Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Robert Osborne Returns to TCM

If you didn't already know, host Robert Osborne will be returning to TCM tomorrow! I'm so excited because TCM just hasn't been the same without him. While there have been some wonderful guest hosts (I'd love to see Jane Powell do some kind of presentation again), it's going to be great to hear "Hi, I'm Robert Osborne," again.  Even better, his return will start with the first night of films to honor December Star of the Month William Powell. If you'd like to join in welcoming Robert Osborne back to TCM, please check out the Welcome Back, Bob Tumblr page.

Till next time...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: That Touch of Mink (1962)

IMDb Synopsis: A rich businessman and a young woman are attracted to each other, but he only wants an affair while she wants to save her virginity for marriage.

For me, the 1960's is a hit or miss decade for comedies. Some I've loved, others, not so much. Unfortunately, That Touch of Mink is part of the latter.

The only thing I enjoyed about this film was Cary Grant. He (as usual) was decent as the suave, debonair gentleman that he often played, but I wouldn't consider it one of his best roles by any means. Doris Day, who I've never cared for, delivers what I found to be a mediocre performance. She's much better in Pillow Talk, another romantic comedy and the only film of Day's I've liked so far.

As for other things I disliked, I found the plot and script to be extremely lacking. Even though the performances aren't great, the actors did the best they could with the material given. The film could have been better had the characters weren't so one-dimensional had more depth, like Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in The Apartment, for example.

Overall, That Touch of Mink isn't the worst film ever made, but it's certainly not one of the best. I'd recommend skipping this one.

2.5/5 stars

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Favorite Films: It's a Wonderful Life

Since most of my posts during the month of December are going to be Bogie-centeric, I wanted to take some time over the next week to talk about some of my favorite films to watch over the holidays. My all time favorite Christmas film (and one of my favorite films in general) is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life.

Released in 1946 and starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, the film tells the story of George Bailey (Stewart), a family man on the brink of suicide and feels that his loved ones would be better off had he never lived. George then receives a visit from an angel (Henry Travers) who shows him what the small town of Bedford Falls would have been like without him and makes him realize that his life is pretty wonderful, after all.

With certain films, there is one specific quality that makes it memorable. Sometimes it's the acting, the direction or the script. With It's a Wonderful Life, it's all these and more that make it the cinematic masterpiece it is today.

"Dear Father in Heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and you can hear me, show me the way."

I'm always mesmerized by the talent that the actors posses, particularly James Stewart. Stewart was such a marvelous actor, and one thing that contributed to this was his ability to do well in any genre of film. He could do comedy (The Philadelphia Story), western (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) and thriller (Vertigo) with each performance being equally great. He often brings me to tears several times during the movie, but two scenes stand out the most for me: the first being the scene where George prays in the bar and the second when Harry toasts George as "the richest man in town". The emotions in It's a Wonderful Life are so real and effective. I dare you not to cry while watching it.  

Then there's Donna Reed, who is one of my favorite underrated actresses. Reed, like Stewart, also did well playing in versatile roles- here, she portrays the devoted wife and loving mother, yet she won her sole Academy Award playing a prostitute in From Here to Eternity. I also love the way she acts alongside Stewart, their chemistry together, especially in the telephone scene is unforgettable.

Also in the supporting cast are Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter and Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy. This is one of Barrymore's finest performances, even though he plays what was probably his most evil character. While Mitchell is seldom mentioned among popular actors today, he appeared in several iconic films- Gone With the Wind, Stagecoach (for which he won an Oscar) and High Noon, to name a few. It's nice to see him playing the comical character since this is definitely a dramatic film.

The film's screenplay was adapted from the short story The Greatest Gift written by Phillip Van Doren Stern. Doren unsuccessfully attempted to publish the story, and made it into a Christmas card instead. This attracted attention from RKO's David Hempstead, who mentioned it to Cary Grant's agent. In 1944, RKO bought the rights hoping to have Grant play George, he, however, went on to star in The Bishop's Wife instead (which I will be discussing in a blog post over the next few days).

Frank Capra then read The Greatest Gift and saw potential within the story. This is great because no one besides Capra could have made this movie as well as he did. The script is perfect- the dialogue pulls at the viewers' heartstrings without being too over-the-top (I personally think the term "Capra-corn" was undeserved). Capra's flawless direction only adds to the film. His camera shots are stunning, from the opening scene featuring a visual of "heaven" as the citizens of Bedford Falls pray for George, to the scene on the bridge where he contemplates taking his own life.

"...Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings."

In 2006, the American Film Institute named It's a Wonderful Life the most inspirational film ever made, and it is. Frank Capra's work continues to be a heartwarming story that sparks the dreamer in all of us and reminds the viewer not to take what life has to offer for granted. If you have yet to see this film, I hope you change that this holiday season.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Blogathon Updates

Today, November 23rd, marks the one month countdown to the Humphrey Bogart blogathon here at Forever Classics. The majority (if not all) of my posts during the month of December are going to be Bogie-related, so I have several installments of My Favorite Films featuring some of his best films planned as well as a few other special posts. So far, 23 blogs are listed to participate, so thank you to everyone who's signed up! If you would like to participate or have any questions, please leave a comment and let me know.

Here's a list of all the blogs signed up to participate:

As Time Goes By
Bette's Classic Movie Blog
Blame Mame
Cinematic Catharsis
Defiant Success
Eternity of a Dream
Film Classics
Frankly, My Dear
Gold Hollywood
The Hollywood Revue
In the Mood
 Le Mot du Cinephiliaque
Matt & the Art of Motion Pictures
The Most Beautiful Fraud in the World
Pretty Clever Films
Shades of Gray
Sittin' On a Backyard Fence
Tales of the Easily Distracted
Thrilling Days of Yesteryear 
True Classics

Thursday, November 17, 2011

For the Boys: Sidney Poitier

My contribution to the For the Boys blogathon, hosted by The Scarlett Olive.

When I first heard about this blogathon, I immediately thought about men who went against type casting and stood out from other actors of the era. One of these men is Sidney Poitier, a favorite actor of mine. Poitier began acting in the 1950s and has been a significant icon in the film industry ever since. Some of his most popular films include The Defiant Ones, Lilies of the Field, A Patch of Blue, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and To Sir, With Love, all of which I'll be writing about in this post. I will also be including excerpts from Poitier's autobiography The Measure of a Man in which he writes about each of the films discussed.

In 1958, Poitier starred alongside Tony Curtis in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones. The film is about two escaped convicts, one white and black, who are chained together and must co-operate together in order to prevent capture. Curtis and Poitier were both nominated for Academy Awards- the first time an African American man had ever been nominated (both lost to David Niven). Poitier writes:

"Greed and cruelty are pretty widely distributed throughout humanity, as are their victims. You can have oppression of one sort or another all across the board culturally speaking, and all across the board racially speaking, and all across the board religiously speaking. The down-and-out characters played by Tony Curtis and me in The Defiant Ones weren't willing to give any credence to this commonality until their experience thrust it right up in their faces and they could no longer ignore it. That's why, at the end, they wound up on that railroad trestle, one guy holding the other guy, struggling to survive, hanging on, but singing a song, a song of hope." -pg 103

Six years after receiving his first nomination, Poitier became the first African American man to win an Oscar for Lilies of the Field. Directed by Ralph Nelson and adapted from the novel by William  Barrett, the film tells the story of a man (Poitier) that meets a group of German nuns who believe God sent him to build them a new chapel. Poitier writes of his win and the effect it had on him:

"In 1964, I was awarded the Oscar for best actor in Lilies of the Field, the first African-American so honored. Did I say to myself, 'This country is waking up and beginning to recognize that certain changes are inevitable'? No, I did not. I knew we hadn't 'overcome' because I was still the only one. My career was unique in all of Hollywood....When I realized that I could be a better than utilitarian actor, I realized that I had the responsibility, not as a black man, but as an artist, to exercise tremendous discipline."-pg 107

In 1965, Poitier costarred with Elizabeth Hartman and Shelley Winters in A Patch of Blue. Directed by Guy Green, the film is about a blind Caucasian girl (Hartman) who falls in love with a black man. When released, A Patch of Blue caused a great deal of controversy as the United States was racially divided at the time. Scenes of Poitier and Hartman kissing had to be cut from the film when it ran in film theaters in the Southern states (these scenes are included in the DVD version and on Turner Classic Movies' airings). Poitier talks about his mindset while filming:

"...I was dipping into emotional pockets that were new to me. This was a white girl, and we were in 1960s America. This was a revolutionary attempt at filmmaking, so I was mentally awake in every way. I had my eye out, my ear out, and I was quite primed to make sure that nothing untrue, uncomplimentary, or stereotypical occurred. I wanted to make sure that the story was told with dignity and respect for the questions involved. This wasn't the story of an interracial couple, mind you. This was simply a guy trying to help a young girl who was in need. It was a very human story." -pg 110

My favorite of Sidney Poitier's films is Stanley Kramer's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. Released in 1967, the film tells the story of a white woman (Katharine Houghton) who brings her black fiancee (Poitier) home to meet her parents (Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, in his last film). This was a groundbreaking point in film history, as it confronted the subject of interracial marriage, which was still illegal in seventeen states at the time. Poitier writes about meeting Hepburn and Tracy before production on the film began:

"The truth of the matter is that the formation of this business relationship was almost a literal "pre-enactment" of the situation in the film we were about to make. The black man was coming for dinner, and we usually didn't do that....They were going to enter into an intense creative partnership in which they would take on one of the primal taboos of our culture, interracial marriage- and 'we usually don't do that,' either." -pg 122

The fifth and final film I'm going to mention is To Sir, With Love. Also released in 1967, this film is about a black high school teacher (Poitier) and his experiences in a class full of white students (Coincidentally, Poitier had played a rebellious student twelve years earlier in Blackboard Jungle). Racial issues are mentioned, but the prominent subject focuses on the teenage angst and the inspiration the students receive from Poitier's character. Poitier discusses the impact his character had on the students:

"By the end of the film he had transformed his class into a group of interesting people, most of whom were thinking about going further in education, most of whom were feeling much, much better about themselves and were willing to give each other the benefit of the doubt, who were able to offer respect and to receive respect quite openly. He did all this for them, but he also showed them that they were still the same people that they had been- only better." pg 188

That's about it for this post. I highly recommend all five of Sidney Poitier's films that I discussed. Thanks to Hilary and Katie at the Scarlett Olive for hosting this blogathon!

Review: The Rainmaker (1956)

IMDb Synopsis: Lizzie Curry is on the verge of becoming a hopeless old maid. Her wit and intelligence and skills as a homemaker can't make up for the fact that she's just plain. Even the town sheriff, File, for whom she harbors a secrect yen, won't take a chance --- until the town suffers a drought and into the lives of Lizzie and her brothers and father comes one Bill Starbuck ... profession: Rainmaker.

For no particular reason, I really enjoy watching films adapted from plays. Some of the best ones include A Streetcar Named Desire, 12 Angry Men and The Petrified Forest. The Rainmaker was adapted from the N. Richard Nash play and stars Katharine Hepburn and Burt Lancaster in the title role. A lot of reviews for this film are mixed, but I really enjoyed it.

I personally think a lot of people miss the point of The Rainmaker. The fact that it's a bit over-the-top and unbelievable at times it what gives it so much depth. Most of us have probably heard the term that you have to love yourself before anyone else can love you in return, and that's exactly what this film is about: Hepburn plays a repressed woman who fears she'll remain a spinster for the rest of her life, and Lancaster is the man who finally makes her believe in herself.

Some of the more skeptical viewers may find The Rainmaker to be unrealistic, but I thought it was quite lovely and inspiring. At least give it a viewing before you judge.

5/5 stars

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review: The Searchers (1956)

IMDb Synopsis: As a Civil War veteran spends years searching for a young niece captured by Indians, his motivation becomes increasingly questionable.

The 1950's was a great decade for films, particularly westerns. During this time, westerns such as High Noon, Shane, and Giant were all released. Another western from the fifties was John Ford's The Searchers, which the American Film Institute named the greatest western of all time, and for good reason. 

Two of the biggest names in westerns are John Ford and John Wayne, who made 24 films together over the course of 35 years. Up until the last few months, I'd never cared much for Wayne but he's definitely beginning to grow on me with every film I watch. John Ford is one of my favorite directors, and he definitely doesn't disappoint with this film.

Overall, The Searchers isn't my favorite western (that spot is reserved for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance), but it deserves to be considered one of the greatest films of all time.

4.5/5 stars  

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Review: The Haunting (1963)

IMDb Synopsis: Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity. With him are the skeptical young Luke, who stands to inherit the house, the mysterious and clairvoyant Theodora and the insecure Eleanor, whose psychic abilities make her feel somehow attuned to whatever spirits inhabit the old mansion. As time goes by it becomes obvious that they have gotten more than they bargained for as the ghostly presence in the house manifests itself in horrific and deadly ways.

When it comes to horror movies, ghosts and/or haunted houses are usually popular topics. Some ghost stories are just awful, while others are fantastic. Fortunately, The Haunting is part of the latter.

One of the things I love about classic horror films is that they (for the most part) rely on imagination to scare you, unlike today's horror films which are usually filled with gore. This film is scary in the psychological sense, which is what makes it so terrifying. An example: Nell (Jullie Harris) and Theo (Claire Bloom) are in their room when Nell hears noises outside of the bedroom door, causing Nell to grab Theo's hand. Nell starts screaming and wakes up Theo, who was asleep on the other side of the room and was obviously not the one holding her hand. There are many scenes like this one in The Haunting, but I found this one by far to be the most frightening.

Overall, The Haunting contains no blood or monsters, but it still remains to be utterly horrifying even forty-eight years after it's release. Don't skip this one.

5/5 stars

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Picks: Top 10 Pre- Codes

One of my favorite things about classic films are Pre-Codes. If you're not familiar, the Pre-Code era was a period between 1929 (two years after talking pictures began) and 1934 (before the Hays Code was put into affect) when  many controversial subjects were allowed to be discussed in films- drugs, infidelity and abortion, to name a few. Needing a post idea, I made a list of my top ten Pre-Code films that I think are essential for every classic film buff. These are listed by year and in alphabetical order:

Night Nurse (1931)

Possessed (1931)

Waterloo Bridge (1931) 

Freaks (1932)

Scarface (1932)

Three On a Match (1932)

Baby Face (1933)

Bombshell (1933)

King Kong (1933)

It Happened One Night (1934)

I originally wanted to include City Lights as it's one of my favorite films, but left it out since it's a silent film and wasn't really controversial compared to other films released at the time. I also wanted to add a brief description about each of these films and why I like them, but didn't since this was a bit of a rushed post.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Decades Meme: 1960s

The fourth post in my decades meme, this one featuring films from the 60's. Previous installments: 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

1960: The Apartment

1961: Judgement at Nuremberg

1962: To Kill a Mockingbird

1963: Charade

1964: Marry Poppins

1965: A Patch of Blue

1966: Harper

1967: Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

1968: The Lion In Winter

1969: A Boy Named Charlie Brown

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review: Psycho (1960) + Blogathon Update

IMDb Synopsis: A young woman steals $40,000 from her employer's client, and subsequently encounters a young motel proprietor too long under the domination of his mother.

Every time I see bloggers or film critics post lists of what they consider to be "must see" films, it seems as if Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho is always included. Since it's primarily a horror film, I figured Halloween night would be the best time to finally watch it. Now I wonder why I waited so darn long to see it.

It's no surprise that Psycho is regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.Hitchcock's directing, the actors, the score and the cinematography are all what make it such a masterpiece. As far as horror films go, I did think it was quite scary. And as for the shower-stabbing scene (which shouldn't be a spoiler since almost everyone knows Janet Leigh dies), I actually found "Mrs. Bates" opening the shower curtain to be scarier than the stabbing itself. I also thought what Vera Miles discovered in the cellar (I'll save you from a spoiler) was equally terrifying.

The star of the show here is definitely Anthony Perkins. His stunning performance as Norman Bates makes characters like Norma Desmond and Harry Powell seem almost normal, and the stare he gives at the end of the film is guaranteed to give you chills.

Overall, if you've never seen Psycho, you should change that immediately. 

5/5 stars

I also wanted to give an update on the Humphrey Bogart blogathon I announced last month, which you can read about here. So far, 20 people have already signed up, so a big thanks to all of you planning to take part. I also got a comment asking what you had to do to secure a place in the blogathon, and all that's necessary is just to let me know in the linked post. I'll be posting another update soon with all the blogs signed up to participate. Thanks for reading!