False Images = Faulty Facts

 

JAMES DEAN ON LOCATION FOR THE FILM "GIANT" IN MARFA, TEXAS. 1955The information highway can and does contain a lot a detours. For researchers it can be a slippery road to travel. In writing this blog, I have done my share of research and have come across much misinformation and even some outright attempts to deceive. You can’t always believe what you read or see.

Richard C. Miller began his career as a photographer when he submitted a photograph of his baby daughter to The Saturday Evening Post and it was not only accepted, but made the cover of the magazine. His met Brett Weston, son of Edward Weston, during the war and they became friends and photographed together. After the war, Miller worked for various magazines and around 1946 photographed a young model named Norma Jean Dougherty, soon to change her named to Marilyn Monroe, selling the photo to True Romance magazine. Miller went on to photograph a wide variety of subjects including some Hollywood work in the 1950’s and early 1960’s. During the making of Giant, Miller shot the above photo of James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor in Dallas, relaxing during the making of George Stevens’ epic modern day western. Continue reading

The Seven Year Itch (1955) Billy Wilder

7 Year Itch

George Axelrod was a playwright, screenwriter, novelist and film director best remembered for his 1952 hit Broadway play, “The Seven Year Itch,” turned into a movie by Billy Wilder and starring Marilyn Monroe. Axelrod’s plays which included “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter” and “Goodbye Charlie” introduced  to modern pop culture, the sex comedy, a sub-genre that would become more prevalent in the 1960′s and beyond. Axelrod’s other works include “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “How to Murder Your Wife” (screenwriter), “Lord Love A Duck,” and “The Secret Life of an American Wife” (screenwriter and director). Continue reading

Niagara (1953) Henry Hathway

Marilyn Monroe made her name as a rising new film star in 1952.  In 1953 she exploded on the screen with three standout Technicolor productions, “Niagara,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” and “How to Marry a Millionaire,” all of which would help define the Monroe celluloid doctrine. Her screen persona was now full blown and propelled her into the Top 10 list of Hollywood stars.

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Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) Roy Ward Baker

1952 was an important year in Marilyn Monroe’s career, a Life magazine cover, photographed by Phillip Halsman, her nude calendar photos, originally published a year or two before were reissued and became a scandal that only helped her career plus the release of five films, including her first leading role. The first three films were released within a month of each other. In Fritz Lang’s “Clash by Night,” for which Marilyn was loaned out to RKO, she had a small but impressive role dressed mostly in a swimsuit. This was followed by a five minute appearance in “We’re Not Married,” a multi cast film with little to offer and then came “Don’t Bother to Knock,” along with “Niagara” the darkest roles in the Monroe catalog.  Later the same year came “O’Henry’s Full House” another multi cast film in which Marilyn appeared in one segment and “Monkey Business” a comedy starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. In this film Marilyn played the kind of part she already came to hate, the dumb blonde.

In “Don’t Bother to Knock,” Monroe’s character is a young disturbed woman recently released from a mental institution who gets a job, through her uncle, as a babysitter for a young girl.  Considering Monroe’s mental history, and eventual suicide, plus her mother’s illness, it would seem this film could have hit very close to home for the young and upcoming actress as well as being prophetic. It is also arguably one of her best dramatic performances. Continue reading

Some Like it Hot (1959) Billy Wilder

This posting is my contribution to the CMBA Comedy Classics Blogathon which runs through Jan. 27th. You can find more contributors here.

 

Do you remember the first film you ever recorded? I do, it was Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot” way back sometime in the 1960’s. “Wait a minute!” You say, “How can you have recorded it back in the 1960’s when VCR’s did not come out until the late 1970’s?” Well, it was simple, on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I loved this film so much I recorded the entire soundtrack. I use to lay down in bed or on the couch with my headphones on and listen to the entire movie, visualizing all the scenes.

Crazy, weird? Probably, I am sure my parents thought so.

Needless to say, “Some Like it Hot” is one of my favorite movies, it has stood the test of time. Because of this film, I became a lifelong admirer of both director Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon. It is a film I never get tired of watching.

Before and since its release in 1959, there have been many films that have used men in drag as a plot device (“I Was A Male War Bride”, “Tootsie”, “La Cage aux Folles”), even TV shows like “Bosom Buddies” got into the act, however none have come close or surpassed “Some Like it Hot” in its farcical humor. The well-known storyline is simple, it is 1929, two Chicago musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre after which they decide it might be best for their health if they leave town. The only jobs available are as musicians in an all girl band heading for Florida. It is at the train station they meet Sugar “Kane” Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) a ukulele player and singer with the band. Continue reading

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) Howard Hawks

This is the first of seven entries I am writing for the Musical Countdown being hosted by WONDERS IN THE DARK. There are actually two reviews of the film posted, the other by Jim Clark. Below are links to both.

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/gentlemen-prefer-blondes-no-56-john-greco/

http://wondersinthedark.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/gentlemen-prefer-blondes-no-56-jim-clark/

Found this photo below, most likely a publicity stunt, where some swimsuit attired ladies were protesting the film in front of Graumans Chinese Theater in Hollywood. The women rightly claiming “they have everything blondes have.”

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) John Huston

Note: There are spoilers in the article.

Everyone has a weakness and if you let it consume you it just might do you in.  Young girls, expensive living, horses, it does not matter, they can all become vices and destroy you. That what happens to the various characters in John Huston’s classic caper film “The Asphalt Jungle.” Written by Huston and Ben Maddow based a  novel by W.R. Burnett whose tough yet effortless style is responsible for such other memorable films like “Little Caesar” and “High Sierra.”

“The Asphalt Jungle” is the first caper movie to detail in a realistic gritty style, a step by step process on how to pull off a heist job.  It definitely set the standards for future heist films to come like  “Rififi”, “The Killing”, “The Anderson Tapes”, “The Usual Suspects”, “Reservoir Dogs”  and even a lesser film like “Ocean’s 11″ all of which owe a debt of gratitude to this film. The characters that we are now familiar with in so many other heist films are all there, the brains behind the plan,  the brawn,  the safe cracker, the getaway guy, the stoolie, and the double-crosser who wants everything for himself. The women are there too, Doll (Jean Hagen) and Angela (Marilyn Monroe) whose biggest weaknesses are they love their men too much.

Doc Reidenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is just out of prison and wants to pull a big heist, one he had planned long before being sent away. He hooks up with a small time bookie, Cobby (Marc Lawrence) who brings in the money man, a slimy lawyer named Emmerich (Louis Calhern), who is actually in debt, has a beautiful and very young mistress, despite being married. Her name is Angela (Marilyn Monroe) and she has expensive taste. Emmerich and his thug partner Bannerman (Brad Dexter) convince Cobby to put up the front money, you see they have plans to steal the jewels from Doc and company and fence it on their own. Doc brings in Dix (Sterling Hayden) as strong arm, Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) as the pro safecracker and Gus (James Whitmore), as the getaway guy. The heist goes well except during the getaway, Louis is critically wounded. This is the first of a series of actions that unravel a “perfect plan.” Gus is soon picked up by the police, Cobby turns stoolie after being beaten up by a former friendly corrupt cop. Dix will kill Bannerman when he and Emmerich try to take the jewels, however, Dix is wounded himself from a shot Bannerman got off before dying. When the cops come to pick up Emmerich at his house he commits suicide. Doc decides to get out of town heading for Cleveland but is picked up by two police officers at a pit stop when he waited a few minutes too long before moving on, drooling over a young teenage girl dancing to music on a juke box. Dix plan is to head back to his home in Kentucky. He and his girl Doll (Jean Hagen) take off but that wound is still bleeding, and as he reaches the ranch he collapses and dies in his field of dreams.  

From the first shots where we pick up Dix roaming the dark deserted city streets trying to avoid the police to the approximately 10 minutes heist scene, to the final scenes where Doc and then Dix meet their fate Huston films it all with  a commanding  intensity and strong atmospheric camerawork, extracting a series of fine performances from the cast.

The plan is done in by the weaknesses of the men. Doc would have escaped from the city had his weakness for young girls not held him back a few extra minutes. He had to watch the young teen girl boogie to the tunes on the juke box. Emmerich was simply done in by greed, a common theme in Huston films (Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon). Even Dix had to try to make it back to his old Kentucky home and the horses he loved only to die trying.

Huston cast the film with a fine group of actors but there was no star power. For Sterling Hayden, this was his first leading role in a major film. Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and Jean Hagen were known entities but lacked marquee strength. Marilyn Monroe was still a starlet in what was essentially her first important part in a major film. She was not even Huston’s first choice for the role of Angela; he originally wanted Lola Albright for the part. Monroe does not have much screen time as the young play thing to the sleaze ball lawyer but she manages to make a big impression with her limited exposure and she looks great.

In 1958, a western called “The Badlanders”(available via Warners Archive Collection) starring Alan Ladd was a loose remake. An even looser version was tried as a TV show in 1961. Basically, they used the title and changed everything else turning it into a standard cops and robbers series.  Needless to say, the show did not last long.  Other remakes include a 1963 film called “Cairo”, with George Sanders, and in 1972, a blaxploitation version called “Cool Breeze” was released with a cast that included Pam Grier. 

The film received four Oscar nominations for Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Sam Jaffe), Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography.  Interesting enough MGM had two other films they pushed for best picture that year, “Father of the Bride” and unbelievably “King Solomon’s Mines” were both nominated.

Overall, “The Asphalt Jungle” holds up very well retaining a sense of realism, three dimensional characters, darkly lit noirish lighting, and claustrophobic close-ups. The film is more visually representative of Warner’s ripped from the front pages of newspapers 1930′s style than the glossy films you would expect from MGM.

Watch this film and you will see everything that is missing in the unrealistic thrill seeking super acrobatic capers that today’s stars like Tom Cruise and others attempt to entertain us with in multiplexes.

****1/2