A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

What Happens When The World’s Greatest Mind Isn’t? – Here’s The Trailer For Mr. Holmes (2015)

mh1Bill Condon‘s Mr. Holmes presents us with Sir Ian McKellen as an aging Sherlock Holmes facing his final case. Unfortunately, his mind is not what it used to be.

Looks like this could be good, and it also makes one wish that Sir Ian had had the chance to take on the super-sleuth in his younger days not just to see what his portrayal would have been like, but to compare the two performances and take a look at not just how the detective, but the star had changed over the years.

Miramax is distributing the film in the US, but as far as I know,, no official release date has been set.

Classic Television Thursday #025 – Rod Serling On The Mike Wallace Interview (1959)

mw1Something different for this week.

Long before he became the head reporter and interviewer on 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace gained notoriety for an interview show called Night Beat which aired from 1955-1957 on the Dumont network’s New York affiliate WABD during a late night time slot. This led to ABC picking him up for a late night talk show called The Mike Wallace Interview. Each episode ran 30 minutes and featured Wallace one-on-one with personalities as varied as Steve Allen, Pearl S. Buck, Bennett Cerf, Salvador Dalí, Kirk Douglas, William O. Douglas, Erich Fromm,Oscar Hammerstein, Samuel David Hawkins, Robert Hutchins, Aldous Huxley, and Henry Kissinger, along with many others.

mw2Among those “others” was Rod Serling, who at the time was only a week or so away from debuting a new show that he was writing, directing , and producing called The Twilight Zone. At this point in his life, Serling was well known as a television script writer, but he had also become increasingly frustrated with censorship by the networks and the increasing involvement of advertisers and their influence on what did and didn’t make it on the air. He is quite frank in this interview, and as always come across as not only extremely knowledgeable, but as a fairly harsh critic of the medium for which he had an obviously great love, but sincerely felt could be doing more than it was at the time. Serling also acknowledges his insecurity about leaving the medium either for Hollywood or Broadway.

Time, of course, has since vindicated Serling, at least as far as Twilight Zone was concerned, but at the same time, one has to wonder what Serling would make of the state of television today and whether he would even be given the chance to make the kind of impactful shows that he did back in the day.

Anyway, all of that just leads, ultimately, to meaningless speculation. So rather than go any further with that, I’ll just let you lsten to and watch the man speak for himself.

 

 

 

 

 

Sight and Sound Top 250 – #033 Bicycle Thieves (1948)

It’s been a bit as I’ve been trying to get caught up on a few other things, but finally, here we are with another look at one of the films on Sight and Sound’s most recent Top 250 All-Time Greatest Films list. Today it’s #38, Vittorio De Sica‘s Bicycle Thieves. Also, for those just joining us, you can find a full introduction to what the Sight and Sound Top 250 list is, and a look at the complete list of the movies on it, along with links to the ones I’ve already written about here. And, if you want to be sure not to miss any of these posts, be sure to head on over to the Facebook page and give it a “like”or follow me on Twitter (both of those links are also in the sidebar) where I post anytime one of these – or anything else on the blog, along with just random other links and thoughts that may not make it into full posts – goes up.

bt1Let’s start today with a quick note about the title of this film. The original Italian title is Ladri di biciclette which translates to Bicycle Thieves, which is the title I’ve used above and will throughout this write-up. However, upon its initial release in the US, the title was changed to the singular The Bicycle Thief, and it is still referred to in that manner in some circles, and there are those who feel that the singular title, though a mistranslation, is actually more impactful, given the events the movie portrays, especially the ending. It’s an argument I can see, and in a way agree with, but nonetheless, I’m going to stick with the original. 

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the movie itself. Simply put, this is an incredible moving and heartfelt film, which depicts the desperate struggles of a man who faces some incredible odds and seemingly no-win choices in his effort to get and maintain a job in order to provide for his family, and does a tremendous job of asking the question of just how far he will go in order to do that.

bt6Set in post-war Italy, a time of deep depression, when everyone was still feeling the impact of the war, and jobs were incredibly hard to come by, Antonio Ricci is offered a position putting up posters throughout the city of Rome. The only catch is that in order to both get and maintain the job, he must have a bicycle to make his way through the town. While he does own one, it is in the pawn shop, but he promises the employment agent that by the time he is to report to the job in the morning he will have it with him. Not knowing exactly how he will retrieve it, he returns home, where his wife, realizing the rare opportunity that this represents in the long run, promptly strips the beds of its sheets and linens so that he can take them to the pawn shop in order to get enough money to recover the bicycle. At first reluctant to even consider the deal, the pawn broker finally relents and Ricci is able to get his bike and reports for work the next day as he has promised. Unfortunately, not long after he has begun his work, the bicycle is stolen, which leads an increasingly desperate Ricci, accompanied by his young son Bruno, to attempt to track down the thief and recover his bicycle before his manager finds out and gives the job to someone else.

bt3From this point on the movie becomes a desperate search through the streets and alleys of Rome, leading Ricci not only into areas of the town into which he should not go, but also to having to examine his own morality and ultimately to face the question of whether or not he, himself, in order to provide for his family, must also become a thief.

Upon its initial release, the film was somewhat divisively received in its native Italy, as it was thought by some to be a negative portrayal of Italians, but that viewpoint was quickly dismissed by those who recognized the true beauty and impact of the film. In America, it received an honorary Oscar at the 1950 Academy Awards ceremony, having been voted by the Academy Board of Governors as the most outstanding foreign language film released in the United States during 1949 – since at that time there was no regular foreign language award – and its screenwriter,  Cesare Zavattini, was nominated for Best Writing, Screenplay. It’s also interesting to note that in 1954, in the first Sight and Sound Top 250 list, Bicycle Thieves actually topped the list at #1 before being displaced ten years later in the second poll by Citizen Kane, which held the top spot from then until the most recent poll when it was finally deposed by Alfred Hitchcok’s Vertigo.

bt2As far as my own reaction to this film, I found it to be an incredibly moving portrayal not just of the inner and outer torment that Ricci is forced to undergo, but also how it affects not only his own life, but his viewpoint of the world around him and his relationships with and outlook towards his fellow man. Also, central to the conflict and question of his relationships is how it will affect his son and how, in the end, that relationship will also affect both his thoughts and his actions.

There really is a lot to like about this movie. By shooting only on location and using only non-professional actors, director De Sica is able to present a kind of realism (this was, after all, a part of the Italian neorealism movement which had begun only a few years before with Roberto Rosellini’s 1945 film Rome, Open City) that gives the film even more power and believability. It also speaks to De Sica’s directorial skills that he is able to pull such nuanced and powerful performances from his cast, especially 8-year-old Enzo Staiola who plays Tony’s son Bruno, and not only steals pretty much every scene he is in, but provides a huge part of the emotional heft of this film. (Reportedly, Staiola was cast when De Sica noticed him watching the film’s production on a street while helping his father sell flowers.)

MBDBITH EC005At this point, I could go on and on about just what makes this movie great, and well deserving of its place in the Sight and Sound honor roll – if anything, I’d personally rank it even higher, but then, the numbering really isn’t that important when you’re discussing a wide range of films and where it lands at the top of the list is so dependent upon the vagaries of the voting in any given year, but instead I’ll simply say that I highly encourage you to seek out this film and give it a try even if you think you’re not inclined to like watching a black and white film with subtitles, because the story and De Sica’s interpretation of it is one that transcends both time and language.

Here’s a trailer:

 

 

 

Saturday Breakfast Serial 017 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 6: Beseiged

dt6Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.

Last time we actually looked at film serial history, I wrote about Mascot Pictures, which was responsible for, among other things, the first partially sound serial, King of the Kongo. At the time, I noted that Mascot and a number of other Poverty Row studios were eventually merged into the formation of Republic Pictures, so I thought we’d pick up there today, with a look at Republic itself.

It sounds a little harsh to say it, but the formation of Republic Pictures was basically the result of extortion on the part of the studio’s head, Herbert J. Yates.

You see, in 1935, Yates was the president of the film processing company Consolidated Film Industries. Consolidated was the place where various studios would take their negatives and have prints made from them for distribution to theaters. Of course, this being the height of the Great Depression, many of these studios found themselves in debt to Consolidated with outstanding bills that they could not afford to pay. That was when Yates, who had always wanted to run his own studio decided to seize the opportunity and he gave six of these studios, Mascot, Monogram Pictures, Liberty Pictures, Majestic Pictures, Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures a choice: either merge together under his leadership, or he would foreclose on them by demanding payment on their outstanding debt. The studios really had no choice but to accede to his demands, and thus Republic Pictures was born.

Here’s a quick rundown of the various studios that composed Republic, and what they brought to the table, courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • The largest of Republic’s components was Monogram Pictures, run by producers Trem Carr and W. Ray Johnston, which specialized in “B” films and operated a nationwide distribution system. (Monogram was revived in 1937.)
  • The most technically advanced of the studios that now comprised Republic was Nat Levine’s Mascot Pictures Corporation, which had been making serials almost exclusively since the mid-1920s and had a first-class production facility, the former Mack Sennett-Keystone lot in Studio City. Mascot also had just discovered Gene Autry and signed him to a contract as a singing cowboy star.

rp2

  • Larry Darmour’s Majestic Pictures had developed a following, with big-name stars and rented sets giving his humble productions a polished look.
  • Republic took its original “Liberty Bell” logo from M. H. Hoffman’s Liberty Pictures (not to be confused with Frank Capra’s short-lived Liberty Films that produced his It’s a Wonderful Life, ironically now owned by Republic).
  • Chesterfield Pictures and Invincible Pictures, two sister companies under the same ownership, were skilled in producing low-budget melodramas and mysteries.

Thus, as Wikipedia goes on to note, acquiring and integrating these six companies allowed Republic to begin life with an experienced production staff, a company of veteran B-film supporting players and at least one very promising star, a complete distribution system and a functioning and modern studio. In exchange for merging, the principals were promised independence in their productions under the Republic aegis, and higher budgets with which to improve the quality of the films.

Okay, I think we’ll stop there for today, and next week we’ll look at some of the movies that Republic put out, and the circumstances that led to its eventual downfall. For now, though, let’s move on with the next chapter of Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc.

Next time: Chapter 7: Sea Racketeers, and more movie serial history.

Classic Television Thursday #024 – Password (1964)

pw1Is Password still on the air? Possibly in syndication or on the Game Show Network? I don’t know. But even if it’s not now, I suspect at some point it will be revived in some form or fashion. After all, the premise is simple, and sooner or later some TV exec will decide it’s a brand worth recycling.

Anyway, I’m not going to spend a lot of time introducing this episode. Like I said, even if you’ve never seen an episode, you’ve either seen something familiar, or will pretty immediately pick up on the premise. This particular episode first aired on May 7, 1964, and features not only Lucille Ball, but her then-husband Gary Morton and her two children, Desi Arnaz Jr, who was 11 at the time, and Lucie Arnaz, who was 12.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quickie Review: The Boys From Brazil (1978)

bfb1The Boys From Brazil is an odd movie in that it brings together a number of topics that seem to have been in the air at the time of its development. The film is a hybrid of science fiction, conspiracy, and spy movie, all brought together under an umbrella of neo-Nazism. It depicts the efforts of infamous Nazi war criminal Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck), who has survived World War II and is still living into the seventies to, through the use of a secret cabal of war criminals and a combination of cloning and nurture to create a new Hitler and restoke the fires of the Third Reich. This plan is stumbled upon by amateur Nazi hunter Barry Kohler (portrayed by Steve Guttenberg) who is subsequently discovered and killed, but not before he can pass on the information he has discovered to Ezra Lieberman (Lawrence Olivier) who is a more experienced and famous Nazi hunter. Though Lieberman is at first skeptical and tries to dissuade Kohler from pursuing the leads he has found any further, the killing of the younger man, and a tape of a clandestine meeting that Kohler sent to him just before his death finally convince him to follow up, leading him into a web of intrigue and a final fatal conflict with Mengele himself.

Based on the novel of the same name written by Ira Levin, and directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, The Boys from Brazil received three Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Actor for Lawrence Olivier. It’s a tight little bit of entertainment, which ends on a suitably ambiguous note that seems well fitting with many other similar films of the time. The plot, along with the Nazi’s scheme is a bit outrageous, but it is, in a way, that very outrageousness that adds at least a shimmer of realism to the film, and especially to the characterization of Olivier’s Lieberman who has to overcome his own skepticism before he can take any kind of action.

bfb2All in all, I found the film to be very entertaining, and well worth viewing, though I do think that, as is perhaps inevitable for films from this era, many younger audience members today might complain that it is rather slow-going, as, though it is punctuated through by a number of scenes of violence as the conspirators try to recreate the conditions of Hitler’s upbringing (since his father, Alois, died unexpectedly when Adolf was 13 years old, part of Mengele’s plan involves the killing of the clones’ fathers now that those children have reached the same age), it still spends a lot more time on the plot and intrigue than on the action which comes in short bursts. Nonetheless, for those willing to take the time to watch it unfold, I think you will be quite satisfied.