Tag: Hollywood

August 23, 2010 / / Main Slate

Liza with a Z – 1972 – dir. Bob Fosse

It is hard to describe to those who weren’t there just how famous Liza Minnelli was in the 1970s. During that decade, along with Barbra Streisand who bested her, but not by much, she cornered the market on kooky chic, and a singing voice like a locomotive coming straight at you right out of the dark (Liza was a “belter” in the tradition of her mother, Judy Garland).  Get out of her way!  She was out to overthrow the curvaceous Monroes, MacLaines and Lollobrigidas of the 50s and 60s and create a place for the ugly duckling becoming the swan.

August 19, 2010 / / Main Slate

New York, New York – 1977 – dir. Martin Scorsese

The legendary Martin Scorcese likes to dabble in different genres: urban angst and alienation in Taxi Driver, sports in Raging Bull,  mobsters in The Departed, mystery/thrillers in Shutter Island. Here, with New York New York is his loving tribute to Hollywood musicals of the 30s and 40s.

Headlining his film are Robert De Niro as saxophone player, Jimmy Doyle and Liza Minnelli as big band singer, Francine Evans, both up-and-coming musicians hoping to make it to the top.

October 26, 2009 / / Main Slate

Bombshell – 1932 – dir. Victor Fleming

I first saw the 1932 screwball comedy Bombshell, which stars Jean Harlow in one of her best roles, as part of retrospective at the Brattle titled “Blondes Have More Fun!” The program had grouped Harlow with other blonde Hollywood icons of the classic era: Mae West, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard, Kim Novak, and Veronica Lake. (Funnily enough, Bombshell was at one point known as Blonde Bombshell to flag it as a Jean Harlow comedy rather than a war picture.) Placing Harlow in the context of a fascinating tradition of fair-haired starlets is illuminating – she somehow bridges the worldly toughness of West and the fragility and innocence of Monroe. In the film that made her a star, Howard Hughes’ 1930 epic Hell’s Angels, Harlow famously announced that she was ready to slip into something more comfortable, sending a smoldering look over her shoulder. Starlets have been copying her moves ever since, but it’s rare for actors of either gender to nail Harlow’s distinctive blend of glamour, wit, and grit. (James Cagney, Harlow’s co-star in The Public Enemy, has a similar appeal, blending fast-talking edginess with disarming vulnerability.)

August 21, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Christine and Robert Bamberger

The Thin Man – 1934 – dir. W.S. Van Dyke

Most people get a terrific kick out of the interplay between William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man movies, especially in the original, made just before the Production Code in Hollywood went into full force. But the film’s convoluted plot and numerous characters make it necessary to keep notes just to follow along. In getting a handle on the many personalities in the movie, it becomes increasingly apparent that this large cast of characters, spread all over the periphery of the plot, is not peripheral at all. Indeed, this bunch serves to draw our attention even more to Nick and Nora Charles.

August 10, 2009 / / Main Slate

Footsteps in the Dark – 1941 – dir Lloyd Bacon

A smart, breezy romp cut from the same cloth as The Thin Man series, Footsteps in the Dark marked a change in the actor Errol Flynn’s career.  Until this movie was made, the very popular matinee idol was known primarily for his rousing, period piece swashbucklers and he jumped at the opportunity to trade in his Robin Hood tights and swords for a chance to prove himself as a deft comedian. He more than succeeds.

August 7, 2009 / / Main Slate

By Amy Tetreault

The Muppets Take Manhattan – 1984 – dir. Frank Oz

Muppets Take Manhattan is the third in a series of live-action musical feature films with Jim Henson’s loveable Muppets. Released in 1984, this is also the final film before Jim Henson’s sudden death in 1990. In 1992, Henson was posthumously awarded the Courage of Conscience Award for being a “Humanitarian, muppeteer, producer and director of films for children that encourage tolerance, interracial values, equality and fair play.” Muppets Take Manhattan is a great example of Henson’s renowned work for both kids and adults. In fact, at times, I thought the Muppets were better geared for adults than kids. Besides the fact that the Muppets are made of cloth, their story in Muppets Take Manhattan is totally relate-able. Especially right now.

June 22, 2009 / / Main Slate

The Public Enemy – 1931 – dir. William A. Wellman

It’s one of my favorite Old Hollywood vignettes, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not. I stumbled across it in the Turner Classic Movies glossy Leading Men: The 50 Most Unforgettable Actors of the Studio Era, and it revolves around the famous scene in director William Wellman’s 1931 gangster classic The Public Enemy where James Cagney spontaneously shoves a grapefruit into co-star Mae Clarke’s face. According to the book: “The scene made Clarke’s ex-husband, Lew Brice, very happy. He saw the film repeatedly just to see that scene and often was shushed by angry patrons when his delighted laughter got too loud.” I love the story because it’s silly and ridiculous and not-outside-the-realm-of-possibility: spiteful exes have been known to do worse. But the story also gets at some of the key elements of an uncommonly enduring movie scene, one so memorable that, as critic Carlos Clarens notes in his book Crime Movies: “Not one reviewer failed to mention it, and it undoubtedly contributed to the film’s success.”  (Even Pauline Kael’s pithy two-sentence capsule review of The Public Enemy namechecks Clarke as “the girl who gets the grapefruit shoved in her kisser.”) The grapefruit bit remains a shocker, and was even more jarring in its day, but, as Brice certainly understood, it’s also kind of humorous in its utter nastiness. It catches many a viewer – if not Brice on his hundredth viewing – off-guard, leaving them helpless to do anything but gasp or laugh.

January 27, 2007 / / Film Notes

by Paul Monticone

“See, death is the only ending I know. A movie doesn’t end; it has a stopping place. That story, those people don’t die then: they live on and have terrible lives if it’s a happy ending, or if it’s a sad ending, they may survive it and recover and have happy lives. So death is the only ending and I deal with death as an ending. The people I have die are usually the wrong people, the ones you don’t expect to die. That’s the way it seems when people die.” (Robert Altman, 1992)

Altman’s quote, initially describing his resistance to narrative closure before digressing into the sort of modest wisdom that marked all of his interviews, sprung to mind on November 2oth. To anyone who takes American film seriously, the passing of Robert Altman was the sort of news that makes the world seem a little smaller and dimmer. Whether one thinks Altman the greatest American filmmaker since John Ford or a self-indulgent provocateur, the vitality and exuberance of each of his films is beyond dispute, to such an extent that the death of a frail, old man, who had just made the perfect swan song, Prairie Home Companion, came as something of a shock. The prodigious output of the indestructible Hollywood rebel had inexorably stopped, and a world without future Altman films is still hard – if not downright depressing – to imagine. To quantify what it is that we’ve lost, we can look to the works he left us, and his films of the 1970s – a decade of filmmaking that many identify with Altman – is the most obvious point of departure.