Tuesday, April 28, 2015


(Post 20 of 50)

The Quiet Man was John Ford's dream project about Ireland and features John Wayne as American Sean Thornton, who goes to the old country to claim his family farm. He meets a wide array of quirky characters and falls in love with the woman named Mary Kate from the neighboring farm played by Maureen O'Hara. Her main obstacle to being with Sean is getting the approval of her difficult older brother Will Danaher.

The landscape of the movie is the real star here, but it also proves an offbeat role for John Wayne as the former boxer who has his reasons to be reluctant to fight and win Mary Kate's respect. The story also benefits by Ford's reliable and solid supporting cast including Ward Bond and Barry Fitzgerald.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Victor McLaglen as Will Danaher. Veteran actor McLaglen steals the picture during most of the scenes that he's in. He's difficult, obnoxious and unreasonable, but somehow difficult not to to like. His frustration and slow burns to difficult situations probably are comic high points of the film.  The fight at the end between Wayne and McLaglen also makes for a rousing finale.

Saturday, April 25, 2015


(Post 19 of 50)

The good: From Here to Eternity boasts a fine all-star cast headed by Burt Lancaster and Montgomery Clift. It won several Oscars including Best Picture of 1953. The bombing of Pearl Harbor finale holds up well. Began to tip the iceberg for American films to deal with more adult themes. When Lancaster and Deborah Kerr kiss on the beach as the waves roll over them has proven to be one of the most famous scenes in movie history.The black and white photography during the daytime scenes is impressive. 

The not-so-good: The story line is basically a military soap opera. The music is overdone, often swelling to overly dramatic proportion. The classic beach scene is undercut by Deborah Kerr's line "I never knew it could be like this." And the bombing scene occurs awfully late in the movie. And those adult themes don't go very far past the tip of the iceberg, for example, Donna Reed's role as a prostitute is toned down to the point that she is hardly recognizable as what she's supposed to be. And Private Prewitt's death scene is just plain strange.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Ernest Borgnine. Donna Reed and Frank Sinatra took home the supporting actor Oscars for From Here to Eternity, but how about Ernest Borgnine as the vicious heavy Fatso Judson? This was really Borgnine's first major role and he plays the vicious son-of-a bitch to the hilt. Borgnine's career was interesting in that he played supporting villains on and off for the next half century, but also occasionally had starring roles, including his sympathetic Oscar winning role as Marty in 1955. He also starred in the successful sitcom McHale's Navy in the 60's and  off course did the voiceover as Merman in Sponge Bob after the turn of the century! A career that truly ran the gamut!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


(Post 18 of 50)

A Touch of Evil is Orson Welles's later film noir set on the U. S. Mexico boarder. There may be some plot points that are a little sketchy, but the overall impact of the film is so strong and involving, I didn't care. 

The movie stars Charlton Heston as a Mexican lawman and Janet Leigh as his American wife. But it is Welles himself as Police Captain Hank Quinlan that really steals the show. Quinlan is overweight, drunk, unprincipled and thinks himself above the law when he's on a case. As impressed as we might be with Welles the director, Welles the actor is pretty good too.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Akim Tamiroff. The Russian born Tamiroff was a character actor who played mostly ethnic characters in over a hundred films, including Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville. In Touch of Evil, he plays a Mexican hood named Joe Grandi. But Joe is not nearly as sinister as Quinlan. In fact, he is responsible for a lot of the film's comic relief with his constant losing of his toupee and his inability to control the actions of his underlings.

Sunday, April 19, 2015


(Post 17 of 50)

This Orson Welles's late 40's film noir is definitely not his most accessible film. The plot involves Irishman Michael O'Hara (Welles) who falls hard for a tasty blonde who is married to a jealous husband and gets caught up in a game of deception and blackmail. The film is full of plot twists and includes a memorable finale set inside a hall of mirrors of an abandoned amusement park. Orson's wife of the time Rita Hayworth is quite good in an unusual and challenging role for her.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Everett Sloane. Sloane is best know as Kane's worshipful associate Bernstein in Citizen Kane. With that character in mind, it is interesting to see him in The Lady from Shanghai as Hayworth's jealous lawyer husband who grows to detest and tries to set up Michael O' Hara. He plays a brilliant attorney with bad legs and and unfortunately beautiful wife. It's film noir and those dames will always lead to your downfall.

Thursday, April 16, 2015


(Post 16 of 50)

Ace in the Hole is probably the most famous Billy Wilder film that I had never seen before. It is the story of a little news story about a man trapped in a cave that gets blown up by an opportunistic reporter played by Kirk Douglas. And it is dark. And it is seedy. And it is a movie that is so bleak and has such a dearth of unsympathetic characters, I'm surprised that even a director as respected as Wilder got it made! The alternative title of the film was The Big Carnival, which is what the reporter turns this story into it.

Spike Lee commented that Wilder had a crystal ball peering into the future of modern day news coverage and how things are in today's media. It's easy to imagine the plot of this story being played out today each night on The Nancy Grace Show or on various Internet news outlets. Definitely not a feel good movie, but certainly a good one.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Ray Teal. Ray Teal is one of those guys that I've seen if probably dozens of movies and television shows over the years (Out of 340 IMDB credits!), but I honestly didn't know his name before I saw Ace in the Hole. He is best known for his long run as the sympatheic sheriff on Bonanza. In Ace in the Hole, he plays also plays a sheriff, but this sheriff is crooked, opportunistic and pretty much only cares about being re-elected. It's a real meaty role for Mr. Teal. And I ain't votin' for him for sheriff!

Monday, April 13, 2015


(Post 15 of 50)

The timing of this film about a junkie trying to go straight is interesting. It would have been impossible to get a film with this subject matter made just a few years before. Yet the fact that they still can't do things like refer to heroin by name, makes the film seem a little antiquated by modern standards. I still think it's a tough little film that did break new ground. It also had those great opening credits by Saul Bass. And Sinatra? I'm a bigger fan of Sinatra the singer than Sinatra the actor, but he probably has his best dramatic role here (At least that I've seen).

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Arnold Stang. Nerdy little Arnold Stang seemed born to be a second banana and provides some well needed laughs to this rather grim film. I know him best as the voice from one of my favorite childhood cartoons, Top Cat.

Friday, April 10, 2015

FANTASIA (1940), DUMBO (1941)

(Post 14 of 50)

The Rites of Spring from Fantasia

Now critically praised as a classic, Fantasia did poorly during its initial run at the box office. 

 From Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot.

"When asked Roy (his brother) what the thought, his brother decided Fantasia did poorly at the box office because of his "unfortunate" choice of music.'I'll never understand why we couldn't' have sneaked a little Tommy Dorsey in there.' he remarked to Walt after studying the film's receipts. That was the last time Walt ever asked his brother his opinion about anything."

It's not too hard to see why Fantasia didn't do as well as other Disney films of the era. Classical musical being played in the background to various animated vignettes didn't exactly make for a Snow White or Pinocchio sized hit. But Fantasia is undoubtedly filled with great moments and you have to give credit to Disney for really going out on a limb with this one. It is hard to not list everything when listing the highlights of Fantasia, but the Rites of Spring played as we see the days when dinosaurs ruled the earth and the last days of the dinosaurs is certainly a favorite of mine. The Night on Bald Mountain Finale is pretty spectacular, too.

Jumbo and Dumbo

From Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Prince by Marc Eliot on Dumbo.

"The main problem with the film was that Disney had essentially done it before , and better."

"Dumbo's big ears recalled perhaps to vividly Pinocchio's awkwardness. Jiminy Cricket's mission of moral rectitude made him a metaphor for Pinocchio's conscience, a more vivid than Timothy's sidekick, who functioned as Dumbo's subconscience. And the "pink elephant" sequence's bubbly visuals resembled nothing so much as an outtake for Fantasia. Dumbo's retread themes and characters, increasingly familiar style of animation and noticeable lack of new technical wizardry, left some critics with a heavy sense of Disney Vu."

My two favorite parts of Dumbo are the awful and snooty Elephants ragging on poor Dumbo and the circus clowns in the tent when the viewer hears them speaking but can only see their shadow.I think Mark Eliot is being a little hard in his criticism of Dumbo, though I admit I probably would have opted for Lady and the Tramp or 101 Dalmatians for the 1001 book before I'd list Dumbo, but you really should see all the classic Disney cartoons (From Snow White to The Jungle Book, at least) at least once.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…The mice. 

Even most kids that may have been bored with sections of Fantasia still love The Sorcerer's Apprentice section with Mickey Mouse. We can all relate to not doing what a parent (or wizard) tells you to do and getting into a bit of trouble over it. And Mickey in the Sorcerer's Hat may be the most iconic image in the history of Disney.

Mickey Mouse
Timothy J. Mouse of Dumbo makes his appearance not a moment too soon. Wonderful mother Jumbo is locked up and little Dumbo with the big ears is alone crying and having to hear the barbs of the other elephants. But our little mouse friend comes along just in time to befriend Dumbo, frighten the mean elephants, make Dumbo the star of the circus and eventually reunite Dumbo with his Mom. A nice day's work, I'd say. 

Timothy J. Mouse

Tuesday, April 7, 2015


(Post 13 of 50)

Writer Sam Staggs called All About Eve "the bitchiest movie ever made." 

Joesph L. Mankiewicz put all his formidable writing talents into the script for this story of show business back stabbing and career opportunism. There is no shortage of great dialogue, great performances led by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter and it's just fun to watch.

But should this have won Best Picture over Sunset Boulevard? I'll have to get back to you on that one.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…George Sanders. All About Eve is known for having many memorable performances, but it is George Sanders as the acerbic critic Addison DeWitt that really steals the movie. Almost every movie that I've seen him in he plays a charming, insufferable cad. In All About Eve, he is a totally insulting and condescending throughout, but you manage to like him anyway (At least I do). I really enjoy every line he utters in this movie.

Saturday, April 4, 2015


(Post 12 of 50)

In the beginning...there was Cecil B. Demille! At the beginning of narrative cinema, that is. DeMille's films date all the way back to 1914 and The Squaw Man! Known for such silent epics as the original Ten Commandments and King of Kings, Demille not only made a successful transition to sound movies (unlike his contemporary D. W. Griffith), he became one of the biggest directors of the golden age of Hollywood with epics like Cleopatra and Samson and Delilah. His most famous (as well as his last) film is his 1956 remake of his own silent movie, which is an unabashedly unapologetic biblical epic. Great sets, great detail, great cast led by Charlton Heston and Yul Brynner and you still gotta like the special effect of the parting of the Red Sea. Demille is certainly not remembered as a directorial auteur, in fact The Ten Commandments is the only Demille movie in the 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die book. His biographer Katherine Orrison calls the film "an anti-film noir"-what you see if what you get. But I do agree that if you're going to see just one Demille film, this would be the one to see. 

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Edward G. Robinson. The unfortunate thing about Robinson in this movie is Billy Crystal's lampooning of Edward's performance in a comedy routine where Crystal speaks in an exaggerated gangster voice, "Moses? Moses? Where's your Moses now?" It's pretty funny and Demille biographer Katherine Orrison even mentions Crystal's routine on The Ten Commandments commentary track! But if you can overlook the fact that Eddie G played Little Caesar and a lot of other gangsters, he actually does a pretty good job as the scheming and opportunistic Dathan in The Ten Commandments

Wednesday, April 1, 2015


 (Post 11 of 50)

Boot Hill...Dodge City...Tombstone...The O. K. Corral...Men who live by the gun and drink their whiskey straight! Gunfight at the O. K. Corral is not a Western you watch expecting plot twists and turns. It is pretty predictable plot wise. Sick, drunken Doc Holliday teams up with straight arrow lawman Wyatt Earp to eventually take on the Clanton boys at the big finale at the O. K. Corral. Wyatt and Doc don't get along to well at first, but eventually come to need each other and even call themselves friends. Wyatt has a romantic interest who you know is going to get the short end of the stick when he gets called out to join the fight with his brother. Doc has an ongoing feud with Johnny Ringo, that we know won't be settled until the final showdown. Wyatt has an ongoing dialogue with himself about staying a lawman or starting over. Doc also has a love/hate relationship with a prostitute that doesn't seem destined to end well. But I don't have a problem with the plot, despite the lack of surprises. It is well done. The dialogue is good and there is plenty of action. But really the main to see Gunfight at the O. K. Corral is the teaming of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.  Burt as Wyatt the contemplative lawman and Kirk as the more emotionally charged Doc really make this one go. They appeared in several films other films together and if there is a male screen team I like better, I can't think of one at the moment. 

Interesting credit: Screenplay credit to writer Leon Uris, who I associate more with novels like QBVII and Exodus rather than Westerns.

Interesting credit (take two): Frankie Laine sings the opening theme with the same zest he would sing the opening theme to Blazing Saddles a few years later. He reprises the theme during the middle of the movie with lyrics that supply a lot of exposition for viewers that haven't been paying close attention to the plot during the first half.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to....Lee Van Cleef. Desperado Lee comes into town gunning for Doc Holliday in the opening scene. Lee's temperamental character is brutish, drinks his whiskey straight and is quick to pull a gun and not afraid to fight dirty. We see all this in the first few minutes of the film because we know he's going to quickly encounter Doc Holliday and we know it isn't Lee who is going to win. With those beady eyes, Lee rarely played anything but a heavy, but in a Western, somebody's got to take that first bullet (or knife).

Gunfight had several other notable supporting performers.

We have future TV stars Martin Milner, DeForrest Kelley and Earl Holliman
We have future easy rider Dennis Hopper
We have future Dobie Gillis dad Frank Faylen
We have the lovely redhead Rhonda Fleming
We have the over-hill-hooker Jo Ann Fleet
We have the steady but miscast John Ireland as the evil Johnny Ringo (I would have rather seen Van Cleef as Ringo.)
We also have another Western stalwart, Jack Elam

But I got to go with Lee on this one.