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Filming Across Cultures: Cowboys, Samurai and Kung Fu Champs in the 1970s

17 May

In the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood theater functioned as a Cinematheque of global genre films, offering Italian westerns, French crime thrillers, English horror, Soviet fantasy, Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong kung fu films, among other genres. I still marvel at the recollection of seeing such international movie icons as John Wayne, Jean Gabin and Toshiro Mifune in new movies at local theaters when I was still a teenager. I once wrote about this particular movie culture in a chapter for a proposed book on 42nd Street theaters. I’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter, after a few paragraphs of introduction.

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Remembering 20th Century Fox

24 Mar

As a result of the recent acquisition of parts of the Fox empire by the Walt Disney Co., which took effect on March 20, 2019, 20th Century Fox no longer exists as a major studio.

From an article by Jake Coyle on the Fox Business website, In End of 20th Century Fox, a New Era Dawns for Hollywood:

When the Walt Disney Co.’s $71.3 billion acquisition of Fox is completed at 12:02 a.m. Wednesday, the storied lot — the birthplace of CinemaScope, “The Sound of Music” and “Titanic” — will no longer house one of the six major studios. It will become the headquarters for Rupert Murdoch’s new Fox Corp., (he is keeping Fox News and Fox Broadcasting) and Fox’s film operations, now a Disney label, will stay on for now as renters under a seven-year lease agreement.

The history of Hollywood is littered with changes of studio ownership; even Fox Film Corporation founder William Fox, amid the Depression, lost control of the studio that still bears his name. But the demise of 20th Century Fox as a standalone studio is an epochal event in Hollywood, one that casts long shadows over a movie industry grappling with new digital competitors from Silicon Valley and facing the possibility of further contraction. After more than eight decades of supremacy, the Big Six are down one.

It’s not clear yet how Fox productions will be branded or if the fabled 20th Century Fox studio logo will even be displayed or not. That logo (see above) has adorned thousands of movies made from 1935 to this year.

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BORDER RIVER (1954): Americans in Mexico

1 Mar

VERA CRUZ meets THE WILD BUNCH meets THE GETAWAY

BORDER RIVER (1954), an 80-minute Technicolor western from Universal Pictures starring Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo and Pedro Armendariz, preceded all three action classics referenced above, yet has elements found in each. It offers a tale of Americans in Mexico caught up in the war between Emperor Maximilian and revolutionary leader Benito Juarez in 1865, foreshadowing Robert Aldrich’s VERA CRUZ, released much later in 1954 and following a group of American mercenaries in 1868, led by Gary Cooper and Burt Lancaster, pictured below, working for Maximilian who are eventually forced to switch sides.

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Jack Palance Centennial

18 Feb

Today, February 18, 2019, would have been Jack Palance’s 100th birthday. He died in 2006 at the age of 87. He acted in films for the entire second half of the 20th century and his TV roles continued into the 21st century. The son of a Ukrainian coal miner, he had unusually taut facial features, a result of reconstructive surgery after his face was burned in a plane crash during a test flight in WWII, giving his face a dramatic look that made him a natural for villain roles, most notably the gunslinger Jack Wilson in SHANE, or various historical ethnic roles such as Attila the Hun (SIGN OF THE PAGAN), the Mongol chieftain Ogatai, son of Genghis Khan (THE MONGOLS), the Apache rebel Toriano (ARROWHEAD), Mexican revolutionary Raza (THE PROFESSIONALS), the biblical character Simon the Magician (THE SILVER CHALICE) and even Fidel Castro (CHE!).

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Jeff Chandler Centennial

15 Dec

Jeff Chandler would have turned 100 today, December 15, 2018. He died an untimely death in 1961 at the age of 42 after a back operation left him with blood poisoning, right after coming home from finishing his last film, a WWII movie shot in the Philippines called MERRILL’S MARAUDERS, which would be released a year after he died. Directed by Samuel Fuller and based on a true story, it was one of Chandler’s best films.

As a leading man under contract to Universal Pictures, Chandler occupied a unique position in the 1950s, the decade in which he did most of his major work. Tall, athletic, rugged and boasting sharp, protruding features—square jaw, dimpled chin, thick curling lips, long straight nose, high cheekbones, piercing eyes, dark, bushy eyebrows, and prematurely graying hair—Chandler found himself playing unsmiling officers, tribal chiefs and authority figures of various sorts in a wide range of genres, notably westerns, historical adventures, war movies, swashbucklers, and romantic melodramas. As an actor, he had a limited range, one he voluntarily adhered to, but did wonders within that range. As far as I can tell, he played a genuine villain only once—in the 1959 western, THE JAYHAWKERS, in which the hero was played by Fess Parker, TV’s Davy Crockett.

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WEST SIDE STORY: A Look Back

15 Oct

The recent centennials of Leonard Bernstein (August 25) and Jerome Robbins (October 11), composer and choreographer/co-director, respectively, of WEST SIDE STORY (1961), and the press coverage of Steven Spielberg’s planned remake compelled me to dig out my file of b&w stills from a press kit for a late 1960s reissue of the film that I’d acquired in 1969 from United Artists. I scanned them all and am posting them here along with color stills found on IMDB. I’m fascinated by the way publicity stills, staged for the still camera and not taken during the actual shooting of a scene, offer an alternate version of the film or images that can seem like deleted scenes.

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The Weirdest Double Feature Ever?

7 Oct

The above ad appeared in The New York Times on Sunday, March 30, 1969.

Imagine going to a movie theater and seeing these two posters advertising the evening’s double bill:

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