Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Twentieth Century (1934)

Twentieth Century is a chore to watch, even with all the top-drawer talent assembled for its production.

Director Howard Hawks is one of the great American directors of the 20th century. His credits include the original Scarface, Red River and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


John Barrymore was one of the great early American actors until a fondness for the bottle crippled his screen legacy. Dinner at Eight and Grand Hotel are some of his biggest films.

Carole Lombard was one of Hollywood's biggest leading ladies in the 1930s. The star of Mr. & Mrs. Smith and Made For Each Other died in a plane crash in 1942. She was 33.

The name Charles Lane may not jump out at film-goers, but Internet Movie Database credits him with 358 television and film appearances between 1931 and 2006, when he narrated The Night Before Christmas.


Twentieth Century, based on Charles Bruce Millholland's play Napoleon of Broadway, can tire even the most patient of viewers with its incessant yelling between characters. Yes, there are some funny moments and clever lines in this Columbia release, but the film's 91 minutes are a labour to get through.

Oscar Jaffe (Barrymore) is a hotshot theatrical producer. He's discovered a new talent, model Mildred Plotka (Lombard), who he wisely renames Lily Garland. His associates, including Oliver Webb (Walter Connolly) and Max Jacobs (Lane), are less than enthused with her ability on stage.

Jaffe perseveres. "The gold is all there, but we must mine it," he counsels his creative team. Jaffe's right. A new star is born. They become an item. The team of Garland and Jaffe helm three smash shows in three small years. That ends when Garland bristles under Jaffe's domination. The guy is a control freak. The years haven't been kind to Garland. She's starting to act like a diva.

When Garland bolts for Hollywood, Jaffe's magic disappears. A string of bombs follow with the latest putting him in the hole nearly $80,000. Eighty years ago, that was a daunting amount of debt.


He needs financial help for his new show, based on The Passion Play. It's a toss-up if that cash will come from trying to reunite with Garland or a seemingly free-spending businessman, Matthew Clark (Etienne Gardot). Lili, determined as she is to stand alone from her mentor, usually falls for whatever pitch he makes to win her back.

Even with its trim running time, Twentieth Century wears out its welcome. For diehard fans of Hollywood's Golden Age only.

RATING: 6/10

FUN FACTS: Even with his impressive resume, Hawks was only nominated once for a best directing Oscar (Sergeant York). He received an honorary Oscar in 1975. Co-stars Connolly and Roscoe Karns also appeared in It Happened One Night. Lane was a real estate salesman in It's a Wonderful Life.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Out of the Past (1947)

Wow, that Kirk Douglas fellow can act.

This super film noir offers an early glimpse of Douglas' talent. It's only his second role after making his debut a year earlier in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.


Douglas never lays a hand on anybody as Whit, a rich gambler in Out of the Past. But he's a menacing presence on the screen. Mess with him at your peril.

"I fire people, but nobody quits me," he suggests.

Whit and his dame, Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer), have a disagreement. It ends with the lady taking a few shots at Whit. Some connect.

"It amazes me how she missed so often," Whit recalls when he hires gumshoe Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) to find her and the $40,000 she took.

"Maybe you were moving," Jeff suggests.

Bailey finds Moffat in Mexico. They fall in love. Bailey decides he's not so eager to report her whereabouts to Whit. The pair slip away to San Francisco to start their lives together until Bailey's old partner, Fisher (Steve Brodie), finds them.


That discovery, and Bailey being found again three years later and tapped for another job by Whit, drive this powerful film from director Jacques Tourneur (Cat People, Wichita).

Mitchum smokes up a storm as the private eye who's messed up with a woman of suspect loyalty and a gambler eager to escape the attention of the U.S. Treasury. He looks great in a trenchcoat and fedora as he tries to figure out how he can get himself out of a mess from his past and return to be with his lady love, Ann (Virginia Houston). Jeff gets into one good slug fest. Otherwise, he uses his brains and his mouth as his weapons of choice.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Director Jacques Tourneur directed a Twilight Zone episode, Night Call, in 1964.

Virginia Houston's Hollywood career was brief, from 1946 to 1954. Out of the Past was her second film. She died in 1981 at age 55.

Out of the Past was one of six films released in 1947 featuring Steve Brodie. Others included Thunder Mountain and Crossfire.

Lee Server's work, Robert Mitchum: 'Baby, I Don't Care', was published in 2001. He dedicates 12 pages of Mitchum's biography to the making of Out of the Past.

Some interesting facts:

a) Daniel Mainwaring, author of Build My Gallows High, which was the basis of Out of the Past, suggested Humphrey Bogart for the leading role;

b) Kirk Douglas, with a pay stub of $25,000, was the highest paid actor who worked on Out of the Past. Mitchum earned about $10,300;

c) Jane Greer was sought after by Howard Hughes, but married Rudy Vallee;

d) Director Jacques Tourneur worked with cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca on Cat People. Musuraca also shot Stranger on the Third Floor, often considered to be the first film noir.

Classic Albums: Face Value (1999)

Phil Collins was a musical giant during the 1980s.

classic albums face value offers a steady stream of interesting facts about the British musician's debut album and how he came to rule the charts between 1981 and 1991. His own music, and work with Genesis as that band evolved from prog rock to pop with him as frontman, was constantly in the charts with hits such as Take Me Home, One More Night, Invisible Touch, Mama, That's All and I Can't Dance.


Face Value, released in 1981, sold 12 million copies and scored three Top 20 hits with In the Air Tonight peaking at No. 2 in England.

This 60-minute documentary dives right into the album that launched Collins' solo career. Don't leave the room in the opening minutes.

Collins, who took over as frontman of British prog-rock group Genesis in 1976 after six years backing lead vocalist Peter Gabriel on drums, wasn't even planning to do a solo album 30 years ago.

Face Value came to be because of the break-up of his first marriage and his desire to learn how to use recording equipment.

The album's creation, he said, was if he had "painted a few pictures in my room and someone wanted to look at them."


The lyrics to the album's first song, In the Air Tonight, were improvised. Collins discusses the track's use of a drum machine. "The drummer would get bored playing anything like this," he suggests.

We learn why Collins decided to record his own version of Behind the Lines, the opening track of the Genesis album, Duke.

An early version of I Missed Again, a second single from the album that soared on the charts, is played.

Collins describes the instrumental, Hand in Hand, as something that would fit into a Disney cartoon. That's an interesting observation. Collins wrote five songs for the 1999 animated film, Tarzan. You'll Be in My Heart spent 19 weeks at No. 1 on Billboards's Adult Contemporary chart.


There's a generous excerpt of Collins performing If Leaving Me is Easy live. He dropped the mournful tune from his set lists because he tired of concert-goers making noise during the quiet number.

This Classic Albums episode packs plenty of punch with a series of interviews with musicians who played on the album, the production team and even Atlantic Records co-chairman Ahmet Ertegun and string arranger Arif Maradin, both of whom have since died.

Genesis bandmates Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford and band manager Tony Smith. Here.

Genesis sideman, and Collins' collaborator, Darryl Stuermer. Check. Trombonist Lui Lui Satterfield. Present.

Bassist Alphonso Johnson offers some neat insights about his role on the album too.

Horn aranger Tom Tom Washington reveals he had no idea who Collins was prior to working with him on Face Value. Guess he didn't have The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway in his LP collection. Indian violinist L. Shankar was part of this effort too.

British guitar god Eric Clapton, who guested on The Roof is Leaking, is sadly missing. Instead, there's just a photo of an apparently intoxicated Collins posing with the former Cream member.

Collins describes Please Don't Ask as the most intimate of the tracks he wrote for possible use on Face Value. "I've never really written anything like that since," said Collins. But instead, the song appeared on the great Genesis effort, Duke. Yet, there's no explanation why this powerful song was left off Face Value. Pity. But this music fan strongly recommends Duke as the best Genesis album with Collins at the helm.

RATING: 9/10

FUN FACTS: Wikipedia page dedicated to Collins offers some impressive stats about his solo career. As of 2000, he sold 150 million albums. Collins, Paul McCartney and the late Michael Jackson are the only three musicians who have sold 100 million albums-plus as a member of a group and a solo act.

"This record crept up behind everybody," said Collins near the documentary's end.
"Suddenly I had another thing to do apart from Genesis."

The Collins juggernaut would peak in 1985 when No Jacket Required was released. Sussudio and One More Night both hit No. 1 in United States. No Jacket Required went triple platinum in that country.
Collins, now 60, announced his retirement in early 2011. Genesis fans hoping for a reunion of the classic Genesis line-up of Banks, Gabriel, Collins, Steve Hackett and Rutherford mourned the news.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Local Hero (1983)

There's a few ways movie watchers can approach Local Hero.

For Star Wars diehards, director Bill Forsyth's charming 1983 comedy boasts two minor characters in bigger roles.


Denis Lawson, who appeared as Wedge in Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, has a major supporting role as Gordon Urquhart.

In a small Scottish fishing village where the film is set, Urquhart wears many hats. He's the innkeeper who cooks the meals and tends bar. He's also the community's chartered accountant. Urquhart and his wife, Stella (Jennifer Black), are also doing a very good job at keeping the passion alive in their marriage.

Norman Chancer, who was a rebel officer in The Empire Strikes Back, is Moritz.


Local Hero is one of the few films made by Forsyth. His credits run about a 20-year span between 1980 and 1999. Forsyth's other credits include Comfort and Joy, Gregory's Girl and the Hollywood bomb, Being Human, with Robin Williams.

Local Hero also marks an early credit for several actors including star Peter Riegart, Jenny Seagrove (Nate and Hayes) and Peter Capaldi (Bean).

Plus, it's one of about two dozen credits Hollywood legend Burt Lancaster earned in the last decade of his working life. The star of From Here to Eternity died in 1994.


Local Hero also boasts one of the finest musical scores these ears have ever heard. The soundtrack, by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits, is a treat from start to finish. His band's biggest album, Brothers In Arms, was still to come. Knopfler's solo career was still about a decade away.

Local Hero is a low-key comedy. This film is mostly subtle with a capital S.

Riegert's character, MacIntyre, gets sent to Scotland by a major oil firm based in Texas. He's thought to be Scottish because of his name. It's expected his "Scottish connections" will make the difference in sealing the deal. Watch for MacIntyre's explanation about his surname's roots.

A refinery is needed for the company's offshore rigs in the area. The firm's research department has pegged the village, and surrounding area, as the perfect location for its mega-project. MacIntyre's boss, Felix Harper (Lancaster), is a keen follower of the stars. Watch the skies, he advises his representative.

MacIntyre, a veteran dealmaker, finds himself enchanted with the community and the breath-taking scenery. Meteor showers, the Northern lights and the attractive Stella help too. MacIntyre starts to look less corporate and more local resident. He becomes reluctant to see this gorgeous part of the Earth disappear.


Most of the townspeople, however, are eager to cash in and admire the seven-digit balances in their bank accounts. Fisherman eagerly compare notes on sports cars by the water's edge. Urquhart is the ringleader eager to pick Knox Oil's pockets for as much as he can get for the community's population.

"What kind of millions do you reckon we're talking about?" he asks MacIntyre.
"We'll have to talk about that," the oilman replies.

As this post is being written, there's a big ruckus in the United States about a proposed Canadian pipeline that would transport oil through America. The environmental angle isn't played up big in Local Hero. Again, it's a subtle film. But check out the wonderful shots of the water and the night skies. Beautiful. There are suggestions cash won't bring happiness.

"Can you imagine a world without oil?" asks MacIntyre as he walks along the beach. No ink. No detergents. No automobiles. But at what price?

Cellphones, emails and Blackberries didn't exist in 1983. But MacIntyre talks about his preference to do business via technology available at the time.

"I don't know why I'm here," he says after arriving in Scotland.
"I'm more of a Telex man."

This guy loves working the phones. He even calls people in the same office who are just a few feet away.


His watch sounds whenever it's time to do business back home in Houston. He has an electric briefcase (?). MacIntyre is "plugged in" to gizmos. Status is important too. Here's a young buck who drives, he mentions more than once, a Porshe 930.

"A good car is important," he suggests.
"I used to get headaches when I drove a Chevy."

Local Hero delivers steady laughs, sometimes quite loud ones. Just be prepared for its low-key pace.

RATING: 7.5/10

FUN FACTS: John Gordon Sinclair, who starred as Gregory in Forsyth's Gregory's Girl, has a small role in Local Hero. His girlfriend is the town's sole punk rocker. Riegert's television debut was in M*A*S*H. He appeared as Col. Igor Staminsky in two episodes. Peter Capaldi appeared as George Harrison in the television movie, John and Yoko: A Love Story (1985).