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DIETRICH in BLONDE VENUS (1932) or MOROCCO (1930)
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Entries in Old Hollywood (122)

Wednesday
May112016

Judy by the Numbers: "The Joint Is Really Jumpin' in Carnegie Hall"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

Judy Garland was wrapping production on one movie and starting production on another when she filmed a cameo for the WWII wartime musical, Thousands Cheer. Despite the fact that Garland was one of MGM's biggest stars, this cameo with José Iturbi was the first Technicolor movie she had made since The Wizard of Oz four years previous. The films between Oz and Thousands Cheer, though large in spirit, were small in budget due to Great Depression constraints. However, the onset of World War II brought about an audience boom - everyone was going to the movies to catch a newsreel and escape the fears of the war. As a result, budgets were about to skyrocket as MGM began to give Judy Garland big and colorful sets, costumes, and scenery to match her big and colorful voice.

The Movie: Thousands Cheer (1943)
The Songwriters: Roger Edens, Ralph Blane, and Hugh Martin
The Players: Kathryn Grayson, Gene Kelly, Mary Astor, Jon Boles, directed by George Sidney

The Story: The man playing both jazz and classical music as Judy swings is (as previously mentioned) José Iturbi, a Spanish conductor and pianist. Surprisingly for a classical musician, Iturbi also started an improbably successful parallel career as a character actor in MGM movies of the 1940s. While composers and musicians would show up periodically in films to "class it up" (or "brass it up," depending on whether it was Bob Crosby or Oscar Levant), none was quite so prolific onscreen as Iturbi. From 1943 to 1949, Iturbi appeared in about a picture a year, with small but noticeable parts. After all, it's hard to find a pianist with enough personality to pleasantly play for a put out Judy Garland.

Select Previous Highlights:  "Dear Mr Gable" (1937), “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” (1938), "Over the Rainbow" (1939), "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows" (1941), "For Me and My Gal" (1942)

Wednesday
May042016

Judy by the Numbers: "Caro Nome/When I Look At You"

Anne Marie is tracking Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

With Judy Garland now such an established hit, MGM worked overtime to make the most of its musical star. This meant that while Arthur Freed and the Freed Unit "made" her by crafting her star image (and arguably used her to her best advantage), Judy couldn't work with them exclusively. She was too valuable a commodity for that. So, MGM also put her under the watchful tutelage of another producer well-known for his musical mojo: Joe Pasternak. 

The Movie: Presenting Lily Mars (1942)
The Songwriters: Walter Jurmann (music) and Paul Francis Webster (lyrics)
The Players: Judy Garland, Van Heflin, Fay Bainter, Spring Byington, directed by Norman Taurog

The Story: Had Judy's fateful short with Deanna Durbin turned out differently only six years previous, she might have met Joe Pasternak earlier. For most of the 1930s, Pasternak was a top producer at Universal Studios, with major Marlene Dietrich titles such as Destry Rides Again to his credit. However, where Pasternak really made his name was in his big "get" for Universal; he was the man responsible for bringing Durbin to the studio after MGM rejected her. Under his production and guidance, Deanna Durbin became one of the biggest singing stars of the 1930s.

However, the fact remained that Universal was small potatoes next to MGM, so when Pasternak became a major musical producer it was only logical that MGM should hire him. Presenting Lily Mars was his second film for the studio. It was originally bought as a dramatic script for Lana Turner, but Pasternak convinced the studio to recycle some songs and turn it into a Judy Garland musical. Unsurprisingly, it was another hit, grossing over $3.5 million at the box office. What is surprising is that Pasternak and Garland only worked together one more time. After the near-miss six years before, it would take another six years for Judy to work with the high-spirited Hungarian again. And much would change for Judy in that six year period.

Thursday
Apr282016

TCM Classic Film Festival Starts Today!

Anne Marie here, reporting from sunny Los Angeles!

The 6th Annual TCM Classic Film Fest starts today in Hollywood, kicking off 4 days of fan-friendly classic film viewing. Though Turner Classic Movies's festival is only six years old, the TV channel works to make each year bigger and broader than the year before it. This year, TCM will honor legendary director Francis Ford Coppola with a handprint ceremony, and call on the likes of Angela Lansbury, Faye Dunaway, Rita Moreno, and Anna Karina to introduce its decades-and-countries-spanning festival lineup. If you thought "Classic Movies" meant films shot in LA from 1930-1950, TCM has some mind-altering revelations for you!

This year's theme is Moving Pictures; movies that not only move us to tears (It's A Wonderful Life and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but also laughter (Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid), trepidation (Band of Outsiders), spiritualism (The Passion of Joan of Arc), and introspection (Network, M*A*S*H). Throughout the festival, TCM continues to challenge the defintion of "classic," expanding the cinema canon and bringing film experiences from across history and nations. I'll be on the ground to report on the best of these, with plenty of surprises on the way.

The TCM Film Festival comes on the heels of two major announcements from the network: the launch of the fan subscription service TCM Backlot, and the TCM/Criterion streaming collaboration to be launched in fall, Filmstruck. TCMFF, already a six-years-strong example of TCM's ability to engage with fans, provides the network with a platform to celebrate these new opportunities. Time and promotion will tell how propular these new ventures will be. In the meantime, we have a film festival to attend!

 

Would you use a classic movie subscription service like TCM & Criterion's FilmStruck?
Sign me up! Netflix is missing too many titles.
Nah, I can always watch them somewhere else.
I'm indifferent. What else is on?
Do Riddles

 

 

 

Tuesday
Apr122016

Happy 100th: Why Doesn't Movita Have a Biopic? 

Today is the Centennial of the Mexican American actress Movita, who was born as Maria Luisa Castaneda but renamed Movita by MGM because the name sounded Polynesian to them. Well maybe it's her centennial. She claims the studio fudged with her age to make her older for legal reasons. She's surely best remembered today as "Tehani" one of two young island beauties (the other being "Maimiti" played by Mamo Clark) that got entangled in all that Mutinous Best Picture business on the Bounty back in 1935 (if you know what I mean).

Movita went on to international fame and married two famous masculine hunks, first the boxer Jack Doyle and then superstar Marlon Brando (quite atypically she was an "older woman" marrying a young superstar) so we're guessing she had a type...

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Mar312016

Burning Question: What current star would have benefitted most from the Studio System?

This post is brought to you by agonizing advertisements for The Huntsman: Winter's War. Which looks dreadful.

Sometimes when I look at Charlize Theron, it hurts. She has such old school "MOTION! PICTURE! SPECTACULAR!" scale to her persona, this inarguable magnificence / screen beauty. The catch: she's almost never in movies that do anything for her when she's doing so much for them.

She might be my #1 choice for current star whose career is alright but would have been spectacular under the Studio System when star magnetism was carefully catered to, packaged, and regularly served up rather than an "extra" your random movie can sometimes benefit from.

Who is yours?

Saturday
Mar262016

A Star is Risen!

For Easter weekend, here's Kyle Stevens author of Mike Nichols: Sex, Language and the Reinvention of Psychological Realism". You can read more about our team members here.


Stars are our larger-than-life figures. We worship them. We tell stories about them and fancy ourselves made in their images. In fact, bona fide movie star celebrity dates all the way back to 1909, when Carl Laemmle (who would later co-found Universal Studios) placed false notices of the tragic death of “the Biograph girl” in a street car accident. When it was revealed that she was alive and well, the nation rejoiced and everyone cesuddenly knew the name of Florence Lawrence. In this way, Hollywood stardom has always had not just a religious flavor but a Christian Messianic one at that.

Over the next century, countless stars have profited from the love of the resurrection narrative. Remember the elation when Barbra Streisand announced to the world that Lauren Bacall wasn’t in the tomb but gorgeous and talented and right there on-screen? And it was just two years ago that Matthew’s McConaissance brought him Oscar glory.  

What are your favorite movie star resurrection stories?

Wednesday
Jan272016

Judy by the Numbers: "Dear Mr. Gable"

Anne Marie is charting Judy Garland's career through musical numbers...

In 1936, 14 year old Judy was selected to perform at Clark Gable's birthday party. Gable, the biggest MGM star at that time, was to have an all out bash. For Judy's performance, Roger Edens wrote an intro lyric to an old MGM property, "You Made Me Love You," which directed the 1917 song specifically at Gable. At the party, Judy jumped out of a cake and sang the star his song, charming not only the birthday boy, but also his boss, Louis B. Mayer.

The Movie: Broadway Melody of 1938 (MGM, 1937)
The Songwriter: James V. Monaco (music), Joseph McCarthy (lyrics), Roger Edens (new title & intro)
The Players: Eleanor Powell, Robert Taylor, Judy Garland, Clark Gable's photo, directed by Roy del Ruth

 

The Story: The result of her hit at the birthday party was that Judy Garland was cast singing her new song in  Broadway Melody of 1938. The Broadway Melody series was designed for MGM to try out up-and-coming talent; Buddy Ebsen made his debut there, and it helped make Eleanor Powell a star. Judy was no exception. All of the reviews raved about her: NYT called out her "amazing precocity" while The Hollywood Reporter asked why she'd been kept under wraps so long. "Dear Mr. Gable" would become her first single, too. Judy Garland was an overnight hit, but it would take her 2 more years and 5 more movies to become a star.