Monday, April 14, 2014

Bell, Book and Candle: What Wizardry is This?

This post is part of the James Stewart Blogathon hosted by Classic film & TV Cafe. You can view the complete blogathon schedule here.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Okay, I know this film is not that great, but I have to count it as a guilty pleasure. I've seen it more times than many worthy classics and I confess, I am under its spell. Maybe it's the Greenwich Village ambiance (I would have loved to go to the Zodiac Club), maybe it's the witchy theme (I was a fan of Bewitched, too) or maybe it is the comfy and familiar supporting cast. I vote "yes" for all of the above, but mostly it is the great tinsel town chemistry of James Stewart and Kim Novak.
Jimmy mainly looks shocked throughout the film
We know they sizzled in "Vertigo," but I like them better together here. It is light, and  fun and nobody falls off of a bell tower. While Stewart carried the Hitchcock film, Novak is the center of attraction here. While she may not have been the best or most versatile actress, she was bewitching and just perfect as the restless, other-worldly Gillian Holroyd. With her bare feet and lavender hair, she needed no special powers to attract a man. But, she worries that she can't keep one without those powers. Enter "Shep" Henderson, the man upstairs.

Gillian and Pyewacket
Stewart is clearly too old for the part (this was his last role as a romantic leading man), but in Hollywood in the 1950s almost all of the leading men were too old for the leading ladies. That being said, he and Novak have such an easy chemistry. She melts nicely in his arms and they exchange a few hot kisses. Stewart is a bit of a pill here, but he often played the irksome guy you wanted to smack. He ignored Grace Kelly in "Rear Window," dumped the superior Barbara Bel Geddes in "Vertigo" and was a general pain in the ass (albeit a cute one) in "The Philadelphia Story." Shep should have been falling all over Gillian, as he did when under her spell, but eventually love clobbers him over the head (after Gillian has given up her witchy ways and resorted to selling sea shells instead of African art). If I were Gillian, I would never have surrendered my powers (but I digress).

The supporting cast is aces. Although Jack Lemmon was not happy about being cast in the supporting role as Kim's mischievous brother, Nicky, it's always good to have him around. Elsa Lanchester makes for a charming eccentric aunt Queenie and Ernie Kovacs and Hermione Gingold are around for the fun.

A super swell supporting cast
And fun it is. No need to over analyze here. It is a delightful Hollywood product of the 1950s with star power to spare. And, just for the record, Jimbo was a swell kisser!
Jim and Kim mush noses

Friday, April 11, 2014

VENUS (2006): Peter the Great's Last Hurrah

This is my entry in the Diamonds and Gold Blogathon hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World. Click on their links for more about frisky cinema seniors.
A ruin at sunset

I love this film. I love Peter O'Toole and I love him in this film. I have had a mad crush on this man from the day he sat atop a camel. He can do no wrong in my book and here, playing and actor who is a ruin of his former beautiful self, he throws the autumn roses of his brilliance to all of us who have adored him for so long.

As Maurice, a washed up and burned out actor, O'Toole gives his last Oscar nominated performance (don't get me started on that particular snub). His career is a thing of the past, he is suffering from prostate cancer, his family are strangers and his days are filled with hours passed just being old. But, for Maurice, there is one last chance to grasp life with both hands, as into his life comes a girl. The grand-niece of his friend, Jessie (played by Jodie Whittaker) is young, lovely, frightfully modern and a hell raiser. One imagines that Maurice was quite a hell raiser in his day (as we know O'Toole surely was). She is no match intellectually or emotionally for Maurice, but, reluctantly, needs him. For one last time, he can play the gallant knight. Taking her under his wing, Maurice takes her to the National Gallery to view his favorite painting, Velazquez's Rokeby Venus. In his eyes, she is as lovely as the woman in the painting and he begins calling Jessie Venus.

Sharing his love of beauty

Sadly, his Venus is no Gueneviere. She is just a common young girl who likes boys her own age. But she  gives our knight one last chance at romance - a romance of the mind and heart, if not the flesh. Her's is the true purpose of beauty - to adore, to inspire and to live for.

In the beginning of the film there is a photo of the young O'Toole on display on a dresser. God, how beautiful he was. And here he is now, truly a wreck. But, what is outside is not on the inside. Inside he is still beautiful. Inside he still craves romance. His frame is old, but his heart is young. Venus is a love song to the last gasp of romance of an ancient with the spirit of a youth. The love of beauty is the secret of youth. This film comes ever so close to the dirty old man dance, but it never crosses that line because the touch, the warmth and closeness that Maurice craves is romance, the romance that stirs not just the loins, but the soul. Who cares that he chose not see the common and the tacky and the rough edges? How lucky for Maurice that he found his Venus to adore before the end. How lucky for Jessie to have been so adored.

Her gift was youth and kindness;
his was a glimpse into the soul of a romantic

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Dolores Del Rio: Orchidaceous

Rumor had it that the dramatically beautiful Dolores Del Rio survived on a diet of orchids. No doubt the reason for her hot-house beauty. 
Caption, please. What is the Ordcidaceous Miss Del Rio thinking?

Right now, I am a fan of her look. 2014 will be a year I take a look at her art. But, until then, feast your eyes on the in-your-face beauty of Dolores Del Rio:

Can anyone give me some suggestions of some must-see films of Miss Del Rio?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Film Fans are Fierce: The Power of Movies

I am going share an amazing journey with you that started with the love of movies.

Like so many other bloggers, I started writing A PERSON IN THE DARK to share my love of movies. In the beginning, before I branched out a bit and met more like-minded writers, I really did feel alone in the dark. Was anyone out there? Being very impatient and extremely self critical, I almost threw in the towel before long. But, someone near and dear to me had encouraged me to go on Facebook ("why do I need to do that?" I whined) and I decided to make a page for my blog. Day 1: 2 people were on it and I posted a link to my blog. My alter ego was FlickChick and I looked just like Norma Desmond.

FlickChick's first look - an homage to the woman who
lived for those wonderful people in the dark

I promptly forgot about it.

Imagine my surprise when, checking back a few weeks later, other people had "liked" my page. Who were they? Why were they there? No matter, I began to feel the need to make them want to stay.

4 years later FlickChick had over 6,500 followers. The page had evolved into a movie question of the day with more than 100 or so movie lovers checking in each day and playing along. I admit this required a fair amount of work on my part - preparing questions, photos and movie clips daily (I have hundreds of pages of movie questions saved). However, it was a labor of love. Truly. 
The evolution of FlickChick

Classic film lovers often find it difficult to find someone with whom they can share their love of film. it's always easy for folks to find buddies to share a passion for football or baseball, but James Cagney or Charlie Chaplin? Ann Dvorak or Kay Francis? For me, this is the beauty of social media. Facebook offers a place for film lovers from, not only all across the country, but around the world, to share their love of film. We taught one another, fought with one another, entertained each other, and established some wonderful friendships.

After 4 years, I have enough stories to fill a book. There were the juvenile jerks who had to get booted off the page, my heroes who always came to my rescue when I was attacked, the great ARISTOCATS battle, the wonderful group viewings and the beyond fantastic Oscar parties. Best of all are the dozens of real friendships that have developed from that little page that could. It recently warmed my heart when one east coast friend of the page actually stopped in on a west coast friend while traveling in California and shared it with all of us. A cyber connection became a face to face meeting. it was the love of movies that brought them together.

It has come time for me to bring the FlickChick Facebook page to a close. After 4 years I think we've covered every film topic under the sun. I feel a little sad, but many of the FlickChick Nation (as our resident wit and epic poster John P. calls us) have migrated to FlickChick's Movie Playground, a Facebook group with many of the usual suspects and a place where everyone can post and converse and generally share the love of that common bond that unites us. We plan more fun, more giveaways and, hopefully, will strengthen the bond that unites us as friends.

And I do consider these folks my friends. In fact, we are in the beginning discussions of a FlickChick Film Festival in New York in the near future. It will take some planning, but how wonderful that folks who only know one another through  cyberspace, and who were brought together by the love of movies, are willing to make the effort to meet in person. I hope it all comes true. It would be a wonderful testament to the power and passion of classic film lovers.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Cat and the Canary (1927): Fritz Meets Glitz!

This is my entry in the Movies Silently's SLEUTHATHON. Click here to get your gumshoe on!

I love it when Hollywood gets all continental! After the German Expressionist movement swept the cinematic world by storm in the 1920s, Hollywood just had to have it. Films like THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI, METROPOLIS, M and DR. MABUSE: THE GAMBLER were impressing the hell out of movie-going world and the moguls of tinsel town wanted in. Highly regarded directors F.W. Murnau, Fritz Lang and Ernst Lubitsch were hired by Hollywood, where light and shadow met glitz and glamour.
Say What? A scene from Leni's 1924 film, WAXWORKS.
Pickford had Lubitsch, Fox had Murnau and Lang went to MGM. Carl Laemmle of Universal Studios wanted a German, too, and, in 1927, enticed Paul Leni to come work for him. Leni is largely forgotten today. His resume is short, as he died in 1929 of blood poisoning, but he made his mark on Universal. 

Leni's debut American film was 1927's THE CAT AND THE CANARY. Based on a popular and long-running play of the same name, it is essentially an Old Dark House story played for laughs and chills. What makes this film special is the look and atmosphere created by the director.

The creepy West mansion: New York by way of Berlin
The story concerns Cyrus West, a dying millionaire whose money hungry family hangs over his impending corpse like cats around a canary. His home is a Gothic house perfect for haunting and his life is consumed with pills and medicine. Both the home and the medicine nightmare are eerily depicted in fine expressionistic fashion that create a most unsettling vision. His dying edict is that his will, bequeathing his fortune to an unnamed relative, is to be read at the stroke on midnight exactly 20 years after his death. In the 20 years following his death only faithful servant Mammy Pleasant (!) has inhabited his home. As you can see from the photo above, she was not a very conscientious housekeeper.

Morticia & Gomez would approve
Hollywood meets Berlin when the greedy relatives appear. Lawyer Tully Marshall waits for all to gather by midnight, but already knows that the will, presumably locked away in a vault since the old man died, has been tampered with. He is joined by expectant relatives Harry Blythe (Arthur Edmund Carewe), Charlie Wilder (Forrest Stanley), Paul Jones (Creighton Hale), Susan Silby (Flora Finch) and her daughter Cecily (Gertrude Astor). They are all wary of one another and are all dreaming of the millions they could soon have their hands on.
Last to arrive is Annabelle West (the very modern and very pretty Laura La Plante), the designated heiress and our heroine, who must only spend on night in the creepy mansion with her creepy relatives and be declared sane by Dr. Lazar (Lucien Littlefield). Easier said than done. You see, there is a second will naming an alternate beneficiary if Annabelle flunks the sanity clause and, just to add a cherry on the cake, a maniacal criminal called The Cat has escaped and is probably prowling around the mansion as we speak!

The Cat
Bodies fall, creepy hands creep across the screen, shadows loom in ominous shapes and a criminal who looks a lot like Dr Caligari is on the loose and after Annabelle. Yes, it's spooky, but is is also fun. Leni's visual style set the standard for the decades of Universal horror films to come.

Who inherits the loot?
This is one film I would love to see in a theater with an audience. Paul Jones is the bumbling and reluctant sleuth, but the real sleuth in the film is you, the viewer. Who is the Cat? Did you guess his identity? I'll never tell!

Monday, March 10, 2014

What the Cat Watches: Sookie Has Her Say

While my human slave has gone on errands for me to replenish supplies of preferred food, treats and toys, I, the cat, would like to present to you lowly humans the feline film perspective.

Yours Sincerely,
Sookie (otherwise known as "the cat")
She would be lost without my editing skills
First, let me say that without my editing input, this site would barely exist. Bad writing is met with walking over the keyboards, head butts on typing hands and plaintive wails from the depths of my sensitive soul.

I,like my human, enjoy a good movie. Naturally, we felines have elevated tastes, so if you are in the mood to become a better version of your lowly species, pay attention!

But, before I get into my personal faves, let me vent a bit about how deceptive you human can be. I watched these films with great disappointment. All rate a Paws Down from me.
1. The Cat and the Canary: Liars! Nary a cat nor a canary in site. A waste of my time. Paws down!

2. What's New Pussycat?:Give me a break!Same as above. Paws down!

3. Toy Story: Ha! You call those toys? Where were the catnip mice and the feathers? Double paws down!
Toys? I think not!
4. The Owl and the Pussycat: Come on, people! No pussycat and no owl. Liars! Paws down!

Not all human films are repulsive to we felines. Here are few that rate a Paws Up:

Harry and Tonto: Ah, now this is a great film. However, the Oscar should have gone to Tonto, not Carney (but we cats know how biased the Academy can be).
The great (and overlooked) Tonto
The Aristocats: While I am not a fan of cats speaking like humans (still waiting for the film where humans meow), this does contain one of cinema's greatest musical numbers, Everybody Wants to Be a Cat.

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!: While I confess I did not understand this at all, the title alone earns a paws up. Fast and kill in the title with pussycat? How can it miss?

And, my favorite:
The Birds: This one has it all: birds, birds, and more birds! Chirping birds, flying birds, singing birds and - my favorite - dead birds! 

Well, I hear my human coming home. Let me go purr and rub up against her to ensure the unending flow of tummy rubs, treats and kibble. Talk about acting!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


2014 is the year A Person in the Dark celebrates films about my favorite place - Hollywood!


By 1923, Hollywood had already established itself as the capitol of glamour, dreams, scandal and sin. William Desmond Taylor had been murdered and the Arbuckle scandal cast a great shadow over the film industry. Still, the young and beautiful continued to make their way west, hoping for fame and glory. 

Innocent Mem and her odious husband

Souls for Sale is a fun/melodramatic/romantic entertainment that both makes fun of and glorifies our favorite town west of the Mississippi. The film opens by showing young and innocent Remember Steddon (great name, no?) on a train with her brand new husband, Owen Scudder. She is a small town girl whose preacher father spent a great deal of time railing against the evils of Hollywood. Mem (as she will be known) is having serious buyer’s remorse. As the train chugs west towards a boat that will carry her and new hubby to China, she suddenly gets the feeling all is not well. Since hubby is played by that professional cad, Lew Cody, who can blame her? Rather than spend the night with her mustachioed Lothario, Mem jumps off the train and lands in the desert. 

Is it a sheik? No - it's only a movie star

Parched and near delirious from the heat, she sees a vision in the distance: a sheik! On a camel! He jumps off his mount and rushes to rescue our heroine Is he a mirage? No – he’s only an actor! “The usual sheik led the usual captive across the usual desert.” This sly Valentino jab is one of the first of many taken at Hollywood. A wonderful movie stock company nurses her back to health and, before you know it, both the leading man and the director are in love with Mem. 
The leading lady is star struck by her director

Mem resists working in films, but our runaway bride has to earn a living, so she swallows her pride and takes work as an movie extra. This is where the film really gets fun. Mem works as an extra in Chaplin’s "A Woman of Paris," (Chaplin is seen furiously directing) and watches Erich  Von Stroheim guide Jean Hersholt though a scene in "Greed." She also bumps into Zasu Pitts, Chester Conklin, Barbara Bedford and Elliot Dexter at the commissary. Mem’s lovesick director and leading man both propel her before the camera and, shades of "42nd Street,", when a huge overhead light falls on leading lady Robina Teele, Mem gets her big chance to star in a drama of the big top. 

Mem is an extra in Chaplin's "A Woman of Paris"

Meanwhile, we learn that Mem’s husband, the loathsome Scudder, is actually a murderer who marries women and then kills them for the insurance. While Mem is making a name for herself on the screen, Scudder lands in Egypt and is engaged in swindling an English lady and her father. In a very funny turn of events, it turns out the lady is a bit of a Lady Eve and swindles the swindler. Down on his luck, he returns to Hollywood to collect his “wife.” It seems even he is susceptible to the charms of Hollywood. Instead of wanting to murder her, he now wants to love her. Meanwhile, Mem has kept the secret of her marriage from everyone, including her true love, director Frank Claymore, fearing a scandal that could ruin her. 

It all goes up in flames, literally, in the exciting climax. The circus set is engulfed in flames and the bad faux husband, who confesses that he and Mem really weren't married, dies in a wind machine in a gallant effort to save her. The cameras have kept grinding through the storm and fire and the director gets his film and his girl. 

The glorious Barbara La Marr

While not a classic film, this sure is a fun one. Check out this cast: Eleanor Boardman in a star-making role as Memory Steddon, the manly Richard Dix as director Claymore, Aileen Pringle as the larcenous English lady, Mae Busch as the ill-fated star, Robina Teele, and the ultra-glamorous Babara La Marr as Leva Lamaire, the cinema vamp with a heart of gold. Leva can not give her heart to anyone since she witnessed her love, a daredevil stunt pilot, die on a film set in a horrific crash (real life aviator Ormer Locklear died the same way). In fact, my only real complaint about the film is that there is not enough Barbara La Marr. Boy - was she terrific. Known as "The Girl Who Was Too Beautiful," I need to see more of La Marr's work! Oh, and you know the minute I saw that her name was Leva Lamaire I thought of my girl, Lina Lamont!;) Oh, and William Haines has a small but showy part. You can see the man had star power.

"Souls For Sale" was written and directed by Rupert Hughes, whose nephew Howard, made a trip to Hollywood to visit and decided he liked the town just fine. Believed lost, copies of the film were discovered in the 1980s and 1990s. A beautifully restored and scored version is available from TCM and Warner Brothers Archives.

Mem's husband's lament and proof that she is a bona fide movie star!