Recently, my husband and I drove to the birthplace of John Wayne of Winterset, Iowa. Every year, the entire town holds a big gala to commemorate the Duke's birthday with a 3-day series of special events which takes place the weekend closest to his birthday anniversary (May 26, 1907). I'm not gonna lie, I'm a fan of really good classic westerns. Ergo, I'm a John Wayne fan. But when I discovered this particular year's theme and special guest, we simply HAD to go see... Maureen O'Hara.
The best way to end the evening? At an Irish pub, of course. Our star-struck caravan drove over to a local Irish pub, appropriately named Little Dublin. With live Irish music playing in the background, the cozy wood-paneled tiny pub was the perfect setting for imbibing while recounting the evening's magical moments with friends. At one point I set my Guinness down long enough to teach the techniques of a basic Irish jig, as we see John Wayne's daughter Aissa squeeze past us. Later my husband and I shared stories of how we met and fell in love (Gawd, how does anyone tolerate us?!) then Kaci points out Maureen O'Hara's grandson Conor, just a few feet away. What a memorable night!
Thursday, May 30, 2013
The following post is an entry to the Howard Hawks Blogathon, hosted by twitter pal and movie blogging wonder Ratnakar Sadasyula aka @ScorpiusMaximus of the http://seetimaar.wordpress.com site. No matter what your favorite film genre is, Howard Hawks aims to please. Director/Producer/Screenwriter Hawks covered a multitude of film genres with stunning success. From westerns, action thrillers, crime dramas, screwball comedies and even a musical, he made over 45 films from 1926 to 1970. While his work was obviously prolific, it was the outstanding quality of his work that is most memorable. One in particular stands out for me... Howard Hawks' HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940).
From the very beginning of this film, HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940) sets a tone of fast-paced dialogue and non-stop screwball hilarity. We are introduced to our main characters- newspaper editor, Walter Burns (portrayed dashingly by my all-time favorite leading man, Cary Grant) and his ex-wife and former top newshound, Hildy Johnson (portrayed brilliantly by leading lady Rosalind Russell.) The fun begins when Hildy shows up at Walter's office to inform him of her new engagement to Bruce Baldwin (portrayed perfectly by Ralph Bellamy.) The banter between Hildy and Walter is so rapid-fire and razor sharp that you almost miss some lines, if you don't pay close attention because of laughing between zingers.
After Walter cons his way into joining Hildy and Bruce for lunch, it's obvious that Hildy and Walter are cut from the exact same cloth and it's Bruce that sticks out in the threesome as the odd man out. But Hildy will be difficult to sway as she explains her desire for a simpler life. A life that a simple man like Bruce assuredly will bring with all the 'comforts of traditional gender roles'. Or so she tries to convince herself.
From here, the roller coaster ride speeds along. Walter hooks her into staying longer by giving her the scoop on an exciting story of a feeble man wanted for murder and facing the death penalty. She agrees to cover the story with an edgy angle that only Hildy can pen; but only if Walter keeps his word to buy a big life insurance policy from her fiance. (Yes, OF COURSE Bruce is an insurance salesman.) Meanwhile, Walter works every corner with every trick up his sleeve to ensure Hildy sticks around. Once she gets back into the non-stop pace of the wise-cracking and hard-nosed press room, she absolutely shines as 'just one of the boys', but SO much better.
There are endless reasons why I adore HIS GIRL FRIDAY (1940). From a visual perspective, the fashions on Russell and Grant are impeccable and the cinematic style is beautifully film noir wrapped up in a screwball comedy- marking a transition into the early 40's. Every role is matched perfectly by outstanding performances- from Cary Grant to Rosalind Russell to Ralph Bellamy and every character actor. But the chemistry between Grant and Russell is unparalleled. The snappy dialogue is delivered at a pace that became legendary.
But what I really love is the example Rosalind Russell's character as Hildy set for women, especially in 1940. Hildy showed that women can be as feminine as they are talented, tough, sharp and bright... and on equal footing as a man. She also shared the journey of a female torn between 2 choices- taking a traditional gender role with society pressure or ultimately choosing the best role for her, a career woman able to display all of her talents as a reporter in a man's world. Highly progressive and feminist for 73 years ago. Kudos to Howard Hawks for pulling together a perfect gem of a film. Happy 117th birthday, Mr. Hawks.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
THE OMEN is a horror film about the rise of the Anti-Christ. Unlike so many films that have attempted to take on this subject matter, THE OMEN stood apart in its innovative approach to building up the story with a 'sense of authenticity on the absurd'. There was an intentional effort by director Richard Donner in partnering with screenwriter David Seltzer to create a sense of realism about Satan and the Bible by avoiding stereotypical supernatural images. Instead, the plot develops gradually in everyday moments that make both the main characters and the audience initially doubt if tragedies and oddities were simply accidental, coincidental or truly sinister.
While Thorn is further convinced of Damien's true identity upon witnessing the birthmark of the devil -three sixes- hidden by the course black hair on his scalp (young Stephens was naturally blond yet his hair was dyed black to give a more menacing look), he ultimately still struggles with conflicting task of killing the child he raised as his own son. Just as he raises the dagger to murder Damien, the boy cries out for his "daddy" to stop, the police have arrived by now and shoot Thorn dead. In the end, due to Thorn's high political ranking and personal friendship with the President of the United States, we see Damien attending his father's funeral in the personal care of the President. The Anti-Christ has successfully attained the next level of ultimate power and smiles knowingly into the camera.
What I found to be additionally fascinating about this film is the legend that the film itself is considered to be cursed. For all the bizarre tragedies in this film, it's been told that there was another parallel string of freakish accidents behind the scenes. On the very first day of the shoot, many key members of the crew survived a car crash. The Rottweilers attacked their own trainers. While both screenwriter David Seltzer and lead Gregory Peck flew to the U.K., each of their planes were struck by lightning. While in Rome, producer Harvey Bernard barely escaped being struck by lightning himself. Directer Richard Donner's hotel was bombed by the IRA during his stay. And at one point Gregory Peck canceled a flight to Israel to later discover that chartered flight crashed, leaving no survivors.
Despite these accidents behind the scenes, this film went on to become very popular and lucrative at the box office; making it the highest-paid role of Peck's film career. He wisely took the gamble of an extremely low salary- a mere $250,000, in order to be guaranteed 10% of the box office... which added up to over $60 million just here in the states plus international release. His gamble paid off nicely. Donner insisted working with high caliber talents of then-retired cinemaphotographer Gilbert Taylor and composer Jerry Goldsmith (he convinced head of 20th Century Fox, Alan Ladd Jr. to pony up $25,000 to hire Goldsmith.) Goldsmith went on win the Academy Award for Music Score, including the haunting theme song "Ave Satani" which significantly elevates the film's fear-factor. THE OMEN was his only Oscar win, although he was nominated 17 times over the span of his impressive career.
Do I truly believe in the existence of an Anti-Christ and that this film was actually cursed? No. But it's those little seeds of doubt, that suspension of belief that piques the curiousity and raises the adrenaline if only while sitting in the dark, with your hands tensely gripping your face. After watching THE OMEN that first time and as little girl who was born in 1966 (although NOT in June, nor on the 6th day, or even at the 6am/pm hour), I went home and carefully examined my scalp through my raven locks, looking for any triple-six birthmarks. You know... just in case.
Friday, March 29, 2013
As styles have changed from the early days of cinema in the silent era, to the latest fashions seen in current films today, trends and influences have always been closely followed via film. For me, my favorite fashion in film choices were beautifully worn by two legendary actresses during the same era: Doris Day and Grace Kelly.
Any classic film fan worth their salt knows the story of Grace Kelly. She was the Irish American girl from Philly who possessed the big screen with such stunning beauty and elegance that she charmed a Monacan prince and become a real-life princess. During her film career, Kelly always brought her personal beauty to every role. But her beauty and grace was never more radiant than when she shined in Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW (1954).
What's amazing about the fashion in this film is that every single outfit Kelly wears is breath-taking. Each costume design reflects a clean, simple and feminine glamor inspirational to mid-century American design. Credit obviously must go to costume designing genius Edith Head but also to director Alfred Hitchcock. Edith Head was already a living legend by now and had a long and successful working relationship with Hitch. Hitchcock worked closely with Head in every step of the design process to ensure it mirrored the mood, tone and story-telling.
When we are initially introduced to Lisa (portrayed by Grace Kelly), she is dressed in a formal and feminine dress of a black fitted deep-plunged V-top and white billowy chiffon skirt detailed with black design branching out from the waist, all topped off with simple choker of pearls. She models for us and even shows off the sheer white chiffon wrap. A stunning entrance...
My next favorite example of a similarly simple, clean and exquisite 50's design is beautifully worn by the legendary Doris Day in PILLOW TALK (1959). Also a popular platinum blond actress with a flawless figure, Doris Day was already the premier film fashionista by the time PILLOW TALK hit the big screen. This film is a showcase for her terrific comedic timing and charming chemistry with co-star Rock Hudson, but it's Day's parade of costume changes that keeps me absolutely mesmerized no matter how many times I watch it.
While Bill Thomas is listed as PILLOW TALK's costume designer, it's no secret that famous designer Jean Louis, also known for Rita Hayworth's sexy strapless gown in GILDA (1946), was the creator of all her gowns for this film. Here are some gorgeous highlights from this battle-of-the-sexes classic:
A boxy suit in a perfect hue of lapis azure with a black fur hat. The lines are simple, yet bold (the collar lapels extend just past the shoulder hem.) Black and blue never looked better.
A creamy beige sheath dress and coat topped off by a red lampshade hat displays another lovely twist on the monochromatic theme. The dress is cinched with matching wide belt and pendant and both the dress and coat have 3/4 length sleeves. Perfectly suited to Doris Day in every way.
This long winter white sheath dress is a clear stand-out in the film (so much so that they made a Barbie doll copy of it.) Floor length, sleeveless, wrapping the shoulders and gathered to the left shoulder, with a deep open plunge in the back... this outfit literally fit her like a glove. Speaking of which, the extremely long gloves and fur shrug- also in a monochromatic shades of white - pulled together the most stunning outfit in the film. Isn't she heavenly in shades of white?
I love how this gathered forest green 'strapless dress' with spaghetti straps shows off Day's shapely figure but the emerald green satin A-line swing coat with bold lines really makes a statement when she walks into the room. But I must admit, I have never cared for the choice of turquoise and gold jewelry; because to me, it simply doesn't match in either color nor in formality.
In shades of olive and dark green, I really enjoyed this fitted bodice dress with matching fur hat. The gold and brown toned jewelry is the right compliment.
This off-white belted sweater dress with roll neck shows off her most flattery tones- monochromatic shades of white. Set design was purposefully set in white-wash to assist in this visual feast of complimentary color.
This red coat (same bold red as seen earlier with her lampshade chapeau) makes an incredible entrance with leopard animal print lampshade hat with matching muff. I adore this outfit and would personally wear this ensemble in a heartbeat. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought this look was worth repeating as Audrey Hepburn is shown wearing a similar outfit a few years later in CHARADE (1963). I recall a faux dark mink muff I carried around as a little girl. I long for the return of hats, long gloves, and muffs making a comeback.
Finally, I must draw attention to this little black velvet suit. Simple yet plentiful in cuteness factor. It's always in the details. I love the piping trim, the bow on the cream blouse, and the crushed velvet beret with adornment... all adding up to an adorable outfit from what could have been just a boring black suit.
There are a few outfits and many nighties/ pajamas from PILLOW TALK (after all, it is about the battle of the sexes) that I chose not to include in my line-up. Frankly, I'm just not a fan of the 50's style polyester/rayon nightie. But, I hope you have enjoyed the fashions from these two films as I have and continue to do so; time and time again, every time I enjoy these two films. Both Grace Kelly and Doris Day carry some key similarities... both outstanding platinum blond actresses with intelligence, beauty, grace and sophistication. But without a doubt, they are in a league of their own in terms of fashion trendsetters for their roles in these two iconic films.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Before I continue, you should note that there will be references to details of this movie, so you've been officially forewarned to not continue down this yellow brick road as spoilers will be revealed and possibly a wicked witch or two. That being said, I must admit my initial concern prior to seeing this film was, "will this version respect the integrity of the original enough to show Kansas or any Kansas references in black and white?" So I was very relieved to discover that Kansas from year 1905 is still a black and white experience.
Overall, it was a fun flick that the entire family can enjoy. Okay, so maybe a scene or two that involve flying evil primates and a wicked witch might briefly scare the gingham right outta your youngest members of the family, but I think it's still worth the walk down the yellow brick road. On a personal note I must add, that we have carried on our Kansas love of The Wizard of Oz by regularly giving my young niece (who lives in Portland, Oregon) Wizard of Oz themed gifts. I guess our Oz influence has taken effect as she even dressed up as Dorothy for Halloween once, to our delight. With OZ, THE GREAT AND POWERFUL, a whole new generation can be introduced to the creative wonders of L.Frank Baum's adventures in Oz. (By the way, there are a few references to L. Frank Baum's namesake in the movie if you look for them.)