Thursday, August 30, 2018

What Lies Beneath a Man

This is my entry in the Fred MacMurray Blogathon hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Herman Wouk (who is remarkably still with us as of this post at 103), was the author of a book that garnered a Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Caine Mutiny, which would have put it on the radar for a film version at any rate.  But according to my research, it was optioned even before it became a hit with critics and the public.

Humphrey Bogart campaigned for the role of Captain Queeg, which was somewhat of a departure from his regular roles, although he had played characters verging on the point of madness before.  (See The treasure of Sierra Madre fir one of the better examples of this type of character).  The all-star cast of the film included Van Johnson, Jose Ferrer and Fred MacMurray.

Fred MacMurray's career was mostly as good-natured comedic characters such as Steve  Douglas in the long-running TV series My Three Sons and a host of Disney films, but I personally think his best work was when he deviated from that niche and played flawed characters (read: villains) in such movies as Double Indemnity.  In The Caine Mutiny, MacMurray plays what is essentially the real villain of the piece, despite Bogart's bravo performance as an unhinged captain.

The Navy originally was reluctant to lend it's support to the film because as they claimed "there has never been a mutiny in the United States Navy".  Wouk, for his part was distraught over this and offered to return the advance money paid him for the book rights, but Stanley Kramer , the producer, and writers changed enough of the story that eventually they got the Navy's help, going so far as to let the production use Navy personnel and ships for filming of the action sequences.

The Caine Mutiny (1954):

The real star of this movie is Ensign Willie Keith (Robert Francis, who by the way only starred in 4 movies before his untimely death).  Keith has just graduated the Naval Academy and is assigned to the USS Caine.  The Caine is a minesweeper, but one that, to Keith's shock, is only haphazardly run by the commander, Captain De Vriess (Tom Tully).

Eventually De Vriess is relieved of his command and the Caine gets a new captain, Phillip Queeg (Humphrey Bogart).  Things start out with a bang as Queeg observes a sailor with his shirt untucked and appoints Keith as a morale officer, with one of his specific duties to see that every sailor on board is in ship shape, "by the book" as Queeg says.

During a training exercise, however, Queeg finds one of the sailors not dressed appropriately and dresses down both the sailor and Keith for lack of discipline.  Unfortunately during the dressing down Queeg lapses on his command and the ship cuts a towline.  But Queeg refuses to take responsibility, instead trying to blame it all on inefficient manufacturing.

Several other incidents occur on board which cause Lt. Keefer (Fred MacMurray) to pose the suspicion that Queeg has become mentally unstable, and tries to convince his fellow officers of this.  But Maryk will have none of it, although he does decide to keep a log book on incidents.  Eventually he agrees with Keefer and the three decide to report it to Admiral Halsey.  But Keefer chickens out at the last minute.

The situation becomes critical when, during a typhoon, Queeg becomes erratic and Maryk takes steps to relieve Queeg of his command, using an article in the Navy code that gives him authority to take over when the captain has become obviously unable to perform his duties.

Back at base, Maryk and Keith end up on trial. Their defense lawyer, Lt. Greenwald (Jose Ferrer) reluctantly takes the case, after several other officers have refused to defend the pair.  Things look bleak for the defendants throughout most of the trial until Queeg takes the stand.  Bogat as Queeg really shines in this sequence as an officer who tries to put up a front but is essentially a little too far gone as a man.

Queeg, who at one point is compared to Captain Bligh (the villain of Mutiny on the Bounty) is the ostensible villain of the piece, but as stated by one commentator in the special features, and I agree, the real villain is Keefer.  At one point in the trial he actually lies on the stand, claiming that he had no real part in the events that lead up to Maryk taking command, when in fact it was his efforts that instigated all the actions.

A final confrontation between Greenwald and Keefer after the trial nails this home when Greenwald says he wishes he could have been the prosecutor and would have gladly taken the role if Keefer had been the defendant.

This is a riveting film.  It was the second time I watched it, but I really don't remember much from the first time.  I originally watched it one evening after coming home from the bar and was pretty toasted, but I remember the strawberries scene pretty well.  It turns out that there is a lot to hold my interest. All the actors in the piece are excellent.  Including the aforementioned stars you'll also see such familiar faces as Lee Marvin, E. G. Marshall, Claude Akins, Jerry Paris (Dick "Rob Petrie" Van Dyke's neighbor in the TV series The Dick Van Dyke Show), Whit Bissell (a familiar character actor of the era) and several others.

The movie was nominated 7 Oscars.  Bogart lost to Marlon Brando for Best Actor, Tully lost to Edmond O'Brien for Best Supporting Actor, and the movie lost to On the Waterfront for Best Picture.  In fact, it lost in every category for which it was nominated.  In a year without On the Waterfront, it probably would have won a few of those.

Time to set sail for the house.  Drive home safely, folks.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Boys and Boys Together

A preface:  I want to give Chris @ Angelman's Place a big thank you for directing me to these two movies, a pair I might have never had cross my radar were it not for reading entries on them on his blog.  And also appreciation for his putting up with a clueless neophyte with not much contact in the LGBT community to know what is what.

13 years, more or less, separate these two movies in terms of history as well as how the characters come across.  The Boys in the Band takes place in 1968, sometime around the election of nixon for hist first term (although that's only a superficial detail, the movie could just as well have taken place in 1970 when the actual movie was filmed).  Longtime Companion begins in 1981 and ends in 1989.  Watching the two simultaneously gives a pretty good overview of the progress in how gays were depicted in those early years post-Stonewall. (Although, technically, since Boys takes place in 1968, it was prior to those events).

Given that I watched the PBS documentary on Stonewall, and read the book by David Carter on which most of the documentary was based, I can't help but wonder how a town like NYC which was still hostile to gays in general in 1968 dealt with the production of the Mart Crowley play (on which the Boys movie was based).  That documentary in itself is worth a view, either before or after watching these two films, assuming you take the plunge on the films.

I had originally wanted to title this piece "The Boys are Back in Town", because at the time I was watching The Boys in the Band,  a current revival of the play had been running on Broadway (with Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory").  Unfortunately, the altogether too short run of it ended a couple of weeks ago.  So I chose the probably less impressive title you see at the top of the page...


The Boys in the Band (1971):

A cast of characters come together for a birthday party for one of their members.  The group includes the birthday boy himself, Harold, as well as the friends that Michael, the host of the party has invited to share in the festivities, as well as Michael's old college roommate, Alan, who shows up unannounced.  The rest of the party includes Emory, Hank,  Larry, Donald and Bernard. It also includes a character only called "Cowboy", who is not a friend of the group, but a male hooker that one of the friends brings as a gift for Harold.

That's the basic gist of the film.  From here on out I'd rather address the film from a viewpoint of commenting on the individual character.

Kenneth Nelson is Michael, the host of the party.  Michael is a recovering alcoholic who eventually, as the party spirals downward gets rip-roaring drunk.  It is probably that and some semblance of self-loathing that causes him to initiate the game that is the central part of the story.  The game entails each man at the party having to call the one he loves the most and confess his love for that person, with points gradually accruing for various things over the period of said telephone call.  It's hard to say who Michael would call (the game falls apart before we reach that point), but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be himself.


Cliff Gorman as Emory is the most effeminate of the group.  I get the impression that Emory would just like to find a nice man and settle down and become a good housewife.  He has  all the good qualities; he loves to cook and decorate.  The character comes off as rather stereotypical and may make some sensitive people cringe.  The fact of the matter is I knew a guy when I went to college who might have been an inspiration for Emory, if he had been born 20 years earlier.  I loved the fact that Emory got some of the best lines in the picture. (By best I mean funniest).

eg.  After Cowboy tells the group he hurt his back doing chin ups: Cowboy: "I lost my grip doing chin ups and fell on my heels and twisted my back."  Emory: "You shouldn't do chin ups in heels..."


Lawrence Luckinbill plays Hank, a man who has just recently accept his homosexuality, although he has been married and has kids.  He is currently living with Larry (played by Keith Prentice).  During the aforementioned game, Hank reveals the person he loves the most is Larry, but Larry has a problem with monogamy.  He wants to sleep around and that grates on Hank who is a one man man.  And yet Hank still loves Larry.



Frederick Combs is Donald. Donald is what passes for Michel's best friend and sometime lover.  Donald is the most compassionate of the crew, in my opinion.  This is only based on the fact that he doesn't get his chops in very often during the back-biting sessions that permeate the movie.

Leonard Frey (whom some of you will know as Motel, the boyfriend and future husband of Tevye's oldest daughter in Fiddler on the Roof) plays Harold, a self-described "32-year-old ugly pock-marked Jew fairy." And that should sum it up in a nutshell.  Harold has no qualms about stating what's on his mind, no matter how rude or obnoxious he may come off sounding.  But the fact of the matter is I probably like Harold the most of the cast, simply because he does come right out and say it.  He arrives ("fashionably"?), and thus misses out on some of the fun.


Robert La Tourneaux plays "Cowboy", the "present" that Emory has brought for Harold.  Apparently a street hustler hired to put a smile on Harold's face, to say the Cowboy is a mimbo would be being overly gracious.  This poor sap probably couldn't put two and two together and get anywhere near 4.  In my typical acerbic wit I created a better word for him.  "Dimbo"  Cowboy gets off on the wrong foot from the very start when he greets Michael at the door with the song and the kiss that was supposed to be for Harold (who had yet to arrive for his own party).

Ruben Greene plays Bernard, a man who suffers from a double whammy of being both black and gay in a society that considers both to be less than acceptable.  Bernard is the first one on the clock to call his most loved one, which turns out to be the son of a woman for whom Bernard's mother worked as a housekeeper/maid.

Peter White plays Alan, the outsider in the group and the only straight man.  (There is some debate on that among critics and fans of the movie, and maybe my own heterosexual tendencies are in play here, but I am convinced he is straight even at the end.)  Alan was Michael's college roommate and in the ensuing years Alan married a girl from college with whom they were both friends.  Apparently Alan is having some trouble on the home front, which is why he comes to see Michael in the first place.  Watching Alan's expressions throughout the movie as he observes the interactions is pretty eye-opening.  I can imagine myself in his position, or at least I can imagine myself 30 years ago in that position.  Coming from my background (conservative small town mentality) , I probably would have reacted the same way in my 20's.  These days I'd fit right in.

As a final note on the picture, I rather liked it.  I understand that some members of the LGBT community have begun distancing themselves from the movie and play because it presents a rather negative view of the community, but if that's the case then most heterosexuals ought to distance themselves from Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?...

A number of the stars of this film have since passed away from HIV/AIDS (Nelson, Combs, Frey, Prentice, La Tourneaux ) and it's complications.  Which makes it a good reason to segue into the next film we will discuss.

Longtime Companion (1989):

In 1982, I first heard about this new disease that was affecting, mostly, the homosexual community.  Not much was known about it at that time.  It had only really been discovered a year earlier.  The fact that not much was known about it, and the fact that it was first discovered to be appearing in the homosexual community did not stop people from speculating about it.  The evangelical Christian community for example took no pauses to declare that it was God's judgement on the homosexuals.

The movie covers one day each year for several years in the lives of several gay couples.   The first day is July 3rd, 1981.  The talk of the gay community is a New York Times article about a new "cancer" that has begun to crop up in the gay community.  While this is discussed, we are introduced to the main characters of the film.  Willy (Campbell Scott) and John (Dermot Mulroney) are a pair of friends who are visiting a couple on Fire Island.  David (Bruce Davison) and Sean (Mark Lamos) are their hosts.

Willy ends up hooking up with "Fuzzy" (Stephen Caffrey) because, as Willy confesses, he "likes hairy men".  Meanwhile Howard (Patrick Cassidy) is auditioning for a part in a soap opera, which just happens to being written by Sean.  Howard's boyfriend, Paul (John Dossett) lends his emotional support in Howard's endeavors.  Fuzzy's sister, Lisa (Mary-Louise Parker), who is a neighbor of Howard and Paul, also lends encouragement.  

 Over the course of 8 years (the movie ends on a date in 1989), we see the gradual deterioration of several characters to the disease which has now been labelled AIDS.  The first to succumb is John.  But the most heart-rending victim in the movie is Sean, who appears to hang on for a year or two, but his decline is seen from the prism of David's eyes as he watches his longtime companion die.  Bruce Davison was nominated for an Oscar for his heart-wrenching portrayal of David.  (He lost to Joe Pesci, but he did win several other awards including a Golden Globes).

The movie is not a total downer, however.  There is plenty of humor in it as people try to deal with the situations.  There is a funny scene as several try to find something for one of their friends to be dressed in during his funeral and they come across a dress in his closet.  And one character reveals a past incident where he dressed up in his sister's wedding dress and fell down the stairs while still in it and passed out,  And I don't know if it was supposed to be funny, but I found the scene where a trio of musicians performed the Village People song "YMCA" as if it was a chamber music piece pretty funny.

Longtime Companion has been cited as the first movie to deal compassionately with AIDS.  It was preceded by a play, The Normal Heart, but that didn't get produced as a film until 2014.  Philidelphia, which came out several years later is probably the most well known movie to address the issue, but this one surely deserves a watch.  You'd have to be hardhearted indeed to not shed some tears in the final scene as three surviving members walk along a deserted beach and imagine seeing a horde of their deceased companions running up to them.  (Sorry for the spoiler... The movie poster I used for this piece is actually from that scene, though.)

Drive home safely, folks.


Monday, August 27, 2018

Blooming in the Shadows

This is my entry in the Wonderful Ingrid Bergman Blogathon hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema.

Cactus Flower was a stage play before it became a movie.  One of the most interesting facts I learned about it was the fact that Lauren Bacall had played the part of Stefanie Dickinson on stage and, quite naturally, expected to be offered the part when it was due to be filmed.  But producer Mike Frankovich decided he wanted someone a bit younger than Bacall, who was 45 at the time.  So who does he get?  Ingrid Bergman.  (Bergman was almost 10 years older than Bacall...)  Needless top say Bacall was pissed.  But it eventually worked out because the two kissed and made up and eventually worked together on Murder on the Orient Express (1974).

Ingrid Bergman had a career that spanned 50 years.  Even in her old age she was still an attractive woman and she passed on that attractiveness to her daughter, Isabella Rosselini.  She could still carry a movie, all the way up until she died.  Witness her performance in her last film, the TV movie  A Woman Called Golda (about Israeli prime minister Golda Meir, for which she won an Emmy).  She certainly did well in Cactus Flower, although only her co-star, Goldie Hawn, was nominated for an Oscar.  But Bergman could just as well have been nominated, too.

Cactus Flower (1969):

The truth about the matter is I don't understand how Toni Simmons (Goldie Hawn) can be infatuated with dentist Dr. Julian Winston (Walter Matthau).  He must be one hell of a charmer in bed.  Matthau plays an inveterate bachelor and ladies man who has a thing going with a girl half his age. (If only I could be so lucky...)  The thing is he's told her that he is married and has three kids.  Except he's not really married and there are no kids.  But there is a method to his madness.  Such as it is.  By making her believe he is married, he doesn't have to commit to a long-lasting relationship.

Except that Toni tries to commit suicide because she's in love with the big lug but he keeps standing her up, she thinks, for his wife.  Fortunately for Toni, her neighbor Igor (Richard "Rich" Lenz)  happens to smell the gas in her apartment and breaks in to save her.  But Toni had sent a letter to the dentist telling him of her plans to commit suicide.  Which his assistant, Stefanie (Ingrid Bergman) did not give him right away.  When he gets the letter he immediately cancels the rest of his appointments and rushes to her apartment.

Upon realizing that she is still alive and coming to the conclusion he can't keep up the charade any longer, he tells her he is going to marry her.  After he divorces his wife.  Which he doesn't have.  (he can't tell her he was never really married, could he?  Then she'd know he was a liar, and that would be bad...)  So now the doc desperately needs someone to pretend that she is his wife so he can divorce her.

His solution?  Get his assistant to pose as his wife.  But unbeknownst to him, Stefanie is secretly in love with him.  And she has some misgivings about the whole charade.  But she ends up going though with it, telling Toni that she and Julian, as man and wife, no longer love each other and that she, Stephanie, approves of Julian's plans to "divorce" her.  Unfortunately, she doesn't really do a really good job of convincing Toni that it's all over between them.  Toni is convinced that Julian's "wife" still loves him.  (Which of course, she does.)

If you are the least bit romantic, you will feel for Stefanie.  Here is a woman who is a shy "cactus flower", a woman who has an unrequited love for a man but has too much self respect to put herself out there.  Bergman is great as the woman who goes to any lengths to please the man she loves including going against her better judgement to help him maintain a lie.  You only hope it all works out in the end.  (Which end I won't reveal, but I will tell you it is satisfying.)

Well, folks, time to fire up the old Plymouth and head home.  To my lonely apartment.  Where I don't have a 20 something girl waiting for me.  Or even Goldie Hawn, which would be just as nice...  Drive home safely.


Friday, August 24, 2018

Gung Ho Soldiers

This is my entry in the Second Van Johnson Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood

The heroes who won the Big One never got the respect they deserved so much as they did in Battleground, in your bloggers honest opinion.  The cast included Van Johnson, who was himself no stranger to war films.  beginning with A Guy named Joe, Johnson was in about a dozen films that centered on military escapades, including The Caine Mutiny, Go for Broke!, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo and The Last Blitzkrieg.

Joining Johnson in this story about the events in a battle in Bastogne were Ricardo Montalban, James Whitmore, John Hodiak, Richard Jaekel and even James Arness. 

Battleground (1949):

The credited star of the movie is Holley (Van Johnson), but the viewpoint of the movie is mostly told from a new recruit, Layton (Marshall Thompson).  Layton arrives just as the news of the troop's orders come in and he is initially treated as an outsider.

The 101st Airborne is going to Paris on leave.  However, events change those plans as the Germans unexpectedly start having a few successes in the battle..  The company is ordered to the front.

On their first night they hole up in the town of Bastogne.  Several of the soldiers bed down in the home of a local woman, and Holley tries to put the moves on her.  But of course, the brass (and in effect the Breen censorship committee) has other plans.  Holley gets off on his maneuvers with only a few eggs that he manages to commandeer from the chicken house.  (The eggs become a running gag throughout the movie as Holley tries vainly to cook them, only to have his plans interrupted because they have to move out).

Realistic or not, the movie shows not only the bravery of the soldiers, but also the occasional acts of cowardice.  Several soldiers try to desert, even Holley at one point.  One soldier, Slezak (George Murphy),  is hoping for a discharge order to come through because of situations back home, but these are slow to arrive.

At one point, one soldier on guard ends up inadvertently letting some German soldiers pass his guard point.  The word is that some Germans have commandeered American uniforms and speak perfect English, but the word comes a bit too late for the  poor soldier.  The Germans get by him and end up blowing up a strategic bridge a few miles down the road.

This is war, so some of the soldiers do end up dying.  I won't reveal all of them, but one dramatic scene involves a patrol who end up under German fire.  Rodrigues (Ricardo Montalban) is wounded and tells his patrol members to go on without him, since his leg wound would only slow them down.  He crawls under a damaged jeep to hide and await the soldiers to return at a later time to get him, but he dies before they can get back to him.

One of the more dramatic scenes occurs during a Christmas church service.  The chaplain (Leon Ames) delivers the typical Hollywood propaganda speech in the form of a sermon:

"And the $64 question is: "Was this trip necessary?" I'll try to answer that. But my sermons, like everything else in the army... depend on the situation and the terrain. So I assure you this is going to be a quickie. Was this trip necessary? Let's look at the facts. Nobody wanted this war but the Nazis. A great many people tried to deal with them, and a lot of them are dead. Millions have died... for no other reason except that the Nazis wanted them dead. So, in the final showdown, there was nothing left to do except fight. There's a great lesson in this. Those of us who've learned it the hard way aren't going to forget it. We must never again let any force dedicated to a super-race... or a super-idea, or super-anything... become strong enough to impose itself upon a free world. We must be smart enough and tough enough in the beginning... to put out the fire before it starts spreading. My answer to the sixty-four dollar question is yes, this trip was necessary. As the years go by, a lot of people are going to forget. But you won't. And don't ever let anybody tell you you were a sucker to fight in the war against fascism. And now, Jerry permitting, let us pray. "

On that note folks, it's time to move on.  Drive home safely, and say a prayer of thanks to the men and boys who helped and continue to help keep America and the values of liberty and freedom still alive.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Obsessive Behavior

This is my entry in the Lee Grant Blogathon hosted by Angelman' Place and Realweegiemidget Reviews

Ernest Lehman, the multi- Academy Award nominee as a screenwriter directed only one movie in his entire life.  Portnoy's Complaint, the novel by Philip Roth about a sex-obsessed middle-aged man was probably the least likely title to make into a movie.  After all, the novel itself was just a one-joke monologue about a boy (and young man) and his obsession with jerking off. 

The book itself had many problems when it was published in 1969.  Two things that got people in an uproar was the candid treatment of the subject of masturbation, and the somewhat offensive treatment of Jewish identity.  (it should be noted that Roth himself was from a Jewish background, so his irreverence comes from direct experience and is not entirely a derogatory racist view.)  The book was banned in Australia (there's a new one on me...)

The film did not fare very well both at the box office and with the critics.  Roger Ebert's review was pretty much indicative of the general critical revie in that he called it "a true fiasco".  His main vitriol was aimed at the casting of Lee Grant as Sophie Portnoy, Alexander's mother.  He seems to think a better casting would have been Shelley Winters.  Myself, I don't know.  I've only seen the Jewish mother character (or maybe "caricature") maybe ½ a dozen times in movies (and most of them were in movies by Mel Brooks.)  I don't know if she's got the accent right, but the character of the Jewish mother seems to be OK.  Jack Somack as Jack, Alexander's father is better, but I think Grant does a decent job of it.

Portnoy's Complaint (1972):

Alexander Portnoy (Richard Benjamin) is a man obsessed with sex.  We get this from the very start of the movie.  A middle-aged man who hasn't progressed much further from his adolescent immaturity when it comes to women.  Witness the fact that he gets his female client (he's a lawyer) to movie to a different chair just so he can fantasize about her being naked.

At a session with his psychiatrist (D. P. Barnes, who has no lines but just sits there with a pensive look on his face as Portnoy goes off on his fantasies), Portnoy delves into his past and his many attempts to find ways to get off.  This movie is not as graphic as American Pie, but it sure as hell isn't much less raunchier in terms of what is described.

Much of the first part of the movie deals with Alexander's attempts to pleasure himself while his mother frets over what he's doing in the bathroom.  She's convinced he's been eating (gak) hot dogs down at the local teenage hangout.  (The fact that he tells her his problem is recurring diarrhea may have something to do with that.)

The main part of the movie takes place in Alexander's most recent past, when he hooks up with a non-Jewish girl, Mary Jane,  whom he calls "Monkey" (Karen Black).  Monkey is a nightmare to someone like me.  Sure she is just as obsessed with sex as is Alexander, but she has a neurotic side to her.

Not that Alexander Portnoy is an innocent bystander in his own downfall.  Portnoy is just as annoying  in his obsession as is Mary Jane.  One can't help but waffle between the idea that the two should part ways and that the two deserve each other.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you this is a classic and a great movie.  It's not.  But I'm also not going to tell you you should head for the nearest exit posthaste.  It has it's moments, especially if you like Richard Benjamin's typical innocence.   And Lee Grant is worth a view as the mother.  But it's not worth writing home about.  I recommend the novel if you just must know the story.  You could probably do a better movie in your head.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

"Dog" Days

This is my entry for the Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old days of Hollywood

H. C. McNeile, who wrote much of his writings under the pen-name of "Sapper",  was the creator of Capt. Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond.  Like many of his antecedents, Bulldog was an amateur sleuth, a man from a wealthy family who, tired of his dilettante status as a member of the elite, delved into crime as a pastime.  Bulldog was always at odds with the police, especially in the person of Col. Nielson, the head of the police department at Scotland Yard.  McNeile wrote several Drummond novels beginning in 1920 until his death in 1937, after which several other writers took up the mantle.

Several attempts at stage and radio tried to bring Bulldog to life, but his best portrayals were done in a series of movies.  John Howard played him the most and, although the Col. Nielsen character was played by different actors over the Howard era,  John Barrymore lent his skills to the character in three films in the period from 1937-38.

While the Bulldog Drummond series of movies are not the action packed mysteries that they could potentially have been, they do not suffer from incompetent acting, at least.  Reginald Denny, who appears as Bulldog's best friend, Algy, is a hoot.  E. E. Clive, an ubiquitous character actor from the era, is pretty good too as Tenny, Drummond's valet and frequent stooge in his adventures.  Not quite sure about Louise Campbell who appears in these three as Phyllis, Drummond's soon-to-be wife.  I have read elsewhere that Heather Angel (who took over the role after this series) was better.  Although she is instrumental in the first entry, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back, she just seems to be additional padding for the other two entries, and I didn't warm up to her. 

 In Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), Drummond is harassed by the wife, Erana Soldanis (Helen Freeman),  of a man whom Drummond was instrumental in seeing sent to the gallows.  She is assisted by the brother of the dead man, played by J. Carroll Naish.  The pair want to exact revenge on Drummond, but like that classic cliche, they're going to kill him slow.

So they kidnap his fiancee Phyllis (Louise Campbell).  Then they give him the runaround with a series of cryptic clues which sends him chasing all over London and the surrounding area for the next clue.  I tell you it's a pretty lame plot, and without the addition of Barrymore, as Nielson.  adopting a couple of disguises so he can surreptitiously follow  Drummond, this entry would have been dreary.  Even J. Carroll Naish, who usually appeals to me even when he is playing a stereotype of a foreigner lacks the zing that he gives in other movies.

The next entry in the series, Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937) featured our hero, still not married, but getting ever closer.  He is at his friend Col. Nielson's office when he learns of the plans to transfer a new explosive from it's inventor's lab.  Although Col. Neilson wants to have the professor sent with an armed guard, he rashly insists on flying only with his manservant.

Of course, this is a mistake because the manservant, Nogals (Frank Puglia) has plans to betray the inventor, and steal the explosive.  He manufactures a crash and ditches the plane with the explosive.  Conveniently (or maybe not so conveniently) Drummond and pals come across the explosive, which was parachuted separately, and take it.  But the bad guys know who has it.  So plans are hatched to get it back.  Then Drummond has to retrieve the explosive again for the good of King and country.

This one is, by far, the best of the three that I watched for this blogathon.  Although it suffers slightly for the lack of one particular thread that remains a mystery even at the end (who exactly is the mysterious Japanese man, Sumio Kanda (Miki Morita).  I get the feeling he was supposed to be more instrumental in the plot, but other than a brief encounter between our main bad guy and him on the train, there is no real indication of whom he is.

The final entry that had Barrymore and Howard together was Bulldog Drummond's Peril (1938). Once again, Bulldog is on the verge of following through with his marriage to Phyllis.  He is in Switzerland, at the home of Phyllis' aunt, where wedding gifts are pouring in from everywhere.  One of the gifts turns out to be a synthetic diamond.  One that is so good that, apparently, it could potentially cause the value of real diamonds to drop dramatically if the synthetic diamond became public.

Of course, the fake diamond is stolen, and a Swiss guard who was hired to watch the valuable wedding gifts is killed.  This leads to Drummond going on a chase after the culprit.  Despite the fact that Phyllis, exasperated by her husband-to-be's adventurous nature wants to call off the wedding.  (This a theme running throughout the series.  Phyllis wants her fiancee to settle down and be a stick-in-the-mud, so to speak, but Bulldog keeps getting caught up in adventures.)  

As it turns out, there are two scientists who, independently. are working on an idea to make the synthetic diamond.  The one who sent the present is the one who has better success, but the other may or may not be jealous of his rival.  There is also the guy who stole the diamond to begin with. 

All three of these entries only run about an hour each, which makes them easy to binge watch in one afternoon.  For you Barrymore fans, it may be a little bit of not enough, but when he does show up, his gruff demeanor as Col. Nielson is enough to make it worthwhile.

Drive home safely, folks.  And keep an eye out for Bulldog because he drives pretty erratically...


Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Closet Cases

Angelman (Chris) of Angelman's Place and I are doing a blogathon The Gender-Bending the Rules Blogathon in September.  The impetus of the blogathon stems from having just recently reviewed the 1982 film Victor/Victoria, and being inspired to look into the history of how gays and lesbians have been presented in film over the years.  (I was a history major in college, so any history intrigues me, but especially cultural history).

I read (and recently reviewed for this blog) the rather intriguing book The Lavender Screen, which delves into the story of homosexuals in film.  After finishing it, I donated it to my local library and mentioned to the director that I'd be interested in seeing The Celluloid Closet.  Apparently it had once been a part of the library shelves but had since gone missing and had not been replaced.  The director told me he would get it replaced forthwith, and sure enough it only took about a week or so.

First; a personal history:  I was born in 1961, and raised in rural Texas, which means I was privy to some of the racism that inhibited the South, if not in my hometown (which never had a black family living there until after I left town to go to college), at least on TV.  But I was raised to treat all people the same, regardless of race or color.  Which I still retain  the effects of that upbringing today.  But since my parents were fundamentalist Christians (Southern Baptists to be exact), I doubt they would approve of my extending that respect to members of the LGBT community.  But I do.  No one deserves to be second-class citizens in my America.  Which is why I call myself a Libertarian politically.  And it is also why I don't care whether my choices of movies garner approval from my family or my friends.  I watch anything that might have some appeal or at least something that would satisfy my curiosity in cultures that are otherwise alien to me.

The Celluloid Closet (1995):

From the very beginning of film there have been homosexuals.  How they were portrayed depended on the times.  This film includes a lot of clips that, apparently, had been part of the archives of Vito Russo, a man who made part of his living by touring the country delivering lectures on the history of how homosexuals were presented in the movies.  One of the earliest clips is from the files of Thomas Edison who basically invented the motion picture.  It is one of two men dancing.  (Note:  I'm not entirely sure that the two men are supposed to be gay.  Personally, I just think they were brought together to make the film.  Even though the title of the piece is supposed to be "The Gay Brothers"...)

But in it's earliest forms, the movies presented gay men as "sissies".  In silent films, this meant they used exaggerated pantomime to prance around, an admittedly prejudiced example of the homosexual as perceived by the straight audience. Interviews with various celebrities include both playwright Arthur Laurents who compares the sissy to the stereotype of the black characters in old movies who were portrayed as Stepin Fetchit types.  On the other hand, Harvey Fierstein claims he likes the sissy character, mainly because at least gays were on screen, even if they were rude stereotypes.

As we progress through the film, we become attuned to the goals of the Hays Code and its allies who sought to remove objectionable material from the movies.  As a result the homosexual went "underground", so to speak.  There were still gays in the movies, only no one admitted that the character was gay, only subtle and not so subtle hints even gave any indication of it.  Two films which I have previously reviewed, Dracula's Daughter, in which the main character is presented as (possibly) a lesbian as well as her position as a vampire, as well  as The Maltese Falcon, in which Peter Lorre's Joel Cairo is probably gay.  The character, as written in the original Dashiell Hammett novel is definitely a "fairy", but the movie had to make it something of a secret.

As the Code relaxed it's rules, there were many movies that had some gay characters, but because of the still in place restrictions, the characters often had to come to drastic ends (such as suicide or other forms of death).  Only after the Stonewall riot in 1969 did gays start getting more sympathetic treatment.  The film spends a portion of the movie discussing The Boys in the Band, which is noted in the film as the first movie in which none of the gay characters came to an untimely end.

No documentary of gays in film would be complete without addressing the issue of AIDS.  Fortunately this film appeared shortly after the movie Philadelphia, so it includes a discussion of that film as well as the lesser-well-known film Longtime Companion, a movie which addressed how a band of gay friends dealt with the AIDS crisis from it's first discovery to the untimely end of some of the characters over a period of a few years.

The sometimes not so subtle hints an inside jokes that were a part of the movies are covered in the documentary too.  One focus was on Rock Hudson, an actor who was known to be gay in Hollywood but was only "outed" after his death.  In Pillow Talk, Hudson plays a straight man who is acting gay to get inside Doris Day's panties.  It is commented on how Hudson must have felt in the role, himself being a gay man who tried to keep up a straight front on screen.  Another clip, from the movie Red River, features Montgomery Clift and John Ireland discussing pistols.  Montgomery Clift was well known as a gay man in Hollywood so the following quote has some subtle humor to it, even though the character he played was not necessarily gay:
"There are only two things more beautiful than a good gun...a Swiss watch, or a woman from ever had a Swiss watch?"

The film itself, unfortunately, came out after the death of the author, Vito Russo, on whose book it was based.  It would have been nice to have some commentary on it by him, but my copy does have a recording of one of his lectures.  Lily Tomlin narrates the film, and it is filled with interviews with various Hollywood people, including the aforementioned Fierstein and Laurents, but also Armistead Maupin, Tony Curtis, Gore Vidal, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tom Hanks.

As a history lesson, I found the film to be extremely entertaining.  After 20 years or so since the film first came out, the depiction of gays in films has progressed, although not always in a positive manner, at least it has been an improvement from what the studios did in the first 50 to 60 years.