Review: Hank and Jim and the 50-Year Friendship PLUS Giveaway

As a classic movie devotee, I’ve always wondered how two so different people as Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart — somehow he is never “James” — could maintain such a lasting and close friendship as theirs apparently was. I’d heard about the model airplane they built together, and the double dates. Yet Fonda was a New Deal Democrat who was married 5 times, had issues with his kids, and seemed to keep to himself; Stewart was a conservative Republican, got married once for life, had a decent relationship with his kids, and seemed to know everybody. The new double biography Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart, by Scott Eyman, acclaimed author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend, reconciles this conundrum, and in the process reveals that these two actors were more alike than I knew. Giveaway winner announced after the jump.
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What A Character! “Crazy Russian” Leonid Kinskey

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Just like everybody goes to Rick’s, everybody knows Leonid Kinskey, whether they know his name or not. Kinskey portrays Sascha, the voluble Russian bartender, in that classic of all classics, Casablanca (1943). We meet him quite early on, when Yvonne, Rick’s latest ex-girlfriend, has had a little too much to drink and needs to be escorted home. But as I learned, there’s more to Kinskey than Sascha. Not that I won’t bask in the glory that is Casablanca first…

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What A Character! Shot and A Chaser: M. Emmet Walsh

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Paula’s note: This post is one of several by movie maven Jack Deth that I have had the pleasure of hosting on this site. See the rest here.

Welcome Bloggers, Cinephiles, Film Fans, and Aficionados of “Just Plain Good!”

Having received an invitation from our hostess Paula to expand and illuminate that arena of young and unrecognized talent usually relegated to the back of a crowd or corner of a set before being noticed and given lines to speak and scenes to execute, I would be remiss to not give it my best effort and reach back to an unsung purveyor of the thespian craft, who literally started off in the background of Midnight Cowboy, Alice’s Restaurant, Little Big Man, and Cold Turkey in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Plying his craft while being one of many. Building up a body of work and a reputation for being able to fill any slot for any type of dumpy, balding, kind of slimy, local or municipal bureaucrat, guard, telegrapher, cop, or barber. Sometimes affixing a Southern accent, or sticking to his high-pitched, upstate New York pronunciations, while using whatever was at hand to enhance his many characters. Before crossing my path in a big way in a small, very personal cinematic gem ramrodded by Dustin Hoffman and directed by Ulu Grossbard. A film which also prompted the parole of recidivist convict, Edward Bunker (Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs), through his semi-autobiographic novel, No Beast So Fierce. Which makes up the two fingers of Rye for this…

Shot & A Chaser: M. Emmet Walsh

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Classic Movie History Project Blogathon: Roger Corman by Jack Deth

This guest post by frequent contributor Jack Deth is part of the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, hosted June 26-28 by Movies Silently, Silver Screenings, and Once Upon A Screen.history-2015-flicker-alley-sideby Jack Deth

Greetings all and sundry!

When receiving an invitation from our gracious hostess, Paula, to indulge in a favored pasttime and add to many and varied perspectives of Cinematic History, I would be remiss if I didn’t break out a fresh set of coveralls, miner’s cap, and excavation tools to dig deep and rummage about neglected corners of massive archives, tales, anecdotes and personal experience regarding a visionary and trailblazer of cinema from the late 20th Century to the present. Though, not in an arena most would expect. So, allow me a few moments to align, refine and define…

Roger Corman: Rebel, Pioneer. The Guy With The Arrows In His Back!

One may ask where a transplanted Michigander, graduate of Beverly Hills High and Stanford University, with a degree in Industrial Engineering in hand, got his start and first taste of 1947 Hollywood and “The Film Business”? Why, in the Mail Room at Twentieth Century Fox, of course!

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Five 2015 Faves

This past weekend, our theater Cinema Detroit was a venue for the fourth annual Cinetopia International Film Festival, which brings “the best films from the world’s best festivals” to Detroit and Ann Arbor every June. It was our second year as a Cinetopia venue and while all the films on our slate were worthwhile, I’m highlighting five of my favorites. Keep an eye out for these if you haven’t seen them already.

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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.