I haven’t found the right words yet, but I’m still here, loving my old movies more than ever. New posts to come soon . . .
I haven’t found the right words yet, but I’m still here, loving my old movies more than ever. New posts to come soon . . .
My fellow students always considered a film in class to be some sort of break from education – the presence of a television in the classroom was a clear indication that absolutely no learning would occur that day. Sometimes they were correct; I still remember the look on my high school biology teacher’s face when the O. J. verdict stopped the universe in its tracks. Easily shifted into a lesson about DNA, one may have expected. And I shall never forget losing the “rainy day lunch” vote, when The Sound of Music (1965) triumphed narrowly over The Wizard of Oz (1939) in my third-grade class. If you think I don’t remember the names and addresses of those so-called “friends” who voted against me, I’ll have you know I hold a grudge better than a woman whose chichi shoes have been stolen off of her dead sister’s feet.
The intertwining of a film with a lesson plan was one of the few times in my early education when I paid attention and actually absorbed a thing or two. Eventually in college I would enroll in a course called “The Language and Literature of Film,” and in that semester, I skipped not a single lecture. But years before I found myself enjoying the role of “student,” I got a sneak preview of things to come. My high school English teacher had us set aside our copies of Dante’s Inferno, leaving our narrator and Virgil somewhere between Circles Five and Six. He wheeled over the television that had to be ordered weeks in advance and popped in a good old-fashioned video . . . yes kids, a VHS tape – look it up on the Internet. A film I had already memorized was about to reinvent itself, and as it played, I began to see the distinct parallels between Virgil and Dante’s descent into Hell and the epic journey that is Thelma & Louise (1991).
I hadn’t thought about that critical moment of my school years in quite some time, until recently when I saw Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) in its entirety. Whether on the backs of horses or in a ‘66 Thunderbird, nothing brings two people together like the deep-rooted bonds of crime.
After two margaritas on a hot Friday afternoon, I confessed to a dear friend that I need to give the boys some attention on my blog. I love my Garbos and Crawfords to itty-bitty pieces, and although I have bowed down before giants like Bogie and Spencer, it’s worth our time to have a gander at a few other fellas. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is one of those films I had never seen from beginning to end in a single sitting. A scene here and a scene there, yes, and perhaps the entire movie over the span of a few decades, but it was time to begin at the beginning. I’m certainly a fan of Paul Newman’s for all the obvious reasons, so I figured I should have this one under my belt (or, when I can find one, my Gaultier holster).
Plunk Newman in front of a camera with Robert Redford, and let me tell you, that Netflix bill is a small price to pay for such beauty. These two men were made for one another – the story of two bank and train robbers who have a fascinating, humorous, and most importantly, entertaining professional and personal relationship? Yes, perfect! When the pesky law gets a little too close, Butch and Sundance make tracks for Bolivia, taking a girlfriend with them, played by the humdrum Katharine Ross (she just doesn’t do it for me, here or in The Graduate). She’s perhaps the one complaint I have here, but fortunately she doesn’t hang around too much, and we get to spend most of our time with the two lovable outlaws. If only Paul Newman had Robert Redford on his bicycle handles instead of Katharine Ross during that playful scene, we would have had a flawless piece of art in this film.
Irresponsibility is awfully tempting when one’s daily responsibilities fail to hold one’s interest. My office job has failed to interest me for quite some time now, but turning to a life of crime isn’t a realistic option . . . seriously, if I couldn’t crack a safe on the first try, I’d start to panic. Instead I find it relaxing to escape into a world of characters and misfits who make up their lives as they along, free for a few hours of others’ expectations. Watching a movie can be very educational indeed: in life, chases may ensue, gunfire could be exchanged, some bad guys will die (even though technically they were good guys), money is won and lost, lovers come and go, but when the right ones come along, some friendships are sealed forever.
And, freeze frame!
Academy Awards for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1970): Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score, and Best Original Song (“Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head”)
This ticket booth of mine has paid respect to many classic films, and I’ve certainly fawned over the amazing women of the silver, black, and white screen. Reality, in all her harshness, points out that I have overlooked some of Hollywood’s equally bewitching fellas. Undeniable is my love for Garbo, Garland, Davis, and of course Hepburn; a few times I’ve tipped my hat to Bogie and Tracy (and then wrote about theirs), but when it comes to these talented actors, I must apologize for the inexcusable neglect. Impertinent pens notwithstanding, trust me there’s been no failure to communicate on my part . . . especially with Mr. Paul Newman. I assume that for most of us, rarely is there a character of his with whom we don’t fall in love; Luke Jackson, however, really snaps the head off my parking meter.
Based on the novel by Donn Pearce (who had firsthand experience with chain gangs due to unsuccessful livelihood as a burglar), Cool Hand Luke follows its title character through his two-year stay at a Florida prison camp in the 1940s. The film opens with Luke stumbling around a small town in the middle of the night, beheading the streets’ parking meters with all the charm and grace of a dashing drunk. There’s an early strip of Bill Watterson’s comic Calvin and Hobbes with a smiling Calvin shown hammering nails into the family’s coffee table. His mother comes running in and screams (in bold, capital letters) “Calvin! What are you doing to the coffee table?!?” He looks down at his unfinished project, puzzles over Mom’s question for a moment, and replies “Is this some sort of trick question, or what?” When the arresting officers find Luke leaning up against one of his decapitated meters, the scene freezes on his adorable smile, and softly in the background I can hear Calvin hammering away. With that smile, my friends, the lifelong list of anti-authority heroes continues to grow.
As expected, Luke doesn’t take kindly to orders, despite the fact that he’s revealed to be a decorated veteran of World War II. Much to the surprise of his prison captain (the communicative, Truman Capote-voiced Strother Martin), Luke admits he was “just passin’ time” in the war, with an apathetic tone that echoes that of Benjamin Braddock. He’s nearly beaten to death in a boxing match with another inmate (George Kennedy in an Oscar-winning role), but after an eye-opening visit (and tear-jerking scene) from his mother, Luke’s attitude adjusts slightly. When they reflect briefly on a girl Luke was going to marry, his mother recalls her son’s demeanor during that time: “Tryin’ to be respectable . . . you was borin’ the hell out of all of us!” You knew I had to sneak her in somewhere — rumor has it that Bette Davis was offered the role of Luke’s mother but turned it down since it was hardly the “above-the-title” part to which she had grown accustomed. Now and again a movie makes its way to the “favorites” shelf not for the name above the title but for the sprinkling or two of unforgettable minor characters. Ultimately the role of Luke’s mother went to Jo Van Fleet, and willingly I allow her to break my heart every time.
At one point or another, the few people to whom I’ve introduced Luke made the same remark: “Oh that’s where that’s from!” Yes indeed this where Paul Newman assures us that he can eat 50 hard-boiled eggs in less than one hour. Far be it from me to ruin the outcome, but I will say that Mr. Newman was one of those incredibly well-built guys whose stomach muscles could expand and provide an authentic bloated look . . . that man remained gorgeous in any shape! In addition to a musical score that was partially used later by ABC ‘s Eyewitness News, the film also houses the notorious line, “What we’ve got here is . . . failure to communicate.” As the Napoleon-completed Captain, Strother Martin nails this “warden” role — just the kind of authority figure whose eyes you’d love to scratch out with your dirty fingernails. Leave it to Paul Newman to give us two versions of a single famous line — later in the film the famous line is delivered again, but this time by Luke who adds an “a” before the word “failure.” I guarantee that someday you’ll overhear an argument about this line, so consider yourself armed — you could stop a bar fight! Oh dear me, and then we come to “Lucille.”
While our beloved, shirtless men are working on the side of the road and half-dead from the Florida heat, out comes this buxom blonde in a dress believed to be held together by a single safety-pin. Barely yards away from the lonely, lustful men, she begins to wash her car, and George Kennedy’s character swears that “anything so innocent and built like that just gotta be named ‘Lucille.'” That name conjures up more of a grape-stomping, Nick at Nite image for me, but why deny a man his fantasy? Sullying everything from the hose to the sponge, Lucille creates a scene that I’m sure remains in the minds of girl-crazy audiences forever. The late 1960s were almost in full swing, and sexuality getting ready to burst out of its shameful hiding spots . . . and out of Lucille’s dress. But that safety-pin held it together, and once again I found myself smiling at what a film can allude to without actually showing. For our Savioring censors, I imagine this scene was of greater concern than the boxing scene when Luke is nearly beaten to death. Intriguing are the minds of our world’s decision makers!
Bombarded with overqualified, taboo busting suitors in every direction, 1968 was not an easy year for Oscar. And not just the men, mind you, but the women of ’68 put forth an equally impossible decision for Oscar and whom he’d be going home with that evening. In a single year, Bonnie, Clyde, and a recent college Graduate refused to enter the adult world of Depressions and Mrs. Robinson, while Hepburn, Tracy, Sidney Poitier, and Rod Steiger set a dinner table for a heated night devoted to intense racial issues. Oh yes, and then there was Doctor Dolittle.
With a film on practically every major issue of the late 1960s, the Academy Awards were divided up somewhat equally, with every major film receiving at least one gold statue. Rod Steiger was honored with Best Actor in a Leading Role for In the Heat of the Night, which was also named Best Picture, but had I a voter’s ballot that year, neither of those would have been checked. An amazing and important film, yes, but I’m fairly sure it would have been my first choice on the preposterously talented list. Somehow the Academy neglected to put Cool Hand Luke in the race for Best Picture, and if it were up to me, for that they’d spend a night in the box.
Academy Award for Cool Hand Luke (1968): Best Actor in a Supporting Role (George Kennedy)
Without the help of a remarkably stylish friend, What a Way to Go! would not have found its way into that little home theatre of mine. Luckily this friend punctured a hole in one of my barriers with the phrase that typically puts me on the defense: “You’re going to love it!” Saddled with a personality that forces me to meet that phrase with an incredibly high-raised eyebrow, this time I was able to trust someone and give it a shot . . . lesson learned! Obviously the back-and-forth quoting of Shirley MacLaine’s lines from Steel Magnolias (1989) proved beneficial to my personal growth. Months later I knew that this was the same friend I had to take to see Liza Minnelli in concert. Really, who else would cry with me during Maybe This Time?
What a Way to Go! follows Louisa May Foster (Shirley MacLaine), a young woman who wants nothing more than true love and a simple life with her man. Call it what you will, Louisa has the “misfortune” of marrying men who strike it rich right before they kick the bucket, leaving her with the burden of life alone as a prospering widow. We follow her through five husbands, each with a story that revolves around fortunes won, lost, and eventually bequeathed.
After she marries each man, Louisa describes those honeymoon days with a dreamy “if our life were a movie,” paving the way for — you’ll never believe it — my favorite scenes. After snubbing a young snooty Dean Martin, the first marriage to Dick Van Dyke starts off as if it were a silent film, with a piano soundtrack, title cards, and wonderfully exaggerated facial expressions. Set in Paris, marriage number two to Paul Newman (bewitching as always) feels to Louisa like a wickedly romantic French movie. Reportedly Paul Newman learned French for this role, and he is still the only man can take “handsome” to the next level by talking with his mouth full of food. That wicked French film of Louisa’s teeters dangerously on showing us all of the beautiful of Mr. Newman . . . quel dommage! Talented and gorgeous, yes, but confound it, what a tease.
Before she moves on to Gene Kelly (with whom life was like “a gay musical number from one of those big Hollywood movie musicals”), Louisa’s third husband, played by Robert Mitchum, is already wealthy when she meets him. In one gorgeous sequence, their life together could pass for a glamorous Hollywood movie that’s “all above love and what’ll she wear next?” In addition to a cast full of beautiful men and the lovable Shirley MacLaine, the stand-out star of What a Way to Go! is the brilliant goddess of costumes, Edith Head. The record-holding recipient of eight Academy Awards holds nothing back with this one; at times her hypnotic costumes steal the scenes from their mobile mannequins. Despite having to adjust to working with a new leading man every two weeks, Miss MacLaine was thrilled to have 72 costumes designed by Edith Head, 72 hairstyles to match the gowns, and a $3.5 million gem collection that was loaned by Harry Winston of New York. All saucy hats off to Ms. Head, “what’ll she wear next” is my favorite non-Newman scene in the entire film.
You know those people whose opinions start with a monotonous “well, that was different” and sadly proceed no further? Certainly the phrase applies here but absolutely not its lack of excitement. For 1964, What a Way to Go! is risky and risqué and wonderfully different! Packed with good clean dirty fun, gorgeous men, a costume designer of unrivaled talent, and the limitless Shirley MacLaine, odds are . . . well . . . you’re going to love it!
Happy birthday to one of the most gifted and beautiful actors, Mr. Paul Newman. I have too many “let me count the ways” to say about him, so I’ll limit myself to one of the favorites. In What a Way to Go (1964), Shirley MacLaine hops into a Paris cab driven by a scruffy, French-speaking, banana-eating Paul Newman . . . now I ask you, is there any other man on Earth who can look that seductive with a mouth full of food?
Weak in the knees, he made me . . . and I was sitting down!