Eskimo (1933) – Inuit Culture on Film

Alaskan actor Ray Mala (aka Mala, on right) stars in the 1933 MGM film ESKIMO.

Alaskan actor Ray Mala (aka Mala, on right) stars in the 1933 MGM film ESKIMO.

How many famous or highly regarded films about the Inuit culture can you name? Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922) is probably at the top of the list but what else? The 1955 Oscar-nominated documentary Where Mountains Float, Nicholas Ray’s The Savage Innocents (1960), Zacharias Kunuk’s 2001 epic, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), and Mike Magidson’s Inuk (2010) are all impressive achievements which need to be better known. But one of the most moving and evocative films is from 1933 entitled Eskimo, a word which is now an outdated and offensive reference to the Inuit and Yupik tribes who populate the Arctic Circle and northern bordering regions.   Continue reading

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The Original Odd Couple

Robert J. Flaherty (left) and W.S. Van Dyke collaborated on White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).

Robert J. Flaherty (left) and W.S. Van Dyke collaborated on White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).

Either by accident or design, MGM came up with the most unlikely partnership in the history of motion pictures in the late twenties. Imagine if you can a collaboration between Robert Flaherty, the filmmaker who is generally credited with pioneering the documentary form (though some film scholars take issue with that classification), and W. S. Van Dyke II, who was known in the industry as “One Take Woody” because of his quick, cost-saving shooting schedule. Flaherty’s filmmaking method was just the opposite. His painstaking preparation for each film was legendary; both Nanook of the North (1922) and Moana (1926) took over two years to complete. Somehow these two men were brought together by MGM mogul Irving J. Thalberg for White Shadows in the South Seas (1928).   Continue reading

Marriage as Tragicomedy

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Aldo Ray as the groom & Judy Holliday as the bride in The Marrying Kind (1952), directed by George Cukor

Often overlooked among the films George Cukor directed in the fifties, The Marrying Kind (1952) starring Judy Holliday and Aldo Ray might have suffered from the fact that it was not a pure comedy like Pat and Mike (1952) and It Should Happen to You (1954). It is quite unique from anything else that Cukor attempted and it deserves more than the no-frills DVD release that was issued from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment back in 2003. This is one that cries out for a Criterion Collection Blu-Ray upgrade with all of the extra features that celebrate the featured film in context to its time, place and creation. The Marrying Kind is also an intriguing reminder of the career Aldo Ray might have had if other directors had not cast the actor in roles that accented his imposing physical presence over his acting ability.    Continue reading

Double Trouble

Wicked, WickedSometimes a great promotional gimmick is reason enough to make a movie and this certainly proved to be a successful strategy for director William Castle who made box office hits out of low-budget horror thrillers such as Macabre (1958, admission included an insurance policy from Lloyds of London against death by fright), House on Haunted Hill (1959, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton swooped over the audience at a key point in the movie) and The Tingler (1959, selected seats were wired and vibrated when the title creature got loose in a movie theatre). Not all promoters have been as lucky as Castle though and Wicked, Wicked (1973), produced by William T. Orr and writer/director Richard L. Bare, features one of the best movie gimmicks of its era but was poorly distributed and has languished in obscurity for years…until the Warner Archive Collection released it on DVD in November 2014.  Continue reading