Edmond O’Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) would have turned 100 today. I’ve seen him in 39 movies and a handful of TV episodes. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) and was nominated in the same category for SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964). He acted in Hollywood for 35 years (1939-1974), becoming one of America’s most distinguished character actors, but also having a nice run as a leading man for close to a decade following World War II. He played in a lot of westerns and crime movies during this period and those are the films of his that interest me the most.
This entry is part of the 1947 Blogathon sponsored by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. I chose two films from 1947 to write about and my original plan was to do separate entries on them, but after watching them back-to-back, I realized that the contrasts between them were so interesting that I thought it best to do a comparison piece. The first is ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY, Akira Kurosawa’s incisive portrait of postwar lovers in Tokyo caught up in a cycle of poverty, and I chose it because it was a Kurosawa film that I’d never seen before and this would be a good opportunity to finally see it.
The second is VIOLENCE, a low-budget melodrama from Monogram Pictures about an organization exploiting war veterans for power and profit, and I chose it because it was the closest thing I could find to a conspiracy thriller from 1947, a year filled with events in the U.S. that fueled so many conspiracy theories for years to come.
One film was made in a country recovering slowly from defeat and the ravages of war, while the other was made in a country flush with the glory of victory and newly emergent on the global stage as the dominant world power, yet the stories they tell offer a reversal of sorts.
What happens when remaining copies of particular films or particular versions of films exist only on VHS tape in individual collections and the copyright owner or rights holder has either gone out of business or abandoned the property altogether? I have quite a few VHS editions of films and TV shows that are not readily available in other formats, mostly English-dubbed Japanese anime and Hong Kong kung fu movies, but probably quite a few other foreign and animated films as well, including many Italian genre films. These are titles that were once distributed on home video in the U.S. or syndicated to television, but are no longer officially available for one reason or another, including the fact that so many companies that once distributed to niche markets are now out of business and the rights holders in Japan and Hong Kong, if they’re still in business at all, have either been unable to find new licensees for these titles or are completely uninterested in any further distribution overseas. Or, as in the case of the film in question here, if the copyright owner is still active, they are unable to find a complete print of something that once got distribution in the U.S.
Today marks the centennial of the birth of Alan Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964). Ladd was in many ways the quintessential movie star of the studio era. Although his stardom was nurtured by Paramount Pictures, the studio to which he was under contract throughout the 1940s, it was the audience that made him a star. Moviegoers clearly loved him and clamored for his movies. He struck such a chord with them in the 1940s and early 1950s that pretty much anything he made satisfied them. Paramount didn’t put a lot of money into his movies nor, with rare exceptions like the 1949 version of THE GREAT GATSBY, did they allow him to take on challenging roles and riskier subject matter. He specialized in a certain kind of medium-budget, mid-range action film in various genres that formed the foundation of the studio system: crime melodramas, westerns, war movies, and globe-trotting adventures. A sampling of titles should convey the type of movie Ladd appeared in: CHINA, CALCUTTA, SAIGON, SANTIAGO, BRANDED, RED MOUNTAIN, DRUM BEAT, SASKATCHEWAN, THE BIG LAND, HELL BELOW ZERO, HELL ON FRISCO BAY, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, CHICAGO DEADLINE, THUNDER IN THE EAST, DESERT LEGION, THE IRON MISTRESS. He often played the reluctant hero, a loner out for himself, devoted to his own self interest, who ultimately does the right thing and helps the underdog.
Long live VHS! In May of last year, New York’s Book Off, a repository of used books, manga, CDs, and DVDs, offering items from both the U.S. and Japan, unveiled a new, revamped section of VHS tapes. I had previously purchased dozens of VHS tapes from this store over the past 20 or so years, at prices ranging from $1 to $3 to $5 to $15-20 each, depending on any number of factors. At some point in early 2011, they got rid of most of their tapes (or simply put them in storage), leaving only a single shelf of Japanese children’s shows and films on VHS, which sat there until last May. On a recent tour of the VHS section, I found four Yakuza movies from 1969-71, all in Japanese with no subtitles (as is the case with pretty much all Japanese films and TV shows on VHS) and picked them up at $3 apiece.
SAMURAI GEISHA (1969)
Al Capone was a famous gangster who dominated bootlegging in Chicago during much of the Prohibition era in the 1920s, despite a multitude of rivals whose opposition led to open warfare in the streets, culminating in the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” in a Clark Street garage in 1929. I have stills from three different movies about Capone, so I decided to watch all three to compare the portrayals and then consult a book I have on him to see how accurate the movies were. I don’t have DVDs of the films, only VHS copies, so I didn’t get any screen grabs. The films are: AL CAPONE (1959), THE ST. VALENTINE’S DAY MASSACRE (1967), and CAPONE (1975).
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.