Francois Truffaut – Friend, Teacher & Film Critic

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Throughout the month of July TCM is spotlighting the films of François Truffaut. Every Friday night viewers can tune in at 5PM PST or 8PM EST and expect to see a well-rounded selection of the French director’s films hosted by film critic David Edelstein.

I never met François Truffaut but I’ve long felt a sort of kinship with the man and his movies. Many years ago I wept through my first screening of THE 400 BLOWS (aka Les quatre cents coups) and a few years later I was introduced to Truffaut’s film criticism when I stumbled across a beat-up & battered copy of The Films in My Life at a used bookshop. I eventually learned more about the director who helped usher in a New Wave of French cinema and today Truffaut and his films feel like old familiar friends that I’ve grown-up with and appreciate more with each passing year. But writing about them can be difficult because many of Truffaut’s films are tied to difficult and often painful experiences in my own life.

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Tracing My Irish Roots Through the Movies

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John Wayne & Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man (1942)

When I was a child my family regularly celebrated Saint Patrick’s Day on March 17th. My parents and grandparents encouraged me to wear green and my mother would often make my brother and I a meal that consisted of corned beef and cabbage or my personal favorite, Irish stew with dumplings. But whenever I’d ask family members about our Irish ancestors I was usually ignored or met with a wry smile and a joke about our criminal connections. The truth is that most of my Irish ancestors were apparently kicked out of the British Isles in the early 1800s and ended up in Australia, which was a penal colony at the time. As a youngster I didn’t exactly understand what it meant to the larger world to be related to convicts but I was made to feel somewhat embarrassed and ashamed due to my family’s reluctance to discuss our personal history. Now that most of my immediate family has passed on I’ve taken it upon myself to delve into our past and uncover our Irish roots. It’s been an incredibly rewarding and eye-opening experience but I’ve had to rely on my own powers of investigation along with lots of paper documents and books to give me a better understanding of who I am and how I got here. I’ve also turned to one of my favorite obsessions for insight, the wonderful world of movies.

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Spy Games – International espionage in… Nashville?!

One of the strangest spy spoofs to emerge from the sixties has got to be HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. This oddball musical comedy arrived in drive-ins in 1967 accompanied by the tagline, “If you’re a chicken come with plenty of feathers and a 0-0-0h-7 get-away car!” HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE is part espionage farce, part sitcom style comedy and a full-blown musical featuring performances from the movie’s three stars (Joi Lansing, Ferlin Husky and Don Bowman) along with appearances by popular country & western performers such as Merle Haggard, Molly Bee and Sonny James.

Today it might be hard for modern audiences to understand how a movie like this ever got made but in James Bond’s heyday country & western music was gaining a growing audience thanks to increased radio play and popular programs like THE PORTER WAGONER SHOW. At the same time rural television comedies including THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, PETTICOAT JUNCTION and GOMER PYLE competed with spy themed shows such as I SPY, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE PRISONER, THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. and GET SMART for ratings. B-movie producing brothers Bernard, Larry and David Woolner were eager to cash-in on this strange hodgepodge of pop culture trends and they must have thought they had a surefire moneymaker on their hands with HILLBILLYS IN A HAUNTED HOUSE. To seal the deal they gave their movie some extra drive-in appeal by setting the story in a haunted mansion and hiring three horror film legends (John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone) to co-star.

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Spy Games: Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE (1966)

Today is Sophia Loren’s 77th birthday and I decided to celebrate by focusing this month’s installment of Spy Games on one my favorite Loren films, Stanley Donen’s ARABESQUE. But before you start reading you might want to take a moment to turn on TCM because they’re airing a batch of great Sophia Loren films today in honor of the event.

* Warning: Spoilers on the road ahead! *

In the ‘60s Stanley Donen explored the fascinating world of international espionage with two entertaining films, CHARADE (1963) and ARABESQUE (1966). Both films were box office hits but CHARADE was also adored by critics and over the years it’s been widely recognized as one of Donen’s best films. And CHARADE is a great movie. It’s a slick and darkly funny Hitchcockian thriller with a tight script and a terrific cast that includes Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Walter Matthau, James Coburn and George Kennedy. But for my money ARABESQUE is the better film.

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And You Thought Donald Pleasence Was Creepy

Angela Pleasence, like her father, has a face made for the cinema though not in the realm of conventional leading ladies. Even as a young actress appearing in bit parts in movies like Here We Go Around the Mulberry Bush (1968) and The Love Ban (1973), she was never a winsome ingénue or the lovable girl next store. But her uniquely peculiar beauty – especially those hungry eyes that bore holes right through you – must have somehow hindered her movie career because her film roles have been few and far between. She is mostly remembered for her television work, particularly her role as Catherine Howard in the 1970 TV mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, but she should have had the film career her father had on the basis of SYMPTOMS alone.     [...MORE]

The Floodgates Open: Telluride FF 2012

Tis the season for major film festivals and Telluride often trumps those that follow – Toronto, New York, Chicago – by presenting the North American premieres of major works, a mixture of Cannes award winners receiving their American debut, lesser known discoveries and surprises (some without distributors yet) and wonderful retrospectives (from silent films with live music accompaniment to overlooked treasures like Agnes Varda’s La Pointe Courte (1956), Ermanno Olmi’s Il Posto (1961) and Paul Fejos’ Lonesome, 1928).   [...MORE]

Kay Francis to the Max

Tuesday, August 21st marks Kay Francis day on TCM’s Summer Under the Stars and the lineup of films should not only please her avid fans but also introduce newbies to this elegant underrated actress of the early sound era who is not that well known today. While there are plenty of high points to recommend here from the giddy sophisticated comedy-romance Jewel Robbery (1932), a Pre-Code Ernst Lubitsch wannabe, to the eclectic political espionage thriller British Agent (1934) to the exotic and risque melodrama Mandalay (1934), I cast my vote for THE HOUSE ON 56TH STREET (1933) as the quintessential Kay Francis vehicle and an excellent introduction to the actress.        [...MORE]

Toshiro Mifune is….Sinbad?

The TCM Movie Morlocks blogathon tribute to Toshiro Mifune continues as I revisit THE LOST WORLD OF SINBAD, a film I first saw as a kid at the National Theatre in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Although TCM is not airing this in their Mifune lineup scheduled for Thursday, August 9th, it is worth checking out (if you have an all region DVD player) to see another side of the celebrated Japanese actor that Western audiences rarely get a chance to see.          [...MORE]

JOY HOUSE aka Les Felins aka The Love Cage

The Women of the “Joy House” Allowed Him Every Freedom…Except the Freedom to Leave!

He loved as if his life depended on it…and it did!

He couldn’t leave it alone….He couldn’t leave it alive…

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I Was a Teenage Peeping Tom

Among the many teen idols of the fifties who climbed to fame with top forty hit records, only a few made the successful crossover to film acting. Pat Boone was groomed by 20th-Century-Fox as a teen matinee idol in Bernadine (1957), Tommy Sands stayed in his comfort zone playing an aspiring pop star in Sing Boy Sing (1958), Fabian made his screen debut with the family-friendly backwoods drama Hound-Dog Man (1959), and Bobby Rydell played your average boy-next-door opposite Ann-Margret in Bye Bye Birdie (1963). Paul Anka, on the other hand, appeared in the most unlikely vehicle for his first major starring role – LOOK IN ANY WINDOW (1961), which airs on TCM on Thursday, June 28 at 2:15 am ET.         [...MORE]

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