Saturday, April 18, 2015

A SIDNEY LUMET TALK


Here he is discussing 'Night Falls On Manhattan' in 1996, giving candid views on cops, wearing jeans and denim on the set and paying compliments to my pal Andy Garcia. I especially like the subtitles, even though I don't understand them. But they give the clip an extra air of cineaste credibility...

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

THE VERDICT: A TEASER


Above is a somewhat creaky teaser-trailer for 'The Verdict' which was clearly made before the film's release for promotional purposes. But for whom? Where was it shown? I don't know. The hell with it. The year is 1983 and we have a lovely interview with James Mason, a strange one with Paul Newman (he appears to be a little medicated...at least to my eyes) and none at all with Sidney Lumet (perhaps he was busy?) But there is nice on-set footage of Lumet and stirring, 1980s narration by somebody who probably doesn't remember getting hired for the gig...

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

YIDNEY LUMET


Here's a curious little three minute doc on Sidney Lumet that apparently was commissioned by Paramount Pictures as some sort of accompaniment piece to "Night Falls On Manhattan" but was then abandoned and rediscovered in the Pacific Film valuts. It's only a fragment of something larger and I wish the something larger could be found as its quite interesting. David Mamet tells a great little tale of his discovery that Lumet was a child star in the Yiddish theater (with accompanying photo!) and there's a nice moment on the set of NFOM of Lumet addressing Richard Dreyfuss, who listens carefully and then disagrees with Lumet's direction. More on why this is interesting to me over the next days...weeks...months...

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

EXT. HOLLYWOOD BLVD HEADING EAST--DRIVING--1965--DAY


We seem to be above traffic here, on the second story of a mysterious vehicle that floats eastbound on a very familiar looking Hollywood Blvd., on a long-forgotten day in 1965.
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Thursday, April 9, 2015

EXT. SUNSET BLVD IN HOLLYWOOD--HEADING WEST--LATE 1940s--DAY


My guess is that this is a rear-projection plate, designed for that very late-40s shot where the camera is in the back of the car staring at the backs of the heads of the two mysterious men in the front seats who are heading for something no good. Once that car makes a left on Highland Avenue and pulls up to the curb, we cut outside to the man in the passanger seat exiting the car and heading into the barber shop, gun carefully concealed in his inside jacket pocket. The driver stays put, engine running...

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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

EXT. SUNSET STRIP--RANDOM BUILDINGS AND TRAFFIC PASSING--1940s--DAY


Here's another mystery reel of random shots of urban life from the past. Today we're looking at the Sunset Strip in the 1940s, shot for no apparent reason by nobody we know anything about. The interesting thing about these views of old LA in color is how very similar the vibe of the place was to the way it is now (you dig my use of vibe, Jack?). I mean the odd combo of chic, kitsch, suburban, semi-urban, mountains, bleary sun, nice cars, sub-tropical climate etc. John Houseman in his memoir writes about seeing LA from the plane descending into the airport and the feelings it provoked in him; despite having lived there on and off for half his life and quite liking many things about it, the predominant sensation was one of sadness and nausea. I get what he means. And it's not just airsickness. Despite my rather enjoying life in LA and views of old LA like this one, it also makes me want to puke and cry.

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Friday, April 3, 2015

GROUCHO GOES MID-CENTURY

In the mid 1950s, along with acquiring a new young wife, Groucho Marx (do I really need to give his last name?) also acquired a new Beverly Hills spread in the then brand-spanking-new development called Trousdale (formerly the Doheny ranch that was attached behind the Greystone Mansion). Here's a very nice presentation of the house in Groucho's day and with recent renovations, which helped it sell for 8.5 million last year. Frankly, I'm not mad for it in either of its incarnations, but then I didn't like 'Mad Men' either.
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Thursday, April 2, 2015

GROUCHO'S HOME MOVIES


Here's a nifty little find. Somebody (Chico? Zeppo? Gummo? Harpo? Ducko?) shot a little 16mm film of Groucho and his family cavorting in front of their house. The year is 1933 so I imagine this is the house they built that very year at 710 North Hillcrest Drive in the flats of Beverly Hills. Groucho's first wife Ruth exits the house with six year-old daughter Miriam and sends her off to nowhere. Next comes son Arthur (then twelve) who was already a smashing good tennis player who would go on to a short pro-career just a few years from when this was shot. He too is sent off-camera. Finally Julius Marx, the man of the house, exits and performs a little pantomime with the wife, having to do either with a piece of paper or a bill of some kind. He is sans moustache but has a half-smoked cigar in his mouth and seems to walk at about half-slouch. He runs off with his kids, skipping down a very empty Beverly Hills block, with dwarf palm trees lining the street. It's a lovely look at a still undeveloped, uncluttered LA and a rather pretty picture of a family living the good life in the pits of the depression. Sadly, Ruth and Groucho divorced in 1940 after she'd become a full-blown alcoholic (the result, according to Harpo's widow Susan, of Groucho's constant verbal abuse). Arthur became a comedy writer (Bob Hope movies, 'All in the Family' episodes) as well as his father's biographer and author of several scathing inside Hollywood bios, my favorite of which is the Martin&Lewis dual bio "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime--Especially Himself." Miriam is alive and well at 87--she was at a performance of Frank Ferrante's one-man show about Groucho that I attended semi-recently. And I suspect Ruth and Groucho have been reunited in marriage-abuse heaven, where she shares custody of him with the two other wives who left him, exhausted by the task of being the butt of Groucho's domestic humor.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

CHICO PLAYS CARDS AND SPEAKS


Here's a full episode (twenty or so minutes) of a show that it's hard to believe ever had an audience, "Championship Bridge With Charles Goren." The format of the show was to pit two professional bridge players against each other, using two non-pro but very good players as their partners. Goren and another Bridge expert, Alex Drier, then scientifically analyzed and critiqued the play. The non-pros were usually semi-celebrities of some kind and this episode features an old, very worn out looking Chico Marx. A liftetime gambling addict, Chico only lived another year after this was televised. He died broke, supported by his brothers and sadly unmourned by the comedy world. Chances are he died owing them all money.

Chico speaks just shy of the two minute mark and, like Harpo (see yesterday's posting below), has Groucho's lilt and cadence in his voice. At first you think he's doing his Italian shtick, but in fact its his genuine East Side Jewish turn-of-the-century immigrant's kid's voice. (This makes you realize how thin his Italian accent really was). He's asked about his relationship with famed Bridge player Helen Sobel and he replies that he knew her way back when she was a chorus girl in 'The Cocoanuts' on Broadway--"our foist Broadway show" as Chico says with more than a tad of nostalgia. He speaks a bit more through the show but not nearly enough, and he seems to engage in a little double-talk that's hard to make out--a kind of gag-accent that deliberately obscures his bidding, confusing and irritating his rod-up-ass Bridge expert partner. Chico and his partner wind up losing and this makes you wonder if in fact Chico was playing to win. He frequently misplayed hands deliberately, explaining that it made things more interesting. On one occasion he was asked how much money he'd lost in his lifetime. "Find out how much money Groucho has," he answered. "That's how much I lost."

I'll close with a Chico anecdote. He was constantly broke, borrowing money from friends (and gangsters, which frequently led to Groucho having to bail him out). Once, when writing a check for gambling debts to writer Heywood Broun, Chico prudently instructed him not to try cashing it before twelve o'clock the next day if he wanted it to go through. Broun followed his advice and waited till twelve, but it still bounced. "What time did you cash it?" asked Chico. "Twelve-o-five," said Broun. Chico shook his head. "Too late."

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Monday, March 30, 2015

HARPO SPEAKS


In my recent revival of interest in all things Marxian, I got to thinking about how impossible it is to imagine Chico speaking in a non-Italian dialect. Did he carry that act over into his personal life? Was he ever Lenny to his card-playing friends? (Was Groucho ever Julie?) And what of Harpo? (Was he ever Adolph--at least before 1939? And was he ever Artie after?)  He was said to be quite shy and not terribly conversational, though when he wrote his autobiography it ran to five-hundred some pages so I guess we can dismiss that canard. But he famously never spoke in public and the sound of his voice must remain a mystery.

Or must it? Click on the above video for an actual sample of Harpo talking (it comes about one minute in). He's a straight up, old-fashioned New York Jew with a deeper and more serious delivery then you might expect. As for Chico's real voice, tune in tomorrow...

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Friday, March 27, 2015

EXT. HOLLYWOOD BLVD. (AND ENVIRONS)--CHRISTMAS, LATE 40's--DAY


I'm ending our week-long tour of old LA via stock footage with a look at Christmas on Hollywood Blvd. in the late 40s. Dig the glaring Christmas sun. Dig the absurd decorations. Dig the restaurant called 'Doloros's' (at two minutes in) that looks like 'Mildred's' from 'Mildred Pierce'. It's Christmas in LA in the late forties, and it looks more or less the same as every Christmas I've spent in LA over the years. Ewwwww...

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

EXT. HOLLYWOOD BLVD.--EARLY 1950's--DRIVING--DAY


Today's view of a Los Angeles that only partially still exists takes us on a smooth ride down Hollywood Blvd., starting in the domestic flats just east of Laurel Canyon (and hence directly below Marlon Brando's house which I've featured over the previous two posts--scroll down, honey, scroll down) and continuing all the way to Highland Avenue. A few things to note. 1) The domestic area looks pretty much the same today as it did when this was shot. 2) At around forty seconds, our driver blows a red light. 3) At a minute and twenty-some seconds, a dishy blonde dame crosses the street wearing tight pants and early F-Me Pumps. 4) Streetcar tracks still existed on Hollywood Blvd. and are visible once the car crosses La Brea and enters the business district. 5) Grauman's Chinese Theater is clearly visible on the left. 6) More dangerous driving is displayed as our camera-car almost collides head-on with another car just east of La Brea.

At Highland, they make a left and proceed north. The church on the corner of Franklin is unchanged. On the hill just above it is the apartment house--barely visible but definitely tucked in there--that I lived in from 1992 to 1994. And then the world we're watching goes dark...

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