Friday, August 29, 2008

Remembering Donald O'Connor

1925 - 2003

I have been reminded that we missed the opportunity to recall Donald O'Connor upon his August 28th birthday. Shame on us. I do hope that that doesn't mean that we have been neglecting to make room in the entertainment portions of our busy lives for the wonderfully talented, warm-hearted gentleman.

Born in a trunk in 1925, Donald was part of a family of vaudevillians and he, along with his siblings, made his movie debut at the age of 12. He co-starred with Bing Crosby and Fred MacMurray in the delightful Sing You Sinners (1938) (where is the dvd?!?), played Gary Cooper as a lad in Beau Geste (1939) and was Tom Sawyer, Detective and Huckleberry Finn.

The 40s kept the young man working in a series of pictures with talented Peggy Ryan and the 50s brought him an unusual partner in the form of a talking mule. Francis was an original and bright little Service comedy whose popularity led to a series for Universal. The 50s also gave him a chance to shine is top-notch musicals such as Singin' in the Rain (1952), Call Me Madame (1953), There's No Business Like Show Business (1954) and Anything Goes (1956).

Movie musicals faded but Donald kept busy with television variety programs, talk shows (his own for a while), touring (Showboat) and guest appearances in everything from Ellery Queen to Frasier.

Donald O'Connor passed away in 2003, twice-married, father to four, award winner and always a welcome presence to legions of fans.

Why, if it isn't Cosmo Brown and Don Lockwood - on television yet!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Boo! Let's recall Hitch on this special day.

Alfred Hitchcock
1899 - 1980

Alfred Hitchcock was born on August 13th. Happy Birthday! According to astrology this Leo baby gravitates toward the unique, the strange, the unusual because it allows him to play out his own inner conflicts.

For many of us our first memories of Hitch might be his weekly television show and his droll introductions to a variety of frightening and funny stories. Hitchcock is a director who entertains the masses while moving critics to search for superlatives. He shocked, fascinated, confounded and entertained audiences in his long, prolific career and will continue to do so.

I'm crazy about the guy and the titles of some favourites explain why. North by Northwest (1959), the ultimate chase and cinematic offspring to The 39 Steps (1935). Rear Window (1954) that tests and mocks the movie-goers voyeurism. The wonderful character studies in Lifeboat (1944). The exuberant joy of The Lady Vanishes (1938) and the terror of happenstance in Strangers on a Train (1951). Murder most civilized in Dial M for Murder (1954) and the cheeky The Trouble With Harry (1955). The tortured minds of Uncle Charley in Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and Norman Bates in Psycho (1960).

Today I am not going to encourage you to rewatch your favourite Hitchcock or seek out a new one in celebration. I want to turn your attention to the late American author George Baxt (1923 - 2008). A prolific mystery writer of a unique sensibility Baxt wrote a series of novels wherein Hollywood celebrities became detective protagonists (Bette, Bogie, Powell & Loy, Gable & Lombard, Astaire & Rogers, Dorothy Parker, Tallulah Bankhead). His take on Hitch as he and wife Alma become mixed up with spies is an absolute delight in The Alfred Hitchcock Murder Case, published 1986. Discover a new classic and bake a cake with a file in it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Frank, for all generations

We are a lifestyle transit user family, but a couple of times a year our good friend, Jackie, gives us the loan of her car for a couple of days to take THE BOY to summer camp and do wild things like shop at distant supermarkets or go out to dinner where they have real cutlery.

The Hubby was excited this year about giving his CD collection a work out - headin' on down the road cranking his tunes - the noisy, rock stuff that I freely admit is over my head. In fact, he kept talking about it when time came to escort the females in his family to our annual trip to The Keg. I visibly braced myself for the onslaught of electric guitars amped to the max and was instead greeted to the vocal stylings of Frank Sinatra. I must have given the anticipated comic reaction because better half and daughter chuckled appreciatively.

We had a fine time tearing a cow apart with our teeth, and bantering with a waiter who had his schtick down pat. When we parked in the abode driveway Janet asked her dad for the CD. He asked her why as if suspicious that she was on a teenage rant and wanted to destroy the item. She gave him the what-else answer of "I want it for my ipod". Frank is timeless.

Here's Frank with my favourite guys. A tip of the hat to Toronto composer Ruth Lowe, and to the lovely leading lady of The Pied Pipers:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Favourite movies: Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)

The comedy-western is a subgenre with a rich and varied history. The cliches of even the best westerns lend themselves to kidding, and fans are always up for a laugh. Two of the finest proponents of the comedy-western were writer/director Burt Kennedy and writer William Bowers. The thing that sets their comedy-westerns ahead of the pack is that they have their fair share of dramatic pictures under their belts.

Burt Kennedy wrote such classics as Seven Men from Now (1956) and The Tall T (1947)The War Wagon (1967). The Rounders (1965) and The Train Robbers (1973) also highlight his lighter side. William Bowers wrote the classic The Gunfighter (1950) starring Gregory Peck, and his first western-comedy was The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap (1947) followed by Alias Jesse James (1959) and The Sheepman (1958).

James Garner, Bruce Dern, Jack Elam

The movie is cast with familiar character actors from all genres, but who made special contributions to westerns. Why, you can't throw a rock (something that happens in the movie) without hitting one of those folks you've seen a hundred times and you're happy to see a hundred times more. 

James Garner, Jack Elam, Harry Morgan, Walter Burke, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey

A stranger rides into a lawless town. A town caught up in the thrall of gold fever and under the ruthless sway of the Danby family. The stranger is played by James Garner, whose great ease and charm on the screen have convinced generations that he is only playing himself. The stranger's pockets are empty and the lure of gold in the vicinity, plus a town council eager to please convince him to take on the job of sheriff. The town council is played by film favourites Harry Morgan, Henry Jones, Willis Bouchey and Walter Burke. Mayor Ollie Perkins explains the almost state-of-the-art office: "Our last sheriff was a good organizer. Yellow clear through, but a good organizer."

In short order, our stranger takes on a reluctant deputy played by the marvelous Jack Elam and runs up against the Danby's by arresting not-too-bright son, Joe, played by Bruce Dern in a very funny performance. Three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan for Come and Get It (1936), Kentucky (1938) and The Westerner (1940) spoofs his villainous Old Man Clanton from My Darling Clementine (1946) as Pa Danby. Danby is beset by idiot sons, Dern, Gene Evans, and Dick Peabody, and a sheriff who doesn't act like any sheriff he's ever known.

Joan Hackett

Our stranger also finds romance in the form of Prudy Perkins played by the brilliant actress Joan Hackett (Will Penny (1968), The Last of Sheila (1973)). Prudy is smitten with the new sheriff, but she's going through an awkward stage. How else does she end up on fire, and stuck in a tree in her undergarments? Her father, the mayor, explains: "She's had some terrible shocks this year. She got wealthy almost overnight - I think maybe it unhinged her a bit. Then she was always kind of big for her age and pooberty hit her hard. That'll do it you know."

This trailer gives you a sample of the kind of good-natured humor you'll find in this laugh-out-loud feature:

By my reckoning, Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) pokes knowing fun at everything near and dear to my heart, My Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), High Noon (1952), Red River (1948), and Winchester '73 (1950) plus a tip of the Stetson to McLintock! (1963). What have I missed, fellow fans?


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting The 8th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon . The popular blogathon is runn...