Frank Capra’s Big Top Adventure

One of the amazing circus stunts featured in Frank Capra’s Rain or Shine (1930), based on the Broadway play.

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

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House Proud

Kim Novak outside the dream house being designed by architect Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960).

Kim Novak outside the dream house being designed by architect Kirk Douglas in Strangers When We Meet (1960).

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

Rocket Man

I Aim at the Stars (1960)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

A Walking Plague Called Sheila

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)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.

Smallpox vaccine is administered to citizens of New York City in 1947 during an outbreak of the disease

Smallpox vaccine is administered to citizens of New York City in 1947 during an outbreak of the disease

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Adrift in a L.A. Haze

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy's Model Shop (1969)

Anouk Aimée in Jacques Demy’s Model Shop (1969)

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

Big Bands and Tap Dancing: World War II Escapism

Reveille with BeverlyWhen 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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SXAXCezjj9M

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