Saturday, July 10, 2010

Odd Couple of things

My sister's son and his wife were recently transferred from PA to South Carolina, and they leave this weekend.  The job is good, so it isn't all bad.  Naturally my sister will miss them dearly, but she will be able to visit and they will also come back here for visits, so they will see each other monthly (more or less).  That got me thinking about a line in the classic 1968 comedy, The Odd Couple.

In that movie, Jack Lemmon, as Felix Unger, was entertaining the Coo-Coo Pigeon sisters.  He was telling them about his marriage break up and his children.  He mentions how much he will miss them...but he will get to see them every weekend, and for a month in the summer, and take them to school every day, and pick them up, etc.  One of the sisters says, "Well, when is it that you will miss them?"

That was Monica Evans as Cecily Pigeon.  Evans was the only person in The Odd Couple to play in the Broadway production, the movie and the TV show.  She did a few other roles in voice overs and on TV, but she was only in two other movies.  A look at the Internet Broadway Database shows that she was only in two plays.  (Disclaimer: I can't say that the Internet Movie or Broadway Databases are accurate and up to date, but they are still good resources.)

The waitress was played by Iris Adrian, an actress who appeared in close to 160 roles.  She worked with Jerry Lewis, the Marx Brothers, Elvis Presley and many others in quite a career from 1928 to 1986.  Just think of someone named Sugar or Honey.

I mentioned Bill Baldwin in my Rocky post a few days ago.  He was in The Odd Couple as one of the sports announcers.  Type casting again.

My favorite characters in The Odd Couple were the card playing friends, played by Herb Edelman, John Fiedler, David Sheiner, and Larry Haines.  All of them can be seen in many other films and on TV, although none were big stars.  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were the stars here, and they surrounded themselves with bit actors and actresses who made this a classic that will be enjoyed forever.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

I don't think Henry Fonda could ever have been classified a bit actor.  In his first film, The Farmer Takes a Wife (1935), he gets second billing to Janet Gaynor.  In 1939 he was just 34 years old and played Abraham Lincoln in Young Mr. Lincoln, a fictionalized account of the president's early life. 

Let's look for other famous names in the cast.  Milburn Stone played Stephen Douglas long before he became the doctor in "Gunsmoke."  He was 35 years old while working on Lincoln, and this was almost his fiftieth role in movies.

Edwin Maxwell, who was Freedonia's Secretary of War in the Marx Brother's Duck Soup (1933), was in his 74th film here.  In 1929 he started acting in film, and in ten years appeared in 110 films.

Jack Kelly was 12 years old playing a boy here.  Of course he would become Bart Maverick much later on TV.  Dickie Jones was the same age as Kelly, and his most famous roles were as a child actor.  (Here we go again...back to Destry Rides Again!)

George Chandler had an uncredited part in this, his 165th film.  I fondly remember him as Uncle Petrie in "Lassie" on TV.  He has 444 roles listed on IMDb, and is remembered mostly for all the TV he did.  I should blog about him in the future.

Let's not forget Ward Bond (again) and Donald Meek, who had a long career as a character actor in comedies with Mae West and W. C. Fields, Laurel and Hardy, Penny Singleton, William Powell and others, plus his wonderful role in Stagecoach as Peacock the whiskey salesman, and parts in so many other films.  It's a shame we lost him in 1946 at age 68.  Another future blog topic.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Maltese Falcon

The Maltese Falcon from 1941, is the very essence of the term, "Classic Film."  It was John Huston's directorial debut, and marks the approximate mid point of Humphrey Bogart's career.  The main characters are all superb; Peter Lorre, Mary Astor, Elisha Cook, Jr., Ward Bond, and Sidney Greenstreet. 

It is hard to believe that this was Sidney Greenstreet's first film, and that he only appeared in film for eight years, making 22 of them.  He is best remembered for The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca (1942), two classics that would be welcome on any actor's resume.

Ward Bond was well into his career by 1941 with over 200 movie roles, many uncredited, before making Falcon.  He became Burt the cop in It's a Wonderful Life, but it was his second to last gig on TV's "Wagon Train" that he is probably most remembered for.

I may put Elisha Cook, Jr. in that bit/character actor category, though.  He made over 200 appearances on movie and TV screens, starting in 1930.  He was a piano player in Sergeant York in 1941, worked with Laurel and Hardy in A-Haunting We Will Go in 1942, joined Bogart again in The Big Sleep in 1946, and made two other films with John Huston.

I don't know if I remember him, or just can imagine him, in the original TV series, "Adventures of Superman" with George Reeves.  He just seems to fit!  John Hamilton, who played Perry White in "Superman," was also in The Maltese Falcon.

"Superman" was less than half way through Cook's 58 year career, and it was the last role Hamilton played in his.  I do remember Cook in the original "Star Trek" series as a guest star in 1967.

Cook continued making movies and TV shows until 1988.  Some were hits and some were not.  One I have not seen was when he reprised his role as Wilmer Cook in a 1975 comedy called The Black Bird, starring George Segal as Sam Spade's son.  I may skip that one.  If you like the 70's, look for him in Electra Glide in Blue instead.

I must mention Walter Huston appearing in Falcon, directed by his son.  Of course he is not a bit actor, but he was one in this film!  He played an uncredited police captain.  The trouble with a classic like The Maltese Falcon is that there were no bit actors and no unimportant parts.  That's what makes it a classic.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Star Trek the Mo Pic

I thought it would be fun to see where some of the bit players in the first Star Trek movie are today.  Star Trek: The Motion Picture was made in 1979.  A look at the cast shows something about how the Star Trek franchise works.

When "Star Trek" the original TV series was proposed, Gene Roddenberry had a lot of trouble selling it to any major studio.  Desilu finally agreed to accept the project.  My guess is that Roddenberry had to scale back production quite a bit to make it profitable for Desilu.  The flimsy sets used in the first series show that economy.

That sort of cost savings probably stayed with the production of "Star Trek" and future endeavors in the very popular S.T. line.  Most of the cast for all things Star Trek did not include big name stars.  I think Roddenberry may have been concerned that any star would be compared to other roles they had played, to the distraction of the sci-fi story.

When you run a star ship with a huge crew, you will inevitably have many people on board who will not have much to say.  That certainly happened in the Star Trek movies.

Of course, we have the eight usual "Star Trek" stars appearing in the first movie, and two other major roles with Persis Khambatta as a lieutenant who is take over by the invader, and Stephen Collins as Cmdr. Decker.  Only Collins has any real acting credits. 

Khambatta was Miss India in 1965, and as an actress has only 20 listings on IMDb over 30 years.  She died of a heart attack at age 47.  It was said that she had to shave her head if she wanted the role as the bald Lt. Ilia in Star Trek: The Motion Picture

We also have Mark Lenard as a Klingon in this movie.  Lenard started on "Star Trek" in 1966 as a Romulan commander.  The next year he was on again as Sarek, the Vulcan father of Mr. Spock, a role he reprised several times in later years on TV and in S.T. movies.  I guess that didn't deter him from temporarily becoming Klingon in 1979.

There is not much else to talk about as far as bit actors.  Almost everyone else in the cast could be called an extra.  Many did no other acting on screen and quite a few were seen in single TV shows and small film parts.  I guess that is one way to save money for special effects.

One extra did catch my eye.  Junero Jennings last film was Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death (1989)!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Philadelphia Story

I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, so I am quite familiar with the entire Delaware Valley surrounding the city.  I always like seeing movies and TV shows that are shot in the area, so let's look at Rocky from 1976. 

Is it a classic film?  What makes a classic film?  Rocky won three Oscars, including Best Picture, and was nominated for seven more.  It won 15 other awards in the industry, including Best Foreign Language Film by the Japanese Academy.  It also had a great cast and it made Sylvester Stallone a star.  I think it may qualify.

Of course, it would never win for location accuracy.  Anyone familiar with Philly would know that Rocky could never have made that early morning run as shown in the film.  He was all over the city!  But it did show a lot of neighborhoods.  And no, I never tried to run up the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In one of the sequels to Rocky, the city dedicates a statue at the museum to him.  In real life, the Art Museum didn't want the statue.  It wasn't really art, you know.  It was moved to one of the sports stadiums called the Spectrum, where the fights were supposed to take place.  The Spectrum is now scheduled for demolition, and the Rocky statue is back at the Art Museum...this time at the bottom of the steps.

As far as bit actors go, Rocky is full of them.  Stallone, up until 1976 and Rocky, was a bit actor.  This movie shot him up to being a superstar  Talia Shire had a much better resume, having already made The Godfather and Godfather II

My favorite actor in this film is Burgess Meredith. He outclassed everyone else and is definitely not a bit player.  I have always considered Burt Young to be a bit actor, but he keeps showing up in films and on TV, sometimes in starring roles.  Let's call him a character actor. 
  • Bill Baldwin (not Alec's brother) played a fight announcer.  He has 131 credits on IMDb, mostly as announcers or news casters.  A type casted career.
  • Stallone's younger brother Frank, had two parts in this film.  He was a street singer and a timekeeper. 
  • You can also catch Michael Dorn from "Star Trek" as a bodyguard.  He should have used his Klingon makeup and nobody would mess with him!
Most of the rest of the bit players and extras are not noteworthy, but some have quite a few roles in their list.  Just for fun, look here for a list of the films of Lloyd Kauffman, who played a drunk.  I am not sure I would want to list many of his movies on my resume!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Love That Bob!

For a patriotic ending to Independence Day, I took a look at HBO on-demand and found a gem.  From 1942, Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, starring Bob Cummings and Priscilla Lane.  This movie uses the Statue of Liberty much the same as North by Northwest used Mount Rushmore.  Only the bad guys fall, so it is very patriotic.

I remember Bob Cummings from his 1950's TV show where he played a photographer.  Priscilla Lane was a singer with Fred Waring, and didn't have much of an acting career, appearing in only 22 films over ten years.

This was Norman Lloyd's third film, and he went on to play in Spellbound with Hitch, and then made several episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" on TV.  I didn't realize he was in Chaplin's Limelight, which I haven't seen in a long time.  I believe it is coming up in my Netflix queue.

I guess what I like about Hitchcock films is the supporting cast of bit players.  He chooses them wisely so they really fit their part.  Murray Alper was the helpful truck driver in this film, which was only one of his 229 roles over a career spanning 39 years.  He was lonely and talkative, as you would expect a truck driver to be, but he also was looking for adventure.  He mentioned that he never sees anything, but then he sees Cummings escape the police and gives him a hand.

The entire band of circus performers was also perfectly chosen.  If you look at their individual filomgraphies, you will see a load of roles for several of them, including Billy Curtis, the midget (at left), who started out in the 1938 classic western, The Terror of Tiny Town, with an all little people cast.

You can also see Hans Conreid and Will Wright.  Wright must have appeared in every early TV western among his 206 roles!  It was also good to see Ian Wolfe again.  He made it to 286 acting roles, including two "Star Trek" episodes in 1968 and 1969!  That was unusual considering all the great films he was in.  The previously mentioned Billy Curtis also appeared in "Star Trek" the original series.

The best bit player in the film was of course, The Statue of Liberty.  She always saves the day!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Independence Day

No, not the movie.  It's Independence Day in the USA!  Go out to watch fireworks or have a picnic.  If you want a patriotic movie suggestion, try Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) with James Cagney.

I'll write tomorrow.