Monday, September 21, 2015

See You in the "Fall" blogathon: The Sunshine Boys (1975)

Steve Bailey of MovieMovieBlogBlog is hosting the SEE YOU IN THE "FALL" BLOGATHON devoted to bits of physical comedy that have delighted us all through the years.  Click HERE for thrills and laughs.

Neil Simon's The Sunshine Boys, directed by Herbert Ross, is one of my all-time favourite comedies and there is a silent scene of furniture moving that lasts less than a minute, but tickles my funny bone to the point where an emergency room visit is not out of the question.  There is something about the deadpan, focused attitude of the characters and the amount of time it takes to determine that they are at cross-purposes that I find sublime.  

First, a little set-up.  The old-time comedy team of Al Lewis (George Burns) and Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) aka The Sunshine Boys broke up acrimoniously many years ago, but have agreed to reunite for a television special.  They meet at Willy's apartment.  I'm sure you won't mind the intrusion of some dialogue, since it is from Neil Simon.  Let's listen in ...

Willy:  So, what do you think, you want to do the doctor sketch?

Al:  Well, it's very good money.  It's only a few day's work and I can be back in New Jersey.  If you feel you want to do it then I'm agreeable.

Willy:  They told you how I feel about it?

Al:  What?

Willy:  I'm against it, but if you want, I'll do it.

Al:  What do you mean you're against it?  If you're against it don't do it.

Willy:  Why do you care if I'm against it.  As long as we're doing it, I just want you to know why I'm doing it.

Al:  Well, don't do me any favors.

Willy:  Who's doing you a favor.  I'm doing my nephew a favor.  It will be a big break for the kid to get a couple of big stars like us.

Al:  Well, that's different then.  In that case I'm against it too, but I'll do it.

Willy:  As long as we understand each other.

Al:  I want to be sure you know that I'm not doing it for the money.  The money goes to my grandchildren.

Willy:  The whole thing?

Al:  The whole thing.  But not now.  Only if I die.  If I don't die it will be for my old age.

Willy:  The same with me.

Al:  You haven't got grandchildren.

Willy:  My nephew's children!  Do you want to rehearse the sketch or not?  What?  Why don't we rehearse?

Al:  You're not against rehearsing?

Willy:  I'm against doing the show.  Rehearsing is important.

Al:  Alright, let's rehearse.  Why don't we move the furniture around and make the set?

Willy:  Wait a minute.  What the hell are we doing here?

Al:  I'm fixing up the set.  I don't know what you're doing.

Willy:  You're fixing up the set?  You're fixing up the set for the doctor sketch?

Al:  The doctor sketch?

Old guys!  Ya' gotta love 'em.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Republic Blogathon: The Red Pony (1949)

John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, National Book Award for Fiction, Presidential Medal of Freedom and three time Oscar nominee adapted the screenplay for The Red Pony from his own short stories/novella.

Two time Oscar winner and three time nominee Lewis Milestone (All Quiet on the Western Front, The Front Page, Of Mice and Men) produced and directed The Red Pony. Three time Grammy winner, Oscar winner and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, Aaron Copland composed the film's score. The Red Pony was the final film for pioneering and innovative cinematographer Tony Gaudio, a six-time Oscar nominee and winner (Anthony Adverse, The Sea HawkThe Adventures of Robin Hood).

Yes folks, Herbert J. Yates fabled studio, home of the greatest B westerns of all-time, was indeed in "prestige production mode" on this film. The result is an unhurried emotional movie experience with relatable characters and impossibly beautiful Technicolor.

Myrna Loy is top-billed as Alice Tiflin, a patient and understanding wife and mother, if not overly demonstrative. We learn by observation of her love for her home and family, and the unceasing work she does to keep everything together.

Myrna Loy's film career began in the 1920s playing exotic maidens and extras. Eventually her true comedic and dramatic abilities were given a chance in the 1930s with roles in films such as The Thin Man and The Rains Came. Her movie career took a back seat to her work with the Red Cross during the war years, but in the late 1940s audiences were lucky to see her reteamed with William Powell in The Thin Man follow-ups, and with Cary Grant in classic comedies Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer, along with the immortal The Best Years of Our Lives.

Robert Mitchum plays ranch hand and expert horseman Billy Buck. Billy is personable, hardworking and proud of his prize-winning mare Rosie who is months away from foaling. He is the idol of the Tiflin's young son and manages to walk the fine line between employee and friend without overstepping his boundaries.

Mitchum's career had advanced during the 1940s from bit parts to supporting roles, including a Best Supporting Actor nomination for 1945s Story of G.I. Joe, to leading roles in the classic film-noir Out of the Past and dark westerns like Pursued and Blood on the Moon. Along with The Red Pony, his other 1949 releases were the crime-adventure film The Big Steal and the romantic-comedy Holiday Affair.

Louis Calhern is excellent (isn't he always?) as Alice's garrulous father. The old man constantly relives his glory days as the leader of a wagon train to the point where the repetitive stories get on people's nerves. However, his heart is in the right place if he doesn't always think before he speaks.  

Louis Calhern was the veteran of 28 Broadway plays ranging from comedies to tragedies (King Lear) in a period from 1923 to 1955. That same range is seen in his film roles from Duck Soup to The Asphalt Jungle. In 1951 he recreated his stage role of Oliver Wendell Holmes in The Magnificent Yankee and received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.

Shepperd Strudwick plays Fred Tiflin. As a father, Fred has difficulty displaying his affection in his efforts to instill discipline in his young son. Fred is not a natural rancher, but a former teacher who feels out of place in his community and, in the period we observe them, in his family.

Like co-star Louis Calhern, Shepperd Strudwick had a long Broadway career of 30 roles from 1929 to 1981 (As You Like It, The Bat, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), and one Tony nomination. He has over 50 television credits from the 1950s to the 1980s which include two Daytime Emmy nominations for Love of Life and One Life to Live. Strudwick's film career comprised mostly of second leads in well-remembered films such as All the King's Men and A Place in the Sun.

Peter Miles plays young Tom Tilford, an imaginative and curious 10 years old. Prone to telling stories, he is somewhat of an outsider from his playmates. He idolizes the confident Billy Buck and loves his family, although they share the disconnect of a generation gap. Tom is basically kind and wants to be good, but now he is at the age of confusion as to his own actions and those of others.

Peter Miles was actually Gerald Perreau-Saussine, the eldest of acting siblings who made their mark in movies and on television in the 40s and 50s. Sister Gigi Perreau enjoyed the longest career including films Shadow on the Wall and There's Always Tomorrow, plus over 40 television credits from Four Star Playhouse to Adam-12. She and Peter played siblings on 1960s The Betty Hutton Show. Sisters Janine and Lauren also made film and TV appearances. In his later years, Peter was a teacher and writer (That Cold Day in the Park).

The Red Pony is an episodic look at a time in the life of a family as seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy. When young Tommy is gifted a red pony from his father the boy's entire focus shifts to that pony. He learns how to care for the creature and how to train it. Tommy is proud of the pony and his newfound responsibility which he jealously guards. At the same time, cracks appear in what should be the solid foundation of the family. Tommy's parents briefly separate as his father questions his path. The adults all struggle with Tommy's upbringing as to what is appropriate for him to learn about life and death at his age.

The pony, Gabilan, becomes ill and a combination of unforeseen accidents contribute to his death. Turning from his own part in the tragedy, Tommy places the blame on Billy Buck who feels the slight keenly. Billy promises Tommy Rosie's foal as a way to make amends. Billy senses that Rosie's delivery may be difficult and a choice between Rosie's life or that of the foal is in question. Billy will sacrifice Rosie to get the foal for Tommy and that decision leads to a growing up moment for the youngster. The safe delivery of the foal leads to a moment of pure joy and a catharsis for everyone at the ranch.

The Republic Blogathon hosted by Toby Roan at 50 Westerns From the 50s runs from Friday, September 18th to Sunday, September 20th.  Click here for all the fabulous contributions.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Lauren Bacall blogathon: The Shootist (1976)

Lauren Bacall
(1924 - 2014)

The Lauren Bacall blogathon is hosted by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and runs from September 14 - 16. Here is the spot you want to be for all the contributions.

Lauren Bacall became a movie star at the age of 19 in her first film role in Howard Hawks To Have and Have Not. She also became half of a legendary romantic couple/movie team working with first husband Humphrey Bogart in that film. By 1970 the once widowed and once divorced (from Jason Robards), mother of three began a career of winning Tonys. Her first award coming for the role of Margo Channing in the Broadway musical version of All About Eve entitled Applause. In the 80s she would win for the role of Tess Harding in the musical play based on the film Woman of the Year.

Ms. Bacall's films in the 1970s number exactly two. First in 1974 was the oopulentand multi-Oscar nominated Murder on the Orient Express featuring an all-star cast in the Agatha Christie Hercule Poirot story.

In 1976 Lauren Bacall was top-billed with John Wayne in The Shootist, a minimalist character study western which would prove to be Wayne's final screen performance. The pair had worked together previously in the 1955 adventure film Blood Alley. It is the film Duke was hawking in his well-remembered guest spots on I Love Lucy.

The Shootist, based on a novel by Glendon Swarthout and directed by Don Siegel, tells the story of the last week in the life of a notorious gunman named J.B. Books (John Wayne). Books attends a trusted physician in Carson City (James Stewart) to have his cancer diagnosis confirmed. Estimating a two month remaining life span that will end with wretched pain, Books obtains lodging at a boarding house run by the recently widowed Mrs. Rogers (Lauren Bacall). Mrs. Rogers son Gillom (Ron Howard) is a youth looking for his way in life who idolizes the famous shootist suddenly in their midst.

Books is advised by Dr. Hostetler that were he a man of courage facing the ravages of cancer that he would seek another ending. Books sets about putting his affairs in order and arranging a showdown with three villains (Richard Boone, Hugh O'Brian, Bill McKinney) who fancy themselves gunmen of the first order. In this way, Books plans to end their reign of terror and his own life.  

During his final week Books encounters and deals with an ambitious news reporter (Richard Lenz), a two-faced ex-lover (Sheree North), a boorish town Marshall (Harry Morgan), a rascally undertaker (John Carradine) and a fellow haggler (Scatman Crothers).

J.B. Books:  "Bond!  That's a cracker-jack name for a woman."

The most important of these relationships is the one between John Bernard Books and Bond Rogers. In their few days together, their sparse conversations are mostly terse and antagonistic. She resent the emotions stirred up by this dying man. He seeks understanding from someone he instinctively respects. Such an understanding is reached between the two characters through a series of events. There is a violent attack on J.B. Books in the Rogers home. His instinct for survival prevails, and his determination to end things his way. A buggy ride to enjoy scenery brings an ease to the two prickly personalities. Bond assists John Books as his health begins to fail. They share a brief interlude of Gilbert and Sullivan. They accept each other. They like each other.

J.B. Books:  "Damn!"
Mrs. Rogers:  John Bernard, you swear too much.
J.B. Books:  The hell I do.

The final scene between the two characters is masterfully handled by the veteran performers. John Bernard Books sets out to meet his destiny after informing Mrs. Rogers that on this, the occasion of his birthday, he plans to attend a saloon for a celebratory drink. Bond remarks on the unusually pleasant day for his outing and wishes him the best. He says goodbye and she watches his retreat through the window with knowledge and concern in her eyes.

What follows is an exciting choreographed shootout with a satisfactory emotional tag, but at this point, we feel we have seen the true ending of the film with the goodbye between John Bernard Books and Bond Rogers.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The William Wellman Blogathon: Goodbye, My Lady (1956)

William Wellman published a memoir A Short Time for Insanity in 1974 and hit the road to publicize the book. In July of that year, the road trip took Mr. Wellman to Toronto. Catching up on the Monday edition of the Toronto Star, my father shouted an expletive and read aloud from Clyde Gilmour's "Movies" column.

Movie buffs have chance to meet director

"Hollywood's "Wild Bill" Wellman will be Toronto tomorrow, and movie buffs will get a chance to meet him in person and see two of his famous films at the incredible bargain price of zero dollars.

Admission will be free, as an anti-inflation service to the public, when the Ontario Film Theatre presents 78-year-old director William A. Wellman and a Wellman double bill, Wild Boys of the Road and The Ox-Bow Incident, Tuesday evening at 7:30."


The Nolans are not traditionally a spur of the moment family, but my dad said "What do you say, Paddy? Let's go." So, off we went to watch The Ox-Bow Incident, which we knew well, and Wild Boys of the Road, which was new to us.

There he was up on stage, "Wild Bill" Wellman. He griped about actors. He griped about Zanuck. He griped about old age. He introduced the beautiful Dorothy Coonan, his wife of 40 years, at his side. He told us how she was the best dancer who ever worked for Busby Berkeley, how beautiful she was, how much she had to put up with, and how much he loved her. We could see that.

After the screenings, we purchased the book (hardcover, $10.95), received autographs and shook his hand. I cherish the memory of that brush with classic Hollywood and the spontaneous invitation from my father.

William A. Wellman
(1896 - 1975)

"Most motion picture directors are a little screwy. I know that fliers are, and I have been both, so draw your own conclusions."

In A Short Time for Insanity I read about another "new" movie to me, Goodbye, My Lady.

"Goodbye, My Lady by James Street, was a financial fiasco. I don't know why. The story was beautiful, the performances superb: Walter Brennan, Brandon De Wilde, Phil Harris, Bill Hopper, Sidney Poitier, and the cutest, gamest little dog you ever saw, a Basenji. How could you miss? But I did.

We went down in the swamps in Albany, Georgia, all through the peanut fields, with the snakes and the heat, and worked like Trojans. For what? For a plaque that reads:

To William A. Wellman for his outstanding contribution to the technique of Motion Picture Direction and for Goodbye, My Lady the national Society, Daughters of the American Revolution awards its CERTIFICATE OF HONOR for producing the Best Children's Picture of the Year 1956 - Josephine T. Nash - National Chairman - Motion Picture Committee - Allene W. Graves - President General.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I am a father of seven kids and, up to yesterday, seven grandchildren. I am very proud and happy to receive such a certificate of honor and am doubly proud to have made the best children's picture of the year, but why didn't the kids go to see it? Why didn't they drag their mothers and fathers to the theater? I guess you can't make a good clean picture anymore and make any money. What am I talking about? Disney does it all the time. So it's as plain as the nose on your face. I am just not Disney."

Brandon De Wilde, My Lady of the Congo

"When your boy becomes a man it's a sad, glad thing." - Lyric from When Your Boy Becomes a Man, the theme to Goodbye, My Lady music by Don Powell, lyrics by Moris Erby, sung by Howard Keel over the opening and closing credits.

The title card reads "William A. Wellman's Goodbye, My Lady" which denotes a justifiable pride in this fine film.

Orphaned Claude "Skeeter" Jackson (Brandon De Wilde) has been raised by his Uncle Jesse (Walter Brennan). It is a somewhat lonely existence in the swamps of Mississippi, but the illiterate Jesse does the best he can at Skeeter's schooling. He passes along life lessons of honesty and integrity. Jesse's way is to lead by example and homilies, and to trust in Skeeter's heart.

 Walter Brennan, Brandon De Wilde

Strange sounds at night turn out to be a breed of dog known as a Basenji, a hound of ancient origins and unusual habits. Skeeter is intrigued and figures the dog needs him as much as he needs it. The two creatures have found each other. Skeeter immediately falls in love with the dog whom they name "Lady" and the dog, though obviously well cared for and trained, has found her true master. The relationship grows over a period of months as Skeeter devotes his energy to training "Lady" into a fine bird dog.

Growing up is something that can only be done on your own, but even though he may not realize it at this time, Skeeter has the support and mentorship of more than his Uncle Jesse. "Cash" Evans (Phil Harris) is the local storekeeper and close friend of Jesse's. He has stood up for this makeshift family and supports them physically and emotionally. Closer to Skeeter's age is Gates Watson (Sidney Poitier) who lives on the other side of the river. He is a young man who knows the world and knows dogs and boys. He always does Skeeter the honour of calling him by his given name, Claude. Gates' friendship for Claude includes equal doses of respect and caring. Through words and deed, Skeeter learns from these friends and is secure in their support.

Brandon De Wilde, William Hopper

Eventually, the fame of the strange little dog leads to knowledge of her exalted show dog status and rightful owners. How Skeeter deals with the situation and the loving support of his friends and Uncle Jesse is admirable and truly touching. We never do meet Lady's owners, but Mr. Grover (William Hopper) a kennel employee arrives to retrieve the Basenji. After many viewings, the only word I have to describe Hopper's scenes is "beautiful".

The score for Goodbye, My Lady is gentle and evocative and was composed and played by Laurindo Almeida (guitar) and George Fields (harmonica). The cinematography by frequent Wellman collaborator William Clothier (Track of the Cat, Wings) is in black and white and recalls to mind marvelous sketches that may accompany a novel. James Street's novel was adapted by Albert Fleischman (The Deadly Companions, Bullwhip Griffin). Featured performers in this movie include Louise Beavers as Gates' mother, who disapproves of Jesse's unorthodox parenting abilities, and Wellman good luck charm George Chandler. Read about their relationship here.

The story of Goodbye, My Lady is told in a leisurely, laid-back fashion. It takes us to, for many, a strange location and lifestyle. Its dramatic moments are emotional in nature as we are allowed a look into the hearts and minds of these characters. The cast is uniformly excellent, easily getting the audience to care for these people and the story of a boy and "a whole lotta dog".

TCM is screening Goodbye, My Lady on Sunday, September 20th at 6:15 pm if you want to see William Wellman's fine film.

The William Wellman blogathon is hosted by Now Voyaging and runs from September 10 - 15. Click here to see what other fans have to share about the director and his films.



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