Cats on Film: My Favorite Cat Movies

cat10Stereotypically  cats have been called aloof, sneaky, and manipulative. In reality, felines are independent, mischievous and self-aware. They are also smart, loving, affectionate and without trying very hard do some of the oddest, funniest things at the most unexpected times.  Nothing against dogs, they are loyal, obedient, loving and always happy to see you,  jumping around excitedly whenever you  arrive back home. On the other hand, cats may lift their head up as if to say, “oh it’s you.” That is unless it is time to eat and you are late coming home. Dogs are anxious to please while cats, well cats play it cool.  Want to find the most comfortable chair in the house? Just check where the cat is sitting.

I never had a pet as a kid except for a parakeet that one summer my parents left with my grandmother while we went on vacation. One day my dear grandmother let the bird out of the cage to give it a little flying time. Unfortunately, she forgot one of her windows was open and well, it was bye, bye birdie! I never had a dog or cat, never wanted one. That said, many years later when I met the woman who would become my wife, I soon learned she had four cats, and like a woman with kids, it was a package deal. I quickly found myself living with four little furry felines that to not only my surprise, but to just about everyone who knew me, I fell in love with. I became an animal lover. I could tell you a lot more but I will only add that we still have cats today. This last statement will come as no surprise to anyone who has visited my John Greco Photography facebook page. Continue reading

A Christmas Carol (1951) Brian Desmond Hurst

Sims

One of the holiday’s best known tales, Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol,” has been reproduced, adapted over the years many times in various formats from animation to TV, film and stage. From Charlie Brown to Mickey Mouse to “The Odd Couple” and multiple screen versions performed by a diverse host of actors including George C. Scott, Reginald Owen, Seymour Hicks, John Carradine, Patrick Stewart, Walter Matthau,  Jim Carrey, Albert Finney, Vanessa Williams ( you are reading this right. Ms. Williams played Ebony Scrooge in a TV movie called “A Diva’s Christmas”) and of course the great Alastair Sim in what is considered by many, including myself, the best adaptation ever, the 1951 version, originally titled “Scrooge” in the U.K. but generally now known by Dicken’s original title.

Unlike most versions, this British production follows fairly close the Dickens novel, though there are some changes, and also unlike most versions this is a dark, bleaker account of the world’s best known miser. Recently I watched, for the first time, the Reginald Owen version from 1938, released by MGM, and while decent, the many needless changes to the plot along with a surplus dose of sentiment makes this a soft hearted second rate, if still entertaining, adaptation. Continue reading

The Maltese Falcon (1931) Roy Del Ruth

Okay, I am not going to tell you this original version of Dashiell Hammett’s now classic novel is better that John Huston’s 1941 masterpiece, but the truth is Roy Del Ruth’s 1931 pre-code has a sensual sinful aura the Huston/Bogart film lacks and it makes you want to keep it in your back pocket and save it for a night of wicked dreams.

After the release of the Huston/Bogart gem, Warner Brothers changed the title of the earlier flick to the more vapid and generic “Dangerous Woman” so as not to confuse anyone. Over the years this first version has practically been pushed into oblivion and only recently, thanks to TCM, popped back on to the screen. Continue reading

Why Disease Makes Such Compelling Viewing

This article originally appeared on KwikMed and has been reprinted with the permission of Guest Author Lily McCann.

The next time you complain about having a slight migraine or catching a cold, just remember that there are plenty of worse things you could catch, especially if you’re a fan of the big screen. Epidemic infections, viruses and deadly diseases all feature regularly in some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. It seems audiences can’t get enough flesh eating bacteria or rabid infected blood – all of which are at the expense of human life.

Why do people pay the admission fee to see the latest horror movie which is based around some form of deadly disease? Why? Some of the reasons are quite obvious. It’s the shock factor; first and foremost, people just love it, being absolutely shocked and scared out of their wits end, or at least they love being scared at in the safe haven of the movie theater – real life deadly diseases are much less entertaining! Being in the movies is far removed from real life, no matter how good the special effects are, audience members know that in a couple of hours they’ll walk out of theatre still in one piece, virus free and safe from any possible deadly infection!

It’s fair to say that a movie which features deadly viral diseases is likely to get a person’s heart pounding much more than the latest Disney animation, which of course is where the main appeal of these types of movies comes from. It’s true that the vast majority of the audience will lead a relatively calm, almost uneventful lifestyle, at least when compared to the lives of those in the movies; therefore, people often seek out something that is going to give their nervous system some form of periodic revving. Continue reading

The Horror of “The Birds”

I don’t really like to complain about multiplexes showing classic movies on the big screen. It’s rare enough that we movie lovers have the opportunity to watch great classics in a theater environment. However, and isn’t there always a however, after the last experience recently at a local Regal Cinema (Citrus Park Mall in Tampa), the real life horror was the theater experience itself, more so than Hitchcock’s excellent film.

I arrived at the theater about twenty minutes before show time. As I headed to theater five as it stated on the ticket, other patrons are all filing out mumbling about a change in the theater. “The Birds” they were told will now be showing in theater nine.  So like a wandering herd of sheep we all went strolling over to theater nine only to discover “Finding Nemo 2″ was already in progress. The manager, now on the scene, was as perplexed as the rest of us. He gets on his handy dandy intercom and promises to straighten this out. A few minutes go by and we are told to head over to yet another theater on the opposite side of the lobby. The sign reads 2016 (shorten for the documentary “2016 Obama’s America”). For many of us it felt like it may be 2016 before we find the correct screening room. Happily, this was the right theater, as the pre-show entertainment i.e. advertisements on the screen were TCM related. Continue reading

A Face in the Crowd (1957) Elia Kazan

I originally had Orson Welles “Touch of Evil” scheduled for today’s posting, however with the death of Andy Griffith earlier this week I decided to repost an old review of “A Face in the Crowd” I wrote a few years ago for the now defunct website Halo-17. Then the horror struck, I had no copy of my original review! The website was shut down so I could not even retrieve anything from on line. I generally keep a copy of all my reviews on my PC but this one apparently got way. All I could find was a paragraph of notes I had taken for background. Still determined to put out a review, I began with those notes and, though a bit rushed, came up with what you will read here. It is not the best but it will have to do  Oh yeah, Welles “Touch of Evil,” which has been brewing on the back burner for a month or so now, has been rescheduled once again, and will  appear here two weeks from today.

The rise of the media star as an influence in our lives has never been greater. From Presidential politics to what we watch on television and listen to on the radio, the media star influence’s us all.  Oprah Winfrey can persuade millions on what book to read or who to vote for in an upcoming election. Since the 1950′s the power of television cannot be under estimated. Mass communication was now available at a level undreamed of and unavailable before. As far back as the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates, when the camera revealed JFK as good looking, confident and in control, while his opponent then Vice-President Richard Nixon appeared with a five o’clock shadow and a sweaty brow, the use of television had the power to shape voters opinions and ideas then and ever since. In the most recent Presidential debates between Obama and McCain in 2008 your saw it again. As Obama explained his policies, the camera showed McCain tightlipped and anxious, almost itchy or unwilling to wait for Obama to finish so he could jump in. Continue reading

Sidney,We Hardly Knew Ye

Like his New York cohorts, Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee and Woody Allen, Sidney Lumet never quite fit in with Hollywood and remained outside the system for his entire career. A career that spanned well over forty-five years going back to the days of live television dramas when he and fellow directors like John Frankenheimer and Arthur Penn, among others were creating their own version of a new wave.

Actually, Lumet’s career goes back to his childhood in the Yiddish theater district along 2nd Avenue in lower Manhattan. His made his Broadway debut, as a child actor, in the original production of Sidney Kingley’s “Dead End.” He appeared in at least ten other Broadway productions including the 1946 production of “A Flag is Born” where he was a replacement for Marlon Brando.  Lumet made one appearance in a film as an actor in “One Third of a Nation” (he also had a cameo appearance in Jonathan Demme’s remake of “The Manchurian Candidate”), a film most noted for being the last to be shot at the old Astoria Film Studio in Queens that is until Lumet inaugurated the refurbished studio in 1978 with the making of his failed musical, “The Wiz.” Continue reading

The Films of Thomas Edison

As part of TCM’s History of Hollywood this month, the recent showing of “The Films of Thomas Edison” gave us an opportunity to see more than 30 films in two hours from the Edison studio beginning in the early 1890′s through 1915. Some of the films run less than one minute showing no more than a simple stationary camera shot consisting of no more than a man getting a haircut (“The Barber Shop” – 1893) or inhaling a bit of snuff and sneezing  (“Edison Kinescope of a Sneeze” -1894).  In “Blacksmith Scene” (1893) we watch three men pounding on an anvil, they stop for a moment, and each takes a swig from a bottle of beer and then continues hammering. Each of these films were made by W.K.L. Dickson, an inventor/employee of Thomas Edison who acted as producer, director and/or cinematographer of these early works.  There is no story in any of these films, like a still photograph they are capturing a moment in time and no more.

Edison realized quickly that film needed to entertain and not just record events. “The Boxing Cats (Prof. Welton’s)” from 1894 is an amusing look at two cats punching it out in a miniature ring. In “Sandow” strongman Eugene Sandow poses in front of the camera flexing his muscles and in “Annie Oakley” (1894) we see the famed female sharpshooter displaying her unique artistry.

During this same period Edison experimented with sound film and we get a sample in 1894′s aptly titled “Dickson Experimental  Sound Film” where we see the director in front of the camera playing the violin (a selection from the opera  Chimes of Midnight) while two other men are dancing together nearby. In “Fifth Avenue, New York” (1896) and “What Happened on Twenty Third Street, New York City” (1901) we get to see actual location shooting filled with passer bys going about their everyday business, though in the second film there is an obvious deliberate setup when toward the end of the almost one and half minute epic, a couple appear walking right in front of the camera over a grated ventilation shaft that suddenly blows the ladies skirt up a bit. At first shocked the couple quickly laugh it off as they now walk out of frame. They never notice the camera while many other people walking by look straight toward the camera’s lens.  On a more serious note, the most devastating of these documentary type films is reserved for the 1906 film, “San Francisco Earthquake” showing the aftermath of the massive destruction the city suffered.

By 1903 Edison’s films were introducing a fictional storyline with multiple scenes and longer running times, seven to ten minutes or more. The most important films came from this period and were directed by a new Edison employee named Edwin S. Porter. In “Life of an American Fireman” (1903). Porter,  we leave the one stationary shot behind and move into a narrative storyline with multiple shots edited together to form a sequence. That same year came Edison’s most famous film, “The Great Train Robbery”, starring Bronco Billy Anderson. Other films followed like “The Kleptomaniac” and the 1905 film, “The Little Train Robbery”, a parody of the earlier popular film, notable for scenes where the camera pans to the left and right during the train robbery.  The 1906 film, “Dream of a Rarebit Fiend” gives us some early special effects as we watch our addicted hero have nightmarish dreams including miniature images of devils pounding on his head, and in 1907′s “Rescue From an Eagles Nest”, an early thriller directed by J. Searle Dawley, shows an infant picked up and carried away by an eagle before being saved by some heroic men.

Within the short span of a few years we get to see how film progressed from a single stationary shot to the beginnings of a visual language. Edison’s filmmakers would soon be left behind as D.W. Griffith would make his first film in 1908 (The Adventures of Dolly) and by 1915 while Edison’s studio was producing  the 15 minute Red Cross public service drama on Tuberculosis, “The Lone Game” , Griffith made his controversial  epic, “The Birth of a Nation.” Edison’s films lagged behind in style and film language which was growing in complexity; still they remain interesting artifacts, infant steps of a new art form.