Hollywood Looks at China: Two films from 1955

26 Sep

SOLDIER OF FORTUNE and BLOOD ALLEY are two Hollywood films made in 1955 with contemporary Chinese settings. SOLDIER OF FORTUNE starts out in Hong Kong and moves to Mainland China late in its narrative before coming back to Hong Kong. BLOOD ALLEY takes place almost entirely in Mainland China before ending up in Hong Kong. Both are in color and Cinemascope. Both are based on best-selling novels and both were adapted for the screen by their authors, Ernest K. Gann and A.S. Fleischman, respectively, a practice that was not very common in Hollywood. Both had top movie star pairs at the head of their casts, Clark Gable and Susan Hayward in SOLDIER and John Wayne and Lauren Bacall in BLOOD, all American and all playing Americans. Both films had large supporting casts of Asian-American performers. The lead male characters in both films speak Chinese, Cantonese in SOLDIER and, I’m assuming, Mandarin in BLOOD, although I’m not sure, given how awkward the actors are with their phonetically spoken lines. The lead female character in BLOOD speaks it also. Chinese-American actors Victor Sen Yung and James Hong are in both films. Hong plays a Communist soldier in both. (SOLDIER was Hong’s film debut.) Both were produced by major studios: SOLDIER by 20th Century Fox and BLOOD by Warner Bros. and both are out on DVD from their respective studios, which is how I watched both films. I’d seen parts of each film before, on television, but these DVD viewings marked the first time I’ve seen each of them in its entirety.

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Maltin’s Movie Guide: The End of an Era

9 Sep

I’ve had a copy of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide (or TV Movies as it was originally called or Movie and Video Guide as it was later called) by my TV set since sometime in the early 1970s when I got the very first edition, published in 1969, as a bonus from some movie book-of-the-month club. Maltin was already well known among film students and buffs at the time for the magazine Film Fan Monthly and assorted film books that he’d already had published by his early 20s, including the very first book I bought from that book-of-the-month club, The Disney Films (1973), which offered an in-depth survey of feature films produced by the Walt Disney Studio from 1937 to 1973. He would add more incredibly useful film books to his accomplishments in the years that followed, including Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Shorts and The Great Movie Comedians. Once they started publishing the Guide regularly, I would get a new edition every year and give the older one away. It was useful to have a handy guide where you could find cast members, running time, year of release, director, brief description and critical overview from a trusted source. This was at a time when you had to rely on TV Guide’s movie listings and various newspapers’ TV pages for whatever info was available on each film being shown on TV. Those listings were often provided by reviewers with absolutely no appreciation for the genre films my friends and I loved so much. I can’t recall offhand the scathing dismissals these films got, but they were pretty infuriating. Actually, I remember one. For the film, FROM HELL IT CAME (1957), the New York Times listing simply said, “Back send it.”

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Old Cartoons: Adventures in Surrealism

31 Aug

I was in Barnes & Noble last Monday checking out the cheap DVD section and found something called “200 Classic Cartoons” for $4.99 with 4 discs worth of old cartoons. (The distributor is Mill Creek.) There were enough titles on it that I didn’t have that I either wanted to own or was curious enough about to make it worth $4.99 despite what would surely be a preponderance of poor quality prints and transfers.

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I Love LUCY (and Scarlett)

1 Aug

Ever since I saw THE AVENGERS two summers ago I’ve been hoping that Marvel would feature Scarlett Johansson as her Black Widow character in a standalone film that was more of a thriller than a superhero movie. When I saw the trailer for LUCY in May I was pleased to see that she’d finally gotten her own action movie. I was also intrigued by the similarity of the plot elements to different anime I’ve seen, most notably “Baoh,” about a government experiment that turns a hapless subject into a super-soldier who then escapes and goes rogue. Internet forums have suggested LUCY’s similarity to an anime series called “Elfen Lied,” which I’ve never seen but am now determined to see. The protagonist of “Elfen Lied” is also named Lucy. All of this compelled me to go see LUCY last night.

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Paris, Part 3: Random Sights

27 Jul

Since I don’t have a Facebook page to share the rest of my Paris trip with friends and family, I thought I’d use this to post other pictures from my trip to Paris in the first week of July. It’s all pretty cinematic in its own way, so why not use my film blog? Besides, a friend of mine who’s not a film buff complained that the last entry was just a bunch of film posters. Hopefully, this will satisfy her.

One of the things that struck me on my first day there during a walk in the neighborhood around my hotel was the presence of historic sights in just about any direction. I turned the corner from Boulevard St. Michel onto Rue Soufflot in order to search for an ATM so I could pull out some Euros, and what did I see at the end of the block?

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 2

20 Jul

Sunday, my last full day in Paris, found me in the morning waiting on line in the rain to enter the Musee d’Orsay, where a Van Gogh exhibit awaited.

It was the last day of the exhibit, so I’m glad I got to see it even though I had to wait on line a second time inside the museum to see it. I’ve seen Van Gogh paintings before, but not so many of them in one exhibit–and in Paris where most of these paintings originally found their home! No photography was allowed in the exhibit, so I didn’t get any shots, but here’s a famous one that was included:

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Paris is a Movie Lover’s Town, Part 1

14 Jul

I spent a week in Paris, July 1-7, and even though I wasn’t there to see movies, I did photograph a number of theaters and movie posters and various locations attesting to the city’s ongoing cinephilia, including a visit to a treat-filled video store up the block from my hotel. And I did get to see one movie while I was there.

Me and Bette on a Paris street

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