Saturday, July 30, 2011

Monster Mash Blogathon: Forbidden Planet (1956)

This article is dedicated to the memory of Mr. Movie, a local film critic and an acquaintance of my family. Mr. Movie hosted a popular radio show in which he shared his knowledge and love of films through in-depth discussions with his listeners. Forbidden Planet was Mr. Movie's favorite  film of all time, and he claimed to have watched it 178 times. Mr. Movie, whose real name is Steve Friedman, passed away two years ago. Mr. Movie Obit

Welcome to Day 3 of the 50s Monster Movies Blogathon hosted by Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear! So far there have been great posts, with more to come through August 2nd.


Forbidden Planet (1956) is one of the classic science fiction movies, not just of the 1950s, but of all time. But is it a monster movie? I'll get to that in depth later, but the quick answer is yes, although the monster is unconventional and the focus of the film is on exploration. Before I get any further I have to address the film's iconic poster. Although it looks cool and is recognizable by many who haven't even seen the movie, it is also very misleading. Robby the Robot is not the monster of the movie and the scene depicted in the poster never takes place in the film. The closest thing to this that happens is that Robby the Robot carries the doctor for a moment, but it is not out of menace as the poster seems to indicate.


Forbidden Planet was one of the first science fiction films that does not take place on Earth at all. The movies opens with the space ship, United Planets Cruiser C57-D with a hyper-drive and light speed capabilities, arriving at the Planet Altair IV. The mission of the ship's crew is to discover what happened to the colonists sent to the planet 20 years ago. Led by Commander J.J. Adams (played by a young Leslie Nielsen), the crew discovers that the only survivors are Dr. Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his lovely daughter Altaira (Anne Francis). Dr. Morbius insists that the ship leave immediately since he says the planet is dangerous, although he wants to stay there with his daughter. However, the crew has orders to investigate and bring back any survivors  

Once the ship lands, the crew is greeted by Robby the Robot, who speaks English as well as 187 other languages! This makes sense since he was created by Dr. Morbius, a linguist. While it seems strange at first that a philologist would be able to make a robot, it is later revealed that Dr. Morbius was able to create Robby because his mind was enhanced by a machine left behind by the Krell, a now vanished alien civilization that lived on Altair IV 200 centuries ago. Robby the Robot is the most well known part of the movie. Forbidden Planet is Robby's film debut, and he is credited as himself! Although Robby was expensive to create, it was certainly worth it as he isn't merely a prop but a fully developed character. Robby is often used for comic relief even though he never gets what is funny about what he says, which is clearly an influence on C-3PO from Star Wars, Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and countless other fictional automatons of the last 50 years. Robby the Robot has since appeared in many other movies and TV shows such as The Twilight Zone and Lost in Space.


Robby takes the crew to the Morbius home in which we first meet Dr. Morbius and his daughter. Dr. Morbius explains that the colonists encountered some sort of planetary force which caused the deaths of all the colonists except for Morbius, his wife who he claimed later died from natural causes, and his 19 year old daughter who is now experiencing her first human contact outside of her family. Although the crew wonders if Robby the Robot had anything to do with this, we find out early on that he is a red herring as we get a demonstration that he cannot harm people. Robby is essentially bound to Isaac Asimov's three laws of Robotics.


After we find out about Morbius and the deaths of the colonists, the crew tries to get to the bottom of what really happened. In the mean time several members of the entirely male crew try to get with Morbius' daughter! I can't say I blame them as Anne Francis is absolutely stunning. I have no idea how they got away with the mini dresses Altaira wears throughout the film as they are sexy today and must have been even more provocative back in the 50s.


Eventually our crew gets their hormones under control long enough to discover
a giant laboratory underneath Morbius' home that belonged once belonged to the Krell. The Krell were a highly advanced alien civilization who inexplicably (at first) died out 200,000 years ago. There are some animals on the planet, and Morbius says the reason behind this is that the Krell visited Earth long ago and returned with specimens. It is never revealed what the Krell looked like and the only hint we get is the triangle shape of their doors. Morbius gives Commander Adams and the ship's doctor (Warren Stevens) the grand tour of the massive Krell power system. There is a Krell computer shown which is the size of a table but described as a powerful computer. It even has a touch screen! Eventually Morbius shows off a piece of Krell equipment which they used to expand their minds, and Morbius admits that he used the machine on himself to increase his intellect. The Krell used this technology in the hopes of using their minds to create anything. As we find out later, it turns out that this ending up being their downfall.


Forbidden Planet is only 98 minutes, yet the first death in the movie does not occur until over an hour into the film. Of course there are plenty of hints that there was a monster such as the deaths of the colonists almost twenty years earlier. At first the monster is completely invisible which adds to the suspense. Unlike most monster movies of its time, Forbidden Planet doesn't show you the monster until late in the game which works in its favor. We don't actually see the first death although we are shown the scene leading up to it with the invisible monster entering the ship. The chief gets killed and his death is described as quite grisly since it is said his body was splattered on the ship!


Eventually the monster returns, but this time the crew is more prepared as they set up a strong electric fence, stationary guns, and many armed guards. The electric fence partially reveals the monster and a few members of the crew die fighting the creature until it eventually disappears. This is the only time we really get to see the monster, as it shows up again near the end, but is mostly invisible. When Dr. Morbius enhanced his mind it caused the monsters of his id to come into existence in the physical world. The monster killed the other colonists because Dr. Morbius wanted to stay and they were pressuring him to leave. The monster returns when the crew comes to the planet because Morbius doesn't want to leave and is not pleased with the crew's advances on his daughter. It won't give away the ending, but it is a satisfying conclusion.


So is Forbidden Planet a monster movie? The film is science fiction first as it is primarily focused on the mystery of what happened on Altair IV and the exploration of the planet. The monster is a secondary concern. Of course the exploration of the planet leads to the discovery of the monster of the id caused by Dr. Morbius and his usage of the Krell's machines. Unlike most monster movies which tend to be about man vs. nature, the monster in Forbidden Planet is about the struggle of man vs. self. The
monster is not made by humans, but by the technology originally created by the Krell which Morbius uses on himself. The monster of Dr. Morbius' id is much like Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Forbidden Planet is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest, which is one of the few Shakespeare plays I actually haven't read so I can't really comment on that. There are also several Greek mythological references such as Bellerophon (the name of the colonists ship), and a line that mentions the Gorgon. Adapting elements of Shakespeare and the Greek myths to a science fiction setting is now common place, but this hadn't been done as much when Forbidden Planet first came out.


The special effects hold up surprisingly well. To be fair this was an expensive movie for its time, unlike most of its science fiction and monster movie contemporaries which tended to be B-movies. The matte paintings blend in so well that it is hard to tell where the set ends and the painting begins. Forbidden Planet was nominated for an Oscar in the category of best special effects, but lost out to Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments.


Forbidden Planet is interesting in that it is one of the first science fiction films to be heavily influenced by the
Sci-Fi literature of the 1930s through 1950s. The concept of all-male space ship crews exploring other planets outside our solar system had been done before, but this is one of the first times it had been filmed. Works such as A.E. Van Vogt's Space Beagle stories and Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles are quite similar. What is important is that Forbidden Planet made a serious, big budget movie out of these ideas at a time when most people didn't give science fiction much respect as a legitimate genre. A lot of detail went into the uniform and equipment of the crew, as well as the design of the spaceship and planet. The crew has a bunch of cool gadgets such as the mini camera/communications device/cell phone shown off by Commander Adams! Oh and don't forget the spiffy laser gun!


It is impossible to understate the influence Forbidden Planet has had on Sci-Fi films and TV shows. The Twilight Zone, Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien and Aliens all owe debt to Forbidden Planet for paving the way to allow thought provoking science fiction adventures to enter the mainstream. Even video games such as Halo and recent movies like Moon and Avatar should all thank Forbidden Planet. Of course Forbidden Planet's most obvious direct influence was on Star Trek as Gene Roddenberry himself had admitted. The similarities are unmistakable in both types of characters (ship's captain, doctor, engineer, etc.) and story. Although the characters don't beam down to the planet, the screenshot below shows you where Star Trek got the idea for the transporter!


Forbidden Planet is groundbreaking for another reason: it features the first entirely electronic music score. This was so ahead of its time that it isn't even credited as a score but as "electronic tonalities."
The eerie music is unique and fits in very well with the atmosphere of the space ship and Altair IV.


Forbidden Planet also successful manages to combine a serious Sci-Fi story with humor that is never silly or feels forced, thanks in part to its witty dialogue. The cook (Earl Holliman) provides some of the comic relief as he convinces Robby the Robot to replicate 60 gallons of bourbon for himself and the crew! Other Sci-Fi classics from the 50s such as The Day the Earth Stood Still and The War of The Worlds lacked this tone, which we see all the time in Sci-Fi and adventure movies today.


Although stars Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis passed away in Nov. 2010 and Jan. 2011 respectively, several supporting actors such as Earl Holliman, Warren Stevens, Richard Anderson, and Robert Dix are still alive today. Forbidden Planet holds up well over fifty years after its initial release, and will continue to entertain audiences and influence film for years to come.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

50's Monster Movies Blogathon

So in case you haven't noticed this awesome banner yet, today is the first day of the 50s' monster movie blogathon hosted by my good friend Nate at Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear! This Saturday, July 30th, I will be posting my entry in the blogathon. My article will be on the 1956 science fiction classic Forbidden Planet, which is also one of my favorite films! After giving an overview of the film I will analyze whether or not it truly is a monster movie and take at look at how influential this movie has been. Come back on Saturday for that post, but in the meantime check out the other great entries in the blogathon!

There will not be a weekly wrap-up this Sunday as I was busier than I expected recently, and am using most of my free time to work on the Forbidden Planet post. I should be back on schedule next week and I am going to announce that next Saturday's post will be Tales from the Archives, Part 2!
While I am on the topic of business, I am going to change this blog's schedule for the fall. I am still going to just have two posts a week at a regularly scheduled time, the weekly wrap-up and the film topic post, I just want have any intermediate reviews of a single film. I'll probably leave the weekly wrap-up on Sundays but will most likely move the film topic post to a day earlier in the week. I'll figure it out once I know what my schedule will be like, but for the mean time everything should be back on track.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up (7/24)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
After my the advance screening on Wednesday I saw this again over the weekend with my Dad and brother who both really liked it. Captain America was just as good the second time around! Before The Avengers comes out in May 2012 I want to marathon all the Marvel Studios movies like I did before the final Harry Potter came out. I'll probably do the same with the Batman movies to get in the mood for The Dark Knight Rises.

The Philadelphia Experiment
I love time travel stories so I had been seeking out this movie for awhile. The Philadelphia Experiment is loosely, and I stress loosely, based on actual events of an attempt during WWII to make a battleship invisible. The lead actress is Nancy Allen, who played Officer Anne Lewis in Robocop. The aerial shots were done very well although the time travel special effects were cheesy even for the time. Sure it didn't have a large budget, but neither did The Terminator which came out the same year, and this is the main visual effect in the movie. Like Back to the Future which came out a year later, there is a mandatory "Ronald Regan was an actor" joke! I liked the future shock of a man out of time, although it has been done better before and since. While I think this movie has a cool concept, it would have worked better as a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits episode since several scenes felt like filler and the plot was a little too thin.
The Philadelphia Experiment is not a bad movie, its just not a particularly good one either. If you like time travel movies you will enjoy it.

Stand by Me
Stand by Me is based on a Stephen King story. Although I haven't read it, according to Wikipedia it seems to be fairly close to the source material. There were a lot of  kid-centered adventure movies made in the 1980s (E.T., The Goonies, The Explorers, The Monster Squad, etc.) and while I haven't seen many, I think this is the best one I've seen so far. The cinematography (especially in the forest) and the acting were both great. I was especially impressed with River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton. There are a bunch of familiar faces (Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Richard Dreyfuss, John Cusack, etc.) in this film and no weak performances. The movie also features a great example of Chekhov's gun! I didn't really like Richard Dreyfuss' narration but I guess it was necessary to tie things up. I didn't really get the pie scene as it was a showstopper in the middle of the movie that had nothing to do with anything, but I guess the point is that in real life kids would tell a campfire story like that. I had Stand by Me recommended to me awhile ago, so I am glad that I finally got around to watching this film.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The future of Batman films

The teaser trailer of The Dark Knight Rises (2012) has only been out for a week and the film itself won't be released for another year. But here I am looking ahead to what Batman movies are going to come next! To be fair Christopher Nolan has already announced that after The Dark Knight Rises his trilogy will be complete. Nolan will be finished with Batman and move forward with new projects. I love all of Nolan's films (still haven't seen Following and Insomnia though) and have really enjoyed his take on Batman. It is unclear as to what Nolan will do after his Batman trilogy, although he is supposed to help with the story of the Superman reboot, Man of Steel (2013). David Goyer, who wrote Blade, Dark City, and all of Nolan's Batman films is writing the screenplay for Man of Steel so I am certainly interested in that project, as well as whatever Nolan chooses to do next. However, what will happen to Batman movies after Nolan's departure from the franchise?

The first possibility is that we'll get a break from Batman movies for awhile. This wouldn't be a bad idea, but I doubt that Warner Brothers would want to leave money on the table when another Batman movie would make a lot at the box office, even though it wouldn't be done by Nolan. After Tim Burton left the Batman series he was immediately replaced by Joel Schumacher and that did not end well. Following the Schumacher debacle there was an eight year wait until Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) which turned out great. So although it might be a good idea to wait a few years before starting up a new Batman film series, I have a feeling that we won't have to wait too long since WB will want to capitalize on the Batman name, possibly in the form of a Justice League movie.

How should future Batman movies be handled in the a
ftermath of Nolan's trilogy? There were rumors which started before Nolan made Batman Begins that Darren Aronofsky would direct a film based on Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman: Year One. However, now that Batman Begins has been made, its similar story and tone would seem redundant. There is an upcoming animated film based on Batman: Year One which will be released later this year, so I don't know if that helps or hurts the chances of this project ever happening.

I think that if Batman movies are made soon after Nolan's films they need to go in a different direction. I would love to see a retro Batman movie that is set in 1939, the year the first Batman comic came out. This backdrop of the early days of WWII would be quite a contrast to the other Batman movies. Several recent comic book movies have been set in the past (Watchmen, X-Men: First Class, Captain America) so this would not be without precedent.
Perhaps some lesser known villains then such as Dr. Hugo Strange could be used. Another idea could be to make a live action Batman Beyond movie. It's been awhile since I've seen that TV show but Batman set in the future with some new characters would certainly shake things up. Both of these ideas would obviously be in their own continuity so audiences wouldn't have to worry about the older films being messed with or having to watch previous movies to understand new ones.

After watching Captain America I wonder if a future Batman movie (regardless of tone or time period) could handle Robin like the way Bucky was used. A future Batman film could also be different by creating a villian or two that were not in the comics and made up only for the film. Harley Quinn was created for Batman: The Animated Series and she seems to have developed a following so I think this could work for a live action movie if the character is well-written and developed properly. Maybe even Harley Quinn could be in a Batman movie.

I am really looking forward to The Dark Knight Rises next summer.  There will be much speculation in the next couple of years about post-Nolan Batman films and they will happen sooner or later. I just hope they turn out to be good movies!

I'll post the weekly round-up tomorrow.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston
Starring:  Chris Evans, Tommy Lee Jones, Hugo Weaving, Hayley Atwell
IMDB: Captain America

Why I wanted to watch it: I never read the comics and didn't know much about Captain America before watching the movie, but I have been enjoying the Marvel Studios films so far. A close friend was mine scored tickets from the local Preston and Steve radio show so I was able to see it yesterday, Wednesday 7/20! It was pretty cool to watch the movie a day before it showed at the San Diego comic con and two days before the general release.

Plot Synopsis: After being deemed unfit for military service, Steve Rogers volunteers for a top secret research project that turns him into the superhero Captain America.


When the comic book character Captain America was first created in 1941 he was essentially propaganda. The cover of the first issued featured Cap punching Hitler! Coming into this movie I was curious as to how it would address the propaganda aspect, especially since it was set in the WWII era. It would be easy to ignore this part of the character's past in a movie meant for modern audiences, but Captain America's past as a propaganda tool is not only admitted, but embraced as a part of history. The fantastic mock-propaganda scene in the movie was brilliantly written and the perfect way to handle this issue and then move forward with the character. While Captain America still fights Nazis, his real nemesis is Hydra, a division of the Nazis which rises against them and tries to take over the world.
I loved retro 1940s setting (and costumes!) and it felt like a throwback to the adventure serials of the 1930s thru 1950s, in the same vein of Star Wars or more appropriately in this case, Indiana Jones. With Nazis after ancient supernatural artifacts, it felt more like an Indiana Jones movie than the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull! Oh an I even noticed a Wilhelm scream! Director Joe Johnston did special effects work on Raiders of the Lost Ark and the original Star Wars trilogy. Johnston also directed the retro action movie The Rocketeer as well as several others such as Jumanji and October Sky.

I liked the cinematography, especially the scenes shot in the mountains. The acting was good by the entire cast, and they hit the perfect tone as the film is humorous yet never silly. Tommy Lee Jones does his best John Wayne as the Colonel! Unlike most comic book movies, the most impressive special effect in Captain America was not in an action scene but that Chris Evans was really made to seem like a short 90 pound weakling. This was a great contrast to his tall, muscled self after the transformation. Alan Silvestri, one of my favorite film composers, conducts yet another solid score.

Captain America does a good job of show don't tell. We learn about the character mainly through his actions such as getting the flag and jumping on a (fake) grenade
. This told us about the character by watching him in action. His call to serve is because of the death of his parents, although this isn't told directly but inferred. There was a scene where the scientist tells Steve Rodgers about the Red Skull's back-story, but its need to know information with some cool imagery, and not everything is given away at the moment.

Besides the propaganda, I was curious as to how the movie would handle Bucky, Captain America's teenage sidekick. I won't give any spoilers, but the film re-invents the character in the clever way. The love interest, Peggy Carter, was perfectly integrated into the plot. Unlike in Thor, the romance did not feel thrown together like an afterthought and made you care if they would get together or not.
Tony Stark's father, Howard Stark, is a minor character in the film. Like Peggy, he fits into the story perfectly and isn't just put in to please the fans. Stan Lee has yet another good cameo which I won't spoil, so keep an eye out for it! Overall Captain America puts its characters first and action second, which all good action movies should do. You truly care for the characters which raises the stakes for the action scenes. The Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) is an interesting villain since he makes the Nazis not seem quite as bad(!) and to some extent is the dark version of Captain America.

I saw Captain America in 3-D. I didn't have a choice since it was a free advance screening. I am guessing that it was in 3-D to prevent people from recording the showing. Apparently it was converted from 2-D but the visual effects were filmed in true 3-D. This makes sense as after awhile I forgot I was watching it in 3-D. However, I did flinch when Captain America threw his shield because it looked like it was coming right at me! Other people in the theater said they flinched at that part too. While the 3-D was fine, it was unnecessary for this movie. If you get the chance to see it, watch it in 2-D. Since I saw this in advance there was no after credits scene which was a bit of a disappointment. Apparently the general release will feature the scene so wait until after the credits! Edit: I saw it again this weekend and the scene is there. Enjoy the teaser for The Avengers!

While I really liked the movie, there were some things I didn't like or felt could have been improved. The opening scene should have been placed where it would be chronologically in the film. I can see why it was put at the beginning, but this made the final act of the movie less tense since you kinda knew what would happen.
This is kind of nit picking but the female lead is British yet in the U.S. army. This is acknowledged in the movie so I know its not a goof, but it is never explained. I know that this is Steve Rodger's story, but I thought it was going to have something to do with the plot. I felt like this was set-up for a reason and was expecting a pay-off that never came. Since her being British was never followed up on, why make her British at all? I am guessing that this was explained in a deleted scene.
The cosmic cube wasn't explained enough and I only know its name because I asked a friend who knew what it was from the comics. Apparently the cosmic cube is going to play a huge role in The Avengers (2012) so I can understand why the cube wasn't discussed much, but I think a little more explanation would have been nice.

Closing Thoughts: Overall Captain America is the perfect set-up for The Avengers, but also stands alone at the same time. Right now I would say that Captain America is the second best Marvel Studios movie behind Iron Man and ahead of Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2 and Thor.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tales from the Archives

One of the reasons I started this blog was to combine my interests in film and writing. Today I get to throw my love of history into the mix. This summer I have been volunteering at the Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center: I hope to become an archivist and will be starting grad school in the fall. The PAHRC has a treasure trove of interesting historical materials relating to the Catholic Church as well as secular interests. My job has been to go through Parish Monthly Calendars to sort them, do an inventory of what months/years we have, and put that inventory into a digital database. When I started at the archives earlier this summer I would have never imagined that I would find anything relating to film history since I knew I would be going through Church calendars. However, I was able to discover some interesting  unlikely sources which shed a fascinating light onto the public perceptions of film in the 1920s, mostly from a Catholic point of view.

The earliest film related find I made was a series of advertisements on the back of Parish monthly calendars from late 1921. While the above ad is not the same one I came across, it is very close. The ad was trying to convince Catholics to invest in a film company which would create movies by Catholics, for Catholics. This is quite interesting as it shows that even though the medium of film was still pretty young, Catholics felt that it was important to have movies showing a positive portrayal of their religion and beliefs. The company being advertised was called "Creston Feature Pictures, Inc." and the ad goes on to say that two films, "St. Joan of Arc" and "The Scapular," would be put into production.  I did some searching online and I can't find any evidence that these films were actually made. However, I did find that Creston Feature Pictures made at least two films: Mother Machree (1922) and Knight of the Eucharist (1922).
Here are some links and a picture describing Knight of the Eucharist:
Creston Feature Pictures, Inc
Mother Machree
Knight of the Eucharist

An article inside a May 1924 parish monthly calendar entitled "The Menace of the Movies" is about how movies would do no harm regardless of their content, as long as the viewer is religious. I was surprised to find that despite the inflammatory title, the article is not against movies themselves. The article says that any person with the correct morals would not be negatively influenced by inappropriate films. Here is an excerpt: "As to moving pictures, not all films are bad... be not unmindful of the danger of too great intimacy in a darkened theater as the cause of the fall rather than to the mere picturing of human life upon the screen." It is interesting that the atmosphere of the theater was considered more likely to lead people to sin than the material in the films!

Another calendar article dating from December 1924 called "As the movies picture us" is about how foreign "pagan" lands get the wrong view of America and Catholics from U.S. films. The article says that films were felt to undermine the work of Catholic missionaries because of "celluloid dramas that convince the beholder that American men and women are adorers at the shrine of Venus, Bacchus, or of the Golden Calf." I have no idea what movies were portraying contemporary Americans as worshiping Roman gods and idols, but I must admit I am curious. Unfortunately the article did not list any titles of offending movies. It is also interesting to see that American films already were very popular to international audiences.

                                                             Jacqueline Logan

An article from July 1925 titled "Easy divorce for Movie Queens discusses a wedding and three divorces involving people from Hollywood. While the main point of the article is how  frequent marriages and divorces like these are "not wholesome," the article almost reads like a celebrity tabloid. Los Angeles is described as "Movieland" and the article seems to be unintentionally drumming up interest in these actors and directors instead of outright condemning them.  Although I don't have the article to post, its tone is more similar to a film publication that something coming from a Church (except two lines about how these quick divorces are morally bankrupt). This is a bit of a tangent, but while doing some research for this post I came across some old box office magazines that have been digitized which you can check out here:

Getting back to the article, it does give us some names which I was able to look up. Jacqueline Logan was the actress who got married, and she appears to be the most well-known amongst the names listed in the article. Logan's most famous role was that of Mary Magdalene (pictured above) in Cecil B. DeMille's 1927 film, The King of Kings. Logan was also known for being one of the film people on board William Randolph Hearst's yacht in 1924 when film director Thomas Ince died.

Actress Marjorie Daw is listing as having divorced film director and actor A. Edward Sutherland. According to IMDB her nickname was "The Girl with the Nursery Rhyme Name" which referred to the nursery rhyme "See Saw Margery Daw." I thought nicknames were supposed to be shorter than your real name!

After divorcing Daw, Sutherland was married to actress Louise Brooks for a few years.

Art Acord, an actor who mostly appeared in Westerns, was also a rodeo champion in real life. Acord is listed as getting a divorce from his wife, Edna. Acord's nickname was "The Cowpuncher King." While this immediately conjured up images of him punching cattle, it turns out that a cowpuncher was another name for a cowboy. Not as awesome as I thought but still pretty badass! Sadly, most of his films are lost today.
Here is a short clip of him in Cecil B. DeMille's The Sqaw Man (1914) as the cowboy in the white shirt:

The final divorce mentioned is that of "Eula Mantecon" who went by the stage name "Alice Trevor." However, I was unable to find any actress with either of those names.  When searching on IMDB I did find an Olive Trevor who was in some silent films from this period. I couldn't find much information about her either, and unless she is still alive at 112 years old, her date of death is not on IMDB. That said I am guessing that "Alice" was a misprint and that she is indeed Olive Trevor. Since I couldn't find a picture of her online I included a picture of a film that she was in, $50,000 Reward (1924), starring actor and stuntman Ken Maynard.

The most recent film related discovery I made came from the back cover of a December 1941 parish monthly calendar. While the back covers of these calendars usually featured local businesses such as grocery stores and eye doctors, this one was different as it included an ad for the 1941 movie Honky Tonk starring Clark Gable and Lana Turner. This ad was only printed for one month and I haven't found anything like this before or since. It feels out of place and is unusual so I wonder why this movie ad was placed here. Was there a mix-up when the calendars were printed? Was the ad supposed to show up in another publication? Did a parishioner have something to do with the film? Or was someone just a really big Clark Gable fan? I guess I'll never know, but it is an intriguing mystery.

I hope that this article was as interesting to read as it was for me to research and write! If I happen to come across some more fascinating tidbits of film history I'll make a follow-up post.  Sorry that this post was a bit late, I should be back on to my regular schedule now.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Harry Potter movies, Part II

In preparation for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I have been re-watching all the Harry Potter films in chronological order. Today I'll post my thoughts on the final four Harry Potter films.

Before I get to the movies, I want to discuss something I forgot to talk about in Part I of my Harry Potter movie retrospective. The only main character re-cast in the Harry Potter series was Dumbledore, due to the fact that Richard Harris died after the second Potter movie was released. Harris was a great actor who brought a refined sense of wisdom to the character. While re-watching the first two I realized that Harris was more frail than I remembered, and had he lived I think he would have had trouble pulling off some of the more physical demanding scenes in the 5th and 6th movies.

Michael Gambon was a good replacement as Professor Albus Dumbledore, as he re-vitalized the role by being a little younger, and giving Dumbledore a stronger presence. Michael Gambon's entrance to the Harry Potter series re-united him with Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall) who he worked with in Gosford Park (2001). I feel that the Dumbledore of the books is a cross between Harris' and Gambon's versions of Dumbledore.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The fifth Harry Potter movie features the fourth and final director of the series, David Yates. The Order of the Phoenix is the second shortest Potter film behind Deathly Hallows Part 2. However, The Order of the Phoenix is based on the longest novel of the series. While this may seem like a bad sign, it works since I felt that the 5th book was too long, and also my least favorite book in the series. Therefore this movie trims the fat and gets us right to the story and characters. For example, it took way too long in the book for Harry to arrive at Hogwarts. Yates' vision stays true to the previous films in the series, while keeping the darker tone of the last three books. The scenes with Snape are a nice preview for the final films.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)
The sixth Harry Potter movie has great cinematography thanks to Bruno Delbonnel, a three time Oscar nominee for cinematography. I loved the way he shot the hallways of Hogwarts and his use of desaturated colors is fantastic. This movie has a lot of humor and is by far the funniest of the series. But at the same time it is manages to also be one of darkest. In this way it does a great job of capturing the feel of the book. I loved the mystery of Professor Slughorn's memory as well as the identity of the Half-Blood Prince. This movie is another reminder that Alan Rickman owns the role of Snape and Robbie Coltrane owns the role of Hagrid. I can't imagine any actor doing as good as though two in either role. My main issue with this movie is that a lot of Voldemort/Tom Riddle's back-story from the book was cut. This was most likely done for time reasons, because its a show-stopper, and since most of this movie's audience has already read the books. However, it would help those who haven't read the books get more out of the story and give a better characterization to Voldemort.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)
I wasn't too thrilled about the choice to split the last book into two movies, as it felt like a cash grab, but it does work. After seeing both parts I'm actually glad they did it this way and wish they split Goblet of Fire into two movies, or at least had a Lord of the Rings type extended cut. That said, this one still had some padding and was a little longer than it needed to be. The scene near the beginning with multiple Harry Potters scene was done very well. I was also impressed with the Polyjuice Potion scene since it felt like the other actors were really Harry, Ron, and Hermione in disguise because they did such a good job copying their mannerisms. There is a similar scene in Part 2 that is done just as well, but this one is longer and involves three characters instead of one. The animation for the tale of the three brothers was great. I'd like to see a whole movie, or at least a short film done in that style! Hermione's narration doesn't make it feel like too much of a show-stopper even though she is telling a story. Also it is necessary information as the deathly hallows are in the title after all.The ending is abrupt, but that was expected since it was split into two films.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011)
The final Potter movie was also my first midnight premiere! Well sort of, I couldn't get tickets to the 12:00 AM showing so I went at 12:45, close enough in my book. The audience was great (many dressed up as characters) as they clapped and cheered at the appropriate times but were never loud or talked over anything. Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, and its quite a thrill ride down to the very end. The pacing issues from Part 1 have gone this time. Even the scene showing Snape's memories did not feel like a showstopper. I think the reason for this was because it was filmed like memories and went back and forth, not in chronological order but by his emotions. This part kinda reminded me of The Tree of Life actually! The Battle of Hogwarts was awesome and this was a great way to conclude the series. If you liked the other ones you won't be disappointed. Oh and I loved John Hurt's cameo as Ollivander, the wand maker. He is in three Potter movies and I think he has the most screen time in this one! There were still a few parts that could have been included to flesh out the story more, especially since this is the shortest Potter film. For example, there could have been a better explanation about Lupin's son, for those who haven't read the books. The only thing that really bothered my was the epilogue. I hated it in the book because it read like fan fiction, and its even sillier seeing it on screen. At the very least they should have just put it in as an after the credits scene. Draco's old make-up makes him look like Sean Penn while Ron and Hermoine haven't aged at all in 19 years. Neither has Ginny, they just let her hair down! Next time I watch this I am just going to skip the epilogue, its much better to go out on the real final scene. I am guessing that this will be the biggest movie at the box office this summer.

Final thoughts on the series:
I wish the series had more famous British actors (Patrick Stewart, Judi Dench, etc.) but all the acting is good, especially Alan Rickman and Robbie Coltrane. I'm glad that the role of the big three (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) went to unknowns. Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint all did a great job respectively. I hope they don't get typecast and wish them all the best of luck in their post-Potter careers. While overall the acting was very good, the actress who played Ginny Weasely was by far the weakest. To be fair, Ginny was not a strong character in the books and her relationship with Harry near the end of the series feels like an afterthought. Despite some flaws I don't really think this film series could have been done much better. I can't think of another film series that went so many (8!) films with the same actors and told one cohesive story that is as good as the Potter movie series. It's not the best film series ever, but you gotta give it a lot of credit for having staying power and consistent quality over the course of ten years.

Since I didn't get around to watch any movies recently besides the Harry Potter films, there won't be a wrap-up this week. Instead I'll post my film article on Sunday and then we'll go back to the regular schedule.