Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movies in Our Time : Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century - A Book Review

Author and film blogger, Jacqueline T. Lynch has recently released a collection of articles from her blog, Another Old Movie Blog, in her latest book entitled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century available to purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This hefty paperback features reviews of over 50 films in the context of the time in which they were made, with a focus on Hollywood-made pictures. Gold Diggers of 1933, History is Made at Night, Shadow of a Doubt, Old Acquaintance, Love Letters, Since You Went Away, The Best Years of Our Lives, A Foreign Affair, I Want You, Storm Center, Peyton Place, and Strangers When We Meet are all reviewed and grouped into chapters such as "Before the Storm", "World War II", "Strange New World" and "The Fabulous, Frightening Fifties".


The Jeer : The articles should have been edited for this book edition and many read like a real-time blog, making you wonder what the author was referring to by "tomorrow" or "last week". It also would have been nice to see longer chapter introductions describing how the films fit in with the changing times. While the cover design is great, the back side leaves more to be desired and many of the photographs are highly pixelated. 

The Cheer : Lynch has an easy-flowing style of writing that keeps you entertained throughout numerous chapters. The majority of her reviews are just a few pages in length making it great for nightly reading. The reviews are very insightful and she sheds new light on some old classics. Among the more popular films ( King KongMr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mrs.Miniver ), are thrown in some obscure titles too ( Keep Your Powder Dry, Dreamboat, Witness to Murder)....always a boon! 

The Skinny : Check out Jacqueline Lynch's blog Another Old Movie Blog first and if you like her reviews then you may definitely want to consider buying the book. Otherwise, try it in the ebook edition instead. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Swiss Family Robinson ( 1960 )

"It was a good thing we set out to do. We were right, and all that hasn't changed just because we were shipwrecked."

Papa Robinson's plans of providing a new home for his family in the burgeoning colony of New Guinea go awry when the ship carrying them from Switzerland to the new land gets shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean after a fierce storm. Robinson ( John Mills ), his wife ( Dorothy McGuire ), and their three sons Fritz ( James MacArthur ), Ernest ( Tommy Kirk ), and Francis ( Kevin Corcoran ) find themselves abandoned by the ship's crew and left to survive on their own. They construct a raft and make their way to a nearby island where they build a home and make a new life for themselves, all the while awaiting to be rescued.

Swiss Family Robinson is loosely based on Johann Wyss' classic novel of the same name published in 1812. Wyss' story had potential but it lacked the action that Disney was seeking for this family adventure film. 


As director Ken Annakin recalled...

"While we were in the mountains near Zermatt shooting Third Man on the Mountain, I remember Bill Anderson saying to me that The Swiss Family Robinson was the subject Walt was toying with as a next picture. I read the book. It was very old-fashioned, and I wondered what Walt's approach was going to be. Bill Anderson and I returned to Burbank and we sat down with Walt. He said, 'Well now, let's throw the whole book out the window. Let's just keep the idea of a Swiss family emigrating, trying to emigrate to America. They get shipwrecked, but they are able to save all the things in the ship. They then make a life on an idyllic island, I think you ought to think of all the things you might like to do, all the animals you could use in an entertaining way. Let's make it a wonderful show for the whole family, with all ideas possible.'"

Walt Disney assigned sketch artist John Jensen to work with director Ken Annakin in creating a storyboard for Swiss Family Robinson. Every scene and every camera angle was plotted in detail. Disney then took the storyboard to screenwriter Lowell S. Hawley and told him to write a story based on what was drawn. It was a novel way to pen a script and turned out to be an excellent way! 

Swiss Family Robinson became Walt Disney's grandest live-action film to date. The entire film took 22 weeks to shot at a cost of approximately $4,000,000. It was also one of the few Disney pictures to be filmed in widescreen. No Hollywood studio sets were used in the making of the movie. It was shot entirely on the Caribbean island of Tobago, providing an authentic tropical backdrop for the intrepid family's escapades. A menagerie of animals were assembled - exotic birds, snakes, tigers, zebras, elephants, lizards and monkeys - and flown to the island to give the appearance that the Robinsons got stranded on a South Pacific island filled with wild creatures. 


The elaborate jungle sets, designed by John Howell, John Hoestli, and Peter Murton, took 5 months to build. The most impressive was, undoubtedly, the tri-level family treehouse which included a stove, hot running water, a skylight roof, and a pirate-proof living room....all the comforts of home. The treehouse became such a beloved edifice that it was given a permanent home at Disneyland, where it was re-constructed in 1962.


"The world is full of nice ordinary people living in nice ordinary little houses on the ground. But didn't you ever dream of a house up on a tree top?"

A previous film version of Swiss Family Robinson was released by RKO in 1940 starring Thomas Mitchell, Edna Best, Tim Holt, Freddie Bartholomew and Terry Kilburn. This adaptation focused on the father's desire to stay on the island and have his sons grow into capable men through the survival skills they were learning on the island, while his wife pined to go home to London to resume her social life.


Walt Disney's version had a much happier tone and the Robinson family displayed the proper attitude that one should have when getting stranded ( in any situation ) : to make the best of it.

As with most Disney films, casting was paramount and Swiss Family Robinson was filled with seasoned and attractive players.  John Mills is ideal as the patriarch of the family striking just the right note of commanding know-how, tempered with humor. Clearly he was a man not disappointed with the situation but thoroughly enjoying the whole escapade. 


Unlike Edna Best's portrayal of Mother, McGuire has her become a woman who supports her husband in his decisions and keeps quiet about the trials of the island...unless worry prompts her to cry out.


The lovely Janet Munro joins the cast as Roberta, the young woman whom Fritz and Ernst rescue from pirates when they take their kayak journey around the island. MacArthur and Kirk were certainly a drawing feature for the young female audience who no doubt would have loved to have been stranded on an island with the boys. Moochie is the only performer who gets out of hand in the film, and seems to be bent on getting himself, and the family, into danger. Rounding out the cast is the legendary Japanese actor Sessue Kayakawa as the leader of the pirates, and Cecil Parker as Roberta's grandfather.


Swiss Family Robinson was released just before Christmas, on December 21, 1960. Critic reviews for the film were mixed, with the New York Times calling it a "grand adventure yarn" while other reviewers found it overlong and the final pirate attack a slapstick travesty. Those critics had their blinders on and failed to realize that the film was made in the spirit of fun and reckless abandon. Nevertheless audiences realized this and they came in droves to see it. The film became the No.1 grossing picture of 1960, earning over 20 million dollars at the box office, nearly twice the return of the second top-grossing film of the year, Psycho.


Swiss Family Robinson gives audiences a ripping good adventure to enjoy and makes for ideal Saturday morning viewing. It has all the key ingredients of an entertaining film - a great story, perfect cast, stellar special effects, and beautiful cinematography. Through the Robinsons we can vicariously enjoy the life of castaways and live out the dream of having a sprawling tree pad...and all within the short span of two hours.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


This month's edition of the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game we consider to be quite easy, but then again, scenes from favorite films are always easy to recognize...especially when you take the screenshot yourself! 

As always, if you are unfamiliar with the rules to the game or the prize, click here

Friday, August 22, 2014

Nugget Reviews - 13


On the Riviera ( 1951 ) 14k


When a famous industrialist's business interests require him to be in London his aids hire a nightclub entertainer to impersonate him at home on the French Riviera to convince his chief rival that all is well with his business. Danny Kaye, Gene Tierney, Corinne Calvet, Marcel Dalio, Clinton Sundberg. 20th Century Fox.  Directed by Walter Lang.

Usually 1950s remakes of 1940s musicals turn out to be duds, but this film is an exception. Danny Kaye shines in On the Riviera as the nightclub entertainer hired to impersonate the great industrialist ( also played by Kaye ). Gene Tierney's talents are wasted in a fluffy role, but she's nice eye candy just the same.

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Tall Story ( 1960 ) Elct.


A forward young woman attends college for the sole purpose of snagging a famous all-star basketball player as a husband. Jane Fonda, Tony Perkins, Ray Walston, Marc Connelly, Anne Jackson. Warner Brothers. Directed by Joshua Logan. 

Although Tall Story may emit some giggles, it's rather lackluster as a comedy...even a light comedy. The film is slow in pace and the black and white filming gives the impression that the director couldn't make up his mind whether it is supposed to be amusing or serious. Seeing Fonda and Perkins looking so young and giggly is the highlight of this film.

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The Golden Voyage of Sinbad ( 1973 ) 14k


Sinbad takes off on another voyage, this time in search of the third piece of an interlocking golden pennant which will restore the kingdom of his illustrious passenger, the Vizier....but Koura, the evil magician is out to capture this pennant as well! John Philip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro, Douglas Wilmer. Columbia Pictures. Directed by Gordon Hessler. 

Sinbad films are always entertaining and this one really delivers in the field of adventure, but has some shortcomings in its dialogue. Tom Baker makes an excellent villian and John Philip Law is the most convicing Sinbad we've seen yet. It's a shame that Schneer & Harryhausen did not bring Law back for theirthird Arabian escapade - Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger. 

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The Whole Truth ( 1958 ) Elct.


A film producer is framed for the murder of his leading lady but has a difficult time convincing the police that he even saw her dead body...twice. Stewart Granger, George Sanders, Donna Reed, Michael Shillo. Romulus Films. Directed by John Guillerman.

To tell the truth, The Whole Truth thinks itself a better noir than it is and leaves some loose ends dangling at the conclusion. Its setting is unique and the cast is good but overall it just fails to be memorable entertainment. 

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Laughing Sinners ( 1931 )  14k 


A Salvation Army officer comes to the rescue when a fun loving nightclub singer attempts suicide after her lover jilts her. Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Neil Hamilton, Guy Kibbee, Roscoe Karns. MGM Pictures. Directed by Harry Beaumont.

Crawford's star appeal is evident in this film, where she gets to display her singing and dancing ability, and Gable is adorable as the righteous Christian. However, films that attempt to preach Christianity against unrighteous folk always end up seeming like a sermon and never truly convince the audience. A good-hearted Andy Hardy film, or a Lassie picture, teaches more of the nature of Christianity than ten of these kind of films combined. Also, the ending of the picture implies that Crawford and Gable's characters will someday marry when they walk off into the sunset, but Salvation Army officers are not permitted to....do they ditch the order then? Maybe the screenwriter just didn't know about this. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Set Design: Elephant Walk ( 1954 )

Elizabeth Taylor was caught in the middle of a love triangle and an elephant stampede in Paramount's 1954 adventure Elephant Walk. Dana Andrews and Peter Finch portrayed the two tea plantation owners vying for her affection. As lovely as Ms. Taylor was however, the real star of the show was the titular "Elephant Walk", Finch's sprawling "bungalow" in Ceylon, India. Built by Finch's father, it's name came from the fact that he had it constructed directly on the ancient old path that the elephants use to travel to their watering hole. He liked to be stubborn in that sort of way....but elephants can be stubborn too and they are not ready to give up their path so easily. 


Let's take a trek to the land of the monsoons and gawk at these glorious Technicolor screenshots of Elephant Walk, featuring the design work of Joseph McMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira. 

The film begins on a rainy day in England where we see Elizabeth Taylor as a book dealer ( the job doesn't suit her ) in the tiny village of Shillingworth. We only get to see a shilling's worth of the town in a rainy view of the window outside of Taylor's bookshop but the interior of this quaint little shop makes one love the village nonetheless. 


That's the wonderful British character actress Norma Varden who has her back turned towards the screen. Finch meets Taylor during one of this annual business expeditions to England and the two marry, whence he takes his new bride to Ceylon to live. 


"Why, I married a millionaire!" Taylor exclaims upon seeing the interior of her new home....as though she would ever marry a commoner. Finch whisks the happy bride over the threshold and then that's about it, as far as the marriageable bliss angle. Instead of consummating their marriage, her husband rather socialize with his pals on their first night home.  


The cronies come to stay every weekend and sponge off their ol' bean, enjoying "the gov'nas" Madeira, first class cigars, and of course...a rousing game of bicyclette polo ( you'll have to watch the movie to see how its played ), and Taylor realizes then that there are no British womenfolk for miles to have any tupperware parties with.


Johnson and Pereira did a marvelous job of designing a palatial manor befitting a British tea mogul. Black wood floors and heavy beam columns hearken the spirit of the imperialistic conqueror, while bare marble floors echo the coldness of Taylor's love life. 


The kitchen is especially grand. Taylor decides to preoccupy herself by taking over the kitchen and other "women's work"....but the chief caretaker, Appuhamy, highly disapproves. And one does not cross paths with Appuhamy ( unless you're an elephant ).


Even if she doesn't have a social life, she never has to worry about starving on the plantation. Take a look at that kitchen pantry!  


Finch takes a spill over the banister during one of the polo games and ends up with a busted leg. This puts him in an ornery mood and obeying doctor's orders, is confined to the upstairs bedroom. Elephant Walk must have at least a dozen bedrooms, but unfortunately, this is the only one we get to see. 


Those intricately carved edges around the doorways are gilded in a sparkling silver, which glitters enormously depending on the resolution of your television set. Outside the bedroom is a wide balcony with the perfect little wicker writing desk, which Taylor uses to pen letters to her mother back in Shillingworth-on-the-Thames. She isn't all together happy at the Ceylon stomping grounds since she found out about the spirit of Finch's old man residing there. 

Her only ally among the men folk is Dana Andrews, who wants her to run away from Elephant Walk and all its symbolic references to the past, and marry him instead. 

Andrews doesn't own an Elephant Walk, he owns a real bungalow instead...a small one: 


( Be sure to take advantage of our sloppy pastiche and click on the image for a larger view. )
Seeing what a swell place he has, she decides maybe it is best to leave Finch and go with Andrews instead, but.....


...a cholera breaks out on the plantation! Drats. Now Ruth and Dick ( that's Taylor and Andrews' characters ) are kept within the confines of the place and cannot leave. The plantation gets turned into a hospital and Elephant Walk becomes a veritable warehouse for medical supplies. 



After seeing how she handles the situation, Appuhamy comes to respect Taylor as the new mistress of Elephant Walk, but the elephants, led by Old Bull, are still resentful no matter who resides there. They want their path back and are willing to bust through the barriers to get to it. 

When Elephant Walk was released, Liz Taylor and its marvelous elephant stampede sequence were touted as the film's drawing features. We think the whole atmosphere of the film make it enjoyable to watch, and this of course, is due to the talents of its art directors and set decorators. 


The set decorators did a great job with all the tiny details. Just look at the wear on those old crates, and even the cups and saucers used in the house bear the Elephant Walk tea logo. The set decoration for Elephant Walk was handled by Sam Comer and Grace Gregory, two highly talented individuals who beautified the sets of White Christmas, Houseboat, Omar Khayyam, The Naked Jungle, Blue Hawaii and The Ten Commandments. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

MGM Hollywood's Greatest Backlot - A Book Review


Authors Stevens Bingen, Stephen X. Sylvester and Michael Troyan have collaborated to create this fascinating look at one of the biggest and busiest sets in Hollywood. MGM: Hollywood's Greatest Backlot is chock full of behind-the-scenes photographs that vividly bring to life the construction and workings on the sound stages and outdoor sets where Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer produced many of their greatest films. Disregard its misleading title because this book covers the entire studio, building by building within its 312 pages, including the Makeup, Sound, Art, Research Departments...even the famous Little Red Schoolhouse. Each department/set is conveniently grouped within sections labeled by the name of one of the four lots. 


The Jeer : Some of the images are pixelated screenshots and although an entertaining read, it may not hold the attention of the casual film historian unless they have an interest in art direction and set design ( who doesn't? ). 

The Cheer : Packed full with wonderful images of the sets in a hefty 11x9 inch size format, it makes for a great coffee table book. It has an easy to read layout and also features a marvelous appendix listing the films shot on the various backlots. 

The Skinny: The authors have brought to life a part of Hollywood history that will never come again, making it a must-have book for the MGM film buff or any one interested in the workings of a major motion picture studio.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Cinema at the Square 2014

Playhouse Square has recently announced the complete schedule for their annual Cinema at the Square classic film series and this years selections include quite a few juicy titles. 


For 17 years Playhouse Square ( Cleveland's Broadway theatre district ) has been hosting Cinema at the Square. The event gives audiences the chance to enjoy watching classic films the way they were originally seen - on a huge 20' x 47' Hurley Super Glo projection screen, complete with pre-show cartoons, travel shorts and Kimball organ music...all for the very reasonable price of $5 per ticket. And better yet, if you purchase a Flex Pass for $15 you get 6 tickets to the show. Whoa. Looks like we'll attending this year, for get a look at their line-up: 

Pretty in Pink ( 1986 ) - Thurs. Aug 7, 2014 7:30pm

The Birds ( 1963 ) - Fri. Aug 8, 2014 7:30pm

Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1962 ) - Sat. Aug 9, 2014 2:00pm

Casablanca ( 1942 ) - Sat. Aug 9, 2014 8:00pm

The Goonies ( 1985 ) - Sun. Aug 10, 2014 2:00pm

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It Happened One Night ( 1934 ) - Thur. Aug 14, 2014 7:30pm

Caddyshack ( 1980 ) - Fri. Aug 15, 2014 7:30pm

The Wizard of Oz ( 1939 ) - Sat. Aug 16, 2014 2:00pm

Roman Holiday ( 1953 ) - Sat. Aug 16, 2014 8:00pm

The African Queen ( 1951 ) - Sun. Aug 17, 2014 2:00pm
                                  






Cleveland Foundation is celebrating their 100th Anniversary and to celebrate the occasion they have given a gift to the community - all of the films showing on the final weekend are free to the public! 

Indiana Jones: The Raiders of the Lost Ark ( 1981 ) - Thur. Aug 21, 2014 7:30pm

The Karate Kid ( 1984 ) - Fri. Aug 22, 2014 7:30pm

The Sound of Music ( 1965 ) - Sat. Aug 23, 2014 3:00pm

Singin' in the Rain ( 1952 ) - Sat. Aug 23, 2014 8:00pm

The Muppets Take Manhattan ( 1984 ) - Sun. Aug 24, 2014 2:00pm

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In past years, showings took place on a daily basis ( at 2pm and 7:30pm ) for two weeks running but recently the schedule has been stretched out to three weeks with showings on Thurs., Fri., and the weekend. Granted, audience attendance was low on a Monday afternoon. 



The Palace Theatre, situated at 1615 Euclid Avenue will be converted into a movie theatre for this grand event. This beautiful theatre was built in 1922, seats over 2,700 people, and hosted some of the greatest vaudeville and musical entertainers that ever toured across America : Fanny Brice, Houdini, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Elsie Janis, Frank Sinatra, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington...and George Burns and Gracie Allen were even married here. 

For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the Playhouse Square website : http://www.playhousesquare.org/events-tickets/cinema-at-the-square


It's a regal setting for a fun event and if you happen to be in the Cleveland area, don't miss attending Cinema at the Square. We'll see you there! 

Note:  The Palace Theatre was recently renamed the Connor Palace in honor of their $9 million donation. Shucks, it lost some of it's glamour now.
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