Monday, September 14, 2009

Ten Melos the Siren Would Watch Instead of "Mad Men"


If sticking it out for two-and-a-half episodes of Season 1 and one episode this season can be called trying, the Siren has tried with "Mad Men". She sees the attraction, even if the hype blows her mind--everything from Banana Republic to Barron's, for heaven's sake. The Siren admires the cinematic qualities of the series, the fluid camerawork, the carefully angled shots, the flawless integration of sets and costumes. It's pretty. The actors are pretty. The period detail is enough to warm an old-movie hound's heart. But on the whole, the Siren just doesn't dig it.

Despite the stratospheric sex appeal of Jon Hamm, January Jones and Christina Hendricks, the show is just so goddamned dour. The Siren suspects series creator Matthew Weiner wanted to avoid the nostalgia trap, but this is too far in the other direction. A little soupçon of affection for the past will not turn Mr. Weiner's dead-serious critique into "The Wonder Years Meets Ad Age." The Siren has seen movies from the era, and in those movies, people have a good time--every now and then, you understand, between bouts of weltschmerz. As James Wolcott wrote in Vanity Fair, "Mad Men" "has a seductive look, a compelling mood, a cast that could have been carved from a giant bar of Ivory soap, but zero grasp of the elastic optimism and vigor of the Kennedy years, the let-go spring of release after the constriction of the Eisenhower 50s."

Everyone on "Mad Men" goes around smoking and drinking and eating whatever they hell they want and having office affairs without once looking over their lovers' shoulders for process servers bearing class-action subpoenas, but does anyone enjoy it? Not from what the Siren has seen. It's like Saint Augustine wrote the scripts. Such laughs as "Mad Men" affords are tethered to hindsight--"We never indulge in such sexism/racism/anti-Semitism/homophobia now, and even if we do, we sure don't smoke."

Still, the Siren will probably watch more this season--between Wolcott's liveblogging and Lance's occasional commentaries, she doesn't want to be the clueless playground oddball. But in her heart, she'd rather watch a melodrama from the actual late Eisenhower-early Kennedy era. Good or bad, there's plenty to choose from.

So that's my justification for posting these brief takes on ten films actually made during the "Mad Men" period--dramas, because "Mad Men" is not, god knows, a comedy or a musical. These movies vary widely in terms of quality and critical repute, from bona fide masterpieces to simple soapers. But the Siren likes them all, as she likes a lot of the melodramas from this period. Many directors were exploring widescreen technique to admirable effect, and it was a great era for clothes and interiors. And when you watch the movies, you realize that people were far more aware of what was under society's facade than many suppose. (Two of the movies date to 1959--if Don Draper can fade out to Bob Dylan in 1960 then the Siren can cheat back a single year, she figures.)



Imitation of Life (Douglas Sirk, 1959)
Social Issue: Racism.
Sets and Costumes: Perfection.
Sex appeal (Low/Medium/High): Beside the point. But John Gavin was in the full flower of his lockjaw handsomeness and Susan Kohner and Sandra Dee were lovely.
Why the Siren Likes It: It's a masterpiece, that's why, one that belongs on any list of the great films of the 1950s. A master class in how to make a movie about misguided, surface-focused people trapped by a hypocritical society, without condescending to or withholding compassion from them. The proof is that 50 years after its release, the thwarted mother-daughter love still reduces many to tears. The Siren bristles when she hears this described as camp. There isn't a single unintentional effect in it. The falseness and glitter are there to throw race, this country's original sin, into high relief. But Sirk doesn't invite the audience to feel superior. He wants recognition, AND he wants identification. In the superb opening scene on the beach, when Lana Turner reacts with gooey middle-class "understanding" to Juanita Moore's having a white-skinned daughter, Sirk didn't want the white liberals in the audience to say, "What a hypocrite." He wanted them to say, "Shit, that's me." (The beautiful screen cap is from Ways of Seeing, the Siren's new blog discovery; several others, equally enthralling, right here.)

The Best of Everything (Jean Negulesco, 1959)
Social Issues: Working women and adultery (go together like a horse and carriage in Hollywood movies of all eras), unwed pregnancy, abortion, casting couch, alcoholism.
Sets and Costumes: Great New York exteriors and the ultimate in smart little suits. Best of all, the Mondrian-esque office interiors, which Negulesco, a painter, probably influenced.
Sex appeal: High; Suzy Parker, Stephen Boyd, Louis Jourdan, even Robert Evans looks great.
Why the Siren Likes It: Underrated, influential film whose critical reputation is slowly improving. One of a number of "three [or four] girls" movies from the era, direct ancestors of "Sex and the City." Enjoyable on a number of different levels--as highly informative social artifact, as a proto-feminist tract, as an aesthetic treat, as a showcase for newcomers and old pros. The Siren particularly likes good old Brian Aherne as an ass-pinching executive and Joan Crawford, refusing to play her role as straight office harridan, giving her character both dignity and sensitivity. The beauteous Parker (up top) gets the best line: "Here's to men. Bless their clean-cut faces and their dirty little minds." The best appreciation of this film that the Siren has read is over at Noel Vera's place; he pays great attention to Negulesco's use of Cinemascope.

From the Terrace (Mark Robson, 1960)
Social Issues: Alcoholism, adultery, class snobbery, cutthroat business practices.
Sets and Costumes: High-end all the way. Joanne Woodward doesn't look completely at ease in Travilla, though.
Sex appeal: High. Paul Newman rates an automatic "high" in this category, as does Myrna Loy at any age.
Why the Siren Likes It: A parable about life versus work that everybody calls dated, except "Mad Men" apes the same themes. The Siren wrote a bit about this movie when Newman died; his performance is very good but the direction is noteworthy too, as is the Elmer Bernstein score.



All the Fine Young Cannibals (Michael Anderson, 1960)
Social Issues: Racism, alcoholism, class snobbery, adultery.
Sets and Costumes: Ersatz Southern, then faux bohemian, but extremely well-shot by William H. Daniels.
Sex appeal: Medium, largely because the Siren doesn't get Robert Wagner.
Why the Siren Likes It: Supposedly based on the life of Chet Baker. Jaggedly uneven and no one seems to have a clue about real white Southerners. But deserves to be remembered, if only for Pearl Bailey's haunting performance. For the Siren and those like her, there's also the nifty bit of role reversal for Susan Kohner, the "tragic mulatto" of Sirk's Imitation of Life, in the same movie as the penultimate role for Louise Beavers, of John Stahl's excellent 1934 Imitation of Life. (Poster is from the great Cinema Retro site.)


Return to Peyton Place (Jose Ferrer, 1961)
Social Issues: Working women (don't kid yourself, that's still an issue), rape, incest, adultery, (disguised) abortion, xenophobia.
Sets and Costumes: Meh. The exteriors look great, though.
Sex appeal: High; Eleanor Parker, Tuesday Weld, Carol Lynley, Jeff Chandler if you happen to like Jeff Chandler.
Why the Siren Likes It: Um...hard to say, since by no stretch of the imagination is it a good movie. This one the Siren won't kill you for calling camp. There really isn't anything else you could call it. The first Peyton Place is camp too, but had real value in Franz Waxman's score (heaven), Diane Varsi and the New England ambiance. Return, well, Ferrer was no director, they added lyrics and Rosemary Clooney when Waxman needed neither, and most of the cast looks about as comfortable as a soaking wet cat. But I appreciate Carol Lynley's pursuit of a career over and above a love affair (similar to the reason I liked Valley of the Dolls' fadeout). Mary Astor is great, playing a full-out embodiment of small-minded paranoia and ugliness. And Tuesday Weld manages to have emotional sincerity in some scenes despite playing opposite the stiffest excuse for a Swedish ski instructor you ever saw in your life.


Susan Slade (Delmer Daves, 1961)
Social Issues: Premarital sex, unwed motherhood, the hazards of cigarette smoking.
Sets and Costumes: Beautiful exteriors by master cinematographer Lucien Ballard, and the vaguely Japanese-style house on the Northern California coast, given to Connie Stevens's father by Brian Aherne (there he is again!) is quite an eyeful.
Sex appeal: Medium, though Connie Stevens (above) does her best.
Why the Siren Likes It: Interesting, Sirk-esque late-career movie by the talented Delmer Daves, with several scenes that have lost none of their ability to shock. Dave Kehr: "To an America that needed to believe that 'nice girls don’t,' Daves’s melodramas responded, 'Nice girls do' — or did at least sometimes, when the appropriate distinctions had been made between lust and love, predatory older males and sincere young men, casual encounters and lifetime commitments." Kehr prefers Parrish and Rome Adventure to Susan Slade and the Siren pretty much agrees with him, but Slade is worthwhile and closest to the "Mad Men" school of social history. Peter Nelhaus has a fine review of the movie, in which he compares it to Daves' westerns.


Advise and Consent (Otto Preminger, 1962)
Social Issues: Homophobia, subversion, government corruption.
Sets and Costumes: Stiff, cold and forbidding, perfectly in keeping with the machinations of the plot.
Sex appeal: Low. Gene Tierney is in this but she wasn't looking her best. Perhaps because he was making a movie about politicians, Preminger shot everyone with a GargoyleCam.
Why the Siren Likes It: Another masterpiece, a fisheyed look at the Washington influence game, usually taken as a riff on Alger Hiss but full of other echos as well. The scenes of back-door-dealing and blackmail ring as true as they ever did. Those tempted to tag the young, upright conservative senator's operatic torment over his gay attractions as quaint should think back to Jim McGreevey, Larry Craig and their many brethren--not to mention their wives. Despite the Red Scare trappings (and those are somewhat back in fashion, if you've noticed), Advise and Consent is one hell of a prescient movie. (To see just how prescient, the Siren recommends you check out this article by Meredith Hindley, senior writer at Humanities, on "The Transformation of Advise and Consent.") The above is from Ways of Seeing, whose proprietor clearly has excellent taste; for more screen grabs to show just how good this movie is, please click over and check out the rest.


The Light in the Piazza (Guy Green, 1962)
Social Issues: Mental retardation, class snobbery.
Sets and Costumes: Stunningly beautiful Italian setting (Guy Green was a highly accomplished cinematographer), Christian Dior dresses for Olivia de Havilland.
Sex appeal: High; Yvette Mimieux, George Hamilton and Rossano Brazzi, and de Havilland is much lovelier than the frightening lip color above suggests.
Why the Siren Likes It: Tender romance with a great performance by de Havilland, who carries the movie. Recently turned into an acclaimed musical that the Siren, alas, did not see. She does think the movie's insistence on the primacy of love, both parental and romantic, makes it a good choice for a musical treatment. At a time when the common practice was to shut the mentally retarded away in institutions, the notion that a developmentally delayed girl (albeit a beautiful one) deserved to marry a prince of an Italian and have babies was nothing short of revolutionary.


The V.I.P.s (Anthony Asquith, 1963)
Social Issues: Cutthroat business practices, tax evasion, adultery, domestic violence, depression.
Sets and Costumes: Enough to make you fly to Heathrow and wait to get fogged in--if flying were still like this.
Sex appeal: High. (Elizabeth Taylor at this point in her career does the same for a movie as Paul Newman. Elsa Martinelli was nothing to sneeze at, and neither was Richard Burton or Louis Jourdan.)
Why the Siren Likes It: See Return to Peyton Place. Plenty of lush period visuals, and there are pleasures to be had from Orson Welles even in unworthy roles (this one tinged with painful self-parody). But it's a pretty bad movie, though hardly the offense to all civilization that Walter Chaw paints it, and Elizabeth Taylor is an unconvincing version of Vivien Leigh. (Note to Mr. Chaw: Rod Taylor was a native Australian.) The Siren likes this primarily for Maggie Smith as the devoted secretary. I do love Dame Maggie. Christina Hendricks is good, but she still could learn something from what Smith accomplishes with a cliched role. Smith's scene with Richard Burton is the highlight, the so-so writing propped up with perfectly timed and calibrated reactions and beats.


Love With the Proper Stranger (Robert Mulligan, 1963)
Social Issues: Premarital sex, abortion, unwed motherhood.
Sets and Costumes: Supposedly low-end, but a mite too clean for all that. Steve McQueen made everything he wore look like a well-broken-in motorcycle jacket.
Sex appeal: High. Look at that publicity shot and tell me different.
Why the Siren Likes It: Has comic moments, but at heart a rather melancholy movie about a still-relevant topic, with legendary leads giving warm, authentic performances despite a wan third act. McQueen seldom let his vaunted cool slip to as much effect as here. When "Mad Men" gives a nudge about how far we've come, we should remember Wood planning an abortion, without hysteria. How many recent Hollywood movies or TV shows have let a beautiful, sympathetic lead do the same?

All right, so it's been a while, have at it. Tell me why I'm wrong about "Mad Men." Point out the movies I missed. (The Apartment isn't there and doesn't belong there; it's a comedy, and a satire, and very funny, and "Mad Men" isn't any of those those things.)

But, as always, play nice. The new banner, which MrsHenryWindleVale recognized without a telescope, is courtesy of the great Glenn Kenny. It is of course Dorothy Malone, from another Sirk masterpiece, The Tarnished Angels. Dorothy is meant to illustrate the Siren's general mood for the past month and probably the next.

Postscript: I've added a link to Peter Nelhaus's fine writeup (with lovely screen caps) of Susan Slade. Despite the deliberately provocative title, my main idea in writing this piece was "Hey, these early-1960s films that I love deserve a second look." So if anyone else has a post on some of these, or a similar movie from 1959-1963, post a link in comments by all means and I'll add it here. I'll start by also linking to Peter's post about Strangers When We Meet (b/w Town Without Pity, which also roughly fits our parameters despite the German setting). The Siren forgot about Richard Quine because--well, see banner above. Because of that.

Awesome screen caps from The Best of Everything right here. Apparently my mistake was not Googling "Suzy Parker."

Nathaniel of The Film Experience has been doing a series on movie references in Mad Men; one post involves a Draper household pillow-talk discussion of The Best of Everything that the Siren is sorry she missed. Great for "Mad Men" fans but rewarding for non-watchers too.

MORE UPDATES:

Vertigo's Psyche gives some love to Siren darling Sandra Dee and her exquisite performance in A Summer Place.

Arthur S., one of the most astute commenters in the film blogosphere, links us all up to a Douglas Sirk interview that is not to be missed.

241 comments:

1 – 200 of 241   Newer›   Newest»
X. Trapnel said...

Now I know the difference between Susan Slade and Rachel Cade. Thanks, Siren.

This was also an era and filmic milieu in which many characters seem to be named Sloane even when they aren't.

The Derelict said...

I was a big Mad Men fan for the first two seasons but I'm starting to feel the oppressive weight of the dour this season.

It's like, I can understand misery and sadness when it seems like your entire world is totally coming apart, but in the third season things are relatively normal and sane and yet still the characters are all Debbie Downers.

I'm so glad you mentioned Light in the Piazza and Love with the Proper Stranger -- two of my favorites!

I remember watching Love with the Proper Stranger when I was a teenager and thinking during the abortion scenes that people back in the day were a lot more down with the realities of life than we in our "enlightened" 21st century give them credit for.

Karen said...

DIfficult to quibble with any of the above (of the 7 or so I've also seen). I do happen to like Mad Men, although it took me until the 2nd season to get on board, but I would be hard-pressed to defend it against those who condemn it--not like the way I'd defend, say, The Wire. I would say that the pleasures of the show are cumulative--watching only the occasional show is like trying to appreciate a jigsaw puzzle picture from a single piece.

That being said? I would absolutely prefer to watch any one of these 10 films. In a heartbeat. Mad Men tries to look at the transitional moments when Douglas Sirk morphed to Stanley Kubrick, but the thing about these films is that, for those who can see it, the seeds of that future can be read in each one of the films you list.

Speaking of those films, by the way, I'm not sure I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I was as surprised as hell at how much I liked From the Terrace. And, in fact, From the Terrace could conceivably be seen as the spiritual forebear of Mad Men, which its protagonist in search of something he can barely articulate.

X. Trapnel said...

I've never seen any of the Siren's 10 except for i've never seenAdvise and Consent. Come to that, I've never seen anything of Mad Men. I haven't checked the chronolgy but I'm wondering if Executive Suite and Patterns started this genre that acquired color and music with The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. Nobody's having much fun in these films though, and William Holden is still stuck with June Allyson for all his pains. Rewards of the Protestant Work Ethic, I guess.

X. Trapnel said...

word verification: Fornio: small town in Italy where Gregory Peck had the affair with Marisa Pavan in TMITGFS. That, at least must have been fun.

Peter Nellhaus said...

I'm surprised that a couple of these films are still not available on DVD. You already know about my love of Delmar Daves. Maybe the one film that is missing is A Summer Place. Basically your piece made me nostalgic for a time when Hollywood made movies about adults, or young people trying to be adults.

Vanwall said...

Mad Men is like "John O'Hara's ghost is stalking the land, hide you wives, daughters, and Cohibas!" - nobody got out alive in his milieu, but they looked good just before the crash. "From the Terrace", as a book, mind you - much less likable characters and as dour as a flagellist before ecstatic release, (the film was artificially sweetened) - is very, very Mad Men, and hell, O'Hara's entire oeuvre could serve as plot outlines and character sketches, as is his fetishism of clothing and good things in life, along with adultery and backstabbing. Oh, and have a smoke, pal. I prefer the film, myself, tho, at least someone has a good time, once or twice.

"Seab" Cooley woulda et those guys alive, and had their wives for dessert, tho.

Good sets, on-the-spot costumes, do not a successful vision make, at least for me. I was a growin' boy at the end of the Ike years and watched as things changed, oh, most certainly, as the Sixties were ushered in. I seem to remember a lot of good times to go with bad, and that's not the intent of Mad Men obviously. It is supposed to be a man's vision of the period as much as a woman's, but I keep waiting for Blake to stride in telling everybody his name is Fuck You and Mitch and Murray told him call everybody fuckin' losers. And sell some goddam aluminum siding while your at it, we're drinkin' to "La Bamba".

I love your choices, tho - 'cept "Return to Peyton Place", as I can't sit thru that one. "The Light in the Piazza" is another film that had to soft-pedal the adult content of the book - the developmentally challenged daughter was more than that, she was become aware of her sexual desires without being able to understand those limits in society at the time, much less being able to control them, a common failing of retarded characters in books of the period. The urgency was as much to find her a husband who wouldn't realize her "slowness", hidden by cultural & language barriers, (and helped in the book by the prospective husband being no rocket scientist), as it as to find a safe outlet for her libido that would seem natural. The movie made it much more of a "pity romance", I reckon, but it was nicely done, and you root for the whole gang all along.

And what idiot signed off on "All the Fine Young Cannibals"? That still grates on the ears.

X. Trapnel said...

"I'm a very beautiful young man"--Robert Wagner, Beneath the 12 Mile Reef

Does that clarify things, Siren?

V, if we're talking John O'Hara let's not forget the requisite lesbian scenes in the later novels.

Vanwall said...

Robert Wagner is very good in a few films, "Between Heaven and Hell" is one, "A Kiss before Dying" another, both from 1956 - then it was nada and The Vast Wasteland, baby.

M. X - I'm presuming that lesbian sex scenes would eventually fit the MM cookie cutter set, but then again, that would be two people enjoying something, certainly not dour enough.

X. Trapnel said...

V, I'm guessing O'Hara enjoyed them, but the too, too solid prose is dour, indeed doughy.

Dan Leo said...

One of the many things I love about the Siren is that she makes me want to see movies I haven't seen and to watch again movies I haven't seen in ages. Both of these sorts of movies are on this list, and I can barely wait...

For what it's worth, I lost interest in "Mad Men" right before the last episode of the first season. Then recently I watched the whole second season over the course of a few days and totally enjoyed it, so either the production got better or I got dumber.

So then I rented "Revolutionary Road". Very much admired the novel, and I am a big Winslet fanboy. I was struck by how similar it all was to "Mad Men", except that I found it monstrously tedious, and couldn't even finish watching it. And I would love to read what the Siren has to say about this movie (forgive me if you've already covered it)...

Jesús Cortés said...

More:
Quine´s "Strangers when we meet", Daves´ "A summer place", Minnelli´s "The coutship of Eddie´s father", Sirk´s "There´s always tomorrow", Cukor´s "The Chapman report", Petrie´s "The bramble bush", Rossen´s "Island in the sun"...

The Siren said...

Srangers When We Meet!

Damn damn damn damn DAMN!!

I spent all weekend on this thing and I forgot Strangers When We Meet.

**pummels the couch pillows**

For some reason I thought it was 1964. I tried to confine myself to the Mad Men years, which so far are 1960-1963, with the two cheats I mentioned. That's why I left off A Summer Place, despite its being only 1959, in favor of Susan Slade which I think is somewhat underrated and also has the criminally underrated Dorothy McGuire.

1959 was one hell of a year for these movies. If I wanted to really linger on that year I could have included The Young Philadelphians, which I prefer very, very slightly to From the Terrace. Karen is 100% correct that FtT has a lot in common with Mad Men.

I also love this from Karen, an excellent Mad Men defense:

I would say that the pleasures of the show are cumulative--watching only the occasional show is like trying to appreciate a jigsaw puzzle picture from a single piece...Mad Men tries to look at the transitional moments when Douglas Sirk morphed to Stanley Kubrick.


Awesome. Makes me think giving it another chance won't be a chore.

The Siren said...

XT, a more serious post than mine could certainly have gone further back into the 1950s to look at the films you named, and then move into the Kennedy era and start spotting the differences. I think there is a lot more sex in the late-Eisenhower movies, undoubtedly a function of the crumbling Code.

Pier Angeli and Marisa Pavan are two of my mini-obsessions from this era. They both have something on screen, with me giving a small and quite probably sentimental edge to Angeli.

Peter, you did a great writeup of Strangers When We Meet some time back. Weren't you going to tackle Susan Slade too? I tried to search but found nada. If you have a link post it!

The Siren said...

Derelict, so nice to see you. I can't believe The Light in the Piazza isn't on DVD, despite (or maybe because?) of the musical! How dumb is that? the movie has a real following, a cult you could say. It needs a DVD, a REAL one because it is really really gorgeous. And you're too right about these movies and real life; they are all trying to grapple with it, they are just doing it in beautiful sets and costumes and stereophonic sound.

Vanwall, in the movie of Light in the Piazza the Italian boy is no rocket scientist either. George Hamilton and Yvette Mimieux give a quiet suggestion of fluttering pulses but the sex is buried, as you say. That the mentally challenged have sex drives is something you still don't see acknowledged much.

I liked A Kiss Before Dying very much. I don't know, Wagner's looks are always so bland to me. I frankly think Troy Donahue was prettier.

Dan, I wrote a qualified but basically good review of Revolutionary Road and I still have almost no company on that one save the Mighty Dan Callahan. I have faith though. Just about every movie on this list was one I liked despite being told it was tosh and the world is coming around on the best of them.

Which is where I mention that the Siren's Long-Dead Nemesis Bosley Crowther couldn't stand Advise and Consent. :D :D

Brian said...

Fun post, but I have to say, I think you're missing the point of Mad Men.

Complaining that the show lacks optimism is a bit like watching a '70s revisionist Western and thinking, "Gee, where were all the stoic, morally upright heroes?" Mad Men is not merely trying to "avoid the nostalgia trap" as you say; it takes place in a revisionist alternate 1960s that examines what might have really been going on *underneath* all that bright-eyed Kennedy optimism. The show's tone is so dour because the strictures of their society force these people to bottle up their emotions, to deny their true selves and assume various masks and roles.

And also, the dourness is only overwhelming if you ignore the funny parts, of which there have been a great many this season - most prominently being Peggy's experiment with pot and the now-classic line, "My name is Peggy Olson and I want to smoke some marijuana."

Peter Nellhaus said...

Ask, and ye shall receive.

The Siren said...

Thanks, Peter!

Brian, I sincerely never saw any funny parts, but then again I didn't see Peggy & the marijuana. My point with posting these movies is that they also examined "what might have really been going on *underneath* all that bright-eyed Kennedy optimism," and did it at the time and with some verve (in admittedly varying amounts).

And you know that I am definitely not much of a fan of 70s revisionist Westerns. :D

TS said...

I heart you. God, Mad Men is fun-free! We bought a season based on the enormous publicity and yet we couldn't suffer through two entire episodes. Awfully stylish though it is, it's so horribly earnest. Who wants to travel back to the pre-sixties while lugging a steamtrunk's worth of post-sixties guilt alongside? It's practically Quantum Leap with cigarettes. Thank you for explaining it in your inimitable way.

Moviezzz said...

Thank you Siren!

I thought I was alone in not being able to love the series. I tried. I made it through the first disc and a half of the first season until I realized that I just didn't care about the characters.

And maybe it is because I'm male, but Jon Hamm may be one of the most overhyped actors of today, the male version of Megan Fox.

As for your list, having recently watched FROM THE TERRACE, SUSAN SLADE and LOVE WITH A PROPER STRANGER, I would rather watch one of these films again, or a film I've never seen, than force myself to watch another episode.

Dan Leo said...

I love this blog, although I don't comment often (for the good reason that my own film scholarship and critical faculties pale before that of the Siren and her regular correspondents). But I just went back and read the Siren's brief review of Revolutionary Road, which instigated a very lengthy, erudite and entertaining discussion, and now I almost want to give the movie another chance. After all, I went from being somewhat bored by Mad Men one year to getting completely addicted to it a year or so later. But I would love to spend a couple of days doing nothing but watching all the movies on the Siren's present list, preferably with a good supply of Peggy Olson's pot.

Oh, by the way, I want to recommend to you and to all your readers who love Yates, Cheever and John O'Hara (I'm weird, I really like John O'Hara) -- for a brilliant British view of the 50s and 60s, check out Kingsley Amis, not just Lucky Jim, but books like One Fat Englishman (a drunken sour and lecherous Brit in suburban Mad Men-era America) or Take A Girl Like You. Most of his books are out of print I think, but you might find them in a big public library. His son Martin gets all the glory nowadays, but Kingsley at his best was unique and untouchable.

The Siren said...

T, so good to see you! Hope the spear side of the household is doing well. I used to adore Quantum Leap, especially the early seasons! Now there was a fun show.

The Siren said...

Dan, I also like Kingsley Amis; Take a Girl Like You is a funny, sad book and I have a 60s-era Pocket Book of it around here somewhere.

Moviezzz, I guess I have seen so many of these because they were TV staples for eons, although I am sure that in the 1970s the TV censors cut some of the "naughty bits." I remember very little of Rome Adventure and would like to see it again. One weird little Hollywood subgenre is from the 50s and early 60s, wherein stuffy American goes to Italy and learns to live it up. I almost added Come September here (plus I do love Sandra Dee) but it's really too funny for this grouping.

mndean said...

Mad Men never did much for me - it must have helped to live through the era as a little kid to see through it - my memories are a lot different than what I see on the show. Still like the pornstar name January Jones, though.

As for the films, they're an estimable bunch that I've mostly seen, though Robert Wagner's appeal evaded me,too. I used to watch Hart to Hart and all I'd do was wait for Lionel Stander to show up. I have the somewhat Kaelian aversion to Natalie Wood as well, but it depends more on the film. Love With The Proper Stranger is one of the good ones where I can enjoy her.

X. Trapnel said...

Dan L, have you read Kingsley Amis' memoirs; there's a fascinating passage on John O'Hara in which he confesses to "going for sales now." Martin's a fine novelist and an even better critic and essayist, but he's never written anything to touch Lucky Jim, still the funniest book ever ("filmed" twice, horribly both times, but the most recent Bee Bee Cee version was either an act of hostility or a benighted attempt on the part of well-meaning cretins to turn it into 4 W*dd*ngs *nd * F*n*r*l.

Dan Leo said...

Oh, boy, more Kingsley fans! Sometimes it seems like only James Wolcott and I like his stuff. X. Trapnel, yes, I loved the memoirs, but what I really love is the massive (I mean like 1,100 pages) Collected Letters -- really brilliant, and a must-read for any Kingsley fan. They get sad in the later years as he got more cranky and drunken and bitter, but the great bulk of them read like the sort of long great novel that he was constitutionally never disposed to write.

And, Siren, I believe I have that very same 60-cent Signet paperback of Take a Girl, with that fabulously misleading sexy cover painting.

David Stafford said...

I'm so glad that not everyone has signed on to the Mad Men fad. As someone who grew up in that time I find it smug, condescending and only occasionally interesting. And yes, that dour tone that we find comical when found on daytime soap operas is supposed to be become magically "important" when viewed at night on cable. I don't buy it.

Re your collection of 60s movies brought back a wave of nostalgia for "Saturday Night at the Movies, back when TV used to give us our film school moments sandwiched between heavy commercial breaks.

Re: Light in the Piazza. I remember, even as a kid, finding it amusing that the mother thought her child's disability would be undetected because all her peers talked about was movies anyway.

And Strangers When We Meet I still find one of the most romantic films ever. Especially love the music and that wonderful title sequence.

DavidEhrenstein said...

All interesting touchstones, Siren. But the one that really counts is The Best of Everything

Good Lord how I love Suzy Parker!

DavidEhrenstein said...

The musical version of The Light in the Piazza is an enormous improvement on the film.

Mad Men isn't a movie. It's a TV series. And the mode it's set in is analytical rather than expositional.

That's undoubtedly why it grates for some.

I love it. Especially for Sal and the SMOKIN' HOT Bellhop.

Now THAT'S a place where Jerry Wald woudl never have gone.

KC said...

I am hooked on the beauty of Man Men, but I wouldn't say I enjoy it half the time that I watch it, primarily because it is--as you say--so dour. I'm sure I'll continue to watch MM, but I'll never relish it the way I do The Best of Everything and Susan Slade. Now those are flicks you can watch over and over! Delicious post--you've made me want to drop everything and watch juicy melodramas all day.

Bob Westal said...

Congratulations, Siren! You singlehandedly started the inevitable "Mad Men" backlash. Well played.

But seriously, very nicely done even as a huge fan of the show of whose been on board since day 1. I've only seen a few films on this list. I like Sirk but I'm not a full on member of his cult and whether I'd choose to watch one of his movie or an episode of "Mad Men" is probably more of a mood thing. I do, however, really want to see "Advise and Consent" -- I love political thrillers, love widescreen black and white, like Preminger, and it's only a quirk of fate that I've never seen it.

Are non-U.S. films allowed on the list? If so, I'd definitely add Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well." It's 60% a policier, but "High and Low" also kind of fits as well. (The Ed McBain [Evan Hunter] novel it's based on, "King's Ransom," is at least 50% "Mad Men"-esque corporate skullduggery.)

A couple of "Mad Men" thoughts. Karen's defense is right on, and really applies to nearly all of these acclaimed cable shows. I've always likened watching a single episode of shows like this -- Sopranos, Deadwood, etc. -- to reading a single chapter of a very long novel. At least the Siren started at the beginning at first, which is all I can really ask. It worked for me from the start, but the interesting thing was, I'm not sure why -- aside from being a sucker for the time period and subject matter.

I think it's partly that to me the show is like an psychological mystery about what motivates the characters. I've always found some -- not a lot -- of humor in certain aspects of it, particularly Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and some of other supporting characters, including the great Robert Morse as Bert Cooper.

I also think understanding the dourness of the show -- and I'm a guy who usually hates the needlessly dour (don't get me started on why people are now calling "Unbreakable" a classic for some reason) -- has to do with Matthew Weiner's point of view on advertising. I think he's kind of against it but fascinated by it, which helps gives the show that sort of slinky feeling of the vaguely (or not so vaguely) immoral that it has.

It's important to remember his last show was "The Sopranos" and the mood here is strikingly similar. It's only such superficial matters as time, place, and social milieu that are different.

I acutally blogged the episode with the marijuana line was a particularly interesting and lively one in that it was also an episode partially about hidden talents and featured Pete (Vincent Kartheiser) and his wife doing an amazing Charleston and later Christina Hendricks played accordion and sang a la Edith Piaf.

BTW, Siren, since you liked "Quantum Leap" (a show I turned up my nose at, snob that I am) and you like Christina Hendricks, you might want to check out her first, really funny episode of Joss Whedon's "Firefly" as a guest star, "Our Mrs. Reynolds." That episode wasn't big on what the geeks call "mythology" (story arc), so it should work well on its own and it made me a fan of hers long before "Mad Men." I could go on but the less said about the episode the better.

The Siren said...

LOL, Bob -- I wasn't aiming to start a backlash! this is just what I get for lobbing a spitball at a current cultural phenom, as opposed to one that is safely dead and buried. Seriously, I hope it's clear that I don't think Mad Men's many fans are crazy, far from it. I just don't share the mania.

If I want late-Eisenhower clothes I'll mosey back over to Sweet Sunday Afternoons. Those Best of Everything caps are AWESOME! David E., promise you'll take a look - link at the bottom of the post. She has at least a couple of dozen and Suzy looks so wonderful.

KC, welcome! I am having the same urge. I have an unwatched Sirk I have been saving that I might break out tonight.

David S., the naivete in Light in the Piazza is sort of endemic throughout the film -- the boy's father is also not very observant. I saw it a few years ago, before the musical, and thought it was so lovely. I couldn't believe it hadn't gotten more praise over the years. Strangers When We Meet is a movie that all my old movie books dismiss with a line--hell, not even a line, more like a parenthetical--but it is coming back.

I will take back everything I ever said about Mad Men if it helps spawn a revival in these dramas. :D

Bob, why not? I thought about the Kurosawa, but the one that really would belong is Mikio Naruse's 1967 swan song, Scattered Clouds, an exceptional film in every way. It's color and widescreen and incomparably lovely, has a heartbreaking love story, and also contains an abortion scene that no big U.S. film would dare attempt right now in 2009, I'd wager. I love all the Naruse films I saw, but that one is really accessible in the same way these films are, only it's basically un-seeable here as far as I know.

Vanwall said...

"Room at the Top" would be the counterpoint to the romance here, and say, "I'll Never Forget What's'isname" is the Mad Men with black humor movie.

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, Madame Sirène, way to make a guy feel old!

Of course I’ve seen all of your (nearly) perfect list; but to my embarrassment(?), I saw them all in theatres, in the order they were released. My first reaction too was ‘where’s Strangers When We Meet?’

Like From the Terrace (God! Ina Balin! And a sympathetic Ted de Corsia!), I had read the novels before seeing the films; Strangers, though it may seem foolish now, caused a major brouhaha at the time: yes, Americans committed adultery, but not as blatantly as that; and above all, they didn’t get away with it.

Years later I had the chance to meet the author Evan Hunter at a WGA “scenes left on the cutting-room floor” seminar. (Hunter was there to read his climactic six-minute scene for The Birds - hair-raising to hear, but never shot; Hitchcock had simply ‘had enough’.)
After the reading, I buttonholed Hunter and asked him why he had changed the ending of Strangers (for those who haven’t read it, it’s told as a first-person narrative and the narrator dies in a car crash at the end; the book simply ends in mid-sentence; perhaps not great writing, but certainly dramatic); in answer to my question Hunter just shrugged and said two words: “Kirk Douglas”.

(BTW, if we’re all going to keep using ‘dour’, it should be pointed out the word is a trade-marked Scottish coinage – not to mention a genetically-dictated national credo - and we pronounce it to rhyme with “poor”.)

But it must be said, give or take a title or two, this is a stone brilliant list! More cogent and incisive, dear lady, than I suspect you know. I don’t think I’m over-emphasizing the impact of these films on post-war European audiences – a zeitgeist devoutly to be wished.

They represented America – clean, well-dressed, well-fed, well-appointed, not to say filthy-rich homes and lifestyles.
They are why we came here.

And when we arrived we were thunderstruck to learn America wasn’t Sirk or Negulesco, or goddam Minnelli; shit, it wasn’t even Delmer Daves! It was Kazan and Marty Ritt and Richard Brooks! You lied to us.
I was shocked. Shocked.

Re Mad Men (I don’t watch that much commercial Tee Vee – it’s sort of like American football, as soon as it starts to get interesting, it stops): The little I’ve watched of Mad Men tells me it doesn’t quite know what it wants to say; a tale told by an (educated) idiot, full of sturm und drang, signifying precious little.

I know that world – I worked in it briefly in the 70s – it hadn’t changed that much then, and, I suspect, apart from Casual Fridays, is largely the same today. If you really want to learn about it, read Vance Packard’s “The Hidden Persuaders” and David Ogilvy’s “Confessions of an Advertising Man”; the truth about Madison Avenue lies exactly mid-way between.

To be continued
(As soon as I find my Maalox.)

Bob Westal said...

Well, maybe "Scattered Clouds" will turn up at the Cinematheque or (now that's it been saved for the time being) LACMA out here. Sounds like a great one to see on the big screen.

And, no, Siren, I never thought you thought "Mad Men" fans were crazy. It is true, however, that I never drank and Old Fashioned until I realized they were Don Draper's drink of choice. Now they're probably the drink I make the most. (Probably because it's so darned easy, once you get your mits on some superfine sugar, that is.)

X. Trapnel said...

Dan, you are not alone; the letters (together with Larkin's) are my favorite bedside reading. Inexhaustibly funny and rereadable.

Saturday Night at the Movies! My film kindergarten! Rear Window one week, The Horizontal Liutenant the next. The 4:30 Movie (greater NY area and a wholly owned subsidiary it wd seem of The Zimbalist Concern [not by J. O'Hara) always seemed to be showing The Chapman Report, A Fever in the Blood, and By Love Possessed. Also Captain Newman MD and The Sins of Rachel Cade.

Sian said...

Wonderful post, Siren. You've articulated exactly why I gave up on Mad Men. Stylish, but yet, so..... grim.

X. Trapnel said...

Isn't Marnie really part of this genre? You've got the sexual hang-up (nymphomania was of course[cf. A Rage to Live] the preferred problem, but trust Hitch to go the other way) the rich family/big house, corporate element, lesbic touches (Diane Baker's character)...

The Siren said...

Vanwall, Room at the Top was also the golden social-melo year of 1959. I felt bad about leaving it off--I think it's terrific, Harvey was never as good again and oh, Simone!-- but as it was British I figured I would stick (mostly, aside from VIPs) with the Yanks.

Now there's a good question -- raise your hand if you've read John Braine!

Yojimboen, aside from making me feel MUCH WORSE about leaving off Strangers, a movie that truly impressed me when I saw it (and proved to me that Kim Novak CAN act) your comment is wonderful. I am so glad to have backup on these films, unjustly dismissed by so many for so long. (At least, most of them unjustly. I could muster a rational defense of Peyton Place but not the sequel.) You make me want to read both books you mention.

Bob, I had sworn off bourbon for a while but had an Old Fashioned the other night. It was good, but I don't know how people in the Mad Men era did it (let alone in the 1930s and 40s when they REALLY put it away). Getting up to put the kids on the school bus was pretty hairy.

Sian, how wonderful to see you doll! Which British channel runs Mad Men?

XT, I was going strictly with "social problem" movies so no Marnie, which I simultaneously liked and was majorly creeped out by.

The Siren said...

Oh, and Yojimboen mentions Minnelli--I could definitely have gone with Home from the Hill and even, despite the Hollywood milieu, Two Weeks in Another Town which I am willing to bet Mr. Weiner has seen.

BTW, I have always pronounced "dour" properly. *preens*

However, I have a bad and at this late date possibly unbreakable habitual Alabama pronunciation of "poor"--as in those small holes on your nose that facialists promise to clean out.

X. Trapnel said...

John Braine (not to be mistaken for John Wain), yeah I read him, something asyntacticly titled One and Last Love. Keith Waterhouse (Billy Liar) left us last week. But Alan Sillitoe (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) is with us yet! (A damn good writer he is too.)

DavidEhrenstein said...

Strangers When We Meet has a number of cinematically discerning fans. The late great Raymond Durgnat was first torecognize how genuinely interesting it is.

And I realy don't know what to say to anyone who thinks Kim Novak can't act. What was she doing in Vertigo? Phoning it in?

A Marnie character would make for a great Mad Man sub-plot. I can see Roger getting snowed by her but Peggy getting wise to her right away.

Hey -- I should write for this show!

The Siren said...

David, if you ever did, I would totally watch. And I think Novak is awesome, always did--I even loved her in Bell Book and Candle and she was just about the only thing I did like in Kiss Me Stupid. I phrased that observation very badly. Strangers was just the movie where I said "okay, her acting was her and her skills, not the director or luck or costars or anything else."

X. Trapnel said...

provided that Peggy was not so dazzled by her teeth as Mr. Strutt

The Siren said...

X, the film Billy Liar could make the list. Julie swinging that purse is possibly my favorite image of the entire 1960s. I like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning too.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

I'm honored to see my name displayed so prominently here. "Tarnished Angels" has had a fond place in my heart since a film society I was involved in, back in my woozy youth, showed it at U.C. Santa Cruz. Such 'scope! Such b&w! I love the fact that not only does Death -- i.e. a Mardi Gras reveler in a Death costume -- burst in on the would-be lovers, Hudson and Malone, but then we see Death playing a banjo afterward.

I am innocent of "Mad Men," so I'll refrain from comment. I will say, though, that all this talk of John O'Hara and Suzy Parker rouses thoughts of "Ten North Frederick." Never saw it, but the word-of-mouth is good.

Talk of Delmer Daves brings to mind "Youngblood Hawke," with Suzanne Pleshette coughing gallantly and Genvieve Page saying "What should I call you, Young-y or Blood-y?" Also, of course, "Rome Adventure," including the too-seldom-mentioned Constance Ford. Check out her appearance in this overripe little trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kg-Z8c8HfCQ

Minghella's "Talented Mr. Ripley" is a bit, at times, like an attempt to capture the "Rome Adventure" world.

None of these quite fits the Siren's criteria, however. So for that I'll nominate the Edwards movie of "Days of Wine and Roses": early-60s, social problem (alcoholism), romance (failing marriage), a glimpse or two of Madison Avenue chic.

Now if only I could fit James Purdy, my preferred novelist of the period, into this picture ...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Sadly no one made a movie of Malcolm. I saw Albee's play, which was a nice try, but purdy really belongs on the screen.

When she was shooting The Best of Everything Hope lange was having an affair with John Ceeever.

Now THERE'S an episode of Mad Men if there ever was one.

And speaking of Cheever

Yojimboen said...

Yes, Bell, Book… Pushover… Notorious Landlady… Strangers When We Meet - the four films Kim N did with Richard Quine are among her best (wasn’t she engaged to him or something?).

Re Imitation of Life, Susan Kohner had that semi-sultry look – good casting for a girl who’s ‘passing’. Not a huge talent – but she decided to get out of the biz and (coincidence?) marry another imitator – John Weitz, the knock-off king, passing as fashion designer. (Unfortunately she then gave birth to the Weitz Brothers, passing as filmmakers: American Pie, anyone?)
IMHO Kohner was getting better as an actress and it’s perhaps a pity she didn’t realize her potential. But in the beauty stakes, she wasn’t quite in the class of Sandra Dee, Tuesday Weld or (be still my throbbing heart!) Suzy Parker.

Ten North Frederick? Yes, Mrs HWV, it is indeed worth seeking out. It’s the film Wilder tried and failed to make with Love in the Afternoon.

From the Terrace was my favourite novel for the longest time. (Cut me some slack, X, I was very young.) Despite what I may now think of the quality of the prose, it was for me, and still is, I submit, a work of enormous weight – in many ways an American Tragedy more profound than anything Dreiser ever dreamed of. A cautionary tale: the protagonist, Alfred Eaton, ends up essentially as a cipher – an extra extra man; the guy you call at the last minute to fetch Aunt Ethel – in for uncle John’s funeral – from the airport; and Alfred will, dependable as ever, oblige. Simply put, he’s a failure.

I think in adapting the book, Ernest Lehman worked his ass off to suppress and conceal that failure… and failed. O’Hara’s morbid Calvinism shines though undiminished, and that’s what makes it, if not brilliant, certainly of the most interesting films of the 50s.

And seriously, were Leon Ames and Myrna Loy ever better?

TS said...

:-D I, of course, would take Quantum Leap over Mad Men any day.

(Spear side sharp as ever.)

X. Trapnel said...

Take all the slack you need, Y; I agree O'Hara is a better writer than Dreiser. But he's no Scott Fitzgerald. How strange that his best, Appointment in Samarra has never been filmed...

STOP PRESS!

IMDB seems to think something is in the works, but alas there will be no Elmer Bernstein score.

The Siren said...

Y., agree on Kohner's talent and beauty, although she was marvelous in Imitation and not bad in ATFYC. I also agree that the redemption in FtT doesn't feel entirely earned, so Calvinist may be le mot juste.

Myrna, ah Myrna was wonderful in everything, wasn't she? She even lit up the room in something like Belles on Their Toes.

Appointment in Samarra I remember showing up on one of those big "100 Best of the 20th Century" lists and attracting many comments along the lines of "WHO reads HIM anymore? This list was made by fuddy-duddies!" Wouldn't it be lovely now if Mad Men sparks an O'Hara revival. I want to read it myself.

X. Trapnel said...

What is holding down O'Hara's reputation is the the word "middlebrow," a term of contempt with no intellectual content deployed to stunt and intimidate thought and keep people from deciding for themselves. Kitsch and camp, whatever meaning they may have once had, have come to serve the same function.

Yojimboen said...

Interesting...

IMDb Pro has Appointment in Samarra listed "in development", writer/director: Robert Benton.

I'd go see that.

Vanwall said...

M. Y: Nice to see another Johnny O reader - altho in the end it's a feckless pursuit across a blasted landscape - the man was too much a mechanic and not enough of a painter for the lofty heights he imagined he was was writing at. it was popular lit, and I believe he lost sight of that. Or maybe M. X got it somewhat right: a failed purveyor of the half-baked at really only the end, tho "Appointment in Samarra" was a culture shock when it came out, I understand.

I liked "From the Terrace" as the bitter indictment it could be viewed as, kind MM like, or as the mocking satire it also looked like from a distance with squinty eye - Eaton really was a stick. Then I saw finally the movie on late night TV and Ina Balin forever clouded my vision - the movie subsumed the book's importance, and certain aspects almost wholly became Balin and Newman, and Loy and Ames.

Siren, your list is thoughtfully arranged, and they hang together well, altho some most certainly hang separately - the trash is close to the surface on every one of these at some point or another, and on a couple, the grasping fingers break the surface. In that spirit, I offer for consideration one last Fifties-killer: "The Naked Kiss", a marline spike of a nail in a rather large coffin.

Rich G said...

S,

You are 100% correct on MAD MEN. The first time I watch it, I thought - I'm gonna love this!. By the credits, I felt trapped in an airless, alternate universe. I kept looking at these characters and thinking "Someone born in the early 60's is trying to figure out who to blame for being a fu*k-up."

As for me, I'll take the melodrama of Sam Fuller's Naked Kiss over claustrophobia of Mad Men any day.

X. Trapnel said...

Not a painter, exactly (not somewhat) right, V. The pity is that O'Hara's ambition concerend itself with swaths of American life that have never been adequately treated in the large-scale novel. Dos Passos (a better writer and an apt pupil of Joyce) is a similar case in that his quest for the panoramic excludes deep characterization. We still don't have a great novel of modern NY. Incidently, Dos Passos is the only major American novelist with no IMDB credits whatever. Even Salinger has My Foolish Heart (which I quite like).

The Siren said...

Rich, so good to see you in cyberspace, and you make me laugh as always. Yes, The Naked Kiss is fab; gosh, another one I had forgotten.

Uh-oh. V., when you use the word trash around Imitation of Life, however peripherally, smile.

The Siren said...

I like My Foolish Heart too! movie and song.

Vanwall said...

I hear and obey, Oh Siren, oh indeed...but with a wink.

X. Trapnel said...

Oh my, I ADORE the song! Another great Victor Young movie title song is Love Letters, another much-maligned film (poor man's Portrait of Jenny, they say; better than that sez I, and much better music than DT's DTs)

Bob Westal said...

Gee, Siren, either there's a really huge "Mad Men" backlash brewing or you've drawn out every single MM hater in the blogosphere. Such vituperation! (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Anyhow, @ David Ehrenstein, for a moment there I was thinking they were going to do a junior "Marnie" storyline with little Suzy Draper a couple of weeks back. Fortunately, she came back from the abyss, but she can always resume her thieving ways, I suppose.

Vanwall said...

M. X - The late, little remembered Joseph Viertel's "To Love and Corrupt" was a pretty damn good, gritty NYC novel - and had more scope than a lot of others set in that city, and even painterly in a way. The title was his metaphor for the city, as much as anything else.

sunday mornings said...

Oh, Siren, you don't know how thrilled you've made me by gracing my obscure little blog with your grand dame presence! I have been a huge huge fan of the Siren's for a long long time. I remember back in the days when the Siren's background was hot pink. Never dared I comment though. Thanks for linking to my blog. Cheers!

X. Trapnel said...

V, i will make a note of JV (any relation to...?), but there's plenty of NY grit. Manhattan Transfer is I think the best attempt ever to get the whole city as a living organism, earthy and celestial, but again the characters are too small and not too interesting. Tom Wolfe thought he was doing NY Balzac/Zola. Ha, ha, and ha. The writer who could have done it was James Agee.

Vanwall said...

M. X - Viertel's family built Broadway theaters, among other pursuits. He wrote only four novels, none really alike, and was well thought of in the late 50's-early 60's. His son is Jack Viertel, a Broadway theatrical figure.

X. Trapnel said...

V, I have ordered copies of 2love&corrupt and The Last Temptation; the latter (30s Prague/Vienna/wartime Rome/strife-torn Palestine) is literary catnip to me

Bob Westal said...

Oh, Siren, I forgot to say you had "an" Old Fashioned and getting up to get the kids to school was pretty hairy? I don't know what you put in your Old Fashioned, but my recipe is just half an ounce of water with a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in it, two ounces of whiskey, bitters, ice, a splash of water and maybe an orange slice and/or a maraschino cherry...maybe go to just 1 ounce next time...what brand of bourbon was it? (Some are 90 or 100 proof, which is good but you might want to use less next time.)

Or maybe there's a reason you swore off bourbon. We all have our quirks that way (I can't drink red wine without becoming slightly ill and depressed, which is why I resorted to the hard stuff). Old Fashioneds are also very delicious with rye, I might add.

Frank Conniff said...

Siren, one movie that I think might fit into the era and genre you're talking about is another Delmer Daves film, "Youngblood Hawke." I haven't seen it in years, and I remember it as being terrible, but maybe it's worth another look. It starred James Franciscus as a novelist from the sticks who comes to Manhattan and...well, frankly I don't remember what happens after that.

By the way, remember when AMC was the great classic movie channel before TCM came along? If they still were, they could program the movies on your list and play them before and after "Mad Men." That would be pretty great, but that is about as likely to happen as me remembering the plot specifics of "Youngblood Hawke."

Arthur S. said...

Preminger said in his interview with Bogdanovich that he considered ADVISE AND CONSENT one of his best and a better film than ANATOMY OF A MURDER. Not exactly a popular opinion but I share it, Chris Fujiwara does and so does Mr. Preminger. It's a film without a main character and which is a rational examination of how politics work - how a system functions, how people behave in the system.

ADVISE AND CONSENT belongs to late period Premigner where he became interested in insitutions. After ADVISE AND CONSENT, he did THE CARDINAL(a film that looks at the Catholic Church as a political institution) and then IN HARM'S WAY about the navy.

I haven't seen MAD MEN, it hasn't come on air in India. But since it's about advertising, I am surprised no one's mentioned WILL SUCCESS SPOIL ROCK HUNTER which is the key film about Madison Avenue in that period.

My favourite 50s melodramas(about the 50s and set in the 50s) would include two MGM Musicals.
IT'S ALWAYS FAIR WEATHER
where Dan Dailey plays a painter turned designer for an ad agency, Gene Kelly becomes a boxing manager and Michael Kidd is a working class chef. It covers everything - working women, troubled marriages, post-war malaise, the world of media and advertising. In fact, its a mix of a film noir, melodrama and MGM musical.

The other one is BELLS ARE RINGING which is a film about big city blues and working women and subverts what people think and expect about women who work.

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

A wonderfully articulate (as usual) and insightful post (as usual). Your observations in comparing "Mad Men" to the tone and style of films from that era are interesting. And I've always liked the word "dour".

Besides,

"the criminally underrated Dorothy McGuire" is a phrase which only increases my devotion to you, dear Siren. Welcome back.

DavidEhrenstein said...

My Foolish Heart

John O'Hara was well-rgarded at one time. "Appointment in Samara" is considered his best. But he had a number of best-sellers right up to his death. "From the Terrace" was a book club blockbuster and the movie made from it was a deluxe Hollywood buffet of that period.

What he's probably best nown for now is the musical version of one of his short stores -- "Pal Joey."

DavidEhrenstein said...

Yes little Susie Draper may well be a Marnie-in-the-making.

mndean said...

The TV episode vs. self-contained movie comparison is true enough, but it's often used as an excuse to hide weaknesses in a TV series. A friend of mine raved about a series (don't remember which it was now) and got me to watch a few episodes which I didn't like at all. After I complained, he then told me, "Those were bad episodes, you need to stay with it, it'll get better". I told him if the story arc was like that, I didn't think it was worth staying.

David Stafford said...

I was thinking...I'd like Mad Men a lot more if they had a hipster character ala Ernie Kovacs in SWWM or Jack Lemmon in BB&C...

The Siren said...

Arthur, I would have to re-watch Anatomy of a Murder to be sure but I would give a small edge to Advise & Consent as well. The backstabbing just rings so true.

Sunday, I'm flattered but this "grand dame" commands a pretty small corner of the blogosphere! I love your taste and will be blogrolling you asap. Please, comment more. I share your interest in the different components of a film's look.

The Siren said...

Bob - re: The old-fashioned...I am a complete lightweight. Always have been.

Frank, I miss the original AMC. Nick Clooney was wonderful; Robert Osborne has always had some of the same cozy appeal but Nick had his own style. But now I am staring at the screen and thinking, I actually haven't seen Youngblood Hawke. That's terrible. I thought I had this era down cold. Must rectify.

Jacqueline, just today an acquaintance of mine, who absolutely does not read the blog, used the word "dour" to describe someone. Is this a meme? Is this word about to make a comeback, along with sheath dresses and smart little frame handbags?

David, a swinger character would definitely persuade me to tune back in. I would love to see somebody like Frank Gorshin from Where the Boys Are turn up.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

A Summer Place came to mind for me, too. I wrote about it once upon a time over here:

http://littleblogtoo.blogspot.com/2008/05/dee-donahue-find-stardom-via-summer.html

Frank said...

I also saw most of those movies in first release in the theater. A friend and I were obsessed with Imitation of Life for all sorts of reasons. I remember we thought that Susan Kohner was the most amazing looking new actress. It was about the hair style. She had the Seven Sister's look nailed. We also liked the racial stuff, the white guilt that went along with the election of Kennedy, but also the whole idea of passing resonated with two young homosexuals who couldn't even come out to each other.

I still cannot figure out who thought Robert Wagner was hot. I think the movie guys thought that women would think he's sexy. That always happens when men chose men for their looks. They come up with a bland article who pleases no one.
When you look at all the hot young guys of the fifties, you have to acknowledge that a sexual ambivalence was essential in creating frisson with women while somehow not triggering off young guys' latencies enough so that they'd feel threatened. I guess that Wagner's unambiguous straightness made him seem as flat as the screen in a medium which needed it's stars seem to jump off the screen.

Love with the Proper Stranger seems the one film in the list to not really belong. I think it came out of a different sensibility, one that was more Paddy Chayefsky-an than Sirk-ist. Sirk was all Hollywood in his attitude toward social problems and always managed a rather grande fade out. They were the last gasp of an earlier generation of women's films with Imitation as the great last act. in 1964 Where Love Has Gone put the nail in the coffin and the genre was dead. (although womens films lived on, only in different dresses.) I saw Proper Stranger that once and now that you've brought it to mind I can't wait to see it again.
I always thought Susan Slade was just a knock-off of A Summer Place which simply was a huge sensation and was the first teenage romance with a theme song that combined a ballad with the slight rock beat. By the time Susan slade came out Sandra Dee was at the top of the boxoffice list and Connie Stevens was a TV star who seemed well, not really top-drawer. Those distinctions counted then.

Mad Men is for me a matter of how easily critics can be brainwashed on-mass by their own hopes. After it's first episode I commented on a blog and James Wolcott quoted in his column what I wrote, if I may:


"People, people. You can't really think that human beings in 1960 were really like this! These are mirages, twists of smoke. The ad men of that time were lethal motherfuckers, profane and funny, exhausted, bleary-eyed, and really smart with ivy league degrees on their resumes. And the women were not zombies who stood around overdressed in kitchens smoking with their dish washing gloves on. In fact, no one in this show seems to know how to smoke. I wanted to physically shake the divorcee's arm to unfreeze it, and tell her use the prop and not let the prop use her. Yes, everybody smoked then but it didn't look like this. Not even jewish women (oohh, exotic!)used cigarette holders in 1960. 60year old fag hags did, maybe. But you're not going to see them in this show.

The list of wrong things in this show is nearly endless, but it's not just the verisimilitude that sucks, it's the way they missed the mood of the period. This was a time of urgency, when modernism was feverish and drove everything in the city and the post war suburbs seemed to be as much a part of that rush to the future as Madison Avenue. This show is a shadow play on a wall, completely without dimension."
...and after watching the first two episodes of this season I think the only thing that's improved is the smoking.
Thanks for indulging me.

Frank said...

Also, Kim Novak alway could act.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Okay, you've got me really excited now, with a picture of one of my very favorite actresses in her greatest role as your banner/header. I finally saw The Tarnished Angels on the big screen earlier this year, and the film and Dorothy Malone were as fantastic as I remembered them (and even more so, really, in Cinemascope).

Malone's great in her Oscar winner, but I think she goes a lot deeper, emotionally speaking, with her sublime work as LaVerne Shumann. She certainly fully inhabits the character from her first moment onscreen. Glad Sirk knew how to showcase her talents to maximum effect, and I wish she had had better luck onscreen after this peak.

Arthur S. said...

Dorothy Malone is outstanding in those Sirk films. Although oddly enough, Sirk had difficulty directing her because she was in his words, "too prudish".

Sirk tells it better in this interview available online...
http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/48/sirkinterview.htm

Arthur S. said...

http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/
48/sirkinterview.htm

Jacqueline T Lynch said...

"Is this word about to make a comeback, along with sheath dresses and smart little frame handbags?"

One can only hope.

David Stafford said...

Frank....yeah, yeah, yeah...that's what Mad Men needs....more Frank O'Hara and Larry Rivers and George Lois energy....

The Europhile said...

maybe because the 50's early 60's were the cultural and intellectual zenith, when the world looked to the States for icons, value, anything. Too hard to capture when there's no longer that spirit of optimism and curiosity.

Have the Liz Taylor/Burton collection and to watch that movie is to enjoy beauty, yes, as much ET as LJ.
For about 15 yrs I did the business class Seattle/London gig often, first class was barely different, that sense of privilege and privacy had faded fast, now all very much gone. Ever since 'terminal 5', finito, basta cosi.

X. Trapnel said...

The problem with introducing hipster types into Mad Men is the temptation to treat them uncritically as saints and prophets of our own "we know better now" smuggery,the keepers of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. If Mad Men is as tone deaf as James Wolcott (one of the best culture critics around) implies, I can't imagine the writers of the show resisting.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Arthur,

Thanks for the link to that great interview. Sirk also talks about Malone's prudishness in an interview found on Criterion's super Magnificent Obsession 2-discer, but I got the impression she intrigued him, maybe because of her modesty. He sure does (wisely) focus on her characters a lot in their two films together.

Bob Westal said...

Siren, the good part about being a complete lightweight is that you can get to the happy place more cheaply than everyone else. It's the secret we Jews have been holding onto for centuries! :)

Bob Westal said...

X Trapnel and Siren -- there actually is a fairly minor character, Smitty, who I think qualifies as a hipster -- originally partnered with a German creative partner who turned out to be to be too hip for the room when he casually mentioned that he was gay (causing a hilarious/tragic reaction from the deeply closeted Sal). Not sure if he qualifies as a "swinger" but he was showing an interest in Peggy in the marijuana episode.

Dan Draper's mistress in the first season circulated in fairly boho circles as well. And Matthew Weiner's vision is much too dispassionate and skeptical to treat anyone as an uncritical saint or truth tellers. So far, the hipsters we've seen haven't come off any better than the anyone else on the show.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Mad Men referenced Frank O'Hara in its very first season, Mr. Stafford.

Yojimboen said...

A British reviewer of a Douglas Sirk DVD box-set opined that in Written on the Wind Robert Stack was “never better”. I have to agree; but in truth he was also “never worse”. He is one of the more puzzling Johnny One-Note success stories; a rich man’s Bob Cummings with a skeet gun. I don’t know why Sirk used him more than once. But then again, the more I learn about Mr. Douglas Sirk, clearly, the less I know.

The Dorothy Malone banner BTW is exquisite, but pale in comparison to the shot which introduces her in Tarnished Angels: the propeller-driven blast on Harlow-platinum hair and Persil-bright virginal white dress is pure, jaw-dropping sexuality written on the wind. There simply isn’t a better shot in all of Sirk.

Thanks are due to Arthur for the link to the superb Sirk interview; what a brilliant man he was – a classic European intellectual – before the word lost its meaning.

“Intellectualism came very late to America. That's why Americans are so proud of it...”

But if I’m reading him correctly, the selection of melodrama as a vehicle for his life’s work was, if not completely cynical, certainly at least partially, a pragmatic choice.

”As a theater man, I had to deal with high art. I would play farces and comedy to make money, and classics for the elite. But we were trying to escape the elitaire. So slowly in my mind formed the idea of melodrama, a form I found to perfection in American pictures. They were naive, they were that something completely different. They were completely Art-less.”

Which sort of throws everything up into the air for me; and I have to look around carefully to see where everything lands. Just who the hell was Douglas Sirk? In other words, get ‘em all down from the shelf and start again.

I’ve always gone back and forth on Sirk. Sometimes I lose patience with myself, wondering why in reason’s name am I watching this… dreck, this… pap; every goddamn plot point, every nuance (if nuance isn’t an oxymoron here) is telegraphed a week in advance of its arrival; so why the hell is my gluteus still stuck to the settee? Then I remember: it’s called melodrama; better yet, it’s a Sirk melodrama, and that requires, nay, demands its own unique brand of suspension of disbelief.

We’re all familiar with that occasional phenomenon of the sequel outdoing the original Godfather II? And then there’s that singular instance where a goddamn hommage called Far From Heaven (which I insist is the best American film of the last decade) outshines that which it imitates. (But I could be wrong.)

Fucking Sirk!
I hate him more than ever!
I love him more than ever!

(Don’t bother me for a while, dear, I have some re-screening to do.)

Noel Vera said...

I agree, re: Advise and Consent. Anatomy was excellent but Advise really stood out for me. Wrote a brief bit about it in my blog.

Frank Conniff said...

I thought Robert Stack was very well cast in "To Be Or Not To Be." Sure, a lot of other pretty-boy actors probably could have played it just as well, but he certainly did nothing to diminish this great Lubitsch masterpiece. I thought he was good as Elliot Ness on "The Untouchables" (It was a lucky break for the show when Van Johnson didn't show up for work and Stack came in as a last minute replacement). I also liked him on "The Name Of The Game," but now I'm getting into the area of obscure TV series from my childhood that have no business being discussed on a forum such as this.

X. Trapnel said...

Myself, I prefer Dorothy Malone with dark hair and glasses selling used books.

I was touting the qualities of The Bachelor Party some posts back, anf it seems relevant to point out the straight, matter-fo-fact handling of the square/hipster confrontation; nothing to make the suburbanites feel smug, nor the downtown folk to feel superior.

Must now study Y's post in depth. I am not yet a Sirk initiate, just dumbfounded by Written on the Wind.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Robert Stack was once under contract to Raoul Walsh. The canny Walsh decided it would be a good idea to create a vehicle for an "established star" and surround him with new stars-to-be. So he made Fighter Squadron for Stack as a means of introducing Jack Larson and

(wait for it)

Rock Hudson.

Rock at this point in his career was unable to handle lines. So they were cut. Universal picked up his contract from Walsh anyway and after a series of rather interestign programmers (in which he did indeed speak) he got Magnificent Obsession and mega-stardom.

Jack got Superman and (off-screen) Monty Clift.

Eventually he got James Bridges and co-produced his boyfriend's classics The Paper Chase, The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy and (best of all) Mike's Murder

David Stafford said...

Touche, Mr. Ehrenstein. But this is the Frank O'Hara I was thinking of...

https://people.creighton.edu/~mlm22940/writings/ohara/steps.html

Vertigo's Psycho said...

I find Sirk's melodramas contain an element of excitement unmatched by just about any other director (although King Vidor efforts such as Duel in the Sun and Beyond the Forest and the scenes I’ve seen from Nick Ray’s Bigger Than Life evoke a similar highly-charged atmosphere). Sirk’s classics are compellingly overblown (instead of going for realism, which I think is okay, as usually Sirk’s plots aren’t delineating normal everyday people and situations), and they've got style, originality, some highly-charged performances, and Rock Hudson, too. Far From Heaven was a wonderful homage to Sirk’s films, but Sirk’s florid mellers had their own hypnotic quality and unforgettable touches, and they can’t really be duplicated.

Malone's sharp work in The Big Sleep, going toe-to-toe with Bogart in seemingly effortless fashion, is definitely up there among her best (can't remember much of anything else she did in the 1940's, before things started heating up for her, career-wise, around 1954-55). Her work in Sleep was once included in a list of the top one-scene performances (even though technically she's really in two, as a fadeout allows Bogart to check out the ultra-sexy book clerk's inventory before he bids her adieu) and I can’t think of too many other performers who’ve managed to make such a vivid impression with limited screen time. Sure wish someone would get at least a current interview with her, detailing her thoughts on working with Sirk, Bogart, Joel McCrea, Martin & Lewis, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, etc. during her lengthy career.

The little-seen or heard of 1961 potboiler Claudelle Inglish, starring the truly ravishing Diane McBain (and featuring the equally gorgeous Chad Everret), is something to see (luckily, I caught it once on a “Bad Movies We Love” marathon in the 1990’s, before it sank back into obscurity) and it fits right in with your choices. Can’t go wrong with Erskine Caldwell providing the salacious source material- Shelly Berman once quipped of Caldwell , “I honestly don’t know why the man writes when he could have so much fun just sitting around thinking.” As for Claudelle, she’s a Self-Styled Southern Siren if there ever was one- just check out this poster art for proof:

http://www.moviegoods.com/Assets/product_images/1020/254173.1020.A.jpg

Arthur S. said...

Here's an interview dating to 1985 courtesy Gerald Peary,
http://geraldpeary.com/interviews/mno/malone.html

Arthur S. said...

http://geraldpeary.com/interviews/
mno/malone.html

Trish said...

Hi Siren! In defense of Mad Men, I believe Matthew Weiner has said that he wants to explore "where we went wrong" in the optimism of the early 60s. Maybe it was dour. I know that when the rigors of housewifery became too much for my mother and her next door neighbour, they would sneak off to "a Paul Newman movie". Hope it was "From the Terrace" or "The Long Hot Summer".

Anyway, thank you! When I saw that shot of Suzy Parker I knew what your post was about! I saw most of these movies as a wide-eyed child and they inform my love of films in general. The "VIPs" is such a guilty pleasure. The greatness of Richard Burton lies in the fact that he is such a gloriously bad actor - especially when opposite Taylor.

Did anyone here mention "A Rage to Live"?

X. Trapnel said...

"Wise wretch! with pleasures too refined to please,
I did parenthetically, but it doesn't quite fit the list unless nymphomania counts as a social problem. Anyone care to speculate?

"With too much spirit to be e'er at ease,
With too much quickness ever to be taught,
With too much thinking to have common thought:
You purchase pain with all that joy can give,
And die of nothing but a rage to live."
— Alexander Pope

X. Trapnel said...

Hm. my Pope quote seems to have been garbled in transit. so much for infalliablity.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Arthur,

Thanks for the link on the Malone interview. I read this one years ago, and it's probably the most thorough interview I've seen done with Malone (found her reflections on Angels and missing out on The Big Country most interesting).

Trish said...

Siren, I agree with your assessment of Elizabeth Taylor doing "the same for a movie as Paul Newman". As with Newman, you know what you're going to get. Taylor came into her own in the 60s when she found a genre of film that suited her shrill delivery and expanding waistline. In addition to the guilty pleasure classics "Butterfield 8" and "The VIPs", there is "Cleopatra", and (God help us) "The Sandpipers". I would even add "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof".

omchelsea said...

No I need to shut myself in my house for a week and run up a horrendous dvd hire bill!

Gordon said...

This is just absolutely delightful! I've been reading it to my wife who is quite thrilled...

Very slowly, but maybe surely, Del Daves' movies are coming out on DVD. He did pretty much everything from westerns to war movies to melodramas to musicals (he wrote Dames). But he was also doing these kinds of melodramas long before the sixties. If you can find it, check out The Very Thought of You with Eleanor Parker. Not to mention his work on An Affair to Remember...

DavidEhrenstein said...

Don't forget Suddenly Last Summer, Trish. Taylor really gets the rhythms of Williams' poetry.

And is unspeakably luscious in a bathing suit.

Trish said...

Good one, David. I should have included that one too.

The Siren said...

Trish, welcome! I love Elizabeth Taylor and while objectively I can't call her good in The VIPs she has some good moments and I still kind of love her; ditto The Sandpiper which, courtesy of Minnelli, is a visual treat although a chore in most other respects.

I love her in Rhapsody, a older-style women's picture where she was still nailing down her unique child-woman-goddess persona. She also has several excellent scenes in Raintree County and a few that don't work for me at all. That's ET for you, she's all over the place as an actress, great one minute and not great the next.

For my money, her best sustained performance is Maggie the Cat. She tore up Tennessee.

Omchelsea, welcome; there are worse ways to spend a weekend, for sure.

Gordon, welcome as well, and many many thanks for reminding me of The Very Thought of You, a movie I would see again in a heartbeat. (Damn, must check Warner Archive.) I remember that it was quite a mix of warmhearted small-town elements and dark, rather tragic ones, which come to think of it isn't a bad way to describe most Daves films. Yes, Dave Kehr has written very perceptively about Daves and it is good to see the man getting his due. I remember the New York Times cutting me to the quick with a one-word TV capsule review of A Summer Place: "Dreadful." I see so much in these movies and I am so glad this post is getting traffic from other people who do as well.

David E., going back to an earlier comment of yours -- I have always thought there was a good movie in a film about Rock Hudson's whole circle, gay and straight, during his rise to fame and just afterward. There was one boyfriend of his (can't remember the name but I am sure you do!) who was offered 10 grand by Confidential, quite a sum back then, to out Rock, and he wouldn't do it.

The Siren said...

XT, Ain't It Cool News is all very well, but I'll bet Harry has very commenters who can quote Pope.

My old blog handle was prompted by Lyly.

http://bartleby.com/106/51.html

DavidEhrenstein said...

That was George Nader. He wasn't a boyfriend -- just a friend, and also gay. Nader had a relatively brief career. He wasn't terribly popular -- and wasn't interested in staying in the closet. He retired to Palm Springs -- where he wrote a science fiction novel about gay robots in love called Chrome. Wish someone would do a movie of that.

DavidEhrenstein said...

A film about the REAL Rock Hudson would be kind of depressing. He was quite a nice guy to work with (I've spoken to Piper Laurie who simply adored him becuase he was such fun) but had a rather complicated personal life in which his favors were divided between older men (his official boyfriends) and younger ones ( of which there were a number.) Add to that is the fact that he drank excessivley.

Armisted Maupin got to know him in his later (pre-AIDS) years and said tryign to keep up with his drinking (which began right after breakfast every day) was impossible. The average person would pass out in an hour.

Yojimboen said...

Though commercially successful, The VIPs wasn’t that well-reviewed in the UK, Brit-Crits gave it rather short shrift. Perhaps they expected the raffiné Terence Rattigan - Anthony Asquith team to produce something more original than Separate Tables in a First-Class Lounge; or maybe something edgier than the “would you pass the Grey Poupon?” ambience they ultimately delivered (This story after all was based on Olivier’s famous race to the airport to stop Vivien Leigh from absconding with Australian stud-muffin Peter Finch).

Either way, it’s an interesting artifact of the 60s – if only as a dry run for the next Rattigan/Asquith collaboration the following year, The Yellow Rolls-Royce - and deserves its place on the list.

I concur with your words on ET, chère Madame (we’ve been here before, haven’t we?); I think there came a time in her career when the actress began to fade from view and the personage moved to center stage. The V.I.P.s may have been that time.

Variety review of The V.I.P.s Jan 1 1963: “Maybe Taylor needs a sabbatical but there is a feeling of ordinariness about her thesping.”

No, it didn’t happen overnight, and there would still be instances where strong directors would pull great performances from her, but I submit it was largely over for ET when she became ‘Liz’ and joined the ‘Dick & Liz’ traveling tabloid circus.

The Siren said...

David, the one I am talking about was Jack Navaar, named in the Kashner/McNair book about Hollywood in the 1950s. But probably Confidential tried to bribe Nader too. The authors credit Hudson's agent Henry Willson with the fact that he was never outed and cite Willson as the driving force behind Hudson's sham marriage.

I had read that Hudson's later years were dark & drunken but I have the idea that a movie about the gay world in late 1950s Hollywood, focused on Hudson or someone like him, would be worth seeing. Or maybe not--maybe Chrome would be more fun.

I am jealous that you've spoken to the wonderful Piper Laurie.

Yojimboen, hard to disagree with your thoughts on Taylor. The VIPs is very genteel, isn't it? I have always heard it was based on Olivier/Leigh/Finch but never read what happened IRL--did Olivier make it? I honestly do think Burton does some wonderful work in the movie when he's NOT in the same scene with his beloved.

Trish said...

I'm not interested in Rock Hudson's sexuality -- specifically when I watch his 60s comedies, although this is the reason why much of his dialogue has a delightfully double meaning. His gift to us was his ability to project himself as a leading man/love interest AND a light comedian. "Pillow Talk", "Come September", the Mad Men-ish "Lover Come Back", "Send Me No Flowers" and "A Very Special Favour". These movies aren't perfect, but because of Hudson, I love them.

Trish said...

Shoot! I forgot "Strange Bedfellows"!

DavidEhrenstein said...

Rock Hudson began his career as a contract player who could barely utter a line and ended it as a giant star and expert farceur.

I've heard of Jack Navaar, but he was by no means pivotal. No one was.

Confidential is the name everyone remembers, because of the trial (which it spectacularly lost) and its general aura of "infamy." But there were scores of scandal mags in the 50's. That's why the notion that "no one knew" that Hudson was gay until his death is so absurd. All the scandal mags hinted at it. And the general public was wise as well. Of course what they needed was the "raw meat" of an actual arrest -- which "Confidential got when they dug up Tab Hunter's "vice" arrest at a "wild (all male) party" way back before he was signed to Warner Bros. And what did the studio do?

They ignored it.

The presumed power of the scandal mags has been WILDLY overstated.

If they were so all-know and all-powerful why didn't they find out about Monty Clift and Jack Larson?

I'll leave it to y'all to figure that one out.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Piper Laurie, BTW, is currently engaged directing Zero Hour -- my friend Jim Brochu's one-man show about the late great Zero Mostel.

Vanwall said...

My favorite Rock Hudson farce is "Man's favorite Sport?", with Paula Prentiss, one of my favorite actresses. He was pretty damn good at that stuff - smooth, believable, and very funny. I too don't give a damn about his sexuality, and it works as a romantic farce because he was good at portraying it so.

My favorite of Hudson's, tho, is the amazing "Seconds", a pretty freakishly suggestive film, and a good bookend to the Mad Men's ostensible era and possible extremely dour outcome - escaping, finding that being a top dog is in itself a kind of trap. Hudson was brilliant in this one, and it shows how much H'wood valued looks over substance possibly more than any other actor and role. Say, that could be the coda to the Mad Men story - looks and style over substance of any depth.

Gordon said...

It's a Labor Day staple in our house to watch Picnic... there's always that moment when Roz Russell rips William Holden's shirt with a music cue that would make you think an alien was about to burst of Holden's stomach.

My wife is addicted to Mad Men. We came in at the middle of the second season and we're almost caught up -- so we were watching season one at the same time as season three! She just loves the art direction and the costumes and really just the period. She can't get enough of that period!

And by the way, you might want to watch the original 3:10 to Yuma if only for the bar scene between Glenn Ford and Felicia Farr...

The Siren said...

Oh, I will state right here that I think Rock Hudson evolved into an actor who could bring a great deal to his best roles. I agree with Vanwall, Seconds is his best performance. His comic timing is more appreciated these days but he's also very good in Giant and the Sirks.

David, I never did think (or say) that the scandal mags were all that powerful, although I am sure they were a real risk for those who didn't have sufficient studio support. But your remark about all the allusions over the years makes me wonder if the real reason mainstream America didn't know about Hudson for so long was that they didn't WANT to. At the same time, given our own checkbook scandal-sheet culture, where any number of people are willing to pimp stories about the famous for a fee, it does rather impress me that Navaar turned them down.

Europhile, I had missed you up there -- I have always said that if I ever became rich that would be my primary indulgence, first class air travel. The couple of times I got bumped up I was like the refugee at the giant supermarket--MY GOD, look at what they've GOT!

Vanwall said...

Ah, yes, the "First Class" relativity factor - I've been once by luck, and it was a very pleasant experience, but certainly not of the old Cunard Line four-stacker class when it really meant something. I have a Lock & Co. topper that traveled in that manner many times, as its accompanying hat box's stickers remind me every time - if one could be jealous of an inanimate object, this is closest I'll come. They're still out there for the leisurely, and even more sumptuous. Sadly, I often tell my friends I must travel in steerage.

DavidEhrenstein said...

People say they "don't care" when they really "don't want to know" meaning they don't want to discuss this in "polite" conversation. Backstairs gossip is just fine.

Navaar (and many others) turned the gossipsheets down because it meant a one-time-only payment of not very much money, and accepting it was a REAL career risk as no one would hire you for "betraying" a Big Star.

Still waiting for an answer to my Jack and Monty query.

The Siren said...

Ah but David, I want to think maybe Navaar had some real love for Hudson. I'm a sap that way.

I seem to be upsetting you and I'm not sure why. I have no idea why Jack & Monty were never discovered--can't remember if Patricia Bosworth indicated one way or another.

Vanwall, first-class ocean travel is something I would definitely time-travel for. I always love any picture of a star embarking or disembarking from a great ocean liner.

Gordon, Picnic is a little early but it fits. I always thought young Susan Strasberg was touching in this movie; she was good at showing how she loved her sister, but how trying it was being the kid sis of such a beauty. The only trouble is that Strasberg herself was very pretty so it throws the balance off just a teensy bit. When I first saw Picnic I loved Roz but over the years her performance has really palled on me--just too much in parts.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Picnic is Kim at her most devestatingly iconic. More than Vertigo in some ways. For Hitchcock she played La Belle Dame Sans Merci. But in Picnic she was the Girl Next Door -- who just happened to look like a goddess.

Patricia Bosworth, like so many others of her generation, clung to the desperate fantasy that Monty was "conflicted" about his sexuality -- whcih he certainly was not. As I've said before ALL his problems proceeded from the accident -- which nearly killed him and eventually amde hima drug addict, which DID kill him.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Jack and Monty were never "discovered" because they didn't swan around town together like Neal Patrick Harris and David Burtka do today. As Jack has expalined it to me it was more of sexual than romantic relationship. They wer "fuckbuddies" who got together and drank a lot. Jack says Monty was a very happy drunk. When Jack met Bridges he of coruse moved on to a full-press romantic and professional relationship.

I DO wonder what it would have been like back in thr 50's had the scandal mags discoevred that "Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen" was enjoying HOT MAN-TO-MAN-ACTION (as they say in more erotic net climes) with the star of A Place in the Sun

during the making of A Place in the Sun -- and I Confess and The Heiress.

"Mariah bar the dooor!"

The Siren said...

Still not sure what is causing your aggrieved tone here, David, but if you don't want to elaborate that's your call.

DavidEhrenstein said...

I think there's been a miscommunication somehwere along the line. I'm not "aggrieved" about anything.

The Siren said...

Cool then! I am glad. I get huge enjoyment out of your comments and vast store of live, in-person anecdotes and did not want to think you were irked with the Siren or the thread.

Yojimboen said...

Good, now that that’s settled, will one of you kindly explain to me how I can look at Rock Hudson’s agonized protestations of inadequacy (1) as the minister in Douglas Sirk’s Battle Hymn and (2) as the pretend virgin in Delbert Mann’s Lover Come Back (they're essentially the same scene) and laugh my ass off at one and not the other??
I’m waiting...(finger-drum, foot-tap) ;D

DavidEhrenstein said...

Which one are you laughing your ass off over?

Yojimboen said...

Good question - now I'm not sure... I guess it depends on the day.

Madame Sirène, re the real life background to The V.I.Ps, Rattigan supposedly based his script on several such incidents between Olivier and Leigh (“as told to…” she and Rattigan were close chums).

This four-year-old piece in The Times partly answers your question.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Gavin Lambert, who was a close friend of Leigh's, concurs with that. She was brilliant, beautiful, glorious and thoroughly exhuasting.

X. Trapnel said...

Regarding that shrieking brass chord (I suppose we could speak of the Picnic chord as we do the Tristan chord), it is a quintessential 50s sound, a tonal correlative of Now It Can Be Told (the wondrous liner notes to the soundtrack tell us that "[Picnic] touches a secret part of almost every American's life." "Almost," mind you. That Josh Logan; such a finely calibrated sensibility.
Actually George Duning wrote some nice scores, From Here to Eternity, and Strangers When We Meet among others. He is rather underrated.

Yojimboen said...

I used to have a 78 of the Joe Venuti version of ‘Moonglow’ – an old girlfriend sat on it (I still don’t believe it was an accident) - the best idea Duning ever had was to merge Moonglow with his Picnic love theme – a major hit during my wasted youth.

(Credit where credit’s due, ‘Moonglow’ was written by Hudson, Mills & de Lange.)

An awkward film, Picnic, but maybe the best of the dread Josh Logan oeuvre. I liked everybody in it, not a common occurrence for me; but of course the “sexy” dance calls for some serious lip-biting – it’s seven kinds of awful. Not entirely their fault, gorgeous as Holden and Novak both were, they were after all, just white people.

X. Trapnel said...

Perhaps Picnic works (I think its terrifically entertaining) because the crass "sensitivity" of the play and the joyfully coarse blatancy of the director generate a kind of walloping energy. All the other Inge and Inge-type films, are at least for me, unwatchable and that goes quadruple for American Beauty their latest avatar.

Oh my, that dance is a cackle, esp. Holden's expression when Kim starts swaying her hips (in Ingeland the male is always helpless when confronted and trapped by female biology). John Ford, need it be said, did this much better in My Darling Clementine.

Tonio Kruger said...

"Not entirely their fault, gorgeous as Holden and Novak both were, they were after all, just white people."

As were Astaire and Rogers, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

There's no doubt a reason why that scene doesn't work for many modern movie watchers but I doubt the ethnic background of the actors has anything with it.

Tonio Kruger said...

Oops!

I meant:

"Not entirely their fault, gorgeous as Holden and Novak both were, they were after all, just white people."

As were Astaire and Rogers, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse.

There's no doubt a reason why that scene doesn't work for many modern movie watchers but I doubt the ethnic background of the actors has anything to do with it.

Yojimboen said...

Tonio - It's called 'irony'.

But thanks for calling me 'modern'.

(So is that.) ;-D

The Siren said...

I must admit to liking Fanny despite the elephantine direction--mostly for Cardiff's photography and the charm of some of the performers--but Picnic is definitely the best film of the dread Logan (as he shall henceforth be known chez Siren, merci Y.). I like XT's observation: "the crass "sensitivity" of the play and the joyfully coarse blatancy of the director generate a kind of walloping energy." Yes, just so.

This summer I saw the South Pacific revival at Lincoln Center and had it brought home quite forcefully just what a tragic hash the dread Logan made when translating his (no doubt brilliant) stage work to screen.

Tonio, I take your point, but at the same time I did know what Y. was saying. :)

Yojimboen said...

Merci mille fois, chère Madame, but even His Dreadfulness couldn’t screw up this up – for me high the point of a) the film and b) the scandalously underused Mitzi Gaynor’s career.

Trish said...

I love Mitzi! She's not near as precise or as dramatic as say, Cyd Charisse, but she radiates the joy of dance. Makes us think we can all be her. However, I don't care for South Pacific. I'll take Anything Goes any day! :D

X. Trapnel said...

I dunno, Y; it looks like another instance of the Dread One putting the actor in front of a live-action (badly yellowed or is that radioactive dust from Bikini Atoll? Vanwall?) postcard:

"Ok, Mitzi, look into the camera and sing."

(Camera moves in and back)

"That's good Mitzi; now dance."

(Camera moves in and back)

Vanwall said...

The Dread Logan was a static picture post card visualist, and a stage play, or stage musical, entities that had fixed locations in the physical world, were for him perfect film adaptations: little or no camera movement even if the scene in movie terms fairly shrieked in its death-throes for ANY anti-static visuals - and I don't mean a Kalatozov/Urusevsky-level swoop or stairclimb, ferchrisskes - any meaningful movement would be welcome. And 'specially when it's a musical, with what's that they do where they move around a lot? Oh, yeah: Dancin'!!

Arthur's link to the Sirk interview has nice lessons in the basic thinking of the man, and why Dread Logan was no Sirk. In Sirk films, the actors and the mechanics of moviemaking work in harmony, mostly; in Dread Logan's films they aren't really in sync - the actors have to escape his direction on their own to make the films good enough to remember. And "Picnic", for all its wasted potential as visual poetry, is certainly not remembered for any stunning visuals other than Kim Novak, and maybe Holden's bare chest, altho he was a bit long in the tooth for that part, IMHO.

Watching M. Yo's link without the sound is the key - it has no there, there - it's a manikin show, and any stick figure could walk the beach and wave in that clip. With the sound on, it's obvious who was transcending the material - Mitzi, by far. (I think it's burning bunker oil from the USS Indefensible, M. X!)

A lesson in filming a musical - I'd rather watch Emily Morris doing a Visa commercial:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmhP5LQ4q84

There may be more movie magic in that 60 seconds than all of Dread Logan's career.

X. Trapnel said...

Well done, V, but I think that shot of Holden and Novak embracing beside the moving train in implied long perspective is pretty striking. Maybe it happened by accident.

Holden, through no fault of his, is embarrasing here. Paul Newman might have brought it off but, really, the character is just too absurd.

The Siren said...

Picnic was shot by James Wong Howe and I do remember some beautiful shots--Kim going up the Lake as the Queen of Neewollah, and the final pull-back has a good emotional feel to it too.

Mitzi had charm and pizazz and the best figure in Hollywood once Ginger Rogers got older. I was sent a DVD of her TV specials a while back and I have been wanting to post about it. She was not a big acting talent but she wasn't bad either, and I will defend Les Girls, and her in it, to the death.

Yojimboen said...

The blur on the Mitzi image (it’s also done on ‘Some Enchanted Evening’) was Vaseline, pure and simple. If I remember right, South Pacific ads, posters, album covers etc., had a vaguely-defined circle as the leitmotif – so tinting, softening and rounding-off the Todd-AO frame’s corners was probably the logical choice (hey, it’s artistic and commercial!) by he who shall be shameless.

Leon Shamroy was Roger and Hammerstein’s and Fox’s musical cameraman of first choice – he also did The King and I; There's No Business Like Show Business; Daddy Long Legs; Call Me Madam and Porgy and Bess; but interestingly not Carousel - I’ll wager he passed on that one for the same reason Sinatra baulked: they shot the movie twice, once in 35mm and then in 55mm. I believe Mr. Sinatra’s exact words were (after Fox refused to double his fee):
“What’re you, f*ckin’ kiddin’ me??”

Trish said...

"Les Girls" has a grubby charm. At first you worry that Mitzi might disappear behind the personalities of the two other gals, but she holds her own, and looks equally high fashion.

BTW, how about those emmys for Mad Men last night? ;-D

Vanwall said...

I really do like "Picnic", don't get me wrong, and it has shots that are Howe's more than anything, but every time I watch it, I wish it had more there, there. Sweeping was a visual I miss on that film, there were lost chances galore for a more lush romantic look - Novak could be larger than life just standing still in that film, and one wonders what heart-stopping moments of beauty were lost in the translation.

Mitzi and Jane Powell are faves of mine, they moved well, and both had wonderful voices - they were made for Hollywood musicals. A sad coda, tho.

Tonio Kruger said...

Sorry, Siren. I suspect I got tone-deaf to the irony of jokes about white people dancing about the time that blog about "Stuff White People Like" got started. Or maybe I'm just being too literal today for my own good.

Mea culpa, Y.

Mea maxima culpa.

Yojimboen said...

Gaynor, Kelly, Cukor, Les Girls spoof The Wild One.

Jesus H. Shakespeare, what a bod!

DavidEhrenstein said...

HERE's th highpoint of Mitzi Gaynor's career

Needless to say it's a Jack Cole number.

Yojimboen said...

Never really cared for that particular Jack Cole piece – though I am a great fan, he didn't leave much room for Mitzi's amazing grace – here’s a more subtle number; choreographed, if memory serves, by Tom of Finland.

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

Do note that, at "2:48", it's *male* naughty bits that one is being advised not to touch.

This is, too, a product of the same Josh Logan, auteur of "Mr. Roberts," that John Ford looked at askance. Perhaps Ford was being more preceptive than we thought ...

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

That's "perceptive," of course -- 'cept 'mongst all those "Strangelove"-style preverts.

The Siren said...

David, I saw that whole movie last year on the strength of your posting that number; the rest of it didn't have the same surreal wacked-out genius but that number is the summit. I'm just not sure of WHAT.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

For me, Logan did partake in possibly the most colossal mistake of his career by refusing to cast Doris Day as Nellie because (according to his autobiography) she wouldn't sing at a party. Excuse me? By 1957 Day had firmly established herself on film and records as a major talent in the area of musical comedy. With Day as Nellie, Logan could have gained just about as perfect a fit of performer and role as could have been imagined. How could he miss on something this obvious? Logan also claims Elizabeth Taylor was his ideal Nellie- huh?

Although Gaynor claims she won the part because bigger names refused to test for it, I don't believe Day was ever even asked about playing the part. I do like Gaynor's vocals (especially on "A Cockeyed Optimist") and the arrangements are fantastic, but I agree Logan just had Gaynor stand there, and much of the time the expressiveness found in her singing doesn't translate to her delivery on camera. And then he threw in those God-awful tints, just to make sure the damage was complete (Logan does admit this was a mistake, at least). Can we have a South Pacific UNappreciation Day, Siren?

Guess I like cheesy 1950's romance- I always thought the dance scene in Picnic worked and was kind of hot, as Holden and Novak weren't necessary supposed to be great dancers- it was about the sex, baby.

Karen said...

Yikes, I go away for a week and I can barely keep up with the comment explosion!

About adding hipsters to Mad Men: yes I love Jack Lemmon in Bell, Book, and Candle, and Ernie Kovacs in anything, but don't you think those Hollywood hipsters were caricatures created by studios who were utterly clueless? How are they different than the hipsters in, say, Funny Face? Or even the hippies in Psych-Out? Mad Men has had its flirtation with that hipster culture and, in some ways, presented them as caricatures as well--the Bohemian mistress' hipster friends who find Don Draper so risible, and the bearded wannabe hipster at the ad agency.

For those who gave up on the show after the first season: I understand. I was on board at Newcritics.com, ragging on episode after episode. But, for whatever reason, I did keep watching, and the show became far more interesting in the second season, and has only gotten more so in the third. As for its grimness--yes, it was pretty unrelenting in the beginning, and i think it was just trying to find its voice. But I would be hard-pressed to call it grim now. Its humor is sometimes, if anything, too broad (especially in this past Sunday's episode).

I'm not trying to change anyone's mind, of course: y'all are perfectly welcome to hate on the show! But I believe it's a show that took its sweet time to establish characters in order to create payoffs down the road. The actors, in this third season, can be achingly subtle in their reactions, because the viewers' familiarity with them fills in a lot of blanks. David Simon, creator of the indisputably brilliant show The Wire observed once that he wanted his show to be like a novel: you don't know the entire story by reading the first chapter. I would add that an author may keep you reading on style alone, rather than plot (I think this is a way that the TV show vs movie argument is valid--as is the novel vs movie argument). Mad Men has worked that way for me--I was intrigued by its production values (although I did think it got some things wrong, and tried too hard to get other things right), and eventually hooked by the turns of the plot and by the performances.

X. Trapnel said...

One thing that makes the dance scene in Picnic, uh, problematic for me is the unconvincing dramatic pile-up at the end (yes, I know its supposed to be the unleashing of all those pent up emotions). I mean, why can't Holden just be a good guy and dance with Roz? What's with all the noli me tangere purity? Is she going to drain his essence? An Inge thing , one supposes. The problem is he most likely thought himself a realist, while T. Williams wisely chose to forgo realism and build his own imaginative world in which he fails or succeeds on his own terms.

Another thing I like about Picnic is the way it captures the melancholy of the end of summer.

I really never gave much thought to Mitzi Gaynor until now. I concur with J. Herbert Shakespeare.

DavidEhrenstein said...

If you've never given much thought to Mitzi Gaynor put Breakfast on Pluto on you Netflix list.

A character named Beech Dickerson was in that Tom of Finland number.
Off screen he was a male "Madam" of some small repute.

Dance with Roz Russell in Picnic ? When she's in such a state of Total Hysteria?


I always liked Holden in the part because he's much too old to be the stappign young man he thinks he is. This is his last chance to fake it -- and he wins the prize.

The last thing on the movie -- an amazing helicoter shot -- was one the happiest accidents ever. Holden has taken off by train. Kim has hopped a bus to follow him. Howe wanted to shoot the bus as it took off across the landscape with the Geirge Duning score swellign like all get-out. When he got the rushes back from the lab he saw that to the right you can see a train. Therefore the shot shows that out lovers WILL be reunited. The result? A deleriously happy ending of incredible visual beauty.

Yojimboen said...

<“Holden demanded stunt pay for doing the dance. Cohn wrote him a check for $8,000, but the actor still needed a few belts in him to face the scene.”[…]

“Logan's frustrations with her [Novak] mounted throughout filming. At one point, he reportedly punched her in the stomach to get her to show some emotion on screen.”


Some nice background on Picnic from TCM.

Yojimboen said...

“Holden demanded stunt pay for doing the dance. Cohn wrote him a check for $8,000, but the actor still needed a few belts in him to face the scene.”[…]

“Logan's frustrations with her [Novak] mounted throughout filming. At one point, he reportedly punched her in the stomach to get her to show some emotion on screen.”


Some nice background on Picnic from TCM.

DavidEhrenstein said...

"You used to dance like that, Flo."

X. Trapnel said...

David, thanks for sparing us the follow up--and that awful brass chord. I'll bet that shot from Susan Slade (whose facial expression doesn't usually accompany that gesture) had the same shrieking trumpets.

X. Trapnel said...

And Susan Strasberg is way too pretty; this is a Julie Harris/Colin Wilcox role.

Yojimboen said...

Segueing from Kim to Connie (proto-mulleted) Stevens:

Here you go, X, more Susan Slade than you can handle. A synopsis even better than the movie; plus a trailer to die for.

X. Trapnel said...

A vague feeling of uncertainy has been troubling me these past few days. I stop what I'm doing, stare, and ponder, unable to articulate a sense that the world is out of joint. Now, thanks to Y I know what it is: Who the hell is Connie Stevens? She's not Connie Francis. She's not Stella Stevens. Who IS she?

X. Trapnel said...

Re Susan S synopsis: The Woman Who God Forgot, great title for an Ann Savage picture.

Yojimboen said...

Or Doc Savage.
Or Ann Revere.
Or Ann Doran.

X. Trapnel said...

Or Mildred Savage (author of Parrish)

MrsHenryWindleVale said...

As for the clip from "Picnic" ... I love the way that Novak looks as she claps and descends the stairs toward Holden. Perhaps the "false Maria," in "Metropolis," would've looked like this if she came from mid-century Kansas. Possessed, distant, unreadable, a bit lewd ...

Juanita's Journal said...

No "WRITTEN ON THE WIND"?

Gordon said...

Geez this is a fun thread... I keep coming back to it to see what else there is...

I saw the revival of South Pacific last September. I never liked the movie. Thought the cinematography was strange (all those color changes) and just wasn't moved by it despite the fact that Mitzi Gaynor is so beautiful and sweet. But seeing the play, I was incredibly moved. I really loved it and you can't really let that movie speak for the project.

And I have to go back to Picnic once again. I'm glad someone posted the "stunt pay" story about the dance, but I'd like to address why the Holden character wasn't a "good guy" about dancing with Roz. Roz wasn't pleasantly buzzed, she was out of her mind drunk -- nothing Holden did would have satisfied her. She was desperate to have fun and you can never have fun in that totally whacked out condition. Holden's character is completely taken aback by this behavior as any one would be naturally. Without that scene, Roz's desperation in pleading with Howard to marry her later on would never have worked.

Yojimboen said...

Full circle: In an earlier post I slagged Mad Men; not having seen much of it, I said I wasn’t that impressed.

Well, colour me stupid. I sat through my first full episode tonight, and I have to say it’s pretty damn good. I’m still not sure what it’s trying to say, but whatever that may be, it’s saying it with elegance and style.

Yojimboen said...

A little terpsichorean competition per Mrs HWV’s request:
Novak or Helm?

Edward said...

Hey Siren: I'm late to the party as usual, it seems, and things seem to be all about South Pacific now... but just have to mention a couple of key melos you missed:

There's Always Tomorrow. A late reunion for Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck under Sirk's direction. They're both very touching as they try to rekindle their youthful romance but are doomed by the plastic, conformist strictures of the late 50s, as embodied by his loathsome teenaged kids and ever-cheerful wife. Great stuff.

No Down Payment. James Wolcott turned me on to this amazing look at suburban angst; I can't write about it half as well as he can, so here's a link:

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/wolcott/2006/03/partial_down_pa.html

p.s. I also saw South Pacific at Lincoln Center and it made the movie (which I'm fond of) look like a waxworks. Everyone blames Logan, but I'd vote for Richard Rodgers, who was a major control freak...

Trish said...

No Down Payment is a lost classic if you ask me. I don't know why it isn't known more. Anyone who doesn't know Tony Randall is an accomplished dramatic actor should watch him deliver his character's climactic get-rich-quick scheme. As a suburbanite who has lost all reason, he is terrifying. There is also Sheree North and her loaded words "I stopped dreaming the day David was born." And who could forget the punishment rape of Patricia Owens? It's all downright fascinating... I've owned the poster for 15 years.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Who is Connie Stevens? Well here are her credits. I like her work early on, especially Tashlin's remake of The Miracle of Morgan's Creek -- Rock-A-Bye Baby. She went on to do a lot of television, marry Eddie Fisher (on the rebound from Elizabeth Taylor) and give birth to Joley Fisher (who's a not bad comic actress.)

While still working Connie's career isn't what it was (Torchy killed it, IMO)-- though her ego is still intact. Legendary in West Hollywood lore is the night when at a (now definct) night spot where she wasn't getting the attention she felt she deserved she cried out "Don't you know who I am? I'M CONNIE FUCKING STEVENS !!!!!"

X. Trapnel said...

Thanks for the enlightenment David. I realized that as I perused the Siren's original post several times I took the name "Connie Stevens" in stride ("oh yeah, Connie Stevens, of course") because it's the Platonically perfect name for a bland starlet of the era. After a bit, I realized I hadn't the faintest idea of who she was.

There's Always Tomorrow is likewise the perfect title for a movie in a movie about movies; i.e., it doesn't quite have the pwetry (not a typo) of All This and Heaven Too or All That Heaven Allows, or And Now Tomorrow. Kinda flat. Actually I'd like to see it since it's the only Sirk film with actors I like.

The Rush Blog said...

Despite the stratospheric sex appeal of Jon Hamm, January Jones and Christina Hendricks, the show is just so goddamned dour.


Really? "MAD MEN" seems no more dour than some of the movies you had listed. I guess that's why I like the show in the first place. Because they reminded me of movies like "FROM THE TERRACE" and "PEYTON PLACE". Besides, there is a great deal of sly humor in "MAD MEN" (especially from John Slattery's character) that can take you off guard.

Yojimboen said...

No Down Payment? Aah, finally! (pardon me while I get snotty) I’ve been wondering for years when you ‘Murkins would wake up to this masterpiece. It was huge in the UK, not least because it was targeted by more than one right-wing politician – brandished as the perfect negative example – the opposite of decent Christian behaviour!
“Do we want British society to look like these Yanks? With their living on credit, money-grubbing built-in obsolescence? And wife-swapping?!”
(Not that there was any wife-swapping in the movie but why stop there?) Needless to say these moronic rants drove people into the cinemas… and me into a pre-teen crush on Patricia Owens (she went from NDP to Sayonara, in which she dumps Brando for a Japanese transvestite played by a Mexican; the whole affair directed by that man again).

It may be the best film of all the participants (always excepting Cameron Mitchell, whose existence as an actor I have never understood) – Pat Hingle in particular; the gorgeous Sheree North and the exquisite Barbara Rush were never better, and Tony Randall proved once and for all time he was nobody’s second banana.

Karen said...

Well, colour me stupid. I sat through my first full episode tonight, and I have to say it’s pretty damn good. I’m still not sure what it’s trying to say, but whatever that may be, it’s saying it with elegance and style.

Yojimboen, for that you get a big sloppy kiss from me.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Cameron Mitchell is who you go to when Victor Mature's asking price is too high.

His primary cinematic distinction is his performance in the very first giallo -- Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace

DavidEhrenstein said...

He's also not bad in Sam Fuller's teriffic House of Bamboo

Yojimboen said...

Dear me, Ms Karen (gasp, blush, vapors) if the price of your kiss is a little self-effacement or admission of past mistakes, I’m makin’ a list.

Edward said...

Yojimboen (can I call you Yo?), thanks for the shout-out for Pat Hingle. He was great in NDP... he nailed a certain breed of aging jock you always run into at neighborhood barbecues, back to school nights, etc. And Randall, wow. He never gave a more searing performance, the self-loathing coming off him in terrifying waves.

For me, Strangers When We Meet is still the best of all these movies. I grew up in L.A. in the early 60s, and when I first watched it in the 90s, I was in a similar situation as Kirk Douglas, so the intersection of my parents' past and my present was pretty mind blowing. As was every close-up of Kim Novak.

Later I read Douglas' autobiography, and he "blamed" the ending on Novak, saying she wanted "to flip up her collar and ride into the sunset." The book ends with the clear implication that after Larry's death, Maggie will fall prey to the Walter Matthau character. Whether Douglas or Novak or both changed it, the bittersweet ending of the movie is a vast improvement on Evan Hunter.

Trish said...

Yojimboen, if the Mad Men ep to which you refer is the latest episode, then what you saw was worthy of the finest 50s and 60s melodramas. I was speechless.

DavidEhrenstein said...

Pat Hingle was at his best in The Grifters

Yojimboen said...

You're right Mr E., House of Bamboo is terrific, and strangely neglected. I’ve always thought it one of Fuller’s best, though Underworld USA is still my favorite. In Bamboo he managed to pull decent performances from Cameron Mitchell (it was his turn to play Fuller’s ubiquitous character named ‘Grif’) and even Bob Stack. R. Ryan was superb, but when was he not? Shirley Yamaguchi was an eye-opener; showed a great pair of gams as I remember. Didn’t she later go into politics or something?

I suspect Mitchell – the Fox contract player – was inserted by D. Zanuck as part of the casual financing deal he had with Fuller, just as he had inserted his girlfriend Bella Darvi in Fuller’s Hell and High Water the year before.
“Sure, Sam, I’ll produce it, but I have this girl…”
“No, problem, Darryl, send her over.”

DavidEhrenstein said...

What's interesting too is that House of Bamboo is a remake of Street With No Name -- whicb isn't set in Japan at all.

hk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hk said...

Oh, I'm so glad that Love with the Proper Stranger made this list! I recently watched it again, and Steve McQueen melts me every time. I also think that this film also highlights the dangers of smoking, as well. There are a couple of scenes that explicitly highlight this issue.

Anyhow, I agree with you on watching some of these films over Mad Men. AND, if I were to watch a contemporary late '50s/early '60s film dealing with the same issues that Mad Men does, I would go with Revolutionary Road all the way. That film was amazing.

Wow, I just fell in love with your blog; I can't believe I came across it just now!

Yojimboen said...

Edward – re your ““Later I read Douglas' autobiography, and he "blamed" the ending on Novak, saying she wanted "to flip up her collar and ride into the sunset." The book ends with the clear implication that after Larry's death, Maggie will fall prey to the Walter Matthau character. Whether Douglas or Novak or both changed it, the bittersweet ending of the movie is a vast improvement on Evan Hunter.”

I refer you to my first post in the thread; in my conversation with Hunter – like a naïve student interviewer, I pushed for more. Hunter was quite clear, he said in so many words: “Kirk Douglas doesn’t die.” I further asked if Richard Quine was part of that decision (I didn’t know at the time about the Novak/Quine romance); Hunter shook his head dismissively, ‘as if’ a director had the last word this producer. Make no mistake, this was a “Bryna Production” - Douglas’s company.

Bear in mind my conversation with Hunter took place more than 20 years after Strangers release; he had no reason to be guarded or less than candid. (Ask yourself with a grin, whom do you believe, the producer or the writer?)

I don’t know that I agree the new ending was a ‘vast improvement’; let’s just say it was probably the sensible, practicable course. To attempt a first-person (voice-over) narrative, ending it mid-sentence with the protagonist’s fiery death, may just have been too challenging to write, and way too radical a finish for a major motion picture of that period.

Edward said...

As bad luck would have it my copy of the book is packed up in the garage (painters are coming) so I can't verify this... but I think the next-to-last chapter ends in mid sentence as Larry's car goes off a cliff in the rain, taking his inner monologue with it. Then there's a final chapter briefly covering the loose ends. Maggie runs into Felix, who uses his well-worn line on her and we're clearly meant to understand that this will be the first of a series of meaningless one-night stands for her. It's pretty grim.

I'm sure Hunter felt that Douglas was too egotistical to die (hey, didn't he see Spartacus?), but I think he was wrong artistically, not literally. Larry's death in the book is a lazy (or limited) writer's cop-out. What happens in the movie is very real: Larry realizes the pain he's causing, and stops it. The final scene at the empty house, where the two lovers will never live, is pretty perfect. Here's a case where the right choice commercially is also the right choice dramatically.

So, yeah, Douglas improved the overall ending, and I suspect that Novak was responsible for the great final moment, when we see on her face that men are going to keep coming on to her, and whatever happens it won't mean anything. Throughout the movie, she (and probably Quine) continually soften and improve on the book's ugly, unconsciously sexist portrait of Maggie. It's a faithful adaptation, but every scene is a clever finesse of a moment that Hunter hits with a hammer. He was, after all, a hack who mostly wrote crime novels.

p.s. despite the fact that Douglas and Novak squabbled during the making of the movie, Robert Osborne talked about having dinner with them both 30 years later, and how affectionate they were with each other. A happy ending after all.

The Siren said...

All right all right all right already. I will give Mad Men another chance.

**grumbles**

AND I have never seen No Down Payment.

**more grumbles**

Yojimboen said...

Your memory serves you well, Edward; there is a brief post-death denouement in the book, which basically sets Maggie up for Felix’s kill.

But perhaps I haven’t expressed myself clearly enough: Hunter’s “Kirk Douglas doesn’t die” should be read in exactly the same tone of voice as Robert Duvall’s “Charlie don’t surf!” Hunter wasn’t expressing an opinion, he was recounting the command handed down by the actor/producer to the writer.

The reality is that he was neither wrong artistically nor literally – the choice of ending was simply not his to make. (It never is. In the history of major studio movie-making, maybe half a dozen writers – Paddy Chayevsky; Woody Allen et al – have had absolute script control; Evan Hunter wasn’t one of them.) The question of whether the film would have been made better or worse by the death of the protagonist is ultimately moot – the original climax is now and forever the road not taken.

I rejoice that we share an appreciation of this great movie, but I don’t share your opinion of the value of Hunter’s work. I respectfully submit the man who wrote Blackboard Jungle, The Birds, The Young Savages, Buddwing, Last Summer & the book and screenplay for Strangers When We Meet (not to mention his creation of the 87th Precinct franchise - which begat a thousand other police procedural TV Series) deserves better than the appellation ‘hack’.

Trish said...

Having nothing useful to contribute the discussion of the dreaded Logan, I have to agree with Vanwall that Holden is a bit long in the tooth. Ralph Meeker originally played the role on broadway, with Paul Newman as understudy. Though it's an obvious choice for Newman, I can definitely see Mike Hammer in Picnic...

David Stafford said...

Call me a philistine or just dumb but I think the dance sequence in Picnic is one of the sexiest moments in cinema...as someone else pointed out it's not about great dance moves, it's about the attraction of two people...and long in the tooth? He's supposed to be past his prime. That's part of the poignancy of the moment....his last chance....I defer to others here in matters of Logan's cinematic ineptitude but, for me, the chemistry works...it's a transcendent moment. Re: O'Hara and Mad Men...blogspot cut my url short but I was referring to his poem "Steps" which is about as joyous a paean to NYC and being in love as you can find. And maybe I'm wrong to fault Weiner for excluding that sensibility from MM. Clearly, it's not what he's after but it's not a bad idea to write a different show around that history. Of course, TV being what it is, it would probably irritate more than MM in its reductive cartoonishness. "and David Spade as Joe Brainerd." Like the Siren, though, I'm feeling I owe MM another look after the eloquent defenses.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Or maybe Newman wasn't such an obvious choice. During a TV interview (I think it was with Barbara Walters) he gave jointly with Joanne Woodward, in a bemused, "Oh, what fools these mortals be" tone Newman stated he wasn't considered for the lead in Picnic because the director felt he didn't have strong enough sex appeal. After a pause, Joanne knocked him down a few skyscrapers with, "But you didn't, not then."

I think Holden's just fine, and that 36 or 37 isn't too old for the part, not when you have the virility and hunky physique of Holden, circa 1955. And I love the way he puts over the story of the two girls who picked him up hitchhiking.

Vanwall said...

As for Newman as Hal, in Picnic, he was groomed for that part in the stage version after playing Alan, the jilted boyfriend, so I think he could've carried it off. He would've been about the right age for a dissolute just-older-than college boy/man.

I'm not particularly down on Mad men per se, it's just not my cup of bitter tea. I appreciate the look of it, it's already having an effect on style, I think, but not enough hats are worn, IMHO - I guess it detracts from the actors as models, as opposed to actual acting, but that's one factor they haven't looked at carefully - JFK just about killed the Haberdashery industry, but it wasn't that lightnin' fast.

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