Reel History: Day of the Outlaw

DATELINE: Big Daddy Burl Ives

 

outlaw day Burl Ives center stage

When movies had to compete against 40 weekly Western TV shows, you had to do something special.

Day of the Outlaw immediately hit a nerve: it was black & white when all the TV westerns were the same and movies were all in glorious color. This film put the action out in a real snowstorm in Wyoming, and it also featured a brutal horse caravan through deep snow. Music is minimalist, but effective. The film was lost in the shuffle back then, but is a stunner today.

We felt sorry for the horses who seemed to be suffering in the harsh weather and cold location scenes, including filming in a real snowstorm. However, the actors were out there for real—and looked just as frozen amid the ice-covered tundra. Only Burl Ives looked holly and jolly, riding hard and heavy on his long-tortured horse.

The other draw here was Robert Ryan, one of the most under-rated tough guys the movies ever created—as Blaise the hard-as-nails rancher who goes up against Big Daddy Burl Ives’s gang.

The faces (good guys & bad) are all familiar—from the gang to the beset upon townsfolk. Yes, that was William Schallert in small role.

We particularly were impressed with Ozzie & Harriet’s son, David Nelson. While his brother Ricky was a musical heartthrob, David tried his hand at real acting. He is quite impressive in his two-day beard as one of the bad guys.

The film is slow as a character study, but director Andre DeToth knew how to move his camera and create a grand entrance for Burl Ives, which is marvelous to behold.

Oh, yes, Tina Louise is here as a love interest before her career was shipwrecked on Gilligan’s Island.

This adult Western is uncompromising and ultimately no TV show. It’s worth the watch.

Westworld 2.5: Crichton Bites Nolan

Michigan J. Frog That’s Show Biz!

Michael Crichton’s Futureworld’s troubles come back to Nolan’s Westworld 2.5.

Has Westworld begun to self-destruct? Season 2.5 is beginning to look like it’s a parody of itself, at worst. We half expect James Brolin and Peter Fonda, from the original two movies, to show up.

Creative genius Jonathan Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy seem to be giving the fans exactly what they want, but not exactly the way they want it. We have been treated to two worlds that were never in the Michael Critchon original:  Raj World and now Shogun World. It seems much ado about nothing much.

The series has become a satire on TV writers, as the one character who allegedly has written all the programmed dialogue of the robots complains that it was too much work trying to keep with up 300 story-lines.

So, he cheated. The characters of Westworld are now in Japan, and the idea of meeting your double who speaks exactly the same words, but this time in Japanese, has an unsettling effect on the robots.

You’d think a multi-billion dollar operation like Westworld would have hired more writers. Heaven knows we find the Internet is filled with them, all giving Jonathan Nolan more exegesis of his plots than at a symposium on Moby Dick.

The latest episode seems almost as if Toshiro Mifune is giving Yul Brynner pointers on the Magnificent Samurai Seven.

We feel as if there is far less going on this season, and we are already half-way to the end. What kind of cliff-hanger is in the offing?

We know that some humans are trying to restore the park(s) and save Delos Corporation some money by saving any “hosts” worthy of the name.

If there was a revelation here, we suppose it was the sex lives of robots are not much different than real people as Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden, perpetually virginal in their robot roles, doff the union suits.

Yes, Mr. Nolan, 300 story-lines are too much for one writer.

 

Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille Found & Lost

DATELINE:  Sphinx Knows

 Sphinx nose

It may sound like something from John Waters, but this documentary marks a failed 30-year attempt to find the buried Egyptian city built by DeMille for his 1923 version of The Ten Commandments.

In 1982 young Peter Branson was inspired to go out into the desert, like some prophet without honor to locate the giant city with its dozens of sphinxes. No one told him it was a foolhardy endeavor.

Intermixed with the story of how Cecil B. DeMille single-handedly made the genre of the Hollywood epic, the film shows how little Hollywood knows of its own history. Its title is The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille.

Time and again, over three failed archeological digs, the studios would not fund this project to dig up what is under ten feet of sand in Guadalupe, California.

When done with his expensive movie, DeMille buried the city to prevent rival studios from using it for knock-off movies.

DeMille nearly broke Paramount and Adolph Zukor with his silent version with a cast of thousands, endlessly wrecked chariots, and technicolor scenes.

When he tried to remake the Charlton Heston-Yul Brynner version in 1955, he met nearly as much resistance as the documentary filmmakers who think they wasted time and money spinning their wheels in the sand.

Of course, the importance of the film is how it collects the memories and images of those silent film extras and production crew as they slowly went on to a production of their own deaths.

In that way, Peter Branson may have lost his fellow producer, his original archeologist to the terrible political idiocy of the Santa Barbara County bureaucrats, but he saved a special part of Hollywood history.

This film is a testament and a gospel for movie aficionados.

 

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool

DATELINE: Movies Imitate Life

Film Stars Film Stars!

The tragic and sensitive final days of Oscar-winning actress Gloria Grahame make for an ironic version of Sunset Boulevard, without the cynicism and cruel take on Hollywood.

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool is the antidote to all those anti-Hollywood movies. Yet, its story is the pathetic truth about an aging film star who spent her last days with a younger man. Gloria is no deluded Norma Desmond, and Jamie Bell’s Peter is no reluctant William Holden.

With Anette Bening in form as the pouty Grahame in her failing days, the film has at its core a rather pathetic love story.  Peter Turner was a young British actor who was Gloria’s last companion. Bening certainly eschews vanity playing a woman with cancer and fighting the clock.

Jamie Bell returns to his roots as a British working-class boy with a show biz heart as Peter. He dances too like Billy Elliott, and Bell’s charm remains in full blossom. Their love story may strain credulity among many but has the world of actors all over it.

As an aging ingenue with a scandalous past, Gloria still wants to play Juliet for the Royal Shakespeare Company, however improbable. Bell and Bening have definite chemistry, even as they attend the movies on a date to see Alien.

Your Hollywood gossip reference level will be satisfied with enough detail to titillate.

Supporting Bening and Bell, you cannot do better than Julie Walters as the Liverpool mother and Vanessa Redgrave as Gloria’s mother.

With clips of the young luminous Gloria in her heyday, the film plays on echoes on the past.  Gloria won her Oscar as support to Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in The Bad and the Beautiful, another classic Hollywood tale.

Elegiac movies often sink into sentiment and nostalgia, but this film keeps its head up throughout. Forget about happy endings. They only happened in the old movies.

Tom, Giselle, Boris & Natasha!

DATELINE: Met Gala Stun Guns Again

Tom, Giselle, Boris, Natasha

Yes, right after the Kentucky Derby “and they’re off—” comes the notorious Met Gala in New York where the show horses and would-be celebrities fall all over themselves on the red carpet.

Yes, on the heels of the bizarre nature of Westworld’s second season comes Evan Rachel Wood, Kim Karadasian, and Elon Musk, on the red carpet.

Our favorite had to be Tom Brady, erstwhile ageless quarterback and his wife (the billionaire), looking like refugees from 1960s Gilligan’s Island. Indeed, you had to wonder if Jonathan Nolan had produced the glitzy extravaganza as a means to publicize his TV HBO weirdo series.

You can’t tell the androids from the guests.

What Tom Brady has had to do to cause his wife to agree to let him play for two more seasons? You have only to look at his outfit as the twosome cavorted with other Barbie and Ken dolls.

Yes, Tom is wearing nail polish. You can’t see the multi-colored nail polish on his feet. And he looks like he is storing botox in his cheeks. Yet, the rash comments that he and wife look like James Bond villains is a tad off-the-mark.

Tom is not auditioning to play Dr. No, nor Goldfinger. He is acting like a friendly Russian that would charm President Donald Trump, whose hair would have fit right in on the red carpet.

Tom and Giselle came across as Boris and Natasha, those 1960s spies who gave Bullwinkle Gronk and Julian the Flying Squirrel fits.

Halloween comes early. However, we did see Patriots owner Robert Kraft and his young Baby Mama. To our shock, Kraft was NOT wearing his blue collar/white shirt. He did have de rigueur tennis shoes with his tux.

You have to love insanity with money.

 

 

Westworld 2.3: Lost in a Tortured Storyline

DATELINE:  Where Have All the Plots Gone?What's My Line?

Playing What’s My Line, on Westworld 2.3.

If you tuned in a little late to the latest episode of Westworld, you might have to double-check your channel listings. It seemed as if you had stumbled into one of those old BBC TV series about India and the Raj.

Such is the nature of the tortured storyline presented by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy. You may not recognize the characters, surroundings, or goings-on. We supposed that was meant to be part of the show’s confusing allure.

New, old, past, present, familiar, unfamiliar, are all fair game for the Worlds Beyond Westworld. We go from the Raj to the world of Kurosawa over the course of the hour. Welcome to the ever-new, ever-dangerous Samuraiworld.

We are reunited with cast members thought lost, dead, or reprogrammed along the way of the latest series entry. There is some relief to discover the actors still have jobs a few weeks into the second season.

Indeed, the Brit writer in the series, not of the series, played by Simon Quartermain, can even mimic the words the android hosts will utter before they utter them. Well, that’s the power of the writer, which is not saying much or saying too much.

In the case of Nolan and Joy, creative forces behind the tortured storylines, they had a lot of ‘splaining to do on this night and threw the Bengal tiger storyline out of the jungle and into the Raj for a viewer hunting for an irrational story.

We also learned the fate of the woman with the Snake Tattoo, now back with Thandie Newton’s tech workers as her prisoners.

At this rate the new season of episodes will end before we have established where last season’s minor characters have gone.

Perhaps, unwittingly, we and HBO have just signed on for the long haul of five or six seasons. Dolores Delos (Evan Rachel Wood) finds her old robot father and that his memories are not really erased after all, but have gone into some wild Westworld cloud, to be recovered by a tech wizard (android Bernard, Arnold, or whoever, Jeffrey Wright).

Yes, we are still here, but are finding the high altitude of Internet clouds are too convenient for lost souls of Westworld 2.3.

Westworld 2.2, Better Off Dead?

DATELINE:  Reunion, or Bring Yourself Back Online

Barnes & Simpson

Ben Barnes and Jimmi Simpson

The second episode should have been first. Westworld 2 was better the second time around.

If jumping across timeframes becomes easier with practice, we should have seen this coming first. Flashbacks highlight the episode to before the start of “Westworld” as a land of fantasy for rich players in which the prototype robots party in Contemporary World, our time.

We even see Ben Barnes again, killed by evil William at the end of the first season.

Everyone dead from last season is alive again through the miracle of backstory. We even see the young Anthony Hopkins flash by and hear his voice, warning the real Bernard/Arnold about his creations.

Ed Harris and his young self, Jimmi Simpson, seem far more explanatory this season and especially in this episode. We are even given the multiple level chess game of seeing flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s as if Joe Mankiewicz at his greatest Hollywood style had been reincarnated in android version Jonathan Nolan.

Yes, Westworld returned to the thrilling days of tantalizing its core viewers, as the ultimate tease mystery.

To see Dolores in modern times, given insights by her creators, lends understanding to the revolution of robots in Westworld.

A few stories even briefly cross before future episodes will give fans more insights: Thandie Newton and her beau automaton Rodrigo Sandoro meet the strong-willed Evan Rachel Wood and James Marsden.

Will they meet again? Don’t know where, don’t know when.

Jeffrey Wright’s real person (not his later robotic self) figures only in the opening. His future scenes of the previous episode remain inexplicable at this point.

Story arc of the first episode, less interesting, was completely missing this week—and the meat of the sadistic monster hosts dominated the proceedings. We may not fully understand where this is heading, or who will return again, but Nolan and his partner Lisa Joy have produced an intriguing series, season two

Bombshell Shocker: Hedy Lamarr

 DATELINE: Inventor & Movie Star

 Hedy Beauty & Brains

You might as well start with Mel Brooks making a joke of Headley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. It gave actress Hedy Lamarr notorious fame forever.

She didn’t need it. She needed recognition for being one of the foremost immigrant inventors in American history: giving us frequency hopping, used in wi-fi, Bluetooth, rocket science, and myriad other technology. Move over, Einstein.

Yes, the most beautiful Austrian actress in Hollywood history was a genius. Hedy Lamar found tabloid scandal easier to condemn her life than history to exonerate her achievement.

She paid a dear price in those decades for overstepping the bounds of glamour and wanting intellectual equality. Hedy Lamar had a half-dozen husbands, and probably lovers galore, but one of those men—Howard Hughes—was more intrigued with her brain. He put his raft of scientists at her disposal.

What actress movie star came home from playing Tondelayo in White Cargo and sat down at her chemists’ table to do inventing? She wanted to create a weapon to help in World War II torpedo technology. The US Navy just laughed at her creation. She never made a dime off it.

Hedy was Delilah for Cecil B. DeMille. She was Bob Hope’s foil in My Favorite Spy. How could she be something more? She was fired, replaced by Zsa Zsa Gabor in her last attempt at movie stardom in the 1960s.

The brilliant documentary, Bombshell, may stun you with revelations. It will sadden you about ignored genius and the sensitivity of a mistreated soul.

Hedy Lamarr deserved much, much more, but she was a fighter and would not let the world break her on its yoke of beauty and shallow talents.

This film Bombshell: the Hedy Lamarr Story is heady stuff, one of the most stunning documentaries on Hollywood’s inner secret life of stars.

Shakespeare Undone: Cymbeline

 DATELINE: Clashing Cymbeline

cymbeline

King Cymbeline and Step-son!

Michael Almereyda is known for putting the modern spin on the old stuff. To call Shakespeare’s secondary play, Cymbeline, a lost masterpiece in the trailer is a tad misleading.

We must ask, ‘what have we got here?’

Updates of Shakespeare are always a fad, and Michael Amereyda provides us with a Sons of Anarchy version of Shakespeare’s lesser Brits versus Romans story.

Alas, Shakespeare was already making a parody of his earlier work, Romeo and Juliet, in this late career tale of young love.

Putting a secondary Shakespeare play into an American biker setting is guaranteed to drive biker fans crazy in five minutes, and Shakespearean purists to the remote control in 10 minutes. No one will stick around for the standard blood bath we know is at the end of Shakespeare’s dramas and histories.

Watching this one is like viewing those delinquents in West Side Story as they do ballet down the mean streets of East Harlem in a different Shakespeare update. It is slightly ridiculous.

We are always sympathetic to American actors who try Shakespeare. This film avoids showing you the actual Shakespearean dialogue in the trailer. It may be a rude shock to the unwary fans who tune in.

We commend every American actor in the movie for managing to use their skateboards and smart phones and still spit out the Shakespearean language. The cast is marvelous: Ed Harris plays King Cymbeline, John Leguizamo as an unfortunate aide, Ethan Hawke as a notable enemy, the lead Anton Yelchin is Harris’s step-son.

We suspect there are English majors who have read a dozen Shakespearean plays but never this one. So, we are pleased that Almereyda has made it available and semi-watchable. The plot is incomprehensible, because we can hardly root for drug abusing violent Hell’s Angel bikers versus corrupt and ruthless police.

If done with British actors, the whole thing would look like something out of a gay leather movie, which American boys Anton Yelchin and Penn Badgley have their parts.

We might never see another version of Cymbeline other than this movie. For that we are grateful, even as many other fans head for the exits. We stayed till the end.

 

Reel History: 1960’s Damned Village

DATELINE:  Creepy Kids

 Stephens & Sanders

Martin Stephens & George Sanders

We know they could not call it by the John Wyndam title of the original novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

The marvelous little low-budget sci-fi thriller, Village of the Damned, was only 70 minutes of brilliant detail.

Only George Sanders would be not intimidated by holding his own with a bunch of British child actors who occasionally use the special effect of glowing eyes.

After the movie’s opening 15 minutes, you are utterly hooked. It’s so brilliant that what follows doesn’t matter.

With no budget, this George Sanders movie had the most chilling opening of any film of its time. Camerawork is so effective by the director Wolf Rilla.

You see charming little British village in which everyone collapses in place, into a faint for several hours. Camera pans slowly over the entire village. Chilling.

Without the benefit of science’s discovery of DNA and genetic engineering, the story proposes that during the time in which the village is knocked out, all women of child-bearing age become pregnant. It leaves for puzzled and befuddled attitudes among many.

The script uses only several incidents to indicate how dangerous these alien children are: of course, since the children are adult-like Brits, they are creepy anyhow. Add in their mental powers and you have horror. Oh, kids grow up so fast in movies.

The children admire Sanders who is professorial and so unemotional like them. He even becomes their tutor.

In the Soviet Union, a similar community is bombed with an atomic weapon. There are nests of alien children planted around the world, we learn.

George Sanders must resort to his cold-blooded manner to save the day by using his own mind tricks.

Marvelous little gem.

 

 

Reel History: Paths of Glory

DATELINE: Kubrick & Menjou  

remarkable Adolphe Menjou

The Remarkable Mr. Menjou

Between the Korean War and the Vietnam War came an anti-war film, starring and produced by Kirk Douglas. It was called Paths of Glory.

It was notable for its brazen genius direction by Stanley Kubrick and its stunning location sets, doubling for a French chateau. It actually introduced us to the hotel used in Last Year in Marienbad.

The opulence contrasted greatly with the sordid moral play as French soldiers during World War I are randomly selected for execution as an example of cowardice under fire.

You couldn’t ask for two of the most extraordinary actors to play the bad guys: George Macready (later Martin Peyton of Peyton Place) and the always debonair Adolphe Menjou. Kubrick loved Menjou’s face: it is filmed exquisitely like a punctuation mark wrapped in rococo counterpoint.

They are insufferable in different ways as French generals ready to sacrifice anyone for their political and military duty. It surely gives angry Kirk Douglas the marvelous climactic moment to tear into Menjou as a “moral degenerate.”

These were the days when Kirk Douglas wanted to make “important” movies with the death of the studio system. And, he did for a time for which he should be praised mightily.

Kubrick had won some recognition by 1957, but it was Douglas who brought him back to direct Spartacus that sent Kubrick into the stratosphere of legendary directors.

Douglas loved to chew the scenery with his intensity, but it is the vain and effete underplaying of Macready and Menjou that drives the movie. Menjou had a marvelous style of regarding everyone from the corners of his eyes, with a sparkle of disdain.

In stark black and white, this movie has “status” written all over it. Short, cruel, punctuated with righteous indignation, the movie defies you to oppose it. They don’t make’em like this anymore.

 

Noël Coward No Surprise in Surprise Package

DATELINE: Art Buchwald Satire

 Mitzi & Noel Mitzi & Noël sing and dance!

Sir Noël, showman and epitome of the English gentleman, made a plethora of movies from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. He only turned down playing Dr. No in the James Bond spy movie.

From Our Man in Havana to the Italian Job, he lent his delectable presence in costarring roles. In 1960 he went opposite Yul Brynner in the Stanley Donen comedy called Surprise Package.

The big surprise is that it was written by satirist Art Buchwald, though you would never know it. Our favorite humorist seems lost in this adapted script.

Apart from the delicious scenes between mobster Nico March (Yul) and the deposed and exiled King Pavel the Patient (Noël), the movie is not really funny or smart. However, every time you find Brynner and Coward in matchup mode, there is something extraordinary going on.

You almost have the sense that the film was meant for someone else: perhaps James Cagney, to shoot dialogue like a machine gun. Mitzi Gaynor seems to be playing Judy Holiday. Brynner is on top of it, impressive as always.

No one else in movies could have played the deadpan, throwaway lines like Noël Coward. He’s in his own movie world, like Mae West. The rest of the cast is along for the ride.

Coward steals every moment on camera, like the master showman he always was. He could depose Burton and Taylor in Boom, and so going up against Yul Brynner shortly before the Magnificent Seven might have amused Noël.

It’s a soufflé, for sure, and perhaps the success of Donen brought Coward in for the Greek isle locations shooting.

Yul had just finished another comedy with Donen, and likely enjoyed the change of pace from epical heroes and villains.

Surprise Package would be a bad TV movie nowadays with execrable actors. However, when the legends at the top of their game deign to appear in silly roles, you must pay attention.

 

 

 

 

Gronk Filming Movie in Atlanta

DATELINE: New England Media Out to Lunch
Tatum, Gronk, Kyrie on the Set.
Boston sports media is in a panic because Rob Gronkowski has not shown up for the voluntary team workouts for the New England Patriots.
According to Boston sports media, this gives credence to the notion the Gronk is thinking about retiring from professional football.
All of the reports are incomplete and suggest he may be holding out for money.
All these reports are incorrect.
Gronk has permission from the team to be on location for the movie. He is willing to risk his voluntary bonus with the Patriots for practicing in order to advance his film career with a major movie role.
Rob Gronkowski is presently in Georgia,  filming a major motion picture called Boss Level. the film stars Mel Gibson, and Naomi Watts. Principal photography has begun, and casting of extras occurred last week. Gronk has an important role in the  film.
The story concerns a retired special ops soldier who must relive the last day of his life, sort of like Groundhog Day Meets The Terminator.

Coward’s Italian Job, Mad Dogs & Englishmen

 DATELINE:  Sir Noël

Caine & Coward Caine & Coward Comedy!

Noël Coward and Benny Hill? In the same movie?

Our attention has been caught big-time in this 1969 crime caper movie, a genre all the rage in the 1960s, with epitome The Italian Job. Forget the recent remake.

As if pairing those Benny and Noël was enough, you add in Rossano Brazzi and Raf Vallone as the genuine Italians—and Michael Caine as the British mastermind of a robbery in Turin, Italy, of gold bullion being driven through its narrow streets.

The film is lusciously produced with all those magnificent scenes of the historic Italian city and the gorgeous Italian Alps with its twisty roads. You can figure on car chases that will outdo all those hills in San Francisco.

As with classics like this, the actual production is less impressive. The stars seem self-contained in their roles. Indeed, there are no scenes with Brazzi and his fellow stars at all. The closest Benny Hill comes to Noël Coward is standing 50 feet away on a mole hill at a funeral.

The glue is a boyish and charming Michael Caine, so young that when he meets Noël Coward in a lavatory, you almost feel it is salacious.

Waspy Coward is a mob kingpin, believe it or don’t, who has bribed enough people to move in and out of his British prison cell with aplomb you’d expect from a sophisticated star. He runs everything with an iron fist in a dainty velvet glove.

Technology, alas, is ancient here. Good heavens, Benny Hill plays a computer nerd running around with a ten-inch reel of programming. Communication is also primitive with 16mm film as the preferred mode to send text messages. Yet, the charm is delightful and timeless.

Once the cars start piling up, you have a traffic jam for the pre-Euro-dollar ages.

 

Lost in Space Returns

 DATELINE: Lost in Netflix

  Bitchy Dr. Smith reincarnated

Dr. Smith Transformed or Transgendered? Parker Posey replaces Jonathan Harris.

As the poor stepchild brother to Star Trek on TV in the 1960s, Irwin Allen’s adventure show became a kids’ favorite. It was a cartoon version sci-fi adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson.

Now, with the bandwagon long ago down the road for Star Trek, Netflix has brought back a 21st century version of Lost in Space.

We found the original amusing, at least for half the opening season. The show had a house villain in Jonathan Harris who played the cowardly, snobby, outrageous Dr. Zachary Smith. He stole every scene they put him in.

In this new version, Smith is a fake. At the end of the opening show of season 1 (will there be another?), actress Parker Posey steals a jacket with the name “Dr. Z. Smith” on it. You could not have a prissy, snooty man play the role.

Voila et voici, you have a new Smith in the form of a woman, ready to add some kind of bad guy karma to the proceedings—and not a moment too soon.

The big budget new version actually is short of special effects and presents a limited view of the future. They crash on an icy planet. Their spaceship really has only one room, and the flashbacks to the holiday scenes could have been as much 20th century as 21st.

The characters keep their names, but that’s about it. Yes, the little boy as Will Robinson may be the best throwback.

As for Dr. John and his wife Maureen: she clearly wears the pants in the family and is actually rather nasty to her husband.

You can chalk it up to a broken leg and her children in danger, danger, danger! However, we may be hard-pressed to return to the return for another episode. Nothing really grabbed us.

We missed Guy Williams who came from Zorro and June Lockhardt who was Lassie’s Mom. They were TV stars even as John and Maureen Robinson.

What a shame.