IN THE SHADOWS: PATRIC KNOWLES

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Patric Knowles as Dr. Frank Mannering, putting the finishing touches on the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) in FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies, those folks who while not playing the lead in the movies, graced the film nonetheless in smaller roles, quite often making as much of an impact as the actors on top.

Up today it’s Patric Knowles, and if you’re a fan of Universal horror, you know who he is, based on two key performances in THE WOLF MAN (1941) and its sequel FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943)

Here’s a partial look at Knowles’  127 screen credits:

MEN OF TOMORROW (1932) – Kwowles’ first screen appearance.

THE POISONED DIAMOND (1933) – Jack Dane – Knowles’ first screen credit.

THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE (1936) – Captain Perry Vickers – co-stars with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in this war tale based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who would go on to direct, among other things, CASABLANCA (1942). Cast also includes David Niven, Nigel Bruce, and J. Carrol Naish.

THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938) – Will Scarlett- co-stars in this classic adventure, also by director Michael Curtiz, again starring Errol Flynn, as Robin Hood, and Olivia De Havilland, as Maid Marian. Cast also includes Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, and Una O’Connor.

ANOTHER THIN MAN (1939) – Dudley Horn – co-stars with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the third THIN MAN movie, another fun entry in the classic mystery/comedy series.

THE WOLF MAN (1941) – Frank Andrews –  the first genre credit for Patric Knowles, and he struck gold as the THE WOLF MAN (1941) is arguably the best werewolf movie ever made and is also on the short list for the best Universal monster movie ever made. It also features one of the strongest casts ever assembled for a Universal monster movie: Lon Chaney Jr., Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Bela Lugosi, Ralph Bellamy, Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Warren William.

While THE WOLF MAN belongs to Lon Chaney Jr. in his signature role as Larry Talbot/aka The Wolf Man, and features dominating performances by Claude Rains and Maria Ouspenskaya, and even Evelyn Ankers, the entire cast is very good, including Patric Knowles in a small role as Frank Andrews.

Nonetheless, Andrews is integral to the plot as he works as the gamekeeper at the Talbot estate, and he’s engaged to be married to Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers), who just so happens to also be the object of affection of one Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.). As a woman who’s engaged to be married, she has no business spending time with Larry, yet she agrees to take that moonlit walk with him, and she’s with him the night he’s bitten by a werewolf.

Unfortunately, there’s just not a whole lot of things for Knowles to do in THE WOLF MAN, although his character Frank Andrews does appear in one of the more memorable non-werewolf scenes in the film, where, at a carnival, he, Gwen, and Larry are playing a target shooting game, and Larry, flustered when he sees a wolf target, misses the shot, and then Frank hits it dead center. I’ve always thought this moment should have foreshadowed that Frank would be responsible for the demise of the wolf man, but that’s not how the film plays out.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. Rx (1942) – Private Detective Jerry Church – Knowles plays the lead here, a detective trying to solve the case of a serial killer who sets his sights on mobsters. Also starring Lionel Atwill, Anne Gwynne, and Samuel S. Hinds. Church’s partner here, Detective Sergeant Sweeney, is played by one Shemp Howard!

MYSTERY OF MARIE ROGET (1942) – Dupin – Again plays the lead role in this mystery based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe. Also stars Maria Ouspenskaya and KING KONG’s Frank Reicher.

WHO DONE IT? (1942) – Jimmy Turner- co-stars in this Abbott and Costello comedy where Bud and Lou try to solve a murder at a radio station.

FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) – Dr. Frank Mannering – stars in this WOLF MAN sequel, also a sequel to THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN (1942), where he plays a different role from the one he played in THE WOLF MAN (1941). Here he plays Dr. Frank Mannering, a doctor who tries to help Larry Talbot but later focuses his energies on restoring the Frankenstein Monster (Bela Lugosi) back to his full strength. As such, Mannering becomes the first movie scientist not named Frankenstein to revive the Monster. He wouldn’t be the last.

Probably my favorite Patric Knowles role. He takes what should have been a standard mundane role and makes Dr. Frank Mannering a rather real character.

HIT THE ICE (1943) – Dr. Bill Elliot – more shenanigans with Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

TARZAN’S SAVAGE FURY (1952) – Edwards – plays the villain to Lex Barker’s Tarzan in this jungle adventure.

FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON (1958) – Josef Cartier – co-stars with Joseph Cotten and George Sanders in this science fiction adventure based on the novels by Jules Verne.

CHISUM (1970) – Henry Tunstall – supporting role in this John Wayne western. Also stars Forrest Tucker, Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Bruce Cabot, Richard Jaeckel, Lynda Day George, and John Agar.

TERROR IN THE WAX MUSEUM (1973) – Mr. Southcott – Knowles’ next to last genre credit is in this atmospheric wax museum thriller that is ultimately done in by low-production values. Has a fun cast, which includes Ray Milland, Elsa Lanchester, Maurice Evans, and John Carradine.

ARNOLD (1973) – Douglas Whitehead – Knowles last movie is in this horror comedy which also starred Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Elsa Lanchester, Victor Buono, and Jamie Farr.

Patric Knowles enjoyed a long and productive career. And while he was more than a character actor, often playing the lead in many of his films, for horror fans, he’s best remembered for two quality supporting roles in two of Universal’s better horror movies, THE WOLF MAN (1941), and FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943).

Patric Knowles died on December 23, 1995 from a brain hemorrhage at the age of 84.

I hope you enjoyed today’s edition of IN THE SHADOWS and join me again next time when I look at the career of another character actor.

As always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

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BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) marked the fourth time director John Carpenter worked with actor Kurt Russell,  following  ELVIS (1979), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), and THE THING (1982).

Whereas time has been kind to both ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING—THE THING is often ranked #1 on horror fans’ “Favorite Horror Movie” lists— when they first came out, neither film was a hit.  In fact, THE THING was a box office bomb.

Kurt Russell wasn’t faring much better in 1986.  He had just come off a string of films that had performed very poorly at the box office, and the story goes that he was so worried about his box office slump that he told Carpenter to get someone else to star in BIG TROUBLE, but Carpenter told him not to worry, that he wanted him to star in the movie.

I wish I could say that BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA was a huge hit and rejuvenated the careers of both these artists, but that’s not what happened.  Like their previous few films, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA also tanked at the box office.

But like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and THE THING, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA has enjoyed a resurgence.  Fans nowadays like this movie.   I saw it when it first came out, and I did not like it.  I liked it so little that I never bothered to watch it again.

Until now.

And that’s because I’ve been hearing fans say good things about the movie, and I thought it was high time I gave it a second viewing.

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is a strange movie.  It’s an action adventure that takes place in Chinatown, San Francisco and involves Chinese mysticism, which gives the film a supernatural element.  It’s also a comedy, meaning that the entire thing is played for laughs.

Truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) and his friend Wang Chi (Dennis Dun) go to the airport to pick up Wang’s girlfriend, Miao Yin (Suzee Pai).  While there, Jack flirts with a woman named Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) which provides him with a few minutes of fun before a Chinese gang shows up and kidnaps Miao.

Jack and Wang give chase, but the gang eludes them and gets away with Miao.  Wang vows to get her back, and Jack agrees to help him.  I guess no one thought to call the police. Anyway, Gracie Law shows up at their doorstep and reveals that she’s a lawyer who knows all about the Chinese mystical underworld, and she wants to help Jack and Wang as well.  They also receive help from Egg Shen (Victor Wong), a bus driver who’s also an expert on Chinese sorcery.

They need all this help because Miao has been kidnapped by David Lo Pan (James Hong), a two thousand year-old sorcerer who’s cursed to walk the earth without his physical body.  To lift the curse, he has to marry a girl with green eyes, which is why he kidnapped Miao, because she has green eyes.  It turns out that Gracie Law also has green eyes.  Suddenly Lo Pan has more choices than he knows what to do with.  Life is good.  For a while, anyway, as soon Jack and Wang show up, and they’re all about taking down Lo Pan and his supernatural army.  Good luck with that!

As I said, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA is played for laughs.  There isn’t a serious bone in this one’s body.

At first, I was really enjoying this one, and during the movie’s first half, I thought my opinion of it would change.  What wasn’t to like?  It was full of 1980s nostalgia, it had Kurt Russell, lots of colorful martial art action scenes, monsters, supernatural goings on, and a neat music score by John Carpenter.

But midway through, the movie runs out of gas, and I remembered why I didn’t really like this one back in 1986.  The martial arts action scenes start to get repetitive, and a major reason why is they’re simply not very good.

The script by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein also fizzles.  Early on, things are mysterious, and the dialogue is rapid fire funny, but later, once you know Lo Pan’s story, it’s pretty ridiculous, even it if is played for laughs.  I’ve seen more believable plots on SCOOBY DOO.  And the humor definitely loses its edge, mostly because after a while it’s simply Jack and Wang dealing with one unbelivable situation after another.

The film definitely gets goofier as it goes along, becoming flat our silly rather than focusing on the action and the adventure.  Had this one had more of an edge to it, and kept the humor in the background, it would have worked better.

Kurt Russell based Jack Burton on John Wayne, and it’s apparent right from the get-go. Russell is fun to watch here because he really does capture the Duke’s onscreen persona. Similarly, Russell based Snake Plissken in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK on Clint Eastwood, which is also clearly apparent.

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Kurt Russell as Jack Burton in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986)

Things would change for Russell with his next movie, the hit comedy OVERBOARD (1987) in which he starred with Goldie Hawn.  And a series of hits would follow Russell over the next five years.

While Russell is entetaining in BIG TROUBLE, Dennis Dun is just OK as Wang Chi.  He lacks Russell’s charisma and larger than life qualities, which is too bad because one of the movie’s jokes is that Jack thinks he’s the hero, yet he’s constantly messing things up, and it’s Wang who’s the true hero in the movie, but at times, Dun doesn’t make this notion all that believable.

Kim Cattrall is the epitome of 1980s actresses, and she fits right in here.  She’s got the 80s hairstyle, and she plays Gracie Law with a mixture of strength and ditziness.  She could easily walk into the CHEERS bar for a drink.

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Kim Cattrall as Gracie Law in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986).

Victor Wong is sufficiently knowledgable as Egg Shen, but James Hong is rather ineffective as main baddie David Lo Pan.  He spends most of the time behind make-up and special effects.

The special effects are OK.  They run hot and cold, and they’re really cheesy.  I guess that’s part of the charm for some people.

So, after my second viewing, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA remains not one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Sadly, Carpenter would follow this up with the even worse PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1987).  It would be a little while before Carpenter would find his stride again, and that would be with IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS (1995).

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA means well.  It’s got tons of energy, and everyone looks like they’re having a grand old time.  But as the action becomes flat out goofy, the story doesn’t hold up, and the script doesn’t match the film’s inanity, as the dialogue and situations are never that funny, it all becomes rather tedious long before the end credits roll.

The trouble in Little China just isn’t all that big.

—END—

IN THE SHADOWS: HAROLD GOODWIN

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Harold Goodwin in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)

Welcome back to IN THE SHADOWS, that column where we look at character actors in the movies, especially horror movies.

Today we look at Harold Goodwin, a familiar face if you’re a Hammer Film fan.  Goodwin showed up as a burglar in the suspenseful opening scene in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969) and he also enjoyed a memorable bit in Hammer’s THE MUMMY (1959).

Goodwin appeared in a lot of movies and TV shows, but for horror fans, especially Hammer Films fans, he’ll always be remembered as the ill-fated burglar who in the opening moments of FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED unfortunately chose to break into a home owned by Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing).  In a memorable sequence, his character finds himself trapped in a mysterious laboratory, only to be discovered by a hideous man with a pock-marked face.  The man attacks him, there’s a struggle, which damages the lab, and at one point Goodwin’s burlgar crashes into a table, knocks over a container, and a severed head spills out.  He flees in terror, and once he’s gone, the pock-marked man removes his mask and we see that he is the Baron Frankenstein.  A rousing way to start a very exciting Frankenstein movie, and Goodwin was a big part of this scene.

Goodwin also enjoys a funny bit in THE MUMMY (1959) where he plays a man who is hired by a foreign gentleman to transport some crates full of relics to the foreigner’s house.  Of course, it turns out that the foreign gentleman is Mehemet Bey (George Pastell), the man  who is controlling Kharis the Mummy (Christopher Lee), and the crates of “relics” include Kharis himself!  In one of the film’s more exciting scenes, the horses pulling the wagon get spooked and Goodwin’s character loses the crate containing Kharis into the local swamp.

Before this happens, Goodwin’s character and his buddy get rip-roaring drunk just before they’re to deliver the relics, and on their way to the horse and cart, Goodwin’s character approaches the horses and says “A man’s best friend is a horse,” to which his buddy replies “It’s a dog!”  Goodwin then looks directly at the horse in front of him and says, “It’s a horse!  I’m not that drunk!”

Interestingly enough, there were two Harold Goodwins working as character actors in the movies at the very same time!  The subject of this article was British and appeared in mostly British movies, whereas the other Harold Goodwin was an American.  The American Goodwin appeared in such films as ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930), YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939), and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE INVISIBLE MAN (1951), and made movies between 1915-1973, whereas the British Harold Goodwin worked in the biz between 1946-1992.

Here’s a partial look at the acting credits of Harold Goodwin, focusing mostly on his genre films:

THE MASQUE OF KINGS (1946) – Goodwin received his first screen credit in this made-for-TV movie.

THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF YOUR LIFE (1950)- Edwin- Goodwin’s first credit in a theatrical release was this comedy about the merging of an all-boys school with an all-girls school, starring Scrooge himself, Alastair Sim.

WHO DONE IT? (1956) – Pringle- uncredited peformance in this comedy, notable for being the film debut of British comedian Benny Hill.  Also featured in the cast, Dr. Pretorious himself, Ernest Thesiger, and Hammer Film character actor Thorley Walters.

THE LAST MAN TO HANG? (1956) – Cheed – Goodwin adds his support to this crime drama directed by the man who would go on to direct Hammer Film’s best movies, Terence Fisher.  Starring Tom Conway [I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)] and Hammer Films’ actresses Eunice Gayson [THE REVENGE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1958)- Gayson also appeared in the first two James Bond movies DR. NO (1962) & FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) as Sylvia,in what was originally intended to be a recurring character in the series], and Freda Jackson [THE BRIDES OF DRACULA (1960)].

THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957) – Baker –  The classic war movie by director David Lean, starring William Holden and Alec Guinness.  Winner of seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Lean, Best Actor for Guinness, Best Adapted Screenplay by Pierre Boulle, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, and Best Music Score by Malcolm Arnold. Based on the novel by Pierre Boulle (PLANET OF THE APES).

QUATERMASS AND THE PIT (TV Mini-series 1958-59- Colonel Gibson-  recurring role in this famous British TV production, later turned into a feature film by Hammer Films as FIVE MILLION YEARS TO EARTH (1967).

THE MUMMY (1959) – Pat – Goodwin’s first appearance in a Hammer horror film, a humorous role as a local hired to transport a crate carrying Kharis the Mummy (Christopher Lee) only to lose it in a muddy swamp.

THE TERROR OF THE TONGS (1961) – uncredited appearance in this crime thriller by Hammer Films starring Christopher Lee as Asian villain Chung King.  Screenplay by Jimmy Sangster.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1962) – Bill – Nice role here in the Hammer remake of Gaston Leroux tale, starring Herbert Lom as the Phantom.  Directed by Terence Fisher.

THE LONGEST DAY (1962)- uncredited role in this classic WWII epic chronicling the D-Day invasion.  All-star cast includes John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Richard Burton, and about 40 more major stars.

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1964) -Fred – Another brief appearance in this second Mummy movie from Hammer Films, unrelated to their first.

DIE, MONSTER, DIE! (1965) – Taxi Driver- Horror movie with an aged Boris Karloff playing a scientist in a wheelchair who discovers a mysterious meteorite and tries to harness its powers.  Also stars Nick Adams, and Hammer veterans Freda Jackson and Suzan Farmer.  Based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “The Colour Out of Space.”

FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969)- Burglar, uncredited – the role I most remember Harold Goodwin for- the burglar who has the misfortune of breaking into Baron Frankenstein’s home where he must face the wrath of the Baron (Peter Cushing) himself. His final Hammer horror appearance.

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Harold Goodwin’s unfortunate encounter in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

ONE FOOT IN THE GRAVE (TV Series) (1992)- Window Cleaner – Goodwin’s final screen appearance in this British TV comedy.

There you have it.  A partial listing of Harold Goodwin’s screen credits.

Harold Goodwin passed away on June 3, 2004 in Middlesex, England, UK.  He was 87.

Hope you enjoyed this brief look at the career of Harold Goodwin.  Join me again next time for the next edition of IN THE SHADOWS where we’ll look at the career of another character actor from the movies.

Harold Goodwin – October 22, 1917 – June 3, 2004.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

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YOUR MOVIE LISTS: BRUCE DERN

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Bruce Dern hijacks the Goodyear Blimp in BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

Bruce Dern hijacks the Goodyear Blimp in BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Bruce Dern

By Michael Arruda

To go along with my recent review of NEBRASKA (2013), which starred Bruce Dern in an Oscar-nominated performance, here is a partial list of movies featuring Bruce Dern, excluding his many TV credits:

MARNIE (1964) – The first film in which I saw Bruce Dern. His brief appearance in a key flashback in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery is one of the movie’s highlights. In his one scene, Dern is oh-so-creepy, especially in his white wife-beater T-shirt.

HUSH— HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) – Hanging out with Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in a southern mansion in this disturbing thriller.

HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968) – Up to no good in this early Clint Eastwood western.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) – One of the villainous Danby family in this comedy western starring James Garner.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971) – One of my favorite low-budget horror movies from the 1970s. Dern plays a scientist who for some reason thinks it’s a good idea to attach the head of a murderer/rapist to his slow-witted and immensely powerful gardener. Duh!

THE COWBOYS (1972) – Dern plays the villain in this John Wayne western, giving the Duke and his group of teenage cowboys all they can handle, and then some!

SILENT RUNNING (1972) – With robots Huey & Dewey in this 1970s science fiction classic directed by Douglas Trumbull.

THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) – Even though he’s miscast as Tom Buchanan, Dern makes the role his own, and the result is a somewhat fresh interpretation of the character.

POSSE (1975) – One of my favorite Bruce Dern roles, as an outlaw on the run from sheriff Kirk Douglas in this lively western.

FAMILY PLOT (1976) – Dern returns to work with Hitchcock twelve years after MARNIE in Hitchcock’s final film, a comedy thriller about murder and psychics.

BLACK SUNDAY (1977) – Hands down, my favorite Bruce Dern role. He plays a disturbed Vietnam veteran manipulated by a terrorist group into pulling off a terrorist attack at the Super Bowl. Exciting thriller by director John Frankenheimer. Also features knock-out performances by Robert Shaw and Marthe Keller. Memorable, intense conclusion in the skies above the Super Bowl as Dern and friends hijack the Goodyear Blimp and attempt to obliterate the stadium, while Israeli agent Shaw and American agents try to stop them. Dern’s never been more psychotic.

COMING HOME (1978) – Dern received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this Vietnam veteran drama.

THE DRIVER (1978) – Dern is cast against type as a police detective chasing Ryan O’Neal’s getaway driver in this stylish thriller by director Walter Hill.

THE HAUNTING (1999) – Dern’s brief appearance does little to lift this awful remake starring Liam Neeson.

TWIXT (2011) – Stylish low-budget thriller written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Dern enjoys a substantial role as Sheriff Bobby LaGrange in this one.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – Small role in Quentin Tarrantino’s instant western classic.

NEBRASKA (2013) – Dern’s performance as aging alcoholic Woody Grant earned him an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor in this quirky slice-of-life drama by director Alexander Payne.

And there you have it, some highlights from the film career of Bruce Dern.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

LIVE! FROM THE OSCARS!

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ellen-degeneres-to-hos-86th-annual-academy-awardsLive!  From the Oscars!

 

By

Michael Arruda

No, I’m not live at the Oscars, but I am writing this while I sit at home and watch the Oscars on TV, so it’s the next best thing!

Okay, here we go.  Here’s my coverage of the 86th Academy Awards hosted by Ellen DeGeneres on March 2, 2014.  So, if you missed it and would like to know how it all went down, or if you watched it and perhaps missed something, well, read on!

Let’s get started.

Okay, Ellen’s opening monologue, not bad.  She was entertaining and funny, as always.   However, as opening monologues go, it was low key and wasn’t anything memorable.

She did inform us that the theme of tonight’s Awards ceremony is heroes.  Hmm.  I wonder if Marvel’s The Avengers will show up?

Let’s get right to the Awards.  Anne Hathaway presents the Nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  Leto just gave a terrific speech, one of the best Oscar speeches I’ve ever heard.  Seriously!  Very impressed.

Next up, Jim Carrey calls out Bruce Dern in the audience, since Dern’s up for an Oscar, and Carrey does a nice Bruce Dern impersonation, sufficiently intense and scary, bringing back memories of Dern’s early years.  Carrey next introduces a montage on animated movies showcasing animated heroes.  Nothing amazing.  Most of the film clips are from recent animated films.

The song “Happy” from DESPICABLE ME 2 is performed.

Catherine Martin wins for Best Costume Design for THE GREAT GATSBY.  This comes as no surprise, as GATSBY showcased some great costumes.  Martin is the wife of director Baz Luhrmann.  Who knew?

Make-up & Hair Styling- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB wins for Best Make-up & Hair Styling.

I hear Indiana Jones music.  Hey, look!  Here comes Harrison Ford.  Ford is on stage to introduce the first three nominees for Best Picture:  AMERICAN HUSTLE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Wow, Ford looks exhausted.  He can barely read the cue cards.  It looks like he started partying early.

Channing Tatum introduces Awards that were awarded earlier.

Next up, it’s Matthew McConaughey and— Kim Novak?  Wow.  I haven’t seen Novak in a while.  Not since VERTIGO (1958).  Just kidding, of course, but really, it’s been a while.  McConaughey and Novak are presenting the Animation Awards.  Hate to say it, but Novak looks like she was animated in a Pixar movie.  Way too much plastic surgery. Very sad.  That’s how it looks, anyway.

Best Animated Short Film goes to MR. HUBLOT, and Best Animated Feature Film goes to Disney’s FROZEN, no doubt sending children who are still awake into an enthusiastic frenzy.  From what I hear, the kiddos are nuts about this movie.

Hey look!  There’s Bill Murray in the audience.  Good to see him.

Sally Field’s on stage paying tribute to everyday heroes.  Here comes a film montage.  Seriously, it’s a nice montage, featuring a lot of good movies, including 42 and THE UNTOUCHABLES.

Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are on stage to present the Award for Best Visual Effects, and the Winner is: GRAVITY.  I definitely agree with this choice.  GRAVITY had phenomenal special effects.  It looked like it was shot on location- in space.

Time for a performance of “The Moon Song” from HER, one of the nominees for Best Original Song.

Okay, it’s 9:30.  We’re 60 minutes into the program, and so far, it’s been a rather plain uneventful show.

Kate Hudson and Jason Sudekis present the nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, and the winner is:  HELIUM.

THE LADY IN NUMBER 6: MUSIC SAVED MY LIFE wins Best Documentary Short.

Bradley Cooper presents the nominees for BEST DOCUMENTARY.  The winner is 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.

 

I’m yawning at this point and regretting my choice not to watch THE WALKING DEAD tonight.

Speaking of amazing TV shows, Kevin Spacey is in character as he makes some references to his Netflix TV show HOUSE OF CARDS before he presents the Governor’s Awards, which were already presented earlier.  Angela Lansbury, at 88 years old and returning to London Stage won one of the awards, Steve Martin won another, and Piero Tosi won for his costume designs.  The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award went to Angelina Jolie.

Best Foreign Language Film goes to Italy’s THE GREAT BEAUTY.

Tyler Perry introduces the next three Best Picture nominees, NEBRASKA, HER, and GRAVITY.

Brad Pitt introduces U2, as they’re on stage to perform “Ordinary Love” from MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.  Wow.  A really riveting performance.  They got the crowd up on their feet and received a nice standing ovation.

Ellen – oh yeah!  I almost forgot she was hosting this thing— goofs around and takes a star-studded group photo for Twitter.  She wants to record the highest viewed tweet ever.  A pretty funny and playful bit.

Next up, it’s the Scientific and Technical awards.  Quick!  Time for a bathroom break!

Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, looking absolutely gorgeous in an amazing dress, present the nominees for Best Sound Mixing, and the winner is:  GRAVITY.  Another well-deserved win for GRAVITY.  The film had crisp sharp sound, and it also boasted an effective lack of sound, as it truly captured the silence in space.

Best Sound Editing goes to:  GRAVITY.  Hmm.  GRAVITY is starting to accumulate the awards.

Christoph Waltz presents the nominees for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Lupita Nyong’o for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice win for Nyong’o, and a nice speech as well.

Ellen’s goofing around again, as she asks her audience if they’re hungry, and when they say yes, she says she’s going to order pizza.  She then adds that “I don’t have any money.”   A funny gag.

Time to return to seriousness, as Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, steps onto the stage for a serious speech about seriousness.  Seriously, the obligatory speech by the Academy president is no laughing matter.

Back to the awards.  GRAVITY wins Best Cinematography.  GRAVITY wins Best Film Editing.  GRAVITY continues to win big tonight.

Whoopi Goldberg takes the stage, and she’s there to honor THE WIZARD OF OZ, as back in 1939 Judy Garland won an Honorary Juvenile Oscar, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the award, we get to see a nice montage honoring THE WIZARD OF OZ as well as recognizing her three children, who are in the audience, including Liza Minelli.

Time for a commercial break.  Hey, there’s a really cool Godzilla – Snickers commercial.  It’s actually quite humorous, and even better, it includes quick plug for new GODZILLA movie coming out in May.

We return to the Awards to find Ellen DeGeneres dressed as Glenda the Good Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ, which gets a good laugh from the audience.

Jennifer Gardner and Benedict Cumberbatch present the award for Best Production Design, and the winner is:  THE GREAT GATSBY.  Wow, GRAVITY didn’t win an award.  Glad GATSBY won, as it’s an incredibly visual movie.

Chris Evans – Captain America himself – introduces a montage of movie heroes.  A fun montage, full of popular movie heroes, including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (remember when he was a villain?), Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, to name a few, and plenty of superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers, and Superman from MAN OF STEEL, although I was disappointed that there were no clips of Christopher Reeve as Superman.

James Bond made it in twice, with the famous “I expect you to die!” scene from GOLDFINGER, featuring Sean Connery as Bond, and also a clip of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig.

A couple of horror movie heroes made it into the sequence, Roy Scheider from JAWS and Sigourney Weaver from ALIEN.

Glenn Close introduces the famous “In memoriam” montage, where the Academy remembers the artists who passed away in 2014.  Here is a partial list:  Karen Black, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Annette Funicello, Peter O’Toole, Ray Harryhausen—very glad Harryhausen was included here-, Sid Caesar, Roger Ebert, Shirley Temple, Joan Fontaine, Harold Ramis, Richard Matheson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The montage concludes with Bette Midler coming on stage and singing “Wind Beneath my Wings.” As you would expect, Midler received a standing ovation.

It’s now 11:00, which means the show has reached the 2 ½ hour mark, and so far there have been only a few major awards given out.  Let’s get this show moving already!

Ellen announces “We just crashed Twitter with our group photo!”  She’s overjoyed.

Goldie Hawn introduces the final three Best Picture nominees:  PHILOMENA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Hawn looks almost as bad as Kim Novak, and by bad, I mean that she’s obviously had too much work done on her face.  I wish these actresses would just allow themselves to age naturally.  They would look so much better.  She looks like a victim in a mad scientist movie.  Very sad.

John Travolta – who’s actually looking pretty good here – introduces the song “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Jamie Fox and Jessica Biel present the award for Best Original Score, and the winner is: — what a surprise!GRAVITY, music composed by Steven Price.

For Best Original Song, the winner is “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Now it’s time for the homestretch, as it’s just the major awards left, which is good, because it’s 11:20 and I’m getting sleepy, and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow for work.

Ellen is now running through the audience to collect money for the pizza, which she has already handed out, and so we’ve seen celebrities like Harrison Ford eating take-out pizza at the Oscars.  Ellen gets money from Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt, who she hits up for extra since he’s there for more than one movie.

Robert De Niro and Penelope Cruz present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Could this be the beginning of Big Awards Sweep for 12 YEARS?

And for Best Original Screenplay, the winner is:  HER, screenplay by Spike Jonze.

It has not been a good night for AMERICAN HUSTLE.  Just sayin.

Angelina Jolie & Sidney Poitier come out to announce the award for Best Director.  Jolie thanks Poitier for his groundbreaking work over the years, and says to him:  “We’re in your debt.”  And Poitier tells the audience, “Please keep up the wonderful work.”  Poitier looks old and frail, but at least he looks old and natural.

The winner for Best Director goes to Alfonso Cuaron for GRAVITY.   Wow.  This one surprised me.  I thought Steve McQueen would win for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  This has turned out to be a really big night for GRAVITY.

Daniel Day Lewis presents the Best Actress Award, and the winner is:  Cate Blanchett for BLUE JASMINE – I didn’t see BLUE JASMINE, but I like Blanchett a lot, so I’m glad she won.  And even though both Sandra Bullock and Amy Adams were very good in their roles, I’ve seen them better in other movies.

Blanchett gives an energetic speech, making a nice plug for movies with women in the lead roles, and for movies about women, saying they are not just niches, that audiences really want to see these kinds of movies and more importantly that they make money.

Jennifer Lawrence, looking great tonight, presents the Best Actor award, and the winner is:  Matthew McConaughey for the DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  This comes as no surprise.  Glad he won.

Will Smith presents the Award for Best Picture.  Nothing against Smith, but he’s the best you can get to present Best Picture?  How about Steven Spielberg?  Clint Eastwood?   Morgan Freeman?  Some other elder statesman or giant of the genre?  Anyway, the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice choice.

Well, as the show ends, it’s midnight- and with that, I can now go to bed.  A big night for GRAVITY as it wins 7 Awards, and AMERICAN HUSTLE ends up getting shut out.

Well, that’s all she wrote.  Good night everybody!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

THE SEARCHERS – THE MAKING OF AN AMERICAN LEGEND By Glenn Frankel – Comprehensive But Tedious History of John Ford’s Classic Western

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The Searchers - CoverWhat I’m Reading – The Searchers – The Making Of An American Legend By Glenn Frankel

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

 

THE SEARCHERS (1956) directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne, is one of my favorite westerns of all time, and it’s the reason I picked up The Searchers – The Making Of An American Legend by Glenn Frankel, an exhaustive and meticulously researched volume on the entire story behind the movie THE SEARCHERS.  And I mean the entire story.

 

The Searchers – The Making Of An American Legend covers the historical events on which the movie THE SEARCHERS was based, from the slaughter of the Parker family by the Comanche Indians in East Texas in 1836, to the abduction of nine year-old Cynthia Ann Parker, to the grueling search for her and other abducted family members by her uncle James Parker, to the story of her half-Comanche son Quanah Parker who would later become Chief of the Comanches.

 

It then moves to the story of how western author Alan Lemay wrote the western novel The Searchers in 1953, and eventually recounts the events behind the making of the movie, THE SEARCHERS, chronicling John Ford’s domination on the set and his cantankerous relationship with his actors and crew, including John Wayne.  Wayne, like others who worked with Ford multiple times, appreciated the director’s genius and looked past his social shortcomings in order to be involved in the high quality movies Ford continually made.

 

It’s a fascinating story, and author Frankel seems to cover every last inch of it.  It’s an exhaustive piece of research.  Unfortunately for the reader, it’s also a bit exhausting. 

 

While I enjoyed learning about every aspect of this story, I nonetheless struggled to get through this 343 page volume.  The prose reads like a textbook and hardly stimulates the imagination.  While I was impressed with the amount of research and detail here, sometimes it was a bit much.  I felt as if John Ford had discovered a new lunch recipe for his crew, Frankel would have spent an entire chapter devoted to how he found the recipe, who wrote it, its origins, and the cultural implications of the recipe, and where that recipe is today.  In short, a lot of the writing here is overkill.  This is not to imply that Frankel spent time on trivial matters, but to emphasize the point that his research here is all-encompassing, to the point where sometimes you wish you could skip over about 10 pages to get to the next topic.

 

The book begins with the historical account of the massacre of the Parker family.  This is a particularly brutal part of the book, as the Comanche massacres are described in gory detail.  Frankel takes the bold stand not to sugarcoat the conflict between the Comanches and the settlers, and he makes the point when describing the Comanche attacks that these folks don’t fit into the politically correct view of Native Americans we espouse today:

 

Still, by the mid-eighteenth century the Comanche had become the most relentless and feared war machine in the Southwest.  They butchered their prisoners- torturing, amputating, eviscerating, mutilating, decapitating, and scalping- for entertainment, for prestige as warriors, and for the belief that to destroy the body of an enemy was to doom his soul to eternal limbo.

The intense brutality reflected the harsh conditions Comanches faced.  Food and other resources were scarce.

 

The modern image of Indians- nurtured by the Native American rights movement, revisionist historians, and the film DANCE WITH WOLVES– has been one of profoundly spiritual and environmentally friendly genocide victims seeking harmony with the land and humankind.  But the Comanches were nobody’s victims and no one’s friends.  They were magnificent, brutal, and relentless.

 

The book goes on to describe the sad tragic fate of Cynthia Ann Parker, how she was ripped from her home and taken by the Comanches.  It describes her initial hardships with the Comanches, and tells how eventually she became a welcomed member of their community, accepted their culture, and had children.  The Cynthia Ann Parker story concludes just as tragically, as she’s eventually “rescued” and returned to white civilization against her will, ripped away from her children.  She lived the rest of her days yearning for her children, and she died never learning their fate or ever being reunited with them.

 

The next part of the book follows Cynthia’s son Quanah who would grow to adulthood and become a famous Comanche chief.  Quanah lived in a time when Indian raids had ended, and Native Americans were forced to live on reservations.  Quanah did quite well for himself, cooperating with the United States government and taking full advantage of the system.  He would spend his life trying to honor the life of his deceased mother, Cynthia Ann Parker.

 

The story of Cynthia Ann Parker became legend and was recounted over the years with Cynthia known to Americans as a tragic figure. 

 

When author Alan Lemay chose to write his novel The Searchers, he decided to focus on the man doing the searching rather than the victim, Cynthia Ann, and thus he focused on the uncle, James Parker.  In reality, James Parker searched for a short time before eventually giving up, unlike the character in Lemay’s novel, who ultimately finds Cynthia Ann.

 

The book concludes with John Ford choosing The Searchers for the subject of his next movie, and by far, this movie account is the most readable part of the book.  But by this time, my interest had waned because the first two thirds were a labor to get through.  Again, the content was thought-provoking, but the textbook prose dull.

 

I enjoyed the account of the making of the movie the most, although it was not fun learning about Ford’s domineering personality, and the way he often tormented his cast and crew.

 

It was also interesting to read how THE SEARCHERS failed to catch on when it was first released, not earning the critical acclaim that most people involved with the film expected. It wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, nor did it earn an immediate reputation as being anything more than just a John Wayne western.

 

The critical acclaim came much later, as only recently has the film been recognized as one of the best westerns ever made.  Frankel also argues that the film was slow to be recognized because of the presence of John Wayne, whose right wing tendencies often turned off intellectuals who would have otherwise seen the film for what it was.

 

Audiences also missed the dark themes of THE SEARCHERS back in 1956.  Accepting THE SEARCHERS as just another John Wayne movie, audiences in 1956 seemed to miss the gravity and racism which Wayne gave the character of Ethan Edwards, which went relatively unnoticed for decades.

 

Frankel includes some fascinating tidbits.  For example, how Buddy Holly and his drummer Jerry Allison wrote the song “That’ll Be The Day” after seeing THE SEARCHERS at the movies, because “that’ll be the day” is the catch phrase John Wayne uses multiple times in the movie.  The song would later be the first demo recording by the Beatles.

 

The Searchers – The Making Of An American Legend is an exhaustive and comprehensive look at the making of the movie THE SEARCHERS, and at the legend on which it was based.  It’s everything you wanted to know about the back story to THE SEARCHERS and more. 

 

However, in spite of the fact that it’s full of facts and anecdotes, it’s not a fun read.  It’s challenging to get through this encyclopedic volume which really could have benefitted from some humor or creative prose to stimulate the reader’s imagination.  I enjoyed the content but not the style.

 

It also doesn’t help that the real life Cynthia Ann Parker story is so tragic and depressing.  This disheartening content adds to the difficulty of getting through the first half of the book.  And while the second half is definitely more enjoyable for film buffs, this story is dark as well, as John Ford, in spite of being a genius filmmaker, is described here as a man that you really wouldn’t want to spend time around.

 

I liked The Searchers – The Making Of An American Legend  in spite of these drawbacks, but I can’t deny that in terms of reading pleasure, it was about as enjoyable as working on a movie set run by John Ford.

 

—END—