Saturday, March 3, 2018

TCM News This March

This year is only a little over two months old and there has already been a lot of news with regards with Turner Classic Movies beyond the usual news concerning the TCM Classic Film Festival. In fact, there has been so much news it might well be difficult for TCM fans to keep track of it all!

Of course, for many of us among the best news is not really news at all. Starting tomorrow Turner Classic Movies returns to its regular programming after the 31 Days of Oscar. This means that Noir Alley will return tomorrow morning with one of the greatest films noirs of all time, The Big Heat (1953). What is more, starting March 10 (my birthday) Noir Alley will begin airing at a new time. It will air at 11:00 PM Central/12:00 midnight Eastern on Saturday night, with a repeat at its original time of 9:00 AM Central/10:00 AM Eastern on Sunday morning. For those of us who are not morning people, this is very good news!

In other news, TCM has some truly great programming lined up this March. Tomorrow starting at 8:00 PM Eastern/7:00 PM Central Turner Classic Movies will show a line-up of movies starring the great Anna May Wong. On March 5 and March 6 at 8:00 PM Eastern/7 PM Central TCM focuses on Mental Illness in the Movies, with such great films as The Snake Pit (1948), The Three Faces of Eve (1957), and Through a Glass Darkly (1961). March's Star of the Month is Elizabeth Taylor, so that from March 12 to March 16 Turner Classic Movies will air 30 of her movies, including such films as A Date with Judy (1948), National Velvet (1944), Father of the Bride (1950), and Giant (1956). From March 19 to March 23 TCM shows movies with the theme of "Great Movie Endings". Among the movies airing are such classics as King Kong (1933), Gone with the Wind (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), Now Voyager (1942), Casablanca (1942), The Third Man (1949), The Graduate  (1967), Night of the Living Dead (1968), and  Easy Rider (1969).

Beyond what is airing on Turner Classic Movies this month, there is also the great news that TCM Backlot now has a monthly plan whereby people can pay only $7.97 a month to be a part of TCM Backlot. This was actually announced some time ago and it was made available to a few TCM fans before it was officially announced, but it is still great news nonetheless. If you are not already a TCM Backlot member, I do encourage you to join. The video archive itself makes it well worth the money! And at $7.97 a month it is actually affordable for many of us who couldn't previously join.

More recently Turner Classic Movies announced the creation of the Robert Osborne Award, to be given to "an individual who has significantly contributed to preserving the cultural heritage of classic films." This year's award is being presented to Martin Scorsese. Best known as a director, Mr. Scorsese has played a pivotal role in movie preservation and is also one of the foremost film historians in the world. The inaugural Robert Osborne Award will be presented to Mr. Scorsese on April 26 at the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival.

Just this week Turner Classic Movies announced that they have added Alicia Malone and Dave Karger as permanent hosts. I assume most TCM fans are familiar with Miss Malone, who has been a host on the streaming service Filmstruck and has appeared on TV shows from Access Hollywood to Today. She is also the author of the book Backwards and in Heels: The Past, Present And Future Of Women Working In Film and the creator and host of Fandango's Indie Movie Guide. Many TCM fans may also be familiar with Dave Karger, who has appeared very frequently on Today and served as a Special Correspondent for IMDb and guest correspondent on Access Hollywood. He spent 17 years with Entertainment Weekly as a writer. As to those of you wondering what will become of Tiffany Vazquez, she will no longer be the Saturday afternoon host at TCM, but will stay with the channel for special projects, especially ones involving social media. Personally, I will miss seeing Miss Vazquez on Saturday afternoons, although I am very happy that Turner Classic Movies is adding Alicia Malone and Dave Karger.

The final bit of news I have for you deals with FilmStruck, the streaming service TCM operates in partnership with Criterion. Quite simply, FilmStruck is partnering with Warner Bros. Digital Networks to feature movies from the Warner Bros. film library. Sadly, this means that the Warner Archive is closing its streaming service, Warner Archive Instant. While many people are very happy about this, I have very mixed feelings about it myself. I like the addition of many Warner Bros. films to FilmStruck, but I worry what will become of the classic television shows that have been available on Warner Archive Instant. I personally fear that they will not make the transition to FilmStruck. If that is the case, then I will not be particularly happy. After all, I can see Casablanca, Singin' in the Rain, The Music Man, and many other Warner Bros. films elsewhere (indeed, I own many of them on DVD), but there are not many places I can see old episodes of Sugarfoot or Dr. Kildare.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Godspeed Lewis Gilbert

Lewis Gilbert, who directed such films as Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), Sink the Bismark! (1960), Alfie (1966), Educating Rita (1983), and three James Bond films, died on February 23 at the age of 97.

Lewis Gilbert was born on March 6 1920 in London. He came from a family of music hall performers. He travelled with his parents to various performances while young and took to the stage himself when he was only five years old. As a youth he appeared in bit parts in such movies as Dick Turpin (1934), Good Morning, Boys (1937), The Divorce of Lady X (1938), and Room for Two (1940).

Despite acting in films, young Mr. Gilbert was more interested in directing. He served as an assistant to Alfred Hitchcock on Jamaica Inn (1939). During World War II he served in the Royal Air Force's film unit, working on various documentary shorts. Following the war he made such documentary shorts as "Arctic Harvest" (1946) and "Under One Roof" (1949). The first feature film he directed was Little Ballerina (1947). It was followed by Once a Sinner in 1950.

In the Fifties Lewis Gilbert directed some of his best known films. Among these were a number of World War II films, of which the most famous may have been Sink the Bismark! (1960). Among the other World War II films he directed in the Fifties were Reach for the Sky (1956) and Carve Her Name with Pride (1958). He also directed the classic British noir Cast a Dark Shadow (1955), starring Margaret Lockwood and Sir Dirk Bogarde. During the Fifties Mr. Gilbert also directed such films as Scarlet Thread (1951), There is Another Sun (1951), Emergency Call (1952), Albert, R.N. (1953), The Sea Shall Not Have Them (1954), The Admirable Crichton (1957), and A Cry from the Streets (1958).  He wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for several films he directed during the decade, including Little Ballerina, Reach for the Sky, The Admirable Crichton, and Carve Her Name with Pride.

The Sixties saw Mr. Gilbert direct what may be his most famous film, Alfie (1966). He also directed the first of his three James Bond films, You Only Live Twice (1967). He also directed the films The Greengage Summer (1961), H.M.S. Defiant (1962), and The Adventurers (1970). He co-wrote the screenplay for The Adventurers.

In the Seventies Lewis Gilbert directed the films Friends (1971), Paul and Michelle (1974), Operation Daybreak (1975), Seven Nights in Japan (1976), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and Moonraker (1979). He wrote the stories for Friends and Paul and Michelle.

In the Eighties Mr. Gilbert directed one of his best known films, Educating Rita (1983), as well as the films Not Quite Paradise (1985) and Shirley Valentine (1989). In the Nineties he directed Stepping Out (1991) and Haunted (1995). In the Naughts he directed his final film, Before You Go (2002).

Lewis Gilbert was not only a very talented director, but a very versatile one as well. He was at home directing in a number of genres. He will always be well known for his World War II movies, of which he directed some of the genre's best known classics (including Sink the Bismark!). He directed one of the best British noirs, Cast a Dark Shadow. While he could direct large scale blockbusters (such as his World War II movies or the Bond films), he was also at home with smaller, more intimate films such as Educating Rita. And while Educating Rita was a somewhat light, but well-done comedy, Mr. Gilbert was also capable of directing a dark, gritty comedy such as Alfie. Over the years he directed in such wide ranging genres as historical adventure (H.M.S. Defiant), drama (Friends), and horror (Haunted). While Mr. Gilbert did direct bad films, they were few and far between. Only a few directors were as versatile or as talented as Lewis Gilbert.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Godspeed Emma Chambers

Emma Chambers, best known for playing the dim witted but caring verger Alice on The Vicar of Dibley, died on February 21 at the age of 53. The cause was a heart attack.

Emma Chambers was born on March 11 1964 in Doncaster, West Riding of Yorkshire. She was educated at St. Swithun's School, a boarding school for girls in Winchester. In the 1980s she trained in acting at the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art.

In 1988 Miss Chambers made her film debut in the television mini-series The Rainbow. The following year she appeared in the television movie Skulduggery. In 1990 she made two guest appearances on The Bill.

In 1994 Emma Chambers began her long run as Alice, the verger at the church in Dibley in The Vicar of Dibley. That same year she appeared as Charity Pecksniff in a television mini-series adaptation of Martin Chuzzlewit. She also starred in the TV show How Do You Want Me? and the mini-series Take a Girl Like You. She guest starred on the shows The Mixer, Drop the Dead Donkey, and Pond Life. She was the voice of the gaoler's daughter in the animated TV movie adaptation of The Wind in the Willows. In the Nineties she appeared in the films Notting Hill (1999) and The Clandestine Marriage (1999). In the Naughts she was a voice on animated TV series Little Robots. She reprised the role of Alice in specials for The Vicar of Dibley.

Emma Chambers was a wonderful actress. No one could have played Alice on The Vicar of Dibley better than she did. Of course, she played more than just Alice. She was Charity Pecksniff, the level headed daughter of Seth Pecksniff in Martin Chuzzlewit. She played Hugh Grant's younger sister Honey in Notting Hill. In Take a Girl Like You she played the bored, cynical, and jealous Martha Thompson. Miss Chambers had a gift for comedy and appeared in various Comedy Relief specials. While Alice will be the character for which she will always be remembered (as well as her best loved character), she played a wide variety of characters in her career.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Barbara Alston of The Crystals Passes On

Barbara Alston, who was one of The Crystals at the height of the girl group's career, died on February 16 at the age of 74. The cause was complications from the flu.

Barbara Alston was born on December 29 1942 in Baltimore. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York. Before The Crystals, she was a member of a group called The Delphi Thezonians, who won a talent show. It was in 1961 that Miss Alston, Mary Thomas, Dee Dee Kenniebrew, Myrna Giraud, and Patsy Wright formed The Crystals with Miss Alston's . The group signed with Phil Spector's label Philles. Their first single was "There's No Other (Like My Baby)", on which Barbara Alston sang lead. She also sang lead on their second single, "Uptown". Miss Alston also sang lead on The Crystals' third single, about which she felt uneasy. "He Hit Me (and It Felt like a Kiss)" proved so controversial that Philles was forced to withdraw it from circulation.

The Crystals' next two singles would not actually be performed by The Crystals. Instead they were sang by Darlene Love and her group The Blossoms. The singles were the no. 1 record "He's a Rebel" and the song "He's Sure the Boy I Love". The Crystals would return to singing their own songs with "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)", although the vocals were taken over by Dolores "LaLa" Brooks, Barbara Alston was shy and not particularly comfortable singing lead.  "Da Doo Ron Ron" went to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their next single, "Then He Kissed Me", went to no. 6. Sadly, "Then He Kissed Me" proved to be their last hit. None of their singles released in 1964 reached the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100. Towards the end of the year, Barbara Alston left The Crystals.

In 1966 Barbara Alston appeared in the original 1966 production of Cabaret as one of the Kit Kat Girls. She would late part in a short lived reunion of The Crystals. For most of the remainder of her life she held secretarial positions, first in New York City and later in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Barbara Alston was a great singer. She a mellifluous voice that was perfect for a lead vocalist. Had her shyness not made her uncomfortable at the forefront she could have been one of the all time great lead singers. As it was, she was a member of one of the most successful girl groups of the Sixties.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Late Great Nanette Fabray

Nanette Fabray, star of stage, screen, and television, died on February 22 at the age of 97.

Nanette Fabray was born Ruby Bernadette Nanette Fabares on October 27 1920 in San Diego, California. She began her career while very young, making her debut in vaudeville when she was only four years old. She went to Los Angeles Junior College and studied acting under legendary director Max Reinhardt.

Miss Fabray made her film debut in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in 1939. That same year she appeared in A Child Is Born. She made her debut on Broadway in the production Meet the People in 1940. In the Forties she also appeared on Broadway in Let's Face It!, By Jupiter, My Dear Public, Jackpot, Bloomer Girl, High Button Shoes, Love Life, and Arms and the Girl. She made her television debut in 1949 in an episode of The Chevrolet Tele-Theatre.

In the Fifties Nanette Fabray was one of the stars of the classic movie musical The Band Wagon (1953).  On television she appeared on the television series Omnibus, Playhouse 90, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Arthur Murray Party, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Alcoa Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Laramie, and Startime. She was a regular on Caesar's Hour for its first two seasons. Miss Fabray also appeared in a television adaptation of High Button Shoes. On Broadway she appeared in Make a Wish.

Nanette Fabrary opened the Sixties starring in the sitcom The Nannette Fabray Show, also known as Westinghouse Playhouse and Yes, Yes Nanette. She also regularly appeared on the game show Hollywood Squares. She guest starred on the TV shows Burke's Law, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Hollywood Palace, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and The Jerry Lewis Show. She also appeared in the TV movies Alice Through the Looking Glass and Fame is the Name of the Game. She appeared in the films Happy Ending (1969) and Cockeyed Cowboys of Calico County (1970).  In the Sixties she appeared on Broadway in Mr. President.

In the Seventies Miss Fabray was a regular on the sitcom One Day at a Time. She continued to appear on Hollywood Squares and also appeared on Match Game. She guest starred on the show The Mary Tyler Moore Show; Love, American Style; Maude; and The Love Boat. She appeared in the film Harper Valley P.T.A. (1978). She appeared on Broadway in No Hard Feelings.

In the Eighties Miss Fabray continued to appear on One Day at a Time. She guest starred on Hotel, The Munsters Today, The Golden Palace, and Coach (on which her niece Shelley Fabares was one of the stars).  She appeared in the movies Amy (1981) and Personal Exemptions (1989).  In the Nineties she guest starred on the TV show Coach and appeared in the movie Teresa's Tattoo (1994).  She continued to appear on stage into the Naughts.

Quite simply, Nanette Fabray was an incredible talent. She could sing. She could dance. She was an incredible comedienne. As if that was not enough, she was also beautiful and vivacious. She created several memorable moments on television and on film, from the "Triplets", "That's Entertainment", and "Louisiana Hayride" numbers in The Band Wagon to sketches with the legendary Sid Caesar. Her talent was such that she could easily outshine even the stars of the shows on which she appeared. There can be little wonder she was very much in demand on variety shows and game shows. What is more, she left her mark on television, on stage, and in films. She was one of those few performers who seemed talented in everything: singing, dancing, acting, and comedy.