Friday, July 29, 2016

Chuck Connors - Switched Bat for a Rifle

Chuck Connors found his greatest fame on television in the popular western series The Rifleman ( 1958-1963 ), but prior to his acting career, the 6 foot 6 inch giant was a professional basketball player....and then had a successful tenure as a pro baseball player. He took turns playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs, and the Los Angeles Angels and today is counted among only 12 athletes having played both MLB and in the NBA. 

During the 1940s, Connors enjoyed basketball, playing with the Boston Celtics, and helping to lead the Rochester Royals to the National Basketball League championship in 1946. He's even credited as being the first pro player to break a backboard. 

He then switched to baseball and played with numerous minor league teams before joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1949. However, even after two years with the team, he only played in one game.....and so he moved onto the Cubs in 1951, where he played 66 games as a first baseman and occasional "pinch hitter". 

It was in 1952 that Connors was spotted by a Hollywood casting director and signed for a small part in the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn comedy Pat and Mike. Oddly enough, he was not cast as a baseball player, but as a police captain! Connors realized he would never make it big in professional sports and so he left the game and decided to become an actor. That brief part led to a bigger role in the John Wayne family drama Trouble Along the Way just one year later, and from there on Connors had credited roles in numerous films of the 1950s, including many television appearances. He eventually found that westerns suited his rugged physique best. 
Chuck Connors beat 40 other actors for the lead on the television series The Rifleman, portraying Lucas McCain, a widowed rancher with an amazing sharp-shooting skill with a Winchester. One sport Connors had never considered - marksmanship - and this was where he found his greatest fame. 

This post is a part of our latest series entitled "Did You Know?".....sometimes we just feel like sharing interesting fragments of television and movie history and now we have a place to do just that. If you have a hot tip that you would like us to share on Silver Scenes, drop us a line!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Listen and Guess - The Baffling Audio Game

Today we are unveiling a new game :  Listen and Guess - The Baffling Audio Game! Get your ears ready for the newest puzzle to hit the blogging community!

We like confounding our readers. Those who have tried The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game know what rascals we are when it comes to picking awfully hard screenshots to guess. For this new game, instead of testing your pictorial recognition skills, we're tickling your audio recognition ability. 

Below is a short sound file featuring a voice that should be very familiar to most of you. Not every sound file will contain a voice, however, some clips may contain background music from a film, or dialogue between two actors. Even a short snippet from a behind-the-scenes interview may be thrown into the lot. The point of the game is if you can guess the name of the performer, or identify which film the music/dialogue is from,'re a winner! Alas, there's no prize to be won, we just thought you would like to be driven mad for a few minutes each month.

Ready for the challenge?

This first Listen and Guess clip features the voice of a woman who found popularity on television late in her career. If you can also guess the name of the song that she is singing here, then you're a real know-it-all. What a showoff! 

P.S : Cheating is not tolerated around here. The first culprit to google lyrics will get thirty spankings. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A True-Life Adventure : Perri ( 1958 )

Perri was the first "True-Life Fantasy" in Walt Disney's immensely popular documentary series - True-Life Adventures. This series, begun in 1949 with the Oscar-winning short Seal Island, brought the vast outdoors into the theatre in brilliant Technicolor, introducing youngsters, and adults alike, to the secret life of animals and the wonders of nature. 

Initially, critics had mixed reviews about the documentaries, but as the series progressed they couldn't deny their appeal. Since these shorts were technically classified as documentaries, Disney's staff had to restrain from cuing the creatures to act in a particular way. No trained pets were allowed in the documentary territory. Tacking the "fantasy" title onto the True-Life Adventure series gave the staff free rein to let the footage of the animals revolve around a story. They could create characters, set-up scenes, and even allow trained animals to perform these parts ( provided they belonged to a union, of course ).

This particular film focuses on the trials and tribulations of a young female squirrel - "Perri" - in the woods of Colorado, from her birth to the day she fell in love and prepared herself to be a creator in the endless stream of life - which just so happens to be the underlying theme of the film. 
Nine cameramen spent nearly two years capturing the footage of squirrels, hawks, owls, bobcats, beavers, and martens throughout four seasons to bring Perri into the theatres. Paul J. Smith penned a marvelous orchestral score setting sunrises, moonlit nights, and the changing seasons to music. This is highlighted by three choral songs written by the talented George Bruns. 

For anyone who has not yet seen a True-Life Adventure film, they are truly dazzling, combining gorgeous filming with lush musical backgroundsPerri is no exception, and one particular scene of beauty to keep your eyes out for is the midnight winter fantasy of the young squirrel. 

To read more about Disney' True-Life Adventures and James Algar, the man responsible for these great films, read our post : James Algar - Imagineer and Director.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The MGM Auction - July 17th

This Sunday, beginning at 8pm EST, Silverbanks Pictures will be auctioning over 290 original stills/publicity photos from the golden age of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios and we thought we would share a preview selection here on Silver Scenes. MGM was the greatest film studio back in the 1920s-1950s and these photos cover a wide range from the history of this great studio.

Before you gander at them, here are some basic terms you may want to know about movie photo collecting : a "still" refers to an image from a scene in a movie that was printed on glossy photographic paper and later pined or framed for display inside a movie theater's lobby. Audiences were able to see these scenes before they watched the film and it gave them a fairly good idea of what they were in for ( although in some rare cases the scenes displayed were later cut from the final release and you never saw them at all! ). "Publicity" photos are the general term for photos that were issued to wire services for use in newspapers, or publishing companies for use in movie fan magazines. And finally "fan" photos cover all of the photos issued to fan clubs and to individuals when they took the time to write to the studio to gush about their favorite star. 

All photos have a starting bid of $9.95. They are a great - and inexpensive - way to get started in collecting movie memorabilia. 

To see a closer view of any of these photos click on the image itself. To view the photo's current price at auction simply click on the title of the film. Enjoy! 
Greta Garbo and Lewis Stone, two of MGM's biggest stars, in A Woman of Affairs ( 1928 ). Lewis Stone later became a character actor and today is best known for his portrayal of Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy film series of the 1940s.

Here is an extremely rare photo...on the backside in pencil is written Olympia which was the German language version of the John Gilbert silent film His Glorious Night ( 1929 ). This is obviously filmed at MGM however and that looks like Gilbert caressing Hedda Hopper so we're not sure why that someone wrote down Olympia.....
Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler teamed up for the first time in this film and they were a smash hit with audiences. They were paired again many times afterwards.
Duncan Renaldo dons the traditional wardrobe of an African adventurer on his trek into the deepest jungle. Trader Horn had a huge publicity campaign behind it. Photographers were sent to Africa to capture wild animals in action on film and they brought back miles of stock footage. MGM reused this footage for years afterward in the Tarzan film series. 
Nils Asther on the set of Storm at Daybreak ( 1933 ). Note the wind machines in the background.
Fredric March and Norma Shearer teamed up to play Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in The Barretts of Wimple Street ( 1934 ). Shearer's husband, producer Irving J. Thalberg, loved adapting famous novels into films. He wanted to use films to introduce audiences to the joy to be had in reading literature. 
This is a great shot of the camera crew in action filming Lionel Barrymore in This Side of Heaven ( 1934 ). Barrymore directed a number of films during the 1930s, so he was familiar with both aspects of the filmmaking process.
Marie Antoinette ( 1938 ) - this was a fantastic film and one of MGM's most lavish productions of the 1930s. 

Gone with the Wind ( 1939 ), certainly the biggest epic in Darrel F. Zanuck's career. It was released through MGM who loved the publicity it was earning for the studio's biggest star, Clark Gable. This is a 1947 re-release still. "Ashley, oh Ashley....."
Jeannette MacDonald was one of the biggest actresses of the 1930s, and to this day remains one of the most beloved of musical stars. This is a gorgeous double-weight photo from Broadway Serenade ( 1939 ).
Lew Ayres and Lana Turner in These Glamour Girls ( 1939 ). Lew Ayres refused to fight during WW2 and because of that Louis B. Mayer, a real patriot, kicked him out of the studio. He was one of MGM's biggest stars at the time too.....
MGM groomed actor John Carroll to be another Clark Gable. He had Gable's signature devil-may-care attitude and was a very good actor, but he never made it to super-stardom. 
Andy Hardy Meets Debutante ( 1940 ) - this particular still has been hand color tinted. It sure would have been nice to see just one Andy Hardy film made in color, but they were classified as "B" films so that never happened, in spite of their popularity.
MGM had some of the best series films of any studio. In addition to Andy Hardy, they had the Tarzan series, Maisie, the Thin Man, and....Dr. Kildare. This war-horse continued on for nine films. After Lew Ayres got fired, MGM continued the series as Dr. Gillespie ( sans Kildare of course ). Later, he was resurrected for television series starring Richard Chamberlain. Here, the lovely Laraine Day ( Nurse Mary Lamont ) is pictured making a speech. 

Newly arrived starlets were never just thrust into the latest picture, they went through a educational program where they were taught how to walk properly, sing, dance, and e-nun-ci-ate their words correctly. Proper speech was a must in Hollywood. Esther Williams is going through the process in this photo ( 1942 ).

The famous Hollywood photographer Clarence S. Bull set up this great publicity photo for The Hidden Eye ( 1945 ), a sequel to Eyes in the Night, also starring Edward Arnold. 
June Allyson and Kathryn Grayson were both fairly new at MGM when this shot was taken in 1946 to promote Two Sisters from Boston, but Jimmy Durante was an old hand by then. Next to him is that marvelous opera singer Laurence Melchoir, who made a handful of musicals at the studio during the mid 1940s. 
Weekend at the Waldof ( 1945 ) was a remake of MGM's earlier success Grand Hotel ( 1932 ). While it was a good effort, it lacked the punch of the most remakes often do. The all-star cast included Walter Pidgeon, Van Johnson, Ginger Rogers and Lana Turner.
A happy threesome?? Van Johnson was a constant visitor to his friend Keenan Wynn's house. Wynn's wife Evie, later divorced Keenan to marry Van Johnson, although in recent years she claimed she blackmailed into doing so by the studio to quench rumors of Van's homosexuality.
Leon Ames had a long and varied career at MGM, often playing fathers or businessmen. Here he is pictured with his wife and children.
Jump Ricardo, jump! Ricardo Montalban takes some time out to exercise in this happy picture, photographed in 1947.
It's rough being the wife of a presidential hopeful. Katharine Hepburn recieves a little comfort from newspaper man Van Johnson in State of the Union ( 1948 ), an excellent drama. 
A young Janet Leigh is having a heart to heart talk with Mickey Rooney in this scene from Words and Music ( 1948 ).
Ricardo Montalban and Esther Williams in a publicity photo for Neptune's Daughter ( 1949 ). This film was their third and last pairing.
Gene Kelly is teaching the youngsters a thing or two in Take Me Out to the Ballgame ( 1949 ). 
Cary Grant was not only one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the silver screen, but he also had a great eye for photography. Taking snapshots in between takes was just one of his hobbies and in this photo he captured Signe Hasso taking Spanish lessons from Salvadore Baguez in 1950.
Howard Keel and Ava Gardner made such a handsome couple in Show Boat ( 1951 ).
Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse are happily looking over the plans to their new home....and what a home! Judging from those plans, it looks enormous. 1955.
Robert Taylor has the glint of greed and power in his eyes in this publicity shot for The Power and the Prize ( 1956 ).
Kay Kendall is modelling an Orry-Kelly fashion that she wore in Les Girls ( 1957 ), a fun musical directed by and starring Gene Kelly.
Gigi ( 1958 ) was MGM's last really big musical and it signaled an end to a great era in film history. While the studio still continued to make musicals up until the late 1960s, none of them had the charm of their 1950s musicals. Gigi was a great sendoff film. Here, Leslie Caron and Louis Jourdan get ready to film the Trouville beach scene.

Mario Lanza and Johanna von Koczian in For the First Time ( 1959 ). This was Lanza's final film at MGM. His weight problems and drinking were causing too many interruptions to filming and so MGM gave him the sack.
Ben-Hur ( 1959 ). MGM had established their reputation as one of the top film studios with the 1926 silent epic Ben-Hur, and in 1959 they remade it in splendor. This year another remake has been made, though nothing will top the Charlton Heston version ( who is pictured here with Haya Harareet ).

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad ( 1974 )

Exotic adventure, thrills and romance were all to be had in The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, the second of three Sinbad movies that special-effects animator Ray Harryhausen helped to create during the 1950s-1970s. The first film - The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ( 1958 ) - was a storybook Arabian Nights fantasy that combined an exciting tale of adventure with amazing stop-motion animated creatures, a powerful Bernard Herrmann score, and beautiful location scenery. It was extremely popular with children and adults alike during its initial release, but its creators, Harryhausen and producer Charles Schneer, had several other projects in the stewpot and did not concentrate on developing another Sinbad film to follow up on its success until the early 1970s. 

This film, aptly titled The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, found the turbaned sailor ( John Philip Law ) on a quest for the missing pieces of an ancient golden tablet that points the way to an island which contains a mythical fountain granting eternal wealth and power to the man who bathes in its waters. Over land and sea Sinbad journeyed with the evil magician Koura ( Tom Baker ) ever on his tail. Koura desperately sought the restoring power of the fountain because his life force was draining out of him with every incantation he chanted. 
This story plot provided Ray Harryhausen with ample opportunities to pit various creatures against our hero and the film featured some of Harryhausen's best Dynamation work including the bat-like Homonicus, a messenger to Koura; the wooden figurehead which comes to life; the terrifying centaur; and the griffin, defender of the magic fountain. Also, who could possibly forget the six-armed statue of Kali? Despite being slow on its feet, it was nimble with its swordplay. 

Aside from creating the stop-motion sequences of mythical creatures and other characters, Harryhausen helped flesh out the stories to almost all of the films he worked on. He also created extremely detailed storyboards allowing the directors to simply follow each block like a comic book.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad was three years in the making with Harryhausen spending one year strictly at work filming the creatures. Critical reception was generally negative upon its release but that did not deter its creators from making a third Sinbad film several years later - Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger ( 1977 ). 

Screenwriter Brian Clemens ( of The Avengers fame ) penned a marvelous script for The Golden Voyage of Sinbad filled with nonstop action. Combined with the talented cast, a sweeping Miklos Rozsa score, and Harryhausen's "magic", it has now gained the rightful reputation of being the best of the Sinbad series.

Of the three actors who portrayed Sinbad in each of the Harryhausen pictures, John Philip Law, the star of The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, was certainly the most convincing, capturing the adventurous spirit and the inspiring leadership of the fabled sailor. With Law portraying Sinbad, it is easy to see why his sailors followed him to the four corners of the world.
Tom Baker is also excellent as Koura, the master of the black arts, with his intense eyes and imposing presence. Christopher Lee was originally slated to play this part, but through a stroke of good fortune Baker was cast. This film would be instrumental in Baker obtaining the role of the fourth doctor in the television series, Dr. Who.

Also cast in the film was Caroline Munro as the buxom slave girl Marinda, Douglas Wilmer as the mysterious gold-masked vizier, and Kurt Christian as Sinbad's friend Haroun, included for comic relief. 

This post is our contribution to The Ray Harryhausen Blogathon being hosted by Wolffian Classics Movies Digest. To read more posts about Harryhausen, his life, and his work, check out this link!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ray Harryhausen and the Creation of Dynamation

Wolffian Classics Movies Digest is currently hosting a blogathon in tribute to Ray Harryhausen, the stop-motion animator extraordinaire behind such fantasmagorical creatures as the fighting skeletons, the cyclops, Medusa, Kraken, and the beast from 20,000 fanthoms in such classics as Jason and the Argonauts ( 1963 ), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ( 1958 ), and Clash of the Titans ( 1981 ). 

As part of this tribute to this talented man we thought we'd include a brief introduction to the process he created, known commercially as DynamationIt can also be called the "split-screen" process because of the way the screen appears to be split while the animation is being enacted in the middle layer.  

Prior to Harryhausen's development of this technique most animation was created for sequences that did not require "live" actor interaction within the scene. For instance, in an adventure film a group of archaeologists may come across a dinosaur grazing on grass in the distance. The director of the movie would film the actors expression of surprise upon seeing the dinosaur and an animator would film the stop-motion sequence of the dinosaur but when completed these scenes would remain separate...actors in one scene, animation in another. However, with the split-screen process, viewers were able to see the actors directly interacting with the animation..e.g a dinosaur with a man struggling to get free from his grasp.

In three-dimensional stop-motion animation, an object, or a poseable model, is photographed one frame at a time using a traditional film camera. In between each frame the animator moves the arms or legs of the model a fraction of an inch before photographing the object again. When these still shots are run through a projector the rapid succession of images creates the illusion of movement. A standard 35mm film projector runs the film at 24 frames per second, and so 24 separate photographed frames have to be taken to make each second of animation on screen. Hence, a 2-minute sequence of a giant cyclops eyeing a tasty morsel for dinner would take 2,880 separate frames to compose. Quite a time-consuming task! 
Stop-motion animation can be traced back to the beginning of movie-making, in the late 1800s.  Some of the earliest animated films include Vitagraph's The Humpty Dumpty Circus ( 1897 ) by Albert E. Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, featuring a circus of acrobats and animals coming to life, and The Haunted Hotel by J. Stuart Blackton ( 1907 ). 

Willis O'Brien was the resounding king of animation during the early days of talking pictures. He brought to life the prehistoric creatures of yor in First National Pictures adaption of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World ( 1925 ) and later, in one of the most iconic films of the century, King Kong ( 1933 ), where he created a creature so lifelike in appearance and emotion that many viewers were brought to tears at his demise at the end of the film. 

It was Willis O'Brien's work on King Kong that instilled in Ray Harryhausen the desire to make stop-motion animation his career. The Eighth Wonder of the World inspired the young 14-year-old Ray to attempt creating his own model Kong, which led to his discovery of the stop-motion animation process. 
Under O'Brien's tutelage, Harryhausen learned the filmmaker's craft from the ground up and by 1948 was working alongside O'Brien on his first feature film, Mighty Joe Young ( 1948 ). O'Brien had utilized the multi-dimensional process of interacting animation with the actors through the means of sandwiching his models between two glass paintings, one of which was painted foreground, and shooting "through" them with the camera.

It was while working solo on his second feature film ,The Beast from 20,000 Fanthoms, that Harryhausen realized what a tiresome and time-consuming process painting foreground could be and knew that it would never work for that particular film due to the low budget the production had. He had been experimenting with using mattes as far back as 1938 to create a "split-screen" and so on The Beast from 20,000 Fanthoms he put those tests to use. 
The split-screen was a simple process that used mattes to block out portions of the film. Since film only develops from the light that escapes through the eye of a camera, any portion that is blackened out remains undeveloped. If the film is rewound the portion that was blackened can then be used again. This technique was used as far back as the early 1900s.

Dynamation however, used a model in between the matte and the background image to create a three layered image. The first step in the Dynamation process was to plan out in detail the movements the model, or creature, was to make and then to film the live-action scene with the actors and usually a stick or stand-in crew members to represent the movements and position of the creature. 
This film was developed and rear-projected on a screen. Harryhausen would place his model on an animation stand in front of this screen and then place a large pane of glass in front of that. On this glass he painted in black the foreground that he wished to block out. After filming the animated sequence so that the creature interacted with the actors as planned, he then rewound the film and filmed through the glass again, this time with the image he had previously filmed blackened out. 
Although it sounds like a very tiresome process, it was actually much easier to utilize mattes then to build and film miniature sets for the models to move in.

In 1957, Charles Schneer, the producer of many of Harryhausen's films during the late 50s and 1960s, dubbed this split-screen technique Dynamation. He was sitting in his Buick one day while waiting for traffic and noticed the Dynaflow logo written on the dashboard...he thought the prefix dyna would be the perfect marketing term for Harryhausen's animation process. 

Harryhausen used Dynamation in It Came from Beneath the Sea ( 1954 ), Earth Versus the Flying Saucers ( 1956 ), The Animal World ( 1956 ) and 20 Million Miles to Earth ( 1957 ) but it was not until The 7th Voyage of Sinbad ( 1958 ) that it was exploited as a merchandising feature. 

"Dynamation will be brought to the screen for the first time in COLOR!"

In the short trailer This is Dynamation! ( 1957 ) used to promote The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, the narrator announces the glorious wonders of the technique and how "anything that the mind can conceive can now be brought to the screen". 
Dynamation was utilized on all of the Ray Harryhausen films up until his final feature motion picture, Clash of the Titans in 1981. Today, most special effects are created using computer graphic programs ( CGI ) but somehow, in spite of the amazing realism provided by digital graphics there is something very unique, very alive, about Harryhausen's technique. Perhaps the creatures we see created by computer effects have lost their awe because we know the secret behind their existence  The mysterious process of Dynamation was kept from the public during the release of many of his biggest films... and this was one more element that added to the magic of the Harryhausen pictures. 
This post is our contribution to the Ray Harryhausen Blogathon being hosted by Wolffian Classics Movies Digest. It was originally published here on Silver Scenes in June, 2013. Click this link to read more posts about Harryhausen, his work, and his films. Enjoy!