Sunday, September 25, 2016

Road to Adventure

Today's Post: Presenting the absolute best western ever made (that didn't star either John Wayne or Clint Eastwood)

Lawrence Kasdan came out with a bang in Hollywood as a writer.  His first three screenplays were monster hits (although there were other hands that helped to create that milestone... the first three being  the second and third movies in the first Star Wars saga: The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi. And he also wrote the screenplay for Raiders of the Lost Ark)  In the middle of all that, he also found time to be the writer/director of  The Big Chill  (for which he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay) and also writer/director for one of the better entries in the modern film noir oeuvre , Body Heat.

By the time 1985 rolled around, Lawrence (and his co-writing brother, Mark) were ready to film a screenplay they had been working on that was to be a western.  Not many people in Hollywood were ready to green light a western however.  Most people felt that westerns were passe', even before the death of the ultimate western icon, John Wayne.  But the Kasdan brothers were insistent, and with the clout that Lawrence had achieved based on his previous successes, they finally found the financial backing to film their dream project.

The western that they envisioned had all the cliches that were a part of the western mythos.  You had your innocent man, wrongly imprisoned, now out of jail and seeking revenge.  You had your bad guy who has left behind his bad ways and wants to live life on good tems with society, despite his past trying to trip him up in the process.  You had your good man whom society seems to want to run out of town, simply because he comes from the wrong side of the tracks (so to speak).  You had your loose cannon of a brother, for whom everything is just a joke (OK so that's a new twist, but you can see antecedents for the character in some of the edgier westerns.)

Not only that, you have an outlaw who has somehow managed to wangle a position as sheriff, who is wholly in the camp of the previously noted innocent man's enemy.   There is also a couple of love interests to keep the women in the audience happy.  Add in a genial but ruthless gambler, a female bar owner who has her own gritty outlook on life,  a sister who wants her brothers to settle down and become normal citizens of the community, and, oh yeah, a neighbor who offers stoic advice from behind a fence.  (Wait, that's Wilson from Home Improvement.  But the actor who played him is in the movie, and you can't help but spot him when a brief scene has him with a cup in front of his mouth.)

There are a lot of story lines to follow (kinda like a soap opera), but this is one entertaining jaunt.  Kasdan went on from here to have even more success.  He was nominated twice more for Oscars for Grand Canyon and The Accidental Tourist.  He also had a hand in writing the recent Star Wars movie The Force Awakens.  All in all a pretty good pedigree.

With a soundtrack composed by Emmy Award winning and Oscar nominated Bruce Broughton, and a cast that includes Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, Kevin Costner, Jeff Goldblum, Linda Hunt, Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette and John Cleese, this movie is one that will entertain even the most jaded of viewers.

Silverado (1985)

The movie opens with Emmett (Scott Glenn) asleep in an outpost shack when he is ambushed by three men, all of whom he happens to kill.  He then walks out the front door, and in a scene reminiscent of John Wayne's entry into the house at the beginning of The Searchers, we get see a panorama of the beautiful countryside where this movie takes place.

He takes the only remaining horse after the other two run off, and sets out while the opening credits role backed by Broughton's fantastic mood setting score.  A full 6 minutes into the movie, Emmett finds a man, Paden (Kevin Kline), lying in the desert, apparently passed out from the heat, and, after giving Paden a sip of water, we finally hear the first words spoken in the movie:

"Pleased to meet ya"

Paden and Emmett travel on to a nearby town where Paden encounters and shoots one of the men who robbed him and left him to die in the desert.  A former cohort from his outlaw days, Cobb (Brian Dennehy) vouches for him to the army people who confront him.  Cobb invites Paden to join him on a "legitimate" endeavor, but Paden declines.

Emmett and Paden travel on to Turley where Emmett is going to meet up with his brother before heading out to California.  At a bar, Mal (Danny Glover), gets in trouble with the locals because he is black, and the sheriff, Sheriff Langton (John Cleese) runs him out of town.  Then the sheriff tells Emmett his brother is in jail, convicted of murder, and is scheduled to hang in the morning.

Jake (Kevin Costner) is glad to see his brother, but he is still going to hang.  Emmett and Paden part ways because Emmett plans to bust his brother out of jail, and Paden is still trying to go straight.  But Paden finds another of the men who robbed him, wearing his hat and guns, and shoots him, which gets Paden put in the jail cell with Jake.

Ok, you knew it was coming, Emmett manages to cause a distraction that allows him and Jake and Paden to hightail it out of town, pursued by Langton.  But Mal (remember Mal?), still hanging around outside of town manages to help Langton have a change of mind about pursuing them.  Now we have our quartet of heroes.  Fate has managed to bring them together, and fate is a hard woman to satisfy.

The divergent stories go their own way for a while.  Emmett it seems has a beef with the local rancher, McKendrick (Ray Baker), who was instrumental in getting Emmett sent to prison.  McKendrick is a ruthless land grabber who is trying to force Mal's father off his ranch.  And of course, Paden's old buddy Cobb is sheriff of Silverado, a town that is all but beholden to McKendrick.  Plus a caravan of settlers who have legal claim to land outside of Silverado are also in McKendrick's sights, because he wants that land too.

Emmett and Jake's sister is married to the land office representative (Earl Hindman) so they have even more reason to keep McKendrick from winning the day.  Everyone in the movie is either on the side of Emmett or on the side of McKendrick and loyalties are big plays.  Jeff Goldblum rides into town as an itinerant  gambler who had a thing for one of the saloon girls (who just happens to be Mal's sister).  Paden develops a love for the local bar owner (Linda Hunt), who sees the evil that Cobb and McKendrick intend upon the town, but is powerless to stop it.

As confusing as all these threads seem, it all works out to a grand conclusion at the end.  Of course, the good guys ride off into their own respective sunsets, but getting there is half the fun.

Well, its time for me to ride off into my own sunset.  Have a safe trip home folks


Friday, September 9, 2016

Oh, NO! Not Costner, Again!

I will be up front, at the beginning.  I loathe Kevin Costner.  Many of his movies go on for about 2 hours AFTER  I get tired of watching him.  The Postman and Waterworld are two of the most egregious examples of how what is essentially a 30 minute TV show can be expanded to interminable lengths, forcing one to put up with crap that would have prison inmates claiming "cruel and unusual punishment".  I am also not a fan of Dances with Wolves, but I realize I am in the minority there.

This is not to say I don't like ANY movie that has Costner in it.  I think The Untouchables  was fantastic, but even Costner couldn't ruin a film featuring the great Robert De Niro (and Sean Connery, to boot).  And, truth be told, I am not so negative about his performance in Silverado, but there is also enough of an ensemble cast in that one that he, fortunately, doesn't command the screen time that he would in later films.

On the same note, I also hate sappy, feel good movies.  It is for this reason I would never linger on the Hallmark Channel for longer than it takes me to realize I HAVE stopped channel surfing on the Hallmark Channel.  Maybe its because I have such a cynical outlook on life, but chipper Pollyanna-ish characters tend to make me wanna barf.  Put "sappy, feel good" together with Kevin Costner and you have the makings, for me, of an ulcer that a full box of Alka-Seltzer couldn't remedy.

So it goes without saying that I'd find Field of Dreams one of the most annoying movies ever made, right? Well, that would be absolutely true.  The whole thing just reeks of hippie hopefulness and unrealistic optimism.  And yet...  I do watch it, and even me, the hard-hearted cynic, can't help but find out someone stuck a water faucet behind my eyes when the pivotal scene occurs in which the young baseball player Archie Graham steps across the base line that marks the boundary of the titular field of dreams, to become the elderly Dr. Archibald Graham in order to help an injured child, and it is revealed that he can't go back across the line.

Field of Dreams is an anomaly in many respects.  It is a sports movie that really doesn't have much in the way of "sports" going on in it.  Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow, in their book "The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies" list it as #11 on their list of the greatest sports movies, but although the movie centers on the sport of baseball, there are only a few key scenes in which we actually see any baseball action.  (It was the fact of  my currently reading of this book that prompted this week's review)

Most of the movie centers around either Ray's (Kevin Costner) attempt to transform his Iowa corn field into a baseball diamond, or his attempts to quell the voices in his head trying to get him to do these weird things he does in the movie.

You probably already know the movie by heart (if you are a fan), or at least know the gist of the movie (if you are not a fan).  It has, since it's premiere in 1989, worked it's way into the zeitgeist of the film lover's society, as well as into the lexicon of the average American.  Who in this day and age has never heard the line "If you build it, he will come"?  And if you happen to live in Iowa, the quote: "Is this heaven?" "No, this is Iowa." is probably just as common to hear.   (NOTE: I've never even been to Iowa, I'm only guessing that last statement is true, but if it's not Iowa has been sleeping on the job in terms of self-promotion...)

Spoiler alert!:  This review covers the entire movie, including the ending, so don't read any further if you want to watch it first.

The story, based on a novel, Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.  In the novel the main character, Ray, is told by a voice "if you build it, he will come", which Ray takes to mean his baseball hero "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, one of the disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox team that threw the World Series for payoffs from the gambling community.  The movie follows the book predominantly, with a few to be expected changes here and there.

In essence Ray is obsessed with building a baseball field in his cornfield.

His wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), is supportive of him to fulfill his dreams.  (And herein is one of those annoying parts of the movie.  I find the hippie outlook evinced by Madigan as Annie to be extremely grating.  There again is my own pessimistic outlook on life judging the character, but be that as it may.)  Annie's brother, Mark (Timothy Busfield), is a realist. (Not too much unlike myself, I guess.)  He tries to convince Ray that the farm is going to go down the tubes and that he, Ray, will lose it unless he replants the plowed under corn.

Ray is insistent on his dreams, however, and after creating his baseball field dream, he hears the same voice telling him to "ease his pain".  He is unsure of the meaning of this urging until, while at a meeting discussing the banning of the books by an author, he comes to realize that the author in question, Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), is the person to whom it is on Ray to "ease his pain".  (In the book it is the real author J.D. Salinger, whose "Catcher in the Rye" was and still is on some banned books lists to whom the character Ray infers the message of "ease his pain".)

Ray goes to Boston and essentially kidnaps Mann and forces him to go to a baseball game in Fenway park.  While at the park, Ray hears another message; "go the distance".  He infers this to mean he must get a one-shot player Archie Graham to his field.  But it turns out Graham is dead and has been for years.  He did, however, move on from his one-shot playing to be a renowned and well-respected doctor in his home community.

While mulling this over, Ray somehow ends up back in 1972 where he meets the elderly doctor who expresses no regrets for missing out on baseball stardom.  Ray ends up back in the present, and with Mann, drive back to Iowa.  They pick up a young hitchhiker on the way, an ambitious young man who introduces himself as Archie Graham, and expresses a desire to play baseball.  Ultimately, the three arrive at the cornfield/baseball field where "Shoeless Joe" Jackson, who had arrived earlier, has brought with him the other team members of the 1919 "Black Sox".  They invite the young Graham to play with them.

While they are playing, Mark arrives with papers to sign for ray to sell the farm.  Mark does not see the players on the field, his mind is too closed to see the dream.  While arguing with Ray, Ray's young daughter is knocked to the ground, unconscious.  The aforementioned scene of the young baseball player Graham (Frank Whaley) crossing the foul line to become the old doctor Graham (Burt Lancaster) occurs at this point, and it would take a hard heart indeed not to well up in tears, especially after it is revealed he once again gave up his dream of baseball to do so.

At this point even Mark can see the players and is astonished.  He also tells Ray that he should NOT sell the farm.  As Terrence Mann tells Ray at the end:

"Ray, people will come, Ray.  They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom.  They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it.  They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.  'Of course, we won't mind if you look around,' you'll say. 'It's only $20 per person.'  They'll pass over the money, without even thinking about it.  For it is money they have...and peace they lack.  And they'll walk out to the bleachers, sit in shirt sleeves, on a perfect afternoon.  They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes.  And they'll watch the game and it will be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters.  The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces.  The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this's a part of or past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again.  Oh, people will come Ray.  People most definitely will come."

And the movie closes with a vast line of cars lined up to visit the "field of dreams."

See what I mean about "sappy, feel good"?  The whole thing makes me want to slap Ray in the face, and, like Loretta Castorini, yell at him "Snap out of it!"  And yet, despite my dislike for Kevin Costner and my aversion to these kinds of movies, I still find myself drawn to it.  Could I eventually, after enough viewings, find myself on the sidelines cheering on Costner as one of his many of his ardent fans?  I doubt it.  Will I eventually want to run out have a Benji movie marathon (Benji movies being the ultimate 70's sappiness)?  Geez, I hope not.  It goes without saying, I'm sure, that if you expect me someday to review The Bodyguard or Bull Durham or (God help us!) Message in a Bottle, you ought to lay off the wacky weed for a while.  But I guess I can take Field of Dreams a few more times before I start thinking about shooting my DVD player...


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Announcing the John Wayne Blogathon

My fellow blogger Crystal over at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is always running star-oriented blogathons.  I bugged her a couple of times to run one of John Wayne, then I decided, well, why the hell don't I just do it myself?  Then I found out Rachel over at Hamlette's Soliloquy is just as big a Duke fan as I am, so we got to talking and agreed to a co-hosting gig.  And here it is:

Announcing the John Wayne Blogathon
Dec 9-11, 2016

"The Duke", as he was affectionately known, was an icon of the silver screen for many years.  Beginning in the early 20's as a stuntman and prop man, Wayne found his way into acting roles.  And gradually over the next 50 years he managed to make himself a household name, including the phenomenal feat of being named the most popular Hollywood star multiple years over that period.  

The IMdB entry for John Wayne lists 178 acting credits, including a few guest star roles on TV, about 20 or 30 uncredited walk-on roles early in his career, but also an astounding 100+ stints as the star or co-star of feature films.  Which leaves us a pretty good pot to draw from for the blogathon.  So we are proposing the following set of rules for the blogathon.

1. Absolutely no duplicates allowed.  At 100+ choices (plus you could talk about his politics or his private life, if you want) there is more than enough opportunity for diversity. 

2.  You can state your choice in the comments below.  First come, first served.  And please note, your humble bloggers have already picked Without Reservations (for Hamlette) and a double feature of Stagecoach and The Shootist (for Quiggy)

3.  Snag one of the banners below to put on your own blog with a link back to us so we can have lots of participation.

4,  Write your blog entry.  The dates of the blogathon are December 9-11 and you can choose any one of those three days.

5.  As an added bonus, I (Quiggy), have a copy of a good biography of John Wayne titled: American Titan: Searching for John Wayne by Marc Eliot.  The name of every blogger who submits a blog entry will be thrown into a hat, and one lucky winner will get the book (and location is not a consideration, even if you are in Canada, Europe or Australia).  But you HAVE to follow through and write a blog entry.  No award for signing up but not writing the entry...

The Blog Roll

The Midnite Drive-In: Stagecoach (1939) and The Shootist (1976)
Hamlette's SoliloquyWithout Reservations (1946)

Caftan Woman:  Island in the Sky (1953)
Christina Wehner:  In Old California (1942)
Coffee, Classics, & Craziness:  The Man Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and The Horse Soldiers (1959)
Crítica Retrô:  Wayne/Ford early collaborations
High Noon:  Rio Bravo (1959) and The Big Trail (1930)
Incidents of a Literary Nature:  Rooster Cogburn  (1975)
In the Good Old days of Hollywood:  The Quiet Man (1952)
Love Letters to Old Hollywood:  John Wayne on I Love Lucy (1955)
Movies Meet Their Match:  The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and True Grit  (1969)
Old Hollywood Films:  She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
Phyllis loves Classic Movies: Rio Grande (1950)
Silver Scenes:  Tall in the Saddle (1944)
Silver Scenes:  The films and realationship of John Wayne with Maureen O'Hara
Silver Screenings:  Operation Pacific  (1951)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunshine Blogger Award

Defiant Success nominated me for a Sunshine Blogger award.  Don't know much about it, it appears to be a clone of a Liebster Award.  One thing for sure, if "Sunshine" is a synonym for happy and carefree, my output so far has been on the darker side of happy.  (They make me happy, I'll grant that.)  But who am I to quibble.

Just like the Liebster I have to answer 11 questions asked by my nominator.  Then I have to nominate 11 more bloggers (that's the part I hate)  Then I have to make a list of 11 questions of my own.  As I stated in my acceptance of the Liebster award, I love answering questions about myself, and my own tastes, so...

1. Favorite movie not many people have seen?

This one is easy.  I've answered it before.  There was a dark and quirky indie movie from New Zealand called "The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey".  It's about a town in the 12th century being devastated by the plague and a young boy leads a crew of people to find a cure, and they end up in the 20th century.

2. Same question but with a TV show

There's a whole list of decent TV shows that only lasted one season for some reason or another that I liked, most of them based one or  another  popular movie.  "Planet of the Apes", "Logan's Run" etc.  But I really like one based on the Van Damme movie "Timecop", and starring Ted King (Lorenzo Alcazar for you General Hospital junkies). The problem with that one, I'm sure, was that it was too complicated and cerebral  for the average person to follow.  I have an abiding interest in the scientific theories pertaining to time travel and even  I had a tough time following it.

3. Who do you want to see a biopic of and whom would you cast?

Somebody should do a biopic of John Wayne.  It's about time, don'tcha think?  Haven't seen "Trumbo" yet, so I can't say yea or nay to David James Elliot's performance.  But I admit I have no idea who else to cast...

4.  Any movie(s) you're looking forward to?

I'm always looking forward to the next Marvel Comics Universe film.

5.  Have you attended a film festival?

No.  But Austin has one that occurs during SXSW that I'd like see.

6.  Black and white or Technicolor?

Depends on the genre.  War and westerns are better in color.  Film noir is only good in B/W.  With a few exceptions that are more correctly termed "neo-noir".

7.  What is your favorite book?

I've read Stephen King's "The Stand" ½ a dozen times in the past 30 years since I first read it in 1985.  Plan to read it again at least once or twice  more before I die.

8.  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Before the sucky prequels I would have said "Star Wars".  Now I'd have to go with "Star Trek".  Preferably the Shatner as Kirk original crew, but in a pinch I'd take the new crew.  Next Gen I liked most all of the characters but Troi (she was played by a hot actress, but the character just annoyed me to no end)

9. Western or film noir?

If John Wayne is in it, western, if not, film noir.

10. Sci-fi or musical?

I mostly loathe musicals, sorry.  Sci-fi is the answer to this one hands down.

11. Comedy or drama?

Comedy.  I love to make people laugh, and I love to laugh  myself.

Now I'm supposed to nominate 11 blogs.  I'll take the chicken's way out and just nominate you, yes, you reading this blog right now.  You are nominated.  And you don't even have to get dressed up to accept it.  You can accept it in your underwear.

Your 11 questions are:

1.  Who was the best screen villain (before 1961)?
2.  Who was the best screen villain (after 1961)?
3.  Best screen hero (before 1961)?
4.  Best screen hero (after 1961)?
5.  Who was the most romantic actor (before 1961)?
6.  Who was the most romantic actor (after 1961)?
7.  Same question for actress? (before 1961)?
8.  Same question for actress (after 1961)?
(Why 1961?  Because that was the year I was born, and my birthday is coming soon...)

9.  Who is/was the best screenwriter for dialogue?
10. Which movie had the best costumes?
11.  It's a three day weekend.  Assuming you have no other plans, list the movies you will binge on.  In this hypothetical scenario, you don't need sleep unless you just want it, so you could potentially have 72 hours in which to watch them.

Now go have fun


Friday, September 2, 2016

Sex, Drugs and Rock'n'Roll; 70's Style

This is my entry in the Back to School Blogathon hosted by Pop Culture Reverie

The last day of school.  Anything and everything can happen.  If you were alive in those post Nixon times, with a new president from Georgia on the horizon (even I, a simple high school freshman saw that then-President Ford wasn't going to be re-elected), and gas hovering around 60 cents a gallon.

And, if you believe what's going on in this movie, everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in high school lit up a doobie now and then.  (Note:  I don't have any clue whether this was true about my high school, but I attended a very small high school; my graduating class numbered only about 40, and there was only 120 in the entire 4 grades of high school when I graduated. And I didn't partake of any drugs, legal or illegal until after I turned the then legal age of 18.)

Dazed and Confused (1993)

Like my previous post for The Great Escape, I have decided that this review is better served by addressing each character in the movie, rather than an overall view of the plot.  Besides, there REALLY isn't much of a plot in this one in the first place.  It's just about the last day of school and the night AFTER the last day of school in the life of the students at (the fictional) Lee High School in Austin, Texas.  Most of the action centers on initiation rituals by the incoming seniors for the incoming freshmen (paddling for the boys, and a strange ritual that has to be seen to be believed for the girls), and a beer bust party in which the entire gang is involved in various unrelated antics.

Randall "Pink" Floyd: (Jason London)

Pink is the star football quarterback for the high school.  He is an independent soul who values his friendship more than fitting in with what is expected of him by his coaches and teachers.  In particular, his head coach, Coach Conrad (Terry Mross) who is extremely disapproving of his choices for friends, particularly those who are not his football teammates.  Pink is also the friendly "big brother" figure to incoming freshman Mitch Kramer.

Mitch Kramer:  (Wiley Wiggins)

Mitch is an incoming freshman, and, initially, the prime target for the initiation proceedings by the seniors, primarily because his older sister, Jodi, tries to protect him by asking that her friends go easy on him, which only makes them that much more determined to single him out.  After his initial paddling from a few of the seniors, Pink takes him under his wing and lets him hang out through the night.

Jodi Kramer: (Michelle Burke)

Jodi is Mitch's older sister, and one of the incoming female seniors.  She also takes one of the initiated freshmen under her wing, Sabrina, after the girls perform their own initiation ritual.  She is one of the more friendly and likable girls in the senior class.

Sabrina Davis: (Christin Hinojosa)

Sabrina is one of the incoming freshmen girls, and the only one on whom any focus is made after the initiation ritual.  The movie hints that she and Mitch may end up hooking up in the future, but that is open to speculation.

Danny Wooderson and Ron Slater: (Matthew McConaughey and Rory Cochrane)

Wooderson is a dropout who still likes hanging out with the high school kids, especially the girls...("That's what I like about high school girls.  I get older, they stay the same age"  A dirty old man in the making...)  Wooderson is the "brains" behind the keg party tha happens in the second half of the movie.

Slater is the ultimate dope head.  Personally, I'm thinking he probably lights up in the classroom, since he is always stoned.  Always trying to hook up with the doobie crowd, he is basically just a hanger-on.

Fred O'Bannion:  (Ben Affleck)

If there is a villain in the movie, it's O'Bannion.  Hostility is his middle name, and he is a sadistic jerk, taking great pleasure in the initiation procedures for the freshmen.  He is going to be a senior for the second time, since he failed, and some think he failed on purpose so he could be a sadist to freshmen two years in a row.

Mike Newhouse, Tony Olson and Cynthia Dunn:  (Adam Goldberg, Anthony Rapp and Marissa Ribisi)

These three are bosom companions, probably the most intellectual of the entire school.  They hang out with each other and have deep philosophical conversations, such as Mike's weird dream of having sex with a girl with the head of Abraham Lincoln.  Plus Mike has determined that he has changed his goal in life and wants to be a dancer.

Don Dawson and Benny O'Donnell:  (Sasha Jensen and Cole Hauser)

Dawson and O'Donnell are Pink's buddies from the football team.  They encourage him to sign the sobriety contract the coaches want him to sign, but Pink remains aloof.  They are also his partners in crime when hunting down incoming freshmen.

There are plenty of other characters in this movie, and, as well, more future stars who were still basic unknowns in this movie, including Milla Jovovich, Parker Posey, Joey Lauren Adams, Nicky Katt, and if you don't blink, Renee Zellweger.

So, do you wonder which character best represents your humble blogger?  I would have been an incoming freshman in 1976, so the obvious answer would be Mitch Kramer, but I think I identify most with Mike Newhouse.  Watch the movie and see how this character is played and you'll get a good idea of how my high school experience played out.  (But no, I never dreamed I had sex with a girl who looked like Abraham Lincoln...)

If you are going to drive home, folks, be sure to hide the empty beer cans, and for God's sake, air out the interior so it doesn't smell like  Cheech and Chong's apartment.


Saturday, August 27, 2016

It's a Small World After All

Around the World in 80 Days is not so much a movie as it is an event, and one in which producer Michael Todd worked tirelessly to bring to the screen.  The background to this film is almost, if not more, interesting than the movie itself.  Robert Osborne of TCM fame gives an 8 minute long introduction on my DVD that enlightens with panache.

This was the ONLY movie that Michael Todd produced.  Given that it won the Academy Award for Best Picture, that is rather impressive on it's own.  The movie also has a plethora of cameo appearances. (Some 50 or so are listed on the wikipedia page, and there are probably even more, since I only can identify by sight about ½ of those on THAT list).  Todd was apparently quite the expert at talking people into doing appearances for him in this film.

In particular was the addition of Cantinflas (a Mexican playing a Frenchman, without, I might add, even trying to pretend that he was French).  Cantinflas had never made an English language film before, and in fact, had not made a film in which he was not involved in all aspects of the filming for quite some time.  But Todd got his Passepartout.  As well as his Fogg.  It seems David Niven was the only person Todd considered for the part, and Niven was enthusiatic about playing him.  But both of those are the stars.

Niven and Cantinflas

As far as cameo roles (and according to Osbourne's commentary, Todd's movie was the first to co-opt the term "cameo role"), the list is astounding.  People who have no lines, as well as certain roles that are a bit meatier than you would expect for a role termed as "cameo" fill out this film.  Just a smattering of names to drop : Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre, Marlene Dietrich, Caesar Romero, John Carradine, Charles Boyer, George Raft, Victor McLaglen, Buster Keaton,  Sir John Guilgud, Noel Coward and many more.

Sinatra as a piano player, one of the many "cameos"

The picture really does not convey all it's magnificence on a small screen, even in wide screen format.  To do it justice, you really should view it on the big screen.  I vaguely recall seeing it that way on a re-release when I was a wee lad.  I don't think I knew half of what was going on, but I have memories of some magnificent vistas.  The film was the first to use Todd-AO film process, which incorporated the stle of Cinerama, but instead of having to use three separate cameras to capture the scenes, it only used one.

If you are blessed with a big screen TV and surround sound capabilities, I highly recommend this film for family movie night.  Even if you don't have $$ coming out the wazoo for that, it's still worth a look.

Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

The movie starts out with a bit of trivia, designed to show how the world has shrunk, in effect since man first walked on the Earth.  Included is a monologue, delivered by Edward R. Murrow, and a viewing of the Georges Méliès' film adaptation of Verne's moon trip novels, called A Trip to the Moon.  Also included is a wistful conjecture that man may actually make it to the moon in the near future.  (The movie was made in 1956, and the actual first moon landing was still in the future).  Gradually the movie gives way to the actual film we came to see.

Phineas Fogg

It is set, at the beginning, in Victorian London.  Phileas Fogg (David Niven) approaches the Reform Club, and we are given evidence of his punctual nature by the fact that he checks his watch as he steps in the door.  Around the club we see various patrons engaged in being very, very conservative British aristocrats.  At the same time we are introduced to Passepartout (Cantinflas) as he is engaged in navigating a bicycle (what is known as a "penny-farthing", the one with the over-sized front wheel) around the city, as well as his attraction to those of the opposite sex.


Passepartout is in search of a job.  While waiting in the employment office, he observes a despairing valet (Sir John Guilgud) announce to the employment agent (Noel Coward) that he cannot take any more of his job, at which he has been employed only 20 days.  The frustrating employer, as it turns out, is our Mr. Fogg, who is particular about every aspect of his life, from the time he takes his meals to the temperature and level of water of his bath.  Passepartout volunteers for the job and is immediately hired (the employment agent has a hard time keeping Fogg supplied with valets...)

Meanwhile back at the reform club, discussion during a game of whist centers on the recent robbery of the Bank of England, of which one of the members at the table is the President (Robert Morley).  The discussion turns to the size of the globe where the culprit could had, which leads to Fogg stating that you could navigate the entire globe in only 80 days.  A wager is made in which Fogg agrees to prove his statement, rather impulsively stating that he will leave that very evening.

At the Reform Club

Fast forward a bit, because the next scenes are of Fogg and Passpartout in Paris, where they are busy trying to engage a train trip.  But a kink in the plans causes Fogg to have to abandon the train trip in favor of using a hot air balloon.  This is good, in a sense, because, at least according to the story, Fogg gains some time in his itinerary due to this development.  (We also get to see some of the first magnificent vistas for which you will wish for the big screen...)

The duo land in Spain where, due to a need to use a visiting dignitary's private boat, Passepartout is engaged to perform in a bullfight.  There are some very comedic acrobatics when Cantinflas enters the ring.  (He was among other things an acrobat).

In the bullring

Meanwhile a police inspector named Fix (Robert Newton) has begun a systematic attempt to find some way to arrest Fogg whom he suspects is the bank robber involved in the previously mentioned Bank of England robbery.  He will doggedly pursue Fogg, and use his wiles to get to be a passing acquaintance who just happens to be on the same ships and trains that Fogg is using for his wager.

Inspector Fix

At every point, there is some predicament that seems to interfere with Fogg's potential success at winning his wager, including a train that is derailed, a ship that sails without him but with Passeportout aboard), and the need to rescue a princess (Shirley MacLaine, looking astoundingly young and beautiful in only her third role) from a sacrifice ritual.  Aouda, the princess, becomes their companion through out the rest of the journey.

Fogg, Fix and Aouda

Spoiler Alert!  If you don't already know the ending and  want to watch the movie before you know the ending stop now! As I intend to reveal an important fact, as well as the ending.

When Fogg finally arrives in England, Fix finally gets his proper papers to have Fogg arrested.  This causes an extra delay, which Fogg thinks causes him to lose his bet.  He is released, but he goes about normal business as if he had lost.  Passeportout discovers, however, that during the journey they had gained a day by crossing the International Date Line from the West to the East.  Meaning that Fogg wins the wager, that is IF he can make it to the Reform Club before the final bell tolls on the clock.

The question that is skimmed over, in case you missed it, is, if they crossed the International Date Line, and Fogg's itinerary was actually a day ahead, wouldn't he have noticed long before he got to London that he was running a day ahead of schedule? Everything was planned according to a set schedule, and Fogg, if anything, is a perfectionist about being on time.  This little slip can be blamed on Verne, since it is the key fact at the end of the novel and the filmmakers were faithful to that part of the book, at least.

That little bit does not reduce the enjoyment of the movie, for me, anyway.  I just tend to be a nitpicker sometimes...

Well, it's time to pack up the timetables and cruise on home.  The old Plymouth is dependable for at least that short distance.  Have a safe trip home kiddies.