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!

Announcing the getTV Mickey Rooney September 2014 Blogathon

In April of this year the world lost Mickey Rooney, an entertainer whose career spanned an unbelievable nine decades. Born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 23, 1920, Rooney was on the Vaudeville stage almost before he could talk, and appeared in his first movie at the age of six. From there the movies became his life. With sidesteps into radio and television Mickey Rooney maintained an enviable relationship with audiences for nearly the entire span of his life.

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 September, 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.

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As the posts are published, I will update the blogathon megapost. Check back there 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.

getTV’s programming in September will include a Labor Day Marathon dedicated to Mickey Rooney as well as themed double features every Thursday at 7 PM EST, as follows:
Thursday, September 4 – Nautical Musicals
Richard Quine’s SOUND OFF, 1952: 7:00 PM ET; 10:40 PM ET
Richard Quine’s ALL ASHORE, 1953: 8:50 PM ET; 12:30 AM ET

Thursday, September 11 – Crime Tales
Peter Godfrey’s HE’S A COCKEYED WONDER, 1950: 7:00 PM ET; 10:40 PM ET
Richard Quine’s DRIVE A CROOKED ROAD, 1954:  8:45 PM ET; 12:25 AM ET

Thursday, September 18 – Military Comedy
Don Taylor’s EVERYTHING’S DUCKY, 1961:  7:00 PM ET; 11:10 PM ET
Richard Quine’s OPERATION MAD BALL, 1957: 8:50 PM ET; 1:00 AM ET

Thursday, September 25 – Young and Older Mickey
Roy William Neill’s BLIND DATE, 1934:  7:00 PM ET; 12:20 AM ET
Carl Reiner’s THE COMIC, 1969: 8:35 PM ET; 12:20 AM ET

You can access the entire getTV schedule here and check to see if getTV is available in your area here.

The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon

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!

Participants
OPERATION MAD BALL – Once Upon a Screen
THE BLACK STALLION – Outspoken & Freckled
NATIONAL VELVET – Minoo for Classic Movie Hub
BLIND DATE – Paula’s Cinema Club
ALL ASHORE – Vintage Cameo
‘Andy Hardy’ vs. 1950s Rooney – Critica Retro
THE ATOMIC KID – Jack Deth
BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S – Girls Do Film
Rooney at Disney – Margaret Perry
HOW TO STUFF A WILD BIKINI – Blog of the Darned
STRIKE UP THE BAND – [This] Girl Friday
MY PAL, THE KING – Sister Celluloid
“The Comedian” on “Playhouse 90” – Caftan Woman
KILLER MCCOY – Another Old Movie Blog
BOYS’ TOWN – AnnMarie at Classic Movie Hub
IT’S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD – Maeghan
LOVE FINDS ANDY HARDY – Once Upon a Screen
BLIND DATE – Rob
BABES ON BROADWAY – The Hollywood Revue of 2014

 

British Invaders Blogathon: THE SECRET HISTORY OF MI6 is a movie waiting to happen…

This post is part of A Shroud of ThoughtsBritish Invaders Blogathon. Terry has been blogging there for an amazing 10 years. Happy blogaversary, Terry, and many many more!

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As you may know, one of my favorite film genres is the spy picture. I’ve spent enough hours with James Bond, Jason Bourne, Miss Froy, Captain Hardt, Gus Bennett, Hubert Bonisseur de la Bath, and Evelyn Salt to know a good spy story when I see one, or in this case, read one. And quite appropriately — since Britain’s spies dominate the world’s pop culture consciousness — it’s about as British as you can get.

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I love this cover design by Tal Goretsky, click through to visit his site

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6’s original and still official name) in 2009, its then-chief Sir John Scarlett commissioned Keith Jeffery, a History professor at Queen’s College Belfast, to write a history of the organization from its founding in 1909 through its adolescence in the early Cold War, 1949. The result is The Secret History of MI6, a fascinating tale of dedication, determination, occasional infighting, and patriotism.

Right away, I was surprised to learn that one of the most famous and highly-regarded intelligence services in the world was so underfunded that, at various times until the early 1940s, most personnel were not paid. So only those with sufficient private incomes could afford to work there, which would explain that upper-crust style that has carried through to many of the movies.

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Maybe someone should look into how these guys are paying for their snappy suits…I’m just saying. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011)

Other aspects of the book will seem familiar as well. After all, the two authors who are arguably most responsible for our collective notions of how spies and spying work — Ian Fleming and David Cornwell (aka John LeCarré) — were both employed in British intelligence (Fleming was in naval intelligence, Cornwell in SIS). Graham Greene, another purveyor of espionage tales like Our Man In Havana, was recruited into SIS by his sister, Elisabeth, who already worked there. (His supervisor? Now-notorious double agent Kim Philby.)

For instance…the chief of the Service was always known by a single letter — not M, but C, from the last name of the first chief, Sir Mansfield Smith-Cumming. There is an actual Q or Quartermaster Branch, officially known as “Stores and Equipment Administration.” Q Branch’s first project, in 1915, was secret writing ink. Agents were often referred to by numbers, though not double-0s.

From the very beginning, many field agents and “local talent” did (and probably still do) enjoy the high life. As early as 1910, Cumming wrote in his diary that spies always wanted more money than their information was worth and “‘all…without exception make a strong point of [eating and drinking] in the best style and at the most expensive restaurants.'” Cumming himself was “a keen pioneer motorist and a hair-raisingly fast driver,” who helped found a yacht club and got his pilot’s license in 1913 when he was 54 years old.

universalexportsAnd, just like Austin “Danger” Powers, most British operatives conducted their business under their own names, usually with international business cover. Just like James Bond’s Universal Export. (A catch-all governmental office was also invented early on, specifically to provide cover — Passport Control, employees of which all have diplomatic immunity.)

On the other hand, there are the stories I hadn’t heard. Jeffery was faced with a tough task when he agreed to write Secret History. SIS routinely destroyed all its intelligence. Almost as soon as information was received at headquarters and distributed to the relevant department or office, the papers were burned. However, he managed to find material enough for several great movies or mini-series.

One aspect of espionage I never thought of before is the difficulty the British had in disguising the intel they got from the signals interception and decryption at Bletchley Park during World War II. Jeffery illustrates in several instances that If they had acted on everything they knew, it would have been obvious they had broken the code, and the Nazis would have changed it. I wonder if this will be addressed in The Imitation Game, the upcoming movie about Alan Turing.

Another movie-ready WWII story is that of the “Dick Jones” network, which ran very successfully in Tunisia, after a rough start. “Jones” was captured, imprisoned and sentenced when first dropped into the country in late 1942, but was released by the French authorities when the Germans invaded. He had organized well during his stay in prison and by November 1942, his network was supplying information “‘so operationally valuable that First Army were literally hanging on our daily signals to them.'” The network grew with “high grade morale,” which led to “low grade security,” and many were arrested in January 1943. Some were executed and “Jones” himself landed in Colditz Castle as a prisoner of war.

A biography of Cumming, the first chief of SIS, would also make an interesting film. Cumming endured various personal tribulations while fighting to keep the fledgling Secret Service alive and separate from other agencies and branches of government. Now universally acknowledged to have been the perfect choice for the job, he was basically making up the espionage playbook as he went along, and his position was never secure at the time. Aside from fast vehicles, he was fascinated by gadgets and tradecraft, and some of his techniques are still in use today.

The book also includes accounts of British/French espionage successes during WWII. One in particular is that of Marie Madeleine Fourcade, and I hope it gets optioned soon. Fourcade, born the same year as SIS, led the French Resistance network Alliance, which gathered intel about German logistics inside occupied France and transmitted it by various means to Britain. This was incredibly dangerous work, and many Alliance members were captured, tortured, and killed by the Gestapo. Fourcade herself was captured four times. She was released twice, and twice she escaped — once by disrobing and squeezing herself out of a cell window, and once by being smuggled out in a mailbag. She and all her network had animal codenames, thus the title of her book, L’Arche de Noé, or Noah’s Ark.

A few of the faces of courageous Marie Madeleine Fourcade, leader of the Alliance network in occupied France during World War II
A few of the faces of courageous Marie Madeleine Fourcade, leader of the Alliance network in occupied France during World War II

 The Secret History of MI6 is a scholarly work and does sometimes get bogged in bureaucratic minutiae, but the vast majority of it is a compelling read. I do hope there will be a second volume, at least covering the rest of the 20th century.

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Captain America Blogathon

Wow…this is such an awesome blogathon idea. The trouble is limiting it to just 10 movies. It looks like the deadline for the lists is March 31. Poor Cap…that’s a lot of movies.

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This isn’t the first blogathon I have organised, however it has been thrown together very quickly. I have just see an extended trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In it we see Steve Rogers make a note in a pocket note book. A list of things he missed out on in the time he was frozen that people have recommended he should catch up on. Towards the bottom of the list there are two movies Rocky and Rocky II. This got me thinking, what ten movies would you recommend a person who  had been frozen between 1943 and 2011.

 Captain America Blogathon

The make-up of the list is up to you. It could be an historical record of what he missed, something to cheer him up/take his mind of things or just your favourite movies from the period.

The movie is released at the end of the month in the…

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31 Days of Oscar: Week 3 — ACTING

We have now arrived at week 3 of the 31 Days of Oscar blogathon, which coincides with Turner Classic Movies’ month-long celebration of the very best in cinema. Co-hosted by me (@Paula_Guthat), Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, the third installment of our Second Annual Oscar extravaganza addresses Acting, arguably the most remembered aspect of any film, particularly Academy Award contenders.

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For various reasons, including a successful run of Blue Jasmine at Cinema Detroit, I’ve been thinking more about the Best Actress category this year than any other. Oscar front-runner Cate Blanchett is simply genius in the title role. Many people have mentioned to us that her acting (and to a lesser extent, that of the rest of the cast) are the reason they like or even love this unexpectedly downbeat movie. (Sally Hawkins is, of course, excellent. But Andrew Dice Clay? Really? Really. He’s actually good in it.) And I have agree, and also add that I think this is because Blanchett makes Jasmine seem like a real — albeit self-absorbed and delusional — person. I’m pretty sure Blanchett will win, she just earned a BAFTA, but the other contenders are Amy Adams, Sandra Bullock, Judi Dench and Meryl Streep, so I guess it’s not a done deal. Be that as it may, I believe that Blanchett, assisted by the rest of Jasmine‘s acting troupe, is what kept people coming into the theater seven months after the film’s premiere.

And now, without further ado, here are this week’s posts:

Pam at Once Upon A Screen — The Golden Age of Hollywood Revisited: Henry Fonda Finally Wins An Oscar

The Gal Herself — In Praise of Practical Magic: Julie Andrews

Emily of The Vintage Cameo — Actors Playing Actors

Margaret of The Great Katharine Hepburn — Katharine Hepburn’s One and Only Academy Awards Appearance

Rich of Wide Screen World — Oscar Trading Cards: Actor Assortment

Karen of Shadows and Satin — Van Heflin in Johnny Eager (1941)

ImagineMDD — Hume Cronyn: One Life, a Boatload of Characters

Lê of Crítica Retrô — Best Oscar Acceptance Speeches

Kelly of …On Popcorn and Movies — The Origins of Smolder…Gary Cooper and a little bit about Pitt

Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear — Stuart Whitman in The Mark (1961)

Shane of Classic Film Haven — The Amazing Stories of Harold Russell and Haing S. Ngor

Aurora of Once Upon A Screen — Spencer Tracy: Oscar and the Actor’s Actor


More of the Second Annual 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon:

Week 1 – SNUBS posts are here.
Week 2 – Music, Costumes, Cinematography, Writing, etc. posts are here.
Week 4 – The Directors posts are here.

Call for posts – 31 Days of Oscar

I accept this very gratefully for keeping my mouth shut for once, I think I’ll do it again.
—Jane Wyman

There’s been a lot of criticism over the years over this award, and some of that criticism has been warranted. But whether it’s warranted or not, I think it’s one hell of an honor, and I thank you.
—Jack Lemmon

I’ll tell you this about the Oscars – they’re real.
—William H. Macy

And so is this blogathon!

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For the second year in a row Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen bring you a mammoth blogathon event which just happens to coincide with Turner Classic Movies’ 31 Days of Oscar.

This promises to be another February filled with fabulous tales and screen wonders – many of the stories, players and films featured on TCM all month long. In fact, the network is kicking things off this year in spectacular style on February 1st by featuring all of the Best Picture nominees from Hollywood’s “Golden Year” 1939, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary! In addition, that night, TCM premieres a new original documentary, And the Oscar Goes To….

So, in short, if you can’t take the entire month of February off work, or send your kids to your relatives, then be sure to clear your DVRs, and join the blogathon.

We are not limiting this event to classic film fare though — posts on more recent Oscar-winning or Oscar-worthy filmmaking are very welcome. We want to see and hear it all from the golden man’s more than eighty-five year history, including the 2014 nominees. Share stories about the films and players, tell us which and who deserved the nod and were ignored, or rhapsodize about which films inspire you with their music or lighting.

We are doing things a little different this year by focusing on a different Oscars topic each week.
For your consideration:

WEEK 1 – the weekend of February 1-2 – Oscar Snubs!  Let the venting kick things off!

WEEK 2 – the weekend of February 8-9 – Music, Costumes, Cinematography, Writing, etc.  You name it. If it’s not Best Acting, Direction, or Picture, it’s in!

WEEK 3 – the weekend of February 15-16 – Actors!  Lead or supporting, take center stage.

Week 4 – the weekend of February 22-23 – The Directors!  

Week 5 – the weekend of February 28-March 1 – THE MOVIES!  

We are taking turns hosting, but you can submit topics by leaving comments on any of our blogs, via twitter, or by email.  We ask that you please include the following:

  • Title and link to your blog
  • Your email address (use [at] instead of @ if leaving a blog comment)
  • Topic

It would also be great if you can include any of the event banners included above or below in this post on your blog to help us promote the event.

SO – write to your heart’s desire!  Write one post or several on each topic.  But write!  And join us, won’t you? Hollywood’s big night is only once a year.

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Leigh Oscar banner flat

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Hepburn Oscar banner

Frank McHugh’s Most Important Role

Frank McHugh was perhaps the epitome of a reliable supporting player. You know this guy — you might not know his name, but you know his face.

frank-mchugh-headshotAs a Warner Brothers contract player in the ‘30s and ‘40s, no one backstopped stars like Bing Crosby, William Powell, and James Cagney better than McHugh. He was an expert at sheepish expressions, jittery laughs, and screwball action, usually serving as comic relief and providing larcenous or romantic complications when required.

McHugh was born into a stage family on May 23, 1898, and appeared in vaudeville with his siblings Matt and Kitty by the age of 10. Drawn from his stage career by the arrival of talkies, he arrived in Hollywood in 1930, signed with Warner Brothers almost immediately, and appeared in nearly 90 films in his first 10 years with the studio.

He was also known as a central member of the Irish Mafia, the tight-knit group of Irish-American actors that included Cagney, Pat O’Brien, Spencer Tracy, Allen Jenkins, Frank Morgan, and Ralph Bellamy. They preferred to be known as the “Boys’ Club,” and Morgan and Bellamy were actually of German and English/French descent respectively, but these real-life ties translated well onscreen. McHugh and Cagney, for instance, appeared together in 12 pictures; McHugh and O’Brien in 11.

Frank McHugh and James Cagney bottle a little fun in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939). Frank McHugh and James Cagney bottle a little fun in THE ROARING TWENTIES (1939).

What you may not know about McHugh is the valuable real-life part he played during World War II.

Like many in Hollywood, he enthusiastically supported the war effort, joining the Hollywood Victory Caravan in May 1942. This show traveled the United States, featuring performances by the biggest stars, with the ticket proceeds going the Army and Navy Relief Fund.

The star-studded Hollywood Caravan The star-studded Hollywood Victory Caravan at a stop in Minnesota

Mark Sandrich, director of the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films, and Alfred Newman, Twentieth Century Fox’s musical director, organized the Caravan as a musical revue. It featured, at various times, Crosby, Cagney, O’Brien, Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, Claudette Colbert, Charles Coburn, Joan Blondell, Joan Bennett, Eleanor Powell, Desi Arnaz, Bert Lahr, and Groucho Marx, along with McHugh (leaning forward in the top row above). In August and September of the same year, he went to England with a USO tour, the American Variety Show.

After those tours, McHugh continued his war efforts, producing his own show and taking it to the troops in Europe two years later. In November and December 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, “McHugh’s Revue” toured the front lines in Belgium, France, Holland, and Germany.

McHugh loved meeting and chatting with the servicemen, and the feeling was mutual. He received a citation from the Army, in which General Raymond S. McLain referred to the Revue as “an oasis in this desert of hardship and suffering….Your show was sparkling, and left a refreshing atmosphere in the spirit of many battle weary soldiers.” This certainly was McHugh’s most important, and possibly most loved, supporting role.

Many materials related to McHugh’s wartime activities, including his own account of McHugh’s Revue, are preserved in the Frank McHugh Papers at the New York Public Library, which I hope to see someday.

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This post is part of the 2013 What A Character! blogathon, co-hosted by myself, Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen. Be sure and check out all the Saturday posts.