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Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood
by William J. Mann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.46
93 used & new from $9.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Mayhem and Murder in Movieland, April 2, 2015
Mann has a real gift for bringing the early days of Hollywood and its sometimes desperate cast of characters to vivid life. Cinematic in the writing, practically a screenplay itself. Makes the era of Norma Desmond of "Sunset Boulevard" even more believable than it already was. Mann's page-turner is worth much more than the $1.99 I paid for it on iBooks.

Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ Clark Gable
Offered by Phase 3, LLC
Price: $37.97
13 used & new from $11.24

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GWTW: At 74, still the box office champ...., December 23, 2009
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Almost four years ago, on November 17th, the 70th Anniversary Edition of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) was released in a special 5-disc boxed set. While a Hollywood classic, GWTW is not for everyone.

GWTW is not for you if:

1) you think a movie must be as historically accurate as a history book;
2) you think a 1939 movie should reflect the values of the 21st century;
3) your attention span doesn't allow you to watch movies longer than two hours;
4) you can only accept politically correct films, particularly in terms of racial issues;
5) you can only accept special effects as they appear in (computerized) modern films;
6) your idea of great acting is to be found only in the slasher or teen films being made today.

Some find GWTW a ridiculously overblown, exaggerated re-telling of the Old South. To others, Scarlett O'Hara is nothing more than a spoiled brat who never really grows up; or, by the time she shows a glimmer of doing so, it's too late.

What one should keep in mind when watching GONE WITH THE WIND: it is not a documentary. Despite the obsessive care producer David O. Selznick lavished on historical accuracy as to the "look" of the period--the clothes, the interiors--the movie is not reality, but rather an historical romance set against the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, a war in which at least 618,000 Americans died. (Some experts say the toll reached 700,000. The number that is most often quoted is 620,000. At any rate, these casualties exceed the nation's total loss in all its other wars, from the Revolution through Vietnam.)

GWTW is a great--perhaps THE great--Hollywood example of the power of film: although battle scenes are never actually shown, the results of the war--the devastation, disease and death--are so powerfully depicted that people swear they "remember" seeing bloody combat in the movie.

WITH ONE LOOK: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, at the Atlanta church-turned-charnel house of diseased, dying and dead soldiers. With one reaction shot(see below)--her revulsion at a soldier's screams as his leg is amputated, without anesthesia--Vivien Leigh conveys the horrors--and the (never shown) bloody battles--of war.

This power of film is perhaps why GWTW comes in for different criticisms. The movie is so real in its physical aspects--its "look"--that it is criticized for not being (historically) accurate in others. But, again, the movie is not a documentary. It is a m-o-v-i-e based on a novel; i.e. fiction.

Not only is GWTW not a documentary on the Civil War period, it is not a history of slavery in America. It was criticized--as was the novel--for its treatment of blacks. But upon an objective viewing of the movie today, it is quite often the slaves--Mammy, Pork, Big Sam--who are the only characters with any sense. Of course, GONE WITH THE WIND, with its happy plantation slaves posed against bleeding robin's breast sunsets, has its enraging and embarrassing moments; the racist depiction is, regrettably, part of the nation's collective past.

Caption: Hattie McDaniel as Mammy explaining to Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) that Rhett has locked himself in the room with his daughter Bonnie's corpse and has threatened to kill Scarlett if she buries the child.
If this scene alone doesn't rip your heart out--largely due to McDaniel's performance--then pick up the phone and call the undertaker because you are most assuredly dead.

Taken as cultural artifact of an earlier period of American movie-making, one has to look at it as anthropology tells us we must look at cultures not our own. That is, just as we must "judge" a culture on its own terms, we must look at a 70-year-old movie in terms of the times in which it was produced.

Finally, GONE WITH THE WIND is an adaptation of a novel written by a Southern woman who, as a child, sat and listened to the stories the old Confederate veterans told about the old days before, during, and after The War. It is a love story, inspired in part by the novelist's grandmother, reflecting the attitudes left over from that long-ago time.

Taken on its own terms, it remains the prototype of the Hollywood epic film. It achieved many firsts. Today, it remains--in terms of tickets sold--the all-time box office champ.

---Hoyt Harris, Lafayette, LA

Gone with the Wind (70th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition)
Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master
Frankly, My Dear: "Gone with the Wind" Revisited (Icons of America)
Gone with the wind, the screenplay by Sidney Howard; based on the novel by Margaret Mitchell
Vivien Leigh: A Biography
David O. Selznick's Hollywood

*** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Two years after announcing he would bring "Gone with the Wind" to the screen, producer David. O. Selznick--after paying the publisher MacMillan a record sum for the rights--still did not have a script. He was still a couple of months away from getting MGM to loan Clark Gable in return for world distribution rights and half the film's box office.

Despite a phenomenally costly, two-year, nationwide search for an actress---amateur or professional--to play the tempestuous, spoiled and fickle Southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, Selznick still didn't have his Scarlett, either. (In all, 1,400 hopefuls were interviewed, 90 given screen tests, and exactly one actually cast, in a minor role. Also considered: Katharine Hepburn (who lobbied for the part), Bette Davis, and even RKO Studio's loony suggestion of Lucille Ball. Charlie Chaplin's companion, Paulette Goddard, seemed to have the role locked up, but a massive letter campaign spearheaded by the Florida chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy torpedoed it.)

With or without a Scarlett, construction crews needed to get cracking on building sets for Selznick's epic--what many doomsayers were already calling "Selznick's folly." To make room for construction of a two-mile long re-creation of Old Atlanta, the back lot of Selznick International Pictures had to be cleared of old movie sets.
Someone came up with the idea of burning the remnants of the set of KING KONG (1933) and filming it as the "burning of Atlanta," one of the great visual sequences in all of film.

Just as Life itself so often does, it came down to one shot. There could be no retakes.

Without a script, without stars for the two principal characters, on the night of December 10, 1938, the shooting of GONE WITH THE WIND finally began--stunt doubles for Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler escaping the inferno on buckboard as Los Angeles firemen aimed their hoses at the raining embers. (The fire on the Culver City back lot--fed by an elaborate system of pipes pumping oil and water through the sets so that the fire could be raised or lowered at will--was huge and intense. Its red glow was so ominous on low-hanging clouds on this chilly December night that hundreds of L.A. residents called the fire department, wanting to know if MGM was on fire.)

Because there could be no retakes, the lenses of every available Technicolor camera (there were no more than a dozen in existence) were trained on the one-chance, make-or-break scene. As the sets went up in flames, Selznick's brother, the agent Myron Selznick, brought a lovely British actress onto the scaffolding, a perch from which "General" David Selznick was watching the inferno.

David looked into the eyes of this exquisite, dark-haired, green-eyed beauty.

A British actress little known in the United States at that time, Vivien Leigh-- who had made her first stage appearance at the age of three, reciting "Little Bo Peep"--was 26.

But Vivien Leigh's entrance was no accident. She had come to Hollywood from England ostensibly to be with her lover Laurence Olivier, one of Myron's clients, whom she would marry a year and a half later when his divorce--and hers--became final.

But Vivien Leigh had also come to Hollywood to pursue the part of Scarlett.

Both Selznicks already knew of Leigh. But it wasn't until this night--with the crimson glow of the burning movie set illuminating her face--that David O. Selznick first laid eyes on Vivien Leigh.

Leigh reportedly auditioned for then-director George Cukor that very night. A week and a half later, on December 21 and December 22, her screen tests were made. Legend has it that George Cukor called her three days later on Christmas Day to tell her she had the part. She signed her contract on January 16, 1939. Principal photography began on January 26.

The opening scene of "Gone With The Wind," in which the Tarleton Twins are talking to Scarlett about the war, was one of the most troubled scenes of the film. It was shot a total of five times. The first time was on Thursday, January 26, 1939. Selznick was not satisfied with this take because the Twins's hair, dyed red for the film, appeared "too orange" in Technicolor. The scene was shot again on Monday, January 30, but was not used because of the lighting. When George Cukor left the production, Victor Fleming took over; his first scene, shot on Wednesday, March 1, was the porch scene. But Selznick was not happy with the Twins' performances so the take was not used. Fleming shot the scene again on Monday, June 26. This take was not used because Vivien Leigh looked "exhausted." She took a vacation before returning to shoot the scene a final time on Thursday, October 12, 1939. It was the last scene shot with Vivien Leigh and is the version that appears in the final film.
So, in the finished film, Vivien Leigh is almost nine months older at the beginning of the movie than she is at the end of the movie.

Now, let's fast-forward thirteen months.

January 29, 1940-- Los Angeles--Ambassador Hotel's Coconut Grove.

It's Oscar night in Hollywood. With comedian Bob Hope emceeing, the Oscar ceremony is underway. One after another, the gold-plated statuettes--gold-plated, 92 percent tin now, but gold-plated solid bronze on this night--are showered on GONE WITH THE WIND. It won't be a "clean sweep," but the movie will set a record for most Oscars won.

--William Cameron Menzies for his use of color.
--Hal Kern and James Newcom for film editing.
--Ernest Haller and Ray Renahan for color cinema photography.
--Lyle Wheeler for art direction.

Acclaimed author Sinclair Lewis announces the Academy Award for best screen adaptation: a posthumous Oscar (the first such Oscar ever given) to writer Sidney Howard.

(A lover of the quiet rural life, Howard had died five months earlier while working on his 700-acre farm in Tyringham, Massachusetts. The screenwriter was crushed to death in a garage by his two-and-a-half ton tractor. He had turned the ignition switch on and was cranking the engine to start it when it lurched forward, pinning him against the wall of the garage. Apparently an employee had left the transmission in high gear. Sidney Howard died less than four months before the movie he scripted had premiered. He never saw the movie that he had written--with the help of many others, including his micromanaging, obsessed producer.)

Mervyn LeRoy, who produced THE WIZARD OF OZ this same year, steps to the podium to present the next Academy Award.

--Best direction to Victor Fleming--who had simultaneously directed OZ--for GONE WITH THE WIND.

All Oscar nights since the first one in 1928 had been glamorous ones. But this night was special. It represented what history would soon realize was the zenith, the high-water mark of the studio system and the Golden Age of Hollywood. In the twelve months of 1939, more now-classic films were produced than in any year-- before or since.

In addition to GONE WITH THE WIND, 1939 saw production of the following movies:

* Edmund Goulding's DARK VICTORY (with three nominations and no wins) about a young heiress who is slowly dying of a brain tumor and ultimately accepts her death in noble fashion

* Director Sam Wood's GOODBY MR CHIPS (with seven nominations and one win - Best Actor), a version of James Hilton's novel about a beloved Latin teacher/schoolmaster at an English public school (the Brookfield School for Boys)

* Director Leo McCarey's tearjerker LOVE AFFAIR (with five nominations and no wins) - that he later remade as AN AFFAIR TO REMEMBER (1957) - about two lovers who promise to meet atop the Empire State Building

* Director Ernst Lubitsch's delightful romantic comedy NINOTCHKA (with four nominations and no wins) about a cold Soviet official sent to Paris

* Director Lewis Milestone's adaptation of the classic John Steinbeck tragedy "Of Mice and Men" (with five nominations and no wins)

* Director John Ford's version of Ernest Haycox's story "Stage to Lordsburg", STAGECOACH (with seven nominations and two wins - Best Supporting Actor and Best Score) - the director's first film with star John Wayne - about a stagecoach journey by a varied group of characters

* Director Victor Fleming's perennial favorite - the beloved fantasy film about a Kansas farm girl who journeys to a brightly colored world in THE WIZARD OF OZ (with six nominations and only two wins - Best Song "Over the Rainbow" (almost cut from the film by MGM executives) and Best Original Score)

* Director William Wyler's best film version of Emily Bronte's romantic novel about doomed lovers in WUTHERING HEIGHTS (with eight nominations and only one win - Best Black and White Cinematography by Gregg Toland, who, the following year would shoot CITIZEN KANE for Orson Welles)

* Director Frank Capra's film MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (with eleven nominations and only one win - Best Original story) of Lewis Foster's story about a naive and innocent junior senator.

But on this night the movie receiving Hollywood's glitter and gold was perhaps the most highly anticipated film in Hollywood history. The public had quickly made Margaret Mitchell's novel a best-seller after its publication in 1936. (It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1937.) Sales of the novel, at the virtually unprecedented price of three dollars, reached about one million by the end of that year. Once it was announced that Selznick planned to adapt it the screen, the novel's legion of fans eagerly gobbled up any news about the production. The public also began clamoring for their favorite stars to play specific characters in the book.

Five months earlier---while the film was being edited---when Selznick was asked by the press how he felt about the film, he said: "At noon I think it's divine, at midnight I think it's lousy. Sometimes I think it's the greatest picture ever made. But if it's only a great picture, I'll still be satisfied."

On September 9, 1939, Selznick, his wife Irene Mayer Selznick, investor Jock Whitney, and film editor Hal Kern drove out to Riverside, California, with all of the film reels to preview it before an audience. The film was still unfinished, missing many optical effects and most of Max Steiner's music score. They arrived at the Fox Theatre, which was playing a double feature of HAWAIIAN NIGHTS and BEAU GESTE. Kern called for the manager and explained that they had selected his theatre for the first public screening of GONE WITH THE WIND. The theater manager was told that after HAWAIIAN NIGHTS had finished, he could make an announcement of the preview, but was forbidden to say what the film was. People were permitted to leave, but the theatre would thereafter be sealed with no re-admissions and no phone calls out. The manager was reluctant, but finally agreed. His only request was to call his wife to come to the theatre immediately. Kern stood by him as he made the call to make sure he did not reveal to his wife the name of the film.

When the film began, there was a buzz in the audience when Selznick's name appeared, for they had been reading about the making of the film for more than two years.

In an interview years later, Kern described the exact moment the audience realized what was happening:

"When Margaret Mitchell's name came on the screen, you never heard such a sound in your life.

"They just yelled, they stood up on the seats...I had the [manually-operated sound] box. And I had that music wide open and you couldn't hear a thing. Mrs. Selznick was crying like a baby and so was David and so was I. Oh, what a thrill! And when (the words) "Gone with the Wind" came on the screen, it was thunderous!"

In his biography of Selznick, David Thomson wrote that the audience's response before the story had even started "was the greatest moment of his life, the greatest victory and redemption of all his failings."

After the film, there was a huge ovation. In the preview cards filled out after the screening, two-thirds of the audience had rated it excellent, an unusually high rating. Most of the audience begged that the film not be cut shorter and many suggested that instead they eliminate the newsreels, shorts and B-movie feature, which is eventually how GONE WITH THE WIND was screened and would soon become the norm in movie theatres around the world.

With thirteen nominations, the most ever up until that time, GONE WITH THE WIND won 10 Academy Awards--8 regular, 1 honorary, 1 technical--a record that stood for twenty years, until BEN HUR won eleven in 1960.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Quoting GWTW:

Rhett: With enough courage, you can do without a reputation.

Scarlett: Great balls of fire. Don't bother me anymore, and don't call me sugar.

Scarlett: I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.

Rhett: No, I don't think I will kiss you, although you need kissing, badly. That's what's wrong with you. You should be kissed and often, and by someone who knows how.

Rhett: Did you ever think of marrying just for fun?
Scarlett: Marriage, fun? Fiddle-dee-dee. Fun for men you mean.

Rhett: I can't go all my life waiting to catch you between husbands.

Scarlett: Rhett, Rhett... Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?
Rhett: Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

Scarlett: Sir, you are no gentleman.
Rhett: And you, Miss, are no lady.

Scarlett: As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.

Scarlett: Cathleen, who's that man staring at us? The nasty dog.
Cathleen Calvert: Why that's Rhett Butler, he's from Charleston.
Scarlett: He looks as if he knows what I look like without my shimmy.

Rhett: Here, take my handkerchief. Never in any crisis of your life have I known you to have a handkerchief.

Scarlett: Rhett, don't. I shall faint.
Rhett: I want you to faint. This is what you were meant for. None of the fools you've ever know have kissed you like this, have they? Your Charles, or your Frank, or your stupid Ashley.

Mammy: It ain't fittin'... it ain't fittin'. It jes' ain't fittin'... It ain't fittin'.

Rhett: My darling, you're such a child. You think that by saying, "I'm sorry," all the past can be corrected.

Gerald O'Hara: Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because it's the only thing that lasts.

Scarlett: I'll think of some way to get him back. After all...tomorrow is another day.

Scarlett: I only know that I love you.
Rhett: That's your misfortune.

---Hoyt Harris, Lafayette, LA
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 9, 2011 10:28 PM PDT

The Devil in the White City:  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
by Erik Larson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.99
1459 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars True Story: Marvels and Murders at the 1893 World's Fair, May 30, 2009
Erik Larson ("Isaac's Storm") brilliantly weaves the story of the designing and building of Chicago's World's Fair of 1893 with the madness of a seemingly charming physician who, in essence, was one of America's first serial killers.

While the great Chicago architect Daniel Burnham was designing and building the fair (popularly known as "the White City"--so called because of its tens of thousands of new-fangled electric light bulbs), the doctor was carrying out his horrific deeds in a house right at the edge of the World Exposition.

It has the suspense of a page-turning thriller and the "you-are-there" heart beat of the best historical re-creation. It brings us as close to attending this great World's Fair as we are likely to get. The story "feels like" the novelized non-fiction of E.L. Doctorow ("Ragtime") meeting "Sweeney Todd."

The reader comes to the conclusion that as America grew in population--especially in a thriving metropolis such as Chicago--it was also beginning to allow a nefarious killer like H.H. Holmes to achieve anonymity and, thus, hide in plain sight.

Cinematic in its vivid and detailed panorama, it's one of the best non-fiction books I have ever read....I highly recommend this book. ---Hoyt Harris, KATC-TV

Psycho: Universal Legacy Series (Special Edition)
Psycho: Universal Legacy Series (Special Edition)
DVD ~ Anthony Perkins
3 used & new from $12.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PSYCHO How Hitchcock manipulated an audience, October 26, 2008
PSYCHO Hitchcock USA 1960

"My main satisfaction is that the film had an effect on the audiences;...[it] made the audience scream. I feel it's tremendously satisfying for us to be able to use the cinematic art to achieve something of a mass emotion. And with PSYCHO we most definitely achieved this. It wasn't a message that stirred the audiences, nor was it a great performance or their enjoyment of the novel. They were aroused by pure film ."

That's Alfred Hitchcock talking to Francois Truffaut about PSYCHO, in the latter's book-length interview with the British-turned-American director. Hitchcock is famously dubbed "the Master of Suspense." Fair enough. But it would be a more accurate label to add "and Manipulation."

Hitchcock had developed a style of manipulating audiences, but never to the degree he did in PSYCHO.

"I was directing the viewers," the director told Truffaut. "You might say I was playing them, like an organ."

It was, in 1960, the most shocking film its original audiences had ever seen. I know. I was in one of those audiences. My parents were Hitchcock fans, having seen "North by Northwest", "Rear Window" and "Vertigo."

On a very cold Sunday afternoon, after church and Sunday dinner, they were going to see PSYCHO. Like millions of other Americans, they had no idea that it was probably not what you would or should take a 10-year-old to see. But I already loved movies, I wanted to go and they didn't refuse my request.

Fortunately--because it was so cold on that Tennessee Sunday--I was wearing a car-coat as millions of kids did in those days. Luckily for me, the hood had a drawstring. When PSYCHO's violins began to shriek during the infamous shower scene, I pulled the hood almost shut, leaving myself just enough peephole to see the center of the screen. If things got worse, I could always pull the hood completely shut--or close my eyes altogether, which, by the way, I never did. (Fascinated by film even at that age, I knew I was in the presence of something remarkable. I just didn't know what. And even if I had, I wouldn't have been able to express it.)


Good grief! I couldn't believe what was happening to this poor woman. Yes, she had stolen $40,000 from the bank where she worked. But hadn't she made up her mind to return the money the next day? But even if she hadn't, nobody deserves to be sliced to death in a shower--or anywhere--like a cantaloupe!

Hitchcock intentionally made PSYCHO look like a cheap exploitation film. He shot it not with his usual expensive crew (which had just finished the expensive "North by Northwest"). Instead he used the crew that filmed his weekly television show. Even by 1960 standards, his budget was cheap--a mere $800,000. The Bates Motel and aging Victorian-style Bates house on the hill behind it were built on Universal's back lot. Also, to give it that quickie, exploitation look, he shot in black-and-white. This was not going to be--nor was it supposed to be--another elegant Hitchcock thriller a la "Rear Window" or "Vertigo."

Yet, to this day--almost half a century after it was made--no other Hitchcock film has had a greater impact, on moviegoers or on filmmakers, than PSYCHO.

First, Hitchcock sets up the movie in such a way that we root for Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) to successfully get away with theft. We want to see her wind up with the man she loves, Sam Loomis (John Gavin). We root for her when a policeman stops her on her way to her lover's hometown. We pray that he won't see the envelope full of stolen money by her side in the front seat.

Hitchcock has thus made her sympathetic. When she pulls off the road in a heavy rainstorm to spend the night at the off-the-beaten-path Bates Motel, then begins her association with Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).

Norman brings her supper, which she eats in his motel office. Their late-night conversation makes them both sympathetic characters. We think their relationship will be developed during the remainder of the two-hour film.

But no. Less than forty minutes into PSYCHO, Hitchcock throws a curve-ball at the audience, something you simply don't see coming: he kills off his heroine. Hitchcock not only kills her off, he does so in what was--and remains today--the granddaddy of all slasher-movie sequences. Movie directors have tried to top it, but no amount of gore, of up-close-and-in-your-face graphic detail has ever come close. Hitchcock doesn't use gore. (He filmed in black-and-white, thinking audiences would be too squeamish to withstand so much blood in color.) The era, of course, would not have allowed it. But this master filmmaker didn't need gore. He used artistry to make us "think" we were seeing more than he was actually showing us.

We never see the knifepoint pierce the skin * --although people will swear they do. That's the power of montage: with quick-cut editing--and Bernard Hermann's shrieking violins--our mind "completes" what is merely suggested. Is Hitchcock making us see what perhaps we want to see? (Again, "manipulation.")

Once Marion Crane is dead, Hitchcock shifts our sympathy. Right before our eyes, he shifts our sympathies for her to sympathy for Norman, whom Hitchcock has already established as a kind, if a bit odd, young man. We've sensed from the beginning there is something not quite right about Norman . But during the motel office conversation, when he elicits the sympathy of Marion--with whom we have already identified--he elicits ours as well.

Employing a sort of bait-and-switch sleight of hand, Hitchcock has now transferred our attention--and sympathy--from Marion to Norman . So--when Norman starts mopping up the blood from the murder, we feel sorry for him now having to protect his mother who, at this point, we think is the killer.

With no one else to care about, we pull for Norman. We root for him to mop up all the blood (actually, chocolate syrup), to leave no trace of evidence. When he puts Marion's corpse in the trunk of her car, we pray it will sink into the pond. For a moment, the sinking car stops, half of it still above water. Our hearts stop. We're as nervous as Norman as he nervously chews on candy-corn (a nice piece of business Perkins himself suggested and which Hitchcock allowed the actor to incorporate into his performance.) Finally--thankfully--the car sinks below the pond's surface. Whew! Norman is safe.

Once again, we've been manipulated.

All this manipulation, of course, has a single purpose: Hitchcock wants to shock us again. And he does when it is ultimately revealed that Marion Crane's killer wasn't Norman's mother, but Norman himself; that Norman is a matricidal maniac who not only killed his mother but has kept her corpse stuffed like one of the taxidermied birds mounted on his motel office walls.

Hitchcock, indeed, played us "like an organ." I remember adults literally screaming--"Oh, no!", "Oh, God"--during the brutal shower sequence. I never screamed. But I sure as heck stayed hunkered down in that car-coat every time those violins began to screech.

In theaters across 1960 America, Hitchcock reduced us to our last nerves and wickedly sawed away on those nerves like a violin bow scraping--staccato--on a very taut string. ---Hoyt Harris

* The popular "myth" about the PSYCHO shower scene is that the knife is never seen to penetrate the flesh. This is not true. A frame-by-frame examination of the shower scene shows that the knife point disappears against the actress' torso just below her navel for the last three frames of one eight-frame sequence. But In order to see the penetration, the movie must be run in slow-motion, but it actually happens, albeit only once and briefly. Because film runs at 24 frames-per-second, a mere three frames (one-eighth of a second) is brief, indeed. ----H.H.

No Title Available

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SWEENEY: Revenge is a dish best served...bloody, December 22, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."

The sign above the Gate of Hell in Dante's "Inferno" could serve as an onscreen prologue in Tim Burton's film version of Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical thriller SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET.

The world of Sweeney as designed by art director Dante Ferretti ("Gangs of New York"; "Cold Mountain") is a nineteenth century London of oily grime and even oilier morals. It's as if the entire movie has been dipped in grease and oil.

This is appropriate. The Industrial Revolution brought wealth to those above, but dehumanizing working conditions, poverty and desperation to those below.

The musical--Sondheim has called it "black operetta"-- opened on Broadway in 1979. When the "blood" began to flow, many first-nighters walked out of the Uris Theater, horrified that a musical would take as its subject throat-slashing, cannibalism, and, on the periphery, pedophilia.

But maybe Sweeney's time as a film has finally come. Today's audiences--prepared (desensitized?) by reports on the nightly news of Jeffrey Dahmer and other serial killers and the priest/pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church--may have the sense of having seen this before.

Maybe they have, but never so entertainingly and with such beautiful music underscoring each violent slash of Sweeney's razor of chased silver.

Guiding this sanguinary mayhem is director Tim Burton, who, with his alter ego Johnny Depp (Sweeney) and his wife, Helena Bonham-Carter (Mrs. Lovett) splashes across the screen a tale of injustice, unrequited love, but most of all revenge.

Some admirers of the original Broadway version will no doubt have reservations, and strong ones, about the way the movie cuts the original from three hours to slightly less than two. But Sondheim himself is on record giving the movie his blessing, knowing that as a movie buff himself, cuts were necessary for the sake of the story and the medium of film. Fortunately, Sondheim, at 77, is still with us to make the cuts to the score himself. (Over the years, this is something he has been willing to do to stage productions of his greatest works: eg. "Follies", "Company".)

Although a Christmas release, beware: SWEENEY is not OLIVER! with street throngs bursting into big production song and dance. This, after all, is a tale of the basest of human behaviors, where a "pious vulture of the law"--Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman)--lusts after Sweeney's daughter Johanna through a peephole in the wall; where human bodies, like so much hamburger meat, are ground into "fresh supplies" for Nellie Lovett's meat pies. When all hope is abandoned, joyous, wide-angle high-kicking by the masses simply wouldn't wash.

What does wash is an ocean of blood--its red the brightest color in a washed-out palette of sepia and ghostly white.

Johnny Depp is the fascinating focus of the entire enterprise. His face drained of all blood with black smudges beneath his eyes, Depp is an icon of what injustice can wreak on the human spirit. When he returns from 15 years in prison on a false charge, trumped up by Judge Turpin, he is an avenging angel, so obsessed with revenge that in his rage, mankind itself is dispensable. ("They all deserve to die," as Sondheim's lyric puts it.)

As meat pie-maker Nellie Lovett and Sweeney's amorous accomplice in crime, Helena Bonham Carter brings a more toned-down interpretation of the role. Sondheim wrote the stage role for Angela Lansbury in whose hands Nellie Lovett was more of a star turn, a much "showier" role--hornier--that threatened to upstage the characterization of Sweeney himself. Here, Carter's humor is more subtle. As great as Lansbury's Tony Award-winning performance was, her music-hall interpretation would have thrown the movie's tone and balance out of whack. (Lansbury's turn as Mrs. Lovett is available on DVD with George Hearn as Sweeney. To see the original show and to hear the complete Broadway score, I urge you to see it.)

Ghostly white make-up cannot diminish the movie star faces of Depp and Carter. Their acting chops are so right for the these roles that one overlooks their lack of vocal power as singers. Depp, whose singing voice here is a rock, Bowie-esque take, does better with Sondheim's lyrics than Carter whose somewhat lazy articulation loses what can be brilliantly breathtaking to the ear when sung with clarity.

Finally, who but Sondheim could have juxtaposed some of the most beautiful and soaring music ever written with deeds most bloody and foul? As Sweeney does his customers', Tim Burton's film takes you by the throat--and stomach--and, for almost two hours, shows you what the wages of revenge--and madness--can be.

With the exception of the filmed version of his "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" and "A Little Night Music", Hollywood has ignored the works of Sondheim. With SWEENEY TODD's success and with Aaron Sorkin (TV's "The West Wing") currently adapting "Follies" for the screen, moviegoers could be on the brink of a geyser of Sondheim, albeit not bloody like this one.

Pandora's Box (The Criterion Collection)
Pandora's Box (The Criterion Collection)
DVD ~ Louise Brooks
4 used & new from $66.01

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Louise Brooks didn't need Technicolor or sound...., February 9, 2007
G.W. Pabst's PANDORA'S BOX is not a perfect film. It's not even close to perfect. By contemporary tastes, it is too long and too slow. But none of that matters because this is the movie that made Hollywood rebel Louise Brooks a timeless, international film icon.

Norma Desmond's line in SUNSET BLVD (1950)--"We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!"--could have been written with Louise Brooks of Cherryvale, Kansas, in mind. Her face, like an object of Art Deco, framed with the "black helmet" hairdo, was perfectly symmetrical, a face no camera could catch from a bad angle even if it tried. On film, her use of that face--or, rather, how Pabst used it in PANDORA--is endlessly fascinating. The line of her profile is extraordinary. Her eyes can flash from flirty to fatal with the bat of a lash. Her expressions, whether pouty, seductive or simply blank--onto which the viewer can write anything--are ample evidence that Louise Brooks was born for a love affair with the lens. While Brooks and Hollywood never hit it off, that face and the camera hit it off right away.
When you watch Brooks in PANDORA'S BOX, you are a voyeur, watching a great love affair between a camera and a soul.

Blessed with beauty beyond measure, Brooks said, perhaps because of that beauty, that she was seen "in Hollywood...(as) a pretty little flibbertigibbet whose charm for the executive department decreased with every increase in my fan mail." Savagely nonconformist--after appearing in 13 movies within the studio system that were, to her keenly intelligent mind, no more than fluff--she walked out on Paramount chief Budd Schulberg. She left for Germany in response to director G.W. Pabst's call to star her in PANDORA'S BOX.
Leaving Hollywood behind, she crossed an ocean and walked into screen history.
"In Berlin," Brooks would later say,"I stepped to the station platform to meet Mr. Pabst and became an actress."

It was, she said, "as if Mr. Pabst had sat in on my whole life and career and knew exactly where I needed assurance and protection."

The result of that assurance and protection is on the screen in aces. With skin of alabaster---as if illuminated from within---Brooks is Lulu, the good-time girl, the prostitute who flits from affair to affair, blending ammorality and innocence, blithely unaware of the tragedies she leaves in her wake. That is, until her world crumbles. Convicted of murder, she flees the courtroom in the ensuing fracas. From there, we follow her to the final moments of her life. Brooks herself described the final scene in PANDORA'S BOX this way: "It is Christmas Eve, and she is about to receive the gift that has been her dream since childhood: death by a sexual maniac."

When the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris held a Louise Brooks retrospective in 1955, founder Henri Langlois, standing in front of a huge banner emblazoned with Brooks's image, exclaimed to the crowd: "There is no Garbo. There is no Dietrich. There is only Louise Brooks!"

Many have asked whether Louise Broooks was a great artist or only a dazzling creature whose beauty traps the viewer into attributing complexities to her of which she is unaware? But complex she was and that projects onto the screen as well. A reader of Schopenhauer, Proust and other writers rarely found in the bookcases of Hollywood stars, she also is said to have had a marvelous voice and could have returned to Hollywood in the age of sound pictures and had a glorious career. But she grew tired of making movies---"tired of doing the same thing over and over"---and made her last film at the age of 32.

She devoted her later years to painting and writing essays on Hollywood with a frankness of opinion, a lucidity in her observation of people and a habit of speaking her mind with total candor. But she finally gave up her writing; without mincing words, she wrote to a friend on a Christmas card: "I shall write no more. Writing the truth for readers nourished on publicity rubbish is a useless exercise." --- Hoyt Harris
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2013 3:03 PM PST

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12 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars And I am telling you this movie doesn't go anywhere close to where it could have gone...., January 20, 2007
DREAMGIRLS has individual parts and pieces that, when film production was announced, sounded delicious, like a surefire winner. But the parts, as good as they are, do not gel into the knockout whole that this movie could have been. Writer Bill Condon (CHICAGO), who also directed DREAMGIRLS, perhaps was spread too thin to pull this one off.

The legendary Broadway musical of 1981 was directed by the late Michael Bennett (the stage version of A CHORUS LINE) who was lauded for his "cinematic" staging of the original. He managed, with pivoting onstage towers and with lighting, to achieve before the eyes of a live audience what amounted to the stage version of cinematic wipes, dissolves, cross-cutting, and fades. His vision made for thrilling stage work, as he had done in A CHORUS LINE.
Twenty-five years after the original Broadway show, DREAMGIRLS seemed like a guaranteed screen hit. With CHICAGO, Condon had already shown in his adaptation that Broadway musicals still had legs for the medium of film.

Not only would the movie version of DREAMGIRLS feature mega-star Beyonce Knowles, Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx, veteran film star Eddie Murphy and "American Idol" reject Jennifer Hudson ("everybody loves to root for an underdog", etc.); DREAMGIRLS would be shepherded to the screen by DREAMWORKS and David Geffen.

But despite what sounds like a 24-carat pedigree, the movie simply falls short of expectations. The script talks about how white performers in the 50's and 60's repackaged black performers' songs and style. But the execution of this point is weak. (Was Hollywood afraid to alienate the white audience it needed to make the film version a bona fide box office hit?) Montages of archival footage of the Civil Rights era are on screen, but they seem to exist in another world from the action of the main storyline.

Despite her Golden Globe win as Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy or Musical, Jennifer Hudson is a weak substitute for the great Jennifer Holiday, who originated the role of Effie White. We want Hudson to be good. But she simply does not have the voice that Holiday used to burrow Effie's rejection and pain into the very bone marrow of those privileged to see her perform the role onstage. Holiday's live version of Effie's powerful lament, "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going," is one of the most powerful performances that will ever close a first act--or any act--on the stage or screen. Whereas Holiday's version contains in every breath soul-ravaging pain, Hudson, on certain notes, goes nasal, thin and strained.

Let's face it: this song was the jewel in the original stage musical--the first-act closing number that threatened to blow the theater apart. (DREAMGIRLS' music was never one of the great Broadway scores. The show's success was largely due to its staging technique.) Without a knock-out rendition of that climactic song here, the movie sags--and suffers. Hudson's version gets something of a boost through the showcasing delivered by cinematography and editing. But Holiday in her live, three dimensions, didn't need any help. She knocked the song out of the theater night after night--just her, the orchestra and that once-in-a-lifetime voice. If for no other reason than to capture Holiday's performance on film, DREAMGIRLS should have been filmed twenty years before it was. If they had to use a "loser" from "American Idol", too bad they couldn't wait for Mandisa from the 2006 season. That girl can sing.
All the Eddie Murphys and Beyonces in the world cannot make up for this fact. Because DREAMGIRLS was always really "about" Effie and what happens to her, Jennifer Hudson in this pivotal role is like a fifth or sixth carbon copy of the original--similar, but weak, pale.
Those unfamiliar with Jennifer Holiday might find Hudson more than adequate. But if anyone wants to see--and to hear--"Effie White", simply go to youtube, type in "Jennifer Holiday" and watch the clip of her performance from the 1982 Tony Awards show. If her performance, even on a small computer screen, with less than perfect audio, with video glitches and all, doesn't shake you to your very core and leave you knowing you've seen greatness, then call the undertaker, because you are probably dead.

On balance, the performers in the film do passably adequate jobs with their roles. The problem is that DREAMGIRLS, while "about" Effie White, has so many characters and so many "stars"--each of whom it appears was contractually promised to get their "big moment"--that the movie comes off choppy, not unlike a mass "American Idol" audition. Just as we're trying to learn about this character or that plot line, we're whooshed off to the next star's "big number." The movie, in essence, lacks cohesive flow.

Condon's DREAMGIRLS is an admirable attempt at turning a legendary stage musical into screen gold. Perhaps the movie could never have been made without the wattage of today's established black stars. But the treatment given to these stars--in the form of new songs written for the screen--dilutes the "punch", the through-line of the original. This version--while the best you're going to get of this legendary show--is something "other" than what, in 1981, had audiences swept up in the backstage story of a girl group and the bumpy road they traveled to pop stardom.

The best acting job is turned in by Eddie Murphy, whose James "Thunder" Early seems an hommage to Wilson Pickett, Little Richard, et al. Murphy shows a level of depth here we haven't seen before. While some might not "get" the comic mixed with the tragic within his performance, anyone familiar with show business knows that the onstage persona performers project can be diametrically opposed to the character's real self once the concerts end and real life resumes.
Hudson, in her first film, brought marquee power via the fans she garnered before she was booted from "American Idol." Her acting is as good as most everyone else in the cast. (Actually, who can really tell? The dialogue scenes are so miniscule.) But--and this is a big "but"--if she had the vocal chops of a Jennifer Holiday--which is perhaps asking for more than Heaven would ever allow--Hudson could have made as auspicious a debut as Barbra Streisand did in FUNNY GIRL. That, however, did not happen. If David O. Selznick in 1939 could scour the planet before finding British actress Vivien Leigh to play Scarlett O'Hara in GONE WITH THE WIND, why couldn't DREAMWORKS have done the same in search of the perfect Effie, instead of taking the easy way out and grabbing an "American Idol" cast-off? This was nothing more than a cynical move to grab the built-in television audience that follows the hugely popular show. Smart? Yes. But cynical nonetheless. If Broadway could find a Jennifer Holiday in 1981, Hollywood could surely have found an unknown--with acting skills AND vocal strength--a quarter-century later. Shame on the moviemakers for skipping out on a golden opportunity that will never come again. The movie is made. The Oscars will be won. But DREAMGIRLS is not the movie musical it coulda, woulda--but most importantly--shoulda been.

Hoyt Harris, KATC TV3 Lafayette
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2014 12:54 PM PST

Sunset Boulevard (Special Collector's Edition)
Sunset Boulevard (Special Collector's Edition)
DVD ~ William Holden
Offered by Maple Bar Movies
Price: $8.36
104 used & new from $0.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What happens when the cheering stops?, January 14, 2007
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Had Billy Wilder directed no other film but SUNSET BLVD, he would still rank in the forefront of Hollywood directors. In the history of Hollywood film production, perhaps no film about film has captured so much about the industry in such fine fashion.

Although made in that now long ago landmark year of 1950 (ALL ABOUT EVE also premiered that year), SUNSET still speaks to today. While the movie is about what happens to a great star of yesteryear who refuses to wake up and admit the parade has passed her by, the movie is not just about fading film stars. It is about anyone who has had a successful career in ANY field and who refuses to stop living in the past.

The cast is letter-perfect. As archetypal has-been movie queen Norma Desmond, Gloria Swanson plays the part to a fare-thee-well. By turns creepy, pathetic and brilliant, she makes us care about her, in spite of her autocratic behavior. William Holden is dead-on as failed screenwriter Joe Gillis. We understand his desperation while also cringing at how easily he becomes entangled in the spider web of Norma's neediness. The story is timeless and makes one wonder just how many former stars, still living in Hollywood, are playing out real-life variations of this brilliant screenplay. The "look" of the movie, especially the interior of Norma's Sunset Boulevard mansion, is practically a character itself. Its ambience as an aging, crumbling shrine to Norma's glory days ensnares and fascinates us the same way Norma does Joe. Cecil B. DeMille and Hedda Hopper playing themselves; and has-been (and Hollywood great) Buster Keaton essentially playing himself as one of Norma's bridge-playing cronies are bonuses in a film that is truly not to be missed. Forget most of the dreck now appearing at your local cineplex and rent this DVD---or better, buy it. It holds up to many, many repeat viewings.

Being There
Being There
DVD ~ Peter Sellers
61 used & new from $1.94

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I was there at BEING THERE, December 26, 2006
This review is from: Being There (DVD)
BEING THERE was my first and last film. But what a film for a debut! While news anchoring at WLOS-TV in Asheville, N.C., I was cast by Hal Ashby himself to play Riff, head of the Secret Service detail that comes to the Biltmore House (stand-in for the Rand mansion in the movie) to "case it" before the U.S. president (Jack Warden) visits. As the only TV anchor/reporter in the cast, I had a "leg up" in getting stories for my newscasts. When the casting director called to tell me to be at the Biltmore House the next morning at 6--"for wardrobe and make-up"--I didn't dare call my bosses at the TV station for fear they wouldn't let me do the movie. I was going to be in this film if it meant quitting my day job. And now, some 27 years later, how glad I am that I am in it, if only in a small speaking role. All I had hoped for was to be chosen to appear an an extra in the funeral scene (they were casting several dozen locals) and wound up cast as a "day player" with my own dressing room, for God's sake. The high point for me was doing a TV report on makeup legend Charlie Schram, who had been the head of MGM's make-up department during its golden years, making up the likes of a teen-age Judy Garland, Ava Gardner, Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West in the "Wizard of OZ", among actors in many now-classic films. Being there is right; i.e. being at the right place at the right time, and, brother, was I ever!

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
DVD ~ Bette Davis
Offered by Lunch money
Price: $12.95
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4.0 out of 5 stars Davis finds a new "kick"; Crawford crawls, August 21, 2005
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Sibling rivalry a la Grand Guignol by way of SUNSET BLVD., this is Robert Aldrich's creepy take on what happens to two aging sisters, former Hollywood stars who now live together, corrosively codependent. At its 1964 release, much was made of the longtime "feud" between aging divas Davis and Crawford. Several scenes of sadomasochism play off this mostly media-manufactured competition; eg. Davis (as former child star Baby Jane Hudson) brutally kicking a crippled Crawford around the floor of their dark, drapes-drawn parlor. True to the story, both Davis and Crawford allow themselves to be seen in anything but Hollywood glamour shots: they forego vanity to achieve power. Bitter, alcoholic Davis achieves a level of grotesquerie rarely portrayed on the big screen by "name" actresses of the era. Fourteen years after Billy Wilder's SUNSET BLVD.(1950), Robert Aldrich's film is not of the artistic calibre of Wilder's SUNSET which could just as easily have taken the title "Whatever Happened to Norma Desmond?"
This Davis/Crawford pairing engendered something of a sub-genre of has-beens returning to the screen as psychopathic killers, great film actresses having to play perhaps the only parts they were offered (HUSH, HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE; WHO SLEW AUNTIE ROO?, etc.) Special commentary on DVD would have been nice.

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