The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) William Wyler


This essay is Twenty Four Frames contribution to the William Wyler Blogathon hosted by R.D. Finch’s The Movie Projector. Click here to visit other great contributors to this event.

One of the most moving scenes in William Wyler’s epic film about returning war veterans appears only minutes into the start of the film when Homer Parrish (Harold Russell), a disabled Navy veteran who lost both hands in the war, is dropped off at his parents’ home by the two other vets from his hometown he just met at the airport.  The two others, Sergeant Al Stephenson (Fredric March) and bombardier Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) remain in their taxi watching Homer as he approaches the house. He halts on the front lawn, feeling a sense of unease about what waits inside. It’s quiet, nothing happens for a moment, suddenly his kid sister Louella appears at the door, sees him, and excitedly runs out to greet her big brother. Homer’s parents are not far behind. They greet him, hesitant at first, his father then hugs him, his mother sobs, both tears of joy and sadness. They are soon joined by Wilma (Cathy O’Donnell), Homer’s girl who lives next door. Their eyes meet, they stand still for a second and then she hugs him. Significantly, Homer does not hug her back. Continue reading

Twenty Four Frames Now on Facebook

I have just started a Twenty Four Frames Facebook page which will focus exclusively on film, and maybe some TV. Unlike my blog this will be open to discussion on all film, all genres and all types; classic, current Hollywood, art, foreign, independent, documentaries and experimental. I am looking to link not only my own blog articles but will be linking articles from some of my favorite blogs along with other postings from other sources as well as original entries.  Feel free to not only leave comments but add your own postings, links or thoughts. They just have to be film related and at a civil and respectful level. You can disagree all you want but there is no need to see comments like “This film was a piece of X%$#! What the @&$#$# are you talking about?” Leave this kind of commentary in your own backyard or it will be deleted.

That all said, please go to facebook and LIKE Twenty Four Frames.

Andrew Sarris 1928-2012

Ever since I became seriously interested in film, it was for me, the director who was the driving force behind the film. It was always Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “Arthur Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” or Billy Wilder’s “Some Like it Hot.”  This thought or attitude is easily attributable to the influence of Andrew Sarris and the auteur theory he championed. Sarris died today (June 20th) at the age of eighty-three. As the long time critic for The Village Voice and later, The New York Observer, Sarris was a unique voice championing film and filmmakers, ready to do battle and he did, most famously with Pauline Kael.

For years, I read Sarris’ Village Voice reviews each week. As a young cineaste I plowed through my well worn copy of “The American Cinema: Directors and Direction 1929-1968,” Sarris’ assessment and categorizing of some 200 hundred or so filmmakers.   For me, he opened up doors and behind them were brilliant filmmakers and their films to be discovered and enjoyed.

Sarris and Kael ushered in the golden age of movie criticism. It was a time when movies meant something more than just how much they cost to make or how much they made at the box office over the weekend. Movies were argued about, discussed over dinner or coffee, film theories were praised and damned. They were art and treated as art.


Short Takes: Ladd, Stanwyck, Flynn and Seduction, Italian Style

Alan Ladd’s first major screen appearance, a tepid thriller with Barbara Stanwyck and Errol Flynn and a wicked satire from Italian film director Pietro Germi hightlight this week’s short takes.

This Gun For Hire (1942) Frank Tuttle

Alan Ladd is a nasty hired killer out for revenge after he is paid off in marked bills and he soon finds the police are quickly on his tail. Based on a novel by Grahame Greene, the movie comes across as one part foreign intrigue and two parts a noir crime film. Ladd is good as the pretty boy killer, with a soft spot for cats, who inadvertently becomes involved with a group selling chemical secrets to the Japanese. Veronica Lake is recruited by a senate committee to help expose the men selling the secrets becomes mixed up in the police hunt for Ladd. Ladd’s killer eventually finds redemption through Lake’s character who befriends him.  This was the first teaming of the handsome Ladd and the gentle soft beauty of sexy Veronica Lake. It’s also the film that made Ladd a star. The memorable Laird Cregar, so good in “Hangover Square” and “The Lodger,”  makes for an interesting weasel like neurotic criminal. I admittedly have always found Robert Preston, here he play the police Lieutenant in charge of the case, rather dull and he does nothing here to change my mind. Continue reading

Manhattan (1979) Woody Allen

“You have to have a little faith in people” – Tracy.

In “Manhattan,” Woody Allen’s New York is a world filled with artists, poets, musicians, writers, intellectuals and psychoanalyst. It’s an oasis of art galleries, museums, books and neurosis. Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” fills the air as Gordon Willis’ superb black and white photography paints a majestic world of urban beauty. Filmed in Cinemascope, the black and white images instill a sense of character with every image we see. The city itself is the main character in this film with everyone else in a supporting role.   John Baxter in his excellent biography on Woody states accurately, “While the opening montage recalls the unblinking succession of images with which Antonioni closed L’Eclisse in 1962, Allen’s use of the city as a character exactly parallel’s Fellini’s treatment of Rome in La Dolce Vita.” Baxter also notes other similarities including the ending “in which Marcello Mastroianni tries to talk to the girl on the beach, only to find they can’t communicate.” This easily parallels Isaac’s attempt to mend his relationship with Tracy just as she is leaving for London. Continue reading

Blast From the Past: The Spiral Staircase (1945) Robert Siodmak

TCM is rebroadcasting the nail biting film noir The Spiral Staircase on Thursday at 3:15 PM EST With that in mind, I thought I would highlight my 2010 review of this magnificent film noir.

Interview with Stunt Double Martha Crawford Cantarini – Part Two

Martha and Mae

This is part two of my interivew with Stunt Double Martha Crawford Cantarini whose book “Fall Girl: My Life as a Western Stunt Double” is available from McFarland Books via their website, just click here or order by phone at 1-800-253-2187. If you have not read part one of the interview you can find it right here.

Except for the Love Me Tender shot, all photos are from the personal collection of Martha Crawford Cantarini, my deepest thanks for sharing.

John: Would you tell us a little about your mother?

Martha: My mother was gorgeous. All the polo fans would walk right by the likes of Rita Hayworth, Joan Bennett, etc and ask my mother for her autograph. She would replay, “yes of course, but I am nobody”. They would say, “you MUST be.” Her picture on page 63 of my book was taken at Paramount. Frank

Martha’s mother – Sharon

Borzage was a big director at Paramount and one of the polo players, he was the first director to receive an Academy Award, arranged for a test. She had done quite a bit of ‘little theater’ work. She photographed like a glamorous Claudette and poor Claudette could not stand that. She was big enough to stop her at Paramount. Sam Woods, the producer, wanted to put her under personal contract to him for a Broadway show that ran for many years but she turned it down preferring to be a full time mother. Mother and Carl were both show stoppers. Every time we went out Carl was asked for his autograph. They thought he was Richard Dix time after time after time. It was cute once at a party  when Bing Crosby introduced himself to Carl . . . as if he needed an intro! He said, he had always wanted to meet him.

At the Uplifter’s Club. On the right is Charlie Farrell, Martha’s mother Sharon is in the center followed by Walt Disney, Mrs. Disney and director Frank Borzage.

Continue reading

Interview with Stunt Double Martha Crawford Cantarini – Part One

In the early days of films, actors did their own stunts; stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton were well known for their abilities to perform daring acts of bravado to thrill audiences. As time went on, the studios realized they had expensive investments in their stars and began to use stunt doubles to perform the most dangerous stunts. Still, they did not tell the naive public it was not their favorite movie star falling out of widows, rolling down hills, riding runaway stagecoaches and jumping through fires, they let the illusion remain.  Today, of course we all know about stunt men and women, they are even given screen credit at the end of the film unlike years ago when they remained anonymous. Many home videos today include extras focusing on stunts and how they were created. Though many of the movies today have become more infantile filled with actions and little else these days, audiences are much more sophisticated when it comes to stunts and how films are made.

Continue reading

A Beast at Bay (1912) D.W. Griffith

In 1911, Mary Pickford left D.W. Griffith and Biograph, first working for IMP (Independent Moving Picture Co.) at $175 a week, an increase from her Biograph salary of $100.  Later, she would sign with the Majestic Motion Picture Company for $225 a week. Though she was making more money than ever the films were not of the same quality as with Mr. Griffith. In January 1912, Mary returned to Biograph, and more importantly, to D.W. Griffith with a new contract though for less money ($175). No problem, Mary was happy to be back with cinema’s early master.

“A Beast at Bay” was Mary’s ninth film for Biograph after her return, released in May of 1912. The vivacious, charming Pickford stars in this D.W. Griffith one reeler, one of more than 70 shorts Griffith made that year.  Like many of Griffith’s films, the characters have no name and are only known by a descriptive title. Here Mary is simply, “The Young Woman,” as such; I will refer to all the characters by the real life names just to make it less cumbersome. Continue reading