Not only starlets, but some big stars of the 1950s were happy to send their photos to the men in the Armed Services during the Korean War. Here’s another entry from the collection of Marine Sgt Norman Plemons.
Although we have discussed this film before and have said it doesn’t hold up very well, we must concede that in any discussion of psychedelic films we cannot over look it.
The film is a historic depiction of the counterculture era of the late 1960s and early 70s. And the use of drugs is realistically depicted. In fact the actors actually ingested the drugs their characters are shown using.
The plot is almost irrelevant. Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are drug dealers and on a roadtrip to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. They encounter hippies, a commune of free love, and bigots. They are arrested and meet George Hanson (Jack Nicholson), a drunkard lawyer in jail. George helps them get out of jail and the three continue on to Mardi Gras.
What the film does is to capture the sociopolitical climate of the times. Mainstream culture somehow see the hippies as a threat. The hippies are driven by a yearning for freedom. And drugs provide the route. The scenes of drug use, especially the cemetery scene when Wyatt and Billy drop acid with two prostitutes, Karen (Karen Black) and Mary (Toni Basil), are intense.
These unscripted LSD scenes with a mix of jump cuts, distorted imagery, the use of fish-eye lenses and close-ups of the sun make it a psychedelic must see movie.
Whether you’re “High in Colorado” or not, all the films we’ve mentioned so far this week are worth a look. To re-cap. Our top psychedelic films are: The Red Shoes, Fantasia, Point Blank, 2001:A Space Odyssey, Zabriskie Point, and Easy Rider.
No one can dispute that 2001:A Space Odyssey was a breakthrough film. Even today, almost 50 years later, Stanley Kubrick‘s sci-fi classic rates as a movie worth watching. Especially if you’re stoned.
The fantastic visuals, the color, the use of classical music and the dissonant chords of composer Gyorgy Ligeti combine to make it one of the most memorable films of all time. And who could forget HAL?
Another film of the period which is not as well remembered as 2001, but is still a classic of the genre is Michelangelo Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point. It has been described, so correctly, as part documentary, part psychedelic desert trip. Music by The Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd. Sex in the sand. It’s like taking the trip without dropping the acid. A Commercial flop at the time of release in 1970, but it’s gone on to become a cult favorite.
The 60s was the era of hallucegenic drugs, marijuana, LSD, peyote, magic mushrooms. And leading the way were the folks in Hollywood.
A young British writer turned film director John Boorman encountered Lee Marvin, then at the height of his career (an Oscar for Cat Ballou, a huge box office hit with The Dirty Dozen), and they discussed a Richard Stark novel they thought would make a great film, The Hunter.
Three screenwriters later, Boorman began shooting in Los Angeles and locales in an around San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island. MGM opened the movie opened in September 1967, about five months after it completed shooting, and typically for an MGM movie, it came with more than a few bells and whistles.
For one thing, unlike most classic film noirs, it was not in black and white. No, sir — only Panavision in Metrocolor would do (director of photography is Philip Lathrop).
Then there is a tricky plot leading fim noir scholar Alain Silver to remark that ‘Point Blank’ is not a literal narrative and that the film is technically complex and plays with the ambiguities of time and space. That’s another way of saying the movie can be at times confusing.
Now the more traditional film noirs certainly can be devilishly tricky. (Can you honestly say with confidence that you’ve fully comprehended the plot of Howard Hawks’ 1946 classic The Big Sleep?)
Point Blank takes things further, a haunted dream-like film that draws upon the spatial and temporal experiments of modernist European art cinema, most particularly the work of (French director) Alain Resnais, writes critic Adrian Danks.
Phew. That’s a heavy load to heap upon what is seemingly a simple plot about a driven protagonist (named Walker) in pursuit of $93,000 that has been stolen from him. The portrayal has been cited repeatedly as evidence of Marvin’s inextinguishable greatness as a movie icon.
Not terribly long ago, the film journal Sight & Sound devoted a four-page spread to a British Point Blank revival. As Boorman got to know Marvin, he learned of the damage done to the man by the war and his unresolved violence. In the Pacific, Marvin had done bad things that never left him, wrote critic-author David Thomson.
Boorman and Marvin developed a friendship that lasted until the actor’s death in 1987. Both worked together to convey the ruthlessness and inherent brutality of the actor’s Walker character in Point Blank, often drawing on the raw and dangerous (he was almost killed) World War II experiences he survived in combat. The result is riveting.
Ironically, Marvin and Ronald Reagan costarred in director Don Siegel’s 1964 thriller The Killers, a tv update of the 1946 original that so memorably costarred Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner.
The remake was nowhere near as good as the original, but it’s still worth a look-see to observe two very different World War II vets in the same picture. Marvin portrays a hardened hit man while Reagan, amazingly, pulls off a performance as a very bad guy, a duplicitous criminal boss.
What distinguishes Point Blank from the pack is its bold approach to plot and character, perhaps reflecting the influences of the zeitgeist and the controlled and uncontrolled substances mentioned in our opening paragraph. The movie has been declared one of the seminal films of late 1960′s America.
With the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and medically approved marijuana in many other states, we thought we’d spend this week highlighting some classic films that people might want to watch while, well, high.
Today we feature one of the best films about ballet, The Red Shoes, which was produced in Britain, almost 70 years ago. It stars ballerina Moira Shearer, matinee idols, Anton Walbrook, and Marius Goring. It was produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.
Shearer is cast by Walbrook in a ballet of The Red Shoes, based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of a girl whose red shoes possess her to dance to death.
But then she meets the young composer (Goring) and falls in love. She is soon caught between the two men, forced to choose between the man she loves and her passion for her art.
The film is shot in glorious Technicolor. The sets (which won the Oscar) are wonderfully hallucinatory. The dancing is exceptional. Both express the young ballerina’s tormented emotions. Today these shots are seen as a precursor to psychedelic filmmaking.
The Red Shoes is considered the first mainstream film to fuse hallucinatory elements into the plot.
It is, as they might say on TCM, one of the essentials.
Another is Disney’s Fantasia. Walt may not have envisioned it that way, but when the film was re-released in the sixties millions flocked to it to see the glorious color and animation for their hallucinogenic effects. The film had been a box office disappointment when first shown in 1940, but its re-releases found a wider audience. And none more appreciative than the “hippies” of the 60s and 70s.
Last week we began showing photos from the collection of Sgt Norman Plemons, who during the Korean War wrote to some of the popular stars at the time and requested photos he could hang in his locker, or on his barrack’s walls.
Nancy Wiman, the late Marine’s sister, is sharing these photos with us and our readers. Nancy says: I think they need to be shared for two reasons. #1 to remind oldsters like me what wonderful ladies brightened our movie lives when growing up. and #2: to introduce young people to these beautiful, tasteful, talented stars of yesteryear, who didn’t have to take off clothes or act outrageously to get attention.
Today we highlight Rita Moreno, who like many others, signed her photo with a personal note to Norm.
By our definition “a working actor” is an actor or actress who, while he may never achieve stardom, has a long and productive career, earns a better than decent living, and has the admiration of his peers.
Back in the Golden age of Hollywood there were many such beings. Margaret Hamilton comes to mind. So does Harry Davenport.
You’ll undoubtedly remember her because of her immortal “witch” in 1939′s The Wizard of Oz. Davenport’s name might not ring a bell, but when we say he was Dr. Meade in Gone With the Wind and Grandpa in Meet Me in St. Louis, you’ll immediately conjure up his face.
One of Joe’s personal favorites is Bruce Davidson. Not to long ago Joe taped a Movie for Television, Christmas Angel, because he’d seen Davidson’s name in the credits and knew if he was in it, the project had merit. He wasn’t disappointed.
Davidson (above) has had a career that’s been interesting to follow. He started playing a teenager (although he was 23) in Frank Perry’s landmark film Last Summer. He worked constantly in films and on stage. He hit it big with a supporting role in Longtime Companion, one of the first films about the AIDS epidemic, and received an Oscar nomination.
And he reminds us of another “working actor,” Richard Jaeckel, a man Joe interviewed several times over the years. Jaeckel DID start as a teenager (17) in 1943′s Guadalcanal Diary, then went on to one of the most successful careers of any “working actor.”
A particular favorite of ours is his performance in 1971′s Sometimes a Great Notion, where he has an unusual death scene with star (and director) Paul Newman. Jaeckel received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his efforts. People also remember him for his part in 1967′s The Dirty Dozen.
He told Joe he took great pride in being known as “a working actor.” Jaeckel worked in films and TV until the end. He died of cancer in 1997, much too early at 70.
Frank’s pick as the greatest “working actor” ever is Charles McGraw, a beer-drinking blue collar guy who convincingly played cops and bad guys in nearly 70 movie roles beginning in the 1940′s and lasting right into the mid-1970′s.
Among general moviegoers, he is probably best known as a solid utility actor with supporting roles in such major productions as Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, Richard Brooks’ In Cold Blood and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.
But it’s McGraw’s principal parts in a series of classic, low-budget film noirs that have burnished his movie legacy to contemporary audiences. Check him out as a hit man in 1946′s The Killers. As a brutal gangster in 1947′s T-Men. Or, as a tough, terse cop in 1950′s Armed Car Robbery.
In his introduction to author Alan K. Rode’s biography of the actor (Charles Mcgraw: Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy, McFarland & Co.), commentator Jim Steranko asks:
Is it my imagination or is there a note of irony in the fact that so many of yesterday’s leading men (and women) have vanished from the public consciousness, while certain actors who supported them on the big screen have not only remained cultural favorites, but often become cult icons?
Cult figures or no, these are some of our picks as distinguished “working actors.”
Dying at the height of one’s movie career usually assures a certain popularity. Just ask James Dean.
And so it is to some degree with French matinee idol of the 40s and 50s, Gerard Philipe.
Although he only made 34 films between 1943 and his death in 1959, and although all were in French, he was an international star in his day, and is well remembered in France and Germany.
(We say “only” 34 films here, but note that Dean’s stardom is based on just three movies, although Dean died at the tender age of 24 versus a ripe old 36 pour notre homme Gerard.)
Almost every one of Philipe’s films is worthwhile, and some rate as classics. He worked for the top directors of the time. He starred opposite the most famous and beautiful actresses of the day — Michele Morgan, Gina Lollobrigida, Jeanne Moreau and Danielle Darrieux among them.
Although he often exploited his reputation of matinee idol, Philipe never hammed, writes British critic David Thomson. Like most great stars, he smiled when sad and never forgot melancholy in moments of gaiety. (Can the same be said of Dean? Just asking.)
Philipe often played men fixated on sex. He was an adolescent in love in 1947′s The Devil in the Flesh. He is seduced by Lollobrigida in 1952′s Fan-Fan The Tulip. He was part of the omni-sexual hijinks of Vienna circa 1900 in director Max Ophuls’ La Ronde. Nine years later, he teamed in with Moreau in Roger Vadim’s Les Liaison Dangereuses (1959).
These titles might not come tripping off the tongue today. But keep in mind that from the 50s through roughly the early 70s, foreign films with subtitles often exerted clout at the U.S. box office — particularly if they were French. And in this time in the U.S., Philipe managed to become a marquee draw.
Although he had his off-screen romantic flings (one willing partner was Marlene Dietrich), the actor’s personal life was the model of the bourgeois rectitude. In 1951, he married the former Nicole Fourcade. The couple had two children.
Later in his career, the roles became more diverse. Philipe played painter Amedeo Modigliani in 1957′s Montparnasse 19 directed by Jacques Becker after the original director, Ophuls, died. In one of his more unusual assignments, Philipe turned up in director Luis Bunel’s Fever Mounts at El Pao, a 1959 adventure yarn set in a Caribbean country. It was his last movie.
By this time, Philipe was seriously ill with liver cancer. He died later in November of 1959. ‘Till he end, the actor was referred to by fans as the “darling of the Gods.”
She was a great actress.
Nominated for the Oscar three times. Won many awards. Always received billing above the title. Played opposite all of Hollywood’s top leading men: Clark Gable, John Garfield, Glenn Ford, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Kirk Douglas, Frank Sinatra.
And yet there aren’t many people who would contend that Eleanor Parker is a movie star. Why?
Who knows, exactly? In any case, we’re going to figuratively tackle one of Joe’s favorite actresses, and discuss just a few of her great roles.
Let’s concentrate on the three films for which she received Oscar nominations and the one film for which she should have. And we unabashedly declare three of the four titles as classics.
Caged was, and still is, the grittiest film ever made about women’s prisons. It was released in 1950, and became a huge commercial and critical success.
Parker received the first of her three Academy Award Nominations for Best Actress for her portrayal of an naive young woman who encounters sadism, lesbianism and cruelty and eventually emerges as a hardened denizen of the world she’s been thrown into.
It was criminal that she didn’t win the Oscar. But that year, 1950, every actress nominated in that category should have won! Parker’s competitors were Gloria Swanson (for Sunset Boulevard), Bette Davis and Anne Baxter (All About Eve), and Judy Holiday (Born Yesterday). Holiday was the winner.
The following year Parker was nominated for Detective Story. That film, too, is a classic.
In 1955 Parker was nominated for Interrupted Melody in which she portrayed Australian opera star Marjorie Lawrence who battled polio.
She was not nominated for Man With the Golden Arm in which she portrayed Zosh, Frank Sinatra’s supposedly wheelchair bound wife.
Parker’s career was filled with interesting parts but she will probably be remembered for one of her most conventional ones, Baroness Schraeder in The Sound of Music.
One of Joe’s favorite Parker films is Three Secrets. (That’s her below with co-stars Patricia Neal and Ruth Roman.) See it and all of the movies we’ve mentioned today. You won’t be disappointed.
Parker died two years ago at age 91. If you aren’t a fan of this great actress, let’s hope you soon will be.
Although he hadn’t made a film in decades, we still remember Dickie Moore.
He was one of the most engaging child stars of the 1930s, and then skillfully made a transition to adult roles in the 1940s. He died last week in Connecticut after a long illness a bit shy of his 90th birthday. His widow, Jane Powell (yes, that Jane Powell), survives him.
Moore started in silent films, as a baby. Then he starred in Our Gang comedies, but only for a year, because he was in such demand for feature films of the early sound era. Among his most notable films are Blonde Venus, as Marlene Dietrich’s son, and So Big, as Barbara Stanwyck‘s.
His obituaries all noted that he was the young man to give another famous child star, Shirley Temple, her first on screen kiss. In the 1960s when his film career had faded Moore set up a PR agency to handle child stars.
Then in the 1980s he wrote a best selling book about child stars, Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star: (But Don’t Have Sex or Take the Car). Not only did he relate his own experiences in the book but he’d interviewed other child stars of the era for their comments. It was then he met Powell, and the two married in 1988.
Among his films as a young adult two stand out, Sergeant York, with Gary Cooper, and the 1947 thriller Out of the Past, with Robert Mitchum.
It is in the latter, perhaps the single best-made film noir ever, that Moore really shines. He plays a mute garage assistant devoted to Mitchum. Alth0ugh his part is minimal, it is highly effective and at film’s end, quietly moving. It Frank’s book, it was Moore’s finest screen outing.
In the picture, Moore looked older that he does above, and a lot younger than he does below.