Book Review: The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks

King   Except for his best friend, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks was the biggest and best known superstar of silent films. He basically established the swashbuckler sub-genre with films like The Mark of Zorro, The Thief of Bagdad, The Three Musketeers and Robin Hood. Before Errol Flynn, before Tyrone Power ever picked up a sword, Fairbanks and his acrobatic style brought new adventures and thrills to early film audiences. Continue reading

A Hard Day’s Night (1964) Richard Lester

Beatles4   When A Hard Day’s Night was first released everyone was expecting the English pop groups’ version of an Elvis movie, It Happened at the British Open or something as nonsensical as that. Just have John Lennon and Paul McCartney pump out a half a dozen or so new songs, create a soundtrack, release the album and sell millions for United Artists. The studio was just looking to cash in on the music quickly before the fad of Beatlemania would fade from the memory of teenagers around the world. In February 1964, The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show where more than 60 million viewers watched. The time was ripe for a film, but it had to be made quick and cheap, United Artists, not wanting to spring for any extra dollars. What producer, Walter Shenson, got along with the studio, the music critics and the public, instead was a surprisingly energetic, pulsating, witty, frenetic, somewhat fictional day in the life that film critic Andrew Sarris, in his original Village Voice review, called “the Citizen Kane of juke-box musicals.” Continue reading

Island of Doomed Men (1940) Charles Barton

DoomedPeter Lorre was unhappy with his career since coming to work for 20th Century Fox. After working with filmmakers like Fritz Lang (M), Alfred Hitchcock (The Man ho Knew Too Much, Secret Agent) and Josef Von Sternberg (Crime and Punishment), Fox Studio, basically reduced Lorre to B films. Of those low-budget films, most were part of the Mr. Moto series where Lorre played another version of Charlie Chan. Instead of Chinese, Mr. Moto was Japanese. Like Chan, Moto started his life in print (Saturday Evening Post, novels) and would expand to movies, radio, comic books and most recently in a 2003 graphic novel. With the advent of World War II, the Moto films became persona non grata. Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation, released in July of 1939, turned into a permanent vacation for the series. It was the last Moto film released by Fox. Continue reading

Interview with Author Michelle Morgan

CreamThe other day I was at my doctor’s office and her assistant noticed I had a book in my hand. “Oh, what are you reading?” she asked making conversation. I told her it was a biography about Thelma Todd. She gave me a blank stare that easily said, who? I explained that Todd was an actress back in the 1920’s and 1930’s who worked with the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy. My answer seemed to satisfy her and we went back to my examination business. This seems to sum up what most people remember, if at all, about Thelma Todd. That and the fact  her death, more than eighty years ago, remains one of Hollywood’s most interesting unsolved cases. Continue reading

Brute Force (1947) Jules Dassin

brute Burt

Jules Dassin’s Brute Force is a brutally, cruel, claustrophobic prison film that will turn your knuckles bloody to the skin. This was the director’s first venture into the world of film noir. It has a tough hard core texture, thanks to not only Dassin’s sharp direction, but the cinematography of William H. Daniels (The Naked City, Lured) and the music score of Miklós Rózsa (Ministry of Fear, Woman in Hiding). Continue reading

Mamma Roma (1962) Pier Paolo Pasolini

Mamma_RomaIt took more than thirty years for Pier Paolo Pasolini’s second film, Mamma Roma, to arrive on American shores. Made in 1962, the film finally had its day in 1995 thanks to Martin Scorsese, our patron saint of forgotten cinema. The film made the art house circuit beginning at the Film Forum in New York and then made its way around the country. Why did it take so long? Well, it began when the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival where the local police declared the film obscene. The film made its way around Europe, but met with the scissors from local censors snipping at what they considered objectionable material. Even after the critical and financial success of his third film, The Gospel According to St. Matthew, both here and in Europe, there were no takers to bring his earlier work to these shores. Continue reading

The Narrow Margin (1952) Richard Fleischer

The Narrow Margin - TitleEarly in his feature film directing career Richard Fleischer made a series of exciting low budget film noirs, among them, The Clay Pigeon, Follow Me, Quietly, Armored Car Robbery and his masterpiece, The Narrow Margin. Photographed in deep rich black shadowy light, most of the film taking place on a cross country train. The confined space results in a claustrophobic tense ride filled with twists and turns that do not let up for a second. Continue reading