Sunday, November 18, 2018

Underworld (1927), at the dawn of the modern gangster film



























I hadn’t seen Underworld before, but I knew enough about it to be intrigued. To begin with, it was directed by master filmmaker Josef von Sternberg, a man of remarkable cinematic ingenuity who is mostly remembered today for having discovered Marlene Dietrich and stage-managed her rise to stardom. Also of interest when considering the subject of outlaws on film, Underworld was, to quote its introductory title,  “…unusually bold both in subject matter and in treatment at the time it was made. It introduced a fashion for gangster pictures.” Specifically, the film, a runaway hit on release, is credited with establishing many conventions for what would emerge as the gangster genre a few years later, in the early sound era. Another attraction Underworld held for me was that genius costume designer Travis Banton, who would become Paramount’s Chief Designer and go on to mentor Edith Head, costumed the film. For leading lady Evelyn Brent, starring as “Feathers McCoy," he created an endless variety of trendsetting feather-swathed hats, wraps, jackets and dresses, enough to fill at least one sizable closet. And so, early last week I sat down to watch Underworld and begin my post for the Classic Movie Blog Association's Fall 2018 OUTLAWS Blogathon.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Vive La Moreau! Celebrating A French Icon

Femme Immortelle du Cinéma


Don Malcolm's MidCentury Productions will kick off its 5th festival of French film noir at San Francisco's venerable indie house, the Roxie Theater, on November 15. Each year the festival has grown, building on the excellence and success of the previous year, and so in 2018 the film schedule will, for the first time, span six days, all featuring eclectic, obscure and exciting French noir. Each festival has had a particular focus, and this year the spotlight will shine on twenty films made in France between 1949 and 1959, "The Frenetic Fifties." Click here for the full schedule, including program details, times and ticket information.

Elevator to the Gallows (1958)
Several great stars of the French cinema appear in the films included on this year's "French Noir 5" program: Jean Gabin (of course), Simone Signoret, Danielle Darrieux, Arletty, Anouk Aimee...and Jeanne Moreau. Moreau, who passed away in July 2017 at age 89, will be honored at the festival on Friday night, November 16, with screenings of two of  her pre-New Wave pictures, Until the Last One/Jusqu'au Dernier and The She-Wolves/Les Louves. Both were released not long before she shot to prominence in young Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows (1958).

In an age long past, when art and revival movie houses flourished in urban centers and university towns across the country, I saw my first Jeanne Moreau films. The very first was Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim (1962), the story of a doomed romantic triangle revolving around a beguiling and impulsive woman named Catherine (Moreau). Next came Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968), his experiment-in-pure-cinema homage to Hitchcock, in which a bride whose groom is gunned down on their wedding day methodically tracks down and dispatches his killers. And then came the film that initially launched Moreau and helped launch the French New Wave, Louis Malle's downbeat noir thriller Elevator to the Gallows.  I found her moody intensity riveting. By now I'd been keeping an eye out for her films.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Guest in the House (1944) for Noir November


The Film Detective, a classic film streaming site that recently launched a 24/7 programmed channel on Sling TV, is about to kick off Noir November. I was invited to review one of several films being added to the Film Detective app in November. I picked Guest in the House (1944) starring young Anne Baxter as...well, read on...

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GILDA (1946), Celebrating Rita


The legend of Rita Hayworth has it that her mother, formerly of the Ziegfeld Follies, wanted her daughter to be an actress, but her father, a professional dancer, wanted his little girl to be a dancer, too. Eduardo Cansino, the dad, won out and little Margarita Carmen Cansino would begin dancing at age three.

She was born on October 17, 1918 – one hundred years ago – in Brooklyn. At age four, as a member of the family act, the Four Cansinos, she was on stage dancing at the Winter Garden Theatre in a Broadway production of The Greenwich Village Follies. Eduardo Cansino would come to believe that the movies needed more professional dancers and so, in 1926, the Cansinos moved to Hollywood.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Bullitt (1968) Turns 50: Reflections on a New Hollywood Trend-Setter


The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, famously known for decades as Grauman’s, is the most historic of movie palaces world-wide, and one of the most magnificent. Famed for its lavish “Oriental” décor, its klieg light-lit Old Hollywood movie premieres, and its hand- and footprint-studded forecourt, the theater has been a shrine to cinema since 1927, when it first opened its doors. An IMAX theater since 2013, it continues to be the foremost Hollywood venue for major movie premieres. The theater is also the scene of showcase screenings during TCM’s annual classic film festival in Hollywood.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Innocents (1961)


A woman’s suffering face appears above a pair of tortured hands. Birds twitter…her distraught voice whispers…

All I want to do is save the children not destroy them. More than anything I love children. More than anything they need affection, love, someone who will belong to them and to whom they will belong.

And then a man’s voice is heard, “Do you have an imagination?” he asks, and the scene shifts to a well-appointed office where an elegant gentleman is addressing the young woman whose face we have already seen. She is now sitting in a chair and speaks animatedly with him as he continues asking questions and explaining the situation he offers.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

ART HOUSE THEATER DAY


September 23 brings the 3rd annual Art House Theater Day, and when I first learned of it, I smiled. Memories of long-ago days and nights spent in the art houses of San Francisco and Berkeley came to mind. It was in these funky little theaters nestled in the Bay Area’s nooks and crannies that I was introduced to the films of Powell & Pressburger, Fellini, Chabrol, Lina Wertmuller and other filmmakers from outside the U.S. It was in these ragtag movie houses that I watched “revival” screenings of films like Mike Nichols’ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolfe? and John Cassavetes’ Husbands for the first time. Back in the day, art houses that presented foreign, indie and classic American films flourished around the US, in all major cities and university towns.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

6 Day French Noir Fest Coming to San Francisco

French Film Noir Series Focuses on the Frenetic '50s, Including Jeanne Moreau and Jean Gabin Programs

My friend Steve Indig, who's been brilliantly managing promotion for Midcentury Productions' film festivals for the past few years, has just announced details of this year's French film noir series in San Francisco. Set for November 15 - 20, the program for 2018 is bigger, and promises to be better, than ever:

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Forever Roses


"Even bedridden, she was the most beautiful old lady I'd ever seen. There she was with no makeup but still beautiful skin, big blue eyes and little hands fluttering like small birds in the air. She smelled beautiful, too, like roses." - Sacha Briquet

Marlene Dietrich lived her final years in an apartment on Avenue Montaigne in Paris. French actor/comedian Sacha Briquet (1930 - 2010) had become a friend and confidante and was one of few visitors she would see as she made her way into advanced age. Briquet's lovely reminiscence has me contemplating the purchase of a lifetime supply of Jean Patou's Joy, with the fantasy of emanating the scent of roses for the rest of my life. Of course, I wouldn't mind doing this from an apartment in Paris either...

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Extraordinary Mildred Natwick


On a Friday earlier this month, with time to spare before a screening of the Jacques Becker heist classic Touchez pas au grisbi at the Pacific Film Archive, we stopped by Rasputin’s, a decades-old Berkeley haunt that deals in new and used records, CDs, DVDs and Blu-Rays. There I managed to unearth two films, Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and Truffaut’s Day for Night, along with a ‘70s TV series, all at a good price. The series is one I’d been only vaguely aware of and knew very little about, really. The Snoop Sisters (1972 – 1974), starred Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as a pair of sisters aptly named Snoop, one of whom (Hayes) writes mystery novels. The two invariably get mixed up in solving real crimes (sound familiar?).

Saturday, August 25, 2018

"On the Town," in Celebration of Leonard Bernstein's Centenary

August 25th marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of American composer/conductor/pianist Leonard Bernstein. In celebration, movie houses around the country are showcasing films scored by the legendary maestro.  My local theater, the Smith Rafael Film Center (aka/the Rafael), put together a three-film tribute to Bernstein, with On the Town (1949), On the Waterfront (1954) and West Side Story (1961) screening on separate Sundays in August.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Roll Up for the Mystery Tour: A Visit to the Oakland Paramount Theatre


Have you ever wanted to tour a historic movie palace? One of those elaborately ornate monuments to cinema constructed during the Golden Age of American movie theaters, back in the ‘20s and ‘30s? Well, I have, and luckily for me I live not very far from one of the most spectacular of them all, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA, a theater that hosts public tours twice monthly.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Celebrating Bastille Day with French Noir


Today is Bastille Day, the National Day of France – la fête nationale française. If you have a bit of French blood in your veins and are a Francophile, like me, that’s reason enough to celebrate. But how to celebrate? With a baguette and a glass of vin rouge? Listening to Edith Piaf (or Madeleine Peyroux) sing La vie en rose? Or are you, a die-hard film buff, more inclined to sit down with a classic film? Perhaps a French film, a Renoir, Duvivier, Melville or Truffaut. Or maybe a glittery Golden Age Hollywood movie set in France, like Midnight (1939), An American in Paris (1950) or Charade (1963).

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A remembrance of things past: "MY AMADEUS STORY"

As the San Francisco Symphony prepares to screen the Oscar-winning film, I reminisce... 

 

Amadeus first entered my consciousness back in the early ‘80s, when I worked in the promotion dept. of Fantasy Records (Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi, Creedence Clearwater Revival) in Berkeley, which was owned by Saul Zaentz and his partners, along with several jazz and R&B record labels. A few years earlier, before my time with the company, in the 1970s, Saul had begun producing movies under Fantasy Films, the film division of the parent company. His second feature, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), had gone on to win five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and the first of Jack Nicholson’s three Oscars. Saul would continue to make films, and the film division would soon change its name to the Saul Zaentz Company.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Beautiful Face, Beautiful Mind: "Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story"


As a 5-year-old she completely took apart and put back together her toy music box. She was a child who was very close to her father, a bank director with an interest in inventing. Regularly during their walks through Vienna, where she was born in 1914, he would explain to her the inner workings of mechanical devices they encountered on these outings. She was captivated. And she became interested in inventing things herself; it came easily to her, she said.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Small Town Theaters: A Gem in the Wine Country, the Sebastiani Theatre in Sonoma, California


Opened in 1934, the Sebastiani Screens Current and Classic Films


On a recent trek into the wine country, we took some time to cruise Sonoma Plaza in the town's center, an area now lined with restaurants, specialty shops and food and wine sellers. Amazingly, in the midst of all this modern-era commerce, stands the Sebastiani Theatre, in operation since 1934, still showing movies, and not only current releases, but also classics.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Exploring the Dark Side of the American Dream

Richard Barthelmess in William Wellman's Heroes for Sale (1933)

As the U.S. continues its steep and steady descent into another dark night of the soul, distressed Americans cope as best they can. Some rant and debate on social media, some organize or take to the streets, others seek solace in their diversion or hobby of choice. For the film lover, watching movies can provide relief but also, on occasion, a sobering history lesson.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Another Noir Year Begins

San Francisco's Noir City is the first of several film noir festivals scheduled around the U.S. for 2018


The Film Noir Foundation's 16th annual Noir City festival in San Francisco ran from January 26 through February 4, kicking off a series of nationwide noir festivals, as it traditionally does, for the year.