January 26, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Old Hollywood glamour is merely something we read about or reminisce about these days. Part of the reason is that we are almost as likely to see a favorite star on TV as in a new movie, and a bigger cause is that we simply know too much about them as people … the mystique has been replaced by (too many) personal details and divisive political influence.

Classic movie lovers always have favorite performers, and there were certainly some great ones in the Golden Era: Bogart, Gable, Hepburn, Davis, etc; however, I’ve always felt there was one actress who time seems to have forgotten. Gloria Grahame never seemed to choose the easy route (either on screen or real life), and she turned in some terrific performances in the 1940’s and 50’s. You might only know her as Violet in IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, but she was also an Oscar winner for THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL (1952), and had standout roles in OKLAHOMA! (1955), THE BIG HEAT (1953), and IN A LONELY PLACE (1950). Her talent allowed her to fit as well for a musical or family film, as in the Noir Thrillers for which she seemed to thrive.

So why all the background on a mostly forgotten actress from a bygone era? Because Annette Bening magically channels the late actress in her role as Ms. Grahame in the final stages of her life. Director Paul McGuigan’s film is based on the memoir of Peter Turner, a young man who had a relationship with the actress in her later years. Turner is played here by Jamie Bell (BILLY ELLIOT) and he and Ms. Bening are so believable, that we are fully drawn in by their characters and their touching story.

Opening with the actress in her dressing room prepping for a dinner theatre version of “The Glass Menagerie”, the film conveys much in these few minutes. Clearly, this is an actress far removed from the Hollywood spotlight. We also sense her immense pride is still present, and the glass of milk is for relief from her discomfort … later self-diagnosed as “gas”.

We start in 1981 and flashback to 1979. Creative transitions between scenes and times add a stylish element to a story that is ultimately about human relationships, aging and loneliness. The need to be cared for when sick is as crucial as the importance of being a dependable caregiver for loved ones. The film’s script from Matt Greenhalgh allows for an empathetic look at these topics through the eyes of people we quickly care about.

Julie Walters (Bell’s dance teacher in BILLY ELLIOT) is exceptional as Turner’s mother and Ms. Grahame’s caregiver. Other supporting roles include Kenneth Cranham as Turner’s dad, Stephen Graham as his fiery brother, and Vanessa Redgrave as Ms. Grahame’s mother. We never get the back story on why Ms. Grahame feels so connected to the Turner family – only that the 28 year age difference between herself and Peter didn’t much matter to either of them.

There is a sexually-charged disco dance with Ms. Grahame and Peter in her hotel room that makes clear why any young man might fall for her, but it’s really in the quieter moments where the film and Ms. Bening and Mr. Bell shine. The emotions and pain are palpable, and yet neither her spirit nor his devotion will quit. The music from Jose Feliciano and Elvis Costello is terrific and comfortably fits a story of love and aging and illness, while also reminding us … once a starlet, always a starlet, even when the star has faded.

watch the trailer:

TMI (1-15-12)

January 15, 2012

TMI (Today’s Movie Info)

OKLAHOMA! (1955) was adapted for the screen by Rodgers and Hammerstein from the original Broadway production of “Oklahoma!”, which opened at the St. James Theater in New York City on May 31, 1943 and ran for 2,212 performances, setting a record (at the time) for a musical.  Oklahoma! was the first of five extremely successful R&H film musicals: Carousel, (1956) South Pacific (1958), The King and I (1956), The Sound of Music (1965)
Most of it was filmed in Arizona for a more traditional rural look
This was the screen debut for Shirley Jones (age 20 while filming).  She would later go on to lay the foundation for high culture in America by taking the lead (along with her real life step-son David Cassidy) in “The Partridge Family”  (1970-74).  Yes, I am kidding about the high culture part.  Ms. Jones was in fact a very talented singer and actress, which she showed in this and other films such as Carousel (1956) and The Music Man (1962).
Rod Steiger (Jud Fry) couldn’t dance and Gloria Grahame (Ado Annie) couldn’t sing.  Mr. Steiger worked long hours with the choreographer and Ms. Grahame’s vocals were pieced together electronically from hours of recordings.
In addition to the title track, a couple of other songs were quite popular and worked their way into the musical fabric of the country:  “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”
The film’s director Fred Zinneman was also responsible for some other classic films: High Noon (1952), From Here to Eternity (1953), A Man for All Seasons (1966), The Day of the Jackal (1973)


December 10, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Was very anxious to see this one on the big screen for the first time. It’s a mystery why this film doesn’t get the same love and respect as some of the others from this era. It is one of Humphrey Bogart’s finest performances and one of director Nicholas Ray‘s (Rebel Without A Cause) first films. It also has a terrific performance by Gloria Grahame, who most know as Violet from It’s a Wonderful Life.

 Andrew Solt wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes. With numerous changes to the source material, we get Bogie in quite a unique role. He plays Dixon Steele, an aging writer accused of murder. His alibi is his beautiful new neighbor (Grahame, left) who may or may not be telling the truth to the police. Of course, Steele himself may or may not be telling the truth. In fact, he has such a history of flashing a violent temper, that after he punches a director, his friends just laugh it off saying “oh, that’s just Dix”.

 The scenes with Grahame and Bogart are tremendous and we certainly see that both of their characters have secrets, as well as difficulty in accepting happiness. Support work is provided by Frank Lovejoy as Det Brub Nicolai. His wife Sylvia is played by Jeff Donnell, who went on to a long run on General Hospital. Martha Stewart (no not that one) plays Mildred, the perky murdered girl … well, perky before the murder. Art Smith plays Steele’s long suffering agent and only true friend.

 The film skirts film noir traits, but is equal parts murder mystery and tragic love story. The ending is quite different than the first one Ray (left) filmed, but it is one of the most powerful, emotional endings we have ever received from Hollywood. Some of the behind the scenes scoop make this one even more fascinating. Ray and Grahame were still married during filming, but they no longer lived together. Their marriage ended formally soon after, when Ray caught her in bed with his son. Her stepson! They eventually married (Woody Allen wasn’t the first!).

If you are a Bogart fan, you need to see this one for his performance. He goes much deeper than in his earlier roles, and watching him teeter between charmer and jerk is spellbinding. His demeanor leaves us doubting not whether he is capable of murder, but rather if he committed THIS one.

note: this movie has one of my all-time favorite scenes … Bogart describes “how it could have happened” as Lovejoy and Donnell act it out.  There is a brief clip of that scene in the trailer below

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see one of the best from Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, and Nicholas Ray OR you want to watch one of the most powerful endings of any Hollywood film

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you aren’t much into Bogart OR you prefer your murder mysteries to be a bit heavy on detective work

watch the original trailer: