Tag Archives: Tony Curtis

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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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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