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Entries in Oscars (50s) (54)

Monday
Sep082014

Robert Wise Centenary: I Want to Live! (1958)

We're celebrating the centennial of director Robert Wise this week. Previously: Tim on "Curse of the Cat People" (1944) and Nathaniel on "Somebody Up There...". Now, David on Susan Hayward's Oscar vehicle, with an exclamation point!
 


Though the internet seems to increasingly denigrate the importance of punctuation, once upon a time it was vital to our sense of understanding language. Would I Want To Live! have any of the same feverish impact without that exclamation mark at the end of its title? Perhaps. But it signifies the bold stance of this cry for social justice in a millisecond. I mean, just look at this poster! Only Britain's notorious newspaper The Daily Mail has taglines that long these days.

That boldness is a quality more of the film's frenzied marketing than of the film itself; director Robert Wise, whose centennial we're marking this week, excised the closing rhetoric that producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz was insisting upon, sure that if an audience wasn't convinced of the film's social statement by then, a few platitudes wouldn't make a difference. As our series of pieces has and will demonstrate, Wise was an extremely adaptable filmmaker who transcended genre, but he often pursued work that aligned with his anti-establishment politics.

Never more so than here [More...]

 

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Monday
Sep082014

Robert Wise Centenary: Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)

For Robert Wise's centennial, we're looking back on a random selection of his films beyond the familiar mega-hits (The Sound of Music & West Side Story) which we are far more prone to talk about. Here's Nathaniel on the Paul Newman boxing drama...

The poster art for Robert Wise's 1956 biopic on Rocky Graziano reminds us that the more things change the more they stay the same. We're still getting taglines like "A girl can lift a fella to the skies!" (see: Theory of Everything) but Pier Angeli's role as Rocky's wife Norma in the Paul Newman boxing pic is actually fairly minor. She straightens him out primarily by giving him something consistent to hold on to in a life that's been previously totally adrift in noncommittal boxing matches for money and petty crimes. Not that his crimes were always petty, mind you, but we'll get to that in a minute. 

Up until Somebody Up There Likes Me Paul Newman had been doing minor TV roles and successful work on the stage. But his film debut in the biblical epic The Silver Chalice (1954) was an embarrassment. He won poor reviews and later stated...

 The moment I walked into that studio I had a feeling of personal disaster..."

Newman's Breakthrough after the jump...

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Tuesday
Aug122014

Elizabeth Taylor in "Suddenly Last Summer". Oh how that star burned.

This is an episode of Hit Me With Your Best Shot

"Suddenly... last summer" is spoken so often in Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Joseph L Mankiewicz & Gore Vidal's adaptation of Tennessee Williams play, that it starts to take on a kind of trancy grandeur. The actresses retreat inward, psychologically, in the thrall of their own theatricality, the overheated jungles of art direction around them, and surely their good fortune to be playing Tennessee Williams characters.

my favorite scene in the film

To a minor degree the repetition of "suddenly...last summer" is not unlike the effect of Rita whispering "Mulholland Drive" like an incantation in Mulholland Dr. The comparison seems apt since both films are batshit crazy sexually charged nightmares in which a beautiful brunette has selective amnesia issues.  But let's not drift away to 2001. We stay in 1959. And two beautiful brunettes is exactly what I want to talk about since Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor loom large in my own movie fantasies, as two of my all time favorite actors. 

Suddenly Last Summer might seem dated in some respects as psychological films often do as science progresses but Elizabeth Taylor's star power hasn't aged a day. She's impossible to look away from and aces the tricky role of Catherine Holly, a woman who is fully sane but goes a little mad sometimes... and not just from the PTSD she's clearly suffering. Taylor is a smart enough actress to go for gray shadings in both Catherine's sexuality and psychology even when the gorgeous lighting by the Oscar-winning cinematographer Jack Hildyard (The Bridge on the River Kwai) is so high contrast and her monologues go so extremely black (the absence of memory) or white (the blazing white beach where her trauma began).

more after the jump

best shot

The beach was very white. Oh how the sun burned. It was like the eye of God watching us, burning, burning. There was no air that day. The sun had burned up all the air. Outside it was like inside a furnace.

And then they came...

This image seizes me. Elizabeth in the sun; Monty eclipsed. 

Which you might say is true of the movie. Both Actresses were Oscar nominated but Monty is constantly overshadowed. I'd argue that his is this adaptation's most difficult role because there's so much less to work with that it's easy to disappear as the surgeon ricochet's between two madwomen. He's best in this, his first scene with Liz; they loved each other dearly offscreen and their chemistry always blazed. It's a long duet in which he coaxes her towards memory and they flirt and spar not a little. The structure of the scene will be somewhat mirrored in the film's climax, Catherine's memory returned.

By contrast Monty practically disappears in his scenes with Katharine Hepburn, where he goes frustratingly blank even when the role suggests so much more than he's giving, particularly in Violet's insistent refrain that he is like Sebastian, her dead (gay) son, in this way or, undoubtedly, that. 

runner up images after the jump if you're a completist or so inclined to consider more options...

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Wednesday
Jul092014

A Year With Kate: Pat and Mike (1952)

Episode 28 of 52: In which Katharine Hepburn proves hitting like a girl is a good thing.

Guess what! My dad met Katharine Hepburn. Decades before I was born, unfortunately, which seems like poor parenting on his part. Anyway, my dad was a professional tennis player in the early 1970s. Since he looked cute in shorts and was charming company (two traits I inherited from him along with his humility), he’d get invited to parties before tournaments in LA and Las Vegas. At one such party, he met Kate the Great. Dad’s words:

“I recall her as being very petite, wonderful husky voice, would look at you directly when speaking… Like so many actors, actresses etc., incredible charisma… Incredible spunk but not an outstanding athlete... By the then Hollywood standards, she may well have been great.”

Please keep in mind that this meeting was twenty years after Pat and Mike, so it’s possible my dad’s opinion may have been different if he’d seen her play in her prime. And have no doubts, Katharine Hepburn may have been 45 when she picked up a tennis racket and a golf club for Pat and Mike, but she was definitely still in her physical prime. Pat and Mike, Kate and Spencer Tracy's seventh film together, is a showcase for KHep’s mad sports skills.

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Wednesday
Jul022014

A Year with Kate: The African Queen (1951)

Episode 27 of 52: In which Kate goes to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston, and almost loses her mind. 

When Katharine Hepburn decides to make a change in her career, she does not screw around. Kate’s first film of the 1950s (after a year off doing Shakespeare) was directed by John Huston, was shot in Technicolor by Jack Cardiff on location in Africa, and costarred Humphrey Bogart. When it opened in 1951, The African Queen was a hit, and eventually scored four Academy Award nominations (only Bogie won).

The story of making The African Queen is as incredible as the film itself. Everyone involved almost died at least once. Kate wrote a book on it (add author to her list of accomplishments), and it’s a fantastic read. Relevant to our interests is the fact that Kate got dysentery and dropped 20 pounds, making her already willowy frame even skinnier, a fact that would not be readily guessed from the promotional art:

"One of these things is not like the other..."

Bogie’s got biceps! Kate’s got curves! What the hell? This has got to be my favorite example of misleading poster art, and not just because Kate looks hilariously like Rita Hayworth. This poster displays the conflicting image shift that happened for Kate in the early 1950s. The African Queen is the film that launched the spinster phase of Kate’s career. But though romantic glamor was a thing of the past image-wise, romance--specifically sex--would become even more important. 

One sentence plot summary: A theologian thrillseeker and a half-cocked Canadian captain run a rustbucket boat down a river in the Congo to bomb the German navy in WWI. Sex and danger after the jump.

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Monday
May052014

Monday Monologue: Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri

Hollywood's found religion again so here's Andrew on The Ten Commandments

Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956) is the epic by which all biblical epics should be judged. There's something for everyone: romance, drama, melodrama, religious feeling, glorious Edith Head costumes and a wide scope.  And, yet, despite so much to choose from and no matter the scene, I always find my eyes settling on Anne Baxter, my pick for MVP and the Best Supporting Actress of 1956 (she wasn't nominated). Baxter’s husky tones and lilting line-readings are so memorable that it's easy to reconfigure the film and the dialogue as a series of actressy monologues...

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Friday
Apr112014

TCM Film Festival: OKLAHOMA! is better than OK

“So it’s a film festival, but for old films? Why?”

When I told folks how excited I was to finally go to the 5th annual TCM Film Festival this year in Hollywood, I got this question a few times. This isn’t just about the old adage “see a film on the big screen, like it was meant to be seen.” This is about celebrating the old and new: old films for new audiences, new restorations for old classics, old audiences sharing the new experience, and at the center of it all, Turner Classic Movies, which turns 20 this year, thereby becoming something of an old classic itself.

Last night, TCM rolled out the red carpet and opened TCMFF with a brand new restoration of OKLAHOMA!(1955) starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. Diana and I were able to nab (literally) front row seats to the screening at the TCL Chinese Theater, and this may count as the first I’ve been glad to sit front and center. The reason for the hooplah surrounding OKLAHOMA! has to do with its history: When Twentieth Century Fox brought the Rogers & Hammerstein musical to the screen in 1955, they shot it twice: once in Todd AO 65mm widescreen, and once in a lesser 35mm widescreen. This is a fact that has mostly been relegated to behind-the-scenes trivia, and the difference between the two versions has been negligible in home theater viewings. I’ve seen one or the other a few times on TV (including TCM) over the years, so I thought I knew what to expect. And then the film started, the camera pushed through the corn as high as an elephant’s eye, and I realized how very important it is that we save moments like this.

Photo Credit: Mark Hill

Twentieth Century Fox provided a beautiful 4K restoration of the 65mm version, complete with a restored 6 track stereo score, to play on the Chinese Theater’s huge IMAX screen.  Speaking as someone who usually isn’t usually an OKLAHOMA!-lover, I fell in love. When Shirley Jones said Gordon MacRae was her favorite singer, surely she didn't imagine him on such a grand scale. The sheer power of it won me over. Personally, I'm usually a South Pacific kind of gal, but I've been whistling since I left the theater and I would feel like a bad cliche if not for the fact that my fellow Metro passengers nearly broke out into "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin" with me. If you can get cranky Angelenos on a rundown train to sing at 1AM, then you've clearly made an impression.

Film restoration is a tricky balance between preserving the original filmgoing experience while also using to best advantage modern digital tools. Turner Classic Movies has arguably been one of the most important commercial advocates for restoration, providing studios with large audiences via the small screen for 20 years. How grateful we can be to TCM that for a weekend in Hollywood they’re bringing back the oldschool via new methods.

Anne Marie is our resident classic movie freak. Follow her on Twitter and read her weekly series "A Year With Kate"

Thursday
Feb202014

10 Days Til Oscar. Sigh and Think of Paul Newman. 

Today's magic number is 10. I know you were hoping for a look back ten years to that long awaited 2003 Supporting Actress Smackdown but the lists of reasons that has been delayed multiple times are too boring and painful to share. I promise it's coming! (I'll try for the Saturday morning before the Oscars as a deep breath before the plunge.) Funny but true: I was working on it earlier today and thought "oh, I know. I'll post it on the 10th anniversary of that Oscar ceremony" But guess what date that turns out to be? February 29th. A leap year haha and the date doesn't exist this year. 

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward in 1958 after the Oscars

I haven't managed to find a fun trivia note involving the number 10 that relates to this year's Oscars so please enjoy this photo of Paul Newman mocking his Oscar losses with a makeshift trophy (note that it says "Noscar" on it) alongside his wife's actual Oscar for Three Faces of Eve (1957). Paul, a perfect 10, was also nominated 10 times over the course of his career (once for Best Picture, 9 times for acting), finally winning the trophy on his 8th nomination which was coincidentally enough, the year after he had won the first of two Honorary acknowledgements (one a Jean Hersholt, the other a traditional Honorary Oscar). Before The Color of Money (1986) he had been locked up in a longstanding three way tie for "most nominated losing actor" with Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton; they all had 7 back then though Burton died a couple of years before Paul Newman finally won gold. Bette Davis is the only other actor with exactly 10 career nominations (unless you count that write-in situation) but we've already started discussing her.

For which of his pre-Oscar roles would you have given Newman the statue? Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Rachel, Rachel (1968), Absence of Malice (1981) or The Verdict (1982)? 

If you need more Paul (and who doesn't) some more photos of Paul at the Oscars are after the jump...

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