Announcing the 31 Days of Oscar 2016 Blogathon

“I’m very enthusiastic about the Academy Awards because if there were no Oscars, we wouldn’t have as many good movies as we do have.” – Robert Osborne
Rbt_O_13907965-mmmainThe Oscars — both maligned and praised — are always cause for celebration and we’re here to do just that.

For the fourth consecutive year Paula’s Cinema Club (my Twitter handle @Paula_Guthat) joins forces with Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen for the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, running February 6-27, 2016.  We started this event to coincide with Turner Classic Movie’s 31 Days of Oscar marathon, during which the network shines the spotlight on the storied history of the Academy Awards. All the deets, including participating blogs & their chosen topics, after the jump…

Continue reading “Announcing the 31 Days of Oscar 2016 Blogathon”

4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon – Day 1 Posts

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon honors the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had. Aurora, Kellee, and I never tire of seeing them show up in films or paying tribute to their talents, and as the previous three installments of this event have proven, neither do you.

And so here I am with Day 1 of the 4th annual WHAT A CHARACTER! I know you can’t wait to read all the fabulous posts. Before you jump in though, we’d like to thank all the participants for their understanding as we re-scheduled the blogathon from last weekend due to world events. We really appreciate your patience.

What-A-Character-2015-01 Continue reading “4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon – Day 1 Posts”

Review: Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide

turner-classic-movies-presents-leonard-maltins-classic-movie-guide-paperback-book-234_500The third edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide drops tomorrow (September 29, 2015). Updated for the first time since 2010, and presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the Guide covers films “From the Silent Era through 1965.” There’s more than 200 new entries — some of which are running on TCM tonight, including our TCM Party at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Why Be Good? (Maltin gives it 3 stars out of 4, in case you were wondering.)

The bulk of the book is capsule reviews, each of which includes the film’s year of release, running time, rating, director, major cast, and symbols indicating what formats are available. It’s fairly comprehensive, with more than 10,000 entries. Although it’s light on films before 1920, there’s plenty in here that I’ve never heard of. The “Index of Stars” at the end of the book is a partial listing of selected actors’ filmographies and is handy for recalling the name of a movie when you can only remember who starred in it.

Continue reading “Review: Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide”

Announcing the 4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon

UPDATE – November 21: WHAT A CHARACTER! Day 1 Posts are here.

UPDATE – November 13:
The WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon has been postponed until next weekend, November 21-22-23. We will promote everyone’s post as usual during those three days. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

WE’RE BACK for number 4!

WHAT A CHARACTER! — a phrase borrowed from Turner Classic Movies (TCM) so that we could dedicate a blogathon to those whose names few remember, but whose faces are familiar – honors the players who rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many leading actors wished they had. Aurora, Kellee, and I never tire of seeing them show up in films or paying tribute to their talents, and as the previous three installments of this event have proven, neither do you. So here we are with the fourth annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

What-A-Character-2015-02 Continue reading “Announcing the 4th Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon”

Errol Flynn in LADY FROM SHANGHAI?

Back in May 2014, when Cinema Detroit was showing Sony Pictures’ 4K restoration of The Lady From Shanghai, I had occasion to research the making of Orson Welles’ classic film noir, and I discovered that, while Errol Flynn is (probably) not in the movie, he was present and was very much involved in the filming.

Continue reading “Errol Flynn in LADY FROM SHANGHAI?”

What A Character! 2014 – Ned Sparks

Brusque and grouchy, Ned Sparks’ lovable curmudgeons can usually be found as the still center of a storm of dizzy dancers, temperamental producers, and gangsters in crisis. His onscreen persona was so deadpan that he was reportedly insured with Lloyd’s of London for $100,000 against any photographs taken of him actually smiling. Yet there’s more to this primo supporting player than just a grouchy face…he got his start in show biz as a singer during the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush, and was blacklisted on Broadway for his role in starting the Actors’ Equity Association (AEA).

Edward Arthur Sparkman was born this day in 1883 in clean, friendly, and polite Canada, specifically Guelph, Ontario. He left home at 16 to try gold prospecting in Alaska. When that failed, he joined a musical company in Dawson Creek, and per The New York Times, “knocked around in tent theatricals, medicine shows, and carnivals.” Wouldn’t this be a great movie? Can’t you just hear him complaining? But wait…it gets better… Back in Canada by age 19, he attended a seminary. Briefly. But still. He also worked on a railroad before finally landing in a Toronto theater. Ned-Sparks-470wBy 1907, he was appearing on Broadway, and the Ned Sparks persona we all now know and love made its first appearance as a “cynical desk clerk” in a play called Little Miss Brown. His stage success earned him a six-picture deal with Louis B. Mayer, and, in his screen debut, a re-make of the play in 1915, he played this same role.

Thus the mid-teens saw Sparks working in both New York and Hollywood. Around this time, he was involved with organizing AEA, which sought to protect stage actors. At the time, producers set working conditions and pay scale; could fire anyone, at any time, for any reason; and there was no compensation for the unlimited rehearsal time. In the late teens, Equity went on strike, which led to improved working conditions. However, many members were blacklisted, and as Sparks was one of the founding members, his Broadway career seems to have been severely curtailed. After working pretty much continuously from his arrival in New York through 1918, he didn’t work onstage again until 1920, appearing in his final production in 1921.

He was still working in silent films though, three or four a year, until his first talkie in 1928, The Big Noise. I won’t lie and tell you I’ve seen any of Sparks’ silents. I’m sure he was good. But his monotone foghorn of a voice and his irritable attitude are so instantly recognizable, and add so much to any picture he’s in, that I can’t imagine he could have affected the audience as much without them. Sound proved a godsend to Sparks’ career, and to us as classic movie fans.

I recommend anything he’s in, but my favorite Sparks year is 1933, and here are three from that year you shouldn’t miss.

42nd Street

Lady for a Day

Gold Diggers of 1933

In 1936, Sparks admitted that the $100K Lloyd’s of London insurance policy story was a publicity stunt. He was “only” insured against smiling for $10,000. Though his personal life included a messy divorce and he lost touch with many of his friends after his retirement, his voice and unflappable cantankerousness pretty much guaranteed his immortality, not only in his films, but as a frequently-caricatured figure in the cartoons we can still enjoy.

Sparks as portrayed in the 1936 Warner Brothers' cartoon, THE COOCOO NUT GROVE
Sparks as portrayed in the 1936 Warner Brothers’ cartoon, THE COOCOO NUT GROVE

Bonus video that won’t embed: Cranky Ned in “Malibu Beach Party”

WHAT A CHARACTER! 2014 – Day 2 – Monday posts

The Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon — hosted by myself, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled — is now in its second day of informative and entertaining posts, as the movie blogosphere spotlights those unsung actors on the periphery of the screen, bringing them to the center of attention.

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Vienna’s Classic Hollywood give overviews of not one, but two, unsung character performers, Charles Lane and Fritz Feld.

Sister Celluloid declares that Kathleen Howard “as W.C. Fields wife…took henpecking to operatic heights.”

Caftan Woman celebrates Esther Dale‘s “ability to take even a few seconds of screen time…and turn it into something memorable.”

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen sets out to prove that Thomas Mitchell is “synonymous with versatility.”

Joel’s Classic Film Passion takes a look at two of Harry Dean Stanton‘s many important films, Repo Man and The Straight Story.

Grand Old Movies highlights “that darling boy” whose face you know, but name you might not… Chester Clute.

Movies Silently writes that “One saving grace of Souls for Sale [1923] is its wonderful cast of character actors,” including Mae Busch.

Silent-ology pays tribute to the “funniest drunk of them all,” Arthur Housman.

Second Sight Cinema recalls Peter Lorre, “a great artist who is beloved, but only for a fraction of his gift.”

Silver Scenes investigates Dennis Hoey, the actor best known for portraying Inspector Lestrade in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series.

Amy’s Rib inventories her favorite films among Charles Coburn‘s work.

Tales of the Easily Distracted finds that Agnes Moorehead was “was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity.”

Reckless Review – CHARLIE CHAPLIN: A BRIEF LIFE by Peter Ackroyd

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life, the new biography by Peter Ackroyd, definitely lives up to its billing. Yet for all its brevity, it’s packed with telling details about Chaplin and his life and work. And at times, it’s really two biographies in one, as Ackroyd consistently describes the polarity between the Little Tramp, “Chaplin’s shadow self or alter ego,” and the man himself, which becomes the through line of the story of their parallel lives.

Where the Little Tramp was infused with “common humanity,” Chaplin apparently demonstrated very little or none of that trait in real life. Simply put, he used many friends and colleagues like the props in one of his films, tossing them aside when he was done. He expected absolute fidelity from his lovers and wives while pursuing any other woman who struck his fancy. He seemed to flirt with Communism but equivocated about his beliefs and continued to make a fortune from the stock market.

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If “hypocrite” is one way to describe Chaplin, another might be “control freak.” I had already known that he was a perfectionist who took on nearly every task in the making a film, but here Ackroyd relates this tendency to the entertainer’s constant anxiety about poverty while giving specifics about the multiple takes and bullying Chaplin employed on set, techniques that wore down his actresses and crew. “Multiple takes” could often mean tens, in some cases hundreds. The scene in City Lights where he buys a flower from a flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), in the process discovering that she is blind, “took two years and 342 takes to assemble.”

The reporting of the City Lights story is just one example of the remarkable even-handedness Ackroyd maintains throughout the book. He is sympathetic to the entertainer’s childhood trauma, tracing the roots of Chaplin’s personality in his unstable, impoverished early life in truly dismal South London, but he doesn’t shy away from “the erratic, whimsical and imperious way in which Chaplin conducted his private life” either. Of his relationship, or lack thereof, with Cherrill, Ackroyd writes, “At the age of twenty she may have been too old for him.” Chaplin’s ill treatment of Lillita MacMurray (aka Lita Grey), first cast as leading lady in The Gold Rush, may be the most egregious example of his behavior towards women, but there are many other episodes presented here.

Despite the intermittent unpleasantness of his subject, the author also manages to capture the magic of Chaplin’s work, imparting a desire at least in this reader to see more of it, particularly A Woman in Paris, with which “Chaplin established a new cinema of social manners as well as a novel style of acting,” influencing both Ernst Lubitsch and Michael Powell. By what alchemy can someone so detached and cruel produce such heartbreaking emotions in the audience, about which he was ambivalent?

To sum up, Brief Life is a fascinating read. Obviously, completely new content would be an impossibility, but Ackroyd’s perspective on Chaplin’s duality is refreshing and insightful. As regular readers know, I am a relatively new silent film fan, and I learned quite a bit. If there is any flaw in it, it is the lack of footnotes or endnotes; I prefer the line between facts and interpretation to be clearer than that. There is, however, an extensive bibliography. It also does this designer’s heart good to see a book so appropriately well-crafted and old-fashioned — beautifully typeset, complete with a colophon, and silent-era-style typefaces for the headings, on deckle-edged pages. In some cases they do make them like they used to. Brief Life is perfect for any of those with an interest in filmmaking in general or Chaplin in particular…as long as they don’t mind a little of the gilding wearing off the idol.

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Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd is published by Doubleday on October 28.

The Great Debate Blogathon: THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943)

The practice of “hate-watching” is not one I really understand. I don’t judge or begrudge anyone who does it, but my standard reaction to coming across a movie, TV show, or song on the radio that I don’t like is to change the channel. My knowledge of filmmaking is nothing like encyclopedic, but I know enough about it to understand that a movie of any quality is a synthesis of many different individuals’ ideas and expertise into a collective whole, and that getting any movie made is nothing short of a small miracle. My respect for anyone who has actually made a movie generally keeps me from saying a lot of negative things about the result or the people involved.

However, all of my equanimity goes out the window when the movie concerned is The Constant Nymph. For those who haven’t seen it:

Fourteen-year-old Tessa (Joan Fontaine) is hopelessly in love with handsome composer Lewis Dodd (Charles Boyer), a family friend. Lewis adores Tessa, but has never shown any romantic feelings toward her. When Tessa’s father dies, Lewis contacts her late mother’s wealthy family so they’ll take care of Tessa and her sisters. Lewis becomes taken with Tessa’s haughty cousin Florence (Alexis Smith) and the two soon marry and head off for Florence’s estate in England. Meanwhile, Florence sends Tessa and her sister Paula (Joyce Reynolds) off to finishing school. The girls run away from school and Tessa moves in with Florence and Lewis. Florence soon becomes consumed with jealousy over the bond between her husband and Tessa. (via IMDB)

This is the film I named as my pet peeve in a recent TCM Party podcast, and after a re-watch, I can tell you, that opinion stands. I know the majority is against me here, including lead actress Joan Fontaine herself; per several sources, this was her favorite of her films. But I just don’t like it.

The odd part about it is, The Constant Nymph has all the ingredients to be a favorite of mine too. I adore both Fontaine and Alexis Smith, and the supporting cast includes three of the best character actors ever, Charles Coburn, Peter Lorre, and Dame May Whitty, though she isn’t given a whole lot to do.

Behind the camera were some of the pre-eminent pros of the studio era. Cinematographer Tony Gaudio shot so many of my most-liked pictures that he could easily hijack this post — including, but not limited to, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dawn Patrol, and The Letter (1940). Orry-Kelly designed the gowns. Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote the score. And the director, Edmund Goulding, also helmed Grand Hotel (1932), Dark Victory, and Dawn Patrol, with uncredited stints on Queen Kelly and Hell’s Angels. (Yes, I have a thing for Dawn Patrol. So sue me. Have you seen Errol Flynn in it?)

So what happened? Why do I feel that the befuddled doctor’s statement “It is my opinion that you are much more than slightly mad” applies to anyone who would sit through Constant Nymph a second time?

CN-Paula-TessaTo begin with, teenaged Tessa is, to me, a very rare misfire for Fontaine. She is beautiful in a fresh, unspoiled way, lively and mischievous. She just doesn’t seem like a teenager. I know times are different now and maybe that’s why. But I find her character grating and excessively artificial, and she’s in almost every scene. Her sister Paula’s assertion, “The way you moon over [Dodd], it’s enough to turn one’s stomach” is unfortunately true for this viewer.

(As played by Joyce Reynolds, this Paula acquits herself fairly well compared with other characters that share my name. It’s a known fact that vast majority of them are awful. I confess it’s nice hearing Fontaine bawl out my name, though I much prefer Ronald Colman in Random Harvest.)

In addition, though as I said, times have changed, Tessa’s extreme youth makes the romance a little cringe-y to me. I’m not sure how old Dodd is supposed to be, which could be a oversight on my part, but Tessa is only 14 at the beginning of the film, and only months later becomes a real rival to her cousin.

Ironically enough, I somewhat agree with Charles Boyer’s assessment of Constant Nymph. To paraphrase his biographer, his objections to the script were that the positive qualities other characters attributed to Lewis Dodd simply were not present in the role as written, and that Florence was such an unsympathetic character that it made the whole love triangle questionable. Yes. And maybe.

I will admit that Boyer has never been a favorite of mine. Though Gaslight was released in 1944, the year after CN, I saw that film several times before I’d ever heard of CN, and perhaps I’ve never been able to forgive him. His character is ostensibly presented as a composer, Lewis Dodd. By that I mean, a grandiose, parasitic freeloader with adulterous tendencies. The whole film hinges on Dodd getting his creative mojo back…but he’s so narcissistic and pretentious that I can’t bring myself to care.

Tessa herself is also problematic. It’s all about her, so much so that once she knows she’s come between them, her reaction is to confess her love and her concern for her effect on the marriage comes off as false. And Dodd, as an ostensible adult, is even worse, saying he has no idea why he married Florence.

CN-Dodd-TessaIn short, Dodd and Tessa deserve each other. I have some sympathy for Florence, who is supposed to be a cold-hearted shrew, which is greatly to Alexis Smith’s credit…I just can’t figure out why she cares about a louse like Dodd. Another sympathetic character is Peter Lorre’s Fritz Bercovy, a basically decent, sane guy, who marries into this mess, courtesy of a union with another of Tessa’s sisters, Toni (Brenda Marshall).

Interestingly, both Flynn and Leslie Howard were considered for Dodd role, and though I love them both, I can’t imagine that either could have saved this for me. I might like it a little more, but I still wouldn’t seek it out.

Given the love evident on Twitter every time TCM schedules The Constant Nymph, I can only conclude that my opinion of it places me in the tiniest of minorities, although at the time, it was popular flop and a critical success. But if we all agreed on everything, the world would be a very boring place indeed. So enjoy it in all its glory…I’ll be catching up on my DVR queue.

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This post is part of the The Great Debate Blogathon hosted by Citizen Screenings and The Cinematic Packrat. Be sure and check out the other posts here.

The getTV Mickey Rooney blogathon MEGAPOST

The audience and I are friends. They allowed me to grow up with them. I’ve let them down several times. They’ve let me down several times. But we’re all family.

Mickey Rooney would have celebrated his 94th birthday this month, and in tribute, getTV is dedicating a substantial portion of the month’s programming to him. Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen, and myself, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, are thrilled to join forces with getTV for their first ever blogathon collaboration to celebrate Rooney’s career with The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, running the entire month of September.

As the posts are published, I will update this list. Check back for great new Mickey Rooney posts throughout September.

All about getTV
getTV is a digital subchannel available over the air and on local cable systems dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies. The network, operated by Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014. It features Academy Award® winning films and other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly 70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned stations and others. For information, visit getTV and connect with the network on Facebook and Twitter @getTV.

If you’d like to submit a blog post (or several) dedicated to Mickey Rooney – on his life, career, television work or a particular film – you can do so by submitting the entry to any one of the event hosts throughout the month of September.

Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club (leave comment below) – Twitter @Paula_Guthat
Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Twitter @CitizenScreen
Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Twitter @IrishJayHawk66

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We ask only that you please do the following:

  • Leave us a comment or send us a Tweet with your preferred Rooney topic
  • Let us know when you post your entry so we can promote it
  • Please copy @getTV on all tweets related to this event
  • Include the blogathon banner provided by getTV (above) in your post as well as the following statement:
    • “This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”
  • Have fun!

Thank you!