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.

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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.”

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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

THE DUKE AND GARRY: A PILGRIM’S TALE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

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The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-one winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snow balls at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved.

At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snow balls. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

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I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — an eternity to me — followed  as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up and I froze.

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“Hello, Garry!”, Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a pseudo happy smile.

I was oblivious to the cameras and time. Later, I would learn that it was a pretty fair interview with me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps. Apparently, that impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

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The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene”. I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me.

Later, as the gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke”. I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. Didn’t matter to me.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in my face and get on with my job.

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

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Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts. Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

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Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

WINCHESTER ’73, CROCKETT AND JIM – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Our second full day in Arizona and first day out on a photo shoot was blessed by sunshine, missing for nearly a week in Phoenix.

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Our host and old friend, Ben, was showing us the sights. We hit pay dirt with our first sunset in Phoenix. I didn’t have to move much to capture scenes that reminded me of one of the first westerns I saw on the big screen, 1950’s “Winchester ’73”.

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The cactus and looming mountains brought back memories of Jimmy Stewart’s “Lin McAdam” chasing after bad guys like Dutch Henry Brown and Waco Johnny Dean in the austere country that now gleamed in burnt color.

As I slowly made my way through the hardened mud, dodged piles of horse “residue” and other clutter, the echoes of “Winchester ’73” and other beloved westerns raced through my sense memory.

So many images….”The Last Sunset”, “The Bravados”, “Arizona Raiders”, “Ride Lonesome”, “3:10 To Yuma”, and all those other oaters shot where I now roamed.

I could feel the presence of John Ford, Robert Aldrich, Delmer Daves, William Wyler and all those other legendary directors who shot classic westerns here.

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Somewhere in the shadows between the cactus and the mountains were the ghosts of characters played by Duke, Clint, Randy, Mitch, and all the other silver screen cowboys.

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Halfway through this particular “shoot” we met two locals, Crockett and Jim.

Crockett is the lean, four-legged Arizonan who checked out the pilgrims taking pictures before a bond was forged. Crockett probably saw the dog hair and smelled familiar odors on our clothing before deciding we would do.

Jim, Crockett’s pal, was quicker to offer friendship. He spun a few stories, sang some songs and swapped a few lies once we told him about our love of the west. I probably cemented things by telling Jim about my encounter with John Wayne back in the early 70’s.

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We had burned daylight as the sunset presented itself in natural wide-screen beauty.

Garry by Ben Taylor

Then, a long goodbye with Crockett and Jim before we rode away to dinner and plans to see more of Arizona.

SPECTRE – 007 IS BACK. AGAIN.

First, the good news. The cinematography is sometimes brilliant. A bit dark. Okay for the big screen, but I hope they brighten it up for viewing at home. Dark doesn’t play well on a small screen.

It’s a very loud movie. The explosions range from loud, to louder, to loudest. Don’t worry about hearing the dialogue though because there isn’t any. No one says anything memorable. Pity about that because given half a chance, I’m pretty sure Daniel Craig can act, but you’d never know it from “Spectre.”

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The movie is at least 20 minutes too long and has half a dozen false endings. Deleting a few false endings might have improved it.

Motivation? Plot?

Bad guys want to take over the world because they are evil. Good guys want to stop them because they are, you know, good. There are some women, too.

Sex? Either too much or not enough. I’m not sure which. Gratuitous violence? Absolutely. There were at least two scenes too violent for me during which I had to hide my eyes.

Bond survives (to make at least one more movie) in the usual way. Which is to say, the evil head of Spectre doesn’t know when to shut up. He has a devilish, incredibly complicated (slow) way to kill Bond. The bad guy has lots of time to recap every horrible thing he has ever done to Bond … while giving 007 ample opportunity to escape.

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There are bad guys who refuse to die. Bond keeps killing them, but wait, they’re back! What a surprise! We’ve never seen anything like that before. Much of this was tired by the time Roger Moore was playing 007. It has gotten older, but not better. Except — the old Bond movies were usually amusing. Funny. Clever. Witty.

Spectre isn’t funny, clever or witty. It’s car chases, stunt flying, destruction of expensive machinery including at least one airplane … and of course killing. Motivation is murky, characters do stuff without apparent rhyme or reason. The high point of the movie is when Bond — in the midst of a car chase — gets stuck behind a slow driver. Sadly, that moment was over too soon, leaving a long way to the final credits.

It wouldn’t cost more to have a script. To add dialogue and a hint of motivation for characters. They have writers, so why not allow them to write? They should also hire an editor and tighten up everything, from end to end. My butt fell asleep. My brain clicked off. By the time the credits rolled, Garry and I had wicked headaches. Too many explosions, too little dialogue.

The final, perfect touch? It cost $4.75 for a bottle of water and $5.75 for a pretzel. I was short twenty cents, but they let me keep it anyway.

Wait for it to come to cable. Make your own microwave popcorn.

If you think I’m the only wet blanket who doesn’t like it, check out the review by Scott Mendelson from Forbes. And other places. It’s not a great or even good movie, but I’m sure it’ll make money. I’m sorry some it was ours.

THE BLACK STALLION

 

If I’m going to be in a movie, I say — bring on the horses!

I grew up yearning for a horse and devoured any book about them. My favorites books were the Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. I probably read the book so many times its cover fell apart.

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All through my childhood, Walter Farley wrote a steady stream of new Black Stallion books  — and I read every one of them. About his colts and fillies. About Alec Ramsey, who grew from a teenage boy to a man in the course of the series. Of Henry Daily, the old horse trainer whose career is revived by his accidental encounter with Alec and The Black. Many stories, as the years went on, were about the racing stable Alex and Henry build in upstate New York for which The Black was the founding stud. To this day, I know more about horses and horse racing than most people … because Walter Farley told me all about it in book after book.

Throughout my young years, I wished they would make The Black Stallion into a movie. I wanted to see The Black, to see Alec ride him. To see him come from behind and become the greatest horse to ever run on a track. I was bewitched by horses and was convinced I would need nothing else in this life if I had a horse.

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Oddly, the great Secretariat’s real accomplishments — winning the Triple Crown in 1973 — remarkably mirrored those of the fictional Black. Watching Secretariat’s career — in the real world — made up for never having seen The Black race.

I never got a horse. Gradually real life overtook my fantasy life. College, work, husband, baby, home, friends replaced dreams of riding bareback on the greatest stallion of them all.

But the magic wasn’t over me because in 1979, Francis Ford Coppola made the movie I’d yearned for since childhood. He based the movie, The Black Stallion, on the first of Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books, the one he wrote in 1941. In making the movie, they changed the story some. This would have made me crazy as a kid, but by the time I saw the movie — in an old theater in Jerusalem, Israel — I was a 30-year-old mother living overseas and able to cope with relatively minor digressions from the original tale.

Last week, Turner Classic Movies showed “The Black Stallion.” So, of course, we watched it again. I’ve seen it many times. Each is seeing it for the first time.

I am swept away to a desert island for the adventure of a lifetime. Even if you aren’t a great horse lover, the score and the cinematography are so extraordinary, the movie is like a dream. They set the story in its original time period, the early 1940s which helps augment the dreamlike effect.

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I want to be on that island with The Black. To ride him along the edge of the ocean, free from everything but the sun, the wind, the sand beneath my horse’s pounding hoofs. I would give a lot for just one day to live that dream.

“The Black Stallion” is a paean to horses, nature, and overcoming adversity. You don’t have to be a kid to love it. It also contains the least dialogue of any movie since the talkies took over Hollywood.

Director Carroll Ballard tells the story with luscious cinematography and a lovely soundtrack. Music fusing with images that wrench your heart.

WESTERN BAD ASS VIOLENCE FIX – TOMBSTONE, 1993

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The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was Gunfight at OK Corral. It was a busy day at the Utopia on Union Turnpike in Queens. Not a big theater, especially back when movie theaters were palatial.

There were hardly any seats left when we got there, having walked 2.5 miles from home. I had a non-driving mom who was a subscriber to healthy outdoor exercise. We did a lot of walking — she with enthusiasm and I because I had no choice.

We found a seat in the second row, from which vantage point 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 of Hollywood.

When movies became available on video, I caught up with all the 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 favored “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan. We have our preferences and they aren’t logical.

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 our mutual favorite version of the OK corral and one of our top 5 westerns of all time.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy. As do all the Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday movies, it omits more than it includes. The Earps were wild and crazy guys, a lot wilder and crazier than even the wildest, craziest portrayal Hollywood has yet put on the screen. Add Doc Holliday — who was a real nutter, a charming, psychopathic killer — and you have a seriously lethal bunch of guys.

There were quite a few other Earp brothers who are always left out of the story, maybe because they didn’t go into the peacekeeping business. Daddy Earp was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be persnicketty about historical details, I’m not when I watch westerns. No percentage in it. They are all wildly inaccurate.

Tombstone has a perfect balance of classic western ingredients. Justice, revenge, violence, horses, great lines, wit, drama, humor, excellent cinematography and enough mythology to make me go “Yeah!!”

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Quotes of the Day:

Curly Bill: [takes a bill with Wyatt’s signature from a customer and throws it on the faro table]

Wyatt Earp: Curly Bill, huh? I heard of you.

C. S. Fly cabinet card portrait of Josephine S...

Josephine Sarah Marcus. She was for a time Sheriff Johnny Behan’s girlfriend but left him for Wyatt Earp. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ike Clanton: Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don’t go around here. Savvy?

Wyatt Earp: I’m retired.

Curly Bill: Good. That’s real good.

Ike Clanton: Yeah, that’s good, Mr. Law Dog, ’cause law don’t go around here.

Wyatt Earp: I heard you the first time. [flips a card]

Wyatt Earp: Winner to the King, five hundred dollars.

Curly Bill: Shut up, Ike.

Johnny Ringo: [Ringo steps up to Doc] And you must be Doc Holliday.

Doc Holliday: That’s the rumor.

Johnny Ringo: You retired too?

Doc Holliday: Not me. I’m in my prime.

Johnny Ringo: Yeah, you look it.

Doc Holliday: And you must be Ringo. Look, darling, Johnny Ringo. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darling? Should I hate him?

Kate: You don’t even know him.

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Wyatt Earp, about age 25 in Dodge City, Kansas. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Doc Holliday: Yes, but there’s just something about him. Something around the eyes, I don’t know, reminds me of… me. No. I’m sure of it, I hate him.

Wyatt Earp: [to Ringo] He’s drunk.

Doc Holliday: In vino veritas. [“In wine is truth” meaning: “When I’m drinking, I speak my mind”]

Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis. [“Do what you do” meaning: “Do what you do best”]

Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus apella, non ego. [“The Jew Apella may believe it, not I” meaning: “I don’t believe drinking is what I do best.”]

Johnny Ringo: [pats his gun] Eventus stultorum magister. [“Events are the teachers of fools” meaning: “Fools have to learn by experience”]

Doc Holliday: [gives a Cheshire cat smile] In pace requiescat. [“Rest in peace” meaning: “It’s your funeral!”]

Tombstone Marshal Fred White: Come on boys. We don’t want any trouble in here. Not in any language.

Doc Holliday: Evidently Mr. Ringo’s an educated man. Now I really hate him.

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 bad guys.

It’s so cathartic! The only piece of armament I’ve ever owned is my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and a 22 caliber target rifle, but I can pretend. And I’m a dead shot with the rifle and have slaughtered paper plates and other inanimate targets from New York to northern Maine.

I have a rich and rewarding fantasy life.

Thank you Tombstone!

DESERT ISLAND CLASSICS – Marilyn and Garry Armstrong

An oldie, but a goodie. Garry wrote it, Head In A Vice published and republished it — and now, I’m reblogging it. What goes around comes around, and around.

Head In A Vice

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Whilst I eagerly await your blogathon entries (7 DAYS LEFT PEOPLE!!) (please feel free to join in, click HERE for details), I wanted to shine some light on my long running Desert Island Films series, and more importantly the people who joined in and made it so much fun to do. I am therefore randomly visiting the archives and re-posting a few of the lists with some added kind words. I present to you; Desert Island Classics…… You may have read all of the lists so far, but I hope you won’t mind seeing a few of them again, and who knows, you may even find some new blogs to read.

Two people that have no interest in horror yet somehow found my blog are Marilyn & Garry Armstrong. It makes me so happy to see them both still visiting my blog and so today I want…

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