This is my third newsletter in a long series of newsletters going into the future. It was a project I had long wanted to do and I am finding the experience both satisfying and exciting. I have had so many comments from the recipients of my mail outs telling me how much they have enjoyed them and it has spurred me continue on. I am glad their are so many like minded film enthusiast. The quality of T.V and films in general today are so poor it astounds me that the film and television industry continue to get it so wrong.
In my continuing story of the evolution of films in September’s Newsletter we got to the beginning of the introduction of sound into the Movies. The Jazz Singer (1927) spelt the end of silent films. The period from 1927 to 1935 is considered as Hollywood’s most influential period. In this period the creativity of film makers just went to another level.
With many technological advancements as well, like better microphones, better lighting, improved camera’s, these all created an environment for film directors to try new and at times revolutionary ideas that through the years became standard procedure for the making of a film. It must be said that the French and European films where ahead of American films at this time but the shear volume of output by the Hollywood studio’s overwhelmed other countries film industries. Germany in particular was leading the way in many area’s but the rise of Hitler and Nazism stifled the creativity that the film industry. Karl Freund, Joe May and Robert Siodmak. Directors Edgar Ulmer and Douglas Sirk and the Austrian-born screenwriter (and later director) Billy Wilder also emigrated from Nazi Germany to Hollywood success. Ernst Lubitsch had come over in the 20’s but stayed on in Hollywood when he saw what was happening in Germany. Off course one of the great arrivals was Marlene Dietrich. In April 1930, shortly after the premiere of Der Blaue Engel (The Blue Angel) in Berlin, Dietrich moved to America. Again working with von Sternberg, Dietrich starred in Morocco (1930) with Gary Cooper. She played Amy Jolly, a lounge singer, who gets entangled in a love triangle with a member of the Foreign Legion (Cooper) and a wealthy playboy (Adolphe Menjou). For her work on the film, Dietrich received her one and only Academy Award nomination.
Marlene Dietrich refused to work in Germany, and her films were temporarily banned there. Renouncing Nazism, Dietrich was branded a traitor in Germany. Dietrich became a U.S. citizen in 1937. She did great volunteer work during WW2 and instrumental in setting up a fund with Billy Wilder to help Jews escape from Germany
In my research this interesting fact came to light. Dorothy Arzner (1897 – 1979) is one of the most prolific directors of early American cinema, having worked with some of the biggest stars of the era including Katharine Hepburn and Joan Crawford in the 1920s and ‘30s. She is also the first woman to direct a film with sound. It was during such a project The Wild Party (1929) that Arzner is credited with inventing the boom microphone. To allow Clara Bow more freedom to move around the set, Arzner suspended a fishing rod above the actress and attached a microphone to the end of it. This prototype boom mic has become an essential piece of sound equipment for modern media production. Women were even doing it back then.
The other feature that highlights this period is film censorship or lack there off. Many subjects that had been off limits were explored and at times scenes where pushed to the limit creating much furor particularly with the Evangelistic Church’s and the Roman Catholic Church which at this time had a very influential position in America. This period is often referred to as the Pre-Code Era. Why was it named Pre-Code? The more the film makers pushed the moral boundaries and this did not always involve copious displays of the female anatomy, it also included some very racy dialogue. This was the period when Mae West became one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, male or female. She did it by using very sexy innuendo in her speech and to this day many of her sayings are still quoted. Her most famous “Is that a pistol in your pocket or are you just glad to see me” or “When I am Good I am very very good but when I am bad I am better”
The Stock Market crash and the Great Depression was a very testing time for Hollywood. To get an audience to part with any precious savings they had the film producers pushed every scene to it’s limit. The Gangster film genre glamorized criminals and James Cagney made this genre his own. “The Public Enemy” and “Lady Killer” where two films that where good examples of how far the envelope got pushed.The treatment of woman was appalling in these films and most probably caused a great deal of domestic violence to be put on women and the effects are still felt to this day.
Along with the gangster films, films that dealt openly with sex, divorce and homosexuality were being made in ever increasing numbers. Films like Red Headed Woman, Baby Face and Call Her Savage.
The studio’s had pushed the envelope to far and the backlash came in the form of the “Hayes Code”.
“The Hays Code was this self-imposed industry set of guidelines for all the motion pictures that were released between 1934 and 1968,” The code prohibited profanity, suggestive nudity, graphic or realistic violence, sexual persuasions and rape. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and now simply the Motion Picture Association (MPA), adopted the Production Code in 1930 and began rigidly enforcing it in mid-1934.
The Hays Code got its popular nickname from Will H. Hays, a Presbyterian elder who was made president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America (MPPDA), who set up the Motion Picture Production Code and its guidelines but it was not until Joseph I. Breen, a Catholic layman, who helped make it a requirement that all movies produced in Hollywood be given a stamp of approval by the PCA prior to release. From then on in, studios and filmmakers had to abide by the rules, especially since the PCA now made it more of a requirement than ever before.
By mid 1934 the die had been cast. Hollywood cleaned up it’s act and we are about to embark on the golden period of Hollywood with the introduction of “Technicolor” and movies that had great family values as their cornerstone, musicals the like we may never see again. For me the films of this era where made great because so much was left to the imagination. Sometimes you had to finish a scene of in your mind, it made you think about, that kiss, that situation the actor and actress where in, did he really get a good peek at her. Today’s films don’t make you think, they don’t leave any whatif’s or maybe’s, everything is laid out. Maybe the pendulum has swung to far and it may come back. Maybe I just a grumpy old man looking at a bygone era through the lenses of my own rose colored glasses.
To continue with my Forgotten Films series that you should watch.
THE STING : Two grifters team up to pull off the ultimate con.
What has happened to “The Sting”. One of those great films that just fade away. I loved The Sting
One of the memorable feature in this film is the music. If it gets into your head you spend all day just humming the tune but the plot is brilliant, the characters are all lovable rouges except for Doyle Lonnegan who gets his just deserts. Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Robert Shaw give supurb acting performance but lets not takeaway from the minor players, Robert Earl Jones, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan plus a long list of the great character actors who all make this film one of the most watchful and entertaining films I have seen.
Just a little bit of trivia but interesting I think : Robert Shaw injured his knee and incorporated the resulting limp into his performance. Shaw split all the ligaments in his knee after slipping on a wet handball court at the Beverly Hills Hotel a week before filming started. He had to wear a leg brace during production which was kept hidden under the wide 1930s style trousers he wore.
It’s a Masterpiece of Criminal Sophistication
For a while, one needs a scorecard to keep track of all the players. As Redford and Newman light up the screen, we have an incredible intertwining of characters and motivations playing off each other, leading to the final con. What works is that we have a simple motivation that sets it all up. That is the murder of a friend. All else is directed at that central issue. Soon, the masters of the Sting begin to set up the dominoes, They match bad guys against bad guys, create artificial settings, maneuver things in an orchestrated way. Not everything works perfectly. There are some unexpected pitfalls, including a near-fatal mistake, but the beauty is that these villains are almost excited to be separated from their money. One of the really bright spots of the 1970’s.
If you haven’t seen it for awhile get it out and watch it. This was without doubt one of the great films of the ’70s
The Man Who Never Was : In order to fool the Germans into thinking the Allied invasion of Sicily will take place elsewhere, British Military Intelligence comes up with a cunning ruse.
Just recently I was talking to someone who said he enjoyed war films. He said he had heard of it but had never seen it. The more I talked about it the more I realized what a delightful gem of a film in it’s genre that had become so forgotten. It is a war film but it is also a spy film and based on a true story. One so audacious and cunning it completely fooled the Germans and led to the saving of many soldiers lives
Clifton Webb is the main actor playing Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu. He is an unlikely actor to star in a war film but is very well cast as the backroom boffin heading up the operation. The film is absorbing from start to finish. I actually watch it from time to time just for the opening sequence, it starts with a very powerful poem ( I happen to like poetry) but it sets the tone of the film.
Two interesting pieces of trivia : Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, is said to be the author of the actual operation and the ruse that was carried out. In the biography “Fleming” published in 2014 he is officially given credit for his part in it.
In this movie, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu (Clifton Webb) selects a man who had died of pneumonia, because the corpse would need to have similarly damaged lungs if it had really drowned. There is also a very emotional scene where the man’s father is persuaded to allow his son to be used for the deception. In fact, a Welsh vagrant, both of whose parents were dead, was used, and his death was due to his committing suicide by ingesting rat poison. It was judged to make it almost impossible to tell that this, rather than drowning, was the real cause of death. The identity of “the man who never was” was a closely guarded secret until 1998, when it was discovered that he was called Glyndwr Michael. His grave in Huelva, Spain (near the beach at Punta Umbria) now uniquely carries both his fictional and real names.
Joan Hickson of Miss Marples fame has a small part as a landlady.
An exemplary true story
THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS is an exemplary and atypical British WW2 film that brims with suspense and insight. It’s also unlike any other war movie you’ll see; the film is about spies and spying, but the plot itself – the efforts to convince the Nazis of the existence of the titular figure – is thoroughly unusual and thoroughly compelling. It best reminded me of ALBERT, R.N., a film with a similarly clever premise. Like ALBERT, R.N., it’s also based on a larger-than-life true story. The film has a strong ensemble cast, all of whom give very convincing performances, particularly Stephen Boyd and Gloria Grahame in the latter part of the production. Few films get me on the edge of my seat these days, but THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS was one of them.
Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming
I thought I would put this film in as it has become completely forgotten but it is a fantastic Action, Spy film and for James Bond fans. Fleming actually lived a James Bond existence in his early career as a newspaper journalist escaping death on more than one ocassion. It is not a stretch of the imagination to see where he got the insperation for some of the bizarre plots he came up with for the Bond stories and eventually films.
I thought I would add this film in the forgotten film reviews after I came upon the fact that Ian Fleming came up with the idea to fool the Germans with “The Man Who Never Was”
This is a highly entertaining 90 minutes of action, intrigue and an interesting look at the life of the creator of one of the most profitable film franchises in the history of films. If you have not seen this film I highly recommend it.
Sean Connery son, Jason Connery plays Ian Fleming and does a very credible job. On the strength of his performance, although he has over 75 credited films or T.V Series I thought he would have had a more illustrious career. Maybe he was in his father’s shadow
Stand By Me : This is the penultimate coming of age film for men.
This film was a big box office success in it’s day but as time has gone on it seems to have slipped under the radar. For me this is a film that recalls all the good things in my childhood. Sorry ladies but this is a film for men and I am going to get it out tonight and watch it again. I am already singing the song
It’s the summer of 1959 in Castlerock, Oregon and four 12 year-old boys – Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern – are fast friends. After learning of the general location of the body of a local boy who has been missing for several days, they set off into the woods to see it. Along the way, they learn about themselves, the meaning of friendship and the need to stand up for what is right. In our boyhoods we all had a summer we can look back on where we did things with a bunch of friends that we have remembered all our lives.
This film comes from the brilliant pen of Stephan King. King is better known for his horror or mystery novels that have been made into films. Although this does have that Stephan King twist to mystery on the dark side in it, the scene in the woods where they camp overnight, but it really is a film of boys becoming men. It also has the great song Stand By Me by Ben. E. King. Who has not belted a bad version of this song at a party after one too many drinks.
Some Trivia : After director Rob Reiner screened the movie for Stephen King, he noticed that King was visibly shaking and wasn’t speaking. He left the room and upon his return, King told Reiner that the movie was the best adaptation of his work he had ever seen.
Rob Reiner considers this the best film he has ever made.
Great childhood memories
Gordie recalls his childhood as he reads about Chris Chambers’ death in the newspapers. It’s 1959 Castlerock Oregon. Childhood friends Gordie Lachance (Wil Wheaton), Chris Chambers (River Phoenix), Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman), and chubby Vern Tessio (Jerry O’Connell) go on a quest to see a dead body.
Based on a Stephen King story, the Richard Dreyfuss narrations gives it that old time feel. The best thing in the movie are the four kids leads. Wil Wheaton has the geeky role. River Phoenix has the leading man persona. Corey Feldman is the screw up. And Jerry O’Connell was fat. I remember watching this with a friend in the theater. As the eating contest begins, he said ‘Are they going to show THAT?’ I had no idea what he meant, but he read the book. Let’s just say that it’s a great scene. This movie continues to be one of the best Stephen King adapted films. The kids are great and there is that lost sense of childhood wonder.
BURT LANCASTER 1913 – 1994
In last months Newsletter I promised a review of Burt Lancaster. He is one of my favorite male actors so here is a bit of self indulgence.
Born in 1913 to Irish immigrants from Northern Ireland. He was a tough street kid who took an early interest in gymnastics. He joined the circus as an acrobat and worked there until he was injured. It was in the Army during WW II that he was introduced to the USO and acting. His first film was The Killers (1946), and that made him a star. He was a self-taught actor who learned the business as he went along.
I consider his two greatest films were From Here To Eternity
and Elmer Gantry
for which he won the Oscar for the best actor.
His turned in a powerhouse performance, all flashing teeth, athletic energy, charisma, and wild hair, using his own physical prowess to great advantage. For a self taught actor from his beginnings in the Film Noir drama “The Killers” to his last T.V Mini Series “Separate But Equal” he made 85 films over a 46 year span. There were many memorable films, The Crimson Pirate
, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
, Judgment at Nuremberg, Birdman of Alcatraz
, The Island of Dr. Moreau
, Atlantic City
, Local Hero
, Field of Dreams. There are so many these are just the highlights.
As a person, Burt Lancaster was a complex and driven person. He was a genuine article – he did his own stunts, his name was his own, his screen height was his real height. Running his own production company, at a time when few actors did, meant he controlled his career, which cut out a lot of Hollywood sucking-up. Perhaps he suffered fewer insecurities as a result, but the abundance of confidence in its turn bred an unpredictable monster.
He had an uncontrollable temper and could have violent flare ups with directors. This sometimes made him unpopular on a set
but he did get the best out of himself and from the director. Looking at all of the films he made you can not really find a bad one and sometimes through his shear energy and talent he dragged a mediocre film up to being acceptable.
Although he was married three times and had five children he kept his private life private although in his younger days he was very much a party animal which led to some bad press but this was pretty much standard behavior for Hollywood in the 40s.50s and 60s.
Burt Lancaster died in October 1994 as a result of a stoke. He was bed ridden for the last years of his life which
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