Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Great Escape (1963): Mini Review

Saw this yesterday with Mister Muleboy at the AFI-Silver. In case you've never seen it, it's based on the true story of the mass escape of British prisoners from a German POW camp during World War II. A couple of Hollywood's biggest stars, James Garner and Steve McQueen, were shoehorned into the story—and thank God for studio interference. Garner is merely great while McQueen gives the most exciting performance of his career. His love affair with a motorcycle is justly legendary.

5 stars out of 5.

Also starring Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Donald Pleasence, James Donald, David McCallum, Gordon Jackson, Hannes Messemer, Angus Lennie, Nigel Stock. Produced and directed by John Sturges. Elmer Bernstein wrote the iconic score.

[SPOILERS] I don't know how many times I've seen this movie, but I never fail to watch white-knuckled thinking this time McQueen is going to make it over that fence.

Bonus Trivia: Donald Pleasence, who plays the nerdy, half-blind forger, was in real life an RAF officer who was shot down and spent the war in a POW camp. Also, thanks to the miracle of film editing, one of the German soldiers chasing Steve McQueen on a motorcycle is Steve McQueen.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Things Found On The Way To Finding Other Things: The Set Of The Thief Of Bagdad

An aerial view of Pickfair Studios, circa 1924. That's the set of the Douglas Fairbanks masterpiece The Thief of Bagdad in the foreground.

As always, click on the photo to biggie-size it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Theatre Of Blood (1973): Mini Review

Caught Theatre of Blood on the big screen at the AFI-Silver the other night. Starring Vincent Price and Diana Rigg, Theatre of Blood is the story of a hammy Shakespearean actor (Price) who with the help of his daughter (Rigg) re-purposes various murder scenes from the Bard's works to take revenge on the critics who skewered him.

Vincent Price is at his most Vincent Price-y, Diana Rigg shows off both her very fine acting chops and her very fine legs. Also features supporting performances from a veritable who's-who of British character actors: Harry Andrews, Jack Hawkins, Michael Hordern, Robert Morley, Dennis Price, Coral Browne, Milo O'Shea.

A delightful hoot. 4 stars out of 5.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck At The AFI-Silver: All Tickets $5!

As if you needed another reason to come out to the AFI-Silver this weekend to meet Victoria Wilson, author of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, tickets to see the movies themselves are only five bucks! So now you've got no excuses.

The schedule:

Saturday, November 16
1 pm — The Purchase Price
4 pm — The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Sunday, November 17
1 pm — Baby Face
3:20 pm — Illicit
5:30 pm — Remember the Night

With encore presentations of Illicit, Baby Face and Remember the Night on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday respectively.

Five dollars. You couldn't rent the movies at Blockbuster for that—if there was still a Blockbuster, that is.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Barbara Stanwyck Author Victoria Wilson At The AFI-Silver This Weekend

My copy of A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True arrived in the mail today and soon enough I will serve up my review of it here at the Monkey. Steel-True has received terrific reviews and I'm looking forward to reading it—if you've been following the Monkey for any length of time, you know Stanwyck is one of my very favorites.

In the meantime, the book's author, Victoria Wilson, will be presenting a series of Stanwyck's films at the AFI-Silver just down the road in Silver Spring, Maryland. Here is the schedule:

Saturday, November 16
1 pm — The Purchase Price
4 pm — The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Sunday, November 17
1 pm — Baby Face
3:20 pm — Illicit
5:30 pm — Remember the Night

Wilson will be signing copies of her book on both Saturday and Sunday.

Katie-Bar-The-Door and I are going to try to make it to Baby Face on Sunday and then maybe stick around for Illicit (the only one of these I haven't seen). Baby Face might be the pre-Code-y-est pre-Code film ever made, the straw that broke the censor's back. The Bitter Tea of General Yen is an A+ film, but Baby Face has to be seen to be believed.

In addition, there will be encore presentations of Illicit on Monday, Baby Face on Tuesday and Remember the Night on Wednesday. But sadly, no Victoria Wilson. So if you're in the DC area, block out some time this weekend and treat yourself.

P.S. To read my short reviews of Baby Face, The Bitter Tea of General Yen and The Purchase Price, click on the highlighted link.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What A Character Blogathon, Part Three: Silent Supporting Players Who Were Better In The Sound Era

Eugene Pallette—best known for his froggy bass voice, this veteran of such films as My Man Godfrey and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington made his first movie in 1913 and had an important role in D.W. Griffith's classic Intolerance.

Adolphe Menjou—debuting in 1914, he was already great in such silent films as A Woman of Paris and The Marriage Circle, but sound added another layer of smarm and good humor. See, e.g., Morocco, The Front Page, A Farewell to Arms, Stage Door, Paths of Glory, etc.

Wallace Beery—a ham in any age, he played supporting roles in the The Last of the Mohicans (1920), the Douglas Fairbanks version of Robin Hood (1922), Buster Keaton's Three Ages (1923), and The Lost World (1925), but he won an Oscar in the sound era.

Mary Astor—made her film debut in 1920, but did her best work in Dodsworth and The Maltese Falcon, and won an Oscar for The Great Lie in 1941.

Lionel Barrymore—debuted in 1908 and was excellent in the Gloria Swanson version of Sadie Thompson but is best known for such sound work as It's A Wonderful Life, Key Largo, Grand Hotel and his Oscar-winning role in A Free Soul.

Marie Dressler—she starred across from Chaplin in the first feature-length comedy, Tillie's Punctured Romance in 1914, became a supporting player, then virtually disappeared before becoming Hollywood's top leading lady (no, seriously!) in the sound era, winning an Oscar for Min and Bill and providing the best double take in film history opposite Jean Harlow in Dinner at Eight.

Carole Lombard—debuting in 1921, she made multiple brief appearances as eye candy until Howard Hawks had the good sense to cast this irreverent, salty-tongued goddess in a comedy, 1934's Twentieth Century. After that, we got such classics as My Man Godfrey, Nothing Sacred and To Be or Not to Be before her untimely death in 1942.

Myrna Loy—played dozens of largely-forgotten vamps and exotics between 1925 and 1934 until cast opposite William Powell in the classic comedy whodunit, The Thin Man. After that, she was one of the biggest stars of Hollywood's Golden Age, a leading lady to the likes of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Fredric March and, of course, Powell with whom she made fourteen films.

William Powell—Roger Ebert once wrote that Powell was to dialogue what Fred Astaire was to dance, and with the coming of the sound era, his career blossomed. But you can see him in thirty-five silent films, mostly as the stock heavy (including a brilliant turn as a Russian revolutionary in Josef von Sternberg's The Last Command.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

What A Character Blogathon, Part Two: My Favorite Character Actresses Of The Silent Era

Yesterday, I posted a list of my favorite silent era character actors. Today, it's actresses.

10. Miriam Cooper—"The Friendless One" in D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, she was a Method actress before the Method, once staring so intently into a Klieg light during a close-up, her eyesight was permanently damaged.

9. Clarine Seymour—Griffith cast her as the "bad" girl against Lillian Gish's "good" one in True-Heart Susie, but she proved so much more interesting than the heroine, she subverted the whole story. She died a year later on the cusp of stardom.

8. Gladys Brockwell—memorable as a hooker with a heart of stone in 7th Heaven and a homeless women with a pivotal secret in Lon Chaney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

7. Zasu Pitts—her quavering, sing-song voice turned her into comic relief during the sound era, but she was the avaricious shrew in von Stroheim's Greed, the love interest in The Wedding March, and Mary Pickford's only friend in The Little Princess.

6. Olga Baclanova—remembered now as the evil seductress in Freaks, she was at her best in Paul Leni's The Man Who Laughs and Josef von Sternberg's The Docks of New York.

5. Anita Page—a personal favorite, she was Joan Crawford's arch-nemesis, on-stage and off, in Our Dancing Daughters and Our Modern Maidens.

4. Edna Purviance—Chaplin's go-to girl in nearly forty shorts and features.

3. Louise Brooks—in Germany, she was a star, but in Hollywood, she was strictly supporting. And if you've seen A Girl in Every Port, The Show Off and It's the Old Army Game, you know she was one of the best.

2. Musidora—her iconic portrayal of spy master Irma Vep in Louis Feuillade's classic serial Les Vampires made crime so appealing, French police temporarily halted production.

1. "The Girl" (Bebe Daniels / Mildred Davis / Jobyna Ralston)—There was always a girl in Harold Lloyd's comedies, almost always named simply "The Girl," but she was, in fact, played by three very different actresses: the spunky Bebe Daniels (1915-1919), the demure Mildred Davis (1919-1923) and the soulful Jobyna Ralston (1923-1927). Daniels went on to bigger and better things with Cecil B. DeMille, Davis married Lloyd in real life and retired, and Ralston, well, she played second fiddle to Clara Bow and a squadron of airplanes in the first Oscar-winning picture Wings. But as "the Girl," they were all just wonderful. (Click here to read Annette D’Agostino Lloyd's essay on "the Girl." And no, she's no relation to Harold.)

Tomorrow: Silent Supporting Players Who Were Better In The Sound Era

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What A Character Blogathon, Part One: My Favorite Character Actors Of The Silent Era

A trio of bloggers are hosting this week's What a Character Blogathon: Outspoken & Freckled, Paula's Cinema Club, and Once Upon a Screen. The least I can do is offer up a trio of posts in their honor.

Today is a list of my favorite character actors from the silent era, tomorrow a similar list of silent era actresses, and on the blogathon's final day, silent supporting players who were better in the sound era.

For today's list, I've bypassed actors such as Sessue Hayakawa, William Powell and Wallace Beery who did a lot of supporting work but were also lead actors in their own right, and stuck strictly with the supporting players. (Powell and Beery will show up Monday.)

13. Snub Pollard—beginning his film career as one of the Keystone Kops, he made his name as a supporting player in the Hal Roach stable, playing the little guy with a droopy moustache in the early Harold Lloyd comedies, then later in Laurel and Hardy's silent shorts. In the sound era, he wound up playing Tex Ritter's sidekick Pee Wee in a series of Westerns.

12. Jackie Coogan—he really only served up one great performance in his career, but what a performance, as the foundling child in Charlie Chaplin's first feature film, The Kid. Grew up to play Uncle Fester on television's The Addams Family.

11. Marcel Lévesque—the rubber-faced comic relief in two of Louis Feuillade's greatest serials, Les Vampire and Judex. A great ham.

10. Rudolf Klein-Rogge—best known for his supporting work as the Inventor in Fritz Lang's dystopian sci-fi classic Metropolis, he was Lang's go-to bad guy, starring in the Mabuse films.

9.Eric Campbell—Chaplin's comic foil in eleven of the twelve Mutual films, including the two best shorts of Chaplin's career, Easy Street and The Immigrant. At 6' 5" and 300 pounds, he loomed over the diminutive Chaplin, giving the Tramp something solid to fight against. He died in an automobile accident in 1917.

8.Ernest Torrence—he played everything from St. Peter (The King of Kings) to Buster Keaton's father (Steamboat Bill, Jr.), and appeared in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Clara Bow's Mantrap and John Gilbert's last silent film, Desert Nights.

7. Jean Hersholt—known for his pivotal role in Erich von Stroheim's Greed, he also excelled in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy, The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg, and later during the sound era as the grandfather in Shirley Temple's Heidi.

6.Donald Crisp—he won an Oscar for How Green Was My Valley, but to me, his best work was during the silent era, as Lillian Gish's viciously cruel father in Broken Blossoms and as Douglas Fairbanks's swashbuckling ally in The Black Pirate.

5.Sam De Grasse—best known for his work in the films of Douglas Fairbanks, he typically played a heavy, but with refreshing restraint and subtlety.

4. Al St. John—probably the best comic actor of the silent era who was never really a star in his own right, he worked with Roscoe Arbuckle, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Mabel Normand, then during the sound era as the codger sidekick in B-Westerns starring the likes of Buster Crabbe, Lash La Rue and some guy named John Wayne.

3. Conrad Veidt—you know him as Major Strasser in Casablanca, but Veidt was at his best during the silent era, starting small with such classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Waxworks, eventually starring in The Man Who Laughs, a film that inspired the character of the Joker in the Batman comics.

2. Theodore Roberts—a twinkly-eyed ham who made sinning look like so much fun in Cecil B. DeMille's sex comedies, yet he was equally convincing as the heavy in Joan the Woman and as Moses in The Ten Commandments. A stage actor who made his debut in 1880, he made 23 films with DeMille and appeared in 103 altogether.

1. Gustav von Seyffertitz—possibly the only actor to ever upstage the legendary Mary Pickford, his performance as the evil "baby farmer" in Sparrows ranks as one of the great fiends of the silent era. Mostly playing slippery, sly villains, he worked with everybody—DeMille, Barrymore, Garbo, Fairbanks, Valentino, Dietrich, von Sternberg, Marion Davies, Wallace Reid and, of course, Pickford—carving out a long career as the man you love to hate.

Tomorrow: My Favorite Character Actresses of the Silent Era.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

And Jonathan Harris Would Be 99 (If He Weren't Bleedin' Demised)

My favorite childhood villain, Dr. Zachary Smith of Lost in Space. Some of you youngsters may know him as the voice of The Cleaner in Toy Story 2. All of us should know him for his catchphrase: "Oh, the pain, the pain."

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Today Is Vivien Leigh's 100th Birthday

My brother reminded me that today is Vivien Leigh's 100th birthday—here are some photos to commemorate the occasion.

She looks great for her age, don't you think?