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…
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!
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.
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|
|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|
|Fritzi||Movies, Silently||Tully Marshall|
|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!
This post is part of the Howard Hawks Blogathon organized by Ratnakar at Seetimaar – Diary of a Movie Lover. The blogathon began on May 15 and runs through May 31. Check out these posts, there’s no one more deserving of a two-week tribute from some great bloggers than Hawks.
The image above is taken from Hawks’ The Big Sleep, which has a reputation for being a great yet somewhat incomprehensible film noir. No one can really deny the gritty atmosphere created by Hawks and his team, or the unmistakable chemistry between the leads, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, which Hawks displayed to great effect. But, due to factors beyond Hawks’ control, the plot is a bit difficult to follow, supposedly even for the author of the book on which the film was based, Raymond Chandler. Any Google search will turn up the story that, when asked (by Hawks and the film’s writers) which character killed another, Chandler didn’t know either.
Whether the Chandler anecdote is true or not, it is certain that the transition to film further complicated the author’s already convoluted novel. How did this happen? Spoiler alert: There are plenty in here! If you haven’t read or seen The Big Sleep and you care about spoilers, stop reading and come back once you have read or seen it. Even if you have read the book or seen the film, you might want to refresh your memory before reading the rest of this post. This SparkNotes plot summary of the book is the briefest I’ve found. A diagram is always helpful as well.
Two major circumstances upon which the book’s cohesion depends ran afoul of the Hays Production Code. The first was that Carmen Sternwood (Martha Vickers in the film) kills Sean “Rusty” Regan (before Marlowe enters the story), making her older sister Vivian Regan (Vivian Rutledge in the film, played by Lauren Bacall) both a widow and an accessory to murder. The second is that Arthur Gwynne Geiger, who is blackmailing Carmen with compromising pictures, is a pornographer who is in a homosexual relationship with Carol Lundgren (who murders Joe Brody because he thinks Brody killed Geiger). Whew! Anyway, neither of these plot points could stand under the Code. The identity of Regan’s killer is fuzzy in the film; it’s implied, but never actually stated, that Eddie Mars killed Regan for messing around with Mars’ wife. Mars then evaded justice and collected blackmail from Vivian by convincing her that Carmen killed Regan. Neither the pornography, illegal in 1944, or the homosexuality are ever referred to; thus Sternwood family chauffeur Owen Taylor’s motivation for killing Geiger is unclear, and Lundgren’s motivation for gunning down Brody is greatly diminished. So that’s one layer of complication.
Further changes which don’t seem to significantly affect the plot were also made to the source material, to amplify Bacall’s role and strengthen Marlowe and Vivian’s relationship. Vivian is present in two major scenes from which she is absent in the book, one at Joe Brody’s apartment, and one at Eddie Mars’ hideout near the end. In the latter scene, it is Vivian, not Mona Mars, who unties Marlowe, helps him to escape, and accompanies him back to LA. There is a scene of her singing at Eddie Mars’ casino which is reminiscent of her début, Hawks’ To Have and Have Not. And her last name is changed to Rutledge; she is still a widow but not Regan’s, which arguably reduces any incentive she may have to find Regan. Some of these changes affect later scenes in the film, but they don’t seem to affect the overall action of the story.*
However, there are actually two versions of The Big Sleep, and this is where things really start to get cloudy… The first version, which is closer to the book, began shooting in October of 1944, and was completed in January 1945. Though it was ready for release in March of that year, it was shelved, and ultimately not released in its original form, for two reasons. First, World War II was rapidly winding down and Warner Brothers, like the rest of the studios, was looking to fast-track war-themed properties into cinemas as quickly as possible. A detective story without a time-sensitive theme could wait. Thus, Bacall’s film with Charles Boyer, Confidential Agent, though shot after Sleep, was released before.
Which brings us to the second reason another version of Sleep exists: Bacall received reviews so horrible that they seemed to wipe out all the acclaim she’d received for To Have and Have Not. I’ve seen the film and I think they were overreacting. She is certainly miscast as an English aristocrat; the role should probably have gone to Margaret Lockwood or someone like that. But it’s Bacall, and she isn’t as awful as these reviews were. At any rate, her agent, Charles Feldman, who was also Hawks’ agent, wrote a letter to studio head Jack Warner, asking him to order a re-take of a scene which particularly bothered Feldman, known as the “veil scene,” and essentially requesting that “insolent and provocative” scenes, like those in Have Not, be added to Sleep, in order to save Bacall’s career and the film. Warner did order a re-take of the veil scene and the addition of more sassy scenes with Bogart and Bacall. Hawks re-assembled most of his cast and crew and filmed these in January of 1946.
For the 1946 version, which is the version usually shown on TCM and for big-screen revivals, Bacall’s part was further enhanced, and the plot further obscured. For instance, when Marlowe brings Carmen home from Geiger’s house, instead of leaving her with Norris the butler, Marlowe brings Carmen upstairs to Vivian’s bedroom, giving them an opportunity for a saucy exchange. This forces an alteration to the scene in Marlowe’s office which takes place the next day; Vivian can no longer say she wasn’t home the night before. The scene was dubbed over; if you look really closely, you can see it is a little off.
There are other changes, but perhaps the most important one is the deletion of an exposition-rich scene in the DA’s office, in which all the facts were laid bare as Marlowe is questioned by District Attorney Wilde and Captain Cronjager of LAPD. Don’t recognize those names? Both characters were completely cut, as they didn’t make sense without the scene. But it was replaced with this, one of the greatest extended double entendres ever:
To the great credit of Howard Hawks and his cast and crew, most critics and fans appreciate the mood of the film, the noir tawdriness of the characters, and the incandescent spark between Bogart and Bacall, and overlook, or even love, the disorder of the action. The Time magazine review of August 26, 1946 stated, “the plot’s crazily mystifying, nightmare blur is an asset, and only one of many,” and commended Bogart and Hawks for their work. Roger Ebert viewed both versions in 2009, and preferred the 1946:
The new scenes add a charge to the film that was missing in the 1945 version; this is a case where “studio interference” was exactly the right thing. The only reason to see the earlier version is to go behind the scenes, to learn how the tone and impact of a movie can be altered with just a few scenes….As for the 1946 version that we have been watching all of these years, it is one of the great film noirs, a black-and-white symphony that exactly reproduces Chandler’s ability, on the page, to find a tone of voice that keeps its distance, and yet is wry and humorous and cares.
Possibly the most famous fans of The Big Sleep are Joel and Ethan Coen, who paid homage to it with their 1998 classic The Big Lebowski. (A classic doesn’t always have to be old.) There are many connections between the two films, and the best post I’ve seen on the subject is The Big Parallel by John at the droid you’re looking for. Check it out.
* Another aspect of the story that doesn’t seem to affect, well, anything really, is that we’ll never know who killed Owen Taylor. This is the question that so confounded Chandler and everyone else. As stated above, the Sternwood family chauffeur, who was in love with Carmen, killed Geiger because the latter was blackmailing her. Taylor was found murdered in the Sternwood family Packard, sunk off Lido Pier. I’ve read the book and watched both movies a couple of times, and I don’t believe it’s in there. We’ll never know for sure I guess, but I vote for Norris, the butler.
With his assortment of lovable supporting roles — befuddled yet helpful uncles and friends, slightly curmudgeonly shop owners, eccentric producers — S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall is pretty much the definition of a Hollywood character actor. His variations on a discombobulated theme, often tinged with sly wit, charmed American audiences from the early ’40s through the mid-’50s, yet he’d been acting for 30 years before he ever set foot in Hollywood.
Who the heck is Gerö Jenö? That is S.Z. Sakall’s birth name, sometimes translated from his native Hungarian as “Jacob Gerö,” which is what appeared on his U.S. citizenship paperwork. Most sources say he was born in 1883, on February 2 in Budapest. (In case you were wondering, he was a
Capricorn Aquarius.) Edit: Someone rightly commented that Feb. 2 is Aquarius, it’s squarely in the sign, not sure I got Capricorn from.
By the early 1900s, Gerö Jenö was writing scripts for musical-comedy theatre in Hungary. Several sources mention that he took his stage name, S.Z. Sakall, from the Hungarian phrase “szoke szakall,” in English “blond beard,” which he apparently grew to look older. He started acting at the age of 18. In the early ’20s, he moved to Berlin and appeared in his first film in 1927.
He continued working on stage and in film in Vienna and Berlin, and briefly had a production company, until 1933, when the Nazis took over Germany. Sakall, who was Jewish, had to go back to Hungary. In 1940, Hungary joined the Axis, giving the Nazis control of most of Europe. Many — Jews and others who objected to the regime — who were able to leave, did so. Those in the film industry made their way to either London or Hollywood, and formed an essential part of American and western European moviemaking for the next two decades, exerting tremendous influence on both the style and content of films. A look at the cast and crew list for Casablanca (1942) has a fair proportion of these refugees: director Michael Curtiz; composer Max Steiner; and actors Paul Henreid, Conrad Veidt, Peter Lorre, and Sakall.
I can’t help but wonder how Sakall was affected by these lines and others in Casablanca. Perhaps the proximity of art to life was the reason Sakall at first refused the role of Carl the math-professor-turned-headwaiter, even though his Yankee Doodle Dandy director and fellow Hungarian Curtiz was helming, and the cast included top-name talent. Pure speculation on my part. What I do know is that all three of his sisters, his niece, and his wife’s brother and sister were murdered by the Nazis.
I don’t know for sure when Sakall acquired his famous nickname, Cuddles, or who gave it to him — his TCM clip cites Jack Warner as the source, but I’ve also heard that Doris Day coined it. He was first credited as “S.Z. ‘Cuddles’ Sakall” in 1945’s San Antonio.* I’ve read that he wasn’t fond of his nickname, and also that his charm, basic niceness and, um, cuddly exterior made it entirely appropriate both in film and in life.
In 1954, Sakall published his wonderfully-titled memoir, The Story of Cuddles: My Life Under the Emperor Francis Joseph, Adolph Hitler and the Warner Brothers. The book is out of print and the one used copy I could find goes for $480.10. If anyone wants to buy me this for Christmas…I’m just saying. He passed away from heart failure in 1955.
It wouldn’t be going out on much of a limb to say Cuddles is best-known for Casablanca. So it is fitting that Humphrey Bogart, Sidney Greenstreet, John Qualen, the film’s producer Hal Wallis, its director Michael Curtiz, its composer Max Steiner, and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall were all laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.**
My Top Three Cuddles Roles
Ball of Fire Sakall plays one of 7 professors attempting to produce an encyclopedia. Because they’ve been cloistered in a mansion for 9 years, the group reacts strongly when showgirl Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) turns up. As kindly physiology professor Magenbruch, he delivers many of his lines with a touch of mischief…his area of academic study is sex.
Christmas in Connecticut Sakall reunited with Stanwyck for this screwball comedy about a homemaking columnist who isn’t married and doesn’t have any kids. Cuddles plays her good friend, a chef named Felix, who is soon promoted to uncle. In my opinion, this is the quintessential Cuddles role, featuring all the befuddlement and exasperation for which he is known, together with the classic phrase, “It’ll be hunky-dunky,” Cuddle-ese for “hunky-dory.”
Casablanca As mentioned above, Sakall was unwilling to appear in this film. He tried to get Warner Brothers to pay him four weeks’ work, but the studio would only agree to three. His name was misspelled in the credits. But the character is essential to the story and serves as a sympathetic counterpoint to Humphrey Bogart’s brusque Rick.
*San Antonio starred Errol Flynn as a cowboy fighting cattle rustlers and Alexis Smith as the singer who falls in love with him. Sakall plays the singer’s manager, who repeatedly refers to riderless horses as “empty horses.” This phrase was most likely borrowed from, and a dig at, Casablanca director Michael Curtiz, with whom Flynn and David Niven notoriously clashed while filming Charge of the Light Brigade. (Niven called his second autobiography Bring on the Empty Horses.) There is at least one other connection to Casablanca: Dan Seymour, who played the bouncer Abdul, appears uncredited in San Antonio. The entire film is available on YouTube.
TCM has some really intriguing stuff scheduled for this week. Crank up the DVR and let’s go…as usual, all times are Eastern.
Monday, July 16
TCM’s Classic Adventure series continues with a full 24 hours of rip-roaring action. Must-sees include The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland at 2:00 Eastern; Gunga Din (1939) starring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Victor McLaglen at 4:00 p.m.; and The Thief of Baghdad (1924) with Douglas Fairbanks and Anna May Wong at 3:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Tuesday, July 17
Today kicks off with a couple of silents, The Sheik (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino, and Our Modern Maidens (1929) with soon-to-be newlyweds Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. The latter is the first of a block of eight ’20s and ’30s films directed by Jack Conway. Conway began as an actor in D. W. Griffiths’ Westerns and moved into directing, first at Universal, then at MGM, where he proved to be adept and prolific. He worked cost-effectively in all genres, bringing pictures in on time and within budget, a capability that endeared him to studio honchos Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer. He is probably best known for A Tale of Two Cities (1935), starring Ronald Colman and Elizabeth Allan, and one of my all-time favorites, Libeled Lady (1936). Enjoy his work until George Cukor takes over at 8:00 p.m. tonight.
Star of the Month: Leslie Howard
I am a huge fan of Leslie Howard, but even I have to admit he was horribly miscast in Romeo and Juliet (1936), scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Though the film is gorgeous, Howard, in his forties, and his Juliet, Norma Shearer, in her mid-thirties, are both too old to portray a teenaged couple caught up in their first love. (Shakespearean scholars estimate that a real Romeo would have been 16 or 17 years of age and it’s directly mentioned in the text that Juliet has just turned 13.) But the rest of Howard’s films tonight — A Free Soul and Smilin’ Through, both also with Shearer, and Outward Bound (Howard’s Hollywood debut) and Captured! both with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. — look pretty interesting.
Wednesday, July 18
Tonight’s block of early Francis Ford Coppola work includes You’re A Big Boy Now at 8:00 p.m., The Rain People at 10:00 p.m., Dementia 13 at 12:00 a.m. Thursday, and Finian’s Rainbow at 1:30 a.m. I wouldn’t recommend Finian’s but I’m keeping an open mind about the rest.
Thursday, July 19
Apparently today’s films have a theme: jail. Whether it’s women behind bars (Caged, House of Women (1962)), escape (House of Numbers) or riot (Inside the Walls of Folsom Prison), TCM has every kind of filmic incarceration one could want during the daytime hours. I’ll be sure to record Ladies They Talk About, which stars Barbara Stanwyck as a gangster’s moll sent up for her role in a bank robbery.
At 8:00 p.m., TCM is featuring The Science of Movie Making, a block co-hosted by sound designer Ben Burtt and visual effects supervisor Craig Barron, both Oscar-winners in their fields, who have chosen films that have inspired them.
Friday, July 20
Presumably in honor of Ms. Stanwyck’s 105th birthday (July 16), TCM has scheduled four films she made before enforcement of Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production Code (aka Hays Code) began in 1934. The pre-codes include Shopworn (1932), Ten Cents A Dance (1931), Illicit (1931) and Forbidden (1932). Look for us on Twitter…watch and tweet along with #TCMParty.
Saturday, July 21
To Have and Have Not (1944)
In Martinique during World War II, a fishing-boat captain (Humphrey Bogart) gets mixed up with the French Resistance and a beautiful saloon singer (Lauren Bacall). This was Bacall’s first film and she was such a natural that screenwriter William Faulkner started adding to her part. The critics said it had “much more character than story” and that it was “confusing and klutzy, the ending is weak, and the secondary characters are poor substitutes for Casablanca‘s (1942) memorable cast of heroes and villains” but I think it’s great. Look for us on Twitter…watch and tweet along with #TCMParty. Guest hosted by @joelrwilliams1.
Sunday, July 22
If you haven’t seen Christmas in July (1940) at 10:30 a.m., Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) at 2:00 p.m., or The Great Escape (1963) at 8:00 p.m., definitely tune in for those. There’s a silent at 12:30 a.m. Monday, The Mating Call, and at 2:00 a.m. there’s The Leopard (Il gattopardo – 1963), starring Burt Lancaster and Alain Delon. Set in the early 1860s during the turmoil that preceded Italy’s unification, the film follows the slow fall of aristocratic Prince Fabrizio (Lancaster) and the parallel rise of upstart Tancredi (Delon). This film has lavish detail, gorgeously shot, and is unfortunately dubbed (you can’t have everything). It’s also a very poignant film, infused with a sense of nostalgia for a lost time and the inevitability of one generation letting another take over.
It’s always so weird when July 4 falls in the middle of the week and TCM runs some of the best movies in the middle of the night. I shouldn’t complain though, Leslie Howard is the Star of the Month. As always, all times are Eastern.
Tuesday, July 3
8:00 p.m. Gone the with Wind (1939)
During the daytime hours, TCM has 12 hours of Ann Rutherford’s movies scheduled. She very sadly passed away on June 11. Rutherford is probably best known as Carreen O’Hara, Scarlett’s nice sister, in GWTW but I also liked her as Lydia Bennett in Pride and Prejudice (1940), showing today at 10:45 a.m. I’m definitely going to record Two O’Clock Courage (1945), an early Anthony Mann film, starring Rutherford and Tom Conway (brother of today’s birthday boy George Sanders). Rutherford appeared at the TCM Classic Film Festival in 2011 Look for us on Twitter with #TCMParty…watch & tweet along.
midnight Stand-In (1937)
Star of the Month Leslie Howard plays an uptight banker sent to overhaul a Hollywood studio; Joan Blondell is the title character, a sassy former child star, who decides to help him, if he’ll only let her; Humphrey Bogart is the beleaguered producer burdened with a dud film, a histrionic leading lady, and a drinking problem. This has been one of my favorite movies since I saw it last year and my friend Classic Film Freak was kind enough to post my review.
Wednesday, July 4
Patriotic movies are scheduled all day today and two of the most interesting are The Scarlet Coat (1955), about the beginnings of the U.S. Secret Service at 9:15 a.m. and The Devil’s Disciple (1959). You really can’t go wrong with Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) either.
Thursday, July 5
7:00 a.m. Evelyn Prentice (1934)
This is an interesting pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy outside of the Thin Man series. He plays a lawyer whose wife (Loy) hasn’t really done anything to deserve being blackmailed. The film was rushed into production after the huge success of The Thin Man to capitalize on their chemistry. It’s so good you sort of won’t believe it when they’re supposed to not be getting along.
5:45 p.m. Penelope (1966)
I haven’t seen this movie. I recorded it last year before we changed cable companies, it was one of the movies that was on the DVR and there was no way to transfer it. But Natalie Wood and Peter Falk are in it, so I’m going to record it again.
8:00 p.m. Ace in the Hole (1951)
In the first of guest programmer Spike Lee‘s picks for tonight, a reporter who’s been demoted to a small-town newspaper tries to leverage a catastrophe into a return to the big time. Watch and tweet alone with our special guest host @WillMcKinley.
Friday, July 6
Certainly if you haven’t seen The Manchurian Candidate (1962) at 3:45 p.m. or Bye Bye Birdie (1963) at 6:00 p.m., check those out. I’ll be trying to catch at least one Jimmy Stewart Western of the three that are scheduled: The Man from Laramie (1955) at 8 p.m., The Naked Spur (1953) at 10 p.m. and Two Rode Together (1961) at midnight.
Saturday, July 7
6:00 a.m. Seven Women (1966)
Anne Bancroft, Sue Lyon, Margaret Leighton, and Flora Robson play missionaries in John Ford’s final feature.
4:15 p.m. Dr. Strangelove (1964)
“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the war room.”
Sunday, July 8
It’s really difficult to go wrong today. My favorite favorites:
2:15 p.m. The Thin Man (1934)
Sometimes well enough really should be left alone. See above. Celebrate that this isn’t going to be remade by watching the original and best.
6:00 p.m. My Favorite Year (1982)
A 1940s radio show writer (Mark Linn-Baker) struggles to keep playboy thespian Alan Swann (Peter O’Toole doing his best Errol Flynn) sober and upright, at least until the latter can guest star on that week’s show.
midnight Bande à part (1964)
Two thugs and a girl attempt to rob her aunt’s house with complications to be expected from a director, Jean-Luc Godard, whose biggest influences are the bright and dark sides of Hollywood — musicals and film noir.
By Jack Deth
Given the premise of what film and cinema may look like 40 years hence, I’ll opt for the convenience of handheld devices, flatscreen home entertainment centers and personal 3-D glasses, now that the very first, infant steps of the future Blue Sun Consortium so well-loved in Firefly has put out a bid for the AMC chain of theaters here in the U.S.
Now, as to what cinephiles, movie buffs and assorted hormonally-driven teens will want to view. The sky and its opposite end of the spectrum are the limit. Though Classics will always be present to fall back on. Be it for nostalgia sake. Or just to sit back and experience what good really is and can be. There will always be a healthy clutch of films in dust laden cans ready to be spun up on a projector. Or taken to a lab to be cleaned up, re-mastered and brought back to life in whatever form of medium is in use at the time.
To that end, allow me to prognosticate and put forth three choices for what may be viewed and enjoyed by those of all ages in the future.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
The definition of screwball comedies of the 20th century stars Cary Grant as David Huxley, a clumsy, mild-mannered paleontologist with Harold Lloyd glasses. Deep in the Sisyphian task of assembling the skeleton of an ancient Brontosaurus, David only needs one bone to complete the task. To add to his stress, David is engaged and soon to be wed to a woman of means whose family can supply extra funding for David’s museum.
Seeking surcease, David decides to play some golf the next day and meets a striking, fast-talking Katherine Hepburn as Susan Vance, madcap extraordinaire and niece of his future mother-in-law. Susan plays by her own rules and speaks her mind. The repartee between David and Susan is as over-layered, stepped-on, and Hawksian as it is flat-out hilarious! With David constantly trying to catch up when to two meet again at a resplendent, elegant restaurant and night club.
Rapid-fire banter turns into a whispered argument that segues into an accidentally ripped and torn skirt of Susan’s evening gown. Which David tries to cover as best he can with his top hat and quick turns as they seek club’s front door. For a quick trip to Susan’s family’s palatial manse and manicured grounds. Where David is introduced to kith and kin, including a leopard from Brazil named ‘Baby’ and a terrier named ‘George,’ who slyly buried the essential Brontosaurus bone the ‘intercostal clavicle’ somewhere beyond the house while ‘Baby’ ambles away into the night.
What follows is a primer on comedic timing, quips, pratfalls and stalking through foggy woods and narrow streams. Interspersed with choruses of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” which Baby likes, as David and Susan search high and low. Accidentally break windows while seeking assistance. Run afoul of the law and are locked up in the Constabulary’s jail. Where Susan takes on the voice, slang and body language of a gangster’s moll. An incredibly funny few moments that involve a second leopard and mistaken identities. Until a friend of the family arrives and straightens things out.
David goes his way. Susan and Baby go theirs. The intercostal clavicle is recovered and Susan takes it to a now busy David high atop the incomplete Brontosaurus on tall scaffolding to make amends. When Susan sees a nearby flimsy ladder…
The film that solidified Humphrey Bogart as a romantic leading man still manages to pack a heck of a lot of story and tell it well within its 102 minutes. Wondrously crowded, well designed and executed sets transport to a stylized Morocco, Casablanca, its shadowy casbahs and Rick’s Cafe Americain. The hub of all things curious and worth noting by the Vichy constabulary and its German occupiers.
Bogart plays Rick Blaine, expatriate American cafe and casino owner with a fixed roulette wheel that pays on 22. Who drinks alone, plays chess against himself. Has few friends. Is rarely impressed. While exuding an air of supreme clever confidence. Master of his own fate in a corner of the world where suspicion runs rampant and others beg, borrow and steal for exit visas and a way out.
Enter into this world skullduggery, Ilsa Lund. Spectacularly gorgeous Ingrid Bergman. Rick’s old flame from happier times in Paris, just before the Germans rolled in. Unfortunately, Ilsa has brought her husband along. Suave and elegant Victor Laszlo. Leader of the Free French movement and Public Enemy #1 of Conrad Veidt’s Major Heinrich Strasser and his minions. Who would be quite content to keep Ilsa and Victor right where they are.
Who, but director Michael Curtiz and writers Philip and Julian Epstein could wrap a deliciously moody love story around this foundation? As Rick politely reintroduces himself to Ilsa. Sparks flare to life. Aware that she and Victor are in need of a pair of exit visas that Rick possesses. The possibilities are endless as emotions sway. I’ll leave it right there for you to draw your own conclusions.
The life of Henry Hill. A Brooklyn kid who says, “As far back as I can remember. I always wanted to be a gangster,” is given the full blown Martin Scorsese treatment. In full blown, lush color. From Henry’s early years hanging out on street corners and parking cars for the meetings of made men he idolized. To huge tips being taken under the wing of slow moving, always cautious ‘Paulie’ Cicero. Henry climbs up the lower tiers of organized crime. Befriending a young young Joe Pesci giving wondrous psychotic life to Tommy DeVito and his friend, Jimmy ‘The Gent’ Conway, played with low-key deliberation by Robert De Niro.
Life is good as Henry dumps school in favor of selling hijacked cigarettes to any and all. Until he is arrested for the first of several times. Surprisingly, the pinch helps rather than hinders Henry’s slow, yet steady climb up the criminal corporate ladder. Henry, now played by a smooth faced, lean Ray Liotta is all style and flash, but not a lot of substance. Part of Jimmy’s crew, Henry learns the ins and outs of the finer points of hijacking semi tractor trailers along the New Jersey Turnpike. When not robbing Idlewild Airport of its employees’ payroll. or burning down restaurants or clubs slowly taken over by Paulie and his friends.
Henry falls in loves with, pursues and courts Karen. A stunning Lorraine Bracco with visits to famed New York nightclubs. Filmed in Steady Cam from the rear entrance. Through the kitchens and to a quickly laid out ringside table in time for Henny Youngman and complimentary champagne. Then taking the time to brutally beat a competitor close to death with a pistol who. Making Karen an accessory after the fact, by giving her the pistol to hide.
The good life continues. Henry marries Karen. The money rolls in and heists get bigger and bigger. Until one night when a made man runs afoul of Tommy. Is killed messily and buried somewhere Upstate. Then exhumed six months later when Jimmy finds out the land is going to be developed. The wheels start to come off. As Henry takes a mistress and Karen finds out. Threats are made and Paulie tells Henry to get back with Karen. Henry does. Then he and Jimmy go down to Florida to collect some betting markers and draw a delayed bust from the FBI.
Henry discovers drugs behind bars, though life there is better than for most. Against Paulie’s wishes, he continues in the trade as a major heist goes bad. And those involved get very sloppy and spend very conspicuously. Then pay for it rather sloppily to the strains of ‘Layla’ by Derek and the Dominoes. I’ll end it here, lest I get into Spoiler Territory.
I’ve chosen three films which have stood the test of time. Masterpieces assembled by directors with the clout and ability to get superior writers, cinematographers, set designers. Then turn it all over to superior casts anxious to make their marks. Creating benchmarks that have aged well and improved with time. And will be amongst the first chosen decades from now.
What do you think of Jack’s picks? Are there other films that are already considered classics now and will remain so?