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Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Happy St. Patrick's Day, dear readers! 'Tis a grand day to be celebrating your Irish heritage, even if ye blood not be running green. 

This screenshot may be a wee bit difficult for some, but for fans of this film, it will be striking a familiar chord. As always, if ye be knowing nothing of what this game is about, simply click here to find out! 

Friday, March 15, 2019

Three Cheers for the Irish ( 1940 )

Peter Casey ( Thomas Mitchell ) is proud to have served 25 years with Chicago's police force. He loves his job so much he never gave retirement a thought, but his superiors did,  and, on the day of his 25th anniversary no less, they tell him to collect his pension. Retirement would be bearable for Casey if it were not for knowing that the new cop ( Dennis Morgan ) taking over his beat is a Scotchman! 

"Scotsman! Scotsman! There be no such thing as a Scotchman!"

To make matters worse, this fetching young rookie has his eyes on Casey's darling daughter Maureen "the apple of me eye". 

Warner Brother's Three Cheers for the Irish begins as a pleasant light-hearted variation of Four Daughters but midway through the film shifts its focus to the growing animosity Casey has for his would-be son-in-law and his political pursuit for the office of city alderman ( councilman ). It would have benefited from having the domestic comedy sequences extended and the other two sisters' parts ( played by Virginia Grey and Irene Hervey ) expanded upon, but the picture nevertheless entertains. 

Priscilla Lane is simply peachy as Maureen, and Irish-American Dennis Morgan does a marvelous job of rolling his Rrrrs in a Scottish brogue. He only sings one song in the film but audiences do get to see his winsome bonny smile in many a scene. Alan Hale has a great part as an over-exuberant practical joker and Frank Jenks, Henry Armetta, and that veteran of Irish-themed pictures J.M Kerrigan are also in the cast. But it is Thomas Mitchell's film entirely, and this excellent actor milks the role for all its worth. 
Like Charles Winniger's character in Little Nellie Kelly, Peter Casey is a stubborn Irishman, and it is particularly sad to see that these two fathers were willing to be separated from their daughters rather than bend their pride and admit that they were being pig-headed. 

Richard Macaulay helped write the screenplay along with Jerry Wald. These two men collaborated on over twenty scripts for Warner Brothers during the 1930s and 1940s including Ready, Willing, and Able, The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, Torrid Zone, Million Dollar Baby, Brother Rat, and Flight Angels. 

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Down Argentine Way ( 1940 )

Betty Grable and Don Ameche head south of the border in one of the most delightful Fox musicals of the 1940s - Down Argentine Way. Sparkling Technicolor, musical melodies to tickle your fancy, an amusing script, and Carmen Miranda chica-chica-booming in her tutti-frutti way are just a few of the pleasures it offers.

"Where there are rhumbas and tangos
To tickle your spine
Moonlight and music and orchids and wine
You'll want to stay down Argentina Way"

Don plays Ricardo, an Argentinian who comes to New York to sell some horses. Glenda Crawford ( Betty Grable ) wants to buy one and they make a deal, but the moment Ricardo discovers her last name is Crawford, he calls the sale off! His padre ( Henry Stephenson ) has a long-standing feud with the Crawfords and will not sell horses to them at any cost. So, in a huff, Glenda takes a trip to Argentina with her Aunt Binnie ( Charlotte Greenwood ) to settle the score...under the guise of purchasing some fresh studs for their stable. Naturally, she finds sweet romance under the Pampas moon with Mr. Ameche instead.

Bedecked in eye-popping Travis Banton costumes, Betty Grable is a veritable feast for the eyes in this picture. She jiggles her way through the samba-inspired "Down Argentine Way" dance number wearing a gorgeous two-piece ensemble adorned with blue beads and looked equally radiant in a sheer puffy-sleeved white dress singing "Two Dreams Met" with Don Ameche.

Betty Grable had made nearly 50 films before she was cast as bubbly Glenda Crawford. Not knowing what to do with her, Fox had just decided to try Grable out as a dramatic actress with a lead opposite Tyrone Power in A Yank in the R.A.F when they discovered that Down Argentine Way, which was released one year prior, was raking in profits. Thank heavens! Betty may never have been a musical star if it wasn't for the success of this film. And Hollywood would have missed out on such a vibrant and adorable personality!

As critic Stephanie Zacharek so aptly described her, "Grable's appeal in Down Argentine Way...radiates from a place that has nothing to do with strict acting chops. She's a persistently warm, accessible presence; there's something kind and forthright about her." It is undoubtedly this quality - and her million dollar legs - that made Grable the pin-up gal favorite with the soldiers overseas during the war years.
The top attraction of the film, for me, was the presence of Don Ameche. Dapper Don, with his bright beady eyes, has such an infectiously happy personality and he even gets to sing two numbers in his pleasant tenor voice. Betty and Don were so well-suited to each other in Down Argentine Way that Fox studio teamed them up again the following year in Moon Over Miami. 

Down Argentine Way features a cast of excellent character players including Leonid Kinskey ( in a role originally intended for Cesar Romero ), Charlotte Greenwood, J. Carroll Naish, and Henry Stephenson. There is also an appearance by Carmen Miranda who was making her first US feature film. She got a chance to perform three upbeat tunes ( "Mamãe Yo Quero", "Bambu Bambu", and "South American Way" ). The movie is chock-full of musical and dance numbers and alongside Miranda, the Nicholas Brothers entertain with their tap-dance routines, Six Hits and a Miss perform the delightful "Two Dreams Met", and the Flores Brothers Trio gently croon "Nenita".
The film raked in nearly $2 million in profits, becoming 20th Century Fox's biggest hit of the year. It was originally made in response to President Franklin Roosevelt's request for Hollywood to make films to encourage the "Good Neighbor Policy" towards Latin America. Unfortunately, Argentina banned the picture during its initial release for its misrepresentation of the real culture of the country: inaccurate traditional costume designs and mixing rhumba and Spanish flamenco with the tango was a no-no. Even Miranda's presence was considered insulting because she was Brazilian, not Argentinian! 

Most Americans didn't recognize any of these errors and just enjoyed the film for what it offered - plenty of sunshine and merriment. And that alone probably boosted South American tourism and Good Neighbor relations!

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Eugene Loring - Choreographer

It has been quite a while since we have profiled someone for our Behind-the-Screen: The Hidden Masters of the Golden Age of Filmmaking series, so as a special treat the spotlight will be put on an occupation not usually covered in this series - that of the choreographer. 

Eugene Loring was never a household name and yet his unique style of dance was recognizable in many musicals of the 1940s and 1950s. His best-known works are Silk Stockings ( 1955 ) and Funny Face ( 1957 ), but it was through the peppy "La Bamba" number in Fiesta ( 1947 ) that first made me take notice of him. Loring blended jazz with ballet and contemporary dance to create innovative moments that were exciting to watch onscreen.

Eugene Loring, born in 1911 in Milwaukee, fell in love with music and dance at a young age. His father ran a saloon and dance hall and Loring would always join in for the Friday night dances. He was also a self-taught pianist. One day, he saw Uday Shankar, a talented Indian dancer, perform and Eugene knew that he wanted to become a professional dancer. 

He went to New York City to study with George Balanchine at the School of American Ballet in 1934, beginning at the ripe old age of 24. Loring had a powerful physique and chiseled facial features that made him look like an ancient Grecian dancer. He joined with Michel Fokine's dance troupe only two months later and quickly moved from being a character dancer to a soloist in his productions. By 1936, Loring was already creating his own ballets for the Ballet Caravan, a touring company specializing in an all-American repertoire. These ballets included Harlequin for President ( 1936 ), Yankee Clipper (1937), and Billy the Kid ( 1938 ), which featured a score by Aaron Copland and is still often performed today.

Based on his work in these productions, he was offered a lucrative six-month MGM contract in 1943. But, in typical Hollywood fashion, the studio did not know what to do with Loring after they signed him and so his first work in film was actually an acting job as jockey Taski in National Velvet ( 1944 ). It was not until 1945 that Loring was tasked with choreography work, helping to create some of the dances in Ziegfeld Follies. It was during the making of this film that he met Fred Astaire, whom he would work together with on four films, including his next production Yolanda and the Thief, which gave Loring his first onscreen credit as choreographer.
Loring staged a number of interesting dances for productions throughout the 1940s including The Thrill of Brazil ( 1946 ), Fiesta ( 1947 ) which showcased Ricardo Montalban's fine dancing ability; Abbott and Costello's Mexican Hayride ( 1948 ) and even The Inspector General ( 1949 ). Most of these films featured only a few dance numbers and so Loring had plenty of time to continue his work in ballet, his true love. He choreographed the marvelous "Carmen Jones" on Broadway and in 1948 founded the American School of Dance in Hollywood. 
Loring felt strongly about how American dancers ought to be trained. He always believed that dance was dance and no dancer should learn simply one style but instead embrace a wide variety of forms and movement.

“Americans are a composite lot and American dancers must be as many-faceted as the melting pot” Loring said in an interview conducted for Dance Magazine in 1956. The American School of Dance was open to anyone interested in dance and featured all forms - tap, ballet, jazz, modern dance - blended in a unique well-rounded curriculum. 

In the early 1950s, Loring worked on several MGM productions that featured Mario Lanza including the fun "Tina-Lina" from The Toast of New Orleans ( 1950 ), and "One Alone" and "It" from Deep in My Heart ( 1954 ) that beautifully showcased Cyd Charisse's ballet ability and Ann Miller's fantastic tapping skills. 

But Loring is best known for his work with Fred Astaire in two MGM musical classics - Funny Face ( 1957 ), which gave Audrey Hepburn a chance to jazz to an eclectic beat in "Bohemian Dance", and Silk Stockings ( 1957 ) which again featured the lovely Cyd Charisse in the exciting "The Red Blues" and "All of You" dance numbers. 

Eugene then took time off from Hollywood productions and, aside from a few television productions ( including Cinderella in 1965 ), he focused his attention on teaching. He founded the dance department at the University of California at Irvine where he taught up until his death in the early 1980s.
Eugene Loring may be one of the lesser-known choreographers, but during his lifetime he created a fine body of work. He invented marvelous dance numbers for all of the films he worked on and left "Billy the Kid" as his legacy to the world of dance. Please click on the links hidden within the text to enjoy and appreciate Loring's work, the man deserves more recognition for his contribution to film choreography than he has received. 

Sunday, February 24, 2019

On the Set of "Fantastic Voyage" ( 1966 )

"Four men and one woman on the most fantastic, spectacular and terrifying journey of their lives!" 

Director Richard Fleischer helmed this classic 1966 sci-fi film about five intrepid individuals who undertake the most fantastic voyage of their lives - a journey through the bloodstream of an ailing scientist. Shrunk to microscopic size, they battle the body's incredible defenses to make a desperate attempt to save his life. 

Stephen Boyd, Edmund O'Brien, Donald Pleasance, Arthur O'Connell and Arthur Kennedy all have feature parts but the film became popular primarily due to the presence of the curvaceous Raquel Welch. This exciting adventure features a clever premise of microscopic medical research.... years before nano-technology was even developed! 

Let's take a peek at some behind-the-scenes images of the cast and crew during the making of Fantastic Voyage

A contact sheet featuring behind-the-scenes images of Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasance, and Raquel Welch

A view of the Proteus Submarine before being miniaturized.

Interior view of the Proteus
Constructing the "intestines"
Ick...the human body can be difficult to travel through!

Dale Hennesy and Jack Martin Smith were responsible for the art direction of Fantastic Voyage while Stuart A. Reiss and Walter M. Scott handled set decor. Hennesy was also the production designer for Young Frankenstein ( 1974 ) and King Kong ( 1976 ). 

Raquel Welch, taking a breather during filming

Raquel Welch pictured in that famous tight-fitting diver suit
"Fantastic Voyage" utilized the "blue screen" which was later replaced with graphics of the insides of a human body

Ms. Welch posing in front of the screen

Another contact sheet, this time with Raquel striking some glamour poses for the photographer

A scene with the blue-screen visible in the background....

...and a similar scene with the graphics inserted.

Publicity photo of Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch

A contact sheet of the publicity shots that were taken

A costume test photo showing that the film was in production in April 1965

An original ABC television publicity photo

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Hmmm....we have here a handsome Indian brave sitting atop a horse. You're probably wondering when was the last time you saw a movie with a shirtless American Indian on a horse, and I'll tell you something, they are not as common as you'd think! 

All you have to do is tell me the name of the movie this scene is from ( you don't even have to guess the name of the brave ) and you win this round of The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game! 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules of the game or the prize, simply click here.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Tintin et le Temple du Soleil ( 1969 )

Tintin, the beloved comic book creation of Belgium illustrator Herge, was transferred to the big screen as a fabulous full-length feature film in 1969 - Tintin et le Temple du Soleil. It was based upon one of Tintin's most famous escapades, his search for the missing Professor Calculus and a band of archeologists who are under the spell of an ancient Incan curse. The film took the two-part adventure ( from the books The Seven Crystal Balls and The Prisoner of the Sun ) and condensed it into one 77-minute film.
This was a French production from Belvision studios and the animation is spot-on, matching Herge's style as closely as if the artist himself painted each cel. This isn't surprising, considering Raymond LeBlanc was the producer of the film. LeBlanc was the publisher of the original Tintin magazine series, as well as the founder of Editions du Lombard and Belvision Studios. He was a giant in the Belgium animation industry, much like Walt Disney was here in the States. 
In 1957, Belvision brought the Tintin stories to television as an animated serial of five-minute episodes which covered seven of Hergé's most popular books. The success of this series made the studio attempt two animated feature-length films: Asterix the Gaul ( 1967 ) and Asterix and Cleopatra ( 1967 ), both featuring the comic strip character Asterix. These films were great successes and it led them to bring Tintin to the screen. 

Tintin and the Temple of the Sun differs only slightly from Hergé's original story, with a few additional scenes added and Thompson and Thompson ( the twin detectives ) getting a much larger role. Like the book series, however, it is filled with adventure and plenty of opportunities for Captain Haddock to lose his temper..."Ten thousand thundering typhoons!!"  Beautiful music by François Rauber also enhances the picture. 
Three years later Tintin returned for Tintin and the Lake of Sharks which featured many of the same actors voicing the characters. Both pictures are available on DVD in their original French language version and dubbed in English.