Trump’s New Doctor Expert

DATELINE: Demons & Dr. Stella

Dr. Stella Immanuel.

Before you can say that it proves he isn’t misogynist, you should look more deeply at the female pediatrician that holds a  license for medicine—and is now the expert Trump most trusts.

It seems that Dr. Stella Immanuel is going along with the hare-brained ideas of Trump. That’s enough for him. You know, he likes women if they are insane or child molesters. Just ask Ghislaine Maxwell, buddy and crony of Jeffrey Epstein.

When pressed at a news conference about her claims that there is a secret cure for COVID-19 and not to wear masks, Trump said he knew nothing about her personally, but she is an important voice.

He then walked away from the media, refusing to answer any more questions. It sounded a great deal like his support for Ghislaine, a woman he met hundreds of times, but of whom he knew nothing about her crimes.

In case you missed it, Dr. Immanuel has been re-tweeted by the Tweeter Bird in Chief without much concern for her other medical ideas. That’s demon sperm you must avoid. The incubus is among us.

Quackery is not merely consigned to the White House. Dr. Immanuel believes that warts are caused by dreams of having sex with the devil or demons.

More to the point, Trump’s expert on cornonavirus thinks that space aliens are directly responsible for many of the ills that are besetting humans. All this from a man who appeared on Ancient Aliens and Unidentified to dismiss the idea of UFOs invading our world.

There appears to be a disconnect in Trump’s world. Well, there is a disconnect in Trump’s brain. So, we should not be surprised that the stable genius is having stability problems.

Next time you hear a voice crying out, “Stella! Stella!,” it will not be Marlon Brando in Streetcar Named Desire, but a president in an Election named Catastrophe.

 

 

Dubious Tribute to Olivia De Havilland

DATELINE: Worst Movie of Her Career

Caged Lady!

Leave it to Amazon Prime to honor the memory and career of Olivia De Havilland with the worst movie she ever made.  Long forgotten, Lady in a Cage,  is one of those 1960s hag horror movies made after Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

This features Miss De Havilland who recently passed as age 104 in her attractive, dignified middle-age as a poet trapped in her million-dollar mansion in a private elevator. She is beset upon by a gaggle of horror creatures called in the trailer: the psycho, the wino, the hustler, the weirdo and the wildo.  No kidding. These low-lifes do not rescue Miss DeHavilland, but torment, torture, and drive her to the edge of insanity.

This passed for entertainment.

The following year De Havilland replaced Joan Crawford in the Bette Davis murder horror called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,a truly dignified and marvelous murder horror. This warm-up is a cold turkey.

In Ryan Murphy’s miniseries, Feud,about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, there is a scene where Miss De Havilland tosses the script for Lady in a Cage into her trash. Apparently, she changed her mind and agreed to contractual terms. Did she need the money? Was the limelight as star so great that she tossed away all semblance of taste?

All we know is that she chose to make this horror, which horrified us.

The supporting cast is equally shocking: there is Ann Sothern, who had just come off ten years as a TV comedy sit-com star. She apparently had no scruples and appears as a fat, middle-aged prostitute. Another wasted actor was Rafael Campos whose career was playing Puerto Rican slimeballs in movie after movie. His talent was never treated properly, and in his movie debut, there is James Caan as the head monster, looking and acting like Marlon Brando. He is a young lookalike here, and ten years later ended up playing Brando’s son in The Godfather.

We do not recommend this travesty of movie shocks. If you are curious, watch the preview in which demure, attractive De Havilland as herself, talks about the message of the movie: apparently under the surface we are all animals.

Yikes.

Brotherhood, Pre-Godfather Family

DATELINE: Mechanics Unionized 

Back in 1968, Lewis John Carlino wrote another in a bravura series of movie scripts. This time, after an intellectual horror thriller called Seconds,and a Lesbian love story called The Fox, he tackled an Organized crime story called The Brotherhood. 

It was years before Brando played Don Corleone, but many of the set-ups of the Godfather turned up before hand in a movie produced by Kirk Douglas—and he took the lead role as the Sicilian mobster.

He might seem to be miscast, but he was in charge: he also spoke perfect Italian in many scenes (and the film did not have subtitles to help audiences understand the dialogue).

Carlino’s mob features a theme he liked to explore: older gangster and younger acolyte. In this film, the older brother Frank (Douglas) has reluctantly taken his younger brother Vinnie, a war hero and college man, into the mob. If it sounds like Michael Corleone, it likely is.

Alex Cord (big things were expected) had the big role as the foil to Kirk Douglas. The film featured marriages and dancing to “Moon River” no less. There is a family compound too.

The faces of the old mob included Eduardo Cinannelli and Luther Adler, and new character stars like Murray Hamilton.

Douglas is a witty and violent man, and such men are dangerous. When they make him and offer he can’t refuse, he does—and violence follows.

With all location shots, there seem to be few studio scenes, if any. And, the streets of Palermo, Sicily, are exactly the atmosphere for your climax. One brother is sent after another. The infamous advertisement of the betrayal kiss is your pinnacle of drama.

We saw that too in the Godfather movies: mechanics sent to Sicily to dispatch people. And this movie features one of Carlino’s favorite devices: the abrupt violent end to the story and curtain black. They claimed this movie was a box-office failure—and almost caused the studios to decline Puzo’s Godfather. It certainly caused Kirk Douglas to decline an option on Carlino’s next gangster movie—The Mechanic, which eventually went to Charles Bronson.

Missouri Breakage! Classic Brando/Nicholson

DATELINE: Them’s the Breaks, Pardner

 

Mother Hubbard aside? Smile when you say that! 

Return with us to the thrilling days of yesteryear when Marlon Brando teamed up with and up against Jack Nicholson to make a Western. It’s called deceptively The Missouri Breaks.

It was 1976, and both Godfather and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest were history.

What’s left is the new frontier of two highly-charged actors going head-to-head.  However, like most of these superstar confrontations, the actual meetings are limited to some off-beat actors’ studio hambone. Brando actually has a small role and does not appear during the first half-hour.

Nicholson plays a horse thief whose gang falls under the observation of a “regulator.” It’s Brando in a dress and looking less zaftig than usual.

We may see parallels to The Left-Handed Gun in that adolescent world of cowboys because Arthur Penn is on board to direct the strange antics.

If there is a surprise, it is that Brando looks much younger than you’d expect, and Nicholson looks somewhat older.

You should expect the usual Brando laundry list: he has an inexplicable Irish brogue and other quirks that characters disdain (lilac cologne? walking under ladders?).  It is doubtful they could have switched roles like Burton and O’Toole in Becket. When Brando inexplicably wears a Mother Hubbard dress, you figure Nicholson surrendered the prize.

There is some wry humor interspersed and some outlandish details to take the Western into the Far Country. In case you are wondering, the Breaks in the river Missouri can be found in Montana.

We cannot imagine that Brando and Nicholson rehearsed any of this stuff, probably trying to shock the other’s performance. Already Brando is self-limiting, but there is no later laziness in his performance. He is up against the high-stakes gunslinging Jack Nicholson. And, perhaps, he saw this as High Noonfor the age.

Since this movie cannot be enjoyed on any conventional Western level, you take it as a psychedelic trip down memory lane. Don’t even think about the symbolism of Jack pulling a gun on Brando as he sits in his bubble bath.

With so many desperadoes (Harry Dean Stanton, Randy Quaid), you can count the deserving bad ends for western villains. It’s a romp.

Jan Merlin: Statuesque Among the Stars, 1925-2019

  Jan with his Emmy Award!

My co-author and most important literary collaborator has gone from this world.

Jan Merlin might be recognizable to a generation or two of film and TV fans as the villain who populated a hundred TV shows. He made movies with Ann Sheridan, George C. Scott, and Woody Allen. He starred in two 1950s TV series, The Rough Riders—and Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, with Frankie Thomas.

A veteran of the Navy in World War II, Jan went from the military during the big war to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he learned the craft of acting, though he had many talents. He always thought his acting fame was a lesser role. He was always the antagonist to some western star, or some dubious military man.

Yet, despite playing dastardly villains almost constantly, with his Aryan looks (Polish American out of New York City), he was a genteel man with a sense of art and brilliantly self-educated. Like a generation of those who were never able to attend college, he more than made up for it with a dozen books to his credit. He loved fiction—drawing  upon his movie background, or his experiences in Japan after the war.

Together we did a half-dozen books of which I am most proud. We did only one work of fiction, The Paid Companion of J. Wilkes Booth. Most of our Hollywood history tales were based on his insider knowledge of how a set work, from knowing nearly every star of the 1950s and 1960s. He laughed they were all “six feet tall,” no matter what the truth might be.

We wrote about Boys Town, Billy Budd, Reflections in a Golden Eye, among other films, giving a unique perspective on daily life during the studio shoot. He knew Brando, Taylor, Clift, James Dean, in ways that others could never understand. He threw James Dean out of the Pier Angeli house at her mother’s request.

When we did not write books together, he gave me editorial and research insights for my books on James Kirkwood and Audie Murphy. Oh, he knew them too.

Now he is gone, irreplaceable in my life and in Hollywood history, with all those insights and memories. He had stories he would not tell about the damaged figures of show business. He took those secrets with him, as much as I wanted to hear them. He was loyal to the memory of the business he loved and hated.

Once I called it ‘Tinseltown’, and he reprimanded me: it was a cherished professional location, not a frivolous tabloid fantasy to him. He introduced me as his “son” on occasion, which amused me–and made movie star Frankie Thomas look at me with quite an impression.

Goodbye, dear Jan. I am so lucky to have known you and to have worked with you. I have been left a treasure trove of his life, and maybe one day I will tell what he told me. He was my touchstone to a bygone era and glorious movie history.

Listening to Marlon Brando

DATELINE:  Method Man

Marlon Brando Fires Point Blank.

With its odd title, you may have trouble discerning what exactly is being told to whom.  Yet, Listen to Me Marlon is an affecting and striking documentary Showtime documentary about the legendary star of The Godfather, Streetcar Named Desire, and Reflections in a Golden Eye.

We wrote extensively about Brandon in Troubles in a Golden Eye, our movie biography, done with Hollywood master, Jan Merlin.

Intensely private and hostile to the press in the second half of his life, Brando made dozens and dozens of audio tapes of his philosophy, problems, and feelings. He clearly wanted to be remembered.

At the last he even had a digital map of his talking head so that it could be used sometime in futuristic movies.

In the meantime, we find many unusual photos and recreations of his unpleasant childhood in Omaha that he idealized. Though you see photos of associates and workmates, there is no gossip talk of colleagues. He speaks most admirably of Stella Adler, his acting teacher.

He does discuss his tortured children:  one committed suicide after her half-brother murdered her boyfriend. Christian died of pneumonia a few years after his father died.

He is thoughtful and sensitive, clearly appalled more and more by the money, profits, and legalities of movie-making. He worked three months a year for enormous salaries—and grew increasingly difficult to work with (ask Francis Ford Coppola).

A mutual friend of ours once told that Marlon was not like his public image: he was much, much softer. And that clearly comes across in his tapes.

Brando even rehearses how to die, which is chilling. He calls life the real improvisation and acting merely a deception of truth.

If you are a fan of Brando, or ever wondered about him, there may never be a more accurate depiction of his life—if only through his own distorted vision of self.

Jan Merlin & William Russo wrote Troubles in a Golden Eye, nonfiction about making the John Huston movie version of Carson McCullers’ novella Reflections in a Golden Eye. Brando and Elizabeth Taylor starred.