Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Remembrance: Leatrice Joy Gilbert Fountain, 1924 - 2015

Leatrice as a baby, left, and in her later years

One night in January 2010 Turner Classic Movies aired Rediscovering John Gilbert, a 45-minute documentary about the great star of the late silent era. I was aware of Gilbert and recalled that he had failed the transition to talkies because, it was said, his voice was too high and too thin. In the course of watching the documentary, which prominently featured the actor's daughter and biographer, Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, I learned that the causes of Gilbert's demise and early death were more complex than that. By the time the short film ended my curiosity was aroused and I decided to get my hands on a copy of Fountain's biography of her father, Dark Star, so jumped online and searched. I soon found and ordered one from Amazon, but I'd also noticed that the search had turned up information on the author; she was on Facebook. So I sent her a message...and she replied.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Frank Sinatra in 1965: It Was a Very Good Year

It was the age of "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Carnaby Street couture and "Bond, James Bond." The Beatles ruled the world of popular music, having launched the "British Invasion" with their performances on The Ed Sullivan Show early in 1964. A year later that takeover was in full force, and yet for Frank Sinatra, on the verge of turning 50, 1965 would be a very good year.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

"100 Years of Harold Lloyd" Comes to iTunes This Month

Many a press release finds its way into Lady Eve's inbox. All are read, but most are quickly deleted. Random Media's recent announcement of the release of 100 Years of Harold Lloyd on iTunes this month is important, I think, and of interest to classic film fans, and so...

Thursday, November 19, 2015

La Ronde (1950), a film by Max Ophuls


 For the Criterion Blogathon

With the release of one of 2014's most unique films, Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, came an avalanche of publicity. The influences on Anderson's much acclaimed and awarded bittersweet romp through a fictional between-the-wars Old Europe were widely scrutinized in the mainstream press for a time. Among them were German writer Stefan Zweig, whose autobiography The World of Yesterday was a core inspiration; German-born filmmaker Ernst Lubitsch, who made a string of enchanting films of great charm and sophistication through the '30s and '40s; and Max Ophuls, another German-born filmmaker, whose elegant works were marked by deep wit, a cosmopolitan world view and an affinity for Old Europe which he depicted on screen with great style and tendresse many times. His Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948) is arguably the greatest film adaptation of Stefan Zweig's work and, more directly linking Ophuls to The Grand Budapest Hotel, the name of Tilda Swinton's character, "Madame D," is a nod to his masterpiece, The Earrings of Madame de... (1953), the film Wes Anderson named first on his "top ten" list of Criterion Collection titles.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Paris, je t'aime

Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade (1963)

Thinking of Paris and all of France today, and of films that evoke my own deep affection for that great city and beautiful country.

"Bonjour, Paris," Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn and Kay Thompson in Funny Face (1957)
Margo Martindale in Alexander Payne's charming vignette from Paris, je t'aime (2006)

at Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca (1942)

...and closing with scenes of Paris and its people accompanied by Sidney Bechet's "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere," the the main theme from Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris (2010).


Saturday, October 31, 2015

THE ICE CREAM BLONDE by Michelle Morgan


The Whirlwind Life and Mysterious Death of Screwball Comedienne Thelma Todd



Nearly 80 years ago, comedienne Thelma Todd, co-star to the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy, and a former Miss Massachusetts (1925), was found dead at age 29 in her car inside the Pacific Palisades garage where she kept it. While there was never any question that Todd died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning, there has been, ever since, much speculation on how and why she ended up in her car in a garage with its doors firmly shut.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Frank Capra's wistful 1937 fantasy, Lost Horizon, begins dramatically with a chaotic mob scene at an airfield in war-torn Baskul, China, highlighted by a spectacular explosion and fire. In the midst of the fray, British diplomat Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is managing the evacuation of 90 Westerners from the melee. But time is running out; he and a disparate party of five barely escape on the last plane to take flight. Struggling to board and flee with Conway are his younger brother, George (John Howard), Lovett (Edward Everett Horton), a paleontologist, Barnard (Thomas Mitchell), a businessman, and Gloria (Isabel Jewell), a floozy. Unbeknownst to the passengers, their European pilot, a crony of Conway's, was forcibly removed from the cockpit just before take-off and replaced by an Asian flyer.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


50 years ago, I saw Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho for the first time. It was 1965 and though the film was originally released in 1960, its immense popularity led to a re-issue five years later. Thankfully, by 1965 my parents considered me old enough, and so one spring evening I ventured with friends to the Ritz Theatre in Escondido, California, to see it. Odd as it may sound, somehow I wasn't aware of every twist and turn in the plot or the shocking finale by then. Which must be why, after barely getting through Marion Crane's brutal demise, I let out a spontaneous, ear-splitting scream when "Mrs. Bates," knife in hand, ambushed Mr. Arbogast on the staircase. Later on, like so many others, I left the movie house completely unnerved and with a newly acquired skittishness about taking showers...

Friday, August 21, 2015


Summer Under the Stars, August 22: Marlene Dietrich

It was 1929, and Marlene Dietrich was appearing on the Berlin stage when Austrian-American film director Josef von Sternberg first caught sight of her. Something in her attitude intrigued him and he thought she might be right for the female lead in his next film, The Blue Angel, to be Germany's first sound film and produced in both German and English-language versions.

Marlene Dietrich, 1930, by Irving Chidnoff
Dietrich would later claim, "My so-called biographers eagerly published a long list of films in which I had appeared at that time and supposedly played leading roles. This is not so. When Josef von Sternberg chose me for The Blue Angel, he was hiring an unknown."

She was cast as Lola Lola, a singer/dancer in a tawdry dive called "The Blue Angel," a more wanton and fleshy seductress than those the actress would later portray. Dietrich's transformation from curvy brownette to svelte blonde would become a subject of some conjecture.

She credited her changing onscreen appearance (and quite a bit more) to her director. Von Sternberg, she said, had placed the main spotlight very low and far away from her to add prominence to the roundness of her face, "No hollow cheeks for The Blue Angel," she would write. "The secret face with the hollow cheeks," the look she became famous for, "was achieved as a result of placing the main spotlight close to my face and high above it." From von Sternberg, Dietrich learned a tremendous amount about lighting and camera; so much so that her knowledge was often greater than that of directors and cameramen she worked with after their collaboration ended. And, to ensure she was being photographed to her best advantage, she came up with the idea of watching herself while filming by placing a full-length mirror next to the camera.

Friday, August 14, 2015


Mr. Benchley, by Al Kilgore

Mr. Benchley, originally of Worcester, Massachusetts, was first and foremost enamored of Manhattan. He was later lured to Hollywood but he was not especially fond of the movie capital. And though his love for New York City endured, Hollywood did, nonetheless, manage to seduce him.

When Mr. Benchley moved to New York, he was a zealous teetotaler and committed pacifist recently wed to his childhood sweetheart. Some years later, while managing editor of Vanity Fair (then an arts and culture magazine), he fell in with other ambitious young writers who, with him, would form the famed "Vicious Circle" at a round table in the Algonquin Hotel. As one of the centerpieces of what would become New York's "in crowd" of the Prohibition Era, it was not long before Mr. Benchley, while visiting a speakeasy with Mrs. Parker and Mr. Sherwood, took his first sip of "demon rum."  The drink with which his friends introduced him to the joys and tragedies of alcohol was the Orange Blossom cocktail.

Sunday, August 9, 2015



Summer Under the Stars, August 9: Robert Walker

From the New York TimesAugust 30, 1951: "Los Angeles, Aug. 29 - Robert Walker, 32-year-old film star whose own desperate and protracted struggle with dark emotional forces topped any of his conflicts on the screen, died last night while undergoing medical treatment for the latest of many tragic crises in his life."

Though his film career was cut short by his untimely end, Robert Walker had managed to be credited in 20 films during his nine years in Hollywood. Most of these movies are long-forgotten, but two of his best endure: Vincente Minnelli's classic war-time romance, The Clock (1945), with Judy Garland, and the Alfred Hitchcock mid-century masterpiece Strangers on a Train (1951). Both films were featured on Sunday, August 9, as part of Turner Classic Movies' Summer Under the Stars day-long tribute to Robert Walker.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Celebrating One of Hollywood's Legendary Talents

Let's ponder for a moment what Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) might have in common beyond having been voted the two finest films in cinema history*.  The particular feature they share that I have in mind is also shared with, to name just a few films, Mankiewicz’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947), Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), the Ray Harryhausen “Dynamation” hit, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), the Gregory Peck/Robert Mitchum thriller Cape Fear (1962), Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1966) and Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976). Canny classic movie buffs have determined by now that composer Bernard Herrmann is the common denominator.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

National Classic Movie Day - May 16, 2015

A special day is about to come to a close and I haven't much time to put together a tribute to one of my true passions, classic film. Meanwhile, Rick and friends over at The Classic Film & TV Cafe have been hosting a day-long blogathon in honor of this first National Classic Movie Day, and 60+ illustrious bloggers have chimed in on the subject of My Favorite Classic Movie.

Many films rush to mind when I consider which might be my own favorite...

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Film with Live Orchestra: The Godfather (1972)

The night sky was clear and the air a bit chilly on Friday, January 9, typical early winter weather in San Francisco. But the evening would be unusual for reasons other than the climate. It was the night that, at 8 pm, the San Francisco Symphony would premiere Francis Coppola's The Godfather (1972) with live orchestral accompaniment. It was also the night that, at midnight, the Golden Gate Bridge was to shut down - through the weekend - for the first time in its 77 year history. The evening would prove to be eventful in more ways than one for those of us attending the three-plus hour symphony performance who also live north of "the Gate."