Friday, January 21, 2011

Movie Music

In my last two posts I mentioned the importance of music in movies.  In the Hitchcock Blogathon, I wrote about Bernard Herrmann who added atmosphere to many of Hitch's movies.  In the Laurel and Hardy post, I mentioned T. Marvin Hatley and Leroy Shields, and the use of their music by Hal Roach.

I remember owning a long playing record of the soundtrack to King of Kings (1961) with the music of Miklos Rozsa (1907 - 1995).  I loved that record and played it often.  The movie came out when I was eleven, so I probably got the LP shortly after seeing the movie at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA.

Rozsa started as a musician and composer in Leipzig, and worked in Paris and London before moving to the USA to be nearer the movie industry.  He composed for many films, but his works were also used as stock music in many others. 

Perhaps his best known score was for Spellbound (1945).  And apparently Hitchcock didn't like it very much.  He said it got in the way of his directing.  I liked it.  I actually had a recording of "Spellbound" on a 78 rpm record, which was probably directed by the composer.

But don't stop there.  I was amazed when I looked at Rozsa's work.  He was well known for his music during the Film Noir era.  Films such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Lady on a Train (1945).  He then went into historical dramas like Quo Vadis (1951), King of Kings and El Cid (1961), and the exciting fantasy The Golden Voyage of Sinbad in 1974, produced by Ray Harryhausen (b. 1920).

He wasn't afraid to be inovative and used the newfangled electronic instrument known as the Theremin.  His final original music was written for Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982) starring Steve Martin.  And it doesn't end there.

Some of his compositions were used as stock music for the TV show "Superman" in the 1950s, and he wrote "Dum-De-Dum-Dum" long before "Dragnet" was on television.  The "Dragnet" theme is still being used.

His music can also be heard in Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951), Francis Covers the Big Town (1953), Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops (1955), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), Ben-Hur (1959) and The Dirty Dozen (1967).

I believe Mikos Rozsa touched many more lives of movies fans than most would imagine.  His music could do wonderful things for a movie, and he is right up there with Dimitri Tiomken, Bernard Herrmann, and John Williams

Interestingly, I remember his name being misspelled on that old LP.  It was listed on one side of the cover correctly, and on the back as Rosza.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Perfect Day to be Blotto

After Blogging my heart out on Hitchcock, a return to my roots is in order.  Turner Classic Movies is running Hal Roach movies and TV shows all this month.  Here are two Laurel and Hardy shorts that were on last week.

Perfect Day (1929) - Only Laurel and Hardy can turn a Sunday picnic into a disaster movie.  Uncle Edgar, played by Edgar Kennedy (1890 - 1948), is suffering from the gout in his foot, so it is well wrapped.  L&H start a ruckus in the house and Kennedy's foot keeps getting bumped.  Even the dog grabs it and won't let go.  After destroying all the sandwiches while packing the food, the boys and their wives, plus Uncle Edgar and the dog, all pile into the car.

Trouble with the car, including two flat tires with Stan trying to use a car jack, keeps them stuck.  Then there is an altercation with a neighbor and bricks start flying.  Back in the car, and it won't start.  Ollie is cranking and Stan flips the spark advance lever to cause a huge explosion.  Ollie tells Stan to throw out the clutch, so he rips out the pedal.  You get the picture.  When they finally get moving, there is a big puddle to drive through.  You can guess what happens.

Blotto (1930) - I hesitate to say this is one of my favorites because where will it end?  I have too many favorites as it is.  Stan and his wife, played by Anita Garvin (1906 - 1994) (whom I have had the pleasure to know personally), are at home.  Anita is playing solitaire and Stan wants to go out with his friend, Ollie.  She forbids it so the boys work up a scheme to go to the Rainbow Club.

Anita has a hidden bottle of liquor and the boys plot to take it with them.  She finds out and replaces the contents with cold tea and Tabasco.  At the club, the boys order their two cents plain and pour in the booze.  Amidst some wonderful entertainment at the club, they get blasted and have a great time.  Then they see Anita at another table, with her new double barrel shotgun.

Blotto includes Tiny Sanford (1894 - 1961) as one of the waiters, in a non-speaking role.  Tiny made over 130 films, and over 50 Hal Roach films, and can be seen in many of Charlie Chaplin's classics.  The singer at the club is played by Frank Holliday (1912 - 1948) who was also in It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936).

The best part of Blotto is watching the emotional reaction of the boys to the booze, the singing, and finally the realization that they got blotto on cold tea.  Stan goes through crying fits and then laughing fits, and I dare you to keep a straight face whilst watching.
Copyright 1979 Allen Hefner

One other item to mention as you watch the Hal Roach movies this month.  Listen to the music.  Roach used the same music in many Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy, Charley Chase and other movies of the time.  Most of it was written by T. Marvin Hatley (1905 - 1986) and Leroy Shield (1893 - 1962).  My guess is that the same tunes made it less expensive to make so many movies, but there is also a continuity created.  You know you are watching a Hal Roach comedy.

There is still time to catch some of today's movies on TCM.  You can see some of the Thelma Todd (1906 - 1935) shorts this afternoon.  Todd had a tragically short life, but she did shine in her films.  Starting on Tuesday, January 25, 2011 at 8:00 p.m., make sure to catch the Hal Roach features, beginning with the best of the best, Sons of the Desert (1933) starring L&H.

Please respect the photographs I have taken.  If you want to use them, please ask first.  It's probably OK, I just want to know and maybe receive credit under the pic!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

CMBA Hitchcock Blogathon: The Trouble with Harry

I had written about the Bit Actors in this movie a few months ago and I was going to expand on that post for the Blogathon.  It turned out to be much more fun to write a new post instead.  This one may wind up being a bit longer than my usual offering.

Let’s start with the trivia.  Quick…what was Shirley MacLaine’s (b. 1934) film debut?  This is an Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon so that should give you a hint.  (Oh yeah, the answer may be found somewhere in my title.)  The Trouble with Harry from 1955 was MacLaine’s first film, made when she was just 21 years old, and it was the fifth film for young Jerry Mathers (b. 1948, and not as the Beav) who was only seven.

This was also the first pairing of Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980) and composer Bernard Herrmann (1911 – 1975), who went on to a long relationship, making seven films together.  I think that Psycho (1960) would not be the same without Herrmann’s wonderful score.  

The Trouble with Harry is Hitchcock’s favorite Hitchcock film and Herrmann’s score for it was his favorite as well, according to the all-knowing trivia page on IMDb.

This was Edmund Gwenn’s (1877 – 1959) last of four Hitchcock films.  And finally, Philip Truex (1911 – 2008) played Harry, who was dead through the entire film.  This was Truex’s second and final big screen film.  The other was This is the Army (1943) with Ronald Reagan.  And poor Harry gets exhumed four times in the movie.

Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make many comedies, and this one was actually an experiment on his part, to see how a more British style of comedy, made with relatively unknown actors, would fare in America.  Apparently it didn’t fare very well, and was a box office disappointment.  Hitch bought the rights back and held the film out of circulation for about 30 years.  It was re-released in 1984, thank goodness!

I would imagine that die-hard Hitchcock fans may not appreciate Harry.  It does not contain the gripping suspense of most of his other work.  In fact it is more comedy than mystery.  But it contains a lot of Hitchcock.  The way the shots are framed in the camera is unmistakable.  The excellent direction of many newcomers to film, which may have been instrumental to their future success, came only from Hitch.  And the Bernard Herrmann score adds to the feel of the movie.

In short, the story is about a dead man found by a small boy.  Several of the town residents are convinced they caused Harry's demise.  And then there is the problem of the what the law would say, and how to dispose of the body.  After Harry is identified and it is thought he would not be missed, a simple burial in the field seems the best solution.  But Hitchcock adds twists and turns to complicate things.

The cast in Harry is short, only 14 strong, including Hitchcock's trademark walk-on.  The major Bit Actors are:

  • Royal Dano (1922 - 1994), the deputy sheriff, was a character actor who did a lot of westerns, including a bit part in Cahill US Marshal(1973) with The Duke, and a bigger part in The Outlaw Josey Wales in 1976 with Clint Eastwood.

  • Mildred Natwick ( 1905 - 1994) had over 80 roles in film and on TV.  She plays Mrs. Gravely (!) who befriends Edmund Gwenn.  Perhaps her most famous film was her last, Dangerous Liaisons in 1988 with Glenn Close.

  • Mildred Dunnock (1901 - 1991) is the shop owner, Mrs. Wiggs.  She has played in over 70 parts, including BUtterfield 8 in 1960 with Elizabeth Taylor.

  • I don’t want to give away the entire plot by going into the rest of the story.  Since this is an unusual film for Hitchcock, you may not have seen it, so I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.  Let me say that it is definitely worth seeking out.  The beautiful, scenic, outdoor shots of New England in glorious Technicolor are quite a dichotomy to the story of a dead body found on a beautiful fall day.  And Hitchcock uses it to weave a fun, almost believable story, with a cast that works well together.

    I hope you enjoy the entire Classic Movie Blog Association Hitchcock Blogathon.  As of this writing there are twenty of us participating.  Its good today is a holiday!  Here is the entire list of Blogathon entries.  If any of the links don't work, just click on the link to the CMBA site, just above here.  Have fun!

    1. The Birds – Classic Film & TV CafĂ©
    2. Dial M for Murder – True Classics: The ABCs of Film
    3. The Lady Vanishes – MacGuffin Movies
    4. Lifeboat – Classicfilmboy’s Movie Paradise
    5. The Man Who Knew Too Much – Reel Revival
    6. Marnie – My Love of Old Hollywood
    7. Mr. and Mrs. Smith – Carole & Co.
    8. North By Northwest – Bette’s Classic Movie Blog
    9. Notorious – Twenty Four Frames
    10. The Pleasure Garden – Thrilling Days of Yesteryear
    11. Rear Window – Java’s Journey
    12. Rebecca – ClassicBecky’s Film and Literary Review
    13. Rope – Kevin’s Movie Corner
    14. Shadow of a Doubt - Great Entertainers Media Archive
    15. The 39 Steps – Garbo Laughs
    16. Three Classic Hitchcock Killers – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life
    17. Torn Curtain - Via Margutta 51
    18. The Trouble with Harry – Bit Part Actors (That's me!)
    19. Vertigo – Noir and Chick Flicks
    20. The Wrong Man – The Movie Projector