Friday, December 24, 2021

Holiday Movie Memories: 3 Favorites from the Vault


As time goes by I find myself in a reflective mood on Christmas Eve, often savoring memories of holidays gone by, some long, long ago, others from just a few years past. This year as I perused TCM's Christmas Eve schedule, I noticed that several longtime favorites were in the lineup and realized that I'd blogged about some of them early in the life of this blog (which is now 11 years old). Being in a reminiscing frame of mind, I thought it might be fun to post these "oldies but (hopefully) goodies" once again and take readers on a nostalgic walk down holiday movie memory lane...

Saturday, December 4, 2021

The Everlasting Imprint of Conrad Veidt


Berlin-born Conrad Veidt packed nearly 120 film roles into his all too brief lifetime, but it was the last film released before his death that guaranteed him a special brand of eternal life, the “filmmortality,” or film immortality, actors acquire when they’ve played a key role in a film that becomes a timeless classic. For Veidt the film was Casablanca (1942) and the role was cold-as-marble Major Heinrich Strasser, Nazi commanding officer. The film opened wide in the US on the day after Veidt’s 50th birthday, and he lived long enough to see it achieve its early success. He was gone by the time Casablanca was nominated for eight Oscars and went on to win Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. Veidt had enjoyed making the film but could not have imagined that the movie Warner Bros. had initially feared would fail would one day be universally beloved and frequently touted as the best studio film of Hollywood’s classic era.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

FRENCH NOIRVEMBER RETURNS: The French Had a Name for It 2021

On October 24, a rare and potent combination of “atmospheric river” and “bomb cyclone” generated a ferocious storm that pounded Northern California, dumping more than a foot of rain in some areas. As high winds blew and heavy rains fell, streets and roads flooded, power lines and trees came down and wildfire areas were slammed with mudslides. Many events and gatherings in the region were scrapped due to the weather, but the show would go on at San Francisco’s venerable Roxie Theater. It was here, beginning early in the afternoon, that a four-film French noir program honoring two gods of the French cinema, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Gabin, went ahead as scheduled. Reflecting on the impact of the storm, Don Malcolm, whose Midcentury Productions produced the show, said, “We got hit about as bad as you can get hit without having to evacuate and have the event cancelled.” He reported that 60 “incredibly hardy and loyal fans showed up and were thrilled by all the films.” Don noted that the Jean Gabin sleeper People of No Importance/Des gens sans importance (1956) particularly pleased the crowd. Given the severity of the weather, it seems several attendees were especially hardy and loyal – it was their first time in a theater since the pandemic began. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of them, forced instead to hunker down at home in one of the most storm-battered towns north of the city.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

To Be or Not to Be (1942), a Daring Mixed-Genre Satire from Ernst Lubitsch

This Hollywood-savvy item appeared in the December 1932 issue of Vanity Fair,   “…although a German director [he] is now claimed by America. His gay and cynic touch, his dramatic use of detail, have reconditioned many an otherwise anemic script and saved it from the shelf – until at one time the studio wise-crack of the hour was always, “For God’s sake, send for Lubitsch.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Belmondo before "Breathless" and the comeback of Jean Gabin

Tributes to Belmondo and Gabin Kick Off a 17-Film Noir Series

One Sunday near the end of February 2020 I spent a sunny afternoon in the dark at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco watching the first two films in what was to be a monthly program featuring French, American and British screen adaptations of the fiction of Georges Simenon, one of the fathers of film noir. The program, curated and produced by Don Malcolm and his MidCentury Productions, was called “Simenon 2020” and, as fate would have it, the series began and ended on that day, a day that also marked the last time I was inside a movie theater. Covid 19 was about to change everything.

But that was then. Now, this month, French noir returns to the Roxie when MidCentury Productions resurrects its groundbreaking annual series, The French Had a Name for It. Seventeen films made over five decades, most of them rarely seen outside of France, will be shown in three installments, on October 24, from November 12 – 14, and on December 12.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Eddie Muller's Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir, Out of the Past and Into the Present

Eddie Muller's Original Noir Bible in a New Updated and Expanded Edition

Eddie Muller
Before he was film noir's czar and long before he was a TCM host, Eddie Muller made a decision to take a leap and, as mythologist Joseph Campbell might've put it, follow his bliss. Muller had been a writer with a 16-year run as a print journalist. Now he would become a "wordslinger," peppering the page with gritty prose on a subject about which he was passionate, the film genre that has come to be known as noir. The first edition of Dark City: The Lost World of Film

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Old Hollywood Haunts, Pt. 3: The Hollywood Canteen, 1942 - 1945

Clockwise from top: Bette Davis and John Garfield; Rita Hayworth; Hedy Lamarr and Bob Hope; GIs at the Canteen

 A Very Special "Old Hollywood Haunt"

In her 1987 memoir, This 'n That, Bette Davis remembered a day not long after World War II began when fellow Warner Bros. star John Garfield sat down next to her in the studio commissary. He told her he'd been thinking about all the GIs who were then streaming through the area and said he thought Hollywood ought to do something about welcoming and entertaining them while they were in town. "I agreed," she wrote, "and then and there the idea for the Hollywood Canteen was born."  Bette approached her friend and agent, Jules Stein, president and co-founder of MCA, with their plan to create a nightclub for servicemen and women and invited him to head its financial committee.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Summer's Here and the Time is Right for ... SUMMER MOVIES

Just in time for summer, TCM and Running Press offer John Malahy's delectably readable Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics. Featuring summertime-set films dating from the '20s (Lonesome/1928) to the present day (Call Me by Your Name/2017), it's a wide-ranging collection, detailed, photo-packed and filled with tantalizing backstory.

Friday, May 21, 2021

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), a Black & White Jewel from Powell & Pressburger

Rich, vivid Technicolor is one of the hallmarks of the most well-known and celebrated of the gorgeous, masterful films from the production team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, The Archers. From the mid-1940s into the early '50s, almost all of their films were shot in striking 3-strip Technicolor, often by cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Cardiff had been a camera operator for Denham Studios when the American Technicolor Company recruited him as their first technician in Great Britain. He would shoot England's first color film and initially work with Powell and Pressburger as a second unit camera operator on their first Technicolor film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). He would graduate to cinematographer on their second color outing, A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven (1946). But there would be a lengthy delay in the production of the second film because of a limited availability of Technicolor cameras and film stock in England at that time. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

For National Classic Movie Day: 6 Films - 6 Decades

May 16 is here and it's National Classic Movie Day. Hooray! Happily, Rick over at the Classic Film & TV Cafe is once more hosting his annual blogathon in honor of this special day. The theme this year is "6 films - 6 decades," with each participant focusing on a favorite classic from each of six decades. Selecting just a few films from hundreds of favorites is never easy so I came up with a secondary theme of my own to simplify the task. I'll be spotlighting a film of each decade from the '20s through the '70s that also features a favorite pairing of lead actors. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Old Hollywood Haunts, Pt. 2: Charlie Farrell's Racquet Club in Palm Springs

Charlie Farrell, top center; Ava Gardner, bottom left; on the right, Marilyn Monroe and Spencer Tracy

Many years ago, Charlie Farrell was a movie star. He first gained fame as a leading man in the late 1920s when he was in his late 20s. He'd started out in Hollywood as an extra, appearing momentarily in films like the Lon Chaney classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) and Ernst Lubitsch's first Hollywood film, Rosita (1923), starring Mary Pickford. After a minor role in DeMille's The Ten Commandments (1923) his career began to build. In 1927 he was cast opposite Janet Gaynor in 7th Heaven. A smash hit, the movie was nominated for the very first Best Picture Academy Award and brought Oscars to director Frank Borzage, screenwriter Benjamin Glazer and to Janet Gaynor, who won Best Actress for this and two other film performances. Charlie would always joke that he was the only one connected with the movie who wasn't nominated for an Oscar. The two luminous, newly minted young stars were then teamed in 11 more pictures between 1928 and 1934 and, as the most popular couple in movies, were known as "America's Favorite Lovebirds."

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Old Hollywood Haunts, Pt. 1: A Birthday Remembrance for the Brown Derby on Vine...

I lived in Hollywood, once upon a time, on Poinsettia between Fountain and Santa Monica Blvd., not far from Melrose.  It was the early '80s and I was working at a radio station on Sunset at North Genesee, across from the Screen Actors Guild. Ed Asner was the president of the guild then and I met him one afternoon, along with most of my co-workers, when SAG hosted an open house in the space it had just leased on the second floor of our building. This was around the time I was getting to know the Brown Derby at the intersection of Vine St. and Hollywood Blvd. Known locally as the Hollywood Derby, it was the radio station's go-to spot for good-bye and birthday and bon voyage lunches. The place always seemed to be bustling and I would never have guessed then that it would be gone forever within two or three years.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

WILSON (1944), Darryl F. Zanuck's Forgotten Campaign for World Peace

It was August 1944 and World War II was advancing toward its cataclysmic end when 20th Century Fox launched a heavily promoted biographical spectacular, Darryl F. Zanuck’s production of Wilson. A tribute to Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States, and his vision for world peace, Wilson was the most lavishly mounted film since David O. Selznick’s Gone with the Wind (1939) and would go on to be nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. The film debuted with great fanfare and was received with acclaim and enthusiasm. The Washington Post raved, citing Wilson as “one of the most distinguished films in the whole history of cinema.” Yet Wilson would also earn a reputation as “Zanuck’s folly” and disappear into the dustbin of movie history.