Saturday, November 29, 2008

Name that Movie 8 - Bonus Round

As always, here's the bonus round. This time I left the sound in (in fact, why take it out unless there's a musical cue or name spoken that might give it away) because the actor mumbles to himself throughout. With the sound muted, it looked like there was dialogue there that might help and I didn't want you to feel shorted. Guess away.

Name That Movie 7

Okay, the new clip is up in the sidebar. As always, double-click to view it larger on YouTube. And in what is becoming the norm around here, it's a race to see who can name it before resident Name That Movie expert Arbogast of Arbogast on Film. He leads with four points (first one to ten gets free DVD of choice - see rules on the sidebar).

Also, I've added more hints to the picture post below which make the solution quite easy. First one to name the two mystery actresses there also gets a point, and that offer is open for however long it takes. Good luck.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday is Upon Us

UPDATE: Okay, I don't think anyone will get this without hints because aside from Norma Shearer in the middle, the other two were never stars and the picture doesn't enlarge enough to really see their faces well. However, I want someone to get a point for this so here are some hints.

Although they were never stars they did have some big movies. The brunette with the stole had one really big movie. One of the all-time greats. Early thirties, comedy. Think greasepaint and cigar. The blonde had some big movies too, two specifically. For the first one think Bela without the cape in a supporting role and a great ham of an English actor in the lead. For the second, read the last word of this post.


And to start the Holiday Season off right I make you offer. This is an opening, a grand opening, that happened almost exactly eighty years ago. It took place on December 8th, 1928. Present were three top actresses of the day. One of them was a star, a huge star, and she's front and center ready to cut the ribbon. I'd be surprised if my readers don't know her or recognize her face immediately. The other two were big in their day but whose stars have since faded. The first is on the left, dressed in black, right next to the big star. The second is on the right, the brunette with the white fur stole. Name all three and get a point in the Name That Movie game currently going on here at Cinema Styles. And if you don't know them by face... well, I've given you the date and you should know the center star, so start googling. Somebody ought to come up with the answer eventually.

P.S. - First, I really love old pictures like this. They transport me back in time. Second, isn't it a bit odd that before the ribbon is cut there's a woman already inside the building, visible over the left shoulder of our star? Freaky.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Kindness of Strangers

On October 25th my wife and I took in Strangers on a Train at the AFI Silver in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was a great experience to see it on the big screen for the first time after having seen it so many times on the small screen exclusively. Once again it was a wonderful audience who laughed and gasped at all the right places and once again the film historian introducing it went on a little too long and offered up a little too much elementary interpretation for what we were about to see. But when he asked how many of us had already seen it (it was a sold out show) I was happy to see that you could count on one hand the number of hands that didn't go up. This was an audience of film lovers waiting to see the film again on the big screen, many of us, as stated above, for the very first time.

But the real treat of seeing this showing of Strangers on a Train was the fact that Farley Granger was there and spoke with the audience after the show and signed autographs after that. Sometimes Hollywood stars disappoint in person but this was not one of those times. Granger was entertaining, honest and kind in every way imaginable. When I met him after the show and shook his hand he seemed genuinely friendly. I asked him to sign the program to my wife and he happily obliged. The interview he did on stage with the film historian, whose name I can't remember and who is not listed on the AFI site or the program (maybe he just wandered in off the street), was illuminating and delightful. Granger's bluntly honest response to several questions was refreshing but my favorite was:

Interviewer: "Did Hitchcock discuss the psychological motivations of the character with you before shooting?"

Granger: "No, no. He wasn't big on bullshit."

Granger was so endearing that even when he spoke of his love of the stage over film (something we've all heard from Hollywood stars at one point or another) he sounded like he actually meant it, not like so many stars sound where they think saying that will give them instant credibility. And he discussed his other works as well. Rope he said was a chore. "You do eight minutes and something falls on the set and you gotta do the whole goddamn scene over." And "Jimmy (Stewart) wasn't right for the part and Hitch knew it and Jimmy knew it and Jimmy felt he had to struggle with it. The part is a snooty, elitist professor and Jimmy just doesn't project snooty elitism. Someone like James Mason would've been better suited for the part."

On Nicholas Ray: "He had such a feel for gritty personal films and then he started doing a bunch of glitzy crap. I said, 'Nick what's with all the glitzy crap' and by that point he didn't care what he was making anymore."

On Shelley Winters: "We were at this hotel that had pictures of the stars and she says to the manager, 'You should have my picture up there' and the manager didn't even know who she was and wouldn't put her picture up (Granger laughs). I just told her to shut up about it. She was a great lady to work with but you know, these stars sometimes, they get a little big headed." Amazingly he pulled that last statement off without a hint of irony. He really didn't have that "Star" mentality about him so he could talk about "stars" as if he wasn't one.

And then there was Samuel Goldwyn who he didn't like at all. Goldwyn had demanded Granger pay him all the money on the contract that he had received because Granger wanted to quit working with Goldwyn after Hans Christian Anderson. Granger paid back the money and left. The thing is, aside from relaying those facts, he didn't elaborate any further on what problems he and Goldwyn had and when asked about the book he had written he said he had contacted everyone or their relatives before writing it and told them what he wanted to write. If they objected to anything he left it out. He even called Goldwyn's children and asked if it was okay to recount the stories of the troubles he had with Goldwyn. They said it was okay. Geez louise, what a guy. I don't have the book myself, but I'm told it has the same "blunt honesty without being mean spirited" attitude that came off in the interview. And it mainly concerns his life in the theatre which he enjoyed much more than film.

Of course, for me, the highlight of the interview was when he spoke about Robert Walker during the course of making Strangers on a Train. I've written about Walker here before and prior to that Sheila O'Malley had an excellent write-up on Strangers on a Train so I won't rehash the story of Walker's life or his excellent performance in the film. Rather I'll let Farley Granger have the final word from this video I shot of the interview (I was in the back lower balcony area, the best place to sit at the theatre. The seats back there are bigger, more like recliners, and have tables between them for your refreshments and at least four feet of room before the next seat in front of you or behind you but you have to get there early for those seats - which I always do). In the clip Granger describes the first night he, Hitchcock and Walker got together in Washington, D.C. before the first day of shooting. They went out to dinner downtown before retiring to their rooms at the hotel, at which point Walker started to panic. The rest I'll leave to Granger but from this story I was reminded of how fragile was Robert Walker, and how gracious and sympathetic was Granger. Walker must have sensed that to let himself go in front of him like he did, and Granger didn't let him down. They had just met but Granger treated him like a brother. It's a great story and it was a great experience seeing and meeting Farley Granger. Enjoy the clip.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hold Me

Pictured above: Jimmy Stewart and Jeanette MacDonald in Rose Marie (1936), a scant two years before Stewart became a bankable leading man with Frank Capra's You Can't Take it With You.

Next up is Conquest (1937) with Greta Garbo and Charles Boyer, directed by the under-appreciated Clarence Brown, a director who never directed a movie that would appear on anyone's "Greatest of all time" lists but nevertheless produced one solid entertainment after another for most of his career.

Third in line we have La Boheme with Lillian Gish and John Gilbert, a silent from 1926. La Boheme the silent feature obviously has none of the music of the opera, just the story which was adapted from the work of Henry Murger, La Vie de Bohème. It also contains an early performance by the great character actor Edward Horton, in only his fourteenth role. Yes, fourteen sounds like a lot but it's early in your career when you end up making 175 movies!

Finally the great Frank Borzage directs Maureen Sullavan and Robert Taylor in Three Comrades from 1938. This is a Borzage I haven't yet seen but look at this cast: Maureen Sullavan, Robert Taylor, Franchot Tone, Guy Kibbee, Robert Young, Lionel Atwill, Monty Woolley, Henry Hull and even Charley Grapewin a year before playing Uncle Henry in The Wizard of Oz. Taylor was never a favorite of mine but I've always been fond of Tone (a great wisecracker for the uninitiated), Kibbee and Lionel Atwill, recently profiled on TCM's Movie Morlocks here.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Bonus Round - Name That Movie # 6

Okay, the first one today went fast. Here's another for everyone to try. Good luck.

Name That Movie #5

Number five is up. Have at it. Remember to double-click to go directly to YouTube to view the clip in a larger format. Good luck.

And again, if it's correctly guessed quickly a bonus round will go up a little later.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Are you a Player?

Back in 1934 Player and Sons Cigarettes, based in England, started producing Movie Star Collector's Cards with their cigarettes, kind of a baseball card in the bubblegum pack idea for smokers. Smoking had been a man's game for decades with women "catching up" in this slow death pastime by the twenties. It was hoped Movie Star Cards might help Player and Sons capture the women's market. They released albums as well that contained the bios of the stars whose cards one would collect. As one acquired more, they were pasted into the album. Many of the pictures from these albums (they released several editions) can be found online, in various forms.

I recently acquired a completed album from the first edition, 1934, and have scanned it in its entirety for reproduction here. The album has 17 pages of stars, 50 stars in all. My comments for each page follow (and please feel free to click on the pictures to enlarge them to read the mini-bios provided. Some contain the actor's height, other's don't. Odd.)


Gwili Andre may not be famous to many movie fans today but she is known to anyone who has ever read Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger's 90 percent inaccurate, made-up, rumor-mongering slime bible. Books like Hollywood Babylon are part of the reason it was necessary for things like to come along. But I digress. She is in Hollywood Babylon because of her sad demise in 1959, when she committed suicide by self-immolation. She mainly did B pictures that I haven't seen but would like to. Her most recognizable role for most of us cinephiles would be in Joan Crawford's A Woman's Face (1941).


Joan Bennett did plenty but for me her best work (both she and the movie) will always be Scarlet Street (1945). P.S. - Doesn't Tala Birell look like Greta Garbo?


I love Clive Brook's bio, especially the opening line. Also, he's 5'11'' and he's a clever writer.


Joan Crawford's bio mentions her latest "talkie" being Dancing Lady. This is odd. Throughout the album they use the term "talkie" as if both periods (silent and sound) are actively occuring. Like after Dancing Lady Joan's going to make another silent film and rotate between the two for the rest of her career.


That's Bette Davis?!!! It looks like Linda Blair. This one's got my vote for worst likeness in the whole album.


Shhhhhh. James Dunn is sleeping.


Fairbanks has an inch in height on Clive Brook and is also a clever writer - and cartoonist! I bet Brook felt emasculated when he read that, poor guy. Meanwhile, Gable's height isn't listed at all. Guess he wasn't a six-footer. And lovely Kay is in the middle, a wonderful actress from the thirties recently showcased on TCM.


William Haines is often called the first openly gay actor in Hollywood. The studios tried to hide it but he never did. Moving in with his lover and partner, Jimmy Shields, in 1933 he was given the choice by Louis B. Mayer to have a lavender marriage or hit the road. Haines took the road - the high road. He and Shields were together for fifty years until Haines death in 1973. And their marriage, minus the piece of paper from the state, lasted longer than most other marriages in Hollywood ever do.


Who the hell's Katherine Hepburn?


Dorothy Jordan retired in the thirties but came back for three small roles in the fifties, one of which was The Searchers, in which she played Martha Edwards, killed in the raid that propels the plot in motion. Also, she was 5'2".


Gertrude, Carole and Myrna, all on one page. I love the bow Gertrude is wearing but am disappointed that Noel Coward is not mentioned or her height. In fact, I don't know how tall any of them are. Players, you have let me down again.


Name me one Hollywood actress today who could pull off the name "Boots Mallory."


Jessie Matthews is most famous for her musical work, including First a Girl (1935) which would later be remade in 1982 as Victor/Victoria.


I like Joel McCrea more and more with each new film I see him in. I may have recommended it here before, but if TCM runs The Silver Horde (1930) again, check it out. It's not much of a movie, fairly average in execution, but its social attitudes and ending are years ahead of the game.


Sylvia Sidney, Dead End, 1937. Great performance in a great movie. Highly underappreciated actress. By the way, Norma Shearer is 5'3".


Johnny Weismuller, Olympic champion and Tarzan of the Apes. He was, as mentioned on the card, married in 1933 to Lupe Velez, one of the biggest smear jobs in all of Hollywood Babylon. For those who know the story from the book here's the reality: She was found lying peacefully on her bed, having committed suicide by swalowing sleeping pills.


Diana Wynyard starred in Calvalcade, earning an Oscar nomination, the first for a British actress, and the first film version of Gaslight in 1940 with Cinema Styles favorite Anton Walbrook. I don't know if it's entirely true or not, but in theatre circles the name Diana Wynyard is famous, not only for her extensive Shakespearean experience, but for accidentally walking off the stage during the 1942 production of Macbeth (in which she played Lady Macbeth), tumbling twelve to fifteen feet, climbing back up and continuing with her performance. I've seen some miraculous things on stage in my time, in just the plays I've done, so I have no trouble believing that story is true.

And that's it. A very young Loretta Young wraps it up, although sadly, we are not informed of her height. I hope you have enjoyed this tour through the Player's Guide Album of Stars from 1934 as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.

And by the way, I'm 7'2".

Monday, November 17, 2008

In with the In Crowd

Children are great at parroting their peers and parents. Over time their views are challenged, they realize they can't defend them since they have simply been parroting and they begin to develop critical thinking. It's essential to their development. It's also fun to watch. Our 14 year old son says this often of movies: "You have to see it on the big screen." Why does he say that? Because he's heard adults, peers and my wife and I say it. Does he know what it means? I'm not sure.

When I was a kid, one either saw a movie in the theatre or on commercial television. Later, cable and videotape became other options. When someone said, "You have to see it on the big screen" it meant something. Seeing a movie on television meant pan and scan, commercials, scenes edited out, scenes originally cut out edited back in and profanity either muted or dubbed with another word. Sometimes the filmmakers would go as far as film two scenes when profanity was used, one for the theatre and a cleaned up version for tv. If you only saw the movie on television, one actually could argue that you had not really seen the movie at all. A rough facsimile maybe but not the real thing.

Now it's different. When my son watches a movie on television, it's a fairly big screen (and relative to the size of the screen and his distance from it, around five feet, it is a rough equivalent of seeing the larger theatre screen from a distance of eighty five feet), there are no commercial interruptions, no pan and scan, no post release editing. Seeing a movie on television now, by means of a DVD player, does not present a radical difference visually from seeing it in the theatre.

But depending on the movie, the difference in social experience can be compelling.

I've never supported the idea that the movies that "must be seen on the big screen" are the great visual giants, the great special effects extravaganzas. The more I see on the small screen that I have already seen on the big screen, the more I realize that the big screen provides little difference for me visually. But emotionally, it's a completely different story.

This past October my wife and I saw The Crowd at the AFI Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, and the experience was unforgettable. The film was featured as a part of the A.F.I.'s Labor Film Fest and as an added bonus had the original organ score played live for the film by accomplished organist Ray Brubacher.

Other features included the requisite film historian giving a brief introduction and a raffle in which the audience submitted their names on cards for a bag full of goodies. And I won! So if you happened to be present for this showing of The Crowd, that dashing young man who walked up front to collect his prize was yours truly. It wasn't much of a prize (a couple of free passes, T-shirt, cup, etc) but it was still exciting to win.

Then the movie started with Brubacher providing accompaniment. I had seen The Crowd twice before, both times on television, once on PBS and once on videotape. I was excited for my wife to see it for the first time. Only later did I realize I was seeing it for the first time too. Directed by King Vidor with a fluid movement of camera and lean pacing, the movie tells the story of John and Mary Sims (James Murray and Eleanor Boardman) making their way through an indifferent urban landscape as they struggle with marriage, money and parenthood. Watching it on the big screen I was reminded why so many film historians rank James Murray's performance as one of the best of the silent era. Remarkably free of over the top pantomime, it is a subdued and nuanced performance, one that draws the audience into the character and attaches them to him emotionally. Eleanor Boardman is also superb as Mary Sims, playing off Murray brilliantly as he slides deeper and deeper into emotional despair.

The film became famous for the fight over its ending by Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg. Mayer wanted to tack on a happy ending, where John and Mary win the lottery or John gets a high paying job dropped into his lap. What Mayer didn't realize, and it makes me wonder what if any understanding of story he had, is that The Crowd does have a happy ending, only it's real, not phony. At the end, as John and Mary laugh at the comedy they're watching in the theatre, they are still destitute, still jobless, still struggling. John is but 24 hours removed from a suicide attempt and Mary just hours removed from wanting to leave him. But they're happy, right now, in this moment. It took years but they finally realize that whatever is going to happen to them they can only survive it together. And that's a great ending, one that doesn't declare their troubles are over or their money problems solved, but states definitively that they've grown, together. That's a happy ending in my book. Vidor got it. Thalberg got it. Mayer? It flew right over his head. How could they be happy if they weren't rich? I'm glad I never knew Mayer.

That's the movie. Now for the experience. The audience present, the crowd, was there because of a love of classic film, a love of silent film. We all laughed together in the same places, gasped together, shared the same sense of excitement, the same sense of awe. When it was over we all applauded, ostensibly for Ray Brubacher and his excellent accompaniment, but I knew we were applauding the film as well, perhaps sharing a spiritual hope that somewhere, somehow, James Murray and Eleanor Boardman, King Vidor and Irving Thalberg could hear us and feel how much we loved their work. It was a wonderful experience, one I will never forget. And it taught me once again that seeing a film on the big screen as opposed to the television screen can make all the difference in the world. I'd recommend The Crowd to anyone interested in great cinema but feel like seeing it at home would be seeing a different movie than the one I saw at the A.F.I. This may be illogical and irrational, it may be challenged in this era of 70 inch screen televisions and blu-ray DVD players, but I have to say it anyway:

If you haven't seen The Crowd on the big screen, you haven't seen it.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Bonus Round!

The last one was pegged by Pierre Fournier of the excellent and exhaustive Frankensteinia blog. We've got several people with one point but still none with two.

So here's a bonus round. If Kimberly or Arbogast make it here before too long I'm betting they'll get it. Bill might know this one too. It's a favorite of mine that I purposely didn't bring up during a particular post during October Kill Fest because I didn't want it fresh in anyone's mind since I knew I was going to be using it for this. Answer in the comment section and good luck. Definitely double click to watch it full size on YouTube to see the dead give-away final second.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Name That Movie

The new one is up in the sidebar. This one is a little harder than last week's which was guessed almost immediately after posting. I hope this one lasts a little longer. And I may starting putting an extra one or two up during the week so after two months we don't have twelve different people with one point each. I want a winner, sooner rather than later. Remember put your answer in this comment section when you have it. First one gets a point. Good luck.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The DVD Collection that time forgot

I was recently asked to share my Netflix queue by a friend and accepted, eager to expose just how many great films I didn't have on DVD.  Obviously, if I had them I wouldn't be renting them.  Also, I wanted to see how much soft porn my friend was renting.  Alas, there was none.  Still, sharing the queue made me realize there are plenty of classic films he does not own either (unless for some bizarre reason he enjoys renting films he already has).  How did this occur, this odd turn of events between two such aficionados of film.  I can't speak for my friend, but for me it happened little by little, year by year until I finally realized at least half of the movies I own on DVD are movies I don't even like, much less would ever want to see again.

When DVD players first came on the market in the nineties no one was renting the DVDs themselves.  As a result, if you wanted a DVD player (I did) and wanted to actually watch DVDs on it (this seemed a logical extension of owning the player) it was necessary to buy DVDs, not rent them.  And so I bought anything I wanted to see.  Anything.  So any new movie, good or bad, I purchased and watched.  As new responsibilities came into my life I did not feel the need to buy them anymore as they were now available for rent and money was growing harder and harder to come by anyway.   The end result is a DVD collection stuck in the nineties, with a smattering of classic titles for good measure.  

And I hate it. 

My wife and I have resolved to purchase two classic DVDs a month, one we have seen, to add to the collection, and one we have not, to watch. We don't buy anything for ourselves ever as it is, so this should be something we can afford.  It is hoped that gradually, over the course of several years, we will have a DVD collection of which we can be proud.  Of course, by that time they probably won't even exist anymore, so the whole process will start over.  But when and if that happens, I'm sticking with renting for new movies and purchasing for older ones.

I have always liked the idea of a classic movie collection.  That, for me, is movies done from the teens through the seventies.  Why?  I don't really know, I just consider the eighties on to be an entirely different animal in the history of film and while I like many movies from that time period, very few are as cherished by me as the older ones.  For starters, I'd like to own every movie I love from the twenties and thirties that's available on DVD, from A list movies like Sherlock, jr, I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang and Stagecoach to serials and B movies like the  Flash Gordon, Torchy Blaine and Philo Vance series.  Then I'd move into noir and musicals, then the social dramas and sci-fi classics of the fifties.  It's a must to own all of the Universal horror classics and of course all the later Hammer films as well.  And how about the amazing amount of great foreign films that dotted the landscape of the fifties and sixties while Hollywood started to founder?  I must have those too.   

But why?  I've seen them all so what does it matter if I own them?  Why can't I just put them in the queue when I want to see them again?  It's not logical or rational but there's something about owning the real thing.  Something satisfying.  Just recently, as I popped in my Criterion copy of The Most Dangerous Game to snag a short scene from it for my Name That Movie game on the sidebar, I felt good knowing I owned it.  "I'm glad I bought this," I thought.  Stupid, huh?  But there I was, holding the DVD box with a gleam in my eye knowing I owned a bona fide adventure classic from the early thirties.  As I watched it again, and recognized the same sets (and some of the same cast) used in King Kong, I thought, "I'm glad I own that one too." 

And I want more.  It's not just about having a top drawer collection, it's about feeling good, the same feeling one might get from owning a great work of art.  And so many films are great works of art.  I want my DVD collection to make me feel comfortable, entertained and proud.  Right now it doesn't.  In fact, to be honest, I'd be embarrassed for people to know many of the titles in my collection in its present state , and mortified at some of the omissions at their cost.  It's time to forget this DVD collection and build a new one.  One that better reflects my taste and one that time can only make better.   A DVD collection to remember, not forget. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Head in one direction, Heart in the other

So this week has been a bear, as they say. I've been working hard to finish stuff up at my place of gainful employment before hitting the road for business. Ugh. So later today I will be in transit and then for the next three days I will be, let's be honest here, BORED OUT OF MY MIND! And not just bored, but occupied all day, every day, so I won't have a chance to check in to the blog until nightfall, at which point everyone is home from work and the commenting fun is over. Ugh again. But I'll provide some updates on my laptop nonetheless and hope to find happy go lucky comments to read when I return from the Land that Excitement Forgot each night.

And all of this is another reason I have put off writing many of the pieces I want to so far this month because of the limits of time. I have several things I want to report on, including two magnificent experiences at the A.F.I in October as well as some truly rare and unique book finds I have come into recently. One of them is a collection of pics and bios... from 1934! There are "stars" in there completely unknown to me but what a fascinating glimpse into who was considered a keeper then and who wasn't. So for today I bid you adieu. I'll check in later tonight from my undisclosed location. Happy commenting.

P.S. Someone keep an eye on Fox in my absence. Thanks.


Pictured above is No More Ladies from 1935 with Joan Crawford (yes, I have a tons of Crawford scans), Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone. Currently, as expected, unavailable on DVD.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Just one of those days...

Problems with plumbing in the basement, a broken cell phone that's going to take money out of my pocket with the holidays approaching and a business trip coming up this week that I have no desire whatsoever to participate in. And I've got to get a ton done at work on Monday before I leave for it on Tuesday. General feeling today: Defeated. Move over Glenda and Ruth, I need a beer too.


From Heat Lightning, 1934, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Yet another movie featured here not on DVD or VHS.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The New Name That Movie is Up!

Okay, the new clip is up in the sidebar. My wife got this one in under five seconds. Of course, this is her favorite period of films to watch so that was no surprise. Still, to a classic film lover I think this one's pretty easy. Even if you haven't seen it you might be able to put it together from the images shown. Remember, first one to answer correctly in the comment section here gets a point. And the first one to 10 points wins. Yes, it used to be 25 but that could take forever. I mean, that's 25 weeks and unless the same person wins every single week we could be looking at a year or more before there's a winner. So now it's 10 points. Good luck everyone.


Double-click on it to go directly to YouTube and view a larger version of it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Esther Blodgett Would Approve

Many years ago I saw a play in Washington, D.C. about three people, Joseph Meggesy (Megs), David Flanagan and his sister Martha Flanagan. The title of this play about Vietnam vets struggling to put the past behind them was Strange Snow. That's a title I've always liked, alluding to a trout fishing trip of theirs on one occasion, and it didn't hurt that the play was superbly performed by its three cast members. When I heard a few years later that a movie was being made of it I was excited to see what they would do with its intimate setting, small cast and period detail. It never occur ed to me for a second that they would change the title. Why would someone change a title so beautifully woven into the fabric of the characters' experience? Because they're Hollywood and they're stupid. That's why.

The movie, starring Robert DeNiro and Ed Harris, was released as Jacknife, and to justify this title they change Meggesy's nickname from "Megs" to, you guessed it, "Jacknife." Good grief. Had the movie been half of what I saw on the stage I might have grimaced and accepted the title change but the whole thing felt slapdash and fragmented. As a result I was even more annoyed that the movie had lost such a great title.

Famous plays and novels don't have to worry about title changes or have minor changes such as Bridge Over the River Kwai becoming The Bridge on the River Kwai or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde losing the first four words. Others are changed to avoid confusion. Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi was changed to goodfellas because of the popular television show Wiseguy on the air at the time. I've never liked the title goodfellas, but understand the change.

And others are adapted from book to screen and keep the title intact even though the given title stinks in book or movie form. And somehow they still manage to make a good movie. Which finally brings us around to the subject of this post, Floods of Fear, released in 1959, directed by Charles Crichton and starring Howard Keel and Anne Heywood.

The book it was based on had the same archly pulpy title but prior to that it was presented as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post under the equally pulpy title A Girl, a Man and a River. The series and novelized versions were written by brothers John and Ward Hawkins who wrote pulp and knew how to title it. For the record, I love both titles, Floods of Fear and A Girl, a Man and a River. It's just that for the movie, it appears the title may have done it in, giving people the impression they were going to see a disaster flick instead of a taut thriller.

Floods of Fear is a surprisingly engrossing noir in which a couple of escaped convicts are eluding the authorities and, in the case of the Keel character, Donovan, trying to find the person that framed him. And all of this is done in the midst of massive flooding in a small town. Keel was known for his musicals and this was his first step outside the genre into the gritty world of noirish surrealism. He does a good job with the role as does Anne Heywood as the woman caught between the convict and the law but it's Cyril Cusack who steals the movie with his menacing and snivelling convict, Peebles, providing a dangerous tension where the characters don't know whether to fear the floods or him more.

Impressively directed by Charles Crichton, noted comedy director from The Lavender Hill Mob to A Fish Called Wanda (he even directed the Golf Story Segment I didn't like in Dead of Night), Crichton uses his affinity for comedy editing to great effect here by not lingering over any shots or scenes in keeping the film moving at a swift but not rushed pace.

And for a low budget film the effects are quite good, mixing together stock footage with location shooting to miniatures and on the set wave machines. Its one problem may be that, being made in England and using British actors but set in the states, not everyone is completely convincing with their accents. But this is a minor quibble for such a well made pulp noir. Don't let the title fool you, Floods of Fear is a fine film for those in search of a solid, if predictable, late era noir but you'll have to catch it on television. It's never been released on DVD or, to my knowledge, VHS. But if you can find it give it a look. It's won't knock you over like a tidal wave but it won't drown your expectations either.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

About the Name that Movie thing

I apologize for the fluctuating templates here today as I updated mine. I got tired of the crowded sidebar and had never thought of adding buttons along the top instead until I saw Rick Olson's redesign. So that's done now and the links to everyone on the blogroll will be added back in later today or tonight so everyone will get a fresh technorati hit. If I forget anyone, let me know.

Now as to the Name that Movie thing on the sidebar. I enjoy guessing games and have wanted to do one again since several months back when Bill won the first one. But that took a lot of effort: Putting together dummy blogs, a riddle for each one, trying to keep track of everyone guessing, etc. I don't want to do all that again, no thanks. However, people love winning things and I love giving away a new DVD once in a blue moon so here's the deal: Once a week, a new Name that Movie will go up in the sidebar. Whoever guesses correctly first gets a point. And just go ahead and guess in the comment section, not on YouTube. Now, I'm sure as hell not giving away a DVD each week for each correct guess so the rules are whoever gets to 25 points first wins. That way it's a once every six months game and once every six months I can afford the DVD. And remember, it's a DVD of your choosing (no box sets unless they're under 50 bucks) and $49.99 and under. Shipping will be taken care of by me. So that's that.

Rick Olson guessed correctly with Mon Oncle for the first one but since no one was participating and Fox was the first to humor me by guessing on YouTube, I'm giving him a point too. So as it stands right now it's Rick - 1 and Fox -1.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Still Time for Stillson!

I don't normally talk politics here at Cinema Styles but with Tuesday being the big day I thought I'd break that rule for once. You see, there are so many good choices here on the ballot in Maryland I just don't know what to do with such an embarrassment of riches. Forget about the two big political parties, it's the smaller ones I'm interested in.
For instance, there's a guy on the ballot here for the Senate named Greg Stillson. Wow, what a guy! He seems like a real friend to the worker. Why just the other day at one of his rallies there he was doing push-ups on the stage. I'm not sure why that should impress me but for some reason it did. And his posters show him wearing a construction hat. A construction hat! You're telling me your going to vote for one of the major party candidates when there's a guy in a construction hat running? You're crazy. Yep, I think ole Stillson is going to really shake things up when he gets elected. I mean really shake things up, like an A-Bomb explosion!
There's this guy, Roger Stuart, whose son I tutor on occasion, who told me not to vote for Stillson but what does he know? He wouldn't know good advice if it bit him on the leg. Why just last year he was trying to make an ice sculpture for a party he was having and grabbed an ice pick far too big for the task (that's Stuart, always overcompensating). I told him, "Roger, if you use that pick, the ice is going to break." He just laughed. So I took my silver wolf-headed novelty cane I bought from The Wolfman Society online and smashed a cherished antique vase in his house. "THE ICE IS GONNA BREAK!" I screamed. Later I realized this would have been far more effective had he actually been in the room. He came inside to see what the commotion was, asked about the smashed vase and I was all like, "Uh, that was like that when I got here. I think the dog did it."
But I digress. Back to Stillson. Not only is he a friend to the worker but even the local press loves him. The paper here wrote some nasty stuff about him and then you know what happened? Stillson and his Chief Advisor, Sonny Elliman, met with the editor and all the bad blood went away. Vanished into thin air. How many candidates do you know could completely change an editor's mind just by sitting down and having a chat with him? Once the editor saw how friendly and progressive Stillson was, he immediately changed his editorials. Wow, how can you not be impressed?
Now I don't know about you but I'm looking for a change. I still haven't forgotten how one of our last Presidents surrendered our nation to three aliens from Krypton led by General Zod. Boy, that really pissed me off at the time (although I admit, I did like Zod's energy policy, even if it was unrealistic to expect everyone to start flying under their own power). And how about the President after him, putting in that tape of Bandstand Boogie just when we needed a dry scientific treatise on nuclear fusion instead. What arrogance! What disrespect! I know a President who's not A-Number One in my book. If Stillson gets elected to the Senate one day he could run for President and vaporize all our problems in the blink of an eye.
So that's all I'm going to say. Greg Stillson is the candidate for change. A candidate who will push all the right buttons, and make others push them too, even if he has to hack their hand off to do it. He's starting to get a lot of recognition and people are writing in by the thousands to their local election boards to get him on the ballot. That's right, letter after letter being written in support of this little candidate who could. A real grass-roots campaign that's starting to really make a difference. Send a message to Washington that we're going to explode all their preconceived notions with a 10 megaton shockwave through the city. Don't delay, write those letters today. The missives are flying. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!