I spend way too much time reading science fiction. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is my favorite of the brain-stealing monster stories.
I first saw the movie when I was 14. I had a tumor on my right tibia. Not malignant, but big and it had to be removed. Even a non-malignant tumor can do considerable damage if it keeps growing and this one was growing like mad.
So there I was in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I had a private room. I think most of the rooms were private and it was in that hospital that I very briefly met Eleanor Roosevelt who was not long for the world at that time. It was an elevator meeting, two wheelchairs and a brief “You are the woman I most admire in this world” and a “Thank you, dear.”
I was probably the only kid on the floor and the nurses tended to congregate in my room in the evening. I was watching TV at night. During the day, I read. One night, there was a movie on the tube — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”
I was terrified. I was convinced there was one of those pods under my bed and I made the nurses check there and in all the closets. Those Body Snatchers were sneaky and I wasn’t going to let them turn me into one of those emotionless neo-robots!
Although I’ve seen many other science fiction movies — and read thousands of books in the genre — I think that was the single story that scared me the most. Not because of its strange appearance. No tentacles and nothing bug-like, but because it looked like me. Or you. It was the alien clone that removed our humanity.
I think I’m still afraid of that. Maybe that’s the one thing left to fear!
The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.”
It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater which was 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.
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 videotaped 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 more than it includes, but if you are looking for accuracy, you should consider reading a book. There are quite a few written and some are excellent. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.
They were a lot wilder and crazier than depicted in any movie made about them. They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers. The Earps fell on both sides of it, depending on which account you’re reading.
They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.
There were also other Earp brothers who are 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. There are just some genres that don’t work if you are searching for accuracy and westerns are a big one.
I watch westerns because I love horses, deserts, the great blue sky of the west, and dusty old towns with wooden sidewalks. Really, I will watch anything 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.
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 cheer them on.
“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.
I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was the victim of a mass hallucination — note that mass hallucinations are not nearly as common as Hollywood suggests — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then the movie 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 124 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. It was a heat wave, but heat waves seem to be pretty common there.
I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks. It certainly isn’t to keep the rain off.
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 westerns for escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in a kind of violence I normally abhor but somehow when they are shooting their 145th bullet from a six-gun, I forgive them.
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-time 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 workday 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.
We 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.
After five films the original James Bond, Sean Connery, left the series, but when George Lazenby only stuck around for one film despite an original offer for more, Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever. The franchise rebounded nicely from the comparatively weak showing with Lazenby, but Connery was tired of 007 and thought he was a bit too old for the part. He said he would never play Bond again, but Never Say Never Again was in his future.
If Connery was feeling a bit old for the part, then it would seem a bit surprising that the next actor to play Commander Bond was almost 3 years older. Roger Moore, however, had all the qualities the producers wanted in James Bond. He was handsome and charming and had experience as a super sleuth. Moore was Simon Templar in the long running television series, The Saint. In a bit of irony, in an early episode of The Saint, Templar is confused for Bond.
First up for Roger Moore was Live And Let Die (1973). The eighth Bond film was based on the second Ian Fleming novel. The series made no attempt to film the books in order. While some novels actually continued elements of previous stories, it was not a series in the same sense as Harry Potter, for example.
The film brings back Guy Hamilton as director. He not only directed Diamonds Are Forever, but also the critically acclaimed Goldfinger. Sir Paul McCartney contributed the Academy Award nominated theme song. Roger Moore proved to be the engaging secret agent the producers had hoped.
The film does not stand up well to the test of time. The cliché ridden antics of 1970s era films are on full display. The chase scenes are incredibly long and the introduction of a stereotypical and somewhat comical southern sheriff into the action is a bit on the absurd side. Nevertheless, the Bond franchise is now moving ahead again, with a full shaker of vodka martinis.
Next for Moore was Man With The Golden Gun (1974). It was supposed to be the second Lazenby film, but when he refused to do the project, it was put on the shelf for Connery’s return in a different story. Even though it was the thirteenth Ian Fleming novel, the movie found a way to incorporate elements from the previous film based on the second novel. With more over blown and lengthy chases, the film even finds a way to include the southern sheriff from the previous film. Yes, he is on vacation in southeast Asia with his wife and finds himself in the midst of the chase. An incredible jump with a car by Bond looks a lot like one done by Pierce Brosnan as Bond decades later.
Guy Hamilton directed Golden Gun as well. After two long films with improbable and lengthy chase scenes, he was done. While the films did well as the box office, Man With the Golden Gun was not well received by critics. It was time to move on
The third Roger Moore film finds the hero hitting his stride, in my humble opinion, with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). An American and a Soviet submarine disappear and Bond is sent to investigate along with a beautiful Soviet agent, who would prefer to kill Bond for the death of a Soviet agent who had once tried to kill Bond. The chase scene on skis is more exciting than the car and boat chase scenes of the previous two movies. The intrigue is there, the Bond girl is beautiful, the scenery is great and the Bond devices and tricks supplied by “Q” are up to par. This film finally has the charm of the Connery films, something that has been lacking despite the box office success.
The fourth Roger Moore film, Moonraker (1979), bears almost no resemblance to the 1955 novel from which it takes its name. Nothing in the Fleming story could have suggested this. The film moves full speed ahead into the realm of science fiction, retaining some of the traditional Bond elements before Roger blasts off into space with the latest “Bond girl.”
Instead of preventing a nuclear missile from destroying London, the film has Bond on a quest to find a missing space shuttle. You will recall the previous film had him looking for missing submarines. Now it is not just London that Bond must save, but the entire world. Who knew so many space shuttles were at the ready of the villain and NASA? Yes, there will be battle and a chase in outer space.
In the novel, the villain is an ex-Nazi. Remember the book is from 1955 so the ex-Nazi and Soviet connection is plausible. In the updated story, the villain is attempting to set up a scenario where he can establish a master race. I won’t go into exactly how he intends to pull this off, put it requires space ships, satellites, a space station and lots of lasers.
These films were not made in the rapid succession of the early Bond films. After the fourth film, Moore was 52 years old, but continued to be a popular Bond. Moonraker was the top grossing Bond film at that point and Moore would be in demand for more films. Yes, the Roger Moore era was nowhere near the finish.
A few years ago I set out to watch all of the “official” James Bond movies in order, the EON Productions films, that is. I saw the other 3 as well. As I finished the films of each actor, I wrote down my thoughts on the movies. This took place over a couple of years, as procrastination left a time lag between actors. In some cases, I was also chasing down the DVDs.
There will be a lot of talk about Bond 25 for the next year as it will soon go into production and will be released in the fall of 2019.
If you remember the very beginnings of the James Bond movies, then you have to admit this: 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 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, although 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 features. 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 beautiful woman 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 Tuesday, and the making of a second Thunderball.
I think most of the things we enjoy would be counted as guilty pleasures by someone else. You might say we’ve become guilty pleasure experts.
The other night, Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure.
We laughed all the way through it, although it isn’t supposed to be funny. It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.
The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.
On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISE. It’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.
Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.
That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipityis their source for this data.
Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.
IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.
How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.
But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.
Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.
For me to be a source for Wikipedia is hilarious, but a bit troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?
This week, we tuned into Drew Barrymore’s latest show on Netflix. It’s called “The Santa Clarita Diet.” She has, in this story, become a zombie. It’s funny because she’s a very suburban and rather bouncy zombie. She certainly dresses a lot better than any other zombie I’ve seen on the screen.
If you are a huge fan of blood, gore, and massive quantities of vomit, this might be the right show for you.
Garry commented that “It’s probably a matter of personal taste.” That was his way of saying “Ew, disgusting, yuck, I’ll never watch it again.” She’s a Barrymore, so he’s being polite. She has a heritage. If anyone in the movie world could be considered royalty, Drew Barrymore has got to be “it.” Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be watching this show ever. I’m pretty sure this could have been a witty, entertaining show without the massive quantities of vomit, blood, and torn out internal organs.
Probably we’re a bit old-fashioned, but all that stuff does is turn my stomach.
For a few years, Drew Barrymore was working on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne, discussing and introducing classic movies. It was a treat listening to her observations. She should know, after all.
She was on Colbert last week, too. Her face has changed in recent years. Now, she really looks like a Barrymore.
That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.
Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years, the royal family of stage and screen, the Barrymores.
As of this writing, Drew Barrymore is her generation’s only working actor. John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth are the only descendants of John Barrymore who became actors.
Garry and I were trying to guess how many acting dynasties include at least three generations, in which at least one family member in each generation has done something noteworthy as an actor. Not as a director, producer, or writer. Only actors.
Define “noteworthy” please!
It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be members of the same family. The Capras are directors. No actors, so they don’t count for the purposes of this post.
Reality shows do not count. Non-speaking and cameo roles do not count, nor does work as a TV announcer, talk show host, or sportscaster. Mere celebrity does not count. Only acting.
The Barrymore genealogy is complicated because it is extensive. There have many marriages and a slew of children. Most of the men in the family are named John, which doesn’t make it easier to follow the trail.
Other acting families are even more confusing. Actors marry each other, divorce frequently, and have children by many partners. They adopt and raise children from former marriages and from spouses’ former relationships. It’s hard to keep track and sometimes, relationships intertwine to such a degree it’s impossible to say to which family a particular person belongs. Not unlike European royal families.
If you count only acting families — and only family members who have had a real acting careers — the number of entries in the field are manageable. You’ll quite a few 2-generation families. A handful of 3-generation families.
Only one family has four generations of working actors.
Drew Barrymore is the family’s current representative.There are many other family members, but none are acting, as of this writing. It doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy. Talk about family pressure.
If you want to see the other families, or at least most of them, you can look them up. Google “multi-generational acting families“. Wikipedia has a good write-up, but omits significant British families.
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