H-ii
December 20, 2014
David Kalat
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If we took a holiday / Took some time to celebrate

There’s nothing on the books that says that a “classic” has to have been liked much when it first came out. In fact, enormous swaths of what we now revere as America’s film heritage are comprised of what were flops on their first outing.

Take, for example, the Cary Grant- Katharine Hepburn romantic comedy Holiday by George Cukor (TCM is running it in the middle of the night this coming Monday–set your DVRs!). Right there, in that one sentence, I’ve probably already sold you on the merits of this picture.

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KEYWORDS: Cary Grant, George Cukor, Holiday, Katharine Hepburn
COMMENTS: 6
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The Better Half

The Apartment airs today on TCM and in it are two of the great stars of the silver screen, Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.  Like any great stars, they have two careers comprised of a first half and a second half.  A few years back, Movie Morlock Jeff Stafford covered similar ground with stars he liked better older than younger, a corollary to this post but not quite the same thing.   I’d like to make the case here that stars have a more successful half and a less successful half and that half depends entirely on the star and what works for them.   It comes down to what kind of roles suit the actor better and for those whose early roles suit their talent better, their later career can be a mess.  For those who grow into something more than their early work allowed, their later career flourishes.  For me, Lemmon went one way and MacLaine went the other and both ways were written into their movie star DNA from the start.

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Six Degrees of Elvis Presley

elvissammyFor the third and final post in my informal and unintended series on Elvis Presley, I was inspired by the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is, which airs on TCM on Tuesday, April 15, at 5:00am (actually Wednesday, but it is listed as Tuesday night on the TCM schedule). Elvis: That’s the Way It Is chronicles Presley’s engagement at the International Hotel in the summer of 1970. The film airing on TCM is the 2001 special edition, a reworked version of the original. A producer named Rick Schmidlin discovered unmarked cans of unused footage for the film in MGM’s storage facilities in an old salt mine in Kansas along with the original 16-track recordings. The tracks were digitally remixed for the special edition, and unseen footage of Elvis in rehearsal and on stage replaced non-concert scenes from the original. For me, one of the most interesting parts of this documentary is the show of celebrities and stars who lined up to see Elvis at the International, including Juliet Prowse, Charo and her husband Xavier Cugat, Dale Robertson, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Cary Grant.

Elvis knew and admired a variety of stars and performers throughout his career. This makes sense considering his success in different arenas of show business (recording; films; live performance and his eclectic personal tastes in entertainment and music. The latter served him well in developing a unique musical style and sound not once but twice—in 1954 and in 1968-1969. Below are just a few photos of Elvis’s show-biz acquaintances, associates, and admirers. You are not likely to find a more diverse circle of celebrities associated with one entertainer.

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Caught on Film: Hollywood Romances That Ignited On Set

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Tomorrow is February 14th, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by taking a look at some sizzling screen romances that ignited while the cameras were rolling. Anyone who knows a thing or two about Hollywood history knows that it’s not uncommon for actors to fall head over heels for their costars. And who can blame them? When two attractive actors are asked to feign love while kissing and cuddling for our amusement I suspect that the lines between fantasy and reality can easily become blurred. These on set affairs seldom last but they can wreck marriages and leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake. But the heart wants what it wants and on some occasions these romantic rendezvous develop into long lasting loving relationships. And best of all? They often leave us with some passion filled films that make for great viewing on Valentine’s Day!

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You Were Meant For Me: Penny Serenade (1941)

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Penny Serenade (1941) is the third and final film Cary Grant and Irene Dunne made together. The Awful Truth (1937) and My Favorite Wife (1940) are screwball comedies of re-marriage, and Penny Serenade is their tragic inverse, focusing on the work necessary to maintain a long-haul relationship. The first two are set in high society, produced by the improvisatory Leo McCarey, while Penny Serenade is working class and focused on the fear and trembling of young parents, made with stark realism by the more deliberate George Stevens.  Grant worried about audience expectation, the “people who are laughing already, in anticipation of another mad marital mixup”. Both actors were protective of this heart-tugging melodrama, and later in life Irene Dunne declared it the favorite of her films. It was a success, although not to the same blockbuster degree as The Awful Truth, and for years has circulated in beat-up public domain editions. Olive Films is releasing a spiffy Blu-Ray of Penny Serenade next week, and it’s something of a revelation.

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The worst people in the world

We have gathered here today to discuss a landmark of American screen comedy.

It is a film about a reporter, and he is a reprehensible example of the most caricatured excesses of his profession. He is selfish and callous, gleefully exploiting the sufferings of others because it makes good copy. He has his eyes on a girl, but she’s already involved with another man—a decent citizen, who will become the butt of our protagonist’s abuse. The reporter will do everything in his power to punish this rival, including framing him for various crimes.

And although this character’s behavior is unambiguously villainous, he is not the villain of the film—he’s not quite its hero, either, but he’s the central anchor of all that happens, and we in the audience are not expected to boo him but to relish in his monstrous actions. All this awfulness is presented for our entertainment.

But here’s the riddle: what movie am I talking about? Is it Howard Hawks’ His Girl Friday, starring Cary Grant? Or Mack Sennett’s Making a Living, with Charlie Chaplin? Ah, there’s the rub—and therein lies our tale.

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Meet Cary Grant

We come upon three men and a naked lady.

The lady is Thelma Todd, denuded as she often was in her brief screen career.

One of the men is Roland Young, a womanizing roué who has brought her home in this state. The other, Charlie Ruggles, is his mostly useless sidekick. The third man? Well, that’d be Thelma’s husband–known to be a fiercely jealous man. He is also an Olympic javelin thrower (Yes. That’s right). Oh, and he has a quiver of javelins with him.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the screen debut of Cary Grant. It is not an especially auspicious performance–Grant is quoted in numerous sources as disliking his contribution to this film. But it is for our purposes an extremely illuminating one.

Here is a film that behaves like a modern dialogue-driven romantic comedy, but which is comprised of the DNA of silent comedy. Here is a missing link between one animal and the other–a glimpse into the evolution of talkie comedy. And it all hinges on Cary Grant.

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I Only Make Passes at Boys Who Wear Glasses

Some women like men who drive fast cars; others prefer men with an athletic build while some find a uniform irresistible. Me? I appreciate a good pair of spectacles.
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Favorite Film Related Books of 2011 (Part I.)

I enjoy reading about the movies I love almost as much as I enjoy watching them and this year I found myself doing a lot of reading. This was partially due to the fact that I’m more housebound lately but publishers were also very generous this year. I received many press releases as well as books for review during the last few months that caught my attention. Some books I encountered didn’t appeal to me but a surprising number of them kept me eagerly turning pages until I was finished reading. From lush coffee table gift books to intimate autobiographies, the range of interesting reading material I came across in 2011 was surprising, thought provoking and entertaining so I decided to compile a two-part list of my favorite film related books of the year. Some of the books on my list are fun and frivolous, while others are more weightier affairs. No matter what your reading tastes might be; these selections should appeal to all types of film fans.

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They said WHAT?! Classic Insults from Classic Actors

Humphrey Bogart and William Holden duking it out on the set of SABRINA (1954)

In June actor Harrison Ford made news after publicly calling, Shia LaBeouf, his young costar from INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (Steven Spielberg; 2008) “…a f–king idiot.” Since then I’ve been thinking about insults that actors have hurled at other actors over the years and a recent piece at Flavorwire titled “The 30 Harshest Filmmaker-on-Filmmaker Insults In History” compelled me to compile a list of 30 of the worst actor-on actor insults I’ve come across. Some of them are surprisingly crude so I thought I should worn potential readers before they plunge ahead. Let the war of words begin…

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