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Happy Birthday, Lisa Lu: The Veteran Actress Turns 95!

19 Jan

Actress Lisa Lu turns 95 today, January 19, 2022. I’ve written about her four previous times, the last one being a celebration on her 90th birthday five years ago. It’s great to celebrate someone’s career while they’re happily still with us. Since that last post, she had a major supporting role in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018), marking her 60th year in the film/TV industry. In the film she played the mother of Michelle Yeoh’s character and the grandmother of the male lead played by Henry Golding, who struggles to get their approval of his marriage to a Chinese-American woman (Constance Wu) who is considered by his wealthy family to be beneath their station. Here’s what I wrote about her and Yeoh after I’d seen the film: “It’s great to see Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu onscreen together, but they’re so antagonistic to the poor heroine that I found it jarring. I’ve never seen them in roles like that before.”

Lisa Lu, Henry Golding in CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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Deanna Durbin Centennial

4 Dec

December 4, 2021: Deanna Durbin would have turned 100 today. Here’s a link to a post I did earlier this year on her connection to Japan: Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans. And the following is a post I did in 2013 on the occasion of her death at the age of 91.

Brian Camp's Film and Anime Blog

First Annette and now Deanna Durbin, who was, in a way, the Annette Funicello of the 1930s (but way more popular). According to the New York Times obituary of May 1, 2013, Ms. Durbin died “a few days ago.” (As of this writing, IMDB still doesn’t list a death date, presumably because it still doesn’t have one!) Legend has it that Deanna’s film musicals, filled with youthful exuberance and musical cheer, starting with THREE SMART GIRLS (1936) and 100 MEN AND A GIRL (1937), were so popular they saved Universal Pictures from bankruptcy and kept the studio solvent until Abbott and Costello came along in the 1940s. (Deanna and Annette connection: both co-starred in movies with Robert Cummings.)

Deanna Durbin (born Dec. 4, 1921) was one of the few major Hollywood stars to turn her back on the industry and walk away from it and live happily ever after. She moved…

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Dean Martin: King of Cool (2021)

24 Nov

“Dean Martin: King of Cool” is a new documentary about the celebrated actor, comedian, singer, movie/TV/recording star and member of the legendary Rat Pack. Directed by Tom Donahue, it offers a sympathetic and compelling 107-minute portrait of the entertainer that tries to find out what made the man tick and what he was guarding from the outside world. A “Rosebud” angle, drawing on CITIZEN KANE’s use of its subject’s deathbed utterance, is inserted tentatively at different points to try and find out what Dean’s “Rosebud” was and a plausible answer is provided late in the film by one of its main interviewees. The general consensus of the dozens of interviewees, some of whom knew and worked with him and many of whom didn’t, is that the façade he maintained was generally impenetrable. He did not want people to know him.

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Charles Bronson Centennial

3 Nov

He was an iconic action star who was one of The Magnificent Seven, one of The Dirty Dozen and one of three who made good The Great Escape. He was Charles Bronson and November 3, 2021 marks his centennial. (He died in 2003 at the age of 81 after a 48-year acting career.)

I first saw Bronson on the big screen in John Sturges’ THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), where he was among the 76 POWs in a German prison camp during World War II who made a dramatic prison break in 1943. He played Danny, the “tunnel king,” whose background in coal mining propelled him to take a major role in digging the escape tunnels. Bronson himself had worked as a coal miner in Pennsylvania before military service in WWII. In the movie his character was one of the three who successfully reaches neutral territory without being recaptured. The other two were played by James Coburn and John Leyton.

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VICE SQUAD (1953) – The Real “Dragnet”

17 Sep

VICE SQUAD (1953) is a sharply-directed, fast-paced black-and-white crime thriller that follows a full shift in a day’s work for a police captain in the Vice Squad of the Los Angeles Police Department. The filmmakers shot it largely on location on a tight schedule and sought authenticity in every scene, adopting a semi-documentary approach that makes it one of the more believable police dramas of the era. As such, it offers a sharp contrast to the popular TV series of the time, “Dragnet” (1951-59), which, as much as I like it and as much as it was based on true cases, has always seemed to me quite stylized in its depiction of the LAPD through the quirky sensibility, off-kilter humor and incessant moralizing of its producer-director-star, Jack Webb, who played Sergeant Joe Friday in the show. I can imagine a conversation among the director, writer and producers of VICE SQUAD, where they wondered what “Dragnet” would look and sound like with someone in the central role who didn’t make speeches to all and sundry and wasn’t immune to bending the rules and making compromises to get the desired results in a case, i.e., someone less like Sgt. Friday (Webb, pictured below) and more like the actual police captain they consulted before making the film.

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Deanna Durbin and Her Japanese Fans

15 Aug

I was watching THE WHOLE FAMILY WORKS (1939), a Japanese film directed by Mikio Naruse about a family with seven kids trying to make ends meet in contemporary Japan, when I was struck by a scene 20 minutes into it where the second oldest son, Genji, who has left school to work, opens a magazine or workbook of some kind during a scene where he’s helping his younger brothers study in the room they share and reveals a photo of American movie star Deanna Durbin that he’s hidden in the book.

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“I will never grow tired of hearing stories told” – Quotes from Orson Welles

6 May

The great actor-writer-director Orson Welles would have turned 106 today, May 6, 2021. I did a centennial piece on him six years ago. Thanks to the release of MANK last year, which offered a questionable treatment of Welles’s role in the writing of CITIZEN KANE, I’ve been eager to read Welles’s own account and wound up re-reading three different books of interviews with him and soon forgot all about MANK. Welles is never boring and never predictable and shares extraordinary insights into life, the arts, society, history, and culture. He loved the act of creation, no matter which medium he worked in: film, theater, television, radio, painting, essays, etc. and he loved watching other human beings invested in creating. I’ve been reading portions of lots of other books about celebrated film personalities lately, mostly directors and movie stars, and I’m constantly finding instances of behavior that absolutely appall me. Some directors thought nothing of putting their cast and crew members in situations of great danger and discomfort or simply treating them horribly. These include some of my favorite directors, so I don’t want to name names. Some movie stars made life miserable for other cast members and their directors. But I’ve never heard anything like that about Welles. He seems to have loved working with people and put himself fully into every one of his creative endeavors. Here’s a quote from a 1964 interview done in Madrid that ends with a sentiment I wish more directors had endorsed:

Q: How do you work with actors?

Welles: I give them a great deal of freedom and, at the same time, the feeling of precision. It’s a strange combination. In other words, physically, and in the way they develop, I demand the precision of ballet. But their way of acting comes directly from their own ideas as much as from mine. When the camera begins to roll, I do not impro­vise visually. In this realm, everything is prepared. But I work very freely with the actors. I try to make their life pleasant.

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OPERATION BOTTLENECK – A Hollywood WWII Film with Asian Female Commandos

1 Aug

Friday, July 24th, marked the 95th birthday of Japanese-American actress Miiko Taka, who is, happily, still with us. She is best known for co-starring with Marlon Brando in SAYONARA (1957), in which she plays a Takarazuka performer in Kyoto who has a romance with an American Air Force officer. To celebrate the occasion of her birthday, I found one of her more obscure Hollywood films on Amazon Prime and watched it. OPERATION BOTTLENECK (1961), released by United Artists, is pretty much a standard World War II tale of a small American unit going behind the lines in Burma to blow up a “bottleneck” in a key road the Japanese army needs to advance into India. In the course of it, however, they free five “comfort girls,” local village women who had been forced into serving the Japanese officers at their headquarters, and must train them in combat to assist in their mission. It’s a pretty far-fetched story, done on quite a low budget and has some major problems with sexist dialogue and racial slurs, not to mention profoundly insensitive treatment of the comfort women, but it’s also quite distinct from other Hollywood treatments of the war with Japan. It is, I believe, the only World War II movie made in Hollywood with an actress of Japanese descent given top billing and also the only time Hollywood has shown an American officer leading Asian female guerrillas in a war movie, although when they go into combat they’re not quite dressed as they are in this poster:

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Ray Harryhausen Centennial

29 Jun

Monday, June 29, 2020, marks the centennial of special effects genius Ray Harryhausen. I was lucky to have seen many of his films as a child when they were new and then share them as a grown-up with my daughter and nephews. I did a tribute to him on May 11, 2013, on the occasion of his death at the age of 92 and am reposting it here as a centennial tribute. Consult the original piece here for the comments that were added then.

Ray Harryhausen died on Tuesday, May 7 at the age of 92. He had a good run, starting out by animating stop-motion models of dinosaurs, inspired by KING KONG (1933), for short color 16mm movies made in his parents’ garage while he was a teenager in the 1930s and ending with the Greek mythological epic CLASH OF THE TITANS in 1981. In between, he did the “technical effects” as billed on his first feature, or “special visual effects” as they were usually billed, for some of my all-time favorite movies. I was lucky to have seen many of his movies on the big screen when they were first released, starting with THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), which my father took us to see on Lincoln’s Birthday in 1959, when I was five. Even though I’d seen Disney features in theaters before then, as well as a memorable double bill of THE ROBE and DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, I believe it was SINBAD that first triggered a love of the motion picture art form, particularly the more fantastic genres. The Cyclops was a truly formidable monster and done in such a vivid and exciting manner that there was something consistently compelling about him and the way he reacts to having his domain invaded by these pesky humans. I don’t know that I’ve seen another movie monster quite like him, not even in Harryhausen’s other films.

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Movie Titles with the Star’s Name in Them

20 May

I recently watched a Japanese movie called HIDEKO, THE BUS CONDUCTRESS (1941), starring Hideko Takamine as the title character, and I started recalling other films with the star’s name featured in the movie’s title. Sometimes the star’s full name is featured, as in the film pictured above; sometimes only the star’s first name was featured, as in TEX RIDES WITH THE BOY SCOUTS (1937, starring Tex Ritter), and sometimes only the star’s last name was featured, as in the 1941 serial, HOLT OF THE SECRET SERVICE, starring Jack Holt. The stars didn’t always play themselves in the movie. For instance, the Abbott & Costello name is featured in the titles of several films starring the popular comedy duo, but Bud Abbott and Lou Costello rarely play characters by those names in the films. And when any of these stars did play characters with the same name, they were still completely fictional. Gracie Allen nearly always played a character named Gracie Allen in her films, but it was a comic character she created for the act she did with her husband, George Burns.

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