Winter Meeting (1948)

The later films from Bette Davis’ studio years are always interesting, because her real life had intruded so heavily into her working life and Hollywood image that she was forced into a sort of typecasting, being suited — at least according to studios and audiences — only for characters with a hard edge to them, women who had lived expansive and interesting lives. Hollywood has always been about physical appearance, and around 1941, Bette began to age quickly, as has been noted more times than anyone cares to count. Her voice deepened, her eyelids grew heavier, and her every movement conveyed a bitter East Coast weariness. And it all happened within just a few short years; a hairstyle that in 1941’s The Great Lie looked terrific on her was completely age inappropriate less than five years later. This was never more evident than in Mr. Skeffington (1944). Bette was a hard drinker and heavy smoker, and it showed to the extent that her earlier scenes as Fannie Skeffington were more than a little strained. Beyond that, her husband Arthur Farnsworth had died suddenly just prior to filming, which understandably aged her. His strange death after falling on a sidewalk on Hollywood Blvd. at such a young age caused a sensation. Rumors were rife that Bette and Arthur had a terrific public row which ended with her pushing him down a flight of stairs at their home. Those rumors turned into an inquest, and though Bette was cleared, to this day, … Continue reading

Elsewhere: The Adorable Dogs and Hollywood Butts Edition

Things I’ve written elsewhere, and other stuff around the interwebs lately: My piece on The Human Factor (1979) as an underrated gem is up at Spectrum Culture. This is now available on MOD DVD at Warner Archives, in a print that I absolutely adored, because the grain was kept — all that delicious, nutritious 1970s grain — and it looks gorgeous. I don’t have Warner Archives Instant, but many of you do, so I thought I’d do a little browsing around and found a few things you might be interested in: Night Flight (1933) – Insane John Barrymore pre-Code that I’m not sure has even been on TCM before. An all-star cast and apparently a plot based on The Little Prince. Madam Satan (1930) – This one’s a no-brainer. If you haven’t seen it, and you have Warner Instant, go watch this now. Just… seriously, just stop everything you’re doing and go. Previous SBBN posts on Madam Satan can be found here and here. Simon (1980) – Available in high definition from Warner Instant. Just a few years ago you couldn’t even get a copy of this, now it’s on MOD DVD and Warner Instant. My Criminally Underrated post for Simon is here at Spectrum Culture. And, finally, my Oeuvre post for Vincente Minnelli’s The Pirate. Warning: I talk about Gene Kelly’s butt. *** Around the web: From February, a terrific post at Movie Morlocks by Susan Doll on one of my favorite actors, Sam Rockwell. Joan Crawford in a … Continue reading

Friday, August 16: Watch Me Watch Star Wars (1977) for the First Time

A quick note for fans of all things Stacia: I’ll be watching Star Wars (1977) for the first time ever this Friday, August 16, at 8:00 PM Central. I’ll be tweeting along to it with the hashtag #starwars, and would be tickled if anyone wanted to join in, or just come by to point and laugh. The version of Star Wars (1977) I’ll be watching is the original theatrical version, the one found as a bonus on disc two of the 2006 DVD limited edition. I’ve heard this is a bad version from a 1993 telecine and blah blah blah, but I got tired of trying to sort out the mess caused by the re-edits (have you seen the Wikipedia articles on the edits? I blame you for this, Lucas), so I settled on this version. Why haven’t I seen Star Wars before? It just worked out that way, I guess. I was a little too young to have seen it in theaters. When it was re-released in 1981, I was busy being moved from town to state to another town by my parents, although I understand the movie had already been altered by then. We ended up going to Wrath of Khan in 1982 as a sort of consolation prize, and I consider that a Big Win, as ST:WOK was the first film I saw in a theater that I had a real emotional, visceral connection to. Then somehow I missed Star Wars when it was shown on CBS … Continue reading

The Curse of the Working Classes: Joe Don Baker is Mitchell! (1975)

The 1975 low-budget vigilante cop flick Mitchell concerns the titular police detective, played by Joe Don Baker, and his quest to prove that skeevy lawyer Walter Deaney (John Saxon) shot an unarmed robber and falsely claimed self defense. Mitchell’s superiors don’t want him to pursue the evidence, so they shuffle him off to another assignment following wealthy industrialist James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam), responsible for a kilo of heroin being smuggled into the States. See, kids, in 1975, one singular kilo of heroin was a really big deal. Mitchell knows Deaney has done something wrong, and he vows to get both him and Cummings. See, kids, in 1975, shooting an unarmed intruder because you’re a racist jackass was considered a bad thing. I know that’s apparently not the case in 2013, but back then, cops and the general public cared when a rich white guy took advantage of the sociopolitical status quo and used an unarmed Latino thief for target practice. But Mitchell is no defender of the disenfranchised. He’s a renegade cop, the kind of guy who ignores the law when it suits him. That’s why he shoots unarmed suspects who weren’t doing anything wrong at the time, and why he accepts a high-priced hooker as a bribe (Linda Evans). Because why not, right? It’s not a believable film, but the performances are often solid, especially from Balsam and Saxon as your expected mid-70s urbane bad guys, and Evans is surprisingly good in the stereotypical role she’s given. Character … Continue reading

William Castle Blogathon: Let’s Kill Uncle (1966)

This is the SBBN entry for the William Castle Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive-In and Goregirl’s Dungeon. Check out Goregirl’s page here for a full list of all contributors! *** William Castle was a solid B-movie studio director in the 1940s, responsible for films like Undertow (1949), The Whistler (1944) and The Saracen Blade (1954). It was in the mid-1950s when he turned his attention to more lurid television fare and carnival-barker style promotion that he found his niche, and by 1958, he had launched his own production company and the first of his heavily hyped horror films, Macabre (1958). For six years, Castle was the undisputed king of hype, directing films that were sometimes exceptional, sometimes cheesefests, but always entertaining. Movies such as The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and Strait-Jacket (1964) work because the promotional shenanigans were confined mostly to outlandish ad campaigns, and they are fine horror films in their own right. But movies like The Tingler (1959) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961) take great ideas and interrupt them with promotional bits within the film itself, which can often ruin the established cinematic atmosphere in favor of silly gimmickry. Castle was unquestionably more interested in commercial success and attention than in art, as well as having fun in a culture he often felt was too staid; as a result, his films were hits with teenage crowds.   Just as he finished The Night Walker (1964), starring Hollywood luminaries Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Castle decided to court … Continue reading