Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

We here at the Monkey sadly note the passing of a great American author, Elmore Leonard. If you haven't read his novels (and you should have), you've probably at least heard of some of the movies based on them: 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Jackie Brown (based on Rum Punch), and television's Justified, among others.

Born in New Orleans, Leonard grew up in Detroit, and after serving in the Navy during World War II, graduated from the University in Detroit where he majored in English and philosophy. He sold his first short story, "Trail of the Apaches," in 1951 and spent the rest of the decade specializing in Westerns, including The Tall T and 3:10 To Yuma, both of which were made into movies, the former starring Randolph Scott, the latter, Glenn Ford and Van Heflin (remade in 2007 with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe).
Eventually, he switched to gritty crime dramas that featured witty dialogue and the sorts of miscreants one is more apt to meet in real life than in the usual fiction, which is say habitual criminals only half as smart as they think they are.

Nineteen of his novels or short stories were adapted into movies, and another seven as television series.

Leonard's best tip for aspiring writers: "Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip."
Leonard died this morning after suffering a stroke late last month.

Monday, August 19, 2013

ClassicFlix Gig (Beta Testing)

ClassicFlix.com, the Monkey's other gig, is in Beta testing. Click here for a link to my latest post, about D.W. Griffith (you can also click here to read a post about Georges Méliès, among others, adapted from a post that appeared here at the Monkey a couple of years ago.)

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Brudder

The Monkey's older brother is celebrating a birthday today. That's him on the left. Good times.

In his honor, here's a video his children made for Kraft. Dave worked on such movies as We Are Marshall and Zombieland and the television show The Walking Dead, and now runs his own production company making commercial ads in Atlanta. Stephanie is better known as Plain Chicken and writes for the Birmingham News.

Kraft Recipe Makers from Plain Chicken on Vimeo.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Happy Birthday, Julie Newmar

It's Julie Newmar's birthday. We won't mention her age except to say it's one of those milestone birthdays that ends in a zero. We don't care. We here at the Monkey dig Julie Newmar.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Cecil B. DeMille's Birthday: If He Were Alive Today, He'd Be Very, Very Old

I've written at length about director/producer Cecil B. DeMille (here, for example), one of the best and most influential of the silent era directors.

If you know him only from his bloated Bible epics of the 1950s, you're probably wondering what all the fuss is about. But the fact is, beginning in 1918 with Old Wives For New, DeMille reeled off a series of "nervously brilliant, intimate melodramas" and "sly marital comedies" (Scott Eyman, Empire of Dreams) centering on the notion that grown ups engage in sexual relations and are glad that they do.

Ah, sophisticated sex comedies—God bless 'em. Here are three by DeMille to bring you up to speed:

Old Wives for New (1918)—In the first of his sex comedies, DeMille dispense with karma and moral judgment, and puts the fun back into sex, sin and every kind of bad behavior. People drink, lie, carouse and generally defy social mores, and not only suffer no consequences, they prosper. Murder goes unpunished, adultery is rewarded and divorce is presented as a sane and sophisticated solution to an unhappy marriage. Starring Elliott Dexter, Florence Vidor and Theodore Roberts.

Male and Female (1919)—DeMille added a young Gloria Swanson to the mix and both of their careers really took off. Basically, the cast of Downton Abbey gets shipwrecked on a desert island, with Swanson as a upper crust nitwit and Thomas Meighan as her butler. Of course, only the servants possess any useful survival skills. Upstairs is down, downstairs is up, in this sophisticated satire of the British class system. Also featuring Theodore Roberts and Bebe Daniels.

The Affairs of Anatol (1921)—Maybe the most famous of DeMille's comedies. Here, a bored husband (All-American heartthrob Wallace Reid) looks to spice up his love life with a series of what turn out to be disastrous affairs. By the time he returns to his senses, his wife (Swanson again) has embarked on an affair of her own. With Bebe Daniels (as Satan Synne!), Elliott Dexter and Theodore Roberts.

Have fun!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Ramon Novarro In A Nutshell

A few facts about silent film star Ramon Novarro:

● He was born José Ramón Gil Samaniego in Durango, Mexico, in 1899. At age fourteen, he moved with his family to Los Angeles to escape the Mexican Revolution.

● Novarro made his acting debut with an uncredited part as a starving peasant in Cecil B. DeMille's 1916 costume epic, Joan the Woman.

● After ten more small, usually uncredited bit roles between 1917 and 1921, Novarro scored his breakout role as Rupert of Hentzau in the 1922 version of The Prisoner of Zenda.

● Novarro's biggest role was the title character in Fred Niblo's silent classic, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. Among his silent works, I can also highly recommend Scaramouche and Ernst Lubitsch's The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg.

● As was the case with many actors of the time, his career suffered with the advent of the talkies. He made his talkie debut in 1929, and of these early efforts, I'd point you to 1931's Mati Hari in which he co-starred with an especially luminous Greta Garbo. MGM dropped his contract in 1935.

● Novarro was a devout Roman Catholic; he was also gay, and was tormented by the conflict between his sexuality and his religious beliefs. Nevertheless, he refused to enter into a sham marriage to satisfy the gossip columnists or his boss, Louis B. Mayer.

● Of his later movies, I am a big fan of his work in the 1949 comic noir The Big Steal, starring Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer. There he is a Mexican police inspector who plays cat-and-mouse with a thief and his pursuers. He also appeared in an episode of The Wild Wild West, a childhood favorite of mine.

● Novarro was brutally murdered in his home in 1968 by two male prostitutes who mistakenly believed Novarro had a large cache of money hidden in his home. They eventually made off with $20, were captured, convicted and served less than ten years each for their crimes.

● And while we're here, how about a few more photos of Ramon Novarro:

with Ernst Lubitsch:

with Joan Crawford:

with Norma Shearer:

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

More Support For Radical Causes

You probably saw it already, but the decision to put Jane Austen on the ten pound note in England has inspired a vicious backlash that has included tweeted rape threats aimed at those women who campaigned for the decision.

Good grief.

As former residents of the United Kingdom and long-time fans of Jane Austen, we here at the Monkey heartily endorse putting her picture on whatever the British feel like putting it on.

I'd tell you to now tweet your worst, but I don't know how to read Twitter. If you want to threaten me, you'll have to do it the old-fashioned way, with a handwritten note mailed to me in care of my publisher. (Actually, I don't have a publisher—send it to the local police station instead.)

Have at it.

P.S. As suggested by bellotoot's comment:

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Great Silent Recasting Blogathon,
November 1-4, 2013

I've missed a lot of blogathons recently, for which I humbly apologize, but here's one I simply can't miss.

Carole & Co., the great site devoted to all things Carole Lombard, is hosting The Great Silent Recasting Blogathon on November 1st through the 4th. The rules are simple enough (in fact, they are a variation on the Great Recasting Blogathon from last summer):

[S]elect a film from 1965 onward ... then re-imagine it with silent-era actors and a director, as well as a studio and year of release. ... If an actor or actress appeared in a silent, even in bit parts, he or she is eligible as long as the fictional fllm is made at a time when he or she was actually working.

Count me in! In fact, in honor of Carole & Co., here's one starring Carole Lombard (who did indeed get her start during the silent era), Buster Keaton's never-happened follow-up to The General. It's a part she was born to play, I think.

As always, click on the picture to see full-sized.