Gunga Din (1939): An Original Blockbuster

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To view Gunga Din click here.

It’s summertime, which means we’re eyeball deep in the season of the blockbuster. These popcorn flicks widely vary in quality and entertainment value, but they all have one thing in common: they make money. And if they don’t make enough money during their run in the theater, they’ll rake it in with lucrative marketing deals with retail partners, toy manufacturers and home video sales. With all of the billion-dollar movie franchises that dominate our screens—Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Harry Potter, James Bond, among others—I’ve been thinking about the greatest blockbusters. The concept of the summer blockbuster is usually attributed to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in 1975, and while that film certainly set the trend for many popular films that followed, there are numerous movies from classic Hollywood that served as proto-blockbusters, including Gone with the Wind (1939), The Ten Commandments (1956), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) and Gunga Din (1939).

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Group Therapy: Only Angels Have Wings (1939)

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Only Angels Have Wings keeps growing stranger with age. This studio-era classic is about a group of nihilist flyboys who enact their dreams of self-destruction out of an imaginary South American cabana. Howard Hawks insisted on the film’s realism, as he based it on the stories of some ragged pilots he met in Mexico, but the movie is as realistic as the Star Wars cantina. The invented port town of Barranca is pure Hawks country, an extension of the death-driven pilots he depicted in The Dawn PatrolCeiling Zero, and The Road to Glory. Revisiting Only Angels Have Wings in the new DVD and Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection (out today), one is struck by the sheer lunacy of the fliers, ready to sacrifice their lives for the chance to deliver the mail. Only Angels Have Wings pushes Hawks’ love of professionalism to the extreme – death is a natural part of the job, and beyond just accepting it, they seem to embrace it. In Only Angels Have Wings, to work is to die, and these jokey nihilists, including the the female interlopers who are integrated into this group – cheerily embrace the void.

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Christmas Dinner with Cary Grant

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Happy Holidays! To celebrate the season TCM is airing a a batch of Christmas films tonight including The Bishop’s Wife (1947) starring Cary Grant as a mischievous and debonair angel who brings some holiday cheer to a Bishop (David Niven) and his frustrated wife (Loretta Young).

To commemorate the occasion I thought I’d share an article I came across in a 1934 movie magazine titled “Cary’s Christmas Dinner” where the actor and his wife at the time (actress Virginia Cherrill) share their Christmas dinner menu as well as some of Cherrill’s personal recipes. It might inspire a few of you to make some changes or additions to your own Christmas dinner menu.

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Classic Hollywood Actors Discuss Women, Beauty & Femininity with Arlene Dahl

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You can catch Arlene Dahl in a number of films airing on TCM in July:
• SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949) JULY 03
• NO QUESTIONS ASKED (1951) JULY 17
• LIFE WITH FATHER (1947) JULY 29

Arlene Dahl was a stunning redhead and a capable actress who I’ve enjoyed watching in a number of films including REIGN OF TERROR (1949), SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), WOMAN’S WORLD (1954) and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). However, her most successful career was in the multibillion-dollar beauty industry where she started as a syndicated columnist offering advice on dieting, plastic surgery, make-up, fashion and the latest hairstyling trends. By 1954 she was managing her own line of lingerie and cosmetics under the Arlene Dahl Enterprises banner and in 1965 she published her first of many books titled Always Ask a Man: The Key to Femininity. Dahl’s book capitalized on her Hollywood credentials and dished out beauty tips along with suggestions on how women could best attract and keep their men.

With the women’s movement on the rise and the sexual revolution bubbling loudly under the surface of polite society, the mid-sixties was a challenging time. Especially for women like Arlene Dahl who had accepted her place, no matter how begrudgingly, in a society that often treated her like a second-class citizen. And although she had admirably managed to create a successful business for herself at a time when American women still weren’t allowed to get an Ivy League education, Dahl makes it clear in Always Ask a Man that she was no bra burning radical. Her antiquated ideas about womanhood are supported, and in some cases weakened, by a surprising number of male actors who are quoted throughout her book. These beloved film figures, including Cary Grant, Marlon Brando, Bob Hope, Richard Burton and Burt Lancaster, freely offered their thoughts on femininity and beauty to Arlene Dahl, which she undoubtedly hoped would help sell her book and boost her arguments. 50-years-later, many of the actor’s casual comments are cringe-inducing reminders of a bygone era while others are more thoughtful and enduring. As history, particularly Hollywood history, their observations on women in 1965 makes for fascinating reading so I decided to collect some of the more provocative quotes and share them here.

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Hollywood Comes to Hearst Castle: Memories & Musings

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Maybe it was the Hollywood homes featured in my last post or the ongoing worldwide celebration of Orson Welles 100th birthday? Whatever the reason, I spent a great deal of time thinking about William Randolph Hearst and his massive estate at San Simeon last week. As any classic film fan worth their salt knows, the newspaper mogul once played host to many Hollywood stars and starlets at Hearst Castle and his life was brilliantly satirized by Welles’ in CITIZEN KANE (1941). For better or worse, the film has forever colored our view of Hearst as well as his mistress, actress Marion Davies, while his home remains a mythical Xanadu currently opened to the public as a state run museum that I once had the pleasure to visit.

I was at the impressionable age of 10 or 11-years old when I got the opportunity to explore Hearst Castle and the experience left an undeniable mark on my young mind. My late grandmother, who lived a short distance away in Goleta, California, planned the trip and I knew nothing about the place until we arrived at the entrance and I was bombarded by guide books and picture postcards that featured familiar faces from the movies I’d grown up watching. Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, Bette Davis and Clark Gable were just a few of the recognizable celebrities that had once graced these hallowed grounds while participating in private sporting events and attending extravagant parties.

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December 20, 2014
David Kalat
Posted by:

If we took a holiday / Took some time to celebrate

There’s nothing on the books that says that a “classic” has to have been liked much when it first came out. In fact, enormous swaths of what we now revere as America’s film heritage are comprised of what were flops on their first outing.

Take, for example, the Cary Grant- Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday by George Cukor (TCM is running it in the middle of the night this coming Monday–set your DVRs!). Right there, in that one sentence, I’ve probably already sold you on the merits of this picture.

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KEYWORDS: Cary Grant, George Cukor, Holiday, Katharine Hepburn
COMMENTS: 6
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The Better Half

The Apartment airs today on TCM and in it are two of the great stars of the silver screen, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.  Like any great stars, they have two careers comprised of a first half and a second half.  A few years back, Movie Morlock Jeff Stafford covered similar ground with stars he liked better older than younger, a corollary to this post but not quite the same thing.   I’d like to make the case here that stars have a more successful half and a less successful half and that half depends entirely on the star and what works for them.   It comes down to what kind of roles suit the actor better and for those whose early roles suit their talent better, their later career can be a mess.  For those who grow into something more than their early work allowed, their later career flourishes.  For me, Lemmon went one way and MacLaine went the other and both ways were written into their movie star DNA from the start.

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Six Degrees of Elvis Presley

elvissammyFor the third and final post in my informal and unintended series on Elvis Presley, I was inspired by the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, which airs on TCM on Tuesday, April 15, at 5:00am (actually Wednesday, but it is listed as Tuesday night on the TCM schedule). Elvis: That’s the Way It Is chronicles Presley’s engagement at the International Hotel in the summer of 1970. The film airing on TCM is the 2001 special edition, a reworked version of the original. A producer named Rick Schmidlin discovered unmarked cans of unused footage for the film in MGM’s storage facilities in an old salt mine in Kansas along with the original 16-track recordings. The tracks were digitally remixed for the special edition, and unseen footage of Elvis in rehearsal and on stage replaced non-concert scenes from the original. For me, one of the most interesting parts of this documentary is the show of celebrities and stars who lined up to see Elvis at the International, including Juliet Prowse, Charo and her husband Xavier Cugat, Dale Robertson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Cary Grant.

Elvis knew and admired a variety of stars and performers throughout his career. This makes sense considering his success in different arenas of show business (recording; films; live performance and his eclectic personal tastes in entertainment and music. The latter served him well in developing a unique musical style and sound not once but twice—in 1954 and in 1968-1969. Below are just a few photos of Elvis’s show-biz acquaintances, associates, and admirers. You are not likely to find a more diverse circle of celebrities associated with one entertainer.

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Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set

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Tomorrow is February 14th, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by taking a look at some sizzling screen romances that ignited while the cameras were rolling. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Hollywood history knows that it’s not uncommon for actors to fall head over heels for their costars. And who can blame them? When two attractive actors are asked to feign love while kissing and cuddling for our amusement I suspect that the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred. These on set affairs seldom last but they can wreck marriages and leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. But the heart wants what it wants and on some occasions these romantic rendezvous develop into long lasting loving relationships. And best of all? They often leave us with some passion filled films that make for great viewing on Valentine’s Day!

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You Were Meant For Me: Penny Serenade (1941)

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Penny Serenade (1941) is the third and final film Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made together. The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940) are screwball comedies of re-marriage, and Penny Serenade is their tragic inverse, focusing on the work necessary to maintain a long-haul relationship. The first two are set in high society, produced by the improvisatory Leo McCarey, while Penny Serenade is working class and focused on the fear and trembling of young parents, made with stark realism by the more deliberate George Stevens.  Grant worried about audience expectation, the “people who are laughing already, in anticipation of another mad marital mixup”. Both actors were protective of this heart-tugging melodrama, and later in life Irene Dunne declared it the favorite of her films. It was a success, although not to the same blockbuster degree as The Awful Truth, and for years has circulated in beat-up public domain editions. Olive Films is releasing a spiffy Blu-Ray of Penny Serenade next week, and it’s something of a revelation.

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