So long, Mickey Rooney

For we classic movie fans, it is impossible not to know and appreciate Mickey Rooney, who we lost yesterday at age 93. I sometimes lament that none of the big stars from Hollywood’s golden age that I like are still alive –only the ones I tend to very much dislike. But Rooney did not fall on the list of disliked stars.

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

Mickey Rooney 1920-2014

I cannot say I have ever been a big Rooney fan, but it is impossible not to respect him. I’ve been exposed to a good number of his work –though a comparatively small portion of the list of 200+ flicks he made–because of the other people he starred with. I think I’ve seen all of the Andy Hardy and other movies he made with Judy Garland, and those films are a good representation of the lighthearted work he did. Then there’s Boys Town and Captains Courageous, which were among those that proved Rooney’s talent for serious performances. Even before he became a box office draw, Rooney made small appearances in comedic and dramatic spots in movies such as Riffraff and Manhattan Melodramarespectively.

His acting preparation backs up his talent. He was not just some cute kid who was cast in movies because he seemed to have a knack for it. Although his family had a vaudeville background and put him on stage reportedly before he could talk, Rooney also attended the Hollywood Professional School, which was also responsible for training Judy Garland and other future stars.

Even as he aged and stopped playing the lovable teenager trying to catch a girl, Rooney made us laugh. Everyone remembers his unrecognizable role as Mr. Yunioshi in Breakfast at Tiffany’sHis career in the later years went up and down but he kept on working in films and on stage.

History will never forget Mickey Rooney, though it will probably remember him best for those films of his youth. But I think in some ways those movies have a universal appeal and can continue to entertain future generations of children, just ask I enjoyed National Velvet as a kid.

Champagne

Gasser

Champagne (1928)

Champagne (1928)

The bubbly, golden fluid that is champagne is a standard analogy for all things tied to wealth. It is symbolic of all the glittery things afforded by those people who can in turn afford to order the high-ticket beverage. That is all you need know of the meaning of the title for Alfred Hitchcock‘s 1928 silent flick Champagne.

But to further draw the connection to the title, Hitchcock opens and closes the picture using an innovative technique by which he photographs the scenes through a champagne glass. Taking the view point of a person drinking the champagne, a bubble of glass at the base of the coupe captures dancers aboard a trans-Atlantic ship and the kissing couple at the film’s close. The master of suspense would later use a similar technique to capture the strangling scene in Strangers on a Train, which is depicted as reflected by the victim’s glasses.glass

Unlike his later films, Hitchcock made many non-thrillers in his early years, and Champagne is one of them. A comedy, the story tells of a frivolous millionairess who regularly angers her father by squandering their wealth and running around with a man whom the patriarch believes is only interested in the family fortune. To start the film, a ship headed from America to England makes a swift rescue of two passengers of a small aircraft that has crashed into the ocean. The pilot and the woman aboard are safely escorted to the vessel but not before The Girl (Betty Balfour) powders her nose and sheds the flight jacket, goggles and headgear she wears.

The Girl’s fashionable entrance on the boat was arranged just so she could catch up with her beau, The Boy (Jean Bradin). But when the young woman informs her love that she will arrange for the captain to marry them, The Boy is offended by her take-charge approach and the two part ways. Still on board the watercraft, The Girl finds a companion in a shady looking man that had been making eyes at her since her grand entrance. The two share a rocky meal upon the rough high seas, with The Boy unable to intervene because of sea sickness.

Once in Europe, The Girl carries on her absurdly wasteful lifestyle while her father frowns at the headlines she has made. He interrupts his daughter during a party involving the purchase of several new gowns and informs her he is now broke. The Girl weeps but offers to sell her jewelry.

Jumping forward, the father-daughter couple are living together in a small flat where The Girl tends to the home and endeavors to cook. In the next scene The Father (Gordon Harker), having left the home without breakfast, dines at a fancy bistro. It seems he has not actually been separated from his money but is instead attempting to teach his daughter a lesson.

The Boy eventually finds The Girl again and is still interested in being with her, but she repeatedly spurns him while yet again crossing paths with The Man (Theodore Van Alten) who took a shine to her on the boat. She garners a job distributing flowers to gentlemen at a night club, where she is only mildly successful. The Boy brings The Father to see what lifestyle his daughter has taken up, and he is disappointed to see his trick has resulted in a blow to her dignity. He reveals to her his ruse, and she reacts by being infuriated with both The Father and The Boy for the humiliation she has suffered.

She runs to The Man and convinces him to take her along on a ship-ride back to America, her home country. It just so happens The Boy is aboard as well, bringing us full circle to the film’s start. There the couple reunites and with The Father’s blessing. The Father also reveals The Man was his friend, who was sent on the original cruise to prevent by any means the marriage of our leading lady and man.

One of the most innovative scenes in Champagne is towards the film’s start when The Girl and The Man dine aboard the boat. The rollicking seas are conveyed by a swinging camera motion and the staggering and leaning of the people aboard the boat. The effect is so convincing it started to make me seasick.

Champagne is full of comical moments and has a decent story to tell. It is superficial and full of back and forth moments for the couple, and it is predictable. Still, any chance to see an early Hitchcock movie should not be passed up, and this one has some visual effects worth enjoying.

View the full film on YouTube:

Event: The Hitchcock 9

Blackmail (1929)

The Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio, is gearing up to show some rare Hitchcock treats on the big screen. Nine silent pictures from the director’s repertoire will be showcased in October, and I gleefully report will allow me to view several of the master’s flicks I have yet to lay my hands on.

The British Film Institute’s restoration of The Hitchcock 9 is the largest restoration project the BFI has ever undertaken and was made possible by new digital technology, according to the Wex. The films are being made available to venues around the world and have been touring the U.S. since June. They are/were slated to hit Washington, DC, Berkeley, Chicago, Seattle, Houston, and Boston, among others.

As much as Hitchcock is known for his work in the thriller genre, he spent a good amount of his early British career dabbling in dramas and romantic comedies. One nevertheless can see the early genius of the master of suspense in The Lodger and others.

For those in the vicinity or who would travel to see such rare screenings, the schedule follows. And another gem for you from BFI, the press book for 1928′s The Farmer’s Wife and ones for The Manxman and Champagne. I fully intend to witness Blackmail, Downhill, Champagne and The Pleasure Garden because I have not seen them before.

  • Oct. 10 at 4 p.m. | Film Studies Lecture Tania Modleski: Representations of Women in Hitchcock’s Blackmail
  • Oct . 10 at  7 p.m.  & Oct. 12  at 7 p.m. | Blackmail (1929) Live musical accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo
  • Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. & Oct. 12 at 4 p.m. | The Lodger (1926)
  • Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. | Downhill (1927)
  • Oct. 17 at 7 p.m. | The Ring (1927) Accompaniment by Larry Marotta
  • Oct. 17 at 9:10 p.m. | The Manxman (1929) Accompaniment by Larry Marotta
  • Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. | The Farmer’s Wife (1928) Accompaniment by Sue Harshe
  • Oct. 23 at 9:10 p.m. | Champagne (1928) Accompaniment by Sue Harshe
  • Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. | The Pleasure Garden (1926) Accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo
  • Oct. 25 at 8:45 p.m. | Easy Virtue (1927) Accompaniment by Derek DiCenzo

Feature: Guess that Poster 2013

It’s that time of year again: time for a new banner for the website. Can you figure out from which 1932 movie the poster cross section in the header is derived? This is again not an easy one and is cut from a horizontal poster or perhaps lobby card for the flick. As for hints, it features my favorite actor and an actress who was quite famous on the stage as well as screen. Although I found this movie to be a bit strange in its story of love and prostitution to keep one’s husband alive, the poster is quite captivating.

If you have a guess, click “comments” below or fill in the box. I’ll reveal the answer in a week or two and share the full poster for comparison.

For a reminder of past banner challenges, see the 2012 and 2011 versions. For more movie poster-centric posts and quizzes go HERE.

AND THE ANSWER IS… Continue reading

Harper

Gasser

Harper (1966)

Harper (1966)

Following up on the success of his other “H” movies, Paul Newman made Harper in 1966, having requested the name be changed from “The Moving Target” to draw on the box office luck he realized with Hud and The Hustler. The story harkens back to the private eye tales of the 40s, and producers scored Lauren Bacall in a supporting role to cinch that motif.

Newman is Lew Harper, a private eye living out of his office because his wife (Janet Leigh) is in the process of divorcing him. His friend and former DA Albert Graves (Arthur Hill) recommends him for a job with Bacall’s Mrs. Sampson, who wants him to investigate the disappearance of her philandering husband. The wealthy woman has an attractive step daughter –whom Graves wants to marry– also very keen on locating her father. This Miranda (Pamela Tiffin) joins Harper and the Sampson pilot/driver Alan Taggert (Robert Wagner) in scoping out the subject’s last known whereabouts –an airport and hotel where Mr. Sampson keeps a “bungalow.”

Harper meets washed up actress and sometimes companion to Mr. Sampson, Fay Estabrook, played by Shelley Winters. He gets her drunk and searches her apartment only to be interrupted at gunpoint by Estabrook’s husband. Harper plays Texan and manages to leave without the man being wise to his real reason for being there.

Harper manages to pick up one clue or one sliver of information at each stop in his investigation that leads him to another place and another clue. The plot becomes increasingly convoluted as Harper concludes Mr. Sampson has been kidnapped and ransom sought. Julie Harris plays nightclub singer and heroin addict Betty Fraley, who has a link to another player that we won’t see coming. In fact, when all is said and done, you’ll be wishing William Powell would materialize to give us the end-of-movie run down of who did what and why.

The story at times felt like a scavenger hunt and one that could be easily recreated as a party game. Although Harper is adept at blending into his surroundings, he has perhaps too easy of a time getting information from people and it always manages to be helpful information that never leads to a dead end. How many times have we seen the matchbook in a dead guy’s pocket lead us to the nightclub where all the unsavory sorts mingle? Is that always going to be a foolproof clue into cinematic eternity? Harper is very much a tribute to the old crime movies of decades earlier, but it could perhaps have tried to mix things up.

Where the movie does distinguish itself from its predecessors is in the violence and sex appeal the 1960s could afford. Newman’s character finds himself regularly brutalized while Tiffin shakes her hips and Winters requests Harper not try anything tonight. It’s certainly a grittier drama made all the more modern by being shot in color rather than in the stark black and white we have become accustomed to in this genre.

Harper certainly isn’t Newman’s finest work, and I often get annoyed by mysteries that have too much going on to actually follow the plot. Harper is not a bad flick, though. It’s just not one I’ll likely watch again.

The Anniversary

Gasser

The Anniversary (1968)

The Anniversary (1968)

Each time I turn to a movie Bette Davis made late in her career, I expect to see something comically bad. In both of these instances I’ve been wrong. Both movies had been conveyed as horror movies, which is largely what supported my theorem of horridness. In the case of Burnt Offerings, I was amazed to find I’d discovered a great horror movie and one in which Davis is neither ridiculous looking nor acting. In this latter case of The Anniversary, I found neither a horror movie nor a bad show by Davis; however, she does affect a ridiculous eye patch.

The Anniversary rolls out more like a play. It is dialogue heavy, occurs primarily in one place and transpires over the course of one day. To start, Shirley (Elaine Taylor) arrives at a construction site in search of her fiancé, Tom Taggart (Christian Roberts). This revelation that Tom is engaged shocks the man’s brothers and fellow construction site workers Terry (Jack Hedley) and Henry (James Cossins). Their real concern for this news is that it is sure to enrage their mother, who is celebrating her anniversary this day.

Despite her husband being long dead, Mrs. Taggart insists on making a big show of their wedding anniversary each year. The Taggarts own a building construction company with labor run by the sons. Mrs. Taggart’s shrewd business approach has resulted in sloppy and embarrassing construction work that has Terry, his wife, and five children prepared to move to Canada to escape the work –and the mother. This planned move is the other bomb to be dropped on Mrs. Taggart on her anniversary, but the old woman is in the know about both revelations.

The old woman picks at Shirley to try to underhandedly dissuade her from marrying Tom. Meanwhile, the mother is horrid to Terry’s wife, Karen (Sheila Hancock), at one point informing the husband and wife that the car transporting their children and driven by Henry has been in an accident, the children in “critical” condition. This lie is delivered to impress upon Karen what it feels like to lose a son, which is the equivalent of moving Terry to Canada.

Tom makes no bones about his disdain for his mother, playfully with Karen plotting her death when the old bag is out of the room. He’s intent on marrying Shirley, but his mother has scared away two previous fiancées. When Shirley stands up to the missus, Tom starts to feel like his chosen spouse is too like his mother. Shirley is pregnant, however, and when the fright of finding Mrs. Taggart’s glass eye in bed sends her into what might be a miscarriage, Tom opts to leave his mother forever. Terry follows suit while Henry retires to bed. The story allows no defeat of Mrs. Taggart, however, and her final actions on screen are thoroughly devilish against her sons.

An eye patch to match her outfit.

An eye patch to match her outfit.

Bette Davis, despite having a silly haircut and confusingly fashionable eye patch, is splendid in such a sinister role. She draws on much of the “bitch” training she had in many roles in her younger days, exacting control over her sons and their families. The other players, none of whom I am familiar with, also embody their parts swimmingly. Taylor plays both vulnerable and determined with the right balance as she tries to endure and go to war with her future mother in law. Hancock also is fun to watch as she spars with the matriarch and tries to make up for her meek husband. The men play their roles more timidly but portray the men we would expect to have developed under Mrs. Taggart’s hand.

The Anniversary was a good drama, but at only 95 minutes in duration, it felt incredibly long. This is probably because of the degree to which the drama relies on dialogue rather than action. It nevertheless is a good sit for those who want to see Davis still kicking it in 1968, when she was 60.

From Here to Eternity

Wowza!

From Here to Eternity (1953)

From Here to Eternity (1953)

There’s a reason From Here to Eternity won eight Academy Awards and was nominated for five others. The stellar cast is in large part responsible as two leading men and several supporting characters of almost leading caliber delivery hard-hitting performances.

The story follows a Hawaiian military base in the months preceding the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s official entrance into World War II. Because the country is not at war for most of the picture, however, we get to see what life was like for the “30-year” men who enlisted with the aim of making a career out of military life. Yes, they do drills, but they also spend their evenings in town getting drunk and meeting women.

But the story is as unsavory as that. It commences with the arrival of Pvt. Robert E. Lee Pruitt (Montgomery Clift) on base, having transferred from his post as a bugler because he was passed over for the first bugle position. He was directed to his receiving base because Capt. Holmes (Philip Ober) once saw him box and aspires to have his division win the inter-regiment boxing league. Pruitt refuses to box, however, because the last time he did he blinded a man.

Pruitt’s story surrounds the intimidation and mistreatment he receives at the hands of the other boxing men in the ranks who try to pressure him to enter the ring. Pruitt makes a great pal, however, in Pvt. Maggio (Frank Sinatra) –a high-spirited soldier who introduces Pruitt to the benefits of a social club in town. It is at said club that Pruitt meets Lorene (Donna Reed), with whom he quickly falls in love. The two maintain a romance that is stifled by Lorene’s confession she does not want to marry an army man.

Maggio, meanwhile, makes a fast enemy in “Fatso”, the sergeant of the stockades (Ernest Borgnine). At a bar in town, Maggio argues with him over the sergeant’s piano playing, the musician calls Maggio a “wop” and the disagreement continues for months. When Maggio is given a last-minute assignment to cover the watch, he shirks his duty and goes on with his original plans to get drunk. His court martial lands him in the stockade where Fatso brutally beats him for weeks. Maggio escapes from the stockade and finds his way to Pruitt only to die moments later.

But those two dramatic tales are not alone in From Here to Eternity. Burt Lancaster as Sgt. Warden presents the story’s romantic plot. Warden is assistant to Cpt. Holmes and catches the eye of the philandering officer’s wife, Karen (Deborah Kerr). Although Karen has been known to get around herself, she confesses to never having known a feeling like that she experiences with Warden. By the end of the movie, the couple hopes to get married, but if Karen is to divorce Holmes, Warden will have to secure an officer’s position in order to transfer out of the regiment. The enlisted man is resistant to the idea, however, and when the war starts, everything will change.

No matter which character you become invested in, by the end of From Here to Eternity you will find yourself heartbroken. For a war movie set during (relative) peace time, the tragedies endured by the various characters are significant. Although the villains –Cpt. Homes and Fatso– get what they deserve, the sweetest character –Maggio– suffers the worst fate. Sinatra won the Best Supporting Actor award and deservedly so. He had pushed to get the role for which producers had passed over Eli Wallach because of his salary demands. Filmmakers thought Sinatra’s skinny build portrayed the helpless image the character called for, and so he got the part. Joan Crawford endeavored to take the role of Karen but also had demands that put her off for the filmmakers. The role was a different one for Kerr who typically played sophisticated roles. Although she brings an upper class air to the part, the character nevertheless has a semi-sordid past.

The direction of the film, by Fred Zinnemann is also superb with beautifully composed deep-focus shots and some of the most memorable scenes in movie history –see Lancaster and Kerr cavorting among the waves. From Here to Eternity does nothing to show the Army in a positive light, yet the Army itself approved its screening in camps. The Navy, meanwhile, banned it for its derogatory portrayal of a sister service.

Source: TCM.com

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