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.

Quiggy


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.

Connie


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.




Quiggy


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 et.al.  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.


Quiggy