Friday, April 04, 2008

Bette Davis at 100

Bette Davis is usually either remembered for her early '40s heyday at Warner Brothers or her campy '60s comeback in a variety of lurid, over-the-top roles (Baby Jane Hudson, anyone?). In celebration of what would have been Bette's 100th birthday (Saturday, April 5th), the Stanford Theatre is showing many of her rare early pre-code films.

Davis arrived in Hollywood with her mother in 1930 and was soon signed to a contract with Universal Pictures. However, they didn't seem to know what to do with her. She appeared in six films (some on loan-out), and her contract was dropped in 1932. However, she landed at Warner Brothers, first starrring in "The Man Who Played God." She really established herself as a major star when Warners loaned her to RKO for "Of Human Bondage," the first film version of Maugham's novel.

Critics responded with good notices for Davis, and there was talk of a write-in Oscar campaign for her. Though no offical nomination materialized, Davis soon wound up with better roles at Warners (and she got her nomination and Oscar the next year for "Dangerous").

The Stanford Theatre kicks off "The Complete Early Films of Bette Davis: 1931-1938" this weekend with "Of Human Bondage" and one of her most famous films, William Wyler's "Jezebel."

And if you can't get to Palo Alto, TCM is also celebrating with 24 hours of Bette on Saturday, May 4. First up at 3:00 am PT, Bette has to wash her hair in "The Cabin in the Cotton." Other highlights include the aforementioned "Jezebel" at 7:30PM, as well as an "Essentials" viewing of "All About Eve" with comments by Robert Osborne and co-host Rose McGowan.

You can also celebrate Bette with two new DVD sets: Warner Home Video's "Bette Davis Collection, Volume 3" (six films) and Fox's "Bette Davis Centenary Celebration Collection" (five films, with a new two-disk version of "All About Eve". Each contains commentaries, featurettes and other extras for your Bette Davis eyes only.

Friday, December 07, 2007

TCM Director of the Month William Wellman

Turner Classic Movies' December schedule salutes prolific director William Wellman, whose career spanned over 80 films from the '20s to the late '50s. Wellman was equally at home with romance and screwball comedy as he was with adventure and western films. His contributions to the Pre-Code era are particularly memorable for their frank and at times raw material (which actually may have led to the crackdown on enforcement of the code). But he also dealt openly with social issues in many of his early talkies at Warner Brothers.

Wednesday 12/12 (all times eastern)

8:00pm Night Nurse - This racy feature (coming out on DVD in '08) stars Wellman favorite Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Blondell, and Clark Gable in a rare villainous role.

9:15pm The Purchase Price - Stanwyck and Wellman team again for a bad girl story involving mail-order brides!

10:30pm Safe in Hell- Gritty pre-code drama featuring nearly forgotten silent star Dorothy Mackaill.

12:00am Lilly Turner - Woman's picture featuring the great Ruth Chatterton as a single expectant mother working at a carnival.

1:15am Midnight Mary - Not a personal favorite, but there is no denying star Loretta Young's beauty in this MGM film from 1933.

2:30am Frisco Jenny - Wellman tries his hand at restaging the San Francisco earthquakei in this Chatterton vehicle from Warner Brothers.

3:45am Other Men's Women - Early Jimmy Cagney along with pre-code favorites Regis Toomey, Joan Blondell, and Mary Astor.

5:00am Love is a Racket - Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. as a New York reporter in this lesser known Wellman flick.

December 20

6:00am The Hatchet Man- Edward G. Robinson as an Chinese hit man (!) in a pre-code drama with drugs, violence, and adultery references that were shocking for the time.

Wellman's better known films are also being featured this month ("A Star in Born," "Nothing Sacred", "The High and the Mighty"), along with an expanded version of the 1970's documentary "The Men Who Made the Movies: William Wellman." Wellman's son William Wellman, Jr., will be joining Robert Osborne to introduce many of the films.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Shearer, Stanwyck and Chatterton Highlight Forbidden Hollywood Collection Volume 2

DVD Times is reporting the March 4th release of TCM Archives: Forbidden Hollywood Volume 2. This time we have 5 precode classics along with an all-new documentary, "Thou Shalt Not: Sex, Sin and Censorship in Pre-Code Hollywood." Here's the much-anticipated lineup of films:

Norma Shearer in "The Divorcee" and "A Free Soul" on Disc One.

Bette Davis, Ann Dvorak, and Joan Blondell make "Three on a Match" along with Ruth Chatterton's racy business exec in "Female" on Disc Two.

And Disc Three brings us Blondell with Barbara Stanwyck and a menacing Clark Gable in "Night Nurse" along with the original documentary on pre-code films!

Warner Home Video has upped the ante this time with some additional extras, including two commentaries and original trailers for some of the movies.

Artwork and pricing to follow.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Cinecon 43

Classic film lovers will gather in Hollywood Labor Day weekend (August 30-September 3) for the annual Cinecon festival. The full schedule has just been announced, and it is chock full of rarely screened silents, pre-code features, and the ever popular selected shorts.

I am actually going to make the trip this year, and I am look forward to seeing these highlights:

The Gilded Lily - Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert's first screen pairing from 1935. This was Colbert's first comedy following her smash "It Happened One Night" for Columbia.

Hollywood Speaks - Dark Pre-Code drama about the sordid side of show business.

Interference - William Powell stars in Paramount's first all-talking picture.

Her Wild Oat - Restored version of this long thought lost Colleen Moore silent comedy from 1928.

Guests at the festival include John Saxon, Piper Laurie, and character actor Dick Miller.

Though I am excited about seeing these films at the famed Egyptian Theater, I also hope to do some sightseeing in LA. Going to try to schedule a Paramount Studio Tour for Friday, if possible.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Spinach Remastered: Popeye Classic Shorts on DVD

Warner Brothers Home Video has a treat in store for fans of classic animation with the July 31st release of Popeye the Sailor: 1933-1938 Volume One. I got my copy early and it's clear much care has been put into this project. The remastered shorts have been cleaned up and restored to their uncut form. I have not finished watching the whole set, but I am really enjoying it. Popeye is not my favorite animated character, but the inventiveness and whimsy of these Fleischer Studios cartoons is eye-popping. There is so much going on in each frame that these cartoons beg to be watched over and over again. The set is popping with extras about the history of the character and early animation efforts, along with numerous commentaries and featurettes. This set includes two Technicolor Popeye double length shorts from the late '30s. There is talk that Warners will produce four Popeye DVD sets in all.

Now, if only someone do the same for Betty Boop!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Matinee at the Bijou: The Return

I started to develop a love for old movies when I was a teenager in the 80s, watching them on our local PBS station on the weekends. I remember staying up late on Fridays to watch Fox Musicals with Sonja Henie and Betty Grable. I also remember faithfully watching a series on Saturday afternoons called "Matinee at the Bijou." The show would put together short subjects (Betty Boop cartoons, newsreels, and cliffhanger serials) along with a feature film from the golden age. The show really did a great job of recreating the moviegoing experience of the 1930s for those of us not around to enjoy it the first time.

I just discovered that they are producing a new series of the program to be hosted by Debbie Reynolds. Twelve new two-hour episodes will broadcast in HD on PBS later this year or early next year. Keep track of the progress of the return engagement at Bijou is Back.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Barbara Stanwyck at 100

For many, Barbara Stanwyck epitomizes pre-code film: her portrayals of hard-edged, strong women who were not afraid to use their sexuality to get ahead in the world most definitely contributed to stricter enforcement of the Hays Code starting in 1934. The fact is, Stanwyck remained a unique presence in American film and television in a career spanning over 50 years. Though one could argue that she often played variations on the "tough cookie" role, her range was quite extraordinary - film noir ("Double Indemnity," "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers"), westerns ("Forty Guns," "The Big Valley"), comedy ("The Lady Eve," "Ball of Fire"), tearjerkers ("Stella Dallas"), thrillers ("Sorry, Wrong Number"),and drama ("Meet John Doe").

Many repertory film theatres are running Stanwyck tributes this year in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth (July 16th, 1907). Besides the just-wrapped tribute at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a lengthy series is running at the UCLA Film and Television Archive through June 16th. If you are not familiar with her trademark raw emotion and take-no-prisoners demeanor, get to know Barbara by checking her out on the big screen or on DVD, where she is fairly well represented.

The New Yorker's Anthony Lane does a nice job of summing up Stanwyck's allure in this recent "A Critic at Large" piece.