Saturday, August 12, 2017

Book Review: “Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style”

Like Ava: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski, Sophia Loren: Movie Star Italian Style by Cindy De La Hoz is a pictorial biography. While we learn a lot about the famous international star, it’s the pictures that really take center stage; the biography is filled with gorgeous images on almost every page.

Sophia Loren was born out of wedlock to Romilda Villani, a concert pianist and Riccardo Scicolone, a man with “a distant nobel lineage.” Villani hoped Scicolone would marry her (she had another daughter by him, Maria), but that wasn’t to be. As a teenager, Villani won a Greta Garbo look-alike contest sponsored by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Unfortunately, Villani’s parents wouldn’t allow their daughter to travel to the United States. Villani’s Hollywood dreams may have been dashed, but she invested all her energy into her eldest daughter “Sofia.”

The two big advantages I had at birth were to have been born wise and to have been born in poverty. –Sophia Loren

Sophia started her career as an extra in Italian films after World War II. She and her mother were among the thousands of extras used for the 1951 epic Quo Vadis starring Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr. Before too long, she was appearing in minor roles in Italian films, slowly developing a reputation in Italy. Sophia appeared in all kinds of movies in Italy, but in 1954 she had the good fortune to work with Vittorio De Sica on the The Gold of Naples. De Sica was a respected actor and director and their collaborations on screen would further both their careers. The Gold of Naples made Sophia a star in Italy and Europe; she was the toast of the 1955 Cannes Film Festival.

Sophia and Cary Grant in
The Pride and the Passion
Sophia’s career really took off when she went to Hollywood in 1957. Americans first got to see Sophia in Boy on a Dolphin, although the first American movie she worked on was The Pride and the Passion co-starring Cary Grant and Frank Sinatra. Boy on a Dolphin, filmed on location in Greece, was released first. Sophia starred alongside Alan Ladd and Clifton Webb in the colorful adventure tale directed by Hollywood veteran Jean Negulesco. Negulesco went on say “[Sophia] has, without a doubt, the most extraordinary talent I have ever met.”

As a film fan, I really like the way the book features all of Sophia’s movies chronologically with movie stills, film posters, as well as on-the-set images. It’s a great way to revisit the film icon’s career and relive some of the great movies she was a part of. My favorite Sophia Loren movie is Houseboat (1958). It made a big impression on me as a child and it has stayed with me every since. Sophia’s charm and personality really come through. Plus it doesn’t hurt that her costar is Cary Grant. As an Italian socialite trying to escape the tight grip of her father, Sophia’s character (Cinzia) gets a job as a nanny to widower Grant’s three young children. Sophia is a natural with the kids and everyone looks like they’re having a ball. As biographer Ms. De La Hoz says, it “is a delight from start to finish.”

If you’re a movie or Sophia Loren fan, you’re sure to enjoy Sophia: Movie Star Italian Style. If you put this book on your coffee table alongside Ava: A Life in Movies, your guests will never leave!

Sophia: Movie Star Italian Style
Hardcover 264 pages
Publisher: Running Press (September 26, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0762461314
ISBN-13: 978-0762461318
Product Dimensions: 8” x 10”
Price: $35.00

Friday, August 11, 2017

Screening of "Meet John Doe" at Daystar Center August 26

“Stanwyck on State Street” Series: Meet John Doe (1941)
Where: Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street
When: August 26, 2017
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

Meet John Doe (1941) is the tale of Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) a newspaper journalist. On the eve of her firing by a new owner, she stages a risky publicity stunt in order to negotiate to get her job back. In her last column, she creates a poor, unemployed character named John Doe who plans on jumping to his death from the roof of City Hall on Christmas Eve in order to protest the ills of society. The column catches the imagination of the newspaper’s readers so there is a mad scramble by the new publisher (James Gleason) to find a “real” John Doe to keep the story—and newspaper sales—going. Ann and the newspaper go on a search for someone who can play John Doe. They find a down-on-his luck former baseball pitcher (Gary Cooper) who is all too willing to go along with the game if he will receive medical treatment for his injured pitching arm. Ann’s columns make John Doe so popular that clubs in his name form across the country. All this publicity gets the attention of the newspaper’s corrupt publisher D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold). Norton has political aspirations and tries to use the John Doe clubs to promote his own interests. Will he succeed in manipulating John Doe? Or will John Doe end the movement with a jump from City Hall? Frank Capra directed this classic whose exploration of corruption and redemption still resonate with audiences 76 years after its initial release. The great supporting class also includes Walter Brennan (Sergeant York), Spring Byington (The Devil and Miss Jones), and Gene Lockhart (Miracle on 34th Street).

This is part of the “Stanwyck on State Street” series.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats. General Admission: $5 Students and Senior Citizens: $3.

Join the Chicago Film club; join the discussion
Twice a month we screen classic films and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Stephen Reginald is a freelance writer and editor. He has worked at various positions within the publishing industry for over 25 years. Most recently he was executive editor for McGraw-Hill’s The Learning Group Division. A long-time amateur student of film, Reginald hosts “Chicago Film Club,” a monthly movie event held in the South Loop, for the past two years. Reginald has also taught several adult education film classes at Facets Film School, Chicago.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Book Review: "Ava: A Life in Movies"

This new biography of screen legend Ava Gardner is one pretty package. Authors Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski, while focusing on Gardner’s “life in movies,” also smoothly weave in pertinent information on the star’s personal life. The book is loaded with gorgeous photographs—some candid, some studio generated—that remind us what a beautiful woman Gardner was.

Gardner was born in “a five-bedroom clapboard house in Johnston County, North Carolina on Christmas Eve, 1922.” Her rise to stardom and iconic stature during Hollywood’s Golden Age is the stuff of fairy tales. Gardner never having any ambition to be an actress of any stripe got noticed by Barney Duhan, a Loews Incorporated employee (parent company of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Gardner’s photo was prominently displayed in her brother-in-laws photographic studio in New York and Duhan, looking for a date, inquired about the beautiful girl in the window. In a phone call to the photo shop, Duhan mentioned that he worked for MGM. Gardner wasn’t in New York so she never met him. Based on Duhan’s interest, Gardner’s brother-in-law decided to deliver her photos to MGM’s New York office. This led to a screen test and a contract in 1941. She was only 18 years old.

Ava: A Life in Movies details the actress’s rise from bit player to major movie star with words and pictures. And as mentioned before, the photographs are plenty and beautiful. Many haven’t been seen before. My favorite is a studio test shot of Gardner taken in 1942  (page 31). This headshot was attached to her MGM employment questionnaire. She already looks like movie star; it’s obvious that the camera loved her. I don’t know how many pictures of Gardner Bean and Uzarowski looked at, but all the pictures in their biography are pretty amazing. The woman apparently never took a bad picture.

A studio publicity photo on Gardner in fashionable beachwear

Not meaning to take anything away from the text—which is engaging, well researched, and easy-reading—I would be negligent if I didn’t mention what a beautiful package this book is. The cover, the endpapers, the typography, all make it the perfect book for your coffee table (it’s too beautiful to put on your bookshelf). If you’re interested in Ava Gardner and classic Hollywood, I think you’ll enjoy Ava: A Life in Movies.

Ava: A Life in Movies
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Running Press (July 11, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0762459948
ISBN-13: 978-0762459940
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.2 x 10.4 inches
Price: $30.00

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Raiders of the Lost Ark at Daniel Webster Park, Chicago July 17, 2017

The Greater South Loop Association is presenting Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) free of charge at Daniel Webster Park, 1357 S Indiana Ave, Chicago, IL 60605. The movie starts at dusk.

Raiders of the Lost Ark is the first (and best) movie in the Indiana Jones franchise. The film takes place in 1936, five years before the United States entered World War II. Raiders stars Harrison Ford as professor and archaeologist Indiana Jones and Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, daughter of his mentor, Abner Ravenwood. Jones, at the request of the United States Army, is on the hunt for the ancient Ark of the Covenant as described in the Book of Exodus. The Bible describes the Ark as a gold-covered wooden chest that contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. When the Israelites carried the Ark into battle, they were victorious. The Nazis are searching for the Ark because they believe whoever possesses it will be invincible. Jones races against time and Dr. Rene Belloq, a competing archaeologist who is working with the Nazis, to get to the Ark first.

Lawrence Kasdan (Fatal Attraction) wrote the screenplay, from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman. Steven Spielberg directed the action-packed adventure that was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The memorable score, featuring “The Raiders March” was written by John Williams and performed by the London Symphony Orchestra.

Harrison Ford and Karen Allen pose this shot on the set of Raiders.
Backstory: Tom Selleck was originally cast as Indiana Jones, but had to drop out due to his commitment to the television series Magnum P.I. Debra Winger was offered the role of Marion Ravenwood, but she turned it down. Actress Sean Young auditioned for the part, but Spielberg was set on Karen Allen after seeing her in National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978). Alfred Molina, who played director Robert Aldrich in Feud: Bette and Joan, made his film debut as Satipo in Raiders.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Happy 101st birthday to Olivia de Havilland!

Today is Olivia de Havilland’s 101st birthday. The screen legend is the only surviving major cast member of the Civil War classic Gone With the Wind (1939). She’s also the most famous surviving actress from Hollywood’s Golden Age, outliving her younger sister, Joan Fontaine who passed away in 2013 at 96.
Olivia de Havilland in perhaps her most famous role as Melanie Hamilton
in Gone With the Wind

De Havilland is a two-time Oscar winner for To Each His Own (1946) and The Heiress (1949). Her first Oscar nomination was for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Melanie Hamilton in Gone With the Wind. She received two other Best Actress nominations for Hold Back the Dawn (1941), famously losing to her sister, and The Snake Pit (1948). For The Snake Pit she won the National Board of Review Award and New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actress. The Snake Pit exposed the poor conditions in state mental institutions. It had such an impact on audiences in 1948 that many states adopted new rules and regulations regarding the treatment of mental patients in state-run institutions.

De Havilland and her attorneys recently announced that they are suing FX and producer Ryan Murphy “over unauthorized use of her [de Havilland’s] identity in Feud: Bette and Joan.” De Havilland sued Warner Bros. in 1943 over the studio practice of adding the time an actor spent on suspension to his/her long-term contract. Her suit helped end the power and control of the major Hollywood studios which led to their decline.

De Havilland’s first film role was in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935). Her last big screen appearance was in The Fifth Musketeer (1979). In between there were some great movies and performances. Below is a list of some of the best.

Captain Blood (1935) – her first pairing with Errol Flynn
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – another pairing with Flynn (their third) in glorious Technicolor

Dodge City (1939) – her fifth picture with Flynn, also starring Ann Sheridan; one of the earliest Technicolor westerns
Gone With the Wind (1939) – her first Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress; she lost to costar Hattie McDaniel
Santa Fe Trail (1940)) – one of the top films of the year and another pairing with Flynn
They Died with Their Boots On (1941) – the final pairing of de Havilland with Flynn
The Strawberry Blonde (1941) – a great screen pairing with James Cagney and an up-and-coming Rita Hayworth
Hold Back the Dawn (1941) – on loan to Paramount, she was nominated for Best Actress under the direction of Mitchell Leisen; she lost to her sister Joan Fontaine for her work in Suspicion (1941)

Charles Boyer and de Havilland in Hold Back the Dawn

The Male Animal (1942) – good comedy role based on the James Thurber Broadway hit co-starring Henry Fonda
Princess O’Rourke (1943) – delightful comedy that was a forerunner to Roman Holiday (1953)
To Each His Own (1946) – her first Best Actress Oscar win, once again she was under the direction of Mitchell Leisen
The Dark Mirror (1946) – interesting dual role for de Havilland, playing identical twin sisters, one good one bad
The Snake Pit (1948) – an amazing performance of a woman suffering from mental illness

The Heiress (1949) – de Havilland goes from meak and mild to cold and ruthless in this classic based on Henry James’s Washington Square
My Cousin Rachel (1952) – notable as Richard Burton’s film debut, but it features a finely shaded performance from de Havilland as the mysterious Rachel
The Proud Rebel (1958) – one of my favorite de Havilland performances; she plays a tough woman rancher who befriends a man and his handicapped son

de Havilland with David Ladd, Alan Ladd

Light in the Piazza (1962) – beautifully photographed melodrama set in Rome
Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) – interesting film for the pairing of de Havilland with old friend Bette Davis

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