Saturday, January 30, 2016

Snowball Express ( 1972 )

Johnny Baxter ( Dean Jones ) is your average hard-working American family man, stuck in an accounting job he doesn't like but staying on because he has a wife and two children to support. "In the five years I've been there I moved from accounts receivable to accounts payable", he explains to his wife. Fate intervenes one day when a lawyer visits his office bearing good news - his great uncle passed away and left him the Silver Hill hotel in Silver Hill, Colorado, a hotel that at one time was making $11,000 a month. Before you can say "money pit" he cleans his desk and walks right out the door, never to return to his boring job. His family is not pleased to hear that they will be moving to a town they never heard of and helping to run a hotel which none of them have the faintest idea how to do, but they follow along and come to find that embarking on an adventure blindfolded can be fun. In essence, trying something new is what Snowball Express is all about. 

The 1970s are generally not considered great years for the Disney company and the films they released during this time were not critically-acclaimed pictures. However, all of them ranked high on entertainment and Snowball Express is one of the best from this decade featuring a great cast, a clever script, and plenty of laughs. Seeing Dean Jones attempt to ski is worth the price of the DVD alone. 

Dean Jones had struck a chord with audiences in Disney's That Darn Cat in 1965 and he quickly became the studio's busiest leading man, often playing underdogs or losers just waiting for a good break. In this picture, his character, Johnny, is quite a gambler. He takes a chance packing up his family and heading out West, bluffs his way into a mortgage agreement with a scoundrel banker, and then gambles the entire property on the hopes of winning a snowmobile race...even though he never sat on a snowmobile in his life. But sometimes we all have to take risks to achieve what we want and what we think is best. 

Snowball Express, in its own light-hearted way, tells the story of a man who wants to leave his mundane routine and strike out on something entirely new. He doesn't want to do this without his beloved wife's, or his children's, consent, and yet, if need be, he would leave them and trek out on his own.......yep, because in the 1970s, men were still men. Papa Baxter was the modern version of our forefathers, who packed up their families in covered wagons to head out into the unknown territory of the West in the hopes of creating a better life. 

Once Johnny and his family arrive at Silver Hill, they find one obstacle after another to overcome, in typical Disney fashion, before they can settle down into their new home. But the Baxter family soon learns that no matter how tough things may become, if they stick together and love and support one another, everything will turn out well in the end. This is a common theme in Disney films...a message of hope. 

Snowball Express boasts a strong cast of supporting players including Keenan Wynn ( playing the villain, yet again ), Harry Morgan, David White, George Lindsay ( "Goober" ), Mary Wickes, and Dick Van Patten. Morgan, as the Baxter's grizzled hired man Jesse McCord, delivers some of the best quips in the film with his deadpan expression. 

Nancy Olson is wonderful as Johnny's wife and was frequently cast in Disney films as a strong but sweet-natured woman. Johnny Whittaker ( Family Affair ) and Kathleen Cody portray Johnny's children, and Disney regular Michael McGreevey appears as a local teenager eager to help the family convert the hotel into a ski resort.

Snowball Express was filmed on location in Colorado with Crested Butte standing in for Silver Hill. The finale - the spectacular snowmobile race - shows the beautiful winter landscapes of the area and is the highlight of the film. 

If you are considering quitting your job to buy a hotel, or just want a great way to spend an hour and a half, then take a gander at Snowball Express. It's an underrated gem from the marvelous Disney studio.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

We're saluting all of the friendly neighborhood postmen across America with our latest entry in the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game. This is one happy looking fellow and neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night will keep him from the swift completion of his appointed rounds. Who he is delivering mail to we will not tell you....that's for you to guess! 

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


Congratulations to Phyl for correctly guessing "Moon Over Miami" ( 1941 ) starring Betty Grable! This happy postman appears within the first five minutes of the movie, bearing a letter of good news to the Latimer sisters. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Director Henry Koster and James Stewart

James Stewart and director Henry Koster made a wonderful team. They worked together on five films, beginning with the highly entertaining Harvey. Stewart had made numerous comedies in the 1930s and 1940s and had a natural knack for comedy, but in the 1950s and 1960s he was turning more and more towards dramatic roles in westerns, biopics, and war films. The few comedies that he made in this period, almost all of which were directed by Koster, gave him a chance to return to the charming, and rather clumsy, type of characters that fans came to love in his earlier films. 

The Director

Henry Koster arrived in Hollywood from Germany in 1936 and, along with his friend, producer Joe Pasternak, managed to convince Universal to let him make Three Smart Girls. The film was a great success, pulling Universal from the verge of bankruptcy, and it launched the 14-year old Deanna Durbin, who was making her first film, to stardom. His next film - 100 Men and a Girl - established Durbin, Pasternak, and himself on top and for the next decade they were busy with Durbin's musicals. It wasn't until 1947 that Koster attempted a dramatic picture - The Unfinished Dance. This film, made at MGM, demonstrated Koster's flair for elevating a good story and script to great entertainment. His follow-up film, The Bishop's Wife ( 1948 ) earned him his first Academy Award nomination for best director. 

Henry Koster with James and Gloria Stewart

A Key Collaboration 

James Stewart was a favorite actor among many directors. He made eight films with Anthony Mann, four with John Ford, and three with Frank Capra. The five-picture collaboration he had with Henry Koster began with Harvey ( 1950 ), a film which Stewart claimed was his favorite motion picture. His portrayal of a whimsical middle-aged man who has an invisible giant rabbit for a companion earned him a Best Actor Oscar nomination. 

Preston Sturges had initially expressed interest in purchasing the screenrights to the popular stage play "Harvey" in the mid-1940s, but luckily Universal bought it first and it became a project for Henry Koster. Sturges may have made the film more amusing, but Koster gave it heart, and plenty of it. Like Frank Capra, Koster had a way of reaching out to his audience, leaving them with a little moral to ponder when the film is over, but he did so in a much subtler manner. His films tend to give you a warm feeling and inspire sympathy for one's fellow man. 

Henry Koster had directed some of the biggest names in Hollywood ( Loretta Young, Celeste Holm, Elsa Lanchester, and Richard Burton all received Oscar nominations for roles in Koster films ), but working with James Stewart was a special experience for him. "[Working with him was] without any doubt one of the most pleasant experiences in my life....It must have been his spirit. There was very little friction, ever, only ambition and craftsmanship and precision, just doing it right professionally. On top of that he put the whipped cream of great talent."

Harvey became Koster's biggest success to date and was a fan favorite upon its initial release. Stewart and Koster were both unable to attend the premiere of the film however, because they were in England, already hard at work on their next picture - No Highway in the Sky ( 1951 )James Stewart once again portrayed an eccentric character, but this time as a aeronautical engineer with a dire warning for an airline company. 

James Stewart and Glynis Johns in No Highway in the Sky

Three Fox Comedies

James Stewart had a busy filming schedule throughout the 1950s, filming numerous westerns, two Alfred Hitchcock thrillers, and biopics such as The Glenn Miller Story ( 1954 ) and The Spirit of St. Louis ( 1957 ). It would be more than a decade before he would reunite with Henry Koster for Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation ( 1962 ), a colorful creampuff comedy geared towards teens and adults alike. 

Based on a novel by Edward Streeter ( "Father of the Bride" ), it tells the story of a businessman ( Stewart ) who wants to spend a vacation alone with his wife minus their children. Instead, he finds himself hoodwinked into spending the summer at a ramshackled house on the beach with his whole brood - grandchildren, son-in-laws, and all. Maureen O'Hara couldn't look any more stunning than she did in this film, and singing-sensation Fabian drew in the younger female audience. The film was strewn with little incidents that all bore Koster's trademark of subtle humor. 

Audiences loved seeing Stewart playing a harassed father and the success of the movie inspired Koster to produce their next film together, Take Her, She's Mine ( 1963 )James Stewart reprised his befuddled-father act, this time playing a lawyer concerned that his daughter ( Sandra Dee ) is becoming a "loose" woman while away at college. It seems everyone recognizes that his daughter has matured into a woman except Papa. This was a subject not often tackled in movies. Writers Henry and Phoebe Ephron penned the play based upon their own experiences with their college-aged daughter, Nora. Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson adapted the play into a script, adding a clever running gag of Frank Michaelson ( Stewart ) constantly being mistaken for James Stewart! 

Take Her, She's Mine lacked the charm Mr. Hobbs possessed, but nevertheless it did well at the box-office, and so Koster and Stewart teamed up once more for a third comedy in the same vein - Dear Brigitte ( 1965 ). Billy Mumy starred as a 10-year old boy genius who devised a system for picking winning horses. He has a crush on Brigitte Bardot and gets his wish of visiting her in France after he agrees to help his father's university raise scholarship funds.   

James Stewart was reunited with his No Highway in the Sky co-star Glynis Johns to play Mumy's parents, both bewildered by the fuss the media is making over their son. Dear Brigitte was one of the last of the light-hearted family comedies made in the 1960s, and while a handful were produced after this, they often dealt with more serious "teen issues" involving sex and drugs. 

After Dear Brigitte, Henry Koster made one more film - The Singing Nun - before deciding that it was time to hang up his hat and retire from directing. He spent his leisure hours persuing another great passion - painting. He even created a painting of his dear friend Jimmy Stewart. 

Jimmy, on the other hand, continued acting on stage and in films throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Twenty years after the release of Koster and Stewart's first film together, he starred in a triumphant Broadway revival of "Harvey" opposite Helen Hayes. 

This post is our contribution to the Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon being hosted by Cinemaven's Essays from the Couch. Head on over to her site to check out more posts on popular directors and the stars they made multiple films with. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Homes of Barbara Stanwyck

Some say that you could judge a man by the books he reads. Well, you could also say that one could judge a woman by the house she keeps. Her nesting instincts make a house one of the most important aspects of her life, and they reveal - by their architectural style and decor - the type of house that the woman finds most comfortable. A house, in many ways, suits the homeowner's personality... that is, if it is one's ideal home. Since Hollywood stars could afford just about any home that they wanted, and in any location, you can pretty much be assured that they only bought ( or built ) what they wanted.

As an example, let's take a look at Barbara Stanwyck, one of the most beloved actresses of the golden era, and the various houses that this lady called "home" :

Barbara arrived in Hollywood in 1929 with her husband Frank Fay, a vaudevillian. Roles in such films as Shopworn ( 1932 ), Baby Face ( 1933 ), Annie Oakley ( 1935 ) and Stella Dallas ( 1937 ) quickly made Stanwyck one of the most popular actresses in tinsel-town. During Barbara's rise up the ladder of success, she and Fay had been renting a house at 707 North Arden Drive in Beverly Hills. After her divorce to Fay in 1935 she moved to a small house with English gardens at 615 North Bedford Drive right across from Zeppo Marx, her close friend and manager, and his wife Marion. 

Barbara and Zeppo's homes as seen from an aerial view
In the mid-1930s, Stanwyck purchased an 11-acre ranch in Northridge, California ( the Van Nueys district ). At the time the US post office listed only 40 names as residents, the area was so sparse. There was no place to buy groceries either, so residents had to venture to San Fernando and Beverly Hills to shop. Zeppo Marx bought 87 acres adjoining her property and - since they shared a passion for horses and racing - combined their lands to create an 100-acre thoroughbred ranch called "Marwyck".

Robert Finkelhor, a young architect who had designed Harpo Marx's residence in 1936, was hired by Stanwyck and Zeppo Marx to design their homes. Finkelhor created a sprawling French and English Tudor inspired home with three bedrooms, a trophy room, seven bathrooms, two servant's rooms, and a three-car garage. The backyard included a large swimming pool, stables for the horses, and a tennis court. 

"If you happened to drop in at the ranch, you wouldn't feel comfortable unless you dressed to romp with the dogs, go riding in the hills, or walking through the alfalfa," reported a 1939 press release about Marwyck. 

Marwyck's stables were kept full as a horse-breeding and boarding ranch. Each year there were 15-20 horses that called Marwyck their home. In season, these horses would be out racing at Bay Meadow and other tracks across America. As for one year alone, 72 mares were bred at the ranch. A six-furlong racing track allowed the yearlings that they bred to be trained at a young age. Stanwyck and Zeppo Marx were not directly involved with the racing or breeding, but let manager Harry S. Hart handle this aspect.

When Barbara Stanwyck ( or "Missy" as friends called her ) wed Robert Taylor in 1939, they lived on the ranch together and he helped run the farm and train the horses. Taylor was a great rider and enjoyed being on the ranch. 

Since they often were in Hollywood making pictures, they also purchased a house at 273 South Beverly Glen Boulevard in Westwood ( valued today at over $5 million ) This 5,900 square foot home featured cross-beam wood ceilings and arched doorways. It had six bedrooms and five bathrooms and was located just off of West Sunset Boulevard.

In 1950, they sold Marwyck to actor Jack Oakie, who named the ranch Northridge Farms. After Stanwyck and Taylor divorced in 1952, she spent most of her time at this house until she eventually moved to a French inspired home seen on the front of this picture postcard. We weren't able to determine the address for this residence but it is possibly 1017 North Beverly Drive in Los Angeles. 

Robert Taylor loved the ranch life that he was accustomed to and in 1950 built a fabulous seven bedroom estate on over 110 acres in Mandeville Canyon. Today, this property is one of the most expensive parcels of real estate in Hollywood. 

Barbara Stanwyck eventually downsized to a three-bedroom, 3000 square foot home, built in 1958 at 1055 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills, were she remained until her death in 1990 at the age of 82. 

We hope you enjoyed this look at the homes of Barbara Stanwyck. This post is our contribution to the Remembering Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon being hosted by In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Be sure to head on over to this fab site to read all about Stanwyck's films and her private life. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Eustace Lycett - Special Effects Artist

Eustace Lycett is another one of those names that all Disney fans will recognize in a flash. His name has appeared on the credits, preceded with "Special Effects By", in over 44 different films released by the Walt Disney Studios. 

Lycett once described the era of pre-computer special effects in this manner: "A special effect in a motion picture is any technique or device that is used to create an illusion of reality in a situation where it is not possible, economical, or safe to use the real thing." 

What he neglected to state was that special effects artists are the magicians behind creating the illusions that bring that extra sparkle to the films we watch. Without this talented man's contributions many of the Disney films that we love would not have had that special "magic" that he brought to them. 

Lycett was born on December 21, 1914 in Staffordshire, England. His father, a mining engineer, regularly moved his family wherever he could find work. After spending years in Chile, they came to America where, as a young lad, Eustace attended Cal-Tech studying for, and receiving, a degree in mechanical engineering in 1937. 

Eustace found work at Walt Disney Studios just three days after his graduation. Under the wing of Ub Iwerks, a pioneer in animation and head of the studio's process laboratory, Eustace and other technicians worked together to develop a more advanced version of one of Iwerks' inventions - the multiplane camera. The improved camera was immediately put to use in Disney's first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. 

Eustace worked in the background at the studio on many projects throughout the 1940s, eventually becoming head of the Special Processes Department at Disney in 1953. He helped work on special filming processes for Grand Canyon ( 1958 ), Disney's Oscar-nominated live-action short; Sleeping Beauty; and The Shaggy Dog ( 1959 ). One extremely good special effect - forced perspective - was employed in Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ) to make King O'Brien, king of the leprechauns, appear to be only 1-2ft high. And who can forget the glowing-green banshee? These effects deserved an Academy Award, but Lycett was overlooked. However, the flying car effects he created for The Absent-Minded Professor ( 1961 ) earned him his first Oscar nomination. 

Lycett specialized in travelling mattes and optical reductions and also frequently employed the sodium vapor process, commonly known as the "yellowscreen". This photochemical film technique originated in England in the 1950s and the Walt Disney Studios used the method extensively in the 1960s and 1970s as an alternative to the common "bluescreen" process. When handled with care it can produce lovely results without the common glow around heads that the bluescreen process produced. 

A special sodium vapor camera had to be used in order to capture actors performing in front of the yellowscreen and Disney reportedly had only one such camera made. In this example from Mary Poppins ( 1965 ), Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews are performing the Jolly Holiday sequence in a soundstage in front of a yellowscreen. Eustace took this footage and re-exposed it onto the film of the moving background art ( created by Al Dempsey and Art Riley ) and created one fresh negative from these two sequences. 'Ave you ever seen the grass so green as it appeared in yellowscreen? 

Lycett's work on Mary Poppins earned him his first Academy Award ( shared with Peter Ellenshaw and Hamilton Luske ). The 1960s was a busy decade for the Disney special effects department and Lycett had a hand in practically all of the Disney live-action films released at this time: Moon Pilot ( 1962 ), Bon Voyage ( 1962 ), Summer Magic ( 1962 ), That Darn Cat! ( 1965 ), Lt. Robin Crusoe U.S.N ( 1966 ), and The Love Bug ( 1968 ) to name but a few. 

For The Gnome-Mobile ( 1967 ), he employed audio animatronics to make the forest animals speak and re-used the forced perspective technique, this time to make the dwarfs appear to be pint-sized. Audio animatronics were also used in The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 ) for the alligator sequences. 

A highlight of Eustace's career was the marvelous marching knights-in-armor sequence that he helped create in Bedknobs and Broomsticks ( 1971 ). While Eglantine Price's maneuvers on her flying broomstick were enjoyable to watch, it was these marching soldiers at the finale that made the most memorable impression on theatre-goers. For this film he earned his second special effects Oscar. 

During the 1970s, Lycett worked on such films as Snowball Express ( 1972 ), Treasure of Matacumbe ( 1976 ), Freaky Friday ( 1976 ), Pete's Dragon ( 1977 ), Return from Witch Mountain ( 1978 ), and The Cat from Outer Space ( 1978 ). 

Eustace Lycett retired from the Walt Disney Studios in 1980. His last film, The Black Hole, earned him his last Academy Award nomination for special effects. Lycett's career was not limited to the silver screen...during the 1960s he helped create Rocket to the Moon, a major Disneyland attraction, and "Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln", a human-animatronic. 

Lycett passed away in 2007 at the age of 91. A 43-year career in the field of movie magic gave us a plethora of great film scenes to marvel at, and we still ask "How did they do that?" when we see the special effects used in these Disney classics. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Cary Grant's Advice to His "Son" Lance Hutton

This installment in our continuing series of vintage movie magazine articles is a fascinating piece from the April 1960 issue of "Movie Life". Author Stephanie Edwards interviewed (?) Cary Grant to ask him what advice he would give his son for his upcoming marriage to Jill St. John. Here is the article in its entirety for your perusal : 

Cary Grant's Advice to His "Son" 

Sixteen years ago, Cary Grant had a son! During his four-year marriage to Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton, Cary was a "father" for the first - and only - time in his life. The boy was actually Barbara's seven-year-old son from  her former marriage. Though he has now been married three times, Cary has never had another son. 

Today, Cary's stepson has grown up. His name is Lance Reventlow, a name nearly as well-known as his famous stepfather's, for Lance is a millionaire in his own right and a successful sports-car racer. 

"I like to race 'em, and I like to build 'em," Lance explains. "I've got a company, the Reventlow Automobile Corporation, a few good friends are in the business, and I think we can make a go of it."

But things haven't always gone as smoothly for "the world's richest baby." He became the pawn in a series of legal battles between his parents, fabled Barbara Hutton and handsome European playboy Count Kurt von Haugwitz Reventlow. From the age of two, Lance was awarded first to one parent, then another! Finally, he was made a ward of the court and learned to live with headlines - and heartaches. 

But now Lance is happily in love with beautiful starlet Jill St. John and is about to marry - for the first time. His ex-stepfather, Cary Grant, offers some paternal advice - from one man-of-the-world to another! 

  •  "The most important thing is to be yourself," Cary emphasizes.
  •  " Live - if you can - with a certain amount of grace. This is a thing that very few people do these days."
  • "Respect women because they are wiser than men."
  • "Do whatever is your inclination at the moment if it doesn't hurt or offend anyone else.
  • "Suspect people. You can't rely on them. They either die or disappoint you, or you them."
  • "One can't be content with one's sure thing and progress"
  • "Deplore your mistakes. Regret them as much as you like. But don't really expect to learn from them."
  • "If there is no cream, you might as well learn to like your coffee black."
  • "Learn how to be unhappy. If you have never been unhappy you cannot possibly know what happiness is."
  • "Have integrity. You can live with a little more respect for the world and for yourself if you do." 

Pausing for breath after what was virtually a ten-point design for living, Cary ran his hand over his silver-flecked hair. Though he is now 55, the greying at his temples is the only visible testimony to his age. A former acrobat, he keeps his 6'1" - 172 pound frame in trim with daily workouts and massages. 

During the period of his marital break-up with Betsy Drake, he tried to whip his thoughts into shape as well. Weekly sessions with a psychiatrist have resulted in a new assessment of the bad luck which dogged him through three marriages. 

"I don't believe in bad luck. People make their own luck. The best way to solve any problem," Cary continued, his brown eyes twinkling, "is to lie down on the floor and forget it. If the problem doesn't solve itself, you can deal with it just as easily next Tuesday."

Is this just Cary's way of saying that too much compulsive speed makes for heartbreak? His first marriage, also to an actress, Virginia Cherrill, was one of the "marry in haste, repent at leisure" variety. 

Jill and Lance, however, have known each other for a year now, and feel that they have a good deal in common, from sports to a love of the arts. 

"I found great difficult in sustaining a conversation with an actress until I met Jill, " says Lance. 

"I like to be with him, " volunteers Jill, "because he's cultured, intelligent, and brilliant. He knows books, art, music - and how to cook!"

Money problems will certainly never plague Lance,  due to a variety of interests he shares with Jill: he has a sense of humor about life - and about himself and the stories that have grown up about him. A thoughtful young man, he has spent a long time thinking out and talking over problems that all young married couples, however glamorous, have to face. With Cary's advice to guide him, Lance has the benefit of many years of experience - and observation - and the long point of view. 

As Cary says, "Jot down your ideas of life, love, sex and morality every two years. At the end of ten years reread your notes. If you have grown as a person, they'll be the most embarrassing bundle of inconsistencies you could ever imagine!"


One really could not expect Lance Reventlow to listen to his step-father's advice, considering Cary Grant had so many failed marriages of his own, but he must have followed his guidelines faithfully ( or ignored them entirely ) for Lance's marriage to Jill St. John broke up within three years with St. John citing "extreme cruelty" as the reason for divorce. Lance married former Mouseketeer Cheryl Holdridge a year later and that union lasted until his death in an airplane crash in 1972 at the age of 36. 

To find more stories like this, check out the other posts in our series - Movie Magazine Articles. Enjoy! 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Max Steiner - Composer

Max Steiner ( May 10, 1888 - December 28, 1971 ) 

Max Steiner is universally acknowledged as the "father of film music", namely because his music had an extraordinary influence on the conventions and techniques of Hollywood film music for nearly a half-century after he created King Kong ( 1933 ), one of his earlier works and a score that helped make him one of the most sought after composers in the business. 

It was Steiner who pioneered using a grand Wagnerian leitmotif in title music and Steiner who synchronized the music with the action on the screen - a technique he undoubtedly learned from scoring silent films. Steiner also created what is now a standard in motion pictures - a complete score. But what Steiner is best remembered for, and what classic film fans are most grateful to him for, was his ability to turn a film into a spectacle through music...extremely powerful music. 

Steiner was born in Vienna and was a child musical prodigy ( he studied under Johannes Brahms and Gustav Mahler ). At the age of 17 he was serving as conductor for His Majesty's Theater in England. Within ten years he was in New York City conducting, orchestrating and arranging music for musical shows, working with Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, and Florenz Ziegfeld. 

Steiner's stage work attracted the attention of RKO Studios, who hired the composer in 1929 to arrange music for their upcoming picture, Rio Rita. Within a few years, Steiner became the studio's musical director. At first, this role consisted primarily of composing opening and closing music and incidental scoring in between but, in 1932, he collaborated with Merian C. Cooper and created one of the very first full feature scores for The Most Dangerous Game. His next work, King Kong, revolutionized the way music was utilized in film. Hollywood finally realized that it could become an integral part of a film's language, a subliminal force that could draw an emotional response from the audience. 

In the mid-1940s, Max Steiner moved to Warner Brothers studios where he remained for the rest of his career. All in all, Steiner composed nearly 300 film scores between 1929-1965 and was nominated for 24 Academy Awards for Best Music, winning three for his work on The Informer, Now Voyager, and Since You Went Away. 

Signature Style

Max Steiner established new conventions for every film genre that he composed music for :  the "tear-jerker" music that we come to associate with romances ( Since You Went Away, Dark Victory ); the mixture of folk tunes and patriotic melodies heard in westerns ( Dodge City, They Died with Their Boots On ); and the mammoth sound heard in historical epics such as The Charge of the Light Brigade and Gone with the Wind. 

Power and sweep; those are two words that can summarize Steiner's signature style. However, he beautifully balances this power that he brings to his music with a tenderness that could invoke tears with just a few draws of a violin string. His musical style could be playful too, as in the marvelous scores to Parrish and Marjorie Morningstar

The Noteworthy Five

King Kong ( 1933 ) - Steiner unleashed the raw power and beauty of the jungle with this intense theme filled with resounding brass. It remains one of the most influential film scores ever written. 

Gone with the Wind ( 1939 ) - If King Kong is one of the most influential, then Tara's Theme ranks as one of the most iconic movie themes. Some critics are still upset over Steiner's loss at the Academy Awards to Herbert Stothart's The Wizard of Oz theme. 

Now, Voyager ( 1943 ) - For this title piece Steiner captured all of Charlotte's inner emotions pent up and just waiting to be released. Like a gust of wind blowing open a door, the music hits hard and then gently calms down. Bette Davis considered Max Steiner her favorite composer. 

Mildred Pierce ( 1945 ) - The raw emotions that all the characters wrestled with on film can be felt through listening to this score. Elmer Bernstein was clearly influenced by Steiner's work and his "Hollywood and the Stars" piece ( used as the Oscars opening theme for many years ) has elements that are reminiscent of Mildred Pierce

A Summer Place ( 1959 ) - The season of summer Steiner captured in 2 minutes and 29 seconds. This score is bright and cheerful and filled with youthful romance. Steiner would go on to score several other popular Troy Donahue films in the 1960s, including Rome Adventure. 

Highlights of his Discography

  • King Kong ( 1933 )
  • Little Women ( 1933 ) 
  • The Informer ( 1935 ) 
  • The Charge of the Light Brigade ( 1938 )
  • Jezebel ( 1938 ) 
  • Dark Victory ( 1939 ) 
  • Gone With the Wind ( 1939 )
  • Sergeant York ( 1941 )
  • Now, Voyager ( 1942 ) 
  • Casablanca ( 1942 ) 
  • Since You Went Away ( 1944 )
  • The Big Sleep ( 1948 ) 
  • Johnny Belinda ( 1948 ) 
  • The Caine Mutiny ( 1955 ) 
  • A Summer Place ( 1959 ) 
  • Parrish ( 1961 )
  • Rome Adventure ( 1962 )

Saturday, January 9, 2016

How to Steal a Million ( 1966 )

Audrey Hepburn loved Paris and audiences adored seeing her in Paris on film. She portrayed a young woman who journeyed to Paris to study cooking in Sabrina ( 1954 ), a shy bookshop clerk who longs to see the city in Funny Face ( 1957 ), and the daughter of a French private detective in Love in the Afternoon ( 1957 ). In the 1960s she was in love with William Holden in Paris When it Sizzles ( 1963 ) and that same year chased by four enemies throughout the city in the Hitchcockian suspense classic Charade. In 1966, Hepburn returned to Paris for one final outing, this time in the delightful caper How to Steal a Million, directed by William Wyler.

Wyler had a flair for sophisticated comedy and How to Steal a Million is reminiscent of the snappy comedies of the 1930s with its elegant setting and clever dialogue. Hepburn stars as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of the world famous art collector Charles Bonnet ( Hugh Griffith ). Occasionally Monsieur Bonnet auctions some of his beloved paintings for "vast sums of money" and they pass into the hands of other avid collectors. What the buying public does not realize however, is that the paintings auctioned from the Bonnet collection are fakes - meticulously created by "Papa" Bonnet himself. Nicole wishes he would stop forging paintings and loaning their personal sculptures to museums, fearing they will one day be caught....especially since modern methods of examination could determine "the age of the stone, where it was quarried, when it was cut...and probably the name and address of the man who did it".

"Papa, the Cellini Venus is a fake!"
"That's a word we don't use in this house"

Her fears are realized when their Cellini Venus sculpture, which Bonnet generously loaned to the Kléber-Lafayette Museum of Art, is scheduled to undergo a vigorous chemical examination as a preliminary insurance requirement. Rather than arousing suspicion by recalling the sculpture from the museum, Nicole turns to Simon Dermott ( Peter O'Toole ), a professional jewel thief, to steal the Cellini Venus back. He and Nicole sneak into the museum at night and using only a magnet, a boomerang, and his wits, attempt to steal a million-dollar art treasure. 

"Why must it be this particular work of art?"
"Why, you don't think I'd steal something that doesn't belong to me, do you?"

How to Steal a Million was one of our grandmother's favorite films. Oma Rozi spent happy years in Paris and loved the city dearly. She also loved the lifestyle of the Bonnets, especially "Papa's" secret attic room. So this film is particularly dear to us as well. It boasts a marvelous cast, a witty script, a memorable score by John Williams ( credited as "Johnny Williams" ), and chic Givenchy costumes ( Hepburn dazzled in no less than eight different outfits ) but what makes the film a true delight is its setting - Paris.

The movie avoids the cobbled streets and earthy cafe life of Paris that is often portrayed in Hollywood films and instead shows us elegant Paris - a world of high fashion, fancy sports cars, museums, private jets, and auction houses - the setting one likes to associate with the world of an art collector. The film was shot in and around the city and gives us glimpses of the famous Ritz hotel, the Musée Carnavalet, the Élysées Palace along the Champs-Élysées, Maxim's, the Place Vendome, and the Rond-point des Champs-Élysées. The Bonnet's beautiful maison was located on the Rue Parmentier at Carrefour Bineau in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, but has since been torn down. 

A number of fine French actors add to the film's authentic Parisian flavor; Charles Boyer has a small and insignificant part as DeSolny, the owner of a rival auction house, and the popular comedian Moustache is featured as one of the museum's guards, who likes to take a nip when he can. Fernand Gravey, Marcel Dalio, Jacques Marin, and Roger Treville also have parts while American actor Eli Wallach has the best supporting role, that of Mr. Leland, a fanatic art collector, willing to marry Nicole just to get his hands on her Cellini Venus. 

Harry Kurnitz, a prolific screenwriter of the 1930s-1960s, penned the screenplay which was based on a short story "Venus Rising" from Practice to Deceive written by George Bradshaw in 1962. Unlike most capers of the 1960s, How to Steal a Million does not focus solely on the planning and execution of the heist, instead Kurnitz lets a series of amusing situations unfold, all of which lead to the final heist and, of course, Bonnet and Dermott falling in love. L'Amour dans Paris...what could be a more fitting ending? 

Bonus : Check out this site to see more of the film's locations and how they look today and this blog to read a more in-depth review of How to Steal a Million and see a ton of great screenshots. Also, an interesting bit of trivia : the famous "Nicole!".."Papa!" exchange between Hepburn and Griffith was revamped for a series of entertaining Renault Clio commercials during the 1980s.  

This post is our contribution to the France on Film Blogathon being hosted by Seredipitious Anachronisms. Head on over to her blog to read more articles on French films and films set in France. Au Revoir!