The worst people in the world

We have gathered here today to discuss a landmark of American screen comedy.

It is a film about a reporter, and he is a reprehensible example of the most caricatured excesses of his profession. He is selfish and callous, gleefully exploiting the sufferings of others because it makes good copy. He has his eyes on a girl, but she’s already involved with another man—a decent citizen, who will become the butt of our protagonist’s abuse. The reporter will do everything in his power to punish this rival, including framing him for various crimes.

And although this character’s behavior is unambiguously villainous, he is not the villain of the film—he’s not quite its hero, either, but he’s the central anchor of all that happens, and we in the audience are not expected to boo him but to relish in his monstrous actions. All this awfulness is presented for our entertainment.

But here’s the riddle: what movie am I talking about? Is it Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant? Or Mack Sennett’s Making a Living, with Charlie Chaplin? Ah, there’s the rub—and therein lies our tale.


Meet Cary Grant

We come upon three men and a naked lady.

The lady is Thelma Todd, denuded as she often was in her brief screen career.

One of the men is Roland Young, a womanizing roué who has brought her home in this state. The other, Charlie Ruggles, is his mostly useless sidekick. The third man? Well, that’d be Thelma’s husband–known to be a fiercely jealous man. He is also an Olympic javelin thrower (Yes. That’s right). Oh, and he has a quiver of javelins with him.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the screen debut of Cary Grant. It is not an especially auspicious performance–Grant is quoted in numerous sources as disliking his contribution to this film. But it is for our purposes an extremely illuminating one.

Here is a film that behaves like a modern dialogue-driven romantic comedy, but which is comprised of the DNA of silent comedy. Here is a missing link between one animal and the other–a glimpse into the evolution of talkie comedy. And it all hinges on Cary Grant.


I Only Make Passes at Boys Who Wear Glasses

Some women like men who drive fast cars; others prefer men with an athletic build while some find a uniform irresistible. Me? I appreciate a good pair of spectacles.

Favorite Film Related Books of 2011 (Part I.)

I enjoy reading about the movies I love almost as much as I enjoy watching them and this year I found myself doing a lot of reading. This was partially due to the fact that I’m more housebound lately but publishers were also very generous this year. I received many press releases as well as books for review during the last few months that caught my attention. Some books I encountered didn’t appeal to me but a surprising number of them kept me eagerly turning pages until I was finished reading. From lush coffee table gift books to intimate autobiographies, the range of interesting reading material I came across in 2011 was surprising, thought provoking and entertaining so I decided to compile a two-part list of my favorite film related books of the year. Some of the books on my list are fun and frivolous, while others are more weightier affairs. No matter what your reading tastes might be; these selections should appeal to all types of film fans.


They said WHAT?! Classic Insults from Classic Actors

Humphrey Bogart and William Holden duking it out on the set of SABRINA (1954)

In June actor Harrison Ford made news after publicly calling, Shia LaBeouf, his young costar from INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Steven Spielberg; 2008) “…a f–king idiot.” Since then I’ve been thinking about insults that actors have hurled at other actors over the years and a recent piece at Flavorwire titled “The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults In History” compelled me to compile a list of 30 of the worst actor-on actor insults I’ve come across. Some of them are surprisingly crude so I thought I should worn potential readers before they plunge ahead. Let the war of words begin…


Ineptitude, Thy Name is Phillip Vandamm

Most people don’t stop to think about it (and it’s their loss) but James Mason played the befuddled loser a lot.  And splendidly!  And I don’t mean “loser” as in “lowlife” or “petty thug” or something denoting someone on the losing end of life.  No, I mean a guy who sets out to win but  fails, epically and embarrassingly.  Not a big tragic downfall, mind you, more of a “pie in the face” or “slip on a banana peel” downfall. 


Knit Flicks

Happy New Year!

You may wish to begin the year by vowing to lose weight, (how original!…and welcome to the club), mastering the arcane intricacies of Farmville, (is it a game or a cult?), spending more quality time with your pet iguana, or finishing War and Peace–or at least cracking open the first, mischievous volume of The Autobiography of Mark Twain that Santa left behind for you. My personal mountain to climb in 2011 will be the nagging desire to finally conquer my mental block when it comes to knitting. Yes, “knit one, purl two” is a phrase that conjures up feelings of frustration, self-contempt and the urge to fling the needles and gnarled yarn across the room. Persistence, of course usually pays off. Unfortunately, for this chronically challenged crafter, the glamorous world of interweaving lamb’s wool into something useful and colorful has been a bust…so far.

My decision to follow the stony, humbling path of learning to knit began again at a recent trip to the movies when I spied a fellow theater goer knitting merrily away–in the dark! Impressive, especially since the movie was the rather loud (at times) and visually amusing Gulliver’s Travels (2010), though the intricate work of this knitting fiend in the next row never seemed to falter. After this, I decided to make a greater effort to psyche myself up, gird my loins and bite the bullet while admitting my many shortcomings face-to-face with the accomplished instructors at a local yarn shop. I’ve also begun to notice that some of the glamourpusses of the silver screen were demon knitters, and they don’t get more dazzling than Cary Grant in Mr. Lucky , do they?

The Glamorous World of Paul Hesse

During the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s glamor photography was all the rage in Hollywood. A good portrait could do wonders for an actor’s reputation and make them desirable to fans as well as directors and studio executives. Hundreds of talented photographers made a name for themselves by shooting beautiful portraits of Hollywood stars that fueled the imagination of the general public and helped sell lots of movie tickets.

One of the most interesting and prominent photographers from this period was the handsome and talented Paul Hesse. Hesse was born in New York in 1896 and experimented with photography while attending the Pratt Institute. After WWI Hesse became a professional poster illustrator and created covers for Collier’s Weekly. By 1918 he began to grow restless. Hesse was tired of the time-consuming aspects of illustration but he still wanted to pursue commercial art. He decided to purchase a secondhand camera and began focusing all of his attention on photography. Hesse immersed himself in the photographic process and read every photography book that he could get his hands on. By the mid-1920s he had opened up his own photography studio in New York City.


Regarding Edmund Gwenn

Even a casual movie watcher probably knows who Edmund Gwenn is – if not by name, then by the film MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1948) in which he played a department store Santa Claus who turns out to be the real thing. He won a Best Supporting Oscar for that performance, and, as a kid, it was a favorite holiday film until that black day when we discovered Kris Kringel was a Pagan myth. Gwenn, of course, had a long and impressive career that began in the silent era, continued through the peak years of the studio system and wound down gently during the rising popularity of television.


They stamped the terra!

humphrey_bogart-stamp1But for the requirement that you first have to be dead in order to qualify, I think it’s the ultimate honor to have your mug immortalized on a postage stamp.  I picked up a sheet of the new 42 cent Edgar Allan Poe stamps a few weeks ago and I actually thought, for about five minutes after I bought them (“Now you’re working for the Poe-st Office” I cracked to the teller and we both did the horse laugh.), that I’d keep the whole sheet for the sake of posterity… but with the economy the way it is and my net worth the way it isn’t, I can’t indulge in an almost $8 keepsake.  I’ve been paying bills this week and slapping Poe stamps on all the outgoing mail and  little of me dies every time I let one of those suckers go.  But anyway, all this has me thinking about stamps, specifically those bearing the likenesses of movie stars and filmmakers from Hollywood and beyond. [...MORE]

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