The 2nd Annual #PayClassicsForward

For the second year in a row, my blogging “neighbor” Aurora at Once Upon a Screen is doing her #PayClassicsForward challenge. Taking her cue from “The 12 Days of Christmas,” she is asking other bloggers to make movie lists in quantities of 1, 2, 3, and so on up to 12, to promote movies that you like and/or that are sometimes overlooked by moviegoers.

I did this myself last year and had a great time with it, so I am doing it again, and I encourage you to do so as well. If you’re looking for ideas, click here to read Aurora’s list for this year, or click here to read my list from last year. And of course, my list for this year follows.

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One life-affirming documentary:

Les Blank’s Gap Toothed Women (1987)

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Two creative uses of bananas:

Busby Berkeley’s The Gang’s All Here (1943)

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Woody Allen’s Bananas (1971)

 

Three performances by “God”:

Graham Chapman (voice only) in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

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George Burns in Oh, God! (1977)

Morgan Freeman in Bruce Almighty (2003)

 

Four creative posthumous uses of actors:

Use of the director’s wife’s chiropractor as a stand-in for Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)

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John Lennon’s narration in John Lennon: Imagine (1988)

Laurence Olivier in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

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Graham Chapman’s narration in A Liar’s Autobiography (2012)

 

Five actresses in movies whose sole justification is to show off women’s bods (not that I’m complaining):

Jane Russell in The French Line (1955)

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Jayne Mansfield in Promises, Promises! (1963)

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Adrienne Barbeau in Swamp Thing (1981)

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Sybil Danning in They’re Playing with Fire (1984)

Blanchard Ryan in Open Water (2004)

 

Six movies where one word says it all:

“Rosebud.” Citizen Kane (1941)

“Stella!” A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

“Mother!” Psycho (1960)

“Plastics.” The Graduate (1967)

“Khan!” Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

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“Eve!” Wall-E (2008)

 

Seven memorable nights:

It Happened One Night (1934)

A Night at the Opera (1935)

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The Night of the Hunter (1955)

A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

Night Shift (1982)

Midnight Run (1988)

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

 

Eight smart movies about smart kids:

To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

The Black Stallion (1979)

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Little Man Tate (1991)

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My Life as a Dog (1987)

James and the Giant Peach (1996)

Ponette (1997)

The Iron Giant (1999)

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Nine couples you don’t want to have over for dinner:

Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson (Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity (1944)

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Frank Chambers and Cora Smith (John Garfield and Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Joe Gillis and Norma Desmond (William Holden and Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard (1950)

George and Martha (Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor) in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)

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Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow (Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Charley Partanna and Irene Walker (Jack Nicholson and Kathleen Turner) in Prizzi’s Honor (1985)

Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen (Gary Oldman and Chloe Webb) in Sid and Nancy (1987)

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner) in The War of the Roses (1989)

Sam Rothstein and Ginger McKenna (Robert DeNiro and Sharon Stone) in Casino (1995)

 

Ten movies that make your job look not so bad:

Modern Times (1936)

On the Waterfront (1954)

Nine to Five (1980)

Trading Places (1983)

Broadcast News (1987)

Wall Street (1988)

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

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Hoffa (1992)

Clerks (1994)

American Beauty (1999)

 

Eleven memorable movie mothers (for better or worse):

The Wicked Stepmother (voiced by Eleanor Audley) in Cinderella (1950)

Mrs. Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

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Rebecca Morgan (Cicely Tyson) in Sounder (1972)

Babs Johnson (Divine) in Pink Flamingos (1972)t

Beth Jarrett (Mary Tyler Moore) in Ordinary People (1980)

Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) in Mommie Dearest (1981)

Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in Aliens (1986)

Momma Lift (Anne Ramsey) in Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

Mother (Mae Questel) of Sheldon Mills (Woody Allen) in the “Oedipus Wrecks” segment of New York Stories (1989)

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Beatrice Henderson (Debbie Reynolds) in Mother (1996)

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Tess Coleman (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Freaky Friday (2003)

 

Twelve movies by the numbers:

Million Dollar Legs (1932)

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Stalag 17 (1953)

The Seven Year Itch (1955)

12 Angry Men (1957)

The 400 Blows (1959)

101 Dalmatians (1961)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

“10” (1979)

48 HRS. (1982)

4 Little Girls (1997)

Apollo 13 (1995)

The Sixth Sense (1999)

STEEL MAGNOLIAS (1989) – A film filled with fascinating females

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The following is my entry for the Girl Week 2016 blogathon, being hosted by Dell on Movies from Nov. 21-27, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read Dell’s and other bloggers’ takes on interesting female leads in movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

So many movies are content to show killings, or even destructions of entire civilizations, with nary a shrug. One of the many virtues of Steel Magnolias is that it takes the time to show the importance of a single person in one’s life, and what a hole that person leaves when she dies.

That person is Shelby (Oscar-nominated Julia Roberts), who is based on the sister of playwright-turned-screenwriter Robert Harling. Like Shelby, Harling’s sister Susan suffered and eventually died from Type 1 diabetes, and he wrote this play-turned-movie as a way of dealing with his sister’s death.

The movie centers around soon-to-be newlywed Shelby and her female friends around town, all of whom frequently gather at the local salon for beauty treatments and (let’s face it) gossip. Truvy (Dolly Parton) runs the salon and hires milquetoast Annelle (Daryl Hannah) to work for her.

(Annelle’s characterization — at least the latter part of it — is about the only problem I have with this movie. Annelle begins as a very conservative Christian, owly eyeglasses and all. Then later in the movie, she loosens up considerably and transforms into — again, let’s face it — beautiful Daryl Hannah. But then after feeling guilty about acting so worldly, Annelle goes back to the conservative look and the owly eyeglasses again. I’m no woman, but I have to think that, once you’ve had the opportunity to turn into Daryl Hannah, you’d never want to look back.)

The salon’s customers include wisecracking Clairee (Olympia Dukakis), widow of the town’s late mayor and owner of the local radio station; and Clairee’s Frankensteinian friend Ouiser (Shirley MacLaine), who freely admits she has not been in a good mood for several decades. About the only local woman with whom Shelby does not always get along is her contentious mother M’Lynn (Sally Field), who does not approve of Shelby’s wanting to have a baby due to Shelby’s fragile physical state.

There are a few men in the story (you gotta love M’Lynn’s happily wacko husband Drum [Tom Skerritt]), but the movie’s centerpiece is the relationship between the women. The plot doesn’t advance far from its initial starting point, but the women are so fascinating that it doesn’t matter much.  Sometimes movies, especially play adaptations, can easily turn into to snoozy talkfests. But here, the dialogue truly enhances the characterizations, and the acting as well — there’s not a bad performance in the entire ensemble. These are well-defined, strong women whom you can easily imagine having lives of their own after the movie has ended.

Be prepared to laugh and (most definitely) cry at Steel Magnolias. And brace yourself for one of the most hilarious closing shots in any movie ever — in a scene that had to have been added for the movie, because it could never have been performed on a stage.

Laurel & Hardy: The eternal friendship of Stan and Ollie

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The following is my contribution to the You Gotta Have Friends Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 18-20, 2016 by Debra at the blog Moon in Gemini. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ tributes to some of cinema’s most memorable friendships!

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Usually, anyone who writes about Laurel & Hardy dwells on their comedy highlights (and justifiably so). But in this instance, I’d like to discuss some of their more thoughtful moments and show why, as L&H biographer Randy Skretvedt once said, they have more “depth” than most comedy teams.

It’s not for nothing that, within their fan base, Laurel & Hardy are just as likely to inspire a tear as a laugh. The most commonly cited instance is the famous softshoe dance from Way Out West (1937; embedded below), in which the deep bond of Stan and Ollie is just as obvious as their superb comic timing.

But there are plenty of other instances — not as funny, maybe, but just as touching — that illuminate Stan and Ollie’s friendship. I’d like to cite just four of them. (SPOILER ALERTS)

At the climax of their short subject Below Zero (1930), Stan and Ollie have just been, literally, knocked out and thrown out of the back of a greasy-spoon cafe for not paying their dinner tab. (They thought they had sufficient funds to pay for it, but you know, it’s Stan and Ollie.) When Ollie regains consciousness, he doesn’t see Stan anywhere, and he yells for Stan several times — first in a normal tone of voice, then with fear that his friend is missing or has been physically harmed. All of this is conveyed simply by Ollie calling Stan’s name four times, followed by Ollie grabbing a large piece of wood and rushing to the cafe’s back door to bang on it.

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This is also a tribute to Oliver Hardy’s often-underrated acting. (And of course, Stan turns out to be all right — I’ll let you discover the movie’s silly ending for yourself.)

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In L&H’s first feature film Pardon Us (1931), The Boys have been sentenced to prison for trying to sell bootleg liquor (to a cop, as it happens). Stan has a troublesome lisp that makes the end of his every sentence sound as though he’s blowing a raspberry. It’s determined that Stan needs to go the prison dentist to get a loose tooth pulled. Stan has grave misgivings about this idea, especially after seeing a couple of patients in the dentist’s waiting room who are vocalizing their agony. Suddenly, Ollie sneaks in, takes a seat next to Stan, and declares that he’ll stay with Stan all through the dental visit. It’s a tiny moment that’s not dwelled upon, but Stan’s delight at seeing a cheerful, familiar face in a hostile environment speaks volumes.

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In Busy Bodies (1933), Stan and Ollie are having a back-and-forth physical row with an antagonistic co-worker (Charlie Hall). At one point, Stan hits Ollie by mistake. Charlie laughs and starts to make friends with Stan, telling Stan he has “a kind face.” Stan starts to get chummy with his new buddy and offers him a cigar. Ollie’s look to the camera — a device that always conveys Ollie’s exasperation to the audience — has an undertone of pity in this instance, as Ollie fears that Stan has turned on him. (Not to worry. Stan gets Charlie ejected from work — theirs is a “No Smoking” place of business.)

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The most profound instance of Stan and Ollie’s loss-and-regaining of friendship occurs at the end of their feature film A Chump at Oxford (1940). (Major spoilers follow.) Stan and Ollie are attending Oxford University on a scholarship. Unbeknownst to them, Oxford once had a brilliant professor named Lord Paddington who, one day, inexplicably walked away from Oxford for good. Paddington’s former servant notices Stan’s resemblance to the former genius and declares that Stan is Lord Paddington returned to his old stomping grounds. Ollie laughs derisively at the idea.

OLLIE: Why, I’ve known him for years, and he’s the dumbest guy that I ever saw. Aren’t you, Stan?

STAN: I certainly am.

But when Stan leans out a window and is conked on the head by the window’s pane, Lord Paddington’s memory returns — as does Lord P. in all of his snobby glory.

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There follows a delicious scene in which Ollie is justly punished for all of his years of condescending treatment of Stan, as Ollie is demoted to being Lord P.’s lackey. At one point, Paddington instructs Ollie on how to behave with more poise. “Lift your chin up,” he tells Ollie. When Ollie duly lifts his chin, Stan instructs him, “No, no, no, both of them!”

Ollie eventually loses it, telling Paddington that he’s had enough and that he’s returning to America without him. As it happens, some of Lord P.’s followers are singing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” outside his window. Lord P. goes to the window to listen, the window pane does its business again, and Stan is returned to his old self.

Ollie is still on a rampage when Stan starts to cry at the thought of Ollie deserting him. Eventually, it dawns on Ollie that Stan is back to normal. Ollie laughs in happiness and throws his arms around his old buddy, briefly looking down at his derided double-chin before resuming his joy at the return of his old friend.

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You have to think that Stan Laurel, as the uncredited co-creator of most of Laurel & Hardy’s movies, felt compelled to add these subtle grace notes to L&H’s characterizations. They’re minor, but they’re there for anyone who looks for them, and they add a little emotion to what could have simply been (superb) slapstick comedies.

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The 2nd Annual ‘ONE’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon – The Big Wrap-Up

We had a couple of no-shows, but then a couple of other entrants balanced them out, along with one surprise guest. So it’s time for

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Click here to see the entrants from Day 1. For the entrants below, click on the name of each individual blog to read their ‘thon entry.

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Film Music Central covered the high points of the acclaimed Japanese fantasy film My Neighbor Totoro.

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Moon in Gemini showed that animation isn’t limited to fiction, in her examination of the Lebanon War documentary Waltz with Bashir.

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And Dell on Movies sneaked in with his fun memories of “The Brown Hornet,” the show-within-the show of the long-running Saturday morning series “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”

Thanks to all who took the time to write such thoughtful and enjoyable blogathon entries, as well as those who took the time to read them. May you enjoy animated films for the rest of your second childhood!

Day 1 Recap of The 2nd Annual ‘One’ of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon

With more than half of our blogathon entrants showing up on the first day, it’s time to whistle a happy tune as we present

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If you missed any of the entries, click on the appropriate blog’s name below to link to them.

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BNoirDetour gave us some stylish laughs with the the delicious film-noir parody Key Lime Pie.

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Once Upon a Screen showed how Porky Pig dealt with a wartime egg shortage caused by a Swooner Crooner.

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Silver Scenes revived a colorful ode To Spring from the 1930’s.

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Caftan Woman gifted us with Richard Williams’ rendition of the holiday chestnut A Christmas Carol.

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Realweegiemidget Reviews provided an unusual adventure in the form of The Lego Movie.

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Wide Screen World waxed nostalgic for Saturday-morning memories of Hanna-Barbera’s World of Super Adventure.

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The Midnite Drive-In declared “Adults only” with his screening of the 1980’s anthology Heavy Metal.

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And finally, yours truly offered the unique double feature of Mickey’s Garden and A Single Life.

And that’s not all, folks! With two more days left in our salute to cel work, you’d be wise to bookmark us to enjoy further blog entries of animated gems. See you soon!

 

 

 

The Marx Brothers in AT THE CIRCUS (1939) – Peanuts to you!

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The following is my contribution to the At the Circus Blogathon, being hosted Nov. 11-13, 2016 at the blogs Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ take on a wide range of circus-themed movies!

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(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Everything that’s wrong with At the Circus is encapsulated in its first ten minutes. Before two whole Marx Brothers are together on-screen at the same time, we’ve had:

* Margaret Dumont being fourth-billed in the supporting-cast credits;

* MGM’s fancy idea of a small-time circus, complete with neon lighting;

* two musical numbers from The Couple Nobody Cares About; and

* Kenny Baker as part of that couple — easily the simpiest romantic lead in a Marx movie (and that’s saying something).

And when two Marxes finally do get together, it’s no cause for celebration. The movie’s premise is that all that’s standing in the way of would-be circus owner Jeff Wilson (Baker) and his true love Julie Randall (Florence Rice) is the $10,000 that the circus’ owner stole from Jeff so that he couldn’t pay off his circus bill. So Jeff’s cohort Tony (Chico) brings in his “best friend in the world” J. Cheever Loophole (Groucho) to solve the case.

With best friends like Chico, Groucho doesn’t need enemies. Tony, the very man who called for Loophole’s help in the first place, keeps pushing Loophole out into the rain because he doesn’t have the proper badge to get on the train. Once he finally gets on the train (and the movie never shows how he gets on — he just is on), Loophole tries to extract a cigar from a midget suspect (Jerry Maren, a quarter-century before he strew confetti on “The Gong Show”) to match some of the crime scene’s evidence — only Tony keeps offering Loophole his own cigars instead, at the same time complaining that Loophole isn’t getting any evidence. These, sadly, are the movie’s first attempts at Marx Bros. comedy scenes.

Also, villainess Peerless Pauline is played by Eve Arden. Although she was only 28 years old at the time of filming, and her circus costume certainly shows her long legs off nicely, her character is such a priss as to make Our Miss Brooks come off as a siren. Margaret Dumont exudes more sex appeal than Arden does in this movie.

The one who comes off best, at least for a while, is Harpo, who keeps making silent but wacko commentary on the sidelines and is funnier than the main performers. But then MGM has to drag that “Svengali” stuff from A Day at the Races into the movie, apparently trying to prove again that the only hope for the future of African-Americans is Harpo Marx.

When Loophole finally gets the bright idea of hitting up Jeff’s rich aunt (Margaret Dumont) for the missing money, the movie turns into the comedy it was supposed to have been an hour before that. Groucho’s usual wooing of dame Dumont, Harpo and Chico’s subsequent burglary of the strong-man/suspect’s den, and most of the movie’s climax are quite hilarious.

Even the climax, filled as it is with cheap slide-whistle sound effects and obvious back projection, is so frenetic that it comes as a relief after the movie’s dirge-like beginning. It’s a case of the Marx Brothers rising above the movie’s intended comedy instead of causing it. But in the Marxes’ latter MGM days, that almost counts as a triumph.

Here’s a definite highlight of the movie, from the same songwriters who brought you the score for The Wizard of Oz: