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Entries in Old Hollywood (125)

Friday
Jul012016

Posterized: Happy Olivia de Havilland Centennial !

Photo shot last week in Paris, via People magazineHappy 100th birthday Olivia de Havilland! She's our oldest living Oscar winner  and oldest living bonafide movie star (Kirk Douglas, also still with us, is five months younger) and her list of classics is long. She may not have gotten along with her movie star sister Joan Fontaine -- their contentious relationship stretches back to childhood (it didn't start when they were Oscar-nominated against each other and Joan won) wherein she supposedly made a will at nine years old stating:

I bequeath all my beauty to my younger sister Joan, since she has none"

 ...but that infamous feud aside she was beloved by many. The list includes legends like Erroll Flynn (8 pictures together) and Bette Davis (several pictures and a friend) and actors everywhere owe her for the freedom she wrangled in the 'de Havilland decision' in the 1940s which Tim discussed in his write-up of The Heiress. I hope she feels the love in France today where she lives. She recently told Vanity Fair that she plans to live to be 110.

We still have two more pieces coming up on individual performances (why cut the bday festivities short?) but let's look at the whole filmography in poster form after the jumpHow many have you seen? 

Click to read more ...

Friday
Jun242016

Olivia @ 100: The Heiress

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Tim...

Olivia de Havilland is more than a living link to the Golden Age of Hollywood, more than a gorgeous movie star, more than a two-time Oscar winner. She's one of the most significant figures in the history of the American film industry: the woman who broke the back of the studio contract system when she successfully sued Warner Bros. for career independence in 1943. As Hollywood's first independent movie star since the silent era, de Havilland was suddenly in a position to make all of her own creative decisions, leading to a string of challenging dramatic roles that didn't simply trade on her good looks and holy innocent persona.

Both of de Havilland's Oscar wins came about thanks to this period of chasing her own projects, and the second of these performances, in 1949's The Heiress, is a particularly fine example of the movie star as Serious Actress. Based on a play adapted from a Henry James novel, The Heiress tells a straightforward enough melodrama: in 1840s New York, a woman with an annual income of $10,000 from her mother's will and another $30,000 to come when her father passes. A painfully shy, relatively homely women crawling up in years, she falls for the first man who pays her any attention, and he of course turns out to be a craven gold-digger. When her father threatens her with disinheritance the cad leaves, giving her plenty of years to grow good and bitter.

What enlivens this material is, in large part, the exemplary casting of the four main characters: de Havilland as the naïve heiress, Ralph Richardson as her father, Montgomery Clift as her shiftless lover, and Miriam Hopkins as her spinster aunt, unhelpfully projecting her own romantic visions onto the young lady. That's a lot of acting power, and having such great scene partners helped to raise de Havilland's own game, allowing her to have more complicated, and much darker, reactions that most of what she'd been able to achieve in the years prior to that.

She's great at playing a wallflower, in the second film in two years (following The Snake Pit) where she de-glammed herself for Art and Oscars. De Havilland can only look so ugly, even with the hair and make-up department raising her hairline almost to the top of her head, but the actress sells herself as a plain, awkward frump by constantly shrinking herself inwards, hunching down, delivering all of her lines a little bit too quietly and with nervous pauses. But she's even better in the last third of the movie, when she's playing the cold fury of a scorned romantic: there's a deep revulsion burned into her eyes and voice, giving the material its necessarily outraged finale. Without her fury, The Heiress is a handsome soap opera; with her, it becomes a dark tragedy.

For a performer who'll always forever be linked with the fairytale saint Melanie from Gone with the Wind, the haggard look on de Havilland's face and the raw pain in her voice are uniquely shocking and potent. It's as self-effacing as any star turn in the 1940s, and it's an achievement that could only come about in the brave new era of self-directed acting careers that de Havilland herself helped to create.

Previously: The Dark Mirror (1946), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and It's Love I'm After (1937)

Thursday
Jun162016

Olivia @ 100: The Adventures of Robin Hood

We're counting down to Olivia de Havilland's historic 100th birthday (July 1st!). Team Experience will be looking at highlights and curiosities from her career. Here's Dancin Dan...

Has Olivia de Havilland ever looked more beautiful than in 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood? Surely her apple-cheeked, wide-eyed beauty was never set off better than in the fabulous succession of head scarves she wore as Maid Marian

And the costumes themselves are just gorgeous, too. Why modern-day Renaissance Faires aren't full to bursting with ladies busting out Olivia-as-Marian cosplay, I'll never know. Except for the fact that maybe Milo Anderson's costumes are too uniquely fabulous to ever be copied well. (Sadly, there were no Oscars for costumes until the late 1940s else he might have won for this)

More beauty after the jump...

Click to read more ...

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 ...