Humphrey Bogart as Roy Earle in High Sierra (1941)
Humphrey Bogart as Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, professional armed robber on parole
Sierra Nevada Mountains, California, Spring 1940
Film: High Sierra Release Date: January 21, 1941 Director: Raoul Walsh Wardrobe Credit: Leah Rhodes
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Tomorrow marks the 80th anniversary of the release of High Sierra, arguably the movie that launched Humphrey Bogart from a Warner Bros. background player in the ’30s to superstardom in the ’40s. A violent criminal with an earnest streak, Roy Earle was the ideal role for Bogie to transition from the secondary sniveling bastard in movies like The Petrified Forest and The Roaring Twenties to the tilted-hat heroes we love in The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, and more.
Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in The Awful Truth (1937)
Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner, witty divorcee
New York, Fall 1937
Film:The Awful Truth Release Date: October 21, 1937 Director: Leo McCarey Costume Designer: Robert Kalloch
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Archibald Leach was born 117 years ago today on January 18, 1904. Though he’d established his now-iconic stage name just before his film debut in This is the Night (1932), I consider Leo McCarey’s 1937 screwball comedy The Awful Truth to be the symbolic start of Cary Grant’s screen persona as a stylish yet self-deprecating gentleman with a remarkable penchant for physical comedy as well as wit. Continue reading →
Chadwick Boseman in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020). Photo by David Lee/Netflix.
Chadwick Boseman as Levee Green, ambitious blues cornetist
Chicago, Summer 1927
Film: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Release Date: November 25, 2020 Director: George C. Wolfe Costume Designer: Ann Roth
The late Chadwick Boseman was being named as an Oscar contender for his performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, based on the August Wilson play of the same name, even before it came out. We’re still two months away from the Academy Award nominations being announced, but Boseman has already received posthumous Best Actor wins from the Chicago Film Critics Association, Alliance of Women Film Journalists, and Music City Film Critics’ Association for what turned out to be his final screen role.
The praise is well-deserved as the actor delivered a powerhouse performance as the hotheaded horn-blower Levee Green, an ambitious (and fictional) member of a four-piece band backing Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), the Mother of the Blues herself. The North Side neighborhood in my hometown of Pittsburgh was transformed to resemble roaring ’20s Chicago when production came to the Steel City two summers ago; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the only one of the ten plays in the Hill District-born Wilson’s “Century Cycle” not actually set in Pittsburgh.
Chadwick Boseman had been diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, never speaking publicly about his illness all the while delivering some of his most iconic performances in Marshall, Black Panther, and the two Avengers films to follow. Indeed, Boseman’s vigorous performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom belies his health at the time, and his fellow cast members remained unaware of his ongoing treatment for the cancer that would progress to stage IV before it ended his life at the age of 42 on August 28, 2020. Continue reading →
Spencer Tracy as John J. Macreedy, one-armed war veteran
Black Rock, California, Fall 1945
Film:Bad Day at Black Rock Release Date: January 7, 1955 Director: John Sturges
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Bad Day at Black Rock may have been one of the most requested movies I’ve been asked to write about, so when I saw that the Criterion Channel had added it to their streaming collection in December, I wasted no time in finally watching this swift and spectacular thriller that had been recommended by so many of you.
Based on Howard Breslin’s short story “Bad Time at Honda”, the account begins in the sprawling desert of eastern California, specifically the isolated berg of Black Rock, where no train has stopped in four years—the duration of American participation in World War II—until this particular day in late 1945, when the one-armed John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) requests a stop.
Conductor: Man, they look woebegone and far away. Macreedy: Oh, I’ll only be here 24 hours. Conductor: In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.
Rod Taylor as Bruce Templeton in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)
Rod Taylor as Bruce Templeton, charismatic aerospace lab chief
Long Beach, California, Spring 1966
Film:The Glass Bottom Boat Release Date: June 9, 1966 Director: Frank Tashlin Costume Designer: Ray Aghayan (credited with Doris Day’s costumes only)
In honor of Aussie actor Rod Taylor’s birthday on January 11, 1930, today’s post explores the first movie of his that I’d seen. The Glass Bottom Boat reteamed Taylor with Doris Day after their collaboration the previous year in Do Not Disturb, this time in a Cold War-era romantic comedy where Doris’ PR flack is suspected of being a spy sent by Mother Russia to seduce scientific secrets out of Bruce Templeton, the debonair head of a NASA research facility.
Frank Sinatra as Dan Edwards, workaholic advertising executive
Los Angeles, Fall 1965
Film:Marriage on the Rocks Release Date: September 24, 1965 Director: Jack Donohue Costume Designer: Walter Plunkett
Kick back on this chilly #SinatraSaturday with the mid-century comedy that reunited Rat Pack pallies Frank and Dean, the duo’s final on-screen collaboration until Cannonball Run II, twenty years later.
Marriage on the Rocks stars FS as Dan Edwards, a buttoned-up businessman who—thanks to madcap circumstances—ends up swapping lifestyles with his swingin’ pal Ernie… played by who else but Dean Martin? Continue reading →
Nicolas Cage as Rick Santoro, flashy homicide detective and compulsive gambler
Atlantic City, September 1998
Film:Snake Eyes Release Date: August 7, 1998 Director: Brian De Palma Costume Designer: Odette Gadoury
Folks, today is Nicolas Cage’s birthday so we’re going to celebrate in style by taking a look at the film that won Cage the esteemed Blockbuster Entertainment Award in the category of Favorite Actor (Suspense).
Has anyone been asking to read about the threads Nic Cage wore in the 1998 box office bomb Snake Eyes? No. Is that going to stop me after the absolutely insane year that we’ve just had? Also no.
Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore in Apocalypse Now (1979)
Robert Duvall as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore, U.S. Army Air Cavalry commander and surf fanatic
Vietnam, Summer 1969
Film:Apocalypse Now Release Date: August 15, 1979 Director: Francis Ford Coppola Costume Supervisor: Charles E. James Costumers: Luster Bayless, Norman A. Burza, Dennis Fill, and George L. Little
Happy 90th birthday, Robert Duvall! Today’s post looks at one of the most recognizable roles from the actor’s prolific career, his Academy Award-nominated performance as the gung-ho surf enthusiast Colonel Kilgore in Coppola’s war epic Apocalypse Now.
Loosely based on Joseph Conrad’s you-probably-had-to-read-it-in-high-school novella Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now needs little introduction, nor does Kilgore’s famous monologue celebrating the aromas of incendiary devices after commanding his 9th Cavalry squadron to attack a VC-held village to the tune of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”.
William Powell and Myrna Loy in After the Thin Man (1936)… with Skippy as Asta
William Powell as Nick Charles, retired private detective
San Francisco, New Year’s Eve 1936
Film:After the Thin Man Release Date: December 25, 1936 Director: W.S. Van Dyke Wardrobe Credit: Dolly Tree
Happy New Year! Dashiell Hammett and “One-Take Woody” Van Dyke continued the runaway success of The Thin Man by reuniting William Powell and Myrna Loy as crime-solving power couple Nick and Nora Charles, coming home to San Francisco after solving the famous “Thin Man” case during their holiday in New York. The three-day train ride returns Nick and Nora to the City by the Bay just in time for New Year’s Eve, where they find their home commandeered by revelers that have already kicked off their celebrations.
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott in The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
Gene Hackman as Reverend Frank Scott, fiery, independent-minded minister
aboard the S.S. Poseidon en route Athens, New Year’s Eve 1972
Film:The Poseidon Adventure Release Date: December 12, 1972 Director: Ronald Neame Costume Designer: Paul Zastupnevich
Happy New Year’s Eve… and #TurtleneckThursday? After this disaster of a year, I can’t think of a better movie to bid good riddance to 2020 than one of the most famous disaster movies of the ’70s.
Produced by “Master of Disaster” Irwin Allen, The Poseidon Adventure followed the Airport template of a star-studded cast fighting to survive a perilous disaster while tackling their own personal issues. While Airport had originated the disaster film boom of the ’70s, The Poseidon Adventure proved its enduring box office power, recouping more than 25 times its initial budget and paving the way for a decade’s worth of similar stories set amidst tropical storms, within fire-prone skyscrapers, and even aboard a famous airship.
Unlike the ill-fated Titanic which sank during its maiden voyage in 1912, the fictional S.S. Poseidon—partially filmed aboard the decommissioned Cunard liner RMS Queen Mary—is making one last run before it will be scrapped in Athens. The cautious Captain Harrison (Leslie Nielsen) finds his authority challenged by the ship’s aggressive owner Linarcos (Fred Sadoff), establishing the dangers of hubris that would remain a consistent theme throughout the disaster sub-genre.
Down in the ship’s elegant dining room, the Poseidon‘s glamorous passengers are celebrating New Year’s Eve amidst their own personal dramas or crises of faith. Seated at the captain’s table are New York detective Mike Rogo (Ernest Borgnine), his ex-prostitute wife Linda (Stella Stevens), and Reverend Frank Scott (Gene Hackman), a controversial cleric yet popular passenger who had captivated a congregation earlier that day with his religious philosophy said to be based on director Ronald Neame’s own hybrid of Christian, Buddhist, and New Age spiritualist beliefs.
While the champagne pops and auld acquaintances be forgot, the crew learns of a massive undersea earthquake that results in a rare wave that strikes the ship broadside, capsizing the S.S. Poseidon and quite literally turning the lives of its passengers upside down.