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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 and screen grabs from the DVD. 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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June 29: Bernard Herrmann and Ray Harryhausen

29 Jun

Composer Bernard Herrmann and special effects creator Ray Harryhausen shared a birthday–June 29. Herrmann was born in 1911 and died in 1975, while Harryhausen was born in 1920 and died in 2013. (I did a tribute to Harryhausen here.) The two artists collaborated on four films. My first exposure to both men was THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, which I saw in a theater when I was five years old. It took a few years for me to learn their names, but I became a huge fan of both by the time I was an adolescent. Following SINBAD, they collaborated on THE THREE WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960), MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (1961) and JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). I saw GULLIVER and JASON in theaters when they came out as well, but I would have to wait till a TV showing on Thanksgiving in 1964 to catch MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, which became my favorite of the four. I would eventually see all of Harryhausen’s films and all but two of those that Herrmann composed the scores for.

Seven years ago, I did a piece on Herrmann’s centennial on the J-pop blog I was doing then. Harryhausen was still alive at the time. I’ve pasted that piece here in its entirety:

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Robert Mitchum Centennial

6 Aug

Robert Mitchum was born on August 6th, 1917, 100 years ago today. (My father was born less than two months later.) I was born on August 6th also, on Mitchum’s 36th birthday. Mitchum died on July 1, 1997, a little over a month shy of his 80th birthday. He happens to be my favorite movie star. I wrote about him here three times already, covering his debut film, BORDER PATROL (1943); his 1949 film, HOLIDAY AFFAIR; and in a piece about Sam Fuller’s THE BIG RED ONE, his appearance in THE LONGEST DAY (1962), where he played the general leading the attack on Omaha Beach, site of the bloodiest fighting on D-Day.

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Dean Martin Centennial

7 Jun

Dean Martin would have turned 100 today, June 7, 2017. (He died on Christmas Day, 1995.) Martin was initially world-famous as the singing comedy partner of Jerry Lewis in an act that had extraordinary success on stage, in clubs, on TV and in the movies before it broke up in 1956 after escalating tensions between the two finally exploded. Martin went on to a successful solo career singing, recording, acting and teaming up with Frank Sinatra and other performers to make up what has affectionately been called “the Rat Pack.” I don’t recall what my first exposure to Martin was, although I’m sure I saw him on a TV variety show before seeing my first Martin movie, AT WAR WITH THE ARMY (1950), his third movie with Jerry Lewis, at summer camp in 1963.

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Steve Cochran Centennial

25 May

Steve Cochran would have turned 100 today, May 25, 2017. (He died in 1965.) He was a character actor who was most active in the 1940s and ’50s, most often playing dark, good-looking heavies in crime films and westerns. He was under contract for a while to Samuel Goldwyn Productions and later to Warner Bros. where he made what I consider to be his best films. He’s probably best known for WHITE HEAT (1949), in which he had a key supporting role as one of the robbery gang led by cold-blooded killer Cody Jarrett, played masterfully by James Cagney in his spectacular return to gangster roles after a decade away from the genre.

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