27 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 167 | September 27, 2010

Late for the Show

It’s an honor just to be nominated, as the saying goes, and some actors wait all their lives for that honor to come.  It’s no doubt a sweet moment to hear the news that the Motion Picture Academy has chosen your work to be among the year’s very best.

For many, including some of the best, the call never comes.  For a rare few, it comes too late.  A handful of times the Academy has nominated actors for Oscars, or presented them awards, after their death.  We’ll look at five of them this week.

Our theme this week
Actors with posthumous nominations for Oscars

James Dean (1931-1955):  East of Eden, Giant

james dean_3east of edengiant

James Dean was a guy who changed everything.  Not single-handedly, of course, but he was part of a small group that did.

In the history of film acting, there have been a few key developments:  the introduction of a naturalistic style, under D.W. Griffith et al. in the early days of silents, the transition to sound in the late 1920s, and method acting, which first became popular in the decade after the war.  Method actors of the ’50s are the dividing line between everything that was before and everything that has been since.

Dean was younger than others in that influential first generation of method actors (Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Marilyn Monroe), but in his short career he was one of its biggest stars.  His iconic status as a film actor rests on just three performances.  For director Elia Kazan, he played Cal Trask, the troubled twin brother in the adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden.  Dean famously diverged from the script, improvising some scenes, and won great acclaim for the role.  Also in 1955, he starred as Jim Stark, (once again) a troubled teenager, in Rebel Without a Cause.  There was nothing like it before.  “You’re tearing me apart!” was a primal scream for a new generation.  It was a defining role and a defining film, and the age of teenage rebellion was born.  His next and last film was Giant, costarring with Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.  Dean played Jett Rink, the guy who strikes oil, makes it big, and eventually pays the price for it.  (More on Giant here.)

Dean is best known for his films, but his list of acting credits is considerably longer than those three roles.  Dean performed in dozens of productions for television (for Studio One, Omnibus, Kraft Television Theater, et al.), and he did some notable stage work on and off Broadway.

On September 30, 1955, Dean died in a car accident in central California.  It was a few months after the release of East of Eden, for which he was later nominated for Best Actor, and a few weeks before Rebel Without a Cause. For 1956, he was again nominated for Best Actor, for Giant.

East of Eden (1955)
Elia Kazan, director
John Steinbeck (novel), Paul Osborn (screenplay); writers
Ted McCord, director of photography
James Dean


Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director
Edna Ferber (novel), Fred Guiol, Ivan Moffatt (screenplay),writers
William C. Mellor, cinematography
James Dean

Quote of note
“Man has a choice and it’s a choice that makes him a man.”
—Cal Trask (James Dean), East of Eden (1955)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 27 Sep 2010 @ 07:58 AM

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 14 Sep 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Tuesday Minute
No. 158 | September 14, 2010

It Was a Very Good Year … 1957

Our theme this week

Notable films of 1957

Featured this week (theme introduction)
Monday         —   Sweet Smell of Success

The Bridge on the River Kwai

the bridge on the river kwai

Pierre Boulle published the novel on which the movie was based in 1952, and when Academy Awards were handed out in 1958, Boulle won for best adapted screenplay, one of seven awarded to the film, including Best Picture.  What’s notable about Boulle’s Oscar is that he was a Frenchman who spoke French, not English.  The screenplay was in fact written by two Americans, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, who were part of the Hollywood blacklist and not eligible to get screen credit during the time.  In 1984, the Academy corrected the record, awarding Oscars properly, but posthumously, to Foreman and Wilson.

The film was a huge success, both at the box office and with critics.  Director David Lean earned the first of two Academy Awards he won in his long and distinguished career.  Lean had a special talent for making epic films that reeked of respectability, and were very good too.  That’s not as easy as it sounds.  (His earlier, shorter films were very good too, but his epics seem to have been a greater influence on later generations of directors, who could more easily emulate the length of his pictures than their quality.)  I wasn’t around when The Bridge on the River Kwai came out, but as I remember hearing about it while growing up, it was about as esteemed as any film ever made, especially for the World War II generation.  I saw it again not too long ago, and though it’s no doubt set in a time and place far different from our world today, the film stands up.

The largely fictionalized story centers around British soldiers at a prison camp in Southeast Asia.  The Japanese commandant, Colonel Saito (Sessue Hayakawa), orders them to work on construction of a bridge to help the Japanese war effort.  The British leader, Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), objects to Saito’s treatment of his officers, citing the Geneva Conventions.  Two parallel storylines follow.  One is the interplay of Saito and Nicholson, and the effort to get the bridge built.  The other involves an American, Shears (William Holden), who escapes from the camp but then is enlisted by Major Warden (Jack Hawkins) for a mission to blow up the bridge.

The film packs a lot into its 161-minute running time.  We see Nicholson’s principled and admirable resistance, and also the madness of his obsession to build the bridge.  We see Saito’s cool determination, and his private humiliation as he fights desperately with thoughts of suicide.  We see Shears’s lack of concern about anyone but himself, and finally his selfless heroism.  The characters are easy to peg as British, Japanese, and American, but they’re not painted with too broad a brush.  Their treatment is very much as complicated individuals struggling to make the best of difficult circumstances.

The American star, Holden, got top billing, though the film was a British production.  Yet in 1997 the movie was selected for the U.S. National Film Registry.

Anyone who sees the The Bridge on the River Kwai will never forget the tune whistled by the British soldiers, “The Colonel Bogey March.”  It became a hit for Mitch Miller, but it was composed by a British bandmaster, F.J. Ricketts, during World War I and adapted various times in later years.  One parody sung during WWII had the title “Hilter Has Only Got One Ball.”  The tune, and film, had special resonance for British audiences who may have remembered that version.

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
David Lean, director
Pierre Boulle (novel); Michael Wilson, Carl Foreman (screenplay, originally not credited), writers
Jack Hildyard, cinematographer

The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)
Arrival of the British at Camp 16

Quote of note
“I’ve been thinking.  Tomorrow it will be twenty-eight years to the day that I’ve been in the service.  Twenty-eight years in peace and war.  I don’t suppose I’ve been at home more than ten months in all that time.  Still, it’s been a good life.  I loved India.  I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  But there are times when suddenly you realize you’re nearer the end than the beginning.  And you wonder, you ask yourself, what the sum total of your life represents.  What difference your being there at any time made to anything.  Hardly made any difference at all, really, particularly in comparison with other men’s careers.  I don’t know whether that kind of thinking’s very healthy, but I must admit I’ve had some thoughts on those lines from time to time.”
—Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guinness), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)




 07 Jun 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Monday Minute
No. 112 | June 7, 2010

Derrick and the Dominoes

“Drill, baby, drill!” is not an argument meant to win a debate.  It’s a slogan mocking the idea that we should even have a debate.  But like it or not, it’s been the de facto energy policy of the country for many decades.  Presidents for as long as anyone can remember have been promising change.  Nothing happens.  Maybe now the time has come.  We shall see.

I generally don’t aim to be topical with weekly themes, but the story that’s dominating the news is not going away.  Oil gushes into the Gulf of Mexico today, and it will again tomorrow, and the day after.  Based on the latest predictions, the gushing will continue until August, if not Christmas.  This isn’t just a news story.  It’s history as it happens.

Before we get to the five films of the week, you may want to look at a clip from the great Robert Flaherty, a filmmaker with a fondness for exotic locations and the people who live in them (Nanook of the North, Man of Aran).  Near the end of his career he filmed Louisiana Story.  A film about life on the bayou, it’s a relatively early depiction of the effects of oil.  When a cajun family finds oil bubbling up in their swamp, they lease the land to an oil company, which erects a derrick to drill 14,000 feet into the earth.  After a blowout, the rig is soon capped, but mostly the film portrays the harmony of industry and nature, and the promise of oil to bring prosperity to the people.  The film won accolades at the time.  It is arfully done, though today it seems somewhat naïve.  There may be a reason for that.  The film was funded by Standard Oil of New Jersey.

The film has value, in any case.  It offers us a glimpse of Louisiana life that doesn’t exist anymore.  There’s no oil derrick in the clip here, just a cajun boy with a lot of courage, and an alligator.

Louisiana Story (1948)
Robert Flaherty, director
Virgil Thomson, composer (the only film score to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music)


Our theme this week
Films about oil, and what it does to people

Giant (1956)


Don’t bother to watch the movie unless you have nothing else to do for three hours and twenty-one minutes.  They don’t call it Giant for nothing.

In the last of his three great film performances, James Dean co-stars as Jett Rink, a worker on a ranch in Texas owned by the Benedict family.  When Luz Benedict (Mercedes McCambridge) dies, she leaves a small plot of land to Jett.  Before long, he strikes oil, and that changes everything.  Tensions run high between Jett and the rest of the Benedicts, including Bick and Leslie (Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor), before Jett heads off to start an oil drilling company.  Jett goes from rich to super-rich.  During the war Jett persuades Bick to get into the oil business, and soon Bick and the Benedict family are wealthier than even before.  They are all rolling in it, though not particularly happy, and feuding.  Jett is worst off, ending up a pathetic drunk.  Ain’t oil grand?

More than just a story about the bad fortunes of getting rich, Giant is also a reminder that poor treatment of Mexican Americans has a long history.  The Benedicts are less than enlightened in their attitudes toward immigrants, but after some time—and children, intermarriage, and grandchildren—Bick, at least, has a change of heart.

Adapted from the Edna Ferber novel, the film garnered ten Oscar nominations, including a posthumous nod for Dean, who died before the film opened.  George Stevens won the Best Director prize.  The film did great box office, setting a record for Warner Bros., its top grosser until Superman in 1978.

One casting note, from the “please check that woman’s ID” department:  Elizabeth Taylor played the mother of the late Dennis Hopper and Caroll Baker.  Yet Taylor was only four years older than Hopper, and is a year younger than Baker.

Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director


Giant (1956)
George Stevens, director
James Dean, Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor

Quote of Note
Leslie Benedict:  Money isn’t everything, Jett.
Jett Rink:  Not when you’ve got it.
—Leslie Benedict (Elizabeth Taylor), Jett Rink (James Dean), Giant (1956)


 12 Mar 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 51 | March 12, 2010

What’s the Score?

Our theme this week
(theme introduction)

Unforgettable film scores of the 1960s

Featured this week
Monday         —   Bernard Herrmann:  “Psycho” (1960)
Tuesday         —   Elmer Bernstein:  “The Magnificent Seven” (1960)
Wednesday    —   Ennio Morricone:  “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966)
Thursday        —   Henry Mancini:  “The Pink Panther” (1963)

Maurice Jarre:  “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962)

maurice jarre_2

About Maurice Jarre

  • French, 1924-2009; active in film 1952-2001
  • Left his engineering studies at the Sorbonne to pursue music at the Conservatoire de Paris
  • Best known for his collaborations with director David Lean; four films, including three Oscars
  • Wrote primarily orchestral works, though composed electronic scores in the 1980s (Witness, Fatal Attraction)
  • “Somewhere My Love,” a Top 10 hit from 1966, is based on Jarre’s “Lara’s Theme” from the Doctor Zhivago soundtrack


  • Academy Awards: 3 Oscars, 9 nominations
  • One score among the top 25 American film scores chosen by the AFI in 2005 (Lawrence of Arabia, #3)

Select list of film credits

  • Eyes Without a Face (1960)
  • Sundays and Cybele (1962)
  • The Longest Day (1962)
  • Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
  • Doctor Zhivago (1965)
  • Is Paris Burning? (1966)
  • Grand Prix (1966)
  • Isadora (1968)
  • Topaz (1969)
  • Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
  • The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972)
  • The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
  • The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
  • A Passage to India (1984)
  • Witness (1985)
  • Fatal Attraction (1987)
  • Dead Poets Society (1989)
  • Enemies: A Love Story (1989)
  • After Dark, My Sweet (1990)
  • Ghost (1990)
  • Mr. Jones (1993)
  • Fearless (1993)

Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Maurice Jarre, composer

Lawrence of Arabia
David Lean, director
Freddie Young, director of photography

lawrence of arabia_2

lawrence of arabia_7

lawrence of arabia_3

Quote of Note
“You know what the business community thinks of you?  They think that a hundred years ago you were living in tents out here in the desert chopping each other’s heads off and that’s where you’ll be in another hundred years, so on behalf of my firm I accept your offer.”
—Bryan Woodman (Matt Damon), Syriana (2005)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 11 Mar 2010 @ 11:44 PM

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 05 Mar 2010 @ 6:00 AM 

Friday Minute
No. 46 | March 5, 2010

Oscar Déjà Vu

Our theme this week (theme introduction)
Film titles with two Oscar nominations for Best Picture

Featured this week
Monday         —   Moulin Rouge (1952, 2001)
Tuesday         —   Cleopatra (1934, 1963)
Wednesday    —   Heaven Can Wait (1943, 1978)
Thursday        —   Romeo and Juliet (1936, 1968)

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, 1962)

mutiny on the bounty_1935Mutiny on the Bounty

Director:  Frank Lloyd
Writers:  Talbot Jennings, Jules Furthman, Carey Wilson; based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall
Cast:  Charles Laughton (William Bligh), Clark Gable (Fletcher Christian), Franchot Tone (Roger Byam), Movita (Tehani), Mamo Clark (Maimiti)
Oscar Summary:  8 nominations, including Picture, Director, Actor (Laughton, Gable, Tone), Adapted Screenplay; 1 win (Picture)

mutiny on the bounty_1962Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Director:  Lewis Milestone (replacing Carol Reed, uncredited)
Writer:  Charles Lederer; based on the novel by Charles Nordhoff, James Norman Hall
Cast:  Marlon Brando (Fletcher Christian), Trevor Howard (William Bligh), Richard Harris (John Mills), Tarita (Maimiti)
Oscar Summary:  7 nominations, including Picture; no wins

The essentials
The math says 1962 is much closer to 1935 (27 years) than to 2010 (48 years), but the look of the later production feels closer to something from our era of moviemaking than it does to the earlier film.  In part that’s a result of the widescreen color photography, the spare-no-expense budget, and the three-hour length.  But the performances also make a difference, with a cast led by Marlon Brando offering a more naturalistic, less hammy, rendering of the story.  That’s not to say the newer version is a better film; I rather enjoyed 1935 film.  (These days, we’re not likely to see another Mutiny on the Bounty made.  Now, they’d change the ship to a spaceship and those nature-loving Tahitians to the Na’vi; they wouldn’t film it in Panavision, but 3-D, and they’d shorten the title too.  Avatar fans may want to note, for the record, the ship sent a year later to search for the missing Bounty was the HMS Pandora.) 

The 1962 film took more liberties with the truth, though both films were based on the 1932 book Mutiny on the Bounty, which itself is a historical novel, not a history, of the real-life mutiny that took place in 1789.  William Bligh was the commanding officer of the Bounty during its fateful voyage of the South Pacific.  After a stop in Tahiti, a group led by Fletcher Christian took command in a bloodless mutiny, sending Bligh out to sea in a small boat with a few of his loyalists.  Bligh lived to return to England.  The mutineers settled in Tahiti and Pitcairn Island, where some of their descendents live today.  The mutiny, and the cruelty of Bligh toward his crew that led to it, is the stuff of legend.  The tale’s been told in poetry and prose (among the storytellers:  Lord Byron, Mark Twain, and Jules Verne), and at least half a dozen films. 

Beyond the final credits
Of the ten Best Picture nominees featured this week, the 1935 release of Mutiny of the Bounty was the only one to win the prize.  The film was the first ever to have three acting nominations, and the only one to have three nominations for Best Actor—Laughton, a great actor here chewing the scenery, Gable, minus his mustache, and Tone, as the true hero of the story.

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)
Frank Lloyd, director


Mutiny on the Bounty (1962)
Lewis Milestone, director


Quote of Note
:  And now we come to the man who should have stood trial.  The Caine’s favorite author.  The Shakespeare whose testimony nearly sunk us all.  Tell ’em, Keefer.
Keefer:  No, you go ahead.  You’re telling it better.
Greenwald:  You ought to read his testimony.  He never even heard of Captain Queeg!
Maryk:  Let’s forget it, Barney.
Greenwald:  Queeg was sick, he couldn’t help himself.  But you, you’re real healthy.  Only you didn’t have one-tenth the guts that he had.
Keefer:  Except I never fooled myself, Mr. Greenwald.
Greenwald:  I wanna drink a toast to you, Mr. Keefer.  From the beginning you hated the Navy.  And then you thought up this whole idea and you managed to keep your skirts nice and starched and clean, even in the court martial.  Steve Maryk will always be remembered as a mutineer.  But you, you’ll publish your novel, you’ll make a million bucks, you’ll marry a big movie star, and for the rest of your life you’ll live with your conscience, if you have any.  Here’s to the real author of the Caine mutiny.  Here’s to you, Mr. Keefer.  [Greenwald throws wine in Keefer’s face]  If you wanna do anything about it, I’ll be outside.  I’m a lot drunker than you are—so it’ll be a fair fight.”
—Lt. Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer), Lt. Tom Keefer (Fred MacMurray), Lt. Steve Maryk (Van Johnson), The Caine Mutiny (1954)


Posted By: John Farmer
Last Edit: 05 Mar 2010 @ 06:58 AM

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