The Strange One (1957) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959). Even when Gazzara played “good” guys in TV series like Arrest and Trial and Run for Your Life, you were never entirely certain whether to root for him or not.
Tuesday, January 31, 2017
Monday, January 30, 2017
The gratuitous back-patting known as the Academy Awards will get underway in less than a month (February 26th this year), and though I haven’t really given the ceremony that much thought, a stray comment from my fellow classic movie pal ClassicBecky on my recent The Long Walk Home review set in motion an idea for a post:
I was particularly interested in your view of actors winning Oscars for the wrong movies. Made me think of Russell Crowe winning the Oscar for "Gladiator", in which his predominant line of dialogue was the monotonal "I am Maximus." Then the very next year, losing the Oscar for his truly remarkable performance in "A Beautiful Mind." Huh?
Alternate Oscars. Published in 1993, Peary argues that throughout the history of Academy Awards, the films that should have been recognized aren’t for a variety of reasons—mostly having to do with Hollywood politics. (Look, I love How Green Was My Valley as much as the next person…but is it really a better film than Citizen Kane—despite Orson Welles’ on-the-record reverence for John Ford?) Danny attempts to rectify the many mistakes Oscar has made throughout its history; sometimes he’s okay with the choices of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences…other times he questions as to whether its membership was passing around a crack pipe. If you don’t have this invaluable reference on your movie bookshelf, you need to do so at your earliest opportunity; it’s available from a number of used bookstore both online and off (it’s OOP, sadly—Peary seems to be more comfortable writing sports books these days) but in case you’re curious about its contents, you can find the complete list from the book at one of my favorite movie sites: FilmFanatic.org.
Speaking of John Wayne (well, he’s in Fort Apache as well)—the Duke got his “Atta boy” from his peers for True Grit (1969) …even though he was just being John Wayne in an eyepatch. To be frank, John Wayne pretty much played John Wayne in every movie he was in…but he could occasionally step up to the place and hit one out of the thespic park. It’s no coinky-dink that these performances were in films directed by the aforementioned Mr. Ford: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949—my personal favorite), The Quiet Man (1952—Peary’s pick in AO), The Searchers (1956) …and even The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962). (I always forget how splendid that movie is until I take the time to sit down with it again.)
Humphrey Bogart – Despite my love for Bogart, most of his movie roles were, like John Wayne, variations on his established persona—including The African Queen (1951), the one that earned him his Oscar. But Bogie gives much more interesting (and in my opinion, better) performances in films like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and In a Lonely Place (1950). My sentimental favorites are Deadline – U.S.A. (1952) and Humphrey’s swan song, The Harder They Fall (1956).
Burt Lancaster – I’ve said it many times in the past: Burt Lancaster’s acting got better and better with age. You can see the genesis of this in my favorite of his films, The Swimmer (1968) …but he was really on fire by the time he made Atlantic City (1980—this is the one I’d hand him an Oscar for), Local Hero (1983), and Field of Dreams (1989). Peary takes Burt’s trophy for Elmer Gantry (1960) and gives it to Anthony Perkins for Psycho (ignoring the fact that Perkins played variations on Norman Bates pretty much the entirety of his career). Not even an honorable mention for Sweet Smell of Success (1957—maybe he thought Burt was a supporting actor in this one)!
Paul Newman – Newman was nominated for an Oscar six times before the Academy decided to give him a special trophy…and then the following year, he got the Best Actor prize for The Color of Money (1986). Paul would score two more nominations following this (one of them a favorite of mine, 1994’s Nobody’s Fool) …but how he got overlooked for The Hustler (1961—Peary’s choice), Hud (1963), or The Verdict (1982—this is for me his Oscar-winning performance) is a mystery for the old man on the mountain.
Al Pacino – The Rod Steiger of his era. I paid good money to see the film for which they finally gave Pacino an Oscar, Scent of a Woman (1992). (The only positive thing to come out of that experience was that I spotted soap stars Bill and Susan Seaforth Hayes in the theatre lobby.) Any of the 70s films that Al received noms for—The Godfather and The Godfather: Part II, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, …and justice for all (my favorite)—would have been better choices. (Future nominations stopped with his Scent Oscar, yet despite his propensity for scenery chewing, Al’s given some wonderful performances in the twilight of his career: Donnie Brasco , The Insider , Insomnia , etc.)
Sunday, January 29, 2017
The Random.org gods have spoken! With the generous assistance of their random number generator, two individuals were selected to receive copies of the Radio Spirits Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy CD release Smile a While. Loyal members of the TDOY faithful Amanda C. (from the wilds of Minnesota) and Roger S. (a Massachusetts boy) will soon be doubled over in laughter listening to these vintage broadcasts—my only regret is that I’m not able to hand out sets to all who entered, because the participation was most encouraging. (I need to raise some money around this joint. Maybe a Pay Pal button?)
Next Saturday, I’ll have one more contest planned for the expressed purpose of gifting TDOY readers with some bodacious old-time radio swag. It’s is going to be a fantabulous “bundle” giveaway, so stay tuned for further details and remember: Thrilling Days of Yesteryear is the phrase that pays!
Friday, January 27, 2017
United States Counterspies?)
We can probably blame B-picture king Sam Newfield for the leaden pace of this one, since he sat in the director’s chair (his brother Sigmund was absent from this snooze fest—the producer on Radar Secret Service was the prolific Barney Sarecky) …but the sluggish screenplay by Beryl Sachs (an East Side Kids veteran) doesn’t do Service any favors, either. Robert L. Lippert “good luck charm” Sid Melton is also around for this programmer (as a hypochrondriacal henchman named “Pill Box”), but when Ralph Byrd manages to get bigger laughs than Sid something has gone seriously awry. (In fairness to Sid, I choked on my Crystal Light when Byrd’s character remarks about radar: “Dick Tracy used it years before it was invented.” The in-joke, of course, is that Ralph played the legendary comic strip detective in four Republic serials, two entries in the brief RKO franchise, and on TV from 1950-52 [Byrd passed away at the age of 43 in 1952]).
|Agents Byrd and Howard tool around in a vehicle that looks like they're delivering hair dryers.|
I feel terrible that I’m going to beat my blogging compadre Scott Clevenger to the punch on this one…but, yes. Radar Secret Service received the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment (in December 1993). Paired with a railroad safety short, Last Clear Chance (1959), the MST3K sendup of Service has its mad scientists (Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff) boasting that the flick contains “Hypno-Helio Static Stasis (containing X-4)” (in layperson’s terms—this turkey is a cure for insomnia). The MST3K version is available on YouTube, which I strongly endorse watching…but for the more masochistic among you, the director’s cut is available for rental from ClassicFlix.
Thursday, January 26, 2017
Just wanted to give the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful a reminder that if you want to enter our latest giveaway you need to get your entry in before 11:59pm EST this Saturday, January 28th. What is the prize, I hear you asking? Well, I have two copies of the Radio Spirits release Smile a While (valued at $31.95) to hand out to two lucky cartooners—Smile being a bodacious 8-CD set containing sixteen rare and vintage broadcasts of The Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy Show. If you’re a U.S. resident and/or have a U.S. mailing address, just drop me an e-mail at igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com with “Smile a While” in the subject header and you just might be the recipient of one of these sets if the Random.org gods will it to be so. The response has been very healthy so far, so get your entry in if you want a chance to win!
Hands Up! available on DVD (I can’t swear to it, but I think this may have been the very first disc I purchased from them) but Open All Night (1924), Miss Bluebeard (1925—reviewed on the blog in October 2014), and You’d Be Surprised (1926). Grapevine also has what some people—notably my good Facebook chum Bruce Calvert and friend of the blog/capo di tutti capi of the Silent Comedy Mafia Richard M. Roberts—consider to be Ray’s finest film, Paths to Paradise (1925).
If you’re going to seek this one out, I will warn you up front: there’s a sequence at the beginning of Paradise where Molly and her cohorts are shown running scams on tourists in a Frisco dive humorously titled “The Bucket O’Blood.” Told by a lookout there’s a patsy on the way who wants to visit a place with some Asian atmosphere, the bar’s contingent quickly sets up a pseudo opium den for their visitor (the action while they do this is speeded up, which makes it that much funnier) and don “yellowface” (ouch) to masquerade in front of their mark. The mark, of course, is Griffith’s “Dude”—who capably (with the help of a stooge played by a recognizable Fred Kelsey) relieves them of some excess weight in their wallets and beats a hasty retreat…seconds before Compson discovers Griffith was using a gas inspector’s badge.
Silent Film Still Archive website, but on a Griffith thread at Silent Comedy Mafia he has this to say about Paths to Paradise: “One big reason that [Paradise] is better is that Betty Compson is a great co-conspirator for the film. It doesn't hurt to have Edgar Kennedy as a bumbling detective in the film either.” Asking me to choose between Hands Up! and Paradise would be like asking me to choose my favorite kid (well…if I had kids); I think they’re both exemplary comedies (check them out if you haven’t already) and I’m really looking forward to cracking open my copies of Open All Night and You’d Be Surprised in future. (Grapevine also has a 1923 film on hand where Griffith plays a dramatic role—White Tiger, directed by Tod Browning.) “Was he really that big of a deal, or is he an overrated figured foisted by Walter Kerr's fancy in 1975?” asks a silent film comedy historian about the underrated comedian at the beginning of that aforementioned SCM thread.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017
It’s not going to be easy for Odessa. It’s a good hike from her own home to Casa del Thompson, but Odessa and her family are invested in the civil rights movement (though her daughter Selma, played by Erika Alexander, believes the boycott is silly) even if this means she’s often going to be late for her job at the Thompson’s. The apolitical Miriam doesn’t quite understand the need for the boycott, either. But because she doesn’t want to lose Odessa, Miriam agrees to pick her up on the days she goes into town to market. She keeps this secret from Norman, who dismisses the boycott at first…but under pressure from his racist family—particularly his younger brother Tunker (Dylan Baker), a real piece of work—Norman’s animosity starts to match that of the Montgomery community, which is feeling the financial pinch from the decline in bus ridership. Norman even starts attending “Citizens’ Council” meetings, an outfit whose members, he once told Miriam, “can’t count to ten.”
Saturday, January 21, 2017
In May of last year, I received a plum assignment from Radio Spirits: authoring the liner notes for a collection of Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy broadcasts. This wasn’t my first rodeo, you understand (I refer you here and here)—but the programs selected for this set would consist of many uncirculated shows, something that makes the heart of any old-time radio fan go pitter-pat. It certainly did wonders for my cardiac circulation, reveling in the antics of radio’s most popular ventriloquist and his smartassed sidekick as they traded quips with the likes of Paulette Goddard, Bert Lahr, Ida Lupino, Sydney Greenstreet, and Lupe Velez.
Smile a While, and it contains sixteen broadcasts from 1943, when Edgar Bergen and his wooden friends ranked among radio’s top comedy programs—entertaining audiences weekly to relieve the stress and worries resulting from WW2. I’ve got two of these sets (the SRP is $31.95) to give away to two lucky members of the Thrilling Days of Yesteryear faithful; I offer my most profuse mea culpa for not getting this up on the blog as I originally planned…but it took me a lot longer to defeat the Killer Flu Virus from Venus. As it’s been a little over a month since I handed out some fantabulous swag, even if you made out like a bandit in December’s The Couple Next Door contest you can enter this one if you so desire.
Here are the rules:
1) Send me an e-mail with “Smile a While” in the subject header to igsjrotr(at)gmail(dot)com. You have until 11:59pm EST on January 28, 2017 (next Saturday) to enter.
2) Make sure you are a U.S. resident or have a U.S. mailing address.
3) Again, since TDOY hosted the last giveaway back in December, the usual request to sit out a contest to allow other cartooners a more sporting chance is kinda null and void. However…if you still wouldn’t feel right about entering, not only would we understand completely but we would probably write folk songs chronicling your generous nature and have a statue erected in your home town (provided I can sneak this provision in an upcoming Congressional infrastructure bill).
4) I will choose two winners Sunday morning (via the Random Number Generator at Random.com) of January 29th and not only inform the lucky persons of their tremendous good fortune but suggest they have a flutter at buying a lottery ticket. Keep in mind that when entering, you don’t have to provide a snail-mail address…but I will need it once you receive that “Congratulations!” e-mail.
5) As always…there is no number five.
Friday, January 20, 2017
|The 'rents have heard me sing out "John Doucette!" every time I see him in one of their Lone Ranger reruns they're now able to spot him before I do. (John plays one of the bad guys.)|
David Harding, Counterspy (1950); it’s shorter, as my Facebook chum Hal Erickson notes in From Radio to the Big Screen, though Hal also opines it’s “perhaps because Seymour Friedman was a better director than Ray Nazarro.” (Leonard Maltin generously gives it ** ½ in his Classic Movie Guide, calling it a “slick, efficient B yarn.”) It’s not too hard to suss out, however, why the attempt to continue the Counterspy film franchise fell by the wayside. Howard St. John was a first-rate character actor (Born Yesterday, Li’l Abner) but he suffers from a serious deficiency in the charisma department when it comes to playing leads. Ditto his “British counterpart,” Ron Randell, whose previous attempts to keep both the Bulldog Drummond and Lone Wolf movie series chugging along apparently met with much theatergoer malaise.
|Legendary TV homewrecker June Vincent channels her inner Nurse Ratched as the henchwoman to the villainous doctor played by Lewis Martin.|