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Entries in RIP (53)

Saturday
Feb012014

Maximillian Schell (1930-2014)

The most famous Austrian born actor prior to Schwarzenegger, and Oscar's favorite Austrian/Swiss actor ever, died overnight at 83. Maximilian Schell film debut came with the German anti-war film  Kinder, Mütter und ein General (Children, Mother, and the General) but it wasn't long before Hollywood came calling. 

He won a role supposedly through a misunderstanding/accident in the Brando/Clift vehicle Young Lions (1958). Global fame was just a few years away when he co-headlined the mega-star cast of the seminal Oscar Bait giant Judgement at Nuremberg (about Nazi war crime trials) with Hollywood legend Spencer Tracy and they were both were nominated for Best Actor - it's a oft-repeated fallacy of modern Oscar campaigning that people say that splits your vote and prevents you from winning; see also Amadeus. Schell also won the Golden Globe for that film. (As Rhett from Dial M for Movies pointed out on Twitter this morning, his death makes William Shatner (!!!) the sole surviving credited cast member from the courtroom classic)

Schell was quite gracious in his Oscar win and his acceptance speech is well worth watching. I'd argue he was fully aware of why he won ("honoring the movie"*) and I love that he doesn't do just the usual cheek kiss but actually a little bow/handkissing...as diva Joan Crawford warrants. 

Schell had a fine and long run as an actor with two more nominations following his win for The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) and Julia (1977 -- and yet another example of a double nomination in the same category. His co-star Jason Robards won that time). He won his second Golden Globe as recently as 1994 for a TV miniseries and a Lifetime Achievement Bambi in Germany just 5 years ago, which coincidentally was the same ceremony wherein Christoph Waltz, a clear modern equivalent of Austrian/Oscar love, won for Inglourious Basterds.

Schell's talents were many, though, and also behind the camera. He turned to filmmaking within a decade of winning Best Actor. His first two feature films First Love (1970) and The Pedestrian (1973) were both nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category for Switzerland and West Germany respectively. And then his first documentary Marlene (1984) which was about his legendary Nuremberg co-star, was also nominated in its category. That's a lot of awards love and a long and full career worth remembering. 

*Judgement at Nuremberg couldn't really win much elsewhere. 1961 was the year of one of Oscar's true phenomenons. West Side Story made nearly a clean sweep of its nominations winning 10 of its 11 Oscar nominations! Nuremberg only bested it in the Adapted Screenplay category where musicals have historically had a very hard time winning. Only two have ever managed: Going My Way (1944) and Gigi (1958). 

Thursday
Jan022014

Goodbye Juanita & Martha

It feels like Oscar's upcoming "In Memorium" segment this year is going to be extra exhaustingly sad. One of the tiny reasons among many larger ones that I wish they hadn't moved the Honorary Oscar to another event is that the eldest artists of the cinema shouldn't only be viewed through the prism of final goodbyes, you know? This past week we lost two more actresses, both of whom might feel right at home when they hear heavenly choirs.

Juanita Moore and Lana Turner and their screen daughters in "Imitation of Life"

When I think of Juanita Moore (1922-2014) and her classic Oscar-nominated performance in the Douglas Sirk melodrama Imitation of Life (1959), I nearly always think of a scene she isn't even in! My mind always rushes to her character's own funeral. 

Is there a sung funereal performance more moving than Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World"?


Trouble of the World_Mahalia Jackson by mael100

It's enough to make you weep as hard as Lora (Lana Turner) when she loses her dear friend Annie (Juanita Moore). I was such a wet-faced mess the first time I saw this movie. See, here's the thing. I think of the funeral first because Juanita's performance and plight as a mother continually rejected by her lighter-skinned daughter (who wants to pass as white) is so moving that it earns this unforgettable Mahalia Jackson send-off.

The Hungarian born operetta superstar Martha Eggerth (1912-2013) passed away just after Christmas at 101 years of age... she kept performing even into her late nineties! Though she was a much bigger star in European cinemas of the 30s, two Judy Garland pictures in the 40s made a big (brief) deal of her: For Me and My Gal (1942) is fun and quite famous, largely for being Gene Kelly's debut, but I'd argue that the more obscure Presenting Lily Mars (1943) is even better. I thought about just posting a still here but no photo will do her justice, despite her loveliness, since it was all about the voice. Here's a clip of her singing Voices of Spring. You can read a lot more about her here.

 

Monday
Dec162013

Joan Fontaine (1917-2013)

First Peter O'Toole, and now Joan Fontaine (née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland)? It's going to be a rough week. Hollywood lost another of its living giants this weekend when Ms Fontaine passed away of natural causes at 96 years of age. The two-time Hitchcock heroine, bizarrely the only actor to ever win an Oscar in one of his films, is survived by her daughter Debbie and her older estranged sister Olivia. Though Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are the most successful sister movie stars of all time (both A listers, Oscar winners, and stars of at least one immortal classic) they were famously competitive, never got on well, and haven't spoken since 1975!

The actress would undoubtedly shoot us one of those delicious cocked eyebrow looks to hear her sister mentioned so prominently in all of her obituaries but Old Hollywood Mythology is too enticing to ignore. 

Though her career was very successful in the 40s, the 50s weren't as kind and like many Oscar winning actresses of her time she went Grande Dame Guignol in the 60s (American Horror Story didn't invent the stunt casting tradition of aging Best Actress winners in horror flicks); her last film was the Hammer Horror The Witches (1966). Have any of you seen it?

Five Must-Sees For Your Queue: The Women (1939), Rebecca (1940, Best Actress nomination, Best Picture winner), Suspicion (1941 Best Actress Oscar), The Constant Nymph (1943, Best Actress nomination) and Letters from an Unknown Woman (1948)

Sunday
Dec152013

Remembering Peter O'Toole

Screen legend Peter O’Toole died today at age 81. The eight-time Oscar nominee retired from acting last year after a 50-year-long career that included iconic roles in The Lion in Winter, Lawrence of Arabia, and My Favorite Year. His filmography ran the gamut of genre, from slapstick comedy (How to Steal a Million) to period drama (Beckett) to animation (Ratatouille) to undefinably weird (The Ruling Class). Only recently, O’Toole made the Film Experience Team Top 10 Greatest Losers list twice for his roles. His performances were often surprising, always brave, and never boring,

 

Peter O’Toole means a great deal to me. The first time I encountered him was on a miserable day when I was sick at home. I happened to flip to The Lion in Winter, and was immediately shocked from my stupor by the crackling energy and vicious repartee he swapped with Katharine Hepburn. Watching them felt like touching a live wire. Years later, when I told my mother that I didn’t like epics, she sat me down for 3 ½ hours of The Lawrence Of Arabia. I was made into a believer, and I have loved him ever since.

Peter O’Toole played insanity better than any other actor, and considering the old adage that it takes a madman to play one, maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. He was the Irishman who turned down a knighthood. He was the actor who tried to refuse an honorary Oscar on the basis that "I am still in the game and might win the bugger outright." He was a handsome star with striking blue eyes that carried a hint of madness in them. He was a poet, and according to drinking buddy Richard Harris he could be a bit of a bastard too. All in all, he was a marvel of a man.

Goodbye, Mr. O’Toole. To borrow a line from The Lion in Winter: we would have been great fools not to love you.

(Post your favorite performances and memories in the comments below.)

 

Wednesday
Dec112013

Goodbye, Eleanor Parker

Anne Marie here with some sad news. Hollywood beauty Eleanor Parker passed away early this week at age 91. Though Parker is best known for her iconic turn as the Countess in The Sound Of Music, she actually had a long and diverse career that included war films, B movies, swashbucklers, film noir, and three Best Actress nominations.

Eleanor Parker started as a bit player at Warner Brothers in the 1940s. At first, she bumped around in B movies and film noir, such as Between Two Worlds. But from the start she was willing to take risks. In 1946, she starred in a remake of the infamous Bette Davis vehicle Of Human Bondage opposite Paul Henreid. Both the film and her performance continue to garner mixed reviews, but no one could accuse her of taking the easy road.

The 1950s saw Eleanor Parker's star rise rapidly. In 1952, she starred in the large Technicolor swashbuckler Scaramouche opposite Stewart Granger (my personal favorite). Her three Oscar nominations were from this period: first Caged in 1951, then Detective Story in 1952, and finally Interrupted Melody in 1956. In addition to these, she also played Frank Sinatra's crippled wife in The Man With The Golden Arm. From the 1960s onward, Parker took more supporting roles in films such as The Sound Of Music and An American Dream. She retired in 1991.

Of all of Eleanor Parker's diverse performances, the stand out is Caged. Now a cult classic, Caged tells the story of a young lady (Parker) whose experiences in a woman's prison quickly turn her from naive innocent to cynical con. It could easily be lumped in with other Prison Women movies, but the fact is that for its time Caged was a shocking movie. Topics usually considered verboten by the Hays Code censorship--pregnancy, women's crime, homosexuality, and corrupt law enforcement--are all taboos attacked by this film. At the center of this whirlwind stands Eleanor Parker, giving one hell of a heartbreaking performance.

Parker in Caged

Eleanor Parker was an under-appreciated talent. However, in those films she where she left her mark she remains unforgettable. After all, how would Maria react without the Countess's sad and sly revelation? Where would Scaramouche get the will to fight without his fiery redhead? Finally, what actress could have raised a prison noir from genre pulp to Oscar-worthy film? Eleanor Parker was more than a pretty face, she was a pretty great actress. She will be missed.