TEN FAVORITE MOVIES* 2014 EDITION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Inside the Loew's Valencia. Queens, New York.

Inside the Loew’s Valencia. Queens, New York.

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies. That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow. And now …

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES –  SEPTEMBER 2014 VERSION

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960.  If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. All the stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake” is my email tag.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character.  The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theatre in Manhattan where Caron’s “Lilli” had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I both saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. “Reb” funeral scene is classic, cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943.  Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70′s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.


Ask me to my ten favorites next month. Different answers! Hoo-Ray for Hollywood!

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

Marilyn Armstrong:

Jim, we already miss you!

Originally posted on SERENDIPITY:

By James Garner and Jon Winokur - Release date: October 23, 2012

garnerfiles

From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong…

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REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars – Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

By James Garner and Jon Winokur - Release date: October 23, 2012

garnerfiles

From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong opinions, you would be right. He has a great many opinions and no reticence about expressing them. He’s an unabashed liberal, egalitarian, man of the people who made good.

He thinks acting should come naturally and claims he’s never taken acting lessons.

It’s true. He never took any formal acting lesson. That he spent weeks huddled with Marlon Brando when he was shooting “Sayonara” and learned an incredible amount from the man he considers the best actor ever … I guess that doesn’t count as acting lessons. And lessons or no, this is an actor who’s easy-going, deceptively relaxed acting style makes it look easy. Making it look easy took a lot of hard work which seems to be the way it works with so many things that appear easy … when someone else does it.

Garner is an honest guy. He tells it like he sees it, or at least remembers it. He ruthlessly reviews every television series he made in detail, including his favorite episodes with lots of back stories and anecdotes. He reviews and rates every movie he made. I like some of them better than he did, but mostly I agree with his assessments. We all agree “The Americanization of Emily” was not only his best movie, but maybe the best movie of that type. Ever. I’m inclined to agree. “Emily” was not merely a movie but an ideal. He spent the rest of his life trying to live up to.

Probably the one that has given me the most laughs is “Support Your Local Sheriff” in which he reprised his Maverick persona.

If “Emily” was his best movie, “Grand Prix” was his favorite. Like many other Hollywood stars, he’s in love with fast cars and racing. Grand Prix was pure fun for the entire cast.

Who he likes and doesn’t like? You won’t have to guess. He tells you exactly how he feels about everyone. He’s not big on forgiving or forgetting. Given that he shares his birthday with my husband, I’m not surprised.

Grand Prix (1966 film)

He came from a  poor, rough, abusive childhood. He worked hard and is the only person who seems to have had more surgery than me. That’s a lot of surgery, believe me.

It never occurred to me that acting was so physically taxing, but apparently he is by no means the only performer to have broken just about everything at one time or another.

His two famous battles with studios were history-making because he won. The second lawsuit revolved around “The Rockford Files” and the issue was shady bookkeeping practices employed by studios to avoid paying performers. Technically he settled out of court for what was (apparently) so much money he’s still laughing about it. He wanted to keep fighting because there was a principle involved. His friends told him to shut up and take the money. Eventually, he decided they were right. It must have been a lot of money. My guess is that the studios continue to play fast and loose with bookkeeping and will … as long as they get away with it.

I enjoyed reading the book on Kindle and then enjoyed it a second time as an audiobook. I wish Garner had done the narration himself. Although Audible found a narrator whose voice and intonation resemble Garner’s and it’s good, it’s still not the same as having Garner do it.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of James Garner and his movies … or for anyone who likes knowing what was going on behind the scenes. It’s entertaining, honest, surprising and often funny. I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll probably read it again. I’d give this one a solid 9 out of 10.

It’s a fine autobiography. It’s available on Kindle, Audible.com, in paperback and hardcover (large print).

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Sunset – Blake Edwards, 1988

File:Sunsetsmall.JPGSunset is a movie that grows on you, or at least it has grown on us. We’ve always liked it. Now, many watchings later, we like it even more. With Blake Edwards directing and starring James Garner, Bruce Willis, Malcolm McDowell and a score by Henry Mancini, you’ve got to figure this is going to be good entertainment. And you would be right.

The story starts with Wyatt Earp (James Garner) arriving in Hollywood to consult on a new film about the gunfight at OK Corral. Wyatt and Tom Mix (Bruce Willis) strike up a friendship, then team up to solve a real life crime committed by evil movie mogul Alfie Alperin (Malcolm McDowell). There are great lines in this movie, but the best is the wonderful refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two.”

The movie makes no pretence at historical accuracy. This is fun and fantasy, historical fiction mixed liberally with guns, early Hollywood mythology and at least one classic gunfight. It’s “once upon a time” style clearly announces that this is not a movie to be taken seriously. The characters are loosely — very loosely — based on real characters but the events portrayed never happened … give or take a lie or two.

So yesterday, while we were watching another favorite Blake Edwards film, S.O.B., we got to discussing which of the characters was Blake Edwards daughter Jennifer (it turned out to be Lila, one of the young hitchhikers). Garry pointed out that she had played Victoria Alperin in Sunset and while I was looking all this up, I wandered over to Wikipedia and started reading various bits of stuff about Sunset.

What to my wondering eyes should appear but a section titled “Historical errors.” Huh? I was intrigued, being as the film never claimed to be historical, accurate or otherwise.

They actually used to have a section in Wikipedia pointing out the historical inaccuracies in the movie:

Historical Errors

The action takes place in the year 1929, the year of the first Academy Awards presentation. It depicts Wyatt Earp arriving (and later leaving) Los Angeles by train; in fact, Earp had been living in the Los Angeles area since about 1910. It depicts Earp as single, in reasonably athletic condition, and carrying on a brief romance with young Cheryl (Mariel Hemingway); in fact, Earp, who was born in 1848, had long been married to Josephine Marcus. It similarly depicts Tom Mix as single and carrying on a prolonged and uninhibited romance with his assistant, Nancy; in fact, Mix was then, and for years afterward, married to his third wife. In the course of the film, Earp says that Calamity Jane’s real name was Mary Jane Cannary; her first name was Martha, not Mary. It depicts Earp as technical advisor to a Tom Mix film of the gunfight at the OK Corral in which Mix portrays Earp; Mix made no such film and never portrayed Earp, who served as an unpaid advisor, years earlier, on some silent movies. The film depicts Earp attending the first Academy Awards presentation at a late evening dinner; in fact, the awards were presented at a brunch on May 16, 1929—four months after Earp had died at the age of 80.

Final title cards of the credits:

Title Card: …and that’s the way it really happened.

Title Card: Give or take a lie or two.

It’s at moments like this I wonder if the people who write this stuff watched the movie. This is not a documentary. It isn’t even historical fiction. It’s a comedy, set in Hollywood circa 1929. The villain is completely fictitious. Whatever relationship existed between Wyatt Earp and Tom Mix is anybody’s guess. The only fact is that Tom Mix was a pall bearer at Wyatt Earp’s funeral.

Including this section at all indicates that whoever wrote it never watched the movie or missed not merely “the point,” but everything. For the first time in my life, I actually put a note into Wikipedia:

The movie is pure fiction and the refrain line, “Give or take a lie or two,” more or less sums up the “historical” accuracy. It does not claim to be historically accurate and in fact, makes a point — frequently repeated — that this is a Hollywood fairy tale that begins with “once upon a time,” or words to that effect. Critiquing the historical accuracy of a piece of comedic fiction is absurd. The following information may be correct, but it’s entirely irrelevant to the movie. —

Since I added my note, they changed the section to indicate that the movie is not supposed to be historical. Nonetheless, they continue to correct the history except they retitled the section Historical Context. So it’s slightly less stupid now. Glad my futile gesture was not entirely futile. What is the point in correcting historical errors — or providing historical context — for a movie that makes no claim of being historically accurate?

Who writes this stuff? You have to wonder. Or at the very least, I have to wonder.

Anyway, if you’ve never seen Sunset, the chemistry between Garner and Willis is great, the dialogue is witty, the movie is both funny and occasionally even suspenseful. Willis is at his charming best, as is Garner and together, under Edwards’ adept direction, they make magic.

Give or take a lie or two.

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Marilyn’s Desert Island Eight – Movies I never tire of!

Eight movies to have on a desert island? So many movies … but if I had to make the choice, here they are!

The Lion In Winter

The Lion in Winter (1968 film)

The Lion in Winter (1968 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Awesome performances by everyone, from Hepburn and O’Toole, to Anthony Hopkins in his first screen role. Wonderful script and matchless screen chemistry. It’s not accurate history … but the interaction of the members of the family is surprisingly close if you want to examine only the emotional content. In the end, it’s all about the performances. From top to bottom, every performance is extraordinary. Hepburn got an Oscar, one of three wins for the film. Many more nominations plus three Golden Globes. All well-deserved.

The Americanization of Emily

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

Paddy Chayevsky‘s script is among the best movie scripts of all time. Add superb performances by James Garner and Julie Andrews in her first dramatic role. The whole movie would be worth it just for Garner’s monologue on war. But there’s so much more. It’s funny, sharp, downright brilliant.

The cast knew they’d never have a better job. All of them list this movie as the favorite or as one of the top one or two of their professional lives. Roles like this don’t come along often in any actor’s career. The actors showed their appreciation by working their hearts out. Everyone is at the top of his or her game.

Tombstone

This is one of those movies that I like better each time I watch it … and I watch it often. We can recite dialogue with it. It’s got everything you want a western to have: passion, revenge, violence, humor and brilliant cinematography. It’s Val Kilmer‘s best performance and arguably Kurt Russell‘s shining moment.

This is my go to movie if I need a revenge and violence fix. It manages to have a satisfying body count without the gore. I like that in a movie.

Maybe it isn’t one of the all time greatest films, but reminds me of some of the best of times in my life as well as music I dearly love. It’s funny, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, a loving parody. It’s a warm-hearted and nostalgic look at a time many of us look back on with great affection. The music manages to be humorous and good — a difficult act to pull off.

Casablanca

Not the most original choice, but it’s so good and it has worn well despite the years. We saw it on the big screen not long ago. Wonderful. It’s pure mythology, but it’s the way we wish it had been. I need heroes.

Three Oscar wins — Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay plus nominations for just about every member of the cast. Seeing it on the big screen was like seeing it for the first time and gave me an even better appreciation of the brilliant script.

Blazing Saddles

It’s hard to pick just one Mel Brooks movie, but if I have to choose, this has to be the one. It was a tough choice. “Young Frankenstein,” “High Anxiety,” and “History of the World, Part I” are right up there too. “Blazing Saddles” wins because it’s got some of the all-time great movie lines. That’s HEDLEY Lamar!

Starman

Science fiction movies usually disappoint me because they aren’t science fiction, but westerns in space using spacecraft for horses, featuring millions of dollars of special effects, but no script. This is all acting. A fine script, wonderful performances, romantic, touching and believable. A great performance — underrated — by Jeff Bridges. And I almost forgot to mention the haunting score. Rarely mentioned, it’s the best kind of science fiction … concept and character based. And unforgettable.

The Three and Four Musketeers (1973 – 1974)

I know they were issued as two movies, but they were filmed as one. The stars of the film(s) sued the studios since they had only been paid for one movie, and they won. Nonetheless, both movies play like a single film in two parts. You can’t watch one without the other. They keep remaking it, but none of the others come near this version. It’s fast, funny, and surprisingly true to the books. Dumas would have been pleased. I love the sword fights. I used to fence in college, and this has some of the best choreographed fencing I’ve ever seen. It’s not the elegant fencing you usually see, but brawling — the way men really fought — not to get points for good form, but to win without getting sliced up.

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And that’s my eight. If I could pick a hundred more, I wouldn’t run out of choices. Oh, and I might change my mind tomorrow!

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Listeria – Western Actors Edition

Marilyn Armstrong:

Great choices!

Originally posted on Surrounded By Imbeciles:

I know that this edition of Listeria is coming along soon after the last edition of Listeria, but I went overboard on my last trip to the magazine stand. Besides, this one covers one of my favorite subjects – Western movies. I grew up watching them with my dad, and that experience played a role in my interest in the history of the West.

American Cowboy published a special issue called “Legends of Western Cinema” and listed the 20 greatest Western actors. However, there is one problem that needs to be addressed before I begin. When people think about Westerns, or the history of the West, they think about cowboys first. Some of the greatest Westerns don’t involve cowboys at all. They involve mountain men, Native Americans, cavalry and all sorts of characters. In the real West, not everyone were cowboys. A good way to see this? If there are…

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