ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM AND ME – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small The_Friends_of_Eddie_Coyletime criminals. There was nothing small time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his work day was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me. Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.

VIOLENCE WITH GUSTO IN TOMBSTONE

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.” It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater. A small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When video taped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits as more than it includes. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were other Earp brothers who are always left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy.

I watch westerns first and foremost, because I love horses. I will watch anything with or about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.

Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

tombstone

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I can cheer them on.

TombstoneOKCorral

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was victim of a mass hallucination  — mass hallucinations are not nearly as common in real life as they are in Hollywood — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then filmed a movie, “Tombstone” was filmed in Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 128 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. Which, that time of year, it does relentlessly. I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch films to escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in raw emotions that are unacceptable otherwise.

I love Tombstone. We’re going out west again in January, this time to Monument Valley. I’m counting on a John Ford rush!

NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN

The Sean Connery Years, part 2

When Sean Connery looks across the card table during a game of Baccarat Chemin de Fer in the opening of Dr. No to give his name to his female opponent, he started one of the greatest movie series ever by responding, “Bond, James Bond.”  Since then the Bond films have gone on to be one of the most successful movies franchises ever.  The eight Harry Potter films achieved unprecedented box office numbers.  If you add up all the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, they get number one on the revenue list, but there are 11 popular and recent films; you know, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and they are not all about one character so does it count?  There are 25 Bond films, and it will take at least 2 more for the series to equal the Potter gross revenue figures.

Previously we recapped the first 4 Bond films, staring Connery as the super spy.  Connery was back for the fifth outing in 1967’s You Only Live Twice, based loosely, very loosely, on the 12th Ian Fleming novel of the same name.  Since the novel is a continuation of a story line from a previous novel, not yet filmed, we are in for some Cold War era rewrites here.

Consider this paragraph a giant spoiler alert.  In the opening Bond is sent to Japan where he is set up and killed by foreign agents.  The naval commander is buried at sea and that is the end of Bond.  OK, it’s not. It is all a set up so Bond can go under cover in Japan to work with the head of the Japanese secret service to find out who has captured an American spacecraft.  Here we get to see Bond train as a ninja and invade, along with a female assistant, of course, an island run by an evil SPECTRE mastermind.  There are battles, explosions, chases and remarkable rescues, just the usual Bond magic.

Remarkably, the next movie is based on the previous novel, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969).  The sixth Bond production brings on a new actor in the role of the super hero and a new director.  Since Connery decided to retire from the role, the producers elected to go with an unknown Australian actor and model, George Lazenby.   His good looks and screen tests won him the role.  It was the only time a person not from Great Britain would take the lead.

The story involves a “Bond girl” who James saves at the opening, then later meets at a casino. It’s actress Diana Rigg in an early role as a Countess. Her father sets Bond on an investigation of her solicitor which in turn leads Bond to an evil plot by the head of SPECTRE to set in motion a plan to distribute biological warfare.  This may all sound rather fantastic, but this time the producers tried to stay closer to the book.  Yes, the film series got people reading the books.  Imagine that!

By the end of filming, Lazenby had decided that he had enough of Bond, even though he was offered the next movie which was to be The Man With The Golden Gun.  He passed on it and the movie was put on hold.  It was reported that Lazenby’s agent told him the Bond series would be out dated by the 1970’s anyway.

After a couple of years and a film that did not have the box office magic of the Connery films, there was only one thing for the producers to do.  They decided to bring back the magic.  The story was switched to Diamonds Are Forever (1971).  Guy Hamilton was brought back to direct.  He was the director of the critically acclaimed Goldfinger.  John Barry again did the score, as he did for all but one of the Bond films at this point.  Shirley Bassey, who sang the title tune for Goldfinger, is back for this title tune.  There is a gorgeous “Bond girl” with Jill St. John.  Just one more element was needed to insure a return to the top for the movie series.

Producers gave their Bond actor over a million dollars (unheard of territory then)  and a piece of the gross to take on the super suave spy.  Finally, the major challenge was met and Sean Connery was set to return as “007.”

The story is based on the 4th Ian Fleming novel published in 1956.  Bond is chasing diamond smugglers and the action moves from South Africa to Holland to the United Kingdom and on to Las Vegas.  Of course, a bit of a rewrite of the story allows us to have an old nemesis, Ernest Stavro Blofeld, a SPECTRE mastermind. The Bond girl is appropriately named, Tiffany Case.  Fleming loved to give the girls names with double meanings within the story.  The Las Vegas chase scene almost makes the movie experience worth the time. The casino owner at the middle of the thriller is played by Jimmy Dean.  Yes, that Jimmy Dean, country singer and sausage king.

From here the film series moves on to the Roger Moore years.  In 1973 Moore becomes the famous spy for the next seven films.  Connery moves on to other film projects, promising never to play the secret agent again.

Owners of the Thunderball rights, won in a court battle, desired to film the movie.  Additional court battles over what could be used would follow upon any attempt to make a rival Bond film in the midst of the Bond years.  Even while the Roger Moore films were being released, plans for a rival Bond movie were moving forward.  Not wanting to call the film by the same name and facing a variety of legal challenges, the producers went ahead with a similar story and no rights to the iconic music.  Even with a good script, how could they be successful in the same year with the release of a Roger Moore film?

The only solution seemed to be a film starring Sean Connery as James Bond, but Connery was 52 years old.  Moore, on the other hand, was older.  While Connery looked fit and able to play an action hero, as many his age had for action heroes, the story was modified as if “007” was under used due to age and he is brought back to deal with the hijacking of 2 nuclear bombs.  Like Thunderball, there is a limited time to find the bombs and save the world from massive destruction.  Connery makes the most out of playing an aging James Bond who can still deliver in times of crisis.  The overall result is a film much more satisfying than the original Thunderball.  Some thought the short underwater climax was disappointing, but it was better than the overblown original.

Connery provides us with all the charm you would expect of the world’s most famous “secret” agent.  The film did almost as well at the box office as the Roger Moore/James Bond film that year, Octopussy.  The title of the Thunderball remake was suggested by Connery’s wife who reminded them that Connery had previously said “Never again” to playing the famous British agent.

Related:

Bond, James Bond – The Sean Connery Years

BOND, JAMES BOND

The Sean Connery Years, Rich Paschall

If you remember the very beginnings of the James Bond movies, then you have to admit it.  When you hear that often used introduction, you immediately hear in your head the iconic music which has been a staple of so many Bond movies.  James Bond, Sean Connery and that music are forever intertwined.

James Bond was created by writer Ian Fleming in 1953 in the novel, Casino Royale.  He wrote a dozen novels and two short story collections.  The character was adapted for television, movies, comic strips and video games.  Connery set the bar high as the first James Bond in the films.

Since the first novel, Casino Royale, had been sold for a UK television production, and later a spoof starring David Niven (1967), the first movie had to start elsewhere.  Interestingly, it is the 6th novel, Dr. No, that is the basis for the first James Bond feature film (1962).

The film shows us a suave and debonair James Bond, while Fleming had not initially seen Bond as that type of character.  He envisioned his hero as a dull sort of guy to which things happened.  As the movies have shown, Bond stood up to whatever challenge he faced. He was not dull.

Dr. No not only introduces us to Bond, but it also introduces an organization, SPECTRE, that will be the evil nemesis in many of the Bond films. In the story, a British agent is killed in Jamaica and Bond is sent there to investigate the circumstance.  It leads him on to an island where Dr. No is planning an evil plot to destroy a USA Mercury space launch.  Yes, it is the early 1960s so this all makes sense somehow.

Connery gives a commanding performance as the British Naval Commander and “00” secret agent with a “License to Kill.”  It may be fair to say that without this strong start, the movie series may never have become what it is today.  Some of the sexist lines and double entendres featured in the early films, would never make it to the screen today, however.  The charm and wit of the central character have remained a feature throughout, even if some of the clever quips have been abandoned.  Dr. No gets high marks for adventure and intrigue, especially for the cold war era in which it was made.

Nothing highlighted the Cold War spy era like From Russia With Love (1963).  The second Bond film was based on the 5th Fleming novel.  The plot to steal a cryptographic device may seem terribly amusing now, but was high drama then.  Bond is sent off to another exotic locale, this time Istanbul, to take the “Lektor” device and avoid capture.  Again SPECTRE is the enemy, a beautiful girl is caught up in the intrigue, and chase scenes and suspense are en vogue.  This is a worthy second entry to the film series. The first two films were directed by Terrence Young.

Most critics will agree that the third Bond film, based on the seventh Fleming novel, is among the best of the Bond films.  This time Guy Hamilton is brought in to direct as Bond is off to investigate the activities of Auric Goldfinger, a gold smuggler and suspected financier of terror.  Goldfinger (1964) contains a rather fantastic plot involving the robbery of Fort Knox.  The double meaning dialog is on full display as Bond (Sean Connery) tries to seduce Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, in order to defeat the evil plan.  The villain’s henchman, Oddjob, becomes a film classic for his derby hat with the rim of steel blade.

Terrence Young is back to direct the 4th Bond film and Sean Connery is back again as the hero of Thunderball (1965).  They are given a budget more than double Goldfinger and you would think this would bring great benefit to the production.  Sadly, it does not.

Based on the ninth Fleming novel, the atomic age thriller finds Bond in search of two stolen atomic bombs taken by SPECTRE. They are to be ransomed back to the Western World or the countries will pay the ultimate price of having the bombs hit strategic targets.  It is a race against the clock which includes exotic locales and another gorgeous “Bond girl.”   Every film features a women who just happens to get caught up in the intrigue.

The film spends too much time on chase scenes.  While the back drop of the Bahamas may have seemed to liven up the chase, the mere length and pacing of these sequences points out the need to find a film editor.  The climactic battle in the water may have worked had it not been excessively long.  When you wonder if the darn thing will ever end, you know some of this mess should have been left on the cutting room floor.  The Bond mission is successful, he ends up with the girl, and the movie finally ends after 130 minutes.

The story itself was under legal battles shortly after the publication of the 1961 novel of Thunderball.  Fleming was taken to court over ownership of the story.  Two others had co-authored a script for the story years earlier with Fleming. It did not sell and Fleming used it as the basis of his novel.  An out of court settlement was reached that led to plans of a rival Bond production years later and more court battles.  Could another studio actually take a Bond story and produce a one time rival Bond film?  They did it using the same story.  How could they possibly make such a thing successful?

More on the Connery years next week, and the making of a second Thunderball.

 

OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough

We watch it every year on Memorial Day, the best movie ever made about ‘the war to end war.’ It was just as good this year — in the same funny, awful way — as it was every other year.

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I first saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. The catchy score sticks in your brain. The songs are those sung by the troops, and the cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen. The credits are a who’s-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do. Its causes are rooted in old world grudges that make no sense to Americans. So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any. When the war began, it was the old world, ruled by crowned heads of ancient dynasties. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918, the world was remade — beyond recognition. The monarchies were gone. A generation of men were dead, the death toll beyond belief. The callous indifference to loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease and starvation. It remains one of the deadliest conflicts in human history, paving the way for major political upheaval and revolution in many nations.

You can’t make this stuff up. And why would you want to?

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could well be categorized as an organized international effort to murder a generation and they did a damned good job of it. The absurd statements and dialogue of the historical characters, all safely lodged a safe distance from actual fighting, sound ludicrous.

Did General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really say: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? Apparently he said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans, their takeover of the endless war and bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to preserve, is a great moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would they still be fighting it today? Would Europe even exist or would it be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs are mixed with pithy comments by generals, kings, Kaisers and occasionally, soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and the meaning of those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny and catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and also love great movies, grab one before they disappear. Over Memorial Day weekend, one of the movie channels usually plays it. I didn’t see it listed this year, but we own a copy, so I didn’t look very hard.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and surprisingly informative, this motion picture is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You will not be disappointed and you will never forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I never forgot it.

SINGING IN THE RAIN

My Top 10 “Rain Songs,” by Rich Paschall

Every time I consider a Top 10 list of songs, I think I will never come up with ten.  The fact is, I always pass 10 and must consider which ones to toss.  Remember, this is my top 10.  Some make the list only by virtue of the fact that I heard them thousands of times as I grew up.  They seem to be woven into my life and have been there now for decades.  I have one of recent vintage to toss on the list, I think you will like it.

I did notice there are a lot songs that are well-regarded in this area, but I could not bring myself to add them.  One is the horribly overblown version of November Rain by Guns and Roses.  The over long video with the orchestra and strings is a self-indulgent piece of … (I digress), but it nevertheless makes the top of some lists.  Guitarist Slash said in an interview last year he has no idea what the 1992 video for the song is about.  Yeah, it makes no sense to him either.

Without further a do, or is it ado, or a dew?  Anyway it is not just dew, it is rain and here they are:

10. I Wish it Would Rain, The Temptations
9. Fire and Rain, James Taylor. Taylor has given various explanations of its meaning.
8. Here Comes the Rain Again, Eurythmics
7. Rainy Days and Mondays, The Carpenters Yes, it is pop fluff. I like it anyway.
6. Rainy Night in Georgia, Brook Benton There are a lot of versions, Benton’s is the best.

There are a number of fan videos of Hunter Hayes performing Rainy Season, but nothing official.  Since I have not found a good one, I will give you this audio version from the Encore album.

5.  Rainy Season, Hunter Hayes

Neil Sedaka had a string of hits that go well back into the 1960’s.  His early rock songs made him a star.  In 1974 he composed Laughter in the Rain with lyrics by Phil Cody.  It was a come back for Sedaka and the song made number 1 by February of 1975.  Forty years later, at the age of 76, he gave the following performance.  Yes, I can find earlier versions where his singing is a little better, but I just love it when the old guys can still deliver the goods.

4. Laughter in the Rain, Neil Sedaka

There are a LOT of versions of “Come Rain or Come Shine.”  The Ray Charles version is particularly good, and I highly recommend it.  My addition to the list may surprise you.  Jerry Lewis was not known as a singer and yet, he had a successful album after the breakup of the comedy duo of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.  Jerry was eager to prove he had more talent than just as a slapstick comedian.  My mother owned the 45, or was it a 78 rpm, recording and we played it ad nauseam.  The A side was Rock a Bye Your Baby and certainly got a lot of radio and juke box play, but the B side was well-regarded also. There is a You Tube video of Lewis performing the song at one of the 1990s telethons.  I decided to just go with the actual recording he made famous.

3. Come Rain or Come Shine, Jerry Lewis (Jerry Lewis Just Sings)

Whenever I hear this hit song, I think of Paul Newman riding a bicycle in the 1969 movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The song was written and produced by the song writing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  It was offered to others, but the B.J. Thomas version is the only one that matters.  It was the first number 1 hit song of the 1970s.  On the version recorded for the film, Thomas was recovering from laryngitis.  It is why that version does not sound the same as the hit record.

2. Rain Drops Keep Falling on my Head, B.J. Thomas

Seriously, what do you think of when you think about rain songs? Purple Rain? Have You Ever Seen Rain? Who’ll Stop the Rain? What one song immediately comes to mind? All fans of movie musicals will think of my number one. Is there any other?

The 1952 film, Singing in the Rain, got its title tune from a 1929 (or earlier) song that appeared in 1929’s The Hollywood Music Box Revue.  It was recorded a number of times before it was recycled to great success as the centerpiece of the classic movie.  Gene Kelly directed and starred in the film, recording one of the most famous dance sequences ever shot.  The remarkable part is that Kelly was ill and running a high fever at the time of the performance.

1. Singing in the Rain, Gene Kelly

SOME OF THE GOOD STUFF

Worldly Encounters

What would I share with a casually met alien? The same stuff I’d share with anyone. Stuff that makes me smile, tap my toes, sing along.

Life is complex and uncertain. Eat dessert first.

These are favorites. Take them seriously at your own risk!

Life is messy and we are messy creatures. No easy explanations, so let’s just try to make the best of it.

Have a little taste on me.