Photography and filmmaking are brothers, or sisters, under the skin. Cinema would not exist without the birth of still photography. As a photographer, and someone whose has been drawn to celluloid dreams all his life, I thought I’d list a few of my favorite films that have characters who are photographers in significant roles. All six films are available on DVD.
Where else to start than with one of my top five favorite films. REAR WINDOW, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, stars James Stewart as a Life magazine photojournalist confined to a wheelchair after an accident during a photo shoot. With one of his legs in a cast, he spends most of his time looking out his window observing his neighbors until one day he comes to suspect one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife. Hitchcock not only gives us one of the greatest suspense/thrillers of all time, but exposes the essence of photography and a dark side of human nature…voyeurism. Continue reading →
Mary Astor’s career was a long one going back to the early 1920′s. Over the years her career continued to grow until an infamous marital scandal broke in 1936 while she was making William Wyler’s “Dodsworth.” During the court battle her husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe threatened to submit Astor’s spicy, fully detailed, diary as evidence of her infidelities with George S. Kaufmann and other celebrities. Ultimately, the diary was never offered to the court. Astor’s career could have been in jeopardy, since as with most actors at the time, a morality clause was included as part of the contract. Fortunately, Sam Goldwyn refused to fire her and she continued in her role as Edith Cortwright, Huston’s lover in the film. “Dodsworth” was a hit and Astor amazingly entered what could be considered her peak period with films like “The Prisoner of Zenda,” “The Hurricane,” “Midnight,” “Brigham Young” leading her into arguably her best year, 1941, with “The Maltese Falcon” and an Academy Award winning role as Best Supporting Actress for her role in “The Great Lie.”
After the successful year of 1941, along with its follow up with films like “Across the Pacific” and Preston Sturges, “The Palm Beach Story,” both in 1942, Mary Astor’s career hit another serious bump in the road. She made the mistake of signing a contract with MGM where they pretty much regulated her to playing “mother” roles in films like “Meet Me in St. Louis” and “Little Women.” In the 1944 musical, Astor, only 38 at the time, played the mother of Judy Garland who was 22. Suffice it to say, Astor was not happy. One of the few meatier roles MGM tossed Mary’s way came in 1948. Continue reading →
Poor Mae Clarke, she always seems to get the sour end of the lollipop when it came to men. Cagney shoves a grapefruit in her face in THE PUBLIC ENEMY. Two years later in the 1933 film, LADY KILLER, Jimmy drags her by her hair and kicks her out of his apartment. That same year in “Penthouse” poor Mae is dumped for a high society dame by her new love, Phillip Holmes and soon after is shot dead. The dame just can’t get a break!
But I am getting ahead of the story. We first meet Jack Durant (Warner Baxter), a hot shot lawyer for a big time law firm, who likes to moonlight working for underworld clients like hoodlum boss Tony Gozotti (Nat Pendleton) who he saves from jail and the death penalty. The problem is Durant’s law firm does not like the idea of his defending hoodlums. Jack, on the other hand, like the edginess of dealing with these types of clients as well as the nightlife and the women that come with it. Continue reading →
Each Dawn I Die (***1/2) It is Cagney versus Raft in this classic 1939 Warner Brothers prison drama. Directed by William Keighley, Cagney is Frank Ross an investigative reporter who exposes a political candidate’s corrupt association with a construction company. After the article is published, Ross is snatched by some goons right in front of the newspaper building. He’s knocked out, soused with alcohol and tossed into a speeding car resulting in a car accident which kills three innocent people. Framed for the murders, Ross is sent to prison where he meets big shot Stacey (George Raft). At first, they get off on the wrong foot with Ross continuing to claim he was framed and innocent, all falling on deaf ears. The two become pals when Ross saves Stacey’s life from an attempt by another prisoner to kill him. Continue reading →
It’s hard to imagine a better word to describe James Cagney and Joan Blondell as a team than the word moxie. They were both had it up to their eyelids. Cagney the fast talking, wise cracking smart aleck with a sly smile coming face to face with Blondell, who was just as fast with the wise cracks and added a sassiness all her own. Let’s just say Jimmy met his match. Officially, they were never a team like Tracy and Hepburn or Powell and Loy, but James Cagney and Joan Blondell made seven films together. I doubt either star ever had a more perfect fitting partner than these two had with each other. The real life Cagney/Blondell relationship, and they were good friends and never anything more, began before either ever set foot on a movie set.
They first met on Broadway back in 1929 when they both performed in a play called “Maggie the Magnificent” by George Kelly. Kelly told Cagney he got the part because he physically was what he was looking for, a “fresh mutt.” Blondell’s role called for her to be the type she would become best known for, the wisecracking dame. The play ran for only a month but the two performers became friends. Fortunately for both, director William Keighley caught a performance of the show before it closed and liked the “young tough cookie and the strong, beautiful broad.” He recruited both for his own upcoming play, “Penny Arcade.” Within a few months the pair were back on Broadway, but it turned out be another flop running only twenty four performances. However, the play would be significant to both their future careers. Al Jolson caught the play and purchased the screen rights. He recommended to Jack Warner he take a look at it before it closed and to especially pay attention to the two supporting actors. Warner liked what he saw and signed up both Cagney and Blondell to contracts. Jolson then turned around and sold the film rights to Warners for a nice profit.
Though the made seven films together, within five years, they were not always paired on screen together. For example, in “The Crowd Roars,” Blondell was Cagney’s younger brother’s girl. However, there scenes together are some of the most electric in the film. Continue reading →
The Shanghai Gesture (***1/2) Such an amazingly lurid, corrupt and wicked film to ever come out of Hollywood during the heyday of the Motion Picture Production Code. Gene Tierney is Poppy a spoiled young woman out for a good time in Shangahi. One night she parties in the biggest gambling house in town owned by Gin Sling (Ona Munson). Meanwhile, entrepreneur Sir Guy Charteris (Walter Huston) is buying up large pieces of land in Shanghai including the property where Gin Sling’s gambling casino is located. When Gin Sling finds out Poppy is Sir Guy’s daughter she gets the slimy looking Doctor Omar (Victor Mature) to seduce wild child Poppy into the dark world of gambling, drugs and alcohol. A climatic Chinese New Year’s dinner reveals secrets and skeletons hidden in the closet that forever change lives. Gene Tierney, barely twenty one at the time, over plays some of her more dramatic scenes but makes up for it in her looks. Overall, this late Von Sternberg is not completely successful, but there is some nice photography and a fantastic crane shot worthy of his best work. Continue reading →
If you have not read part one of my interview with Dwayne Epstein, author of the new biography Lee Marvin: Point Blank, just click right here and you would be directed right to it. The book is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazonand bookstores everywhere. In part two we discuss “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Killers,” Robert Aldrich, Angie Dickinson, The Inglorious Bastard Sons Lee Marvin and much more.
John: Let’s jump over to John Wayne. They made three films together; two of course were with John Ford. How did they get along?
Dwayne: Oh, they got along very good, they liked each other. In terms of their persona and screen chemistry, Lee Marvin’s first wife told me something great. That if you watch them on screen, “they both do what they do, they have their own thing, but,” she said, “John Wayne was like a big old bear, the way he appeared on screen, and the way he acted. Lee was more like a panther; he was sleek, he could pounce on a moment’s notice with coiled energy and with that in mind they kind of danced around each other and they had that great chemistry.” I like that image of them, one’s a bear and one’s a panther. They got along great. They really liked each other. There’s a story that didn’t make it into the book that I can tell you real quick. This was told to me by Kennan Wynn’s son, Ned Wynn or Tracy Wynn, I don’t remember which one because I interviewed them both. Anyway, Kennan Wynn was Lee Marvin’s best friend. When he was between films and not having a project lined up; he would drink and he and Kennan Wynn were drinking buddies. I believe it was Tracy who told me that that generation of men were pretty tough and he said, “John Wayne was probably the toughest of them all. My father and Lee got drunk and went down to Mexico and partied on John Wayne’s yacht and John Wayne took it to a point and then said, ‘that’s it’ and threw them off the yacht and into the Gulf of Mexico.” He only took crap from them up to a point. Continue reading →