Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Charles Coburn: What a Character!

WHAT A CHARACTER: Charles Coburn

Every fan of classic films should know the face of Charles Coburn if not the name.   He has appeared in many films usually portraying elderly authority figures.  He was born in Macon, Georgia in 1877.  He spent the majority of his career performing on stage.  In fact, he did not begin his film career until he was in his 60s.    Many of Coburn's well known films were comedies.  Some of his most memorable comedic roles were in the following:

The Lady Eve (1941):

Coburn portrayed Barbara Stanwyck's father, "Colonel" Harrington.  Harrington is a con man card shark who taught his daughter well the art of fleecing unsuspecting marks. They set their eyes on na├»ve Charles Pike(Henry Fonda) as their next mark.  How disappointing for professional con  Harrington when his daughter ends up falling in love with Charles Pike and protects Pike from her father’s card tricks?

George Washington Slept Here (1942):

Coburn played Connie Fuller's (Anne Sheridan) rich uncle Stanley.  Whenever he arrives for a visit Connie and husband, Bill (Jack Benny), are sure to cover the living room with numerous pictures of good old Uncle Stanley.  After all, they want to make sure rich Uncle Stanley knows just how much they love him. In dire need of money to save their home, the Fullers turn to Stanley who is their only hope.  Imagine their shock when they discover all is not as it seems with Uncle Stanley’s fortune.

The More The Merrier (1943)

In his Academy Award Winning role for Best Supporting Actor, Coburn portrayed millionaire Benjamin Dingle.  Dingle arrives in Washington DC as an Advisor on how to handle the housing shortage during WWII.  However when he arrives in DC, he discovers his hotel room isn't ready.  He answers the ad of Connie Milligan(Jean Arthur), who is seeking a roommate.  She sublets him half of her apartment, and they have to learn how to live in this shared space despite having different personalities.  Things get even more complicated( and funny) when Dingle sublets half of his half to Sgt. Joe Carter (Joel McCrea).

Comedy may be the genre Coburn had the most roles, however that does not mean he didn't foray into other film types.  In fact, one of his most memorable roles is in the drama "King's Row."

King's Row (1942):
In this movie, Coburn portrayed sadistic doctor Henry Gordon. Dr. Gordon is rumored to perform surgery without anesthesia.  His daughter, Louise(Nancy Colman) is in a relationship with rich boy Drake(Ronald Reagan).   When Drake's fortune is stolen, he goes to work on the railroad. When he gets injured, vindictive and sadistic Gordon needlessly amputates both of Drake's legs out of hatred.  This was a far cry from the harmless, lovable characters he was known for playing.

In each of the films listed and many more unlisted, Coburn had a presence about him.   He was a familiar face that audiences loved to see. Even fans of today get a real pleasure from his performances.  A character actor that was always reliable to bring out the best. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Real in Memory As In Flesh....How Green Was My Valley

"How Green Was My Valley" is a John Ford masterpiece.   It premiered in 1941 and became a successful and popular film. It beat out "Citizen Kane" for Best Picture.  It boasts of a great cast with Walter Pidgeon, Maureen O'Hara, Donald Crisp, and Roddy McDowall in his first major feature film.

Now when I think about this movie, one word stands in the forefront of my mind: Memory. The life that is found within a memory.   The film begins in a dying town. A town that was stripped of its life by the coal mine. A faceless man is packing his belongings in preparation to leave this barren land.  As he is packing, he shares that he can close his eyes and see the town as it used to be.  A town full of life, song, and green.  He can clearly see the faces of his mother and sister as they prepare the evening meal. He can see the faces of his brothers and the townsmen as they leave the mines to walk home with a song on their lips.  He can see the face of his father as they take their custom walk through the fields and around town. I imagine he could still feel his father's hand as he holds it during their walk.

As the faceless man, Huw, walks down memory lane, the audience gets to see the town and people change over the years.  We see people getting married and leaving town.  We see people forced to leave town to find better work.  We see the mine killing people. We see the hypocrisy and lack of compassion of Man. We see Huw growing up and becoming a man.

As things change over the years, some things never changed for Huw.  The love of his mother and father remained central and never changing.  And when his father was killed at the mine, Huw said a line that really said it all: Men like my father cannot die. They are with me still, real in memory as they were in flesh, loving and beloved forever."   In our memories people can't die. Places don't die.  Huw could still remember the green of his Valley. He could still remember his father as he once was.  Life is in the memory.  How Green Was My Valley then.......

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Clint Eastwood: From Rowdy Yates To Dirty Harry To Unforgiven

A Birthday Post

Today is Clint Eastwood's 84th birthday.  So in celebration we will explore some of his legendary career.  Mr. Eastwood has been part of the Hollywood Landscape for over 50 years, and he has remained a favorite amongst all generations.   We begin our journey on the cattle trail.

Rawhide (1959)

Rawhide was a show about life on a cattle trail. Clint Eastwood portrayed cattle driver Rowdy Yates, and this role was his first big break.  Rowdy was considered a young inexperienced handsome hot head.  He portrayed this character for 8 seasons and it made him a television star. 

The Man With No Name (1964)

The Man With No Name is a trilogy of Spaghetti Westerns that began with "A Fistful of Dollars" in 1964.  The trilogy included "For a Few Dollars More" and "The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly."  These movies broke the Rawhide image and began a new phase in Clint Eastwood's career: the anti hero.  In these westerns Clint portrayed The Stranger.  His character had no name. He was mysterious. Tough. Deadly with a gun. 

Dirty Harry (1971)

In the Dirty Harry series, Clint Eastwood portrayed Harry Callahan.  The series consisted of "Dirty Harry," "Magnum Force," "The Enforcer," "Sudden Impact," and "The Dead Pool."  Harry was a cop whom as the title suggests wasn't afraid to get dirty.  He did what he thought was necessary to get the bad guys.  It could be argued that the Dirty Harry movies solidified Eastwood as the classic anti-hero of his time.  Callahan was a man for whom the audience cheered, even though he didn't behave as the classically good guy cop. He had memorable lines that people still quote to this day. If you walk up to anyone on the street, they may not know much about guns, but they would probably know Harry Callahan's gun.

Play Misty For Me (1971)

This film marked Clint Eastwood's directorial film debut. He played radio jockey Dave Garver who found himself dealing with an obsessed stalker. The title of the film refers to the stalker, Evelyn, frequently calling to request the song "Misty."  The film was received very well and it began Clint's journey as a successful director. 

Unforgiven (1992)

This is a big leap from the 1970s to the 1990s.  I am choosing to end with "Unforgiven," because this was my first introduction to Clint Eastwood as a director.    Also, this movie is considered by many to have revitalized the western genre. Therefore, I thought it would be fitting to end it on this film. 
 In the movie, Eastwood portrays William Munny. He is a man repenting the sins of his youth. A reformed murderer who has hung up his guns. He is convinced to help bring to justice men who had disfigured a female prostitute since the local sheriff is crooked.  Since it has been many years that he has done anything of that nature, he is rusty with a gun and with riding a horse.   It was hard for many in the audience to see Eastwood portray a man falling off a horse and not even able to shoot a gun anymore.  However, watching Eastwood portray a man struggling to not fall back into old habits, but also be able to do what needs to be done resonated with a lot of people.  

Clint Eastwood is one of the few Legends that are still around. He is still active today with acting and directing.  He is also a musician who has composed the musical score for some of his films.  A talented man that we hope continues to influence and make movies for years to come. 

Happy Birthday, Mr. Eastwood. You have truly made our day. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Bette Davis: Fierceness Personified

Bette Davis: Fierceness Personified

When I think of Bette Davis, one word comes to mind: fierce.  Whether portraying a cunning evil Vixen or a plain fragile soul, there was a fierceness to her even if it was way below the surface.  Perhaps that was something pouring over from her true self into the role that she played?  I do not know.  All I know is that I could sense it.  We are going to explore two of her famous characters and get a feel of the fierceness that lurked.

The Little Foxes (1941)

In this movie, Bette Davis plays Regina Giddens.  At the start of the 20th Century, women certainly didn't have as many rights as men, particularly when it comes to inheritances.  Regina's brothers inherit from their wealthy father, while she can only rely on her ill husband for financial support. Now this does not sit well with Regina.  She wants what she feels she is owed- a lot of money.  When her brothers' scheme to gain more money for a venture does not go as planned, she finds the perfect opportunity to blackmail them.  Regina's fierceness is seen in what she is willing to do to get what she wants. I do not want to give too much away but there is a coldness in her. There is an intensity, a power, a fierceness in her eyes and body language as she stands firm to achieve her goal no matter the cost. 

Now, Voyager (1942)

Davis plays Charlotte Vale. Charlotte is considered plain and unattractive. She is brow beaten by her mother and has no self-esteem.  Things start to look up for her when she gets away from her mother.  She spends time in a Sanatorium and then takes a long cruise.  While away from her mother she learns independence and falls in love. Charlotte's fierceness is in her determination not to be placed back under her mother's thumb. She stands firm against her mother.  When tragedy occurs, she seeks the help she needs.  Then she has the compassion to help a young girl in a similar situation. She finds the power and fire within herself to be strong.

One actress. Two characters. Very different personalities.  Yet a power within them. A firmness. Strength. Fierceness.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Romantic-Comedy Blogathon

Arsenic and Old Lace: The Crazy Runs Deep

It seems a common occurrence for people to think their family is crazier than everyone else's family.  For theater critic, Mortimer Brewster, he may actually win that contest.

He has one brother(Teddy) who thinks he is Teddy Roosevelt and constantly blows a bugle and charges up stairs:

He has another brother(Jonathan) who is a psychotic murderer, and through a botched plastic surgery was made to look like Boris Karloff:

And to top it off he has two sweet looking aunts, who poison lonely men that board at their house to bring the men peace:

The excitement begins when Mortimer takes his new wife to see his aunts before heading on their honeymoon.  That night, he discovers his aunts murderous deeds; his Boris Karloff looking brother returns to hide from the police; constant complaints against Teddy  requires him to finally be committed.

So in one night Mortimer has to keep his aunts' secret from being discovered, but stop them from continuing their poisonous practice. He has to procure all of the necessary documents to commit Teddy. Then he has to get Jonathan to leave the house without the man killing him. Mortimer has to deal with all of this while keeping his new wife from finding out, and with the police constantly stopping by.

Is there any wonder Mortimer fears becoming crazy himself?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Birthday Post For The Goldenboy

Today was William Holden's birthday. He made his screen debut in 1939's "The Golden Boy."  It was from this movie that he garnered the nickname that would remain with him for the rest of his life. A handsome man he could be both serious and funny in a role.  A mark of a good actor for me. For his birthday I want to focus on some of his body of work that remains as a testament to his talent for new generations to discover. 

The first movie I want to mention was actually my introduction to William Holden. "Dear Ruth" (1947). 

It is a romantic comedy that also starred Joan Caufield. In the movie, Ruth's(Caufield) teenage sister corresponds with Soldier Bill (Holden) using her name. Naturally, hilarity ensues when Bill drops by the house while on Leave. As a bit of a trivia, there is a myth surrounding this film: J.D. Salinger thought of the name "Holden Caufield" from the marquee poster for this film.

The second movie I want to mention is one of his most famous films- "Sunset Boulevard" (1950).

A film noir about a down on his luck screenwriter who becomes trapped in the spiderweb of a delusional has-been film star. Joe persuades Norma to let him fix up a script she has written, which she believes will her back into the spotlight.  She becomes obsessed with him. He comes to resent his dependence on her money.  His attempt to leave will lead to tragic consequences.  Bit of a trivia: Holden received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

The third movie is another comedy- "Paris When It Sizzles" (1964).

A romantic comedy that also starred Audrey Hepburn. Holden is a screenwriter who is under the gun to complete a script for an upcoming movie. Audrey Hepburn is the secretary hired to type the script for him.  This is a funny movie that contains a film within a film.

The fourth movie is William Holden's Academy Award Winning performance- "Stalag 17" (1953).

This film centers around prisoners of war in a German War Camp. Holden plays Lt. Sefton who has found a way to survive with some comfort by trading and selling with other prisoners and guards. This doesn't make him very popular with the other prisoners, and things come to a head when a new prisoner arrives. Even though the film is set in a war camp there is some humor sprinkled throughout the film. 

The final film I want to mention is the film that started it all- "The Golden Boy" (1939).

The film co-starred Barbara Stanwyck which led to a lifelong friendship between the two. William Holden plays a talented violin player who wants to be a boxer. 

This list is just a drop of water in a bucket. There are plenty of other Holden films such as "Sabrina," "Executive Suite," and "Picnic."  He was an actor during the Golden Era of Hollywood. He starred in films that showcased some of the best Hollywood had to offer. If you are not familiar with his work, then spend a weekend introducing yourself to Hollywood's Golden Boy. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Discovering Don: My Introduction to Don Ameche

A few months ago, TCM aired Moon Over Miami (1941) which starred Don Ameche.  I had the idea to write a blog post on him. I had a hard time figuring out what specifically to write about him. Finally I decided that I would simply write how I came to discover him.

 I came to know Don Ameche from the movie Cocoon (1985).  Like many 5 year olds, I was very naive. I assumed that this was his first movie, and that he started acting at a very old age:

As I grew older, I started to watch more movies from earlier generations, and I came across The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939). To my surprise there was the man from Cocoon:

I realized that he had been acting far longer than I originally thought. However, that wasn't to be the end of the surprises from Mr. Don Ameche.  The last surprise came from the movie I mentioned at the beginning Moon Over Miami (1941):

When I first saw the movie, it was no surprise to me that Ameche was in it.  I had come to accept the man had been acting since the 1930s.  No, the last surprise came when Mr. Ameche started to sing in the movie. It turned out the man was also a singer.  He had a wonderful singing voice.

After the shock of him singing, there were no more surprises regarding Don Ameche. I continued to enjoy  his movies and expecting a good performance.

I have only mentioned 3 movies, because these were the films that opened my eyes to Don Ameche. However, he has played in many more. I'm sure people remember him as one of the Duke Brothers in Trading Places (1983), Heaven Can Wait (1943), or as Tom Selleck's dad in Folks! (1992).  He was a great actor. He was a versatile actor. He could do comedy, drama, musical.  So, if you are someone who overlooked him in the past, I highly recommend you take a look. Or if you do know of him but haven't watched his movies in a while, pop in a movie and discover Don all over again.