Saturday, April 30, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Bye Bye Birdie. 1963
Made in 1963 and reeking of the period, this film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical is a mess. Sure some of the music is good and rousing, but the film itself is fat and lazy and just lays there in all its widescreen excess. It weighs a ton. It only comes to life when the wonderful Ann-Margret is singing and dancing and shaking her nice lush head of hair. In fact she shakes her head so much that I was fearful that it would fall off and land at her feet. Although the film uses two major cast members from the original show, Dick Van Dyke & Paul Lynde, the other actors are badly miscast with an especially lousy Janet Leigh in the role that Chita Rivera originated on Broadway. The movie version downplays (makes invisible) the fact that Rosie is a Latino, and we are presented with a bland Leigh in a black wig. Also terrible is the usually fine Maureen Stapleton as Albert's overbearing mother, Paul Lynde as Ann-Margret's fey impossible dad, and a funny looking Bobby Rydell as the jealous boyfriend. And who could believe Jesse Pearson looking fat and unappealing as a rock n roll idol modeled after the great Presley. The scenes with the Russian Ballet & The Ed Sullivan show are dated relics of the cold war and even when the film was new seemed forced and unnecessary, it should have been left out. Loud & vulgar, the film leaves a bad after taste, and the only reason to really see this thing is the great opening and closing titles with a glorious Ann-Margret singing the title song. Poorly directed by George Sidney who was an M.G.M. contract director during the 40’s and 50’s and I will give him credit for directing one of Garland’s best musicals The Harvey Girls but his resume is littered with many bad and dismal features like Anchors Aweigh, Annie Get Your Gun, Showboat & later the disappointing Pal Joey and the dreadful Pepe & Half A Sixpence.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
Sunday, April 17, 2011
Storefront Art Walk
This is the link for an early announcement for the Bay Ridge Store Front Walk. I'm doing a window in a wine shop, and looking forward to working on my installation which is pretty much laid out. The dates are May 16th through June 13th.
Friday, April 15, 2011
Made on a shoe string budget and looking like it was filmed in that shoe, Detour was made in a matter of days using a few cheap sets and some rear projections. This poverty row raw noir is about a guy on a hard luck life trip who tells his story in flashbacks as he sits in a dive of a diner (the waitress is none other than the great Esther Howard) nursing his cup of coffee and moaning over his fate. The film stars real life bad guy Tom Neal and a shock to the system actress Ann Savage as Vera the nightmare that Tom picks up on the road. The background to the story goes something like this. Tom plays piano player Al Roberts who works in a cheap joint in a pulp paperback New York City. His girlfriend Sue played by Claudia Drake also works in the club and sings for her supper very nicely, but she’s tired of Manhattan and wants to op out of the place to try her luck in L.A. So off she goes and soon Tom gets depressed missing his babe and wants to join her but is broke and decides to hitchhike and that’s when his troubles start and my pleasure with this great film begins. Tom Neal who was a real life problem, was arrested a few times, and made headlines in the early 50’s ’s for beating the crap out of Franchot Tone for playing around with his tootsie the really bad Barbara Payton who Tone later married. Tom also shot one of his wives dead and served 6 years in the clinker for it. Nice going Tom. His career didn’t amount to much, but Detour is a great tombstone to put on his grave. Neal was bad and dark and sexy as hell, and he’s very good in the film. As for Savage her performance is startling to say the least, with her rough hewed face and nasty countenance, she is unique, troubling and very scary. The movie is art povera, a lost and found assemblage of parts put together by Edgar G. Ulmer over at PRC pictures home to cheap and I mean cheap B programmers. It’s dark and grimey, running only 68 fast and furious minutes, and is an example of why movies sometimes can matter, why they sometimes can be works of art, why they make some of us scream for joy. A note about the print. The transfer put out by Alpha Video is not as bad as I expected it to be considering that this company’s product is usually hit or miss but this is a film that should be restored by Criterion with lots of extras. One of the ten best films of 1945., and Ann Savage the best actress of 1945.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
...d shot in inky black and white on a tight claustrophobic cheap looking set. In this grimy grim tale of injustice and mistreatment Cromwell brings the lovely young actress Eleanor Parker to this prison for a long internment for a crime that did not fit her sentence of 1 to 15 years. Parker who was 28 at the time received an Oscar nomination for best actress that year and plays the nineteen year old naive Marie Allen with ease and believability, you really worry about her. Still shocking after all this time, the film when first released in 1950 must have horrified the cold war audiences what with the sadistic violence, the implicit and explicit lesbianism and the very bleak ending. Situated in this pit of hell are all the various stereotypical types of women we have come to expect to find in this kind of place. There is the prostitute with a heart of gold, the old lady who’s been in prison for most of her life but has a heart of gold, the I’m loosing my mind gal with a heart of gold, the sensitive type who can’t take being locked up any longer with a heart of gold, the tough broads and bull dykes all with hearts of gold, and the mean sadistic guards and matrons without any hearts what so ever. The pot is boiling for sure, and a big part of our prurient interest in watching this film is the fabulous cast of actresses who fill the cells and patrol the corridors. Besides the lovely Ms. Parker some of her cell mates include the great Betty Grade as the aptly named Kitty Stark who on the outside runs a shoplifting racket and is the big shot dame of the joint until Lee Patrick as Elvira Powell a big time Madame and a rival of Kitty’s on the outside gets thrown back in the slammer. The gloves are off, and they both want a piece of Eleanor who they want to work for them when she gets out. Nix nix Parker tells them both, but it is the horrible Evelyn Harper the sadistic prison matron played with hot house relish by the larger than life Hope Emerson (who received an Oscar nomination for her performance) who really wants Eleanor for her own. Over 250 pounds of rolling flesh and built like a brick shit house, Emerson is a frightening presence throughout the film as she rolls down the corridors causing hate and fear in the inmates. Also in the cast is Agnes Moorehead as the kindly director, Ellen Corby, Jan Sterling, Olive Deering, Jane Darwell and Gertrude Hoffman as Millie Lewis the oldest inmate in the cell block who takes no crap from Emerson. A classic of sorts and one of the ten best films of the year
Front Porch Review
Front Porch Review has just posted these two photos of mine in their April issue. Check them out and the entire issue at this link.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Saturday, April 09, 2011
Friday, April 08, 2011
The Dark Corner 1946
Before she became Lucy, Lucille Ball made a lot of movies, some comedies, some musicals and some dramas including this well done Noir directed by Henry Hathaway. Lucille as I will refer to her here plays secretary and girl Friday to Mark Stevens’s angry private dick who was framed for a crime he didn’t commit back in San Francisco and got sent up the river for 2 years. The movie opens with the great William Bendix in white suit eye balling Stevens’s office near the 3rd Ave El. Bendix has been hired by someone to follow Mark for reasons that we learn slowly but surely. This is a nice tough noir with a sweet and sour script and smooth direction by Hathaway who did a number of these nourish tough movies at 20th century fox during the late 40’s. Hathaway started his long career doing low budget western programmers and worked his way up at Fox finally getting his hands on some A projects including what I consider to be his best film “Kiss of Death” made one year after Corner and unlike this dark corner Death was shot almost entirely on location in New York City. This one was shot on the backlot of the studio but there is still a nice feel of the city on an early warm spring evening. Bracketed by 3rd ave sleaze and 5th ave art galleries the movie is swift and very entertaining, and how could it be otherwise with a cast featuring Clifton Webb, Bendix, Ball and Stevens. Mark Stevens was a very attractive actor who really didn’t go very far in films but I always liked him and he handles this part with cool assurance and hot anger, not easy to pull off especially at the same time that he’s necking with Lucille. Also of note is the lush cinematography by Joseph McDonald, the well known “"Manhattan Melody" theme, that was used in so many films of the 40s, and first heard here, and Colleen Alpaugh as the little girl with the slide whistle and her encounters with William Bendix. Almost one of the ten best films of 1946.
Thursday, April 07, 2011
Side Street 1950
This is a taunt little B noir thriller directed by Anthony Mann that reunited Farley Granger and Cathy O’ Donnell who appeared as the doomed lovers in Nicholas Ray’s “They Live by Night” the year before. This time we find the couple newly married with a baby on the way living in her parent’s small dingy Manhattan apartment and having trouble making ends meet. Granger is a good guy, works hard at a temporary job he has as a mail man but does a stupid thing. One day as he’s dropping off the mail at the office of a shyster lawyer and blackmailer played by Edmond Ryan, he sees some high end bills lying around and decides to go back when the office is empty and rob them of the loot. Rayan along with his partner James Craig ( a ham hock of an actor) run a shake down racket of milking rich men of their money after they’re set up to fall into the clutches of Lucille 'Lucky' Colner. Lucille turns out to be not that lucky and is played with rancid relish by that nourish B dame of dames Adele Jergens. Lucky Lucy and her pals push some tangy and damaging photos of her and the unlucky johns on them in order to get a lot of moola out of them, and if they don’t pay up they better watch out.. So stupid Farley now has a lot of money but he also has a conscience and decides to return the money to the crooks, but this isn’t as easy as it sounds, and so the chase as they say is on all over Manhattan. Mann who worked in many genres does a great job with this shoe string B shooting most of the film on location in New York City. M.G.M was not known for Noir, but in the late 40’s and early 50’s they did a small series of B Noirs and being M.G.M. the films have the gloss and production values of their A movies. The beautiful cinematography is by the great Joseph Ruttenberg whose remarkable career began in 1917 and who went right on doing films up to 1968. Part of the pleasure of watching this movie are the glimpses we get of a city that no longer exists including the Third Ave El and a peek at 8th street in the Village where the marvelous Jean Hagen comes on as a cheap nightclub singer (she’s dubbed) whose relationship with her sometime lover Craig comes to no good. Also in the cast is a boatload of good character actors including Paul Kelly (who in real life found himself in a boatload of trouble), Paul Harvey, Charles McGraw, Harry Bellaver, Whit Bissell, a very young Ben Cooper, the delightful Mineva Urecal and in a bit the real life Marie Crisis who owned and operated the famous cabaret Marie Crisis’s in the Village. Mann ends the film with a great car chase through the concrete canyons of lower Manhattan, and hopefully after it’s over you’ll sit back and say to yourself this was a damn good little movie. Thank you Mr. Mann.
Monday, April 04, 2011
They Live By Night 1949
An American masterpiece directed by Nicholas Ray. Opening with a dramatic arial shot of a speeding car along a dusty country road, we are soon introduced to 3 escape convicts who have high jacked a car from a trusting farmer. They show him some mercy by only knocking him out instead of killing him. The three cons are played by Jay C. Flippen as T-Dub a fearless character actor if ever there was one, Howard Da Silva frightening as the one eyed Cyclops Chickamaw (yes I know his one eye is not in the center of his face, and the young and handsome Farley Granger as Bowie. The gang holes up in the backwoods cabin of De Silva’s drunk and lazy brother (well played by another ever present wonderful character actor Will Wright ) and his lovely young daughter Keechie played by Cathy O’Donnell. The three cons plan a bank robbery and they do pull it off getting quite a bit of money from the heist, but soon things start to go bad and everything is falling on them so they take it on the lam leaving Granger and O’Donnell to fall in love. The couple hastily decide to get married in a morose and depressing ceremony at a roadside wedding chapel where a jaundiced justice of the peace played with relish by Ian Woolfe reigns. They are soon on the run as Granger is being blamed unfairly for all of gang’s dirty dealings. His beautiful face is in all the papers, and he is being set up to take the fall by Helen Craig who plays Mattie a friend of the crooks. Mattie is the poison nectar of the piece, a dark Greek chorus of one who makes a deal with the authorities to get her husband out of prison if she tells them where Bowie and Keechie are hiding out.
Craig who was an odd and striking actress makes one hell of an impression but unfortunately did very few films along with a bit of t.v. before fading unfairly into oblivion. At one time the film was going to be called “Your Red Wagon” (in fact the paperback movie tie-in published in 1948 uses this title), and there is a nice small moment in the film, when the couple have a night out on the town and go to a nightclub where the African American singer Marie Bryant wonderfully warbles a song called “Your Red Wagon”. The couple on the lam is nothing new in American movies, the earliest one that comes to mind is Fritz Lang’s 1937 film “You Only Live Once”, and in the same year “They Live By Night” was released “Gun Crazy” which is a rougher nastier film then this one also saw the light or noir of day. Remade in 1974 by Robert Altman using the title of the original Edward Anderson novel “Thieves Like Us” and setting it in the 1930’s where the novel takes place and not in the late 1940’s where Ray’s version is set. No doubt production budgets and not aesthetics had a lot to do with this decision. With beautiful black and white cinematography by George E. Diskant. One of the ten best films of 1949.