Friday, August 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Fredric March!!

Happy 115th birthday to the incredibly talented Mr. Fredric March, one of my top 10 favorite actors of all-time.  (August 3l, 1897 - April 14, 1975)

Born Ernest Frederick McIntyre Bickel, the two-time Oscar winning (and five-time nominated) Mr. March enjoyed success on both the screen and the stage.  In fact, in addition to his two Academy Awards, his stage performances garnered him a Tony Award on two different occasions.  With a career spanning five decades, Mr. March was an extremely versatile actor, fully capable of light comedy and heavy drama.

Mr. March has the distinction of having 2 of his films on my 10 all-time favorite movies list.  By the very narrowest of margins, The Best Years of Our Lives (reviewed HERE) receives the honor of being my absolute favorite Fredric March film.  A completely awesome movie (with the equally awesome cast of Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, Harold Russell, Virginia Mayo, and Hoagy Carmichael), Best Years is one of the films for which Mr. March won a Best Actor Academy Award.  He was completely stellar in his role...and very worthy of his Oscar win.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Fredric March films are:

2.  Middle of the Night  (with Kim Novak, this is also one of my 10 all-time favorite
     movies---reviewed HERE)

3.  A Star Is Born  (with Janet Gaynor---reviewed HERE)

4.  Death of a Salesman  (with Mildred Dunnock, Kevin McCarthy, and Cameron
     Mitchell---reviewed HERE)

5.  The Desperate Hours  (with Humphrey Bogart)

Just FYI, The Bridges at Toko-Ri is also a very favorite Fredric March film; however, since he is in support there (to William Holden), rather than a leading player, I decided to go with The Desperate Hours instead.

So, Mr. Fredric March, here's to you on your 115th birthday!  You were a sensational actor, and you will always be one of my very favorites.  Thank you for beautifying my life through so many wonderful films, including two which are among my ten favorite movies of all-time.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Waterloo Bridge (5 stars)

In honor of Robert Taylor's August birthday, I decided a re-watch of my favorite of his films was in order.  That film is 1940's Waterloo Bridge, a beautiful Mervyn LeRoy-directed romantic drama which pairs Mr. Taylor with Vivien Leigh.  Tender and touching and very much a tearjerker, Waterloo Bridge is not only my favorite Robert Taylor film, but it has made the jump from being one of my 20 all-time favorite movies to one of my 10 all-time faves.  Though I've reviewed it here before, that was way back when I first started this blog, so in celebration of Mr. Taylor's birthday, I decided to re-work that post a bit.

The story is set in England during the first world war.  Vivien Leigh is Myra, a beautiful ballerina, and Robert Taylor is Roy, a soldier home on brief leave. After a chance meeting in the middle of an air raid, the two fall in love and, in whirlwind fashion, plan to be married.

Unfortunately, before they are able to wed, Roy is called back to the front, and because she had missed a performance in order to bid Roy goodbye at the train station, Myra is fired from her job.  A few months later, Roy is reported as having been killed in battle, and at this news, Myra spirals downward. Devastated by his death, without hope, and now jobless and destitute, she falls into prostitution.

In typical melodramatic fashion, of course, Roy is not dead at all, and he soon returns to town. Myra happens to run into him at the train she is seeking that evening's pickup.

Amazingly, Roy has no idea that Myra is not the innocent girl she once was, and he fully intends to finalize their marriage plans. Alas, though, the shame over what she has become eats Myra alive.

Will Myra tell Roy of her actions during the war? Will it change his feelings for her? Will they get married after all? The answer to all those questions will play out in the remainder of this beautiful, but tragic, film.

This film is a remake of an early 30's film of the same name. I have never seen the original version, only this one, so I cannot compare the two.  If any of you have ever seen the original, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.  This particular film is out on DVD and should be fairly easy to track down.  Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for Monday, November 5th, at 11:45 a.m. (ET).  Do try to catch it if you can.  I completely love this movie and deem it a definite must-see.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Star Is Born (5 stars)

A Star Is Born, from 1937, is a tearjerker romantic drama starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March.  Directed by William Wellman, this touching film features a Max Steiner score and the supporting talents of Alophe Menjou, Lionel Stander, Andy Devine, and May Robson.  William Wellman and Robert Carson picked up the Academy Award for Best Writing, Original Story for their work here.

Fascinated by Hollywood and the moving pictures, North Dakota farm girl, Esther Blodgett (Janet Gaynor), dreams of becoming a famous actress.  Although she gets no support or encouragement for her dream from her father and aunt, Esther vows that she's going to be somebody, and her beloved granny (May Robson) not only validates the longings of Esther's heart, but she gives her the necessary funds to make the move to Hollywood.

With hopes high, Esther sets out to land her first job, but she soon finds out that her chances of making it are 1 in 100,000.  There are just hundreds more actresses than there are parts for.  Undaunted, however, Esther wonders if, perchance, she might be that one.

While on waitress duty at a film director's party, Esther meets film actor Norman Maine (Fredric March).  Though quite popular and famous, Maine's current drinking problems have gotten him into trouble.  While his producer, Oliver Niles (Adolphe Menjou), manages to keep the news of Norman's escapades out of the paper, directors no longer want to work with him due to his unsavory reputation.  Still, though, for Esther, the meeting with Norman is a great boost to her career, as he encourages Oliver to give her a screen test, after which, she is signed by him.

After having her name changed to the more suitable-sounding Vicki Lester, Esther is given the opportunity of a lifetime.  With Norman's current film in need of a female lead, Vicki Lester takes center stage.  In fact, she more than takes center stage---she steals the show. It is Vicki---not Norman---who the critics and public rave about.  It is Vicki's star which begins to rise, while Norman's penchant for drink and his erratic, undependable behavior, cause his star to plummet.

Eventually, Esther and Norman marry, but as Norman spirals ever-further downward, he finds himself unemployable and, thus, doing little more than taking phone messages for his incredibly popular, Academy Award-winning wife.  With one life soaring and another crashing, heartbreak is bound to follow.  How everything plays out is the balance of the film.

A Star Is Born is a beautiful, touching, well-acted film.  Both Janet Gaynor and Fredric March received Academy Award nominations---deservedly so---for their work here.  I'm not overly familiar with Miss Gaynor, having only seen maybe two other of her films; however, I am a huge Fredric March fan, and this is definitely one of my all-time favorite of his films.  Plus, while I think he was a terrific actor and gave many wonderful performances, his portrayal of Norman Maine is definitely one of his best.  (I think his work in Middle of the Night is his most brilliant work, however.)   For his work in Captains Courageous, Spencer Tracy beat out Mr. March for the 1938 Best Actor statue, and much as I love A Star Is Born and Mr. March's portrayal of Norman Maine, I am going to concur with The Academy's choice of Mr. Tracy, as he really was spectacular in Captains Courageous.)  In all, A Star Is Born received seven Academy Award nominations (which garnered one win).  Additionally, the film has a completely wonderful supporting cast.  Plus, it touches my heart and brings me to major tears---and I always love a film which does that!

This film has been remade twice---in 1954, with Judy Garland and James Mason in the lead roles, and in 1976, with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson taking center stage.  I have never seen the 70's film, so I cannot compare that one to the 1937 original, but I have seen the 1954 film, so I will share a few thoughts about that one.  Yes, it is beautiful and glamorous, and, yes, Judy Garland did an amazing job.  For me, though, it dragged on occasion and was about 45 minutes too long.  Because it was so long, I was relieved when it finally ended; therefore, I was only mildly misty-eyed.  It definitely didn't touch me (or bring me to sobs) like the original did.  Also, the Garland/Mason version lacked the sweet tenderness of the original.  Judy Garland never had the innocent air that Janet Gaynor did.  Also, while James Mason was very good in the role of Norman Maine, since I am a huge Fredric March fan and count this among my favorite of his films, Mason just didn't click for me.  If the original A Star Is Born wasn't already a beloved film, I might have enjoyed the remake more.  Definitely try to catch them both and see for yourself which one you prefer.

The film is out on DVD, plus it is available in its entirety on YouTube.  I think it is a must-see.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Above and Beyond (4 stars)

Today is the sixty-seventh anniversary of the day the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan, which, when combined with the bombing of Nagasaki a few days later, would bring an end to the second world war. The dropping of that bomb was a very controversial action, and it is not my intent to debate whether or not President Truman made the right choice by doing so.

What I do want to do is recommend a movie which depicts this action and its effects on the crew involved in it. The movie, Above and Beyond, is from 1953 and stars Robert Taylor and Eleanor Parker. Although it's a Hollywood movie and, therefore, probably saw much license being taken, it does depict the stress and uncertainty felt by the crew dropping the bomb, specifically focusing on the pilot, Colonel Paul Tibbets. Making the decision to go through with that mission was not something he took lightly, nor was it without personal consequences.  Mr. Taylor (as Colonel Tibbets) and Miss Parker (as Mrs. Tibbets) both play their roles to perfection, bringing their characters' very agonized emotions to life brilliantly.

Above and Beyonda wonderful drama with some excellent aerial footage, would make a fabulous discussion piece.  I do believe the film is out on DVD; however, it is also available, in several different parts, on YouTube.  Try to catch it if you can.

(Just FYI, this film could easily have been included when I listed my 5 favorite Robert Taylor films yesterday; I was hard-pressed to determine if this one, Bataan, or Escape would take positions 4 and 5. Ultimately, I chose the other two over this one, but only by the narrowest of margins.  I really like this film and highly recommend it.)

Happy viewing!!!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Happy Birthday, Robert Taylor!!!

Happy 101st birthday to Mr. Robert Taylor---one of my top 10 favorite actors of all-time.  (August 5, 1911-June 8, 1969).

In some ways, Robert Taylor could be my grandfather.  After all, he was born exactly 3 days before my beloved paternal grandfather...both men observed their centenary in August of last year.  I first discovered the incredibly handsome, beautiful-voiced Mr. Taylor in the early 2000's, when my kids and I were doing an in-depth study of the early Christian church, especially focusing on the persecution of the believers.  Of course, that study led to our discovery of the film Quo Vadis, which is how Robert Taylor came into my life.  (At the time, however, I had no idea that he had a long and distinguished movie career or that he would become one of my all-time favorite actors.)

Born with the name Spangler Arlington Brugh, Mr. Taylor had a career which spanned over three decades, including both film and television.  Given the nickname "The Man with the Perfect Profile," this incredibly good-looking man worked with a variety of leading ladies---some of them being Irene Dunne, Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Lana Turner, Eleanor Parker, and---the woman to whom he would be married for twelve years---Miss Barbara Stanwyck.  Their marriage ended in divorce, and a couple years after that, he married Ursula Theiss---a union which produced two children and which lasted until his 1969 death.

My absolute favorite of Mr. Taylor's films is Waterloo Bridge (reviewed HERE).  That beautiful tearjerker, which also stars Vivien Leigh, is one of my ten favorite movies of all-time.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Robert Taylor films are:

2.  Quo Vadis  (with Deborah Kerr)  I think Mr. Taylor is drop-dead gorgeous in this photo.  He improved with age---his pretty-boy looks of the 30's and very early 40's were replaced by an incredibly rugged, masculine handsomeness. (Plus, I'm not a mustache person and far prefer him with his beautiful face clean-shaven.)  And isn't Deborah Kerr completely stunning in this photo?

3.  Magnificent Obsession  (with Irene Dunne)

4.  Bataan  (with Thomas Mitchell, Lloyd Nolan, and a host of others---reviewed HERE)

5.  Escape  (with Norma Shearer)

Sadly, just a couple months shy of his 58th birthday, Mr. Taylor succumbed to lung cancer and departed this world at a relatively young age.  His final resting place is in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.

So, here's to you, Robert Taylor, on your 101st birthday.  You will always be one of my all-time favorite actors, and I am thankful for all the wonderful, beloved-to-me films you made.  And by the way, you had one of the best voices I have ever heard!

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

An Act of Murder (4 stars)

An Act of Murder, from 1948, is a controversial-themed drama starring Fredric March, his wife Florence Eldridge, and Edmond O'Brien.  Featuring Geraldine Brooks in a supporting role, this little-known gem takes a look at the issue of mercy killing.

Hard-nosed judge Calvin Cooke (Fredric March) sits on the bench, having little tolerance for defendants or defense attorneys.  Because of his notoriously unsympathetic attitude towards those convicted of crimes, he has earned the nickname Old Maximum.  Even his daughter, Elly (Geraldine Brooks), feels that he stops being human as soon as he puts on his robe.

Just as Calvin and his wife Kathy (Florence Eldridge, Mr. March's real-life wife of 45+ years) prepare to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, Kathy finds herself having severe headaches, coupled with visual and hearing disturbances and loss of feeling on one side.  Though she has ignored the symptoms for close to a year, she makes an appointment with the family doctor, and in short order, Kathy is diagnosed as having terminal brain cancer.  Several physicians concur that the situation is completely hopeless.

The doctor informs Calvin of Kathy's prognosis; however, he lies to Kathy that she is fine---and he requests that Calvin, also, not tell her the truth of her impending death.  Though the disease will progress rapidly and Kathy will be in a great deal of pain, Calvin arranges the second honeymoon which his wife had been requesting.  On the trip, Kathy takes a dramatic turn for the worse, and Calvin, unable to bear seeing his beloved wife in agony, decides to perform a mercy killing, an action which makes him a lawbreaker and exactly the kind of man for whom he has no tolerance in the courtroom.  Defending him is none other than Dave Douglas (Edmond O'Brien), a defense attorney with whom he often clashes.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

An Act of Murder is a really great, well-acted film, and it handles this controversial issue very well---a bit safely, but very well nonetheless.  Fredric March gives his usual terrific performance.  I really loved his character, and I loved seeing him evolve from a "black and white only" kind of guy to one who realizes that there are sometimes gray areas.  As one who has previously held tenaciously to "black and white only," but who has found that there are, indeed, gray areas, I could really empathize with and relate to Mr. March's character.   I was moved by this film and found myself getting teary-eyed on more than one occasion.   I think the fact that the real-life Mrs. Fredric March was the wife in this film probably made the situation that much more personal and real, as I felt like I was witnessing Mr. March's actual response to the terminal illness of the woman he loved.  Edmond O'Brien was very solid and capable in his role---actually, I've never seen him give anything but a quality performance.  Finally, since An Act of Murder deals with a very controversial subject---which is still greatly debated today---it makes a great discussion piece kind of film.  I think it's a definite must-see!

The film is not out on DVD, nor is it on the TCM schedule; however, it is available on YouTube.  Try to catch it there if you can.

Happy viewing!!

My August Agenda

With so many things going on right now, blogging has, by necessity, taken a back-burner. To my disappointment, I found I didn't adequately showcase Barbara Stanwyck and James Cagney in July, nor did I do a birthday tribute post for #2 gal Susan Hayward back in late June.  I can't promise that August is going to be much better; however, when I am able to blog, these two men---two of August's birthday boys---will be my emphasis.

Robert Taylor

and Fredric March

Both Mr. Taylor and Mr. March are firmly entrenched among my top 10 favorite actors; in fact, they occupy slots 9 and 10.  They often flip-flop with one another, and either of them may occasionally wrestle the #8 position from Tyrone Power.  All that to say, both men are very dear to my heart, and I look forward to showcasing them (as I am able) this month.  I hope you'll join me and perhaps discover some of their lesser-known films.