Monday, January 31, 2011
Inspired by a performance of his favorite play, "Volpone," Cecil Fox (Rex Harrison) devises an intricate plan to trick three of his former mistresses into believing he is dying. Fox hires William McFly (Cliff Robertson), a man of many trades including being a sometime actor to act as his secretary. Though the women have vast fortunes of their own, Fox depends on their greediness to bring them running. There is Merle McGill (Edie Adams), a Hollywood sex symbol; Princess Dominique (Capucine), who once took a cruise on Fox's yacht; and Lone Star Crockett (Susan Hayward), a Texas hypochondriac who travels with her nurse Sarah (Maggie Smith).
As Fox and McFly act out their charade, Lone Star states to the other women that she is the only one entitled to the inheritance since she is Fox's common-law wife. Later that night as Sarah and William go out for drinks where Sarah tells of her daily routine of walking Lone Star at 3:00 AM to give her more sleeping pills to get through the night, William then excuses himself to make a phone call and Sarah, tired from her travels slips off to sleep for about an hour. When Lone Star is found dead later that morning from an overdose, Sarah immediately suspects William. Her suspicions are confirmed when she finds the roll of quarters missing from Lone Star’s bag in William’s room.
She confronts William with her findings and he promptly locks her in her room demanding she keep her mouth shut about the whole situation. Fearing that William will now kill Fox, she uses the dumbwaiter that connects her room to his to pull herself up and warn him. Fox both praises her intellect and her stupidity, leaving Sarah slightly confused but relieved that she has forewarned Fox.
But did she warn the right man? Who really murdered Lone Star and why?
The Honey Pot starts out as a light comedy and as you settle in to see if the greedy women will get their comeuppance, you slowly begin to realize the movie is taking a dark turn. The Honey Pot is a very intelligent screenplay that really makes you use your noodle. Quite good.
Tonight on TCM!
Breathless (1960) A small-time hood hides out from the cops with his American girlfriend. Cast: Jean Seberg, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Liliane David, Daniel Boulanger Dir: Jean-Luc Godard
Friday, January 28, 2011
When the world’s foremost detectives gather at Lionel Twain’s (Truman Capote) castle for dinner and a murder (his own), they find themselves being challenged to discover who is the best detective of all. Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), Dick Charleston (David Niven), Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester) Milo Perrier (James Coco) and Sam Diamond (Peter Faulk) not only have their own motives for killing Lionel but they could all use the million dollars he offers up as the reward for whoever solves the crime. Hilarity ensues as the evening reveals the flaws of each detective and the promised dinner is ruined by the lack of communication between Jamesir Bemsonmam (Alec Guinnes) the blind butler and the hired cook (Nancy Walker) who’s deaf and mute. Not to mention the murders of Jamesir and Lionel.
A delightful film with a dialogue full of parodies any classic noir fan would enjoy, Murder by Death itself is one big parody of all the detectives created by: Dashiell Hammett, whose Nick Charles and Sam Spade were the basis for Dick Charleston and Sam Diamond, Agatha Christie, whose Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple inspired Milo Perrier and Miss Marbles, and; Earl Derr Biggers Charlie Chan who’s the basis for Sidney Wang.
My favorite character was Falk’s Sam Diamond whose lengthy one liners left me reeling.
Immediately after completing the film, Peter Sellers was so convinced it was going to bomb, he convinced the producers to buy back his percentage share in the movie, thus depriving himself of a cut of the profits with the film when it went on to be a hit.
Tonight on TCM!
Tunes of Glory (1960) When a popular colonel loses a promotion, it sets the stage for conflict with his new superior officer. Cast: Alec Guinness, John Mills, Dennis Price, Kay Walsh Dir: Ronald Neame
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Myrna Loy and William Powell on The Thin Man set.
Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson on the Autumn Leaves set.
Gloria Swanson and William Holden on the Sunset Boulevard set.
Ann Todd and Ethel Barrymore on The Paradine Case set.
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman on the Casablanca set.
Charlotte Henry and Sterling Holloway (as the toad) on the Alice in Wonderland set.
Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Tonight on TCM!
The Snows Of Kilimanjaro (1952) As he fights a deadly jungle fever, a hunter remembers his lost loves..
Cast: Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Hildegarde Neff Dir: Henry King
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Why I Prefer The Stage To Pictures…Or Maybe I Don’t!
By Mary Astor
[Reprinted from The Screen Player, May 1934]
It has always been my opinion that one should stay in one’s own department, and while mine may not be acting, it certainly isn’t writing, so I’m going to pass the buck to Ye Ed and say that it was his idea, not mine!
Feg Murray, in the Examiner the other day, said that, although I had appeared in about eighty pictures in my fourteen years in business, and in only one stage play, I preferred working behind the footlights to working in pictures. Now, that seems to call for an explanation and maybe an apology, doesn’t it?
Well, it all dates back to the time I was about seven years old. (Don’t get scared, this isn’t going to be an autobiography.) I lived on a farm and went to a two-room country school; and if you know anything about country schools, you know that about twice annually they bust out with what is called an entertainment. All the mamas and papas come to watch their offspring do their stuff, which usually consists of a one-act play, a flag drill and an unending series of recitations---I always got in on the recitations. The usual technique was to stand up, staring straight ahead, arms woodenly at the sides, and get through it as fast as possible.
In one occasion I selected Riley’s “Brook Song” and unfortunately read it with some “expression” and a few little simple gestures. The audience tittered all through it, but I was quite oblivious, and when I came down off the stage to receive the customary congratulations, some of the kids were still laughing and whispering behind their hands. I asked the what was funny, thinking my sash was untied, or something, and one of them said, “It’s just that you make those funny motions.”
Of course, my family thought I was a potential Duse, and so, whether I liked it or not, by the time I was fourteen I found myself making “funny motions” in front of a camera. And, what’s more, I’ve been doing it ever since.
I’ve never had a great deal of ambition and never thought much of myself as an actress. I relied for years on a sort of stain-glass type of prettiness, and if I’m any good at all now, it’s simply because of the fact that you can’t work at acting for fourteen years and not absorb at least a few of the rudiments.
Along about 1929 came the talkie ogre and he swallowed me along with a lot of others. I took a test and was so frightened I couldn’t do a thing. As a result of that, I couldn’t get a job for ten months. I got so I was writing to casting directors, saying I was at liberty, and couldn’t they do something about it. I figured I was a pretty big shot and they ought to jump at the chance. They didn’t figure it that way.
At that time I was going around with a group of people that included Florence and Freddie March. Florence was very sympathetic and told me about a play she and Edward Everett Horton were going to do shortly, and there was a swell part in it, and maybe she could talk Eddie into giving me a try-out. She could and did. The show was Among the Married. It played at the old Majestic here is Los Angeles, and I’ve never been quite the same since. In the first place, I wasn’t able to see myself and see whether I was any good or not, so the result was that I thought I was pretty good. My own rushes have always given me a slight twinge of nausea.
The opening night, I went against all the rules, out of sheer ignorance. I had a huge dinner, got to the theatre early, made up, and re-read the whole play. I had no first night qualms, nothing but a pleasant glow of anticipation. Florence and I made our first entrance together, and she was sort of holding on to me. She told me afterwards that she had no idea what I might do the first time I saw the audience, and I guess she was afraid I’d fall over in a faint or something.
She kept giving me my cues very plainly and watching me anxiously. One of my first lines was a rather funny wisecrack and the audience laughed, and from them on nobody could have been happier than I was. I just relaxed and had a swell time. Florence saw that I was going to be all right, so then she started to think about herself and got jittery. We had some ad-lib conversation behind the piano upstage while the action was going on downstage, and she whispered to me, “Oh, Mary, I’m so nervous, I’ll never get through this thing.” I patted her on the shoulder and said, “There, there darling, you’re doing great.” Imagine me, a mere amateur, “there, there-ing” Florence Eldridge!
And that, children, is why I’m stage-struck and why I’ll never be happy ‘til I try it again.
There are those who may argue, “Think about having to do the same show, night after night.” True enough, but at least you have about twenty-two hours before you have to do it again, and certainly that’s pleasanter than having to do it over and over again after you’ve been squeezed dry, which happens all the time in pictures.
And think of only having to work two and a half hours a day! Think of being able to see the sun every day, if it’s shining. Think of not having to get up at an ungodly hour and hurry through breakfast, hurry to the studio, hurry through make-up, and then drag home at night to hurry to bed and grab a few hours’ sleep before starting all over again.
That’s a pretty dreary picture and probably if I’d been on the stage for fourteen years and made only one picture, I’d sing another song. But I doubt it.
With a career spanning forty-five years, Mary Astor is best remembered for her role of Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon. She had a private life marked by scandal, death, alchoholism, and overdoses- all of which she overcame. She would eventually tread the boards again and in 1956 made a success of Don Juan in Hell which was directed by Agnes Moorehead. She also wrote two very successful autobiographies as well as several fictional books.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Temperamental Broadway star Jenny Stewart (Joan Crawford) lashes out at anyone who displeases her or doesn’t strive for her brand of perfection. This includes her current dance partner, the director, the producer and most importantly her arranger, Charlie (Bennie Rubin), who has been driven to drink because of her demands. It’s soon discovered that Jenny’s kindness is reserved only for her needling mother and her fans that she adores. Aware of how very lonely she is, despite her relationship with Cliff (Gig Young), Jenny is caught up in her own insecurities about her self worth beyond being a star and has developed a defense mechanism of striking first and dealing with the consequences later.
When Charlie quits the show and is replaced by Tye Graham (Michael Wilding), a blind pianist very adept at accompanying Jenny and accommodating her changes, she rudely disregards his suggestions. Thrown off guard by his composure and knowledge, Jenny insists getting the director Joe (Henry Morgan) to fire Tye and bring Charlie back.
Despite being fired, Tye buys Jenny lunch and suggests that she uses her tough demeanor to conceal her fear of being vulnerable. Jenny doesn’t warm to the concept and they part bitterly. Later that evening, after thinking things over and realizing that Charlie won’t be coming back to the show, Jenny goes to Tye’s apartment and insists he come back to work for her.
Eventually Jenny comes to depend upon Tye but is thrown again by his seemingly disinterest of her. When the show is ready to go on the road, Tye decides not to go with it much to Jenny’s dismay. After another bitter confrontation, Jenny visits her mother and reveals her frustration about Tye. But when Mrs. Stewart produces the scrapbooks she has filled with newspaper clippings about Jenny's career (something Jenny is very surprised about), she finds a review written by Tye the evening before he went to war and eventually became blind. Realizing that Tye has seen her before, loved her singing and better yet, her- Jenny rushes to his home and admits her love for him as well.
Originally slated for Lana Turner who turned it down, Torch Song marked Joan Crawford's return to MGM after a ten-year absence. It was an ambitious piece intended to break Crawford away from the type of roles she had been playing throughout the forties. The goal was not achieved however, beyond getting Crawford to show off her gorgeous legs and her skill at lip-syncing. She did try to sing for the film but despite studying opera when she was younger, her voice could not support the role she was playing. The crux of the story is the same- woman desperately seeks love but her hard-as-nails attitude and independence gets in the way. What does come across is the self-referential way that Crawford plays her character. She is Jenny Stewart. A big star in the autumn of her career, she realizes that she has sacrificed a lot for the love of her fans. As Molly Haskell states in the small documentary after the film, “Other people were great actresses, Joan Crawford was a great star.” Crawford was supremely devoted to her fans and because of them her job always, always came before anything else, including real love and supposedly, family. This must have been especially hard for her when work started to dry up, not only to lose the potential to retain and make fans but to know she sacrificed everything for them.
Despite Joan Crawford being one of my favorite actresses, I mainly wanted to see this movie because of this photo above. I honestly thought it was someone playing a mean joke to make her look like this and was disappointed to find this is actually a sequence in the film, she is actually painted up like this. Out of nowhere and apparently for no explained reason, this is the finale piece to the show Jenny Stewart is in. This is also the moment when Tye leaves the theatre without a word of congratulations or anything to Jenny. Can you blame him?
Tonight on TCM!
Spend an evening with Peter Sellers. His Pink Panther series were another favorite growing up.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Laurence Olivier and Tony Curtis
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Badlands (1973) A young tough guy and his teen-aged girlfriend take off on a killing spree. Cast: Martin Sheen, Sissy Spacek, Warren Oates, Ramon Bieri Dir: Terrence Malick