Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood’

Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool (2017) Prime

Dir: Paul McGuigan | Cast: Annette Bening, Jamie Bell, Kenneth Cranham, Julie Walters | UK Drama 105′

Years later I discovered that during the late sixties, Veronica Lake and I had both been living in Ipswich at the same time; and at the Sheffield Crucible in 1979 I actually saw Gloria Grahame in the same production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ we see her preparing for in the opening scene (I also later watched my own mother succumb to cancer.) Gloria had looked just as she had in her Hollywood prime, and I was astonished when only a couple of years later she joined the ages.

Annette Bening is too distinctive-looking in her own right, doesn’t have Ms Grahame’s slinky eyes, pouting lips, or even attempt her distinctive gurgling voice; but brings her own authentic movie star quality to the part – along with the appropriate vulnerability; it also seamlessly synchronises archive footage of the real Grahame into the narrative, based on the book by Peter Turner.

It’s strange to see a time I was actually living through now part of history, a fact underlined when a publican informs the young hero that his pint is 90p. @Richard Chatten

NOW ON PRIME VIDEO

Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies (2017)

Dir.: Amanda Ladd-Jones; Documentary with Alan Ladd jr, Mel Brooks, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Richard Donner; USA 2017, 83 min.

Amanda Ladd-Jones films countless members of the industry in this eulogy to her talented father, the director and movie mogul Alan Ladd jr (*1937) whom we have to thank for Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner to name but a few. It’s true to say that Ladd is a winner, and everyone loves a winner, particularly in Hollywood.

Ladd jr started his career in 1963 as a motion picture talent agent with clients including Judy Garland, Warren Beatty and Robert Redford. In 1968 he moved to London to produce, among other features, Villain with Richard Burton (in arguably his most miscast role). Then a return to Hollywood in 1973 saw Ladd becoming Head of Creative Affairs and three years later President of Twenty Century Fox where he was instrumental in fighting for George Lucas’ Star Wars projects, against the majority of the company’s board.

Ladd also turned his magic touch to art house features such as Julia (1977) and would cleverly change the ending of The Omen directed by Richard Donner, letting the malicious child survive, instead of killing him off, thereby spawning a whole new franchise.

The success story continues with Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, which had run into financial difficulties in 1980. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and An Unmarried Woman were also among the projects Ladd supported against a conservative board. His corporate career prospered and in the  mid-1970s Ladd named Ashly Boone Fox’s President of Marketing, the first Afro-American woman to rise to this status in the USA. Later, Boone joined Ladd jr at the Ladd Company and MGM, winning the first of his Oscars for Chariot of Fire (1981).

By comparison Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) was a financial disappointment, only to rise to cult status a decade later and showing how masterpieces need to stand the test of time rather the sensation of the moment. Rush (1991) was directed by Lili Fini Zanuck at a time when women directors were nearly unheard of in mainstream cinema. At MGM Ladd jr was responsible for very diverse projects, like Rocky IV and A Fish called Wanda.

In the early 1990s Ladd jr left the executive world for good and established The Ladd Company, winning his second Oscar for Braveheart in 1995. Gone Baby Gone, the debut movie of director Ben Affleck, was to be the last feature Ladd jr produced in 2007.

If this reads like a rather boring celebrity roll call, it unfortunately reflects this documentary itself which is overlaid by Amanda’s over-talkie narration competing with an incessant ‘musak style’ score. Ladd jr himself seems the only participant not praising his own talents and achievements in giving the Midas touch to even doomed projects and transforming putative B movies into Oscar-worthy outings such as Fear is the Key (1972).

Certainly worth a watch for its juicy cinema titbits Laddie could have invested more time in exploring the director’s tragic relationship with his actor father Alan Ladd – or Amanda’s own lonely childhood, when she saw her Dad only in-between films, instead of claiming “He loved me the best he could.” But that would be a documentary expose rather than a eulogy, and Amanda’s telling statement shows great insight into the nature of success from a daughter who was proud of her father and recognised his limitations in the scheme of things. Laddie will certainly be appreciated by fans and cineastes alike as a worthwhile trip down Hollywood’s memory lane. AS

ON SKY STORE, iTunes, Apple, Youtube, Google Play and Rakuten from 26 April 2021

Femmes Fatales of Fashion | London Fashion Week 2021

The sinister crime-laden dramas that came out of post war Hollywood were the visual expressions of anxiety. Film Noir featured venal antiheroes, mysterious femme fatales, and rain-soaked urban settings where shadows and intrigue played upon the inner consciousness. The tightly scripted stories were also richly thematic, compellingly seductive and wonderful to look at. And that iconic look was often created by women designers. 

Based on hard-edged detective stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain and Cornell Woolrich, ‘Crime Noir’ was spiced up by the wartime influx of sophisticated European craftsman such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tourneur and Robert Siodmak whose edgy expressionism and Avantgarde lighting techniques added zest to the predominantly black & white post war genre. 

By the mid 1940s Film Noir reigned supreme. Nightly screenings – and each night was different – saw the stars of the day strutting their stuff but also looking amazing into the bargain: Barbara Stanwyck, Humphrey Bogarde, Gene Tierney and June Vincent all had their particular allure. And some Noir actors also directed the genre such as The Big Combo‘s Cornel Wilde with Storm Fear (1955). But while the narratives were unsavoury the costumes were quite the opposite: the elegant couture, hairstyles and even jewellery made style icons of these scheming antiheroes, adding charisma to their public profiles in stark contrast to the characters they played. By association, film noir became arguably the most strikingly seductive genre in the film firmament.   

But while the filmmakers arrived from Europe, the costume designers were often American woman with noirish backstories of their own to the bring to the party. Universal’s head of costume design for twenty years VERA WEST (1898-1947), met a tragic death drowning in her own swimming pool, dressed in one of her signature silk dressing gowns (ironically her designs for Virginia Grey had the been the star turn in Charles Barton’s film-noir Smooth as Silk the previous year ). Although the evidence pointed towards suicide as a result of a troubled past, there have since been rumours that her husband was to blame.

West had trained in Philadelphia and worked as apprentice to the pioneering British catwalk designer Lady Duff Gordon (Lucile) before being hired by Stanley Kubrick to create Ava Gardner’s look in The Killers (1946). She also designed for June Vincent in Roy William Neill’s Black Angel (1946); for Teresa Wright in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943) and the outfits for Lewis D Collins’ Danger Woman (1946). Despite these high-profile commissions, she never received an award until finally winning the Costume Designers Guild Hall of Fame in 2005. 

Another female Hollywood designer shrouded in intrigue was IRENE LENZ GIBBONS – known simply as Irene (1900-1962), whose private life was as colourful as her gowns. A shrewd business woman she ran a series of boutiques and was also appointed head of costume design at MGM, replacing the well-known legend Adrian. Her Noir credentials included couture for Katherine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum in Vincente Minnelli’s Undercurrent (1946) based on a story by Thelma Shrabel.

She also was credited for the couture creations in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) where a married Lana Turner and her lover plan to kill her husband (Cecil Kellaway). Other Noir and thriller projects included Roy Rowland’s Scene of the Crime (1949) and Gaslight (1944). Reports of her long-standing love affair with Gary Cooper were never confirmed but she committed suicide after slashing her wrists and jumping out of Los Angeles’ Knickerbocker Hotel a year after his death. 

One of the most successful female designers of film noir was undoubtedly BONNIE CASHIN (1915-2000). Cashin was already making dresses from the age of 8. By 16 her talent was making her a living as designer for the chorus line based in Los Angeles which led her into theatre work in New York. Returning West in the early 1940s she signed with 20th Century Fox where she made a name for herself with the gowns in Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945); Robert Siodmak’s Cry of the City (1948) – Shelley Winter’s leopard skin coat would have the activists up in arms, but back then it certainly made her stand out in the sleazy night scenes.

Cashin’s style worked wonders for Signe Hasso in Hathaway’s Oscar-winning The House on 92nd Street (1944) and for Gene Tierney in Laura. Nightmare Alley (1947) gave her the opportunity to work with a leading cast of Tyrone Power (as antihero Stan Carlyle), Joan Blondell, Coleen Gray and Helen Walker. Power’s untimely death of a heart attack aged 44, saw the film gain wider circulation over the years due to his popularity, and Cashin’s costumes lived on into the late 1950s and beyond. MT

London Fashion Week 2021

LAURA is now on Bluray courtesy of EUREKA (MASTERS OF CINEMA) 

The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) *

Dir/Wri: Daniel Farrands | Cast: Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda | Horror | 87′

Which ever way you look at it, The Haunting of Sharon Tate is a dreadful film, and a bad idea. Not only does this schlocky drama insult the memory of Tate and her former husband Roman Polanski, it also re-imagines her tragedy as a surreal flight of fancy, changing the course of its terrible reality.

Sharon Tate is made out to be a loopy, histrionic lightweight prone to fantasising about her own murder on a regular basis, and obsessed by thoughts of her husband’s putative infidelity. Infact, she was a promising actor who had made a name for herself in The Man from U.N.C.L.E (1965), Valley of the Dolls (1967) and Twelve Plus One (1969) alongside Orson Welles (1969). Polanski was in London at the time finishing off a script so he could join his wife for the birth of their first child together. She was 26. It was one of the most gruesome Hollywood events, and another shocking time for Polanski who had lost his parents during the Holocaust. He has now been married for 30 years to French actor Emmanuelle Seigner.

As Quentin Tarantino found out a few years ago with his Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, making a feature film about Tate’s demise was always going to be a tricky endeavour. And we all remember the disaster that was Oliver Hirschbergels’ Lady Diana, despite Naomi Watts’ sterling effort. Well this is actually worse because it demeans Tate, and those who also died on that fateful August in 1969 in Benedict Canyon. Hardly surprising then that her sister has distanced herself from the whole project. At least a documentary form could have re-examined the facts and made some intelligent contribution to the events, told evocatively in Vincent Bugliosi’s book Helter Skelter.

Here Daniel Farrands uses a fractured narrative to question Tate’s presence of mind by exploring the idea that she (played here by Hillary Duff) was experiencing premonitions about her own slaughter in a series of horrific re-occuring nightmares. And that her final hours did not result in death at the hands of the Mansons, but in some kind of aggravated break-in which sees her walking away into the countryside. Meanwhile the Mansons are pictured as baleful zombie-like killers, peering through windows before they eventually made their move. You couldn’t make it up – but Farrands did, with a feature that’s clearly intended for a teen audience who may not appreciate the gravity of the source material.

Apparently, Farrands gets his title from a throwaway quote Tate gave in an interview where she reportedly said: “Yes, I have had a psychic experience – at least I guess that’s what it was – and it was a terribly frightening and disturbing thing for me”. She went on to say that the dream featured Jay Sebring or herself “cut open at the throat”.

Well, we all have bad dreams about losing our own body parts, or people we love – sometimes in tragic ways. But you’ve got to be pretty crass to make a second rate horror flick about such things actually happening in the light of a real and dreadful calamity. The film is not cinematic or remotely compelling. Most of the action takes place in semi-darkness, the flashback scenes repetitive to the point of boredom – the whole thing is uninspiring. Duff, Jonathan Bennett and Lydia Hearst do their best with a threadbare script, in a film that deserves to be haunted by the ghost of Charles Manson himself. MT

AVAILABLE ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD FROM 8 APRIL 2019

Starring Barbara Stanwyck | Retrospective | BFI 2019 | February – March

The STARRING BARBARA STANWYCK season offers a chance to see one of Hollywood’s most successful and memorable actors of all time, whose career spanned more than four decades. The season will include an extended run of Preston Sturges’ hilarious comedy The Lady Eve (1941), also released in selected cinemas by the BFI on Friday 15 February. During March, the season will highlight the breadth and depth of Stanwyck’s characters, whether in classics or in less familiar, rarely screened titles.

Diva, grande dame and femme fatale, Stanwyck adapted to any genre, be it comedy, melodrama or thriller. Her natural wit and raw emotion was particularly resonant in her Westerns, where she played  resourceful, confident women holding their own in a male-dominated world. The BFI are screening 3 examples in March. Her first western Annie Oakley (George Stevens, 1935) was based on the life of ‘Little Miss Sureshot,’ one of the most famous sharpshooters in American history; Stanwyck oozes confidence in her portrayal of the determined and spirited protagonist. Cecil B. DeMille brought a characteristically epic sense of scale to the western with Union Pacific (1939), about the construction of the First Transcontinental Railroad. Mixed in with the historical elements is a love triangle between a troubleshooter, a gambler, and a train engineer’s daughter played by Stanwyck. The director was mesmerised by her performance, and she became one of his favourite stars. In Forty Guns (Samuel Fuller, 1957), a late-career highlight for Stanwyck, she portrays a wealthy landowner exerting influence over an Arizonian township by commanding a staff of 40 men. Beautifully shot and packed with psychosexual subtext and directed with bravura, Samuel Fuller’s western influenced a generation of filmmakers, including Godard.

In the delightful screwball-mystery-romance The Mad Miss Manton (Leigh Jason, 1938), a scatty but canny heiress (Stanwyck), whose claims to have discovered a murder are dismissed by the police, enlists a working-class journalist to help prove her case. Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941), follows a nightclub dancer who needs to lie low, and a house shared by eight professors provides the ideal hideout. Inspired by the story of Snow White and boasting razor-sharp dialogue and perfect Hawksian comic timing, Ball of Fire is another classic screwball comedy. Written by a master of screwball – Preston Sturges – Remember the Night (Mitchell Leisen, 1940) sees a New York attorney (Fred MacMurray) take pity on a shoplifter he’s prosecuting. He gets her out on bail and invites her to his family home for Christmas – which somewhat complicates their relationship. There is genuine chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray in their first film together, an amusing and affecting blend of courtroom drama, road movie and romance. The pair reunited for another tale of adulterous temptation There’s Always Tomorrow (Douglas Sirk, 1955); he’s a toy manufacturer feeling neglected by his family, and she is the ex-employee whose return to Pasadena reignites illicit passions. Forbidden (Frank Capra, 1932) sees her playing a librarian falling for an unobtainable man.

Barbara Stanwyck, Adolphe Menjou, Ralph Bellamy, Dorothy Peterson

Two more Frank Capra films will screen in March – in The Miracle Woman (1931) Stanwyck plays a minister’s daughter who, following the death of her father,  teams up with a conman to stage evangelical shows in which she performs ‘miracles’. Meanwhile Meet John Doe (1941) sees her play a journalist who invents a story about a tramp planning to commit suicide in protest of the state of the world. The resulting interest forces her paper to get someone to fit the role and the man they find (Gary Cooper) instantly becomes a celebrity – and a political pawn. Completing the season will be screenings of Sorry, Wrong Number (Anatole Litvak, 1948), a noir thriller adapted by Lucille Fletcher from her acclaimed radio play, focusing on a wealthy, rather complacent, bedridden woman who overhears a conversation involving a planned murder. (All images are strictly the property of the BFI, and not to be copied)

SCREENING AT THE BFI, SOUTHBANK | FEBRUARY – MARCH 2019 | BFI WEBSITE

The Mule (2018) ***

Dir: Clint Eastwood | Writ: Sam Dolnick | Cast: Bradley Cooper, Clint Eastwood, Manny Montana, Taissa Farmiga | US Thriller | 118′

Clint Eastwood digs up the story of American horticulturalist Leo Sharp and shovels it out as a plodding but endearing drama about a geriatric, green-fingered drug mule.

Most people won’t have heard of Leo Sharp. He was a popular plantsman who tended his award-winning day-lilies until his business went belly up in the digital age. Directing from Nick Schenck’s laboured script, Clint Eastwood plays him as savvy entrepreneur Earl Stone, who seizes the opportunity to finance his dwindling days by becoming a driver for the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel.

The life and soul of any gathering, stone is an old school charmer for whom work is always a pleasure but family a chore –  and we feel his pain as he potters around in a state of perpetual regret for disappointing his nagging wife (Dianne West) and daughter. Infact, all the women in The Mule are seen in a negative light either nagging or as gaiety girls flashing their assets –  his grand-daughter is the exception (Taissa Farmiga gets the best female role).  Maybe there’s more of Clint in Stone than he’d like to admit.

And that’s not all. The DEA (in the shape of Bradley Cooper and Michael Peña) are on his tail, at a snail’s pace. Cooper does his stuff with consummate ease and follows Stone across the scenic landscape and the two compare notes on family faux pas. And clearly Clint relishes his role as he sallies forth on the open road, singing out loud at the wheel of his truck, a rather sly old curmudgeon one minute, and twinkly-eyed Roué the next. And what man wouldn’t when offered a threesome with Mexican babes.

The Mule is a slow roadie with a wonderful central performance from a Hollywood great. Still rocking into his nineties and in command of his faculties. There are few politically incorrect moments – and for a man who grew up in the 1940s you’ve got to appreciate how times – and attitudes – have changed. And when he delivered his acceptance speech at the Day-lily awards, Clint should have quoted Dorothy Parker’s famous line: “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think”. That said, The Mule is a respectable movie. And Clint is still a legend. How many of us can say that? MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 29 January 2019

Vice (2018) ****

Dir.: Adam McKay; Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Alisa Pill, Lilly Rabe; USA 2018, 132 min.

Writer/director Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, The Big Short) amply demonstrates the banality of evil in this glowing satire, worthy of a Jonathan Swift or Molière. Vice is a bio-pic about Dick Cheney, former US Secretary of Defence in the Cabinet of George H. Bush and Vice President under his son George W. Bush. Above all else, it’s a portrait of a man who made the most of his limited qualities, using his “Everyman” persona to grossly misuse power by deceit, helping to lay the ideological foundation for the current USA administration.

We meet Dick Cheney – an extraordinary Christian Bale, who put on 45 kgs to morph into Cheney – in 1963’s Wyoming, where he is arrested, for the second time, for DUI; an offence he shared with the younger Bush. Cheney, a Yale dropout, was also a drunken layabout who had to be reminded by his wife Lynne (Adams) that he resembled her drunken and abusive father, not the responsible husband she thought she had married.

At least Cheney managed to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War (like Bush the younger), accumulating five deferrals, based on sub-par academic achievements, and getting married and having children at the right time. When Dick joined the Nixon administration in 1969 as an Intern, he fell under the spell of Donald Rumsfield (a commanding Carrell), who taught him the President’s dirty tricks. Cheney himself was a Congressman for Wyoming from 1979-1989, a seat his daughter Lynne jr. (Rabe), holds today. He became one of the leaders of the Republican Party in the House, and got the attention of George H. Bush, for whom he served as Secretary of Defence (1989-1993). After Bush’ defeat to Clinton, Cheney left politics for a while, to become CEO of Halliburton, a company specialising in services to the Oil industry. When the Republicans looked for a running mate for George W. Bush (Rockwell), Cheney was asked to select a candidate. He chose himself and the rest, as they say, is history.

It is not a small co-incidence, that Cheney would outdo Rumsfield, when the latter was Secretary of Defence for George W.: Rumsfield asking Dick “do you want to get me sacked, or is it the Bush kid?” Needless to say, that Rumsfield had to go as a scapegoat, because Dick had much more than the ear of George W. By then, after the deception of the Iraq War, Dick Cheney had subverted the cabinet: Condoleezza Rice (National Security Adviser) and General Colin Powell (Secretary of State) were bulldozed by him of towing the line when it came to the invasion. And after the lack of evidence for the “Weapons of mass destruction”, Rumsfield, his former ‘teacher’, was scarified. 

There are some highlights, for example the faux-ending after a third of the running time: Mary (Pill), Cheney’s younger daughter, was a self confessed, married lesbian, and whilst Lynne was aghast, Dick was supportive. McKay ‘closing’ his film with end-credits, claiming “that Dick chose his daughter above a political career, and the Cheney family vanished from public life”. Alas, Dick manufactured the Iraq War, which became very profitable for Halliburton, their shares rising by a mere 500%. American soldiers, who were not so apt to be deferred as Cheney, died in their thousands – so did 800 000 Iraqi civilians. McKay shows the couple in bed, declaimed Shakespeare: Macbeth and his Lady.  

It is difficult to contemplate a serious, straight portrait of Cheney: whilst his criminal wrong-doings were as countless as they were unpunished, there is nothing extra-ordinary about the man: he did all this, because he could. Neither his ideological orientation nor greed were more than average.

Only McKay’s approach of a permanent subversity makes this bio-pic watchable. This is an anti-hero with very little attributes, but Vice shows him exactly as the little man he is – but like a ‘Contrapunkt’ in music, there is always a funny side to the proceedings – even if the laughter is anything but liberating. DoP Greig Fraser (Foxcatcher) supports the director’s approach with homely images of the couple, and the bloody contrast of newsreels and TV images. He also never denounces Dick and Lynne, they are not shown as buffoons, but  ordinary people wanting to better themselves: their house is a shrine to mediocrity, they really care for each other and are rather subdued in their personal affairs: they often shown from behind, always ready to leave the frame, unobtrusive to the last. Vice is the great exception: a major feature made in Hollywood. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 29 JANUARY 2019    

https://youtu.be/eTk2N03-m8U

 

  

        

     

Born Yesterday (1950) Bluray release

Dir.: George Cukor; Cast: Judy Holliday, Broderick Crawford, William Holden, Howard St. John; USA 1950, 103 min.

Based on the Broadway play of the same name by Garson Kanin, and scripted by Albert Mannheimer, Born Yesterday is not one of George Cukor’s most dynamic features. The film’s plus side is Judy Holliday, who, reprising her Broadway role, won Best Actress at the Oscars. But Cukor’s direction is a little impersonal, and the feature never quite breaks free from its theatrical origins.

Harry Brock (Crawford) is a crook and a mini-tycoon, arriving in Washington with his mistress Billie Dawn (Holliday), to bribe a politician. Helped by lawyer Jim Devery (St, John), he sets in motion a great scheme, but suddenly decides that Billie isn’t good enough just as she is (an ex-revue girl), and should be  be educated to a higher standard to make worthy marriage material: wants her as a wife – not for love, but for insurance purposes: he has made over some properties to her, and a wife cannot testify against her husband. Journalist Paul Verral (Holden), does a fine job of her re-education – before an emancipated Billie upsets the applecart.

There are several reasons why Born Yesterday doesn’t really catch fire: first of all, the 1950 drama has not aged well; and lines like “Yes, you are right, I am stupid and I like it” (Billie) and “Maybe I slapped you a couple of times” (Harry) are not funny today, even though they may have raised a titter back in the day. Secondly, there is an awful lot of preaching going on, and DoP Joseph Walker (who extensively worked for Capra and Hawks) cannot do much to liven up the proceedings. Even Holliday’s sparkling, Oscar worthy performance is questionable: she is hardly a match for Bette Davis (All about Eve) or Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard). Far too verbose and sanctimonious, Cukor’s direction falls between a screwball comedy and a muted pre-feminist manifesto, leaving a rather stuffy and stultified box of tricks. AS

AVAILABLE ON BLURAY from 21 JANUARY 2019      

Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast (2018) **** Venice Film Festival 2018

Dir: Bruce Weber | US Doc | 91′

Suave screen idol Robert Mitchum comes across as a crooning hearth-throb in Bruce Weber’s starry cinematic sashay that contains previously unseen interview footage shot during the 1990s.

Bruce Weber is best known for his black-and-white fashion shots (for Abercrombie & Fitch) but here turns his camera on the prolific career of a Hollywood antihero who made over 133 screen appearances during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – most notably in Cape Fear, Night of the Hunter and Out of the Past. 

Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast follows the usual format of archive footage (taken in 1997) and interviews with people connected to Mitchum, particularly in his later years when his nonchalant presence could change the atmosphere in a room. Shot in Weber’s stylish monochrome camera the film opens with  Johnny Depp recalling how Mitchum would always reply “Worse” when asked how he was – on the telephone. This was a response he’d picked up from Groucho Marx. Liam Neeson and Benicio Del Toro also share their memories of a much-celebrated but quietly complicated man who embodied American masculinity.

Named after the song by Mitchum’s The Wonderful Country co-star Julie London, the film explores how the macho star could also be tender and gentle despite his tough guy image, and reveals his musical talent with footage from the recording of a jazz album (that has never been released) that sees him enjoying an amusing time with Marianne Faithful as the duo record together at Capitol Records.

Mitchum certainly knew how to flirt, using some well-rehearsed one-liners and jokes. But Weber shows how he mellowed significantly in later years without losing any of his sardonic undercurrent of complexity. In a darker moment, his daughter recalls his talk of suicide, but this is an avenue that Weber never explores, along with his time behind bars for possession of marijuana. On the relationship front, we hear how he was devoted to his wife Dorothy – the two met in their teens and stayed together – despite dalliances, amongst them with Shirley MacLaine who never appears to give her side of the story.

Nice Girls is largely freewheeling and episodic rather than chronologically biographical in format: hardly anything is mentioned about Mitchum’s upbringing or the early years of his career in Hollywood. His late co-star Polly Bergen talks about her feelings during the unsettling brutal rape scene in Cape Fear when he smoothed raw egg on her décolleté, culminating in her falling in love with him. Afterwards she claimed he was the epitome of tenderness, apologising profusely after the manhandling episode where he appeared to be ‘in a trance’. Perhaps this is even a latent bid on the director’s part to explain the bad behaviour that led to the #metoo backlash, given that Weber was also fingered during the affair.

Clearly Robert Mitchum’s choice of roles makes him one of the more edgy and interesting stars in the Hollywood firmament but he clearly had many strings to his bow, and one was undoubtedly a talent for carrying a tune, evidenced in his renditions of Ned Washington’s ‘Wild is the Wind’ and Mitchell Parish’s ‘Stars Fell on Alabama’ which enrich this pleasurable film along with its woozy jazz score. Irving Berlin’s ‘Dancing Cheek to Cheek’ and Gershwin’s ‘Isn’t it a Pity’ complete the audio picture of this intriguing talent to amuse. MT

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL CLASSICS 2018

 

Hedy Lamarr – the Woman who invented Wifi

With the release of Alexandra’s Dean biopic: BOMBSHELL: THE HEDY LAMARR STORY, Richard Chatten looks back over the outstanding career of a Hollywood star with intellect as well as high octane chutzpah.
Far more people are likely today to heard of Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) than to have ever actually seen any of her movies. Already notorious for skinny-dipping and simulating orgasm in the Czech independent film Extase (1933), she remained popular tabloid fodder for the rest of her life, and in the thirties & forties was by common consent considered the most beautiful woman in the world.
Although her film career was over by the end of the fifties, her name has remained stubbornly familiar down the years; and 1966 in particular proved a busy year for her for all the wrong reasons. In January of that year she was arrested for shoplifting in Los Angeles – which served as the basis for a film by Andy Warhol that year called Hedy, with Mario Montez in the title role – and she then unsuccessfully sued to attempt to prevent the publication of a lurid ghost-written autobiography, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman, condemning it as “fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libelous and obscene.”.
During the seventies her name remained well enough remembered for the villain in Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) to be named “Hedley Lamarr”; although that she was not amused is indicated by a $10 million lawsuit she filed against Warner Bros (who eventully settled out of court). Still more recently, Anne Hathaway studied Ms Lamarr’s films as preparation for her role as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
In 1997 came a revelation more remarkable than anything contained in Ecstasy and Me that with the avant-garde composer George Antheil she had developed a “frequency hopping” radio guidance system for torpedoes that they patented – she using her married name Hedy Kiesler Markey – on 11 August 1942. (When told that their idea had finally received public acknowledgement, the 82 year-old Lamarr barked “Well, it’s about time!”)
As an actress, Lamarr herself described herself as “a cross between Judy Garland and Greta Garbo”. By her own admission she had the reputation in Hollywood of being “difficult”, and her films were in the main a rum bunch – including the handful she produced herself – not helped by the fact that she turned down Casablanca and Gaslight. But in the past ten years she has received the accolade accorded few of her Hollywood contemporaries of two biographies, and now a feature-length documentary entitled Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (one of whose executive producers is Susan Sarandon) about to open in Britain.
Bombshell predictably doesn’t actually concern itself too much with her movies; so here are five that she made that are still worth a look:
Extase (Gustav Machatý, 1933). Largely shot silent with a synchronised music track, Extase can still be appreciated on its own terms as a fanciful continental art movie by the interesting Gustav Machatý (and can be enjoyed on YouTube). Shortly after making it, it’s 18 year-old star Hedwig Kiesler married a millionaire munitions manufacturer named Fritz Mandl who unsuccessfully attempted to buy up all the copies, but fortunately failed, and the film opened in New York in 1937; the same year she divorced Mandl and was signed up by MGM, who changed her name to Hedy Lamarr and excitedly promoted her as “the new Garbo”.
Algiers (John Cromwell, 1938). She started in Hollywood at the top co-starring with Charles Boyer in this lavish remake of Pepe le Moko (1936), which had starred Jean Gabin and Mireille Balin. It was both a critical and financial hit, and inspired the cartoon character Pepé le Pew; but unfortunately presently exists only in dreadful public domain prints, so few people today have actually seen it and the French original is more familiar today than the remake.
H.M.Pulham Esq. (King Vidor, 1941). As forgotten today as most of Lamarr’s other films – and ignored by Bombshell –  this adult, well-acted adaptation of John P. Marquand’s novel was the second of two films she made with the great King Vidor, and is probably her best. Both she and Robert Young in the title role give excellent performances, and the film deserves to be much better known.
Experiment Perilous (Jacques Tourneur, 1944). A gaslit Victorian melodrama set in London in 1903 containing her own personal favourite of her own performances, as a mysterious beauty being plotted against by her scheming and manipulative husband, played by Paul Lukas.
Samson and Delilah (Cecil B. DeMille, 1949). Hedy’s first film in Technicolor is a glorious piece of kitsch in which Angela Lansbury – who was 12 years her junior – plays her elder sister. The film is probably best remembered today for Groucho Marx’s response to DeMille at the premiere that “No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s!”. But it was the top-grossing film of 1950. RICHARD CHATTEN
 
BOMBSHELL IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 9 MARCH 2018

Morrissey 25: Live (2012) ****

Director: James Russell

92mins  Music Documentary

Director James Russell’s passion for music and multi-camera flair is showcased here in this close-up and personal experience of Morrissey performing live in the confines of the Hollywood High School arena in March 2013. Serving it up straight and simple, topped and tailed with idolatrous vox-pops from the visiting fans,  James Russell does not try to put his own creative Morrissey 25 Livespin on the proceedings or to compete with the iconic star.  This is Morrissey’s show marking 25 years of a solo career for the enigmatic English singer and lyricist, who has risen considerably in stature since the days of The Smiths when he rose to fame in 1984 with the words: “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now”.

 

Thirty years later at this intimate gathering he gives the impression of still being pretty miserable. But he’s made his fans extremely happy and they all tell him so in mass hysteria grabbing the microphone when he asks in between songs “Do you want to talk?”. He certainly knows how to connect with his audience without giving away anything of himself, retaining an aura of alluring disdain that occasionally belies the revealingly emotional but candid content of his lyrics, delivered in a strong voice, mournful and mostly off-key.

Running through a range of new material and classics from “Alma Matters”, “Let Me Kiss You”, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”, “Please let me get what I want” and “The Boy With the Thorn in His Side”, Morrissey has an impressive and powerful animal physicality about him. Moving about the stage with relaxed ease,  his blue eyes, broad shoulders and beautifully delicate hands sporting yellow-varnished nails, He’s a man in control of his own destiny but he has no illusions about where that may be.

The camera loves him but he’s oblivious to the filming process focussing firmly on his musical performance and his fans and treating them to regular handouts of his sweat-drenched designer shirts and handshakes as he bends forward into the crowd with impressive athleticism.  By the end, fans are climbing onto the stage to embrace him before being carried away by security guards. Mystique, charisma, the ability to connect on a deep level: whatever it is, Morrissey has it in spades and James Russell’s film has captured it for posterity. It’s a wonderful thing. MT

MORRISSEY 25: LIVE IS A ONE-OFF EVENT ON 24TH AUGUST 2013 AT CURZON, VUE AND ODEON CINEMAS.

 

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