Monday, October 16, 2017

Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens ( 1957 )

This is such a sweet film. Most of the Deutsche Heimatfilms are sweet as apple strudel, but Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens is especially wholesome and delicious. It centers around a little orphan Hungarian boy named Toni, portrayed by that talented youngster Michael Ande ( The Trapp Family ). He befriends old Herr Blümel ( Joseph Eggar ) when he arrives in Austria with a boatload of other Hungarian refugees. Herr Blümel and Toni become instant friends and Toni comes to live with this lovable fellow in his house by the river. One Sunday, while attending church, Toni sees the Vienna choir boys ( die Wiener Sängerknaben ) singing in the choir loft and desires to become a "Sängerknabe", too. So, off to Wien Herr Blümel and Toni trek and the boy gets the privilege of being admitted to the choir because he has such a fine singing voice. 

The true Vienna choir boys not only sing but study and live together at the palatial Palais Augarten in Vienna. It becomes their school and their home for as long as they are members of the choir. One day per week their family and friends are permitted to visit them. 
Our Toni gets along well at the school until the first visiting day. He eagerly awaits a visit from Herr Blümel but does not realize that the poor old man had motorcycle trouble en route and could not come. All the other boys have their families with them, except for naturally, he feels unloved and unwanted. 

Schwester Maria, the den-mother/nurse at the school takes compassion on the boy and agrees to be his mother while he is there. Toni loves her so much that, later, when Schwester Maria gets blamed for losing 1,000 Deutsche marks from the choir's funds, Toni lies to save her job and wrongfully confesses that he stole the money. 
Der Schönste Tag Meines Lebens is a well-balanced mixture of melodrama, light-hearted comedy, and music. It gives us a glimpse of the work-and-play life of the Vienna choir boys in much the same way that Walt Disney Studios would later showcase these boys in their 1962 film Almost Angels. This Austrian production was filmed on location in Vienna and in Hinterbichl in the Lasorling mountain range in East Tirol where the Vienna boys choir used to stay during the summers. 

Like most Heimatfilms, there is plenty of mountain scenery and some beautiful songs, sung by the Vienna choir boys, of course. But what makes this film really stand out is the performances from its principal players....Joseph Eggar in particular. He reminds me and my sister so much of our "Opa" ( our grandfather ), in his mannerisms and his genuine love for the little boy. 
Ellinor Jensen is also adorable as the tender-hearted Maria whom Toni comes to adopt as his surrogate mother. Paul Bösiger has a small part as Maria's love interest, and that legend in the German film industry - Paul Hörbiger - portrays the director of the choir, a kindly man. Rounding out the cast is Thomas Hörbiger ( Paul's son ) as one of the kapellmeisters and Richard Eybner, who is present for comedy relief.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Shields and Yarnell - Living Toys

Is it possible to make a career of playing a mime? Robert Shields and Linda Yarnell proved that it is not only possible but quite a lucrative business. 

Without a spoken word, Shields and Yarnell made a name for themselves displaying mime acts of "controlled insanity" in over 400 television appearances throughout the 1970s and 1980s. One of their most famous portrayals was as "The Clinkers", a married robot couple who attempt to lead a regular human life but do so with uproarious results. Everyday tasks like doing the wash, reading a newspaper, or going to the office for work prove to be difficult for robots. 

"....let's go and meet the Clinkers and see what they don't have to say!"

Lorene Yarnell, an off-Broadway variety performer and dancer, had met Robert Shields, a mime artist, during the making of Fol-de-Rol a 1972 Sid and Marty Krofft television special. The two hit it off immediately and married that same year. Yarnell taught Shields dance, while Shields taught Yarnell mime, and together they formed an act that would knock the artistic art of miming off its lofty pedestal and make it entertaining for the masses. 

For several years they performed on the streets of San Francisco, occasionally making guest appearances on television. It was not until 1976, when they became regulars on The Sonny and Cher Show, that the American public fully embraced their unique - and highly amusing - routines. These appearances were so well received that CBS signed them to their own comedy-variety show The Shields and Yarnell Show ( 1977-1978 ). 
"As a team. Shields & Yarnell are magical, innovative and pure entertainment - Yarnell's tap dancing is flawless." - Gene Kelly

When their show ended, they continued to perform in Las Vegas, on Broadway, on numerous television variety shows, with orchestras across the country, and around the world. Robert Shields gave two presidential performances as well as a command performance for Queen Elizabeth. 

Their improvisational form of miming lent itself well to talk shows, too, and Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin especially enjoyed having them as guest stars. One of their most memorable appearances was on The Muppet Show ( 1979 ) where they performed a segment featuring The Clinkers having breakfast. 

"Robert Shields is the greatest mime in America" - Marcel Marceau

During the mid-1980s, Shields and Yarnell broke up their act and divorced ( perhaps there was a lack of communication? ).....Yarnell later remarried and moved to Norway, where she died at the age of 66 in 2010. Robert Shields made a name for himself as an artist, working in ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and painting, which he still does in his studio in Arizona. He is currently working on a documentary Robert Shields : My Life as a Robot. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Unidentified Flying Oddball ( 1979 )

The title says it all. This 1979 Walt Disney comedy is certainly an oddball. While the Disney films of the 1970s are generally considered sub-par to the films the studio outputted in the 1950s and 1960s, most of them were still very amusing. The Unidentified Flying Oddball ( UFO ) simply fails to lift off into the realm of laugh-out-loud comedy. It could have been a fun picture, the story element is certainly clever enough, but the script falls flat. And, oddly enough, it was written by Don Tait, who penned Snowball Express, The Apple Dumpling Gang, and Treasure of Matacumbe among others for the studio. 

Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" forms the basis of the film's plot with the lead character being replaced by young astronaut Tom Trimble ( Dennis Dugan ) who, during a moment of "chaos in the cosmos", accidentally pulls a lever on his spaceship causing it to careen into the past, to Camelot in the year 508. His arrival is opportune for he discovers that the wicked Sir Mordred ( Jim Dale ) and Merlin ( Ron Moody ) plot to usurp King Arthur ( Kenneth More ) from his throne. With the aid of some modern electronic gadgets and his look-a-like android Hermes, Trimble manages to foil this attempt, get himself a comely girl ( Sheila White ), and travel back to the present age. Not too bad for an accidental trip into the past. 

Tom Trimble takes a selfie with some of his Arthurian-age friends

In spite of its weak script, UFO does contain some amusing moments, such as when the android, Hermes, jousts with Sir Mordred and loses not only an arm but his head, too! And the professionalism of the cast does a great deal in redeeming the picture. Jim Dale is always a delight to watch - especially when he plays villains - and he is a particularly good Sir Mordred.

The Unidentified Flying Oddball just about broke even at the box-office, but that did not deter producer Ron Miller from investing 20 million dollars into making The Black Hole, Walt Disney's epic production made to capitalize on the space fever that Steven Spielberg's Star Wars had triggered two years earlier. It was a great gamble, for The Black Hole became one of the highest-grossing films of 1979. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

A scientist examining a substance in a he a mad scientist?? Possibly. Possibly not. If you know the film this screenshot is from you would know how sane this man is.

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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The High Commissioner ( 1968 )

Espionage films were all the rage in the mid-1960s, a fever that had been ignited by Ian Fleming's James Bond spy series. George Segal investigated neo-Nazis in The Quiller Memorandum ( 1966 ), Michael Caine had starred in the Harry Carter films ( Funeral in Berlin, The Ipcress File ), Rock Hudson was caught up with terrorists in Blindfold ( 1965 ), Paul Newman had to unmask an imposter in The Prize ( 1963 ), Gregory Peck got mixed up in an assassination plot in Arabesque ( 1966 ), and Rod Taylor found himself caught in a web of international intrigue in The High Commissioner. 

This mildly entertaining 1968 thriller was also released as Nobody Runs Forever, a Bond-ish pastiche title. Taylor stars as Scobie Malone, an Australian police sergeant who is sent to London to arrest a wanted criminal who escaped years earlier and is now using an assumed name. With his new name, this murderer climbed the political ladder to become Sir James Quentin, high commissioner for peace for Australia. 

Scobie's simple task of fetching Quentin back for a trial gets complicated immediately upon his arrival in London. Sir Quentin happens to be in the middle of peace negotiations with several countries and requests a few days delay so he can attend the conferences. Sir James is a charismatic man whom many people speak highly of. Within one day Scobie begins to question whether he is even capable of murder. Scobie saves Sir James' life in an assassination attempt and Sir James, taking him into his confidence then, tells Scobie that someone close to him is leaking information to his enemies, and "would you be willing to look into the situation"? It's a request that Scobie cannot deny. 
The High Commissioner boasts a wonderful cast with Lilli Palmer as Sir James Quentin's wife; Camilla Sparv ( The Trouble with Angels ) as his private secretary; Franchot Tone ( in his last film role ) as an American ambassador; and Dalilah Lavi ( Ten Little Indians ), Calvin Lockhart, Clive Revill, and Derren Nesbitt as some of our suspects. 

Unfortunately, like many of the 1960s spy thrillers, the pacing of The High Commissioner is uneven. It begins quite brisk, screeches to a halt midway through, and then begins to climb in suspense once again near the finale. Ultimately, what redeems the film is Plummer's spot-on performance, its colorful cinematography, and Georges Delerue's fantastic opening theme.
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