I’m about to tell you and your listeners to go out and see the worst film I’ve ever seen. Ironic as that may sound, there is good reason. I think to appreciate even the most mediocre of filmmaking endeavors one needs to see how bad it could go if someone knows absolutely nothing about making a movie. And the producer, director and writer of PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, Edward D. Wood, Jr. knows absolutely nothing about how to make a movie. As a fellow colleague put it – and I paraphrase – Mr. Wood tried to create something intelligent and meaningful and failed miserably every step of the way.
Every facet of this movie is worse than the next – the directing, writing, acting, photography… too many missteps to cover in depth in one review – so I have chosen to focus on a couple. The first is continuity, which in filmmaking is defined as the practice of ensuring that details in a scene or sequence are consistent from shot to shot. For example, if someone is running for their life in a scene with wildly unruly hair, and then in the next shot their hair is miraculously well-combed… that is a failure in continuity: no one would stop to brush their hair whilst running for their life.
In PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, continuity mistakes are… well… continuous…. There is a scene where a picture on a wall changes each time the camera comes back to that wall. In another scene, a woman is running for her life – like in my example… she is barefoot, but when she stops running she is now wearing shoes. And no, she wasn’t carrying them. That would make some sense. But my favorite sequence containing continuity calamity shows a police car racing from one place to another, and during the race, which is supposed to take barely a few minutes, we go from night to day and back to night, not to mention the car changes model years and colors during the short drive! Now, in case you’re wondering NONE of these inconsistencies can be attributed to the story being told; they are simply examples of shoddy filmmaking by the terrifically untalented Ed Wood.
This film was obviously made on a very small budget, if any. Which brings me to design elements. First, there are headstones in a cemetery that are easily knocked over or moved by people simply brushing past them. Patio furniture used on the patio – well, that makes sense – is in the next scene, the bedroom furniture. Then… there’s the shower curtain. That’s right, a shower curtain is ridiculously used as the barrier between a plane’s cockpit and the passengers!!! Then we see it covering up the bomb brought by aliens to destroy earth. And lastly as an actual shower curtain.
Sadly, this was the last film to feature Bela Lugosi, the original Dracula. Actually, credit must be given to Ed Wood, at least as a human being, for his attempts to befriend Lugosi and help rid the actor of his drug addictions. Wood’s reward was for Lugosi to agree to appear in a few of his films. Well, something must’ve happened during the filming of PLAN 9, because it is obvious that someone else is playing Lugosi’s character in several scenes. The person in question is noticeably taller and presumably because he didn’t resemble Lugosi, he is shown with a cape drawn across his face whenever he is onscreen.
From the flying saucers with clearly visible lines holding them from the ceiling… to those same flying saucers and actors and film equipment like boom mikes casting shadows on the sky!!!… to mini-skirt and shiny lamé-wearing aliens… to actors obviously reading from scripts in their laps… to lines like “Future events such as these will affect you in the future”… to a corpse who blinks his eyes… it’s all here for you to see just how bad a movie can be. This wannabe sci-fi horror film is instead a laugh riot!
I rate PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE no bags of popcorn due to it’s lack of technical and dramatic merit, but 3 bags of popcorn as a perfect example for wannabe filmmakers on how not to make a movie. Dizzyingly delightful dreck. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW! Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
Bela Lugosi actually passed away a year before this movie was begun. In fact, the footage in which he appears was filmed by Ed Wood before he’d even concocted the cockamamy script. Wood had no plot in mind at the time of filming this footage of Lugosi; ditto, apparently, in the completed film.
Cast members included horror movie TV hostess Vampira, former pro wrestler Tor Johnson who sometimes wrestled under the name “King Kong”, members of the Baptist Church which funded the film, the husband of Ed Wood’s chiropractor as the faux Lugosi, and a couple a guys who happened to be non-actor house guests of one of the other actors in the film – yup, casting was an issue too…
Real-life psychic Criswell, whose introduction and narration for PLAN 9 is unintentionally hilarious, had his own local TV show in California and appeared on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and its precursor The Jack Paar Program – while he is known for his numerous erroneous predictions, it is claimed that he did predict that JFK would not run for re-election in 1964 because of something that would occur in November of 1963…
It may not be cool to say, but here goes… I LOOOOVE Doris Day. Hey, it’s not as If I said I LOOOOVE Sandra Dee!!! Now that would be embarrassing! I’ll gush on Miss Day in a bit. But first a little about her latest movie, PILLOW TALK.
PILLOW TALK is a new romantic comedy with a very funny screenplay by the 4-man team of Clarence Greene, Russell Rouse, Maurice Richlin and Stanley Shapiro. Doris day plays Jan Morrow, a successful interior New York interior decorator. Rock Hudson co-stars as Brad Allen, a composer of Broadway musicals. Unfortunately, when Jan tries to conduct business on the phone line she shares with him, Brad is on the other end, wooing yet another woman, usually with his music. Jan is trying to rein him in, until they can get separate phone lines, by getting him to agree to an arrangement concerning phone usage. There is bickering and bantering, generally with sexual undertones, which is fun to witness. The filmmakers use split screens so we can see these two go it simultaneously. It’s a device that’s used to great effect, especially in one fairly suggestive instance.
Jan and Brad, who have never met in person, have another connection in the form of Jonathan Forbes, played by Tony Randall. Jonathan is a Broadway producer working with Brad on a new show and Jan is Jonathan’s interior decorator. The fun begins when Brad by happenstance discovers Jan’s identity. Being that she is extremely attractive and he is a voracious wolf, he is immediately attracted to her but knows she wouldn’t give him the time of day if she knew his true identity. So he, on the spot, takes on a new persona as chivalrous Texan Rex Stetson. Being that he is very attractive and, in the form of Rex Stetson, the opposite of Brad Allen, Jan is immediately attracted to him. We are in on the joke, and if it weren’t for the lightheartedness of the goings on, we would be appalled by Brad’s behavior. Well, maybe we are a little appalled…
But that’s okay because Brad a/k/a Rex eventually and deservedly gets his comeuppance and all ends well – – it is a romantic comedy after all.
The film is visually appealing with great set design and wonderful outfits for Miss Day, designed by Bill Thomas. Mention must also be made of the performance of the marvelous Thelma Ritter as Doris Day’s maid, Alma. She is part of a recurring funny bit involving a misfunctioning elevator. And there’s a scene where Rock Hudson’s character Brad attempts to get her drunk and give up some information on her employer. It hilariously backfires because Alma is – – let’ say, accustomed to the drink. The musical score is by Frank De Vol and it is very comical in many instances. The only downer here is very minor: the title song, sung by Miss Day. It’s a little drippy; another song later in the movie is not much better. They should not have Doris Day sing anything even faintly resembling rock and roll.
But filmmakers should by all means give her many more chances with this kind of material. She is a natural comedienne! I can’t say she is at the top of my list of the best film actresses. But she is at the very top of my list of film comediennes. She knows how to deliver a line and her timing and reactions are pitch perfect. She is especially effective and memorable in a scene early in the film with Nick Adams as an overly amorous escort. It’s a riot. Doris Day probably deserved an Oscar nomination for her highly dramatic turn in 1955’s LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, but she definitely deserves serious consideration for PILLOW TALK. I know comedic performances are too often overlooked; I hope this year the Academy will change their ways and give Miss Day some recognition.
I rate PILLOW TALK 4 bags of bountiful buttery popcorn. It’s a fun and funny fluffy frolic; enjoy!
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for THE BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
Among this film’s distinguishing elements is its innovative use of the wide-screen format, specifically split screen optics which contribute to the sexual innuendo. The most famous scene using the split screen shows Doris Day and Rock Hudson seemingly sharing a bathtub – they are actually in their separate apartments and facing each other so that when they each extend a leg to the wall they seem to be touching feet, and Hudson’s toes slide down the wall and appear to tickle Day’s instep. Pretty sexy…
Rock Hudson apparently turned down the role 3 times, considering the screenplay to be too risqué and fearing it would harm his masculine image – ironic Rock, right?
Day had to talk Hudson into doing the film, and it became one of his biggest hits. Day and Hudson had immediate on-screen chemistry and remained lifelong friends, making 2 more films together, both with Tony Randall in tow.
A 1980 sequel was talked about and both stars were interested but nothing came of it… too bad.
When it comes to religious-themed films, I use 1943’s THE SONG OF BERNADETTE as the standard-bearer. It was gloriously photographed, earnestly directed, and featured a sumptuously beautiful score by Alfred Newman and a luminous performance by Jennifer Jones. I was moved even though I am not a religious person in the least bit. The same cannot be said of BEN-HUR, which I saw recently. The technical merits of BEN-HUR, including the special effects and Miklos Rosza’s stirring musical score are quite exceptional. But the acting falls short and the story interlacing the destinies of Jesus Christ and the fictional Judah Ben-Hur did not move me. Everything in the storytelling felt superficial. I expected more from one of my favorite directors, William Wyler, who has moved me many times previous to this.
BEN-HUR is the story of Judah Ben-Hur and Messala, played by Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd, respectively. Judah is a wealthy Jewish merchant living in Judea at the time of Jesus’ emergence; Messala is a Roman Tribune now assigned to police the Jewish population in Judea. The reunion of these 2 men, years after they’ve gone their separate ways is only moderately emotional. The scene is strangely reminiscent of a scene in 1946’s THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – – also directed by Wyler. Perhaps you remember it? Fredric March’s character has returned home from World War II and sees his wife, played by Myrna Loy, at the other end of the hallway; they walk/run to each other to embrace and kiss.
Sounds corny, but it is a scene that has stayed with me; it was very moving because it was understatedly filmed and scored. The staging of this similar scene in BEN-HUR uses the same camera set-up and angle, and a similar walk/run; it even takes place in a hallway! Judah Ben-Hur and Messala do not embrace or kiss, but rather engage in an uneasy and anti-climactic wrist-to-elbow handshake of sorts.
Problems begin when Messala asks Judah to reveal the names of Jewish troublemakers in the region. Heston refuses and that doesn’t sit well with Messala. Soon, an unfortunate accident is used by Messala to frame his old friend; he has Judah, along with his mother and sister, arrested. The latter are sent to prison with disastrous results, and Judah becomes a Roman slave bound for the galleys.
En route to his enslavement as an oarsman, Judah and his fellow slaves pass through a village where we are made aware of Jesus’ presence. Judah, in shackles, is refused water though he desperately needs it and he collapses in agony. When then see Jesus’ hand lift Judah’s head, pouring water over his face and then giving him some to drink. Judah looks up to see who is helping him and there is something of a revelatory look on his face. It is perhaps Heston’s best scene in the whole film, and the only time I was moved. You see the wonder in his face; he continues to look back as he is being led away, mesmerized by Jesus’ countenance. Not to be funny, but Heston’s best scenes in BEN-HUR occur when he is silently showing emotion. It’s when he talks that he betrays himself.
The rest of the 3½-hour film – with intermission – depicts how Judah saves a Roman admiral during a sea battle and becomes his de facto son and a champion charioteer in the Roman Circus. But what consumes him is his desire to avenge his and his family’s fate at the hands of Messala. He finally gets that chance in the arena via an exciting – if overlong – chariot race sequence, which to be fair features some pretty spectacular filmmaking.
Unfortunately, the inner battle of Judah Ben-Hur between his need for revenge and his acceptance of Jesus’ love-thine-enemy doctrine just didn’t move me.
I rate BEN-HUR 2 – – maybe 2½ – bags of barely edible popcorn; the ½ bag is for technical merit and Heston’s one good scene. This is a movie only for the truly faithful.
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for THE BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
BEN-HUR, while not breaking the record for most nominations ever by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences did win a record 11 competitive Oscars; it was nominated for 12 Academy awards, deservedly losing only in the screenplay category.
The previous record was set by GIGI, the year before, with 9 wins on 9 nominations. BEN-HUR’s record number of wins has never been bettered but was matched in 1997 by TITANIC and then 6 years later by the 3rd installment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, THE RETURN OF THE KING, which went 11 for 11! The record number of nominations by the way is 14, set by 1950’s ALL ABOUT EVE, and then matched by TITANIC in 1997 and LA LA LAND in 2016.
It’s been a great decade for Billy Wilder. It started in 1950 with SUNSET BLVD., which I believe will be considered one of his best and one of the best films of all time. He followed it with the devastating ACE IN THE HOLE, the near brilliant STALAG 17, the wonderful romantic comedies SABRINA and THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, the engaging THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS, and the Hitchcockian WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. And now comes a raucous, wonderfully wacky wonder: SOME LIKE IT HOT. It’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun at the movies!
SOME LIKE IT HOT stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and in a performance that is perfection, Jack Lemmon. Curtis and Lemmon play musicians Joe and Jerry, a sax player and a bass player respectively, in 1920’s Chicago. They are eking out an existence between gigs, pawning off their overcoats in the deep freeze of February. When they go to retrieve an acquaintance’s car for another engagement, they are witness to a mob hit at the garage. The scene is a reference to the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that took place in Chicago on St. Valentine’s Day in 1929. They escape with their lives and some machine gun holes in Jerry’s bass fiddle. But in order to truly be safe, they decide to take a gig that will take them to Florida for a week or so. The problem is that the orchestra for the engagement is an all-girls band. Enter their alter egos, Josephine and Daphne, Curtis and Lemmon, respectively, in drag.
On the train, they meet the orchestra’s chanteuse, Sugar ‘Kane’ Kowalczyk – Marilyn Monroe’s character. Both of course are drawn to her. Lemmon’s attempts to quell his wolf-ish desires for Sugar, whilst in drag, are hilarious. An impromptu after-hours party in Daphne’s upper berth is lots of fun. But the story really gets going once the band arrives in Miami.
Sugar is obsessed with finding a rich millionaire while she is in Florida. By now, she has admitted she has a weakness for saxophone players. Curtis’ character, Joe, plays the tenor sax, and he comes up with a plan to woo Sugar by becoming a yet another character, a handsome young oil magnate. This is where Cary Grant comes into the picture – not as a character, per se, but… well, you’ll see what I mean when you see the movie. And you MUST run out to see this wonderfully funny romp.
The screenplay, By Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, is so full of delightful deceits and snappy one-liners. It’s a marvel. The supporting cast features 3 Hollywood veterans. From so many crime dramas of the 30’s and 40’s there’s George Raft as ‘Spats’ Colombo, the head of the Chicago mob still looking for the musicians, and Pat O’Brien as the lawman hunting him down. And the comic genius of Joe E. Brown is in full flower as he plays Osgood Fielding, III, a millionaire who becomes infatuated with Daphne, Lemmon’s female alter ego. His well-known personas and antics are perfect for this role, and he gets to deliver one of the best last lines from a film, ever. Period.
Tony Curtis is very good as the… straight man, and Marilyn Monroe is engaging and alluring, but this film belongs to Jack Lemmon. His is simply one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. The way his character deals with his female side – – and his masculine desires while in drag, not to mention the amorous advances of Joe E. Brown are letter perfect. I certainly hope he will be remembered at Oscar time. It is rare for the Academy to recognize a comedic performance, but I hope they will this time around. Lemmon is very deserving of the honor.
Lastly, the technical merits of the film are deserving of mention as well: the glorious black and white cinematography of Charles Lang and the costumes of Orry-Kelly are standouts; the production design is excellent. And the music is pretty darn good too; the singing of Miss Monroe is just right.
SOME LIKE IT HOT rates 4 bags of overflowing, extra-buttery popcorn, and a Malomar, or maybe even two!! Get up and drag – wink, wink – yourself to the theatre for a riotously fun time!
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
This movie is notorious for the difficulty director Billy Wilder and the her co-stars had with Ms. Monroe. She required 47 takes to get the 3-word line “It’s me, Sugar” correct, instead saying either “Sugar, it’s me” or “It’s Sugar, me.” After take 30, Billy Wilder had the line written on a blackboard. Another scene required Monroe to rummage through some drawers and say “Where’s the bourbon?” After 40 takes of her saying “Where’s the whiskey?”, “Where’s the bottle?”, or “Where’s the bonbon?”, Wilder pasted the correct line in one of the drawers. After Monroe became confused about which drawer contained the line, Wilder had it pasted in every drawer. Fifty-nine takes were required for this scene.
Jack Lemmon wrote that the first sneak preview had a bad reaction with many audience walkouts. Many studio personnel and agents offered advice to Billy Wilder on what scenes to reshoot, add and cut. Lemmon asked Wilder what he was going to do. Wilder responded: “Why, nothing. This is a very funny movie and I believe in it just as it is. I don’t panic over one preview. It’s a hell of a movie.” At the next preview the audience stood up and cheered.
Upon its original release, Kansas banned the film from being shown in the state, explaining that cross-dressing was “too disturbing for Kansans.” Yeah, right – check your closets, Kansans… SOME LIKE IT HOT was produced without approval from the Motion Picture Production Code a/k/a the Hays Code because it plays with the idea of homosexuality and features cross-dressing. I guess they thought the 2 MUST go hand-in-hand.
The Hays Code had been gradually weakening in its scope since the early 1950s, due to greater social tolerance for previously taboo topics in film, but it was still officially enforced until the mid-1960s. The overwhelming success of Some Like It Hot is considered one of the final nails in the coffin for the Hays Code.
I just saw the movie EARTHQUAKE. And it was BAAAAADD!!! So bad that I felt it!
EARTHQUAKE depicts the catastrophe that would ensue if California, specifically Los Angeles, ever gets hit with the big one. The movie opens with information that tells us a disaster is about to happen. It’s the name of the performers: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Genevieve Bujold, and Lorne Greene.
After that shock, we get more scenes of impending doom: a crack is discovered in a dam above the city; some workmen in a trench are suffocated when a cave-in occurs; and a rookie seismologist determines something bad is about to happen – of course he is ignored. We are also subjected to scenes unrelated to the disaster that are nonetheless disastrous, involving the failing marriage of Heston and Gardner. All of this is boringly typical for a disaster movie, and it only gets worse.
There are laughable scenes in which L.A. policeman George Kennedy attempts to alone rescue the entire population of the city and seemingly single-handedly tries to keep law and order.
There is also a needless and somewhat offensive side story of a psychotic National Guard-like weekend soldier terrorizing a young woman – – played by Victoria Principal – – in the midst of the disaster. But the worst scenes feature Walter Matthau, uncredited, at a pool hall getting increasingly drunk as a bar fight and then, of course, the earthquake happen around him. He sports a big floppy pink hat and loud shirt. Is he an aging pimp or just a really bad dresser? Every so often Matthau lifts his shot glass and spouts out the name of an infamous person: Spiro Agnew… Bobby Riggs… Matthau must’ve owed someone a favor, or more likely lost a bet… WHATEVER the reason, it is a supremely strange element in this very awful flick.
Now, for the non-special special effects. First, there was the brilliant idea of portraying the trembling of the earth by shaking the camera side-to-side – oooooh!!… did someone get paid for this? Next was the stunning effect of portraying unsteady buildings by distorting the camera lens to make buildings look like they lean 45 degrees to the right, return to upright, and then lean 45 degrees the other way, and still NOT collapse! But the effect that takes the cake for me is when a bunch of people in a skyscraper crowd into an elevator – – just the place you want to be as a 30-story building is literally shaking its sides off – – and when they – – surprise, surprise – – plummet to their death a cartoon blotch of blood is splatted on the screen. I kid you not! I almost splatted my Coca-Cola on the back of the head of the person sitting in front of me!
I’ll waste no more time on this terribly torturous and tedious tommyrot. Earthquake barely rates 1 bag of stale, saltless, unbuttered popcorn. It gets one bag only because that’s as low as I go.
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW.
This is the first movie to use the gimmicky Sensurround. Sensurround produced a low frequency sound vibration along theater seats giving the audience the feeling of being in an actual earthquake.
Unfortunately, the speaker system was a custom job that often required removing a couple of rows of seats, and it was expensive. When the idea of Sensurround was put forward, there was serious consideration on having chunks of polystyrene drop on audience members from above during the earthquake sequence. This idea was jettisoned. Ironically enough, a theater Chicago was forced to shut off the Sensurround speakers when small pieces of plaster from the ceiling actually did fall on audience members. The same thing happened at a theater in Phoenix, Arizona.
Sensurround was used for a few more films throughout the rest of the 1970s, but after theaters received structural damage, patrons got ill from the experience, and nearby businesses complained of noise pollution, it was halted. There were documented cases of nosebleeds occurring amongst audience members because of the Sensurround system.
There haven’t been a lot of well-known musicals that take place during the end-of-year holiday season. In 1942, there was HOLIDAY INN whose last scenes took place during Christmas and on New Year’s Eve. In 1949, there was IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME which, despite its title, had a significant portion take place during Christmas. Now, finally, we have a big Hollywood musical which takes place entirely during the holiday season. It is WHITE CHRISTMAS or as it appears on the title screen Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS.
The film stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, with smaller supporting roles filled by Dean Jagger and the marvelous Mary Wickes. All the performances are engaging, though none are staggeringly auspicious. Bing brings his usual casual cool and does well delivering the comedic lines and ballads. Mr. Kaye does some graceful dancing in between his comedy schticks. I actually love the multi-talented Danny Kaye, but you can’t deny his over-the-top-ness a fair amount of the time. The very-rarely-seen-in-movies Miss Clooney is lovely and sounds great on her ballad “Love, You Didn’t Do Right by Me”. Vera-Ellen is her usual lithesome and limber self.
Of course, as the full movie title tells us, all the songs are by Irving Berlin. He has written so many memorable melodies. WHITE CHRISTMAS features a few of his Tin Pan Alley chestnuts: “Blue Skies”, “Heat Wave”, and an oldie but goody “Mandy”. And of course, there’s his Best Song Oscar-winner from the 1942 film HOLIDAY INN, “White Christmas”. There are also a couple of new songs written or re-worked for this film. The best of which are “Snow” and the lovely “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)”, sung by Bing, with a later assist from Miss Clooney.
Aah, music to fall asleep to – and I mean that in a good way.
The screenplay by Melvin Frank, Norman Panama, and Norman Krasna is better than the usual musical-comedy fare. A prelude shows how the Crosby and Kaye characters met during WWII. Moving to present day, we see that they are now the very successful stage act Wallace and Davis. Kaye’s character, Davis, is trying to get Bing’s character, Wallace, to find a life outside the theater, so he frequently tries to fix him up with women. Enter the Haynes Sisters, played by Clooney and Vera-Ellen. Through some mischievous machinations by Kaye’s character, they all end up at a lodge in Vermont where the sisters have a holiday engagement.
The struggling country inn just happens to be owned and run by Wallace and Davis’s WWII commander, General Waverly – – played by Dean Jagger – – who is now a somewhat unhappy and forgotten soul. The guys devise a plan to help the general and his inn, and it causes some problems, but all ends well of course, and Crosby gets Clooney and Danny gets Vera… Ellen. Could you imagine a Christmas movie without a happy ending? The finale, featuring… wait for it… “White Christmas” is visually sumptuous and, for me, somewhat moving.
Mention must be made of another highlight of the film. It is a performance of the song “Sisters”, which is first introduced by Clooney and Vera-Ellen. But then, somewhat ingeniously and hilariously, Crosby and Kaye reprise the number, lampooning the girls’ moves and mouthing their vocals. Imagine Crosby and Kaye performing a fan dance. At one point, Crosby loses it due to Kaye’s clowning and starts laughing. I have a feeling this was not planned or scripted but so natural it was kept in the finished product, and it really works.
The whole film works. I rate WHITE CHRISTMAS 4 bags of buttery popcorn. It’s a wonderful early Christmas gift. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
According to Rosemary Clooney, Crosby and Kaye’s “Sisters” performance was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set, and director Michael Curtiz thought it was so funny that he decided to film it. In the scene, Crosby’s laughs are genuine and unscripted, as he was unable to hold a straight face due to Kaye’s comedic dancing. Clooney said the filmmakers had a better take where Crosby didn’t laugh, but when they ran them both, people liked the laughing version better.
One of the dancers accompanying Rosemary Clooney is George Chakiris. He went on to earn the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, as “Bernardo”, in West Side Story (1961).
WHITE CHRISTMAS was 1954’s most successful film at the box office.
The film was heavily into pre-production when an injury forced Donald O’Connor to withdraw from the role of Phil Davis. Danny Kaye was quickly drafted into the role.
The “I’d Rather See a Minstrel Show” sequence points to changing times in terms of Hollywood’s sensitivity to racial norms. The set design, props, costuming and musical arrangement are all typical of vintage minstrel shows, but the performers are not in black-face. This was progress, as Holiday Inn (1942), which inspired this production, featured a black-face number only twelve years earlier.
Disney has released another animated gem, and just in time for my birthday! I’m sure that was the motivation behind the timing of the release, in that I am a big time animal lover. The film is 101 DALMATIANS, and it is a delight. Disney is back to featuring animals as the leads; this is the second animal-centric film in 6 years, the last being 1955’s wonderful LADY AND THE TRAMP.
The film is based on a novel by British author Dodie Smith. The story takes place mostly in London, En-ga-land and features dalmatians Pongo and Perdita, who get their pets – as they call, respectively, their human companions Roger and Anita – to meet, fall in love and wed. Soon thereafter, Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) and Perdita (voiced by Cate Bauer) have a litter of 15 puppies, each more adorable than the next.
But before the pups arrive we meet one of the best and most villainous villains Disney has produced, Miss Cruella De Vil. De Vil, whose last name is spelled D-E-space-V-I-L (you get it) is an old school chum of Anita and is very interested in the birth of the dalmatian puppies – – she loves those spotted coats. And she loves wearing fur. Uh-oh. Of course, Pongo and Perdita, as well as Roger, very much dislike Cruella and do not trust her intentions… and as we find out shortly, for good reason.
But the best part of having Cruella De Vil as a character is the song written for her. The character of Roger is a songwriter and has written a tune, which we hear early in the movie, but without lyrics. That is, until Cruella drives up, and Roger gets inspired! – which is what I believe songwriter Mel Leven was when he wrote this delightful song for the movie – in my opinion, one of the best songs from a Disney cartoon to date.
In the opening credits to the film, there is a credit given to Mel Leven for Songs. However, the film has only 2 more or maybe more to the point 1½ songs. This is one of my few disappointments in the film: after “Cruella De Vil” I was looking forward to more. But we only get a very short ditty used as a TV commercial in one scene, and a short, rather forgettable song at the very end of the film. Too bad. Anywho, the film works regardless of the lack of songs; not every animated film has to be a musical!
Back to the plot. Cruella has two hapless henchmen dognap the puppies one night and the rest of the film concerns their rescue and return. We learn of an animal network reaching from London to the countryside and the efforts of many dogs, some cows, and one courageous cat – GO, CATS! – to find the puppies, and Pongo and Perdita’s rescue of their brood along with 84 other dalmatian pups – hench the film’s title – that Cruella has taken to make a spotted coat. HORRORS!
There is actually a lot of genuine humor in the goings-on, much of it supplied by the cute puppies, one of whom is always hungry and one, with constantly wagging tail, who is a slave to television. And more humor is supplied by the henchmen, Horace and Jasper, the latter voiced by J. Pat O’Malley who has appeared on dozens and dozens of TV shows – you’d recognize his face. The winner, though, for best voice performance in 101 DALMATIANS is Betty Lou Gerson who is great as Cruella De Vil. We last heard Miss Gerson’s voice in a Disney movie as the narrator of 1950’s CINDERELLA. She is nothing like that here. Her characterization nearly steals the film.
I rate 101 DALMATIANS 4 bags of popcorn, each with at least 101 kernels of buttery deliciousness.
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz I oughtta be in pictures!
Novelist Dodie Smith loved dogs and kept Dalmatians as pets; at one point she had nine of them. The first was named Pongo which became the name she used for the canine hero of her, novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians. Smith had the idea for the novel when one of her friends observed a group of her Dalmatians and said “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat”. Uh…get a new friend, Dodie – that’s gross! P.S. The birth of 15 puppies, like in the film, actually happened to the author Dodie Smith. And, like in the film, one was born lifeless and her husband revived it.
The dog barks in 101 DALMATIANS were provided by Clarence Nash – – best known as the voice of Donald Duck, for over 50 years!
Due to the commercial failure of 1959’s Sleeping Beauty, production costs needed to be cut. As a result, this was the first Disney feature film to use photocopying technology – – or Xerography, courtesy of the Xerox company – – which made an animated film with so much visual complexity possible and affordable. This technique set the visual style of Disney animation for more than 15 years until technology advanced enough to allow a softer look than the rather scratchy look of the Xerography.
Characters from 1955’s LADY AND THE TRAMP are seen in a sequence featuring the Twilight Bark animal network. Look quickly!
Schlock, drivel and tripe! No, that’s not a law firm – – it’s my description of the film BUtterfield 8, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Eddie Fisher and Laurence Harvey, which I list in order of their performance proficiency in this cinematic slop. Just how bad does Laurence Harvey have to be, to be worse than Eddie Fisher? And if Lassie were in this film, she’d go in front of Miss Taylor.
This is the worst kind of claptrap – – it’s almost unwatchable, unless you like train wrecks wrapped in a lot of gloss. It’s not surprising considering the source: John O’Hara’s novel of the same name. His tragic, tawdry tome tells the tale of Gloria Wandrous, an upper echelon model and socialite by day and high-class call girl by night. Liz plays Gloria in the film version. Gloria’s living the high life until she falls for married man Weston Amesbury Liggett – – now, that sounds like another law firm. Weston is played to imperfection by Laurence Harvey; he is unhappily wed and unhappily employed, but happily well off. In an early scene, he goes home from the office to his suburban home, where he and his wife enjoy a relaxing round of shooting skeet. Don’t we all?
Mildred Dunnock – – pretty much the only person who could be accused of acting in this film – – plays Gloria’s mother. She obviously disapproves of her daughter’s sinful lifestyle but can’t seem to broach the subject with Gloria. It’s actually a little heartbreaking, and the only bit of subtlety in the flick.
Eddie Fisher actually receives third billing, above the title, in BUtterfield 8. Yes, it’s that Eddie Fisher – the singer with an impressive string of Top Ten hits in the early 50’s, like “Thinking of You”, “Any Time”, “Tell Me Why”, and “Oh! My Pa-Pa” and a top 30 tune which I’m hope wasn’t dedicated to Debbie Reynolds.
As we all know, Eddie left his wife Debbie Reynolds for her best friend Elizabeth Taylor. Strangely enough, art seems to imitate life in BUtterfield 8 because Eddie plays Steve, who is romantically promised to Gloria’s best friend Norma, but in love with Gloria. The film also features Dina Merrill who plays Mrs. Weston Liggett, still in love with her sinful unfaithful husband played by Laurence Harvey, who’s… in love… with Gloria… who’s not… in love with her friend… Steve… – who’s… yikes… That’s pretty much all there is to this dreck.
Viewers are forced, having purchased a ticket, to nearly 2 hours of sad, desperate people in love with other sad, desperate people. Just how much do we have to endure as we watch Gloria/Liz trying to become a better person and make something worthwhile of her life and Wes/Larry trying to become a better husband and make something worthwhile of his life – – but, at least we are treated to a tragic ending! Oy! At the very least, you should leave the theater feeling a little better about your own life. On that note, let’s have Eddie remind us…
I rate BUTTERFIELD 8 one sad, desperate bag of stale and unbuttered popcorn. With this much sinning, somebody has to pay. Just don’t let it be you.
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures.
Before Elizabeth Taylor could start 1963’s Cleopatra for which she was being paid $1 million, she was legally bound to finish her MGM contract by doing BUtterfield 8, which she hated, for her standard $125,000 salary. Liz stated many times over the years that she disliked this movie and felt she won the Oscar for it in 1961 because of her recent illness, rather than for the quality of her performance.
Prior to the advent of digital technology, telephone exchanges were named instead of being numbered. Thus, BUtterfield 8 – generally written with the B and U in uppercase – stood for BU8 or 288 which was the name of the exchange that provided service to ritzy precincts of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Not only is the name “Ben Hur” listed on a directory in an office building seen briefly in the movie BUtterfield 8, it’s also the movie clearly seen on the marquee at a downtown theater in the film. “Ben-Hur” was MGM’s big hit and BIG Oscar winner from the previous year.
Animated theatrical films are a rarity. And usually – – hopefully – – a treat. And for me, Disney’s THE JUNGLE BOOK is a treat. Now, it’s not as delicious as say DUMBO or CINDERELLA, but it is a treat. The film is inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s book of the same name, which is a collection of stories featuring the feral man-cub, Mowgli, and his animal friends who help him learn life’s lessons. The film is an animated musical and features a handful of nice songs, a couple of them very nice. More on that later.
The excellent voice cast of THE JUNGLE BOOK includes comedian Phil Harris, Sebastian Cabot of the TV hit “Family Affair”, bandleader Louis Prima, Oscar-winner George Sanders, and Sterling Holloway, who has one of the most easily identifiable voices that I know of, and of course is the voice of everyone’s favorite bear, Winnie the Pooh. In THE JUNGLE BOOK, Mr. Holloway voices Kaa the hypnotizin’ python.
The movie itself is a series of adventures via vignettes involving Mowgli and his best animal friends Baloo the bear (voiced by Phil Harris) and Bagheera the panther (voiced by Mr. French…er, Sebastian Cabot). At the beginning of the movie, the orphan infant Mowgli is found by Bagheera the panther, who instead of enjoying a nourishing neonate nosh, decides to bring Mowgli to new mother wolf, Raksha. She raises Mowgli with her cubs, and after 10 years or so, Mowgli is jungle-wise, and it is determined that he must return to live with his own kind. And this is wherein most of the film takes place: Baloo and Bagheera helping Mowgli to reunite with humankind and avoid the treacherous Shere Khan, the man-eating Bengal tiger (wonderfully voiced by George Sanders). Along the way Baloo and Bagheera attempt to impart their knowledge of the world and the way things are.
The film is episodic and could almost work as a series of animated shorts. There’s not a lot to hold it together. That, I feel is its major shortcoming. And for as much is made of the threat of Shere Khan, the confrontation between him and Mowgli is quite anticlimactic. Perhaps the filmmakers were wary of making the film too heavy and dark for children, as the source material tends to be.
As for technical merits of the film: the animation of the characters, especially Mowgli, is quite wonderful. He is moves very naturally and age-appropriately. There are some background scenes, like a waterfall towards the beginning of the film, that are quite lovely. And scenes where the camera, so-to-speak, goes into deep focus shots are exceptionally cinematic.
All but one of the songs were written by the wonderful Sherman Brothers, who wrote the Oscar-winning song score for Disney’s MARY POPPINS. The best of these is “I Wanna Be Like You”, superbly performed by Louis Prima, who is the voice of the orangutan King Louie. In a reprise, he is joined by Phil Harris and their scatting is one of the musical highlights of the film.
The best song – for me – is the only one, ironically, not written by the Brothers Sherman. It is “The Bare Necessities”, written by Terry Gilkyson. Gilkyson might not be a well-known name. He wrote some pop hits in the early 50’s and sang with The Weavers, but I will remember him fondly for co-writing the Dean Martin hit “Memories are Made of This”.
But “The Bare Necessities” is oh, so toe-tappingly hummable! It’s a wonderful song and a wonderful sequence in the film.
I rate THE JUNGLE BOOK 3 bags of buttery popcorn. It might not rise to the level of SNOW WHITE or DUMBO, but it’s getting pretty close. This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
THE JUNGLE BOOK was the 19th animated feature in the Disney animated features canon. It was the last animated feature to be personally supervised by Walt Disney and was the first Disney film to be released after Walt’s death in 1966, just prior to the film’s theatrical release. The film was dedicated to his memory. Many people wondered what the studio’s fate, particularly the animation division, would be after Walt’s passing. THE JUNGLE BOOK performed extremely well at the box office, ensuring that the animators would not be put out of work. Had the film failed, it was thought at the time that animation would have been closed down at the Disney studio.
When Gregory Peck was the President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he tried his hardest to get a full-length animated feature film – – most notably 1967’s The Jungle Book – – not only nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, but also to actually win the award. He resigned as president in 1970 when other members didn’t agree with him about animated films being nominated for the award. It would be over twenty years later before the Academy would reconsider, allowing another animated film – – and incidentally a Disney film, 1991’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) – – to be nominated.
Terry Gilkyson, composer of ‘The Bare Necessities’ had apparently written a full score initially, but Walt Disney found it too dark, so at the last minute, he threw it away and asked the Sherman brothers to replace it with a more ‘fun’ score. However, The Bare Necessities’ stayed on at the insistence of others involved in this film, and went on to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Song. The song apparently provided some inspiration for Elton John for his composition “Hakuna Matata” from 1994’s The Lion King.
According to Elsie Kipling Baimbridge, Rudyard Kipling’s daughter, “Mowgli” is pronounced “MAU-glee” (first syllable rhymes with “cow”), not “MOH-glee” (first syllable rhymes with “go”). She reportedly never forgave Walt Disney for the gaffe. Let it go, Elsie, let it go…
Well, it was bound to happen. I have at long last seen a Charlton Heston film that I enjoyed. Quite a bit, as it so happens. The film is a sci-fi gem, PLANET OF THE APES.
It was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, mostly known for his TV work on THE DEFENDERS and PLAYHOUSE 90 and the 1964 political drama THE BEST MAN with Henry Fonda. PLANET OF THE APES is based on a novel by Pierre Boulle, who also wrote the novel ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’. The screenplay was co-written by Rod Serling of TWILIGHT ZONE fame. Serling’s writing partner on the film was Michael Wilson, who last scripted the 1965 Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton stinker THE SANDPIPER. He is now forgiven.
The pre-credits opening of PLANET OF THE APES lets us know that Colonel George Taylor (Charlton Heston’s character) is the captain of a U.S. spaceship that left earth 6 months prior and, thanks to a wormhole, has traveled 700 years into the future. While the crew is in a hibernation-like sleep, the auto pilot steers the ship into an unknown planet’s gravitational pull, where the ship crashes – – luckily into water. The 3 surviving astronauts determine the air is breathable and they leave their sinking ship to explore their new home, which they believe to be in the Orion star system 320 light years (whatever that means) from earth. They need to find out if and how long they will survive. On their hike, they talk science and existentialism, and the leader, Taylor, lets on that before leaving the spaceship, he noticed that timeclock showed they woke up in the year 3978! Wow, these guys look good for being over 2000 years old!
Any who, the 3 spacemen soon discover there is intelligent life (so-called) on the planet and means for survival; their anxiety lessens. So, when after several days of hiking, they come upon a refreshing pool ‘neath a waterfall, they deciding to go skinny-dipping. I could have gone the rest of my days without seeing Mr. Heston’s bare backside, but there it was: Ben-Hur’s be-hind. Whilst they are bathing, they spot someone stealing their clothing and the naked chase is on. They soon find themselves in the midst of mute, rather primitive humans, after which my favorite line in the movie is delivered by Heston: “If this is the best they’ve got, in 6 months we’ll be running the place.” Not so fast, Mr. Heston, because then comes the big surprise, the sight for which the film is named. Apes – – gorillas to be exact – on horseback, talking in English!
And the apes are rounding up the humans. In the midst of the ensnarement, Col. Taylor/Heston is shot in the throat, making him mute. Well, for about 30 minutes or so… it was my favorite ½ hour of the film.
Now, I have been having some sarcastic fun with this review, mostly at Heston’s expense; but to be honest, the movie is very good. Inventive sets and costumes, and ASTOUNDING makeup for the apes, created by John Chambers. It must’ve taken hours for the multitude of actors to get into their get-ups. And even at that, cast members portraying the lead apes, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans – – which include Roddy McDowall and Oscar-winner Kim Hunter – – are still recognizable. An amazing feat! I also must mention the atonal music score by the Jerry Goldsmith, composer of the scores for LILIES OF THE FIELD, SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, and last year’s IN LIKE FLINT to name way too few. His use of unusual instrumentation, including kitchen utensils, in addition to the atonality heightens the overall unsettling feeling of the film.
And lastly, I must mention that the ending shot of PLANET OF THE APES may blow your mind! I rate this excellent entry in the sci-fi genre 4 bags of buttery popcorn. No monkeying around here! This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
Makeup artiste John Chambers spent many hours watching the apes at the Los Angeles Zoo, studying their facial expressions. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave Chambers an Honorary Award for make-up (which was not a yearly Oscar category until 1981).
Veteran actor Roddy McDowall recommended to his companions in makeup that they should frequently add tics, blinks and assorted facial gestures to add a sense of realism and keep the makeup from appearing “mask-like”.
All the ape actors and extras were required to wear their masks, which took around 3 hours to apply, during all breaks, so all their meals were liquified. In those days, a lot of the actors were smokers too, so they were all issued cigarette holders. Now, there’s an image…
Allegedly, Jerry Goldsmith wore a gorilla mask while writing and conducting the score to “better get in touch with the movie.” His was the first completely atonal score in a Hollywood movie.
One of the first films to have a major large scale merchandising tie-in. Merchandise related to the film included toys and collectibles, action figures, picture and story books, trading card sets, books, records, comics, and a series of graphic novels from Marvel Comics.
I have mixed feelings about the movie I saw this week: HELLO, DOLLY! What I like about the movie is the source material and the quality of the production; what I didn’t like was the casting of its two leads, Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau.
First a little about the good: This big movie version of the Broadway sensation by composer and lyricist Jerry Herman was directed by Gene Kelly and is a 20th Century-Fox release. It was filmed on the 20th Century-Fox backlot and looks FANTASTIC. After the opening number, “Just Leave Everything to Me” – – which is different and better than the opening number of the stage version – – we are transported to a city square near the railroad station in Yonkers, New York circa 1890 and the Vandergelder’s seed store; all periodically resplendent. Later, there is a spectacular Fourteenth Street parade featuring thousands of extras, not to mention lots of horses, while Streisand belts out “Before the Parade Passes By”. The costumes and settings are glorious and the choreography by Michael Kidd is very lively, athletic, and enjoyable, and unfortunately sometimes overlong.
While the story is very dated for 1969 – a lot of male chauvinism – I do find it nostalgically fun. And I do love the score by Mr. Herman. For me, there are no clunkers in this film version. Besides those already mentioned, there is the lovely “It Only Takes a Moment” and the wonderfully staged “Elegance”. Another pretty song in the film that was not in the stage version is “Love is Only Love”, which is performed by Streisand in a scene just before she makes her way to the Harmonia Gardens – – the set of which is nothing short of gorgeous – – for the show-stopping title number, “Hello, Dolly!”. A special mention must be made of this number which features a short but exceptional duet between Streisand and Louis Armstrong, who makes a surprise cameo, reprising the song that was a huge hit for him several years ago.
Now as to the casting of the two leads. Though Ms. Streisand sings the hell…o, dolly out of the score, she is WAY too young.
Dolly should be close to middle-aged, if you heed the source material; Streisand is only 27. Due to her phenomenal popularity, the producers plopped her into this movie purely to bolster the box office receipts. But then they added in Walter Matthau, who can act, but can’t sing and can barely move let alone dance. Not that Streisand is Margot Fonteyn. There is a rumor that Matthau was cast because he resembled the actor that initiated the role on Broadway. Not a good enough reason. But the biggest problem is that there is absolutely no on-screen chemistry between these two leads, who have a 22 year age difference. This makes some of their scenes, especially those that intimate at romance, awkward. The lack of chemistry is undoubtedly due to the fact that there was animosity between them off-screen, as it is rumored that Matthau complained a lot about Streisand to anyone who would listen.
The supporting cast includes British movie star Michael Crawford, who gets above-the-title billing along with Streisand and Matthau, and newcomers Marianne McAndrew, E.J. Peaker, Danny Lockin, and the very tall and very thin dancer Tommy Tune in small but important roles. There are also a few faces from yesteryear you may recognize by face if not by name, Fritz Feld and J. Pat O’Malley.
So, because of the dichotomy between the visuals and the casting, I can only give HELLO, DOLLY! 2 bags of unbuttered popcorn. Not that tasty!
HELLO, DOLLY! was the first film released on home video (VHS and/or Beta), in the fall of 1977.
It took a month to film the title number Calendar Girl
All of the following were considered to play Dolly: Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, Carol Burnett, Shirley MacLaine, and Julie Andrews, who was apparently offered the role and turned it down; Carol Channing, who won a Tony for the stage version, was NOT offered a chance to star in the film version.
The “Before the Parade Passes By” sequence required several HUNDRED makeup artists and wardrobe people, almost 150 horses and 5,000 extras and crew.
Walter Matthau disliked Streisand so intensely that he refused to be around her unless the script required it. He is reported as having said about her: “I have more talent in my smallest fart than she does in her entire body.”
But here’s the kicker: On a break from filming, Matthau and co-star Michael Crawford visited a nearby racetrack and saw a horse named Hello Dolly. Crawford placed a bet on the horse, which won the race. Infuriated, Matthau refused to speak to Crawford for the rest of the shoot unless absolutely necessary. When Matthau reportedly complained to Richard Zanuck, the head of 20th Century-Fox, about working with Barbra, Zanuck listened politely until Matthau had finished whining and replied: “I’d like to help you out, but the film is not called Hello, Walter.”
Parts of the Grand Central Station and Harmonia Gardens sets were reused for the mutants’ city sets in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The ornate glass windows in the background at Harmonia Gardens were refurbushed and used as the dining room skylights in The Poseidon Adventure! Remember when the guy falls and crashes on top of one of the skylights and then everything goes dark… The fountain in the Harmonia Gardens was reused as the fountain in the top-floor restaurant in The Towering Inferno.
Ceecil – sorry, CE-cil, B. DeMille – the epic epic-maker, has given us another of his over-the-top – – but not in a good way – – entertainments. The film is THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. This biblical epic is plagued – see what I did there? – with bad performances and an embarrassing script.
After the “Overture” – – you know you’re in for an ordeal when they have an overture – – Mr. DeMille emerges from behind a huge curtain to introduce the film. You really know you’re in trouble when they feel they need to explain things to you. Mr. DeMille proceeds to explain how the scriptwriters came up with all the stuff they came up with to explain the 30-odd years of Moses’ life that the Holy Bible omits. At the end of this sermon… er, speech, Mr. DeMille tells us the running time of the film – – well over 3½ hours – – oy, vey! – – but comforts us with the assurance that there is an Intermission… a/k/a an early exit.
So… what, if anything, is good about the film? The visuals. They usually are in a DeMille film. Some of the Special Effects are actually special. The parting of the Red Sea is pretty impressive.
And some of the production design effects are also very good. The costumes and settings are very ornate and colorful. One element I truly enjoyed was the depiction of how the Pharaoh’s city was built.
One of my scenes is at the beginning of the movie when the infant Moses is placed in a wicker basket and sent down… or was it up?… the Nile, and his sister, Miriam, follows the basket, wading in the Nile, all the way to Pharaoh’s palace. The baby Moses, and Miriam, make it… guess those famous Nile crocodiles had the day off….
This “outdoor” scene was necessarily, and unfortunately obviously, filmed indoors at the Paramount studio in a large swimming pool, with the requisite Nile reeds added for authenticity. Think Esther Williams… in a swamp.
So, what was so bad about the film? The acting and the writing. DeMille is certainly not known for drawing out great acting from his epic casts, but some of these performances are epically bad. Anne Baxter plays Nefretiri, the beloved of both Rameses and Moses. Someone should have told Ms. Baxter she isn’t in a silent movie and she should tone down the dramatics and mugging a wee bit. Charlton Heston as Moses gives a wooden performance, until he becomes religious and then goes to the other extreme. Someone should tell Mr. Heston that there is more to acting than just jutting out his chin. Cedric Hardwicke as Moses’ adoptive father looks bored, almost as much as I was. Judith Anderson and Vincent Price are wasted. And then there’s Edward G. Robinson. I kept seeing him as the gangster Rico he portrayed in “Little Caesar”, replete in an Egyptian headdress… but no cigar. I guess Yul Brynner as Rameses fares the best. I enjoyed his numerous proclamations of “So it is written – so shall it be done”, arms placed akimbo on his impressive legs.
Now… a cast has to have something of quality with which to work if they’re going to have a chance. This script definitely failed them. But I will give the writers this much… they demonstrated why the Bible omitted 30 years of Moses life: It isn’t that interesting and it lends nothing to the overall story Moses’ importance to those of faith. Mr. DeMille: you have broken the 7th Commandment – Thou shalt not steal. You have stolen nearly 3 and one quarter hours of my life and 75 cents of my hard-earned cash. Never again. So I have written – so shall it be done.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS barely rates 1 bag of stale and unbuttered popcorn. I’d rather have boils.
No one is officially credited with being the voice of God in the scenes that depict the burning bush and the etching of the commandments. Whoever it was, the voice was altered with sound effects. Rumors and claims abound. Possibilities include DeMille and Heston, among others. In his 1995 autobiography, Heston maintained he was the voice of God; not in the movie, just in real life.
The effect of the hailstones was accomplished by using spray-painted popcorn, and not as it has been reported, by theatergoers who ran out of tomatoes. I refrained from adding to the effect with my stale popcorn.
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, Cecil B. DeMille’s biggest commercial success, was also his final film; he died 3 years later.
According to Edward G. Robinson, his career was saved by his being cast in this movie, as offers for work had dried up due to his left-wing politics. The hiring of Edward G. Robinson, by DeMille, therefore, undermined the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950’s. Bravo for that, Mr. DeMille!
This film, expected to probably bomb, was a smash hit upon initial release, recouping its original budget in only 11 days, and eventually grossing $9 million. In adjusted 2020 dollars, this would be equivalent to well over $75 million.
Joan Crawford once said in an interview that she and her arch-rival Bette Davis had nothing in common. Reality check: they both had fathers who abandoned their families at a young age; they both rose from poverty to success while breaking into films during the late 1920s and early 1930s; both had siblings and mothers who milked them financially once they became famous; both became Oscar-winning leading ladies, were staunch liberal Democrats and feminists; both had four husbands, both had adopted children, and both of them had daughters who wrote books denouncing them as bad mothers.
Bette Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed on set. This was to deliberately provoke Joan Crawford, who was married to the chairman of Pepsi.
Bette Davis was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actress for her performance in this movie; Crawford was not. According to some Hollywood insiders, the jealous Joan actively campaigned against Davis winning the Oscar, even calling other nominees to let them know if they were not able to be in Hollywood to accept the Award, she would be happy to do it in their stead. On Oscar night, Davis was standing in the wings of the theater waiting to hear the name of the winner. When it was announced that Anne Bancroft had won for The Miracle Worker, Joan marched past her and accepted the Oscar on Anne Bancroft’s behalf.
This week I have the distinct displeasure of reviewing yet another disaster movie – or to be more to the point – another soap opera taking placing during a catastrophic event. In 1970 it was AIRPORT – a soap opera on a doomed plane. In 1972 it was THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE – a soap opera on a doomed ocean liner. To end this year, we’ve had disaster duds. In October it was AIRPORT 1975. Then in time for Thanksgiving we were given EARTHQUAKE; thankful we were not! Now, just in time for Christmas, we have been gifted a soap opera in a doomed skyscraper: THE TOWERING INFERNO. I’d rather get socks! Or even coal!
ALL of these movies have the same m.o.: all-star casts, needless soapy side stories and intrigues, and worst of all… insipid dialogue. This particular all-star cast includes Paul Newman as the building’s architect; Steve McQueen as the head firefighter; William Holden as the building’s owner; and, Faye Dunaway as Newman’s girlfriend. In smaller roles there’s Robert Wagner, Robert Vaughn, Richard Chamberlain, and Susan Blakely. Even O.J. Simpson shows up as a security guard whose biggest moment comes when he rescues a cat, tucking it under his arm and heading for the end zone.
Two screen legends – Fred Astaire and Jennifer Jones – are totally wasted with a confusing storyline. It involves some sort of unrequited romance going on. Maybe I missed something…??? Who cares. Digressing a bit: why is it that filmmakers are still pairing Mr. Astaire with ladies 20 years or more his junior. You would think they could have found a screen legend closer to his age (75) to play his love interest. But we get to see him dance…. There’s a surprise!
During the opening credits, the producer of THE TOWERING INFERNO, Irwin Allen, dedicates the film to firefighters. Firefighters are true heroes. And as commendable as the dedication is… it would’ve been even more commendable had he given them a better movie. Unfortunately, the best he can do is give the viewer a lot of unnecessary filler via firemen sliding down poles, loading fire engines, unfurling hose, and racing through the streets of San Francisco. There is also a half-hearted attempt to make this a “message movie”, which comes pretty much at the end of the movie when McQueen’s character tsk-tsk’s Newman’s architect for not consulting with the experts regarding the fire safety of their skyscrapers.
The main gist of the plot, if you will, is that on the day of its inauguration, a small fire begins in an electrical closet of sorts on or near the 80th floor of the world’s newest and tallest skyscraper. AN electrical closet that is also storing cans of paint. A real no-no. Because of faulty alarm systems and malfunctioning fire prevention devices, it isn’t discovered until it is out of control and after the mayor and a U.S. senator arrive with 300 or so other guests for the gala inaugural party which takes place on the 135th floor. And is it just me or did we go hours from afternoon to evening with no one discovering this fire? It is beyond reasonable logic and belief.
The rest of the nearly 3-hour movie is spent trying to stop the fire and rescue people from the party. And it seems highly implausible to me that the fire-chief (McQueen) allows the party to go on when there is an out-of-control fire in the same building, necessitating the need for somewhat ludicrous rescue attempts. If only I had been rescued from this cinematic senselessness! The solution they come up with for stopping the fire seems at best unconvincing and at worst just plain stupid. And the playing out of this event goes on endlessly. While some of the rescue attempts are hair-raisingly scary, most are, at the same time, brain-numbingly unbelievable.
The screenplay is adapted from two novels: “The Glass Inferno” and “The Tower”. I know nothing about these tomes, but I kept thinking: they had the use of 2 books and they still came up with this? Apparently, the insipidness of the screenplay inspired the writers of the film’s theme song, “We May Never Love Like This Again”, to try to top them. “We may never love like this again – don’t stop the flow – we can’t let go – while we’re here, let’s leave a mark – there’s a candle in the dark…”. Actually, a big freaking building is lighting up the dark!
THE TOWERING INFERNO rates 1 bag of stale, unbuttered and saltless popcorn. Awful! This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Award aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures.
Final film of Jennifer Jones.
After seeing this film, novelist Roderick Thorp had a dream that same night about a man being chased through a skyscraper by gun-wielding assailants. This was the inspiration for his 1979 book “Nothing Lasts Forever” which eventually was made into the film “Die Hard.”
There was much consternation in the Steve McQueen camp when it was discovered that Paul Newman had 12 more lines of dialogue than he did.
Desperate to capture a truly surprised reaction from the cast, Irwin Allen actually fired a handgun into the ceiling without warning the actors, who were understandably “surprised”. The trick worked and he got his shot.
This film marked the first joint production by 2 major studios: “Warner Bros.” and “20th Century-Fox.”
Paul Newman later regretted his decision to co-star with Steve McQueen because of the rivalry between the two, created by Steve. As a result, the fireman role dominates Newman’s architect. Three contributing factors are 1) Both characters have the same number of lines (at McQueen’s insistence); 2) McQueen’s character doesn’t appear until 43 minutes into the film. As a result, Newman had used almost half his lines before McQueen enters. And 3) the fire chief is the authoritative hero who outranks and captures center stage over all other characters. During filming, Newman was quoted as saying, “For the 1st time, I fell for the goddamn numbers. I did this turkey for a million and 10% of the gross, but it’s the 1st and last time, I swear.” He later collaborated with Irwin Allen on “When Time Ran Out… (1980).”
Based on two novels: “The Tower” by Richard Martin Stern, and “The Glass Inferno” by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson. After the success of The Poseidon Adventure (1972), disaster was hot property and “Warner Brothers” bought the rights to film “The Tower” for $390,000. Eight weeks later Irwin Allen (of “20th Century Fox”) discovered “The Glass Inferno” and bought the rights for $400,000. To avoid two similar films competing at the box office the two studios joined forces and pooled their resources, each paying half the production costs. In return, “20th Century Fox” got the US box office receipts and Warners the receipts from the rest of the world.
William Holden referred to the film as “lousy”.
This film and “Earthquake” – another all-star disaster film – were both released almost a month apart in 1974. Some theaters showed both movies on a double bill promoted as “The Shake and Bake Double Feature”.
If you’re a fan of 1930’s screwball comedies, rush out to see WHAT’S UP, DOC?,. This tribute to the genre of yesteryear is absolutely terrific. SO GOOD, I saw it twice! The film’s director, Peter Bogdanovich, gave us last year’s excellent THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, a heavy and somber drama. He does a 180 here.
The film stars Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal. This is Ms. Streisand’s best role since her debut in FUNNY GIRL and she gets to show us her significant comedic talents. Mr. O’Neal channels Cary Grant, albeit much more deadpan. Actually, much of the film owes its genesis to a specific classic Cary Grant screwball comedy, BRINGING UP BABY, which co-starred Katharine Hepburn. Try to catch it and you’ll see some similarities…
While the leads are very appealing, I must say that the standouts in this film are the supporting cast and characters. They nearly steal the film from Barbra and Ryan. And the biggest scene-stealer is newcomer Madeline Kahn – remember that name! Ms. Kahn’s comic timing, physical demeanor, and delivery of lines is flawless. I couldn’t get enough of her.
Ms. Kahn plays Eunice Burns, the pragmatic, prim and proper fiancée of Ryan O’Neal’s musical professor Howard Bannister. Eunice and Howard are in San Francisco for a musicology convention and the awarding of a grant by millionaire Frederick Larabee, played to perfection by Austin Pendleton. In a hilarious performance, Kenneth Mars plays Howard Bannister’s obnoxious competition for the grant, and Mr. Mars employs an accent that is both vague and somewhat familiar as he butchers the English language while he pompously speechifies. There are several other fun supporting performances – too many to mention them all, but I must single out Liam Dunn’s Small Claims Court judge near the end of the film.
The main thrust of the film is the confusion caused by 4 identical plaid suitcases coming together at one hotel. One bag contains priceless jewels, which the desk manager and hotel detective plan on stealing. A second bag contains top secret government papers over which 2 different spies vie. The third and fourth suitcases contain, respectively, Howard Bannister’s musical igneous rocks and Streisand’s character Judy Maxwell’s clothes. The fun begins when they get mixed up. The other plot device is Judy Maxwell’s attempts to steal the handsome Howard Bannister, whom she prefers to call “Steve”, from the hapless Eunice Burns.
The very funny and creative screenplay is by Buck Henry, David Newman and Robert Benton, who worked from a story by Bogdanovich. The dialogue is often hilarious. A lot of quick-fire rapid exchanges. I have to share at least one… perhaps my favorite…
The desk manager Fritz is instructing the hotel detective Harry regarding stealing the rich lady’s precious jewels:
You will enter Mrs. Van Hoskins’ room, through the adjoining room and you will take the jewel case to the basement.
What if she wakes up and sees me?
You will tell her you are smitten with her, that you have followed her all night, and you will make passionate love to her.
Couldn’t I just kill her?
There’s plenty of slapstick and visual gags as well. Over the opening credits La Streisand sings Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”. Towards the end of the movie she sings a bit of another standard in a scene that is a bit contrived and maybe out of place, but nevertheless enjoyable. There’s also some dialogue at the very end of the movie that pokes fun of Mr. O’Neal’s breakout film, LOVE STORY.
WHAT’S UP DOC? is a wonderful new-fangled screwball comedy. Thank you, Mr. Bogdanovich.
WHAT’S UP, DOC? rates 4 overflowing bags of extra buttery popcorn. Yum-Meee!
This is Rob Stone, movie maven and Academy Awards aficionado for the BOBBY KATZEN BABY BOOMER AND GEN X SHOW. Gee whiz, I oughtta be in pictures!
This 1972 movie was Madeline Kahn’s film debut. She would go on to receive nominations for Supporting Actress for 1973’s Paper Moon (also directed by Bogdanovich) and 1974’s Blazing Saddles, by Mel Brooks of course. Ms. Kahn left us WAY too soon.
Ryan O’Neal (who was romantically involved with Streisand prior to this film’s release) is the only actor to be her leading man in more than one film. He also co-starred with her in THE MAIN EVENT. Omar Sharif, Barbra’s leading man in FUNNY GIRL was also in FUNNY LADY, but only in a cameo; Barbra’s leading man in FUNNY LADY was James Caan.
WHAT’S UP DOC? is the first American film to list stunt people in the credits!
Cary Grant, the inspiration for Ryan O’Neal’s character, has often been impersonated by using the line, “Judy, Judy, Judy” which Cary Grant never said in any film. However, at the end of WHAT’S UP DOC?, Ryan O’Neal’s character is searching the airport for Barbra’s character, and says: “Judy? Judy? Judy.” Niiice….
If you haven’t yet seen the new Gene Kelly musical, SINGIN IN THE RAIN, run out tonight and see it. You MUST, especially if you are a lover of musicals. This is the best movie musical I’ve seen in a long time, and that includes Mr. Kelly’s triumph of last year, AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. That one might have won all those Academy Awards but SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN wins the award for out-and-out charm.
The film also features Donald O’Connor, who is amazing with Mr. Kelly in the numbers “Fit as a Fiddle” and “Moses Supposes” and spectacular in a solo number, “Make ‘Em Laugh” which showcases his abilities as an acrobat and clown as well as a top-notch hoofer. And that’s Debby Reynolds (in only her sixth film) dancing toe to toe with Kelly and O’Connor in the amazingly enthusiastic “Good Mornin’” number.
The surprise of the movie is the role inhabited by Miss Jean Hagen – giving the most hilarious – that’s right, I said HILARIOUS – performance of the year. Nothing she’s done before will prepare you for this. She nearly steals the film – except for the fact that it is difficult to single out anyone or anything from this film because it is so well-balanced between great dancing, funny dialogue, and well-known songs.
All the songs but one are chestnuts of Tin Pan Alley, written by the team of Nacio Herb Brown and the film’s producer, Arthur Freed, including the short and oh-so-peppy “All I Do is Dream of You” (which features the perky Ms. Reynolds) and the ballad “You Were Meant for Me” performed by Kelly and Reynolds. The film is filled with tunes you will leave the theatre humming, including the only new tune “Moses Supposes” by Oscar winner Roger Edens and the screenwriters Comden and Green – more about their contribution in a sec.
The big number is a highly stylized version of that old standard “The Broadway Melody”. The sequence – a little movie within the movie – features the gorgeous Cyd Charisse and some imagery reminiscent of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.
But if for no other reason, you MUST see this movie for Mr. Kelly’s performance of the title number. I got a little lump in my throat during the “Singin’ in the Rain” number – just from the sheer joy and inventiveness of Mr. Kelly’s choreography. It is movie magic! The talents of Mr. Kelly are almost immeasurable – besides dancing, singing, acting, and choreographing the film he also co-directed with Stanley Donen – their second effort together.
The script is another star of the movie, ranging from funny to hilarious. It was written by the brilliant Betty Comden and Adolph Green – who also wrote Kelly and Donen’s last film, TAKE ME OUT TO THE BALLGAME. Comden and Green took a very real episode in the history of Hollywood – the studios’ and stars’ difficult transition from silent to sound films – and ran with it. And because of their excellent script, here’s something you can say about this film that you rarely can say about a musical – you actually learn some history – imagine that!
I cannot think of a recent musical’s screenplay that is as witty and humorous as this; I’m not sure it can be bettered. I only hope the screenplay, along with the magical performances of Ms. Hagen and Mr. O’Connor will be remembered at Oscar time. Go tonight to see SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN; I’ll probably go again for my third time! It’s that good!! SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN rates 4 overflowing bags of popcorn AND a mallomar!!! My highest rating ever!!!
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