John A. Douglas

Living Passionately In the World of the Moving Image

John A. Douglas header image 3

Celebrating the Classics

“The Sting,” Lee Paul and Me

“GROUNDHOG DAY” PHOTOS
Color and Black and white photos from “Groundhog Day” and if you are interested in purchasing these photos and other “Groundhog Day” material, send me a note at abbotdouglas@comcast.net.

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell - Chris Elliott

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell

Bill Murray - Andie MacDowell - Chris Elliott

Andie MacDowell - Chris Elliott - Bill Murray

Stephen Tobolowsky - Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Chris Elliott

Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell - Robin Duke - Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Harold Ramis

Bill Murray- Sco0ter

Andie MacDowell - Chris Elliott

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Bill Murray

Andie MacDowell - Chris Elliott - Bill Murray

Harold Ramis

Andie MacDowell - Bill Murray

Bill Murray

“TOOTSIE” PHOTOS

Black and white photos from the film “TOOTSIE” which is in color. If you are interested in buying these photos and other “Tootsie” material send me a note at abbotdouglas@comcast.net

Dustin Hoffman

Sydney Pollack – Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman – Charles Durning

Dustin Hoffman – Jessica Lange

Teri Garr – Dustin Hoffman – Unknown

Dustin Hoffman – Dabney Coleman – George Gaynes

Unknown – Jessica Lange

Charles Durning – Dustin Hoffman – Unknown

Unknown – Dustin Hoffman

Unknown – Teri Garr – Unknown

Dustin Hoffman – Jessica Lange

Dustin Hoffman – Sydney Pollack

“CASABLANCA” PHOTOS

Black and white photos from the television series “Casablanca” and if you are interested in buying these photos send me a note at abbotdouglas@comcast.net.

Scatman Crothers – David Soul

David Soul – Hector Elizondo

ESTHER WILLIAMS SAVED MY LIFE
A few years ago, when I was still working for The Grand Rapids Press, I was messing around the house one Saturday when the telephone rang. After I said hello, a female voice asked, “Is this John Douglas?”

“Yes, it is,” sez I.

“This is Esther Williams,” she said. “I think you are supposed to interview me today.”

“Oh, my gosh.” I said as I remembered that I was indeed supposed to interview this movie star. I was supposed to have gone downtown to the Press at a certain time and she was to have called me there for the interview. And I had forgotten all about it.

Be aware that I never lost being star struck in the presence of movie people so I began to stutter and stammer as I realized what I had done. What was even more embarrassing is that she actually took the time to locate someone else at the Press and to talk my home telephone number out of that Press person so that she could call me at home.

I apologized all over the house as I scurried around trying to find paper and pen to use for the interview.

Esther Williams could not have been more understanding and she did what she could to put me at ease. I never did quite settle down as I asked her questions about her movie career and her career in the world of bathing suit design.

Esther Williams is a champ and because she is a champ, I was able to get the interview and fill the space in the newspaper that had been saved for her story. I escaped harsh words from management that would surely have come if there had been no interview and especially if there was no interview because of my inattention to my schedule.

When I told this story to Jim Cashion, an old army buddy, I almost lost him as a friend as he practically worships those folks at MGM who made musicals and he especially appreciates those female stars that worked, sang and danced at that studio.

“How could you do such a thing to Esther Williams?” he asked in a telephone conversation from his home in Princeton, New Jersey. By the time he was finished with me I was appropriately taken to task. He even made up for the forgiving way I was treated by Esther Williams.

He hasn’t totally forgotten the incident and brings it up ever so often. I just hope Esther Williams has forgotten.

THE LETTER LEADS TO GRAND RAPIDS

“The Letter” is based on a play of the same name that was written by W. Somerset Maugham who was a great storyteller. The play opened on Broadway in 1927 and ran for 104 performances. Set on a rubber plantation in Southeast Asia, “The Letter” tells the story of a woman accused of killing a man she says attacked her.

In 1929 the play was made into a movie –not the one we are going to see in Celebrating the Classics – but an earlier version which was also called “The Letter.” That film starred Jeanne Eagles, Reginald Owen and Herbert Marshall.

You may remember that early in her career, Kim Novak starred in a biographical film called “Jeanne Eagles.” Eagles, am actress who played the Bette Davis role the older version of “The Letter,” died soon after making that film which really has nothing to do with this essay.

In the 1929 version Reginald Owen played the part of the husband of the accused killer. You may remember Reginald Owen as he played Scrooge in the version of “The Christmas Carol” we showed last December. In the Bette Davis version of “The Letter” Herbert Marshall played the husband.

Herbert Marshall was also in the earlier version of “The Letter” but his character does not appear in the later version.

Are you with me?

The Bette Davis version of “The Letter” that we are going to see this week was directed by William Wyler, an extremely talented director who also directed “Roman Holiday” which we saw earlier in our series. The interesting thing is that William Wyler also directed another version of the “The Letter” in 1954 appropriately called “The Letter” and it was done live for “Producers’ Showcase,” a prestigious television anthology show.

In that live television version Siobhan McKenna played the Bette Davis role and John Mills played her husband. Also appearing in the television cast was the great Anna May Wong, who played the mistress of the murdered man. It was the first time the character was presented as the mistress of the murdered man. Because of television and motion pictures standards, the earlier versions presented the character as the wife of the murdered man.

Anna May Wong in “The Letter”

The actress who played the murdered man’s “wife” in the Bette Davis version is Gale Sondergaard and I must say she is terrific. Sondergaard and her husband, film director Herbert J. Biberman, were victims of blacklisting. Sondergaard and Biberman weren’t able to work in movies or on television for over 20 years between.

During his days on the blacklist, Biberman was able to scrape together enough money to make a low budget independent film called “Salt of the Earth” that spoke of the importance of the wives of union workers especially when there is a strike. This didn’t help his situation in Hollywood and, in fact, Howard Hughes was able to fix it so that no processing lab would develop his film. Biberman had to go to Mexico to get it developed.

“Salt of the Earth” starred Will Geer, who you might remember as the grandfather in “The Waltons.” Also appearing in the film was Virginia Jencks who played the wife of a union organizer and who was not an actress by profession but was, herself, a union organizer.

And now I will tell you the last link in the chain that brings us from “The Letter” to Grand Rapids. Virginia Jencks, through marriage, became Virginia Chambers and Virginia Chambers became a citizen of Grand Rapids. She was not just a citizen but a person who gave of her time to the community. Among other activities she served on the Grand Rapid Library Board before she passed away.

Virginia Chambers in “Salt of the Earth”

I suggest that it you are interested in movies that you look up some of the books written about “Salt of the Earth” and even look for a DVD of the film to hold you until we get around to showing which we may do someday.

Ian McShane and Lee Remick in another television version of “The Letter.”

“KEY LARGO” AND “THE BATTLE OF SAN PIETRO”

I was a soldier in the Signal Corp at Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, from 1963 until 1966 where I taught Motion Picture Photography for two and a half years after Basic Training and after completing the Motion Picture Photography course that I was to eventually teach.

The army and I tolerated each other for three years and I was glad when it was time for me to be a civilian again. I didn’t like being in the army but as it turned out there were a lot of good things that came out of serving in the military and one of them was a treasure chest of good stories. The other positive part of being in the Army was that my work in the military was much more valuable to me in getting a job than was the time I spent in college.

I’m not saying that college wasn’t valuable; I’m just saying that my Army education made it easier to get my toe in the door plus it provided me with some hands-on talent.

Anyway, when I was in the Army I pretty much counted the days until I could get out. But there were things about my experience that I liked. One was teaching. I loved teaching. I loved experiencing that moment when I could see that I had produced understanding in the mind of a student.

Other moments of pleasure came when I got to the section of the course on Combat Photography. During this part of the course I got to show the students “The Battle of San Pietro,” a documentary film written, produced and directed by John Huston when he was in the military during World War II.

“The Battle of San Pietro” is a military film about war as it occurred around a small town in Italy. I showed this film many, many times as class after class of service men and women appeared, took the course and then disappeared. The film had been given first class treatment by the military in that they not only had Huston directing, writing and producing but he also did a lot of the photography himself along with the combat photographers that turned wondrous footage.

The music for the film was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin who later composed the scores for “High Noon” and “Red River.” The choral music in the film was supplied by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the St. Brendan’s Boys Choir and the film was narrated by Walter Houston.

The problem was that during World War II it was felt to be too anti-war and indeed it was. I don’t know how many times I saw this film but it was dozens of times and it never failed to send shivers up the back of my neck and there were plenty of times that I stood in the back of the room and silently cried as images of the people of San Pietro flowed across the screen. Because of that kind of emotional response the film caused in people, “The Battle of San Pietro” was not released in its entirety until after the war.

So what does this have to do with “Key Largo” which was also directed by John Huston? Not much except that somewhere in the dialogue John Huston has Frank McCloud, the character played by Humphrey Bogart, speak of the battle of San Pietro. In the film McCloud is an ex-G.I. who was part of that battle. When McCloud revealed that piece of information about his past, many images from “The Battle of San Pietro” flooded my mind and provided a whole new light on the character. I knew that this was a man who had seen things in faraway Italy that had become a large part of his being.

When you’ve seen as many movies as I have these kinds of connections pop up quite often making movie going all that much more enjoyable.

See “The Battle of San Pietro” in its entirety on You Tube under 1945 – John Huston: The Battle of San Pietro.

GROUCHO AND MARILYN AND A LESSON ABOUT FILMS

The first Marx Brothers film that I saw in a theater was the 1949 film called “Love Happy” which was the last official Marx Brothers films if you don’t count “The Story of Mankind” in which the three comics had cameo roles.

“Love Happy” was rejected by the critics but I was ten years old so what did I know – I liked it. In fact it was one of those films that I revisited the next day in order to receive its pleasures a second time. If that seems strange remember that those were the days when in small towns like the one I lived in in West Virginia, a film would come to town for a couple of days and then it would leave and never to be heard of again.

This was before television and videos and certainly the Fayette Theater (my theater of choice) in Fayetteville, West Virginia, never ran retrospectives of anything. If you liked a film enough to want to see it again you had to move on it right away or lose your chance forever.

What I liked about the film was its tendency toward anarchy. “Love Happy” looked like a film that had been made without rules or reason. Nothing was sacred.

Then there was the appearance of Marilyn Monroe a name that had seeped into my subconscious somehow. I was aware of her existence and this was the first time I had the opportunity to see her. It was a small role in a film made one year before her appearance in “The Asphalt Jungle” where her career really began to take off. I was ahead of my time for a kid as I was impressed by her in a wacky Marx Brothers film where almost no one else gets noticed.

And getting back to the Marx Brothers. I saw “Love Happy” twice and bored my relatives silly as I tried to describe to them what I had seen – scene by scene.

The Marx Brothers had taken me to a new level in movies. It was a level in which everything didn’t have to make sense. Actually the fact that it didn’t always make sense was part of its charm.

It may have been the Marx Brothers that prepared me for Ingmar Bergman who made films that didn’t always make sense to me. I slowly discovered that I didn’t have to get everything that a movie has to offer. Sometimes getting a little is enough and more understanding will come from a second screening or through additional thought. Of course, Bergman eventually made sense to me but the motivation for what the Marx Brothers were doing in any given film is still anybody’s guess.

I offer “The Cocoanuts” as Exhibit One.

WOW – THIS IS SOMETHING NEW

It doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s a fantastic treat. I’m talking about a trip to the movies that ends up presenting me with something that I have never experienced before in a movie theater. I’m talking about something up on the big screen that seems so new and fresh that it takes my breath away.

I’m sure this happens to all movie goers and I’m sure that if we each compiled a list of films that caused us to marvel at what we felt as we watched one of these films, each would be different as our personal history and our history in movie theaters would be different and that difference would have an effect on our list.

Some of the films that had this kind of effect on me for one reason or another are Abel Gance’s “Napoleon,” Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels,” Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman’s “The General,” Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack’s “King Kong,” Federico Fellini’s “La Dolce Vita,” George Miller’s “Mad Max” and Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” – among others.

One of those “others” is Sergio Leone’s “Fistful of Dollars.” All my life I have been a fan of westerns and would watch almost anything with a cowboy. I thought I had seen it all until I went into a theater to see “Fistful of Dollars.”

It was like Leone had wiped the western slate clean and started all over. It was all new and fresh. Ennio Morricone’s music under the opening credits announced that this experience was going to be different. I’m thinking to myself, “What kind of music is this with electric guitar, a man whistling, bird sounds, chimes and a chorus singing some incomprehensible song?”

Next came Clint Eastwood who I assumed would be the hero and he is the hero but not in the way I was used to seeing. He rides into the film on a mule that is far too small for him and does nothing as he watches powerless characters mistreated by the powerful.

For the most part Eastwood’s character is out for himself and cares little for the other people in the film except in terms of what he can get from them.

Whoa! This is something different.

Then come the sets and the locations which give the taste of the American west but obviously are not the American west. In fact you could make the case that this story takes place on some alternate universe on a planet that is a lot like ours but not exactly like ours.

And if you wonder what an opera would look like without any singing, “Fistful of Dollars” would serve to answer that question. Characters and actions are blown up to operatic proportions. No character does anything in this film without making a big deal about it. Everything is done with as much drama as possible. When you see Eastwood’s entrance for the final gunfight, you will see what I mean.

“Fistful of Dollars” blew me away when I first saw it and I couldn’t wait to get back into the theater to see it again. And by the way, if the only way you have seen this film is on television then you haven’t really seen this film as Leone uses every bit of the wide screen format. His compositions and his action demand that the entire screen be seen. Plus there are so many little details that you can’t see unless it is on the big screen.

“Fistful of Dollars” is a film that I have revisited many time.

Veronica Lake and Adrian Booth

I thought that the presentation of “Sullivan’s Travels” on the Celebrating the Classics film series at Celebration! Cinema North would be a good opportunity to tell the story of Veronica Lake and Adrian Booth.

Those who have been coming to Celebrating the Classics know of Adrian Booth, a lady who was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and lived here until finishing high school when her desire to be in show business eventually took her to Hollywood.

The lady’s name was Virginia Pound when she left Grand Rapids but very soon she became Lorna Gray. She was to change her name again to Adrian Booth in the mid-1940s about the time she began a very successful career with Republic Pictures

Those who attend Celebrating the Classics on a regular basis will remember we saw a movie called “The Big Broadcast of 1938” in which she had a wonderful scene with W. C. Fields. I brought her name up again during the ArtPrize event here in Grand Rapids. Adrian Booth was the subject of an art piece by Chicago artist Stephan Giannini who entered it into the ArtPrize competition.

Her image was hung on the side of the B.O. B. building facing Fulton St. The work showed her as Vultura, a character she played in the serial “Perils of Nyoka.” I was involved in a minor way as I wrote a small biography of her which became part of the art.

So what does this have to do with Veronica Lake? Nothing – yet. I just wanted to take the time to introduce you to this lovely lady before launching into the story.

Movie buffs will surely remember the film “So Proudly We Hail,” a 1943 film which told a story involving nurses stationed in the Philippines during World War II. The film was to be directed by Mark Sandrich and it was to star Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Lorna Gray.

“I was under contract to Paramount at the time,” said Lorna Gray who lives in Sherman Oaks. California, and whose name is now Adrian Booth-Brian. (She was married to actor David Brian from 1949 until he passed away in 1993.) She says that she had to audition for Sandrich.

“He liked my audition,” she said and so she got the part. She felt that this quality role in a big budget film was going to do good things for her career which up to that point had been made up mostly of B films and serials along with an occasional walk-on role in a major film. (Look hard and you can see her in Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”)

But it was not to be.

“Paramount put in $2,000,000 and the army put in another $2,000,000,” she said. The military felt the film might have a positive effect on recruitment.

“The army wanted the film to have three major stars in the film,” she told me. The military felt that the more stars, the larger the potential audience.

So Paramount cast about looking for a strong male star to perhaps replace Sonny Tufts and/or George Reeves who were going to be the male leads and were not exactly box office giants. As it turned out most male stars were busy with other movies or they were already in the military.

You are probably able to guess how this worked out. Veronica Lake was brought in replace Lorna Gray. Lake, of course, was a major star at the time.

“It broke my heart,” remembers Adrian Booth-Brian. She was given a fairly good role in the film but it wasn’t a starring role.

I asked her how she and Lake got along.

“I rarely saw her as we didn’t share many scenes together,” she stated.

When you talk to Adrian Booth-Brian about this incident in her career, you can tell she is pretty much over the disappointment as it happened over 65 years ago. But on the other hand every time I bring it up I sense a momentary reaction from her that would lead me to believe that she still has feelings about what might have been.

ZSA ZSA TOLD ME SO

Once upon a time when I was much younger than I am today, I had dinner with Zsa Zsa Gabor at the Cygnus Room of the Amway Grand Hotel. Ms Gabor was in town to do some publicity for An Amway beauty product.

As most of you movie lovers must know, Ms. Gabor was once married to George Sanders, one of the actors in “All About Eve” which will be playing at Celebration! Cinema North in Grand Rapid, Michigan, on January 5 and 7 at 1:30 and 5:45 p.m.

Anyhow, Ms. Gabor told me a story about Sanders and his brother Tom Conway who was also an actor. Conway starred in “Cat People” and “I Walked with a Zombie,” a couple of highly respected horror films. He also starred in a number of The Falcon series of detective films which he took over from his brother George.

At some point in his life Conway was leading a lifestyle not conducive to living a long life. In fact at one point his doctor told him that he had six months to live. Needless to say this depressed Conway and taking note of that fact, Sanders told his brother that he would send him to the Bahamas and give him $50,000 so that he might have a good time before death overtook him.

Conway took the deal and off he went. The problem is that at the end of the six months Conway had regained his health and so came back to Hollywood to resume his career. Zsa Zsa says George Sanders was furious that Conway hadn‘t held up his part of the bargain.

If you are looking for a witty and urbane biography you can do no better than “Memoirs of a Professional Cad” by George Sanders. It is a total delight.

”CHRISTMAS EVE” ON CHRISTMAS EVE

It was in the late 1950s when I got a television set of my very own. It was a Christmas present from my parents and oh what a gift!! Now I could watch what I wanted and it was goodbye Lawrence Welk and to all those other shows that we kids were forced to watch because our parents liked them. Those were the days of one television households.

This television set that I received as a gift was not new. My mother had obtained it from an establishment that sold used televisions and also repaired them. My mother paid $25 for this table model which freed me from the despotic situation in the living room.

I remember that one of the movies I watched by myself on several Christmas Eves was a film called “Christmas Eve.” There wasn’t a whole lot of choice for Christmas films in those days as it took awhile for movie companies to allowed their movies to be shown on television except for those films that occupying the bottom of the barrel. Certainly a film like “Christmas in Connecticut” was not one that Warner Brothers would have offered up to the old devil television.

“Christmas Eve,” first released to theaters in 1947, was shown every Christmas Eve on “The Late Show” which was a local New York City movie program that used the tune “Syncopated Clock” as a theme. I was quite excited as Christmas approached because “TV Guide” revealed that “Christmas Eve” was indeed going to be shown.

What excited me about being able to see the movie had nothing to do with Christmas. No, what interested this teenage movie buff was the casting of the movie. Here was a film that had three major actors – George Brent, an actor specializing in romantic stories; George Raft, an actor associated with gangster films and Randolph Scott, the star of many a wonderful western. From what I had been able to figure out with the help of “TV Guide” was that in “Christmas Eve” these three actors played the kind a role that they had been noted for. So what kind of movie story would present the exciting concept of having a cowboy, a playboy and a gangster as characters?

Well, I was to soon find out as the tubes warmed up in my television set which had a picture about the dimensions of three ring binder paper. It was the story of an older woman played by the wonderful actress Ann Harding who wanted her three ne’er-do-well sons to come home for Christmas – her sons being a playboy, a gangster and a rodeo rider with wanderlust.

I loved the film even thought I was a bit disappointed that the three stars weren’t on screen together until the end of the movie. I was pleased, however, that the film also had Joan Blondell and all sorts of character actors like Reginald Denny, Douglas Dumbrille and Joe Sawyer doing their stuff.

Over the years I came to realized that “Christmas Eve” was not a particularly good movie and that my initial enthusiasm was built around the three men who starred in the film. When the thrill of the unusual casting wore off there wasn’t much left to excite the imagination.

Still I have come to associate Christmas with an occasional good Christmas movie during the holidays. That is one of the reasons I am so pleased to be part of Celebrating the Classics during the Christmas season as we are making good Christmas films available for people who think like me. Plus I can warn you about “Christmas Eve” which I will never inflict on you – unless the demand is overwhelming.

JUDY GARLAND SHOWS HER TALENT IN “MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS”

In all art forms there are individuals who stand out far about the others. Judy Garland was one of those artists. When it came to movie musicals she was able to handle almost any kind of song plus she was a fine actress. Certainly “Meet Me in St. Louis” is positive proof of what I say. Her interpretation of the songs – particularly “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “The Boy Next Door” – cannot be topped. And did I mention that she is a fine dancer?

Plus she holds this film, which has almost no plot, together. To be sure there are other good performers in the film but it is Judy Garland who makes this turn-of-the-century fairy tale work. We believe in Judy and we want to see what her character is going to do in any given situation no matter how minuscule it might be.
If you want to play a little game, come up with a performer today that you would consider to be in the same league as Judy Garland.

Well? I’m waiting.

I don’t mean to demean that performers you like as there are plenty of talented people in the movies but Judy Garland was something special. If you are in Grand Rapids this week go to Celebration! Cinema North and take a gander at Judy Garland in her prime. The film will be shown on Tuesday, December 1 and Thursday, December 3 at 1:30 and 5:45 P.M.

THE REBIRTH OF GLENN MILLER AND HIS ORCHESTRA

When “The Glenn Miller Story” hit the theaters, there was not only good box office activity for the movie, but the music industry reaped some rewards. The movie was a catalyst needed to bring old-timey big band music to the ears of a generation that was becoming interested in Bill Haley, the Penguins and Elvis Presley.

“In the Mood,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “String of Pearls and other Glenn Miller hits were back on the air waves and on the hit parade. The songs were released as singles and collectively on the new-fangled LP records. Other artists gave the Miller songs their treatment and one of my favorites as a junior high aged kid was Crazy Otto’s version of “In the Mood.”

All this came about in the 50s when I guess we were more open minded about music. Rock and roll had not yet had a chance to poison the minds of younger generations against all other kinds of music but rock.

Those were glorious days when the hit parade contained such songs as Count Basie’s “April in Paris,” Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly’s “True Love” along with Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” and Lavern Baker’s “Tweedlee Dee.” You might hear Bill Doggett’s version of “Night Train” along with silly songs like Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” or Frank Sinatra’s “High Hopes.”

In those days the hit parade was alive with all kinds of music and that was good. It would seem that most of the newer generations can’t gave attention to anything but rock and roll along with country music which is really nothing but rock and roll with a steel guitar.

I would love to see another rebirth of the music of Glenn Miller just to clear the palate before another onslaught of rock and roll in some new form even more obnoxious and tasteless than the one before.

Come on young people – give Glenn Miller (and Bing Crosby and Tommy Dorsey and Dave Brubeck and Frank Sinatra and – the list goes one) a try.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL – AGAIN

You can’t keep a good story down.

Certainly Charles Dickens’ novel called “Christmas Carol” qualifies as a good story and the number of adaptations of the story on film and television would give proof to the theory that good stories come back again and again.

Even last week yet another version of “A Christmas Carol” landed in the theaters and this one is a major animated production with Jim Carrey lending his voice and his physical image to the film. My guess is that the entire budget of Edwin L. Marin’s “A Christmas Carol,” the film we will be showing on Celebrating the Classics, wouldn’t buy 30 seconds of Robert Zemeckis’ super-spectacular version.

The question is will this new film with its big budget carry the same emotional impact as the inexpensive version I have chosen to show? Will the lack of extravagant effects keep the 1938 film from delivering the goods to the heartstrings as we approach Christmas?

The only way we can know is to see both films and I don’t know about you but I may be into that. We are lucky that we in Grand Rapids are able to see two versions of the film on a big screen so that if one doesn’t appeal, there is one that would seem the direct opposite in style to the other.

And by the way – the version of the film we will be showing on Celebrating the Classics is the only film in which Gene Lockhart, who plays Bob Cratchit, appears with his wife Kathleen Lockhart, who plays Mrs. Cratchit, and his daughter June Lockhart, who plays Belinda Cratchit.

DOUGLAS AGAINST THE THING

“The Thing” and I go way back and at the very beginning, things did not go well although we have become friends over the years. I now love “The Thing.”

I first saw “The Thing” soon after my father was transferred to Marietta, Ohio, from West Virginia at about the time I was going into junior high. A lot of the workers in the West Virginia plant where my father worked were transferred to Marietta at the same time.

Not long after we moved into our new home Mrs. Ryder, a friend of my mother and father’s from West Virginia, requested that I be allowed to spend the night with her and her daughter Nancy to protect them from whatever might befall them since her husband had to be out of town and she wasn’t used to her new surroundings.

Of course I agreed to do it without hesitation as I had been well trained by Hopalong Cassidy, Dick Tracy, Captain Marvel, The Lone Ranger and by many other folks I respected that it was my duty as a male in society to lend a protecting arm when it was needed by the female of the species. I was ready for this test.

But something was to happen that was to really put me to the test. I was about to enter a living nightmare.

As a reward for agreeing to be her protector, Mrs. Ryder took Nancy and me to see a movie on the night I was officially on the job as protector. And what movie was picked for us to go see? It was “The Thing” and I was probably the one who picked it as horror movies were always appealing to me plus I think sub-consciously I felt that a good scare would make the women more vulnerable and make me look more the hero as I knew as a practiced movie-goer, I had seen it all and could brush off whatever terrors the film might provide. This would show them that I was the man for the job of making them safe.

But something went wrong. “The Thing” scared me nearly to death. It was all I could do to stay in my seat at the Colony Theater as the Thing raised havoc in the Arctic. When the film was over and when we went out into the darkness of night, the terror lingered. And I was in no condition to act heroic or to even discuss the movie which presented possibilities for my future on Earth as being limited and terrifying.

Also I was in no mood to spend the night in a strange house but I knew that my name would be mud if I didn’t follow in the tradition of Tex Ritter, Tarzan, the Hardy Boys and Flash Gordon and do my duty. So I kept a stiff upper lip and marched forward towards the unknown.

That upper lip lost its stiffness when I discovered that the Ryder household had no night lights. I was going to have to face whatever destiny that was to be brought to me by the Thing in total darkness. When Mrs. Ryder and Nancy went to their individual rooms and closed their bedroom doors, I can tell you that when the lights went out in the Ryder household, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face and I mean literally.

I don’t know how long I lay in the darkness listening and waiting for the Thing to make its move but I do know that I eventually fell into a light sleep which was ended when my body told me that it was time to get rid of all the Coke I had consumed at the movie. And my body told me in no uncertain terms that it wanted to get rid of the soft drink immediately if not sooner.

This was a bad situation as I had only a vague notion as to where the bathroom was. I was going to have to feel my way in total darkness in order to find the place to fulfill my body’s demand.

I think I now know what it is like to be lost in a cave with no illumination available. But what I was experiencing was worse than being lost in a cave because when you’re lost is a cave, you can still go to the bathroom whenever you want. Plus no cave explorer that I ever heard of had to worry about the Thing as they felt their way through the darkness.

My body was applying pressure which could lead to a urinary meltdown and I knew that the Thing was right beside me as I reached out and felt the refrigerator door which gave me the clue that I was going the wrong way. I could sense that the Thing could see my predicament and was pleased with it. It was just biding his time until it would do to me what an alien from space does to humans they don’t like and believe me that I had seen enough movies to know that aliens, no matter what planet they come from, aren’t particularly fond of humans.

This was pressure the likes of which Ned Land, Sherlock Holmes, Lash LaRue or even Tom Sawyer never had to deal. Could I just scream out for help from the residents of this home? Never in a million years. My role as the male in this play no longer involved the Ryders. It was testing my courage and my physical strength to see the kind of stuff I was made of. Everything was on the line.

It seemed like an eternity before I finally found the bathroom and I was able to give my body some relief. I think that my perseverance in finding the bathroom took some of the wind out of the sails of the Thing and it decided to let me get back in bed without having to do battle.

I’m sure that there is a moral involving humility and false pride but I didn’t want to think about that at the time. I just wanted to go home and think about the movie and, weirdly enough, anxiously await the my next involvement with hostile creatures from the Moon, Mars or beneath the sea.

“THE THING” IS THE THING

“The Thing” is a horror film that was done the right way. Modern filmmakers can’t wait to truck out the thing that we are supposed to be afraid of. Sometimes they even bring it forth under the opening credits so by the time the film is trying to supply a heart stopping climax, the audience has become so familiar with the evil entity that the monster, or whatever, is unable to generate the maximum amount of fear in the audience.

“The Thing” builds slowly and you don’t really get a good look at this evil entity until the climax of the film. Along the way the filmmakers give you small tastes of The Thing complete with a few scares that keep you braced for who know what? But mostly it is your imagination, manipulated to a certain extent by the filmmakers, that generates the fear.

Time isn’t always kind to films like “The Thing” because as we become more sophisticated, films like “The Thing” (or “Frankenstein” as we showed earlier) seem outdated and naïve. But the fact is that “The Thing” is a good movie with some good dialogue, interesting characters and it gives you a chance to see how horror films should be made.

IS RUSH LIMBAUGH FOR THE BIRDS?

I looked at Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” last week in preparation for showing it at Celebrating the Classics and I had an amusing thought. In case you don’t remember “The Birds” is about our fine feathered friends turning on us because of something we humans did that bugged them. The film does have some relevance for us today as we struggle about what to do or what not to do about global warming.

But what if the birds did turn on mankind and what if Rush Limbaugh was around to make commentary? I can just hear him now spouting off statistics that are designed to make us feel comfortable about doing nothing.

“Oh, sure,” sez El Rushbo. “We have an unusual number of birds right now that are acting crazy. And they are doing some damage. I’ll admit that. But, my friends, the seeming over-population of birds is due entirely on the activities of the environmental wackos.

“If business and industry have been allowed to destroy more bird habitats we wouldn’t have to walk down the street with newspapers over our heads.
Of course the Democrats’ way of dealing with the bird problem is to spend money. They want to sterilize the birds to keep the population down but that will cost trillions of dollars. But they don’t care because that money gives them power.

“No, my friends, what we need to do is to build parking lots and businesses over the land where these nasty creatures live. We need to allow BB Guns back in the playgrounds and I guarantee you that the kids would take care of most of the bird problem overnight.

“It doesn’t help to have tree huggers and kooks like Alfred Hitchcock making films that try to scare the daylight out of us. I saw ‘The Birds’ and I liked it but I’m not going to let some movie be my source of information about attack-canaries or suicide-crows.”

And on Rush would go for an hour or two. Of course Fox News and CNN would cause a migration of bird experts to their studios to have some moron interview them in their never-ending search for the truth.

See “The Birds” and then you decide.

HARVEY GETS AROUND

“Harvey’s been something of a mix and match over the years in terms of the cast. It started out as a play on Broadway and was very successful. From November 1, 1944 to January 15, 1949 there were 1775 performances on Broadway with Frank Fay playing Elwood P. Dowd.

James Stewart replaced Fay for the movie version but two major players repeated their roles on Broadway in the movie. Josephine Hull played Veta Louise Simmons both on Broadway and the movies and Jesse White played Duane Wilson both in the movies and on the Great White Way.

James Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award but didn’t win it while Josephine Hull picked up an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

In 1958 Art Carney took on the role of Elwood P. Dowd in a television production.

In 1970 there was a revival of the play on Broadway and from February 20, 1970 to May 2, 1970, there were 79 performances with James Stewart repeating his role from the movie and Jesse White was back as Duane Wilson. Taking over the role of Veta Louise Simmons was no less than Helen Hayes.

In 1970 Stewart, Hayes and White repeated their roles on television.
Finally in 1998 Harry Anderson played Elwood P. Dowd in yet another television production.

In the meantime there were at least two versions of the play done on German television and it is rumored that there is a new movie version being prepared to hit the theaters next year.

It is not known if Harvey was played by the same bunny rabbit over the years but I suspect that there is only one Harvey.

WILLIAM WYLER

Some people get director William Wyler, the director of “Roman Holiday,” mixed up with Billy Wilder, who directed two films we’ve shown in the Celebrating the Classics series – “Double Indemnity” and “Some Like It Hot.” I must admit that for awhile in my movie-going life, I also got the two confused on occasion.

It is the similarity in their names that does it. Their films also have a similarity in that most of their individual films are exceptional – not all but most.

Wyler’s great films include:
“The Big Country”
“Wuthering Heights” (1939 version)
“The Westerner”
“Ben-Hur” (1959 version)
“The Best Years of Our Lives”
“Funny Girl”
“Friendly Persuasion”

Wilder’s great films include:
“Double Indemnity”
“Some Like It Hot”
“The Apartment”
“Sunset Blvd”
“The Spirit of St. Louis”
“The Major and the Minor”
“The Lost Weekend”

Hope this helps you keep these creative geniuses straight. In the meantime I hope to see you at William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” this week.

TOUCH OF EVIL

To me “Touch of Evil” has something that all films should have and that is a creator who experiments. Experimentation is part of the creative process that is too often left out by filmmakers. To be sure, it is part of the creative process to pick and choose artistic techniques that have been used before by other artists but that kind of creative activity can’t hold as candle to experimentation

I love it when I see a film where experimentation has been going on. Even if the experiments don’t work I would rather experience the results of ineffective experiments than to see a film where the director played it safe throughout.

“Touch of Evil” feels like a film in which experimentation was going on throughout the film. “Touch of Evil” has a simple story but you would never know it as it is presented. Orson Welles, the director, presents to the eyes of the audience, an endless parade of visual delights. And I’m not just talking about the sharp black and white photography and the fascinating editing but I’m talking about how the characters relate to each other physically.

Welles always gives you something interesting and involving to look at as well as sounds, music and dialogue that to match the visuals in their effectiveness at drawing you into the story.

It is too bad that Hollywood was unable to tolerate an eccentric like Orson Welles. In his eccentricity Orson Welles endeavored to give his audiences the results of maximum efforts. He not only wanted to give the audience something memorable but he also wants to tell his story stylishly.

In order to accomplish that, he experiments to a fare-the-well. I have seen this film any number of times and I always look forward to another screening. “Touch of Evil” is a must see film for all of those who love good films. And if you are one of those folks who gets nervous about films that unusual, please allow yourself to take a chance occasionally and there’s no better film to give it a shot with than “Touch of Evil.”

SHANE AND WILSON

“Shane” is a fascinating film that is a direct descendant of the tales of knights and of samurai and probably other hero types from cultures of which I am unfamiliar. Shane, as played by Alan Ladd, and Jack Wilson, the force of evil as played by Jack Palance, are characters who don’t seem to belong in the world in which they live.

Perhaps they are special characters created by the gods for various reasons depending on the situation in which they find themselves. Characters sent by the gods would definitely make them seem out of place. On the other hand they may be mere mortals who have outlived their time like the gunfighters in “The Magnificent Seven” and like the outlaws in “The Wild Bunch” not to mention Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

As evidence that Shane and Wilson may not me mere mortals I offer Shane’s arrival at the Starrett ranch. It is almost mystical as he seems to appear out of nowhere. When Shane firsts talks to the Starrett boy, played by Brandon De Wilde, he almost hypnotizes the boy into saying that he had been watching Shane coming towards the farm for a long time. But the audience knows that the boy saw Shane approaching the farm only moments before his father.

Shane leaves the story as mysteriously as he appeared.

Jack Wilson’s arrival into the story also has a mysterious element. When Jack Wilson comes into the bar to meet with the rancher who has hired him, we see him almost instantaneously move from the swinging door to a point farther inside the bar. It is as if he were not bound by the laws of physics.

However they are portrayed, we know that they are going to have to do battle and the result of that battle will determine the fate of the mere mortals in the story.

TIMELINE FOR “THE MALTESE FALCON”

1930 – The novel “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett was published as a serial in Black Mask Magazine.

1931 – The movie “The Maltese Falcon” with Ricardo Cortez as Sam Spade was released.

1936 – The movie “Satan Met a Lady” with Warren William as the Sam Spade character was released. It is based on the novel “The Maltese Falcon.”

1941 – The movie “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart was released.

1943 – The radio show “Lux Radio Theatre” presented “The Maltese Falcon” with Edward G. Robinson playing Sam Spade

1946 – The comic book “The Maltese Falcon” was published.

1946 – The radio show “Academy Award Theater” presented “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade.

1946 – The film “Three Strangers” was released. The script for this film was written by John Huston and was intended to be a sequel to the 1941 version of “The Maltese Falcon” but it was never made. It was reworked as “Three Strangers” which starred Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre who were in the 1941 version of “The Maltese Falcon.”

1948 – The radio show “Suspense” presented a sequel to “The Maltese Falcon” called “The Khandi Tooth Caper” with Howard Duff as Sam Spade.

1975 – The movie “The Black Bird” was released and it is a sequel to “The Maltese Falcon” with George Segal as Sam Spade, Jr. Elisha Cook, Jr. and Lee Patrick repeated their roles from the 1941 screen version of “The Maltese Falcon.”

KONG REVEALS HIMSELF – FINALLY

“King Kong” had a monumental reputation with me in my younger days and it was a film that I only dreamed of seeing. The reputation of the film came from little hints I would get from my elders who were alive when the film came out in 1933, six years before I was born. I couldn’t imagine that they knew what they were talking about as their description of the film seemed impossible to me. No one could make a film like that.

Still the rumors persisted that there was actually a film called “King Kong” and the more I heard about the film the more I wanted to see it. And please remember that this was before the days of television.

The one fateful day as my mother and my father and my brothers and my sister were returning from visiting my grandparents in West Virginia, we drove past the Colony Theater in Marietta, Ohio, the town in which we lived, and on the marquee were the words “King Kong.”

“Stop the car,” I screamed. “I have to see that movie.”

“Let’s go home and unpack and then we can see about going to the movies,” my mother said. “I’m sure it will be on tomorrow.”

Well, I wasn’t sure. “King Kong” could be like “Brigadoon” and this might be the day for us in Marietta, Ohio, to receive the pleasures this movie had to offer. So I increased my ranting and raving.

I don’t know what argument or promise of self mutilation worked but they went around the block and dropped me off in front of the theater. I bought my ticket and as luck would have it, the film hadn’t started so I had time to sit and contemplate what was about to happen. I was going to see a movie that had the potential of scaring me to death. “But surely,” I thought to myself, “this film can’t be as it has been described to me.”

And then the lights went down and after some trailers, the RKO Pictures logo came on with its radio tower sending out some kind of electric signals. Then came the credits and as I tried to read them, composer Max Steiner was doing his best to forewarn me that something was coming that would put me to the test.

I was thrilled when, at the beginning of the film, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) shows Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) a map that had been given to him by a stranger in a bar in Singapore.

A map trading hands in a bar in Singapore was as important to lost world pulp fiction as the 14 line limit was important to the sonnet.

After it was established that the adventure was to take place on Skull Island which lay in uncharted waters, I sat back to wait for the appearance of King Kong who surely must live on the island called Skull island.

All sorts of notions were going through my head as I sat there like what I should do it gets so scary that I have to leave the theater? Which exit should I try for in a Kong emergency?

But then something happened. Fay Wray, as Ann Darrow, came on the scene dressed in a costume for a screen test that can only be called extremely interesting to a junior high kid. Almost immediately I decided that Fay Wray was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. For a moment King Kong went on the back burner but not for long as Skull Island, complete with caves and cliffs that gave it the appearance of a skull, came into view.

From then on it was Katy-Bar-The-Door. Never had I seen such images on the big screen and I had seen plenty of movie images. “King Kong” is a movie that once the action and horror starts, it never lets up. It moves at such a pace that I didn’t have time to question certain illogical aspects of the film which only came to me after repeated screenings

It had turned dark while I was in the theater. I crossed the street to the Wakefield Hotel to call my parents for a ride home. I think I had was in some form of shell-shock built around fear– I mean – I had just seen an ape climb the Empire State Building and there was no doubt of it.

The real question that a kid like me was likely to ask himself in post-movie reflection is – can this really happen? Is it possible that monsters from can Mars attack us? Can hordes of giant mutated grasshoppers bring down out cities? Can a crazed man made from other men’s body parts sneak up on us while we sleep?

In those days the answer to all these questions was “yes.” Of course these things could happen and that’s what made them so scary. These were cautionary tales for a guy like me.
The Colony theater was the source of other terrors for me and I will be sure to share at the appropriate time.

THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT (1974) Directed, written and produced by Jack Haley, Jr.; directors of photography, Allan Green, Ennio Guarnieri, Ernest Laszlo, Russell Metty and Gene Polito; edited by Bud Friedgen; music by Henry Mancini.

Cast as Themselves: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Gene Kelly, Peter Lawford, Liza Minnelli, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Mickey Rooney, Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor.

“That’s Entertainment” is one of the best and most enjoyable documentaries on the subject of movies ever made. But this film is not about movies in general, it is about the musicals made by MGM when that studio was in its heydays. I’m talking about films like “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Gigi,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Rose Marie” and many more.

Actually “That’s Entertainment” is not so much a documentary as it is a trip down MGM Movie Musical Memory Lane and what is so wonderful about it is that our tour guides down MGM Movie Musicals Memory Lane are some of the people that were part of what made those films so great – people like Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney and Bing Crosby.

These movie stars, as that is what they surely are, give the theater audience (you and me) a little background on some of the wonderful musical scenes and then they show them to us. Sometimes they reveal fascinating information from behind the scenes.

But here’s the real deal – if “That’s Entertainment” showed us nothing else but the scene from “The Great Ziegfeld” in which Dennis Morgan sings “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” then it would have given us our money’s worth. And it is not because Dennis Morgan is so good, which he apparently was not as Allan Jones actually did the singing, but it is because of the incredible moving set and the camera work that goes with it. And besides that, wait until you get a load of the drapes in that scene and what is done with them. It is absolutely amazing.

So those who live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, don’t miss “That’s Entertainment” on the big screen. Just come to the theater on September 8 and 10 at 1:30 and 5:45 pm and let all the beauty, both visual and aural, wash over you.

“Keaton and Danger”

As a general rule anything that interferes with your concentration while watching a movie is an enemy of the storyteller who is using film to tell his story. That’s a fairly obvious statement as we all know that those nitwits who amuse themselves by belching at an important part of the movie does irreparable damage to the storyteller-audience interrelationship.

Sometimes the content of a film, if not handled properly will cause audience members to pull away from the story. That happened to me in Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.” There’s only so much torture I can watch so at some point I pulled away from that film and Mel was unable to draw me back. (Why doesn’t Mel Gibson put on his leg brace and bring Mad Max back to life?)

I had a similar problem when I saw “Safety Last” with Harold Lloyd. In that film Lloyd has a scene in which he’s hanging on the hands of a large outdoor clock some 6 or 8 stories above the busy streets of downtown Los Angeles. It looked to me as if the actor was in a danger that could end his life. So instead of enjoying the comedy, I was concerned about the actor even though intellectually I know that Lloyd must have survived the making of the film.

Which brings me to “The General” which we will soon be seeing as part of Celebrating the Classics at Celebration! Cinema North.

“The General” stars Buster Keaton whose co-star is a large steam-driven locomotive. In the film there are some jaw-dropping stunts performed by Buster Keaton on and around the locomotive. Like Jackie Chan, Keaton was well known for taking chances to please an audience.

So if you go out for coffee after the show you might discuss “The General” in the context of whether or not Keaton gave us too much. I don’t happen to think so but I am willing to listen to other thoughts on the subject.

“The General” play September 1 and 3 at 1:30 and 5:45 pm at Celebration! Cinema North.

THE GENERAL (1926) Directed and written by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman; adaptation by Al Boasberg and Charles Smith; cinematography by Bert Haines and Dev Jennings. Playing at Celebration! North on September 1 and 3 at 1:30 and 5:45 pm.

Cast:
Johnny Gray…………………………Buster Keaton
Annabelle Lee………………………..Marion Mack
Captain Anderson……………..…Glen Cavender
Captain Thatcher……………………..….Jim Farley
A Southern General…………..Frederick Vroom
Annabelle’s Father…………………Charles Smith

“The General” is based on a true story that happened during the Civil War. James J. Andrews, a Union spy, was asked to gather together a group of spies and to steal a locomotive deep behind Southern lines. They were to bring it north burning bridges and doing other damage along the way. Everything went off like as it was supposed to except Andrews hadn’t counted on the tenacity of William A. Fuller, a conductor who began chasing the stolen locomotive on foot.

In the movie Buster Keaton plays Johnny Gray who is based on William A. Fuller. It was Buster KeatonKeaton who also co-directed this film and it is played for laughs. “The General” also emerges as an epic film with lots of action and daring-do. There will be occasions when your jaw will drop when you see what Buster Keaton was willing to do for a laugh.

Buster Keaton was well known for making films in which he put his own life and limb on the line in order to get a laugh or to produce a thrill for the audience. Buster Keaton’s dedication to pleasing his audiences – no matter what – is very evident in “The General” which was shot primarily along a railroad in Oregon. (Train buffs, of which I am one, will really enjoy the train footage in this film which uses steam locomotives of or near the period of the Civil War.)

You may be interested to know that this is not the only film about this historic event. In 1956 Walt Disney released a film called “The Great Locomotive Chase” in which Fess Parker played the leader of the spies and Jeffrey Hunter played the dedicated railroad worker. That film was based on the writings of William Pittenger who participated in the stealing of the locomotive.

Pittenger’s book is also called “The Great Locomotive Chase” and if you are interested you can download the book on Google Books. It’s not a bad read.

And for the record there was a 9 minute film produced in 1911 called “Railroad Raiders of ‘62” which was directed by Sidney Olcott and which was about the same Civil War event.

But back to “The General”- I really want to encourage you to see this film on the big screen. There are parts of the motion picture you will never forget.

CELEBRATING THE CLASSICS NEWSLETTER – No. 21 – 8/10/09
Edited and written by John A. Douglas
john@johnadouglas.com

“A FILM SERIES TO LIVE FOR”

Here it is. I think it’s worth the wait.

The folks at Celebration! Cinema and I (or is it me?) have worked out what will be shown in the Celebrating the Classics film series at Celebration! Cinema North from September through mid-December when we will take a break until January.

For $3.00* we are going to have a whole bunch of fun together every Tuesday and Thursday at 1:30 and 5:45 p.m. as the images from the past flow across the silver screen revealing stories of love, adventure, comedy, fantasy, music and drama. Plus some old friends will be back on the big screen – folks like Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Patricia Neal, Olivia De Havilland, Barbara Stanwyck and Gregory Peck.
And there will be some new faces like Audrey Hepburn, Fay Wray, Dennis Morgan, Alan Ladd, Vivian Leigh and Andy Griffith.

But why dilly dally? What’s up first?

Kicking off our series on September 1 and 3 is “The General” with Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. Not only is this one of the funniest films ever made, it is also an epic motion picture that was directed by Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman.

“The General” is based on an actual incident of the Civil War in which Union soldiers steal a locomotive behind southern lines and run it north hoping the burn bridges behind it. One man, an employee of the railroad, manages to give the soldiers more problems than they anticipated.

That man is played by Buster Keaton in “The General” and what he does to rescue the stolen locomotive is both humorous and very exciting. This is simply one of the best films ever made and if there ever was a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen, this is it.

Most of the rest of this newsletter will be given over to the complete list of films for our Fall and Holiday seasons. If you’re a mind to, make copies and pass them out.

Sept. 1 & 3
“The General” (1926) Directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton, with Buster Keaton and Marion Mack. 75 min.

Sept. 8 & 10
“That’s Entertainment” (1974) Directed by Jack Haley, Jr., with Bing Crosby and Elizabeth Taylor. From the vaults of MGM comes many wonderful musical numbers for this look back at a movie studio where many dreams were brought to reality. The tour guides are some of those people who were part of the dreams. 134 min.

Sept. 15 & 17
“King Kong” (1933) Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, with Fay Wray and Bruce Cabot. A movie company goes into uncharted waters to find an island where a very large creature lives. A classic adventure tale with break-through special effects. 104 min.

Sept. 22 & 24
“The Maltese Falcon” (1941) Directed by John Huston, with Humphrey Bogart and Mary Astor. Sam Spade, a fictional hard-boiled detective created by pulp fiction writer Dashiell Hammett, comes to the screen to find out who murdered his partner. A film noir classic. 101 min.

Sept. 29 & Oct. 1
“Shane” (1953) Directed by George Stevens, with Alan Ladd and Jean Arthur. A mysterious man appears out of nowhere to help a farmer and his family take on hostile cattlemen in this magnificent film of the West. 118 min.

Oct. 6 & 8
“A Face in the Crowd” (1957). Directed by Elia Kazan, with Andy Griffith and Patricia Neal. Television and politics are satirized in this gritty and humorous drama built around a crude country boy who understands the power of the media. 125 min.

Oct. 13 & 15
“Roman Holiday” (1953) Directed by William Wyler, with Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. A princess conceals her identity and goes on the town in Rome where she falls in love with an American newspaperman. 118 min.

Oct. 20 & 22
“Harvey” (1950) Directed by Henry Koster, with James Stewart and Josephine Hull. The classic fantasy/comedy based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play stars James Stewart as the good-natured Elwood P. Dowd, whose constant companion is Harvey, a six-foot tall rabbit that only he can see. 104 min.

Oct. 27 & 29
“The Birds” (1963) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, with Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren. For some strange reason, the birds in California begin to act strangely and eventually begin to take the right of supremacy away from mankind. 119 min.

Nov. 3 & 5
“The Thing From Another World” (1951) Directed by Christian Nyby, with Margaret Sheridan and Kenneth Tobey. A group of scientists in the arctic discover that we are not alone in the universe when they discover something frozen in the ice. 87 min.

Nov. 10 & 12
“A Christmas Carol” (1938) Directed by Edwin L. Marin, with Reginald Owen and Gene Lockhart. The classic story from Charles Dickens about a man who is taught the error of his ways on Christmas Eve. 69 min.

Nov. 17 & 19
“The Glenn Miller Story” (1953) Directed by Anthony Mann, with James Stewart and June Allyson. A biography of bandleader Glenn Miller with plenty of music from the Miller Band along with Frances Langford, Gene Krupa and Louis Armstrong.

Dec. 1 & 3
“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) Directed by Vincente Minnelli, with Judy Garland and Margaret O’Brien. A family finds that it has to move to New York from its beloved St. Louis and what makes matters worse, it is the year of the World’s Fair. Lots of great music. 113 min.

Dec. 8 & 10
“Christmas In Connecticut” (1945) Directed by Peter Godfrey, with Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. When a magazine writer invites a rescued sailor to spend Christmas with her, he ends up falling in love with her. 101 min.

Dec. 15 & 17
“White Christmas” (1954) Directed by Michael Curtiz, with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. A couple of song and dance men team up on Christmas to save a failing inn for their old general in between romancing a couple of ladies. 120 min.

WEBSITE

If you want to know more about “The General” go to www.johnadouglas.com then click on Celebrating the Classics at the very top of the Home Page. You can read more material about that film and all the other films in our series. I will get these writings on as fast as I can. Plus there is other wondrous stuff for your amusement and edification.

My Home Page also has a copy of this schedule.

*PRICE INCREASE

I supposed you noticed that the price of admission went north from $2.50 to $3.00. I think we all knew that a price increase was bound to happen sooner or later but here’s the deal – If you will accept this price increase and keep on coming to the series, I will promise you that I will be twice as amusing and informative before each showing so that you are sure to get your money’s worth.

CELEBRATING THE CLASSICS NEWSLETTER – No. 20 – 6/18/09
Edited and written by John Douglas — john@johnadouglas.com

LATEST NEWSNo, I haven’t forgotten you. With the help and support of the management of Celebration! Cinema, I am now putting the finishing touched on our Fall and Holiday Seasons of Celebrating the Classics at Celebration! Cinema North. Most of the films came from your suggestions and I think that when you see the schedule a smile will appear on your face and a feeling of anticipation will flow into your heart.

And dare I mention it? We are looking to do something special for our first in September. Keep your fingers crossed.

PIERRINO MASCARINO

Are you familiar with the actor Pierrino Mascarino? Sure you are. He’s the thespian who played the title role in the film “Uncle Nino” which ran for a year at Celebration! Cinema North back in 2003-2004. When the film opened in Grand Rapids, Mr. Mascarino was all over town promoting the film and what was unusual is that he was not doing it entirely because of contractual obligations but because he believed in the film. He stayed in Grand Rapids over a month doing work on behalf of the film and he made many friends here of which I am one.

On behalf of a local movie lover, I called Mr. Mascarino earlier this year to find out if the DVD of “Uncle Nino” had been released and his answer was that it had not but he said that he would give me a call if the film ever did get a DVD release. True to his word I got a call last month from Mr. Mascarino who told me that “Uncle Nino” was now alive and well on DVD.

Through exhaustive research I discovered that the “Uncle Nino” DVD is available on amazon.com but you might want to try a local vendor first.

In the meantime Mr. Mascarino is still doing some acting but is concentrating a lot of his creative efforts on writing. Be assured that I will stay in touch and will report to you on the activities of this very nice man who says that he loves the people of Grand Rapids.

WEBSITEWhile I plan to continue this newsletter I have instituted a website dedicated to movies (and to me in a most humble way). When Celebrating the Classics returns to the screen I plan to use the website to give you more reading material on the films we will be showing. I decided to do it this way because there’s so much I want to tell you about the films but I don’t want to create real long email newsletters.

So you can visit this web site for stories, reviews, and additional information on Celebrating the Classics as it becomes available.

CELEBRATING THE CLASSICS – SPRING, 2009, SCHEDULE
Celebration Cinema North, located at 2121 Celebration Drive NE in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers up a selection of the greatest movies ever made during its Celebrate the Classics series hosted by Yours Truly.

Films show at 1:30 and 5:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tickets are just $2.50.

The final three films in the Spring, 2009, Celebrate the Classics series are listed below.

NOTE: I’ve written short anecdotes about the films that spring from my experience with or thoughts about them. To find my anecdotes, go back to my home page (it’s called “Front Page” in the navigation bar above). Look for the column on the right-hand side of the page titled Table of Contents. In that section is a link called “Personal Stories.” Click on that and learn more about me than you probably ever cared to.

April 14 & 16 – Frankenstein, 1931

Frankenstein, or more precisely Frankenstein’s monster, is one of those characters in fiction that continues to fascinate filmmakers generation after generation. Frankenstein’s monster first appeared on the screen in 1915 when Thomas Edison’s film company produced a movie called “Frankenstein” in which Charles Ogle played the monster.

After that the Frankenstein monster stayed fairly dormant until James Whale directed the 1931 film “Frankenstein” in which Boris Karloff took on the role of the monster. From then until today the Frankenstein monster has received more screen time than any other monster including Godzilla, the Wolfman and the Incredible Two-headed Transplant combined. Some of the actors that have portrayed the Frankenstein monster include Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Randy Quaid, David Warner, Christopher Lee and even Robert DeNiro.

Over the years the Frankenstein monster has been called upon to share the screen with other monsters in such films as “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man,” “Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell,” “Dracula vs. Frankenstein,” “Frankenstein vs. the Creature from Blood Cove” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein.”

The Frankenstein monster had friends and relatives that also did their best to terrify us. These stitched-together creatures are “The Bride of Frankenstein,” “The Son of Frankenstein” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter.” And who can forget “Mistress Frankenstein,” “I Was a Teenage Frankenstein” and “Blackenstein.”

I’ve seen a lot of these films and many of them more than once and as near as I can tell the 1931 version of “Frankenstein,” which we presented as part of the Celebrating the Classics Series, is the best. Of course “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” which we showed earlier in the series, is pretty good also. But even that film is not in the same league as this film in which the monster was sensitively played by Boris Karloff. Karloff’s version more or less defined what the monster should look like and how he got around. Karloff walked as if he were moving forward to keep from falling on his face. Plus he had his arms straight out to break his fall just in case his legs did fail to keep up with the forward motion of his body.

One can’t discount the eerie black and white photography of Arthur Edeson as a grand asset to the film along with the performance of Dwight Frye as the psychopathic Fritz who lived to torment the monster. Of course the wonderful laboratory that was designed for Frankenstein’s birth is almost like another character in the film and helped to make this film effective.

Frankenstein’s monster first rose from the dead at the hands of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, the wife of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. She wrote the original novel which is called “Frankenstein” and it carries a subtitle “The Modern Prometheus.” Prometheus is the Greek who spent quite a lengthy time chained to a rock in the Caucasus while an eagle ate away on his liver which grew back every day.

The latest reincarnation of the Frankenstein monster is in a film scheduled to be released this year called “Frankenstein Rising” starring – you’ll never guess – Margaret O’Brien. Yes, that sweet little girl who sang “Under the Bamboo Tree” with Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis” is now the star of a Frankenstein movie. She plays the daughter of Dr. Frankenstein and the monster is played by Randal Malone.

April 21 & 23 – Mutiny on the Bounty, 1935

Everyone has had a bad boss.

But few have had one quite so bad as the men on the H.M.S. Bounty under the command of Captain Bligh. Bligh was not a nice guy and did whatever he could to prove it. Things got so bad aboard ship that the crew was pushed to mutiny.

The mutineers have come to the screen at least five different times beginning in 1915 when an Australian company produced “The Mutiny of the Bounty.” In that silent film Wilton Power played Fletcher Christian, the leader of the mutiny, and George Cross played Bligh.

The Australians gave this true story another shot in 1933 when they produced “In the Wake of the Bounty.” What made this film important in film history is that it is the first film made with Errol Flynn who was still living down under when he was tapped for the role of Fletcher Christian. Mayne Lynton played Bligh and while Lynton career did not flourish like that of Errol Flynn’s, he did manage to get a role in the science fiction cult film “The Quatermass Xperiment” in 1955. He made only one film in the 20 years between the Bounty film and the cult film.

Then came the version we are showing at part of the Celebrating the Classics series but more on that later.

In 1962 Marlon Brando took on the role of Fletcher Christian in a film called “Mutiny on the Bounty” directed by Lewis Milestone. Trevor Howard mustered up the appropriate amount of meanness to play Bligh. From all accounts the production of this film was plagued with unprofessional behavior on the part of Marlon Brando and it was at this point that his career began to have problems.

In 1984 Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins went toe to toe as Christian and Bligh in “The Bounty.” Backing them up was a cast that included Laurence Olivier, Edward Fox, Daniel Day-Lewis and Liam Neeson but all this talent couldn’t get “The Bounty” out of dry-dock.

The 1935 film in which Clark Gable played Fletcher Christian and Charles Laughton took on the role of Captain Bligh is generally considered to be the best and I go along with that although I have not seen the silent versions. A lot of heat was generated as Gable took on Laughton and eventually took command of the ship. Anyone who has seen this film will never forget Bligh yelling for “MISTER CHRISTIAN!!!” in order to give him some horrid duty to perform.

Gable, Laughton and Franchot Tone all won acting Oscar nominations for this film but none won the award. “Mutiny on the Bounty” did win Best Picture and a Best Directing Oscar for Frank Lloyd.

April 28 & 30 – The Greatest Show on Earth, 1952

Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages – Here comes “The Greatest Show on Earth,” a film filled with many delights for the eye. Some of the greatest circus acts in the history of the circus have been recorded for posterity in this film and that alone makes this a worthy production. In fact a lot of people would say that this aspect of the film is the only thing that makes it worthy and I can see their point.

But I have a different take. There are quite a few things that make this a rewarding film for me including listening to the authoritative voice of Cecil B. DeMille who provides the narration for the film. It almost doesn’t matter what he is saying as the voice alone is a pleasure to listen to. DeMille was also the producer and director of the film.

Another element of the film that still manages to thrill me is the wreck of the circus train which is high on my list of favorite train wreck scenes. And this one was done with models.

One other amusing aspect of “The Greatest Show on Earth” is looking for the famous people, primarily actors, which appear as extras (and sometimes in very small roles) hither and yon in the film. One of those actors is William Boyd who played the cowboy Hopalong Cassidy in many a movie and in “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Before becoming Hopalong Cassidy, William Boyd starred in DeMille films going back to the days of the silents. “The Greatest Show on Earth” is the final film of Boyd and he appears as Hopalong Cassidy. Seeing this film gives me a chance to say farewell again to a man who was like a father to me.

I know that some of the reasons I am giving for liking this film are perhaps juvenile but one must get into their juvenile clothes in order to enjoy a circus so why not for this film?