Monday, April 07, 2014

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Orson Talks (and talks and talks and talks...)

I recently finished reading My Lunches with Orson, a book of conversations between the great Welles and Henry Jaglom, director of such films as "Queen of the Lot," (which I just added to my Netflix queue as it contains the endlessly adorable Noah Wyle). Welles was fond of recording himself for posterity, because there is a nearly identical book called This Is Orson Welles, which transcribes his conversations with Peter Bogdanovich. And while yes, this does make Welles seem incredibly vain, it's also entertaining as hell, because could that man tell a story! The anecdotes fall into one of three categories:
  1. That can't possibly be true.
  2. That might be true.
  3. If that's not true, it should be.
You'll notice there is no "100% true" category, because I just can't get to that place when Welles is telling stories (especially about John Houseman -- meow!). Not that I am saying he's a big liar, although I think sometimes he was. But I think every story is embellished, whether a lot or a little.

I liked "My Lunches" a little bit more, in part because it takes us up to the very end of Welles' life; his last conversation with Jaglom was just a few days before Welles died. In reading them, I came away feeling like I learned something about Hollywood, a lot about film making, and not very much about Welles himself. Which is I'm sure just how he intended it to be.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How this all got started

I was thinking today about how my love of classic movies began. The first classic movie I remember seeing is "Gone With the Wind" in 8th grade. (Well, I saw "The Wizard of Oz" long before that, but GWTW was what started my love.)

We read the book in English class, and everyone loved it (despite the groans that came at first when we were handed the book and realized it was over 1000 pages). I can still remember the day the class geek, who had finished way before any of us, horrified everyone by blurting out the Melanie dies at the end. Anyway, after we finished reading this behemoth, our teacher treated us by showing us the movie in 45 minutes chunks each period for about a week. We were just dazzled. Or at least I was.

Casting: Clark Gable was, of course, the perfect Rhett Butler. Whether Margaret Mitchell had in mind when she wrote the book or not, no one else could have played that role, ever. Olivia de Havilland had that quiet, gentle manner that was just right for Melanie. Had no idea Vivien Leigh was British until years later.

The one cast member that wasn't quite right was Leslie Howard. If you've read the book you'll understand why. The first description of Ashley goes like this:

"...his drowsy grey eyes wide with a smile and the sun so bright on his blond hair that it seemed like a cap of shining silver."

And later, when he comes home on Christmas furlough:

"The Ashley Wilkes in his faded, patched uniform, his blond hair bleached tow by summer suns, was a different man from the easy-going, drowsy-eyed boy she had loved to desperation before the war. And he was a thousand times more thrilling. He was bronzed and lean now, where he had once been fair and slender, and the long golden mustache drooping about his mouth, cavalry style, was the last touch he needed to make him the perfect picture of a soldier."

Somewhere I think it also mentions that Ashley is over six feet tall. So imagine our surprise when we get to the barbecue scene of the movie, Scarlett calls out, "Ashley!", and this guy comes down the stairs:

And he has a British accent.
I am sorry to say that we all burst out laughing. Poor Leslie Howard, who was so great in many other roles, and was shot down by the Germans in 1943, was spectacularly unsuited for this role.

Not long after that, a new video rental place opened, with a much bigger selection than your average Blockbuster, including a great selection of old movies. They were usually shelved by actor/actress, so I began working my way through the Joan Crawford shelf, and the rest is history.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

I felt the need to include the year in the title this time, because there are, according to IMDB, fifteen film versions of this Dickens classic, including a 2000 German version titled Eine Erzählung von zwei Städten. I recently saw the David O. Selznick production starring Ronald Colman, Reginald Owen, Edna May Oliver, and Basil Rathbone.

Basil is at his evil best here as Marquis St. Evremonde, your sterotypical (but deliciously so) cruel and unfeeling French aristocrat. After his coach runs over a small boy, his response is to complain about the inconvenience to himself, so you know he's not going to last very long in a movie about the French revolution, and he doesn't. 

"Sure, I seem like a drunken jerk now, but just you wait..."

I don't think I'd ever seen Ronald Colman in a movie before, and he was just great as Sydney Carton, the world-weary, alcoholic lawyer who in the end does a "far, far better thing than [he] has ever done..." The role is tragic, of course, but Colman also managed to find the bits of humor in it, such as the scene when he is writing notes in the courtroom for Stryver to read outloud, sometimes with unintentionally hilarious consequences. He also portrays Sydney as more than just a cad; even when he's at his most obnoxious, he still manages to be sympathetic.

The movie is famous for its scene of the peasants storming the Bastille, and rightly so. It's very well done, considering the only special effects they had were the set and the people. Selznick may have been an obsessive compulsive control freak, but you have to admit he achieved quite the result.

I just bought the book yesterday, and I'm looking forward to seeing if it lives up to the movie, instead of the other way around.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Dispatch from Reuters

I think I have a new favorite classic film sub-genre: biographical films starring Edward G. Robinson. Yesterday I saw A Dispatch from Reuters, the story of Paul Julius Reuter and how he started the famous news wire service with some passenger pigeons. I'm beginning to think I love Eddie G. in these kinds of roles more than the gangster films. Although Johnny Rocco is hard to top. 

The real Julius Reuter, also
well known for his sideburns.

Like another Eddie G. biopic I love, Dr. Ehrlich's Magic Bullet, Robinson here plays a character completely unlike any of his gangsters: an industrious, hard working man who wants to speed up the dissemination of news not for any profit, but because "the news belongs to everyone." He starts out providing stock prices via carrier pigeons, and just to be as fair as possible, he locks the subscribers in the room while he reads the prices, and then lets them out all at once so no one has an advantage over anyone else. This leads to some hijinks where one banker tries to cheat by tossing the prices out the window to his office boy; Reuter notices this and next time, gives the wrong prices and doesn't correct himself until he sees the office boy run away.

The story reaches its climax when Reuter is the first, by over 7 hours (because he has built his own telegraph line from Ireland to England), to get the news of Lincoln's assassination. He won't hold it back, not even to save his best friend from losing a bundle in the stock market. The news starts a panic, but when no other source can confirm it, the brokers decide Reuter made it up to crash the market, and that leads to a session of Parliament where the members argue about whether Reuter can or should be punished. Right when it gets the most tense, however, a messenger comes in with the news that Lincoln has, in fact, been murdered. All the MPs have egg on their faces, but they do apologize to Reuter, and the movies ends on this great triumph.

Sadly, Robinson did not grow
similar sideburns for the movie.
One person I felt was kind of unnecessary to the film was Eddie Albert, who plays Reuter's friend Max. They're in business together from the start (back in the days when the local village children call Reuter "the pigeon fool" and throw rocks at him), but Max is lazy and irresponsible, at one point letting all the pigeons get away. He does provide contrast by making Reuter/Robinson look all that more industrious, but I don't think he brought much else to the film, and Reuter looks hardworking enough on his own.

As always at Warner Bros, there is all kind of character actor goodness to be found in this film, including Otto Kruger (Reuter's father-in-law), Albert Basserman (Reuter's partner Geller), Nigel Bruce (Sir Randolph), Montagu Love (John Delane, head of The Times), and Gene Lockhart (Bauer the banker).