#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Feb. 20: WILLARD (1971)



This week, #SatMat reaches back into the curdled excesses of the early 1970’s to bring you Willard, the touching story of a boy and his rats.

Well, he’s not really a boy, just a put-upon milquetoast named Willard (Bruce Davison) . His boss is a hulking bully played by Ernest Borgnine, so you know this can’t end well. When lonely Willard ends up befriending some rats that his mother had ordered him to round up from their yard and kill, Willard starts using the rodents for his own nefarious purposes.

As lurid as the movie is, it’s rated PG and bespeaks of a simpler time in cinema, where even gruesome subject matter wasn’t dealt with as gorily as it soon came to be. Plus, you gotta love the casting. Besides Borgnine, there’s Elsa Lanchester in one of her last roles, and Sondra Locke in one of her first. What would Dirty Harry have made of all this?

So come with popcorn on one hand and rat poison on the other, and savor the guilty pleasures of Willard with us at Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST!




Melissa McCarthy in THE BOSS


I usually don’t display my old-fogeyism this flagrantly. But yesterday, I found that the trailer for Melissa McCarthy’s new movie comedy, The Boss, had been embedded into my Twitter account’s feed. I’m not any McCarthy fan, but since the preview was there anyway, I figured I’d check it out.

Much has been made of critic Leonard Maltin’s recent admission that his review of Zoolander 2 is incomplete because he walked out on the movie before it was finished. I found this trailer so repugnant, I wanted to walk out on it, and it was on my home computer. But I sat through the entire thing.

Not only did I not laugh, I was downright offended by it. Right from the get-go, the preview intends to get laughs by calling its protagonist every offensive name in the book. Does anybody try to get “honest” laughs anymore without resorting to playground-level cursing?

Then we’re supposed to be tickled silly when McCarthy and her sidekick tell Kristen Bell’s character that they’re shocked that any man would deign to have sexual intercourse with her. Kristen Bell is a charming actress, and I don’t mind admitting that I felt personally insulted for Bell at having to earn a paycheck from such a cheap shot.

From there, McCarthy’s character (for reasons not worth going into here) decides to create the ultimate Girl Scout troop from some inner-city girls, resulting in a violent scene that goes far beyond slapstick and well into pity territory.

I’m sure this will be the box-office hit of the week, until McCarthy’s fans stop turning out for it and it ends up on Netflix or the like three weeks later. But what does it say for women’s legacy in cinema that one of the top female comedy box-office draws can earn such status only by being as gross and brain-dead as the unfunniest guys in movie comedy?

Here’s the trailer. (WARNING: Much adult language!) Judge for yourself, and feel free to agree or disagree with me in the “Comments” section below.

Chill Willis and his ALAMO Oscar campaign


This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, being co-hosted by Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club as a month-long salute to the Academy Awards.

Each week has a different theme: THE ACTORS! (February 6), OSCAR SNUBS! (February 13), THE CRAFTS! (February 20), and THE MOTION PICTURES and THE DIRECTORS! (February 27). (My blog entry, which follows, is related to OSCAR SNUBS.) Click on the above banner for a terrific variety of blogs related to the history of Oscars!


If you were a movie actor, what would you do to try to win an Oscar? Chill Wills did nothing less than invoke God Almighty.


Theodore Childress “Chill” Wills (1902-1978) was a performer from early childhood, forming and leading the Avalon Boys singing group before disbanding them in 1938 to pursue a solo acting career.

(Laurel & Hardy fans are well familiar with Wills and the Avalon Boys. They provide the back-up singing for the famous softshoe number “At the Ball, That’s All” in the L&H comedy Way Out West. Wills can be seen as the yodeler in the group.)


For two decades, Wills’ film work ranged from the serious (Uncle Bawley in the James Dean movie Giant) to the ridiculous (he was the uncredited voice of Francis the Talking Mule in Universal’s long-running comedy series). But for reasons we’ll explain, Wills’ most notorious role was probably “Beekeeper,” the alcoholic sidekick to Davy Crockett (John Wayne), in the Wayne-produced-and-directed Western The Alamo (1960).


The Alamo, based of course on the 1836 Battle of the Alamo, was a pet project of Wayne’s. He wanted so much to get the movie made that he put up $1.5 million of his own money for the budget, and he starred in the movie when he would have preferred a supporting role or no role at all (other backers refused to help fund the movie without Wayne’s star power as insurance). Despite Wayne’s fondness for the subject matter, historians and critics complained loudly about the movie’s lack of factual accuracy.

And as it turned out, Wayne’s love of a good Western story was nothing compared to Chill Wills’ passion for a golden statuette.

Chill Wills the alamo

Despite the movie’s mixed notices, Wills’ performance got him rave reviews and an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. At age 58, Wills was not about to let his only shot at an Academy Award slip through his leathery fingers.

Wills enlisted the aid of veteran press agent W.S. “Bow-Wow” Wojciechowicz to mount an Oscar bid for him. While Wills took the heat for this self-serving campaign, Bow-Wow later admitted that Wills knew nothing about it and that it was entirely his doing. And Bow-Wow certainly earned his salary.

The campaign’s first ad read, “We of The Alamo cast are praying harder than the real Texans prayed for their lives at The Alamo — for Chill Wills to win the Oscar. Cousin Chill’s acting was great. [Signed,] Your Alamo cousins.”


The straw that broke the Academy’s back was the ad with Wills declaring, “Win, lose, or draw, you’re still my cousins and I love you all.” It was Wills’ hard luck that Hollywood’s master of sarcasm, Groucho Marx, was one of the Academy’s Oscar voters. Noting that Sal Mineo was also up for a Supporting Actor Oscar (for the movie Exodus), Groucho posted his own ad that read, “Dear Mr. Chill Wills: I am delighted to be your cousin but I voted for Sal Mineo.”


The back-and-forth did not end there. John Wayne was quite eager to distance himself and Batjac, his production company, from Wills’ campaign. Wayne ran an ad in Variety which stated: “No one in Batjac or in the Russell Birdwell office [Wayne’s publicist] had been a party to [Wills’] trade paper advertising. I refrain from using stronger language because I am sure his intentions are not as bad as his taste.”

Groucho Marx couldn’t resist taking a crack at Wayne’s sanctimoniousness either, remarking publicly, “For John Wayne to impugn Chill Wills’ taste is tantamount to Jayne Mansfield criticizing Sabrina for too much exposure.”

And that was about the last that The Alamo heard about any Oscars. The Best Supporting Actor award went to neither Wills nor Mineo, but to Peter Ustinov for Spartacus. Despite a total of seven nominations (including Best Picture), the only Oscar garnered by The Alamo was for Best Sound. Wayne himself would win his only Oscar, not for directing his prized project, but for his lead acting role in True Grit nearly a decade later.

Wills’ elaborate Oscar adventure is proof that money and publicity alone are not enough to nab someone an Academy Award. But as we’ve seen in the 55 years since The Alamo, that doesn’t stop plenty of wanna-bes from trying.



Emmanuel Levy Cinema 24/7. “Oscar Scandals: Wills, Chill (The Alamo).” Dec. 31, 2005. http://emanuellevy.com/oscar/oscar-scandals-chill-wills-9/

Los Angeles Times. “‘The Alamo’ Mission.” Jan. 6, 2010. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jan/06/news/la-en-archives6-2010jan06

The Oscar Buzz. “Failed Oscar Campaigns: ‘The Alamo’ (1960).” http://theoscarbuzz.blogspot.com/2014/12/failed-oscar-campaigns-alamo-1960.html

Wikipedia. “‘The Alamo’ (1960 film).” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Alamo_(1960_film)

Wikipedia. “Chill Wills.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chill_Wills


THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) – Nothing but a bad habit


The following is my entry in the You Must Remember This…A Kiss Is Just a Kiss Blogathon, being hosted Feb. 13-14, 2016 by Lesley at the blog Second Sight Cinema. Click on the above banner, and read bloggers’ ruminations on a variety of kisses that occurred in movies from the dawn of cinema through 1980!


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

It’s shameless, that’s what it is.

The set-up: We’ve spent the movie’s first few minutes learning about Tom and Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Joel McCrea and Claudette Colbert). Tom is a failed inventor. Gerry has been perfectly willing to use her feminine wiles to help Tom on the road to success, but Tom wants to make it on his own merits, which is mostly why he’s a failed inventor.


Tom and Gerry have just returned to their New York penthouse after a joyless dinner in which they’ve pondered ending their marriage of five years. Both of them have been imbibing in order to ease the pain, Gerry having imbibed slightly more than Tom.

(“And when love’s gone,” Gerry adds, “there’s nothing left but admiration and respect.” What a terrible thing to have as the only pillar left in your marriage!)


Gerry tries to unzip the back of her dress, but she is in no state to do so. Tom says that if she’ll come around into the light, he’ll help her. Strangely enough, a major portion of that light appears to have fallen into Tom’s lap, since that is where Gerry lands. “You don’t think this is a little intimate, do you?” Tom quietly snarks. “Doesn’t mean anything to you anymore to sit on my lap?”

“No,” Gerry lightly protests.


Tom now has Gerry’s back as a target. It’s too tempting. “Or if I kiss you there? Or here? Or here?” says Tom, planting his lips on a number of biological locations familiar to Gerry. One kiss too many, and Gerry complains, “You know I’m ticklish!”

“Then why is your breath coming faster?”

“Because you’re squeezing me!”


You got that right, sister. One last squeeze, and Tom and Gerry end up in an embrace that literally curls Gerry’s toes and sends Victor Young’s musical score into stringy ecstasy.

“Almost nothing?” Tom reiterates.

With her last ounce of coherency, Gerry agrees, as Tom delivers her up the stairs with the same manful intentions that Rhett Butler had for Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. “Nothing but a bad habit,” Gerry murmurs, and as Gerry keeps coming up with new synonyms for “bad,” the scene quietly fades.

I couldn’t tell you if this scene was the inspiration or template for movie love scenes to come, but if it wasn’t, it should have been. Absolutely shameless — and would that countless other love scenes had been as flawlessly shameless as this one is.

(When it comes to The Palm Beach Story, I am a self-designated cheerleader for this gift from the movie gods. Click here to read my complete review of this beautiful movie.)




The month of March is just around the corner. So it seems appropriate for our blog to usher in the


Think of a movie that you went into or prepared to see — in any format (theater, DVD, cable, rental) — with the gravest of misgivings, only to discover that it was either not that bad or more delightful that you could have imagined. So you began with gruff expectations, only to have your heart melt by movie’s end.

We ask you to share that experience via blog. Maybe start out by explaining why you were unsure about the movie. Was your Significant Other dragging you to see what you thought was a “chick flick”? Had the movie received universally bad reviews, and you went to see it only because nothing else was available? Then give a decent summary of the plot, actors, etc., and why you ended up liking the movie.

Here are the rules:

  1. Please leave me a message in the “Comments” section below that includes the name and URL of your blog, and the name of the movie you choose to write about.
  2. Below are banners to advertise the blogathon. Once you have completed Step # 1, please grab a banner, display it on your blog, and link it back to this blog.
  3. The blogathon will take place from Sun. Feb. 28, through Tues., Mar. 1, 2016. Once you have posted your blogathon entry on one of those dates, please post its URL in the “Comments” section so that I can link our blog back to it.

Have fun with your blog entry, and let’s make this blogathon roar! Here’s the line-up so far:

Movie Movie Blog Blog – The Ref (1994)

BNoirDetour – The Big Sleep (1946)

Cinematic Scribblings – The Young Girls of Rochefort (1967)

Old Hollywood Films – Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet (1948)

I Found It at the Movies – The Wild Bunch (1969)

Moon in Gemini – The Terminator (1984)

Love Letters to Old Hollywood – When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Serendipitous Anachronisms – I Bury the Living (1958)

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood – Move Over Darling (1963)

Dell on Movies – Flipped (2010)





#SatMat Live Tweet movie for Sat., Feb. 13: LOCUSTS: DAY OF DESTRUCTION (2005)


I love disaster movies that give you just a faint whiff of characterization — not a carload of exposition (because who could believe in these characters, anyway?), just enough to rationalize your watching the carnage to come. Locusts: Day of Destruction fits the bill perfectly.

Lucy Lawless plays Dr. Maddy Rierdon, a Dept. of Agriculture investigator who’s getting it from all angles. Her husband is whining because she’s too engrossed in her job to start a family with him. One of her former professors (John Heard) has started a mutant-locust experiment on his own, leaving Maddy to shut down the prof’s lab and fire him.

And worst of all, Maddy must not be getting paid diddly-squat, because her wardrobe is so constrictive, she wears tight jeans to a meeting where she’s addressing her formally dressed peers, and at one point, she walks around an awful long time with just a bra on before she can find a top that fits her. Poor thing!

Oh, and that renegade locust experiment? You don’t think the prof really burned all of those creatures away, do you?

So, Lucy Lawless cheesecake and a locust plague. Need I say more? See you at Twitter.com this Saturday at 4:30 p.m. EST — use the hashtag #SatMat to comment on the movie as it unspools before you!




BEETLEJUICE (1988) – Hereafter known as the funniest hereafter ever


The following is my entry in the Ultimate 80s Blogathon, being hosted Feb. 15, 2016 by the blogs Tranquil Dreams and Drew’s Movie Reviews. Click on the above banner to read reviews of bloggers’ favorite films from the 1980s!


When Beetlejuice first released in 1988, a friend of mine spent his entire lunch hour explaining the plot to me. I couldn’t imagine anyone being enamored of such a bizarre-sounding comedy. I saw it a year later on cable TV, and it has become synonymous with Halloween for me ever since. Besides which, it’s as riotously funny as any movie I’ve ever seen.

Strangely enough, it didn’t start out that way. Director Tim Burton, fresh from his success with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, originally planned the movie as a macabre drama about a sweet couple named Adam and Barbara Maitland (played straight, and to perfection, by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). The Maitlands accidentally die in a car crash, and the movie was supposed to be a ghoulish look at the deceased couple’s coping with the afterlife.

Then Michael Keaton signed on to play the title role of a ghostly “bio-exorcist” who helps the Maitlands cut through Death’s red tape (but only to help himself in the end). Keaton uncovered the movie’s black-comedy potential and turned around Burton’s vision of the movie.

And what a turn-around! Keaton’s role takes up only one-fifth of the movie, but when he appears, it’s like all the Marx Brothers set loose in one ghostly spirit. Lascivious, vociferous, and hilarious, Keaton made comedy history and won the National Society of Film Critics’ best-actor nod.

The supporting actors are no slouches, either. Winona Ryder as a death-obsessed girl who is surprised by her encounter with the real thing, Jeffrey Jones as her smug dad, and most of all, Sylvia Sidney as a beleaguered afterlife clerk…all are wonderful.

The music is one of cinema’s great scores, courtesy of the offbeat Danny Elfman — with a huge assist from Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” (in the funniest lip-synch routine ever put on film, posted below). And when the movie isn’t all-out funny, which is seldom, it’s a marvel to look at, thanks to production designer Bo Welch.

If you want to do Halloween right, forget all those cutesy, just-kidding cartoons floating around TV in October. Beetlejuice is the real deal.

Buster Keaton in OUR HOSPITALITY (1923) – Hilarious and perilous


The following is my entry in The Second Annual Buster Keaton Blogathon, hosted by the lovely Lea at Silent-ology from Feb. 7-8, 2016. Click on the above banner, and read a variety of blogs related to the movies, TV work, and life of the wonderful comic artist Buster Keaton!


(WARNING: Major spoilers abound!)

Our Hospitality represents a quantum leap forward for Buster Keaton’s filmmaking. By this point, we’ve grown so accustomed to laughing at Keaton the moment he appears on-screen that when his first few scenes are developed at a leisurely pace, we start to wonder if Keaton will reward our patience. All I can say is: Wait for it.

The story is a take-off on the famous Hatfield-McCoy family feud, here set a few decades back from when it actually happened. Otherwise, the movie is very authentic-feeling. Keaton created his setting based on period photos, had his art director Fred Gabourie make a reproduction of an early, rickety steam locomotive (trains were Keaton’s passion), and also rode on a period-style bicycle. All of this contributes to the movie’s atmosphere, as well as providing the impetus for some inspired gags.


(Credit for the movie’s direction is given to both Keaton and John G. Blystone, who later got directing credit for Laurel & Hardy’s Swiss Miss and Block-Heads. Since Stan Laurel didn’t take any direction on his own movies any more than Buster Keaton did, it’s not to difficult to guess who the auteur is here.)

The movie begins with a startlingly dramatic prologue showing the on-going feud between the Hatfields and the McCays. When the McCays’ father and a Hatfield brother are killed, Joseph Canfield (Joe Roberts, in his final role before his death a few months after the movie’s release) vows vengeance on the next male McCay, who at present is an infant named John (played by Buster’s son).

Mrs. McCay sends her son to an aunt in New York for safety’s sake, but twenty years later, John (Keaton) returns to handle his late mother’s estate. John is so courtly to Virginia (Natalie Talmadge, then Mrs. Buster Keaton), who rides with him on the train home, that she invites him to her house for dinner. Unfortunately, he discovers too late that she is a Hatfield and that her brothers have blood lust on the brain. The Canfields’ code of honor does not permit them to kill any guest in their house; needless to say, John does everything he can to prolong his stay inside.

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The movie’s final third is nothing less than breathtaking, as the Canfields pursue John to a tall gorge over a river that leads to a waterfall. When Virginia tries to help John and is nearly swept over the waterfall, John’s rescue of her inspires one of the most stunning shots in Keaton’s filmography (there would be plenty more to come). As always, Keaton had a Canfield-like sense of honor and could not allow himself to fake any stunt he thought he could do; in the shot of Virginia’s rescue, Keaton inhaled so much water that a doctor had to be called to give him first aid.


(It was not Keaton’s only death-defying stunt in the movie. When he first fell into the water, Keaton had been attached to a safety wire, but the wire quickly snapped. Thus, much of Keaton’s peril in trying to save himself wasn’t acting.)

Nevertheless, there are also plenty of laughs in the movie, especially in John and Virginia’s train ride and in John’s machinations to keep from leaving the Canfield home after dinner. Natalie Talmadge, despite her having been regarded as the least thespian of the famous Talmadge sisters (she would never do another movie role), acquits herself admirably as the lone Canfield concerned for John’s life.

Any modern movie that combined such period detail, risible comedy, and eye-popping suspense would probably be regarded as a masterpiece. Come to think of it, there’s little reason not to regard Our Hospitality in the same way.