Saturday, April 7, 2018

My Choices for the 2018 TCM Classic Film Festival

It is a sad fact that I have never gotten to attend the Turner Classic Movies Classic Film Festival. What is more, I won't get to attend it again this year. That does not keep me from playing armchair quarterback and going through the schedule and deciding which films I want to see and which events I want to attend. This year's festival appears to present fewer conflicts for me with regards as to what I would like to see than most years , although there are still a few.

Thursday, April 26:

Given I have never gone to TCMFF, I might attend the First Timers Meet-Up at 10:00 AM, although honestly I know many people who have attended the festival, not to mention many of the "tricks of the trade" for surviving and enjoying the festival. I would definitely attend "So You Think You Know Movies", hosted by Bruce Goldstein, which sounds like fun. Of course, I would also want to attend the Welcome Party at 5:00 PM.

It is at 6:30 PM that I would have my first conflict of the festival. As a long time fan of Martin Scorsese, I would definitely want to see the first ever Robert Osborne Award presented to him, not to mention see The Producers (1968) on the big screen with Mel Brooks in attendance. The problem is that it overlaps with Them! (1954) at 7:30 PM. Ultimately I would probably go see Martin Scorsese, Mel Brooks, and The Producers, although I would hate missing Them!. There is also another conflict later in the night. Throne of Blood (1957) begins at 9:15 PM, while Fail-Safe (1964) begins at 9:45 PM. I wouldn't be able to see both, although since Akira Kurosawa is my all time favourite director I would probably attend Throne of Blood.

Friday, April 27

If I could wake up that early, I would probably attend Strangers on a Train (1951) at 9:00 AM. Regardless of whether I could get up early enough for Strangers on a Train, I would definitely try to see Witness for the Prosecution (1957) with Ruta Lee. As many of my friends know, I adore Ruta Lee and I would like to see her in person. At 2:30 PM I would probably try to see "Harold Lloyd: New Dimensions in Sight and Sound", as I have always been a Harold Lloyd fan. At night I would catch Creature from the Black Lagoon at 7:15 PM (in 3D no less) and then Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter (1957) at 9:30 PM.

Saturday, April 28

Saturday presents the biggest conflicts of the whole festival for me. At 9:00 AM I can stay in bed and sleep (I have never been a morning person), watch His Girl Friday (1940), The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), Kiss Med Deadly (1955), or A Letter to Three Wives (1949). I love all of these movies. What is worse, they are hosted by many people I like a good deal as well (The Ox-Bow Incident by Scott Eyman and Kiss Me Deadly by Eddie Muller). I would have a big problem deciding which to go through, particularly at a time when I am usually asleep or just getting up!

12:00 noon presents me with another conflict. I would like to see Bullitt (1968) on the big screen at 11:45 AM. I am a huge Steve McQueen fan and it is one of my favourites of the movies he made. Unfortunately at 11:30 AM there is This Thing Called Love (1940). Not only does it star Rosalind Russell and Melvyn Douglas, two of my all time favourite actors, but it is also hosted by Illeana Douglas, Melvyn Douglas's granddaughter and one of my favourite people in the whole wide world. I hope Steve McQueen would forgive me, but I would probably go see This Thing Called Love.

At 2:30 PM I would probably attend "An Invisible History: Trailblazing Women of Animation". It overlaps with Sunset Boulevard at 3:00 PM, but I am a huge animation fan and I am sure I will have other opportunities to see Sunset Boulevard on the big sreen. At 7:00 PM I would go see The Lost Weekend (1945). 9:30 PM presents me with more conflicts. I love The Big Lebowski (1988), but it is being shown at the same time as The Raven (1963), with Sara Karloff in attendance. At 9:45 is Scarface (1932), with John Carpenter. I really don't know which of these I would decide to attend, although I would love to see Sara Karloff or John Carpenter in person.

Sunday, April 29

Okay, Sunday I would probably sleep in (or in my case, get up when I usually do...). At 12:30 PM I would go to "Growing up Mankiewicz" which centres on the Mankiewicz family. As a fan of seeming the entire family (from Herman and Joe Mankiewicz to Josh and Ben Mankiewicz) I would want to attend this, particularly as it is being moderated by Illeana Douglas. At 3:30 PM I would watch Silk Stockings (1957) and at 7:00 PM I would attend Animal House (1978). Naturally I would go to the Closing Night Party.

Of course, here I must point out that I did not take into account the possible distance between events (I have never been to Los Angeles, so I'm not familiar with the terrain), so that could affect some of what I would go see if I was actually there. I also did not take into account that at some point I will have to eat, not to mention meet up with my many friends who will be attending the festival. Regardless, as usual, TCMFF offers so much that it is impossible for one to see everything!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Bette Davis in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)

 (This post is part of the 3rd Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood)

By the early Forties, Bette Davis was among the most powerful actresses in Hollywood.  Her films saw such success that she was Warner Bros.' most profitable star. She had also received her share of acclaim, winning Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938), and receiving Oscar nominations for Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), and The Little Foxes (1941). Such was Miss Davis's power that she had some control in the movies in which she was cast and even who else was cast in those movies. Indeed, Bette Davis was largely responsible for The Man Who Came to Dinner(1942) being made.

The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) was based on the 1939 play of the same name by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. The play starred Monty Woolley as Sheridan Whiteside, an acerbic radio host who winds up staying with an upper middle class family (the Stanleys) when he slips on the steps of their home at Christmastime. George S Kaufman and Moss Hart based several of the characters in the play on actual people. Most notably, Sheridan Whiteside was loosely based on critic and radio personality Alexander Woollcott.  Gertrude Lawrence provided the inspiration for actress Lorraine Sheridan, while Noel Coward provided the inspiration for Beverly Carlton. Harpo Marx was the inspiration for the character of Banjo. The play proved extremely successful, running for 739 performances  and enjoying success in London and on the road as well as Broadway.

As to how Bette Davis helped bring The Man Who Came to Dinner to the big screen, after having played serious roles in such films as Dark Victory and The Little Foxes, she decided she was ready for a change of pace. Miss Davis saw The Man Who Came to Dinner on Broadway and thought that she would be perfect for the role of Sheridan Whiteside's secretary Maggie Cutler. She persuaded Jack Warner, then head of Warner Bros., to get the rights to the play as a vehicle for her and John Barrymore (who would have played Sheridan Whiteside).

John Barrymore did test for the role, but ultimately did not get the part because he had problems with the play's fast paced dialogue, as well as concerns over his alcoholism. Laird Cregar and Robert Benchley also tested for the role of Sheridan Whiteside, but executive producer Hal B. Wallis objected to both of them. Jack Warner suggested Cary Grant for the role of Sheridan Whiteside, but both Hal B. Wallis and Bette Davis objected to Mr. Grant being cast in the role. Mr. Wallis thought Cary Grant was too young and too attractive for the part. Bette Davis flatly said she would rather act opposite John Barrymore while he was drunk than Cary Grant. Finally Monty Wooley, who had originated the role of Sheridan Whiteside on Broadway, was cast in the part in the movie. Miss Davis was not particularly happy with the casting of Monty Wooley, but in her later years she simply said of his casting, "I guess I never got over my disappointment in not working with the great John Barrymore."

In addition to Monty Wooley, two other veterans of the Broadway show would be cast in the movie. Mary Wickes made her screen debut in the film playing Miss Preen, the nurse who has the unenviable task of taking care of Sheridan Whiteside. Ruth Vivian played the part of Ernest Stanley's crazy sister Harriet. Much of the rest of the cast was filled by rather well known performers. Ann Sheridan, already known as "the Oomph Girl", played Lorraine Sheldon. Reginald Gardiner was cast as Beverly Carlton. Jimmy Durante played Banjo.

Bette Davis was not particularly happy during the making of The Man Who Came to Dinner. She was not particularly happy with William Keighley's direction of the film, which she felt "...was not directed in a very imaginative way." For the first few days of shooting Bette Davis and Monty Woolley did not get along, although she eventually warmed to him. During rehearsal Miss Davis was bitten by a dog on her nose and she was not able to film any scenes for several weeks.

While Miss Davis was not particularly happy making The Man Who Came to Dinner, the film proved to be a success. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote of the movie, " It makes laughing at famous people a most satisfying delight." Variety described it as, "One of the most welcome comedies of the season." Audiences also enjoyed The Man Who Came To Dinner, which proved to be a hit at the box office. Strangely enough, while The Man Who Came to Dinner is set at Christmas, it premiered on January 1 1942 in New York City and went into wide release on January 24, well after Christmas was over.

The Man Who Came to Dinner is notable for more than being a classic comedy (and perhaps Bette Davis's most famous comedy as well). Even though Bette Davis received top billing, there can be no doubt that the star of the film is Monty Woolley. As Sheridan Whiteside he is on screen for the majority of the film, and it is Whiteside's various machinations that fuel the plot of the film. That having been said, Bette Davis gives one of her best performances as Maggie. Maggie is one of the few characters who can match wits with Sheridan Whiteside, as well as the one who serves as a his conscience. She also happens to be a love interest in the film, falling in love with local newspaperman Bert Jefferson (played by Richard Travis). Maggie is also one of Bette Davis's most sympathetic roles, as well as one of her most understated. Unlike many of the characters Miss Davis played over the years, Maggie Cutler is down-to-earth and sensible, but possessed of a biting wit when necessary (which with Sheridan Whiteside can be often).

Of course, The Man Who Came to Dinner is filled with great performances, and the entire cast is in top form in the movie. It is a classic comedy where the funny lines come so swiftly it takes multiple viewings to catch them all. It is also proof of Bette Davis's talent as an actress, playing a secondary character in an ensemble and remaining memorable all the same.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Abraham, Martin and John by Dion

It was fifty years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The death of Dr. King sent shock waves through the nation, with race riots taking place in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Baltimore, Louisville, Kansas City, and several other cities. James Farmer, Jr. and other civil rights leaders reminded people of Dr. King's message of nonvioelnce. President Lyndon B. Johnson declared April 7 a national day of mourning for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was only a few months later that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 6 1968. The murders of two men of significance in American society so close together would have a lasting impact on American popular culture. Part of that impact was the composition of the song "Abraham, Martin and John" by Dick Holler. The song was a tribute to four men who had been assassinated: President Abraham Lincoln, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy. The song was recorded by Dion and released in August 1968. It peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went all the way to no. 1 on the Canadian RPM 100.

Here is Dion in a clip from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour performing the song "Abraham, Martin and John".

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Planet of the Apes (1968) Turns 50

Planet of the Apes (1968) premiered in New York City on February 8 1968. It was fifty years ago today that Planet of the Apes went into wide release. The film would prove highly successful, producing four sequels, two television series, a remake, and then a rebooted series of movies. Arguably Planet of the Apes (1968) would spark one of the most successful film franchises of all time.

Planet of the Apes (1968) was based on the novel La planète des singes by Pierre Boulle, published in France in January 1963. According to legendary writer Rod Serling, the trip of Pierre Boulle's novel to the screen began with King Brothers Productions, who had bought the film rights to the novel and commissioned him to write the screenplay. Agent turned producer Arthur P. Jacobs's account contradicts that of Rod Serling, as he claimed that he bought the screen rights before La planète des singes was even published in France. Regardless of whether King Brothers Productions ever had the rights to the novel, they did not keep them for long. At some point in 1963 Arthur P. Jacobs acquired the movie rights to the book. It would be the beginning of the novel's long odyssey to the big screen.

Indeed, Arthur P. Jacobs had some difficulty getting Planet of the Apes (1968) to the screen.  He brought director J. Lee Thompson (then perhaps best known for The Guns of Navarone) onto the project. He also tried to interest MGM, Paramount, 20th Century Fox, and United Artists in Planet of the Apes by sending them copies of the novel (which was published in the United States in June 1963). Vice President of United Artists David D. Picker reportedly expressed some interest in the film, but could not persuade his fellow executives that the studio should produce the film. For the lead role, Arthur P. Jacobs wanted Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, or Burt Lancaster.

It was in December 1963 that 20th Century Fox bought the film rights to the book from Arthur P. Jacobs. Unfortunately for 20th Century Fox, their big budget blockbuster Cleopatra (1963) bombed at the box office. Nearly bankrupt, 20th Century Fox then simply offered the rights to Planet of the Apes to other studios in exchange for the cost of development. In the meantime, J. Lee Thompson decided he had no more time to devote the project and sold his share in Planet of the Apes back to Arthur P. Jacobs. Mr. Jacobs then sought a director to replace J. Lee Thompson.

It was in February 1964 that Mr. Jacobs's APJAC Productions made a tentative deal with Warner Bros. to produce Planet of the Apes. Blake Edwards was set to direct the film. Shirley MacLaine would play the chimpanzee scientist Zira (the role played by Kim Hunter in the film). Rock Hudson was briefly considered for the role of the chimpanzee Cornelius. For the human lead Paul Newman, Jack Lemmon, and Rock Hudson were considered. Rod Serling was still employed to adapt the novel, reporting to both Blake Edwards and Arthur P. Jacobs.

Rod Serling would write two drafts of the screenplay and then make several revisions. His original screenplay remained more faithful to the original novel than the eventual movie would be, with the apes possessing 20th Century technology (including cars, television, and so on).

As of January 1965 Warner Bros. was still planning on producing Planet of the Apes. Its budget was estimated at $7, 478, 750, which was extremely high for a movie budget in the mid-Sixties. Blake Edwards was still set to direct the film. Unfortunately, Warner Bros. was unable to find anyone to back the film and ultimately dropped out of the project. Blake Edwards left the project not long afterwards.

Arthur P. Jacobs was undeterred and set about searching for a new director. He tried to interest directors Sydney Pollack and Irvin Kershner in the project. He also tried to recruit Peter Ustinov for the role of Dr. Zaius. Eventually Mr. Jacobs was able to get Charlton Heston as the male lead for the film. It was Mr. Heston who recommended director Franklin J. Schaffner to Arthur P. Jacobs. Arthur P. Jacobs also tried shopping the project around to various studios. Despite having a big name star, every one of them rejected Planet of the Apes.

Eventually Arthur P. Jacobs was able to bring legendary actor Edward G. Robinson onto the project. They then produced a ten minute screen test with Mr. Robinson as Dr. Zaius and Charlton Heston in the lead role. Edward G. Robinson's makeup for the screen test was created by legendary makeup artist Ben Nye, who had worked on films from Gone with the Wind (1939) to The Fly (1958). The screen test was shown to 20th Century Fox's head, Richard F. Zanuck. The screen test convinced Mr. Zanuck that Planet of the Apes was viable, although it would take several months before he could convince the studio's board that it was. It was largely the success of the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (1966) that led 20th Century Fox to produce Planet of the Apes (1968). It was on September 26 1966 that the studio's decision to produce the film was announced.

Of course, the makeup used to turn most of the film's actors into apes would be central to it success. While Ben Nye developed the makeup used for the screen test, it would be John Chambers who would create the makeup for the feature film. Mr. Chambers had previously worked on the TV shows The Munsters and The Outer Limits, and also developed the pointed ears worn by Mr. Spock and other Vulcans on Star Trek. The makeup worn by the actors playing apes in Planet of the Apes took several hours to apply. Because of just how many actors would be playing apes in the film, John Chambers actually had to train people as makeup artists so that they would have enough makeup artists on the film. In the end 25 makeup artists worked on Planet of the Apes (1968).  By some estimates, about one-third of the budget of Planet of the Apes was devoted to its makeup effects.

While much of the film's success would depend upon makeup, like any other film much of its success would also depend upon its script. Charles Eastman was brought onto the project to improve the script's dialogue in the spring of March 1966. Mr. Eastman submitted his treatment in December 1966. Ultimately he would be dismissed from the project because he made too many changes to Rod Serling's original script.

It was then that Michael Wilson, who had worked on films from It's a Wonderful Life (1946) to A Place in the Sun (1951) before falling victim to the Hollywood blacklist, was hired to rework the script. Michael Wilson remained largely faithful to Rod Serling's script, although he would make one major change. While Rod Serling portrayed the apes as living in a relatively modern society, Michael Wilson placed them in a more primitive society. Other changes would come yet later. Originally named "Thomas", the lead character would be renamed "Taylor" apparently at the time shooting began. A more major change was the film's ending. In Rod Serling's original ending, the character of Thomas dies. It was rather late that the film received the twist ending for which it is now famous today.

Although he took part in the screen test, ultimately Edward G. Robinson would not play Dr. Zaius because of the extensive makeup involved. In the end Maurice Evans, now best known for playing Samantha's father Maurice on Bewitched, was cast as Dr. Zaius. Makeup would also be the concern of an actress cast as Zira. Julie Harris had been cast in the role, but backed out due to the makeup involved. Kim Hunter was then cast in the role. Roddy McDowall was cast in the role of Cornelius and would remain a constant in the film series. He appeared in every one of the original Planet of the Apes films except Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) and appeared in the 1974 TV series as well.

Planet of the Apes premiered in New York City on February 8 1968. It opened in London on March 21 and then in Los Angeles on March 27. It was on April 3 that it opened in theatres across the United States. Reviews of the film were for the most part positive. In Variety A.D. Murphy referred to Planet of the Apes as " amazing film." Roger Ebert gave the film a good review, saying it was "...quickly paced, completely entertaining, and its philosophical pretensions don't get in the way." John Mahoney in The Hollywood Reporter and Pauline Kael of The New Yorker both gave Planet of the Apes good reviews. While there were exceptions (notably Renata Adler in The New York Times), most critics gave the film positive notices.

Audiences were also taken with Planet of the Apes. It proved to be one of the highest grossing films of 1968. In fact, the film did so well that in April 1968 20th Century Fox requested a sequel to Planet of the Apes from APJAC. In the end it would produce four sequels . When the first three movies aired on CBS in late 1973, it created an "apes" craze that would result in a prime time TV series and a Saturday morning cartoon. Since then there has been a remake and a reboot of the series consisting of three movies so far. The film has also been parodied many times, notably in an episode of The Simpsons.

Ultimately Planet of the Apes would not only be one of the most successful films of 1968, but perhaps of the Sixties as well. While there are films that made more money during the decade, there are very few that have had the impact on popular culture that Planet of the Apes has. Indeed, it was one of the earliest science fiction franchises, pre-dating such franchises as Star Wars and Alien. The Planet of the Apes craze of 1973-1975 would result in merchandising on a level that had rarely been seen before and to a degree set a precedent for movies to come.  In the end Planet of the Apes is arguably one of the most influential films of all time.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Godspeed Steven Bochco

Steven Bochco, the creator of such television shows as Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD. Blue, died yesterday, April 1 2018, at the age of 74. The cause was complications from leukaemia.

Steven Bochco was born on December 16 1943 in New York City. His father was a concert violinist. His mother was a painter. He attended Manhattan High School of Music and Art and then the Carnegie Institute of Technology. After graduating from college he went to work for Universal Television. He was a story editor on the show The Name of the Game. He co-wrote the screenplay for the movie The Counterfeit Killer (1968).  He created the show The New Doctors, which was part of the umbrella show The Bold Ones.

The Seventies would find Mr. Bochco very busy. He was a story editor on Columbo and wrote several episodes of the show, including the very first episode, "Murder by the Book".  He also wrote episodes of such shows as The New Doctors, The Invisible Man, The Gemini Man, Delvecchio, MacMillan & Wife, and Turnabout. He created the shows Richie Brockelman, Private Eye; and Paris. He served as an executive story consultant on MacMillan & Wife. He co-wrote the screenplay for the motion picture Silent Running (1972).  It was in 1978 that Steven Bochco moved to MTM Enterprises, for whom he created the TV show Paris.

It was in 1981 that one of Steven Bochco's most lasting successes debuted, the TV show Hill Street Blues. Co-created by Michael Kozoll, the show initially suffered from low ratings, but received positive notices from critics as well as Emmy Awards. Although never a hit in the ratings, Hill Street Blues ranked in the top thirty for several years and developed a loyal following. In the Eighties Mr. Bochco also created such shows as L. A. Law, Hooperman, and Doogie Howser M.D. He wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone and Columbo.

In the Nineties Steven Bochco would have another major success with the TV show NYPD. Blue. Controversial for its time, it proved to be a hit and ran for twelve seasons. He also created such shows as Public Morals, Murder One, Brooklyn South, and City of Angels. In the Naughts he created such shows as Philly, Blind Justice, Over There, and Raising the Bar. In the Teens he co-created the show Murder in the First.

Steven Bochco was a truly revolutionary television producer and he was quite possibly one of the greatest creators of television shows of all time. His shows would have a lasting impact on television to this day. Hill Street Blues revolutionised the police drama, with an ensemble cast, serialised storylines, and a more realistic view of police work than had been seen before. NYPD Blue pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable on network television. Although it would not see the success of Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, in some respects Murder One was Steven Bochco's most revolutionary show. Each of the show's seasons centred on a single murder case, taking the serialised storylines and ensemble casts of Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue to new levels. Steven Bochco would have the occasional misfire (Cop Rock was not only a ratings failure, but is sometimes also counted among the worst shows of all time), but even when he did, his shows were different from anything else that was on. Of course, Steven Bochco was not simply a successful producer or even simply a revolutionary one. He was a producer whose shows would have such an impact that American television would never be the same. From The Sopranos to Mad Men, many shows aired in the past three decades were influenced by the work of Steven Bochco.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Easter 2018

If you are a regular reader of A Shroud of Thoughts, you are probably familiar with the custom here of positing vintage pinups on certain holidays. Easter is no different, so here are this year's Easter pinups.

First up is Adele Jergens and some friends.

Next up is Cleo Moore and a rather large rabbit (or maybe it's a hare...)

Next is Vera-Ellen, who is hatching out of an egg!

Gila Golan is also hatching out of an egg!

Some lucky person is getting Heather Angel in his or her Easter basket!

And here is Ann Miller celebrating Easter with a friend!

Happy Easter!