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 Gemini, Cinephile, Actressexual. Also loves cats. All material herein is written and copyrighted by him, unless otherwise noted. twitter | facebook | pinterest | tumblr | instagram | letterboxd | deviantart 


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Entries in Old Hollywood (113)


Beauty Break: It's World Egg Day !

Today is World Egg Day. For real. The Film Experience's official preference order:

  • Burnt alien eggs prepared by Lt. Ellen Ripley
  • Baby Munchkin birthing eggs in the merry old land of Oz
  • Jurassic Park eggs when Laura Dern stares at them

Nathaniel's official preference order: Scrambled, poached, over easy, fried, boiled but whichever way you prepare them, they're wholly delicious. To celebrate this important occassion, here are some movie star photos...

Click to read more ...


Broken Lance's "Half Breed"

Robert Wagner keeps invading our Smackdown celebrations. In our 1952 revisit he appeared briefly as a shell shocked soldier for Susan Hayward to comfort with her crooning in With a Song in My Heart. He was almost impossible to look at from the pretty. And here he is again, distracting another Smackdown with his smolder in the western Broken Lance.

Perhaps we'd better go inside."

[Translation]: Jean Peters, you're about to tear your clothes off under the moonlight and devour me but I will chivalrously save your reputation... now that I've already won you with my lips. 

The rising 24 year-old actor was rumored to be carrying on behind the scenes with the then 47 year-old Barbara Stanwyck (who happens to co-star in Executive Suite, another of this month's Smackdown movies) but his most enduring romance was yet to begin. How many times do you think a then 16 year-old Natalie Wood, just one year away from her key transition film from child star to teen icon (Rebel Without a Cause) demanded to watch Broken Lance? Do you think her friends & handlers were all "enough with the Broken Lance, Nat!" According to Natalie herself, by 1954 her love would have already been six years strong though the actors had yet to meet.

"I was 10 and he was 18 when I first saw him walking down a hall at 20th Century Fox," she recalls. "I turned to my mother and said, 'I'm going to marry him.' "

She did.

Natalie married RJ (for the first time) in December 1957. She was just 19.

In Broken Lance, the then 24 year old actor (of German and Norwegian descent) plays our protagonist, the "half breed" son of Native American princess "Señora Devereaux" (played by Mexican actress Katy Jurado) and an Irish cattle rancher (played by Spencer Tracy of Irish descent) who is at odds with his half-brothers. R.J. is heavily bronzed for the role. For all the typical Old Hollywood clumsiness with racial identity and casting -- something that hasn't changed much in the subsequent 61 years (note: Rooney Mara as "Tiger Lily" in the forthcoming Pan) --  Broken Lance actually really sells the racial identity angst with something like humane progressive verve. Jean Peters, playing RJ's love interest Barbara, jokes that her man is more upset about being half Irish than half Indian in a clumsy date scene which results in both of them doing those cheery Old Holllywood fake chuckles as we dissolve out. Elsewhere, though, there's rich drama. Tracy's three sons from an earlier marriage, who serve as the plot's antagonists aren't always comfortable with their bi-racial home but neither are they painted as explicitly racist. Their "evil," if you will, arrives from a more complex mix of agendas and grudges against their father and you can see that the eldest actually respects his stepmom and youngest brother, even as he speaks out against them. In the films most sympathetically acted moment of strife, Tracy squares off with the Governor (E.G. Marshall), over their children's unexpected romance (pictured up top). The governor's discomfort with his daughter falling for his closest friend's bi-racial son-- a young man he otherwise likes quite a lot and has seen grow up, mind you -- clearly scars both men, tearing their decades long friendship apart. Prejudices hurt everyone, not just the target of the prejudice.

All in all Broken Lance is an engaging western with more ambitions than gunfights for a change of pace. And this is why we should always love the Oscars, people. Let others reflexively gripe about it and miss out. Awards history directs us to movies we might otherwise never see from before our time. And Oscar history, for all its imperfections and blindspots, can illuminate pop culture throughlines, introduce you to rich now underappreciated talents, and provide wonderful anecdotal bits and bobs from mainstream history, cinematic and otherwise.

I love doing the Smackdowns and I hope you do, too. If you wanted to vote on this round, I need your votes by this evening at the absolute latest. The 1954 Supporting Actress Smackdown arrives Sunday morning at 10:00 AM.


Lukewarm Off Presses: James Dean, Christopher Guest, Bryan Cranston

Three stories we're late mentioning but so what? Always eager to hear your thoughts...

Still no trailer but there's now a poster for Trumbo, the Hollywood blacklist drama starring Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren (as gossip icon Hedda Hopper). Cranston could be looking at the Triple Crown if he's Best Actor nominated since he already has the Tony and the Emmy. Will Oscar go wild for this? A word of caution for those predicting at home: People were going on and on about how much Hollywood loves movies about itself when Birdman won the Oscar last season but it's not entirely true. They sometimes nominate movies about movies but they don't tend to be the big winners. And Hollywood blacklist dramas are an infrequent subcategory unto themselves: Career (1959) won a few tech nominations but nothing in the top categories;  The Way We Were (1973) only won for music and didn't even make the Best Picture lineup which it absolutely deserved to be in; Guilty by Suspicion (1991) with Robert De Niro and The Bening and The Majestic (2001) starring Jim Carrey were both entirely ignored;  Good Night and Good Luck (2005) was popular with voters for nominations but lost each of its categories. 

It's been nine freaking years since Christopher Guest's last mockumentary For Your Consideration (2006) which was, unfortunately his weakest comedy. But he's finally making something new! The movie will be for Netflix and it's about what it sounds like it's about. No cast announced yet but I think we can safely guess at least a handful of players. I NEED to see Parker Posey and Catherine O'Hara in big furry costumes, okay? I need it like I need oxygen. 

<-- The "Life" of James Dean
Bring Your Own "Yes No Maybe So" in the comments. James Dean has had biopics before but this one comes from Anton Corbijn who I think we should allow made a very fine music biopic on Ian Curtis of Joy Division called Control (2007). This ground, however, is amply covered previously -- except for its macro focus on a photoshoot the moment before Dean was famous. The film, which looks depressingly actress free from the trailer, stars Robert Pattinson, Ben Kingsley, the ubiquitous Joel Edgerton and Dane DeHaan as James Dean.

Ready? Go...


Ingrid Bergman Centennial: The Film That Brought Her to Hollywood

August 29th marks the Centennial of Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982), one of the greatest of all movie stars with a career that stretched from the early 30s through the late 70s, encompassing multiple classics, multiple countries, and multiple Oscars. We'll be proceeding mostly in chronological order. Here's Abstew to kick things off with "Intermezzo" - Editor

Had it not been for a Swedish elevator operator working in the building that housed the New York offices of Selznick International Pictures, the world might never have discovered the young actress that would become the Hollywood legend Ingrid Bergman. It was 1936, and the soon-to-be star had just appeared in a Swedish film named Intermezzo about a famous concert violinist (played by Sweden's first stage star Gösta Ekman) that leaves his wife and family and has an affair with his much younger accompanist. There was clearly something special about the actress playing the love interest. The elevator operator wasn't the only one to see it, but he happened to have the ear of Hollywood producer David O. Selznick's talent scout Kay Brown (since she rode in his elevator everyday), telling her to seek out the film and to pay special attention to the girl in the picture. And in the early part of 1939, Brown flew to Stockholm and persuaded the young actress from Intermezzo to come to America and star in the Hollywood remake. Thus launched the international career of Ingrid Bergman and, as they say in the pictures, a star was born.

But her path to stardom in Hollywood wasn't without its hurdles...

Click to read more ...


200 Oldest Living Screen Stars of Note 

In December 2013 we published a list of the Oldest Living Screen Stars of Note. To this day it still gets frequent traffic. And the comments have been more robust than any other post in the blogs history... pages and pages of comments. But it was long past time to update, especially given that Olivia de Havilland, one of our all time favorite movie stars, has replaced Luise Rainer as the poster girl for Oscars-are-forever immortality, regardless of when Oscar winners and nominees actually move on from this mortal coil. Consider this list a celebration and not anything morbid.

Send out telepathic waves of appreciation to these talents. Rent one of their movies! The list begins with Lupita Tovar who turns 105 today and who has very cool connections to current cinema. [DISCLAIMER: Not all screen actors who are old enough for this list are here, but we were as thorough as we could be when it came to people with notable careers. Apologies if we missed someone you love!]

as of October 29th, 2015


105 years young

01 Lupita Tovar (7/27/1910)
Mexican actress Lupita Tovar appeared in the Spanish Dracula (1931) and though her last movie was in 1945 she continued to affect the movies via her gene pool: she mothered an Oscar nominee, Susan Kohner (Imitation of Life) and her grandsons, Oscar-nominated siblings Paul Weitz & Chris Weitz (About a Boy) are both current writer/director/producers. Paul's newest film, opening next month, is Grandma starring Lily Tomlin which we've already raved about. He was obviously meant to make it as he knew from cool Grandmas! 

102 years young

02 Connie Sawyer (11/17/12)
The very definition of "working actor". While not exactly famous her career began in the early 50s and she's STILL working often in small roles, which make good use of her longevity. Her last prominent feature was Pineapple Express (2008) and she appeared in recent episodes of New Girl and Ray Donovan as, respectively, "The Oldest Woman in the World" and "Old Lady Sullivan"

101 years young

03 Mary Carlisle (2/3/1914)
This B movie actress of the 1930s appeared in films like Baby Face Morgan and co-starred with Bing Crosby three times. She's also in the ensemble of the actressy ginger-fest Dance Girl Dance (1940) with Maureen O'Hara and Lucille Ball in the headlining roles.

04 Gisele Casadesus (6/14/14) This Parisian goddess started in the French national theater Comédie-Française and appeared there for decades. Her film career was fairly regular in the 1940s and mostly nonexistent again until the 1970s. But she recently has had a mini film revival co-starring in both My Afternoons with Margueritte and Sarah's Key

Olivia de Havilland, Maureen O'Hara and more after the jump...

Click to read more ...


Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Please welcome Kyle Stevens to The Film Experience team. You've previously heard him on the podcast, you can pre-order his book on Mike Nichols, and you should follow him on twitter as he is delightful. - Editor

Adapted from the hit radio play by Lucille Fletcher (who also wrote the screenplay), Sorry, Wrong Number follows Leona Stevenson, a headstrong young heiress who aims to one day be the sharpest battleaxe in the armory. She is also an invalid, relegated to her bed. We discover Leona telephoning inquiries into her husband’s whereabouts when the line fatefully clicks. She overhears a conversation between two men plotting a murder that night. For me, the whole movie hangs on the image of her listening to this narrative catalyst. It hovers over the entire film. Its power lets us never forget that this is Leona’s story, even when we get elaborate flashbacks from others. We recall it later when we see Leona disheveled and shining from tears and anxious sweat. Its tightness contrasts with the way the camera later wanders in and around people, tracing the distances between them that the telephone extinguishes. 

The magic here is all down to Barbara Stanwyck, giving one her best performances (and receiving the last of her four Best Actress nominations). We see Leona’s selfishness ebb as she intelligently listens to the heavies on the line. That is, Stanwyck doesn’t play an inner monologue. Her bright brown eyes and horseshoe furrows do not propose “Oh no!” and “What should I do now?”, as though telling us what Leona wants to say. Rather, Leona, in this moment, and for a change, is not about herself at all. She just listens. This remains a thing of beauty, reminding us how much intelligence just listening can demand. I don’t know of a better demonstration of the cliché that listening is one of those feats accomplished by only the best actors.

Written by a woman and showcasing a female character who fights for what she wants, Sorry, Wrong Number would probably be received as a feminist statement were it released today. But in the moment in which Leona hears unheard, I am reminded that it is not just the film’s gender politics that remain relevant. Over the complex lines of a switchboard (where, according to Hollywood, women controlled the flow of information), the epigraph warns:

In the tangled networks of a great city, the telephone is the unseen link between a million lives… It is the servant of our common needs—the confidante of our inmost secrets…life and happiness wait upon its ring… and horror…and loneliness… and death.”

The technology behind our phones may have changed, but in an age where we’d rather text than talk, we seem to still fear verbal connections. We worry about who’s listening, and we know, deep down, that the voice can give too much away.

Vintage 1948 - Best of the Year 
Supporting Actress Smackdown - The Schedule 


Snack Break 

My brain is not working today. I looked at this photo of Jimmy Stewart and Norma Shearer on tumblr and assumed Jimmy was checking his phone and Norma was trying to sneak a peek at what bitchy thing Lucille Fay LeSueur had just texted him from the set of Ice Follies of 1939 and th--- oh, uh, 1939. Right. D'Oh!

Time to step away from the computer perhaps? Snack break. See you late late tonight for the AMADEUS (1984) roundup and two barking mad composers.