Happy Birthday Dirk Bogarde!

March 28, 2010

TCM has nothing planned for Dirk's birthday, however, coincidentally they are showing three of his Doctor movies tomorrow during their medical-themed lineup! If you haven't seen the Doctor films, try to tune in.. they're very sly and witty and quite funny! :)

Happy Birthday Steve McQueen!

March 24, 2010

Steve McQueen would have been 80 today. I thought it would be a nice tribute to re-publish a wonderful guest post that Terry from A Shroud of Thoughts wrote for Silents and Talkies last year. So without further ado:

There are those actors who become legends, remembered long after they are gone. Sir Laurence Olivier and Katherine Hepburn both became legends in their own lifetime. But then there are those actors who become something more than legends. Not only are they remembered long after they have died, but they become a part of the very fabric of popular culture. Quite simply, they become icons.

It is these actors who are not simply remembered after they die, but who become symbols of how the average man or woman would like to be or what they want out of life. When people think of acting icons, they might think of James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. They might also think of Steve McQueen.

Terrence Steven McQueen was one of the first generation of actors who began in television. He would appear in episodes of some of the anthology series of the Fifties, among them Goodyear Television Playhouse, The United States Steel Hour, Studio One, and Alfred Hitchock Presents. In fact, the episode of Studio One in which Mr. McQueen appeared would be somewhat historic. It was the episode "The Defender" by Reginald Rose, which would inspire the classic TV show of the Sixties, The Defenders.

While Mr. McQueen gave memorable performances in the anthology series in which he appeared, it would be a Western series which would first bring him fame. On March 7, 1958, Steve McQueen guest starred in an episode of the Western Trackdown called "The Bounty Hunter." On the episode he played bounty hunter Josh Randall, As Josh Randall Mr. McQueen made a big impression, so much that the character was spun off into his own show--Wanted Dead or Alive. Not only would Wanted Dead or Alive make Steve McQueen a household name, but it would establish the sort of role for which he would become best known. Josh Randall was a no nonsense, ultra-cool bounty hunter who packed a modified Winchester 1892 Model carbine (which he called "the Mare's Leg"). And while he could be very grim in his pursuit of bad guys, Randall was also very soft hearted, helping prisoners if he believed they were wrongly accused and even giving his earnings to those in need.

Although the role of Josh Randall is not as well remembered as many of Steve McQueen's other roles, it can be argued that it is the role that started him on his path to becoming an icon. There are many who have labelled Josh Randall and the similar roles that would follow (Vin in The Magnificent Seven, Hilts in The Great Escape, Bullitt in the movie of the same name) "anti-heroes." To me this is hardly the case. Josh Randall, Vin, Captain Hilts, Lieutenant Frank Bullitt, and most of Mr. McQueen's other roles were, quite simply, heroes. It is true that they were often grim towards their opponents. And it is true that they often had little respect for authority. But these were men who remained true to their own codes of honour. Josh Randall gave money to the poor. Vin, alongside seven other men, decided to defend a poor village against incredible odds. Bullitt defied authority to catch the hitmen who shot his partner. These characters were not anti-heroes, they were heroes.

Of course, it was perhaps not enough that Steve McQueen played heroes. Other actors had done so before him and other would do so since his time. In both the roles he chose and even his private life, Mr. McQueen was a essentially a man of action. He raced both cars and motorcycles. He performed many of his own stunts (although one of the most famous, the motorcycle jump over the fence in The Great Escape, was actually performed by friend and stuntman Bob Ekins). He was even trained in the martial arts by Bruce Lee. Because Mr. McQueen was capable of many of the stunts performed by his characters, he lent a credibility to those characters that few other actors could have. Quite simply, Steve McQueen's characters weren't simply men of honour, they were bigger than life figures who were nearly indestructible.

Steve McQueen played ultra-cool characters with their own codes of honour in some of the biggest action movies of the Sixties and Seventies--The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Nevada Smith, Bullitt, and Papillon. He would then become an hero and a role model for more than one generation of young men. When men between the ages of 60 and 30 discuss actors, it is a certainty that Steve McQueen's name will be brought up.

Like many boys growing up in the late Sixties, I was exposed to Steve McQueen's performances while very young. The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, Bullitt, and Papillon were among the earliest movies I remember watching. And while the tough, cool, yet good hearted characters Mr. McQueen played struck a chord with me, I had another reason to feel a special closeness to Steve McQueen. While he was born in Indiana, Mr. McQueen spent much of his childhood in Slater, Missouri, a town only about forty minutes from my hometown. Mr. McQueen had very fond memories of Slater and of his Great Uncle Claude who raised him there. If Steve McQueen was capable of playing heroes, I like to think that it was largely because of the small town values that his Great Uncle Claude instilled in him while he was in Slater. Indeed, the best role I think Steve McQueen ever played was that of Tom Horn in the movie of the same name. Here was a man from Missouri playing another man from Missouri, and both of them were bigger than life.

Of course, a young boy did not have to live near Steve McQueen's hometown to look up to him and even identify him. As an icon Mr. McQueen has infiltrated American pop culture to a degree that few other actors have. Numerous songs have been written about him, from the song "Steve McQueen" by Quicksilver Messenger Service to the song "Steve McQueen" by Sheryl Crow (a fellow Missourian) to the song "Steve McQueen" by the Automatic. I doubt even John Wayne has so many songs written about him.

Steve McQueen has also been referenced in many movies, from the comedy The Tao of Steve
(in which the lead character bases an entire philosophy around Steve McQueen) to the comedy Then She Found Me to the drama The Kite Runner. And as anyone who watches the TV show House regularly knows, Dr. Gregory House is such a big fan of Mr. McQueen that he named his pet rat for him.

If Steve McQueen became an icon, if he has been enshrined in the hearts of men and women everywhere as the King of Cool, I believe it is because he played quintessentially American heroes. His characters were tough men who were capable of both taking and dealing out a lot of punishment. At the same time, however, most of his characters lived by their own codes of morality. These were men who would help the poor, defend the helpless, and remain true to their morals even if it meant death. Steve McQueen was truly the King of Cool, but the majority of his characters were never anti-heroes. They were quite simply heroes, and I suspect that was truly his key to success.

Instant pick-me-ups

March 18, 2010

There are only a small handful of films that instantly pick-me-up. Except for Hot Enough for June, which I only discovered last November, I've seen all of these movies 20 times AT LEAST. If I'm having trouble falling asleep at night, I can reenact the movies in my mind to help me drift off. Not only are they all in my top 10 favorite films of all time (not BEST films of all time, just personal favorites) but they each have some distinct quality that manages to zap me out of a bad mood instantaneously.

1. How to Steal a Million. This is my number one feel-good movie (and also my #2 favorite movie of all time). It's the first classic film I ever saw, so it has a sense of nostalgia and coziness that endears it to me. But it's also such a fun film to watch that I forget any troubles that might have been bothering me before putting in the disc. Oh... and Audrey Hepburn's wardrobe and Peter O'Toole's piercing blue eyes and tall slender frame don't hurt matters any either ;-)

2. Sunday in New York. It's been the subject of a good deal of gushing on this blog already, so suffice it to say it's one of my all-time favorite movies. Some of the scenes make me laugh out loud even though I already know the jokes and set-ups by heart. "Two heads are better than one... didn't know I had two heads, did you?" *Kate cracks up*

3. Hot Enough for June. First, the obvious ... it stars Dirk Bogarde. There are two parts that are so absolutely comically perfect they almost make my toes curl when I watch them. When Dirk (as Nicholas Whistler) is trying to find out who his contact is in Prague, and when he reluctantly asks to come back to the glass factory to look at one of the processes again. If you've seen it, you know what I'm talking about. And anyone who could retain a bad mood after seeing Dirk Bogarde in this costume has absolutely no business trying to cheer themselves up in the first place:

4. Indiscreet. If you've seen it, you know. It's perfect. There's something about this movie that makes you feel like you are a part of their courtship, if that makes *any* sense whatsoever. This one especially works great when I'm feeling lonely :)
Anyway, it's just a really fantastic movie!

5. Follow the Fleet. Honestly, every Fred and Ginger film cheers me up, but for some reason this one does even more so.. which is totally bizarre because Randolph Scott is one of my very least favorite actors and I think his character is really rotten to Harriet Hilliard in the movie! But it has super fantastic songs and I could watch the "Let's Face the Music and Dance" number on repeat for years.

What are your cheer-up movies?

The Academy's Folly

March 12, 2010

Numerous things bothered me about this year's Academy Awards. For starters, moving the honorary Oscar ceremony to a different day, thereby refusing Lauren Bacall and Roger Corman the honor of accepting their awards on Oscar night, was an affront to their talent, their legacy and their dignity. Having them stand up for an awkward applause, in which most members of the audience looked uneasy about whether or not to turn the clapping into a standing ovation, was embarrassing to say the least.

What made Oscar night even worse was the glaring omission of some big names from the annual Oscar memorial tribute, mainly Farrah Fawcett, Gene Barry and Bea Arthur. While I don't exactly have a checklist of people who passed away in 2009 to make sure that the Academy included everyone, it is perfectly clear to anyone who watches TCM that the memorial montage on our favorite classic film network included significantly more people than the Academy did. Each and every person in TCM's tribute played a part in film history, and they should have been included in the Oscar tribute as well. Whether it was a small part or a large part; whether they were a big name star or an anonymous technician; they deserved that two or three second tribute in front of the people who are keeping the film tradition alive.

The Academy has been apologizing for leaving people out of this tribute for years -- one of their most painful omissions was Dorothy McGuire. To explain her absence from the memorial, the Academy adopted their age-old excuse of "time limits." Time limit shm-ime limit. They could have easily trimmed the length of one of their dance-numbers-that-belonged-at-the-Tony's-not-the-Oscars or thrown out some of the extra bad jokes. I bring this up, though, because this time around they didn't blame the three big omissions on time limits. They began by trying to say that Fawcett, Arthur and Barry were merely television stars who would be honored by their peers at the Emmys, not the Oscars. But then somebody brought up Michael Jackson, who, despite his appearance on film is definitely considered a music star, not a movie star. And THAT, my friends, is where all heck broke loose. Consider this quote from an article from the AP regarding this topic:

"When asked why Michael Jackson was included when actors were left out, Davis explained that Jackson had appeared in a popular theatrical film recently."
Popular theatrical film recently.

This opens a whole new can of worms. Since when does the date of your most recent film affect your worthiness to be included in a memorial tribute to filmmakers? Sure, Farrah Fawcett didn't make a movie in 2009 or 2008 but maybe she might have if she hadn't been spending all of her time
battling cancer, for crying out loud!

And popular? POPULAR? Now, forget for a minute how this statement relates to the Farrah vs. Michael debacle-- how will this new standard affect future tributes? What of the stars who retired from acting in the 40's and 50's? Will they be shunned from memorial tributes because they haven't been on screen RECENTLY? Or in the latest POPULAR blockbuster? Another excerpt from the article I read:

"In every category, you're going to miss some wonderful people," said Davis, who has helped assemble Oscar's In Memoriam montage since it began in 1993.

Here's my solution: just include everyone who has been instrumental in making a movie. Whether they made 1 movie or 100, whether their last film was released last summer or 60 years ago. Just include them. It makes their fans and their family happy, and it gives them the credit that they deserve. End of story.

And for heaven's sake, either ask the audience to remain quiet or to maintain a steady stream of clapping. The parade of passing is no time for a popularity contest.

John Mills in Hobson's Choice is the cutest thing ever.

March 07, 2010

Just had to say that. If you haven't seen the movie, you must. His cuteness is seriously overwhelming.

My favorite Hitchcock

March 05, 2010

I was inspired by a post over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks to do my own Top 20 Hitchcock list. It says a lot about a director when you can fill up a "top 20" list with their films alone -- and have trouble narrowing it down to 20 at that!

These are in no particular order, except for the first four.

1. Dial M For Murder
2. Young and Innocent
3. The Birds
4. Sabotage
5. The 39 Steps
6. Foreign Correspondent
7. Shadow of a Doubt
8. Stage Fright
9. Lifeboat
10. Spellbound
11. Psycho
12. Marnie
13. Notorious
14. Rope
15. Strangers on a Train
16. The Trouble with Harry
17. The Lady Vanishes
18. Mr. and Mrs. Smith
19. Murder!
20. Breakdown

Number 20, Breakdown, is an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents directed by Hitch and starring Joseph Cotten. It's on YouTube - if you haven't seen it, you must! I had to include it because, despite it's short running time, it is one of my all time favorite things directed by Sir Alfred. It would seem silly to leave it off my list just because it wasn't released in a theater :)

What are your top 20 Hitchcock films? Or top 10?

(The art is a linoleum cut that I did a few years ago when I was teaching my brother printmaking)