Sunday, June 23, 2024

Why Do We Blog?

A funny thing happened recently. 

I received a comment on a post written over 13 years ago from a fellow in, of all places, Ireland. The post was my little love letter to Clara Bow ( Imagine my surprise to see this new comment:

Many, many thanks for your beautiful article. (Over a decade late, but still!)

Here in Ireland we are having a special showing of 'It' on June 15 and I have 'borrowed' a paragraph from you for an accompanying piece - with full credit to both you and the blog, of course!

I am currently enjoying going through your archive and enjoying it very much! It's always so great to come across genuine enthusiasts.

Greetings and warm regards from

Charley Brady

Silent Cinema Galway.

Here is Charley's great article.

When you write something and push it out there into the black hole of the blogosphere, you never  know if it lands anywhere, much less gets read. Receiving a communication like that, from someone so far away about something written so long ago, kind of validates why we blog.

* How great it felt to share something with a kindred spirit.

* How great to have your work appreciated.

* How great to learn about someone doing something so wonderful so very far away. 

* How great to find a new site and learn and enjoy more about classic film.

And so, every now and then, as the spirit moves me, I'll keep at this.

And if this just gets sucked into that black hole, well so be it - and in another 10 years ago, it might just land.

Please check out Silent Cinema Galway - it's a  beautiful site:

I'm sure special screening of "It" was a success - how could it not be?

Sunday, May 19, 2024

One, Two, Three - Seasoned Cagney Can Still Spice It Up

This is my entry in the Classic Movie Blog Association Screen Debuts and Last Hurrahs Blogathon. Click here for more memorable firsts and lasts.

Cagney and the grapefruit make one last joint appearance

Season is an interesting word. It can mean to add flavor to something, or it can define a period of time. In the case of James Cagney, from day one he always seasoned the screen with some invigorating cinematic spice. He was also a performer who, in over 30 years, presented himself to the audience in various seasons of his acting life. From the summer of "The Public Enemy" to the winter of "Ragtime," Cagney not only physically matured, but also matured in the depth and humanity he brought to his roles. All before our eyes. While those two winter roles - the aforementioned "Ragtime" and the final performance in the television movie "Terrible Joe Moran," gave us a final glimpse of a cherished star, it is the late autumn performance in Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three" (1961) that offers us the final major performance of a great star. At age 62 he was as dynamic as he was 30 years earlier.

Not as well known as many of Wilder's other great films, "One, Two, Three" is a sharp, sly and very funny look at the cold war and corporate moral flexibility (to put it kindly). A lot of the topical humor may be lost on those who didn't live through the cold war or are not familiar with it. Originally slated to be filmed in Berlin, the crew had to quickly relocate to Munich because those pesky Russians decided to build a wall. The dialogue is filled with topical references (do modern audiences know who Khrushchev was, or the significance of the shoe banging on the table?). Fortunately, I am old enough to remember (wow - that's the first time I ever had occasion to use that phrase!).

Proving the cold war could be fun

Thanks to Wilder's script (co-written with I.A.L. Diamond) and direction, this all results in fast and furious fun. The supporting cast of Horst Buchholz, Arlene Francis, Pamela Tiffin, Lilo Pulver, and especially Hanns Lothar as Schlemmer, is top-notch. Cagney proves to be a good sport, allowing  several jokes at the expense of his long career - the grapefruit, the gangster quote from "Little Caesar" (even though that was uttered by Edward G. Robinson, it still harkened back to those good old gangster days), and a Cagney impression by Red Buttons. While those references made gentle fun of Cagney's decades-long public reputation, in true double-edged-sword Wilder fashion, it also seems an homage to many well-loved movie memories; an acknowledgement that we are in the presence of a living cinematic legend. I was getting those Norma Desmond/Gloria Swanson conflicted vibes here, though not in such a tragic framework.

An executive's work is never done

The film is very early 1960s, and I admit it's a bit arresting to see this particular star as a man of the modern world. For some reason he always seemed to be a man who lived in a past era. Even when his character was current in the 1930s and 40s, he seemed a man who lived by an earlier code. Cagney wears the 1960s suits and ties well and proves that he was a real actor playing something he never tried before - a slimy, married Coca-Cola executive, always conniving while canoodling with his mercenary secretary on the side. Still, he manages to retain that special sympathetic star shine something. That was his super power. Even when he was a gangster he was never slimy. Come on, weren't we all rooting for Rocky Sullivan?

Love and Capitalism wins the day

Cagney's personal struggles during filming are well known. While he could wear the clothes of the modern man, he was privately uncomfortable. Besides butting heads with Wilder, a very strong-willed director, he came to actively dislike co-star Horst Buchholz. In his autobiography, Cagney, who rarely had a harsh word for any co-workers, openly complained about the scene-stealing ways of the younger actor. Add to that those wildly changing times and Cagney decided he had had enough. At the end of filming, there seemed no place for him to go but to his beloved farm and let the world go by for a few decades. 

Cheers to you!

For some reason this topical and breathless movie reminds me of a line in Checkhov's "Uncle Vanya" about "autumn roses, beautiful, sorrowful roses." I feel a twinge of sadness in between the laughter. There would be those two graceful appearances much later, but watching this now, knowing this would be the last time we would see him in full power, is truly like looking at the twilight of the gods.

Friday, May 3, 2024

New Movies Do Not Fill the Landscape of My Dreams


Why do I find going to the movies to see new films so unsatisfying? I want to keep an open mind and heart and want to support the theatergoing experience, but I rarely, if ever, find new films at the theaters truly, madly, deeply enjoyable. They might be truly enjoyable. They might be madly enjoyable, and they might even be deeply enjoyable. But rarely, almost never, are they meet the truly, madly, deeply threshold for me. Why?

The answer is in the title of this article and it came to me while watching Peter O'Toole in "Goodbye, Mr. Chips." Objectively, the film is not great, although it has a lot going for it. It's very long, a little full of itself, and the score is forgettable. But, it has the captivating Mr. O'Toole, who always leaves nothing unfelt or unexpressed, and I saw it when I was a teenager when the landscape of all that I would love forever and always was being painted on my psyche.
I've read countless books about Charlie Chaplin and one of the things that touches me is how the trauma and longing associated with his childhood poverty and fractured family were embedded in all of his work. What scarred him, what inspired him, what frightened him and where he found beauty was imprinted on his soul at a tender age and there was no changing that no matter what life held. Fame and wealth and celebrity could not change it, nor could the reversal of professional fortune. Time revealed the public's changing tastes, but Chaplin could not change at his core.
And so I find it to be with me. The films that drew me to them were the ones I discovered early on. What is charming, what is beautiful, what is good and what is desirable all were found in the movies I saw in my youth. Films that moved me after I became an adult somehow were related to the same type of film. I probably should have gotten some of that stuff from family life, but clearly I needed to seek them elsewhere. While not at all a horror of a childhood like Chaplin's, I admit there might have been a few things lacking. Or maybe I just had a dreamer's imagination. Mercifully, there were movies. And I am so very grateful that I can access so many of my favorites upon demand these days and not wait until 3 a.m. to watch the Late Late Late show ( I did stay up until 3 once to watch a Bing Crosby film when I was about 12). They are like a comfortable blanket or a hug from a friend. At some point during those formative years, a private understanding between myself and Cary Grant, Crosby, Chaplin, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, both Hepburns, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Bob Hope, and especially Cagney was established that endures to this day. We truly, madly, deeply get one another. If this sounds weird to you, your landscape and mine are completely different.
So, today's films, for so many reasons, can not connect with a landscape of dreams and desires that has been built and fortified over time. It can not change and I don't want it to change. I like it. I only hope that young people who go to the movies are building their own internal landscape with images and feelings that will stay with them throughout their lifetime.  

Thursday, February 15, 2024

I Don’t Care How the Sausage is Made: Give Me the Magic, Give Me the Make-Believe

I've been blogging a long time (13 + years) – lately not so much. I mean, after a while, you kind of run out of novel things to say. Plus – man, are there some great classic film bloggers out there. I am amazed, not only at their writing ability, but at their intricate knowledge of all the things that go into making movies. You know, all that behind-the-scenes stuff, like writing, directing, cinematography, etc.

It might be hard to keep your mind on the screen here....

Alas, I am nowhere in the same league. Sometimes I just feel like throwing in the towel because I am not an expert in anything (and don’t have the nerve to pass myself off as one).


But I do admit you would have to go a long way to find my equal when it comes to being starstruck. Those pictures you see of the enraptured movie goer, sitting on the edge of their seat, hand poised between popcorn and mouth, eyes wide and glued to the screen? Yup, that’s me.

Yes, Mia, I totally get it.

Billy Wilder has William Holden as Joe Gillis in “Sunset Boulevard” say “Audiences don’t know somebody sits down and writes a picture; they think the actors make it up as they go along.” Of course I know that. But, when I’m lost in a film, I don’t care. I want to believe. Maybe that’s the filmmakers curse – they work so hard at make believe that their own contribution is ultimately ignored. Do you sit though all of the interminable credits at the end of the film these days? I don’t. I just want to see who was in it.

You know how you can pretty much find a Seinfeld episode that relates to every incident in life? Well, I can pretty much do that with movies. I have to keep those references in my head most times, because I’ve had the “poor thing: can’t relate to real life” look too many times. Or worse, the “WTF is she talking about?” look. Actually, I kind of like that one.

There is nothing like a great star of the classic era. I’m aware that it took an entire industry to produce such glorious beings for our consumption, but I don’t want to know. I don’t care that Rita Hayworth had her hairline painfully altered, I only care to see her shimmering image on film. I want to believe that they emerged – full-fledged and fascinating – on the screen.

Charles Foster Kane had his Declaration of Principles. No matter that he betrayed each and every one of them, but he had them. And here are this lowly starstruck willfully ignorant fan’s Seven Rules of Classic Film Fascination:

1. There must be music in the background: Does mood music follow you around all day? Well, in the movies it does and it is perfectly normal. No questions asked.

2. Do you wake up in full make-up and perfectly coiffed hair? Only movie stars do. They really do.

3. Can life’s stories be brought to conclusion in approximately 2 hours or less. In the movies they can. Or at least, in most classic films they can. Anyone see “Oppenheimer” or “Killers of the Flower Moon”? Either learn to tighten it up, give us a potty/snack bar break or make a streaming series.

4.  Only a great star can invite the illusion of intimacy. All the behind the scenes stuff can't make that.

5. There is always, always, an elegance about a star. And something unique – they neither look, nor sound, nor move quite like anyone else.

6. A film is not totally absorbing unless there is a star. A cast of unknowns don’t cut it.

7. How will you know 1-6 combine to create the brew that is a star or an unforgettable film? You will know it’s magic when it lingers in you thoughts and dreams, when it interjects itself into your real life, and when you never tire of repeated viewings of images or a film.

I am not now and never will be a film scholar, although I have lots of odd facts rumbling around in my brain. Please don’t ask me about geography, but I can tell you a lot about Clara Bow. I was what the movies was made for: open to magic, open to dreaming, open to the secret life that lives within.

Go on...ask me

Maybe I’ll go on blogging, maybe not. I started blogging because I felt the need to share my love of the movie-going/watching experience, but maybe this one entry is all I have left to say. I do like participating in some blogathons because it forces me to write, but right now my only topic is that of surrender – surrender to the magic of the finished product. It's bliss in a world filled with anything but at times.