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“Picture Parade” – The Films of 1949

6 Oct

Once upon a time I purchased a used book entitled Peter Noble’s Picture Parade. It turned out to be from the U.K. and was one of an annual series of pictorial books in which English film critic Peter Noble covered the year’s releases, concentrating mostly on Hollywood and British films. The volume I have is from 1949, 70 years ago, and features a mix of movie star head shots and scenes from different films that premiered in England in 1949, some of which are older Hollywood films, with brief captions. While most of the illustrations are in black-and-white, there are a good number of color pages and I was struck by how beautiful the color shots were despite being printed on ordinary book paper, rather than glossy pages. There are many obscure films and stars highlighted, but most of the Hollywood stars featured in the color shots are generally still well-known and embraced by film buffs and TCM viewers today, like Marlene Dietrich:

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The Cinematic Landscape of 1969: A Film Buff’s Coming of Age

28 Aug

I’d been planning a piece about the films of 1969, but I decided to wait until I’d seen Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD before finalizing my approach to it. I was curious to see what films from that period would be referenced and how that contrasted with my own experience at the movies that year. I was glad to see posters and marquees in the film highlighting films I’d seen back then, but his film takes place mostly on two weekends in 1969, one in February and one in August, so there was a limit to the references he could make. Besides, most of the film’s recreated production scenes focused on TV shows of the time, most of which I didn’t see because my household didn’t have a TV set for that entire year. More on OUATIH later.

For me, 1969 was the year I got an after-school job and was able to go to many more movies than I previously could on my meager allowance. It was also the year I started seeing movies in Manhattan by myself, usually in Times Square near my high school, the High School of Performing Arts (the “Fame” school).

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ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD and the Art of Recreating an Era

29 Jul

Quentin Tarantino’s newest film offers a love-letter to the pop culture of the 1960s—films, television, music, celebrities, parties, etc. He takes the careers of three distinct individuals, two fictional, one real, employed in the film and TV industry in 1969 and uses incidents in their lives, including numerous flashbacks spanning the 1960s, to depict what it was like to live and work in the industry town of Los Angeles at the time. The key figure is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a onetime star of a TV western now reduced to guest shots as “villain of the week” in assorted network TV dramas and faced with the dilemma of how to resuscitate his stardom or just settle for life as a working actor. The second figure is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton’s stuntman, who, when not doubling Dalton in a film or TV role, is acting as Dalton’s chauffeur, handyman and paid companion. (Dalton lives in a sprawling ranch house on Cielo Drive in the Hollywood Hills, while Booth lives miles away in a trailer parked near an oil rig behind a drive-in theater in Van Nuys.)

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THE WILD BUNCH: 50th Anniversary of an American Classic

11 Jun

Sam Peckinpah’s provocative western, THE WILD BUNCH, opened in the U.S. on June 25, 1969, 50 years ago this month. I’ve seen the film many times over the years, including at least 20 times on the big screen and multiple times in a variety of formats: broadcast TV, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. It was a sprawling epic western full of action, gunplay and bloodshed, rated R and featuring a predominantly male cast of Hollywood stars, dependable character actors, a couple of newcomers, and veteran Mexican performers, but only a handful of women with small speaking parts (mostly as prostitutes). The stars were William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Edmond O’Brien, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Jaime Sanchez, Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, and Emilio Fernandez. In the leadup to the film’s release, I saw all the print ads—in newspapers and on the subway–with lines like, “Nine men who came too late and stayed too long.” I read all the pre-release articles and finally the reviews–the negative ones which criticized the blood-spurting and called William Holden “dissipated” and the positive ones like Vincent Canby’s in The New York Times who ranked it way above the other big westerns of that season, TRUE GRIT and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID. Sergio Leone’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST also opened that summer, a week after THE WILD BUNCH.

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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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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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Godzilla, Zatoichi and the Monkey King: The Best Foreign Genre Films of 1968

30 Dec

I’ve already written about my Hollywood favorites from 1968 in an earlier piece, so I wanted to focus on my favorite foreign genre films from 1968 before the 50th anniversary year was over, a group that has, in my opinion, held up much better critically over the years than their Hollywood counterparts. A lot was happening on the genre front back then, especially in Japan, Hong Kong, Italy and England. In Japan, there were numerous samurai, yakuza, giant monster and blind swordsman movies. Hong Kong’s Shaw Bros. studio gave us a host of swordplay mini-epics, several starring that swordswoman extraordinaire, Cheng Pei-Pei, as well as musicals, crime films and melodramas. Italy was turning out western after western, with all three major Sergios–Leone, Sollima and Corbucci–shining that year. England’s Hammer studio gave us exemplary horror films and France gave us BARBARELLA and THE BRIDE WORE BLACK.

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