Coming Soon to TCM

golddiggers-of-1933Two films featured in my book, Lessons in the Dark, will be coming soon to TCM. Tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern) the superb Great Depression era musical Gold Diggers on 1933. The film stars Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell along with an excellent supporting cast that includes Aline McMahon, Ned Sparks, Guy Kibbee and Billy Barty.

grapes-of-wrath-3On Friday (Feb. 10th) at 8PM (Eastern) don’t miss John Ford’s masterful production of John Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Henry Fonda stars as Tom Joad. The cast includes Academy Award winner Jane Darwell and John Carradine. Look for a very young Darryl Hickman (Dobie Gillis) in a small role.

You can read more about both of these films plus others in Lessons in the Dark. Below I have reprinted the Introduction to the book.

Introduction – Lessons in the Dark

Why these films, why this book and why this collection you ask? It’s simple enough to answer. A few years ago I did a series of articles for Halo-17, a now defunct Australian music and arts website. One of the editors discovered my blog, I assume liked it, and asked if I would be interested in writing a column about classic films. The only caveat was that I had to make the films I wrote about connect to what was happening in today’s world. I needed to show readers how these old black and white films were still relevant. Illustrate how history repeats itself and there are lessons to be learned even from a film that is seventy years old.

   Well, the requirement set forth by the folks at Halo-17 turned out to be simpler than I thought. As I began to look at films from this perspective I realized many films whether twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years old or more remain relevant. They had something to say about us today as well as years ago. Life and art repeat themselves. As the poet, novelist and philosopher, George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” Classic films help us remember the past, both the good and the bad. Sometimes they even predict the future as it did in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) and Sidney Lumet’s Network (1976), both which forecast the reality TV and political circus we are forced to endure today. A film like Black Legion (1937) teaches us about hating someone who’s different, how people get sucked into hatred or blaming immigrants for taking jobs from “real Americans.” Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of Will (1935) presented Adolph Hitler as Germany’s savior, a leader who would bring glory back to Germany by once again making it a great power! This Nazi rhetoric, the fear mongering, is awfully familiar to what we hear today from plastic gods with simplistic solutions promising to make America great again as they feed on the hate.

This collection of essays is divided into various sections focusing on specific themes. Each contains essays on films. Though “old” they speak about or reflect on the times we are living in today. Every one of these films remains pertinent to our current lives. Not all are great cinematically, yet there are lessons or messages to be learned. Some films are more direct in their ideas, others are more understated. There are even a few films that put forth a message or point of view for most of the film and then reverse course in the final moments. Why? Censorship sometimes exposes its ugly head or maybe the filmmakers or the studios got cold feet. Whatever the reason, it’s all part of what makes these films fascinating and worth watching and discussing.

    Part One looks at films from or about the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  As we continue to come out of our recent Great Recession that has been hanging over us since 2008, one can read into many of these films the similarities, the hard times and uncertainty we have all recently endured. In Part Two there are films exploring the absurdities of war and its effects on the men and women on the front line and back at home. Part Three contains a couple of films that reveal the influences of the news media on our lives. Part Four takes a look at social injustice. In Part Five we look at films about discrimination. In Part Six we see how the pre-code era gave us a look at tough, strong, independent and progressive women. Finally, in Part Seven, a section that is a catch all. It contains a variety of topics that we still deal with and affect our lives today.

   “Old” films are not just nostalgic. They entertain, or at least attempt to, however, they are also avenues for learning and a passageway to take a look at ourselves as we were then and are now. Movies hold up a mirror to both our past, our lives today and our future. We can see how far we have come; the mistakes that we made, the choices we made, both the good and the bad. Hopefully we are able to learn, realize the bad and not repeat them.

   The majority of these essays first appeared on my blog, Twenty Four Frames. I began the blog almost eight years ago, like many others, as a place to share my love of movies. The blog has evolved over time as I believe I have myself. During a lifetime of watching movies I have discovered new roads to travel and lessons learned. I hope you, the reader, will too.

Gold Diggers of 1933 0n TCM

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Set your DVR’s!

The great Depression era musical, Gold Diggers of 1933, is on TCM tomorrow at 6:30 AM eastern time with a repeat showing on February 9th at 10:15PM.

Hugely successful at the time of its release, Gold Diggers of 1933 is filled with tough streetwise characters, and wise cracking dialogue, ready to face the Great Depression head on. Like many of Warner Brothers films of the day, Gold Diggers of 1933 is not just escapism entertainment. Audiences of the day looking for a couple of hours to get away from their woes found themselves watching  a film filled with cynicism and grit.

You can read more about Gold Diggers of 1933 in my book. Available from Amazon. Just click on the link below.

Jules Dassin’s Brute Force on TCM Tonight!

brute_force-33Burt Lancaster stars in the brutally powerful prison drama, Brute Force, showing on TCM tonight at 10:15PM (Eastern time). The Jules Dassin directed film is a strong indictment of the prison system for its corruptness and failures to rehabilitate.

Along with Lancaster, the cast includes Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Sam Levene, Ann Blyth, Howard Duff  and Yvonne DeCarlo. Set your DVR, you won’t be disappointed.

Read about Brute Force and other films including, The Grapes of Wrath, I Am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang, Ace in the Hole, The Americanization of Emily, A Face in the Crowd, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and more in my e-book, LESSONS IN THE DARK. Available on Amazon. Just click on the link below.

https://www.amazon.com/Lessons-Dark-John-Greco-ebook/dp/B01CC0TWLS/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Lessons in the Dark Cover-Small-003

 

 

 

Thoughts on Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds

debbieThe twin deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds within twenty four hours of each other brings 2016 to a devastating finish  for multiple generations of film lovers. Reynolds bursted on to the screen in what many consider the greatest musical film ever made, Singin’ in the Rain. Her career survived one of the most famous scandals in Hollywood. She did it all with grace and style.

Reynolds most memorable roles, for me, along with Singin’ in the Rain were in the underrated drama, The Rat Race and comedies like The Gazebo, Goodbye Charlie, Divorce – American Style and Albert Brooks wonderful film, Mother. On TV, she was a perfect fit as Grace’s mother, Bobbie Alder in Will and Grace.

Three decades later her daughter, Carrie Fisher, became the first liberated sci-fi screen heroine. As princess Leia, Fisher inspired many young girls to break barriers here on earth just like her legendary character did in a galaxy far, far away. While I saw the first four Star War films, I was never a big fan of the series. For me, Fisher’s most memorable roles were in Shampoo, The Blues Brothers and When Harry Met Sally.

I always admired Fisher for her soul baring acerbic wit. As someone said, a few days ago, I don’t remember who, Carrie was the  Dorothy Parker of our day. She was a great interview, never holding back, coming across as both cutting and vulnerable in discussing her addictions, relationships and mental illness. Her books were just as open. Postcards From the Edge, her first novel was to some extent based on her own life, as were her other written works.

HBO has been working on a documentary that takes a look at the mother/daughter relationship. Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds airs in March 2017.

A Christmas Carol – Five Favorites

 

charles_dickens_1858When asked to donate to help the poor for the holidays the greediest, grumpiest Grinch of all time, Ebenezer Scrooge, replies “Are there no prisons? Are there no union workhouses?”

One of the greatest characters in Charles Dicken’s brilliant library of creations  is Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s the epitome of meanness, a tower of cold unmoving steel,  dismissing Christmas with the wave of a hand and his own personal mantra, “Bah Humbug!” It’s a phrase that has become part of our everyday  language.

It was Dicken’s ability as a writer to take a wretched old geezer, full of nastiness and miserliness, and convincingly have him find redemption.

This time of the year I always try to watch at least one film version of A Christmas Carol. This year, it was the 1938 film with Reginald Owen as Scrooge. I didn’t think Owen made for a great Ebenezer, but the film is entertaining and certainly worth watching.

With all that said, below is a list of my the top five A Christmas Carol movies.

5) Scrooge (1970) with Albert Finney if for no other reason that than for the show stopping, Thank You, Very Much number.

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4) Scrooged (1988)  with Bill Murray. Enough said!

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3) Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) just because Scrooge McDuck rules!

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2) A Christmas Carol  (1984) George C. Scott’s gruff voice and demeanor are pure perfection.scott-christmas-carol-1984-george-scott-5601) A Christmas Carol (1951) Nobody does it better than Alastair Sim. The film itself is a holiday masterpiece.

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Please feel free to share your own favorite.

Kirk Douglas at 100

img_1235Today is Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday. One of the last survivor’s of Hollywood’s classic era, Douglas gave us a series of roles ranging from the cynical (Ace in the Hole) to the heroic (Paths of Glory). Douglas, like his five time co-star, Burt Lancaster, were bigger than life on screen. They were stars, the type that no longer exist.

Below is a link to my new post over at my film blog (Twenty Four Frames),  Gunfight at the OK Corral, that is part of Shadow and Statin’s Kirk Douglas 100th Birthday Blogathon.

https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2016/12/09/gunfight-at-the-ok-corral-1957-john-sturges/

 

I also added a link to an earlier post I did on one of my favorite films, Ace in the Hole.

https://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/2011/02/18/ace-in-the-hole-1951-billy-wilder-2/

 

Edward Hopper and the Movies

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Hopper’s The Balcony

Edward Hopper loved the movies and he reflected that love in many of his works. When Hopper was not in the mood to paint, he would frequently binge on going to the movies where he would sometimes find inspiration. However, unlike most people, for Hopper, movie going was not a communal experience. Instead, as his work bares out, he found isolation and solitude in theaters like he did in his most famous cinema theater painting, New York Movie (permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art), which shows an usherette standing alone under a light in a side hall just off the main auditorium.

hopper_1939_new_york_movieHopper’s New York Movie

Phillip French writes in his article, From Nighthawks to the Shadows of Film Noir how Hopper influenced film and the other way around. French writes how, “German expressionism impinged on Hopper early on, during his sojourn in Paris. His 1921 etching Night Shadows looks like a storyboard sketch for a high-angle shot in a Fritz Lang movie.” I myself see Lang’s silent classic, M.

2221_hopper-night-shadowsHopper’s expressionistic like Night Shadows

Many of Hopper’s works are voyeuristic; private moments in people’s lives (A Woman in the Sun, New York Interior, Office in a Small City).  Hopper’s influence on Alfred Hitchcock can be seen in Rear Widow (1953) where James Stewart’s photographer, stuck in a wheelchair with a broken leg, sits by his bay window looking out the courtyard watching all the lonely people going about their lives in their apartments. You can see Hopper’s influence again during the opening credits of Psycho (1960) as Hitchcock’s camera moves from a wide view of the city and slowly zooms in on one  window where we discover Janet Leigh and John Gavin in an afternoon tryst.

hopper-night-windows-october-art-room Hopper’s Night Windows

rear-window-_-miss-torsoHitchcock’s Rear Window

In his most famous work, Nighthawks, Hopper was inspired after reading Ernest Hemingway’s short story, The Killers (1946), where two hitman comes to a small town diner looking to kill Burt Lancaster’s The Swede, a down and out boxer. When Universal Pictures and director Robert Siodmak turned the Hemingway story into a film, Siodmak certainly kept Hopper’s diner image in mind. Another sign of Hopper’s influence is seen in Force of Evil (1948). Screenwriter/director Abraham Polonsky, while on location in New York for his first film, took his cinematographer, George Barnes, to an exhibition of Hopper paintings and told him, that’s the way he wants the film to look.

nighthawksHopper’s Nighthawks

killers                                                       Robert Siodmak’s The Killers

Nighthawks would continue to influence filmmakers and other artists for years to come.  Director Herbert Ross used it as inspiration in his 1983 musical, Pennies from Heaven as did Todd Hayes in Far from Heaven (2002). Tom Waits third album, and his first live album, Nighthawks at the Diner, with a cover design by Cal Schenkel, was influenced by Hopper.  In 1984, artist Gottfried Helnwein did a pop version of Nighthawks called Boulevard of Broken Dreams replacing the everyday patrons in Hopper’s painting with pop icons James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Humphrey Bogart. The guy behind the counter is Elvis. Later Green Day used Helnwein’s title and created one of their best known songs.

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Edward Hopper was not a sociable man. He seems to have had little interest in communicating with or meeting people. Much of his art can be seen as the work of a man who lives within himself.