Posts Tagged ‘Errol Flynn’

UGGOS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!: You have nothing to lose but your body image

In celebrity, film, Humor, music, television on November 15, 2012 at 7:46 am

This post is dedicated to the Susan Boyles of the world, and that big fat guy that Simon Cowell also ridiculed until he opened his mouth — then Cowell’s eyes sparkled with dollar signs; the Roy Orbisons, the Ernie Borgnines, Lee Marvins, Pat Hingles, Dennis Franzes, Charles Laughtons, Ed Begleys, Broderick Crawfords, Edward G Robinsons, Van Heflins, William Conrads, Linda Hunts, Kathy Bateses, Daniel Benzalis…

Even Rod Steiger, who was basically a good-looking guy but was told by a Hollywood producer, “Lose 40 pounds and I’ll make you a star.” Well, he made it anyway.

To Alan Ladd, a head shorter than the usual screen hunk, who was told by the director when playing a love scene in Boy on a Dolphin with Sophia Loren, “Ooh, that bruising’s terrible. Here, stand on this box and you won’t be bombarded in the face.”

To Phyllis Diller, who listened to some schmuck who said, “Hey, just get some plastic surgery and you’ll be cute” — and was never heard from again.

To Clark Gable, who pulled through as the hunk among a thousand babes at MGM, where he was at first dismissed with, “He’ll never amount to anything with those sugarbowl ears.”

To Fred Astaire, a human stick insect who made Jiminy Cricket look handsome, and went down in history as the screen’s most graceful male dancer.

To Judy Garland, ridiculed for a face that was anything but chocolate-box standard and a tendency to retain baby fat, and turned out to have more talent than any of them.

To Liza Minnelli, handicapped by being the daughter of Judy Garland mated with gifted but skunk-faced director Vincent Minnelli, and still made a worthwhile career.

To all the beautiful young women, fashion models, who were told by flamboyant men in charge who can’t appreciate their womanly curves, “Just a few more pounds, ducks” — and became junkies and/or died for it.

To those pretty boys Robert Taylor, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, who ignored or made little of their own incredible good looks to prove they had talent.

To Michael Jackson who swallowed all the hype about Aryan looks and paid the ultimate price for it.

And to Marilyn Monroe, one of the most vibrant screen presences ever, who to win conventional stardom submitted to casting couches, nose job, chin implant… so life would be perfect.

Special mention must be made of the stars of British television, who can look like the hind quarters of a British bulldog and still win romantic leading roles on the small screen. Just two of the most popular: David Jason, all 5ft-5 of him, bug-eyed, bulbous-nosed, all set off by a David Lloyd George haircut and Sydney spiv hat — and as Detective Inspector Jack Frost of the Denton police, Thames Valley, harassed by multiple lovers from one series to the next. Hugely popular for forty years, he was most believable as comedic secret agent in the slapstick title role of The Top Secret Life of Edgar Briggs; less as a serious detective still pulling slapstick turns. And Zoe Wanamaker, very successful in the romantic stakes on tv though seemingly hampered by her father Sam’s oversized upturned nose and lacking her father’s large soulful eyes. Congratulations also to Jack Shepherd (Superintendent Wycliffe), overcoming his anteater nose, Kevin Whately (Inspector Lewis), ageing to look like Stan Laurel, Warren Clarke (Dalziel), bulldog by nature and visage, and innumerable other English and Scottish detectives blessed with characterful looks.

Merit Awards for Uggos in American film genres: general purpose misfits Boris Karloff, Raymond Massey, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore; Eli Wallach, Jack Elam, Neville Brand, Bruce Dern, Warren Oates, Strother Martin, L. Q. Jones for bushwhackers and trail scum; so-ugly-they’re-a-thing-of-beauty Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Lee Van Cleef; hoodwinkers, desert rats and down-and-out gentlemen Charles Coburn, Sydney Greenstreet, Fredric March, Dan Duryea, Albert Dekker, Ralph Bellamy and Edmond O’Brien.


In celebrity, film on August 14, 2012 at 5:33 am

Both born of a British family in Tokyo, 1916 and 1917, just 15 months apart, uniquely Olivia and Joan grew fast but totally independently of each other into major stars during Hollywood’s ‘golden age’ of the studio system. Apart from obvious “superior breeding” that was fashionable on stage and screen up to World War II in the gentlewoman type they did have in common, they didn’t have much truck with each other and the fan magazines of the day hinted at an estrangement, even something of a feud, offscreen. Apparently, in real life, “feud” didn’t nearly cover it and from early childhood Olivia was unaccountably resentful and anything but nurturing towards her younger competitor. A cousin, the high achiever of the family, designed de Havilland aircraft.

Olivia_de_Havilland_in_The_Adventures_of_Robin_Hood_trailer_2From age 18, Olivia was seen as a promising starlet by home studio Warner Brothers, winning leads in her opening year, 1935, in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Errol Flynn’s first starrer, Captain Blood. While Flynn was an instant superstar, Olivia, just as impressive, was on a slower rise through Maid Marian, exquisitely beautiful in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) — see photo. In David Selznick’s mammoth production of Gone With the Wind the following year she took a step up entrusted with the difficult role of long-suffering Melanie Hamilton — hard not to make her an over-saintly martyr, which she accomplished. Nothing could save her from the overwhelming shadow of the media hooplah surrounding Vivien Leigh in the prime role of Scarlett O’Hara. Each received $25,000 for appearing — Vivien as a one-off newcomer’s fee from Selznick; Olivia for 20 weeks work from Warners, at her normal studio salary of $1,250 a week. Neither compared to Clark Gable’s (Rhett Butler) lump of $120,000 from home studio MGM, who distributed the picture as their price for lending Selznick the prime leading man of the day, who incidentally suited the role down to the ground. While Vivien went instantly on to $100,000 a picture for her next one, this distinctly secondary treatment still after four or five years with her studio meant Olivia would never quite measure up as the heiress apparent to Bette Davis’s status as Queen of WB.

Joan_Fontaine_in_Born_To_Be_Bad_trailer_2Joan wasn’t really as beautiful but was slender, blonde and held herself with ultimate poise, like a mannequin — something of a forerunner to the ladylike appeal of Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn but more demure and completely lacking their coy coquetry. Joan’s wry smile did show a sly sense of humor though, giving portrayals somewhat more subtle than her elder sister without showing an “acting” performance that Olivia would develop mostly after leaving Warners. And whereas Olivia played fresh and bright on screen, sometimes passionate, Joan looked world weary, even cynical as she matured. In the meantime Joan had made a slight impression at her home studio of RKO as Douglas Fairbanks Jr’s leading lady in Gunga Din (1939), a somewhat better one in MGM’s The Women later that year and then (dropped by RKO) went straight into major stardom in the title role of Rebecca (1940) squired by Laurence Olivier, and Suspicion (1941), wife and potential murder victim of Cary Grant, of questionable background and character here. She had signed with driven independent producer Selznick, he fresh from the stupendous achievement of Gone With the Wind and both her triumphs were under the most prestigious director of the time, Alfred Hitchcock. Unlike big sister Olivia she was the center of attraction in her movies at 22, and having won the Oscar as Best Actress for the second one — the only one ever for a female under Hitchcock’s direction — she was already overshadowing her. Posterity would not record it thus.

This Above All was a little dreary though highly admired as an RAF love story with Ty Power. In a remake of The Constant Nymph (1943) she took acting honors from the likes of Charles Boyer, Dame May Whitty, Peter Lorre — and shot under Olivia’s nose at the Warners lot. Jane Eyre (1944) with Orson Welles, who did not direct, was a good atmospheric piece and she was moving in the role, compassionate to Rochester’s tortured soul. After that, though she continued as center of attention in comedies and period adventures alike, there was usually something light and fluffy about them, ultimately dismissable though shot attractively with Joan looking glamorous. This applied even to a Billy Wilder ‘classic’, The Emperor Waltz (1948), sumptuous in technicolor and opposite Bing Crosby, and a deadly dull period thriller, Ivy, playing a poisoning murderer, and still unfailingly glamorous. Letter from an Unknown Woman that year was a four-star exception directed by legendary French auteur Max Ophuls and written by Howard Koch, admired even by usually vitriolic critic Pauline Kael.

She was still just 30, but apparently tiring of the Hollywood whirl, her career took a backseat to extracurricular activities: flying, ballooning, golfing, interior decorating — in all of which she proved champion prowess. In 1951, September Affair with Joseph Cotten was a passable “women’s picture” and the last time she was a centrepiece, soon outshone by Elizabeth Taylor, 19, in Ivanhoe. Olivia was in the movie biz for the long haul. By the time she had emerged from the damsel under Errol Flynn’s protective cloak — lastly as Mrs Custer in 1942 — Ann Sheridan had taken over as Warners’ young up-and-comer as the “Oomph Girl”. Soon after, Joan Crawford, a decade or so older, was imported as WB’s grand dame. After a series of weaker ones at WB Olivia, like her career model Bette Davis, went on suspension against Jack Warner to win better roles. As a result, Devotion, made in 1943 about the Brontes and co-starring Ida Lupino and Paul Henreid, wasn’t released until ’46, when she was well clear of the studio.<p>

Out on her own, freelancing, she emulated her sister in winning an Oscar: wartime tearjerker To Each His Own made with flair at Paramount by stylish Mitchell Leisen. She made a decision that must have been a personal breakthrough, to take on unflattering but impressive roles that minimized her beauty to say the least. In The Dark Mirror at Universal she played good and bad twins,¬†one a murderess; at Fox, The Snake Pit as a victim in a mental hospital; and again at Paramount, The Heiress as the homely dupe of young Monty Clift playing a ruthless social climber; she was 34, he was 29. For the last two she won the New York Film Critics award for best actress of 1948 and ’49. She was off the screen for three years, at 35 again daringly playing the older woman coming back opposite Richard Burton, 10 years younger. Though always more popular in stars’ polls, now Olivia had caught up with her sister in theatrical status, effectively surpassed her in outlasting her, and finally relaxed. In real life, she switched husbands and went with the new one to Paris, satiating her acting bug with just occasional roles. In the mid 1960s she emulated Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in turning to grand guignol just short of real horror, Lady in a Cage and Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, replacing the ill Crawford to play opposite Davis in the latter.

As far as I know both still survive approaching a century, and the sibling enmity still glows white hot.

TV REVIEW: Invasion of the CSI Snatchers

In film, television on March 17, 2012 at 2:01 am

You never saw Clark Gable and Gary Cooper together in a movie… Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power… It was a surprise even to see two medium sized stars (as they were in 1942) John Wayne and Ray Milland together in Reap the Wild Wind. It was a waste of resources — Only a Cecil B DeMille extravaganza could afford it. Anyway, the big stars in a similar niche were normally at different studios. John Wayne and Henry Fonda got together just once (Fort Apache); John Wayne and James Stewart ditto (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) but when the rules were relaxed in the Sixties — and suddenly you were allowed to have Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum and Richard Widmark all in the same western, The Way West). In the mid Fifties, after a decade in movies, Burt Lancaster finally had enough cred to appear with a major figure of the older generation in decline: Gary Cooper (in Vera Cruz), then Clark Gable (in Run Silent, Run Deep) — but as the junior partner in both.<p>

There’s a photo that’s always fascinated me, one taken in 1949 by Life magazine visiting the MGM studio, in slowly dimming twilight after a quarter century of unquestioned dominance in movies. All the stars had been ordered to turn up dressed in character costume and here they were lined up in rows like for a school photo — 58 star names of the time with the lovely Lassie front & center. Tracy and Hepburn are at opposite sides looking blase; Sinatra dangerous; Ricardo Montalban and Angela Lansbury to name just two much better known on tv decades later. One’s gaze is drawn to four figures at the center of the second row, directly above Lassie. Of these all-time greats, far right is Judy Garland, then Ava Gardner; next to her Clark Gable, then Errol Flynn. Broad-shouldered Gable, 48, looks his smiling self, as ever. Flynn, about to turn 40, looks dressed for Soames Forsyte, his temples greyed for the occasion and looking conflicted for the character.<p>

Or was it that? What on earth did Gable and Flynn find to say on meeting for the first (and probably only) time as they sat next to each other? — What’s your score? Flip you for a date with Ava? Or purely professional on the finer points of acting the hero on screen, or Tilt your head — your left side is your best. Flynn happened to be there on a one-off loan from Warner Bros, and was earning at least as much as Gable who traded earnings for the minders, personal care and other perks MGM afforded. Had Gable said something belittling to the younger man, turning slightly away and looking somewhat indignant? Gable had been nearly 20 years the hunk of Hollywood, only now starting to make way for Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, and still had another dozen years of popular films in him. Both were men’s men, but Flynn, for 15 years already the head Hollywood Pretty Boy along with Robert Taylor and Tyrone Power, was fading. He was apparently emotionally damaged: as a child by a cold mother, then ridiculed as a walking penis — “In like Flynn” — taking on teenagers, then for not going off to the war (he had a secret heart condition) despite what his movies said. Vastly underrated in the official popularity polls, he was one of the very few megastars through the second half of the thirties and most of the forties whose studio could spend a massive $2 million “negative cost” on his movies (and more millions on worldwide distribution and promotion), which he usually carried alone (with secondary help from Olivia De Havilland or no help from a minor leading lady) time and again and be certain of coming away with a profit. Taking to drink and drugs, he was nonetheless an icon and his name still meant something substantive on the marquee till his death 10 years later.<p>

Now it wouldn’t be a surprise to see George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Kevin Bacon, Jeff Goldblum and Al Pacino all together in a movie — combined summoning about half the star power of Gable alone on the screen. But my beef isn’t primarily with them this time.<p>

It is, in particular, with the performances of Gary Sinise and William Petersen — and those of the entire cast of Criminal Minds (except for the guy who used to be in Dharma & Greg). I’ve always wondered why actors capable of absolutely rivetting, diverse characterisations in their movies are so very, very BORING in their tv shows. It must take one hell of an effort for people so obviously talented to neuter their characters to such a degree. And for why? And now we have Laurence Fishburne, Ted Danson, Tim Roth and that blond young Canadian actor with the constant simper, somehow ‘starring’ in his own series, to add to the list. That makes how many leading actors in movies who, for my money, are absolutely wasted on television. Some of the most vapid leading men of the “Golden Age of Hollywood” — and they know who they are by reputation — John Boles, Walter Pidgeon, George Brent — couldn’t be as wooden if they tried.

Either the writer/creator has written these intelligent, scientific types as cold fish with no visible personalities. Or there is an overriding philosophy in television acting today that says only robots in action movies are allowed to display marked emotion — otherwise tone it down to non-acting, walking through a scene. This was obvious as I watched a scene in Criminal Minds last night — and don’t say, You have to watch more than one scene! Any person with taste and discernment doesn’t have to watch more than that to see what is going on. I’ve always thought the way the group scenes in this series are written is ludicrous. Each one gets one line to say, then they all leave at the same time, like the heroes in Scooby Doo, to take on their tasks. The young walking encyclopedia with the stupid hair (again, he couldn’t get it that wrong by accident — even Einstein had some clues, social nous) sometimes displays more personality than the others, which in itself is very, very scary. I guess he’s based on Shaggy from Scooby Doo just as that scatterbrained girl back at base with the funny face, hair and outlandish wardrobe (there’s one too in one of the CSIs) comes from that little roundish girl in the original cartoon. They haven’t managed a human form of Scooby himself yet in live action, but give them time.

Contrast, say, Monk. It is very well acted and choreographed, and yes, I realise they are going for a light touch and dark humor. This is almost the only genre that American tv gets absolutely right these days (though not as good since Bitty Schram left) and can be seriously ruined, as with many entries in Murder She Wrote. I make exceptions for excellent serial miniseries like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men… each made with more of a feature film sensibility and production values.

Movie Review: Nora Prentiss (WB, 1947)

In film on May 26, 2009 at 10:15 pm

I missed the first 30 minutes of this 100-minute film shown on Turner Classic Movies this afternoon but I doubt if it made any difference. The plot, written by two guys I hadn’t heard of, was a loser in my book but more about that later.

Ann Sheridan: Forties hardnosed glamor at Warners

Ann Sheridan: Forties hardnosed glamor at Warners

The star, Ann Sheridan, was among the sexiest and most popular in Hollywood from the late Thirties (Angels with Dirty Faces, 1938) through Torrid Zone (1940), King’s Row (1942) — she played Ronald “Where’s the other half of me?” Reagan’s devoted fiancee — and the mid Forties. She had been promoted by Warner Brothers as “The Oomph Girl” and by the 1942 Boxoffice magazine poll of movie theater owners across America came in eighth overall among female stars, at her own studio behind only Bette Davis (in first place) and, narrowly, Olivia DeHavilland, and far ahead of the emerging Ida Lupino. She was ahead of MGM’s Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr, Katharine Hepburn, Myrna Loy, Jeanette MacDonald, Ann Sothern and Joan Crawford; Paramount’s Dorothy Lamour, Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard, Madeleine Carroll and Veronica Lake; Fox’s Sonja Henie, Alice Faye and Gene Tierney; RKO’s Joan Fontaine, Barbara Stanwyck and Teresa Wright; Universal’s Irene Dunne and Deanna Durbin; and Columbia’s Jean Arthur and Loretta Young. In real life she was the object of one-sided fisticuffs administered by Errol Flynn to Ann’s husband, Warners stock leading man George Brent (see discussion in Comments) — the result of which was that their marriage lasted one year to the day, and maybe only that long because they wanted to reach a morale-boosting milestone of some kind.

Sexy and capable as she was as a star attraction on screen, Ann didn’t have the overwhelming self-dramatising ability of the studio’s divas, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. She was dropped the year after this film was released — and I hope she didn’t carry the can for this flick because the highly contrived and needlessly convoluted plot made it unsavable. For starters, for a film named Nora Prentiss after her character, she was only a passive victim in the plot — a nightclub singer intent on her career, not the hellraising harridan that Davis or Crawford played and that the studio tried to beef up this film into via hopelessly misleading promotion about how Nora wrecked any man’s life who came within shouting distance of her.

The entire plot turned on the warped predations of a supposedly responsible surgeon and family man — played by Kent Smith with his usual boring adequacy — who on meeting Nora turns into an obsessed, possessive stalker. He leaves his devoted wife and young adorable kids all on the half chance of getting the (admittedly delectable) Ann/Nora, who goes from hardly even luke warm towards him to more and more devoted as he gets more and more violent in his jealous possessiveness of her. To follow Nora to the big city he fakes his own death in a fiery car crash, using the body of a heart patient who’s died on him, and travels to New York to stalk her after she’s given him the push. Even when he viciously, jealously clubs in attempted murder her longtime friend, a nightclub owner played by Robert Alda, she helps him escape.

The whole movie would have been improved immeasurably, out of sight, had it followed a more conventional film noir

Robert Alda: better looking and more suave than his son

Robert Alda: better looking and more suave than his son

outline. The surgeon’s kindly partner should have been played by Alda, thereby eliminating Bruce Bennett from the cast altogether, with Alda becoming suspicious of his partner’s disappearance and tracking him down to save Ann/Nora.

In the end, the wayward surgeon gets a poetic comeuppance when on escaping he crashes and creates his own fiery furnace that transforms him — after miraculous surgery — almost back into his old self, with not a hair singed. A couple of enterprising detectives from the old home town, San Francisco, somehow buy his new identity and come and arrest him — for murdering himself in the original fiery crash. At the trial only his wife recognises him (at least I think she did — this scene was wholly inadequately acted by Rosemary DeCamp) but in an act of misplaced compassion leaves him to his own devices. So does Ann leave him to the chair, after he pleads with her to let him die ‘with honor’, the surgeon’s reputation and that of his family intact. The doleful, long-suffering Robert Alda is left to follow Ann in longshot, ever hopeful of winning her love — when anyone watching this film would have seen right off that he was a more realistic choice for a nightclub singer (fellow professionals choosing from their natural pool of potential mates) — and having looks and suavity and niceness all over the stolid Kent Smith’s self-absorption. Go figger.

The director of all this was Vincent Sherman, who had done some admired films previous to this: mainly Old Acquaintance and Mr Skeffington — but in both he had Bette Davis to work with at her infallible best and in her most glamorous, biggest box-office period. He went on straight after this to a watered-down remake of a better Bette movie, The Letter, again substituting Ann on an inevitable downward slope lumbered with what she had to work with. (Her one bright spot following was I Was a Male War Bride, 1949, with Cary Grant.) And in the early Fifties he made a series of undistinguished melodramas with Joan Crawford, which took her revived career at Warners into steady decline. Leaving Warner Brothers, Sherman was still in demand, at MGM no less, and made the Clark Gable-Ava Garner hit Lone Star; and at the end of the decade, The Young Philadelphians, one of Paul Newman’s lesser efforts.

All in all, Sherman seems to have been the kind of studio director who did better with big screen presences or with a big budget, riding on them — unlike the William Wylers and Michael Curtizes who developed their stars’ images and set the basis of success for the studio.

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