Essays

This list is in chronological order (e.g. the most recently added essays are at the bottom):

Oscar’s Best

Just so you don’t get the idea that “the Academy” is flawless, here is a list of some great films which weren’t nominated for a single Oscar in ANY category which I think are worth seeing … to name just SEVENTY:

I think I saw just about every one of these on TCM too!!!

Site Author’s Bio

I don’t really remember the first movie I ever saw though I’m sure it was age appropriate and probably one made by Walt Disney. I do remember that the Mary Poppins (1964) soundtrack album was always sitting next to the big piece of furniture which encompassed the record player radio and TV console. However I’m not really trying to pinpoint the first movie I saw anyway merely the one that made the biggest impression earliest in my life.

We went to the movies as a family and I can remember sitting in a very big auditorium the way it was before stadium seating. Curtains covered the walls at the front and sides and we’d enter from the back and then walk down the center aisle until Dad found a place for us to sit. The big curtain at the front would start to "magically" open only after a countdown sequence was projected on the screen "hidden" behind it. I believe it must have been a CinemaScope theatre though I think we called it "CineScope". I can vaguely remember seeing Oliver! (1968) in a place like this though it must have been during its re-release in late 1972 and can more vividly recall another epic that I saw was The Wind and the Lion (1975).

I remember that one of the first films I was "dropped off" with some friends to see (all by ourselves!) was Tarzan’s Deadly Silence (1970) which featured Ron Ely in the title role and Tarzan losing his hearing … totally forgettable otherwise. Then I remember being old enough to be trusted to walk to the Esquire Theatre and spend my own money (made mowing lawns) to see Bank Shot (1974) with George C. Scott. Seems my choice in movies was pretty awful.

For one of my friend’s birthdays we were taken by his Mom to see Mother Jugs & Speed (1976) which was the only movie I think I’ve ever walked out on. Later during that summer was the first time I ever paid to see a movie for the second time – The Bad News Bears (1976) – the phenomenon that today fuels the box office mentality that drives the major studios.

A few others I also still recall watching were Murder by Death (1976) which I think I would appreciate much more now that I’ve seen Bogart and the Thin Man films and the first R-movie I saw which was Semi-Tough (1977) only because it was the first movie released around the time of my 17th birthday. However I’ve digressed now from the reason why I started this post in the first place. Back on topic …

In the spring of 1977 (before I turned 17) we moved about 5 miles from where we had been living and I got my own room upstairs away from my folks room on the main level. I got a little 9-inch B&W Sears TV for Christmas that year (it still works I’ve got it in my home office) and so I was able to watch it late at night or on Saturday mornings surreptitiously. Of course I watched everything I could regardless developing a habit my wife now derides with "you’ll watch anything" (for proof read some of my obscure movie reviews). I remember watching a lot of Abbott & Costello and Bowery Boys movies on rainy weekend afternoons.

One Saturday however I saw King Solomon’s Mines (1950) starring Stewart Granger and Deborah Kerr. I remember mentioning it to my Mom and how she seemed to appreciate the moment with me that movies were GREAT.* It’s an adventure set in Africa which won Oscars for Cinematography (Color ironically) & Editing and was also nominated for Best Picture. I was so captivated by the story that I was able to watch it through all the commercials and call-in contests from which I was surely besieged. All these years later I believe I can honestly say that this film (and the fact that Star Wars (1977) was released in the same timeframe) was the seed from which my love for movies grew.

BTW they say you can’t go home again and now I know why. I watched this film again several weeks ago and was struck by what a chauvinistic (even mildly racist) point of view it had though it was still somewhat entertaining. The "special effects" are lame by any standards though maybe not at the time and I didn’t find the story particularly compelling either which wasn’t because I’d seen it before since I’d obviously forgotten it 25 years later.

Although this post is largely a personal reflection perhaps it will prompt some of you to make your own journey back to recall your movie roots. I found mine to be a pleasant one. I didn’t try to recall or include ALL the films I watched in my youth just the "firsts" and ones that immediately came to mind (for whatever reason).

* – This discussion led to my Mother to share a few stories with me about my Grandfather (her Dad) the fact that he had been a carpenter by trade who among other things helped to rebuild Pearl Harbor and much later worked on building the spectacular (Academy Award nominated) sets for the film Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) with James Mason.

My Day at TCM

On March 18 (2005) I got an opportunity to visit the Turner Classic Movies headquarters location here in Atlanta. Of course it was a dream come true. I was a guest of tcmprogrammer (heretofore referred to as Charlie). I arrived at the appointed time (11:45 AM) and was taken to the set where the Robert Osborne intros and outgos are filmed. Though the flashing yellow light was lit we entered quietly and I was directed to sit in a tall white director’s chair in front of computerized teleprompter which also had a television monitor. On the monitor was a view which would be familiar to anyone who watches TCM regularly – the Robert Osborne set. On its screen and standing back in the shadows was our favorite host the man himself. I heard the director (Sean) say "action" and watched the monitor as the camera zoomed and focused in on Mr. Osborne. He was walking towards the camera and into the light where he began his delivery of the text as it scrolled across the teleprompter (his assistant I didn’t catch her name symbiotically adjusted the speed of the text for him). It is a truly talented individual that can make this viewer fail to realize that he has been reading from a teleprompter all these years as he’s delivered classic film nugget upon classic movie tidbit with his endearing mannerisms and affable personality. That’s right there I was watching Robert Osborne do an intro live and in person though on a monitor and through the sound wall which separates the set from the control personnel.

A few minutes later after watching the consummate professional deliver three consecutive intros flawlessly the director said "that’s a wardrobe change" and from around the corner appeared Robert Osborne in the flesh! When I saw him I stood and he said "don’t get up" as he passed me on his way to change his attire. It was only later that I realized I had been sitting in his director’s chair the back of which was stenciled with TCM’s logo and his name. While everyone was waiting for the host to change his suit one of the crew asked me if I would like to see the set to which I responded with an enthusiastic "of course!". I then got to see and walk on the set that all of us TCM junkies see (nearly) every night. Incredible! The cameraman asked if I’d brought my camera to take pictures. When I said I’d thought of it but didn’t for fear of appearing to be a gadfly he whipped out his cellphone digital camera. He positioned me to stand under one of the key lights on the set and took my picture. I then assisted him with e-mailing it to my Yahoo! account. Isn’t technology great? I walked around the Robert Osborne set (Ben Mankiewicz’s was in storage elsewhere on the floor) for a little while getting a closeup look at the furniture and photographs on the walls and desks. Some of the pictures are not of actors and actresses by the way but instead appear to be family members (real or not I don’t know and didn’t ask). The cameraman told me about the different camera set-ups for the set. He explained that as a viewer you continue to be engaged even though it’s the same set every time because of the small subtle changes they make with (and within) each month’s shoot – the host’s wardrobe the camera angles and its movement as it zooms set paraphernalia changes etc.. Fascinating! While we spoke a technician made various changes and/or adjustments around the set.

After discussing my TIVO and even some films with the cameraman and sound technician I went back to where I had been sitting to find Mr. Osborne reviewing and making edits (with his assistant who’s been working with him since the beginning of his hosting) to the text of the next four outgos. I learned later (during lunch) from Liz (?) the assistant director that TCM employs freelance writers to write the intros and outgos and then has their researchers verify all of the facts before she Sean and Mr. Osborne himself review and approve them. I also learned that Mr. Osborne was recovering from laryngitis and they were trying to get him to save his voice as much as possible by not speaking unless on camera. I got to watch the next set of outgos (Ralph Bellamy Errol Flynn Buster Keaton related) from behind the camera dolly such that I could see our host "head on" or on the director’s or dolly operator’s monitors. A TCM intern who was making sure the camera apparatus didn’t roll over the fiber optic cabling pointed out that Mr. Osborne’s make-up makes him look pasty if you watched him directly and not through one of the monitors. I also noticed that each of the crew members were wearing sweatshirts sweaters or other warm clothing – the set was kept at a cool temperature (I assume because of the lights). Occasionally during one of the takes a mistake would be made causing the director to say "cut". Each time however showing no signs of frustration at himself or whomever caused the interruption Mr. Osborne would patiently backup to his spot in the shadows and await his next cue before beginning the process again until the director would say "I’ll buy that" and move on to the next intro/outgo.

About 1 PM everyone broke for lunch. I should mention that in the area behind the set’s sound wall there was a table set-up with food which I’d been offered earlier. In fact the crew was very friendly and treated me like a special guest. I was made to feel so welcome that I began to remember the Southern hospitality I’d first experienced when I came to Atlanta to attend Georgia Tech a stone’s throw from TCM’s studios more than 25 years ago. Charlie then introduced me to Robert Osborne as "part of our on-line community". Guess what? It should surprise no one that Mr. Osborne is every bit the friendly approachable gentleman that we all think we know by watching him each evening. In fact I was made to feel like one of his Private Screenings guests as he showed a genuine interest in who I was and what my thoughts were! All of us went to a room in which lunch had been catered where we enjoyed salad sandwiches and even dessert along with our choice of three kinds of iced tea. With a couple of television monitors tuned to March Madness (NCAA tournament basketball games) in the background I sat with the cameraman the director the assistant director and the rest of the crew while we ate and discussed various things. I probed for as much information about TCM’s operations as I could absorb without (I hope) being obnoxious. Robert Osborne had wanted to sit next to me at the end of the table but said "I’d better not because I know if I do I’ll talk and I’m not supposed to" before excusing himself to sit alone at another table. However at the end of lunch he couldn’t resist joining us and of course I was thrilled.

There I was sitting between Charlie (who had joined us by then) and Robert Osborne as we discussed films possible future guests for Private Screenings and even the personalities and/or eccentricities of some of their prior PS guests. Mr. Osborne asked me about how I acquired my love for classic films which I briefly related (starting with King Solomon’s Mines (1950) in the mid-70′s). When I told him that I worked out of a home office he asked me if I didn’t find that too isolating or felt I spent too much time working (I do!). We talked about the guest programming concept and how it’s working out. We discussed some licensing agreements Charlie has made with Sony and brainstormed about what features could be programmed to exploit these arrangements. It was the most fun I’ve had in years simply an outstanding experience. I even got to contribute an idea for an upcoming theme. I had made up a card with my website address to give to them both which I did and I asked Robert if he ever looked at film sites on the Internet. He said he didn’t that he hadn’t read TCM’s message boards either so of course I gushed that we all discuss him love him and that if he ever needed an ego boost he should check it out (Charlie confirmed what I said). But Robert said that he wouldn’t want to fall into the trap of believing his "press" and instead chooses to focus on delivering what’s been asked of him by the higher ups at TCM (Jeff?). By now it was almost 2 PM and though Robert didn’t break off the conversation with me (and even invited me to come back someday) it was time for him to return to the set and for me to get home to pick up my eldest from school. If I never get another chance to visit TCM I still feel like I’d died and gone to heaven that day.

Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume One

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If You Could Only Cook (1935) – the plot will seem similar to anyone who’s seen Claudette Colbert and Charles Boyer in Tovarich (1937) but since this preceded it the latter comedy likely borrowed from this one which stars Herbert Marshall and Jean Arthur. It was directed by William A. Seiter and features a screenplay by Howard J. Green and Gertrude Purcell from a story by F. Hugh Herbert. Marshall plays an automobile tycoon – about to be married (to Frieda Inescort’s character) – whose company is no longer interested in producing his revolutionary designs. Disillusioned with it all including his pending bride-to-be Jim (Marshall) takes a walk and happens upon an out-of-work soon to be homeless woman named Joan (Arthur). Since it’s during the day (at the time of the Great Depression) she assumes that he’s in a similar circumstance and proposes that together they’d have a chance at a job as a cook and butler per a want ad. Taken with her charm (etc.) he agrees and – because Joan really can cook – they get the job working for Mike Rossini (Leo Carrillo) whose right-hand man is Flash (Lionel Stander). When Jim finds out that Rossini is a bootlegger Joan convinces him that “a job is a job” and again he agrees to go along with it never letting on who he really is. There are even a couple of scenes in which they discuss the car executive during which she ‘claims’ to have been his former flame. Naturally Jim falls in love with Joan but is made to realize that the possibility of their getting together is hopeless after he discusses it with a trusted colleague and she inexplicably fails to meet him for lunch. Though the last minutes of the story swings left right and left again the outcome is never in doubt.

Too Many Husbands (1940) – full review!

My Sister Eileen (1942) – first adapted from Ruth McKenney’s autobiographical stories (published in The New Yorker) by Joseph Fields and Jerome Chodorov for a stage play the same two wrote the screenplay for this comedy – directed by Alexander Hall (Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)) – that features the first of Rosalind Russell’s four (unrewarded) Academy Award Best Actress nominations. Russell and Janet Blair play sisters from Ohio Ruth and Eileen Sherwood; they’ve come to New York in search of their fortunes. Ruth’s an aspiring writer who fails to find success until prompted by a magazine editor that’s smitten with her (Robert Baker played by Brian Aherne) she starts writing about her experiences – as the ‘wallflower’ sister of a ‘man magnet’ (Blair in the title role). As fodder for her writing (and this screwball picture) the girls were snookered into renting a cheap loud and without privacy basement apartment in Greenwich Village by a Greek landlord played by George Tobias. The kooky characters include Gordon Jones as a punchy ex-footballer – a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech – trying to avoid his mother-in-law a psychic played by June Havoc and even a surprise appearance by The Three Stooges at the very end. Allyn Joslyn Grant Mitchell Richard Quine (he directed the 1955 musical remake with Janet Leigh Jack Lemmon Betty Garrett and Bob Fosse) and Donald MacBride as Officer Lonigan also appear.

She Wouldn’t Say Yes (1945) – Rosalind Russell plays a psychiatrist that believes one should keep their impulses under control; Lee Bowman plays a cartoonist whose “Nixie” character inspires people to do what they want to do. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which way this comedy is headed once the two of them (quite literally) bump into each other. The story by László Görög (The Affairs of Susan (1945)) and William Thiele adapted by writers John Jacoby Virginia Van Upp and Sarett Tobias is too contrived to make this one very entertaining though Russell’s character is typically sassy (which is sometimes enough). Adele Jergens plays a Bolivian blonde man-eater that gets in the middle of things as does Charles Winninger who plays Russell’s doctor-father and Henry Davenport her manservant. Percy Kilbride is perfectly cast as a confused judge that becomes a pawn in Bowman’s plot to entrap Russell’s before his character is shipped overseas to serve in the war. It’s unfortunate that spotting and identifying the uncredited actors who have bit parts – like Willie Best Al Bridge Arthur Q. Bryan (the voice of Elmer Fudd) Edward Gargan Eily Malyon a very young Darren McGavin Carl ‘Alfalfa’ Switzer and Cora Witherspoon – is the most entertaining part of watching the movie. Mary Treen also appears and is among the credited cast.

Humphrey Bogart: The Signature Collection Volume II

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Jezebel (1938)

Bette Davis received her second (and last even though she earned a bunch of Oscar nominations) Best Actress Academy Award playing Julie Marsden a stubborn Southern belle who must have her way controlling those around her with tragic results. Henry Fonda plays Preston Dillard the suitor who tries to tame her but later marries "Yankee" Amy Bradford (Margaret Lindsay). Fay Bainter won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar playing Julie’s Aunt Belle. George Brent plays gentleman Buck Cantrell who allows Julie to manipulate him to a point; Richard Cromwell plays Dillard’s brother Tom who idolizes Buck. Excellent support provided by Donald Crisp as Dr. Livingstone Henry O’Neill as General Theopholus Bogardus Spring Byington as Mrs. Kendrick and John Litel as Jean La Cour. Directed by William Wyler Owen Davis’s play was scripted by Clements Ripley Abem Finkel John Huston and Robert Buckner. The film was nominated for Best Picture of the Year by the Academy; its Cinematography and Max Steiner Score also received nominations. #79 of AFI’s 100 Greatest Love Stories list. Added to the National Film Registry in 2009.

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Shane (1953)

Directed by George Stevens (A Place in the Sun (1951) & later Giant (1956)) this classic Western stars Alan Ladd in the title role that of a gunfighter attempting to escape his past by becoming a laborer for struggling farmer family. Van Heflin (Johnny Eager (1942)) plays the head of that family his wife is played by Jean Arthur (The More the Merrier (1943)) in her last movie role (and five years after she was in Billy Wilder’s A Foreign Affair (1948)) and their young son is played by Brandon De Wilde. Ben Johnson (The Last Picture Show (1971)) and Jack Palance (City Slickers (1991)) play enforcers of cattleman Rufus Ryker’s "law". Loyal Griggs won an Oscar for his stunning Color Cinematography; Producer-Director Stevens received nominations in both categories (e.g. Best Picture & Director); De Wilde & Palance both received Supporting Actor nominations as did the film’s Screenplay. Added to the National Film Registry in 1993. #69 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movies list; Shane is AFI’s #16 hero. "Shane. Shane. Come back!" is #47 on AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes list. #53 on AFI’s 100 Most Inspiring Movies list.

Riding in on horseback a weary gunfighter Shane (Ladd) arrives on the plains fronting the Grand Teton (Rocky) Mountains in Wyoming. He finds himself at one family’s humble farm where Joe Starrett (Heflin) is trying to scratch out a life for his family by farming the oft-frozen tundra. Trying to escape his past he befriends Starrett his wife Marian (Arthur) and especially their young son Joey (De Wilde) who later develops a hero worship towards the "former" warrior. However Shane is too soon involved in the classic struggle between "the farmer and the cowman" who can’t be friends because the farmer wants to fence the land to grow crops whereas the rancher wants free rein for his cattle. Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) is the cattle baron who wants the farming families (which include Edgar Buchanan Elisha Cook Jr. and Douglas Spencer) to vacate the area and will use force if necessary. Starrett is the glue that holds the few farmers together in opposition to Ryker while Shane tries to stay out of it though Shane & Starrett do hold their own in a scuffle with Calloway (Johnson) and some of Ryker’s other men. The conflict begins in full when Ryker brings in outside muscle (Palance) and Cook Jr.’s short Southerner (from the Civil War) with a chip on his shoulder tangles with him. Ellen Corby (I Remember Mama (1948)) plays Cook Jr.’s wife.

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Little Foxes The (1941)

Outstanding Bette Davis film in which she plays a driven woman with a weak husband (played by Herbert Marshall) who fights for everything in a wealthy family. This William Wyler directed gem also includes Teresa Wright (in her first film!) and Dan Duryea. Ms. Davis Ms. Wright and Patricia Collinge (also her first film) received Oscar nominations as did director Wyler the picture and Lillian Hellman’s Screenplay. Ms. Davis’s Regina Giddens is AFI’s #43 villain.

This story about greed and dysfunctional family relationships and what it drives everyone (particularly Ms. Davis’s character) to do is a must-see classic. The Hubbard’s (led by Charles Dingle & Carl Benton Reid) and the Giddens (really just Davis’s Regina who is also the sister of Dingle’s & Reid’s characters) are power broker families in a town which would desires a factory to be built in their community for the riches it will bring to them. Though the siblings may ordinarily compete they work together for this common cause and they even discuss a possible marriage between Regina’s daughter (Wright) and the weak Hubbard son (Duryea) who gets involved in some financial malfeasance. Regina manipulates her own crippled husband (Marshall) into returning she’s needs his financial support (it’s his money) to complete their plans and later exhibits her evil ways in one of the most memorable staircase scenes you’ll ever see. Collinge plays Birdie Hubbard the wife whose sweet nature serves as a contrast to (which emphasizes) the others’ crooked deeds.

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His Girl Friday (1940)

Arguably the best (funniest) version of this Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur (The Scoundrel (1935)) play "The Front Page" screenplay by Charles Lederer this remake of the Lewis Milestone 1931 film stars Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell as a divorced couple who work together for a newspaper Grant as its editor – Russell as his star reporter until she wants to leave to get married to Ralph Bellamy (The Awful Truth (1937)). Her ex-husband then schemes to keep her first professionally and then personally with Bellamy cast in his familiar role as the one left holding the bag. Directed by Howard Hawks and featuring a number of other recognizable character actors including: Gene Lockhart (Algiers (1938)) Porter Hall Roscoe Karns Regis Toomey and John Qualen. Added to the National Film Registry in 1993. #19 on AFI’s 100 Funniest Movies list.

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