Saturday, February 25, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Barbara Stanwyck

Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) was one of the greatest movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age. She starred in many classic films, including the Pre-Code classic Baby Face (1933), Stella Dallas (1937), The Lady Eve (1941), and Double Indemnity (1944) to name a few. She became a major TV star portraying Victoria Barkley on the hit series The Big Valley (1965 – 1969). Find out how much you know or don’t know about this legendary actress.

1. Stanwyck (born Ruby Stevens) was orphaned at the age of four. She and her older brother Byron spent their childhood in and out of foster homes.

2. She was a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies during the 1922 and 1923 seasons.

3. Her big break came on Broadway playing a chorus girl in The Noose (1926); this is when she became Barbara Stanwyck.

4. The next year, Stanwyck was the toast of Broadway for her starring role in Burlesque (1927).

5. Oscar Levant introduced Stanwyck to her first husband, Frank Fay.

Stanwyck, director Mitchell Leisen, and Fred MacMurray on the set of  Remember the Night (1940)

6. As Stanwyck’s star rose, Fay’s fell. Many believe their disintegrating marriage was the inspiration for the original film version of A Star Is Born (1937).

7. Zeppo Marx was Stanwyck’s manager and he along with Stanwyck and his first wife, Marion Benda, owned a thoroughbred horse farm called Marwyck.

8. In 1944 she was the highest paid woman in the United States.

9. She was nominated four times as Best Actress, but never won a competitive Oscar; she was awarded a special Academy Award in 1982.

10. Producer Earl Hamner Jr. originally wanted Stanwyck to play Angela Channing in the hit TV series Falcon Crest.

Looking for more information on this screen legend, check out A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907- 1940 by Victoria Wilson.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Chicago Film Club field trip: “All About Eve” March March 5 at ShowPlace ICON at Roosevelt Road

Where: ShowPlace ICON, 150 W. Rosevelt Road, Chicago, IL 60605
When: March 5, 2017
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald
Run Time: 2 hours 30 minutes

From the moment she glimpses her idol on Broadway, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) strives to upstage Margo Channing (Bette Davis). After cunningly stealing Margo’s role, Eve disrupts the lives of anyone close to the actress in this timeless cinematic masterpiece. With its witty dialogue and knockout performances, the film earned a record 14 Oscar® nominations* and also features Marilyn Monroe in an early supporting role.

*1950: Best Picture (won), Supporting Actor (George Sanders, won), Costume Design (B&W, won), Directing (won), Sound Recording (won), Screenplay (won), Actress (Anne Baxter), Actress (Bette Davis), Supporting Actress (Celeste Holm), Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), Art Direction (B&W), Cinematography (B&W), Film Editing, Music (Score).

You can buy your ticket in advance by clicking here or purchase at your local theatre.

First-timers, look for me holding a Meetup sign below.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Blah Blah Land

La La Land, written and directed by Damien Chazelle has achieved enormous critical and commercial success. How and why is a mystery to me. For a musical, it has no memorable songs, with the exception of “City of Stars,” which I quickly forgot ten minutes after leaving the theater. And that big opening dance number? It was okay, but I can name production numbers from a dozen movie musicals from the 1950s that would put it to shame.

What’s it about?
The movie is about an aspiring actress (Emma Stone) and musician (Ryan Gosling). The two meet by chance and fall in love in Los Angeles. Stone works at a coffee shop on the Warner Brothers lot, going to auditions in between making lattes. When we meet Gosling, he’s playing piano at a restaurant, but yearning to open a jazz club. Eventually both achieve their career goals, but travel down different paths in the process.

Appealing performances
One thing that La La Land has going for it is Stone and Gosling, two very appealing performers. Both are likeable and believable and work well together. Neither can really sing nor dance, although I found their singing pleasant enough. The plot isn’t particularly original, but there are really no original plots anymore and some of the best musicals are very thin in that area anyway.

Cinemascope, but not Cinemascope
The movie opens with a partial image of the Cinemascope logo in black and white in the old Academy film ratio. The screen eventually expands to reveal the complete logo in color. The film was shot in Panavision, but the credits say “presented in Cinemascope” with the logo from that old widescreen process. Cinemascope was developed in 1953 and abandoned in 1967 for the aforementioned Panavision. Not sure what Chazelle was going for with this allusion (at one point Stone and Gosling go to see a screening of Rebel Without a Cause, which was shot in Cinemascope), but he does a good job making Los Angeles look beautiful and intriguing.

Dancing or gymnastics?
As a movie musical it’s pretty weak. Like I already mentioned, the songs aren’t memorable. The choreography, with the exception of the opening number is pretty bland. There’s no ease or naturalness to Stone and Gosling as a dancing couple. I mean, they dance like a couple who met at a wedding. Good enough for a waltz or two, but a movie musical? And that opening number was fun, but was it really dancing? It seemed more like a cheerleading competition—not that there’s anything wrong with that—than a true dance routine.

La La Land wasn’t boring or the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but a groundbreaking musical it’s not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pre-Code Classic "Baby Face" at Daystar Center February 18

“Stanwyck on State Street” Film Series: Baby Face
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street, Chicago, IL
When: February 18, 2017
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

Baby Face (1933) was the Pre-Code Hollywood film that helped usher in the Production Code. Very frank for its time, the plot concerns one Lily Powers (Barbara Stanwyck) and her attempts to use sex to advance her social and financial status. After her father’s death, Lily leaves her home in Erie, Pennsylvania, for New York City. She lands an entry-level job at a bank by flirting with the assistant to the personnel director.

From this small job, she climbs the ladder by using the men who employ her. Along the way she has an affair with Jimmy McCoy Jr. (a very young John Wayne), but soon casts him aside when she seduces his boss. When the grandson of the company’s founder, Courtland Tenholm (George Brent) is elected president, Lily’s plans go in another direction.

This early Stanwyck film is an example of what movies were like before the studio-lead Production Code went into effect in 1934.

Theresa Harris and Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face

This film is part of the “Stanwyck on State Street” series.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Jeanne Crain

Jeanne Crain (1925 - 2003) was one of the most popular movie stars during the 1940s. She received more fan mail during World War II than any other star, except Betty Grable. A teenage beauty queen, she signed a long-term contract with Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943. Crain worked there exclusively until she was released from her contract in 1953. She was a favorite of studio head Darryl F. Zanuck until her constantly being pregnant kept her from starring in movies he chose for her.

1. She was born in Bartsow, California on May 25, 1925.

Jeanne Crain with Darryl Zanuck and his children Richard and Darrylin
2. While still in high school she auditioned for Orson Welles for a part in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). She didn’t get the part, Anne Baxter did.

3. She had a bit part (unbilled) in The Gang’s All Here (1943) starring Alice Faye and Carmen Miranda.

4. Home in Indiana (1944) was the film that introduced Crain to American filmgoers.

5. She appeared in several musicals, but always had her voice dubbed. Vocalist Louanne Hogan most frequently dubbed for Crain.

6. She and her husband, Paul Brinkman, had seven children plus a pet lion.

Crain with her pet lion

7. She was an excellent figure skater and got to show off her skills in the movie Margie (1946).

8. Bette Davis’s character in The Star (1952) describes and points out Crain’s house on Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills while riding in a car.

9. She was on the cover of Life Magazine twice: in 1946 for Margie and in 1949 for Pinky, for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Academy Award.

10. Crain lost out on playing Eve Harrington in All About Eve (1950) because she was pregnant. Anne Baxter got the role and the rest, as they say, is history.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Deanna Durbin in “First Love” #OCanadaBlogathon

This is my third time participating in the O Canada blogathon. It’s also my third time writing about Deanna Durbin. If you visit my blog, you’ll realize that my love for Durbin runs deep. She was an international star who had the largest fan club in the world during her heyday. First Love was a milestone in Durbin’s career. It showed Durbin as a maturing young woman showcasing her first taste of romance. Loosely based on the Cinderella tale, First Love is a coming-of-age sweet romance.

The Plot
Durbin plays Connie Harding an orphan who we meet on her graduation day from Miss Wiggins’s boarding school for girls. After graduation she goes “home” to New York to live with relatives, the Clinton family, who don’t seem to care for her. They don’t even come to her graduation, but instead send a butler to pick her up. Sad and unhappy, Connie has nothing in common with the Clinton’s beautiful, socialite daughter, Barbara. In fact, Barbara despises Connie—and pretty much any female who she feels is competition—and seems to take pleasure in humiliating her at every opportunity. The rest of the Clinton family includes Uncle Jim (Eugene Paulette), Aunt Grace (Leatrice Joy), and Cousin Walter (Lewis Howard). The Clintons, in all their quirkiness somewhat resemble the Bullock family from My Man Godfrey (1936). Ironically, Eugene Paulette was the hapless father in that classic too.

Marcia Mae Jones and Deanna Durbin on graduation day
Barbara the bully
Barbara bullies Connie into helping her get the attention of Ted Drake (Robert Stack), a handsome young heir who all the debutantes in New York City are after. Connie makes a fool of herself, keeping Ted occupied at his country club while Barbara hurries to join his riding party after oversleeping. Connie is smitten by Ted almost immediately, but feels he’s out of her league. The Drake family is hosting a ball that the Clintons and other New York City socialites will be attending. When Connie gets invited to the ball, she can hardly believe it. The servants pull together and buy her a dress and new shoes. Her dreams of having a proper evening with Ted are dashed when Barbara concocts a lie about some relative coming to visit the evening of the ball. She suggests Connie stay home to greet him, which her Aunt Joy seconds. Connie is crushed. But the servants have a plan for her to get to the ball.

Robert Stack and Durbin
Six white motorcycles
The servants concoct a plan the keep Barbara, Walter, and Mrs. Clinton from getting to the ball until after midnight. Connie is escorted to the ball by six police officers riding white motorcycles (one of the servant’s brothers is a cop). She even gets to ride in the Commissioner’s car! The butler (Charles Coleman) informs her that she needs to be home before midnight (just like Cinderella). At the ball, Connie, in a comical scene, is accidentally introduced as the singing entertainment. Her performance is a huge hit with the crowd. Her beautiful singing gets the attention of Ted, who asks her to dance. The two dance and talk the night away losing all track of time. Connie reveals that she was the girl that delayed him at the country club, which seems to intrigue Ted all the more. Ted tells Connie that he’ll be leaving for South America in a few weeks to carve out a life of his own. It’s at this point that the two kiss. While the two are caught up in the moment, Connie realizes that it’s after midnight. Remembering the butler’s warning, Connie runs away from Ted, losing her shoe in the process (more shades of Cinderella). While she is leaving, the Clintons show up. Barbara sees Ted holding a shoe and also spies a young woman she thinks looks like Connie leaving the ball. After a few more queries, Barbara is convinced that Connie is the girl everyone at the ball is talking about. So convinced is she that she rushes home to make sure. At first Barbara thinks she may be mistaken when she bursts into Connie’s room to find her asleep in bed. But when she spies a discarded shoe on the bedroom floor that is the match to the one she saw Ted holding, she rips the bed covers off revealing Connie dressed in her ball gown.

Stack and Durbin at the ball
Connie is reunited with her prince
Barbara tells Connie that Ted knew who she was all along and was just playing her for a fool. Connie is so hurt and humiliated that she packs her bags and takes the first train back to Miss Wiggins’s boarding school. She’s decided that she wants to become a teacher at the school. Miss Wiggins (Kathleen Howard) tries to talk Connie out of it by telling her, in the most unflattering terms, what the life of a spinster teacher is like. Connie doesn’t like what she hears, but she agrees to stay on. Miss Wiggins has Connie sing “Un bel di” from Madame Butterfly to make the spinsters cry. She tells her, “spinsters are only happy when they cry.” While Connie is singing the aria, Ted walks in with the missing shoe. When Connie sees Ted standing at the back of the recital hall, she falters a bit and then stops singing to run into Ted’s arms. A happy ending or as the screen tells us, “They lived happily ever after,” just like Cinderella!

Backstory: First Love is a delightful movie. It is successful in part because of Deanna Durbin’s winning on-screen personality and the wonderful supporting cast. The film was an important milestone in Durbin’s career. With five hit films under her belt as a juvenile star, Durbin was growing up right before the eyes of the American public. The year before, Durbin won a special Juvenile Academy Award. Would the public accept this older, more mature Durbin?

Durbin and Stack on the Universal lot during the filming of First Love

This film was also a milestone for Robert Stack. It was his first film and he got to give Durbin her first screen kiss. The publicity around this event was extraordinary. “The kiss heard around the world” was the word from the press. Durbin was so popular all over the world during the late 1930s. Anne Frank had a picture of Durbin and Stack from First Love on her bedroom wall in the family’s hiding place in Amsterdam; it’s part of the museum to this day. Durbin’s fan club was the largest of any star during her heyday.

Universal seriously considered filming First Love in Technicolor. Although it’s black and white cinematography by Joseph A. Valentine is superb—he was nominated for an Academy Award—this movie would have been wonderful in color.

Director Henry Koster, Durbin, and Producer Joe Pasternak

This was Durbin’s fourth film directed by Henry Koster—she had made only six films thus far—and produced by Joe Pasternak, the two men most responsible for Durbin’s screen success.

In Stack’s autobiography, Shooting Straight (1980), he relates that he auditioned for First Love with Helen Parrish, who Stack thought was “a beautiful girl.” Speaking of Parrish, this was her third Durbin film. She was her nemesis in Mad About Music (1938) and her older sister in Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939). Durbin and Parrish may have been antagonists on the screen, but the two were reportedly best friends in real life.

Other actors that frequently appeared in Durbin films include Marcia Mae Jones (Mad About Music, Nice Girl?), Charles Coleman (Three Smart Girls, Three Smart Girls Grow Up, It Started with Eve), Mary Treen (Three Smart Girls Grow Up), Kathleen Howard (Three Smart Girls Grow Up), Thurston Hall (Three Smart Girls Grow Up, Lady on a Train, Up in Central Park), Eugene Paulette (One Hundred Men and a Girl, It’s a Date), Samuel S. Hinds (It’s a Date, Spring Parade, Hers to Hold, Lady on a Train), Lucille Ward (It Started with Eve), Frank Jenks (One Hundred Men and a Girl).

Not so trivial trivia: Mary Treen and Samuel S. Hinds found screen immortality by appearing in the Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

This post is part of the O Canada Blogathon, hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings . Click here to check out the other great posts in this annual blogathon.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About Dana Andrews

Dana Andrews (1909 – 1992) was a major movie star during the 1940s and 1950s. He had major roles in several classic films, including Laura, State Fair, A Walk in the Sun, and The Best Years of Our Lives. He starred on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw, replacing Henry Fonda. He guest starred on numerous television shows and headlined the daytime soap opera Bright Promise (1969 – 1971). For many years he struggled with alcoholism, which damaged his career during the 1950s. He eventually got sober and was active with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

1. He was born Carver Dana Andrews in Mississippi, the third of 13 children.

2. He was a popular actor at the famed Pasadena Playhouse where he once carried a spear in a     production of Julius Caesar.

3.     He was under contract to both Samuel Goldwyn and Twentieth Century-Fox, an unusual arrangement during the days of the major Hollywood studios.

4.    Andrews appeared in five films with Gene Tierney: Tobacco Road, Belle Starr (both 1941), Laura (1944), The Iron Curtain (1948), and Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney kiss in Laura.

5.     A trained opera singer, Andrews had his singing voice dubbed in the musical State Fair (1945), costarring Jeanne Crain.

6.    Speaking of Jeanne Crain, she and Andrews starred in four movies together: State Fair, Duel in the Jungle (1954), Madison Avenue (1961), and the cult classic Hot Rods to Hell (1967).

7.    He was director Otto Preminger’s favorite leading man. He made more films with Andrews than with any other actor: Laura, Fallen Angel (1945), Daisy Kenyon (1947), Where the Sidewalk Ends, and In Harm’s Way (1965).

8.    The disaster movie parody Airplane! (1980) got most of its material from Zero Hour! (1957) Starring Andrews and Linda Darnell.

Linda Darnell (far left) and Dana Andrews (far right) try to land a commercial airliner in Zero Hour!

9.     Actor Steve Forrest, best know for his role as Lt. Hondo Harrelson in the television series S.W.A.T., is Andrews’s younger brother.

10.   He was never nominated for an Academy Award.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dana Andrews, I recommend you check out the biography Hollywood Enigma: Dana Andrews by Carl Rollyson.

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