"MOVIE MAD" by Michael van den Bos

(c) 2014 by Michael van den Bos

195 Posts with tag "must see dvd"


BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984), written & directed by Woody Allen

Whatever Works is the title of Woody Allen’s new movie that opens on 26 June 2009.  After an extended cinematic stay in England and Spain to make his last four films, the poet laureate of New York angst and romantic tribulations returns to his native Manhattan for his latest comedy starring Larry David (co-creator of Seinfeld and creator/actor of Curb Your Enthusiasm). 

Woody Allen’s filmmaking career is astonishingly prolific: in a 40 year period he has made virtually one movie per year and continues writing and directing into his mid-70s.  I have many favourite Woody Allen films; high on my list is Broadway Danny Rose (1984).  This is Woody’s ode to the odd personalities hovering on the fringes of American show-business and it is one his most entertaining and sweetest stories.  

In scenes that bookend the movie, Broadway Danny Rose is a Damon Runyon-esque tale as told by one comedian to a group of veteran comics in Manhattan’s Carnegie Deli.  Woody Allen is Danny Rose, a theatrical manager of misfit entertainers.  Danny nurtures his acts as if they were his children, especially his biggest baby, Italian crooner Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), whose career is tanking.  Danny convinces show-biz icon Milton Berle to check out Lou’s performance at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel as an audition for Berle’s upcoming television special.  This news triggers Lou’s debilitating nerves; he won’t be able to perform unless Danny brings Lou’s mistress, Tina Vitale (Mia Farrow), to the show.  Danny knows this is a bad idea because Lou is married with kids, but business is business.  Danny tracks down Tina, the platinum-blond ex-wife of a deceased mobster.  He tries to convince Tina that Lou’s big break will go bust if she isn’t by his side at the show, but she wants nothing more to do with the neurotic crooner since she’s angry with Lou for not leaving his wife.  Tina flees Manhattan with Danny chasing her, plunging him into a wacky adventure involving the mob out to whack the frantic and panicked talent agent.

Woody Allen as Danny Rose is note-perfect; not really a neurotic character, but a platitude-spewing, hyperactive den mother whose faith in his one-legged tap dancer, his ancient balloon-folders and his messed-up crooner is heartfelt.  It’s perhaps Allen’s most endearing role.

Nick Apollo Forte never acted before Rose.  He was a real-life singer who could pull off the American song standards with swagger, while displaying a touching vulnerability that makes the anxious and needy Lou Canova sympathetic and not merely pathetic. 

Mia Farrow’s Tina is brass and sass, but she never allows her character to become a cartoon as Tina’s compassion slowly emerges.  This is a tribute to Farrow’s talents and to Woody’s screenwriting.

The era of the story is slightly nebulous; it’s evocative of the late 1950s or early 1960s, but sometimes you are aware it’s the early 1980s.  This paints the picture with a lovely timelessness which is only enhanced by Gordon Willis’s black and white photography.  In many of Woody’s movies Manhattan is photographed to convey the great city as a character.  In Rose, Manhattan is not only a character, but a multi-textured stage for the eccentric characters to play out this show-biz fable upon.

Broadway Danny Rose is contextually a screwball comedy, but for all its wackiness the movie’s core throbs with fondness and warmth for its cockeyed characters without ever portraying them as just silly.  Woody Allen slowly insinuates a quiet pathos in the comedy reminiscent of one of his cinematic heroes, Charlie Chaplin.  By its conclusion, Broadway Danny Rose is surprisingly touching, and illustrates Woody’s deft facility to take a wonderfully ludicrous idea and naturally imbue it with human characterization - and not cynical caricature. 

[A clip from Broadway Danny Rose]

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of Broadway Danny Rose from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.  Website: www.videomatica.ca


PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948), directed by William Dieterle

Portrait of Jennie, David O. Selznick’s strange 1948 production, is the kind of fantasy film that’s easily scorned (it was upon its original release) because this fragile, fanciful story is treated with sincerity.  Yet Jennie is curiously captivating if you allow its dreamlike spirit to wash over you.   

Eben Adams (Joseph Cotten) is a talented but uninspired artist struggling to make his way in mid-1930s New York City.  One winter evening, as he wanders quietly through Central Park, Eben meets Jennie (Jennifer Jones), an enigmatic little girl playing by herself in the snow.  Jennie’s comfortable rapport with Eben evinces a connection as if they’ve known each other forever.  As suddenly as they meet, Jennie disappears into the cold evening.  This encounter rekindles Eben’s artistic drive, sparking a creative output that begins to earn him a steady income.  What follows is a concurrence of encounters between Eben and Jennie.  Each time they meet, his inspiration mounts, their love deepens, and - within a few months - she miraculously matures closer to Eben’s age, so it would appear that their passions might perhaps be consummated in the end.  Eben surmises an unreal, equivocal nature to his relationship with Jennie: he’s either imagining his muse or she’s a ghost.

The success of Portrait of Jennie depends on your willingness to believe in what is basically a silly story meant to be taken seriously.  A similar idea, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) was a successful spectral love story because of its beautifully crafted script, which balanced humour and drama with sympathetic characters.  The potential problem with Jennie’s acceptance lay in its high-minded approach to delicate fantasy, which might seem pretentious; Jennie’s prologue doesn’t help as it opens the film with ostentatious quotes by Euripides and Keats (producer Selznick’s attempt to ease audiences of his time into this very strange fable), but, depending on your temperament for this type of story - meaning, no cynics allowed - Jennie weaves a lovely spell of mystery, longing and destiny that is entertaining and moving. 

Director William Dieterle and cinematographer Joseph August shot Jennie mostly on location in New York City.  Even though the films suffers from some awkward studio process work and cuts due to technical problems in the location filming, the powerful black and white images - with expressionistic lighting, textured overlay effects and stark silhouettes - render an eternal, haunted quality to the city that is harmonious with this phantom romance.  The apocalyptic fury of the climatic storm sequence is expertly staged with excellent special effects and is tinted in monochrome green, giving it an eerie patina; the storm’s aftermath is tinted red, and the final shot is in full Technicolor. 

Themes of the eternal spirit, past lives, and souls destined for each other beyond the space/time continuum can easily sink a fantasy film by the sheer weight of its grandiosity.  Portrait of Jennie, however, perilously scrapes a few dramatic reefs but manages to stay afloat, and so must be reconsidered as a flawed but fascinating classical-era Hollywood movie that’s part art film, part ghost story and part wonderfully absurd romance.

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of Portrait of Jennie from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.  Website: www.videomatica.ca




The success of comic book superheroes hitting the big screen over the last several years is proving that audiences can't get enough of spandex and mask wearing crime fighters.  Lately, filmmakers have been exploring the darker side of those who posses all manner of super powers.  The Dark Knight, Spiderman, Watchmen, and The X-Men are just a few examples of comic book movies whose protagonists are struggling with psychological trauma and moral dilemmas while saving the world from super freaks.  With all this super Sturm und Drang, it's refreshing to go back to the innocent purity and simple fun of the original Superman theatrical cartoons.  In April 2009, Warner Home Video released, without the fanfare this great cartoon series deserved, MAX FLEISCHER'S SUPERMAN: 1941 -1942, a 2-disc DVD set of all 17 original Superman cartoons.  There have been other DVD releases of these same Superman cartoons, but the video quality of those discs pale in comparison to this brilliant new transfer.

Producer Max Fleischer was an early animation pioneer and Walt Disney's chief rival during the 1930s.  Max's studio was located in New York City, so his cartoons, directed by his brother Dave Fleischer, reflected that Metropolis' dynamics: ethnic humour; largely urban settings; a cynical street sense; adult sensibilities with doses of surrealism.  Fleischer's characters were jazzy, sexy, bizarre and eccentric: Betty Boop, Bimbo, KoKo the Clown and, from Elzie Segar's Thimble Theatre comic strip, Popeye the Sailor.

Walt Disney was from Kansas City and his studio was located in Hollywood.  Walt's cartoons reflected his American Midwest upbringing; rural settings, sunny stories, optimistic themes and barnyard animal characters such as Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Pluto the Dog.  During the 1930s, Walt Disney was expanding the art of animation with his successful Mickey Mouse and Silly Symphony cartoons while Max Fleischer experimented with technical innovations and produced hilarious, edgy cartoons that pushed the limits of the movie industry's infamous Production Code.  At one point in the mid-1930s, a nationwide theatre poll indicated that Popeye was besting Mickey Mouse in popularity.

When Walt Disney's first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, broke box-office records in 1937 (it was biggest grossing film of all time until the 1939 release of Gone With The Wind), Fleischer's distributor, Paramount Pictures - who had controlling interest in the Fleischer studio since bailing them out of bankruptcy in the 1920s - insisted Max and Dave jump immediately into feature production. 

Max Fleischer moved his New York operation into a newly designed studio in Miami, Florida - financed by Paramount - and hired hundreds of new employees to make their first animated feature, Gulliver's Travels (1939).  A second animated feature followed, Mr. Bug Goes To Town (1941), but neither of the Fleischer features could match the high degree of artistry and creativity of the Disney features. 

Paramount had one last cartoon card up its sleeve and this one was an ace-in-the-hole, albeit all too briefly for Max and Dave.  Paramount bought the screen rights to "Superman", Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's enormously popular superhero sensation owned by D.C. Comics, and told Max and Dave that the Man-of-Steel was their next project. 

Hand-drawn classical animation is a labour intensive craft; Dave Fleischer knew that successfully transferring the realistic style of the Superman comics into the animated cartoon medium would be a Herculean effort.  In an attempt to get out of this daunting job, Dave quoted Paramount a ridiculous amount of money to produce it.  Much to Dave's surprise, Paramount agreed to the high budget and the Fleischer's were obligated to make Superman fly.

The Fleischer studio succeeded heroically in making the world's first popular superhero movie series (arguably, Popeye could be considered the 20th Century's first true superhero as the mumbling sailor man would save-the-day by munching spinach to trigger his enormous strength) with the release of Superman on 26 September 1941, which earned the Fleischer's an Academy Award nomination.

Max and Dave Fleischer followed up the success of the Man-of-Steel's movie premiere with seven more cartoons with such colourful and exciting titles as The Mechanical Monsters, The Arctic Giant, The Bulleteers, The Magnetic Telescope, Electric Earthquake, Volcano and Terror On The Midway.

My personal favourite Fleischer Superman is called Billion Dollar Limited wherein Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent as Superman must fight a masked gang of thieves from stealing a billion dollars in gold on a runaway train.  Lois Lane, the Daily Planet's other intrepid reporter, is also on the train, firing a machine gun at the rapidly advancing thieves in their supercharged car. 

Billion Dollar Limited is an immensely exciting cartoon.  It is a remarkable example of action filmmaking that relies on dynamic camera angles, fast pacing and clarity of staging.  The overwhelming hurdles that Superman must overcome in this cartoon grow in a logical manner.  The trajectory of the drama and the action mounts with precision and intensity.  Any young, aspiring director interested in making action films (whether it be in animation or live-action) can do no wrong in studying Billion Dollar Limited for its filmmaking precision and dynamism.

All of the Superman cartoons are visually unique.  These 7 to 10 minute action-packed cartoons, filled with impressive animated special effects, are what would now be called "graphic novels" come to life.  Not only is the design and the animation treated with an eye toward realism, the look of the Superman series depends on high-contrast, chiaroscuro lighting.  And there are many shots composed in oblique angles to enhance the energy and the danger generated from the drama.  These visual attributes are common to film noir, a style and type of American crime film that was just starting to appear on movie screens in the early and mid-1940s.  In fact, looking back on the Superman series, one of its ground-breaking aspects is that these cartoons are the first film noir cartoons.  With all of Walt Disney's much deserved recognition for his studio's innovations in character animation at this time in film history, he never produced an urban noir cartoon.

The premises of the Superman cartoons are, more or less, all the same: Superman must overcome human villainy or monsters running amuck.  Since this series was made during America's involvement in World War II, some of the cartoons are about Superman fighting the Japanese and the German enemy axis.

Max and Dave Fleischer released their eighth and final Superman cartoon on 30 August 1942.  Because of mounting studio debt, and the ongoing personal contentions between the brothers, Paramount Pictures took advantage of their controlling interest in the animation studio and fired Max and Dave.  Paramount moved the studio from Miami back to New York City and rechristened it the Famous Studios, continuing to make nine more Superman cartoons (which are all on the new DVD set), as well as more Popeye and many other cartoon shorts.

The MAX FLEISCHER'S SUPERMAN: 1941 -1942, 2-disc DVD set is an absolute must for any animation and movie buff.  Max and Dave Fleischer brought Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's inspired comic book creation to vivid life on the big screen.  These exhilarating cartoons added much to the Superman mythology that would be incorporated into its many incarnations in the years to follow, and they set a new bar for the art of animated storytelling that continues to inspire animators to this day.



THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955 - United Artists) directed by Charles Laughton

The Night of the Hunter is an overlooked masterpiece of the horror genre that features no spooks, no witches, no mutated creatures, no sexy vampires, no grotesque aliens, and no chainsaw wielding loonies.  What it does have is a preacher man as the bogeyman stalking two children in a waking nightmare. This is one the most unusual genre films to come out of Hollywood at the height of its classic age and it still continues to haunt and to be scarily relevant more than 50 years since its original release.

The Night of the Hunter is set in West Virginia along the Ohio River during the 1930s.  Robert Mitchum plays Harry Powell, a bogus preacher and full-tilt psycho who twists the words of the bible in order to justify his praying and preying on credulous women in order to "cleanse" them of their feminine wiles and bilk them out of their money.  While serving time in prison Harry learns from his cellmate, Ben Harper (Peter Graves), that he stole $10,000 cash - resulting in the death of two people - in order to help support his poor family and he hid the money with the only ones he trusts: his two children.  Ben is hung for the murders as Harry completes his sentence and is released from prison. Once free, Harry immediately locates the dead man's home and eventually woos the Ben's gullible widow, Willa, (Shelley Winters).  Willa's daughter, Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce), takes an immediate liking to Harry, but Pearl's brother, John (Billy Chapin), sees through the spurious preacher's façade.  Harry ingratiates himself into the community as a man-of-God and marries Willa, all the while trying to manipulate the children into revealing the whereabouts of the $10,000.                                                                   

John, protecting his little sister, thwarts his step-father's many attempts to locate the stolen money which mounts Harry's anger and leads to a murder.  The children escape with the $10,000 and the maniac Harry is in hellfire pursuit.  The first half of the movie proceeds as a thriller, but it is the story's second half where the drama unfolds into moments of a dream-state and successfully enters the realm of horror.  On the start of their run, the children barely elude Harry by jumping into a skiff and sailing down a river.  On horse, Harry tracks the children, never letting up.  He's like a precursor to Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator.  Eventually John and Pearl find refuge with Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), a kind, elderly and genuinely religious woman who is caring for a small brood of orphans.  Harry discovers the location of the children but he is stubbornly blocked by a very resilient Rachel. The final act of the film is a true battle of good versus evil in a remarkably succinct and intense confrontation between the rifle-toting Lillian Gish and the vitriolic gospel spewing Robert Mitchum.

The Night of the Hunter is pure melodrama elevated to, dare I say, an art-horror film because of its heightened style in all departments; from the very daring script, to the haunting black & white visuals, to the impassioned performances of the lead actors.

Screenwriter James Agee was a Pulitzer Prize winning author and one of America's finest and most intelligent film critics during the 1940s early 1950s.  Aside from The Night of the Hunter, Agee wrote only two other screenplays, most notably the John Huston film, The African Queen (1951), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award.  For The Night of the Hunter, Agee refashions an ancient allegory - the war between the sacred and the profane - into a completely thrilling story visualized on screen as a stylish horror film.  It is also, perhaps, cinema's first astute and artistic exploration of children in peril from a real-life monster, an adult predator; an atrocity all too prevalent in today's society.

The prologue to the film sets up the uncompromising diametrical tone of the movie: Lillian Gish's image and the faces of her orphans are set against a starry sky.  She reads aloud to the children from Matthew 7:15 in the Holy Bible; "Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly, they are ravening wolves.  Ye shall know them by their fruits."  This is followed by a scene in a burlesque house where Harry sits in the audience watching a striptease act.  As he gazes upon the stripper with excitement and menace, his hand enters his coat pocket that is laying on his lap; in a flash a switchblade tears through the fabric.  This violently phallic image is repeated later in the film; Harry's switchblade reveals itself in an upward thrust at moments of sexual arousal, representing his immediate lust and his violent contempt for women.  Yes, it is an obvious symbol of brutal misogyny, however it still packs a visceral wallop, and if that image can elicit shock today then it must have been horrifying to audiences in 1955!

The children as representations of good, or purity, (though John is the least naive of all the film's characters until Rachel Cooper enters the picture) is certainly a cliché archetype, however the symbolism works here with forceful intent because the children become the subjective focus; the audience identifies with the plight of the children and the dynamic drive of the plot intensifies our need to want these "lambs" to out-fox the "wolf in sheep's clothing" and bring about his demise.  In many ways The Night of the Hunter is a re-imagining of two classic children's stories:  John and Pearl are "Hansel and Gretel" and Harry Powell is the "Big Bad Wolf" from Little Red Riding Hood.

The overriding visual aesthetic that pushes The Night of the Hunter into the horror genre is the intense chiaroscuro and distorted desgin that evokes the classic Universal horror movies from the 1930s and German Expressionist cinema (from where the look of the classic horror films and eventually Film Noir emerged) of the 1920s.  One example of Expressionism in The Night of the Hunter is the final bedroom scene between Willa, the children's mother, and Harry.  Overcome by her new religious zeal, Willa lays in her bed like a corpse in a coffin, arms folded across her chest, staring blankly at the ceiling.  She calmly reveals to Harry that she knows about the stolen money and Harry's desire to find it, but she believes these events occurred because the lord wanted Harry to marry her for the "...salvation of my soul".  From reaching one hand heavenwards, Harry slowly retrieves his switchblade, deploys the knife, and, with great care, he approaches Willa, slowly lowering the blade towards her throat.  Fade out.  This at once an eerie and beautiful scene, mostly photographed in long shot with the set design and the light creating razor-sharp angles.  The room looks like a miniature cathedral, or a sacrificial alter, and the acute shadows suggests the slashing of the knife.  The visual design of this scene is reminiscent of the first German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). Other scenes in The Night of the Hunter evoke the German Expressionist horror film, Nosferatu (1922), and Universal's Frankenstein (1931).

Examples of German Expressionist and Universal Horror film design that influenced the look of "The Night of the Hunter":

[above] "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari " (1920), directed by Robert Wiene

[above] "Nosferatu" (1922), directed by F.W. Murnau

[above] "Frankenstein" (1931) Universal Pictures, directed by James Whale

The most dream-like sequence in The Night of the Hunter is the children's river escape.  The stylization of the production design, the lighting and the camera angles suggest a fairy-tale world; an Alice in Wonderland journey.  Each shot of the children peacefully sailing down the river is composed to emphasize heightened images of nature: an oversized cobweb, a frog, a turtle, rabbits, and the full moon.  The trance-like feeling of this scene is augmented by Pearl singing an ethereal children's song.  There is an enchanting, other-worldly feeling to this sequence that resonates in tune with the early classic Walt Disney animated features.  In fact, The Night of the Hunter is not only steeped in the horror genre, and Grimm's Fairy Tales, it is awash with the best of Disney's darker moments, like Snow White's flight through the forest (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - 1937) and the nightmare sequences from Pinocchio (1940).  The cinematographer of The Night of the Hunter was Stanley Cortez who shot several superbly atmospheric black & white films, including: the Universal horror picture, The Black Cat (1941); Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (1942); and producer David O. Selznick's sentimental World War II home-front epic, Since You Went Away (1944).

The characters Robert Mitchum often played were loners, cool-talking tough guys or societal outcasts.  He possessed a quiet, earthy sexuality and a simmering sense of danger.  Mitchum's sleepy eyes and insouciant demeanour projected a world-weary, I-just-don't-give-a-damn personality that was appealing to women and men.  He could also play psychotic characters with a fearsome intensity.  His Max Cady from the original Cape Fear (1962) and Harry Powell in The Night of the Hunter (an iconic image: the fist side of Harry's fingers are tattooed with the words "Love" on one hand and "Hate" on the other) are truly terrifying characters played with a bravado and assurance that is riveting. 

Mitchum audaciously pushes the envelope of hamminess, yet he never crosses into parody (unlike the film's director, Charles Laughton, who gave a few overly ripe performances during his acting career).  Mitchum's psycho portrayals are big and bold, but never so over-the-top that they don't mesh with the tone of the respective films.  (Actor Daniel Day-Lewis's outrageous performance in There Will Be Blood (2007) owes much to Mitchum's Harry Powell characterization, though some people may argue that Lewis's character was just plain caricature) 

Lillian Gish was arguably the premiere female actress of the silent film era, her greatest roles in films directed by the legendary D.W. Griffith (Birth of a Nation - 1915, Broken Blossoms - 1919, et al).  When the silent film era ended, Gish continued into the sound era with a solid acting career well into the 1980s.  Her role as written in The Night of the Hunter could have been insufferably "goody-goody" and just plain trite.  However, as Rachel, the "good angel", squaring off with Harry, the "devil incarnate", Gish brings a gravitas to the role, displaying a fine equilibrium of sensitivity, caring, tenacity and vigour.  She ultimately terminates the madness and delivers peace to John and Pearl.

Shelley Winters as the ignorant mother is astonishing.  She plays naiveté, exasperation, and desperation with such fervour and pathos that your heart goes out to her even though you feel like slapping her across the face for being so foolish.  Winters performance in The Night of the Hunter harks back to her sympathetic role in George Steven's A Place in the Sun (1951) - as Montgomery Clift's emotional needy and tragic girlfriend - and looks forward to another delusional and pathetic mother who puts her child in harm's way, the egocentric Charlotte Haze in Stanley Kubrick's Lolita (1962).  Shelley Winters was a daring actress not afraid to sink her teeth into unglamorous rolls.

Charles Laughton had never directed a film prior to The Night of the Hunter; however, he did have one of the finest and more colourful acting careers in the 20th Century.  Laughton was a large man playing larger-than-life and eccentric characters: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933) for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award; a fabulously funny turn in Ruggles of Red Gap (1935); the vengeful Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935); the title role in I, Claudius (1937); Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); the drunkard of Hobson's Choice (1954); and the curmudgeonly prosecutor in Witness for the Prosecution (1957) -  among so many juicy (for better or worse) performances.

Robert Mitchum and Charles Laughton

Charles Laughton's directorial debut displays a confidence and a creative eye that is rare in a first film.  This professional and artistic degree of cinematic craft was the outcome of acting in the movies for nearly 30 years and working with some of cinema's very best directors; from the results of The Night of the Hunter, Laughton learned his filmmaking lessons well.

Charles Laughton's hands-on directing of Robert Mitchum

Unfortunately, The Night of the Hunter was received poorly by the public and the critics and this is probably why Charles Laughton never directed another movie.  What a shame.  The mind tantalizes over what kinds of films he would have made as a follow up. 

In 1992, The Night of the Hunter was selected by the United States Library of Congress to be preserved in the National Film Registry, deeming it "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Notwithstanding this worthy honour, Laughton's picture tends to be forgotten in discussions of the great films, such as Citizen Kane, The Rules of the Game, Vertigo, Seven Samurai, and 8 1/2.  Though it may not always be ranked in the same exalted league as those celebrated films, The Night of the Hunter demands to be rediscovered by today's film fans and it deserves a position in the forefront of cinema's great achievements.  Its story is literally as old as the bible, but its unique treatment as art-horror, masterfully and excitingly executed, is just as ingenious and stimulating as the established masterpieces of world cinema.

Trailer for "The Night of the Hunter"

If you live in the Greater Vancouver area, you can rent the DVD of The Night of the Hunter, and the other film titles mentioned in this article, from the greatest video store in Canada, Videomatica - located at 1855 West 4th Avenue (phone: 604-734- 0411) in fabulous Kitsilano.



Cartoon Bing Crosby in Hollywood Steps Out (1941)

Hollywood steps out this Sunday February 22nd for the 81st Annual Academy Awards.  For most audiences, the excitement over the Oscars is in seeing a menagerie of movie stars all on one live show.  I have never missed an Oscar telecast since I started watching the award show as a little kid and I love seeing all the stars, too.  I am also an unmitigated classic movie fan, a lover of Hollywood history and a buff of cartoons that spoof the movies and their stars.  Some of my favorite examples of this type of cartoon were made by the Leon Schlesinger Cartoon Studio at Warner Brothers.  So, for all of you classic movie fans I have posted some amazing caricatures of Golden Age movie stars from the 1941 Warner Brothers-Merrie Melodies cartoon entitled Hollywood Steps Out, directed by one of the greatest cartoon directors of all time, Tex Avery (credited in this cartoon with his real first name, Fred).  Ben Shenkman was the caricature artist hired by Tex Avery to draw the likenesses of some of filmdom's best-loved stars for Hollywood Steps Out after the director saw Shenkman's caricatures in another Merrie Melodies cartoon Malibu Beach Party (1940), directed by Friz Freleng.  You rarely see this kind of scrupulous level of caricature drawing today, let alone in contemporary animation!  Enjoy . . . .

All the stars go to Ciro's.  Here is a beautiful painting of the famous nightclub where Hollywood Steps Out takes place.  Ciro's was a real Hollywood nightclub that opened in 1940, located at 8433 Sunset Boulevard, and was a hangout for movie people for three decades.


The joke about the cost of dinner at the swanky Ciro's in 1941 seems spot on for dining-out in 2009.


Johnny Weissmuller, a.k.a the original sound movie Tarzan, checking his tuxedo jacket.


Conductor Leopold Stokowski (here being spoofed because of his appearance in Walt Disney's Fantasia from 1940) kicks off the Ciro's band.


Even in cartoon form Cary Grant is always the picture of elegance; with the mysterious Greta Garbo as a measly cigarette girl.


Warner Brothers tough guy, Edward G. Robinson and "The Oomph Girl", Ann Sheridan.


Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland from MGM's popular Andy Hardy series.


(From l. to r.)  Warner Brothers Cartoon Department big shots: assistant producer Henry Binder and producer Leon Schlesinger are the only Schlesinger employees who can afford to dine at Ciro's.


More Warner Brothers tough guys: James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart and George Raft.


James Stewart nervous over the amorous advances of "The Sarong Girl", Dorothy Lamour.


Sophisticated Nitwits: The Three Stooges -- Curly, Larry and Moe.


20th Century Fox contract players: the dashing Tyrone Power dances with figure-skating movie star, Sonja Henie.


The featured act in Hollywood Steps Out: burlesque dancer Sally Rand - here as Sally Strand - performs her famous bubble dance, much to the overheated pleasure of the male stars in the nightclub.


Band leader Kay Kyser  - caricatured as "The Ol' Perfessor" from his NBC radio show, Kay Kyser's Kollege of Musical Knowledge - takes an academic interest in Sally's bubble dance.


 Standing (from l. to r.): William Powell, Spencer Tracy, Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn. Seated  (l. to r.): Wallace Beery, C. Aubrey Smith.


Creepy Peter Lorre's reaction to Sally's dance: "I haven't seen such a beautiful bubble since I was a child".


Google-eyed comedian Jerry Calonna.


Great "Stone-Faces" (l. to r.): Boris Karloff, Arthur Treacher and Buster Keaton.


Groucho Marx in drag and Clark Gable puckering up.  Apparently Gable really doesn't give a damn.


To paraphrase Norma Desmond from Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd.: They had faces then!  Hollywood Steps Out is available on the Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 2 DVD set.