Tagged: The Desert

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky (2017)

Harry Dean Stanton in Lucky (2017)

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Harry Dean Stanton as “Lucky”, grizzled desert-dwelling nonagenarian

Piru, California, Summer 2016

Film: Lucky
Release Date: March 11, 2017
Director: John Carroll Lynch
Costume Designer: Lisa Norcia

Background

Today’s post celebrates the great Harry Dean Stanton, the craggy and unapologetically authentic character actor born 95 years ago on July 14, 1926. Stanton’s prolific filmography included few leading roles, aside from a memorable turn in Wim Wenders’ 1984 masterpiece Paris, Texas, and his final movie, Lucky.

Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja collaborated on the screenplay that would result in a cinematic love letter to Harry Dean Stanton, for whom Sparks had served as personal assistant for more than 16 years. Described by Movie Talk as “a poignant meditation on mortality”, Lucky provides a fitting swan song for the actor’s career, incorporating biographical details like Stanton’s Kentucky birthplace and service in the U.S. Navy, reuniting him with previous collaborators like David Lynch and Tom Skeritt, and even scored by harmonica riffs on “Red River Valley”, a song associated with his roles in Dillinger (1973) and Twin Peaks: The Return (2017), not to exclude the overall motif of roaming the southwestern desert that echoes his starring role in Paris, Texas.

The man at the heart of it all is “Lucky”, a cantankerous but not unkind 90-year-old who loves cigarettes, crossword puzzles, and coffee with plenty of cream and sugar. A man of routine, Lucky begins each day with a Natural American Spirit cigarette, his calisthenics (“five yoga exercises every day, 21 repetitions each”), and a glass of cold milk, before he slips into one of his identical shirts, jackets, and jeans to greet another day in the small desert town of Piru, California.

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Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid

Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

Dean Martin in Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)

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Dean Martin as Dino, smooth crooner with a passion for booze, golf, and women

Between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Fall 1964

Film: Kiss Me, Stupid
Release Date: December 22, 1964
Director: Billy Wilder
Wardrobe Credit: Irene Caine & Wesley Jeffries
Tailor: Sy Devore

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

To celebrate the legendary Dean Martin, born on this day in 1917 in Steubenville, Ohio, today’s post explores when the chsaismatic Italian-American entertainer played… himself! Continue reading

Death on the Nile: Peter Ustinov’s Dinner Suit as Poirot

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

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Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, eccentric Belgian detective

Egypt, September 1937

Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell

Background

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Peter Ustinov, the brilliant dramatist and diplomat who—among his many achievements—played Agatha Christie’s celebrated sleuth Hercule Poirot in a half-dozen productions.

Fluent in multiple languages, Ustinov was easily able to glide between the English and French required to play the fussy Belgian detective and was able to provide his own voice in the French and German versions of his movies, including several of the Poirot productions.

Death on the Nile was the first—and often considered the strongest—of Ustinov’s six films as Poirot. Continue reading

Vanishing Point: Cleavon Little as Super Soul

Cleavon Little as "Super Soul" in Vanishing Point (1971)

Cleavon Little as “Super Soul” in Vanishing Point (1971)

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Cleavon Little as Super Soul, blind radio DJ

Nevada Desert, Summer 1971

Film: Vanishing Point
Release Date: March 13, 1971
Director: Richard C. Sarafian
Wardrobe Master: Ed Wynigear

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Before he blazed into Rock Ridge as the controversial new sheriff, Cleavon Little was already shaking up the desert as Super Soul, the almost mystic blind radio DJ who guides our laconic hero in in his white Dodge Challenger through the blue highways of the west in Vanishing Point, released 50 years ago today on March 13, 1971.

The Oklahoma-born Little was already a stage star at the time he walked Super Soul’s dog to the KOW radio booth in Goldfield, Nevada, having won a Tony Award in Ossie Davis’ Purlie just one year after making his Broadway debut. Vanishing Point was only his third credited screen role, his charismatic energy a contrast to Barry Newman’s taciturn Kowalski, whom Super Soul dubs “the last American hero.” Continue reading

Humphrey Bogart in The Petrified Forest

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936)

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936)

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Humphrey Bogart as “Duke” Mantee, violent desperado and “the last great apostle of rugged individualism”

Black Mesa, Arizona, January 1936

Film: The Petrified Forest
Release Date: February 6, 1936
Director: Archie Mayo
Costume Designer: Orry-Kelly (uncredited)

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

This is Duke Mantee, the world-famous killer, and he’s hungry…

Indeed, Humphrey Bogart was hungry. The 36-year-old actor had spent more than a dozen years honing his craft on the stage and had spent the last five going nowhere as a $750-a-week bit player for the Fox Film Corporation.

It wasn’t until a decade after his debut that Hollywood would start opening the front door for the New York-born actor, starring in Raoul Walsh’s crime flick High Sierra as a tough bank robber clearly modeled after real-life outlaw John Dillinger. It’s only fitting that this character be Bogie’s shot at the big time that he should have earned years earlier as yet another Dillinger surrogate, Duke Mantee.

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Clark Gable in The Misfits

Clark Gable as Gay Langland in The Misfits (1961)

Clark Gable as Gay Langland in The Misfits (1961)

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Clark Gable as Gay Langland, aging cowboy

Nevada desert, Summer 1960

Film: The Misfits
Release Date: February 1, 1961
Director: John Huston

Background

The Misfits was released sixty years ago today on what would have been star Clark Gable’s 60th birthday. As the actor died three months earlier in November 1960 (just days after filming wrapped), audiences strolling into the theater were already aware that it had been the screen icon’s swan song but were tragically unaware that it would be the last for Marilyn Monroe, who died in 1962 before she could complete production in Something’s Gotta Give.

As it turned out, none of the film’s leading trio would survive the decade as third-billed Montgomery Clift died at the age of 45 in July 1966.

Though not warmly received at the time of its release, The Misfits‘ reputation has benefited from contemporary reconsideration over the years as critics have come to appreciate this somewhat offbeat take on a group of lovable losers and no-account boozers, to pinch a phrase from Billy Joe Shaver. Continue reading

Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock

Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

Spencer Tracy in Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)

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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!

Background

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.

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Death on the Nile: Peter Ustinov’s Tropical Norfolk Suit as Poirot

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot in Death on the Nile (1978)

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Peter Ustinov as Hercule Poirot, eccentric Belgian detective

Egypt, September 1937

Film: Death on the Nile
Release Date: September 29, 1978
Director: John Guillermin
Costume Designer: Anthony Powell

Background

In his adaptation of perhaps the best-known Hercule Poirot mystery from Agatha Christie’s prolific canon, Kenneth Branagh all but confirmed at the end of Murder on the Orient Express that his follow-up film would find the fussy Belgian detective solving a murder “right on the bloody Nile!”

Indeed, just weeks after Murder on the Orient Express was released in November 2017, it was officially announced that Death on the Nile would be entering production as the third major adaptation of Christie’s 1937 novel. Even after the intended December 2019 release was postponed to October 9, 2020, Death on the Nile joined the ranks of films like The Many Saints of NewarkNo Time to Die, and Tenet whose release dates were delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. The October date was optimistically shifted forward two weeks to October 23 (today!) before the perhaps more realistic release date of December 18 was announced.

Of course, Christie fans looking to get their Nile fix have long had a very watchable solution available with the 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile, the first of six films to star two-time Academy Award winner Peter Ustinov as the detail-oriented detective.

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Palm Springs: Andy Samberg’s All-Day Aloha Shirt

Andy Samberg as Nyles in Palm Springs (2020)

Andy Samberg as Nyles in Palm Springs (2020)

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Andy Samberg as Nyles, aka “Misty’s boyfriend”, time-looped slacker focused only on “the next bite”

Palm Springs, California, November 2019

Film: Palm Springs
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Director: Max Barbakow
Costume Designer: Colin Wilkes

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

This is today, today is yesterday, and tomorrow is also today… it’s one of those infinite time loop situations you might’ve heard about.

Shorthand descriptions of Palm Springs have summed up the movie as “Groundhog Day for millennials,” though I was pleasantly surprised by the poignancy and philosophical complexity of this incredibly entertaining movie… particularly in the context of the much-publicized fact that the Lonely Island tacked on a nice 69 cents to the record-setting $17.5 million sale price to Neon and Hulu after its premiere at Sundance in January 2020.

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Raoul Duke’s Terrycloth Acapulco Shirt

Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

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Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, “doctor of journalism” and alter ego of Hunter S. Thompson

Las Vegas, Spring 1971

Film: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Release Date: May 22, 1998
Director: Terry Gilliam
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss

Background

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold…

…and, with the scream of a bright fireapple red Chevy convertible speeding through the desert scored by Big Brother and the Holding Company’s manic “Combination of the Two”, we’re off and running with Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo on their way to a hallucinogenic weekend romp in Sin City. Johnny Depp’s opening narration as the notorious Dr. Duke transcribes verbatim the opening lines of Hunter S. Thompson’s landmark roman à clef Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

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