The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part III

•October 8, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Now that the dates for the 2019 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival have been announced (April 11-14, 2019!!), I think it’s a great time for another installment in my ongoing look at this year’s event.

On the second day of the event, I was faced with one of many time slots that featured numerous films that I would love to see; among these were The Set-Up, a first-rate noir with Robert Ryan and Audrey Totter; Sounder, starring Cicely Tyson; and a Lee Tracy pre-Code, Blessed Event. But while I could have gleefully seen any one of these three, my ultimate selection was kind of a no-brainer – I chose to stand in line for A Hatful of Rain, because that screening featured a discussion with none other than the star of the film, Eva Marie Saint.

I know that Miss Saint has been at the TCM Film Festival on several occasions, but I’d never seen her, and I wasn’t going home this year without that experience under my belt. And I’m here to tell you, it was worth the wait – the 93-year-old actress, interviewed by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, was a sheer delight.

In A Hatful of Rain, Saint played the pregnant wife of a morphine-addicted Korean War veteran (Don Murray). Also starring Anthony Franciosa and Lloyd Nolan, this harrowing, grimly realistic production was the third feature film for the actress, who had high praise for the director, Fred Zinnemann.

The setting added to the feeling of claustrophobia.

“The thing that I found amazing about this movie is it’s filmed like it’s a stage production,” Saint said. “The three of us (her character, along with those played by Murray and Franciosa) were living in this little apartment. I wondered when I first saw it why (Zinnemann) didn’t open it up – it was so claustrophobic. And then I realized that was the point.”

Saint shared that when she was in college at Bowling Green State University, she initially wanted to go into the teaching profession, but one of her professors suggested that she try out for a school play and, Saint said, “one thing led to another.” While she was playing the part of Rosebud in a production of As You Like It, she realized that she wanted to become an actress. “When I told my father I wanted to be an actress, he said, ‘Honey, whatever you want to be, your mother and I will be there for you,’” Saint recalled. “That changed my life.”

My view of Miss Saint was perfect!

Saint’s career, which has spanned eight decades, began in live television and theater; her early credits included both the NBC telecast and the Broadway production of The Trip to Bountiful, for which she won an Outer Critics Circle Award. Saint also studied with Lee Strasberg of the famed Actors’ Studio, and recalled a scene at the studio where she was required to cry.

“I was so shy. At home when we wanted to cry, we had a crying room, so I didn’t cry in front of another person,” Saint said. “In the scene Lee had chosen, I had to cry and I was terrified. I reached that part when I had to cry, and I looked out and I could see my peers crying with me. That was a tremendous moment. It gave me strength and confidence in myself.”

I can’t tell you what a joy it was to hear this American treasure recall her life and career. Seeing her was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Interestingly, I recently read an article in the Los Angeles Times, posted a few days before the start of the festival, in which Ben Mankiewicz offered up his “can’t miss picks.” Among them was his upcoming interview with Eva Marie Saint.

“Spending time with Eva Marie,” Mankiewicz said, “is like being with your grandmother if your grandmother had an Oscar and was one of the kindest, sweetest, most charming people on the planet. So nothing like being with your grandmother.” (I love this!)

Stay tuned for my next month’s installment of the 2018 TCM Film Festival!

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Pre-Code Crazy: West of Broadway (1931)

•October 7, 2018 • 4 Comments

In the four years that Kristina and I have been recommending films for our Pre-Code Crazy series, I’ve never quite experienced a month like this one!

October is a notoriously difficult month for me to identify a film, what with all the horror pictures crowding the TCM schedule, and I’m usually left to choose from a number of great pre-Codes that I’ve already written about. And this year was no different – Three on A Match, Queen Christina, Red-Headed Woman, Dinner at Eight, Two Seconds – all are among my previously featured Pre-Code Crazy faves.

After reviewing the list of October films a couple of times, though, one film jumped out at me – The Front Page (1931). I’ve owned this movie since the 1980s – it was the very first film that I purchased on VHS. And in all the years since, I’ve never seen it. Perfect choice, right? Not so fast. When I started watching it, I encountered the same obstacle that has prevented me from viewing it all this time – I just don’t like it! I’m sure I’ve been forever ruined by His Girl Friday, the 1940 remake of The Front Page starring Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, which is one of my all-time favorite films. I’m also sure that, on its own merit, The Front Page is a perfectly fine film, but I just cannot get into it. So after 20 minutes or so, I gave up.

Undaunted, I turned to YouTube, deciding to check out The Lady Refuses (1931). It received a favorable review from my pal Danny, over at Pre-Code.com, so I figured I’d give it a whirl. But after watching the entire movie, I just couldn’t bring myself to recommend it. It was interesting (sort of), and I appreciated seeing Betty Compson in a film for the first time (at least, that I knew of – according to IMDB, she was in Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and goodness knows I’ve seen that multiple times), but it was a bit too creaky for my taste and I was mostly just glad when it was over.

So I decided to try YouTube again, this time settling on Tugboat Annie (1933), with Marie Dressler and Wallace Beery, but after just a few minutes, the film abruptly ended and the message on my screen informed me that I’d have to pay to see the rest of the film. NEXT!

Back to the YouTube drawing board. I searched for a few films that sounded as if they might be promising (Fast Life, with Madge Evans and Today We Live, a Joan Crawford starrer), but neither one was available. And then I lucked up on West of Broadway (1931), starring John Gilbert, Lois Moran, and someone called El Brendel. And here, dear reader, I found this month’s Pre-Code Crazy pick for the month!

This feature has a very simple and straightforward plot. Millionaire Jerry Seevers (Gilbert), after being seriously injured in WWI, returns home to learn that his fiancée Anne (Madge Evans) is planning to marry someone else. Jerry drowns his sorrows in the bottle, and gets some added help from Dot (Moran), a call girl Jerry hires to accompany him to a club one night. When Jerry encounters Anne and her soon-to-be-husband Tony (Theodore von Eltz), he impulsively introduces Dot as his soon-to-be-wife – and later that night, he turns this impulse into reality when he and Dot get married.

The main reasons to watch this movie.

The next morning, in the sober light of day, Jerry offers Dot a generous settlement to end the marriage, but she has fallen in love with Jerry and has no intention of letting him go. This infuriates Jerry, who accuses her of being a gold-digger and determines to cut her loose – while Dot, at the same time, resolves to help Jerry kick his drinking habit and holds out hope that he will one day return her feelings. I’ll let you find out for yourself how it all turns out.

After two viewings, I haven’t quite decided how I feel about this film – there are some things I love, some things (including gaping plot holes) that I definitely don’t love, and some things I simply don’t understand. But it’s definitely worth a look, primarily for the performances of Gilbert and Moran. Here are some miscellaneous thoughts and trivial tidbits about the film and its cast.

This was John Gilbert’s sixth talking film – in another five years, he would die of a heart attack at the age of 38. Legend has long held that Gilbert’s successful screen career was doomed when the talkies began because his voice didn’t match his virile screen persona. This is obviously a bunch of crap. Sadly, Gilbert was only in a handful of talking pictures before his untimely death, but I always enjoy seeing them.

I’d previously heard of Lois Moran, but I’d never before seen her in a film. Moran, who was once romantically involved with F. Scott Fitzgerald, was reportedly the writer’s inspiration for the character of Rosemary in his novel Tender is the Night. She rose to fame at the age of 15, when she played in the silent version of Stella Dallas, portraying the title character’s daughter, Laurel. Moran retired from films in 1935, after marrying Clarence Young, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce.

Gwen Lee’s off-screen life started a downhill slide around the time this picture was made.

Dot’s best friend is played by Gwen Lee, whose career started in 1925. She can can be seen in dozens of pre-Codes, but in 1932, she was sued by her mother, who charged that Lee was incompetent to handle her affairs. Later that year, Lee was sued by two local stores for non-payment. By 1938, her career was over, and she died in Reno, Nevada, in 1961, at the age of 56.

Ralph Bellamy has a small role as Mac, the foreman on the Arizona ranch where Jerry goes in an effort to restore his health. He doesn’t have much to do, except make cow eyes at Dot and come to her defense when Jerry verbally abuses her. He gets fired for his efforts and that’s the end of Ralph in the movie.

Another small part is played by Chinese actor Willie Fung; he played Wing, the ranch’s cook. Fung was in a great number of films in the 1930s – I know him best from his role in Red Dust (1932). He died at the age of 49 in 1945.

Jerry’s sidekick is played by El Brendel, a former vaudevillian whose real name was Elmer Goodfellow Brendel. An American of German and Irish descent, Brendel rose to popularity by adopting the dialect of a Swedish immigrant. His role in West of Broadway was really weird to me. He was obviously the movie’s comic relief, but I’m sorry – for me, he was neither comical, nor a relief. Here’s one example: on the ranch, Brendel’s character, Axel Axelson (hardy har har) encounters a couple of cowboys. After a brief exchange about Indians, one of the cowboys asks Axel if he knows Sitting Bull. “Do I know Sitting Bull?” he rejoins. “I was there the day he stood up!” (Groan.) An even better (or worse, as the case may be) example is a scene between Brendel and Willie Fung. Axel is stealing some milk from the ranch kitchen to soothe his indigestion caused by Wing’s cooking. Wing starts rubbing Axel’s stomach, and then Axel starts running Wing’s stomach, and . . . oh, never mind. You just have to see this whole routine to believe it. Bottom line is that I could have done with a whole lot less El.

West of Broadway airs on TCM on October 15th. Check it out.

And be sure to visit Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

Hot Fun in the Summertime: The 2018 Summer Classic Film Book Challenge

•September 16, 2018 • 8 Comments

Outdoor concerts. Noir City Chicago. Cold lemonade on the back porch.

And the Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge!

I am delighted to share that I’ve been participating in this awesome event, the brainchild of Raquel over at Out of the Past, for six straight years now! And I’m here to tell you, this has been the best year yet. First off, because I’m now taking the bus to work instead of driving, I was able to finish all my books in record time (meaning that I didn’t spend the night before the deadline reading like I was cramming for a psych exam). Secondly, I think I enjoyed reading this year’s selections more than any other – four of the six were first-rate books that were made into pre-Code or film noir features, and the other two focused on a wide variety of films that not only fed my love for trivia, but exposed me to some pictures that I’ve never seen before. All in all, it was a winning summer, book-wise – and here’s why!

So Big (1924) by Edna Ferber

I’ll admit it. I’m not all that wild about the 1932 Barbara Stanwyck film that was based on this book. I mean, it’ll do in a pinch, but it’s just not one of my favorites. I was pleasantly surprised, then, at how much I enjoyed the book. It tells the story of Selina Peake DeJong, who is raised during the late 1800s by her beloved single-parent father in a number of cities throughout the U.S., but primarily in Chicago. A professional gambler, Simeon Peake gave his child a life that was sometimes overflowing with abundance and sometimes on the lean side, but never dull. It all comes to a tragic and abrupt end when Simeon is shot in a gambling house and 19-year-old Selina gets a job as a teacher in High Prairie, a Dutch farming community located about 10 miles from Chicago. We accompany Selina through the next several decades of her life – her friendship with Roelf, the talented young son of the family with whom she lives; her marriage to struggling farmer Pervus DeJong and the birth of their son, Dirk, whom Selina affectionately calls “So Big”; Pervus’s unexpected death from pneumonia; and Selina’s taking over of the farm, eventually turning it into a thriving enterprise.

From the start, Ferber gives us a main character that we warm to; Selina is not only kind and attractive, but she’s also intelligent, humble, courageous and industrious. After her father’s death and, later, after the loss of her husband, Selina demonstrates a sense of resilience – an I-will-survive-spirit, if you will – that is greatly admirable. After Pervus’s death, especially, we want to cheer as Selina takes on the task of raising her son as a single mother, assuming the duties performed in that era only by men, and implementing a variety of new and innovative farming techniques (that had been pooh-poohed by Pervus, incidentally), that helped ensure the farm’s success. Ferber also, interestingly, gives us a character in Dirk “So Big” DeJong that is almost the diametric opposite of his mother: he’s self-absorbed, shallow and weak-willed. A perfect example of his character (or lack, thereof) comes during his college years, when he befriends an amiable but unattractive female classmate, only to callously reject her when he’s chided by the member of the fraternity he strives to join.

All in all, I found So Big to be the biggest surprise of all of the books I read this summer.

Behind the Scenes (1982) by Rudy Behlmer

Noted film historian Rudy Behlmer has written a fascinating book that gives the reader a glimpse inside the making of some of Hollywood’s most popular films. I’ve had this book in my collection for many (many!) years, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to. I’d assumed I would be interested in learning about films that I love, like A Streetcar Named Desire, Laura, and All About Eve, but the book also managed to grab and hold my attention about pictures that were of less interest, like Tarzan and His Mate and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In fact, while reading the first chapter, on Frankenstein, I predicted that I would abandon the book before reading much further, but the next write-up, on The Lost Horizon, piqued my curiosity and I never looked back. As a result, I learned a variety of intriguing tidbits about the backstories of all 16 of the features discussed. Here’s just a sampling:

The Adventures of Robin Hood was originally intended as a vehicle for James Cagney, but in 1935, Cagney walked out in a contractual dispute with Warner Bros. and didn’t return for two years. Errol Flynn wound up with the starring role.

Actress Dorris Bowden, who played the role of Rose of Sharon in The Grapes of Wrath, was married to Nunnally Johnson, the film’s screenwriter.

For her role in The Maltese Falcon of the duplicitous, murderous Brigid O’Shaghnessy, Mary Astor would purposely hyperventilate before her scenes, in order to “emphasize the unstable quality” of her character.

Eddie Fisher had a role in All About Eve as a stage manager. His part ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor.

The line, “Me, Tarzan – you, Jane,” was never spoken in Tarzan and His Mate.

Colin Clive, who played Victor Frankenstein, died of alcoholism in 1937 at the age of 27.

Hal Wallis, the producer of Casablanca, had considered changing the character of Sam, the piano player in Rick’s, to a black woman so that the role could be played by popular singer Hazel Scott. Thought was also given to casting actor Clarence Muse, and to dubbing the singing voice of Dooley Wilson, who ultimately played the part. Ultimately, the voice heard singing “As Time Goes By” was Wilson’s own.

Several filmed scenes were cut from Laura, including one filmed at Ebbetts Field, where Dana Andrews questioned Vincent Price during a baseball game, and other one that showed Laura’s funeral.

Bette Davis and Gary Merrill met on the set of All About Eve and married a month and a half after shooting completed. Their marriage lasted for 10 years.

A Kiss Before Dying (1953) by Ira Levin

I found a copy of this book in an antique mall in Aurora, Illinois, where I used to have a booth – it was a bargain at $3.50, and the fact that the cover had a big chunk missing from it didn’t in the least diminish the pleasure I got from reading it. A Kiss Before Dying was the first novel written by Ira Levin, who went on to pen a number of bestsellers that were turned into movies: Rosemary’s Baby, The Boys From Brazil, and The Stepford Wives. He wrote A Kiss Before Dying when he was just 22 years old.

Winner of the Edgar Allen Poe award for the best mystery of the year, A Kiss Before Dying focuses on Bud Corliss, a social climbing, money-grubbing sociopath – and murderer. Levin masterfully tells his story, dividing the book in three parts, titled after the three daughters in the wealthy Kingship family on whom Bud focuses his nefarious attentions: Dorothy, Ellen, and Marion. When the book opens, Dorothy, Bud’s college classmate and undercover girlfriend, has just learned that she is pregnant. She’s understandably upset, but Bud is more than that – he’s practically crushed by the threat to his plans for his future, which certainly included Dorothy, but not a disowned Dorothy with a baby on the way. (“What will I do?” he asks Dorothy. “Another guy with two years’ college and no degree. What will be? A clerk? Or an oiler in some textile mill or something?”) After a failed attempt to get rid of the child, Bud comes up with the perfect solution: get rid of Dorothy. And he does, skillfully making her death look like a suicide.

Not one to give up on his dreams, Bud next manages to worm himself into the heart of Dorothy’s sister, Ellen – but Ellen is convinced that her sister was murdered and when she gets too close to unearthing the truth, Bud does away with her as well. He even goes so far as to woo the third sister in the family, Marion, and almost makes it to the altar before his carefully crafted schemes finally blow up in his face.

There’s a major difference between Levin’s book and the film version – the movie completely eliminates the third sister from the story, which is really a shame. The murder of the second sister in the book is a complete shock, and Bud’s determined and scarily calculated campaign to pursue the third sibling is a fascinating study. I’m not sure why the powers that be at United Artists thought it best to butcher the story this way. In any event, the book was dynamite.

Week-End Marriage (1931) by Faith Baldwin

Faith Baldwin was a prolific writer of women’s romance novels – during her career, she wrote more than 80 books, many of which were made into films, including The Office Wife, Skyscraper (filmed as Skyscraper Souls), The Moon’s Our Home, and Wife vs. Secretary. I bought Week-End Marriage several years ago, but the first time I tried to read it, it just didn’t hold my attention. I was determined to finish it as part of this summer’s challenge, though, and I’m glad I did.

This novel tells the story of Lola Davis and Ken Hayes. They’re young, blissfully in love, and decide to get married. So what’s the problem? Lola insists on keeping her job as a secretary – “It’s the only sensible thing to do,” she tells Ken when he objects. “It won’t be for long.” But Lola and Ken soon discover that married life, with both parties working full time, isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Despite their two incomes, the two still struggle to pay a mountain of bills. Lola is usually too exhausted to carry out the domestic duties that Ken expects, and she resents the lack of help she gets from him around the house. And things get worse when Lola gets a raise at the same time that Ken gets a reduction in his pay, meaning that she’s making more than her husband. Baldwin presents a realistic look at marriage of the time (which, interestingly, include some beliefs and behaviors that are still current today) – Lola is idealistic yet practical, Ken is prideful and stubborn, and neither is willing to give in.

In addition to Lola and Ken, Baldwin’s novel features a number of well-drawn characters, including Lola’s girlfriend, Connie, who’s forced into marriage by her bullying big brother but easily adapts to her new domestic life; Lola’s sister, Millie, who moves to Hollywood and becomes a movie star; and Peter Acton, a wealthy businessman who sets his cap for Lola and becomes another wedge in her marriage to Ken.

Week-End Marriage is the first book I’ve read by Faith Baldwin – but it won’t be the last.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) by James M. Cain

I honestly thought that I’d read this book several years ago, but I recently discovered that I never had. So I dived in with both feet, eager to read the story that was the basis of one of my favorite noirs. Like James Cain’s novel Double Indemnity, this book was inspired by the real-life 1927 case of Ruth Snyder who, with the help of her corset salesman lover, murdered her husband. I found the book to be an unusually quick read, and an absolute page turner.

The Postman Always Rings Twice centers on Cora, who runs a diner and filling station along with her Greek husband, Nick, and Frank Chambers, a drifter who happens by the diner and is hired to work pumping gas and fixing flat tires. Before long (literally 15 pages in), Cora and Frank become lovers, coming together in a savage kind of lust that has Cora instructing Frank to bite her, and Frank obeying: “I sunk my teeth into her lips so deep I could feel the blood spurt into my mouth. It was running down her neck when I carried her upstairs.” (Goodness!)

Told from Frank’s perspective, the story follows his relationship with Cora, their decision to get rid of Nick, their botched first attempt, and the aftermath of the successful deed. I was surprised to discover how closely the film followed the book; even many of the lines in the movie came directly from the pages – like one of my favorite lines: “Stealing a man’s wife, that’s nothing, but stealing his car, that’s larceny.”

The book did differ from the book in three major areas, though. First off, in the film, Cora and Frank decide to try again to kill Nick, after failing the first time, because Nick plans to sell the diner and move to Canada, where Cora would be expected to care for Nick’s invalid sister. In the book, the act that pushed the couple to murder was Nick’s insistence that Cora have his child. Also, the book’s Cora and Frank did not get married shortly after they beat the rap for murdering Nick, as they did in the film; instead, they didn’t marry until just before Cora’s death. (I figure that, due to the Production Code, a couple couldn’t be shown living together without the benefit of marriage, so the screenwriter had to come up with a rationale for the legalized union – even if it didn’t make a whole lot of sense.) The final difference concerns Madge, the woman with whom Frank has a brief fling while Cora is out of town attending her mother’s funeral. In the film version, Madge worked in a hamburger joint, but in the book, Madge was a lion tamer. You read that right – a LION TAMER. And the way Cora finds out about Frank’s dalliance is that Madge stops by the diner to give Frank a baby puma “to remember her by.” (I don’t know about you, but I think Madge’s film vocation made a whole lot more sense.)

I so enjoyed reading The Postman Always Rings Twice that, after I finished my final book for the reading challenge, I went on to read James M. Cain’s lost final novel, The Cocktail Waitress – which was SO good. But that’s a story for another post.

Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime of Film (2014) by Kenneth Turan

I bought this book during the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival, from Larry Edmunds Bookstore in Hollywood. As the title suggests, it covers 54 movies that are recommended by the author, the film critic for the Los Angeles Times. The book included many pictures that I’ve already seen, like Casablanca, Random Harvest, and The Lady Eve, and I greatly enjoyed reading Turan’s take on these. More importantly, though, I was introduced me to a number of features that I’d never even heard of. After reading Turan’s write-ups on two silent pictures — Sherlock Jr. and Pass the Gravy – I was able to find them on YouTube and was simply delighted. I’ve also started watching another recommended movie from the book: Children of Paradise (1945), a French film that Turan most often cites as his all-time personal favorite movie.

Here are some tidbits I gleaned about the films discussed in the book:

Turan called the cast of The Asphalt Jungle “perhaps the premier ensemble in film noir history.”

Gloria Swanson was 52 when she filmed Sunset Boulevard.

The house used in Sunset Boulevard was owned at the time of filming by j. Paul Getty’s ex-wife, and was later used in Rebel Without a Cause. It was torn down in 1957.

Simone Signoret broke her leg during filming of Casque D’Or and did all her dancing scenes wearing a long skirt that covered her cast.

The Important of Being Earnest is based on an 1895 play by Oscar Wilde. The picture was directed by Anthony Asquith, whose father was politician and Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, who signed the order to arrest Oscar Wilde for homosexuality.

The series of westerns directed by Budd Boetticher, produced by Harry Joe Brown, and starring Randolph Scott are known as the Ranown films.

So that’s my review of the six excellent books that it was my pleasure to read this summer – I hope you’ll be inspired to check some of them out!

You only owe it to yourself.

The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise — Part II

•August 16, 2018 • 4 Comments

Cicely Tyson. Legend.

It’s about that time . . . time for the next installment of my coverage of the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival 2018!

One of the many memorable events from my festival experience this year was the hand and footprint ceremony for actress Cicely Tyson, held in the forecourt of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (I know it’s called something else now, but it’ll always be Grauman’s to me). I’d first gotten a glimpse of Miss Tyson – who turned 93 last December – on the red carpet for the festival’s opening night film, and although she’d passed by in a manner of seconds, it was enough to see that she looked absolutely FABULOUS. Her mostly gray hair was in a short, close-cropped style and she was wearing a striking white fringed jacket, looking more like she was about to rock out with the Rolling Stones than settle herself down to watch a movie. Still, as sharp as she looked that night, I wasn’t prepared for her appearance the following day at the hand and footprint ceremony! For this event, she was clad in a bad-ass black and white pantsuit that was to DIE FOR, and her hair was styled in a glossy pageboy that matched the colors of her outfit. In my whole life, I should hope to look that good.

Tyson and Tyler Perry, as she prepares to step onto the cement.

The ceremony was opened by TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, who told the gathered crowd that the actress was “one of the legitimate legends of the screen” who created “indelible and memorable characters consistent in their reflection of a positive image of African-American women.” During her more than 60-year career, Mankiewicz said, Tyson had performed in film as well as on television and stage. Her big-screen break was in the role of Rebecca Morgan in Sounder (1974), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Throughout the decades that followed, her star continued to rise, and she’s showing no signs of stopping. In 2013, she returned to Broadway, winning a Tony Award for her performance in A Trip to Bountiful, and more recently, she was seen in the Netflix series House of Cards, and as the mother of Viola Davis in the ABC-TV series How to Get Away With Murder.

In addition to her performances, Tyson was one of the co-founders of the Dance Theater of Harlem and in 2016 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. “TCM is quite proud to be part of this special day,” Mankiewicz said.

Tyson was introduced by actor-director-writer-producer Tyler Perry, who directed the actress in his 2012 film Alex Cross.

“Cicely Tyson is incredibly strong,” Perry said, stressing Tyson’s strength, grace and class. “You have to be strong to survive in this business.”

Immortalized!

Tyson took the podium to a rousing ovation. “I cannot tell you – it would be an understatement for me to try and tell you what this moment in time means to me,” she said, after jokingly acknowledging the “competition” offered by a helicopter flying above. She shared with the crowd her memory of her first arrival in Hollywood, when she got on a bicycle and rode around to acclimate herself to the area. She came upon Grauman’s Chinese theater and started looking around at all of the names of people who had planted their hands and feet in the cement.

“My first thought was, ‘Why in the world would they do that?’ – never dreaming that one day, I would be asked to do the same, and knowing the reason why,” Tyson said. “To say to TCM that the fact that you thought enough of what I was trying to do throughout my entire career was worthy of this moment – I cannot tell you how grateful I am.”

It was truly a thrill to see this nonagenarian speak in such a steady, powerful voice, and move with such grace, and dress with such panache – not to mention kneel on the carpet for I-don’t-know-how-long to put her hands in the cement! (I’d have never gotten up again!) She is an American treasure and a true inspiration.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment of the 2018 TCM Film Festival!

Audrey Totter Day: TCM Summer Under the Stars

•August 1, 2018 • 8 Comments

Day 6: Miss Audrey Totter

All things considered, I have to say that August is one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is still undeniably warm – nary a hint of the Chicago winter lurking just around the corner. There’s the slightest bit of calm before the storm at my job, before the new school year kicks into gear. And the Noir City film festival sails into town, gifting my fair city with seven straight days of shadowy noir goodness (or badness, as the case may be).

But perhaps the number one reason that I harbor such a fondness for the eighth month is that it’s the month for Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars – when my favorite channel focuses each day on a different classic film star and plays their films back-to-back, from sun-up to way past sundown. Every year, I look forward to pouring over the list of actors and actresses that TCM has selected, always pleased to find old favorites (Joan Crawford! Clark Gable! Lauren Bacall!) and equally excited to see those who aren’t often recognized – Dana Andrews? Miriam Hopkins? That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

And this year, adding to my overall August glee is Day Number 6, which shines the spotlight on one of my favorite noir femmes: Audrey Totter. And with Miss Totter, we get no less than six – count ‘em SIX – first-rate film noir features!

Yup.

So fire up your DVR (or your VCR, if you’re like me), or start sniffling in your meetings at work so you can call in sick – and then catch the following noir gems on August 6th:

The Postman Always Rings Twice.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

What: Roadside diner owner Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) makes the wrong decision when he gives a job to a Frank Chambers (John Garfield), a drifter with itchy feet.

Why: Because the drifter falls like a ton of bricks for Cora Smith (Lana Turner), the owner’s young and sexy wife and, together, the two of them plot Nick’s murder.

Who: Totter is only in one scene, but she makes the most of it as Madge Gorland, a hamburger slinger who has a brief fling with Frank while Cora’s out of town.

What’d she say? “I’m going to wait standing up. It’s a hot day and that’s a leather seat. And I’ve got on a thin skirt.”

The Set-Up.

The Set-Up (1949)

What: An aging boxer, Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan), is determined to emerge the victor in a fight no one expects him to win.

Why: Because he’s a FIGHTER, that’s why!

Who: Totter is Stoker’s long-suffering wife, Julie, who has supported her spouse through broken noses and bloodied lips, but she’s just about had it.

What’d she say? “Don’t you see, Bill? You’ll always be just one punch away.”

Tension.

Tension (1949)

What: In one of my favorite twisty-turny noir plots, a mild-mannered drugstore clerk, Warren Quimby (Richard Basehart), plans to kill the man who’s on the make for his wife.

Why: Beats the heck out of me, ‘cause his wife is a real bitch. Seriously.

Who: Totter is that bitch – and I LOVE her. She’s Claire Quimby, and she just doesn’t give a damn.

What’d she say? “I’ve got what I’m looking for and I’m gonna grab it while I’ve got the chance: a real man.”

High Wall.

High Wall (1947)

What: War veteran Steven Kenet (Robert Taylor) is suspected of murdering his wife.

Why: Because when he found out that his wife was doing the horizontal Hokey Pokey with her boss, Kenet started strangling her – and was later found next to her dead body. Hmm.

Who: Totter plays one of her few “good girl” roles – a doctor in a psychiatric hospital who is determined to unearth the truth about the murder.

What’d she say? “You still don’t understand, do you? Do you remember what you told me in the cell tonight? Well, that’s true for me, too. If Whitcombe doesn’t confess, if he is innocent, then there’s nothing – there’s nothing for either one of us.” (Hey, they can’t all be winners.)

The Unsuspected.

The Unsuspected (1947)

What: A young woman’s body is found hanging from the chandelier in the home of her employer, radio personality Victor Grandison (the always fab Claude Rains).

Why: Because somebody killed her and made it look like a suicide!

Who: Totter plays Grandison’s trampy niece, Althea. With gusto, I might add.

What’d she say? “Victor’s the only man who can turn my blood to ice water.”

Lady in the Lake.

Lady in the Lake (1946)

What: Filmed in the “Camera I” method, where the camera serves as the eye of the film’s star (and director), Robert Montgomery, this often confusing feature centers – ultimately – on the murder of the title character. (I think.)

Why: Because it gives Montgomery, who plays detective Philip Marlowe, the chance to solve this crazy crime.

Who: Totter plays one of my favorite-named characters, Adrienne Fromsett, who hires Marlowe to find her boss’s missing wife and winds up falling for the big lug.

What’d she say? “Perhaps you’d better go home and play with your fingerprint collection.”

Don’t miss Audrey Totter Day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. August 6th.

You. Will. Not. Be. Sorry.

The 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival: Still More Adventures in Paradise

•July 6, 2018 • 7 Comments

The participants in this year’s ‘So You Think You Know Movies’ contest. You can see me on the left, with a white shirt and a hat. 🙂 (Well, maybe you can’t see me, but I’m there. For real!)

Since attending this year’s Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in late April, my life has been a whirlwind. My oldest daughter graduated from Howard University, my empty nest filled up again (so long, clean kitchen!), and my business partner and I made our debut as vendors at a local antique flea market, on the two hottest days of the year! But blah blah blah, enough about me – on to the important stuff!

The 2018 TCM Film Festival – my sixth! – was no less wonderful and flew by no more slowly than each year that came before. Once again, it was an unending bacchanalia of films, friends, and celebrities – not to mention selfies, protein bars, speed walking between theaters, my annual visit to Larry Edmunds Bookstore and Musso and Frank’s restaurant and, of course, my favorite Hollywood cocktail (the Basil Gimlet at the Hollywood Roosevelt)! Now that my real life has started to settle down, I’m ready to dive into my coverage of this year’s event, which I’ll provide on a monthly basis as I countdown to the 2019 festival!!

Bruce Goldstein is the best.

My very first activity has become a staple for me – each year that I’ve gone to the festival, I’ve kicked things off with the “So You Think You Know Movies” trivia contest. Last year, you might recall, my team tied for first place (no, I am NEVER going to stop talking about it), but this time around, let’s just say we didn’t quite achieve the same heights. As always, though, the contest was lots of fun, helped in great part by the first-rate hosting skills of Bruce Goldstein of the New York Film Forum.

The questions this year seemed to be harder than any before – in fact, they were so difficult that I found it impossible to write them all down! Making the contest even more challenging was the fact that the multiple choice format could have one or more answers – or none of the above! And if there was more than one answer, you had to get them all right in order to get credit. Gah!! Anyhoo, just for fun, here are a few of the questions. (Sorry I don’t have all of the multiple choice options for most of them – I just couldn’t write that fast!) See if you can get any of them. The answers will be the end of the post.

  1. What role did Pat Walshe play in The Wizard of Oz?
  2. What was Jennifer Jones’s first screen appearance?
  3. What was Judy Holliday’s first film?
  4. Molly Picon once played the mother of which of these actors: (a) Mel Brooks, (b) Woody Allen, (c) Barbra Streisand, (d) Whoopi Goldberg, or (e) Sir Roger Moore.
  5. Who played Geronimo in Broken Arrow (1950)?
  6. Of the following movie child and parent duos, which were closest in age: (a) Cary Grant and Jessie Royce Landis, in North by Northwest (1959), (b) Laurence Harvey and Angela Lansbury, in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), (c) Norman Lloyd and Hume Cronyn in The Green Years (1946), (d) John Garfield and Anne Revere in Body and Soul (1947), (e) Dick Van Dyke and Maureen Stapleton in Bye, Bye Birdie (1963)

Right after the trivia contest, my trusty TCMFF pal, Kim, and I hightailed it to the bleachers in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater to watch the celebrities walk the red carpet before the opening night film, The Producers (1967). This was my third year in the bleachers, and I simply love it – it’s so exciting to see all the stars close up, and so much fun cheering for them as well as for the passholders who are dressed to the nines for the event. And they’re so nice! Nearly every star stopped by the bleachers to greet us; they seemed as happy to see us as we were to see them! Below are some of the pictures I snapped of the celebrities – in addition to these, I also saw Martin Scorsese, who was there to receive the first annual Robert Osborne Award (which was presented to him by Leonard DiCaprio, who did not walk the carpet, darn it), along with Sara Karloff (Boris’s daughter); Melvin and Mario Van Peebles; Diane Baker, star of such films as The Best of Everything (one of my favorite guilty pleasures) and The Diary of Anne Frank; William Wellman, Jr. (his dad was the acclaimed director); Kate Flannery, who was featured in TV’s The Office; and Carole Shelley and Monica Evans, who played the Pidgeon Sisters in The Odd Couple (1968).

This is Wyatt McCrea — son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee. (Squee!) He’s a writer, producer and actor.

Juliet Mills and her husband Maxwell Caulfield, who have been married since 1980. Seeing them together was heartwarming — they were adorable. (sniff)

Paul Sorvino (here with his wife) told the crowd that he didn’t need a microphone. He was trained on the stage, he said, and sings opera. And then he proceeded to burst into song, gifting us with a beautiful Italian aria. Bravo!

Norman Lloyd, who is now 103 years old, is always simply delightful. He told us, “I wish I could think of something brilliant to say, but you take my breath away.” Swoon.

Eva Marie Saint celebrated her 94th birthday on the 4th of July this year. She is all that.

Keith Carradine presented quite the dapper figure. (And if you look closely, you can see Leonard Maltin in the background!)

I love Mel Brooks. He told the crowd, “Keep in touch. Don’t be strange.” Hee!

I can’t say enough about Ruta Lee. When I saw her, I joked that she must have a portrait in her attic. She is GOR. JUS.

The last star to come down the carpet was Cicely Tyson, who at 93 years of age is totally badass.

The answers to the trivia questions are below:

  1. Nikko, the flying monkey – Walshe was a 3-foot, 10-inch vaudevillian. He also played a small role in the 1950 noir Panic in the Streets.
  2. The Three Mesquiteers, a 1936 Republic Studios western. Jones was credited under her given name, Phyllis Isley.
  3. Greenwich Village (1944) – Holliday was in a dance group called The Revuers, which also featured the writing team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green. The Revuers performed a number in the film, which was later cut, but you can still catch a brief glimpse of Holliday in one scene.

    Judy Holliday (in the front, with the lime green costume) had more visibility on this lobby card than she did in the movie.

  4. Sir Roger Moore – Picon played his mother in The Cannonball Run (1981)
  5. Jay Silverheels, who was best-known for his portrayal of Tonto in the Lone Ranger television series.
  6. Dick Van Dyke and Maureen Stapleton were closest in age – they were born just five months apart!

Hope you had fun with the trivia quiz and enjoyed my snaps from the red carpet. Stay tuned for next month’s installment of my look at the 2018 Turner Classic Movies Film Festival!

List o’ the Week: Movies I Don’t Get

•June 16, 2018 • 30 Comments

A few weeks ago, I ran into an old friend, who happens to be one of my (very) few “real-life” friends who has any interest whatsoever in classic movies. We got to talking about some films he’d seen recently, which had been recommended to him – The Third Man and How Green Was My Valley. He gave a disgruntled, lengthy thumbs-down review to them both, saying he just “didn’t get” what all the fuss was about. Although I urged him to give The Third Man a second (or third, or fourth) try, and explained that although How Green Was My Valley didn’t really have a plot, it was a beautiful, moving film, he wasn’t convinced.

This started me to thinking about movies I’ve seen, that are highly thought of by most film fans, but that I just “don’t get.” So that’s today’s List o’ the Week: my Top 10 movies I don’t get:

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

I can’t deny it. This movie made me want to stick something in my eye. Anything.

Vertigo (1958)

I’m a HUGE Hitchcock fan, but I just can’t with this one. I’ve tried. But I just can’t.

Dr. Zhivago (1965)

I only get this movie as a substitute for a sleeping pill. Zzzz.

The Swimmer (1968)

I REALLY don’t get this one.

Spellbound (1945)

I love Ingrid Bergman, Gregory Peck is great, Hitchcock is awesome…so it’s a mystery why I don’t get this one. But I don’t.

The Champ (1931)

Oh my gosh, y’all — the scenery chomping is too much. And the final scene just makes me laugh. I’m sorry.

Black Narcissus (1947)

I know it’s all visually breathtaking and deep and Powell and Pressburger and whatnot, but I don’t get it.

Chinatown (1974)

For me, the parts were better than the whole — quotable quotes, memorable scenes (“She’s my sister! She’s my daughter!”), awesome cinematography, but I just wasn’t bowled over. Maybe because I didn’t know what the heck was going on most of the time.

Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

Nope.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

I’m wild about Cary, but I have to admit that I … well, you know.

And that’s my top 10 list of films I don’t get. I may revisit some of these as part of a future “Second Chances” series I have planned — but in the meantime, they remain in the realm of perplexed shrugs, if you know what I mean.

What about you – are there any fan favorites whose charms escapes you? And what do you think of my list?