Tag Archives: Burt Lancaster

R.I.P. Dana Wynter

The name Dana Wynter probably won’t roll off your tongue of asked to name ten actresses from the ’60s and ’70s; she never attained the superstar status that many of her contemporaries did. But in three of my favorite films, Wynter played a convincing supportive role and radiated a quiet beauty. Ms. Wynter died Thursday at 79.

I just recently come across a DVD copy of The List of Adrian Messenger, one of the more unusual mystery films ever made. In addition to a murder plot, several of the biggest stars of the day (Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra) appeared in small or walk-on roles in disguise and are “unmasked” at the end of the film. George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas are among the leads, and it’s no wonder that both are enamored by the beautiful Wynter.

If you do see The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers make certain it’s the one filmed in 1956 starring Wynter and Kevin McCarthy. One of the most frightening horror movies ever made, its a suspenseful and unnerving film that eschews gore and violence for pure dread, and the ending of the film gave me nightmares as a child.

One of James Cagney’s more underappreciated films was Shake Hands With The Devil, sadly not yet on DVD. The IRA drama also starred Don Murray and Glynnis Johns and was directed by the also-underappreciated Michael Anderson.

Wynter’s resume is heavy on television shows and only peppered with memorable films, but if you grew up in the ’70s you likely were very familiar with her work. Check out the three films above, all highly recommended.

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…and now, The Oscars

Finally, the big daddy of the back-patting events is upon us.

Tonight’s Oscar hosts are James Franco and Anne Hathaway, as the industry makes an obvious ploy to skew younger. That sentiment probably won’t carry over into the actual voting, where veteran actors who might have been bypassed earlier in their careers get rewarded at the expense of a newcomer who has his whole career ahead of him. Really…Al Pacino won for Scent Of A Woman? Paul Newman won for The Color Of Money?

And sometimes this screws over a more deserving veteran actor. Yes, I’m talking to you, Henry Fonda! No way Burt Lancaster shouldn’t have won in 1981 for his amazing performance in Atlantic City!)

But I digress. The Oscar host thing has always been a conundrum. Bob Hope owned the role for years, as did Johnny CarsonBilly Crystal did it well and got to keep the job for a while, seemingly alternating every couple of years with Steve Martin and Whoopi Goldberg. But lately it’s been as volatile and unpredictable as a Charlie Sheen alibi; the only repeat host in the last ten years was Jon Stewart in 2006 and 2008 (Steve Martin hosted in 2003 but co-hosted in 2010). Stewart was excellent, but has the grind of his Daily Show schedule. But Wolverine Hugh Jackman was incredibly game and entertaining and got raves for his stint, yet wasn’t asked to repeat?

Perhaps tonight will be fine; Franco is a likeable guy, and Hathaway proved she is as fearless as she is talented when she joined Jackman onstage a few years ago. But for the self-proclaimed “Hollywood’s Biggest Night“, one would expect a real game-changer at the helm. And as afraid of him as they obviously are, I think any awards show not hiring Ricky Gervais is settling.

Here is the list of nominees.

I’m pretty much sticking with the picks I made right after the nominations came out, although The King’s Speech has picked up incredible momentum since then, along with Geoffrey Rush. But I have a feeling that the Darren Aronofsky magic touch will again become the Darren Aronofsky curse; Mickey Rourke lost to more established Hollywood veteran Sean Penn, and Annette Bening has never won for Best Actress despite four nominations. (No truth to the rumor that Natalie Portman got pregnant to sway the sympathy vote.) I also wouldn’t bet my life on Supporting Actress, as this is a category where teenagers can and do win, especially when they are playing more of a lead role.

My predictions for tonight’s winners:

Best Picture: The Social Network
Best Director: David Fincher, The Social Network
Best Actor: Colin Firth, The King’s Speech
Best Actress: Annette Bening, The Kids Are Alright
Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, The Fighter
Best Supporting Actress: Melissa Leo, The Fighter
Best Adapted Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, The Social Network
Best Original Screenplay: Christopher Nolan, Inception
Best Cinematography: Wally Pfister, Inception
Best Score: Trent Reznor, The Social Network

While you await tonight’s ceremony here are some treats to pass the time:

Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter act out the Best Picture nominees

Ricky Gervais wrote an opening script for Franco and Hathaway

You can bet on anything – even the In Memorium montage.

Racetrack odds on tonight’s favorites to Win…Place and Show mean nothing!

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Tomorrow: The winners, the losers, the analysis.

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Fifty Years of Fred Flintstone

Always love a little alliteration.

When I was a wee lad, I took The Flintstones at face value, just another entertaining and colorful cartoon with great characters, fun sight gags and lots of puns. It wasn’t until later that I realized the hit cartoon was based upon The Honeymooners, the landmark sitcom from the mind of Jackie Gleason.

Creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera publicly disagreed about the influence, although the similarities are too numerous for it to have been accidental. Pompous man with sane but dominant wife, goofball neighbor, blue-collar job, constantly scheming for something better and screwing up every time? Legend has it that Gleason wanted to sue but decided not to when told he’d be vilified as the guy who got the show pulled off the air.

The show ran for six seasons and was a hit for the first three years. Cartoons and animation have come a long way since the days when a chase scene passed the same tree and rock every second, but like any form of entertainment, without great writing it’s worthless. The Flintstones was usually corny, occasionally subversive, but it always had some great puns and tons of heart.

And damned if that theme song doesn’t sound great, even after fifty years.

Great cartoon. But avoid the live action films like the plague.

In the Flintstone world they would be mourning the passing of Stoney Curtis, but here in reality it is actor Tony Curtis who left us yesterday, unfortunately completing the trifecta with Greg Giraldo and Arthur Penn.

A bona fide movie star, Curtis was adept at both comedy and drama, and although the studios sought to capitalize on his handsome face in lighter fare, his dramatic roles probably left a bigger impression on me. Athletic and rugged, he was solid and believable in films like Trapeze, Spartacus and Houdini.

He was never better than his brilliant comic performance opposite Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot and his fawning, soulless hustler in Sweet Smell of Success (parrying with an equally brilliant Burt Lancaster).

After the 70s, his film career waned – there’s actually a film called Lobster Man From Mars on his resume – but he became an accomplished painter and writer. It is almost inconceivable to me that Curtis was 85 years old; then again, today also marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of James Dean’s death. I guess I always think of both of them as young and indestructable. Dean lived fast and died young, while Curtis was truly one of the very last of the old guard.

Time is a bitch.

Tomorrow, a TGIF tribute to Arthur Penn.

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T.G.I.F. – Happy Birthday, Robert Mitchum

Boy, talk about a rebel.

Robert Mitchum just didn’t give a shit about authority or rules. Didn’t care that in Hollywood, people were supposed to act a certain way. Didn’t care that he might rub directors or producers the wrong way and it might impact his career. I doubt he even let the word career linger in his head. Basically, you go around once,  and baby, if you want to climb aboard the Good Ship Mitchum, things are gonna work out just fine.

Of course, by the time this reputation was clearly established, I was but a young film buff learning to appreciate the wonders of The Sundowners, Cape Fear, El Dorado and Story of G.I. Joe (amazingly, his only Academy Award nomination). It wasn’t until years later that I finally saw Out Of The Past, which is easily in the top five list of the greatest film noir ever made.

I was not a big Winds of War or War And Remembrance fan despite the accolades; I prefer Mitchum young and rebellious and demonic. But even in his seventies, his narration in Tombstone was outstanding (the last line is an absolute classic) and his small role in Robert DeNiro’s remake of Cape Fear put a big smile on my face. Pretty amazing that he lasted within a month of his 80th birthday after the life he had, but his majestic film performances are preserved forever in all their glory. As are those record albums and mug shots.

So as I celebrate Robert Mitchum’s birthday by having a cocktail, listening to a calypso song and just not giving a shit for a little while; here are Ten Memorable Mitchums for you to recall and/or discover…

(No slight to fellow birthday buddy Lucille Ball, a comedic legend and genius, but it’s all about Bob today. Maybe next year?)

01)  The Night of The Hunter. Oh. My. God. As (cough) preacher Harry Powell, with fingers tattooed L-O-V-E and H-A-T-E, Mitchum created one of the most frighteningly sinister characters in film history.

02)  River Of No Return. Mitchum in a western with Marilyn Monroe, a raging river and a real-life pot bust during filming. Not a classic, but a side of Mitchum not often seen.

03)  The List of Adrian Messenger. Okay, Mitchum only plays a small part in this movie, much like Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis . The stars are really George C. Scott and Kirk Douglas, but this who-done-it is really more of a who-is-it. Trust me – watch this film.

04)  Crossfire. Three Roberts – Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Robert Young – in a wartime thriller directed by Edward Dmytryk. Available in a film noir collection although technically not really in the genre.

05)  The Longest Day. Still one of the best WWII movies ever made, this film told the story of D-Day from the perspective of four different countries and featured forty-two Hollywood stars in the cast.

06)  The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Mitchum as a Boston small-timer with his back against the wall trying to survive between the Feds and the mob. Incredible cast (Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Alex Rocco) and finally out on DVD. A must-see movie.

07)  Thunder Road. Moonshine, hot rods and rum-running as Lucas Doolin. Mitchum wrote the script and even had a hit song with the title theme (take that, Bruce Springsteen!) as he played an Appalachian James Dean

08)  The Racket. Another film with Robert  Ryan (perhaps even more underrated than Mitchum these days) where Mitchum plays the righteous guy trying to stem the corruption of the mob.

09)  The Enemy Below. A taut duel between submarine commander Curd Jurgens and Mitchum’s destroyer. To say this is claustrophobic is an understatement, but the game of cat-and-mouse is spellbinding and tense, and the display of respect for one’s enemy was an unusual tone for a war film.

10)  Out Of The Past. An absolute stone-cold classic loaded with killer quotes. “Build my gallows high, baby”…”Baby, I don’t care”…”It was the bottom of the barrel, and I was scraping it“. And when the femme fatale says she doesn’t want to die, he replies “Neither do I, baby, but if I do I want to die last“.  Also featuring one of Kirk Douglas‘ best roles; loosely remade as Against All Odds in the 80s (a decent film,  but it pales in comparison to the original).

Robert Mitchum’s filmography at IMDB.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Dennis Hopper

This pretty much sums it up.

Actor, painter, director, producer, humanitarian, counterculture icon, thorn in the side of the predictable…we lost a great one this week when cancer claimed the life of Dennis Hopper. Like Keith Richards, most felt he wouldn’t make it out of the 60s alive, let alone the 70s, but both proved resourceful and resilient and capable of creating great work… albeit not quite as frequently. We were blessed to share this mortal coil with him for so long. 

Still, Hopper had a long and varied career in television and films, and a definitive best-of is impossibly subjective. But since he was such a character in real life, here are ten Dennis Hopper characters I will always remember: 


01) Billy in Easy Rider. The movie that started it all, or at least launched Hopper and Peter Fonda into the heart of the counterculture film movement that would change the face of Hollywood. “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about!” 

02) Lyle From Dallas in Red Rock West. It’s really Nicolas Cage’s picture, and one could argue that J.T. Walsh stole the picture (as he often did as  one of the best character actors of all time) in the role Hopper was initially cast in. But Hopper lights up the second half and raises the ante in this great John Dahl film. 

03) The Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. In a world of madness, both real and scripted, Hopper’s acid casualty character might have been as insane as anyone else…or perhaps totally lucid but incapable of expressing himself. 


04) Clifford Worley in True Romance. A highly enjoyable Quentin Tarantino scripted movie that already spiked the oddball meter by casting Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer, among others. But the scene between Christopher Walken and Hopper is worth the price of admission. 

05) Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. An over-the-top performance that would normally have been too scenery-chewing, but how can you be over the top in a David Lynch film? Oh, a few f-bombs, as well. 

06) Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Sharing the screen with heavyweights Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges‘ classic western. A small role, but Hopper shone as the kid gunfighter way out of his league. 

07) Jordan Benedict III in Giant. One of two pictures he made with James Dean; Giant had him playing against type as the mild-mannered son of macho Rock Hudson (who knew?) alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. An underrated soapy western from George Stevens featuring a tremendous cast. 

08) Victor Drazen on 24. Sure, it was a bit of a hammy accent, but how cool was it to have Hopper show up as the criminal mastermind to close out the first season? 

09) Shooter in Hoosiers. Yes, it was a part written to tug the heartstrings, and many actors would have cheesed it up beyond belief. But maybe seeing a man who had battled so many personal demons in real life made it more powerful. “Now boys…don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!” 

10) Feck in The River’s Edge. Things don’t get much stranger than when Crispin Glover is onscreen, but add Dennis Hopper and  an inflatable girlfriend, and there you are. (“Look, I’m not psycho. I know she’s a doll. Right, Elly?”) The movie that might have ruined Keanu Reeves forever

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I Know Noir, But What Am I?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

Who is cooler than Lee Marvin, anyway?

I was thinking about how it’s been a year since we lost Jules Dassin and Richard Widmark, both of whom lived into their nineties and died within a week of each other. Dassin, of course, was blacklisted in the famous McCarthy-influenced purge in Hollywood but moved to France and had a tremendous career. Widmark is one of the greatest actors to ever grace the silver screen, from his debut as psychotic killer Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death through a litany of westerns, war films and crime movies. In 1950, they collaborated on Night and The City, about a street hustler who tries to gain control of the wrestling racket in London, but of course is way over his head. It was a brilliant film, and like most noir features less-than-savory characters trying to make a move, and getting tantalizingly close before everything starts to fall apart. In a way, these are twisted morality plays, but I was first attracted to the genre because the stories seemed to be far more realistic than the typical Hollywood happy ending.

The noir era was before my time, but as an avid reader I devoured books by Jim Thompson and James M. Cain, and when lucky enough to catch them on pre-cable TV I would be mesmerized by Double Indemnity and D.O.A. and Out Of The Past. Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing is a masterpiece, and one of the first instances of retelling of the plot from each character’s perspective. Now, thanks to cable channels like TCM and AMC, many of these films found a whole new audience, and the advent of DVD made most available for fans like me. With few exceptions, these aren’t going to be at Blockbuster, but I’m thrilled to be able to buy and enjoy them in my own home. Recently both Fox and Warner Brothers issued film noir series, and apparently sales are good, because more surface every day. The Criterion Collection also releases many noir titles and they’re meticulous about print quality, bonus features and whatever extras (booklets, interviews, etc.) they can assemble to present as complete an experience as possible. Their releases can be a bit pricey, but you can find many of them at decent used rates, and better library systems will probably carry quite a few.

One of my favorites, and a steal even at the retail price, is The Killers, with both the 1946 film starring Burt Lancaster and the 1964 TV movie directed by Don Siegel and starring John Cassavetes and Lee Marvin, the latter having one of the greatest closing lines in movie history. Oh yeah, and there was this Ronald Reagan guy playing a bad man, which some Americans swear he did again years later in real life. And today – the event that led up to all those thoughts about noir and Widmark and Dassin – Criterion announced the April release of one of the best post-noir classics, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. I am geeked!

I could list dozens of great films and probably fill a book about my love of film noir…and perhaps I will someday. But I wanted to use today’s blog feature to pay tribute to some of my film heroes like Widmark, Mitchum, Marvin, Lancaster and Cassavetes, as well as directors like Dassin, Sam Fuller, Don Siegel and Jean-Pierre Melville. I am so thankful that they were inspired to create such wonderfully vivid stories that are as thrilling to watch today as they must have been at the time. So if you are one who can appreciate that a great film is a transcendent journey, I encourage you to make the time to immerse yourself on the dark side of the street.

A series of noir and neo-noir films are being featured by Criterion  right now.

FOX studios has a noir series.

Warner Brothers does too.

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