September 2009


When I was writing about Stanley Kramer just the other day, I guess I did not realize that his birthday was coming up soon.

Today is in fact Kramer’s birthday and also Greer Garson and Gene Autry’s birthdays.

Gene Autry

Gene Autry

Autry is probably best remembered for as being the “singing cowboy”. His movie credits include Riders in the Sky, The Big Sombrero, and Ridin’ on a Rainbow. Autry won an Oscar in 1942 for Best Music, Original Song for the song “Be Honest With Me” from the movie Ridin’ on a Rainbow“.

As any true cowboy, Autry was born in Tioga, Texas in 1907. By 1929 he had earned the nickname “the Yodeling Cowboy” and was starring in his first film in 1934. He quickly rose to fame in the musical western. In a poll taken in 1940, Autry ranked 4th in box office draw after Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy.

Later in life he moved to the small screen. He made the transition effectively, producing and starring in 91 episodes of The Gene Autry Show.

Autry is the only movie star to have 5 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: Radio, Recording, Motion Pictures, Television, and Live Theatre/ performance.

Autry died in his home in 1998 of lymphoma.

Greer Garson

Greer Garson

Greer Garson was one of the most popular artists for MGM in the 1940’s. Born in London in 1904, Garson was a sickly child and spent much of her childhood in bed studying and reading.

Garson attended the University of London in 1921 and earned a Bachelors degree. While at the university, she discovered her love and talent for acting. She was introduced to MGM mogul Louis B. Mayer while performing on the London stage in 1937.

Although starting her film career later in life than most actresses did, Garson fared well in the early years at MGM. She was nominated for Oscars every year from 1939-1945, excluding only 1940.

Directed by William Wyler 1942, Mrs. Miniver, the story of a British family living life in the first months after the start of WWII, earned Garson her first Oscar win for her role as Mrs. Miniver.

Garson remained with MGM for the majority of her career. At the end of her career, she starred in a few TV movies, but a stroke and weak heart forced her to slow down her work.

Her husband, Buddy Fogelson, passed away from Parkinson’s disease in 1987 in Dallas, Texas. Garson moved in a suite in the Dallas Presbyterian Hospital shortly after where her health could be monitored.

Garson passed away on April 6, 1996 from a fragile heart.

Both of these amazing film stars made an impact on film and television. Both will be remembered for their many accomplishments.

I forgot to mention the great director/producer of Judgement of Nuremburg last time. Stanley Kramer is in fact another great director and producer that began his career in the early 140s.

Born in 1913 in Brooklyn, New York, Kramer had connections early on with Hollywood. His uncle worked at Universal Pictures and later worked as an agent. Kramer’s mother also worked for Paramount Pictures.

His first venture into Hollywood was when he won an writing contest that gained him a paid internship with 20th Century Fox. He also gained valuable experience serving in the US Army Signal Corps. He was assigned to make training videos while stateside.

Shortly after the war, he started his own production company, releasing his first film in 1948.

Kramer’s film are widely recognized as carrying messages within the scripts.

Steven Speilberg once said that Kramer was “one of our great filmmakers, not just for the art and passion he put on screen, but for the impact he has made on the conscience of the world.”

With such films as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and The Wild One, Kramer had the opportunity to work with many of the greatest film stars of the time period.

Kramer directed 14 different actors to Oscar nominations (Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Cara Williams, Spencer Tracy, Maximilian Schell, Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift, Oskar Werner, Michael Dunn, Simone Signoret, Katherine Hepburn, Cecil Kellaway, and Beah Richards). Schell and Hepburn won Oscars for their performances.

Kramer was nominated 9 times for an Oscar but never won himself.

I would definately recommend several of Kramer’s films (such as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner), and I am looking forward to watching others that I have not seen yet.

Happy watching!

NuremburgJudgment at Nuremburg is one of the greatest films about post-war Germany. Made in 1961, Nuremburg boasted such stars as Spencer Tracy, Richard Widmark, Burt Lancastar, Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, and a very young William Shatner.

Nuremburg is based on the many trials that took place after WWII that prosecuted prominent military, political and economic leaders from Nazi Germany. The actual trials took place in Nuremburg, Germany from 1945-49.

Tracy plays Chief Judge Dan Haywood that has been recruited to preside over the trials of several high ranking German judges who are accused of committing crimes of war.

The trial goes on for several days with no decisions made. Widmark is the lead prosecutor for the American military and goes against a fiery German defense attorney played by Maximilian Schell.

The 4 prominent Germans are on trial for crimes such as authorizing unjust sterilization and passing unfair judgements on fixed trials.

Clift and Garland both have small but quite memorable parts. They both plays witnesses that have been directly effected by the men on trial.

Clift’s portrayl of a mentally slow man who was forcibly sterilized as a young man earned him his 4th and last Oscar nod. You can feel how uncomfortable he is on the witness stand, especially as the defense attorney hammers him with questions about his past.

Garland plays Irene Hoffman-Wallner whose elderly German friend, Herr Feldenstein, was accused of sleeping with her when she was 16 and he in his 60s. He was accused of breaking Hitler’s law prohibiting German-Jewish relations.

Lancaster plays the judge who presided over the Feldenstein case, Dr. Ernst Janning. Janning had passed down a sentence of death for Feldenstein and 2 years in prison for Hoffman. But the case had been a headline maker and was not tried correctly.

Lancaster’s character Janning makes a speech in which he takes responsibility for what he did in the name of the Third Reich. He is the only man on trial that shows any remorse.

Janning is almost completely silent through the first half of the film. But his speech on how he and others should be punished for just standing by and watching Hitler is moving.

Judge Haywood must eventually weigh all the testimonies and pass down his own judgement on who is guilty of what. In the end, the men are all found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. The judges state that they realize the men thought they were doing what they did for Hitler and Germany’s good. But they still had to pay for what they did.

Nuremburg earned 4 actors (Clift, Garland, Tracy and Schell) Oscar nominations. Schell won for best leading actor.

This film does a good job of balancing the courtroom drama with Haywood’s daily life and struggles with the case.

This film has been hailed as one of the best about judges. It is quite lengthy but if you are at all interested in the history surrounding WWII, you will enjoy this film.

Nuremburg truly shows the mindset of many German officials who wanted to please Hitler and turned a blind eye to atrocities like the concentration camps. Even after the war was lost, many still believed in communism.

I’m watching a little of the 2009 Emmys tonight. They just did the video montage of those who have died in the past year. We have lost several great actors this year. From Farrah Fawcett to Karl Malden, the talent is diverse.

I actually watched both of Malden’s most iconic films recently (those being On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire) and I loved them both and Malden’s performances in them.

It is also been almost a year since the great Paul Newman passed away on September 28,2009. There is so much I could say about Mr. Newman and his films, but I will save it for another post. Well actually it would probably take several posts!

Bacall and Bogie

Bacall and Bogie

Just wanted to stop in and say Happy 85th Birthday to the amazing Lauren Bacall

I first watched Bacall in How to Marry Millionaire with Marilyn Monroe several years ago and loved this quirky comedy. The story is, as the title suggests, about 3 women who rent an upscale New York apartment they can’t afford in hopes of snagging the rich men in their building.

Recently I watched Bacall in The Big Sleep, a fantastic thriller with she starred opposite her then-husband Humprey Bogart.

This movie is one you may need to watch more than once to catch everything going on. But the chemistry between Bacall and Bogart is unmistakable and it is clear why they ended making several more films together.

While of course I believe there are many great actors still making films today, a quote from Bacall sums up the majority of Hollywood:

“We live in an age of mediocrity. Stars today are not the same stature as Bogie (Humphrey Bogart), James Cagney, Spencer Tracy, Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart (James Stewart).”

Mortimer just found something odd in the window seat. . .

Mortimer just found something interesting in the window seat. . .

Talking about Frank Capra made me want to talk a little about Arsenic and Old Lace because it’s one of the best and one of my favorites as I mentioned before.

Basically tbe plot revolves around Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant) and his two maiden aunts.

Brewster  has just been married, but right before he tries to leave on his honeymoon he stumbles across his aunts’ crazy scheme. His aunts are secretly murdering lonely old men who happen across their path. Their preferred method is a killer cocktail which includes arsenic of course. Their basement is now full of the dead bodies of widowers and the like.

He finds out about his aunts “bad habit” when he peeks inside a window seat and finds a body. This is one of my favorite scenes of the whole movie. Grant’s facial expressions are perfect. He is panicked as he tries to tell his aunts that “there’s a body in the window seat!” Of course, they are too calm about the whole situation because they put it there!

Hilarity ensues as Brewster tries to talk his aunts out of their scheme, keep his unsuspecting bride from finding out, and prevent his aunts from poisoning one lonely soul that stops by in the middle of everything.

Peter Lorre also makes an appearance in this movies as the doctor of Brewster’s cousin who is trying to elude the police.

This is one of those “I’ve had a bad day, I need a good laugh”-type  of films. A true funny classic that show the great Cary Grant at his comedic best. But, of course, he still manages to remain charming in the end in order to win back his frustrated new bride.

This movie has been adapted into an equally hilarious stage play and performed numerous times.

I’ll leave you with this quote, maybe it describes your family too. . .

“Insanity runs in my family; it practically gallops!”

Frank Capra on set in 1934

Frank Capra on set in 1934

Frank Capra is renowned as one of the best directors of his generation. Nominated for 6 Best Director Ocscars, he took home 3 for It Happened One Night, You Can’t Take it With You, and Mr Deeds Goes to Town.

Although not winning the Oscar for this film, It’s a Wonderful Life is perhaps his most recognized title.

Capra had a string of flops before directing Lady for a Day which earned him him first Best Director nomination. Capra then hit it big with the release of It Happened One Night. Even today this film is highly regarded as one of the best comedies in film history.

Many stars in the 1930s, such as Gary Cooper and  Jean Arthur, owed their success in part to Capra and his films.

One of my favorite Capra films is definately Arsenic and Old Lace. Even though I have seen this film several times, the same parts make me laugh over and over.

Arsenic is one of Capra’s best screwball comedies and starred Cary Grant, Priscilla Lane, and Peter Lorre. The film was made after Capra’s ten-year break from directing comedies.

Many of Capra’s films are well know and are easy to find. I would encourage you to find your favorite, whether it be the sentimental Wonderful Life or the hiliarious You Can’t Take it With You.

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