getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon: THE ATOMIC KID vs. BABY FACE NELSON by Jack Deth

As part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, Paula’s Cinema Club is pleased to present this post by occasional contributor Jack Deth. He is also a regular contributor at Flix Chatter, so be sure and check out his posts there too.

Welcome, all and sundry!

When given the opportunity to examine, elucidate, and opine on Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s busier actors of the 1930s and ’40s — opposite up and coming heavy-hitter Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, and countless young romantic musicals with Judy Garland, while being front and center in a string of shorts as very young man, “Mickey,” to a succession of lighthearted films about the travails of Andy Hardy — it’s the decade beyond that sparked my interest, in a quest to seek answers to the question: What now?

The 1950s presented Rooney with a string of offerings, some memorable, some not, which he took in a desire to put distance between himself and the characters most fondly remembered, cherished, and empathized with.

Two lesser-known films from this era caught my attention long ago, left their mark, and nearly demanded a second viewing, to see if that juvenile magic was still there. And for the most part, both films remain intact.

Without further ado. Allow me to proffer two distinct views of one of the more unsung character actors:
Breaking Away From Andy Hardy: A Mickey Rooney Double Feature
The first is a nearly forgotten, rarely seen, B & W post-Atomic Bomb comedy from 1954, directed on a miniscule budget by Leslie H. Martinson, and buttressed with the flimsiest of plots in and around the deserts of Nevada, New Mexico, and far southwest California.

ATOMIC-KID-finalThe Atomic Kid (1954)
Where Mr. Rooney plays amateur archaeologist, mineralogist, and uranium prospector, Barnaby “Blix” Waterford. Down on his luck financially and romantically, Blix and his partner and longtime friend, Stan Cooper (marvelously gravel-voiced and slovenly Robert Strauss, who played Sgt. Stanislaus “Animal” Kuzawa in Stalag 17) hear a rumor about a mineral lode deep beneath the sands of New Mexico. (Read: the outreaches of government-owned and -facilitated White Sands Testing Range.)

Atomic Kid~2 Blix and Stan approach the next-to-nothing town. Stan decides to wait and watch at a distance as Blix stumbles in, investigates, and eventually enters one standing clapboard home in the deserted, middle-of-nowhere “town,” sees mannequins fully dressed around a family kitchen table, feels hungry, and decides to raid the pantry for a peanut butter and sardine sandwich.

While far away in a sandbagged bunker, high-ranking Army officers and white-smocked scientists (amongst them, the always-reliable Whit Bissell) start the countdown for a Nuclear Test, then notice activity in the far-off rocks around mesas outside the “town.” Soldiers arrive. Stan tells them that Blix is somewhere in the “Test Town”. The countdown can’t be stopped or aborted. The bomb high atop a tower explodes!

A mushroom cloud rises. Winds gust and swirl dust and debris to all points of the compass rose. The dust settles and Jeeps and trucks arrive as guards set a perimeter. Stan and an entourage of scientists gather around outstretched Geiger counters.

Atomic Kid~3The site is hot. Just shy of leveled. Testament to the weapon’s destructive power. As a sound is heard, a pile of rubble and shingles shift. And Blix twists and inches out. Sandwich scorched on one side. Obviously unscathed. But speaking at about six times normal speed, and radioactively hotter than a three dollar pistol. Questions abound as Blix is taken to a lab and soaked in a heavy water tank to leech off some Roentgens.

Refreshed and his speech back to normal, Blix is introduced to Nurse Audrey Nelson (Elaine Devry, aka Mrs. Mickey Rooney at the time). And his luck changes. Though it’s kept in check, kind of, with a wristwatch-like device that points to different levels of danger when Blix gets excited. Which becomes often and obvious, as light fixtures in the immediate area that were turned off suddenly have brightly glowing bulbs.

Atomic Kid~4With the passage of time. Men in dark suits and hats arrive, announcing themselves as the FBI, and want Blix to roam around Vegas and other spots to help flush out a Communist spy ring. Blix obliges. With Nurse Audrey safely ensconced in a hotel room nearby at first. Becoming inseparable with time. As contact is made, and the Commies being just as sloppy and ill-focused as you would imagine in the 1950s. Led by stalwart Robert Emmett Keane as “Mr. Reynolds,” and Peter Brocco as “Comrade Mosely.” Blix plays dumb, once delivered to the spies’ hideout. Becomes excited as future plans are laid bare. Pulls off some razzle dazzle with lights, lab equipment and appliances. As the spies panic and run into the waiting arms of the FBI.

After all the excitement settles down. Blix decides to throw fate to the wind and ask Audrey to marry him. Audrey is standoffish at first. Yet slowly agrees. Sealing the deal with a kiss that lights up the romantically darkened room, to the point that the FBI agents covertly watching from across the cul-de-sac have a fair idea of what’s going on.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
Not really a buffoon, but more of life’s recipients of sad to bad tidings, enriching a rather flimsy plot and heightening the writing of a young upstart named Blake Edwards, in a “bread and butter” Republic Studios film that clocks in at 86 minutes.

Mr. Rooney also produced the film and used its budget frugally. Pinching pennies, though not really cutting corners, when necessary, while director Lewison uses Mr. Rooney’s talents as an ensemble player, if not the continuous focus of attention. All of the stock players have their times to shine. Especially Robert Strauss and Ms. Devry (the only woman in the cast), bouncing emotions off Mr. Rooney, who has lovely timing, and a penchant for riding the roller coaster from sad to ebullient and back again.

Is ‘The Atomic Kid’ a great film? No. Though it is a worthwhile diversion.And not just for its rarity.
A fairly well executed and streamlined into the near absurd. Not to be taken seriously. Outside of a fairly decent attempt to switch and take on a character a bit older and wiser than one which was a meal ticket only a decade earlier.


Which brings us to another journey of exploration, and a bit of exploitation, in a low-budget B&W United Artists release, directed by up-and-comer Don Siegel. And a screenplay, courtesy of Daniel Mainwaring (Out of The Past) and Irving Schulman.

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Baby Face Nelson (1957)
Which opens with the standard honorarium to the FBI and its agents, then shifts to the shadow-swept confines of Joliet Prison and the release of shabbiily-suited Mr. Rooney, as low-rent nobody and recidivist criminal Lester M. Gillis, to the tender mercies of 1933 Illinois.

Baby Face Nelson~2Fully expecting to follow the straight and narrow. Gillis is offered a ride within seconds of the prison gates closing. A ride to see “Mr. Rocca” (Ted De Corsia), leader of a small gang of bootleggers on Chicago’s south side, who may have had a hand in sending Gillis to Joliet originally. No love is lost, nor manly hugs exchanged, as Rocca explains the reason for Gillis’ early parole.

A Union bigshot is making too much noise and needs to be taken care of. Pointed out by Rocca as they share the back seat of a touring car. Gillis is given a silenced pistol to do the job. Gillis wants none of it. He takes the Rocca paid for hotel room, bathes, and is off to see his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (beguiling Carolyn Jones, long before “The Addams Family”). She watches the register and buzzer to the back-room offices of one of Rocca’s many pool halls.

Kisses are savored and a date is set for three hours later, when Sue goes off shift. In the interim, Gillis reads that his intended target has been murdered. Detectives bust in, and find the silenced pistol taped to the roof of the room’s flush box. A classic frame. Gillis is arrested. Booked. And gets to see Sue through a mesh screen before being shipped back to Joliet.

Sue finds out when and where Gillis is be loaded on the train to Joliet, and intervenes. Stumbling before two armed guards as Gillis knocks both unconscious and Sue wheels around with a getaway car, to ambush and seek revenge on Rocca and his hideout’s deserted staircase. With that task accomplished, Gillis decides to take Sue’s last name as they go to see if John Dillinger (Professional Bad Guy Leo Gordon) could use an extra gun hand. Dillinger nicknames the new arrival “Baby Face”. Gives him a Thompson. And explains their next payroll heist.

Baby Face Nelson~3Cleverly executed, with the main guns hiding in a plumber’s van as the armored car arrived at the factory. Dillinger and his crew have the drop on the guards. A steam whistle shrills. And Nelson cuts loose. Dropping the three guards as they head off to lick wounds and hide out at the out-of-season Little Bohemia Lodge, where unlicensed and lecherous, “Doc” Saunders (Cedric Hardwicke) works on Dillinger, and starts flirting with the recently-arrived Sue.

Dillinger doesn’t want the heat of three dead bodies and cuts Nelson and Sue loose. The two head west to Minnesota and a string of bank and payroll robberies. Courtesy of architect and engineer “Fatso” Nagel (Jack Elam), who supplies schematics and blueprints. One robbery goes bad, Nelson is wounded, and decides to return to the one place no one will look. The Little Bohemia Lodge.

A group of FBI agents decide to play a hunch after Dillinger is betrayed and removed from the spotlight of “Public Enemy Number One”, and are spotted shortly thereafter. An agent (Dabs Greer) is shot and killed. Baby Face becomes a worthwhile substitute, as Nelson and Sue begin putting together their own gang, among them, Homer van Meter (Perpetual Sap Elisha Cooke, Jr).

A final job is suggested by Nagel, with the help of the FBI — a bank job, whose execution catches the Feds off guard, with the addition of tear gas grenades. Van Meter and the rest of Nelson’s gang locked in the bank’s vault. And a hail of gunfire as Nelson and Sue slip through the Fed’s dragnet.

I’ll leave it right here for spoilers’ sake.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
An apocryphal and tabloid-splashed take one of the Midwest’s lower-tier desperadoes, heightening the folklore while bringing creepy life to a short and shallow man with an enormous chip on his shoulder.

Mr. Rooney fills the bill quite well. With mercurial mood swings, especially when and where Sue is concerned. Taking his anger out in grisly and cleverly edited ways. Letting his long-smoldering sociopath out to play and be glimpsed by Sue, who still loves him.

Backed up by a satisfactory Rogues Gallery of solid character actors of the day, on both sides of the law. Especially Mr. Hardwicke’s drunken “Doc” Saunders, Leo Gordon’s arrogant John Dillinger. And the building, grounds, lakes and dusty roadways around The Little Bohemia Lodge, a very familiar backdrop for several gangster and desperado films of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s. All under the touch of aspiring Don Siegel, adding another notch in his gun belt early on in his quest for greatness. And creating another noteworthy step towards branching out and away for Mr. Rooney!

This post is part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled, 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. You can access the entire getTV schedule here and check to see if getTV is available in your area here.

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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

 

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.

Fandango Groovers Movie Blog

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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TCM Party presents NOIRVEMBER with Warner Archive Instant

In our classic movie corner of the world, the eleventh month of the year is not dedicated to family gatherings or special sales. Here we celebrate crime-laden streets, shadowy figures, and suspicious cops. This is Noirvember.

Micheline Cheirel and Dick Powell in CORNERED (1945)
Micheline Cheirel and Dick Powell in CORNERED (1945)

In celebration of all things noir, TCM Party is joining Warner Archive Instant for a series of tweet-a-longs in November. We’ve chosen favorite films noir from the Warner Archive Instant offerings.

Using the hashtags #TCMparty and #Noirvember, we will gather to watch and tweet along as follows (all times are Eastern):

Sunday, November 3 at noon – Guest host Aurora [@CitizenScreen] has chosen Fritz Lang’s CLASH BY NIGHT (1952) starring Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Ryan, Paul Douglas and Marilyn Monroe.

Experiment Perilous-lowres

Tuesday, November 12 at 8 p.m.@TCMparty host Paula has chosen Jacques Tourneur’s EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944) starring Hedy Lamarr, George Brent and Paul Lukas.

Saturday, November 16, time TBD – Special guest host Karen [@TheDarkPages] has chosen Vincent Sherman’s THE DAMNED DON’T CRY (1950) starring Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran and Kent Smith.

@TCMParty host Trevor has chosen three noirs:
Thursday, November 21 @ 8 p.m. – Jack Bernhard’s DECOY (1946) starring Jean Gillie, Edward Norris and Robert Armstrong.
Sunday, November 24 @ noon – Richard Fleischer’s ARMORED CAR ROBBERY (1950) starring Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens and William Talman.
Thursday, November 28 @ 8 p.m. – Edward Dmytryk’s CORNERED (1945) starring Dick Powell, Walter Slezak and Micheline Cheirel.

We hope everyone will want to participate, as it’s sure to be a fun, informative time. If you already subscribe to Warner Archive Instant, you’re all set. If you don’t, you can sign up for a free two-week trial here.

Either way, you need only be on Twitter at the scheduled time, use the correct hashtags, and wait for the host to signal, “START THE MOVIE,”  to enjoy online Noirvember.

We’re thrilled to be presenting these Warner Bros. film noirs as part of the excitement of #TCMparty, and hope this is the first of many collaborations between our enthusiastic film-loving community and the studio with deep dark noir roots.

Note that these Noirvember tweet-a-longs are in addition to the regular #TCMparty events, which follow along to scheduled programming on TCM (dates listed below). Please visit the TCM Party tumblr for more info.

Wednesday, November 6 @ 8 p.m. THE KILLERS (1946)
Wednesday, November 13 @ 8 p.m. GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL (1957)
Tuesday, November 19 @ 8 p.m. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)
Wednesday, November 27 @ 8 p.m. FIELD OF DREAMS (1989)

What A Character! 2013 Update

In just about a month’s time, we’ll be singing the praises of those amazing actors and actresses who appear in the periphery of our beloved classic films and yet have made indelible marks on our memories. For the second year in a row, we’re putting them front and center. Hosted by Kellee (@IrishJayhawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, me (@Paula_Guthat) of this-here blog, and Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen…it’s the WHAT A CHARACTER! blogathon 2013!

  • Can you count how many scenes Walter Brennan stole from the likes of Duke Wayne or Humphrey Bogart?
  • Or the number stolen by Beulah Bondi as she portrayed lovable, meddling moms?
  • Would Gone with the Wind be as memorable without the talents of Hattie McDaniel or Harry Davenport?

To those and the many others whose work we admire we dedicate WHAT A CHARACTER!

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If you’re interested in participating, and we certainly hope you are, please adhere to the following:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice via email [mine is paula.guthat[at]gmail.com], contact form [at the end of this post] or blog comment [below].
  • Although we’re inclined to limit these to those considered “traditional” classic actors – or before 1970 just to choose a point of reference – if you have an actor in mind after that time, that’s fine. (My contemporary pick? Stanley Tucci.)
  • Please include your twitter or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • If you do not have a blog, one will be provided for you. By that I mean, I will gladly publish your post for you. Leave me a comment or send me an email.
  • Publish the post for either November 9, 10 or 11. Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please post one of the blogathon graphics on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to one of the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post.
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll link to your site’s home page.

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There are many great characters worthy of attention. Won’t you join these stalwart bloggers in honoring these familiar favorites? (Don’t worry if your pick has already been chosen, you can still write about her/him.) List in alpha order according to subject’s first name.

Kay Movie Star Makeover Agnes Moorehead
Kerry Hosted on Paula’s Cinema Club Bruce Dern
Barry Cinematic Catharsis Dick Miller
The “semi” Daily Maine Edna May Oliver
Aubyn The Girl with the White Parasol Edward Arnold
Kristen Sales on Film Elisha Cook, Jr.
Jenni Portraits by Jenni Eric Blore
Ruth Silver Screenings Ernest Borgnine in Marty
Paula Paula’s Cinema Club Eugene Pallette
Christy Christy’s Inkwells Florence Bates
Paula Paula’s Cinema Club Frank McHugh
Marlee Picture Spoilers Gail Patrick
Cindy Bruchman Cindy Bruchman George Sanders
Le Critica Retro Hank Worden
Aurora Once Upon a Screen Harry Davenport
Kellee Outspoken & Freckled Hattie McDaniel
Cliff Immortal Ephemera Hugh Herbert
Kristina Speakeasy Irving Bacon
Pam on Once Upon a Screen Jane Darwell
Monstergirl The Last Drive-In Jeanette Nolan
Maegan Hosted on Once Upon a Screen Jesse Royce Landis
Della Street The 5 AM Show Jessie Ralph
Bogart Fan Bogie Film Blog Joe Sawyer
Moira The Skeins John Hoyt
Patricia Caftan Woman Joyce Grenfell
I Love Terrible Movies Mary MacLaren
Jessica Comet Over Hollywood Nat Pendleton
Moira The Skeins Pert Kelton
Matt TVs Fault Peter Lorre
Stacia She Blogged by Night Regis Toomey
Annmarie Classic Movie Hub Roscoe Karns
Terry A Shroud of Thoughts Sheldon Leonard
Dorian Tales of the Easily Distracted Sam Levene
Paula Paula’s Cinema Club Stanley Tucci
Jill Sittin’ On a Backyard Fence Sterling Holloway
Chris Family Friendly Reviews Thelma Ritter
Joel Joel’s Classic Film Passion Thomas Mitchell
Furious Cinema Timothy Carey
FlickChick Tony Randall
Fritzi Movies, Silently Tully Marshall
Kaci Hepburnia Una Merkel
John The Droid You’re Looking For TBD
Diana & Constance Silver Scenes TBD
Rich Wide Screen World TBD

HAVE FUN and thank you for spreading the word! HAPPY BLOGGING!

Watching movies with Aunt Mary

Anybody who has either read this blog for a while or attended a TCM Party knows that I have been watching old movies since I was a young child.

During the summer when my mom was working, I would be at my grandparents’ house, watching the local afternoon movie showcase, Bill Kennedy At The Movies, hosted by the titular raconteur/retired actor. For those who grew up outside of the metro Detroit area and/or were born after 1986 or so, picture a slightly-unkempt, more rambling, hammier Dean Martin. At least that’s how it seemed at the time.

Slinging both fascinating anecdotes — particularly about the films in which he’d had a role — and barbs that mostly went over my head, Kennedy owned those hours after noon and before the 6 o’clock news. He showed pretty much anything old. The Best Years of Our Lives is one that I particularly remember. I can remember just bawling during it, without even really knowing why.

In those days, respectable Italian girls lived with their parents or their husbands, certainly not by themselves or with other girls. Not in my mother’s family. Thus if I was allowed to stay for the evening, I got to see my mother’s oldest sister, Mary Rose Romano, when she arrived home from work. Born the same day as Elizabeth Taylor, February 27, 1932, Aunt Mary seemed just as glamorous and self-possessed. Unlike my parents, she worked in a bank downtown, and wore suits to the office; also scarves, cute shoes, and amazing jewelry. (Also unlike my parents, she liked to take me shopping for clothes.) Though (I now know) she was probably really tired, we’d always talk about whatever I’d watched, because she knew all about Old Hollywood — the movies, how they were made, the actors and actresses. No one has had more of an influence on my film taste than Aunt Mary.

Me and my aunt, c. 1977

I believe her favorite movie was Gone With The Wind. Back in the day, before cable, really the only way to see it in one piece was on network TV in the evening. Even broken up with ads, it was powerful stuff. She told me all about the burning of Atlanta being filmed first, Clark Gable’s dentures, the long process of casting Scarlett, and how Leslie Howard was a spy and died in The War. This was the first time I was conscious of a film being a purposeful creation, the result of a collaborative effort by many people. Since then, I’ve learned more about the time period portrayed in the film, and I have a fair amount of ambivalence about it, but to this day, if I’m home, I can’t pass it up.

Fast forward 20 years or so. My mother died of cancer in 2002, and afterwards my husband and I began to visit my aunt (now in her 70s) and my grandmother (in her late 80s) every Sunday. The routine almost never varied: lunch at around noon, then movies on TCM until 4 or 5 p.m., accompanied by their inevitable dialogue, which I affectionately call “Who’s Dead?”

— “Jesus, everyone in this movie is dead.”
— “Yeah, there’s so-and-so. He’s dead.”
— “There’s so-and-so. She’s been dead forever.”

I think it may be an Italian thing.

These Sunday afternoons were when I realized how much I had absorbed from her as a kid. She loved the classics and had great respect for both their craft and their magic, but at the same time, she could be irreverent. In other words, she would have fit right in at a TCM Party. Among these random recollections, imagine the quotes from Mary are tweets and you’ll get the picture (may contain spoilers):

  • Psycho: “That sound [the stabbing in the shower] is somebody knifing a melon. Nobody could believe Janet Leigh got killed off. It just didn’t happen. That Hitchcock was a weirdo.”
  • Now, Voyager: We watched this together so many times that it’s almost painful to watch now. My aunt looked a bit like Miss Davis, and had her crisp enunciation, and I always got the impression from her comments that she could relate to Charlotte Vale, but I can’t know for sure.
  • Any Joan Crawford movie: “Watch out…she packs a wallop.”
  • Any appearance by Adolphe Menjou or Ray Milland: “He’s such a sleaze.”
  • Jeremiah Johnson: Robert Redford was a fave of ours, particularly in The Sting and this downer of a 1970s beard-tastic Western. When the widow freaks out on Jeremiah and forces him to take her son along with him, I remember asking, “What is she going to do? How is she going to get food out there by herself?” Mary shrugged. “She’ll go over to craft services, they’ll find her something.”
  • Victor/Victoria: “Has this guy [James Garner as King Marchand] ever really looked at Julie Andrews?”
  • On The Waterfront: This is the last film we ever watched together, a couple of weeks before Tim and I saw it at the TCM Film Festival with an introduction by Eva Marie Saint. I so wish my aunt could have gone with us. To Terry Malloy [Marlon Brando]: “She’s not interested in you, you dumb lug.” To Edie Doyle [Saint]: “He’s no good. Go back to school and study.”
  • The Pink Panther: [Gales of laughter] “What an idiot. He’s so stupid. He’s so silly.”
  • Sunset Blvd.: Norma Desmond: “They had to have the ears of the whole world too. So they opened their big mouths and out came talk. Talk! TALK!” Aunt Mary: “Thank God. Who wants to read a movie?”
  • Two Mules for Sister Sarah: “She’s a pretty lousy nun.”
Watching "the channel." April 2013
Watching “the channel,” April 2013

My Aunt Mary passed away on September 27, 2013. Our family and everyone who knew her will remember her unqualified generosity, her style, and her sense of humor, but I also have her love of the movies, and because of that, she is still with me.

Paths of Glory – The Insanity of World War I

Brief historical background on the heartbreaking PATHS OF GLORY:

Alchemist's Blend

Libraries of books have been written about World War I. Historians still debate why the murder of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie resulted in a global war between countries that didn’t have any interests in the Balkans. They argue over why the generals of Great Britain, France, and Germany made the same mistakes over and over again between 1914 and 1918. Others argues that, actually, the generals didn’t perform that badly at all given the circumstances of the time.

There is no way to answer these questions in a simple blog post. Rather, I want to briefly describe how Stanley Kubrick’sPaths of Glory (1957) portrays The Great War, and to answer the question asked of every movie that portrays historical events, is it accurate? I’ll be honest. I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it in graduate school (while my main focus was medieval Europe, my secondary…

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Five Fave Classic Cinematographers, Pt. 1: John F. Seitz

If anyone out there has attended a TCM Party hosted by me, you know I always natter on about great Old Hollywood cinematographers, the crisp blacks and whites and beautiful contrast they produced, etc. etc. There are a few names that come up repeatedly, more often than most. Gregg Toland — Citizen Kane, Ball of Fire, The Little Foxes, The Best Years of Our Lives — is an obvious possibility, as is Jack Cardiff — A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes. But with this post I’m beginning a series about five less well-known DPs who are equally deserving of some attention.

SeitzCamera-1936
John Francis Seitz of the American Society of Cinematographers, c. 1936

I’m going to start with John F. Seitz, ASC. Seitz is probably best known for the films noir he worked on with Billy Wilder, Sunset Blvd. and Double Indemnity, which I was admiring last Sunday as I watched it for the bazillionth time. All of Seitz’ trademarks — inky blacks and brilliant whites, “differential illumination of different regions of the screen,” “Rembrandt north light,” and low key lighting — are present in Indemnity, creating some of the most influential noir images ever made.

16

15

25

Double Indemnity screen caps are from the fabulous Bluscreens blog.

I find these two parallel scenes particularly striking examples of how Wilder and Seitz worked together so well…in both Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) walks into the room and sits down in front of Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), but the angle is slightly different, and the lighting serves as a barometer for their relationship.

From sunny days...
From sunny days…
...to trouble in paradise.
…to trouble in paradise.

Gifs by A Modern Musketeer.

Some of Seitz’ work on Sunset Blvd.:

Sunset Blvd. caps from DVD Beaver.

Indemnity and Sunset are just two of Seitz’ 163 films, made over more than 4 decades. Born in 1892, Seitz began as a lab tech in Chicago in 1909 and was working in movies as a director of photography by 1913, continuing through his last film, Guns of the Timberland (1960). He held 18 patents for photographic devices and processes — including dissolve techniques and the matte shot, which he fine-tuned while working on Rex Ingram’s Trifling Women (1922). The collaboration with Ingram was key to Seitz’ career:

Ingram was a great pictorialist; everything in his pictures was subordinate to the image. Collaborating with a cameraman of genius, John Seitz, he created some of the most beautiful films of the entire silent era.
Kevin Brownlow and John Kobal, Hollywood: The Pioneers

Seitz’ other works include some of my favorite movies: Sullivan’s Travels and This Gun For Hire, both with Veronica Lake; Five Graves To Cairo and The Lost Weekend, also directed by Wilder; and The Big Clock, which like Weekend, starred Ray Milland.  These are just a fraction of his output. How does one person create all those stunning images? Perhaps it was his willingness to experiment:

Where [others] might be inclined to play it safe by using tried and true techniques, Seitz doesn’t hesitate to stick his neck out to try for the unusual and original effect — and he invariably comes up with an exciting result. Far from being a trickster out to create an effect for its own sake, [he] remains an alert experimentalist, constantly searching for new approaches and original camera techniques to make the motion picture a more dramatic medium. There are no clichés in his style – as modern as tomorrow, rugged, forceful and, above all, alive. He insists that cinematography must exist to tell the screen story, rather than stand out as a separate artistic entity.
Herb Lightman, “Old Master, New Tricks,” American Cinematographer, September 1950

I can’t pretend that this post is in any way a definitive or comprehensive analysis of Seitz’ work, but I hope that it will compel a few to see some of it for themselves. TCM is offering two opportunities on Monday, April 15. One of the silent films he worked on, Mare Nostrum, directed by Ingram, is on at midnight Eastern time. According to TCM’s site, “British director Michael Powell, who worked on Mare Nostrum as a grip, would cite Ingram as one of the influences on his own visionary epics, including Black Narcissus (1947) and The Red Shoes (1948).” Also, one of the pre-codes Seitz shot, Ladies They Talk About (1933), also starring Stanwyck, is scheduled for 6:00 a.m. Eastern.

And now, a very belated THANK YOU: Sincere and heartfelt gratitude to whoever was so kind as to nominate me for not one but two 2013 LAMMY Awards, Best Classic Film Blog, and Best Blogathon/Meme for 31 Days of Oscar, credit for which I share with Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled and Aurora of Once Upon A Screen. There isn’t much chance of my getting through to the next round, but this is one case where I can honestly say the nomination is the award. Tune in to the LAMBcast on Monday at 9:00 a.m., featuring Aurora, to hear the final nominees.