Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dean Martin

Let's think about Dean Martin (1917 - 1995) the Bit Actor and King of Cool.  Of course Everybody Loves Somebody, and Dino is one of my favorite singers, which probably gives away my age.  His music is heard in the soundtracks of over 160 films and TV shows.

He also appears as an actor/comedian in eight TV shows, including the very first broadcast of "Toast of the Town," which would later become "The Ed Sullivan Show."  But let's Sway over to his 55 films as an actor.

His most famous roles were certainly as half of the Martin and Lewis team with Jerry Lewis, which was the real start in movies for both of them.  They made 16 movies as a team, and also appeared together in Road to Bali (1952) with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.

By 1956 the team was finished.  Dean wanted to have his own movie career, but he had to reinvent himself to a certain degree for it to work.  His first solo film, Ten Thousand Bedrooms (1957), was not a box office success.  It also starred Anna Maria Alberghetti (b. 1936).

Dean's next film was a war movie called The Young Lions (1958) and it proved that he had some quality acting ability, so his new career was off and running.  In 1959 he played the drunken deputy in Rio Bravo with John Wayne, Ricky Nelson (1940 - 1985), and Walter Brennan (1894 - 1974).  In that one, I could have done without the singing!

The next year he starred with Judy Holliday (1921 - 1965) in Bells Are Ringing, and also made Ocean's Eleven with the Rat Pack.  I was sad that Ocean's Eleven didn't have more music.  Only Sammy Davis Jr. has a number.  Dean made several more movies with his Vegas buddies in the next few years, including a total of six with Frank Sinatra.

I think Dean liked serious westerns.  He worked with John Wayne in two, Rio Bravo and The Sons of Katie Elder (1965).  He also made Rough Night in Jericho in 1967, Bandolero! and 5 Card Stud in 1968, among others and some TV westerns.

In his Matt Helm series, we see the over-the-top comedy that worked for a while, but I tend to get tired of it.  Here is part of the story line of The Ambushers (1967) from IMDb:

"A government space saucer is hijacked mid-flight by a powerful laser beam under the control of Jose Ortega, who then proceeds to rape the female pilot, Sheila Sommars. ICE sends agent Matt Helm to Acapulco with Sheila to recover the saucer, under the guise of Matt taking fashion photographs of beautiful models."

I think you see what I mean, but That's Amore.  He made four Matt Helm movies, until everybody else got tired of it.

Just after the last Helm movie, The Wrecking Crew (1969), Martin takes a dramatic role in Airport (1970) as the co-pilot with marital problems and a broken plane to land.  I thought he played the part well, using his humour in some scenes, but also allowing his softer side to show through.

Somehow he managed to end his film career on a low note by making The Cannonball Run (1981) and Cannonball Run II (1984).  Ain't That a Kick in the Head?  Well Dean, because of the rest of your career, and your wonderful voice, I forgive you.

Dean Martin was a star, but I also think he had Bit Actor parts in some of these movies.  As Dean would croon, Memories are Made of This.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Night Nurse

I just received a wonderful collector's set from Turner Classic Movies, called Forbidden Hollywood.  My first purchase in the series is Volume 2, because I wanted to see Night Nurse (1931).  The other movies in this set are The Divorcee (1930), A Free Soul (1931), Three on a Match (1932), and Female (1933). 

The Forbidden Hollywood series includes movies that were released before the Hayes Code was enacted, and these are particularly risque.  It is a chance to see the raw side of such stars as Clark Gable, Norma Shearer, Humphrey Bogart and Joan Blondell, among others.

I chose Night Nurse to see some early Barbara Stanwyck, and I was not disappointed.  Stanwyck plays a young woman who wants to become a nurse.  After convincing the hospital to allow her to study, despite being a high school dropout, she gets her cap and is assigned to a private home to watch over two children.  Lovely Joan Blondell is another nurse in the story, who befriends Stanwyck.

She eventually finds out that the children have a large trust fund and they are being starved to death by an unscrupulous doctor, so the family can get the inheritance.  She sets out to blow the whistle on them.

The bad guy in this one is played by Clark Gable.  Here is one kicker...the good guy is a bootlegger that Stanwyck met at the drug store, and at the end of the movie he has Nick the chauffeur (played by Gable) rubbed out, and they have a good laugh over it!

Throughout the movie, Stanwyck keeps undressing so she can change into or out of her nursing uniform.  She is never completely naked, but the thought of showing her undergarments in 1931 must have been simply shocking! 

We also see quite a bit of drunken debauchery at the home of the children, plus some implied sex.  Not to mention the very thought of killing off the innocent heirs as the topic of a movie.

Just to mention some Bit Actor names, look for Ralf Harolde (1899 - 1974) as the bad doctor, Charles Winninger (1884 - 1969) as the good doctor, Vera Lewis (1873 - 1956) as the nurse manager, and Blanche Friderici (1878 - 1933) as the housekeeper.

The actors in the small parts of these early talkies have loads of wonderful experience that they bring to their work.  Vera Lewis has over 180 titles listed in her filmography including great silents like Intolerance (1916).  Of course you will remember Winninger as Washington Dimsdale in Destry Rides Again (1939). 

The early talkies may not be the best movies ever made and they were churned out in huge numbers, but they are enjoyable, supply us with a history lesson, and many of them are true classics.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Goodbye, Jack LaLanne

The man who started the fitness craze in the USA just passed away.  Jack LaLanne (9/26/1914 - 1/23/2011) lived to be 96 years old.  He hadn't had a dessert since 1929.

I guess he was never a bit actor, but perhaps some of his screen work as himself, could be considered bit work.  IMDB credits him with six acting roles and 33 appearances as himself.  It was not all TV either, he was in a few movies and documentaries. 

His own fitness show on television ran for more than three decades.  He played himself in the 1961 Jerry Lewis movie, The Ladies Man; and in 1990 in Repossessed with Linda Blair (b. 1959), Ned Beatty (b. 1937) and Leslie Nielsen (1926 - 2010).  In 2006, in his final TV movie (a stinker called "The Year Without a Santa Claus"), he played Hercules when he was 92 years old!

Some of his fitness stunts amazed me.  In 1936 he opened the first health club in the nation.  In 1950 he performed 1033 push ups on TV in 23 minutes on "You Asked For It."  When he was seventy years old, he swam a mile and a half, pulling seventy boats with a person in each one, while handcuffed and shackled.  He is responsible for designing many of the exercise machines that are still in use today.  And his TV show was aimed at helping us normal people attain fitness using things found around the home.

Now, not that I would want to become a nay-sayer on LaLanne, but it came to mind that George Burns (1896 - 1996) lived to be over 100 years old.  Burns drank and smoked cigars.  I am almost positive that he frequently had dessert.  And he was a womanizer.  An acquaintance of mine, some years ago, had been in a George Burns show somewhere.  Burns was probably in his late 80s at the time.  She needed a ride to the airport and Burns offered her a seat in his limo.  All the way there she had to refuse his advances!

I guess there is no figuring it out.  Just do the best you can.  Goodbye, Jack, and I really do think your effort has helped many people over the years.  If you see George up there, say "Hi" from all of us.