Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Last Holiday

Two movies...The Last Holiday - 1950 and 2006.  1950 starring Alec Guinness and 2006 starring Queen Latifah.  I have both films on DVD and they both have their good points.  The newer version has a happy ending, which is fine if you are in the mood.

The 1950 version has a screenplay by J. B. Priestley.  The ending is will not see it coming...and if you haven't seen the film, I will not spoil it for you.  It is certainly a film worth looking for.

The story is about a common working man, George Bird played by Guinness, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and, having no family, how he spends his life savings on a last holiday fling.  George is a farm implement salesman when he goes to the doctor for a checkup and hears the bad news.  The acting is superb and I consider this one of the great classic British films.  Think of Basil Rathbone quality.

Once again we see that movies are held together by the small parts adding character to the overall mood of the film.  Of course, Guinness is wonderful in the lead, but look at the rest of the cast.

Bernard Lee, who later starred in many James Bond films; Wilfred Hyde-White, from My Fair Lady and too many other films (156 total) to list; and David McCallum's father as the "blind" fiddler, who in real life was the concertmaster of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Even the names you don't recognize had outstanding parts.  Muriel George (61 acting roles) as Lady Oswington, and her maid-servant Miss Fox played by Esma Cannon (73 roles).  Small parts but what atmosphere they bring!  They help to clarify what the others are thinking about why George is at the resort.

Sid James plays another regular guy at the posh resort where George is staying, so they hit it off right away.  James was in the "Carry On" series of British comedies.  I counted 36 Carry Ons, in his 143 roles from 1947 to 1976, the year he died.

Lastly let's mention Ernest Thesiger as Sir Travor Lampington, the doctor who named the deadly disease George has.  Born in 1879, he started acting in 1916.  Thesiger played Dr. Pretorius in The Bride of Frankenstein in 1935.  He made The Last Holiday when he was 71 years old, then went on to make another 29 films until 1961.

The legacy collection of Frankenstein films pictured at left is in my film library and is a great bargain.  It includes LOADS of extra materials.

Classic British films are wonderful to watch because of the all important bit parts and the great actors who bring them life.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Kathleen Freeman

Yes, Kathleen Freeman (1919 - 2001).  She had 274 appearances from 1948 through 2002, of course her last few parts must have been released after her death.  Here was an actress you would recognize instantly because she was in everything!  When I wasn't at the Keswick Theatre, I grew up in front of a TV, so many of the actors I am writing about were always there.

Ms. Freeman had a larger-than-life voice.  She was rather large, too.  I was looking over the cast of the James Garner film, Support your Local Sheriff from 1969, looking for a likely candidate for a posting here, and I knew instantly she would be the one.  It was a small role, but in that off-beat western, she fit in perfectly as the neighbor who couldn't help laughing at the female lead, Joan Hackett.

You may remember seeing her in Singin' in the Rain (1952) as the grammar coach for Lena LaMont.  She was in ten episodes of "Topper" on TV in 1954 (a show I always watched, even though I was only four).  It's been quite a while since I've seen the 1958 Vincent Price film, The Fly, but she was in it. 

How about Hook, Line and Sinker from 1969, Which Way to the Front? from 1970, or another ELEVEN movies with Jerry Lewis?  All these roles call for a character actress, and she fit them perfectly.  You had to be good to be on six episodes of "The Beverly Hillbillies." 

Maybe we should stay away from the bombs she was in.  I won't mention the 1953 movie, The Magnetic Monster with Richard Carlson.  I was never much of a fan of Carlson.  He put the "B" in B-movies, although Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) wasn't bad.

So go out and pick up The Blues Brothers (1980) and watch for Kathleen Freeman as Sister Mary Stigmata.  She was a treasure.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cars and Movies

Well, this is a little later than I usually post.  I had to fix the car this morning.  It is well into the 80's today, so I was a bit tired after that.  It's all fixed so now it will pass inspection.  Maybe we should talk about car movies?

The Fast and the Furious, Gone in Sixty Seconds, how about any James Bond film?  I just heard that one of the four original Aston Martin DB5s used in the first Bond films is going up for sale at auction in London.  The owner paid $12,000 for it a while ago and it is expected to sell for $5 million!  Who said not to invest in cars?

Of course, to anyone interested in British cars, The Italian Job (from 1969, not 2003) is one of the best choices, simply because of how it celebrated the Mini.  That's the tiny car you usually see in the circus, and a hundred clowns climb out!  (I guess Italian circuses use Fiats.)  The later version of that movie used the new MINI by BMW, but that one is way too big for Brit car purists.

The best car chase ever filmed is found in Bullitt (1968) starring Steve McQueen.  McQueen usually did his own stunt driving.  He also drove his motorcycle in The Great Escape, when his stunt driver couldn't do a jump as well as McQueen himself.

Paul Newman was also an incredible driver.  Paul was a member of the Sports Car Club of America and he would compete in races frequently.  Joanne Woodward would come with him sometimes and just sit in the stands and watch.  They were apparently just like regular folk at the races, but I never had a chance to meet them.  I was told that Paul would be great to talk to, as long as you treated him like one of the guys.  As soon as you started to push him about his movies, he would shut down!  I can't blame him for having that attitude.  It must be difficult to be so famous.  He had a chance to do something normal where he could be accepted as a racer, so he did.

If you get the chance to see Grand Prix (1966) with James Garner, it is worth the time, as long as you are a car nut.  The racing is superb.  When it was restored, it was shown on the American Movie Classics channel without commercials, and with commentary from Garner.  If that is available on a DVD special edition, it would be worth owning.  Again, IF you are a car nut!  This may be it, but no guarantees, Grand Prix (Two-Disc Special Edition).

Hmmm, no bit actors today, or maybe I am wrong.  The cars are the stars and the rest are bit actors!  Maybe I'll do better tomorrow.  I'll hit the grill to make some dinner, then see what's on TCM!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

H. B. Norma Jean

Just yesterday, Marilyn Monroe would have been 84 years old.  I wonder what she would look like if she had lived longer.  84 is not really that old anymore.  My mother is 89 years young, and she recently left her part time job taking care of another woman.  Jack Benny had a gig booked for his 100th birthday, and he almost made it.

Of Monroe's 33 roles, I think I like Niagara and Bus Stop the best.  They weren't big star movies, such as Some Like it Hot or How to Marry a Millionaire, so they let Marilyn do her own thing and make her own way.  You really can't miss with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis, or Lauren Bacall and Betty Grable in your cast (or rather, with you in theirs!).

In Niagara you will find players who were in hundreds of other movies.  Minerva Urecal was in Man on the Flying Trapeze and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break with W. C. Fields, and also in Destry Rides Again with Jimmy Stewart.  See how things come around!  I just talked about those movies!  Minerva was in movies and on TV for 33 years.

Other names that you may actually know in Niagara...Harry Carey Jr. and Don Wilson.  But, how about Will Wright?  Click the link to IMDB and I think you will recognize his face as soon as you see it.
Bus Stop was a little later and Monroe was a star by then.  I bet she was a handful.  Hope Lange apparently had to dye her hair because Marilyn didn't want it to detract from hers.  BTW, Hope Lange married Don Murray after completing this film. 

You can also see Hans Conried in this film; and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. had a small part and appeared with Marilyn again three years later in Some Like it Hot.  Robinson only had 20 roles in movies and TV, compared to his father's 110.

It would have been very interesting to be in the bus stop that night with those people.  At least they worked everything out!  Can you imagine Marilyn living on that ranch with Bo?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More on War

Last night we watched a 2006 movie called Flyboys about the Americans who became the first military aviators.  This was in 1915, and they had to join the French military to fly in World War I, because America was not yet in the war.

This was not a great movie, notable perhaps because of all the historical mistakes it had, such as, the wrong airplanes being used in a movie about airplanes!  Notwithstanding, the CGI of the dogfights was pretty good, and maybe it did give a glimpse of what it was like to be in the Lafayette Escadrille.

I started thinking about the cast.  The only member of the cast that I remembered from other movies is Jean Reno.  The rest of them did well in their parts, but (to me) they were not memorable.  It makes it difficult to keep track of who did what, and who was flying which airplane...not to mention what "baggage" were they taking to the fight.

Most actors start out as extras or in bit parts, and then get larger and larger parts, with hopefully, a shot at a major role if they are notable.  The cast in Flyboys all seemed to be picked from the acting pool, as they did in the silent days.  Did they all stand around waiting for the director to point at them?

If you look at the cast on IMDB, and do some research, you will see names who have been in some pretty big films.  Maybe this is just my imagination, or my lack of a good memory, but this is my blog, so this is my impression of them.  James Franco was in quite a few good movies, such as the Spiderman series.  I should know him, but he looks like any other twenty-something male actor, and it certainly didn't bring to memory that he was in Spiderman.

Most of the cast has less than 20 movie and TV parts to their credit.  I wish them all well, but if they are to become stars, they have to stand out...find a niche and work hard at it.  I don't consider Steven Seagal a very good actor, but he certainly made a lot of money!

I have had the Clara Bow/Buddy Rogers 1927 classic, Wings, on order at Netflix, but they don't have it.  I bet it's great!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day

It is Memorial Day, May 31, 2010.  So, of course, we watched a war movie last night.  I have seen Saving Private Ryan about three times beginning to end, plus I tend to linger when I am changing channels and happen to bump into it.  So last night I popped in the DVD.

One thing I like to do is to see if I can place the bit part actors in other movies they have appeared in.  Saving Private Ryan has an incredible cast, and with five Academy Awards, plus another six nominations, it is sure to be considered a classic.  The movie is only 12 years old.

What I noticed this time is that there are a great many famous stars in bit roles.  That is mainly because of the story, with a patrol moving around France, looking for Pvt. Ryan.  They interact with many people, but each one, only for a short time.

Stars like Paul Giamatti and Ted Danson have relatively small roles.  I didn't even recognize Giamatti until my wife said, "Isn't that John Adams?" and of course he played Adams in the wonderful mini series of the same name.

The actor who played Gen. George Marshall in the beginning of the movie was Harve Presnell.  Presnell has a wonderful, deep voice so he comes across in the role as definitely the one in charge.  If you remember the 1996 movie, Fargo, Presnell played the equally controlling father-in-law, Wade Gustafson, who ultimately gets killed by the bad guy, another great bit actor, Steve Buscemi.

I also noticed an actor named Leland Orser.  He played the crash-landed glider pilot, Lt. DeWindt, who uses the term, FUBAR.  I had just watched a movie on-demand on my new Verizon FiOS (a great value, IMO) called Taken.  Taken is a violent Luc Besson film starring Liam Neeson, and Orser is one of Neeson's compatriots.

So, go rent or buy Saving Private Ryan.  It is an excellent movie, although the realistic carnage is a bit much in the name of entertainment.  I love everything about it, right down to the Edith Piaf music playing over the approaching German tanks.  Don't pick up this movie at the $5 bin at Walmart, get one with extra features!!!

Have a good holiday.  The grand kids are coming!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Barnaby and Me

I have been thinking about what to write regarding another acquaintance, Henry Brandon.  What can you say about Henry?  He was fun to talk to, and always ready to discuss his career, with a bit of humor added.

Henry was born in Germany in 1912.  His second film acting job was in the Laurel and Hardy classic, Babes in Toyland from 1934.  He had one of the leads in the film, which is no easy task for an actor new to film.

Some trivia about Babes in Toyland, the character Mickey Mouse appeared in the film which is one of the very few times a Disney character is included in a non-Disney movie.  Walt Disney loved Laurel and Hardy, so he allowed the famous mouse to be used.  Many years later, when Disney did Babes in Toyland in 1961 with Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn, he included two characters who mimicked L&H.

The L&H Babes in Toyland was later shown on TV as "March of the Wooden Soldiers."  Some of the film was lost (probably due to editing for TV), but then restored, so if you try to purchase it on DVD, be careful.  It would be tragic to pick up a colorized version, and I know they are available!  The original movie opened with a storybook that flipped pages for the titles.  That should be available now.  I am all for getting the most original version possible.

Back to Henry Brandon.  Henry's career was better than most.  He was in three John Wayne movies, including The Searchers, which is considered one of the most important films ever made.  Henry came from Germany, but that didn't prevent him from being cast as a Native American in The Searchers, and many other film and TV roles.  He played four different Indians on six episodes of "Wagon Train!"

Henry was a guest at the 1984 Sons of the Desert convention in the UK, and I was also present.  He could usually be found in the pub talking with many admirers.  When we held the Philadelphia SoD convention two years later, Henry was there, along with Felix Knight and Virginia Karns, who were both in Babes.  We recreated the story on stage at the was amazing!  For the big finally, when the six foot wooden soldiers march in, we had hired one of the famous Philadelphia Mummers bands to march and play.

If you look at the list on IMDB, you can see that Henry appeared in many TV shows.  I suppose that happened to quite a few actors.  TV parts were probably easy to secure, and the work would be fast, then on to the next show.  It probably gave them some exposure that could help get movie parts.

Henry passed away in 1990, but he left an impression on many people who see his work, and on the many people he met and spent time sharing stories.