Saturday, July 1, 2023

I Wake Up Screaming

(This post is part of the Betty Grable Blogathon hosted by Taking Up Room)

I Wake Up Screaming
(1941) is notable for three reasons. First, it is one of the earliest movies that would later be called film noir. In fact, it is often counted as the first film noir made at 20th Century Fox. Second, it stars Betty Grable in a rare dramatic role. Both prior to and following I Wake Up Screaming (1941), she primarily did musicals and comedies. Third, it was an early role for Victor Mature. It was Mr. Mature's fifth movie and he considered it his first "real" movie.

I Woke Up Screaming (1941) starred Betty Grable as Jill Lynn, whose sister Vicky (Carole Landis) signs with a Hollywood producer. It is not long afterwards that Vicki is murdered. Jill then teams up with Frankie Christopher (Victor Mature), a sports promoter who sought to turn Vicky into a star and was accused of her murder to solve the mystery of Vicky's murder. This was not the first time that Betty Grable and Carole Landis had played sisters. They had also done so in the musical Moon Over Miami (1941). Of course, Miss Landis had previously appeared with Victor Mature in the caveman movie One Million B.C. (1940).

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) was based on the novel of the same name by Steve Fisher. Steve Fisher wrote for several pulp magazines, including Black Mask, Detective Story Magazine, Doc Savage, The Phantom Detective, and The Shadow. He later broke into slick magazines such as Colliers, Liberty, and The Saturday Morning Post before publishing novels. The movie I Wake Up Screaming  would see some changes from the novel. The novel is set in Hollywood, but Darryl F. Zanuck changed the setting to New York City because he did not like stories set in Hollywood. While the movie originally bore the same title as the novel, Zanuck changed the movie's title to Hot Spot. It was under the title Hot Spot that it was previewed in Pasadena, California. The preview bombed as the audience expected a musical, largely because of its star Betty Grable. The movie was then edited and its title changed back to the more fitting I Woke Up Screaming.

Betty Grable was not the only actress considered for the role of Jill in I Wake Up Screaming (1941). Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney had also been considered. Producer Milton Sperling decided on the unusual choice of Betty Grable, who was happy to play the role. Early on Lucille Ball was considered for the role of Vicky, which ultimately went to Carole Landis. George Raft and Cesar Romero had expressed interest in the role of Frankie Christopher, which ultimately went to Victor Mature. It was Mr. Mature's first film under his contract with 20th Century Fox. He would follow I Woke Up Screaming (1941) with another early noir, The Shanghai Gesture (1941).

In some respects, Betty Grable's role as Jill is not that far off from her characters in musicals and comedies. Jill is as wholesome as many of the other characters Miss Grable played. Originally she was even set to do a bit of singing in I Wake Up Screaming (1941), a scene in which she sings "Daddy" by songwriter Harold Arlen in a record store, but the scene was ultimately cut from the completed movie. And Darryl F. Zanuck made sure to take advantage of Betty Grable's already famous legs and Victor Mature's muscles. I Wake Up Screaming (1941), features a scene set at a swimming pool in which both are wearing swimsuits. Betty Grable was not particularly happy about the scene, saying it "...could just as easily have taken place in a drug store or a bar, but Zanuck would have me and Victor strip down. I loathed that scene."

Beyond Betty Grable, Victor Mature, and Carole Landis, I Wake Up Screaming (1941) featured other notable actors in its cast. Elisha Cook Jr. would make a career out of appearing in film noirs, and by the time he appeared in I Wake Up Screaming (1941) he had already appeared in Stranger on the Third Floor (1940), considered by some to be the first true film noir, and The Maltese Falcon (1941). Laird Creager played the none-too-nice police detective Ed Cornell. He would also go onto appear in the classic film noir This Gun for Hire (1942).

I Wake Up Screaming (1941) was well received by critics. It was also well received by audiences. The movie proved to be a hit and made  a profit of $574,100. The film still remains well respected to this day. Director H. Bruce Humberstone had earlier directed several "Charlie Chan" movies and such lighter fare as the comedies Pardon Our Nerve (1939) and The Quarterback (1940), but with I Wake Up Screaming (1941) he seems totally at home with film noir. Aside from featuring the archetypal noir plot of someone wrongly accused of murder, I Wake Up Screaming (1941) also features the shadows and low-key lighting that would come to define noir. H. Bruce Humberstone would never make another film noir, instead making musicals such as Wonder Man (1945) and The Desert Song (1953).

Following I Wake Up Screaming (1941) Betty Grable would have little opportunity to play dramatic roles. As the Forties progressed, she became established as a musical and comedic star, not to mention a wholesome pinup girl. As wonderful as Miss Grable was in musical comedies, in some ways this is sad. She did a wonderful job in I Wake Up Screaming, and it would be interesting to have seen her in other dramatic roles.

Friday, June 30, 2023

What Happens in Vegas... on Turner Classic Movies on July 11

Ocean's 11 (1960)

Call it "Sin City," "the Desert Oasis," or "the Entertainment Capital of the World," Las Vegas is one of the most famous cities on Earth. Las Vegas was founded in 1905 and legalized casino gambling in 1931. In 1946 New York City  gangster Bugsy Siegel, back up by Meyer Lansky, built The Flamingo. In the Fifties the Chicago Outfit would control its own casinos, the Stardust, the Desert Inn, and the Riviera. Neon lights, gambling, and the Mob made Las Vegas an ideal setting for movies.

On July 11 and July 12 2023 Turner Classic Movies is showing five movies with a Las Vegas theme. Among these is the Rat Pack classic Ocean's 11 (1960), which I consider the Las Vegas; the film noir The Las Vegas Story (1952); and the musical Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956). Below is the line-up of movies. All times are Central.

July 11 2023
7:00 PM Ocean's 11 (1960)
9:15 PM The Las Vegas Story (1956)
11:00 PM Bugsy (1990)

July 12 2023
1:30 AM Machine Gun McCain (1970)
3:30 AM Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)

Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Corner Bar: A Historic, But Forgotten Sitcom

Bill Fiore, Vincent Schiavelli, & Gabriel Dell
Chances are very good that not many remember or have even heard of the sitcom The Corner Bar. It was a summer replacement series that debuted on ABC on June 21 1972. After running for 10 episodes during the summer of 1972, it was retooled for its second season of six episodes in the late summer of 1973. While the show was not successful and is not well remembered, The Corner Bar is historic in featuring the first recurring gay character.

The Corner Bar was created by comedian Alan King and veteran television writer Herb Sargent, who had previously worked on such shows as The Steve Allen Show That Was the Week That Was. Among its producers was Howard Morris, veteran of Your Show of Shows and Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show. By 1972 Mr. Morris had already directed many hours of television. The Corner Bar starred Gabriel Dell as Harry Grant, who bought a bar in New York City called Grant's Tomb. Its premise was much like the classic radio show Duffy's Tavern or the classic sitcom Cheers insofar that it centred on the various patrons of Grant's Tomb, although it tended to be much more topical.

Among the patrons who frequented Grant's Tomb was Peter Panama, Broadway set designer who dressed flamboyantly. Peter was played by Vincent Schiavelli, who would go on to appear in the movies One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Peter Panama was the first recurring character to appear on an American television show who was openly gay. The Corner Bar could have then been said to have been a step forward in representation for homosexual characters except for one thing. Quite simply, from all reports Peter Panama was an outright stereotype.

Indeed, the character was not at all well received by the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), then the most influential gay activist organization. The group referred to Peter Panama as an "effeminate, inaccurate stereotype of the male homosexual." Richard Wandel, then president of the GAA, said of Peter Panama, "However, we cannot accept this ludicrous stereotype. No more than the Black community would accept a watermelon-eating, tap-dancing stereotype of a Black man."

When The Corner Bar returned for a second season on August 3 1973, Peter Panama was no longer part of the cast, although it is doubtful that his absence was due to any controversy over the character. Quite simply, The Corner Bar had been almost completely overhauled. Grant's Tomb was now owned by Mae (Anne Meara) and Frank Flynn (Eugene Roche). Only the characters Fred Costello (J. J. Barry), Phil Bracken (Bill Fiore), and Meyer Shapiro (Shimen Ruskin) were retained for the second season. Retooling The Corner Bar ultimately failed to help the show in the ratings. It did not return for a third season.

While The Corner Bar was a failure and Peter Panama was rejected by the gay community, the Seventies would see gay representation improve throughout the decade of the Seventies. It was later in 1972 that the television movie That Certain Summer aired on ABC, considered by many to be the first sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals on American television. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show episode "My Brother's Keeper," which aired on January 13 1973, Robert Moore, guest starred as Phyllis's brother Ben, who just happens to be gay. Like That Certain Summer, it would also be a sympathetic portrayal of a gay man. While homosexual stereotypes would continue to appear on American television well in the Eighties, as the Seventies progressed there was also an increase in more realistic, more sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals.

Today The Corner Bar remains largely unavailable. At only sixteen episodes it was never rerun. It also seems unlikely to ever appear on streaming services. Currently, it would appear that the UCLA Film and Television Archive, which has one episode each from the two seasons, is the only place anyone can see even a portion of The Corner Bar. Regardless, while largely unavailable and forgotten, The Corner Bar was historic.

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Late Great Julian Sands

Julian Sands, who starred in the movies A Room with a View (1985) and Warlock (1989), went missing while on a hike on a trail on Mount Baldy in California on January 13 2023. Human remains recently found by hikers were confirmed to be Mr. Sands on June 27 2023.

Julian Sands was born on January 4 1958 in  Otley, West Riding of Yorkshire. He attended Lord Wandsworth College in Hamphsire. He studied acting at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He appeared in the short film "Broken Enilgsh" in 1979.

In 1982 he made his television debut in a small part in an episode of Play for Today. He made his film debut in 1983 in a small part in Privates on Parade. In the Eighties he appeared in the movies Oxford Blues (1984), The Killing Fields (1984), After Darkness (1985), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), A Room with a View (1985), Gothic (1986), Siesta (1987), Vibes (1988), Wherever You Are (1988), Warlock (1989), Manika, une vie plus tard (1989), Tennessee Nights (1989), Il sole anche di notte (1990), and Arachnophobia (1990). On television he appeared in the mini-series A Married Man and The Sun Also Rises. He appeared in the TV movies Romance on the Orient Express, The Holy Experiment, Harem, Basements, Murder on the Moon, and Blood Royal: William the Conqueror. He guest starred on the show The Box of Delights.

In the Nineties Mr. Sands appeared in the movies Impromptu (1991), Cattiva (1991), Grand Isle (1991), La villa del venerdì (1991), Naked Lunch (1991), The Turn of the Screw (1992), Tale of a Vampire (1992), Boxing Helena (1993), Warlock: The Armageddon (1993), The Browning Version (1994), Mario und der Zauberer (1994), Leaving Las Vegas (1995), Never Ever (1996), One Night Stand (1997), Long Time Since (1998), The Loss of Sexual Innocence (1998), Il fantasma dell'opera (1998), Mercy (2000), The Million Dollar Hotel (2000), Love me (2000),  Timecode (2000), and Vatel (2000). On television he guest starred on the shows Chicago Hope and Strangers. He provided voices for the animated shows Biker Mice from Mars, Adventures from the Book of Virtues, and The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest. He appeared in the TV movies Witch Hunt, The Tomorrow Man, and End of Summer.

In the Naughts he appeared on television in the fifth season of the show 24. He also had roles on the short-lived show Lipstick Jungle and Bollywood Hero. He guest starred on the shows The L Word, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Marple, Blood Ties, Ghost Whisperer, Castle, and Smallville. Julian Sands appeared in the mini-series Rose Red and Napoleon. He appeared in the TV movie Ring of the Nibelungs. He was the voice of Valmont on the animated show Jackie Chan Adventures. He appeared in the movies The Scoundrel's Wife (2002), The Medallion (2003), Easy Six (2003), Romasanta (2004), Her Name is Carla (2006), La piste (2006), Ocean's Thirteen (2007), Cat City (2008), Blood and Bone (2009), Heidi 4 Paws (2009), Golf in the Kingdom (2010), and Assisting Venus (2010).

In the Teens Julian Sands appeared on television on the shows Crossbones and Will. He guest starred on the shows Above Suspicion, NTSF:SD:SUV, Person of Interest, Dexter, Banshee, Rosamunde Pilcher, Crónica de Castas, The Village, Banshee Origins, Gotham, The Blacklist, Elementary, Medici, and Into the Dark. He appeared in the mini-series Man in an Orange Shirt and What/If. He appeared in the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Hirokin (2012), Suspension of Disbelief (2012),  All Things to All Men (2013), Cesar Chavez (2014), GHB: To Be or Not to Be (2014), Me (2014), Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks (2014), Sariel (2015) The Loner (2016), El elegido (2016), Crooked House (2017), Toy Gun (2018), Walk Like a Panther (2018), Trautmann (2018), The Painted Bird (2019), The Garden of Evening Mists (2019), and Yeh Ballet (2020). He was the narrator of the segment "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" in the movie Extraordinary Tales (2013) and the movie Borley Rectory (2017). He provided voices for Bongee Bear and the Kingdom of Rhythm (2019) and Bobbleheads: The Movie (2020).

In the 2020s, Julian Sands appeared in the movies Death Rider in the House of Vampires (2021), Benediction (2021), The Survivalist (2021), The Ghosts of Borley Rectory (2021), The Ghost of Monday (2022), Seneca: On the Creation of Earthquakes (2023), and The Piper (2023).

Julian Sand also provided voices for several videos games, including Star Wars: The Old Republic and the voice of Q in several James Bond video games.

Julian Sands was a remarkable actor with a great deal of versatility. He could play in romances, most notably appearing as the independent thinking George Emerson in A Room with a View. In The Browning Version he had a small role as the enthusiastic new Head of Modern Languages Tom Gilbert. In Gothic he played poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Julian Sands was perfectly capable of playing villains as well. In Warlock he played the spellcaster of the title, a 17th century warlock who travels through time to begin a reign of terror in 20th Century Los Angeles. In Boxing Helena he played Dr. Nick Cavanaugh, who holds a woman captive in his home and begins to amputate her limbs to keep her there. Julian Sands had an incredible amount of talent, and could play a wide variety of roles.

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Classic Movie Channels That Ceased to Be "Classic"

Last week the many layoffs at Turner Classic Movies alarmed TCM fans. Almost immediately, a campaign to save Tuner Classic Movies was launched. While there have been reassurances from the hosts, well know filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson, and even Warner Discovery itself, TCM fans remain concerned that Turner Classic Movies could be changed beyond all recognition or even closed entirely. Given the history of classic movie channels in the Untied States, it is very difficult to argue that TCM fans don't have reason to be concerned.

Indeed, the very reason many TCM fans may be worried about Turner Classic Movies is the history of AMC, which began life as American Movie Classics. American Movie Classics was launched on October 1 1984. Its original focus was classic movies made before the 1950s, in contrast to TCM which from its launch was  intended to show not only films from the Silent Era, the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties, but movies from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties as well. In other respects, however, American Movie Classic was TCM before there was a TCM. Like TCM, American Movie Classics had hosts who would introduce movies on the channel, most notably Bob Dorian, but also Nick Clooney and Gene Klavan. Like TCM, American Movie Classics would sometimes show marathons of related movies (for example, the Marx Brothers films). Like TCM, American Movies also had its own original programming devoted to classic cinema, such as the interview show Classic Stories from Classic Stars and Star Facts. American Movie Classics even had a programming block not unlike TCM Underground or Noir Alley. American Pop! was devoted to youth-oriented films from the Fifties and Sixties (for example, the "Beach Party" movies). Much like Turner Classic Movies, American Movie Classic was involved with film preservation. It even had its annual Film Preservation Festival, devoted to preserving rare film that was organized with The Film Foundation.

Unfortunately, American Movie Classics would not last as a classic movie channel. Originally the channel had shown movies without commercial interruption much like TCM. It was in 1998 that AMC began showing commercials between films. By 2001 commercials were being shown during movie broadcasts. It was in 2002 that American Movie Classics was rebranded as simply "AMC" and shifted from showing only classic movies to showing movies from all eras. Over time AMC would drift almost entirely from showing older movies to showing movies from the Eighties, Nineties, Naughts, and Teens. As to AMC's shift away from classic movies, at least part of the reason may have been due to competition from Turner Classic Movies. Founded in 1994 and able to draw upon those libraries owned by Warner, among them the Warner Bros. library and the MGM library, TCM proved to be stiff competition for American Movie Classics.

Another classic movie channel to drift away from showing classic movies is the FX Movie Channel. It was launched on October 31 1994 as fxM: Movies from Fox. Its focus was classic movies from the 20th Century Fox library. Like American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies, in the beginning movies were shown commercial free. It was in 2000 that the channel's name was changed to the less awkward Fox Movie Channel. Fox Movie Channel's status as a channel that only showed classic movies came to an end in 2012. Its programming was divided into two programming blocks: from 3:00 AM to 3:00 PM Eastern it would show classic movies, while from 3:00 PM to 3:00 AM Eastern it would show more recent films. It was the same time that Fox Movie Channel started showing commercials. While the channel would change its name back to FXM in 2014, it has continued to show the two programming blocks of recent movies from late afternoon to early morning and classic movies from early morning to late afternoon.

A third channel that drifted away from showing classic movies is a broadcast channel rather than a cable channel as AMC, TCM, and FXM are. getTV was launched February 3 2014 by Sony Pictures as a digital broadcast channel devoted to classic movies. getTV would cease being solely a classic movie channel rather early in its history. In 2016 its programming expanded to classic television as well as classic movies. Over time getTV would drift entirely away from showing classic movies to concentrate on showing classic TV shows. Among the shows currently on getTV are The Rockford Files, Sanford and Son, and Nichols.

Given the histories of FXM, getTV, and particularly AMC, it is easy to understand why TCM fans are anxious when it comes to the future of Turner Classic Movies. And I am not going to say my fellow TCM fans have no reason for concern, particularly given I am worried about Turner Classic Movies as well. Even so, I think we do have some reasons for hope. First, TCM is in a much better position than AMC was in the late Nineties and early Naughts. Turner Classic Movies is still received by many homes across the United States. At the end of 2020 68.2 million homes received TCM. Furthermore, it really has no competition. There simply aren't any other channels out there devoted solely to airing classic movies, let airing them commercial free. Second, as seen in the ongoing outcry at the layoffs at Turner Classic Movies, TCM has a large and fiercely loyal fandom. Indeed, for many of us TCM isn't merely a classic movie channel, it is a way of life. What is more, it isn't just we fiercely loyal TCM fans (who might quite rightfully be called "fanatics") who were angered by last week's layoffs, but even casual fans like my brother. In nearly gutting TCM, Warner Discovery awakened a sleeping giant, and I think they are well aware of that. Third, while Turner Classic Movies may not generate the revenue that some of Warner Discovery's other channels do, it has always made a profit. What is more, its production costs are considerably lower than many of Warner Discovery's other channels. Shutting down TCM or changing its format would be in effect looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Despite the fact that nearly every other classic movie channel drifted away from showing classic movies or only showing classic movies, I think it is quite possible that Turner Movie Classics could continue showing classic movies for many years to come. Right now I think it is important that we fans do not give up hope and that we continue to apply pressure to Warner Discovery. It's time they realize how special TCM really is.

Epilogue: If you want to write the Warner Discovery Board of Directors, you can do so at Board of Directors; Warner Discovery; c/o Office of the Corporate Secretary; 230 Park Avenue South; New York City, New York 10003. If you do write them, please be firm, but remain polite and please refrain from insults or any demeaning language. Simply let them know how much you love TCM and if they close TCM or attempt to change it beyond recognition, you will not watch any of their other channels. No TLC, no Discovery Channel, no HGTV. Right now it is difficult to determine how much danger TCM is in, but I believe we can save it.