Has Anybody Seen My Gal? (1952)

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This is a story about money … remember it! Ageing heir-less millionaire Samuel Fulton (Charles Coburn) wants to leave his fortune to the unsuspecting family of his first love Millicent Blaisdell but not before testing his prospective heirs by living with them under the guise of a poor boarder under the alias John Smith.  He finds history repeating itself when he leaves them an anonymous bequest and observes Millicent’s daughter Harriet (Lynn Bari) losing the run of herself keeping up with the town’s richies and urging her own daughter Millie (Piper Laurie) to wed the son (Skip Homeier) of a wealthy family instead of Dan (Rock Hudson) who works in her dad’s (Larry Gates) pharmacy while studying at night …  Hot diggity Millie, you’re the cat’s miaow!  Set in Tarrytown, New York at the end of the Twenties, this nostalgia-fest was one of several smalltown films made by Douglas Sirk and his first in glorious Technicolor.  Not quite a musical, it takes its song and dance cues from diegetic sources so we have singalongs courtesy of the wireless and a windup travelling pianola.  This has a sharp moral lesson under the fun and it’s the kids who are smarter than the parents – little Roberta (Gigi Perreau) is the one who knows the value of friendship and paints alongside ‘John Smith’ while he starts working as a soda jerk in the store.  Twenty-one year old James Dean makes his infamous debut as the kid ordering a super-complicated malt to which Coburn makes the disarming retort, Would you like to come in Wednesday for a fitting? Handsome William Reynolds as Howard, the son who gets a gambling habit, would make another notable appearance for Sirk in All That Heaven Allows along with There’s Always Tomorrow, while Hudson and Dean would both make another film together – the legendary Giant. Hudson of course became a star under Sirk’s direction in a handful of productions for Universal. Here he’s comfortable in a funny ensemble piece.  Adapted from a story by Eleanor H. (Pollyanna) Porter by Joseph Hoffman, this is an utter delight, camouflaging its social comment with an abundance of witty lines and smart playing. What else can you expect from the nouveau riche?

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Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)

Somebody Up There Likes Me

Maybe Chicago’s got a heart but I ain’t found one.  Young Italian-American Rocky Barbella (Paul Newman) endures abuse from his father (Harold J. Stone) and despite his mother (Eileen Heckart) and her constant efforts to intervene he messes with small-time crime with his streetwise friend Romolo (Sal Mineo).  His consequent run-ins with the law lead him in and out of detention centers and prisons. When it seems he has it together, Rocky is drafted into the wartime Army but can’t stick the regime and goes AWOL. He takes up boxing to earn quick money with coach Irving Cohen (Everett Sloane), but when he discovers he has a natural talent in the ring, he builds the confidence to pursue his love interest, Norma (Pier Angeli), and fulfill his potential as a middleweight fighter. Pressured to take a bribe, his reputation takes a major hit.  He doesn’t know how to redeem himself except by fighting …  Ernest Lehman’s adaptation of Rocky Graziano’s autobiography is full of clichés – but they’re good ones because they’re true. Filled with big, dramatic performances and great action which is what you want from a gutsy story of an abused child through his spells in juvie and prison and the Army, this is a wonderful portrait of NYC and its denizens and the final bout is heart-stopping. The right hooks aren’t confined to Rocky, Lehman’s dialogue is ripe with zingers:  The trouble with reading the phonebook is you always know how it’s going to come out.  Gleaming monochrome cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg and a song by Perry Como add to a magnificent movie bio experience but one is forced to ask what Paul Newman’s career would have looked like if its intended lead James Dean hadn’t died before this went into production:  his Rebel co-star Mineo (who looks altogether lustrous) bolsters the teen crim story and the beautiful Angeli was engaged to Dean for a while (as well as doing The Silver Chalice with Newman). His ghost is everywhere. Look for Steve McQueen, Robert Loggia and Dean Jones down the cast list.  Directed by Robert Wise.

The Disaster Artist (2017)

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Just because you want it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen.  In mid-1990s San Francisco acting wannabe Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) encounters the wild and unusual Tommy Wiseau in improv class.  Wiseau has an impenetrable accent, wads of cash and looks like a vampire.  When Greg screens Rebel Without a Cause for Tommy he’s blown away and immediately drives them down to Cholame to the scene of James Dean’s fatal crash.They throw in their lot to move to LA where he owns another property and Greg gets an agent while Tommy alienates the rich and famous. He decides to write his own movie for them to make together and funds it from his account ‘literally a bottomless pit’ as a teller regales producer Seth Rogen who plays the film’s script supervisor. He does everything but learn his lines and throws hissy fits lasting days particularly when Greg moves out to live with his actress girlfriend Amber (Alison Brie) who gets him a guest role on Malcolm in the Middle after they run into Bryan Cranston at Canter’s but Tommy makes him turn it down.  Tommy fires crew and he and Greg have a monster argument.  Months later Greg is back in theatre and the premier of The Room beckons. It promises to be horrendous so will Greg even attend? … The true story (adapted from Sestero and Tom Bissell’s book) of how a vaguely paranoid European immigrant to the US made a terrible vanity project film starring himself with his best friend Greg Sestero and unintentionally became a cult hero.  The genetically gifted Franco brothers (James played James Dean in the 2001 biopic, Dave looks more like Montgomery Clift with the passing years) have some serious bromance moments here. Written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the major irony here is perhaps that just as Tommy needed to take a step back and learn his lines, perhaps this production was just a tad hamstrung by his approval of the film in the first place so director/star James Franco never goes totally mediaeval on us although he gives it the old college try. The credits sequence is like a blooper reel – with a split screen showing us just how precise the film within the film is including the anatomically incorrect sex scene. Maybe it’s not the crazy fest you expect but it’s a charming tribute to the madness that is required to get movies made particularly when you’re paying for them yourself.

LIFE (2015)

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Luke Davies’ screenplay centring on the circumstances behind the unforgettable LIFE photo essay about James Dean in an issue from March 1955 is uncertain about who the story’s protagonist is:   the most exciting actor most of us have ever seen, as incarnated by Dane DeHaan, or photographer Dennis Stock (Robert Pattinson)? Peculiarly it is Stock who comes across as pathological, unhappy and desperate whereas Dean seems a decent sort being screwed around by Jack Warner (Ben Kingsley) who knows he’s on to something great but wants to control this rebel from bad PR. Stock supposedly met Dean at a party at Nick Ray’s when he was casting Rebel Without a Cause and the distractions are looking at an actress who looks nothing like Natalie Wood and an epicene man who only bares a slight resemblance to Ray, along with the overriding story arc of Stock’s failed teenage marriage and his unwillingness to spend time with a very young son. Dean’s relationship with Pier Angeli is artfully used to construct the parameters of his Hollywood life;  while the trip the two men make back to Indiana before the premiere of East of Eden which commences in NYC’s Times Square is of course the setting for one of most people’s favourite poster, latterly called The Boulevard of Broken Dreams. The real story here is about the relationship between a photographer and his subject, whom he virtually stalked for the story, perhaps sensing something in Dean that Dean did not yet suspect was within himself. It’s nicely put together and shot, as you would expect from Anton Corbijn, a man who knows something about the craft behind creating iconic images – his rock career is probably the most notable of any photographer/video director of the last thirty years. But somehow even De Haan’s uncanny interpretation is not the favoured performance here and the ghastly Pattinson gets equal screen time in some sort of deluded payoff to the director’s former job. I don’t get it. How’d that happen?! There seems to be some kind of queer subtext that isn’t quite brought to the surface – despite the rumours about Dean, it’s Stock who appears to be unhealthily obsessive and projecting something that isn’t really there.  It makes you wonder about all those people who made money off their Jimmy stories when he was no longer around. Oh well, better to be talked about … than not. An opportunity mostly missed, sadly.

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Rebel Without a Cause (1955)

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Why? It’s my favourite film. I have adored James Dean and Natalie Wood since I first saw this aged 11. I’ve been to the LA locations and stepped around the High School motto. I’ve read everything there is on the production and I have always admired the cinema of Nicholas Ray and the screenplays of Stewart Stern. This moves me like few films could. It is staggering to watch in so many ways. It is a film about feeling. And because it’s my 1,000th post on Mondo Movies. Scuse me while I kiss the sky. MM#1000

Jimmy Jimmy

 

30 September 2013 is the 58th anniversary of James Dean’s death.  Elaine Lennon remembers.

 

“All of us were touched by Jimmy, and he was touched by greatness.”
    Natalie Wood, Dean’s co-star in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

 

“He was very afraid of being hurt. He was afraid of opening up in
case it was turned around and used against him.”
    Elizabeth Taylor

 

“[Dean’s] death caused a loss in the movie world that our industry could ill afford. Had he lived long enough, I feel he would have made some incredible films. He had sensitivity and a capacity to express emotion.”
   Gary Cooper

 

“I didn’t know what to do. How do you tell an eight-year-old boy his mother’s going to die? I tried. In my own stumbling way I tried to prepare Jim for it. Nowadays, he lives in a world we don’t understand too well, the actor’s world. We don’t see too much of him. But he’s a good boy, my Jim.
A good boy, and I”m very proud of him. Not easy to understand, no sir.
He’s not easy to understand. But he’s all man, and he’ll make his mark.

Mind you, my boy will make his mark.”
Winton Dean, James Dean’s father, in Modern Screen, August 1955

 

“He had the greatest power of concentration I have ever encountered.
He prepared himself so well in advance for any scene he was playing,
that the lines were not simply something he had memorized — they were actually a very real part of him.”

Jim Backus, who played Dean’s father in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

 

“He didn’t show you very much. He’d challenge you to find him.
Then when you’d found him, he’d still make you guess. It was an endless game with him. The thing people missed about Jimmy was his mischievousness.
He was the most constantly mischievous person I think I’ve ever met.
Full of tricks, full of magic, full of outrageousness.”
Stewart Stern, screenwriter of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

 

“Jimmy was not only an internal actor, but an expressionist, which came partly from his studying dance. He would physicalize actions, such as the way he lifted himself up on the windmill in Giant, or goose-stepped measuring off the land, or his sleight-of- hand gesture as Jett Rink. He had the amazing capacity to pick up and learn a new trick almost immediately, tossing a rope and making a knot, a card trick from a magician, coin tricks, racing a car…”

Dennis Hopper, Dean’s co-star in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE and GIANT

 

“[James Dean] was spectacularly talented, handsome in a fragile sort of way and absolutely outrageous. He was an original. Impish, compelling, magnetic, utterly winning one moment, obnoxious the next.Definitely gifted.”
                                     Edna Ferber,author of “Giant”

 

“In front of the camera, he had an instinct that was nearly uncanny.I don’t recall ever working with anyone who had such a gift.I recall one scene, where he was in a shadow, and had to lift his head to the light. We explained how it should go and he played it exactly right, to the half inch, the first time. He just seemed to know how it should be, without rehearsal or anything.”

                            William C. Mellor, Cinematographer

 

“Jim had a year away from Warner Brothers. We had planned to use that time to get our company started. We would have done both feature pictures and a television series, which would have allowed Jim to break in as a director.I think he would have been a great director.”
                     Nicholas Ray, director of REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

 

“What I remember most about him was the little boy quality shining forth at you from behind those thick glasses of his, tearing at your heart. He had that extreme and touching idealism of youth which made you wish that he would never have to be disillusioned. Now he won’t be.”
                        Louella Parsons, gossip columnist

 

“Jimmy Dean loved the feel of Indiana soil under his feet and I think that was the source of much of his strength.”
                   Adeline Nall, Dean’s high school drama coach

 

 

Sometimes you can live a whole life in one day.”

                  James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE