Tuesday, July 25, 2017


(Post 13 of 20)

Miriam Hopkins and George Marshall are the 
charming thieves in Trouble in Paradise

Peter Bogdanovich referred to Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise as a "real treasure" and a for years forgotten gem from the Lubitsch film cannon. This film is a succinct, witty and thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy that wasn't shown for many years (according to Bogdanovich) after the Hays code was implemented because it actually showed thieves in a positive light and let the leading man go from woman to woman, etc...Anyway...It is a delightful romp and certainly worth 83 minutes of your time...or 166 if you want to see it twice...#math. Screenplay by Lubitsch regular Samson Rapahelson. Starring George Marshall with Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis as the women in his life. Edward Everett Horton and Charlie Ruggles play hapless suitors. C. Aubrey Smith also has an important supporting role as a shady board member of Francis's company.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Charles Ruggles

Horton and Ruggles play the amusing but unsuccessful
suitors of Kay Francis in Trouble in Paradise

Charles Ruggles spent a long career as a supporting player in Hollywood, almost always playing someone articulate and proper, but often befuddled in the long run as in Trouble in Paradise. Other major films for Ruggles include: Ruggles of Red Gap (where he interestingly doesn't play Ruggles) and Bringing Up Baby. One only has to look at the names of his characters to see the type of role he usually played: Viscount Gilbert de Varèze (Love Me Tonight), J. Elliot Dinwiddy and Lowell Eddings Farquar, his character from later appearances on The Beverly Hillbillies.

He also played one of Aunt Bee's suitors in a later episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

Charlie Ruggles romances Aunt Bee (Frances Bavier) in
an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.

In fact...Aunt Bee was romanced by many other character actors during the course of that show...Will Geer, Denver Pyle, Edgar Buchanan, Woody Chambliss,Wallace Ford, Ian Wolfe...but I digress.

Thursday, July 20, 2017


(Post 12 of 20) 

Gary Cooper and Fredrick March admire a saucy dame
in Design for Living

Ernst Lubitsch's Design for Living did not make the 1001 movie cut, but is certainly a must see for all you pre-code Hollywood film junkies (a select and admirable group, I must say). Gary Cooper and Frederich March are two Bohemian artist buddies living in Paris who meet up and fall for the attractive Miriam Hopkins. Ms. Hopkins works for the stuffy Edward Everett Horton who could in turn help the boys with their careers if they play their cards right. The clever goings on can be credited to writers Noel Coward and Ben Hecht, as well as Lubitsch and his stars. I also don't know if the way Miriam Hopkins jumps around from man to man in this film would have passed the muster after the Hays code was passed the following year, but it's hard to imagine the film working without it.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Edward Everett Horton
Edward Everett Horton was one of Hollywood's top second bananas for years, mostly in films in the 1930's and 40's.. His wit and articulate speech seem made for a film like Design for Living,  though you know he isn't going to succeed in his ultimate quest for the girl...even if she does marry him! Other movies I've seen Horton in include: Top Hat, Arsenic and Old Lace, Alice in Wonderland (1933, as The Mad Hatter), Lost Horizon (as the paleontologist), Here Comes Mr. Jordan, It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise

The marriage of Edward Everett Horton to Miriam Hopkins
in Design for Living is designed to be short

I first became aware of Horton (even if I didn't know his name) as the narrator on the classic cartoon Fractured Fairy Tales. This segment was part of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show and Horton's wonderfully dignified voice added much to the rather goofy antics of the cartoon itself.

 Opening credits to Fractured Fairy Tales

 He also played the politically incorrect Chief Roaring Chicken in several episodes of the 60's sitcom F-Troop, which I still have fond memories of watching with my mother.

He parodied his F-Troop as Chief Screaming Chicken in an episode of Batman.
Edward Everett Horton and Adam West
in Batman

Saturday, July 15, 2017


(Post 11 of 20)

Luise Rainier and William Powell
in The Great Ziegfeld

The 1936 musical autobiography of show biz impresario Flo Ziegfeld won the Best Picture award for 1936. It does have it's share of virtues including: some very elaborate musical numbers, a solid show biz rags to riches story that was common to the era and the always great teaming of William Powell and Myrna Loy.

The problem with the film is that it's just too damn long! I guess there was a need to give the depression era audience their money's worth, but let's trim some of the fat and cut down this over three hours of length next time, shall we boys? Also, it doesn't feel like a Best Picture winner. It also doesn't seem especially better than other autobiographical films of the type released during the era.

The first choice for Best Picture that year I can think of would be another William Powell movie, My Man Godfrey. Also, Luise Rainer isn't bad in her role as Ziegfeld's first wife, but I'd certainly argue her role was neither a lead or in the "best" category. Once again, I'd have given this award to My Man Godfrey and Carole Lombard...but nobody asked me in 1936!

A note on Luise Rainer. Rainer's film career did not have much longevity after Oscar wins for The Great Ziegfeld and The Good Earth but the longevity of Rainer herself is much to be envied as she died in 2014 just a couple of weeks shy of her 105th birthday!

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Frank Morgan and Ray Bolger
Morgan and Bolger will of course mostly be remembered by movie watchers as the Wizard and the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, but they were in other things, you know!

In The Great Ziegfeld, Morgan plays Ziegfeld's rival Billings, who Ziegfeld always seems to get the better of until the end, when Morgan and Powell have a very poignant moment together. Morgan also played the harried boss in The Shop Around the Corner. He had a very touching role as Margaret Sullavan's father in The Mortal Storm. He received two Academy Award nominations during his long career (The Duke of Cellini, Tortilla Flat) which lasted from 1916 until his death in 1949.

 Frank Morgan and William Powell
share a final moment in The Great Ziegfeld

Ray Bolger also had a long career and The Great Ziegfeld is actually his first movie credit. He has a small role in Ziegfeld as a theater worker who gets a chance to be in a dance number from the great showman.  I tried to think of other Bolger roles other than the obvious one and have to admit that the first thing that came to my head was as Shirley Partridge's father in an episode of The Partridge Family. If I only had a brain, I could come up with a better example. He also made the latter day late 70's rounds by being in an episode of both The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. His most famous non-Scarecrow role is probably in the musical Where's Charley?, where he starred on Broadway and in film. Bolger died in 1987 at the age of 83, making him the last surviving major cast member of The Wizard of Oz.

 William Powell about to give Ray Bolger his big break
in The Great Ziegfeld

 Wizard Frank Morgan about to give
Scarecrow Ray Bolger his diploma in
The Wizard of Oz

And another Wizard of Oz reference...Billie Burke played Glenda in The Wizard of Oz, but in real life was Flo Ziegfeld's wife and is portrayed in The Great Ziegfeld by Myrna Loy.

The real life Mrs. Flo Ziegfeld with Judy Garland and Toto
in The Wizard of Oz

Monday, July 10, 2017


(Post 10 of 20)

Icon to Icon: John Barrymore and Greta Garbo
in Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel is the Academy Award Winner for Best Picture for 1932 and I do find it a bit curious that it didn't make the 1001 book. It certainly is important historically in that it may have been the first feature film to plop so many stars into an all-star extravaganza and features an elaborately recreated hotel and able direction from Edmund Goulding. The all-star cast may be the main reason to see this today. It features three iconic Hollywood Stars (Greta Garbo, John Barrymore and Joan Crawford), two recent Academy Award Winners (Lionel Barrymore-A Free Soul 1931, Wallace Beery-The Champ, 1932), and two supporting stalwarts (Lewis Stone and Jean Hersholt). And who fares the worst in this all-star cast? I would have to say Greta Garbo. I can see the Garbo mystique in other pictures, but her ballerina is just too over the top here. She does get to utter her famous "I want to be alone" line. Joan Crawford comes off much better as the vivacious stenographer. But who comes off the best is...
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Lionel Barrymore. Not sure you would even consider this a supporting role since Barrymore's Mr. Kringeleine is really the heart of the film. Kringeleine is a working stiff who finds out he doesn't have long to live and wants to spend some time living a little before his time is up. Barrymore is funny, but often poignant in his portrayal as well. The scene where he tells off his arrogant boss Wallace Beery is one of the highlights of the film.It's interesting that Barrymore often played sympathetic characters like this. Key Largo and You Can't Take It With You are other examples.  Of course, many modern day viewers only remember him as his role as the very definition of evil as Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life.

Lionel Barrymore cuts a rug with Joan Crawford
in Grand Hotel

Lionel Barrymore cuts down everything in his path
in It's a Wonderful Life

And the Jean Hersholt Humanitarain award goes to...Jean Hersholt
Hersholt plays the guy who runs the desk at the Grand Hotel and it made me think that they give out an Oscar every year in his name and I thought I'd look up why...and  the answer is that Jean helped form the Motion Picture Relief fund in the late 30's to assist with medical care for those in the industry. The award was first given in 1956 after his death. I like that the award is still given out in his name even though most have probably forgotten who he was.

Jean Hersholt reminds you to sign
the Grand Hotel register and 
to do good works in your life.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


(Post 9 of 20) 

Lon Chaney Jr. and Burgess Meredith
in Of Mice and Men

John Steinbeck's classic novel about two migrant workers looking to better themselves financially while staying out of trouble was first brought to the screen by Hal Roach productions in 1939, and starred Burgess Meredith as George. I think it's a successful adaptation of the novel...though some may prefer the 1992 version with Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. At the very least read the book. It's a fine character study and and Steinbeck puts you right in the middle of the depression (as good books tend to do).

Totally unnecessary fact to share: I wanted to name our two dogs George and Lennie...but I was outvoted.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Lon Chaney Jr. 
Cinefiles love Lon Chaney, Sr...the man of a thousand faces, who created so many great characterizations during the silent era and died before his career in talkies could take off.

Lon Chaney Jr. carried on the family tradition of make-up heavy roles, but he is not held in reverence by the movie public like his dad. Part of that may be because of being in so many B-movies, especially later in his career in films like Dracula vs. Frankenstein, Alligator People and The Man With the Atomic Brain. His best know role is as The Wolfman, which he brought to life in Universal's 1941 adaptation.

However, it's his performance as Lenny, the feeble minded traveling companion of George in Of Mice and Men that may be his best. You feel sympathy for this gentle giant who can't stay out of trouble no matter how hard he tries. His journey ends in tragedy, of course. And anyone who's seen the movie or read the book is sure to remember George and Lenny's final dialogue:

George: [talking about their dream] We're gonna get a little place.  
Lennie: Okay, yeah, we're gonna get a little place and we're gonna...  
George: We're gonna...
George: [Lennie mouths what he says] We're gonna have a cow, and some pigs, and we're gonna have, maybe, maybe, a chicken. Down in the flat, we'll have a little field of... Lennie: Field of alfalfa for the rabbits. George: ...for the rabbits. 
Lennie:And I get to tend the rabbits?
(And we probably know what happens next.)

Lon Chaney Jr. as Lennie 
in Of Mice and Men

Lon as the werewolf
in The Wolfman

Lon still loving cute little creatures in
the so bad it's good
Dracula vs. Frankenstein.

Saturday, July 1, 2017


(Post 8 of 20) 

The Life of Emile Zola won the Best Picture Academy Award and gave Paul Muni one of his signature biographical roles as Zola. The movie depicts his humble beginnings and shows his success as a writer in later years. One of the major plot points involves Zola's later decision to risk his comfortable life and work on the case of Alfred Dreyfus, falsely accused of being a traitor. Zola's speech in court on behalf of Dreyfus is one of the films many highlights.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Joseph Schildkraut
The distinguished Austrian had different stages to his long acting career. He made a name for himself in silents as a leading man in D. W. Griffith's Orphans of the Storm and later as Judas in Cecil B. Demille's  King of Kings.

He made a smooth transition to talkies, including a role as a conniving clerk in Ernest Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner. His pivotal role as Alfred Dreyfus in Zola won him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor of 1937.

In later years, he played Otto Frank in the film version of The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959. I think I know him best as a ghostly concentration camp victim in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Joseph Schildkraut as Dreyfus in
The Life of Emile Zola

Joseph Schildkraut (with Oscar Beregi)
 as a concentration camp
victim in Death's Head Revisited of
The Twilight Zone

Friday, June 30, 2017


(Post 7 of 20) 

 Miss Barbara Stanwyck as Stella Dallas

King Vidor's 1937 film version of Stella Dallas is the story of a poor girl from a factory town and her attempts to better herself. It's a bit of a soap opera and the main reason to see it today is Barbara Stanwyck in one on her defining roles. She does well in the part of the mother willing to make great sacrifices for her daughter and you could easily make the case that Stanwyck should have beat out Luise Rainer for Best Actress that year...but there you have it.

Other versions: The story of Stella Dallas was first published as a novel by Olive Higgins Prouty in 1923. A silent version was filmed in 1925 (And was an extra on the Stella Dallas DVD I watched) and does differ from the later version a great deal. The final dramatic scene in the silent is much like the Vidor version. Stella Dallas was also a stage play, long running radio series and and the basis for the 1990 movie Stella, with Bette Midler. My wife attests that the version with Bette Midler is a production of quality, though Midler's Razzie win for this film demonstrates an alternate opinion.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Alan Hale Sr.. Stanwyck is of course the central performance in this film, but we do get some needed light-hearted moments from Alan Hale as the Stella's  suitor. There is an itching powder gag with Hale that is the comic highlight of the film. I've given this imaginary award to Alan Hale so often now I will try to find someone else new to give it to if I come across Alan in any future films.

Itching powder is funny!
Hale and Stanwyck in Stella Dallas

Interesting Hale fact: Hale played Little John in three different Robin Hood films.

Hale as Little John with Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
in Robin Hood (1922)

Hale as Little John With Errol Flynn
in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Hale as Little John (his final screen appearance)
 with John Derek 
in Rogues of Sherwood Forest (1950)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

ME AND MY GAL (1932)

(Post 6 of 20)

 Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett in Me and My Gal

Me and My Gal is an early talkie that's kind of a romance, kind of a comedy and kind of a crime drama. The major appeal of the film is the pretty snappy dialogue from Arthur Kober (Everything is jake!), early starring roles for Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett, and brisk direction from Raoul Walsh.There's a certain rawness, liveliness and artistic freedom in many of these pre-code films and this is in evidence here.There are also some pretty good comic relief bits as well.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...(tie) the three drunk guys.
One of the comic relief bits I'm referring to is the perpetual drunken nature of character actor Will Stanton that is pretty much in evidence in every scene he is in. Will's drunken character is almost the main character in the movie for the first twenty or so!

There is another drunk bit half way through the film featuring Stanton, Billy Bevan and Frank Atkinson involving who struck who with a salmon (or was it a bloater?).

Stanton had over 100 movie credits during his career...by the looks of his listings most were of a much smaller nature than his role in Me and My Gal.

Will Stanton strikes a tough guy pose

Billy Bevan is one of those actors you may have seen in clips of old Mack Sennett comedies. I'm pretty sure I used to see him in a clip running down the street in a long running paint store commercial.

Bevan had a successful career in silents and eventually had a nice career as a supporting players once talkies came around as well.

Billy Bevan and his signature droopy moustache

Englishman Frank Atkinson had 185 movie credits ranging from 1930 until the 1960's.
 Frank Atkinson- "It was a bloat-ah!"

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

PARDON US (1931)

(Post 5 of 20)

 Oliver Hardy and Stan Laurel in the prison classrom
in Pardon Us

The only film the 1001 book lists starring Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy is Sons of the Desert. I felt since I was doing films from the 1930's, I'd look at one more old favorite. 1931's Pardon Us

The team had already became famous by the release of this time through their silent shorts and talkie shorts, but the Hal Roach studios were beginning to branch out into full length films in 1931 and Pardon Us was their first. Full length being a relative term since the film runs 68 minutes. I'm assuming Pardon Us is sort of a parody of the popular prison pictures of the day such as The Big House and 20,000 Years in Sing Sing. The boys get thrown in prison trying to sell beer to a cop (Prohibition is still with us in 1931). They get thrown in jail. Stan has a loose tooth that keeps squeaking and makes it sound like he is giving someone the raspberry every time he talks. They meet up with a tough prisoner named Tiger who is planning a jail break. After the jail break, they end up hiding with some black field workers (using  black face of course) until they run into the warden and Stan's tooth gives him away and they are thrown back in jail. The recaptured Tiger and his crew plan another jailbreak which Stan inadvertently foils by shooting off a smuggled machine gun. After a wild prison revolt is squashed, the boys are released.

There are lots of funny bits in this film for fans of the duo. The classroom scene with teacher James Finlayson is my favorite. The constant problems with Stan's whistling tooth are usually pretty funny including a strange trip to the prison dentist! The blackface scenes may be a little uncomfortable for modern audiences, but does include a nice song from Oliver (Ollie had a nice singing voice) and an accompanying dance from Stan (Stan had some moves).

I'm glad they showed Laurel and Hardy films on television during the time I grew up. You won't see them on much anymore, but thanks to the glory of YouTube, you can relive a lot of them there.  
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..(tie) James Finlayson/June Marlowe
Anyone who is a big Laurel and Hardy fan probably knows the name of James Finlayson. He played the comic foil against the lads in many of their best films (The Music Box, Big Business). He was sort of to Laurel and Hardy what Margaret Dumont was to the Marx Brothers. Fin could squint and scowl with the best of them. A modern frame of reference is that Don Castellana had said the inspiration for Homer Simpson's catchpharase "D'oh" comes from Finlayson using the same expression of irritation in many a picture.

Finlayson plays the prison school teacher who just can't seem to get his students to do what he'd like them to do in Pardon Us in what I think is the funniest scene in the film. 

 James Finlayson as the exasperated teacher
in Pardon Us

 Oliver Hardy, Stan Laurel and James Finlayson
in the short Big Business

Speaking of school teachers...June Marlowe has a small role as the warden's daughter in Pardon Us. She is featured in the finale of the film where she has to be rescued from a burning building by Stan and Ollie during the film's climax. Unlike a lot of my Elisha Cook winners, June had a pretty short film career, ending in 1932 when she wasn't even thirty years old yet. I include her here for here work in six short films she made from 1930-1932 for  Hal Roach Studios as the pretty teacher named Miss Crabtree (Even prettier than Miss McGillicutty!) in the Our Gang/Little Rascals series. She was always the object of the affection of Jackie Cooper (and sometimes Chubby) in these shorts. This brief period of films was really the high point of The Little Rascal film series and here's to you June and every teacher that any student ever had a crush on!

 The brunette June Marlowe as the warden's daughter
in Pardon Us

Blonde June Marlowe as Miss Crabtree in one of her
Our Gang shorts as Jackie Cooper, Mary Ann Jackson
and Chubby Chaney look on

Thursday, June 15, 2017


(Post 4 of 20)

 Paul Muni eyes the other convicts in
I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

Robert Burns's book I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang, about his escape from a chain gang and subsequent success story and exposé of the brutal prison system has it's antecedents in Victor Hugo's classic book Les Miserables, the story of the imprisonment of an innocent man. The movie based on Burn's book, I Am A Fugitive From a Chain Gang, is the story of James Allen (played by Paul Muni) and his unfortunate plight. The film is one of the several prison/crime dramas that Warner Brothers released during the 30's and deals successfully with several separate issues: Life struggles that can come after military service,  pursuing the American dream, the injustices of the penal system, and how an innocent man can be a victim of a flawed justice system. The influence of this film is also unmistakable in Preston Sturges classic comedy, Sullivan's Travels. We can also see the influence of Chain Gang in later films such as O Brother Where Art Thou, Cool Hand Luke, The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption. 

My favorite line in the movie is James's exchange with a barber after he he almost gets caught by the authorities after his shave and haircut.
Barber: How was it. close enough? (Referring to his shave)
James: Plenty! (Not referring to his shave)

Censorship alert: I was surprised when a character uses the abbreviation S. O. L. Can you say shit in a pre-Hays censorship code film even in abbreviation? There's also a scene where James is clearly being serviced in a brothel. You go, 1932!

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Glenda Farrell
Saucy, sharp-tongued second rung Hollywood leading lady Glenda Farrell is best know to me from The Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), where she played the fast talking reporter who uncovers the goings on in the forerunner to the more famous House of Wax film. She later played the same type of character in the 30's and 40's film series Torchy Blane. Her most famous role might be as Olga in Little Caesar.

Paul Muni prefers his book on Civil Engineering to the charms of Glenda Farrell
in I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
Glenda plays the defacto leading lady in Chain Gang, but she isn't the fun loving likable dame here she often played. She's an opportunistic tart who takes advantage of James Allen at every turn in this film and is most unsympathetic.

Later in her career, Ms. Farrell, made a lot of television appearances, including a guest role on The Fugitive in 1963, bringing our "escaped prisoner on the run" theme full circle.

Glenda Farrell in The Mystery of the Wax Museum

Saturday, June 10, 2017


(Post 3 of 20) 

Mickey and Judy perform in Babes in Arms

Hey, gang! Let's Put on a Show!

Babes in Arms is the most famous and most popular of the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland films.  The story is basically Mickey (also his character's name) putting on a show with his girl Judy in order to prove that show biz is a viable career option. It is a funny thing for him to have to prove to his folks since his parents are also in the business... but there you have it.

The film is pure escapism. If you aren't willing to step into it's "let's put on a show" mentality, you probably aren't going to get into it. It has loads of fun songs (The title track, Good Morning ) and an awful lot of frantic energy from Mr. Rooney. I am keeping in mind that this was the year that World War II was on the horizon and what people really wanted to see was escapist fare like Babes in Arms. It 's still fun to watch Babes in Arms today for a movie history fan.There is a minstrel scene (Judy Garland in blackface is more than a little weird) that is a bit uncomfortable to sit through by modern standards.

Margaret Hamilton (center) lays down the law to Guy Kibee
in Babes in Arms
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Margaret Hamilton. Hamilton is best known as The Wicked Witch/Elmira Gulch in The Wizard of Oz. It is funny seeing her again as an uptight spinster (did she ever play anything else?) trying to get those wild show biz kids away from their irresponsible parents and on the road to being accountants or pediatricians. Hamilton made many appearances in films over the years (Angels Wash Their Faces, My Little Chickadee) and television (The Partridge Family, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Mr. Rogers Neighborhood!). She also had a hilarious turn in Robert Altman's Brewster McCloud where she finally gets the ruby slippers back! However, during the seventies, she achieved a new level of fame in commercials as Cora, the shopkeeper who will sell no coffee in her store except for Maxwell House.

Margaret Hamilton in one of her many commercials
as Cora, the Queen of Maxwell House

Monday, June 5, 2017


(Post 2 of 20) 

Gary Cooper and Ann Harding feel the love in Peter Ibbetson

Peter Ibbetson, the story of two lovers who come together against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, has been adapted into a silent movie, a television production and even an opera! The most famous production of the story is this 1935 Paramount screen version with Gary Cooper. The spiritual aspect of true love may be the main reason to watch this today. Cooper's Ibbetson falls in love with Mary (Ann Harding) as a child and then they are separated. They never get over each other and when they are finally reunited, Mary is well off and married to a Duke. But this love is not to be denied! They plan to run off together, but the duke confronts him before Ibbetson kills him in self defense. As you might expect, self defense isn't a good plea when you kill a duke and Peter goes to jail. Space can't separate the lovers, even while Ibbetson is locked away. Eventually death comes to them and they are finally reunited.

It's easy to put this one in the heavy handed category...but I liked what they were trying to do here. It's an unapologetic romance. I'm not too sure this would make my 1001 list, but if I were making a list of unapoletic romatic movies, it would be right up there right behind An Affair to Remember.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Donald Meek
The appropriately named Meek played a number of meek (for lack of a better choice of words) roles. An aspiring inventor in You Can't Take it With You, a doctor in Captain Blood and perhaps most famously as whiskey drummer Samuel Peacock in John Ford's Stagecoach. His small role as Gary Cooper's boss in Peter Ibbetson is a little different than the others. He is a character with backbone and conviction as opposed to a milquetoast that is played mostly for laughs. Meek, who was actually Scottish by birth, appeared in over a hundred movies during his career. He died in 1946 at the age of 68.

The Meek may not quite inherit the earth
in Peter Ibbetson, but sometimes they
can at least be compassionate 

 One of the most rootin' tootin'ensemble casts ever rustled up on 
the big screen listen to the words of whiskey drummer 
Samuel Peacock (Donald Meek) in Stagecoach

Thursday, June 1, 2017


(Post 1 of 20)

Greta Garbo and those marvelous cheekbones
in Queen Christina
I still have a few more  1930's Hollywood films from the 1001 list and a few others I've wanted to see thrown in for good measure) for me to go through. And since this was such a golden era for supporting players, I will give my Elisha Cook Jr. award for supporting players for each movie mostly because I enjoy doing it.

The 1001 book puts three Greta Garbo movies on the must see list. Ninotchka, the classic comedy from 1939, Camille, the romance novel come to life from 1936 and Queen Christina, the historical drama from 1933. Here Garbo plays the 17th century Swedish queen...who I have to admit reminds me of latter day Disney heroines in that she wants to escape from that provincial life like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, wants to escape the trappings of royalty like Jasmine in Aladdin and feels the need to pose as a man like the title character in Mulan. Christina does escape the castle and pose as a man, though it's a bit of a stretch to think that everyone can't tell that the exquisite Garbo is really a woman just because she wears a big hat. If you like Garbo, historical dramas, or  pre-code talkies in general, you might find Queen Christina to your liking. 

Censor alert: There is a scene with Christina and her lover in bed together which I'm sure would never have passed muster if the film had been released the next year after the restrictive Hays Code limiting what was appropriate to be shown in films was implemented.

The austere Lewis Stone counsels Garbo
in Queen Christina
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Lewis Stone. Stone seemed to play mostly serious, dignified roles in the few films I've seen him in. He went on to play the judge in the Andy Hardy film series years after Queen Christina. The film I remember him most was called The Man Who Cried Wolf, a movie I saw forty years ago on television...but I believe I can still recount the plot of that one without using my Wikipedia crutch. Stone plays a ne'er do well who keeps confessing to the police about being guilty of crimes he committed. He has nothing to do with these crimes and the police always find out and let him go. Little does anyone know, Stone is setting up that he is about to commit an actual murder. After the deed is done, no one believes him after he confesses (as he knew they would) and  is set free. Another man is accused of the crime and is about to be sent to prison before Stone is overcome with guilt and convinces the authorities that he did indeed perpetrate the crime and is eventually sent to prison himself. I'm not sure if I recounted the plot exactly. I could check it, but I'll just stick with my own memory of it for now.

My copy of Life 
featuring Garbo on the cover

Sunday, May 28, 2017

DOWN BY LAW (1986), TAMPOPO (1986, JAPAN),


The trio of prisoners in Down by Law

The list at the bottom of this page shows I saw a lot of movies from this year that were the biggest hits of the year. But I did miss the two smaller movies until now, Down by Law and Tampopo. Down by Law is Jim Jarmusch's film about a trio of falsely accused prisoners who were set-up busting out of jail. It is another intriguing character study from Jarmusch and I admit I've become a fan of his films (better late than never on the Jarmusch bandwagon). The engaging trio of Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and John Lurie is fun to watch. Don't expect the road often taken by other films plotwise, but hopefully you will enjoy the journey.
It's what's for dinner in Tampopo

It seems that in recent years, people are more and more obsessed with food as entertainment. The cooking channel, cooking contest shows and several movies. Big Night, Chef, The Cook, the Thief the Wife and Her Lover and Babette's Feast are movies that come to mind that have followed Tampopo. Tampopo may have been one of the first to tap into this vein over thirty years ago. It's the story of a trucker who helps a stranger with a noodle shop make improvements to her building, her food and her promotions to make herself a success. But how do you make this entertaining? That's the question that may have come up in the beginning, but Tampopo succeeds by being light, breezy, and having engagingly  off-beat characters. It also interspersed the main action of the film with little vignettes whose only relation to the main storyline is that they involve food. These "subplots" threw me off a bit at first, but once I realized what they were, I thought they did add flavor to the overall piece.


Here are some of the movies I've seen released in 1986 that didn't quite have the right stuff to make the 1001 movie cut. My wife was next to me as I was writing this and wanted to offer her opinion on some of these movies.

1. Howard the Duck-I remember the Howard the Duck comic strip as being a pretty creative undertaking from Marvel about a duck caught up in a universe he didn't belong to. I saw the movie based on it the day it opened...and to say it didn't translate all that well to the big screen might be a bit of an understatement. I do admit I was happy to see the Howard the Duck cameo at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy. It's been over thirty years since I've seen -I think I'm ready for another viewing! My wife says: "I'm not really familiar with Howard the Duck. Didn't he do a record of Disney sing-a-longs?"

                          Lea Thompson and Howard the Duck model their respective night clothes
in Howard the Duck

2. 52 Pick Up-I have to admit that the only thing I remember about this John Frankenheimer crime thriller is....Vanity's strip tease scene. Just being honest. I'm sure the rest of the film is just fine, too.
Probably wouldn't watch again, but I dont rule out catching Vanity's striptease scene on Youtube. My wife says: Nothing, because I did not wish to talk about the striptease scene with her.

3. 9 1/2 Weeks-I remember this controversial (at least at the time) story of kinky sex and obsession as not doing too much for me.Should I revisit? I'd probably watch Fifty Shades of Gray before I'd watch this again. My wife says: "Twisted, not my idea of what romance should be."

4. Crocodile Dundee-Probably the defining movie of 1986 (Though some may want to give Top Gun that title but they are wrong.). Dundee is the story of an American journalist who goes to Australia to interview the eccentric crocodile hunter named Dundee. The first half of the movie is the culture clash in Australia and the second half has Dundee going to New York and the culture clash is even more pronounced and has many comical moments. Star Paul Hogan made Crocodile Dundee II a couple of years later. I think he should have cranked out a few more while the character was hot, but that's just me.Should I revisit? I'd like to see the first Crocodile Dundee again. I'll probably pass on Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles.
My wife says: "Top Gun was definitely the defining movie of 1986!" I still say it was Crocodile Dundee. Opinions differ.

Paul Hogan asserts his manhood in Crocodile Dundee

5. Clan of the Cave Bear-This is a problem listing as I was actually thinking of Quest for Fire and NOT Clan of the Cave Bear. I was going to edit this out, but my wife says to leave it in and warn people NOT to ever watch Clan of the Cave Bear!
Revisit? No. But I'd like to see Quest for Fire again. 

6.F/X-Thriller dealing with makeup and special effects that I saw on the USA network thirty years ago. My vague recollection of F/X is that it was pretty good.
My wife says: "I haven't seen it, but it sounds interesting."

7. Back to School-I first remember Rodney Dangerfield from the Dean Martin shows during the 70's. Despite being a very funny self-deprecating stand up comedian, he seemed an unlikely candidate for movie stardom in the 80's. But Caddyshack, Easy Money and his valedictorian address in Back to School gave Rodney a brief but deserved ride as a movie star. I saw all these films at the theater, but could never bring myself to go see Ladybugs. My wife says Back to School is "ridiculous, but enjoyable."

Rodney Dangerfield getting his Longfellow straightened out
in Back to School

8. A Great Wall-Saw this Chinese film about a Chinese family adapting to life in America when it came out. I remember it as a good film.

9. Gung Ho-Similar cultural classes in this comedy as in A Great Wall, though this Ron Howard movie was a comedy about Japanese automakers trying to whip their American counterparts into shape. "If you guys are so great..how come you lost the big one!"  I say it was amusing. My wife says she "liked that one."

10. True Stories-Laconic Talking Head frontman David Byrne narrates this tale of various American eccentrics based on stories you might find int the tabloids. I liked the movie...but loved the Talking Heads soundtrack! I say The Talking Heads were the band of the 80's. My wife does not agree and thinks it's Bon Jovi or something like that.

 David Byrne searches for some real Americans in True Stories

11. The Golden Child-Eddie Murphy comedy about a....search for a chosen one I think it was? It was a big hit, but not really that memorable. My wife says: "It was mostly silly."

12. Gothic-I went through a Ken Russell phase when I first got my VCR. This eccentric dramatization of weird goings on at a chateau with Shelley, Keats, Wollstonecraft etc. is....one that sounds like I need to see again.

13. Sid and Nancy-Rough and tumble, yet somehow endearing biopic of the ill-fated Sex Pistol Sid Vicious and his girlfriend.Nancy Spurgeon is definitely worth seeing. My wife says she hasn't seen it. My friend Mark, on the other hand, was obsessed with this movie and Gary Oldman...So much that he made me watch Track 29!

Gary Oldman probably not singing My Way in Sid and Nancy

14. Ruthless People-Hit comedy about Danny Devito setting up kidnapping of this own wife played by Better Midler. My wife says it was "hilarious and a great movie." I like it too, though I tend to not throw around the word "great" so casually.

15. The Mission-Roland Joffe's epic film about Jesuit missionaries in South America might be a better film to use the "great" label. How did this manage to not be in the of the 1001 book?

16.Troll-From The Mission to Troll...I'd see most anything in 1986, I guess. Not as bad in a fun way as the classic bad movie Troll 2! My wife says:  "I can't believe I missed this one. I saw every horror movie that came out in 1986 and 1987." I guess you missed one.

 The adorable title character in Troll

17. Wildcats-Another one of those 80's Goldie Hawn comedies that I seem to remember nothing about. Luckily, my wife is here to say that  she "Loved it, but wouldn't want to see it again." Mixed signals from her on this one, I'd say.

18.Hoosiers-Inspirational basketball movie with Gene Hackman as the coach is indeed a crowd pleaser, though not nearly as much as the later documentary Hoop Dreams.

19. The Name of the Rose- Considering Umberto Eco's medieval novel about a murder at a monastery is not at all conducive to film adaptation, this film does as pretty decent job of it. Read the book, though...even if you have to kind of thumb through a lot of the Latin. My wife calls the movie "unsettling."

Law and Order: 1327...Sean Connery and Christian Slater in
The Name of the Rose

20. Soul Man-Guy gets minority scholarship by joining a minstrel show. Isn't that what this was about? My wife said she "found it amusing at the time."

21. Sweet Liberty-Seems like Alan Alda directed comedies were on the downslide at this point. It was okay from what I remember. My wife had never heard of it.

22. Peggy Sue Got Married-The time travel movie from this era that wasn't called Back to the Future. This one has virtues of it's own. My wife agrees, but says she "loves it...but still not as good as Back to the Future."

Kathleen Turner going back to the past in
Peggy Sue Got Married

23. Seize the Day-I remember this Robin Williams drama was one of the first things I rented when I got a VCR. I don't remember much of the details of it, but my wife says that she would watch anything with Robin Williams in it.

24. Tough Guys-Gangster film notable for last screen teaming of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. That's enough reason to see it right there.

25. Little Shop of Horrors-Fun musical update of the old American International movie is even better if you see it at a cinema and draft house that serves pitchers of margaritas. Just saying. Interestingly, my wife called it "adorable."

Masochist Bill Murray meets sadist Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors

26. That's Life-All I remember is a friend took me to see this movie and Jack Lemmon and Julie Andrews were having some sort of middle-aged marriage crisis.

27, The River's Edge-A crazy Dennis Hopper, a crazier Crispin Glover, an unidentified dead body, a blow-up love doll is a combination of which cult classics are made.

28. The Color of Money-Latter day sequel to The Hustler gave an Oscar to Paul Newman that he probably should have won for the original film.

 Paul Newman may or may not throw away his best shot
in The Hustler

29. Down and Out in Beverly Hills-see 
My wife called it, "Okay, funny. Wouldn't want to see it again."

I say the dog in the first scene of Down and Out in Beverly Hills looked a lot like my childhood dog, Humphrey.

 My dog Humphrey

Nick Nolte and Humphrey look-alike in
Down and Out in Beverly Hills

30. Something Wild -It took a long time for me to finally see this off-beat Jonathan Demme comedy about a straight-laced businessman getting involved with a woman who is anything but straight laced. It took me awhile to get into it, but I honestly think I would have liked it better if I had seen it 1986. Still worth seeing. My wife did see it in the 80's and described it as "quirky fun." I like that. Let's go with "quirky, fun" then. I did point out to her that this was an early Jonathan Demme film and was saddened to hear that he died later that same week.

Jonathan Demme's Something Wild

That's it for 1986.
That year doesn't seem that long ago, does it?