In my last newsletter I touched on the beginning of Hollywood. This was silent era when the filmmakers and their craftsmen ( lighting, sets etc) where learning to master this new medium. By the 1920’s they had progressed quickly and directing technique where beginning to take shape but they were held back by the one thing they didn’t have and that was “SOUND”.
By 1926, silent film writing, acting, photography, and music had reached an aesthetic pinnacle: very subtle emotional and plot nuances could be conveyed without the use of any accompanying dialogue. In fact, as the era of silent film drew to a close, filmmakers were able to convey their stories with a bare minimum of titles on screen.
Los Angeles is built on the San Andreas Fault Line and Hollywood was about to be hit by an event that was the equivalent of a 7.9 earthquake. Warner Brothers had been working with Vitaphone who had solved the lip sync problem that had plagued this technology. Several pilot shorts and a silent – sound film had been made (The Adventures Of Don Juan) but on October 6th 1927, The Jazz Singer, the first fully sound movie was released. Box Office records were smashed and the writing was on the wall for silent films. Some studio’s tried to hold out, Paramount being one and they released the last silent film, Legong, made on November 15th 1935 but sound or “Talkie” movies as they were colloquially called were now so well established there was no going back. Without becoming to technical the Vitaphone technology was complicated especially for the projectionist and lip sync problems still arose, sometimes to hilarious effect. Movietone, yes we all remember Movietone News, solved the problem of lip syncing once and for all by using an optical sound track attached to the side of the film negative hence the film and sound track were interlocked as opposed to the Vitaphone system of the sound track being on a separate phonograph record. Enough of the technical stuff.
With the introduction of sound their was a whole new learning curve.
The camera’s were cumbersome beasts and had to be sound proofed and it took a while for someone to figure out that you could move the microphone around by placing it at the end of a stick called a “boom” just above the range of the camera. So very early sound films tended to be very static because actors had to speak to a static mike, and cameras movement no longer had that graceful and supple fluidity it had been developing for 30 years.
The addition of sound did not simply mean that actors could now talk; it meant big changes in the way that films were produced. Scenarists now had also to be dialogue writers. Literary types from the other arts were imported to Hollywood to help write the new talkies: Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway, for example.
Actors now had to be paragons of articulateness and fluency as well as pantomime artists. Certain exotic roles became far less fashionable, in part because foreign accents were harder to understand with primitive microphone and amplification technologies. Some verbal kinds of comedy, most conspicuously typified by the Marx Brothers was simply not possible until sound. A host of comedians came from vaudeville and the stage to help round off the new cast of talking characters: Jack Benny, Bob Hope, George Burns and Gracie Allen, and so on.
And, of course, at least one whole genre would not have been possible without sound: the musical. With a volatile history, going in and out of popularity very often, this genre persists in some form to the present day, from the “backstage musical” of the late 1920s, to the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films of the Great Depression, to the big color MGM productions of the 1950s. Musicals will be the subject for a later newsletter as I consider they are one of the most important genres of the film world.
Before I leave this first part of the newsletter in my research I came upon a certain myth that has been perpetuated over the years and I was one that did not fully understand how certain actors and actresses were effected by the coming of sound. The myth that many careers were killed off because the sound of their voice did not translate very well to big screen is not entirely true. Most actors did make the transition because they went through voice training and elocution lessons. It was those who didn’t or had heavy foreign accent were mainly the ones who did not make it but these did Greta Garbo, Myrna Loy, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Mary Astor, Norma Shearer, Gary Cooper and Ronald Coleman.
THESE ACTORS AND ACTRESSES MADE IT BIG INTO THE “TALKIES”
Joan Crawford Mary Astor Myrna Loy Greta Garbo Norma Shearer John Barrymore Ronald Coleman Gary Cooper
Those films that just didn’t make it when released or where made for T.V films that should have got a lot better promotion and didn’t. Films that have just have been forgotten
The first is a magic film with Jack Lemmon as the main actor “Tuesdays With Morrie”. It was his last film role although he did do the narration for The Legend Of Baggar Vance but was un-credited. In “Tuesday’s With Morrie” for his role as Morrie Schwartz in his final television role, Tuesdays with Morrie (1999), Lemmon won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie. This alone says some thing about the film but it is a beautiful film. Why it has been forgotten I cannot for the life of me understand because I rate it as one of Jack Lemmons best
This is a great TV movie about a retired teacher named Morrie Schwartz who is slowly dying of Lou Gherig’s disease. Instead of being miserable about his inevitable death, Morrie has accepted it. An old pupil of his, Mitch Albom, has come to visit Morrie after hearing of his sickness on the news. Morrie starts to teach Mitch about his ideas on the meaning of life. He says “When we learn to die, we learn to live.” When you can accept that you will die someday, you live life differently. He also says to always forgive everyone before it’s too late and to love everyone. “We must love one another, or die.”
It is made very clear from the very beginning of this movie that Morrie is going to die. Knowing this makes you dread the ending of this movie, but not as much as watching Morrie in such pain, especially at night. There were great acting jobs by everyone in this movie, including Wendy Moniz and Hank Azaria. But Jack Lemmon steals the show.
On Sunday 7 December 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the US Pacific fleet in its moorings at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. At the time, no state of war existed between the two nations. An ingenious pre-emptive strike, as the Japanese ‘hawks’ saw it, was condemned by the world as one of the greatest acts of treachery in modern history.
“Tora! Tora! Tora!” meticulously traces the build-up to Pearl Harbor by examining the diplomatic, military and intelligence events and developments on both sides. The film is unimpeachable even-handed, telling both sides’ stories simultaneously, and interleaving the Japanese and American versions with intelligence and an almost total absence of jingoism.
Japan’s warmongers considered their country to be trapped by history and geography. As the industrial nations surged forward in terms of prosperity and military might, Japan was in danger of being outstripped, having few natural resources of her own. If Japan was to compete with the USA and USSR, she would have to ‘reach out’ for the raw materials available in southern Asia and the Pacific, but this would mean confronting the USA, the great maritime power in the Pacific.
The film catalogues the accidents and mistakes which combined to make Pearl Harbor a worse disaster for the USA than it need have been. American aircraft are bunched together in the middle of the airfield in order to reduce the risk of sabotage near the perimeter fence, but this helps the Japanese bombers to destroy them on the ground. Radar equipment cannot be placed in the best locations to give early warning, and in any event the radar data are misinterpreted when they predict the attack. Because the attack falls on a weekend, it is difficult for middle-ranking officers to contact military and political chiefs, and the contingency plans are inadequate. Radio Honolulu broadcasts through the night to guide a fleet of B-17’s to Hawaii, inadvertently acting as a navigation beacon for the Japanese warplanes.
If the painstaking build-up to the attack is a little slow and ponderous, it is certainly epic in scale, and when the action erupts it comes as a mighty climax. The tension is palpable as the Japanese planes take off from their carriers, black against the ominous dawn. What follows is a breath-taking cinematic coup as Pearl Harbor is ravaged.
Verdict – A historical account of almost documentary accuracy culminates in vivid action scenes. A marvelous film.
The four films I reviewed are absolute favorites of mine and I apologize if I got a bit carried away but all four films are well and truly worth watching. If you already own them get them out and watch them again. I will guarantee you will see something new that you missed the first time around, if you do not have them check out my special at the end of the newsletter because if you truly are a lover of films these four films are for you.
I was going to do a review of career of Burt Lancaster but in the space I have left I could not do his exceptional achievements justice, so I am going to include that in the October Newsletter. From Here To Eternity was one of his great films which I have touched on but this was only one of so many and over so many genres and because he could act in any genre was what made him stand out and be regarded as a great actor. I want to be even handed so along with Burt Lancaster I will also review Deborah Kerr , an actress who could play any number of roles. When she first started in her career she was a “miss goody two shoes” but From Here To Eternity broke that mould and she went onto to play some very mature roles.
WAKING NED DEVINE
One of the all time great eulogies. Jackie O’Shea speaking at the funeral of his lifelong friend Michael O’Sullivan
Michael O’Sullivan was my great friend. But I don’t ever remember telling him that. The words that are spoken at a funeral are spoken too late for the man who is dead. What a wonderful thing it would be to visit your own funeral. To sit at the front and hear what was said, maybe say a few things yourself. Michael and I grew old together. But at times, when we laughed, we grew young. If he was here now, if he could hear what I say, I’d congratulate him on being a great man, and thank him for being a friend.
Annie O’Shea: Have we won.
Jackie O’Shea: No, but it got my apple tart brought in now didn’t it.
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY
The MPAA banned photos of the famous Burt Lancaster–Deborah Kerr passionate kiss on the beach for being too erotic. Many prints had shortened versions of the scene because projectionists would cut out frames to keep as souvenirs.
The now classic scene between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in the rushing water on the beach was not written to take place there. The idea to film with the waves hitting them was a last-minute inspiration from director Fred Zinnemann.
The censors demanded that Deborah Kerr‘s swimsuit should feature a skirt in its design so as to not be too sexually provocative.
Deborah Kerr‘s portrayal of an adulterous wife was a wild choice for the actress, better known for playing prim and proper roles. She had instructed her agent to lobby for the part, but when Columbia head Harry Cohn took the call, he slammed down the phone, thinking it a ridiculous suggestion. He told Fred Zinnemann and writer Daniel Taradash about the call when they took a meeting, little realizing that Zinnemann and Taradash found the casting of Kerr an intriguing proposition.
Fred Zinnemann was very proud of his achievement with this film and regarded it as one of his finest works.
TORA TORA TORA
At the time of its initial release, the film was thought to be a box office disappointment in North America, but was a huge success in Japan. Along with The Battle of Britain (1969), The Longest Day (1962), and Patton (1970), it was seen at the time as one of the four most representative films of World War II. This film has a greater focus on realism than the others, and far less Hollywood-style storytelling.
The African-American mess attendant seen shooting at the Japanese planes is based on Seaman First Class Doris “Dorie” Miller who was stationed on the U.S.S. West Virginia. He was the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in the U.S. Armed Forces Order of Precedence. Without any training, he fired an unattended machine gun at the Japanese aircraft until it was out of ammunition. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrayed him in Pearl Harbor (2001). The USS Doris Miller (CVN-81) is a future Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier. She is scheduled to be laid down January 2026, launched October 2029, and commissioned in 2032.
When shown the movie, survivors of the attack from both sides said it was the most accurate representation of the events that happened leading to and on that day.
The wounded sailor shown firing back at the strafing Japanese planes late in the film near the conclusion of the attack is based on Chief Ordnance man John Finn, who was stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on December 7, 1941. He set up a .50 caliber machine gun mount, and despite being wounded several times, fired back at strafing Zero fighters during the second attack wave, hitting several of them, and even shooting down one, piloted by combat unit leader Lieutenant Fusata Iida. Finn was later awarded the Medal of Honor for valor beyond the call of duty.
Thank you for reading
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