среда, 10 ноября 2010 г.

William Holden (1918-1981) Filmography Analysis

Of 70+ movies that IMDb lists as William Holden's acting credits, I have watched to this day 65. I must say, Mr. Holden was one of those rarest actors who have very few mediocre films in their career. Generally, if you see his name in the credits, especially when he has the top billing, you may be sure of the high quality of the film, and his performance has uniformly been top-notch, regardless of the genre, quality of the movie, or year when it was made. I want to do a breakdown of wonderful Bill Holden's movies -- for my own and other people's reference (if they care to listen to me, because all this is, of course, just my humble opinion).

Great Movies and Movies Deserving Every Attention
(listed chronologically, without genre distribution)

Golden Boy (1939)
Arizona (1940)
Rachel and the Stranger (1948)
The Dark Past (1948)
Sunset Blvd. (1950), Oscar best actor nomination for Bill
Union Station (1950)
Born Yesterday (1950)
Boots Malone (1952)
Stalag 17 (1953), Oscar best actor award for Bill
The Moon Is Blue (1953)
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
Executive Suite (1954)
Sabrina (1954)
The Country Girl (1954)
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955)
Picnic (1955)
Toward the Unknown (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
The Key (1958)
Satan Never Sleeps (1962)
The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)
Paris - When It Sizzles (1964)
Alvarez Kelly (1966)
The Devil's Brigade (1968)
The Wild Bunch (1969)
L'arbre de Noёl/When Wolves Cry (1969)
The Towering Inferno (1974)
Network (1976), Oscar best actor nomination for Bill
The Earthling (1980)
S.O.B. (1981)

The Best Bill Holden Dramas
(other than westerns, war and military)

Golden Boy (1939) -- amazing perfromance by Bill in his first leading role
The Dark Past (1948) -- absolutely stunning chemistry between Bill and Lee J. Cobb (already perfected in Golden Boy); I would have been happy if no other cast members were present, with just watching those two; incredible dream sequence -- even better than in Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945)
Sunset Blvd. (1950) -- my favorite noir and my favorite movie ever; perfect in every respect
Union Station (1950) -- Bill could teach Bogie a thing or two about how to play a tough guy; overall a very good noir
Boots Malone (1952) -- has my favorite Bill scene riding a horse, when he teaches a would-be jockey
Executive Suite (1954) -- great film, great cast, great Bill, great performances from everybody
The Country Girl (1954) -- amazing chemistry of Bill and Grace Kelly, and yes, the wrong ending (and YES, THE WELL-DESERVED Oscar for Grace!!!)
Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955) -- I'm partial to the name of Mark; if only it were some other actress, not Jennifer Jones...
Picnic (1955) -- Bill could play shirtless better than any other actor before or since, and don't tell me he was old for the part ('coz he wasn't)!
Satan Never Sleeps (1962) -- I guess I liked this film with too much of that extremely annoying Chinese girl because Bill was wearing clergyman's clothes only twice, and most of the time he wore Sgt. J.J. Sefton's leather jacket. Couldn't be better. Clifton Webb helped a lot, too.
The 7th Dawn (1964) -- has some features we have seen in other Bill's movies, but don't let it discourage you; a good flick
L'arbre de Noёl (1969) -- Bill in a black sweater and jeans, and I don't ask for anything else (yes, I'm that shallow)
Network (1976) -- no need to explain
The Earthling (1980) -- could it be Bill's best performance? maybe not, but he's absolutely incredible; I watched this film among the last, and I still was stunned by Bill's acting skills, although it would seem I have already seen everything he could do as an actor; of course, knowing it was his penultimate movie contributed to the overall impression

The Best Bill Holden Comedies

The Remarkable Andrew (1942) -- charming Bill, charming movie; they somehow managed to make patriotic films back then without waving flags annoyingly before the viewer's nose
Dear Ruth (1947)/Dear Wife (1949) -- the first instalment is sparkling, but the second is sharper (spicier) and better
Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949) -- extremely funny at times; my favorite moment is when Bill instantaneously switches on his male charm when it is required
Born Yesterday (1950) -- I used to hate this film because of Judy Holliday's UNDESERVED Oscar, but then warmed up to it, and Bill is very sexy in glasses
The Moon is Blue (1953) -- no need to explain
Sabrina (1954) -- no need to explain
Paris - When It Sizzles (1964) -- my guilty pleasure, and shortly I will try to show in my future post that this film is criminally underrated as one of the best spoofs in cinema history
S.O.B. (1981) -- the last third of the movie is exceptional, the rest not so much

The Best Bill Holden Movies about War and the Military

I Wanted Wings (1941)
Force of Arms (1951)
Submarine Command (1951)
Stalag-17 (1953) -- my favorite war movie ever
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954)
Toward the Unknown (1956)
The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) -- a widely known gem
The Key (1958) -- a little-known gem
The Counterfeit Traitor (1962) -- my second favorite war movie
The Devil's Brigade (1968)

The Best Bill Holden Westerns
(he rode a horse as if he was born on it, and watch for the dashing manner with which he tilts his hat back -- it's one of his trademarks, alongside a leather jacket and "wisecrackers," as Feldwebel J.S. Schulz would say)

Arizona (1940)
Texas (1941)
Rachel and the Stranger (1948) -- my favorite of all Bill's westerns
The Man from Colorado (1948)
Streets of Laredo (1949)
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
Alvarez Kelly (1966)
The Wild Bunch (1969) -- damn you, Sam Peckinpah, why did you make Bill wear that awful mustache?!
Wild Rovers (1971) -- there are some very good scenes in this movie, but generally it takes after The Wild Bunch in many respects; and that mustache again...

Some Movies I Omitted
(some comments regarding them)

Invisible Stripes (1939) -- I watched it for Bill, and he doesn't have much to do there; I don't like George Raft, and I don't like it when Bogie plays a criminal or a psycho
Our Town (1940) -- I haven't watched it yet; many years ago I read the Thornton Wilder play, and I remember I thought it extremely boring; hopefully, I will bring myself to watching the film shortly
Those Were the Days! (1940) -- watch it for intentionally aged Bill only
Forever Female (1954) -- Ginger Rogers was very annoying, and there was too much of her
The Proud and Profane (1956) -- I don't like Deborah Kerr, and here she tries to repeat her stint from From Here to Eternity (1953), but for some reason looks much older and heavier (and way too annoying); watch it for the incredible scene/dialog in the cemetery and for Thelma Ritter; and I don't care for Bill with a mustache either (he wore it thrice, at least: here, in The Wild Bunch, and in Wild Rovers -- nah, does not work)
The Horse Soldiers (1959) -- I like it when big actors team up (one of the reasons I liked Rachel and the Stranger, Sabrina, I Wanted Wings and some other films with Bill), and here we have Bill and John Wayne (whom I don't like at all); watch for the female lead making the most stupid choice in movie history (comparable only to the wrong choice in The Country Girl, perhaps), and for the fist fight between the two male leads
The World of Suzie Wong (1960) -- the Chinese girls and baby were so damn annoying that it killed the movie for me; watch for the views of Hong Kong, and the wonderfully executed natural disaster close to the end
The Lion (1962) -- Trevor Howard's character acted as a loony (when he chased elephants, rhinoceroses, and other big wild animals in his jeep), and the little girl was very annoying; watch for the final showdown between the lion and the young tribal chief
Casino Royale (1967) -- stay away from it as far as possible; it's not stupid, no, it's just mad, and in a good way, too, but madness should not be shoved down the viewer's throat and should not be prolonged beyond its welcome, which is the case here; Bill has a cameo at the beginning and at the end
Wild Rovers (1971), The Revengers (1972) -- both take after The Wild Bunch, and are quite decent western flicks in their own right
The Blue Night (1973) -- SPOILER HERE! I liked it because Bill told Lee Remick to get lost
Breezy (1973) -- I don't know any other actor who could play a lover's part at the age of 55, and play it so gracefully; match it, George Clooney!
The Towering Inferno (1974) -- I am a sucker for disaster flicks, which are most universally bad (just like film noir is most universally good -- the specifics of the genre, I believe); Bill doesn't have much to do there, but the very sight of him is welcome
21 Hours at Munich (1976) -- watch it, you won't be disappointed
Fedora (1978) -- Billy Wilder's film, which should mean the highest quality; but it has three major flaws: wrongly constructed plot, mediocre female leads, and Michael York; Bill plays an outsider, and it is also a drawback
Damien: Omen II (1978) -- I watched it a long time ago, but don't remember anything, except that I did not like it, as compared to the first instalment of the franchise, with Gregory Peck; I don't know if I'm going to rewatch it, probably not
Ashanti (1979) -- Bill has only a cameo close to the beginning, and I didn't bother to watch this turkey any further
When Time Ran Out (1980) -- yes, it's as bad as you heard; Bill doesn't do much here, but I liked every glimpse of him, because everybody else there was annoying as hell

Final Remarks

The other movies I either did not watch (and don't intend to) or wasn't particularly impressed with in any way, or they contain musical numbers which generally annoy me, or they have as the female lead some relatively unknown (and/or annoying) actress.

Bill's Dying credits: more than 10.
Maybe I should count his fist fights, too, but they are way too numerous (more than in every other movie, I think).
Bill stayed handsome and fit all his acting career, despite his drinking troubles. It's a pity he died so suddenly and there was nobody around to help him. Like maybe no other actor, he was in very many movies made outside the U.S., sometimes in very exotic locales (various parts of Europe, Asia, South Pacific, Africa, Australia).

Parting Words
I liked William Holden very much before this Holden fest/festival of mine, but now I admire, adore and revere him even more. He never, ever gave a poor performance. Watch or rewatch his films, pay close attention, and appreciate this fine actor anew.

среда, 16 июня 2010 г.

Movies about China and Chinese -- Which I Remembered Right Away

For more than two years now, a friend of mine and I have been waiting for the latest John Cusack movie, "Shanghai," which was shot back in 2008, but only now finally got its release (the featurette accompanying this article is worthy of attention, as it gives a glimpse of the final production; there were also some posters released). Waiting for this movie to come to Russia (in theaters or on DVDs), I decided to remember some other films which feature China and Chinese people. This post is dedicated to another friend of mine, K.F., who currently lives in Shanghai. I will not review the movies, just give some impressions which live with me despite the fact that I watched most of these pictures a few years ago.

Shanghai Express (1932)
Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Marlene Dietrich, Clive Brook, Anna May Wong, Eugene Pallette.

I do not remember this film very well, with the exception of the fact that the cinematography impressed me immensely when I watched it some two or three years ago. I do not like Ms. Dietrich, and this film is too much focussed on her. The depiction of the Chinese is rather cursory, and not very favorable. I would say that, apart from the cinematography, art design and direction, I'd recommend this movie for the colorful array of its supporting characters and actors.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)
Dir. Frank Capra. Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Nils Asther, Walter Connolly.

This is one of my most favorite movies of all times, and I simply adore pre-Code Barbara Stanwyck (as I adore pre-Code Joan Crawford). One can wonder how a Swedish actor, Mr. Asther, could so aptly portray the mysterious and fascinating Chinese general, but he did, and huge kudos to him through the decades. A most wonderful movie in every respect.

The General Died at Dawn (1936)
Dir. Lewis Milestone. Starring: Gary Cooper, Madeleine Carroll, Akim Tamiroff, Dudley Digges, Porter Hall.

Another movie that I like immensely, and for several reasons: Gary Cooper, who is my most favorite actor; Lewis Milestone, who is one of my most favorite directors (his special technique of merging two scenes by a "hook" is present here, like in his other films; for instance, a billiard ball in one shot transforms into a similarly-looking door-knob in the next); pouring rain (like in many other Milestone's movies) -- and I like rain in movies; Akim Tamiroff's performance (he played Gen. Yang -- maybe the namesake for Nils Asther's character?) for which he was Oscar-nominated as a best supporting actor. Notwithstanding the general opinion, I prefer this movie to "Shanghai Express" mentioned above. Here we have much more action and a more significant message than in "ShE," which is by and large a love story.

The Shanghai Gesture (1941)
Dir. Josef von Sternberg. Starring: Gene Tierney, Walter Huston, Victor Mature, Ona Munson, Maria Ouspenskaya.

There probably never have been a more decadent-looking movie in the whole history of Hollywood. After "ShE," Von Sternberg returned to his favorite city. The lavish production, the "smokey" cinematography, even the costumes emphasize the decadence, and the actors, through their outstanding performances, deliver this feeling of the mysterious city, and the decline and even the decay of the life of personages that are alien to it. Cruel and irresistible, this film will not fail to impress even a casual viewer of today.

55 Days at Peking (1963)
Dir. Nicholas Ray. Starring: Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, David Niven, Flora Robson.

An epic movie (it's a description of the genre, not a qualifier) directed by one of the best Hollywood directors, who made a few exceptional noirs in the 1940s. For those who like epics and large-scale productions (as I do), this will be an enjoyable experience. Set during the Boxer rebellion, the film takes the characters through unbelievable adventures in and out of the embassy compound.

There are two films devoted to the service of missionary priests in China: The Keys of the Kingdom (1944, starring a very young Gregory Peck) and Satan Never Sleeps (1962). I watched the first (though I do not remember it very well), but I never saw the second (and I want to very much, because it stars William Holden, one of my favorite actors, and it's the last film of Clifton Webb whom I greatly respect as an actor). Maybe when I do, it will be interesting to compare the two. Speaking about movies from the 1940s, I remember that in "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) Tracy Lord (portrayed by Katharine Hepburn) recalls a Chinese poet who drowned when trying to reach for the moon reflected in the river. (I came across this reference once again recently, but, helas, no longer remember where.) And I just came across a magnificent post about a movie in which Katharine Hepburn plays none other than... a Chinese character!!! Go here and find out for yourself -- most astonishing!!!

I could not remember any China-related movies of the 1950s.

среда, 6 января 2010 г.

It's Hard to Imagine... But He Pulled It Off

Just a few snippets showing the versatility of the actors I love.

It is hard to imagine...
Gary Cooper with kids.
But he (kinda) pulled it off
in “Now and Forever” (1934).

It is hard to imagine...
Bob Mitchum with a glass of milk.
But he pulled it off
in “His Kind of Woman” (1951).

It is hard to imagine...
Jimmy Stewart as a baddie.
But he (kinda) pulled it off
In “Vertigo” (1958).

It is hard to imagine...
Henry Fonda as a clumsy nerd.
But he pulled it off
In “The Lady Eve” (1941).

It is hard to imagine...
Cary Grant riding a horse.
But he pulled it off (twice!)
in “Gunga Din” (1939) and “Notorious” (1946).

It is hard to imagine...
Bill Holden in clerical garb.
But (hopefully) he pulled it off
“Satan Never Sleeps” (1962) – I have yet to see it.

It is hard to imagine...
Van Heflin in high society.
I don’t know of any movie where he is in one. But I’d love to see him pull this off.

It is hard to imagine...
Chuck Heston in a love scene.
But he pulled it off
in “Ben-Hur” (1959).

It is hard to imagine...
Edward G. Robinson as a non-shady character.
But he pulled it off
in “Double Indemnity” (1944).

It is hard to imagine...
Burt Lancaster as a scared simpleton.
But he pulled it off (twice!)
in “The Killers” (1946) and “Criss Cross” (1949).

It is hard to imagine...
Humphrey Bogart dancing.
But he pulled it off (three times!)
in “Sabrina” (1954).

It is hard to imagine...
Dana Andrews in the kitchen
But he pulled it off
in “Laura” (1944).

It is hard to imagine...
Tyrone Power being rude to a woman and still retaining his charm.
But he pulled it off
in “The Black Swan” (1942).

It is hard to imagine...
Gregory Peck in a fist fight.
But he pulled it off (many times!) 
in “Yellow Sky” (1948) and “The Big Country” (1958).

воскресенье, 3 января 2010 г.

Out of Place: Men in the Kitchen 

One of the greatest delights I find in old movies is watching everyday situations turned upside down. This is why I adore screwball comedies. But one can come across most unusual setups in the most serious films, even in dramas. Today I will cover male presence in the kitchen. “Don’t tell anyone how tied I am to your apron strings,” says Burt Lancaster’s character J.J. Hunsecker to his sister in “Sweet Smell of Success” (1957). To him it is just a metaphor, but there WERE men who were not afraid to tie real apron strings around themselves! I will feature some brave ones who dropped into kitchens not just to eat, and I will grade their behavior according to my own criteria: overall class, banter with onscreen partners, complexity of the dish, environment, etc.

1. Van Heflin in “East Side, West Side” (1949)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook an Italian dish (eggs with mushrooms and onions) +1
* For whom he cooked: for a lady — Barbara Stanwyck +1; but she was someone else’s lady -1
* In whose house he cooked: not his own, but he was quite at home there +1
* Banter during cooking: +1
* Overall class: +5 (after all, he’s Van Heflin who could do affable like nobody else!)
* Bonus: +10 (he actually wore an apron!)
Total: 18
2. Jack Lemmon in “The Apartment” (1960)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook an Italian dish +1; but it’s just plain spaghetti -1
* For whom he cooked: for a lady — Shirley McLane +1; but she was someone else’s lady -1
* In whose house he cooked: his own, and he did not feel quite at home there! 0
* Banter during cooking: +1
* Overall class: -1 (using a badminton racket for a drainer!)
Total: 0
3. Robert Mitchum in “The River of No Return” (1954)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook some domestic fare 0; but later he cooked wild deer! +10
* For whom: for a kid +1, a man +1 and a lady — Marilyn Monroe +10 (just because he got to cook for Marilyn Monroe); although she was someone else’s lady, he wasn’t trying to entice her with his cooking, so he doesn’t get a point subtracted; later he fed two more men +2
* In whose house he cooked: his own 0; later he had to cook during the journey on a raft, in rough conditions, without any kitchen appliances +10
* Banter during cooking: +1
* Class: +10 (Mitch looks cool in any surroundings)
Total: 45
4. William Bendix and another mafia henchman, Eddie Marr, in “The Glass Key” (1941)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook a steak +1
* For whom: for themselves 0; they did not get to eat it -1; they never thought of giving a bite to poor Alan Ladd who was in their captivity -10
* In whose house they cooked: some hideout -1
* Banter during cooking: +10 (Eddie Marr uttered a very cute phrase, one of my faves from ol’ movies: “My first wife was the second cook at a third-rate joint on 4th Street.”)
* Overall class: -10 (they spoiled the food)
Total: -11
5. Vincent Price in “Laura” (1944)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to wash the coat -1
* Knowing the cook: +1
* In whose house it was: in someone else’s, and he was perfectly at home there +1
* Banter: +1
* Bonus: he gets to eat chicken livers +1
* Overall class: +1
Total: 4
6. Dana Andrews in “Laura” (1944)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook breakfast +1; intention never materialized -1
* For whom: for a lady (Gene Tierney) +1; not his own (yet) -1
* In whose house it was: in someone else’s, and he was wasn’t in the least bit awkward there +1
* Banter: +1
* Overall class: +10 (Dana!)
...and in “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946) — it wasn’t exactly kitchen, but still Dana was to serve some food
* What he served: ice-cream +1
* For whom: for a customer +1
* Where: at a job place: 0
* Banter: -1 (the talk did not turn out very well)
* Overall class: 0
* And Dana gets a bonus for multiple tries: +2
Total: 16
7. Spencer Tracy in “Woman of the Year” (1942)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to watch Kate Hepburn struggle with kitchen appliances 0; he never helped her -1
* He did not cook himself, did not even try: -1
* In whose house it was: in his own 0
* Banter: 0
* Overall class: -10 (a detestable character, really)
Total: -12
8. William Holden in “Stalag-17” (1953)
* What he cooked: a fried egg 0 (too easy!)
* For whom he cooked: for himself -1; but he had to give it away to another POW +1
* In what conditions: in a POW camp +10
* Banter +1
* Overall class: +10 (it’s Holden!)
Total: 21
9. Gary Cooper in “The Wedding Night” (1935)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: apparently to cook something (after his manservant left him, ‘coz he “not like Connecticut”), but his intention never materialized, ‘coz he did not even manage to light the fire in the stove -1
* For whom he intended to cook: for himself -1 (he failed miserably, and Anna Sten came along and helped him out)
* In whose house: in his own -1
* Banter: +1
* Overall class: +10 (it’s Gary Cooper!)
Total: 8

10. Edward G. Robinson in “Scarlet Street” (1945)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to wash the dishes -1
* In whose house it was: in his own 0
* Banter: 0 (some dreary conversation with his nagging wife)
* Overall class: 0 (not this time, sorry, Mr. Robinson)
* Bonus: +10 (he wore an apron and looked so damn cute in it)
Total: 9
11. William Demarest in “The Lady Eve” (1941)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to interfere with others’ business -1
* In whose house it was: in his employer’s 0
* Banter: +1
* Overall class: -1 (Demarest means comedy relief, not class!)
Total: -1
12. Herbert Marshall in “Forever Goodbye” (1938)
* Purpose to be in the kitchen: to cook a steak he so much bragged about +1
* For whom he cooked: for himself (-1) and Barbara Stanwyck (+1)
* He failed to so: first they couldn’t turn on the oven, then the steak got burnt -1
* In whose house it was: in Barbara Stanwyck’s +1
* Banter: +1
* Overall class: +1
* Bonus: +10 (like #10, he looked quite cute in an apron)
: 13

And the WINNER is Bob Mitchum!!!!!! I adore him. Those eyes. That voice. That feline gait and grace. The very definition of coolness.