Allene Roberts in The Red House

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This is terribly delayed but I would be remiss if I didn’t submit an entry to this year’s addition of THE REEL INFATUATION BLOGATHON. Without further ado…

I’ve only seen Allene Roberts in one film and she’s hardly even the star of the picture. That privilege goes to Edward G. Robinson as the matriarch of a family with a secret. Still, from the first moment I saw her in The Red House (1947), I couldn’t help but be taken with her persona on screen — that of the daughter Meg — because it feels so very genuine. Infatuation is too strong a word. But nevertheless, being young I was taken with her doleful innocence. That’s as best as I can describe it.

In his contemporary review for the film Philip K. Scheuer paid her the ultimate compliment in The Los Angeles Times, “Allene Roberts appears to be a real find-winsome like Teresa Wright, and with an appealing loneliness.”

To watch the film is to know exactly what he means. It’s no surprise that Teresa Wright is one of my favorite actresses. They share that same girl-next-door charm that’s quintessentially indicative of the war years. It exudes Americana. And yet when I look at Allene Roberts the first name that came to mind — the person she reminded me of the most — was Wright’s costar from The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Cathy O’Donnell.

There’s an inherent warmth and a naivete that they seem almost incapable of shedding. It’s just a part of who they are. They can’t help but be any other way. Roberts, on her part, is so youthful and innocent and yet look into her eyes in quieter moments and you see a pensive moroseness that comes to the fore.

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As Meg, she cares deeply for family and cultivates those relationships through love and loyalty. The boy she admires is equally calm in temperament (played by Lon MacAllister) and they look to be a match made in heaven. Though he admittedly already has a girl, the sultry Julie London who provides the complete antithesis to Robert’s angelic demeanor. It’s a very purposeful juxtaposition that makes each characterization all the more striking.

Because though The Red House is ultimately a film about a buried family secret, it’s most fascinating for the at times curious character dynamics that it displays as well as moody atmospherics. It’s impossible to pull away from the screen not because of the mystery but due to the individuals brought to the screen. They intrigue us. Not the least among them being this girl.

Allene Roberts was only about 17 years old when she came to the screen and she was just about as humble as one might be while still winding up in Hollywood. She was heavily active in her church back in Alabama and lived a generally happy childhood although her father passed away when she was young.

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Look over her life and hear bits and pieces of her own account in the wonderful interview from Films of The Golden Age and you are inundated by a story that feels so warm and genuine. There was no drama, scandal, or deep-seated regret, only a life of contentment, nostalgic reminisces, and a refreshing ordinariness.

As she is still with us today, it’s a charming discovery to read some of her recollections from those Golden Years of Hollywood including encounters with Bette Davis and James Cagney (though she didn’t like him too much). However, she was very fond of Robinson for how he treated her in The Red House. She recalls,

“I was working with one of the biggest stars in history, Edward G. Robinson, and I remember my first scene was with him and it was on location on a farm about halfway up California, near San Francisco-somewhere up there… I was terribly nervous. I was seventeen. So we talked and laughed. You know, it just felt like he was somebody I had known forever. Our first scene was in that barn where I asked him to hire Lon McCallister to come and help him in the afternoons. He always played the bad guy in most every picture he did, but he was anything but bad. He was the sweetest person to work with. I just really loved him.”

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Furthermore, of her director Delmer Daves she remembers the following,

“I had a scene where I had to cry and when we were through shooting, I looked at him and tears were rolling down his face. He was touched by the scene and that really thrilled me that I made that kind of impression on him. He was very sweet to everybody.”

But the beauty of Roberts’ life is that even though her career never bloomed to the heights of a Teresa Wright and didn’t even feature many high profile pictures like Cathy O’Donnell who was closely related to William Wyler, she nevertheless led a pleasant life. She met a charming man whom she dearly loved and left the screen behind for good.

Still, to discover her again in The Red House feels like something uniquely special. It only takes one performance for the viewer to be affected and to want to know more about someone. Because for me Allene Rogers seem so real and genuine in a way that was so very unmanufactured or manicured. We often think of Classic Hollywood making stars like a factory churning out commodities. Changing their names. Giving them certain hairstyles or looks. Stirring up the news columns about them. It’s refreshing to find someone like Roberts who comes off so charmingly normal. She was able to live a life away from the gossip columns and scandals that seem all too prevalent.

I dearly hope she is still doing well and I thank her immensely for her showing in The Red House. The magic of the movies is we can continually be spellbound by her work all these years later. Truly remarkable.

The Big Steal (1949)

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Granted you have star power but it’s easy to assume that The Big Steal will be a no name picture. A minor triumph at best. Not so! This film fares far better than countless of its bigger competitors.

It proves to be a winking romp full of bedroom brawls, car chases, and twists and turns every which way that send us whipping through Mexico. Equally important to the pace of the action is the levity of the script from Daniel Mainwaring (under a pseudonym) that gives our stars something to do and they do it effortlessly.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer (partnered again after the undisputed classic Out of the Past) meet as the two obvious foreigners in a sea of locals as Mitchum is getting accosted by a street vendor to buy a parrot. He’s one of those foreigners coming off as a buffoon navigating other cultures and the languages that go with them. Though I can’t ride him too hard as one of those blundering Americans myself. Still, his Spanish is mediocre at best and she is aghast at his cultural insensitivity. So right there you have the needed romantic tension and things only get better going forward.

Because their association doesn’t end there. Of course, it doesn’t. Duke Halladay is out to nab the man named Fiske (Patric Knowles) who absconded with some of his hard earned cash and Joan had a similar job pulled on her — the man of questionable integrity also just happened to be her boyfriend.

The unlikely partnership is formed after Mitchum leaps for the running board of the other man’s fleeing vehicle and winds up dragging Greer in front of the Inspector General to explain the public disturbance.

The Inspector General (Ramon Novarro) happens to be a budding pupil in English as his second in command (Don Alvarado) attended the University of California which while being convenient for the story also manages to make our Mexican characters into actual individuals who are endowed with an animated quality all their own.

If the main chase is our leading couple trying to track down Fiske, who gives them the slip on multiple occasions then the scenario simply gets more convoluted as Duke’s superior (William Bendix) is tailing him. They have some unfinished business to attend to because Blake believes the other man took part in a theft of his own. Thus, The Big Steal is just that. Even the soft-spoken John Qualen (probably best remembered for Casablanca) gets in on the party and flaunts a bit of a villainous side.

Some of the finer moments are the lighter ones. There’s the ongoing patter of the dialogue firing off between Mitchum and Greer which couldn’t be better and it comes from the days where a guy could call a dame “Chaquita” and it’d stick. But the beauty of their relationship is Greer with that quizzical look of hers can dish it right back in Mitchum’s direction.

Likewise, during a winding car chase, the same character can quite seriously exclaim “Watch out for the cow” only to turn right around and create a livestock blockade of his own. Or because we are in rural Mexico cars can get stuck behind a caravan of hay wagons ambling along leisurely. They have no respect for the drama at stake. On another note, I’m flabbergasted that the cars involved survived at all with the dubious amount of off-roading they managed. I guess in the 1940s they built things to last.

There’s one hilarious roadblock in particular where Jane Greer uses her Spanish and Mitchum’s obliviousness to tell a local road worker (Pascual Garcia Pena) that they are madly in love and running away from her disapproving father. They must get through at all costs and it just so happens that Captain Blake is right behind him and receives a fine welcoming committee.

But the key is that the film ends not on the downward plunge but on the upswing as our two lovebirds observe the local mating rituals and give it their own twist. What a great picture and sure, it’s no Out of the Past but no one needs it to be. We already have one of those and The Big Steal is a leisure ride of its own making.

Set this against a backdrop beyond the Mexico border, a spliced together version of on location atmospherics and studio shots, and you are blessed with the wonderful patchwork of authenticity and artificiality that old Hollywood was known for in the 40s and 50s.

What’s more fascinating is that The Big Steal at least in this form might never have been. Robert Mitchum was hot off his notorious jailtime term because of marijuana possession, an event that undoubtedly solidified his reputation as an antihero. Meanwhile, not too happy with Jane Greer, RKO studio head and temperamental mogul Howard Hughes gave her this role out of spite.

How could a picture this small be any good with a leading man saddled with bad publicity? I cannot speak to contemporary audiences but today The Big Steal plays quite well. We have our stars and screenwriter to thank as well as a young up and coming director named Don Siegel who started out as a montage man and transitioned into B-pictures.

What makes him a wonderful worksmith is how he always seems to have a pulse on the action and he turns situations into truly dynamic entertainment even when it’s on a small scale. He didn’t need a big budget to still make a rip-roaring good time. The Big Steal is a stellar testament to what the Classic Hollywood studios were capable of with meager means. It’s an absorbing effort.

4/5 Stars

Reign of Terror/The Black Book (1949)

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Depending on where you look Anthony Mann’s 1949 film comes under two different titles that are both equally apt. Reign of Terror denotes its roots in the French Revolution of the 1790s that saw the ousting of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette while putting Maximilien Robespierre at the helm of one of the most ghastly mobs known to man.

Any lover of history can call most everything in this picture into question but that’s almost beyond the point. This is not a tale that claims historical accuracy but a story of claustrophobic intensity that takes an era and builds an intriguing and gritty little drama out of all the sordid, twisted details. Perhaps more importantly than that it begins to draw parallels to the contemporary moment and that’s where the second title comes in.

The black book is the object that causes men to kill and lie and deceive one another because within its pages dwells great power to dictate the outcome of this kingdom on the precipice of something new. Whether or not that proves to be an optimistic direction very much depends on who gains access to said book. Robespierre (Richard Basehart) has lost it, the chief of the secret police Fouche (Arnold Moss) is intent on acquiring it for his own, as is a ring of staunch patriots looking to pilot their beloved nation back toward stability. That is only the main narrative thread. It seems like little coincidence that a black book shares great similarity to a blacklist.

In the 1950s, whether a concrete document existed hardly mattered because having your name added to this industry list was enough. Though not the same as being sent to the guillotine, for an actor or director it was tantamount to the death of a career as many found themselves out of work for years afterward.

While High Noon is often noted as one of the most high-profile blacklist allegories, The Black Book might be one of the most striking since it dares to find a point of reference between volatile and bloody history many years prior and the current reality. There’s nothing subtle about it.

Thus, whatever you want to label it, Reign of Terror or The Black Book, it proves to be a fascinating amalgamation of historical drama, film noir, and political allegory. Somehow it manages to be a low budget epic combining some wonderful talents that go beyond just Anthony Mann but to producer Walter Wanger, legendary cinematographer John Alton, and set designer William Cameron Menzies.

On the whole, it’s an unsentimental portrait comprised of severe low angle close-ups and shadows that spell film noir forwards and backward. It’s deliciously atmospheric, brooding with darkness and matched by ferocious stylized violence that sizzles in every moment of conflict. The sequences in front of the guillotine against the backdrop of the masses even conjure up the frames of Dreyer’s Passion of Joan of Arc and it’s true that this picture ironically recycled sets from Joan of Arc from the year prior.

Looking at film from the perspective of a historian, one of the greatest enjoyments comes when I am able to view content that has a similar theme running through it whether a specific director, actor, genre, or subject. In a flurry of activity, I’ve been able to derive a greater appreciation for the talents of Robert Cummings in particular.

Though this might sound reductive, much in the way that Joel McCrea is called the poor man’s Gary Cooper, Cummings just might be the poor man’s Jimmy Stewart and I say that because he has the same type of everyman quality that’s easy to latch onto.

Although I could never see Stewart pulling off a period role like this and though not entirely authentic, Cummings is a fine protagonist navigating the back alleyways and roads of deception and treachery that dictate the life of a citizen of the New Republic. Even when he does something that might be suspect there’s inherent trust the audience attributes to him.

Meanwhile, stunning Arlene Dahl looks ravishing in period costume but she also becomes a multifaceted companion of Charles D’Aubigny (Cummings) and one of his only points of contact who proves reliable and resourceful. Otherwise, the picture is crammed full of all sorts of characters with varying allegiances and intentions, not to mention cameos from such figures as the Marquis de Lafayette and Napoleon.

If it’s not quite like the blacklist then you figure out how very easily it could be. The film takes so many about faces and turns by the denouement it’s hard to know who is in the right or wrong or more important yet who ended up on the right side of history — the ones who wrote the victor’s narrative — because oftentimes they are the ones who go down as the heroes. Whether that is true or not is up for considerable debate.

4/5 Stars

Grace Kelly & Audrey Hepburn

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Source: TIME

The caption from TIME Magazine read as follows: Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly Backstage, 1956. The two most elegant stars of their era are photographed backstage at the RKO Pantages Theatre, as they wait to present: Hepburn gave Best Picture to Marty, and Kelly awarded the Best Actor statue to Ernest Borgnine for the same film.

I’m not sure if they ever met again or had any further interaction but this image always fascinated me because I would say unequivocally Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly are my two favorite actresses of all time, from any era, any decade, bar none.

That third spot undoubtedly changes often between the likes of Catherine Deneuve, Teresa Wright, Natalie Portman, Gene Tierney, Joan Fontaine, Paulette Goddard, Brie Larson or any number of other talented stars but the bottom line is my deep admiration for Princess Grace and Ms. Hepburn has remained unwavering.

I think it’s been a little over 10 years ago since I saw Roman Holiday for the first time and I was initially struck by Audrey Hepburn even though I knew very little about classic movies. Living under a rock as I did, I probably didn’t even know her name. But I didn’t need that to be affected by the film. I think it only took a couple more films to realize I had a slight crush on her.

What followed soon thereafter was a viewing of Rear Window, followed by High Noon, To Catch a Thief, and then, of course, the inevitable happened and I had a crush on Grace Kelly too. Rear Window is still my go to film when people ask me my personal favorite. There are so many wonderful aspects to enjoy and one of those is Kelly’s performance as Lisa Fremont.

Though in some ways Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn couldn’t be more different, there are a couple luminous qualities that undoubtedly tie them together. First, they both performed in some wonderful films as already mentioned and they are both renowned as style icons and women of immense beauty.

They shared some of the same leading men including William Holden, Gary Cooper, and perhaps most notably Cary Grant. They both were taken from us far too soon but their lives even after Hollywood were marked by their efforts as global goodwill ambassadors.

All of these things are certainly true but beyond that, there’s something about the way they carried themselves that’s so iconic. It’s the kind of thing you can hardly teach and seems even harder to categorize. It’s grace, it’s humility, it’s good humor and it’s a spellbinding presence. It’s both onscreen and off it. I could watch their movies over and over again and part of that is because they are such special individuals who were imbued with innumerable traits like the aforementioned that are so easy to admire.

Though the tabloids devoured their every move, they seemed less inclined to care about the spotlight. Though they both won Oscars on the biggest stage, they still maintained a civility that would put other stars to shame.

I think it’s only fair to end with some viewing recommendations. Some possible Double Features might be High Noon and Love in the Afternoon, Sabrina and The Country Girl, or even The Bridges at Toko-Ri and Paris When it Sizzles. But there’s a particular pairing that’s perhaps the most obvious.

For your viewing pleasure check out the Double Feature of To Catch a Thief (1955) and Charade (1963).

To Catch a Thief is, of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s famed romantic thriller starring Grace Kelly and Cary Grant about a reformed cat burglar living on the Riviera. It has that textbook Hitchcockian blend of mystery, romance, and wit with Kelly as the quintessential Hitchcock blonde.

Meanwhile, a few years down the road, Stanley Donen developed his own homage to “The Master of Suspense” long dubbed in many circles as “the best Hitchcock picture Hitchcock never made.” It too is a lithe thriller juggling its romantic interludes and snappy repartee with a genuinely tense spy plot throughout France.

I will end with one moment in the film that seems especially pertinent to this discussion. Crucial to some of the film’s storyline is a stamp collector who provides invaluable information to our hero Regina (Audrey Hepburn). In a brief passing moment, he nonchalantly mentions a batch of stamps including, “12 Princess Grace Commemorative stamps.” This is, of course, in reference to her marriage of Prince Rainer of Monaco in 1956 which became an international sensation. It’s a reassuring note.

So though we might have wished that they shared more moments together or even that they could have shared the silver screen together, this throwaway line in Charade reminded me, even briefly, how iconic these two ladies were. And though it’s really only in spirit, this slight nod allows them to share the screen as much as it simultaneously acknowledges their rightful place in our popular culture.

Many people will remember them as royalty for years to come. Audrey Hepburn of course famously coming to public attention as Princess Ann in Roman Holiday and Grace Kelly leaving her Hollywood career behind at the height of stardom to become Princess Grace of Monaco.

This is my entry in the Grace Kelly Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema!

Claude Jade as Christine Doinel

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As often happens in the life of a classic movie aficionado, I became acquainted Claude Jade quite by accident and it happened at a random point in her filmography. In Hitchcock’s Cold War thriller Topaz (1969) she has a small part to play but the Master of Suspense was pointed to the actress by Francois Truffaut the French critic and director who had undertaken an immense interview with Hitch that has remained a treasure for cinema fanatics.

But still, that in itself has little bearing on Claude Jade. Jade came to the forefront of my mind after watching several entries in Truffaut’s famed Antoine Doinel saga starring Jean-Pierre Leaud, the first of these being Stolen Kisses (1968). And she immediately left an indelible mark on this viewer because she seemed the complete antithesis of our main character. Antoine was always a bit of a troublemaker, a vagrant, a malcontent, and whatever other negative descriptors you want to throw out. In some respect, it’s difficult to like him.

Yet from the first moment we see Christine Darbon, the wide-eyed ingenue, Antoine, and the audience are immediately taken with her for those very reasons. She’s so kind and sweet in ways that Antoine never manages to be. There’s an innocence and a playfulness behind her eyes that’s disarming. If we knew any better, we would say that he had no right in pursuing a relationship with a girl such as this. But to his credit, he does eventually get his life figured out just enough to begin to see her.

It’s these interludes of Stolen Kisses that we might say puppy love is bubbling up. There are furtive glances. Breakfast at the kitchen table. Walks through the neighborhood park together. It feels like a little slice of paradise and even in their utter differences, it seems that Antoine and Christine might make a life together. Perhaps they were even made for each other after all.

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In Bed & Board (1970), the next installment in the series, the couple is now married and rather happily so. They have a baby and he has a flower shop and she teaches violin lessons. But they have each other and they are content. Reading in bed together after the day’s activities are over or eating a dinner of baby food because going to the store like adults is far too difficult.  How could Antoine not be happy with a wife such as this?

However, he is always plagued by inner demons and infidelities. In this case, dismantling his marriage and all that is good with his life with another woman. But part of what makes Christine phenomenal is the immense grace in which she handles Antoine. Again and again, we are reminded of just how much he does not deserve her and yet she sees something in him that is worthwhile and worth staying with. If nothing else, she makes us appreciate Antoine as a protagonist, blessing him with a human side, and suggesting there are still some redeeming qualities left in him.  So by the film’s end despite the turmoil and turbulence, they went through, they still have enough affection to stay together.

In Truffaut’s final installment Love on the Run (1979), the passage of time is not so kind to them as is often the case with life. But what stays the same is Christine (and unfortunately Antoine too). She remains a caring figure lighting up the screen with her charm, youthful exuberance, and quiet dignity even with she is slighted.

I will end by quoting the eminent critic Pauline Kael who noted in one of her reviews that Claude Jade was “a less ethereal, more practical Catherine Deneuve.” If I’d have to wager a guess on what she was getting at, it would probably be something along these lines. Deneuve was always this aloof beauty who exists in almost a different stratosphere and if we might be so bold to make the assumption, she feels almost unattainable. Maybe she doesn’t live in the same world that we do. Hers is a cinematic existence. But Jade in her playful winks and everyday interactions makes us feel like we know her well.

Because her life with Antoine is not unlike our own in some respects. That makes us appreciate her immensely and adore her even moreso because she feels like one of us. Deneuve is revered because she is beautiful in an elegant way. She would never be one to get her hands dirty. But with Jade, there’s that immediate connection. Rather than create a dichotomy however between “ethereal” and “practical” I’d much rather say that I appreciate them both and the impact that they both had on French cinema.  Antoine Doinel, sometimes I think you’re an idiot. In fact, I know so. How could you not remain true to a woman with a face like that?

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This is my entry in the Reel Infatuation Blogathon….

 

11 Classic Film Stars who Never Won an Oscar

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From the dawn of time, or at least as early as May, 1929, when the first Oscar Ceremony took place, all people from pundits to the general public have squabbled and made a general stink about the egregious omissions throughout the decades. After all, acting performances are subjective, each year is different, and so many things are going on behind the scenes. In a perfect world, everyone would be a winner but sadly we do not live in a perfect world. That goes for the Oscars too. Here are 11 Classic Hollywood stars who Never Won an Oscar.

Peter O’Toole – 8 Nominations without a win – The great Shakespearian titan of the stage and screen, O’Toole’s performance as WWI icon T.E. Lawrence will be forever emblematic of his career, although he lost the statuette to the equally revered performance of Gregory Peck as To Kill a Mockingbird’s Atticus Finch.  Despite, a tumultuous life, O’Toole’s body of work speaks for itself.

His other nominations included nods for a diverse array of work including Beckett, Lion of Winter, Goodbye Mr. Chips, The Ruling Class, The Stunt Man, My Favorite Year, and finally Venus in 2006.

Richard Burton – 7 Oscar Nominations without a win – O’Toole’s contemporary, there’s no doubt the Welshman who was famously twice married to Elizabeth Taylor was a stellar performer in his own right. Like O’Toole he was a trained Shakespearian actor, in fact, they both starred together in Beckett (1964). However, he’s perhaps best remembered for the cynical spy thriller The Man Who Came in From the Cold as well as his performance opposite his wife in the blistering Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

His other nominations include My Cousin Rachel, The Robe, Anne of The Thousand Days, and Equus.

Deborah Kerr6 Oscar Nominations without a win – Deborah Kerr made her name in the films of Powell & Pressburger before positioning herself as one of Hollywood’s most elegant and graceful leading ladies of the 1950s. Although one of her most iconic roles had her playing against type in From Here from Eternity (1953) opposite Burt Lancaster. She was equally beloved for her roles in The King and I (1956) and Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957).

Her other nominations include Edward My Son, Separate Tables, and The Sundowners.

Thelma Ritter6 Oscar Nominations without a win – Thelma Ritter is without a question one of the treasures of the studio age, lending life and dry wit to numerous supporting roles throughout the 50s and 60s in everything from All About Eve (1950) to Pillow Talk (1959). There’s something so satisfying about seeing her in a film because you know you’re not going to be disappointed.

Her other nominations came in The Mating Season, With a Song in My Heart, Pickup on South Street, and Birdman of Alcatraz.

Irene Dunne – 5 Oscar Nominations without a win – There’s a case to be made that Irene Dunne just might be one of Cary Grant’s best romantic partners. They made three pictures together and in their collaborations as well as her other roles Dunne showcases a surprising lassitude on screen, capable in drama, comedy, and even musical numbers being a trained singer. Her greatest turn opposite Grant came in their first pairing, the zany Leo McCary screwball The Awful Truth (1937) but perhaps her greatest performance came as the titular character in I Remember Mama (1948).

Her other nominations include Cimarron, Theodora Goes Wild, and Love Affair.

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Barbara Stanwyck – 4 Oscar Nominations without a win – Without a doubt, Barbara Stanwyck stands unequivocally as one of Hollywood’s greatest stars during the Golden Age. Her career spanned from the 1930s well into the 1950s when she continued her career with a transition to television by the 1960s. Her most heart-wrenching performance came as the loving mother in Stella Dallas (1937). In 1941 she could have probably been nominated for three films although she ended up receiving it for her lively turn in Ball of Fire. Her iconic and venomous turn as Phyllis Dietrichson also earned her a nomination for Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity (1944).

Her other nomination came for Sorry Wrong Number.

Montgomery Clift – 4 Oscar Nominations without a win – An actor of immense intensity and investment in his craft, Clift was undoubtedly one of the premier stars of the late 1940s and early 50s making the transition from the stage seamlessly in the post-war classic The Search (1948). Although his most famous roles came opposite Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun (1951) and with the all-star ensemble from From Here to Eternity (1953) including Burt Lancaster, Donna Reed, and Deborah Kerr (also on this list).

His other nomination was one of his final roles, a supporting nod for Judgment at Nuremberg (1961).

Rosalind Russell4 Oscar Nominations without a win – Rosalind Russell was imbued with a vitality much like Barbara Stanwyck. She could be the catty gossip or the larger than life personality and while best remembered now for comedy she could function in dramas as well. She took the stage role of Auntie Mame (1958) and turned it into a truly iconic performance that’s hard to forget.

She was also nominated for My Sister Eileen, Sister Kenny, and Mourning Becomes Electra.

Peter Sellers3 Oscar Nominations without a win – Another Brit, Peter Sellers was the man of a thousand voices and even more quips, donning roles like people put on clothes and playing slapstick comedy and heartfelt drama with equal skill. His tour de force will always be his multirole in Dr. Strangelove, however, he was equally compelling as the ethereal Gardner in Being There

His other nomination was for the short subject The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film.

Natalie Wood3 Oscar Nominations without a win – Initially remembered as a child actor in a number of 1940s classics, Natalie Wood flourished into a surprisingly compelling actress gaining recognition for such films as Rebel Without a Cause (1955), Splendor in the Grass (1961), and Love with a Proper Stranger (1963) all coming before her tragic death in 1981.

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Cary Grant2 Oscar Nominations without a win – If you were to try and pinpoint the heart and soul of Classic Hollywood romance and comedy, the epitome of suavity and charm matched with comic timing and physical chops, Cary Grant is without question the gold standard and there’s no one that even comes close to touching him. With a career ranging from the 1930s well into the 1960s, he starred opposite everyone you could possibly dream of being in a film with. Although ironically, of all the classic, iconic, masterful pictures that he lent his charm, the two that he was nominated for are relatively unknown. Not surprisingly, both are dramas and not comedies. Perhaps there’s a bit of a genre bias in the Oscars?

Cary Grant was nominated for Penny Serenade and None But the Lonely Heart.

 

 

 

Walking in the Footsteps of Duke

john_wayne_publicity_photo_1952Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t always a classic movie aficionado or a western lover but you do not have to be either of those to know and love the Duke because he is more of an American icon than a simple movie star in the conventional sense. He’s so integral to the very cultural fabric of our country. For instance, by watching I Love Lucy or M*A*S*H (and Radar’s impressions) or having one of your dad’s favorite film being True Grit, you can get to know him by simple osmosis. It’s just a fact. Even words like “Pilgrim” and “Baby Sister” begin to sneak into your everyday lexicon. You cannot help but hear them and by association use them (I’m not speaking from experience at all).

Even from an early age I had an awareness of John Wayne and I’m not quite sure where that began but I certainly do recall knowing who he was. However, I’m not sure if I had ever seen one of his films or at least not one of his famous ones. Watching the likes of Stagecoach, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, even True Grit came years later. However, from early on I think it was evident that in many ways I almost subconsciously grew up walking in the footsteps of John Wayne. It’s only now that I realize the undeniable facts.

To start, it must be noted that Wayne was a transplant to Southern California, my home for many years now. He actually was born Marion Morrison, larger than life even at birth in the town of Somerset, Iowa in 1907. It’s true that I got to visit his home, now a makeshift museum that memorializes his career in humble fashion (On a side note: I too have family from Iowa so that’s yet another small connection to the Duke’s beginnings).

300px-Wild_Goose.JPGBut it’s from these roots that he ultimately moved out to sunny California, a noted member of the USC football team before a career-ending injury. This is a part of his life that I will mostly gloss over. Because it was the next part of his life that always resonated with me on a personal level. His very persona seems imprinted on the world that I grew up with from an early age. His name and likeness could seemingly be found everywhere. I grew up seeing his statue and even passing by his personal boat The Wild Goose and seafront home on family excursions (also featured in a Columbo episode).

Rumor has it that his son Ethan roamed the same hallways and the same classrooms as I did in high school. By association, I even hold a personal anecdote of the Duke that my father has often regaled me with. Once, in a local shop, he saw Rooster Cogburn himself in all his imposing glory, sans eyepatch, patronizing the local establishment. That was probably only a few years before he passed away in 1979 — only a single momentary occurrence.

Although that was still some years before I even became acquainted with him, there’s no doubt that John Wayne is a timeless figure and I will enjoy him on film for many years to come because there’s something personal about his persona both on screen and off. I truly feel like I do walk in his incomparable footsteps, looming large even now, so many years after his final film The Shootist in 1976.

Because he is far more than a movie star. He’s not simply John Wayne, Marion Morrison, or the Duke, he’s a multifaceted, colorful figure, polarizing but also so personable. In every role, you knew it was him and he never felt like he was faking one word or action. He’s authentic, straight-talking, and true. He held unswervingly to certain convictions and fought tirelessly for those who did not pack a shotgun as well as he did. And I admire that. Thus, John Wayne is not simply an actor who I enjoy seeing for his sheer timelessness but I’ve also had the enjoyment of walking some of the paths that he frequented and blazed. They certainly are big boots to fill but it’s fun to see their impact even today.

For the John Wayne Blogathon HERE

What I Learned from 12 Angry Men

Recently I got the chance to sit down with a group of friends and watch 12 Angry Men together. Many of them had never seen it and hearing their reactions was immense fun for me. But as we talked for a few minutes afterward, I began to realize that really each of these characters represents something in myself or perhaps something I see in others. Each man represents a fault or a warning sign, or even a shining example for how I want to lead my own life. And like any film 12 Angry Men is far from perfect. One of my friends pointed out, rightly so, the glaring omission of any women in the film. And it’s true. The film lacks a high degree of diversity and yet at the core of each of these characters is something that I can take away.

So I would like to go down the line and pay a few words to each of the jurors. Because although they work so well on a collective level, it is their individual personality traits and characteristics that turn this courtroom classic into a fascinating study of human nature and interpersonal communication. Without further ado, this is what I learned from 12 Angry Men:

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Juror # 1 (Martin Balsam): He takes on the role of foreman and leads the conversations. He’s not  a big personality but he remains fair and level-headed. Even though he starts out on the guilty side of the verdict, I always deeply respect his demeanor. His feathers do get ruffled so he’s not impervious but he lends a nice degree of order to the proceedings. And that is needed within any body of people — someone who is willing to take the lead.

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Juror # 2 (John Fiedler): I’m a big fan of John Fiedler and he plays the type of character he was generally best known for. A timid bank teller who is easily dominated by the larger personalities around him. He’s also noticeably younger than many of the men on the jury. However, he reminds me that though I too am a quiet personality, there is still need at times to speak up and most importantly to stand by your convictions. Furthermore, never allow others to look down on you simply because of your years. You can still bring something to the table since you have a different perspective on life that is valuable.

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Juror # 3 (Lee J Cobb): He is always the antagonistic force of the film and his role in the film always acts as a bit of a reminder not to allow the root of bitterness infect my life so that it clouds my judgment. For your peripheral relationships to be healthy it is vital that your relationships to those closest to you are flourishing. Family is important. Do your best to foster those relationships whether it’s with parents, siblings or children.

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Juror # 4 (E.G. Marshall): Rational thinking and intellect are wonderful and necessary things in this world that we live in. After all, humanity is blessed with brains and it seems like a good thing to put them to use. However, it’s also important to not allow your whole existence run on intellect alone. Things like emotions and feelings have a place in life too because while we are rational beings we are also empathetic ones. We were not meant to live life like machines. Do not become a slave to intellect. Do not become unfeeling.

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Juror # 5 (Jack Klugman): Here’s a man who is fairly quiet and unassuming at first. But he’s a different sort than juror # 2. It’s less about his temperament and more the fact that he has probably lived his entire life in the shadow of other people. People who keep him down and tell him that his people are no good. But ultimately he gains resolve to stand up for himself. The way he was brought up and the convictions that course through his veins. He too is granted a voice in this forum and notably others begin to listen. He has his own kind of wisdom to offer up as do I.

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Juror # 6 (Edward Binns): While not the most intellectual of the men sitting around the juror’s table, there’s something quietly noble and upright about this man. He doesn’t talk all that often. He’s not one for deeply thoughtful statements. But he’s a humble, straightforward man who believes in a bit of chivalry still — standing up for others when necessary. That’s something I deeply admire in other people. I know I’m not the brightest mind in the room, but humility and genuine character goes a long way sometimes.

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Juror # 7 (Jack Warden): Jokes are a wonderful thing. Laughter is good for the soul and it can add tremendous richness to conversation and human interactions. But there’s also a time and place for playing the clown. We cannot just go through life making light of everything, trying to spin every situation into a joke, because life cannot function like that. There comes a time for being serious and growing a backbone for that matter. Don’t simply go along with others in an attempt to hang with the crowd or get by with the least amount of resistance.

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Juror # 8 (Henry Fonda): Obviously he is our hero as a man who is willing to go against the grain and be the voice in opposition of the norm. He shows tremendous integrity and courage to ask the honest questions and even admit his own doubt. That is a man to be admired. Because while he does want to talk it out and consider the gravity of the situation, he very rarely takes the unnecessary high road of self-righteousness. He openly admits he doesn’t know what the truth is but he’s willing to at least dialogue about it. Those are the people that we need more of. Open, honest, and genuine folks who are willing to talk, willing to listen to reason, and most importantly stand up for their personal convictions. That’s what I want to strive after in my own life.

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Juror # 9 (Joseph Sweeney): Here is an older gentleman who reminds us that there is a great deal of wisdom that can be gleaned from our elders. We should rightfully so pay them the respect that they are due because there is so much that they can offer us since they often come from a different time and place than we ourselves know. This differing perspective is something to be valued. They often carry insights and values that we might initially disregard, only to find out that they have a great deal that they can impart to us.

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Juror # 10 (Ed Begley): There are few things as abhorrent and insidious as narrow-minded viewpoints. Because it is these people — people who fall prey to prejudice and the categorization of others — who are quick to pass judgments. They allow bigotry to dictate what they say. There is no room for nuance or listening to other people’s voices. In fact, through their actions, they are inhibiting others and leaving no room for any type of dialogue. It’s this interpersonal dialogue which 12 Angry Men is all about and more broadly our own lives as well. I don’t want to be a person who is too closed off to at least listen to people and try to undertand where they are coming from.

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Juror # 11 (George Voskovek): He is one of the most notable jurors because in this day and age he represents so much. In the film, he is the one obvious outsider, the foreigner, the other, and yet he is represented as a thoughtful and articulate man. Most importantly he has a tremendous reverence for the American way of life and the statutes it was founded on. We can learn so much from him because he time and time again subverts most of the labels that are often put on people who are different. But, in fact, those “others” are often the very people we need. Because they bring yet another perspective to facilitate richer, deeper dialogue.

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Juror # 12 (Robert Webber): Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’ Don’t be a flip, flopper. This resonates with me so deeply. Sometimes even if you shy away from conflict or crossing others, it’s absolutely imperative to take a stand. Once again, jokes can be a wonderful way to ease tension but there comes a point where you have to face the reality. If someone’s life is hanging in the balance,  you have to come to terms with the gravity of the situation.

That’s some of what I learned from 12 Angry Men…

12 people means 12 different viewpoints — 12 perspectives that we can learn something new from. I will always return to this film for those very reasons. In many ways, it models real life for me.

What I Learned From George Bailey

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It’s a Wonderful Life is a perennial classic for many people but it was not until I saw it in a theater during high school and rediscovered it with new eyes that I  came to truly appreciate this film on a deeper level.

On subsequent viewings, so many scenes resonated with me and gained new profound meanings. However, one of the most prominent is really in the periphery. It came with looking closely at the wall of Mr. Bailey’s building and loan. Clearly visible on the wall of the old building is a short epithet. “All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” It’s a strikingly beautiful and pithy statement. I have no way of knowing who thought of having this quotation up on the wall but it perfectly encapsulates many of the central themes of the film.

More than anything, the rise, the fall, and the final redemption of George Bailey reminds me what the true meaning of life is. It is to strive to love others–loving them even as much as you love yourself if that’s your wife or your kids or the people that you cross paths with each and every day. Mary, Zuzu, Uncle Billy, Violet, Burt, Ernie, and yes, even the Mr. Potters.  Simple, everyday, common decency is something to be clung to. It might be unassuming and the people who wield it may remain unheralded but that hardly discounts their impact. They know what they’ve done and that’s enough. Trial and tribulation might come again and again, still they never tire of doing good.

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

If we look at the life of George Bailey, he is precisely one of these individuals. This whole film is a culmination of his charity and love towards his fellow neighbors. He never wearies of doing good until the moment when his life comes crashing down on him. It’s at this moment where he finally begins to question the trajectory of his life thus far. He feels like a failure.

And this also speaks into our discontentedness as humans. Like George we want to do great things, gain acclaim, explore the world, and shake off the dust of our crummy lives. Often when life doesn’t wind up the way we want, we think that we’re failures. Our lives have seemingly become so mundane and insignificant. At least that’s what we tell ourselves. That’s what George tells himself for a time and he lets bitterness dictate his life.

But it’s precisely in those moments that he is reminded that no man is a failure who has friends–a community around him who is willing to lift him up and rally around him when he’s at his lowest. That’s why the final moments of the film always ring so sweet because to me they reflect the perfect community — surrounded by all these people that George impacted in one way or another. They are a testament to the life he led, all singing “Auld Lang Syne” in a joyful chorus. And the money they bring to bail him out is only a visible outpouring of their affection for him.

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

Ultimately, George reaped the reward for all his sacrifices and everything he gave up for others. But it hardly seems like a matter of karma. George did these things because he truly cared about people. As his father did before him. He was never looking to gain anything from them. That was not his character.

And this always leads me to  a bit of soul-searching. George with the help of Clarence literally sees the world as if he never existed and we too can play this kind of hypothetical game. If I died tomorrow or disappeared off the face of the earth, would anyone care? It’s a sobering question, but if we look at George Bailey the answer is an emphatic “YES!” His not having existed has seismic consequences on his surrounding community. It’s entire identity literally changes when he’s not there.

George Bailey taught me and continues to teach me time and time again what it means to leave a positive impact on the world at large. In my life, every day, I want to make the most of the time I have with other people. Because each life has the opportunity to touch so many others. To put it another way, I’ve read before that there are no neutral encounters you either breath life into other people or you take it away. I do not want to squander the opportunities afforded me and George Bailey models that so exquisitely.

“All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.”

The Set-Up (1949)

SetupPosterWhat it manages to bring together within the frame of a meager B-film plot is quite astounding, balancing the brutality and atmospheric visuals with the direction of Robert Wise to develop something quite memorable. Boxing movies have been bigger and better, but film-noir has a way of dredging up the grittiest pulp and the Set-Up is that kind of film.

Its fight sequences are violently staged with human forms evoking the early realist images of George Bellows. However, it’s as much of a backroom drama as it is a fighting film. We see the payoff taking place behind Stoker Thompson’s (Robert Ryan) back as his manager (George Tobias) cuts a deal with the opposition without telling his main man what’s going on. He figures Stoker is all washed up at 35. There’s no way in heck he can beat the young buck he’s up against.

The dressing room is full of has-beens, young guns, and hopefuls who in just a few minutes paint a picture of what the boxing world really is. It’s a cruel game that is sweet in victory and sometimes even deadly in defeat. Still men of all backgrounds and values are drawn to it for one reason or another.

In fact, they are not the only ones. One of Robert Wise’s most formidable allies in this film are his close-ups that ratchet up his drama by utilizing the emotive reactions of his crowd. He builds a cadence introducing each nameless face early on and riding their reactions all the way through the fight. There is the woman who feigns repugnance only to reveal her ugly penchant for brutality. There’s the tub of lard who fills up on every concession imaginable while greedily watching the violence unfold. Then, the nervous husband who is constantly hitting and jabbing a phantom opponent. The list goes on.

We also witness the initial reluctance of Stoker’s girl (Audrey Totter) to go see him get beaten to a pulp. This is more than just fighting–it affects their future life together. And while he gets ready to fight, she listlessly wanders the streets too frightened to watch him get his block knocked off and still not yet empowered enough to change things. All she can manage is a jaunt through an arcade parlor, a few furtive glances overlooking the passing trains, and finally a lonely visit to a midnight diner. But this is hardly casting blame mind you.

The bottom line is that Stoker doesn’t see his girl ringside, and it feels like everyone down the line has abandoned him. There’s a need for vindication–to prove his worth when no one will give him a second thought. And that’s a dangerous place to be when people are betting on you to take a fall compliantly, namely one big whig named “Little Boy.” But Thompson’s not about to do that, fighting until he has nothing left to give. And he wins someway, somehow.

It’s when he gets ready to leave the building after the crowds have filed out and the trainers have left for home, that he meets an ominous welcoming committee. It’s not an unsurprising conclusion, but still, Thompson’s story finds a silver lining amidst all the violence. This film is a miracle of the studio age and Wise makes it an incessantly interesting piece of noir.

3.5/5 Stars