Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bette Davis: Your Favorite Classic Movie Actress Of 2014

The final contest seesawed back and forth for days, but in the end, Bette Davis defeated Barbara Stanwyck, 49-47, to win the 2014 Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament. I imagine she'll cherish this victory over even her two Academy Awards.

She's the tourney's fourth winner, joining Irene Dunne, Ginger Rogers and Carole Lombard in the winner's circle. Congratulations, Ms. Davis! Click here to head on over to Monty's site All Good Things and read more about it.

Friday, April 11, 2014

March Madness In April: Barbara Stanwyck And Bette Davis Duke It Out For The Title

The final round of Monty's Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament has started over at All Good Things. Barbara Stanwyck versus Bette Davis. Davis made it to the finals last year, losing to Carole Lombard. Stanwyck was this year's pre-tourney favorite. Either would be a worthy champion.

Click here to vote.

Here's a clip of Stanwyck with Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve. I had a lot of moments just like this one while working in a shoe store during my law school days:

And Bette Davis with Leslie Howard in Of Human Bondage—which also reminds me of law school:

And people wonder why I never go to reunions.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Women Of Homicide

A new documentary series on the TLC cable network about real life female homicide detectives starts tonight ... I mention it because my nephew shot tonight's episode, following Jenny Luke of the Cincinnati Homicide Unit around.

"Why didn't David become a lawyer?" asked my pal bellotoot. "Can you talk to him?"

"There was just no talking sense to that boy," I told him. "He insisted on doing something he loved."

P.S. My brother also tells me that my nephew filmed a public service announcement featuring the Nigerian World Cup soccer (football) team, about the prevention of malaria. It's currently playing in Nigeria, so if you happen to be visiting there, give it a look-see.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Serenity (2005): Let's Misbehave

Katie-Bar-The-Door and I continue to binge-watch cult television, following up three seasons of Veronica Mars with Joss Whedon's sci-fi western, Firefly. Set five hundred years in the future, the story centers on the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity and its crew of would-be pirates who smuggle contraband between the outlying worlds and their moons, some of them technologically advanced, others as primitive as the 19th century American West.

Nathan Fillion (TV's Castle) was the swashbuckling captain, Gina Torres his first officer, Adam Baldwin, the brawny but brainless hired muscle. The chief engineer was a fresh-face farm girl with no formal training, the pilot a loveable goof who played with toy dinosaurs.

To pay the freight, they also ferried passengers hither and yon, including a high-priced courtesan, a preacher with a shady past (Ron Glass of TV's Barney Miller), and a doctor and his mad-genius sister, the latter two fugitives from the law. A three-hour tour, it wasn't—there were no space zombie cannibals on Gilligan's Island that I can recall—but it was great fun, filled with action, witty dialogue, and more cows than you'd expect, considering how much of it took place in outer space, sort of a steampunk cross between Star Wars and The Wild, Wild West.

To say that the Fox executives who commissioned the project didn't get it would be an understatement. They took one look and promptly buried it on Friday nights where its core audience was unlikely to see it. To make matters worse, they refused to air the two-hour introductory episode, showed the rest of it out of order and pre-empted it frequently for the baseball playoffs. Premiering in September 2002, it was off the air for good by New Year's Eve.

And then like another misunderstood sci-fi classic, the show refused to die, eventually winding up in the theater as a movie. That it failed to spawn multiple sequels and spinoffs, ala Star Trek, is not to say it wasn't worthy.

The film begins six months after the television series ended. The Alliance—the not so much Evil as too well-meaning for its own good Empire that runs the known galaxy—is determined to keep its citizens happy whether they like it or not. And for reasons even she doesn't understand, the girl mad-genius is a threat to that stability. To track her down, the Alliance brings in "the Operative" (Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor), the worst kind of assassin, a true believer who wants to create a world so perfect there won't be any place in it for people like him.

This presents a problem for Captain Malcolm Reynolds. He fancies himself a hard-nosed cynic and would like to give the girl the boot, but like Humphrey Bogart in most of his good films, he always finds himself fighting for lost causes. "They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people better," he says of the Alliance. "And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave."

So guns blazing, he takes on the Alliance, the Operative and a horde of space zombies known as Reavers, and goes in search of an answer he's not sure he's going to like when he finds it.

If you haven't seen the series, don't fret—writer-director Joss Whedon wrote this as a stand-alone feature requiring no previous experience with the television show. Not that watching the series requires much of a commitment (there are only fourteen episodes) and doing so will add an extra layer of insight and understanding, but then maybe you aren't binge-watching fools and you're just looking for some top-notch fun-stupid. Serenity falls on the smart, fun, well-made end of the fun-stupid scale.

My ratings:
Firefly 4.5 stars out of 5
Serenity 4 stars out of 5

Note: I've written about Whedon before. Better known for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Avengers, his low-budget, modern dress production of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing was one last year's best movies. You can read my review of that one here.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Final Four

No, not Florida, Kentucky, et al. Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. The voting starts Saturday at All Good Things.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Your Favorite Classic Movie Actress Of The 1950s: Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn has narrowly defeated Doris Day, 65-60, to advance to the Final Four of Monty's Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tourney—and on Doris Day's 90th birthday, to boot. That's just mean!
When I know who else won, I'll let you know. Please wait by your computer with bated breath.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Alec Guinness Would Be 100 Years Old Today If He Weren't, You Know, Dead

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote that American lives have no second act, but Alec Guinness, being British, had three—first, as a comedic actor, then as a dramatic one, then as Obi Wan Kenobi.

Here are my three favorite Alec Guinness movies. If you skipped to the end of his story, you really need to go back to the beginning.

Kind Hearts and Cornonets
Alec Guinness plays eight murder victims in this black comedy classic about a would-be British aristocrat determined to climb the family tree.

The Lavender Hill Mob
A caper comedy proving once again that (to very loosely paraphrase Fraiser) the only thing better than a perfect crime is a perfect crime with one tiny flaw you can pick at for the rest of the movie.

The Horse's Mouth
My absolute favorite Alec Guinness movie, a comedy about a painter in the single-minded pursuit of his artistic vision.

"But there have to be artists!"
"And lunatics too! But why go and live in an asylum before you're sent for?"

Have at it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

If You're New To The Monkey

Katie-Bar-The-Door tells me that some of my family has been steering traffic the Monkey's way via Facebook. I'm not on Facebook myself—trust me, nobody wants to look at my face, and I'm still working on my latest book—but new readers are always welcome.

If you're here to vote in the Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament, click here. Otherwise, scroll on down and check out some of what the Monkey has to offer (click the highlighted links).

Movie Reviews
At last count, 78 of my reviews are linked on the Internet Movie Database. Here are three of my favorites: Broken Blossoms, City Lights, and My Man Godfrey.

There are also book reviews and theater reviews. I even reviewed a television show, once.

Biographical Sketches
The eight-part, 12,000 word biography of the Marx Brothers is a bit of an-joke for longtime readers of the Monkey. But there are others almost as long. If brevity is the soul of wit, you'll find very little of it here.

The Silent Oscars and their cousin, The Katie-Bar-The-Door Awards
Forget auteur theory, formalism, genre studies or any of that other film school claptrap, the unifying thread running through any well-rounded and not so well-rounded film education is Oscar trivia. And once you start looking at the Oscars, you can't help but argue about what the Academy got right and (more often) got wrong.

I've offered up my picks for every decade of film going back to the beginning and working forward to the present: 1888-1927; 1927-1939; 1940s; 1950s; 1960s; 1970s; 1980s; 1990s; 2000s; 2010s

Aging Actors
For some reason, tracing the lives of popular actors through photographs as they age from youth to old age has proved endlessly fascinating. Judging from the number of hits, the two most popular subjects are Greta Garbo and John Wayne.

Movies That Never Were
Photoshop and leisure time are a bad combination.

Forays Into Lunacy
For example, here and here.

The Monkey On Other Sites
Once in a while I write for ClassicFlix and

Probably other stuff. I don't know, I never read it myself. Enjoy. Or not.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

1950s Final: Doris Day v. Audrey Hepburn

The top two seeds in the 1950s bracket meet for the right to compete in the Final Four of Monty's Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament. Doris Day won by a single vote over Deborah Kerr, a real nail-biter, if biting nails is your idea of fun, while Audrey Hepburn put her boot on Grace Kelly's neck early and never let up.

The contestants in the other brackets boast similar pedigrees:

The 1930s: Barbara Stanwyck v. Myrna Loy
The 1940s: Bette Davis v. Olivia de Havilland
The 1960s: Elizabeth Taylor v. Natalie Wood

The voting starts now and runs through Thursday evening.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Round Four Starts Now

With the conclusion of Round Three, all four number one seeds have advanced to the semi-finals of the 1950s bracket. As last year's winner of the 1950s bracket, Doris Day gets to choose her opponent, takes one look at Oscar-winners Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly, and opts for Deborah Kerr.

Monty, who is the creator and primary host of the Favorite Classic Movie Actress Tournament, tells me that this is the third time in four years that Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly have squared off against each other, with Ms. Kelly winning the first two—perhaps three's the charm for Ms. Hepburn.

He also tells me that Grace Kelly's win over Lana Turner was her 20th in tourney competition, more than any other actress. And yet the top prize has continued to elude her. Is this the year?

The match-ups (vote below):

Doris Day
Birth Name: Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff
Born: April 3, 1924
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio
Height: 5' 7"
Film Debut: Romance on the High Seas (1948)
Final Film: The Doris Day Show (1968-1973) (TV series)
Oscars: 1 nominations, 0 wins
Three To See: Love Me or Leave Me; Pillow Talk; Lover Come Back


Deborah Kerr
Birth Name: Deborah Jane Kerr-Trimmer
Birth Date: September 30, 1921
Birthplace: Helensburgh, Scotland
Height: 5' 6"
Film Debut: Major Barbara (1941)
Final Film: Hold That Dream (1986) (TV movie)
Academy Awards: 6 nominations, 0 wins
Three To See: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; From Here To Eternity; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison

Audrey Hepburn
Birth Name: Audrey Kathleen Ruston
Birth Date: May 4, 1929
Birthplace: Ixelles, Belgium
Height: 5' 7"
Film Debut: One Wild Oat (1951)
Final Film: Always (1989)
Academy Awards: 5 nominations, 1 win (Roman Holiday)
Three To See: Sabrina; Breakfast at Tiffany's; Charade


Grace Kelly
Birth Name: Grace Patricia Kelly
Birth Date: November 13, 1929
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Height: 5' 6½"
Film Debut: Believe It Or Not (1950) (TV series)
Final Film: High Society
Academy Awards: 2 nominations, 1 win (The Country Girl)
Three To See: Rear Window; To Catch A Thief; High Society

Voting continues until Friday evening.

As always, follow the links to vote in the other brackets:

The 1930s

The 1940s

The 1960s