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.

In his quest to "reflect the full range of how summer has been depicted on screen," Malahy explores films as diverse as the Bergman art house classic, Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), and the Harold Ramis pure-'80s farce, Caddyshack (1980). Naturally included are "beach movies" like Gidget (1959) and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965) as well as the seaside thriller that would become the first ever "summer blockbuster," Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) - the inspiration for this book.

While this collection is Malahy's own "subjective sampling," he encourages readers to continue to explore beyond his book. The author himself can't resist exploring further. Along with each of the 30 movies chosen, he recommends a second summer movie for a "double feature" experience and also includes a "vacation inspiration" suggestion with every entry. For example, Key Largo (1948), among the primary entries and a film set in the Florida Keys, is double-billed with Body Heat (1981), the steamy neo-noir set in South Florida. The vacation inspiration for Key Largo highlights the area's diving attractions as well as the fact that the steamboat from another Bogart vehicle, The African Queen (1951), is currently moored there.

Another of Malahy's double feature suggestions introduced me to a film I was 'til now unfamiliar with. His entry on The Seven Year Itch (1955), a minor but fetching Billy Wilder comedy that provided Marilyn Monroe with one of her more endearing roles and catapulted her career into the stratosphere, is paired with the more obscure Out of the Blue (1947). Based on a short story by Vera Caspary (author of Laura) and starring George Brent, Virginia Mayo, Turhan Bey, Ann Dvorak and Carole Landis, the film is described by Malahy as "a screwball combination of The Seven Year Itch and Rear Window." This I've gotta see. Such are the nuggets to be found in Summer Movies.

Moondoggie and friends
In his foreward to Malahy's guide, Leonard Maltin travels down Memory Lane, remembering his own early experiences with summer movies beginning with the time he saw The Parent Trap "the first week it played in a nearby New Jersey theater." Maltin's recollections brought to mind memories of my own. There was the summer long ago when I first saw Gidget at a Saturday matinee at the Ritz Theater in my hometown in Southern California. It was a few years after Gidget's original release and I remember how much I'd anticipated seeing it and how enchanted I was with the freewheeling beach scene it depicted, with "Moondoggie," and with the sport of surfing, which was on the cusp of becoming very, very popular. I also remember a hot summer night in the distant past when I went with an older cousin and his family - again to the Ritz Theater - to see Disney's Summer Magic (1963). It starred Hayley Mills, Dorothy McGuire, Burl Ives and Deborah Walley (future Gidget!) and told the story of a turn-of-the-century family making a new life in a small town. I was charmed. A summer or two later, word of mouth began to spread on a movie about surfing that was then being shown in auditoriums and other small venues. It was called The Endless Summer and in Southern California at that time it became the definition of "cool."

As I've mentioned more than once, this is an eclectic assortment. Commingling on Summer Movies' pages are the likes of Breaking Away (1979), Dirty Dancing (1987), Do the Right Thing (1989), The Graduate (1967), Monsieur Hulot's Holiday (1953), Moon Over Miami (1941), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), On Golden Pond (1981), Picnic (1955), The Parent Trap (1961), A Room with a View (1985), Summertime (1955) and Summer Stock (1950). It's kinda wacky but mostly engaging and a lot of fun. Which is what makes Summer Movies: 30 Sun-Drenched Classics great summer reading for classic film fans and anyone with an interest in the films of summer. It will probably inspire other readers, as it has me, to consider what films would be on their own A-list of films set in the summertime. A few have already popped into my head: American Graffiti (1973), Body Heat (1981), Say Anything (1989), Summer Magic (1963), Summer of '42 (1971)...and I'm wondering if Roman Holiday (1953) took place during Rome's summer season.

Friday, May 21, 2021

I Know Where I'm Going! 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 delay in the production of the second film due to the limited availability of Technicolor cameras and film stock in England at that time and the shoot would be delayed for months because of the  shortage. 

In the meantime, producer/screenwriter Emeric Pressburger mentioned to his partner, producer/director Michael Powell, an idea he'd had for a story about a woman who is trying to get to an island but never does. This fragment of a concept evolved to become I Know Where I'm Going! (1945), a black and white beauty that in time got lost in the shuffle among The Archers' more colorful epics and grand scale dramas. But this outwardly "smaller" film is no less artful or engaging than the more prominent entries on Powell and Pressburger's filmography. 

The title, taken from an old Scottish folk song, makes no secret of a central theme and an entertaining opening credits sequence provides ample exposition:

 

Wendy Hiller, flashing her nobly sculpted cheekbones and upturned nose, strides across the screen as all-grown-up Joan Webster. Now a stylishly suited 25-year-old bright young thing in a jaunty leopard skin hat with matching purse, she's about to have drinks and dinner with her bank manager father and is all wound up over the good news she's about to share with him. She's on the verge of getting everything she's ever wanted for as long as she could want anything; tomorrow she will wed Sir Robert Bellinger, her employer, an industrialist who is her father's age and "one of the wealthiest men in England." She will be rich! At dinner, her father stifles her sudden flash of pretense toward the waitstaff with the admonition, "Stop acting, you're not Lady Bellinger yet!"

That evening Joan sets off on the first leg of her many-legged journey to her fiance, for Lord Bellinger is staying on the Island of Kiloran in Scotland's Western Isles. Boarding a train out of Manchester, Joan is on her way, but later that night she has an unusual dream...

En route to the tiny fishing village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, her last stop before she sails for Kiloran, Joan travels a winding road over a stone bridge, around a secluded cove and beside an ancestral castle dating from ancient times.  As she draws nearer to her destination, the weather shifts from promising ("It's a sublime day!") to foggy and wet and windy. She is leaving the modern industrial world where she has been very comfortable and entering into a primeval landscape and "old ways" that will have an unsettling effect on her.

Joan sits on her suitcase at the dock waiting for Sir Robert's boat

The best laid plans begin to fall apart. A gust of wind blows Joan's cherished itinerary into the sea and stormy weather prevents Sir Robert's boat from crossing to Tobermory to pick her up that evening as scheduled. Through Torquil MacNeil (Roger Livesey), a Naval officer home on shore leave, she finds shelter with his old friend Catriona Potts (Pamela Brown). Mrs. Potts arrives home toting a rifle, accompanied by a pack of howling Irish Wolfhounds. Windblown and down to earth with a gaze that misses nothing, Catriona is the antithesis of Joan.

Catriona Potts and her Wolfhounds