Friday, October 31, 2014

PHOTOS OF THE DAY: A CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD HALLOWEEN

It is that time of the year - Halloween when all of the gremlins and ghouls come out! I like to dust off some movies I always watch around this time of the year like: Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), and even Arsenic And Old Lace (1944). I may have to watch the creepy Freaks (1932) as well. It's a movie I can not watch every year though. I also like to look through how classic Hollywood celebrated October 31st. Some of the pics are really great to look at again:

Judy Garland

Ida Lupino

Fay Wray and Gary Cooper

Ann Rutherford

Mia Farrow and Frank Sinatra

Thelma Todd

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ARSENIC AND OLD LACE: MY FAVORITE COMEDY

Anyone who reads my blog knows I love to make lists of my favorite things. I can make a list about anything, but that’s a whole other story. I am going to take the time now to proclaim what I feel is the best comedy film of all-time…Arsenic And Old Lace (1944).

I love movies that make me laugh, but often with classic comedies the humor does not transfer through the generations. That is not the case with this 1944 slapstick comedy. The movie is 70 years old now, but I laugh as though it came out yesterday. Sure, I laugh at the modern comedies of Steve Carell and Will Ferrell, and some of them are quite good. There is just something about this Cary Grant comedy that makes me laugh every time I have seen it. I have watched it now at least 20 times! It is not really a scary movie, but for some reason I love to watch it around Halloween.


The director Frank Capra actually filmed the movie in 1941 because of star Cary Grant's availability, but it was not released until 1944, after the original stage version had finished its run on Broadway. The lead role of Mortimer Brewster was originally intended for Bob Hope, but he could not be released from his contract with Paramount. Capra had also approached Jack Benny and Ronald Reagan before learning that Grant would accept the role. Boris Karloff played Jonathan Brewster, who "looks like Karloff," on the Broadway stage, but he was unable to do the movie as well because he was still appearing in the play during filming, and Raymond Massey took his place. The film's supporting cast also features Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson, Edward Everett Horton and Peter Lorre. Josephine Hull and Jean Adair portray the Brewster sisters, Abby and Martha, respectively. Hull and Adair, as well as John Alexander (who played Teddy Roosevelt), were reprising their roles from the 1941 stage production. Hull and Adair both received an eight-week leave of absence from the stage production that was still running, but Karloff did not as he was an investor in the stage production. He really wanted to transfer his stage role to the movie. Karloff later expressed that it was one of the regrets he had in his career.
After making the bold statement that this film was the best comedy of all-time, I better give some pretty good examples, and this film is full of it. It is just wonderful to see the transformation of Cary Grant’s character (Mortimer Brewster) throughout the film. In the first scenes, he seems to be a man who is confident and self-assured. He is getting married to his beautiful girlfriend (played cutely by Priscilla Lane). He returns home to his aunts who have helped to raise him to discover that for years the saintly aunts have been murdering people and burying them in their basement. There is no scene in Cary Grant’s career as great as the scene when he first discovers one of the victim’s bodies in living room storage chest.



Raymond Massey (as Grant’s criminally insane brother) and Peter Lorre (as his meek assistant) are supposed to be horrific criminals, but they add a lot of comedy as well. When they discover the aunts are murderers, they give huge astonished looks like Grant did. However, what is even funnier is Massey and Lorre are trying to count the total number of men they murdered, and the aunts have beat them.
John Alexander is another scene stealer as the uncle who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt. There is some funny historic humor. When the director of  a mental hospital (Edward Everett Horton) comes to evaluate the uncle, Alexander gives him a dirty look. Cary Grant asks his uncle what is wrong and he sticks out his tongue and says “That’s Taft!” (William Taft was a protégé of Roosevelt, who later had a falling out with him). The aunts have used “Teddy” to help bury the bodies by telling him that their murder victims died because of the Yellow Fever in Panama.
I think what makes me laugh at Arsenic And Old Lace so much is that the movie shows us a family that seem normal as the movie opens, but they turn out to be genuinely crazy. Everyone’s family is like that. Everyone has a crazy uncle or a brother who is the black sheep. After Grant discovers his aunts are serial killers, and his brother is completely deranged, Cary does not even want to get married. He’s afraid he will go crazy too, and by the end of the movie it seems like he will go completely nuts. The aunts though have one more secret to tell Cary before they are taken away…literally. Cary Grant was adopted. He is not part of the Brewster family! The movie did not depend on topical humor like the war so the laughs are not dated. Basically, the jokes are about the absolute absurdity of this family. When you think the family is as crazy as it gets, it just gets crazier. I don’t think I would have laughed at the film as much if Cary Grant had not been in it. His slapstick approach to the role, his facial expressions, and his decent into insanity himself is just hilarious. There are a lot of comedies, old and new, that make me laugh, but Arsenic And Old Lace is my favorite of all-time…




Sunday, October 26, 2014

WHAT A CHARACTER: MARGARET HAMILTON


When I recently showed by 4 year old The Wizard Of Oz (1939), I thought he would be afraid of the flying monkeys as I was growing up. It was not those monkeys that gave him nightmares, but it was the Wicked Witch. It is a testament to the actress that played the Witch, Margaret Hamilton that could still scare little children some 75 years after the movie came out.

A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actress in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image. The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the highest ranking female villain. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.

Margaret Hamilton was born on December 9, 1902 to Walter J. Hamilton, and his wife, Jennie (née Adams), in Cleveland, Ohio, and was the youngest of four children. She later attended Hathaway Brown School, while the school was located at 1945 East 93rd Street in Cleveland. Drawn to the theater at an early age, Hamilton made her stage debut in 1923. Hamilton also practiced her craft doing children's theater while she was a Junior League of Cleveland member. She later moved to Painesville, Ohio. Before she turned to acting exclusively, her parents insisted that she attend Wheelock College in Boston, which she did, later becoming a kindergarten teacher.

Hamilton's career as a film actress was driven by the very qualities that placed her in stark contrast to the stereotypical Hollywood glamour girl. Her image was that of a New England spinster, extremely pragmatic and impatient with all manner of "tomfoolery". Hamilton's looks helped to bring steady work as a character actor. She made her screen debut in 1933 in Another Language. She went on to appear in These Three (1936), Saratoga, You Only Live Once, When's Your Birthday?, Nothing Sacred (all 1937), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), and My Little Chickadee (1940). She strove to work as much as possible to support herself and her son; she never put herself under contract to any one studio and priced her services at $1,000 a week.

In 1939, Hamilton played the role of the Wicked Witch of the West, opposite Judy Garland's Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, creating not only her most famous role, but one of the screen's most memorable villains. Hamilton was cast after Gale Sondergaard, who was first considered for the role, albeit as a more glamorous witch with a musical scene, declined the role when the decision was made that the witch should appear ugly.


She suffered a second-degree burn on her face and a third-degree burn on her hand during a second take of her fiery exit from Munchkinland, in which the trap door's drop was delayed to eliminate the brief glimpse of it seen in the final edit. Hamilton had to recuperate in a hospital and at home for six weeks after the accident before returning to the set to complete her work on the now-classic film, and refused to have anything further to do with fire for the rest of the filming. After she recuperated, she said, "I won't sue, because I know how this business works, and I would never work again. I will return to work on one condition — no more fireworks!" Garland visited Hamilton while the latter recuperated at home. 

When asked about her experiences on the set of The Wizard of Oz, she said that her biggest fear was that her monstrous film role would give children the wrong idea of who she really was. In reality, Margaret Hamilton was very nice and had a great love for children, frequently giving to charitable organizations. She often remarked about children coming up to her and asking her why she had been so mean to poor Dorothy. She appeared on an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood in 1975, where she explained to children that she was only playing a role, and showed how putting on a costume "transformed" her into the witch. She also made personal appearances, and Hamilton described the children's usual reaction to her portrayal of the Witch.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hamilton had a long-running role on the radio series Ethel and Albert (a.k.a. The Couple Next Door) in which she played the lovable, scattered Aunt Eva (name later changed to Aunt Effie). During the 1960s and 1970s, Hamilton appeared regularly on television. She did a stint as a What's My Line? Mystery Guest on the popular Sunday Night CBS-TV program. She played Morticia Addams' mother, Hester Frump, in three episodes of The Addams Family (1965–66; Hamilton had been offered the role of Grandmama but turned it down.)


In the 1960s, Hamilton was a regular on the CBS soap opera, The Secret Storm, playing the role of Grace Tyrell's housekeeper, "Katie". In the early 1970s, she joined the cast of another CBS soap opera, As the World Turns, playing "Miss Peterson". She had a small role in the made-for-TV film, The Night Strangler (1973), and appeared as a befuddled neighbor on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. In The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976), she portrayed Lynde's housekeeper, reprising the Wicked Witch role as well as introducing Lynde to the rock group KISS. She reprised her role as the Wicked Witch in an episode of Sesame Street, but after complaints from parents of terrified children, it has not been seen since 1976. She appeared as herself in an episode of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and continued acting regularly until 1982. Her last roles were two guest appearances as veteran journalist Thea Taft (in 1979 and 1982, respectively) on Lou Grant.


Hamilton married Paul Boynton Meserve on June 13, 1931, and made her debut on the New York stage the following year. While her acting career developed, her marriage began failing; the couple divorced in 1938. They had one son, Hamilton Wadsworth Meserve (born 1936), whom she raised on her own. She had three grandchildren, Christopher, Scott, and Margaret. Hamilton never remarried. She died in her sleep following a heart attack on May 16, 1985, in Salisbury, Connecticut. She was cremated at Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery. Her ashes were scattered in Amenia, New York. As a character actress, there was no one better than Margaret Hamilton. Even ask my son who currently is not allowed to watch The Wizard Of Oz because of her. Hamilton was so wicked in that role, she was good…


Friday, October 24, 2014

NEW ROSEMARY CLOONEY CDS

Rosemary Clooney is one of those singers that I enjoy, and I have a load of her music, but I never seem to listen to her music much. These two new CD issues may change all that...




Another White Christmas costar, Rosemary Clooney, also happened to be one of Bing Crosby’s closest friends. Crosby’s production company created and produced Rosemary’s CBS radio programs in the mid-1950s. On Clooney’s commercial recordings of the period, her talent was often awash in overly produced (and in the early days, gimmicky) middle-of-the-road material. But her personal taste tended more toward authentic compositions by America’s great songsmiths, and in a stripped-down setting, she could positively glow. Rosemary’s record producers might have reined her in with iron fists, but Bing Crosby let her record what she wanted to record for her radio shows. And those recordings appear – most for the first time since they were broadcast – on the new Mosaic Records five-CD, 104 track boxed set, The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61. With Bing’s frequent musical collaborators Buddy Cole and His Trio backing her, Clooney’s voice shines on compositions by Cole Porter, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, Rodgers and Hart, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and George and Ira Gershwin. Plus music made famous by Joe Bushkin, Illinois Jacquet, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and more. The radio shows were a blank canvas for great songs and singing. The original session tapes from the Bing Crosby Archive have been restored and remastered to Mosaic’s exacting standards. The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61 is the perfect companion to Mosaic’s 2009 seven-CD release, The Bing Crosby CBS Radio Recordings 1954-61. Many of the tracks on these collections come from the same recording sessions. The duets from these sessions are available on the two-CD set, Bing & Rosie: The Crosby-Clooney Radio Duets from the Bing Crosby Archive / Universal Music Enterprises.

Because Rosemary Clooney was under contract to Columbia Records when Irving Berlin’s White Christmas was filmed, she did not appear on the Decca Records soundtrack album that featured Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, who both recorded for Decca. Instead, Columbia recorded an entirely different album of songs from the film with only Clooney. That eight song, 10” LP will be released as a fifteen song CD from Real Gone Music on November 4th.
Rosemary Clooney: In Songs from the Paramount Pictures Production of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (Expanded Edition) features the original album and seven bonus tracks from the Bing Crosby Archive – including a previously unissued Crosby – Clooney duet on “Silver Bells.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

THE GRANDCHILD OF THE LITTLE TRAMP

Carmen Chaplin, granddaughter of the legendary Hollywood actor and filmmaker Charlie Chaplin, will be a guest at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s opening gala screening of Ali Mostafa’s From A to B on Thursday night.

The English actress and director has appeared in films such as Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World, Sidney Pollack’s Sabrina and The Serpent’s Kiss, alongside Ewan McGregor. She will be seen next year alongside Malcolm MacDowell in the New Orleans crime thriller ­Vicious, and has been a member of the international jury at the Rome Film Festival.

Chaplin has also emulated her famous grandfather by moving into directing. In 2012, she made the short film Tryst in Paneme, starring her sister Dolores Chaplin and Bambou Gainsbourg, about a woman whose sense of self-value is wrapped up in her beauty.

 
Last year she made another short film, A Time for Everything, commissioned by the luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, one of ADFF’s partners. She also starred in the film – a ­meditation on the theme of time celebrating the 50th ­anniversary of the company’s presentation to Charlie Chaplin of a special Memovox watch when he settled in Switzerland, alongside her mother and daughter.

“I love antique watches and the idea that they have a past and a story to tell,” she says. “My grandfather’s watch particularly moves me, because he gave it to my father, Michael Chaplin, his son, when he turned 14. Then my dad gave it to my mum as proof of their love on their wedding day. It was a real good-luck charm because they have been in love now for 45 years.”

This year, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of Chaplin’s Little Tramp, she directed and produced The Innovators, a short sci-fi comedy about three scientists who look to the past to save Earth’s decaying ecosystem...




Monday, October 20, 2014

RECENTLY VIEWED: HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS...

Recently I was in the mood for just a fun movie musical to watch, so I dug out my copy of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (1967). The film is great late 60s fun, and it is kind of like a musical comedy version of the television series Mad Men. The 1967 musical comedy film was based on the 1961 stage musical of the same name, which in turn was based on Shepherd Mead's book.

The film was produced by United Artists and directed by David Swift, with original staging by Bob Fosse. The cast includes Robert Morse and Rudy Vallee (reprising their original Broadway roles), Michele Lee, Anthony Teague, Tucker Smith (in an uncredited role), and Maureen Arthur. The film marks the debut of Lee, who later appeared in the popular 1980s television series Knots Landing.

J. Pierpont Finch buys a book How to Succeed in Business, describing in step-by-step fashion how to rise in the business world. The ambitious young window cleaner follows its advice carefully. He joins the "World-Wide Wicket Company" and begins work in the mailroom. Soon, thanks to the ethically-questionable advice in the book, he rises to Vice-President in Charge of Advertising, making sure that each person above him gets either fired or moved or transferred within the company. Finch begins to fall in love with Rosemary Pilkington, a secretary at the company. Finch finds out that the president of the company, J. B. Biggley, has made advances towards Hedy LaRue, a beautiful but incompetent woman the company has hired. Finch uses this information to assist his climb on the corporate ladder. Biggley's annoying nephew, Bud Frump, also takes advantage of the situation and tries to get to the top before Finch.


All of Rosemary's songs (including "Happy To Keep His Dinner Warm" and "Paris Original") were cut from the movie version. To make up for this "I Believe In You" was given to her for the movie. In the stage play, she does not sing this to him, and the first time it is heard is during the scene where Finch sings it to himself in the executive washroom, but she does a brief reprise of the song after this scene. In the film, she sings the full version in an earlier scene, making Finch's washroom version the reprise.

The scene featuring Robert Morse skipping & dancing down the street on his way to work (immediately after the "Old Ivy" fight song duet with Rudy Vallee) was filmed on location in New York City using hidden cameras and a small earpiece to cue Morse on his timing. The various amused & astonished passersby were not extras, but rather were New Yorkers reacting genuinely to someone dancing to his own tune.


Tony Curtis, who was over 40 at the time, campaigned to get the Robert Morse role, and Dick Van Dyke was briefly considered, but Robert Morse made the movie. Sure, he was not a wonderful singer or dancer, but he is Finch. I can not really picture anyone else doing the role, although the Broadway show has been revived countless times. Another high point of the movie was Rudy Vallee. Vallee, who was a top crooner in the 1920s and 1930s until Bing Crosby surpassed him in popularity, was perfect as well as the clueless company president. It was really the last important role that Vallee had in his career.

My favorite song in the film is one that is barely ever mentioned: "Brotherhood Of Man" was basically the finale of the film where the whole company joins Robert Morse singing. A song that my son and daughter like is "It's Been A Long Day". I guess they like the repetitiveness of the song lyrics, but it is catchy.  Do yourself a favor and watch How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying. It's a harmless 1967 romp, and I guarantee you'll be tapping your feet and almost wishing you worked in an office...


MY RATING: 9 OUT OF 10

Friday, October 17, 2014

BORN ON THIIS DAY: RITA HAYWORTH

Rita Hayworth, who is my opinion was one of the most beautiful women to ever be captured on film was born Margarita Carmen Cansino on this day - October 17, 1918 in Brooklyn, New York in 1918 as Margarita Carmen Cansino, the oldest child of two dancers. Her father, Eduardo Cansino, Sr., was from Castilleja de la Cuesta, a little town near Seville, Spain. Her mother, Volga Hayworth, was an American of Irish-English descent who had performed with the Ziegfeld Follies. The couple married in 1917. They also had two sons: Eduardo Jr. and Vernon Cansino.

Margarita's father wanted her to become a professional dancer, while her mother hoped she would become an actress. Her paternal grandfather, Antonio Cansino, was renowned as a Spanish classical dancer. He popularized the bolero and his dancing school in Madrid was world famous. Hayworth later recalled, "From the time I was three and a half... as soon as I could stand on my own feet, I was given dance lessons." She noted "I didn't like it very much... but I didn't have the courage to tell my father, so I began taking the lessons. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, that was my girlhood". She attended dance classes every day for a few years in a Carnegie Hall complex, where she was taught by her uncle Angel Cansino. She performed publicly from the age of six. In 1926 at the age of eight, she was featured in La Fiesta, a short film for Warner Bros.

In 1927, her father took the family to Hollywood. He believed that dancing could be featured in the movies and that his family could be part of it. He established his own dance studio, where he taught such Hollywood luminaries as James Cagney and Jean Harlow. During the Great Depression, he lost all his investments as commercial interest in his dancing classes waned. He partnered with his daughter to form "The Dancing Cansinos". Since under California law Margarita was too young to work in nightclubs and bars, her father took her with him to work across the border in Tijuana, Mexico. In the early 1930s, it was a popular tourist spot for people from Los Angeles. Due to her working Cansino never graduated from high school, but she had completed ninth grade at Hamilton High in Los Angeles.


Cansino (Hayworth) took a bit part in the film Cruz Diablo (1934) at age 16, which led to another in In Caliente (1935) with the Mexican actress, Dolores del Río. She danced with her father in such nightspots as the Foreign and the Caliente clubs. Winfield Sheehan, the head of the Fox Film Corporation, saw her dancing at the Caliente Club and quickly arranged for Hayworth to do a screen test a week later. Impressed by her screen persona, Sheehan signed her for a short-term six-month contract at Fox, under the name Rita Cansino, the first of two name changes for her film career.


During her time at Fox, Hayworth appeared in five pictures in non-notable roles. By the end of her six-month contract, Fox had merged into 20th Century Fox, with Darryl F. Zanuck serving as the executive producer. Dismissing Sheehan's interest in Hayworth, Zanuck did not renew her contract. Feeling that she had screen potential, the salesman and promoter, Edward C. Judson, whom she would marry in 1936, got her the lead roles in several independent films and arranged a screen test with Columbia Pictures. The studio head Harry Cohn signed Hayworth to a long-term contract, and cast her in small roles in Columbia features. It was at this time that the Rita Hayworth that we all knew and loved would be born…