Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I visited Paris many years ago.  After attending the 1984 Sons of the Desert convention in London, our small group tacked on a week in Paris.  Our hotel was near the Cathedral of Notre Dame, so we walked there almost every day.  One day, we walked up all those steps to the bell tower and saw the 13 ton bell called Emmanuel, which was rung by Quasimodo.

Which brings us to the movie.  There have been quite a few Hunchback of Notre Dame's made over the years, starting in 1911.  That one starred Henry Krauss (1866 - 1935) and Stacia Napierkowska (1886 - 1945).

Next was Esmeralda in 1922 starring Booth Conway as Quasimodo.  Booth only made 18 movies, all silent.  Sybil Thorndike (1882 - 1976) played the title role.

1923 brought us two Hunchbacks.  One was a British one-reeler.  I don't know how you can tell the story in ten minutes!  There are no details on IMDb about that one.

The other was the big one, starring Lon Chaney (1883 - 1930) and Patsy Ruth Miller (1904 - 1995).

The Chaney version also includes a young Charles Farrell (1900 - 1990) who much later played Vern Albright in "My Little Margie" with Gale Storm (1922 - 1909).  Farrell also made a dozen films with Janet Gaynor (1906 - 1984).  Another actor who was just starting out as an extra in Hunchback is Gilbert Roland (1905 - 1994).  Roland has an impressive list of 142 roles, ending with Barbarosa, a 1982 western starring Willie Nelson (b. 1933) and Gary Busey (b. 1944).

In 1939 The Hunchback of Notre Dame is finally made with sound.  Charles Laughton (1899 - 1962) equals Lon Chaney in my opinion.  I also think he brings a sadness to the role that Chaney didn't, or perhaps couldn't, capture in a silent film.  Maureen O'Hara (b. 1920) as Esmeralda, was only in her fourth film.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive and includes many famous names.  I did see Charlie Hall (1899 - 1959) listed in an uncredited role.  Charlie is well known to all Laurel and Hardy fans.

In 1956 Hunchback was made starring Anthony Quinn (1915 - 2001) and Gina Lollobrigida (b. 1927).  I think I may have seen this one once, but it has faded from memory.

Lastly, in 1996 The Hunchback of Notre Dame was turned into a Disney animation.  This one has an incredible cast of voice actors and actresses.  There were also several TV releases and even a TV series in 1966, and also a video game in 1998.

I like the 1923 and 1939 versions best.  I also like looking at the early films, checking the cast, and seeing how they got their Bit Actors.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rough Cut

Since a reader left a comment about yesterday's post on Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), I thought I might push Rough Cut (1980) on you today.  Both were directed by talented director Don Siegel (1912 - 1991).

Rough Cut stars Burt Reynolds (b. 1936), Lesley-Anne Down (b. 1954) and David Niven (1910 - 1983).  It is a rom/com, detective story about a very successful jewel thief (Reynolds) in London, and a Scotland Yard detective (Niven) on his last case before retiring.  Of course the rom in rom/com comes in the form of the beautiful Lesley-Anne Down who was never sexier.

The supporting cast was exceptional.  Reynolds has to put together a crew to pull off the heist.  He travels around Europe to find them.  A coordinator from England, and pilots from France and Germany.  The movie sometimes seems like an excuse for the cast to travel, since the caper will take place in Holland.

Timothy West (b. 1934) plays the coordinator.  He has 113 titles listed starting in 1961.  Look for him in Ever After (1998), The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), and 102 Dalmatians (2000), and if you get PBS or BBC on television, he appears in many of the wonderful mystery series' made by the BBC.

Patrick Magee (1922 - 1982) plays the German pilot, with a convincing accent...he was born in Ireland.  85 roles on his list, including The Masque of the Red Death (1964), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Luther (1974), and Chariots of Fire (1981).

Al Matthews (b. 1942) plays the American pilot who was picking up some cash as a jazz pianist in Paris when the heist came up.  Rough Cut was his second film, and he only has 26 titles listed, but some are impressive.  Superman III (1983), Aliens (1986), The Fifth Element and Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997.  Not bad.

Joss Ackland (b. 1928) plays a police detective in Holland.  Another actor with star power, and a great voice.  Look for him in Lethal Weapon 2 (1989) and Hunt for Red October (1990), and over 175 other roles.

Think of the screwball comedies of the 1930s and 1940s.  After the Thin Man and My Man Godfrey from 1936, Topper (1937), His Girl Friday (1940), and the like.  Rough Cut is in the same style.  You know the leads are up to something, but the ending of the movie is a bit of a turn that you won't see coming.  And I won't ruin it for you.  Sadly, this movie is not available on DVD or Netflix, but you may find it on VHS.  Its worth the effort.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The original Invasion of the Body Snatchers from 1956 remains a must see for all sci-fi/horror movie fans.  It is an early entry into the modern era of the genre, and still retains its suspense, even without CGI effects.

I last saw Body Snatchers a few years ago, so my memory may be a bit rusty on the details.  I seem to remember a fairly early reveal of the pods that grew into replicas of people in the town.  You would expect them to hold on to the suspense of what these things look like, but nothing is lost in showing what they showed so early in the film.

So, who was in it?  There are some big names in the leads.  Kevin McCarthy (1914 - 2010, with 205 titles on IMDb), Dana Wynter (b. 1931, showing 82 titles), King Donovan (1918 - 1987, has 115 roles, including Cowboy (1958) mentioned in an earlier post of mine), Carolyn Jones (1930 - 1983, with 94 titles including "The Addams Family"), and Larry Gates (1915 - 1996, with 95 roles) have the major roles.

Two other famous names were also in Body Snatchers.  Sam Peckinpah (1925 - 1984) and Richard Deacon (1921 - 1984).

Sam Peckinpah is best known as a director and writer for TV shows and screenplays such as "Gunsmoke," "The Rifleman," "The Westerner," Ride the High Country (1962), Major Dundee (1965), The Wild Bunch (1969) and Straw Dogs (1971).  He appears in 11 movies.

Richard Deacon has 169 titles listed, but is probably best known as the producer, Mel Cooley on "The Dick Van Dyke Show."  He is basically a sitcom guy, but he was in some good movies starting in 1953.  Keeping in the spirit of this post, look for Deacon in Them! (1954) and This Island Earth (1955).

A look through the other cast members brings up a large number of actors and actresses with more than 50 titles listed.  Many found good work on TV, but all retained a good movie presence as well.

One last cast member who should be mentioned is Pat O'Malley (1890 - 1966).  O'Malley has over 400 titles listed on IMDb, starting in 1908.  His first talkie was Alibi (1929) starring Chester Morris (1901 - 1970) and featuring Mae Busch (1891 - 1946) who worked with Laurel and Hardy, and Regis Toomey (1898 - 1991).  His last film was Apache Rifles (1964) starring Audie Murphy (1924 - 1971).

Perhaps what I remember most from Invasion of the Body Snatchers is the feeling of utter helplessness you have during of the film.  The ability to issue an emotional response is the hallmark of a great movie.  Even one made in 1956.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Denholm Elliott

I was bored the other night so I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989).  It is difficult to rate the series of Indy films, but I put Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) first, Last Crusade second, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) third, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) last.  But the last two could be reversed depending on my mood at the time.  Feel free to make your own ratings.

Denholm Elliott (1922 - 1992) played Marcus Brody in two of them, Raiders and Last Crusade.  He has 153 titles listed on IMDb, so he is certainly worth a look.

Elliott was born in England and his first film, Dear Mr. Prohack (1949) was made there.  The next year he was off to America for some TV work.  He did work back and forth between countries, but most of his work in the 1950s would be in less than blockbuster movies.

Some of his 1960s films bordered on being good choices, others did not.  You be the judge.
1962  Station Six-Sahara - Carol Baker (b. 1931) joins a group of men at an oil station in the Sahara!  Sounds like fun.
1965  You Must be Joking - Denholm plays a character named Captain Tabasco.
1965  King Rat - Join George Segal (b. 1934) in a prison camp.
1966  Alfie - Getting better with Michael Caine (b. 1933) and Shelley Winters (1920 - 2006).
1968  The Night They Raided Minsky's - Had to be good with Britt Eckland (b. 1942) and Jason Robards (1922 - 2000).

Some that may make you rethink his star power...
1966  The Spy with a Cold Nose
1971  The House the Dripped Blood
1973  The Vault of Horror
1974  Its Not the Size that Counts  (Yes, the size of what you are thinking.)
1975  Russian Roulette - He plays Commander Petapiece!
Ahh, for the 1970s again!

In 1976 he works with Sean Connery (b. 1930) , Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993), Robert Shaw (1927 - 1978), and Richard Harris (1930 - 2002)  in Robin and Marian.  Now there's a cast!  That same year he is in Voyage of the Damned with Faye Dunaway (b. 1941).

In 1977 he goes A Bridge Too Far, again with Connery and also Ryan O'Neal (b. 1941).  A year later, The Boys from Brazil with Gregory Peck (1916 - 2003) and Laurence Olivier (1907 - 1989).  Now he is getting some real work.

After Raiders in 1981 he is in the comedy Trading Places in 1983 with Eddie Murphy (b. 1961), Jamie Lee Curtis (b. 1958) and Dan Aykroyd (b. 1952).  Filmed in Philadelphia, so I like it.

Elliott also made many TV movies.  His final two movies are Toy Soldiers (1991) featuring Wil Wheaton (b. 1972) who appeared regularly on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," and Noises Off... (1992) with Carol Burnett (b. 1933)  and Michael Caine.

Denholm Elliott was a great Bit Actor.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Alan Rickman

Alan Rickman was born in London in 1946.  He has 55 titles on IMDb.  And he is fast becoming a star, so let's talk about him before he is no longer a Bit Actor.

He started acting on the stage, but his TV work began in the UK in 1978.  His big break was actually his first movie, Die Hard (1988) as the villain, Hans Gruber.  He played the part with intelligence, but he still made you hate him.  His talent was unmistakable, right from the start. 

His next movie was January Man (1989) with Kevin Kline (b. 1947) and Susan Sarandon (b. 1946).  In 1990 we see him as the villain in Quigley Down Under, once again being sadistic.

And yet another big movie in 1991, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves where he is, you guessed it, the villainous Sheriff of Nottingham.  In 1995 he is in Sense and Sensibility with Kate Winslet (b. 1975), and the next year Michael Collins with Julia Roberts (b. 1967) and Liam Neeson (b 1952).  Let's also mention Galaxy Guest in 1999 with Tim Allen (b. 1953) and Sigourney Weaver (b. 1949). 

That is not a bad career for his first decade on the big screen.  In many of those movies he is cast in a strong supporting role, and in others he is only a Bit Actor.  He even had some starring roles in movies that were not as important.

But then in 2001, he is cast as Severus Snape in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.  Life is good.  That role will guarantee him wealth.  Almost as much as Daniel Radcliffe (b. 1989) who was only 11 when he made his first big movie.

In addition to the eight Harry Potter films, Rickman is still involved with other projects. 
  • Love Actually  (2003)
  • Snow Cake  (2006)
  • Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street  (2007)
Along with some other films and TV work.  But, try to watch these later works and not see Severus Snape.  Just Rickman's voice can take you back to Hogwart's. 

I think Alan Rickman's name in the cast will almost ensure a good movie in the future.  And who knows, maybe there will be flashbacks in Harry Potter sequels yet to be announced.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Cowboy (1958)

A simple title for a good western from 1958...Cowboy.  It starred Jack Lemmon (1925 - 2001) as a bank teller who wanted to try his hand at being a cowboy, and Glenn Ford (1916 - 2006) as the cattle drive foreman who takes him in.

Cowboy also has quite a good supporting cast.  Brian Donlevy (1901 - 1972) has 102 titles starting in 1923.  He was the bad guy, Kent, in Destry Rides Again (1939) with James Stewart

For Dick York (1929 - 1992), this was his fourth feature film.  "Bewitched" made him famous in the mid 1960s, but he was also in Inherit the Wind in 1960, and he was a regular for Alfred Hitchcock on his TV shows.

Do you remember Richard Jaeckel (1926 - 1997)?  186 roles starting in 1943, many of them war movies.  His biggest role was as the sergeant in The Dirty Dozen in 1967, and he twice worked with John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima (1949) and Chisum (1970). 

For a change of pace, Jaeckel was in Herbie Goes Bananas in 1980 and Airplane II: The Sequel in 1982.  Then, a few more action films, Black Moon Rising (1986) with Tommy Lee Jones (b. 1946) and Delta Force 2: The Columbian Connection (1987) with Chuck Norris (b. 1940).  His final work put him squarely on top of TV in "Baywatch."  Could he keep up with Pamela Anderson (b. 1967) when he was in his 60s?

King Donovan (1918 - 1987) was a trail hand in Cowboy.  He has 115 titles listed on IMDb.  Many westerns and many TV shows, and many uncredited.  He was in Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The Seven Little Foys (1955), plus some not so greats, The Magnetic Monster and The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms both in 1953.  He redeemed himself in Invasion of the Body Snatchers in 1956.

Vaugn Taylor (1910 - 1983) was famous as Janet Leigh's (1927 - 2004) boss in Psycho (1960), plus over 170 other roles.  Frank DeKova (1910 - 1981) was famous as Chief Wild Eagle in "F-Troop," plus over 130 more roles.  James Westerfield (1913 - 1971) had over 150 roles in his career, including movies such as, The Pride of the Yankees (1942), On the Waterfront (1954), The Absent Minded Professor (1961), Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), Hang 'em High (1968) and True Grit (1969).

Cowboy was a very good movie.  Glenn Ford and Jack Lemmon are stars.  The rest of the cast is what makes the movie great...those great Bit Actors.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

King of the Cowboys

In 1943, Roy Rogers (1911 - 1998) made King of the Cowboys.  I just wrote about Irving Bacon (1893 - 1965), who was in that film as the jailer, but it had a much bigger cast.

Of course, the Sons of the Pioneers and Bob Nolan (1908 - 1980) were high on the cast list.  You can't have a good Roy Rogers film without some good singing.  And Pat Brady (1914 - 1972) was also listed.  Trigger (1932 - 1965) went uncredited.  Let's look at just one of the small parts.

Dick Wessel (1913 - 1965) had a small part, probably as a bad guy.  But he also had 289 other titles to his credit on IMDb.  Another gold mine to be reviewed.

His acting career started in 1935 and that year he was in Bonnie Scotland with Laurel and Hardy.  In 1938 he was in Racket Busters with Bogart and Angels with Dirty Faces with Cagney.  I recognize so many movies in his list that this could be a long post!

They Drive by Night (1940)
Men of Boys Town (1941)
They Died with Their Boots On (1941)
You're in the Army Now (1941)
Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)
Action in the North Atlantic (1943)
Blondie's Big Moment (1947) - Plus several other Blondie films.
Father of the Bride (1950)
Strangers on a Train (1951)
An American in Paris (1951)
Them! (1954) - That was the one with giant ants.

Each one of these films would be a good topic for a blog post!

Wessel dabbled in TV in the early 1950s, and then in the middle of that decade he was guesting on many shows.  They were varied, just like his movies.  He was in westerns, family shows, comedies and dramas.  Everything from "Lassie" to "December Bride," "Alcoa Theatre," and "Grindl."

He continued making movies as well.  Francis in the Navy (1955), Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), No Time for Sergeants (1958), and Who's Minding the Store (1963) with Jerry Lewis (b. 1926).

Wessel had a regular role on "Riverboat" around 1960.  His last TV appearances were mostly westerns, including "Gunsmoke," "Daniel Boone," "Wagon Train," and "Petticoat Junction."  A good mix.

He went uncredited in his final movie, The Ugly Dachshund.  Released after Wessel's death in 1966, it starred Dean Jones (b. 1931) and Suzanne Pleshette (1937 - 2008)...and our hero, Dick Wessel, played a garbage man.  A sad end for an amazing Bit Actor.