is My Turn"

Two by Philip Leacock: "13 West Street" and "The War Lover"

Two by Michelangelo Antonioni: "Eclipse"/"L'Eclisse" and "Il Grido"

Sam Peckinpah: "Ride the High Country"

Inoshiro Honda: "Mothra"

José Ferrer: "State Fair"

J. Lee Thompson: "Cape Fear"

Arthur Penn: "The Miracle Worker"

Lewis Gilbert: "Damn the Defiant!"

Rock and Doris and Tony - Oh, my!
Martin Ritt: "Hemingway's Adventures of a Young Man"

Michael Gordon: "Boys' Night Out"

David Miller: "Lonely Are the Brave"

Don Siegel: "Hell Is for Heroes"

William Castle: "Zotz"

Daniel Mann: ”Five Finger Exercise”

Samuel Fuller:
"Merrill's Marauders"

Jane and Blanche Hudson

Richard Quine: ”The Notorious Landlady”

Howard Hawks: "Hatari!"

George Seaton: "The Counterfeit Traitor"

Jules Dassin: "Phaedra"

Two by Jack Cardiff: "My Geisha" and "The Lion"

Henry Koster: "Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation"

Frank Perry: "David and Lisa"

Two by Robert Mulligan: "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Spiral Road"

David Swift: "The Interns"

Phil Karlson: "Kid Galahad"

Basil Dearden: "Victim"

Richard Fleischer: "Barabbas"

George Roy Hill: "Period of Adjustment"

Lewis Milestone: "Mutiny on the Bounty"

Robert Wise: "Two for the Seesaw"

Guy Hamilton: "The Best of Enemies"

Three by Ingmar Bergman: "Through a Glass Darkly," "Night Is My Future" and "The Devil's Wanton"

Louis Malle: "A Very Private Affair"

Peter Sellers: "I Like Money"

Three by Francois Truffaut: "Jules et Jim," "Love at Twenty" and "Shoot the Piano Player"

Charles Walters: "Billy Rose's Jumbo"

John Huston: "Freud"

George Pollock: "Murder She Said"

Irvin Kershner: "A Face in the Rain"

Jack Garfein: "something wild"

Pierre-Dominique Gaisseau: "The Sky Above - The Mud Below"

Kelly and Gleason on location in Paris for "Gigot"
Shirley Clarke: "The Connection"

Albert Lamorisse: "Stowaway in the Sky"

Robert Aldrich: "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Gene Kelly: ”Gigot”

Ralph Nelson: "Requiem for a Heavyweight"

Hark Harvey: "Carnival of Souls"

Mauro Bolognini: "Bell'Antonio"

Daniel Petrie: "The Main Attraction"

Akira Kurosawa: "Yojimbo"

George Marshall: "The Happy Thieves"

Federico Fellini: "The Swindle"/"Il Bidone"

Henry Hawthaway, Ford and Marshall: "How the West Was Won"

Ken Annakin, Andrew Morton and Barnhard Wicki: "The Longest Day"

Luchino Visconti, Mario Monicelli, Vittorio DeSica and Fellini: "Boccaccio '70"

And George Cukor: ”The Chapman Report”

Lemmon and Novak take a break from shooting Richard Quine's "The Notorious Landlady"
Note in Passing: In a recent letters column, the ever-astute San Francisco Chronicle movie critic Mick LaSalle noted that "the top ten of 1962 has six classics - 'Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Dr. No,' 'The Longest Day,' 'The Music Man,' 'To Kill a Mockingbird' and 'Gypsy.' " No argument here. One of Mick's picks, "Dr. No," was indeed a 1962 release in Great Britain; it opened in America in May of the following year, 1963.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

the all-american boy

Mitt and Ann Romney taped an episode of "Live with Kelly and Michael" on September 14th that aired today. One of the questions tossed at the Romneys by Kelly Ripa had to do with who should play them in a movie.

Kelly: "Who would you pick to play each other in the movie?"

Mitt: "Uh, let’s see. Let me think about that. For me, my favorite actor is Gene Hackman, so I’d like Gene Hackman."

Kelly: "You’d like Gene Hackman to play your wife?"

Romney: "No, to play me! Oh, to play her? Oh!"

Kelly: "Is this your first marital fight?"

Ann: "I bet Gene would really think that would be a great idea."

Mitt: "You know, what was that movie he was in? 'Birdcage' when he... No, I think for her maybe Michelle Pfeiffer."

Kelly: "That’s actually perfect."

Ann: "Oh, he’s made it easy for me... Gene Hackman!"


As much as the Michelle Pfeiffer suggestion inarguably flatters Ann Romney, at least both are within the same age range, give or take about eight years or so.

But Gene Hackman, who will be 83 in January, is 17 - seventeen! - 17 years older than Romney, who just turned 65.

Plus, the guy's retired.

No, someone younger, much younger, should play Mitt - someone who can pass as today's equivalent to Tony Dow, the teenage actor who famously played the Beaver's older brother.

Romney may look like a fully formed adult male, but he has the bearing, demeanor and vocal patterns of a teenage boy. When Ann Romney quipped that she had not five, but six, sons, I knew what she meant: Mitt is essentially still a boy.

At least, that's the persona he affects when he talks to the peons. (He seems to present a decidedly different, more commanding image whenever he addresses his peers - fellow businessmen and millionaires.)

When Mitt Romney campaigns to "the little people," his stiff posture, the way he robotically shifts from side to side and his "golly gee" line readings smack of Wallace "Wally" Cleaver. But not Gene Hackman. Never.