Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the interim

I took a brief holiday off from the blog the past few days (hey, I have the vacation time) to work on an outside project, so I figured I would update you on what’s been going on around Rancho Yesteryear since then.

Much ado about blogging. I know I’ve made some noise in the past about how Facebook is an evil, unavoidable addiction that insists on sucking precious minutes from my daily schedule—but there are some benefits, and one particular delight is that I’ve been able to add a new reader or two to Thrilling Days of Yesteryear in my never-ending quest to add a little respectability to the esoteric minutiae that often comes spilling forth from the ol’ grey matter like a leaky faucet. I’ve also added a few new blogs to the blogroll; people who, once again, risk being asked to resign from country clubs or left off the guest list at parties because they choose to “associate” with my blog. A very good example of this is Davy Crockett’s Almanack, a Western-oriented blog written by Dave Lewis (who, when not blogging, pens mysteries, westerns and historical fiction under the nom de plume of Evan Lewis), who not only added TDOY to his lineup but even gave me a nice shout-out in a quick blurb entitled “The Thrilling Ivan G. Shreve, Jr.” (While I am always flattered when people encourage my behavior, I think the adjective “thrilling” is the last one that comes to mind when describing me, and a sampling of my friends, acquaintances, intimates and family will demonstrate this simultaneous agreement by rushing to the microphones to explain why this is not so.) Dave’s blog is jammed-packed with tidbits on old B-westerns and other television nostalgia; the kind of stuff you’ll eat up with a spork.

Other additions to the blogroll include Bloody Knuckles, Calloused Fingertips, Caffeinated Joe, Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Coolness (love that alliteration!), Coffee coffee and more coffee (a blog that needs no introduction, authored by the one-and-only Peter Nellhaus), Completeist (its author, Jim Hendrickson, is also responsible for the wrestling blog International Object), 'Do You Write Under Your Own Name?', Just Another Blog (From L.A.)™ (I like how my blog is listed under the category “May Be Worth a Read, May Not Be Worth a Read…This is America—You Get to Decide”), Motion Picture Gems and Strictly Vintage Hollywood. A final addition to the roll is Robin’s Blog Blather, written by a fellow Ravenswoodian whose sister and my sister (Debbie) were school chums. Lots of independent voices and independent views, so check them out at your first opportunity.

TCM Summer of Stars Festival. I’ve been trying to catch as many of the movies currently showing on the acclaimed classic movies channel as I can, but I have to confess many of the ones I singled out for recording will probably remain on their discs until I find some free time to sit down and enjoy. I did treat myself to a couple of goodies yesterday during the Fredric March salute: the first one, One Foot in Heaven (1941), was a film I hadn’t seen in ages (and from the shape of the print shown, TCM’s kind of neglected this little gem). Based on a book written by Hartzell Spence (who’s played in the film by Peter Caldwell [at age 10] and Frankie Thomas), it tells the story of Spence’s minister father (March) and family as they move from parish to parish in the early 20th century. Spence’s career is examined in episodic form, and the highlight of the film is when the good Reverend is talked into seeing a William S. Hart film (he’s railed against “scandalous” movies from his pulpit) and he relishes the fun of the whole experience. Great cast in this movie: Martha Scott (as his devoted spouse), Beulah Bondi, Gene Lockhart, Harry Davenport, Laura Hope Crews, Grant Mitchell and Moroni Olsen are just a few of the fine character actors who pop up. Heaven would make a sensational double-feature with Joel McCrea’s Stars in My Crown (1950).

Later that night, TCM “premiered” the 1935 version of Les misérables—and while I know Victor Hugo’s classic novel has been filmed many times (and was also the basis of a hit Broadway musical) this is really the only one you'll ever need to see, and I’ll sum it up in two words: Charles Laughton. Even now, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t name Laughton as my favorite British actor in Matthew Coniam’s quiz (talk about a massive brain fart) because he was truly an incredible talent, and his performance as the ruthless Inspector Javert is clearly one of his best. My favorite moment of his in the film is at the beginning, when he’s being told by a superior officer why he was passed over for promotion; his lower lip quivers and trembles as he reflects on his checkered past (his mother was a prostitute, father died in jail) and he assures his superior that he is dedicated to the letter of the law. Later, towards the end of the film, he allows Jean Valjean (March) to reconcile with his adopted daughter (Rochelle Hudson) and her fiancé (John Beal) and his lip quivers again as he rationalizes his actions. Very powerful stuff. I was also cheering during the tavern scene because TDOY fave John Carradine has a bit part as a student radical; finding Carradine in any movie is like winning a nice prize with the claw machine—I watched Johnny Guitar (1954) on Saturday as part of the Sterling Hayden tribute and even though I’ve seen Guitar more times than I can count, I always forget Carradine’s in that one, too. (His death scene is one of the most memorable in any movie: “Look...everybody’s looking at me…it’s the first time I ever felt important.”)

Speaking of Sterling Hayden, I managed to catch Manhandled (1949) Saturday night—I’d never seen it, and after having done so I can see why I needn’t have been in such a rush; it’s got a good cast (including Dottie Lamour and TDOY fave Dan Duryea) but ultimately it’s a poky little puppy. Hayden also has a small role in a film called Loving (1970)—from the period where he played a lot of rich or right-wing eccentrics (Winter Kills [1979], Nine to Five [1980])—that focuses on the turbulent relationship between iconoclastic artist George Segal (agonizing over the fact that he’s “sold out” as a commercial illustrator) and wife Eva Marie Saint. I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would, but Loving’s main problem is that it wants me to “root” for Segal’s character (who’s reminiscent of the poet Sean Connery plays in A Fine Madness [1966]; both films were directed by Irvin Kershner) when I’m sitting there the entire time asking what sort of idiot plays around when he’s married to Eva-Marie-Friggin’-Saint. Oh, well…c’est la guerre.

1 comment:

Gloria said...

About this 1935 version of Les Miserables, I've been a Laughton fan since my teens and, since this film hadn't either been shown on TV, or released on VHS, I had to wait a handsome 30 years till I got a NTSC-compatible video to watch an american video release.

Needless to say the wait was well worth it, Javert may be one of Laughton's finest performances (and he has a good deal to choose from!) and the scene at the end where he is weighing the Shackles meant for Valjean (actually, his own metaphorical shackles) is branded in my mind as if with hot iron.