Feature: Liebster Award

MacGuffin Movies has received its first form of recognition: A Liebster Award from R.C. at  The Shades of Black and White.

The requirements for receiving such an honor include sharing information about myself and selecting others to also be honored. This all happens in sets of 11. So to start, 11 things you might not know about me:

  1. I love cats and am borderline crazy cat lady.
  2. I’m getting married next year on Oct. 12 to that Ryan guy I sometimes mention in my posts.
  3. I tend to hold grudges over silly things, especially of celebrities. It took me a long time to get over creepy pictures The New Yorker ran of Katharine Hepburn upon her death and finally accept the woman as a great actress.
  4. I ideally would like to name my children after favorite actors. Marlene is at the top of my list.
  5. Eric Blore is my favorite character actor, followed by Edward Everett Horton.
  6. I love kissing scenes and am always disappointed in old movies when they end without sealing the romance with a smooch.
  7. I’ve gotten really into birding recently, and love that movie The Big Year.
  8. I’m an avid shopper of ModCloth.com where I can actually find fashions that remind me of those I see in classic movies.
  9. I watched Bridesmaids constantly this spring when it was playing on HBO. The same is starting to be true of What’s Your Number.
  10. As possibly indicated in the previous note, I have a slight guilty pleasure streak with crappy and predictable romantic comedies.
  11. I have what might be deemed a collection of hats. I can’t help but buy cloche-style and other bygone-style hats from places such as Goorin Bros. I only wear them in the winter.

The next task is to answer 11 questions posed by my nominator, R.C.

  1. Who is your least favorite actor? Clint Eastwood. Although I admit I have avoided his movies like the plague, I think his performances have always appeared to be rather the same, and annoying.
  2. Despite the fact that you don’t like the actor, do you have a film that you really like with him starring in it? I can’t name any performances, but I do love Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which he directed.
  3. A popular film that you’ll never be able to understand why it’s so popular? Any of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and West Side Story.
  4. A film that you really, really want to see, but haven’t yet had the chance to? Up until recently the answer would have been Wings, but its release on Blu-Ray has meant DVD access for me. Now that distinction goes unexcitedly to the Audrey Hepburn movies that are out of print, such as Love Among Thieves and Bloodline, which are necessary to complete my viewing of all her movies!
  5. What film of your favorite actress is your least favorite? Audrey Hepburn’s The Unforgiven. Her prim French-English accent does not work for her half-white-half-American Indian character.
  6. A favorite actor or actress who didn’t make as many films as you wished that they had? Grace Kelly, no question.
  7. Do you have a film that, if not anything else, you love the dialogue? Probably Charade. It’s full of wit and romance. Any of the Thin Man movies are also dialogue gems.
  8. Favorite film composer? Bernard Hermann. He did a lot of Hitchcock flicks, and who doesn’t love those scores.
  9. Do you have a film that you love, but didn’t like the way it ended, and so you wish you could remake the ending to suit what you believe should have happened? I know Splendor in the Grass had to end with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty unable to get back together, but did it HAVE to be that way!?
  10. In your opinion, who do you think is the most underrated actor and/or actress? Joseph Gordon Levitt. I think people are starting to catch onto his talent now that he is doing more mainstream flicks. I’ve been watching his indie stuff for years, and he’s picky enough with his role selections that you know you’re in for a good movie if he’s in it.
  11. A film that no matter what, you’ll never watch it? Any of the follow ups to Paranormal Activity. The first one destroyed me for any horror movie involving demon-like creatures.

Now for my 11 picks to receive the award:

  1. Tales of the Easily Distracted
  2. Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
  3. The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
  4. Via Margutta 51
  5. The Great Katharine Hepburn
  6. Backlots
  7. My Love of Old Hollywood
  8. Carole & Co.
  9. Classic Film and TV Cafe
  10. Silver Screenings
  11. vinnieh

And the questions they must answer:

  1. Who is your favorite character actor and your favorite movie of his/hers?
  2. If there is one locale from a movie you could visit or live in permanently, where would it be?
  3. What is your least favorite movie genre and what is your favorite movie that falls into that category?
  4. Is there any movie star whose offscreen life you would want to lead?
  5. Which actor/actress’ life outside of movies do you find the most tragic?
  6. What is your favorite biopic/docudrama?
  7. What fashion seen in classic movies do you wish would resurface?
  8. Have you ever met a celebrity, and if not, who would be a priority person to bump into?
  9. What movie do you love but would like to recast.
  10. Are there any actors whose films you avoid? If so, why?
  11. If you could live your life inside a movie, what genre would it be?

Thanks, R.C. and best of luck to my honorees!

The Star

The Star (1952)

Ring a Ding Ding

     It is no Sunset Blvd., but Bette Davis did a fine job playing an actress gone “box office poison” who desperately seeks another part. The Star was released two years after the powerful William HoldenGloria Swanson flick and treads along the same lines but holds its own if one’s not drawing comparisons.

     Davis is Margaret Elliot, the aging actress who upon the picture’s opening wanders buy an auction of her belongings. She is broke, a fact comically exacerbated by a sister and brother-in-law who come by the woman’s apartment demanding their usual check. Margaret has a daughter who at present lives with her ex-husband and his family. This Gretchen, played by a young Natalie Wood, adores her mother but must face the constant torment of her peers who say Margaret Elliot is no longer a star.

     Margaret tries to save face for her daughter’s sake but leaves her ex-husband’s mansion in tears. She ends up driving through the neighborhoods of the rich and famous in Hollywood while downing a bottle of liquor. She is chased by a cop before crashing her car and spending the night in jail. The next thing Margaret knows she’s been bailed out by ex-actor Jim Johannson (Sterling Hayden), who had worked with the woman on a movie before giving up his career to join the Navy and later bought a shipping yard.

     Jim tries to be the voice of wisdom and persuade Margaret that possibilities for life and career exist outside a soundstage. He convinces the woman to take a job as a department store clerk outside of town –acting her way through the interview– but she soon quits the position when two snooty shoppers recognize her.

     Margaret, with the help of her agent Harry Stone (Warner Anderson) goes to a studio head to ask for a part in a film she has been eyeballing for years. The producer Joe Morrison (Minor Watson) offers the actress the part of an older character as the lead is going to Margaret’s young rival. The old pro botches the screen test, however, by trying to make the part younger and flirtier. The star later speaks to a young writer about a part she would be perfect for, hearing the plot laid out like so much of her life, but she walks out to pursue the alternative lifestyle that had been before her all along.

      The Star might lack the murder, stalking, and insanity offered by Sunset Blvd. but it is far from lacking in the drama department. Davis does a fantastic job of expressing the range of emotions to which her character is subjected. Whether she is furious at her in-laws for asking for money, remorseful over the lies she has told her daughter about her stardom, depressed about her financial situation, or resigned to the steady decline of her lifestyle, Davis offers all with gusto. She has a few vibrant rageful rants, but none go over the top as might be easy to do. She earned an Oscar nomination for her effort.

     A variety of movies —A Star is Born being another great one– address the subject of declining fame. Actors often found their standard parts going to a younger generation and many struggled to reinvent themselves, or to convince the studios to allow them to do so. Ironically, Bette Davis is one star whose career never faltered as her character’s did in The Star. Davis’ odd beauty was already on it’s way out by the time this film was released in 1952 but she had so thoroughly defined herself as more than a pretty face that her sometimes frighteningly old facade (see Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) did not prevent her from finding work. She also maintained her career well despite acting as a free agent after a 1949 voluntary release from her Warner Bros. contract.

Source: Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Splendor in the Grass

Wowza!

Splendor in the Grass (1961)

     I watched Elia Kazan‘s Splendor in the Grass last weekend and have not been able to stop thinking about it since. I find with any era of movies, the ones you keep talking about or mulling over hours and days later are the ones that will find their place in movie history.

     Director Kazan reminds me how fantastic he was at telling tales of young, somewhat tragic romances set in bygone times. The raw emotional part James Dean gave us in his first movie East of Eden was guided by Kazan who does the same here for 24-year-old Warren Beatty in his premiere role.

     Beatty and Natalie Wood are teenagers in a Kansas town during the 1920s. The setting is starkly different from the flapper era we often see depicted in films set in big cities. Few girls in the high school have taken up the flapper look and those who have also take liberties with their sexuality. Beatty’s Bud is a football star and top tier in popularity at the high school. Wood’s Deanie has been steady with Bud for some time and her shy personality derives it social standing from being on Bud’s arm.

    Splendor in the Grass opens on the couple necking in a convertible next to a river dam. Deanie is caught up in the moment but nevertheless refuses Bud’s increasing intensity. Sexually frustrated, Bud punches the car and takes a walk. He returns the girl home where Deanie’s mother gently probes about how far the couple has gone in their relationship and insists nice girls do not have the urges Deanie is subtly conveying she cannot deny.

     The sexual repression Bud is experiencing seems to initially convey his feelings for the pretty Deanie are not beyond physical, but he tells his wealthy oil baron father that he wants to marry the girl. The father has no particular problem with Deanie and her middle-class family, but also warns his son about the consequences if he were to get her into “trouble”. The man suggests that his boy instead find a “different” type of girl to go around with in the meantime.

     When Bud asks Deanie for a break in their relationship and rumors abound about his encounter with a flapper in their class, Deanie flees from her classroom in hysterics. She is furious with her mother for insisting she remain pure knowing all too well she has lost her man because of her prudishness. She cuts her hair into a bob and attends a school dance on the arm of one of Bud’s friend. At the event, however, Deanie offers herself to Bud only to be rejected in yet another hysterical scene. The incident leads Deanie to the dam where she tries to drown herself.

     The events have left Deanie in a mental state requiring institutionalization. Bud knows all is his fault but is forced by his father to leave for Yale. There the boy neglects his studies and finds a sympathetic companion in the daughter of an Italian restauranteur.

     Deanie, meanwhile, is recovering fine at the mental facility and has made close acquaintance with a man from Ohio who plans to become a doctor. After two years in the facility she is released and plans to marry that doctor, but returns home and seeks one last encounter with Bud.

     SPOILER I could not help but get choked up in watching the final scene in East of Eden. Bud’s circumstances have take a dramatic turn and he has created a life farming his family’s old ranch. Deanie arrives in a pristine white dress and hat symbolic of a bride. She meets Bud who is dirty from working the fields and we see not only the contrast in their lives but also know that as much as we want Bud to embrace the young woman, he cannot do so without soiling her dress (and probably her mental state). We can see all the emotional innerworkings of our main characters’ minds and feel for the life they lost together. Bud presents his ex-girlfriend to the pregnant wife and child slaving in his tiny kitchen and our hearts break as Deanie holds and expresses how fine the baby is while Bud looks on. It is too late for this couple and we will never get the ending we so hope for. SPOILER

     The permissibility of sexual expression had certainly changed by the time the 1960s arrived. The passionate scene we face on the picture’s opening is slightly uncomfortable in its frankness, but the passion the characters show for one another throughout is refreshing compared to older, restrained movies on the subject of love. Beatty is so dreamy as Bud, we women can understand why Deanie idolizes him. Wood meanwhile is delicate as the pretty girl who, although she has friends, derives most of her social standing from her relationship. As the couple walks down a crowded school hallway, our eyes are drawn to the softly smiling Wood despite Beatty’s towering over her and the crowd. Their classmates greet each of them individually, but we can see by the girl’s grasp on her man’s arm that she defines herself by this relationship.

    I often find it hard to convince myself to re-watch a movie that evokes such sadness, but Splendor in the Grass is well worth it. The acting is off the charts and the story so intriguing given the natural comparisons one draws between today’s morals and those of the 1920s. I cannot recommend it enough.

  • Splendor in the Grass is set for 2 a.m. ET June 23 on TCM.

Feature: Stop the Presses — Police reopen Natalie Wood drowning case

The Associated Press reported this morning that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office will reconsider the death of Natalie Wood whose drowning in 1981 that was originally ruled accidental.

The star’s death off the coast of southern California while yachting at night with husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken has incited much speculation over the years about what happened. Allegedly no one on board saw Wood go overboard and some sight excessive drinking as a possible cause. Authorities presumed she either slipped and went overboard or was leaning over to tie a dinghy. Those who knew her said she was afraid of the water, however, and doubted she would have been so near to it.

A sheriff’s spokesman said Thursday the renewed inquiry was prompted by unspecified new information about Woods’ case, the AP reported.

See the AP article here.

UPDATE: The Montreal Gazette is reporting an interview with the yacht captain who says he thinks Wagoner was to blame in her death but will not specify how. He said information he has is why the investigation has been resumed. Read it here.

Sex and the Single Girl

Wowza!

Sex and the Single Girl (1964)

     Both Natalie Wood and Tony Curtis have been actors of only moderate interest to me, but after viewing Sex and the Single Girl, I’m changing my tune. This wonderful joke on married and single life and male and female standards plays both leads to their best and makes for a riveting good time.

     Curtis as Bob Weston is managing editor at STOP magazine, a filthy gossip rag that prides itself on being the worst publication in town. Wood as Dr. Helen Brown is the latest feature of the magazine and author of the best-selling “Sex and the Single Girl” advice book. She is a psychologist who, thanks to STOP, is losing clients because they believe she is a virgin. Bob plans to slyly get the truth about Helen’s sexual experience to do a follow-up story, but of course falls in love along the way.

     Bob’s neighbors are the feuding couple Frank and Sylvia Broderick, played by middle-aged Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall. Frank is a hosiery manufacturer who is obsessed with examining women’s legs on a strictly professional basis, but his wife thinks he runs around. Because Frank hasn’t the time to see a marriage counselor, Bob takes it upon himself to pose as Frank and see Helen professionally, relaying any advice back to his neighbor. Doctor and patient have a moment of love at first sight upon meeting, but Bob, now known as Frank, has established himself as a married man.

     Bob makes a number of efforts to get Helen in bed, including faking a desire to kill himself that lands both parties in the river. Eventually the scam comes to a head when Helen’s request to meet with Sylvia results in three women showing up at her office, two of which are pretending to be the woman at Bob’s request. Once Bob’s identity is revealed and Sylvia understands the true nature of her husband, a car chase scene consumes the remainder of the feature.

     The last prolonged sequence in Sex and the Single Girl rings of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Great Race (which also features Curtis and Wood). The various parties, while chasing each other down en route to the airport, switch cars, drivers and strangers leading to the institutionalization of a police officer. The action is so distinctly different than the prior three-quarters of the flick that it could almost be it’s own short-subject movie.

    Possibly my favorite running gag in Sex and the Single Girl followed Curtis’ donning of a woman’s robe while he waits for his garments to dry at Helen’s apartment. When asked if he is uncomfortable in such a feminine item, he replies that he thinks he looks like Jack Lemmon, referencing of course Some Like It Hot, which five years earlier had both Curtis and Lemon in drag. The rest of the movie has characters saying Bob looks like Jack Lemmon at least half a dozen times.

     I cannot conclude without referencing two other essential members of the cast. First, an old Edward Everett Horton plays the head of STOP magazine and has few scenes but is a gem nevertheless. Secondly –and I thought I’d never say this– Mel Ferrer is highly amusing. He plays another psychologist in Helen’s office who finds himself fascinated with the girl after reading the STOP article. He had me giggling as he performed a rather adept solo dance while waiting for Helen to prepare for their date. On the whole, Sex and the Single Girl is highly romantic and greatly comedic and is supported by a fantastic cast.

  • Sex and the Single Girl is set for 4 p.m. ET Oct. 16 on TCM.

The Great Race

Ring a Ding Ding

The Great Race (1965)

     With the death of Blake Edwards last week, it was a lucky coincidence I had recorded The Great Race recently. What Edwards had hoped to be “the funniest movie ever” is a great example of the writer/director’s work and one that I imagine will continue to entertain audiences of all ages for decades to come. Edwards was best known for his comedies — The Pink Panther movies and Operation Petticoat — but also contributed significant dramatic films — Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Days of Wine and Roses.

     By re-teaming the duo seen in the wildly successful Some Like it Hot from 1959 (not his film), Edwards might not have made THE funniest movie of all time, but he sure crammed a load of laughs into this nearly three-hour saga. The relationship between Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in The Great Race, however, is quite different from the pals who sought Marilyn Monroe‘s affection in their previous on-screen pairing. Curtis plays the Great Leslie, a stunt man of sorts who arranges an automobile race from New York to Paris (moving westward). Lemmon plays Professor Fate, the villain who seeks to foil Leslie’s stunts and to defeat him in the race. Natalie Wood is the suffragette who in this early 20th century time period seeks equality for women. She wrangles herself a test job as a reporter who will participate in and cover the race.

     The story is just a device by which Edwards was able to insert gag after hijink and slapstick galore onto the big screen. Wood is beautiful if not utterly annoying, Curtis is his usual dry, handsome, not-contributing-a-whole-lot sort; and Lemmon steals the show with sidekick Peter Falk as Max. Lemmon is almost unrecognizable with black hair and mustache, hunched back and smarmy villanous laugh. What he is recognizable as, however, is the bad guy from the Wacky Races cartoons that Hanna-Barbera premiered not long after this movie. Dick Dastardly and his canine sidekick Muttley (who really does resemble Falk) starred in the race-based cartoons that I remember watching as a kid in the ’80s and ’90s. This would be yet another example of when Edwards managed to create such absurd and memorable characters that they were equally suited to the world of animation as they were in live-action (the other being Pink Panther, of course).

Max & Prof. Fate/Dick Dastardly & Muttley

     I regret that I only became aware of Edwards over the course of the past months through the Pink Panther movies. Even as an Audrey Hepburn fan, I was not aware he was the brains behind possibly her most famous role. His sort of comedy is the type that really appeals to me — it is stupid, easy laughs over which a person of any age or intelligence level can crack up. Although it is long, The Great Race is the sort of movie you can pick up and leave off anywhere in the film because, as I mentioned, it is not about the story or the climax but rather is important for the fun one has along the way.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

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