Sister Celluloid

Where old movies go to live

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Myrna Loy and Ann Harding Fight It Out in THE ANIMAL KINGDOM

Welcome to another edition of STREAMING SATURDAYS, bringing you free, fabulous films to watch right here!

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This week: 1932’s The Animal Kingdom, which, had it been made two years later, would have sent everyone in the Hays Office scurrying for their scissors.

Directed by Edward Griffith with an uncredited assist from George Cukor, the film had been thought lost for years, until historian Ronald Haver, on the hunt for excised footage from the 1954 version of A Star Is Born, found a print and a negative tucked in the back of a Warner Bros. vault. It seems that in the mid-1940s, the studio had bought the rights from RKO to shoot a remake, but eventually shelved the idea along with the film and completely lost track of it. (And yes, you and I take better care of our DVDs and tapes than the studios often took of the actual films.)

Based on a play by Philip Barry (after Holiday and before The Philadelphia Story), it stars Leslie Howard and Ann Harding as Tom and Daisy, who were happily living together as lovers until Tom’s father (Henry Stephenson), a wealthy publisher, tugged on the reins—convincing Tom to move back home, “live respectably,” and take over the family business.

Allied with Dad is Cecilia (Myrna Loy), who’s eager to marry the son with the suddenly-bright prospects. When she’s warned that Tom’s been “wasting his life from the cradle,” she responds wryly, “Aw… it must have been pathetic to see him wasting it at three!” And BAM. Just like that, Myrna Loy—the real Myrna Loy—is born. No wonder she called this one of her favorite films.

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After years of toiling away as “exotics” and one-dimensional bad girls, Loy was loaned out—or should I say paroled—from MGM for this fabulous role. Mind you, she’s still bad, gaspingly so at times, but she’s also herself. And at 27, she’s already so damn good, she makes no actressy attempt to win the audience’s sympathy. She knows exactly what she is—a social climber and a golddigger—and she goes all in, with wit, brains and elegance to burn.

Early on, Cecilia wins her man, but not his heart. Daisy, a deco goddess if ever there was one, is still lingering languidly in the background. Awaiting a visit from Tom, she muses, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh. And no oil for my lamp, as usual. A foolish virgin me. Oh, foolish anyway.”

And on that note, let the games begin!

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid. You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine Fall For THE BIGAMIST

Welcome to another edition of STREAMING SATURDAYS, where we embed a free, fun movie for you to watch right here!

In 1953’s The Bigamist, Edmond O’Brien scrambles up and down the California coast, shuttling between two wives. If I’d been anywhere in the vicinity, it would have been three. But enough about my love of Eddie.

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In the film, Ida Lupino, who also directed, plays Phyllis, an L.A. restaurant hostess and the more sympathetic of the two wives. And that was my main gripe: not that she took the plummier role (why wouldn’t she?), but that her rival (Joan Fontaine) was subtly frowned upon for being a—gasp!—business woman, and a damned good one. So, of course her husband became a bigamist! He was lonely and emasculated and blah, blah, blah… Really, Ida? You, of all people, ran with that tired old trope? (And by the way, in real life, the anything but hard-hearted Joan left her entire multi-million-dollar fortune to an animal shelter.)

Here’s the thing, though: in other ways, the movie is pretty subversive, especially for a noir. O’Brien, unlikely as it may seem (except for those of us who adore him), is kind of an homme fatale—unable to get control of his emotions and his life, he ends up making two kind, trusting women absolutely miserable. He’s the irrational, random force that wreaks havoc on their otherwise sane, centered lives. The women know what they want and where they’re going (at least until they learn the truth), but he’s a freaking wreck. Throw in the fact that he’s being stalked by Santa Claus—Edmund Gwenn plays an adoption agency investigator looking into his domestic life—and you’ve pretty much stood the movie world as we know it on its head.

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With this film, Lupino became the first woman in the modern era to direct herself in a major film — partly, she recalled, to cut down on the budget. She used separate camera crews and a variety of lenses for each wife, to highlight their differences and heighten the feeling of intimacy the audience had with each of them. Lupino said directing herself was the biggest challenge: “It was difficult for me to determine the quality of my performance, so I relied on Collie… who would signal to me when I was doing something I would not like.”

“Collie” was Lupino’s ex-husband Collier Young, who wrote the screenplay and remained her partner in their production company, Filmakers (yes, with one “m”). Oh, and they cast his new wife, Fontaine, in the film — also throwing in a cameo for his mother-in-law. Some couples carry the idea of amicable divorce a little too far…

A few more tidbits before I turn you over to the movie: The Bigamist was one of the first films to use product placement; the shoestring budget was bolstered by fees from Cadillac, Coca-Cola and United Airlines. And the scene with the tour of the movie stars’ homes? Those were their actual homes. There’s also a little inside joke in that scene, but I won’t give it away…

And now, enjoy!

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid. You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

Don’t Ditch Those DVDs and Tapes! They’re Your Only Permanent Pass to the Movies

If you want to make sure a movie you love is always there for you, you’ve gotta own it. Period.

More and more people are being sucked into cyberspace for all their viewing needs, like modern-day versions of Carol Anne in Poltergeist. Because who needs old-school media when you’ve got HBO Max, Hulu, Netflix and a zillion other streamers? You do, my dear. Look at it this way: When your lease is up and you have to move, streaming media is the friend who kinda helps you pack, but mostly just rifles through your record collection. Physical media is the friend who helps you haul that ratty sectional sofa down from your fourth-floor walkup.

Streaming services are especially fickle friends when it comes to classic film, which seems to occupy a narrower niche every year. The uber-classics like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz will likely always be online somewhere, but most titles have much shorter shelf lives, and many never make it onto platforms at all. Some streamers, like TCM, HBO Max and the Criterion Channel, do much better than others, but out of necessity, movies cycle in and out all the time. (Oh and PS: When you “buy” a movie on, say, Amazon, you’re only paying for a limited license to view it for an indefinite period.)

I don’t know about you, but when I wake up at three in the morning and only Kay Francis and William Powell in Jewel Robbery can calm my fevered mind, I don’t want to be clacking away on my keyboard or fumbling with the remote, hoping it’s still on one of my streaming subscriptions somewhere. I want to pop in the disc, hear that comforting little whirr, and sit back and bask in the Deco glow of 1932, knowing Kay and Bill are mine forever.

And if you still have your VHS tapes, come sit here by me. I have lots of titles that never made it to DVD, either for a perceived lack of audience interest or because the rights hurdles they cleared the first time were harder to leap over in the next round. These include gems like Kevin Brownlow’s Buster Keaton and Hollywood series, as well as old biographies such as Laurence Olivier: A Life and a bunch of 1930s movies likely deemed unworthy of a new life on DVD.

If your VCR has conked out, used ones are super cheap online, but new DVD-VCR combos have gotten pricier as the demand dwindles down to dinosaurs like me (even the New York Times crossword writers hate on us). So only you can decide if it’s worth the hunt and the money to watch the tapes you’ve hung onto. (Oh and screw the ridicule.)

If storage space is an issue, consider high-quality DVD cases that let you ditch all the packaging. I realize that using these is blasphemous to some people, but they’ve kept my movies safe for decades; I stick to the smaller cases and shelve them vertically, away from moisture, heat and sunlight. I keep the liner notes worth saving in a small box. (Alas, there’s no equivalent storage workaound for VHS tapes.)

Want to add to your collection? If you can spring for new DVDs of classic films, great—it reminds media companies that there’s still a market for them and encourages them to maintain their libraries and churn out the odd restoration or two. If you can’t, there are plenty of outlets for cheap used ones, including flea markets, thrift and charity stores, library sales, and of course online sellers. Even some drugstore chains and supermarkets sell DVDs, and classics sometimes pop up in their bins, so don’t pass them by.

One of my favorite online sources is the eBay store of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library (username friendslibrary), where 100% of proceeds go to this fabulous cause. (As you might imagine, they also have tons of books.) The eBay charity store (just enter “charity auction” in the searchbar) also has lots of other nonprofits selling DVDs, though the percentage earmarked for charity varies.

If you prefer your DVDs free, check back to this website in a while. I inherited my Mom’s DVDs after I lost her last summer, and since we were movie kindred spirits, there are some I already had. I’ll be keeping hers, and giving mine away. But I don’t have the heart to plow through that process just yet.

In the meantime, keep the ones you have. Streaming services can take down content whenever they feel like it, but your own personal stash of movies? Oh no, they can’t take that away from you…

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Teenage Linda Darnell Is Tyrone Power’s DAY-TIME WIFE

Welcome to another edition of STREAMING SATURDAYS, where we bring you free, fun films to watch right here!

This week: 1939’s Day-Time Wife!

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Early on in this odd little confection, Jane (Linda Darnell) finds out her husband Ken (Tyrone Power) is running around with his secretary (Wendy Barrie). So she breaks a super-heavy Deco lamp over his head, drags his half-conscious body out to the hallway, and changes all the locks.

Oh wait that’s what I’d do.

What Jane does is decide to meet the competition head on, by getting a job as a secretary herself, to see what they’ve got that she hasn’t got. (And the answer, this being Linda Darnell we’re talking about, is absolutely nothing.)

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“If a woman can’t hold her man, then it’s her own fault!” she tells her much-married friend Blanche (Binnie Barnes). “I’m going to hold mine!”

Okay I’ll wait here while you go to the sink and retch. But do come back—because this really is a fun little film…

For starters, the man who plays her new boss is Warren William—who still somehow manages to bring the Pre-Code years after the Hays Office was staffed to the rafters. (“I’d like you to think of me as a sort of an… an ineligible eligible bachelor,” he purrs to Jane over dinner, leering elegantly as only he could do.)

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This was just Darnell’s second film after Hotel for Women; she was a last-minute replacement for Loretta Young, who sniffed at second billing. Darnell was just shy of 16 when she played the 25-year-old Power’s wife—and sometimes, despite the warpaint, she looks it. (Calling Darnell’s mother a stage mother is like calling a tsunami a passing wave. She happily lied about her gorgeous daughter’s age to get her foot in the studio door, and she was so relentlessly pushy—even by Hollywood standards—that she was eventually banned from the lot altogether.) But she’s already a total pro, with terrific comic timing and great chemistry with her co-star, whom she’d re-team with for The Mark of Zorro, Brigham Young and Blood and Sand.

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Years later, director Gregory Ratoff (perhaps most famous as Max Fabian, the producer in search of a good long burp, in All About Eve) recalled that on the rare occasion Darnell went up on her lines, Power would do the same, to take the pressure off her. And their genuine affection for each other is just as palpable on screen as it was off. In fact Power was one of the few bright spots in her ill-starred life; her complete story is here.

I’ll say no more about the film except to assure you that Jane triumphs in the end… but I’m guessing you knew that…

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid. You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

Paul McCartney’s Way with Women (In Song)

Happy Birthday, Sir Paul! And in his honor, I’d like to focus on a part of his much-mined legacy I’ve not heard too much about: his story-songs about women.

Let’s start with “Eleanor Rigby,” still one of the most evocative songs ever written, and a novel unto itself. (I know Paul is Catholic, so Father McKenzie was probably not marriage-eligible, but I can’t hear that song without wishing he’d thrown off the collar so he and Eleanor could rescue each other.) On a broader note, it’s about the deep chasms of loneliness anyone could feel, in an era of post-war upheaval when all the “pulling together for a common cause” has long since come apart. But what you see most vividly is Eleanor. Has there ever been a lonelier image set to song than that of a straggler in the back pew who “picks up the rice in a church where a wedding has been” as the happy couple sets off on their new life together?

And Paul was 24 when he wrote it. I mean Jesus. John Lennon had apparently advised against the downbeat ending, but Paul held fast.

“Eleanor Rigby” was something of a lonely song to record as well: none of the other Beatles played on it (shades of Yesterday earlier), though George and John chimed in on vocals. And the strings were producer George Martin’s idea—reportedly inspired by those he’d heard in… wait for it… Psycho.

Similarly, none of the Beatles played on “She’s Leaving Home,” though John sang the chorus. This stunner seems completely out of place on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (much as “Eleanor Rigby” did on Yellow Submarine) but to me it’s the best cut on that legendary album. “Silently closing her bedroom door… leaving a note that she hoped would say more…” The stark imagery throughout the song captures everything.

The song was loosely based on a story Paul had read in the Daily Mirror about a 17-year-old runaway, but her interior life, and the mystified grief of her mother and father, were purely Paul’s creation. (The very act of acknowledging the feelings of — gasp! — her parents, even wryly, was enough to make this song revolutionary for 1967.)

Martin was tied up on another project, so Paul turned to Mike Leander to produce the song, once again bringing in strings to underscore the mood. “[George] was busy and I was itching to get on with it, I was inspired,” Paul told Playboy in 1984. “I think George had a lot of difficulty forgiving me for that. It hurt him, I didn’t mean to.” You’ve gotta love a man who’s still wracked with guilt about hurting a friend, almost 20 years on. (Did I mention he was Catholic?)

Brian Wilson cried when Paul played it for him, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem called it “equal to any song that Schubert ever wrote.”

Most heart-rending break-up songs are written from the perspective of the dumpee. “For No One” splits the difference between the man left behind and the woman out there creating a life without him. “She wakes up, she makes up, she takes her time and doesn’t feel she has to hurry, she no longer needs you…”

Paul recalls writing the song in the bathroom of a Swiss chalet while on vacation with his then-girlfriend Jane Asher, as their relationship was falling apart: “I suspect it was about another argument.” And yet he wrote it as much from a woman’s perspective as a man’s.

During the recording session, Paul asked Alan Civil, the soloist on the French horn, to play a note that stretched beyond its normal range, to strike the perfect mournful tone, which recording engineer Geoff Emrick said resulted in “the performance of his life.” In terms of his bandmates, this was yet another virtual solo for Paul, with Ringo adding some light percussion. 

I admit I was reluctant to put “Lady Madonna” in here as I’ve never liked the song and it always felt like something of a put-down. But a recent interview with Paul changed my mind.

“I think women are very strong, they put up with a lot of shit,” he told the UK’s Far Out magazine. “They put up with the pain of having a child, of raising it, cooking for it, they are basically skivvies a lot of their lives, so I always want to pay a tribute to them.”

Paul’s own mother, a midwife in Liverpool, was also an inspiration here, as elsewhere in his music. (She’s the one he references in “Let It Be,” though it’s been wrongly assumed to be the more iconic Mother Mary.) “It’s really a tribute to the mother figure, it’s a tribute to women,” Paul told author Barry Miles for the book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. “‘Your Mother Should Know’ is another.” Yes, that little music hall-style ditty is the one where Paul, in the midst of a particularly turbulent generational war, “was basically trying to say, your mother might know more than you think she does. Give her credit.”

In researching “Another Day,” I was shocked — though I shouldn’t have been — to see how many (male) music critics sneered at it, in one case likening it to a jingle for underarm deodorant, and generally dismissing it as trite.

The single was released three months before Paul’s second solo album, Ram — and just as his former bandmates were turning out All Things Must Pass and John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. It was deemed far too lightweight to compete. Yes, how could a song about a woman’s interior life have any gravitas?!? These are pretty much the same kind of myopic misogynists who sniffed at “women’s pictures” during the classic movie era. In fact this song pretty much is a women’s picture. “At the office where the papers grow she takes a break… drinks another coffee and she finds it hard to stay awake, it’s just another day… So sad, so sad, sometimes she feels so sad.” It’s loneliness and depression set to a slight samba beat.

Lennon snidely referenced “Another Day” in his song about Paul, “How Do You Sleep?”: “The only thing you done was yesterday/And since you’ve gone it’s just another day.”

But Denny Seiwall, the session drummer on Ram, called it “Eleanor Rigby in New York City.” And I’m guessing that most women whose strength and sanity are being sucked slowly dry by jobs and relationships going nowhere will see themselves much more clearly in this song than in, say, “Instant Karma.”

None of this is to take away from all the other gorgeous ballads Paul wrote. But there’s something about these story-songs, all centering on women, that reveals such a deep understanding and compassion. With them, he created characters wholly outside himself, something not many songwriters do, and not nearly that well.

To close out this birthday tribute, here’s Sir Paul — no entourage, no crew, no bullshit — strolling through JFK Airport a couple of years ago, ticket and luggage in hand. Safe travels always, you beautiful man…

What’s Your Classic Movie Intervention?

Okay here’s a question for all of you, who, like me, feel movies from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. What classic movie character would you like to stage an intervention for? Who makes you want to reach into the screen and say “Don’t do it!” I don’t mean warning someone about an imminent danger, like “Don’t go down the basement!!” I mean something the character is doing or not doing, or perhaps the way they’re living their lives, that’s just breaking your heart or making you crazy.

For me, two come to mind right away: Fran (Ruth Chatterton) in Dodsworth, throwing away her husband, one of the best and most attractive men in the world, for a string of Eurotrash milquetoasts, and Sibyl Vane (Angela Lansbury) making the terrible mistake of turning around and staying the night in The Picture of Dorian Gray. I’ve seen that movie roughly ten times, but that scene only once: I literally have to leave the room for about two minutes until it’s over. I can’t even fast-forward past it because you can still kinda see it. (I realize, of course, that both these films are based on novels, so maybe I have to leap into the books to save these ladies as well.)

Similarly, I spend much of Random Harvest, which I love but oh my God, screaming at Paula (Greer Garson), pining away for her amnesiac husband (Ronald Colman), “Just tell him!!” Though as my Mom would wisely point out, as with most plot contrivances that drive you insane, “Then it would be a really short movie.” And at least her story ends happily, because we all know that being long-suffering, noble and self-sacrificing is a sure-fire ticket to romantic bliss.

Sad to say there are many, many more, but I’d rather turn the floor over to my movie tribe.

So… what classic movie character do you most want to save from themselves?

Anna May Wong to Be Honored with US Coin—Which Woman of Film Should Be Next?

If you’ve ever strolled along Hollywood Boulevard, you’ve likely seen Anna May Wong gracing the Four Ladies of Hollywood statue, with Mae West, Dorothy Dandridge and Dolores del Rio comprising the other three pillars. But now Wong is set to be immortalized on a US coin.

Thanks to the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act, signed into law last year, a special series of quarters will be struck to commemorate American women who’ve made indelible contributions in the arts, sciences, public affairs, civil rights, and other fields.

The first honorees, set to appear next year, will be poet, writer and activist Maya Angelou; Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman, and youngest American, in space; the Cherokee Nation’s Wilma Mankiller, the first woman to be elected chief of a major tribe; Aledina Otero-Warren, a leader of New Mexico’s suffrage movement and the first woman elected to be superintendent of schools in Santa Fe; and Wong, who was of course the first Chinese American film star and later became an activist for Chinese refugees after WWII and a groundbreaker on television as the star of The Gallery of Madam Liu.

For Wong, it’s long-overdue recognition for a luminous talent pigeonholed and then virtually sidelined by the film industry. But fittingly, here’s where she gets to be a trailblazer again: these coins are only the first of a series—and you can help decide who’s honored next.

For the sake of this post, let’s focus on the movies. What say you, film tribe? Who’s made a massive contribution — and perhaps one that’s been overlooked or lost to an increasingly myopic movie history? Writers, directors and filmmakers, like Dorothy Arzner, Lois Weber and Francis Marion? Actors of color who graced scores of films but were often marginalized, like Theresa Harris and Juanita Moore? Those whose stellar careers were cut short in service to their country, like Carole Lombard, whom FDR called the first US casualty of WWII?

Click this link to nominate your favorite female idols, and let me know your choices in the comments section! And please share this post so your friends and fellow film fans can have their say.

STREAMING SATURDAYS! Brace Yourself for a Shock in PAROLE GIRL

Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fun movie for you to watch right here!

Parole Girl has the most shocking ending in all of classic film: Ralph Bellamy gets the girl. (Not to fear—we know that from the jump. Also there’s literally no other attractive man in the entire movie.)

The girl he gets is the fabulous Mae Clarke. But first he sends her to prison—talk about meeting cute!

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Sylvia Day (Clarke) gets guilted into teaming up with grifter Tony Gratton (Hale Hamilton), who had befriended her father when he fell on hard times. Now on her own after his death, she agrees to help Tony pull a con on a department store. After she’s caught and collapses in fear and remorse, the manager is willing to show her mercy—but his boss, Joe Smith (Bellamy) insists they can make no exceptions.

Sent off to jail, Sylvia’s got but one consuming, consoling thought: wreaking revenge on Smith when she’s released. And does she ever—up to a point.

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Parole Girl was a bit of a departure for director Eddie Cline, who usually knocked around with Mack Sennett, Buster Keaton and W.C. Fields. But it was tailor-made for the versatile Clarke, who moves seamlessly from a terrified, pleading victim to a vengeful schemer (with a rueful laugh that could peel the wallpaper) to a desperate wife who risks everything to protect the man she now loves.

The script was an early effort of Oscar winner Norman Krasna, who later collaborated on two of Jean Harlow’s best films, Bombshell and Reckless, and went on to whip up such confections as Wife Vs. Secretary, Bachelor Mother, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, The Devil and Miss Jones, Indiscreet and Sunday in New York (with my beloved Rod Taylor). Some of the coincidences that drive the story along will strain your credulity so hard you’ll need a chiropractor. But it’s a sweet little movie—and must have been especially satisfying for Mr. Bellamy.

STREAMING SATURDAYS is a semi-regular feature on Sister Celluloid. You can catch up on movies you may have missed by clicking here! And why not bookmark the page to make sure you never miss another?

The Stands Were Alive as Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer Relived THE SOUND OF MUSIC

Godspeed, Christopher Plummer, whose star blazed across seven decades and who still made me sigh when he glided onto the screen in Knives Out just a year or so ago.  Just a few years earlier, he’d taken on the daunting task of subbing at the last second for Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, astounding director Ridley Scott with his mastery of the complex, demanding role with little time to even memorize his many scenes, let alone prep for the murky role.

My Mom and I were lucky enough to see him in his one-man show of Barrymore, which amply called on his natural wry wit and deep emotional range, on display in his film career as well—playing everything from ruthless film producers and Nazi generals to legendary newscasters and sympathetic detectives. He finally won an Oscar for his role in Beginners, as an elderly man who comes out to his family and finds love during the last years of his life. “I have a confession to make,” he told the adoring crowd. “When I first emerged from my mother’s womb I was already rehearsing my Academy thank-you speech.” (And yes, that was me you heard, laughing and sobbing in my living room.)

But his most famous role was one he often dismissed, but finally embraced: Baron von Trapp in The Sound of Music.

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Back in March 2015, when the new print kicked off the TCM Classic Film Festival, he and Julie Andrews—who still clearly adored each other—gave us a glimpse of their Music memories during a pre-screening interview with Sid Ganis, first vice president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Ganis kicked things off by asking who in the audience had never seen the film—and the first hand to shoot up was Plummer’s. Turns out that during the film’s New York premiere,”all the males went to a bar,” Plummer laughed. “We’d kind of seen it, you know? So we spent most of the night in the bar. I can’t do that any more like I used to, damn it.”

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The actor had derided the film in the past, even jokingly referring to it as The Sound of Mucus—and at one point, didn’t think much of film work, period. He and Andrews touched on that, and more, during their conversation:

CP: Funnily enough, I was asked to do The Sound of Music on Broadway…  Mary Martin took a shine to me but her husband said, ‘Mary, he’s 29 years old, darling…” And of course Theodore Bikel did it beautifully.

In those days I thought the stage was it. You think the theatre is so intellectual but then you think, ‘What am I doing?!? They pay so well in the movies!’ But early in my movie career, you’ll see me walking around not really knowing where to go.

Working with Julie, though… I sort of fell in love with her when I was sitting up in the theatre balcony watching her as Eliza Doolittle. She’s wonderful… an old-fashioned saint… you’d follow her into battle the way you would Joan of Arc.

JA: <laughs> You called me a saint? How dare you, sir! Ruining my reputation! We’ve always been great chums though.

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CP: And for all I’ve said about the film, I think this is the primal family movie of all time… it’s a fairy story brought to life—the last bastion of peace and innocence in a terrible time.

JA: Richard Rodgers’ daughter Mary said it was the one show that translated better to the screen from the stage—of all those walloping hits! And everyone making the film was at the peak of their talents. And the quality of the music is phenomenal.

CP: The arrangements were extraordinary—just magical!

JA: And a huge orchestra!

CP: Well, yes, as someone who was trying to sing above them…

JA: And the beautiful Alps and the children and the nuns…

CP: …could have been really mawkish!

JA: You made it less saccharine—you made it have an astringency because of the way you played the captain. And without that, we would have been sunk, my love. I really mean that. You and [director] Robert Wise made sure of that. With his innate good taste, he saw the problem, that it could go that way.

He was a gentleman and a gentle man. And of course was one of the editors on Citizen Kane. He had a great sense of economy of emotion. He taught me something—he said, ‘Julie, look in one place only, don’t look left-right-left-right, keep still.’ What a gift that was! That huge close-up—be still! I guess we were rattling back and forth in some of the early dailies that he saw.

And the wonderful choreographers went ahead to the locations and took measurements of how many steps for each number, etc. so when we got there it was all laid out for us!

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CP: We filmed backwards, first in Austria and then back to California. And you were always carting oxen up a hill or something…

JA: I was on top of the carts, going up the hill with the cameras! Often in the mud! Austria has Europe’s seventh-highest annual rainfall… but the rain made so many beautiful, glorious puffy cumulus clouds in the background. When you see the movie, notice the strength of the background, because it made a difference. Robert Wise said that gave a texture to it. It makes a difference… it wasn’t just a picture postcard.

CP: And the cameramen didn’t try to soften Austria. They almost shot it as a documentary.

JA: Not all of the locals liked us, though. We had the speakers set up outdoors, and one  farmer came out with a pitchfork and screamed, “You’re ruining the milk from my cows!” Did you have any problems with things like that?

CP: I went straight to the bar.

And on that happy note, the Q&A closed, and the curtain rose…

Thank you, dear Christopher, for everything.

A Memory Dream Turns Into A Nightmare

For me, it’s always been one of the most unsettling scenes ever set to film: the one in Goodfellas where, after Henry has become something of a liability, his wife Karen goes to see his mobster friend Jimmy for help, amidst a jungle of ramshackle old warehouses near the docks. At first, he commiserates with her, asks how Henry’s holding up, and presses a few thousand dollars into her hand. Then he gives her a hug and a kiss and says “Listen, I got some beautiful Dior dresses, you wanna have ‘em?” Still flush with gratitude, she smiles and says, “Yeah, maybe for my Mom.” But as he tries to steer her, a bit too insistently, into the dark, deserted space where he wants her to go, you can almost see the hairs on the back of her neck stand up.

Being somewhat movie-mad, and trying to put something that just happened to me into some kind of context, that was the scene that ran through my mind yesterday.

I had gone to Sunset Park, Brooklyn, to pick up my husband Tim after arthroscopic surgery. The nurse said she’d call when I could come by, and in the meantime, I walked around the neighborhood, my face tucked into my coat collar against the bitter cold, as the wind barreled down the bits of barren street where it met no resistance. I suddenly realized I was just a few blocks from the house where my Dad grew up, and where we lived, upstairs from my Gramma, for the first few years of my life.

The front door was now made of steel, almost prison-like, which really threw me. But the bricks on the front, mottled dark and red, still looked the same, as did the swirling black ironwork on the windows.

I remembered the willow tree that once stood across the street, whose shadows hovered protectively on my bedroom wall in the glow of the street lamp as I drifted off to sleep. And I remembered Billy down the block, who had a lot of trouble with his words. I can still hear his voice—he couldn’t quite clamp down on the hard letters and everything sounded a bit like oatmeal. But somehow I could understand him, and his Mom, who topped out a bit above my 6-foot Dad, would sometimes bend close to me and ask me what he’d said. Maybe because I had a stumbling block of my own—Rs eluded me completely (and sometimes still do)—I could make my way through his jumble of sounds.  

The little courtyard behind the front gate reminded me of when Billy and I made several hundred round trips up and down the street with his wagon to collect the phone books thrown away when the new ones arrived, and built a fort there. Which was heaven until it rained. But before it collapsed into roughly a thousand pounds of soggy pulp, Billy and I got married in front of it—Billy in his spiffiest teeshirt, me in my best shorts set and my sister’s First Holy Communion veil, and my best friend Monica sporting a lovely kitchen towel on her head as my maid of honor.

And I remembered going back to visit my Gramma with my Dad on Saturdays, after we moved away from that place I’d never wanted to leave. If I peered hard enough, I could still see her waiting there at the window for us.

But suddenly I was startled out of my memory dream when a man stepped out of the house and approached me. I apologized for lingering and told him it was once my family’s home. “Why don’t you come in?” he smiled, and I said no, that’s okay. He asked again, “Come in, it’ll be fine!” And again I nodded no, really, it’s alright. Then he got a little more insistent—”No, come on, come in!” And I suddenly realized, as the day began to darken, that he’d left the steel front door open and there was no one else around, anywhere.

I started to walk away slowly, not wanting to be rude, and thanked him again. And he grabbed my arm hard and dragged me toward him. I somehow got away and said “I have to pick up my husband from surgery!” and he said something like, “Yeah right!” As I hurried away he swiped at my arm again, grabbing hold of my coat and sort of growling something at me. I broke away and ran, and when I turned the corner onto a street with at least a few people on it, he gave up chasing me.

I ducked into a store, shaking, and started crying. A little while and a lot of deep breaths later, without waiting to hear from the nurse, I headed for the hospital, where Tim was doing fine and almost ready to go home. And I was more than ready.

Aside from thinking about that scene from Goodfellas, a few other things struck me. Like even after I’d felt fear rising up through my throat, I thought I had to just sort of saunter away from him to avoid hurting his feelings. And then, even after he’d grabbed me, I had to explain to him why today would not be a good day for me to be abducted off the street.

Most unsettling was that if I hadn’t needed to be somewhere—if I’d just been out for a walk and passed the house—I might have accepted his invitation to go inside, because at first he seemed normal, and I was swept up in my memories, and also I’m kind of an over-truster. (A friend of mine teases me all the time, like when my wallet’s hanging halfway out of my bag, “I can’t believe you’re from Brooklyn.”) That part really gives me shivers, the way something that didn’t happen and now never will happen but could have happened can still frighten you.

I realize very little of this is actually movie-related, but I just had to write it down. Thank you for listening.

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