Polo, Anyone?

Quick! What could bring the talented, the powerful and the famous together in studio era Hollywood? Not a movie. Not a premiere. And not a high stakes poker game, though plenty of those went on regularly. What brought the likes of Jimmy Gleason, Walter Wanger, Spencer Tracy, Leslie Howard, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Walt DisneyPaul Kelly, Frank Borzage, Johnny Mack Brown, Hal Roach, Robert Montgomery, Clark Gable, George O’Brien, Darryl F. Zanuck and even Joan Crawford together in the same places week after week when their work was done?


The Movie Star->TV Star Conversion Factor

Movie Star Loretta Young Hosts Her Own Show Back in the day when Movie Stars were really MOVIE STARS, taking that step into television was a shocking move.  Considering how much opposition the movie studios had put up against the arrival of TV as a rival to their lock on audience attention, it’s perhaps downright courageous how many stars eventually embraced TV.  (Not to mention the piles of money that were thrown at them to try out the box.)  We’re all familiar with the process, which can also go in the reverse, too – TV star tries to become Movie Star — and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, both ways.  A fun way to look at the journey is through TV Guide magazine, whose covers have always offered a glimpse into the contemporary TV landscape and the personalities populating it.  You can find quite a few movie star faces among the strictly television ones, and it’s always a treat and somewhat of a surprise.


Academy Awards – The Early Years


The Academy Awards take place on February 22nd. This huge media spectacle is sometimes billed as a Super Bowl for movie lovers and it presents the public with a cavalcade of celebrities, fashions, and speeches. Adding to the fanfare, TCM will showcase Oscar-related films throughout the month and the Movie Morlocks will tackle a variety of Oscar topics to compliment the proceedings. To kick things off I’ve decided to dust off John Harkness’s The Academy Awards Handbook – “the only guide to the movies you will ever need!” (Really?!) – and share with you some highlights from the first ten years. [...MORE]



This week’s Morlock assignment: writing about tragedy, horror, death, or disaster in a Disney film. No problem. I remember hearing about how theaters would wait seven years to refurbish their chairs because that was how often Snow White would hit the screens and after each show loads of kids would soak the chairs from the frights they got from that film. One of my film history teachers (the late Stan Brakhage) even claimed that Walt Disney collected medieval torture devices that were specific for children. (Research? Fetish? Quirky collectibles? No idea.) Regardless, I don’t begrudge Disney for scaring the pants off of kids. In fact, I admire it. He knew how to make an impression. Every Halloween season I aspire to do the same by trying to spook every trick-or-treater that comes to my house. Why? Because I follow the golden rule and still treasure my memories of the horrifying hosts who went that extra mile to make me earn my candy. So let’s talk about the creepy stuff in Pinocchio, shall we? [...MORE]

Blue Shadows on the Trail: Disney Downers

Sometime in the late fifties I began to realize that just because a movie had the Walt Disney label on it didn’t mean it was going to be a sunny, feel-good, crowd-pleasing experience for every kid. I suppose I was spoiled by the exhilarating fantasy of such back to back escapism as Sleeping Beauty, Darby O’Gill and the Little People and The Shaggy Dog, all released in 1959. Then I saw THIRD MAN ON THE MOUNTAIN (also 1959) and it was not in the same vein at all. The spectre of death was introduced early into the storyline – James MacArthur plays Rudi, an aspiring mountain climber whose father died on the peaks of the Citadel (actually the Matterhorn in the Swiss alps) – and hung over it for the remainder of the film. Although by today’s standards the film is a tame, G-rated family adventure, it seemed like grim realism in 1959, lacking the joyful, spirited sense of fun that radiated through Swiss Family Robinson, from the same director, Ken Annakin, the very next year.    


The Corcoran Syndrome

The poster for 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaIn considering the darker aspects of Disney movies with my fellow Morlocks this week, I’ve been mulling over my own shifting emotions about these undeniably compelling movies.

One of the joys, and occasionally jarring aspects of relishing Walt Disney movies is that your perception of them can change–sometimes drastically–when seeing these films over a lifetime. As I mentioned in an earlier blog on Swiss Family Robinson (1960), mischievously endearing characters such as child actor Kevin Corcoran in that movie were the kind that I keenly identified with when I first saw the film. Now, however, well, let’s just say I’d probably swim away from that island if I were stuck there, sharks or no sharks.  As the youngest member of the shipwrecked family, Kevin‘s pleas in that film to keep every living thing as a pet, his wheedling complaints whenever his elders tried to keep him from harm, and his misplaced sense of injustice touched me once, giving voice to all the grudges I probably nursed as the youngest of four, though now, that piercing whine of his could probably crack crystal.

Kevin CorcoranThere are some characters in almost every Disney movie that I once wholeheartedly enjoyed whose rants, capers, and irksome pleas for attention now make me lunge for the fast forward button. For want of a better term, I’ve decided to term this evolving movie-going experience as “the Corcoran syndrome”. By the same token, there are often other, once stodgy figures in Disney movies, whose mild, wet blanket tendencies or ambivalence once dismayed me, but who now seem to be among the saner, or at least, realistic and perceptive characters in these films. Even Walt himself and his corny, avuncular manner bored me as a kid during his seemingly endless self-congratulatory introductions for The Wonderful World of Disney, which once seemed in the way of the story that was coming up. Today, despite all his salesmanship and blather, he seems to be a much more interesting, even complex cultural figure.


Disney death fake-outs exposed!


Spoiler Alert:  This posting contains crucial plot spoilers for the films SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES (1937), DUMBO (1941), BAMBI (1942), CINDERELLA (1950), OLD YELLER (1957), LADY AND THE TRAMP (1955),  THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE CHASE (1956), SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959), 101 DALMATIONS (1961), THE JUNGLE BOOK (1967) and SCANDALOUS JOHN (1971).  Read at your own peril!

When you get on the subject of deaths in Walt Disney movies (and if you grew up on Disney product of the 1950s and 60s, you really couldn’t escape the specter of the Grim Reaper, who seemed to leapfrog from film to film, poised to leaven your childlike joy and wonder with shock and sadness), one that comes up right away is the shooting of Bambi’s mother or the shooting of Old Yeller but for me those killings pale in comparison to the death of Dumbo’s mother.  You may remember the scene: falsely accused of being a ‘mad elephant,’ Dumbo’s Mom is chained and stuffed into a too-small circus wagon, to be carted off for execution.  In their final moments together, she reaches her trunk out through the bars of her cage and cradles little Dumbo, swinging him as she sings him a comforting song.  God, it’s killer.  I’m welling up now thinking about it.  To a 10 year-old kid (hell, to a 47 year-old man), this cruel separation of mother and child is about as bad as it gets.  [...MORE]

Don’t Call Me a Pollyanna

disney4On Sunday evenings throughout the month of December, TCM is showcasing Disney’s Family Classics, a 26-film series of the studio’s live-action films, which were made under the watchful eye of Walt Disney. To kick off the series, the Movie Morlocks are devoting the entire week to blogging about Disney films, from December 1 -7. Blog entries will not be exclusive to the live-action films being shown in the series; some  posts will be devoted to animation. 

The common thread for each post revolves around the many Disney films that include scenes of extreme tragedy or horror in which death or disaster befalls the characters. The life-changing events cause such emotional trauma for the characters that they can be gut-wrenching for viewers because the tragedy and grief are so profound, or the evil encountered so dark. One thinks of the death of Bambi’s mother, or the fate of Old Yeller as the most well-known examples, though many other moments such as these exist in the old Disney films from back in the day. These moments make the old Disney films memorable, even haunting, in a way that more recent ones are not. 



stillOr at least he did once about forty-eight years ago in a movie called DARBY O’GILL AND THE LITTLE PEOPLE (1959) which was produced and released by Walt Disney. His singing voice wasn’t bad. In fact, it was more than adequate since Disney decided to release the little ditty he sings with Janet Munro in the film as a 45 single. It was called “Pretty Irish Girl” and while it didn’t exactly crack the top forty, it was certainly no embarrassment. Still, it didn’t lead to any major musical film roles but here’s a web site that imagines the direction Connery could have gone in had he fancied himself as a pop star. 




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