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Category Archives: Celluloid

My Favorite Blonde

Hey all! You might know that, in addition to, I run The Joyce Compton Shrine — the only website entirely dedicated to “dumb blonde” character actress Joyce Compton. Lately I’ve been pretty happy that Turner Classic Movies will be broadcasting several vintage films with our Miss Compton in the next couple of weeks.

First up, set for Tuesday March 21st at 1:30 a.m. (all times are Eastern Standard): the 1939 musical Balalaika will be aired as part of TCM’s month-long Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy tribute. This one’s a Nelson Eddy solo vehicle with the lovely Illona Massey as his leading lady, which is fine by me since I’m one of the few who actually prefer Nelson and Jeanette individually over the vomitty operettas they did together. Miss Compton has a decent part as Massey’s maid, standing out amongst a motley ensemble playing turn-of-the-century Russians. Not one cast member bothers to attempt speaking in a Russian style — so as a result you end up with Eddy’s sturdy American baritone, Massey’s Viennese accent, supporting player Charlie Ruggles with his proper English tones, and Miss Compton’s sweet Southern voice! It’s very odd experience, but I love the musical numbers and Compton does well with an unusually dramatic role. Plus she wears Adrian’s “Russian peasant meets Hollywood glamour queen” costume designs well.

Broadcasting on Wednesday March 22nd at 7:15 a.m. is Sky Murder, a 1940 MGM B-mystery starring Walter Pidgeon as detective Nick Park. This was another attempt at a Thin Man-style franchise that never got off the ground, though Mr. Pidgeon is very appealing in the lead. Miss Compton plays his assistant, a featherbrained private eye. Not the least stereotypical part ever written, but she contributes lots of delightful energy to what ultimately amounts to a silly, forgettable film. Still, it’s interesting to see her in a rare opportunity at (sort of) leading lady-dom.

Next is something I’ve been waiting for years to see: the 1941 comedy Bedtime Story, set to air on Tuesday March 28 at 8:00 p.m. I never dreamed this particular one would show up on the TCM schedule, since it’s a relatively obscure 20th Century Fox Columbia title and TCM has to make special arrangements to air films not in its library (which includes much of pre-1950 Warner Brothers, MGM and RKO). I don’t know how good a film this is, but does boast a dynamite cast including Loretta Young, Fredric March, Eve Arden, Robert Benchley (Compton previously appeared with Benchley in his 1938 short How To Watch Football), and of course Miss Compton. Here’s hoping it’s a real treat.

And it doesn’t end there — TCM’s showing a bunch of Joyce’s movies in April. City for Conquest (tiny part as dance partner to a young Anthony Quinn) on the 11th; They Drive By Night (uncredited but meaty role as a dumbell) and Westward Passage (bit part as an artist’s model) on the 17th; A Southern Yankee (brunette Southern Belle opposite Red Skelton) on the 21st. Sorry if I ended up sounding like a total shill for TCM here, but this is nice!

The Meteor of MGM

Film blogger The Self Styled Siren has completed a wonderful two part appreciation of Luise Rainer, forever cursed for winning two consecutive Best Actress Oscars. Although I can only take her movies in small doses (a little of that “chin down, eyes up” expression goes a long way), the fact that Miss Rainer is still around and feisty as ever at the age of 96 makes me admire her even more. Her tombstone ought to be engraved with “She didn’t take any crap from Louis B. Mayer”. That feistiness led to her downfall in the late ’30s — and yet some kind of intangible quality in her onscreen persona (sadness maybe?) makes even her dodgiest films watchable. When Turner Classic Movies broadcasts The Great Waltz and The Great Ziegfeld on the 17th, check them out. She positively glowed onscreen with an earthy, dark beauty touched with innate intelligence. Rock on, Luise.

Bears and Bulls

By coincidence I recently managed to catch two acclaimed documentaries of 2005 over the weekend. Grizzly Man was broadcast on the Discovery Channel, and I’m reviewing the DVD of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room for Mindjack Film. Both revolve around men who became so myopic and deluded in their lives’ missions that their worlds come crashing in on them. The Enron film is quite slickly produced and enthralling (and the story is still being played out with the head honchos currently on trial!). I was also captivated with the unique way director Werner Herzog tells the story of Timothy Treadwell in Grizzly Man. As the film unfolds, it becomes obvious that Treadwell (who died of a bear mauling in 2003) saw himself as something of a Crocodile Hunter with bears, the star of his own magnificent adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. In reality he was a class-A fruitcake. While interviewing Treadwell’s friends and acquaintances, Herzog occassionally leaves the camera on too long, which underlies that fact that people instinctively perform in that setting whether they’re conscious of it or not. In sum, you get a well rounded portrait of a supremely odd, complex guy. Both are definitely recommended!

A Shelley Winters Memory

Farewell to Shelley Winters, who died Saturday at age 85. The Shelley I grew up with was the blowsy, muu muu clad Poseidon Adventure lady who’d arrived at “The Tonight Show” looking like she knocked off a few Jack Daniels before showtime. It wasn’t until much later when I saw her in stuff like A Place in the Sun and The Night of the Hunter that I realized what a multifaceted actress she was. In these days of vapid magazine-cover celebrities, she was and will remain a true talent.

My favorite memory of Shelley was an early ’80s “Tonight Show” appearance. Shelley had finished her spot with Johnny Carson and they’d moved on to the next guest, a pre-Designing Women Annie Potts. Annie and Shelley were happily chatting away when Shelley suddenly asked “Haven’t we met somewhere before?” Well, it turned out that the two had actually made a movie together which Shelley had completely forgot. Her gradual realization, on national TV, that Annie Potts was one of her former co-stars was unforgettably hilarious.

Wannabe Film Critic Blues

The Internet Movie Database has accepted my mini review of the 1943 Roy Rogers vehicle Silver Spurs, which I submitted solely because nobody else commented on it. The same reason I just finished another mini-review, for the uneven ’41 Warners ‘B’ Steel Against the Sky. That one hasn’t yet been approved.

Speaking of the IMDb, I just noticed that they’re linking to my Mindjack Film reviews in the external reviews sections for each film. Their pages for Kinsey, In the Realms of the Unreal, The Razor’s Edge, Anna and the King of Siam and The Best of Everything all have my name on them. Makes me feel like a real, bona fide film critic! I’d love to do more of these reviews, but the larger DVD companies make it so difficult to get review copies and press releases. One such organization wouldn’t send anything because my editor is based in Canada. Another has a Byzantine online application process, and my many queries to them as to why I’m unacceptable have gone unanswered. I can understand why they wouldn’t want to deal with any Joe Shmoe wannabe with a website, but come on. I now have lots of respect for full time freelance writers who have to deal with this. Nobody needs to constantly be jumping through hoops to prove their validity.

A Year of Movie Watching

My annual list of films seen for 2005 has been completed with a late New Years Eve showing of the Olivia De Haviland mental institution flick The Snake Pit (it sure beats a slurring Dick Clark). I saw a total of 184 films last year, just about the same amount as in 2004. For completion’s sake, here are the lists for 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, and 2000.