Friday, 16 February 2018

TCM's Noir Alley in March

Noir Alley has been off this February on Turner Classic Movies, but it will return on March 4. Here is a look at the movies that will be airing on Noir Alley next month.

March 4: Noir Alley returns with one of the best and best known films noirs of all time. The Big Heat (1953) stars Glenn Ford as Sergeant Dave Bannion, a homicide detective with the Kenport Police Department, who investigates the suicide of a fellow officer. This being noir, he naturally finds more than he bargained for! The film was directed by Fritz Lang, whose earlier films had an influence on film noir.

March 11:  There are some who claim Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) was the very first film noir, although I would give that honour to They Drive By Night (1940), which was released several weeks before it. Regardless, Stranger on the Third Floor is an interesting example of early noir and established many of the visual hallmarks of the genre.

March 18: There are some who might consider Crossfire (1947) to be more of a message film than a film noir, although I really don't think there is anything to keep it from being both. The film deals with a topic that is still all too relevant, that of anti-Semitism. It also stars Robert Mitchum in an early role, as well as Robert Young (who would go from a successful film career to success in the TV shows Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby M.D.).

March 25: No Questions Asked (1951) is not necessarily one of the best films noirs out there, but it benefits from a good cast that includes Barry Sullivan, Arlene Dahl, and George Murphy. It features a screenplay by Sidney Sheldon, well before he created the classic TV shows The Patty Duke Show and I Dream of Jeannie (for those who are wondering, he had a highly successful career as a screenwriter before he moved into television).

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Marty Allen R.I.P.

Comedian Marty Allen, who was one half of the comedy team Allen & Rossi with Steve Rossi and later had his own successful solo career, died on February 12 at the age of 95.

Marty Allen was born Morton Alpern in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 23 1922. He attended Taylor Allderdice High School there. He attended the University of Southern California as a journalism major, but left when he decided he would make a better comedian than a reporter. He performed at various nightclubs around Pittsburgh before enlisting in the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. He resumed his career following the war.

For a time he teamed up with  Mitch DeWood. The two of them opened for such acts as Eydie Gormé, and Nat King Cole. The team broke up in 1958. It was Nat King Cole who suggested that Marty Allen team up with Steve Rossi. Allen and Rossi would prove extremely successful, with a string of hit comedy albums, as well as several appearances on television. They appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show 44 times alone, including The Beatles' second and third appearances on the show. In the Sixties they also appeared on such shows as I've Got a Secret, Tonight Starring Jack Paar, Talent Scouts, The New Steve Allen Show, The Garry Moore Show, Today, Where the Action Is, House Party, The Hollywood Palace, The Dean Martin Show, The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and The Merv Griffith Show. In addition to talk show and variety shows, Marty Allen also guest starred on the shows The Big Valley and Love, American Style. Allen & Rossi appeared in the cult film The Last of the Secret Agents? (1966).

Marty Allen and Steve Rossi parted amicably in 1968, although they would re-unite several times over the years. In the Seventies Marty Allen continued to appear on several television shows, including such shows as The Virginia Graham Show, The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Dean Martin Show, Tattletales, Dinah!, The Hollywood Squares, and The Bob Braun Show. He appeared in acting roles on the shows Honeymoon Suite, Monster Squad, and Flying High. He appeared in the films The Great Waltz (1972), Harrad Summer (1974), Allen and Rossi Meet Dracula and Frankenstein (1974), and A Whale of a Tale (1976).

In the Eighties Marty Allen appeared on the shows The Palace, The Alan Thicke Show, Madame's Place, Hour Magazine, and It's Garry Shandling's Show. He appeared in the films The Naked Face (1984) and Cannonball Run II (1984). He guest starred on Benson.

Marty Allen was an absolutely brilliant comedian, particularly as part of the team of Allen & Rossi. Their best routines were often interviews, in which Marty Allen would play an addled individual (everything from a doctor to an astronaut) being interviewed by Steve Rossi. Their catchphrase, "Hello dere" became very popular in the Sixties. Of course, even without Steve Rossi, Marty Allen was very funny. He had a unique mix of innocence and madness that made for some very interesting comedy. It should be little wonder that he was so much in demand during his career.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Valentine's Day 2018

Here at A Shroud of Thoughts it is a tradition to post classic pinups on certain holidays. Valentine's Day is no different. Here are this year's Valentine pinups!

First up is Lana Turner, who is playing Cupid atop a giant heart!

Next up is Nancy Carroll, who is ready to give her heart to some lucky fellow!

Here's Angie Dickinson, who has probably broken a few hearts in her day!

Peggy Castle has her bow ready!

Leslie Caron wants to be your Valentine!

I sometimes feel guilty that I mostly post pinup pictures of women. For those who prefer men, then, here is one of the great hearthrobs of film and television, Jack Benny (who was born on Valentine's Day)! By the way, he is still only 39!

And last but not least, it wouldn't be Valentine's Day without Ann Miller!

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Vic Damone Passes On

Crooner Vic Damone died on February 11 at the age of 89.

Vic Damone was born Vito Rocco Farinola in Brooklyn on June 12 1928. Starting when he was 12 years old he had a job of delivering groceries. He attended Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. When his father was unable to work due to injuries, he dropped out of school and took a job as an usher at the Paramount Theatre in New  York City.  It was there that he met Perry Como in an elevator and sang for him. Mr. Como encouraged him to continue singing and recommended him to a bandleader. It was then that he took the stage name of "Vic Damone".

It was in 1946 that he appeared on the popular radio show Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. He won on the competition on the show. It was in 1947 that he signed with Mercury Records. His first single, "I Have But One Heart", reached no. 7 on the Billboard singles chart. It would be followed by a string of hits that lasted from the late Forties into the late Fifties. He hit no. 1 on the Billboard chart with "You're Breaking My Heart"in 1949 and his cover of "On the Street Where You Live" from My Fair Lady reached no. 4 on the chart.

In the Fifties Vic Damone appeared in several movies, including Rich, Young and Pretty (1951), Mizar (1954), Athena (1954), Deep in my Heart (1954), Hit the Deck (1955), Kismet (1955), and Hell to Eternity (1960). While he only made a few movies, Vic Damone appeared frequently on television. He made his television debut on The Morey Amsterdam Show in 1949. He was the host of The Vic Damone Show from 1956 to 1957, The Lively Ones from 1962 to 1963, and The Dean Martin Summer Show Starring Your Host Vic Damone in 1967. Over the years he appeared on such variety shows, talk shows, and games shows as Four Star Revue, The Arthur Murray Party, Texaco Star Theatre Starring Milton Berle, The Perry Como Show, What's My Line?, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Steve Allen Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, The Garry Moore Show, The Judy Garland Show, The Hollywood Palace, The Andy Williams Show, Hollywood Squaresm, and The Mike Douglas Show. He also guest starred in acting roles on such shows as The Alcoa Hour, The DuPont Show with June Allyson, The Rebel, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Red Skelton Show, Jericho, and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.

While Vic Damone would have only a few hit singles following the advent of rock 'n' roll, his career continued strong. In addition to appearing often on television, he released several albums, moving from Mercury Records to Columbia Records in 1955, and then from Columbia Records to Capitol Records in 1961. In 1965 he moved to Warner Bros. Records and only a year later to RCA Victor. In the Seventies he began playing Las Vegas.

Vic Damone never achieved the fame of such fellow Italian crooners as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, or even Perry Como, but he had a long career and a good deal of success. He also had one of the best voices in the business. Frank Sinatra himself once said, "If I had one wish, it would be for Vic Damone's tonsils. Vic has the best pipes in the business." Certainly no one else could sing a ballad quite like Vic Damone. His version of "On the Street Where You Live" remains one of the quintessential covers of the song.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

John Gavin R.I.P.

John Gavin, who appeared in such films as Spartacus (1960) and Psycho (1960) and starred on such TV shows as Destry and Convoy, died on February 9 2018 at the age of 86. The cause was complications from pneumonia.

John Gavin was born Juan Vincent Apablasa Jr. on April 8 1931 in Los Angeles, California. He attended St. John's Military Academy in Los Angeles and Villanova Prep in Ojai, California. He earned a Bachelor of Arts at Stanford University in California. During the Korean War he served in the United States Navy aboard the U.S.S. Princeton. He was an air intelligence officer and late in his service served as Flag Lieutenant to Admiral Milton E. Miles.

It was following his service that he offered to work as technical advisor for producer Bryan Foy on the film Battle Stations (1958), which was set on a U.S. Navy ship during World War II. Bryan Foy told him that he should try acting instead and took him to Hollywood agent Henry Wilson. Henry Wilson got him a screen test with Universal-International and he was signed to the studio.

John Gavin made his film debut in 1955 in Raw Edge, using the screen name John Gilmore. For his next film, Behind the High Wall (1956), he was billed as John Golenor. It was with Four Girls in Town (1957) that he was first billed as John Gavin. He played his first lead role in the film A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958).  For the remainder of the Fifties he would appear in some very high profile films, including Imitation of Life (1959), Pscyho (1960), and Spartacus (1960). He made his television debut in 1960 in an episode of Insight.

John Gavin began the Sixties appearing in such films as Romanoff and Juliet (1961), Tammy Tell Me True (1961), and Back Street (1961). In 1962 he left Universal to go freelance. After various films to which he was signed did not come to fruition, in 1964 he signed again with Universal Pictures, with an option to do work outside of Universal. He starred in the short lived TV series Destry.  In the Sixties he guest starred on the shows The Virginian, Kraft Suspense Theatre, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. He starred on the short-lived show Convoy. John Gavin appeared in the films Pedro Páramo (1967), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967), Niente rose per OSS 117 (1967), The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969), and Pussycat, Pussycat, I Love You (1970).

After George Lazenby left the James Bond franchise, John Gavin very nearly became the next 007. He was signed for the movie Diamonds Are Forever.  Unfortunately for Mr. Gavin, the head of United Artists, David Picker, wanted Sean Connery back for the role and offered the actor enough money that he could not refuse. While John Gavin did not get to play James Bond, he was paid quite nicely by the producers. He would again be up for the part of James Bond following Sean Connery's departure after Diamonds Are Forever. He was considered for Live and Let Die, but Harry Saltzman of Eon Productions wanted Sir Roger Moore for the role (Eon Productions had long wanted Mr. Moore for the part).

In the Seventies John Gavin appeared in the movies Keep It in the Family (1973), La casa de las sombras (1976), and Jennifer (1978).  He guest starred on such shows as The Doris Day Show, Mannix, Medical Centre, The Love Boat, Flying High, Hart to Hart, and Fantasy Island.

Following his acting career Mr. Gavin was involved in various business interests. He served as the United States Ambassador to Mexico from 1981 to 1986.

John Gavin was probably better known simply as a handsome leading man rather than as an actor. In fact, there were critics who accused him of being wooden. That having been said, he could be effective. He made for a convincing Julius Caesar in Spartacus, and was convincing as Millie's self-absorbed love interest Trevor in Thoroughly Modern Millie. He could even play not very nice guys from time to time, as in the case of the Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode "Off-Season." Much of John Gavin's work had more depth than many would have given him credit for.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Mon oncle Antoine (1971)

 (This blog post is part of the O Canada Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy)

Among Canadian films Mon oncle Antoine (1971) is legendary. Not only has it often been counted among the greatest Canadian films ever made, but among the greatest films made by any nation. Although it is still not particularly well known outside of Canada, Mon oncle Antoine is still highly respected internationally to this day.

For those unfamiliar with Mon oncle Antoine, it is set in rural Quebec at Christmastime in the late Forties. It centres around Benoit (played by Jacques Gagnon), a young orphan in his early teens. He lives with his Uncle Antoine (played by Jean Duceppe) and his Aunt Cécile (played by Olivette Thibault) and works in their general store. Benoit's Uncle Antoine is also the village's undertaker. Mon oncle Antoine unfolds over a 24 hour period, during which young Benoit grows up considerably.

For those unfamiliar with Canadian history, Mon oncle Antoine is set in a region of Quebec that was the centre of asbestos mining there. The film takes place during the period known as "La Grande Noirceur" (literally in English "the Great Darkness").  La Grande Noirceur refers to the period when Maurice Duplessis was the premier of Quebec and the province's politics were dominated by the conservative party called the Union Nationale. The Union Nationale favoured rural areas over urban areas, were extremely anti-Communist, and were also very anti-labour union. In fact, Maurice Durplessis's time as premier was marked by several strikes. Mon oncle Antoine takes place not long before the Asbestos Strike of 1949, when asbestos miners went on strike. Today the miner's demands (which included a small increase in wages and the elimination of asbestos dust in and outside the mills) would not seem particularly remarkable, but in Quebec in the Forties they were positively revolutionary. The strike would prove pivotal in the career of Pierre Trudeau.

Because of the time and place in which it is set, there is a small undercurrent of social and political commentary in Mon oncle Antoine. We see the resentment of the local Quebecers towards the "English" (actually English speaking Canadians, not people from England). We see the poverty and we see how hard their lives are. At its heart, however, Mon oncle Antoine is a coming of age story. In the course of 24 hours Benoit witnesses the pettiness of the villagers, hears his Uncle Antoine confess the regrets of his life, witnesses a sexual transgression, has his first real experience in dealing with death, and his first real experience with regards to sex. Mon oncle Antoine has often been called nostalgic and even heart warming, but it is also a film in which some rather dark undercurrents run throughout. At the time of its release some critics in Quebec were critical of Mon oncle Antoine because it departed from the province's history of direct cinema ( a documentary genre prevalent from 1958 to 1962) and that it did not deal with those political issues facing Quebec in the late Sixties and early Seventies. As it was, these criticisms largely fell on deaf ears.

Quite simply, Mon oncle Antoine received widespread critical acclaim immediately upon its release. It won the award for Best Feature at the 1971 Chicago International Film Festival. It was nominated for the Golden Prize at the 1971 Moscow Film Festival. It swept the Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars), where it won eight different awards. Since then it has often been counted among the greatest Canadian films of all time. Sight & Sound twice voted it the best Canadian film ever made. The Toronto International Film Festival named it the greatest Canadian film three different times. In 1980 it was named the best film made in Quebec by Séquences magazine.

While Mon oncle Antoine would achieve critical acclaim and modest success upon its initial release, it was perhaps television that cemented its place as a classic in Canada. When the film made its television debut on Radio-Canada Télé in Quebec in October 1973, it garnered half of the audience. Mon oncle Antoine see similar successes when aired on the CBC.

Mon oncle Antoine remains counted among the greatest Canadian films of all time, although its director, Claude Jutra, has since been disgraced. In 2016, nearly thirty years after his death, allegations that he was a paedophile were published in the book Claude Jutra, biographie. Author Yves Lever offered no real evidence for the allegations, but then an interview with one of Jutra's alleged victims was published in La Presse. Awards, places, and streets named in his honour were swiftly renamed. As to Claude Jutra himself, he had committed suicide in 1986, after having been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease earlier in the decade.

If the allegations regarding Claude Jutra are true, certainly his actions are indefensible, and the rush to remove his name from awards, places, and streets is perfectly understandable. That having been said, it does not change the fact that Mon oncle Antoine remains an important achievement in Canadian film history. Claude Jutra may have been a monster, but he created a masterpiece.



Thursday, 8 February 2018

The Planet of the Apes Craze Remembered

It was fifty years ago today that the movie Planet of the Apes premiered at the Capitol in New York City. I plan to do a more in-depth post on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of its wide release (April 3), but today I would like to take a moment to remember the Planet of the Apes craze of the mid-Seventies.

Upon its initial release in 1968 Planet of the Apes proved to be a huge success. It made $32,589,624 at the box office and was the 9th highest grossing film for the year. Such success was not lost on 20th Century Fox, and as a result it would be followed by four sequels: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970), Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971), Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972), and Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973). Each film made less than the one before it, so that in 1973 it looked like Battle for the Planet of the Apes would be the last in the franchise. As it turned out, however, the franchise's brightest days were actually ahead.

Quite simply, on September 14 1973 CBS showed Planet of the Apes on the CBS Friday Night Movie. It was followed by Beneath the Planet of the Apes on October 26 and Escape from the Planet of the Apes on November 16. The Planet of the Apes movies achieved very high ratings for CBS. They also created a Planet of the Apes craze, five years after the first movie was released. Quite simply, there would be more Planet of the Apes merchandise available than had been when the movies were still being made. In 1974 20th Century Fox would even release all five movies to theatres, so that cinemas could show them back to back. Posters for the movies featured the tagline, "20th Century Fox wants you to...Go Ape!"

In 1974 Marvel Comics (under the Curtis Magazines imprint) began a black and white comic magazine titled Plant of the Apes. The magazine featured both adaptations of the movies as well as original stories. It ran until 1977 for 28 issues. It was followed in 1975  by a more traditional, colour comic book titled Adventures on the Planet of the Apes. Adventures on the Planet of the Apes adapted the first two movies and ran for eleven issues, from October 1975 to December 1976.

It was also in 1974 that Mego Corporation started a line of Planet of the Apes action figures, which proved to be one of their most popular lines. The first year included figures of the Planet of the Apes figures Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, a gorilla soldier, and an astronaut. In 1975 they issued figures based on the Planet of the Apes TV series (more on that in a bit), which included Galen, Alan Virdon, Peter Burke, General Urko, and General Ursus. The Apes Craze would come to an end, and Mego issued no new Planet of the Apes figures after 1975.

There would also be a wide array of other merchandise in addition to comic books and action figures. In 1974 ADDAR Plastics Co. issued a series of models based on Planet of the Apes. The models included figure kits of such characters as Caesar, Cornelius, Dr. Zira, and Dr. Zaius, as well as such kits as the Jail Wagon and the Tree House. Power Records issued book-and-record sets based on Planet of the Apes. There were such diverse Planet of the Apes items on store shelves in the mid-Seventies as Halloween costumes from Ben Cooper, masks by Don Post Studios, a plastic cup, a sub-machine gun by Mattel, and so on. Topps, who had issued trading cards based on Planet of the Apes (1968) in 1968, issued a series of cards based on the Planet of the Apes TV show.

Among the best remembered products of the Planet of the Apes craze was a short-lived, live action TV series. Producer Arthur P. Jacobs had conceived of a Planet of the Apes TV series as early as 1971, thinking that Conquest of the Planet of the Apes would be the last film in the series. As it turned out, there would be one more film (Battle of the Planet of the Apes). Unfortunately, Arthur P. Jacobs died on June 27 1973. That did not mean that there would not be a Planet of the Apes TV series. With the success of the Planet of the Apes movies on CBS, CBS and 20th Century Fox then went forward with a TV show based on the films. The TV series Planet of the Apes debuted on September 13 1974. Unfortunately, it met with low ratings. It ended its run on December 20 1974 after 14 episodes.

The 1974 Planet of the Apes series would not be the last TV show based on the movies. In 1975 a Saturday morning cartoon based on the films debuted. Return to the Planet of the Apes differed from the movies in that the apes had 20th Century technology, not unlike Pierre Boulle's original novel. The apes had cars, movies, television sets, and so on. Return to the Planet of the Apes did not prove successful, ending after thirteen episodes. With the Planet of the Apes craze coming to an end, Return to Planet of the Apes would be the last new Planet of the Apes material with the exception of comic books published in the Nineties by Malibu Comics until Tim Burton's re-imagining of Planet of the Apes in 2001.

In all the Planet of the Apes craze lasted only from about 1973 to 1975, with Marvel's black and white magazine ending its run in 1977. That having been said, the craze would have a lasting impact. Quite simply, it introduced the Planet of the Apes to many youngsters who were too young to see the first movie when it came out in 1968. This would in turn insure the continuing popularity of the franchise. While Planet of the Apes merchandise would not remain on store shelves past about 1976, the movies would continue to be shown frequently on television, sometimes back to back. The revival series that began in 2011 with Rise of the Planet of the Apes owes a good deal to the Planet of the Apes craze of the Seventies.