Are the Legends of Tomorrow Already Here?

Today on TCM, the 1982 comedy My Favorite Year airs and it marked Peter O’Toole’s twentieth year as a star.  His stardom began with his breakout role in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962 and continued, with some ups and downs, for the next 50 plus years.  He even has a movie out in 2016, three years after his death.  It’s The Whole World at Our Feet and obviously whatever part he has in it was filmed some time ago.   His career, on the whole, probably has many more duds than hits and his selection wasn’t always the best.  There were long dry spells in his career, enough that his starring role in The Stunt Man, released in 1980, was considered a comeback for him, even though he’d been nominated for Best Actor just eight years prior for The Ruling Class.  The problem was, after The Ruling Class, he appeared in one flop after another.  Still, there’s no doubt that O’Toole left this life a legend and also little doubt that his eventual status as a legend was probably cemented right out of the starting gate with that breakout role as Lawrence.  For many others, the path has not been so clear.

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Revisiting ‘The Maltese Falcon’

blogopener2TCM in conjunction with Fathom Entertainment celebrates the 75th anniversary of The Maltese Falcon on February 21 and February 24, exhibiting the film at participating theaters. John Huston’s masterpiece, which shows at 2:00pm and 7:00pm on both days, will be introduced by Ben Mankiewicz in a brief filmed commentary. Check the Fathom website for more details.

Last fall, I showed The Maltese Falcon as part of a course on film noir. Though it is considered one of the earliest examples of noir, and therefore important as a foundation, I struggled with whether to show a film I had seen so many times. I thought of showing the less-familiar Stranger on the Third Floor, because it would be more interesting to me. But, I knew that the majority of the students had not seen The Maltese Falcon. As I began to pull together the course material, I grew more excited at the implications of introducing them to such an iconic film. This was their introduction not only to The Maltese Falcon but also the genre of film noir. They would be seeing it with the freshness and excitement of first-time viewers, and I had a part to play in that.

Film noir developed in the studio system during the Golden Age, and yet it defied many of the norms and conventions of that era. It was the genre that broke the rules—a big deal considering how entrenched certain norms, conventions, and formulas were during the Golden Age. For young people unfamiliar with the systems and practices of the studio system, noir’s defiance of those systems and practices would not be readily apparent.

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A Few Fun Facts About Michael Caine

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Who doesn’t like Michael Caine? It’s hard to imagine that there are any film fanatics alive who don’t appreciate at least one or two of the 123 films that he’s appeared in. I happen to love Michael Caine and today TCM will be airing a batch of films featuring the bespectacled British actor as part of their ongoing “Summer Under the Stars” programming. One of the films being shown is HELL IN KOREA (1956), which contains his first credited screen performance along with some of my favorite Caine films including BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN (1967), THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975), HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), THE IPCRESS FILE (1965), GET CARTER (1971) and THE ROMANTIC ENGLISH WOMAN (1975). As an accompaniment to TCM’s spotlight on Michael Caine I thought I’d compile some interesting facts about the man that may or may not surprise you.

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A Trio of Diversified Gangsters

Anyone who has seen The Public Enemy has probably noticed the same thing:  In the opening scenes, where Tom and Matt as young men are seen, the character playing young Tom looks like a young version of Edward Woods and the young version of Matt looks like a young version of James Cagney.  But when we see them all grown up, Woods is playing Matt and Cagney is playing Tom.  So why do the young versions look the opposite?  Because those scenes were shot when the original casting was still in place, which was Edward Woods in the lead as Tom and James Cagney in the supporting role as Matt.  William Wellman, during rehearsals and early shoots, saw much more potential in Cagney as the lead and switched them, young lead casting be damned (they never bothered to go back and reshoot the young versions of Tom and Matt).  Wellman made the right decision.  Cagney simply had a vitality about him that lent itself to the psychotic lead role.  Gangster roles would stay with him the rest of his career.  Earlier in that same year, Edward G. Robinson had made a splash in Little Caesar and became associated with gangster roles as well.  And a few months earlier, in 1930, Humphrey Bogart played his first con ever in John Ford’s little known Up the River, with Spencer Tracy.  The thirties would see these three actors become the go-to guys for crime but over their entire careers, they became so much more.

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Memories of Lauren Bacall 1924-2014

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Film fans have endured a rough summer. We’ve lost many talented people who have brought us immeasurable joy. Today I’d like to celebrate the late great Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall who mesmerized audiences with her incredible beauty, quick wit, smoky voice and sultry style. She was a beloved stage and screen actress but she was also much more including an award-winning writer, a socially conscious political activist, an avid fashion enthusiast who designed her own maternity clothes and a survivor who out-lived two husbands (Humphrey Bogart and Jason Robards) and managed to raise three children on her own. What follows is a stunning gallery of portraits as well as a collection of personal observations about Bacall from friends, acquaintances and family members who knew her and loved her.

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June 21, 2014
David Kalat
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A cheap holiday in other people’s misery

Key Largo (tonight on TCM) is one of those venerable mainstays of TCM and likely something everyone here has already nearly memorized.  I remember once I made a point of watching it in Key Largo, while on vacation (much like how I watch movies like Airport 77 while flying).  I mentioned this to the proprietors of the bed and breakfast where we were staying, and they told me that the island of Key Largo was actually named in honor of the movie.

It took me a long time to wrap my head around that statement.  That couldn’t possibly be true, could it?

Well, it is and it isn’t.  Click the fold below to read the whole story, about the citizens of a gorgeous island paradise insisted on naming their community after a grim thriller about murderous thugs and a hostage crisis.  Like you do.

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KEYWORDS: Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Key Largo, Lauren Bacall
COMMENTS: 4
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“The World’s Most Beautiful Animal!”

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Ava Gardner in a publicity shot for THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
Airing on TCM June 1st.

Ava Gardner makes one of my favorite film entrances of all time in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954), which airs on TCM June 1st. If you want to kick off the new month with a bang I highly recommend making time for this verbose Technicolor-noir that critiques Hollywood excess and the powerful studio system that frequently exploited its stars. Mankiewicz’s film is a heady brew of CITIZEN KANE (1941), LAURA (1944), SUNSET BLVD. (1950) and the director’s own ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) shot with abundant style by master cinematographer Jack Cardiff. It dramatically depicts the rise and fall of Maria Vargas aka “The World’s Most Beautiful Animal” (Ava Gardner), a seductive Latin dancer and renowned beauty who is discovered in a Madrid nightclub and carted off to Hollywood where stardom awaits. Her fascinating story is told in flashbacks by the men who knew her and begins in a rain soaked cemetery where our chief narrator, veteran director and recovering alcoholic Harry Dawes (Humphrey Bogart), is attending Maria’s funeral.

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Of Hurricanes, Hamburgers, and Huston: Revisiting Key Largo

largohustonOne of my courses this semester includes a section on an auteur—that fancy French word for master director. I let my students choose which director to study from a list that included a variety of filmmakers from different eras. To my great surprise and delight, they selected John Huston over more recent and more famous directors.

I began the section on Huston with Key Largo, a crime drama released in 1948. The film stars Huston favorite Humphrey Bogart as WWII veteran Frank McCloud, who visits the Key Largo home of one of the men from his unit. The young man had been killed in combat, and McCloud feels compelled to call on the man’s father and widow, Nora. Nora is played by Lauren Bacall, and the father is portrayed by Lionel Barrymore, who, by this point in his career, was forced to play his roles in a wheelchair because of the crippling effects of arthritis and two hip fractures. Barrymore’s character owns the Hotel Largo, which has been taken over by gangster Johnny Rocco, played with great flair by Edward G. Robinson. While Rocco and his gang wait for an associate, a hurricane hits the Florida Keys and confines all of them inside the Hotel Largo.

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Celebrate the 20th Anniversary of TCM with a free screening of CASABLANCA

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This year marks the 20th anniversary of Turner Classic Movies. To celebrate the event as well as give back to the many devoted viewers who regularly watch and enjoy the network’s programming, TCM has teamed up with Warner Brothers to offer free theatrical screenings of the romantic wartime classic CASABLANCA (1942). The film will be playing nationwide in 20 selected cities on Tuesday, March 4th and tickets are currently available to download free of charge on the TCM 20th Anniversary website. Although tickets are free seating is limited to a first-come, first-served basis and they do not guarantee entry. Want to know where you can catch a free screening of CASABLANCA? Read on but be prepared to wade through a few of my thoughts about the film first.

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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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