Thursday, January 28, 2010


So we all know that West Side Story is a modern retelling of the Shakespeare classic Romeo and Juliet. While they are similar, they also have their differences and my job is to show them to you! Raquelle made me...just kidding, I volunteered :)

Maria and Juliet both have fake deaths.
In R & J, Friar Laurence gives Juliet a potion to make her appear to be dead though she is really in a deeeeeep sleep. Deep enough to make her not have a pulse. Don't quite know how that one worked out, but okay...

Romeo doesn’t get the memo that Juliet isn’t really dead, so when he goes to see her ‘body’, he gets all upset and drinks poison to be with Juliet. She wakes up like, 3.5 seconds later and discovers Romeo all drawn out next to her. She has vice versa thinking and stabs herself with Romeo’s dagger to be with him.

WSS is totally different however because Anita gets upset after being harrassed by the jets and tells them that Chino shot Maria for loving Tony. Tony catches wind of this, runs out into the streets calling Chinos name begging him to shoot him too so he'd be with Maria. Tony and Maria find each other and while running towards each other all Bo Derek and Dudley Moore in 10 , guess what; Chino heard Tony yelling his name and shoots him. Insert a few dramatic moments and Maria walks away. The End. It isn’t shown or explained if Maria really did kill herself, so that’s one difference between the two stories.

Paris/Chino and the relationship between Tybalt/Bernardo and Nurse/Anita are completely different.
Paris in R & J has been arranged to marry Juliet. Chino in WSS has been arranged to marry Maria. Obviously both gals fall in love with other guys and these two are just left to their own devices.
Chino – kills Tony after he finds out about his relationship with Maria meaning he will probably end up in jail for quite a while.
Paris – After Juliet kills herself, he’s just sort of left in the dust. Poor Paris :(

Also, Tybalt is Juliet’s cousin. Nurse is kind of a confidant for Juliet. In the Shakespeare story, they’re not romantically involved, although Nurse shows some affection for Tybalt at the masked ball. Also, when Tybalt dies in the street fight, Nurse is visibly upset at his death. However, in West Side Story Anita and Bernardo are clearly lovers. Both Nurse’s and Anita’s reactions are similar in that they are both very upset at the deaths.

Romeo and Juliet are actually married while Tony and Maria are fake married.
R & J go to Friar Laurence (the same guy who give Juliet the “it’ll make you look dead” potion) to get married, like for real. Nobody knows about their holy matrimony except Nurse. Tony and Maria have a do-it-yourself wedding in the bridal shop (how appropriate) resulting in the scene that everybody hates and think its such a corn-fest, but…I kinda love it.

Do you see the “cross” above them? ;)

Mama will make him ask about your prospects.
If you go to church…
Oh, always.
Yes…Papa might like you.

James Francis Cagney . . . it's hard to put into words what this megawatt-hyperkinetic little powder-keg of a guy and his work has meant to me throughout my 42 years. I can honestly say I don't recall a time in my life when I didnt watch and enjoy his films. Some of my earliest recollections of movies are as a 4-5 year-old kid sitting on the floor about 2 feet from the TV completely and utterly entranced and enthralled by Rocky Sullivan, Tom Powers or Cody Jarret, oblivious to any and all goings on around me! I vividly recall going to Yale University law school to see "A Midsummer Nights Dream", I couldnt have been more than 5 or 6 years old and all that Shakespeare talk went way over my head but I loved it anyway! These were the days before cable, video and TCM so when these films played on TV or were getting screened somewhere it was an EVENT! My family, especially one of my uncles, were big time movie buffs and so the appreciation of the old Hollywood films was always encouraged and has only gown throughout the years for me. But above all others, Cagney remains my all-time favorite.

Born on July 17th, 1899, Cagney was a bit of an oddity in Hollywood . . . neither tall nor overly "Handsome" by Hollywood leading man terms, but what he may have lacked in stature or looks he made up for 100 times over by sheer talent and magnetic personality. William Wellman saw it when they began shooting "Public Enemy" in 1931 which is why Cagney's and Eddie Woods' roles were switched and he played Tom Powers, smashed a grapefruit in Mae Clark's face and became an overnight sensation! After which Warner Bros. put him in a string of quick, tough little pictures like "Smart Money", "Blonde Crazy", "Taxi", and "The Picture Snatcher". Some of those pre-code dramas are pretty intense and daring even by today's standards!

He was teamed often with WB workhorse actress Joan Blondell and pals Pat O'Brien and Frank McHugh (the first Cagney/O'Brien teaming "Here Comes the Navy" was even nominated for best picture!). Capitalizing on the success of "42nd Street" and "Goldiggers of 1933" WB put Cagney in "Footlight Parade" and he finally got to show the world that he was more than just a tough-guy! His stylized singing and nimble dancing in the finale is quite enjoyable! The film itself is a non-stop joyride and remains my fave Busby Berkley musical.Cagney and Jack Warner butted heads constantly over scripts and salary and Jimmy walked several times during the 1930's. In 1938, after an unsuccessful attempt to work on his own productions ("The Great Guy" and "Something to Sing About"), he was back at WB playing what I consider THE definitive Cagney tough-guy role, Rocky Sullivan, in "Angles with Dirty Faces". I've lost count of the number of times I've seen this film and yet each time it seems fresh and vibrant, thanks not only to Cagney's oscar nominated performance (his first) but also to the top-notch supporting cast including Pat O'Brien, Ann Sheridan, Humphrey Bogart and the Dead End Kids, and of course director Michael Curtiz and his production team.

The early 40's saw some very interesting work from Cagney in films like the underappreciated "City for Conquest", the hilarious, break-neck-paced "Torrid Zone" (Ann Sheridan nearly steals that one!) the funny and touching "Strawberry Blonde" and the technicolor "Captains of the Clouds". Then in 1942 Jimmy got his dream role of a lifetime, the chance to play George M.Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy". To say he rose to the task of this part is a severe understatement! Cagney is so great in this role and the film so well made that whatever corny patriotics and historical inaccuracies it may possess become irrelevent while viewing. Cagney walked off with a well-deserved Oscar for best actor that year!

After the triumph of "Yankee Doodle Dandy" he sort of lost his way, trying once again to go independent but in 1949 he returned to WB and made "White Heat" playing mother-fixated psychopath Cody Jarret and uttering one of the greatest tag lines in film history: "Made it Ma, Top of the World!" Co-star Virginia Mayo loves talking about working with Cagney and felt he shouldve gotten an oscar nomination for his work in that film. She also pointed out that acting scared when Jimmy had his hands on your throat was really EASY!! Cagney dismissed it as yet another routine gangster film.

The 1950's was uneven but there was some interesting work from Cagney in films like "Come Fill the Cup", the Nicholas Ray western "Run for Cover", and the Lon Chaney bio-pic "Man of a Thousand Faces". I dont think anyone would disagree that his best work in the 50's was in "Mr Roberts" and "Love Me, or Leave Me" which got Cagney his last oscar Nomination for best actor. He made a cameo appearance as George M Cohan in "The Seven little Foys" with Bob Hope and had shooting pains in his legs during his brief dancing routine.

In 1961 Cagney starred in Billy Wilder's hilarious frenetically paced comedy "One, Two, Three", spitting out dialogue at the speed of light with the energy of ten men! But he had trouble nailing the long stretches of fast dialogue and so decided that it was time to hang it up and retire.

In 1974 the AFI gave Jimmy their Lifetime Acheivement award, the first actor to recieve such an honor. His bouyant and hilarious acceptance speech ended with "For the record i never said mmmmmmmmm, you Dirty rat!!...what i said was (aping Cary Grant) Judy, Judy, Judy!"He came back to the big screen one last time in 1981 for Milos Forman's "Ragtime" which also paired him once again with lifelong friend Pat O'Brien. The 1984 TV movie "Terrible Joe Moran" was his last acting gig and James Francis Cagney passed away on March 30th, 1986, which ironically is the birthday of that uncle I mentioned who so encouraged me as a little kid to watch the old Hollywood films.

Watching a Cagney film for me is like recapturing a piece of my childhood because every time he's onscreen I become that little 4-5 year-old kid sitting on the floor about 2 feet from the TV completely and utterly entranced and enthralled by Rocky Sullivan, Tom Powers or Cody Jarret, oblivious to any and all goings on around me. Thank you James!

If I told you that there was an actor who was Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Robert Taylor all rolled into one, with a pinch of Paul Muni thrown in for good measure you'd probably think I'm nuts. But such an actor did exist, and his name was Fredric March.

Like Tracy and Muni, March was a real actor with a capital A. In films like A Star is Born, Inherit the Wind and The Best Years of Our Lives, March gives the kinds of performances that make you forget that he is an actor playing a role-- you're only seeing the character. And March went a step further than Tracy, often choosing roles that didn't mesh with his offscreen views if it got the point across. For instance, in real life March actually agreed with the Clarence Darrow side of the Inherit the Wind argument. But he played the role of Matthew Brady with conviction and a fire in his belly so that you believed that he believed the lines he was saying.

Like Gable and Taylor, March could also play a romantic lead. I mean, it was totally believable that Greta Garbo would leave her husband and son to spend her life in sin with Fredric March in Anna Karenina. In Design for Living, you can completely understand why Miriam Hopkins can't decide between Gary Cooper and Fredric March.

Speaking of Design for Living, this is the film that officially got me hooked on Fredric March. I never, in all my movie watching years, would have thought this particular word would describe him, but... he is so .... adorable. If you wouldn't mind the slight inconvenience of fast-forwarding a little through a YouTube video, you will get to see my favorite March moment out of all his films.

A little background first. In Design for Living, March plays an unpublished playwright who is being artistically challenged by Miriam Hopkins, his and friend Gary Cooper's shared paramour. In my favorite scene, he has finally finished Act I of his play, "Goodnight Bassington: a comedy in about three acts with a tragic ending." March reads the ending aloud to Gary Cooper. I'll be brutally honest-- I was giggling uncontrollably when I watched this scene for the first time.
I think it's a shame that Fredric March isn't remembered today with the same iconic status that Spencer Tracy has acquired. I believe that he could match, if not top, Tracy's acting ability when faced with any role. I don't even have to hypothesize about this because they actually did play the same role. In 1931, Fredric March played the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde a whole ten years before Spencer Tracy re-created the role in 1941. While both actors bring something different to the role, I've always liked the March version ten times more. He really blends into his character, merges with the role in a way that Tracy could never quite manage... you always still see that good natured, honest Spencer Tracy peeking through whichever character he played.

Not to knock Spencer Tracy again, but really... which would you prefer? Spencer Tracy? OR...Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and Robert Taylor all rolled into one with a pinch of Paul Muni thrown in for good measure?

The world was dancing.
Paris had succumbed to
the mad rhythm of the
Argentine tango.

– The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921)

The Argentine Tango came to American shores as early as 1911 and was considered quite shocking for the day. Vernon and Irene Castle did lend some respectability to the tango in their ballroom dance exhibitions. True Tango madness among the youth of America did not reach a zenith until 1920-1921 with the release of the film The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had something that Vernon and Irene Castle did not, the pure, raw sensuality that was Rudolph Valentino. For this we must thank a woman who is relatively unknown today, June Mathis.

Hollywood history and legend has widely credited June Mathis with discovering Rudolph Valentino. Valentino landed the plum role of Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because Mathis recommended him after she saw him in Clara Kimball Young’s film The Eyes of Youth. Rudolph Valentino’s star began its irrevocable ascent because of her foresight, her vision. It was the guiding hand of June Mathis and the sensitive direction of Rex Ingram that helped Valentino give a performance that stands firm to this day. Not only was it through her vision that Rudolph Valentino gained stardom, they developed a fond and lasting friendship until his untimely death. Their friendship was no romance, she was a matronly and wise figure that Valentino looked to for guidance on more than one occasion.

Vicente Blasco Ibañez's popular war novel, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1918), was considered by studios to be unsuitable for the screen. Mathis took it upon herself to prove otherwise. It was through her perseverance that in 1919, Richard Rowland, then head of Metro, purchased the rights to the novel for the then- huge sum of twenty thousand dollars. June took on the difficult task of writing the adaptation of the novel, a sweeping story of a family, separated and engulfed by the tragedy of World War I. Mathis also exercised her considerable sway in obtaining director Rex Ingram and pushing for--and getting--the relatively unknown Rudolph Valentino for the lead role of Julio.

Contrary to what the naysayers in the industry and within Metro had predicted, the film was a tremendous hit. Stock in Ingram, Valentino and Mathis went up 150%. The enormous success of the film meant that June Mathis became a voice to be reckoned with in Hollywood, a real player in every sense of the word. Both she and Valentino rose to great personal heights in careers that continued to cross paths until their untimely deaths.

Jeffrey Lynn’s career spanned from 1938 to 1990 in films, television, plays, and radio, yet not much is known on the actor today.

Jeffrey Lynn was born Ragnar Godfrey Lind on February 16th 1909 in Auburn, Massachusetts. Though information is difficult to find on his family, he did grow up with a rather large family: three sisters and two brothers. After graduating from Bates College with B.A. Degree, Jeffrey started off a career in teaching high school speech, English, and drama. Somehow though, he always managed to put some acting into classes and that’s when the young man decided he wanted to go to Hollywood. Jeffrey began with summer stock companies but eventually he caught the eye of Warner Brothers. He began his film career with rather small and unimportant characters but as time went by, Jeffrey’s roles got better and better.

Warner Bros was planning on making the Fannie Hurst story “Sister Act” into a movie, and there hopes was to get an all-star cast but things didn’t turn quite the way they had planned. Michael Curtiz, director of the film wanted Errol Flynn and Bette Davis to star in the film but because of other film obligations, they were unable to play the roles. Going from an A-list cast of actors, Warner Bros made the film into a B-list cast of actors that would star Priscilla Lane and her sisters Rosemary and Lola, Claude Rains, May Robson, Dick Foran, newcomer John Garfield, and Jeffrey Lynn. Curtiz felt unhappy with the casting but went along with directing the film. The film’s title was no longer going to be “Sister Act” but it was to be “Four Daughters”. The film would center around Four Women who are growing up and really beginning to fall in love. Jeffrey Lynn would play the character of Felix Dietz, a man who all the girls fall head over heels for. Jeffrey’s Felix and Priscilla’s Ann were destined to be together but someone came between them- John Garfield’s Mickey. The film was much more than just a B-List Cast, the film had an amazing storyline that fit perfectly with the actors’ portrayal of their characters.
After the huge success of “Four Daughters”, Jeffrey had made into Hollywood and was now on the top of his game until something suddenly got into the way. World War II was right around the corner and many Americans would join in and sacrifice their lives for other Americans. Deciding it was time for him to help, Jeffrey Lynn joined the Army Air Force, where he had earned a bronze star. Jeffrey spent about 4 years in the Air Force and when he did come back from the War, he had hoped he could revitalize his career but life had different plans for him.

Shortly after coming back from fighting, Jeffrey married magazine editor, Robin Chandler with whom he would have two children with Jeffrey Jr (born in 1948) and Letitia (born in 1949). As his roles in movies became less important to him, Jeffrey did some television but eventually went into real estate. Aside from doing real estate and television, Jeffrey also did some plays such as “The Philadelphia Story" (in which he played C.K. Dexter Haven) and “Mister Roberts” (where he played the title character).

Though it seemed that Jeffrey had disappeared from Hollywood, Jeffrey was about to get a role that would bring him back into the spotlight for some time. The creators of the television show, “Murder She Wrote”, wanted Jeffrey to reprise his role from his 1949 film “Strange Bargain in which starred alongside Martha Scott. Jeffrey agreed and the episode was a hit. Years after making the episode, Jeffrey passed away on November 24th 1995 with his third wife, Helen by his side. Though he didn’t establish the same career as Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable, Jeffrey did have a successful career.

From teaching, to acting, to fighting in the army, Jeffrey always was working. The particular reason I like him is because he often portrayed the everyday man, the guy next door, the one who could be your best friend and at the same time, be there for you. Even when the films weren’t that good, Jeffrey always did his best. One of his favorite films of his was 1941, Vincent Sherman film “Underground”, in which he had played a Nazi soldier who finally understands the wrong, that is being done in Germany and then retaliates. He wasn’t a one dimensional character either, he could play poet Joyce Kilmer or he could play gate swinging Felix Dietz. He had more talent than people gave him credit for.

I grew up among people many times my age. After my parents went splitsville, we moved into my grandmother's house for a while, and then lived on the same street- in two different apartments- for years. While my mother worked, we went to Grandma's after school. My many great-uncles came over for coffee every morning, and we'd go there for dinner with my Uncle Paul every Sunday, and often during the week. This was when meals was a long conversation interrupted with food, and many times the talk veered to movies.
The classics. This was where I first learned about Harvey, where Jimmy Stewart was pals with a giant invisible rabbit, and The Night of the Hunter, with Robert Mitchum's evil preacher chasing two kids through the woods. Where I heard famous scenes reenacted, old gags remembered, and forgotten gems revealed. Some seemed beyond belief, like On Borrowed Time, in which Lionel Barrymore traps the Grim Reaper in a tree in his yard. But the most elusive was Tales of Manhattan (IMDb), an anthology ensemble film that followed a luxurious tuxedo coat that brought misery to some and fortune to others. It's still not on DVD, but gets shown on cable sometimes. I finally tracked it down a week or so ago.
It's amazing that a movie starring Rita Hayworth, Ginger Rogers, Henry Fonda, Edward G. Robinson, Charles Laughton, Paul Robeson, Charles Boyer, Cesar Romero, Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson, and W.C. Fields & Phil Silvers in the restored cut, would be unavailable. It seems largely unknown, and it's unfortunate, because while it's a bit on the long side it's an enjoyable film that has something, and someone, for everybody.
The coat begins life as a tailored suit for a famous, headstrong theater actor played by Charles Boyer; he's in love with old flame Rita Hayworth, and shuts down his successful show to chase her, even though she's already married. Thomas Mitchell, the character actor best known as Doc Boone from Stagecoach plays the husband, who seems the fool but has a sly glint to his eye that betrays the card up his sleeve. He's not as tipsy as he looks, and as he insists on showing them his favorite hunting rifle, the suspense ratchets up. But once again, the story is not as it seems. The actor begins giving the performance of his life, as he has a change of heart and wants to make things right for everyone.
Each episode gets lighter in tone, but all of them play games on the viewer. We get a lovely comedy scene when Cesar Romero, home from his bachelor party, gets in trouble when fiance Ginger Rogers finds a love note in his coat. But it's not his coat. Or is it? His pal Henry Fonda tries to cover for him, and we get to see him and Ginger at the top of their games as they have a verbal fencing match. Romero is delightful here, and I wonder if Hugh Laurie got ideas for Bertie Wooster after watching this. This funny skit is available on Youtube in 3 parts: 1 2 3
Next the coat is sold to a second hand shop where a long-suffering wife buys it for her composer husband, Charles Laughton, when by chance he gets to conduct his music before an orchestra. But the coat is too small, and he tears the sleeves, to the audience's uproarious laughter. The maestro watching him perform manages to shame them with simple dignity- he stands up and removes his own coat, so that Laughton may do the same. He's always been a powerfully expressive actor and this chapter, which has the least dialogue, is suited to him.
As the coat drifts down the social ladder it begins imbuing good luck instead of bad. In the film's most touching sequence, it finds Edward G. Robinson, a ruined alcoholic who lives on the street rather than take charity from the shelter. He's punishing himself, and if you've only seen Robinson as the stereotypical criminal he played in Key Largo, there's a whole lot more to his career.
Start with Double Indemnity, but his role here encapsulates his range quite well. His college reunion is being held at the Waldorf Astoria, and the man running the shelter decides to help clean him up so he can go. It becomes a game to him- can he fool his old buddies? The clothes make the man, and soon he is looking like a regal captain of industry. But mere chance makes him show his hand, and the speech he gives is quite touching.
This was post-30's screwball Depression era of My Man Godfrey, but Hollywood still had pathos for the "forgotten man," or as we'd call them, homeless. Robinson's performance captures the dignity of a ruined man paying penance for his mistakes, rather than beg. From there, the coat gets used in a robbery, stuffed with the stolen loot, and dropped from a plane as the crooks escape to Mexico. It falls far from Manhattan, on a poor sharecropper's land in the Deep South.
There it gets found by Paul Robeson and his very religious wife Ethel Waters, who believes it's a gift from God. This section is broadly comical and probably offensive today, but it contains Paul Robeson's last part before he was put on the Hollywood Blacklist for his labor activism and what history revises as "communist sympathies." His great presence helps alleviate the discomfort for modern viewers in seeing the '40s portrayal of a black rural community.

Robeson and his wife begin sharing the money with their neighbors, asking what they've prayed for, and granting the cash to get it. But only if they prayed for it. Eddie "Rochester" Anderson is on hand as the town preacher with his trademark scratchy voice, but with no Jack Benny to mock, he feels more like a caricature; take it as the cameo it is, and it's not offensive. In fact, he's one of the funniest characters in the film.

This was my mother's favorite part as a child- many of her favorite movies involved treatment of race, like To Kill a Mockingbird. It passed to me, and that's one reason I sought this out. Movies like Cabin in the Sky and The Green Pastures- where Rex Ingram gets to play both a black God and a black Satan- have always intrigued me as part of the past. Because the film pulls so many switcheroos on us, we keep waiting for the other shoe to drop- will the criminals land their plane and take the money? Will the police come and say it's stolen? Instead, the tension comes from findest the last member of town they haven't asked, a blind old man who might wish for something so great that they have to give their own wishes up to grant it. They end with singing a spiritual, a bit corny now, but Robeson's voice is worth hearing. Especially since there are few movies other than 1936's Show Boat. After 2 hours, we're satisfied with yet another good story and to learn the final resting place of the coat- as the old man's scarecrow!
But one of the best sequences of the film was cut- W.C. Fields buys the coat from Phil Silvers, to wear as he delivers a lecture for Margarent Dumont's Temperance assocation (they were the folks who got alcohol banned in Prohibition- thus endeth the history lesson). This was supposed to fit in between the Edward G. Robinson story and the Laughton one, but it was so funny that it stole the entire show! He finds what he thinks are wads of cash in the coat, so he eagerly buys it for $15, but Silvers hoodwinked him! At the Temperance Meeting, a disgruntled employee spikes the "cocoanut milk" with booze, and hilarity of course ensues. If you love W.C. Fields, it's a must-see, and thankfully it's on Youtube in 2 parts.

W.C. Fields and Phil Silvers
Tales of Manhattan is worth hunting down, and is of a bygone era when studio stables could produce huge ensemble casts. Nowadays the anthology film is rare; the last one I remember off the top of my head is Four Rooms, and they tend to use different directors as a gimmick. I loved watching this one and seeing one star after another, and the background peppered with character actors like bullfrog Eugene Pallette. I found the story the tailcoat ("Tails of Manhattan," get it?) drifting down the class structure from rich to poor quite clever, and the unexpected endings of some tales kept my interest through the somewhat long movie.

The Temperance Meeting
This sometimes plays on the Fox Movie Channel with the W.C. Fields section restored, so if you're lucky enough to get that on cable, watch it. It's also available online, and since it is unavailable on DVD I don't find it morally questionable to get it this way. I've suggest it many times on Turner Classic Movies' website, but I guess Fox has the rights. It felt great to finally see this lost gem, and brought back fond memories of morning coffee at my grandmother's house, with my Uncle Paul, great-uncles Jimmy and Butchy, and my mother chatting about the old movies they loved. They made me break the color barrier and watch black & white films that so many film "lovers" say they can't watch for some reason. And I'm very thankful to them for all those conversations and coffee cake.

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