Carole Lombard’s Lasting Impact … on Napa!

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Carole Lombard will be headlining TCM’s Summer Under the Stars line-up on Sunday, August 11th.

While pursuing my personal interest in local history here in Napa I was pleasantly surprised to discover how one of my favorite funny ladies, the brassy blonde bombshell Carole Lombard, had made a lasting impression on the area when she visited California’s Wine Country in 1939 to star in Garson Kanin’s THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED (1940). This notable RKO production was based on a Pulitzer Prize winning play written by Sidney Howard that chronicled a complicated love triangle between an ambitious San Francisco waitress (Carole Lombard), a simple-minded Italian grape farmer (Charles Laughton) and his affable ranch hand (William Gargan). Much of the film was shot on location in the Napa Valley and during that time Lombard, along with her costars and husband Clark Gable, toured wineries, mingled with locals and befriended some well-heeled residents who still fondly recall family stories about encountering the lovely Lombard.

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In space no one can hear you scream

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ALIEN airs on TCM January 25th as part of their ‘70s Thrills programming

For decades screaming was often the weapon of choice for women in action, science fiction and horror films. We were expected to shriek, shout, yelp, whimper, squeal and squawk in the face of serious danger and (hopefully) a man would eventually come to our aide. So you can imagine how frightened little 11-year-old me was when I first heard the tagline for ALIEN back in 1979. Weeks before I actually saw the film I spent many sleepless nights rolling around in bed and contemplating the terrifying idea that no one could hear me scream if I was in space. If no one could hear me scream how could I be saved from whatever terrible danger awaited me?

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Comic Relief with Artists and Models (1955)

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This has been a rough week. And when the bad news starts to outweigh the good I like to escape my worries with a great comedy that makes me laugh out loud and allows me to forget my troubles for a few short hours. I recently found some comic relief in my favorite Martin and Lewis film, Frank Tashlin’s ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955). I grew up watching this brilliant musical satire and it never fails to put a big goofy grin on my face. Your own mileage will vary of course but here are 10 reasons why you should consider watching ARTISTS AND MODELS today.
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Embracing Ambiguity: Figures In A Landscape (1970)

[Warning! Spoilers on the road ahead.]

The first thing that you see in Joseph Losey’s FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE (1970) is the big black helicopter. It lingers in the sky like a giant buzzing insect or an angry bird of prey. For the next two hours it will pursue the film’s two protagonists (Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell) in a relentless game of cat and mouse over various terrains of uncompromising beauty. You will never find out who is pursuing them. You will not discover what they are running from. You will never know when these events took place or where. And last but not least, you will never know why they happen. If clarity, easy answers and conventional storytelling techniques are something you demand from cinema you’ll probably find FIGURES IN A LANDSCAPE a frustrating viewing experience. But if you relish unexpected pleasures and are willing to embrace ambiguity the film might capture your imagination as forcefully as it does mine.

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A Tale of Two Films: The Picasso Summer (1969)

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”
- Pablo Picasso

Few films come with a pedigree as spotted as THE PICASSO SUMMER. Some names that were directly or indirectly associated with the movie include artist Pablo Picasso, author Ray Bradbury, French directors Francois Truffaut and Serge Bourguignon, cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond as well as renowned animators Wes Herschensohn, Faith & John Hubley, composer Michel Legrand and songstress Barbra Streisand. Not to mention producer and beloved comedian Bill Cosby, Spanish bullfighting legend Luis Miguel Dominguín, actor Yul Brynner and the films stars, Albert Finney and Yvette Mimieux. Now that I’ve hopefully got your attention I suggest you proceed with caution. The story of how THE PICASSO SUMMER finally got made and was shelved for years is fascinating, funny and sad. This is a film that deserves to be rediscovered but it’s also a tragic reminder of ‘60s Hollywood excess and it left a lot of battered egos and unrealized dreams in its wake.

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Geneviève Bujold is ISABEL (1968)

Paul Almond’s ISABEL (1968) begins with a train journey across a snow-covered landscape. We watch as the film’s star, Geneviève Bujold, sits awkwardly in her seat and squirms uncomfortably in front of the camera’s unrelenting eye. She is biding her time by shuffling through a small stack of books and papers in an effort to fend off unpleasant thoughts and feelings. You see, Isabel is a woman haunted by ghosts. These ghosts have hidden themselves deep within the recesses of Isabel’s troubled mind but when she’s asked to return to her family’s ancestral home following her mother’s death, Isabel is forced to confront the phantoms that posses her.

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Remember My Name …or else.

Anthony Perkins is one of my favorite actors so I was thrilled when I recently got the opportunity to see Alan Rudolph’s 1978 film REMEMBER MY NAME. In the movie Perkins plays a man being stalked by his former wife (Geraldine Chaplin) but his low-key performance is just one of the elements that made REMEMBER MY NAME such a memorable viewing experience. I was predisposed to like Alan Rudolph’s neo-noir but his film surprised me in ways that I hadn’t expected and made me gain a new appreciation for the director’s work.

Rudolph forgoes simplistic plot devices and a clear narrative structure in REMEMBER MY NAME to explore the mind of Emily (Geraldine Page) who has recently been released from jail and has decided to track down her ex-husband (Perkins) and his new wife (Perkin’s real-life wife, Berry Berenson) in an attempt to frighten them. When she’s not terrorizing the couple, Emily tries to fit into conventional society by getting herself a new wardrobe, a new hairstyle and a new job but these superficial attempts at living mask untapped passions and a seething bitterness that have laid dormant for years. Emily is not a happy woman and she aggressively dismisses anyone that gets in her way while seeking revenge on the one person who she believes has made her life a living hell. That person is Neil, her ex-husband, who is surprisingly sympathetic at first. I’ve always been impressed with the ways in which Anthony Perkins can make the most despicable characters seem benign and in REMEMBER MY NAME he does an exceptional job of making us think that Neil is a considerate and caring man who is deeply concerned for the safety of his family. But his benevolent behavior masks a troubled past full of dark secrets and lies that never fully reveal themselves to the audience. The film also features brief but memorable performances from Jeff Goldblum, Alfre Woodard and in particular Moses Gunn, as the considerate manager of the halfway house that Emily is forced to live in after leaving prison.

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My TCM Classic Film Festival Schedule

Today marks the beginning of TCM’s Classic Film Festival taking place April 28-May 1. A number of people have asked me if I’m attending the festival this year but unfortunately I’m stuck at home writing about it. Personal budget constraints make my attendance impossible but there are a lot of film screenings and events taking place at the festival that I wish I could see. I thought it would be fun to imagine how I might have planned out my trip to TCM’s Classic Film Festival this year and share a few movie recommendations in the process.

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What Ever Happened to Jennifer?

Jennifer’s gone missing. She was supposed to be looking after her uncle’s sprawling estate, which appears to have been abandoned since the Great Depression, but no one has seen her in weeks. Did she run off with an unknown lover? Did she swindle an undisclosed sum of money from her previous boss and head to Mexico on a cruise ship? Or was Jennifer murdered by a mysterious killer and buried somewhere on the property? These are the questions that will plague Agnes Langly (Ida Lupino) after she’s hired to replace the missing woman as the new caretaker in Joel Newton’s low-key thriller simply titled JENNIFER (1953).

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Goodbye Goddess: Elizabeth Taylor 1932-2011

Elizabeth Taylor has always been one of my favorite actresses. She was an incredible natural beauty. Arguably the most beautiful actress Hollywood ever produced but she was also a brilliant performer when she wanted to be. She dominated almost every film she ever appeared in even when that film wasn’t particularly worthy of her larger than life presence. Taylor was a complex woman with a rich inner life who enjoyed living and one look into her deep violet eyes told you this. Inside of Taylor there seemed to be a volcanic mountain of pent-up emotion just waiting to explode. Her appetite for life was voracious but her heart was huge, open and warm. These are rare and wonderful qualities that you seldom find in today’s Hollywood stars.

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