Thursday, September 30, 2010

James Dean... Still Not Forgotten...

I think that it is incredibly sad that James Dean has almost become pop culture cliche. Instead of being remembered for the amazing actor that he was, he has become a dorm room decoration in colleges across the nation. I think its important to remember that on September 30 (the anniversary of the iconic actor's death) that we remember just how special this guy really was.... and just to show that I too once had a picture of Dean in my dorm room, I've decided to remember him in pictures.....Let's put aside the cliche, and examine the man....

James Dean was marvelous actor. The first movie I saw him in was East of Eden. To this day, this is my favorite James Dean movie. James dealt with rejection in each of his three movies, but in this one he is rejected by his father. There is a scene where Dean comes to blows with his father, his emotions gush forth with such searing intensity... its absoutly heart wrenching. There is so much behind his voice, his eyes... one can only wonder at the depths he had to go in order to pull up those kind of emotions. These are the kind of scenes that made Dean so watchable... you can't look away.

A couple of summers ago, I went to Marfa, Texas. This is where they shot Giant. I stayed in the same hotel where the stars of the film (Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean) stayed. I actually got to sleep in Dean's hotel room... creepy... but awesome! I am a proud Texan, having grown up in West Texas. So... James Dean in a cowboy hat is absolute perfection. Giant is a long movie, and it has moments that drag a little, but Dean's performance is outstanding... When he comes to Hudson's house after he has struck oil, covered in the black gold, he is so wonderful. Word has it that Dean and Hudson didn't really get along.... but Taylor adored him... imagine that....
Dean had a style that still resonates today. He was and is the quentessential rebel. His jeans... leather jacket... and t-shirts were so normal and yet so perfect. I love the pictures of him with his glasses... He makes them look good. Even in this, he is a bit of a rebel. He takes a physical limitation (that normally people get picked on for) and makes the frames look sexy and cool.

My favorite thing about Dean was his laugh. It bubbled out of him and could sometimes be a little high pitched and giddy. So adorable. I think of when he is at the police station at the beginning of Rebel Without A Cause... when he is drunk and making siren sounds... you can't help but fall for him instantly!
So... the next time you look at that James Dean poster on your wall.... remember... that man wasn't just sexy cool, he was one of the BEST method actors to ever grace the silver screen. He wasn't iconic just because of his tragic death, but because of the immense emotional talent that transended that gap between film and audience... You are still a star James Dean... you just shine from above now....

You Will Be Missed Tony Curtis!

I was sad to hear that Tony Curtis passed away late last night. It was one of those moments where everything stopped for just a second. Tony was one of the best actors of his generation, and he was such a charming man! He did it all, dramas, comedies, cameos... He was a method actor who didn't get lost in the method. I know I am not the only one who is going to mourn this amazing man, and my heart goes out to his family.

I am hoping that TCM does some sort of tribute to Tony in the near future. In the meantime... here are some of my favorite Tony Curtis films...
Operation Petticoat
Tony and Cary Grant had such amazing chemistry! Two men never looked so good on a pink submarine!
Some Like it Hot
I ADORE this movie. Tony and Marilyn Monroe steam up every scene.... and Tony in drag... It doesn't get much better than that!
Paris- When It Sizzles
Tony just has a cameo in this one... but he is unforgettable as Audrey's fake boyfriend!

Sex and the Single Girl
Natalie Wood, Lauren Bacall.... Tony Curtis.... Need I say more? (Oh and BTW.... it has Edward Everett Horton too!)

The Defiant Ones
This is my favorite Tony Curtis movie! The film is wrought with racist emotions and was controversial for its time. If you haven't seen this one, it is a MUST!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Loving Me Some Lloyd

I haven't had much time to post here this week. My apartment flooded at 4 am Monday morning (a pipe in my bathroom exploded!), and I have been busy cleaning up the mess. No heart breaking casualties. (One Jean Harlow pic didn't make it... but it can be easily replaced.) On top of that, my grandmother has been in the hospital... so I have been spending time up there with her after work. Needless to say, I haven't had the time to just sit and relax and watch a movie... I am starting to go through withdrawals.

I did read some interesting things the other day about one of my favorite actors (on my lunch break at work) and thought I would share :)

When I say: "Silent Film Comedian" Who automatically comes to mind?
Chaplin? Keaton? Maybe perhaps even Laurel & Hardy?
For me, my favorite silent comedian is Harold Lloyd and I think its a shame that more people don't know who he is.

I first saw a Lloyd film late one night a few years ago. It was over the holidays and I couldn't sleep.... and like some of you out there... When you can't sleep, you don't count sheep, you turn on Robert Osbourne :) A silent movie had just started and I curled up on the couch thinking it would lull me back to sleep. Instead, I found myself giggling at the skinny little man with horn rimmed glasses. He was playing a sailor trying to rescue a girl from an evil Sheik. He was bouncing around everywhere running from the Sheik's guards. I found him absolutely adorable!

The next morning, I jumped on the computer to see what the name of the movie had been and the name of the actor. The film was called A Sailor-Made Man (1921) with, who else, but Harold Lloyd. I had never heard of Lloyd but was instantly smitten, and have remained so ever since.

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of seeing Lloyd's film The Freshman at Cinecon 46. His granddaughter Suzanne Lloyd spoke about her grandfather before the film began and I was blown away that I was getting to see all of it in person. She spoke about her grandfather's physical dissabiltiy and how he didn't let it effect his stunts. He said that his audience had come to expect his stunt comedy, and he wasn't about to let them down.

I knew that Lloyd made most of his films with only one hand, but didn't know any of the specifics. So I decided to do a little reading on my lunch break. I went on his official web page and learned so many cool things about this guy.

He was actually the first film comedian to portray just an average boy next door. He started his career playing the "Tramp" character (like Chaplin) but then shed the oversize clothes for his everyday wardrobe and glasses. He told stories that audiences could relate to and he in effect, invented the romantic comedy. He played an ordinary guy forced into extraordinary circumstances to win, save or catch the heart of the girl he loves. These women weren't lofty, voluptuous creatures, but just like Lloyd, they were (adorable) everyday girls.

I read that it was during the middle of his career (1919) that Lloyd experienced his nearly fatal accident. He was posing for a photographer, the shot called for Lloyd to be lighting a cigarette using a prop bomb (it looked something like the round black ones you see in cartoons), but the prop wasn't a prop at all, but in fact a real bomb. It not only blew off the majority of Lloyd's hand, but it left him scarred and blind. The doctors said that he would never see again. But his sight did come back gradually, his scars slowly healed and he was given a glove to cover his hand and mask his missing fingers. He never regained the full use of that hand.

Lloyd went on to have a very successful silent film career in the 20s making such notable titles as Safety Last (1923) Girl Shy (1924) and Speedy (1928). He continued to do his own stunts in his films (with the use of only one hand! How crazy cool is that?!) And his dare devil comedy still makes you cringe and gasp today.

Walking out of the Egyptian Theater after watching The Freshman... I was so happy. Talking to myself I said "That was..." and a man walking out next to me finished my thought "Amazing." We smiled. That is what I love about film. That feeling that settles deep in your chest during the final credits. You know that you have just witnessed something special, and you couldn't wipe the smile off your face if you tried. I think it means even more when the film is old. 90% of silent films have been lost forever, when you see one that has survived, its like looking at an endangered species.

I know there are so many folks out there that are cautious about silent movies. I used to be one of them. But give Harold Lloyd a chance. He will not only make you smile... but he will open you up to a whole new world of film experiences... Just look at that face... how could you resist?!

Watch the video without sound... come on... you know you want to :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"I want to run barefoot through your hair..."

Cinecon gave me the chance to see Jean Harlow on the big screen! They showed a gorgeous 35mm Bombshell! It was simply magnificent. Harlow glowed on that large screen... simply breathtaking!

The film is about a Hollywood starlet (Harlow) who is plagued by crazy relatives, sassy staff, demands of the job and of course by the studio publicist (Lee Tracy). Fed up with everything (especially Tracy's spoon fed stories to the press to promote her celebrity) Harlow goes to a resort. There she meets an extremely nice young rich man (Franchot Tone). She isn't aware that Tone has been hired by Tracy to lead Harlow on and send her back into the "loving" arms of the studio and Tracy.

Sitting int he audience, I was besotted by everything going on in the film... No one could deliver a line like Tracy could. He was fast as a wip, but you never missed a word. Harlow was stunning in her many dresses, she even references her own prior films (Red Dust etc.). But Franchot was the one that took me by surprise. Harlow is on horseback getting attacked by a crazed fan and who but Tone rides in to save the day. An older man behind me kinda laughed and said "Here comes Franchot...." It was Tone's entrance in the film, and it was quite impressive. Tone plays an actor pretending to be a rich man. He hams it up to perfection. He is ridiculously wonderful.

My favorite scene is when Ton and Harlow are walking under the moonlight. Tone stares into her eyes and says "Your hair looks like a field of silver daisies.... I want to run barefoot through your hair." The line was so deadpan and brilliant. Everyone started laughing. Tracy, over hearing the corn ball line tells Harlow later "That boy looks like an athelete. Just saying, not sure I would want those feet in my hair..."
I wasn't sure if it was my mood, the glorious big screen or the character... but Tone was actually quite attractive. I have never not liked Tone. He is always a nice addition to any movie, but I couldn't take my eyes off of him in Bombshell. He was just SO good!

If you like Harlow.... you will LOVE Bombshell..... If you kinda like Tone, then give this movie a shot. I highly recommend it!

Thank you Cinecon!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Week 3 Musical... Mister Big!

My Week 3 Musical was furnished via Cinecon! (I will be watching one of the suggested films for week 4, either Anchors Aweigh, On the Town or Meet Me in St. Louis... Let me know if you have a preference!)

Back to the Week 3... I was super duper excited to see that Mister Big (1943) was on the schedule for Cinecon this year. This gem of a movie stars an 18 yr. old Donald O'Connor, Peggy Ryan and Gloria Jean. It was Universal's answer to the Judy Garland/ Mickey Rooney MGM teenage musicals only Universal's B musicals were made on 1/4 of the budget. The kids are all at a drama school and want to add in hip jazz music into their curriculum, but run into problems when the matron of the school insists that they do the Greek tragedy Antigone instead. (Incidentally, Antigone is one of my favorite plays... of course a skinny Donald in a toga did look pretty ridiculous!) The kids are able to put on a musical variety act in the end, and the strict matron sways to their way of thinking.

I was never a fan of Garland/Rooney films mainly because of Rooney. I never found much to like about him; I always thought he was a bit annoying. I really enjoyed this Universal knock off however. Donald O'Connor was perfectly charming as the boy all the girls want. They even tackle him a few times pulling at his hair and clothes. Donald meanwhile is falling for the Matron of the school's niece, Gloria Jean. There was a forward from Gloria before the movie began (she is still alive and living in Hawaii). She spoke about how much she adored Donald. She said that she always thought he didn't get enough credit for his singing voice; that she absolutely loved it when he sang. She also told a story of how he took her behind one of the background drops and hugged her so tight that he cracked a couple of her ribs. The studio PR changed the story to say that a beef cake actor had done it during the filming of her following film. I thought that this was so cute. (I mean, come on... how adorable is that young Donald?!!)

As much as I adored Donald's scenes with Gloria, my favorite parts were his dance numbers with Peggy Ryan. They bicker during most of the movie, and they even push each other around in their dances. Both were very acrobatic and had great comedic timing, you couldn't help but laugh while watching them. The three of them (O'Connor, Jean and Ryan) made multiple teen B musicals for Universal and its easy to see why. They were great together.

This film was more of a hoofer film than the Garland/Rooney musicals. The song numbers are sweet and wonderful, but the dancing is where the real talent of all the kids shines through. It also had more of a jazzy/hip beat to it. Even the standards seem a little jazzed up. I am now on the hunt for the other Universal B musicals that these three did together. Mister Big (sad to say) has never been released on home video or DVD. I know that Universal is considering "opening their vault" much like Warner Bros. did, and I hope they quickly get around to these amazing Teenage B Musicals!! (Meanwhile you can vote for Mister Big on its page in the TCM database for release on home video)

Here are two youtube videos of Mister Big. (The embedding feature was disabled for these two particular videos... also, the sound on these isn't awesome. Since this movie has never been released beyond the original 35mm.... one can only guess as to how these videos were made) Give them a chance though... They are both Donald and Peggy dance numbers.

So the hunt begins! I am on the look out for any of the B Musicals with Donald! Let me know if you have any leads!

Cinecon 46!!

I had the marvelous opportunity to attend Cinecon 46 at the Egyptian theater this past weekend in Hollywood! So very exciting! So... Expect lots of posts this week that are Cinecon related!!