A Paean for Terra Firma

From an early age I developed a fascination with film but it wasn’t until college when my film interests expanded beyond American cinema to include international films and more specialized genres like underground, silent, documentary and exploitation movies. A Film History 101 course at the University of Georgia, curated by a drama professor, was partly responsible for that due to his eclectic overview which sampled the early work of Sam Fuller (The Steel Helmet, Park Row), Fritz Lang silents (Die Nibelungen: Siegfried & Kriemhild’s Revenge), the roots of Neorealism (La Terra Trema) and Hollywood studio system gems (George Sidney’s Scaramouche, An Affair to Remember). What made one of the strongest impressions, however, were examples of early Soviet cinema like Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Dziga Vertov’s Man With a Movie Camera. And my favorite of them all was Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Earth (Russian title: Zemlya, 1930), the third film in a trilogy that included Zvenyhora (1928) and Arsenal (1929).  Continue reading

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Commies at the Greasy Spoon Diner

The Psychotronic Video Guide calls it “One of the oddest movies of the fifties,” Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide deems it a “trash classic,” and any movie buff who has ever seen it will probably concur that Shack Out on 101 (1955) is easily the nuttiest B-movie to emerge in the Cold War era when paranoia over communist infiltration provided Hollywood with a new type of villain.   Continue reading

For the Boys

Between 1941 and 1945 as World War II engulfed the world most major studios in Hollywood demonstrated their patriotism by producing numerous flag-waving musicals in support of the troops and to raise money for the war effort. Warner Bros. was represented by This is the Army (1943), Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943) and Hollywood Canteen (1944); Paramount served up Star Spangled Rhythm (1942) and Here Come the Waves (1944); Universal had a major hit with Buck Privates (1941) starring Abbott & Costello and The Andrew Sisters; 20th-Century-Fox unveiled the mind-warping visual excess of Busby Berkeley’s The Gangs All Here (1943) and MGM brought their signature gloss and glamor to Thousands Cheer (1943) and Anchors Aweigh (1945). But probably one of the biggest extravaganzas of all in terms of star cameos and musical guests was Stage Door Canteen (1943), released by United Artists.   Continue reading