blogopener copyThis month, TCM spotlights “Trailblazing Women–Actresses Who Made a Difference,” a series of movies featuring female stars who contributed to the industry, culture, and society. The series covers all eras of movie history, from Mary Pickford, who was an industry powerhouse in the silent days, to Jane Fonda and Cicely Tyson, who were activists off the screen in 1970s and 1980s. The program is the second part of a three-year effort in partnership with Women in Film (WIF) in which TCM devotes October to championing the achievements of women in Hollywood

TCM viewers who are enjoying “Trailblazing Women” should check out the new, third edition of From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies by film historian Molly Haskell. Haskell, who sometimes cohosts on TCM, covers the silent era to the late 20th century, the same time frame as “Trailblazing Women.” While there is some overlap between the series and the book, Haskell’s focus is on the image of women in the movies, the stars who embodied these images, and the relationship of these images to women in society.





mainwaringgallowsRaymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Dashiell Hammett are the triumvirate of noir writers hailed not only for their hard-boiled novels but also for their work as scriptwriters and script doctors during the Golden Age. No one can dispute their importance and influence, but those hallowed names tend to overshadow other writers who contributed to hard-boiled literature and the film noir genre.

I recently stumbled across an old interview conducted by film programmer Tom Flinn with writer Daniel Mainwaring. I knew little about Mainwaring save for his association with two of my favorite films from the 1950s—Out of the Past and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I didn’t even know his name was pronounced “Man-a-ring,” not “Main-wearing.” But after sifting through Flinn’s interview, I was inspired to poke around Mainwaring’s life and career. While his work was not exclusive to the noir genre, I believe it echoed the paranoia and disillusionment that simmered beneath the bright, shiny surface of the 1950s.

Like many Hollywood personnel who rose through the ranks during the Golden Age, Mainwaring experienced an interesting life, which fed into his writing. As a fresh-faced college grad in the Roaring ‘20s, he worked the crime beat for the L.A. Examiner. Around 1935, he made the transition to the film industry, starting at the bottom in the Warner Bros. publicity department. He always claimed that working in the publicity racket gave him an insider’s understanding of the Hollywood dream factory that served him well.


Planning to Watch ‘Summer of Darkness ?’ You’ll Need This Noir-cabulary !

noiropenerI am proclaiming 2015 the year of film noir. Not only am I teaching a course on noir this fall, but TCM is presenting 53 films in the noir-themed “Summer of Darkness,” which airs every Friday in June and July. In preparation for my course, I am reading detective novels, perusing the latest books on the genre, and screening potential films for viewing in class.

My students will be 70 years removed from the original cycle of noir and 30 years removed from the neo-noir movies of the 1970s. This occurred to me when I was re-reading Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely, and the colorful WWII-era slang jumped right off the page. While the Production Code prevented the film versions of these hard-boiled novels from using the grittier slang, I realized that my students are not going to know the difference between a gat and a gam, or a C-note and a fin. I decided to create a vocabulary list of common slang terms from the era.

I am sharing my first draft of the list for two reasons: I want to lure viewers into watching TCM’s Summer of Darkness every Friday, and I am hoping that fans of the genre will add to my “noir-cabulary.” If you can recall an imaginative phrase or word from a hard-boiled novel or a film noir, let me know, and I will consider adding it to the list. Or, if you remember a line of dialogue that makes a nifty use of slang, that would be helpful, too.


Unusual Commentary Tracks


Terror of Frankenstein

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with Tim Kirk, producer of Room 237, The Nightmare, and other titles. We talked about commentary tracks because he is releasing something called Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein. The normal order of business would be to simply re-release Terror of Frankenstein (Calvin Floyd, 1977), and then add a commentary track as a bonus. Sadly, the only existing elements that remain for Terror of Frankenstein are sketchy at best and not worth revisiting in and of themselves. A serendipitous conversation, however, between Kirk and Terror of Frankenstein star Leon Vitali opened the door to a mysterious world behind Floyd’s surprisingly faithful adaption of Mary Shelley’s story. Given Vitali’s work with Stanley Kubrick, he is already the subject of a few conspiracy theories himself, but what Vitali reveals in his commentary track to Terror of Frankenstein suggests that method-acting can go too far. It might even lead to murder. [...MORE]

May 30, 2015
David Kalat
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Katherine Hepburn vs. Herself

If you have patience for yet one more Cinderella story, I’ve got a 1935 romantic comedy with an interesting behind-the-scenes twist.

This week’s Cinderella is Alice Adams, a Katharine Hepburn vehicle by ex-Laurel & Hardy cameraman George Stevens, adapted from a Booth Tarkington novel of the same name. It garnered Academy Award nominations for both Best Picture and Best Actress, and revived the moribund career of Hepburn (or at least until the next time her popularity hit the rocks, or the next time after that) and was a breakthrough career moment for Stevens, who reinvented himself as a serious director of significant Hollywood pictures and not just that guy who used to make “Boy Friends” comedies for Hal Roach (never heard of ‘em? You’re not alone). And yet, both Hepburn and Stevens fought to prevent the film from being as successful as it came to be. And therein lies our story.


KEYWORDS: Alice Adams, George Stevens, Katherine Hepburn

The Cinematic Table of Elements

Later on tonight, TCM airs the 1966 Oscar winner,  A Man for All Seasons, a movie that, on the whole, I’m not too wild about.  But I like plenty of its separate elements.  I love the performances, for instance, by Paul Scofield, Wendy Hiller, and Robert Shaw, especially.  I love the music more than a bit and often pull it up online to listen to when I’m in a pensive mood.  I also love a lot of the scenery and locations.  So it seems silly to not recommend it just because, on the whole, I don’t like it.  Why not recommend it just for the parts I love in the hopes that the person taking the recommendation will love those parts as well?  Now, the movie itself was well loved by many (and the play it was based on) so it got plenty of accolades and notice.  But you could fill a stadium with all the great elements of cinema that never got the recognition they deserved simply because they weren’t in a high profile or critically acclaimed movie.  It shouldn’t be that way.  We should all appreciate the entire cinematic table of elements.



The Hollywood Style

hollywoodsbookRegular readers might remember a blog post I wrote last year about Hollywood portrait photographer Eliot Elisofon. I’m a huge admirer of his work so I decided to track down used copies of some of the books he wrote and one of my most interesting recent purchases was a lavish coffee table photo collection titled The Hollywood Style originally published in 1969 and co-authored by film historian Arthur Knight. The book provides an intimate look at the luxurious homes of various classic film actors and directors while combining three of my personal passions, history, photography and pre-80s interior design, into an impressive triumvirate that revels in Hollywood extravagance.

If you’ve ever pondered the design of Cecil B. DeMille’s home office or wondered what Jennifer Jones’ bedroom might look like you should find the following photos as curious and captivating as I did.


This week on TCM Underground: Nothing Lasts Forever return engagement CANCELLED DUE TO “RIGHTS ISSUES.” Substitute BRAINSTORM (1965), plus THE ICE PIRATES (1984).

de7cc984-485a-41df-abf5-3d6a45a2f0c8A young man with artistic ambitions but no actual talent flees Manhattan in the not-too-distant future and hops a shuttle to the moon in search of true love.

Cast: Zach Galligan (Adam Beckett), Apollonia van Ravenstein (Mara Hoffmeier), Lauren Tom (Eloy), Sam Jaffe (Father Knickerbocker), Paul Rogers (Hugo), Bill Murray (Ted Breughel), Dan Aykroyd (Buck Heller), Imogene Coca (Daisy Schackman0), Anita Ellis (Aunt), Mort Sahl (Uncle), Jan Triska (Architect), Eddie Fisher (Himself), Avon Long (Steward), Calvert DeForest, King Donovan (Passengers), Lawrence Tierney (Carriage Driver), Walt Gorney (Stage Manager), Tom Schiller (Mara’s friend), Raynor Scheine (Hillbilly) Marc Alderman (Lifewalk 5000 Conceptual Artist). Director/writer: Tom Schiller. Cinematography: Fred Schuler. Music: Howard Shore.

Color/B&W, 82 min.

Showtime: Saturday, May 30, 11pm (PST), 2am (EST).  [...MORE]

Finishing The Other Side of the Wind: An Interview with Peter Bogdanovich and Filip Jan Rymsza


From left, Peter Bogdanovich, Bill Weaver, (seated), Orson Welles and Oja Kodar. Photograph by José María Castellví

 Our story is about a special group of these, the richest, smartest, the chicest. The jet-set ones. Has to do with a kind of voyeurism. I’d call it emotional parasitism. It has to do with the mystique of the he-man. This picture is against he-men. – Orson Welles

The above quote is from Orson Welles in Spain (1966), a 10-minute short made by Albert and David Maysles in which Welles woos potential investors about a bullfighting movie called The Sacred Beasts. The main character was Ernest Hemingway manqué Jake Hannaford, and after Sacred Beasts went bust Welles transferred Hannaford whole into The Other Side of the Wind. It is a kaleidoscopic portrait of another kind of machismo, that of a swaggering 70s auteur, with Hannaford now a doomed director (played by John Huston), his downfall captured in a densely edited collage of 35mm, 16mm and 8mm film. Welles would shoot from 1970 – 1976, but like much of his late work, post-production was never completed due to a tangled series of economic calamities, from a producer absconding with money, Welles’ absent business sense, and Iranian investments locked up because of the overthrow of the Shah. The negative was locked in a French lab with competing rights claims from Welles’ partner and collaborator Oja Kodar, his daughter Beatrice Welles, and the Paris film company Les Films de l’Astrophore, run by Mehdi Boushehri (one of the original investors in the project).

For decades now there have been teases that the film, which was completely shot and partially edited by Welles, would see the light of a projector. Today we are closer than ever to that tantalizing goal, thanks to the efforts of producers Filip Jan Rymsza, Frank Marshall and Jens Koethner Kaul, who helped to negotiate an agreement between Kodar, Beatrice Welles and Bousherhi to gain access to the negative. Now the work begins of resurrecting a feature left for dead forty years ago. So Rymsza and the production team (including advisor Peter Bogdanovich, Welles’s friend and a co-star in the film) has started an IndieGogo campaign to raise $2 million to complete the production of The Other Side of the Wind  (you can donate here: They have much left to do, including logging all of the Welles’ voluminous notes, organizing and scanning the negative, editing based on Welles’ instructions, color-correcting, and producing and mixing the music and effects.

Filip Jan Rymsza and Peter Bogdanovich took some time to talk to me about Welles, The Other Side of the Wind, and the ongoing IndieGogo campaign, getting into the atmosphere on the set, Welles’ famous prudery, and why they chose crowdfunding to get The Other Side of the Wind into the world.


With Friends Like These . . .


Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp as long-time Boston mobster Whitey Bulger, opens in theaters this fall. I am excited to see the film not only because of Depp but also because I am a fan of the director, Scott Cooper, whose Out of the Furnace was one of my favorite movies of 2013. Two years ago, the real-life Bulger was convicted of 32 counts of racketeering and murder. He had been a fixture in Boston’s underworld from the 1970s to the 1990s, rising to power with the help of corrupt FBI agents. He provided the FBI with information about a rival crime family while he built up his own criminal empire. If the story sounds familiar, it was fictionalized in Martin Scorsese’s gangster saga The Departed in 2006.


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