The Grapes of Wrath (1941) John Ford

For most of us today, the Great Depression of the 1930’s is something we may have read about in our history books. For anyone still alive during the depression experiencing it was something that would never be forgotten. If these depression era folks shared their memories and they lived in a big city like New York or Seattle, they may talk about Hooverville. There were many Hooverville’s in many cities across the country. If they lived in more rural areas like Oklahoma, they would talk to you about the dustbowl that ruined the farmland and the mortgage companies and banks that foreclosed on their land.

   John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is arguably the most famous film about the depression, and was one of the first films selected to be in the National Film Registry. Based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel, the film follows the Joad family from the dustbowl of Oklahoma as they journey to what they hope is a better life in California. Few other films capture the gloom, the harshness, the misery of proud people remaining strong in the face of economic destruction like Ford’s masterpiece. William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road (1933) and King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread (1934) are strong competitors.    Continue reading

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Ansel Adams: A Documentary Film

I recently wrote a short review about Ric Burns documentary on photographer Ansel Adams over at my photography blog. Click here if you would like to take a look.

Bloody Mama (1970) Roger Corman

This article is part of the ROGER CORMAN BLOGATHON hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear. Click here to check out more Corman reviews!

If you were a young teenage movie lover  in the late 1950’s or in the  early 1960’s Roger Corman was most likely a major influence on your movie going habits whether you knew it or not. Rock and Roll films, teen rebellion, gangsters, monsters, Sci-Fi, Corman did them all pumping them out, three, four or more films a year. Corman, along with A.I.P., practically created the teenage movie market. My own first Roger Corman film on the big screen was “The Masque of Red Death” with Vincent Price, Hazel Court and then Beatle Paul McCartney’s girlfriend, Jane Asher.   On TV, I caught up with some of his early 1950’s flicks like “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “Five Guns West,” “A Bucket of Blood,” “I, Mobster” and “Machine Gun Kelly.” Corman directed four gangster films in his career, the third being 1967’s “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” with a way over the top performance by Jason Robards Jr. as Al Capone. But this was only a warm-up for 1970’s “Bloody Mama” with Shelley Winters whose performance as the machine gun totting Ma Barker made Robards Al Capone seem meek and timid.

1970 was the beginning of a new era in American film whose flame was lit just three years earlier in 1967. The restrictive production code was gone replaced by a rating system that allowed for more “adult” stories to be put on the screen. This translated into varying degrees of sophisticated filmmaking and wild abandon exploitation film depending on who was behind the camera. Corman always one to exploit, obviously was in the second grouping. After pushing the limits of the dying production code in such mid to late 60’s films like “The Wild Angels” and “The Trip,” Corman in 1970 was ready to go all the way. Continue reading

New Scorsese Film By Year End?

It looks like the long-awaited documentary about Beatle George Harrison may finally be coming our way. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, Harrison’s widow, Olivia hinted that the film should have it premiere “sometime soon.”

Titled, “George Harrison: Living in the Material World,” this is Scorsese’s fourth rock and roll documentary beginning with, “The Last Waltz,” which focused on The Band’s farewell concert. This was followed by a look at Bob Dylan in  “No Direction Home” in 2005 and most recently  and The Rolling Stones concert film “Shine A Light” in 2008.

The combination of Scorsese and Beatles has me salivating!

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) Fritz Lang

“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” was Fritz Lang’s last film in America. Having fought with producers and studios over the years he decided to stop making movies (He actually moved back to Germany and made his final films in his homeland). At the center of this final Hollywood film is the always highly sensitive issue of capital punishment. Does man have the right to take another’s life? Is the law giving another man, the executioner, a legal right to kill? In the film’s opening scene, we see a convicted murderer walking the last mile to the electric chair. One of the witnesses is Tom Garrett (Dana Andrews), a former newspaper reporter and now a novelist engaged to Susan Spencer (Joan Fontaine), the daughter of Austin Spencer (Sidney Blackmer), newspaper publisher, Garrett’s former boss and an anti-capital punishment advocate. While Garrett is sure, if a man is being put to death by the law he must be guilty…Spencer is not. When a young and beautiful stripper is found murdered, the two men concoct a plan; plant enough circumstantial evidence in the murder case, making it look like Garrett is a strong suspect, enough for him to be arrested and put on trial by the politically motivated D.A. Roy Thompson (Philip Bourneuf) who will push for the death penalty. The only proof of Tom’s innocence is photographs taken by Spencer of Garrett planting evidence that has incriminated him. Spencer keeps the “evidence” in his safe at his home. The two men do not even confide in Susan, Garrett’s fiancée, of their plot. It
all goes as planned; Garrett becomes suspected of the crime, is arrested and put on trail.

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

With the jury in deliberation, Spencer takes the photographic evidence from his safe and is set to bring it to court to free Garrett. While driving to the courthouse he is struck by a truck, his vehicle bursting into a ball of fire killing him and destroying the only evidence of the plot he and Garrett conspired. Upon hearing the tragic news, Garrett desperately explains the entire charade to the court protesting his innocence but to no avail, he remains scheduled for execution.

Susan organizes a campaign to find enough evidence to clear Garrett of the murder. When she visits him in jail to tell him the good news of her findings, Garrett unexpectedly lets slip out a bit of information that only the murderer would know exposing himself at the real killer (it turns out the murder victim was Garrett’s ex-wife, a nightclub dancer, from a bad first marriage). With this unanticipated omission of guilt Susan walks out of the jail letting the execution take place.

Dana Andrews character makes for a strong victim. He is effective, if not necessarily a likable person. He is a writer in needs of a subject for his next book. The plan his future father-in-law and he cook up sounds intriguing and both men hope to prove their own point of view on the subject of capital punishment.  Of course, you may wonder why is he putting himself through this when he is on the verge of getting married to the beautiful Joan Fontaine who is left out in the cold on the plan and may be a little pissed eventually when it is all over that he and her father went through with this dangerous charade.

Lang’s final Hollywood production continues with one of his most consistent themes; an innocent man set on a course out of his control in a society that sucks individuals in like a vacuum. Along with “You Only Live Once” and “Fury”t his film suggest that individual’s have little power over their life, a lack of control in directing his or her own destiny. Outside forces, like the justice system, or in the case of “Fury,” mob violence and group thinking dominating one man’s fate.

Fritz Lang was not a happy camper during the making of this film. Battles with producer Bert L. Friedlob left him drained. Friedlob forced Dana Andrews on Lang. A bad alcoholic, Andrews drank throughout the filming adding to Lang’s despair. Friedlob also battled Lang on the ending of the film, first saying he wanted to film the electrocution as graphic as possible (The Celluloid Muse – Higham and Greenberg), later denying this after a front office spy claimed Lang was shooting this explicit scene of his own accord. In the end, Lang filmed the ending as it is in the final film with Susan forsaking Garrett in his jail cell as he awaits his execution.   Lang was right. There was no need to show the execution, the audience is well aware of what fate awaits Garrett. The front office battles though had left Lang drained. The fight wasn’t in him anymore. He did not like the film which had left a bad taste in his mouth.

The element of an innocent man in prison was not new, James Cagney played a crusading newspaper reporter who is framed for murder in Warner’s 1939’s film, “Each Dawn I Die.” and Peter Breck got himself put into a mental institution to solve a murder in Sam Fuller’s “Shock Corridor.”  The film is based on a story and screenplay by Douglas Morrow, a lawyer, who probably should know how foolish an attempt this would be to trick the court, undermining justice. Most likely all involved would find themselves behind bars. That said, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” is a taut thriller with a convincing twist of an ending, even if the legal premise is a bit shaky.  Like Lang himself at the time, the film is filled with acidity and disillusionment. The film was the second of two films Lang had on the screen in 1956. Earlier in the year came the tough, riveting, “While the City Sleeps” also produced by Friedlob.

Financially a minor success at the time, “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” was a shattering harsh farewell note for Lang to have ended the Hollywood phase of his career.

New Website! New Blog!

I just want to officially announce my new website and blog. Both are dedicated to my photography. On the website photographs are available for purchase. Currently the selection is small and limited to just unmatted prints. However, within the next week or so matted prints will also be available for purchase and more photographs are being added.

I also have a Facebook page setup which I hope you will “Like.”

Here are the links

http://johngrecophotography.com/

http://www.johngrecophotography.com/blog/

http://www.facebook.com/pages/John-Greco-Photography/218148168210053

And I am offering a 20% discount to anyone who when purchasing a  photo  mentions Twenty Four Frames! The only hitch is this…Right now I can only give the discount if you pay by personal check. You can pay by Paypal, Visa, Mastercard or Discover BUT currently I cannot give a discount by charge. I am working on how to figure that out and will then update this offer to include credit cards and Paypal.

Whether you buy or not please visit. It’s good to know someone is looking in. Thanks.

Oh, one last thing. This new venture will in no way affect Twenty Four Frames which will continue
to updated with one to two postings a week.  I thank everyone who has been supportive of Twenty Four Frames and hope you continue to do so.

John

An Evening with Al Pacino

Ruth Eckerd Hall was advertising it as “Pacino: One Night Only” back during the latter part of last year; an evening of conversation, film clips and Q&A with the acting legend. It would be an “Inside the Actors Studio” type-setting, an interview with Al Pacino hosted by Steve Persall, the film critic for the St. Petersburg Times. We quickly purchased tickets and anxiously looked forward (at least I anxiously looked forward, my wife just waited) for the date to arrive. Then one Sunday morning in early November, I was reading the New York Times and there I see an ad in the Arts and Leisure section announcing Al Pacino will be performing on Broadway beginning November 13th and running through February 2011, in William Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice!” Hmm, it was during this period, Pacino was scheduled to appear at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. How can he be in two places at the same time?  Even an acting legend cannot perform that kind of magic. Soon the dreaded letter arrived from Ruth Eckerd Hall; Pacino’s appearance was postponed due to other commitments and will be rescheduled for a later date to be announced. It stayed that way for almost six months until we received notification that a new date had finally been set, May 31st. Oorah!

There are few people who deserve the status of legend.  In a time when the media deems every reality TV cast member a star or long time TV sit-com star, like say Betty White, a legend, true legends are indeed rare. Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Bette Davis and the recently deceased Elizabeth Taylor are legends. Betty White, not so much (I am not picking on Betty White, she certainly has endured, as much as I am on the silly “Entertainment Tonight” style media that uses the terminology so indiscriminately). Al Pacino fits the category of a true legend. Continue reading