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Two Liebster Awards!!

liebster2Make Mine Criterion and Little Bits of Classics have each nominated me for a Liebster Award and I want to thank them both very much! I am honored.

First, for Make Mine Criterion‘s questions.

1 – What do you pick up at the theatre’s concession stand before going in to see your movie?

I’m actually a follower of the Paleo Diet, so I’m not supposed to pick up anything…though if I’m in a cheating mood, usually I choose something involving chocolate.

2 – What upcoming release are you most excited about? Why?

I’m not sure if this counts, exactly, but I am very excited about TCM’s presentation of The King and I on the big screen August 28th and 31st. The King and I was specifically made to be seen on the big screen and to lure people away from their living room TVs. Can’t wait!

3 – What older film would you most like the opportunity to see on the big screen? Why?

That’s a difficult choice…Singin In the RainThe Band Wagon…or maybe a silent film like The General with Buster Keaton…or any silent film, because I’ve always read that silent films, with the emphasis on the eyes (at least with the good actors) and face, were made to be larger than life. I sometimes wonder what seeing these films on a small computer does to one’s sense of proportion about acting and the impact motions and expressions have.
4 – What’s your favorite movie trailer?

I like trailers for silent movies, though they are usually modern trailers for DVD and Blu-ray releases. But I like them because they give me a sense of films that are often difficult for me to get my hands on. This modern trailer for a DVD release of Intolerance  made me want to see a film that I had long dismissed in my mind as “probably long, ponderous and boring,” though it might partially have been the score by Carl Davis that changed my mind. Unfortunately, I was not able to see this particular release with the Carl Davis score, so I am actually very open to watching it again…with this score.

5 – What’s your favorite Christmas movie?

Remember the Night, with Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray. A lovely blend of screwball comedy, romance, drama and four-hanky-ness…or, in the words of screenwriter Preston Sturges, a little bit of “schmaltz, schmerz and schmutz.” It’s not a film I grew up with, but when I discovered it, it soon became my favorite.

6 – What era of cinema would you most like to have witnessed firsthand?

The silent era, because it’s the era most difficult to fully appreciate today. Most silent films are now lost and many that remain have deteriorated. If I lived in the silent era, I could have witnessed the rapid advances first hand and seen the films in all their original pristine glory.
7 – Who’s your favorite film critic?

I must admit to a relative ignorance of movie critics.
8 – What was your most recent film disappointment?

Birth of a Nation. I shouldn’t have been disappointing; I knew it was going to be racist, but it was more racist than I expected.
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9 – What was your most recent film surprise?

Orphans of the Storm. After Birth of a Nation, I was a little wary, but I was completely drawn into the story, long as it was and melodramatic as it was. Griffith certainly knew how to manipulate emotions…and Lillian Gish held it all together.

10 – Which bear is best?

Panda bears, because they are adorable.

11 – And once again, if your life had narration, who would you want to provide it?

Barbara Stanwyck. I love her voice, not just the timbre of it, but also how vocally expressive she is.

And now for Little Bits of Classics‘ questions.

1 – Which five actors do you wish had played together in a movie once (it’s not a problem if they didn’t live at the same time)?

I keep a record of all the movies I watch, with pertinent information about director, costume designer, cinematographer, composer, cast – but I once accidentally lost a portion of my list. All I could remember was that it involved a lot of movies with John Barrymore, Mary Astor, Errol Flynn, and Humphrey Bogart. And then I thought it was a pity I didn’t see a movie with them together and I tried to devise a plot that could accommodate all four actors. If I could add one actor to the list…maybe Bette Davis. That might have been quite the film!

2 – Which movie do you think should never have made it into AFI’s top 100 list?

Toy Story…it’s a good film, but in the top AFI’s 100?

51XXzm4u0zL3 – Whose life would you like to see a biographical movie on?

I read a book called Dancing to the Precipice about the true story of a woman – an aristocrat named Lucie de la Tour du Pin – who saw the French Revolution, fled to America (where she farmed), and then back to France and witnessed Napoleon. She met an extraordinary array of historical figures (including Napoleon) and always met life with determination. A biographical film would be an extraordinary epic.

4 – Which completed TV series do you wish had another season?

Pushing Daisies. I watched both seasons after they had come out, but it would have been lovely to have another season. They wrapped up so quickly and conveniently.

5 – How early do you start writing an entry for a blogathon?

Usually the night before, and then I finish it the morning of. Though I have been known to start a day before.

6 – Which movie star would you have liked to visit at his or her home?

Myrna Loy’s? I’ve read that she was such an incredibly nice person, it would be a pleasure to visit with her.

7 – What is the favorite movie of your parents?

They didn’t usually like the same kinds of movies, though on one of their first dates they saw Star Wars. My mom gravitated towards musicals and romantic adventures (and comedy) while my dad rarely ever watches a film more than once and leans more towards films of historic or cinematic interest.

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Fred and Ginger in Swing Time

8 – During which movie’s shooting would you have liked to be a fly on the wall?

Anything with Fred Astaire. It would be mesmerizing to watch him work on his dances.

9 – Is there an actor or an actress who you’ve seen in every single movie they’ve ever appeared in?

Not yet, though I am very close to seeing every film where Fred Astaire danced. I just need Finian’s Rainbow and Lets Dance.

10 – Whose Oscar ceremony speech is your favorite?

The only one I’ve heard is Bob Hope’s opening speech for the 1953 Oscars, which was the first televised Oscars. He begins around 2:28 on the video. He has quite a lot to say about the extreme newness of television, mentions the new phenomenon of 3D and eyes the table full of Oscar awards (“looks like Bette Davis’ garage”).

11 – Who did you receive your latest Liebster Award from?

My previous award came courtesy of The Cinematic Frontier.

My thanks again to Make Mine Criterion and Little Bits of Classics for the nomination and the great questions!

 
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Posted by on July 27, 2016 in Movies

 

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Dorothy Lamour in the “Road To” Series

Dorothy-Lamour-with-Bing-Crosby-and-Bob-Hope-in-Road-To-Bali-1952Dorothy Lamour is best remembered for her participation in the “Road To” series and yet her contribution is underestimated at the same time. Imagine Road to Morroco without Lamour. It wouldn’t be the same. Not only did she look amazing in Edith Head’s creative and dazzling costumes, but she sang, could dance a little when the occasion called for it, and played the straight man to Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s crazy duo (making their unofficial comedic team a trio rather than the traditional duo), while getting in a few wisecracks herself.

Playing the straight man is an underappreciate art form. Not everyone can do it. You have to first be aware that you are in a comedy (some people are just too serious, even playing the straight man they are lugubrious). But you still have to be able to keep a straight face and play the role as if your character really is in earnest. It’s a balance and Dorothy Lamour achieved it, anchoring the films, which could have gotten unbearably silly without her (and anyone who can keep a straight face during their antics is doing pretty well for herself).

Since I am focusing on Dorothy Lamour, I did not watch Road to Hong Kong, the final 1962 Road movie where Crosby and Hope decided not to cast Lamour because they wanted somebody younger (she would have been 48 to Crosby’s and Hope’s 59). She was understandably miffed by the snub, though she did appear in a cameo. But what a joy it is that they were able to make six films together!

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As usual, Crosby is wooing with his voice

Road to Singapore (1940) – Road to Singapore was not even meant for Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The original idea was to have Fred MacMurray and Jack Oakie star together, but somehow they ended up with Hope, Crosby and Lamour. At the time, Dorothy Lamour was actually a bigger movie star than Bob Hope and received a higher billing than he (Crosby was a superstar). Unlike later Road movies there is actually something resembling a plot. Crosby is an easygoing rich playboy running from responsibility with his irresponsible pal Hope. They end up in Singapore with Lamour living in their cabin and keeping house for them. Fortunately, later Road movies dispensed with the added subplot of Crosby’s family, which put a slight crimp in their free-wheeling approach to stories.

In Road to Singapore, Lamour still seems to be in sarong mode, playing Mima, a native girl with an indeterminate accent, though she doesn’t actually appear in a sarong. As in all Road movies, the two guys fight over her as if she were a football to be won, though she usually gets to choose the man she wants in the end. Actually, Road to Singapore, she even gets to play the noble native girl who pines for the man she loves while heroically giving him up because she realizes that he is not for her (rather like Bird of Paradise, where Dolores Del Rio realizes that there can be no life for her and Joel McCrea and nobly jumps into a volcano). Fortunately, Mima doesn’t have to do anything so drastic and gets Crosby in the end.

009-dorothy-lamour-theredlistRoad to Zanzibar (1941) – This film provides Lamour with a slightly better role. She is actually a con artist, who along with the delightful Una Merkel, tricks Hope and Crosby into saving her from a slave auction. The auctioneer is naturally in on the deal and splits the proceeds with the women 50-50. Her goal, you see, is to get through the jungle and to the wealthy millionaire who is waiting to marry her and she convinces the men to take her and her friend on a safari through the jungle. Until Crosby sings a song and she falls in love.

As would become the pattern in all succeeding Road to movies, Hope and Crosby are con artist/entertainers looking for a quick buck, always fleeing either an angry father or the people they’ve conned and always forswearing women…right up until they see Lamour. They stab each other in the back and even Lamour manages to frequently be rather hardcore. In Zanzibar, she steals their safari and leaves them to quite possibly die in the jungle. But no one ever takes it personally.

Road to Morroco (1942) – The most well-known of all the Road movies, in this film Lamour is a Moroccan princess who is trying to manage her complicated love life. Everyone wants her – Crosby, Hope and Anthony Quinn (who wanted her in Singapore, too). But her astrologer has seen that her first husband will die, so she needs to marry some disposable guy so she can have the man she really wants. It’s all very complicated, especially when it turns out that what her astrologer saw was a bug and not a star. First she wants to marry Anthony Quinn and then she wants to marry Crosby. Poor Hope was always just the disposable husband.

This is also the film where I noticed that there is a definite pattern about who sings to who. Lamour sings to Hope and Crosby sings to her. Whoever is sung to falls in love. Bob Hope’s trouble seems to be that he never gets to sing a song.

In this video, the trio reprises “Moonlight Becomes You,” but their voices get mixed up. How Dorothy Lamour ever kept a straight face during this scene is evidently her secret.

Road to Utopia (1945) – Along with Road to Morroco, this is probably the best Road movie. This is also the movie where I realized that Dorothy Lamour’s best roles are the ones in which she gets to play a schemer. She also gets to sing one of my favorite songs of hers, “Personality.”

The story takes place at the turn of the century, giving her an opportunity to wear something other than “exotic” wear. She is trying to track down her father’s map to a gold mine, which leads her to Alaska and into cahoots with Douglass Dumbrille, who plans to double-cross her. But Crosby and Hope have the map (each has a half) and she has to seduce both of them.

lamour-bing-and-bobAnd once again I noticed something curious. She spends a lot of time kissing Bop Hope. But she rarely kisses Bing Crosby. What’s with that? When he does, it’s sort of halfhearted. Bob Hope puts a lot more into it. She and Bob Hope usually have a love scene of sorts and then Bing Crosby saunters along and coolly sings a love song and wins the girl without even looking like he’s trying.

Road to Rio (1947) – I do enjoy this one a lot, but it doesn’t actually have the best role for Lamour. She’s not a schemer! That role is actually given to Gale Sondergaard, who does scheme very well. Instead, Lamour is the victim, who is being hypnotized and controlled by Sondergaard, who wants her to marry her brother so they can get their hands on her fortune. Lamour spends half the film in a daze, slapping Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and telling them she hates them.

Road to Bali (1952) – Whereas Road to Singapore has too much plot, in Road to Bali they finally dispensed with the idea of plot completely. This film is pure zaniness and eccentricity, pop references and star cameos (Bogart, Jane Russell, Bing Crosby’s brother, Bob). A gorilla tries to abduct Hope and Crosby, a volcano god blows up in wrath, women are popping in and out of a basket when people blow a horn. It doesn’t build to Crosby’s love song to Lamour, there just is one, because there is supposed to be one.

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First Road movie in technicolor

But Road to Bali is the film where they finally gave in to what was a subcurrent all along. It is the Design for Living subcurrent. Why should Dorothy Lamour have to choose between the two men when she can have both? In Road to Bali she can’t decide and when they arrive on an island where women can take multiple husbands, decides to wed them both. Unfortunately, her evil cousin arrives to intervene and Hope and Crosby go unknowingly through the marriage ceremony without the bride. In the end, she chooses Crosby while Hope toots on his horn to reveal Jane Russell coming out of the basket. In a twist, it is actually Bing Crosby who ends up with both women and Hope with none.

I was kind of hoping it would be Lamour who could end up with two husbands, but oh well…

The continuity in the six films is actually pretty remarkable. The jokes and references to previous films, Edith Head did the costumes for all six. Johnny Burke wrote the lyrics for all the songs and Jimmy Van Heusen (most famous for writing songs for Frank Sinatra in the ’50s) wrote the songs for all except Road to Singapore. But the best continuity of all is the cast. Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour are the ones who really made the series such a successful and entertaining one.

This is my final contribution to the “Dot Blogathon.” It was so much fun to participate – a huge thanks to Silver Screenings and Font and Frock for hosting! Be sure to read the previous entries for Day 1 and 2.

Dorothy Blogathon

 

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2016 in Movies

 

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Hope: Entertainer of the Century – Richard Zoglin

downloadPublished in 2014, Hope: Entertainer of the Century is a first-rate biography of Bob Hope, who truly was an entertainer of the century. He was born in 1903 and died in 2003. His career spanned vaudeville, Broadway, radio, movies and television and he was at the top of every single medium (except Broadway – he was successful, but did not stay long and was never in the lead role). His career began in the 1920s and he finally retired in 1996.

The author, Richard Zoglin, argues that Bob Hope has been somewhat unfairly forgotten. He believes that he practically invented the stand-up comedy style, but very few comedians ever acknowledge his influence (with the exception of Woody Allen). Partially, he says, it is because it took Bob Hope too long too retire and he came to be seen as fuddy-duddy, conservative and even reactionary.

But Bob Hope was extremely hip when he first made it into movies in 1938. He started local in his native town of Cleveland, Ohio (though he was born in England, the fifth of seven sons), dancing and doing shows until he went on the road. He began with a partner, but eventually became a solo act and the highest earning vaudevillian in the early thirties. In 1934, he turned to radio and by 1940 he had even topped famous radio personalities like Jack Benny in the ratings.

He signed with Paramount Studios, but it took them a year to  figure out what kind of movies to put him in. His first good movie was the 1939 The Cat and the Canary, followed by The Ghost Breakers and The Road to Singapore, which began his collaboration with Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. There would be seven Road To movies in all.

The Road To movies were my introduction to Bob Hope as a child and I still love them. Bob Hope and Bing Crosby are always playing vaudevillians (and they do acts reminiscent of Bob Hope’s vaudeville days). There are the great contemporary songs written by Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen. Usually, Crosby will get a romantic song and Hope and Crosby will do a buddy song, as well as a vaudevillian song. Dorothy Lamour also sings a song. There is the constant (good-natured? they almost kill each other several times) rivalry.The costumes are always done by Edith Head and are some combination of beautiful, exotic and outlandish. And there is the constant breaking of the fourth wall: jokes poking fun at Paramount Studio, other actors, contemporary events, each other’s movies and personalities, and even the very act of making movies. I’ve found that the more I learn about the movies and events of the 1940s, the more I appreciate their jokes.

lamour-crosby-hope-road-to-bali-1952Bob Hope, both on radio and in movies, was something new. He was brash, energetic, fast talking, cocky, always on the make, with the humor often directed at himself. Even when he was no longer new, he was still popular. He moved to television in the 1950s and topped the ratings there. He also hosted and co-hosted the Academy Awards fourteen times, with his first in 1941 and his last in 1978 and including the 1953 Academy Awards, the first to be televised (can be viewed here).

Bob Hope is also remembered for entertaining the troops. He began during WWII, when he did a several month tour in Europe and the next year did a tour in Pacific. He would also entertain during The Korean War, The Vietnam War (garnering controversy), all the way up the the Persian Gulf War. He was sometimes criticized for using the troops to boost his own popularity and to make money, but Zoglin argues that there were far easier ways to do that. Conditions were rough when he traveled and he often lost money. He went through some rough flights, was in several cities that were bombed heavily by the Nazis and during the Vietnam War the hotel he was supposed to stay in was sabotaged. It was learned later that the Viet Cong and meant to kill him in the attack.

His reputation suffered during the Vietnam War. He supported the war and had some harsh words for the protesters (he was a good friend of Johnson, Ford and especially Nixon – he played golf with all the presidents from Johnson to Clinton, except Carter who did not play golf – it seems practically a prerequisite that you play golf to be president). He was also considered no longer in touch with the younger generation and did not really change his comedic presentation as he grew older.

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Paulette Goddard and Bob Hope in The Ghost Breakers

The book wisely does not focus too much on his private life, partially because he did not have much of a private life. Not even his four children (he and his wife, Dolores, adopted) knew him or even saw him much. He was married for 70 years, though he was an extreme philanderer. But what he mostly did was work. He hardly ever took a break and even when he was in his eighties people marveled at his energy and schedule. He would pack his week so full of shows and travel that most young people would have hesitated to undertake. He never seemed to suffer from burnout. Occasionally he had to slow down, but not for long and not often. He was the original energizer bunny.

One thing I appreciated was that Zoglin never falls into the biographer’s trap of thinking he has a special understanding of his subject and he does not try to analyze Bob Hope too much. He simply takes the man as he was. It is a respectful biography, not hagiographic or smutty. Bob Hope was a professional and he loved his fans and was conscientious about responding to letters. He could be demanding, loyal, distant, friendly, self-absorbed, a shrewd business man, a master at crafting his image, not a warm man. It was all about him and his career and his wife supported him in that.

Hope: Entertainer of the Century is not only a good biography, it is an interesting panoramic of entertainment in the 1900s, from vaudeville to radio to Broadway to movies to television. Few men embody the sweep of how entertainment was presented to Americans better than Bob Hope.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2015 in Biographies

 

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