Saturday, December 1, 2018

TCM NYC Tour: Hollywood Ain't Got Nuthin' on the Big Apple

Okay, we all know Hollywood is king when it comes to classic films, but New York City's not too shabby. As proof, TCM offers a swell tour of the city I love best (but TCM - if you're listening - how about a Paris TCM tour? I'll be the first to sign on!). 

This was my second time on the tour, the first being in 2013. But I had that funny sense of deja vu when I stepped on the bus. Turns out we had the same tour guide as we had in 2013. For the record, Jason was fantastic in 2013 and was even more fantastic (if that's possible) in 2018.

Our charming tour guide, Jason
It was a nasty, gloomy NYC day for our tour. Yes, we know we can't compete with Hollywood when it comes to the sunshine. But, once we all met at the Stardust Diner and climbed aboard our comfortable bus, we were treated to some of Manhattan's great contributions to the silver screen. 

I can never get enough of film history, but I confess I had Cary Grant on the brain that day. Why should tour day be different than any other day?

While not a stop on the tour we did pass the Winter Garden Theater. Didn't Cary have tickets for a show there in "North by Northwest"?

Just to complete the Cary Grant tour, we passed the Plaza Hotel (the oak Bar was where Cary's Hitchcock nightmare started), Grand Central Station (where Cary made his escape with Eva Marie Saint) and the Empire State Building (where Cary waited to meet Deborah Kerr in "An Affair to Remember"). Yeah, yeah, I know there was movie about a big ape that took place there, too.
Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr at the place nearest to heaven

The Plaza Hotel: things happen there
Cary at the Oak Bar. Hang in there, I'm on my way!

As if he could be lost in a crowd at Grand Central

Okay, enough about Cary (she reluctantly wrote). 2 of my other favorite NYC movie fellas were also featured on this tour: Mel Brook and Woody Allen.

Yes, Cher made a famous stroll to the Metropolitan Opera House in "Moonstruck," but Lincoln Center will always mean Max and Leo to me.

As for Woody Allen, well this (along with a dose of Gershwin) IS Manhattan:

Yes, Zabars is as awesome now

as it was then
Some other stops: The Dakota, home of Rosemary and her baby, and the Ansonia, home of those Sunshine Boys. Speaking of both buildings, I never stop being amazed at the beauty of the architecture of these and many other NYC buildings. They are truly beautiful and breathtaking creations.
the Dakota
Creepy Dakota residents
The beautiful and storied Ansonia (check out its history)
Richard Benjamin and Walter Matthau stroll
past the Ansonia in "The Sunshine Boys"

Once in a while, we do have to mourn what is lost. The charming little shop that was The Shop Around The Corner in "You've Got Mail", once an antique shop, is now a dry cleaners, Oy.

And just to brag, yours truly won the trivia contest on the bus. I was so proud. I'll treasure my tote bag.

So, if you're ever in NYC and you want the TCM treatment as only On Location Tours can do it, take the tour. Interested? Check out tour information here. Maybe you, too, can win a TCM tote bag!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

CMBA Outlaws Blogathon: The Producers (1967): It's Criminally Joyous

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association's Outlaws Blogathon. Click here for more outrageous cinematic lawbreakers.

Zero + Gene = Love
They're adorable, they're hysterical, they're lovable. They're desperate con men and deliberate thieves. They're Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom and they are "The Producers."
Words don't do this justice
Let me say right out of the gate: I love this film, almost above all others. It is by far my favorite comedy. Where to start? 

Max gives his all for his art
In a nutshell, Mel Brooks' "The Producers" tells the story of once-successful-but-now-down-on-his-luck Broadway Producer Max Bialystock and his accountant, Leo Bloom. Max, who has produced a long string of flops of late, keeps his enterprise afloat by romancing elderly (and frisky) women to finance his next play. He's dishonorable, greedy and desperate. Leo Bloom, a timid accountant, finds an error while auditing the books for Max's last play, which presumably made a few dollars. While Max attempts to persuade Leo to ignore the error, Leo has a revelation: the books for a Broadway failure would never be audited. If more than 100% of shares were sold, who would know? And so, a dastardly scheme was hatched and a beautiful friendship was born.

Neurotic, hysterical and a budding criminal
First, the fraud. Arm-locked in the scheme to mount the worst play in the history of Broadway, one sure to lose a bundle, the pair strikes gold with something called "Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Adolph and Eva at Berchtesgaden." A love letter to Hitler, it is written by the proud and totally nuts Nazi Franz Liebkind. Words can not do justice to the comical discomfort felt by 2 Jews who entertain the ravings of this lunatic (including wearing a swastika before they peel it off with revulsion as soon as they are out of Liebkind's sight) in order to get the rights to his play.
Courting the author: a producer does what a producer has to do
Now that the play has been found, it is important to find just the right (wrong) cast and crew. Over the top gay director Roger De Bris is chosen and hippy-dippy, improv actor Lorenzo St. Dubois (otherwise known as LSD) appears as their perfect Hitler. There's no way this can succeed, right? The boys  gleefully dream of their financially secure future with this over-sold turkey and lease some posh office space with a sexy secretary. All the while, Max continues to do his part by romancing his little old ladies and overselling shares of "Springtime for Hitler." Note here that Max is doing all the heavy lifting.

Hold Me! Touch Me! Max's couch gets a workout
Estelle Winwood is especially frisky and funny as a lady known only as Hold Me! Touch Me! (the words she coos to Max when they meet for their tryst).

Getting up close and personal with the Reich
Ah, the best laid plans. After a stunning musical number of the title song, the audience is appalled and success at failure seems assured. But wait, LSD, vamping as a totally cool and kooky Hitler, send the audience into hysterics and they view it as a comedy. Making fun of Hitler! What a concept! And just like that, the play is deemed a hit. Max and Leo are doomed and author Liebkind becomes unhinged as his Fuhrer is mocked. As Max says, "I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast...where did I go right?" Max and Leo turn on one another (Leo, as Leo would, wants to turn himself in), but are united again when author Liebkind tries to kill the pair and them himself, but runs out of bullets. The 3 band together to try and blow up the theater - anything to stop this success and the assault on Liebkind's hero - but are foiled and arrested. They are all sent to prison after being found not just guilty, but incredibly guilty.

Dick Shawn is a groovy Fuhrer
Have no fear. The lure of larceny and the boards can't be quelled behind bars. Our last view of Max and Leo find them mounting a prison show called "Prisoners of Love," and happily over-selling shares of the production to the prison guards. You can't keep a good con man down.

A little "Springtime for Hitler" for your viewing pleasure (it never gets old):

So, that's the story. But the real joy of the film is the loving relationship of Max and Leo. Leo, timid and nervous, finds a father figure in Max, a father figure who builds him up and gives him courage. And Max, that heartless cynic who never let a good scam get by him, finds a surrogate son in Leo. He should simply dismiss the boy, but he can't because he knows Leo needs him and he needs Leo.

Partners in crime. What fun!
The jokes are just too numerous to detail. Let's just say Mel Brooks hits a home run with story, character and jokes. The story is so strong that, years later  in 2001 it became a hit Broadway musical starring a brilliant Nathan Lane as Max (forget the film version of this play; stick with the original).

So, yes, Max and Leo were outlaws, but look what they and this film gave us: an unforgettable film debut for Gene Wilder, Dick Shawn at his wildest best, the Busby Berkeley-style overhead dance of in-synch swastikas of "Springtime for Hitler," the crystallization of the mad genius cinematic voice of Mel Brooks and, above all, a performance for the ages by Zero Mostel. 

Like all great films, words can't convey the wonder of "The Producers." You have to see it. Hold Me!Touch Me! had it right. Sometimes you just have to say "thank you," even when you know your pockets are being picked.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Clearing Out My DVR Part 2: Madam Satan (1930); A Dress, A Dirigible and a Dame

I love my DVR. Next to the Keurig coffee maker and the GPS, it is an invention that changed my life for the better. However, unlike the coffee maker, which gratifies me instantly with hot coffee and the GPS, that provides quick and (usually) correct directions, the DVR requires that I actually watch the movies I record. This year I have vowed to clean out the recordings in my DVR by actually watching them.

Next up: Madam Satan (1930)

I can honestly say that I have never liked anything directed by Cecil B. De Mille. This includes the fabled pre-code "Madam Satan." While not the biblical De Mille epic, it has all the hallmarks of CB's style: long stretches of boring nonsense punctuated by spectacle and sin.

On the minus side

The 2 leads, Kay Johnson and Reginald Denny, are very uninteresting. I loathed the both of them. Kay Johnson, as wife Angela, suffers as a good little wife should while her cheating husband, Bob, who runs around town with his drinking buddy Jimmy (Roland Young), flagrantly disrespects his marriage vows with booze, women and good times. His wife, he states, is a bore. While I don't admire Bob, I have to concur.

When the wife is a bore, the husband has the right to cat around, right?
The story is simply ridiculous. I'll spare you the details, but it is just one of those silly farces where the wife disguises herself and adopts a phony French accent. Bob, like all of the husbands in these situations, fails to recognize his wife under the disguise, has his ardor is rekindled by feminine wiles and, presto,  their marriage is saved. 
Bedroom farce, marital lies, mistaken identity... yawn
It is long. Maybe if it was just one of those quickie little pre-codes it might have been less objectionable, but it goes on for almost 2 hours.

On the plus side

Lillian Roth. The costumes aboard the blimp are fabled, but I thought the very best this about this film was Lillian Roth. As Trixie, the Other Woman, she is adorable, she is sassy, she has spark and I wish there was more of her. Check her out:

Roland Young, as the buddy with the blimp, is fun, too - in small doses.

The costume ball get-ups are quite legendary, a real flight of fantasy by designer Adrian. Feast your eyes:

and Trixie, of course:

The real show-stopper was Madam Satan's gown. If only the lady inside the gown was equally alluring.

And then there is that soiree of the blimp. First, we have dancing clocks and then a bizarre musical homage to electricity (which takes the whole thing down with a lightening strike).

Really, I just don't know what to say about this:

Then some debauchery with scantily clad women. Someone recognizes Trixie by her appendectomy scar. Bob pretty much makes an attempt to ravage Madam Satan in a very distasteful way, but, hey, it's De Mille.

Really, Bob... you can't tell that is your wife?
The whole thing ends in a stupid and mildly offensive way (hey lady, your marriage is in trouble because you aren't sexy enough). Really, it's just stupid. And way too long. 

Next up: The More the Merrier (1943)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Clearing Out My DVR: Safe in Hell (it was hell!)

I love my DVR. Next to the Keurig coffee maker and the GPS, it is an invention that changed my life for the better. However, unlike the coffee maker, which gratifies me instantly with hot coffee and the GPS, that provides quick and (usually) correct directions, the DVR requires that I actually watch the movies I record. This year I have vowed to clean out the recordings in my DVR by actually watching them.

First up: Safe in Hell (1931)

First, let me get this off my chest: I have a real issue with pre-codes lately. EVERY MOVIE MADE BEFORE THE ENFORCEMENT OF THE CODE IS NOT A GEM. There, I said it. Feeling better. Moving on.....
Leave the kiddies at home
"Safe in Hell" is one of those pre-codes I've heard so much about, how outrageous it is, how daring, how it pushes the envelope of decency. It is and does all of that. The problem is, it's not that great.

The accidental murder
Director William Wellman's hand is evident - tough, masculine and not especially female friendly. The story begins in New Orleans, where Gilda Karlson (Dorothy Mackaill), a prostitute, murders Piet Van Saal (Ralf Harolde), the man who started her on the primrose path. Her naive sailor boyfriend (Donald Cook) - the dumbest sailor on the seven seas - smuggles Gilda out of New Orleans to escape the murder rap and parks her at a hotel on Tortuga, a tropic island where she cannot be extradited. In fact, that non-extradition status is the reason the island is populated with a pack of leering, mostly gross criminals of varying menace (the only decent man is the black hotel employee played by Clarence Muse). 

The object of their affection
Into this cesspool walks poor Gilda, the only white woman on the island (her white vagina being the thing that puts her in danger, apparently). There is a black woman on the island named Leonie, played by the wonderful Nina Mae McKinney, who is the best thing in the film. Aside from some sassy talk and a soulful rendition of "When it's Sleepy Time Down South," she is given little to do except tend to Gilda's needs and try to help her navigate the lecherous waters of Tortuga.

Leonie tells Gilda the facts of life, Tortuga-wise
The person Gilda needs most to avoid is Mr. Bruno, the human tobacco stain who runs the island with a corrupt and iron fist. He has his stink-eye on Gilda and destroys all of Gilda's letters from the sailor boyfriend, leaving Gilda feeling forgotten and doomed to a long stretch in this hell. Anyway, Gilda manages to skillfully avoid ravishment until Van Saal, the man she thought she murdered, turns up very much alive on Tortuga, running from the law and ready to resume relations with Gilda. While fighting off Van Saal's rape attempt, Gilda really does manage to kill him with the gun Bruno gave her for protection. Bruno now has Gilda where he wants her, offering her freedom from a murder trial if he can have her white vagina. Gilda, correctly surmising that death would be preferable, nobly sets her boyfriend free and marches to the gallows.

Mr. Bruno:  to be avoided at all costs
So, what set me off? I think it is pretty much the film's desire to be sensational for sensational's sake. While Gilda is tough, she longs to be a "good girl" true to her fella. And nobody here is very sympathetic. Dorothy MacKaill is okay, kind of pretty, but not really compelling. Donald Cook, as the dopey boyfriend, does a good impression of a log, and Morgan Wallace as Mr. Bruno is a drooling puddle of disgust. I did enjoy Victor Varconi (an actor I am always happy to see) as a rather polite political criminal. 
2nd time's the charm: Van Saal is finally dead

A bad pre-code is like learning about your grandparent's sex life. It's kind of shocking to know such shenanigans took place long ago, but once you accept the idea, you need a good story to go with the shenanigans. "Safe in Hell" exploits all of the boundaries a film could push in 1931, but, like all things exploited for their scandalous implications, you kind of feel you need a shower after trafficking in it.

Next up on the DVR cleaning project: "Madam Satan"