Films about the immigrant experience in the United States often run the gamut from comedy (Coming to America, Moscow on the Hudson) to historical depictions (Hester Street, The New Land) to autobiographical dramas (Elia Kazan’s America, America) and even horror films such as Netflix’s 2021 thriller, No One Gets Out Alive. Still, one of my favorite movies about a foreigner’s adventures on these shores is The Face Behind the Mask (1941), which stars Peter Lorre as an Eastern European refugee looking to start a new life in New York City.Continue reading
For that small number of gifted actors who become screen legends, the path to stardom is rarely predictable. Sometimes it’s a case of pure luck. Other times it’s achieved after years of honing their craft and screen persona through hard earned experience. I can’t think of a better example of the latter than Humphrey Bogart who made twelve films (two of them short subjects, 1928’s The Dancing Town and 1930’s Broadway’s Like That) before his breakout supporting role as the vicious gangster Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest (1936). The irony is that despite playing that same character on Broadway where he won unanimous critical acclaim, Warner Bros. wanted Edward G. Robinson for the role. If it hadn’t been for the film’s star, Leslie Howard, who played opposite Bogart on Broadway and demanded that he be cast in the film or he would quit, Bogart might not be as famous today. Continue reading
Films about hobos have always been predominantly about male characters, with few exceptions such as Veronica Lake donning a male hobo disguise and tagging along with Hollywood producer-turned-drifter Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels . So, it’s particularly unexpected and refreshing to see a Depression era based film like Girls of the Road (1940), in which almost all of the central characters are women, playing runaways, vagrants and other homeless cases, fending for themselves on the margins of society. Continue reading
Whenever the subject of screwball comedy comes up, I usually think of the same handful of titles in this short-lived movie genre which began sometime in the early thirties with such models of the form as Twentieth Century (1934) and It Happened One Night (1934) and ended sometime in the early forties between the time of Preston Sturges’ The Palm Beach Story (1942) and Frank Capra’s Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). Like the film noir genre which continues to yield overlooked gems like Crime Wave (1954) and Highway 301 (1950), many lesser known and almost forgotten entries in the screwball comedy category continue to resurface on Turner Classic Movies, reminding us that occasionally you might find a diamond in the rough. Such is the case with If You Could Only Cook (1935). Continue reading
1934 was the year that Frank Capra became a household name in America with his box-office and Oscar-winning smash hit, It Happened One Night. In fact, he would direct his most famous and financially successful films in the thirties with such career highpoints as Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can’t Take It With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). But his filmography before 1934 is more familiar to film buffs – not the average moviegoer. Some of these films are less predictable, more adventurous and entertainingly quirky than his more famous work such as Platinum Blonde (1931), American Madness (1932) and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1932). Among these earlier efforts is Capra’s rarely-seen curiosity, Rain or Shine (1930), which offers a fascinating glimpse of the director coming to terms with “talkies” and his developing aesthetic after starting his career in silent films. Continue reading
It’s not unusual for pre-production publicity on a new film to revolve around the star or the director but it’s particularly rare when it focuses on a construction site. In the case of the glossy 1960 soap opera, Strangers When We Meet, directed by Richard Quine, the real star of the movie was the cliff top Bel Air home that was constructed especially for the film by architect Carl Anderson and art director Ross Bellah. Continue reading
It would be hard to find a more controversial figure in the history of space exploration than the brilliant rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun, the subject of J. Lee Thompson’s biopic, I Aim at the Stars (1960). Continue reading
Think of the teeming hub of humanity that is New York City and then imagine a person with a highly contagious and deadly disease wandering among the masses, spreading death and panic. Based on an actual case in 1946 – a smallpox scare in which millions of New Yorkers received free vaccinations – The Killer That Stalked New York (1950) is a fictionalized dramatization of that incident. It stars Evelyn Keyes as Sheila Bennet, a modern day “Typhoid Mary” who contracts smallpox in Cuba while serving as a courier for Matt (Charles Korvin), her no-good musician boyfriend, in a stolen diamond smuggling scheme.
Los Angeles has served as the backdrop for countless Hollywood movies but in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969), the French director’s first and only American film (if you don’t count the 1984 made-for-TV movie Louisiana), the city becomes the real protagonist. With its sprawling urban landscape, oil derricks, desolate beaches and constant traffic, it provides a vivid canvas for a contemporary love story about romantic longing, missed connections and unrealized dreams. Film writer Clare Stewart referred to the film in the film journal Senses of Cinema as “a road movie that doesn’t go anywhere” but that’s not a putdown. It’s an apt description of what Demy was trying to create here – a drifting, dreamy mood piece. Continue reading
When Reveille with Beverly was first released in 1943, it was viewed as little more than a snappy little B musical programmer that showcased a star on the rise (Ann Miller) along with some of the top musical acts of the day. It was also a reflection of the type of assembly line escapist fare being released by Hollywood for war weary audiences and servicemen who needed a distraction from the harsh realities of a global conflict.