Archive for April, 2020|Monthly archive page

Cabin Fever Film Festival: BED OF ROSES (1933)

In Uncategorized on April 19, 2020 at 8:04 pm


“A couple of ump-chays!”
                 – Minnie Brown
I am dedicating today’s Cabin Fever Film Festival pick – ‘Bed of Roses’ (1933) to Andy Halliday, who loves old movies as I do and just lost his beloved dog, Pickles. I hope it cheers him – and, indeed, all of us – up, for no matter how many times I have seen it – the first WAY back in the 1970s, in a private screening room at MOMA when this never-mentioned but true movie classic was a complete unknown quantity, causing me to rave about it for years before it was finally shown on TNT – it never fails to delight me. The beautifully economical (and beautifully dirty) gem of a screenplay is by the striking Wanda Tuchok, who wrote many of Hollywood’s most entertaining films and was one of its very few women directors. The brilliant Gregory LaCava, co-writer and director, was one of the greatest handlers of comedy and actors, who uncannily always elicited their real personalities and deepest talent, and combined the two in roles, both tailor-made – by the wit of his scripted lines and on-set improvisation – and definitive for them. We’re talking Carole Lombard, et al., in My Man Godfrey, Ginger Rogers in Primrose Path, Claudette Colbert in She Married Her Boss and Private Worlds, Irene Dunne in Unfinished Business, Ann Harding n Gallant Lady, and Stage fucking Door, here. That last film, like so many others by LaCava who was a GREAT women’s director, gave actresses like Hepburn, Rogers, Lucille Ball and Eve Arden roles which forever defined them – whether they were the stars or supporting them in a scene or two – and which they’d actually be playing for the rest of their careers.
Constance Bennett, at the height of her beauty (EVERYONE wanted to look like her then – she was the slimmest – starting with Bette), her unsurpassed chic (whether with a line of dialogue or entrance-making gown) and glittering charisma, is, hilariously, both hard-boiled and soignee, playing just about the slickest gold digger – read whore – who ever dug. Joel McCrea, as a New Orleans barge captain, contributes the hunk factor (and HOW) in such a way as to make you actually see how Bennett might consider giving up the gold.
And then there’s Minnie (nee Minerva) Brown, Bennett’s erstwhile hardcore prison cellmate. She and Bennett bond when she exchanges poontang for a ride to the harbor from a handy trucker, and together, they do what JLO and her gang basically did in HUSTLERS to all those suckers. If you only know Pert Kelton as the adorable Irish pigeon of a mother from “The Music Man” or Jackie Gleason’s first season of THE HONEYMOONER, brace yourself for one of the funniest, most lovable characters you will ever meet. Simply put, with a snappy nasal delivery of lines like, when told by prison matron Jane Darwell upon her release, “Minnie Brown, you’re an impulsive girl,” replies, “I’m tellin’ ya Mrs. Webster, I ain’t got an impulse left,” she’s the tartest tart who ever walked the silver screen.
This movie is really like a box of bon-bons, utterly delicious, and – at a smashingly brisk 67 minutes – gone before you know it. One of Pre-Code films’ greatest assets was the fact that they never belabored anything, something all these filmmakers today who want to clock in at 2.5 hours would do well to heed.


watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: ESCAPE (1940)

In Uncategorized on April 18, 2020 at 3:10 am
We watched a perfect hunker down oldie last night: Mervyn Leroy’s ‘Escape’ (1940), the same year this underrated, journeyman Hollywood director did the beautiful Vivien Leigh ‘Waterloo Bridge.’
This was also the first film I ever saw of my favorite movie star, Norma Shearer, when I was a freshman at USC in Los Angeles, one afternoon on TV, KTLA 5. I was more than a little trepidatious, for I had been obsessed with photos of her in movie books, largely purchase for a song through the Nostalgia Book Club, during the 1930s-mad 1970s, as well as Daniel Blum’s Pictorial History of the talkies and another historical survey written by DeWitt Bodeen.  After that, I became aware of sellers in LA and NY who sold movie stills and through them – for nothing, really, like $2.50 a pop even – I acquired a spate of original photos of her, with that face that intrigued me more than anyone else. The kind, gay men who ran these stores – Mark Ricci of NY’s MemoryShop, Kenneth G. Lawrence in LA, et al. – must have taken pity on this crazy 12-year-old in Hawaii with his weekly money orders requesting original Norma stills, and completely sight unseen, would select the perfect doubleweight 11×14 of, say,  her posing with Adrian in his MGM salon, and in years of collecting, really on spec  when i think about it now, I was never disappointed by what would arrive in our mailbox, which was at the bottom of a hilly driveway to our house on the back slopes of Diamond Head, with me making the walk to it in the always mercilessly beating sun. When I’d trudged back up to the house, inside, my eyes would be temporarily dazzled by sunspots as I’d tear open the package, and vision would return as I’d find myself gazing, awestruck, at, say, a specially produced MGM 16×20 double-weight portrait of her in her Marie Antoinette wedding gown, striking one of those ridiculously campy but ever so  ridiculously right poses, I came to refer as ‘typical Norma.’
John Kobal once wrote that where other stars had eyes, Norma had a profile. And her eyes were not only admittedly small, one of them was lazy, causing Cecil Beaton, observing her as a bridesmaid at the wedding of Bessie Love he attended in 1930, to write that she crept to the altar, looking chiseled from marble, and intriguingly blind. Her lips were thin, which she overlipsticked to an illusion of perfection, her face surmounted by a luxurious wealth of really beautiful hair. All of this, that oversized big head shared by many of the era’s greatest stars – Crawford, Swanson, Colbert – was surmounted on an uncannily thin, swanlike neck which Beaton, again, said almost looked too stalk-like to support all that weight. She was a mere five feet but, despite thick legs, her body was so perfectly proportioned – with fabulous shoulders – and her basic elan so formidable that she was able to carry off Adrian’s most elaborate and outrageous confections.
The portraits of her by Clarence Bull and, especially Hurrell, sensually lit to kill, made her an icon of idealized beauty, and, the visual Marie Antoinette. I devoured every book about her I could, scanned the nascent movie docs that would pop up on TV, like ‘Dear Mr. Gable” for sightings of her. But until that afternoon in front of the TV in L.A., i had never even heard the voice of the diva on which I had spent every penny of ready cash and so many hours of research.
It took forever for her to make her entrance in ESCAPE, and it’s really no biggie. She was just sitting in a wintery park, suddenly emitting that voice, which I love now, but then struck me as strangely secco and more than a little affected. The film was definitely not one of her over-the-top glam vehicles, a plot-heavy anti-Nazi propaganda effort, and she was subdued in every way, in it, from performance to the soberly elegant, dignified wardrobe (no trademark Norma’s Nightgown here, which was what Adrian called the bias-cut white satin sheaths she’d demand for every modern dress movie she made). On the whole, it was really kind of an unsatisfying non-NORMA experience, really, to me then and I know I’d have to see more to judge whether my obsessive diva-pick had been the right one (instead of Colbert or Katharine Hepburn).
It’s funny how time passes, and your taste develops, because now, having seen her entire, quite marvelous oeuvre and still mesmerized by her look and style, more than any other movie star, she remains my favorite one (to clarify: Vivien Leigh is my favorite movie ACTRESS). And you know what? ESCAPE just may be my favorite of her films. The very subdued quality I found pallid originally, seems quite beautiful and resonant underacting to me today, her dignified look is classic – no one wore a coronet braid or chignon than this pint-sized Grecian goddess from Montreal -utterly timeless and incredibly flattering (and it includes some personally owned Valentina gowns snuck in among the Adrians). And her final scene, which was actually shot by George Cukor (logically enough) not LeRoy, is absolutely electrifying, with a power only matched in her career by her bravura one-take reading of the potion monologue in ROMEO & JULIET.
watch it here

Cabin Fever Film Festival: ARIA (1987)

In Uncategorized on April 10, 2020 at 10:28 am


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A fascinating omnibus movie comprised of different directors’ visualizations of famous opera arias, with quite a high batting average. Perfect cosied-up viewing for opera freaks, and also a good introduction for the novice to the great daunting genre, in itself.

My favorite segment, when it opened and I – a very green new critic – reviewed it for Film Journal International, was Franc Roddam’s ‘Tristan and Isolde.’

watch here:  



Happy birthday Irene Castle!

In Uncategorized on April 8, 2020 at 2:29 am

Besides being an international superstar at the beginning of the 20th century, renowned  for her dancing talent, paired with husband Vernon Castle, stage successes and silent films, she was also a staunch, pioneering advocate of animal rights, as you can see here:


Cabin Fever Film Festival: TORCH SINGER (1933)

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2020 at 10:22 am
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in honor of great songwriter Leo Robin’s birthday, I am glad to be throwing another rare Claudette Colbert movie – one of her best – TORCH SINGER (1933) at you this morning. Her profession is obvious from the title and Robin wrote the ditty ‘Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love,’ for La Colbert, with which she achieves preCode success in the clubs, in glittery Travis Banton gowns.
watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: “THE FURIES” (1950)

In Uncategorized on April 6, 2020 at 4:14 am

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Happy birthday Walter Huston! I have written at length elsewhere about his greatest screen performance in a great film, William Wyler’s triumphant version of Sinclair Lewis’ DODSWORTH (1936), but, really, he could play just about anything, and I wish the big, beautiful virtual shrine I am erecting in his honor  had a c-note for every time someone calls Spencer Tracy the greatest American screen actor, because Huston was infinitely superior, and utterly deserving of the finest carved marble, porphyry and gold leaf detailing. He was sublime in another Sinclair Lewis adaptation, John Cromwell’s ANN VICKERS and, of course, his Oscar-winning old codger in THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE. My other favorite western he made is the jaw-dropping THE FURIES, directed by Anthony Mann and featuring, at its center, a deeply Freudian relationship between him and his dangerous, totally obsessive daughter Barbara Stanwyck. Psychologically dark elements were the rage in westerns of the late 1940s, as witness this, DUEL IN THE SUN, RED RIVER, BLOOD ON THE MOON, and others, culminating in the ever-influential, gnarly magnificence of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS in 1956. The spectacular cast of THE FURIES includes Judith Anderson as the interloper in this fevered, venal welter of Daddy Issues, Gilbert Roland, a ferocious Blanche Yurka as his pistol-packin’ mama , Wallace Ford, Albert Dekker, Beulah Bondi, Thomas Gomez, Movita, John Bromfield, and the always yawn-inducing Wendell Corey. So, saddle up, come ride the range of the Furies and prepare to be astonished by life’s overheated sexy viciousness among this cowpoke landed gentry.

watch it here:

Cabin Fever Film Festival: “The Revolt of Mamie Stover” (1958)

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2020 at 8:25 pm


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This is one of two favorite Jane Russell films – the other being “His Kind of Woman,” the perfect mach-up for her and the equally brawny, large-chested, sleepy-eyed and sultry Robert Mitchum.

Besides being about a favorite movie subject – working girls, it was filmed on location in Hawaii at a time I can still recall, when I was just making my hello to the world, growing up a child in Waikiki when the hotels were fewer and half of it was the seamy, “dangerous” The Jungle, comprised of dingy old wooden houses containing seedy sunbaked tourists who never left, hippies and God-knows-what-all worse – it always seemed to be a dusky twilight there, no matter what hour of the day. And I adore seeing all the old Kodachrome-vivid locations, like the Moana Hotel lanai bar, country club golf courses,  genteel Tantalus kamaaina homes and bustling, pungent downtown Honolulu.

Tough, misunderstood and thwarted Jane’s leading man this go-round was Richard Egan, of the flame-throwing nostrils, whose basic presence was interchangeable with Jack Palance and Jeff Chandler at the time,  and her eye-on-the-dollar boss is gloriously played by a platinum blonde probable Sapphic Agnes Moorehead, who, when her disgruntled twerp of a bouncer gets fired, tries to come for her with “You’re nothing but an ugly old -” but is cut off by her hissing “DON’T SAY IT!”


watch here:

Happy Birthday Bette Davis

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2020 at 4:45 pm

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In honor of what was to be her 112th birthday, I am, in all seriousness, posting her final film, Larry Coen’s THE WICKED STEPMOTHER (1988). Although crippled, immobilized and ravaged by cancer and strokes, the 80 year old star proves here that she still had it. Oh, boy did she ever! The stilted mannerisms and affectations – that impossible stentorian barking – which so often, especially later in her career, prevented her from giving any performance that was not cartoon-ish – are all on full display here, but the wonder of it all is that,  in one final burst of demented energy, she makes them all work beautifully, and she, who never did as much real comedy as she should have, was never so goddam FUNNY. At that final point in her life, evinced by so many half tiresome/half charming talk show and awards season appearances, she had basically turned herself into a complete cartoon – as exaggerated and bizarrely stylized as any Looney Tunes staple from her old studio Warners, and, with the ferocious intensity of the Tasmanian Devil, itself, here, she actually amplifies her hammy schtick, is even MORE over-the-top, and zaps this final vehicle into high hilarity.

She is wonderfully abetted by a very lovable cast of familiar movie faces, bearing screen histories themselves: Tom Bosely, Lionel Stander, Evelyn Keyes, Colleen Camp, Seymour Cassel, David Rasche, Tony Torn. Plus luscious, luscious Barbara Carrera as…Bette Davis. That beauty came in – as a last minute solution of Coen’s- to replace Davis in scenes she could not complete, and I think Bette would have cheered at this idea, as if – back in her youthful heyday, Jack Warner had prevailed upon the unlikely but spectacular likes of, say,  Dolores del Rio to fill in for her, once referred to as a little brown wren with as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville.

watch here:



Renaissance Woman Kathleen Howard: Actress, Opera Singer, Journalist

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2020 at 4:09 am



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happy birthday to the astonishing Kathleen Howard (1884-1956) one of my top favorite character actresses, especially for her classic harridan turn as Mrs. Bissonette (“pronounced “Bissonay”) W.C. Fields’ overbearing wife in IT’S A GIFT (she’s my spirit animal in this-just ask Edward). She made a memorable screendebutin Mitchell Leisen’s beautiful, eerie Death Takes a Holiday and in Ball of Fire, butch Barbara Stanwyck freaked out when she broke her jaw after she had to hit her in a scene. But before that, this native of Niagara Falls born July 17, 1884, she had been an acclaimed opera singer, her powerful contralto voice was heard at Covent Garden and the Met, creating the role of Zita in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi. She wrote a book about her experiences, ‘Confessions of an Opera Singer, and then enjoyed a third career, as editor of Harper’s Bazaar and journalist during the heyday of movie magazines, with a specialization in fashion. I’d once proposed a story about her to Opera News, but my editor the late Brian Kellow nixed the idea, probably because it had nothing to do with his major interests Broadway/cabaret, and therefore had no place in Opera News.


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the wonder of the Internet makes it possible to read her entire book for free



Happy birthday Anthony Perkins!

In Uncategorized on April 5, 2020 at 2:38 am

here is one of your best


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watch here: