Archive | March, 2012

The Art of the Film Still, Pt. 4: CAIRO (1942)

31 Mar

I picked up this still because I found the juxtaposition of two major musical stars together in the shot, one white and one black, seemingly functioning as equals, quite intriguing. The film is CAIRO (1942), a musical comedy with a World War II spy theme produced at MGM, and it stars Jeanette MacDonald, Robert Young, and Ethel Waters.

Jeanette MacDonald, Ethel Waters in CAIRO

Based on this still, I wanted to see the film to determine how big a role Waters had. She’s billed third, so it had to be more substantial than black performers normally got in films of that era. And Waters was quite a big star at the time, maybe not in Hollywood, but certainly on stage, records and the nightclub circuit. I finally watched the film and I’m happy to say she has a big role. Granted, she plays MacDonald’s maid, but she also functions as her secretary and traveling companion and is in a lot of the film and participates in much of the action.

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Frank Lovejoy Centennial

28 Mar

Frank Lovejoy would have turned 100 today, March 28, 2012. He died at the age of 50 on October 2, 1962, nearly 50 years ago. He was an actor who had a ten-year run of lead and second lead roles in a steady stream of westerns, war movies, dramas and crime thrillers before he moved into television, starring in two series, “Man Against Crime” and “Meet McGraw” and guest-starring on numerous other shows. He generally played good guys—in the military or law enforcement—and his gruff, no-nonsense professionalism usually masked a warm core. He was thoroughly believable in every role he played, an everyman drawn into service and trying to do the most honest and professional job he can.

This still is from Nicholas Ray’s IN A LONELY PLACE (1950), in which he plays a Los Angeles police detective investigating a murder in which his friend, a temperamental screenwriter with a short fuse, has been implicated. The friend is played by Humphrey Bogart.

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The Art of the Film Still, Pt. 3: I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES (1955)

25 Mar

I DIED A THOUSAND TIMES is a 1955 remake, in color and Cinemascope, of the 1941 crime classic HIGH SIERRA. It’s about a career heist artist who gets paroled from prison in the Midwest through the machinations of an ailing crime boss in order to engineer the robbery of jewels from the safe deposit boxes of a Palm Springs-type resort. Jack Palance plays the criminal, Roy Earle, a part originated by Humphrey Bogart. Palance’s character is quieter, less talkative than Bogart and less ruminative. He’s more tightly wound and quicker to anger and reduces other tough guys in the film, including Lee Marvin, to a quivering jumble of nerves.

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The Art of the Film Still, Pt. 2: THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958)

21 Mar

Second in this series is a color still from THE LAW AND JAKE WADE (1958), an MGM production directed by John Sturges (THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN). I only recently recorded the movie off Encore’s Western Channel and re-watched it for the first time in decades.

As you can see, the still shows a nighttime scene shot on a soundstage with studio lighting and an artificial backdrop. The actors are, L-R, Patricia Owens, Richard Widmark, and Robert Taylor.

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The Art of the Film Still, Pt. 1: MURDERERS’ ROW (1966)

18 Mar

One of the things I want to do on this blog is scan images from my movie still collection, something I was never able to do before I got a scanner late last month. While I can get screen grabs from any movie scene contained on any DVD I have, there’s an art form to the traditional movie still that’s hard to recreate via screen grab. Besides, I have many stills I want to share that are from movies I don’t have on DVD. There are different kinds of stills one can collect from the era before EPKs (Electronic Press Kits). There were black-and-white stills sent out to newspapers and magazines. These generally had no border. And then there are those that were sent out from the National Screen Service, a company set up to provide posters, lobby cards, stills, etc. to theaters for display. They had text on the bottom listing basic info about the film (title, cast, director, producer, studio), plus copyright info, plus a notice from the National Screen Service declaring the still to be its property, with the proviso that it be returned after use. (Not all of them got returned—otherwise I wouldn’t have any.)

These NSS stills used to be displayed prominently in glass cases set up around the outside areas of the theater and in the inside foyer before entering the lobby. Some theaters made lots of room for such displays, some just didn’t have the space for more than a few. I remember the stills used for such displays being predominantly black-and-white, but I must have seen some in color occasionally. I loved looking at these pictures and the accompanying posters when I passed theaters, no matter what was playing. Even when I’d just seen the movie, I was always keen to see exactly which scenes were displayed and compare them to what I remembered from just seeing the movie. I learned early on that the stills didn’t always match what was in the movie. Sometimes the stills featured scenes that weren’t in the movie at all.

I decided to open this series with a color still from MURDERERS’ ROW (1966), a secret agent spoof starring Dean Martin as Matt Helm and produced by Columbia Pictures.

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HE WALKED BY NIGHT: Classic Film Noir Revisited

13 Mar

HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) is an unusual hybrid of police procedural and pure film noir. It’s a sincere paean to the hard-working men of the Los Angeles Police Department with intriguing glimpses of the attention to detail involved in the solving of crimes and the search for perpetrators, complete with stentorian narration by Reed Hadley (later the host of TV’s “Racket Squad”) and location filming in police headquarters. Yet at the same time, it’s also an unusually intimate portrait of a cold-blooded killer, whose shrewdness and sharp-eyed intelligence allow him to stay one step ahead of the police for most of the film’s 79 minutes.

Roy Roberts, Scott Brady in HE WALKED BY NIGHT

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42nd Street Theaters, Part 1: LAST ACTION HERO

9 Mar

Not long after I started up this blog, I made a point of buying a scanner so I could scan film stills and photos I took in the pre-digital era and put them on this blog. One of the first batches of photos I scanned were those I took on 42nd Street and in Times Square in the 1980s and early 1990s. One group I’m particularly proud of is the series of photos I took sometime in 1992 when Columbia Pictures was shooting LAST ACTION HERO (1993) on the famed strip of 42nd Street theaters between Seventh and Eighth Avenues. All ten theaters then existing on the street were closed at the time and the production team had fixed up the marquees on all of them to look like a typical Deuce lineup from the street’s heyday. (Interestingly, several of the titles featured on the marquees were films that had probably played on 42nd Street once upon a time.)

Photo by Brian Camp, 1992

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CRIME WAVE (1954) – The real L.A. Confidential

2 Mar

Last year, Nicolas Refn’s crime thriller DRIVE, starring Ryan Gosling as a taciturn getaway driver, got lots of praise and was touted by internet fans as a surefire Oscar nominee in several major categories. (It only got one nomination—Sound Editing.) While I enjoyed most of it, its virtues arose from the fact that it was simply a well-executed mid-range genre film, coming out at a time when this kind of film has become quite rare. I thought back to an era when films like this were routinely released, with no fanfare and no critical hype, and tended to be much better than DRIVE. I’m thinking of L.A.-filmed crime dramas and examples of film noir from roughly 1947-1955, e.g. BORN TO KILL, ACT OF VIOLENCE, BODYGUARD, CRISS CROSS, HE WALKED BY NIGHT, HOLLOW TRIUMPH, RAW DEAL, BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN, etc.

Another such film is CRIME WAVE (1954), found on a double feature DVD (paired with DECOY, 1946) from Warner Bros., which I watched for the first time yesterday. It’s short (74 minutes), snappy, and shot almost entirely on location in Los Angeles and its environs. What struck me almost immediately is the naturalistic style of the cinematography, with existing light used where possible, dialogue recorded sync-sound on the spot for most of the scenes, and a complete avoidance of Hollywood gloss. It’s almost like a documentary in parts.

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