Rita, When She Danced

DATELINE: Abused Beauty

Rita Hayworth

Love Goddess: Rita Hayworth

 Marguerita Cansino danced with her father professionally at the Zeigfeld Follies. She was 13, and her abusive old man passed her off as an adult—and his wife.

She played Mexican dancers and cowgirls in westerns before making it big with red hair and molars extracted to make her face smaller.

So began the career of movie legend Rita whose Gilda electrified film noir in 1946.  The documentary of her life comes from France where she is more appreciated and is called Rita Hayworth: Man Created. More like “man dominated.”

Poor Rita was made by her first husband whom she married to escape the incestuous hands of her father. He pulled back teeth, dyed her hair red and made her lose weight. Thus was born the legendary dancer who partnered with Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in musicals.

She was the power behind Columbia Studios, but other men like Harry Cohn tormented her and controlled her. She escaped with Orson Welles who likely treated her better than all the others. He educated her and made her an actress.

She became a World War II pinup girl and then startled returning GIs as Gilda, her seminal role. She often said men fell in love with Gilda but woke up with Rita.

Eschewing movie roles like The Barefoot Contessa, she married Prince Aly Khan and later singer Dick Haymes. Her later films were curios: playing aging women with Gary Cooper and Robert Mitchum and Glenn Ford.

Some thought she faded fast because of alcohol, but later diagnosis discovered a rare form of Alzheimer’s Disease, starting before she was 50, causing her memory loss and disorientation.

She had powerful friends like Glenn Ford and John Wayne who tried to help her, but she ended up in the care of her daughter Yasima Khan in whose home she died too young, at age 68. Tragic tale of a grand symbol of energy and talent.

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Two Promising Stars of 1973

DATELINE:  Lost Causes

1973 stars Barry and Jan-Michael.

With some surprise, we noted that actor Jan-Michael Vincent was dead at 74. He had been a golden boy, playing the Disney star of World’s Greatest Athlete, always the derring-do hero.  He was at his pinnacle in 1973 when his adult role with Charles Bronson made people take notice in The Mechanic, wherein he played a bizarre homoerotic hitman.

He died weeks earlier, but no one bothered to release the information about his cremation—and his deterioration to amputee and drunkard. It was not a pretty picture at the end.

Almost a bookend in 1973 was another promising star who burst onto the scene. His name was Barry Brown. If Jan-Michael was golden, then Barry smoldered in swarthier looks. One director who worked with him, Peter Bogdonavich, claimed Barry was the only American actor who actually looked like he had read a book.

Brown had aspirations to edit and to write. His seminal performance was in Daisy Miller, opposite Cybill Shepard. He played Winterbourne, the oblivious intellectual. A year earlier he costarred with Jeff Bridges in Bad Company. He was in that league.

You don’t remember him because he died in 1978 of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head at his home. Who knows what demons drove him?

They were likely similar to the demons that caused Jan-Michael to indulge in a slow self-destruction, inebriated and useless, throwing his career into the garbage pail.

The promising stars of 1973 were polar opposites and similar in so many ways. They never appeared in one scene together, and they could have controlled a generation of buddy films.

We think of them at their acme often. Their great movies are watchable today and brilliant, likely owing to plot, direction, and costars, as well as their own contributions.

We might watch Daisy Miller and The Mechanic on a double-bill to toast these lost boys of the movies. Alas, it was our loss.

 

Hello Dali!

DATELINE:  Little Ashes.

dali & lorca  Sur-Real Dali & Lorca!

No one can say Robert Pattinson is not a courageous actor. His 2009 performance in Little Ashes as Salvatore Dali in his youth was gutsy and properly over-the-top.

A lesser actor might have underplayed Dali’s growth as a non-conformist, but Pattinson has never flinched from wide-eyed brazen acting. He has particularly liked escaping the awful roots of vampires by giving portraits of notable famous people in docudrama.

Of course, this film is not just about Dali’s genesis. It deals with Luis Bunuel and Frederico Garcia Lorca. Javier Beltran is nearly a spitting image of the real Lorca, as cast by director Paul Morrison.

It is hard to believe they were all college frat chums, life-of-party types, and budding genius artists. Javier Beltran plays Lorca who was a well-known gay poet and playwright. You might say Dali and Lorca had some kind of gay love affair, but that would not be exactly correct. These artists lived on another planet.

Indeed, the approach/avoidance of Dali and his self-centeredness drives a wedge between them. Id his own insane style, Dali likely  was in love with Lorca, but his “divine” madness rent it apart.

Bunuel and Dali ridiculed Lorca with the film called Andalusian Dog, which also was a wedge of straights against gay. They also dismissed politics for artistic expression. By 1930 they were rich, and Lorca was doomed to be repressed and murdered by Franco  thugs in Spain.

The ultimate madness of Dali upon hearing of Lorca’s death is muted by the fact that he was already around the bend. This is a most unusual movie.

 

 

 

 

Love, Cecil: Move Over, Truman, Noel, and Andy!

DATELINE: Save the Queen!

Bright young Beaton Bright Young Beaton!

It’s pronounced Seh-sill, not Sea-sill.

He rose from humble middle-class British life to starring role in every art scene of the 20th century. He was an inveterate snob.

Cecil Beaton was a force to be reckoned with in life—usurping the gay flighty worlds of Warhol and Truman Capote. Though he loathed Noel Coward, he matched them every step of the way down the gay runway.

Billed as the tastemaker of the 20th century, his vast collection of films, photos, designs, and assorted images, make up the compendium. He also gave many interviews. Yet, he still comes across as a social climber and proto-gay libber.

Beaton was always impressed with royalty, being one of those commoners from England. When he came to America, he instigated controversy everywhere: comparing British women to American.

However, he nearly destroyed his career with a careless and stupid anti-Semitic design in Vogue. He claimed to have been careless and thoughtless, as was his entire youth. Deep down, he was shallow.

The other key event in his life was becoming a war photographer during World War II. It redeemed his reputation.

His Hollywood ties include an infatuation with Garbo—asking her to join him in one of those arranged “friendship” marriages, as he preferred boys and she, girls.

By the 1950s and 1960s, he was taking pictures of all the most famous people: Marilyn, Warhol, Mick Jagger, and on and on. He was slight, epicene, and queenly, before it was considered stylish. If anything fit better, he was the natural heir to Oscar Wilde and Serge Diaghilev.

He also played a prominent role in Scotty Bowers’ documentary, Secret History of Hollywood. This Zircon is narrated by Rupert Everett.

 

Scotty’s Secret History of Hollywood

DATELINE: Bowers’ Bow Wow WOW

Cary & Randy

Scotty Bowers wrote a closet-emptying autobiography a few years ago about his career as a gay procurer to the Hollywood elite. Men and women, and the only one left out is Lassie, though he admits to sex with animals too.

He counted Cecil Beaton and Dr. Kinsey as his friends and clients. He offered service for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and he confirms dozens of names of those long-suspected of secret sex lives.

A World War II vet and farm boy, he settled in Hollywood in 1945, glamourous and amorous land of fantasies. He worked in a service station with all pumps flowing. His Richfield gas was really Rich Field Gay, and they all drove over to have their engines inspected by his stable of mechanics.

Once Walter Pidgeon recommended him, he was on his way.

Your litany of stars and their peccadilloes is not totally surprising: Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, and then the off-camera boys, like George Cukor and Cecil Beaton.

Names are dropped in between a smorgasbord of outed dead stars like Spencer Tracy and Rock Hudson.

A few moralists dispute his integrity for outing people with his kiss and tell book, now movie, but as he points out, it is homophobic to think everyday biography is beyond revelation.

If anything, we were impressed that neither the vice squad of Los Angeles, nor STDs, ever caught up with the culprits. Well, no one is telling about that. His Edenic world came crashing down with age and AIDS in the early 1980s.

Now 90, he is spry and in denial about his age, his situation, and his hoarding. He is independently wealthy from beneficiaries and investments. He did not need the money to do this tell-all.

 

 

 

Black Camel: Chuck Chan in 1931!

DATELINE: Lost Gem

actor legends

 Lugosi with Oland.

One of the first of the Warner Oland Charlie Chan movies is a beautifully restored print from 1931. It has other surprises too. It was filmed on location in Charlie Chan’s home base of Honolulu and uses the scenery to great effect. It is cryptically called The Black Camel.

Fresh off the horror of the year, Dracula, you have two cast members in fine fettle:  Dwight Frye and Bela Lugosi. They play a respective butler and a questionable psychic, all too willing to help Chan.

Lugosi and Frye were scheduled to make James Whale’s Frankenstein after this picture, but when Whale saw this, he thought Bela Lugosi would be too scary for the monster. The part went to Karloff instead.

The film does not hide some white tourist prejudice, compounded because the detective is both Chinese and a policeman. And, the cast of extras includes many Hawaiians.

The dark metaphor of the Black Camel has something to do with kneeling Death coming a-calling. It is one of many little aphorisms that Charlie Chan spouts dryly.

Instead of an irritating older son, this film features an inept young assistant to Chan. We do see Charlie’s family at a large dinner table in one scene, but the cheap sets and low budget formula would come in the next few films.

Warner Oland is masterful, as always, and it is quite a mangled English that we hear from both Oland and Lugosi in their conversations, that are quite witty and delightful.

There are a half-dozen quite credible suspects, and they are indeed all gathered in the drawing room (and dining room) for the big reveal.

This wonderful early mystery is a surprise and delight on every level.

 

 

 

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdum-dum

DATELINE: Another Pratt-Fall

New Rock Rock Hudson Redux?

Every generation has its own Ice Station Zebra, and this one belongs to the latest rip-off of Jurassic Park/World. This movie seems to be produced by Carl Denham while looking for Numb-Skull Island and the Eighth Wonder of the World.

That’s not to say it is watchable. It is execrable, but the cast is stellar: Chris Pratt returns as the action hero with the deft sense of comedy timing. He reminds us of Rock Hudson, the last of a classic type, though we doubt that Pratt will appreciate the comparison.

This special-effects bonanza is overwrought with silly dinosaurs—and sillier characters. Nevertheless, we must note that James Cromwell, Toby Jones, BD Wong, Geraldine Chaplin, as well as Jeff Goldblum lend their presence in throwaway roles that must have paid well. An actress named Price Dallas Howard or something like that plays Supergirl in a revisionist twirl.

Sam Neill turned them down, money be damned.

The plot features non-stop coincidence that defies logic but moves so quickly that you are on to the next improbable moment. Pratt is not George Reeves or Christopher Reeve, but he resembles Superman, even outrunning a pyroplastic flow down the mountainside.

Among his talents, Pratt is again the dinosaur whisperer—and the reptilian characters are tied to him like elephants to Tarzan. They bonded way back when.

If we gleaned anything, it is that the genetically recreated monsters are being left to die in a Darwinian economic move that resembles Mathusian Trump commerce. The government won’t spend a cent to save them, and once again we are at the mercy of billionaires who throw money away like an Elon Musk or Tom Steyer.

We don’t buy it. Let the buyer beware.

Tinker, Tailor, Puzzle-maker

DATELINE: Cold Warriors

Hardy boy

 Hunky Hardy Boy!

If you want to be challenged by John LeCarre’s masterpiece of espionage during the Cold War, you might well take in the movie version of George Smiley’s hard work in finding a mole that caused the death of Control in the British secret service.

One kingfish at the agency seems to have a direct connection to the Kremlin. Though Smiley (Gary Oldman) has been forced out into retirement with his mentor, Control (John Hurt), he must work covertly to restore the integrity of the Circus.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is for those who enjoy armchair psychology and thought-provoking shades of gray.

Through complex flashbacks, and even more complex human relationships, you will find these are not pleasant men. The cast is stellar beyond compare: Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, are stand-outs.

The sexual peccadilloes are unspoken, but there is a strong scent of blackmail and unspoken ties among the men. It is nearly as much a guessing game about their bedtime bedmates as it is about their political bedmates.

The complexity and subtlety of the film probably makes it beyond the tolerance level of your standard James Bond satire fans. This is the low-key, grubby, office worker mentality of the Cold War. Oldman is particularly wooden to hide his tormented feelings.

Every spy ought to be brought in from this Cold War before their tedious work drives them to distraction.

Oldman plays much older, and the young men (Hardy and Cumberbatch) had better days ahead as superstars. They could not be more stunningly attractive in 2011 and quickly made a mark with this film.

 

Mid-Trip Crisis

DATELINE: Coogan & Brydon in Italy

Italian job

The Trip to Italy is the middle piece of the trilogy of mockumentaries by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. The Trip to Italy is directed by Michael Winterbottom again, and he condenses the film to the best bon mots uttered during the two-week business holiday.

These minor British TV stars are on the verge of making it big in American movies, and they are thrown together for another series of adventures by the media. They are temperamental actors who seem not to enjoy each other’s company.

However, they are amusing together. It’s said that Abbot and Costello were not friends but were a business association. So, it is here. This is the business of growing older with wit and aplomb.

The conceit of the journey is to visit great Italian restaurants and trace the expatriates Byron and Shelley along the way.

Coogan and Brydon compete over everything, especially to show which one has more talent and is more successful. They do imitations of Hugh Grant, Roger Moore, Michael Caine, and Sean Connery, over dinners to die for in exotic coastal Italian tourist spots.

Not much is sacred here in their barbs, not even the dead at Pompeii.

You may not be used to intelligent conversation like this. You certainly wonder how they could not enjoy their mid-life crises while living La Dolce Vita.

Not everything is fun, as there is a downbeat inner core to the cavorting. They might die happy in one of these spots, but we doubt it. They sabotage their own trip, their friendship, and seem to have a grand time of indifference, their personal existential crises.

We are happy to have a chance to be a fly on the walls of their discontent.

 

Please Murder Me! TV Titans in Film Noir!

DATELINE: Perry Mason Meets Murder, She Wrote!

TV titans

When Perry Mason meets Jessica Fletcher, we have a murder mystery donnybrook, she wrote. Murder Me Please is a surprise of the first magnitude. Who knew?

In 1956, fresh off Godzilla, Raymond Burr took on another role in which he spoke into a tape recorder while murderous film history was made around him. It was likely this movie role, heroic and protagonistic, that won him the lifetime achievement as lawyer Perry Mason. This is his first true Perry Mason role.

Here, he must defend a woman he knows is guilty of murder—and live with the consequence of exonerating a danger and menace.

His nemesis is Angela Lansbury, looking all too femme fatale before moving into matron roles. Here she gives one of her last great villain acting jobs (culminating in Manchurian Candidate).

This film noir is so dark during the first 15 minutes that you want to scream at the screen to turn on a light.

It is classic 50s nighttime in Los Angeles among the upper-classes. The supporting cast is gem-laden:  Dick Foran is the cuckold husband, and John Dehner is the Ham Burger to Burr. Young Lamont Johnson is the callow artist in his final acting job before going on to direct movies.

This is a Peter Godfrey picture, meaning it is stylish and professional, before he slipped into directing routine television anthology shows.

The fireworks between Burr and Lansbury are worth your time. It was a forgotten B-picture in its era of 1956, with far more interest today as a sign of great actors having a field day.

One problem is the print of the movie, clearly abused by time with scratches, lines, and other distractions coming from careless handling of the prints. Yet, the film itself transcends with its harsh, hard-knocks, noir crime thrills.

Lansbury and Burr would become TV icons as Fletcher and Mason, but that is mere promise in this movie. This is acting war.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coke & Pepsi: 100 Years of Marketing War

DATELINE: Bottoms Up!

cola

Well, it’s not exactly the War of the Roses. You might be surprised at the back and forth of the fates and fights of the two soda pop giants. A documentary entitled Coke and Pepsi: the Marketing Battle of the Century offers to eliminate your six-pack with caloric intake.

It seems like much ado, full of sound and fury but signifies billions of dollars and millions of lives over the empty bottles, cans, and soda fountain glasses.

Many factoids emerge from their origins in the time after the United States Civil War. Coca-Cola arose in the 1880s out of battle scarred Georgia, and a few years later in South Carolina, you had the birth of the purer Pepsi. Coke was originally laced with cocaine, long-since discontinued. Both were overly laced with sugar.

Both started small:  like six ounces in a bottle, not like today’s mega-drinks that are three times the size and deadly to the human diet and nearly a diabetic shock in one swallow.

In the 1930s, Pepsi made great strides by selling itself at half the price of Coke. It became the drink of poor people and disadvantaged Americans and reinvented itself as the drink of the elite.

The Colas are as political as you might expect. They created marketing: red and blue ribbons of their banners. Santa Claus drank Coke. And, Coke was the patriotic American thirst-quencher. It was a staple of World War II and had to be discontinued in the Third Reich (where Coca-Cola became Fanta for the duration).

TV appeals and musical ditties permeated the 1950s: you are who you chose to drink with. When Joan Crawford became Pepsi’s spokesperson, Bette Davis drank Coke.

Nixon drank Pepsi and tried to force it down the Russian throats. But Coke went for the Red Chinese market.

When health fanatics became their enemy in the 21st century, the colas teamed up against the political forces of the health industry and the diet Puritans.

Which tasted better? Which one shot itself in the foot and became a classic? Which one is more akin to rot your gut? This documentary may be for you if you want to learn the answers.

 

 

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.

Watery Gill Man from Black Lagoon

DATELINE: Goon from the Lagoon

Goon from Black Lagoon

Master director of all genres at Universal Studios during the 1950s, Jack Arnold brought us so many low-budget classics: from the Incredible Shrinking Man to Space Children to No Name on the Bullet.

One of his most famous tales was the directorial gem, Creature from the Black Lagoon. It’s supposed to be in 3-D, but you won’t know it.  Film recognition may be enhanced by the odd-ball Best Picture of the Year from Oscar, called The Shape of Water. It’s more like the stolen picture of the year as The Shape of Plagiarism It’s the same movie with a bigger budget, computer effects, and less panache.

So, we wanted to see what Jack Arnold did with his movie with no budget, no big effects, and more panache than horror.

The de rigueur monster of the 1950s, the creature was actually a Gill Man, covered in scales with poorly manicured, webbed fingers. He swims like a cross between Esther Williams and Michael Phelps. And, he is photographed like a choreographed water sequence at Metro from Busby Berkley.

Arnold knew enough to bring in two stalwart 1950s leading men, Richard Carlson and Richard Denning. Carlson was always some kind of scientist with heroic demeanor, and Denning comes off as a proto-Trump businessman on expedition.

Throw in Julia Adams as a research assistant and Whit Bissell as the throwaway scientist, and you have a classic gem of a cast.

Silly plot holes may have you rolling your eyes: the underwater repellent is supposed to be knock-out drops to Gill Man, but it has no effect on the regular guys in snorkel protection mode.

Everyone goes out on a dig at night and leaves Whit Bissell to fall asleep guarding the monster. And, this scholarly scientific expedition claims not to have enough weapons to fight the Creature, though every man has a rifle.

Perhaps Arnold’s most amazing feat is that he put this film together in 75 minutes without bloody gore and with a sense of fun. Victims seem to be scratched like an encounter with one of T.S. Elliott’s cats.

No, this is not Jack Arnold’s best, but it is his most well-known movie, now more than ever.

Murphy Trumps Olivia DeHavilland

DATELINE: Lady in a Caged Lawsuit

 Miss De havilland to you

DeHavilland as vindictive Heiress (1949)

Perhaps the 101-year-old legendary star actress has outlived her own values.

According to a California court, Miss Olivia De Havilland has no right to stop an unflattering portrayal of herself in Ryan Murphy’s ripe black comedy called Feud. It’s the nasty tale of how Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spoiling for a fight over their careers and in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Miss DeHavilland’s character called her own sister, actress Joan Fontaine, a “bitch” on screen, to which De Havilland objected. She called her many things, but never bitch.

She would have preferred “dragon lady,” but the producers of Feud and the courts felt that it was too archaic and not colorful enough to suit the story. Olivia De Havilland was kicked harder than Joan Crawford in Baby Jane, all in the name of artistic expression.

If the law is to be understood nowadays, you don’t have a right to stop the First Amendment, however disabused you may suffer at the hands of hack writers.

In all likelihood, Ryan Murphy, smug as ever, never realized Olivia DeHavilland, a two-time Oscar winner for 1940 and 1949, was still alive. He continued to call her “Olivia” this year, as if they were on a first-name basis, throughout the legal case.

So, Miss De Havilland stayed in seclusion in Paris while Hollywood glamour types and writers now have open season on living beings. A screenwriter can put whatever words he wants into your mouth, all in the name of artistic freedom, and therein rests the script.

Hollywood’s new bread-and-butter is the documentary bio-film with re-enactors and colorful revisions to history. Miss De Havilland did not stand a chance, and we wouldn’t blame her for calling Ryan Murphy “a son of a bitch.”

Branagh’s Murderous Result: Disoriented Express

DATELINE: Strike Three!

Branagh Hit & Run?

Pit-stop for Orient Express!

When dainty detective Poirot is transformed into a Belgian Sam Spade, we know the troubles are just beginning. Director and star Kenneth Branagh has tackled Agatha Christie with hairy results on his upper lip and elsewhere in this latest version of Murder on the Orient Express.

Bombast and exaggeration are the hallmarks of every performance, as if the actors had to make a cartoon version of Christie’s classic. Oh, yes, the sets are gorgeous and breath-taking, but filled with dead red herrings.

Alas, Branagh has miscast himself in the lead role.

We found Branagh’s bold mustache leaving the detective ripe for plucking. When your first visual image of Poirot does not work, you leave little wiggle room for the rest of the clever story. Throwing in a few fights and action scenes for Poirot is too much like James Bond than Hercule. The film even gives Poirot a girlfriend!

Agatha’s Christie’s perps in this edition match the number who likely deserve to be killed on the Calais sleeper car. Once again, famous faces take on minor roles in an ensemble cast meant to delight us. There is a tad much emphasis on political correctness as the cast is far more diverse than Dame Agatha ever envisioned, which is not a criticism.

Like Hamlet, the story can be done with an all-black cast, or an all-nude cast, though we are not convinced it adds anything to the tale.

Everyone is working extremely hard to pull this off, and the pretend fun from the cast is exhausting.

Inevitably, it is Branagh who botches the climax revelations and the explanation of the murder on the Orient Express, wasting stars like Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, and even Johnny Depp, in underwritten roles for the attention deficit audience.

Try one of the other two, preferably Suchet’s version.