Monday, November 28, 2016

GIANT (1956)

(Post 10 of 10)

I've always thought this was to the 50's  what Gone With the Wind was to the 30's. A truly epic American tale of Texas, oil, ranchers and featuring the star trio of Elizabeth Taylor (Leslie Benedict), Rock Hudson (Bick Benedict) and James Dean (Jett Rink). My favorite part of the film (I'm sure this is covered in Edna Ferber's book as well) is the evolution of rich cattle rancher Bick Benedict from clearly being a racist at the beginning of the film to becoming by the film's final scene a staunch defender of his Mexican grandchild...I can hear The Yellow Rose of Texas playing in the background now.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Chill Wills

Chill Wills as Uncle Bawley in Giant
In Giant, Chill plays Uncle Bawley, the sort of patriarch of the Benedict family, who seems to spend a lot of time keeping the others out of trouble. He does have one of the best lines in the movie, observing the newfound wealth of Jett Rink, "Bick, you should have shot that fella a long time ago. Now he's too rich to kill."

The long career of Chill Wills as a supporting actor was usually in supporting roles in Westerns, often with his friend John Wayne. He received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting role in The Alamo. The first movies I remember him from were his voice-overs in The Francis the Talking Mule movie series, the forerunner of Mr. Ed.  Chill's signing skills were put to good use in a few films and he made some records as well. If you are so inclined, go to Youtube and take a look at Chill doing the song Mama, possibly the most depressing ditty I've ever heard.

Chill about to warble Mama

Friday, November 25, 2016

THE BIG SKY (1952)

(Post 9 of 10) 

The Big Sky is a pretty good Howard Hawks film about a group of fur traders (featuring Kirk Douglas as a scalawag, roustabout, tag along to the group) attempting to deal with Indians and other ruthless business competitors. It's a nice adventure scene with some beautiful black and white photography, though I'm not sure I would have included this one on the list. One question I have is why is this film so hard to find? I had to get an old VHS copy from inter library-loan because it wasn't available (that I could see) on DVD or Blu-Ray or on any online service that I had access to. Just wondering.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Arthur Hunnicutt
Arthur Hunnicutt had one that special something that a lot of character actors of the Hollywood Golden Age with long careers seemed to have going for them: Look like a old man even when you're fairly young. It's odd that the grizzled old trapper/narrator from The Big Sky was only in his early 40's when this movie was made. This persona served Hunnicutt well as he played it in many Westerns beginning in the 40's and going through the 60's. The part I will always best remember Hunnicutt is as a recently deceased hunter who goes to tries to find his way to heaven with his trusty hound dog in an episode from The Twilight Zone. which features one of my all-time favorite lines, "A man, well, he'll walk right into hell with both eyes open. But even the Devil can't fool a dog!" The funny thing is, before I looked it up, I remembered Hunnicutt as saying this line, which is incorrect. He has it said to him. Damn.  

Dewey Martin, Arhur Hunnicutt and Kirk Doglas in The Big Sky

Additional note: It's interesting sometimes to look up who the particular reviewers were that chose certain movies for the 1001 book. This one was chosen by Edward Buscombe, a critic who has written articles about genre in films and books on Western films. Clearly he is partial to add films from his favorite genre! He also contributed the blurbs for the 1001 book on Stagecoach and The Searchers, which are certainly no-brainers for inclusion...but clearly went outside the box in the addition of The Big Sky. If I were adding another Kirk Douglas Western, I would have put in Lonely Are the Brave...But that’s me. I do like that the list doesn't always stick to just the obvious choices all the time.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


(Post 8 of 10) 

The middle one of the three major versions of A Star is Born. I'm a little surprised that this one was chosen over the 1937 original, but A Star is Born '54 does have a lot more flashy dance numbers than the original and is certainly a must for Judy Garland fans. One problem for me is that it doesn't seem like Judy and co-star James Mason have very much chemistry. I almost feel like Mason accidentally wandered over to the A Star is Born set from a different movie. But I still like the film overall and it's certainly better than the later Streisand/'Kristofferson version.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Jack Carson

This is Jack Carson
This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, with a whimper

Jack Carson's hulking, tough guy persona seemed tailor made to play a press agent like he does in A Star is Born. He did occasionally did have some leading roles in the 40's, though his best ones seemed to be supporting ones like in Mildred Pierce or Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Jack is not to be confused with Don Defore, who was best known as playing the father in Hazel during the 60's. I bring this up, because I use to get them mixed up...silly me.

This is not Jack Carson.
It's Don Defore

Saturday, November 19, 2016


(Post 7 of 10) 

Rock Hudson and Lauren Bacall will almost certainly
find each other by the end of Written on the Wind. Won't they?
It's interesting how some of The Fifties Hollywood dramas that prominent critics may have previously dismissed as "women's pictures" began to be taken seriously in later years by filmmakers as diverse as Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes. I've grown to like the few of these types of films from the 1950's (All That Heaven Allows is another one). Maybe they weren't necessarily an accurate picture of life of the era-but they sure seem to represent a certain time nonetheless. Not everything from the fifties could be noir or musicals or horror or biblical spectacles! These dramas at least had fairly real stories...or fairly least involving...or maybe my tastes are just changing as I get older..Not that I feel like watching a Jeff Chandler marathon or anything...but there you have it.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..William Schallert

William Schallert gives Rock Hudson a plot point he needs
and goes out the door to his next film
William Schallert is one of those actors I've seen in so many things over the years (primarily on television) that I think he's seeped into my subconscious as just about the ultimate TV background player. In Written on the Wind, his only scene is the one above where his only purpose is to (as a reporter) let Rock Hudson know that Lauren Bacall has gotten married. Pure exposition and then he walks off the stage and probably to another set to film another scene in another movie or show. Schallert is probably primarily remembered as the dad in The Patty Duke Show. But if you look at his long trail of credits, it basically includes every show I've ever seen in reruns: The Andy Griffith Show, Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, Leave It to Beaver, Get Smart, The Waltons, The Partridge Family...and way too many more to list. Schallert died in 2016 at the age of 93, leaving behind him a legacy of 379 IMDB credits.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


(Post 6 of 10) 

One of the most famous dramas from the fifties, A Place in the Sun is based on Theodore Dreiser's early twentieth century novel, An American Tragedy. The plot involves poor, but ambitious George Eastman (Montgomery Clift), who works his way up the corporate ladder of his rich relatives business and gets involved with the loving, but simple Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). He later meets the beautiful Anglea Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) who he falls for right away. This creates a problem with the lingering presence of Alice, whose relationship with George is further complicated by the fact that she is in a family way...

It sounds like a bit of a soap opera when you try to recount the plot, but it really is a strong drama, with well-cast leads, a tragic story (as the original title indicates) and very solid directorial touches from George Stevens (who won the Academy Award for A Place in the Sun). In fact, the film won the most Academy Awards of any film released in 1951 (6), but lost out to An American in Paris for Best Picture.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Shelley Winters

Poor, poor Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun
You have to give Shelley Winters some credit. She came up as a sexy leading lady in the late 40's, but her movie star looks seemed to fade awfully fast and she fell into obscurity and was never cast after that...Only that wasn't what happened at all! Shelly transitioned into one of the most prolific character actresses in movies for the the next thirty or so years, winning supporting actress Academy Awards for The Diary of Anne Frank in 1959 and A Patch of Blue in 1965. She was also nominated as Best Actress for A Place in the Sun, but I think her part would have been more appropriate in the supporting category.

Some of her subsequent supporting roles include: Lolita's ill-fated mother in Lolita, another mother role in the 60's cult film, Wild in the Streets, another ill-fated romantic lead in Night of the Hunter, the lead gangster in Bloody Mama and of course, her turn in the 70's disaster film The Poseidon Adventure. She also was the a frequent talk show guest over the years, where her persona as a rather abrasive, middle-aged, heavy-set woman was instilled in many of us.

"Wow! That's Shelley Winters?"Still from the late 40's

Sunday, November 13, 2016


(Post 5 of 10)

I admit that I've enjoyed going through the Anthony Mann Westerns on the 1001 list, mostly because I've never seen any of them before I started doing this blog. In The Man From Laramie, Will Lockhart (James Stewart) is the guy from out of town who just wants to collect some supplies....but you know he's going to get mixed up with the locals and have problems that are going to force him to stay. There is naturally a local gal who may spark enough interest for Lockhart to want to stay. There is also a blood feud between a powerful family and almost everyone who isn't them which propels most of the film's drama. Also, look for a couple of plot twists that you may not be see coming.  

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to (TIE)..Aline McMahon and Wallace Ford. The Man From Laramie has several previous Elisha Cook award winners: Jack Elam, Arthur Kennedy and Donald Crisp. I'd like to give the award to two performers that I know mostly from only one other film. Aline McMahon's career lasted from the 30's until the 70's. But honestly, the only thing other than this film that I've seen her in is Gold Diggers of 1933, my favorite of the Busby Berkley musicals. In Gold Diggers, she plays Trixie, the wisecracking showgirl who ends up with Guy Kibbee. She has some of the best lines in that movie. In Laramie, she has aged into the matronly but tough ranch owner who ends up (presumably happily ever after) with Donald Crisp at the end.
Aline McMahon is a tart-tongued old lady in The Man From Laramie
Aline McMahon is a tart-tongued young lady in Gold Diggers of 1933

I have seen Wallace Ford in a few things other than as Jimmy Stewart's grizzled partner in The Man From Laramie. He appeared in Hitchcock films (Shadow of a Doubt, Spellbound), was the cabdriver in Harvey and one of his last roles was as Aunt Bea's suitor in an episode of The Andy Griffith Show. But his signature role has to be as the clown in the movie Freaks, where he shares the screen, with Johnny Eck, the Caterpillar man, the bearded lady and Harry Earles the midget. And who could forget his scene with Schlitzie the Pinhead! "Hey Schlitzie, that's a real pretty hat!"
Wallace Ford shares the screen with James Stewart in The Man From Laramie
Wallace Ford shares the screen with Schlitze the Pinhead in Freaks

Thursday, November 10, 2016


(Post 4 of 10)

A man being accused of a crime that he didn't commit isn't anything new to fans of Alfred Hitchcock, but this is such a stark, serious black and white film that Hitchcock gets his famous cameo out of the way immediately in the prologue! Henry Fonda is good as usual in the part of a humble musician who makes the mistake of resembling someone who has committed a string of robberies. The big question the drama presents is how is our protagonist going to get out of this mess? And that question alone is enough to sustain enough suspense to carry it through to the end. I also like the domestic scenes with Fonda and Vera Miles and their two children. I wouldn't put The Wrong Man in my all-time favorite Hitchcock movies list, but it is a welcome addition to the 1001 list and it was good to see one of his films that I've never seen before.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Anthony Quayle

Henry Fonda with Anthony Quayle in The Wrong Man
British actor Anthony Quayle (not to be confused with Anthony Quinn, like I  did when I was a kid) plays the lawyer trying to get the innocent Fonda sprung from the joint in The Wrong Man. Quayle is best known for playing supporting roles in epics like Lawrence of Arabia, The Fall of the Roman Empire, The Guns of Navarone and countless BBC productions. He also later played The King in Woody Allen's Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Sex * But Were Afraid To Ask. But what I remember him best for is as host of the paranormal anthology series, The Evil Touch (Even though the run lasted only for 26 episodes). Quayle would come out before the cameras (kind of like Alfred Hitchcock in his own show come to think of it) before each show in a shroud of mist looking distinguished with his goatee and deep voice and then would proceed to describe the episode for that week (which seemed to usually star Vic Morrow or Harry Guardino). He wouldn't return until the end of the show to menacingly remind us that there is a touch of all of us.

Anthony Quayle moralizes before the credits roll
for The Evil Touch television show.

Monday, November 7, 2016


(Post 3 of 10)

The Phenix City Story is a most interesting motion picture. The first part of the movie has interviewer Clete Roberts interviewing members of the town of Phenix City, Alabama about episodes of corruption in their community and how their town has been run under the thumb of crime boss Rhett Tanner.

We then start the actual movie which dramatizes the events of these occurrences featuring the crime syndicate and the few brave souls (including Richard Kiley above) who bravely stand up to them. The movie overall is a blend of Film Noir, Southern Gothic and documentary, making The Phoenix City Story a combination of styles that I've never seen lumped together quite like this before. We see some horrific images in this movie, the most famous of which might be the murder of a young black girl. The uniqueness of the project alone puts this in my 1001 book.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Edward Andrews

But first, there are several other interesting supporting players in The Phenix City Story.

John McIntyre-plays the reluctant, but good old politician here. McIntyre's career was made up chiefly of Westerns, I know him from best as the sheriff in Psycho.

Kathryn Grant-The leading lady of this movie is best known for later marrying Bing Crosby and being a fixture on The Crosby family holiday specials that ran until Bing's death in 1977.

John Larch-Character actor Larch just has one of those faces you've probably scene in countless movies (including Written on the Wind) and TV shows. He plays a particular nasty thug in Phenix City. I remember him best from The Twilight Zone Episode "It's a Good Life." To his demonic son in that episode: "But it's good that you're making it snow, Anthony, - it's real good. And tomorrow - tomorrow's going to be a real good day!"

James Edwards-I was trying to remember where I saw James Edwards before and realized that it was in the parking lot scene with Timothy Carey in Kubrick's The Killing. He also had a role in as one of the platoons members in  The Manchurian Candidate.

Clete Roberts-Real life reporter Roberts is the featured interviewer in the narrative section of Phenix City. I realized where I had seen him before (again as the interviewer) was in a memorable episode of MASH.

Edward Andrews in The Phenix City Story 
Edward Andrews-But my official award goes to Edward Andrews who almost always seemed to play a smug, unlikable businessman or in this case a politician. He's particularly nasty in Phenix City and plays a corrupt character that's easy to hate. Andrews appeared in more TV shows over the years than movies, including the part of someone terrorized by an automobile in another Twilight Zone episode called You Drive.

But what I remember him best for is a 1975 Die Hard battery commercial that played for years. In that commercial, Andrews and his wife are going to a formal function of some kind and can't start his car. He goes back in his house and sheepishly asks his son if he may borrow his car. The son throws him his keys and reminds Andrews to not forget to put some gas in it. Andrews indignant look at this statement is the highlight of the commercial. The couple go to their function in their son's hippie wheels as the announcer reminds us to use all to use a Die Hard battery next time. One of the best commercials of the 70's.

Edward Andrews in Die Hard: 1975

Friday, November 4, 2016


(Post 2 of 10)

Nicolas Ray's Bigger Than Life is the story of a professor (James Mason) who goes through a medical treatment for a grave condition and becomes addicted to cortisone. His personality changes and he slowly becomes a threat to his family and himself. This is a film that you can look at and perhaps overlook some of the subtext of the film that shows that all may not be so hunky dory in 50's middle America. Bigger Than Life artfully uses milk as a metaphor several times to perhaps represent the professor's way of life slowly spoiling or showing financial problems that one might not assume a respected teacher of this era to have. Many of these elements Ray employs are not clear in an obvious way and makes Bigger Than Life a good candidate for multiple viewings.

Speaking of the 50's...Look fast for a bit part from a Pre-Leave It to Beaver Jerry Mathers.

James Mason can't seem to figure out why Walter Matthau
isn't more interested in the pretty and single teacher at the school.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Walter Matthau. It's funny seeing Matthau in a role that is dramatic without much of his trademark comic sense that he would display during the 60's and 70's. We even see him as a tough guy in a fight scene without any comic overtones! And speaking of subtle touches, it has been pointed out that Matthau's character Wally Gibbs is probably a homosexual, but in 50's Hollywood you had to present this in the subtlest of subtle terms. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016


I've decided to go through most of my remaining Hollywood movies from the 50's from the 1001 list this month. I'm also giving out my Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award for each film because I feel it was really a golden age for great supporting players and I find it fun to do so.

(Post 1 of 10)

The Philadelphia Story had a pretty unbeatable trio of players (Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn and James Stewart), but High Society, the musical remake didn't do too bad either with the trio of Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. The movie gets by on its star power and has some good musical numbers and the collaboration of Sinatra and Crosby is certainly noteworthy. Crosby does seem a wee bit old to be Kelly's ex, but it also seemed unlikely that she would leave movies shortly after this to become Princess of Monaco. So you never know.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Louis Armstrong

But the player that really sets High Society apart Is Louis Armstrong. Louie and his band performs as a kind of Greek chorus of the events around them and the film gets a shot in the arm every time he hits the screen. His numbers with Bing Crosby are also the musical highlights of the film for me. My only objection is the gaps between his appearances on screen are too long.