Friday, October 29, 2010

Link: Diane on Whidbey Island - Classic Film Costumier for Dolls

You know you're obsessed with classic films when you spend hours, days and weeks recreating costumes from the films in miniature for small figurines. Blogger and classic movie lover, Diane, author of Diane on Whidbey Island,  is a " minivan driving, fabriholic, Cub Scout leader . . . . who still plays with dolls...."

And those dolls are perfectly dressed in recreations of Edith Head's designs for Grace Kelly's character in Hitchcock's Rear Window(1954), or elegantly posed in miniature gowns inspired by Bill Thomas for Lana Turner's role in Imitation of Life (1959), among other films.

I've just found this blog and thought I'd share it with you.


--Java

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

On the Lam: Origin of a Gangster's Term

"'Slang,' as the poet Carl Sandburg has said, 'is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work,'" Professor Potts notes in Ball of Fire (1941). A particularly wizened sleeve-roller is the slang term "on the lam." Possibly of Old English derivation, the verb, "to lam" means "to beat." 

"On the lam" doesn't seem to be anywhere in modern conversation except in reference to vintage gangster movies where everybody spits it out like rounds from a Tommy gun. From the context you know it means someone has become a fugitive from the law and is in hiding, but from where did it originate?
Wanted gangster moll, Sugar Puss, holds up her tired tootsies after going on the lam. Ball of Fire (1941)
According to this William Safire article on the term, no one knows.  Since its original meaning refers to being beaten, someone who goes on the lam is trying to avoid a physical run-in with the authorities, notes Safire ("to avoid a feared lamming . . . one lams."). It would seem to me, though, (this is just a guess) that the beating could refer to one's foot hitting the road while fleeing, like the similar, more modern, alliterative term "to pound the pavement."

"Lam" today seems to survive mostly in the term "lambast," meaning to beat with a cane or to argue angrily. 

Just a note.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Moonfleet (1955)

Did you catch Moonfleet (1955) on TCM the other day? Is George Sanders in every movie ever made in the 1950s? Check your home movies; he’s probably in those as well.

Seeing from the info guide that Sanders was on the roster I had to watch it, even though it had already run for about 20 minutes by the time that I turned it on. The film actually stars Stewart Granger as Jeremy Fox, the anti-hero, and Sanders is a villain, chewing up the scenery as only he can.

The two men collude to smuggle stuff and make a fortune from it.

To put a wrench in Fox’s plans, the plot throws him a little boy (Jon Whiteley) to take care of. [His nephew? His son?] The boy discovers a  clue to a missing diamond that all the adults are looking for, and the boy becomes a valuable asset to his new caretaker. The self-absorbed Fox must choose whether to become less selfish when he’s faced with having to save the boy and risk his own neck.

Oh yeah, and Granger’s character is smooching with Sanders’ missus. Lady Ashwood is played by Joan Greenwood with that distinctive, mellifluous voice, who, if she merely says hello you‘d think she‘s flirting with you.

The plot is inspired by a very popular 19th century novel  by J. Meade Falkner with pirates and smugglers and derring-do. But I mention this film to talk about the costumes and their designer, Walter Plunkett. Gorgeous! The relentlessly brilliant color; Fox's red coat contrasting wonderfully with everything around him; Lady Ashwood's opulent dresses accented with a small black and white terrier; Lord Ashwood lounging comfortably at home in his lilac velvet coat . . .  It’s all so mesmerizing!

By this time, Plunkett was well known as the go-to costume designer for period films. He had designed for Singin’ In The Rain (1952), The Three Musketeers (1948) and Gone with The Wind (1939).
Walter Plunkett
Originally considering a career in law, Plunkett switched his major to English at the University of California at Berkeley, nourished a love of the arts and became a self-taught costume designer for the stage. Eventually making his way to New York and back again to the golden state, in 1925 Plunkett landed at the old F.B.O. Studios, which would become the famed RKO. Plunkett would freelance his talents to many studios.

When David O’ Selznick accepted his award for Gone With The Wind, the producer noted, "It's too bad there isn't an Award for costume designing, too, because Walter Plunkett would have received it."  Later, Plunkett would be nominated for the Academy Award ten times, finally sharing one with Orry-Kelly and Irene Sharaff for An American  In Paris (1951).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Betty on Betty

Looking around on my shelf I spy lyricist-playwright Betty Comden’s memoirs Off Stage. Let’s randomly leaf through and find an anecdote…

Ah! A good one.
Some background first.
Lauren Bacall, Betty Comden in 1983 speaking to director Arthur Laurents
Betty Comden and her husband Steven Kyle met movie stars Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (born Betty Joan Perske) through a series of parties in Hollywood in the 1940s. They became fast friends, attending each others’ children’s birthday parties, having dinner together, etc. The playwright beams about having “a very glamorous friend” in Bacall,  and  remembers being flattered by Bogart’s attention. Betty Comden recalls,
_____________________________________________________________
“Betty and Bogie were terrific together, but then came the time there was just Betty. Steve was not able to go out to California when Bogie died. I went and Adolph [Green] went. We had visited him at drink time in the den, where he sat gallantly receiving during his illness, Betty arranging the succession of friends' visits with grace and humor and letting us know when it was time to get… out. Back in New York we heard that he had stopped going down to the den and then that it was all over.

Betty was beautiful in black at the funeral, sitting with her two picture-book children, four and seven, facing the model of the Santana with bravery and seeming composure. Back at the house, upstairs in her dressing room, she let loose with a well-deserved volley of rage at the Florists' Association, which had angrily turned on her for asking the public to send contributions to the American Cancer Society instead of  to them. She was packing for a short trip she had been urged to take. I can see her selecting things abstractedly from her beautiful, orderly closets, filled with a rainbow of silk shirts and matching pants, a wall  of color the length of the room.”
_____________________________________________________________

Ms. Comden goes on to talk about Lauren Bacall’s loyalty and devotion to family and friends, how her friend read a poem at Mr. Kyle’s funeral, how she came with “enough Chinese food for an army for a week” when Betty Comden’s son died. The playwright notes that many widows of famous men are overshadowed by the legend, but that Bacall fought for her own place and recognition. The two Bettys worked together on the Broadway musical remake of All About Eve called Applause, for which they each won a Tony.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Quote of the Day: Ingrid Bergman

Until 45 I can play a woman in love. After 55 I can play grandmothers. But between those ten years, it is difficult for an actress.

- Ingrid Bergman, actress

Friday, October 15, 2010

Java has been LAMB Chopped


Joem18b,  of  Does Writing Excuse Watching , submitted one of Java's blog posts to the October 12th LAMB Chop this year. I had no idea; I'm so pleased.

LAMB Chop is a weekly showcase run by  LAMB (the Large Association of Movie Blogs) featuring blog posts submitted by its members.

Thanks joem18b!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Quote of the Day: Paul Newman

I'm always puzzled by this talk about star . . . image. I think there's people who are writers or barbers or mechanics or race car drivers that have certain recognizable personalities, and I don't think just because they happen to be on the screen that it makes them any more exceptional.

-- Paul Newman, actor, philanthropist

Friday, October 08, 2010

Career Girl (1944) starring Frances Langford

Java has a pack of public domain movie musicals. Here's one of them. 


Career Girl (1944) stars singer Frances Langford in a poverty row production about a Midwestern young lady who makes it big on Broadway. The plot is standard Stage Door - ish fare.


I enjoy shots like this  - freeze frame on an important, plot-inducing letter or telegram. These are great for several reasons, not the least of which is the filmmakers expect the audience to be literate.





Very little scoring means you hear every snap, crackle and pop from the aging film. Still, I like it mostly because of Iris Adrian whose loud, acerbic reading of lines is refreshingly lively (and distracts from the extraneous noise). Almost everyone else seems to be looking for his/her mark and mumbling, as if this is 1st rehearsal.

Oh, and by the way, a future cast member of the Dick Van Dyke Show had a hand in the songs.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Classic Movie Stars on Twitter part 2: Carrie Fisher on Eddie Fisher's Death

Dame Elizabeth Taylor's Twitter account follows Carrie Fisher's tweets.
The entertainer/Princess Leia/Debbie Reynolds' daughter has this to say on her microblog about  the recent passing of her father, crooner and movie star Eddie Fisher:
____________________________________________
Sep 24th
My Puff Daddy passed away Wednesday night due to complications following his hip surgery. He was an extraordinary talent and a true mensch.
 ____________________________________________
Oct 1st
EJF=Edwin Jack Fisher RIP=Rocked In Person
 ____________________________________________
Oct 5th
Leaving for Australia to perform my show Wishful Drinking- wearing my fathers pinky ring lugging two packed suitcases-...
 ____________________________________________
Oct 5th
... also I've been eating a lot of bacon since my fathers passing. It must be my unique way of grieving.  

____________________________________________

I wish Ms. Fisher the very best.

Classic Movie Stars on Twitter part 1: Dame Elizabeth Taylor Tweets

Or at least she did until July of 2010. The classic movie legend and star of National Velvet and Cat On a Hot Tin Roof has not updated in a while. It's a verified account, which means she's authorized the use of her name for it, but I always wonder if an assistant writes for megastar tweeters.

Dame Taylor began using Twitter in March of 2009 and has about 200,000 followers on the microblog. She tweeted about Michael Jackson's death in '09, a fact which garnered a blurb on a few entertainment news sites.

Just a note.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

5 Reasons to Miss Brick-and-Mortar Movie Rental Stores

Gertrude enjoys in-store retail therapy at Cartier's
You might have heard that movie rental giant Blockbuster Video has filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy significantly reduces the number of brick-and-mortar stores which will rent and sell movies.

"Meh. Who cares?," you say. Yes, it is more convenient to buy and rent online, but I will miss the tangible items on a shelf.

It’s just as exhilarating for me to go to a store for a movie as it is for Schatze or Gerty to glide into Tiffany’s  or Cartier’s, point to rare jewels and say, “I‘ll take that, and that, and that. And charge it.” It's an event!

Oh well.

We will all go with the flow. But there are still reasons that you will regret the absence of physical stores.

5 Reasons to Miss Brick-and-Mortar Movie Rental Stores

5. You'll miss Xavier, that movie-savvy hunk behind the counter who waits on your every filmdom need and tells you, yes, that Steve McQueen movie IS finally available on Blu-Ray. (Oh! Tell me more!)

4. You’ll miss those annoying commercials for new releases on TVs suspended above your head that are too loud and are played on a loop. ( Wait. I won‘t miss that at all.)

3. You’ll miss the classic movies that no one else wants to rent, so they end up being sold in the bargain bin waiting just for you to buy. (Mine! All mine!)

2. You’ll miss the overpriced popcorn and  melted candy that awaits you at the checkout counter. (Nope. I won‘t miss that either.)

1. You’ll miss knowing the color of grass and sky, since going to the store actually gets you out of the house.


What will you miss about brick-and-mortar movie rental stores?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Gene Kelly's 1958 TV Special

In Gene Kelly's obituary in the New York Times, columnist Albin Krebs mentions that in 1958, Mr. Kelly “conceived, wrote, narrated and danced in an NBC-TV special [“Dancing: A Man’s Game” ] in which he used athletes to demonstrate the sheer physicality and manliness of dance, often viewed by Americans as an effete art.”

Neat.

Of course, Kelly had already demonstrated this idea in his movies, but this is 1958 - you couldn’t just rent  old musicals on Netflix. TV was prevalent, fewer musicals were being made, some people had not seen the bulk of his filmed performances (which were now mostly behind him). TV was one of Gene Kelly’s teaching media now.

The show aired on December 21st as part of NBC’s Omnibus, a series which ran from 1952 to 1961. Omnibus programs, as the name implies, covered many subjects - science, art, etc. There’s even a famous showing of Orson Welles as King Lear.

Some of the stars  of “Dancing: A Man’s Game” include boxing legend Sugar Ray Robinson, Broadway dancer Patrick Adiarte (Kelly would also direct Adiarte onstage that year in  Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.), and baseball great Mickey Mantle.

What in the world did he do with them?  Adiarte is listed in the Internet Movie Database as a solo dancer. I imagine he was filmed separately, demonstrating dance moves as Kelly narrates. But what did Gene Kelly do with the sports figures? Did he make them perform his signature sideways, moving push ups dance? Did he make them perform a movement from their respective games then incorporate it into a dance? Did he slowmo and still shot the athletes and dancers in action, and layover drawings of the human muscular system to show similarities? What did he do? Whatever it was must have been exciting.

We’ve already seen Kelly’s abstract version of popular sports in dance in his movies. Vera-Ellen’s energetic athlete-of-all-sports section of the “Miss Turnstiles” number, choreographed by Kelly,  in On The Town (1949) is highly recommended. It’s humorous, it introduces our leading lady, it’s brilliantly coordinated and it’s just plain fun to watch.

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