Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
No way to treat an audience. No Way To Treat a Lady 1968.
The thriller movie “No Way To Treat a Lady” pits serial killer Rod Steiger against detective George Segal both of whom have deeply underlined mother fixation problems, one murders the other cringes with embarrassment. Made by Jack Smight who was mostly know for his television work, (the movie’s style reeks of television) and set in New York City, this movie must have been a dream come true for Steiger who gets to ham it up in several different disguises as he goes about the city killing lonely women in gruesome ways. So instead of one terrible Steiger performance we get several little ones, all equally awful and all rolled into one big fat globby left over tamale of a performance. The serial killer’s calling card is a bright red pair of lips drawn with lipstick that he leaves on his victims foreheads. George Segal plays Morris Brummel the cop investigating the crimes. Morris in his mid thirties is still living at home with his mother played to the hilt of Jewish mother hysteria by Eileen Heckhart in a very annoying stereotypical performance that gives Rod Steiger a run for his money in scenery chewing acting. Not easy to do, but Ms. Heckhart does so with flying colors smothering her son with uncomfortable love. The relationship between Morris and this muter from hell, seems a bit far fetched but the screenplay needs this unwieldy and contrived plot line to contrast Steiger’s murderous mother fixated serial killer with the more humorous but still uncomfortable situation Segal has with his Mom. Also in the cast is the glorious Lee Remick who Segal meets somewhat cute, she might be a witness to one of the murders and he needs to interview her. Soon Lee all pretty in shocking pink is giggling sexy over this good looking Jewish cop with the funny name. Remick and Segal are really the only saving graces in this somewhat grim movie. Their sexual banter is loose and relaxed and is a nice contrast to the horrible over the top acting of Steiger and Heckhart. Remick looks lovely and perky in her 60’s bright mod clothes by Theoni V. Aldredge and her apartment looks very Takashimaya circa 1968. The supporting cast is good with the unlucky ladies played by some of my favorite actresses Ruth White, Martine Bartlett and Barbara Baxley. Also in the cast is Doris Roberts in a scary copper colored wig, and Irene Dailey as a personal assistant to a big time Broadway producer.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Elizabeth And Doris
The recent death of Elizabeth Taylor brought back memories of Sid who was one of my best friends from my adolescence. We met when we were going to Pershing Junior High School in Boro Park in 1958 and remained close through 1963 when we had a falling out over Elizabeth Taylor and Doris Day. Let me explain. Sid loved with a passion Elizabeth and I loved with a passion Doris. We would argue constantly over who was better, and we both had scrapbooks on them. Mine was huge, a former sample book for greeting cards that someone gave my mother. I ripped the cards out and started to paste ads, articles and pictures from fan magazines of Doris beginning in 1955 so by the time I met up with Sid this was one big fat scrapbook. In fact I was working on my second book when I met him. Sid started his own on Elizabeth but it was just a cheap binder with lined paper. We were two little gay boys from Brooklyn in training to become in a few years two big gay boys. What were we thinking? Actually what were our families and friends thinking as we both cut and pasted our way through junior high with nothing on our minds accept these two movie stars. Our competition got fierce in 1959 when both of them were nominated for Oscars, thankfully both lost to Simone Signoret because there would have been no living with Sid if Liz had won, and of course I would have been impossible if Doris had snatched the prize for Pillow Talk which I knew was a big long shot. However in 1960 Liz had her near death experience and the papers and fan magazines were flooded with Liz this and Liz that, and Sid couldn’t cut and paste fast enough.We both went to see her in Butterfield 8 on a sat afternoon at our neighborhood Loew’s and the din of the kids carrying on was so loud and awful that we could hardly hear the or follow the film. That winter when the nominations were announced there was Liz with her 4th in a row best actress nomination for Butterfield 8, but no nod for Doris for her femme jep movie Midnight Lace. I was off the hook at least, and could relish Sid’s happiness, because I didn’t think she would win for this performance in a film that got universally bombed. However I wasn’t counting on the sympathy vote, and I even agreed to stay over at Sid’s and watch the Oscars with him. Sid went nuts when they announced Liz’s name as best actress, and I just sat there in silence. In 1961 we went off to different high schools, but we remained close friends. By that time my scrap booking had come to an end, but I still loved Doris and Sid still loved Elizabeth. Our friendship came to an end however in the early fall of 1963 when I refused to go with Sid to Radio City Music Hall to see the V.I.P.S. “But I went with you to the Hall during the summer to see “The Thrill of It All.” “So” I replied “I don’t want to see that movie”, and with that Sid stopped talking to me. He dropped me cold, and took our mutual friends with him. We went through the Kennedy assassination without each other and I didn’t expect to ever see or hear from him again. Then in 1966 I did heard from him, I forget how this happened, but we made a date to go see the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Starring you know who and which had just opened. Afterwards we would occasionally go to a movie together or have dinner. We were both older now and the silly things of our early teens had passed. In 1967 I moved to Manhattan and threw away my Doris Day scrapbooks which sadly I regret now doing, and once again I lost touch with Sid. I had heard that he had been drafted into the army, and that was that. Then one day in late 1967 he called me up out of the blue, he had gotten my phone number from my mother, and we made a date for him to visit me in my apartment in Chelsea that I was sharing with a roommate and several cats. He had left the army, discharged for some reason that he wouldn’t go into. He seemed sad and lonely that day as we played Joan Baez records and smoked pot, and this was the last time I saw him. Years later I ran into a mutual friend of ours who told me, that he had become a drug addict and he didn’t know if Sid was alive or dead.
The top photo is of me and Sid with 3 other friends. Sid is second from the left, and I'm second from the right.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Howling at the moon. Crime Wave 1954
This rapid dog of a B Noir movie directed by one eyed Andre De Toth and released by Warner Brothers in 1954 follows a familiar story line common to Nor B flicks. A trio of newly escaped cons pull small heists jobs in southern cal just to get by, a hamburger joint here, a gas station there, but meanwhile they’re working on a plan to pull off a big bank heist. The film opens with a beautifully shot sequence with the camera in the back of the thieves car as it roams the dark L.A. streets of 1954 and pulls into a gas station run by that runny cheese of a character actor Dub Taylor who is all cheerful and up because the radio is playing a request of his, sung by the magnificent Doris Day. Already I know I’m in for something special because of this on location shot, and the actual voice of Ms.Day on the soundtrack singing. S Wonderful. The three hoods are played by Ted De Corsia, Charles Buchinsky ( who down the road will change his name to Bronson and become a super duper super star) but for now he is Buchinsky, with that sexy ugly chiseled face of his and Nedrick Young all proper and dandy in a a suit and tie. Young who was also a screenwriter won the Oscar for best screenplay for The Defiant Ones under the pseudonymous Nathan E. Douglas after being blacklisted for invoking his Fifth Amendment rights while testifying before the 1953 House Committee on Un-American Activities. We are soon introduced to an ex con on probation unexpectedly played by the very good dancer Gene Nelson who was one year away from making his mark in the film version of Oklahoma. But for now he is an ex-con trying to go straight pulling his very pretty wife played by the lovely Phyllis Kirk, who supports her man no matter what along with him. Gene his dancer’s body taunt, tense and wiry spent time in the big house with the three cons and they want him to take part in their big heist, and of course he wants no part of it. There is a strong hard turn by the terrific Sterling Hayden as a ramrod of a detective who does the whole film with a toothpick stuck between his lips, you see Hayden is trying to give up smoking and since Nicorette was not yet invented his oral fix of choice is a toothpick. A nice eccentric touch, and Hayden does more with a toothpick than anyone I’ve ever seen. The film is thrilling and exciting in its narrative flow, and also in its beautiful visuals with real exterior and interior locations shot with mostly available light and hand held cameras, (the cinematographer was the great Bert Glennon).
De Toth uses lots of extreme close ups and one memorable and beautiful shot is of two hands reaching for a late night ringing phone .that is as breathtaking as any shot I’ve ever seen in a film. There is also a small but pivotal and moving performance by the great Jay Novello as a once proud alcoholic doctor who also spent time in the cooler with the boys and because of this can no longer practice medicine and instead turns to the healing of animals and criminals on the run, and a scary small bit by the always compelling and freaky Timothy Carey as a minor accomplice on the heist. One of the ten best films of 1954.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
The Harder They Fall 1956
This is a decent but underwhelming mid 1950’s movie about the corrupt world of prize fighting that fits snuggly in this sub genre that is still gong strong in 2011. This of course was the final film of Humphrey Bogart who was ill during the making with cancer of the esophagus, and yet there he is smoking away. The plot concerns Bogie who plays a New York City sports columnist until his paper goes bust and finds himself at financially loose ends. Bogie is courted by a nasty corrupt prize fight promoter to do publicity for his latest find, a sweet natured gentle giant that the promoter has imported from South America. The problem is Toro Moreno can’t box very well, and the promoter intends to have all his fights fixed so that El Toro always wins. The promoter thinks that he can pack in the crowds with El Toro because of his size (he is huge) and the gimmick of his nickname. The promoter played with his usual scenery chewing method acting madness by Rod Steiger wins over Bogart (but not me) by offering him good money and well we all know that money good or bad speaks. The film features a robust cast of character actors including Edward Andrews, Nehemiah Persoff (no slouch himself in the scenery chewing department) Harold J. Stone, Herbie Faye and two former boxing champs Max Baer and Jersey Joe Walcott. Also in the cast is Jan Sterling as Bogart’s fine understanding moralistic wife who balks at Bogart taking on this unsavory job regardless of the money to be made and the fur coats to be bought. I prefer Sterling when she played tangy tarts who won’t go to church. because kneeling bags her nylons (Ace In The Hole 1951) and not sweet simpering wives. The screenplay is based on a novel by Budd Schulberg who is no stranger to vice and corruption but this take on bad is no “On The Waterfront.” The final resolution rings hollow with Bogie doing the right thing as Jan pours him a comforting cup of coffee as he sits down at his typewriter to write an expose of the fighting game. The film is well directed by Mark Robson who made the much better boxing film Champion in 1949. Robson who began his career as an editor on The Magnificent Ambersons and went on to direct several films for Val Lewton including the superb Seventh Victim. Later on he unfortunately went on to a bloated Hollywood career loaded with big budget bombs and lavish but empty romantic melodramas including the simply awful but camp cult favorite Valley Of The Dolls before dying at a relatively early age of a heart attack during the post production of Avalanche Express. There are some nice on location moments of 1950’s Manhattan, Los Angeles and Chicago, and the great Burnett Guffey did the black and white cinematography. Ironically the other boxing film of the year Somebody Up There Likes Me, was directed by Robert Wise who did the editing for Welles’s Citizen Kane & The Magnificent Ambersons and also directed several films for Val Lewton the best one being Curse Of The Cat People. Small world.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
Postcards with my art for sale.
Wowee. You can purchase postcards with my art and designs for only $15.00 for a package of 8, and if you like you can send me one, and I'll sign it for you and send it back to you. Holy Mackerel what a deal. You can see them at this link.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Saturday, March 12, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Easy Living 1937
A screwball fairy tale from the depression. So one day Jean Arthur who plays Mary Smith is riding on the top of a double decker bus on her way to work down a rear projected 5th ave when a sable coat lands on her head. We know where the coat has come from .because minutes before we’ve seen millionaire banker Edward Arnold who annoyed at his wife for spending 58,000 on it in the middle of a depression , angrily tosses it off the roof of their building where as I said it lands on Jean Arthur. This sets the film in motion. Jean wants to give the coat back, but Arnold will hear of no such thing, so Jean has this very expensive coat but no job and a $7.00 a week apartment whose rent she does not have. The plot is complicated as only a Preston Sturges script can be and is loaded with recognizable Sturges touches that will serve him well in his future Paramount films. There are mistaken identities, apoplectic fathers, lots of pratfalls, outspoken and pushy servants, lovable immigrants, prissy salesmen and of course sweet love affairs that always turn out fine in the end. Arthur’s love interest is a young Ray Milland who happens to be the son of Arnold, but of course Jean doesn’t know this. They meet very cute at the Automat where Milland out to prove to his father that he can make his way without his help has a job as a busboy, and is smitten with Arthur the minute he sees her. Wearing her sable coat but broke with only a nickel to her name, Milland decides on a scheme to get her food, and this leads to one of the wildest and memorable scenes ever put on celluloid. More confusion follows but that’s all I’m going to spend on the plot and instead I would like to sing the praises of Jean Arthur who I fell in love with one early evening in my young life watching a showing of The Devil and Miss Jones on the early show which showed vintage films heavily cut to fit in the 5 o clock time schedule right before the news. No doubt it was her unique voice that caught my 12 year old attention, and her unusual looks. This was not your typical lady movie star, she was awkward and real, was she really even acting. I don’t know, but I really fell hard for the lady. Her career began in the silent film era but it wasn’t until Frank Capra cast her in Mr. Deeds Goes To Town that her career really took off, and some terrific movies followed. Reclusive and secretive, rumors persist to this day that she was lesbian and that’s what accounted for her low profile in such a high profile town like Hollywood. Easy Living or Living easy if you prefer is a fast and furious 88 minutes and if a movie can be said to be out of breath it’s this one. Well directed by the underrated Mitchell Leisen who did some very nice films with many top female stars including Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert and Olivia DeHavilland (who by the way won an Oscar in his To Each His Own), he was however disliked by Billy Wilder and Sturges who complained that Leisen ruined their screenplays, which is nonsense. Their anger and dislike of him had more to do with Leisen being gay, and the homophobia that ran rampant and unchecked back then. The cast is wonderful with many actors who Sturges would embrace and use many times in his is own films, William Demarest, Franklin Pangborn, Luis Alberni and Robert Greig and If you’re quick you might pick out Dennis O’ Keefe and Lee Bowman in short uncredited early roles. One of the ten best films of 1937.
Tuesday, March 08, 2011
Sunday, March 06, 2011
Made right on the cusp of the coming of sound films, this Art Deco gangster movie is riveting mainly for its look. Directed by Roland West best known for The Bat Whispers this one is very much influenced by German expressionist films and has some jaw dropping beautiful images, most of which was shot for the silent version. The plot is simple and concerns the story of a very nasty gangster who lies and hides his true feelings so he can get away with murder. Played by Chester Morris who was very handsome with patent leather hair and a classic profile, (check out his nose) he not only deceives many of the other characters but also the viewer. As I said this is a stunning film with sets designed by the great William Cameron Menzies and beautiful cinematography by Ray June, who you can tell was experimenting with his shots. There are also several musical numbers that take place in Deco nightclubs that are oddly shot from the side and not head on. They were of course injected into the action to take advantage of the craze for musicals that the newborn sound techniques made possible. Morris who never really became an A list star was mostly known for the series of Boston Blackie films that he made in the 1940’s but he did work a lot appeared on many tv shows. There are problems with the quality of the sound, and I wish Kino had spent more time and money cleaning it up. At times you can hardly make out the dialogue, and the soundtrack sounds like someone was dragging a snow shovel across a just cleaned sidewalk, or someone was doing an old soft shoe on a floor with sand thrown about. The film is a bit stagy and static which is to be expected for an early sound film, but the “exterior” shots (there is some actual footage shot at night in L.A. in which the camera is attached to police cars as it roams through the city) and the interior expressionistic sets are as I said simply beautiful. Nominated for 2 Oscars. Best Picture and Best Actor but surprisingly the great cinematography and art direction were ignored
Friday, March 04, 2011
This is a marvelous deep, dark and disturbing first film by Michael Cuesta who is most known for his work on a series of deep dark and disturbing t.v. shows such as Six Feet Under and Dexter. Cuesta tells us the story of a neglected sensitive and very intelligent 15 year old boy growing up in the suburbs of Long Island. His mother has recently been killed in a car accident on the L.I.E. (Long Island Expressway) and his father who seems to be well off (they live in a lavish house) is involved in some shady real estate dealings and is distant and incompetent when it comes to being a father to his son. The boy is played by an impossibly young Paul Dano who is simply brilliant and who takes up with some bad kids who roam the dismal landscape breaking into houses. One of the houses that they break into is owned by a well liked and respected member of the community who by the way is a pedophile and is played by the fine actor Brian Cox who gives a complex shaded performance. They break into his basement as he is celebrating his birthday with family, friends and his latest boy catch upstairs, and trouble, trouble, trouble follows. This could have been a nasty piece of work, but thankfully Cuesta who also co wrote the screenplay handles this explosive story with style and sensitivity. He is helped by these two wonderful performances and I guess one could find fault with the ending which can be seen coming down the expressway at a rapid speed, but the film is so compelling and worthwhile and Dano just breaks your heart. One of the ten best films of 2001.
Thursday, March 03, 2011