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 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

Monday, June 12, 2017

TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock—Free online course

Coming this Summer, sign up for the newest online film course from TCM and Ball State!

“We invite movie lovers and online learners from around the world to join us for a free, flexible online course, TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock (#Hitchcock50). This is the third free online course to be offered by TCM and Ball State, following Film Noir (2015) and Slapstick Comedy (2016).

In this Hitchcock course, enjoy multimedia course materials, daily in-app messaging with movie clips, mini-games, and ongoing interactions with fellow film fans on the TCM message boards or at #Hitchcock50.
We will explore 40+ Hitchcock films from his first film in the silent era, The Lodger (1927) to his final film five decades later, Family Plot (1977). In all, the course will reflect on Hitchcock’s unparalleled 50-year career as one of cinema’s most successful and unique filmmakers. The course will run concurrently with TCM’s programming festival, “50 Years of Hitchcock”, which will screen Hitchcock films Wednesdays and Fridays during the month of July 2017.

Both the course and the associated films are designed to enrich your understanding of Alfred Hitchcock, Hollywood filmmaking, and the shifts in popular culture and film production contexts that Hitchcock used to his advantage throughout his illustrious career. You will be able to share your own thoughts about Hitchcock and cinema history with a worldwide community of students, fans, and film lovers.

Contribute to the conversation using #Hitchcock50”

To sign up for this free course, click here. Check below for a preview of the course.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Screening of "Ball of Fire" at Daystar Center June 10

“Stanwyck on State Street” Series: Ball of Fire (1941)
Where: Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street
When: June 10, 2017
Time: 6:45 p.m.
Hosted by Stephen Reginald

New York Showgirl Sugarpuss O’Shea (Barbara Stanwyck) needs to hide out for a while to keep from being forced to testify against her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews). To escape the police, she finds refuge with a bunch of scholars working on an encyclopedia. Bertram Potts (Gary Cooper), a grammarian, is working on an entry on slang and thinks Sugarpuss could help him get up to speed on the current lingo.

While Sugarpuss is hiding out with Potts and his seven professor colleagues, she finds she’s getting attached to this odd collection of encyclopedia research writers. Potts falls head over heels for Sugarpuss, but Joe Lilac plans to marry Sugarpuss so she can’t testify against him in court. Will Lilac get his way or will Sugarpuss pledge her allegiance to Potts and the professors.

Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress for her performance in this classic screwball comedy written by Charles Brackett and BillyWilder and directed by the legendary Howard Hawks. Ball of Fire boasts an impressive supporting cast, including Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Allen Jenkins, and Dan Duryea.

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