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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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The Art of EL DORADO

29 Jun

50 years ago today, EL DORADO opened in New York City. It was the next-to-last film directed by Howard Hawks and it starred John Wayne and Robert Mitchum. I didn’t see it in 1967; I had to wait till it came back as part of a double feature with William Wyler’s last movie, THE LIBERATION OF L.B. JONES, in 1970, shown at the Earl Theater on 161st Street in the Bronx, just a block away from Yankee Stadium. It’s something of a follow-up to Hawks’ earlier western, RIO BRAVO (1959), which had a similar situation of a small band of lawmen holding a powerful prisoner and fending off attempts by the prisoner’s army of gunslingers to free him. In both films, one of the lawmen is a drunk and has to sober up fast when all hell breaks loose. I wrote about RIO BRAVO in my Dean Martin Centennial piece and I’ll write more about EL DORADO in my upcoming Robert Mitchum Centennial piece, slated for August 6, and in an upcoming piece on the best films of 1967. RIO BRAVO is arguably the better film, offering more layered characters and focusing less on plot mechanics than on character relationships and interactions. It’s a more complex, serious film while EL DORADO is more light-hearted and entertaining. RIO BRAVO is more demanding and, ultimately, more satisfying, but I’ve seen EL DORADO much more often (about ten times to RIO BRAVO’s four or five). It has more clever scenes and imaginative bits of action and great chemistry among its group of lead actors (Wayne, Mitchum, James Caan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Charlene Holt). It also introduces the drunk character (Mitchum) when he’s sober and in full command of his faculties, so we know what he’s like before he sinks into an alcoholic daze. In RIO BRAVO, we just have to accept Wayne’s word that the drunk (Dean Martin) was once his best man with a gun, since we only see him in his drunk phase for roughly the first half of the movie.

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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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Raymond Burr Centennial

21 May

Raymond Burr would have turned 100 today, May 21, 2017. He’s most famous for three roles, two on television and one in the movies. On television he first starred in “Perry Mason,” portraying the title character, a criminal defense attorney who won almost every case he took. The series premiered on CBS in 1957 (sixty years ago this fall) and ran for nine seasons (until 1966). He then returned to the role in a run of 26 TV movies that began in 1985 and continued until his death in 1993. (The final film aired after his death.)

Perry Mason 1957:

Perry Mason 1985:

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Musicals or Films about Music? THE GREAT CARUSO, SERENADE and IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN

12 Feb

Last month I watched three films on Turner Classic Movies that made think about the relationship of music to movies and music to audiences. What struck me about all three films was the way music was part of the fabric of the society portrayed and played an integral role in community life. In two of the films and most of the third, the music is presented as performances in places and venues where it made perfect sense to perform songs and instrumental musical pieces. Only one of the films, IT HAPPENED IN BROOKLYN (1947), directed by Richard Whorf, featured people breaking into song amidst the settings and activities of everyday life, although this only happens two or three times in the movie. Every other number in the film is a performance number in places where it was perfectly logical to perform music. The other two films starred the great American tenor Mario Lanza: THE GREAT CARUSO (1951), directed by Richard Thorpe, in which Lanza played opera legend Enrico Caruso, and SERENADE (1956), directed by Anthony Mann, a grand melodrama based on a novel by James M. Cain about an opera singer’s rise, fall and rise again in contemporary America. One can make the case that THE GREAT CARUSO and SERENADE are not, strictly speaking, musicals but instead are films about music.

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2016: The Year in Film

30 Dec
The audience amasses for SHIN GODZILLA at the Village East Cinema on October 11.

The audience amasses for SHIN GODZILLA at the Village East Cinema on October 11.

2016 was my first full year of retirement. I made 33 trips to movie theaters, the most trips I’ve made in a single year in over two decades, and I saw 34 movies there. Ten were Hollywood films, 19 were foreign films, mostly from Japan, and the rest were indies. Five were documentaries and eight were animated.

I picked 15 films to highlight from the year, eight new films seen in New York theaters, three revivals, two films seen in theaters in Japan, and two more recent Japanese films seen on the airplane flight to Japan. One of the revivals is generally considered to be a masterpiece, while the film at the top of the list may one day be considered one. As for the others, their virtues outweighed their flaws enough to put them on such a list. Nine of the fifteen are Japanese. Four of the fifteen are documentaries. I only saw ten current Hollywood studio releases in theaters this year and only one is on this list. When the final tally for the U.S. boxoffice is announced, there’ll be very few films in the top ten—or the top 100—that I’ve seen. Since I’m no longer at the office discussing superhero and comic book movies with my younger co-workers, I no longer feel the need to rush out to see these films. My two favorites of the year are at the top of the list. The rest are grouped this way: films I saw in theaters in New York; revivals; films seen in Japan and on the flight to Japan. Most of these descriptions are taken from the notes I composed for my daily film log after seeing the films. Where applicable, I’ve included links to complete reviews I did, including blog entries and IMDB reviews.

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