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Friday, 15 October 2010

Brilliant Ineptitude

Ineptitude in the field of email rip offs has been taken to new and astounding heights of excellence. Ladies and Gentlemen I present to you Peter Morris Esq and the email I recieved this very morning.

"Please if you receive this email as I do expect respond back to me for full
details because is been a while trying to reach you but all my effort ruined.
Late Mr. Allen Born. mentioned you on his WILL he died February 16th 2009
and the WILL is ready for execution. Thank you
Peter Morris Esq."

Oh Peter, Peter, Peter if indeed that is your real name, whatever are we to do with you?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Sir Charles Aubrey Smith and the Hollywood Raj

C. Aubrey Smith, Boris Karloff and Henry Stephenson.

C. Aubrey Smith, moustache, bushy eyebrows, pipe, loveably cranky disposition. He supported all the top stars throughout the 30's and 40's. Probably no other actor portrayed quite as many Colonels, Majors or Generals in the history of film (I'm sure he snuck an Admiral in too for good measure). His most enduring acheivment though was the Hollywood Cricket Club and it's closely related social scene. The Hollywood Raj or British colony built up around Smith's HCC and he became it's uncrowned king. All the great, and not so great, Hollywood based british actors of the period were part of it. David Niven, who was something of a favourite with Smith, Nigel Bruce (aka Watson) and his very own Holmes Basil Rathbone, Ronald Coleman, Boris Karloff, Patrick Knowles, Merle Oberon, Joan Fontaine, Olivia De Havilland, HB Warner not to mention screenwriter PG Wodehouse (also a well known novelist I believe...)all united by their ties to England and a little love for cricket, though maybe it was just the fear of upsetting the imposing CA Smith that got them all to so many matches.
They created under Smith's leadership a beautiful Little England in Hollywood that resembled nothing that they or most other English people had ever known or could even recognise. The stories of their quaint Englishness fill me with pride despite my knowledge of the fraudulence of much of the exercise. Cricket was played and watched in the manner of legend, everything stopped for tiffin and those who didn't do their bit at the outbreak of war in Europe were frowned upon.
Sheridan Morley tells my favourite story of this period involving a Sunday afternoon party at the home of the actress Gladys Cooper, George Cukor was wandering across the lawn when that underrated actor Robert Coote called to Gladys Cooper "Darling, there seems to be an American on your lawn". I like to think Cukor fumed a little.
Aubrey Smith had a little bit of form with regards the great game of cricket. He had played for Sussex for 4 years before leaving for South Africa to make his fortune, he also turned out for the MCC and while in South Africa captained an England team in one match which was later given test match status (which actually means he must rank as one of the most successful ever England captains with a 100% win record).
Once while feilding in the slips for HCC he dropped a tricky catch and called to his butler to bring on his spectacles, a few minutes later he dropped an even easier catch, took off his specs, looked at them and said "silly bugger brought me my reading Spectacles".
It's difficult to believe that someone who played cricket with and against the great WG Grace could also have starred alongside the likes of Errol Flynn, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Lucille Ball, Elizabeth Taylor and countless others, but it's true, his cricketing life was a relatively short lasting for just about ten years from 1880,his acting career much longer.
One final story, many years after his cricket career, and long in to his acting career Smith visited Lords, the home of cricket to watch a match. One of the members reportedly spotted Smith and asked his chum "Who's that, looks familiar". His friend replied "Names Smith, used to play for Sussex". I think that story, true or not, illustrates the nature of cricket in England better than any other.

CA Smith is sitting middle row far left and I don't think he has any idea just where he'll be in 40 odd years time.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

J Arthur (drag your minds out of the gutter people, this is a film blog)

Well thank you Mr Coniam, I checked out Dolph Lundgren and he doesn't fit the bill, though he did have some kind of flirtation with the American Olympic Decathlon team.
The Rank gong man however is a more interesting case.
Gongman was a role taken on by several men over the years, including former boxer 'Bombadier' Billy Wells, however our (and by that I mean my) interest should be piqued by Ken Richmond. Not a name to conjure dreams of the silver screen I grant you but Ken, who was apparently the last of the gongmen, did have one vaguely significant role and it turns out to have been in one of my favourite films, Night and the City.
Night and the City, starring Richard Widmark and an almost completely wasted Gene Tierney was Jules Dassin's first movie away from hollywood once his blacklisting during the communist witchhunts started kicking in. It was based on the Gerald Kersh novel and is about a cheap nightclub tout in London who tries to muscle in on the big boys by taking over the apparently big money wrestling racket.
The film is full of great performances from the likes of Googie Withers (surely the finest name in cinema history?), Herbert Lom, James Hayter and a particular standout from the corpulent Francis L Sullivan as Phil Nosseross. Ken plays a wrestler which should come as no surprise as in 1952 he'd picked up a bronze medal at the Olympics as a super heavyweight, freestyle wrestler.
Hurrah and huzzah, another Olympic medalist actor/film icon (well he was the gongman and it doesn't get much more iconic than that).
As a little extra info of the non Olympic kind, in one scene in Night and the City Richard Widmark is chased through the war ravaged ruins of London by a couple of thugs, one of whom is my favourite member of the Carry on team. Yes Peter Butterworth was a scary gangster tough enough to put the wind up old Dickie Widmark. Who'd have thought it?


Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Who's Your Favourite Olympic Actor?

One of my favourite character actors of the 30's and 40's is Nat Pendleton, I think he's a quality act all the way. He's a great dumb cop in The Thin Man and Another Thin Man, he's a great in the two Abbott and Costello Buck Privates films, he stooged for the Marx brothers a couple of times (At the Circus and Horse Feathers), he was ever present in the Dr. Kildare/Dr. Gillespie films. Then there were the one off, supporting roles in the likes of Northwest Passage backing up Spencer Tracy, It's in the Air backing up Jack Benny, Manhattan Melodrama backing up Powell, Loy and Gable, Reckless, Harlow and Powell, It's a Wonderful World with Colbert and James Stewart and probably his most famous role as the strong man in The Great Ziegfeld. I could go on but my personal favourite is Sing and Like It, not because it's the best film but because it's a rare lead part for him (admittedly he's playing the same dumb cluck but what you gonna do?).
All this might be enough but Nat Pendleton won a wrestling silver medal in the 1920 Olympics too.
He's not the only one mind you.

Bruce Bennett is probably my second favourite Olympic medal winning actor. He started out as Herman Brix and picked up a silver medal in the shot put at the 1928 Olympics. Not only that but he was world record holder going in to the 1932 Olympics but had to pull out due to a shoulder injury he picked up making a movie about college (American) Football. You'd think that was bad luck enough but he was MGM's first choice to play Tarzan and lost out on the part to Johnny Weissmuller (of whom more later) because of the same injury. Well Herman picked himself up, dusted himself of and started again by playing Tarzan in the Edgar Rice Burroughs approved serial a couple of years later, however tiring of being either uncredited "man at bar" or Tarzan clones in cheap rip offs he packed it in for a bit and took acting lessons. A short while later a familiar looking chap arrived on the scene calling himself Bruce Bennett and started picking up supporting roles in some pretty good movies (and of course the usual filler rubbish). The More the Merrier, Sahara, Mildred Pierce, Nora Prentiss, Dark Passage and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre are all graced by his presence and he continued acting all the way through to the 80's. As if to show that all that shot putting and vine swinging in youth is good for you Bruce/Herman made it all the way to 101 (his age) and was still skydiving at the age of 96!

Coming in at 3rd in our (my) countdown is Johnny Weissmuller, yes he may be more famous than the others but when you consider that he only played two different characters in a career that lasted 24 years (I'm not counting Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood and I don't think you should either) then I don't think you can blame me for knocking him down a peg or two. Of course I say he played two characters but lets be honest Jungle Jim (the other character) was just an excuse to let him wear clothes once his middle started to thicken, otherwise he would still have been playing Tarzan. He picked up 5 gold medals for swimming in 1924 and 1928 plus a bronze in 1924 for water polo. I will concede however that in his first years of playing Tarzan no other actor can touch him, and he was devilishly handsome in a Tarzany way.

Buster Crabbe deserves 4th just for maintaining a career that seemed to go nowhere for so long. Also my summer holidays from school wouldn't have been quite the same without Flash Gordon, though that may be down to Jean Rogers as Dale Arden and Charles Middleton as Ming (both for different reasons). Buster, who picked up a bronze and gold medal respectively at the 1928 and 1932 Olympics, played not only Flash Gordon but Buck Rogers and Tarzan (I think I'm beginning to see a pattern) too, all in popular serials from the mid 30s through to the early 40s. Then a series of nearly 40 westerns pumped out in just about 5 years, mostly supported by former Fatty Arbuckle sidekick Al St. John. He carried on acting on and off right up to the early 80s, indeed he carried on swimming up to the 70s setting a world record for the over 60 age group.

Sonja Henie picked up gold medals for Norway at three successive Olympics beginning in 1928 so she's up there with Weissmuller success wise, however film wise she's a pretty poor last place by my reckoning and she has points docked for being all palsy with Adolf Hitler which I don't think any of the others were. I choose not to comment on her films as she's already in deep enough what with the whole Hitler thing, that and I've only seen one of them (Sun Valley Serenade... rubbish if you really want to know).

I'd like to give a little mention to Esther Williams as she probably would have done alright in the Olympics in 1940 if the war hadn't come along and caused them to be cancelled. If I were her I'd have a word with Henie.

Well people I racked my brains, such as they are, for a whole eight and a half minutes before writing this blog and I feel sure there are other Olympian actors out there that I missed so why not drop me a comment admonishing me for all those brave athletes I ignored, or possibly with suggestions for Olympic athletes who should have become actors. I'll start you off with Ian "The Thorpedo" Thorpe as Harry in a remake of Harry and the Hendersons.


Thursday, 15 April 2010

Nicked Thing

1. Which actors do you always (or did you always) mix-up?
Stan Laurel and Fred Astaire (okay I never actually mix them up but boy do they look alike).
2. Gidget or Beach Party?
Gidget, though I wouldn't lose sleep if I never saw either.
3. Favorite Movie Outfit?
I suspect this is more of a girl thing, however I'm partial to anything Rita Hayworth wears.
4. If you could be ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose?
Nick Charles in The Thin Man, he's super cool, he's a detective and he's married to Myrna Loy...
5. If you could marry ANY character in ANY movie...who would you choose?
Nora Charles.
6. If you could live in ANY movie...which would you choose?
The Thin Man if my liver held out (and because I know who did it).
7. Black & White movies you wish were in Technicolor, or vice-versa?
I'm happy with everything just as it is.
8. Favorite Movie Soundtrack?
The Third Man or any Carry On film.
9. Favorite Movie Dance Sequence?
Laurel and Hardy in front of the saloon in Way Out West.
10. Coolest Movie Star?
11. Sophia or Gina?
Sophia most of the time but Gina in Beat the Devil.
12. "Isn't It Romantic" in most Billy Wilder films, or "Red River Valley"
Anything Wilder.
13. If you could re-cast ANY role in ANY movie, what would it be?
Harking back to question 1 I'd like to see Fred Astaire in Sons of the Desert and Stan Laurel in Top Hat.
14. Favorite movie character with your first name?
I don't know any of the top of my head.
15.One movie that should NEVER be remade?
Anything that wasn't rubbish to begin with.
16. Actor or Actress who you would love to be best friends with?
Bogart or Peter O'Toole, Anna Karina.
17. Are you an Oscar or a Felix?
I thought I was an Oscar then I got married and found I was actually a Felix.
18. Actor/Actress you originally hated and now love?
Kenneth More.
19.Actor/Actress you originally loved and now don't like?
James Dean (I think it's an age thing).
20. Favorite performance that was looked over by Oscar? (Not to be confused with the aforementioned Oscar of Felix fame.)
Well Peter O'Toole certainly deserved a few from all those nominations.
21. Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie?
Terry and June.
22. Hannibal Heyes or Kid Curry? (Hint for those who don't know who they are: pick Hannibal Heyes.)
Terry Medford.
23. Favorite Style Icon: Fred Astaire or Cary Grant?
Surprisingly the style icon is Grant, I only say surprisingly because he's from Bristol and style icons just don't come from Bristol, also Fred is too like Stan Laurel.
24. Single most favorite movie scene EVER?
The Third Man, either Orson Welles first scene or the scene in the bedroom that precedes it.
25. Movie you really "should" see, but have subconsciously avoiding for who knows what reason?
Anchorman (because it's a friends dvd and I've had it for an age).
26. Movie quote you find yourself most often repeating in real life?
"You bastard, you stole my bloody cigarettes." Because anyone can do a Michael Caine impression, although I haven't said it since I gave up the tabs.
27. 50's Westerns or 60's Spies?
60's spies everytime.
28. Favorite splashy, colorful, obnoxious 50's musical?
If it must be a 50's musical then An American in Paris but that's only because of Oscar Levant.
29. Favorite film setting?
London, I just love discovering where films were made or seeing a film and thinking "I know that place".
30. If you could own the entire wardrobe of any film, which would it be?
31. Carol Burnette or Lucille Ball?
32. Favorite Voice. Ever. Period?
Richard Burton I guess.
33. Favorite movie that takes place in your home-state?
Any Ealing comedy, the Ladykillers or Lavender Hill Mob.
34. Which actors would you want for relatives? (Mother, Father, Grandma, Crazy Aunt, annoying cousin, older brother, etc...)
Mother, Fay Bainter. Father, James Robertson Justice. Gran, Margret Rutherford. Grandad, Alastair Sim.

Friday, 12 March 2010

The Lavender Hill Mob

What's not to love about the Lavender Hill Mob?
I'll tell you what, nothing.
Alec Guinness as meek and mild mannered Henry Holland, the bank clerk who reads too many pulp crime fiction books and begins to live the dream.
Stanley Holloway as Alfred Pendlebury (or Pendlebuwy as Holland calls him)an artist who's income comes not from art but from his foundry that produces tourist nik naks (Ann Hathaways cottage for keeping string in).
Together with, likeably inept professional criminals, Lackery Wood (Sid James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass) they become the Lavender Hill Mob, adopt tough guy names, Dutch and Al and commit the perfect crime. Well sort of.
I won't spoil it if you haven't seen it but see it you must. It's probably the finest of the great Ealing comedies and with a supporting cast of the calibre of John Gregson, Sydney Tafler, Gibb McLaughlin, Richard Wattis and of course a young Audrey Hepburn in a tiny part right at the start what more could you want?
The atmosphere is warm and cosy with just a hint of satire and a slight spoofing of more slick American tough guy movies and the performances as always are spot on all round. T.E.B. Clarke's screenplay is fantastic and the admirable (Charles) Crichton holds it all together perfectly.
5 star.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Cottage To Let

What a brilliant film. I hadn't seen Cottage To Let for a few years but caught it yesterday afternoon on Film 4 and was pleased to find that it had lost none of it's charm.
If you haven't seen it it's a 1941 Gainsborough picture.
George Cole (in his debut) plays Ronald Mittsby a cockney evacuee who lands up in a little Scottish town at the home of brilliant inventor John Barrington (Leslie Banks) and his wife (Jeanne de Casalis). Also in residence are the Barrington's daughter Helen (Carla Lehman), John Barrington's assistant Alan Trently (Michael Wilding), recuperating spitfire pilot Flight Lieutenant Perry (john Mills), the cottage of the titles new and mysterious letter(?) Charles Dimble (Alastair Sim) and various staff including the butler Evans (Wally Patch).
John Barrington is designing a bomb sight for use by the RAF and unknown Nazi agents are after the invention not to mention the inventor himself for their own dastardly ends. It's the job of Sherlock Holmes disciple Ronald and various others to find out just who the rotter in the pack is.
This is a comedy/mystery/whodunnit (or is about to do it if we must be pedantic) that also gets across the then pertinent message that careless talk costs lives. I won't tell you just who is the Nazi agent, though truth be known it's not to difficult to guess despite some manful attempts to throw us off the scent. What's great about this film are the performances and, more importantly, the interplay between the different performers. George Cole in particular gives one of the best performances by a youngster that I've ever seen. Too often with kids in films I'm all set to get busy with my fists about their annoying little faces but George is just fine and shows straight off the bat just how he's managed to stay employed virtually without cease right up to this day. Another great turn is from Jeanne de Casalis who, if I'm honest, I'd never heard of before. She is fantastinc as the scatterbrained wife who carries on regardless, and makes a lot of those corny old lines seem perfectly natural and perfectly hilarious. The likes of the brilliant Alastair Sim, Leslie Banks and John Mills wouldn't have known how to let their audience down either so on the whole how could it miss? Oh I forgot that it's directed by Anthony Asquith too so there's another tick in the book.
Seriously folks check it out, you won't be dissapointed and even if you are it's not like you have my address.