A NOSTALGIC RERUN: LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS

A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

If you have stopped by on recent Sundays you have seen some movie lists.  My top 20 Coming of Age movies included the 1971 B&W feature, The Last Picture Show.  The top 20 Films All Guys Should See included a half-dozen black and white films, including a couple mentioned below.

Thoughts on colorful movies shot in B&W

by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If I asked you to list your favorite movies, what would they be?  Star Trek, Jason Bourne, The Secret Life of Pets?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man, Captain America or Suicide Squad?  Is it a 3D Surround Sound, computer enhanced spectacular? Or just fast and furious?  Do special effects and color make a movie great? Or might it be a brilliant script and amazing performances?

If you’re under 30, does your list include anything in black-and-white?  If you’re under 20, have you seen a black-and-white movie?

That’s right, black-and-white movies, like black-and-white photographs, have no colors, just shades of gray covering the gray-scale. It may seem to some that black-and-white movies were only made because color was not perfected until later, but that’s not true. Long after color was standard for all kinds of film, some directors chose black-and-white.

Some shot in black-and-white to evoke a feeling of another time and place. Raging Bull, the break-out performance for Robert DeNiro in 1980 was shot in black-and-white to evoke the era of Jake La Motta, the boxer and film’s subject.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning Schindler’s List was done in black and white not only to make it feel like a World War II movie, but also to emphasize the darkness of the subject matter. American History X, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, all were made in black-and-white for effect, for mood, for a certain cinematographic grittiness. If you never heard of any of the aforementioned, in 2012 the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

casablanca-poster

Here are my top 5 black and white movies. These are required viewing before you report back next week: Casablanca is definitely number one. I know some will tell you that Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I watched it. I liked it. I have no need of seeing it again. I could watch Casablanca over and over.

Set during World War II, it’s the story of an American (Humphrey Bogart) who fell in love with a beauty (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris.  Forced to flee when the Nazis invaded, he is stood up at the train station by the woman he loves as the rain pours down. He winds up running a casino in Casablanca amidst a cast of shady characters … when guess who shows up? The movie includes one of the great movies songs of all time, As Time Goes By. And before you ask, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

As a child, Psycho scared the heck out of me in the theater. It was one of many Alfred Hitchcock classics filmed in black-and-white. Anthony Perkins gave a deliciously creepy performance as the proprietor of the Bates Motel. If you have seen any other version of this classic, you wasted your time. See the original! Perkins reprises the role a number of times in sequels after he was typecast as a weirdo psychopath. Too bad; he was a solid actor.

When the Music Box Theater in Chicago was restored and started showing vintage movies, I took my mother to see Sunset Boulevard. We had both seen it on our wonderful 19-inch, black-and-white television. This was a chance to see a restored print in a restored theater. Writer William Holden is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. The story plays out mostly in flashback.

Silent film star Gloria Swanson, appropriately plays a former silent film star and manages to chew up the scenery in a fabulous performance. A list of Hollywood notables make cameos, including H.B. Warner in the Paramount film, song writers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who wrote music for the movie), and Cecil B. DeMille. As Norma Desmond would famously say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

highnoon2

High Noon is everything a western should be. The town marshal is going to resign — on his wedding day — when bad news arrives. A dangerous outlaw is coming to town, and the new marshal has not yet arrived. The old marshal appears to be no match for the younger guy he had earlier put in jail. Gary Cooper distinguished himself as the sheriff willing to face down the bad guy even if it costs him his life. An A-List of Hollywood stars passed up the chance to make this movie for which Cooper won the Academy Award.

The movie genre that used black-and-white, light and shadows for maximum effect was (is) the detective story. The shine of a street light through a window that throws a shadow on the floor which contains the lines of the window frame and perhaps the detective’s name help to create the scene. Black-and-white emphasizes composition, shadow and light, contrast and mood in ways color can’t.

Top movie of this type is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart chasing his partner’s killer and the elusive Maltese Falcon. It costars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, both of whom will turn up a year later with Bogart in Casablanca. The ending has one of the dumbest movie speeches, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines. Altogether, it’s a great movie.

 

Related:
Coming of Age
Films All Guys Should See

LOEW’S VALENCIA – A PALACE OF STARS

Growing up, my favorite theater was the Valencia in Jamaica. No mere movie theater, it was an experience, a Hollywood production its own right. Here with my brother Matthew, I first experienced the glorious, magical world of movies.

It wasn’t my first trip to the movies, but it was my first trip to a real movie palace.

English: Looking northwest across Jamaica Aven...

Looking northwest across Jamaica Avenue at Loews Valencia.

That first excursion to the Valencia was on a rainy Saturday afternoon. With not much else  to do, off we went to see Shane with Alan Ladd. It had just opened at the Valencia. It was 1953. I was five, going on six. When I had to go to the bathroom, I became so enchanted by the theater, I got lost. The ceiling of the Valencia was called “atmospheric,” a dark distant sky full of realistic twinkling stars.

Not to mention the fountains and strange Rococo architecture the likes of which I doubt were ever seen in a “real” building and certainly never by me, even in my imagination. I couldn’t pull my eyes away and eventually forgot where we were seated in that vast building.

An usher with a flashlight had to help me find my family.

I wouldn’t meet Garry until ten years later when we were at college, but we probably crossed paths in that darkened theater. We were fated to meet.

Today, as a Pentecostal Church.

The Valencia was in downtown Jamaica, Queens, about 3 or 4 miles from my house. It opened in 1929 and was the first of the five Loew’s ‘Wonder’ Theaters. Others would be in various parts New York, including Astoria, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. My sister-in-law graduated in the Loew’s Paradise in the Bronx, twin theater to the Valencia.

English: 3-Manual, 8-Rank, Robert-Morton Organ.

The Valencia’s 3-Manual, 8-Rank, Robert-Morton Organ. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The decorations are described variously as a mix of Spanish Colonial and pre-Columbian, but that doesn’t do it justice. It was fantasy land, and it was entirely unlike anything in reality. Certainly unlike anything in my reality. The theater was enormous, with seating for 3,554, including a vast orchestra section and several balconies.

Architect John Eberson supposedly based his design on Spanish architecture motifs, using wrought iron railings, ornate tile work, sculpture and murals. I suspect a drug induced hallucinogenic state, but perhaps he just had an amazing imagination.

Its extraordinary combination of brick and glazed terra-cotta outside was purportedly inspired by Spanish and Mexican architecture of the Baroque or “Churrigueresque” period, though I have my doubts about that. Details included elaborate terra-cotta pilasters, cherubs, half-shells, volutes, floral swags, curvilinear gables and decorative finials … and of course within, lay that astonishing “atmospheric ceiling” full of stars.

In 1935, the Valencia began to show double features. By the 1950s, it had become my family’s the “go to” movie theater for a special Saturday afternoon. This continued right through the 1960’s.

The Loew’s Valencia was the most successful movie theatre in Queens. Its location in downtown Jamaica, which was then the primary shopping area in the borough and for Long Island before shopping malls changed all that, combined with the theater’s ability (part of the MGM system) to show new movies a week before any other theater in the borough, made it wildly popular.

valencia

The Valencia (Photo credit: ho visto nina volare)

As for me, I’d have happily gone there even if no movie were showing. The theater was a star all by itself. Just those twinkling stars held me transfixed, hypnotized. I would stand staring up at it until someone asked me if I was alright. I was alright, but I was lost. Lost in those twinkling stars.

The Valencia ended its life as a movie theater in May 1977. Since then, it has been the Tabernacle of Prayer for All People church.

At least it was spared the fate of so many other movie palaces. It was not leveled to make way for yet another cookie-cutter cinemaplex. That’s something. And in a way, it’s appropriate. It was always rather like a cathedral.

FILM NOIR OVERLOAD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

This is too good to run just once. And it’s Saturday. Movie night.

SERENDIPITY

Dark, rain-glistened streets. Ominous shadows hover in trash littered alleyways. Cats screech in the distance. Gunshots ring out and a body slumps into the gutter.

The world of film noir.

Film-Noir-Wallpaper-2

As a kid, these were the second show in an afternoon at the movies. The “B” movie. Always in black and white, less than 90 minutes. Featuring the nearly-stars such as Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.

The titles were straightforward. “Where The Sidewalk Ends”, “This Gun For Hire”, “Kiss of Death”, “The Street With No Name”, “The Narrow Margin,” and “The Killers” among other small films now considered film noir classics.

The people were familiar too. The P.I. (Private Eye). He usually had a five o’clock shadow, chain-smoked, drank cheap whiskey out of the bottle or a paper cup. He worked in a dingy second floor office. The client? Usually a husky voiced, chain-smoking, heavily made up siren out of the…

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FILM NOIR OVERLOAD – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Dark, rain-glistened streets. Ominous shadows hover in trash littered alleyways. Cats screech in the distance. Gunshots ring out and a body slumps into the gutter.

The world of film noir.

Film-Noir-Wallpaper-2

As a kid, these were the second show in an afternoon at the movies. The “B” movie. Always in black and white, less than 90 minutes. Featuring the nearly-stars such as Dana Andrews, Richard Conte, Linda Darnell, and Sterling Hayden.

The titles were straightforward. “Where The Sidewalk Ends”, “This Gun For Hire”, “Kiss of Death”, “The Street With No Name”, “The Narrow Margin,” and “The Killers” among other small films now considered film noir classics.

The people were familiar too. The P.I. (Private Eye). He usually had a five o’clock shadow, chain-smoked, drank cheap whiskey out of the bottle or a paper cup. He worked in a dingy second floor office. The client? Usually a husky voiced, chain-smoking, heavily made up siren out of the Mae West Drama Academy. The P.I’s secretary? A snarky, but good-natured woman who didn’t take crap from her boss, the cops or hoodlums. The Bad Guys? Sleazy, menacing, and homicidal. Think young Richard Widmark, William (Pre-“Life of Riley”) Bendix, Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, Jack Lambert, and probie villain, Lee Marvin. These guys loved to kill.

Maltese-Falcon-72

There were no happy endings in these film noir classics. The female lead usually was a two-timer who got killed or took the fall in the closing minutes. Mary Astor’s Brigid O’Shaughnessy was straight out of central casting when Bogie’s Sam Spade turned her over to the cops in “The Maltese Falcon.” Spade liked her, but not enough to risk a bullet in the back one lonely night.

Robert Mitchum’s Phillip Marlowe wondered  “Why does everything I touch turns to shit?” in the 70’s reboot of “Farewell, My Lovely”.

I loved the fatalism of these movies, far removed from the glossy romantic dramas featuring Gable, Tracy, Flynn and other major stars of old Hollywood.

Lately, we’ve been watching Netflix’s stable of dark crime dramas. They come from around the world.

They all share a world-view that includes lots of death, depression, depravity, brutal murder, and minimal — if any — humor. Locale doesn’t matter. It could be Los Angeles, Denmark, the English countryside, or Sweden. It’s one, dark grim world, everywhere you look.

Thanks to an old friend, we’re currently watching a British series, “MidSomer Murders”. It’s set in a small, English village. There are multiple murders in each episode. We’re into season five and the bodies keep piling up. Marilyn and I wonder if they’ll have to bring in people from other small villages to keep the murderers in business.

midsomer murders poster-2

“MidSomer Murders” is balanced with humor from its continuing characters and the guest stars. I’ve noticed familiar faces like David Warner, Nigel Davenport and Richard Johnson among the guest stars. The plots are nicely developed, well-acted, and written with sly wit. The show is still running after 17 seasons, so Marilyn and I look forward each night to a batch of lovely murders with quirky, amusing characters.

I still love those dark and dangerous film noir folks. But these days, real life is often sufficiently grim. I prefer my murders with a bit of laughter.

Cheerio!

COMING OF AGE

My Favorite Films, by Rich Paschall

We all have to grow up and learn the lessons of life.  Some are fun.  Some are work.  Some are terrifying.  Nevertheless, it takes time and experience to bring a person to maturity.  Many films show these various aspects of growing up.  The movie may be a Risky Business or capture 400 Blows.  They can introduce you to Harold and Maude or perhaps to Willie Wonka.  You may find a birthday of Sixteen Candles while you are Pretty in Pink.  You may even find a Rebel Without A Cause.

As a boy, a teenager and even as a young man I would identify with the younger heroes of the story, whether they were the lead character or not.  When I saw Swiss Family Robinson, I was more interested in the young son’s adventure (James MacArthur) than the parents who were trying to protect themselves while stranded on an island.  I was quite young at the time but remember it well.  If you saw Disney films in that era, you knew there was a young hero for kids to identify with, who might also own a dog or horse.  I loved those movies.

As I got older I saw more mature themes.  Some are poignant.  Some are jubilant.  Some are sad.  Since there are so many great films in this category, I could not cut it to a top 10.  My “short list” had a lot of entries.  When I subsequently looked at some published lists, it reminded me of others.  There may be better ones that I have not seen, but these are my favorites from my local theater or living room screen.

20.  Mysterious Skin.  A young Joseph Gordon Leavitt is a teenage hustler.  This is not your “feel good” movie.
19.  St. Elmo’s Fire.  The 1985 Brat Pack classic about recent college grads.
18. Donnie Darko. The 2001 cult hit stars Jake Gyllenhaal as an odd teenager.
17. Good Will Hunting. Matt Damon is the math wiz discovered by Robin Williams.
16. The Breakfast Club. If you served high school detention on Saturday morning, you get it. A John Hughes classic film.

Ferris Bueller

Ferris Bueller

15. Ferris Buehler’s Day Off. Ferris cuts class and comes to Chicago with a couple of friends.  Matthew Broadrick is Ferris.
14. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. A young man (Johnny Depp) and his mentally challenged younger brother (Leonardo DiCaprio).
13. October Sky. Based on the true story of a boy (Homer Hickam) who dreams of being a rocket scientist. Jake Gyllenhaal stars.
12. Big. Tom Hanks stars as the boy in a man’s body. The best movie ever to try this film trick.
11. The Karate Kid. It does not matter which one you see (Ralph Macchio or Jaden Smith). Skip the sequels.

10.  The Last Picture Show.  A black and white film about life in a dead-end southern town.  The 1971 film stars Timothy Bottoms and Jeff Bridges, with Cybill Shepherd and Cloris Leachman.

09.  American Grafitti.  It’s the end of summer vacation 1962 and you are cruisin’ in your convertible and listening to Rock and Roll on the car radio.  You might be getting into a little bit of mischief as well.  The low-budget 1973 film was box office gold.

08.  Dead Poets Society.  High School seniors form a poetry society and learn to “seize the day” (carpe diem) from English teacher Robin Williams.  The setting for the 1989 film was an elite academy in 1959.  The film won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.

07.  Billy Elliot.  An 11 year old boy in a poor northern England town ends up in ballet class one day while going to his weekly boxing class.  The coal miner’s son is in for a rough time, but sticks with the dance class against his father’s wishes.  The film’s success lead to the eventual Broadway play.

06.  Dirty Dancing.  “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”  Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey get up close and personal on the dance floor in this 1987 film.  It’s forbidden love and hot dancing.  What’s not to like?

05.  Old Yeller.  A boy, his dog and another Disney tear-jerker.  This one may be for kids but many of them will be crying at the end.  Is this a good lesson for kids?  Next I suppose you will tell me Bambi’s mother is dead.

04.  Summer Storm (Sommersturm).  This 2004 German language film follows the friendship of two boys on the rowing team as one learns his feelings for the other.  It was a winner at the Munich Film Festival among others.

03.  The Way He Looks (Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho). The 2014 Portuguese language, Brazilian film shows the difficulty of seeking independence for a blind boy who does not know the way he looks or if he will be attractive to others.  His life becomes more complicated when he starts to have feelings for another student.  Based on the amazing viral success of a short film, the feature was made soon enough thereafter to star the original three teenagers.  We talked about the development of this film in the article, In Another Language.

02.  A Separate Peace.  Like many of the above, I guess you might call this a “loss of innocence” story.  Based on the 1959 best-selling novel of the same name, the 1972 movie is set in World War II England at an all boys boarding school.  The author is quick to point out there are no homoerotic implications.  “It would have changed everything, it wouldn’t have been the same story.”  It’s a love-hate relationship between friends.  I have not seen the 2004 Showtime film.

01.  Harry Potter 1-8.  It really is the greatest coming of age movie of all because it is actually 8 movies.  How fortunate that we were able to have the same young actors throughout the ten year film-making odyssey.  It took all these stories for young Harry to become the man he needed to be to defeat the evil that confronted him throughout.  Daniel Radcliffe will forever be everyone’s vision of the boy wizard who grew up before our eyes.

MAYBE BABY – BUDDY HOLLY AND THE CRICKETS

Remember Buddy Holly? No? Well, how about his songs? He didn’t live long, but I think quite possibly his songs will live forever.

buddy holly story posterIf you like old rock and roll and haven’t yet seen The Buddy Holly Story (1978) starring Gary Busey (before he became Hollywood’s’ favorite creepy bad guy), you should see it. Not only is it a surprisingly good movie, but the music is as toe-tapping as ever.

It’s familiar music, too. Not only the music of my generation, it has found its way into the music library of every generation since. Many of songs everyone recognizes were written and first performed by Buddy Holly. Long ago, when Rock N’ Roll was the exciting new kid in the music world — and “those in the know” said it would never last.

And … Gary Busey will surprise you.

MAYBE | THE DAILY POST