The Approaching New Year

With the new year fast approaching, I’ve decided to have a look at 2012 because I may love vintage but I rather look ahead than back. So what’s cooking?!

On January 17th, America’s sweetheart Betty White is going to complete another decade. She’ll be turning  ninety. I know she just recently said that’s not an accomplishment but that it just happened, bless her for  counting her blessings like that. But still. Ninety is quite a milestone. And with her popularity, filmography  and attitude she definitely outshines an entire studio full of performers less than half her age.

 

On April 18th then, my personal Tinseltown darling, RKO’s 1940s starlet and Perry Mason‘s renowned girl Friday, Barbara Hale, will join Ms. White, my N Hollywood grandma and their club of Fabulous at Ninety. Although long retired, well-deserved and (apparently) happily so, Ms. Hale is still fondly remembered by Della Street fans and classic cinéastes from around the globe. More and more of her work has been published on DVD or online in recent years and I sincerely hope that 2012 will reveal more of her bubbly warmth for us all to enjoy.

Then several films and TV shows will celebrate their anniversaries. Here are some examples:

  • Ironside (1967-75, NBC)
  • The Lucy Show (1962-68, CBS)
  • My Little Margie (1952-55, CBS & NBC)
  • Perry Mason TV show (1957-66, CBS)
  • A Likely Story (1947, RKO, directed by H.C. Potter, starring Barbara Hale and Bill Williams)
  • The First Time (1952, Columbia, directed by Frank Tashlin, starring Robert Cummings and Barbara Hale)
  • Ivanhoe (1952, MGM, directed by Richard Thorpe, starring Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor)
  • The Miracle Worker (1962, United Artists, directed by Arthur Penn, starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke)
  • Pat & Mike (1952, MGM, directed by George Cukor, starring Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracey)
  • Singin’ in the Rain (1952, MGM, directed by Stanley Donen, starring Gene Kelley and Debbie Reynolds)
  • That Touch of Mink (1962, Universal, directed by Delbert Mann, starring Cary Grant and Doris Day)
  • What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, Warner Bros., directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis & Joan Crawford)

Of course there are many many more, e.g. Bambi (1942), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Mrs. Miniver (1942) or To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). Also other TV shows like The Carol Burnett Show (1967-78) or The Flying Nun (1967-70).

The legendary Barbara Stanwyck had her screen debut as a fan dancer in Broadway Nights eighty-five years ago. She would’ve turned one-hundred and five on July 16th, Raymond Burr ninety-five on May 21st.

I could continue this list ad infinitum. But I rather wish you a smooth start into the new year and hope you’re looking forward to all the vintage treats that will be revisited and adored on this blog in the up-coming leap year.

Bless y’all!

Inherit the Wind

Talkie of the Week: Inherit the Wind

USA 1960,  128 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Stanley Kramer, Screenplay by: Nedrick Young (originally as Nathan E. Douglas) and Harold Jacob Smith, Based on actual events (the so-called Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, 1925) and the play by Jerome Lawrence & Robert Edwin Lee, written in 1955. Cast: Spencer Tracey, Fredric March, Gene Kelly, Dick York, Harry Morgan, Donna Anderson, Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Florence Eldridge, Jimmy Boyd

Plot summary: In America’s small town South, a young teacher is being prosecuted for teaching Darwin’s evolution theories instead of creationism to his students. His trial turns into a spectacle of arrogance and extremist views from both sides of the law. In the end, the question remains which conviction will prevail. It’s up to the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Review: Inherit the Wind is an intense film for an audience who isn’t looking for simple answers. Picking up on the 1950s drama of McCarthyism, the film illustrates the power of conviction and words in a public arena. It points out how easily masses of people can be swayed to believe one theory without listening to an opposing argument. The weight of familiar and established contents over unknown theories. The danger of half-truths and half-knowledge in a democratic society. The intimidating qualities of both, religion and science, if looked at exclusively.

What the film offers is an often surprising look at the ideals and origins of its protagonist characters, the counsel for the defense, Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracey), and the counsel for the prosecution, Matthew Brady (Fredric March), a look back into their interwoven past, their own evolution and motivation. Spencer Tracey is a perfect sparring partner for Fredric March. Their courtroom scenes are both painful and delightful to watch, they are both so brilliantly bouncing off each other.

The supporting cast is equally worth mentioning: Gene Kelly is a convincingly slick reporter whose own ideals and beliefs are constantly in limbo. Florence Eldridge gives a beautiful performance as Matthew Brady’s loyal wife who admires her husband’s faith, his creed. It is heartbreaking to watch her observing her husband’s decline in credibility. Dick York delivers a persuading performance as the young defendant whose own motives and faith get tested during his trial. He comes across as a teacher who didn’t mean to start such a public fight. He seems genuine in his portrayal of an average citizen whose own little act of courage was blown a little out of proportion.

And this is what Inherit the Wind is all about. The setting may be the Tennessee “Monkey Trial”, but in essence, this film raises many more questions than only one. It is a tale about the human condition that’s still as current today as it was in 1925 when the actual trial took place, or in 1955 when the original play was written and first produced or in 1960 when this film won a statue at the Berlin Film Festival.

Available on VHS and DVD. Movie trailer here.

Remakes

Although it may sometimes seem as if remakes are a contemporary idea, they actually go back to the 1920s (e.g. The Battle of Sexes, made in 1914 and then again 1928, each directed by D.W. Griffith) and the 1930s when talkies became more popular than silent movies. When studio bosses decided to re-do successful films. Hollywood, after all, has always been an industry.

But as old as its core motivation, the discussion of remakes has also remained the same – is it necessary to re-tell a story that has worked before? Can’t Hollywood come up with new ideas? New characters and plots?

Well, in times of reshaping and relaunching TV shows from the 1970s and 80s, I guess the answer is clear. It is often cheaper to pick up on an already established franchise. May seem more sensible. Almost like an homage – although  how could it be  if everything that used to work and made a product genuine is being replaced, updated and beautified?

Opinions will always differ on remakes. I myself was thrilled when I first heard about a new version of The Women back in 2008. Annette Benning’s name truly pleased me when I saw it listed for the project. Then I saw the movie. And in spite of Ms Benning, it paled in comparison to the original movie from 1939 on all levels.

But remakes can work. There are examples, sometimes unknown to us today. Love Affair from 1939 for example, starring Charles Boyer and Irene Dunne. It was remade by the same director, Leo McCarey, in 1957 with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, called An Affair to Remember. And then again under its original title in 1994, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Benning, plus Katherine Hepburn.

The Window from 1949 (see Talking Classic‘s first “Talkie of the Week” entry) was also remade in 1966, under the title of the short story the film was originally based on, The Boy cried Murder. I have not yet seen this version but would love to see how and if they made it work.

Father of the Bride and Father’s little Dividend from 1950 and 51, directed by Vincente Minnelli, starring Spencer Tracey, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Bennett, were also remade in 1991 and 95. Then with an all-star cast led by Steve Martin and Diane Keaton.

What’s striking about the remakes of Father of the Bride and The Women though is the almost screwball-like quality paired with hysterics. Although equally well cast, the films don’t live up to the originals. It may be a reflection on the 1990s and 2000s, but the adaptations seem to lack a sense of sincerity in their otherwise entertaining and comedic plots. Steve Martin is not a Spencer Tracey, Diane Keaton is no comparison to Joan Bennett, nor is Meg Ryan a Norma Shearer. How could they be? They live in different times and so do the stories that were told so beautifully in their own time, with their original cast.

Now another remake is being discussed, green-lit by Warner Bros. The Thin Man is supposed to be redone, starring Johnny Depp and Rachel Weisz. I personally adore the original six movies which came to theaters between 1934 and 1947. William Powell and Myrna Loy. What better a pairing could you find? I am not convinced that you could replace them. Or that the plot will work in a new movie with a contemporary perception of Dashiell Hammett’s characters. Mind you, it worked to base a couple on Nick and Nora on TV in the 1980s. Hart to Hart was a good success. But William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora are so iconic – just have a look at the screen version of Bewitched  from 2005. Another example for an over-the-top version of a classic hit franchise. It disappointed fans and didn’t exactly score with the critics. However, the film did bring in some money, so if that’s the old motivation, I better keep spending it on the originals. And hope for more of them to be released on DVD.