This entry is part of CineMaven’s Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon, which highlights star-director teams of note from Hollywood’s classical era. I have chosen to cover director William Witney and his most frequent star collaborator, Roy Rogers.
William Witney was a director who specialized in action and is probably best known today for directing or co-directing several of Republic Pictures’ finest serials of the 1930s and ’40s, including SOS COAST GUARD, ZORRO RIDES AGAIN, FIGHTING DEVIL DOGS, DICK TRACY RETURNS, DAREDEVILS OF THE RED CIRCLE, ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION, ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL, and G-MEN VS. THE BLACK DRAGON, to name a few. He went on to devote the years 1946-1951 to directing Roy Rogers westerns in the final years of Roy’s reign as Republic Pictures’ top western star. He directed 27 Rogers westerns, including all 19 of Roy’s Trucolor westerns. Roy was the only western star to make this many B-westerns in color. Trucolor was a two-strip color process perfected by Republic’s house lab, Consolidated Film Industries, and used exclusively by Republic Pictures. (The most famous film to be shot in Trucolor is probably Nicholas Ray’s JOHNNY GUITAR, 1954.)
When I first read a pre-production description of Quentin Tarantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT and its tale of hardbitten characters waiting out a blizzard in a mountain outpost in the post-Civil War west after a stagecoach drops off its quartet of passengers, joining four suspicious characters who are already there, I immediately thought of several films with similar plots, but the ones that first leapt to mind were a western from 1951 and a samurai film from 1970.
Each year I like to single out not only the best new films and TV shows I saw in the year, but the best new discoveries from the full spectrum of film and TV history. If I’m seeing something for the first time, no matter how long ago it was produced, then—guess what?—it’s a new movie. This is the first time I’ve done this for my blog. (And where else are you going to find a Best-of list that includes both Ozu and Pokémon?)
Partly because I retired this year, I made more trips to movie theaters this year than I have in a single year since 2004. I made 31 trips to theaters in 2015 and saw 33 movies. 18 were U.S. productions, eight were from Japan, six from the U.K., three from China, and two from Hong Kong. 24 were new releases dating from 2014 or 2015. 17 were indies and six were documentaries (the most I’ve seen in one year on the big screen in a few decades). Ten were revival/repertory screenings. Only six were major studio Hollywood releases. It helped that I’m now eligible for senior citizen discounts at some theaters. ($8 at the Paris!)
Back in 2010, I participated in DVD Talk’s December Holiday Challenge, which propelled me to go through my collection and dig out Christmas-themed movies and TV episodes from all sorts of places. I was especially curious to locate Christmas-themed anime episodes and found quite a few. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
What’s been particularly gratifying about this challenge for me is the chance it gives me to go through my anime collection and find Christmas-themed films and TV episodes. I’ve screened 17 so far, from TOKYO GODFATHERS and Pokémon to episodes of “Little Women” and “The Trapp Family Singers.” The oldest so far is from 1981 and the newest is from 2003. The funniest is the “Urusei Yatsura” episode, “The House of Mendou – Summer X’mas,” where Ataru, Lum and the entire cast are motivated to climb this giant Christmas tree in Mendou’s massive mansion by specific rewards waiting at the top. The most unusual was “Mahoromatic Automatic Maiden,” which is about a high-tech female combat android who’s retired from active duty and serves as a maid to an orphaned high school boy, much to the jealous ire of his friends at school. (Kind of like Ataru and Lum in “Urusei Yatsura,” only the combat android is much nicer.)
The biggest challenge was watching the “Trapp Family” episodes in Japanese with no subtitles. I only figured out they had Christmas in them from pictures on the VHS case. They sing a number of familiar Christmas carols in Japanese, though. That was nice.
Frank Sinatra would have turned 100 today, December 12, 2015. He died at the age of 82 in 1998. For at least the last 55 years of his life, he was an iconic figure in American show business, starting out in the early 1940s as a “crooner” who sang popular tunes with big bands for audiences of wildly enthused teenage girls known as “bobby-soxers.” He starred in film musicals, but branched out in his 30s to dramatic roles (MIRACLE OF THE BELLS) and, after a career slump in the early 1950s, made a remarkable comeback in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, playing the role of Maggio, a defiant, ill-fated young soldier in the days before Pearl Harbor, and winning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, launching a film career with renewed vigor that turned him into one of the biggest movie stars in the country in the 1950s and ’60s. During all this time, he made a series of best-selling record albums and cemented his reputation as one of the finest American singers of the 20th century, continually challenging himself and trying new things. His private life kept the gossip columns busy as his love life went through ups and downs and he became renowned for wild antics with a group of show biz buddies known as the Rat Pack, who hung out with him, performed with him and made movies with him. Long after he phased out his movie career, he continued making Top Ten recordings and performing live all over the country and the world.
In a recent Sunday New York Times Magazine article on women directors in Hollywood (“Waiting for the Green Light,” November 22, 2015), Maureen Dowd discusses the difficulties women directors have in getting hired by the major studios and manages to interview an impressive range of women film and TV industry personnel, including directors, writers, producers, show runners and studio executives. It covers quite a bit of ground and should be read by anyone interested in the state of the industry today. Here’s the link:
I had questions about some of the assumptions made in the article, but my intention is not to dispute them but to simply examine them from a different perspective.
This entry is part of the Criterion Blogathon sponsored by Criterion Blues, Silver Screenings, and Speakeasy. SANSHIRO SUGATA (1943) and SANSHIRO SUGATA, PART TWO (1945) are the first and fourth films directed by Akira Kurosawa, a man I consider to be one of the five greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema. In watching these two films for this blogathon, with PART TWO a first-time viewing, I found myself watching them not as Kurosawa films, but as early examples of the Asian martial arts genre, probably the earliest films I’ve seen with significant attention to an Asian martial art—in the case of the first film, judo and jujitsu, and in the second film, judo and karate. (There are occasional bursts of judo in Hollywood films of the war years, most notably the James Cagney movie, BLOOD ON THE SUN, 1945.) As such, I didn’t connect them to later Kurosawa films (although there’s an echo of them in RED BEARD’s judo sequence, 1965), but to later martial arts films, particularly a whole host of Hong Kong kung fu films in which young Chinese heroes spend years training and competing and developing their skills and often preparing for fights with Japanese practitioners of karate and other arts. (Think THE CHINESE BOXER, FIST OF FURY, HEROES OF THE EAST, LEGEND OF A FIGHTER, FIST OF LEGEND, etc.) While the fights in the two SUGATA films are probably a lot more realistic than most such fights in films of this genre, I have to confess that I simply don’t find judo quite as cinematic a fighting art as karate and kung fu, not to mention swordfighting, or kendo. The combatants in judo and jujitsu spend an inordinate amount of time grabbing each other and grappling around the mat until they can find an opportunity to flip or throw their opponent. The grappling is often like a dance. Once the action starts, however, fights tend to end rather quickly, unlike Hong Kong kung fu films, where the fights can last ten-to-twenty minutes. Still, the two SUGATA films are rare examples of the art of judo depicted in detail on film and with great artistry.