Tag Archives: 1960s

The Curse of Elvis? You Be the Judge

One would think that getting a leading lady gig in a 1960s Elvis Presley movie would lead to something.  However, if the actress in question hadn’t already started her cinematic career and had some buzz, appearing with Elvis didn’t amount to much.  Naturally talent, a competent agent, persistence and luck played their part in achieving and maintaining stardom, whether or not you were in an Elvis film.

Those who failed or perhaps were not fanatical about their careers enough to leverage their presence in an Elvis vehicle into long-term, big-screen stardom included Joan Blackman (Kid Galahad), Blackman and Jenny Maxwell (Blue Hawaii), Laurel Goodwin (Girls! Girls! Girls!), Pamela Austin, Cynthia Pepper (Kissin’ Cousins), Joan Freeman (Roustabout), Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me), Mary Ann Mobley (Harum Scarum), Shelley Fabares (Spinout and Clambake), Pat Priest (Easy Come, Easy Go), Donna Douglas (Frankie and Johnny), Susanna Leigh and Marianna Hill (Paradise, Hawaiian Style), Michele Carey (Live a Little, Love a Little), Annette Day (Double Trouble), Nancy Sinatra (Speedway), and Marlyn Mason (The Trouble with Girls).  It didn’t help that Elvis, who could have done so much more himself, was kept from even trying by his guru, Colonel Parker.  As a result, Elvis’ films became ever weaker as the decade came to a close.

Sometimes there was no expectation of superstardom via Elvis.  Anne Helm was his leading lady in 1962’s Follow That Dream (released in April), but she’d been very busy that year: The Couch (February), The Magic Sword (April), The Interns (August).  (The Swingin’ Maiden was a 1962 British film released in the U.S. in December, 1963.)

In April of this year Ms. Helm responded to a question about Follow That Dream:

I know there were quite a few names up for the part when I tested for it.  I loved the part but really didn’t think I would get it because of some of the names attached to it, one being Tuesday Weld.  I can’t remember the other ones.  I never really thought about future ambitions in those days.  God I was so young.  I think I was more intent on my prince coming along at that time of my life.  My career as an actress was not motivated by a lot of ambition, although I was always glad to be working.  Looking back now I see it all as a grand play unfolding and I just showed up…so happy to be working.  How lucky was I to have played so many different roles.

 

Three actresses not affected positively or negatively by being in a 1960s Elvis movie were Joan O’Brien, Stella Stevens and Ann-Margret.  O’Brien, a successful singer, transitioned into actress and had significant roles on TV and in Operation Petticoat (1959), The Alamo (1960) and It’s Only Money (1962) before playing opposite Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963).  Stevens played opposite Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), but her cinematic career had begun in 1959 and included roles in Li’l Abner, The Blue Angel, and Say One for Me.  She was a Playboy centerfold in 1960 (another venue that rarely led to a significant acting career) and that same year guested on five TV series.  She was on her way and had a solid film career through the decade and beyond (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Nutty Professor, The Silencers, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Slaughter, The Poseidon Adventure).  Like Stevens, before she costarred with Elvis in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret had a big-screen career on the fast track:  Pocketful of Miracles (1961), State Fair (1962), and Bye, Bye Birdie (1963).  She was a multi-talented performer who could hold her own with The King.

Further corroboration that his leading ladies got short shrift is that except for a small frame of the prime cast in Kissin’ Cousins, they did not appear on the cover or reverse of Elvis’ soundtrack albums.  This includes the legendary Barbara Stanwyck (Roustabout).  The King Creole (1958) soundtrack reverse does feature a few black and white photos that include Carolyn Jones.  One can only surmise Colonel Parker demanded every column of space devoted to his protégé.

By Kim

Reference

Anne Helm email to author, April 18, 2017.  Helm made 77 guest appearances on 1960s TV series, from Route 66 to Gunsmoke, from Run for Your Life to Hawaii Five-O.  Her pal Yvonne Craig, who in addition to her role in Elvis’ Kissin’ Cousins briefly appeared at the beginning of his It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), also had over 70 guest starring roles on 60s TV, including her stint as Batgirl on Batman.

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by | July 10, 2017 · 3:08 pm

The Oh-So-Few Hollywood Feminist Films of the 1960s

For a 2016 film display I was asked to identify feminist films made in the 1960s.  As I began my investigation I realized there were very few such items from the Hollywood studios, at least those with overt feminist leanings.  This seemed odd in light of what transpired on-screen and off during that decade of turmoil.  Societal protests were at their peak during the Vietnam war years.  Among the protesters were women seeking equal rights and peace.  However, their protests came late in the 60s and in the early 70s:  the Miss America Protest (September 1968), the New York Abortion Speakout (March 1969), the Ladies’ Home Journal Sit-In (March 1970), and the Women’s Strike for Peace and Equality (August 1970).

Likewise, the feminist-oriented movie did not gather steam until the 1970s, with such films as Diary of a Mad Housewife (1970), Puzzle of a Downfall Child (1970), Play It As It Lays (1972), A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974), and An Unmarried Woman (1978).  In a backwards, anti-feminist or possibly satirical way, 1975’s The Stepford Wives might deserve inclusion.

Perhaps we can surmise that there were some 1960s films with a feminist subtext:   The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964), The Ballad of Josie (1967), Rachel, Rachel (1968), The Happy Ending (1969), and Sweet Charity (1969).  Molly Brown might be ignored on the grounds that it appeared before the Vietnam conflict became a quagmire, with the resulting minority, student, and women’s protests.

The Ballad of Josie was on the cusp of the revolution.  In the guise of a western, this was Doris Day’s fourth from last film.  She played a woman who accidentally kills her husband and is put on trial.  Acquitted, she nevertheless fuels male anger by herding sheep, not cattle, and launching a women’s suffrage movement.

The following year, Rachel, Rachel starred Joanne Woodward as an increasingly dissatisfied small-town school teacher living with her belittling mother.  During the summer break, Rachel has a fling with a former classmate, attends a revival meeting, and rebuffs her friend Calla’s possibly amorous advances.  In the end she plans to leave Connecticut, with or without her mother, for a new life in Oregon.  Her husband Paul Newman directed Woodward to an Academy Award nomination, and the film received a Best Picture nomination as well.

The Happy Ending (1969) was the story of a marriage gone south.  Mary, a disillusioned and alcoholic wife of 16 years (Jean Simmons, who received an Academy Award nomination) flees her home and husband (John Forsythe) for the Bahamas.  On the way she meets her old friend Flo (Shirley Jones), who decides to chaperone her.  In Nassau Mary meets Franco, who believes she is rich and exits when he finds she is anything but.  Mary recalls her husband’s philandering, her overdose and hospital stay, and ensuing drinking binges.  Returning home, she moves out of the house and takes university night courses.  Husband Fred (John Forsythe) finds her and wonders what went wrong with their marriage.

At first glance, 1969’s Sweet Charity seems an unlikely candidate for prime feminist film of the decade.  It’s a big, splashy musical based on the stage play which was itself spawned by Italian director Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957).  Shirley MacLaine plays Charity Hope Valentine, a so-called dancehall hostess, code for prostitute, a term never used in the movie that tried to have it both ways:  musical for everybody, pseudo-cutting edge social commentary for others.  After the disappointing roadshow release, the newspaper ads for the general release promoted the salacious nature of the characters:  “When she’s good, she’s very very good…but when she’s bad…she’s great!” and “They dig the way they live!” and “Swingers All…Men Were Their Business.”

I saw Sweet Charity for the first time as a reserved seat engagement at the Stanley Theater in Philadelphia.  I was surrounded by middle-aged women with Wanamaker bags outraged by the ostensible sacrilegious nature of Sammy Davis, Jr.’s “Rhythm of Life,” sung in a parking garage to his hippie acolytes.  Maybe negative word of mouth from this audience segment was a another reason for the movie’s less than sterling grosses despite the glowing Variety review and immense hoopla of the televised premiere which many celebrities attended, including Gregory Peck and Ronald Reagan.  (The others were the huge production cost and an audience possibly weary of giant musicals despite the great success of the previous year’s Oliver!)

So how was Charity Hope Valentine, who wore a “Charlie” tattoo on her shoulder and kowtowed to men until the film’s finale, a feminist symbol?  A good but super straight Joe, Oscar (John McMartin), almost “saves” her but eventually can’t deal with her past and her floozy girlfriends.  She tries to assuage his fears, but he retorts that he’ll destroy her.  In a heartbreaking response, she says, “But that’s okay.  I’m not doing much now anyway.”  In the end she is where she was at the beginning:  in Central Park, alone.  Awakened on a bench by several “flower children” (including Bud Cort of the forthcoming Harold and Maude) who present her with a daisy and proclaim “Love,” she perks up.  She smiles at the new day, the pigeons overhead, and an aged couple on a bench.  Swinging her purse and shabby suitcase, she leaves the park to rejoin the human race, at peace with herself.  Scrawled across the screen:  AND SHE LIVED HOPEFULLY EVER AFTER.

By Kim

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The Male Star of the 1960s was…Sidney Poitier

Common wisdom marks Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin as the most iconic Hollywood male star of the 1960s.  Also to be considered is Paul Newman, who had an excellent decade, including his “H” movies:  The Hustler, Hud, Harper and Hombre.  However, a little investigation reveals that an actor rarely if ever considered emblematic of the period may have had the best record of quality films, was popular, won awards, and was instrumental in breaking down societal barriers via his persona:  slow to anger, honest, heroic, noble.  This star is Sidney Poitier.  David Shipman wrote, “Over the years the public grew to like and respect and trust him.  Like all the best screen actors he has presence and integrity.”

Poitier was born in Miami to visiting Bahamian parents in 1927.  After returning from the Bahamas to Miami when he was 15, he traveled to New York and joined the American Negro Theatre.  His first Hollywood film was the raw, racially-charged No Way Out (1950).  This was no stretch for 20th Century Fox’s production chief Darryl Zanuck, who’d never been afraid to green light projects other studios considered taboo.  Consider the light focused on downtrodden Okies in The Grapes of Wrath (1941), lynch mob mentality in The Ox-Bow Incident (1943), American anti-Semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947), mental patients in The Snake Pit (1948), and the African American woman passing for white in Pinky (1949).  In No Way Out, Poitier maintained his cool as a doctor treating the bigoted criminal played by Richard Widmark, at whose house he stayed during his early days in Hollywood.  (Contrary to his notable psychopathic gangster roles in the late 40s, Widmark was in reality a milk-drinker, compassionate liberal, and ultra-professional actor.)  When Poitier’s mother and father saw the film, their first, in Nassau, his mother rose to her feet and shouted at the screen when Widmark’s character was pummeling her son:  “Hit him back, Sidney!  Hit him back!  You never did nothing to him!”blackboard-jungle

Poitier’s next major step toward leading man status and stardom was as a high school delinquent in Blackboard Jungle (1955).  Unlike Vic Morrow’s switchblade-wielding creep, Poitier’s character was changed for the better by his teacher, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford).  Shipman wrote, “Poitier looked young enough to play the student,…caught between decency and delinquency.  In that he really made his mark,….”

For 1957’s longshoremen saga, Edge of the City, with John Cassavetes, Poitier was nominated for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.  (He and Cassavetes would co-star again the following year in the British film Virgin Island.)  In 1958 he opposed Rock Hudson in the grim Robert Ruark tale of the Kenyan Mau-Mau uprising, Something of Value.  For The Defiant Ones (1958) with Tony Curtis, Poitier received a number of nominations and awards, winning the BAFTA and Germany’s Silver Bear.  In his second autobiography, The Measure of a Man, he convincingly deciphered the ending, which as often as not caused critics to question its validity.  After this success, who else had the standing to play the lead in the prestigious 1959 Samuel Goldwyn film version of the seminal American stage production, Porgy and Bess?

Thepressure-point 1960s started off with All the Young Men, with Poitier as a Korean war combat soldier.  (President Truman had begun the abolition of segregation in the military with an 1948 Executive Order, two years before the conflict began.)  This was followed by Poitier’s role as Walter Younger in A Raisin in the Sun (1961), a role he’d originated and played on Broadway from 1959 to 1960.  Paris Blues (1961) featured Poitier as jazz musician opposite Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  In 1962’s Pressure Point he was a psychiatrist treating a sociopath played by Bobby Darin.

Poitier re-teamed with Widmark for the 1963 tongue-in-cheek Viking/Moorish saga, The Long Ships.  It was the next film that year that solidified his standing as a major star:  Lilies of the Field.  Poitier won a Best Actor Academy Award for his itinerant handyman helping immigrant nuns build a chapel.

Nineteen-sixty-five bedford incidentwas a banner year.  Poitier was back with Widmark as a correspondent on a U.S. Navy vessel in the 1965 Cold War thriller, The Bedford Incident.  In director George Stevens’ mammoth The Greatest Story Ever Told, he played Simon of Cyrene.  For A Patch of Blue, in which he displayed compassion toward the blind girl played by Elizabeth Hartman, he received various acting nominations.  In The Slender Thread he helped talk Anne Bancroft down from a planned suicide.  Times were changing, and nothing was made of Poitier playing former Buffalo Soldier turned horse breaker helping James Garner stave off an Indian attack in Duel at Diablo (1966).

Nineteen-sixty-seven was even better than 1965 for Poitier, who had three very big hits:  To Sir, With Love, In the Heat of the Night, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?  To Sir putin-the-heat-of-the-night Poitier back in the classroom, but this time in Britain as a teacher, not one of the delinquents as he had been in 1955’s Blackboard Jungle.  Pop singer Lulu had a monster hit with the eponymous title song.  In the Heat of the Night was the Academy Award-winning Best Picture that year, and although Poitier was nominated for the BAFTA, the Golden Globe, and the Laurel Award, Rod Steiger’s portrayal of a tough Southern sheriff who comes to respect Poitier’s Detective Tibbs from Philly received the Academy Award.  (Steiger could easily have won for The Pawnbroker in 1965, but Lee Marvin’s double gunslinger duty in Cat Ballou netted him the statuette.)  Some argued that Poitier was just too perfect to be realistic in Guess, in which his physician character meets for the first time the Draytons (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), the upper middle class parents of his white girlfriend, Joanna (Katharine Houghton).  Others have rebutted this, insisting that Poitier had the gravitas and was the perfect black man to essay the role at the perfect time.  It would be more unrealistic for Joanna to bring home a janitor or cook.  There were stirring monologues, and perhaps the best was Poitier’s counter to his father at the end of a heated discussion:  “You think of yourself as a black man, I think of myself as a man.”  Fears that the film would be shunned in the South were unfounded and it made an astounding $70,000,000 on a $4,000,000 budget.  Poitier’s status was such that his name on the poster came between Tracy and Hepburn.  This triumvirate made Poitier #1 in the Quigley poll of film star popularity for 1968.

Poitier’s sixties closed out with a gentle love story from his own story, For Love of Ivy (1968), and a heist drama, The Lost Man (1969).  He married his co-star from the latter, Joanna Shimkus.

There would be a number of good films to come, but as with most stars, even superstars, there is one period when their films are uniformly excellent, their star shines brightly, and they represent an era.  The Sixties was that for Sidney Poitier.

By Kim

References

Holston, Kim.  Richard Widmark:  A Bio-Bibliography.  Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press, 1990.

Poitier, Sidney.  The Measure of a Man:  A Spiritual Autobiography.  New York:  Harper Collins, 2000.

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years.  Sydney:  Angus and Robertson, 1972.

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1968: Men’s Hats as Symbols of Change

Nineteen-sixty-eight was a tumultuous year.  Students protested the Vietnam war,  women and minorities demanded equal rights, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Timothy Leary was arrested for marijuana possession, Apollo 8 circled the moon, and male movie characters, especially cops and criminals, stopped wearing fedoras.

Having grasped the meaning of foreign competition and the success with the burgeoning youth market of the 1967 films Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate, bonnie-and-clydeHollywood in November, 1968 supplanted the hoary Production or “Hayes” Code with the Motion Picture Association of America system designating movies as G, M, R, and X.  The transition had actually begun earlier in the decade when some movies began to push the envelope.  These included 1964’s The Pawnbroker and 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? whose poster proclaimed, “No One Under 18 Will Be Admitted Unless Accompanied by His Parent.”  That same year the poster for The Group featured “This Picture is Recommended for Adults.”  More often in the next year and a half, “Suggested for Mature Audiences” was the favored notice on posters for adult-oriented films, including the historical burlesque A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Cornel Wilde’s bloody World War II saga, Beach Red (1967); the Audrey Hepburn-Albert Finney romantic comedy-drama Two for the Road (1967);  John Huston’s take on Carson McCullers’ novel of obsession, desire and possibly repressed homosexuality, Reflections in a Golden Eye (1967) with Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando; the tear-jerker Sweet November (1968) with Sandy Dennis and Anthony Newley; and the British post-“kitchen sink” movie, Up the Junction (1968).  “Suitable Only for Adults” graced the ad for another Brit film about the swingin’ sixties, 1968’s Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush.

Little remarked upon then or now, but symbolic of cinematic and societal change, was that the police and criminal elements in 60s films were on a trajectory toward hatlessness.  Four major 1968 films bear scrutiny on this score.  

The Detective was originally a “Suggested for Mature Audiences” movie, but later, apparently for its general release, had the R rating slapped onto the poster.  (Recall that big movies premiered in cities and might not reach suburban and small town theaters for weeks or, if they were successful reserved-seat “roadshows,”e.g., Cleopatra, The Sound of Music, months or even a year later.)

The Detective was joined on coogans-bluffthe screen in ‘68 by three other big crime movies that deserve analysis on their own as well as with the new freedom in mind.  There is subtext revealed by release dates.  Madigan was released in March, The Detective in May, Coogan’s Bluff (“Suggested for Mature Audiences” in the trailer; later rated R), and Bullitt in October.  Besides being crime movies with detectives as protagonists, there were other similarities.  Don Siegel directed both Madigan and Coogan’s Bluff.  Those two films plus The Detective were set in New York City.  Bullitt was set in San Francisco.

The differences were that Madigan starred Richard Widmark, The Detective Frank Sinatra, two stars who’d been around since the 1940s.  Bullitt and Coogan’s Bluff featured two stars who’d served their apprenticeships in the 1950s:  Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood.  Besides a changing of the guard, Bullitt and Coogan’s Bluff featured an escalation in violence and rough language although it was fairly raw in Madigan, and the dead victim’s severed genitals were found (but not pictured) at the initial crime scene in The Detective.

It is fascinating that The Detective and Madigan appeared first—and that Coogan’s Bluff preceded Bullitt.  Rating-wise, it appears that the R appended to both The Detective and Coogan’s Bluff occurred after the initial releases, which were just before the new code took effect.

These four movies of then contemporary subject matter were also consequential for what at first glance might be viewed as a trivial reason.  In time-honored fashion, Sinatra andbullitt Widmark wore hats—fedoras.  In Coogan’s Bluff and Bullitt, Eastwood and McQueen went hatless.  (Eastwood’s Stetson was knocked off when he got to New York, and he was bare-headed when he finally brought down Don Stroud’s Ringerman.  How fascinating and amusing is it that Lee J. Cobb’s veteran chief of detectives still wore his fedora—even when sitting behind his desk!  Cobb’s character represented the past—in the cinema and real life.)  McQueen’s Bullitt had no hat from the get-go.  (And his trenchcoat was beltless.  Compare with Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past.)  When Dirty Harry premiered in 1971, Eastwood’s Harry Callahan wore no hat—fedora or Stetson.  The transition was complete.  In 1971’s The French Connection, Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle did wear a hat, but it wasn’t a fedora, rather a porkpie.  His pal Buddy Russo (Roy Scheider) went hatless.  Move forward to 1997 and observe the faux pas committed by the makers of L. A. Confidential.  None of the detectives wore hats despite a story set in the 1950s.

kiss_of_death_ver3_xlgCinema criminals had also made fedoras the headgear of choice, from The Public Enemy and Little Caesar in the 1930s, to Kiss of Death and Out of the Past in the 1940s, to The Big Combo and Violent Saturday in the 1950s.  However, as the sixties progressed, the bad guys began the transition from hat to hatless.  See, for instance, Lee Marvin in 1967’s Point Blank.  The fedora he sported in Violent Saturday (1955) had become passe.

Fedoras were not the only items of apparel to cease existing in contemporary 1960s films and not make a comeback.  Negligees also disappeared from the screen unless the film was a Gothic.

By Kim

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The Least is the Funniest

Doris Day and Rock Hudson co-starred in three highly successful comedies:  Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers.  The first is generally considered the best.  But is it the funniest?

Pillow Talk (1959)pillow talk tells the tale of a shared telephone line (remember party lines?) on which Jan Morrow (Day) accidentally eavesdrops on the pick-up lines Brad Allen (Hudson) is using on innumerable women.  He eventually learns about his eavesdropper and naturally masquerades as someone else in order to romance her.  Thelma Ritter adds her typical endearing support, and as with the ensuing two films, Tony Randall is an engaging sounding pad and foil.

Lover Come Back (1961) is about advertising “mad men” and a woman.  Jerry Webster (Hudson) competes for accounts with cross-town rival Carol Templeton (Day).  Pretending to be the inventor of the nonexistent VIP, Webster’s ruse falls apart when his boss (Randall) places the seductive Rebel (Edie Adams) in TV commercials for the imaginary product.  A chemist (Jack Kruschen) is hired to come up with something, anything that will prove to the Ad Council that VIP is not a hoax.  The chemist succeeds and Jerry proclaims, “Gentlemen, I give you VIP, a pleasant concoction to be enjoyed by the entire family.”  VIP turns out to be….I won’t give it away.

Send Me No Flowers (1964) features Day and Hudson as a suburban married couple (So much for the myth that she was always the eternal virgin.), Judy and George Kimball.  A hypochondriac, George mistakes for his own a doctor’s chart for another patient and thinks he has a limited time to live.  A noble fellow, he decides to keep Judy in the dark while he hooks her up with an appropriate future husband.  Enter the imposing Clint Walker (of TV’s Cheyenne fame).  send me no flowersSo large of frame is he that he can barely exit his Jaguar.  Hearing of Judy’s travails, he calls her a “brick.”  George retorts, “I’ll tell my wife when she’s a brick!”  When he learns that George is (supposedly) dying, Arnold (Randall) goes on a binge and finds solace in the extreme smoothness of a wooden table top.  George’s weird behavior eventually promotes suspicion in Judy’s mind that he’s having an affair, possibly with Linda Bullard (Patricia Barry).  Arnold tells George to admit his unfaithfulness.  What could go wrong?  Of course it backfires, and in a priceless scene in a train station baggage office Judy grills George, demanding the name of the lady in question. “Dolores,” says he.  She wants a last name, too.   At a loss, George scans the room, his eyes alighting on a park poster of Smokey the Bear.  Thus, “Dolores Yellowstone.”   Send Me No Flowers is a solid mix of sight gags, memorable one-liners, and characters coming to erroneous conclusions.  It benefits from a stable of excellent character actors, including Paul Lynde as a funeral director, Edward Andrews as the doctor, and Hal March as a philanderer.  Chalk up some of its appeal to director Norman Jewison, who the following year helmed The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming.  Credit the writers as well:  Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore, who’d written the play upon which the film is based.

By Kim

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The League of Alternate Superstars: Janet Leigh (1927-2004)

Janet Leigh was the object of desire and murderous rage in a scene that might be equaled but not surpassed in cinema history. She was on the cover of the June 25, 1951 issue of Life.  She was a leading lady throughout the 1950s.  Her resume from 1958 to 1963 was exemplary.  So it is surprising that other than in Ian Haydn Smith’s Movie Star Chronicles (2015), Janet Leigh is rarely included in books about top Hollywood stars.  Even David Shipman’s estimable The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years, which includes Tab Hunter and Louise Fletcher, fails to include her.  Or is Leigh’s omission that odd?  Most stars, even superstars, hardly ever make quality and successful movies for more than a decade.  Some just have better publicity mills, agents and personal managers.scaramouche

Janet Leigh’s screen debut came in The Romance of Rosy Ridge (1947), a successful MGM production. Apparently MGM’s “first lady of the screen” Norma Shearer, although retired, opened the door for her.  Leigh played Meg opposite Elizabeth Taylor, June Allyson and Margaret O’Brien in the MGM remake of Little Women (1949).  In 1951 she married soon-to-be film heartthrob Tony Curtis (divorced 1962).  Soon they were co-starring in the biopic Houdini (1953) and The Prince Who Was a Thief (1954), a typical sword and sandals mini-epic from Universal.  A larger scale and better swashbuckling outing was Scaramouche (1953), in which Leigh co-starred with Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker and Mel Ferrer in a film set at the time of the French Revolution.  In 1954 she encountered Norse marauders in Prince Valiant (“Ooh, father’s right about those blasted Vikings!” she exclaimed.)  She’d find herself even more vexed by those medieval ruffians later in the decade. The Naked Spur (1953) with James Stewart, Robert Ryan, Ralph Meeker and Millard Mitchell was a rough western now regarded as a classic.  Leigh’s hair was cut and she played dirty, refusing to believe Ryan’s character Vandergroat was a killer.   the vikings

Although shooting had started in 1953, RKO’s production head Howard Hughes tampered with it so much Jet Pilot wasn’t released until 1957.  This is probably Leigh’s second oddest movie.  She played a Russian spy cum jet pilot opposite John Wayne. 

Leigh’s golden age began with another introduction to sea rovers in The Vikings (1958).  Filmed on location on and near European shores and castles for Kirk Douglas’ Bryna Productions, this rousing adventure is one of the few serious feature films about the infamous medieval Scandinavian seafarers.  Janet played Morgana, captured by Kirk Douglas’s Einar and saved in the nick of time by Erik (husband Tony).

The same year found her in what is generally regarded as the last entry in film noir’s golden era, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958).  Leigh was Charlton Heston’s much put upon wife, kidnapped and sequestered in a motel (!) managed by a goofy manager (!) played not by Anthony Perkins but by Dennis Weaver.Perfect Furlough

The Perfect Furlough was also 1958 and again Leigh co-starred with husband Tony. It was a typical service comedy of the era.  (See also Imitation General, Don’t Go Near the Water, It Started with a Kiss, Operation Mad Ball).

In Who Was That Lady? (1960) Janet played Curtis’ wife who thought he was having an affair.  Dean Martin made things worse with his loopy advice, and the FBI and Soviet spies muddied the waters.  Looking back, the subtext might be Cold War paranoia.  It’s a hoot.

Psycho (1960) was unusual in many ways.  Director Alfred Hitchcock used his TV crew, filmed in black & white, and killed off Marianpsycho (Leigh) half way into the film.  The shower sequence became famous, and Leigh’s screaming face to the screeching violins of composer Bernard Herrmann’s became iconic.

In John Frankenheimer’s highly-regarded Cold War suspense film, The Manchurian Candidate (1962) Leigh co-starred with Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey.

Bye Bye Birdie (1963) featured Leigh in a black wig, perhaps to contrast with Ann-Margret’s  redhead.  She’d graced the cover of Life again on August 10, 1962, atop her head a succession of fezes she wore in one of the film’s dance numbers.

Some of her future ‘60s films were not without some quality or interest, e.g., Wives and Lovers, Harper.  Competing with Jet Pilot as her oddest outing, as it must have also been for Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun, was Night of the Lepus (1972).  Surprisingly, it does generate chills and has the immortal line from a state troope using his bullhorn to warn a drive-in audience, “There is a herd of killer rabbits heading this way.”

Leigh seems to have curtailed film work to tend to her children, Jamie Lee and Kelly Curtis.  She appeared with Jamie in The Fog (1980) and 18 years later in Halloween H2O (1998).  In between she wrote There Really Was a Hollywood (1984).  Later in life she attended film conventions, including FANEX outside Baltimore in 2000.

By Kim

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Lee Marvin: 50s Villain, 60s Icon, 70s Disappointment

In Medium Cool:  The Movies of the 1960s, Ethan Mordden ranked Lee Marvin ahead of Steve McQueen as most representative of that cinematic era.  Like McQueen, Marvin was an anti-hero, a rebel.  His characters were cool and collected and sometimes calculating.  It had been a long haul to this pinnacle.

After World War II service as a Marine, bad day at black rockMarvin took acting lessons, performed in summer stock, and in the 1950s became arguably the most despicable bad guy in crime films and westerns.  Nineteen-fifty-three was a banner year.   He became famous for tossing scalding coffee into Gloria Grahame’s face in The Big Heat (1953), standing up against rival motorcycle gang leader Marlon Brando in The Wild One, and hanging out with those other great Hollywood heavies Leo Gordon and Neville Brand in Gun Fury.  Nineteen-fifty-five was hardly less significant.  In Bad Day at Black Rock Marvin backed Robert Ryan and Ernest Borgnine against Spencer Tracy’s one-armed vet investigating the death of a Japanese-American in a dusty Southwestern town.  Sniffing an inhaler, he was a member of the hoods intent on stealing the mine employee payroll in a modern copper mine town in Violent Saturday.  Badly for him, an Amish farmer played by Ernest Borgnine became his nemesis.  It was the second but would not be the last time he and Borgnine faced off on film.  In Shack Out on 101, an unintentionallyseven men from now hilarious anti-communist diatribe, Marvin played Slob, the Shack’s short-order cook with a big secret.

More cerebral was his politically-minded Colonel in the grim World War II film Attack (1956).  Jack Palance was the good guy for a change.  Like Borgnine, Palance would costar with Marvin again.  Also in ’56 appeared the highly-regarded western Seven Men from Now.  In the final showdown Marvin faced off against Randolph Scott.

Marvin did have some roles on the right side of the law, especially Chicago detective Lt. Frank Ballinger on TV’s M Squad (1957-1960).  This very popular series is credited with making Marvin a star, but for a couple more years in feature films he continued as a supporting player, notably Tully Crow in The Comancheros (1961) and the truly vile title character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Marvin’s big break cameCat Ballou with Cat Ballou (1965).  Almost symbolic of his professional career and private life, he played the dual role of noble if drunken peacemaker Kid Shelleen and evil gunslinger Tim Strawn.  He won the Best Actor Academy Award and for the rest of the decade was on top of the cinematic world.  Curiously, the month after Cat Ballou was released came Ship of Fools in which Marvin was 4th billed behind three Oscar winners, including Simone Signoret and Jose Ferrer.   Thus Cat Ballou and the Oscar played no part in getting him this acting gig opposite the first-billed and double-Oscar winner, the legendary Vivien Leigh.

The Professionals (1966) was a rip-roaring, Magnificent Seven-like saga of four specialists sent into Mexico to retrieve Ralph Bellamy’s kidnapped wife played by Claudia Cardinale.  point blankMarvin led the group of four, and what a group it was:  Burt Lancaster (explosives), Woody Strode (bow) and Robert Ryan (horses).  Needless to say, in the form of the ostensible kidnapper Jesus Raza played by Jack Palance, they faced a formidable foe.  An even bigger success followed with The Dirty Dozen (1967).  This time Marvin trained and led a pack of U.S. Army miscreants into occupied France to blow up a chateau full of Nazi-officers.  John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) wasn’t quite as successful when it appeared but has since become symbolic of the decade, a modern film noir.  Less successful still was Boorman’s valiant effort Hell in the Pacific (1968) which pitted a Japanese soldier (Toshiro Mifune) against Marvn’s American, both marooned on a Pacific Island during World War II.

No one expected Marvin’s next film to become notorious and viewed as a total dud, but Paint Your Wagon (1969) with rising starpaint your wagon Clint Eastwood and Jean Seberg was not the financial disaster myth has it.  Its real problem was that all the adventure took place during the opening credits and title tune.  When by accident gold was found on the journey, everyone settled down there to prospect.  No more adventure.  Surprisingly, Marvin had a hit single from the soundtrack:  “Wandrin’ Star.”

It is said that Marvin turned down True Grit, but that might be scuttlebutt.  After all, he couldn’t have done that and Wagon for ’69 release.  Wagon had been an epic musical filmed on location in Baker, Oregon.  If it is true and Marvin did eschew playing Rooster Cogburn, it was a logical choice.  Cogburn was in the same league as Marvin’s Cat Ballou characters.

Marvin is also said to have been up for the lead in Patton (1970).  Today one can hardly visualize anyone other than George C. Scott as the World War II firebrand commander.  Would Marvin have been as good?  Turning it down seems a poor decision, but according to biographer Dwayne Epstein, Marvin had become very selective, and he had been riding high.  Marvin was in Quigley’s motion picture exhibitors’ annual poll of top-ranking stars in 1967 (#2), 1968 (#9), 1969 (#7), 1970 (#7), and 1971 (#10).

A choice acting job came with his performance as Hickey in The Iceman Cometh (1972).  This was not a movie as such but Eugene O’Neill’s famous 1946 play filmed for the screen by American Film Theatre.  Jason Robards had played Hickey in a successful Off-Broadway production in 1956 and reportedly was devastated not to repeat that role here.

Monte Walsh (1970) was a quality western co-starring Jack Palance monte walshas Marvin’s aging cowpoke buddy.  Emperor of the North (1973) is a neglected action-adventure in which Marvin’s tramp dueled with the railway cop entailed with keeping hobos off the train.  That employee was none other than Ernest Borgnine.  (Six degrees of separation could be played with Marvin, Borgnine, Ryan, Bronson, McQueen, Garner, and Coburn.)

It wouldn’t be until 1980’s The Big Red One that Marvin would make another film worthy of his talents.  Iconic director and World War II vet Samuel Fuller based this on his own war experiences.  Marvin played a World War One vet who stayed on and fought as a sergeant in the Second World War.  Among his squad was Mark Hamill, fresh from The Empire Strikes Back.

The remainder of Marvin’s 1980s movies were not much more than acceptable, including Death Hunt (1981), Gorky Park (1983), and The Delta Force (1986).  Despite a lackluster end to his career, Lee Marvin does deserve accolades for his impressive roster of screen villains in the 1950s as well as a half-dozen films in which he subsequently starred.  Like many if not most of Hollywood’s leading men of its golden age and postwar years, he was not a pretty boy.  Like Bogart, his face and voice were distinctive.

Marvin died of a heart attack in 1987 at the age of 63 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

 

References

Dwayne Epstein, Dwayne.  Lee Marvin:  Point Blank.  Tucson, AZ:  Schaffner Press, 2013.

Mordden, Ethan.  Medium Cool:  The Movies of the 1960s.  New York:  Knopf, 1990.

 

By Kim

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Robert Wise

When I realized that three of my top 12 movies were made by the same person and that a fourth was in my top 25, I concluded that Robert Wise must be my favorite director.  Where does Wise rank in Hollywood history?i_want_to_live

Four-time Academy Award-winner John Ford is generally considered the Hollywood director against whom all others must be measured.  Orson Welles is said to have responded to the question of who was the best director with, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”  William Wyler, Howard Hawks, Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor, Vincente Minnelli, John Huston, Frank Capra, Michael Curtiz and George Stevens would be high on the list, and Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg would doubtless get votes today.  But Robert Wise has one of  the best averages for helming exceptional movies.  In The Illustrated Who’s Who of Hollywood Directors:  The Sound Era, Michael Barson observed that Wise was a chameleon because he couldn’t be pigeon-holed and thus was not accorded the respect that accrued to the auteur, the director who presumably controlled all aspects of a film’s production.  Nevertheless, Barson said Wise deserved accolades for succeeding at least once in every genre he attempted.

Changing genre to type, the best of these are:

Curse of the Cat People (1944, horror)

The Body Snatcher (1945, horror)

Blood on the Moon (1948, western)

The Set-Up (1949, boxing noir)The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951, science fiction)

Executive Suite (1954, drama)

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956, boxing)

Tribute to a Bad Man (1956, western)

Until They Sail (1957, war drama)

Run Silent, Run Deep (1958, war)

I Want To Live! (1958, drama)

Odds Against Tomorrow (1959, crime/race)

West Side Story (1961, musical)

The Haunting (1963, horror)

The Sound of Music (1965, musical)

The Sand Pebbles (1966, historical)

The Andromeda Strain (1971, science fiction)

George Cukor was always known as an “actor’s director.”  Likewise, Wise guided through their paces a distinguished group actors and actresses:  Robert Mitchum (twice), Robert Ryan, James Cagney, Paul Newman (twice), Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, Susan Hayward (won Oscar), Natalie Wood, Julie Andrews, Steve McQueen, Eleanor Parker, William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Julie Harris, Shirley MacLaine and Fredric March.

Wise began his Hollywood career as a sound effects editor, graduating to editor on such films as citizen kane 2Bachelor Mother (1939), The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), and My Favorite Wife (1940).  Then came what in retrospect was the editing assignment of a lifetime:  Orson Welles’  Citizen Kane (1941).  When the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, a U.S. agency, sent Welles to South America as a goodwill ambassador, Wise was tagged to direct additional scenes for Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) after preview audiences were unimpressed with the original version.  Some people attacked Wise rather than RKO for tampering with Welles’ vision.  Wise himself said it was a problem film because it was made  before the U.S. entry into World War II:  “Audiences just didn’t have patience for this story of the Amberson family in Indianapolis, early in the century, and their problems.  The changes were not a plot against Orson.  We had a problem picture and he wasn’t here to help us….I think the fact that it has come down through the years as a classic in its own right means that we didn’t destroy everything that Orson did.”

Wise’s first directing assignment occurred when he replaced Gunther Von Fritsch on The Curse of the Cat People (1944).  Von Fritsch was not keeping the production on time, which as Gregory Mank observed in The Very Witching Time was a cardinal sin for a B-movie.  Given the task of mopping up, Wise was fast and Curse became known as a topflight horror film.  The Body Snatcher (1945) followed and gained a heady reputation.  Both were made for legendary producer Val Lewton, who eschewed in-your-face horror for mood, atmosphere, and the unseen.  Until Raging Bull in 1980, Wise’s The Set-Up (1949) was often reckoned the best of all boxing movies.  It is distinctly different, however.  It is not a biopic, rather a grim noir with Robert Ryan an almost-has-been who refuses to throw a match and suffers the consequences from the local hoods.executive suite

Come 1951, two major films addressed the concern over what might be visiting us from space.  The Thing from Another World featured a vicious, bloodthirsty alien.  In Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still the alien was more benevolent although he did promise a scorched earth if humans spread war into the cosmos.  From top to bottom, superstar to character actor, Executive Suite (1954) had perhaps the best power cast ever:  William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Fredric March, Walter Pidgeon, June Allyson, Paul Douglas, Louis Calhern, Shelley Winters, Dean Jagger, Nina Foch.

Wise turned his attention to another boxing movie with 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Merun silent run deep This time around he was dealing with real-life champion Rocky Graziano as interpreted by Paul Newman.  It won Academy Awards for Black & White Cinematography and Art Direction.  Nineteen-fifty-eight saw the release of a topnotch submarine movie, Run Silent, Run Deep.  Once again, two superstars took the helm:  Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.  The same year Wise took on capital punishment in I Want To Live!  After four previous nominations, Susan Hayward finally won a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Barbara Graham, sent to the gas chamber for her part in a robbery and murder.  In the following year’s Odds Against Tomorrow, Wise tackled the issue of race in the guise of a noir heist film with Harry Belafonte and Robert Ryan, working together in crime but hating each other’s guts.

Wise was on a role and tookhaunting on the film version of the Broadway smash West Side Story.  He co-directed with WSTs choreographer Jerome Robbins, and they shared the directing Oscar, the movie taking Best Picture and many other Oscars.  An interlude between musicals had Wise directing another Broadway-to-Hollywood item, Two for the Seesaw, with Shirley MacLaine and Robert Mitchum.  That was not a success and it was back to low-key horror for 1963’s The Haunting, sometimes considered the best of all haunted house films.

Perhaps the most important of his films in the public’s estimation camesound of music next:   The Sound of Music.  He and male lead Christopher Plummer worked to keep it from becoming saccharine.  Once again a Wise musical won Best Picture, and he heard of his second Oscar for directing while working on The Sand Pebbles in Taiwan.  That epic was based on a bestselling novel about a U.S. gunboat in nineteen-twenties China.  It received 8 Oscar nominations, including Wise for director and Steve McQueen for actor.  It did respectable business but not what one would expect.  Possibly because the large movie theaters in center city Philadelphia were booked with other reserved-seat roadshows, Sand’s initial release in the Delaware Valley was in Cheltenham, which was bound to confound suburbanites.

In 1971 Wise once more succeeded with science fiction.   The Andromeda Strain was based on Michael Crichton’s bestselling novel of a plague from space.  Wise finished the decade with another science fiction film.  Star Trek:  The Motion Picture (1979) was aimed at the Star Wars (1977) audience in addition to Trekkies.  However, it didn’t have the flash and dash and has been labeled, probably unfairly, the least of the Star Trek films.

I met the 82-year-old Wise at the FANEX convention in Baltimore in July, 1996.  He signed my I Want To Live! soundtrack and responded positively when I asked how he liked working with Susan Hayward.  An attendant asked me not to take Mr. Wise’s picture, but I had done so before the request.

By Kim

References

Barson, Michael.  The Illustrated Who’s Who of Hollywood Directors:  The Sound Era.  New York:  Noonday Press, 1995.

Leeman, Sergio.  Robert Wise on His Films:  From Editing Room to Director’s Chair.  Los Angeles:  Silman-James Press, 1995.

Mank, Gregory William.  The Very Witching Time of Night:  Dark Alleys of Classic Horror Cinema.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland, 2014.

Plummer, Christopher.  In Spite of Myself—A Memoir.  New York:  Vintage, 2012.

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Star Billing: Decoding the Posters

It would be fascinating to attend negotiations that lead to billing order in a movie when the stars are of equal or almost equal stature.  It is not entirely necessary to be a fly on the wall.  There are clues in the poster art as well as in the trajectory of careers.  Being an Academy Award winner was sometimes a plus but did not always guarantee top billing.

The Self-Effacing

William Holden

            It is said that William Holden thought he was something of a fraud, a guy who lucked into movies.  Yet he won an Academy Award for 1953’s Stalag 17 and his resume is strong.  His billing history is intriguing.  A contemporary of Glenn Ford, Holden and Ford switched sabrinabilling priority in their two westerns.  In 1941’s Texas it was Holden, Claire Trevor, and Ford.  In 1948’s The Man from Colorado Ford took first spot on the poster.

It’s a tad surprising that after his 1953 Oscar he did not get billed over Grace Kelly in The Country Girl, which opened in L.A. and New York in December, 1954 but went into general release in May, 1955 after Kelly won a Best Actress Academy Award.  Bing Crosby got top billing because he had an Oscar for Going My Way (1944) and because he was, well, the legendary Bing Crosby.

In 1954 Holden again took third billing in Billy Wilder’s Sabrina behind Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn, two other Academy Award winners.

Move forward to 1964’s Paris When It Sizzles, a middling comedy.  Holden reteams with Hepburn but he gets left-hand billing over Audrey.  Their careers at this point were quite similar:  some hits, some misses.  Could this billing reversal have stemmed from The Bridge on the River Kwai, the multi-Academy Award-winning 1957 film for which Holden took a percentage and made a fortune?

Robert Mitchum

The award for self-effacement must go Heaven Knowsto Robert Mitchum, whose motto is generally considered, “Baby, I don’t care.”  He took third billing behind Loretta Young and William Holden in the frontier drama, Rachel and the Stranger (1948).  In the fifties and sixties Mitchum found working with Deborah Kerr a delight and was happy to give her billing over himself in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, The Sundowners and The Grass is Greener.

Sidney Poitier

Critical opinion has it that either Steve McQueen or Lee Marvin were most representative of the sixties, but Sidney Poitier must be accorded accolades for a decade bedford incidentof many important and entertaining films in various genres.  Poitier won a Best Actor Academy Award for 1963’s Lilies of the Field yet this did not translate into billing above Richard Widmark in 1964’s Viking saga, The Long Ships.  Nor did he jump over Widmark in 1965’s The Bedford Incident.  This is a special relationship, however.  When Poitier came to Hollywood from the Bahamas for No Way Out (1950) he was welcomed into Widmark’s home.  It is perhaps indicative of James Garner’s standing in the mid-sixties that he got star billing over Poitier in Duel at Diablo (1966).

One-Sided

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas

Burt Lancaster and Kirk gunfight at the ok corral 2Douglas made 7 films together, starting with 1957’s Gunfight at the OK Corral.  Lancaster was always first billed, even in Seven Days in May (1964) in which Douglas had the key role of the colonel who realizes that Lancaster’s general is going to implement a coup and must put the kibosh on it.

Clawing to the Summit

Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen had a small part as a delinquent in 1956’s Somebody Up There Likes Me, which starred Paul Newman as boxer Rockytowering inferno Graziano.  Newman never looked back on his leading man career while McQueen served an apprenticeship on TV’s Wanted:  Dead or Alive and in small roles in such films as Never So Few.  He starred in The Blob, but who knew what that would become?  In 1960’s The Magnificent Seven he tried to upstage Yul Brynner by constantly fiddling with his hat.  The breakthrough was 1963’s The Great Escape.  It must have seemed that he’d always follow Newman.

The annual Quigley Poll of boxoffice popularity tracks the McQueen/Newman career arc:  1967 (McQueen #10, Newman #3), 1968 (McQueen #7, Newman #2), 1969 (McQueen #3, Newman #1), 1970 (McQueen #3, Newman #1), 1971 (McQueen #4, Newman #3), 1972 (McQueen #8, Newman #7), 1973 (McQueen #3, Newman #7), 1974 (McQueen #5, Newman #3), 1975 (McQueen #9, Newman #5).

Redemption of a sort occurred with 1974’s The Towering Inferno.  McQueen had the left-hand slot, with Newman to his right—but a smidgen higher, followed by William Holden and Faye Dunaway.

Trajectories

Jeff Chandler and Jack Palance

Jeff Chandler was a lieutenant in World War II who helped wrest back control of the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese.  After the war he found himself crooning and playing leading men for Universal.  Unfortunately, Chandler died after a botched back operation in 1962. Notable for this analysis is that he played the noble Roman Flavius in The Sign of the Pagan (1954).  His nemesis was Attila, who was portrayed by Jack Palance, another war vet.  In 1958 they again shared time in Ten Seconds to Hell, a saga of two former German soldiers now defusing unexploded bombs.  Chandler was top billed in each of these films.

Jack Palance and Lee Marvin

Lee Marvin was another World War II vet who caught the acting bug.  Ahead of him at mid-century was Palance, the first to achieve postwar film success in such movies as Panic in the Streets (1950), Sudden Fear (1952), and The Big Knife (1955).attack

In 1956’s Attack, Palance is Lieutenant Costa, at odds with the cowardly Captain (Eddie Albert) while Marvin is a Colonel intent on achieving political success when the conflict is over.  Forward to 1970’s Monte Walsh.  Screen time and billing has been reversed.  Marvin is Walsh, Palance his sometimes partner.  Marvin had won an Academy Award for 1965’s Cat Ballou and had ascended into the firmament and made excellent films for a time:  The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen, and Point Blank.  Poor choices thereafter tarnished his status.  Palance outlived him and won a Supporting Actor Academy Award for his crusty cowpoke in City Slickers (1991).  Both Marvin and Palance had “the look.”  They were not your typical tall, dark and handsome Hollywood heart throbs but they had gravitas.  (There’s an article to be written on the myth of the TD&H guys.  More often than not our legends of classic Hollywood were not of that ilk.  Think Cagney, Bogart, Robinson, Muni, Tracy.)

Lee Marvin and Paul Newman

Pocket Money (1972) was a plot-thin but major movie Marvin did with another star:  Paul Newman.  Who got top billing?  Marvin had an Oscar but Newman had nominations and had been a leading man almost from day one.  The poster features Newman’s name on the left, Marvin’s slightly raised on the right.

Lee Marvin and Charles Bronson

Both Bronson and Marvin had dirty dozen posterappeared in uncredited small roles in the Gary Cooper service comedy You’re in the Navy Now (1951), and throughout the 1950s both built impressive character actor resumes, often as gunslingers and gangsters.  In 1967 both appeared in the massive hit, The Dirty Dozen.  Marvin was riding high on his Academy Award for 1965’s Cat Ballou and led the crew.

By 1981’s Death Hunt the Marvin-Bronson ranking was reversed.  Bronson had developed an international following and made it big in the States with Death Wish (1974).

Marvin’s career, on the other hand, had tailed off through a myriad of poor choices.  In the Death Hunt poster Bronson gets the left-hand spot but Marvin is a smidgen higher on the right.

Actors vs. Actresses

When it came to men and women, more often than not it was the actor who got top billing.  Opposite send me no flowersinstances include Deborah Kerr and Robert Mitchum in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison and The Sundowners

Audrey Hepburn got star billing over Fred Astaire in 1957’s Funny Face.  The reasons are probably her Oscar and Astaire’s self-effacement as well as his being perhaps considered on a downward trajectory.

It is curious that Doris Day did not get star billing over Rock Hudson in 1964’s Send Me No Flowers.  Their prior two films together were Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961).  For reference see the Quigley Poll:  1959 (Hudson #1, Day #4), 1960 (Day #1, Hudson #2), 1961 (Hudson #2, Day #3), 1962 (Day #1, Hudson #2), 1963 (Day #1, Hudson #3), 1964 (Day #1, Hudson #3), 1965 (Day #3)

Actresses

What happened when two actresses of equal magnitude got together?  Take those grand dames of Hollywood, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.The Hours  Who would have thought back in the thirties and forties that these future Academy Award winners would deign to confront each other on screen.  After all, who would be top ranked on the poster?  But the pairing came to pass with the 1962 shocker, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.  Perhaps it was Davis’ two Oscars to Crawford’s one that gave Davis the preferred left-hand spot.

It’s a no-brainer that Meryl Streep would have star-billing in The Hours (2002).  She had a Supporting Actress Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and a Best Actress Oscar for Sophie’s Choice (1982).  Julianne Moore placed second on the poster with Nicole Kidman third.  Note, however, that Moore is between and behind the other two. (Kidman would win Best Actress for the film.)

All Star Casts

An all-star cast film, especially a prestigious one like 1962’s The Longest Day in which most What a Way to Goeveryone had equal time, called for alphabetization.

What a Way to Go!  (1964) is an interesting study.  Bespeaking Shirley MacLaine’s status, she got to lord it over six leading men.  Most astonishing, perhaps, is that Robert Mitchum had first billing among the men.  (Remember, he never cared.)  Those men were Paul Newman, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings, and Dick Van Dyke.

The Yellow Rolls-Royce (1964).  One of the ads featured a double column, those performers on the left being Ingrid Bergman, Alain Delon and Jeanne Moreau.  On the right were Rex Harrison, George C. Scott and Omar Sharif.  “And Shirley MacLaine” was centered below.  In another poster with portraits of the cast MacLaine gets top left.

Casino Royale (1967).  (“CASINO ROYALE Is Too Much…For One James Bond!”)  The order:  Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, David Niven, Woody Allen, Joanna Pettet, Orson Welles, Daliah Lavi, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Charles Boyer, Jean-Paul Belmondo, George Raft, John Huston, Terence Cooper, Barbara Bouchet.  The first five had the most to do.  Some, like Holden, were seemingly there on a lark.  (The film was a satire on spy films but in retrospect shows us something about the sixties.)

One of the more intriguing all-star movie posters is Steel Magnolia (1989).  It features the six female leads standing, in this order:  Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Sally Field, Julia Roberts, Daryl Hannah, and Dolly Parton.  But as far as their names go, Sally Field is first, followed by Parton, MacLaine, Hannah, Dukakis, Roberts.  The story does revolve around Field and Roberts, the latter just starting on her big screen, leading lady career.

An Exception

A more recent curiosity as far as billing isHeat concerned is 1995’s HEAT, the epic crime film from director Michael Mann.  Although they’d been in The Godfather, Part II, this was the first time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro faced each other on screen.  Pacino got left-hand poster billing despite De Niro having won a Supporting Oscar for The Godfather, Part II (1974) and a Best Actor Academy Award for Raging Bull (1980). Pacino’s Best Actor Oscar hadn’t come until 1992’s Scent of a Woman.  Nomination-wise, their resume was quite similar.

Conclusion

One can make many connLast Vegasections and draw plenty of conclusions about star billing based on movie posters and/or some knowledge of the stars’ careers.  For fun, guess what determined billing order for such movies as Ocean’s 11, The Departed, and Last Vegas.  Why was James Stewart’s name above John Wayne’s in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance poster (1962)?  Why was John Wayne’s name ahead of Henry Fonda in 1948’s Fort Apache?  Why was Richard Widmark’s name ahead of Fonda in 1959’s Warlock?  Why was Dustin Hoffman’s name above and as large as the title of Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)?

By Kim

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The Movie Poster Myth

Ralph Stephenson’s “Posters and Credits” in Film Review 1971-72 is on a short list of literature suggesting that the golden age of movies was not the golden age of movie posters: “the fact remains that for many years the average film poster was unexciting and unoriginal, and nowadays it is an unrewarding experience to thumb through a glossy volume reproducing Hollywood’s poster images of the thirties.” As Stephenson realized, the pre-TV moviegoing audience was a captive one, hardly needing lures to attend the theater weekly.   Ads featuring star portraits (very ably rendered in fine color) contained little accompanying copy. When TV menaced film hegemony at mid-century, posters became filled with scenes and over-the-top blurbs.   They became more interesting—or sublime—and possessed of a panache altogether more entertaining than their forebears. The golden age of movie posters ran from about 1950 to the mid-70s. Examples from this period:

The Lost Continent (1951): “INCREDIBLE! Atomic powered sweep to a NEW World of Thrills!”

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953): “Prehistoric Sea-Giant Rages Against City! They Couldn’t Believe Their Eyes! They Couldn’t Escape the Terror! AND NEITHER WILL YOU!” + “Cast of Thousands. Over a Year in the Making!” + “The Sea’s Master-Beast Of The Ages Raging Up From The Bottom Of Time!” + “You’ll See It Tear A City Apart!”

manchurian candidate

Macabre (1958): “Any member of the audience is insured for $1000.00 against DEATH BY FRIGHT! during the performance of this terrifying picture!”

The Manchurian Candidate (1962): “If you come in five minutes after this picture begins, you won’t know what it’s all about! When you’ve seen it all, you’ll swear there’s never been anything like it!”

Point Blank (1967): “There are two kinds of people in his up-tight world: his victims and his women. And sometimes you can’t tell them apart.”

The Detective (1968): “An Adult Look at a Police Detective” + “You Killed a man before breakfast…You helped a teenage addict…You sent the wrong man to the electric chair…and at home…your wife is making love…to another man!”

A Man Called Horse (1970): “become an Indian warrior in the most electrifying ritual ever seen!”

dirty harry

The Vampire Lovers (1970): “IF YOU DARE…taste the deadly passion of the BLOOD NYMPHS!” + “CAUTION. Not for the mentally immature!”

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971): “Love means never having to say you’re ugly.”

Dirty Harry (1971): “Detective Harry Callahan. You don’t assign him to murder cases. You just turn him loose.”

The Stepmother (1972): “She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!!” + “…it’s a family affair.”

Admittedly, some classic ads contained excellent artwork and even description—for newspaper reproduction. For example, inspecting The New York Times on microfilm reveals:

Sign of the Cross (1933): “A picture which will proudly lead all the entertainments the world has ever seen. Cecil B. DeMille’s Superb Road-Show Dramatic Spectacle.” + “Cecil B. DeMille’s The Sign of the Cross is a Paramount Picture. Paramount in Spectacle! Paramount in Appeal! Paramount in its Swift Action! Paramount in Technical Skill! With FOUR STARS. Fredric March, Elissa Landi, Claudette Colbert, Charles Laughton. Assisted by 7500 others.”

The Gunga Din (1939) ads were similarly full of hoopla, as were Arizona (1940), Jesse James (1939), High Sierra (1941), and Murder, My Sweet (1944).

In summary, rather than coffee table books extolling the 1930s as a golden age of film poster art, we need a comprehensive volume covering the best that was to come.

By Kim

 

References

Speed, F. Maurice, ed. Film Review 1971-72. 1971.

Borst, Ronald V. Graven Images: The Best of Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Film Art. 1992.

Vance, Malcolm. The Movie Ad Book. 1981.

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