Today is my fifth anniversary of joining Movie Morlocks. My first post, “Hey, down in front!” was posted on Saturday November 6, 2010. This week marks my 260th post—and since it’s been 261 weeks since I first showed up, that means I’ve only missed my slot once. And I didn’t even really “miss” it, since the day I dropped was when TCM took over the site for a themed promotional event and pre-empted the usual Morlocks posts.
Rather foolishly, I saved the best for first, and haven’t managed to top “Hey, down in front!” Maybe I should’ve done a mic drop and walked away then and there—instead I’ve gone on an interminable downhill slide as I’ve used this platform to broadcast my contrarian ideas about classic films (click on any of the titles to read the original post, if you’re interested): FW Murnau’s Sunrise is a slapstick comedy! Buster Keaton’s talkie pictures are actually quite enjoyable—especially The Passionate Plumber! Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent is a slapstick comedy! The inner frame of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari does not function like a dream sequence! The shorter cut of Metropolis is actually more authentic than the longer “director’s cut”! Chaplin mimics aren’t worthless ripoffs! FW Murnau is not the most important creative force behind Nosferatu! Star Trek The Motion Picture is a great movie, for exactly the reasons everyone hates it!
It’s a wonder y’all haven’t kicked me out of here yet.
Here are a few of my personally most memorable posts.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on October 13, 2015
The Long Voyage Home (1940) was self-consciously an art film. An atmospheric bummer adapted from four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill, it was the first movie made for John Ford’s independent production company Argosy (co-founded with Merian C. Cooper). This offered Ford an unusual amount of freedom, and co-producer Walter Wanger commissioned prominent fine artists (Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, Luis Quintanilla, Georges Schreiber, and Ernest Fiene) to come on the set and paint whatever they wanted. In the biography Searching for John Ford Joseph McBride quotes the director as saying “I didn’t like the idea at first, but the artists proved to be a grand bunch of guys.” Ford and cinematographer Gregg Toland did their own painting with light, making The Long Voyage Home his most visually experimental film. There is the deep focus that Toland made famous the next year in Citizen Kane, plus low-light chiaroscuro and trick shots like anchoring the camera to the floor of the ship so the audience has a plank-level view of a storm, the waves crashing over the lens. It screened on 35mm (a UCLA restoration) in the Revivals section at this year’s New York Film Festival, but it is also streaming on Criterion’s Hulu page, if you are digitally inclined. At points the film feels like a workshop, to try out techniques Ford was unable to use on his bigger studio pictures, which gives The Long Voyage Home its patchwork quality. And yet Dudley Nichols’ sensitive script is able to tie the anecdotal structure together, and it remains a profoundly moving experience of unmoored men at sea, fruitlessly trying to claw back to land.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 13, 2015
THE TRAIN ROBBERS (1973) airs on TCM August 12 at 4PM EST/1PM PST
When I spotted Ann-Margret on the August cover of TCM’s Now Playing guide I jumped for joy and then I pulled out my treasured autographed copy of her 1994 autobiography, My Life, and did some rereading. I hadn’t looked at the book in years and thought it might inspire me to write something about the actress for the Movie Morlocks and sure enough, it did. What caught my eye was a photo of Ann-Margret with John Wayne (pictured above) accompanied by the line “Duke always had me laughing on the set of THE TRAIN ROBBERS. He was an extraordinary man.”
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 6, 2015
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.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 16, 2015
After the success of Stagecoach (1939), John Wayne was in demand. While still under contract to poverty row Republic Studios, he was lent out to United Artists for The Long Voyage Home (1940), Universal for Seven Sinners (1940) and Paramount for The Shepherd of the Hills (1941). While still making interesting features for Republic, including Raoul Walsh’s Dark Command (1940), he was positioning himself as prestige-picture ready. Shepherd of the Hills was a prime property adapted from a million-selling novel, to be shot in Technicolor by director Henry Hathaway and DPs Charles Lang and W. Howard Greene. Hathaway was an advocate for location shooting, and had already filmed Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) in Technicolor at Big Bear Lake in California, where Shepherd would end up as well. The ongoing “Glorious Technicolor” series at the Museum of Modern Art is screening both Trail of the Lonesome Pine and The Shepherd of the Hills as part of its sixty feature extravaganza. Shepherd is a delicate, strange and mournful drama of the breakdown of an insular Ozark Mountain community, one trapped in a cycle of intergenerational violence. John Wayne stars alongside his childhood Western hero Harry Carey, and the film acts as a series of lessons from Carey to Wayne, on and off screen.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 23, 2015
Next month marks the grand opening of the John Wayne Birthplace Museum in Winterset, Iowa. During the last 30 years more than one million visitors have reportedly journeyed to Winterset to tour the small house where Wayne was born on May 26, 1907 but now fans of the much beloved movie star will be able to enjoy a brand new 5,000 square facility built alongside Wayne’s original home. The museum features the largest collection of John Wayne memorabilia in existence including original movie posters, film costumes, props, scripts, photos, personal letters, original artwork, sculptures, a customized automobile and a movie theater where visitors can enjoy a documentary about Wayne and watch his films. The grand opening will take place between May 22-24 and includes a ribbon cutting ceremony presented by Scott Eyman (author of John Wayne: The Life and the Legend), a rodeo show and a guest appearance from actor, rodeo competitor and politician Chris Mitchum (Robert Mitchum’s son) who appeared with Wayne in BIG JAKE (1971). Color me impressed! I think it’s encouraging to see small towns like Winterset celebrating their film history. For more information, please visit their official website: John Wayne Birthplace Museum
In light of this news, I started thinking about other smaller museums outside of Hollywood dedicated to preserving the memory of classic movie stars. I follow some of them on Twitter and occasionally try to share information about their fundraising efforts but now that spring’s arrived and many of us are starting to plan summer vacations I thought I’d put together a list of the small hometown museums that have sprung up across the U.S. honoring their local celebrities. It should be of interest to classic film fans who are planning a road trip soon or it just might surprise someone who unknowingly has a museum dedicated to a Hollywood personality in their own backyard.
Posted by Susan Doll on December 15, 2014
I confess a fondness for Christmas movies that stray from the typical snow-covered farmhouses, nostalgic small-towns, holiday-decorated department stores, and parties overrun with good cheer. While non-traditional Christmas movies rarely achieve classic status, they are interesting for unusual or personal reasons.
I have always had an affection for Donovan’s Reef, partly because I watched it on Saturday Night at the Movies with my father when I was a little girl, and he enjoyed it so much. But, I was also taken with the film’s tropical setting, which made for an exotic backdrop for Christmas. I can’t help but wonder if my obsession with the romance of the tropics began with Donovan’s Reef.
Directed by John Ford in the twilight of his career, Donovan’s Reef takes place on the (fictional) Polynesian island of Haleakaloa, which was saved from the Japanese by three Navy buddies—Dr. William “Doc” Dedham, Michael Patrick “Guns” Donovan, and Thomas Aloysius “Boats” Gilhooley. Based on the names alone, it is easy to tell that this knockabout comedy is going to be all about the boys. Thinking Haleakaloa a paradise, the three sailors can’t get the island out of their minds after the war. Doc returns to found a hospital for the islanders, while Guns establishes a couple of businesses, including a saloon called Donovan’s Reef. Gilhooley jumps ship from time to time to swim ashore to Haleakaloa for the sole purpose of starting a fistfight with Guns on their mutual birthday—apparently something of a tradition. The actual narrative begins when Doc’s adult daughter, Amelia, arrives from Boston to find her long-lost father. Doc attempts to hide his island family from her, because he fears she would not accept that he had married a native woman and fathered three children. Guns steps up and pretends the half-breed children are his. In typical Ford fashion, Amelia and Guns are attracted to each other but can’t get along.
Posted by R. Emmet Sweeney on June 3, 2014
In 1948 John Wayne appeared in Fort Apache, Red River, 3 Godfathers and Wake of the Red Witch. After seeing Red River, John Ford was reported to say, “I never knew that big son of a bitch could act.” He wouldn’t have been so surprised if he had seen Wake of the Red Witch first. Playing an alcoholic, obsessive sea captain hell bent on avenging his lost love, Wayne finds pockets of instability in his individualist persona. Compared to his other films that year, it has faded into obscurity, but Wake of the Red Witch held a pull over Wayne throughout his life. He got the name of his production company from the film, and when he was later battling cancer, he referred to the disease as the “Red Witch”. It is a ghostly film about a lost love, a dreamlike and violent potboiler that exhibits the blacker shades of Wayne’s persona. I was drawn to watch the film (out on Blu-Ray from Olive Films) while reading Scott Eyman’s superb new biography John Wayne: The Life and Legend. His book is invaluable for treating Wayne as an artist rather than an icon or a political symbol, and it illuminates the non-canonical work of his long career, most of which was produced at budget-minded Republic Pictures. It was the studio that kept him in the business after his initial star turn in The Big Trail (1930) was a financial disaster, and he remained loyal until the company started easing out of the film business in 1958.
Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 24, 2014
John Wayne posing for an Air France ad (1961)
One of the world’s most widely beloved movie stars is John Wayne (TCM’s Star of the Month) and throughout his celebrated career, Wayne endorsed a number of notable products and causes. Regular readers may have noticed that I’m fascinated with advertising, particularly the way that Hollywood stars like Wayne have used their likeness to sell us goods and cultivate their public image. As I mentioned last year in a piece I compiled about Barbara Stanwyck, product placements and celebrity endorsements are as old as Hollywood but modern audiences are often unaware of them. When we see Clifton Webb furiously tapping away on a Remington typewriter in Otto Preminger’s LAURA (1944) for example, it’s easy to overlook the fact that it was probably a carefully selected brand tie-in. And while Webb was typing on his Remington, his costar Gene Tierney was using her timeless beauty to sell Royal Crown Cola in an effort to promote herself and her upcoming film, A BELL FOR ADONO (1945).
These tiny details and seemingly useless facts might not mean much to most film viewers but I think the lasting impact of some Hollywood stars can be linked to the ways in which they sold themselves to the public when they weren’t appearing in films. John Wayne is recognized today for the movies he made but he also endured himself to audiences through product endorsements in popular magazines like LIFE and The Saturday Evening Post. In the 1940s and 1950s, Wayne became a friendly and familiar face in film as well as television where he appeared in a number of commercials. What follows are some of my favorite examples of John Wayne – American Adman!
Posted by Greg Ferrara on April 23, 2014
This is John Wayne month here on TCM and that means a five day marathon of movies, starting this week, starring the Duke. Seeing as he acted in well over a hundred movies (closer to two hundred, really), it also means that plenty come from early in his career. Doing my part, I even wrote up two early oaters, The Big Stampede and Somewhere in Sonora. The fact is, most stars have brief early careers before someone realizes they have the charisma necessary to be a top marquee name. Marlon Brando, to use an easy example, had one film, The Men, before A Streetcar Named Desire. Even though he was famous on Broadway at the time of The Men‘s release, it did nothing for his superstardom. When Streetcar was released, it was a different story. He became a star, immediately, and his pre-A-List career remains that one, single movie. An even more extreme example is Katherine Hepburn. Her very first movie, A Bill of Divorcement, made her a star. By her third movie, Morning Glory, she was an Oscar winner. Pre-A-List career: non-existent. But some actors, like the Duke, have pre-A-list careers that are almost as long, in number of movies made, as their A-list careers. In Wayne’s case, it made him a better actor.
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