January 30, 2010

Garage Rock City: Paul Revere and the Raiders, "Hungry/There She Goes"

Suggested by Jeffrey Wells, who thinks "Hungry" is the Boomer Republicans' theme song. Mmmmmm, just listen to that Republican thuggery and fuckitude! Yeah! Sounds like.... victory. 2010. I'm no Boomer Republican (I'm a Rush Baby, yo), but I dig these guys. Are good little liberals not supposed to like Paul Revere and the Raiders, according to Jeff? I feel bad for people who see everything through partisan political lenses.

January 27, 2010

Retro Vision

A Spanish poster for DOUBLE INDEMNITY from 1947, illustrated by Lopez Reiz. Notice, MacMurray is dressed for the electric chair. They shot an ending that had him making the death row walk and getting executed; it wasn't used, of course. I love the "Guernica"-esque demons behind MacMurray's head, haunting him to his death. Also, notice Barbara Stanwyck colored in red underneath the title -- her grin looks on the verge of a diabolical laugh. It's like she's the Devil waiting for Fred to join her in Hell.

January 26, 2010

Happy Birthday, Joan Leslie!

Born today, January 26th, 1925. Happy 85th birthday, Miss Leslie!

She wasn't what we would call a "big star," but she worked opposite some of Hollywood's biggest stars, in some of their biggest movies. YANKEE DOODLE DANDY with James Cagney; SERGEANT YORK with Gary Cooper; HIGH SIERRA with Humphrey Bogart; THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS with Fred Astaire -- and she was the female lead in almost all of them! (she was the second female lead in HIGH SIERRA; Ida Lupino was the top-billed star -- male or female -- in this 1941 gangster pic).

I've always liked Joan Leslie. Partly because she was born in Detroit (hometown shout out!), but mostly because of her natural charisma and likability. She could do a little bit of everything -- sing, dance, comedy, drama -- and was one of those "troopers" who worked hard in every movie she did, always competent and professional. She was a beautiful young starlet (and by young, I mean, *young* -- she was only sixteen when she made SERGEANT YORK!) whose gifts as an actress I think got misused by Warner Brothers (the studio she was under contract to for most of her career). They often put her in light comedies and musicals -- and she was always fine in these, with a natural charm and pretty good comic timing.

But I think her performance in 1943's THE HARD WAY hinted at a dramatic depth that Warners never seemed interesting in developing. In this showbiz melodrama starring Ida Lupino, Leslie plays the kid sister that Lupino pushes into stardom. Leslie has to go from star-struck kid dreaming of the big time to egotistical diva and yet she has to make sure the audience never turns completely against her -- even when she does some pretty awful things to poor Jack Carson. And Joan Leslie was only eighteen when she made this movie. Think what she could do after a few more years to develop her dramatic talents!

Sadly, Warners kept sticking her with mediocre scripts and never really provided her with another meaty role like the one she had in THE HARD WAY, so eventually she got out of her contract with WB and went freelance. Freelancing didn't turn up anything better (except for a little known film noir called REPEAT PERFORMANCE, which has been praised in some film noir circles as a forgotten gem, though I've never seen it).

Miss Leslie continued to work during the 1950s both in movies and TV, but after her marriage in 1950 and the children which soon followed, she eventually slowed down her acting output in order to take care of her family.

She appeared on television sporadically in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, including a guest spot on "Murder She Wrote" along with another of my favorite classic movie actresses, Teresa Wright. They played a couple of daffy old-maid sisters who may or may not be murderers. Both ladies are a hoot in this ep, and I only wish Miss Leslie would do more of these kinds of supporting roles.

Happy birthday to a beautiful and talented lady!

Glorious Sounds of Retro!

Annette Hanshaw, "Daddy Won't You Please Come Home," 1929

Bessie Smith, "I'm Wild About That Thing," 1929

Cab Calloway, "Reefer Man"

January 25, 2010

This Week in Retro

I watched Francois Ozon's "Angel" (2007) this weekend and pretty much loved it. As Victor Morton wrote: "A sort of female bildungsroman about a teenage dreamer who becomes a writer of cheap romances and then Britain’s biggest literary star, ANGEL isn’t in any way a parody or a pastiche or a travesty of the 30s/40s woman’s picture. It is simply an example of it, a re-creation of it— outdated conventions and all (complaining about the obvious rear-projection, as does the lead review on the IMDb as I write this, utterly misses the point)... you can imagine MGM of the 30s putting out this movie, with Norma Shearer or Joan Crawford or Greer Garson in the lead..."

Exactly. This film is everything films like "Far From Heaven" and "The Good German" wish they could be. It's a modern update of an older genre that manages to have the more "adult" content (i.e.: sex scenes) mix perfectly with the older Bette Davis-type woman's melodrama style. Romola Garai continues to be one of my favorite young British actresses. She's been wonderful in almost everything I've seen -- "I Capture the Castle," "Atonement," and now "Angel" (the less said about "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights" the better) -- and I wish she had a higher profile. Make more movies, Romola!

January 24, 2010

Dereliction Row: A Tour Through the Dust and Treasures OR Why do I call this blog "Dereliction Row"?

Well, I've been the Derelict since high school, when I used it as my nom de plume as the humor columnist for the school newspaper (why anyone on the editorial staff, including the journalism teacher, thought I could write a humor column I'll never know -- it was painfully unfunny and mostly consisted of me trying so see how many swear words I could sneak past the censoring eye of the Vice Principal), but I was the Derelict back then and when I decided to start blogging I thought I'd be the Derelict again. So, I'm the Derelict. It helps that I'm a lazy bum in real life too.

And I've always enjoyed the Bob Dylan song "Desolation Row," so I thought I'd steal that title and modify it a little bit and call my latest blog, "Dereliction Row." And that's about as much thought as I put into naming this new blog.

But as it turns out, the name "Dereliction Row" is a lot more fitting than I first realized. See, one of the definitions of "dereliction" is, "a state of abandonment or neglect," and on this blog I've been all about watching and reading and listening to the great pop culture of the past -- Retroville, basically, i.e.: all the cool stuff from the past that's in danger of being forgotten and abandoned -- and I've been pretty strident in my claims that this old pop culture stuff is worth rediscovering, so what better "place" to rediscover and champion the "abandoned and neglected" relics of the past than.... Dereliction Row!

So, this blog, this "Dereliction Row," is where I hunt around the attics of our cultural lives and try to dust off and bring back into the light those great little bits of pop art that have shaped American culture, influenced and inspired so many artists and audiences, and deserve to be remembered by my generation, by the twenty-somethings and teens coming up who ignorantly think black and white is a death sentence and swing jazz is extra cheese with too much saxophone. Old movies, old music, old TV, pop art, pop literature, comics, and more -- all the things I think are worth enjoying and celebrating, a past culture that's "old" but still vibrantly relevant.... if we give it a chance -- these are the treasures you'll find rediscovered on "Dereliction Row."

That's the story behind the name.

January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons (1929-2010)

May this beautiful and talented woman rest in peace.

I don't really do obituaries because, frankly, I'm not that great at them and there are plenty of other people out there who write wonderful obits and mine wouldn't add anything that you couldn't get somewhere else and better.

When a great film artist such as Miss Simmons dies, I think the best thing to do to honor that person's life is to simply go and watch his/her movies. So that's what I say now. Go and watch some of Jean Simmons's movies and see what made her so great.

Here she is in "Guys and Dolls":

Not a great voice, admittedly, but not bad for a non-professional singer. In fact, she really sells the song. I think "Guys and Dolls" might be my favorite Jean Simmons performance. She grounds the whole crazy cartoon world of Damon Runyon with a realness that is at times heartbreaking.

Also, I just watched David Lean's "Great Expectations" (1946) for the first time the other day and I have to say, when the very young and ethereally beautiful Simmons was on screen she was electric. The movie suffers greatly once Estella is grown and played by an adult actress. No matter what Valerie Hobson does in the film, she simply cannot match the presence of young Jean Simmons. Young Estella is unforgettable: other-worldly in her beauty, proud and haughty but irresistibly bewitching -- like Young Pip, we, the audience, can't get her out of our minds.

"Do you think she is pretty, Pip?"

More than pretty. Miss Simmons was a rare and unforgettable actress, as talented as she was beautiful. She will be missed.

January 18, 2010

"I reach out to grab it, it just won't stand still": Montage from "Blues in the Night" (1941)

Don Siegel's excellent montage work from Warner Brothers 1941 movie "Blues in the Night"

Clip starts off with Richard Whorf's character, Jigger, being unable to play his song on the piano. Then the montage starts, showing how Jigger has a nervous breakdown and then finally, after professional help and the help of his friends, he regains his confidence and musical ability. Montage starts at about 1:30 in, but I included the first part for some context:

Now, wouldn't you say this kind of montage is a lost art in today's commercial films? I can't think of any movie in the last couple of decades that has attempted anything like this (doesn't mean the films don't exist, I just can't think of any examples). I'm struck by the idea that "montage" nowadays is more closely associated with cheesy 80s movies and that (hilarious) song from the "Team America" movie than with anything on same level as the surreal, dream-like stuff from "Blues in the Night."

Is it time to bring back the crazy, expressionistic montage?

Warner Brothers Forever

I can't be sure if it's the fact that TCM has filled its schedule for fifteen years with Warner Brothers movies -- and so I've simply been inundated with them to the point of brainwash -- but I think Warner Brothers is my favorite of the old time studios.

This opinion was confirmed when I recently read "The Hollywood Studios" by Ethan Mordden. I'm less familiar with Paramount, Universal, and to a lesser extent Columbia (mostly because TCM doesn't always play a lot of movies from these three studios because of rights issues and such and also because the studios themselves release very little onto DVD), so reading about these studios and their movies from the Golden Age has made me eager to find some of these films and explore some new cinematic territory.

But the chapter on Warner Brothers was enough to remind me that even if/when I do see more Paramount or Universal films, they probably won't be enough to dislodge my love for the WB studio.

January 10, 2010

So Much WORD

I've read that she doesn't want to make any public appearances anymore, but who cares. Get James Garner to accept for her or something. Doris Day for Honorary Oscar! Do it, Academy!

I once had a professor in college, who -- on the first day of class -- made some disparaging, "joking" remarks about the 1959 "Ben-Hur" and Doris Day comedies and the whole class laughed and laughed, hardy-har-har, 'cause yeah, weren't the 50s so goody-goody and repressive! Bwah ha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

I wasn't laughing. I raised my hand and when called on, boldly proclaimed: "Doris Day rocks. She's a great actress. Those movies are funny and she's funny in them. They're a heckuva lot more fun than half the pretentious, yawn-fest movies you put on the syllabus this semester."
(Okay, well, maybe I didn't say that last part, but you get the idea)

She's a phenomenal talent who deserves to be recognized for her achievements and for her historic place in movie history. And, as the article in the NYTimes points out, she was a great comedienne, and so rarely does the Academy award for comedy that it should give her an Oscar to show that comedic acting deserves respect too.

Doris Day all the way!

January 9, 2010

Racy Stuff. And it's all retro.

From 1933's "Baby Face," starring Barbara Stanwyck. Notice the overt sexuality and racy content. This is Pre-Code Hollywood and it's still kinda shocking.

January 8, 2010

Quick Hits

I'm not much of a movie reviewer, but here are some quick bits on movies I've seen recently (I guess *minor* spoiler warning for all, but I don't really spoil much):

Mystery Street: B+
More Jan Sterling, please! Also, John Alton's cinematography is fab -- the first ten minutes are Noir-licious (will I do screengrabs later? Mebbe...) Montalban is sexy and competent in his role. Elsa Lanchaster is the best thing about the movie after Sterling's character bites it. The wife of the guy accused of murder is annoying. Basically, a nice noir/CSI mystery combo.

Nora Prentiss: B+/A-
Ann Sheridan is fab (why am I just now discovery her?). Twisted, weird Romance-Noir. A phantasma-parable about lust, love, adultery, sin -- but it doesn't turn the adulterous love into something wholly evil, which manages to give the thing a perverse, romantic beauty. A dark and strange noir.

January 7, 2010

Retro Vision

I can't be sure, but I think this:

Might be part of the reason I became a retro head freak.

I saw this movie when I was nine. Nine. How does something like this not cause a tender nine-year-old brain to go a little loopy?