Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Love and Bulls

This is my entry in the 100 Years of Rita Hayworth Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

Rita Hayworth was the classic bombshell of a woman in the 40's and 50's.  She was, by most every source I could find, one of the most popular pinup girls of WWII.  Maybe even the most popular.   Every soldier's barracks had at least one pinup of her (at least ones that didn't have George Patton as commander, and if you don't get that reference go watch Patton.)

She came by her acting and dancing abilities naturally.  She was born in Brooklyn to an acting family.  Born Margarita Cansino, she was the daughter of two vaudeville dancers, Eduardo and Volga Cansino.  She originally appeared in films as "Rita Cansino" (from 1926-37), but the powers that be objected that the name would be too limiting because of it's Spanish descent.  She took the stage name Hayworth which was her mother's maiden name.  Volga was of Irish descent, which accounts for the astoundingly beautiful river of red hair Rita sported.

Blood and Sand (1941):

In Spain, the national sport is bullfighting.  That's just the way it has always been.  Every poor young boy in Spain has dreams of being a grand matador in the ring, the ultimate in status symbol.  Little Juan Gallardo (played by Rex Downing) has dreams of being the premiere matador of Spain.

His father had been one of the top bullfighters, but he had been killled in the ring several years before.  So Juan's mother (Alla Nazimova) is very discouraging of her son's ambitions.  But Juan is determined.  In a brawl in the cantina, Juan bashes snobby fight critic Curro (Laird Creagar) in the head with a wine bottle because Curro said Juan's father was a third rate matador at the best.  Juan tells his sweetheart Carmen (played by Ann Todd) that he is going to runaway to Madrid to learn the craft of bullfighting.  He is under the impression that he is in imminent danger locally because he thinks the blow he delivered to Curro killed the man.

Ten years later, Juan (Tyrone Power), now a consummate professional returns to his home.  He thinks he is coming home to acclaim, because an article in the newspaper read to him by a fellow passenger claims that even Curro thinks he's hot stuff.  Unfortunately, Juan can't read and the passenger made up the praise, rather than read the actual article.  Curro did not die after all from the head shot Juan delivered and is still as ever the same snobby critic.  He really had written that Juan was no matador and that he would end up dying in the ring just like his father.

When Juan hears the real content of the article he becomes even more driven to become the premiere matador.  And eventually, of course, he does.  Which makes Curro claim that he knew all along that Juan would be big.  (You will probably end up just hating this smarmy jackass, just like me.  Creagar., whom I never really warmed up to as an actor before managed to pull off a character that doesn't really seem all that cardboard, although it could have ended up that way...)

Juan has married his sweetheart Carmen (Linda Darnell) and life is going well for him.  But he attracts the attention of Dona Sol (Rita Hayworth), a woman who goes through lovers like a woman changing clothes.  She itches her current lover for Juan, signified by a matching ring set, one of which she wears and the other which she gives to her current man of the moment.

The effect of Dona Sol on Juan is dramatic.  His attention to her detracts from his love for Carmen, although he still proclaims his love for her.  It also tends to make him less adept in the ring, as his practice sessions decline in favor of more time spent in the arms of his secret lover.  Eventually Carmen discovers his illicit affair and leaves him.  It takes about 2 minutes for Juan to realize that he has lost the only true passion he ever had.  So he leaves Dona Sol, who has already set her sights on her next conquest anyway, and finds Carmen.  He promises her after his next bullfight he will leave the ring forever and buy a ranch and settle down with her.

How all this works out I will leave to you to watch the film.

Time for me to saddle up and head home.  Drive safely, folks.


Sunday, October 7, 2018

Life in the City

My friend, Chris, (Angelman @ Angelman's Place) turned me on to this series. I had seen it in the racks at the library, but it didn't attract my attention, mainly because the title (and the spine of the DVD box) didn't reach out and slap me.  (I admit I have sometimes checked out movies just because the DVD box's spine looked cool.  What can I say...)

Tales of the City is based on a series of articles written by Armistead Maupin. originally written for The San Francisco Chronicle.  It covered the lives of several fictional characters, based on Maupin's experiences, living in San Francisco in the late 70's.  The articles were collected and edited into a novel also titled "Tales of the City".  Maupin went on to write a total of 9 novels (so far) surrounding the characters he created for the original series.

San Francisco, in 1976 at least, was the gay capital of the United States.  More or less.  As a young adult in the 70's I saw the parody of that idea.  Talk show comedians and hosts pounded the point home in their monologues all the time.  Of course, I have never been that far west in my life, so I only know from what I see on TV, but it probably is significant that the first openly gay politician, Harvey Milk, was from San Francisco.

Tales of the City (1993):

The series opens as we look in upon a phone conversation between Mary Ann Singleton and her mother.  Mary Ann has decided to become independent (and at age 25, it's probably about time, but her mother is reluctant to untie the apron strings...)

Mary Ann Singleton (Laura Linney) is perhaps the most naive and inexperienced person I have ever seen in film.  I thought of Candide, the novel by French author Voltaire, which was about a similar type of character experiencing the world outside his own rather narrow view.  She is from Cleveland, on vacation in San Francisco in 1976 and has decided to stay in San Francisco permanently.

Mary Ann

I get the feeling that she never saw drugs in Cleveland, nor any gay people, because she reacts with shock when she encounters both within her first few days as a permanent resident.  I also got an idea that she may even still be a virgin, although she is 25 and that seems highly unlikely given the time frame of the film.  She certainly seems to have never met the kind of guys she meets at the bar.  These are guys who must have religiously read a pamphlet called "How to Pick Up Women", a pamphlet that was advertised in men's magazines in the day.

Initially Mary Ann goes to live with Connie Bradshaw (Parker Posey).  Connie is a friend from Mary Ann's high school who has been living in SF for some time previously.  But Connie's freely sexual lifestyle is the exact opposite of Mary Ann's.  Plus Mary Ann wants to be a bit more independent, so she goes apartment hunting.


She ends up at a boarding house owned by Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis).  Anna is a free spirit from an earlier age.  (It turns out she also harbors a dark secret, which I won't reveal, but will say it would have been shocking at the time, although not so much in today's age.)  Anna grows her own marijuana on the premises which she distributes to her tenants freely.  (No that's not the dark secret...)  I think Anna is kind of like a god in her own little realm of 28 Barbary Lane, the location of her rooming house.  She certainly seems to have a second sense of what is going on in the lives of her tenants, anyway.

Her other tenants include Mona Ramsey (Chloe Webb), a latter-day hippie who works as an ad consultant for Edgar Halcyon (Donald Moffatt), an advertising exec, and the one for whom Mary Ann eventually starts working a a secretary.  Also living in the building ids Brian Hawkins (Paul Gross), a womanizer whose only goal seems to be getting in the sack with every woman he meets.

Mona (with Michael)

Edgar Halcyon

Brian (with Michael)

Halcyon has a daughter, DeeDee Halcyon Day (Barbara Garrick), who is married to Beauchamp Day (Thomas Gibson), Edgar's second-in-command at Halcyon and a man who can't commit to one woman, even if that woman s his boss' daughter and his wife.  Beauchamp sleeps around on DeeDee, and even beds Mary Ann at one point.  He is the second most unsympathetic character in this film, in my opinion.  Even if DeeDee is somewhat of a harridan, that's no excuse for not staying commited to your marriage.

DeeDee and Beauchamp (with a friend)

Rounding out the core cast is Michael Tolliver (Marcus D'Amico), who often goes by the name "Mouse".  Michael is gay.  His romantic relationships always seem to fall though.  But he is happy-go-lucky most of the time.  It was he and his then partner whom were the first gay men Mary Ann met early in the film. Early on, Mouse's relationship with his partner goes into the dumpster so he ends up rooming with his best friend, who just happens to be Mona.

Michael (again)

Over the course of the series relationships develop. And sometimes deteriorate.  Mouse meets a new lover, Dr. John Fielding (William Campbell).  But the doctor is a bit out of his league socially.  John takes Michael to a private party hosted by some rich gays.   These guys are rich, elitist, and entirely prejudiced against the lower class gay people.  (Gay Republicans?  Is there such a thing?)  The cadre of friends include characters who are played by Ian McKellen, Bob Mackie, Paul Bartel and Lance Loud.

Dr. John

Mona, it turns out, has a former lover, D'orothea Wilson (Cynthia Williams).  D'orothea has a secret of her own. (Of course she does... didn't I say this is basically a soap opera?)  Mona ends up moving out of Barbary Lane, to the disappointent of Michael who had just moved in with her, as well as the extreme disappoint of Mrs.Madrigal.

Mary Ann takes on a part time job as a volunteer for a suicide hotline, where she befiends the somewhat unstable operator of the hotline, Vincent (John Fleck).  Vincent has problems of his own, mainly that he is dealing with the loss of his wife, who left him.

Living in the "penthouse" above Barbary Lane is Norman Neal Williams (Stanley DeSantis), a shy overweight older man with whom Mary Ann develops a platonic (to her) relationship.  But it turns out that Norman has the biggest dark secret of all, which leads to one of the biggest "didn't see that coming" moments of my film watching career.

But the main story line, aside from Mary Ann's trip from innocence to experience would be the relationship that Edgar Halcyon develops with Anna Madrigal.  Edgar is dying and has been given only six months to live by his doctor.  He ends up meeting Anna in the park and they discover they have a common past.  From this develops a blossoming relationship, only encouraged by the loveless marriage Edgar has with his wife.

This film is so much like a soap opera.  Everybody is connected to everybody else.  I never was much for soap operas.  I briefly watched General Hospital back in the 80's but after three months I stopped, it just wasn't my cup of tea.  Despite that fact,  this big budget "soap opera" intrigues me.  I actually care about the characters. And to be honest, I actually cried at a couple of the developments.  (I wanted so much for things to work out for Michael.  I felt something of a kindred spirit for the guy.)

To the faint of heart:  Be forewarned, there is some nudity in this.  Enough so that the ultra right wing Moral Majority blew a fuse when it aired on PBS.  It was a point of contention in the often fought battle to curb public funding to people who don't stick to the rules of common decency, or common decency as it is viewed by the fundamentalist sect of the Religious Right anyway.  But it is mostly topless women and a few bare asses.  In other words, there are no dangling participles in this film.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Brazilian Barbarism

This is my entry in the James Mason Blogathon hosted by Maddy Loves Her Classic Movies.

"Mr. Kohler... it may be a blinding revelation to you that there are Nazis in Paraguay, but I assure you it is no news to me..."  So says Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) to the young intrepid Jewish investigator, Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg).  And of course, everybody knows that many Nazi war criminals hid out in South America, some to be found by intrepid Nazi hunters,  like a younger Lieberman, who was fictional; but based on real people.

The trope of a Nazi Fourth Reich has had a half-life of popularity in fiction almost since the day the Allies invaded the bunker that held Hitler's body.  The action/adventure section of the used book store stacks will reveal any number of books that concern espionage and covert operations, and in fact there actually were plans to revive the Reich. (For an actual history, might I suggest The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It by Scott Andrew Selby? It's rather intriguing.)  Not all the novels came with such intriguing scenarios as the one portrayed in Ira Levin's book and subsequent film The Boys from Brazil, however.

Lieberman continues to chide Kohler, implicitly stating that if he continues in his prying, "there will still be Nazis in Paraguay, but there will be one less Jewish boy."

The Boys from Brazil (1978):

There you go. As Barry Kohler (Steve Guttenberg) discovers, there are indeed Nazis in Paraguay.  But Kohler is onto something really big.  He has been pestering his idol, the aging Ezra Lieberman (Laurence Olivier) with his findings and persists in his endeavors, despite the relative lack of encouragement Kohler receives from his would be mentor.

And indeed there are some serious shenanigans going on in Paraguay.  Dr. Josef Mengele (Gregory Peck) himself, the holy grail of Nazi criminals, if you will, is on hand.  As well as several trusted bigwigs in the former Third Reich.

Mengele has a plan.  There are almost a hundred men, all civil servants, who must die in the coming years.  Not just die, but die at certain points in their lives.  It's all part of a nefarious plan.  And no it's not a coincidence that all the men must die at or around age 64.  Nor is it a coincidence that each man will be leaving behind a wife who is 20 years younger than he is.  And it is definitely not a coincidence that all the men have a son, each of which looks astoundingly like each other.

(I don't have to put a mustache on that picture to help you along, do I?)

Mengele is gung ho on his plans, and everything is going along smoothly.  He even has the encouragement of the boss of his project, Eduard Siebert (James Mason).

Except that somewhere along the way things start to go awry.  As they usually do when bad guys try to rule the world.  See, Kohler, despite his failure to initially get Lieberman's help, manages to instill a curiosity in his idol.  Of course, Kohler had to die to do it, just like Lieberman predicted.

But now, without much to go on, Lieberman is making progress on unraveling the nefarious plans of Mengele, Siebert and  So Siebert and the hibernating Nazi bigwigs cancel Mengele's day in the sun.  But Mengele, the dedicated Nazi that he is, is not about to let a bunch of incompetent lily-livered  bureaucrats put a damper on his parade.  The men will die, even if he has to personally kill each one himself.

Lieberman finally puts all the pieces together after talking with a former Nazi he helped track down who is in prison and a doctor who clues him in on the progress science has made in the field of cloning.

Getting any ideas yet?

The plot is rather formulaic by today's standards, but this rather unique twist on the trope was pretty cutting edge when it first appeared, and it's still entertaining, even if you already know the plot.

Time to head home, folks.  Drive safely.


Friday, September 28, 2018

Popeye: The Apology

This is my entry for the Popeye Blogathon hosted by Movie Movie Blog Blog

From the Robin Williams comedy film An Evening with Robin Williams:

(the setting is Robin talking with his son who doesn't want to do comedy)
Robin:  "What's the matter? 'Ninny ninny ' wasn't good enough for you?  Popeye wasn't good enough for you?"
Robin (as his son): "Popeye wasn't good enough for anybody.  Who are you kidding?"

A confession:  I went to see Popeye in the theater.  I wasn't very impressed. Why?  At that point I had seen Mork and Mindy and had seen Williams guest on late night TV shows like The Tonight Show, and I also had his first album Reality.. What a Concept.  I was expecting something of the same manic performance that I was used to seeing, and it was something of a letdown.

But Popeye is a movie that grows on you after repeated viewings.  I watched it again a few years later, after I had seen The World According to Garp and Moscow on the Hudson, after I had grown to see Williams as a fairly consummate actor who could break out of that mold of manic uncontrolled comedy, and it turned out that Popeye wasn't all that bad,  It's a movie that can be entertaining in it's own right.

Especially if you can get past that squeaky singing voice of Shelley Duvall...  Either Duvall can't sing, or maybe she is the greatest singer of all time.  After all, you have to realize she was playing Olive Oyl, and did the role almost exactly like Mae Questal and Marge Hines had voiced her in the Popeye cartoons. So maybe Olive's singing voice is the consummate translation of the character by Duvall into the singing...

The Robert Altman directed film was not exactly a box-office success.  It made money, to be sure, but not the kind of money that Paramount was expecting.  It also was a bomb according to critics.  With the exception of Roger Ebert who gave it 3½ stars, most critics were either mediocre or lambasted it.  The songs had something to do with it, if you ask me.  Only one song, done by Bluto , is really all that good ("I'm Mean").

(BTW:  The reason for the title:  One of Olive Oyl's father, Cole Oyl's (McIntyre Dixon), lines, oft repeated, in the film is "You owe me an apology.")

Popeye (1980):

Sailing in to the port town of Sweethaven is a lone sailor. Popeye (Robin Williams) is immediately treated like an outsider (which he is, but this town really is suspicious of newbies...)  Popeye is on a search for his long lost father, a man who abandoned him as a child.

Popeye is rebuffed by nearly everyone, but he manages to find a room to rent from the Oyl family.  Olive (Shelley Duvall), the daughter, is engaged to marry Bluto (Paul L. Smith), but she is having second thoughts.  Probably because the marriage is just a matter of convenience.  Bluto is a bully and a mean-spirited cad, but he is also the big man on campus, in more ways than one.

Bluto is the top man and in charge of the towns operations as the liaison for a mysterious man only known as "The Commodore".  Bluto and Popeye immediately take a disliking for each other.  Although Popeye can kick the ass of an entire platoon of bullies in a bar fight, he can't handle Bluto.  Apparently carrots just don't do the trick.  (Popeye hates spinach and will NOT eat it under any circumstances.)

Things deteriorate as Bluto becomes convinced that Popeye is muscling in on his betrothed.  Which is exactly what's happening.

Although Olive and Popeye don't hit it off initially, a gradual respect and then love blossoms, especially after Popeye and Olive happen upon an abandoned baby, which Popeye promptly names Swee'pea.

Swee'pea has his own special ability, which is discovered by Wimpy (Paul Dooley).   It seems Swee'pea can pick the horses and Wimpy takes him to the horse races to start to win a stash (so he won't have to beg for hamburgers anymore).

When Bluto discovers Swee'pea's special ability, he kidnaps the tyke and takes him to the Commodore (Ray Walston).  (Guess who the Commodore really is... Hmmm.  Did you guess it was somebody Popeye has been searching for his whole life?  You win the hamburger...)

The music of this movie is only so-so as I said before.  Especially grating is Shelley Duvall's singing of "He's Large" in the opening part of the movie.  One of the problems I had with the songs was they seem to have not taken much effort to try to sync the songs with the actors singing the songs.  The aforementioned "I'm Mean", in particular, although i really liked the song, has a discombobulated synchronicity with the action going on on screen.

Still, all in all, it is not nearly as bad a movie as I initially thought.  Sure, Robin Williams isn't the manic character like he would play in Good Morning, Vietnam or Aladdin, but then I've seen him in several less manic roles and have grown to appreciate the film on those merits.

Well, folks, time to sail the old Plymouth back to home port.  Drive safely.


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Birds of a Feather

This is my second entry in the Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon hosted by Angelman's Place and ME

In 1978, an hilarious French farce, La Cage aux Folles appeared on theater screens.  The plot revolved around a gay couple, Renato (Ugo Tognazzi) and Albin (Michel Serrault), who are living together.  Renato's son, from a one-time encounter with a woman before he and Albin became lovers, has come to him because the son is to be married to a girl and the girl's father a conservative politician desires to met her beau's parents.  Chaos ensues.

In 1996, Mike Nichols bestowed upon the unsuspecting public an American remake of the classic French film.  And although the French film is funny in it's own way, The Birdcage surpasses it.  This is due primarily on the performance of Nathan Lane, who took on the Michel Serrault role to even more exquisite flamboyance.  The remake was a huge hit.  Possibly in part due to the presence of Robin Williams, but I personally think it made money on it's own merits, too.

The Birdcage (1996):

There is a problem at "the Birdcage", a gay cabaret owned by Armand Goldman (Robin Williams).  The star of the show, Albert, who is also Armand's lover,  is refusing to go onstage.  Albert (Nathan Lane), who performs a drag show for the cabaret as "Starina" is in the middle of a mid-life crisis, coupled with the fact that he thinks that Armand is fooling around while he is onstage as Starina.

This early tête-à-tête is one of the funniest scenes.

Albert: "Don't give me that tone!"
Armand: "What tone?"
Albert: "That sarcastic contemptuous tone that means you know everything because you're a man, and I know nothing because I'm a woman!"
Armand: "You're not a woman..."
Albert "Oh, you BASTARD!"

Albert: "Whatever I am, he made me.  I was adorable once.  Young and full of hope.  Now look at me! I'm this short, fat, insecure middle-aged THING!"
Armand: "I made you short...?"

Armand is able to get Starina on stage by appealing to Albert's ego.  He threatens to put what Albert considers an inferior substitute on stage in his stead.  While Starina is on stage, it appears that Armand is definitely seeing someone on the side, but it is really Val (Dan Futterman), Armand's son.  See, Armand had a liaison with a woman once while still in college, just to see what it was like to have sex with a woman.  And got her pregnant. (And how many couples actually  wanting children would give their right arms for his kind of success...?)

Albert and Armand raised him and he has since gone on to college, and now he has shown up to tell Armand the news that he is getting married to a girl he met in college, Barbara Keeley (Callista Flockhart).  The really tricky part of the situation is that Barbara's father is Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), a conservative senator.  And one who is on a Congressional committee for morality.  A committee that already has a scandal on it's hands due to the fact that Keeley's co-chair has died.  In bed.  With a prostitute.  Who was underage.  And black.  (OK, at this point you have to accept the parody of conservative politics, which may or may not be based entirely on fact.)

The other problem is that Val and Barabara have not been entirely forthright with her Senator father and his wife, Louise (Dianne Wiest).  Barbara has told her parents that Val's father is a cultural attache to Greece and that he is married to a housewife.  Keeley insists upon meeting the parents, mostly as a political expedient, to get away from the press which is hounding him about the scandal surrounding his partner on the committee.

When Val tries to explain the situation of course Armand is offended, but he is willing to make some sacrifices for the good of the future of his son.  The fly in the ointment is what to do with Albert.  And what to do about a woman to pose as Armand's wife.  The second part is easily expedited because Armand still has contact with Val's real mother, Katherine (Christine Baranski), and gets her to agree to show up for the dinner.

But Albert is unwilling to go gently into that good night.  When it is certain that he cannot pose as Armand's lover, he still insists on trying to be present and pass as Val's uncle.  But attempts to try to get him to appear more masculine (did I mention Albert is flamboyant as all get out?), it appears that this idea would be folly.  So instead it is arranged that Albert will dress up in his drag costume and be Armand's "wife".  Only nobody tells Katherine....

With Hank Azaria appearing as the riotously hilarious house man Agador, who is also pretty flamboyant himself, the film was a huge hit at the box office.  And should have garnered more that one measly Oscar nom (that for Best Art Direction).  Nathan Lane is the star attraction here, and at least the Golden Globes got it right for nominating him for Best Actor (although he lost to Tom Cruise gak!), and he won the award at the American Comedy Awards.  Oh, and the whole cast was awarded the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.

This is one of those movies that will stick with you for years to come.  In truth I could have written this review entirely from memory.  I watched it again for this review, but I remembered most of it from that one time I saw it in theater when it first came out.  It is truly a wonderful comedy.

Well, that wraps up my tour for this blogathon.  Drive home safely, folks.