Friday, September 30, 2016
Thursday, September 29, 2016
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
Monday, September 26, 2016
Saturday, September 24, 2016
Friday, September 23, 2016
At first blush, the film Mac & Me looks like just an ET ripoff. That fact is probably the best thing about it, because the film was also supposed to serve a darker purpose- to promote a variety of products, but mostly McDonald's.
In fact, the film comes to a grinding halt so that the characters can visit the Southern California McDonald's where all of the company's commercials are filmed. This visit turns into an impromptu dance sequence where kids 'get down' with Ronald McDonald. It's as cringe inducing and ridiculous as you can imagine. McDonald's never tried such a transparent promotion again.
Thursday, September 22, 2016
No film in the 1960's was more misbegotten or out of touch than 1968's Skidoo. The film was Otto Preminger's attempt to show that big budget mainstream Hollywood films could still reach the youth audience, which was increasingly turning its back on them. It was also a way for Otto to connect with his college aged son, who had been kept a secret from him until right before that time.
Otto ended up proving the opposite of what he intended- Skidoo was an out of touch mess. He stocked the film with actors who were better suited for a retirement home than a hip movie for the youth of the day. Did he possibly believe that a film starring the likes of Jackie Gleason, Carol Channing, Burgess Meredith, Groucho Marx and Frank Gorshin would pull in the young people?
The picture that best illustrates this movie's cluelessness is from the scene where Carol Channing performs a strip tease for Frankie Avalon in order to find out where her husband had run off. Viewers could be forgiven for believing they had fallen asleep and had somehow started having a bizarre dream. It is difficult to imagine who Otto thought this scene would appeal to. It's one of the tackiest and clueless scenes from a film that was extremely tacky and clueless.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Nobody would accuse the Patrick Swayze film Road House of being an Oscar-caliber movie. Could any film about a sleazy dive ever be one? It is imminently watchable however.
The film seems to exist in its own universe, however. Bouncers are nationally known and petty crime bosses can be killed with no apparent repercussions. It's a fun type of crazy that only caught on with audiences after it began airing on cable television.
It's hard to choose just one picture that could represent the tawdry yet hilarious film, but we'll go with one from the scene that sparks the first big fight in the film. A sleazy gentleman is depicted selling gropes of his wife's breasts for just twenty dollars. A young man who samples the goods angers these budding entrepreneurs when he announces that he doesn't have twenty dollars, thus setting off a bar room brawl.
The scene perfectly encapsulates the insanity of the film that lives in its very own world.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Disaster films were huge in the 1970's. Some film historians claim that it was due to American disillusionment with government agencies due to the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam and Watergate. The granddaddy of the disaster films was Airport, a melodramatic film that oddly garnered numerous Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Film. The film featured a who's who of actors on the way up or on the way down, creating a pattern for other films in the genre to follow- call up nearly everyone in Hollywood, hire the first twenty or so people who answered their phone, then put them on a conveyance that was destined for disaster. Airport was wildly successful, spawning a franchise that was definitely running on fumes by 1979.
Rather than get out while they were ahead, the producers of Airport decided to go to the well at least one more time. In the final outing, the well of celebrities willing to be in these films had long dried up and the franchise was stuck with the type of cast one might expect on an episode of the Love Boat- there was Martha Raye, Jimmy JJ Walker, John Davidson and Charo. (An example of the film's ineptitude- Martha Raye but not Charo has a wet t-shirt scene.)
The picture that says it all about this film is when George Kennedy opens up a window (on the Concorde!) to fire off a flare gun to divert a heat seeking missile. Again, this happens on the Concorde! Could the writer of this film science? Probably, but to paraphrase MST3K, they just didn't care.
Monday, September 19, 2016
It was supposed to be an Oscar-caliber production that would bring prestige and golden statues to Paramount Pictures. Everyone on the set left the production believing that they were destined to meet again on the awards circuit. Nobody was more sure of it than Faye Dunaway, who expected that her star turn as Joan Crawford would be heralded by audiences and critics alike. Mommie Dearest was primed for its time in the Hollywood sun.
For those who have never seen it, Mommie Dearest was based on the memoirs of Christina Crawford, who painted a violent, abusive picture of her mother, Hollywood legend Joan Crawford. Adopted as a prop to further her mother's career, Christina painted a bleak depiction of her life as a Hollywood daughter. Though the book was released after Joan's death, the two had become estranged long before then and Joan was written out of Joan's will. Some say that Joan had caught wind of Christina's book project and the change to her will was a last minute slap in the face.
Regardless of whether one believes Christina's side of the story, there's no debate over the campiness of the film. Instead of being greeted with applause, Mommie Dearest received laughs and jeers. Faye Dunaway's over the top performance was not seen as being a huge joke; it was a stark lesson in what happens when an ego-centric actress is not reigned in by the director. Paramount quickly withdrew its serious ad campaign and substituted one that depicted the film as a campy comedy. Faye Dunaway was devastated. Paramount Pictures, on the other hand, found itself with a decent hit on its hands, one that made more money than it would have as the Oscar-bait film everyone originally thought it was.
When thinking about what still picture from the film perfectly encapsulates its insanity, it would be easy to choose one from the notorious wire hangers scene. Instead, we chose this one. Faye Dunaway looks like a man in drag, painted up like a cartoon version of Joan Crawford, brutalizing her daughter with an open handed slap. Instead of feeling the horror we're supposed to feel about this abuse, the scene instead elicits laughs like the rest of the over the top film. It's hard to see what made this film's cast and crew think they were making a best picture caliber film and easy to see where it all went horribly, terribly wrong.
Friday, September 16, 2016
When 20th Century Fox purchased the film rights to the Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls, it had just one person in mind for the part of Jennifer North- Raquel Welch.
Raquel, however, balked at playing an untalented starlet whose body was the only thing keeping her employed in pictures. The role eventually went to Sharon Tate.
Touchstone Pictures' 1988 film Big Business was originally written for Barbra Streisand and Goldie Hawn. When both actresses turned the roles down they went to Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Anthony Hopkins' iconic role as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs made him a Hollywood legend. If Sean Connery had been willing to take the role, however, it might have taken Anthony longer to become a super star. Likewise, the role of Clarice Starling was also offered to someone else- Michelle Pfeiffer. Michelle wasn't willing to take the role, however, so it went to Jodie Foster who had been actively lobbying for the role.
When Paramount acquired the rights to Grease, it thought it had the ideal lead for the film- Henry Winkler. Winkler was starring as Fonzie on the mega hit ABC sitcom Happy Days. Henry, however, was unconvinced. He saw the role as possibly typecasting him as a 1950's greaser for the rest of his career. The role went to John Travolta, who campaigned for Olivia Newton John to play Sandy. Ms. John likely wouldn't have gotten the role that made her a star if Henry Winkler had taken the part.
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
In the late 1960's, Paramount Pictures was going through a dry spell. When it announced that it had purchased the film rights to Mario Puzo's The Godfather, it hoped that this bold move would turn its fortunes around. So when its chosen director- Francis Ford Coppola- recommended the pricy and prickly Marlon Brando, it resisted at first, recommending Ernest Borgnine instead.
Luckily for movie history, Mario Puzo also favored Brando. Paramount Pictures caved in. Years later it would buy the film rights for another book- the memoir Mommie Dearest, a tell all book that scandalized fans of Joan Crawford. Written by her daughter Christina Crawford, it depicted the famous actress as a tyrant who mercilessly beat her children. Intended to be a serious biopic about the Hollywood legend, Paramount originally wanted Anne Bancroft to play Joan Crawford.
Initially she was excited about the project, but she quickly changed her mind. Whether she saw the campiness of the film or felt bad about trashing Ms. Crawford, (after all, the legend had accepted her best actress Oscar when she couldn't attend the ceremonies) Anne passed on the project. Faye Dunaway quickly accepted the part, unintentionally creating a camp masterpiece. Ironically, Joan Crawford had thought highly of the actress, proclaiming her to be the only actress at the time who could have found employment during Hollywood's golden age. Perhaps Ms. Crawford got her revenge from beyond the grave; the film effectively sidelined Faye Dunaway and her career never recovered.
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Yesterday, we listed films that Molly Ringwald had rejected. Today, our first Alterno-Casting features a role Molly had wanted but didn't get- Sloane from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
Molly actively sought the role, but writer/director John Hughes told her the role was too small for her, as she had already catapulted into superstardom. While Paramount Pictures had asked John Hughes to consider other actors, he only seriously looked at Matthew Broderick, who he had in mind from the very beginning.
The film Weekend at Bernie's was not Shakespeare, but oddly enough, it had several people vying for one of the two lead roles. The producers had settled on Jonathan Silverman and Jon Cryer as Bernie's horrified guests.
However, any worries that the crew had about differentiating between the two Jons were short-lived. Hot off the unexpected success of Mannequin, which had been produced by the same company, Andrew McCarthy was a hotshot again. Mannequin had been the company's first number one film, so it desperately wanted to reward Andrew with his pick of projects. Thus Jon Cryer was out and Andrew McCarthy was in.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Molly Ringwald was one of the most popular young actresses in the 1980's. By the end of the decade, she had her pick of roles, but she was extremely selective when choosing projects. Two roles that could have been hers became legendary career makers for other actresses:
Friday, September 9, 2016
Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds? Rivals?!? On the set of Singing in the Rain?!? Yes, unfortunately. Gene Kelly was a perfectionist and didn't want to work with the green Reynolds who was just seventeen years old at the time.
Rehearsals went on for hours, as did each take. Debbie was forced to dance until her feet bled, berated by Gene when she did something he considered to be wrong. Debbie found herself in tears between takes and had to be carried away at the end of the night. Gene ended up using one of the early takes anyway, angering Reynolds immensely.
This story, however, has a happier ending. Gene later admitted that he was a tyrant and possibly wasn't on his best behavior during the shoot. Even Debbie softened her anger as time went on. She later acknowledged that some of Gene's behavior taught her how to be more professional and she learned to appreciate the lessons he taught her. Gene was surprised at how Debbie was willing to speak with him afterwards and they eventually had a cordial, warm friendship. This rivalry ended with a happy, Hollywood ending.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Charlie Chaplin and Louis B. Mayer couldn't be more different. Charlie was a free spirit creative type who had quickly become one of the biggest actors in the world. Louis B. Mayer was more businessman than showman. He had turned the art of making pictures into an assembly line, shrewdly putting together talent with projects. He was afraid of no one in Hollywood; if one of his stars got into trouble, he could get them out of it; provided the star was willing to stay in his good graces.
To Mayer, Chaplin was a renegade; he made his own films, owned his own studio. When Chaplin married a 16 year old girl, Mayer saw an opportunity, quietly whispering to others in Hollywood that Chaplin was a pervert. When Chaplin and his wife divorced, Mayer quickly signed her to a deal, suggesting to others that he planned to bill her as "Mrs. Charlie Chaplin". Charlie flew into a rage, hunting down Louis. Charlie lunged at him, but Mayer quickly decked him, sending him into a flower bed. Needless to say, Chaplin never worked for MGM.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
When most people think about Hollywood rivalries from the golden era, they most likely picture Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The hatred these two actresses had for one another was legendary; but was it real? It sure was.
At first, Bette and Joan seemed to get along with each other. At least, they weren't at each other's throats. That changed somewhat after Crawford 'stole' Bette's boyfriend Franchot Tone, who Joan later married. While turning their relationship icy, they still weren't too upset with each other.
That changed in 1952 with The Star. The film was written by Katherine Albert, who had been Joan's close friend. After a huge falling out, Ms. Albert wrote The Star, which was a thinly veiled stab at Joan, depicting her as a downtrodden hasbeen. Bette eagerly took the starring role, angering Joan immensely.
However, it would be their first and only co-starring vehicle that would ruin any semblance of friendship the two had- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? By this time, Joan's fortunes both professionally and economically were in decline. She had discovered that her husband, who had been the chairman of PepsiCo, had left a large amount of debt behind when he passed away. She needed a role fast and found one in Baby Jane- provided she could convince her rival to play opposite her. Joan swallowed her pride and personally convinced Bette Davis to take the role.
In an effort to eliminate any possible hostility between the two women, the studio paid them very little upfront, but gave them substantial stakes in the film itself. It was hoped that the women would behave themselves if they knew that delays and squabbling would lower their earnings. Other than an errant kick from Bette Davis that resulted in a cut on Joan, the shoot went off with nary a hitch. As a result, the film came in well under budget.
Audiences clamored for the final film; rumors abounded that these ladies hated each other and the crowds wanted to see if that hatred spilled over to the big screen. The film became hugely profitable and both ladies were handsomely paid for their work; much more than they could have earned from a straight salary. Things were great- until the Oscars were announced.
Bette Davis, playing the childish Baby Jane, chewed her way to a nomination. Joan Crawford, playing the crippled, reserved Blanche, received none. Thus began Joan's campaign against Bette, which culminated in Joan accepting the award on behalf of the eventual winner- Anne Bancroft- while Bette silently stewed in her seat. As Bette later noted, Joan's antics cost them both further profits; winning an Oscar would have generated more revenue for the both of them.
Two years later, 20th Century Fox sought to capitalize on the success of the film by green lighting Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte a film that was much like Baby Jane, except this time the roles would be reversed. It was not to be, however. The rift between the two would be too great and Joan kept leaving the set due to an undisclosed illness. The director fired her, replacing her with Olivia de Havilland. Joan blamed Bette for the dismissal and the two never spoke again. Joan retired from pictures while Bette continued to make films, mostly as a villainess for Disney.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Our first rivalry is also one of the saddest ones. It pitted a young and talented filmmaker against an insanely rich media titan who abused the tools at his disposal to try to ruin the filmmaker's career. We're talking, of course, about Orson Welles and William Randolph Hearst.
Hearst had inherited his father's fortune and turned it into a media empire. In his spare time, he had a lavish castle built in San Simeon, California, stocking it with expensive artwork and lavish amenities. His wife was not a fan of the castle, so he ended up installing his mistress there, entertaining a who's who of Hollywood luminaries and political leaders. The outside world could only wonder about went on inside Mr. Hearst's castle. When screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz was invited up to the castle, he couldn't resist telling everyone about it, including Orson Welles.
Orson decided to make a picture loosely based on Hearst. Using what little information was known about the reclusive yet very public figure, Welles and Mankiewicz made up the rest. Citizen Kane would prove to be something quite special and is often listed as the best film ever made. By all accounts both Welles and the studio- RKO- should have been happy about a sure fire hit that would certainly clean up at the Oscars. But that was before Hearst entered the picture.
Hearst had always seen himself as an icon, someone who the masses should look up to. He also thought of his mistress Marion Davies as a legendary actress, one who should be a super star. He had even built a theater within his San Simeon estate where he and his guests could view Marion's films. When word reached him that Citizen Kane not only dared to fictionalize his life, but also to smear Marion as a lousy actress who only succeeded because of her wealthy benefactor, he flew into a rage. The film had to be stopped.
Mr. Hearst first threatened RKO, who quickly shot him down. While the film might be construed by audiences as being about Hearst, it wasn't close enough to his life to create legal problems for the studio. Hearst then decided to use his newspapers to push back against the film. His editors were advised to accept no ads from RKO and also to refuse advertisements for theaters who dared show the film. He also used his show business connections to get celebrities to publicly denounce the film. RKO and Welles were under siege.
In the end, the film disappointed at the box office and despite its excellence, it was largely shunned at the Oscars. Hearst also arranged for stars to openly boo whenever the film was mentioned during the ceremonies. While Hearst wasn't able to totally kill Welles' career, he did severely injure it. The biggest thing that triggered Hearst's ire- the mocking of Marion Davies- was not even intended by Orson Welles. He later said he liked her and felt bad that she was equated with Kane's girlfriend.
The biggest tragedy to come from this situation was that the film damaged Orson's career at the height of his creative powers. We can only dream of the amazing films that might have been had he not been bullied by Hearst- and that's the biggest shame.