In Memoriam: Sir John Hurt (1940-2017)

 

john-hurt

I asked several friends and colleagues who enjoy movies, but are not necessarily aficionados, what they thought of the late John Hurt.  Many replied that they didn’t know who that was.

Hurt was one of those character actors that people don’t know by name, but immediately recognize on sight.  His most memorable role was that of “Kane,” the hapless astronaut in Alien (1979) who had one of the worst cases of dyspepsia recorded on film.  (I’m referring to the alien being who popped out of his abdomen.  I’ll spare all of you a photo of that.)

Hurt’s second most famous role was that of the Elephant Man in the 1980 film of the same name.  John Merrick, the historical Elephant Man, was horribly deformed due to a hereditary disease.  In portraying Merrick, Hurt was made up to the point that he was unrecognizable.  In addition, he had to play the role with significant slurring in his speech.  Nevertheless, his brilliant acting provided us  with a portrait of an intelligent, sensitive, and artistic man to whom life had dealt an awful hand of cards.

elephant-man

I was listening to an old radio interview of John Hurt today, and one word came out which accurately described many of his roles:  Flamboyant.  Although Hurt played everything from politicians and intellectuals to priests and jockeys, his most famous characters are pretty out there; or at least placed in extreme situations.  I’ve already given you two examples.  Two others would include his roles as transvestite Quentin Crisp in 1975’s The Naked Civil Servant, and the insane Emperor Caligula in the British TV miniseries I, Claudius (1976).  He was brilliant in both parts.

Here are scenes from both productions:

I, Claudius (1976)

The Naked Civil Servant (1975)

Hurt’s distinctive voice was utilized in several animated features, and he narrated many other live action films.  In addition, Hurt was one of many distinguished British film actors cast in the Harry Potter movies.  He played Garrick Ollivander, the magic wand maker.

My personal favorite?  Hurt’s “Caligula” in I, Claudius. 

I, Claudius is a 12-episode production concerning the early history of imperial Rome, narrated by its fourth emperor, Claudius.  The entire series is entertaining, witty, and chilling, with lots of intrigue and back stabbing (both figurative and literal).  It is soap opera of the very highest quality, perhaps the best ever made.  Look out for Derek Jacobi in the title role, and Sian Phillips as the malevolent Empress Livia.

Warning:  Lots of explicit sex and violence.  A definite R rating bordering on NC-17; kids should not see it.

You can purchase the DVD of I, Claudius on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B006JY3OHW/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B006JY3OHW&linkId=133ffd15a133cb6977c7f5dce3a97cb6

For additional information about John Hurt, I recommend film critic Justin Chang’s excellent article in the January 30, 2017 Los Angeles Times, “Voice of wit, wily humanity,” Calendar Section E.  I also recommend that you review a filmography of this excellent actor and watch his movies.  You will be well-rewarded.

*****

Sources:

“John Hurt.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.   25 January 2017.  Web.  1 February 2017.

Chang, J. (2017, January 30).  Voice of wit, wily humanity.  Los Angeles Times, pp. E7

“Unsinkable to the End”: L.A. Times Film Critic Kenneth Turan Praises Debbie Reynolds

 

debbie-reynolds

Wow, what a week.  First Carrie Fisher, and then her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

Instead of writing my own article regarding this loss to Hollywood, I would direct my readers to a lovely article about Debbie Reynolds by the renowned L.A. Times film critic, Kenneth Turan.

The article can be found via Internet by using the following key words:  Unsinkable to the end turan.

 

 

 

 

 

Movies and the Jews: Kirk Douglas’ 100th

kirk-douglas

On December 9th, it was reported that a Mr. Issur Danielovitch celebrated his 100th birthday.  This probably would not have seemed like big news to most people, except for the fact that many of us know Mr. Danielovitch as Kirk Douglas.

Douglas, who starred in more than 90 movies and is considered one of the last of the Golden Age Hollywood actors, was born on December 9, 1916 to Jewish immigrants from Belarus.  Douglas’ childhood was a difficult one.  In his first autobiography The Ragman’s Son, he states the following:

“My father, who had been a horse trader in Russia, got himself a horse and a small wagon, and became a ragman, buying old rags, pieces of metal, and junk for pennies, nickels, and dimes….Even on Eagle Street, in the poorest section of town, where all the families were struggling, the ragman was on the lowest rung on the ladder.  And I was the ragman’s son.”

To keep from starving, the young Douglas had to work odd jobs to contribute money to his family.  He was determined to escape from the life of poverty he had been born into, and eventually worked his way into the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City via scholarship.  While there, he met fellow student and future movie star Lauren Bacall.  This meeting was fortuitous, as Bacall later helped Douglas to land his first major movie role alongside Barbara Stanwyck in 1946’s The Strange Love of Martha Ivers.  From that point on, Douglas’ good looks, star quality, and ambition helped him in becoming a real power player in Hollywood.

There are so many roles for which Douglas is well-known, among them  Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life (1956), Ned Land in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Colonel Dax in Paths of Glory (1957), and of course the title character in Spartacus (1960).  However, Douglas’ favorite role was that of a modern day cowboy in a relatively little-known film, 1962’s Lonely Are The Brave.

The opening scene of Lonely is pretty typical of a western:  We see a panoramic view of a desert with cactus, a saddle, a campfire, a sleeping cowboy….and suddenly, we hear the sound of jet planes overhead.  This is the world of Jack Burns, an independent, roving cowhand who feels more and more stifled by fences, freeways, and other aspects of modern civilization.  He eventually runs afoul of the law, and is chased through the wilderness by sheriff’s deputies intent on catching him before he can ride across the border to Mexico.  In one surrealistic sequence, we witness Burns astride his palomino, every inch the old-time cowboy, as he’s being pursued by helicopters.

This is one of Douglas’ best films, but unfortunately the story does not end happily.  Thus, I’m not sure that I can recommend it for holiday viewing.  You might instead enjoy one of Douglas few comedic performances as a money-strapped English professor in A Letter to Three Wives (1949).  The plot of this witty film concerns a note from the town floozy to three wives, informing them that she’s running off with one of their husbands.  The three women spend the rest of the movie wondering who’ll be going home to an empty house.  Despite the ominous premise, we laugh a lot on the way to a pleasant enough ending.  Meanwhile, we get to see some fine performances from Douglas, Ann Southern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas, and Jeffrey Lynn.

You can purchase Lonely are the Brave on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

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You can purchase A Letter to Three Wives on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DOB3MN4/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=B00DOB3MN4&linkId=1987542efd5e51fac8128e355cbe809e

You can purchase Douglas’ autobiography, The Ragman’s Son, on amazon.com by clicking onto the following link:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0671637177/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=spcooperveriz-20&camp=1789&creative=9325&linkCode=as2&creativeASIN=0671637177&linkId=38938cefac2b086f96076ba0e4b62f97

Sources:

“Kirk Douglas”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  10 November 2016.  Web.  12 December 2016.

Douglas, Kirk.  The Ragman’s Son.  Simon and Schuster (1988)

 

 

In Memoriam: Actress Lupita Tovar (1910-2016)

dracula-spanish-version

Lupita Tovar as “Mina” in the 1931 Spanish-language version of “Dracula”

Lupita Tovar, a Mexican-American actress who starred in the 1931 Spanish language version of Dracula, passed away last Friday.  She was 106.

Horror movie aficionados are well acquainted with Bela Lugosi’s iconic portrayal of Dracula in the 1931 version of that tale.  However, some of us may not know about a Spanish-language version which was released at the same time as Lugosi’s film.

In 1931, sound technology was still in the developmental stage, and dubbing was not yet routinely done.  Instead, Hollywood frequently produced foreign language replicas of English-language movies for Spanish, French, Italian, and German-speaking countries.

So it was for Dracula.  When the English-language cast finished their day time shift, a second Spanish-language group took over and worked through the night, using the sets and costumes of the previous shift.  The result was a film which duplicates, scene for scene, the Dracula movie that most of us are familiar with.

Well….almost duplicates.  The differences in characterization are fascinating.  For example, Ms. Tovar’s portrayal of “Mina” is much more sexual and assertive than that of Helen Chandler, who plays the English-language counterpart.  Unfortunately, Carlos Villarías as “Dracula” suffers in comparison to Bela Lugosi.

Regardless, I would strongly recommend viewing this film in both languages.  You can purchase a DVD compilation of both movies at amazon.com.  On the compilation is some fascinating commentary from Ms. Tovar about her role in the filming of the Spanish-language version of Dracula.

For more information about Ms. Tovar’s life and career, please see the following sources:

-http://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-me-lupita-tovar-20161114-story.html

-“Lupita Tovar”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  16 November 2016.  Web.  16 November 2016.

– “Drácula (1931 Spanish-language film)” Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 13 November 2016.  Web.  16 November 2016.

The DVD can be found through the link below:

//ws-na.amazon-adsystem.com/widgets/q?ServiceVersion=20070822&OneJS=1&Operation=GetAdHtml&MarketPlace=US&source=ac&ref=tf_til&ad_type=product_link&tracking_id=spcooperveriz-20&marketplace=amazon&region=US&placement=B000035Z3K&asins=B000035Z3K&linkId=0872e1ec82e8895f4a10696c58f2a453&show_border=false&link_opens_in_new_window=false&price_color=333333&title_color=0066c0&bg_color=ffffff

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Gene Wilder Moment…What’s Yours?

Gene Wilder

So much has already been written about Gene Wilder in the media that I hesitate to add anything more about his life in this blog.  Suffice to say that today the L.A. Times printed a couple of excellent articles about his life and career.  Please read them.

I will stick to writing about my favorite Gene Wilder film.  That has to be, hands down, the 1968 version of The Producers.  If you are not familiar with the plot, it’s simple and absolutely absurd:  Two men decide to produce a play so bad that it will close the first night.  They sell 25,000% to the backers, intending to leave town with the money after the play tanks.  There’s just one problem:  Their show accidently becomes a hit!

So many funny moments in that film, and one of the funniest is when Wilder, playing meek accountant Leo Bloom, goes absolutely berserk  in front of Zero Mostel’s Max Bialistock because he has just realized the gravity of their crime.

BLOOM:  I’m hysterical.  I’m having hysterics.  I’m hysterical….

BIALISTOCK:  [throws water on Bloom]

BLOOM:  I’m wet.  I’m wet.  I’m hysterical, and I’m wet!

BIALISTOCK: [slaps Bloom]

BLOOM:  I’m in pain.  And I’m wet.  And I’m still hysterical!

****

What’s your favorite Gene Wilder moment?  Please leave in comment section.

Source of photo:

By Towpilot – <span class=”int-own-work” lang=”en”>Own work</span>, <a title=”Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0″ href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/”>CC BY-SA 3.0</a>, <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1137138″>https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1137138</a&gt;

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Valuing Beliefs over Career: Steven Hill, TV and Movie Actor, Dead at 94

Steven_Hill_Dan_Briggs_Mission_Impossible

Steven Hill, best known to crime story aficionados as crusty D.A. Adam Schiff on the long-running drama series Law and Order, passed away today at the age of 94.  I mention Hill on this page because in addition to his TV career, he had minor parts in classic movies listed below.

Hill was born Solomon Krakovsky on February 24, 1922.  He got his big break in show business when he was cast in the supporting part of “Stefanowski” in the 1948 Broadway production of Mr. Roberts.

He was one of the first members of the Actor’s Studio, along with Marlon Brando, Julie Harris, Lee J. Cobb, and Geraldine Page.

Hill’s first movie was 1950’s A Lady Without Passport, which starred Hedy Lamarr and John Hodiak.  He also played supporting parts in 1958’s The Goddess (which starred Kim Stanley) and 1963’s A Child is Waiting (which starred Judy Garland).

Hill credits his role as Sigmund Freud in a 1961 stage production of A Far Country as motivation towards becoming a more observant Jew.  At one point in the play, another character screams at the Freud character, “You are a Jew!”  In response to this dramatic moment, Hill the actor began seriously considering his religion and what it meant to practice Judaism.  He began to follow a kosher diet and did not work on Shabbat.  The latter observance affected his stage career, because he could not work on Friday and during Saturday matinees.

Those of us who are a certain age certainly remember the opening line of the TV show, Mission Impossible,  “Good morning Mr. Phelps.”  However, during the first season of that show, the line was, “Good morning Mr. Briggs.”  Captain Daniel Briggs, the original head of the Mission Impossible team, was played by Steven Hill.  By Season Two, Hill was replaced by Peter Graves, who played Phelps.

After Mission Impossible, Hill left show business for about 10 years.  Starting in 1977, he acted in several movies.  Finally, during the 1990’s Hill landed the role on Law and Order for which he is so famous.

For more information regarding the career of Steven Hill, see the following sources:

Steven Hill.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  23 August 2016.  Web.  23 August 2016.

“Signoff; On ‘Law and Order,’ a Real Idealist”, The New York Times, 2 February 1996.  Web.  nytimes.com.  23 August 2016.

Gates, Anita.  “Steven Hill,” The New York Times, 23 August 2016.  Web.  nytimes.com.  23 August 2016.

Image from Wikimedia Public Domain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gloria DeHaven: A Career That Endured

Gloria_de_Haven

“If you don’t stretch yourself in this business, you’re dead.”  -Gloria DeHaven, actress, to Los Angeles Times in 1984

Hollywood actress/singer Gloria DeHaven did not have the most illustrious career in show biz.  But she had one of the lengthiest.

Ms. DeHaven, 91, who passed away on July 30th, began working in movies at the age of 11, when she was given a role in Charlie Chaplin’s movie Modern Times (1936).   During the 1940’s, DeHaven became a contract actress with MGM.  Although not a top echelon star herself, she frequently got second or third-billing opposite established stars like Judy Garland, Van Johnson, Mickey Rooney, Gene Kelly, and June Allyson in MGM musicals.

During the 1950’s, DeHaven signed with 20th Century Fox and Universal International and performed in several musicals produced through these companies.

As the 1950’s waned, so did the popularity of the film musical.  However, DeHaven successfully transitioned to stage and television work, playing parts in shows like The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Quincy M.E., Fantasy Island, B.J. and the Bear, and Murder She Wrote.  During the 1960’s and later, she performed roles in two soap operas, As the World Turns and Ryan’s Hope.  Stage work included appearances in The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1963), The Sound of Music (1964), Golden Boy (1968), Plaza Suite (1971), Hello, Dolly (1973), and No, No, Nanette (1983).

Ms. DeHaven’s final movie role was as Jack Lemmon’s love interest in Out to Sea (1997).

For a comprehensive list of Ms. DeHaven’s screen and TV credits, check out the sources listed below.

Sources:

Bernstein, Adam.  “Gloria DeHaven, actress in 1940’s Hollywood musical comedies, dies at 91.” Washington Post. 01 August 2016. Web. Accessed 08 August 2016.

“Gloria DeHaven.”  Wikipedia:  The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc.  04 August 2016.  Web.  08 August 2016.

Image of Gloria DeHaven obtained from Wikimedia Public Domain.