Tuesday, May 16, 2017

TCR Celebrates National Classic Movie Day, May 16.

The Committee Room wishes you a Happy National Classic Movie Day! To celebrate classic movies, TCR is taking part in the Five Stars Blogathon, hosted by Classic Film and TV Cafe.

Five Stars Blogathon participants list five of their favorite classic-era stars and offer a brief explanation as to why these stars are favorites. In putting together its list, TCR chose to move past stardom's top, instantly recognizable folks (the level depicted in the illustration above) and give a nod to five less exalted but highly deserving performers. Perhaps reflecting their B list status, all of TCR's favorites may be best known more for their work on television than on the big screen.

The Committee Room's Five Favorites List (in alphabetical order)

Joan Bennett in The Reckless Moment (1949)
Joan Bennett  -- The more you live, the more you learn. The more Joan Bennett movies you see, the more you're struck by how consistently good she is. Bennett, a far better actress than her more glamorous sister Constance, did her best work in film noir where her no-nonsense, I don't care if you don't like me manner made her an unsettling presence. This vaguely scary quality also stood Bennett in good stead in the hokey Gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows on TV in the 1960s. Recommended film: The Reckless Moment (1949), a great little film noir with Bennett as an ordinary suburban mom trying to protect her daughter from a murder rap.

James Garner -- Handsome leading men can have a sense of humor. Are you reading this Ryan Gosling? Alas, probably not. The genial Garner was a TV star who became a movie star (a pioneer traveler on this now well-trodden career path) then returned to TV which was probably his true home. Unlike the lunky and stiff Rock Hudson or the aging sophisticates Cary Grant and David Niven, Garner was a leading man you could actually believe Doris Day was married to. Recommended film: Grand Prix (1966), a beautifully filmed in Europe tale of Formula One drivers. Garner at his movie star apogee.

Monday, May 15, 2017

TCR on Film: An Interview with Mark A. Vieira, author of "Into the Dark -- The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950."

In the excellent new book Into the Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941 -1950  (Running Press, 2016) veteran author Mark A. Vieira uses first hand accounts to take readers back to the 1940s. Instead of latter day critical analysis, we get reviews and comments from the film noir era along with the reminiscences of performers, including noir specialists Jane Greer and Claire Trevor, and other personnel who were part of the film noir world.

"I determined that film noir truly began in 1941 by reading Los Angeles Times articles of the period," Vieira explained to The Committee Room. "They cited Citizen Kane and The Maltese Falcon as the first of the 'hard-boiled' trend."

As Vieira points out in Into the Dark, the term film noir was unknown to those who made these films. The term was coined by a French critic in 1946 to describe the large number of crime thrillers and murder dramas coming out of Hollywood but did not come into general use until the 1970s when these stylish films were rediscovered by a new generation of critics and moviegoers.

Dick Powell and Claire Trevor in
Murder, My Sweet (1944).
And what exactly makes a film noir? "The criteria are straightforward," Vieira told TCR. "A film noir protagonist must be (1) alienated, (2) obsessed, and (3) doomed. Of course you can point to Murder, My Sweet. Detective Phillip Marlowe exhibits none of these qualities. But everyone in the film does! So it qualifies."

A few of the eighty-two films covered in Into the Dark were generously budgeted pictures based on bestselling novels such as Leave Her to Heaven (1945), shot by Twentieth Century-Fox in state of the art Technicolor. The vast majority, however, were modest productions with literary origins in pulp fiction. RKO, the smallest and most cash-strapped of the major studios of the classic Hollywood period, has the strongest representation in Into the Dark with seventeen entries including one of the progenitors Citizen Kane along with a film that is often seen as perhaps the noir-est of noirs, Out of the Past (1947), featuring a young Robert Mitchum as a private eye double-crossed by a shady businessman's girlfriend. "RKO was willing to do more film noirs because the films could be made quickly and cheaply, including the purchase of the story," Vieira told TCR.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

TCR on Film: "Unsinkable: A Memoir" by Debbie Reynolds

In tribute to the late Debbie Reynolds, one of the last stars produced by the old Hollywood studio system, The Committee Room takes a look at her memoir Unsinkable (William Morrow, 2013).

In the preface to Unsinkable, Reynolds mentions her first book, Debbie: My Life (William Morrow, 1988), written when the actress was in her fifties and, it would seem, still had a lot of living left to do.  "I can't believe how naive I was when I wrote it," Reynolds in Unsinkable says of the earlier book. She explains that at the time she was writing the first book she was in what she believed was a happy marriage to her third husband, a Virginia real estate developer named Richard Hamlett.

In Unsinkable, Reynolds offers a detailed portrait of Hamlett as a handsome, smooth-talking scoundrel who, she maintains, cold-heartedly entered into marriage with the intention of swindling her. The first third of the book is Reynolds' painstaking and angrily told account of how Hamlett's unscrupulous behavior led to the bankruptcy of her Las Vegas hotel, a venture which she hoped would provide a regular venue for her talents along with a steady income. Consequently, in Unsinkable there is much talk, perhaps too much talk, of lawyers and property deeds and promissory notes.

Bankruptcy auction, Debbie Reynolds hotel, Las Vegas, 1998
 (photo/Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
After her movie career dried up in the late 1960s, Reynolds focused on her nightclub act. Reading Unsinkable, one gets the feeling that variety entertainment -- song and dance, jokes, imitations -- before live audiences was the ebullient Debbie's first love and true calling, not the isolated world of movie acting. Hollywood stardom was just an avenue to being famous enough to sell out a Vegas showroom or some regional auditorium. Anywhere she was wanted. Despite serious health issues in her later years, Reynolds continued to perform concert dates up to just a few months before her death.

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher, 2011.
(Photo: Jason LaVeris/Film Magic)
Reynolds' famous offspring, the writer/actress Carrie Fisher, contributes the foreword to Unsinkable. She calls her mother "a good person, a kind person -- which would be a fine thing if these were the qualities that are consistently rewarded. But as most of us know, they are not." Media coverage of the recent deaths of Fisher and Reynolds, which occurred one day after the other, made much out of their mother-daughter bond. However, Carrie is only briefly mentioned in Unsinkable. It is Reynolds' not famous child, Todd Fisher, a sometime director and lighting designer, who stalwartly stands at his mother's side through the tribulations detailed in the book. Todd plays a major role in her business affairs -- rather reluctantly on his part, it seems. The dutiful son escapes to his ranch in Northern California whenever possible.