Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Los Angeles Philharmonic Performs Bernard Herrmann...

James Stewart and Kim Novak in Vertigo
While perusing YouTube the other night I happened on the video below of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, performing Bernard Herrmann's "Scene d'Amour" from his score for Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo. I watched and listened several times, swept up in it...and then, afterward, remembered something I'd nearly forgotten...

900 Lombard, San Francisco, today
Just about a year ago a videographer friend and I toured and shot footage of San Francisco film locations. I later recorded a voice track and hoped to post the video online, but had problems uploading it. Naturally, we got footage of Vertigo sites (the film includes many locations in the city) and I also took some still photos of 900 Lombard St., "Scottie Ferguson's" apartment in North Beach. The building had changed so little in the 50+ years since the movie was made that I almost expected a vintage green Jaguar to pull up and an elegant, ethereal blonde to slide out...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Kick your cares down the stairs...and come to Holiday Inn (1942)

Holiday Inn (1942) is famed as the film in which Bing Crosby first sang "White Christmas." I love its teaming of Crosby with Fred Astaire, their song and dance routines, the comedic rivalry between them, Irving Berlin's sensational music, the wintry New England scenery...everything about it.

In this video review, New YorkTimes critic A.O. Scott discusses Holiday Inn - with film clips. He does talk about the "Abraham" number...but doesn't suggest censoring it. Click to watch...

Scott's review started with a clip of a clever Fred Astaire routine, his New Year's Eve dance "under the influence" with Marjorie below to watch the entire sequence...CLIP NO LONGER AVAILABLE...a good excuse to just watch the movie!

(I probably don't need to add: don't try this yourself!)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Holiday Moment with Judy and Mel...

On December 6, 1963, Judy Garland taped "The Christmas Show" to air a few weeks later as the holiday episode of her weekly CBS-TV variety show. She was joined by by both family (including Liza) and singer/songwriter Mel TormĂ©, writer (with Bob Wells ) of  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)"...Click to watch Judy and Mel sing this holiday classic...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas in Connecticut (1945) special holiday season...

Christmas in Connecticut (1945), a jewel of a holiday romantic comedy, was released at a  time unlike any other in America...scant months after VE Day, just days before VJ Day - and by December 1945, World War II was finally over and many veterans were home in time for Christmas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Artful Nostalgia of Richard Amsel

Murder on the Orient Express poster
Richard Amsel was a prolific graphic artist and illustrator who created some of the most indelible images of the '70s and '80s.

Born on December 4, 1947, he was raised near Philadelphia, in the west side suburb of Ardmore where his parents owned a toy store. An artistic prodigy from early youth, he graduated from Lower Merion High School in 1965; he had been Art Editor of the school yearbook. He went on to attend the Philadelphia College of Art and stood out among his classmates there. Some have suggested that Amsel's precocious talent intimidated even his art instructors at the college.

While still in art school, he won a poster art contest for the Barbra Streisand film, Hello Dolly (1968). His career took off as a result... he was just 21 years old.

Richard Amsel went on to create a series of magazine ads for designer Oleg Cassini, illustrated movie posters and developed a long association with TV Guide magazine. In addition, he created the art for Time Magazine's Lily Tomlin cover in 1975.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

JOHN M. STAHL...a reappraisal and a reaffirmation

Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven
by guest contributor doctor sabelotodo

Author's Disclaimer

Not until I started researching and reading did I realize the extent of the tremendous amount of heresay, recyled disinformation and vague references that exists in the written media about director John M. Stahl - both online and in book form. I prefer to write (cryptically) off the top of my head but felt lacking in sufficient details concerning the film legacy of Mr. Stahl. I love film but dislike film will not see mise en scene mentioned...

Sunday, December 5, 2010


One of the most charming and potent portrayals of Americana to grace the screen, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) tugs at the heartstrings as powerfully today as it did 65+ years ago when it was crafted by MGM's "Freed Unit."

The film's sparkling perfection is the work of producer Arthur Freed, director Vincente Minnelli, an incomparable ensemble cast, an ace artistic and technical team, songwriters Ralph Blane and Hugh Martin and...Technicolor.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clint and Me

Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force (1973)
by guest contributor Magic Lantern 21

“Good guy…that last one he shot was a good guy!”

Eleven words… my claim to celebrity status; my fifteen minutes of fame which if you took a stop watch and measured, would run well under that length of time. And although I would have many small screen appearances later on in “The Streets of San Francisco,” these few words to this day still get me the most attention. Why? Because Clint Eastwood films are both well known and greatly admired not only in the U.S., but also by audiences around the world. Therefore to be associated with a Clint Eastwood movie usually guarantees that an actor (even a bit one as myself) will receive instant and lasting recognition.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Eat, drink movies

With Thanksgiving looming on the horizon,  my head has been filled with visions of food...and film.

When the weather turned cooler a couple of weeks ago and Now, Voyager happened to be scheduled on TCM, I started thinking about my favorite recipe for gingerbread...and how a steaming cup of hot cocoa would go so well with a thick slice of gingerbread and that magnificent Bette Davis melodrama.

Last weekend, M.F.K. Fisher’s  “strengthening prescription” from her book, Alphabet for Gourmets, found its way into my thoughts. Fisher, considered the doyenne of American culinary writers during her lifetime, was also a screenwriter for Paramount Pictures in 1942, and this seemed to me to add to the rightness of pairing her simple menu (from the chapter "M is for Monastic") with a movie.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Max Ophuls' Letter From an Unknown Woman (1948)

It is turn-of-the-century Vienna, the wee hours of a wet night. A man alights from a horse-drawn carriage and jokes with companions about the duel at dawn to which he has been challenged. Entering his flat alone he tells his manservant he will leave before morning, "Honor is a luxury only gentlemen can afford." But the mute servant indicates a letter awaiting him and, as he prepares for his departure, the man opens it and begins to read...
"By the time you read this letter, I may be dead," it says, and the voice of a woman, the letter writer, begins to narrate her story.  Her tale unfolds in flashback as the man immerses himself in the letter.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Although Vincente Minnelli's 1945 musical Yolanda and the Thief is not one of his or Fred Astaire's most popular films, it contains a jewel of a musical number that has earned raves from day one...Coffee Time...

When the film was released, none other than stuffy Bosley Crowther, critic for The New York Times, was impressed: "...a rhythm dance, done to the melody of Mr. Freed's Coffee-Time, puts movement and color to such uses as you seldom behold on screen."

More recently, Stuart Klawans of The Nation was even more enthusiastic: "Minnelli puts Astaire and Lucille Bremer into the midst of a mad pulsation of dancers in mocha and cafe au lait costumes...the chorus swirls; the camera swirls; the gringo-Latin rhythms shift giddily...Coffee Time  is heaven itself, and a warm-up for the 18-minute ballet that Minnelli and Gene Kelly would create in An American in Paris."

Coffee Time is the reworking of an earlier tune by composer Harry Warren called Java Junction. His collaborator, producer/songwriter Arthur Freed, created new lyrics for the updated melody. In the film, the routine begins as a captivating contrast in rhythms, with the orchestra playing in 4/4 time while the dancers dance in 5/4 time. The number goes through a series of variations and ends up a full-blown swing number showcasing Astaire and Bremer.

The Coffee Time sequence is a fiesta for the eyes. Costumer Irene Sharaff developed the stylized combo of costumes and decor. She created coffee-colored outfits for the extras and, to set off the costumes, devised a pattern of rolling black and white lines on the dance floor that form an optical illusion. With Fred Astaire, choreographer Eugene Loring came up with a dance based on slow jazz rhythms. Minnelli's lighting and camera work added the finishing touches.

Watch Coffee Time here -

Thursday, November 11, 2010

1st Film Noir Xmas coming to San Francisco…9th Noir Festival set for January

The San Francisco Film Noir Foundation has set its first-ever Noir City Xmas for Wed., December 15, at the Castro Theatre, and extends an invitation to “enjoy a Cruel Yule...”

The double feature pairs Remember the Night (1940) and Mr. Soft Touch (1949).

TCM has been airing Remember the Night regularly in recent years, and that's where I first saw it. The film stars Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck as an assistant DA and a thief who share a memorable and affecting holiday before she is set to serve her  jail sentence. Directed by Mitchell Leisen, written by Preston Sturges.  A classic.

Mr. Soft Touch stars Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes. A combination of “tight-lipped noir and broad comedy," it was shot on location in San Francisco. The film tells the story of a WW II veteran (Ford) out for revenge when he falls in with a kindly social worker (Keyes).  My first viewing of Mr. Soft Touch will be this “freshly struck 35mm print.”

San Francisco’s 9th annual Noir City Film Festival will run from January 21 – 30, 2011, also at the Castro Theatre; I'll post the screening schedule and ticket information as soon as it's available. Film noir fans should try hard to attend this festival, it's a chance to see both classics and rare "B" gems on the big screen in an old-style movie palace. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Van Nest Polglase ~ Architect Of Cinematic Dreams, Part II

by guest contributor Whistlingypsy

The emergence of those stylistic elements in American films later termed noir by critics is often debated and open to interpretation.

Five years before the films that captivated French critics for their “dark” plots and visual style, John Ford directed an equally dark film for RKO Studios. The Informer (1935) was based on the novel by Liam O’Flaherty and tells the story of an increasingly desperate man. Whether John Ford had the stylistic treatment of German expressionism in mind when making the film seems unlikely, but Gypo Nolan’s (Victor McLaglen) flight through Dublin’s fog wreathed streets suggests these atmospheric elements as an archetype of noir essentials. Through the effective use of black velvet drapery and fog, to disguise the minimal budget for art direction, Polglase and assistant art director Charles Kirk created an atmosphere that is alternately brooding and menacing, dark, claustrophobic and bleak. Setting the story over the course of one night gives immediacy to Nolan’s frantic race to outrun his conscience and his pursuers. This small film would proved an artistic triumph, surprising studio executives, and won four Academy Awards, one for John Ford’s direction and Victor McLaglen’s portrayal of the lead character.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Van Nest Polglase ~ Architect Of Cinematic Dreams, Part I

by guest contributor Whistlingypsy

The artistry of classic films reveals a cinematic alchemy in melding talent both before and behind the camera. The actor/actress and director are the two most visibly recognizable artists who created the image on screen. A careful viewer can also learn to recognize the names of the creative individuals who labored behind the scenes. Van Nest Polglase was one of these individuals who created the world in which our favorite characters move and have their lives.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

ROSEMARY'S BABY...Roman Polanski's Horror Classic

A landmark film of the horror genre, Rosemary's Baby (1968) also marked Roman Polanski's directorial debut in the US. The film, a runaway hit on release, was the prototype that inspired the onslaught of big-budget "A" horror films that followed: The Exorcist, The Omen, etc.

In the tradition of Hitchcock, Polanski achieves his effects with little explicit violence but with maximum finesse. Like Hitchcock, Polanski assiduously maneuvers the emotions of his audience. Drawn into Rosemary's point of view and her growing alarm, the viewer becomes ever more aware that something is amiss but, like Rosemary, doesn't grasp exactly what has happened until the final scenes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The House That Jack Built

John Gilbert
  Estate was Home to Hollywood Notables for 55 Years

In the mid-1920s, when he was a top star at MGM, leading man John Gilbert built a house at 1400 Tower Grove Road in the Benedict Canyon area of Beverly Hills. A two-story Spanish-colonial with tennis court and swimming pool, the estate was on a narrow road that curled up a hill behind the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Gilbert’s daughter, Leatrice, then a young girl, remembered her father greeting her from the top of a long, red-tiled stairway when she arrived for her first visit to his home in the early 1930s. She recalled soft light filtering through high, leaded windowpanes as she climbed the steps.

During one of her visits, he showed her a secret panel in an alcove adjacent to the living room and a button hidden under one of the bookshelves. The button opened a door to a stairway that led to the basement. He told her there had been a bar in the basement before Prohibition was repealed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Light, Shadow and Synergy ~ von Sternberg and Dietrich, Part III

Scroll down for Parts I and II of Light, Shadow and Synergy...

In 1933, during a hiatus between studio contracts and filmmaking, Josef von Sternberg traveled to Germany to explore establishing Marlene Dietrich and himself at UFA, the studio where the two had made The Blue Angel three years earlier. Just as the director was returning to the U.S., recently appointed Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler suspended the German constitution and soon began revoking the citizenship of Jewish artists and scholars; not much later came the burning of books. Back in America, von Sternberg, an Austrian Jew, and his star signed on once more with Paramount where the director's new contract gave him almost complete autonomy over his films.

He later wryly reflected on his next (and last) two productions with Dietrich, “I completely subjugated my bird of paradise to my peculiar tendency to prove that a film might well be an art medium…”

Saturday, October 9, 2010

For a Liddypol Lad...

John Lennon would be turning 70 right about now, a disconcerting thought for some baby-boomers, especially those who took to heart certain lyrics of the Who's "My Generation" - "hope I die before I get old." As fate would have it, John Lennon did die before he got old, he had just turned 40 when he was killed in 1980. But the years he lived were incredible, most of all the last 17, when he, as a Beatle and after, reigned as one the great and beloved icons of popular music and culture.

Most who are reading this are familiar with the story of the Beatles and I'm not going down that well-worn path, nor will I review/critique/analyze them or their astonishing music...this is about what I remember...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Light, Shadow and Synergy ~ von Sternberg and Dietrich, Part II

1931 began spectacularly for director Josef von Sternberg and actress Marlene Dietrich. Their first two films together, Morocco and the English language version of The Blue Angel, had both just opened in the U.S., creating a sensation...and big box office.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Light, Shadow and Synergy - von Sternberg and Dietrich, Part I

Josef von Sternberg is recalled first and foremost as the filmmaker who, 80 years ago, introduced the cinematic persona adopted by Marlene Dietrich as her own, on screen and off, for most of the rest of her life. It is less well known that before their fabled association von Sternberg had already earned a name for himself as an accomplished, if temperamental, director. His artistic reputation peaked during the years 1930 - 1935, when he directed seven films starring Dietrich.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2011 TCM Classic Film Festival Dates Set

Tonight at 8pm, on Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne announced the dates for TCM's 2011 Classic Film Festival in Hollywood: April 28 - May 1.

Passes will go on sale in November, but early birds can get started by making reservations now at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel which will once again serve as the official hotel and headquarters for the festival.

Screenings and events will also take place at Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Mann's Chinese 6 and the Egyptian Theatre.

Last year more than 20,000 attended TCM's inaugural festival - people from 44 states, Washington DC, two US territories and six foreign countries...I have a feeling it will be even bigger this year.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Rafael, My Local Theater

The Rafael Theater in San Rafael, California, began life as the Orpheus Theater in 1918, long before the Golden Gate Bridge connected Marin County to the city of San Francisco. A first-run movie house, the Orpheus was razed by fire and resurrected as the art moderne Rafael in 1938.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused significant damage to the building and the Rafael closed for ten years. In 1998 reconstruction began. The theater was gutted and renovated and reopened in 1999. Today it is a three-screen art/indie/revival house operated as a non-profit by the California Film Institute and has been renamed the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Theater.

The Mill Valley Film Festival, which runs from October 7 - 17 this year (2010) and will honor such luminaries as Annette Bening, Edward Norton, Sam Rockwell, Ryan Gosling and Julian Schnabel, screens many of the festival films at the Rafael.

In the last few years I've seen quite a variety of films at the theater - La Vie en Rose (Marion Cotillard won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance and attended the Rafael premiere), Starting Out in the Evening (featuring a remarkable performance by Frank Langella), Francis Coppola's Tetro (a film that brought Luchino Visconti to mind) and the Swedish sensation, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Most recently I attended a screening of the silent version of Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1930) with accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra (click here for my post  about it) and a free-to-the-public presentation of Hitchcock's North by Northwest (click here for the post).

A few years ago the Beatles' A Hard Day's Night was screened on the exterior of the Rafael. The street was closed to traffic and filled with people sitting and standing and singing along with John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Some of the Rafael's illustrious guests...

Barbara Hale

Ray Harryhausen


Helen Mirren

Francis Ford Coppola