Thursday, May 24, 2018

Das Doppelte Lottchen ( 1950 ) - The Original Parent Trap

If you ever read the credits to Walt Disney's The Parent Trap ( 1961 )  you would have noticed that the film was based upon a book by the popular German author Erich Kastner entitled "Das Doppelte Lottchen" which was written in 1949. As famous as The Parent Trap was in the States, few children or adults can claim to have read the book....ourselves included. But last week, we did see the original German film that Disney based The Parent Trap on, and it is absolutely delightful. 

Like the Americanized version, Das Doppelte Lottchen tells the story of twin sisters who were separated at birth by their parents, with the father and the mother each taking one of the girls. The children meet up by accident at a summer camp and, once they realize they are sisters, they decide to switch places so that they can have the opportunity of meeting the parent they never knew. Of course, they know that their parents will notice the switch in due time but that is a part of their scheme, too, because their parents will then have to reunite to un-switch them. Clever gals! 

Erich Kastner wrote the screenplay to and narrated this entertaining adaptation of his novel, which was directed by Josef von B├íky, a Hungarian filmmaker best known for directing Munchausen ( 1943 ). Lotte and Luise, the twins, are portrayed by two real-life twins, actresses Jutta and Isa Gunther, and while they are not quite as appealing or as natural as Hayley Mills doubled-up, their performances are very good....and quite different.  
Hayley's Susan and Sharon got easily frustrated with their parents ( especially their father's plans to remarry ), but Lotte and Luise take things with a calmer and sadder attitude, which seems a bit more true-to-life. This makes their parents' separation all the more heartbreaking because the two gals lack the independent spunk needed to offset their single-parent upbringing. Each one is especially close to the parent who raised them and, once they meet the father and mother they never knew, they come to love them, too. However, they have no scheme in mind for foiling their father's plan to remarry, which is an interesting change to note. In American films, children are often shown outwitting their parents, or cleverly manipulating them for their own benefit, because this appeals to younger audiences but, in Germany, one doesn't often find that kind of plot line in films. 

The twins' father, Papa Ludwig ( Peter Mosbacher ) is a youthful good-natured man with a passion for music. He is a composer and conductor of opera and resides with Louise and their housekeeper in a large apartment in Vienna, Austria. Their mother, portrayed by Antje Weisgerber, works at a newspaper office. She is less formal, enjoys nature, and lives in a smaller apartment with Lotte in Munich. The differences between the children's upbringing are not as great as the screenwriters made it out to be in the 1961 Disney version, and so they are able to pull off the "switch" with greater ease. In fact, the parents have no inkling that their daughter is not the same girl who they dropped off at summer camp. 
Das Doppelte Lottchen lacks the beautiful setting ( especially that fabulous California ranch that Mitch Brennan owned ) and the humor of Walt Disney's remake but more than makes up for it in heart. The affection that the parents show their children is wonderful to see and Erich Kastner's commentary throughout the film is enjoyable to listen to as well - rarely do authors narrate a film based on their own book! 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

State Fair ( 1962 )

Often when a film becomes a smashing box office success, the production studio that made it believes they can replicate its ticket sales with the next generation, and so, every 15-20 years the same titles crop up with new casts and slightly modified scripts.

State Fair is one such film. The 1932 novel by Phil Strong was brought to the screen in 1933 as a Janet Gaynor/Lew Ayres hit for Fox Studios. It told the story of the Frake family and their adventures at the Iowa State Fair, focusing on the romantic entanglements that the two teenage children, Margy and Wayne, get themselves into. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II then set this story to music for the 1945 Technicolor musical adaptation starring Dana Andrews, Jeanne Craine, Vivian Blaine, and Dick Haymes. This was a most entertaining production and it set the bar high for future remakes, one of which was State Fair ( 1962 ).  

For this picture, Fox took the opportunity to cash in on the popularity of two of the top singing stars of the era - Pat Boone and Bobby Darin - and paired them up with two pretty gals, Ann-Margret and Pamela Tiffin, to make what they considered prime bait for the younger generation. To lure in the older crowd, one of Fox's biggest stars of the 1940s, Alice Faye, was cast as Melissa "Ma" Frake and Tom Ewell, a popular stage and screen actor of the 1950s, was cast as Papa Frake. Richard Rodgers also added a few extra tunes to spice up the picture. And so, with an ideal cast, a dependable and well-used story, and lush Cinemascope, the brass at Fox thought this remake would be a box-office hit. They thought wrong. The film lost nearly a million dollars. 

In life, imitation is often the sincerest form of flattery but in Hollywood it is a sign of unimaginative filmmaking. The 1962 version of State Fair tries so hard to have the bucolic charm of its predecessors that it fails to stamp its own impression, which is unfortunate since it really only disappointments when it attempts to duplicate the 1945 version. It is during these scenes that the acting seems bland and uninspired. The cast is uncomfortable in their roles and the entire production comes off as an apology to the audience for having such a "hokey" old-fashioned plot to work with. They should have taken a cue from Bye, Bye, Birdie ( 1962 ) a musical which oozes with small-town naivety and yet is perfectly at home in its own generation. There certainly is nothing hokey about a fair....unless you make it out to be. 

Screenwriter Richard L. Breen adapted Sonya Levien and Paul Green's original screenplay in an attempt to inject some new verve into the story and moved the Iowa setting to Dallas, Texas which, not surprisingly ( since Texans do everything big ) features "the largest state fair in America". It was filmed on location at the modern Dallas fairground which boasts nearly 100 acres of exhibition halls, dance and dining venues, and a stock car track.  Pat Boone gets to try his racing skills on the track and Ann-Margaret performs a show-stopping rendition of "Isn't it Kinda Fun" at a Hollywood Bowl style outdoor theater on the fairgrounds. The giant 52' tall Big Tex who booms his welcome speech to the fairgoers, continues to greet visitors today. 
Pat Boone, who could croon as well as Dick Haymes, and Ann-Margret were the only redeeming actors in the film. They added a genuine warmth and sincerity to their parts, which the rest of the cast should have mirrored. Pamela Tiffin, sweet as she looked, was no comparison to Jeanne Crain. Her airy interpretation of Margy lacked a depth of character, and one had to wonder what she saw in Jerry Dundee ( Bobby Darin ) who seemed bent on simply making her one of his conquests. Tom Ewell did an adequate job in the role that Will Rogers originally performed in the 1933 version, but Alice Faye was wasted - and wooden in the few scenes she had. She had signed for the part believing that she would be reunited with her screen partner, Don Ameche, and be directed by Henry King ( who filmed the original '33 version ). Instead, Jose Ferrer took the reins....and found himself riding a dead horse. Or was he the man to blame for killing it?

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Famous Stars and Their Mothers

They are just mother's boys and girls grown tall! 

Believe it or not, Hollywood stars have a few things in common with regular folk like us.....for example, they have mothers, too! At least, that is what this photo-spread from the Mother's Day week issue of Movie-Radio Guide would have us believe. But honestly, if it weren't for the captions, the resemblance between some of these stars of the 1930s/1940s and their maters may have gone unnoticed ( not that one would expect Cesar Romero's mother to share his trademark moustache ). 

We'd like to thank the Old Time Radio Researcher's Group for making so many great movie and radio magazines available to the public....and we'd also like to wish a Happy Mother's Day to all of our readers! 

Eleanor Powell of the twinkling feet and mother Blanche ( above ) always spend the day together. 
Cesar Romero with his mother Maria ( right ) taking time to chat with another beloved mater of the screen, Lela Rogers, star Ginger's mom. 
Formal party is what the irrepressible Mickey Rooney stages for Mother Nell on the great day! Inset: Homey describes Mother's Day in the Darnell family. Linda is getting some fine points on baking from Mom.

Mary Livingston and daughter Joanie have much in common besides the matching red, white, and blue jumpers they are wearing. One of those common interests is story-book time at the Benny's.

Every day is Mother's Day for Titian-haired Greer Garson, for she and her mother, Mrs. Nina S. Garson, are inseparable pals. Instead of making the rounds with some dashing screen hero when on a recent New York trip, Greer's constant companion was her mom. They are seen here at the Stork Club.
Mother of Lucille Manners, soprano star of "Cities Service Concert" ( Fri. NBC ) is herself musically accomplished and was Lucille's first teacher. Kate Smith's grandmother ( pictured ) as well as her mother, is a good pal to the CBS singer. Mrs. Benjamin Hanby is modern, too, and travels by air.
Betty Winkler transferred her dramatic activity from Chicago to New York and took her mother along. Betty stars in "Abie's Irish Rose". 
First grown-up luncheon date for Shirley Temple, Mother's Day, 1941, at the Brown Derby with Mrs. Gertrude Temple. 
Radio star Gracie Allen is not only one of America's favorite entertainers, she's doubly that to a couple of young Americans named Ronnie and Sandra. The two children of Gracie Allen and George Burns like their mom and dad on the air, but they like even better Gracie's reading and George's antics at home. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


"Very interesting....very interesting, indeed" these two men seem to be saying. But just what are they looking at that is so interesting? That's for you to think about! If you've seen this film, then drop the name of its title in the comment box below and the first person to correctly guess the film collects a prize!

If you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Review: Hitchcock's Heroines by Caroline Young

While a number of great books have been written about the Master of Suspense and the making of his films, few have focused on the leading ladies of Hitchcock's films. In Hitchcock's Heroines, which made its printed debut this week, author Caroline Young shines the spotlight on the stunning blondes ( and other actresses of various hair colors ) of 23 films dating back to Alfred Hitchcock's breakthrough motion picture, The Lodger ( 1927 ).

This beautiful 193-page book, published by Insight Editions, is filled with rare publicity photos, behind-the-scenes candids, and costume sketches, which makes it a delectable coffee-table book to peruse as well as being a great read. 

Madeleine Carroll, Teresa Wright, Ingrid Bergman, Joan Fontaine, Grace Kelly, Doris Day, Eva Marie Saint, and Tippi Hedren are just a few of the actresses that Young profiles. The author's easy-going writing style makes it an entertaining and highly-addictive book. For each film, Young delves into how the leading lady was cast, the production of the film itself, and the actress' experience on the set ( as well as her opinion of Mr. Hitchcock ). 

"Tallulah liked to drink, was witty, and had the mouth of a sailor—just the kind of woman Hitchcock enjoyed spending time with..."

There is also an emphasis throughout the text on the costumes the gals wore in each film, which will be a delight to classic film fashionistas. Hitchcock was particular about details and so many of these costumes helped to accentuate the nature of the characters themselves and provide compositional balance through color and silhouette. Since Young had blogged about Hollywood fashion ( Classic Hollywood Style ) for several years, and also authored a book focusing on fashion in "films of the golden age" entitled Classic Hollywood Style, it seems natural that she would highlight the costumes designers and their work in Hitchcock's films. 
"[Her] clothes had to match the budget of a woman in her first year as a member of staff, yet she was also to have pride in her appearance and look groomed." - describing Ingrid Bergman's appearance in Spellbound

Numerous quotes from vintage magazine articles and recent interviews with the stars liven up the text and the splendid layout by Katherine Winterson provides ample room for side columns featuring plot summaries and bios of each film and actress profiled. 

In short, if you like Hitch and his leading ladies, you'll love this book!

Hitchcock's Heroines retails for $29.99 and is available to purchase through Amazon,  Barnes & Noble, or directly from the publisher

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Around the World in 80 Days ( 1956 )

In 1872 London, Phileas Fogg ( David Niven ), a methodical Englishman of independent means, makes a wager with fellow gentlemen at the private Reform Club that he can circumnavigate the globe within 80 days. His skeptical comrades think that with all of the unforeseen delays that could happen en route - typhoons, shipwrecks, missed trains - it is impossible. But with £20,000 at stake, Fogg is determined to prove them wrong. 

"An Englishman never jokes about a wager, sir."

Joining him on his expedition is his faithful manservant Passepartout ( Cantiflas ), Princess Aouda ( Shirley MacLaine ) whom they rescue in India, and, following along behind, the unshakable Inspector Fix ( Robert Newton ) who believes Fogg to be the recent robber of the Bank of England. 

Around the World in 80 Days is a three-hour epic to behold. It doesn't play out like your usual big dramatic blockbuster spectacle ( as perhaps some critics may have expected ) but more like a mega travelogue sans the voice of Fitzpatrick. In fact, this is exactly the way it was supposed to play because it is not a regular movie and was not intended to be one. It was a filmed event. Producer Mike Todd stressed this when promoting Around the World in 80 Days to distributors: "Do not refer to Around the World in 80 Days as a movie. It's not a movie. Movies are something you can see in your neighborhood theatre and eat popcorn while you're watching them....Show Around the World in 80 Days almost exactly as you would present a Broadway show in your theatre."
Mike Todd, who earned his household-name status through his 1957 marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, had always enjoyed the novels of Jules Verne and long dreamed of putting this story into production as a live show. In 1946, he invested $40,000 to co-produce with Orson Welles (!) a Cole Porter musical adaptation of "Around the World in 80 Days" but pulled out after one glance at the unusable script. Eight years later, he once again felt ready to attempt an adaptation of Verne's classic tale of adventure, this time making sure that he remained in full control of every aspect of the film. 

"Crisis or no, nothing should interfere with tea!" 

Filming began in August 1955 and quickly wrapped within 75 days. Todd, a Broadway impresario, had never made a motion-picture before but he knew what he wanted and knew how to get things done. He was involved in every aspect of the production, down to the most minute detail. He personally visited every country to keep an eye on filming ( with 33 assistant directors employed there was a lot to keep an eye on ) and to cast all of the characters. The King of Thailand, a friend of his, loaned him his 165-foot royal barge for a 15-second sequence; he persuaded the Nawab of Pritam Pasha in Pakistan to loan him his private elephant herd; bribed Ronald Colman to make a cameo appearance by gifting him a yellow Cadillac for a half day's work; and most impressive...he convinced the entire population of the city of Chinchon, Spain ( 6,500 people ), to appear as extras in the bullfight sequence! 

Todd assembled a huge cast that was comprised of the four principal players, over ninety featured players, and guest appearances, or "cameos" as Todd christened them, by 40 top actors from around the world. These included Marlene Dietrich, Cesar Romero, Noel Coward, Frank Sinatra, Red Skeleton, Beatrice Lillie, Trevor Howard, Evelyn Keyes, John Gielgud, Victor McLaglen, Joe E. Brown, Peter Lorre, Charles Coburn, Hermoine Gingold, and Robert Morley, to name just a few. 
With the "extra" players, the cast amounted to 68,894 people, the largest ever assembled for a film ( not counting the 7,959 animals employed! ). Of course, these actors needed to be costumed as well, and so 74,685 costumes were created. 

It was one of the most expensive productions in history ( $6 million ) but grossed seven times its cost in box-office receipts. The all-star international cast, exotic locales, and the lure of Todd-AO ( the latest 65mm widescreen process that Todd helped create ), made Around the World in 80 Days the attraction of the year. 

Critic reception, however, was mixed. Some felt that the voyage around the world was unendurable ( "about two hours too long" ) while others enjoyed every step of the journey. While it is true that the film's script is about as exciting as a game of whist, the location scenery, the fun of spotting the celebrities, and the impressive cinematography more than make up for its occasional moments of boredom. 
At the Academy Awards, Around the World in 80 Days was nominated for eight Oscars, walking away with five of the little statuettes, including the coveted Best Picture award.  Some viewers feel that it was the film's sheer "spectacularness" that earned it the Best Picture Oscar, but looking at the other nominees that year ( The Ten Commandments, The King and I, Giant, Friendly Persuasion ) it was a race against equally spectacular productions, so I feel it justly earned its place in the Best Picture winner's circle for its grandeur....even though Giant was definitely the better picture in terms of acting and directing. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Invitation to the Dance ( 1956 )

Most fans of MGM musicals of the 1950s can rattle off the titles of Gene Kelly's pictures when called upon, but I bet you 23-80 that the majority of these musical aficionados will forget to include Invitation to the Dance among those titles. 

This 1956 dance extravaganza features Kelly in not one, nor two, but three separate stories all told through the art of dance, sans dialogue. As early as 1947, Kelly had envisioned a film where dance could take center-stage. He wanted it to be a showcase of some of the most talented ballet artists of his time, gathered from around the world, but the brass at MGM - knowing that Gene Kelly's name would be drawing the audiences in - insisted that he star in all three segments. 

Some critics felt that Invitation to the Dance was too much dance to handle in one sitting and that may be. Kelly himself agreed with "those who found the whole thing a bit much", but, having seen it over the course of three days ( one segment each day ), I found it to be delightful. Each segment is entirely different from the others with the costumes, art direction, music, and dance styles all being unique. 

The first segment, "Circus" set in 18th-century Italy, features Kelly as a clown who is in love with a ballerina ( Claire Sombert ) that only has eyes for a great tightrope walker ( Igor Youskevitch ). The clown's love story parallels that of the character which he enacts daily in front of his audience. At the beginning of this segment, Kelly does a fantastic pantomime dance with the other members of the dance troupe and, later, Youskevitch's muscular prowess is a marvel to behold. 
The second segment, "Ring Around the Rosy", takes us from Italy to Paris, where a mad party is taking place. The host of the party has just given his wife ( Dephne Dale ) a new bracelet as an anniversary gift but shortly thereafter she passes the bracelet onto her lover, an artist ( Igor Youskevitch ). Then, within the span of one night, it goes from hand to hand ( with Claude Bessy, Belita, Diana Adams, Tommy Rall, Gene Kelly, and Tamara Toumanova all being recipients ) until it returns to the possession of the party host. This was the most explosive and creative of the three segments, featuring some very imaginative modern dance sequences. 

"Sinbad the Sailor", the last segment, is set in modern Arabia. Kelly portrays a sailor on shore leave who befriends a boy ( David Kasday ) with a magic lamp. Together they embark on a journey to the palace of a sultan, meeting a princess ( Carol Haney ) en route. This segment felt like the weakest of the three, because of the focus on the animation. The animation, while novel, extended too long, and seeing dancers in Arabian costume performing traditional dance would have been more welcoming. 
In the early 1950s, MGM had millions in frozen assets in England that they could not take out of the country. These funds could be used only if they employed British artists, and so in 1952, production on Invitation to the Dance began at Elstree Studios outside London. Since the majority of the dancers were from Europe, this seemed like a clever decision, but Gene Kelly, who also directed the film, later regretted the move because the soundstages were not nearly as large as the MGM soundstages in Hollywood and the smaller space made filming the large production numbers more difficult. 

In fact, Kelly later regretted the entire project. The production took much longer than planned. Since most of the ballet dancers had other dance engagements throughout the Continent, much of the film had to be shot in bits and pieces, and Kelly's quest for perfection led him to overwork his dancers. Russian dancer Igor Youskevitch said, "There were times, I think, when [Kelly] overdid things. He rehearsed us all so rigidly - and on cement floors! - that it required superhuman energy to not collapse."
After two years, Invitation to the Dance was completed. But MGM's distributors felt that there was no audience for it, especially with motion-picture attendance rapidly declining and television becoming increasingly more popular. The film sat on a shelf for two more years until it was finally released in special "art house" theaters throughout New York City in 1956. Ultimately, it grossed only $200,000 in North America ( $415,000 overseas ) making it MGM's biggest creative flop of the year. 
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