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November 29, 2014
David Kalat
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Don’t Bother To Knock Marilyn Monroe, She Knocks For Thee (Or Something Like That)

Sometimes you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time—a misfit in your own life. Perhaps, for example, you’ve got it in you to be a fine hotel manager, but all you are is the elevator boy. Maybe you’re a lounge singer paid to sing love songs, while your own heart is breaking. Or maybe you’ve been hired to be a babysitter, when your own psychological demons are so extreme that you are palpably a danger to yourself and others.

This is the setup of Roy Ward Baker’s Don’t Bother To Knock, a trim 1952 film noir that plays to almost every parent’s worst nightmare… But behind the scenes, the making of this thriller was marked by something else—a sense that the makers of this film, far from being misfits, were finally finding their place in the world.

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KEYWORDS: Anne Bancroft, Don't Bother to Knock, Elisha Cook Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Richard Widmark, Roy Ward Baker
COMMENTS: 8
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June 14, 2014
David Kalat
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Marilyn Monroe 2.0

Don Murray got an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his part in Bus Stop (airing on TCM in just a couple of days).

Were they trying to make Marilyn Monroe go insane?

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KEYWORDS: Bus Stop, Marilyn Monroe
COMMENTS: 10
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What I Didn’t Know About Harry Cohn

harryyoungI recently picked up a used audiotape of the biography of Harry Cohn by Bob Thomas, King Cohn: The Life and Times of Harry Cohn. First published in 1967, the book was revised in 1990 with additional interviews and material; in 2000, it was republished, including an audiotape edition with a forward by Peter Bart. King Cohn is not groundbreaking in structure or shocking in content, but I did learn a great deal about the meanest movie mogul in Hollywood as well as the love of his life, Columbia Pictures.

Most of the Golden Age movie moguls started at the bottom in the movie business and worked their way up to head of production at their studios. While Cohn was no exception, I discovered that his entrance into the film industry was quite unique. He was working as a song plugger for sheet-music publishers when he had a brilliant idea to increase sales. The latest songs were routinely plugged at movie theaters between films by the house orchestras who played them while slides of pretty pictures were shown to the audience. Cohn believed that audiences would respond better to movie footage than slides, so he began to produce footage for theaters to project during the songs.  To maximize the effect, Cohn learned to match the content of the images to the songs’ lyrics. Jack Cohn, Harry’s brother, worked for Universal Pictures at the time, and he showed Cohn’s innovation to studio owner Carl Laemmle. Laemmle was impressed enough to give Harry a job.  Eventually, Harry and Jack left Universal to form their own production company.

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Holiday Cooking with the Stars

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In October I shared some of Vincent Price’s recipes and cooking tips in a post titled In the Kitchen with Vincent Price and the response was overwhelming positive. In celebration of Thanksgiving I thought I’d share a few holiday recipes from some of Hollywood’s most loved and admired stars. The recipes are variants of traditional dishes and desserts often served in American homes during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Most were compiled from newspaper archives and a few were borrowed from books. I hope the variety of the recipes I’ve gathered together might inspire you to spend some time in the kitchen cooking with the stars this holiday season. The first item on today’s menu? Marilyn Monroe’s Stuffing!

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The Hawks Report #3: Loves of a Blonde

It takes many people to make a movie.  There are hairdressers and set dressers, designers and gaffers, caterers and stand-ins.  But never mind—in the public imagination it all comes down to the director and the star.

And there was a moment, in 1953, when one of the greatest directors who ever graced Hollywood came to work with inarguably the most iconic movie star of all time.  What they made was a bright Technicolor musical comedy, produced on the tail end of Hollywood’s Golden Age, that was as raunchy as anything made in the pre-Porky’s era.  And for all its glorious brilliance, it probably shouldn’t have worked at all—because you can’t just put any director with any star.  Sometimes they don’t match.

There’s a phrase—oil and water.  It’s meant to suggest that two people are of such disparate temperaments that they can’t mix, like oil and water.  But that metaphor is a limited—oil and water may not mix, but they are such inert things.  But try mixing potassium and water and see what happens—they don’t mix either, but stuff explodes.  And that’s our metaphor for today—because putting Howard Hawks in the same room as Marilyn Monroe and expecting anything other than stuff exploding was madness.

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William Edward Cronenweth: A Legacy in Photos

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William Edward Cronenweth photographing Rita Hayworth (1947)

In my ongoing quest to learn more about the talented men and women who were responsible for taking the imaginative studio portraits and set photos we all love but too often take for granted, I recently became fascinated with the work of William Edward Cronenweth. Trying to compile information about the man was difficult and I often ran into obstacles while attempting to learn more about his life and work. Cronenwerth’s name is rarely mentioned in the various books I’ve read about studio photography and if it is, the information tends to be sparse and inconsistent. Hopefully this brief portrait I’ve compiled will shine some light on Cronenweth’s considerable contributions to Hollywood’s glamorous history.

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Making a Case for Monkey Business

Monkey Business airs tomorrow night on TCM as part of a night devoted to the comedies of Cary Grant. Directed by Howard Hawks, this under-appreciated film was released at the tail end of the original cycle of screwball comedy. Monkey Business has always been one of my favorite comedies, largely because of the cast. Stars Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers were old hands at romantic comedy by the time this film came around, and they tackle the physical and situational humor with the experience and authority of veterans.  Marilyn Monroe is featured in a secondary role, and she plays into her image as a blonde bombshell for comic effect. Familiar character actor Charles Coburn is appropriately blustery as Monroe’s boss, who is too enamored of her physical assets to care about her qualifications as his secretary.

The plot of Monkey Business turns on a farcical situation that exploits the differences and tensions between men and women, which is typical for screwball comedies. Grant stars as the brilliant but absent-minded Dr. Barnaby Fulton, a chemist who works for a big drug company run by Oliver Oxley, played by Coburn.  Barnaby’s latest experiments involve the search for a youth serum. Oxley’s motives for wanting an elixir of youth go beyond just making money. They likely have something to do with his interest in his sexy, young secretary, Lois Laurel, played by MM. Lois can’t type, take dictation, or do anything else a secretary is required to do—a running joke in the film. At one point Coburn hands Miss Laurel a memo, adding, “Find someone to type this.”

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The Grim Outdoors: River of No Return (1954)

In the numerous attempts to capitalize on the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s tragic death, 20th Century Fox has made the most welcome one, releasing impeccably restored editions of seven of her films in the “Forever Marilyn” Blu-Ray box set. Also available individually, these discs are a striking reminder that Monroe was not simply a mass-produced fetish toy, but an idiosyncratic artist who keenly played off of, and frequently subverted, the dumb-blonde characters she was saddled with. It includes Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How To Marry A Millionaire, River of No Return, There’s No Business Like Show Business, The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot and The Misfits. While Gentlemen Prefer Blondes remains an ebulliently entertaining treatise on female friendship, the revelation for me was Otto Preminger’s River of No Return (1954), a rather melancholy Western (with the saddest theme song in history), in which she plays her woman of questionable virtue with a daring opacity, causing Darryl Zanuck to demand re-shoots to clarify her character’s motivations.

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Over the Falls with Marilyn Monroe

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe, which has motivated me to re-view many of her movies and reread some of the bios about her. Additionally, the anniversary has pushed MM back into the pop-culture spotlight. The television show Smash with its show-within-a-show structure uses Monroe’s life as the basis for the musical play being produced by the central characters. The show’s references to Monroe’s life and career, plus the writers’ understanding of Hollywood history, are impressive in their accuracy and insight. This past week, the enormous statue of Monroe based on the skirt-blowing scene from The Seven Year Itch that has graced downtown Chicago for several months was dismantled and sent on to its next home, Palm Springs. Smash reminds us of MM’s tortured existence as a woman at the mercy of the Hollywood dream factory; the statue incarnates her status as an icon of sexuality; her films reveal her strengths as an actress and charisma as a star.

In revisiting Monroe’s life and career over the past months, some of her films have tumbled down my list of favorites, making way for new ones at the top. Tomorrow afternoon, May 15, TCM will air one of my new favorite MM movies, Niagara. Directed by studio stalwart Henry Hathaway, Niagara does not get the attention of other Monroe films, particularly those by auteurs such as Billy Wilder, Howard Hawks, or John Huston. But, I admire Niagara’s taut direction, visual style, and strong performances by Monroe and costar Joseph Cotten.

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The Great Ones, Part 2: More On & Off the Set Photographs

Johnny Weissmuller strikes a Vanity Fair-like pose in this second series of candid on-the-set snapshots, oddball publicity stills and off-the-set photographs.           [...MORE]

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